Sunday, July 4, 2010

Jesus and Madville Times... (or, Fountain tries to calm down from his earlier flaming)

Jesus and Madville Times. They have different reference points, but can share space.

Jesus assumes the reality and ultimate authority of God; Madville Times is written by an atheist.

Jesus assigns his followers missions for the Kingdom of God; Madville Times argues positions via secular reasoning.

Jesus seeks converts to follow his way; Madville Times seeks to persuade people to political positions and action.

The words of Jesus heard in many churches today make room for those differences.

Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, `The kingdom of God has come near to you.' But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, `Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near.'

Stern words: there is an emphatic and demanding message that must go out.

But gentle words as well. Jesus never coerces people to accept his message or to follow him. He never gives his followers leave to coerce those who reject the message.

The framers of the U.S. Constitution were well versed in Jesus' words. Not all of them accepted their transcendent claims, but there was incredible consensus around his words as a source of enlightened ethics.

I believe that this Bible passage and others very like it shaped the thinking of those who gave us this national language:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...

Emphatic, demanding messages about ultimate things can go out. There is no prohibition, save for the hearer's right to say "Not interested" or "I disagree."

But the message of the Kingdom of God, or transcendent claims of any sort, cannot be imposed upon the unwilling by force of law.

It creates a limit on Christians who walk into the public square. We can't impose something, even something we think is going to help peoples' eternal or temporal well being, unless we can make some common cause with other Americans who don't share our reference points.

It creates a limit on secularists who don't want to share the public square. Word games like "freedom from religion" and "free exercise of worship," deployed to restrict a free exchange of ideas, and policies derived from such slogans, must be rejected by people sincere about freedom and human dignity.

Jesus "appointed seventy others and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go;" Madville Times sends arguments out into cyberspace. Jesus' witnesses and Madville's arguments will disagree with and sometimes antagonize each other, but in a free America they both have safe conduct to do so.

Happy (which is the simple translation of "Blessed", btw) Independence Day.


Jill said...

Solid. In many ways.

Thanks, Fr. Tim. I wish you and yours a blessed Independence Day as well! :)

caheidelberger said...

More thoughtful words—thank you.

A minor quibble: to my secular ears, "blessed" doesn't sound like a simple translation of "happy". When I hear my neighbors use that word, I hear the verb, a deliberate reminder of the supreme being doing the blessing. Having no such supreme Blesser, I thus see an important distinction between blessed and happy and generally (though not strictly) avoid using the former.

Of course, I could just be over-sensitive. :-)

TLF+ said...

Yeah, I was being playful there. "Blessed" generally implies the Divine and really isn't appropriate for non-believers. Blessed has a distinctly religious ring to it. There are secular uses, from "Bless you!" to a sneezer to statements like "We enjoy the blessings of peace and a good economy."

Both believers and non-believers wish happiness on others. Blessed suggests divine agency, while other words can be used to avoid that if one is a non-believer.

What's common is our concern for those around us. We want them to be well in all ways ( shalom ).

But I would agree that "Blessed 4th of July" and "Happy Easter" seem to have things bassackwards.