Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Strange Bedfellows Indeed

For most of the history of "the church", and I hesitate to even use that term, there have been two major religious forces contending with one another under the auspices of "Christianity". Both of them have in turn used violence and manipulation to gain ascendency over the other and then persecute and repress those who oppose them. This cycle has repeated so often and for so long that it really has become a more or less accepted part of Western culture. The entanglement of pseudo-Christian religious nationalism with the actual church has served to make the two virtually indistinguishable to people inside the church as well as on the outside and our witness has indisputably suffered for it.

This state of affairs has lingered for centuries, mostly in the West and especially in Europe, leading to countless wars and even today largely responsible for the current geo-political situation in Europe. Now we find both camps in the ironic position of neither being in power which has both of these once warring factions that happily persecuted each other with impunity now banding together to cry "persecution!" and rally for religious liberty as if demanding our right to "religious liberty" is something that the church should be concerned with. Given that the church was birthed under one of the most despotic reigns of persecution in history and never once seemed concerned with fighting for religious liberty, it seems odd that threats against the same should now be the rallying cry that is unifying the church. Not the Gospel. Not Christ. No, the great unifier is inexplicably a political squabble over health insurance mandates. It would be a lot more amusing if it were not so tragic.

Please don't misunderstand. I am a proponent of liberty and freedom and I try to be engaged in the political process to what is undoubtedly an unhealthy extent. However I am coming to understand that political and economic liberty is not a Kingdom priority and the pursuit of it has probably been mostly a hindrance to the mission of the church, distracting us from what we are called to do and be amidst the world.

With this in mind it was with interest that I read an interview with Robert A. Sirico of the Acton Institute, Getting Religion Back into Our Economic Lives. Mr. Sirico is a Roman Catholic cleric and an eloquent writer and he was speaking with National Review about his new book, Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy, a book that makes the case that "the link between economic liberty and public morality is not tenuous; it is clear and direct." Mr. Sirico seems to be channeling the thoughts of John Adams who argued that the republican form of government and the free enterprise system are only suitable for a "moral" people. I found a great deal to disagree with Mr. Sirico on in this interview.

It bears repeating that this is not an indictment of the average Christian, Catholic or Protestant, that for whatever reason was born or converted into a religious system. Virtually every brother and sister in the faith and co-laborer in the work of the Kingdom is part of some sort of religious group. It is an indictment of those who manipulate and murder in the name of faith to enrich themselves or to gain power and wealth. There are countless examples, great and small, of this manipulation throughout history from Judas and his fake concern for the poor to modern "prosperity preachers" that fleece the flock to line their own pockets. We can be certain that as November approaches in America we will see politicians of all stripes appealing to the Almighty to "bless America", invoking Biblical language in support of their political cause and rallying powerful and influential religious leaders to their side to smite the heathen on the other side.

This was my response I posted in the comment section to the interview...

The Roman Catholic church is an ironic Johnny-come-lately to the cause of religious liberty having spent centuries of her existence repressing dissenting views by intimidation, violence and murder and then more centuries manipulating geo-politics in Europe and elsewhere that led to war and countless deaths to retain her alleged “authority”. To respond to the inevitable comments that statement is not “anti-Catholic bigotry”, it is demonstrably a historic fact. Pretending that it didn’t happen or worse that it was justifiable doesn’t change the facts of history.

This line was especially rich…

“LOPEZ: How is government-run health care uncompassionate?

FR. SIRICO: As in most institutions dominated by politics and bureaucracy, a gap grows between those being served and the ones doing the “serving.” This is especially the case when the bureaucracy is far away from the need and the principle of subsidiarity is ignored. The latter do not know the former and it is difficult to have real compassion without personal relationships. Human beings are lost sight of in politics and bureaucracy.”

...coming as it does from a staunch defender of an incredibly political bureaucracy where a man claims to be the vicar of Christ and demands recognition of his alleged authority over untold millions of people he has never met.

So-called economic and religious liberty has created some strange bedfellows indeed. Opposing forces that happily repressed one another and killed one another in the name of Christ when they were in power now find themselves banding together in the face of being out of power and rapidly diminishing influence. How the once mighty have fallen. Unfortunately rather than finding common ground for the sake of the Gospel and shedding the religious traditions that were created as means of obtaining and retaining control, they are finding common ground in the pursuit of personal property, wealth and economic security.

Civic religion is a great way to create a false sense of public morality that makes a people easier to rule but it has little to do with Christianity. Christianity is not a faith that is focused on wealth accumulation, religious liberty, economic and physical security and individual rights. It is a faith that expects to be persecuted and to suffer, a faith that thrives amidst the worst environments, a faith where others are always more important than self. In other words the very antithesis of American civic religion. The best thing that can happen to the church in America is to see the complete and utter collapse of any vestige of civic religion. Perhaps then we can get back to going about doing the work of the Good Shepherd.

This entire system of civic religion has been, as I wrote, a great boon to those who rule over populations. A people who adhere to a religious based moral system are easier to govern (i.e. control) but that does not mean that those religious systems are reflective of authentic Christianity. We had better figure out the difference before it is too late. Perhaps it already is.

1 comment:

Aussie John said...


Great article!

"Not the Gospel. Not Christ. No, the great unifier is inexplicably a political squabble over health insurance mandates".

Or, some other issue.

It's a matter of priority!

If Christ and the Gospel were the priority, Christians would be caring for each other, not dependent on government programs.