December 28, 2016 2 Comments
[One more of Jessica’s, because it reflects my beliefs as well, and is an excellent wrap up for the year. It’s been a very strange year, and in truth, I’m glad it’s ending. I should be home fairly late tonight, so with luck, I’ll have a new post for you tomorrow, although I’m not guaranteeing anything. 🙂 ]
As we head towards 2014, our thoughts tend to travel in that direction: we make (and fail to keep) resolutions; we speculate on how things will be different (and they often won’t be); and we wonder where we’ll be in a year’s time (if we’re lucky, where we are now). So focussed have we become as a society on material well-being, that many of the commentators seem to think that an economic recovery is the be all and end all of existence; it is as though a form of utopia would be “can be we all go back to spending like it was 2007”. As someone who didn’t spend a great amount then, it isn’t that specific aspect which bothers me, it is the poverty of aspiration.
I sometimes wonder to what extent this concentration of material things is a function of our societies forgetting about God, or thinking He must be confined to the private sphere? It is easy enough (which is why it gets done so often) to focus on the bad things which came from a time when society was more Christian: the intolerance of other views; the attempts to force belief on others; the narrow-mindedness of some believers, and the like; it is little use pointing out that these features were also to be found in non-Christian societies and seem to be art of mankind’s development (where it does develop); those who wish to blame Christianity for the world’s ills will do so regardless of the evidence. But there is another side to it all. The values which Christianity espouses are about personal responsibility but also altruism: you take responsibility for your own sins, but you are saved by God’s mercy; you are part of a Christian family, and you have responsibilities to others; you are not better than others, but others are no better than you: at your worst you are a sinner; at your best you are also made in God’s image. Redemption is always possible. No one is so bad God cannot save them; no one is so good that they do not need God’s forgiveness.
All of that gives a focus to life which takes us beyond narrow definitions of self-interest, and which helps put material wealth in a proper perspective. There’s nothing in Christianity which says money is wrong; there’s a great deal which says that loving money more than people is very wrong; it is bad for you and bad for the society of which you are a part. The moment you begin to regard another human being as somehow instrumental in a search for personal wealth, whatever you may gain, you are losing your soul. Christianity has been responsible for education and social and health care long before civil society took an interest in such matters; it has inspired some great art and architecture. It is easy enough (and therefore often done) to think that a Church should simply sell off anything that can be sold to feed the poor, but that ignores so much about the motive for the art and architecture, and it betrays an attitude towards religion which comes from the purely material world.
Men and women have given of their gifts freely to God and His service, and some of these have been great artists and architects. They take us beyond the realm of the everyday to visions of what can be, they raise our eyes above the horizon of the possible towards what could be. It is good for the human spirit to have that, as it is good for it to repent of sin and to help others; all of these are part of what it is to be really human. In losing these dimensions, our modern society threatens to shrink our world to the merely possible and the expedient. It was not thus that mankind advanced, nor will it be thus it advances further.