Friday, March 24, 2017
I've just finished reading Ryszard Legutko's The Demon in Democracy: Totalitarian Temptations in Free Societies (2016). "Hostility to Christianity in modern liberal democracies raises the question," according to Legutko, "of how religion should manifest itself in public life." After considering two "strategies," one "conciliatory" and the other "capitulary," Legutko continues:
No doubt the basic objectives of Christianity remain outside politics, and it is these objectives that the churches and the faithful should pursue. But this otherwise obvious statement fails to address one crucial fact: the growing infiltration of liberal democracy into religion. Liberal democracy, like socialism, has an overwhelming tendency to politicize and ideologize social life in all its aspects, including those that were once considered private; hence, it is difficult for a religion to find a place in a society where it would be free from the pressure of liberal-democratic orthodoxy and where it would not risk a conflict with its commissars. Even the issues generally thought to be remote from politics become censured by the punctilious scrutiny of those who watch over ideological purity. To give an example: the Vatican declaration Dominus Iesus sparked anger in many groups -- more among secular and even atheist than Protestant and Orthodox -- and the direct cause was the following sentence: "Therefore, there exists a single Church of Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the bishops in communion with him" (Ch. IV, clause 17). Those who protested claimed to defend the non-Catholics who presumably could not -- in light of the Declaration -- achieve salvation, and thereby had their eschatological status unfairly diminished in relation to the Catholics. Why the atheists were so indignant about the fact that they would not achieve salvation, in which they did not believe, through God, whose existence they denied, can be explained only by a case of total subjugation of the mind by politics and ideology: they did not see salvation as a theological problem but as the Catholic Church's political instrument, cleverly camouflaged by theological rhetoric, to justify her domination over other religious and nonreligious groups. In addition, the sentence in question offended their egalitarian sensibility: salvation, like anything people desire that is not recognized as a human right and distributed equally, must have appeared to them ideologically suspect. (165-66)
The Church, of course, does not teach that only Catholics can be saved, and Dominus Iesus does not remotely suggest such a thing. For that reason, among others, I'm not at all convinced that "the basic objectives of Christianity remain outside politics." Politics, as I understand it, can help but also can hinder people's capacity to do what God asks of them to be saved, and if Christianity has "objectives" at all, its transcendent objective is that all be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). Christianity offers -- indeed, has a right -- to correct and transform politics exactly for the sake of the salvation of as many as possible.