"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:
"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)