I always look forward to reading new posts by Francis Berger, and advise you to imitate my habit of eager expectation. I must, however, register qualified dissent from his latest. In this post Berger enthuses over another post by a blogger named Kevin McCall, titled “Christianity is Inexhaustible,” in which McCall asserts:
“Christianity isn’t a Red Queen religion, where most of the energy is spent trying to avoid defects. Christianity can always develop. We can always go deeper in our understanding of Christianity because we can always go deeper in our understanding of Christ.”
Which Berger glosses this way:
“It is very comforting and energizing to consider that Christianity is not an ossified religion, but can instead continue to develop and always develop.”
All of this is no doubt true in a sense, but I daresay it is false in the sense it will most likely be taken. The “development” of Christianity has normally been the excuse of heretics, and avoiding the defects of heresy (and apostasy) is where most of our energy ought to be spent. There is a point in every inquiry where the hankering for deeper meanings should be stoutly resisted because all meanings below that point are just fantastic monsters of the deep. Christianity is not a mystery religion with infinite layers of initiation, as an endless procession of gnostic heretics has told us. We have it on good authority that its essentials can be comprehended by little children.
In arguing against the hankering for development and deeper meaning, I am not arguing for an “ossified religion” of superstitious veneration for dead forms. I believe that extreme hostility towards superstitious veneration for dead forms is one of the not at all recondite teachings of Christ. Christ hated all the fussy folderol of “mint, anise and cumin,” all the sanctimonious “straining at gnats,” all the duplicitous swearing on the altar and not the gifts of the altar. If he teaches us anything, it is that all religion tends to degenerate into this gay charade of mere show.
From this emerges the paradox that Christianity must develop, but only in order to remain the same. We aspire to sustain the faith of our fathers, and this forbids us to dote on the forms by which our fathers sustained that same faith. But the faith we aim to sustain by whatever forms we find convenient is not an improvement on their faith.
This means Christianity is a “Red Queen religion,” or, to speak more precisely, that Christians believe they dwell in the Red Queen’s country, where, as the Red Queen told Alice, “it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” The stress on “you” is in the original and conveys the Red Queen’s low opinion of Alice’s ability as a runner. As the ruddy monarch explains to the panting Alice,
“If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that.”
Both individually and collectively, we Christians must run as hard as we can to remain in the same place. This is why we should not hanker after any sort of “advanced” Christianity, and why we should be thankful to reach each holiday with a faith not too markedly inferior to that we had on that holiday the year before. Remember that St. Paul told us that he “kept” the faith by “running the good race.” If Paul had not run, his faith (and the faith) would have reverted to the “mint, anise and cumin” of moribund Judaism, or would have been swallowed in a bank of Gnostic fog. So Paul had to run. But he did not run to get anywhere. He ran to counteract the natural “pull” towards a gay charade of mere show. Paul ran a “good race,” but he ran just like Alice and the Red Queen.
“The most curious part of the thing was, that the trees and the other things round them never changed their places at all: however fast they went, they never seemed to pass anything.”
And so, I submit, should we.