I’m reading a book of short stories by Graham Greene called, The Last Word. Greene is a master of the short story, and this book doesn’t disappoint. The initial story, which serves as the title of the book, is about the execution of the last living Christian – Pope John XXIX. Greene describes this fascinating scenario (plot summary here, be warned it is a total spoiler), where religion has been abolished and the world now lives under one world government. The final blow to end Christianity is to kill the last remaining Christian. Or is it the final blow?
After reading this story, I’m reminded of a simple truth: the Kingdom of God advances by God’s own initiative. Humans are beckoned to respond and become involved and even to die in its pursuit, but we can never steal the initiative from God. Upon the death of the last living Christian – were that a reality – the seeds of faith would live on, even in the hearts and minds of the executioners. . . pretty stunning stuff. I wish Greene could have lived another 50 years. I share his characteristic lament of how little religion plays a role in public life. Yet, I have a feeling that religion is back in the game, to some extent.
Religion will play a larger role in Western Culture over the next fifty years than it has in the past fifty. The question is what kind of religion? Will it be a narrow, pedantic, algorithm, i.e., build the machine of Christian theology (modeled upon a dualistic scientific method of winners/losers; right/wrong; in/out), and crank out truth and salvation? Will it be the new, often shrill voice of nostalgic idealism? Or will it be a living, vibrant experience of the God who is unavoidable, i.e., an experience of freedom, oneness and the embrace of paradox and human finitude which always accompanies a true encounter with the divine? I think Greene envisions something more akin to the latter.