In all probability, all that is best in Protestantism will only survive in Catholicism; and in that sense all Catholics will still be Puritans when all Puritans are Pagans.
This is not meant to be a triumphalist piece, rather an analysis of the link between Progressivism and Protestantism. Whilst many people on the right are concerned (nay obsessed) about the Jews, it is my opinion that this is a distraction. A far more serious matter in my opinion, is the relationship between Protestantism and Progressivism.
One of the best short essays written last year in the sphere was, Does Progressivism Grow Out of Protestantism. It was a very good essay, and I was saddened that it didn’t get more responses since I felt it was a serious intellectual piece. Todd Lewis, in my opinion, put up a good fight, showing that many of intellectual underpinnings of we would consider modern Liberalism were present in both religions and that Catholicism itself has planted the seeds of modern error.
I substantially agree with his thesis and yet, there is the empirical observation that countries which have embraced Protestantism as their religion are also the hot beds of liberalism in the modern world. Furthermore, and perhaps most regrettably, the collapse of religion in the West has been greatest in these countries as well. That’s not to say that there hasn’t been a decline in religious observance in Catholic countries, it’s just that the Protestant countries seem to be leading the way both in the process DeChristianisation and also in theological revisionism. Gay marriage and female ordination being particular instances.
From the essay;
There is a general trend in certain circles, such as neoreaction or traditional Catholicism, to blame progressivism and all its ills on the Protestant Reformation. The best example of this is Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn Liberty Or Equality, followed by E. Michael Jones’ Libido Dominandi. The general claims that after Protestantism decoupled itself from the hierarchy of the Catholic Church and adopted Puritanism, it gradually morphed into the Modernism we have today.
In Liberty Or Equality, Leddihn makes the audacious claim that Jan Hus and Martin Luther led to progressivism and Adolf Hitler. In the chapter entitled Liberty Or Equality (Hus, Luther and National Socialism) 209, he seeks to draw a line from Wycliffe and Hus to Luther to Calvin to Hitler, a rather difficult and ultimately unsuccessful task.
To be fair, I think it is a bit of a stretch to directly link the Munster Rebellion with the rise of Hitler, however, I do think that there is a strong case for claiming that the intellectual milieu which Protestantism fostered strongly enabled these radical elements to arise.
For me, the fundamental problem of any religion is its relationship with reality. How do we know if proposition X is true? As I’ve argued previously in another post, empiricism does not help us directly with determining the truth of a religious proposition, rather it is the faculty of Faith which helps us sense the truth or falsity of any religious statement. In another post, I also argued that faith is not some form of cognitive choice; rather, it is a weak perceptual faculty akin to a bad sense of sight by which we perceive the rightness and wrongness of a religious proposition.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.
1 Corinthians 13:12
It’s a very rough sense of poor acuity.
The question here is not what particular beliefs the Protestants have, but how do they come to know their beliefs and how do they know that they are right?
Clearly the doctrine Sola Scritpura places the Bible as the foundational text of Protestantism, but as a guide, it needs to be interpreted in the light of life’s various exigencies. The question then shifts to: how to interpret it accurately and truthfully? Protestant epistemological theory holds that sincere belief (faith) by the believer combined with the guidance of the Holy Spirit will produce an interpretation which is congruent with the Will of God.
So how has it worked out? Some estimates currently place the number of Protestant denominations at around 30,000 divided into six major theological branches, each one claiming to be the truthful and correct version. Clearly, an objective observer would conclude that there is something wrong.
As I see it, the fundamental errors at play are intrinsic to the foundational principle of the Protestant vision. Firstly, there was the overly optimistic assumption of the rationality of the average man and secondly with regard to the nature of Faith. The Protestant fathers assumed that a strong faith of poor acuity could overcome a intuitive mind of boundless stupidity. In essence, the Protestant assumption was that that the cognitive assessment of the Bible by the mechanism of faith was always and everywhere inerrant. The error was in asserting that Faith conferred high acuity whereas scripture stated the near exact opposite.
The practical consequence of this was that the resultant “Protestant-cognitive-space” gave the believer virtually no error correction mechanism, save some reference to the Bible, and even that could, with modern textual analysis, have its semantic meaning altered.
Protestants reading the Bible could, in theory, derive any conclusion they wanted and claim it was divinely inspired. Initially, these errors did not make themselves known since theology was practiced by the relatively few or good cognitive power, and the social order meant that those that were untrained listened to those who were. But as theology became more democratised and the rights of the ignorant were asserted over the learned, increasingly erroneous interpretations of the Bible were given legitimacy by the foundational principles. Protestantism began to fissure.
I do not wish to be uncharitable to my Protestant colleagues, but it is a sad fact that there are mainline denominations in Protestantism that now allow abortion, homosexuality, fornication female ordination,Gay marriage and all sorts of aberrations which would have horrified Luther himself. Some of the more fringe elements of Protestantism even encouraged religious prostitution (all supported by selective Biblical texts).
Recent insights in cognitive science support the Dual Process theory of cognition. This theory has shown that most men are System 1, intuitive thinkers. This type of thinking is particularly prone to cognitive biases which are mood congruent and in Protestant Cognitive Space, System 1 thinking resulted in interpretations of the Bible which were consistent with this, especially with regard to temporal exigencies. Protestantism was thus rendered particularly susceptible to Zeitgeist-ism, i.e being interpreted along the spirit of the times.
In essence, Protestant epistemological theory enabled and justified the religious rationalization hamster. The left-wing drift of the modern mainline Protestantism is a feature, not a bug of the system. I don’t want to give the impression that Protestantism is inherently left-wing–Protestantism can be any wing with its particular orientation being determined by the nature of the society of the times. Perhaps the most striking illustration of this was with regard to German voting patterns post-WWI, where the the traditional Protestant support for the German Conservative Parties collapsed with the decline of Wilhelmine Germany, and morphed into support for both the Nazis and the Socialists, in response to the social crisis in Germany at the time and the political forces prevalent.
Contrast this with Catholic Cognitive Space, which was characterized by its absence in the near majority of the faithful. The good Catholic was not meant to think about the faith as much as he was meant to be faithful to the teachings of the Church, which did his thinking for him. The only Catholics who were meant to think were those who were theologically trained, and even then, their deliberations were vetted by the “chain of command” in the Vatican. Catholic Cognitive Space was marked both limited freedom whose boundary’s were frequently marked by, a worship veneration of tradition, logic and a principle of non-contradiction. Finally, when conflicting opinions could not be resolved by argument, the issue was settled by the Pope, who was inerrant (only within certain limits) not because of his faith, rather, due to the peculiar property of the office that he held. Catholic thinking thus became very resistant to change due to the environment in which theological thinking and decision making took place and thus relatively immune to Zeitgeit-ism.
Furthermore, System 1 thinkers have always been present in the Catholic Church and same theologically idiotic ideas arise there as well. However, the Church’s decision making structure ensured that the really stupid ideas got weeded out. In Protestantism, they were justified by the believers’ faith.
It would, however, be a mistake to view Protestantism entirely in the negative and Catholicism in the positive.
In free-for-all that was Protestant Cognitive Space, serious thinkers, and men of profound Faith were given liberty to develop Christian doctrine further in a way not possible in the Catholic Church, which was in many ways hamstrung by the worshiping of tradition and institutional/reactionary dynamics. And whilst a lot of the development in Protestantism was erroneous (from a Catholic perspective) it appears that in some instances Protestants were capable of profound theological insights and doctrinal developments which would appear to be congruent with the Will of God. Good Protestantism seemed to have an intellectual flexibility and dynamism which institutionalised Catholicism lacked.
The the concept of religious tolerance, the rights of conscience, the work ethic, personal uprightness (instead of leaning on the confessional), were all Protestant strengths, many of which have diffused their way into contemporary Catholic theology.
As a Catholic, I sometimes wonder whether the Reformation was an act of Divine Providence, allowing men to develop the faith in a way that would have not been possible given the institutional nature of the Catholic Church. The Church seems to be very good at suppressing the errors it recognizes, though very bad at developing the truths it should. Institutional inertia rules.
Although it pains me, a similar parallel is present today. The sexual-abuse scandal currently engulfing the Catholic Church is evidence of a clear institutional failure,and it is a failure that is being addressed by the pressure of forces extrinsic to the Church. It really has a hard time with necessary internal reform. Likewise, sometimes I wonder whether the Protestant reformation did the same thing for Catholic religious doctrine.
Kuehnelt-Leddihn saw the clear link between the rise of Progressivism its association with Protestantism but it needs to be emphasised that he did not see it as an inevitable feature of it. Rather, he fully recognised that sound Protestantism was also capable of fighting against it. It’s a position that I agree with.
The idea that Protestantism leads to Progressivism is simplistic. Protestantism is not inherently progressive, rather, it provides a cognitive space in in which Progressivism can easily be given Biblical justification by “cognitively weak” interpretations of the Bible. The theologically democratic nature of Protestantism, i.e. each man interprets according to his own faith, results in a bias toward System 1 (Mass-man) interpretations and results in structural weakness, which pushes it toward erroneous interpretations of the faith. On a cultural level, Protestantism isn’t a religion of the shepherds, it is a religion of the sheep, and like sheep, it is easily led.
Around the corner from where I live is an old Protestant Church which has been converted to apartments. It saddens me as I pass it because I remember the sacrifices that the believers of old must of made to make it a house worthy of God. Even though I’m fully aware of the sectarianism of the past, I recognize that I have more in common with them than today’s liberal, and while we may have been playing for different teams, we were playing the same game. The secular invasion of Protestantism is killing it. The rise of Evangelicals is not offsetting the decline in the mainline religions. Furthermore, the theological underpinnings of Evangelism means that sooner or later they will make the liberal embrace and shoot themselves in the head. I don’t say this triumphantly, I say this with sorrow because it is an inherent flaw of the system.