Neo’s post yesterday (for which, by the way many thanks) took us further down the theme we have been exploring of late, namely how Christians interact with the world. In the earliest church there was an expectation of an imminent end to this world, and an expectation that Christ would soon come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. In such circumstances, the communitarianism, where people sold their goods and lived off the common fund thus created seemed a viable option. we do not know enough about its circumstances to know when the practice ceased to be widespread (if indeed it ever was), but even by the time the second epistle of St Peter was in circulation, it was plain enough that the second coming was not imminent. Ever since, of course, there have been, as yesterday’s piece pointed out, those who has eagerly sought out the signs – often to their own benefit. But for the rest of us, the question remains of how we live our lives in a way that is congruent with Christ’s commands.
There is little doubt that from the point of view of this world the relationship between the church and the poor looks strange. If I had a small donation for every time someone has pointed out the disparity between the wealth of the church and the plight of the poor, I should have accumulated a large fund to disburse to the same. It is very hard to work out how such people think this would be a sustainable way of helping the poor – although not so hard to work out how it would achieve what I suspect is the real aim of such an argument – to bankrupt the church. Leaving aside the thorny questions of the fact that many of the assets of the church are either in real estate or in great art works created by the faithful for the glory of God (and not for Mammon), such a policy would be a one-off sale at rock bottom prices – leaving the poor no better off at the end.
The criticisms of St Teresa of Calcutta came from a materialism slant, and, of course, ignored the fact that the Indian Government at state and national level has solved none of the problems she is criticised for not solving. As was pointed out the other day, to criticise her for her ‘evangelisation’ shows a level of ignorance of which an adult journalist would be ashamed. That is the primary purpose of the interaction of the Church in its social activities – it is to bring the love of Christ to those who are unloved, it is not to discard those society has discarded. Naturally, those with unrealisable blueprints to solve world poverty, who have perhaps neglect the opportunity to do a little practical work closer to home, will resent the Church here one two levels, even if they only acknowledge the one they articulate. It is, or ought to be, odd that there is no praise at all for what the Church does – after all in parts of the world the Church is the the only agency trying to help.
To criticise the Church for failing to do what the efforts of powerful governments have failed to achieve at home or abroad is, in fact, a distraction from what is really going on. Such critics do not like the Church and wish to destroy it. They are not fussy in their methods, and they seem rather ineffectual in their own efforts to eradicate world poverty. If they were serious, they would follow the example of most governments in the West and cooperate with the Church – and not spend so much time criticising it.