Wednesday, August 28, 2019
No mere cultural adornment or historic legacy. . .
The new France includes a significant number of recently arrived immigrants. Though from Africa or Asia and more typically Muslim or Buddhist, these immigrants do speak the language and claim a place within the culture. To them, the cathedral and its fire have even less significance. Theirs is but a historical or cultural connection and for them there is no history of faith even to recall. It would be for them a cultural fixture but not an internalized passion. Perhaps no more French than Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. This is certainly true of the immigrants but it is becoming even more true for French with longer history in the land and toward the culture. Such things are worn on the outside of their identity but do not get too deep into the person.
The French expect more of their government than the churches that dot the land. They have agreed to the high cost of taxes in the presumption that the government will take care of them and their culture. Far more than in America, the French hold the government responsible for their own welfare and for the state of life in the country (whether rightly or wrongly). Though the cathedral was a symbol for the nation and its destruction a national wound, they have not exactly learned generosity for its rebuilding. It is the government's job to repair the national identity and to keep in repair the cultural symbols of the nation. The French seem more willing to have their government and the donations of Americans and others repair Notre Dame more than they are willing to contribute toward it.
I write this because I wonder if sometimes Christians are not so tempted even here in America. We depend far too much upon the cultural Christianity of the past and too little upon the urgent catechesis and solid preaching to cement the lives of our people to God, through the means He Himself has provided. We have the false idea that laws will return America to some grand image from the past. I am not at all suggesting that we should abandon our efforts to protect the unborn but I wonder if we have not drunk the kool-aid that suggests a change in the law will change people. I fear that the law could change (though some states would certainly continue their assault on life) but we might forget what must be done to change the mind and, even more, the heart of our people. Blue laws cannot make us honor the Lord's Day and morality laws cannot make us holy. Only Christ working through the Spirit can do this. We do not want the government to be our partner -- all we ask is that the government stop being our enemy!
We do not want to become the kind of country in which the government is the source of solutions to our problems, the guiding light of what is good and right and true, or the parent who takes care of us (as long as we surrender our choice). For example, I think the fight for health care accessible to all people at a reasonable cost is a laudable fight but I worry when the government decides what life to save and what life is not worth saving, when the government decides how far to fight for the life of a child and how long to care for the life of the aged, or how much to spend and when to cut off the flow of dollars for the care of the sick. I could also refer to the dangers that lie when it is the government decides what speech is worthy of the public square and what is forbidden. I certainly do not want God banished from the school but I am not at all sure I want the teacher in the classroom to be the teacher of religion our students turn to in order to find out about God.
It seems more and more Americans are willing to surrender a higher portion of their paychecks in order to have government responsible for their welfare as individuals and for the welfare of the state. When that happens, the church becomes a cultural symbol of the past more than a profound force in the present and America's tremendous capacity for philanthropy will dry up. We are not there yet but Christians should be careful. We cannot simply raise our voices against what is wrong and we must compel the people to faith with more than the force of our arguments. We must believe what we confess and live what we believe. There needs to be among us a striving for holiness (within the frailty of sin) and a genuine charity of Christ evident among us so that Christianity is not simply an intellectual choice or a moral one but truly the way and we the people of the way. The church is not a social club or even a gathering of like minded individuals. She is the Body of Christ, created and called into being by the Spirit working through the Word and Sacraments. If she is seen as any less, she will become less. That is not the fault of those outside but the blame will lie squarely upon the shoulders of those who claim to be Christian.