Christianity as a morality as opposed to moral

I’ve developed a nausea for treating Christianity as a morality. I’ll be polite and not mention the sources of the nausea: the Christian papers and news outlets and blogs that relate one moral outrage after another.

I’m not talking about Christian morals but the idea that Christianity is a morality. A teaching can have a moral dimension – even a necessary moral dimension – without being an ethics.

I was reminded of this today by Christ’s dialogue with Martha in John 11. Christ here explicitly asks Martha for a profession of faith in the Resurrection, and Martha responds with an acknowledgement of his divinity. The parallel to Peter’s confession in unmistakable, but it is here seen as inseparable from a confession of the Resurrection of the body. The confession of Christ’s divinity – the decisive moment of creedal assent – is the answer to Christ asking if we believe he is the Resurrection.

All this will change how we act, to be sure, and it involves transformation. But to separate this transformation from Christ’s ontological transformation of the world renders the moral change itself unintelligible and without any dependence on Christ. Christ is a god who, in invading the world, does not leave it as it is. The gods are no longer just stories we have to tell to the people to keep them in line, entertain them, or soften the edge of their own moral failings (Hey, even Zeus screws up now and again). The gods are not even heroic and ennobling stories that can inspire men to die for the city or aspire to philosophical knowledge. God has invaded the “natural” world and given it an entirely new dimension. He does miracles not break natural laws but in order to show us his intention to divinize them.

Christianity becomes a morality only after we have ceased to believe it. It is a 19th century post-Kantian idea that saw Christianity as so much mythology and any ontological transformation of things as unknowable, but which thought it could save a place for Christianity as some sort of divine guarantor of human freedom and underwriter of duty.  This was in some ways a sublime vision, and I would never deny that Christian morality is sublime, but when compared to what it threw out it all seems as tasteless as hay.



1 Comment

  1. D.S. Thorne said,

    April 7, 2014 at 2:29 pm

    The epitome of the ontological depreciation of Christianity being Thomas Jefferson’s bowdlerized-disemboweled Bible, from which he physically removed all passages referencing the miraculous and divine, keeping only those he found morally edifying…
    ~DS Thorne,

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