Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Homily: Independence Day: The 4th of July


You shall fear the LORD your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear.

The 4th of July seems a good time to consider two of the three subjects usually considered unfit for polite conversation, namely religion and politics. I will pass over in reverential silence the third matter, sex.

In the 1920s a group of Anglo-Catholic laymen in England began to publish a quarterly called ChristendomA Journal of Christian Sociology – which took the novel position that the Christian attitude towards politics and society ought to be after all Christian. Maurice Reckitt, a lay men and very much the guiding light of this group wrote in 1934:

“If you had told any typical Christian thinker in any century from the twelfth to the sixteenth that religion had nothing to do with economics and that bishops must not intrude in these matters upon the deliberations of lay men . . . he would either have trembled for your faith or feared for your reason. He would have regarded you, in short, as either a heretic or a lunatic.”

One difficulty is these days the bishops who speak the loudest about all sorts of matters are those who seem to have lost both their minds and their faith. The question has to be asked in every case: is what Christians have to say about politics, economics, and the social order derived from revealed truth, the Scripture and Tradition or from somewhere else? The Christian attitude to the society in which they live and the state by which they are governed has to be recognizably Christian.  And a miter is no guarantee of that.

Setting aside many other consequences, one consequence of recent Supreme Court decisions, deliberate or accidental, is to exclude the Christian voice from the public square. By invoking the 14th Amendment, the equality clause, the Court put those who oppose their decision outside the political and social conversation in as much as dissenters are cast in the role of rejecting a shared and essential value of American democracy.

It tempting for us to just turn our backs on the whole mess. At least I am so tempted. To say my prayers and work out my salvation in fear and trembling.  But the whole company of saints rise up against us: the prophets who stood up to kings, the apostles who feared no power, St. John Chrysostom who challenged Emperors, St. Thomas Becket who would not give an inch to Henry II, St. John Fisher and St. Thomas More who said “I am the King’s good servant but God’s first”,  St. Charles, King and Martyr, who stood against Parliament, when Parliament stood against the Church.

Not that politics, as we understand it, was the main business of the saints. Nor should it be for us. But politics is too important to be left to politicians. Because politics is not just about who we should we vote for, what Party we support.

T. S. Eliot in The Idea of a Christian Society, says that politics should be about creating “a society in which the natural end of man – virtue and well-being in community – is acknowledged for all, and the supernatural – beatitude – for those who have the eyes to see it .”

Just as not every voice on the Left is recognizably Christian, so not every voice on the Right is necessarily Christian.  As Dr. Mascall said, “right and left are political, not theological categories.” But the kind of society we want for ourselves and for our children is a society which recognizes the importance of the Christian perspective: the reality of evil and sin, the possibility of mercy and redemption, the priority of the transcendent, the grace-filled journey through the imminent. We dare not allow this voice to be silenced.

You shall fear the LORD your God; him alone you shall worship; to him you shall hold fast, and by his name you shall swear.

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