September 5, 2013

Fleshly Religion vs. Christianity

There is an idea of religion that is preached by the flesh, and it says--among other things--that religion is a sort of binary project, a choice between being a saint or a sinner. 'Saint' in this case means somebody 'holy'--given an idea of holiness as something that is accomplished or possessed, a sort of spiritual capital analogous to social, cultural, or political capital. Being a 'sinner' in this scheme is then the opposite: being impure, dirty, unacceptable, without value.

The God of this fleshly religion is at best a sort of cosmic landlord, a deity that allows us to live in the fleshly security and comfort of something like a 'state of grace,' so long as we pay the dues of our successful efforts to be 'holy.' Those who succeed in this holiness may approach their god with the rotten satisfaction of being his favorites, the children he likes best, knowing that they are better than the lazy, unholy remainder of humanity whom they imagine their god despising as much as they do.

Christianity liberates us from the tyrannical binary of this fleshly religion, revealing that holiness isn't like that at all. For the choice given to the Christian isn't whether to be a 'saint' (that is, according to some pre-conceived idea of sanctity we have woven out of our vanities) or a 'sinner,' but a choice that clusters around what sort of sinner we want to be. We have all sinned, and we continue to be sinners. Our choice is whether to be the sort of sinner for whom the misery and suffering of sin hardens the heart and spirit, or the sort of person for whom the experience of sin becomes a path to humility and gentleness.

We live in a world broken by sin, a world scarred by all of us who have taken the easy path of allowing suffering and violence to reproduce in ourselves, responding to hurt with more hurt. And this continues to happen because this broken world is inhabited by all of us broken-hearted people, folks whose ability to make good choices has been injured by the legacy of brutality to which we are heirs.

But the good news is that Jesus Christ, in his Passion and Resurrection, has taken all of the misery and suffering that we insist on for ourselves, all that we are at worst, disregarding, torturing, and killing each other, and has given nothing back but blessing and new life. In this Mystery he has blazed a new path for the humanity he borrowed from us through the consent of our Blessed Mother. This is the path of letting our broken hearts break open instead of closed, of allowing our experience of ourselves as broken and sinners to teach us the humility and gentleness of the Kingdom of God rather than the bitterness and disregard of the world and its culture of death.

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