Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Only Social Responsibility of a Christian

The only "social responsibility" of a Christian is to live, wherever and with whomever he may be, the life of faith, for his own salvation and as an example to others. If, in so doing, we help to ameliorate or abolish a social evil, that is a good thing—but that is not our goal. If we become desperate when our life and our words fail to convert others to the true Kingdom, that comes from lack of faith. If we would live our faith more deeply, we would need to speak of it less.

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Modern idealism, which is devoted to the realization of the idolatrous "Kingdom of Man," has long been making its influence felt in Christian circles; but only in quite recent years has this influence begun to bear real fruit within the womb of the Church itself. I think there can be no question but that we are witnessing the birth pangs of something that, to the true Christian, is indeed pregnant with frightful possibilities: a "new Christianity," a Christianity that claims to be "inward," but is entirely too concerned with outward result; a Christianity, even, that cannot really believe in "peace" and "brotherhood" unless it sees them generalized and universally applied, not in some seemingly remote "other world," but "here and now." This kind of Christianity says that "private virtue" is not enough—obviously relying on a Protestantized understanding of virtue, since everything the true Christian does is felt by all in the Mystical Body; nothing done in Christ is done for oneself alone—but not enough for what? The answer to that, I think, is clear: for the transformation of the world, the definitive "realization" of Christianity in the social and political order. And this is idolatry. The Kingdom is not of this world;

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Let the contemporary sophisticate prattle of the childishness of seeking "future rewards" and all the rest—life after death is all that matters. And hope in it so fires the true believer—he who knows that the way to it is through the hard discipline of the Church, not through mere "enthusiasm"—that he is all the more in the present (both in himself and as an example) than the "existentialist" who renounces the future to live in the present.

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And what of the "old" Christianity of "private virtue"? Why has it become so stale? Because, I think, Christians have lost their faith. The outward Gospel of social idealism is a symptom of this loss of faith. What is needed is not more busyness but a deeper penetration within. Not less fasting, but more; not more action, but prayer and penance. If Christians really lived the Christian hope and the full path of unification that looks to its fulfillment, instead of the easy compromise that most laymen today think sufficient—and doesn't the "new Christianity" tell them that working for social ideals is really more important than following the Christian discipline?—; if Christians in their daily life were really on fire with love of God and zeal for His Kingdom not of this world—then everything else needful would follow of itself.

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The above was written here

14 Comments:

Blogger xofezura said...

That's a great post, Atgnatus.

I particularly like the opening section. There's a lot of tree-hugging and "social justice" work done these days in lieu of fasting and prayer. I say this as a guilty party. It's much easier for me to write a check or read a few articles about people suffering in the third world than to pray or give up a meal.

I do have a minor quibble about Fr. Seraphim's use of the word "existentialism." I believe he is talking about atheistical existentialism a la "Waiting for Godot". There is a Christian variety of existentialism--which in my opinion is a good thing.

I believe it was first mentioned by Kierkegaard, but you'll see it pop up in the post on Fr. Aidan Nichols.

This story--apparently a true one, I had thought it to be fictional--sums up Christian existentialism:

(Modern man goes goes into confessional)

modern: Hi Father, I would like to discuss with you my loss of faith.

priest: Get on your knees and make your confession. You will believe.

modern: But that's not what I'm here for! I'm here to talk about all my doubts, etc.

priest: Make your confession!

---------------------------------

This is expressed in so many other ways. I can think of C.S. Lewis talking about the ugly man who is so ugly he puts on a beautiful mask, and who finally takes it off after 50 years to find--surprise--his face has grown to fit the mask, so he too now is beautiful.

---------------------------------

So, there is a form of Christian existentialism which is very much in agreement with Fr. Seraphim, in my opinion.

Nonetheless, excellent points.

10:23 AM  
Blogger xofezura said...

Solzhenitsyn has something to say on this.

As does Pope Benedict

(Read down to the part about "meaningless dances around the golden calf that is ourselves")

11:49 AM  
Blogger xofezura said...

One of the great things about the Sayings of the Desert Fathers is how pithy the sayings are. They are easy to memorize, or to half-memorize, and carry around in your head.

There are a lot of profound thinkers who write weighty tomes, but this blog is geared for busy laymen not working on doctorates in theology. Practical brass tacks advice needed, in other words.

I'm going to peal some of this out into a separate quotes post that we can build out into a sort of "Sayings, Part Two." I know this sort of thing already exists on the Orthodox websites, but I think there's some value in doing it for ourselves ... if you read about how the Sayings came about, that is pretty much what folks did in monasteries, so several different versions of the Sayings are extant, depending on who copied what.

12:04 PM  
Blogger Oblate-Man said...

I read this post 3 times before I felt ready to respond. It seems plain enough, but there are many different levels that are being addressed here: personal, congregational, national, and institutional.

The main prescriptive point of this article is exactly in keeping with Benedictine living. I must agree that Protestantism has been the primary Christian stream in which we see this misuse of the concept of social justice (although there is a proper place for it). The Lutherans have, in the past 200 years, almost completely identified themselves with this misunderstanding of the social justice prophets.

That is not to say that we should not be concerned with social justice. I would have to say that proper social justice is more than "just" overflow of our relationship with God. But I would agree that is impossible without it.

There are some interesting things going on in various Protestant circles. One is the spread of the Benedictine oblate movement among Protestants (and not just Episcopalians and Lutherans). There is a recognition that we need to move inward before we can move outward.

Another centers on The Navigators, a para-church organization that has been at the forefront of evangelism and discipleship (a la Protestant discipleship) for over 50 years. The main model for Navigators has been a type of relational evangelism, but pretty much goal-oriented (proclaiming the Gospel to as many people as possible).

The Navigators recently announced a major shift in their mission. They are going to focus on inward spiritual development of their own members as being necessary before they even think of evangelizing others. I've talked to some of the people who have been in on these discussions. They are real and sincere about seeing a need for a more contemplative approach to faith.

I am, of course, very disturbed and disappointed at those in the United States who seek to make the political arena their main battlefield. But to fight that directly would be to use the same tactics. I do not think these people will be successful for very long.

In a way, this is very reminscent of 6th century Europe. A world in transition, competing ideologies, and attempts to impose from the outside a new world order. A man named Benedict saw a different way, based on the Wisdom of the Desert Fathers. We may yet see a resurgence of both in our world.

1:28 PM  
Blogger xofezura said...

I was a Navigator at college in the 1980s.

I left because I felt that ... although I knew a couple of "deep" people there ... there was no way I could learn how to become "deep" through the program.

I'm glad to hear they are working on correcting that.

2:14 PM  
Blogger xofezura said...

Having said I like the opening section of this lengthy quote quite a lot (I like the rest too), I'll saying again that I'm very fond of the opening section.

Christians in the modern world are quick to succumb to "Bono Syndrome" where they rush around trying to save it. Look at AIDS in Africa, look at the Tsunami, look at the environment, look at social justice!

All that is good stuff, but how many Christians in America spend even 10 minutes a day really praying? I of course am the worst of the lot in this category, but I think the general observation holds true.

Truly, that opening quote is a good "word" from Abba Seraphim.

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