Richard Rohr: Constantinianism: A Changing Religion

Much of what Jesus taught seems to have been followed closely during the first several hundred years after his death and resurrection. As long as Jesus’ followers were on the bottom and the edge of empire, as long as they shared the rejected and betrayed status of Jesus, they could grasp his teaching more readily. Values like nonparticipation in war, simple living, inclusivity, and love of enemies could be more easily understood when Christians were gathering secretly in the catacombs, when their faith was untouched by empire, rationalization, and compromise.

.. The last great formal persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire ended in 311 CE. In 313, Constantine (c. 272-337) legalized Christianity. It became the official religion of the Roman Empire in 380. After this structural change, Christianity increasingly accepted, and even defended, the dominant social order, especially concerning money and war. Morality became individualized and largely focused on sexuality. The church slowly lost its free and alternative vantage point. Texts written in the hundred years preceding 313 show it was unthinkable that a Christian would fight in the army, as the army was killing Christians. By the year 400, the entire army had become Christian, and they were now killing the “pagans.”

Before 313, the church was on the bottom of society, which is the privileged vantage point for understanding the liberating power of Gospel for both the individual and for society. Within the space of a few decades, the church moved from the bottom to the top, literally from the catacombs to the basilicas. The Roman basilicas were large buildings for court and other public assembly, and they became Christian worship spaces.

.. When the Christian church became the established religion of the empire, it started reading the Gospel from the position of maintaining power and social order instead of experiencing the profound power of powerlessness that Jesus revealed. In a sense, Christianity almost became a different religion!

The failing Roman Empire needed an emperor, and Jesus was used to fill the power gap. In effect, we Christians took Jesus out of the Trinity and made him into God on a throne. An imperial system needs law and order and clear belonging systems more than it wants mercy, meekness, or transformation. Much of Jesus’ teaching about simple living, nonviolence, inclusivity, and love of enemies became incomprehensible. Relationship—the shape of God as Trinity—was no longer as important. Christianity’s view of God changed: the Father became angry and distant, Jesus was reduced to an organizing principle, and for all practical and dynamic purposes, the Holy Spirit was forgotten.

Republican or Conservative, You Have to Choose

Conservatives said we agree with the general effort but think you’ve got human nature wrong. There never was such a thing as an autonomous, free individual who could gather with others to create order. Rather, individuals emerge out of families, communities, faiths, neighborhoods and nations. The order comes first. Individual freedom is an artifact of that order.

.. “The question of which comes first, liberty or order, was to divide liberals from conservatives for the next 200 years.”

.. The practical upshot is that conservatives have always placed tremendous emphasis on the sacred space where individuals are formed. This space is populated by institutions like the family, religion, the local community, the local culture, the arts, the schools, literature and the manners that govern everyday life.

.. Over the centuries conservatives have resisted anything that threatened this sacred space. First it was the abstract ideology of the French Revolution, the idea that society could be reorganized from the top down. Then it was industrialization. Conservatives like John Ruskin and later T. S. Eliot arose to preserve culture from the soulless pragmatism of the machine age.

.. Then it was the state. In their different ways, communists, fascists, social democrats and liberals tried to use the state to perform many functions previously done by the family, local civic organizations and the other players in the sacred space.

.. They both fizzled because over the last 30 years the parties of the right drifted from conservatism. The Republican Party became the party of market fundamentalism.

Market fundamentalism is an inhumane philosophy that makes economic growth society’s prime value and leaves people atomized and unattached. Republican voters eventually rejected market fundamentalism and went for the tribalism of Donald Trump because at least he gave them a sense of social belonging. At least he understood that there’s a social order under threat.

The problem is he doesn’t base his belonging on the bonds of affection conservatives hold dear. He doesn’t respect and obey those institutions, traditions and values that form morally decent individuals.

.. His tribalism is the evil twin of community. It is based on hatred, us/them thinking, conspiracy-mongering and distrust. It creates belonging, but on vicious grounds.

.. In 2018, the primary threat to the sacred order is no longer the state. It is a radical individualism that leads to vicious tribalism.

.. At his essence Trump is an assault on the sacred order that conservatives hold dear — the habits and institutions that cultivate sympathy, honesty, faithfulness and friendship.

.. You can’t do that rethinking if you are imprisoned in a partisan mind-set or if you dismiss half of Americans because they are on the “other team.”

 

 

If There’s a Red Wave Election in 2018, This Will Be Why

Republicans have long criticized Democrats for dividing the country into competing grievance groups. Some now realize that the Republican analogue has been to divide the country into radically autonomous individuals based on a cartoonish misreading of libertarianism that replaces the free markets and free minds of Friedrich Hayek with the greed and hubris of Gordon Gekko. But that is changing quickly. There is a renewed emphasis on addressing America and Americans as a community characterized by fraternal bonds and mutual responsibility — what Lincoln called the “mystic chords of memory.”

.. If Republicans really want to win, then their pronouns must be we, us and our, and they have to make sure that the people who hear them know that they are included in we, us and our.

Why Do Conservatives Hate Identity Politics So Much?

Conservatives have always viewed the quest for equality as a zero-sum game.

While John Adams was away at the Second Continental Congress, his wife Abigail was concerned he would forget about her. Not literally, of course, but in the nation’s new code of laws. So she wrote him a letter and advised him to “remember the ladies and be more generous and favorable to them than your ancestors.” She warned, “Do not put such unlimited power in the hands of the husbands.”

For conservatives like Brooks and Sullivan, the quest for equality is a zero-sum game. Incorporating “those who previously had no standing” into the “parameters of public speech” necessitates a removal of freedom from those who were already being heard. A more inclusive society will inevitably water down the influence of their white, male worldview. I understand their unease with this development—up to a point. It’s hard to hear honest critiques of a world that has disproportionately benefitted people like you. It calls into question the legitimacy of your success. This is what Brooks is trying to articulate when he writes:

Identity politics takes individual merit out of the moral center of our system and asserts that group is, Goldberg says, “an immutable category, a permanent tribe.”

Defenders of an unjust status quo know they can’t just say, “Hey, look, society currently suits me super-well, so let’s not change it.” So they portray the enfranchisement of subordinated groups as attacks on individual relationships, too.

Brooks and Sullivan are merely carrying on this conservative conviction, which made an otherwise brilliant founding father fear the “despotism” of free women more than a political system which excluded the majority of its citizens.

Delusions of Kanye

For decades, the essential failure of conservative outreach to African-Americans has been the insistence that the right just want to treat black Americans as individuals — a fine-sounding idea, except that white America has never found a way to treat its former slaves that way, making black identity politics not an indulgence but a matter of survival.

To this failure Trump has added an exclamation point. He has been shrewder than libertarian conservatives in recognizing that individualism is not enough, that the right needs a politics of solidarity. But his appeals to solidarity have often been racially exclusive in exactly the ways an African-American skeptic of conservatism would have predicted.

.. If you’re telling African-Americans that their current political leadership is failing them, don’t package that message with the exaggerations about “urban” voter fraud that too many Republicans have propagated. If you want people to consider joining your coalition, act like you want to compete for their vote, not just discourage them from voting.

The Rush to Condemn Jordan Peterson as Racist

his critics on the left say Peterson, who dares attack their views of gender and white guilt, is one step removed from a white supremacist or similar to notable fascists.

.. Mishra points to Peterson’s affinity for “the great myths and religious stories of the past” as a sign that he shares an intellectual kinship with Richard Wagner, who “became notorious for using myth to regenerate the volk and stoke hatred of the aliens — largely Jews — who he thought polluted the pure community rooted in blood and soil.”

.. Peggy McIntosh, a Harvard graduate and professor of women’s studies, was one of the first to publish on white privilege. She wrote in a 1988 paper

.. Being white not only benefited her group, she argued, it oppressed other races, as evidenced by the fact, for example, that she could “talk with my mouth full and not have people put this down to [her] race.” Such privilege, she argues, “simply confers dominance, gives permission to control.” She alludes to the notion of hierarchy as oppressive but then offers no solution, except to urge white people to feel guilty.

.. Peterson mocked this paper last year during a lecture for the University of British Columbia Free Speech Club. He said McIntosh’s list of 46 privileges enjoyed by white people could apply to different groups of people in different countries, which means that privilege doesn’t have anything to do with being white or even with race but with being wealthy or being the majority.

.. “It turns out we don’t fit into one group, any of us, we fit into multiple groups and it’s not obvious at all which groups should be of paramount importance,” he said, noting that people can be divided by race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic class, intelligence, personality, etc. The individual is the most important entity, he argued.

.. Still, Peterson doesn’t let anyone off the hook. He acknowledges that those who enjoy wealth today have come by it largely as a consequence of “historical catastrophe” — a reality that should motivate you to “work to deserve” these privileges, which will in turn make the world a better place for everyone.

A Renaissance on the Right

Liberal individualism doesn’t produce the sort of virtuous, self-restrained people that are required to sustain it.

.. But about 300 years ago something that he calls “the Miracle” happened. It was a shift in attitude. For thousands of years, societies divided people into permanent categories of race or caste. But, Goldberg writes, “the Miracle ushered in a philosophy that says each person is to be judged and respected on account of their own merits, not the class or caste of their ancestors.”

.. Tribalism was always there, lurking under the surface. It returns now as identity politics, which is reactionary reversion to the pre-modern world.

.. Identity politics warriors claim they are fighting for social justice, but really it’s just the same old thing, Goldberg argues, a mass mobilization to gain power for the tribe.

Earlier movements wanted America to live up to its ideals. Today’s identitarians doubt the liberal project itself.

.. The core problem today is not tribalism. It’s excessive individualism
Excessive individualism has left us distrustful and alone — naked Lockeans. When people are naked and alone they revert to tribe. Tribalism is the end product of excessive individualism.
.. Gratitude is too weak a glue to hold a diverse nation together. Renewal will come through the communitarians on the right and the left, who seek ways to improve relationships on a household, local and national level.