In necessary things, unity; in doubtful things, liberty; in all things, charity (in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas), is a wonderful program, which should characterize all Christian cultures at all times. The Middle Ages were largely imbued with this spirit. The necessary element of unity was the Church and her dogmas. If a medieval prince gave a feast, he would have been extremely shocked to find that one of his guests did not believe in God or considered the crucifixion a myth. As regards the dress of his guests he would permit a far-reaching latitude and he would indeed be highly astonished if all his male friends would wear identical garments. Today we consider it quite natural that our left-hand neighbor at a banquet is an atheist, our host a heretic, and our right-hand neighbor an agnostic. Emily Post would probably severely censure anybody who would take exception to the religious views of his hosts or guests. It would be “tactless” and demonstrate a lack of good breeding. Yet it would be an even greater crime to appear at a formal dinner in sports clothes and not to don the rigorously prescribed uniforms: tuxedo or tails. So we have today disunity in the necessary things and uniformity in the “doubtful things,” not to speak of charity which has been replaced by ambition.

In order to illustrate the situation even more accurately one might take the example of a tree with roots hanging in the air and the branches fixed individually on iron poles. The situation in ancient Rome and in the United States have certain parallels when we remember that both countries served as meeting places for the most different religions. The Roman chaos of Isis, Mithras, Jahveh, Zeus, Kybele, Jupiter, and Saturn has been matched by Mary Eddy-Baker, Joseph Smith, Aimée S. Macpherson, and others. This variety of forms has caused religion to be held as something merely relative (an opinion not a truth). People who dogmatize furiously about the President, the gold reserves of Fort Knox, and the New Deal become suddenly vague, “broad minded,” and uncertain if they talk about religion. They look to the most abstruse laymen for “orientation,” and nowhere is the distrust for the expert greater than in this domain.* Astronomers, mathematicians, biologists, electrical engineers, and movie stars expound publicly their views about God, eternity, grace, and original sin, whereas nobody would dream of asking archbishops or professors of divinity about their opinions on atom smashing, protoplasm, or short waves.

Catholicism fits very badly into this “pantheon,” it fits into it only as ancient Christianity did into the multiform, liberal religious world of the first century A.D. Christendom was then considered to be an unsporting, disagreeable, exclusive, and totalitarian low-class sect, which “didn’t play the game.” Catholicism in the United States is frequently looked upon with similar feelings. One will find Unitarians in America who invite Episcopalian ministers to preach in their churches and — what is less surprising — Jewish rabbis delivering their sermons in Presbyterian houses of worship. This concessionalism and interdenominationalism leads to that famous nonsectarian attitude that culminates in the saying: “There’s truth in every religion,” which is precisely the gist of the parable of the ring in Boccaccio’s Decameron. The true early Christians never minded being used as living torches or as crocodile fodder. Sectarians now too often forget the tradition of these heroic martyrs, and the intolerance even of their sectarian fathers. One finds Presbyterian pastors using “Luther” as their Christian name and Lutherans who are called “Calvin,” oblivious of all the abysmal antagonism between the ex-monk and the dictator of Geneva, who founded their respective religions. One also wonders whether the rabbis preaching in Lutheran Churches know anything about Luther’s contempt and hatred for their race and faith.

Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn, The Menace of the Herd, or Procrustes at Large (1943)


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