Religion and politics, then and now

A really striking feature of the Guardini book discussed in my last entry is how extremist it is by current standards. It’s not a call for dialog and a place at the table. Instead, he calls for the “absolute experiencing of dogma,” for “a pure obedience. Christianity will arm itself for an illiberal stand directed unconditionally toward Him Who is Unconditioned.” He says that in

“the coming world, the Old Testament will take on a new significance. The Old Testament reveals the Living God Who smashes the mythical bonds of the earth, Who casts down the powers and the pagan rulers of life…. These Old Testament truths will grow in meaning and import. The stronger the demonic powers the more crucial will be that ‘victory over the world’ realized in freedom and through Faith.”

(106-108) All this from a man considered a forerunner of Vatican II, a much-admired academic lecturing at Tuebingen and Munich, where the book originated as a series of lectures, and who was honored a few years later with the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.

I suppose all this shows two things:

  1. In the late 40s and early 50s it was still considered legitimate to treat Christianity as part of the basis of social organization. It was possible then to found a national political party and call it the Christian Democratic Union, and Winston Churchill could call the Cold War, as he called World War II, a “defense of Christian civilization.” Both would be thought impossibly extremist today. At the time though it was no more shocking to say that extreme cases may call for absolute devotion in the case of Christianity than it would be today in the case of human rights.
  2. The view among our rulers tends to be that Christianity in politics (except for the black church, which isn’t taken seriously and can be used) implies the sorts of things Guardini suggests. The reason I think is that both our rulers and Guardini take quite seriously the prospect of a social world that is totally rationalized on utilitarian principles. Our rulers think they’re going to get it, and Guardini thought we were going to be stuck with it. As I mentioned in my last entry, I’m more doubtful, so things may not go to such extremes. Stupidity and corruption may yet preserve humanity and prevent total war.