I often come across conversations, things people write and general attitudes asking the same question: why continue with Christianity? – or any permutations of ways to express the question in a similar way.
In my own family, I found a deep yearning for what I have come to name as the “universal consciousness”, a refusal of atheism and its consequences, whilst holding one’s distance from churches, creeds, liturgies and orthodoxies. What about Jesus? He is usually customised by the group or church preaching a message ascribed to him. The Jesus of Faith and the Christ of History is an old subject discussed by nineteenth-century liberal biblical scholars and adepts of Darwinist “realism”. The figure of Christ is claimed by any number of historical churches and reformed groups over the centuries. Each religious group holds its own version of the truth and would be prepared to die for it or kill others for it.
Over the past few days, I have been responding to John Bruce’s postings. His most recent confirms my suspicions: that his ideal of Christianity is the most boring I have ever come across, one that would certainly repel me and many others were it the only one on offer. I am not opposed to a parish having a good and well-organised catechesis programme for “ordinary” families of the kind that watches TV for most of their time home from work and possesses next to no books. As Oscar Wilde said:
Like all poets, Christ loved the unlearned. He knew that in the soul of an ignorant man there is always room for a great idea. But He could not endure dullards or stupid people, especially those whom education and learning had made stupid: people whose heads are full of thoughts which they do not understand — a type which has been largely developed in our own times and which Christ describes as the kind of man who possesses the key to knowledge, but cannot use it and therefore will not allow any one else to use it, even if — in another’s hand — it could open the gate to the kingdom of God!
I think this is the last I will say about this man unless he comes up with something interesting, which I doubt. Why mention him at all? Precisely because of the portrait he paints of himself as one whom education has made stupid.
I was recently in discussion with someone who seemed to be somewhere between agnosticism and atheism, but seemed to be less certain about the idea about everything coming from matter. For him, there is a need for “spirituality”. In such a context I find it difficult to know what such persons mean by the word. However, in most cases, I would assume it means a person spending time outside “ordinary” life in some form of meditation or introspection, perhaps even some form of artistic expression. Most people I come across are deeply repulsed by the “fundamentalist” type of “possession” of a particular truth – usually because it imposes limits to our freedom or self-esteem. Most people seek happiness, to be loved and respected, but there are exceptions, certain types of personalities which are twisted or deformed in some way.
Then we find the big watershed, whether we try to dialogue with secular culture or lack thereof or work at fostering a culture that can provide a fertile earth for a Christian ideal. The first has been tried by churches putting on worship services in the style of popular TV entertainment, assuming that a large number of people would be drawn by this style than any other. When I have been reading âneries like those of John Bruce I can only see them playing into the hands of the “new” atheists.
Will Christianity end up like some of the religions of the ancient world like Mithra, Isis and Osiris or Zarathustrianism? Is Jesus worth “saving”, or should we let it all go? Are there a few grains of wheat to sort out from the chaff of centuries of “junk” religion? What does salvation mean? Some superstition of having a happy afterlife rather than being tortured for all eternity?
What most of us find appealing in Christ is his standing for the weak, sick and humble in this world rather than the survival of the fittest at the expense of the weak. It is not only a moral message, but also one of compassion and empathy, the message of humanism and optimism. Christ as a miracle-worker and magician is more difficult to accept since the Enlightenment, but he still gives a meaning to history, some help to us here on earth. The Church as a Sacrament is a powerful symbol in which the liturgy plays a powerful role. This notion of Sacramentum and Mysterium, though it was a central teaching of Vatican II, is as occulted in much of modern suburban parish life as its counterpart in eighteenth-century Anglicanism.
I recently met a gentleman who likes to express the notion of possibility consciousness, openness of mind where everything is possible. I speak of the transcendent truth to which we all aspire without ever possessing it. Our exposure to notions coming from research into quantum physics teaches us to doubt our previous scientific certitudes, and therefore also our philosophies and ideologies. Anyone who says he can understand quantum theory is mad! – or a liar! We have to accept that we have little or no understanding of things, and keep our minds open. At the same time, we need to be on our guard for explanations that go against reason, things that are made up and become ideologies or superstitions.
For many years, I wondered about the notion of the Redemption. What difference did Jesus dying on the cross make? In the terms of this world, obviously none. How could the essential message of Jesus be detached from the junk to make it credible once again? I don’t think Christianity will ever again be credible to the general population. How do we overcome clichés like “breaking the Good News”, “biblical authority”, etc. Perhaps it all needs to be re-nurtured in a kind of “mystery school” and only then allowed to “leak out”.
There is the moral perspective, Christ as an example for us all in doing the right things in life, being good persons. This is important, because it goes beyond “tit for tat” justice or legalism. Some of us might find a basis of Romanticism in Jesus, as Oscar Wilde did in his time. It takes a special mind to understand things beyond the simple meanings of words and literalism. Christ teaches us to think in a new way.
Perhaps salvation means a notion of karma, not simply action and reaction, getting back the evil you commit in relation to others, but a profound notion of justice and mercy. I haven’t given up on the Church! I am a priest of one. The liturgy and the sacramental life are what makes Christ and the sacramental communities he founded through his disciples and apostles stand out from simple moralism. The answers are already there in the Gospels: the salt and its savour, the leaven that makes bread good to eat and many more images.