Now and Then: Remembering Our Past, Shaping Our Future.

We have an unhealthy obsession with the Now.

Despite the pitching of those popular self-help books (too many written by “pastors”), and flying in the face of the “common” sense touted by those who are deemed wise, the key to happiness is not found realizing your best self now. Nor is it in reaching deep within yourself to find what is true to you, what is particular to your tastes and proclivities. These tactics more so reveal that humans are conflicted and confused, perhaps composed of multiple distinct selves, or a self that is under constant construction. One of the many reasons why when I look at writings from my past  I find it easy to see a shadowed stranger.

Osteen’s best-selling self-help book.

In fact, there are no special steps or a certain key to finding what you desire. What you desire is probably childish, immature, unhealthy, undisciplined, and uninformed.

See, we have been raised within a very specific time in the Western world, a time constructed by the modern and postmodern. The obsession with the modo , with the now, is all too obvious. Perhaps one of the reasons why we are a service oriented culture, a people who desire swift justice at all costs, fast service (even if it results in nasty products), and the quickest buck we can find. We see the destruction, but we continue on like an addict. We want all things now, no matter who suffers the consequences. The writings of the Apostles have been destroyed, reduced to hollow sentiments (and hollow sentimentality), a group of teachings that have more to do with your individuality than to the tradition of the faith nor to the future of where the faith is headed.

But, Christianity is not this. Christianity is not a religion that is purely existential. Surely, there are existential elements.

Now is important, but it is not the crux of the faith. The tradition (something not old and stodgy, but an element that is made real by being interpreted by those within it) relies upon the past and is concerned for the future. This multi-formed dialectic of old and new is what makes the now, what allows the now to be truly.

We can see this in the writings of Paul quite clearly. His theology and ethics are shaped both by his interpretation of the past and his apocalyptic image. No, Paul is not he who Nietzsche condemns as the enforcer of a passive nihilism consumed by the coming disembodied heavenly existence, and neither is this what is meant by a concern for the apocalyptic. Instead, Paul is aware of the transformation of God, the renewing of creation that is to come, and that is at the same an existent reality. God is actively making, and will fully make, the new creation. Paul makes this quite clear in Romans 8:18-25, where he stresses the coming reality despite the present suffering. And in Ephesians 1:10 where he mentions the “bringing together of everything under Christ.” Furthermore, Paul’s whole project is a concern of fulfilling the tradition of Israel and thereby living the Gospel, otherwise Gentile believers would hardly be on his radar. Certainly this is not simply a Pauline peculiarity as Jesus reinterprets the tradition of the past during the Sermon on the Mount. No longer is it enough that a follower of God refrains from killing or committing adultery; now, one must neither lust nor hate another wishing him evil. Such is the way of the peaceful, the way of the Christian. Tradition begets interpretation.

The imminence of new creation is not escapist, or futurist, denying the importance of what came before or what is present. The apocalyptic tensions are made real by both the past of the Christian faith, the long journey of the people of God, and the lives that we currently live. In other words, all of the elements are important and intersect with one another. The importance of one is viewed through the lens of the others. Taken simply we too often structure ourselves with either a sentimental longing for a golden age, a selfish glee at our current prospects, or the apathetic desire to leave all things behind.

What, then, is to be done? In the next few posts I will discuss a few of these issues a bit more in depth. The importance of Christians ethics (detailing why this post on the now is so important); a more detailed discussion on modernity and postmodernty, showing the relationship between the two; and finally, more properly contrasting modern and postmodern ethics from Christians ethics, which should hopefully detail why exactly it is important to realize where we are at in history, and why we should continue to follow our tradition.

In the meantime:

Is it possible that this is what is currently deficient within contemporary Christian culture? Both within those liberal and conservative branches of the catholic Body? What do you think, and have you seen an unhealthy obsession with now, or even with the past or coming?

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