(This is at least a three or four-parter. Hang with me on this for a few days.)
Stanley Hauerwas says the moral life is as much a matter of vision as a matter of doing. One acts in the world according to how one sees the world. Our actions are informed by our attitudes, our values, and our dispositions. Those things are shaped and formed first and those, in turn, determine what we do and say in given situations. But it’s our vision, our way of looking at the reality around us, which initially informs our character.
So if the Church is charged, in large part, with shaping Christians and preparing them to lead a moral life in the struggles against the things that separate us from God, how are we doing? Are we concentrating on building Godly values and attitudes, which lead to proper conduct, by presenting the proper vision?
I’m afraid my experience tells me that the Church wants to do what is right and good, but it’s not as informed or motivated by a radical big-picture view of reality as it is by making sure things are done “decently and in order” and in accordance with the recognized norms of society. In the 1960s, Will Herberg wrote and lectured about the disconnect between what we do and what we confess. He suggested that, unfortunately, one doesn’t necessarily influence the other.
According to Herberg, our religion is so thoroughly secularist that “the familiar distinction between religion and secularism appears to be losing much of its meaning.” We all uphold and cherish certain basic values and organize our moral activities based on those common assumptions. Pagan and Christian alike, believer and non-believer, adhere to similar moral standards, not based on the Father and Son, but on what our culture deems acceptable.
James Davidson Hunter says:
Vast numbers of Christians today live in real cognitive dissonance respecting their claims to being religious and the conduct of their lives. They retain a vague notion of religious identity but their lives are distinctly secular, with the experience of God in worship and prayer not figuring very prominently in all that they do. Increasingly these nominal Christians embrace the heady hedonism and narcissism of popular culture and do not see that this contradicts biblical faith. Middle-class suburbia is teeming with such persons.
Where has the Church failed? What can we do better?
If true vision fosters and leads to and results in right conduct, maybe we need to evaluate the vision. Or the presentation of the vision.
What can we do better?