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5 The Institutional Forms of Christian Culture WE CANNOT SEPARATE culture from religion any more than we can separate our life from our faith. As a living faith must change the life of the believer, so a living religion must influence and transform the social way of life-that is to say, the culture. It is impossible to be a Christian in church and a secularist or a pagan outside. Even a Christian minority, which lives a hidden and persecuted life, like the early Christians in the ages of the catacombs, possesses its own patterns of life and thought, which are the seeds of a new culture. Nevertheless it must be admitted that Christians are sometimes opposed to the very idea of Christian culture, since it seems to lead to an identification between a religious reality which is absolute and divine and a social reality which is limited and human. It was this point which inspired Kierkegaard's tremendous onslaught on "Christendom" as a colossal fraud-a betrayal of Christianity. He writes: 54 The Institutional Forms of Christian Culture 55 What we have before us is not Christianity but a prodigious illusion, and the people are not pagans but live in the blissful conceit that they are Christians.l When one sees what it is to be a Christian in Denmark, how could it occur to anyone that this is what Jesus Christ talks about: cross and agony and suffering, crucifying the flesh, suffering for the doctrine, being salt, being sacrificed, etc.? No, in Protestantism, especially in Denmark, Christianity marches to a different melody, to the tune of "Merrily we roll along, roll along, roll along!"Christianity is enjoyment of life, tranquilized, as neither the Jew nor the pagan was, by the assurance that the thing about eternity is settled, settled precisely in order that we might find pleasure in enjoying this life, as well as any pagan or Jew.2 God's thought in introducing Christianity was, if I may venture to say so, to pound the table hard in front of us men.... God succeeded in this, he really overawed men. But gradually the human race came to itself, and shrewd as it is, it saw that to do away with Christianity by force was not practicable-"so let us do it by cunning ," they said. We are all Christians and so Christianity is eo ipso abolished.3 Man's knavish interest consists in creating millions and millions of Christians, the more the better, all men if possible; for thus the whole difficulty of being a Christian vanishes, being a Christian and being a man amounts to the same thing, and we find ourselves where paganism ended. Christendom has mocked God and continues to mock Himjust as if to a man who is a lover of nuts, instead of bringing him one nut with a kernel, we were to bring him tons and millions of empty nut-shells.4 What Kierkegaard attacked with such passion, however, was not Christendom but the secularization of Christendom, and especially that particular form of secularization which he found 1. S. Kierkegaard, Attack upon "Christendom," trans. by Walter Lowrie jPrinceton: Princeton University Press, I944), p. 97. 2. Ibid., pp. 34-35. 3. Ibid., pp. 166-67. 4. Ibid., p. 156. 56 The Historic Reality of Christian Culture in the Danish State Church of the mid-nineteenth century. For he was living in a culture which was undergoing a rapid and complete process of secularization, and what infuriated him was the refusal of the clergy to admit the real state of affairs, so long as they could retain their official status and prerogatives. But the fact that Christian culture had become moribund in Denmark in r850 does not prove that it had never existed. There had been a time, as he himself admitted, when "Christendom" had meant something. Christianity was a historical reality which had actually come into the world and had transformed the societies with which it came into contact. Leaving aside for the moment the question of the relation between the religious ideal of Christianity and the social forms in which it embodied itself, there can be no doubt that Christianity in the past has been a creative cultural force of the first magnitude, and that it has actually created a Christian culture or a number of Christian cultures. The same, of course, is true of other religions. In fact every great civilization that exists in the world today has a great...


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