Suffering & God's love

Given to the just & unjust alike

Our society is probably the first in which we agree to keep what matters most to us out of our common discourse, because it could divide us. Combine the secular basis of liberal democracy with capitalism, and you get a society in which civic order and the need for distraction become the most valued commodities.

In traditional societies, one religion usually reigned; members of minority communities were tolerated at best, or they were persecuted or slaughtered. The separation of church and state has at least freed religion from its alliance with coercive power, and where no particular advantage can be gained from religious affiliation, a faith may be chosen cleanly and honestly.

But the price paid for this is that we see religion placed in the realm of the subjective, a matter of taste. The differences involved in religion divide us, and what unites us is considered much more important-but what is that, in our secular society? The marketplace, not only of ideas but of commodities-or rather, ideas become commodities, and the ones we like best are the ones we accept as true. The successful sale of a commodity demands that the thing we are being sold-cars, whiskey, brand-name clothes, bottled water, religion-can satisfy us and make us whole now, and we will not be happy (being happy is all-important) unless we buy, or buy into, what is being offered for sale.

Our culture tells us this at every turn...

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About the Author

John Garvey is an Orthodox priest and columnist for Commonweal. His most recent book is Seeds of the Word: Orthodox Thinking on Other Religions.