The Machete of Curiosity

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So, then, the issues are perennial, but the terms are not. Anyone working through the tangled weave of religion and politics may need some help with terms. Anyone whacking away at the thicket of culture and faith with the machete of curiosity could probably use a simple lexicon. It seems only fair to provide some basic definitions.

By mere Christendom, I mean a network of nations bound together by a formal, public, civic acknowledgement of the lordship of Jesus Christ, and the fundamental truth of the Apostles’ Creed. I do not mean establishment or tax support for any particular denomination of Christians, but it is possible (and necessary) to avoid such establishment without falling for the myth of religious neutrality. Religious neutrality is impossible. So mere Christendom stands in contrast to sectarian Christendom on the one hand and complete secularism on the other. Approaching these alternatives from the middle distance are the claims of radical Islam, about which more in a minute.

Secularism refers to the idea, popular for the last few centuries, that it is in fact possible for nations to be religiously neutral. This impressive trick is managed by having everyone pretend that secularism does not bring with it its very own set of ultimate commitments. But it does bring them, and so secularism has presented us with its very own salvation narrative, in which story the Enlightened One arose to deliver us all from that sectarian strife and violence. The horse and rider were thrown into the sea, and this is why you can’t put that Christmas tree up in the county courthouse.


American exceptionalism is the idea that America is a more of a creed than a nation. This kind of American exceptionalism makes a certain kind of civic religion possible, a quasi-sacramental approach which all consistent Christians reject as, in equal turns, blasphemous and silly. American exceptionalism in this sense is currently the high church form of secularism.

American exceptionalism is not the grateful recognition that we live in a nation that has been enormously blessed in many ways. What might be called normal patriotism is not idolatrous, but is simply natural affection.

Radical Islam is a Christian heresy, but one of the features that it retained in its departure from the truth was the idea that religious claims are total and absolute. Islam functioned in this way for many centuries, competing head to head with the Christians, before the Enlightenment arrived in order to demote all religious totalism (except for their own). Muslims who have accepted the claims of this secularism are now called “moderate” Muslims, while Muslims who are faithful to the older, all-encompassing claims of Islam are called radical Muslims. The word radical comes from the Latin radix, which means root. Radical Muslims have gone to the root of the matter, and they are the ones who at least understand the nature of the conflict. If Allah is God, then follow him. If he isn’t, then we shouldn’t.

And I would say the same thing about Jesus. If He is Lord, we should do what He says. If He is not, then we needn’t bother.

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