"There is always a philosophy for lack of courage."—Albert Camus

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Richard Niebuhr on Christ and Culture


I'm reproducing a several lines from Richard Niebuhr's classic Christ and Culture. This excerpt does a fantastic job of explaining the constant complaint of the nation-state against the Christian faith:

The Christ who will not worship Satan to gain the world's kingdoms is followed by Christians who will worship only Christ in unity with the Lord whom he serves. And this is intolerable to all defenders of society who are content that many gods should be worshipped if only Democracy or America or Germany or the Empire receives its due, religious homage. The antagonism of modern, tolerant culture to Christ is of course often disguised because it does not call its religious practices religious, reserving that term for certain specified rites connected with officially recognized sacred institutions; and also because it regards what it calls religion as one of many interests which can be placed alongside economics, art, science, politics, and techniques. Hence, the objection it voices to Christian monotheism appears in such injunctions only as that religion should be kept out of politics and business, or that Christian faith must learn to get along with other religions. What is often meant is that not only the claims of religious groups but all consideration of the claims of Christ and God should be banished from the spheres where other gods, called values, reign. The implied charge against Christian faith is like the ancient one: it imperils society by its attack on its religious life; it deprives social institutions of their cultic, sacred character; by its refusal to condone the pious superstitions of tolerant polytheism it threatens social unity. The charge lies not only against Christian organizations which use coercive means against what they define as false religions, but against the faith itself.

11 comments:

James Elliott said...

"The Christ..."

I had a girlfriend who referred to me as "The Jim." Does this mean I'm a religious figure?

James Elliott said...

I know, I know, the whole "Christian majority persecution complex" thing brings out the worst in me. No one likes a martyr.

James Elliott said...

Crap. I just realized that someone might take that last sentence as a dig at Christ, which really wasn't the intent.

Hunter Baker said...

Don't sweat it, JFE. This is really not in league with some of your less savory swats at religion. What you have to realize is the Christian majority is basically a non-reality. There has been a Christendom, but I'm not sure there has ever been a true Christian majority made up of the people for whom the faith is truly "real" reality.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What one must ask is whether Western civilization got here despite or because of Christianity.

My reading of history finds the Magna Carta, the politico-philosophical origin of the concept of the inherent Dignity of Man, originating in the Dark Ages, and the Enlightenment more founded in the quite Christian Renaissance and Age of Reason than what came after.

I could be wrong. But I doubt it. :-)

Hunter Baker said...

I think that Rodney Stark and many others have pretty convincingly demonstrated that Western Civ as we know it today couldn't have emerged without bloody Rome being baptized in the waters of Christianity, which emerges from Mother Judaism. I can't recall the author who said that every time we see an ambulance tearing up the already awful traffic of rush hour just to attempt rescue of a single soul in danger, we see something that would never have happened without the historical intrusion of the Christian faith.

Kathy Hutchins said...

I had a girlfriend who referred to me as "The Jim." Does this mean I'm a religious figure?

"Christ" isn't Jesus' last name, it's a title. It's the Anglicization of the Greek word "Christos" which means (as does the Hebrew word "Messias") "the annointed one." It's like royalty: you can call her "Queen Elizabeth" to her face, but if referring to her in the third person you'd say "the Queen."

"The Jim" is more like "The Donald" -- which I always interpreted as a dig, implying that "The Donald" thinks he's God or royalty or a national treasure. You did say a former girlfriend, right?

James Elliott said...
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James Elliott said...

Former, yes, but the title was during. But it was all in jest, anyways. I'm a pretty good guy, but I get all weirded out when people fall to the ground and kiss my feet. I'm not the messiah; I'm just a naughty boy.

"I had the weirdest dream last night."

"Was it the one where you're standing atop a pyramid in sort of Sun God robes and a thousand naked women are screaming and throwing little pickles at you?"

"N-No!"

"Why am I the only one who has that dream?"

Hunter Baker said...

I love that movie, which one was it?

James Elliott said...

"Real Genius" with Val Kilmer.

The "naughty boy" bit is from Monty Python's "Life of Brian."