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The Speech and Practice of Christianity

Confession: I enjoying reading theology and am particularly persuaded by many of its profound arguments. On multiple occasions, however, I have sworn to myself that I’m going to go in other directions that would be more financially rewarding and less burdening but, try as I might, I have continued the dialogue. On the other hand, I consider myself quite the hypocrite when I attend church because, back in my study, I love theology but I abhor its incarnation. It’s not so much that I take myself to be inhabiting a contradiction but more that the speech and practice of Christianity do not align. I cannot admit that this is any original reflection, but even if the hypocritical pattern is universal its particular substantiation in any given time and place is unique. For me, specifically, I hoped in the promise that the church is an anticipation of an eschatological kingdom of perfect community; harmonizing and integrating the differences between individuals and society. As such, the church should be an alternative community in-itself and a witness to the surrounding society of what politics, economics, society could be. In this manner theology would out-narrate secular social theory and the church would out-perform neo-liberal society. But alas, it took a year of travel and withdrawal from intellectual pressure to admit that my own experience did not match how I had been trained to think.

Julia Kristeva makes a similar note on this form of discrepancy in the church’s history. While grace for sinners might be its motto, in practice the situation is much different. The de jure and de facto realities are reversals of each other. It is rare that confession in church will be answered with the glorious counterweight of grace. Grace seems to be in name only.

Little by little, acts of atonement, of contrition, of paying one’s debt to a pitiless, judging God, are eclipsed by the sole act of speech….Acknowledgment and absolution count for everything, sin has no need for actions in order to be remitted….not by virtue of merit….felix culpa is merely a phenomenon of enunciation. The whole black history of the Church shows that condemnation, the fiercest censorship, and punishment are nonetheless the common reality of this practice (Powers of Horror, p. 131)

This comment is apropos of the wisdom shared in recent book put out by ‘The Other Journal’: “God Is Dead” and I Don’t Feel So Good Myself.  Merold Westphal, one of the many contributing authors, notes that it is actually believers who are most responsible for the unbelief of non-Christians. His point is not so much that theologians don’t have good rational arguments for Christianity but that believers present “an unflattering presentation of God and [exhibit] actions that run contrary to the very God they affirm.” This is true of the church body just as much as it is of individual Christians.