Friday, March 9
Ideology and Charity
Christ suffered for you,
and left you an example
to have you follow in His footsteps
He did no wrong,
No deceit was found in his mouth;
When He was insulted,
He returned no insult
When He was made to suffer,
He did not counter with threats,
Instead He delivered Himself up,
To the one who judges justly.
The goal of all Christian life, and all Christian discourse, is ultimately faith, hope and charity. Thus, everything we do or say must be done precisely in imitation of Our Lord and for the sake of our souls, and the souls of others. Inasmuch as this is the case, Christianity is inimical to ideology. For ideology, ultimately, any score against a rival ideology is a triumph - any hilarious barb, any exposure of sin, anything that can bring down someone else's ideology and life up mine. For ideology, charity is bracketed - I am charitable to those who are "good," but for those who are "bad" - whether they be family, friends, priests, bishops, Cardinals, Popes - there is no need for such pleasantries. Rather, these people must be brought down at all costs.
For this kind of ideological discourse, the political dimension of life in the world is paramount. Within the Church and without, my need is to score political points, to mock the "other" and impose my ideology. Thus, everything is seen in terms of reciprocity - if x is unwilling to do something for me, I prepare myself to take the same approach to them if and when the advantage becomes mine. If someone treats me or others like me badly, I am entitled to resent this, and to look forward to the day when I exact revenge.
For Christianity, however, human relations are not ultimately political - they are ultimately theological, and this makes all the difference. In Christian life, charity is precisely non-reciprocal - I must love the Other as God's creation, regardless of what he does to me, how poorly he treats me. This does not, of course, prohibit fraternal correction, which is of course often necessary - but it does put the burden on me to do so charitably and to presume good will on the part of the other unless it is manifestly demonstrated otherwise. Even if it is otherwise, to expose this in an uncharitable or unnecessary manner, where no realistic good can come out of my action, is tantamount to detraction. I would be better off offering time in prayer rather than putting down ink or type that will serve no purpose except to bring down and mock.
This attitude with respect to reciprocity and charity is precisely why I am so insistent that Christianity excludes ideology. Whatever our opinions, they must always be expressed in charity and in such a way as to build up the whole body of the Church. Furthermore, when things go "our" way we must cast away from ourselves any tendency towards triumphalism or "getting back" at those who may have treated us dismissively or otherwise poorly. Rather, we ought to say a Te Deum and proceed in treating our neighbors with love and openness, even if they never treated us this way. Otherwise, we open up an endless cycle of backbiting and mutual hatred that leaves no one happy and that leaves no room for charity. Let us, then, imitate the example of Christ in the 1 Peter canticle I quoted at the beginning, and love others with no expectation of return. In so doing, we can open ourselves to the true joy of the Christian life that casts out all hatred and bitterness.