This is part 4 of a 6 part series. (Yes, the planned length has increased.)
Among those who accuse Christianity of universalism, much is made of its Great Commission to spread the faith and convert all peoples. (I will make no distinction below between “proselytizing” and “evangelizing” because there isn’t any. Since this is a historical-theological study, I will also ignore the current Bishop of Rome’s emphatic rejection of the Savior’s command, which, assuming he has the authority to do such a thing, presumably satisfies anyone concerned with Rome’s universalism.) Undeniably, a conversion of the whole world to Christianity would mean the end of a certain kind of diversity. However, proselytism is not unique to Christianity or monotheism. Every person has some idea of truths that it is important for everyone else to know, meaning naturally that as great a unanimity in favor of such truths should be achieved as possible. Which beliefs should inspire evangelical fervor can be surprising, at least to me. I can understand the practical reason why the believers of anthropogenic global warming should think it important that others believe as they do, but I cannot fathom why evolution by natural selection should be such an aggressively proselytizing faith, while no one feels the same zeal to eliminate unbelief in Kirchhoff’s circuit laws or the theory of plate tectonics.
However, this doesn’t make AGW or Darwinism universalist faiths, in that they don’t necessarily undermine loyalty to non-universal groups. They may accidentally undermine a group if it has a contradictory ideological component, but particular group identity and loyalty is not ruled out in principle. To be a Darwinist doesn’t necessarily mean one is allowed loyalty only to “mankind” or a universal Darwinist Church. That is, AGW and Darwinism are proselytizing but not homogenizing faiths.
Liberalism is an interesting case, with its claim to represent ideological neutrality, and thus be acceptable to peoples of all different beliefs and loyalties. As we have often argued, this neutrality claim is a sham. To reduce religions and communal identities to private hobbies allowed no influence on public life is to destroy them. Liberalism’s demands for freedom, tolerance, and inclusiveness, which ultimately mean the delegitimation of anything other than itself, make it the ultimate homogenizing faith.
What about Christianity?
In Part I, we considered the historical record as seen by non-Christians, from which it was clear that Christianity is unique in being both an obsessively proselytizing faith but not at all homogenizing. Thus, we are at once “intolerant” (of heresy) and “particularist” or “tribal” (and later on “nationalist”). Until recently, Christians would not have contested this. Since post-national cosmopolitanism has become dominant among secular intellectuals, largely the work of Marxism and the Left’s antifascist alliance, Christians of a liberal persuasion have naturally been working to make the faith appear more in line with contemporary ideals. Very little in the deposit of faith is at all serviceable, so understandably they cling for dear life to Saint Paul having said something about “…neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female…”, which they interpret as saying that Christianity abolishes ethnicity, slavery, and gender roles. This would certainly have surprised Saint Paul, who clearly endorsed at least the latter, but liberal Christians are comfortable with using scripture against itself. (Benedict XVI himself said that doing so is prophetic!) The game is to grab a Bible verse, strip it from its context and interpret it according to an alien philosophy, then assign the resulting principle a superior “metanorm” status. Lastly they announce that Saint Paul’s actual writings and his reconstructed metanorms contradict each other, so only the latter need be followed.
Here is Saint Paul in context (Galatians Chapter 3):
7 Understand, then, that those who have faith are children of Abraham. 8 Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.”
16 The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.
23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed,and heirs according to the promise.
So the context is Paul’s ongoing argument that Gentile Christians aren’t second-class inheritors, because justification comes by faith rather than the Mosaic Law. He interprets Abraham’s “seed”, who inherit his covenant, as referring to Christ rather than all Jews, and so by participation to anyone “baptized into Christ”. In Jesus Christ we become “children of God”. Our filiation to God is understood in a corporate sense; Abraham had one seed, but we’re all it, because the seed is Christ, and we are all Him as one corporate body. (Observe once again the centrality of “mystical persons” to Christianity.) This supernatural unity necessarily cuts across all distinctions among persons, which are presumed to remain valid in their own social contexts. In fact, the transcendent quality of oneness in Christ Jesus would be undermined if male/female and other dichotomies had to be erased altogether; it wouldn’t actually stretch very far at all then. Thus, Saint Paul does not contradict himself when he enjoins patriarchy and accepts slavery, and for eighteen centuries Christians naturally didn’t think he meant what liberals now say he meant.
Here is Paul again on unity in Christ (Colossians, Chapter 3):
5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6 Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.7 You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8 But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9 Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised,barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all…
15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace…
18 Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
19 Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
20 Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
21 Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
22 Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23 Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, 24 since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25 Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.
Obviously, there is no egalitarianism here. “No favoritism” doesn’t mean that everyone has the same station, but that each will equally be held accountable in the station in which he has been placed. What, then, does Paul mean when he says “here there is no X or Y”, given that he immediately clarifies that Christians must still conscientiously fulfill the duties of X or Y? The natural reading is that “here” means “in this matter”, namely of having put on new selves in the image of Christ, something that is true in exactly the same sense and degree for Jews, Gentiles, slaves, etc. Any distinction-busting reading is ruled out by the surrounding text.
The unity of all men in Christ does not mean the destruction of groups and stations, but their confirmation and purification in the spirit of charity. This, at least, has always been the official Catholic view.