Sunday, June 17, 2007

The Loss of the Sacred

Late last month, I wrote on the "coming idiocy," i.e., the passing of foolishness for wisdom by the average man due to the lack of the church's stand in the areas of theology, dogma, and apologetics. The coming generations will hold as immovable truths (if they still believe in such things) ideas and philosophies that (as Bunyan once said) a child in the faith could easily answer. Christians of all walks stopped treating Christianity and all it believes as the way to come to know God intimately, and started treating it like a religion, i.e., a system of "dos" and "don'ts" that you must keep in order to earn brownie points with some all-powerful aloof being, and that this system has nothing whatsoever to do with philosophy, science, politics, or any other sphere of life. Religion is its own inclusive sphere; Christianity, however, is the truth that has no bounds.
There are, however, two effects I'd like to talk on and not merely one. One effect is the coming idiocy; the other is the coming boredom. Whereas the idiocy is from those outside the Church, the boredom is from those within it. Step into the secular world and look at and listen to the next generation, and you will see and hear the idiocy coming forth. Likewise, step into the modern church (of any denomination, tradition, or creed) and look at and listen to the next generation, and you will see and hear the boredom coming forth. Face it, folks: the next generation of Christians are just plain bored.
Where do you think relevancy movements came from? Christianity is boring. So what do we do? We jazz it up with things that aren't boring, like movies, or TV, or rock music, or jazz music, or any music (as long as it gets the crowd moving...for Jesus, of course); messages that are fun, funny, and up-to-date; pastors that call themselves "teachers" and teachers that call themselves "friends" or "helpers" so that there is no sense of authority to offend anyone; and all in all, an experience that placates itself to one's own personal preferences, so that all are comfortable, alert, and listening.
Of course, relevancy movements claim to be making Christianity relevant, when in reality they are merely adding relevancy to it. In the end, however, its foundation is Christianity, and Christianity is boring. We do not change something that is boring by merely adding to it. We simply distract from the boredom. All that the people will focus on is the glitz and glamor because it's where the excitement is.
Both the idiocy and the boredom have the same two basic roots. One root is the loss of the deliberate, stubborn, and emphatic belief that this stuff is and that it matters. In other words (and plainly speaking), we just do not take this stuff seriously. The other is the erroneous assumption that all the critics are right: Christianity is boring. There is nothing there that can stir souls or turn worlds upside down. It is a dry convulsion of inconsistent philosophy, unoriginal theology, and meaningless applications. The faithful are practically convinced that they are no better than pagans, that Christendom is just another religion lost in a sea of comparative religions. We feel that we can not take this stuff seriously because it is the same old running gag told over and over again: be good, please God, and listen to Jesus tell you how to be good and please God. Going to a movie sounds more exciting, which is probably why movies are now in the church.
Both unseriousness and assumed boredom find their source in what I call (and others have called) the loss of the sacred. The mystery and majesty of this myth made fact that we call Christianity is lost to all, both the faithful and the heathen. That God is perfectly Three and perfectly One, that Christ is God, that God (and hence, Christ) is the summing up and answer of all human desire, that God died, that eternal perfect communion was for the first time divided, that God as a man has passed through the grave and gate of death, that He has ascended from death and in His ascension brought creation with Him, that life is found in knowing Him in the sense of lovers, that life is about knowing Him in the sense of lovers, that God can be born in us, that we can be one with the eternal perfect communion, that all things are now possible; all the wonders, mysteries, and soul stirring and cleaving truths that are the Christian faith have been lost to all. The sacred has not been profaned; it has been lost altogether, and with it all the hopes and fears of all the years. If we saw the message that we believe as sacred, as something that ascends us to the realm of Reality, we would never let that message be lost and allow foolishness to pass for wisdom (for it is truth and not another religion) or tolerate glitz and glamor being added (for all the glitz in the world can no more add to the splendor of Christianity than a candle can distract from the full blaze of the risen sun).
Dorothy Sayers met the idiocy and boredom in "The Dogma is the Drama," where she tried in vain to convince some "young men" that all of the exciting elements that were in her play were not figments of her own imagination, but were actually doctrine of the church, i.e., that Christ was God, that the Trinity represents perfect communion, and how we are to be united in that perfect communion. Christianity is foolish (in a bad sense) to the heathen and boring to the faithful because we no longer believe that this belief was founded by a man who neither was explained away by his peers nor bored a single soul in the thirty-three years he passed through this world "like a flame" (as Ms. Sayers said). We must redeem the mystery and beauty and majesty of the Christian faith. People are looking for purpose and hope, and we are the children of Purpose and the siblings of Hope incarnate. I think it's about time we started acting like it.