Lest we forget, the civilization of which we’re all a part in the Western world is profoundly Christian. In the real sense of Christian. (Yes, I know this is a ‘zenpolitics’ blog, but do read on!)
We’re so mired down by the day-to-day that we forget, remove from our consciousness, that simple fact. And if we do connect to it, we secularise it, explain the music, literature, art, sensibility, the ethics of earlier times away as products of their own times, and allow only those ‘eternal values’ that suit our personal tastes and pleasure. We privatise history, recast it in our own image.
This attitude has long concerned me – part born of acquiesence, dealt with by an easy shrug, and part born of a determination to create a new, contemporary, ‘scientific’ understanding of the world.
The reality is that our history is as much as expression of the spirit as of the hand, and implicit in our everyday if we’d open our eyes to it. By downplaying it we remove the very binding of our culture.
The Christian focus on the unique status of everyone before God underpins our understanding of our individuality, and compassion for others lies at the heart of the Christian faith, as it does indeed of Buddhism.
And yet – Christianity for so many of us carries the taints of our upbringing, and by turning from the taint we disavow the substance. For the purposes of this blog the substance doesn’t have to be Christian faith as such, but simply an awareness that our heritage is Christian. Not the Christianity of violence, where politics takes over, but the Christianity that Jesus taught, of love and compassion.
Shouldn’t we be out there arguing, for compassion, for an open heart, an open mind? Taking the initiative. There’s much at stake. But we’re too often on the defensive. And we don’t help ourselves.
The American Pulitzer-prize winning novelist, Marilynne Robinson, is a redoubtable champion of our Christian heritage. She argues powerfully against a purely scientific and amoral worldview, but it is Christians who draw her ire – those Christians, legion in the USA, with a few too many over here too, in the UK, who allow Christianity as an ethic to be muddled with Christianity as an identity.
Ethic is inclusive, identity too easily excludes, becomes an ‘us and them’ tribalism. The ‘them’ would include the generality of sinners, deemed worse than ourselves, the disadvantaged, the outcast.
I’m not arguing for a redefined, evangelical Christianity. This would hardly be the place. and it’s not my scene, not my world. But simply for a renewed awareness of what we take from our Christian heritage – a better understanding of who we are, which is ever harder in a 24/7 world.
I’ve quoted Dylan’s Chimes of Freedom before (and this is just an extract from the list of those for whom the chimes toll):
Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute/For the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute/For the misdemeanor outlaw, chased an’ cheated by pursuit/An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing.
I could also have quoted from the Sermon on the Mount. Dylan managed a pretty good paraphrase.