My blog runneth over

Our death-dealing cold in the Midwest (I expect deaths before this is published) is a good excuse to stay inside, imbibing coffee and bourbon, reading, and even thinking.

Okay, the bourbon is purely notional until the sun’s below the yardarm (somewhere).

1

There is a second source of this focus on the individual instead of the larger social structures. That source is in the heavy conservative Christian influence within today’s conservative movement. An important aspect of evangelical Christianity is the responsibility of the individual to accept Christ. We Christians are told again and again that our family, friends and country will not save us. Only we can gain salvation by accepting Christ ourselves. It is an individual choice that we all have to make. This is tied to the notion of freewill individualism that is a basic assumption within evangelicalism.

And as an evangelical, I agree with that idea. I agree that salvation comes to individuals and not families or communities. I can go into why I have that theological belief, but that is beyond the scope of my current topic. Needless to say I am quite comfortable with assigning personal responsibility as it concerns one’s spiritual faith. But what I will assert is that my priority on salvation for the individuals does not go into my understanding of political and social policy. For me the supernatural dimension is not a perfect replica of our current natural reality.

But I think that for many conservatives, there is a leap from this type of theological understanding to an application to our political circumstances.

George Yancey, What I don’t like about the right. A good column, to be followed next week by what he (a political scientist) dislikes about the left.

But a few points about my chosen pull quote:

  • “Conservative Christian” does not equal Evangelical. I could even argue that very few Evangelicals are “conservative,” properly speaking, but that disambiguation is for another day.
  • I agree that salvation comes to individuals and not families or communities is a straw man. No Christian tradition says otherwise. That salvation is communal, however, acknowledges that salvation is more than that magic moment when, under the influence of the Four Spiritual Laws, you take the once-saved-always-saved step of mouthing “the sinner’s prayer.” When I was a young Evangelical, back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, my Evangelical boarding school, fer cryin’ out loud, even prescribed a systematic theology text wherein salvation involved justification, sanctification and glorification. Today, Evangelical salvation = justification. Period. Full stop. If you think you’re going to get sanctified while voluntarily absenting yourself from Church, Go to Jail. Go Directly to Jail. Do Not Pass Go, Do Not Collect $200.

2

The primary distinction I make, between Left and Right, could be put in this way. Going back to the French Revolution, the Left has always been fashionable, the Right unfashionable. If gentle reader should wish to be more fashionable, at the present day, he will have to swing Left — to the “we the people” side. (I consider Mr Trump to be left-liberal-progressive, for instance; Mrs Clinton was, too.) And as I assure my leftish friends, if they should wish to be less fashionable, they must swing Right, towards self-denying faith in God.

David Warren.

Therein, a glimmer of how the 81% of Evangelicals who voted for Trump (some of them, God forbid, enthusiastically) are not conservative, properly speaking, though I clipped it before I read George Yancey’s garbled equation.

3

Samplings from a column on learning kindness:

  • The all-purpose question. “Tell me about the challenges you are facing?” Use it when there seems to be nothing else to say.
  • Your narrative will never win. In many intractable conflicts, like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, each side wants the other to adopt its narrative and admit it was wrong the whole time. This will never happen. Get over it. Find a new narrative.
  • Attune to the process. When you’re in the middle of an emotional disagreement, shift attention to the process of how you are having the conversation. In a neutral voice name the emotions people are feeling and the dynamic that is in play. Treat the hot emotions as cool, objective facts we all have to deal with. People can’t trust you if you don’t show them you’re aware of how you are contributing to the problem.
  • Reject either/or. The human mind has a tendency to reduce problems to either we do this or we do that. This is narrowcasting. There are usually many more options neither side has imagined yet.
  • Presume the good. Any disagreement will go better if you assume the other person has good intentions and if you demonstrate how much you over all admire him or her. Fake this, in all but extreme cases.

David Brooks.

4

“Puff [Billy] Graham,” William Randolph Heast is reported to have said.

Things haven’t changed much, though I think Hearst has been replaced by HiveMind International, Inc., whose memo reads “Puff Kamala.”

This is more a function of media’s need for clicks than of Ms. Harris’ merits.

Pro-Tip: If you want your kid to get his or her 15 minutes of fame, give them a fanciful name, like Kamala or Tulsi or Beto.

5

More on Covington Catholic:

[T]his feels personal because it could so easily happen to any of us. The encounter was so mundane that you have to wonder what other non-events will be used to try to destroy you or me …

I also think about what will happen if I ever have a kid. Would my 16-year-old always stay on the right side of the face police? Or might he occasionally be awkward at that age? What if he had some kind of a mental or physical disability that caused him to have facial expressions or body movements that people took the wrong way? (I say “he” because so much of the vituperation that’s been directed at the Covington kids has been explicitly based on their gender.) …

In the past few days, I’ve been under the weather (getting better now, so don’t worry about me), and sometimes as I’ve stood around in a public place, I’ve stopped to think: hey, I might have had an inappropriate facial expression just now, because of a combination of feeling a little out of it and feeling physically uncomfortable. If someone were video-recording me, could they find one still that made it look like I was “disrespecting” the wrong person?

I want to say to some of these people joining virtual lynch mobs based on the latest viral video: Is that really who you are? Or are you too afraid to say what you really think? Or have you forgotten what you really think because you’re more focused on . . . looking just right?

Jonathan Althouse Cohen (H/T Eugene Volokh).

6

“It has always seemed self-evident to me that even if I drank a lot, I would still be responsible for my actions,” Ms. [Neomi] Rao wrote in the Yale Herald. “A man who rapes a drunk girl should be prosecuted. At the same time, a good way to avoid a potential date rape is to stay reasonably sober.” We look forward to the same people who assailed Brett Kavanaugh for drinking too much beer finding fault with Ms. Rao’s sobriety.

Wall Street Journal.

It seems self-evident to all sane people, Ms. Rao, but we’re a minority now.

The waters are out and no human force can turn them back, but I do not see why as we go with the stream we need sing Hallelujah to the river god.

Sir James Fitzjames Stephen

7

Mr. [Peter] Boghossian—along with two confederates, neither of whom has an academic affiliation—set out to expose shoddy scholarship in what they call “grievance studies.” They concocted 20 pseudonymous “academic papers,” complete with fake data, and submitted them to leading peer-reviewed scholarly journals in fields like “queer studies” and “fat studies.” The Journal’s Jillian Melchior discovered the deception last summer and broke the story in October, by which time seven of the phony papers had been accepted for publication and four published.

“It had to be done,” Mr. Boghossian tells me. “We saw what was happening in these fields, and we were horrified at the faulty epistemology that these people were using to credential themselves and teach others.” The effort drew praise from some well-known public intellectuals, including Richard Dawkins, Jordan Peterson and Steven Pinker.

Mr. Boghossian said in October that he expected to face disciplinary action and maybe to lose his job …

More serious are the sanctions against Mr. Boghossian announced Dec. 21 on behalf of Portland State’s Institutional Review Board for conducting research on “human subjects” without submitting his research protocol to the IRB for review as required by the federal National Research Act of 1974. The “human subjects” in question were the editors and peer-reviewers of the duped journals. Portland State ordered Mr. Boghossian to undergo “human subjects research training,” and its letter warns that “further actions may be required,” with no elaboration.

Odd as it may sound, experts say Portland State seems to have a strong case against Mr. Boghossian: As a legal matter, he was doing research, and other professors were his subjects ….

Wall Street Journal. I regret the paywall.

Mr. Boghossian’s problem is that HHS has taken it upon itself, under color of a law enacted to prevent recurrence of things like the Tuskegee experiments, to forbid merry pranksters from tricking frauds and humbugs into unmasking themselves. They wouldn’t put it that way, of course, but it’s an unintended consequence.

8

This Trump [foreign policy], in practice, isn’t the isolationism that he sometimes promised on the campaign trail; nor is it the flailing bellicosity that many of his critics feared. It’s a doctrine of disentanglement, retrenchment and realignment, in which the United States tries to abandon its most idealistic hopes and unrealistic military commitments, narrow its list of potential enemies and consolidate its attempts at influence. The overarching goal isn’t to cede United States primacy or abandon American alliances, as Trump’s opponents often charge; rather, it’s to maintain American primacy on a more manageable footing, while focusing more energy and effort on containing the power and influence of China.

Ross Douthat

9

Speaking of frauds and humbugs:

The president was elected, in part, by giving his supporters an impression of business acumen. This was, in fact, the image carefully cultivated by book publishers and TV producers. And by Trump himself as a presidential candidate, who claimed to be a peerless negotiator, an unrivaled businessman and an excellent manager.

These claims can now be believed only by the ideologically addled.

The other branding claims made by Trump have become equally incredible. His reputation as a self-made billionaire lies in ruins. An extensive New York Times article on Trump’s wealth found a bassinet millionaire, consistently bailed out of bad bets, who dodged gift taxes, milked his empire for cash and cultivated a deceptive image of business brilliance. And special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation may reveal serious corruption and perjury in cataloguing Trump’s 30-year panting desire to sell his brand in Russia.

And who can take Trump seriously as a manager? He has a talent for weeding out the talented and responsible. He is a world-class nepotist. He is incapable of delegation or of taking conflicting advice. He is unreliable in dealing with his allies. He is capable of taking several conflicting policy views on the same topic — be it health care, or the “dreamers,” or gun control — in a matter of days or hours. He often has no clear goals. He has no attention span and is consistently ignorant of details. He is prone to vicious and public abuse of rivals and of employees. Try to put that profile up on LinkedIn.

Michael Gerson.

10

Who ya gonna believe: your President or your own lyin’ eyes?

GOP on Twitter, paraphrased (via some guy on Facebook). After that guy called this gaslighting and brazen lying, he got a comment, which quoted this “Answer I got from a faithful Trump/GOP supporter, when I asked how they tolerate the lies:

It’s not lying. It’s speaking what you want to be true so that eventually it becomes real. That’s why Trump has always been successful. It’s what highly successful, powerful people do!

Someone‘s been watching too damned much Joel Osteen, which means “any Joel Osteen.”

11

… Hundreds of poems have been written about standing on the beach and looking at the waves and I can’t remember a single one of them.

Garrison Keillor, The old indoorsman looks out at winter.

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Fr. Stephen snippets

A Prayer to Our Lord Jesus Christ

My most merciful and all-merciful God, O Lord Jesus Christ! In Thy great love, Thou didst come down and become flesh in order to save all. Again, I pray Thee, save me by Grace! If Thou shouldst save me because of my deeds, it would not be a gift, but merely a duty. Truly, Thou aboundest in graciousness and art inexpressibly merciful! Thou hast said, O my Christ: “He who believes in me shall live and never see death.” If faith in Thee saves the desperate, behold: I believe! Save me, for Thou art my God and my Maker. May my faith replace my deeds, O my God, for Thou wilt find no deeds to justify me. May my faith be sufficient for all. May it answer for me; may it justify me; may it make me a partaker of Thine eternal glory; and may Satan not seize me, O Word, and boast that He has torn me from Thy hand and fold. O Christ my Savior: save me whether I want it or not! Come quickly, hurry, for I perish! Thou art my God from my mother’s womb. Grant, O Lord, that I may now love Thee as once I loved sin, and that I may labor for Thee without laziness as once I labored for Satan the deceiver. Even more, I will labor for Thee, my Lord and God Jesus Christ, all the days of my life, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

From the Morning Prayers

I hear the heart’s cry in the prayer quoted above. The depth of its honesty provokes the hearts of those who read it. It recognizes the truth of our will and echoes St. Paul’s observations:

For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand….Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (Romans 7:18-21; 24)

There is, I think, an abiding temptation towards Pelagianism (the belief that we can will our own salvation). In Orthodoxy, the teaching of “synergy” often runs in that direction. We indeed “cooperate” with God in our salvation (“cooperate” is the Latinized equivalent of “synergy”). But our cooperation is best illustrated in the prayer above. It is the cry for help from the lips of the helpless. This is not nothing – it is synergistic. But it is not the imagined synergy that some profess. We are saved by our weakness, not by our excellence.

(May 2, 2018)

Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being. It is a distorted direction (hamartia: “missing the mark”). It is equally the refusal of Beauty and Goodness, without participation in the Truth. 

When someone asks: “Is it a sin to withhold help from someone in need?” The answer is yes – but not in a merely legal sense. It is a sin – a movement towards non-existence – a movement away from the proper direction of our lives.

[A]ll of this should shed much light on the importance of beauty in Orthodox liturgy and Churches, iconography, etc. It is essential – not a decoration or an afterthought. Much of the modern world sees beauty as a luxury (which it so rarely affords). I grieve deeply when I hear the modern sentiment directed towards a beautiful Church “that money should have been given to the poor.” These are the words of Judas. And those who say such things rarely give anything themselves. Beauty is not a contradiction of generosity. The movement towards Beauty is a movement towards Goodness (which contains generosity at its core). 

The apprehension of Beauty is at the very heart of the preaching of the gospel. It is that which first touches the heart and draws us towards Truth. In our over-rationalized world we tend to think that it is reasoning and arguments that draw people to Christ. But this is something that comes much later. First the heart must be drawn – and this happens primarily through Beauty in its broadest sense.

(May 4, 2018)

Could a liturgy be served without vestments? Of course, though a priest would, even in extreme circumstances, try to cobble something together. The vestments themselves are not mere decorations. Can a liturgy be served without icons? Of course, though it would be wrong to do so unless under extreme duress. There was once a liturgy celebrated in the confines of the prison of Pitesti in Romania. The canons require that the liturgy be celebrated in the presence of a martyr’s relic (all altars have such a relic). It was decided to celebrate the service on the body of a deceased prisoner, the only martyr present. Such things are not extraneous. The liturgy should not be subjected to reductionism.

The givenness of the liturgy, in all its aspects, is a proper subject of theoria – contemplation and understanding. It is a mystery that yields itself to the heart. It is not, however, one more cultural artifact to be manipulated in the interests of consumer capitalism and its deformation of humanity. We are fast losing the memory of who and what we are. It is the confusion of Babel.

(May 11, 2018)

Jesus healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, and gave sight to the blind. Such actions are incorrectly described as the “relief of suffering.” In many other cases Jesus specifically asks people to suffer: give away your possessions; forgive your enemies; take up your Cross; turn the other cheek; give without expecting in return. Again, there is no authentic Christian voice that does not demand suffering on the part of its adherents.

More important than this, is the fact that this voluntary self-denial, a willingly embraced suffering for the sake of others, is not a diminishment of our humanity, but a necessity of its fulfillment. It is this reality that modernity, in its truncated account of existence, fails to understand or to describe. The most popular ethic within the modern world entails the relief of suffering. In the name of that ethic, people are put to death. It cannot ask us to suffer without guilt. But if suffering is inherent to our existence, then only that which encompasses suffering is sufficient as an account of being human.

To be truly human is to be conformed to the image of Christ. And not just to the image of Christ, but Christ crucified. Anything less would make a mockery of our existence and a diminishment of the fullness to which we are called.

(May 15, 2018)

I have seen, more than once, the favorable outcome of a soul whose deepest hunger has, in an unguarded moment, been exposed to the light of the gospel. I know the case of a woman who found God when a priest called her by name unexpectedly. Just her name. The mercy of God is wonderfully opportunistic. I have often thought, “Give Him an inch and He’ll take your life!”

(May 19, 2018)

As I finished up, deciding what “categories” to assign to today’s blog, the quote “Sin is a movement away from being, well-being, and eternal being” struck me as an instance of nominalism versus realism, so I applied that category. One characteristic tendency of nominalism was to see sin as sinful because it transgressed an essentially arbitrary divine decree. The consequence of sin was not non-being (spiritual death), but punishment by God. In this sense, the Orthodox understanding of sin is realist rather than nominalist.

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Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.

(Philip K. Dick)

Place. Limits. Liberty.

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

A collection of (one-man) rowboats

Charles Taylor, in his magisterial Sources of the Self, noted that with the coming of the Reformation, the Church is no longer the ship of salvation, but rather a collection of rowboats.

It has been said somewhere, “No one is saved alone. If we fall, we fall alone, but no one is saved alone.” It is possible to err in both directions in these thoughts. The individual has value and a unique role in his own life. But we are not merely, or purely individual. This is precisely the case when viewed from the angle of salvation itself. In the New Testament, salvation is incorporation, a joining into the Body of Christ.

(Father Stephen Freeman, Getting Saved on Star Trek)

On the other hand …

Two critiques of the newly-reposed Billy Graham, which I note not just for the record, but because I cannot help but agree.

First, a George Will column I passed over, then returned to because, well, it was by George Will: Billy Graham was no prophet.

Because Will is a veteran writer, he tells us right away what he’s going to tell us:

Asked in 1972 if he believed in miracles, Billy Graham answered: Yes, Jesus performed some, and there are many “miracles around us today, including television and airplanes.” Graham was no theologian.

Neither was he a prophet. Jesus said “a prophet hath no honor in his own country.” Prophets take adversarial stances toward their times, as did the 20th century’s two greatest religious leaders, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Pope John Paul II. Graham did not. Partly for that reason, his country showered him with honors.

I made the same points — neither theologian nor prophet — yesterday, but not as an indictment, which Will pretty clearly implies.

The problem, to reframe some of the same points Will makes, is that Evangelist Graham often positioned himself in a fundamentally prophetic role by becoming the intimate of powerful men:

Graham’s dealings with presidents mixed vanity and naivete. In 1952, he said he wanted to meet with all the candidates “to give them the moral side of the thing.” He was 33. He applied flattery with a trowel, comparing Dwight Eisenhower’s first foreign policy speech to the Sermon on the Mount and calling Richard Nixon “the most able and the best trained man for the job probably in American history.” He told Nixon that God had given him, Nixon, “supernatural wisdom.” Graham should have heeded the psalmist’s warning about putting one’s faith in princes.

On Feb. 1, 1972, unaware of Nixon’s Oval Office taping system, when Nixon ranted about how Jews “totally dominated” the media, Graham said, “This stranglehold has got to be broken or this country is going down the drain.” He also told Nixon that Jews are the ones “putting out the pornographic stuff.” One can reasonably acquit Graham of anti-Semitism only by convicting him of toadying ….

Yes, if you’re going to get that close to power, you’re surely obliged to don the prophet’s mantle, especially if you’re purporting to “give them the moral side of the thing.” To paraphrase Will, we can acquit Graham of dereliction only by convicting him of toadying — or by assuming that quietly, and in private, he did truly “give them the moral side of the thing” in a way that was at least minimally prophetic.

Is there another alternative?

Second, Darryl Hart (who I likewise passed over at first) makes a subtler point, and one that I probably cannot make strongly enough to heal scotomata: Graham’s itinerant evangelism inherently undermined Churches.

Graham’s work, which was completely independent of a church or a communion, undermined implicitly the work of local pastors who were trying to the best of their abilities to evangelize the locals. Along would come Graham and all of a local pastor or priest’s endeavors seemed paltry by comparison. Here I’m reminded of what H. L. Mencken wrote about Billy Sunday and the kind of appeal a popular (and traveling) preacher had compared to the residential and denominational variety:

Even setting aside [Sunday’s] painstaking avoidance of anything suggesting clerical garb …, he comes down so palpably to the level of his audience, both in the matter and the manner of his discourse, that he quickly disarms the old suspicion of the holy clerk and gets the discussion going on the familiar and easy terms of a debate in a barroom. The raciness of his slang is not the whole story by any means; his attitude of mind lies behind it, and is more important … It is marked, above all, by a contemptuous disregard of the theoretical and mystifying; an angry casting aside of what may be called the ecclesiastical mask, an eagerness to reduce all the abstrusities of Christian theology to a few and simple and … self-evident propositions, a violent determination to make of religion a practical, an imminent, an everyday concern.

… Mencken’s point about evangelicalism and the evangelists who benefited from it stands. Your average pastor cannot compete with the bells and whistles of a mass meeting and the publicity that surrounds it. Nor can your average minister disregard preaching through a book of the Bible or fashioning a homily based on the lectionary and situating that relatively learned speech into the fabric of a liturgy or order of service (for the Puritans out there). In other words, theology, church government, and convictions about worship constrain a pastor, not to mention the responsibilities of ministering over time to a variety of congregation or parish members in all manner of walks of life. Graham could simply give an invitation to receive Christ for seven nights in a row, with a different musical performance or celebrity interview, and then leave town. Your average pastor doesn’t have that pay grade. And if he is actually preparing his flock for the world to come (read death), then a religion that is “a practical, an imminent, an everyday concern” is not necessarily going to cut the Gordian Knot of how sinners become right with the sovereign Lord of the universe.

In other words, not all Protestants were thrilled by Graham’s ministry. In fact, going back to the revivals of the First and Second Great Pretty Good Awakenings, denominationally and theologically self-conscious Protestants (Anglican, Lutheran, and Reformed), have opposed mass revivalism because it undermines the work of the ordained ministry and the local church.

Hart says “undermined implicitly.” I say “inherently undermined.” The two are not the same and I stand by my version, precisely because of two things Hart doesn’t mention:

  1. Graham did not merely “give an invitation to receive Christ for seven nights in a row … and then leave town.” He or his aides routinely — in my understanding, invariably — told those who responded to his invitation to go back to their churches, provided only that those churches had Jesus and Bible. That was why he caught flak from Bob Jones and a significant number of others: Catholics were sent back into the maw of the whore of Babylon, as the critics saw it.
  2. But despite #1, Graham’s crusades were ineluctibly parachurch, his Gospel transactional, his salvation forensic. Having lived in his world, I can say from personal observation that a whole lotta folks took their “eternal security” to the golf course or beach on Sunday mornings. That kind of tacit falling away was well known to Evangelists, who lamented it but didn’t know how to deal with it. (Campus Crusade for Christ, n/k/a Cru, came up with a “Spirit-filled life” tract to complement “Four Spiritual Laws,” but even then were frustrated by the crypto-lapsi.)

When I referred to “scotomata,” I was referring to such widespread disregard or disrespect of the “institutional” Church as opposed to parachurch ministries. Of this, too, I have personal experience, even though habitually, and all my life long, I’ve attended church — even when I considered church merely a good idea and in no way salvific.

Those who just bristled at the idea of church being salvific are those with the scotomata. Jesus Christ did not “build [His] Church” just to be the sort of thing you might go for if you go for that sort of thing.

You can look that up.

Hart doesn’t put it that bluntly, but a Calvinistic version of that (i.e., a sensibility that probably doesn’t unequivocally see the Church as salvific) is his sensibility, and I agree that undermining local churches was a weakness Billy Graham’s methods could not avoid.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Do you want to go away?

When I experience Church conflict and disappointment, John 6:67-69 mercifully comes to mind:

Then Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you also want to go away?” But Simon Peter answered Him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.

(Those who “went away” were scandalized by Christ’s preceding teaching on the Eucharist, during which teaching whenever anyone objected, Christ upped the ante. Today we have huge swaths of denominations, independent congregations and “parachurch” ministries who have “gone away” but don’t know or admit it.)

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Candor trumps cant

Reporting on the reporting on the National Prayer Breakfast, Julia Duin is pleased at what she sees as an uptick in quality. Example:

Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post found out about an alliance of evangelicals and Muslims connected with the breakfast.

The best paragraphs were the following:

(The Rev. Steve) Bezner and others said one reason evangelicals are becoming more comfortable with Muslim engagement is because this generation isn’t called “interfaith” – which makes evangelicals nervous because many are theologically conservative and don’t like the concept of watering down the differences among religions. They call it “multifaith,” which to Bezner feels more frank about the goal: different faiths standing side by side, not one big squishy group.

“The first time I met an imam in my neighborhood, we’re five minutes into the conversation, and he said: ‘Do you think I’m going to hell?’ I said: ‘That’s what my tradition teaches, yes.’ He said: ‘Good, I think you’re going to hell, too, so now we can have an honest conversation.’ ”

I admire the candor of both, and agree that such candor permits trust that cant undermines.

Had I been in Bezner’s place, though, I think my answer would have been just as candid, but slightly different: “Yes, probably. But I also know that God is gracious, and loves humankind. He does not will that you be damned. If you do not go to hell, it will be only because somehow, in a way I don’t understand and upon which you dare not presume, the Christ that you now reject saves you.”

UPDATE: I changed my hypothetical quote.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

The Morality of Christmas

This articulates something that I have repeatedly alluded to, but does so in words other than my own, and which pierce deeper. too:

The Christian understanding of morality is not arbitrary in the least. There is nothing in the whole of the faith’s teaching whose ground is simply “God said so.” Nothing within the Christian moral life is arbitrary. What God commands is our good and He directs us according to the goodness of our existence and the creation in which we live.

If anyone asks the reason for any action within the Christian life, a good answer, rooted in our own well-being and the well-being of others should be forthcoming. The commandments of Christ do not simply tell us what we should do, but in their telling, reveal the very nature of reality to us.

The so-called breakdown of morality in the modern world is not a moral problem. What has broken down is not morality, but any agreed notion about the nature of the world. Our perceptions of reality itself have shattered into disparate fragments. And there is a strange aching for morality, a tormented desire for goodness in some form or guise. But as the ground of reality has shattered, so has the possibility of moral conversation. We shout in hopes of being heard.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman, The Morality of Christmas)

If you’re paying attention, you should be asking “What does that have to do with Christmas?” Glad you asked:

Tragically, modern versions of morality, rooted in the will (elevating free choice to the primary position within all things), are always moving towards violence. There is nothing to which one can point other than “my choice,” to justify anything. And my choice only has power when I am willing to exercise the violence required to give it power. The more our culture moves towards the morality of the will, the more violent and coercive it will become.

The Incarnation of Christ is without violence (on the part of God). There is no coercion. From the beginning, Mary is asked and yields herself to be the mother of the Savior with joy. All that is endured, up to and including the Cross are freely accepted and not coerced. But the coming of Christ is not strange for creation – it does not even offer the violence required of accommodation. St. John says of Christ, “He came to His own people.” The world was created through Christ, the Logos, and bears His image within all things. Far from doing violence, His coming reveals things to be what they truly are. All things find their true home in Him.

This is the morality of Christmas – all things becoming what they truly are. This is peace on earth and good will towards all of mankind.

(Emphasis added)

Had I been writing this, I’d have talked about Ockham and Nominalism and Realism, and how I’m a Realist (or at least try to be), which would have skipped merrily along the surface of things and would have been true in a sense: right and wrong aren’t right and wrong according to some arbitrary divine decree. But Fr. Stephen avoids academic philosophical terms and ties it to salvation.

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Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.

Where I glean stuff.

Friday, 11/10/17

 

  1. Are victims “worse sinners”?
  2. Born in the wrong body?
  3. Disney is the Worst
  4. Fatal myths
  5. The Reactionary Mind (and it’s obsessive mirror image)
  6. Making stuff up about other Christian traditions
  7. Why Flannery Wrote
  8. Martyrs then, Confessors now

Continue reading “Friday, 11/10/17”