Saturday, July 29, 2006
Deconstructing the Dominionists, Part VI
Welcome to this sixth installment of my series on the Dominionists. As we have seen in the previous installments, the Dominionists desire nothing less than an American theocracy, the application of biblical law to every aspect of American society and government.
In this installment we will consider another essay by Thomas Wang, the editor of the booklet America, Return to God!. This essay, entitled "Ambush Alert: The Barbarians are Here" traces the history of America's spiritual decline through the great intellectual movements of the past 600 years, framed in the context of the cosmic battle between God and Satan.
Thomas Wang, "Ambush Alert: The Barbarians are Here"
As we have seen in the last few installments, the Dominionists have declared war against the forces of secularism, religious pluralism, and liberalism. Wang takes this declaration one step further: the so-called "culture war" is nothing other than a proxy war between God and Satan, the most recent battle in the ancient Manichaen struggle between Good and Evil. There is no room for ambiguity in this worldview; the Dominionists alone stand on the side of God and the Good, while all others - liberals, secularists, humanists, adherents of anything other than their brand of Christianity - fight on the side of Satan, the Great Evil.
Wang suggests that the West is being "secularized and paganized" by the forces of Satan, and no institution is exempt - including the churches. Secular humanists, atheists, and liberals systematically undermine the authority and superiority of biblical Christianity in order to defeat God and hand their nations over to the Evil One.
Often these systematic efforts are couched in progressive language and undertaken concurrently with progressive intellectual movements, beginning with the renaissance and ending today with post-modernism:
Ever since the Renaissance, humanism has been gradually but persistently on the rise. Nothing in human nature is more readily and easily used by the Adversary than human pride.
- Renaissance: 14th-16th centuries. Thought pattern: "Man, the measure of all things."
- Enlightenment: 17th, 18th centuries. Thought pattern: "Man has come of age and is no longer in need of God."
- Modernism: 19th, 20th centuries. Thought pattern: "Man overcomes nature (heaven)."
- Post-modernism: 20th, 21st centuries. Thought pattern: "Man not only is independent from God but man is God."
This was the way Adam and Eve fell. This was the way the Devil himself fell... This is also the way Satan has been enticing mankind into self-exaltation against their Creator throughout history. (Wang, 103)
Wang's descriptions of these great intellectual movements of the past 600 years fail to account for the diversity of thought within those movements as well as the developments within Christianity itself corresponding to these movements.
The Renaissance was literally a "rebirth," as its name suggests. Its motto was Ad fontes! ("To the sources!"), a reference to the golden ages of classical Greece and Rome. In all areas of culture and scholarship, representatives of the Renaissance sought a return to the classical Greek and Latin roots of European civilization. The Renaissance was characterized by an explosion of humanistic scholarship in literature, architecture, art, philosophy, and the sciences.
Wang suggests that this humanistic "turn toward the subject" is antithetical to Christianity. This is, of course, untrue. The Renaissance produced important theologians and biblical scholars, the most famous of which is Desiderius Erasmus of Rotterdam. Erasmus, who remained a Catholic priest for his entire life, was highly critical of the excesses of late medieval Catholicism and served as one catalyst for the Reformation of the 16th century. Above all, Erasmus considered himself an independent scholar. He prepared a new Latin and Greek edition of the New Testament, the latter of which served as the basis for Luther's German translation of the New Testament. He called for a systematic liberalization of the medieval church, and his most famous work, The Praise of Folly, was a scathing critique of the superstitions and corruptions he observed within medieval Catholicism. It has been argued by many historians and theologians that the 16th-century Protestant Reformations owed part of their success to the intellectual foundations of the Renaissance. To suggest, as Wang does, that the Renaissance represents a wholesale rejection of Christianity fails to account for the important continuities between the Renaissance and the Reformation.
Wang often criticizes the Enlightenment as another step away from Christianity. Again, this is a simplistic and unsubtle judgment. Many Enlightenment figures were certainly hostile to religion, Christianity in particular. These figures were reacting to the horrors of the religious wars of the 17th century, particularly the 30 Years War between Protestant and Catholic territories in northern Europe. They sought to replace religious authority with the authority of reason in all matters of life. As many Enlightenment thinkers acknowledged, however, there need not be any fundamental conflict between religious faith and reason. German Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment figures such as Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Johann Gottfried von Herder, and Immanuel Kant were very critical of "traditional" Christianity and advocated for a thoroughly rational Christianity. (See, for example, Kant's Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason.) Kant was especially significant in the later history of Protestant theology, influencing most of the German Protestant theology of the 19th century.
Wang's critique of the modern "thought pattern" is curious, particularly in terms of his identification of nature with heaven - a move no modern thinker would ever have made. Wang is most likely referring here to Romanticism, sometimes called the "Counter-Enlightenment." The Romantics (represented by such diverse figures as the Czech composer Antonín Dvořák, the British poets Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Percy Bysshe Shelly, the French authors Alexandre Dumas and Victor Hugo, the Germans Franz Schubert, Ludwig van Beethoven and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, and the Americans Emily Dickinson, Henry David Thoreau, and William Cullen Bryant) share a profound reverence for nature, a desire to balance the faculties of reason and emotion, and a preference for imagination and intuition over against rational speculation and deduction. Many of the Romantics were more favorable toward religion than their Enlightenment predecessors, and the so-called "Father of Modern Theology," Friedrich Schleiermacher was profoundly influenced by his time spent in the Berlin Salons frequented by many prominent German Romantics. Schleiermacher's first major publication, On Religion: Speeches to its Cultured Despisers, represents the young Schleiermacher's attempt to demonstrate the compatibility of modern Protestantism and German Romanticism. And in Schleiermacher's most famous work, The Christian Faith, he defines the essence of religion as "the feeling of absolute dependence," and he defines God as the "whence" of this feeling - these definitions are clearly rooted in the Romantic primacy of feeling over against pure speculative reason.
The modern period of Protestant theology was marked by a deep respect for the sciences, critical biblical scholarship, increased attention to history, and engagement in the political life of the nation.
For Wang, each of these movements tends toward the ultimate rejection of God and religion in Postmodernism, when, as he puts it, "man is God." Postmodern philosophers are especially interested in critical theory (originating in its current form in the Frankfurt School) and deconstruction (a method developed by the French philosopher Jacques Derrida). Although Postmodernism as a philosophy defies a simple definition, it is generally marked by a critical attitude toward the Western philosophical tradition itself. It is marked, above all, by criticism and skepticism. Protestant theologians have also turned to the methods of Postmodern philosophy in their work and have adopted much of the same criticism and skepticism toward the Western theological tradition. (For an excellent compendium of Postmodern theological thought, see The Cambridge Companion to Postmodern Theology.)
If we consider some common themes of these intellectual movements taken as a whole, we begin to understand why the Dominionists find them so dangerous. Philosophy and "liberal" theology (I use this term not in its technical sense but as the opposite of conservative theology) since the medieval period has been characterized by critical scholarship and dialogue with other academic disciplines (especially the social and natural sciences), and both are marked by a rejection of traditional authorities. Dominionism relies on uncritical acceptance of authority and uncritical use of Scripture - any skepticism, doubt, or criticism is regarded as a lack of faith and a grave sin against God. To emphasize this point, such critical attitudes are traced to the influence of Satan and are described as weapons in Satan's battle against Christianity. Liberal theologians are particularly dangerous because they function as "wolves in sheep's clothing," masquerading as Christians while serving the Devil and his aims to overthrow the true church.
We have once again arrived at the metaphor of war. Dominionists consider themselves to be at war with the forces of secularism, humanism, and liberalism that threaten to destroy America and the true church. Wang lists seven "fronts" of this religious war (which he takes from Carl Henry's book, Twilight of a Great Civilization: The Drift Toward Neo-Paganism):
- Today's West, characterized by atheism, secularism, humanism, and post-modernism.
- Today's America, which is drifting away from God. Wang refers to a Newsweek cover (without citation) with the headline, "The American century is over; the world order is changing." Wang appears to be suggesting (as he has done explicitly elsewhere) that the shifting global landscape is a direct result of America's loss of faith in God.
- Today's Culture, marked by radical relativism in all areas of life.
- Today's Society, infected with the "disease of atheism" and headed toward outright paganism. (Unfortunately Wang never defines what he means by "paganism." It is clear, however, that he is not using the term Paganism as it is commonly used by scholars of religion.)
- Today's Faith, which is a pale imitation of true biblical faith, thanks to religious pluralism, which, in turn, is only a few short steps from atheism.
- Today's Marriage, under threat from homosexuality and sexual promiscuity (which Wang relates to abortion).
- Today's Church, weakened by a rejection of biblical inerrancy and the failure of its members to tithe.
Together, these seven fronts necessitate a theory of Total War in which Dominionists are called to devote all of their resources to total destruction of the above-listed enemies:
Our warfare today includes the battle of good and evil, man's will, Christian mind-set, Christian values, Christian leadership in education, media, art, politics and other arenas of life.
May God protect America from Satan's ambushes! And, may America walk not in the path of Sodom and Gomorrah, or the steps of the liberal philosophers, or deviant Western Europe, but in the way of the Lord and follow Him to the end. (Wang, 105)
Wang and the Dominionists have declared war on the very principles of American secular democracy and on the entire Western intellectual tradition. It is time for us to recognize the stakes of this war and join the battle that has been pitched. The future of our nation, and of our world, is at stake.
Originally Posted at Little Blue