Mothers Day 2023

Discipline versus religious libertinism

Every day at five in the afternoon, I closed my books in the English graduate reading room in the library and crossed the street to the chapel for evening prayer. The service took about 20 minutes. The Epistle and the Gospel were read, psalms and spiritual canticles were recited, and prayers were said. It was spare in the extreme. Sometimes there were only two of us in the congregation besides the reader. There was nothing at all to appeal to any wish for pomp and ceremony. There was not even any music. There was certainly no variety. Every day followed the same pattern. Variety, apparently, was entirely irrelevant.

To someone not accustomed to disciplines like this, the picture might appear bleak. How can we go on, day after day, year, after year, with the same routine? Does it not all dry up and die?

Yes, indeed, it does dry up and die, if there is no taproot of life irrigating it. Just as the utter sameness of marriage dries up and dies if love departs, so will any routine. To the libertine, accustomed to woman after woman, the man who returns day after day, year, after year, to the same spouse, with no variety, appears unfortunate in the extreme. We must ask the man himself how things are.

Tom Howard, Evangelical is Not Enough.

“Disciplines” versus novelty and spectacle. That’s how gyms, physical and spiritual, work.

Not how they used to work, but how they work. Period, full stop.

Sins, transgression, infirmity

The reason we have sexual harassment is that we do not believe in chastity.  In the end, the only way to discourage unwanted advances is to condemn immoral ones.  To discredit sexual harassment, one must discredit sexual sin.

J Budziszewski, Things I Had to Learn. This is quite a little compendium of wisdom from an academic who thinks hard about things from a Thomistic and natural law perspective.

On first reading, though, I found one item (not in my quotation) that needs qualification: Budziszewski’s understanding of “sin” is too narrow, and his categorical pronouncement (Sins are not “mistakes.” Mistakes are things we didn’t mean to do.) is therefore substantially false.

Sin (Greek hamartia) is “missing the mark.” We can miss the mark in unintentional ways as well as intentional.

Since my early days approaching Orthodox Christianity, that discovery rang very true and made me appreciate this paragraph from the Orthodox “Trisagion prayers”:

Lord, cleanse us from our sins. Master, pardon our transgressions. Holy One, visit and heal our infirmities for Your name’s sake.

I suggest that Budziszewski’s view of sin is restricted to what this prayer calls “transgressions.” Transgressions, by the way, are relatively easy to recognize and take to sacramental confession. My infirmities, such as abstraction/absent-mindedness that makes me inattentive to the needs of others, are harder to recognize and pin down. But they do “miss the mark” and thus need healing.

I hope this rank pedantry is helpful to someone.

(By the way: “Budziszewski” is a name the spelling of which is so daunting that I’ve had to turn it into a TextExpander clip.)

Another book arguing that God exists

So: A very prominent trial lawyer has written a book, published by what used to be my favorite religious publisher, arguing that God exists and that the “Four Horsemen” atheists (of a decade or two or three ago) are full of — well, something unflattering.

It must be a mark of my age (or something) that I’m not tempted to add this to my reading queue. I can’t anticipate all his arguments, probably, but I have no interest in shoring up my faith in the bare existence of something conventionally called “God,” which is how many apologetics and theodicies proceed.

Dare I even suggest that this book might be a distraction from the real business of Christian living for many of its readers — a sort of “spiritual realm” echo of our Manichean politics?

But if you’re at a point in your life where you’re doubting that any manner of God could possibly exist, go for it.

Winged God

All men. Or shall we say,
not chauvinistic, all
people, it is all
people? Beasts manure
the ground, nibble to
promote growth; but man,
the consumer, swallows
like the god of mythology
his own kind. Beasts walk
among birds and never
do the birds scare; but the human,
that alienating shadow
with the Bible under the one
arm and under the other
the bomb, as often
drawn as he is repelled
by the stranger waiting for him
in the mirror – how
can he return home
when his gaze forages
beyond the stars? Pity him,
then, this winged god, rupturer
of gravity’s control
accelerating on and
outward in the afterglow
of a receding laughter?

(R.S. Thomas)

Two opinions, held simultaneously

  1. I detest and condemn the Jehovah’s Witness cult/sect.
  2. I greatly regret that the European Court of Human Rights held that Finland can forbid them from making notes on their door-to-door calls under its “data collection” regulations. (Religion Clause: European Court: Finland May Require Jehovah’s Witnesses to Obtain Consent Before Taking Notes on Those They Visit)

I have no idea whether the ECHR is correctly interpreting Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
but I fault the Convention if it doesn’t protect note-taking of religious proselytizers.

For all its piety and fervor, today’s United States needs to be recognized for what it really is: not a Christian country, but a nation of heretics.

Ross Douthat, Bad Religion

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

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