Christianity and religion

13 Whom do men say that I, the Son of Man, am?

14 And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets.

Mt. 16 : 13-14

The apostles are clearly smitten, leaving off the far more common opinions that Christ is Beelzebub (Mt. 9:34, 12 : 24), a mere carpenter’s son (Mt. 13 : 55, Jn 6 : 42), and a blasphemer deserving to be stoned to death (Lk 4 : 29). So what we have are the most glowing and positive appraisals of Christ from those who have given up more than any others to follow him.

For all that, they fall short of the truth because they see Christ as continuing all that was good before. True, he might be a fulfillment of what came before (by being, say, the return of Elias) but even this fulfillment occurs within and continues already established categories. The deeds of Christ are to be one more book of the prophets.

The modern equivalent of the verse 14 confession is to see Christianity as a religion. Obviously, even very committed Christians can relate to it this way. One can even see Christianity as the ideal religion without taking the decisive step beyond the apostolic confession of v. 14.

Religion is the exercise of the human desire for a spiritual something-or-other. At its heights it might be Buddhist mindfulness, Greek love of proportion, Romantic-era sublimity, the Arab warrior-spirit, Roman legal-rationality, Indian syncretism, the European drive-for-the-infinite and the Semitic God-in-the-desert sense of mystery, but all of these dimensions of human spirituality are orthogonal to elements that are stultifying and/or monstrous, and all of them are, by their opposition to the others, merely finite.

Christianity fulfills religious desire only in a sense of fulfillment that is difficult to distinguish from abrogation (cf. how Christ fulfills the law of Moses by abrogating divorce and dietary laws).  The opposition found in the pluralism of religious experience, along with the pluralism of nations and human erotic commitments, exists only in time and is destined to pass away/ be fulfilled. Christianity announces that the way in which one finite existence is closed to another is not a permanent state of affairs and has already been overcome by the resurrection of Christ, whose body exists trans-dimensionally or, in more familiar language, in eternity. Christ is the firstborn of many who will share in this existence along with all of creation that awaits in eager expectation for renewal through the sons of God. This renewal consists in creation being taken up into the trinitarian life where plurality is no longer concomitant with isolation from others.  At the moment this existence is sacramental, and so still contains an element finite opposition, but this too will be abrogated-fulfilled.

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