The other day, I cracked open my fresh copy of St. Augustine’s City of God, and a piece of paper fell unexpectedly out. It was the text of a speech; and how it got there, I have no idea. A most intriguing piece of rhetoric, I reproduce it in full here:
Women and men of the United States of America, I see that you care about a lot of stuff. And, like me, you care mostly about you. In fact, you are fiercely individualistic and want no talk of being anything but you. In fact, if you don’t like the you you’ve got, there are many places to turn for improvement. I even hear you can change your gender. What striving!
Your individualism is foremost among your many gods, which are mere creatures of the one true and living God. Science has shown you that the earth is not the center of the universe, and so you have conflated the existence of whole universe with your own importance. “I’m stuck in traffic!” you lament; but what is traffic if not you? Your smallness has had the extraordinary effect of making you feel big.
As it happens, your largely unconscious impulse to be infinitely important is not such a bad thing. Unfortunately, however, you will not achieve your desired end (so far as there is an end) by any of the means you have been exposed to. State-sponsored justice is a good and noble thing, but it does not create gods. No amount of money or surgery will either. Like your great writer Tolkien describes by means of rings and orcs, self-actualization ends only in turning its pursuant into a twisted wreck. Desiring divinity is the right track to be on. And desiring to be the best version of you intersects with it. But the fulfillment of these desires is God’s gift, not humanity’s right.
What if I told you that the one God and Father of all wanted you to be the real and best version of you? And what if I told you that the only way to be you was to be like him? And what if I told you that it was your destiny to be fit, composed, at home in your own skin, at peace in your soul, impervious to pain and illness, and knowledgeable of every knowable thing? Finally, what if I told you that this optimized version of you was destined to hang out with a comparably wonderful version of me, and that we would take our places in a perfectly ordered society with no racial hatred, no economic inequality, and no traffic jams?! As it turns out, this is the Christian vision of eternity — a new heaven and a new earth, a new me and a new you — and your present desires are only just missing the mark.
I see that you are very religious. Most of you claim to be Christians and some of you even go to worship services! You have other religious loyalties too. Actually, these other loyalties are the more important ones if we’re using time and money as the measure. You participate in elaborate rituals in glorious temples of commerce and sport, and your very homes are miniature shrines to hundreds of deities of entertainment and leisure. So I get it. You know how to express adoration. You’ve been doing it your whole lives. Good news! It is simply time to redirect your love. Now is the time to rediscover your primary loyalty, or to pledge allegiance for the first time to something truly worthy of it: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — three persons in one God, who strongly desire one person (you!) along with a whole lot of other persons (everyone in the world!) to be in relationship with him. (You were expecting “they” there, I know. You’ll get the hang of this.)
Anyway, get yourself to the Church. There you will have a lot of Bible dumped on you and say lots of repetitive words and phrases. You won’t get it — which is good, because it’s not about you. Except that it is, in a roundabout way. Little by little you will catch sight of something called Resurrection, which you may not have encountered before. In the Church you will not only think about but experience sufferings and joys, death and life. You will learn that Jesus is Lord — the one Messiah of Israel, and a one-of-a-kind if there ever was one. And this Jesus doesn’t want you to melt into a cosmic soup. He wants you to be you. Forever. But not the you that you are now. What a relief!
But trust me, this Resurrection thing isn’t very popular. Some will mock. Some will scratch their heads and pretend they never heard about it. A few may even champion it but tell you it didn’t literally happen to Jesus, so don’t count on it literally happening to you. Most will simply prefer (in vain) the DIY method. Few will have any time for the path to Resurrection, which is the same suffering and death that Jesus endured. But let me tell you, it’s real. It’s a great place to channel all of that individualistic passion that so characterizes the world you live in. Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not from this world,” but one of your great scholars taught me that “it is for this world.” So, dear people, by God’s grace, care about you as God does. Thank you for listening.
And there is a note in the bottom margin:
I wonder what became of this.
The featured image of Paul’s speech to the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-34) is stained glass in St Giles’ Cathedral, Edinburgh . It was uploaded by Fr Lawrence, OP, and is licensed under Creative Commons.