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The Non-Whatever

by Barnabas
July 17, 2002

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The Non-Whatever_Barnabas-
But if someone does create a non-church church, Marty concluded, "there will be just one thing wrong with it: It will have nothing to do with the Christian faith. And, therefore, it is likely to sell well."

— Terry Mattingly quoting Martin Marty in his July 10 column (Scripps Howard News Service)
Non-church church--but also non-government government, non-school school, non-service service.

A non-church church is one that doesn’t--and doesn’t want to, in its public persona--act, speak, or look like a church in its standard historical definition: “A community, a way of life, a system of belief, a liturgical observance, a tradition—Christianity is all of these, and more” says the Microsoft Encyclopedia The key is, a church has to be all of them to be a church.

But I’m not going to concern myself with the church in this venue, except as an introduction, even though I am the namesake of a biblical hero. Marty’s words are easily applied to other areas. Those who are attempting to create non-government governments, non-school schools, or whatever else, have not had universal success; if they had, civilization would have already disappeared. They have had enough success, however, to call attention to it and to the absurdity of their belief that they are committed to the salvation and prosperity of noble and necessary institutions.

To govern is “to make and administer public policy and affairs,” says the Encarta dictionary. Politics has essentially the same definition as “the art or science of governing.” The primary goal of responsible government is to defend and further the public good. That’s why my heart warms when I see a bridge being built or a highway being laid, and why my eyes water at the trooping of the colors. These are tangible evidence that government is still happening.

We all recognize when non-government is taking over. It’s essentially the same as when non-church is taking over: those responsible begin to care more about pleasing the public taste than about serving the public good. In a non-government, taxes are collected not for what is needed, but for what is desired; taxes are cut when the needs are unpopular. This distinction between government and non-government is not a partisan one.
In other areas the distinction is just a straightforward. A non-school is one whose focus has shifted from teaching and learning to pleasing the public and the taxpayers. Both must be done; yet it’s a no-brainer to decide which comes first.
Why does the “non-whatever” version sell well, as Marty says? That is obvious, too. Every worthwhile public institution—church, government, schools, social service—requires public sacrifice. It is painful, expensive, and difficult. Without the pain, cost, and hardship, all you keep of the institution is its name.

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