Sunday, 10 May 2009

Chapters 2 & 3

Having already written about hope in the previous chapter Timothy Radcliffe now writes about Freedom and Happiness as by products of faith. "We should have a freedom and happiness that would make no sense if God does not exist".

Chapter 2 - Freedom
One of the things which I think many people misunderstand is that faith is about freedom. It can sometimes appear to be about rules and regulations controlling all aspects of our lives, stopping us doing the things we want to do, which doesn't seem very free! However, over the years I have come to see the various rules and regulations not as rules and regulations, but as guidance on how to live a fulfilling life. When we say to a child do not put your finger in the socket or you will get electrocuted we aren't threatening to electrocute them for doing it - we are warning them that doing it has dire effects. In the same way what appear to be rules and regulations with penalties attached I now see as similar warnings - for example forgiveness is good because the impact of not forgiving is felt most keenly by the person who is not forgiving.

Timothy Radcliffe tells a story about Wojciech Giertych : "He went to the blackboard and drew a small square in a corner. 'In that square are the commandments. Is that what morality is about?' And everyone cried 'Of course.' 'No,' he said, 'God is not much interested in commandments.' Then he drew a square which covered all the rest of the board and he said, 'That is freedom. That is what interests God. Your task is to teach your children to be free. That is the teaching of the Gospels, and of St Thomas Aquinas.'

In the same way that what appear to be rules and regulations are actually advice on how to remove pressures from ourselves, so too faith can give us the ability to free ourselves from the fear of living. Many of us live our lives worried about what others will think of us, rather than what we want. But this doesn't just apply to individuals - it can also apply to churches. If we are to preach freedom we too need to be free.

Timothy Radcliffe again: "One day a mother brought her child to see Mahatma Gandhi. She was worried that her child was deeply addicted to sweets and asked the wise man to persuade her to learn moderation. Gandhi asked the mother to take the child away and to return in three weeks, which she did. Gandhi then talked to the child and persuaded her to cut down. At the end the mother asked him, 'But why, Gandhiji did you not say this to the girl three weeks ago'. He replied, 'Because three weeks ago I too was addicted to sweets.'"

But unfortunately there are churches which are not only not free - but will insist on persecuting those who have escaped to freedom. "The church must stand beside people who suffer victimization of any kind. Even more, the Church must recognize who are the people whom she victimizes. Like St Paul on the road to Damascus, we must open our ears to the Lord who says to us too, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'"

"But the Church will only be a cradle of gospel freedom if we are seen to stand beside people, support­ing them as they make moral decisions within the range of what is possible, rather than making decisions for them.
People will not be drawn to the Church if moral teaching is seen as just telling people what they must do."

Chapter 3 - Happiness
Happiness is perhaps a strange by product to suggest for Christianity, and there are certainly many who would disagree: "Hilary Armstrong, Labour Chief Whip and a convinced Christian, asserts that 'we weren't put on earth to enjoy ourselves'", and "H. L. Mencken, the American newspaper editor, defined Puritanism as 'the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy'". However, Radcliffe suggests that "Christianity is the good news that God created us for happiness, and ultimately for the happiness that is God being God. But we cannot be convincing witnesses to this if Christians are seen as miserable and inhibited."

Perhaps this suspicion of happiness comes from our Britishness! Radcliffe quotes Herbert McCabe OP: "we express our joy in bodily signs, by dancing, singing, or laughing. We shout for joy, or hug each other, or turn cart-wheels. Just how we express our happiness will of course depend on what country we live in and the local customs and traditions. In parts of Africa you would express it in highly sophisticated and formalized dance. In parts of the British suburbia, I believe they manage it with a slight twitch of the upper lip."

And yet the kind of happiness that is being discussed is not the kind which is fulfilled in the worldly ways that so many people grasp after. It is a happiness of being, and being known by God. "The Church has nothing to say about morality until our listeners have glimpsed God's delight in their existence".

At the end of the chapter Radcliffe describes how he sees this happiness: "So Christian joy is not a determined jollity, a resolution to look on the bright side. It is not optimisitically insisting that he glass is half full rather than half empty, or any of the other empty platitudes with which we may try to shield ourselves from dread and hollowness. It is an Easter joy, which means that we can only fully enter it by passing through suffering, death and resurrection."

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