One is not merely baptised a Christian. One also becomes a Christian. Such does not contradict the Christianity of the baptised, it simply recognises that Christianity is polysemous; it is a sign with a multitude of meanings. It is possible to speak colloquially – and unfairly to other religious traditions – of ‘Christian behaviour,’ as a comment on good morals. More correctly we speak of Christianity as the community of the baptised. This baptism into the faith, however, is not a terminus. It is not Christian to rest on this rite and pay lip service to the essentials of Sundays and Holy Days. The baptised are confirmed in God’s Spirit to become more like Christ and, by the help of the Spirit, be witnesses to Christ’s suffering, death, and resurrection.
Conservativism, very much the default of society, is the quintessence of paying lip service to the rituals and traditions of religion or politics, and so quickly finds itself mired in superficiality. Change, any change, is the nemesis of a conservativism which, by definition, sees the status quo as safe. Conservatives instinctively resist change because in the present order of things they are either comfortable or they are profiting in some way from the prevailing winds. Everything to the conservative becomes trivial; from petty disputes over liturgical music to snobbery and arbitrary conceptions of social refinement. At best, in a well-ordered church, this is merely useless, and at worst, in a dysfunctional environment, it is harmful and dangerous.
Our continual reading of ancient texts in church and our use of antiquated liturgies serve as a reminder that even in our present, moving into the future, we must forever be nourished by our past. Being radical – looking to our roots for guidance in the present – is the tradition of the Church. Conservativism, in this respect, concerned only with preserving things as they are right now, is the absolute antithesis of traditionalism. It would not be wrong to say that Christianity withers and dies without the ongoing radicalisation of personal and communal faith. It is only such a faith that can be rooted deeply in society and have the intrinsic power to transform both itself and society.
In this Sunday’s Gospel we meet the blind beggar Bartimaeus who shouts out quite actually against the conservative rules of society. On the passing of Jesus he calls out; he forgets his place and shouts out for the passing holy man over the heads of those who considered themselves more important. He radicalised that moment in his protest by evoking the ancient words lift up your voice. He wanted wholeness and justice, the very things Christ had come to restore, and he had to break the rules to have his desire. Regulation too is a term of many meanings, and one of those is embodied in the structures we have inherited or which have been created to preserve the artificial world of the conservative status quo. It is these we must break in the radicalisation of our faith.