I’ve been kind of a crappy host lately. I suffered an attack of life, which then brought reinforcements. 🙂
At any rate, I’ve been thinking about the condition of the Church, and some of what has been said around the Blogosphere. I got to thinking about all this when a writer I profoundly respect, Taylor Marshall, says a radical thing– that today is the hardest time Christians have ever had. Wouldn’t we laugh about that, considering what our founding martyrs went through? What about those folks fighting off various barbarian hordes over the years? What about all that ugly death in during the plague in the middle ages?! I could go on and on.But here’s the thing. If you are a Christian, and you mean it, you recognize that there are many worse things than suffering and death. That is a hard teaching in this day and age, because everyone seems to think that the worst thing imaginable is to live in poverty, or to stare death in the face. Don’t get me wrong, having a friend or loved one die is still very hard. I’ve grieved deeply over people I haven’t even met.
I’ve also been poor, even (technically) homeless. A friend lived out of her car for more than two years. She was working the whole time, and took showers at truck-stops and kitty baths in public restrooms. She got her food at soup kitchens and church pantries. She never once asked me for money. This doesn’t mean I didn’t comp her a meal now and then, or offer a loan for this and that. But that’s another show.
She threw a big party when she finally was able to afford to rent the basement of a friends’ apartment, and eventually got herself a condo. These things can happen. They happen here in America every day. I hope they still will.
Even beyond that, It’s hard to remember that this is not all there is. It is hard to remember that we have more to look forward to than the dust and sorrow of this often sucky place. Let’s face it, reality will always suck in the most basic and predictable ways.
That’s why ideology is so seductive. You think you can think your way, or protest your into paradise by replacing what is– with what is in your head. Trouble is, if you do this, you increase the net suffering in the world, and genocides spring up like periodic epidemics. Only those genocides are more common, and far more people die.
The more spoiled and comfortable we get, the more it looks like the removal of those comforts would be the end all and be all of our existence. In the old days, people who worked the soil, or were common, or weren’t protected by an insulating layer of servants and silk could witness how the world really works every day. They were not prone to be taken up by the wacky romantic ideals that caused kings and nobility now and again to lose their heads and force absurd and revisionist projects on their subjects. Sometimes it would get bad enough that the peasantry in a corrective measure would make that head loss literal. The king always has to worry about that.
In a democracy, there seems to be no remedy for the People loosing their minds and thinking that they can rewrite the laws of physics, economics, and reality if they just pass enough or the right kind of laws. If the right person is in charge, they say, then things will be great!
No. That’s a lie. People in charge, people with money will always be tempted to do bad. It’s even harder when you don’t have that corrective dose of reality to let you know personally what the results of making bad decisions really are. Because when you are divorced from that, if only other people suffer, or if they suffer because of someone or something else regardless of the truth in the matter. It’s all good, right? They earned it, right? They are evil right? The biggest problem with Ideology is that it forces people to be their ideas, so we treat people like things. All this, because of what they think. That always goes badly. There is no backstop or safety net to this sort of thinking.
But it’s hard to know what to do about a bad idea that’s popular and toxic to the world at large. But this, too is another show.
In the world of today, we really think that we can think our way into heaven– without having to die first. We have something that we tell ourselves is mighty close, and we cheat death by ignoring it. We ignore suffering by telling ourselves that if we just give up enough money, or support the right causes, eat the right foods, or stand on a street corner waving a sign, we are absolved from that evil and it is safe to ignore.
All of this is plausible, because we think we have debunked right and wrong, abolished God to the mental institution, and made it impossible to make moral judgements for fear of reprisal– and accusations of bigotry, and the threat of riots.
At the end of the day, it’s all bread and circuses, and our fearless leaders are no better than Ceasar. Except they smother our souls with comfort and those words we want to hear while the true disaster awaits in the wings– both to our ephemeral and vulnerable descendants, and the pervasive rot to our immortal souls.
So, yeah, maybe Taylor Marshal has a point. The point is not to put you into a depressive tailspin, I promise. Truthfully, I have some sympathy with those who claim now to be the end times, but I’m not going to call it yet. I say there is still enough light to see by. We should keep an eye out as always, but it’s not here yet.
So, I need not explain, based on all this, where the Church is right now. Her former membership is mostly jumped ship to worship with the Democratic Party. It’s easier to be a political animal than a Christian anyhow. That annoying threat of martyrdom is no where to be seen, the comforting Jesus of consolation replaced with the comforting words of easy listening music. But, no worrisome cross hangs a shadow over their heads, so it’s easier to get things done the way you want them.
OR perhaps the desire is to live in the nihilistic reality based community, where destroying meaning is a nice relaxing exercise after lunch. The trouble with that is that it takes a 5th of whiskey and a stack of porn to get to sleep at night. No worries, not like a spaghetti monster is judging your actions. But those habits are still heavy dragging chains that leach the color out of your life. That can’t be looked at objectively, because your whim is the highest law.
The worst part about the modern day is that the easiest person to lie to is yourself. If you don’t have a creed, you can’t judge how badly you are lying to yourself. The corrective measures table truths hand out can always be attributed to something or someone else.
Being up a creek without a paddle, rudder, or tether is a difficult place to be. That banner won’t help. When you try to use them for support, they snap.
So what does this have to do with building a church? I’m glad you asked. Because before you can build, you have to be able to see.Our world is, more than ever, darkness is in want of light. We must start over, explain things from the beginning. Thomas Aquinas starts his Summa Theologiae with the assertion that grass is green.
A child can see that grass is green. A child believes that he is not simply seeing a green area, or seeing the idea of green, but believes that the grass he sees outside the window is a real thing, that is really green, that you can touch and hold. Children think that this means something. Even if it were not possible for that child to go into the area with the grass he sees, it would still be real, and they would believe that. Children believe this from a very early age, and no one seems to have taught them this. It springs from their minds spontaneously and they live in joy of this fact.He starts by asserting the existence of reality itself as a thing separate from the mind of man, but comprehensible to the mind of man. Stuff exists and this means something– something important, and that we should act accordingly. This statement is the founding basis of the intellectual revolution in the 12th Century. Our entire civilization is built on this assertion. Philosophy that believes in the real is the rebar that holds rigid the concrete of science.
Keep in mind that this is the beginning of a Theology textbook. Really.
Most of the other philosophies I mentioned earlier glaze over the ultimate proofs and truths of reality. The so-called “reality based community” does not believe in the real, so how can they consider themselves realists or even call their thinking reality based? It sounds good, things being real is a popular notion, so they steal it even if they are lying.
Reality being real does not make sense without metaphysics. Morality doesn’t make sense without metaphysics. You can’t have an objective standard without metaphysics and/or reality. Learning doesn’t make sense without some kind of metaphysical structure outside the material world. Scientific observation and study doesn’t make sense unless reality is real. These are the bones our Church was built on. Those assumptions are grounded in the Old Testament– where the Hebrews learned much of this the hard way. Study nature and these themes come out over and over again. The Greeks just came up with a systematic way to organize these ideas, and the Hebrews recognized that, so they tried to become Greek for a while. All this with varying degrees of success– in a number of different directions. But that is also another show.
Look at game theory and you see the same ideas about reality, repeated over and over again. How can we truly communicate if we didn’t have some way to transfer information? Geometry and mathematics also do the same. As soon as you start assuming God exists, it’s hard to see that these lessons aren’t some important message and gift to us.
Our Church does not stand on proofs alone, but the faith of it’s members are the pediments and buttresses. When we don’t realize that our Church is written in both the flesh and the Spirit, we lose our edge, we lose our balance, and our grip on who we are. We give away our traditions or trade them for trash.
The Word is carved in our hearts, and our hearts are flesh– provided we let the Word speak through us. But now that the story of Jesus is memorized and tarnished in the minds of many, we must find a better way– to point to the things that he or she knows to be true, and to show how those relate to God’s saving power.
But first, He must Exist. Because he is Existence Himself.