There has been much talk recently in politics and the media, pro and con, about the new nationalism our president espouses. His chief strategist, Steve Bannon, is on record saying that this should involve a turn back to our “Western and Christian roots.” My question is a simple one: What does that mean?
For it clearly doesn’t mean an alignment with contemporary Europe strategically or intellectually. The former is embodied by the EU and NATO. With respect to the latter, Europe is adamantly secular. And Christian? We all know by now that the preponderance of the Church’s members, outside the United States, live almost everywhere except the West! Perhaps Christian here refers to a set of traditional civic or familial values, but then recent immigrants would seem to be prime exemplars. What are we talking about then?
The remaining options are less appealing. It might be code for a kind of nativism, but the last time our country turned down that road, many of those excluded were Italian and Irish, who are both Western and Christian. It might be code for a “clash of civilizations,” though all the leaders of churches in the West oppose this in their relation to Islam. It might mean a turn away from postmodern nihilism, which would be ironic indeed. It might be a vaguer, romanticist appeal to an age gone by, in which the content is left uneasily underdetermined.
I am an advocate of reclaiming the roots of Western Christian theology. But what is that really? It includes confessing a Church catholic from all the nations of the earth. It includes confessing the traditional doctrines of sin, grace, and redemption that make us look at the log in our own eye. In the modern era it includes claiming the tradition of religious and political freedom rooted in the doctrine of the image of God as our own. Between what Mr. Bannon means by “Western and Christian” and what we mean there is virtually no overlap.