Christian naïveté

Rod Dreher on the problem of Christian naïveté:

I said in my Benedict Option talk yesterday that we small-o orthodox Christians could take a lesson from Dante, and allow our exile from the mainstream—both chosen and unchosen—to humble us…

Anyway, I heard someone here say in conversation that a period of persecution might be good for Christians because we have grown too comfortable. It’s a position that I sometimes think is true, and in any case we are obliged to join our sufferings to Christ’s and try to be strengthened by our trials. Nevertheless, it is also true — and probably more important to think about — that it’s awfully glib to assume that persecution always makes the church stronger. As another person pointed out in that same conversation, the church in Japan never recovered from its persecution. There are other examples.

Optimistic Christians love to quote that line from Tertullian, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church,” but that’s mighty easy to do when it’s not your children’s blood at risk of being spilled. And it’s easy to do when you can’t imagine losing your family business or job over your faith, or imagine what it’s like to live in fear that somebody in the workplace is going to ask you a question, and you answer it honestly instead of lying, and you will be branded a bigot forever. And so forth.

The Christian faith is an affirming faith in one central way: it affirms our innate, natural desire for God, saying “Yes, this desire for relationship with God is good. Nurture this relationship.” And as in any resilient relationship, it requires both constant work and sacrifice.

It also requires an acknowledgement that many of our other natural desires are rooted in our fallen nature. On the whole, Christianity turns out to be affirming only in relation to God and actions ordered toward the good of that relationship.

What Dreher is pointing out is that sometimes you lose. Sometimes relationships break. American Catholics have for most of the late 20th century largely fit in with mainstream American culture. Their relationship with God and the Church is now causing them to have to stand apart from the larger culture in order to provide witness to it.

So the question isn’t whether persecution or sacrificial suffering can be good for Christian faith and relationship (it can), but whether those being persecuted have an Aikido-style plan to turn the force of their aggressors against them.

Our Lady of Victory works through broken people, but the broken still need to think about both the stakes and a plan.