Lenten advice for Christians

It comes from First Things:

I am growing weary of the continual complaints from traditionalist Christians about current trends in Western culture. Not that matters aren’t growing darker. Believe me, in more than twenty years as a committed activist on behalf of the sanctity and equality of human life, I have witnessed the downward slide.

But hasn’t the time come for us to suck it up? Consider the much worse cultural milieu in which the early Church existed. The Roman Empire’s values were entirely antithetical to Christian ethics and belief. The official state religion was polytheistic. Meat served at feasts was dedicated to idols. As to the sanctity of human life: Slaves were tortured and crucified at the will of owners. Under the law ofpaterfamilias, unwanted children could be exposed or sold into slavery. Gladiators at public “games” butchered each other to satisfy the bloodlust of the crowd.

But did the early Christians whine about it? No—they witnessed against it by the way they lived. Indeed, St. Paul instructed—in words increasingly relevant to our age—that Christians should not judge those outside the Church while continuing to interact with general society even though most live by fundamentally different moral values. Otherwise, he wrote, believers “would need to go out of the world.”

We must live “in, but not of, the world” a fact recognized not just by St. Paul but also by Stoic philosophers like Epictetus, who wrote, “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will.” A continual focus on “culture war” striving can, contrary to Paul and Epictetus, lead us to lash out, which is to go in the wrong direction. …

This takes discipline. So, focus on those “internal” things that give your life meaning; faith, personal philosophy, family and friends. Take the time to recreate, travel, learn, and relax with hobbies. Do these things and we will be at the cause of our lives, rather than the effect of the cultural environment—to the point that the dysfunctional world we inhabit will lose its ability to disrupt the things we care most about.

Please don’t misunderstand: This isn’t surrender. Nor is it political or cultural disengagement. We owe Caesar what is his. In our free society, that means participating in the public square, making our views known, voting—and too often of late, gritting our teeth and bearing it when things slide in the wrong direction.



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