Sunday Sundries

The Real Stuff of Life

In the pre-modern era in the West, as in much of the world today still, there was no such thing as ‘religion’. The Christian story was the basis of peoples’ understanding of reality itself: it was widely assumed that it represented the truth about existence, and that no part of life could therefore be outside of it. There was no ‘religion’, because there was no notion that this truth was somehow optional or partial, any more than we today might assume that gravity or the roundness of the Earth were facts we could choose to engage with only on Sunday mornings.

The religious wars which raged for more than a century after the Reformation changed all this. They shattered faith in the church and in the Christian story, which in turn led to the Enlightenment experiment with ‘secularism’: a new type of society, first pioneered by the seventeenth century Dutch, in which the state would guarantee freedom of and from religion. In practice, this meant guaranteeing the right to practice one of the many different flavours of Christianity on offer, and sometimes Judaism too, but as time went on and society changed, all and any ‘religious’ practice was taken under the protective umbrella of the state. Islam, Hinduism, Wicca, Buddhism, atheism, Norse Heathenism or the worship of Richard Dawkins: anything goes in the Kingdom of Whatever. The unspoken bargain is that religion is fine, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the real stuff of life.

That real stuff was, increasingly, commerce.

Paul Kingsnorth, The Migration of the Holy

Managing the World

[I]t’s worth thinking about the Church (Orthodox) as an ark of salvation and safety. It is an ancient image of the Church, a place where God gathers those who are being rescued. The ark is not an instrument of flood management, however. It is a raft. Modernity imagines itself as the manager of the world and its historical processes. It is an idea that is itself part of the destructive flood of our time.

Fr. Stephen Freeman, Riding the Tsunami

Elusive Interiority

For a scientific culture that believes true knowledge of anything can be gained only by the systematic reduction of that thing to its simplest parts, undertaken from an entirely third person stance, this inaccessible first person subjectivity—this absolute interiority, full of numberless incommunicable qualitative sensations and velleities and intuitions that no inquisitive eye will ever glimpse, and that is impossible to disassemble, reconstruct, or model—is so radically elusive a phenomenon that there seems no hope of capturing it in any complete scientific account. Those who imagine otherwise simply have not understood the problem fully.

David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God

History Rhymes (probably my favorite heading)

Must I be the only one to fight under the Holy Cross and must I see others, calling themselves Christians, all unite with the Crescent to fight Christianity?

Tsar Nicholas, after much of Europe turned against Russia (and toward Turkey) after the Russians destroyed a squadron of Ottoman frigates at the port of Sinope early in the Crimean War.

From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin Donald Trump

Had evangelical leaders and journalists known more about the Southern Baptist Convention than simply the reputation that followed from its being southern or trusting in Jesus, they would have seen that Carter, despite the southern accent, had more affinities to the tolerant and do-good orientation of mainline Protestants than the restrain-evil-and-promote-righteousness resolve of fundamentalists and evangelicals.

D.G. Hart, From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin.

Can a book title ever become anachronistic?

The subtitle of Hart’s book was "Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism," but in 2011 (the publication date) we hadn’t "seen the half of it."

Hauerwas Rocks

When the only contemporary means of self-transcendence is orgasm, we Christians are going to have a tough time convincing people that it would be nicer if they would not be promiscuous.

Stanley Hauerwas, Resident Aliens

Before I could even post this, other Hauerwas/Resident Aliens quotes popped up:

  • The seminaries have produced clergy who are agents of modernity, experts in the art of congregational adaptation to the cultural status quo, enlightened facilitators whose years of education have trained them to enable believers to detach themselves from the insights, habits, stories, and structures that make the church the church.
  • As Alasdair Maclntyre has noted (in The Religious Significance of Atheism [New York: Columbia University Press, 1969], p. 24), we Christians have given atheists less and less in which to disbelieve!

Catechized into Nothing

I had a lot of resentment against people like the priest and the nun who first instructed me in the faith. They were the quintessential Boomer “spirit of Vatican II” Catholics. I went through two months of instruction with my RCIA class at the LSU Catholic Student Center (though I had graduated, I had this naive idea that instruction there would be more intellectually challenging), without learning a thing about doctrine, or church history, or anything other than how to massage my emotions. If I had written a just-the-facts account of those classes and published it somewhere, people would have shaken their heads over how decadent the Church had become. I quit after I realized that all of us would be received into the Church without knowing anything that was required of us as Catholics.

Rod Dreher, Religion, From Youth To Middle Age

The Kingdoms of the World

The Last Temptation is perhaps the greatest, and the one that most torments our modern thoughts. Christ is offered the “kingdoms of this world” if only He will worship the tempter. It is the temptation of power. What if you had all power? What wonderfully good things could you do?

One place where such an inner dialog takes place is in the purchase of a lottery ticket. Powerball approaches half-a-billion dollars and the ticket is only a couple of bucks. The purchase is made (why not? there’s no commandment against it) and sits quietly in our pocket. The thoughts begin. You know that the odds are ridiculously against you, but you can’t help imagining what life might be like if you won. “If I were a rich man…” I have been told any number of times, “If I win the lottery, I’ll give the money for a new church building.” Of course. We keep only a small portion, say some tens of millions for ourselves. With the rest, we will build a better world, maybe create a charitable foundation (like a Bill Gates). On and on we muse.

Modernity’s mantra, “make the world a better place,” is invoked repeatedly in one guise or another. Every invocation promises that with money and power, we could really make a difference. The myth (or lie) that this perpetuates is that the only thing standing between us and a better world is lack of resources. The truth is that, at the present time in our modern age, there is no lack of resources, no lack of wealth. The abundance of the world is overflowing. People are hungry and starve, etc., for lack of goodness. It has been observed by some that every famine in our modern time has had politics as its primary cause. We are not the victims of nature – but of one another.

It is, of course, ironic that Satan should offer Christ “all the kingdoms of this world.” How do you offer the Lord of All anything that is not already His? He refuses them (at least when offered on the devil’s terms). The way of Christ is the way of God – it is the way revealed in the Cross. The world will be saved in the mystery of the Cross, the self-emptying love of God. Not only is the world saved in that manner, but, those who are being saved are invited to join in that salvation – to empty themselves in self-sacrificing love. That is the proper description of the Church, though it is frequently refused and replaced with an effort to be a “helping” organization, a religious adjunct to the build-a-better-world project of modernity.

Father Stephen Freeman


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