Different individuals and sects claiming the label of “Christian” fall on different points on the scale when defining their faith as personal or societal. Some see their brethren’s reciprocal, collective affirmations and acceptance into shared rituals as essential to their own personal Christian status. Others see only the personal relationship with God as the essential factor. Some embrace a Christianity that acts on a united front to achieve group goals while others see Christianity as a walk of personal discipleship amongst others who may be different in their beliefs and actions.
Why does this matter for libertarians? Understanding this may help you to understand Christian “libertarians” that seem to have a different perspective on collective national actions than your own. When drilling down on many issues — such as immigration or war — a marked difference can often be seen in the perspectives of those who have a world view that espouses the importance of a collective Christian society working together as a unified bloc. Enter the concept of Christendom.
Here are some definitions of “Christendom:”
1) A collective of Christian majority countries; 2) The group of countries where Christianity dominates; 3) The group of nations in which Christianity is the established religion; 4) A geopolitical power juxtaposed with both the pagan and especially the Muslim world; 5) In the traditional Roman Catholic sense, the sum total of nations in which the Roman Catholic Church is the established religion of the state, or which have ecclesiastical concordats with the Holy See.
Not to pick on Roman Catholics, but it is useful to understand their perspective since they have been the major curators of the history of what is known as “Western Civilization.” And speaking of “Western Civilization,” have you ever wondered why this distinction is made of an aspect of history and what it refers to?
The term on its face is not strictly geographical, ethnic, or religious and refers flexibly to a somewhat amorphous region that evolves as history moves forward. In essence, it refers to the history of Christendom. In large part, those outside this history are not thought to be part of the “civilized” Christianized world and are not brought into the fold of relevant history from this perspective.
When the term “Western Civilization” is bandied about, it is often a historical or social reference to the areas of the world that have become majority Christian nations. The strong Catholic connection to Rome also results in a significant amount of detail under the banner of Western Civilization concerning the non-Christian history of Rome and other Christian predecessor societies as the building blocks for the later officially “Christianized” Roman Empire.
The “Western Civilization” historic tradition from the Roman Catholic perspective is also a delineation of the “correct” western world of Christendom purposely distinguished from the historical umbrella of the supposedly heretical Eastern Orthodox Catholic church. This distinction came about because of the Western-Eastern split of the official Catholic Church that resulted from the capital of the Roman Empire moving east from Rome to Constantinople (now Istanbul).
The two competing church structures attempted to articulate their own singular legitimacy by arguing that doctrinal truths and practices of apostolic succession pertaining to the hierarchy of the true Catholic Church were expressed and passed down more accurately by the group centered around either the former capital of the Roman empire — Rome — or the new capital of the Roman empire — Constantinople.
The resultant eastern history occurring in the realm of the Eastern Orthodox Catholic Church was essentially demarked as not part of real history from the Roman Catholic tradition; once again, not part of the history of “real” Christendom; real Christendom being the only historical tradition worth preserving by Roman-Catholic-church-centric historians.
Both sides in this Catholic spat saw the other side as heretical. Both sides mutually ex-communicated the other. Since those “heretics” in Eastern Europe and Asia were now illegitimate, they weren’t deserving of inclusion in the legitimate history of Christendom, i.e. the history of “Western” (Roman-Catholic-centric) Civilization.
And since there was no printing press, it was left to the monks in the monasteries to copy and re-copy only the history that was favorable to their umbrella “church’s” geographic and spiritual domain. Nothing else that historically uplifted a society outside of Christendom really mattered to the sponsoring authority or would be funded for preservation.
The ongoing implication coming from the “Western Civilization” historic tradition was that those outside the evolving arena of “western” Christian nations were barbaric, uncivilized, or bore little need for chronicling before the arrival of the evangelizing collectivizers.
Self-serving language was used by the pre-Christianized Roman Empire to describe the varied areas outside the pre-Christian empire as barbaric. This language was perpetuated after Rome was Christianized. For example, the Roman description of the Northern European Germanic peoples as barbarians was made by the writer Tacitus who never even travelled to that region.
His writing (contained in the short treatise “Germania”), and his alone, is the basis for an academic tradition lasting centuries (still appearing in modern dramatic productions) that proclaims absolutely that pre-Romanized / pre-Christianized Northern Europeans were the savages that the far-away historians working for the invaders chronicled them to be.
The Romans used the same canned “barbarian” wording to describe various other peoples around the world that had not yet been “civilized” by Rome. The tradition of using dehumanizing descriptions to justify forceful invasions was also used by subsequent “Christian” empires to describe those areas outside of Christendom.
The documented trait of barbarism in “outsiders” (those outside the empire) goes down in history, unfortunately, as uncontested fact for those perpetuating these historical traditions. It has been discovered, however, that Roman historians routinely used the same canned barbarian lifestyle descriptions used in “Germania” when characterizing various other non-Germanic peoples around the world who were still outside the “civilizing” collectivizing influence of the Roman Empire.
Since Roman history is part of Christian history and pre-history, these assigned deficiencies in non-Roman peoples are repeated and incorporated into the modern historic tradition of “Western Civilization.”
Christian nationalism is not a Catholic issue any more than a non-Catholic issue. Both “Big-C” denominational Catholics and non-Catholics can entertain the thought that their Christian “nation” must act in a unified manner to preserve the Christian status of the “nation” — which represents a piece of the larger multi-nation world of Christendom. The geographic area of Christendom and “Western Civilization” has expanded somewhat throughout history.
In the United States, the concept of Christendom has helped to propel national-action plans and their associated apologies. Such slogans as “Manifest Destiny” and “Shining City on the Hill” and other expressions of American Exceptionalism were adopted and trotted out under the banner of Christian nationalism.
The concept of Christendom as a collective bulwark against the evil unmentionables in the world has been the cause of much bloodshed and suffering from the crusades up until the national border walls of today. Unfortunately, many modern Christian institutions and movements advocate the use of coercive nationalist mechanisms to cleanse the world of persons displaying various distasteful ethnic, cultural, and religious traits.
Christians who see their Christianity as a collective force operating in unison (often under a visionary leadership hierarchy in either the church or the state) are more likely to give an aggressive national-action interpretation to Bible passages like Romans 13, thereby allowing society to commit atrocities that the individual Christian (and non-aggressing person of any flavor) would be barred from by his beliefs. This results in national action that Christians would not embrace as acceptable individual action.
This allowance for aggression (with no resultant individual responsibility) is dangerous. The bludgeon used against others results from a wayward “group morality” that doesn’t require the trademark Christian repentance and subsequent forgiveness from a higher power.
The following conversation in the series “Braindead” portrays the idea that Americans (residents of a primarily “Christian” country) individually express a personal moral standard that they conveniently do not assign to the national identity they support.
Torture Victim: Americans don’t like torture. It’s why you have to lie and call it something else.
Water-boarder: Here’s the thing about the American public. I was down in Abbeville, Louisiana… And my car got stuck in the mud. This family of farmers came by; got me out; invited me home for dinner; towed my car to a shop; gave me a few hundred dollars to get me home. They had nothing and they treated me like I was their son. That’s the American people. They are great individually; nicest people in the world. But get them in a group, voting? They turn vicious.
When the concept of Christendom allows the individual to support — and at the same time absolve his own culpability from — coercive group behavior, the results for society are not good. The dialogue above illustrates how nationalism, however it is arrived at philosophically, permits interventionist group behaviors to be sanctioned by individuals who have a charitable philosophy on a personal level. The concept of Christendom lets the idea in the door and allows a form of viciousness to intrude upon Christian doctrine.
Spiritual conversations are often awkward for libertarians. Consequently, the title of this article may be off-putting to some. However, when expanding on the truths of liberty, it helps to understand the mindsets (and collectivizing philosophies) of various people including some that choose to wear the label “libertarian.”