The uniquely anti-modern religion

We’re always being told that Christians need to find a way to “embrace the modern world” or find our “own way to be modern”.  The quick reply, of course, is that one should not embrace evil and vulgarity just because they happen to be popular right now.  If something in modernity is good, let it argue itself on its merits.  This reply can be addressed to anyone, but for Christians the stakes are particularly high.

Before this year, my impression was that all religions were eroded by modernity, with Judaism being hardest hit, then Christianity, then Islam, but all of them facing the same grim fate if liberalism is not overturned.  I’d been hearing reports (e.g. the one linked by Kristor a while back) for some time that Orthodox Judaism is actually thriving in the modern world, but it took a long time for this (to me) counterintuitive fact to sink in.  In fact, it seems that Christianity is, among the world religions, uniquely maladapted to modernity; it’s response more resembles that of tribal animism.  Both liberal and conservative Christianity are in manifest decline over all the former lands of Christendom.  Meanwhile, Islam inspires its youth in ways Christianity can’t even fathom.  Liberal and Orthodox Judaism are both succeeding by their own measures (e.g. worldly accomplishment and retaining the next generation, respectively).  Hindus never feel the need to explain why their pantheon of gods and fantastic mythology is consistent with modern science and history.  Neither Hindus nor Muslims feel the need to judge their own historical behavior against liberal norms.  It’s as if everyone knows who modernity is aimed at.  Conservative Jews who want to separate themselves from modern corruptions don’t have to reject the core modern narrative of heroic oppressed minorities versus the evil and stupid white Christians.  Indeed, they can embrace it with zeal.  (I hope most of them don’t, but the point is that when they do it just means despising another group, not their own selves and ancestors.)  They can insist to hostile outsiders that by embracing their heritage, they are defying all those anti-semitic, medieval-minded Christians in the red states, and are thus being supremely modern.  The core of modernity is hatred for Christianity.  Other groups can be modern “in their own way”, because this just means they can hate Christians in their own way.  Christians don’t have that option.

Thus, this article is interesting, but it gets things exactly backwards.  It argues that because modernity grew out of Christianity, Islam will be able to smoothly modernize to the extent that it is similar to Christianity.  The truth is the reverse.  Religions are able to smoothly accept modernity (i.e. contemporary anti-Christian bigotry) to the extent that they can differentiate themselves from Christianity.  Islam’s modernization problems come from that faith’s similarity to ours.

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20 thoughts on “The uniquely anti-modern religion

  1. One reason (one of of them!) that I am so positive about Mormonism is that – even if it is not generally acknowledged to be Christian (tho I beg to differ) – Mormonism is at least the *most*-Christian of modern religions which has thriven in worldly terms, had above-replacement fertility, retained its children, and (most important) avoided the typical twentieth century Christian laxity and apostasy. So, although ‘modern’ in several features, not least in its age, origin and center; Mormonism is also apparently modernity-resistant where it matters.

  2. Bonald, you say that the core of modernity is hatred for Christianity but you don’t explain why this is the case. Please let me explain. But first I need to clarify your statement. The core of modernity is hatred for TRADITIONAL Christianity. Modernity has nothing against modern liberal Christianity. Read about the Corruption of Evangelicalism. Modern liberals have nothing against this kind of Christianity, in fact they support it.

    Since Constantine standardized Christianity and the Nicene Creed was adopted, Christianity has persecuted heresy. The concept of wrong belief is common, since it is natural for us egotistical humans to think that our belief is right and everyone else’s belief is wrong. What is unique to Christianity was the extreme lengths taken to persecute those Christians of differing beliefs. The Catholic Church is a prime example. The Catholic Church persecuted Christian heretics far more severely than they did Jews or members of other religions. They did this because they felt that Christian heretics were a greater threat to the Catholic Church than members of other religions were.

    Gentlemen, today you are the Christian heretics and Liberalism is the new Christian Orthodoxy. This is why Traditional Christianity is so persecuted, because it is a heresy to Liberalism. The Holy Trinity of Liberalism is Feminism, Socialism, and Multiculturalism. Modern Christianity takes this new Holy Trinity far more seriously than it takes the old Holy Trinity. If you don’t believe me, go to a popular Christian forum and start two threads, one criticizing God and one criticizing feminism. You will get polite replies for criticizing God, but you will be banned for criticizing feminism.

    Look at the liberal countries of the world today. All were Christian. Israel was founded by liberal Jews coming from Christian countries, so it began as an extremely liberal country. But since its founding, it has moved steadily to the right as traditional Jewish values reasserted themselves. No Christian country has moved to the right as Israel has.

  3. Modernity (in the sense of a world view) is a disease that developed among Christians. It is a degenerate form of Protestantism — an egalitarian, anti-traditional, anti-transcendent, anti-sacramental nominalism, but without the theological reasons that gave birth to those currents in the West. Imagine Calvinism, and then remove Christianity, scripture, reason, and basic moral restraints — and you have the trajectory of the post-Christian West.

    As a host-specific disease, it is not surprising that it mainly affects Christians. Its effect on rabbinical Judaism depends on the extent of Protestantization. Reform Judaism is Unitarianism with tallits — is it any surprise that such folks are keen on modernism?

    • Modernity (in the sense of a world view) is a disease that developed among Christians. It is a degenerate form of Protestantism

      How did the Jews of Russia get it in the 19th C?

    • There is a lot of speculation about the relationship between Christianity and Leftism. Some say the latter is a development or perversion (depending on whether or now one approves) of the former. I think it’s better to say that Leftism is just the straightforward rejection of Christianity. None of the commonalities between the two systems are unique to the two. For example, some people say that liberalism got from Christianity an idea of the “brotherhood of man” or of the “dignity of the human person”. Now, it’s not obvious to me that Christianity teaches either, and I see no evidence that historically either Christians or non-Christians have regarded these as distinguishing marks of the Faith. The sort of shallow reasoning used to go from Christianity to Leftism (e.g. All men made in God’s image –> all men are equal –> all men’s desires are equally valid –> state celebration of sodomy) could be done just as well starting from Islam or Buddhism. Leftism depends on Christianity, as an ideal against which to rebel if not as a living reality, only in the same way that antisemitism depends on the idea of Jews.

      • Spot on. In his 1923 book Christianity and Liberalism, J. Gresham Machen identified liberalism as a “modern non-redemptive religion” separate from, and antagonistic, even antithetical to, Christianity.

  4. Bonald said:
    “I’d been hearing reports . . . for some time that Orthodox Judaism is actually thriving in the modern world, but it took a long time for this (to me) counterintuitive fact to sink in.”

    and

    “Both liberal and conservative Christianity are in manifest decline over all the former lands of Christendom.”

    Judaism is known for being very liberal and having lots of so called “secular Jews” or people who are ethnically Jewish but in practice atheist. At the same time Ultra-Orthodox Judaism is growing very quickly. I can see how this might seem counterintuitive but in another way it makes perfect sense if one sees devout religious practice as rebellion against atheist liberalism. First atheist liberalism becomes rampant and then devout religious practice surges in a desperate effort to escape from atheist liberalism. The reason why Jews are seeing the strongest religious resurgence is precisely because they were the first to fall prey to widespread atheist liberalism.

    I will also add that the Jewish religious revival among the Ultra-Orthodox was something specific that started at a specific time; I’d place the date at around 1955; this is when fertility among the Ultra-Orthodox started to increase in Israel. Before this time being Ultra-Orthodox didn’t mean that much; Ultra-Orthodox Jews were very much like other Jews in Israel in terms of fertility, age at first marriage, and the labor force participation of men. After 1955 Ultra-Orthodox fertility increased, age at first marriage decreased, and labor force participation for men went down as full-time study of the Torah became popular.

    For some background on the Ultra-Orthodox in the context of Israel I recommend:

    An Orthodox Challenge
    August 22, 2012
    http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/an-orthodox-challenge-gershom-gorenberg-israel-jerusalem-jews/

    As far as the claim that both liberal and conservative Christianity are in decline; I don’t think that’s true at least in the United States among whites. Perhaps there is an issue regarding how “conservative” Christianity is defined but how I see things liberal Christianity is in slow decline from a large base while conservative Christianity is rising quickly from a small base. There is a bifurcation going on where liberals get more liberal while conservatives get more conservative. It needs to be kept in mind however that the more extreme the liberal gets in their liberalism the more fragile their liberalism becomes and the more likely they are to flip over onto a trajectory of ever increasing conservatism.

    One indicator of conservative Protestantism could be seen as the mega-church; Protestant churches with 2,000 or more attendees that tend to be conservative. In an academic paper titled “Geographies of megachurches in the United States” it says “In 1970, there were only 50 megachurches in the country; in 1980, 150; in 1990, more than 300; and in 2005, roughly 1,310, an average annual growth rate of 10% [from 1970 to 2005].” “The number of megachurches doubled between 2000 and 2005, and their average size increased by 47%.”

    Geographies of megachurches in the United States
    Journal of Cultural Geography
    February 2010
    http://www2.ku.edu/~geography/Docs/Barney%20papers/megachurches.pdf

    The main indicator of conservative Catholicism is the Latin Mass. According to the Economist Magazine in the United States there were 60 Latin Masses in 1991 but there are 420 today.

    It’s trendy to be a Traditionalist in the Catholic Church
    Economist Magazine
    December 15, 2012
    http://www.economist.com/news/international/21568357-its-trendy-be-traditionalist-catholic-church-traditionalist-avant-garde

    So, conservative religion is growing across the board in the United States. Protestant mega-churches grew at 10% a year compounded from 1970 to 2005 and Catholic Latin Masses also grew at 10% a year compounded from 1991 to 2012. Growth at 10% a year means doubling every 7 years.

    Growing atheism today just means more recruits for religious revival tomorrow. As far as America being a “Judeo-Christian” Civilization; that makes sense to me. The Jews were the first to be taken over by atheist liberalism and they were the first to respond with religious revival; the Christians will be next.

  5. In fact, it seems that Christianity is, among the world religions, uniquely maladapted to modernity; it’s response more resembles that of tribal animism.

    I am not sure what this means. My view is that the response of Christianity to Leftism is the classic response of any weaker party to a stronger; appeasement and mimicry. Maybe if we give the Left what it wants and act like Leftists, they won’t kill us!

    Of course, these approaches are doomed to failure. The Left does not accept appeasement from the Right, only Unconditional Surrender. The more Christianity strives to resemble Leftism, the more Christianity undercuts its own claim to embody unique truths and undercuts its basic mission of preparation for the afterlife rather than focusing on this world. And, why should anyone want to participate in a watered-down version of Leftism rather than the real thing, or join an organization that acts like a beaten dog ready to offer concession after concession to its insatiable enemy?

  6. “No Christian country has moved to the right as Israel has.”

    How has Israel moved to the Right? This sounds like something written from the usual Leftist frame of reference, which refuses to admit that the Left is the moving body, and which insists that those who do not move to the Left as fast as possible and those who resist Leftism are somehow “moving to the Right”.

      • Israel started very far to the Left as a socialist country. Today it is slightly to the Right of America. That is a big change.

        Yes but the question has to be whether America changed, not Israel. I think there is a much better case that America has changed more since 1945 than Israel has.

        In other words, America moved far to the Left, while Israel moved less far to the Left, producing the false appearance that Israel moved to the Right.

        Felipe,

        Electoral results themselves don’t necessarily say much if one does not know the actual content of the party platform. There are plenty of parties that call themselves “conservative” that aren’t. The Republicans of 2012 are probably to the Left of the most liberal Democrats of 1961. I would be interested to know exactly what Leftist principles Likud rejects. If Likud in 2012 basically accepts the Mapai principles of 1961, did the country really move to the Right? Or did the Left’s ideas, as so often happens, become internalized as the “conservative” status quo while the Left moved on to explore new frontiers of insanity?

      • “Didn’t surrender to the Left as quickly as the NYT would have liked” is indeed what “moved to the Right” usually means.

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