Do Christians really want religion to be more traditional?


In his article trying to explain the decline of religion in the US that I commented on a couple of days ago, Rod Dreher pinned the blame on Christian institutions being too liberal and abandoning traditional verities in favor of what he sees as a post-modern sensibility that demands nothing from its followers and has abandoned its core principles. He calls for a return to a “traditional religion, with its truth claims and strictures”.

If Dreher wanted to he could have pointed to a religion that in many parts of the world tries to do exactly what he recommends that Christians in the US do, and demands adherence to a fixed set of traditional beliefs. I am of course referring to Islam as is currently practiced in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and many other Muslim-majority countries where people who deviate from orthodoxy are punished severely, brutally, and barbarically.

Does he really want Christianity in the US to become the mirror image of this Islam? I suspect that when it comes to Islam, what people like Dreher would prefer is that they abandon ‘traditional’ religious orthodoxy and adopt the very same mushy post-modern sensibility they decry in Christianity.

People who make the call for a return to some past orthodoxy almost never carry their arguments to their logical conclusion by addressing the questions: What constitutes ‘traditional religion’ and what is its basis?

The only unchanging basis is their holy book, the Bible. But it is impossible for Christians (or Jews for that matter) in the Western world to assert that we should behave exactly as the Bible tells us to, since the plain text of that book requires a level of barbarism that is unthinkable. Hence they are immediately placed in the position of having to arbitrarily pick and choose. You will notice that sophisticates who call for a return to ‘traditional’ religion almost never spell out what exactly makes it up.

But I can help them out. Ultimately, what people like Dreher really want is for everyone to adhere to the same set of beliefs that he happens to value. Such people disapprove of homosexuality, abortion, and sex outside of marriage; they want to see public acknowledgements of god and official religious practices in the public sphere (such as prayer and religious education in public schools); and they want their core religious beliefs to be granted deference. They seem to have this feeling that if these things were granted, we would be back to ‘traditional’ religion and things would be fine. It is not a return to traditional religion that they seek, it is really a return to the 19th century way of thinking.

Not only is there no reason why any of those things should be granted to them by the rest of us, there is every reason to vigorously oppose them.

Dreher and those who think like him are on a hopeless quest. There is no going back to traditional religion except by force because the march of modernity cannot be stopped.

Comments

  1. Corvus illustris says

    The only unchanging basis is their holy book, the Bible.

    This is somewhat inexact for RCs and the Eastern Orthodox constellation. Both groups claim an “apostolic tradition,” where “tradition” does not have its usual plain-language sense but means “doctrine orally transmitted from the founding events.” Judaism has a similar “oral Torah” distinct from the written five books.

    But it is impossible for Christians (or Jews for that matter) in the Western world to assert that we should behave exactly as the Bible tells us to, since the plain text of that book requires a level of barbarism that is unthinkable. Hence they are immediately placed in the position of having to arbitrarily pick and choose.

    So Christians have a “new law fulfilling the old law” and Jews have Talmud and other rabbinical opinions. Again, the “picking and choosing” is held to come from antiquity and be part of a living–method, you could almost call it.

    You will notice that sophisticates who call for a return to ‘traditional’ religion almost never spell out what exactly makes it up.

    Here I can only speak about what RC traditionalists tell me; much of it is liturgical. Ratzinger’s restoration of the Tridentine liturgy is a response to this sentiment.

    Forgive me for differing with my host, but we are talking about phenomena that resist a single formulation. What Dreher wants, of course, is his traditional Christianity, with the rest of the Christians to the lions.

  2. says

    Ultimately, what people like Dreher really want is for everyone to adhere to the same set of beliefs that he happens to value.

    The folks on the Reasonable Doubts podcast put it very well:
    God thinks like you

  3. raven says

    He (Dreher) calls for a return to a “traditional religion, with its truth claims and strictures”.

    Which traditional religion. It never existed.

    Despite some xians hatred of the word, “evolution”, religions evolve and quite rapidly at that.

    The modern collection of religions we call “xianity” is very different from the one 2,000 years ago.

    So how far back does Dreher want to go? When the RCC was the only church in the West and heretics were burned at the stake? Or even further, when the Proto-Orthodox were fighting it out with the Nestorians and Coptics?

  4. slc1 says

    As I stated on a previous thread on this topic, what I suspect that Dreher really wants, at least for the Raping Children Church, is for the cafeteria Catholics to take a hike, leaving the remainder to adhere strictly to Pope’s dictates. I suspect that this is exactly the strategy behind Joe the Rat’s positions.

  5. Corvus illustris says

    The RCC and I parted company just before the Vatican 2 council. Regardless of whether Roncall aka John 23 was sincere, developments since then indicate IMHO that the plan has been to turn on a dime and return to a more authoritarian orthodoxy than existed before Vatican 2, then have the remaining cadre of fanatics storm the heirs of the Enlightenment (not to mention the 16th c. reformers) and take us back–not to the middle ages*, but to the Counter-Reformation, scene of the Galileo caper. Diarmaid MacCulloch, the distinguished (Anglican background and, to my surprise, out-of-the closet gay) historian of the Reformation, has expressed a similar view with respect to J2P2.

    *There was surprising freedom of fancy in medieval RCC theology; not so in the Counter-Reformation.

  6. mnb0 says

    You’re right, but should replace Galilei by Giordano Bruno. The difference is the first didn’t even get excommunicated and the latter ended his life at a burning stake.

  7. stoferb says

    “Traditional christianity” is such a fairytale. Which traditional christianity from which particular point in time?

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