bad for the enemies of God, that is
It used to be fashionable to say “you gotta believe in something; it doesn’t matter what, as long as you’re sincere.” That wording went out with the leisure suit, but the sentiment lives on. In one sense it’s as lame as double-knit polyester. If you accept that it doesn’t matter what you believe, you make it impossible to believe sincerely. In another sense, it means “You commoners gotta believe in something so I your king can manipulate you more easily.” But it does matter, in the second sense as well. The elite think materialism is a fine belief system, for the masses in Hicksville; in so far as the Hicks embrace orthodox Christianity, the meritocrats are aghast. It’s violent, ignorant, fundamentalist, bigoted, intolerant, but mainly it’s hugely inconvenient for the would-be rulers.
Call it The Teachings of Jesus, the Good News, or the Kingdom of God, it’s fundamentally irreconcilable to the foundations of contemporary society, and society knows it. Big-government liberalism is hostile to the Good News; Dog-eat-dog capitalism is too, as is it’s-my-body libertarianism.
The εὐαγγέλιον subverts the state, the market, and the individual in so far as these claim universal authority, and some of the implications are pretty subversive. You can’t do what you please with your own body; the state isn’t the supreme authority, or supremely important; the market is not humanity’s arbiter and standard of value. For example:
- Pornography is legal, market-based, and nominally voluntary, but everyone involved in its production and consumption is doing wrong, debasing our culture, degrading each other, and destroying themselves.
- Short-term loans at usurious rates are legal and profitable, but it’s an immoral business. The “lender” is taking advantage of the foolish and uneducated, cheating the poor, and imperiling his own soul. At the last judgment, does he think to show Jesus the victim’s signature on a contract?
- The family precedes the state, and is the fundamental unit of society. Marriage isn’t an institution of the state, and can’t be redefined. Wrong doesn’t become right and right wrong because the judge says so, or because a lot of people want it to be so, not even if they vote.
Not in Kansas
Things are not merely what they are made of. A machine is a collection of parts, the steel forging a collection of atoms. Is a woman her chemical composition, her unborn child an aggregation of cells? No. Reductive materialism seeks to make us all resources to be used. But you aren’t “just a drop of water in an endless sea,” and water isn’t really H2O. H2O is non-material theorizing. Water is the reality, from which the “reality-based community” often seems distracted by its abstract formula.
Not everything important can be weighed in a scale. No matter what Mister Market puts on the other side for balance, some things are incommensurable. Yet this radical fungibility is the basis of the global economy. An ISO9001 factory in Mumbai is an ISO9001 factory in Schenectady. A part made in Guangzhou is a part made in Detroit. A dollar is a dollar, no matter how it’s acquired. Utilitarianism is part of the sandy foundation of our “civilization of production and use.” In that “civilization,” man is to be re-made (by the state, of course) for the business model, instead of the business model being made for man. But men and women are not human resources. The goods at Walmart are not the only Goods, and different Goods can’t be aggregated, substituted, or equated to dollars. Money is not time, still less eternity.
Faith is not intellectual assent, it’s what motivates action. If a nominal Christian goes to church every Sunday while a nominal atheist sleeps late, but their behavior is indistinguishable Monday through Saturday, then the church-goer is a functional atheist – maybe more an atheist than the guy who’s always pestering his friends with his no-God non-Gospel. The atheist at least thinks seriously about God and acts on his conclusion.
It matters what you believe and what you do about it. Atheists realize this, though Atheism is not a rational response to the world as it is; you can see this by spending some time with atheists. It seems to me they’re either not quite rational, or more often not quite atheists. Islam is “false in its claims and pernicious in its moral and political consequences.” Prosperity theology is bunk. Computers are not going to become intelligent and save us from our folly. Nanotechnology won’t let us live forever young. “Spiritual but not religious” is simply vacuous. You can be wrong, even if you are sincere, even if you mean well. We will all die, and then be judged by God for what we’ve done and left undone.
So what’s the good news?
I can’t just do as I please? I’m going to be judged? That all sounds kind of bleak and, you know, judgmental. The good news is, God offers us everything and wants very much for us to accept it. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection makes it possible for us to be forgiven and to live. Without that, we’d have no hope. With that, nothing life throws at us can do us any lasting harm.
Build your life on Jesus’ teachings and you build on a solid foundation in the Kingdom of God. Build in this world and rely on the state, or the market, or yourself, and you build on sand. Don’t listen to the people who say it doesn’t matter what you believe.
UPDATE 17 August 2011: Caesar and Mammon Don’t Love You. Jesus Does.