Friday, May 25, 2007

What Christianity Isn't

I want to address something that I've noticed quite a bit recently. It's something I've come across in many different places in my life. Unfortunately, it is the sort of thing that might make some people feel uncomfortable. Therefore, I just want to say that this isn't directed towards anyone in particular. No one person is the inspiration for this. I've seen this amongst friends, family, acquaintances, and all throughout the blogosphere and other Internet forums.

What I am talking about is, essentially, a false form of Christianity. It is, as the title suggests, what Christianity isn't.

Christianity isn't going to Mass. It's not believing all the right things. It's not standing up for the rights of the unborn, or opposing homosexual marriage, or believing that the Ten Commandments ought to be allowed in public space. It's not living morally - abstaining from sex outside of marriage, being polite, staying sober, and so forth. It's not praying frequently, fervently, or with dedication. Christianity isn't feeding the hungry, helping the poor, and in other ways helping the less fortunate. It isn't reading spiritual books. It isn't standing up against those who are hijacking the Christianity for their own causes, or being the lone voice in the wilderness in opposition to some un-Christian practice or idea. Christianity isn't hating sin or cultivating virtue. It isn't standing up for legitimate "modern innovations" in the Church, nor is it defending the "traditional Church." It isn't opposing heresy, preaching truth, admonishing sinners, or imitating saints.

If you think that Christianity is any of those things, you are worshipping an idol. Your idol may be orthodoxy. It may be Ignatian spirituality. It may be sexual purity. You may worship tradition, the prayer, or even the Mass. In fact, you may have a polytheism in which you worship virtue, prayer, morality, orthodoxy, the corporal works of mercy, and all of the other things that are associated with Christianity. The fact is, Christianity is none of these things. We don't worship the Mass - we go to the Mass to worship God. And God, as St. John tells us, is Love (1 John 4:10).

Christianity is Love. It is nothing else. It is singularly, completely, and unreservedly Love. Indeed, all of the things listed above are a part of Love. One who loves his child will admonish her when she does wrong. One who loves God will believe all the right things. One who loves the unborn will defend their lives against the abortion mill that is western civilization. Yet none of these things, apart from Love, has any place in Christianity. Apart from Love, they are simply idols for us to worship instead of God.

Indeed, many people do worship these things. It is very common to worship virtue. The ancient Greeks were quite good at it. Today, many Christians worship these things. Purity apart from Love is not directed toward God, and yet time after time Christians will practice purity, even look to it as a great virtue, while failing to have Love in their lives.

It's a great thing to defend the faith; the Scriptures command us to be ready to (see 1 Peter 3:15). It's a great thing to oppose some terrible sin that our government is committing. It's absolutely necessary to admonish the sinner (such as pro-abortion politicians), but any of this done apart from Love falls far short of being Christian. Apart from Love, it is simply ideology.

Love is what separates orthodoxy from ideology. Love is what separates purity from prudishness. Love is what separates prayer from babbling, virtue from habit, saints from good citizens, righteous anger from sin. Love is what separates Heaven from Hell.

"If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy
gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all
mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains,
but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up
my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. Love is patient and
kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not
insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at
wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all
things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for
prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for
knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but
when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke
like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a
man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to
face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully
known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of
these is love." (1Co 13:1-13)

Love makes Christians Christians. Unfortunately, as I go through life, I see so little of it.

I have to be clear, here. I am a sinner. We are all sinners. I am not talking about sin. Not everybody is Saint Thérèse. I and most other people will certainly fall short of Love in our lives. We will on occasion practice a virtue without Love. We will abstain from sin for selfish reasons. We will do each and every thing on my list apart from Love sometimes. That's not what I am talking about.

What I am talking about is a general attitude that I see wherein these things are so often taken to be all that there is to Christianity. Love is seen as being Christian, but simply as another item on the list rather than the only thing that makes one Christian. In reality, all of those other things are supposed to be subordinate to love. They are supposed to be part of Love - things that we do to Love. They are supposed to be means, rather than ends. Our only end is to be God - Who is Love.

So I encourage you - as humbly as I can - to examine yourself. Examine your motives. Examine why you do all the things you do. If you pray, why do you? If you live a moral sexuality, what is causing you to? How often do you do things - good, Holy, virtuous, pious things - without Love? I can only promise to do the same examination myself, and I will. I think that it's something our world is in such need of right now. If every Christian who is fighting abortion, defending the faith, or trying to restore Christ to our world in every other way would simply stop for a moment and start to Love first and do these things second, our world would turn around in a matter of weeks.

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