Saturday, November 22, 2014

Are You Really Christian in any Significant Sense?

I am not the first person to make this observation, and I won't be the last:

Does your Christian discipleship make you stand out in any way at all?

If it doesn't I believe that chances are it's because you are not really following Christ very well. 

Now, there are of course better followers and worse followers. I am somewhere in the middle. Nor does the fact that I am this blatantly a Christian mean I am a good one. But the opposite isn't true either, that you can be a real follower of Christ without making any waves at all.

Yes, I am a blatant Christian. But any youngish, well-educated, especially well-educated in theology, articulate, healthy, father with the responsibility to set a good Christina example, especially on who lives in a democracy and has access to the means of communication, must be a blatant Christian.

No, old grannies often can't be, nor can people who are ill, persecuted, etc. Perhaps they can be, but I certainly think there is way more onus on me to be this way.

In other words, it is a sin for someone like me to keep silent.

Not only that: are your opinions distinctly Catholic?

  • I don't mean that the ones you have aren't Catholic in some way, like, yes, love of the poor. 
  • I mean do you have views that people who aren't Catholic wouldn't have?
  • I mean do the views you have make you stand out from the popular culture?
  • I mean do your views cause you to be treated negatively by the world?


If you sit and think about it, Jesus was not someone who blended into the background. If you have any sense that being a Christian is not making waves, you have to explain that one. And, if you have any sense in which being like Jesus is spouting the orthodoxies of the time, you are also quite different from Jesus.

So let's cut to the chase here. It's not good enough to be a pro-poor people, pro-worker, pro-women Christian. Anyone can have these values, and so what did God give you the gift of faith for, for what reason did He call you? - just to parrot what everyone already accepts to be true?

You won't find any Christians who, as Christians, think the poor should be abused and neglected, that women should be abused and neglected or that the environment should be wantonly destroyed. You also won't find any normal pagans like that either.

So what difference do you make? What did God call you to do?

Were the Christians of the first centuries subject to severe treatment by the Roman rulers because of their generosity to the poor?

Were the radical saints of the Middle Ages harangued by the princes and rulers of this world because they liked to nurse lepers?

Were the million martyrs of the 20th Century killed for their intransigence on tax policies?

I think we have a lot to learn from the great Butler's Lives of the Saints, for instance.

Speaking of the Romans, what new things did Christianity bring on the scene, anyway?

A great many. It's been very hard for scholars to identify these things, and this for two reasons. First, they were and are too used to them. Second, they didn't want to see Christianity's beneficence relative to Classical Culture. But let me make a list:

1. condemned abortion

2. condemned inequality in marriage (idea that it's okay for husbands to be unfaithful, but not wives)

3. brought to an end the immanent-ism of Roman values. (All that matters is this world, and hence the political advantages of Rome, and the imperialism that that entails.)

4. taught the equality of all people, contra racism, sexism, slavery

5. brought an end to the cruel idea of fate: that people get what they deserve - the poor should be poor, the blind are actually sinners, etc.

6. a radical new understanding of money (read Peter Brown's amazing book, Through the Eye of a Needle)

These five things (it's hard to distinguish them since they are all inter-related) lead to the creation of a very different kind of world, that, eventually, secularism would want to take credit for:

1. the end of slavery

2. hospitals

3. universities (with its attendant fundamental belief about the orderliness of creation, contra conceptions about fate, chaos)

But, giving credit where it is due. Christianity also brought the best out of paganism and handed it on to the modern world:

1. the Stoic idea of natural law

2. the Socratic idea that morality is more important than physics and logic (the three classic divisions of philosophy; okay, that kind of went without saying for Christians)

Anyway, this is a blog post and not a book, so I will have to be very succinct.

My overall point is this: without Christianity the world would be a much worse place. And it is very important for Christians to understand this if they are going to have their priorities in place.

And now modern people want to get rid of certain Christian things from our culture while believing they can maintain all the good things that Christianity brought about because of them (because they can't believe that it was Christianity that brought them).

There are no spiritual values, only material considerations (a la Bacon, d'Holbach, Marx, Freud). What do you think are the consequences of this view in politics and economics? Mao and Stalin lived that out and now Putin, Obama and every other corrupt politician (i.e. practically all of them) does.

Life is arbitrary and has no innate dignity. Reconfigure genes and gender, dispose of useless lives via abortion and euthanasia.

No natural law and we get this mad inconsistency: Right and wrong is a matter of personal opinion, but treat everyone exactly this way (i.e. the way left-wing ideologues tell you to).

Totalitarianism in the state. There is a reason why there were no totalitarian rulers in the Middle Ages: everyone had to obey natural law and the teaching of the Faith. This is why Pope Benedict referred to today's dictatorship of relativism. It's a dictatorship because there are no absolute checks on its power: if there is no God, no natural law, only might is right, which takes us right back to paganism. The state had checks with Christianity: the Church, the Gospel, the principles of natural reason, the family. That's what our fight about the family is really about: protecting human life from totalitarianism.

And a new slavery: Baconism and Marxism leads to a new slavery. If there are no spiritual values and only material ones, watch what happens (is happening) to Sundays and other holy days of rest and how work is taking over our lives. Work is taking over people's lives, not because they do not know how to turn off their work cellphones, but because they have no defensible moral reason to stand behind for so doing and bosses are not negatively judged by society for insisting on this.

So ultimately this is how things are: the world as we know it was blessed immeasurably by Christianity. Even still, it is not a great place. Due to a lack of historical knowledge and the manipulations of ideologues, that these good things came from Christianity remains largely unknown today, But my thesis here is not about this directly, It is that we must do the overtly Christian things to be real Christians. Why? Isn't it the case that whoever is not against us is for us? Yes, and no. Those who are merely just not against us are not doing the greater good that brought the good things of Christianity into the world. People can only love man who love God.

The good things that Christianity brought into the world are treasured by all, but the all will not be able to hold on to them.

Why?

Essentially, for no other reason than that when people do things for reasons other than 'for God,' there reasons are contingent upon those other things being the case. For example, if people do things because that's what makes me feel good, when it no longer does, they cease doing it. When people do things in any way because of some material cause, when that situation changes, their actions change. God always is, though, and His will is non-negotiable. Of course, not all Christians are good Christians, but there are no people intransigent as to the good like someone who believes it is God's will. Christians don't build hospitals to look good to others, (as we can assume the Roger's family did who recently gave $100 million to that Toronto hospital.) Christians believe in feeding the poor whether or not there are socialists around or not. Christians will feed the poor no matter the circumstance. Christians feed the poor when they are misinterpreted as socialists and when they are not, as in the case of Archbishop Romero.

Kant said there were two kinds of moral laws, the categorical and the hypothetical. It's just what I said above. Hypotheticals are things we do for sake of something else. Categorical ones have no such condition attached. I would submit that Christians view all things as categorical in the sense that we do what we understand to be good because God says so, ultimately. Pagans cannot. (Nor is it appropriate to call this kind of duty hypothetical, i.e. we do it so that God will reward us. No, we do it because we love what is good, what is, what is is God. Kant agreed: we must do the good because it is good. Theologians have long taught that love only loves because it expects a reward is servile love, not full, good love of God.)

Without God it's hard to give any view metaphysical rigor. This is why people think arguments like, "everything's socially relative," are morally relevant. Christianity has absolute goods: God, the soul, human life, human dignity. It does not regard these things are social constructs.

So in conclusion, if you think it's good enough to be a Christian who lives the social Gospel it is not, because you are caught up in too many hypotheticals. If you love a thing, and it is a thing that should be loved, but you love it for the wrong reasons, or not for the best reason, then you are undermining the people who built the Kingdom of God, then you are making things worse, not better. Because the world such as it is is the best that the saints could make it. If you do not live like they lived, you are taking away from their work. Moreover, and this is as insulting as it is important: when you do the right things for the wrong reasons or not for the best reason (God) it is because you have weak faith. Merely social gospel Christians, thus, have little to no faith.

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