Tuesday, September 21, 2010

European and American Protestants

One of the things that struck me about Belloc was his assertion that protestantism is dead. I can agree with that as a Catholic but it is not something that my experience supports. Certainly as a protestant that would not ring true at all. In fact, saying Catholicism is dead would have been more intuitive.

But one thing you have to realize is Belloc is writing from Europe in the 1930's. What he is talking about is mainline protestantism like the Lutheran church in Germany, the Reformed church in Holland, the Anglican church in England. They were all considered quite strong by many in the 30's and have since gone into quite serious decline. In that sense Belloc's comments might be considered prophetic.

In North America protestant churches have done much better. Large mainline protestant churches have gone liberal but I would say quite a bit less than their European counterparts have. I know the Christian Reformed church I was raised in comes from dutch immigrants who were members of the main protestant denomination in Holland. The dutch mother church had gone very liberal and my dutch relatives tell me it is almost completely irrelevant. Young people don't even get married in church anymore. The immigrant church has done a lot better. Partly because it is not the dominant church in society.

Then you have the smaller fundamentalist churches especially in the southern US. They have remained quite conservative. There is a different dynamic going on there. Many of them came to the US as religious refugees. They were part of minority faiths being persecuted in Europe. The other thing that seems to have had a huge impact on them was losing the civil war. The atrocities inflicted on them by the North really instilled in them a skepticism of the secular establishment. Faith grows in times of sorrow. The North never experienced suffering on anywhere near that scale.

Protestants tend not to look at all of protestantism when they judge it. They just look at their little corner of it. That seems pretty solid so what is the problem? What Luther and Calvin did in the 16th century must have been pretty good. Not when you look at the whole picture. Some protestants have come through the centuries OK but is it because protestantism is strong or is it in spite of the fact that it is weak? That can't be addressed unless you look at the whole picture.

1 comment:

  1. Very good last paragraph. A Protestant naturally measures the strongest sector of Protestantism (his own church) against the weakest sector of Catholicism (the scandals in the newspaper).