Chapter 1: The Chasm
The chasm or gulf between the word and the deed – between what great ideologies promised in the twentieth century and what they have delivered. The millions who fell into these chasms in two World Wars and under Leftist and Rightist tyrannies. The chasm also in western culture between the disciples of freedom and those of Christ – into which millions also fall daily, forced to choose between faith and a personal search for meaning.
Chapter 2: The Upward Journey and the Pyramid of Esteem
The origin of the chasm between the word and the deed in human sinfulness, properly understood as the upward journey. Ideologies cannot bridge the chasm, because they are always used by those who supposedly understand them to empower themselves. This is the human constant – the upward journey that we humans – in particular we men – embark upon, looking for ‘success’, wealth, prestige and power. Its root is the belief that our own importance depends upon the recognition of others – so we carry in our heads a mental map of the communities to which we belong as pyramids of esteem, hierarchies in which some are superior and some are inferior to ourselves. And we set out to climb. Historical examples – Crassus who in 70 BC crucified 6,000 slaves along the Appian Way, and Bill Gates who set out to dominate the world of computer software at the millennium. It is these upward journeys that maintain the pyramids, and the endless cycle of injustice continues.
Jesus of Nazareth was essentially bent upon reversing and exposing this upward journey to ‘glory’ – by embarking upon a downward journey, of recognition of the ‘losers’ of the ancient world, and finally, crucifixion.
Chapter 3: The Impossible Journey
The upward journey of the ancient world – through ‘heroic’ violence to recognition. Alexander, Caesar and David. Jesus as a complete contrast – with humility accepting the baptism of John, implying that he too needed cleansing. He was then, and for no other achievement, recognised by ‘The Father’. He then rejected the temptations of Satan in the desert – specifically the temptations to worldly and religious ambition. And then embarked upon a journey of recognition of those unable to ascend the pyramids of esteem controlled by the religious elites of Palestine. This ‘downward journey’ inevitably earned the resentment of those whose self-respect and livelihoods depended upon the Temple system of winning God’s favour.
The difficulty expressed by Jesus’ disciples in accepting the downward journey: They constantly ask ‘which of us is the greatest’? His refusal to establish a pyramid of esteem among them, and his own exemplary insistence upon service, especially in the washing of the feet at the last supper. Peter’s particular difficulty in accepting the downward journey. His attempt to reverse it at Gethsemane. The crucifixion as the culmination of the downward journey.
Chapter 4: The Kingdom
The beautiful objective of the downward journey – the kingdom of God, in which the poor in spirit will learn that they are equally loved by the Father, and in which all are free to be themselves. The end of conflict, which is the inevitable result of the upward journey – between states as well as individuals. Repentance as a profound emotional reaction to the knowledge that each of us has been loved from the beginning, an acknowledgement of our waywardness, and a deep reconciliation. Also a rediscovery of the self that we hide behind masks on the upward journey. Conversion as the desire to love and serve, joining in the task of recognising the unloved. The crucifixion as a divine affirmation that there is no such thing as a ruined life.
Chapter 5: The Crucifixion and the Key of Knowledge
The Crucifixion as interpreted by the academic Rene Girard – as a key of knowledge that allows us to unlock the most important secret of the ancient world. This was the fact that all ancient culture was founded on scapegoating violence – the communal murder of isolated individuals or groups upon whom could be blamed all that appeared to be going wrong in society. Ancient myths as a concealment of this process – and the Bible, uniquely, as a revelation of it. This process of revelation reaches its natural culmination in Jesus’ crucifixion, which he himself predicts – revealing ‘things hidden since the foundation of the world’. This too was a purpose of the downward journey.
Chapter 6: Origins of the Western Chasm
How did the meaning of Jesus downward journey get lost to view in Western history? The explanation begins when the declining Roman Empire decided to adopt Christianity as the state religion in the 400s CE, and the Christian clergy themselves set out upon an upward journey to power and prestige. It became their task to support and justify the social pyramids of the middle ages. The crucial role of Augustine of Hippo in this process, misinterpreting the gospels to justify religious persecution. This deliberate association of Christendom with intolerance was the root of the rejection of Christ by the West in the modern era.
Chapter 7: Downward Journeys
The decline of the power of the Church in the modern era, accelerated by the Enlightenment of the 18th century. This was partially a reaction against Christian intolerance, again expressed in the religious wars that followed the Protestant Reformation, and partially a reaction to the extraordinary successes of science in the 17th century, and the opening up of the world with the voyages of Columbus and others. The bible knew nothing of science or the Americas. Could a new world be built, upon foundations other than Christian intolerance? The Enlightenment thought so, and the age of secularism began. Science replaced Christianity as the wave of the future, and Christian clerics lost their intellectual ascendancy to the scientists. The Church lost further ground when it opposed the democratic aspiration originating in the USA and France in the late 18th century, and Darwinism increased this route in the 1800s. Secularism – the systematic de-clericalisation of western society – continued apace into the twentieth century.
However, the optimism of the secular ideologies of the nineteenth century was confounded by the horrific violence of the twentieth. Naive modernism – the notion that a peaceful and just world could be built upon reason alone – gave way to extreme intellectual and spiritual pessimism. So, secularism too is on a downward curve at the end of the 20th century.
Chapter 8: Healing the Chasm Between Faith and Freedom
The argument between conservative Christianity and liberalism. The first emphasises the need for dogma – fixed and immovable truths, while the second insists upon the primacy of freedom. Are we bound to stay in the paralysis of this debate? Cannot truth embrace freedom? The Vatican 2 acceptance of religious freedom – how is this to be theologically justified?
The separate problem of understanding Atonement – the process by which we humans become ‘at-one’ with God, through the crucifixion. Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger’s question: why does God reign in this weak way, from the cross?
The solution to both problems is the inviolability of human freedom from God’s perspective. He wants humans to come to him freely, rather than by coercion. The crucifixion is an appeal to that part of us that should and can direct our freedom: our capacity to love, our heart. When the church opposes freedom it stands in the way of atonement – and this is why much of the modern west has rejected Christ. When the principle of human freedom is accepted by the church, freedom becomes dogmatic – and this dogma is shared with liberalism, for which freedom is paramount.
Chapter 9: Healing the Chasm between Individual and Community
The threat to community – and therefore to the individual – from individualism. The parables of the Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son embrace this problem also. Most individual upward journeys end in failure – but the cross remains as a means of healing, repentance and reconciliation. It reveals the divine compassion and forbearance. This will be the role of all Christians in the new millennium – to embody – or incarnate, this compassion. This can be the foundation of a new spirit of community.
Chapter 10: Healing the Chasm Within the Church
Pope John Paul I’s joyful acceptance of the disempowerment of the church as an acknowledgement of the church’s current situation in western history, and of the imperative of the downward journey. The polarised wings of the church must seek reconciliation through service of all those who suffer from the effects of the upward journey. The Church as a body must also embark upon the downward journey.
Chapter 11: Futile Desire
‘Consumerism’ as a desire to possess those things possessed by those we envy – and thus as an inevitable consequence of the upward journey. The threat to global peace and the environment this poses. Jesus’ downward journey as an invitation to frugality and sharing by the west – a source of hope and inspiration in the midst of greed and ambition. The downward journey will remain eternally relevant, and has never been more relevant than now..
Chapter 12: Coming to the Father
“You shall be as Gods” – this promise of Satan in Eden was the invitation to the upward journey that most humans follow, the ‘original sin’ that still troubles the world. It is the source of hierarchy and of great suffering for it ensures that only a tiny minority can be recognised. Jesus life as an invitation to join with him in recognising the equal beauty of all lives. His inspiration of many to the downward journey in the past two thousand years – e.g. St Francis of Assisi, and, in our own time, Jean Vanier who founded the L’Arche movement. It is the route back to the Father, a living personal reality with whom we can commune through prayer. This is the extraordinary journey to which we are all called.