Monday, July 13, 2020

Excarnation III: Paragraphs to Ponder.

While the effects of an excarnational culture can most easily be seen in the domain of sexuality, it's most pernicious effects lay in other areas. While reading up on the subject, I stumbled across this article by Professor Andrew Sandlin, which I think is worth some thought;
The Bible does not exalt spirit over matter; Jesus is Lord of the invisible and visible world (Col. 1:15–17). Yet ever since pagan Greek ideas of the inferiority of the material world infected Christianity, the church has battled with excarnation. Even as the church prays, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10), many Christians view the world outside the church — economics, politics, entertainment, education, and architecture — as inescapably “carnal” (fleshly) and unfit for Christian influence. So the church retreats to an excarnated spirituality.
Prayer, interior dialogue, and contemplation of heaven are considered spiritual, while working to re-criminalise abortion, de-legitimize same-sex “marriage,” combat pornography, and reduce government theft programmes in the form of confiscatory taxation are relatively unimportant and, in fact, a diversion from the church’s real, excarnated tasks. Escape from evil within the created order rather than confrontation with and victory over it is the excarnational agenda. Christianity is reduced to a “personal devotional hobby.”

But Advent stares us unflinchingly in the face with the truth that the present world, immaterial and material, is cursed by sin and is to be redeemed by the death and resurrection of our Lord. The most evil being in the universe is pure spirit, but Jesus was born and lived and died and rose from the dead and lives forever in a body. He is profoundly interested in the world, including the material world. He came healing the sick and exorcising demons from tortured bodies. To trust in the Messiah for salvation is to surrender oneself mind, soul, body — our entire self — to him (Rom. 12:1–2)
He is as interested in purging sin from gangsta rap and abortion clinics and fraudulent bond-rating agencies and Bauhaus architecture as he is from Christian hearts and families and churches. The cleansing power of the Gospel does not simply take souls to heaven; it transforms everything it touches.
If I had to define what Caritas is, it would be; a potency, when realised in act, perfects form. Or in other words, Christian love, in act, transforms things into their perfection. Now the important thing to recognise is that it is a transformative power, not simply of the individual but of the world. The excarnational approach neutralises this resulting in a de-Christianisation of the culture. You end up with a world of beautiful churches but terrible public administration: Catholic and Orthodox Europe?

This type of Christianity seeks to avoid the world, not engage it, and hence all the various types of "Benedict Options" out there. Combine it with a Tolstoyan/Pacifist interpretation of the Bible and you've a got a combination that is unable to resist the collapse of Christian civilisation. And yet this was not always the case. I'm currently reading Owen Chadwick's, The Secularisation of the European Mind in the Nineteenth Century: it's a really good book. But I was struck by this passage which is so out of spirit with our times:
To the middle twentieth century, where priests are expected to be of the left and to encourage revolution in South America or southern Africa, this is a more surprising juxtaposition than men of the nineteenth century found it. Here, for example, is a speech made by Archdeacon Christopher Wordsworth, son of a Master of Trinity, nephew of a poet, soon to be Bishop of Lincoln, at a Tory meeting in Reading on t February 1865. He engaged to define Conservatism:
What, gentlemen, is Conservatism? It is the application of Christianity to civil government. And what is English Conservatism? It is the adoption of the principles of the Church of England as the groundwork of legislation.[ED] Gentlemen, I say it with reverence, the most Conservative book in the world is the Bible, and the next most Conservative book in the world is the Book of Common Prayer.
The Church the mainstay of order — that is the conviction common to both sides; both of the revolutionary who wants to overthrow order and therefore the Church, and of the conservative who wane to maintain order and therefore the Church. The religious revival of the nineteenth century, evident in all countries of western Europe, did not depend upon faith in the political usefulness of Churches. They did not even depend only upon the background rattle of ghostly tumbrils on the streets. But this shadow of social ruin was quite important as a religious force. We can the more easily understand it when we remember how in our time Nazi terror forced many western Europeans back to enquire into their moral principles and thereby contributed, for a time, to a revival of religion.
One of the great effects of Reformation was to shift the cultural importance of various elements in society. In the Catholic/Orthodox world, where the clergy was to retain much of it's dominance, society continued to be "weighted" to the spiritual whereas, despite its theology, Protestant society resulted in a more of an engagement in "earthly" affairs. Protestantism was far better at "applied" Christianity.

It's my opinion the while Catholicism has remained relatively ideologically uncorrupted by modernity, its Clericalism and emphasis on "spirituality" has resulted in an impotent Church. Protestantism on the other hand was better able to apply Christianity to the "affairs of the world" and transform it. As it has withered so has the world's ability to resist modernity and as I see it, the Catholic Church is going to have to "protestantise" if we plan to get out of this mess.