How secularism ‘avoids discussing what is good’

From the second chapter entitled ‘On the Negative Spirit’ of G. K. Chesterton’s book Heretics, he majestically dismantles the secualrized notion of “progress”, an idea that on the surface of things sounds mature but as Chesterton shows, is actually devoid of a telos, a true goal that most of human history (until the modern age) has been concerned with.  In other words, modern secularism is self-referential to the point of madness and absurdity, “It has no perfection to point to” hence,

“All I venture to point out, with an increased firmness, is that this omission (the absence of an enduring and positive ideal [or] absence of a permanent key to virtue), good or bad, does leave us face to face with the problem of a human consciousness filled with very definite images of evil, and with no definite image of good.  To us light must be henceforward the dark thing – the thing of which we cannot speak…

…  The human race, according to religion, fell once, and in falling gained the knowledge of good and evil.  Now we have fallen a second time, and only the knowledge of evil remains to us.  A great silent collapse, an enormous unspoken disappointment, has in our time fallen on our Northern civilization…”

20618693._UY475_SS475_And now we are set for the full force of Chesterton’s genius.  I have rearranged the shape of the following paragraph so that it can be seen more clearly, but the order of words and ideas is exact):

“… Every one of the popular modern phrases and ideals is a dodge in order to shirk what is good.

We are fond of talking about “liberty”; that, as we talk of it, is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good.

We are fond of talking about “progress”; that is a dodge to avoid talking about what is good.

We are fond of talking about “education”; that is a dodge to avoid discussing what is good.

The modern man says, “Let us leave all these arbitrary standards and embrace liberty.”  This is logically rendered, “Let us not decide what is good, but let it be considered good not to decide it.”

He says, “Away with your old moral formulae; I am for progress.”  This, logically stated, means, “Let us not settle for what is good; but let us settle whether we are getting more of it.”

He says, “Neither in religion nor morality, my friend, lie the hopes of the race, but in education.”  This, clearly expressed, means, “We cannot decide what is good, but let us give it to our children.”

Heresy, p.13

Chesterton later calls this “unconscious shirking” (p.14), before stating:  “What is the good of begetting a man until we have settled what is the good of being a man?  You are merely handing on to him a problem you dare not settle yourself.”

 

All this light and so much darkness

20618693._UY475_SS475_Concluding his astonishing Introductory Remarks in his book Heretics, G. K. Chesterton spins a yarn:

“I revert to the doctrinal methods of the thirteenth century, inspired by the general hope of getting things done.  Suppose that a great commotion arises in the street about something, let us say a lamp-post, which many influential persons desire to pull down.  A grey-clad monk, who is the spirit of the Middle Ages [one can’t help but think this is Thomas Aquinas], is approached on the matter, and begins to say, in the arid manner of the Schoolmen, “Let us first of all consider, my brethren, the value of Light.  If Light be itself good….”

At this point he is somewhat excusably knocked down.  All the people make a rush for the lamp-post, the lamp-post is down in ten minutes, and they go about congratulating each other on their unmediaeval practicality.

But as things go on they do not work out so easily.  Some people have pulled the lamp-post down because they wanted the electric light;

some because they wanted old iron;

some because they wanted darkness, because their deeds were evil.

Some thought it not enough of a lamp-post,

some too much;

some acted because they wanted to smash municipal machinery;

some because they wanted to smash something.

And there is war in the night, no man knowing whom he strikes.  So, gradually and inevitably, to-day, tomorrow, or the next day, there comes back the conviction that the monk was right after all, and that it all depends on what is the philosophy of Light.  Only what we might have discussed under the gas-lamp, we now must discuss in the dark.”

Heretics, p.7-8

(parentheses mine)

Healthy Conflict

Church has always been, and is, and will always be a place of tension, dissension and conflict.

word conflict

Of course, conflict isn’t all bad, some is very necessary, but all too often, conflict is done badly – the Old Adam rising to the surface, making demands (without love), speaking the truth (without love), speaking plainly (without love or wisdom) – all the pain, anger and frustration gushing out like an unstoppable Tsunami of muck!

Christians hold in tension a vast array of beliefs and preferences whilst holding to a collective Credal declaration.  A lot (most) of disagreements can come down to the secondary issues and preferences, not to mention ‘historical romanticism’ about the past, or as one friend recently said, historical amnesia!

A great teacher I have leant much from once said to our class, “In life, in Christian ministry, choose the mountains you die on!”  In other words, work out what is primary (die for those things); work out what is secondary (don’t die for them but learn to hold them in a creative and humble tension).

In the book Mastering Conflict and Controversy, the authors highlight six helpful points to dealing with conflict:

1.  Conflict can be healthy and useful for our church.  It is OK for people to differ with one another.

2.  Resolutions for the sake of quick agreement are often worse than agreements that are carefully worked out over time.

3.  Fair conflict management includes:

  • Dealing with issues one at a time.
  • If more than one issue is presented, agreeing on the order in which the issues will be addressed.
  • Exploring all the dimensions of the problem(s).
  • Exploring alternative solutions to the problem(s).

4.  If any party is uncomfortable with the forum in which the conflict is raised, it is legitimate to request and discuss what the most appropriate forum might be.

5.  Inappropriate behaviour in conflict includes, but is not limited to:

  • Name calling.
  • Mind reading (attributing evil motives to others).
  • Inducing guilt (e.g., “Look how you’ve made me feel”).
  • Rejecting, deprecating, or discrediting another person.
  • Using information from confidential sources or indicating that such information exists.

6.  Fair conflict always allows people who are charged with poor performance or inappropriate behaviour to:

  • Know who their accusers are.
  • Learn what their accusers’ concerns are.
  • Respond to those who accuse.

The authors then suggest that if these “rules” can be agreed, a variety of conflicts can be worked through.

For me, the oil in the engine of all conflict must be love, wisdom and grace.  The “rules” above do not cover all bases and sometimes, frankly, pastors and leadership teams deal with rude, obnoxious, immature, repressed and infantile church members.  Pain can go very deep and often come out of nowhere.

Church isn’t perfect (yet), but I’d rather be in the ring fighting than outside the ring offering my tidy suggestions.

CrossinEarth

What has Clay to do with Salvation?

Image

Quite a lot!

The classic passage in Jeremiah 18 about the potter and the clay is very famous and an incredible lesson for us in how to hear, and expect to hear the Word of the Lord in the ordinary everyday things of life!

While I was studying and preparing a recent sermon, the thought occurred to me too that because God always does what “seems good to do” (v4), and He never hesitates to rework the clay into another vessel if the clay is spoiled in whatever way.  Whichever way it happens, God will work on the clay!

But.  Human beings don’t exist just so God can shape us.  We don’t exist to give God something to do!  We all exist for a purpose, an exquisite purpose with divine intentions, and those intentions are…. (you guessed it) salvation.

In 2 Timothy 3:15 Paul instructs Timothy that the Scriptures (God’s Word) are able to “make us wise for salvation.”  Not just to merely give us salvation, but to make us wise for salvation.  This is the language of maturity in Christ, growing up in Christ, reaching the full measure of the stature of Christ, putting away childish things, thinking as adults (i.e. maturely, wisely, biblically), and on and on.

I love the Church because it was God’s idea and it’s a flamin’ miracle, but too many in our churches treat salvation like a lump of clay.  There they sit, in the pews week after week, like a lump of clay on the potter’s table, refusing to be shaped, refusing to be crafted by the potter.  Why should they?  They have salvation – don’t they?

A fuller account of salvation is not that we are on the table, but that we are pushed and pulled, to and fro, turned, kneaded and squeezed.  Salvation is about the shaping and the contours of the pot too.

Clay was never meant to remain clay.  People are never meant to just have salvation.    Clay is meant to be shaped into a vessel.  People are meant to be made wise for salvation.  The potter shapes the clay to the image of a pot.  The Father shapes us into the image of his Son.

Don’t miss what God is doing in the ordinary things of our lives, because what He is doing is extraordinary.  Jeremiah saw it.  Do you?

Moral Idiots

Atheist delusions

Towards the end of his brilliant and devastating critique of contemporary new-atheism, David Bentley Hart writes, of professional academics:  

“Admittedly, I am still talking about only a small number of particular individuals here, and those manifestly moral idiots.  Living in the academic world, moreover, I am acquainted with their kind to a perhaps unhealthy degree.  Some of them are, however, influential, and it is not entirely insignificant that their ideas – which at one time would have been rightly regarded by almost anyone as the degenerate ravings of sociopaths – are strangely palatable and even compelling to many of their fellows.

Their voices may, then, be acute manifestations of a more chronic condition.  If nothing else, their ideas demonstrate how easy it is even for educated persons today to believe – for no reason other than unreflective intellectual prejudice – knowing that how genes work is the same thing as being authorized  to say what a person is or should be.

This is one of the many reasons that I suspect that our contemporary “age of reason” is in many ways an age of almost perfect unreason, one always precariously poised upon the edge of – and occasionally slipping over into – the purest barbarism.  I suspect that, to a far greater degree than we typically might imagine, we have forsaken reason for magic: whether the magic of occult fantasy or the magic of an amoral idolatry of our own power over material reality.

Reason, in the classic and Christian sense, is a whole way of life, not the simple and narrow mastery of certain techniques of material manipulation, and certainly not the childish certitude that such mastery proves that only material realities exist.

A rational life is one that integrates knowledge into a larger choreography of virtue, imagination, patience, prudence, humility, and restraint.  Reason is not only knowledge, but knowledge perfected in wisdom.  In Christian tradition, reason was praised as a high and precious thing, principally because it belonged intrinsically to the dignity of beings created in the divine image; and, this being so, it was assumed that reason is always morality, and that charity is required for any mind to be fully rational.

Even if one does not believe any of this, however, a rational life involves at least the ability to grasp what it is one does not know, and to recognize that what one does not know may not be the only kind of genuine knowledge there is.”

p.236