Friday, 16 October 2009

The foolish way of the Cross


'For Jews demand signs, and Greeks demand wisdom,' 1 Cor 18.
Our foolish proclamation was never taken seriously,not even from the start.
Don't suppose for a minute that the ancients were any more stupid than us: the idea of a man rising from the dead, a man who is God, sounded as ludicrous then as it does now. You may have seen in Latin textbooks Roman graffiti of Christians worshipping Christ on the Cross depicted with an ass's head.
And if the Cross made no sense, nor did the behaviour of the Christians who venerated it: why serve the poor and outcast,why give up your property,why risk imprisonment and martyrdom for the sake of some crucified criminal Jew?
As in ancient Roman Palestine, so in modern England being a Christian is thought about as clever as being a smoker, and just about as socially acceptable: people are too polite to tell the smoker it's bad for his health, of course, but if he wants to smoke, he'll have to go and do it outside the public bar. Preferably on his own, but if necessary with fellow addicts- though we don't want them to encourage him. Everyone knows that smoking's bad for you, and everyone knows that Christianity's daft. After all, we're an enlightened, rational nation of free individuals unhindered by the myths and delusions of the past.

Really? Sure, secularism has brought us some good things,
and religious rule brought plenty of bad ones. But I'd find it far easier to believe in the Guardian reader's fantasy world
of the enlightened secular utopia if it actually existed, or even looked likely to exist. But that's not what I see. When it comes down to it, at its base is little more than a utilitarian framework to enable the greatest possible self-gratification of the individual by acquisition of material goods. The 'wisdom' of the secular world is 'each to his own,' and 'I have the right,' and people really can't see what's wrong with this.
We can't imagine why the Muslim world, for example, rejects the brand of democracy that we try to import worldwide; we cannot understand why they don't want our Sky TV, our pornography, our underage pregnancies, our binge-drinking underclass, our drug-frenzied overclass, the greedy gameshows, the vacuous celebrities, the adulterous politicians. The secular utopia is far more a myth than the story of Christ's Cross; and the most insidious part of that myth is the belief that it frees us, when in fact it traps us in a system, a totalising worldview which rejects anything that does not conform to the utilitarian dictats of consumption and economic growth.
God's foolishness is wiser than man's wisdom.  When the Buddha was asked to explain his teaching, he said nothing, but held up a lotus flower. Jesus held up the Cross. The meaning of the Cross, like the meaning of the Lotus, runs far deeper than mere words can tell. I can't claim to know the meaning of the Cross, and I'm very wary of those who claim they do, because it takes far more than a lifetime to learn. But that's far too long for our impatient age: people think that their internet-assembled philosophies gleaned from 25 minutes of pondering the divine on Wikipedia rival a two-thousand year tradition of reasoned debate.
So I am sorry, but I can't distil the wisdom of the Cross in three hundred words.  I can only encourage you to walk its way, a counter-cultural way, the way to a Kingdom founded not on wealth but on self-sacrificial love. Because if the Way of the Cross seems foolish from the outside, this is because you can learn its wisdom only by taking it up and walking it, in prayer, in action, in love.

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