Saturday, May 13, 2006

on Sullivanism, and empowering the laity

With Andrew Sullivan’s recent opinion piece that appreared in TIME Magazine, there is chatter (particularly in his blog, and now in some others) about his notion of "Christianism.”

By "Christianism" he means the “view that religious faith is so important that it must also have a precise political agenda. It is the belief that religion dictates politics and that politics should dictate the laws for everyone, Christian and non-Christian alike.”

“It’s extremism, its enmeshment with partisan political power, its contempt for individual liberty, its certainty and arrogance and intolerance,” he adds in his blog.

Well, as you can imagine, he’s received at least two critiques (or criticisms?) about this, mainly from those whom he’d characterize as the religious (Evangelical) right, who I perceive is a main target of this new term.

But some Catholics aren’t spared.

“In all of this, the Christianists do not represent most Christians, although they have made great strides in the Vatican and in the fundamentalist leadership. I should stress: these people have every right to their views. They certainly have developed an arsenal of arguments and a body of thought to back them up. But this agenda, whatever else it is, cannot be described as mainstream Christianity,” Sullivan writes.

Well, then, what is the “mainstream” with regards to this within the Catholic Church?

This is where the Church directly speaks to the vast majority of its members: the laity. This is their turf: the temporal realm---politics, economics, education, law, science, the whole lot.

In the mind of the Church, one’s religion is not merely a private thing. The baptized, in particular the laity, are called to shape the world into the contours of Christ Himself.

Check out what Vatican II said: “The laity must take up the renewal of the temporal order as their own special obligation. Led by the light of the Gospel and the mind of the Church and motivated by Christian charity, they must act directly and in a definite way in the temporal sphere."

The fathers of the Council add: “As citizens among citizens they must bring to their cooperation with others their own special competence, and act on their own responsibility; everywhere and always they have to seek the justice of the kingdom of God.

“The temporal order is to be renewed in such a way that, while its own principles are fully respected, it is harmonized with the principles of the Christian life and adapted to the various conditions of times, places, and peoples.”

And note this: "The Council desires to see it [i.e., the social action by the laity]extended today to every sector of life, not forgeting the cultural sphere" (Apostolicam Actuositatem).

See that? "To every sector of life," including politics!

Rather than to cower from the political and the temporal, rather than not advocating policies in tune with Christian principles to which EVERYONE of goodwill can agree, the Church calls her believers to action, as “citizens among citizens,” respecting others’ view points, but at the same time leading them with gentleness and love to the Kingdom.

Sullivan and some who agree with him may disagree with how some folks from the religious right bring their faith into the temporal realm, into politics. I am inclined to think however that it is the policies of the religious right that they disagree with primarily, and not this notion that they have somehow "hijacked" Christianity.

As a person of faith, I am generally chary to criticize a fellow Christian who is moved by his faith, by the Spirit, to participate in the political, secular arena.

If the Spirit is at work in him, if the policy is in harmony with the Gospel, and if his participation respects the viewpoints others, more power to him.

And you know, Christian teachings (Catholic teachings in particular) with regards to abortion, gay marriage, euthanasia, war, capital punishment, immigration and others have their basis on universal, human principles to which everyone of sound mind and goodwill can agree.

Part of the task of the laity is to inform, to shape their respective fields, whatever those may be---politics, economics, science, law, medicine, and others---to be in harmony with universal, human values, which is shared by the Church.

Sullivan writes: "The first rule for a Christian should be, to my mind, humility in the face of God. That does not square with absolute certainty about God's politics or the willingness to force others to share the same interpretation of Christ's message as you do."

Well, no. The first rule for a Christian is to love--the ONE commandment Jesus gave his followers. Moving and acting in the political realm, in whatever manner the Spirit moves one, should be seen as a way of expressing Christian love. All other motivations for taking part in the political life in our society are secondary to this.

So, to you lay folks out there, do not be cowered by this talk of “Christianism.” Go out there and bring the Good News to all people.

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