Kimberly and I are in Europe, combining our 25th anniversary, pilgrimage, and an opportunity to stay at a friend’s apartment in Garmisch-Partenkirchen. And now I can see why my friend abides here several times throughout the year. It is astoundingly beautiful with Zugspitze and other towering alpine peaks guarding the town on all sides, its historic cobblestone Ludwigstraße with restaurants and shops, and the handsomely built Bavarian homes with dark wood accents, gable carvings, tiled roofs and white stucco walls. Indeed, Garmisch-Partenkirchen looks like the place Busch Gardens tried to pretentiously replicate in their theme parks.
But Garmisch-Partenkirchen has a deeper beauty Busch Gardens could nor would ever attempt to replicate, a beauty forged from centuries of tradition and spirituality that calls from an integrated Papal Christian Europe. On walls and in windows, be it a home, hotel or bakery, are crosses (cum corpore), statues, and images depicting Jesus, the Virgin Mary, Apostles, saints, or scenes from the Bible. In backyards, amid fields, and along roads are numerous small gabled shrines of the crucified Christ. These are created in the artistic tradition of the West to forever proclaim the gospel to an illiterate world, not because Gutenberg had yet to mass produce books centuries ago, but because Zuckerberg has mass produced social media on Facebook in our own day, heralding another dark age in which knowledge is not burned by the barbarian hordes, but buried in the big-data deluge of the mundane and meaningless.
Even in the local language, there is an unabashed and unbuffered perspective on life and the eternal. Around here one may say “Guten Tag” or “Auf Wiedersehen” but it is often to hear “Grüße Gott” which I believe literally means “God’s Greetings”. Imagining such fixtures in the United States, the images would be defaced, the monuments would be removed by judiciary, the businesses would be boycotted, the greeting would be met with scorn or rebuke. Consequently, we have no culture, no identity, no conviction and no truth. We have only power and the world view of those that wield it. As Hillaire Belloc stated in his book Characters of the Reformation: “The religion of the government becomes the religion of the state.” Is he wrong?
The Reformation (or at least the ultimate manifestation of it) roughly divided Germany into the Catholic south and Protestant North. This was more political than religious and resulted in state religions (the Church of ENGLAND, the Church of NORWAY, the Church of DENMARK to illustrate the point). In Germany (then the Holy Roman Empire) it was the religion adopted by the prince in whatever principality or territory ruled over. For the ordinary subject that meant adopting the prince’s world view or have a rough life of persecution to look forward to.
CUT TO: The United States of America where, supposedly, there is no official State Religion by Constitution. It sounds great on paper but in practice it has evolved to be the same thing as Old Europe. If I don’t embrace the administration’s stance on faith and morals (homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion) I can expect legal or financial persecution: no federal funding for schools that are not on board with trans-gender bathrooms; no tax exemption for churches that preach against the power of the state; severe penalties if I object to selling abortifacient drugs; total annihilation if I don’t use my business in support of a same-sex wedding ceremony.
So I ask again, is Belloc wrong?