I am filing this under “Post Christian,” but in a way, it would make more sense as “Post… Everything, Really.”
I just listened to the latest Word on Fire podcast with Bishop R. Barron (http://wordonfireshow.com/episode165/) in which Brandon Vogt basically reads to him the entire opinion piece by David Brooks with the corny subtitle “The Gospel of St. You.”
I was pretty troubled by the episode. I might try to sum my troubles up by noting that I did not hear the word “grace” or any reference to the concept in the entire interview. The interview and article sounded to me like an airy condemnation of people struggling to make their way through the postmodern world, with all of the transcendent hopes humanity has ever held finally demolished and left in smoking ashes by the baby boomers.
The thing about it is, and this is the whole point of what I’m trying to say in these Post Christian entries, that there was a lot wrong with the world in 1960, or 1900, or 1700, or 1500. The cultural thermonuclear holocaust of constant revolution that we continue to put ourselves through is an overreaction and a misreaction, but it’s a misreaction to real problems.
Take the first point Brooks implicitly makes in his sarcastic tirade. We should aspire to be like great human beings of the past–out of the vast panoply of human excellence, he plucks Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa. But instead, Brooks claims, we reject “external standards of moral excellence, [because] they often make you feel judged. These people [promoting these standards] make you feel sad because you may not live up to this standard.”
The problem is that if you have a gram of self-knowledge, and no sense of connection to God, you know very well that you can’t live up to such standards. You have at least two options in that scenario. Option A is to reject the standard as irrelevant to your life under some true or false rationalization. An honest “I can’t possibly live up to that, because I couldn’t live without X comforts and Y attitudes and Z structures supporting my false sense of self” is rare, so false rationalizations abound, but in this case they support a pretty legitimate concern. I’d recommend Option A over Option B, limping along, trying to pretend that you’re trying to live up to the standard and hating yourself every day for failing, having tried Option B for at least 17 years.
The whole point of Christianity, and why it’s still Good News for people in the third millennium after Jesus of Nazareth, is that it opens up Option C: tap into the power of Someone capable of making you capable of living up to high moral standards, and willing to forgive you and pick you back up when you sin or make mistakes or experience pain.