Thursday, December 28, 2017

This world is not my home

In 1972 Antonin Scalia addressed The Judicial Prayer Breakfast Group in Washington. He called the talk "Being Different." Some of what he said had to do with the distinctive "differentness" of his own Catholicism, but most of it is applicable to every Christian believer. Excerpts:
It is enormously important, I think, for Christians to learn early and remember long that lesson of "differentness"; to recognize that what is perfectly lawful, and perfectly permissible, for everyone else—even our very close non-Christian friends—is not necessarily lawful and permissible for us. That the ways of Christ and the ways of the world—even the world of Main Street America—are not the same, and we should not expect them to be. That possessing and expressing a woridview and a code of moral behavior that is comfortably in conformance with what prevails in the respectable secular circles in which we live and work is no assurance of goodness and virtue. That Christ makes some special demands upon us that occasionally require us to be out of step. It is only if one has that sense of differentness—not animosity toward others in any sense, but differentness....

The divergence of Christian teaching from the morality of the general society seems especially obvious (and especially blatant) today. Just turn on the tube any night, or walk up to any newsstand. But it would be wrong to think that this divergence between the ways of the world and Christian teaching is new. To the contrary, it is as old as the faith itself. And it sets that Christian apart not only from utterly decadent societies such a Sodom and Gomorrah, but even from purportedly moral societies as Israel itself was when he was crucified. Christ said, "You will be hated by all men for my name's sake." He said at the Last Supper:
If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before you. If you were of the world, the world would love what is its own; But because you are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hates you.
And again:
I have given them thy work; and the world has hated them, because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. I do not pray that thou take them out of the world, but that thou keep them from evil. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world.
And he said to Pilate:
My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my followers would have fought that I might not be delivered to the Jews. But, as it is, my kingdom is not from here.
That thought pervades the Gospels. It is also in the early church. Consider the following passage from a letter of one of the early fathers in the late second century, describing the early Christians:
Though residents at home in their own countries, their behavior is more like that of transients. They take their full part as citizens, but they also submit to everything as if they were aliens. For them, any foreign country is a homeland, and any homeland a foreign country.
And of course that same notion has come down faithfully to modern Christianity. The most influential devotional work, in English, in Protestant Christianity was called The Pilgrim's Progress, preserving the same ancient image of the Christian as an alien citizen, a traveler just passing through these parts on the way to the promised land.

It becomes quite obvious why the serious Christian must be a pilgrim, an alien citizen, a bit "different" from the world around him, when one considers how many Christian virtues make no sense whatever to the world. Consider, for example, the first and foremost Christian virtue, humility: awareness of the greatness of God and hence the insignificance of self. That is a crazy idea to the world, which values above all else self-esteem and self-assertion. ....

Or consider, finally, the Christian virtue of chastity. Except for divine command, it makes no sense. The world can find reasons for condemning dishonesty, deception, and manipulativeness in sexual relations. But if those secular evils are avoided—if the partners are really fond of each other, or are not even fond of each other, but both understand that they are just having a good time—what possible justification is there for chastity? ....

When the values of Christ and of the world are so divergent—so inevitably divergent—we should not feel surprised if we find ourselves now and then "out of step." In fact, we should be worried if we are never that way. As Christ told us, we are supposed to be out of step. We must learn to accept it. Learn to take pride in it. For Jesus also said (and this is a scary thought):
And I say to you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, him will the Son of Man also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.
Included in Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived.