Greetings to my believing, doubting, atheistic, agnostic and everyone-in-between, fellow travelers!
I recently read a good book entitled ‘Seculosity’ by David Zahl. His thesis is this: As the western world loses its Christian and Judaic memory, religious impulses do not dissipate. They are simply redirected. Salvation (what Zahl calls ‘self legitimzation,' or 'self-justification’ or even better,
‘enough-ness’) is sought via other means. Means that are more horizontal than vertical in nature.
Means, such as...
Busyness (‘I’m busy, therefore I am’)
Parenting (‘My kid attends Harvard, therefore I am’)
Romance, (‘I am loved by you, therefore I am’)
Technology (‘I get ‘likes’ on Twitter, therefore I am’)
Food (‘I eat organic, therefore I am’)
Politics/Causes (‘I’m woke and/or patriotic, therefore I am’)
Leisure (‘I vacation in Aruba, therefore I am’)
Having said that, I thought the author could have taken it one step further. Behind these many means is a common thread. ‘Enough-ness’ (justification/salvation/legitimization) is achieved NOT by checking the various 'enough-ist’ boxes but (and this is critical) by checking MORE
enough-ist boxes than others. (i.e. neighbors, peers, fellow parish members, etc.) Salvation is excellent, in that is requires one to 'excel' relative to others. Rank is everything.
For that reason, one’s virtues, one’s enough-ness, must be displayed in order to better one’s rank. Virtues must be broadcast via bumper stickers, shirt stickers, fluorescent wrist bands, lapel pins, Twitter posts, social media followers/friends, homilies and yes, even reflections like this one.
In short, virtues must be signaled in order to save.
To cite just a couple of off hand examples: At the YMCA I visit, there are pics of members holding signs that inform passers by what specific causes they have identified with. (i.e. ‘Hi, I’m Greg and I am against the speciesist commercialized exploitation of Punxsutawney Phil.’)
While visiting someone just this morning at Dunkin' Donuts, I noted that that those customers who were willing to add $1 to their bill in support of pediatric cancer research were given a shirt sticker to signal their donation to this (very noble) cause. Virtues are not virtues until they’re advertised.
It’s worth noting that those who were good virtue signaling were pretty unhappy with Jesus. He didn't have much of a stomach for it....told a couple of parables about it. By contrast, Jesus advocated ‘virtue-doing,’ telling his people to be virtuous, but not to advertise it.
I often wonder, 'What might make Christfollowers distinctive as they grow increasingly odd within (and at-odds with), a post-Christian western world? Perhaps this is but one: In a world obsessed with signaling virtue, perhaps they will be the ones who will quietly go about doing virtue without fanfare and, in the process, enacting (however badly) an everlasting kingdom amidst the fleeting kingdoms of this, and every, age.
Mark your Calendars: Men2Serve next gathers on Oct 13th!
Our next Men2Serve is scheduled for October 13th (9:30- whenever you need to leave, but no later than 12 noon) We will be cleaning up at Ann's Heart and Phoenixville Area Children's Learning Center. Come join us and put your faith and/or humanitarian concern to work!