Radical thinker praises Christianity

Jurgen Habermas is a prominent European intellectual–an influential neo-Marxist, a postmodernist critic, and more recently a neo-Enlightenment philosopher.  But now, surprisingly, he is singing the praises of Christianity.  Lutheran sociologist Peter Berger tells the tale, drawing on some recent scholarship about Habermas:

[Philipe] Portier distinguishes three phases in Habermas’ treatment of religion. In phase one, lasting up to the early 1980s, he still viewed religion as an “alienating reality”, a tool of domination for the powerful. In good Marxist tradition, he thought that religion would eventually disappear, as modern society comes to be based on “communicative rationality” and no longer needs the old irrational illusions. In phase two, roughly 1985-2000, this anti-religious animus is muted. Religion now is seen as unlikely to disappear, because many people (though presumably not Habermas) continue to need its consolations. The public sphere, however, must be exclusively dominated by rationality. Religion must be relegated to private life. One could say that in this phase, at least in the matter of religion, Habermas graduated from Marxism to the French ideal of laicite—the public life of the republic kept antiseptically clean of religious contamination.

Phase three is more interesting. As of the late 1990s Habermas’ view of religion is more benign. Religion is now seen as having a useful public function, quite apart from its private consolations. The “colonization” of society by “turbo-capitalism” (nice term—I don’t know if Habermas coined it) has created a cultural crisis and has undermined the solidarity without which democratic rationality cannot function. We are now moving into a “post-secular society”, which can make good use of the “moral intuition” that religion still supplies. Following in the footsteps of Ernst Bloch and other neo-Marxist philo-Godders, Habermas also credits Biblical religion, Judaism and Christianity, for having driven out magical thinking (here there is an echo of Max Weber’s idea of “ the disenchantment of the world”), and for having laid the foundations of individual autonomy and rights.

Habermas developed these ideas in a number of publications and media interviews. The most interesting source (not discussed by Portier in the article) is a 2007 publication by a Catholic press, The Dialectics of Secularization. It is a conversation between Habermas and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (at the time of this exchange head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, subsequently Pope Benedict XVI). Habermas here gives credit to Christianity for being the purveyor of a universal egalitarianism and for an openness to reason, thus continuing to provide moral substance for democracy. Not surprisingly, Ratzinger agreed.

I am not sure what Habermas’ personal beliefs are. But I don’t think that his change of mind about religion has anything to do with some sort of personal conversion. Rather, as has been the case with most sociologists of religion, Habermas has looked at the world and concluded that secularization theory—that is, the thesis that modernization necessarily leads to a decline of religion—does not fit the facts of the matter. Beyond this acknowledgement of the empirical reality of the contemporary world, Habermas admits the historical roots in Biblical religion of modern individualism, and he thinks that this connection is still operative today. Yet, when all is said and done, Habermas now has a positive view of religion (at least in its Judaeo-Christian version) for utilitarian reasons: Religion, whether true or not, is socially useful.

via What Happens when a Leftist Philosopher Discovers God? | Religion and Other Curiosities.

HT:  Joe Carter

What would a theocracy look like?

Joe Carter looks at the “theophobes” who are all worried about America becoming a theocracy, as if evangelicals who don’t even believe in a central church authority would institute a central government authority.   He tries to calm their fears, pointing out that the number of “Reconstructionists” who might be interested in going for a theocracy is so small they could all fit into the conference room of a Holiday Inn in Helena, Montana.

But then he launches into a thought experiment, wondering what such a theocracy would look like:

What would the nation look like if we became the Dominionist States of America?

Here is the most plausible scenario I can imagine:

• After agreeing that it’s no longer applicable to a country that was founded by Unitarians and Deists, the term “Christian nation” is forbidden from being used in reference to the pre-dominionist era (i.e., from 1776-2012).

• The Marriage Protection Amendment is added to the U.S. Constitution, setting gay rights legislation back to the regressive year of 2003. The Human Life Amendment is stalled in Congress as pro-life factions fight over which of the 330 previously submitted proposals should be implemented.

• A revision is made to the First Amendment in which the words “Congress shall make no law . . . prohibiting the free exercise of religion” is underlined and put in bold font. High school valedictorians—whether Christian, Muslim, or Jew—are extended the same right to pray at graduations as Supreme Court justices and members of Congress have had throughout our country’s history.

• A national ban on pornography is implemented. The prohibition has a negligible effect since there is already more porn on the hard drives of computers in Christian homes than was produced from the death of Caligula to the birth of Hugh Hefner.

• Creationism and Intelligent Design theory are included alongside the theory of evolution in school curricula. Students are forced to learn three theories, the details of which they’ll have forgotten about by graduation day.

• Congress passes the Christian Television Act which requires (a) every show must have as many Christian characters as homosexual characters, (b) Catholic characters must not be limited to elderly Latino women, Irish priests, and lapsed nuns, and (c) CBS must bring back Touched by an Angel.

And . . . well, that’s about the most that could ever happen.

Perhaps my ability to imagine a more robust form of Christian theocracy is dulled by the fact that I know so many actual Christians. The average Christian in America isn’t all that radical, which is why I think my list is a fair representation of the worst-case scenario. We would not have a zombified R.J. Rushdoony returning from the dead to stone men who lie with men and children who lie to their parents. We’d merely have average Christians acting much like average Christian acts now.

Most Christians merely want a return to the standard of public morality that prevailed during the country’s first two hundred years. As Ramesh Ponnuru has said about the “values voter” hysteria of 2004, “Nearly every one of these policies—and all of the most conservative ones—would merely turn the clock back to the late 1950s. That may be a very bad idea, but the America of the 1950s was not a theocracy.”

Indeed it is not. America was not a theocracy in 1950 and it won’t be a theocracy in 2050. Everyone, even the theophobes, knows this is true. The fact is that the journalists behind God Scare 2011 really aren’t concerned about dominionism. They aren’t really afraid that America is hurtling toward theocracy; they merely fear that our nation is drifting away from their goal of a secularacracy.

They need not worry. We’ll get there soon enough. And many Christians will be leading the way.

via What If America Did Become a Theocracy? | First Things.

Good new words:  Theophobe!  Secularacracy!

Seriously, do you think this is anything the left or anyone else really needs to worry about?  What are the prospects of us conservative Christians taking over the country and dismantling the Constitution?  (I thought we were the ones trying to defend the Constitution!)  To be sure, there are  theological dangers of a social gospel of the right, but aren’t those  far greater than any political danger?

Who the unchurched actually are

You want church growth?  You want to reach the unchurched?  Stop the preoccupation with middle class suburbanites and young urban professionals.  The fields that are in the greatest need of harvest are the less educated, the lower income, and the blue collar.  THAT’S the group that has stopped going to church:

If you don’t have a college degree, you’re less likely to be up early on Sunday morning, singing church hymns.

That’s the upshot of a new study that finds the decline in church attendance since the 1970s among white Americans without college degrees is twice as high as for those with college degrees.

“Our study suggests that the less-educated are dropping out of the American religious sector, similarly to the way in which they have dropped out of the American labor market,” said W. Bradford Wilcox, a professor of sociology at the University of Virginia, who was lead researcher on the project.

The research, presented this week at American Sociological Association’s annual meeting, found that 37% of moderately educated whites – those with high school degrees but lacking degrees from four-year colleges – attend religious services at least monthly, down from 50% in the 1970s.

Among college-educated whites, the dropoff was less steep, with 46% regularly attending religious services in the 2000s, compared with 51% in the ’70s.

The study focuses on white Americans because church attendance among blacks and Latinos is less divided by education and income.

Most religiously affiliated whites identify as Catholics, evangelical Protestants, mainline Protestants, Mormons or Jews.

Lower church attendance among the less-educated may stem from a disconnect between them and modern church values, the study theorizes.

Religious institutions tend to promote traditional middle-class family values like education, marriage and parenthood, but less-educated whites are less likely to get or stay married and may feel ostracized by their religious peers, the researchers said.

via Less-educated Americans are losing religion, study finds – CNN Belief Blog – CNN.com Blogs.

Why do you think these folks, who used to be avid church goers, have become alienated from churches?  What in churches today, including their church growth strategies, would turn them off?  How might they be brought back into the fold?

UPDATE:  Be sure to read the comments for some very insightful and challenging thoughts.

Anonymity and temptation

The young rioters in England wear hoods and masks to hide their identities.  British authorities trying to tamp things down are pondering allowing police to require people to show their faces.

Anonymity is indeed tied to bad behavior.   Shame is one of those first-use of the law phenomena that helps keep our sinful natures from breaking out.  But when no one knows who we are, our inhibitions are released.  We certainly see this in the internet, when people in blog wars and email flames can become much more vicious than they would be in actual person-to-person contact,where the online bomb thrower is often quite a nice guy.

On the other hand, anonymity has its positive uses too, protecting legitimate privacy and shielding the individual from negative social pressures.

Is there a way to balance all of this?

Britain weighs personal freedoms against need to keep order – The Washington Post.

Authority crisis

Rioters as young as nine are looting shops and burning buildings in cities across Great Britain.  Pundits, of course, are trying to answer the question, “Why?”  The left is predictably blaming social conditions–government cutbacks in particular–and the right is predictably putting responsibility on the individual “hooligans.”

I haven’t seen any interviews of the actual perpetrators (fill me in if you have), but I suspect there is not all that much “rage”–pictures I’ve seen are of the young folks laughing as they run off with vodka and electronic appliances–and minimalistic responses on the order of “whatever” to journalists as to all adults.

My theory is this:  Western nations in general are suffering from a crisis in authority.  Specifically, young people today tend not to perceive the validity of ANY authority over them.  Not their parents.  Also not the police, their teachers, their pastors.  Nor the law or a moral code.  And certainly not their governments.

I would say too that we conservatives, while being strong on the authority of the family, may be contributing to the erosion of authority, especially when it comes to the contempt we tend to express for  government authority of every kind.

Not only the person who holds the office–always subject to political opposition–but the office itself seems to be denigrated.  We oppose not just our local Congressmen but “politicians” and “Congress” in general.  That’s different from how I remember it in the good old days of Goldwater and Reagan conservatism, which tended to be very patriotic, “law and order,” “my country right or wrong,” even to a fault.  I don’t deny that our office holders contributed to this new cynicism towards government.  But I’m saying that the social contract needs a general respect for authority, including the authority of the state–a notion that is explicitly Biblical–otherwise, civilization will come apart, as we are seeing in England.

 

UK RIOTS 2011: Manchester and Midlands burn but London is ‘under control’ | Mail Online.

And now the Marriage Pledge for politicians

Republican presidential candidates keep getting asked to sign pledges–not to raise taxes, to oppose abortion, etc.–in order to get the support of key voters.  The latest is a pledge about marriage that goes on to include stances on various issues of sexual morality.  Signers must promise not only to oppose gay marriage, but also to oppose divorce, extra-marital sex, pornography, women in combat, and to believe that homosexuality is a choice.  Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum have signed it.  Mitt Romney refuses to.  Tim Pawlenty has said he agrees with the substance of the document but refuses to sign it.  (Complicating the pledge was a statement since removed that said African-American families were better off under slavery than they are today.  Again, that statement has been removed and the signers are repudiating that part.)

Are such pledges wise?  While they might seal up some voters, won’t they alienate many more?  Given the cultural climate of today, isn’t a politician who signs a statement like this doomed to defeat?   Might Christian activists who demand this kind of ideological purity be engaging in a counter-productive effort, ensuring that candidates sympathetic to their cause will lose rather than win?

via Pawlenty punts, Romney rips Iowa marriage pledge – latimes.com.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X