Of the Cross and Culture

Much discussion has been had by Christians today (and in past ages I’d imagine) of the role of the Christian should take in the public square, especially in a modern multicultural democracy. People speak derisively of a Christian ghetto and/or the consequences of withdrawal. Others promote activism, marches and other ways of

For myself, I would offer another tack, that our ventures in the public square be dominated by some of the cardinal virtues from early Christianity: humility and charity and love.

A hermit advised, “If someone speaks to you about a controversy, do not argue with him. If what he says makes sense, say, ‘Yes,’ If his comments are misguided, say, ‘I don’t know anything about that.’ If you refuse to dispute with his ideas, your mind will be at peace.”

We can carry that into our public life and projections. I’d further that with the observation that others bad opinion of us, is good our our souls, it fosters native humility at the very least.

So, if you are told you hate gays because you oppose gay marriage, do not defend your pride and your honor, with rebuttals on loving the sin and hating the sinner or anything such as that. Just offer  “I don’t know anything about that” or go further and just humbly assent … and continue volunteering for hospice and other medical care.

If you are told, because you don’t support various tax policies or the current healthcare shambles that you hate the poor, don’t explain your view or defend yourself. Just offer, “I don’t know anything about that” and keep giving freely of your time and money for the homeless and those in need.

If you are told, that because you adhere to a pro-life position, you hate women, don’t counter with argument of person and the life of the fetus. Just offer, “I don’t know anything about that” and keep working with PASS and the like.

If the law asks you to act against your conscience, fill the jails with psalter and song. What do you fear, you who have the words of eternal life? Do you think you need to strike out with political power and organization to defend Christ? If His armies were of the world, they would have mobilized before Pilate to defend him.

In all cases where a person with which you are interacting is convinced your beliefs are hateful or harmful, rhetorical defences will not convince the other that you are right or righteous, but that you are clever enough to rationalize those harmful beliefs. Hitler killed millions, convinced he was doing it for the good of Germany. Lenin, Stalin, Mao and the other communist leaders killed their millions seeking to reshape society to what they felt would be a better world. With these examples still ringing in the air, one cannot use dialectical methods to convince the other your cause is just. You can’t convince a person with polemic. Rhetoric and the pen might be mightier than the sword, but a carpenter born in a stable and a dozen fishermen from the back-country didn’t change the world on account of rhetoric nor by their particular actions. The charity, their love, and their humility did.

Each of us, made in the image of God, has the flame of His Spirit burning within us. It is the Christian calling in community to foster and help that flame to grow in our neighbor. When confronted with secular culture, more specifically with a person or persons with whom you disagree over point or principle the question should not be how do I persuade that person I am righteous. The only question at hand is how do I nurture their flame?

Don’t argue, but do vote your conscience. Don’t talk, but do act. Teach your children to love and fear the Lord with your love and example. And when acting do so always with the humility and the love that comes from Christ.

8 responses to “Of the Cross and Culture

  1. I could begin this with “I don’t know anything about that” but then that wouldn’t quite be fair to you.

    You pull advice from an ancient Christian hermit which is fine but you neglect to ask yourself is his advice applicable? You are not a hermit. You have not removed yourself from society to live a solitary life of contemplation, prayer and work. You have immersed yourself directly into the heart of society and its decision making system. Does the hermits advice still hold if you reject all that comes with it? Can I go about killing people and, when confronted by a person who says thats wrong, call the hermit’s words to my defense and say “I don’t know anything about that”?

    What is quite different from the society the hermit left is that you are talking about a representative democracy. In such a society YOU share partial responsibility for its policies. If a gay person wants to get married and YOU are saying no then you owe him or her an explanation. They may misunderstand and accuse you, in error, of simply hating them but you don’t have a moral right to dodge responsibility for YOUR actions by shrugging and pretending your a hermit as you participate in making policy.*

    If you talk the talk, walk the walk. Talk like a hermit if you’re willing to be one but understand in aspects of your life where you choose not to be a hermit, your responsiblities will be different.

    * Of course you too may question the gay voter why they are advocating a change in policy you don’t like. You may likewise misunderstand them and assert its because they hate Christians. As participants in society they have an obligation to at least attempt to explain themselves to you.

  2. Boonton,
    Technical nit: the hermit in question, is a 20th century monastic … not ancient, i.e., St. Siluan.

    And I disagree. My explanation is not required or owed him via the democratic process, just my vote.

  3. Well actually not even that is *required*. You are free to flip a coin and vote or to not even bother to vote. But your topic today was:

    Much discussion has been had by Christians today (and in past ages I’d imagine) of the role of the Christian should take in the public square, especially in a modern multicultural democracy.

    1. Participating in the public square is larger than just voting, it is being part of our decision making system which includes discussions like this….so even if you vote as you will with no explanation to anyone stuff like this is part of the system.

    2. Your words above are what a Christian *should* do. When a person makes decision that effect other people they *should* be willing to offer those effected an explanation. To me that seems polite, if nothing else. The hermit’s advice had nothing to do with such decisions. I’d be rather surprised to imagine a modern day or ancient hermit answering such statements as “let’s round up all the Jews and kill them” with a shrug and “I know nothing of that”.

  4. reader basil

    Mark, I’m with you and the hermit. In dealing with the person who wants to argue, nothing works, but to plead ignorance.
    And now that I’ve tried it, in fact, I realize it’s the truth! I don’t know much!! I might have about 2 comments from the Fathers to throw at the discussion, and after that it’s What-I-Think and that would be better left unsaid.
    Recommend they take it up with a priest or find a book, and let there be silence (and peace).
    My motto is: “Peace” before “being right”.

  5. Boonton,
    I should be clearer. If a person asks an opinion in an irenic fashion, I think St. Siluan (or a good Christian) response is to give it. If on the other hand, as suggested above, they express (strongly or not) a contrary opinion, the Christian response is not to disagree but to deflect or take the accusation on themselves and to continue living their a life of charity and love, i.e., not engage in a way that brings one in conflict with the other.

    For “let’s round up the Jew”, I would suggest the books about Father Arseny in the labor camps. Looking at his example (the those martyrs by the Bolsheviks) and the Christian martyrs of the early Roman period it seems to me the overall response is not violent resistance. This is the same idea translated to the verbal arena.

  6. I think the point you are missing is that the hermit gives up his role in society. By doing so he puts down his responsibility for many of society’s actions. He likewise, though, gives up many of the benefits of living in society so there’s a measure of fairness and balance to the hermit’s stance.

    You, though, are not a hermit. What you are doing, IMO, is trying to have your cake and eat it too. If you a mounting an opposition to a healthcare bill, for example, you are not acting as a hermit. And those who think you’re wrong have a right to question you and demand some type of reason for YOUR use of POWER (even though your power is relatively minor as a blogger, voter, citizen etc). Of course they can’t compel you to respond but not to do so would, at least, be bad manners and impolite.

    So I’ll grant you if you truely embrace the cross the hermit does, you can dismiss those who disagree with you with a wave of your hand. You would owe them nothing because you’re not taking nothing from them. As a hermit you give up the give and take ways of society (at least as much as is possible, even most hermits must live with some connection to other humans).

  7. Fear and love are mutually exclusive.

    Love is open-hearted uncaused unreasonable radiant happiness–the open hand freely blessing all

    Fear is the instantaneous shutting down of the capacity to love—the tightly clenched hand or fist wanted to blame or hurt someone.

    And yes we do teach our children by our example
    .By what we are and DO altogether, and not by what we say.

    They know pre-verbally and viscerally exactly what we are.
    Such is written all over our up-tight bodies, our shallow unconscious breathing and our frozen emotions.

    Our bodies never lie! They reveal exactly what we are!

  8. Boonton,
    Hmm, I answered this, but it seemed it was lost. Perhaps I forgot to “post”.

    First a monk of Mt. Athos has not given up society. In fact even in their isolation they express and in some ways are a dominant influence on Eastern Orthodox monasticism in worldwide and from there the entire Eastern Orthodox community (which is the 2nd largest (worldwide) Christian community).

    However, if you wish to engage me in irenic conversation about what I think … that is fine. If you are confrontational however, St. Siluan and I think quite a number of other Christian writers and examples from tradition offer the example of deflection or taking the blame (just or not) as a way to avoid conflict.

    The monastic tradition also has a current as expressed by John Climacus (of The Ladder of Divine Ascent), of taking on unjust blame as an ascetic labor. If blamed unjustly the monks in his example would not defend themselves but take onto themselves both the stigma and the punishment as a method of training humility. Part of this suggestion entails that role as well, i.e., if you label me a bigot I shouldn’t deny it … but accept the stigma and exclusion that comes with it for myself as well (as well as the deflection of confrontation).

    John,
    I’m not clear how your remark connects with what I wrote or the discussion.

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