Monday, May 7, 2012

Evangelical Politics

Man can never be redeemed simply from outside. Francis Bacon and those who followed in the intellectual current of modernity that he inspired were wrong to believe that man would be redeemed through science. Such an expectation asks too much of science; this kind of hope is deceptive. Science can contribute greatly to making the world and mankind more human. Yet it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it.

On the other hand, we must also acknowledge that modern Christianity, faced with the successes of science in progressively structuring the world, has to a large extent restricted its attention to the individual and his salvation. In so doing it has limited the horizon of its hope and has failed to recognize sufficiently the greatness of its task—even if it has continued to achieve great things in the formation of man and in care for the weak and the suffering.

Spe Salvi 25

Reflection  - Now this is some deep stuff here. This quote from Pope Benedict is worth a slow and careful reading and long pondering. I know that’s true of lots of things the man has written, but this one stands out.

‘Man can never be redeemed simply from outside.’ This, of course, implies that we see a need for redemption. The word may be problematic to some: what do you mean, ‘redemption’. I don’t need to be saved! As Haze Motes, the anti-hero of Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood says, “Any man with a good car doesn’t need to be justified.” There is a modern/post-modern rejection of salvation as a meaningful relevant category.

So first there is the sense of a need in man to be saved, justified, redeemed. That the human project, taken individually or collectively, is a perilous one, and that we are capable of being destroyed or destroying ourselves. Few would argue with that, I think. ‘Redeemed’ means ‘ransomed’ – the sense of being captive, in bondage, not wholly free, not wholly ourselves.

And the Pope asserts that no entirely external force can liberate us. Not politics, not science, not social justice, not chemicals, not money. All of these have their effects; all of these have a proper place in the human world, but none of them can secure our freedom, our redemption. The principle issue is our own disordered hearts and wills; external forces enable us to act in certain ways, but cannot make our actions good and loving.

Christ, who is our salvation, who does heal our disordered being, is not, then, wholly external to us. That’s worth pondering, eh? Christ penetrates into the core identity of the person, Christ acts not on external structures or circumstances, but primarily on the interior being of the person, to make us lovers of Him and of one another, a process He cannot do without our free cooperation. OK, so that’s clear enough. Deep, but clear.

But then the Pope pushes us even deeper, and into a difficult and rather uncomfortable place. The Church has ceded the field of social structuring to science and technology, and limited itself to the individual and his or her salvation and succor, and this is wrong, this is inadequate.

Well, this is a very challenging passage indeed. There is, then, a need for the Church (aka you and me, according to our capacities and state of life) to plunge into the shaping of the world and its structures. There is a need to plunge into the messy, chaotic and oftentimes ugly world of politics, economics, business, to bear witness to the ultimate realities and do what we can to shape the world, society and its laws, according to those realities.

It is not a question of politicizing faith, as the Church is often accused of doing these days (especially by those who would prefer its voice to be silenced). It is a question of evangelizing politics and culture, of doing all in our power to shape the kingdom of the world into a conformity with the kingdom of heaven, a question of taking the Our Father seriously as a programme of action.

Oh, it’s a messy business, a perilous business indeed. One that requires those engaging in it be men and women of deep prayer and deep communion with God, the Church, and a community of believers. But it does seem to be what the Pope is saying here.

Deep stuff, complex stuff. Lots here to read carefully and ponder. So let’s do that. In Canada, the March for Life is happening on Thursday – a tiny effort by the Canadian pro-life movement to keep the issue of abortion before the minds and hearts of our lawmakers and fellow citizens. I hope my Canadian readers are taking part in it, if and as they can, and I ask my readers from elsewhere to remember Canada in your prayers this week. We need them.

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