We got gaslit by Darwin, then hypnotized by Caesar.
(The Stream) The collapse of our churches from apostolic zeal into weak-tea social activism started long ago. In the mid-19th century, in fact. First came geological discoveries revealing how old the earth really is. Then Darwin launched his speculative attempt to explain away the apparent “design” in animals and man. Each seemed to raise doubts about the reliability of the Bible on historical and doctrinal questions. After brief attempts to contest the implications of such theories, most “Mainline Protestant” churches surrendered on that front. They began to shift their emphasis away from personal holiness and evangelism, toward social reform and politics.
Christianity could no longer be trusted, these clergymen admitted, to tell us how things are. That is the domain of Science. But a role still existed for men like themselves, and theology faculties, and churches, they hastened to add! Christianity was the source for how things ought to be. It told us how we should treat the poor, how we should organize politics and reform both the economy and the law.
Just an Elevated Philosophy of Man
Christianity began to appear as just an elevated philosophy of man, intended to preserve his traditional dignity from the tar pits into which Darwinism threatened to ditch it. Jesus became an exemplar, an inspiration, a “great moral teacher.” Disconcertingly, He was one who tended to insist on His own divinity. And to perform public miracles, culminating at last in His resurrection from the dead and ascension into heaven.Please Support The Stream: Equipping Christians to Think Clearly About the Political, Economic and Moral Issues of Our Day.
That is, if we trust the text of the New Testament. But modern biblical critics were ready to help with that. For centuries, political intellectuals from Machiavelli to Hobbes had aided monarchs eager to aggrandize the State at the Church’s expense by finding “creative” new ways to explain away the plain sense of the Bible.
In the Enlightenment, thinkers eager to secularize the culture as a whole turned these skills on the Bible itself. These critics attacked not just the traditional Christian doctrines derived from the Bible, but the authenticity and reliability of its very texts. Especially in 19th century Germany, in the legally established churches of the Second Reich, state-funded scholars produced an entire methodology they called the “Higher Criticism.”
While it entailed a wide array of apparently “scientific” techniques, at its core this mode of Bible-reading was dedicated to eliminating as “inauthentic” any trace of the supernatural. Hence every miracle attributed to Jesus must be seen as a later “interpolation,” added on by a “church community” instead of attested by eyewitnesses. Scholars strained every nerve to date the texts of the four Gospels themselves as late as possible, sometimes well into the second century. All the better to render them essentially legends, with a mysterious man at their center, whose ethics we find appealing.