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American Religiousity - A Fragment

In a brief post commenting on a discussion of trends in religious affiliation that began with this post by Razib of Gene Expression, and was picked up by Brink Lindsey, Ross Douthat writes:

My own preferred explanation - which is doubtless a small part of the pantomime - is theological rather than sociological: Christianity has thrived in the United States by adapting its theology to the habits and mores of the American people, in a way that religion in Europe hasn't managed to do. America is an Emersonian country, and its religious innovators have invented an Emersonian form of Christianity - which some might suggest isn't Christianity at all, of course - that's nicely tailored to the broader culture in which it swims. Call it gnosticism, or Moral Therapeutic Deism, or just plain Americanism - it means Elaine Pagels and Karen Armstrong for highbrow audiences and T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyer for the masses, and it works.

Well, for my part, I'm partial to what most might dismiss as too meta-level a theory, namely, that there is something in the human spirit that craves a unity of experience, and under the conditions of the modern world, that unity has been achieved by adjusting religion to prevailing social conditions. But first, it might be worthwhile to remark upon what is meant when it is said that this American religion "works". It is to say, I think, that America is more religious than Europe because American religion works for Americans, given the sociological conditions of the nation; it better enables them to navigate, adapt to, and achieve psychological (this is an important qualifier) peace within the American social environment. It is not exactly question-begging, but rather a matter of the pragmatic connotations of that little word "works"; to state that something works is to orient it towards some mundane end or purpose. One would not argue, unless one were exceedingly vulgar, that Christianity "works" by getting a man salvation, for this would be to reduce and commodify the faith, to present it as some sort of transaction.

Seen in this light, the notion that American religion "works" seems less theological than sociological; at a minimum the sociology precedes the theology as the formative factor. Moreover, this pragmatic function of American religion would better explain why America has the religion it has, not necessarily why it is more religious than Europe: one might chalk up the differences in religiousity to differences in intellectual culture and political history, and explain the quality of American religion as a local adaptation to social conditions. Perhaps, however, there is no necessity of drawing such hard and fast distinctions. Consider the tenets of what Christian Smith describes as Moralistic Therapeutic Deism:

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

The resonances of this cluster of sentiments with earlier forms of Deism ought to be obvious; that these sentiments express the truncated nature of religious commitment within the civilization that was emerging into maturity at the time of the old Deists also ought to be obvious. The idea of God as a cosmic orderer or Divine Architect mirrors the idea of society as a self-correcting mechanism, as found in the writings of early political economists; the notion that morality involves fair dealings with one another, preeminently, expresses the presupposition of that sort of commercial society. The notion that happiness and self-esteem are the ends of mortal life is the lubricant of a type of society that demands the incessant pursuit of temporal satisfactions as an engine of prosperity. The idea that God exists to resolve problems expresses the systemic necessity of downplaying religious convictions and confessions as bases of social order, and stipulates the role of religion in society: as a bulwark and ratification of the economic and political order. Religion takes its orders from the social order. Finally, the notion that good people go to heaven when they die is merely a capstone of the ecumenical, utilitarian conception of religion; religion exists to serve the social and economic order, which is pluralistic precisely because it is already commercial and secular - and if one wishes to be a little cynical about it, promises man a life in the beyond if he refrains from rocking the boat.

America is the hypermodern, commercial society par excellence; American religion, to the extent that it does fit the paradigms of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism and personal growth, is fitted to inculcate the habits and attitudes conducive to success within, and the maintenance of, that society. To that extent, it is an epiphenomenal religion, a superstructure which legitimizes the social order. Why, then, in the end, is America still more religious than Europe? Could not Europe have a religiousity fitted to its own social conditions?

Two points seem apposite. First, the forms of Christianity instrumental in the development of American society and culture were those intimately bound up with the emergence of modernity, political, social, and economic. It is not to be marveled that what was once a byproduct of a religious tendency - and associated political movements - would one day assume a dominant role, and reshape the religion that midwifed it. In Europe, on the whole, religion either became identified with the most baleful effects of modernity and progress (as in England), or was regarded as an impediment to progress and enlightenment (as on most of the Continent). Religion, in consequence, has withered. Second, man is indeed a being who strives to attain a unity of experience; insofar as the socio-economic order is what actually unifies us in America, Americans have reshaped religion to conform to it. In Europe, insofar as religion either underwrote a social order experienced as oppressive and unjust, or was taken to impede progress towards Enlightenment, Europeans established that unity of experience by jettisoning faith. This, I propose, is why Americans are not only more religious than Europeans, but practice a certain type of religion.

Comments (21)

I have some slightly less cynical theories: Americans are more religious than Europeans because American religion came from England (rather than, primarily, from France) and then was isolated here by sheer distance to some degree from the effects of various forms of theological modernism (not to be confused with other types of modernism), so that real religious belief of various Protestant stripes has continued to flourish here longer than in England or on the continent. Moreover, religious believers (real ones) did not feel that there was anything tacky about being fervent in that belief; fervent religious belief was for a long time and still is to some extent considered by the ordinary man in American culture to be a good thing rather than a scary and embarrassing thing. This fits just generally with the fact that Americans are (if I may put it this way) less snobby than Europeans. So various forms of evangelicalism and fundamentalism were able to provide something of a sociological bastion against unbelief during the past 150 years in the U.S. without being (yet) hounded off the cultural stage.

Finally, the freedom of religion in the U.S. and the sense that there's nothing wrong with starting off in a new "frontier" (literal or figurative) has allowed Americans at various times to start new educational institutions and types of institutions and to throw themselves into funding these so as to educate the young in the religion their parents espouse. I'm quite sure that the Christian school movement of the late 1960's and early 1970's, for example, did not have nearly as vigorous a counterpart in England or on the European continent. American cultural ideas allowed people to think that they could "do it themselves" and in various ways try to resist government monopoly over education. Similarly, home schooling in the U.S. already has a substantial legal and cultural foothold at a time when in Europe and England it is far less well understood or tolerated. It would be interesting to see whether one could extend this trend back even farther and whether one would find that Americans were more quick to start new colleges and seminaries, leaving behind those that had been hijacked by theological unbelief, than were Europeans and Brits.

Those are all excellent theories as to the persistence of religious belief in America. It has been said that America was founded by the very dissidents of the dissenters where religion was concerned; if not true literally of the Founding Fathers, it is certainly true of the Pilgrims and the overall religious ethos of the nation. And while much of that religious dissent in England embodied resistance to the sort of social order of which the C of E was a part, and while the isolation of America did certainly preserve her from some of the ravages of theological modernism, I'm not certain that this goes the distance in explaining the persistence of belief in America. Theological declension begins very early in the American experience, even before the rise of Unitarianism in the 18th century; whatever one may think about Puritan doctrinal distinctives, the 'halfway covenants' which arose just two or three generations along in New England represented, and set in motion, a precipitous decline. Moreover, the 19th century saw a proliferation of heterodox sects, few of which could be characterized as opposed to theological innovation.

That said, there is much to be said for relative isolation, the absence of established religion (within a generation or two of the Revolution), and the frontier spirit as reasons for the persistence of faith in America. And if one is looking at the vitality of orthodox Protestant belief, these factors would explain why America is more religious, and why American religion is the way it is. Nevertheless, as one who, for reasons of personal experience, finds the narrative of evangelical declension in the late 20th century persuasive - which is another way of stating that I agree with Douthat's characterization of much of American religiousity - I was attempting to explain why Americans remain more religious in a therapeutic, reconciled-to-the-world sense. Given the transformations of evangelical spirituality and religious practice, particularly over the past two decades, I think that there is something to my 'cynical' theory.

If you're thinking of the emergent church phenomenon, I'm as appalled by it as anyone can be who is fortunate enough not to be personally affected by it. But I'm not sure what this has to do with what Douthat calls "socially conservative Emersonianism in the red states." Emergentism and the church growth movement are anything but socially conservative.

I guess I just get this weird feeling from the short Douthat piece that he thinks serious Christians should think it a bad thing that America is more religious than Europe--as though it would be better if Christianity were more taboo even than it is, if we'd traveled even farther than we have towards the banning of all Christian expression, a la Europe, because this would mean that people who call themselves Christians have to be "more sincere." I've heard this idea before; it's a kind of exaggerated version of "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." But I can't agree with Douthat when he says, for example, that if Christianity in the U.S. meant something other than this "God wants me to be happy" functional deism, hardly any Americans would be Christians. The devil hasn't succeeded that far, yet, though he's trying good and hard, and indeed IMO emergentism is one of his more frighteningly effective weapons to date. But I still think 15% is too low as an estimate of real Christians in the U.S. And I also think things would be worse if Christianity were less socially acceptable in the U.S. than it is, if we were in that sense more like Europe. For myself, I'll accept the protection even of the shallow Christianity of some of my fellow Americans. It provides a hedge, if I may put it that way, against the suppression of what is left of Christian culture and our ability to pass said culture down to our children.

I guess I just get this weird feeling from the short Douthat piece..

Well, I suppose that the piece could be read in the manner you suggest, although it could with equal ease be read in a "this is lame, but still better than Europe's situation" sense. One could also read it as an embrace of that American religion, though I'd not wish to pin that on anyone.

I have in mind more than the emergent church movement, which, in reality, is merely a more flamboyant expression of a longstanding low-church tendency to reduce Christianity to modes of marketing; emergentism arose out of the church-growth/megachurch milieu, which itself was conditioned by a sort of pragmatic Finneyist 'tradition' in evangelicalism. It can be socially conservative, and until recently, has been for the most part. The turn toward the left of the emergent church movement is the fruition of that pragmatic, marketing-driven (thus, disinclined to pass 'judgment', at least of the traditional kind) spirit.

I suspect that if American Christianity were purged of all of these consumerist, pragmatic tendencies, with these notions then stigmatized as sub-Christian corruptions of the faith, we would be left with approximately 15% of the population confessing a muscular Christianity. I doubt that the de facto abolition of our cultural Christianity is something to be desired.

American Christianity is a heresy and the shelter it offers to more orthodox Christians comes at a price that will not be postponed forever.

Any renewal of our culture will occur only when a genuine form of our faith is practiced by more of us. In the end, that means martyrdom, either of the white kind now, or the red one later. It has always been so.
Sursum corda,

It seems shallow religiosity in Europe is neglect of deep coherent traditions; and in the US is zealous pursuit of the high-sounding superficial.

"Shallow" Christianity dismays the purist, but the practical might well be grateful, with Lydia, for all we can get. Like hoo-ha-evangelicalism, emergent church as it wears threadbare may be a non-accidental catapult, decades later, into Apostolic Christianity. There's much, verbal and non-verbal, one learns that is not accurate; but it can serve as a kind of weird prep school (and only that) for full worship.

I was thinking today about what might be hoped to wake the US to something better than our current condition, and remembered the effect of the various "great awakenings." On reflection concluding that well-meaning religious confusion is probably less devastating than bald indifference, ignorance, dismissal, and hostility toward anything called Christianity.

Reluctant attendance at a recent Mainline-Denomination funeral of a prominent unbeliever, an experience far more "horizontal" than "vertical," displayed a tableau of the tribal and sociological underpinnings of the local "religious" exercise -- social solidarity, flattery of the elite, triumph via family, accomplishment, and wealth, decorated with a little God-talk. No Trinity. No Resurrection.

Still better than nothing. Longing for a world in which it is all the extremes of doctrinal purity or persecution in my opinion violates "lead us not into temptation"/"protect us from ourselves and from the Devil."

"Still better than nothing."
How so? It's chilling when any sacrament is stripped of the Sacred, especially a funeral.

"No Resurrection" What is the point then? Plant the ashes of the deceased into the designer vase above the drawer containing the thriving stock portfolio?

Nihilism with a acceptably thin gloss of piety is more dangerous than hostility. Remember the fate that awaits the "luke-warm".

I think it's important to remember that these things come in all sorts of levels and flavors. It isn't as though everyone is either a clear-thinking, sincere, doctrinally straight-as-an-arrow, deeply committed Christian _or_ a secularist with a pretend religious gloss, as in the funeral that commentator b.b. went to. Even if we come in a level and talk about the tenets of "moral therapeutic deism," it isn't true that everybody who bears the name of "Christian" is the sort of committed and clear-minded Christian just described or an adherent to m.t.d. There are plenty of people all along a quasi-continuum between these. To me there are two important questions: First, for _their_ souls, are they believers? Are they followers of Christ? (Am I?) It's entirely possible to be muddled and weak and still to answer "yes" truly to those questions. Second, do those of us who are followers of Christ have a milieu in which to teach, evangelize, and pass on the faith? That milieu may be guarded by a buffer zone that includes both Christians who are too "worldly" but _are_ genuine believers and also by people who are much farther down the continuum, maybe even are adherents of "moral therapeutic deism," but feel uncomfortable about destroying American Christian culture and have no taste for doing so. For those people, I would not necessarily say, "Hey, better that than nothing," because--to be blunt--if they don't believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, they're in serious danger of going to hell. And if they go to a "church" (like some I've heard of lately) that worships Ashtaroth, then they're _really_ in trouble. So *for them* what they have may not be better than nothing, though *for me* their squeamishness about trying to shut down my church or my home schooling is a good and useful thing.

Another point: While I agree that emergentism has piggy-backed on the desire to "reach people"--that's been its way of getting under the guard of the otherwise orthodox--I do not see it as chiefly an extension of mission-oriented tendencies in fundamentalism. When I was growing up, for example, Billy Graham was much criticized for watering down doctrine in the name of evangelism. The churches and institutions I went to were very, very staunchly doctrinal and quite careful about not watering that down for the sake of reaching people. What has happened with emergentism is that it has somehow managed to conquer many of _those_ institutions and churches, often using surprisingly heavy-handed tactics. Among some of the young and idealistic who have embraced it, no doubt the "we're trying to reach people" trope has been part of its appeal. But when it comes to the takeovers, there's been a lot more "this is how we're going to do it now, and there's not a thing you can do about it." At least, this from what I've heard from people fleeing the coups, as it were. So it has not been a development but rather, especially in its very strongly anti-doctrinal aspects, more in the nature of a takeover or hijacking.

Lydia, allow me to be uncharacteristically blunt: the emergent-church movement - which, yes, has mounted any number of ecclesiastical coups against established Christian communities - is the bastard child of the entire church-growth/megachurch/Bill Hybels model of evangelicalism which has been polluting Protestant Christianity for a few decades now. The megachurch/seeker-sensitive folks have been downplaying, jettisoning, bowdlerizing, and psychologizing doctrine, transforming Christianity into a farrago of happy-clappy, self-help, self-affirmation nonsense for years. Before I left evangelicalism, I was at ground zero for several such takeovers - this, years before emergentism happened on the scene. My father and a number of his long-time friends, men I've known since childhood, have been fighting against this in local churches all the while; emergentism is merely the latest development in a decades-long campaign. We've seen, not Brian MacLaren types, but acolytes and toadies of Willow Creek mount their coups, stack councils and elder boards with lackeys and running dogs, and marginalize the doctrinally rigourous. Everything your friends have attributed to the emergentists was pioneered by the megachurch/seeker-sensitive people; the emergentists are a motley crew of evangelicals disillusioned with the superficialities of the genre, well-meaning college-educated folks who were bamboozled by postmodernists and other hucksters, outright shysters, and religious entrepreneurs. But they are, in some cases literally, the children of the Hybels folks, who have simply decided to go several steps further than their parents. They would never have found a ready audience for their idiocies had not the ground been prepared before them.

While I take seriously the admonitions against writing off the lukewarm, we ought to be honest with ourselves concerning the dynamic they bring to American Christianity: like right-liberals (most 'conservatives' and Republicans) in politics, their affinities to heterodoxy work to ratchet everything to the left, slowly but inexorably. Give them another generation or two, and they'll be where the mainliners are, and we'll still end up in the wilderness.

I think I've still got ties to the more fundamentalist and less evangelical types. I entirely agree with you about the Willow Creek megachurch folks (heck, look at the direction Rick Warren has gone, which we were just talking about), but that itself is a relatively new movement in my book. (I'm guessing I'm perhaps fifteen years older than you are.) And though I know we both have had contact with the GARBC, I've seen those churches (who really were still very orthodox, if dull, in the 1980's) either stay pretty much where they already were, not going either mega- or emergent, and also I've seen one be subject to a hostile takeover by a Willow Creek-style syndicate. Most of its old members left; it can scarcely be called the same church in any sense at all, and the old members are not really to be blamed. You yourself have known, perhaps better than I, the nefarious tactics of the takeover types. So while I agree with you in seeing emergentism as the child or step-child of Willow Creek-ism, I'm inclined to put my money on the orthodoxy of Baptist and other low Protestant churches who have rejected both of these all along. And there are even more fundie types than the GARB ever was--the BBFI, for example.

And there are plenty of people, too, young and old, who attend large churches with some mega-church tendencies and are plenty unhappy about it. These are not to be written off as shallow and contemptible semi-Christians just because they aren't sure what else to do or where else to go. Imagine an intellectual young man who simply doesn't believe in the sacraments, no matter how much he investigates it, but hates the whole "worship band, mega-church" style. What's he supposed to do? For that matter, and to be blunt in my turn, many such young men have become Roman Catholic only to find out that the shallow worship styles and loose approaches to doctrine they thought they were escaping have followed them!

"...their squeamishness about trying to shut down my church...is a good and useful thing" I think the perceived utility of such a dynamic is illusory and ultimately may be only retard our own spiritual development. It certainly is a reed I hang onto when I mask my cowardice as prudence.

"While I take seriously the admonitions against writing off the lukewarm..."

We are in fact writing off the lukewarm when we quietly assent to the paths they are taking and by our own failure to offer prophetic witness.

Bernard Iddings Bell nailed it in Crowd Culture in 1952 when he said; "Eventually the Church will be saved from being what it is by people who take religion seriously. Until that happens it seems downright foolish to expect that the Church will be of much help in saving our culture from debacle."

I guess the admonition most applicable to this forum is ;"physician heal thyself"

Kevin, I believe there was a saint who said he would not rush upon martyrdom lest God smite him for his presumption. Jesus said that offenses must come, but woe unto him by whom the offense cometh.

I think we should be grateful rather than disdainful when it comes to our religious freedom here in the United States. What? When laws are proposed to criminalize "hate speech" against homosexuals, shall we urge our representatives to vote for them, because getting thrown in jail would be so good for our pastors? If German-style laws against Christian home schoolers are proposed, shall we welcome them, because it would be so strengthening to our 16-year-olds if they, like Melissa Busekros, were taken away by 15 booted gendarmes and subjected to attempted brain-washing for two months at the hands of liberal social workers? If a system of church registration is proposed as in so many Eastern European countries, with jail time for the officers and members of unregistered churches, should we sigh with relief and say, "Ah, _this_ will separate the wheat from the chaff"?

Listen, when I was a kid and listened to the people who were raising me talk about "lukewarm Christians" and "merely nominal Christians," you know whom they would have suspected of falling into that category? You guys! At least if, as I know in some cases and guess in others, you belong to large mainline denominations such as Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

I think a little humility would be behovely, here. There are committed Christians in a bunch of different denominational affiliations, even in those churches to which, I thank God, I don't have to go and those in which they do not have the grace of the Eucharist. And there are "cradle ______s" (fill in the blank) everywhere, too, people who adhere to the religion of their childhood through ethnicity, etc., without the faintest idea of good doctrine, theology, or a willingness to take up their crosses and follow Our Lord. _If anything_, the evangelicals and fundamentalists have had in the past a history of doing a better job at inspiring commitment in their children--if only by dint of not being embarrassed to ask them, "How's your relationship with Jesus?"--than the sacramental denominations. That advantage may now be waning, but it certainly has been there historically.

I'm not "rushing towards martyrdom", probably too comfortably bourgeoisie to do so. But I do hope my meager daily offerings strengthen me for the time when I may be called upon to give a more profound witness.

Now, when was the last time you heard from the pulpit that genuine discipleship puts one in conflict with much of what passes for the American Way of Life? Don't you agree that it does?

The warnings from your parents about Roman Catholics like myself practicing a hollow, formalistic form of faith were well-founded. My Church fell into bad mix of cultural conformity and empty rituals. Sadly, their warning still stands. The only change is that the aping of the popular culture which supplanted the Latin liturgy, has in turn is caused some younger people to seek a richer version of their Catholic faith.

I don't think pointing out the mess we're in indicates a lack of humility. Nor is the dearth of sound doctrine, the primary problem. I think it is a lack of courage that afflicts us the most.

Yes, I do agree, though I don't know if we'd agree on the specific items in question in the American way of life, though maybe we would. Actually, I go to a teeny tiny continuing Anglican church, and our priests are self-consciously counter-cultural. So I do hear that sort of thing from the pulpit pretty frequently. And the fundamentalists in their own way were (when I last checked--maybe they've stopped) preaching frequently on the dangers of worldliness. You should hear me get going on and rant about television! I'd like to hear every one of my readers and co-bloggers at WWWtW tell me they've cut off their contracts with Charter (or whatever) for channels because of the filthiness of the commercials and much programming.

But do you agree that we should be grateful for our present religious freedom and strive to keep it, even if the causes of it are to some extent a shallow religiosity among our fellow Americans?

I'm certainly not counseling naivete about the stability of that freedom. It could all disappear, or much of it, in a session or two of Congress.

Lydia, of course I cherish the right to practice my faith. Yet, if, continuing to exercise that right is predicated on our remaining house broken pets to the current political, economic and social order than we have lost much, much more than a space in the public square.

I love my country. Sometimes to the point of grief.

What do you propose by way of making it clear that we aren't such "house broken pets"? If you mean refusing to vote for one of the two major parties in the next election, I'm all over it. But I'm not sure what you have in mind.

Nothing I propose is earth-shaking, yet if implemented would dramatically alter the political calculus of our ruling class and likely convert many who seek proof that our faith is not just another "life-style" So here's a start;

1)Refusing Cesear's bread whenever we open a crisis pregnancy center, soup kitchen or hospice. And no more photo-ops for the local political hacks that use these events for their own ends. Same too for our schools; from K through College. Going mute on the Gospels for 30 pieces of silver has cost us plenty. Time to redeem ourselves.

2)Refuse Cesear's circuses. The sludge that is pumped into our homes can be reduced by turning-off our TV's and radios. Friends will notice the glazed eyes, world-weary expression and boring conversation ("did Britney Hilton serve her sentence yet?") replaced by a more vibrant person. They will want a change in diet too. Hold book fairs and film festivals that offer real nourishment.

3)Avarice is just as deadly a sin as lust. Consume less. Never shop on Sunday. The government hasn't been waging a war on families alone. How about an agenda that combines executive compensation with tort reform? Enough fright would be put into Corporate America that ultimately little legislation would be needed. Not so for out-sourcing, halting this suicidal trend will require the force of law.

4)Reclaim our neighborhoods and reject "creative destruction". Take on the corrupt Planning Boards that allow the McMansion craze to go unchecked and who never meet a strip mall they didn't like.

5)Thank those Church leaders whenever they talk truth to power. They need to hear from someone other than the well-heeled communicants who always counsel "prudence" and "inclusion".
5A)Honor those who laymen who bear witness. We could start with those Christians in both the Justice Dept and and Pentagon who resisted the drive to rationalize torture.

6)Non-violence. When was the last time we struck in front of one of Moloch's service centers, whether it be an abortion clinic or "end of life home"?

7)For too long we have clung to the myth that the military was the one public institution that worked. We should actively discourage enlistment until a new foreign policy consensus emerges that places the Just War Theory at it's center and no longer treats our troops as Hessians for those foreign powers that finance our debt.

There are bolder, more fruitful ideas out there. Can you imagine the sheer panic in the corridors of power if the above became a trend?

"American Christianity is a heresy and the shelter it offers to more orthodox Christians comes at a price that will not be postponed forever."

"I think the perceived utility of such a dynamic is illusory and ultimately may be only retard our own spiritual development."

"Yet, if, continuing to exercise that right is predicated on our remaining house broken pets to the current political, economic and social order than we have lost much, much more than a space in the public square."


I note your proposals and would go (not, apparently, being as Cruncy Con. as you) for about 4 out of 7 of them. But how is doing them, even all seven, going to involve giving up our religious freedom, taking ourselves out from under the shelter of supposedly heretical American Christianity, and so forth? I don't really see the connection. Is the idea supposed to be that if believers take your suggestions to heart, they will be so hated that the government will start passing more oppressive laws against them _just because_ they are refusing government funds for their endeavors, preaching against the military, or what-have-you? That seems implausible. About the only one likely to get you in trouble with the law or even, for that matter, to play into stereotypes about dangerous conservatives is blockading abortion clinics. But they've pretty much done what they want there by passing the FACE bill so they can throw you in federal prison for doing so. Even Ruth Bader Ginsberg seems satisfied that that's enough of a slap-down on pro-lifers' freedom of speech; so I doubt it will be courting worse if more pro-lifers do engage in civil disobedience. But as for the rest--nobody is going to try to persecute Christians for preaching tort reform and refusing to shop on Sunday!

So while I agree with some of your recommendations and disagree with others, that's not really to the point. The real point is that I don't think they support the contention that those of us who are sincere Christians are somehow selling ourselves out in order to buy our present religious freedom, that we wouldn't have it if we lived out our Christianity more consistently, and so forth.

I am not calling for us to give up our religious freedom. I asking that we exercise it more fully.

Will oppression follow if we do so? You seem to think so when you said: "I'll accept the protection even of the shallow Christianity of some of my fellow Americans." Protection from what? The State, social alienation, discomfort?

The world is hungry for genuine witness, not the watered-down, compromised versions too often on display. No safe, earthly shelters are promised for His disciples.

You asked how do we make it clear that we are not house-broken pets. I simply said live out our calling. Refuse the strings that are attached with government funding and reclaim a sense of the sacred. Right now banks are opening on Sunday. Need I elaborate on how spiritually disordered that is, or on where it is likely to lead? You agree consumerism is a problem and probably why we are having this conversation. I welcome anything that reorders ourselves towards being over having.

I'm aware that FACE has crushed non-violent protests in this country. Where is our Martin Luther King? Do we have to "blockade" the clinics, or simply mass outside in numbers that suggest we really believe the murdering of innocent lives is occurring?

Our Rulers would be rocked if they had to deal with more Christians of the Thomas More kind than the comfortably ensconced conformists that they presently manipulate. Would such a development lead to suppression or conversion? Not sure. I just know that is how we are to live.

I did mention protection, but my point was that most of the laws I'm most worried about _aren't_ in place yet, though they could be put in place. This means that for the most part living out our faith does not require us to court persecution. We're very blessed, for example, in the victories legally that have been won for home schooling. In that area it is less risky to live the way one thinks best for one's family now than it was 30 years ago.

Now, you were seeming to imply, in the bits I quoted, that there is something ignoble about our not getting persecuted right now, that we must be compromising in some way in order not to be in more trouble than we are in. I have to admit that I don't see that in most of the areas you name. As I said the only one where I think you'd get arrested is for blockading abortion clinics. But in general, it just isn't at all clear to me that if we were _really_ being good Christians, sincere Christians, we wouldn't be legally protected, and that this means that we must be compromising cowards if we're enjoying our religious freedom. And in fact, _most_ of the things you cited just aren't hot-button issues. It's more likely that if you wrote against homosexuality or Islam you would be setting yourself up for the heavy hand of the law, though as yet those laws are only things people would like to pass in the U.S. But nobody is even proposing laws to crack down on "anti-consumerism."

Again Lydia, you seem to be the one who believes true authentic Christian witness will result in persecution. You are probably right. I have no idea what the tipping point will be or if there even is one. The best way to find out is for serious numbers of Christians to forsake the disordered ideologies of this age, live the Gospels, pray, take frequent recourse to the sacraments and let God do the rest.

It is ignoble to do otherwise out of fear of "soft" social or economic ostracization or "hard" incarceration. And, is it now fear that keeps us from lifting up our Cross?

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