A couple of short responses, because I’m busy job hunting and working on music today. Yes, I am literally strumming my ukulele while Christendom burns.
Why celebrate the demise of Christendom? Well, the reasoning is complex for me.
First, remember — I was tossed out of a Christendom church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for being too much of a sinner. I have, to one extent or another, been an outsider all of my life. Someone who was not allowed to belong. Or who was deliberately and brutally excluded. Now, I’ve long blamed that on America, but I’ll be blunt — I hold the church in America somewhat responsible for that as well.
Someone once noted, in a biography of Joseph Stalin, that the reason so many Jews were revolutionaries in late 19th and early 20th century Russia was because Jewish life was so very precarious in late 19th century Russia. Jews could not be vested in order and stability, and those who didn’t leave (and even many who did) were drawn to revolutionary ideologies which sought to topple the whole system that restricted where they could live and subject them to regular violence. (I’ve always thought central to neoconservative thinking on tyranny was the Jewish experience in Russia as a kind-of cultural memory.) For many, bolshevism was intended to bring about a better world, but it would do so by demolishing the existing one.
And I get the appeal. The world has not been particularly kind to me (even as a great many people in it have been). Institutions have not been kind. The church, for all the kindness and belonging I have found in it, has not been kind. It has not welcomed me very well nor accepted me. Late American Christendom has no place for me. To ask me, then, to support an order that deliberately excludes me is asking a lot. It’s asking a great deal of me to reach out beyond myself, to see a good I can only tangentially experience, or be a part of. It’s basically telling me: I have to support and even love the order that beats the crap out of me and leaves me half-dead by the side of the road. Because the alternative could be worse.
Yes, I get the alternatives could be worse. Many of those old bolsheviks, if they didn’t die in the Revolution or the Civil War, perished at Stalin’s hands in the dank cellars of the Lubyanka. Post-Christian modernity will eventually come to demonstrate just how cruel it can be.
But to ask me to love Christendom … is asking too much. I cannot know if there would have been a place for me in a more confident Christendom of another era. I think so, just like there was a place for my very opinionated and abrasive Grandpa Featherstone as a senior civil servant in the middle of last century. (He would not survive government service, or maybe any other institutional life, today.) But there clearly is no place for me today. It’s hard, then, as one deliberately excluded, to feel all warm and fuzzy because the thing which deliberately excluded me is busy collapsing.
I suppose that makes me a bit of nihilist.
I try to balance this with my sense of call, and knowing what we are called to — to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, knowing that God loves us. In some ways, this is going to be harder in post-Christendom, and the church structures which empowered and enabled that kind of care and love will be restricted or simply go out of business. It will make it harder to materially care for the weak, the vulnerable, and the abandoned.
But I’m Jeremiah here. There’s no saving this church from collapse, from defeat, from conquest, from exile. I truly believe that what is happening to the church right now is something of God’s judgement on us — on our faithlessness, on our idolatry (we eagerly and happily worshiped the gods of modernity too), on our lack of hospitality to strangers, and on our unwillingness to truly care for the weak, the vulnerable, and the abandoned. We squandered our inheritance long before Nebuchadnezzar and his soldiers showed up.
I don’t think I’m so much celebrating the collapse as simply stating the obvious — there’s no defending Jerusalem from the armies of Babylon besieging us. To save yourself, you need to accept defeat, to accept exile, and trust in God. Because this journey is not about what we do, but it is about what God does. And God is faithful. Christ is faithful. We are church not because we are kind and decent people, but because God has called us. We shall be redeemed. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not next year, maybe not for many decades or even centuries hence. But we, as God’s people, will be redeemed.
Until then, we need confess our faith — Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again — and live, and love our neighbors, as if that is the only thing that matters. Because it is. This brave new world will break, brutalize, and discard a great many people. They are who we need to love.