Thursday, January 24, 2008

Enough Foolishness

I would like to make a statement.
There is much frustrating and foolish drivel that passes for wisdom these days, and I would like to address one of them. What I wish to address is the commonly hailed pseudo-axiom: "Christianity (sometimes religion in general) is for the weak." By "weak," proponents of this foolishness do not mean what our Lord said: "For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10) In other words, by "weak" they do not mean that Christianity leads to the one who takes the broken and heals them. If that was the case, then there is no harm or foul. However, this is not what that statement (or its proponents) means by "weak." What it means is more in keeping with Marx's "opiate of the masses," i.e., a mellowing agent meant to suppress people's fears and allow them to get on with life. People who need Christianity are like crackheads--they need it because they do not want to deal with reality. Therefore, "weak" means those who are self-delusional about life because they just can't or won't face real life, with all its trials and trifles.
The bite of this critique of Christianity (and religion) is that, like most exaggerations, it is not completely unfounded. There are, sad to say, naive, well-meaning idiots out there whose idea of religion is to cloister themselves away from all the evil and sufferings of life, acting like everything is absolutely dandy when everything is absolutely not. We all know such people, and feel a strange mixture of pity and abhorrence in their presence.
However, the fact that such people exist does not actually prove anything about Christianity itself. In fact, it actually proves something about those kinds of people, namely that they are well-meaning, naive, and idiots. Their abuse of Christianity and its doctrines says more about their character than that of Christianity's. Shouldn't that be obvious, though? The abuse of a thing does not prove that the thing itself is evil. Fire has been used for both warming and war, for comfort and cruelty, but only a fool would say that fire is evil and not the people who abuse it. So too, with Christendom. Crusades, Inquisitions, miscellaneous wars and power struggles prove that it can be abused, but it has not proven that it itself is evil (or false, or anything else) but only that people are evil. Thus, the exaggerated pseudo-axiom proves nothing except that there really are weaklings in the world, and sometimes they are religious weaklings.
Christianity itself (weaklings aside) flies right in the face of such nonsensical blather, and this part I want to say very deliberately: Any weak-minded jellyfish of a fool can look at the world and depressingly note (with nauseating obviousness) that evil is real, and that we should just live with it. Only the truly brave and strong, those burning with the fiery Spirit of God Almighty, dare have the audacity to stare plain-faced and open-eyed into that sprawling abyss that is the presence of evil and suffering, and defiantly proclaim, "Yes, you are real; but you are not the end."
That, of course, is the essence of what Christendom has called faith. It is not a trusting while being in ignorance of the facts; it is a trusting in spite of the facts. Better yet, it is trusting in a Fact that transcends all facts, and that Fact is God and His good will. Christians (if they are real) are not willfully ignorant of reality, but willfully spiteful of reality in favor of Reality. Alone among all men, they have found the courage and strength to laugh in evil's face and find joy in the midst of tribulation, almost as though they were in revolt against all of reality as it is given, a rebellious crew who will not bow or surrender like a coward beneath the crushing weight of darkness. That is what Christianity has always taught.
Chesterton (in Orthodoxy) put it this way:
"The mass of men have been forced to be gay about the little things, but sad about the big ones. Nevertheless (I offer my last dogma defiantly) it is not native to man to be so. Man is more himself, man is more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing in him, and grief the superficial...Joy ought to be expansive; but for the agnostic it must be contracted, it must cling to one corner of the world. Grief ought to be a concentration; but for the agnostic its desolation is spread through an unthinkable eternity...Christianity satisfies suddenly and perfectly man's ancestral instinct for being the right way up; satisfies it supremely in this way: that by its creed joy becomes something gigantic and sadness something special and small...Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian."
Christians are not joyful out of ignorance, but out of a completer knowledge of reality. They know more about the nature of things than the lost man, know that which gives unconquerable strength (Romans 8:37). The foolishness of this world would have you believe that the joyful man is a blind man. The inverse is the truth: the man of sorrow is the blind man, unable to see and escape to the unbreakable, never ending joy of the Lord and make its strength his own.