Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Holy Week and Christ Crucified


This is what we should be meditating on for Holy Week:

In Atheist Delusions, David Bentley Hart has described the Christian revolution in terms of the stripping bare of the pagan life-world with its pantheon of gods, demigods and spirits who guaranteed the proper order of things and provided life with meaning.

"In such a world," Hart writes, "the gospel was an outrage, and it was perfectly reasonable for its cultured despisers to describe its apostles as 'atheists'. Christians were … enemies of society, impious, subversive, and irrational; and it was no more than civic prudence to detest them for refusing to honor the gods of their ancestors, for scorning the common good, and for advancing the grotesque and shameful claim that all gods and spirits had been made subject to a crucified criminal from Galilee … This was far worse than mere irreverence; it was pure and misanthropic perversity; it was anarchy."
Where is the sense of anarchy of yesteryear? "But we preach Christ crucified," Paul told the church in Corinth, "unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness." What would it take to be that revolutionary again, that compelling?

Mind, I don't accept the theory that the gospel was such an outrage in the "pagan world" that it upset the apple cart of history and paved the way for the conversion of Constantine. That's historical rubbish. More likely, had Constantine not converted, Christianity would have struggled along as a minority religious sect for many more centuries, upsetting no one and pestering many (as the Jews, inadvertently, have done in European history). Constantine's conversion was Christianity's blessing, and its curse; and the aggressively spiritual, aggressively contrarian Christianity some imagine, probably never existed outside the martyrologies.

Still, a guy can dream. And besides, a Christianity that isn't revolutionary is just "Christendom," and Kierkegaard was right about that.

It ain't worth havin'.

But it ain't worth positing as the only "true" Christianity, either. There has to be a better way. Which is where the spirituality of the monastery, or of a Dorothy Day, comes in. What am I trying to say? This:

On what condition does goodness exist beyond all calculation? On the condition that goodness forget itself, that the movement be a movement of the gift that renounces itself, hence a movement of infinite love. Only infinite love can renounce itself and, in order to become finite, become incarnated in order to love the other, to love the other as a finite other. This gift of infinite love comes from someone and is addressed to someone; responsibility demands irreplaceable singularity.
Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, tr. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 50-51.

And this:

These conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your own cravings that are at war within you? You want something and do not have it, so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures. Adulterers! Do you now know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. Or do you suppose that it is for nothing that the scripture says, "God yearns jealously for the spirit that he has made to dwell in us"? But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, "God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
James 4:1-6

And even this:

I am reading (Simone Weil's) essays as a part of my Lenten reading...She says that we "...must experience every day, both in the spirit and the flesh, the pains and humiliations of poverty...and further we must do something which is harder than enduring in poverty, we must renounce all compensations: in our contacts with the people around us we must sincerely practice the humility of a naturalized citizen in the country which has received us."

I keep reminding the young people who come to work with us that they are not naturalized citizens...They are not really poor. We are always foreigners to the poor. So we have to make up for it by "renouncing all compensations..."
Dorothy Day, from The Dorothy Day Book, p. 11.

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