In his piece for today’s On the Square, “Freeing Protestantism from Liberalism,” Peter J. Leithart would like to tell you a fairy tale:
Once upon a time, everyone followed a simple, relaxed, guilt-free religion, uncluttered by rites and dogmas. Along came the greedy priests, who complicated and corrupted everything. They added ceremonies and demanded payment for their performance, elaborated precise doctrines, and persecuted deviants, and in all this perverted the God-and-me immediacy of true religion. It’s as predictable as gravity: From the beginning, every religion devolves from primitive purity to decadent ritualism.
This myth, which John Milbank has labeled the “liberal Protestant metanarrative,” has had a remarkably long run. It was already popular in the seventeenth century, and became the implicit message of the encyclopedic series The Religious Ceremonies and Customs of all the Peoples of the World . . . .