Of course, being born in 1971, I often question the depth and authenticity of the values and culture I adhered to and supposedly appreciated. Though my family identified as Christian, it’s safe to say that we were essentially semi-religious – perhaps even non-religious.
Yes, we were all baptized. And yes, I attended Catholic school, and we sometimes went to church – usually on Christmas Eve and Easter Sunday – but for all intents and purposes, religion did not play a huge role in our day-to-day living as long as that day-to-day living cohered with and conformed to some hazy concept of decency and accepted standards of morality and behavior.
The sort of Cultural Christianity in which I was raised placed cultural considerations well before Christian considerations. More precisely, culture served to make Christianity perceptible and relevant. Without it, Christianity became difficult to define, let alone observe. Strip the culture away from a Cultural Christian, and Christianity dissolves into the ether – becomes something out there, mythical, inaccessible – perhaps even pointless and inconsequential.
Most self-identifying Christians today qualify as Cultural Christians because they place culture above Christianity or regard the two as indistinguishable. The vast majority of Christian communications – whether an official church communique or informal blog post – attests to this. The obsessive focus on culture is ubiquitous, as is the all-consuming motivation to re-establish some semblance of Christian culture adhering to decency and accepted standards of morality and behavior.
I am not opposed to that kind of Christian culture; however, I do question the “all-consuming-ness” behind the motivation to re-establish it, especially now when what remains of Christian culture are but vestiges and what masquerades as Christian culture is all but thoroughly corrupted. Like Japanese soldiers stranded and forgotten on small Pacific Islands long after the Second World War had ended, Christians carrying on about fighting the cultural war appear oblivious to the reality that the war is over and that they have been quite soundly defeated.
Most equate such a blunt assessment to a declaration of despair, but I don’t believe they should. On the contrary, I believe Christianity’s greatest hope resides in its cultural defeat because it allows Christians to step back, reassess, and put first things first.
In this particular case, putting first things first involves the understanding that Christian culture is not and never was Christianity but a symbol of Christianity. Christian culture is not and never was Christian spirit but a symbol of Christian spirit.
Christian spirit creates Christian culture, but Christian culture does not create Christian spirit.
Christian culture is the congealment, solidification, and objectification of Christian spirit. As such, it cannot contain spirit. At most, it can echo, reflect, or indicate spirit but can never be spirit itself.
This does not mean that Christian culture is insignificant, useless, or inferior – it only means that it is of secondary importance to what gave rise to it and what it points to. Unfortunately, over the millennia, Christians fell into a deeply-ingrained mode of existence that tended to place Christian culture above Christian spirit.
As with any cult, Christianity fell into the trap of venerating from below rather than choosing to participate from above.
It would be safe to assume that Christian culture has failed, but this failure cannot and must not be interpreted as the failure of Christian spirit.
Christian culture is contingent upon Christian spirit, but Christian spirit is not, has never been, and must never be contingent upon Christian culture.
Present-day circumstances offer Christians a remarkable opportunity to put first things first by personally and directly focusing on spirit rather than obsessing about culture.
Christianity should not dissolve into the ether as its culture fades. On the contrary, it should emerge from the ether as new creativity -- as a new and unknown movement of the spirit.