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Opinion | Can Politics Save Christianity?

And here I think the analogy to the new progressivism especially fails. What gets called “wokeness” is particularly powerful among elites, yes, but the shift in attitudes on, say, racism is broader than that; if similar numbers of previously secular Americans were suddenly endorsing Christian doctrine we would rightly call it a revival. Well before it began to impose itself on the doubtful and reluctant, the new progressivism ascended — first within the church-like structures of academia, and then in liberal culture more broadly — precisely because it had conviction on its side, as against the more careerist and soulless aspects of liberal meritocracy.

Social justice activists did not triumph, in other words, by first getting an opportunistically woke politician elected president and having her impose their doctrines by fiat. Their cultural advance has had political assistance, but it began with that most ancient power — the power of belief.

Which is also how Christian renewal has usually proceeded in the past. The politically powerful play a part, the half-believing come along, but it was the Dominicans and Franciscans who made the High Middle Ages, the Jesuits who drove the Counter-Reformation, the apostles and martyrs who spread the faith before Roman emperors adopted it.

It’s been that way from the very start. Kings eventually bowed before the crucifix, but in the worlds of the wisest Dominican, Thomas Aquinas, “the most efficacious argument” for Christ’s divinity is that “without the support of the secular power he has changed the whole world.”

And so this Christmas, in our parish and every church around the world, we begin again. Whatever world-changing power we might seek, whatever influence we might hope to wield, starts with the ancient prayer: Lord, I believe; help my unbelief.

Merry Christmas.

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