Oden on the “chauvinist”

Reading in Oden in the wake of his passing…

In the weakness of their waning ideologies, secular chauvinists have focused obsessively on how Christian teaching has changed over the years. They cannot get enough of the differences between Christians of various historical periods, gloating over these differences as if they were decisive. These chauvinists report every form of dissent while refusing to report on or listen for consensus. A huge literature exists on the conflicting varieties of Christian thought and on inconsistencies within Jewish and Christian history. But only a very small and pale scholarly literature is available on the sociology of tradition-transmission and the continuities of historical remembering.

This is evidence of a bias largely unrecognized—a bias that accounts for sociology’s neglect of empirical inquiry into those ways in which orthodoxy has remained stable and centered. Stability is poorly understood and under-reported. Much more is known of the debates and reversals in religious teaching than of ongoing continuities within those developments. It is against the backdrop of that sort of academic myopia that today’s actual rebirth of orthodoxy is occurring.

Why has this myopia persisted so long uncorrected? Modernization since the Enlightenment has had an insatiable fascination with change and has been bored by stability. Modern news media do not know how to report on continuities, only on changes. Modern ideologues are fixated on what disaster is likely to happen next, not on how human cultures will survive and thrive through whatever crisis. But they did not reckon with the regenerating power of ancient faith, which is the centerpiece of our story.

He is not wrong.

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