A Quote for Today

But I hope Mr. Romney and his culture warrior friends (whether on the Right or Left) won’t be surprised if some of us find it hard to believe in Americanism and its God of liberty. Some of us just can’t muster faith in the generic theism that is preached on the campaign trail, whether from the Right or Left. Some of us Christians have a hard time reconciling the Almighty, all-powerful, law-giving God of liberty with the crucified suffering servant born in a barn and executed at the hands of the elite. Some of us are trying to figure out what it means to be a people who follow one who relinquished his rights rather than asserted them, who considered submission a higher value than freedom. We serve a God-man who wasn’t concerned with “preserving leadership” and the hegemony of the empire’s gospel of freedom, but rather was crushed by its machinations for proclaiming and embodying another gospel.

-James K.A. Smith, “Mitt Romney’s ‘Faith in America‘”

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  • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

    Interesting. I happen right now to be reading a book by Protestant thinker, Rudolf Bultmann. The book is entitled “Primitive Christianity in its Contemporary Setting”. The section I’ve arrived at is “The Greek Heritage” and the chapter of that section which I finished last night was “The Crisis of the City State”. Consider the article to which Mark has linked with this excerpt the cited chapter of Bultmann’s text:

    “The constitution of a the city state was …an empirical manifestation of an eternal principle. The gods watched over it and protected it, punishing the wrongdoer. The State had an aura of sanctity about it, and the relation of the citizen to it was in effect his religion, with its external expression in the official cultus. Unlike the majority of the Semitic deities, the Greek gods were not tied to the land or the soil. Primarily, they were gods of the nation, of the nation constituted as a State. Religion and politics did not develop in watertight compartments, nor was there any conflict between them. There was no problem about the relation of Church and State, no autonomous priestly caste as in the religions of the East. The worship of the gods was a STate cultus, the priests State officials.

    “Yet all these considerations fail to touch the real problem before the city state. How long would the belief in the divine origin of its constitution survive? Would the State continue to be looked upon as a sacred institution with priority over all individual interests? Would the gods still command reverence for their divinity, or would they be reduced to the level of personificiations of man’s spiritual and intellectual capacities? True, the doctrine of the divine origin of the STate and its laws was still upheld. But, on the other hand, the concrete shape of the laws was determined by the decisions and action of the citizens. Thus there was a very real danger of the gods losing their authority, of the city state and its laws pasing increasingly into human control and being subordinated to their private and collective interests. Once this kind of criticism hasd been brought to bear on the existing constitution, once the democratic assembly could repeal old laws and pass new ones at will, the State became increasingly the scene of party conflict and a scramble for power on the part of individuals. As a result, political life became secularized, and there was no check on self-seeking, greed or avarice. The old, divine sanctions had disappeared.”

    Does any of this look familiar, Vox Novians?

    • Peter Paul Fuchs


      Excellent quotation! But apropos the mental atmosphere of Vox Novians, there is this further questiion. When and where did the Church we are discussing here mostly ever NOT participate in being a bulwark to state power?? They have fought FOR their own — to use George Weigel’s rather hilarious misapplication — Babylonian Captivity by every state power imaginable in every way. Until they were persecuted, then it flips and the other tack is needed. That does not make the persecution right, but the genesis was often in the past the entrenchment in state power. This long history has made it ever so difficult for the West to extract itself from the circles of violence that are now just constant. It is no longer the RC Church’s immediate fault in any way whatsoever. In fact at least in pronouncements from the Vatican, they are much more often on the decent side of things than many politicians in so-called liberal democracies. But to the extent that their role is not acknowledged squarely in an historical sense, they are more than a little complicit. But that would involve being critical of their own current enthusiasms, for they are strikingly similar in manner to the old ambitions, if not in influence which they once had. They could do a service to humanity, especially in the West, by addressing their own part in the fix we are in, and thus creating a real way out. Humanity on a cross of iron, indeed.

      On a related note, may I remind that the candidate whose rhetoric was most in line with the military industrial complex was the most conservative Catholic, Santorum.

      • Ryan


        I think you just don’t “understand” history. Can I make some book suggestions? That will enlighten you from a brillant Catholic historian?



      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        Oh Thomas Woods, isn’t he the guy who that (still!) argues that there is a fine morality under which slavery would be moral. Or maybe it was one of his libertarian comrades in one of those civil war buff fringe groups. Great choice to represent Catholicism.

        By the way, Ryan, since you have given such an unserious example of a Catholic historian, let me recommend a more serious one who at least has some good and thought-provoking points to make. Brad Gregory’s The Unintended Reformation at least is written with a forthright and honest scholarly intent, not just propaganda.

        Also, lastly, since you have been so unserious, I feel I can be indulged one admittedly wobbly speculation. I have wanted to discuss this somewhere and have not had the right venue; so here it now is, I think. You knwo when you read a lot of Church history one of the striking things is how many of the
        “rules” of religious orders, often quite detailed, are extant for myriad monasteries and convents in Western history. In fact we have the “rule” of exactly what monks were given to eat and drink in a day. Leaving aside what might be called extremely “mitigated” houses, or very
        corrupt” ones, the fact is what they got to eat was very, very little. Often just a little bread once a day. But, notably they were always, or at least very often, given a rather substantial amount of wine. Now I have a question which I pose respectfully, and by that I mean not in the “holy anorexic” vein of history theorization. Namely, were monks drunk 24/7? I mean this seriously. If one drinks even a small amount of wine on a more or less empty stomach, one gets pretty tipsy or drunk. And if one did that day after day with little to eat, but with comparatively more wine, what was the effect. Of course this relates to the well-understood fact that people drank wine and beer to avoid getting stomach illnesses, as water was often dangerous. But still, most lay people presumably had more to eat. Wine on an empty stomach, is this an untold part of the history of spirituality? So you see, Ryan, I am already quite interested in Catholic history!

      • Mark Gordon

        Ryan, thank GOD you were kidding. I thought you were serious and was slightly embarrassed for you. LOL! For once, I was rooting for PPF to take you to school.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs


        Oh it was a joke!! And by the name I think I know a certain former seminarian friend of mine who may be behind it!! I am going to complain to Sister Trinita about you! I am going to go sit in front of one of my favorite Vibert paintings in the Library of the Archbishop getting the piano lesson and sulk for missing this funny prank! You got me. I always take myself way too seriously. I will deal with you on Facebook!

  • Peter Paul Fuchs

    The American Empire is at such an odd place that it almost can’t help but be a version of “Cuius regio eius religio” . But the vastly more fundamental matter, using religious themes for critical insight, is Eisenhower’s “Cross of Iron” speech. One cannot have lived a recent life in this country and not shed a tear on hearing it again.

    • Ryan

      By the way, I was kidding. I thought your reviews of Wood’s books on amazon to be true and hilarious.

  • Rodak

    My point above was the much-too-often-repeated one that those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it. The Founding Fathers, the elite amongst whom were mostly Deists and men of the Enlightenment, knew about the Greeks. They knew that for the people of a democracy–especially one peopled largely by religious dissidents and refugees from religious wars or persecution–to be kept in check and made to toe the line, the governmental powers needed to have divine sanction. So they stuck it in there, with enough vagueness so that any group or individual could allow himself to believe that “the Maker” in question was the Maker of his particular flavor of the faith. I.e., they tried to create precisely what the classical Greeks had tried to create in the infancy of the city-state, as described by Bultmann in my previous comment. And it eventually unravelled in much the same way that ours in the process of unravelling now. We are currently witnessing the reaction of the last of the die-hards being played out religio-politically. Same old, same old.

    • Mark Gordon

      And let’s not forget that many of those Founders were Freemasons, The civil religion they created owes as much to the Lodge as to the Christian church. Perhaps our 32nd degree friend, Peter Paul Fuchs, can elaborate.

      • Peter Paul Fuchs

        Scripture is often the best answer:

        “2It is the glory of God to conceal a matter,
        But the glory of kings is to search out a matter.
        3As the heavens for height and the earth for depth,
        So the heart of kings is unsearchable.

        4Take away the dross from the silver,
        And there comes out a vessel for the smith;

        5Take away the wicked before the king,
        And his throne will be established in righteousness.

        6Do not claim honor in the presence of the king,
        And do not stand in the place of great men;

        7For it is better that it be said to you, “Come up here,”
        Than for you to be placed lower in the presence of the prince,
        Whom your eyes have seen.

        8Do not go out hastily to argue your case;
        Otherwise, what will you do in the end,
        When your neighbor humiliates you?

        9Argue your case with your neighbor,
        And do not reveal the secret of another,

        10Or he who hears it will reproach you,
        And the evil report about you will not pass away.

        11Like apples of gold in settings of silver
        Is a word spoken in right circumstances.”

  • https://twitter.com/kylecupp Kyle R. Cupp

    Be careful of James K.A. Smith. He’s like me. A postmodernist.

  • Gordie

    So how does Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and all the pre-socratic philosphers fit in with Bultman’s description of the divine sanction. Didn’t Plato/socrates react against the religious myths of the day? Socrates was killed for this meddling. But at the same time Plato insisted in the Republic that an elite should run the state because of their education and virtue? Who are these elites and what is the foundation for their rule? The foundation almost always falls back on religious language. It’s just that since the enlightment the religious language has taken on a secular tone. If the foundation is not divine sanction then what? Humans are religious and therefore politics will always be infused with religion.

    • http://www.rrrrodak.blogspot.com Rodak

      @ Gordie —

      That is a question that is really too complicated (and too tangential) for this thread. But the short answer is that Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and the rest were active during the dissolution of the City State–of which Bultmann cites the disappearance of the divine sanctions as a major contributing factor. Religion was the socio-political cement for the early Greeks. Our Founding Fathers sought to use that same mortar in the establishment of this democratic State. We should note well how it ended for the Greeks.
      The Founding Fathers sought to make the religious idea generic because they realized that a state religion would be an impossibility in New World. It has worked to the extent that “Americanism” has, indeed, become the effective religion of many–perhaps most–Americans. If that breaks down–as it seems now to be on the verge of doing–sauve qui peut.

  • Michael

    Great post Mark…

    Americanism has it backwards. We need to be Christians before we are americans. The phrase “Jesus Christ is Lord” very simply states this. Othewise we are giving our soul over to Cesar and it is not his to have. Romney et al’s “Amercianism” is blasphemous and we better start calling it such. This blessing of american exceptionalism is starting down the road of the german churches in the 1920’s and 1930’s and look what happened to them…either persectuted or rightly shamed by history. This path of deifying Americanism is perilous to the soul of every american follower of Jesus Christ…and I for one am having NONE of it.