Wednesday, 9 June 2010

On the nature of Christianity: notes for young philosophers

This is actually a post based on a comment to a previous post, which I thought I'd put up as a standalone post for reference purposes.  It deals with some common misconceptions about the nature of Christianity.

1.  Is Christianity about being nice to everybody?

The view that the public dimension of Christianity is really about being nice to everybody has a lot of fans at the moment.  But personally I think that what I’d call the ‘cult of niceness’ is actually a false religion and not true Christianity at all.

There is a blog I occasionally look at called Cathoilic Pillow Fight which I primarily love for its tag line, which is: "When someone asks you 'think about what Jesus would do', remember that a valid option is to freak out and turn over tables".

The point is that while Christians do (or should) subscribe to the ‘Golden Rule’ (which actually first appears in the Old Testament), treating others as they would like to be treated themselves, that isn’t necessarily the same thing as always being nice.

Sometimes, for example, we’d all prefer it (at least in the longer run!) if someone had actually just told us the truth, rather leaving us to find it out the hard way or when it is too late to do anything about it. And some of us prefer a good solid debate to exchanging inane niceties!

Belief as a private matter

Secondly, belief in God is often viewed as something that is or should be something private and not visible to the outside world. Yet Scripture actually requires us to confess our faith publicly.  Matthew 10:32 states: "Every one therefore that shall confess me before men, I will also confess him before my Father who is in heaven."

Moreover, if God truly exists, and if heaven and hell exist, then how we live our lives matters, and has an effect on our public personas.

The Catholic view is that salvation isn’t something that just happens once, when we are baptized for example, but something we have to continue to work for, and that can be lost at any time, throughout our lives. Our long term goal is achieving the perfection that we call sainthood, or getting to heaven. And our life now is a pilgrimage to that end.

That doesn’t mean our life now should be grim and boring, far from it. Pilgrimages, like road trips, can be fun, filled with joy and good things to find along the way. But they do have an end point that dictates at least to some degree which route we take (though it can be a pretty twisting and turning one, with a few loops and backtracking). Still, that end point provides a ‘public’ framework to guide us as we develop our own personal relationship with God (the private side of things).

So what does that mean in practice? Well firstly joining in the public worship of God. The Catholic view is that the necessity for the Jewish Temple sacrifices ended with Jesus’ death on the Cross and the institution of the sacrifice of the mass at the Last Supper, taking their place. I’m not quite sure how Jews rationalize the destruction of the Temple and the subsequent failure of attempts to rebuild it or reinstitute sacrifices, but I guess its just part of that waiting waiting waiting for the Messiah to turn up thing!

Living as if God exists also has consequences for the code of behaviour and attitude to the world that we adopt.

This debate continues here.

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