Lesson 5: The New Age

broken communicationSeveral times a day, friends lament that they are unable to talk about important issues with people who hold opposing views. Today, one reported that Thanksgiving was awful, because family members got angry discussing politics. Another said bridge club has become uncomfortable, because you have to avoid so many topics that have become divisive. In this context, Vatican II’s call for dialogue challenges Christians, especially since  the people with whom we cannot communicate very openly are also churchgoers.

We obviously need a new Christian narrative that speaks God’s Word to this new age in which we find ourselves. Vatican II described it as a “socialization” that it defined as an “evolution towards unity.” The terminology alone alerts us that things are changing. Words like “socialization” and “evolution” bring up echoes of subjects that were labeled anathemas in past church documents.

The terms also point to the courage needed to deal with the present situation creatively. We are clearly experiencing a violent reaction against the real issues of living in a global society in which all parts are mutually dependent on each other. All the New World Order conspiracy theories have reemerged inciting fear and divisions.

Political movements around the world frantically deny this socialization that calls for unity. The denial proclaims self-interest is the creative attitude that insures future security and wealth. It champions a kind of tribalism that attempts to overpower anything that opposes its value system. Here in the US, we see it in the dismantling of regulatory agencies, the gutting of the state department, the negating of international treaties, and other actions of xenophobia. The mantra is usually “my nation, right or wrong.” The rationalizing always involves scapegoating, usually focusing on race.

Sadly, one Christian narrative has supported this fearful denial. A fundamentalist hallmark has been demonizing some supposed New World Order in which the antichrist establishes a demonic religion. The narrative thrives not on proclaiming the gospel that overcomes fear of others, but rather on preaching a political message that blames Jewish bankers and socialists for all our problems.

In this context, the narrative Vatican II begins to write recognizes the whole human family as God’s children. It acknowledges that the real challenge is the pluralism evident in the present global society. We must find new ways to live in a world with many cultures and many religions besides our own.

At times, Vatican II seems simply to call for becoming a truly catholic church rather than an Italian or European community dealing with parochial issues. Sometimes it speaks as if the Church must accept the role of being one voice among others working toward the common good of all people. And at other times, it sounds as if the Church should help create a new international culture.

A new narrative could serve all of these. Right now there is nothing deserving the name of global culture out there. Instead technology that simply enables individuals and peoples to get what they want but is incapable of providing meaning and purpose reigns.  And again sadly, technology only accommodates economic values whose function is to make a profit for me and mine.

I think Nostra Aetate, the Vatican II Declaration on the Relation of the Church with Non-Christian Religions, provides an outline for the new narrative. At least, it asks the right questions.

In our time, when day by day mankind is being drawn closer together, and the ties between different peoples are becoming stronger, the Church examines more closely her relationship to non-Christian religions. In her task of promoting unity and love among men, indeed among nations, she considers above all in this declaration what men have in common and what draws them to fellowship. One is the community of all peoples, one their origin, for God made the whole human race to live over the face of the earth.(1) One also is their final goal, God. His providence, His manifestations of goodness, His saving design extend to all men,(2) until that time when the elect will be united in the Holy City, the city ablaze with the glory of God, where the nations will walk in His light.(3)

Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what is sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?

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