Advent is here again. There is a common trope about Christmas and Easter Christians. You know, people who only show up these two days in the year. Well I would advocate Advent and Lent Christianity for anyone wanting to know what Christian life is really about. Participating in the spiritual discipline of these two fasting and reflective seasons is a profound way to push yourself out of the morass of modernity and focus on higher things; things both ancient and forthcoming. If you are familiar with some of the content on this blog you will know I tend to ask difficult questions of my Christian faith, teaching, and practice. Yet during these two fasting seasons I try to put these questions aside and immerse myself into the world and discipline of Christ’s Church.
Until Christmas I will be focusing on this Advent progression in anticipation of Christ’s coming. I may find time to finish the next installments in my two series on The Metaphysics of Meme and The RQ (Religious Question), but this Advent discipline will prove important in completing the ideas I have started in these.
Waiting; this is the discipline of Advent. Patience its virtue, and yearning its driver. In our waiting we anticipate Christ in three ways. We wait for his incarnation remembered at midnight on the 24th of December—the moment the eternal Logos become flesh is revealed. Second, spiritually (or Memetically) we wait for the Logos to enter our own fleshly lives and transform them for good. The third implication is eschatological; the last days and the return of Christ. This is the least comforting of the three. The one that is harder to spiritualize. There will either be a cosmic reckoning or there wont. There is some shame in the minds of most Progressive Christians over the Apocalyptic fervor of some of our less washed siblings. There is even an arrogance to say they are not real Christians, or that they misunderstand the Gospel. But of course these fiery believers bring the condemnation to the Corrupt Liberal church first, and are perfectly comfortable with delineations that Progs find impossibly cruel.
Apocalyptic vision denotes division; approval and rejection. This discrimination is sin, nearly unforgivable sin, to the multiculturalist and hence cultural relativist. I have even read Rad Prog Christians describe intolerance as the proverbial “Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit”—the only unforgivable sin.(St. Mark 3 28-30) Bertrand Russel, in Why I am not a Christian, makes some deal out of the psychic pain this verse can cause;
I really do not think that a person with a proper degree of kindliness in his nature would have put fears and terrors of that sort into the world.
Russel assumes that spirituality should be more of a sunshine and kittens affair, a common motive for Liberal Christians as well. Much of Liberal Christianity is an attempt to answer these secular criticisms with an ever malleable and gentile Jesus. So it is good strategy for Progs to turn the discomfort of this enigmatic passage in Mark around on the enemies of progressive tolerance. It feels good to hate haters, or to pathologize them at least. If the only unforgivable sin is particularity, then boundless tolerance must be the only true spiritual path.
To give some purpose to my axe** grinding, unchecked tolerance, or tolerance as a good in itself, is the dissipation of discipline. For if I am ever-tolerant of others, why be so hard on myself, why consider my life too closely? I dealt with this problem in some detail in my Lenten series last Spring on the Discipline of the Beatitudes. The relationship between righteousness and mercy is a restless dialectic leading the practitioner upward if the lessons are learned . Tolerance is mere etiquette. Social grease. Though some have made it into a kind of anti-discipline through radical hospitality, including an open table policy for the Eucharist.
Albrecht Altdorfer, The Adoration of the Magi, c. 1530 – 1535
The Northern European artists had a tradition of placing the Nativity and Magi in a setting of social decay. In this way all three aspects of Advent waiting are depicted. We have the incarnate Christ of course. We have the viewer’s response to the image, and we have the Apocalyptic cityscape of a society in decline. We can borrow the the Kali Yuga to flesh this impression out. In Advent our waiting is a yearning for God to breathe new hope into a degenerating world.
When we look at our current-year world we see Apocalyptic conditions; environmental degradation, social decline, and hopelessness. We have exchanged stable community for prosperity. We live messy frenetically busy, or, conversely, abjectly lazy lives in the West. We are in decline not so much from what others have done to us, but by what we were unable to halt in ourselves. As sure as apples fall from trees, Relativism engenders Nihilism. And Nihilism cannot inspire growth. The Nihilist has no Hope, so his children have no expectation of themselves and none of their fellows. Well, no truly positive or creative expectation. The current moral>spiritual aesthetic is libertine. Desire is the arbiter of moral worth. Though we are told to value our present social order as the highest good that mankind can achieve, it is truly a pitiable state. This spiritual condition makes all three aspects of our Advent waiting challenging to enter into. But, if we wish to rise above the degeneration of this age, this challenge makes this effort imperative.
“Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” Revelation 18:4
Albrecht Durer The Whore of Babylon, c. 1496-97 for The Apocalypse.
*Page 8 of the link under Moral Problems paragraph 2.
**My spelling is Canadian (mostly) which means it is British (mostly).