Online Lent

Andrew Sullivan —  Feb 24 2012 @ 12:04pm

HuffPo is live-blogging the season of repentance: 

Right now, the Lent blog is leading with a quote from Flannery O'Connor and a piece of scripture. Farther down the page, items include "Learning to Suffer? Or Learning to Love?" and "The Pope Will Be Tweeting Lent!" The content also includes user-generated posts and guest posts.

As readers know, I believe this is the way religion should be in public life. Instead of using political power to direct the lives of others through law, Christians should embrace true secularism as a neutral stage on which to explore and explain and witness to their actual faith. No law Rick Santorum will ever pass will be as powerful in people's hearts and minds than his and his wife's decision to have little Bella and take care of her, with love and discretion and privacy. In this act, he has shown Christianity. In his politics, he has shown how the freedom of Jesus and the coercion of the government are in contradiction. 

This is my objection to Christianism, as it is to Islamism. Because it obscures the true message: Jesus led by example and non-violence, not by the coercive power of the state. And the message of the Gospels and of the lives of the saints is exactly this: witness, don't control. Let go of such an impulse. Live the truths, and you will find people coming to you. And if the truths are lies, only freedom will allow you to see past them to deeper truths.

Each Sunday, we've tried here to provide a platform for public discussion of things beyond our full understanding – not as a way to proselytize (although I am, of course, openly Christian) – but as a way to explore in a neutral and safe space the great questions worth asking every day. I'm delighted HuffPo has started something not dissimilar, and any live-blog that has Henri Nouwen and Flannery O'Connor on it is a blessing.

One small quibble: that lovely Saint Francis prayer was never spoken by Saint Francis. It dates to a small French journal, La Clochette, in 1912 and has no known author. (The real thing is in the video above.) But this Nouwen nugget is truly his and truly Lenten:

There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess … I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it.

What great power Christianity of this sort should have in the culture of our time. How many false attachments are we addicted to – celebrity, money, possessions, news, the web. How much greed we see and how much anger we feel. Jesus liberates us from these things that cloud our culture and soil our souls. How tragic that in politicizing this message at this moment we are obscuring its timeless promise of freedom?