Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI
Thomas Wang, "Ambush Alert: The Barbarians are Here"
As we have seen in the last few installments, the Dominionists have declared war against the forces of secularism, religious pluralism, and liberalism. Wang takes this declaration one step further: the so-called "culture war" is nothing other than a proxy war between God and Satan, the most recent battle in the ancient Manichaen struggle between Good and Evil. There is no room for ambiguity in this worldview; the Dominionists alone stand on the side of God and the Good, while all others - liberals, secularists, humanists, adherents of anything other than their brand of Christianity - fight on the side of Satan, the Great Evil.
Wang suggests that the West is being "secularized and paganized" by the forces of Satan, and no institution is exempt - including the churches. Secular humanists, atheists, and liberals systematically undermine the authority and superiority of biblical Christianity in order to defeat God and hand their nations over to the Evil One.
Wang further argues that these systematic efforts are often couched in progressive language and undertaken concurrently with progressive intellectual movements, beginning with the renaissance and ending today with post-modernism:
Ever since the Renaissance, humanism has been gradually but persistently on the rise. Nothing in human nature is more readily and easily used by the Adversary than human pride.
Wang's characterizations of these great intellectual movements of the past 600 years are remarkably shallow and lacking any subtlety or nuance. They also fundamentally fail to account for the developments within Christianity itself corresponding to these movements.
The Renaissance, as we all know, was literally a "rebirth," as its name suggests. Its motto was Ad fontes! ("Return to the source!"), a reference to the golden ages of classical Greece and Rome. In all areas of culture and scholarship, representatives of the Renaissance sought a return to the classical Greek and Latin roots of European civilization. The Renaissance was characterized by an explosion of humanistic scholarship in literature, architecture, art, philosophy, and the sciences.
Wang suggests that this humanistic "turn toward the subject" (consider the famous case of Copernicus's heliocentric cosmology) was antithetical to Christianity. This is, of course, untrue. The Renaissance produced important theologians and biblical scholars, including Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam. Erasmus, who remained a Catholic priest for his entire life, was highly critical of the excesses of late medieval Catholicism and served as one catalyst for the Reformation of the 16th century. Above all, Erasmus considered himself an independent scholar. He prepared a new Latin and Greek edition of the New Testament, the latter of which served as the basis for Luther's German translation of the New Testament. He called for a systematic liberalization of the medieval church, and his most famous work, The Praise of Folly, was a scathing critique of the superstitions and corruptions he detected within medieval Catholicism. To suggest, as Wang does, that the Renaissance represented a wholesale rejection of Christianity fails to account for the very important developments in Christian doctrine and scholarship during this period.
Wang criticizes the Enlightenment as another step away from Christianity. Again, this is a simplistic and unsubtle judgment. Many Enlightenment figures were certainly hostile to religion, Christianity in particular. These figures were reacting to the horrors of the religious wars of the 17th century, particularly the 30 Years War between Protestant and Catholic territories in northern Europe. They sought to replace religious authority with the authority of reason in all matters of life. As many Enlightenment thinkers acknowledged, however, there need not be any fundamental conflict between religious faith and human reason. German Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment figures such as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Gottfried von Herder, and Immanuel Kant were very critical of orthodox Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant, and championed a thoroughly rational Christianity. (See, for example, Kant's Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason.) Kant was especially significant in the later history of Protestant theology, looming close behind most of the German Protestant theology of the 19th century.
Wang's critique of the modern "thought pattern" is curious, particularly in terms of his identification of nature with heaven - a move no modern thinker would ever have made. Wang is most likely referring here to Romanticism, sometimes called the "Counter-Enlightenment." The Romantics (represented by such diverse figures as the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, the British poets Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Percy Bysshe Shelly, the French authors Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo, the Germans Franz Schubert, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the Americans Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, and William Cullen Bryant) share a profound reverence for nature, a desire to balance the faculties of reason and emotion, and a preference for imagination and intuition over against rational speculation and deduction. Many of the Romantics were more favorable toward religion than their Enlightenment predecessors, and the so-called "Father of Modern Theology," Friedrich Schleiermacher was profoundly influenced by his time spent in the Berlin Salons frequented by many prominent German Romantics. Schleiermacher's first major publication, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, represents the young Schleiermacher's attempt to demonstrate the compatibility of modern Protestantism and German Romanticism. And in Schleiermacher's most famous work, The Christian Faith, he defines the essence of religion as "the feeling of absolute dependence," and he defines God as the "whence" of this feeling - these definitions are clearly rooted in the Romantic primacy of feeling over against pure speculative reason.
The modern period of Protestant theology was marked by a deep respect for the sciences, critical biblical scholarship, increased attention to history, and engagement in the political life of the nation.
For Wang, each of these movements tends toward the ultimate rejection of God and religion in Postmodernism, when, as he puts it, "man is God." Postmodern philosophers are especially interested in critical theory (originating in its current form in the Frankfurt School) and deconstruction (a method developed by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida. Although Postmodernism as a philosophy defies a simple definition, it is generally marked by a critical attitude toward the Western philosophical tradition itself. It is marked, above all, by criticism and skepticism. Protestant theologians have also turned to the methods of Postmodern philosophy in their work and have adopted much of the same criticism and skepticism toward the Western theological tradition. (For an excellent compendium of Postmodern theological thought, see The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology.)
If we consider some common themes of these intellectual movements taken as an organic whole, we begin to understand why the Dominionists find them so dangerous. Philosophy and "liberal" theology (I use this term not in its technical sense but as the opposite of conservative theology) since the medieval period has been characterized by critical scholarship and dialogue with other academic disciplines (especially the social and natural sciences), and both are marked by a rejection of traditional authorities. Dominionism relies on uncritical acceptance of authority and uncritical use of Scripture - any skepticism, doubt, or criticism is regarded as a lack of faith and a grave sin against God. To emphasize this point, such critical attitudes are traced to the influence of Satan and are weapons in Satan's battle against Christianity. Liberal theologians are particularly dangerous because they function as "wolves in sheep's clothing," masquerading as Christians while serving the Devil and his aims to overthrow the true church.
We have once again arrived at the metaphor of war. Dominionists consider themselves to be at war with the forces of secularism, humanism, and liberalism that threaten to destroy America and the true church. Wang lists seven "fronts" of this religious war (which he takes from Carl Henry's book, Twilight of a Great Civilization: The Drift Toward Neo-Paganism):
Together, these seven fronts necessitate a theory of Total War in which Dominionists are called to devote all of their resources to total destruction of the above-listed enemies:
Our warfare today includes the battle of good and evil, man's will, Christian mind-set, Christian values, Christian leadership in education, media, art, politics and other arenas of life.
Wang and the Dominionists have declared war on the very principles of American secular democracy and on the entire Western intellectual tradition. It is time for us to recognize the stakes of this war and join the battle that has been pitched. The future of our nation, and of our world, is at stake.
Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI | 8 comments (8 topical, 0 hidden)
Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI | 8 comments (8 topical, 0 hidden)