The Bishops’ Pastoral on the Economy & the Scandal of Catholicism
"RUM, ROMANISM & REBELLION" — REVISITED
Ed. Note: Throughout 2017, in commemoration of our fortieth year of publication, we are featuring one article per issue from the NOR’s past. This article originally appeared in our January-February 1987 issue (volume LIV, number 1) and is presented here unabridged. Copyright © 1987.
The Gospel is, as we know, a scandal to those who seek a convenient religion or easy answers or routine formulas or cheap grace. The Gospel is arresting, demanding, and full of surprises — and this is why it so often scandalizes. Because the Gospel is a scandal to the world and its thought patterns, the world (and representatives of worldly thinking inside the churches themselves) is always seeking to tame the Gospel and harness it to its priorities. Yet, if the Gospel did not remain a scandal, it would lose its authenticity, its power, its uncanny ability to compel people’s assent and devotion.
As Christians, we are called to be in the world, but not of it. The Gospel is both incarnate and transcendent. It connects with real people and real problems in the world, but it is not their captive. We are called to transform the world in light of the Gospel, and yet, more often than not, it seems we allow the Gospel — especially its institutional forms as found in the churches — to be conformed to one or another worldly imperative, especially the imperative of this or that ironclad ideology.
As we know, most people are either at least a little bit liberal or a little bit conservative. Often they are born that way: it’s a matter of temperament and psychology. Or they’re raised that way (or they rebel against the way they were raised). Or they come to learn an ideological “language” that suits their material or occupational interests. Whatever, we can say that there is a category of humans that is hopeful about the possibilities of change and optimistic about the future, and an opposite category that adheres to the wisdom of the past and is pessimistic about the future.
And so, we have Leftists who are willing to take risks for peace, are hopeful that economic reform can narrow the gap between the prosperous and the deprived, and are eager to embrace all sorts of new ideas. On the other hand, we have Rightists who are strongly attached to their national community (and it doesn’t matter which nation we’re talking about) and so are more concerned with national security than with any experiments in peacemaking; they know that throughout history there have always been the rich and the poor, and they doubt that any social reforms can significantly alter that brute fact; and they instinctively defer to conventional ideas — not only political ones, but moral and religious ones as well.
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