The contempt of the world

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That Dobbs Decision brings out clearly the antagonism between the church and the world.

Thomas à Kempis, author of the 15th-century classic The imitation of ChristHe wrote that for the Christian it is “sweet to despise the world and serve God.” Abortion activists have made it clear that the hate goes both ways.

Prior to and immediately after the decision of the court in Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health, abortion activists have defaced Catholic churches across the country. Rioters have stolen tabernacles and beheaded statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Pro-abortion advocates vandalized a Virginia church, leaving what appears to be fire accelerant in a nearby mulch bed. St. Colman’s Catholic Church in Shady Spring, West Virginia was burned down in what appeared to be an arson attack.

I am not suggesting that Catholics are “persecuted”; American Christians have an exaggerated sense of victimhood, and their persecution as it is pales in comparison to that of Christians in the Islamic world or Christians in the early centuries of the Church. But I think that the reaction to the Dobbs decision and the feeling of both its supporters and opponents that Christianity is at the heart of the abortion debate points to the unbridgeable gulf between Christianity and the world that persists despite efforts by progressive Christians to capitulate to the zeitgeist.

There is an old idea within the Catholic intellectual tradition called contempt mundi– world contempt. It signifies the believer’s obligation to reject the temporal world for higher things. Scripture makes it clear that the “contempt” comes from the other direction as well. Christ warns the disciples that “the world” might hate them as they hated him. The Pauline epistles are full of warnings about the dangers and wickedness of “the world.” Also, Christ’s call to be “in the world” but not “of the world” presupposes an antagonism between the temporal world and authentic Christian faith.

Some Christians reject the notion that this antagonism persists in liberal modernity. Basically, they think the modern world is good and commendable. They insist that if there is tension between the church and modernity, it is the church that needs to change.

This view dominates parts of organized Christianity. You can hardly drive past a major Protestant church in the United States without seeing a gay pride flag. Even the Catholic Church, notoriously antipathetic to the world and its princes, softened its stance significantly after Vatican II. Like the Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano wrote in 1974, the modern church strives to find “points of convergence between the thinking of the church and the mentality characteristic of our time” and, in the words of Pope John XXIII, to administer “the medicine of mercy rather than severity”.

But the Catholic Church, meek as its prelates may be, has never wavered on the institutional level on the issue of abortion. And since abortion is the central sacrament of liberal modernity – since it represents the individual’s complete freedom from unchosen obligations – the Church finds itself the natural and inevitable object of the world’s hatred. This antipathy between the Church and the world has endured for generations because, as the Swiss-Italian theologian Romano Amerio observed, the Church insists on the virtues most deficient in each epoch:

One may therefore conclude as a general rule that while Catholicism’s antagonism to the world is unchanging, the forms of antagonism change as the state of the world requires a change in that opposition, which explains and on certain points of faith or on certain points of history must be maintained circumstances. Thus the Church glorifies poverty when the world (and the Church herself) worships riches, mortification of the flesh when the world follows the temptations of the three desires, reason when the world turns to illogicality and sentimentality, faith , when the world of the pride of knowledge.

Amerio points to the thirteenth century when the Church confronted “violence and greed” with the “spirit of gentleness and poverty in the great Franciscan movement” and to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries when the Church faced the crisis of modernism responded by “condemning the principle of the independence of reason.” For this reason, the Church is now accused of being “obsessed” with sexuality; The world insists that the Church’s doctrine is wrong, and the Church insists with equal force that it is right.

Just as churches are being defaced in response to the court’s verdict in Dobbsis not the right answer, as some progressive Christians have, to insist that the overthrow of roe is a “bastardization” of Christianity that Jesus Christ would have approved of abortion and that the church must change to meet the demands of the time. Nor is it the right answer to the whining and whining on social media about the “persecution” of Christians. The correct answer is the one Kempis identified in the Apostles: “They conducted their conversations in this world blamelessly, so humble and meek, without any malice or deceit, that they even rejoiced in being rebuked for Your name’s sake and what for.” hates things in the world, they embraced with great joy.”

Instead of complaining on TV or conforming to the zeitgeist, Christians should consider that if the world doesn’t hate us, we may be doing it wrong.





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