June 25, 2005

Returning to Christendom?

In a recent Commonweal article by William D. Wood, we read about Cardinal Francis George's rather strong suggestion that the world should move away from secular democracy and toward a return to Christendom. One wonders if Cardinal George and other Catholics who favor a return to Christendom are aware that we had an ecumenical council about forty years ago, and that this ecumenical council strongly favored democratic government and religious liberty, effectively eliminating the possibility of a return to Christendom. One might think, perhaps, that Cardinal George and other "Christendom Catholics" are paying more attention to Pope Pius IX's Syllabus of Errors and less attention to the documents of the Second Vatican Council.

This desire for a return to theocracy -- make no mistake, Christendom is theocracy -- is becoming increasingly common among folks who identify with the Christian Right, and disturbingly popular within the Catholic Right. It's part of the unholy alliance that has been forged across denominational lines to declare war against relativists, secularists, liberals, Democrats, moderate Republicans, feminists, gays and lesbians, and all those other people who don't identify with the Christian Right. This desire for theocracy is often referred to as "dominion theology." It began among evangelical Christians in the 1960s and 1970s; somehow, though, it has managed to invade every Christian denomination in the United States and some in other parts of the world.

The basic premise of "dominion theology" is that, for the world's salvation, Christians must defeat the current forms of government and establish either a pseudo-theocratic government or an outright theocracy (depending on who you ask). This new desire for Christendom among some within the Catholic Right is an expression of the "dominion theology" common among evangelical Christians. It seems to me that the motto of "dominion theology" and "neo-Christendom" should be: Let's get 'em! "Dominion theology" was created in order to establish the supremacy of the Christian Right; therefore, anyone who opposes the Christian Right is the enemy.

I don't think it's difficult to see why this has a connection to social justice. Theocracy is, by its very nature, opposed to social justice. It perpetuates discrimination and often outright persecution against people of religions differing from the official religion of the theocratic government, and it also perpetuates discrimination and persecution against those who belong to the religion of the theocratic government but who do not follow all of that government's doctrinal, moral, or social edicts. The shining example of the social injustice of theocracy in American history is the Puritan experiment in New England, which culminated in witch hunts that killed many women and some men, none of whom were actually practicing witchcraft. Lest we say, however, that this is a Protestant failure -- let us remember the social injustice of Catholic Christendom: the "Holy" Inquisition, the Crusades, the endless persecution of Jews, the slaughter and oppression of Native Americans, the subjugation of women, and much more. Under "dominion theology" or "neo-Christendom," these social sins will again prevail, of that we can be assured.

But one of the biggest problems with "dominion theology" is the question that nobody seems to be asking: If the goal of "dominion theology" is let's get 'em, what happens when the Christian Right has got 'em? What happens when the enemy is no more -- when all of the relativists, secularists, etc. have been either imprisoned or killed, then what? And this is where we must pause and say a little prayer for our Catholic sisters and brothers who support "dominion theology": Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.

Because when the enemy common to everyone who identifies with the Christian Right is utterly destroyed, the question becomes: Whose theocracy is this, really? And this is where Catholics who think they like "dominion theology" need to take pause. In American history, which group of Christians has perpetuated the most virulent anti-Catholicism? Evangelical Christians -- that is, the majority of Christians in this country, and the ones who first proposed "dominion theology." When the common enemy of the Evangelical Right and the Catholic Right has been eliminated, the Catholic Christian minority in this country will be in very real danger from the theocratic government ruled primarily by evangelical Christians. Our statues and icons will have to go, of course: "idolatry" is sinful, and therefore can't be tolerated by a theocratic government established to enforce "God's law." Our rosaries will have to go, of course, and our Marian devotions will be prohibited: our "Mariolatry" is sinful, it's goddess worship, and therefore can't be tolerated by a theocratic government established to enforce "God's law." And what about the Eucharist? Are you kidding? Our worship of our "wafer god" is sinful, and therefore can't be tolerated by a theocratic government established to enforce "God's law." What about our priests, our bishops, our religious? They might be okay -- if they drop their loyalty to the pope, since such loyalty is just "papist idolatry." And what about those ecumenical councils? No sir -- "true doctrine" comes from "scripture alone."

It's time for Catholics to wake up and realize that, in America, we are still a minority. We're just a minority that the majority happens to be using as a tool against other, more hated minorities. But once we've helped the majority establish its theocracy, once those other minorities have been crushed, the theocratic and totalitarian majority will turn its attention back to us, our papist faith, and our "wafer god." That's why religious liberty is so important -- it doesn't just benefit and protect others, it benefits and protects us. It's time for us to wake up and remember that the enemy of our enemy is only our friend when the common enemy still exists.