Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The City of God

I like John Ray's blog and agree with him often, but I want to use one of his essays to point out a common error in often seen in public discussions of the merits of Christianity.
I agree wholeheartedly that Christianity is an enormously beneficial influence on ethical behavior but cannot see that it is essential or unique. And it certainly is not sufficient. We might think that Christ's central commandment "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Matthew 22:39) would be as firm a foundation for respect for the rights of others as one could possibly imagine but there are unfortunately very few Christlike Christians and savagery and tyranny have historically been far more common in Christian lands than anything else.
Just because someone fails to be all that a Christian should be, does not refute Christianity. In fact, the faith tells us that we cannot succeed, we are too weak, the cross is too great and thus we need God's Grace as much as possible. Grace can't be earned or bought, it can only be sought by sincere openness to God. Belonging to a church, even taking the Eucharist, is no guarantee of success at being Christian. As someone who says he is familiar with Catholicism, I'm surprised that Ray makes this error. The rest of the essay is not much better. He defines religion far too narrowly, I believe. People in Australia or the U.S., who say they are not Christian or even religious at all, can and do absorb Christian culture. It is in our laws, and our unwritten assumptions about how to interact with our neighbors. Before you slam the West for it's conduct, please take a look at the East (near East). And - very important - what kind of ideal are you accusing the West of falling short of? Chances are it is a Christian conception of what a state should be like, something Augustine might have called the City of God. We probably can't agree on the details of what that City should look like, but the silhouette is familiar.

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