Did you hear about the new show on prime time TV? It’s called “Ultimate Justice”. It is a reality show that takes the very refuse of our society and executes them right on the air in real time! Last night, they had a traitor who sold the US out to the Chinese. After the facts were explained, they allowed everyone to vote by the internet as to whether he should be fed to starving alligators. The results were that he should face UJ, Ultimate Justice, and right there in front of a national audience, he was torn apart and eaten by gigantic alligators who had a feast! The show got the highest ratings of the year. Next week it will feature a couple of murderers!
This is of course (and thank God!) a fantasy and gratefully a false fantasy. There would be howls of protest; and the producers and writers of these shows would be condemned both by right-wing evangelicals and the ACLU!
Before Christianity took root, the Roman Empire was a place of great cruelty. People flocked to see gladiators cut to pieces before they died; Christians being eaten alive by wild animals, etc. This was not odd for them. This was like the NFL to them, filling stadium after stadium with the desire to see human beings kill and be killed.
My initial reverie about the alligators was just to show the contrast with today. You would never see it happening because our country and the whole Western world have accepted the Judeo-Christian moral system that had developed over the centuries. What we call “Secularism” is really a descendant of a Christian world view. Even Communism in the West is affected by these Christian principles regarding the dignity of every human life. It, however, does not conform with that dignity in that it takes away human freedom.
This goes for even what we see on television. Embedded even in the silliest shows are assumptions about how things should be. Many comedies are funny because they are contrasting with many accepted social norms and understandings.
On a larger scale, our own separation of Church and State is, historically, very new and contrasts with older views that tend to mix the two. Because Christianity developed in an urban world of many nationalities and religions living side be side (like our own!), it saw in the statement of Christ to the Pharisees, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”, a way to preserve Christian freedom while living in a polyglot and diverse world. The very word ‘secular’ comes from the word for century: saeculum (i.e. our age). It is the world in which we live and the world in which we must be members of Christ’s body, the Church. During the time of the Roman Empire, that context of the saeculum was brutal and pagan. Today, it is imbued with Christian principles, but not yet firmly and consciously Christian.
The worldwide expansion of the West and its latent values is part of this pre-evangelization. When you see the President of China dressed in a western suit and tie, it is but an instance of this sweeping change that has happened over the centuries. The two main economic systems of Capitalism and Communism came out of the Western understanding of things that had expanded into economic systems. Karl Marx and Adam Smith were both formed by this Christian Secularism that now has expanded world-wide.
This has sparked a counter-reaction in some religious systems that have seen the slow erosion of their cultural and religious systems. The Ayatollah Khomeini, when he took over Iran, called America ‘The Great Satan’. This was not just about our different religious beliefs; it was the assault on the Islamic world view of the world of commercialism and hedonism which rightly or wrongly thrived on the freedom that St. Paul describes that the Good News initiates.
This implicit Christian context is, for the most part, unrecognized, but nonetheless real. It is like those who celebrate Christmas without asking the true reason behind the lights, the tree and the carols!
Perhaps the Lord will leave it to go unrecognized as it subtly enters other world systems, transforming them from the inside, going as it were from the implicit to the explicit. What the macro event will be that will initiate this transformation is hidden from us, but will be as surprising and moving as the caterpillar and the butterfly.
We have only to wait and have hope that God is working even in what seems far from the ways of Faith.