Ahlstrom, Sydney E. 2 vols. A Religious History of the American People (Garden City, NY: Image, 1975). This monumental work by the renowned historian from Yale U. has been praised for its comprehensiveness and sympathetic treatment of diverse American religious traditions "beyond the explicitly Judaeo-Christian traditions" (I, p. 22); but also for its objective clarity, as in his discrimination between "sects" and "cults" (I, pp. 571 ff; II, pp. 577 ff). Ahlstrom defined "postmodern man" as "posthistoric" and "one-dimensional": "Eschewing tradition, fearing the grip of the past, pessimistic about the future, he lives—or tries to live—within the narrow confines of today… he does not take his own historicity seriously" (I, p. 21). He observed "the propensity of Americans to view the state itself in a religious light," e.g., as "this Redeemer nation" (I, p. 22).
Ahlstrom himself viewed "American civilization [as] a New World extension of Christendom" (I, p. 41), but concluded that America has turned away from that heritage toward the "pantheistic… self-reliance" expressed by Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), stating: "Emerson is in fact the theologian of something we may almost term 'the American religion'" (II, pp. 40-42). (This insight inspired Harold Bloom's The American Religion; see pp. 16, 21-22, 176). Ahlstrom also identified a New Age motif in contemporary American religion, a "post-Puritan," "Harmonial religion," which he called "a major force in modern religion": "Harmonial religion encompasses those forms of piety and belief in which spiritual composure, physical health, and even economic well-being are understood to flow from a person's rapport with the cosmos. Human beatitude and immortality are believed to depend to a great degree on one's being 'in tune with the infinite' " (II, p. 528)
Allen, Diogenes. Christian Belief in a Postmodern World (Louisville, KY: Westminster/John Knox, 1989). A professor of philosophy at Princeton Theological Seminary, Allen believes that: "a massive intellectual revolution is taking place that is perhaps as great as that which marked off the modern world from the Middle Ages. The foundations of the modern world are collapsing, and we are entering a postmodern world" (p. 2). The "modern mentality" of the Enlightenment has experienced a "breakdown" in four areas: (1) the sterility of belief in a "self-contained universe;" (2) the failure to find a secular "basis for morality and society;" (3) the breakdown of "belief in inevitable progress;" (4) skepticism concerning "the assumption that knowledge is inherently good" (pp. 3-5).
Allen argues that the postmodern rejection of liberal theology has created a new opportunity "to give a case for the truth of Christian beliefs" (p. 9). He summarizes his argument as follows: "(1) that the natural world's existence and order point to the possibility of God; (2) that our own needs, unless deliberately restrained, lead us to search for what is ultimate; and (3) that conviction concerning the reality of God comes from the actual experience of divine grace, frequently made possible through the witness of the Bible and a believing community, but that such experience of divine grace is usually overlooked" (p. 19).
Anderson, Walter Truett. To Govern Evolution (New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich, 1987); Reality Isn't What It Used to Be: Theatrical Politics, Ready-to-Wear Religion, Global Myths, Primitive Chic, and Other Wonders of the Postmodern World (San Francisco, CA: Harper Collins, 1990). A political scientist, Dr. Anderson evaluates the challenges of postmodernism from the perspective of naturalistic evolution and Christian unbelief. He believes that the human race is responsible for its own evolution. In To Govern Evolution he asserts: "This is the project of the coming era: to create a social and political order—a global one—commensurate to human power in nature;" "Another way to understand the political reality of our time is to consider…the answer of the question of what is to be done will increasingly be: Whatever we want to do" (p. 359). The only thing that Truett can't tolerate is the 'intolerance' of those (e.g. "religions") who claim to know 'the truth.'
In Reality Isn't What It Used to Be he asserts: "We are seeing in our lifetimes the collapse of the objectivist worldview that dominated the modern era, the worldview that gave people faith in the absolute and permanent rightness of certain beliefs and values… A pluralistic civilization can only be built with a great amount of tolerance, and the kind of tolerance that comes from people who believe in the cosmic certainty of their truth (and theirs alone) is both limited and patronizing" (pp. 267-268).
Aristotle. The Nicomachean Ethics, trans. David Ross; rev. by J.L. Ackrill and J.O. Urmson (New York: Oxford U. Press, 1980); The Politics, trans. T.A. Sinclair; rev. ed. by Trevor J. Saunders (Baltimore, MD: Penguin Books Inc., 1985). The great Greek philosopher and scientist, Aristotle (384-322 BC) was Plato's most famous student. He developed his own unique system of philosophy, tutored Alexander the Great, and opened his own school at the Lyceum in Athens. Whereas Plato emphasized the spiritual world of Ideas, Aristotle emphasized nature and the material world. Augustine and most of the church fathers ignored Aristotle because of his empiricism and materialistic emphasis. However, St. Thomas and others found Aristotle a rich resource in the 13th and 14th centuries. Aristotle's teleology, i.e. his view that everything possesses an ultimate end or purpose, seemed very compatible with a Biblical understanding of God's sovereignty and design.
For Aristotle the chief moral end is happiness in good conduct: "Pleasure in doing virtuous acts is a sign that the virtuous disposition has been acquired" (Ethics, II.3). The chief intellectual end for the individual is the complete exercise of rationality in contemplation of truth: "both the reasoning must be true and the desire right… the good state is truth in agreement with right desire" (Ethics, VI.2). The highest human end is social and political, since, according to Aristotle: "every state exists by nature…man is by nature a political animal" (Politics, I.2). The actualization of the highest human potential is only possible in community, including the function both of the family and the state to inculcate morality and promote nobility of purpose and happiness. The state exists to serve the common good, to promote the highest aims and ends of its citizens.
Contemporary theologians influenced by Aristotle have included Austin Farrer (1904-68), Bernard Lonergan, Karl Rahner, and Alisdair MacIntyre. In After Virtue (Notre Dame, IN: U. Notre Dame Press, 1981) MacIntyre asserted: "if a pre-modern view of morals and politics is to be vindicated against modern-ity, it will be in something like Aristotelian terms or not at all" (p. 111). The heart of Aristotle's contribution to culture, according to MacIntyre, is his "shared vision of the good" and of the political community as "a common project" (p. 146). Yet MacIntyre recognizes the limits of Aristotle's theology: "The impersonal unchanging [Aristotelian] divinity… furnishes man with his specific and ultimate telos… through metaphysical contemplation." However, such a divinity "can itself take no interest in the merely human," since "it is nothing other than thought timelessly thinking itself" (p. 148). From a secular perspective political philosopher Ronald Beiner, writing in What's the Matter with Liberalism? (Berkeley, CA: U. California Press, 1992), recently wrote that: "Aristotle's most powerful insight is that in every society, moral life is based upon ethos, that is, character formation according to socially bred customs and habit" (p. 22).
Arnold, Matthew. Culture and Anarchy: An Essay in Political and Social Criticism, ed. R.H. Super (Ann Arbor, MI: U. Michigan Press, 1965; orig. pub. 1869). A popular and successful poet and literary critic, Arnold (1822-1888) taught at Oxford as a professor of poetry from 1857-67 and served as an inspector of schools from 1851-83. His book Culture and Anarchy is directed against Philistinism, i.e. narrow and conventional views which lack an appreciation of cultural values. An agnostic and ethical idealist, Arnold considered the old authoritarian and supernatural elements of Christianity no longer tenable.
In Last Essays on Church and Religion (1877) he proposed that religion is more a matter of conduct than belief, i.e.: "morality touched with emotion." For Arnold, culture offered a substitute for religion, a secularized religion which provided the resources to develop civilized character and conduct. In A Peculiar People R. Clapp refers to Arnold as an vivid example of cultural compromise and loss of the church's distinctive identity: "According to Arnold, culture was 'the best that is known and thought' and would 'nourish us in growth toward perfection'… Culture was Arnold's secularized faith…'the last hope [from anarchy] for a world in which science had supplanted religion as the organizing force'" (p. 61).
Augustine, Saint. The City of God, ed. Vernon J. Bourke (Garden City, NY: Image/Doubleday, 1958). Bishop in N. Africa, a former professor of philosophy who converted to Christian faith through his mother's prayers, in his Confessions Augustine (354-430) voiced the famous prayer: "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in thee." Augustine is widely considered the father of theology, as well as of autobiography. H.R. Niebuhr called him: "the theologian of cultural transformation by Christ… Augustine not only describes, but illustrates in his own person, the work of Christ as converter of culture. The Roman rhetorician becomes a Christian preacher." Yet Niebuhr concluded that Augustine "didn't develop his thought in this direction…[of] the transformation of mankind in all its cultural activity," but "dismissed" it: "From the hope of the conversion of [secular] culture he turns to the defense of Christian culture" (Christ and Culture, pp. 208, 215-216).
C.N. Cochrane, the renowned historian, disagreed, arguing that Augustine promoted a vision of "divine society" which served as "the only real hope of fulfilling the promise of secular life" (Christianity and Classical Culture, p. 501). Cochrane agreed that for Augustine: "ultimately, there can be no compromise between the claims of Caesar and those of Christ" (p. 510); but contended that: "at the same time [his vision] proclaims the solidarity of mankind, not as a vague aspiration of the remote future but as a present and living fact… based upon a unity of human nature… the nature of being created in the divine image and predestined to fulfill the divine will. Human values therefore are values… for man as man" (pp. 511, 487).
Augustine wrote The City of God after the fall of Rome in 410 to answer pagan accusations. Since the empire had become officially Christian under Constantine (306-337) , and was conquered for the first time in a long history under a Christian emperor, pagans blamed the Christians: (1) for teaching an otherworldliness which undermined patriotism and citizenship; and (2) for teaching a monotheism which undermined the Roman tradition of polytheism and angered the gods. In a long and careful rebuttal Augustine denied both accusations, attributing the fall of Rome to its internal corruption and false worship, and developing the following thesis: "throughout the world… there exist no more than the two kinds of society, which according to our Scriptures, we have rightly called the two cities. One city is that of men who live according to the flesh. The other is of men who live according to the spirit" (XIV.1). He explained the difference: "two societies have issued from two kinds of love. Worldly society has flowered from a selfish love which dared to despise even God, whereas the communion of saints is rooted in a love of God that is ready to trample upon self. In a word, this latter relies on the Lord, whereas the other boasts that it can get along by itself" (XIV.28).
Augustine envisioned: "The peace of the heavenly City lies in a perfectly ordered and harmonious communion of those who find their joy in God and in one another in God. Peace, in its final sense, is the calm that comes of order. Order is an arrangement of like and unlike things whereby each of them is disposed in its proper place" (XIX.13). This vision directly informs the home and society: "since every home should be a beginning or fragmentary constituent of a civil community… domestic peace has a relation to political peace" (XIX.16). Augustine referred to the Church as "the pilgrim City," a "heavenly City [which] is wayfaring on earth." As such, the Church embraces cultural pluralism: "So long, then, as the heavenly City is wayfaring on earth, she invites citizens from all nations and all tongues, and unites them into a single pilgrim band. She takes no issue with that diversity of customs, laws, and traditions whereby human peace is sought and maintained. Instead of nullifying or tearing down, she preserves and appropriates whatever in the diversities of divers races is aimed at one and the same objective of human peace, provided only that they do not stand in the way of faith and worship" (XIX.17).
From this perspective Augustine could affirm "common cause between the two cities in what concerns our purely human living," "a common platform in regard to all that concerns our purely human life and does not interfere with faith and worship" (ibid). This provision for "common cause" tempers what could otherwise be a radical and complete separation of the two cities; cf. G. Himmelfarb's criticism in The De-moralization of Society where she concludes: "Where Aquinas saw [the] religious virtues as complementing the classical ones, Augustine saw them as irreconcilable, virtues that have no reference to God, being 'vices rather than virtues' " (p. 9; cf. XIX.25). Augustine began The City of God by rebuking Romans, who, he said: "should have credited to Christian culture" the fact that many of them were spared by the invading barbarians when they took refuge in "the shrines of the martyrs and the basilicas of the Apostles" (I.1).