James Hanley comments that
Christians have become (relatively) comfortable with teen birth (and I think he is right), it’s another classic case of Christians adapting their religion to their culture, rather than having any profound religious effect on their culture.
I’m wondering to what extent this is a feature of all religions and to what extent some religions are more susceptible to change than others. I’ve got a sense that the more iconoclastic a religion is, the more likely it will be unable to resist changing attitudes. Since the social conservativism of the US is hitched so thouroughly to Christianity and especially the evangelical strain of it, we will find that it cannot avoid the pressures of libertinism.
I will try to lay out roughly why I think this might be the case.
Jesus is a radical and iconoclastic figure. He is no conservative. He does not say proceed carefully with social change. When asked to stone the adulteress, does He proceed with gradual steps? No, He castigates and effectiely abolishes the practice. He asks those who have not sinned to cast the first stone. But surely He Himself did not sin and yet he forgave her and just told her to sin no more. (not saying its a bad thing, just that its farily radical for its time) Same thing with the money changers. Does he propose a 10 year exit strategy where an alternative venue for finance can be found? No, He goes in and starts overturning the tables and destroying other people’s property. That covers his radicalism. Oh yeah and He kept His hair long and was a bit of a wild Man going off into the desert at times. I’m not say that He was a hippy but He did love peace a lot and was involved in more than His share of peaceful civil disobedience and non-cooperation…
Now for the iconoclasm. Jesus exorts his people to forgo outward forms of piety in favour of authenticity and genuine feeling. He says what really matters is what is in your heart and not what you outwardly do. He breaks Sabbath and He openly disrespects the Pharisees. He touches the leper and praises the heretic (Samaritan) over the orthodox. He openly condemns concerns abour ritual purity.
So, the basic Jesus story therefore has a fairly radical and iconoclastic message (for its time). Such radicalism and iconoclasm cannot sustain itself forever. Such movements are often short-lived and also quite dangerous. By the time the Roman Catholic Chirch was formed, Christianity had been domesticated for civilised consumption. The Roman Catholic, Eastorn Orthodox and even High Anglican Churches are all very similar. They are all formal and very ritualistic. Their own beliefs on certain key aspects of chirch doctrine have chainged very little over the centuries. At the same time of course, full adherence rates to such traditions is also low. Prtestantism is different. When Martin Luther posted those 20 objections on the church door, he was being iconoclastic and radical. But twenty years down the road, we find that yes, he had abolished some of the rituals (e.g eucharist) but had replaced the eucharist with something very similar. None of this is to say that the Catholic Church digresses from the teachings of Christ. My only claim is that the tonality of the Catholic experience has more to do with the writings of Paul than Christ’s life. Nevertheless, even if Evangelical Christianity does contain rituals, in tone, it is still more radical and iconoclastic than the formal three. After all, is it not a radical proposition that each man can find God by himself without the intervention of clergy? The Protestant may very well say that this is not radicalism, but a return to the teachings of Christ. My reply is that that is precisely why it is radical. To be radical is to return to the root, to go back to fundamentals. Consider the rationalist who for every question tells us to go back to basics, to first principles. In many ways, this going back to first principles stuff (especially in the west) has certain protestant influences (at least in attitude).
Let ius move to the 20th and 21st century see how the various churches operate today. All the churches do missionary work and their radicalism or lack thereof can be seen from the way they go around spreading their message. The Roman Catholic Church goes around helping the poor without overly preaching to them. It helps them when they are down, schools them helps socialise them. Slowly by the second or third generation, it has established itself as a positive benevolent social institution whose traditions and practices have slowly been absorbed by the people around who are all now overwhelmingly catholic. By contrast, Evangelical Churches certainly do good works, but are at the same time more dedicated to spreading the Good News. It would be unflattering to call it a sales pitch but that’s what it often sounds like. What this direct more immediate approach calls for a person to do when he converts is to reject the faith of his fathers, to break awayfrom his olde family structure’s traditions and to be born again in a new fellowship of Christ. This is the basic evangelical message and it is a radical iconoclastic one.
Given this iconoclasm and radicalism which is conveyed to the adherents of the Church, we can see how it would be problematic for the evangelical church to turn around and tell its younger members to keep to the traditions and practices of the previous generation. Very frankly, it lacks the credibility for such a message. And that is why evangelical christianity has proven to be a particularly bad bulwark against the creep of libertinism. Catholics who are libertine-ish are libertines in the understanding that they are thereby bad catholics. This is less so with Protestants. Even with Catholics, there is some degree of libertine-creep simply because the Catholic church has been unable to expunge the radicalism that is an essential part of Christ’s message.