Monday, February 27, 2023

"Cultural" Christianity

Kevin Williamson, who writes primarily at The Dispatch, is always worth my time (and perhaps yours, subscribe here). Williamson today:
.... People who take an instrumental and political view of Christianity, however well-meaning...sometimes argue that only “Judeo-Christian religion”...provides a possible basis for a sound moral life, including the moral basis of national political life. This is, of course, what T.S. Eliot called the “dangerous inversion,” i.e., the argument that we should accept the supernatural claims of Christianity because they are useful for fortifying a moral sensibility when we should, instead, derive our moral sensibility from the truth of Christianity, if we believe it to be true, or from something else that we believe to be true rather than merely convenient. In a sense, the non-believer who sympathizes with Christianity is more of an enemy than is the frank atheist who hates Christianity—because the “cultural Christian” trivializes Christianity. The cultural Christian believes that Christianity is false and that this does not matter, while an evangelical atheist such as the late Christopher Hitchens believes that Christianity is false and that this does matter—that it matters a great deal. In that much, I am with Hitchens: Better to have a cruel and unforgiving society founded on the truth than to practice kindness based on a lie. ....

For all the talk (often fatuous) of Jesus as a “great moral teacher,” it was His supernatural claims, not His moral advice, that was distinctive: He was not crucified for saying that we should love one another, or for pointing out that the man with lust in his heart is an adulterer in spirit if not in fact, or for saying that we should forgive one another as we hope to be forgiven, or for any of that—He was crucified for claiming to be the Son of God and the Messiah of prophecy. These are religious rather than moral claims.

Of course, the religious claims of Christianity must necessarily transform its moral sensibility. And thank God it does—there is almost nothing in this world as insipid as Christian solicitousness divorced from the brutal facts of Christianity itself. ....

As Elijah did not quite put it: If the Lord is God, then follow Him, but if Baal or Ron DeSantis or good public order is what you really care about, then you know what to do. In any case, you should stop fooling yourself—you aren’t fooling anybody else. But if you are an atheist who is pro-life, who prefers a traditional model of marriage and family life, who believes that Western civilization is superior to its competitors, that hedonic consumerism is not the highest good, etc., then you might ask yourself why you believe these things and upon what basis your beliefs stand. Maybe it is because you grew up in a (still barely) Christian civilization, or in something that was one until very recently, and you think that what this has produced is good—which only leads you back to the first question. If your answer is “culture”—culture only, and not one step farther—then you’re looking at turtles all the way down.
Kevin D. Williamson, "Who Are These ‘Cultural Christians’?," The Dispatch, Feb. 27, 2023.

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