Wednesday, March 04, 2009
Timothy Radcliffe wrote What is the Point of Being a Christian? with the pursuit of Christian truth in mind. His friend asked the title question, which Radcliffe answered initially with “because it is true.” Since the author argues that “A religion that tires to market itself as useful for some other purpose—because it gets rid of stress or makes you wealthy—is shooting itself in the foot,” he does not feel any need to validate his answer in away the friend will get rationally satisfied. What he means is that religion should exist as an end instead of as a means to some other ends if it does not want to crumble before the very eyes of its disappointed faithful. He adds, “If [religion] has to justify itself by serving some other end, then it cannot be a religion that one could take seriously. The point of any religion is to point us to God who is the point of everything.” In here, he shares the usual sentiment that religion is faith-based rather than reason-based, so why the need to elaborate on its object, the mystical entity that’s God?
Nonetheless, the eleven chapters of the book slowly crystallize that very point. Taking his friend’s question seriously, Radcliffe checks on the belief that Christians apply in their personal contexts. He asks, “If we talk about love and fellowship, but there is none, then why should anyone believe us?” This question is not unlike the verse in the book of Corinthians in which the idea of Christian lie is more of practice than of mere lip service. The Christian truth is the fulfillment of the Christ-likeness of an individual as one relates among other people within one’s community. The book tackles this truth as well as the underpinned concepts why different sects of faith, different denominations within the Christian Church and different factions within the Catholic Church exist.
The chapters of the book discuss such essentials of Christian faith a freedom, happiness, courage and the like, elements that should be applied in a Christian’s life if one must understand what Christianity essentially is. In Chapter 3 entitled “The Peaceful Sea,” Radcliffe says, “Freedom shows the point of Christianity because it discloses the final goal of our lives, which is to share in God’s unspeakable freedom.” A Christian must see oneself as free since God Himself is. One does not enjoy when one is constrained, impeded or burdened; when causes of constraints, impediments or burdens are absent, one can rejoice because of freedom. The conception of freedom which is the power of choice is associated with moral responsibility. Thus, in choosing to realize desires, one must pursue them voluntarily. The purpose gets defeated when one does involuntary acts. One is truly free if one deems moral responsibility in practicing one’s power of choice. Whatever desire one is moved into pursuing, one has the freedom to think and decide what makes this desire worth the achievement. It depends on one’s power of choice if the desire brings good or harm in such a manner that one’s decision will make one good or bad as a result of pursuing or abandoning one’s desire. One is free but the freedom must be performed in consideration of moral responsibility. One’s conscience dictates this, which is a reminder of God who laid down moral laws that define the human dignity of an obedient Christian.
In Chapter 7 entitled “I Am Because We Are,” the author asserts, “I only discover who I am with others.” A Christian must see oneself as being inseparable to other humans because all of them are children of God. Thus, one has the duty to perform for one another the sacrifice God Himself performed in order to save us from the hellish consequence of sinning. One must follow God be making a sacrifice for others. One responds to this Christ-likeness especially when one disposes one’s duty toward the less fortunate brethren within the community. One’s being with them makes one approach God because these underprivileged brethren are nearest to God because of their underdog state. When one reaches out to the poor, the needy, the sick, or the downtrodden, one becomes closer to God since the act is fair to this God of justice. As a Christian, one must fulfill the doctrines of God about loving one’s neighbors because by treating these unfortunate brethren fairly, one fulfills the equality among humans that God expected of everybody. One must live among them, meaning one needs to link together the circumstances one and other people live in. When one is more fortunate, one is in the position to help the less fortunate ones. Only when this is done does the Christian duty to love one’s neighbors get fulfilled.
Lastly, in the Conclusion, the author puts forth that “a certain focus has emerged…[w]e are called to be at home in ways that are apparently as far apart as one might imagine, in our bodies and in the Kingdom.” This is to say that the a Christian needs to believe and follow “the Way, the Truth and the Life” in order to pursue God’s perfection. It is hard to attain perfection, but one should be undaunted because to attempt to approach it is not bad at all in consideration of being a true Christian. It is significant to follow God since being moral or being for God has been required of Christians when God established the commandments. These laws are absolute truths that all humans can access. Due to this universality of the law and the fact that moral law is contextualized from the human condition, the moral law must be followed by all humans no matter what cultures they belong to. Directing one’s life toward God is living a Christian life toward God’s perfection.
The point of being a Christian is to be Christ-like in the very essence of that word. To be like Christ is becoming a true believer of God’s promise and applying this belief by living a life under the requirements of God, the Ten Commandments. Christ was able to obey this set of laws, He being the very author of these laws, so He is the perfect example that must be emulated. While humans are wholly fallible due to the original and the committed sins done each day (making humans imperfect hence unlike Christ), God the Father commissioned Christ to earth for our salvation. Since humans sin every so often, humans cannot achieve perfection any longer. However, this should not stop a Christian to try to approach Christ’ likeness. The Ten Commandments had been given to believers and a Christian only needs to obey these in pursuit of Christ-like perfection. The requisite of eternal life, belief in Christ as sole Savior, follows the obedience to His laws. This attempt at perfection is one point of being a Christian.
As Christ’s disciple, a Christian continues to be Christ-like by undergoing the training of a Christian life lived interactively with one’s brethren. How does one serve the Master? One must serve one’s brethren. In what manner? Whatever help one may extend to the brethren, one must deliver. The Master is one’s King, so the brethren must be treated especially. These do not go against God’s laws because in fact, they illustrate human action toward the attainment of God’s Ten Commandments. Consistently keeping God’s law makes one Christ-like because as one becomes an example to others, one needs to follow examples too. This Christian imitation is reliving Christ’s life on earth wherein He is king yet He served, He is Master yet Himself a follower, He is royal yet humble. Such a life may be too noble but a Christian can always try emulating it. One must struggle to seek Christ-like perfection beginning with the obedience to God’s laws, the major requirement to live a Christian life.
The concern of freedom should be taken away from being centered on one’s life alone and refocusing it on the life of the entire world. If freedom becomes more associated with others, one has encouraged oneself to get out of one’s comfort zone, mingling with others to check one another’s way of living so that they will evaluate whether the individual lives they live are healthy. If everybody just went on one’s way in a misguided notion that one can exist in isolation, the life of the entire world is doomed since there will be chaos soon enough, what with everyone doing one’s lot without care for or consideration of others whom one may already be violating whether consciously or unconsciously. It is easy to see freedom as being beyond the consideration of the will, breeding in a space where learns freedom with one’s interaction with others. Freedom in the action of man is being free to do such an action in that space, an action that makes man break new grounds. It is in this space that one is free to discuss, share and create one’s self. If one is encouraged into a groundbreaking action, man leaves his personal space and joins the world where oneself gets shaped by his interaction with other people. With the entire world participating in that public space interaction, the lives of people are not in danger of disintegrating due to the negative attitude of “to each his own.” Real freedom is always tied up with interaction.
The point of being a Christian includes dealing with one’s underprivileged brethren in such a manner that one’s life is transformed. With them, one should feel that there is no more reason to celebrate possessions because they themselves are one’s best treasures. One cannot fully enjoy one’s material privileges if in one’s midst, one’s brethren suffer injustices caused by social inequalities. One’s life is changed by sharing with them since something new emerges: a world where sharing is a reality as commanded by God for everybody to follow. Neglecting one’s duty to others is negating one’s experience with them since one is with them yet one does not flinch in the facev of the sufferings they endure. One’s encounter with the underprivileged is one’s special opportunity to approach God, so one must not let go of the chance because fulfilling a Christian duty is becoming Christ-like.
One’s choice to respond to one’s fellowmen as the point of being a Christian is always informed by the context that molded one to be the Christian that one is today. In this largely Catholic country, one is most probably raised with the Biblical doctrines as guidelines to live a Christian life. Not everybody becomes a saint but one should always try to be the very best for God, seeing that such a response is one’s way of orienting oneself to goodness, something perpetually related to God. The little things done for the glory of God is possible, so one is assured that even the tiniest deeds become enlarged in God’s eyes. The moral life one leads should be constant and essential to keeping the covenant with God—His laws—by abiding which the chosen action is a free choice to be good, to be for God and to be a Christian.