The desire for a “land of our own” here, now, visibly: a Christian nation or a Holy Roman Empire that is more than provisional, is an impatience to get on with things. The Zionism that Strauss championed (at least for a time and provisionally) was of this kind; he both supported it, and suspected it as a ducking out of the Jewish responsibility to keep living as a remnant exilic community. He described it as a desire to “to gain access to normal historical ‘reality’ (land and soil, power and arms, peasantry and aristocracy.)” What does one do with this desire, whether one is Jewish or Christian?
One option is assimilation. Assimilationist Judaism is the equivalent of some kinds of post-Enlightenment Protestantism, and it is the religion which is the opiate of the masses: This kind of belief, which is not supposed to have any public or political manifestation, is very problematic. Certainly it is individualist rather than communitarian or political, but that’s the least of it: Ultimately the belief is not supposed to be seen at all: it is acceptable only inasmuch as it makes no difference in one’s words or behavior.
The Zionism about which Strauss was so ambivalent was a grasping at a fully realized Kingdom-Now theology. Back to the earthly Zion may be where God is leading the Jews now: it is not, I think, where he is leading the Christians. We must not attempt to reestablish the Holy Roman Empire. Perhaps the Christendom we ought to be aiming at now is something that might be called Christendom-in-exile, as France could be found in exile in North Africa, in London, in New York during the Vichy regime. I don’t entirely know what this would look like: I don’t really think that creating actual ghettoes is the way to go, and even cultural ghettoes of the kind we like to talk down when we complain about the Christian Contemporary Music scene are problematic.
Still, there’s something here that is important: the choice we were offered was, on the one hand, a Christianity that is exiled, disembodied, individualistic, and apolitical (i.e. fundamentalism, some of modern evangelicalism, some of dispensationalism, I think); and on the other hand, a Christianity that is a kind of Kingdom-Now Zionism, an overrealized eschatology such as the Confederate Christendom embraced by Douglas Wilson and (less extravagantly) Peter Leithart (from the Protestant camp) and the Holy Roman Empire revanchists (among the Catholics.) I totally understand the appeal of both of these, but I think– I’m not sure, but I think– it’s a somewhat similar appeal to that which sent Paul Wolfowitz on his overseas adventures. Yes, it’s for Jesus, not for America. And that does make a difference. But it’s still… I think it’s not quite right.
What we need is a third way: a Christendom that is in exile, that expects God to establish the New Jerusalem not made by human hands (per NT Wright), and that sees this creation as pregnant in a supernatural way with the new creation; but a Christendom which is also thoroughly material and physical and political. And so maybe we need to be thinking about the cultural institutions that have typified these kinds of exilic communities: the landsmannschaften that anchored new immigrants in their Lower East Side lives; the coffeehouses that served as meeting places for scholars in exile from either of the totalitarianisms of the twentieth century, where their papers were written and their journals read.
Above all we must start thinking of churches as embassies: if we do this, we’ll understand why you get people seeking sanctuary in them. They do it, instinctively, as one would seek asylum in the American embassy in Budapest or somewhere, during the Cold War.