The Crisis Of Christianity


My cover-essay in the new Newsweek is now out for Holy Week. It's an attempt to distill and order many of the thoughts that have been laid out on the Dish for months (years?) now on what Christianity is, how it has become horribly disfigured in our time, and why we need desperately to recover its simple truths.

It's really an essay on the fundamental incompatibility of Christianity with human power; and therefore the inherent corruption that occurs when politics and religion combine (especially primarily in just one political party). It's about a Christianity unafraid of truth and open minds, and yet also dedicated to humility, devotion and the simple, impossible demands of Jesus of Nazareth. It starts with Jefferson and ends with Saint Francis. It's animated by an immersion in Thomas Merton's work, and his later evolution toward a more radical nonviolence and Buddhist outreach. A reader sent me this quote this morning (from New Seeds of Contemplation), and it's at the kernel of what I believe is the struggle we are all involved with:

Strong hate, the hate that takes joy in hating, is strong because it does not believe itself to be unworthy and alone. It feels the support of a justifying God, of an idol of war, an avenging and destroying spirit. From such blood-drinking gods the human race was once liberated, with great toil and terrible sorrow, by the death of a God Who delivered Himself to the Cross and suffered pathological cruelty of His own creatures out of pity for them. In conquering death He opened their eyes to the reality of a love which asks no questions about worthiness, a love which overcomes hatred and destroys death.

But men have now come to reject this divine revelation of pardons and they are consequently returning to the old war gods, the gods that insatiably drink blood and eat the flesh of men. It is easier to serve the hate-gods because they thrive on the worship of collective fanaticism. To serve the hate-gods, one has only to be blinded by collective passion. To serve the God of Love one must be free, one must face the terrible responsibility of the decision to love in spite of all unworthiness whether in oneself or in one’s neighbor.

"One must be free."

(Photo: Jefferson cut the “diamonds” of Christ’s teaching out of the “dunghill” of the New Testament. By Hugh Talman / Smithsonian National Museum of American History.)