The Christian conception of man [humanity] stands above the false alternative of individualistic liberalism or capitalism and collectivistic State Socialism or Communism. Christianity is absolutely unique in its conception of man [humanity] in which true personality and true community are not only firmly connected with one another but, at bottom, identical. Wherever a community is firmly grounded in Christian thinking, neither individualistic nor collectivist Communism or State-Socialism are possible. The “third way” is inherent in the Christian conception of [humanity] itself. That is why Christianity is called upon to lead the way wherever the third way is seen as necessary and wherever, out of economic life itself, new schemes of social order emerge which are neither individualist nor collectivist.”Emil Brunner. Christianity and Civilisation, Second Part: Specific Problems. London: Nisbet & Co., Ltd., 1949. p. 97
(Photo original to the author – The Roman Colosseum – remains of the basement where the “performers” were kept. Jesus has been the true “Third Way” since his coming, and thousands of Christians died in this place to testify to him and that.)
“… wherever the third way is necessary…” Where is the third way not necessary in the 21st Century? Where is there any society left in the world where “individualistic liberalism or capitalism and collectivistic State Socialism or Communism” are not now the ruling ideologies? Where is there any society not drowning and floundering in the excesses of predatory individualistic capitalism combined with the assertion of personal rights run wild, or, alternatively, crushing State Socialism? We have even seen the return of hybrid-Fascism without the name but with all the attributes in some countries (e.g. Russia and even China, which retains the Communist label but operates like a Fascist dictatorship more than anything else).
What Brunner calls the “third way” is a far different path than the one we now find ourselves on in the West, and indeed in all the world now overwhelmed by the Western paradigm of progress.
Like the old Roman strategy of “bread and circuses” to dull the masses’ anger and exclusion, we are given mass-entertainment and fed mind-numbing pulp and distractions while the figureheads in office utter platitudes about equalizing opportunities for everyone. Like denarii and sestercii thrown to the Roman mob, money is periodically poured into that mix to appease the populace with fancy-sounding new programs in particularly tense moments, such as the present.
The two uneasily yoked ideologies Brunner names agree on one key element: the inadmissibility of the (Christian) Third Way to any part in the discussion of how to make things work better. Brunner tells us that there is really only one way into the Third Way – Christianity. Instead, we are treated to a yo-yo exhibition of more individual choices and rights to satisfy our discontent while offering no real way up or forward over the chasm-divide in living standards and other basic things and opportunities for the general population.
The inadmissibility of the readmission of Christianity as a way forward is understandable from the dominant secular progressive perspective. Christianity has worn so many cloaks and guises and brings so much negative baggage to the table that it is almost impossible to conceive how it has anything to offer. Better to keep hoping in science and reason and the inherent basic goodness in the human heart [sic] to break through. Either that or wait for the next violent revolutionary outbreak to see where that may take us.
For that is the other shoe – the “Dark Side of the Force” that always lurks beneath the surface and keeps breaking out into the daylight with all its destructive ugliness. When the people get too fed up with the inequality and suppression and parasitic egotism of the ruling classes, they rise. Or, as Toynbee points out (see previous instalment), the outside barbarians arrive, kick down the rotten gates of the moribund civilization, and bring down the whole decrepit edifice with a great crash. Then the cycle starts over again.
For any real progress to occur, for any real change, we desperately need a “Third Way” to navigate through the dual predations of egocentric individualism married to predatory capitalism (which loves to play on the liberal ultra-individualism we so love) and crushing State Socialism seeking to level everything for everyone and thus sap the will to excel out of life. The old Communism has gone, but it lingers in so much of our consciousness because so much of what its theory suggests seems morally right and looks like the antidote to predatory individualistic capitalism.
Is Christianity really the only true way forward, the only way into the Third Way that is neither of the two dominant systems?
So what is the Myth? What is the Conspiracy? What is the Shame? As to the Quest for Truth – it goes ever on. It is everyone’s great quest – even if only to find a truth we can live by for the moment, in the here and now. For how can we ever find “the Truth” in a universe so limitless, so vast in all its complexity, so full of contradictions, so deep in its unsolvable mysteries? The “Truth” we seek is the Big Answer to the Big Question: “WHY?”
Not that we spend our days continually seeking such answers. We can’t live that way. Life must go on. We must “muddle through”. Rather, willy-nilly as we live life we develop answers of some sort to fill the void, to deal with the myths and stories of origins, to understand the conspiracy (however we understand it) to suppress and cover up the hidden truth, to escape the shame (individual and collective, for we all have it) of being and doing wrong and “missing the mark”.
But there is still that Aurelian “whisper” flitting in the twilight fringe. There is that nagging thing about Christianity and its connection to the way out, the way forward, the way ahead to Marcus Aurelius’ “dream that was Rome”. There is that “mythical” Jesus-guy always out there on the fringe, beckoning to something in us that longs for release from the shame, from the conspiracy of silence and repression, from the myth of progress.
For three centuries the progressive story has put it out that the Jesus we knew in the West was not the real Jesus, but a later mythical concoction. Paradoxically, all we have been learning as we have “demythologized” him over the last two centuries now says he was very real, an actual historical person so revolutionary that he upset the greatest civilization and empire of the ancient (and perhaps any) era. He keeps coming back, like one who “rises from the dead”!
The distant “Classical” age killed him to silence him. But when he just wouldn’t stay dead, it tried to crush the movement that sprang from his life and example. Instead, the (Roman) Empire’s leaders found that they had to co-opt the emerging Third Way to serve the old ways.
“Christendom” was the hybrid child of that union. Instead of rehashing that tortured tale, let us identify the real “conspiracy” – the conspiracy to turn the original Jesus revolution to serve the old gods of greed, power, lust, pride, etc., etc. Given the human heart’s still broken condition and divided soul, the servants of Jesus, whether sincere or those of convenience, too often fell into the trap.
Despite all of that, out of this hybrid civilization grew something definitely better and more humane than what had been before. There was more room for compassion, for healing of the body, soul, and mind, for forgiveness, for charity, for reconciliation, for recognition of the equality of all persons before God, for genuine opportunities to education and to rise above one’s birth-class. Out of this struggle to bring fruit even from this troubled marriage came institutions to foster all the best ideals still living in its bosom: schools even for the poor, hospitals and hospices, orphanages, homes for the homeless, refuges for widows, governments that began to let the people’s voice be heard, however feebly at first, a justice system that gradually offered something closer to a “fair trial”, and even the first universities for the pursuit of the quest for truth! If all are God’s children by virtue of being created in His image, then all have dignity and value.
At the best of times for more than a millennium even the powerful and the elite made room for such things and paid at least lip-service to them. There was, in fact, real overall progress. There was in fact growing understanding that matters of race, language, birth, and even religion do not obviate the made-in-God’s-image humanity of all humans everywhere. It was not universal or constant, but the seeds grew and bore fruit.
The Enlightenment myth of Christianity’s suppression of truth and human dignity was a caricature born of the many sins of leaders following more in the footsteps of the old gods rather than in those of the Creator-Redeemer they paid lip-service to. The great stumbling block for the secularist philosophes was this Jesus-fellow as an historical person. It became necessary to mythologize him, strip him of his real humanity and historical presence and certainly of any hint of miraculous properties.
There is indeed great shame on many of the misguided leaders of the old Christendom and even today on some of Christianity’s present representatives. But there is at least an equal share on those conspiring to strip Jesus and the best of his followers and disciples – whether well-known or anonymous, as most of them have always been and remain – of the just recognition due to the fact that so much that is most noble and worthy of preserving in the West has come from the root of the coming into this world of Yeshua of Natzeret two millennia ago.
There is shame enough to go round for all of us, just as there is truth enough to be found and shared by all of us. It is time for an end to conspiracies to cover up the truth and deny our universal share in the blame-and-shame game.
NEXT TIME: THE CONCLUSION