On the toxic nostalgia for Christian hegemony

Adrian Pabst has a column up at ABC Religion and Ethics on the challenges facing the West — a situation that may even, God forbid, lead the West to split! What we need, it turns out, is a reinvigorated West united on the basis of Christianity (along with “other people of good will”), presumably to turn the tide of Islam (and Chinese communism, though that’s more of a footnote to his argument than the main thrust).

The notion that Christianity is the solution to modern problems is laughable. The Westphalian nation-state, which religious critics of modernity almost always single out as virtually demonic, arose as a way of quelling the hugely destructive religious conflicts that followed the Reformation. The Christian roots of capitalism are well-known, and the majority of mainstream Christian groups are either actively proud of capitalism or calling for moderate reforms at best. Christian moral formation did nothing to teach the majority of Western subjects to resist nationalistic wars, imperialism, or the slave trade. In fact, Christianity was used to legitimate both colonialism and slavery. Christians in Germany were generally supportive of or silent about literally the worst regime in human history and, as a group, did nothing to stop or even impede an unprecedented systematic genocide.

In short, if you were to rack up the greatest crimes of modernity, Christianity was deeply implicated in nearly all of them. The minority of Christians who resisted those crimes were marginalized and at times even actively persecuted by Christian leaders. The notion that we should overlook all this and return to some form of Christian hegemony repeats the signature move that makes Christian moral formation such a complete world-historical failure — the emphasis on forgiveness to the exclusion of almost anything else. Dan Barber has thoroughly documented this structure, wherein we are all sinners, but Christians are “better” because at least they acknowledge they are sinners. Indeed, in the current instance, I can already anticipate Christian apologists claiming that Christianity’s very complicity will ensure that Christians, as opposed to the self-righteous Muslims, are properly chastened and humble in their hegemonic role. It’s utter nihilism.

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5 Responses to “On the toxic nostalgia for Christian hegemony”

  1. Brad Says:

    This further elucidates my critical insight last week: “owning up to being an asshole should not simply free you to become a more self-aware asshole.”

  2. Anthony Paul Smith Says:

    As I remarked on twitter, the article gives you the chance to play the fun game of figuring out if a text was written by a Radical Orthodox theologian or Anders Breivik.

  3. John Says:

    Bravo!
    As a matter of interest the chap who runs the ABC website is a right-wing “catholic” (maybe even an opus dei operative) who is very big on promoting this toxic nostalgia. He regularly features the rantings of George Weigel and almost always features links/essays to First Things on his side-bar.
    He also heavily censors or dis-allows comments on the various essays featured on the ABC website.

  4. Ruth Marshall Says:

    Excellent post! Though perhaps “toxic nostalgia” isn’t exactly the right term? Firstly, most politics of nostalgia tend to be toxic, but more importantly, the tense is a bit off – nostalgia refers to the past, indeed, often a past that is irrecoverable (hence the yearning or melancholy associated with it). Although I know you’re referring to the “re-Christianization as cultural salvation” project Adam (which, incidentally, isn’t just a Catholic theme), it’s worth pointing out (again) that Christian hegemony is by no means a thing of the past.

  5. Adam Kotsko Says:

    That is a good point. In general, I think I need to ponder over my post titles more carefully.


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