Saturday, May 26, 2012

On Being Human: A Guide for Christians who are doing Christianity Badly

Mothers would willingly
sacrifice their children
 to him to receive happiness
and prosperity.  Any similarities
to Planned Parenthood are
suspiciously coincidental..
Walking out of Mass one day, I had a person come up to me for a friendly conversation, and, as happens with many conversations I have after Mass, the situation of the world around us quickly became the subject.  In an exasperated tone, my friend said, "The world... it's just becoming so pagan!"  Now, I know exactly what she meant, but for conversation's sake, I replied, "If only it were so! The pagans may not have known Christ, but they certainly knew themselves.  Read works of Greeks and Romans, look at their art, listen to their stories, study their virtues, and you'll find that, while they may have been crude, they may have been barbaric, they were very much aware of what it meant to be human.  There were many flaws about pagan culture (ever hear of a dude named Moloch? (pictured right)  Wikipedia it.), many of which we've retained.  However, there were many redeeming qualities to paganism, which we've eliminated outright, things like courage, honor, wisdom, loyalty, and family.

While we may look at the pagan world, with its bloody battles, seemingly barbaric behavior, and despotic, patriarchal leadership and be disgusted, but we must not also realized that they were very serious men (and women).  When they celebrated, they celebrated with purpose.  When they fought, they fought because they had something worth fighting for.  In their vice and in their virtue, in their gaiety and their gravity, in their lives and their loves, they were very serious people.

Unfortunately, we've not only thrown out the baby, but we've managed to keep the bathwater.  We do some of the many wicked things they've done, but rather than doing them with any sort of seriousness, we do them as though they weren't anything at all.  In the ancient world, refraining from having children was a deplorable thing:  The barren couple were pitied, the couple who refrained from children altogether were damnable and held contemptuously by their elders.   Now, its laudable to refrain from children.  Melinda Gates, wife of gazillionaire Bill Gates, gave a TED talk discussing contraception in which she said it was "a totally uncontroversial topic" (millions of Catholics worldwide may just beg to differ...).  We used to see children as blessings and lack of children as misfortune.  Now we see lack of children as fortune and a big family as a curse.

When was the last time you heard anyone talk about heroism?  Sure, we've got a slew of movies about it, most of which dealing with super-heroic feats against overwhelming challenge.  However, heroism seems to be a dying virtue in our society.  Many of our actions aren't done based on what's morally praiseworthy, but on what's ethically acceptable.  We've become a culture of minimalists, and the Dollar Value Menu has not just come to control our diets, but also our conscience.  In the Catholic tradition, a person isn't considered for canonization unless they display "heroic virtue."  Courage and heroism are dying qualities.  Not dead yet by any means, but they are dying.  Being a moral coward doesn't hold the stigma it used to.  More and more of us would walk right by the beaten victims rather than stepping aside to be the Good Samaritan.  Think about the last time you walked past a homeless person on the street.  I bet I remember your exact thoughts when he/she asked you to spare some change: "I've got some change, heck, I've got $5 in my pockets, but he'll just spend it on booze and/or drugs." And then you walked away.  We've all done it.  It could very well be the case that he'll run to the liquor store with your money to by another bottle of cheap bourbon, but the least we could have done was recognize that he was a human being like us.  The least we could have done was talk to him, to actually care for an everyday stranger for once.  But no, that compassion is impossible without courage, and having the courage to put our own agenda on hold for the sake of another soul is just too courageous for us.

"So... how bout that weather/sports event
/recent family milestone/current event/etc?"
Or, have you ever heard the old cocktail party maxim "Don't discus religion or politics"?  Sure, they're meant not to soil the environment with controversy or bitter feelings, but is that really why we abide by the rule?  Or is it because we're too cowardly to step up to the plate for what we claim to believe in?  A discussion without any sort of political, philosophical, or religious tone to it isn't worth having.  As G.K. Chesterton once said, "Man is not merely an animal who makes tools, he is an animal who makes dogmas."  We're creatures of belief.  What we stand for defines us, it can shape us and mold us, or it can resist shaping and molding altogether.  Some may say we omit our beliefs from ruining good conversation with bad conversation, I included to ruin a boring conversation with a good one.

The pagans, though wrong on many things, understood what it meant to be human.  They understood the value of virtue, the wickedness of vice.  They weren't too proud to worship, nor too timid to fight.  Every action of the noble pagan was a serious one, whether it be play, work, or war.  At the time the Christians came through, paganism fell, not Christianity destroyed paganism, but redeemed it.  Pagans found kindred souls in the Christian evangelists, they found courage, honor, and dignity, they found truth, goodness, and beauty, and thus, they naturally desired to know from whence it came.  Paganism and Christianity had their battles, but what noble battles they were.  Christianity kept the noble virtues of the pagans, because, though they lacked Christ, their virtues hungered for him.  Though they worshiped idols, their hearts yearned for Christ.  Christendom was built from Paganism on the foundation of Judaism because Christianity never forgot what it meant to be human, rather, it redeemed it through the Jewish Son of God.

When Christian evangelization fails, it's usually because we forget this point.  When we seem to be unable to get through to people, its because not only do they not understand Christianity, they do not understand humanity.  We must start at the beginning then.  We can say "Let me tell you the Good News" all we want, but we live in a generation that doesn't even have a vague definition of the term "good."  We must start with reminding people (and that's almost always what it becomes, a reminder, not a novelty) of what it means to be human.  Only when we remind them of virtue and remind them of vice and remind them of Goodness, Truth, and Beauty that we can proclaim to them the news of the Virtuous Man, of the Conqueror of Vice, of the one Good, True, and Beautiful person of Jesus Christ.

This is our task as Christians.  Before we can ever make someone a Christian, we must make them a pagan. Our world is base and banal and boring, not only are we bad at being virtuous, we're bad at being vicious.  We attempt to write our own laws of what's right and wrong and make gods and supermen out of ourselves, and all we've created are fools and cowards.  Jesus Christ was fully Human and fully God.  If we ever want to be like Christ, and to lead others to be like Christ, we need to first understand who we are and what it means to be human.  If we are ever to be good Christians, we must first learn to be good

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