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…I often find myself among non-observant people. They don’t speak religious language or have religious habits. Most are just ordinary Midwestern folks who have lived in nominally Christian, common sense realistic environments and who have spent their years working, raising families, and dealing with the ordinary stuff of life.

This drives me a little bit crazy, since I am of two minds about it. On one hand, I feel perfectly OK just letting the Blodgetts live their Blodgett-y lives without pestering them too much about the demands of Jesus. After all, if it ain’t broke, why fix it? Even once you get outside the Heartland and into Diversity World®, you find that practitioners of other religions have pretty much the same laissez-faire attitude about religion that the Christians have. It’s all well and good in its place, honoring the demands of tribe and culture and all that, but business and its demands are primary. After all, bills have to be paid and the kids need to be clothed and educated. There is a devout Sunni Muslim I have a business relationship with. Of all the people I know, he is the closest to someone who practices his religion because he wants to cultivate a relationship with God. And I prefer Shi’a Islam to Sunni.

Yet at the same time, the Incarnation, the Crucifixion and the Resurrection aren’t really necessary if your goal in life is to live in a realistic, common-sense environment where the maximization of pleasure and the avoidance of pain is the primary goal. Even you, CM, have to admit that most of your non-religious contacts have been living off of borrowed capital, spending the last few coppers, as Solzhenitsyn put it, of the gold coins laid down by their ancestors. Their children and grandchildren won’t be living the same way. Man was meant to be divine, not mediocre, and Screwtape wins when man embraces mediocrity even if he refuses outright wickedness.

I agree with you that the problem is that the scaffolding currently supporting our threadbare Christendom does not allow for the insertion of Jesus into human strengths and goodness. Revivalism really did a tune on that, especially with its insistence that you have to acknowledge yourself to be a pretty horrible person to be able to avail yourself of Jesus and the Church. Jesus started getting a reputation as a safe harbor for last-gaspers. As one person told me, ‘there has to be a place where you can meet Jesus other than at the end of your rope.’

Richard Beck found that the elimination of the Devil, “that ancient and arrogant spirit” according to a prayer I repeat every evening,  gelded progressive Christianity and left it insipid and flavorless. That the oh-so-clever modern world should leave off believing in the Devil is no surprise; we live in an age that abhors fecundity and wants to geld everything, yet somehow ten years ago, Beck found that there is something in evil that does not reduce in our analyses. So, we are forced to reimagine him. Beck does a great job, by the way, and is far more courageous in his imagination than the collection of progressive fundamentalists that comment on his blog.

For some reason, God saw a cosmos with a Devil preferable to one without, and somehow there is bound up in the idea of the Devil the concept of Freedom. Barfield’s discussion on the progressive Liberation of the Logos comes into play here; the austrolopithecine mother cooing to her infant on the darking savannah already contained in her DNA, that ballet of nitrates demanding and surrendering electrons, all of our vaunted human wisdom; Gilgamesh, Jeremiah, Plato, Lucretius, Newton, Faraday, and Hawking. But it wasn’t free.

art_0409_1-lg_2Of all the people on this board, I have less sympathy for the classical liberal concept of Freedom than most. When I saw a piece of artwork by an acolyte of Richard Rohr that illustrating an article here about three weeks ago, I knew immediately that my sympathies lay with the figures on the top half of the drawing more than they did with those on the bottom. Instinctively I felt the figures on the bottom couldn’t be trusted with that freedom, and that they would use that freedom to do ridiculous, objectionable, and banal things. Worse than that, I would be expected to rejoice in them and be thought defective if I couldn’t.

It is beginning to dawn on me, just beginning because the idea beats against the tide of a lifetime of egotism and elitism, that maybe what God wants us to do with the freedom we find in Christ is not to voluntarily and joyfully recreate ex corde the top half of the illustration, but to take some risks and fail, sometimes spectacularly, in the service of an end whose glory we cannot yet even imagine.