Stanley Fish, in a recent New York Times column, tackles those he calls the “schoolyard atheists” who insist that religion is either irrelevant or harmful – and in either case, false. He does this in the context of a reflection on Terry Eagleton’s book, Reason, Faith and Revolution.
When Christopher Hitchens declares that given the emergence of “the telescope and the microscope” religion “no longer offers an explanation of anything important,” Eagleton replies, “But Christianity was never meant to be an explanation of anything in the first place. It’s rather like saying that thanks to the electric toaster we can forget about Chekhov.”
But if Christianity was never meant to explain anything, then what in the world is it for?
Its purpose is far more important than explaining the intricacies of the human body or how molecules and quarks behave. Nor is Christianity a set of rules or a list of doctrines.
David Fagerburg, of the University of Notre Dame, quotes Blessed Dom Marmion:
Columba Marmion highlighted the fact that Christianity is not a creed or institution or cultic activity or doctrine (although it includes all of these); he says Christianity is Christ’s life lived by us. “What in fact is a Christian? ‘Another Christ,’ all antiquity replies.” And what is the life the Christian lives? “A list of observances? In no wise. It is the life of Christ within us … it is the Divine life overflowing from the bosom of the Father into Christ Jesus and, through Him, into our soul.”
David Fagerburg, “A Theology of Liturgy,” Liturgical Ministry, Vol. 14 (Fall 2005)
“Christianity is Christ’s life lived by us.” Fagerburg goes on to say that the theological virtues – faith, hope, and love – “understood in this mystical sense, are supernatural participation in the life Christ lived.”
In that case, faith is not our belief in God, it is a share of Christ’s trust in the father; hope is not our optimism, is is Christ’s confidence in the Father made ours; love is not our affection for the deity, it is Christ’s filial intimacy with the Father spilled over to include us through the Holy Spirit.
How consoling this is! We hear Paul say:
…it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20)
Note that an alternate translation of this verse reads, “I live by the faith of the Son of God…”
Is our faith weak? We draw on the very faith and trust of Christ himself.
Does our hope falter? We live through the powerful hope of Jesus Christ who, in giving himself, relied totally on the promises of God.
Is our love inadequate to the task of life? Our own love is always inadequate to the Christian life which calls us to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, love our neighbor as ourselves, forgive those who sin against us, and love God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength.
But the love of God is always sufficient.