Friday, November 29, 2019

Rethinking Protestantism: II

As Max Weber made clear, the Protestant Reformation will open up one of these two roads by erasing physically and symbolically the walls separating the world and the monastery and by extending the calling to perfection to all Christians living in the world through their professional calling. 'To be monks in the world,' this is the spirit of the Protestant ethic and of modern secular vocational asceticism. In Protestant countries, secularization will have from the beginning an anti-monastic and anti-popish, but not an anti-religious meaning, insofar as its rationale was precisely religious reformation, putting an end to the dualism between religion and world, making religion more secular and the saeculum more religious, bringing religion to the world and the world to religion. The Protestant Reformation brought down the monastery walls separating the religious and secular worlds, and opened the way for their mutual interpenetration. This marks particularly the Anglo-Saxon Protestant road of secularization. Secularization and the parallel modernization do not entail necessarily the decline of religion.

Catholic conceptions of holiness tend to strongly emphasise the ascetic nature of religion. Holiness, in this schema, is thought of an increasing devotion to God through prayers, self denial, sacrifice and asceticism, and is seen as synonymous with the ideal clerical life. The lay person, who wishes to seek  holiness, aims to emulate the best practices of the clergy in their devotion to God. So, in a way, if a Catholic wants to become more deeply religious he does by following a model pioneered by the priests and monks. More prayer, more adoration, more Masses, more fasts, etc. And one of the interesting things about Catholicism is the fact that majority of the saints come from the ordained and relatively few from the laity. This state of affairs is more a reflection of the fact that the Church's  has only one recognised mode of "holiness"  and that the practices associated with this mode is is only practically attainable by those who deliberately pursue the consecrated/religious life.  In effect, Catholics have one "mode" of holiness and its difficult to live the lay life and combine it with this modality.

This guy--of all people!--highlights the problem succinctly.

Yet, this would appear to be a "modern" innovation. It was accepted--in the Middle Ages-- that a certain type of holiness could be achieved through the profession of arms. i.e the knight. And that sanctity was possible through just action on the battlefield.  But it does appear that Catholicism developed only a limited number of different modalities for achieving sanctity. By and large, sanctity in Catholicism was mainly achieved by following the model pioneered by religious ascetics.

One of the consequences of the Reformation was a rethinking of the nature of holiness. Protestantism vigorously attacked the distinction between the clergy and the laity. Under Protestantism, all who believed in Christ were "Priests" and this had the effect of opening up the possibility of sanctity to all believers in a way that Catholicism couldn't. Unlike Catholicism  where sanctity was seen as being synonymous with self-denial, mortification and asceticism, the Protestant conception of holiness recognised that it could achieved through the sincere Christian expression of whatever office or rank a person held in life. Some would say that Protestantism clericised the laity but that conception mixes the habits of the clergy with life practices of the laity. I think it would be far better to say that Protestantism produced a "Civic Christianity" in place of the "Clerical Christianity" of Catholicism.

Protestant bankers, for instance, could be considered "priestly" if they executed their office with righteousness, honesty and integrity. Protestant workers were righteous in the sight of God if they did not attempt to defraud their employer and worked for him as if they were working for God. Protestant public servants would strive to be honest and incorruptible.  The whole principle being that a Protestant's Christianity would infuse whatever task he was doing so that standing before God he would be able to claim that he was acting as God's faithful steward; be that a banker, a clerk, railroad worker or teacher. In the movie, Chariots of Fire, the Protestant, Eric Liddell, is able to transform his athleticism into a powerful expression of the Christian faith. Running and not ascetisicism  is the mechanism of his sanctification.

What Protestantism effectively did is expand the modalities by which a Christian could achieve sanctity, opening it up to people who neither had the time, nor the inclination to pursue the "clerical" model. Whereas the secular, before, could afford to be a bit "dirty" since it wasn't holy, Protestantism cleaned it up.  Protestantism infused Christianity into the secular domain in a way that Catholicism couldn't and suddenly it became a far more serious matter to be a corrupt businessman, judge or politician. And it's this type of Christianity which I believe was instrumental in the rapid social and economic advance of the Protestant countries following the Reformation.

The superior socio-economic performance of these societies was an emergent phenomenon contingent upon their civic Christianity. Independence of action, high trust, low levels of dishonesty, honest and good public governance, personal freedom and private initiative worked synergistically in a way that was not possible in Catholic countries and produced a superior social, economic and political outcome. Catholic countries could only begin to approach such levels in the late 20th C. (which also resulted in a pseudo-Protestantisation of their countries). Uncritical Catholic fanboys may dismiss this view but when Clark liberated Rome and the Vatican from the Nazi's it was as an Episcopalian General commanding an army of soldiers from a country founded on Enlightened Protestant beliefs---formerly condemned by the Pope.< /irony>  The Catholic world had no response. Catholic South America was twiddling its thumbs and France was useless.

As as side effect of this transformation of religious expression,  Protestantism was able to achieve a degree of integralism that Catholic traditionalists could only dream about. Whereas in the Catholic  model, there was in inbuilt duality between the secular and clerical/religious,  any attempts and "evangelising" society within this model resulted in the state managed imposition of the clerical onto the secular which resulted in a pressure cooker situation.

On the other hand, Protestantism, with its much broader conception of holiness, did not demand the everyone assume a quasi-clerical lifestyle. This blurred the distinction between the secular and the religious and made a confessional state far easier to achieve as less was demanded by the state on the citizen.  Therefore there was far less tension between the Church and the state. Compare the hostility of the Spanish secularists with that of the Nordic.

Despite all of it's faults--and there are many--it's increasingly my opinion that the emergence of Protestantism was a necessary event for the survival of Christianity. At it's birth, Modernity was around the corner, and its emergence provided the necessary vehicle by which Christianity could transition into it .