Political Polytheism: A World War I battlefield affliction
was called shell shock. In World War II, it was called combat fatigue.
Men who were subjected to long periods of life-threatening hazards came
home disoriented, irritable, depressed, and subject to nightmares. On the
battlefield, they became unreliable performers.
American churches have not been though anything like a life-threatening
situation for over three centuries, yet they have the symptoms of shell
shock. They seem disoriented, irritable, depressed, and wandering aimlessly
from one fad to another. Christians today are convinced they cannot reclaim
this civilization, so they have ceased trying.
The church behind the iron and Bamboo Curtains did go through
a period of life-threatening situations, yet it seems to have weathered
the storm and is stronger for the experience. Solzhenitsyn once wrote that
a man in the Gulag who had lost everything in the outside world had an
advantage inside the camp; nothing of value could be taken from him by
the camp's authorities. It was difficult for officials to deal with such
What should we call the condition afflicting the Western churches?
Not shell shock. Not combat fatigue. Maybe it should be called pre-shell
shock or pre-combat fatigue. It resembles the emotional paralysis of raw
recruits who have never faced combat. It is the mentality of the untrained
soldier who hears the sound of exploding shells ahead of him as his truck
heads toward the front lines.
But it is worse than this. The condition of the modern church
reminds us of the U.S. Army in 1860. Its Commander-in-Chief was President
James Buchanan, whose only political goal had been to defer the coming
civil war until after he left office. He was a master ditherer who commanded
no respect from anyone. Its senior officer was Winfield Scott, known as
"old fuss feathers," who was so obese that he could no longer mount his
horse. The army was small, unorganized, and untrained. It could not
be relied on.
Think of the first battle of Manassas also known as Bull Run.
Civilian sightseers rode out from Washington in carriages to see the Union
victory. It was going to be a picnic. These people had never seen a battlefield.
They did not know what warfare was all about. Bull Run turned out to be
a rout that was mitigated only by the inability of untrained Confederate
troops to pursue the fleeing Union troops all the way to Washington.
For over three centuries, Western churches have not been in a
battle in which their members or leaders believed they had anything judicially
significant to say, one way or the other. From the closing years of the
seventeenth century, Christians have believed that their voices must blend
with all others in a common chorus. They have not trained for a battle
because they have not believed in the legitimacy of Christian civilization.
They have lost faith in their own cause. They do not want to risk anything
of value to promote it.
Christians have long regarded Newtonian rationalism as the truly
Christian way of thought. Yet Isaac Newton was a closet Unitarian on the
payroll of a supposedly Christian university. (As far as the records indicate,
he taught a total of three students in three decades, none of whom
graduated. He lectured weekly to empty seats). His physics reflects faith
in the unconverted mind of man, which needs no Bible to inform it regarding
truth. Common-ground Newtonian logic became the Western intellectual ideal
for the next two centuries until Darwin persuaded intellectuals that there
is no constancy in man or biological nature. By that time, Unitarian Horace
Mann had persuaded American voters and politicians that theologically neutral
public education is the best way to elevate the human race.
Christians have learned their Newtonian lessons well. They have
studied at the feet of generations of pagan Gamaliels. They have believed
with all their hearts that Christians have but one task culturally: to
baptize a vaguely conservative version of the dominant humanist worldview.
For example, if the threat is the statist revolution of a Robespierre,
Christians think they should challenge this revolutionary civil religion
(the goddess of reason) in the name of traditional civil religion: George
Washington's religion, or John Adams', or Thomas Jeffersons's unitarians
all. They get all tingly when they see a photo of the famous statue of
George Washington praying in the snow at Valley Forge, an event which had
no eyewitnesses and appears to be wholly mythical.
Christians have sat on the sidelines of the great philosophical
and political debates of our age in much the same way as out-of-shape fans
sit in the stands of football games. They cheer loudly when "their side"
scores. The cheerleaders jump up and down wildly, backs to the players.
But the fans have little or no effect on the outcome of the game. The key
to the outcome is not the enthusiasm of the fans; the key is the rule book.
It has been written by those who have decided to determine the outcome
of the game: the liberal media, the educational establishment, and the
liberal clergy; the priesthood. The game is rigged because the rules are
rigged. The referees enforce the rules, the players play by the rules,
and the fans cheer wildly. All the rules in the book rest on five assumptions:
1). An absolutely sovereign God did not create the world.
These five assumptions are taught explicitly in the public school
classrooms whenever the law allows this, such as in Communist nations and
in Western Civilization classes at most state universities. Christians
beg to differ with the referees; and I do mean beg, and regard it as a
triumph when an official version of the assumptions is printed to silence
2). The Bible is not the infallible word of God.
3). Law and truth evolve.
4). There is no final judgment in terms of God's law.
5). The kingdom of man has replaced the kingdom of God.
1). God need not be assumed to exist.
The vast majority of evangelical Christians today believe that they
can operate effectively as good citizens in terms of these five rules of
public judicial discourse. In fact, they actually regard it as un-Christian
to organize to change these rules.
2). The Bible is, at most, an important work of literature.
3). Truth means "truth for you;" there are many truths.
4). Final judgement is one idea among many in men's religions.
5). The kingdom of man has room for the kingdoms of many gods.
In the face of the widespread acceptance of these rules by Christians,
the courts; the referees, then interpret the meaning of the preceding five
rules. New rules are announced by the courts that henceforth must govern
every public institution, meaning: (1) every institution that receives
tax dollars and, if the courts think they can get away with it, (2) every
institution that receives federal tax exemption. The rules for public institutions;
and all institutions are to some degree public, are re-written as follows:
1). It is illegal to say officially that God created
What are the five rules that would be appropriate to an explicitly
Christian civil order: These:
2). It is illegal to say officially that the Bible alone is God's
3). It is illegal in public schools to teach the Bible as morally
4). The most fearful judgment is whatever the State threatens.
5). The kingdom of the State has no permanent limits.
1). The trinitarian God of the Bible created and sustains
To proclaim them in the name of Jesus Christ is to commit both political
suicide and academic blasphemy. "Big tent" Christian political activists
would regard such a "Covenant With America" with the same enthusiasm that
an Orthodox Jew would regard a ham sandwich. "Big tent" Christians want
a contact with America, not a covenant. They want a family contract with
America, not a civil or ecclesiastical covenant with America. They push
family values in public because most voters in the
2). The national covenant must be Trinitarian.
3). The Bible is the fundamental law of the land.
4). Every voting citizen must formally covenant with this God;
5). The nation must be part of God's covenanted kingdom in history.
Newtonian-Unitarian-pluralistic civil order believe in the family. This
has been true of conservative thought for at least three centuries.
A covenant is distinguished from a contract by the presence of
a binding oath. A covenant oath invokes God's negative sanctions against
the oath-taker. In modern times, binding civil oaths have been modified
to remove the negative sanctions. Positive sanctions sometimes remain:
"So help me God."
Article VI, Section III of the U.S. Constitution forbids the use
of any religious oath to screen federal officers. This was (and remains)
the heart, mind, and soul of the judicial coup d'etat that James Madison
illegally engineered in 1787. I have discussed this in Part 3 of "Political
Polytheism," a book that has not been widely promoted by "big tent" Christians
or anyone else. Why not? Because the book calls into question the Biblical
legitimacy of the Newtonian-Unitarian-pluralistic civil order.
The leader's task on the outer limits of cultural discourse is
to state an extreme case profoundly and forcefully. This marks him as a
fringe character. He dooms himself to isolation and seeming irrelevance
for a generation or more. He must seek to set the terms of principled discourse,
but in doing so, he necessarily abandons the terms of acceptable discourse.
He is not only politically incorrect, he is culturally incorrect..until
the culture comes under God's comprehensive negative sanctions. During
that unique window of opportunity, the man on the fringe competes to move
the center closer to his fringe.
To pull the center closer to the fringe, disciples must be
persuaded at the time of the cultural crisis that the fringe position is
legitimate. They must be able to point in confidence to a developed body
of literature that is both principled and practical. But the crisis period
is a late development. The position's pioneers must first create this initial
body of literature. They must concentrate on its consistency, for its practicality
is historically demonstrated long after the literature is available to
the public. But the fringe position must be capable of becoming practical
even though it is impractical at the time when it is initially developed.
The movement's founders and supporters must be willing to remain
on the fringes all of their lives. Their vision, time, and capital must
be devoted to creating the foundational literature. This takes self-discipline
and deferred gratification. Most people will not devote their lives to
what is probably going to be a lost cause in their own lifetimes. But future-
oriented people will do this, just as Abraham looked forward in faith to
the victory that his heirs would inevitably experience four generations
later: "But in the fourth generation they shall come hither again: for
the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet full." (Genesis 15;16)
Anyone who dismisses the long-term effects of his efforts or the
church's efforts in history has adopted the Keynesian worldview: "In the
long run, we are all dead." This is a fitting worldview for a homosexual,
which Keynes was. It is the worldview of AIDS. It is fundamentalism's worldview
today. Rapture fever. Eschatology shapes men's efforts. (Institute for
Christian Economics, P.O. Box 8000, Tyler, Texas 75711, by Gary North)