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Reaching those outside

(Eisteddfod 2009)

Alex Conradie

At the height of the Age of Enlightenment,
the most connected man of the 18th century
was the French intellectual, Voltaire. He
corresponded with Catherine the Great of
Russia, corrected the king of Persia's poetry
and influenced kings and statesmen across
Europe. His Encyclopedie of "systematic
enlightened thought" laid hold to the soul of
Europe; Voltaire being the greatest proponent
of the cult of reason. Reason and logic were
prized above intuition and the unreason of
the heart. In a letter to Diderot (1762) he
wrote: “We must show that we are better than
Christians and that science makes more good
men than Christ's grace". He regarded
Christianity as "an infamous superstition to
be eradicated". Even though so much of our
lives are governed by unfathomed emotions
and interpersonal relationships, Voltaire’s
world view has been infecting society for
more than 200 years.

Voltaire is not the only malady facing
teenagers in their quest for meaning. Time
itself possesses erosive properties. The
symbolic world of 1st century Palestine may
be impenetrable to 21st century teenagers.
What care do they have for Lambs,
Shepherds, Passover, Bronze snakes on poles,
Sermons on Mounts and obscure Parables?
Not to mention more complex notions such
as religious law, atonement & sin and grace.
Many personal Christian revolutions have
begun with Paul’s Letter to the Romans,
notably that of Martin Luther. However,
Paul's great Salvation argument in Romans
may be incomprehensible to teenagers. A
Kingdom of conscious lead by the Holy
Spirit has no bearing on the modern world
that Voltaire helped create. Why is Christ's
grace needed at all? I’m convinced that we
would fare better starting with Christ's
message of love and divine friendship than
with the need for Salvation.
Even love presents challenges. The entertainment
media feeds on the concept of Eros love. The
love that burns or romantic love resonates like a
drum. Romantic comedies, TV dramas and music
lyrics are saturated with Eros love. Yet, the New
Testament does not meditate on Eros love. The
love that binds (philos) and the love that comes
from God’s heart (agape) hold sway. Whilst
deploring a Maoist view on Eros love, an over-
emphasis on Eros love is the veil of this world
that has been pulled over our eyes. Passed down
to us from the courtly love of the High Middle
Ages and amplified by the Victorians, our
personal lives have become inextricably
governed by Eros love. Slowly, we have
murdered Christ's dreams for the world.

My friends… our love needs to be bolder.

The Diasporic Jews during the time of Christ
were admired greatly by Greeks and other pagans
from Alexandria, Rome, Antioch to Babylon.
Almost all Jews were literate. They created the
only welfare system that existed, caring for both
Jew and non-Jew alike. Their family
relationships exuded stability, avoiding
drunkenness and sexual promiscuity. Despite the
enormous challenge and difficulty in keeping
Judaic law, converts were found in all social
spheres. Imitation is not the highest form of
flattery; adult circumcision is. Today, Christians
do not command similar respect and admiration.
Although Christ brought an end to Judaic law,
bringing truth and grace, Christians do not stand
out in a crowd. Admittedly, this is a difficult
proposition in this Andy Warhol world with
fifteen minute attention spans.

My friends… our love needs to be bolder.
Leo Buscaglia was a professor at the
University of Southern California during
the 1980s. He taught the first university
courses on love and the art of being full
human. Known on campus as that crazy
professor, he had a remarkable openness
and advocated breaking the social
convention that prevents us from
reaching out to one another. “Love now”,
he would say. In a Christian context he
may have said, “Lay hold of the gentle
murmuring of the Holy Spirit, the natural
rhythm of life”. Reach out and pull
someone back from the brink of solitude.
Share equally in their moments of
immense joy. Our greatest example,
Jesus, had no time for societal
convention either. As a Jewish Rabbi, he
did not shy away from a deep personal
conversation with a Samaritan woman by
Jacob’s well. He accepted a drink of
water from her water bucket, without a
thought to scandal. He called a disliked,
little man down from his tree perch to
friendship, showed great kindness to
sinners & outcasts and ministered to the
poor & weary of spirit. As a Christian,
stand and be recognised.

My friends… our love needs to be
bolder.