Political Polytheism: A World War I battlefield affliction was called shell shock. In World War II, it was called combat fatigue. Men who were subjected to long periods of life-threatening hazards came home disoriented, irritable, depressed, and subject to nightmares. On the battlefield, they became unreliable performers.
American churches have not been though anything like a life-threatening situation for over three centuries, yet they have the symptoms of shell shock. They seem disoriented, irritable, depressed, and wandering aimlessly from one fad to another. Christians today are convinced they cannot reclaim this civilization, so they have ceased trying.
The church behind the iron and Bamboo Curtains did go through a period of life-threatening situations, yet it seems to have weathered the storm and is stronger for the experience. Solzhenitsyn once wrote that a man in the Gulag who had lost everything in the outside world had an advantage inside the camp; nothing of value could be taken from him by the camp's authorities. It was difficult for officials to deal with such a person.
What should we call the condition afflicting the Western churches? Not shell shock. Not combat fatigue. Maybe it should be called pre-shell shock or pre-combat fatigue. It resembles the emotional paralysis of raw recruits who have never faced combat. It is the mentality of the untrained soldier who hears the sound of exploding shells ahead of him as his truck heads toward the front lines.
But it is worse than this. The condition of the modern church reminds us of the U.S. Army in 1860. Its Commander-in-Chief was President James Buchanan, whose only political goal had been to defer the coming civil war until after he left office. He was a master ditherer who commanded no respect from anyone. Its senior officer was Winfield Scott, known as "old fuss feathers," who was so obese that he could no longer mount his horse. The army was small, unorganized, and untrained. It could not be relied on.
Think of the first battle of Manassas also known as Bull Run. Civilian sightseers rode out from Washington in carriages to see the Union victory. It was going to be a picnic. These people had never seen a battlefield. They did not know what warfare was all about. Bull Run turned out to be a rout that was mitigated only by the inability of untrained Confederate troops to pursue the fleeing Union troops all the way to Washington.
For over three centuries, Western churches have not been in a battle in which their members or leaders believed they had anything judicially significant to say, one way or the other. From the closing years of the seventeenth century, Christians have believed that their voices must blend with all others in a common chorus. They have not trained for a battle because they have not believed in the legitimacy of Christian civilization. They have lost faith in their own cause. They do not want to risk anything of value to promote it.
Christians have long regarded Newtonian rationalism as the truly Christian way of thought. Yet Isaac Newton was a closet Unitarian on the payroll of a supposedly Christian university. (As far as the records indicate, he taught a total of three students in three decades, none of whom graduated. He lectured weekly to empty seats). His physics reflects faith in the unconverted mind of man, which needs no Bible to inform it regarding truth. Common-ground Newtonian logic became the Western intellectual ideal for the next two centuries until Darwin persuaded intellectuals that there is no constancy in man or biological nature. By that time, Unitarian Horace Mann had persuaded American voters and politicians that theologically neutral public education is the best way to elevate the human race.
Christians have learned their Newtonian lessons well. They have studied at the feet of generations of pagan Gamaliels. They have believed with all their hearts that Christians have but one task culturally: to baptize a vaguely conservative version of the dominant humanist worldview. For example, if the threat is the statist revolution of a Robespierre, Christians think they should challenge this revolutionary civil religion (the goddess of reason) in the name of traditional civil religion: George Washington's religion, or John Adams', or Thomas Jeffersons's unitarians all. They get all tingly when they see a photo of the famous statue of George Washington praying in the snow at Valley Forge, an event which had no eyewitnesses and appears to be wholly mythical.
Christians have sat on the sidelines of the great philosophical and political debates of our age in much the same way as out-of-shape fans sit in the stands of football games. They cheer loudly when "their side" scores. The cheerleaders jump up and down wildly, backs to the players. But the fans have little or no effect on the outcome of the game. The key to the outcome is not the enthusiasm of the fans; the key is the rule book. It has been written by those who have decided to determine the outcome of the game: the liberal media, the educational establishment, and the liberal clergy; the priesthood. The game is rigged because the rules are rigged. The referees enforce the rules, the players play by the rules, and the fans cheer wildly. All the rules in the book rest on five assumptions:
1). An absolutely sovereign God did not create the world.
2). The Bible is not the infallible word of God.
3). Law and truth evolve.
4). There is no final judgment in terms of God's law.
5). The kingdom of man has replaced the kingdom of God.
These five assumptions are taught explicitly in the public school classrooms whenever the law allows this, such as in Communist nations and in Western Civilization classes at most state universities. Christians beg to differ with the referees; and I do mean beg, and regard it as a triumph when an official version of the assumptions is printed to silence them.
1). God need not be assumed to exist.
2). The Bible is, at most, an important work of literature.
3). Truth means "truth for you;" there are many truths.
4). Final judgement is one idea among many in men's religions.
5). The kingdom of man has room for the kingdoms of many gods.
The vast majority of evangelical Christians today believe that they can operate effectively as good citizens in terms of these five rules of public judicial discourse. In fact, they actually regard it as un-Christian to organize to change these rules.
In the face of the widespread acceptance of these rules by Christians, the courts; the referees, then interpret the meaning of the preceding five rules. New rules are announced by the courts that henceforth must govern every public institution, meaning: (1) every institution that receives tax dollars and, if the courts think they can get away with it, (2) every institution that receives federal tax exemption. The rules for public institutions; and all institutions are to some degree public, are re-written as follows:
1). It is illegal to say officially that God created the world.
2). It is illegal to say officially that the Bible alone os God's word.
3). It is illegal in public schools to teach the Bible as morally binding.
4). The most fearful judgment is whatever the State threatens.
5). The kingdom of the State has no permanent limits.
What are the five rules that would be appropriate to an explicitly Christian civil order: These:
1). The trinitarian God of the Bible created and sustains the universe.
2). The national covenant must be Trinitarian.
3). The Bible is the fundamental law of the land.
4). Every voting citizen must formally covenant with this God;
5). The nation must be part of God's covenanted kingdom in history.
To proclaim them in the name of Jesus Christ is to commit both political suicide and academic blasphemy. "Big tent" Christian political activists would regard such a "Covenant With America" with the same enthusiasm that an Orthodox Jew would regard a ham sandwich. "Big tent" Christians want a contact with America, not a covenant. They want a family contract with America, not a civil or ecclesiastical covenant with America. They push family values in public because most voters in the Newtonian-Unitarian-pluralistic civil order believe in the family. This has been true of conservative thought for at least three centuries.
A covenant is distinguished from a contract by the presence of a binding oath. A covenant oath invokes God's negative sanctions against the oath-taker. In modern times, binding civil oaths have been modified to remove the negative sanctions. Positive sanctions sometimes remain: "So help me God."
Article VI, Section III of the U.S. Constitution forbids the use of any religious oath to screen federal officers. This was (and remains) the heart, mind, and soul of the judicial coup d'etat that James Madison illegally engineered in 1787. I have discussed this in Part 3 of "Political Polytheism," a book that has not been widely promoted by "big tent" Christians or anyone else. Why not? Because the book calls into question the Biblical legitimacy of the Newtonian-Unitarian-pluralistic civil order.
The leader's task on the outer limits of cultural discourse is to state an extreme case profoundly and forcefully. This marks him as a fringe character. He dooms himself to isolation and seeming irrelevance for a generation or more. He must seek to set the terms of principled discourse, but in doing so, he necessarily abandons the terms of acceptable discourse. He is not only politically incorrect, he is culturally incorrect..until the culture comes under God's comprehensive negative sanctions. During that unique window of opportunity, the man on the fringe competes to move the center closer to his fringe.
To pull the center closer to the fringe, disciples must be persuaded at the time of the cultural crisis that the fringe position is legitimate. They must be able to point in confidence to a developed body of literature that is both principled and practical. But the crisis period is a late development. The position's pioneers must first create this initial body of literature. They must concentrate on its consistency, for its practicality is historically demonstrated long after the literature is available to the public. But the fringe position must be capable of becoming practical even though it is impractical at the time when it is initially developed.
The movement's founders and supporters must be willing to remain on the fringes all of their lives. Their vision, time, and capital must be devoted to creating the foundational literature. This takes self-discipline and deferred gratification. Most people will not devote their lives to what is probably going to be a lost cause in their own lifetimes. But future-oriented people will do this, just as Abraham looked forward in faith to the victory that his heirs would inevitably experience four generations later: "But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." (Genesis 15;16)
Anyone who dismisses the long-term effects of his efforts or the church's efforts in history has adopted the Keynesian worldview: "In the long run, we are all dead." This is a fitting worldview for a homosexual, which Keynes was. It is the worldview of AIDS. It is fundamentalism's worldview today. Rapture fever. Eschatology shapes men's efforts. (Institute for Christian Economics, P.O. Box 8000, Tyler, Texas 75711, by Gary North)