Even Conservative Evangelical Christians feel that one must make a difference in this world. It is no longer enough to resign oneself to God’s Will, renouncing worldly pretentions. Not too long ago, a Christian would firmly fix his eyes on his heavenly reward. Fulfilment and satiety of one’s longings were deferred until after Judgment Day. As for the wrongs and injustices in this world, only God could justly and perfectly reward and punish people (believers included) for their choices and faith (or lack thereof). Once upon a time a Christian life was one of resignation and waiting for the world to come. Of course there were occasional interludes of violence in spreading the faith foreshadowing today’s blood-thirsty warriors against abortion providers also invoking the Name of their Lord. The vast overwhelming majority of Christians, however, waited for their Reward and God’s Justice patient and resigned.
The clearest evidence of the prevalence of this resignation is in the criticisms lodged by socialist and atheist critics. “Religion is the opiate of the masses” is as good of an example as any. Why? The fixation on a heavenly reward for being a good Christian meant that happiness and satisfaction were deferred and delayed, thus making any improvement of our worldly lot. Traditional Christian resignation is still accessible through gospel music of the first half of the 20th Century. Give “I’ll Fly Away” or “I Wonder What They Are Doing in Heaven Today” a listen.
Socialism is an offshoot of Christianity. Apart from lacking a place for God, it promised paradise on earth. Paradise on earth could be realized through the efforts of people in the here and now. That was something that God could not promise. Belief was supposed to lead to action and achievement of worldly goals. It is difficult today to grasp the importance of Socialism in the 19th and early 20th Century. It almost always retroactively understood through Marxist and Soviet ideologies. Socialism’s appeal guaranteed an incestuous influence on Christianity. Or maybe the idea was in the air. It was no longer enough to wait and hope for Heaven and that God would sort things out in the End. A Reward in the World To Come was no longer enough. A vigorous and worldly Christianity was called for.
The improvements brought by science and city planning were embarrassing. Think of all the prayers for healing and comforting the sick uttered throughout 19 centuries by the pious. Secular ungodly scientists and engineers without even recognizing pious intentions and efforts began eliminating many diseases. The recognition of the importance and implementation of modern sanitation made periodic cholera epidemics a thing of the past. All done without prayer. Care and responsibility for the sick by religious institutions ended with secular Science and Medicine assuming responsibility for care and healing of the afflicted. Catholic and other religious hospitals are a distant echo of the importance of religious institutions for care of the sick with only peculiar limitations specific to the religious denomination remaining. Catholic hospitals adamantly refuse to allow abortions or reliable contraception to be available in their facilities. This policy is based on values, morality, ethics and God and not on what is medically appropriate. A rearguard action in a war it’s losing?
I am too easily distracted. Considered against this background, America’s Temperance Movement makes a lot of sense. Although to be fair, alcoholism had become such a widespread problem that something had to be done. Women, children and families were portrayed as victims of cheap liquor. Instead of look to God and His Judgment as would have been done in the past, a movement was created to influence and educate legislators as to their moral and Christian duty. It should be noted that this is the first major and ultimately successful attempt of Christians advocating for legislation on the basis of their religion that was about explicitly controlling and regulating the behavior of the non-religious.
Fast forward to today. The faithful are expect their tithes to do more than pay their pastor’s income and fees to be paid to their denomination’s hierarchy. Further there is admiration and money for activists and efforts to persuade politicians to end abortion and contraception for everyone. Evangelicals as the vanguard of society? To use a Leninist formula. Consider how the Religious Rights has waged a long running campaign against abortion and contraception. To speak Christian: they have made an idol of their good intentions to realize heaven on earth. They no longer worship God instead worshiping their City on the Hill.
Elsewhere in this blog I have referred to Christianity as an ideology. I would like to revise this. A religion is a system of beliefs that has as its primary focus God and the World To Come. An ideology is a system of beliefs to implement a particular vision of society. To the extent that Christianity is used to justify and motivate action in this world it is an ideology with all the problems ideologies bring. God and Jesus as tools to be used in this world. The single biggest problem with ideologies can be summed up in one of Nietzsche’s aphorisms from The Twilight of the Idols: “The will to a system betrays a lack of integrity.” This means that an ideology excludes anything that is inconsistent with its precepts. Our beliefs are attempts to clean up the messiness of Reality. Life is always bigger and more detailed than our capacity to grasp it. Conservatives are notorious for ignoring the best evidence for anything that doesn’t fit with their view of the world. Creationism. AIDS. Sexuality. Climate change. And the list goes on. Or as Stephen Colbert put it: “Reality has a liberal bias.”
I follow the standard reading of Nietzsche completely in finding non-ideological Christianity to be an expression of hatred of this world. Really traditional Christian theology is an elaboration explanation of how the believer have been cheated in this life and what to expect in the life to come. Part of the compensation being a good Christian is the Eternal Punishment of one’s enemies and a Heavenly Reward for being on the meek. It is a profound expression of Ressentiment. What happens when hopes of reward and punishment are no longer deferred to God and Jesus in the next world? Our feelings and passions are neither deceitful nor truthful. Truth and lie arise out of what we make of our feelings and passions. Passions and feelings are expressed whether we are conscious of them or not. They continue to exist whether we acknowledge them or not. What happens when hopes of reward and punishment are no longer deferred to God and Jesus in the next world? The hatred remains. The sense of being one of life’s many obscure victims remains. The Christian is cheated out of the life that he deserves. Christians defined themselves in opposition to the worldly, to non-Christians.
In order for a church to have cohesion it must have enemies first and foremost. First comes the enemy then comes “values” and “God’s Will.” What does being a Conservative Christian mean? Not being Gay. Not being for responsible contraception. Not being Secular Humanists. Groups, communities, organizations organize around shared beliefs, feelings, passions, and aspirations. Metaphorically secret handshakes. What do Evangelical churches share? Hatred and Fear of anything that they are not and a lust for destruction without the capacity to create alternatives. Every time Conservatives try to explicitly mimic their enemies the outcome is a pale pitiful ghost of the original. Conservative comedy anyone? Christian Rock Music? Remember the Conservative alternative to Jon Stewart’s Daily Show? Hardly anyone. Even Conservatives didn’t like it. Conservatives, especially the Christians, are irresistibly compelled to create pitiable knock-offs of mainstream and liberal media and entertainment, but especially of liberal media. Their efforts violate the first rule of creativity that even children know: you must do something different from what has been done before.
Against this background the hateful absurdities that abound in their pronouncements are not for our (= non-Christians’) benefit. It is as if we are overhearing a conversation. The primary purpose of their hateful absurdities is to keep their flock together. Everything else is a potential shepherd's staff for keeping their flock of sheep together.
The Death of God also means that His corpse is used as a prop in a dog and pony show.