The shrinking of imaginative identification

At this point in my life I have probably had a broader experience of the American population than is usual. I have been to divinity schools, and I have been to prisons. In the First Epistle of Peter we are told to honor everyone, and I have never been in a situation where I felt this injunction was inappropriate. When we accept dismissive judgments of our community we stop having generous hopes for it. We cease to be capable of serving its best interests. The cultural disaster called “dumbing down,” which swept through every significant American institution and grossly impoverished civic and religious life, was and is the result of the obsessive devaluing of the lives that happen to pass on this swath of continent. On average, in the main, we are Christian people, if the polls are to be believed. How is Christianity consistent with the generalized contempt that seems to lie behind so much so-called public discourse? Why the judgmentalism, among people who are supposed to believe we are, and we live among, souls precious to God–three hundred million of them on this plot of ground, a population large and various enough to hint broadly at the folly of generalization? It is simply not possible to act in good faith toward people one does not respect, or to entertain hopes for them that are appropriate to their gifts. As we withdraw from one another we withdraw from the world, except as we increasingly insist that foreign groups and populations are our irreconcilable enemies. The shrinking of imaginative identification which allows such things as shared humanity to be forgotten always begins at home.

–Marilynne Robinson, “Imagination and Community,” When I Was a Child I Read Books, pp. 30-31

The love from above

Man can love himself in terms of self-acceptance only if he is certain that he is accepted. Otherwise his self-acceptance is self-complacency and arbitrariness. Only in the light and in the power of the ‘love from above’ can he love himself. This implies the answer to the question of man’s justice towards himself. He can be just towards himself only in so far as ultimate justice is done to him, namely the condemning, forgiving, and giving judgement of ‘justification’. The condemning element in justification makes self-complacency impossible, the forgiving element saves from self-condemnation and despair, the giving element provides for a Spiritual centre which unites the elements of our personal self and makes power over oneself possible.

–Paul Tillich, Love, Power, and Justice

The church’s introversion

The church as the real content of the gospel, its glory the boundless manifestation of the heavenly Lord, sharing in it being identical with sharing in Christ and his dominion, his qualities being communicable to it–we know that message. It has lasted for two thousand years, has fascinated Protestantism, too, and is today the main driving force of the ecumenical movement. If only the theology of the cross were brought in to counterbalance it! But the church triumphant, even if it starts from the cross and guards it as its most precious mystery, has still always stood in a tense relationship to the crucified Lord himself. As long as the tension remained alive in it under violent friction, one could in some degree come to terms with the situation. The greatest danger always arose when the church pushed itself into the foreground so that Christ’s image above it faded into an image of the founder, of the cultic hero, or became an ecclesiastical icon to be put side by side with other icons that were set up from time to time. It was against that danger that the Reformation in fact rose up, not against the secularization of the church, although the two things necessarily went together. Where the world is dominated by the church, and even Christ is integrated in its metaphysical system, the church becomes conversely a religiously transfigured world. Its real Babylonian captivity, however, consists in its making itself the focal point of salvation and the theme of the gospel. The church’s introversion puts it into the sharpest contrast with the crucified Lord who did not seek his own glory and gave himself to the ungodly.

— Ernst Käsemann, Jesus Means Freedom (1969)

Quotes for Brother Martin’s birthday

From Kim at Connexions: Happy birthday, Martin!

Unfair but amusing

“…when Theodore Roosevelt, to his lasting discredit, referred to Thomas Paine, without having read him, as ‘a filthy little atheist,’ he was slandering someone whose belief in the traditional doctrines of the existence of a Supreme Power and the immortality of the Soul was much more unqualified than the belief of two thinkers who have been characterized as the leading Protestant theologians of the twentieth century–Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr.” –Sydney Hook, from his introduction to Common Sense, Rights of Man, and Other Essential Writings of Thomas Paine