God and the Party Platform:

Quotes and Comments from Owen Chadwick’s The Secularization of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century

Part 1:  The Social Problem


This is not a normal book review.  The vast majority of those who might be interested in its premise will not be interested in buying the book, or reading it.  Chadwick’s contribution to the genre is academic and scholarly.  Professor Chadwick is a noted British historian and clergyman who is almost a hundred years old now.  So, why mention this historical work to the general public?  For several reasons:  (1) the full consequences of someone’s philosophic or religious ideas incubate for generations before societal fruition, (2) Christian education about the fundamentals of the Faith is never optional if the Church is to remain spiritually healthy and culturally virile, and (3) a continued refusal to deal with the secular mindset will not kill Christianity, but it will lead Christians into a catacomb-like existence once again.

Secularism is not an absence of God-talk!  The 2012 political conventions of the republican and democratic parties give witness to this reality.  How many times did we hear God’s name invoked at the end of a political speech- “God Bless America.”  What is that supposed to mean when delegates insisted on God being removed from the party’s platform or included in order to impress the public that their party is “God’s” party?  How did the country come to such a state of political schizophrenia?

Cursory analysis of societal trends or tendencies can be misleading, even confusing, if the big picture remains clouded.  Chadwick clears the air by focusing on long-term realities which transform society’s mind.  For the author, the ultimately important questions concern space and time.  The ending of a nation’s insularity, or its becoming “gradually internationalized,” eventually brings about a global skepticism of religious things in general.  Additionally, the gradual diffusion of new and opposing ideas to traditional religious expressions has an eroding effect on the Church.  This fact can be represented visibly by collecting data on church attendance, etc.    The writings of Marx, Darwin (and a host of others) in the
second half of the 19th century have already cauterized Europe’s mind, and subsequently, America’s.  Churches are empty; many congregants who still remain are shallow in their faith, at best.  Chadwick concludes, “The start [secularization] is an intellectual fact and the end a social fact.”  In other words, what gets into the head (individual hypothesis) can eventually end up in the feet (societal praxis).         

Quotes and Comments on Part 1: 

On Liberalism- “The Reformation in dividing Europe by religion, asked for a toleration which hardly anyone at first thought right.  Men believed that society could not cohere if it permitted difference in religion…Christian conscience was the force which began to make Europe ‘secular’; that is, to allow many religions or no religion in a state, and repudiate any kind of pressure upon the man who rejected the accepted and inherited axioms of society...[My conscience] shows me that I cannot trample upon other people’s consciences, provided they are true to them, provided they do not seek to trample upon mine, and provided they will work with me to ensure that our differing consciences do not undermine by their differences the social order and at last the state.” (23-24)

Chadwick’s reference to the “Christian conscience” would be better termed the “Protestant conscience” which is subject to a deficient view of authority.  The anthropocentrism of Martin Luther, and Protestantism in general, results in a minimalist view of the Christian Faith.  It also lends itself to an individualistic belief system which equates to spiritual anarchy.  On the other hand, a true “Christian conscience” can only be formed by adherence to God’s Law (The Ten Commandments).  Historic Church catechisms as well as confessional guidelines are designed to foster a proper formation of the human conscience.  Sin is still sin!  God’s Law alone is the glue which holds individual sin and societal barbarism in check.                                                                           

Karl Marx- “If we want to change men’s ideas, or to dissolve their illusions, we shall not do it in preaching atheism, or in undermining their beliefs by philosophizing.  We shall change their conditions of work and life.  To make religion vanish, we need not science but social revolution.” (59)  “Marxism was the most powerful philosophy of secularization in the nineteenth century…Its power was intrinsic:  the systematic and original exposition of a theory of secular society, based partly upon philosophical axioms and partly upon theories of contemporary economics.” (66)

In other words, Marxism undermines the moral order of society.  Did not the 60’s Revolution accomplish a breakaway from traditional religious (Christian) practices?  The erosion of our moral fiber has dehumanized our culture.  Have you not noticed that Christian beliefs are continually vilified and ridiculed or ignored in the public square these days?  Marxist thinking dominates public thinking today:  on Sundays, is it sports or spirituality that is a priority; for your reading pleasure, would you choose Fifty Shades of Gray or the Ten Commandments to reflect upon; and lastly, which is more important to civility, family or government?      

 

The attitudes of the worker- “[T]he European working-man was interested in bread, and drink, and the next meal, and the pub on the corner.  So far as truth meant a concern for abstract ideas, he was too near subsistence to care much.  The secularist argument, though an argument about truth, did not thrive on truth…It was hard for secularist leaders to bear, but the worker was too tired for education and came, if he came, because he wanted entertainment.  They spread their light more by catering for men’s leisure than by appealing to their minds.  The churches were not different.” (103)

Truth is too kind a word for the secularists; deceit and intimidation are better ones.  Use of the educational system to dumb down the general populace also furthers a secularist agenda.  The more ignorant the population, the more easily manipulated they become.  Secularists’ catering to leisure is booming in the new 21st century.  With the explosion in the telecommunications industry, entertainment is what we work for and what preoccupies our minds most of the time. One can only imagine what Sundays in the U.S. would be like without the NFL, or the outrage over restricting access to internet pornography.  Most churches, being non-liturgical, rush to provide entertainment as a means of increasing attendance at worship services.  Christian worship is not designed to get a good feeling, but give genuine worship to the one, true, living God.                 

The rise of anticlericalism- “…the Reformation rested the sacred upon the Bible alone, instead of a breadth of sacramental universe.  Then it only needed historical criticism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to shake the sacredness of the Bible, and we had arrived at the ‘disenchantment of the world’.” (138)  

Martin Luther and Reformation theology are egocentric in essence.  Since liberalism promotes the liberties of the individual, Protestantism fits that political viewpoint.  The principles of solascriptura and sola fide have guided much of Protestantism into the natural consequences of private interpretation of the Holy Scriptures:  division, and ultimately, compromise or death.  Perhaps the coming persecution of Christians in the West will bring the Church to a more unified, historical position.  Modern America has gradually compartmentalized and criticized Christianity out of the public square.  The way forward for the Church is to stand strong for the fundamentals (essentials) of the Faith, resist the urge to entertain parishioners, and not be influenced by secular neighbors. 

                

Secularism is marching down your main street!