We Are Formed by What We Commemorate

By Jason Kettinger | Posted at 11:53 AM

There are special days and months that we celebrate in the secular society. Holidays for the birthdays of presidents, recognition of ethnic minorities, and days set aside to raise awareness for rare diseases and conditions. Most of this passes without notice, and much of it is unobjectionable.

But I have noticed that some of it is, and that it forms a competing liturgy with the Christian one.

The Church has always had holy days, to commemorate the great events in salvation history, as recorded in the Bible. Moreover, the Christian sense of these holy days was that the faithful participate in those events as if we were present. That was certainly the sense of the Hebrew mind, in the commemoration of those saving events recorded in what we call the Old Testament. It goes without saying that the Church intends those celebrations and commemorations to form the faithful, in order that we would think with the mind of Christ. This same sanctified remembering is part of the Christian understanding of the sacraments, as well. Of course, we know of the divisions among the Christian people—- lamentable as that is—- and that the use of the liturgical calendar varies among communities. That said, many of us lack discernment, with respect to the impact of these secular “holy days,” and how they might compete in our minds and hearts with the God at the heart of the Christian story.

Some of the resistance to these secular celebrations is undoubtedly political, and even needlessly partisan, but “political” and “partisan” need not be equivalent. After all, it is hard to argue that the writers of our four Gospels were being apolitical when they proclaimed Jesus as Lord. And yet, I don’t think anybody can fairly claim them for some modern ideology or other. Jesus transcends the things we fight about here, as does the salvation proclaimed in His name. Do we transcend the ordinary things of this world in our lives, or do we allow secular ideologies to take up the space in our hearts reserved for God alone?

In recent weeks and months, I have been challenging parts of our society, and its imposition of ideology related to sex and gender. I think what we can say fairly is that some of those claims are far from neutral, especially with regard to what we believe as Christians. I think a way forward—- rooted in something other than fear and loathing—- is to say that certain advocacy has not made a firm distinction between self-expression, and public policy. That is, a particular individual may express themselves with a label that accounts for their experiences as they understand them, but the political advocacy related to that label may take insufficient account of the implications for all the members of society.

In the interest of fellowship and human compassion, we may tolerate or even appreciate the use of certain markers of identity, to allow people to share who they are with us. This allows us to have friendship, and to understand where people have been. On the other hand, connection and compassion have been abused to achieve certain political ends, which are non-neutral.

The secular state cannot profess to be neutral with regard to sexuality and gender, or as to the definition of the family. The idea that choosing one set of ideas over another set of ideas in this sphere, without impact to our understanding of our rights as individuals, is the height of foolishness, and probably dishonesty.

And if we believe that we can go on being Christians without interrogating these definitions about what it means to be human, we are also being foolish. For my part, I never believed that we could “just preach the gospel.” I have never believed in a “two kingdoms” sort of framework for understanding the relationship between the State and the Church. I can expect secular people to behave with a certain recognizable ethics—- contra some claims otherwise—- because people are made in the image of God, and they have the law of God written irrevocably upon their hearts. We need to recover a strong sense of the natural law, and of the State’s responsibility to uphold it. We Christians are not imposing Christianity, when we oppose abortion, or the redefinition of marriage, or any number of other things, because the traditional view of those things is in accord with the natural law. I need not convert anyone by force, in order to claim those things to be true. Moreover, I need not believe that a person must convert, in order to understand my ethical claims.

Some of this is not new to you, the readers. But some of it may be. Much of what we fight against may be rooted in a postmodern “anti-realism,” that takes skepticism and emotivism as philosophical starting points. To help people recover the truth, and in so doing, recover a workable society, perhaps we need to start with rebuilding the basis for shared knowledge.

Believing that society and Church can be distinguished, but not radically separated probably makes me some sort of reactionary, but I’d at least like to think that I’m pretty fun to talk to at parties. In any case, let us always seek to be formed by what is true, and not carried along by what is fashionable or popular.

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