Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Why God's Harvard will always get corrupted by Satan   posted by Razib @ 11/13/2007 08:15:00 PM
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For several years I've been suggesting that people should be relatively unconcerned by the rise of the evangelical Christian counter-culture, and in particular its more ambitious projects, such as Patrick Henry College. My rationale was primarily one based on American history and the experience of Christian anti-modernists with founding institutions to battle back against the de-sectarianization of earlier redoubts. For example, Harvard was founded to train Calvinist ministers. Princeton was founded to train Calvinist ministers after Harvard was suborned from within (it became a stronghold of Unitarianism before its sectarian aspect disappeared). Eventually Wheaton became the Harvard of American evangelicalism. The disquiet over the non-renewal of the contract of a faculty member who was converting to Roman Catholicism suggests to me that the cracks of ecumenicalism are looming on the horizon.

But that's just the American evidence. I think we can increase the sample space from the founding of Christianity, as well as look at other nations. Reading about the Reformation recently I noted again that to engage in full takeover of a society Protestants had to capture the elite, and especially the monarch or potentate. France and the Austrian lands of Germany were initially strongly influenced by the Protestant Reformation, and parity was achieved at least at the level of the nobility. But over time the Catholic monarch forced religious conformity. In places like Holland the small Protestant minority were highly motivated, and without a powerful monarch they were able to engage in full takeover of the society. In Scandinavia and England the change occurred by fiat from on high (Scotland might be an exception to the rule, but its monarchy was particularly weak during this period and the nobles dictated the religion of the young future king James). These "magisterial" Protestants were in many ways quite traditional, and as evidenced by Martin Luther's screed written against the peasants who rebelled against their lords in 1525. They were willing to aid and abet the powers that be and violate the spirit of their original dissent from the central authority of the papacy. On the other hand there were dissenters, radical Protestants, who wished to reorder society through their own interpretation of scripture. The Munster Rebellion is the most antimonian manifestation of this tendency. These attempts to purify the society failed and most radical Protestants accepted that they were the Elect and that the culture at large was going to be outside of salvation.

Though mainstream Calvinism is popular among American evangelicals, it is from the radical Reformation that anti-modernist Protestanta derive their true energy and which they most resemble. Though some groups, such as the Jehovah's Witness, have stayed true to the separatist vision, of late some evangelical Protestants have attempted to refashion the broader culture in their own image. Obviously I think they are bound to fail. The attempt to fuse radical Protestantism with the City of Man always results in the latter consuming the former, just as Christian Rock or Rap seems second-hand and derivative. The utopian streak derived from primitive Christianity can have no truck with the amoral and pragmatic necessities of the world (the Pope who was no longer a Prince became a far more luminous spiritual figure). Many radical Protestants look back to the Christian Church before it was championed by the Roman Empire, and suggest that it was the Empire which converted the Church and not the reverse. But of course that early Church's purity was enabled by the fact that it was a minority sect which self-selected its members for their devotion to a separatist quasi-state within the Roman Empire. Any attempts to turn the Roman Empire into a Christian utopia would have foundered on the reality that the institutional structures and purity of belief suitable for a separatist subculture are impractical for a universal political dispensation.

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