On ‘Strangers In A Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith in a Post-Christian World’…

Verse of the Day

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
~ Romans 12:2 ~

I recently finished up this book (Strangers in a Strange Land: Living the Catholic Faith In A Post-Christian World by Archbishop Charles J. Chaput), and I’ve got to say it was a pretty good read.  I try to keep a few things in my reading rotation at all times: the Bible, a history book, a work of fiction (science or otherwise), and a devotional/faith-based book – this one clearly falls into the latter.

I find a good deal of the writing and philosophy of the church can be attributed to the Catholic faith, and as such often find myself reading works by their members/leaders both contemporary and from the past (current book is by a Cardinal on the ‘Power of Silence’).

I’m going to ruin the ending of this book by, well…. this right here:

The Word of God testifies to the goodness of creation, the gift that is life, and the glory of the human person.  With this glory comes a duty.  We are born for the City of God.  The road home leads through the City of Man.  So we are strangers in a strange land, yes.
But what we do here makes all the difference.”

Drawing heavily on Augustine, archbishop Chaput does a pretty good job of tackling a complex issue in a simple enough way for most to understand: how do we, as Christians, live our lives in today’s super-screwed up world, and – more specifically – America.  He spends the first chapter of the book outlining his reasons for the book; the next chapter on a brief sweeping overview of American history, faith’s role in it, and more specifically the Catholic church’s/faith’s role; a handful of chapters are dedicated to how America got where it is today (where “‘Anything but Jesus’ could be the motto of the secular age.”); and the last few chapters deal with “our reasons for hope, and to how we can live as Christians, with joy, in a very different world”.

Reading the book and then later reading some critiques, it seems Abp. Chaput struck a nerve with many modern Christians; he writes at great length about morality, relationships, and the nature of humans’ sexuality as creatures of God: there’s a lot in there that doesn’t match with what the world we live in today believes, practices, and promotes, but we’ve had the luxury of living in a fairly Christian culture for many, many years – they had the same issues in Christ’s and the early church’s time as we do now (no, there truly is nothing new under the sun), there just seemed to be a lot more moral clarity on the part of the Body.

There was much in this book I appreciated: his belief that we are creatures of place, his consistency in doctrine, the introduction of other materials I could read (Letter to Diognetus, ‘Lord of the World‘, etc.), and – I’m not going to lie – this book made me think and convicted me a fewdoyoubelieveinthedevil different ways.  One of those is captured here in this strip (many who are familiar with Calvin & Hobbes know who their namesakes are) – I have for a good portion of my life fallen into Hobbes’ school of thought, and while it is easier to think that way – it’s not correct to think that way.  Another way is that in the past I haven’t focused much on my relationships with my brothers and sisters in Christ as much as I should have (if at all) – there’s always too much going on, other people to see, things to do, etc.  These are just two of the things this book made me ponder.

All this to say – I enjoyed this book, you may too.  If you have a chance, you can find it here or here or just ask to borrow it from me.

Here’s some of my favourite quotes from Abp. Chaput in no particular order:

  • What does God ask us to do in a seemingly post-Christian world?  The first thing he asks from us is to realize that the words “post-Christian” are a lie, so long as the fire of Christian faith, hope, and love lives in any of us.

  • We were made by God to receive love ourselves, and to show love to others – love anchored in the truth about the human person and the nature of human relationships.  That’s our purpose.  That’s why we were created.  We’re here to bear one another’s burdens, to sacrifice ourselves for the needs of others, and to live a witness of Christian love – in all our public actions, including every one of our social, economic, and political choices, but beginning with the conversion of our own heart.

  • …the tech revolution means more comforts for everyone.  It means easier communication, education, transportation, and work.  Technology equalizes opportunity in important ways.  Much of this is good.  But it also fuels a cult of efficiency, a fetish for tools, and a lopsided focus on the future.  It fosters boredom with the past.  It feeds self-interest.  It transfers huge wealth to a new, highly secular leadership class.  It punishes many workers in traditional industries.  It renders, or seems to render, the “supernatural” obsolete. And with its power to manipulate and propagandize, it reshapes our political life.

  • …we’re often worse than pagans. True pagans had a reverence for nature and the gods. Today we worship ourselves and our tools. That sin defaces the world.

  • Everyone’s grasp of truth rests to some degree on authority.  No one is really autonomous.  We can’t know everything on our own.  We need to trust others for guidance.  This is normal.  But who and what we trust matter greatly.  In American life, democracy and capitalism, despite their advantages, tend to erode the place of traditional authorities (families, religious faith, and other institutions), while putting new authorities (public opinion and market forces) in their stead.  And that has consequences.

  • Democracy tends to unmoor society from the idea of permanent truths.  Placing the law, which ideally reflects right and wrong, under the power of elections can seem to put truth itself on the ballot, because most people tend to equate the legal with the acceptable or good.  On the one hand, truth becomes relative and contingent on popular whim.  But on the other, it becomes radically privatized by the individual citizen.

  • The late distinguished sociologist Robert Nisbet, following Tocqueville, argued that when the forces of personal liberation are dominant in a culture, the result is not maximal liberty, but the absorption of liberty by government

  • The banking industry, corporate life, the mass media, religious ministries, athletics, law schools: Each has its scandals. In nearly every case the pattern is similar: Truth is adjusted or “interpreted,” ignored or justified away, to get seemingly urgent results. And deceit then spreads and takes root like a weed.

  • Aelred writes that true Christian friendship begins with two people who are drawn to some quality of holiness or virtue they see in each other. Since both persons love Jesus Christ and want to build their friendship on their love of Christ, Jesus is, in a real sense, the third person in their friendship.

  • In decoupling gender from biology and denying any given or “natural” meaning to male and female sexuality, gender ideology directly repudiates reality. People don’t need to be “religious” to notice that men and women are different. The evidence is obvious. And the only way to ignore it is through a kind of intellectual self-hypnosis.

  • The point of course is to be a great saint, to love greatly, rightly, and with passion, until we burn ourselves up in service to God and to others. Our wholeness, our integrity, depends on the health of our friendship with God. It was he who fashioned us from the dust. It was he who breathed his life into our bodies. So when we ignore God’s Word, we violate our own identity.

  • Patriotism, rightly understood, is part of a genuinely Christian life.  We’re creatures of place.  The soil under our feet matters.  Home matters.  Communities matter.  The sound and smell and taste of the world we know, and the beauty of it all, matter.  As G.K. Chesterton would say, there’s something cheap and unworthy – and inhuman – in a heart that had no roots, that feels no love of country.