Thursday, August 20, 2009

The archbishop vs. moralistic therapeutic deism

Archbishop Gus DiNoia recently gave an awesome talk on how to preach to modern young people. We're currently living in a shabby age of cultural decline and disarray, so the most important thing to keep in mind when talking about the faith is be confident. Don't backpedal or try to sugarcoat anything. If you act as if you're embarrassed about the harder teachings of Mother Church, then you will be deservedly ignored by those you are trying to evangelize. Everyone will see right through your no doubt well meaning efforts to make the faith more palatable to them, but you will lose their respect because you will come across as dishonest and inauthentic.

The archbishop noted three big obstacles that prevent young people from embracing the faith today. The first of these is the denial of Christ's uniqueness as our Savior and the way to God:

The origins of this difficulty lie deep in the mentality of post-Enlightenment modernity and its multifarious theological progeny. According to this mentality, all religions express some experience of the absolute or ultimate or transcendent reality--however it is named and described--that encompasses worldly existence. No religion can claim to possess a privileged description of a reality incomprehensible and ineffable to all equally, nor to afford unique access to a realm in principle available to all equally. We might call this mentality and the religious outlook it fosters the culture of pluralism. It surrounds us on every side and helps to shore up a barrier that stands in the path of many Catholics today, young and old.

In order to clear away this barrier, we need in the first place to make clear that our faith in Christ's uniqueness does not entail a devaluation of the world's religions. The religions of the world are monuments to the human search for God. As such, they are worthy of respect and study because of the immense cultural richness of their witness to the desire for God planted in every human heart.

But the Christian faith attests not only to the human search for God, but principally to God's search for us. And what God wants to share with us is nothing less than a communion of life, a share or participation in the divine trinitarian life. This is the basic starting point for understanding the unique role of Jesus Christ in the salvation of the human race.

This comes directly from the mouth of Jesus Christ: "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through me." The second obstacle which must be overcome is the belief that to be Christian means to sacrifice those things that make you authentically you. This is exactly backwards: you are not truly yourself until you have been transformed in Christ. The Orthodox don't believe that the way we are now is our true selves, but our selves as distorted by the Fall.

Like the aforementioned culture of pluralism, the supporting matrix of ideas behind this sense that "each of us has an original way of being human" (Taylor 1992, 28) is a ingrained feature of modernity and penetrates popular culture at every level. Sometimes called expressive individualism and resembling moral relativism, it actually functions as a kind of moral ideal for many people: "[T]he soft relativism that seems to accompany the ethic of authenticity [asserts]: let each person do their own thing....One shouldn't criticise the others' values, because they have a right to live their own life as you do. The sin which is not tolerated is intolerance" (Taylor 2007, 484). Not only is it immoral to be intolerant of the values of others. It is immoral to allow some extrinsic measure to displace one's authentic self. Fundamental to this "moral ideal" is the understanding "that each of us has his/her own way of realizing our humanity, and that it is important to find and live out one's own, as against surrendering to conformity with a model imposed on us from outside, by society, or the previous generation, or religious and political authority" (Taylor 2007, 475).

These ideas pose a considerable barrier to a true understanding of what Christian discipleship really entails for every human being. In response, the first thing that needs to be affirmed follows directly from Christ's unique mediatorship. To become sharers in the communion of divine life, we must become like the Son so that the Father sees and loves in us what he sees and loves in Christ. We become conformed to Christ in order to be "at home" in the shared life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

The third obstacle to be overcome is the belief that the moral law isn't actually a law at all but the arbitrary opinions of the powerful:

In legalistic moral doctrine, the principal virtue is obedience: one obeys the commandments, whatever the content, because they are enjoined by God. In classic Catholic moral theology, the observance of the commandments is meant to foster the specific virtues with which they are concerned and thus the overall good of the human moral agent. In other words, the commandments of the moral law treat primarily of good and evil rather than of the permitted and the forbidden. They thus express an order established by divine wisdom--as St. Thomas Aquinas insisted--in which the moral law accords with the divinely created finalities of human nature and is given to make human beings good and virtuous.

To use an analogy of which St. Paul might approve, the commandments are more like an athlete's daily exercise and diet regime than they are like the traffic laws. Traffic regulations require that we stop on red and go on green, but it could just as well be the other way around. But the athlete follows the daily regime enjoined by his or her coach in order to achieve and maintain a certain level of performance otherwise unattainable. There is a fit between the regime and the results. The moral law is like that. It contains non-arbitrary injunctions that guide us steadily toward the good in every action and thus toward our ultimate Good.

HT: Rod Dreher

No comments: