CHAPTER SEVENTEEN: Radical Notions
My worldview is formed by two radical notions. The first applies to how I believe the world came into existence, and the second to my understanding of how humanity is to be governed on Earth. Together, they provide me with the azimuth along which I move on the compromised adventure toward my ultimate objective.
As to my belief about how the world came into existence, I am a Christian, a mere Christian as C.S. Lewis put it. In my view, the fact that I am Christian requires no modifier, such as “born-again Christian” or “progressive Christian”. I am merely a follower of Christ, full-stop. A Christian, and nothing else.
As a mere follower of Christ, it is not necessary that I be in full agreement with other Christians upon each of the many tenets that form the basis of our shared faith. Most of those things are non-essentials in which we are free to hold inconsistent (or even diametrical) views if we have unity in the essentials—which for me are only three. First, that a man place nothing before God. Second, that he treats his neighbor as he himself would be treated. And third, that he believes the tomb to have been empty when the rock was rolled away on Easter morning. That’s it: supremacy of God, love for one’s neighbor and the resurrection. These are the essentials of faith in which there must be unity.
I didn’t create these essentials for myself. The first two I derived directly from scripture. When asked by the Pharisees what the most important commandment was, Jesus told them to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind—this is the first and greatest commandment—and the second is to love your neighbor as yourself. Everything else, he said, hung upon those two commandments. (Matthew 22:36-40).
As to the resurrection, the third essential, that I received from my friend and mentor Bill Grier, the man who started me off on my path of following Christ and helped me reclaim my manhood. Neophyte in faith that I was, I found myself struggling with the miraculous complexity of the Bible. Like Nicodemus, I was scratching my head and asking things like, how could a man once born of a woman be born again?
“Dave,” Bill asked me, “do you believe that the tomb was empty when Mary Magdalene arrived there on Sunday morning—that Jesus had risen?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I have come to believe that.”
“Good, because if you have been blessed with that core belief, the rest is easy,” Bill told me. “If God managed to raise Jesus from the grave, then changing water into wine and parting the Red Sea, or anything else in the Bible you’re stuck on, would be small change for Him. It all starts with the empty tomb. Christians can agree to disagree on almost everything else, but not on the empty tomb. About that we have to be of one mind.”
I realized that Bill was right. All that really mattered was the empty tomb. Together with divine supremacy and the golden rule, that was an essential in which there must be unity. The rest was just adiaphora, matters that are permissible for a Christian but not essential to his faith. On the adiaphora, there is no need for unity.
As I said in Chapter Eleven, unity is a state of full agreement, whereas to be united is to have joined together for common purpose. If we have unity on the faith essentials, we can be united in our common purpose of following Christ if we provide each other with the liberty to disagree upon the adiaphora and exercise charity in all things. This is the essence of the Augustinian Code practiced by the Andist.
Under that code, it doesn’t matter if you belong to the Catholic Church or call yourself a Presbyterian. These are just denominations that provide identity and a common religious tradition under which people can conveniently associate.
One denomination may have a particular practice, like the celibacy of the Catholic priesthood, that is not shared by another denomination, but that is no reason to be disunited from the men that embrace it. While I am personally dubious about the practice of priestly celibacy—in fact, you could say that I have a viewpoint bias against it—that bias does not lead me to be prejudiced against my Catholic brothers. Priestly celibacy is adiaphora, a non-essential that is permissible for Catholics but not required for Presbyterians. Thus, it is not something about which we must be in full agreement for us to remain united as Christ followers.
Moreover, I recognize that my currently held bias against priestly celibacy may well change when I reach a particular waypoint along the course of my compromised adventure. A Minivan Centurion is a man who has strong beliefs that are loosely held, so I am open to having my mind changed about the adiaphora of my belief system.
As to the second prong of my worldview, my understanding of how humanity is to be governed on Earth, I am a Liberal. As with Christianity, there is a modernist tendency to graft modifiers upon this view of governance, like “classical Liberal” or “neo-Liberal”, but I do not see that as necessary as there are very few essentials to my Liberalism—so few in fact, that they are fully contained in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Like the founding fathers, I believe that there are specific and definitive truths that are irrefutable and always have been, because nothing changes under the sun. These truths are self-evident because the Creator has hard-wired them into our human hearts, allowing us to innately understand them without explanation.
From these irrefutable truths arise the unalienable rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness that cannot be abrogated by any worldly governance. Because they are endowed upon us by the Creator, no human authority can seize them without our consent, for any reason. This is a matter both of fundamental fairness and logic, as no man take what has been given through divine providence.
These unalienable rights are the few essentials of human governance upon which we must have full agreement. It doesn’t matter if a man is a Democrat or Republican, as political parties are only vehicles of convenient association that serve the same purpose as religious denominations. Nor must we have full agreement on the multitude of laws, regulations, and policy prescriptions that governments ceaselessly promulgate, as the great majority are merely the adiaphora of secular governance. If we have unity upon the unalienable rights, we can enjoy liberty in the non-essentials and remain fruitfully and peacefully united as one nation under God.
Underpinning each of our unalienable rights is the unequivocal and self-evident truth that all men are created equal. Regardless of our individual and immutable characteristics, each of us is uniformly valued by the supreme being who formed us from mud for His purpose. He loves us all the same, regardless of our skin color or whether we had three lines or three dots on the sonogram. This essential belief forms the “empty tomb” of the Liberal worldview. Like the resurrection, it is the core conviction upon which everything else hangs and a notion so radical that it changed the course of history.
In 1776, the entire world was, and always had been, ruled by kings and governed by a hierarchical class system under which status, wealth and power were transmitted by birth rather than gained through individual initiative and achievement. Even the nominally democratic states of ancient Greece and the Roman Republic had hereditary classes that ruled over the proletariat.
Under a hierarchal system, a man was either born into the ruling class or he was a member of the underclass, meaning that all men were most certainly not created equal. The highborn were raised from birth to view the peasants, serfs, and commoners of the underclass as their servants—lesser men whose lives, liberty and pursuit of happiness existed (if at all) at the whim of the king, the chief tyrant who sat upon the apex of the ruling hierarchy.
For the founding fathers to have declared themselves independent from their specific ruling hierarchy was not particularly novel. Uprisings against tyranny by the oppressed have always been a staple of human history. Usually they fail, and even where they succeed the formerly oppressed usually take power and become the new tyrant, initiating a repetition of the cycle. As the song goes: meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
But our founders broke that mold. Instead of merely revolting against their tyrant, they boldly declared an end to the entire system of institutional tyranny that had dominated the world throughout recorded history by the simple and radical notion that all men were created equal under the eyes of God and thus endowed with innate rights that existed beyond the reach of any worldly sovereign.
That would have been just as radical a notion to the King of England 1776 as the resurrection was to the Roman Emperor in 0033. As powerful as both men were in their time, neither tyrant managed to stamp them out because they were so indelibly written upon the hearts of the men over whom they ruled that they would rather die than surrender them.
And now those two Radical Notions form the bedrock of my personal credo and worldview—upon them hangs everything else in which I believe as a Christian and a Liberal. The promises of the empty tomb and equality of man provide the guiding azimuth on my journey toward the ultimate objective that the Lord has set out for me. Together, they are my true north.
All else I loosely hold, but these I shall never compromise. I would rather die than surrender.