Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Means or the Ends?

"About the general connection between Christianity and politics, our position is more delicate. Certainly we do not want men to allow their Christianity to flow over into their political life, for the establishment of anything like a really just society would be a major disaster. On the other hand we do want, and want very much, to make men treat Christianity as a means; preferably, of course, as a means to their own advancement, but failing that, as a means to anything- even social justice."
~His Abysmal Sublimity Undersecretary
(demon supervisor) Screwtape, T.E., B.S., etc.

(from 'the Screwtape Letters' by C.S. Lewis, 1959

I thought this was a fascinating excerpt. One extreme in theology is the fundamentalist who thinks they alone have the absolute true interpretation of God's Word, the other is the liberal who gets so bogged down in historical-critical analysis that he not only loses the meat of God's message, but imagines that anyone's subjective interpretation is valid. Both fail by putting human interpretation before Divine revelation. One extreme in temporal and civil concerns (politics) is to put too much power in the hands of a select leader, party, ideology or cast at the expense of the rights and liberties of the masses- usually in an effort to protect the privileges and liberties of those holding power. The other extreme is to legislate and litigate the rights and needs of the masses to the point of eroding many of the liberties and privileges of the individual.

In this chapter of his famous satire, Lewis has Screwtape go on to explain to his nephew (a junior tempter) that Hell would want the human to fall in love with social justice first and Jesus second, so that Christianity is nothing more than a means for advancing the end of social justice. True enough, we liberals and progressives need to be careful not to miss the real Jesus by making civil rights or social justice our god. But likewise, I've often seen Christians fall prey to worshiping the pro-life movement, traditional marriage, family values, creationism, and conservativism and utilizing Christianity as a means to advancing the political, philosophical or social ends.

Both Republicans and Democrats need to be careful that we don't make Jesus into either a CEO, director, manager, coach OR some kind of prophet, protester, leader, status quo breaker, or example setter. He is SO much more than either false perceptions. He wants to be our Father and brother and most importantly our savior, the ultimate and final sacrifice for our sins. Yet at the same time, being mindful not to prevent Him from also being all those other things in addition.

What I think C.S. Lewis is warning us against is abusing our Christianity as leverage to get other things that we want more than a relationship with Jesus. We ALL have to guard against using "religion as a wedge, and patriotism as a bludgeon."

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