Τετάρτη, 26 Οκτωβρίου 2016

Living as Christians in a secular world


      A common problem faced almost universally, is people living in former glories. By this point, everybody's ancestors, anywhere in the world were Somebodies; from the Ancient Greeks and Romans to the Mighty Tribes or other, somewhere in the Amazonian forests.Look very hard, someone will come up with a glorious caveman in their family tree. The allure of such ascendancy is quite easy to see: entitlement. We deserve things by default even though we know we don't particularly live up to such claims - especially then. What does a religion whose claims are not of this Earth have to do with past glories and dreams of forgotten Kingdoms though? A very modern mortal sin is christians living in a fantasy world of their own making, detached from the reality of modern society.
      It's not a really modern sin, I must admit. In fact, it is one of the first temptations that Jesus faced in the desert. The devil offered Him the kingdoms of the Earth and Jesus refused. Later on, near the end, before Pontius Pilate, He elaborates further :"My Kingdom is not of this Earth; if it was, my followers would come to my rescue". Pilot was taken aback by that reply. That was a rather novel thing to say in any conditions but in the face of death it was completely unfathomable. And such it remains to this day for many of His followers, who very oddly find themselves in the shoes of Pontius Pilate.
   What they fail to fathom is that they don't need to come to His rescue. He doesn't need rescuing because He never failed in the first place. He didn't get caught while trying to escape the garden of Gethsemane and He never preached hidden behind closed doors. He offered Himself willingly as a Sacrifice. He refused the aid of "Legions of Angels" -that literature loves to fantasise about- and He reprimanded Peter on many occasions when the latter offered to "rescue" Him from His fate, even calling him satan. So, what Jesus refused then, it's unlikely He asks of us now. The other thing we fail to fathom is that, indeed, His Kingdom is not of this world. The reason for this is twofold. And it has everything to do with christianity in the modern society.
     First, unlike the Age of the Apostles when christianity was comprised from small communities that had purposefully detached themselves from larger empires (the Roman) or ethnic and religious Traditions (Judaic) to live their chosen life, often under threat of excommunication or even death, modern christians come from a place where Christendom has been a historic reality. Somewhere down the line from the first christians, that peculiar little faith took the world by storm. Some see it as an inevitability, a dying, old world holding on to the "new" that christianity represented, to save itself; some see it as chance and some would like you to believe it was the product of a conspiracy. Whatever the reason, christianity prevailed and for centuries was the foundation that empires were built upon. Within that atmosphere, christianity either prospered socially and culturally or stagnated and reformed, to debatable results. In any case though, it was never the Kingdom of Heaven on Earth. The danger here is to believe that there was actually a point in  time were a Christian Utopia took place but  it was somehow taken from us, usually by some outside force (eg, the Ottomans) or betrayal. The fact that after the 19th Century christianity got the blame for everything wrong in the world, from inequality to the common cold, made christians take on an apologetic stance that often found refuge - and comfort -  in past glories. The shoe was in the other foot and now it was christians who represented the old. The underlying theme though, to this day, is not only one of culture or religion, it is primarily one of Power. Christians have had it and now lose it, more and more, and that is hard to accept. By clinging on to christianity some people just cling on to the notion of Power or just Security. The christian world made sense for us, it provided safety, ideological or even physical.It provided strength in n umbers but in the lsat decades those numbers are rapidly dwindling. What to make of this new world then? And that leads us to examine the second reason why the Kingdom of Heaven is not seen as "not of this world" by christians.
      Christian faith has never been a question of Ethics, academic studies or philosophy. It is indeed an expectancy of a Kingdom not of this world. A notion that so vexes modern men, socialists, liberals and everyone in between. It is a way of life that sets one apart and makes away with any notion of security. Christians though have - for the most part - lost the ability to trust in the "mystical" so to speak. It's only natural to a degree since we are all products of our time and our time thinks like that  - although, ironically, modern western society does not look down on any "exotic" mystical philosophy or practice, from eastern religions to astrology and the occult. But belief and trust are actually synonyms (ιν + πιςτη (faith) = εμπιςτοςύνη(trust)). Instead of trusting in a Jesus that laid on the Cross, we trust on a Jesus the sat on the thrones of empires. And what army He refused for Himself even at the face of cruel death, we assign to Him as a sign of Power - not His, but our own or at least the one we crave. But Jesus glorifies Himself in His moment of weakness, when everyone has abandoned Him and He lies humiliated on a Cross. That is an oxymoron but that is also His victory. That is the path that lies ahead for us. No safety net, no armies of righteousness to save us, no enemies at our feet. Not even "justice on our side". There is only the Cross and the Resurrection that follows.
     How to live in the modern, secular world without a safety net? We have lived the fantasy of the christian victory in society for so long that we have forgotten how to be outcasts, let alone persecuted. We see both of these as defeats that "must not come to pass". It's probably the other way around. Christianity has thrived mostly when it was sidelined or outright persecuted. Even in christian environments, people who wanted to live as genuine christians were frowned upon. Surely, going to church once a week is enough, why overdo it? We have become fat and bloated, a mockery of everything we claim to believe. The world is right to turn away from us.
   And this is where we are left today. Isolated. Scorned. Occasionally labeled. Trying to defend our honour will only take us  back to the same path that brought us here in the first place. Our kingdom is not of this world. nothing ends here. But "here" is not an illusion and we are citizens of "here" and "now" as well. I think the world has never been as divided as it is today. Everyone has their own mind in parallel with everyone else's, never meeting because that would be a sign of loss of individuality . At the same time the notions of right and wrong drift away from traditional christian ethics. And most importantly, for a world that preaches diversity there is a high intolerance to anything different. In short, nothing has changed. The world did away with religion but didn't move an inch forward. Still, in a world where "new" has become an obsession, a two thousand year old tradition seems rather banal.
      This "defeat" discourages many christians. Some seek a revolution, which we have explained is a dead end. Others try isolation. And for most, the way is to live like everyone else and keep christianity  as a form of identity no different than, say, Italian or Russian. But perennially, defeat has brought us victory.  On a personal level, breaking away from any sense of social security means or life is now really in the hands of Christ. Disassociating the Church from any sense of worldly power means we are now powerless, like men hanging on a cross. Admitting our mistakes leaves us humbled and honest before the rest of society. And when we find our own way in this new climate, perhaps others will find comfort near us one again. For now, it is enough to demand the same tolerance that everyone else claims for themselves.And even if it's denied us, we will still be who we are, be it many or few. And for our part, why don't we just give the people the right not to like us? Having a conviction has never been about acceptance or even prevailing on others. We are who we are because we cannot be anything else. And this is our Kingdom and this is the way we live in a secular world, how the "old" and the "new" can co-exist.  A new "commandment" that is as "old" as time : To love one another, as God loves us all.

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