I am taking a brief look at the moment at the Didache. It's a pastoral resource/manual for the early Church probably written toards the end of the first century or the beginning of the second century CE (or AD). It offers some interesting guidance on how to live the Christian life and is subtitled - The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles. Despite that grand title, it isn't accepted as part of the New Testament but is seen as one of those non-canonical books which we can study as part of our reflection upon the Christian way of life but not actually authorised by the Councils of the Church.
Anyway, today I was reading Didache 5 and it just struck me how much it echoed some of our contemporary issues. Here is the financial crisis, the abortion dilemma, celebrity culture and grasping after excess; here is Etonian arrogance and mob violence; here is mafia and fornication:
As I read it, I was reminded of an essay by Robert W Jenson [which I can't find a link to sadly, but may be the ideas are followed through in this book although it will be in essays by other people] in which he explores Pope John Paul II's description of contemporary Western society as 'a culture of death' in Evangelium Vitae. JPII was, of course, carrying on from the Second Vatican Council which had this to say about the way in which contemporary society could deny life:
5.1 But this how we characterise the way of death: first of all, it is evil and accursed. It is known by acts of murder, adultery, lust, sexual deviation, theft, idolatry, magic, sorcery, robbery, false witness, hypocrisy, duplicity, deceit, arrogance, wickedness, stubbornness, greed, obscene talk, jealousy, arrogance, pride, pretension. 5.2 [The way of death is full of] persecutors of the good; those who hate the truth; who love falsehood; who do not recognise the reward of justice; who do not adhere to good and proper discernment; who are not on the look out for the good but for the wicked; people who live a long way from gentleness and patience; who love vanity and chase its rewards; who show no pity for the poor; who do not press themselves to help the oppressed; who do not recognise the one who made them; murderers of children; destroyers of the image of God; people who turn from the need; who tred on the downtrodden; advocates of the rich; lawless critics of the poor; utterly sinful. Children, may you be delivered from all these things.
Whatever is opposed to life itself, such as any type of murder, genocide, abortion, euthanasia, or wilful self-destruction, whatever violates the integrity of the human person, such as mutilation, torments inflicted on body or mind, attempts to coerce the will itself; whatever insults human dignity, such as subhuman living conditions, arbitrary imprisonment, deportation, slavery, prostitution, the selling of women and children; as well as disgraceful working conditions, where people are treated as mere instruments of gain rather than as free and responsible persons; all these things and others like them are infamies indeed. They poison human society, and they do more harm to those who practise them than to those who suffer from the injury. Moreover, they are a supreme dishonour to the Creator.
I remember thinking that Jenson was pretty much on the ball with his argument about the culture of death. Self-destruction is the name of the game and may well be part of society's fascination with vampires and horror and excess. It may lie behind such things as the right for self-determination and assisted suicide. We want to die and God help anyone who gets in our way. We're free to live the life that we want wherever this leads us to - preferably to self-destruction.
Jenson argues that too many of us in the Church have succumbed to this culture:
What ails Christians in this nation and this time, and ails also those who fancy themselves and indeed are called to be leaders of the faithful, is the infiltration of nihilism, the infiltration of that mere nothingness which sin, death, and the devil have in common, and which emerges in its own nonentity in an ex-Christian culture.
Nihilism in one enemy we cannot co-opt. Nothingness is just that, a black hole of being, and like an astronomical black hole sucks in everything that approaches it. Accommodation to the empty thud of late-modern pop music, to the short attention span of th baby boomers, to decadent Americanism's horror of distinctions and decisions, will only further damage the souls of those the church pursues by such accommodation. Pastors and church leaders in our time must be wary indeed, lest we turn out to be nihilism's agents.
(Robert W Jenson, Introduction to Sin, Death and the Devil, pp.5-6)
Needless to say, Jenson and the Didache make it absolutely clear that Christianity stands apart from this Way of/to Death. Both argue for Christianity as a radically life-affirming theology/philosophy/worldview. How do we move our own ways of working and living away from the cultural norms for self-destruction through to a life of renewal, thriving and growth which reflects the Christian Way to Life?
An epiphanic quote to finish:
"In the beginning was the Word...In him was life, and the life was the light of [humanity]. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it." What, then, is 'the culture of death'? The culture of death is the darkness. It is the darkness that has not, and will not, overcome the light. That is the Gospel of life, and the Gospel of life is the Gospel. The Gospel of life is the kerygma and didache of the Lord of life. In the words of Evangelium Vitae, "Jesus is the only Gospel: We have nothing further to say not any other witness to bear."
(Richard Neuhaus, 'The Gospel of Life is the Gospel' in Sin, Death and the Devil, p.117)