In his excellent posts from Monday (Celibacy Is Not the Gospel and Celibacy in Light of the Resurrection), Wes attempted to respond to the following concern: “If we’re going to ask gay Christians to give up gay sex, that self-denial must be demonstrably good for us.” I liked what he had to say in response, but I think there is something more fundamental that ought to be said.
In “Christian Apologetics” (collected in God in the Dock), C. S. Lewis stresses the importance of focusing first of all on the claim that Christianity is true:
One of the great difficulties is to keep before the audience’s mind the question of truth. They always think you are recommending Christianity not because you think it is true but because it is good. And in the discussion they will at every moment try to escape from the issue ‘True—or False’ into stuff about a good society, or morals, or the incomes of Bishops, or the Spanish Inquisition, or France, or Poland — or anything whatever. You have to keep forcing them back, and again back, to the real point. Only thus will you be able to undermine … [t]heir belief that a certain amount of ‘religion’ is desirable but one mustn’t carry it too far. One must keep on pointing out that Christianity is a statement which, if false, is of no importance, and, if true, of infinite importance. The one thing it cannot be is moderately important.
If Jesus is the Son of God who died on the cross to open the door to eternal life to me, then every other concern takes a back seat to the radical implications of His call on my life. If, on the other hand, he was not the Son of God, then my entire life is based on false assumptions, and needs to be rethought from the ground up. (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:14-19: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified of God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied.”)
This truth is, I think, easy to miss. Americans are pragmatists at heart, and that’s reflected in the way a lot of American Christians talk about their beliefs. This is especially true with respect to homosexuality, It’s pretty safe to say that the culture warriors have been the loudest voice in the “Christian” response to gay issues. But they focus almost entirely on their vision of a good society and on questions of morals (more often other people’s morals, rather than their own). And in order to remain politically relevant, culture warriors often do their best to deny that their claims depend on the truth or falsehood of the Gospel.
Earlier in the same essay, Lewis wrote:
The great difficulty is to get modern audiences to realize that you are preaching Christianity solely and simply because you happen to think it true; they always suppose you are preaching it because you like it or think it good for society or something of that sort. Now a clearly maintained distinction between what the Faith actually says and what you would like it to have said or what you understand or what you personally find helpful or think probable, forces your audience to realize that you are tied to your data just as the scientist is tied by the results of his experiments; that you are not just saying what you like.
I believe that Christ is the Son of God, that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, and that the Spirit has guided the Church through history and continues to guide Her today. And, rather far down the list of beliefs, but nonetheless having a significant effect on my daily life, I believe that the Church rightly interprets the Bible to reveal that all homosexual acts are contrary to God’s will and creative design.
As it happens, I do not find this belief convenient. By any standard other than truth, it seems likely that it would be easier for me to believe that gay relationships are ok. (On the other hand, one may wonder whether many culture warriors find it quite convenient to reduce “upholding the sanctity of marriage” to opposing an offence that few of them are tempted to commit, while allowing the offences that they are tempted to commit or have committed to fade into relative obscurity.)
From the starting point of believing that the Church’s teaching is true, I can seek to understand why God created human beings this way, or why He forbids homosexual acts. I can also try to figure out how best to obey His command. I certainly acknowledge that some who try to obey this end up suffering quite badly. But I also believe that obedience not only demands small sacrifices—it can demand the ultimate sacrifice: “In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”
Ultimately, it seems to me that both my attempts to understand God’s revelation and my efforts to obey it are secondary. The starting point is simply the fact that I believe it is true. And I do not just believe that Romans 1:26-27 or 1 Corinthians 6:9 are true. I believe that everything in the New Testament, with it’s demands, yes, but above all with its promises, is true.
The culture warrior’s approach binds on heavy burdens without lifting a finger to help—and the New Testament gives us a pretty clear picture of the reward associated with that.
The key question for me, however, is not whether or not I have found celibacy to be good (though, in some ways, at least, I have). It’s not even whether I have found satisfying explanations for why God might demand it of me. The key question is whether or not Christian revelation is true, and whether the Church has rightly understood it.
This is not an altogether easy question to answer. It is, in the final analysis, a question of faith—by which I mean something given by the Holy Spirit, and not just a matter of opinion. I’m not concerned, in this post, with how to argue with someone who is not convinced of these truths. But if I accept it as true that the Son of God took human form, died on a cross, and calls me to take up the same cross and follow Him, then I can expect the world to look very different than it looks from the perspective of pragmatic and semi-secular America.
And if all this is true, then even an attempt at obedience that goes badly is better than no attempt at all.