Wednesday, July 18, 2007

We were talking....

I am shamelessly plucking this from Mad Priest (via geor3ge) just because it is so funny. And because it allows me to ride one of my favorite hobby-horses, again.

MadPriest is, of course, right; he and "Anonymous" are speaking two different languages (it's a Wittgensteinian thing, ya know!). The primary distinction is actually theological, though, not linguistic. There is a basic diversion in theology, and it's on the subject of soteriology. Christianity is an evangelical faith, but the linchpin question is "Why evangelize?" The answer, as I've mentioned before, depends by and large on where you stand on Matthew 25 and Matthew 28. That's not the literal fulcrum, of course, but a convenient symbol for the fulcrum. And besides, like MadPriest, I like to rely on the words of Jesus whenever I can, especially whether I find them comfortable, or not.

So, in brief, Matthew 25 makes it incumbent on me to take care of the hungry, the naked, those in jail (not the ill, you will note; three classes of people made that way by a social system, by the actions/inactions/structure of social groupings), and Matthew 28 lays down the rule that we (Christians, I mean) should "make disciples of all nations" ("nations," of course, meaning what we could now call "ethnic groups," as "nation" is a 19th century European concept. But I digress....). The distinction rises here: the former is read as a social obligation, consonant with the directive given to the rich man in Luke to "Go, sell all you have, and give to the poor, and come, follow me." Interesting that while there's a lot of commentary about the "power" of Jesus to persuade Peter away from his nets or Matthew away from his tax collecting, or even Zacccheus down out of his tree (and away from his tax-collecting, too), little notice is paid to the four times in Luke that Jesus calls a new disciple, who decides it's just not worth it. It seems fairly clear that salvation, whatever it might be, is not something taken up without a serious change of state.

At least, it seems clear to me; but here's the difference (again): I don't understand my salvation as being dependent upon your salvation. That's the importance of the emphasis on Matthew 25, or Matthew 28. If my salvation is not dependent upon your salvation, but only upon my actions, then indeed I work out my own salvation in fear and trembling, in the apousia of my Lord. But if I understand my salvation as being dependent upon securing your salvation, if I start with Matthew 28 as the paramount directive of Jesus upon my life, then the size of my church and the number of people attending it and their adherence to strict laws (even the Deuteronomists weren't that legalistic!) is the central issue. And then the responsibility is not mine, but yours; and the burden is not mine, but the system's. And if you are not faithful as I am faithful, well, I've done all I can do for you by bringing you to salvation; it's up to you to live up to the claim, and up to me to judge your success or failure.

I was thinking, recently, about the story of Pandora's box. I remember the story from a set of children's encylopedias we used to have. The entry included a rather tame drawing of a young woman opening a small chest from which ethereal spirits were escaping, all with various grimaces to indicate they were evil. For much of my young childhood I was attracted and repelled by that picture; it clung like a cockleburr to my imagination. Thinking again about that primal story of the unleashing of pain and sickness in the world, I compared it to the Genesis 2 story, and I realized something: both stories are about human responsibility for pain in the world. It's become common to "blame" God, to ask the simple questions of theodicy like "Why does God allow cancer?" without thinking about the human responsibility for preventing cancer (most of it has an environmental cause; the seeds of our destruction are sown in our modern technological successes). Not that we "caused" sickness because Pandora lifted the lid, any more than Eve "caused" sin by listening to the snake; but the clear import of these tales is that we have a hand in what happens in the world. Which means, of course, we have a hand in who is poor, and who is rich, and who is in jail, and who gets clothed and who gets fed. And so long as there are people who have more than they need to survive on, and people who have less than they need to survive on, we will always have this responsibility.

Which responsibility, of course, we will shy away from. Who, after all, wants to be resposnible for poverty and prison and hunger and homelessness? Much easier to imagine we have some slight responsibility for something as abstract as a "soul," and that by living a "godly life" our "purity" will be a corrective for others. Much easier than being responsible for other human beings and their material needs. Much easier, to keep a space between ourselves.

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