Friday, June 24, 2016

The Long Shadow of Empire

We often live with the decisions of generations prior to our own, either working out the consequences or reaping the benefits. There is rarely a moment where we can claim something unique is happening here - we are all one sequence in the continuity of cultural-historical stream.

"soli Deo salvatori nostro per Iesum Christum Dominum nostrum gloria magnificentia imperium et potestas ante omne saeculum et nunc et in omnia saecula amen."

With this translation of "μόνῳ θεῷ σωτῆρι ἡμῶν διὰ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν δόξα μεγαλωσύνη κράτος καὶ ἐξουσία πρὸ παντὸς τοῦ αἰῶνος καὶ νῦν καὶ εἰς πάντας τοὺς αἰῶνας, ἀμήν." Christianity's understanding of itself in relation to the Empire that had haunted the pages of its sacred books as some ethereal demonic spectre was changing. The revolution in sentiment was demonstrable in the Latin text of Jude (cited above). Other Latin words could have been chosen to translate κράτος, but the use of imperium made a clear allusion to Roman Empire itself. Yes, it is possible to interpret the term as anything from "might" to "power," but its connotative currency by the time the Latin textual tradition of the Epistle of Jude solidifies firmly rendered allusion to the empire itself. I would argue that in no small part there was correlation between the translation choice and the ascendancy of Christianity from a counter-culture condemned by the Roman Empire, to being the imperial cultus itself.

Jude 25, therefore, is a textual symptom of Christianity's eventual assimilation into the dominant political/cultural power. Although one may argue that Paul sought something of a live-and-let-live resolution within the context of Roman imperium, the majority of the New Testament is, at best, ambivalent to empire, and this is only where it is not openly hostile to it, such as in Gospel of John or the Apocalypse.

Whereas Paul sought to exercise his rights as a Roman citizen, and the rest of the New Testament seeks distance from imperium, the fourth century church is in the new position of trying to workout every dynamic in its new role as favored cultus and ritual expression of imperial cohesion. The influence of the imperial cult left its mark upon the fourth century church (and subsequent Christian tradition). This can be seen in such fine details as ritual practise and vestments, but more profoundly in the very organization of the Church itself. The Emperor convoked councils, established imperially endorsed hierarchy, and, by imperial decree, provided institutional stability. Christianity, as a consequence, found itself in the new position of having to account for an empire into which it had become a vital social fabric tying the imperium together. The Empire had assimilated Christianity. It became time for Christianity to assimilate the Empire into its conception of its own identity.

When Christianity began to normalize the Roman Empire (and state power ever after), it had to conceive of itself not as something working around the imperium, but as an intrinsic component to it. It soon began to conceive of itself in such terms. Whether it was Roman Church filling in the institutional vacuum left by the fall of the Western Empire, or the immediate proximity of imperial power to the Eastern Churches, particularly Constantinople. Christianity ceased seeing itself as something that ran parallel or contrary to state power, and more as something ran along side or as part of the dominant political/cultural power.

The cultural tumult in the lands home to many of the Greek Christian churches re-introduced marginal status, save for the expansion into Slavic lands. In the West, Christianity was seamlessly wed to political/cultural ascendancy. The consequence of this growth was the development of a latent inability to find a healthy distance from the dominant cultural power, or power in general. Save for denominations of Anabaptist descent, who make a conscious decision to separate themselves by various degrees from the state, Christianity seeks a place at the tables of power. It seeks to find some stream of political influence and wield it for the definition of public policy designed to secure its fortunes. In our own day where things have essentially broken down into the rut of liberal-conservative dialectic. Christianity has both liberal and conservative presentations, geared towards networking the socio-political currents it thinks most advantageous. Again, the latent inability to find a healthy distance between itself and the dominant cultural power becomes apparent.

The quandary caused by the proximity between Christianity and the state most often manifests itself in the area of moral authority. Augustine famously argued the moral ground of the state (the Roman Empire) to enforce doctrinal orthodoxy among heretical groups. In later centuries, both Catholic and Protestant religious authorities used the power of the state to enforce religious cohesion. Roman circles came to distrust the state with the onset of the French Revolution and its train of consequences across the continent.

The eventual rise of as the dominant worldview in the West came to place pressure on the Western Church to adopt the same worldview, in so far as the historical proximity to the dominant cultural power increased the likelihood of the ranks of clergy and ministers being composed of people who fully absorbed the cultural mindset. It was, then, inevitable that resistance would be futile so long as Christianity held on to an institutional self-conception within the culture. This has placed Christianity, as it has so many times since the Edict of Milan, in a compromised position, once again willing to betray its own principles.

Abortion was the catalyst for the most recent demonstration of Christianity's inability to find proper distance from the state. Having been found wanting in its ability to make the moral and spiritual case against abortion for the majority of its members (in the West), Christian churches pivoted to the tired tactic of trying to adopt secular power to impose moral order. The practical result was to inculcate a broad sense that the State itself had moral authority, that law in the most absolute terms defines morality and immorality. The same can be said for clumsy way in which Christianity (at least in its more conservative quarters) tried to address gay marriage. It failed to present a persuasive moral or spiritual argument and pivoted to attempting to find a political solution to conserve moral order. It failed. Both abortion and gay marriage flourished from within the culture as a likely consequence of the place of the individual in modern/post-modern thought and were aided by the political process. The inability of Christian churches to commit their members to refusing either notion despite legality stems from the inability of Christianity to offer a contrary and holistic worldview distinct from the dominant cultural or political power. Such a failure can likely be attributed to its historical proximity and the chronology of the dominant cultural/political power (particularly, though not exclusively, in the West) ultimately determining how it interpreted and applied principles developed in its first three centuries that were, plainly, counter-cultural and anti-imperial.

War is another issue in which the near total inability of Christianity to propose a coherent and sustained response is painfully obvious. Pope Paul VI famously pleaded "No more war" at the UN. In doing so, he is in line with common reaction in Christianity towards war, but in pleading for a cessation in conflict, mainline Christianity is willing to give the State moral authority in the area of war. It is willing to surrender the ability to distinguish morality from immorality, rather than directly denounce a given conflict and call for the resistance of its members from participating therein. Partially, Christianity is bound to Augustine's ruminations of hypothetical conditions for a just conflict. More directly, Christianity is unwilling to deal with the often damnable political realities that lead to conflict and the full scope of the degree to which modern warfare technology has made theories of just war nearly irrelevant. To my knowledge, only one institutional voice ever expressed such a sentiment, the late Cardinal Ottaviani. Conversely, he was a supporter of nascent globalization as the means to resolve the problem of modern warfare. In any event, his stance never gained institutional traction in the Roman Church. Today, such perspective (be it among Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant) is on the extreme margin. This perspective does not merely protest a a conflict, it comes to the realization that the whole system that played background to the conflict is corrupt and the only "side" that matters and can be said to carry no culpability is the citizens who typically find themselves forced into a conflict.

This perspective, then, is willing to condemn the state and call for resistance - but again, it is the extreme minority. For the most part, Christianity finds the prospect of divorcing itself from the state or political power to be inconceivable. In truth, they are correct. For 1700 years, Christianity has known the post-Constantine order - it has been part of the system. It has subsequently forgotten what its first three centuries looked like, and even a number of the principles upon which it stood during the time when it survived and indeed thrived by going around the system. One wonders if now more than ever that is the type of Christianity that humanity secretly needs, one that exists by going around the system and offering men and women an alternative vision and praxis for life.

Holman Publishers planning to upgrade their flagship translation

Special thanks to Randy's Bible Buying Guide for catching this.

The Holman will update its Holman Christian Standard Bible, including a name change to Christian Standard Bible. We'll see how this goes. I am not sure Holman can get away with "Christian Standard Bible." The translation is eclectic in a few places and the editors continue to aver from committing to either "Yahweh" or follow the more conventional rendering of "Lord." More importantly, it has not yet surfaced to the top as one of the dominant English translations - it is seen by many to be somewhat "quirky" choice.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Lessons Learned from Rocky One to Rocky Three (Life in the Orthodox Church)

The one thing I've noticed about the Orthodox Church is that you will, ultimately, always find what you are looking for. Whether you are proactively searching for something, or re-actively running from something, you will find a place to land in the Orthodox Church. In this regard, one must always be mindful of being careful of what one wishes for - you will likely find it in the Orthodox Church.

Let me explain.

There is a profound difference between moving towards something when one approaches the Orthodox Church, and trying to flee from something. Moving towards something one finds in Orthodoxy is often born from an experience of the numinous or the sacred in the context of Orthodox liturgy, prayer, or praxis. The experience is more often than not qualitatively different than what one has encountered elsewhere and it sets in motion a pursuit of the numinous. Gradually, the experience instills a conviction that the numinous is found in the context of the Orthodox Church. It is not so much to disparage another Christian church, but to say that there is something qualitatively distinct in Orthodoxy that leads to the encounter with the sacred. More often than note, the Orthodox liturgical cycle is the primary facilitator of this experience, and when the wheels are in motion and one has embarked upon that journey, it becomes less likely that one will return whence one came.

If one is moving away from something, one is not necessarily moving towards Orthodoxy. The liturgy, prayer and praxis are secondary, if not tertiary concerns. The primary directive is to get away from whatever it is one sought reprieve from. Invariably, this motivation will lead to a collapse of one's Orthodox experience or abandonment of one's association with the Orthodox Church, through some direct or indirect encounter with whatever it was one sought to get away from.

In real life, as distinct from the internet and the blogosphere, I have met many people who joined the Orthodox Church from another ecclesiastical affiliation. It is a change they would never undue and the thought of reverting back to their previous affiliation is nearly disorientating. I myself would fall into this category. Much as I know the Latin liturgical tradition and appreciate it, it has become essentially impossible to re-integrate into the Latin liturgy after have grown accustom to the Orthodox liturgy. This is not to make any argument of Byzantine superiority. It is to say that as patterns of prayer and praxis are assimilated, the rationale behind one's former liturgical expression becomes obscure as it were. Part of this is no doubt caused by the low watermark of liturgical praxis in the Western Church. More prominent though is the influence of Byzantine liturgy's sense of the sacred. Every liturgy has its own internal logic and regular participation determines how well one begins to comprehend its own rationale. To comprehend the rationale of any liturgy requires one adopts the mind of said liturgy and begins to "think" like the liturgy. When one's liturgical thought begins to be dominated by a particular liturgy, one begins to see everything related to religious expression and understanding in this particular light.

Taking on the mind of any particular liturgy necessarily assumes the greater part of the psyche that is oriented towards liturgical expression. This makes sense, otherwise stable worship would be by and large impossible. In Orthodoxy, it is absolutely essential to take on the mind of the Byzantine liturgy. The Orthodox liturgy is rich, its seasons and expressions elaborately constructed (compared to Western praxis) and its celebration is, in my experience, all encompassing - there is little room for paraliturgical devotion.

When one is moving away from something and happens to land in the Orthodox Church, one never places oneself in the position to adopt the mind of Orthodox liturgy, prayer, and praxis. It is therefore unlikely that one will have much of tie to the Orthodox Church - it is little more than a spiritual way station or a sign post on the road ahead.

The majority of people I have met for whom Orthodoxy is a transitory phase would be described as "traditionalists", of a Roman variety. They have no particular desire to move towards the Orthodox Church - rather, they are or feel themselves to be displaced from their church of origin, spiritual refugees if you will. What they want, there inner most spiritual aspiration, is Roman Catholicism, Traditionalist Roman Catholicism. The Orthodox Church is approached because it looks like it will provide moral, liturgical, and perhaps doctrinal shelter while they continue to hold fast to their Roman Catholicism. More often than not, Traditionalist Roman Catholics seeking shelter in the Orthodox Church land in some variant of Russian Orthodoxy, either the Russian Orthodox Church, or ROCOR. This makes sense. Traditionalists have a very exclusivist ecclesiology and if you are looking for the same you will find it the closer you get to Siberia. Again, be careful of finding what you're looking for, because that more exclusivist strand of Orthodox ecclesiology found in Russian churches will invariably take aim at one's inner Traditional Catholicism. Those same Orthodox circles you frequented because they shared so much of one's own disposition will eventually start talking of re-baptism and how your sacraments were never real to begin with. You will have a visceral reaction, you will leave, maybe volley back and forth a few times, and then you will settle into prolonged paranoia, be it about our own salvation for having tainted yourself by going outside of the papacy, or be it with tales of all Orthodox Christians go into their church hall at coffee hour and snicker and sneer at "the Latins." You'll spend the rest of your life trying to universalize your mistake as entirely descriptive of the Orthodox Church.

I would like to think I'm one of those people whose reasons for entering the Orthodox Church were largely a case of moving towards something. There were theological and ecclesiological reasons. There was also the matter Italo-Greek ancestry running through my Calabrian and Sicilian veins (and the corresponding family history that tied my own bloodline to the original Orthodox churches of the region). The real clincher was actively attending Orthodox liturgy for approximately 3 years before formally experiencing the interest in being received. It was an experience - I was never able to return back to the Latin liturgy after getting acclimated to the Byzantine tradition. Nothing especially fancy here, but enough to set off a trajectory from which there was no turning back.

This is not to say the Orthodox Church is paradise. It's not, and anyone who tells you it is either isn't paying attention or is plainly lying. That rule goes for almost any religious persuasion. The reality is though, the good far outweighs the bad, so long as one knows what one is looking for. I for one was never looking for an enclave to nurture Lefebvre style Traditionalism, in lieu of an actual SSPX chapel, nor was I trying to find a community that would entertain another liturgical traditional other than their own. My experience of the Orthodox Church has been one where there is a very level headed view of the Patriarch of Rome and the varieties of the Western Christian tradition. Which is not say everything Roman is treated as equal - it is not and there are very real theological and ecclesiological matters that are deemed worthy of correction. Frankly, there couldn't be a genuine appreciation of the Roman Church if these points of discord (errors, plainly) were not highlighted.

I write this because in real life I have encountered a number of people who migrated from the Roman Church to the Orthodox Church and have found their home. It seems, however, the online world if comprised largely of malcontents  either a) prone to religious extremism and who sought the same extremism in the Orthodox Church, or b) were looking for an established church to play host to their variety of Catholicism after it had fallen out of flavor in Roman circles. As is often the case, the malcontents are often the most vocal. Everyone else has something better to do.

UPDATE: " More often than not, Traditionalist Roman Catholics seeking shelter in the Orthodox Church land in some variant of Russian Orthodoxy, either the Russian Orthodox Church, or ROCOR. This makes sense. Traditionalists have a very exclusivist ecclesiology and if you are looking for the same you will find it the closer you get to Siberia. ".....and yet again, my observation about "Siberians" seems to

Monday, June 13, 2016

ESV Reader's Bible - Hardcover and TruTone Review (and looking forward to the new releases)

Two years ago, Crossway released their Reader's Bible, a single column bible formatted to optimize the reading experience and make the reading experience more appealing to people who would normally not do much continuous reading of the text.

The reaction was, deservedly, positive. Crossway struck a cord that seems to resonate among many, active and casual reader's alike. With the pending topgrain cowhide single volume and 6 volume cowhide over-board, it seems only reasonable to review the original editions, looking back at their achievements, and looking forward to this Fall's pending releases.

Side-by-side, both the hardcover and Trutone are quite attractive. The design quality of both is readily apparent. The hardcover edition functioned as "the face" of the Reader's Bible, exemplifying Crossway's intention of creating a volume designed for reading. It has optimal size and font for continuous reading and has an essential "reader's aesthetic" - the build invites one to settle in with the Bible as one would a favorite book. The imitation leather, although featuring the same interior specs, seems to aim for the more the person looking for a more traditional reading experience with their bible.  

To Crossway's credit, its synthetics are really some of the best out there. The black imitation leather struck more than a few people as calfskin at first glance. 

Good construction on both volumes. The Reader's Bible includes two ribbons and sewn binding. Looking at both volumes when first opened, the hinges appear to work better with the hardcover edition. The hardcover opens easily and pretty much stays open.

The imitation leather requires a bit more effort and as a result some additional stress is put on the end-pages, placing additional pull on the block. For the most part, this will not be something one would do with actual daily use, but it is worth noting.

The hardcover edition has an easier time staying open at Genesis.

You can't see it here, but I'm holding down the cover and first few pages. The imitation leather is a bit stiff if you put it to the Genesis-Revelation test.

This being said, both editions lay open marvelously well:

As you can see, the Psalter has never looked so good! The use of red ink to emphasis the particular psalm number (used elsewhere in this edition for book titles and chapter numbers) helps break the monotony of the typical presentation of the Psalter. Anyone familiar with praying the psalms in the context of a liturgical tradition (through any of the Western liturgical books) should feel right at home as the formatting presents the psalms in a manner reminiscent of the liturgical tradition.

Do you see all that text going into the gutter? Neither do I! One of Crossway's hallmarks in recent years is page design - they've simply been on the A-game with identifying optimal page layouts, especially with their single column releases.

Note the red accent marking the book title and chapter. Italian bibles have been employing this type of layout for ages - it breaks the monotony of all black text and, frankly, adds some class. Between Crossway and Schuyler's use of this technique, lets hope it becomes the standard going forward.

The Reader's Bible genuinely raises the bar on reading experience. Is this the perfect single column bible? That depends on who you ask. Having spent years with single column critical editions of the original text, I've become thoroughly committed to single column layouts. The Reader's Bible does the typical single column version one better by removing much of the editorial matter. Text references, text divisions (such as chapter and verse running in the text) have been eliminated. As a result, the Reader's Bible produces the closest reading experience in translation of the text as one would normally encounter it in the ancient languages. The line matching is, plainly excellent - thus far I haven't identified a point where the line matching is off.

Looking forward to the pending topgrain cowhide single volume and the six volume cowhide over board, there are some things I hope to see.

Thus far, it appears that the topgrain cowhide single volume will incorporate much of the same material as the previous editions. Are we getting a Legacy treatment? Not this time out. Will this be the precursor to a Legacy edition of the Reader's Bible? Time will tell; the success of the topgrain cowhide edition and demand for an edition of the Reader's Bible off of JongBloed's presses will likely play a role.

The above being noted, it seems that Crossway intends the six volume set to be the standard bearer for its reader's bibles. The six volume set is due to be printed by LEGO SpA, cowhide over board. This is the same approach taken with the Reader's Gospels of last year. Here are the preliminary results from Crossway's website:

Although I would love to see the Reader's Bible get the Legacy treatment, Crossway's plan for the six volume set's leather edition is shaping up to be something to behold. Gaze at those volumes for a moment. Although modern-day premium bible lovers enjoy "a good floppy" goatskin, but there is nothing quite as striking as the "old world standard." Raised hubs, thick, solid leather bound volumes - folks, if you've ever been to a well stocked divinity library and browsed through the stacks and fawned over volumes from the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s, those tomes that were built to last, well, this is it. If you've ever held a sturdy leather bound liturgical book from the early 1900s and wondered where publishing standards went for sacred books, well, Crossway looks to have them right there. Granted, it is still some months away and, to my knowledge, no-one has held a working prototype set in their hands. However, specs and initial photos are circling around this pending release. It is going to be a long wait for October.

Note: Special thanks to the publisher for providing a review copy of this edition.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

How a premium Bible comes together.

This is a great video recently put up by Crossway, featuring Jongbloed's printing of one of their ESV Heirloom editions.

Jongbloed is one of the top Bible printers in the world and produces bibles for Crossway, Schuyler, R.L. Allan, and Cambridge. One gets an insightful view into the blending of contemporary production and fine touches that makes them a top choice among publishers looking to put out a well constructed edition built to last.

Monday, June 6, 2016

ESV Reader's Bible, Six Volume Set, Cowhide Over Board

Crossway's Reader's Bible keeps going from strength to strength, and this Fall it promises to deliver something of truly magnificent.


The six volume Reader's Bible will feature topgrain cowhide over board, courtesy of LEGO SpA in Italy. LEGO did a jaw dropping job on the Reader's Gospels last Summer. The six-volume edition tantalizes us with the prospect of Crossway improving on a nearly flawless execution. The hubs on the spine look quite thick. The all important opacity should be on par with the stellar Reader's Gospels from last year. This is going to be a solid leather bound set! If you want Scripture optimized for reading AND designed to last, you might be hard pressed to top the six volume Reader's Bible.

We'll know more October 31st, 2016.

Friday, June 3, 2016

When Christianity is at its best.

The Benedict Option is making the rounds this week, and this far corner of "the interwebs" was cited by Rod Dreher in a recent post.

Dreher's proposal, by his own admission, is still a diamond in the rough. It is in the early stages during which entrance into the sphere of publicly discussed ideas will elicit the intellectual reaction to refine it.

As it stands, the Benedict Option is part of a relatively young intellectual current emanating from voices that would normally be defined as "conservative." It is still somewhat disparate and perhaps inchoate, but united in a common theme that (roughly) centers around the necessity for Christianity to leave a (dying) model built on institutional relevance behind in favor of communities that run contrary to the dominant culture and provide the means for transformation by the dynamism of the gospel. These are not monastic communities (although monasteries would certainly be a welcome feature), and there is no expectation that one would disavow engagement in civil responsibility or the job market.

The intention is (as I see it) to form Christians such that they are recognizable as participating in the public sphere but living in a manner and pursuing goals (for themselves and individuals and their community) that run with unwavering defiance to the culture where it deviates from the principles laid down (we believe) by divine revelation. Yes, it will be political, but it will not betray itself to any particular political agenda for a few scraps of advancement. It will be a counter-cultural alternative that offers men and women another way, a different way from the dominant mode of life in the culture. And the thought here is that in act of so doing, Christianity will throw the terms of engagement with the culture into disarray.

Do proposals of this kind bother people? Assuredly they do. Traditionalists, neo-Conservatives, and liberals (all inadequate terms, but they will suffice for the moment) all function off of a model of Christianity that is at its base founded as a cultural institution. Liberals want Christianity fully reconciled with the culture. neo-Conservatives and Traditionalists want (to one degree or another) Christianity to exert political dominance of the culture. In either case, such views fundamentally see Christianity in terms of the culture, not as a force unto itself. Christianity is entwined with the culture, not parallel or contraction to it.

Such an orientation towards culture is a comfortable relationship, but it also leads to a fully domesticated Godhead and a compromised position towards the state. We should be honest here: Christianity, more often than not, is the whipping boy of political interests, used for political advantage or expediency as seen fit in the moment. It serves no one in this capacity.

It is sometimes said the Church is at her best when she is persecuted for Christ. I would flesh this out a bit. I would argue that Christianity is at its best when it a) fulfills the religious aspirations of its people and b) makes the culture tremble with self doubt. God Incarnate was not crucified for piously praying or healing the sick. He was crucified because he made institutional religions and cultural powers tremble with doubt by setting forth a new praxis for life, something running counter to the dominant power and culture. For the first three hundred years after his death, the Church was able to follow this example. Since then, she has done so in fits and starts. Perhaps this is sometimes justifiable - situations and circumstances chance and the witness men and women need is something totally approachable within the culture. At other times, the Church needs to return to her source of origin and re-learn how to live and thrive by going around or contrary to the dominant culture.

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

The culture war is lost - now get on with being counter-cultural.

Professor Mark Tushnet sees the coming age in America in very black and white terms. You may well as apply it to the West in general. The culture wars are over. Christian principles lost. It is now time to proceed with the full recasting of law uninhibited by religious conservatives.

He speaks plainly:

The culture wars are over; they lost, we won. Remember, they were the ones who characterized constitutional disputes as culture wars (see Justice Scalia in Romer v. Evans, and the Wikipedia entry for culture wars, which describes conservative activists, not liberals, using the term.) And they had opportunities to reach a cease fire, but rejected them in favor of a scorched earth policy. The earth that was scorched, though, was their own. (No conservatives demonstrated any interest in trading off recognition of LGBT rights for “religious liberty” protections. Only now that they’ve lost the battle over LGBT rights, have they made those protections central – seeing them, I suppose, as a new front in the culture wars. But, again, they’ve already lost the war.). For liberals, the question now is how to deal with the losers in the culture wars. That’s mostly a question of tactics. My own judgment is that taking a hard line (“You lost, live with it”) is better than trying to accommodate the losers, who – remember – defended, and are defending, positions that liberals regard as having no normative pull at all. Trying to be nice to the losers didn’t work well after the Civil War, nor after Brown. (And taking a hard line seemed to work reasonably well in Germany and Japan after 1945.) I should note that LGBT activists in particular seem to have settled on the hard-line approach, while some liberal academics defend more accommodating approaches. When specific battles in the culture wars were being fought, it might have made sense to try to be accommodating after a local victory, because other related fights were going on, and a hard line might have stiffened the opposition in those fights. But the war’s over, and we won.

The fact is, he's right. The past eight years have seemingly sealed the victory of a post-Christian world. He only calls for what so many of the American left have been thinking - it is time to force assimilation of the new norms onto religious conservatives, a move that fundamentally completes the process of social engineering by re-engineering the principles underlying moral theology and, as a result, the formation of religious conscience.

If the culture wars are indeed over, then it must be admitted that they were fought poorly and often by the worst possible representatives of the Christian tradition. Rather than developing a counter-cultural response to a cultural revolution that efficiently established itself as the burgeoning status quo, religious conservatives spent more time trying to defend a status quo whose deficiencies provided a wide berth for the subsequent bloodless cultural revolution in the West.

If the culture wars are indeed over, it must be asked do we choose option a) total assimilation, or option b) other.

What is option b? I am hesitant to call it Rod Dreher's Benedict Option. Dreher has made this consistent platform in speeches and writing. The proposal has often been assailed as being too defeatist and calling for a retreat from culture, but as Carl Trueman writes, one has to question whether or not these critique are based on Dreher's actual arguments, or an alarmist reaction at having to take a critical stance towards the culture.

We live in a culture gripped by an almost unrelenting force for social engineering, initiated by the policies of transnational bodies, corporations, and media. The messaging is set and delivered with unwavering frequency. At issue is the question of whether institutions of political, economic and media influence can exert the ability to re-engineer morality. Certainly for some generation groups, the answer has proven to be positive. Christianity has been offered one of two options - either accept the new morality, or attempt to continue as a newly marginalized religious group and exercise your religion increasingly on the borderlands of law.

Christianity's natural home is: a) in defiance of the dominant culture (which often tacitly endorsed a morality Christianity openly rejected) and b) along the borderlands of law, always walking the line between questionable legal status and outright illegality. This is where it began as movement whose leader warranted political execution by the Roman Empire and subsequently spent its first three centuries under the threat of persecution. If John's Apocalypse serves as a portent into the future, this is where Christianity spends its last years while awaiting the eschaton. With this in mind, is it possible to look at the aftermath of a prolonged culture war and say the war had actually been concluded for a long time. The moment Christianity could no longer make common sense criticisms of the state because it was dependent upon the state for institutional stability was the moment the culture war was lost. All that remained was a formal declaration of victory on the part of the emerging secular order.

It is possible that the thrust of the past decade or so is part of a generational shift. In which case, one need only wait for the pendulum to swing back the other way. It is equally as possible that the West is heading for the point of cultural exhaustion that brought Rome to ruin - it is simply a matter of waiting it out until a new beginning. In either scenario, the immediate need remains for Christianity to determine a way forward as a counter cultural phenomenon running parallel to the dominant culture and offering a contrary moral code and conception of reality. With this in mind, I believe Dreher hits the nail on the head - the secular state realigned the terms and conditions upon which Christianity engages the culture. It is only fair that Christianity realign the terms and conditions upon which the culture deals with Christianity.

The culture war is lost. It is time to become counter-culture. This will only happen with a radical re-appropriation of the ethos of the first three centuries: the praxis of Christian life in defiance to the desire of the state.