Posted May 31, 2006
Book: What is the Point of Being a Christian?
Author: Timothy Radcliffe, OP
Continuum. New York. 2006. Pp. 218
An Excerpt from the Jacket:
What is the point of being a Christian? One is pointed to God, who is the
point of everything. If one thinks of religion as just 'useful' then one has
reduced it to another consumer product. But if we are pointed to God, then
this should make a difference to how we live. This is not a moral
superiority. Christians are usually no better than anyone else. But the
lives of Christians should be marked by some form of hope, freedom,
happiness and courage. If they are not then why should anyone believe a
word we say?
In this new book, Timothy Radcliffe is at his best, writing with a prophetic
edge. His argument for Christian belief is profoundly Catholic and
profoundly human. But what is just as remarkable, Radcliffe's argument for
and interpretation of Christian Gospel is couched in a deep understanding of
human nature and the problems and anxieties of modern men and women.
Radcliffe is far distant from the theologian's ivory tower and yet his
understanding of the Gospel is profoundly theological.
The frame of reference for this book is wide, and it is based amongst other
things on Fr. Racliffe's pastoral experience of dealing with people with
problematic marriages, those struggling with celibacy, those trying to
understand the nature of religious authority and those trying to remain
loyal to the Church which finds their sexual orientation 'irregular.' This
book argues that the more one understands the Gospel, the more one is open
to the outside world.
An Excerpt from the Book:
'Go and Play'
For billions of people work is a grind, which destroys all joy. It is hard
to sweat. For them, of course, the Sabbath remains a time to down tools and
rest, like God on the seventh day, after he had finished Creation, Israel's
neighbours had their first Creation stories too, which told of how human
beings were made to serve the gods. The gods lolled around on comfy sofas,
sniffing the smoke of the sacrifices and enjoying their wine, while human
beings slogged away, keeping the supply of refreshments going.
According to the Epic of Gilgamesh, which the Israelites would have come
across during their exile in Babylon, the lesser gods used to do this work
of serving the great gods, but one day they become fed up and went on
strike. They complained about their appalling working hours and living
conditions. And the great gods made human beings so that the lesser gods
could join the relaxation. To be a god was to rest; to be human was to be a
slave. So when the biblical story told of how God invited us to share his
rest, then it was as if a rich man told this butler to stop serving at table
and come and sit down with him and have a glass of port. The Sabbath was a
sign that none of us are ultimately slaves, neither of work nor of any human
being nor even of God. The Sabbath was a sign of the dignity of every human
being, whom God has called to share his life. The erosion of a shared
weekly day of rest is a sign that our society does not recognize that
ultimate that ultimate shared dignity. We go on producing and consuming
without interruption. There is a Russian proverb: 'Work does not make you
rich. It just makes you bent over.' The Sabbath summons us to stand up
straight again, homo erectus.
There are some young people for whom the meaning of work is changing. They
are coming to see work as a form of leisure. While their parents went to
work, they go to play. Indeed we are all 'players' on uneven playing field.
Jeremy Rifkin wrote that the younger generation in business, the 'proteans'
as they are called, belong to a 'world that is more theatrical than
ideological an oriented more to a play than to a work ethos'. If Ford was
the typical industry of the old solid capitalism, then Hollywood is typical
of the new. All business is show business. 'The economy is being transformed
from a giant factory to a grand theatre.' This is partly because so-called
'cultural production' is now the biggest industry in the West. In the United
States, it has taken over from defense as the major employer. But Hollywood
is offering the model upon which all forms of production are based. I quote
Rifkin again: 'While the manufacturing phase of capitalism was characterized
by output, the cultural phrase is characterized by performance.' Management
consultant Tom Peters claims that 'it is barely an exaggeration to say that
everyone is getting into the entertainment business.' Admittedly it may
still be a small percentage of people who see work in these terms, mostly
people who are young and often Western, but it may be a sign of the future
for most of humanity. Game theory is expanding rapidly, and giving us ever
more complex games, which absorb vast amounts of time of billions of young
people, even in China. Game Theory is not just for kids with time to waste;
it is interesting philosophers, educationalists, management consultants and
military strategists. Everyone is getting into it!
In this new world, to go shopping is not primarily to buy objects. It is to
take part in the 'retail drama.' The new vast shopping malls are designed as
places of entertainment where you can have interesting experiences, and live
in fantasy worlds and play with virtual reality. In America they are called
'destination entertainment center'. Increasingly, social tension is
developing around who is allowed into these worlds of play. They are
becoming guarded, private spaces from which the poor are excluded; they
would only spoil the game.
It would take too long to explore why this is the case. One element is
surely the loss of confidence in humanity's future. The 'Now Generation' no
longer has dreams of making a Paradise on earth. The work ethic of the old
capitalism was founded on delayed gratification. I quote Bauman again:
In the form of the 'delay of gratification', procrastination [literally
putting off until tomorrow] put ploughing and sowing above harvesting and
ingesting the crops, investment above creaming off the gains, saving above
spending, self-denial above self indulgence, work above consumption . . .the
more severe the self-restraint, the greater would be, eventually, the
opportunity for self-indulgence. Do save, since the more you save, the more
you will be able to spend. Do work, since the more you work, the more you
But the loss of the confidence in the future transforms what we understand
by work. It is no longer a contribution to humanity's progress and so a
moral obligation. It becomes merely what makes possible life in the present
moment. This is the 'Now Generation'. Why delay gratification? Eat, drink
and be merry, for tomorrow you may die, or at least be unemployed. Work can
no longer structure your life, give you identity and promise a future. Now
is the time to play while you can. Who knows what is around the corner?
What can the celebration of the Sabbath mean in this sort of society? What
can it mean to abstain from work when work is increasingly seen as a form of
. . . For a generation that has lost its hope of heaven, is Disney World the
last echo of our dreams? For hope we have substituted fantasy; instead of
eschatology we have virtual reality!
Table of Contents:
1. I will awake the dawn
2. Learning spontaneity
3. The peaceful sea
4. 'Do not be afraid'
5. The body electric
6. The community of truth
7. I am because we are
8. Citizens of the kingdom
9. Root shock
10. Breeding pandas
11. Without the day of the Lord, we cannot live