Countercultural Thoughts

  1. “What ifs” about salvation
  2. Is there a space where God has no claims?
  3. Interiorizing Democracy

It occurs to me, after assembling them willy-nilly, that all three of these are supportive of what I think Rod Dreher is talking about when he talks about The Benedict Option (soon to be a major book release!). I’m posting them separately to avoid dilution by “real” items.

1

[W]hat if salvation is not just about accepting Christ? What if salvation is the whole process of being conformed into the image of Christ? What if we are not saved to serve? What if we are saved to become like Jesus? I think, for many, this is the appeal of Orthodox Christianity. As Orthodox Christians, we understand salvation to be a process of transformation—a process that takes a lifetime, and even more than a lifetime.

If salvation is of the Lord, as the scriptures tell us, then even when I do serve the Church, I am not serving so that others might be saved. The eternal destiny of no one depends on me, the eternal destiny of no one except myself that is. I am called to save myself in Christ, to hide myself in Christ, to find myself in Christ. I am not called to save anyone but myself. And saving myself is merely a matter of learning again and again to accept Christ as the Lord of my life, in ever widening areas of my life, in ever deeper levels of my being.

(Fr. Michael Gillis, The End of the Charismatic Line)

2

There are ideas that are so common, so oft-repeated, that they are critically examined only with great difficulty. Among the most powerful such ideas is the concept described as the “separation of Church and State.” The history of the phrase is its own study (it’s not actually in the Constitution, much less the Bible). It is repeated, however, as though it were not only obvious but morally obvious. Thus, it has come to be far more than a particular arrangement within American constitutional thought. Hidden within the sentiment, however, are assumptions about both the State and the Church that are not only not obvious, but from a classical Christian perspective, not even true.

The concept posits two entities, Church and State, as though they were givens about which everyone agrees. The modern construction called “the State,” is, just that, a modern construction. The nation-state is a fairly modern notion …

For the purposes of our thought, I will suggest a different model. Suppose this thing called “the State,” decides to contract out all of its various services (this is indeed taking place increasingly). The military, the police, construction, social services, etc., would all be different private corporations. Prisons in some states are already managed in this way. The private contractors working for the military toeday even includes some who exercise a military function (i.e. they kill people and blow up things). In this contracted arrangement, what would remain would be a concept called “the State,” but, in reality, was only a collection of businesses doing various jobs. What would “State” mean? To what would people belong?

Such an exercise is useful in teasing out the notion of “belonging” to a State. “I am an American; I am a Canadian,” etc. In my thought experiment, you would be a person who lived in a territory serviced by some collection of companies.

The State (particularly in its modern manifestation) represents a rival claimant to the Kingdom of God. In its concept of secularism, it declares that there exists a space in which God has no claims. It boldly and clearly proclaims that it has no God but itself. The various civil proclamations concerning God (“In God we trust,” etc.) are but echoes of a time when the Church and the State were differently conceived. At present, it is language without content, a hollow mocking of an earlier time.

What does this mean for Christians in this world?

It does not make us into anarchists. Christians are the ultimate monarchists: we believe that Christ is King and God (cf. the service of Holy Baptism). It does not mean that we refuse to obey just laws and respect leaders. We do not, however, agree to their ontological demands. They do not own what they claim – particularly when it comes to the lives and loyalties of human beings. “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” There are not two owners.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Church and State Are Not Separate – They Are at War)

3

With every advance and repudiation of authority, authority itself does not disappear – it simply becomes more universalized. Today, in contemporary Christianity, it is said that “every man is a Pope.” Whereas a few generations ago, people asserted that the Bible alone had authority, today, that, too, has been overthrown. Each person is his own authority. And I will add, that if every person is his own authority, then there is no authority.

This is perhaps stated in an extreme way. We do have bosses in the work place, teachers in the classroom and other authorities. But as anyone in “authority” can confirm, such positions are under increasing pressure and scrutiny. They often have authority, only because they have coercive power. Authority that rests naturally with a person or position has virtually disappeared from our world.

I am fully sympathetic with the political place of democracy …

I am, however, deeply interested in the spiritual disease that accompanies the interiorizing of the democratic project. We have not only structured our political world in a “democratic” manner, we have spiritualized the concept and made of it a description for how the world truly is and how it should be. The assumptions of democracy have become the assumptions of modern morality and the matrix of our worldview.

Much of what today passes for Protestantism is … a thinly veiled cloak for the democratic spirit at “prayer.”  “Salvation by grace through faith” is a slogan for individualism, a Christianity “by right.” There are no works, no requirements, only a “grace-filled” entitlement. For the ultimate form of democracy is the person who needs no one else: no Church, no priest, no sacrament, only the God of my understanding who saves me by grace and guarantees that I can do it alone.

Our outward forms of Christianity are morphing as quickly as the market can imagine them. Even the “New Atheist” Sunday meetings differ little from many Christian gatherings. God Himself may not be necessary to the spirituality of our democracy. Where does God fit in a world of equals?

The classical world of Orthodox Christianity is profoundly undemocratic. It holds that the universe and everything that exists is hierarchical. This teaching is not an artifact of an older patriarchy (a typical democratic critique), but an essential part of the Christian gospel. For if Jesus is Lord, then the universe has a Lord. Democratic spirituality distrusts all hierarchy – anything that challenges the myth of equality is experienced as a threat …

A spiritual life without canon, without custom, without tradition, without rules, is the ultimate democratic freedom. But it unleashes the tyranny of the individual imagination. For with no mediating tradition, the modern believer is subject only to his own whim. The effect is to have no Lord but the God of his own imagination. Even his appeal to Scripture is without effect – for it is his own interpretation that has mastery over the word of God. If we will have no hierarchy, we will not have Christ as Lord. We cannot invent our own model of the universe and demand that God conform.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, Democratic Madness)

* * * * *

“The truth is that the thing most present to the mind of man is not the economic machinery necessary to his existence; but rather that existence itself; the world which he sees when he wakes every morning and the nature of his general position in it. There is something that is nearer to him than livelihood, and that is life.” (G.K. Chesterton)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.