Saturday, April 9, 2022

Redemption vs. "Culture War"

In 1926, the French Jesuit Robert Hamel, writing to his colleague Henri de Lubac regarding the far-right, royalist Action française, said that its founder, Charles Maurras, "has not understood Catholicism and has seen in it only a social order without God, without a soul, without love." Substituting the broader term "Christianity" for Catholicism, something analogous could be said of some of today's so-called "integralists" and "national conservatives," who somehow seem more offended by immigrants and civil rights for gay people than by Russian aggression and war crimes in Ukraine and who invoke QAnon conspiracy slurs (for, example, accusing Democrats of being "groomers") while lauding  the likes of Viktor Orban. Such so-called "integralists," "NatCons," and others who may imagine themselves salvaging some sort of traditional Christianity through their alternative politics of anger and resentment - like the ira, et odio et omni mala voluntate, we used to pray to be delivered from in the Litany of the Saints - would do well to recall the words of Pope Pius XI in his famous anti-Nazi encyclical: "None but superficial minds could stumble into concepts of a national God, of a national religion; or attempt to lock within the frontiers of a single people, within the narrow limits of a single race, God, the Creator of the universe, King and Legislator of all nations before whose immensity they are 'as a drop of a bucket' (Isaiah xI, 15)" [Mit Brenneder Sorge (1937), 11]. 

With the annual approach of another Holy Week, we recall the 1st-century Jerusalem establishment's anxiety that the Romans will come and take away our land and our nation [John 11:48]. John's Gospel spiritualizes Caiaphas' response, relating it to the universal salvation accomplished by Christ's death. Even so, the more limited, original context remains relevant, for Christ does indeed challenge the aspirations of secular cultures, nations, races, and relationships to claim a sort of spiritual significance and to appropriate religious language and symbols in service of secular power.

That, of course, is what is so scandalously on display in our contemporary "culture wars" in which nihilistic manifestations of neo-liberal exploitative economic ideology and resurgent racism and anti-immigrant xenophobia masquerade as "conservative" defenses of Christian belief and "religious freedom," in a destructive distortion of religious faith focused on the pursuit of power. The pseudo-religion and pseudo-"religious freedom" thus promoted, like earlier historical distortions, can acquire power and seek to impose a certain social order. But, whatever religious label it employs, such social order will inevitably be one "without God, without a soul, without love."

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