Saturday, July 2, 2016

Christianity Mistakenly Trying to Beat Olympianity by Becoming More Like It

In The New Demons, Jacques Ellul talks about the gods we all adore. In the last chapter, “Coda for Christians,” he tells us how we, as Christians and churches, remain confused about how to respond creatively to the challenges posed by these gods.
Jacques finds our current responses, as Christians and churches, to the apparently overwhelming strength of Olympianity to be misguided. He agrees with what we have previously discussed: since the 1600s, Christians and churches have abandoned Jesus for a resurgent Olympianity. As Jacques puts it, Christianity has been “mongrelized since the seventeenth century” (209).

He also agrees with us about the remedy to this idolatry. He says that, since the 1600s, Christians and churches have “been in need of a sort of cultural revolution, but the true cultural revolution came from the theology of Karl Barth and not from the current pitiful affairs” (209). In this blog, essays have focused on Karl Barth, Jacques Ellul, and George Hunsinger because Karl’s theology is remarkably Christ-centered and both Jacques and George stand with Karl in this emphasis on Jesus. The tragedy of Christians and churches today, the cause of what Jacques accurately calls our “current pitiful affairs,” is that we are too enthralled to the gods to devote any real attention, and do any of the real work needed, to devote ourselves to Jesus in the ways so helpfully discerned by Karl, Jacques, and George.
Jacques admits that “[i]t is possible that Christianity may be passing through fire from which it should emerge purified…” (209). We shouldn’t deceive ourselves however. Way back in 1973 Jacques said, “but that is not at all certain” (209). We can say today, over 40 years later, that what turned out to be certain was that we Christians and churches would increasingly allow ourselves to become thoroughly enchanted, completely enthralled, wholly under the spell of the six conventional yet so thoroughly destructive gods of Olympianity.
Still, these gods are not the Alpha and Omega Word of God. That greatest honor belongs now and forever to Jesus Christ. As pitiful as we Christians and churches are, he refuses to abandon us.
How did we get ourselves into this mess? Jacques identifies, in the history of the Church, the three most significant mistakes we have made; mistakes, that is, that led to our abandonment of Jesus as the source, center, and goal of our lives as individuals and congregations.
The first was Constantinianism which began in the AD 300s. This, in its simplest form, was the acceptance, by Christians and churches, of money and preferential treatment from the government. Jacques points out that it was, moreover, an “orientation toward wanting to win over to Christianity the rich, the powerful, the control centers” (214); in other words, the most significant Olympians. Unfortunately, this led to the creation of “a neo-Christianity” (214); that is, a synthesis of Christian witness and Olympianity or a Christian Olympianity.
The second basic mistake made historically by us as Christians and churches was “the cultural mistake” (214). This was our perennial effort to include every favorably regarded Olympian cultural creation into Christianity in a grand synthesis. In the past, for example, we synthesized Christian theology and Olympian philosophy. Now we enjoy combining Christian faith and practice with watching Olympian TV (the only kind there is), listening to iTunes, going to the cinema, and otherwise keeping up with current events (all Olympian).
The third mistake, today’s specific one, is that of “believing that we have to locate ourselves in a world that is lay, secularized, and rational, and that we should build a neo-Christianity [a new Christian Olympian synthesis] in those terms” (214).
Jacques believes that this third mistake, our effort to adjust our witness to Jesus to a society wrongly imagined to be secular, has been having disastrous consequences.
To begin with, “it is obvious that Christians are letting other religions [specifically Olympianity] grow…[and] people will more and more fall away from Christianity and turn to the new sacred” (220). It is especially obvious that societies, cultures, and personalities are no longer Christian because, like Christians, they are increasingly and intensely Olympian.
This indulgence by Christianity of Olympianity isn’t good. “First of all, it doesn’t even imagine itself capable of entering into conflict with the new sacred. It fights nothing which seduces, captivates, wins away, fascinates, and hypnotizes modern man. To the contrary, it plays its part through its renunciation, since, on the one hand, it accepts, blesses, and legitimates the facts ([technology,] politics) on the basis of which the myths and religions are blossoming, and, on the other hand, it in no way contests the enticing power of those ‘ideologies’” (220).
The other problem: “Christianity is losing its impact through endless self-criticism…There is, in fact, no end to criticism of the parish, of morality, of theology, of the language, etc.…” (221), Worse, this criticism is done in very Olympian terms like politics, technology, and sex.
Who’s impressed by all this self-criticism? Certainly not Olympians. “Christians can vote for the pill, revolution, abortion, free sex, and the marriage of priests; and against imperialism, unequal opportunity, etc. They should be aware that that interests no one but other Christians, who are congratulating one another” (221).
What might we reasonably expect of all our misguided efforts to make the church more appealing to outsiders by making it more Olympian? Jacques expects that all this excitement “should normally lead to the disappearance of traditional Christians disheartened by the changes of which they have no understanding, and by the lack of any new Christians coming in. The more Christianity is modernized, the more it will lose its place, and the more the last Christians will be isolated” (221).
As Christians and churches, we could choose to compete with Olympianity on a religious (as opposed to spiritual) level. Christianity could strengthen its religious possibilities to compete with Olympianity as a more effective alternative to it. As Christians and churches, we could give much greater emphasis to the sacred, the clergy, dogma, sacraments, miracles, and historical depth. Or we could “banish discussion, theology, criticism, democracy, and the incognito” (222). If we did so, we might indeed become competitive against Olympianity and win new participants. But either way, as a religion, even a Christian one, we would still betray Jesus.

Copyright © 2016 by Steven. All rights reserved.