Monday, August 28, 2006

The Church in a Declining World

In what way, then, is it helpful to participate in the Church when one is living in a culture that is in decline and even approaching its destruction?

Well, first of all, let me say that I do not believe that the Church will be able to do something very substantial towards reversing this trend, or even reducing its effects. I think we are beyond the point where there is very much that can be done, be it about the environment, the intellectual climate or the humanitarian situation. Obviously the Church have to do all it can in order to minimize the effects of this development, and especially in caring for those that will be most severely affected by it, i.e. the poor. But at this point, to hope that we will be able to "save" the world, is probably counter-productive.

What we need is a way of life that can handle living in a culture that is self-destructing. And it is this I think the Church can offer.

First, what does such a life look like? Obviously this is very speculative, but I think the key would be to found one's identity on values that are not threatened by the decline in culture. This is fairly obvious when it comes to material things. If owning fast cars and lot's of books (ouch!) are important to you, a collapsing economy will not be a pleasant place to be. But then I think humans are very adaptable when it comes to these things, so that will probably not be most critical aspect of decline. But in a situation where resources are lacking, any life that is built on what you do and what you have will be severely threatened.

On the other hand a person who's identity secured and fairly autonomous in relation to the workings of society will do much better. A person that is not depending on what other people think but rather is focused living one's life in open relationships with other humans will probably be able to deal with the difficulties that will come.

A person that has learned to find meaning in whatever he or she does will not loose the sense of purpose when society undergoes drastic changes. Such a person finds joy in even simple tasks, and can find encouragement in small things. That can be the key to surviving.

And obviously, a person that is working towards overcoming the fear of death will not be easily paralysed if bad times come. Such a person finds strength in the freedom of Christ, and is able to live life in a meaningful way even when society is collapsing.

In other words, a person that is living the reality of the future salvation here and now will be able to stand apart from the collapsing culture and not get - spiritually - dragged along with its fall.

As I have tried to show, this is the kind of person the Church can foster - this is the outcome of a person becoming transformed by the gospel. By entering into communion with others in the Church, we are reminded of another existence and we are able to see the relative value of this one. Thus we can separate ourselves from a culture that is destroying the creation, and together with God, the creator, give hope to other human beings who are suffering in this decline. This, too, creates meaning.

A person who is has overcome the problems of Identity, death and meaning will be able to stand against the forces that are bringing our world towards destruction. It may not be possible to stop them, but it may be possible not only to save one's own soul, but also the souls of our brothers and sisters from perishing in that destruction.

No comments: