What’s Wrong with the World

The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.


What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

Made by the Cross of Christ

In a discussion sparked by this fine essay by James Pinkerton, a correspondent asks me to expound upon my notion of “Christendom,” which concept he is deeply skeptical of. I explained myself this way:

In a forthcoming magazine I have a long essay that ends in an emphatic call for Christian unity against the Jihad. It says nothing about the activity of the American state; but it says that we who profess Christ should strain toward unity against this menace. I believe that Christ opposes wickedness; I believe that the Jihad is wicked. Therefore I feel that it should be opposed. In my essay I make this call specifically in the context of all the Christian brothers oppressed by the Jihad. We should unite against this oppression.

I have said I am prepared to endorse the use of force to defend my homeland. Since I believe there is still a Christian majority in this land, I would aspire to effect the mobilizing of that majority to drive our policy toward this defense. I have no illusions about how considerable a task this would be, but I do believe that under our Constitution majorities may do this.

Now there can be no doubt that this thing would be called by some, with ominous intonation, the rise of a “new Christendom” or some such thing. My corresponded replied even more forcefully: such a project may be blasphemous.

But my motivation in this call is still grounded in patriotism, informed by a firm judgment of the justice of the cause. And my patriotism is ineffaceably what it is because of Christ. God the Father made the world and called it good; and then God the Son entered it bodily. Patriotism is forever changed by the Incarnation. Behold, I make all things new.

This land that I love, I love because I can trust the promises of God about the goodness of His creation. I trust, also, that Scripture gives me leave to pray that my land will pursue justice (which our Constitution also calls us to do), and to work for it as a citizen. Earthly governors are “sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good” (1 Pet 2:14).

Christendom is indeed a civilization made by Christianity, but not only by that. It is also made by human hands, sinners’ hands, and other materials have been mixed in. She is, in my preferred definition, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. America is an imperfect part of an imperfect whole. It is right to love her; though it would be quite wrong to conflate this love with Christian discipleship. I do not think I have done that.

In my judgment, as America drifts away from this unity in the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ, she will fail; my children will inherit something uglier, more prone to evil and idolatry, less just, more bewildered and bitter, more despairing and yet full of bluster. They will inherit, also, something weaker, more vulnerable to the depredations of the Jihad.

Comments (6)

This prompts the question, "In what sense could an affirmation of Christendom - which, both conceptually and historically, entails a distinction between Church and state, temporal and spiritual - be blasphemous?"

Outside of the strictures of liberalism, or Mennonite theology - think, Stanley Hauerwas - the derivation of this conclusion appears mysterious.

There's no way around it, I must promote a Chesterton book I've edited that's almost ready to go to press. With luck, it should be available from the usual sources, including the American Chesterton Society web site, by late October or early November. It'll make an excellent Christmas present.

It's Chesterton on War, a 440-page collection of his best writings on war, particularly its causes and prevention. The articles are taken from his column in the Illustrated London News from when he began to write for them in 1905 until three years after the end of WWI, when his writings on war tapered off. A later book will explore what he wrote as Europe again began to drift toward a war he'd long warned about. In 1932 he predicted that the war would break out over a border dispute between Germany and Poland, precisely what happened in 1939.

In that era the ILN was the equivalent to Time magazine in the 1950s and 1960s. Chesterton knew he was reaching an influential audience and chose his topics and arguments with great care. During the war, almost every column dealt with the war and from those many articles I've selected those with the most enduring relevance. I've also added many, many footnotes and introductions to get readers past the fact that Chesterton was alluding the events and people who're unknown today.

One of Chesterton's major themes was the concept of Christendom, with its practical approach to the limits imposed by human nature. Christendom taught that nationality is one of the aspects of human nature that ought to be respected and used to ensure peace. Good patriotism, he stressed, teaches people to understand the love others have for their country. That put him on a collision course with the internationalists, such as H. G. Wells, who thought patriotism was a problem and who wanted to impose a solution that would covertly destroy national sovereignty.

The League of Nations, Chesterton stressed, would be a good idea if the stress was on "nations" and if the organization was a purely defensive military alliance like the allies of WWI (or the NATO of the Cold War). It would fail if the stress was on a "League" that would attempt to crush nationality (like today's EU).

Anticipating what today's historians call the "special way" theory of why Germany went so wrong in the 20th century, he places Prussia (NW Germany) outside historic Christendom. It was never conquered by Rome and it became Christian only in the late Middle Ages, not enough time for the slow-working affects of a Christian world view to alter how Prussians viewed the world before they became powerful enough to threaten the peace of Europe. Compounding the problem was the influence of Frederic the Great, a deist who believed that nations survive only by conquering their neighbors, and Prussian professors promoting Teutonism, a theory about the racial supremacy of "Germanic tribes" that predates Darwin but draws much of its scientific support from the Darwinian world view. Chesterton notes that he saw the influence of Teutonism growing in England as he grew up, stressing that the problem of racial supremacy wasn't just a German one.

Along the way, Chesterton delivers broadsides against the pacifists of his day, pointing out that in effect, their weak response to Germany aggression made them allies of the militarists. Both, he stressed, believe that might makes right.

Although there are differences, there are also a lot of parallels between his criticisms of Germany in 1917 and similar criticisms that could be directed at radical Islam today. In one marvelous passages he compares how much Rome learned from conquered Greece with how little the Ottoman Empire learned. The quote isn't exact, but it's something like: "Rome lay upon Greece like a sponge. The Turks lay upon it like a stone." There's something wrong, he said, about a culture (Islam) that seems unable to learn from other cultures. That's Europe's failure to integrate Muslims spoken over a half-century before it began to be visible.

Although I edited it, the words are Chesterton's. I highly recommend that you read it and that you get your local public or school library to get a copy. Others should get a chance to be exposed to Chesterton's good sense about ideas that matter.

--Michael W. Perry, Seattle

Maximos, whom are you quoting? I couldn't find the line either in Pinkerton's or in Paul's essay. I guess I'm just missing something.?

This, from Pinkerton's essay, is IMO outrageous, though:

"[T]he council could engage Muslims—who are, themselves, in the process of restoring the Caliphate—in a grand summit. Only then, when West meets East, in diplomatic twain, might a chance exist for an enduring settlement. When all Christians, and all Muslims, are brought to the bargaining table, they all become stakeholders in a pacific outcome."

To which I can only respond: WHAT?????

And that after all the Tolkien analogies. Sounds more like the invitation of Saruman, "Will you not come up, Gandalf?" Should the leaders of the West, perhaps, have had a grand "council" at which they met with the ambassadors of Sauron to negotiate a pacific outcome?

To be honest, I came away from Pinkerton's essay confused for a host of reasons. There were some parts that made some sense to me (stop alienating the Russians) and then all this talk of building walls--I think they are supposed to be actual walls--between neo-Christendom and Islam while taking sides with Christians in Nigeria and fighting the "real enemy" in Iran was getting a bit far out there for me. Also, the reference to the Council of Nicaea is just random and has nothing to do, so far as I can tell, with anything. The Byzantines had a council, Elrond had a council--you can have a council, too! Following up on Lydia's point, it occurs to me: what happens to the remaining Christian populations in "the East" that is being left to the Muslims? Where exactly does "the East" start anyway? The Bosphoros? Iraq?

Also, as much as I love Chesterton, his ideas about Germany and WWI were driven by confessional apologetics and, I'm sorry to say, wartime nationalism. The latter is disappointing because Chesterton generally understood that patriotism was not a matter of running down other countries, but in loving and building up one's own. He believed that WWI was a great battle on behalf of Catholicism, even though it meant attacking and destroying the Habsburg empire and taking the side of secular democracy against two of the last Christian monarchs of Europe. That strikes me as a pretty strange view.

The Sonderweg theory is, to be blunt, nonsense. German history can only be considered "sonder" if you define normalcy by the highly abnormal, atypical political evolution of Britain and France. The Reformation was the result of the intense Christianisation of Germany, which indicates that Christian civilisation struck deep roots into Germany, just as German culture deeply influenced medieval Christianity. If Reformed Christianity in Germany subsequently went off the rails or weakened from within, that is an entirely different matter.

It will be difficult to wake the sheep who are quickly scattering before the scimitar and remind them of a Shire worth defending. But we sheep can be led by our Good Shepherd.

There is only One Who has the "ontological substantiality" of God who can lead us sheep: the Word made flesh [Jn 1,14], Jesus Christ the Eucharistic Lord of the Church. He has shown us what true life is, given us the means of grace to live it, and promises to be with us till the end of time [Mtt 28,20]. He's told us love our enemy, and so we shall; enough to propose Christ to them, and not kowtow to a batch of writings from redactor of Jewish, Christian, and Persian scripture. Love will even need to take the form of legitimate defense [CCC Nos. 2263-2267].

Sheep may begin remembering in Whose image they were made, repent of their cowardice and lack of faith (and hope and love), and begin living as Shirelings once again.

"Should the leaders of the West, perhaps, have had a grand "council" at which they met with the ambassadors of Sauron to negotiate a pacific outcome?"

Not in that story. It would have ruined it. In real life though it is highly advisable to diplomatically engage one's enemies, as Bush is now learning.

The fact is, a shooting war between Pinkerton's proposed new Christendom and the Islamic world can't be won by either side. And a full-scale war between a secular de-Christianized "West" and Islam would result in either military or moral defeat for the US and Europe.

Building a new Christendom with the Southern Hemisphere as a core component while using diplomacy to carve out periods of peace with Islam is the best option available for the next several generations.

As General Laptop Ledeen of NRO used to say; Faster. Please.

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