Thinking against the Christian revaluation

Christian theology turns everything upside down. Honour is bad and humiliation is good. Wealth is corrosive and poverty is ennobling. Pleasure is harmful and pain is purifying. Strength is useless and weakness is powerful.

I grew up in a Christian community of strong faith and strong biblical literacy. I learned the upside-down world almost before I ever saw the right-side-up world.

My situation is unique in one sense, but in another sense it is similar to the situation of all of us who live in a world that has historically been deeply shaped by Christian thought. We remain often suspicious of beauty and strength and wealth and power and pleasure and pride, in ways that would have seemed bizarre to someone from before the biblical religions, even if we can’t always explain why we feel so.

I don’t think that Christian faith is bad for turning everything upside down. Certainly that’s one of the most wondrous things about it.

But as I entered adulthood I began to question whether the world should be simply inverted, whether even Christian theology itself should call for such.

It seems to me that the best thing is to be firmly rooted in the normal orientation of the world, let us call it the pre-Christian or pagan orientation, and at the same time enchanted by the Christian message. We could think of the Christian monarch as symbolizing this option. Second best is to be fully absorbed in the normal orientation of the world, perhaps like a king Saul or a king David. Third best is to live fully in the inverted world, as a monk or an anchorite. But worst is to try and blend the different orientations. That leaves a person disoriented, rootless, continually confused.

I think it’s an important effort of imagination that we have to make today, to try and see the world entirely apart from the lens of Christian theology. Most of us couldn’t imagine what that would entail or why it might be needful. Even those of us who might attempt it are likely to view it as some strange intellectual exercise, like trying to imagine a landscape where all the leaves are purple instead of green. But it’s so much more than that.

The way people used to see the world, the obvious way to see the world, is the default, and it’s probably the closest to correct from a human standpoint. Without that as a starting point nothing makes sense, including the fearsome claims of Christian revelation. It’s hard, and a little uncomfortable, but I think we really ought to try to learn to abstract away from our Christian heritage in a sincere and sympathetic way. It is the only honest place to start our thinking.

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