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christianityWhen the Obama Administration began its Kulturkampf against American Catholics my husband suggested to me that if the Church is forced to pay for its employees’ contraceptives then there should be an option clause for practicing Catholics. An equivalent amount of the Church’s money spent on other people’s recreational sex should be given to faithful Catholics to cover whatever they do for recreation—for example, golf, tennis, fishing, or weekends at the beach house with hot rock massages.

In a post-Christian world gods don’t disappear. Christ is simply replaced by the apparatus of the nation-state. Political leaders assume to themselves the powers and prerogatives formerly associated with deities, above all, powers over life and death and reproduction.

The very same politicians who feign moral outrage over the Church’s moral advice to Catholic couples use coercive state power to venture further into bedrooms than any encyclical. If a woman chooses to use the pill in defiance of three popes who have said it’s morally wrong, then it is still her choice. The worst outcome for her is that she is left with an uneasy conscience. She won’t be sent to prison, she won’t be named in public and she won’t be forced to pay higher taxation. But if a woman happens to be Chinese and conceives a second child and is marched off to an abortion clinic then that is not her choice. That is state generated oppression.

The attempt to use the powers of the state to control human reproduction did not begin with Barack Obama and his friends at the Planned Parenthood Federation. It goes at least as far back as Joseph Stalin and his Bolshevik comrades who wanted more Soviet babies for more Soviet cannon fodder, and like a lot of Soviet practices it had an analogue in the Nazi regime. In 1936 Heinrich Himmler set up a network of copulation camps to make genetically sound women available for fertilization by SS alpha males.

These kinds of policies tend to see-saw between those designed to promote the birth rate and those designed to reduce the birth rate.

Just last week the Singapore government decided to embark on a baby boom program. This followed a scary report in which Singapore came in last on a fertility table listing 103 nations. Singapore showed a fertility rate of 0.78. The response of the government was to engage the mint sweets company Mentos to sponsor a “National Night” commercial to persuade Singaporeans to conceive. On August 9, (the Singaporean national day) Singaporeans were exhorted to “manufacture life” and “make the birth-rate spike.” The three minute hip-hop commercial included the phrase: “Just don’t wake the kids: cos they’ll be appalled by the stuff we gon’ do up in that bedroom.” The commercial addressed its human subjects as though they were rutting reindeers.

When a culture ceases to be Christian, human dignity becomes an alien concept. We no longer “make love” and “have a family,” we do “appalling stuff,” we “manufacture life.”

Meanwhile, across the globe, social engineers have decided that the next great human problem to be addressed is circumcision. Everywhere from Germany to the tiny “Apple Island” of Tasmania politicians are either banning the practice of male circumcision or promoting legislation to do so.

I can remember asking my grandmother about this tradition when I was a child. I thought it was painful for baby boys and wondered why people did it. My grandmother’s reply was that it makes a lot of sense in hot climates. It’s much easier to be circumcised as a baby then to have more radical surgery later on if the boy keeps getting infections. As far as she was concerned it was not a theological issue, just a common sense practice in places like outback Australia and the Middle East—places that can be hot, humid and sandy. For Jews and Muslims however it is also a religious rite.

As one trawls through the news reports one can easily find examples of politicians playing god and trying to solve the problems generated by the human exercise of free will by fettering its exercise. They are aided and abetted by teams of social engineers employed by their various departments. The people who pay for these public servants are mostly the professional members of the middle class who are unable to hide their income and thus supply the lion’s share of national budgets. They end up paying the wages of the very people who are trying to control the most intimate aspects of their lives.

One can of course spend hours debating the legitimate limits of human freedom—where it begins and ends—with reference to the fact that we are social beings, that we live in communities, that no man is an island. However, wherever the lines are drawn, it should be far from the sphere of marital intimacy and the state regulation of religious practices.

A Deeper Theological Question

One of the deeper theological issues raised by politicians who behave like gods is what is their motivation? Why do so many spend their energy promoting a culture of death?

Perhaps once we achieve the Nietzschean paradise of life beyond good and evil we acquire new spiritual pathologies? There is an inverted association of eros with death, the attractive with the vulgar.

How do we deal with this?

First, I think we must recognize that the liberal tradition can take a totalitarian form. (Alasdair MacIntyre and Stanley Hauerwas have been making this point for some time). Second, when it does, it usually tries to offer us a state apparatus as our new savior—our replacement for Christ. (William T. Cavanaugh has done some excellent historical research on this point). And third, an anti-Christ never arises without him and his culture being parasitic on the Christian tradition. (Cardinal Scola has emphasized this). Mutant forms of Christianity are always our worst enemy!

Perhaps the policies of the Obama regime represent the logical outgrowth of a mutant form of Christianity where Christ is replaced first by “Christian values,” then “Christian values” are replaced by concepts like justice and freedom and equality decoupled from any connection to Christ, Christian culture or even Stoic natural law; and then finally these secularized concepts are re-coupled to the will to power of politicians and social engineers.

As David Bentley Hart has noted, when people reject Christ they have a tendency to reject everything that Christian civilization ever baptized of pre-Christian civilization. All the treasures of ancient Rome, Athens, and Jerusalem get thrown overboard in the manic attempt to snuff out the last trace of the Lamb of God in human culture. At present this seems to include the notion that human dignity is linked to the capacity for love and freedom and rationality.

Above all our new political saviors want to liberate us from the idea that we have been made in the image of God. They do this at the same time as giving themselves god-like powers. If we start to believe that we really are just rutting animals this will give them even more power. The Nietzschean nightmare will be complete—there will be one great herd of animals and a few Übermenschen to govern them, direct their wills, determine when they will reproduce, and how often, and an intermediate class of social engineers running the Health and Education departments, policing reproductive information and the compulsory national curriculum. And this would be different from Fascism how?

Books on liberalism and Christianity may be found in The Imaginative Conservative BookstoreThis article originally appeared in Crisis Magazine and is republished here by permission.

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23 replies to this post
  1. Angie Van De Merwe,

    Do you mean the same constitution which clearly and unequivocally states "Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise (of religion)." The constitution requires religious freedom, i.e. the freedom of religious people to follow their religious law.

  2. what a bizarre notion, to put it mildly. does this author and commentator sincerely believe that there is no human dignity outside of Christendom? have either of them lived outside of Christian lands? do either of them know of common complaints abroad of human dignity lacking in ostensibly Christian lands? Or are they holding some fairy-tale ideal against American reality and blaming it on govt, Obama, whatever? i am sorry but this is, at very best and being charitable, sloppy thinking at its worst.

  3. Really like Tracey Rowland's article on 20th-21st century "totalitarian liberalism" being a heresy from Christianity. Does the lack of understanding of Christian fundamentals explain why so many Catholics fail to recognize attack such as the "mandatory funding of contraceptives and abortions by Catholic institutions" contained in the HHS regulations implementing the Health Care Reform Act as an attack on our religion?

  4. I think the article is adressing what is happening in what are being termed post-christian liberal democracies which reject all religious traditions.

  5. @s masty:

    "what a bizarre notion, to put it mildly."

    >> OK, we have established your personal incredulity in the face of the assertion "When a culture ceases to be Christian, human dignity becomes an alien concept".

    SM: "does this author and commentator sincerely believe that there is no human dignity outside of Christendom?"

    >> No. This author believes "When a culture ceases to be Christian, human dignity becomes an alien concept"

    Since you have replaced the assertion with one of your own, which is not identical in meaning, we have a museum quality example of the straw man argument here.

    MS: "have either of them lived outside of Christian lands?"

    >> Of course. They live in the post Christian Liberal Totalitarian West. Notice the title of the piece.

    MS: "do either of them know of common complaints abroad of human dignity lacking in ostensibly Christian lands?"

    >> Here you conflate the objective circumstance of "a lack of human dignity" in a given individual case, with the author's altogether different thesis- "When a culture ceases to be Christian, human dignity becomes an alien concept".

    Notice that one can lack the realization of the concept, and still retain hope of rectifying the evil.

    If one has lost sight of the *concept itself*; that is, if a civilization has abandoned the conept of human dignity- if such a concept has become *alien* to it, then there exists no hope at all of rectifying the evil, since it wil no longer be recognized as evil.

    Abortion on demand seems to superlatively satisfy the need for a concrete example, unless one wishes to deny humanity to unborn children.

    But then, denying humanity to unborn children is itself an example of the author's thesis: When a culture ceases to be Christian, human dignity becomes an alien concept.

  6. Just to take your last point, there are plenty of religions beside Christianity among which abortion is anathema.

    I stick with CS Lewis, who in 'Mere Christianity' observes that all religions look at God through clearer or dustier lenses. He would never said something so crude or untrue as you do.

    Even FA Hayek believed, in the end, that societies could not function well without religion, so there is nothing too controversial there. But were disaffected Christians to become, en masse, good Muslims or devout Buddhists, for example, America's levels of human dignity may be enhanced above what she has now. There are elements of American Exceptionalism with which I concur, but not where they serve as a fig-leaf for self-satisfied ignorance.

  7. Environmentalism is a religion. GIA is a godess. Muir spoke of the Sierra Nevada Mountains as a Cathedral. Similarly, Marxism, for all its pretensions to atheism, is a religion that worships the State, has an eschatology, etc. Secular humanism? I am sure humanity as a concept is given deity status.
    However, saying that if we lose Christianity we will revert to some kind of pagan barbarism is a bit strange when we consider we have two God Fearing Presidential candidates who have no problem with ordering assassination, war and torture.

  8. Again.

    The author does not propose that human dignity is exclusive to Christianity.

    The author proposes that "When a culture *ceases to be Christian*, human dignity becomes an alien concept.

    This immediately removes from consideration cultures which have never been Christian, and also answers NTFRP above.

    The culture in America has ceased to be Christian, and hence human dignity becomes an alien concept.

    Abortion, pre-emptive warfare, ends-justifies-the-means politics in general, are the order of the day, if the author's thesis is correct.

    The author's thesis is correct.

  9. Religious law is what we see in Islamic cultures that stone adulterers and homosexuals. The Human Rights Movement is the secularized version of the "Christian Principles" of the dignity of the individual (the Imageo Dei).
    Pagan ritual and superstition is the basis of all religious rites such as circumcision. Many Islamic cultures also circumcise girls, but not for health reasons, but for the barbarian belief that pleasure in sex and pre-marital sex is evil. Sex is only to be used as a means of procreation. This is the reason why the RCC does not believe in birth control. Pregnancy and birth are the results of "indulging the flesh" for the "deified outcome" of life. And since "God" intervenes in the affairs of men, for "God's Own Purposes", it is the religious who believe that natural results (consequences) of human behavior are allowed/ordained by "God" for his purposes (life). Then, is one to assume that human choice, value, or priorities have nothing to do with an affirmation of "a culture of life"? Don't human choice, value and priorities have everything to do with "the culture of life", too?
    The religious believe that those choices, values and priorities are limited by a text or religious tradition, while the secularists believes that these values have to be an individual matter to protect the right of "human dignity" in choice, as choice is about the "Imageo Dei", itself. The individual must be "free to choose" within the limitations of a particular society. Society's limitations are only those that are mandated by government's laws. Our liberal State allows for personal choice concerning birth control, as this is considered "personal responsibility" and "self-governance".
    "Self governance" and "responsibility" is what any good parent seeks to teach their children. Adults are to act in responsible ways for any society to function properly. Therefore, the overly Paternalistic State or Religious Culture,which is promoted by the use of laws and regulations, is not a healthy sign of a healthy citizenry. The Founders believed in a limited government.
    The concerns of "the State" are public health issues, which are preventative for the good of society, such as STDs, overpopulation, etc. The concerns of the individual should be about personal priorities, responsibilities and goals, when considering choices. The State should always grant as much liberty as possible in the individual's "right of choice".

  10. Rick, I agree with you. See my comment above (IF it is approved). Choice is about human dignity, as it limits authority to the individual. Self-determination and the ability to discriminate are aspects of a limited government. Authoritarianism via the State or Religion justify certain "outcomes" for different reasons ("Kingdom of God", "health/nature").

  11. Environmentalism or anything else, for that matter, can be a religion that gauges one's "spirituality" (by their preferred ideals and/or outcomes)….and such becomes the lens whereby everyone and everything else is gauged. THAT is what makes for a monolithic authoritarian dominating culture, over individually chosen values…and why I would argue for diversity, as to values and views. When government allows for the free exercise of "religion" that means that one can freely associate what is to define their lens of the world and pursue that with passion within a symphony of views and interests. Isn't that what has made our country great, when everyone pursues their own interests without harming another's interests?
    But, when public policy limits the population at large, and becomes the "politically correct" view, then, how far will politicians go to protect their "pet projects" at the costs of the taxpayer? and their liberty? Will such a view become the "ruling elite's right" to monitor and limit information in the news media for political purposes and not for liberty?

  12. Yes,I do believe that the U.S. Constitution answer the moral questions because it limits power, and protects the rights of individuals before the law, as morality is about the right to choose, as much as anything else.

  13. When God becomes nothing, the state becomes everything. Or rather, every power that could challenge the state becomes nothing. You just have individuals and the state with nothing in between. There are no natural centers of power and authority apart from the state. Oddly enough, this leaves even the state itself vulnerable to non-state configurations of power, which in our culture largely means corporations. Note, this does not mean "the rich," but only the rich insofar as they control the centers of production and finance embodied in large corporations. These become the "real" state, operating under democratic cover but exercising oligarchic control.

    All that being said, I don't think the contraceptive mandate is actually an example of this. Rather, it arises from an almost innocent confusion of contraception with medicine, and with pregnancy as a disease. That is to say, it is not control over reproduction that the state is seeking, as in the example of the Stalin's Russia, Hitler's Germany or Singapore. The bureaucrats view this as a purely technical problem and don't quite understand the nature of the opposition. After all, the use of chemical contraception is nearly universal, or as close to that as any cultural artifact becomes. Even Catholics, even regular, church going Catholics, tend to use it. Further, the bureaucrats have no reason to understand the nature of the problem, since the battle is being fought, even by the Catholic Church, on the grounds of "religious freedom," which is the Liberal's home turf.

    But it is not a matter of the religious freedom of Catholics (about the only ones who still object) but about the intrinsic evil of contraception. That is where the battle must be fought. It is a battle we will lose, but that is not the point. The point is the teaching moment, the evangelical opportunity. It is one we have ignored for 40 years (I'm 65, and I don't recall ever hearing a single sermon on contraception). The current debate presents Catholics with an opportunity to once again proclaim the truth, which is not a truth about "religious freedom," but about the very nature of man and the relations between men and women.

  14. One other point: it is not that the Liberal state can become everything, it is that it must become everything. Indeed, the only alternative offered us is that the state become nothing, which really isn't a contrary, it is a complementary. We are offered a choice between Liberalism and Libertarianism, the latter being at best an alternate spelling of the former, and at worst, its truest form and romantic ideal. Both Mises and Marx promised the withering away of the state; both delivered a state with powers that would have astounded an ancient tyrant. Might take away your life and your property, but that would be clearly seen as tyranny. A modern bureaucrat can take your property, your business, even your children, and does so routinely. This will not be seen as tyranny, at least so long as the forms are properly filled out.

  15. John, I think that Margaret Sanger understood perfectly that she wanted to liberate women from their biology. It was not, perhaps, a matter of controlling reproduction, it was rather a conviction that science could provide women with a way of replacing God. I don't blame the bureaucrats; I blame the men and women who put themselves in the place of the Creator. Your second post is unshakable.

  16. Right, you can't blame a bureaucrat, even a Catholic one like Sibelius, for not following a teaching she never heard. You're right about Sanger, but that's not the case for HHS. This was daring in Sanger's day and routine in ours. Its the "new normal" to be abnormal, and the natural strikes the modern mind as unnatural. That is why the administration was perplexed by the response, which they classified as "flat earth" and "creation in six days" kind of talk. There's no basis of communication, so "religious freedom" was the best the bishops could do.

  17. Modern Apocalypto

    In ancient cultures, the tribal chieftains offered human sacrifices to win the favor of their gods …

    Beautiful maidens are burned and bludgeoned,
    Assuaging the spirits under false assumptions.
    Cheering, marching, ritualistic dance,
    Face paint … chanting; they’re in a groupthink trance.

    Appeasing the deity with sacrifice of blood,
    No time for thinking, just an emotional flood.
    Give the gods their due and the sun will shine.
    Blessings will come from the Grand Divine.

    We watch now in horror; we shield our eyes.
    Such savage acts we now despise.
    We’re smarter now, this civilized race.
    No sacrificial pleadings our chieftains make.

    For no god can rejoice in such destruction.
    What promise blooms from this dysfunction?

    But beautiful women are convinced it’s fine
    To stop a life; that’s the pro-choice line.
    Cheering, marching for the right to choose —
    Planned Parenthood lobbyists on the nightly news.

    Appeasing the godless with sacrifice of blood;
    Using logic that is … as clear as mud.
    Scissors stabbed at the base of the skull.
    Brains sucked out; a life expunged.

    We don’t watch in horror ‘cause the horror is hidden.
    It’s a medical procedure. But who are we kiddin’?
    We’re smarter now? This civilized race?
    Tell me again … with a straight face:

    What god can rejoice in such destruction?

    (c) 2013, Debra McCusker

  18. well let’s admit the Christian tradition can and has taken totalitarian form and action through out history. also we should be honest and admit that the “scary” state apparatus in many case is woefully unsupported which is why you still have children being abused and murdered because there aren’t enough case workers. also the population who suffers with mental illness is virtually ignored by the “totalitarian” state apparatus and one can hardly posit the churches or private sector has stepped up to deal with just these concerns. it seems forgotten that often the state is pushed into addressing issues like child labor or pension and survivor and disability insurance by public outcry while the churches for the most part stood by and did little to nothing. the church doesn’t always give good witness in how it treats it’s own workers.

  19. It goes a lot further back than Stalin — a LOT further back. Augustus had policies designed to encourage the elite to have larger families. Some ancient Greeks were concerned about overpopulated cities and sought to suppress large families. And what do you think was going on in Canaan with all the children being sacrificed to Moloch?

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