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Author Topic: Uncivil Protestants  (Read 3973 times) Average Rating: 0
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Keble
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« on: April 15, 2004, 12:00:43 AM »

Protestantism is a fundamental break with the past.  It is the rejection of what came before.  It's not so much "learning from history" as "honoring" history.
 

Well, I don't see how it can reasonably be denied that a lot of the past ought to be broken with, and remembered only so it can be rejected in perpetuity. Too much of the strife in the world is caused by people attacking each other because their ancestors attacked each other, because their ancestors attacked each other, and so forth. If protestantism means holding the past up to judgement, I'm all for that.

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It's hard to define what constitutes "civilization" although I would argue that it means that one accepts the traditional understanding of the relationship between man and society.  Man is understood through his relationship with God and the Church.  Government is given authority by God.

And man is given dominion over the earth, and yet it is not proper for man to do any old thing he wants to. Neither are governments authorized to abuse their power; indeed, one can see from Samuel on the history of the kingdoms of Israel and Judea being successively deprived of their legitimacy by the LORD God who calls them out for their misrule.

In a sense there is no "traditional understanding of the relationship between man and society", because "society" is a modern concept and not necessarily valid even as such. "Society" is typically used in the sense of an organized, self-perpetuating system, but that rather begs the question. I am certainly quite ready to dispute whether social interactions for a society or merely give the illusion of one.

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Protestantism divorces government and the Church.  It says that man by himself is accountable only to God and that man is capable of discerning God's will all by himself.
 

Government divorces government and the church; it is this divorce that allowed Protestantism to survive, because princes ceased to serve the Roman church in oppressing/suppressing heretics. And before that, the political structures in the West ceased to serve the East, allowing the Great Schism to persist. And before that the empire lost control of areas now populated by oriental Orthodox.

Every serious Christian has to put accountability to God ahead of accountability to the government. What the church fathers show (and modern protestants would tend to agree) is that what is due Caesar must be weighed against what is due God.

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I would argue that my  understanding of "civilized" is based on social order.  As Teyve says in "Fiddler on the Roof" "where everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do."  In civilized societies people don't reinvent themselves.  There is no disconnect from society and family.  A civilized society can be repressive.  However, I would argue that it leads to greater harmony.  

But such places do not actually exist. Well, maybe some extremely primitive and isolate place might. But Tevye's own milieu belies this changelessness. Start with his "traditional" clothing, which is in fact modern. Its construction is based upon the sewing machine. Nor were there always Jews in Russia, nor was there always a prohibition against intermarriage, nor were the Mosaic rules always interpreted in the terms in which Russian Jews expressed them.

What happened instead was a constantly shifting pattern of interactions between Jews and their surroundings-- and in this case it was helped out by the plain demarkation between Jews and the goyim. Some aspects of "tradition" (e.g. observance of Passover) served as markers of that division, but others were simply fallout from the division. Other groups trying to live in similar embedded isolation produced similar structures.

But then the other irony of Tevye is that, in the big picture, he arises out of social situation in which the context of Jewish society has been radically altered, forcing an abrupt alteration in "tradition". Fiddler. after all, is the product of a hugely secularized American Jewish community in which Jewish identity is most threatened by the lack of pressure upon it. One can take the path of the Hassids and the Amish and freeze some point in the past (1910 for the Hassids, 1870 for the Amish) and very carefully allowing any advances from that point. There is something artificial about this, and in any case it dooms one to a subculture in which the full culture is still the driving force. One can see especially with the Amish how they are forced to negotiate with the outside world on many points, and how that negotiation is in turn governed by American attitudes of tolerance which make their separation viable.

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It's no accident that democracy developed in Protestant countries.  I would argue that democracy is somewhat uncivilized.

Democracy in the West has a much longer history that the Church does, when one considers the Athenians. More recently the Icelanders have been doing it for a millenium-- Icelanders voted to become Christian in 1000 AD. It would be more accurate to say that autocracy and Protestantism aren't particularly compatible.

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I forgot who wrote that democracy invariably leads to radicalism.  A democracy isn't a "conservative" society.  It's always about who is in charge today.  Who has the power today.  A more "civilized" society would be one that is governed the elders, i.e. people who because of their experience know more.

Please. Now you're falling into the fallacy of ignoring sin. Age need not confer wisdom, much less integrity. Societies which try to deny this become senile, or worse; instead of governance by the likes of George Washington, they get governed by the likes of Lord North. Or they fall to tyrants, or even give themselves up to them willingly.

Social disorder happens for many reasons, but by and large it happens because society and governance grow out of joint. This has nothing to do with Protestantism or democracy, but it has a great deal to do with criminality, lust for power, and greed.

Also, I would say that the social disruption of the USA is largely exaggerated. At one time I went back and looked through a bunch of old Time magazines from the late '50s. What is most striking about the weekly crises that padded it out its pages, at this late date, is how fundamentally irrelevant most of the news was, in the end. In many respects the truly disruptive changes went unnoticed. People in 1957 had a fighting chance of predicting much of 1967; they had no chance at all of predicting 1968. And yet everything that happened in 1968 extrapolated almost linearly from 1957. In the end the message is clear: the American spirit simply is more tolerant of  "social disruption" than most people would imagine. And tolerated disruption in the end isn't disruptive.
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Jennifer
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« Reply #1 on: April 15, 2004, 09:00:14 AM »

I realize that I sounded like I was pining away for some utopian society that doesn't and can't exist.  I apologize for that.  That's not really what I meant although I can see how it could appeared that I meant that.  

I suppose what I'm trying to get it is that it seems to me that there is a drive towards radicalism in America.  One could say that Americans are not 'radical' given that we never embraced socialism, communism or facism.  I'm denying "radicalism" in a different way.  "Radicalism" to me is an idea carried to an absurd extreme.  For example I'd say that American's political puritanical streak is "radical," e.g. the hysteria over the Monica Lewinsky affair.  Americans seem to expect some kind of 'purity' from their leaders that isn't possible given human nature and when they don't measure up we tear them down.  I think structural examples of 'radicalism' are things like campaign finance laws (trying to get to this mythical idea of equality that can never happen and hampering our political system).  I think another example of our radicalism is the legal fiction we maintain related to equality.  I think why affirmative action is so controversial is that it is an acknowledgement that isn't equality.  

I apologize for not explaining myself well here.  I've never studied political science so I don't know the appropriate words to clarify my arguments.  

Now getting back to the subject at hand, I see the same tendency towards radicalism in protestantism.  In protestantism things get taken to an absurd result.  There's also the search for absolute purity.  Now of course we see the tendency in catholicism (little "c") but I think that's because it's nearly impossible for Americans to be catholic.  The overall culture is protestant and it's nearly impossible for us to reject the dominant culture.  I also think that many converts are still culturally protestant.
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« Reply #2 on: April 15, 2004, 10:10:56 AM »

(geez, you guys are smart!)
1) Did Luther (the proto-Protestant, as it were) believe he was breaking with the past or restoring it? Huh




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PhosZoe
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« Reply #3 on: April 15, 2004, 10:14:58 AM »

 The overall culture is protestant and it's nearly impossible for us to reject the dominant culture.  I also think that many converts are still culturally protestant.  

Totally jumping in here.... Yes, America while technically it doesn't have a national language or religion the cultural climate is Protestant whether some of us like it or not.
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Linus7
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« Reply #4 on: April 15, 2004, 10:39:56 AM »

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Protestantism divorces government and the Church.  It says that man by himself is accountable only to God and that man is capable of discerning God's will all by himself.

Only some forms of Protestantism (mainly those that found themselves out of favor with their governments) favored the "separation of Church and State."

The rest were every bit as in favor of theocracy - as long as it was their brand - as most other religious organizations are.
 
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Government divorces government and the church; it is this divorce that allowed Protestantism to survive, because princes ceased to serve the Roman church in oppressing/suppressing heretics.

Government's natural drive is not to divorce religion, but rather to control and dominate it.

Governments suppressed/oppressed heretics because, when government controlled religion, heresy was the same thing as treason.

Pro-Protestant governments did the same things they had done under the old Church. The Lutheran princes of Germany made life on this earth a living hell for the Anabaptists, and the English kings and queens persecuted Protestant dissenters and Catholics.

Did they do these things because they were overly squeamish about religion?

Sometimes. But mostly they did it because all of the king's subjects were supposed to tow the line in mind as well as body.

What allowed Protestantism to survive was a combination of factors, among which was the growth of national states at the expense of the idea of Christendom as embodied in the Holy Roman Empire. The fact that Charles V had to contend with the Turks didn't hurt the Protestants much either.



« Last Edit: April 15, 2004, 10:43:52 AM by Linus7 » Logged

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« Reply #5 on: April 15, 2004, 12:24:16 PM »

Keble, your using Athens as an example of democracy may have confirmed Jennifer's point. There is nothing civil about a government that tried several generals all together and put them to death for not rescuing their fellow Athenians when a storm was endangering everyone. The generals were later pardoned posthumously. The Athenian democracy was quite unstable to say the least, gave rise to the sophists, and don't forget that they put Socrates to death. Other than that, I commend you on your post and find there are many things in it I'd like to learn more about.

Matt
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Jennifer
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« Reply #6 on: April 15, 2004, 02:49:16 PM »

(geez, you guys are smart!)
1) Did Luther (the proto-Protestant, as it were) believe he was breaking with the past or restoring it? Huh


Protestants always think that they restoring some mythical past.  But I think where they get off track is by rejecting the immediate past.  Throughout human history we see a development and it's not possible for a society to return to where it was a thousand years ago.  When I say "reject the past" I don't so much mean a rejection of the 1000 year ago past as much as the 50 years ago past.  
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Brendan03
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« Reply #7 on: April 15, 2004, 02:59:36 PM »

I think that Protestantism (at least sola scriptura protestantism) can be fairly seen as a rejection of history because it is in absolute abject denial of the way the church and the New Testament came into being.  Their view of scripture is fairly seen as an "anti-historical" view .. they have sort of stripped the scripture out of its historical context (i.e., the established church of Bishops and hierarchs that canonized it as scripture to begin with) and thereby have allowed it, and in turn them, to be become historically unmoored.  So I think Jennifer has a point here.  I agree that Protestants see it otherwise, but they are rather misguided in this, in my opinion.
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Keble
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« Reply #8 on: April 15, 2004, 04:13:44 PM »

I think that Protestantism (at least sola scriptura protestantism) can be fairly seen as a rejection of history because it is in absolute abject denial of the way the church and the New Testament came into being.

Well, we've been through this before and I've presented the more-thoughtful-Protestant view that the Roman/Eastern theory of the relationship is distorted. I don't think this is a fruitful way to approach things; it is rather too close to simple name-calling.
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Ebor
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« Reply #9 on: April 22, 2004, 08:57:30 PM »

  "Radicalism" to me is an idea carried to an absurd extreme."  

I would like to suggest that this tendency is a very Human thing and not limited to "Protestants".  Absurd extremes can be reached on politics, religion, sports, etc and I think that it might be due in part to a lack of critically looking at the idea as well as sometimes not fully understanding things.    

After reading this, and the other threads of a political nature, I would like to mention Screwtape Proposes a Toast by C. S. Lewis.  It's usually included at the back of editions of The Screwtape Letters.  In it Lewis brings up the question is "Democratic behaviour" that which democracies like or that which preserves a democracy.  Another point in it is warping the idea of democracy as in equality of the citizens into everyone must be alike.  There can be no differences. So anyone who 'sticks out' is a target.

I would also like to mention that there is no such thing as "Protestants' in the sense of one uniform mass of belief and thought.  I have never encountered in any Episcopal church that I've attended a desire for the "restoration of a mythical past".  But I've seen some of that with the "Anglo-Saxons were really E.O." for example.

Ebor
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« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2004, 11:43:20 PM »

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I suppose what I'm trying to get it is that it seems to me that there is a drive towards radicalism in America.


When has there not been? Wink

The foundations of this nation are in part built upon revolution and staunch individualism.  One of the dreams of the founders was to make a place where the government would not establish any particular church or religion as the official one, so they wrote it into the Constitution.  This is a fertile breeding ground for the multiplication of new protesting sects, and that is one of the fruits it has produced.  Reinventing the wheel is the American religious pasttime.
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Ebor
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« Reply #11 on: April 23, 2004, 09:38:52 AM »

Yet this same "Fertile Ground" was available to the planting for RC (see Maryland and how it was founded to have religious freedom for Catholics) and the various EO churches as people came to the US in search of better lives.  

I would maintain that this country is not just based on revolution and staunch individualism but that it is balanced (or tries to be) with the concept of working for the Common Good.  There is a middle ground between Society is everyone alike and everyone only caring about themselves.

Ebor
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« Reply #12 on: April 23, 2004, 09:53:47 AM »

Small question, Ebor...
Why do you assume that "individualism" and "the Common Good" are different or mutually exclusive concepts?
Thanks,
Demetri
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« Reply #13 on: April 23, 2004, 10:10:23 AM »

I think that Protestantism (at least sola scriptura protestantism) can be fairly seen as a rejection of history because it is in absolute abject denial of the way the church and the New Testament came into being.  

In most cases it's more like an abject unawareness.  First, as others have pointed out, not all Protestants are alike; it's not a homogeneous group.  I can only really speak from the vantage point of a Southern Baptist who became a United Methodist (and am now embarking on the journey to Orthodoxy).  Even as a seminary (music) graduate, I was almost completely ignorant of Eastern and early Church history until recently.  I couldn't have claimed much more than to have heard of some of the early Fathers.  I was taught, of course, the principle of sola scriptura, and believed it until it finally collapsed (for me) like the house of cards that it is.  

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Ebor
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« Reply #14 on: April 23, 2004, 08:00:26 PM »

Well, working from the ways the terms are used and represented.  "Individualist" is often seen as a person who strives for his/her gain at the expense of or with no consideration for others:  Howard Roark in Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead" and other Randroid ideas are an example.  The individual is the only measure of what is Good and Right for them.

The Common Good, otoh, is put forth as doing things that may not be personally useful in the short run for an individual but helps to improve the general situation.  Childless people paying for schools might be one example (I'm just tossing off suggestions as I have to log in a min.  They have no children to educate, but if the children are taught and can improve their lives and get useful jobs, the childless people have paid for a longterm (one hopes) improvement in conditions.  But this should not be taken to the extreme of all individual traits/wants/needs/desires must be eliminated and the group is the All.

I have heard people say "I don't have kids so it's not fair that I pay for the schools" btw.  I didn't make that one up.

I hope that explains something. I need to rush off after someone.

Ebor
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« Reply #15 on: April 23, 2004, 08:47:57 PM »

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I need to rush off after someone.

I feel I will need to borrow this exclamation frequently in the future Smiley
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« Reply #16 on: April 23, 2004, 09:29:03 PM »

I feel I will need to borrow this exclamation frequently in the future Smiley

Welcome to parenthood!  Grin
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Ebor
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« Reply #17 on: April 27, 2004, 10:43:08 PM »

I feel I will need to borrow this exclamation frequently in the future Smiley

 Smiley  The first few months you'll have a good idea of where the child is.  But once they start crawling, that sureness goes out the window (and if your windows go to the floor, the child may be out the window, too).  And when the walking starts, all bets are off.  That's how parents develope the "eyes in the back of the head" and the "Super hearing" being especially sensitive to not noise, but the lack there of.  As in "It's quiet.  Too Quiet.  Something's happening. Start the search parties."

And as the saying goes. "Once you have three children, you go from a man-on-man to a zone defense."

Ebor

Unfortunately, I couldn't think of a way to write anything in this post about Civilization an protestants.... sorry.
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« Reply #18 on: April 27, 2004, 11:11:28 PM »

I look forward to it ( I think ...)

 Reminds me of a Galagher bit where first you pray they have all their fingers and toes and a bit later you wish their arms were just 2 inches long Cheesy
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« Reply #19 on: April 28, 2004, 10:54:00 PM »

I look forward to it ( I think ...)

 Reminds me of a Galagher bit where first you pray they have all their fingers and toes and a bit later you wish their arms were just 2 inches long Cheesy

So true!  And then you think they're taking forever to start talking, but once they do, you will not know quiet again until they're old enough for overnighters and camp.  (I still remember looking across the table at my husband when the house was quiet for the first time, and being clueless how to carry on a conversation with only one other person.)
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