Christianity was blended with chivalry and other pagan traditions to create our modern social culture.
Note: I wrote these ideas in a comment at Christianity and Masculinity, and revised it to form this post.
Christianity as a Cultural Identification
Deep Strength made the remark,
“To me, it’s really crazy in retrospect how chivalry and courtly love have been integrated into Christianity by most of western churches.”
Concepts like chivalry and courtly love were integrated into Western culture approximately 800 to 900 years ago, of course, long before contemporary feminism. Likewise, Christianity became an intrinsic part of Western culture since the days of the Holy Roman Empire, if not before.
These elements were incorporated into Western culture in roughly the same process. The influences of Christianity and the influences of folk religions were an ambient part of Western culture, and there occurred a blending of both of the elements together in terms of the mind, mindset and identity of the average Christian. Even though the Church itself never explicitly endorsed Chivalry and Courtly Love as doctrine (that is, until the advent of Churchianity), the average Christian growing up in this culture had these ideas impressed on their mind, their mindset, and their identity, and saw that as being merged with their “Christian” identity as well. Thus, these pagan influences came into the church “through the back door” by means of a de facto cultural merger on the personal level.
Because of this amalgamation of faith and culture on the grass roots level, the various influences within a culture were very much a two-way street, in that when that kind of identification happens, the influences can, and do, run in either direction. That is, Christianity can influence the culture – and this certainly happened over the course of the period during which Christianity was the “establishment culture” in the West – but Christianity can also become influenced by the culture, specifically by the elements of it that are extrinsic to Christianity in their origin.
The result is that for many Christians, the line between culture and Christianity became quite blurred – elements of the culture that were not Christian in origin were adopted by Christians because they were also a part of the culture, and the culture overall was considered a “Christian culture” (at the time), so it was “all good”. But the elements were not, in all cases, Christian, even though they were accepted by, and adopted by, Christians, including for use in Christian churches and in the expressions of the Christian faith in its religious, and not merely its cultural aspects.
Middle Class Values are no longer Christian Values
I’ve written on this before, about how one element of that was the way that “middle class values” became associated with “Christian values”, and were practiced by Christians as if they were one and the same for a long time. But then during the past half-century or so, middle class values changed – they became much more feminist, much less consistent with Christianity’s values, especially when it comes to raising daughters and their life script.
When American culture changed due to the influences of feminism, people simply adjusted their perception of what it meant to be a “Christian” around the new definition of what it meant to be “American middle class”, more or less without missing a beat.
The underlying reason for this is the precedent of cultural amalgamation. That is, for most people, the concepts of what was American, what was middle class, and what was Christian had long since been merged in their minds, their mindsets, their lifestyles, and their identity, such that when one aspect changed, it was simply superposed onto the existing aspects. The new, changed, yet still merged, identity continued along, albeit in a more feminist version. These changes happened gradually over a period of time, and on a large scale, so it went totally undetected by the average Christian.
Almost no churches bucked this trend, apart from the most traditionalist outliers. Christians went on following the culture’s middle class values, because, for them, to be middle class was to be Christian and vice versa. The idea that these were in conflict, or even could be, did not even compute for most Christians, because “middle class American” and “Christian” were practically synonymous, such that the “content” of being “Christian” was largely the same as the “content” of being “American middle class”.
Deep Strength countered that this corruption is not constrained to the middle class.
“Good point, although I might argue that it’s closer to “American values” have become “Christian values.” Some (or perhaps many?) are determined by the middle class, but most are rooted in rebellion and defiance against authority in the first place, which is why everything is going to crumble eventually. The American dream — material success and wealth — in particular is very at odds with Christ’s mission of evangelizing and making disciples. Selfish vs selfless.”
The Slow Demise into Apostasy
As it stands, we are dealing with churches that are defending some elements of non-Christian culture that are present in their churches but which they do not even admit are not Christian. These “counter-cultural”, traditional churches even go to great effort to conserve those surviving elements that are counter-Christian in nature. (Chivalry is a great example.) Furthermore, these beliefs are defended over and against “new” elements of non-Christian culture that they are (rightfully) resisting, rather than actually resisting *all* elements of non-Christian culture that are present in their churches. It’s a mess of confusion!
Seen in this way, the differences between the “progressive” and “conservative” churches become, in fact, much smaller. Really, it is reduced down to what non-Christian elements are they willing to accept into the churches, given that both of them have done so, just in different ways, and with different degrees of self-awareness.
It can be sometimes hard to see this today, when so much of the church’s self-styled “traditional” branches are loudly proclaiming that they are aloof from, and at odds with, this or that element of contemporary culture, be it abortion, transgender issues, gay marriage and the like. And it’s true that there is an intentional cultural distancing going on. But the fact that this is going on now also serves to obscure the reality that the non-Christian elements of prior eras which continue on in the ambient culture still lurk under cover of so-called “conservative Christianity”.
In other words, what they are conserving is, in many ways, not actually Christian, but merely the non-Christian elements of the prior version of the broader Western culture that had entered into the churches through the process I described above – a cultural merger and identification in the minds of the individual members of the churches (including clergy as well).