“What we have before us is not Christianity but a prodigious illusion, and the people are not pagans but live in the blissful conceit that they are Christians. So if in this situation Christianity is to be introduced, first of all the illusion must be disposed of. But since this vain conceit, this illusion, is to the effect that they are Christians, it looks indeed as if introducing Christianity were taking Christianity away from men. Nevertheless this is the first thing to do, the illusion must go.” –Kierkegaard
The illusion in Kierkegaard’s time was that everyone was a Christian. To be born in a so-called Christian nation and baptized at 2 weeks made one automatically Christian without further ado. To be Christian and to be Danish was one and the same. Our situation today is not quite as illusory, but not far off.
If Christianity is the narrow road, the difficult road, the road of reproach and persecution, yet all are Christians then Christianity is an illuson. America was once very much like this. In order to find acceptance, in order to climb the socio-economic latter, in order to have an easier go at life it was very beneficial to be Christian. It doesn’t take a Bible scholar to see that this situation resembles not an iota of the Christianity Christ and the apostles knew.
Until at least the middle of the 20th century this was essentially the case in America. “Christendom” was a major power broker. Today that power is being stripped at an alarming pace.
The question I have been pondering is whether or not this a bad thing?
Is it a bad thing that so-called Christendom is being uprooted in America? Perhaps Christendom truly is an illusion, an illusion which makes Christianity impossible (“Christendom” here means, more-or-less, the fraudulent guarantee that being associated with a Christian based culture makes one a Christian by matter of course). Again, if Christianity has become the broad road and the wide gate then it is something entirely different than New Testament Christianity.
I believe many pockets of Christianity throughout America today still suffers from this illusion. But there is hope today in the very movement that many take as a grave attack on the faith. The modern day power grab for control over the culture has come dressed in the garb of Christophobia, i.e., that irrational and pervasive fear that if Christians have a voice in the public square the Constitution will burst into flames, civil liberties vanish, women made slaves, gays imprisoned, sea levels will rise, and 7-day young earth creationism will reign in every science classroom.
Christophobia has really only begun its work of routing Christianity in America and claiming the power it once held. And, without a doubt, it is much more a power grab than it is any serious fear of Christianity as such. The ‘phobia’ is merely a well-worn political tool used to crush those whose opinions one disagrees with. So long as your destruction of another group is done in the name of fear of oppression then it is safe from reasoned rebuttal.
But regardless, could it turn out that this new Christophobia will prove to be a furnace of refinement rather than destruction? It is my guess that it will help eliminate much of the distorted forms of Christianity today. Those forms that survive by preaching what they are against in the world (I’m thinking of the Westborro Baptist types), those forms that survive primarily as a con game to pocket millions from the sick, the old, and the emotionally vulnerable, those forms that exist essentially as one-man-show, Sunday morning public speaking gig with tax exemption, etc., these and many others simply won’t survive this new wave of rising persecution (unless of course they throw off historic Christianity and embrace the demands of this generation, which many are ever willing to do).
The age of Constantinian privilege is coming to an end in America, and the time to see if any faithful remain in its sea of Christians is fast approaching.
I love what Paul Evdokimov wrote in this beautiful text, “The Sacrament of Love,” speaking about a more obvious form of persecution he witnessed in Russian and Europe a generation ago:
“Militant atheists cooperate in their own way to purify the image of God. Their critique, while strangling on itself, opens spaces for the creative thought of Christian thinkers. If in past centuries man sought to escape from adulterated forms of established religion, today, where the modern world bears down on man with all its technical and political weight, it is in the unique sanctuary of the believing minority that man intuitively senses human dignity and freedom, for ‘where the spirit is, there is freedom.’ The Church is invited to present to man a ‘showing (epiphany) of the true God.”
He explains that it is not up to the Church (speaking specifically of the Orthodox Church) to reform. The Church is itself a holy miracle. Rather, “it is a question of metanoia, a change of the being of every believer. It is because he is the repository of Pentecost that he is a sojourner on earth.”
What the Church lacks is not equal treatment from the government but Christians.
The Christophobia of our age is an invitation—no, a demand!—that all who would claim the name ‘Christian’ be truly conformed to the image of Christ. Those who follow Christ in this world were given the daunting promise by Christ Himself that they would suffer persecution in this world. It was a badge of honor for those apostles, prophets, martyrs and saints who came before and who faced down the challenge of their oppressors and won their own souls.
This new wave of persecution has only just begun and is barely in its infant stage compared to what the Church faced in the not so distant past. But without a doubt it will increase and it will end the way all persecutions have ended—with a stronger, more authentic, more passionate, more devoted Church than ever. When it has run its course, Christophobia will have only served to purify the image of God.
I say, Christophobia bring your A-game.
May it produce innumerable saints to the glory of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit!