A Relevance of Christianity

Since writing my last post and receiving a very interesting comment, I wonder if I have allowed myself to get onto someone’s conservative bandwagon. After all, the argument of some of the protagonists for women bishops in the Church of England is that such a change would bring the Church into modern times, in line with secular thought, and therefore relevant to ordinary people.

What is this relevance? It seems to be common ground on the basis of which it becomes possible to build a relationship. For example, an American or someone living in another distant country tells me I have to become Roman Catholic or Orthodox. What of that recommendation can I relate to? If someone says – Come to our church, and I go there one Sunday and find a Christian witness that appeals to me, and with which I can relate as a human person, then it might go a little further. If I am approached with love and a spirit of prayer, I am uplifted. If I am told to make applications to bureaucracy and committees and have to wait a very long time for a response, if one will ever arrive, then I am crushed and alienated. That for me is relevance.

A possible analogy of relevance is what is called in industry a man-machine interface. On a computer, the MMI normally consists of a video screen, a keyboard and a mouse. The human controls the computer by keystrokes and mouse clicks and the computer gives information on the screen and various types of multimedia devices via words and images to the human user. In this way, the machine and the human person have a relationship – of sorts. Between two humans, the interface is a common language, an ability of both persons to write, read, speak, hear and see signs of body language – and not least, a degree of emotional empathy or friendship. The relationship goes much further. Then we consider a community, which also implies its purpose. In all cases, there has to be common ground, a single purpose that all share.

If there is no interface, there is no relationship. There seems to be a lot of confusion about what Christianity is for. Are Christians the only ones who are selfless, generous and self-sacrificing? What would happen to the world if Christianity disappeared? This is something we really need to think about? Perhaps the question should be asking ourselves what would happen if the world went under an atheist dictatorship (something like Orwell’s 1984) and all religion was abolished by whatever means necessary. Or simply that man was brought to forget all sense of the transcendental through panem et circenses.

Perhaps if I were the “Stalin” of the twenty-first century, I would put a human face on everything rather than be known as a monster who arrested people, tortured them and put them in concentration camps. I would try to show the world how much better we would be without God or religion. How I would do that, I have no idea, but I’m just putting forth the idea. If civil life is perfectly able to deal with poverty, disease and death, what is there left for Christianity or any religion? When we come up with an answer to that, we might be talking about relevance.

We Christians often say that without Christianity, the world would become the first circle of hell, maybe hell itself. We often cite the Nazi or Stalin regimes as what the world would be like without Christianity: mass murder, perpetual war, humanity descending to the level of beasts, depravity, death and the stuff of nightmares. On the other hand, some nominally Christian countries have also done their share of the killing and persecuting! I won’t say which ones… There seems to a constant that an entirely Christian world would be no more one of peace and goodness than a non-Christian or atheistic world would be one of cruelty and depravity.

One big problem with “official” Christianity is its being modelled on the State and used as a kind of “morality police”. The Kingdom of God is made into a kind of earthly state with its police force and law courts. As nothing can be hidden from God, it goes much further than a secular legal system “clever” people can always get round. God becomes the perfect Thought Police! This is an abuse of religion, for the vested interest of dominant human beings, and what alienates people – and makes it irrelevant. There is also a point that some atheist thinkers make, that religious faith takes away the use of reason and brings mankind into conflict. Of course, men like Dawkins have their own “dogmatic truth” and commit the same errors as they believe religions do. We have not to forget that many atrocities committed today by some Muslims are no different from what some Christians did hundreds of years ago and in our own times.

Religion, re-ligare, contains the idea of the interface. It is what enables man to have a relationship with God, whatever God is made to mean to us. This is the central idea of the philosophia perennis, the idea that a single transcendent being is approached through all systems of religion and philosophy in one degree or another. None has the monopoly on truth. The usual interface is tradition and the multiplicity of human cultures. Making Christianity relevant would be integrating it into the religious landscape of our world and the acquisitions of science, notably the discoveries involving pure energy being turned into matter. That would be possible through the esoteric and contemplative vision and life.

What does seem to attract sometimes the most unlikely people is contemplative life and the kind of liturgy and culture that go with contemplative life and a reaction against political Christianity. That seems to be a start.

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