The archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, lies on the ground at the Jallianwala Bagh memorial. Photograph: Narinder Nanu/AFP/Getty Images
The recent move by the Canadian government to criminalize “condoning, denying, or downplaying” the Holocaust is not just an infringement of civil liberties supposedly guaranteed by the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. More importantly, it endows a distinctively Jewish political theology with legal protections denied to core Christian beliefs. The fact that this development has not been opposed either by mainline Protestant or Catholic churches is highly significant. Still, once upon a time, the Catholic Church did possess a distinctive political theology of its own, one identifying the Jewish people as an actual or, at best, a potential foe. The Second Vatican Council put an end to that “antisemitic” article of faith. But in principle, at least, Catholics could return their historic political theology on the Jewish Question. Things are very different among the Anglo-Protestant people of Canada, in particular, and of the Anglosphere, generally.
Anglo-Protestantism has long since been captured by cosmopolitan humanism, a liberal world-view denying the existential distinction made by realist political theology between friend and foe. Accordingly, Anglo-Protestants shy away from the traditional Christian belief that the Old Covenant with Israel according to the flesh was superseded by a New Covenant between God and the Church. Having rejected supersessionism, Anglo-Protestants generally recognize the Jews as elder brothers in the faith whose Covenant with God remains in force. The Holocaust Mythos, therefore, is widely accepted as the story of a monstrous crime committed against a people of God representative of humanity-at-large. Mainline Anglo-Protestant churches inhabit a moral universe in which a loving God confronts the “perpetrators” of genocides against innocent “victims” who may or may not receive aid, comfort, or justice from “bystanders”.
The Jewish people, on the other hand, have not been slow to recognize that their world is characterized by a sharp division between their “philosemitic” friends and their “antisemitic” enemies. During the twentieth century and continuing today, Anglo-Protestants have recognized the Jews as their “friends” and have, accordingly, been willing to combat “enemies” of the Jews whenever and however their governments have commanded. The Second and Third Reichs in Germany were foremost among those designated by our governments as collective “enemies,” not just of the British peoples, but of humanity itself.
Now that the Palestinian President (while sharing a platform with the German Chancellor) has charged Israel with inflicting “50 Holocausts” upon his people, one might wonder whether the Germans copped a bum rap over the Holocaust 1.0. To reach any firm conclusion, we should reflect upon the historical development of Anglo-Protestantism and the theological presuppositions that have prevented the church from developing an ethno-religious theology capable of reliably distinguishing “friend” from “foe”.
How Anglicans Escaped “Anglo-Saxon Captivity”
The Church of England created the original model of Anglo-Protestantism during the sixteenth-century Reformation which separated the Anglican church from Roman Catholicism. The word “Anglican” is grounded etymologically in the old Anglo-Saxon term “Angelcynn” which meant literally “kin of the Angles.” This poses the obvious question as to whether Anglican political theology retains the capacity to draw any distinction between “friend” and “enemy” now that the Anglican “brand” has been drained of its ancestral, biblically-based, ethno-religious meaning. In what follows, I will use Angelcynn to denote the broad, but long disunited, body of Anglo-Protestants who could, and in my view, should re-unite in a broad church acting as a medium for the expression of their particular ethno-religious needs and interests.
Nations are rooted in historical myths, symbols, and ethno-religious traditions which, in the case of England, developed over many centuries during the Middle Ages. Leading authorities in support of that thesis are: Anthony D. Smith on The Ethnic Origins of Nations and Martin Lichtmesz on Ethnopluralismus. The concept of ethnopluralism must be distinguished from modern secular policies of multiculturalism as defended, for example, by James Tully. Official multiculturalism in the Anglosphere refuses to recognize the political character of Anglo-Protestant ethno-religious identity. But the Israeli historian, Azar Gat, in his book on Nations: The Long History and Deep Roots of Political Ethnicity and Nationalism provides support for the proposition that Anglo-Protestant Christians desperately need to recover a political theology anchored in their own distinctive ethno-religious identity. As things stand, all Protestant denominations, Anglican and dissenting churches alike, have united with the state to deny the legitimacy, indeed even the reality, of any such need.
Carl Schmitt is generally credited with the invention of the term “political theology”. What did Schmitt mean by political theology? German scholar Heinrich Meier suggests that Schmitt was looking for the legitimate foundations of political action. In European civilization, he found a conflict between political philosophy, ostensibly based in the universal principles of rational discourse, and revelation anchored in particularistic ethno-religions. To speak of revelation, of course, takes us into the realm of biblical theology. What is the relationship between biblical revelation and political theology? Did the historical Jesus preach a political theology? Did Jesus the Christ and his followers, before and after the Cross, have friends and enemies? While the historical Jesus seems to have focused on the destiny of his own people, the global Jesus, as worshipped by contemporary Anglo-Protestants, came to save the whole of humanity.
For the ancestors of today’s Anglo-Protestants, political theology, avant la lettre, was a fact of life. In fact, the theology of the Angelcynn was politicized from the very beginning of their historical ethnogenesis. The story of the emergence of the English nation, no less than the biblical narrative of ancient Israel, was and remains a process moved by “the lure of God”. Ethno-religious divisions long defined friends and enemies, thereby shaping the demographic development of the English nation. Neither the English nor, later, the British state created the English nation. Instead, the Old English Church nurtured the ethnogenesis of the English people. An embryonic English ethnos, working in and through the early Angelcynn church and their king, became the prototype of an English “state,” well before the Norman Conquest.
Over the centuries, the identity of those deemed to be enemies of the English changed. During the reign of Alfred the Great, the Vikings were perceived as the greatest threat. When William the Conqueror invaded England, the Norman enemy was victorious. The Norman Conquest in combination with the Papal Revolution transformed the ethno-religious culture of England. One sign of the transformation was the replacement of the Old English used in Angelcynn monasteries by the Latin language employed in the universal Church governed from Rome. The ecclesiastical regime based on the absolutist papal monarchy survived in England for several centuries.
Following the upheavals of the Reformation and Civil War, the division between Protestants and Catholics largely defined the distinction between friend and enemy for Britons, both domestically and internationally.
With the expansion of England, a Greater Britain emerged in the settler colonies around the world. From the eighteenth century onwards, the British Empire competed for power and resources with continental rivals such as France and Germany. Religious differences were no longer central to such conflicts. Indeed, since then, the process of secularization advanced to the point where historians have pronounced the death of Christian Britain.
In the Empire at large, one might even ask whether Australia, for example, was ever a Christian community on its road to nationhood. Ever since the Second World War, the declining Anglican confession throughout the Anglosphere has celebrated its escape from “Anglo-Saxon captivity,” to the point where it has been absorbed into a form of global Christianity hostile to any suggestion that the Anglican church should be of, by, and for the white British peoples of the Anglosphere. “White racism” is now the proclaimed enemy of mainstream Anglican political theology.
Indeed, contemporary Anglican political theology, in the person of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, manifests itself as the kinder, gentler face of post-Christian globalist bioleninism. In other words, it is difficult to distinguish between the public face of Anglican political theology and the Woke political ideology governing “Our Democracies”.
In the realm of academic theology, however, Oliver O’Donovan’s The Desire of the Nations offers a much more sophisticated model of Anglican political theology, but one no less opposed to an ethno-religious understanding of the Anglican tradition. O’Donovan contends that the point and purpose of every nation’s existence has been determined once and for all in the “Christ event”. “Membership in Christ,” he declares, “replaced all other political identities by which communities knew themselves”. Because the church is “catholic” it “leaps over all existing communal boundaries and forbids any part of the human race…to think of the Kingdom of God as confined within its own limits and to lose interest in what lies beyond them”. Strictly speaking, according to O’Donovan the church is an “eschatological” rather than a political society: it can be “entered only by leaving other, existing societies”.
For O’Donovan, in the modern world, not even those other, “political” societies constituted by governments are based on shared blood, language, and religion. Instead, the only form of “nationalism” open to modern “nation-states” such as Australia, Canada, or the United Kingdom is a “civic nationalism’’ defined by a common political will. Nationalism, therefore, is sometimes said to be in trouble. But, O’Donovan maintains, this is nothing new. “The truth is,” he remarks, “it has been in trouble ever since Christ rose from the dead”. In the eschatological society of the church, “no people’s identity as a people can be assumed; community identity is no longer self-evident. It is called into question by the existence of a new people, drawn from every nation, which by its catholic identity casts doubt on every other”.
In stark contrast, to that “catholic” vision of Christian identity, my thesis will defend the proposition that the Volksgeist of the English nation (and other British-descended peoples) was once, and could be again, an important medium through which God works in this world. Accordingly, this project rests on a set of presuppositions that differ in certain fundamental respects from those underlying O’Donovan’s approach to political theology.
Any theological schema of civic action requires one or more orienting concepts if it is to achieve its objectives. Historically potent examples of such orienting concepts, can be found in the lives and works of men such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and John Wesley. Calvin’s theology was oriented around the concept of the “majesty or sovereignty of God.” Luther oriented his theological theory and practice around “justification by faith” while Wesley’s work revolved around the notion of “responsible grace.” Each of these concepts oriented new approaches to practical theology, each sparking its own theological revolution. Unfortunately, those revolutions oriented as they were, each in its own way, to personal salvation has run its course. Evangelical Protestantism is dying on the vine.
An Angelcynn Reformation seeking the collective redemption of British-descended peoples requires a more comprehensive strategy; it must be oriented around not just one but four concepts. This multi-pronged approach can be grounded in several existing but, as yet, separate streams of white Anglo-Saxon Protestant theology. The four key theological concepts are: (1) process theism; (2) preterism; (3) kinism; and (4) royalism. If and when these already intellectually compelling challenges to theological orthodoxy merge into a single popular current of ethno-religious experience, the next Great Awakening in British religious history will be in the offing.
Process theism builds on the historical theology of the nineteenth-century Anglican broad-church movement in rejecting traditional Christian theism. The early creeds of the Church established an image of God, outside time and space, the omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent source of being itself, who created the world out of nothing.
The doctrine of creatio ex nihilo cannot be found in either the Old or the New Testament. It appeared suddenly in the latter half of the second century B.C. Its appearance “can best be explained as a defence of the most controversial part of the Christian kerygma, the resurrection of the dead”. Only a God who created the world out of nothing could accomplish the bodily resurrection of the dead. Oliver O’Donovan’s vision of the universal church as an eschatological society preserves that creedal linkage between God’s created order and the bodily resurrection of believers in the new creation.
By contrast, process theism denies that the doctrine of creatio ex nihilo can be grounded in Genesis One. Instead, creation is conceived as an ongoing process within which God remains actively involved with all forms of conscious life. Biologist Bruce G. Charlton suggests that process theism can provide his discipline with the metaphysical framework it desperately needs to solve fundamental problems such as group selection. Natural selection is comparatively easy to explain at the level of individual organisms. But “true group selection…entails a purposive mechanism that can predict, can ‘look ahead’ several generations, and infer what is likely to be good for the survival and reproduction of the species.” The theory of natural selection “lacks teleology—a goal, direction or purpose.”
If the idea of purpose demands an organizing entity or deity then “evolution across history is best explained as a directional process of development” at both the individual (ontogeny) and group (phylogeny) level. The comparative evolutionary success of ethnic groups is probably affected, therefore, by the nature and intensity of their religious connection to the theistic organizing entity.
God is not omnipotent, however. Hence the evils of the world cannot be charged exclusively to his account; moreover, he is affected by his interactions with us and the wrongs we do unto others and ourselves. Robert Gnuse demonstrates that the Old Testament provides a revealing account of the processes of communication between the Israelites and the divine. Perhaps white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, too, could and should create a national bible recording our own communication—or lack thereof—with the divine.
Indeed, process theism provides grounds for doubting that the “Christ-event” (i.e., the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Jesus) happened, once and for all, in the history of only one nation in the ancient Near East on planet Earth. Jesus the Christ made a unique appearance in Israel according to the flesh but who knows whether or not other singular incarnations for other unique nations or even other worlds are excluded. There is only one historical Jesus, but there may be other Christ-events in some other “holy nation.”
In Part Two, we will discuss the contribution that preterism, kinism, and royalism can make to the emergence of an Anglo-Protestant political theology capable of distinguishing friend from foe.