Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sets, Possibility, Logic, Salvation

[Edit: I feel kind of like a doof. This post is basically a systematization of a conversation Mike and I had in comments on a similarly-themed post I made awhile ago. Thus I feel I owe him at least in part for the basic thing about the sets and the possibilities of members vs wholes having been planted in my head, in the specifics of persons, humanity and salvation.]

1. Let x be an arbitrary member of the set A.
2. Let it be the case that for any given x, with x being part of A, it is possible that x has property q.
3. Then it seems to be the case that, it must also be possible that all x in A have property q.

What's the relevance to theology? Let's let x be an arbitrary person, and let our set A be the set of all human persons, past, present, and future.

4. The Scriptures seem to teach us that we must not despair of the salvation of a given person.
5. This means we must hold out the possibility of the salvation of a given person x in the set of people.
6. So for any given x, where x is a person, it is possible that person x is saved.
7. Then it seems to be the case that it must also be possible that all persons x are saved.

It seems then that on an intellectual level, holding out hope for any arbitrary member of the human race does imply that we hold out the possibility (though not necessarily the probability) of universal salvation.

This doesn't need to be a probability; for instance, I am skeptical that I will see Adolf Hitler in heaven, and I am skeptical of universal salvation due to the weight of Biblical evidence being, in my mind, against its realization. But per Christian Tradition, when I am being reasonable, it seems I cannot eliminate either possibility.


Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Stupidly Contemplative Questions

Disclaimer: Chances are that if you're reading this, you're someone who has asked, or been asked, one of these questions. Chances are I have asked them of someone, and I definitely don't disrespect anyone for asking these questions. They can be helpful, but they're also stupidly contemplative questions. Explanation to follow!

It seems like sometimes we Christians like asking holy- sounding questions more than we like doing useful things. I don't mean questions like how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, though certainly the outer reaches of Scholasticism are not always the most immediately relevant. But at least those people will speculate on, and get somewhere, and the obscure scholastic questions don't have the side effect of inducing needless guilt. I mean questions that can easily freeze us with how holy and scary and challenging they sound, like:

(1) "What are we doing to prove that we love God most?"
(2) "How can we share our faith?"
(3) "Do I know that I love God?"
(4) "How do I grow in God?"
(5) "How do I clean my room?"

Okay, that last one is a bit not like the others. It's a couple of degrees more removed from Christian living. But the questions share some things in common. At the outset, all such questions seem like insurmountable obstacles in themselves. With the possible exception of the third, they all bring to mind a few possible answers, none of which quite seems to be adequate right off the bat. And they all have potential to lead to a question-freeze, where you stand there stunned by how unholy or lazy in the Lord's work you are instead of actually doing something about it (or, if you prefer to put the emphasis on Grace, letting God work through you to improve your unholy lot.)

(1) This sounds like a reasonable question until you realize that the only answer that will satisfy a scrupulous person (remember that "prove" is the verb here) is to intentionally enlist in an order of monks or nuns whose only vocation is to seek bloody martyrdom under Shariah law while converting Muslims in one of the stricter Muslim countries. People with lax, or looser, consciences wonder what it is that they should have to prove to anyone else. And the well-ordered- conscience people are probably too busy proving it, insofar as we humans can, to answer the question or give it the time of day.

(2) This one actually does bear some real reflection, and I can't really do it justice here. So here, in its stead, is the injustice I will do the question: I think when people say this they usually mean verbally. I don't care what they mean, as long as they mean visually, and here I imply that the world sees with all five senses. I think what sharing our faith means is to communicate our belief in Christ as Redeemer of all through some sure and unambiguous sign which those regularly around us will "see." Even that's a rather vague sketch. While I like this question better than the others, I think its major freezing point is that it can be, like everything else, much more of a guilt trip than a question.

(3) To be honest, in my more cynical-theological moments, I tend to think number three is a question asked more for the fun of seeming profound and galvanizing people into a moment of crisis where they feel compelled to reflect, than it is to ask to actually help anything. And then we get to do the same thing I do when my room is really messy and I don't know how to start cleaning it: Spend a couple of minutes frozen in that question, then put off the real work for another week.

(4) This is another one of those famous challenge questions. I don't know about you, but when someone asks this one (including me, right now, to myself) I get images of a Rosary a Day and at least two Holy Hours. Mass at least once a week. And Adoration, which I admittedly dread trying to cultivate the habit of, because I know I'm going to have to work on my horrible attention span. But even the parts of this one I should like, being more theologically abstract, like reading the lives and works of the Saints...I don't really do. It's probably the attention span again. In terms of real-world problems this one is probably the closest, for me, to cleaning one's room. So many places I could start, but will I really feel good until it's all in place? 

(5) This one usually is more of an excuse than an actual question, but cleaning my room is a pretty good analogy for these questions, except that the spiritual room, for almost all of us, never gets acceptably clean until we're with God. In the end, though, these questions aren't that productive in themselves. I guess my big thing, my big beef with them, is that they seem to do more emotional harm and cause more mental anguish, at least for me, than they're really worth. And they provide a good out. Standing frozen by the questions for a couple of minutes is a great excuse not to act on them. With that in mind, I propose a remedy. I'm going to answer the questions. Each answer requires a bit of expansion, but said expansions will be simple. Format: "Question." Answer. Expansion.

(1) "What are we doing to prove that we love God most?" We're confessing "Jesus is Lord." Physical martyrdom is unlikely to happen to you. Idolatry is not. A simple question, for a given thing X. If I had to choose between Jesus and X, which would I choose?

Unfreeze by resolving to choose Jesus. Every time.

(2) "How can we share our faith?" With outward signs that are not hidden. Live your faith. Don't be afraid to wear a Crucifix around your neck or keep a Bible or Rosary visible in the sight of non-Christians.**

Unfreeze by resolving to live ethically and share your faith when asked, as a baseline.

(3) "Do I know that I love God?" No. Now stop worrying and love God. Because it's a surer sign of loving God if you're focused on serving Him, rather than worrying about whether you love Him. If you are paranoid, ask people who, in your view, love God and can tell a Christian when they see one. What do they see in you?

Unfreeze by admitting you don't know, but you've got a pretty good idea that the answer to the question "Do I love God?" is yes.

(4) "How do I grow in God?" Treat God like you'd treat a Lord, but seek to know him better as you would a trusted friend. You can't ask God questions directly, but you would want to get to know a friend. You'd want to experience this person. So experience God.

Unfreeze by thinking of a couple of different (concrete) ways to grow in God (not just fellowship with other Christians), then sticking to them.

(5) "How do I clean my room?" Clean it. Pick something doable and start with that. Kind of like (4).

In other words, unfreeze by cleaning your room, already.

By the grace of God, may we, even if frozen in bad fashion by these questions, unfreeze by answering them, and then acting on our answers, that we might go forth and better serve God. Otherwise we might wind up so paranoid about whether we can answer these questions, that we never get around to answering them in word or in deed.

Which is the reason these questions were asked in the first place, even if they don't always get us where they're supposed to.


* A portmanteau of "testimony" and "brag," that I first picked up from my friend Alicia on one of a few group trips to Christian Rock festival FreedomFest. I will decline to say whose bragimony she was referring to, save that it was none of our group.

** This is not an endorsement of violating workplace standards, as regards desk cleanliness or religious expression. But of course if your workplace can't tolerate an offhand mention of church...

Saturday, November 12, 2011

On Becoming a Theologian

So I read this article that a guy named Bruce Bethke put online, called On Becoming a Writer Those who know me know he had a hand in coining the term "cyberpunk," having made it the title of a short story about teenage computer hackers back in the 1980s. But he also wrote this, on his website, which I thought was fairly good. I also feel that if you substitute "theology" for "literature," and "theologian" for "writer," it functions pretty well.

Friend of the blog Catholic Nick is one such example. I had lunch with an old youth pastor the other week and he had brought Nick to mind by mentioning the notion that a theologian is defined by what one does, not one's training. As a theologian I have more 'formal' training than he does (Nick, not said pastor who is a Ph.D to trump my B.A.), but he is, in some ways, a better theologian than I am. In trying to work out what to believe as a Catholic he's read...many more sources than I including numerous papal documents. In trying to work out how and why the Church teaches what it does about the Scriptures, and in order to be able to better respond to Protestant criticisms of Catholic doctrines, he's always reading various Scripture scholars.

Granted there's something to be said for learning about the scholarly consensus on given issues in college, a consensus only proves so much; the only real relevant dis-analogy I can see here is that there's not necessarily a scholarly consensus on what makes literature in general good, though certain topics in theology have a consensus that helps render arguments more or less tenable. That said, I think theologians sometimes overstate the importance of the consensus, and that perhaps this can be a way of avoiding the better arguments and thoughts of people like Nick, who do more and possibly better theologizing than half the professional field.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Isn't that Enough?

A college friend of mine made a statement once that bears reflection here, in the context of theological discussion. I can't remember exactly what triggered it, but as I recall it's something he said that tells people sometimes. I didn't have a great response in the moment, but it's stuck with me as something that I disagree with, for reasons I don't think I could have articulated well at the time.

"Christ died for me. Isn't that enough?"

It's hard to know how to respond to such a statement. Its simplicity screams for acceptance. Who doesn't like a simple Gospel? But clearly...

No. At least not for an Arminian-turned-Catholic like myself. If Christ dying for someone is enough, that would force me to take the step from universal atonement ("Christ died for all") to universal salvation ("all will be saved"). Not doing that.

Now I'm being pedantic here. While that could be what he meant, I'm guessing that even if he does hold to limited atonement ("Christ died only for those who are saved"), he probably meant something more like:

"Christ died for me, and I have accepted Him as Lord and Savior. Isn't that enough?"

Again the statement screams for our simple acceptance. Down with meaningless scholasticism, down with pointless theological debates. Or at least, down with the notion that they really matter up against the simple Gospel of acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior.

But that's not enough.

Because if we try to go with just that personal relationship, we get a desire for more. We desire to know more, to know the Truth--the whole Truth and nothing but it. To go beyond the simple truth of Christ's death for us, of our following Him, because to follow Him we have to know how. To know how we need someplace to start. The proof is simple and observable: Simply watch a new Christian as they grow in faith: they will read the Scriptures and seek the counsel of those more grown in the faith than they are. If their new-found relationship with Christ were enough, these things would be superfluous.

But still that little voice objects: "Isn't that still enough to survive, spiritually speaking?" Oh, sure, it might be enough in the sense that a lifeboat is enough to keep you from drowning, or that a piece of bread to keep you from starving. But what starving person would live alone on the spiritual bread of this simple Gospel, if they had before them the feast of the Scriptures, theology, and--if I may--the consecrated Host in the sacrament of Thanksgiving?

Enough for survival? Yes. But enough for thriving, except in the most extenuating circumstances? No, because God has provided more, and wants more for each and every one of us, desiring that we might be saved and come to the knowledge of the Truth.

Now I am not prepared, nor do I desire to attempt in this post, to build up the whole of Catholic theology starting from this point. But the mere simple Gospel many espouse is, quite frankly, more a starting point than something that can justly and simply be called "enough" for salvation as Christ fully intended it to be.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Christian Carnival: Oct 26, 2011

Welcome to the October 26, 2011 edition of the Christian Carnival. The Carnival is open to Christians of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Protestant convictions. As such it should be expected and nearly goes without saying that I don't necessarily mean to endorse every written word in the posts below theologically.

Richard H. Anderson presents The Book of Zechariah and the Passion Narratives posted at dokeo kago grapho soi kratistos Theophilos, saying, "one in a series of articles on the priority of the Gospel of Luke"

Maryann Spikes presents Confident Christianity Conference in the Dallas/Fort Worth area posted at Ichthus77.

Jennifer in OR presents Two-Hundred-Proof Grace posted at Diary of 1, saying, "I consider how my sister’s Scotch was proof enough with just a whiff to convince me of its power and how just a taste sent my nagging cold into oblivion, and wasn’t grace good medicine, too, especially for ailments of the conscience?"

David R Wells presents A Modern Day Sodom? posted at Revelation 3:10 - Blog, saying, "From Genesis we learn that the city Sodom ran rampant in homosexuality, but from this passage in Ezekiel we discover so much more about who these people really were."

Josh presents Best Bible Verses to Share With Others posted at What Christians Want To Know, saying, "Do you have favorite Bible verses to share with others? Check out this list of ten good ones to memorize or write down so you can share them."

Cindy Jeffrey presents Prayer to God the Father that Souls Rest in Peace and for Love, Purity and Blessedness posted at Christian Prayers, saying, "I've had requests this week to pray for souls who died this week. This prayer asks for that, and that we, too, might be drawn closer to God."

sharon akinoluwa presents WEALTH AND RICHES » BIBLICAL PRINCIPLES FOR WEALTH CREATION posted at WEALTH AND RICHES, saying, "T he programme of God above all things is that you should prosper. Not above some things or few things but above ALL things. This is God’s ultimate desire for you. Prosperity is God’s will. That is His agenda for all believers including you. God is eternally committed to your prosperity. And the good news is that the devil cannot do anything about it…"

Carl presents When God is Silent posted at Theological Pursuit, saying, "Some along-the-road-of-life thoughts on God's silence."

Zowada presents The Central Issues and the Peripheral Issues. posted at Zowada Blog, saying, "What do the great debates such as "Calvinism vs. Arminianism" matter if we lose sight of love within the discussion?"

Christian Amit presents Jesus Heals Jairus’ Daughter - Miracles of Jesus posted at Bible Study Exposition Online, saying, "Bible Study on Healing miracles of Jesus Christ – Jesus raises Jairus’ Daughter. Who is the ruler of Synagogue? What was Jairus’ state of mind when he heard about his daughter’s death? Faith of Jairus. Jesus’ response to the Wailers. Life Applications."

Jason Price presents Is it “Good” to Spend Money on Yourself? posted at One Money Design, saying, "Consider a Godly perspective to spending decisions and find some peace to spend some on yourself."

True Stillwater presents Do You Believe in the Devil? posted at Letters, Messages, and Prayers, saying, "Blog on hope and fighting back with faith and prayer."

Kaleb presents Sound Like a Broken Record? posted at W2W Soul: Windows to The Woman's Soul, saying, "I can only imagine what I sound like to the Lord every time I go before Him with the same sin, the same struggle, the same failure. “Lord, I’m so sorry—so sorry—so sorry—so sorry—forgive me—forgive me—never again—again—“well, you get my point."

loswl presents Sold out for Jesus? posted at INSPIKS, saying, "I know there are some areas in my Christian walk that are still lacking, and it’s frustrating. I want to be 110% sold out for Jesus, but I’m not, and it’s seriously worry’s me, because what does it mean to be a follower of Jesus?"

Isabel Anders presents “Interview with Fr. Malachi” about Chant of Death—A Clerical Detective Novel by Diane M. Moore and Isabel Anders | BlogHer posted at BlogHer, saying, "This "interview" with the hero of our mystery novel Chant of Death serves to introduce theological themes and information in a narrative format and also exposes readers to our writing style."

Chris Brooks presents Fostering Knowledge of the Gospel posted at Homeward Bound, saying, "Narrative doesn't really cover it. Sharing the good news -- and the bad news -- with children who need to hear it."

Ronnie Davis presents Love Beyond Service posted at Mission Blog, saying.

Aoide-Melete-Mneme presents Thoughts on 1 Corinthians posted at à la mode de les Muses, saying, "Waiting is a short-run solution for singles."

Melanie Slaugh presents 10 Bible Stories You Can Relate to FaceBook posted at Internet Service Providers.

I, Dan Lower present Pray Always over here at KBT.

If you'd like to participate next week, use our nifty carnival submission form. Find past and future hosts on our blog carnival index page.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Pray Always

You ever see those Facebook groups like "Pray for person X" or "Pray over event Y"?

You've seen them. Usually they come as a response to something we deem worthy of our prayer. And almost always, certainly, the thing in question is worthy of prayer.

If you're like me, you've kind of stopped joining those groups. Mostly because we're neurotic and feel that we're going to somehow guilt ourselves into never leaving them and winding up being "that guy" who's in 5,000 groups (or more recently, "likes" 5,000 pages) on Facebook. And I don't want to be that guy.

But it also seems like these groups are missing the point, or rather, that they paint an incomplete picture of things. I would submit that while it is always good to pray and make our intentions known to God, it is also good to make sure that we really pray without ceasing, to establish a rhythm of prayer which doesn't depend on tragedy or special blessing.

I'm terrible at this, by the way. My closest thing to a daily rhythm is a daily decade of Rosary and a "God, help me to be better tomorrow" before I go to sleep.

Anyone else have thoughts on establishing this rhythm? Anyone have ideas on how to do it other than brute force?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Live Action, Defining a Lie and Bible Stories

It's about time I actually put down thoughts on the matter. Recently a conversation with a friend spurred me to want to read more, on each side of the issue.

For those not familiar, the debate basically concerns a sting operation Live Action did on a Planned Parenthood clinic. In said operation, two of their people entered said clinic dressed as a pimp and prostitute. It is clear as far as I am concerned that their stings have done some good in effect, but a question has arisen even among Catholic pro-lifers: did they tell a lie in the moral sense, that is, did they do something the Catholic tradition considers lying?

Before I continue further I ought to state my respect and admiration for what L.A. does. They go deeper and more proactively into what is, in actuality, a battle. As a man who (because he possesses a penis) is quite frankly too scared to get in the game on many fronts, I'm not going to sit here and say I think they should just back off of poor old Planned Parenthood, unless I think it direly necessary. And I don't, but I'll explain. Likewise, I should make it clear: I don't think that in any extreme deception-case, including the Live Action case, anyone will be going to hell for whatever deception they have committed. There's a big line between venial and mortal sin, and in my unprofessional opinion there's virtually no way, in any case, between their own views, right or wrong, and the situation's context, that L.A. crossed that line.

So why do we care? Because if we insist on being virtuous, that means examining ourselves even for the specks in our eyes if we ever hope to help heal the world. And if all boldfaced lies are wrong, then telling them--even in the service of the truths the pro-life movement offers--is also wrong, and a potential compromise to our witness. Now I won't be dealing here with the claims of certain people in the world that L.A.'s sting videos and even their official unedited versions are doctored. I don't much have the patience for that and, quite frankly, it may be a bit outside the scope of this blog. Maybe in the future.

Deception is not automatically lying. Visual deception, merely hiding something, is not telling a lie. Now it does muddy the waters some, and some extenuating circumstance does seem needed to justify it. But it's not the same, for the Catholic tradition, as uttering a boldfaced lie. Note that I will be focusing on verbal lying here; what exactly it means to "act" a lie seems a more malleable concept and in the Catholic tradition most "actions" that don't somehow equate to speech seem to get a free pass, even if deceptive, even from the more "conservative" side of the coin.

Definition: I tell a lie that is boldfaced if I state something with a high degree of clarity which is false. Thus a lie by innuendo, or a phrase commonly understood to be ambiguous, or an ambiguous phrase which is literally true, is not a lie.

E.g. checking the check-box next to "I have read and acknowledge the terms and conditions" on an internet form is hardly lying; someone correct me if I'm wrong, but its real culturally defined meaning is "I acknowledge your butt as legally covered by these terms and conditions," not "I have read with great care and concern each and every letter of these terms and conditions." Long story short: If the statement is such that a reasonable person might guess your employment of innuendo or ambiguity (even if you know they won't), the majority of Catholic theologians won't call that lying, even if they believe that what can be called a lie is always intrinsically wrong.

In the Catholic tradition the definition of a lie, in the sense that is a sin one may be culpable for, is one of two competing notions. The following definitions will help us explain. The word error as referred to here, will be taken to mean factual error. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, and let me know which thinker or authoritative source is saying it means moral error, so I can find out. The only ones I know of so far, for sure, for sure is the guy Tom who runs that Disputations blog and Steve Kellmeyer, though Dawn Eden took the opportunity to disagree with him in the comment box for his post which I shall reference later on.

Definition 1: I tell a boldfaced lie to person X in order to lead X into error.
Definition 2: I tell a boldfaced lie to person X, where X has a right to know the truth in order to lead X into error.

Now the weight of the Catholic tradition, including most authoritative speakers, seems to fall with Definition 1.  I also hold to Definition 1 but I have serious sympathies with Definition 2, and to give full disclosure I should prefer it; it would solve many problems for me about getting a coherent concept of "lie."

So I read and/or re-read some stuff. Including the following articles which I'll present as my highlights:

* Truth, Love and Live Action by Christopher Tollefsen (The Public Discourse)

Tollefsen suggests that Live Action's actions, ultimately, were not loving. By my reading he may be overstating his case on this one, though he raises the excellent question about whether having truth (facts) on the pro-life side is undermined by using tactics in which we speak untruth (against the facts). For my personal taste, philosophically speaking, Tollefsen didn't focus enough on the specific tactics but more on the general tactics of L.A.

* In Defense of Live Action by Christopher Kaczor (The Public Discourse)

Kaczor suggests that Tollefsen has overstated his case and offers not so much a defense of Live Action's specific actions, as a suggestion (which in my opinion is fully defensible) that not all deception is in and of itself lying and that we need not condemn their general tactics. Kaczor also offers the brilliant suggestion that Live Action phrase its statements as hypotheticals. Instead of saying what they did say, that they were involved in sex work, they could say "say I were X." Since the statement doesn't positively state a factual error or attempt to lead anyone into moral error, I'm not sure how it could fit the Catholic definition of lying. Whether they can still wear the pimp and prostitute costume is something I'll leave to the philosophers.

* Why Live Action Did Right and we Should All Know That by Peter Kreeft (CatholicVote.org)

Kreeft appeals strongly to intuition in this article. I must say I wanted to agree, intuitively. I didn't, but I wanted to. Those who know me well enough know I don't consider my intuition to be at all infallible. However, I felt that (intentionally or no) some of the language Kreeft used insinuated that I and others in disagreement with him had broken moral intuitions, which put me off more than his general method of argument did. Kreeft made the claim that "[p]hysical hiding and verbal hiding are two sides of the same coin," which I'm pretty sure is false in Catholic moral tradition, though the two are clearly related. As far as I know Kreeft has yet to write anything along more "logical" lines that might help convince someone like myself who takes the other position and isn't convinced by this piece; I hope he does.

* Fig Leaves and Falsehoods by Janet Smith (First Things)

Here Smith suggests that Thomas Aquinas's prohibition on lying is based on a faulty exception to his general rule that things not permitted pre-Fall (as in Adam and Eve) may be permitted exceptions post-Fall. She offers a number of examples from cases like lying (e.g. stealing and killing) which have examples of exception post-Fall which she believes may justify (by analogy) exceptions to what would have been a pre-Fall prohibition on lying.

* The Case Against False Assertions by Tollefsen and Alexander Pruss (First Things)

This was essentially Pruss and Tollefsen attempting to correct Smith on her argument about Aquinas's prohibitions.

I also read some other stuff on CatholicVote that basically followed on Kreeft's heels and that, quite frankly, I didn't find too much worthy of noting beyond that. One last thing worthy of note might be Edward Feser's blog post Live Action, Lying, and Natural Law, which probably most adequately represents my position on the matter. I got a lot more heated about the argument itself than I can ever remember getting about Live Action's actions in and of themselves.

There are of course some Biblical considerations. Hat tip to Steve Kellmeyer in his blog post "A Rose by Any Other Name" for pointing out what is, in my opinion, the best one. There are a few Biblical examples of
"praiseworthy" lying I will be considering here.

1. First is the example of the midwives in Egypt, who refused to kill boys on delivery at the command of the government. While the Lord clearly rewarded them, the text explicitly says they were rewarded for choosing God over Egypt. Unless someone's got some exegesis showing otherwise, I'm not ready to accept that God was directly praising their lying.

2. Second is the example of Rahab, who hid Hebrew spies with material vaguely on/in her roof, and lied to soldiers about where they were, saying they had gone out. This one seems more convincing. There's not enough evidence for me to conclude that God directly praised the act of lying here, though the spies did bestow protection on Rahab as a result, which was apparently theirs to give. But given that of the spies was being called praiseworthy, Rahab could perhaps have said something like "the spies have left my house," since being on or in the roof could hardly be considered being in her house, without lying. I'm not going to consider myself competent to exegete whether she was being praised for lying directly. This example bugs me more than the midwives as a person who holds Definition 1, if only because in this story it's a bit more plausible that Rahab is praised for lying.

3. The third example, which Kellmeyer introduced me to, was Nathan the prophet's story to King David. God sends Nathan to King David to convict him of what he has done in essentially murdering Uriah so that he might claim his wife, who he has slept with, without complication. To be honest, reading the story in its "plain interpretation," I'm not convinced Nathan intended the story to be taken literally. But King David certainly took it that way, at least for a couple of seconds, and that gives me more pause than anything else here; if a prophet of God can lie to make a point, than can't a modern, quite possibly prophetic organization, do the same? Of course, whether Nathan really meant the story literally is a matter for exegesis beyond this post. But it's more fun and tests the waters more to assume he did.

Now for the sake of argument I will assume Definition 2 of lying. In this circumstance we have still one major consideration about L.A.'s actions. Given the allowance for their deception given that the Planned Parenthood employees have no right to know what's up, do they still act outside of the authority which is proper to exercise such deception? I am tempted to believe "no," in which case they would under Definition 2 be fine, perhaps mostly because our current government could not step in to do similar work with similar ends because it has clearly decided that either its founding document (the Constitution) or its interpretive body of persons, is not really interested in upholding life for all. The other major consideration, and this seems more problematic under Definition 2 (which as you recall adds the qualifier that person X has a right to know the truth), is whether proactive stings on a pro-choice organization disqualify the boldfaced deception from being a lie the same way that, say, a Nazi at the door and a Jew in the basement could.

In the long run I come down on the "safe" side, that it is never okay to lie and that Live Action did something erroneous, though they were not culpable of sin. I do, however, believe that they could safely clear themselves of the charge of lying, at least as our current "safe" side advocates define it, with one or two modifications in specific tactic. I assent thus to the conclusion that appears the current teaching of the Church, that a lie told falling under Definition 1 is a lie in the moral sense. I want to accept Definition 2; it would eliminate anything that seems Biblically or intuitively problematic about Definition 1 (the Nazi example, Rahab and Nathan, or Kreeft's more extreme example.) But regardless of what level of assent the safe teaching requires (I'm not good enough on theology of authority to say; opinions seem to be variable), it is not infallible and neither am I, and I look forward to the ongoing resolution of this open question.

Last note: I am struck by how many people particularly on the more rigorous and less permissive side identify as Thomists. I suspect this is not a coincidence.

I invite any of the other keyboard theologians, or any readers, to add their thoughts.

Friday, September 9, 2011

The Bible Tells Us

The following is a reflection I wrote in the beginning of 2008 for the Faith and Leadership House of 2008-2009. With the caveat that standard Catholic modifiers now apply to everything I endorse, I still endorse what I had to say pretty much wholeheartedly. Anyway I dug it up, read it, and thought it worth sharing as a piece of blog.
The Bible Tells Us

The Bible, the Old Testament at any rate, tells us to stone people for all manner of offenses, including but not limited to sex outside the context of marriage. The Old Testament provides a few humanitarian measures on the matter, mostly attempts to account for rape, and the New doesn't seem to call for stoning on almost anything, but still: all these old laws. How do we decide which parts of the Law still apply, and in what way? (And this is not even thinking of which punishments should still apply?) If we choose one over the other, must we sacrifice the unity of Scripture to do so?

The Bible tells us to submit ourselves to the governing authorities. Does this command have any veto power over the others? What are we to do if we believe it is given to us in Scripture not to lie, and the governing authorities tell us to lie? For that matter, what if our parents tell us? Does that commandment have so much power that we should? Is this a situational thing? Common sense seems to say yes, to me, but common sense also tells me that dead people stay dead and virgins don't have babies. Christianity is not a common-sense religion.

The Bible tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. But what if our rejoicing is their mourning, or vice versa? If both parties try and do the noble thing, they're still not following the command, because one is still mourning and the other is still rejoicing. So what is to be done? Do both parties alternate the mourning and rejoicing? If this situation even arises, does that mean one party has done something wrong?

It is not only a question of when the rubber hits the road, but what happens when the rubber hits the road. At what point do contradicting ethical orders, or even contradicting theologies--and I do believe they are in play in the Scriptures--overrule each other, and how do we decide which one gets priority if there is a conflict between two or more passages?

But wait! You might turn to me and ask whether the whole problem hasn't already been solved by Christ, the Incarnate Logos, Jesus of Nazareth, who boldly put forth a mere two commandments as the sum of the Law and the Prophets: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. And who is your neighbor? Not the common sense answer, not just that jerk who puts up a 10-foot fence between your property and his or the nice old lady who keeps bringing you copies of Watchtower magazine. No, your neighbor is every man and woman: friends, enemies, short, tall, black, white, you name it, and to that end it strikes as logical that all our interpretations of Scripture, perhaps most when we see a conflict between two passages, ought to be guided by two principles: love of God, and love of humanity.

Of course, we believe that at least to a degree the problem has been solved, even if we don't know the solution. Christ establishes a new covenant. It isn't necessarily the case that every six-hundred-odd laws are still in effect. But as evidenced by the wandering writings of Paul on just about anything where the word "law" is involved, the matter is not simple, and at any rate, Jesus of Nazareth never gave us a chart of which verses trumped which. Whether he could have is a topic for another day!

Even at our most theoretical and uninvolved as Christians (and may I say in particular as an amateur Christian theologian) we are forced to get our hands dirty. Inevitably, it seems the case that one piece of the Inspired Word of God trumps another. And perhaps that is part of the point. Christianity is not a clean religion. It is not common-sense. If even the biggest theologians of a faith must get their hands dirty to do their work, what does this say for the lesser? If we're not getting our hands, hearts, and minds dirty as Christians, it means we might have to reexamine whether we're really going for the gold.

Thankfully, because we believe in a New Covenant it is allowed to us to talk somewhat of these things being a mystery, of not having everything handed to us on a silver platter, but handed to us nonetheless, of the world's issues having been addressed to some degree at least, and Sin in some sense atoned for, even though we don't really know why or exactly how. But when we get into specifics about what to believe, what to do, and what the Bible tells us--and to decide what orthodoxy meant, thousands of early Christians already had to do this, and imagine doing it without a defined canon!--when we get into the question of what the Bible tells us, of what we ought to believe and do, we get our hands dirty. We do have one agreement among us, at least, as a house; this is that God dirtied a hand for us in a very personal way. I suggest that it is our job, an imperative as Christians, to get our hands dirty in turn: by figuring out what we ought to believe and do, and by believing and doing it.

But not necessarily in that order.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Moments of Recognition

You ever have one of those moments that speaks to something universal in humanity?

I remember once in college when one of my mathematics professors, who was kind of a mean guy--mean in a soccer-coach-esque way, not really in a bad way--had a brief moment of confusion and stumbled while trying to finish a proof during a class.

I remember his disappointment with himself at the time. I remember getting an e-mail later on which finished the proof. It was a moment, as I recall, that spurred me to compassion, as I realized that all of us--even those of us who are normally quite confident and clear-headed about something--sometimes fail to be so. And our weaknesses are shown to the world.

It is good for all of us to recognize those moments in others, those moments of understanding, when hearts are, however briefly, worn on sleeves. But what do we do with that moment of understanding, when the weakness or ugliness or beauty of someone else is revealed in a way we're not used to?

Of course, the Scripture speaks of a time when all secrets will be revealed to God*--whether to the rest of us, it is unclear, or at least something I currently un-remember. Of course, one would suppose that at least for those of us in Heaven there will be no need to hide our hearts. But what do we do in the meantime, when we reach a moment of recognition, a secret weakness or ugliness or even beauty that we didn't know was there before?

I'm curious about the theology of secrets. In particular, does the Confessional have anything to teach to us (particularly those of us who are Catholic, but perhaps in other quarters) about secrets and secrecy vis-a-vis the divine? And how do we--or do we need to--reconcile the keeping of secrets that are ugly with the call to transparency?

Obviously I don't think it's so simple as "transparency trumps anyone's desire to keep a secret, ever," or I wouldn't be asking the question.

If anyone has a relevant verse or theological reflection to share relating to secrets, feel free. I'm curious to see where my explorations go.


* I should clarify, based on a Facebook message from someone who was having trouble commenting, that I think I am thinking of the notion of having to give an account of oneself on judgment day, though I ought to add that if there's a Scripture which says this plainly, it's not coming to my mind right now.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cynical Hope and the "O My Jesus" Prayer

While this reflection concerns (partially) a prayer that is a part of Roman Catholic tradition (little-t), the author considers the "O My Jesus" prayer to be worthy of meditation and reflection in its own right and invites all readers regardless of denomination to try and follow the trains of thought running on all the twisted tracks in his mind in this reflection.

It is said that when the Virgin Mary appeared at Fatima, she gave the children who were the visionaries a prayer that, for a Marian apparition, might seem strangely Christocentric (though if we Catholics are right about the purpose of Marian devotion, we shouldn't necessarily expect otherwise.) This prayer also, for an appearance more associated with conservative Catholicism, seems strangely universalist in its hope, even though it hardly advocates universalism. I suppose in that respect it resembles the Scripture.
O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.
I would advise anyone who thinks that sounds universalist to remember that the same tradition has Our Lady instructing us all to pray for the conversion of Russia, indicating that the leading of souls to heaven is, to say the least, far from complete.

I am in one sense a rather cynical Catholic; I find myself somewhat unsure that the world will be able to recognize the truths of Christianity and its ethos until it's too late not to go to hell in a hand-basket. On other hand I am believer and I walk by faith in Christ, the Sacraments, and Resurrection--and so even if the world is going to hell in a hand-basket, even if we're past that point of no return, there can be salvation for its people. Thank God. Perhaps if we pass that point of no return, as a society or as a world, it will shock a few more people into seeing the beauty of Christ. Sometimes I think people need to be nauseated by the Gospel--or perhaps by the radical absence thereof--before they realize something is wrong with a Gospel-less life. I'm not going to lie, I often feel like I ought to be trying harder at the whole "evangelism" thing.
O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.
At the same time, the world created by God is surely good, and I hope, sometimes against my senses, that it isn't actually going to hell in a hand-basket. That maybe society hasn't passed that point of no return. But I guess with all the wars, strange relativism and culture of death floating around it's sometimes hard to be optimistic. And yet I do try, in accordance with good Christian hope, to hope for the salvation of all, and not to despair too much. After all, the creation is still beautiful, even if sometimes its beauty is obscured by the sinfulness of man.
O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.
As we draw further on in a given society, there will be those who serve Christ and life, and those who serve the Enemy and death. Those attempting to be 'tolerant' or in the middle will need to pick a side. There is a strange connection here to the personal "last things," as we continually near our deaths. Let us hope that as many as possible will find themselves on the side of life and Love in the end, both in their personal end and the end of their respective societies, if they are around to see it.

If the Lord wills, I will be, in the end, worthy of the Resurrection.
O My Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us from the fires of hell, lead all souls to heaven, especially those in most need of thy mercy.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Christian Carnival: Wednesday, July 20

Welcome to the Christian Carnival for Wednesday, July 20th. Hope you all enjoy this.

Caveat: This is a Carnival open to Christians of Protestant, Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic persuasions. As such, it goes without saying that even as a host and as a Catholic I make no endorsement of any positions advocated in the linked posts; that's not to say I un-endorse them, so much as this is a Carnival of ideas, and there is certainly somewhere in these pages an idea with which I (or the Church to which I claim loyalty) will disagree. The Christian Carnival's Facebook page can be found at, well, here.

Scott Masters presents To Casey Anthony… We Are a People of Grace posted at The Jesse Lee Project, saying, "A Faithful perspective on the aftermath of the Casey Anthony Trial and acquittal"

Deano presents Discovering my test... Psalm 139 posted at My Jarrol Spot.

loswl presents The Eye is the Lamp of the Body – Part 2 posted at INSPIKS, saying, "I think a lot of Christians indulge in the sensual, thinking it is ok as long as they have not went far enough to commit the physical sexual sin."

Maryann Spikes presents Unintended Coincidences in the Bible by Tim McGrew posted at Ichthus77.

Createlive presents A Cross In The Sand posted at CREATElive.

Joe Plemon presents Book Review: Managing God’s Money by Randy Alcorn posted at Personal Finance By The Book, saying, "Randy Alcorn's newest book is, in my mind, a life changer. The review explains why."

Chris Price presents Ben Franklin, George Washington, and Christianity posted at American Church History.

Jason Price presents How Do You Define Generosity? [Christian Financial Alliance] posted at One Money Design, saying, "Christian finance articles help us learn the definition of generosity and explain it in their own terms."

Maryann Spikes presents Good without God? posted at Ichthus77.

Violet N. presents Treasure Book posted at Other Food: daily devos, saying, "Imagining life without the Bible makes one appreciate it more."

michelle presents oh that I will open the door? posted at going into all the earth....

Caffeine Coquette presents How Running Makes Me A Better Mother posted at The Caffeine Coquette, saying, "The strength I develop through running has benefits that go beyond physical. For me, running is like meditation, a way to connect to nature, grow closer to God, find inspiration and stimulate creativity."

Russ White presents The Modern Obsession with Confirmation posted at Thinking in Christ.

Ridge Burns presents The Power of Thank You posted at Ridge’s Blog.

Josh presents Bible Verses About Patience: 20 Scripture Quotes posted at What Christians Want To Know, saying, "Check out these 20 great Bible verses about patience."

Lastly, I (cheating a little, my post wouldn't have made it in under normal submission rules) am submitting from KBT, my entry, America the Beautiful - Appropriate for Church? in which the question on the tin is pondered and I humbly request your thoughts from within your particular "how we do Church" tradition.

America the Beautiful - Appropriate for Church?

I'm still up in the air about the appropriateness of lots of different songs at Mass.

But a few Sundays ago we had..."America the Beautiful" as our...closing song?

Granted I think the Mass was technically ended at that point. Granted that there are a lot of songs that do get sung that are questionable and sometimes heretical. But still. It's patently an anthem to the country, not to God. Now I do think a similar criticism (an anthem to the congregants, not to God) could be raised for some of the songs we sometimes sing. But at least the nominal point of those songs is, nonetheless, to draw the people into the worship of God. I hope.

Singing a patriotic song, on the other hand, had no legitimate place at that Sunday Mass. Yes, the chorus mentions God. But you're singing to America, which, well...one of those songs was not like the others. And yes, technically, it wasn't Mass at that point, but given that to be "proper" I have to stay and am being encouraged to stay after that song to pray, I'm basically trapped with a non-worship song. Now I'm still up in the air about it, not because I'm an American, but because on further reflection the lyrics strongly imply that God is not done with our nation yet and petitions Him to do greater things for it. But again, on the other hand, if a song sung essentially to our congregation (even if in the first person plural) is inappropriate in that context, I'm tempted to say the same of a song sung essentially to our country (in grammar as well as in spirit.)

Thoughts? I'm curious about peoples' thoughts coming both from more liturgical and musically 'conservative' traditions as well as otherwise.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Dan Reads the Catechism: Paragraph 103 and the Kneeling Argument

I remember having a huge argument once in the Faith and Leadership House. Actually, the argument was between the house and one of our directors over whether we should kneel at Mass. It was a pretty infamous incident for us and one that (still) stretches me on whether we were truly submitted to authority in Catholic fashion.

The authority in question was a professor at the University who asked us why we knelt during or near the consecration at Mass, and while we weren't all this vehement about it, she and one of the more staunch Catholics in our house got into a fairly intense debate about it. At one point, when she mentioned Christ being present in the reading Scriptures (the implication being, so far as I took it, we should kneel then).

Now the counterargument offered, and if I recall correctly it was at the time, was that there was a qualitative difference in these presences. (The authority this person exercised, by the way, was that of an official faculty director of our program, and the extended question was whether the instructions to Catholics in our area indicated we should kneel at the consecration or not. My question as to authority was whether we ought to have obeyed her recommendation despite believing we were right; what would Jesus do?)

But paragraph 103 says "For this reason, the Church has always venerated the Scriptures as she venerates the Lord's Body. She never ceases to present to the faithful the bread of life, taken from the one table of God's Word and Christ's Body" (source).

Now intuitively, going on history, it seems like the Real Presence in the Eucharist is a qualitatively different presence from Christ's presence in the reading of the written Word of God . After all, I don't recall any Early Church Fathers ever saying that the letters of Paul were "the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again" (source).

But paragraph 103 itself gives...little, if any, indication of such a difference. Perhaps some later paragraph (on the Eucharist, perhaps?) will clarify this for me. In the meantime I continue to be struck a tad confused by the lack of distinction drawn here. And it seems like the professor in question may have had, at the least, more intuition behind her thought than we wanted to grant at the time.

There's something about paragraph 82 that bugs me, too. I don't disagree with the paragraph. But it brought something to light that begs further investigation. More on that later.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

So I'm Reading the Catechism

Paragraph-for-paragraph. I hope to find lots of interestings.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Quiz question

What, for St. Thomas Aquinas, is the hidden reality signified by the Eucharist?

Answer forthcoming...

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Christian Carnival

Christian Carnival! It's here. KBT is hosting.

The Carnival welcomes Christians of Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic convictions. Posts are below, with author comments in italics:

Henry Neufeld presents Every Christian a Theologian ? an Equivocation posted at Participatory Bible Study Blog. If all Christians are theologians, as Karl Barth claims, why do I say I'm not a theologian?

Albert Rommal presents Elders Oversee the Making of Disciples posted at The Sovereign God.

Katrina Kaczmarek presents The Lion | Love Can Sit Anywhere posted at Love Can Sit Anywhere.

Maryann Spikes (Ichthus77) presents Just Love posted at Ichthus77.

Barry Wallace presents It?s not about Rob Bell posted at who am i?. What's at stake in the Rob Bell controversy?

Tyler A. van der Hoeven presents Christians and Money – The Struggle Within posted at INSPIKS. Is it right to gain a profit for my work through large companies or from my close friends and fellow believers? There are several answers to that question and I would like to share one with a story.

Kaleb presents Our Prodigal Father posted at W2W Soul. We all know the parable of the prodigal son told in Luke 15:11-32. To briefly recap, the parable tells of a son who squanders his inheritance, is forced to endure dire circumstances.

Rey Reynoso presents Get The Gehenna Out of Here? posted at Rey Reynoso. Part 3 in a series on Hell during Hell Week on The Bible Archive.

Jeremy Pierce presents Miroslav Volf on Muslims and Worship of God posted at Parableman. Miroslav Volf looks at whether Muslims worship the same God as Christians and spends some time thinking through the practical issues that (perhaps) follow from his stance on the issue.

Ridge Burns presents Unity and Working Together posted at Ridge’s Blog.

Paula Pant presents What The 7 Deadly Sins Can Teach Us About Money posted at Faith and Finance. I review the Biblical roots of the 7 Deadly Sins, and explain what each of these sins can teach us about money.

I apologize for not making/taking the time to do a more thorough job of hosting. Next time around I will. Please let me know if I missed anyone so I can add their post.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Liturgical Awesomeness

The following link is to a lecture which was recently given at Catholic Univ. of America by Rev. Jeremy Driscoll, OSB. Fr. Driscoll teaches at Mt. Angel Seminary in Oregon and also at San Anselmo in Rome. He is also the author of the excellent book What Happens at Mass.

He speaks about a very interesting subject: logike latreia (Romans 12:1, commonly translated as 'spiritual worship', but the same words are found in Eucharistic prayers East and West as 'reasonable worship')

(The audio is bad for the first minute or two of Fr. Driscoll's lecture, but you don't miss anything substantial)

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Not a Theology Textbook: The Last Gentleman

This is the second of a series of posts I started way too long ago about books that are theological, but not theology textbooks.  Example of a theology textbook: Justo L. Gonzalez's The Story of Christianity. Example of a theological non-textbook: Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory. While a good non-textbook should mesh well with Christian teaching, it may not mesh equally well on all points and should not be read like a theology textbook.

The book I'll be talking about in this post is The Last Gentleman by Walker Percy. The book is about baptism. I'm only halfway joking. I find that with Percy novels thus far, I can pick a featured sacrament, "the modern world," sex, or hope, and say "this book is about X", and I'll be at least somewhat right. So for the fun of it, if nothing else, I insist that The Last Gentleman is about baptism.

The Last Gentleman concerns the adventures of Will Barrett, an amensiac engineer--custodian--who falls in love with a woman named Kitty Vaught at first sight and sets out to pursue her.

The book's theological tones become more apparent as the story picks up, and Will awkwardly courts Kitty. This leads to his eventual involvement in her family and their affairs, especially with her dying brother, Jamie and brother Sutter. Percy has a lot of things to say about love, hope, despair and sex as Will journeys from New England to the south.

Barrett's world is alienated, and he feels out of place. He is miserable when others are happy and only happy when things are going seriously wrong. When he falls in with the Vaughts he begins to find his place again.

At one point in his journey, Will meets a member of the family named Val Vaught, who has up and joined a nunnery after being influenced by a sister in a social work program. Val is said to be religious, though not in the conventional sense, and the reader discovers later on what this means. She is a gem of a Percy character, and expresses well a common Christian struggle:
‎I believe the whole business: God, the Jews, Christ, the Church, grace, and the forgiveness of sins [...] I'm meaner than ever. Christ is my lord and I love him but I'm a good hater and you know what he said about that. I still hope my enemies fry in hell. What to do about that? Will God forgive me?
One theme that is prominent is the theme of sacrament as a hope for the world. In his travels Will discovers pieces of a correspondence between Val Vaught and Kitty's other brother, Sutter. The correspondence he reads gives the reader a good dose of Percy's recurring theme of the world, really, needing the Church if it is to be human, and what the world will do if the Church is not available.

Ultimately the winding series of adventures that Will has come to their completion on the points of hope and salvation. Accidents and amnesiac incidences that turn out, in the end, somewhat providential or at least for the best, are a big element of the book.

If the book goes wrong it is in overemphasizing the usefulness of the paths of sin as providential. The book's use of the theme of hope may strike some Christian readers as being too vague, and some readers (this one among them, sometimes) may be uncomfortable with Percy's use of sexuality for his philosophical ends. The theme of sacrament is there, but it is milder and less obvious than may suit the taste of some readers. Percy is not a comfortable writer, and not everyone will be comfortable with this.

In the end Percy paints a wonderful portrait of a wanderer eventually finding his way to a sort of home and helping to bring some hope to others along the way. It is not an overtly religious journey, though it is spiritual and sacramental, and as I will insist, with at least some degree of seriousness, it is about the sacrament of baptism. In this novel Percy cannot contain his Catholicism, not that he would want to. Barrett's journey from a sort of homelessness to a sort of home, to a place where he can help give hope, and Percy's portrayal of faithful and philosophical Catholicism along the way, help make The Last Gentleman, in an awesome way, not a theology textbook.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Under What Circumstances: #1

Is it acceptable to punch someone violently?

I'm not asking if it would be legal, I'm asking if there's a circumstance that would make it moral, or even obligatory, civil law aside. Note that the qualifier of violently is added to ensure we are not speaking of merely jovial and fraternal punches, which are a trivial case to my mind.

Let's play "construct the example" here. I'm not trying to argue for a non-Catholic ethic, and "punching people is intrinsically immoral" is an option, but I'm going to want a defense of that.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

A Scary Prayer

There's a line that I read recently in the context of Will Deming's Paul on Marriage and Celibacy (which, by the way, is now done). I actually only read the last half of it first, and while I'm 99% sure I've heard it before, it's still the most haunting line in Christian liturgy that I've ever heard. It's from the post-Eucharistic prayer in the Didache and it goes as such:
Let grace come, and let this world pass away.
Let grace come, and let this world pass away. There's something melancholy in those lines; such a lack of care for the present state of affairs. I realize intellectually that it has, at least on some level, the same implications as the intention "Come, Lord Jesus." But its tone differs.

When I saw the prayer again in Deming's survey, the only part he used for comparison (and thus the only part that I reread there) was the part of the intention that God would "let this world pass away." When you hear it like that it almost sounds despairing--"take this world away, God!" But the context of the sentence, if not the Christian liturgy itself, makes it clear that whatever this says of the value we place on the world as it is, the point is the greater value on the grace that comes...This world passes away, and we have a new heaven and a new earth...

Sometimes I think it's easier to have that prayer on our lips when things are going badly. Maybe what I need to do is get it on my lips even when things feel like they're going well. But still, in any case, that phrase haunts me...

Let this world pass away...

Monday, January 31, 2011

Fellow Catholic KJ Celebrates 1000th Post

Friend of the blog (or at least this blogger, I think Mike knows him too or something) Kevin Johnston celebrated a milestone with his 1000th post today. This isn't totally postworthy but I figured I'd make one anyway. Check out the post here.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

An early Eucharist, with a history lesson

We rarely see historical accounts of actual celebrations of the Eucharist, but we do have one very early source for what the early liturgy might have looked like!

The service went as follows:

The celebrant talked until midnight.
A member of the congregation fell asleep on the windowsill, subsequently fell out of the window and died.
Celebrant brought him back to life.
The Eucharistic meal finally took place.
The celebrant, having learned much from the earlier debacle, talked until daybreak. (cf. Acts 20. Long winded homilists have an illustrious predecessor)

Many Church Fathers agonized over the issue of how best to keep people from the windowsills, since the problem of falling asleep during homilies seems to have been one of the great crises of the early Church. The early incident accounted above has been cited as possibly the strongest reason for the eventual movement from the house church (with the possibility of a second story), to a one story plan, to reduce the height of a possible fall. A group of third century heretics, however, referred to as the spatium superiorists, held that it was improper for the Eucharist to be held on any floor lower than the second, as the Last Supper had taken place in an "Upper Room", and that to celebrate it on the ground floor was contrary to the command of Christ. Sadly, their homilists did not break with the rest of the Church on the subject of homily length, and fatalities resulting from sitting at the Eucharistic celebration soon reduced their ranks to a level which left them merely as a footnote of history.

A later and more popular solution to the falling-out-of-windows problem, at least in the West, was to build the windows at a level higher than the people, or at least their rears, could reach. This eventually resulted in Gothic architecture. St. Bernard railed against this style, mainly due to his opinion that it was mortally sinful to fall asleep during a homily anyway, and that the design of the church building didn't need to bow to considerations such as coddling hardened sinners. He points out in various homilies that the word used to describe how one moves toward the ground from a higher position is also used for those who turn back to sin. A coincidence? Hardly!

The Protestant reformers took a new and innovative approach. They introduced a device called the pew, which was made to look more comfortable than the windowsill, thus attracting the worshipper away from flirting with death.

After the success of the original pew, many decided to attempt to attract more worshippers by sporting comfortable luxury pews, made to give a better sitting experience than could be found elsewhere in the known world. Pope St. Pius V is said to have quipped that he would have traded the Chair of Peter for any one of the new pews , made in northern Germany. Unfortunately, while fatalities were down, falling asleep during worship services became nearly epidemic.

As a reaction, a new movement formed, which was of the mind that pews should be as uncomfortable as possible, thus encouraging wakefulness. At the same time, in the comfortable pew confession, extant lectionaries show the increasing prevalence of readings regarding the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, as pastors tried to find ways to address the problem.

In more modern times, various groups have tried to deal with this issue which has plagued the Church since the early days of Christianity. In many places, coffee was introduced to keep worshippers awake (note the coffee shops appended to modern megachurches). Unfortunately, in those traditions which have a pre-Communion fast, the coffee (with later appended doughnuts), was placed after the service, negating any positive effect. Following the mandate of the Second Vatican Council to deal with this problem in new ways, Pope Paul VI lessened the communion fast in the Catholic Church to one hour before receiving communion. The stated goal of this was so that coffee hours could occur before the celebration of the Sunday Eucharist, but this failed to catch on.

As can be seen, these issues have a long and twisted history, and one can only surmise what the next move will be as the churches continue to attempt to solve this long-lived problem.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

On the Phrase "Sex-Positive"

A term often used to describe conservative viewpoints on sex by feminists, especially secular feminists, is that they are "sex-negative." This term is often used to describe viewpoints that seem to put down sex, to subordinate it to other things and thus to limit it to less than its full potential with respect to human fulfillment and pleasure. Thus the conservatives are thought sex-negative because they see certain limitations on the proper use of sexuality and the body, and the feminists are thought sex-positive because they see, at the least, fewer limits on what can or should be considered the proper use of the same.

Of course as Chesterton notes, there is something disproportionate in human sexuality, such that "the moment sex ceases to be a servant it becomes a tyrant." But I think Chesterton was wrong on the details of what this means, if he meant exactly what he said. As soon as we attempt to elevate sex, to be "sex-positive," it is not sex which becomes a tyrant. Sex goes from being a servant of God and nature to the slave of lust, and we go from slaves of Christ to slaves of our passions.

The moment we attempt to be sex-positive, to rule by consent instead of by divine and natural intent, we become instead sex-negative and pleasure-positive. We become convinced that sexuality and our bodies are things that can be abused in the name of our pleasure; we treat it as something there for our pleasure, not for the purposes endorsed by the divine, which do not themselves conflict with pleasure but which include over and above enjoyment the unity of persons and the propagation of the species.

It seems then that the sex-positive feminists, in desiring to liberate sex, have liberated it from freedom and unto our abuses. If you don't believe me, watch where the world goes on matters of sexuality in the next few years. Observe the broken-hearted people who can't properly manage their "friends-with-benefits" relationships. Wonder why people who use consent, rather than divinely-ordered responsibility, as their barometer for acceptability, so often wind up with emotional messes on their hands. And then tell me that these people are the sex-positive and liberated ones.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Christian Carnival 361

The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Orthodox, and Roman Catholic convictions. One of the goals of this Carnival is to offer our readers to a broad range of Christian thought.

Posts need not be of a theological topic. Posts about home life, politics, or current events, for example, written from a Christian worldview are welcome.

As the goal of this Carnival is to highlight Christian thought in the blogosphere, entries will be limited to blogs that share that goal.

We also expect a level of discourse that is suitable for a Christian showcase. Thus entries may be refused if they engage in name-calling, ad hominem attacks, offensive language, or for any similar reason as judged by the administrator.

The Posts

Jody Neufeld presents Beloved Children posted at Jody's Devotionals. Jody remarks: "Hell, negative consequences and being God's beloved children."

Henry Neufeld presents Praying Without Ceasing and Hyperbole posted at Participatory Bible Study Blog. Henry's comments: "Might there be a better translation than "pray without ceasing?" Can one really pray with ever stopping?"

Ali presents Can you believe in evolution and be a Christian? posted at Kiwi and an Emu.. Ali's summary: "Okay, this could be a contentious post. But I thought I'd throw it in there to see what people thought."

annette presents Bible Reading Plan posted at Fish and Cans. annette, apparently, has no further comment at this time.

Jason presents Feeling Busy? A Biblical look at “Busyness” posted at One Money Design. Jason's summary: "After the holidays we can all relate and know what busyiness is like. But, we need to keep in mind Biblical guidance and learn to slow our lives down."

Elsie presents Eerie Temptations posted at Elsie's Dating Adventure. "It's time for Christians to wake up to a serious problem!"

Timothy Payne presents A jesus, or The Jesus. | realityinred posted at realityinred. Timothy's summary: "Which Jesus do you serve? Is it THE Jesus of the Bible, or A 'jesus' of your own making? One is the Son of the Living God and God in the flesh, the other is an idol made in your own image. One can get you to Heaven, the other will lead you straight to Hell. Is it A 'jesus', or THE Jesus?"

Andrea @ Unfailingly Loved presents And My Word for the Year is ... posted at Unfailingly Loved.

michelle presents The Super Craziness of How God Speaks posted at And She Went Out....

Ridge Burns presents Psalm 15 posted at Ridge’s Blog.

Chris Price presents Vick Should Be Executed for Dogfighting? posted at Random Musings on Anything and Everything from a Biblical Worldview. Price's summary: "One conservative pundit thinks that NFL player Michael Vick should be executed for his execution of dogs. While Vick's behavior was reprehensible, there is no way that an animal's life should be valued over that of a human when looking at the issue from a biblical perspective."

Deb W. presents On Resolutions posted at All Things New. Deb's comment: "Rather than coming up with resolutions of my own for the New Year, I'm meditating on what Christ has already done and to what He has promised to His children."

FMF presents Prosperity, The Sneaky Side of Discontent, Part 1 posted at Free Money Finance. FMF's description: "How prosperity can make us discontented."

Scott Graham presents Cartoon Turns Muslims to Marauders posted at Iron Sharpens Iron. Scott's description: "This article describes the differences between the Christian & Muslim culture by focusing on a recent foiled terror plot."

The Caleb Community has The Richest Man who Ever Lived.

Lastly, our offering here at KBT is: Crazy Kids. A bit about marriage, culture and despair.


Kevin Poulis presents LivingOnTheEdge.org – Helping Christians Live Like Christians posted at SiteTally.com. It's in an "other" section because I am still highly curious as to whether sitetally.com is in any way shape or form a Christian website.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Crazy Kids

There's a strange impetus in our modern society against the idea that marriage really lasts till death. After all, only 50% of marriages do. What does that make the people who try and get married, who try and make it last? It seems like it makes them a bunch of crazy kids, setting themselves up against the "wisdom" of the world that these things just don't last. Even The Office, one of the more optimistically romantic shows on television, has an episode where a character in relationship with another, upon hearing that her parents are getting divorced, remarks that it was her parents, or his. Now it's true that in this case the good doesn't last forever. Marriage was only designed to last until the Resurrection. But it's nothing but cynical to say that the good shouldn't be expected to last as long as it ought to last, that is, until one partner is dead. It betrays a despairing lack of hope for the Sacrament of Marriage, and the love that can flourish between two people even in today's "modern world." I'm on the side of the crazy kids--the ones who say "one partner, one marriage, we'll make it till the end," and whether or not I ever become one of them I will remain on their side. Now it's true that perhaps marriages are more in danger nowadays, but that's a reason for caution, for being properly crazy and not marrying based just one one's feelings, for actually making a commitment to routinely take care of each other. It is not a case for despairing of actually making that lifelong commitment; that despair is the abdication of responsibility, not the sign. So I'm going to stay on the side of these crazy kids, warring against this Satanic cynicism that's been somehow disguised as wisdom.