Thursday, March 15, 2007

Christianity and Civlization part 3 (last)

The problem with discussing the civilizing potential of Christianity for the present and future is that we do not know if civilization is now dead, on its death bed, or only ailing. There's another problem too,the civilizing tendencies of Christianity are not what they used to be. There are some aspect of Christianity that many would say are regressive. These "regressive aspects" are seen by others as the very tonic to repair the breach in Western thought. Of course I mean creationism and the religious right. Rather than just give in to the inevitable resignation that "O well it just depends upon which side of the political fence one sits, we can look past the political aspects and find that they point to something beyond particular political agenda. Even though we may not be able to predict the future health of civilization we can determine that there are civilizing aspects and that the potential for a Christian contribution is still there.

In part 1 I sketched out the contributions Christianity made in building Western civilization. Moving into the 20th century Christianity was one of the major leading forces of progress. Christians took the lead in social organizing and crusading. The social Gospel stocked the progressive movement of the early twentieth century with an army of fired up troops. Temperance, woman's suffrage, union battles, Walter Rouchenbush and Other Jones leading the unionists; the major contribution was the post millennial outlook spread the progressive attitude through churches.

Today the general public hears only the pre millennial message. This "pre" and "post" business sounds like knit picking, but it is a crucial distinction. In the nineteenth century most Christians believed in a post millennial eschatology. They believed that the world would be Christianized by revival. This was influenced by the Holiness movement and the second great awakening. Major revivalists such as Charles Finney fought slavery and preached social reform and most believed that Christ would return after the thousand years, a thousand years of Christianizing influence in which a totally Christ-like civilization would be built. The problem was the that the bloody nature of the civil war unleashed forces of a cynical nature. Conservative Calvinists who wished to punish the south for the civil war began read scares and fear and prejudice against both southerners and aliens.

This conservative group was impressed with their losses in the civil war. They were said to "wave the bloody shirt." That means they are like a guy waving a bloody shirt saying "look what those dirty rebs did to my brother. They can't get away with that." This spread a poisoned view of the world as dark evil, a world that would get darker and more dangerous until the time of the great Tribulation and the rapture, the pre Millennial view. Odly enough this group came out of influences such as J. N. Darby and Warfield and the early doctrine of inerrency. World war I succeeded in killing off the last of the post mil Christians. The war crushed the spirits and seemed to confirm the idea of a world growing ever darker.

In the century that follow a climate of hysteria and fear was always evoked as a reaction to all social change. lappers in the 20s the charleston, jazz, rock and roll, communist under every bed in the 50s, the suspician about the civil rights movement, the Reagan era, the views have dominated the 20th century to such an extent that the republicans need only link Democrats to liberelism and the fundamentalists will turn out republican voters in droves. So if there are foundations of civilization in these movements they are a sort of very reactionary kind of foundation to civilization. The liberal side of things did provide a great deal of progress in the last century. The civil rights movement was basically a Christian movement. It originated in churches. Churches sustained it, they meet in the churches, the leadership was mainly church people (Jackson is a minister too as well MLK, remember?). Christianity also produced a certain contingent of the anti-war movement in the 60s. Though they have been largely forgotten the Berrigan brothers (Daniel and Philip) were famous household names for pouring blood on draft records and going to prison for doing so.

Now we face new challenges. The world of the future will be a Chinese world. They are the largest population and they are now rapidly producing a civilization affluent enough to provide a huge middle class, to raise the standard of living for their most impoverished and to even mount a manned space race. They are also polluting the planet far ahead of the levels produced by Europe or America. The greatest challenge of the future is that of global warming. China brings to this problem a potential consumer society (and thus need for green house gases) three times that of the United States. If Christianity can produce an eccological movement that remains to be seen.

There are other aspects, however, to which Christianity holds potential for civilizing influences. These are the aspects that counter the kind of number crunching reductionism and rapant meteraililist thinking described in the previous essay. The potential is there but will the repressive tendencies negate it? This we cannot know. We can only work to ensure the liberation and propogation of these civilizing tendencies.

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