We’re all hunkered down in our homes in fear of the death and sickness that will come
both from a new illness and the economic fallout of attempting to combat it.
Atop that, a generation of teenagers is committing suicide under our noses, according to this article in The Atlantic. The reason? Smartphones and social media, a toxic sludge of isolation, dependency, and meaninglessness heaped onto the already fraught ground of adolescence.
Today, young people are sleeping with their phones instead of with each other like the old days. At least the bitterest fruit of the old sins would have been a beautiful new baby, a new life. Now the hypnotic glow of the device draws life out solely unto itself.
We hear the news, meanwhile, that in an Oregon lab scientists have “corrected” faulty genes underlying a heart condition, raising the specter of genetic engineering of human DNA. This is the “Gattica”-esque prelude to designer babies, the scientifically advanced—and obviously superior—species into which humble and mortal homo sapiens can morph itself.
Soon hopeful parents will face the Hobson’s choice of genetically engineering children predesigned, predestined, prepackaged, and artificially developed for what the world deems to be physical and mental perfection, or consigning their pitiful, “natural” kin to a lifetime of subhuman status, kicked into society’s gutters for their disgusting diseases, defects, and obvious inferiorities. Hopefully the parents-to-be will have that choice. Perhaps back-alley abortions will give way to back-alley births.
Men as God
Do you doubt the rising tide? As if to punctuate the point that our modern culture and law lack the moral grammar necessary to grapple with something as basic as human dignity, we heard in recent years that the British courts euthanized—in First Things’ apropos telling—the young child Charlie Gard, superseding his parents’ desperate attempt to save his life because it deemed his pathetic and pain-ridden life not worth living.
It is now taken as assumed in polite society that a stagnant geriatric existence is not worth bothering with, and that we will be better off ending things while healthy and self-satisfied. Better to die with dignity, this wisdom says, than live with Alzheimer’s; the breath of life being no more dignified than the cold corpse. Now, the dawn of a higher life form, the genetically perfected Being, ourselves its loving Creator, while in chorus our omniscient Judgment deems the old, diseased life itself worthy of nothing more than unceremonious, quiet discard. And they say God is dead.
Look around you. Can you not see the coming apotheosis of humanity? We are hurtling towards humanism technologically deified, invested with the raw power to do every conceivable thing. To live forever, to know all things, to eradicate our own suffering, to eliminate the vocabulary of pain. We will be gods capable of all things but one: ἀγάπη.
Agápe, that indefinable love defined by its exclusion of our sinful self-centeredness, that love from the infinitesimal pinpoint of the individual will that rejects itself for the sake of, and only for the sake of, God and his created. To love God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your mind, and all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is agápe. It is also, not incidentally, the only way to be truly alive, to live outside yourself, to taste the joy of God.
These three banal news stories are different currents in the same flooding river. We know this flood well. It sprang from the sinister promise in Eden that man could be like God, and it has ebbed and flowed ever since. The bride of God’s son, Christ, the church, seems powerless in its path.
What about the World Is Part of the Church?
Regarding the church’s ill-advised union with popular politics and culture over the last half century, Rod Dreher put this way: “Too many of us are doubling down on the failed strategies that not only have failed to convert Americans but have also done little to halt the assimilation of Christians to secular norms and beliefs.”
I haven’t yet read Dreher’s book, “The Benedict Option," but it is curious that in discussing the book he seemed at every turn to have to defend himself from the claim that he was “not advocate[ing] complete Christian withdrawal from the public sphere.” Why on earth not? What has the public sphere for the Christian? For the church?
I once read an good interview of a prominent Catholic bishop—I cannot recall who or where. The good bishop bemoaned what Dreher and others call “moralistic therapeutic deism,” a cancerous heresy infecting virtually every sect of Christianity today.
Briefly, MTD is a godless religion without struggle, sacrifice, or a remotely plausible view of reality. More importantly, MTD is a strain of the solipsistic materialism that pervades our world today. The bishop complained that MTD, as a philosophy fundamentally centered on the self, ultimately leads to a worldview sympathetic to abortion, LBGT preferences, and so forth.
How true he may be, but how he misses the mark! The church offers what MTD, materialism, smartphones, modern science and courts and kings and judgments, what nothing, nothing else can offer: ἀγάπη. God. God is ἀγάπη, and ἀγάπη is God.
The Point Is Salvation, Not Winning at Politics
Souls cannot be won at the ballot box or on HBO or in The New York Times; they are washed at the baptismal font and fed at the altar. The church is great not because it saves us from abortion- and LBGT-relativism but because it gives us God. The church is great because at her altar we physically, literally, and tangibly come into material contact with God on earth.
If this sounds like sermonizing, perhaps it is because the church should do less politicking and more sermonizing. If it sounds like mysticism, perhaps it is because the church should be less embarrassed about embracing the mystical union of God and man, particularly in a world where the enemies of God proclaim that men can give birth to children and that we live in an infinite number of parallel universes.
If it sounds rudimentary, perhaps it is because the church should retreat into itself by remembering first precisely what it is. The ark of the church has never been more urgently needed, nor ever raised higher by the waters. A generation lost to smartphones is a generation crying out for purpose. A humanity on the brink of dystopian eugenics needs more than ever the tender mercy of the church to comfort the sick. A culture of death needs an infusion of life.
“I am the way, the truth, and the life,” says Christ. God promises his people will find him if they seek him. “But you,” the Almighty promises his church, “take courage! Do not let your hands be weak, for your work shall be rewarded.”
Take courage. The church need not fear being marginalized, victimized, humiliated, or downtrodden. It should not fear what is inevitable. Ride the storm with conviction and love, with open doors for those flailing in the waters, but remain courageously in the ark. Your work shall be rewarded.