Christianity and the Need to Reform
The history of Christianity shows a constant need for reform. The fact that those who consider themselves to be Christians cannot seem to get it right might lead to the conclusion that the enterprise is essentially futile. Maybe those who cling to the notion of a true Christian community should recognize the futility and try something else. In fact, many people in our time have done just that. They turn to secularism, Eastern religion, or spirituality without religion. Those options or a myriad of others might work – work in the sense of providing meaning to life. But the perpetual need for reform does not mean that the Christian promise is futile.
The awareness of the need for reform indicates a judgment that there can be something better than the status-quo. We sense the need to reform our religion, or any other human institution when we sense that the reality falls short of what the institution professes to be or what it can potentially be. We cannot think of a need to reform without a vision of the good. To draw a parallel from our secular culture, anytime racism rears its ugly head in the United States, we are reminded of the ideals set forth by the founders of our country, even though they themselves did not live up to their own ideals. American reality has always clashed with the ideals of moral equality and universal liberty, but the ideals show us which way we ought to move.
The pull of integrating and dis-integrating forces that run through evolutionary creation also exert themselves in the church as elsewhere. The integrating force is the spirit drawing individuals into a community of love. But members easily slip into idolatries of power and wealth and ethnic exclusiveness. These anti-communal forces then lead to religious wars and persecution and oppression.
In every generation, reformers have shown up to remind Christians what their faith is all about. I will not try to prove this point and I am not doing church history. But I will give some examples to illustrate my point, namely that reformers work against the idolatries that nourish anti-communal forces.
Christianity and the Evolutionary Struggle
In previous posts I have argued for the feasibility of believing that consciousness precedes matter and directs its evolution. In the evolutionary process, matter itself becomes more and more conscious. This development consists of a process of composition in which the infinitely divided elements are becoming integrated. The process takes place in the formation of elements, molecules, stars, and planets.
On earth, and probably a multitude of other planets, the process culminates in living organisms, consciousness, and intelligence. In the most recent posts, this process was applied to human religious consciousness. At every step we find the opposition of integration toward greater being and disintegration, which is the tendency to fall back into nothingness.
The next several posts will consider the historical Christian church as a microcosm of the evolutionary struggle. While the goal of Christianity consists of the universal beloved community, for two thousand years Christians have frequently fought among themselves or with outsiders. The creative action to produce universal harmony and the tendency to slip back into the all-in-division of nothingness. The first aspect stands out more explicitly in the church than any other institution. The Church claims to be the Body of Christ, and therefore the social embodiment of Universal Consciousness. In Christian terminology the highest is called God, and Christ is called the “Word of God” incarnate. On the other hand, the human individuals who constitute the Church, whether they be hierarchs or lay people, weigh themselves down with all of the disintegrating forces that plague the whole human race.
The problem specific to religion stems from the human tendency to slip into forms of idolatry. The idols include power, wealth, and ethnic exclusiveness. Each of these expresses what I have referred to as forms of disintegration.
In the secular world, a person may legitimately acquire and even accumulate wealth if the purpose is to promote the common good. The wealthy philanthropist can achieve results that the poor philanthropist cannot. Even aside from philanthropy, a wealthy capitalist can promote the prosperity of many through the production of products, jobs, and tax revenue. But those who seek wealth for themselves, regardless of the effect that their action has on others, leave behind dislocations such as lost jobs, environmental deterioration and an imbalanced use of resources.
So with church leaders, wealth can be, and usually is, used for religious, educational, or charitable purposes. But when Church leaders slip into the idolatry of wealth and accumulate money for themselves, or to live in a grand style, they present themselves on the wrong side of the evolutionary struggle. Their actions destroy rather than enhance the community. If the persons in power, such as bishops, make power itself their object of worship and make obedience to themselves the ultimate virtue, they are also destructive of authentic community. Most destructive of all might be the tendency to use religion as a cover to exclude those who are not members of their own community such a people of different religions, ideologies, or sexual orientations.
If the whole evolutionary creative process is to craft a universal community out of an infinitely divided reality, then the duty of religion is to show the way, mainly by example. When religion itself become the source of divisiveness, then it has distorted its purpose and becomes an evil factor.