Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Creed or Chaos by Dorothy Sayers

Excerpts from Dorothy Sayers' "Creed or Chaos"...

We still go on scolding Germany for disregarding the standard of European ethics, as though that standard was something which she still acknowledged. It is only with great difficulty that we can bring ourselves to grasp the fact that there is no failure in Germany to live up to her own standards of right conduct. It is something much more terrifying and tremendous: it is that what we believe to be evil, Germany believes to be good. It is a direct repudiation of the basic Christian dogma on which our Mediterranean civilisation, such as it is, is grounded. 

It is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality, unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology...It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling...It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practise it. 

In this Christian country, not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ...Apart from a possible one per cent of intelligent and instructed Christians, there are three kinds of people we have to deal with. There are the frank and open heathen, whose notions of Christianity are a dreadful jumble of rags and tags of Bible anecdote and clotted mythological nonsense. There are the ignorant Christians, who combine a mild gentle-Jesus sentimentality with vaguely humanistic ethics...Finally, there are the more or less instructed church-goers, who...are about as well equipped to do battle on fundamentals against [X] as a boy with a pea-shooter facing a fan-fire of machine guns. 

If Christian dogma is irrelevant to life, to what, in Heaven's name is it relevant?— since religious dogma is in fact nothing but a statement of doctrine concerning the nature of life and the universe. If Christian ministers really believe it is only an intellectual game for theologians and has no bearing upon human life, it is no wonder that their congregations are ignorant, bored and bewildered...

The central dogma of the Incarnation is that by which relevance stands or falls. If Christ was only man, then He is entirely irrelevant to any thought about God; if He is only God, then He is entirely irrelevant to any experience of human life. It is, in the strictest sense, necessary to the salvation of relevance that a man should believe rightly the Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ. Unless he believes rightly, there is not the faintest reason why he should believe at all...We must unite with Athanasius to assume Tommy Adkins that the God who lived and died in the world was the same God who made the world, and that, therefore, God himself has the best possible reasons for understanding and sympathising with Tommy's personal troubles. 

Complicated as the theology is, the average man has walked straight into the heart of the Athanasian creed, and we are bound to follow. Teachers and preachers never, I think, make it sufficiently clear that dogmas are not a set of arbitrary regulations invented a priori by a committee of theologians enjoying a bout of all-in dialectical wrestling. Most of them were hammered out under pressure of urgent practical necessity to provide an answer to heresy. And heresy is, as I have tried to show, largely the expression of opinion of the untutored average man...


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