No utopian scheme has ever come out of Asia or Africa, so far as I know; this aberration is limited to people of Western Europe and America. It is a secular version of the Kingdom of God, inspiring the belief in our time that a perfectly ordered social life will be possible as soon as political power is centralized and the wisest and best men are operating the government according to an ideal blueprint. The goal would have been achieved before now, were not a few old reactionaries barring the way!
The map of the universe these trends supply is guaranteed to lead us astray. Yet these trends are popular, and so people who are always attracted to the latest fashion in ideas climb aboard the bandwagon. The Church is in the world, presumably, to witness to a quality of life that is not wholly of the world; it judges the things that come and go from the vantage point of a set of enduring values. The Church is not dedicated to wealth, power, or fame. These things are not bad in themselves, but the Church has another set of purposes, every one of which is aimed at cherishing and nourishing that elusive thing called “the soul,” for whose proper ordering each person is accountable to his Maker. In terms of this main function, religion has taken on many other chores that have implications for even such seemingly remote provinces as politics and economics. These, however, are incidental to its main task, which is to remind man, in season and out, who he really is and what he may become; and this task, in every age, involves some resistance to “the world.” Christianity can never be coextensive with any society.
Most churches and most ministers are bending every effort in this direction; their effectiveness may be questioned, but not their intentions. The fantastic thing is that wealthy and powerful ecclesiastical organizations, seconded by articulate theologians, are doing their utmost—which is considerable—to promote and further the currently fashionable secular trends!
The Kingdom of God has been secularized into utopia-by-politics. The idea of the two cities—the City of God and the City of Man, Jerusalem and Babylon—has been central to Christian social thought from the earliest days. But no longer. If politicians and a few other people will only take the advice of these ecclesiastical evangels of an earthly paradise, the Kingdom of God on earth will be due any minute.
Christians have always felt an obligation to improve the natural and social orders, but they have never until now equated even a superlatively improved social order with the Kingdom of God. This Kingdom was regarded as another dimension of existence, another realm of being, not simply an extension of our present set-up. But the late Bishop G. Bromley Oxnam told the Fifth World Order Study Conference in 1958 that Christians should “so change the planet that when our first visitors from Mars arrive they will find a society fit to be called the Kingdom of God.”
There is a consistent pattern in the social changes taking place in this country and all over the world. We witness a trend toward the expansion of the political, coercive sector of the nation at the expense of the private, voluntary sector. The end result of this trend is a society run from the top by political direction and command, with no private sector immune from political interventions. This is authoritarianism, benign in some countries, tyrannical in others. The tyrannical version, Communism, has attracted some ecclesiastical support and still does; the benign version, domestic welfarism, attracts a great deal more. The aim of powerful churchmen is to mobilize the influence of religion and the churches behind every statist proposal—as if social reform and revolution were the end and religion a mere means!
The second preoccupation of contemporary churchmen, which goes hand in hand with the first, is with the machinery for worldwide ecclesiastical organization, or ecumenism. The ecumenical movement, like secular internationalism, is based on the idea that the sins of nationalism are forgivable when committed by an international body!
To speak of the individual soul in this age of the revolt of the masses makes us a little uncomfortable, even in church. Isn’t the individual insignificant in a period when “great social forces are on the march”? What can the mere individual do when confronted by the power available to society? Does the individual really count any more, or is he just a unit to be counted?
In the planning of the politically powerful the individual is discarded as negligible or cursed as an obstruction. But if we change our perspective we realize that the individual is the most potent force we know. Before writing him off as a mere by-product of social forces, reflect on the power in the infinitely small atom. Think also of the new development called the reaction motor, in which the element we tried vainly to get rid of has turned out to be the thing of highest value.
Part of the message of Jesus is that the Infinitely Great is concerned With the infinitesimally small. How this can be so, or why, is a mystery; but the Maker of heaven and earth cares for his creatures and solicits their fellowship. Every person counts because he is included in God’s plan. This is why we as Christians resist the inordinate powers that present-day government has over the lives of individuals. When government is properly limited, the society is free. Society deserves to be free because it is the seedbed of persons. Persons emerge out of society as its consummation; society is a means whose end is the individual. Nations rise and fall; civilizations come and go; but if the Christian hope is to be trusted, persons are forever!—The REV. EDMUND A. OPTIZ, Irvington-on-Hudson, New York.
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