If we have a conversation this semester, chances are I’m probably going to find a way to link it back to St. Augustine.
I know, I know.
St. Augustine is essentially the saint of Christian hipsters and there is no doubt that his popularity in current Christian conversational culture has risen. If you can quote some dead theologian, you’re cool. If you can quote Augustine off the cuff, preferably in Latin, you’re a rockstar. But I strongly believe that this is due to a necessary returns towards his assessment of the Christian worldview.
However, I’m not necessarily going to talk about Augustine here.
He’s more of a perennial corollary to this discussion.
Let’s provide some back story: This semester I’m in three interrelated and interesting courses.
1. Philosophical and Religious Perspectives - studying various religions such as Hinduism, Judaism, Islam (etc) and philosophical perspectives like naturalism and critiques of religion.
2. Politics and the Christian Worldview - exploring Augustine’s assessment of both the Christian worldview and the political and how essentially Augustine’s treatment of politics in The City of God provides the foundation for classical liberalism and limited government.
3. Great Issues of the 21st Century - discussing the most pressing issues of our times such as abortion, same sex marriage, the role of the state, poverty, welfare, human trafficking, the environment and etc, as well as the various responses to each issue.
These classes are incredibly interesting, the professors are highly capable, and the content is both enlightening and challenging. Former strongholds masquerading as truths are crumbling as the rebuilding of foundational truths is occurring. It’s a beautiful thing.
Here’s my problem. While intellectually I want to bat around these ideas all day, I don’t want to actually do something about them. I want all these facts, issues, and conceptions of the political, the good, and the truth to simply sit in my head, perhaps stacking up my throne of intelligence so that I might assert, “Ah yes, I know the answer to that.” I read and read and read, but I do not produce. Honestly, I don’t even want to write this short blog.
But the thing is, these facts, these truths, stack up on my shoulders and ask me, “What are you going to do about it?”
“Nothing,” I want to answer and shake them off. But they have stuck. They have entered into my mind and cannot be unlearned because they are continually confirmed by reality. I now understand, in some ways, how ignorance is bliss. Ignorance does not require action nor does it reacquire an overhaul of intellectual connections or manifested behavior. Ignorance justifies the shrugging of shoulders and the “I don’t knows.” The weight of my perceived powerlessness looms largely in the background and ignorance guards against the surety of failure.
Unfortunately, my mind does not allow ignorance; it craves knowledge. But, my heart does not allow for inaction; it demands change. But change is hard; change is risky. Change demands that knowledge be turned into action, and action that may not be the most popular nor the safest. Augustine (see how I brought him back in?) argues that while Christian hope is eschatological in nature, and does not depend upon the optimism of the larger society or political machine, it also does not sink into apathetic retreat. Augustine proposed that the proper understanding of the Christian hope manifested itself in critical assessment and creative action. This conception of the Christian worldview allows for an understanding of the problems, criticism of the commonly shared space of society and the state, but does not stop with intellectual criticism; it drives itself towards creative restructuring and imagination. Criticism engendering creativity, creativity illuminating criticism. Here is the Christian’s witness-bear, societal goal.
Thus is the current state of my mind: intellectual criticism leaning towards creative imagination. I don’t know what I’m going to do about the facts sitting on my shoulder, whispering in my ear, but I know that I must do something. It is not my responsibility to repair the world but to offer a creative counter-narrative for the prevailing assessment of the day. It is a frightening and freeing idea.
And yes, I did bring up St. Augustine again.