Saturday, December 19, 2009

Christianity as the fulfilment of culture

It is somewhat painful to watch Christian leaders flail against the prevailing culture. It is painful because it is ineffectual. Catholic bishops point out that the health care bill is unacceptably supportive of abortion, and the powers that be ignore them. Contraception is occasionally denounced, and the world yawns, if it notices. The Church is called as a supporting witness if congenial to the spirit of the times, and is ignored when it isn't.

This is not to say that the Church shouldn't be making its voice heard in the public square, but that we are wrong to take the defensive posture. We argue from natural law to moral points, which I think is mistaken. We say, "See, our moral laws could be reached by secular reason! We aren't so bad! Treat us nicely, please?" But secular reason never reaches to the moral teaching of Christ. Secular reason is damaged, fallen, unable to be master of spirit and appetite. We need to take the offensive.

By the offensive, I mean to return to the practice of the early Church which confronted a similar culture. Late antiquity was finding its traditions crumbling, and its ancient religions unable to give reason to support imperial order. Christianity presented itself as the culmination and fulfillment of the traditions of the Classical world, and therefore their salvation. As Peter Brown writes:

"Origen and his successors taught the pagan that to become a Christian was to step, at last, from a confused and undeveloped stage of moral and intellectual growth into the heart of civilization. . . . They claimed that Christianity was the sole guarantee of that civilization -- that the best traditions of classical philosophy and the high standards of classical ethics could be steeled against barbarism only through being confirmed by the Christian revelation; and that the beleaguered Roman empire was saved from destruction only by the protection of the Christian God."

The modern world, with its admirable ideals of equal justice, religious freedom, respect for women, representative government, etc., can only be saved by Christianity, which through its doctrine of man as being from conception made in the image and likeness of God teaches that president and poor, woman and man, all and sundry are infinitely valuable.

We don't argue that the Church can fit into modern culture, but that modern culture can fit into the Church, and needs to, in order to be saved.



Throwback said...

I think the problem with this is that too many Catholics would have to act like Catholicism is the One, True Church.

To engage society as you suggest, you can't "live and let live." You can't just shrug in the face of sin and comfort yourself with the idea that the sinner really is a "nice person." You can't be ok with prosperity Gospel or any other such spiritually deforming concepts.

I wish we had the guts for something like this.

Mark of the Vineyard said...