Faith and Society

Faith and Society

By Rev. R.J. Rushdoony

 St. Paul declared that “after the flesh” (“that is, judged by human standards,” as Moffatt renders 1 Cor. 1:26), not many elite men were in the ranks of the church. To become a Christian in the early centuries was to be disqualified from consideration as a gentleman and a scholar. The Romans regarded membership in this new faith as disgraceful. However, as time passed, it became more and more apparent that what Rome had was totalitarian and repressive power, and what the church had was the thinkers of the day. Charles Norris Cochrane’s study of Christianity and Classical Culture (New York: Oxford University Press, 1944) makes clear how bankrupt Roman thought had become. Rome had no real argument against Christianity and substituted brutal force for intelligence. It reached the point where Constantine recognized that the empire was suicidal in waging war against its best element, a point his successors usually failed to realize, for they favored humanistic doctrines thinly disguised as Christianity. The intellectual leadership had passed into the hands of the Christians, in spite of all persecution, because they alone provided a faith for the future. Not all Rome’s power, nor its attempts first to eliminate the new faith and, second, to use it as social cement, succeeded in deferring the day of bankruptcy and collapse. Rome had attempted to substitute power for faith, and it finally had few who trusted in or believed in the ability of Rome’s power to save them. Rome was not so much overthrown but, rather, it crumbled away.

The Christendom which arose out of the ruins of the empire and on barbarian soil had a major task, in that it had great handicaps to overcome in the new Europe, barbarians who practiced human sacrifice, social and moral anarchy, and an extensive absence of continuing authority. The new order, however, was marked by an emphasis on youth. It is startling to see how, from Boethius to Calvin, youth marked the thinkers of the new era. Whether orthodox or heterodox, men of intellect came to the fore in their early years. Boethius wrote his first work at twenty years of age. Anselm of Canterbury was prior in Le Bec at thirty; Bonadventura was a university teacher at twenty-seven, at thirty-six the General of the Franciscan order. Many others can be cited who gained eminence in their youth. John Calvin, born in 1509, wrote hisInstitutes in 1536, and it was not his first work. Men found themselves quickly, gained eminence early, and found that ideas readily had consequences because however much denied at times in practice, men recognized the priority of faith and intelligence.

Christian thinkers ceased to be the elite men of Western culture with the Enlightenment. (There had been a blackout previously with the Renaissance.) It is not an accident that Pietism and the Enlightenment arose at the same time. As Christian thinkers retreated from the world and regarded the inner, spiritual realm as the only valid sphere for the faith, so the vacuum which remained was occupied by the new humanists, the men of the Enlightenment.

Society is an act of faith. Power cannot bind men together. At best, it can compel a sullen submission, but, even then, a serious problem remains. Without a faith to give meaning and direction to the power structure, not only is it impossible to convince the men who are herded into submission by guns to have any hope in the power structure, but it also becomes progressively difficult to convince the men who hold the guns that there is any sense to what they are doing. The Red Army under Trotsky was motivated by a savage zeal for their cause. Today, the new tsars of Russia do not trust their own army. Soldiers, whether on patrol or on the rifle range, are given a numbered amount of ammunition and must return the same number of empty or full shells each day: there is a fear of what the men might do if free access to the power of bullets were to exist.

At the beginning of the 17th century, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish thinkers were agreed on one thing, the necessity for godly rule and for a godly concept of society: they disagreed on what the specific nature of that rule should be. By the end of the 17th century, men in all three groups had come to accept the idea of secular, humanistic rule, of a society built on a social contract, with, not faith but self-preservation as the key. The purpose of religion was now seen as a duty to convert men and make them moral, but to leave the rest of life to secular man. The inner world belonged to God, it was held, but the outer world was a neutral realm at best. The men of the early 17th century saw religion not only as conversion and morality but also as godly rule in every area of life. By the end of the 19th century, the secular world began to feel the necessity of claiming the inner world also. Freud insisted that the whole of the supposedly spiritual realm was a product of the unconscious and within the province of humanistic science. The problem of guilt was also made a scientific rather than a religious concern. (See R. J. Rushdoony: Freud. Nutley, New Jersey: The Craig Press, 1965, 1972.) Religion itself began to turn more rapidly into another area of humanistic thought and to surrender its theological character.

Christians had surrendered the world to the enemy willingly. They were busy asserting that it is a virtue to be unconcerned about the problems of this world. As a recent best seller representing this policy of surrender states it, “We should be living like persons who don’t expect to be around much longer.” (Hal Lindsey: The Late Great Planet Earth. p. 145.) What was once said of a famous senator can also be said of these men: theirs is a trumpet that always sounds retreat.

The churchmen have surrendered the world to the enemy, and the humanists, after having tried one remedy after another, now have essentially only one more answer: more power. As in the days of Rome, this is a confession of bankruptcy. It is also a threat to peace, because the man without a philosophy has not answer but brute force. But brute power is impotent as a constructive force; it can only destroy.

*****

(Taken from Roots of Reconstruction, p. 870; Chalcedon Report No. 98)

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony  (1916-2001) was the founder of Chalcedon and a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical Law to society.

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