Not so long ago, here and across the Atlantic, Christendom reigned to a point that it was so commonly assumed that folks wouldn’t even have called it Christendom. It was the centuries long time when cultural, societal, political and religious norms blurred together to form a consensus of sorts. Certainly, North America, Europe and some other parts of the world tacitly, nominally and seemingly universally observed the Christian faith or at least didn’t raise vocal objection to its ubiquitousness. This age of Christendom represents, at least in hindsight, a golden era for many Christians. Courtyard crèches, morning prayers in public schools and baccalaureate services before high school graduations were not only the norm but were the unquestioned norm. Life was a Norman Rockwell painting with a well steepled church in the background, or so it seemed.
Of course, we also experienced civil wars, world wars, socialism, nazism, colonialism and a host of other human atrocities. Even so, most folks seemed to pass those things off as aberrations from an idyllic world where church was still a place to see and be seen. A community if not communal expectation. The latest developments at city hall, the forecast for this year’s baseball team and the plans for the Sunday School Christmas program could all be discussed conveniently on Sunday mornings because local churches were gathering spots for their respective communities and most people at least occasionally showed up.
Granted, in the United States, church and state were technically separated according to Jefferson. Even in Europe, the seats of government had replaced the cathedrals and churches as the places located in the center of the city. Places to run to in times of plague, pestilence and gasoline shortages. Nevertheless, an unspoken sense of oneness and commonality seemed to exist in the recesses of human minds and hearts, at least when it came to things like nuclear families, the importance of marriage, and the giving of thanks before a large over cooked turkey.
The era of Christendom debatably began at the end of the crusades, the 100 years’ war and other epic battles over religion when the western world grew weary of caring about religion for religion’s sake and decided to fight about other things such as slavery and raw nation state power. Ironically, the replacement battles emerged as arguably more gruesome than their predecessor wars over religious turf. Even so, this era lasted hundreds of years and, in the minds of some Christians, is perhaps only recently lost but still so nearby as yesteryear or one’s own childhood.
Historians debate whether Christendom’s death came from a mad man in Berlin, Madelyn Murray O’Hare, Roe v. Wade or immigration of “folks who don’t look just like me.” Perhaps it’s suburban sprawl’s replacement of any true sense of community or the sexual revolution of the sixties.
Regardless, it appears that Christendom is, in fact, dead. Church membership and attendance is down for all denominations. Only gay folks seem to bother to want to marry anymore. Churches attempt to attract generation x with seeker services modeled after a Peter, Paul and Mary concertina. Christmas is no longer Christmas. It is “the Winter Holiday”. Or perhaps it is Black Friday, Quanza, Winter Solstice, Hanukah and christmas in that order and with that capitalization, in some sort of lukewarm, tasteless and artificial holiday drink offered by our favorite non offensive fast food chain. “Benevolent being rest ye happy nice folk” has so much more of a ring than “God rest ye merry gentlemen” after all.
All right. So Christendom is dead for all but Michelle Bachman and the handful of folks who voted for her. (And she couldn’t even beat out the Mormon candidate). Is the death of Christendom to be pined for? Or reestablished by the birthers while they repeal Obamacare?
If one longs for a time of oneness I suppose pining is in order. Perhaps a good rousing rendition of “Onward Christian Soldiers” would salve the mournful heart. However, if one is primarily concerned about the faith component, might the death of Christendom be a blessing? What if only actual Christians practiced Christianity, observed lent and said prayers?
It may be that Christendom was never more than an edifice in the first place, hindering the actual practice of Christianity. Think of it. People getting married in a church because they actually think it is meaningful to be made one in the eyes of God. Perhaps baptisms would be events where people actually believed in God’s saving grace being bestowed upon the infant rather than a neat get together for family pictures with the crying baby in her pretty white gown. Eegads. Dare one suppose that Christmas could be anything other than a frantic 40 days where everyone attempts to bring themselves to the brink of bankruptcy?
I sometimes think God must have a head because he has to have something to shake when he sees his beloved attempt to reconstruct faith into a human edifice. We need to get over the death of Christendom. It may have seemed nice while it lasted but the truth is that it was nothing more than a way to be faithful to something that had very little to do with having actual faith.
Copyright 2013 Daniel Blake