This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

This Dark Age is now available in paperback on Amazon. The print version is MUCH cleaner than this online version, which is largely unedited and has fallen by the wayside as the project has grown. If you’ve appreciated my writing, please consider leaving a review on the relevant paperback volumes. The print edition also includes new sections (Military History, War Psychology, Dogmatic Theology).

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Utilitarian religion and zombie Christianity

In order for religion to be distorted and bent to such a purpose, its original end must be obscured.

In our case, this has been achieved by reducing religion to its use value. Once a thing is judged merely by its usefulness, it can be made us of for anything. Tocqueville observed long ago that religion in America almost immediately took on a utilitarian guise. Even among the clergy, he reported, virtue was not taught as something holy or beautiful, but as something useful to oneself.

Naturally the utilitarian attitude permeated government institutions as well. The common courtroom practice of “swearing in” the witness before hearing testimony is symbolic of the whole phenomenon: here religion—in the form of an oath on the Bible—is utilized in a way that does not imply any confession whatsoever on the part of the government itself regarding the truth value of the text. The book is used purely as a device to manipulate the conscience of the witness. A more spiritually patronizing situation is difficult to imagine, but it shows us to what degree a secular government can enjoy religion, not as good or true, but as useful. “Useful religion” then leads directly to the situation Marx condemned.

Religion is, etymologically, supposed to be a means of reconnecting with reality (re-legio). It is therefore a technique to be condoned or condemned based on whether or not it serves that purpose. But if the value of religion is reduced to its social use, both from the point of view of the believer and in the eyes of the government, then it becomes impossible to distinguish between uses that are proper and those that aren’t. As Marx perceived, religion can be very useful as an anesthetic, rendering society numb to injustice and compliant in the face of oppression. Such a use is, of course, the opposite of that for which religion is intended, but it is comforting to the believer and helpful to the State, and so both parties drink readily from the Dionysian cup.

Under these conditions, religion has ceased to “re-connect” its followers with reality, and instead it distances them from it. Religion becomes anti-religion; Christianity becomes anti-Christ.

What, then, is to be done? Various movements have appeared which, sensing the artificial nature of Christianity as it is, fight others and each other in favor of a particular form which they believe to be the ideal. On the Protestant side, this movement is represented by the migration toward the “house church.” At the opposite end of the spectrum, there are vocal Catholics for whom nothing but the Latin Mass will do.

The mentality that these two very different groups share is their insistence on formalism. They each believe that there is a permanent form of religious expression which is “proper” to Christianity, which has presumably been lost in modern times, and which must be re-instituted in order to return Christianity to health.

Neither of these groups seems willing to take into account the full implications of history as a process—one which contains no two moments that are exactly the same. They each deny the uniqueness, not only of person and place, but also of time itself.

The idea that each time and place has its own organic idiosyncrasies, occurring in its period and its period alone, is something that they either cannot or will not take acknowledge when formulating their ideals. The “house church” was proper Christianity, and that is all its proponents need to consider. It is seductively simple, but extremely shallow. Again, one may say that the Latin Mass was the ideal form, in which case it becomes irrelevant where we are and who we are and when we are—all that matters is that we ought to conform to that simple norm.

Neither of these will allow for the possibility that what was a completely natural and appropriate religious phenomenon for the first-century or the medieval Church is no longer either ideal or even proper for 20th-century America. And to force such an alien form onto into the present is an act of violence.

Church, as a social phenomenon, if it is to remain valid and healthy, must ultimately take into account to the world-historical conditions of the people whose souls are to participate in it. At one time it would have truly been an offense against the European soul to demolish one of its Cathedrals; in our day it would be an offense to build one.

And yet we are still faced with the reality of the mega-church, and the thousands of other modern churches that continue to rise out of soil which we have declared sterile. On this point, at least, we can agree with both the traditionalist Catholics and the radical Protestants: these churches are unnatural; they should not be here. What are they?

The optimist might claim that the persistence of church buildings in the modern world is a triumph against the times, proof that the Church is immortal and “the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” That is flattering and noble. But it looks to the keen observer more like playing pretend. More and more isolated from political realities, divorced from the everyday life of the modern world, the church-goer of today tends to leave the sanctuary more naïve than when he entered. If something is happening there, it isn’t re-legio.

Within the church building itself he engages in strange activities. He volunteers for “ministries”—artificial supplements to the Christian diet, the necessity of which proves how impossible the believer finds it to live a normal Christian life outside the walls of the church. And because these activities are artificial, they tend to be redundant, and because redundant, also tedious. But the supplement must be taken, and new “ministries” must be invented all the time, lest the believer be left with the suspicion that the lifestyle he treasures is not a possibility for him.

This is why, in response to complaint that Christianity is dead in our government, we would be inclined to reply: “Yes, it is, but in the Churches it is un-dead.” It lives there within those walls, but it is a most unnatural life, hermetically sealed at best.

The post-Christian West has turned out to involve, not a return to pre-Christian barbarism, but instead an advance to a new kind of strangeness. It is the age of what Sam Rocha has dubbed “Zombie Christianity,” where Christianity does not go extinct but rather persists as an untimely abomination. It is really no wonder that Christianity is viewed with suspicion by the outside world.

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