Thursday, August 5, 2010

Why NOT to Freak Out

Current news headlines related to the accelerating erosion of American society can leave many that have maintained a healthy tension between orthodox Christianity and national patriotism with a sense of apocalyptic angst. Whether it is the political "tribalism" that acknowledges race as a governing value, the pagan "messianism" that looks to godless public servants for "salvation" or the cultural atheism that seeks to cast off all vestiges of Divine norms, the cause for alarm appears to grow. Some see in these developments evidence that the world is close to its end, yet this supposes that the plight of America is the plight of the world as well. Anthropologists refer to this as "ethnocentrism:" the belief that (quite literally) the world revolves around one's own culture. Most preaching concerning the "end times" is guilty of this. My own culture is going to hell so that must mean that Armageddon is scheduled for next Tuesday at 2:43 pm Pacific Standard Time, so goes the logic. The temptation is great to run screaming for the hills when the lawless enemies of God prevail in numerous levels of civil authority.

But what is it, really, that one fears that is inducing the panicked stampede for the bunker?

Is it that some are seeking to change the definition of marriage? Don't despair. They cannot. That some may declare (loudly even) that the moon has turned to cheese and the Earth has flattened out (again!) does not make it so. Is the fear that the uninformed deviant will be in a teaching position? Teach your children correctly. Is the fear that the deviant will imperil themselves with their folly? The foolish will always be among us. This does not threaten the wise.

Marriage is, at its core, three things:

1. Religiously - it is a sacred union between one man and one woman brought together by God to functionally perpetuate humankind and to theologically reflect his characteristic loyal love (clergy are historically sought to officiate this).

2. Anthropologically - it is a communal, familial and cultural acknowledgment of the union brought about under purpose #1.

3. Civilly - it is a legal recognition of the union enacted first under purpose #1 or (for the religiously diverse society) under purpose #2.

These 'purposes' for marriage are unchangeable. They have always been true since the creation of humankind. Occurring in order of priority and weight, each 'purpose' in the list is subservient to those above it. Thus if one declares themselves married in a manner that does not conform to these in their succession, they have not changed reality simply by voicing their folly. They simply are not married. They have, in fact, changed nothing. It is no more accurate for a homosexual couple (regardless of the legal document they secure) to say they are married than for a heterosexual couple to say so that have never sought ecclesiastic or legal endorsement either. Panic and despair is not warranted, just empathetic grief for those that will destroy themselves thinking that making a thing legal also makes it so. How is it that a country that has murdered millions of infants since 1973, declaring a wide swath of society less human because of their stage in utero, is SUDDENLY falling apart because of one evil judge? How can one justify so promptly freaking out when such cultural decline clearly does not happen over night? Faithful Christians have reason to keep their cool.

But this is tied to something larger... Christians are to maintain a tension between contributing to a healthy present society and remembering that the Church has weathered the rise and fall of many societies before. As Christ's Body, and tasked with spreading the Gospel until all the world kneels in submission to Christ, the Church continues uninterrupted through the ascension and destruction of many of history's most promising cultures. On the one hand, it's possible that (by God's grace) the Church in America might experience a resurgence of orthodox faithfulness and effective influence in leading souls to submit to Christ, thus saving America from galloping fatally over the precipice. On the other hand, it's also possible that (with historical precedent) the Church of America is eventually represented by a faithful remnant that weathered the 'storm' of it's own cultural collapse, while God's grace seemingly facilitated the triumph of the Church elsewhere. In either case, the Church prevails and the "gates of hell shall not prevail against it" (cf. Matt 16:18).

Why should the faithful not 'freak out' over the happenings in American culture now? Because regardless of how lamentable this society's collapse may be, it cannot hinder the forward march of the Church. Shall the glacier despair that weeds have sprouted up in front of it? No. Christians must keep their wits about them, or risk forfeiting opportunities to preserve what and who they can for as long as they have to do it.

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