If you’re brought up [Christian], don’t assume that you can lean back in the arms of your religion and take it easy, feeling smug because you’re an insider to God’s revelation, a connoisseur of the best things of God, informed on the latest doctrines! I have a special word of caution for you who are sure that you have it all together yourselves and, because you know God’s revealed Word inside and out, feel qualified to guide others through their blind alleys and dark nights and confused emotions to God. While you are guiding others, who is going to guide you?
[Romans 2:17-24; MSG]
First of all, the Dish is one of my favorite blogs, and Andrew Sullivan is amazing. Andrew is an ex-pat Englishman and a homosexual republican Christian. He has an amazing perspective and a fantastic writer. In the more evangelical and mystical circles of American Christianity, many prophets say we’re fast approaching an age that will include the diminishment of the institutional church and the promotion of individual Christians to places of cultural influence. If that’s the case, Andrew Sullivan is definitely one of the elect–not only does he not shy away from discussing his faith on his blog (even when a large majority of his readers don’t share it) or hiding the ways it influences his politics and opinions, but he also does a better job communicating exactly what it means to be a Christian in today’s post-modern world better than anyone else I can think of.
They’ve been running a series of posts about Millennials and Christianity, and I wanted to share something Andrew wrote. He an email sent in by a reader regarding an earlier post:
You quoted Dreher:
“It would drive me nuts because I would build an argument based on official Catholic teaching…and get nowhere. Though identifying as Catholics, these folks felt not the least obligation to yield to the teaching authority of the Catholic institution. They believed that because they were Catholics by birth and baptism, whatever they wanted to believe didn’t make them any less Catholic. It was impossible to have a meaningful discussion with Catholics who didn’t feel bound by the basic teachings of the Catholic Church. No connection to the traditions or the thinking of the Church. Wieseltier’s right: truth and falsity on these questions really don’t matter to Americans anymore.”
I don’t think that completely captures what’s going on. I don’t think that people have stopped caring what’s true or false; they just think that their institutions have. And who can blame them? The Catholic Church plainly thought it was more important to maintain power than to care about whether or not children were actually being raped. And it’s not just the Catholic Church; similar revelations have been made about other institutions. Other churches have clung furiously to new-earth Creationism, and done an excellent job convincing people that Jesus was all about preventing abortion and ensuring that men maintain dominion over women.
I’d go further and argue that it is precisely because of a concern with the truth that so many have abandoned institutional religion. When a church teaches scripture in a way that simply ignores the huge amount of historical evidence about the sources of those scriptures, it is not interested in truth, but in its authority. When a church advances a version of “natural law” that is based in the science of the 13th Century, rather than of the 21st, it is showing contempt for the kind of truth-seeking Aquinas was engaged in, not respect. When it maintains utterly specious distinctions between men and women in which women are always somehow second-class, truth-seekers will go elsewhere. When its understanding of sexuality is concocted by failed celibates with profound sexual dysfunction and with histories of sexual crime and abuse, who can blame truth-seekers for looking elsewhere? It seems to me that it is because the churches have shown such profound contempt for truth that they appear crippled by modernity, and therefore have less appeal and traction. And their suppression of debate about these areas is ipso facto a flight from truth.
This does not mean that divine truth is the same as that derived from science or observation or experience. It is merely to argue that divine truth has to be consistent with these, and cannot actually assert untrue things – like the ridiculous new earth creationism or the unnaturalness of homosexuality – as part of the whole. Only in one area does it seem to me that the Catholic church has actually integrated science into teaching – on abortion, to some effect. Which may be why the orthodox position on abortion has not collapsed as swiftly as the stigmatization of homosexuals.
“I think that the type of oppression which threatens democracies is different from anything there has ever been in the world before. Our contemporaries will find no prototype of it in their memories. I have myself vainly searched for a word which will exactly express the whole of the conception I have formed. Such old words as ‘despotism’ and ‘tyranny’ do not fit. The thing is new, and as I cannot find a word for it, I must try to define it.
I am trying to imagine under what novel features despotism may appear in the world. In the first place, I see an innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls. Each one of them, withdrawn into himself, is almost unaware of the fate of the rest. Mankind, for him, consists in his children and his personal friends. As for the rest of his fellow citizens, they are near enough, but he does not notice them. He touches them but feels nothing. He exists in and for himself, and though he may still have a family, one can at least say that he has not got a fatherland.
Over this kind of men stands an immense, protective power which is alone responsible for securing their enjoyment and watching over their fate. That power is absolute, thoughtful of detail, orderly, provident, and gentle. It would resemble parental authority if, father-like, it tried to prepare its charges for a man’s life, but on the contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood. It likes to see its citizens enjoy themselves, provided they think of nothing but enjoyment. It gladly works for their happiness but wants to be the sole agent and judge of it. It provides for their security, foresees and supplies their necessities, facilitates their pleasures, manages their principal concerns, directs their industry, makes rules for their testaments, and divides their inheritances. Why should it not entirely relieve them from the trouble of thinking and all the cares of living?”
– Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America.
Shortly after the SCOTUS decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby was announced, a friend of mine posted an article to facebook detailing the hypocrisy of Hobby Lobby claiming to be a Christian company:
“We’re Christians,” Hobby Lobby’s president Steve Green proclaims, “and we run our business on Christian principles.”
That is music to the ears of many conservative Christians, who rallied around Hobby Lobby when the retail chain argued at the Supreme Court that ObamaCare’s contraception mandate unlawfully burdened their religious beliefs. But a closer look at Hobby Lobby’s actual business practices reveals this claim to be as hollow as a flute. Turn over just about any trinket in a Hobby Lobby store and you’ll find a gold oval stamped with “Made in China,” a country that is one of the worst offenders of human dignity, unborn infant life, and economic justice anywhere in the world.
Hobby Lobby reminds us why for-profit businesses should resist calling themselves “Christian.” The free market is messy and complicated and riddled with hypocrisy. Conducting business in today’s complex global economy almost ensures one will engage in behavior that is at least morally suspect from a Biblical standpoint.
If you want to call your business “Christian,” by all means, go right ahead. But those who live by the label must die by it as well. You cannot call your business “Christian” when arguing before the Supreme Court, and then set aside Christian values when you’re placing a bulk order for cheap wind chimes.
The author focuses primarily on Hobby Lobby’s business dealings in China, whose lack of humane wage and labor laws mean dismal conditions for Chinese workers, while providing low prices and high profits for Hobby Lobby. But that’s just how the system works, right? It’s not Hobby Lobby’s fault that the status-quo of our current system is disadvantageous to laborers in third world countries, not that the author provides much proof for his claims. And besides, it’s not as if Hobby Lobby has any chance of changing the system. If they tried to change things, they would probably end up going out of business and then a new hobby supplies company that isn’t a Christian business could rise to take their place. Wouldn’t that be worse?
Whenever I hear questions about complex situations like these, I find it’s much easier to look at the big picture to avoid getting overwhelmed or bogged down in the details, and the big picture issue here is whether or not capitalism is compatible with Christianity. I would say it is not.
Does that mean Christians shouldn’t participate in capitalist systems? Absolutely not. Paul instructs us to not “conform to the patterns of this world,” not to remove ourselves from it entirely. No one lights a lamp and then hides it in a drawer.
“A society which advances economically must become unstable and collapse through that advance unless, through an equal advance in psychology, it can gain a proportionately self-conscious knowledge of its inner nature. This ‘law’ stated in familiar historical language becomes: The Society which does not make and continue to make religious discoveries as radical as its material discoveries, must rapidly increase in ill-distributed wealth and power; will generate increasingly neuroses, ill-will and violence; and must finally (if it can so long long escape internal anarchy) become wholly militarized, devote itself to destruction and collapse,”
– Gerald Heard, The Source of Civilization (1935).
I’ve been reading a lot online regarding the recent kerfuffle with World Vision changing it’s hiring policy; Sarah Bessey wrote the best piece out of all of them. It’s not even about World Vision, really, as much as it’s about the future of the Living Church and the pruning of our institutional churches:
I walked this path years ago: it is not an easy path. But there are a lot of us out here waiting for you.
Can we ever really leave our mother church? Perhaps not. The complexity of tangled up roots isn’t easily undone. And yes, I think there is a way to reclaim and redeem our traditions with an eye on the future.
But maybe this isn’t your time to do that. Maybe this is your time to let go and walk away.
I know you’re grieving. Let yourself grieve. It’s the end of something, it’s worthwhile to notice the passing of it, to sit in the space and look at the pieces before you head out.
In the early days, when you are first walking away, you might feel afraid. You don’t need to be afraid. It can be confusing to separate from what so-and-so-big-guy-in-the-big-organization says about you or people like you. It can be disorienting to walk out into the wilderness on purpose. It can be lonely. It can be exhilarating. It can be terrifying.
My friend, don’t stay in a religious institution or a religious tradition out of fear. Fear should not drive your decisions: let love motivate you.
Lean into your questions and your doubts until you find that God is out here in the wilderness, too.
I have good news for you, broken-hearted one: God is here in the wandering, too. In fact, you might just find, as Jonathan Martin wrote, that the wilderness is the birthplace of true intimacy with God for you.
Jesus isn’t an evangelical. You get to love Jesus without being an evangelical.
“Christ’s place indeed is with the poets. His whole conception of Humanity sprang right out of the imagination and can only be realised by it. What God was to the pantheist, man was to Him. He was the first to conceive the divided races as a unity. Before his time there had been gods and men, and, feeling through the mysticism of sympathy that in himself each had been made incarnate, he calls himself the Son of the one or the Son of the other, according to his mood. More than any one else in history he wakes in us that temper of wonder to which romance always appeals. There is still something to me almost incredible in the idea of a young Galilean peasant imagining that he could bear on his own shoulders the burden of the entire world; all that had already been done and suffered, and all that was yet to be done and suffered: the sins of Nero, of Caesar Borgia, of Alexander VI., and of him who was Emperor of Rome and Priest of the Sun: the sufferings of those whose names are legion and whose dwelling is among the tombs: oppressed nationalities, factory children, thieves, people in prison, outcasts, those who are dumb under oppression and whose silence is heard only of God; and not merely imagining this but actually achieving it, so that at the present moment all who come in contact with his personality, even though they may neither bow to his altar nor kneel before his priest, in some way find that the ugliness of their sin is taken away and the beauty of their sorrow revealed to them,”
– Oscar Wilde, De Profundis.
“[Y]ou can’t use reason to argue someone out of a position he didn’t get into by reason. Precisely because it is, at rock bottom, a visceral feeling rather than a rational position, antigay hostility both inside and outside the Christian church can not be overcome simply by appeal to history, theology, or logic.
There are, on the other hand, ways to communicate and enlighten not dependent on mere information that can overcome deeply embedded prejudices better than argument. A life can be an argument; being can be a reason. An idea can be embodied in a person, and in human form it may break down barriers and soften hardness of heart that words could not.
This is, at least in part, what John the Evangelist means when he refers to Christ aslogos. Although translators often render it as ‘word,’ it is much more than that. It is Greek for ‘reason’ and ‘argument’: our word for ‘logic’ comes from it. Christ was God’s unanswerable ‘argument.’ His people had hardened their hearts against his spoken reasons, the arguments propounded – in words – for centuries by prophets and sages. So he sent an argument in the form of a human being, a life, a person. The argument became flesh and blood: so real that no one could refute or ignore it.”
– John Boswell, “Logos and Biography,” in Theology and Sexuality: Classic and Contemporary Readings.
“Some senses of connection with past ages seem so unerring, so strong and so instinctive that I sometimes wonder if there is a bit of truth in the theory of reincarnation. Perhaps you were an armored Roman centurion and I was a skin-clad Goth in the long ago, and perhaps we split each others’ skulls on some dim battle-field!
“Roman Britain! There is a magic charm to the phrase–the very repeating of which brings up in my mind vague images, tantalizing, alluring and beautiful. White roads, marble palaces amid leafy groves, armor gleaming among the great trees… strange-eyed women whose rippling golden hair falls to their waists–though it is always as an alien that I visualize these things …and gaze, half in awe and half in desire, at the white-armed women whose feet have never known the rasp of the heather, whose soft hands have never known the labor of fire-making and the cooking of meat over the open flame.”
[Robert E. Howard letter to H.P. Lovecraft, December 9, 1931]
In the present world situation the necessity for a profound change, for a radical transformation of our present civilization, is realized by everyone; people call this change “revolution.” On the other hand, people live in such an atmosphere of constant movement, in such a whirlpool of ideas, of social forms, of events, and in so much uncertainty, that they are very fond of saying that the world of the present day is “revolutionary.” Finally, so much seems to be going on: so many new solutions are proposed, and there are so many revolutionary parties, that people are persuaded that there never was a time when there were so many “revolutionaries”! Thus, realizing that “revolution” is necessary, they are convinced that it is already here. Since these impressions are widespread, it behooves us to examine our present situation more closely than ever before.It is scarcely necessary to insist on the fact that revolution is needed. Our western civilization has gained control of the whole world from the mechanical and rational point of view, but this has led to a fatal impasse. Disaster, in every possible form, has flooded the world to an extent never known before.Totalitarian wars, dictatorships, famines administratively organized, the complete moral disintegration of social institutions (such as the nation and the family) and of personal life (individual immorality), the fabulous growth of wealth, which does not help people at all, the enslavement of the greater part of humanity under the control of the State, or of individuals (capitalism), the de-personalization of man, both as a whole, and at particular points–all this is only too familiar.
Now man does not feel himself very happy in this situation. He has scarcely any security or hope left; he demands a change–and, indeed, a change is badly needed. Only the further we go, the more we perceive the inadequacy of human solutions, which all fail, one after another, and only increase the difficulties in which we are living. The further we go, and the more progress we make, the more do we confess that we are incapable of dominating and directing the world which we have made. All of us, in spite of our desire to keep hope alive, are aware that this is true. All this only increases our desire to see a true change which would put things right.
Jacques Ellul, 1967
The Presence of the Kingdom [p 21, 22]