Is the legal and political downstream from culture, or vice versa? That’s the debate going on in religious conservative circles today. A rising number of voices, mostly in reaction to the excesses and missteps of the Religious Right, have been arguing that religious conservatives have been largely blind to the way that culture is upstream from law. In an effort to secure legal ground against progressive advances, the Right was ceding the deeper war for the imagination and affections of the populace. Gay marriage is an obvious example of this. As social conservatives secured dozens of temporary political victories, the vision of the general population was being captured through media narratives that were laying the groundwork for the generation-shaping, sea-change in popular opinion we’ve witnessed in the last few years.
While many of us might have been nodding our heads in agreement with this line of critique over the last couple of years, a jaunt into early church history might complicate the picture a bit. Peter Leithart’s fascinating cultural analysis of the Roman spectacles and their proscription by Constantine in Defending Constantine: The Twilight of An Empire and the Dawn of Christendom suggests a more intricate relationship between the two spheres than any strict dichotomy can capture.
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