Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Christian Charity and Austerity: Evangelical Witnesses to the Pagans

Robert Royal of the Faith and Reason Institute gave a nice lecture last night at the Archdiocese of Denver. (recording available in .MP3)

Springboarding off of his new book, The God That Did Not Fail, he gave a pretty typical lecture about faith and politics. For the most part, it was right out of George Washington's Farewell Address. Secular order requires and presupposes transcendent, indispensable religious support. Natural Law ethics allow us to make rational arguments within this secular order while remaining energized by the spiritual life. Plus the theory helps us Catholics shmooze with Evangelicals!

I was concerned about Royal's near-complete focus on philosophy and political matters, so in the Q&A period I noted that music and movies have far more influence than explicit philosophical systems and laws in the state or national capitols. He missed the point of my question, and made a few weak suggestions about censorship, so I endorsed supporting artistic movements in addition to, or even rather than, political ones.

I have been worried about what Claes Ryn pegged as political philistinism, political intellectuals who draw "attention and respect away from efforts whose relevance to politics [is] not immediately obvious." A lecture on Christian arts--the non-ghettoized forms, especially--would likely attract a much smaller audience. For us, alas, ethical speechifying and politics seem a broader, more common activity than other forms of cultural engagement. Both rest upon the use and abuse of the written word. Yet Christianity, being an incarnational faith, cannot thrive on such disincarnated verbiage. The vision is lacking and, well, you know the rest.

But like many a tiresome questioner, I am critical about the lecture Robert Royal did not give.

To return to focus, the best part of Royal's speech came when he referred to antiquity and the rise of Christianity. He cited the witness of the pagans:

"The impious Gallileans support not only their poor, but ours as well. Everyone can see that our poor lack aid from us."
-Julian the Apostate

"We now see the people called Christians drawing their faith from parables and miracles, and yet sometimes acting in the same way as those who practice philosophy. With their contempt of death and of its sequel is patent to us every day, and likewise their restraint in cohabitation. For they include not only men but also women who refrain from cohabiting all through their lives; and they also number individuals who, in self-discipline and self-control in matters of food and drink, and in their keen pursuit of justice, have attained a pitch not inferior to that of genuine philosophers."

Just yesterday Amy Welborn was talking about the decline of fasting. Its capacity for Christian witness should not be overestimated.

Robert Royal expands on these ancient authors and the evangelical life which attracted their remarks:

"...I mention this because I am distressed. I was at a conference at a Catholic university a couple weeks ago and the sociologists who do these surveys about what the church is going to look like in the future say that one of the developments in the world is that young Catholics don't believe there is any difference between Catholicism and other religions, that everybody is pretty much the same. And if that's true, that's really unfortunate. It means that we don't have that kind of witness, either by charity or by our philosophical self-control. I think if we had either of those, better both but even either, the New Evangelization would be a lot easier."


(I have a relatively high quality digital recording of this speech, interested parties can e-mail me)

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