from “The Post-Protestant Ethic and Spirit of America” by Joseph Bottum
…We live in what can only be called a spiritual age, swayed by its metaphysical fears and hungers, when we imagine that our ordinary political opponents are not merely mistaken, but actually evil. When we assume that past ages, and the people who lived in them, are defined by the systematic crimes of history. When we suppose that some vast ethical miasma, racism, radicalism, cultural self-hatred, selfish blindness, determines the beliefs of classes other than our own. When we can make no rhetorical distinction between absolute wickedness and the people with whom we disagree. The Republican Congress is the Taliban. President Obama is a Communist. Wisconsin’s governor is a Nazi.
We live in a spiritual age when we believe ourselves surrounded by social beings of occult and mystic power, when we live with titanic cultural forces contending across the sky, and our moral sense of ourselves, of whether or not we are good people, of whether or not we are redeemed, takes its cues primarily from our relation to those forces. We live in a spiritual age when the political has been transformed into the soteriological, when how we vote is how we are saved.
Our world is filled with bastard Christianities, on both the Left and the Right. It is populated by Christian moral ideas set loose from the churches and the theological dogmas that once contained and controlled them. Victimhood, the all-American cult of niceness, the merging of social classes with social politics, they all derive in their way from what the novelist Flannery O’Connor once mocked as the Church of Christ without Christ.
For example, there’s a very interesting debate going on in some French intellectual circles about whether political correctness could possibly occur in any culture that wasn’t formerly Christian. Or perhaps even clearer, think of environmentalism. It is commonplace among conservative commentators to point out the ways in which environmentalism sometimes acts as though it were a religion, rather than a political or social view. But few of those commentators pursue the thought down to the actual worldview, which is almost definitively the Church of Christ without Christ.
This is a Christian story, a supernaturally charged history that would have been familiar to Augustine and Anselm. We have an Eden, a paradise of nature, until the fall, which was the emergence of sentient human beings as polluters, injuring the world as the world was meant to be. We have a long era of progressive damage, all aiming toward the apocalypse – the final injuring of the world beyond repair. Strong environmentalism offers, in essence, St. Augustine’s dark worldview without any grace or redemption for human beings. Environmentalism offers, in essence, Christianity without Christ.
The real question, of course, is how and why this happened. How and why politics became a mode of spiritual redemption for nearly everyone in America, but especially for the college-educated upper-middle class, who are probably best understood not as the elite, but as the elect, people who know themselves as good, as relieved of their spiritual anxieties by their attitudes toward social problems.
My father was born in Northern Rhodesia. He attended a British school during his high school years, although I’m pretty sure they didn’t call it high school in the British colonies in the early 1950’s. When he was a kid he had dual citizenship; he was a citizen of the United States of America and the United Kingdom. I think he had to renounce one or the other when he reached the age of majority, and by that point he probably already had a job in the United States.
When I was a kid my family went up to see my grandparents in Wheaton, Illinois just about every Sunday. In the guest bedroom, I distinctly remember my grandmother had a calendar with pictures of the royal family.
My dad was never a fan of American sports. We never watched football or baseball. My dad didn’t even know the rules of football. This was always blamed on growing up in a British colony. As an adult you realize that this is a lame excuse. Anyway, the sport in our house was tennis. It was always on tv. My dad played, my brother played competitively. So I wanted to play. And I was good (although my brother was better and kept at it into college where I pretty much stopped around adolescence.)
Anyway, I always resented the United Kingdom because I somehow associated my grandpa’s stodginess and my own alienation from typical venues of American manliness (i.e. American sports) to the British influence on my family.
My grandpa and grandma definitely were influenced by the decades they spent in British colonies, and my dad was probably also from spending his formative years in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia).
But eventually as an adult I came to realize that England was not responsible for my family’s idiosyncrasies.
Then I studied English literature and wrote poetry in college.
And then when I started studying Lutheran theology, I started wondering whether the American Revolution was really compatible with Christianity. I know
some people whose judgment I respect who say yes, but myself I can’t see any possible way that it was.
Things are what they are. Obviously the authority to which I owe honor and duty now, per Romans 13, is the government of the United States.
Yet I find myself, frequently, wishing that England was not a shadow of its former self, but instead Christian England. And I wish that the dignity one still sees in the Queen’s demeanor…and the little bits of reverence one still sees English society pay the Queen–I wish that some of this existed in American society!
American democracy was not always what it is now–a crass society dominated by all of humanity’s lowest and least noble desires.
I read some story about the Queen cleaning her nails while Team UK marched into the Olympic Stadium. Then all the riffraff had a million snotty comments.
What a blessing it is to have people and institutions to revere–not for the sake of the person, but for God’s sake.
No doubt Christendom was full of hypocrisy and glorying in men and not God. But still, it must have been a beautiful thing when people could submit and revere authorities as gifts from God–when they reverenced their parents, their teachers, their ministers, their sovereign–because they revered God.
It must have been a beautiful thing, too, when rulers–at least sometimes–recognized their authority as a trust from God. Or when at least some of the wealthy realized that God had given them their wealth and would hold them accountable. Now our politicians kneel before public opinion, and how many of the businessmen who caused the stock market to crash fear God? And now that everyman is a celebrity and each everyman is the center of the universe, and everyone’ s problem is that no one recognizes their greatness–well, we don’t let our kids run around and play outside unattended anymore, and we don’t talk to our neighbors. And the other day I turned on the Olympics and was watching the US basketball team as they sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and it looked like one guy was so proud to represent the United States that he put his hands in his pockets and looked at his feet during the anthem. Yep, he’s that important, that he’s not willing to show any respect for the country whose team he’s on, but still willing to receive, personally, the publicity and honor. Either that or we just all invent our own ways of showing respect. This guy puts his hands in his pockets, this guy picks his nose. They sure noticed when the Queen didn’t pay attention for 10 seconds. But I can’t find any articles on the internet about the basketball player with his hands in his pockets. After that I turned it off. Sadly they don’t have fencing on demand.
If that’s liberty, you can have it. I’d rather have a gracious Queen.
- Would-be Britons ‘to recite God Save the Queen’ for citizenship test – Metro (metro.co.uk)
- Colonial ruling (wordstodeeds.com)
- Fiji dumps Queen’s birthday holiday (abc.net.au)
- God Save The Queen! (armyofcp.com)
- The World Revolves Around US (failbook.failblog.org)
- All the Queen’s subjects: Not all singalong fans (turcanin.wordpress.com)
- God Save the Queen (lonelyangel75.com)
- God save our Queen and all she stands for (mirror.co.uk)
- Republics maybe, but no quarrel with the Queen (caribbean360.com)