(...) Many Americans have a sense that their country is less religious than it used to be. But is it really? The interplay among institutions, behaviors and beliefs is notoriously hard to chart. Even if we could determine that religious sentiment was in flux, it would be hard to say whether we were talking about this yearâs fad or this centuryâs trend.
Or perhaps we are dealing with an even deeper process. That is the argument of a much-discussed book published in Paris this fall. In it, the French political theorist Chantal Delsol contends that we are living through the end of Christian civilization â a civilization that began (roughly) with the Roman rout of pagan holdouts in the late fourth century and ended (roughly) with Pope John XXIIIâs embrace of religious pluralism and the Westâs legalization of abortion.
So if another civilization comes to replace Christianity, it will not be a mere negation, such as atheism or nihilism. It will be a rival civilization with its own logic â or at least its own style of moralizing. It may resemble the present-day iconoclasm that French commentators refer to as le woke. (The term means basically what it does in English, except that French people see wokeness as a system imported wholesale from American universities and thus itself almost a religious doctrine.)
Christianity the religion has teachings about loving oneâs neighbor and turning the other cheek that are impressively clear. For Christianity the culture, though, these can be sources of ambivalence. Christianity has produced some hardened moralizers, to put it mildly. But there has always been a tension between its teachings and its quest for political power.
Ms. Delsol worries that le woke has no such hesitation. Speech codes, elementary school consciousness-raising, corporate public service advertising â in some ways our public order is coming to resemble that of pagan Rome, where religion and morality were separated. Religion was a matter for the household. Morality was determined and imposed by societyâs elites, with grim results for freedom of thought.
Whether or not a society is tolerant of rival ideas has less to do with its leadersâ idle ideological positioning and much more to do with their position in a historical cycle. When in A.D. 384 Christians succeeded in removing the pagan Altar of Victory from the Roman Senate, where it had stood for almost four centuries, the pagan statesman Symmachus understood that Romeâs tolerance would henceforth be denied to those who had built it. If we know Symmachus for one sentiment today, it is his condemnation of Christianityâs dogmatic claims to truth as an affront against common sense. âThere cannot be only one path toward such a great mystery,â he said.
People find such sentiments inspiring. Regimes usually donât. A decade later, the Christian emperor Theodosius was banning the Olympics on the grounds that there was too much nudity in them â without any objections from common sense. The conventional wisdom had come around to dogmatism. It still too often does.
This past weekend, infamous FBI fibber Michael Flynn stood on a stage at Cornerstone Church in San Antonio and spoke his truth: âIf we are going to have one nation under God, which we must, we have to have one religion. One nation under God, and one religion under God.â Christian nationalist mic drop. Heâd finally said the quiet part out loud.
Which, to be fair, was maybe not even the craziest thing that happened at Cornerstone last weekend as it hosted podcast host Clay Clarkâs âReawaken America Tourâ â a shitshow so very spectacular that Cornerstone, the church of famed end times Christian Zionist John Hagee, had to release a face-saving statement saying that maybe, just maybe, things had gone a little too far even for them (âCornerstone Church is not associated with this organization and does not endorse their views.â) There was a woman wearing a Jewish-themed prayer shawl and blowing on a ramâs horn, because, as she explained it, âDemons tremble at the sound of the shofar.â There was My Pillow CEO Mike Lindell and disgraced political operative Roger Stone on hand to provide the event with a legitimate dose of illegitimacy. There was Alex Jones growling at attendees that âthe devilâs reign on this planet is coming to an endâ and that Bill Gates and Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama know that âthey chose SATAN! AND THEY! ARE GOING! TO FAIL!â There were rousing rounds of the oddly-devised anti-Biden chant âLetâs go, Brandonâ and worship music provided by Sean Feucht, graciously in attendance thanks to his failed run for Californiaâs state legislature. There was also, presumably, nary a vaccinated person in the house. (...)
Lance Wallnau used the Oct. 29 episode of his podcast to rail against the âwoke industrial complexâ and to portray âwokenessâ as âa weird new religion.â Wallnau, a Christian nationalist author, speaker, and life coach who promotes Seven Mountains Dominionism, urged Christians to recognize that proponents of âWokeianityâ are their enemies.
âThe Wokeianity of the Antichrist system is an extorted confession of faith,â he said, âwhere you have to use the gender pronoun arbitrarily chosen by a studentâ even if that studentâs reality âisnât real for you.â
Wallnau reaches a wide audience through his books, podcasts, conference speeches, and appearances on religious-right media. He has more than 735,000 followers on Facebook and more than 60,000 on Twitter. In advance of the 2016 election, Wallnau claimed that former President Donald Trump was Godâs anointed âchaos candidate.â He became enough of an insider among Trumpâs Pentecostal supporters that he was invited to the White House for a briefing on the administrationâs Middle East peace plans. In 2020, Wallnau said that Trumpâs reelection would set the stage for the church to take greater authority in the world. When that didnât happen and Joe Biden was sworn in as president, Wallnau declared Biden to be âan illegal counterfeit.â
On last Fridayâs podcast, Wallnau portrayed the political situation in the United States as a âspiritual battle,â something even more powerful and âsinister,â he said, than the political battles as covered by right-wing pundits on Fox News. âItâs a whole invasion of Western civilization with ideas that are grounded in the destruction of America as weâve known it and freedom as weâve experienced it,â he claimed. (...)