Sunday, August 20, 2017

The State of Contemporary Christianity

After meandering for about four years like the Jews in the desert, this blog has come to the end of the story of the faith because we have reached the present. Knowing what we know about the past, what can we say about the Christianity of our time?

Our faith is not the faith of martyrs. It is not the medieval faith of what earlier I called “the cathedral of Europe.” It is not even the witnessing faith of Bible-centered Protestants. Nor is it the faith of monarchical Europe, so ready to fulminate against anything that rocks the boat. Ecumenism has not come to full fruition and tolerance has not bridged divides within humanity.

The reign of God feels as distant as it was the day the apostles looked up agape as Christ ascended; in an important sense we are alone and bereft of that inspiring Jesus who turned human priorities upside down. Most people of my generation notice most of all that the seemingly eternal church structures to which our elders introduced us have lost their sway in society. Arguably, churches had lost their significance centuries earlier and as children we simply did not realize.

Pope John XXIII opened the windows of the Church to let the Holy Spirit in and, in some senses, that has been happening.

We live in a postmodern world in the sense that the scientific empirical consensus has broken down. Modernity, its birth first sensed about the late 16th century and its demise in its late, last gasp in the 20th after many obituaries had been written, was about a belief in reason based on sensory observation (helped by microscopes, telescopes and even computers, as extensions). For some time now, the insights of Freud, Kierkegaard, Picasso and Timothy Leary, to name only a few, have reminded us of ancient wisdom and intuitive knowledge.

The origin of the word “intuit” is instructive. Although its original English meaning in the 18th century was “to tutor,” it comes from Latin intueri, from in- “at, on” plus tueri “to look at, watch over,” which leads us to the current meaning of “to perceive directly without reasoning, know by immediate perception.”

There is nothing more intuitive than the idea of the Spirit of God, the breathed in (remember that Hebrew ruach for breathing!) soul of the divine, the spark of life that makes us see without eyes. This is what I see as the aim of contemporary Christian faith, a reaching to perceive beyond reason and beyond the senses to the center and ground of all being, which contains love.

We have reason to be skeptical of churches, their professionals, religion in general and a fair amount of the material they taught and sometimes teach. Yet the gospel is true, and Jesus was never known to have said anything about an obligation to go to church on Sundays, nor to prohibit abortion, nor most of the things we argue and fight about. He did ask us to stop fighting.

Would Jesus put his arms around Buddha, Muhammad, Zoroaster and even Richard Dawkins? Probably, most of all if he didn’t agree with them.

This does not mean that our journey of faith has been meaningless and pointless. The history of the Christian faith is our history as humans, coming to terms with things Jesus the Christ knew a long, long time ago. He didn’t have to live it; we humans did. Still do. Amen.

3 comments:

  1. Could you expand a bit on

    " the scientific empirical consensus has broken down "?

    Because I'm not sure that outside the realm of the scientifically literate there ever was such a consensus. And within that realm I'm fairly sure it still holds.

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  2. What I meant was that the consensus concerning the exclusive validity of empiricism as the royal road to capital-T Truth is not what it was through the XIXth century, or for those not paying attention, 1914.

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  3. But, again, was there ever a consensus "concerning the exclusive validity of empiricism as the royal road to capital-T "? i don't think there was - certainly not in the general population.

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