Friday, January 01, 2010

May the Lord bless you and keep you.

The lectionary readings for the last day of the year included a passage from the First Letter of John which speaks of the "Anti-Christ," an admittedly slippery notion, but one which deserves its honored place as an important Christian topos. One way of explicating that elusive concept is as an unwitting concession to the complete triumph of Christianity's moral vision. In the face of this triumph, the only plausible strategy the despisers of Christianity have for paralyzing or expelling Christianity's cultural influence is to pose, a wolf in sheep's clothing, as the true exemplars of the moral vision Christianity has historically fostered and defended.

This strategy has a long history. When Saint Paul said that sin takes advantage of the Law, what he meant -- among other things -- was that, though the Law exists to keep social order and therefore to avoid the collapse back into the scapegoating and sacrificial rituals of pagan humanity, inasmuch as it gives moral immunity to the scapegoating of the law breaker, it facilitates the perpetuation of the very cultural matrix it strives to eliminate.

Similarly, we could say that sin takes advantage of the prophetic impulse, which is more or less the impulse to turn one's criticism on oneself and one's own culture. This is a prominent feature of the spirit of our age, which habitually seeks out those maladies for which Western culture can at least plausibly be blamed, preferring these offenses -- even when they pale before far more ominous and dangerous moral evils perpetrated by non-Westerners. The impulse to attend to the beam in our own eye before quibbling over the speck in another's is a healthy one, but sometimes the beam is in the other's eye and pretending the speck in one's own to be of equal or greater moral weight is an act of moral evasion. It is sin taking advantage of the prophetic impulse.

And finally, there is the matter of the uniquely Christian focus on the plight of the victim, born as it is of the revelation of the Cross, the revelation of the innocence of the victim. Sin takes advantage even of this paramount Gospel revelation by turning the concern for victims into a pseudo-penitential ritual of self-exoneration on the part of those unable to claim the exalted moral status of a victim and a weapon on the part of those who can assert such a claim which can be turned to great advantage far beyond the modest one of preventing injustice and discrimination.

These various strategies belong to the "Anti-Christ" it seems to me because they are, in G. K. Chesterton's phrase, "Christian virtues gone mad." They lead to exactly the opposite of what they claim to be accomplishing. For once a Gospel-inspired virtue is uprooted from its proper place in the interconnected ensemble of Christian virtues it pathologizes. Cut off from the anthropological roots of a Judeo-Christian worldview, the championing of victims and the downtrodden turns slowly into its very opposite. The "workers' paradise" becomes the Gulag. The restoration of the dignity of women becomes abortion on demand. The respect for nature becomes idolatry compounded by contempt for human nature. And so on.

On the last day of the year, these are the thoughts that came at the Abbey this morning upon hearing the reference to the "Anti-Christ" in the First Letter of John.

The first reading for tomorrow's Mass is from the sixth chapter of Numbers:
The Lord spoke to Moses and said: "Say this to Aaron and his sons: 'This is how you are to bless the children of Israel. You shall say to them:
May the Lord bless you and keep you.
May the Lord let his face shine on you and be gracious to you.
May the Lord uncover his face to you and bring you peace.'
Amen to that. Happy New Year

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