The Communion of Saints
Otto Scott has wisely observed that, to understand the United States, we must recognize that it is a nation of “minority” groups; it has no majority groups, unless we divide it into “whites” and “blacks.” Such a division assumes a unity and harmony in such groups which is nonsense. Northern Ireland is almost all “white,” but that does not make for unity! Is the United States a WASP — white Anglo-Saxon Protestant — country, as some have insisted? Those of English descent number only 14 per- cent of the population, and the next most numerous group of Americans are Germans, 13 percent; Germans may be equal to or surpass the English, since many have Anglicized their names, i.e., Mueller into Miller, Schmidt into Smith, and so on. Moreover, these groups are not united in action, outlook, faith, or politics. Germans number many Catholics, and also many Lutherans, in their midst. The Irish are, in the United States, more Presbyterian than Catholic, and so on.
In the United States, all are members of one or more minority groups, but, in law and the media, the myth of a persecuting majority exists.
A Welshman, John Morgan, after a few years stay, wittily and wisely noted a common fact about Americans. From the first Englishmen, to at least the Vietnamese, each new group believed this was a great country, until the next group of immigrants arrived to “spoil” America!
In the 1920s and 1930s, ethnic jokes were common on radio and usu- ally enjoyed by the ethnic group in question. In the 1930s, my family was in our home town, a Swedish farm town, when a new comedian gained popularity with his ethnic humor and simulated accent, “Ole Olson.” He was the endless delight of the Swedish community. In those days, ethnic humor, if not malicious, was relished. Jewish friends had an endless stock of Jewish jokes; Scots loved Scottish jokes, and so on. The difference between affectionate and malicious humor has been lost. Humor today is too often an ugly put-down.
But “racism” and “prejudice” are today the major sins in the eyes of many people. At the least, this is humanism and a theological error.
On April 3, 1987, The Wall Street Journal had a front-page story on campus “racism” at American universities. It showed clearly the illusions of our time. Some real incidents were cited, but a subheading told part of the story: “A Junior at MIT: ‘I’m Alone.’” As a university student during the Depression, I was not alone because I had no time to be. Most students held one or more jobs to pay their way through school. A major problem for some was getting enough to eat. A social life was a peripheral fact. I am sure, of course, that many black and white students today are lonely, but can you abolish loneliness and create friends by law?
Today, however, the media is full of people who are constantly on the lookout for instances of the great modern sin, prejudice. The cases become sometimes very ludicrous.
On Thursday, April 9, 1987, the Stockton Record in California carried a major story on pages 1 and 10, with a large photograph of an indignant Hindu spokesman. The story carried the author’s byline, Christopher Woodword. The problem? At St. Mary’s High School, the principal, the Reverend John Fallon, uses a large bulletin board in front of the school to advertise school events. If there are no announcements, he throws in witty comments with a moral content. In April, he had a sentence on the board designed to ridicule bigotry and prejudice: “Sacred Cows Make Great Hamburgers.” Innocent? Clever? Well, not to the Stockton Hindus! It was a slur, they held, against them and their religion! (Will they picket meat-market beef sales next?) They held that the sign was offensive to their belief that “all life is sacred, especially the cow.” A “spokesman” declared, “I don’t go putting up a sign saying white people make good hot dogs.”
Father Fallon was naturally distressed, and he promised to have the one-liner removed. But the “horror” of this crisis did not end there. Father Fallon had gotten the sentence out of a calendar put out by a Jewish group dedicated to combatting persecution, the Anti-Defamation League! The question of the moment is this: will the Hindu “spokesman” now demand of the Jews whether they would like a sign saying something invidious about the Jews?
Are we uniting society with all this nonsense, or are we dividing it? Many people who long wanted and even worked for an end to bigotry are now hesitant about close relations with self-styled minorities: they find them often too touchy for more than casual contacts.
But this is not all. Within each group, hypersensitivity is begetting an increasing isolation on all sides. I often hear remarks which, in a variety of ways, say the same thing: close fellowship is increasingly a problem because everyone is so “touchy” and easily provoked. A people with an exaggerated sense of personal rights are not capable of sound relationships with others.
A deserted island was once seen as a terrible place to live. Now, for some people it is an ideal setting! If only such an island could be stocked with certain things, and people barred, it would be a paradise for many. Fifty years ago one of John Donne’s best known lines was widely used: “No man is an island.” Donne also said, “The greatest misery of sickness is solitude,” and, “Solitude is a torment which is not threatened in hell itself.” “In heaven,” said Donne, “there are orders; of angels and armies of martyrs and in that house many mansions; in earth, families, cities, churches, colleges, all plural things; and lest either of these should not be company enough alone, there is an association of both, a communion of saints which makes the militant and triumphant church one parish; so that Christ was not out of his diocese when he was in our flesh.”
Donne was speaking of the communion of saints. The antithesis of communion is solitariness, isolation. While Donne held solitude to be a torment not even threatened in hell, we must say that hell is self-chosen isolation from God and man, a realm in which every man is his own god, law, and universe (Gen. 3:5). All the Biblical images of hell stress its meaninglessness and isolation.
The communion of saints is not a natural fact. In a fallen world with sinful man, communion is a divine grace, act, and gift, a sacrament which celebrates fellowship with God in Christ, and with other men.
The goal of humanistic civil government is community. Among the names given to the envisioned world order of humanism and socialism are the “Great Society” and the “Great Community.” The goal is to attain a world order in which all men are brothers and all live together in peace and prosperity.
This “Great Community” is to be brought about by social and political revolution. Laws, or “works of law,” education, and coercion are to bring in liberty, fraternity, and equality. Economic controls are to be used to equalize society and enhance fraternity.
There is thus a vast difference between the “Great Community” and the communion of saints. The communion of saints is an article of faith, affirmed in the Apostles’ Creed; it is God’s act, His sovereign grace, which makes us members of that communion. Our obedience then to God’s law-word enables us to further that communion.
If men seek community humanistically and by acts of state, they destroy true community. They establish rather a “community” of evil, a unity only in hatred against Christianity. We should not be surprised that humanistic efforts to attain community become anti-Christian. It is held that Christianity, by its insistence on Christ alone as the truth and the Savior, is discriminatory and hence must be controlled or destroyed. This becomes, then, an insistence on a community which denies absolute truth and is beyond good and evil. Marxism is thus both more logical and more consistent than other forms of humanism because it denies all meaning which transcends man.
Humanism enthrones the ultimate bigotry and prejudice: it is against truth because it is anti-God, and, because it is anti-God, it is of necessity anti-man, because man is created in God’s image. Hence, the goal of humanism is to create a new man and efface the image of God. In every sphere, mental, sexual, political, economic, and more, man is to be remade.
Recently, the Capsule for January–March 1987 (Cameron, MO), quoted Jeremy Rifkin as follows: “We no longer feel ourselves to be guests in someone else’s home and therefore obliged to make our behavior conform with a set of preexisting cosmic rules. It is our creation now. We make the rules. We establish the parameters of reality. We create the world, and because we do, we no longer feel beholden to outside forces. We no longer have to justify our behavior, for we are now the architects of the universe. We are responsible to nothing outside ourselves, for we are the kingdom, the power and the glory forever and ever.”
This statement is simply an expansion of Genesis 3:5, “ye shall be as God, knowing (or, determining for yourself) good and evil” in every sphere — law, sex, society, everywhere. This is original sin, fallen man’s desire to be his own god. Now, however, it is not called sin: it is humanism, it is the means to true community, it is man’s revolution of freedom against God.
The goal of the humanistic “Great Community” is the brotherhood, the fraternity, of all men. But how can you open your mouth in such a social order? After all, words are divisive; words define, delimit, and separate. The best way to get ahead, more than one person in politics, business, unions, and other groups have told me, is to keep your mouth shut and your eyes half-closed. After all, look where five little words got Father Fallon and the Anti-Defamation League! “Sacred Cows Make Good Hamburger” — this is religious and racial bigotry, something for the front pages of a daily paper!
Must we now be careful at a chicken dinner about expressing a preference for dark meat, or white meat, or any meat all! There is now a well-funded lobby, with many film and television stars as its champions, defending animal rights. After all, why should animals not have the same legal right not to be eaten as do you and I? If this sounds outrageous, remember that it is costing cattlemen and farmers money to fight this movement!
The end is not yet. Some scientists, in India and elsewhere, are telling us that trees and vegetables feel pain when harvested! Are we in for a vegetables’ rights movement? (The fruits already have a movement going.) One fool claims that the air is highly nutritious and provides sufficient food! He heads up a Breatharian movement of one.
Is that the direction of our society, millions of movements of one? But is that possible? After all, with so many people schizophrenic, how can any such a person organize himself into a movement of one?
A society, according to one political scientist of some years back, is a power structure. He was simply summing up a truism of his profession. More recently, a classical scholar, studying ancient Greece, used this same premise and added, “Power structures are rooted in brute strength” (Eva C. Keuls). Certainly, history gives abundant evidence of this fact.
Because of this premise, social reformers logically assume that no “Great Community” is attainable except by creating a power structure and using brute strength, unremitting social pressure, and coercion. This is what our politics is all about.
The Biblical premise is radically different: “I believe . . . in the communion of saints.” To believe in that communion is an act of grace, sovereign grace. It is of the Lord, not of us. He who made us remakes us into His people and community. He then requires us to live by His law, to live as “members one of another” (Eph. 4:25), and to remember that “unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required” (Luke 12:48). We who have received the gift of Christ’s atoning grace have received more than the world itself. Much is required of us.
Taken from An Informed Faith: The Position Papers of R. J. Rushdoony, Vol. 1, pp. 25-29
Topics: Church, The, Creeds, Culture , Humanism, Reformed Thought, Theology