Christianity and Society
The Critique of Ideology
"Things are seldom what they seem," crooned Little Buttercup, full of a revelation that would transform the society around her. Augustine would have agreed. No a priori reason compels us to think that appearances, depending directly on the subjective experience of the observer, give any very coherent picture of reality. The perceptions that record these appearances have no compelling independent authority. On this point Christianity shares the ground with other philosophical and religious traditions. It holds that there is such a thing as real being, and even that the world of appearances is directly related to the world of real being. But it claims that human perception and reason is for now impotent to deduce the exact nature of that relation, although human beings do not cease to create patterns that claim to define the relation. In short, human beings live in a dream world from which they can be liberated into reality only with help from outside. Hence, revelation.
Revelation is at the center of Augustine's thought, for it functions in the order of knowledge as grace functions in the order of action, and right knowledge and right action are impossible without revelation and grace. Hence at every turn in Augustine we observe that the formal patterns according to which he interprets the world of appearances derive directly from his understanding of the way God's Word works in the world. So Christian Doctrine is the necessary preliminary to everything else in Augustine. When we consider his view of what we may somewhat whimsically call "macrotheology," this is especially true. To understand the relationship between Christianity and society is nothing more and nothing less than to open the question of the relation between competing interpretations of the nature of reality. Human societies that evolve without Christianity differ among themselves about the meaning of sense-knowledge and the... [continues]
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