Browsed by
Category: Church History

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 55): Soren Kierkegaard–Getting Naked and Self-Conscious, and the Meaning of Faith

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 55): Soren Kierkegaard–Getting Naked and Self-Conscious, and the Meaning of Faith

There is one more 19th century philosopher I want to draw our attention to: the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). When Kierkegaard died in 1855, Darwin had not yet published Origin of Species, Nietzsche was merely 11 years old, and Marx, still smarting from the failure of a full-fledged proletariat revolution in 1848, had been living in London a mere five years, having accomplished nothing. That’s right, Kierkegaard came before Darwin, Marx, or Nietzsche had even begun to make their mark on history.

Kierkegaard is often called the father of existentialism, but that is somewhat misleading. Modern existentialism should be traced to Jean-Paul Sartre in the 20th century—and Kierkegaard really was nothing like Sartre. Kierkegaard lived in early 19th century Denmark, in which Christianity, specifically Lutheranism, was the “state religion,” and the institutionalized church was as shallow and dead as could be. If you want to think of it this way: what Kierkegaard experienced in the State church of Denmark was a result of Luther’s Reformation.

As we discussed earlier, when Luther revolted against the Catholic Church, he appealed to the secular leaders of various kingdoms and countries to support him. The result was that various states ended up not only sponsoring a particular religion—or more precisely, a particular denomination or branch of Christianity—but actually enforcing that particular strain of Christianity on its subjects. This resulted in the “wars of religion” throughout the 16th and 17th centuries.

By Kierkegaard’s day, though, those tensions had calmed down, and people were largely fine with the idea of state-sponsored religion. Of course, by the 19th century (again, as we’ve seen in earlier posts), Christianity was being fashioned into more of a deistic, rationalistic, proper sort of tame religion that could “benefit” society. Many people are well-aware how Nietzsche savaged that notion; but the fact is, so did Kierkegaard. Although both men were sickened by such a tepid form of Christianity, the answers each man gave could not be more far apart. Nietzsche wanted to destroy Christianity; Kierkegaard wanted to remind people what the heart of Christianity really was.

The heart of Christianity, Kierkegaard argued, was not “reasonable.” The heart of Christianity was living, passionate faith-filled relationship with the living God…and the choices that stem from such a faith-filled relationship often will not seem “reasonable” or even “moral” to the prim and proper, deistic, rationalistic, liberal theologians (and institutionalized church) of early 19th century Europe.

Now as it turns out, as with Nietzsche, I have already written a number of posts on Kierkegaard. I think my posts do a very good job crystalizing just what Kierkegaard was about. And so, this post really functions as the doorway to these other posts. I hope you take the time to read them.

 

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 46): Enlightenment Odds ‘n Ends–Revolution, Columbus, and the Slave Trade

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 46): Enlightenment Odds ‘n Ends–Revolution, Columbus, and the Slave Trade

The last few Ways of the Worldviews posts have been quite heavy in the philosophy department. And it’s true, the philosophers of the Enlightenment have had a tremendous impact on how we in the modern world even view reality itself: God, nature, religion, the state, the church…you name it. That’s all well and good, but what impact does any of this have in day-to-day life and actual historical events?

Well, as it so turns out, there are a number of odds ‘n ends I have come across over the past few years that do touch upon some of these matters, but that I just am not sure how to fit in to this Ways of the Worldviews series. So, I figured, why not just dump it all into one post, and let it be a bit disjointed and possibly messy? It still is rather interesting stuff…Enjoy…

The Difference between the American and French Revolutions
It is rather interesting that the American and French Revolutions, that happened roughly at the same time in history, ended up yielding such different results. The American Revolution led to the establishment of the United States of America, a Constitution that has lasted for over 200 years, a clear separation of Church and State, and as a result, a flourishing of religious freedom to where America is one of the most religious countries in the world (even if in name only).

By contrast, the French Revolution began in 1789, and by 1792, Robespierre and his Committee of Public Safety had instituted the Reign of Terror. And by 1804, a mere 15 years after they deposed the monarchy of France, Napoleon declared himself to be its emperor. Why such different results?

To the point, I believe it had to do with how each country dealt with the issue of religion. In America, although many of the Founding Fathers were clearly deists and not traditional Christians, they nevertheless respected the right people had to religious faith and the right they had to express their religious convictions. There was an intentional decision for the government to stay out of church affairs—that, incidentally, was the “wall between Church and State” that Thomas Jefferson was referring to. The “wall” existed so that the State could not impose its will on the Church. At the same time, although it was obvious that the Church was not to run the affairs of the State either, there was no objection for religious men and women to express their religious beliefs in public and attempt to convince people in regards to how the State should be run.

In other words, the religious man was free to argue for his religious convictions in the public square, and if his argument was convincing enough, he had just as much a right to try to shape public policy as anyone else. Therefore, in America, deists, atheists, and Christians of all backgrounds were free to contribute in the public square.

By contrast, in France, the focus was not simply to stamp out the monarchy, but to stamp out Christianity itself. Human rights were not “endowed by the Creator.” Instead, the “Supreme Being” was equaled to the sovereignty of the nation and the general will of the people—and so, the basis for democracy in France essentially came to rest, not on the idea that there are certain inalienable rights endowed by God, but rather the idea that human rights are human rights, because that’s what society wants.

Or to put it another way, in reference to Greek philosophy: in America, the idea of particular rights was rooted in the conviction that God, as the ultimate universal, gives those particular rights meaning. Man is created in God’s image—man has dignity, worth, meaning, and rights, because he is the image of the Creator. By contrast, in France, the particular rights were rooted in…what? There was no universal to root them in—“God” was just the “will of the people.” Human rights are human rights are human rights…let the government enforce the will of the people.

And because of that, the revolutionary government of France, ended up slaughtering thousands in the name of enforcing human rights. They decreed that 1792 be considered “year one” of the new age of Enlightenment; they proclaimed “the goddess of reason” in Notre Dame Cathedral, and even paraded an actress, dressed up as the goddess reason, in a procession into the church, held shoulder-high by men dressed in Roman costumes. In short, they attempted to place finite human reason and the will of the people up as the deity that was to dictate human society.

The result was the Reign of Terror, chaos, and then the installment of an even greater dictator than Louis XVI—Napoleon Bonaparte.

Christopher Columbus
Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492—considerably before the time of the so-called Enlightenment. So why talk about Columbus now? Simple: our accepted narrative about Columbus comes from the time of the Enlightenment—and it couldn’t be more wrong. We all know the story of Columbus: he went about trying to prove that the world was round, despite the Catholic Church’s claim that the world was flat. Ironically, in addition to proving the world was round, Columbus also unwittingly discovered a whole new continent. Right?

Wrong. The only reason why such a story has been largely accepted as true in our day and age is certain writers during the Enlightenment put forth this yarn as an attempt to discredit the Catholic Church and to convince people that Christianity was simply an anti-intellectual, superstitious religion. But as I’ve mentioned numerous times in the course of these posts, the Enlightenment had this really bad habit of making things up and telling complete historical falsehoods.

I first learned about this almost 20 years ago, when I saw a BBC special by Terry Jones (of Monty Python fame) about the Middle Ages. In one of the episodes he touched upon the common misunderstanding regarding Columbus. You can watch the entire episode here. The specific part about Columbus begins around minute 16.

The fact is that the story of Columbus’ clash with the Catholic Church over the claim that the world was, in fact, round, was a complete fiction, written by Washington Irving in the early 19th century. As soon as Irving published his biography of Columbus, it quickly was snatched up by people who already held an animus against Christianity (or particularly the Catholic Church), and promptly used it as yet another weapon in their arsenal to attack Christianity.

Later on, men like Andrew Dickson White promulgated and embellished the already fictitious story in his attempt to show that there was an ever-raging war between the ignorant superstitions of Christianity and the enlightened, rationalism of science. But the fact had been, and indeed still is, that there had never been a war between science and Christianity. As Rodney Stark points out, “Long before the fifteenth century, every educated European including Roman Catholic prelates, knew the earth was round” (Triumph of Christianity, 274). In fact, as Ronald Numbers points out, “From the seventh century to the fourteenth, every important medieval thinker concerned about the natural world stated more or less explicitly that the world was a round globe, many of them incorporating Ptolemy’s astronomy and Aristotle’s physics into their work” (Galileo Goes to Jail, 31). Thomas Aquinas, Roger Bacon, Albert Magnus—not to mention every single solitary sailor—knew that the earth was round.

Slavery: Enlightenment Thinkers vs. Christian Thinkers
There is one key issue that infected Western Europe and pre-Civil War America that must be addressed: slavery. It was stated earlier that it was Christianity that successfully put an end to the ancient pagan institution of slavery. It was because of the revolutionary Christian conviction that all human beings were made in the image of God, and were therefore created equal, that the ancient pagan institution of slavery was ended. But if that was the case, how did slavery revive in Western Europe? The answer is simple: colonialism. With the discovery of “the new world” came the European push to colonize it in order to expand markets of trade. And what better way to insure high profits than to secure a workforce for virtually nothing—i.e. let’s enslave Africans and send them to work in the sugar cane fields in the Caribbean!

Yet the question thus becomes, “If Christianity had long before condemned slavery as immoral and anti-Christian, who were the people in Europe who advocated for slavery?” Although the full answer is far more complex than can be discussed here, the simple answer is that slavery was promoted and advocated by prominent Enlightenment thinkers. Furthermore, slavery was not only condemned by the Catholic Church from the outset of its revival in the colonies, but it was the tireless work of countless Christian abolitionists who eventually were able to once again, both in England and in the United States, to abolish slavery for the second time in Western history.

One such Enlightenment thinker who advocated for slavery was none other than David Hume. He argued that blacks were “naturally inferior to whites,” and once compared an articulate black Jamaican to “a parrot, who speaks a few words plainly.” Indeed, other prominent men of the Enlightenment like Thomas Jefferson, Voltaire and John Locke all defended the practice of racial slavery. And what was the basis upon which they argued for slavery? None other than human reason, nature, and supposed science—the result was justification for the inhumane practice of slavery, and the subsequent enslavement, torture, and ultimate death of millions of African slaves.

By contrast, it was Christians who were speaking out forcefully against the practice of slavery right from the outset. In his book, Christianity on Trial, Vincent Carroll tells us that in 1774, John Wesley wrote Thoughts on Slavery, and “posed a rhetorical question to the captains of slave ships: ‘Do you never feel another’s pain? Have you no sympathy? …When you saw the flowing eyes, the heaving breasts, or the bleeding sides or tortured limbs of your fellow human beings, were you a stone or a brute?’” (32). Incidentally, Wesley was no fan of David Hume.  He called Hume, “the most insolent despiser of truth and virtue who ever appeared in the world.”

And then there was George Whitefield. Carroll tells us that Whitefield “went so far as to ask whites to consider the children of slaves as equal to their own. ‘Think your children are in any way better by nature than the poor Negroes? No! In no wise! Blacks are just as much, and no more, conceived and born in sin, as white men are; and both, if born and bred up here, I am persuaded, are naturally capable of the same improvement’” (32).

There was also John Newton, the former slave ship captain who eventually repented of his sins and became a follower of Christ. He wrote perhaps the most famous hymn in history, Amazing Grace. He greatly influenced William Wilberforce who, along with William Pitt, eventually was able to abolish the slave trade throughout the British Empire. It was because of his deeply-rooted faith in Christ that Wilberforce dedicated his life to the betterment of humanity. He famously said, “Almighty God has set before me two great objectives: the abolition of the slave trade and the reformation of manners.” His dream was initially realized when Parliament voted to make the slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire, and then was finally realized with the passing of the Slavery Abolition Act of 1834. Over the course of his career in Parliament, Wilberforce introduced countless anti-slavery bills that brought him nothing but scorn.

In fact, early on in his political career, he was ridiculed for trying to “impose religion” into public life. Carroll tells us that Lord Melbourne sneered at Wilberforce and said, “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life” (36). Nevertheless, his persistence, along with the ground-swell of support from Baptists, Methodists, and Presbyterians, eventually was able, for the second time in Western history, to put an end to slavery.

Of course, while Wilberforce was able to end slavery in the British Empire without firing a single shot, the United States ended up having to fight a war over the issue. Slavery was established in the colonies in Virginia in 1619. Almost immediately there were Christians who objected to the practice. Sadly though, as the practice became firmly entrenched in the colonies, even Christians came to be split on the issue. Even though Quakers actually banned anyone who was involved in the slave trade from church membership, a large number of Baptists in the south came to endorse supposed biblical justifications for slavery.

Despite the fact that from the days of the early Church, Christians had always opposed slavery, after a few generations, southern Christians had simply adapted to the slave-culture of the south, and sought to justify the truly horrible practice with passages from the Bible (Lev. 25:44-46; I Cor. 7:20-24; Eph. 6:5-8; I Peter 2:18-21). This certainly was a tragedy. But we must not falsely assume that it was Christianity that encouraged the slave trade and the continuation of slavery in America. In fact, the leading abolitionists in America were non-other than evangelical Christians, predominantly Baptists and Methodists. In fact, the reason why there are considerably more predominantly black Baptist and Methodist congregations around the country, as opposed to Episcopalian, Presbyterian, or any other denomination, is because it was Baptist and Methodist churches who led the abolitionist movement. Consequently, it is no wonder why so many black people and former slaves ended up joining those denominations—they were the ones who helped secure their freedom.

And the Indians…
Christians in America didn’t just concern themselves with the plight of black slaves. Vincent Carroll writes that Christians also “organized the most determined effort of the early nineteenth century to defend Indian rights: a national campaign against President Andrew Jackson’s brutal plan to confiscate the Cherokee Territory in Georgia and expel the natives from their land” (196). In addition, “It was evangelical missionaries, too, who defied the law against residing on Cherokee lands and choose to be arrested at the point of bayonets in order to push the Indians’ case before the U.S. Supreme Court” (196). And finally, “The Cherokee bill was controversial to begin with only because of the evangelical campaign, a grassroots effort that came within five votes in the House of defeating Jackson’s scheme” [Trail of Tears] (196).

The point should be obvious, throughout the history of America, it was Christians who led the way in striving for the freedom and fair treatment of “the least of these”—be it black African slaves or Native American Indians.

Next on the “Ways of the Worldviews” series: we’re journeying on into the 19th century—what I call “The Age of the Modern Nephilim.” If you don’t know what that is, check back in a few days.

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 42): The Bridge to the Enlightenment: Bacon, Locke, Descartes, and Pascal

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 42): The Bridge to the Enlightenment: Bacon, Locke, Descartes, and Pascal

In order to understand where the Enlightenment thinkers like Voltaire and Rousseau really came from, you have to first “bridge the gap” between what happened with the Protestant Reformation and its connections with the Machiavellian strategies of some secular rulers at that time, along with the growing scientific discoveries that were happening as all that was going on. If you put all that together, what you end up with is a gradual shift in philosophical outlooks and worldviews.

Remember, the situation was basically this: there were countless “religious wars” throughout Europe during the 16th and 17th centuries that the Protestant Reformation sparked and that Machiavellian rulers were all too eager to stoke for their own political gain. As “religion” was being co-opted by the State for political purposes, it is not that hard to see that “religion” was getting a bad name. Then, when you consider that it was during this time that numerous scientists were employing the scientific method to unlock the mysteries of the natural world, you can see why so many people gravitated to this “new way of knowing,” and began to think it was time to do away with “religion”—after all, it seemed to only bring war and strife. Why not embrace the rationalistic methods of science in order to come to a better understanding of what is true?

The War Between “Faith” and “Reason”
In that sense, the seeds of the modern mentality that sees “faith and religion” as at war with “science and reason” were sown during this time. The ironic thing to all this, though, was that the men of science who spearheaded the scientific revolution were, in fact, Christian men of faith who did not see a conflict between faith and reason. The problem was that Europe was in flames precisely because other so-called men of faith were killing other so-called men of faith because they didn’t adhere to the same particular theological nuances, and those theological nuances were seen in terms of political stances and allegiances.

And so, just as we see today, the tendency always seems to be:

(A) to overlook the faith of godly men and women who are committed to building up society, be it through science, literature, the arts, or through truly Christian works of charity,

(B) to focus solely on the “bad seeds” of the faith who are often too bound up with political power and who end up bringing destruction,

(C) and then to conclude that “faith” is the problem.

That is precisely what happened during the Enlightenment. Therefore, when faced with the question, “What should we put in place of this destructive ‘faith’ of Christianity?” the answer that was shouted during the Enlightenment was “reason!”

The Gradual Shift: Bacon, Locke, Descartes
Of course, before this secular creed was shouted during the Enlightenment, it had been whispered and discussed in the two preceding centuries. As soon as the Protestant Reformation ignited the religious wars of the 16th and 17th centuries, there were those throughout Europe who began to proclaim that there was a better way than “faith and religion”—namely, that of science and reason.

First, there was Francis Bacon (1561-1626 AD) who argued that there were four different types of idols that were “fit for destruction”: (1) idols of the tribe (namely, those rooted in human nature), (2) idols of the cave (those due to each person’s individuality), (3) idols of the market-place (those which arise from people’s interactions with each other), and (4) idols of the theater (namely, man-made philosophies and religions that simply reflect the viewpoints of the people who made them). When it came to ascertaining truth, Bacon declared, “Get rid of them all!” And in their place, put the only true method that can settle disputes over matters of fact and truth: the scientific method.

Then there was John Locke (1632-1704 AD), who argued that the human mind was a tabla rasa, a blank slate. Therefore, knowledge is not something that is inherent, but rather is something that is derived solely from the senses—human beings are thus shaped from their experiences alone. Therefore, Locke denied the concept that human beings were born sinful—he claimed that people are born with a moral nature, and that one’s “goodness” or “badness” was dependent upon one’s education. After all, since a person is a tabla rasa, it was up to his environment and education to “construct” him into either a moral or immoral human being.

Locke also was the precursor to many modern ideas. He denied the divine right of kings, and proposed that a better basis for government would be essentially a contract between the governing authorities and the governed people. He argued for religious tolerance, namely tolerance between Protestant denominations, (but certainly not for Catholics).

Like Bacon before him, Locke held to an elevated view of reason. Reason wasn’t simply a tool to help explain faith. Locke saw it as the standard for judging all supposed revelations and truth claims. In contrast to Augustine, who said, “I believe in order to understand,” Locke not only said one should use his reason to understand and come to belief, he said one’s reason should be the judge of any and all faith claims. For him, Christianity was nothing more that believing the validity of certain tenets based on the test of reason.

This increasing focus on autonomous reason can also be seen in the work of the Catholic thinker Rene Descartes (1596-1650 AD). His now famous motto, “I think, therefore I am,” was the culmination of his attempt to look for a basis upon which to understand the world, and it became the starting point of all philosophy going forward. He decided to doubt everything until he came to something he could not doubt—that would be the basis for all knowledge.

His conclusion was that the fact that he thinks proves his existence, and therefore becomes the basis for understanding the world. Essentially, Descartes marked a monumental shift in philosophy, from the previous “God-centered” way of thinking to a modern “human-centered” way of thinking. It is what is called the subjective turn. No longer was knowledge understood as objectively rooted in biblical revelation. Cartesian philosophy ushered in the view that knowledge was subjective and authenticated by human reason. As Andrew Hoffecker writes in Revolutions in Worldview, “Descartes’ philosophical treatment of God illustrates the modernist shift from seeing God as a transcendent, personal sovereign, who is worthy of worship, pious devotion, and personal obedience, to seeing him as a ‘deity’ who serves the philosopher’s ends by tying together his system as a whole” (255).

The Mystical Pushback: Pascal
At the very same time this shift to “modern-autonomous reasoning” was occurring, there was also a push at the other end of the spectrum toward a more mystical experience that opens the door to a deeper kind of understanding. Unlike the cold, hard skepticism of Cartesian rationalism, and unlike the cold intellectualism of previous Catholic scholastics, men like Blasé Pascal (1623-1662 AD) and the movement of which he was a part, Jansenism, emphasized the need to discover God within one’s heart.

His famous work, The Pensees, was nothing like either Cartesian rationalism or the theological treatises of the Catholic scholastics. It was Pascal who famously observed, “the heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing.” In other words, Pascal was pointing out that there is a different, indeed more profound, way of coming to understanding than mere intellect and reason. It’s not that intellect and reason were bad; they just weren’t the whole story. Hearkening back to earlier philosopher-theologians like Augustine and Anselm, Pascal emphasized the role of intuitive faith in one’s life. He said, “God himself instills faith into the heart resulting not in ‘I know’ but in ‘I believe.’” True wisdom was found in avoiding both extremes—both of which are still blatantly prevalent in our day: (a) the arrogant declaration that autonomous reason is the only means of understanding, and (b) the foolish rejection of human reason in favor of a truly “blind faith.”

It is in this light that we must consider the famous Pascal’s wager, which basically says that everyone essentially bets on whether or not God exists. Now, many misunderstand Pascal’s wager, and think he is basically saying, “You don’t know if God exists or not, but if He does, you better say you believe in Him, or else you might burn in hell.” Quite simply, that is a sophomoric understanding of what Pascal was saying. What he was emphasizing was the fact that reason alone cannot either prove or disprove the existence of God. Therefore, people who either believe or disbelieve that God exists are not basing that conclusion on reason—in that sense belief or disbelief is essentially a wager, a bet.

Therefore, since reason alone can’t prove or disprove God’s existence, and since (let’s admit it) everyone (even Richard Dawkins!) can’t escape that sense of transcendence, that feeling there is “something more” to this world—are you going to heed that sense or deny it? Or in other words, what do you have to lose by “listening to your heart” so to speak? If you listen to your heart, heed that sense of transcendence and step out in faith that there is a God—and He in fact exists, then you’ve gained everything; if He doesn’t exist, what have you really lost? By contrast, if you don’t listen to your heart—and He in fact exists, then you’ve lost everything; and if He doesn’t exist, then you’ll be in the same position as if you had listened to your heart anyway.

Simply put, Pascal’s wager isn’t so much saying, “Say you believe in God (even if you don’t think He really exists) so you won’t go to hell, just in case He really does exists.” Rather, it is saying, “Admit your reason is limited; admit that your reason alone cannot prove or disprove God’s existence; admit that you do have this sense of transcendence that there is something more, and step out in faith based on that—what do you have to lose? Maybe the reasons of the heart give us access to deeper realities that mere intellect cannot.”

Conclusion
As a means of review, I want to just clarify a few key points before we move on to looking at the Enlightenment thinkers:

  1. The scientific revolution was a result of countless Christians (both Protestant and Catholic) who started to make astounding discoveries about the natural world. The impetus for their study of the natural world was their conviction that God is a God of order and that nature was worth investigating.
  1. At the same time, there were some very backward people who fought against such scientific discoveries. In the Catholic Church, there were those cardinals who opposed Galileo; within Protestantism, both Luther and Calvin spoke against Copernicus for proposing a view of the universe that went “against the plain reading of Scripture.”
  1. During this time, though, there was a gradual shift in the thinking of some that tended to elevate human reason to be the sole arbiter of truth. At the same time, there was also a pushback from relying on cold reason alone, and some emphasized the importance of Christian mysticism.

In any case, it is high time we finally do away with the tired old stereotypes of the “science vs. religion” debate. The reason why we need to do so is because that false narrative is doing tremendous harm in our current day. It is obvious that there is a significant strand within modern American Evangelicalism that is decidedly “anti-science,” and that displays a woeful ignorance about not only science, but the basics of philosophy, theology, and biblical interpretation. And at the same time, there is the growing “New Atheist” movement that might embrace scientific discovery, but who are tremendously hostile to “religion” because they don’t know much about history, philosophy, theology, and biblical interpretation either.

Simply put, the “war” isn’t between faith and reason, or religion and science. The “war” is between ignorant Christians and ignorant atheists who have bought into the absurd notion that science and reason are the sole methods of proving or disproving God.

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 41): Let Me Introduce You to the So-Called Enlightenment

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 41): Let Me Introduce You to the So-Called Enlightenment

For the past 200 years, ever since the so-called “Enlightenment,” there has been a false narrative that has held sway over Western culture. Consider the very terms we just take for granted as being historically accurate: the Dark Ages, the Enlightenment—these were terms coined by secular atheists who were hell bent on convincing successive generations that Christianity equaled ignorance, superstition, and unscientific darkness, whereas the ideals of their self-proclaimed “Enlightenment” equaled reason, logic, science and light. Never mind the fact that such a depiction of “the dark ages” is an utter fiction—the propaganda of the so-called “Enlightenment” didn’t care about facts; it had an agenda.

Enlightenment Propaganda, and the Light Going Out in the West
Ironically, it has been the success of such propaganda that has contributed to an alarming ignorance of history. It has been the propaganda of the “Enlightenment” that has plunged modern western society into darkness and ignorance of history. The fact is, if you can control the historical narrative of the past, you not only control the present, but you can influence and shape the direction of the future. In many ways, our modern politics is still being pulled by the strings of Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Spinoza. Our modern culture as a whole as further strings attached to it—those of the “Enlightenment” thinkers of the 18th century.

It’s time we shed some real light into the darkness, ignorance, and failure of the so-called “Enlightenment”—only then will we be truly enlightened by the truth about our history.

The truth is there really was no such thing as the “Enlightenment.” During the period most often associated with the so-called Enlightenment (i.e. 1700s), what we see in Europe was more of a frustrated reaction to the “religious wars” that had engulfed Europe for almost two centuries. Now, as I pointed out in the previous posts, these “religious wars” were often actually propagated by secular rulers to suit their own ends. In effect, secular rulers ended up using the religious divisions that came about after the Protestant Reformation as way to secure their political power. Not surprisingly, after two centuries of this, “religion,” and more specifically Christianity, began to leave a bad taste in society’s mouth.

The tragedy of all this was that it was the decidedly Christian worldview that pulled Europe out of the darkness of a brutal and ignorant paganism. In the name of Christ, it provided the light of education, the arts, music, literature, technology and philosophy. For all its faults, the Church during both the Byzantine and High Catholic Ages had built up a societal structure that was able to translate the Gospel of Christ into all areas of life, for the betterment of society.

It should also be emphasized that despite the fact that many cultural advances grew out of the Protestant Revolution, the way in which the Protestant Revolution came about and continued on (namely by allying with secular leaders and allowing those leaders to apply Machiavellian tactics to subvert the Protestant cause) ended up cutting out the religious legs from under Western society.

The Culture War…And So It Begins
Ever since the so-called Enlightenment, therefore, there has been an ongoing cultural battle throughout Western society. On one hand, there are the acolytes of the likes of Machiavelli, Hobbes, Spinoza, and the proponents of the so-called Enlightenment (whom we will be looking at in the next few posts) who advocate for increasing secularism and philosophical materialism in the public square, and who claim that things like democracy and science are rooted in their atheistic worldview.

On the other hand, there are the religious adherents of a decidedly Protestant (and in modern day American, Fundamentalist/Evangelical) worldview, who suffer from a kind of cultural schizophrenia. They call for a return to the “religious roots” of our society, but fail to see that many of their values are rooted in the very Enlightenment worldview they claim to be against. Simply put, in their attempts to bring society back to Christ, they are unwittingly using the Enlightenment rule-book (as will become obvious).

But before we get ahead of ourselves, we need to take the time to understand this particular time period. And to understand this time period we need to look at two converging story-lines:  the scientific revolution and the rise of the Enlightenment philosophers.

The Scientific Revolution…Sort of a Christian Thing
The Scientific Revolution was not the sole property of one group. It wasn’t a Protestant phenomenon, it wasn’t a Catholic phenomenon, and it certainly wasn’t a secular phenomenon. For that matter, it wasn’t even purely a Christian phenomenon. That being said, though, the extent to which scientific study took root in Western Europe was certainly the result of the predominant Christian worldview that came out of the High Catholic Age. As Alfred North Whitehead said:

“The greatest contribution of medievalism to the formation of the scientific movement [was] the inexpugnable belief that…there is a secret, a secret which can be unveiled. How has this conviction been so vividly implanted in the European mind? It must come from the medieval insistence on the rationality of God, conceived as with the personal energy of Jehovah and with the rationality of a Greek philosopher. Every detail was supervised and ordered: the search into nature could only result in the vindication of the faith in rationality.”

Simply put, it was the Christian conviction that nature was good and orderly because it was created by a God of order; and therefore, it was worth investigating and discovering. And it was that conviction that led to the explosion of innovation and scientific advances during the not-so-dark “Dark Ages.” The “Scientific Revolution,” therefore, wasn’t so much of a revolution, as it was a continuing of the true scientific revolution that had begun much earlier.

And this leads to a rather ironic curiosity about the Enlightenment thinkers we will be discussing over the next few posts: men like Voltaire, Rousseau, Diderot, Hume, and Gibbon. These men, the ones who boldly proclaimed the rise of science as the sign of the end of Christianity, weren’t scientists. They were writers and literary men…and, no surprise, either atheistic or simply irreligious.

What’s the irony? The actual scientists who brought about such advances in science were Christians. In fact, many of the men who actually ushered in the scientific revolution were men from the previous generations, before the so-called “Enlightenment” of the 18th century. Nicholas Copernicus (1473-1543 AD), the man who showed that the earth travels around the sun, and thus upended the Ptolemic model of the universe and put in its place the heliocentric model, was a devout Catholic. Johannes Kepler (1571-1630 AD) was a Protestant mathematician and astronomer who built upon Copernicus’ theories. And then there was obviously Galileo Galilei (1564-1642 AD), a Catholic mathematician and astronomer (as well as a few other things) who further confirmed Copernicus’ findings.

Following these men was the great Isaac Newton (1642-1727 AD), considered the greatest scientist who ever lived. Not many people realize that Newton’s religious writings actually dwarfed his scientific writings. Far from being some sort of champion for secularistic, enlightenment thinking, Newton was a deeply religious man. For Newton, the wonders he discovered in creation was simply further proof that there was an intelligence behind the universe. He stated, “it’s unphilosophical to seek for any other origin of the world, or to pretend that it might arise out of a chaos by the mere laws of nature.”

Such an analysis of the created order obviously is not held by many modern scientists. In fact, one of the main ideas that came out of the so-called Enlightenment—that of deism, and the seeing God as some sort of divine clock-maker and the world as a giant clock—was utterly rejected by Newton on the grounds that it denied the freedom and activity of the divine will. In other words, deism reduced God to be subservient to nature. And that, for Newton, was sheer nonsense. In his book, Galileo Goes to Jail: And Other Myths About Science and Religion, Ronald L. Numbers puts it this way:

“Manifestly, Newton’s God was not Enlightenment absentee clockmaker. Rather he was free to make a world of any sort he pleased, and if he chose to alter it later, then that was the prerogative of an omnipotent, providential governor who exercises his dominion over all that comes to pass—who are we mere mortals to question his foresight?” (121).

Conclusion
As we now go forward to look at the time-period known as the Enlightenment, I just want to make one thing clear: the fundamental narrative that has stemmed from the time of the Enlightenment is, quite simply, based on a lie. The false narrative of the Church and the Christian Era (labeled as the “Dark Ages”) being hostile to science and reason was concocted by deeply irreligious men who had no experience or expertise in science.

I guess we can say that “alternative facts” and “fake news” is not a brand-new phenomenon. As we will see, many of the main assumptions we have today in our modern western world are based on the “alternative facts” and “fake news” that men like Voltaire and Rousseau so cleverly injected into the bloodstream of Western Culture over 200 years ago.

What if I told you that the Enlightenment thinkers wanted to blind you from the truth?

And, not to sound like Morpheus, but if that is the case, it is about time we realize that we have been “living in a dream world.” “It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.” No, we’re not talking about computer programs…but we are talking about the propaganda that as shaped the Western worldview for the past two centuries.

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 40): Baruch Spinoza, and How to Control Religious Idiots

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 40): Baruch Spinoza, and How to Control Religious Idiots

At the same time Hobbes was putting forth in England his theory regarding the absolute authority of a secular ruler, Baruch Spinoza (1632-1677) was in the Netherlands doing something very similar. Spinoza is actually seen by many to be one of the first men to advance what is called “historical criticism” of the Bible. At the same time, his motivation was hardly noble. His historical criticism of the Bible was done with one goal in mind: to prove how stupid and superstitious it was.

Spinoza was no Christian. In fact, he attempted to completely de-spiritualize any notion of “God” by identifying “God” with the very matter of nature itself. For Spinoza (a) all reality was only matter in the natural world, and (b) “God” was all reality, therefore (c) the only “God” that existed was the natural world itself. In other words, Spinoza adhered to complete materialist monism.

Spinoza’s effect on Western thought centers around his view of humanity and his understanding of the role of government. For Spinoza, there were essentially three kinds of people:

  • First, there are the philosophic elite: the small number of truly rational people with the true understanding and intellectual vision to know what is best for society.
  • Second, there is a middle class of people: the group of scientifically-minded experts, slightly larger in number than the philosophic elite. These people are clearly rational and devoted to understanding the world in solely scientific/materialistic terms, but aren’t as “with it” as the philosophic elite. Namely, they don’t have the intellectual vision for what is truly best for society that the philosophic elite have.
  • Thirdly, though, there is the vast majority of people who are stupid, vulgar, ignoramuses. These people are completely incapable of putting any kind of rational thought together, and are complete slaves to their imaginations, passions, and irrational superstitions (i.e. religion).

Given this is just the way things are, Spinoza mused that it is absolutely necessary for the philosophic elite to rule over the vulgar masses. They’re the only ones rational enough to do so! So the natural question becomes this: “What is the determining factor as to whether or not one was truly rational?”

Spinoza’s answer was simple: whether or not you believed in God (i.e. immaterial reality). If you did, then you weren’t rational, and were thus a vulgar idiot. But if you didn’t believe in God, that meant you were a materialist, and potentially rational and deserving enough to be a member of the philosophical elite  who should rule over the ignorant masses.

The Mass of Religious Idiots: What’s the Best Way to Control Them?
Spinoza, though, realized there was the looming problem: the fact is, the majority of people did believe in God, and that the philosophic elite didn’t rule society. So the next question became, “What are the philosophic elite to do?” Well, Spinoza channeled his inner Machiavelli (whom he incidentally called “that most farseeing man”) and said that the philosophic elite had to somehow “regain control of the state and put the church completely at its service; the church itself must be transformed so that it becomes an instrument of the secularizing liberal state” (Wiker, Worshipping the State 148).

Spinoza’s battle plan was simple: get State power, co-opt the Church, then manipulate it and use it as a tool of the government to help rule over the idiots who actually believe that crap!

To this end, Spinoza suggested the necessity of certain institutional mechanisms that the State should use—things like public education. Now, throughout the Middle Ages, it was the Church that championed and promoted education throughout Europe. For Spinoza’s plan to work, though, that had to change. And so, Spinoza said that the State should wrest the task of education from the Church, so that it could control education itself, and thus could effectively indoctrinate the ignorant masses to be good, obedient servants of the State. Now, he wouldn’t exactly say it that way. He rather said that the aim of government was to free people from fear so they could enjoy liberty. But what fear was he talking about, other than the fear and superstition of religion?

And the beauty of this scheme was that the State would use religion to accomplish its ends. The State wouldn’t teach the masses that there was no God—they were too ignorant and stupid to get their minds around that one! Instead, the State would simply emphasize certain parts of the Bible more than others. We must remember that Spinoza considered the Bible to be a vulgar book of superstitious nonsense that nevertheless had tremendous sway over the mass of vulgar and superstitious people. I mean, come on: the Bible claimed Jesus healed the sick, cleansed, lepers, and raised from the dead, after all! How stupid can you be?

Historical Criticism…a Tool For the State?
Philosophic elitist materialists like Spinoza knew that such miracles don’t happen—they violate the laws of nature…and nature is God…and God can’t violate himself! In addition, there are other claims made in the Bible that just cannot be scientifically proven and that people often got in arguments over: is Jesus just a man, or is he God, or is he both? Such arguments never got anyone anywhere, and just stoked the fires of intolerance and hostility. Something had to be done to tame this vulgar and volatile book! Spinoza thought he was just the man to lead the philosophic elite in that endeavor.

Therefore, Spinoza went about the task of historical criticism of the Bible in order to prove that miracles didn’t happen, so that the philosophic elite could then effectively leave those “miracle parts” out, focus on just the good, moral teachings of the Bible, and emphasize those parts to the vulgar masses in the public square. Simply put, Spinoza wanted to reduce the Bible into a morality tale that just taught good moral lessons. Those were the things that should be emphasized in the State-sponsored type of Christianity for the public square.

But as for belief in miracles, or speculations regarding the finer points of unscientific doctrine—well, believe what you want in private, you certainly have that right to believe whatever you personally prefer, but those things don’t have their place in the public sphere. Or as Benjamin Wiker puts it, Spinoza’s brand of Christianity was this: “You don’t need the Nicene Creed if you’re nice. People who fight over inconsequential dogmas are not nice. They’re intolerant” (155).

Religious Belief: It’s a Private Affair, so Keep it in the Closet
And voila—there you have it! The vulgar, superstitious masses are pacified! Just tell them they have a right to believe whatever they want, as long as they keep it private and out of public life! And then use those state-sponsored mechanisms of public education to teach the vulgar masses, not that Christianity isn’t true, but rather that Jesus’ core teaching was about tolerance for everyone’s personal beliefs, no matter how irrational or superstitious they may be, just as long as they are kept behind closed doors! But if someone tries to bring out their personal beliefs to the public square, well then, such a person is intolerant and not nice—and how can you call yourself a Christian if you’re intolerant and not nice? And who is going to keep order to insure that such intolerant, hateful, and irrational beliefs are not forced on anyone else? The secular state, that’s who!

Such is the program Spinoza put forth to effectively con the vulgar, superstitious mass of Christians into reducing Christianity into a “private affair,” and letting a secular state ruled by philosophic elites effectively keep traditional Christian belief and practice out of public life. As Wiker rightfully puts it, “There’s a world of difference between respecting religious liberty because you believe  that human beings have a fundamental need to be persuaded by truth, and hence to freely and sincerely assent to it, on the one hand, and, on the other, thinking with Spinoza that, since religion is irrational and based merely on one’s subjective feelings and desires, it should be confined to the realm of taste, ‘to each his own’” (161).

Spinoza didn’t want to allow room in the public square for debates on truth—he already knew what was true, and he already knew that the vulgar masses were too stupid to recognize truth. So why bother? Just manipulate their own religion to suit your ends.

Conclusion
Now, to be clear, historical criticism of the Bible today is not practiced the way Spinoza envisioned. And in fact, Spinoza really did open the door to a fascinating academic field of study of the Bible. And even though there are some historical-critical biblical scholars who don’t believe that the miracles and supernatural events recorded in the Bible really happened, there are a whole lot that do. Simply put, historical-criticism is not a tool of the State used to de-legitimize the Christian faith.

But truth be told, disbelief that the events recorded in the Bible really happened is quite prevalent in this day and age. The stereotypical accusation made by your run-of-the-mill atheist often sounds something like this: “Oh the BIBLE is just full of superstitions and fairytales! No RATIONAL person believes any of that stuff!” And the irony is that I doubt many of them realize that they’re just blindly regurgitating the same rhetoric, not simply of Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, but of men like Baruch Spinoza. They are, in fact, the products of Spinoza’s educational dream: indoctrinated by the subversive agenda of men like Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Spinoza, whose aim was to have the ignorant masses be ruled by an amoral, absolute dictator.

I doubt that many people really understand just how influential Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Spinoza really have been in Western culture. If you found yourself thinking, as you’ve read these past three posts, “Yikes! That is the mindset and worldview that I see all the time in today’s America,” I doubt you’re alone. Yes, we are outwardly religious in this country; we sing “God Bless America” at sporting events sometimes as we fly the American flag. Is it really the worship of the state using the language of religion? Politicians attend national prayer breakfasts to show everyone that they take “faith” seriously, and then they go out and play some of the dirtiest political games imaginable.

Men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison might have been the Founding Fathers of our country, but we need to realize that Machiavelli, Hobbes, and Spinoza are the Founding Fathers of the modern mindset and worldview.

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 39): Thomas Hobbes–Leviathan Arises

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 39): Thomas Hobbes–Leviathan Arises

The Front Cover to the Original Publican of Leviathan

Almost 150 years after the publication of The Prince, another book of tremendous influence was published in 1651 AD: Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan. Hobbes’ political outlook and aims regarding Church/State relations closely resembled those of Machiavelli, in that he grounded his outlook upon a presuppositional materialistic worldview. Like Machiavelli, Hobbes believed that it was a huge problem to allow religion to be independent of the ruling political power. And, like Machiavelli, Hobbes believed that the king should use religion as a means to control the populace.

Good and Evil: Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da
But whereas Machiavelli said that the ruler might have to some things considered “evil” in order to maintain his power, Hobbes denied the notion of “good” or “evil” all together. The notions of good and evil were just subjective opinions different people had given their different circumstances. He stated:

“…whatsoever is the object of any man’s Appetite or Desire; that is it, which he for his part calls Good: and the object of his Hate and Aversions, Evil; And of his Contempt, Vile and Inconsiderable. For these words of Good, Evil, and Contemptible, are ever used with relation to the person that uses them: There being nothing simply and absolutely so; nor any common Rule of Good and Evil, to be taken from the nature of the objects themselves…”

Simply put, “good” is nothing more than a matter of taste; “evil” is simply a way of saying, “I don’t like that.” So when it comes to issues like the death penalty, some people thing it is a good thing, others think it is an evil thing—but it really isn’t either good or evil: it just is a matter of opinion. Such an outlook, when extended to its logical conclusion, is flat out diabolical. The Klu Klux Klan likes to lynch black people—it’s not really “evil,” and in fact, from their perspective, it is positively “good”! Who’s to say what’s really right and wrong? Enter Hobbes’ Leviathan.

Thomas Hobbes

Hobbes’ Own Origins Story
Hobbes believed that way back when, when man was in his pre-civil, and just natural human condition, that every person just desired different things and abhorred different things—and this was just the way it was. Therefore, every person had the right to do whatever nature “wired him up” to desire to do. Quite obviously though, this created a potential problem. If everyone had the right to do whatever they wanted to do, that would inevitably lead to chaos, because every person would fight and try to kill anyone who attempted to deprive him of his right to do what he wanted to do. What is man in his pre-civil, natural human state to due?

Well, Hobbes said there was nothing that could be done in that pre-civil state. That is why, in order to prevent such chaos, a secular government must step in the gap and arbitrarily declare what is to be considered good and evil according to the whim of the king. And who got to be king? Obviously the one with the most power. And with that power, he could then proceed to impose that order and that arbitrary standard of good and evil upon the populace. Simply put, that was Hobbes’ view of humanity, and his rationale for the unlimited and absolute power of the secular monarch:

  • No, there is no such thing as good and evil;
  • Yes, each man has the right to do whatever he wants, but that inevitably leads to chaos;
  • So yes, that is why we need an absolute ruler to impose his subjective standard of right and wrong on everyone else.

Deal with it: might makes right.

The King, the State, and the Church
Like Machiavelli, Hobbes also believed that the king should exercise control of the Church, and use it as a tool to maintain his power. In fact, Hobbes’ definition of Church was this: “a company of men professing Christian Religion, united in the person of one Sovereign; at whose command they ought to assemble, and without whose authority they out not to assemble.”

Reflect on what Hobbes said for a moment: “a company of men professing Christian Religion,” but who only assemble at the command of the Sovereign. In other words, the Church might profess that Christ is king, the ruler of all creation who is above all principalities and powers, but in actual practice (according to Hobbes, at least), the Church is to answer solely to the earthly, secular ruler.

Leviathan Arises
Given all that, we should further contemplate the title of Hobbes’ work, Leviathan. That seems a rather odd title, at least for someone who may not be well-read in the Bible. For in the Bible, Leviathan is ultimately a reference to the ancient Near Eastern great sea serpent associated with evil and chaos, and eventually associated with Satan himself. The Old Testament also associates the various evil empires of the ancient world, be it Assyria, Babylon or Egypt, with Leviathan.

In the book of Revelation, Satan is explicitly portrayed as the great dragon who rules the waters of chaos, and who calls out the beast from the sea, namely the Roman emperor, to establish his power and to kill anyone who refuses to worship him. In short, Hobbes’ Leviathan is nothing short of an appeal to set up the ultimate anti-Christ, secular government who by seizing the authority of the Church, ultimately demands the worship as a god.

Machiavelli advised rulers to pay lip service to the Church but to live by their own moral standards, and the only moral standard was to do whatever was needed to secure one’s own power. Hobbes came along and denied the reality of good and evil altogether, and argued for the need for an absolute ruler who simply imposed his own power and his own subjective standard of right and wrong on the masses. There is still one more highly influential thinker that came from this time period: Baruch Spinoza. Once you learn about him in the next post, you’ll know why I consider these three to be quite the unholy trinity of Church-State philosophy.

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 38): Niccolo Machiavelli, and the Subversive-Secular Revolution (aka Luther’s Evil Twin)

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 38): Niccolo Machiavelli, and the Subversive-Secular Revolution (aka Luther’s Evil Twin)

Even though the waves of reform in the 11th and 12th centuries had swept much of the corruption out of the Catholic Church, by the 1400’s the Catholic Church had once again been steeped in corruption at the hands of highly political and degenerate popes, not to mention the Borgia and Medici families who gained a stranglehold on the papal throne. The melding of political and religious power led to inevitable corruption in the Catholic Church, which in turn led to inevitable changes, often in the revolutionary vein.

As will soon be discussed, the Protestant Revolution (aka The Reformation) was sparked by the very corruption in the Catholic Church just mentioned. Equally as important, though, was the Secular Revolution that happened at the very same time, and that often intermingled with the Protestant Revolution throughout the centuries that followed. Before we get into how these two movements often intermingled to the point of being indistinguishable from time to time, we must first look at the “founding fathers” of this Secular Revolution. If the Protestant Revolution hearkens back to Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, and Henry VIII, the Secular Revolution hearkens back to Machiavelli (1469-1527), Hobbes, Spinoza…and yes, Henry VIII (oh the irony!). Today, let’s get introduced to Machiavelli and Henry VIII.

Niccolo Machiavelli: The Prince of Darkness?
Most people do not know that a mere four years before Martin Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral in 1517, another equally influential document was published in 1513: Niccolo Machiavelli’s The Prince. These two documents proceeded to shape the entire 16th century Europe and beyond. As we will see, when put into the hands of the various political rulers of 16th century Europe, Luther’s Protestant publications (of which his 95 theses stands as representative) and Machiavelli’s The Prince, were often used in tandem for the sole purpose of gaining political power within the rise of the nation-state.

Niccolo Machiavelli was no Christian. He didn’t believe in God, the after-life, or any real ethical sense of good and evil, or right and wrong. Because of that, he certainly did not think that any king, prince, or ruler should have to adhere to the moral pronouncements of the Church. The Church claimed to be representative of the Kingdom of God on earth, but since Machiavelli didn’t believe that any God or any “spiritual Kingdom of God” existed, his advice to rulers was simple: “Don’t let your morality be dictated by the Church acting as the mouthpiece for something that doesn’t exist. Make your own morality, and let that standard be whatever strengthens your political power—THAT is what is ‘good.’”

Or, to put it in Machiavelli’s own words: “A ruler…must free his estate, his state, his personal rule, from the church and its morality.” And why must he do so? Because in order to maintain his “estate,” a ruler will often have to act “against faith, against charity, against humanity, against religion.” The chief aim for a ruler is to do what is “good” for him in this world, with no regards as to the next. After all, there isn’t a “next world” anyway! And so, even if the Church declares certain things “evil,” deserving the torments of hell, Machiavelli said that such moral restrictions are meaningless, because in reality there isn’t a heaven or hell. For him, “reality” was nothing other than the material, natural world. Therefore, any “invisible chains of a morality linked to some supernatural destiny” should have no authority over a worldly ruler, for they are as imaginary as the supposed heavenly world they come from.

Needless to say, Machiavelli did not think much of Christianity. Given the corrupt state of the Catholic Church under the Medici, one can understand why. The pope had become just as rich and powerful, if not more so, than kings and princes. How did he achieve that? By telling those kings, princes, and everyone for that matter, that God wanted them to submit to the Church’s authority. If they didn’t, they would suffer hell, but if they did, they would be rewarded in heaven. For Machiavelli, the Catholic Church taught men to be submissive weaklings in order to manipulate them for its own worldly power. So why should anyone let people who claim illusionary authority from an illusionary kingdom have access to such power and authority? If anyone was going to do that, it should be actual rulers of actual kingdoms in the material world!

In the real world, Machiavelli surmised, rulers need to use power without the restrictions of morality. That was the problem with Christianity: it told rulers they had to act morally. As Benjamin Wiker states in his book, Worshipping the State, “Machiavelli’s complaint against Christianity was not that it led to wars, but that it led men away from them. Christianity made men effeminate and cheek-turners, monks pining for a heavenly city rather than bold warrior kings, princes, and citizens willing to fight for their earthly city” (116).

“No,” said Machiavelli, “rulers should hearken back to be like the pagan rulers of pre-Christian times!” They should be strong, ruthless, and develop the manliness of spirit that characterized men like, let’s say, Leonidas, Alexander the Great, or Augustus Caesar. For Machiavelli, “virtue” was not “doing good,” or obeying Christ’s command to turn the other cheek. For Machiavelli, “virtue” was more akin to Leonidas shouting out “We are Sparta!” and proceeding to battle to the death, with all the manliness of spirit that one could muster.

But How Should Machiavelli’s Prince Deal with Christianity?
Yet instead of getting rid of Christianity, Machiavelli argued that it could be a useful tool for the prince that would help control the greater population of the ignorant, superstitious masses. After all, a ruler wants his subjects to obey him, and not revolt against him. So therefore, instead of having the Church exercising that religious authority and holding both the ruler and the people morally accountable to Christ and the Kingdom of God, Machiavelli essentially told the rulers, “You have a real kingdom, so you take control of the Church, and you exercise that religious authority, and you hold the people morally accountable to you and your kingdom.” Essentially, lie to the people, and tell them that Christ wants them to obey you! Therefore, Machiavelli encouraged rulers to turn Christianity into just another weapon in their arsenals by which they can bring the people to submission.

By arguing that rulers should subordinate the Church to their own secular power, he was doing two seemingly contradicting things at once. On one hand, he was advocating for the complete destruction of any kind of wall between “Church and State” in the eyes of the masses: the king would be portrayed as God’s ruler. At the same time, though, he was also advocating for the complete separation of “Church” and “State” within the heart of the ruler: the moral teachings and ethical injunctions of the Church didn’t apply to the secular ruler of the State…only his people!

The Secular Politics that Supported Protestantism…and Henry VIII—Wow!
It should not be surprising, therefore, to see that the Protestant Revolution of the 16th Century coincided with the dissemination of Machiavelli’s teachings. We must realize that the only way Luther was able to successfully break away from the Catholic Church was because he gained the backing of various rulers throughout Germany. Without the political clout of these secular authorities, Luther’s Revolution would have been a failed footnote in history. Indeed, the Magisterial Reformation was precisely that: the secular magistrates and rulers backing and supporting the religious revolutions of Luther and Calvin, in order to gain more power for themselves.

Take, for instance, Henry VIII. He didn’t just support religious revolutionaries—he became one! With Luther’s magisterial revolution gaining steam throughout Europe, Henry VIII decided to do them all one better. After effectively doing away with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1529, Henry turned his ear to a number of political advisors who had imbibed the teachings of Machiavelli. Not surprisingly, a mere five years later, the Act of Supremacy of 1534 declared that the king was “the only Supreme Head on earth of the Church of England, called Anglicana Ecclesia.” Machiavelli has advised rulers to take over the control of the Church, to not let the Church dictate moral standards to them, but instead use that religious moral authority to control the populace.

This is exactly what Henry VIII did. He was king who made himself the head of his own church so that he could divorce his wife (and ultimately divorce another wife, behead two others). After doing so, he immediately turned his attention to all the vast lands own by the Catholic monasteries throughout England, and proceeded to simply confiscate them and make them his own, to dole out to various dukes and earls as he saw fit. Not only that, but five years later, in 1539, when Henry issued the official English translation of the Bible for his realm, “the engraving featured King Henry on his throne, handing down a copy of the Bible to both the archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, and Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell…” (Wiker, 124).

The case of Henry VIII and the Anglican Church typifies the murkiness we find between Machiavellianism and the Protestant “Reformation.” Should Henry truly be considered a part of the “Protestant Reformation,” or should he be seen more as a sinister and conniving disciple of Machiavelli? For that matter, the same question can be asked of the various magistrates and rulers who supported and funded Luther and Calvin’s movements. Regardless of the sincerity or insincerity of these various rulers of the so-called Protestant Reformation, one cannot help but look at the subsequent events of the 16th century in a new light.

As Benjamin Wiker states, “We may well wonder whether the bloodiness of these later religious wars, such as the infamous Thirty Years War (1618-1648), was caused by princes and kings using religious differences, using the multitude of churches created by the Reformation, as political tools to advance their own ambitions as builders of nation-states” (119). The fallout of these wars that resulted in the “Peace of Augsburg” of 1555 and the “Peace of Westphalia” of 1648 certainly were fulfillments of Machiavelli’s aim to have the secular ruler exercise authority over the Church and make it a tool to help maintain his power. The Peace of Augsburg declared “cuius region, eius religio”—or “whose realm, his religion.” If a ruler wanted Lutheranism to be the religion of his realm, it was. The Peace of Westphalia extended this principle to Calvinism.

Such was the dark influence of Machiavelli on the Protestant “Reformation.” If we’re honest, Machiavelli’s influence still can be felt today.

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 37): Wrapping up the Protestant Revolution, Touching upon the Catholic Reformation, and Drawing the Battle Lines for the Wars of Religion

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 37): Wrapping up the Protestant Revolution, Touching upon the Catholic Reformation, and Drawing the Battle Lines for the Wars of Religion

If it seems I have been too harsh regarding the Protestant Revolution, I want to explain the reason. I am assuming that most of my audience is predominantly Protestant/Evangelical. Therefore, the common narrative found within the Protestant tradition about the roots of Protestantism is that of a glorious “coming out of the Catholic dark,” led by good, honorable, and godly men like Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli. The dark side of the movement is conveniently air-brushed out of the big picture of Protestantism.

Drowning Anabaptists

We don’t like hearing about Luther’s rabid anti-Semitism, or of his urging the German authorities to cut down hundreds of thousands of peasants, or of his absolute rejoicing upon hearing the news of Zwingli’s death. We don’t like being told that many of the “revolutionary-reformers” hated the Anabaptist movement so much, that a common form of punishment of Anabaptists was to “re-baptize” them for good—i.e. drown them. The reason why we don’t like hearing about those things is simple: we want simplistic and white-washed depictions of history, with “our side” coming out, smelling like roses. But such white-washed history can only succeed in covering up the dead bones in the tomb for a while. Eventually, the stench of death comes wafting out.

That obviously is not to say that nothing good came about from the Protestant Revolution. The Catholic Church of Luther’s day was corrupt, and certainly needed reformation. And much of Luther and Calvin’s theology is insightful and essential for any Christian who seeks to get closer to Christ. And certainly, perhaps the biggest success of the Protestant Revolution, precisely because of the emphasis on Scripture and the conviction that everyone should be allowed to read the Bible in his own language, has been the fidelity and interest in the Bible found in most Evangelical churches today.

The Destruction of Art in Zurich

Nevertheless, if we are to ever come to a better, more truly Christian understanding of our history, our culture, and our society today, we must have the courage to assess the mistakes of the past. And there certainly were many mistakes that stemmed from the Protestant Revolution. One of the many mistakes was the fact that the revolutionary-reformers encouraged the destruction of many beautiful works of devotional art that had decorated churches throughout Europe for over a thousand years: stained glass, statues, painting, altarpieces, etc. In their over-zealousness to get rid of “all things Catholic,” Protestant revolutionaries ended up destroying centuries’ worth of priceless artwork that had been done for the glory of God. Such a mentality often can still be found in many Protestant churches today, where the visual arts are either ignored or flat-out discouraged.

That is not to say that Protestantism did not end up contributing mightily to the arts. Where would western culture be without the music of Johannes Sebastian Bach or George Frederic Handel? And what about painters like Rembrandt? I think this says something about the inherent creativity within human beings—despite wars and theological schisms, that creative spirit in human beings still finds a way to bear witness to the beauty and creativity of God.

Erasmus and the Catholic Reformation
The real reformation within the Catholic Church was already starting to take place by the time Luther arrived on the scene. Perhaps the forerunner to the Catholic Reformation was Desiderius Erasmus (1466-1536 AD), a contemporary of Luther. Like Luther, Erasmus decried the corruption and debauchery that was taking place in Rome. He himself had visited Rome five years before Luther’s fateful visit, and like Luther, was shocked at what he saw. He said, “with my own ears I heard the most loathsome blasphemies against Christ and His Apostles.” He also, like Luther, saw such corruption wasn’t just in Rome; it was spread throughout the Catholic Church. In his work, The Praise of Folly, Erasmus didn’t simply make fun of the degenerate lives of many monks, he also made it a point to argue that they were actually harmful to society.

(As a side note, another important Catholic, Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556), who founded the Jesuit order of priests, was advised not to go to Rome, because there was a fear that anyone who went to Rome and actually saw the debauchery and depravity that was allowed to go on there, that person’s faith might be shaken. That tells you all you need to know about the deplorable state the Papacy was in at that time).

In any case, Erasmus saw the major problem within the Catholicism of the High Catholic Age as being that there was virtually no connection between the often esoteric and often utterly irrelevant doctrinal arguments of the Scholastics in the universities, and the practical, day to day living of the common man. Or in other words, the problem was that while scholars were busy discussing the minutiae of irrelevant theological speculation (i.e. how many angels can dance on the head of a pin?), the common man was getting absolutely no instruction and training from the Church as to how to live a truly Christ-like life.

The result was that not only was the common man wholly ignorant of Christ and the Christian life, but he was, ironically, given over to mindless superstitious “religious” practices like going on pilgrimages, honoring relics, etc. Erasmus’ point was simple: without a true knowledge of the Bible, without a true understanding of Christ, no Christian ritualistic practice will really be of any use—it will simply be an odd version of Christian idolatry. And yet, unlike Luther, Erasmus didn’t end up instigating a violent revolution against the Catholic Church. He went about, get this…trying to reform it.

Erasmus’ proposal as to who to resolve this dilemma was to encourage real Bible study in the universities, so that monks, priests, and scholars could have a true understanding of the Bible, and then could, in turn, be better Bible teachers to the common man. In his attempt to do this, Erasmus produced a critical edition of the Greek New Testament. Remember, the official version of the Catholic Bible was the Latin Vulgate, a translation of the original Greek. Erasmus made the original Greek more readily available. In doing so, he encouraged the translation of the Greek New Testament into the vernacular languages of Europe (after all, how do you think Luther was able to translate the Bible into German?). Simply put, it was because of Erasmus that there was a revival in the study of biblical languages.

Yet Erasmus remained in the Catholic Church, trying to reform it from within. His rhetoric was not nearly as divisive and fiery as Luther’s, and if there ever was a temptation for Erasmus to join Luther’s movement, no doubt the bloody chaos that had begun to sweep through Europe in the 1520s and 1530s served as a somber warning that there was indeed something vitally wrong with the roots of the Protestant Revolution.

The Council of Trent
Nine years after the death of Erasmus, and almost thirty years after Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of Wittenberg Cathedral, the Catholic Church convened the Council of Trent (1545-1563 AD). Its sole purpose was to respond to and push back against the Protestant Revolution. It did so with these six resolutions:

  • First, it clearly affirmed the Catholic teaching that the Bible and Church Tradition were equal, and both were dependent on the interpretation of the “Holy Mother Church” (i.e. the Pope).
  • Second, in a move that certainly would have disappointed Erasmus, the Council of Trent reaffirmed the authority of the Latin Vulgate over (ironically) the original Greek.
  • Third, it completely rejected Luther’s concept of justification by faith. Faith, Trent declared, was simply the beginning of one’s salvation, and that therefore, was not entirely the work of God—it required human cooperation in the form of works.
  • Fourth, Trent affirmed that Christians received that saving grace through the sacraments.
  • Fifth, Trent doubled-down on its teaching regarding indulgences and the veneration of the saints.
  • And sixth, Trent decisively affirmed the supreme authority of the Pope.

As should be obvious, there were a number of things decided at Trent that I think are wrong. But in any case, not everything at the Council of Trent was a push-back against Protestantism. It did, in actuality, attempt to right some of the wrongs in the Catholic Church. Simony was officially ended; priestly celibacy was enforced; inexpensive Bibles written in the vernacular were made available; and a number of Catholic seminaries were established with the sole purpose of actually educating men to be priests in their local parishes.

Let the Battle Lines Be Drawn
But nevertheless, the religious battle lines had been drawn, and for the next 100 years there would be constant strife and warfare throughout Europe between, not only Catholic and Protestant groups, but also between Protestant and Protestant groups. What ended up happening was that the ruler of any particular region simply declared an official religion for his region, and thus made all other expressions of faith illegal and subject to persecution, hence came the concept of “state religion.” Catholicism was “illegal” in places throughout Europe; and all the varieties of Protestantism were “illegal” in places throughout Europe. It marked the rise of the State churches, so don’t be a Calvinist in Scandinavia, and don’t be a Lutheran in England—and don’t even think of being an Anabaptist, well…anywhere!

This was the situation that sparked the various “wars of religion” over the next 150 years. But that is for another time and another post.

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 36): John Calvin and TULIP! (Yes! Total Depravity, Predestination…all that!)

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 36): John Calvin and TULIP! (Yes! Total Depravity, Predestination…all that!)

Along with Martin Luther, John Calvin is perhaps the most well-known Protestant revolutionary/reformer. Born in 1509, Calvin was a mere eight years old when Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of Wittenberg Cathedral. As a teenager, Calvin must have witnessed firsthand the disintegration of religious world around him: the crumbling of the Catholic world, the rise of Lutheranism, and the chaos that embodied various Radical Reformation movements like the Munster Rebellion. So, what was a young man to do?

It turns out that John Calvin eventually found himself in Geneva, Switzerland, as the virtual theocrat of the Protestant community of Geneva. He set about trying to reconstruct what seemed to him, based on his own understanding of Scripture, a true, biblically-based Christian community, patterned after the early Church. Like Luther before him, and very much unlike the Anabaptist movement, Calvin envisioned a community in which the Church and State were virtually synonymous.

Striking a balance between Church and State has always been a tricky business. From the time Constantine called for the first Church council of Nicaea in 325 AD, it is fair to say that the lines have often gotten blurred. But the goal, in both the Orthodox East and the Catholic West, more or less was for the Church to be distinct from the State, so that it could be in a position to critique the State and to act as the conscience for the State. In other words, the Church had to be distinct from the State in order to hold the State morally accountable for its actions. This has not always been perfectly achieved, and throughout history there have been times the Church has cozied up too much with the State, but nevertheless, the ideal was there.  Therefore, the desire to make the Church and State synonymous is bound to raise some problems.

TULIP
Calvin and the Reformed tradition is perhaps most well-known for the acronym TULIP, which stands for the five core tenants of Calvinism: Total Depravity, Unconditional Grace, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perseverance of the Saints.

Total Depravity
Now, much like Luther’s view of the human will, Calvin’s concept of total depravity went far beyond any church teaching about human beings up to that point. It ultimately was a total denial of human free will, for it states that man is so utterly sinful, that he is completely incapable of doing anything good. In fact, he has even lost the capability of choosing to turn to God and accept Christ. Man, therefore, cannot step out in faith to trust Christ—he is totally depraved and incapable of doing so. Instead, Calvin taught that faith was something that God gave to the people He chose to save.

Unconditional Election
This led to Calvin’s second plank in the Reformed tradition: unconditional election. Since man was so totally depraved that he was incapable of choosing Christ, Calvin reasoned that God must choose which people He saves and which people He allows to be damned. Quoting from passages like Romans 8-9, Calvin taught that God simply showed mercy on whom He showed mercy, damned those He chose to damn, and that God’s choice was utterly not based on any works any person could do. Therefore, salvation was totally God’s choice, and man had no choice in the matter.

Of course, it should be noted that Calvin’s reading of Romans 8-9 was totally wrong. Paul was definitely not arguing that God simply chose which people He was going to save and which people He was going to damn to hell. Rather, Paul’s point was that God had the right to choose to use people in any way He saw fit in order to bring about the fulfillment of His promises to Abraham, namely the salvation and re-creation of the entire world. God, for example, chose to work through Jacob and not Esau. Paul was not saying God chose to save Jacob and damn Esau; he was simply saying that God chose to work through Jacob. Simply put, Paul’s discussion about election in Romans 8-9 was not about ultimate destinations regarding heaven or hell.

Limited Atonement
In any case, according to Calvin, if man is totally depraved, and if the choice of election is entirely God’s, it goes without saying that since God chose some people to be saved, He obviously chose other people not to be saved—and therefore, Calvin argued, Christ’s atoning death on the cross applied only to those God predestined to be saved: limited atonement. For whatever reason, God chose to save only some people, and therefore Christ’s work was only meant for those whom God chose. Yes, Calvin, reasoned, all human beings deserve damnation, but for some reason known only to God, some were lucky enough to be chosen. It was a mystery, so we just have to deal with it.

Irresistible Grace
And so, if man is totally depraved, and if election is entirely based on God’s choice, and if Christ’s atoning work was only for those whom God elected, then it went without saying that those people whom God elected to be saved are going to be saved, no matter what—salvation was not up to them. It was entirely a “God thing,” and therefore, if He chose someone, that someone had no choice in the matter. The denial of free will led to the inevitable conclusion of  irresistible grace. The Holy Spirit, quite literally, Calvin argued, forces the sinner not only to believe but to cooperate with the will of God. Again, at the heart of this is Calvin’s complete denial of human free will.

Perseverance of the Saints
So if man it totally depraved, if God elects those whom He wills, if Christ’s atonement only applies to those whom God elects, and if those whom God elects have absolutely no choice in the matter, then it goes without saying that whomever God choses to be saved can never become unsaved. In other words, no one can lose one’s salvation: the perseverance of the saints. To be sure, that is a very comforting thought if one is saved, but it is also a very disturbing thought to one who is not saved. Furthermore, it is a very confusing thought to, well…everyone. After all, how does one truly know who is saved and who is unsaved? If God has not chosen you to be saved, it won’t matter how often you repent, or how godly you live your life—you are destined for hell. Such has been the conundrum of many when trying to understand the theological implications of TULIP.

Side Note: Something I’ve Always Found a Bit Odd
I grew up within Evangelicalism and taught at Evangelical Christian schools for 16 years. Every now and then issues like “free will or predestination” would come up, and the students could get quite heated when they talked about it. What I found fascinating is that the majority of Evangelicals that I know completely reject the Reformed idea of predestination, and instead insist that we have free will. Yet then, those same Evangelicals turn around and argue for the very Reformed idea of “once saved, always saved.”

I’ve often wondered if you could have it both ways: how could you argue that one is free to choose salvation, but then say, “Once you make that choice, then no, you can’t lose your salvation”? I think it points to sort of a schizophrenia within Evangelicalism, and is a symptom of not being well-versed in Church history and theology. Consequently, many people’s theological views end up being a smorgasbord of contradictory, or at least not well-thought out, theological positions. And that is precisely why we have to do a better job at educating Christians in Church history and basic Christian theology—not so much to get into all the details that theologians love to obsesses over, but rather to just get a basic grasp on the basic “scaffolding” of the faith.

Incidentally, regarding the “once saved, always saved,” conundrum, I think we all know how the debate often goes. One person asks, “If someone gets saved at 16, is a faithful Church member and good Christian for 30 years, but then renounces Christianity at 46 and embraces…whatever…is that person still saved and going to heaven? I don’t think so, because he rejected faith in Christ.”

The inevitable response is, “Well, he probably wasn’t really a Christian in the first place.”

My response to that is this: “Then what’s the point of debating this? You both agree that after 46, that guy isn’t a Christian.” Personally, I think one certainly can choose to walk away from the Christian faith, but I don’t think one can lose one’s salvation, like you happen to lose your car keys.

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 35): Martin Luther, the Anabaptists, and a Revolution in Church/State Relationships

The Ways of the Worldviews (Part 35): Martin Luther, the Anabaptists, and a Revolution in Church/State Relationships

Despite my labeling Martin Luther’s movement as the Protestant Revolution, Luther was not originally looking to actually start a religious revolution. He truly wanted to reform very real abuses in the Catholic Church. Yet as things turned out, eventually his fiery personality (not to mention his rather vulgar tirades) led to, not only a full-out religious revolution, but also to actual political revolution. From the Munster rebellion, to the persecution of the Anabaptists and the Peasant Wars, as well as many other tragic episodes, Luther had started something that ended up going way beyond religious disputes—it affected politics and transformed Church/State relations.

Luther was just one man, and one man did not bring about the Protestant Revolution on his own. He needed backing, and the backing that he got came from a number of secular rulers of Europe. This is quite significant: Luther ended up appealing to the rulers of Europe to fight against the Catholic Church. His aim was to work with these secular rulers to help establish a new church: one that was, in Luther’s eyes, more faithful to the Bible, and modeled after the early Church. This is what is meant by the Magisterial Reformation: Luther effected his “reforms” with the help of secular power. He was further aided in this endeavor by the invention of the printing press. Luther’s media blitz “went viral,” and soon secular leaders across Europe got on board with the Protestant Revolution.

This mingling of the secular into church business, though, was problematic, for the fact was that many secular rulers were motivated by things that were not exactly spiritual. In actuality, self-interest and a thirst for power often was the driving force in many leaders’ decisions. German princes who did not have a high standing with the Pope would become Lutheran because it benefitted them politically, whereas other princes who enjoyed the favor of the Pope would remain Catholic. Such mixed motives at the very outset of Luther’s Revolution led to many problems down the road.

The Anabaptists and the Radical Reformation
One of the things that most Protestants probably do not realize is that there never was a time in which there wasn’t conflict and division within the Protestant “Reformation.” It was a revolt not only from the Catholic Church, but almost immediately it became a revolt from fellow “reformers” as well.

Many seem to think that Luther broke away from the Catholic Church, started the Protestant Church, and things went swimmingly for a short time, and that it was only later, possibly during the subsequent generations of “revolutionary reformers” did fissures and conflicts arise. Well, such a view does not line up with history. The historical fact is that, if Luther’s revolution was radical enough, the Radical Reformation did not come long after either Luther or Calvin’s Magisterial Reformations—it happened at the same time. As soon as Luther started declaring the Pope to be the anti-Christ and the Catholic Church to be the Whore of Babylon, as soon as he started declaring Sola Scriptura, people came out of the woodwork all across Europe to take Luther’s rhetoric to its full and logical conclusions.

Now, it must be pointed out that Luther probably didn’t mean his rhetoric to be taken to such extremes. After all, Luther still regularly consulted the early Church Fathers in his study of Scripture, and found them to be invaluable aids to the study of the Bible. Nevertheless, his irresponsible rhetoric had an immediate destructive impact on the Europe of his day. And if there is one thing we in modern America should learn from Luther, it is that irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric will eventually rip apart society.

In any case, the unravelling of European society in the 16th century can be clearly seen in the Anabaptist movement that was birthed by men like Ulrich Zwingli. For the sake of clarity, we could say that Zwingli and his followers took Luther’s Sola Scriptura, transformed it into Nuda Scriptura. Whereas Luther said the Scripture alone should have authority over Church Tradition, Church councils, or one’s reading of the Church Fathers, Zwingli and his followers essentially said, “Why even care about councils or Church Fathers, or Church Tradition?” and they completely and utterly rejected all forms of Church tradition whatsoever. The Anabaptists believed that Scripture should be read without any consideration of how Christians in previous centuries read it.

Luther, at least initially, had hopes of reforming the Catholic Church and probably didn’t really believe some of his own inflammatory rhetoric. But the Anabaptists took Luther’s rhetoric seriously, and therefore concluded that there was not anything in the existing Church worth reforming. In the Anabaptist mind, there was (A) Jesus and the early Church of the first 300 years, then (B) 1,200 years of spiritual darkness ushered in by Constantine and the corrupt, institutional church of the Whore of Babylon. Their mission, therefore, was to sweep away all vestiges of that prostitute known as the Catholic Church, and restore (what they felt) was the pristine and unsoiled Christian faith of the primitive Church. Not surprisingly, not only were the Anabaptists persecuted by Catholics, but also by Protestants of the Magisterial Reformation. This was (ironically) something we can say that men like Luther and the Pope agreed on: the Anabaptists took things too far–they were too radical.

Where Did Modern Evangelicalism Really Come From?
If such a view of Church history sounds familiar, it should—the “1,200 years of spiritual darkness” is held, not only by a vast number of modern day Evangelicals and Fundamentalists, but ironically by a large swath of militant atheists and secularists inspired by the propagandist thinkers of the so-called Enlightenment.

Indeed, many of the characteristics of the Anabaptist movement should sound familiar to most people in Evangelical circles. There was the insistence of that “moment of conversion” (i.e. “When did you get saved?”); the rejection of infant baptism and the insistence of “believer’s baptism” one voluntarily chose to do when an adult (or at least by 5th grade!); the insistence of the complete separation of Church and State (namely because “the world” was so hopelessly corrupt that believers had to separate themselves from it to stay pure—thus paved the way for an entire Christian subculture that included its own music, books, movies, etc.); the rejection of all kinds of formulaic creeds, and the insistence that believers exercise freedom of conscience in matters of belief. The list could probably go on.

As a matter of basic historical fact, it is safe to say that modern Evangelicalism and other non-denominations movements do not so much derive from the Reformation of either Luther or Calvin, but rather the Radical Reformation of the Anabaptists.

%d bloggers like this: