Daily Meditations

God and Caesar (Part VI): Towards a Creative Secularism

January 26th, 2015

In the inescapably pluralist life of the city today, Christians must strive for a creative secularism. An open civilization, free from ideocracy, must not be a spiritual desert abandoned to the instincts by the blind forces of production. Kirkegaard thought it necessary ‘to go more deeply into man as he actually exists’ before daring to speak to him of God. More than a thousand years before, the hardiest of ascetics, St John Climacus, remarked that true beauty is never profane: ‘When we hear singing,’ he said, ‘let us be moved with love towards God; for those who love God are touched with a holy joy, a divine emotion and a tenderness which brings them to tears when they listen to beautiful harmony, whether the songs are profane or spiritual’ (The Ladder, 15th step).

We must hope to attract the post-industrial society of today by a rich, complex, open anthropology, which by its very openness respects the ‘fathomlessness’ of the person and is capable of growing into a ‘theo-anthropology’. Everyone now realizes that human beings need not only bread but friendship and beauty, not only abundance but restraint, not only the power of machines but a renewed respect for God’s creation, not only education of the mind but a greater capacity for celebration. The rampant technological revolution will be mastered only if we can incorporate in it the non-technical values and dimensions of humanity. The generation gap will disappear when we no longer walk backwards towards death, but receive wisdom and pass it on. The martial instinct, formerly having no outlet but destruction and adventuring, will lose its power to corrupt when it is incorporated into discipline: individual discipline in spirituality and art, and collective discipline in the great ‘wars of life’ that humanity must wage to cure the wounds of the third world, to curb the excesses of technology, and to re-establish harmony with the universe.

So Christian witness today must be directed towards the divine-humanism that urban society needs. A religion that set God against humanity and failed to recognize the ‘royal’ character of creativity (since it comes from the Holy Spirit) fell victim to the purifying zeal of the great reductionists and the huge advances in our understanding of human nature. But today people who are cut off from the Holy Spirit are in danger of death. Modern humanism needs to be openly acknowledged as belonging within divine-humanism, thus revealing Marx, Nietzche and Freud to be also forerunners of this movement.

And at the heart of the human race as it grows into unity, there is the vision of a Church undivided once more, combining the ethical and cultural energy of the Western Church with the unshakeable faith of Orthodoxy, which in turn forms a bridge to the most distant Oriental Churches. This transformed Church would make no demands, impose no burdens. It would be a source of meaning, freedom and creative love. It would promote the unity in diversity, already realized within itself, of persons, peoples, races, and cultures, in the image of the Communion of the Trinity. It would reveal the full significance of science and technology, setting them in the context of the Resurrection.

The Patriarch Athenagoras speaking in 1969 to an Italian journalist said, ‘The world now stands at a moment when all values are being put to the test. Scientific discoveries and advancing technology, space travel, rapid social change, spiritual upheaval, the conflict between the generations … create a confusion never known before. And in this confusion we are often tempted to lose heart. But we must not give in to this temptation, even for an instant, or abandon ourselves to despair. The state of the world is that of childbirth, and childbirth is always accompanied by hope. We contemplate the present situation with immense Christian hope and a deep awareness of our responsibility for the kind of world which will emerge from this childbirth. And there lies the Church’s opportunity: united, it must provide a Christian direction to the new world which is being born’ (Avvenire, 12 January 1969).

~Olivier Clement, On Human Being:  A Spiritual Anthropology