Sunday Night Journal — March 30, 2008
Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword.
There’s a certain sort of somewhat educated, yet substantially ignorant, person whose condescension toward Christianity and Christians tries my patience more than open hostility. I’m thinking of the person, often describing himself as spiritual but not religious, who believes that all “belief systems” or “faith traditions” are fundamentally the same: the same in their ultimate meaning, and the same in their origin, which is the human mind: it’s ok with him if you believe in Jesus, and it would be ok with him if you believed with equal conviction in fairies, or voodoo, or Odin, or Krishna. They’re all psychological responses to the puzzle of human existence, and one is no more true and no more false than another.
Of all the ways to be wrong about Christianity, this may be the worst, because it prevents the person from even seeing, much less confronting, the real challenge presented by the faith, the very existence of which divides the human race into two groups, those who believe and those who do not believe. Of course the same could be said of any belief: there are those who believe in fairies, and those who don’t. But the argument between those two is an argument about whether or not the world contains fairies. The argument between the Christian and the non-Christian is about the nature of the world itself, the nature of reality itself. Because one party to the discussion does not realize this, it’s very difficult to bridge the gap with words.
When the Christian in such a dialogue insists that God is not one of a pantheon, not even the most powerful one, and that God is not simply one representative of the category “god,” he seems unreasonable. All the other asks is that the Christian extend the same courtesy to other gods that he, the tolerant unbeliever, does to the Christian’s God. The refusal to do so can only appear to one who doesn’t grasp the Christian view as intolerance and pride. And it is intolerant, as a married man or woman is (or ought to be) intolerant toward the idea that the wedding vows are not meant to be kept. It isn’t supposed to be prideful, although it may be.
The Church, like Israel of old, must always stand apart from the great syncretist love-feast. The uniqueness of its teaching is of its essence, not a mistake on the part of isolated primitives, to be corrected by contact with others. Christianity is the myth that is also true, the rich array of symbols which are also facts, the belief system which is also a correct description of reality. Christian faith is not an accessory to one’s life, chosen from a boutique full of similar items because it is pretty or comforting, but the injection into it of a new principle of life. Between the acceptance of this principle and its rejection there is finally no permanent middle ground, just as there can be no permanent compromise or accommodation between life and death in one body, only a struggle in which one or the other will prove victorious.
Belief is divided from unbelief, life from death, as by a sword, like the sword that splits history in two:
…A moment not out of time, but in time, in what we call history:
transecting, bisecting the world of time…
—Eliot, Choruses from “The Rock”