Wednesday, October 1, 2008

The Intellectuals Have Hitherto Only Changed the World; the Point is to Understand It

In the final chapter of Robert Inchausti's book, Subversive Orthodoxy: Outlaws, Revolutionaries and Other Christians in Disguise, we find the following remarkable statement:

"The point that many moderns fail to grasp about Christian thinkers is that they have very little interest in changing the world. They seek merely to see things clearly in the light of God's hidden logic. And if, by so doing, they expose the narcissism of their contemporaries, the false agendas of their leaders, and the didactic pornography of their artists and entertainers - well, that is all to the good. but unlike their more utilitarian peers, they desire to live in the truth even more than they desire to be effective in the world, and this puts them on the far side of a very important and very deep intellectual divide: it puts them in the camp of the stoic poor, the moral outcasts, and the political and literary pariahs. . . As one Parisian graffiti artist wrote in 1968, "the intellectuals have hiterto only changed the world; the point is to understand it." (188)

This sentiment expresses the foundation of all Christian action in the world for the Christian is one who above all else wishes to live in the truth and knows that the truth is that this world is 1) fallen and 2) not the only reality. Because of #1 it is not possible for human revolution or human science to make a utopia on this earth and because of #2 we can expect an intervention from a transcendent God who will judge the world in righteousness and set up an everlasting kingdom of perfect peace. Knowing these two truths is more important than all the Marxist, Liberal, Democratic, revolutionary, Liberationist, Social Gospel or Progressive schemes in the world.

Why then do Christians today so often give the impression that the only way to "make Christianity relevant" is for the Church to join one or another social engineering project and become the religious cheer leader for it? It is a rhetorical question - I haven't got a clue why this should be so. It makes no sense.


Grant said...

Your point reminds me of the debate regarding Christendom and the endorsement of the political hierarchy by the established church. There are certain parallels with Christian groups that uncritically support secular causes. Do these secular causes actually want religious cheerleaders?

Also, the desire to be effective in the world is a source of much activism. But are we not called to be faithful rather than effective? The risk here is that as we measure our faithfulness in terms of our effectiveness, our focus then shifts from the One to whom we are called to be faithful, onto ourselves instead. It is what we do rather than what God does. Is there any room left for grace?

Craig Carter said...

Our activity in the world should take a particular Christian form - that of martyrdom or witness. If we embody the truth and proclaim the truth, then we will expose evil and provoke it. (To bear a faithful witness to Jesus Christ is like poking the dragon in the eye with a stick.)

Our expose may well cause society to wake up to the truth and make improvements. But this will be a by-product of our witness and our witness can still be effective if the opposite effect occurs and things only get worse or don't change at all.

The important thing is to live in the truth.