The new Reformation

How Christians find themselves on the ‘wrong’ side of history

-Stephen Chavura-

Can we learn anything useful from history? Well, it depends on what we mean by useful. If by useful we mean some historical fact, the understanding of which enables us to change our present historical trajectory for the better – probably not. We are generally in the grip of large forces that are for the most part outside of our direct control. But if by useful we mean the understanding of some part of history that helps us to understand our own times, I think the answer is yes.

In countries like Australia, Great Britain, and the US, citizens seem to be very much divided along numerous lines, especially generational and ideological. Some historians liken the cultural revolution of the 1960s to the Reformation of the 16th century in terms of its impact on culture and ideas. Just as the Reformation created bitter
divisions between Protestants and Catholics, so the cultural revolution of the 1960s has generated a deep and wide division between the heirs of the anti-authoritarian spirit of the 1960s and those still committed to certain authorities – religion, tradition, nature.

The 1960s generated new Protestants and, consequently, new Catholics.

The 1960s was the decade that most overtly cast off the very notion of authority itself, rejecting the authority of religion and its “outmoded” morality of self-restraint, the authority of government in response to the Vietnam War, and the authority of tradition, seen as the embodiment of all oppressions: sexual, racial, and cultural. In their place the children of the 1960s substituted themselves, and the emphasis shifted from objective authorities to personal authenticity. We must be true to ourselves.

The spirit of the 1960s animates the religion of the new Protestants – diversity. The most recent manifestation of this diversity cult is the gay and, especially, the transgender movement. The movement for gay rights is very much a part of the casting off of several authorities: traditional Christianity and traditional sexual morality. The transgender movement – notwithstanding a minority of genuine cases of sex-ambiguity – is a casting off of nature itself. So what if my physiology is a particular way? Why should I have to submit to that?

The analogies with the Protestant Reformation are evident, although one must be careful about getting too carried away. Nonetheless, the Roman Catholic Church accused the Protestant Reformers of flirting with lawlessness – antinomianism – in their rejection of papal authority. Unlike the hippies of 1960s, the Protestants were not antiauthority, for they held that the highest authority was God Himself whose will is best revealed through the Spirit-led reading of the Scriptures. Nonetheless, the Protestants did reject and ridicule the greatest institutional authority known to Europeans since the fall of the Roman Empire, the Roman Catholic Church.

The transgender movement – notwithstanding a minority of genuine cases of sex-ambiguity – is a casting off of nature itself. So what if my physiology is a particular way? Why should I have to submit to that?

Most telling in terms of understanding the program of modern heirs of the 1960s was the iconoclasm pursued by 16th century Protestants. In Protestant countries throughout Europe churches were stripped of anything remotely connected to their Roman Catholic past. Crucifixes, roods, chalices, and relics were destroyed, lest their continued presence served to stir Romish sentiments. In other words, to a great extent, evidences of a nation’s Roman Catholic past were destroyed or hidden in the interests of the spiritual well-being of a populace that, so it was thought, would very easily slip back into its old ways without a public program of permanent reformation.

Catholics in Protestant countries were frequently forced underground for fear of persecution. They also found themselves unable to take jobs in any arm of the public service for around 300 years. They were basically shut out from mainstream culture, punishment for their stubborn refusal to forsake their authority.

There is a similar religious fervor at the heart of the modern heirs of the 1960s – the new Protestants. The youth of the 1960s were radicalised by the Vietnam War and Marxist notions of history as a great Manichaean struggle between good and evil. They were the goodies.

Just like the Reformers of the 16th century, so our modern day reformers go on a program of iconoclasm. They smash statues of national heroes with a racist past, they try to rename stadiums after people who have the right opinions regarding homosexuality, children’s books are edited to remove anything that might spark prejudice, language itself is reformed to ensure that over time all vestiges of the former way of thinking are erased. Husbands and wives are “partners”, mums and dads are “guardians” or “parents”, ladies and gentlemen are, well, merely two of dozens of genders – best not to mention any of them lest you perpetuate hate thoughts. That all must feel included is the cardinal rule of the diversity cult.

And so the heirs of the 1960s are the new Protestants, and those who fall foul of their program of social reform are the new Catholics, the latter to be despised as superstitious, intolerant, and grotesque reminders of a former unenlightened age.

In the 16th century, once Protestantism became part of the cultural furniture, it barely considered a distinct way of approaching the religion of Christ. It was not even religion as much as it was simple common sense. Because Protestantism was considered common sense piety and rationality, Roman Catholicism was obviously mere superstition. This was reflected in British culture, in particular in the education debates throughout the 19th century, especially in Australia.

those who fall foul of their program of social reform are the new Catholics, to be despised as superstitious, intolerant, and grotesque reminders of a former unenlightened age.

Pretty much everyone wanted religion to be taught in general (public) schools. But whose religion? Well, it was said by Protestants, “general Christianity”; a Christianity that was uncontroversial to any reasonable Christian. In other words, the Bible. Who could argue with that? Well, Catholics for one. A course of “general Christianity” which made no mention of the Holy Roman Church, the sacraments, the pope, and was focused on the unassisted reading of the (King James) Bible? Catholics had a word for that: Protestantism.

And yet Protestants did not see it as Protestantism at all. It was, in their minds, neutrality. Thus, Catholics could be socially marginalised and their institutions defunded quite easily because Protestant culture, which did not recognise Protestantism as anything
other than neutral common sense, could dismiss their demands as unreasonable, even socially insidious.

In the same way the new Protestants do not see their moral values and extensive program of social reconstruction as anything other than neutral common sense. The language of the new Protestants – their “Bible”, if you will – is the language of human rights and mental health. The new Catholics object to the new Protestants’ interpretation of human rights as well as their reduction of all moral questions to human rights and mental health.

As Catholics from the 16th to the 19th century were socially and civically marginalised as penalty for their dissent from Protestant neutrality, so the new Catholics will face the prospect of marginalisation. They may be hounded from healthcare, education, the public service, and private corporations – any social/civic sector that converts to the diversity cult. Also, once the state fully converts to the new Protestantism it will try as much as it can to control the institutions – churches, schools, businesses, charities – of the new Catholics.

Can an understanding of history help us to stop this new Reformation? No. But at least we go into it with our eyes wide open.


Dr Stephen Chavura is a political theorist and intellectual historian at Macquarie University who has lectured on a range of topics.

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