Reflections on Lumen Gentium, Part 36

36. Christ, becoming obedient even unto death and because of this exalted by the Father,(206) entered into the glory of His kingdom. To Him all things are made subject until He subjects Himself and all created things to the Father that God may be all in all.(207) Now Christ has communicated this royal power to His disciples that they might be constituted in royal freedom and that by true penance and a holy life they might conquer the reign of sin in themselves.(208) Further, He has shared this power so that serving Christ in their fellow men they might by humility and patience lead their brethren to that King for whom to serve is to reign. But the Lord wishes to spread His kingdom also by means of the laity, namely, a kingdom of truth and life, a kingdom of holiness and grace, a kingdom of justice, love and peace (4*). In this kingdom creation itself will be delivered from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the sons of God.(209) Clearly then a great promise and a great trust is committed to the disciples: “All things are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s”.(210)

The faithful, therefore, must learn the deepest meaning and the value of all creation, as well as its role in the harmonious praise of God. They must assist each other to live holier lives even in their daily occupations. In this way the world may be permeated by the spirit of Christ and it may more effectively fulfill its purpose in justice, charity and peace. The laity have the principal role in the overall fulfillment of this duty. Therefore, by their competence in secular training and by their activity, elevated from within by the grace of Christ, let them vigorously contribute their effort, so that created goods may be perfected by human labor, technical skill and civic culture for the benefit of all men according to the design of the Creator and the light of His Word. May the goods of this world be more equitably distributed among all, and may they in their own way be conducive to universal progress in human and Christian freedom. In this manner, through the members of the Church, will Christ progressively illumine the whole of human society with His saving light.

Moreover, let the laity also by their combined efforts remedy the customs and conditions of the world, if they are an inducement to sin, so that they all may be conformed to the norms of justice and may favor the practice of virtue rather than hinder it. By so doing they will imbue culture and human activity with genuine moral values; they will better prepare the field of the world for the seed of the Word of God; and at the same time they will open wider the doors of the Church by which the message of peace may enter the world.

Because of the very economy of salvation the faithful should learn how to distinguish carefully between those rights and duties which are theirs as members of the Church, and those which they have as members of human society. Let them strive to reconcile the two, remembering that in every temporal affair they must be guided by a Christian conscience, since even in secular business there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion. In our own time, however, it is most urgent that this distinction and also this harmony should shine forth more clearly than ever in the lives of the faithful, so that the mission of the Church may correspond more fully to the special conditions of the world today. For it must be admitted that the temporal sphere is governed by its own principles, since it is rightly concerned with the interests of this world. But that ominous doctrine which attempts to build a society with no regard whatever for religion, and which attacks and destroys the religious liberty of its citizens, is rightly to be rejected (5*).

207 Cf 1 Cor. 15:27

208 Cf. Rom. 6:12.

209 Cf Rom. 8:21.

210 1 Cor. 3:23.

(4) Ex Praefatione festi Christi Regis.

(5) Cfr. Leo XIII, Epist. Encycl. Immortale Dei, 1 nov. 188S: ASS 18 (188S) p. 166 ss. Idem, Litt. Encycl. Sapientae christianae, 10 ian. 1890: ASS 22 (1889-90) p. 397 ss. Pius XII, Alloc. Alla vostra filfale. 23 mart. l9S8: AAS S0 (145R ) p. 220: Ia Iegittima sana laicita dello Stato ..

 

In this section, the Council Fathers speak of the responsibility of the Christian laity to order the body politic and social order according to Christian principles. “Even in secular business there is no human activity which can be withdrawn from God’s dominion.”

We in the West are apt to hesitate on this principle, with our tradition of separation of Church and State. But, the separation of Church and State, as defined in the First Amendment, simply means that the State shall not establish a religion or prohibit the free exercise of religion. It says nothing about the responsibility of Christians to form a society on the principles of the gospel, especially the moral teachings of the gospel and the pillars of Catholic moral teaching: the intrinsic dignity of the human person and the necessary social nature of human life.

Being an American who supports the separation of Church and State doesn’t mean that, as believers, we have no right to participate in the political process, or to use our rights as citizens to help shape our society according to gospel principles. We have every right to vote for representatives who share our values and every right to petition our representatives in government to encourage them to enact laws that reflect gospel principles, just as non-believers have every right to do the same. This hardly constitutes establishing a religion, or even imposing our religion on others. It is the Christian duty to create a society that reflects reality, and reality is: God is, and He has revealed His will for us, for all people, and our society works better when it better reflects His will.

In a conversation on the Unbelievable website with Jordan Peterson, Susan Blackmore, who has done a lot of work on the study of memes and is an atheist, challenged Peterson’s claim that the West is superior to other cultures because it is built on Judeo-Christian principles. Blackmore claimed that society with more religious adherents are more dysfunctional than societies with fewer religious adherents. The United States, she claims, being a very religious country, is more dysfunctional than, say, the Nordic states of Europe, which have very few religious adherents. Blackmore’s claim is erroneous, however, and not just because she makes the classic logical error of assuming that correlation equals causation. If the United States is so dysfunctional, why are so many, even from other Western democracies, so eager to immigrate to America? Why does she limit her examples to the current West. Stalin’s Russia and Mao’s China were atheistic states, and not very functional. China today remains an atheistic state, along with Vietnam and Cuba, none of which are very functional if you consider their economies and/or human rights records. Even the claim that the Nordic states, with their progressive welfare states, are highly functional is questionable, since their economies are primarily based on one industry, namely oil, economists question the sustainability of such a welfare state, and these states are notorious for their attitude for children conceived with disabilities – they simply abort them all! Peterson’s claim was on point, I think. These states are still essentially living on borrowed time, and that whatever measure of high function they enjoy is largely related to their resting on the remains of the Judeo-Christian tradition. As they continue to move away from that tradition, it isn’t so clear that they will continue to enjoy such high-functioning societies, even by Blackmore’s definition.

But, the responsibility to form a society based on the proposition that God is real goes beyond the political realm. It is for all Christians to transform every environment in which they live, if only by their presence as one dedicated to personally living the gospel.

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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