More on the Resurrection of Christ and the Social Context

In my previous post, I made some comments on death’s destruction of personal relationships and the effect of the Resurrection on those relationships. The terminology I utilized might well have given the impression that I was going to discuss the political or cultural implications of the Resurrection. I did not. In fact, I only obliquely commented that the personal effect of the Resurrection cannot be reified institutionally, in part because the Resurrection transforms persons. In this post I want to comment further, with some unstructured ad hoc reflections.

Progressivism, Chiliasm and Personal Acts of Mercy

In that the compassion of God is shown forth in the Resurrection of Christ, we have every impetus then to perform a multitude of merciful acts. In that the compassion of God is experienced personally, the shape of our merciful acts is radically personal.

Human social cohesion does require constitutive and institutional elements. The natural human bonds within the family require a structure, and this is only magnified when many families live and labor in the same location. The smaller the grouping of families (and I should state that the family is the basic social unit both in government and in the Church–which is why the family will always be under attack), the less need there is of formalized structures because the personal connections are more direct and substantial. The larger the grouping, the greater the need of formalized structures because the personal connections are less direct and less substantial. In a family, the interactions are governed by integrative love. In a city, the interactions are governed by impersonal and administrative processes.

I highlight this because it is important to note that the smaller the social unit, the greater the realization of integrative love, the larger the social unit, the greater the realization of impersonal process. This is simply an inescapable trajectory. And it is our daily experience.

Aside from the heretical tendencies to chiliasm, this is progressivism’s greatest danger. By chiliasm I mean that thinking that believes we are coming to an ultimately perfect society on earth; either by means of human-divine cooperation or by divine intervention, the duration of which will be “millennial” (by which “chiliasm” gets its name), either literally or figuratively in the sense of everlasting. By progressivism of course I mean the viewpoint that seeks to ensure the largest scale distributive justice (i.e., the just allocation of goods) possible in a society. (The other types of justice are procedural, restorative and retributive. Progressivism also seeks these other types of justice, but is largely concerned with distributive justice due to its social activism and the takeover of progressivist thinking by Marxist categories.) So while progressivism seeks to, in religious terms, establish the Kingdom of Heaven on the earth, which is a danger, it also ultimately dehumanizes, because it squeezes out love from its formalized processes. A family can accomplish distributive justice efficiently and lovingly, even if “unfairly.” A city can also accomplish distributive justice efficiently, but only with an eye to fairness.

For a city, being a reification of formalized structures, cannot love. And since it cannot love, it is not a person. And if it is not a person, it will not be resurrected.

The power of the Resurrection is precisely in that it divinizes persons and thereby divinely energizes their loving actions. Formalized structures of distributive justice may accomplish a fair distribution, but the end result is less than the whole, because persons have been dehumanized into formalized units. This need not be malicious, and the personal players may express satisifcation at the outcomes; but the process has been reified over the personal and is therefore less than the whole. Distributive justice in a family, however, is greater than the sum of its parts, for here, love has been the catalyzing agent, the synergeia of divine and human energies. That is to say, in a family acts of justice are transfigured into acts of mercy.

The Resurrection has power in society inasmuch as it has power in the persons within that society. The Resurrection will not raise up institutions, and certainly not dead ones. It will raise up people. Institutional injustice can only be corrected by more powerful institutional structures. This is its greatest and most fatal flaw. The Resurrection, however, transforms persons and in that transformation transfigures their personal interactions. The transfiguration is not about power, or, rather, if it is about power it is the power of divine love. That is to say, political power (which is the only power progressivism has or knows) does not accomplish transfiguration, it accomplishes coercion and control. This may be necessary in the face of evil, but it is not suitable for personal change.

The Resurrection is the answer to progressivism. Or, rather, progressivism is the distortion of the Kingdom of God. The personal transformation of the Resurrection will not usher in the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, indeed it may be a merciful divine check on the dehumanization to which progressivism is teleologically ordered, but it is the only means by which persons are transfigured, and with them all their social context. St Seraphim of Sarov said, “Acquire the Holy Spirit and a thousand around you will be saved.”

Ramifications Concerning Christian Divisions

In that the sundering of social bonds is an effect of death, the Resurrection provides us the means for the healing of the divisions between Christians. In that the Church is the interconnection of persons through social bonds in Christ, the healing of schism must be done organically, which is to say personally.

I’ll not here address the Orthodox “shyness” relative to modernist ecumenical dialogue. Whether such aversions arise from Orthodox ecclesiology or from their historical experiences, or a combination of both is too complex to address here. I will simply note that the healing of any sort of schism is always personal and always therefore based in love. In that the Resurrection transforms persons and their loves, the power of the Resurrection can also heal divisions between Christians.

Schism is the reification of opinion. Whereas in normal situations “love covers a multitude of sins” and persons can both love and disagree, when opinion becomes more important than the interpersonal love, schism results. I do not, of course, mean here that one must always give up one’s convictions or trample on one’s conscience so as to preserve a relationship. Rather that more often than not, in the context of Christian groups, one person departs from the previously shared conviction, and this new belief is prioritized over the relational context. Such a rupture in the love results in conflict, which, left unresolved, further erodes the relationship until schism results.

The Resurrection accomplishes a suturing of these wounds precisely because it provides us the capacity to “call brothers even those that hate us” and to “forgive all by the Resurrection.” It is this philadelphia and forgiveness which then provide the divine context for transformation, in which the communal norms of belief and the appropriate freedoms of variation may be reestablished and schism healed. That is to say, it may be that in the light of love either the difference of belief may be abolished or that the differences are adiaphora, matters of indifference, and the personal relations of love take precedence.

Final Clarification

In speaking about the Resurrection, I have had in mind the specific personal bodily Resurrection of Jesus the Christ. I have also intended that the personal “acquisition” of the Resurrection comes through a personal union with Christ by faith in grace. I have not here spoken of some “mystical” conceptualized “Resurrection” like “The Force” in the Star Wars movies which sort of vaguely hangs out there in the metaphysical ether for self-help gurus to tout for $300 a head. Nor have I been speaking of the general resurrection in which every person who has ever lived will be raised bodily from the dead, and in that self-same body in which they once lived, albeit transfigured by the Resurrection of Christ, will spend their eternal destiny.

The above reflections are not fully worked out. They’re mostly hints and suggestions of thought-points which I have on the matter. I welcome your feedback and criticism.

One thought on “More on the Resurrection of Christ and the Social Context

  1. Benedict,

    Once again, much wisdom despite your claim to these being only preliminary hints. Thought-points like these bring life. I especially appreciated this reflection:

    “Human social cohesion does require constitutive and institutional elements. The natural human bonds within the family require a structure, and this is only magnified when many families live and labor in the same location. The smaller the grouping of families (and I should state that the family is the basic social unit both in government and in the Church–which is why the family will always be under attack), the less need there is of formalized structures because the personal connections are more direct and substantial. The larger the grouping, the greater the need of formalized structures because the personal connections are less direct and less substantial. In a family, the interactions are governed by integrative love. In a city, the interactions are governed by impersonal and administrative processes.

    I highlight this because it is important to note that the smaller the social unit, the greater the realization of integrative love, the larger the social unit, the greater the realization of impersonal process. This is simply an inescapable trajectory. And it is our daily experience.”

    While this may seem so basic and foundational, I find that it is exactly the foundation that has been eaten away and is missing from the mindset of many. It also leads me to realize that it serves as such a revelation because it is precisely to large entities like governments and corporations that most of our society turns to as the new saviors – and as you point out, that’s not going to happen because “…a city, being a reification of formalized structures, cannot love. And since it cannot love, it is not a person. And if it is not a person, it will not be resurrected.”

    thanks again for sharing your thoughts,

    drew

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