Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

A Secular Kingdom

I am, perhaps, the last person in the Catholic blog world to get around to reading Benedict XVI's book Jesus of Nazareth. However, I am finally getting the chance to read it, and yesterday I struck a section which seemed so clearly to summarize some of the trends that I have seen that I wanted to type it up and post it whole:
Then there was a shift to Christocentrism, to the doctrine that Christ is the center of everything. But it is not only the Church that is divisive -- so the argument continues -- since Christ belongs exclusively to Christians. Hence the further step from Christocentrism to theocentrism. This has allegedly brought us closer to the community of religions, but our final goal continues to elude us, since even God can be a cause of division between religions and between people.

Therefore, it is claimed, we must now move toward "regnocentrism," that is, toward the centrality of the Kingdom. This at last, we are told, is the heard of Jesus' message, and it is also the right formula for finally harnessing mankind's positive energies and directing them toward the world's future. "Kingdom," on this interpretation, is simply the name for a world governed by peace, justice, and the conservation of creation. It means no more than this. This "Kingdom" is said to be the goal of history that has to be attained. This is supposedly the real task of religions: to work together for the coming of the "Kingdom." They are of course perfectly free to preserve their traditions and live according to their respective identities as well, but they must bring their different identities to bear on the common task of building the "Kingdom," a world, in other words, where peace, justice and respect for creation are dominant values.

This sounds good; it seems like a way of finally enabling the whole world to appropriate Jesus' message, but without requiring missionary evangelization of other religions. It looks as if now, at long last, Jesus' words have gained some practical content, because the establishment of the "Kingdom" has become a common task and is drawing nigh. On closer examination, though, it seems suspicious. Who is to say what justice is? What serves justice in particular situations? How do we create peace? On closer inspection, this whole project proves to be utopian dreaming without any real content, except insofar as its exponents tacitly presuppose some partisan doctrine as the content that all are required to accept.

But the main thing that leaps out is that God has disappeared; man is the only actor left on the stage. The respect for religious "traditions" claimed by this way of thinking is only apparent. The truth is that they are regarded as so many sets of customs, which people should be allowed to keep, even though they ultimately count for nothing. Only the organization of the world counts. Religion matters only insofar as it can serve the objective. This post-Christian vision of faith and religion is disturbingly close to Jesus' third temptation.
Jesus of Nazareth, 53-55


Pro Ecclesia said...

Good post. Rich Leonardi has also done an excellent job of covering this topic:

One of the striking things about Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth, a book I'm reading this Lent, is that about every five pages or so you think, "This would make a great post." A section that had my fingers twitching to get to a keyboard was his dissection of the pernicious "Reign of God" theology, which we've discussed on several occasions (see here, here, here, and here.) In a nutshell, this theology reflects the belief that the work of "Kingdom"-building, e.g., establishing earthly justice, creating lasting peace, protecting the environment from man's depredations, etc., is too important to be hindered by the divisiveness of doctrine and dogma. You'll find this "regnocentrism" in everything from homilies and bulletin 'blurbs to faith formation classes and catechetical tracts. Let's hope a version of Pope Benedict's critique works its way into a future encyclical.

Maybe the Holy Father's upcoming social encyclical will address the matter of "regnocentrism", as well.

Kyle Cupp said...

You are not the last. I've recently checked out the audiobook and will be listening to it at work.

John Farrell said...

I am, perhaps, the last person in the Catholic blog world to get around to reading Benedict XVI's book Jesus of Nazareth.

Nope. It's not even on my radar screen right now...I'm too swamped with Edward McCabe and a slew of science books....

Anonymous said...

That passage also struck me as particularly good.

Now you can get this one finished just in time for part two to be released.