Christianity…is in a profound sense the end of all religion. In the Gospel story of the Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus made this clear. “‘Sir,’ the woman said to him, ‘I perceive that thou art a prophet. Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’ Jesus saith unto her, ‘Woman, believe me, the our cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father…. But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him’” (Jn. 4:19-21, 23). She asked him a question about cult [the outward practice of religion], and in reply Jesus changed the whole perspective of the matter. Nowhere in the New Testament, in fact, is Christianity presented as a cult [in its technical sense] or as a religion. Religion is needed where there is a wall of separation between God and man. But Christ who is both God and man has broken down the wall between man and God. He has inaugurated a new life, not a new religion.
Christianity often appears, however, to preach that if men will try hard enough to live Christian lives, the crucifixion can somehow be reversed. This is because Christianity has forgotten itself, forgotten that always it must first of all stand at the cross. Not that this world cannot be improved – one of our goals is certainly to work for peace, justice, freedom. But while it can be improved, it can never become the place God intended it to be. Christianity does not condemn the world. The world has condemned itself when on Calvary it condemned the One who was its true self. “He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not” (Jn. 1:10). If we think seriously about the real meaning, the real scope of these words, we know that as Christians and insofar as we are Christians, we are, first of all, witnesses of that end: end of all natural joy; end of all satisfaction of man with the world and with himself; end, indeed, of life itself as a reasonable and reasonably organized “pursuit of happiness.” Christians did not have to wait for the modern proponents of existentialist anxiety, despair and absurdity to be aware of all this. And although in the course of their long history Christians have much too often forgotten the meaning of the cross, and enjoyed life as if “nothing had happened,” although each one of us too often takes “time off” – we know that in the world in which Christ died, “natural life” has been brought to an end.
Fr. Alexander Schmemann in For the Life of the World.
I dare say that no voice has written as clearly or with greater insight on the subject of modern secularism than Fr. Alexander. The belief that the world has an existence and a meaning in and of itself and apart from God is the great heresy of the modern age. Its most insidious aspect is its claim to be simply the “natural” account of things – the true neutral ground where all philosophies, political voices and religions can meet. Modern Christianity has often accepted this invitation and argued only for a more visible seat at the table and a louder voice.
Fr. Alexander brings the cross to its proper perspective – there is no neutral ground, no natural world (apart from God) and the table that the world sets is an illusion. “Natural life has been brought to an end.”
The fiction of the “natural life” is, indeed, the truest expression of original sin. The story of man, as related in Scripture, is the story of a break in communion with God, the treatment of the world as an end in itself (“good for food”). We were created to be the priests of creation – offering all things in thanksgiving to God. Instead, we made the world our own servant to exploit for our own pleasure – and in the process lost true existence and joy. The cross of Christ, and His resurrection, restores all things to their proper place – thus bringing an end to the fiction of a “natural world.”
Articles that I have written using the image of a “one-storey universe,” seek to say nothing more and nothing less. Preaching the gospel in the modern world requires that the truth be repeated in every possible way, and most especially in a life lived in union with the true and living God.
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