Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Yes And A Partial No

To the quote below included in this comment, I can give partial consent, but also hold some partial reservations:
[Religious man] must therefore live in the godless world, without attempting to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other. He must live a "secular" life, and thereby share in God's sufferings. He may live a "secular" life (as one who has been freed from false religious obligations and inhibitions). To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the basis of some method or other, but to be a man--not a type of man, but the man that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian, but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life.

First of all, for the most part, the spirit (Spirit?) of this particular passage is one I can accept almost without reservation. I say "almost" only because the "religious man" is a kind of abstraction for me. Obviously, individuals do inhabit a variety of roles, but they are always constituted of relationships. We define ourselves as part of a variety of groups and webs of relations, sometimes crisscrossing, sometimes incommensurable. The challenge, I suppose, is taking stock of which identity we assign top priority. Are we a parent first? A spouse? A child, sibling, employee? Do we define ourselves by our jobs, as in, "I am a doctor"?

Of course, a response - and it would most certainly be mine - is that to live as a Christian embraces all these partial definitions, fulfills them, and (to follow Wesley, I suppose) sanctifies our own participation in them. To be fully human is certainly the goal of life as a baptized Christian. That means, if it is to mean anything, that in our various relationships, in the various ways we live out our lives, we live fully and completely as family member, as this or that employee/worker, as a citizen. Going further, it is precisely here that the so-called Christian right goes off course. They assume that there is a distinctive Christian sine qua non for living in the world, precisely because theirs is a kind of simplistic dualism that, silently or explicitly, gives the lie to one of the favorite Biblical passages (John 3:16).

As to whether the "world" is "godless", I guess I just cannot affirm that, from a theological view. Do we reserve God, then, only for the elect in the community of faith? Perhaps by living in the world as a Christian qua Christian, we demonstrate through just living that the world is, indeed, not godless. "Secular" is not the same as declaring the world "godless", unless one accepts a broad understanding of "secular". Since the part of the mission of the Church is to live out Divine love for the world, this would most certainly include simple living, in all the ambiguities and contradictions entailed therein. Yet, we betray that mission when we give pride of place to this living without reference to the Divine condescension in the cross and resurrection of Christ. This latter places us firmly within a web of relations that not only are horizontal - spatial, that is, relations with other individuals who also are Christian - but vertical - temporal, stretching across time, confession, even language. Thus embedded, if we allow ourselves to become aware of this intricate web, we can live in other relationships more fully precisely because we claim their fulfillment in the cross and empty tomb.

Virtual Tin Cup

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