Wednesday, January 06, 2010

The Secular-Utopian Kingdom of God

Can we humans create Utopia? Can we bring about the kingdom of God on Earth? If not, what should we be doing with our lives in the meantime? These are the type of questions that keep us simple pewsitters awake at night.

Matthew 24:14
"And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."

Time and time again, history tells us that mankind cannot do so, but we keep trying to create heaven on Earth. Why do we persist in pursuing Utopian dreams, and who do we think we are? The other day I was reading excerpts from “Jesus of Nazareth” by Pope Benedict XVI, and I heard echoes of something that I think is buzzing around our pluralistic culture.


“...it is claimed, we must now move toward ‘regnocentrism,’ that is, toward the centrality of the Kingdom. This, ...is also the right formula for finally harnessing mankind’s positive energies and directing them toward the world’s future. ‘Kingdom,’ in this interpretation, is simply the name for a world governed by peace, justice, and the conservation of creation. It means no more than this. This ‘Kingdom’ is said to be the goal of history that has to be attained. This is supposedly the real task of religions: to work together for the coming of the ‘Kingdom.’ They are of course perfectly free to preserve their traditions and live according to their respective identities as well, but they must bring their different identities to bear on the common task of building the ‘Kingdom,’ a world, in other words, where peace, justice and respect for freedom are the dominant values."


Does this sound familiar? I have heard it most often when soft spoken pluralists are trying to keep us pewsitters focused on "good works" as the mission of the church. The implication being that all of our differences will disappear as we work to build God's Kingdom through service. The Pope adds a new spin. I never really thought about secularists using religion to further a political agenda. In order to do so, secularism would have to accept and support religious pluralism (at least for a while). Are Christians to accept and support religious pluralism also in order to hasten the Secular-Utopian Kingdom of God? I don't think it is what the Gospels tell us, and I was curious to see what Pope Benedict XVI had to say in his further comments:


“This sounds good; it seems like a way of finally enabling the whole world to appropriate Jesus’ message, but without missionary evangelization of other religions. … On closer examination, though, it seems suspicious. Who is to say what justice is? What serves justice in particular situations? How do we create peace? On closer inspection, this whole project proves to be utopian dreaming without any real content, except insofar as its exponents tacitly presuppose some partisan doctrine as the content that all are required to accept.

But the main thing that leaps out is that God has disappeared; man is the only actor left on the stage. The respect for religious ‘traditions’ claimed by this way of thinking is only apparent. The truth is that they are regarded as so many sets of customs, which people should be allowed to keep, even though they ultimately count for nothing. Faith and religions are now directed toward political goals. Only the organization of the world counts. Religion matters only insofar as it can serve that objective. This post-Christian vision of faith and religion is disturbingly close to Jesus’ third temptation."


The third temptation is found in Matthew 4:8-10:

Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. "All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me."
Jesus said to him, "Away from me, Satan! For it is written: 'Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"


Now I am distracted by a different thought, "Serve Him only," and I am reminded that "Service to mankind" is part of what Christians do, for in so doing we care for Him:
Matthew 25:31-36
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "


Can't Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Atheists, do all those things? Aren't they sheep at the King's right side as well? The pluralistic answer is "Yes." The secular-utopian answer is "Yes." Working together can't the people of the world bring in the Kingdom of God? If so, who needs Jesus, the cross, and who needs the resurrection?

” … Our main criticism of the secular-Utopian idea of the Kingdom has been that it pushes God off the stage. He is no longer needed, or else he is a downright nuisance. But Jesus proclaimed the Kingdom of God, not just any kind of Kingdom.” Pope Benedict XVI (pp. 53-55)


Not only does the secular-Utopian idea of the Kingdom push God off the stage, it introduces a new concept, "The Kingdom of Man." Religions will be used to help bring about this Kingdom of Man, but don't ignore the fact that they can be discarded once Utopia is achieved.

Most of us understand that the Kingdom of Man is a failed proposition. Still, humans fall for the temptation of Utopia every time it is presented. The most recent version of the temptation is the Secular-Utopian one. The radically secular state and the false notion of it being the "all caring state" when combined with the gullibility of an all dependant people leads to this new Secular-Utopianism. We don't need God to save us when the State will. This vision sounds lovely and has a wonderful, loving, peaceful religious pluralism, but it is a vision that ultimately abandons God. Looked at this way, I am going to side with the Pope and conclude that a Christian response to secular-utopianism needs to be voiced.

I am going to keep it simple by returning to my first question, "Can man bring in the Kingdom of God?"

I have to respond, "No, but we have been some down to earth tasks in the meantime, and a stern warning."

"He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.'

"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (Matthew 25:45-46)



4 comments:

  1. I agree. Didn't we learn anything from the 20th Century? It was one big, bloody demonstration of the fallibility of human planning.

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  2. Here are a few excerpts from a recent article by economist Jesus Huerta de Soto, with a citation from Cardinal Ratzinger (now, Pope Benedict XVI):

    The state acts as an irresistibly powerful magnet which attracts and propels the basest passions, vices, and facets of human nature. People attempt to sidestep the state’s commands yet take advantage of its monopolistic power as much as possible. Moreover, in democratic contexts particularly, the combined effect of the action of privileged interest groups, the phenomena of government shortsightedness and vote buying, the megalomaniacal nature of politicians, and the irresponsibility and blindness of bureaucracies amounts to a dangerously unstable and explosive cocktail. This mixture is continually shaken by social, economic, and political crises which, paradoxically, politicians and social “leaders” never fail to use as justification for subsequent doses of intervention, and these merely create new problems while exacerbating existing ones even further.

    The state has become the “idol” everyone turns to and worships. Statolatry is without a doubt the most serious and dangerous social disease of our time. We are taught to believe all problems can and should be detected in time and solved by the state. Our destiny lies in the hands of the state, and the politicians who govern it must guarantee us everything our well-being demands. Human beings remain immature and rebel against their own creative nature (an essential quality which makes their future inescapably uncertain). They demand a crystal ball to ensure not only that they know what will happen in the future, but also that any problems which arise will be resolved. This “infantilization” of the masses is deliberately fostered by politicians and social leaders, since in this way they publicly justify their existence and guarantee their popularity, predominance, and governing capacity. Furthermore, a legion of intellectuals, professors, and social engineers join in this arrogant binge of power.
    (cont'd)

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  3. (Part 2)

    Not even the most respectable churches and religious denominations have reached an accurate diagnosis of the problem: that today statolatry poses the main threat to free, moral, and responsible human beings; that the state is an enormously powerful false idol which is worshipped by all and which will not countenance anyone’s freeing himself from its control nor having moral or religious loyalties outside its own sphere of dominance. In fact, the state has managed something which might appear impossible a priori: it has slyly and systematically distracted the citizenry from the fact that the true origin of social conflicts and evils lies with the government itself, by creating scapegoats everywhere (“capitalism,” the desire for profit, private property). The state then places the blame for problems on these scapegoats and makes them the target of popular anger and of the severest and most emphatic condemnation from moral and religious leaders, almost none of whom has seen through the deception nor dared until now to denounce that in this century, statolatry represents the chief threat to religion, morality, and thus, human civilization.

    [7. Perhaps the most recent notable exception appears in Pope Benedict
    XVI’s brilliant work on Jesus of Nazareth. That the state and political power are
    the institutional embodiment of the Antichrist must be obvious to anyone
    with the slightest knowledge of history who reads the Pope’s reflections on
    the most dangerous temptation the devil can put in our way:

    The tempter is not so crude as to suggest to us directly that
    we should worship the devil. He merely suggests that we
    opt for the reasonable decision, that we choose to give priority
    to a planned and thoroughly organized world, where
    God may have his place as a private concern but must not
    interfere in our essential purposes. Soloviev attributes to
    the Antichrist a book entitled The Open Way to World Peace
    and Welfare. This book becomes something of a new Bible,
    whose real message is the worship of well-being and rational planning.

    Joseph Ratzinger, Jesus of Nazareth, Adrian J. Walker, trans. (London:
    Bloomsbury, 2007), p. 41.

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  4. Nicely said and spot-on.

    BTW, the only time I hear secularists quote the Bible is when they misquote it or do so out of context in order to try to make Christians feel guilty about something. I never respond arguing the substance of the verse(s) mentioned, because they're not really interested in that. Rather, I say, "So, you're prepared to acknowledge the Bible as authoritative?"

    That usually shuts them up.

    Cheers.

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