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Pagans and Christians

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  • Pagans and Christians

    Source: The New York Times


    Occasionally in the debates about Christianity’s weakened position in American culture, you’ll hear traditionalists and conservatives analogize the Christian situation, now or soon, to the environment the faith faced in its earliest centuries, as an embattled minority in a hostile pagan empire. I’m not a particular fan of this analogy, for various reasons: Not only because lions-and-catacombs imagery risks trivializing the concept of persecution at a time when Christians outside the United States face actual Diocletian-style consequences for their beliefs (and don’t always receive the charity they deserve from their American co-believers), but also because describing contemporary American culture as pagan in the style of the ancient world strikes me as a category error, which underplays the extent to which middlebrow American spirituality is still infused with Christian-ish sentiments and assumptions and ideas, and underplays, as well, just how radically different a thoroughly repaganized society would be from the one we (happily) inhabit today.

    All of that said, I wouldn’t want to say that there are never echoes of the ancient world in contemporary religious debates. Consider, as a for instance, this piece in Slate from the science writer Brian Palmer, which passively-aggressively complains about the fact that so many of the doctors fighting Ebola on the ground in Africa are … Christians … and worse still, Christian missionaries … and not that there’s anything wrong with that, but actually maybe there is something wrong with that (“I’m not altogether proud of this bias—I’m just trying to be honest”), or at least Palmer wants us to know that he’s a little troubled by its implications (“some missionaries are incapable of separating their religious work from their medical work … I suspect that many others have the same visceral discomfort with the mingling of religion and health care …“) even as, broad-minded guy that he is, he concedes that “until we’re finally ready to invest heavily in secular medicine for Africa,” the missionaries may deserve our grudging support.

    The first time I read the piece, I was filled with a stuttering sort of rage, but reading it again it doesn’t actually merit that kind of click-bait outrage. Palmer seems less hostile to Christian missionaries and their work than he is confused by what they’re doing: He clearly has a set of ideological frames through which he sees the world, a set of assumptions (the separation of medicine and religion should be absolute, proselytization is wicked/backward/ignorant, helping people is what governments and secular groups are supposed to do) that simply don’t fit with what’s happening on the ground in Africa and who’s actually there, which in turns leaves him both unsettled and subtly resentful at all these Christian missionary doctors for unsettling him.

    Palmer’s secular and scientistic worldview, of course, is not the worldview of the classical world, which was far more inegalitarian and cruel than the still-Christian-influenced secular humanism of our own era. But there is still a parallel, at once amusing and illuminating, between his tone in the Slate piece and the tone of some of the surviving comments on Christianity from Roman authorities, which so often married incomprehension, hostility and (eventually) resentment at being, well, shown up by these strange cultists and their zeal. In particular, there’s a little bit of Pliny the younger in Palmer’s essay — the 2nd-century governor of Pontus writing in bureaucratic bafflement to his emperor (in a tone that W.H. Auden borrowed, I suspect, for his King Herod in “For The Time Being”) — and a whole lot of Julian the Apostate, the 4th century emperor who tried and failed to restore paganism, and whose letters include various complaints about how “all men see that our people lack aid” from pagan sources, even as “the impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well.”

    Adapted to a globalized and (somewhat) more secularized age, that feels like Palmer’s real complaint: Not that the missionaries are necessarily doing something wrong (he won’t actually come out and say that), but that they’re doing something right in a way that makes his team, Team Secularism, look somewhat less impressive by comparison. Which isn’t really a reaction that Christians should be offended by. It’s one that should be welcomed, worn as a badge of honor, and joyfully provoked.

    Source

    © Copyright Original Source


    The more things change...
    "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience." ― C.S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology (Making of Modern Theology)

  • #2
    Originally posted by Jesse View Post
    Source: The New York Times


    Occasionally in the debates about Christianity’s weakened position in American culture, you’ll hear traditionalists and conservatives analogize the Christian situation, now or soon, to the environment the faith faced in its earliest centuries, as an embattled minority in a hostile pagan empire. I’m not a particular fan of this analogy, for various reasons: Not only because lions-and-catacombs imagery risks trivializing the concept of persecution at a time when Christians outside the United States face actual Diocletian-style consequences for their beliefs (and don’t always receive the charity they deserve from their American co-believers), but also because describing contemporary American culture as pagan in the style of the ancient world strikes me as a category error, which underplays the extent to which middlebrow American spirituality is still infused with Christian-ish sentiments and assumptions and ideas, and underplays, as well, just how radically different a thoroughly repaganized society would be from the one we (happily) inhabit today.

    All of that said, I wouldn’t want to say that there are never echoes of the ancient world in contemporary religious debates. Consider, as a for instance, this piece in Slate from the science writer Brian Palmer, which passively-aggressively complains about the fact that so many of the doctors fighting Ebola on the ground in Africa are … Christians … and worse still, Christian missionaries … and not that there’s anything wrong with that, but actually maybe there is something wrong with that (“I’m not altogether proud of this bias—I’m just trying to be honest”), or at least Palmer wants us to know that he’s a little troubled by its implications (“some missionaries are incapable of separating their religious work from their medical work … I suspect that many others have the same visceral discomfort with the mingling of religion and health care …“) even as, broad-minded guy that he is, he concedes that “until we’re finally ready to invest heavily in secular medicine for Africa,” the missionaries may deserve our grudging support.

    The first time I read the piece, I was filled with a stuttering sort of rage, but reading it again it doesn’t actually merit that kind of click-bait outrage. Palmer seems less hostile to Christian missionaries and their work than he is confused by what they’re doing: He clearly has a set of ideological frames through which he sees the world, a set of assumptions (the separation of medicine and religion should be absolute, proselytization is wicked/backward/ignorant, helping people is what governments and secular groups are supposed to do) that simply don’t fit with what’s happening on the ground in Africa and who’s actually there, which in turns leaves him both unsettled and subtly resentful at all these Christian missionary doctors for unsettling him.

    Palmer’s secular and scientistic worldview, of course, is not the worldview of the classical world, which was far more inegalitarian and cruel than the still-Christian-influenced secular humanism of our own era. But there is still a parallel, at once amusing and illuminating, between his tone in the Slate piece and the tone of some of the surviving comments on Christianity from Roman authorities, which so often married incomprehension, hostility and (eventually) resentment at being, well, shown up by these strange cultists and their zeal. In particular, there’s a little bit of Pliny the younger in Palmer’s essay — the 2nd-century governor of Pontus writing in bureaucratic bafflement to his emperor (in a tone that W.H. Auden borrowed, I suspect, for his King Herod in “For The Time Being”) — and a whole lot of Julian the Apostate, the 4th century emperor who tried and failed to restore paganism, and whose letters include various complaints about how “all men see that our people lack aid” from pagan sources, even as “the impious Galilaeans support not only their own poor but ours as well.”

    Adapted to a globalized and (somewhat) more secularized age, that feels like Palmer’s real complaint: Not that the missionaries are necessarily doing something wrong (he won’t actually come out and say that), but that they’re doing something right in a way that makes his team, Team Secularism, look somewhat less impressive by comparison. Which isn’t really a reaction that Christians should be offended by. It’s one that should be welcomed, worn as a badge of honor, and joyfully provoked.

    Source

    © Copyright Original Source


    The more things change...
    Very good Jesse, balanced...
    Atheism is the cult of death, the death of hope. The universe is doomed, you are doomed, the only thing that remains is to await your execution...

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jbnueb2OI4o&t=3s

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