// madness and civilisation

I used to think there were two types of Christians, ‘sane’ ones and ‘mad’ ones. That doesn’t come down to a stable ‘conservative vs. charismatic’ division, either; I’ve met plenty of mad conservatives too, and not just the obvious ones (ie. the people who bomb abortion clinics, or the people who thought that the dinosaurs were planted there by Satan to confuse Christians). ‘Sane’ ones, in my eyes, were those people who managed to integrate faith with normal life, whereas the ‘mad’ ones were the people who seemed to have lost all touch with reality, taken things to an excessively high level, and become, in all honesty, slightly frightening.

Only I’m not sure about that distinction anymore. The past few weeks I’ve heard a whole range of teaching from people from both charismatic and conservative backgrounds, and I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that all true Christianity is a kind of madness. That is to say, if you’re really serious about this then it ends up affecting everything about your life, from your priorities to your expenses to your politics; and that kind of follow-through is intimidating, not to mention extremely rare. And if it’s not doing that, then what is it doing?

Very little in this world demands all of you; sure, you can give yourself wholly to fighting climate change or protecting those trafficked across the world, but there’s always a point where you switch off from those causes and you have time that is wholly for you, no matter how dedicated you are. Christianity, at least in theory, asks for it all – work time, rest time, play time – it’s all His. And we’re bad at accepting that here in England – people who are really on fire for God tend to look earnest or pious or idealistic or just plain embarrassing when we view them with our ironic detachment. This is a hard place to be a Christian some days.

Recently, though, I find myself looking pragmatically and looking at the followers instead. Try it. If you look at your community of faith, at your Christian community, try answering this: how (if all) is this helping the world?

See, I was all in favour of that kind of ‘sane’ Christianity until I looked around and asked myself, has my Christianity changed anything, altered anything, impacted anything? Does it look any different to anything else? The answer, mostly, is no; it’s culturally sidelined – culturally acceptable, yes, but equally seen in a lot of spheres as culturally irrelevant, something that’s just there because it always has been.

What about you? You don’t have to be Mother Theresa, but in your school, in your university, your workplace. has Christianity been a positive force, if you’re really honest?

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, speaking about the African concept of ubuntu, described the phrase (taken from the Bantu language) as relating to “the essence of being a person. It means that we are people through other people. We cannot be fully human alone. We are made for interdependence, we are made for family. When you have ubuntu, you embrace others…”

He also claimed that “the solitary human being is a contradiction in terms and therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in belonging.” Too often our culture of Christianity has sought to create a new humanity all on its own, relating only to itself, existing only in its little cliques – and that way madness lies. What good is that? Like it or not, we are members of this world, and whether we ask the question or not, the world outside is watching and asking, ‘what good is this Christian thing anyway?”

Is our Christianity culturally irrelevant or culturally isolated? Because the great dream of this world isn’t empire, it’s redemption. At the moment, at least, it looks like it’s the other way round. Christianity looks like it wants to be a conquering force, and it’s not that good at it, in all honesty. It sets up churches that go out trying to spread across the world, and it seeks to expand in order to increase its influence, and in doing so it hopes to communicate the gospel.

That may look ‘sane’, but that’s arguably also because it’s the world’s way of doing things. It’s a capitalist, colonialist model that we understand because our businesses (and in the past, our country) have used it. But at the end of the day it looks out for itself rather than for the good of this world… and that’s scary in itself. That sees Christianity as the only valuable thing in this world, and that’s just plain dangerous.

Sometimes it feels like we sold out, doesn’t it? We compromised on all the dangerous, costly stuff in order to fit in better, we adjusted our politics and our expenditure and our worship so that we could find a place in this world.

“My kingdom is not from this world”, Jesus declared, and it’s never, ever run along the world’s lines. That’s because the world’s foundations are all wrong. But what are our foundations? You may not be praying out the demons over cities or praying into the battles in the spiritual realms but the question still remains as to whether you have any belief in change, any hope that a changed world is possible, or whether you’re just resigned to the way the world works…

I’ll tell you what, a lot of the time I fall into the latter category, and that mentality comes from a desire to survive more than anything else; feeling like our religion is just a solitary group of survivors who are clinging onto each other for dear life.

Sure, survival is one thing, but it’s not the end aim, and it’s certainly not worth compromising for. There’s more planned, and a bigger dream out there. The next step is seeing whether we’re mad enough to pray it into being, mad enough to believe that it could actually happen, and even that we might be able to be a part of it. But that’s going to take risk. Even now it sounds kind of mad. and the safe, sane world seems easy and kind of appealing, if I’m honest.

Unfortunately for me, and for you, that’s no kind of life at all. And it’s not the life we were called to, either.

So what do we do now?

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  1. Brilliant post Tom. I’d definitely agree with your claim that Christianity is a kind of madness (ie. the way you define madness, not some snide, ill-thought-out atheist one-liner).

  1. April 23rd, 2010

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