Celebrating Past Beauty (4)
Paul Ramsey Article (1)
I will spend more time on The Manger, The Cross and The Resurrection: A Christian Interpretation of Our Time by Paul Ramsey not because it is the most beautiful but because it was the means by which my vague sense of contemporary ugliness and past beauty was crystalized. To my mind the article has a somewhat rough start. Nor does the prose itself ascend to the level of inherent beauty achieved by Lincoln’s or Edwards’. In spite of this Ramsey’s article achieves beauty due to its blazing insight into human sin, God’s providential engagement in history and our responsibilities in this fallen world.
In the preface provided by the editors of Providence we are told that this article originally appeared in Christianity and Crisis on April 19, 1943. Thus it would have likely been composed in early 1943, a time in which the outcome of World War II hung in the balance. The United States, having entered the war on December 8, 1941, had by then engaged in mortal combat with Imperial Japan, Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. There had been both crushing defeats and marvelous victories by then, with the war’s ultimate outcome still shrouded in mystery. It was at this moment of civilizational crisis that Mr. Ramsey addressed some of the most profound issues of Christian theology as related to the human condition.
My assessment of the article’s subtext is that the scale, scope and depth of warfare to which the United States had committed caused great turmoil in many Christian souls. How, they might have wondered, could their nation participate in the level of destruction and death that appeared to be necessary to defeat our foes? And, given the extremities of violence necessary, how could we presume to own a moral superiority necessary to justify such cruel acts?
Yes, the Japanese attack on Perl Harbor had unified the nation and galvanized it into action. Yet that very action led to questions of Christian ethics that simply could not be ignored by the faithful saints. It was this boiling cauldron of fear, uncertainty and doubt that motivated Mr. Ramsey to meditate on some of the deepest issues of Christian theology as related to human action.
What emerged is a witness that transcends time and place. It, by honestly and courageously addressing the issues of a particular situation, provides insight that is as relevant today as it was then. In fact, given the deplorable consequences of human ideology having captivated so much of Mainline Protestantism, its message may be more needed today than it was in 1943.