Thursday, November 15, 2012

Cylinders and Crosses

The experience of God's massive and overwhelming nature is best found, for me, on sunny days or black nights. I'm not sure anything captures the beauty of the Creator any better than seeing His creation bathed in the light of His great lantern, and realizing that He is yet still bigger, yet still more shining. Or that anything captures His scope, His power and might, as well as staring into the void of space, and realizing that He is yet bigger, more massive, more infinite than the universe itself. When I apprehend the beautiful view of a landscape in the sun, or the void of space at night, I come closest to what I might call a healthy fear of God--"be still and know that I am God"--and that this God could crush me, that this God is more eldritch and big than the whole organism of the Earth and more consuming than the void, but that yet this God wants to know and to love me.

I don't understand.

Of course I can spend all the time I like chasing experiences that teach me the attributes of God by their massive yet massively imperfect analogy. But though nature comes close, there are, still, places and times in my life God can be found in yet more direct fashion. I speak, at least in part, of moments in time spent kneeling before and metal cylinders or crosses, housing something that looks like bread.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Christian Carnival

The Christian Carnival is here yet again! The Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox convictions. As such, while on this blog Papists represent, the reader should bear in mind that not every article linked here is written by persons who would consider themselves such.


Josh Wiley submits Daryl Evans' post Bible Verses About Trials: 20 Scriptures on Tribulations, over at What Christians Want To Know.
We all go through trials in life. Check out these inspirational Bible verses about trials and tribulations.
Romi brings us God Knows from his blog In the Way Everlasting.
"There is no such thing as coincidence."
Isabel Anders submits Guidance in Small Doeses from her blog BlogHer.
 What words of wisdom have influenced your choices or given your life new direction?
General Theology

Dave Moser sent along All the Commands of James from his blog, Armchair Theology.
The book of James has a reputation for being full of legalistic commands but if you look at all of the imperative verbs all at once you will see something interesting.
I present The Story of a Soul here at keyboard theologians.
I will (perhaps boldly) claim that in the Christian tradition it must be said that a soul's response to God is the primary and founding response it makes to all things.

Paul Kuritz presents Not By Bread Alone: The Hunger Games: The Book at Paul Kuritz: Opinions.
Does the novel The Hunger Games achieve its strength by tapping into the Christian story?
Shannon Christman submits Fellowship that Endures from InFaith's Mission Blog, a post by Jeff and Cheryl Norbie.
It seems as though the Lord is teaching us that His love transcends time and location.
Christman also sent along History from Ridge's Blog, by Ridge Burns.
Sometimes my history and my sentimental emotions get in the way of progress.
There you have it, folks. Hope you enjoyed this edition of the Christian Carnival. Feel free to go to the Carnival's official site to submit a post for next week!

ADDENDUM: I've added the entry under devotionals that was submitted via Blogcarnival. I had told Maryanne that I would be counting those and then forgot to do so. But please note that Blogcarnival is not really an approved submission method anymore and as far as I know, no host is bound to honor it.

The Story of a Soul

Marilynne Robinson, in the first of her so-far-excellent collection of essays When I Was a Child I Read Books, makes an interesting observation.
In contemporary religious circles, souls, if they are mentioned at all, tend to be spoken of as saved or lost, having answered some set of divine expectations or failed to answer them, having arrived at some crucial realization or failed to arrive at it.
Robinson is critical of this and sees a reductionism of the soul to a "token signifying cosmic acceptance or rejection, having little or nothing to do with [...] the felt experience of life."

I find this interesting. I'm not sure if I totally buy it, though to be honest, I'd be hard-pressed to name offhand the last time I heard a Protestant minister or even a Catholic priest mention a soul without talking about salvation pretty explicitly.

That said, I'm not sure it's as bad as all that. I think there might be a way to recover some of what Robinson believes we've lost (which I take from further context to be a sense of creativity of the soul, the soul as a world-experiencing object) without sacrificing the importance of salvation. Where the rubber meets the road, whether the soul is saved or lost is certainly the most important thing. And whether or not this implies a reduction of soul to its status, I will (perhaps boldly) claim that in the Christian tradition it must be said that a soul's response to God is the primary and founding response it makes to all things. Creativity, perhaps all experience at root, is all co-creativity, sustained only by the God who made the earth. That said, I do think there's already some talk about people who are creative in religious circles, whether their creativity is explicitly religious or not, and I think maybe, to a degree, Robinson is being a bit picky about the fact that maybe we just don't refer to peoples' souls in these contexts.

And while some people might see the following list as still reducing to a saved-or-lost mentality, I think the Catholic tradition has a lot to offer in terms of developing one's soul in relationship to God--morally and ethically, in the confessional and in the works of great theologians, philosophically, in some of those same works, aesthetically, in appreciation of nature, and prayerfully, in standards like the Liturgy of the Hours.

I wonder if the notion of vocation and co-creation could serve us well here as well. Encouraging creativity among Christians can never hurt. Certainly the Catholic souls of Augustine, Aquinas, Chesterton, Tolkein, Percy, O'Connor, Greene and Endo are present in their works. Certainly the souls of Calvin, Wesley, Lewis, and Robinson herself are present in theirs. The souls of many of those saved are not merely saved, they are in rapture. The how, the story of how a soul responds to that salvation--perhaps that is where the real creativity (or at least co-creativity) begins. How do we respond to the fact of salvation and sacrament after the fact, how does it change our response to the world, how do we then develop in relation to God? A plant emerges from a seed, but the plant does not reduce to the seed; perhaps this is how we could retain a healthy respect for the fact of souls saved and lost, without sacrificing other aspects of a soul's development. I'd be curious to see what Robinson has to say about souls she may doubt the salvation of. I would certainly volunteer that I would like to look at each of them and find them beautiful enough to help develop creatively or to experience more, but perhaps most of all enough to save.

For the record, a good bit of this post was written while listening to Jars of Clay. That awesomely, explosively creative first big album. (It's also been sped up a bit by Winamp, but that's my own special thing, and the music's just as good otherwise.) Just thought that was worth mentioning.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Waiting for the Clouds to Move

I went to a park near my house today to finish a Marilynne Robinson essay, “Imagination and Community,” from her so-far-excellent When I Was a Child I Read Books. And I will talk more on that book later; it's setting me down some interesting intellectual paths.

At any rate this park is basically a small forest, and I knew it was likely to be a bit cold for me in the shade I took a light jacket. I found a clearing with some play equipment, and thought at first I might settle on a swing and do some reading. This proved a bit uncomfortable, so I sat on the sawdust and leaned against the ladder of some monkey bars. I had noticed where the sun was likely to be headed, based on where it was rising, and I wanted to see if the clearing would get sunnier as the day went on.

While I was reading Robinson I did find some of my efforts to enjoy the sun being thwarted by clouds. Now by the standards of certain predictions of those persons known as “weather-people” the weather was actually quite nice, and it was by my standards, too. The sun-breaks came and went, and watching them on the way in was a fun distraction from the essay. I also found myself checking periodically to watch the progress of the sunlight when it came out in fuller force, and was pleased to find my prediction was right.

A startling moment: I discovered there was a spider crawling on my leg. How it got there without my noticing I don't know. I made a startled movement and a noise, and the spider jumped off. I watched my new friend for a second to see if it would crawl away, and it did. For a second after I was paranoid, but it did not return. It reminds me of an incident at University of Portland in which a ladybug had hid in my backpack and traveled with me across the campus.

At some point I noticed that the clouds were moving rather quickly, and that in a few minutes the sun would be out in full force for at least a few minutes. I overestimated, I think, both the time that would take and the time the sun would be in the pure blue sky, but I noticed something more interesting in the meantime.

I could see the sun through the clouds. At the first I wondered if maybe the ball I was seeing was actually the moon, but it wasn't. It was just the sun, obscured enough by the clouds that it was vaguely safe to stare. Based on the slight weirdness that followed in my eyes, I don't recommend it often, but it was an interesting experience. It reminded me of the description of the Miracle of the Sun, though if I understand correctly, people saw the sun at Fatima not through the clouds but in the open sky.

It also reminded me of an incident in the Old Testament, which a Christian blogger had brought to my attention a good few months ago now, in which God covered his face so that Abraham would not die from seeing it.

And once that sun did finally emerge from the clouds, it did emerge about as dangerous to my eyes as anything short of God could be. A notion about the sun, from C.S. Lewis: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen. Not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” Or another, from Chesterton: “The one created thing which we cannot look at is the one thing in the light of which we look at everything.”

I have remarked to one or two of my fellow people in the last month or so that I feel it is misguided for people to say that the world is beautiful when what they mean is that it looks beautiful. For the world to be beautiful it must be beautiful when there is rain as well as when there is sun. But perhaps there is still value in the fact that the world often looks more beautiful in the sun than in the rain. Sometimes it takes the sun to reveal the beauty of the world. Sometimes it takes God to help us see the beauty in people, to reveal their nature as it really is. The sun is really God's delegate for nature (as the moon is the sun's delegate at night), to do the duties for the natural world that God does for people.

Really, in this light (pun!), sun-worship is an understandable mistake. There is some analogy between the Divine and the sun. Just as the clouds made the sun 'safe' to see, so there is a 'fog' or a covering that makes the Divine safe for now, as we see through the glass darkly. Perhaps at that time when we can see the Divine without dying, we will be able to see the sun clearly, in the open blue, without wrecking our eyes. And we will see all, both nature and persons, as they were meant to be and in their proper lights.

For now, when I get up and leave those moments of seeing the sun through the clouds, and failing to see the sun in the clear blue, maybe the best I can do is thank the sun for shining, and God for assigning it the task.

Monday, April 23, 2012


I know a guy named Luke who told me the other day about a routine he had had once, of buying flowers for a girlfriend. It wasn't necessarily a thing he did just to mark special occasions, or to gain favor with her or make up for something he'd done wrong.

It was something he just did sometimes when he happened to be in the right place, and being there reminded him. Not exactly a liturgical ritual, but routine enough that it was a practice for him.

Now of course some men do buy flowers to get out of trouble or with lesser motivations, but not this guy. And of course, lacking a lot of utilitarian value, they're not going to be every girl's thing. But somehow I doubt their instrumental value was the point for Luke, or for the girlfriend in question. Obviously if she was not the type for flowers as a romantic gesture, a different routine would have been more appropriate. But the point is, it was something he just did sometimes, to show his affections.

I know this isn't just a thing exclusive to romantic endeavors for him--I know it extends to his spiritual practice as well, and many of us can recall the time he took a bunch of us to a very fancy restaurant on his birthday. And paid. Of course, he's not the only person on the right track in these departments, but his is the example I'm sharing today.

I know at the least that I could use more of that initiative to just do things sometimes with no substantial reason or motivator except to show others that we care. For that reason I found that particular tidbit to be pretty awesome.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Christian Carnival, for March 7th, 2012

[Note: Some stuff had to be rearranged category-wise and I'd missed Dustin White's post from Belzian. There was also some weird stuff with the URLs a couple of links were going to. Apologies on that, all links, quotes and posts are now included under the proper posts and in proper categories, and all the links work. That said...]

Welcome to this week's Christian Carnival, y'all. The Christian Carnival is open to Christians of Protestant, Roman Catholic or Orthodox convictions and hosted by a different blog each week. This week it's the keyboard theologians' turn, so here we go. In a typical host's caveat, my hosting this carnival doesn't automatically mean I endorse everything everyone has to say: Part of the point of the carnival is to be exposed to different points of view, after all. Anyway, have a look around and have fun being informed and challenged.


Carson Weitnauer presents Is Religion Bad for Kids? at Reasons for God.
Richard Dawkins and others claim that religion is bad for kids, even comparing it to child abuse and locking children in dungeons. I look at the evidence and find that these claims are leaps of faith, not supported by the evidence.
Janeva asks, Why Evil? over at In Front of God and Everybody.

General Theology

Carl Ayers gives us Mongergism, Syngerism, and God's Image over at Theological Pursuit.
How does the concept of being created in God's Image affect discussion concerning monergism and synergism? Are we saved or justified on account of faith alone? Is there any sense in which we are saved or justified on account of works? In two posts I seek to lay groundwork to answer that both monergism and synergism have merit.
I ask some sci-fi motivated questions about Prosthetic Bodies and Marriage here at Keyboard Theologians.
I recently re-watched the first season of the sci-fi anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, which raises some interesting issues.

Jennifer Vaughn takes A Look at Spiritual Awareness Month over at à la mode de les Muses.

Russ White gives us Genesis 3: The Consequences of Sin over at Thinking in Christ.
This final separation is separation from our Creator, God. What is the impact of separation from God? Spiritual death. To be spiritually dead is to be in rebellion against that which sustains you, to choose to live while choosing not to connect to the source of all life. It is a desire to be in the power of God while not being in the presence of God.
Over at A Christian Worldview of Fiction, Rebecca LuElla Miller speaks of Pollen.
"Pollen" is an article making an analogy regarding suffering. In particular I looked at James 1:2-3 and 1 Peter 1:6-7.

Over at Adventures of a Girl Who Loves Jesus, Michelle is provoked...
Journey with me to the mission field.
Ridge Burns considers The Ten Commandments over at Ridge's Blog.
I’ve been speaking all week on the Ten Commandments – twelve lectures on the Ten Commandments. Do you know the problem with the Ten Commandments? They’re convicting. They drive you to the person of Christ. They point you there because you realize there’s know what you can live to the standard of the Ten Commandments.
Rob Sisson looks at God's Glorious Provision on InFaith's Mission Blog.
Our God is the God of glorious provision! He provides in the strangest ways, but He always provides.
Dustin White at Belzian explores The Sacrifice of Jesus from a Non-Religious Perspective.
Throughout history, we have seen many great individuals sacrifice themselves in order to promote an idea or message they thought would be for the betterment of humankind. Many of these individuals did make great impacts on the world, which had long lasting impacts. Others simply have been lost to the sands of history. One such sacrifice was that of Jesus. Yet, it is also one largely misunderstood, or even denied by various individuals. With a closer, historical look, we can once again see what his sacrifice was, and whether it still effects the world today.

Jocelin at One Money Design talks about How to Talk to Your Elderly Parents About Their Finances.
Talking to our elderly parents or grandparents about money is not necessarily easy.  It is admitting to ourselves that they are not doing as well as they could and may need some assistance. 
Go to the Christian Carnival blogspot page to submit a post for next week's carnival.

Prosthetic Bodies and Marriage

I recently re-watched the first season of the sci-fi anime series Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex. It's an excellent piece of work. While the show is neither Christian nor Catholic, it raises interesting issues for Catholic theology. One such issue concerns prosthetic bodies and marriage.

A number of characters on the show are cyborgs, or humans with fully functioning prosthetic bodies. Most of their humanity, physically speaking, is in the approximate 3% of their brain that is still the original flesh-and-blood they were born with. Everything else is their prosthetic body and brain.

While this technology is far from real-life, very similar technology is likely to develop as the science of engineering artificial human body parts develops.

So the question then becomes whether marriage and the marriage act would be appropriate for persons with prosthetic bodies?

In Catholic ethics, intentional frustration of the procreative faculty of a given act (by artificial contraception, or by other methods) is considered an intrinsic and grave evil.*

Prosthetic bodies, at least as imagined by Ghost in the Shell, are certainly not impotent, as at least a few episodes of the series seem intent on pointing out. But they do seem contraceptive or rather to act as contraceptives, or at least to be sterile or infertile.

Sterility in itself would be no problem for a Catholic couple. But if the prosthetic body itself acts as a sort of contraceptive, this seems to change the game. I suspect for those of us who call ourselves Catholics, the morality of marrying and the marital act where prosthetic bodies are concerned will hinge largely on the question of whether those bodies are considered artificially contraceptive, or merely infertile or sterile.

Perhaps the situation is most analogous to that of women who have had hysterectomies.** In this case the  intent of the procedure in the first place would seem to play a role. If that is the case then erhaps that procedure, not the marital acts following it, would be the act which one could properly call right or wrong or should at least take the primary focus in theological-ethical discussions.


* This doesn't mean all contraception is the worst evil ever (lots of things are grave and intrinsically evil in Catholic tradition), but it does mean that it cannot be considered in Catholic moral tradition to be a "good" thing.

** One might ask why I'm not noting vasectomies here--I considered it, but a good key difference is that as far as I know, while not all men in marital situations are expected to reverse them, vasectomies are not candidates as moral actions in Catholic theology, whereas hysterectomies can be for medical reasons.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Love is Free as in Speech

The following post is mostly cribbed from notes I was taking while unfolding and expounding some ideas to my friend Nick at King Burrito one day. As such, where the word "Nick!" is interjected, it indicates a thought I feel I owe primarily to him, though he had opportunities to more subtly influence all of this as it was being written. So thanks in particular to him for taking part in this interesting process. Another friend of mine, whose blog I would link if he had one, made an appearance here, though it's in the form of a hopefully-verbatim quotation from several months ago.

An analogy from the open-source software community:
Free as in speech, libre: free from becoming someone's exclusive intellectual property. Used here we mean that a thing is free as in speech insofar as it is freely given, uncoerced.
Free as in beer, gratis: free from a cost, costing little or nothing. 
Open-source software is often both libre and gratis, but depending on the software and possibly on the license it can be free as in speech, that is, having its source code free from becoming someone's particular copyright possession, without always being given away at no cost.

A friend from work once claimed to me that "free love" was an oxymoron. I asked why. One of the examples from his response ran roughly this way:
If you pay for dinner on a date, and later on things become romantic in a sexual sense, is that love free?
There were two problems, however, with what I perceived to be the presuppositions at work.

Firstly, was there a subtle equation of physical affections with love, or even eros particularly, here?

 NICK!  Physical affection [including sexual contact] is an act of will.

In other words, physical affections may or may not represent/signify love and/or eros particularly, and even if they do, neither love nor eros reduce to physical expression.

Secondly, my friend's explanation of his statement seems to rest on the idea that "free" means free as in beer, not free as in speech. But the use of the phrase "free love" indicates that it rests at least partly on the definition of "free" as in speech.

 NICK!  The hippie definition of "free love" is freedom from the social and natural law constraints, as well as [often] from commitment to the other.

The truth the hippies may have sought, I believe, was a love free of societal pressure, fully committed to the other.

Now to my work-friend's example: Insofar as it becomes fornication and is thus enslaved to sinful nature, that gift is not freely given in love and is not free. But if it's not free, it's not free for those reasons, not because someone happened to pay for dinner beforehand. In this case, he was probably thinking of a date between unmarried persons, so the love is almost certainly not-free if I took his intent to be that sexual intercourse was taking place.

In a discussion tangentially related to this one I was analyzing with a friend a similar, though more innocuous example, and I was trying to figure out what made the love free. His answer:

 LUKE!  "Because it's a gift."

There you have it, folks:
Love is libre: Freely given.
Love is not gratis: There is a cost.
Freedom of choice in an act, then, does not imply no cost to the act.

We hit upon something subtle here that does not appear in my notes: We have now made a definite identification that love is an act and not merely a possession, abstract or concrete. It is a thing that can be given or mediated in the form of gifts to another.

Nick gave the better phrasing, or at least the better half of it, when thinking of the gifts we give to signify love:

 NICK!  The gift is free, but the gift costs something to produce.

All gifts truly given in love will cost something. They will cost one's time (basically all of them), means or craft  or money (a meal, a trinket), one's personal bubble (physical displays of affection), or a share in one's inner thoughts and life (perhaps especially letters or simply sitting and talking.) The gift is free but the gift costs something. Inevitably gifts truly given in love will build up to be gifts that cost you your guise of invulnerability, your walls.

Truly free love will have walls, but they will be walls to keep out sin and slavery, and not merely walls around oneself to maintain invulnerability. And this free love will allow the persons engaged therein to tear town their walls to each other.

What I've said here was prompted mostly by reflections on love in a more romantic sense free, though a good deal of it obviously applies to love in all its forms and I (along with the persons prominently quoted to help define what the freedom is in love) take our presuppositions from the Christian tradition of Love and its meanings therein. Note the cost of Love:

image from wikimedia commons
Two closing questions. I don't have an adequate answer for either and thoughts are welcome here, or on Facebook, or wherever:

If God is Love as part of His nature, is God's love free as in speech?

Is there a cost to receiving love from other humans? From God? If so, what is that cost?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

People of the Book

Picture, if you will, a future beyond the wildest imaginations of today's forensics dramas. The law-and-order branch of Government, at every level, has have grown so confident of its ability to convict criminals that it has have pushed their persons of political influence to eliminate, wherever possible, the right to enter a guilty plea, with the hope of maximizing the sentencing for dangerous criminals. The Government has found it pretty hard to draw the line as to which crimes could and couldn't be plead "guilty," so they have stopped trying. Now nobody can. Sometimes they won't even let you testify because you might confess to the crime.

In this same future, there has been an unfortunate convergence of different events and philosophies, such that religion is now under serious fire as a thing to be targeted for scrutiny, though not as yet aggressively eliminated, except in the first case. This first case had been the outlawing of "Islamic Radicalism." This was fine with most people, especially with most people who weren't Muslims.

Then the outlawing had expanded to "Islamic Semiradicalism." Of course, saying "semiradicalism" in this context was kind of like saying "Semipelagianism" to an old-school hard-core Calvinist, in that the word included so many people that it is almost a meaningless label.

So, for all intents and purposes, Islam has been declared illegal. Of course, ethnic makeup of religions being what it is, much racial profiling has followed, but in the interests of safety, the Government and its citizens have long ago stopped caring about that.

Of course, the Government had become at this point controlled by secularists so radical that Dawkins, Harris and Dennett would refuse to eat lunch with them. But it would be a few years before It would take on the Hindus, Buddhists, Jews and the Christians. After all, most of them weren't terrorists. But the outcry over the suppression of Islam from the thinking religious folk has translated into a less vocal, more riotous outcry from the less intellectual religious folk, and given the Government its needed excuses.

So let's fast-forward a few years.

The pattern of outlawing has now followed with each other major world religion. "Religious semiradicalism" is illegal, and so the thing popularly known as "religion" is now practically illegal. Ala the ancient Roman Empire, people of pretty much all faiths--except Islam, which has been declared too dangerous even in its semiradical form--are free to practice until someone complains. At that point, to the courtroom goes the Christian, or the Jew, or what-have-you.

Our story focuses on a Christian. He is no mystic, but carries a generally joyful spring in his step.

His name is Stephen, but he is not a martyr by stones. He is if anything a martyr by philosophies. He has been pelted by so many secular philosophies that it has induced, however small, a doubt in him. Existentialism, nihilism, secular humanism, and so on. So many philosophies, including the official philosophy of Government, which is at this point that man can indeed be good without God--without whom we would all be much better off. It is not the competing claims to revelation that trouble him, it is the claims to goodness without grace.

Stephen's Biblical namesake had things easy--the stones killed his body and could do no more.

For a long time one of Stephen's best friends has been an Arab-American Muslim by the name of Ali. Ali is a "semiradical" Muslim. Two years previous to our story, the police had gone on a five-week Muslim-hunt. Stephen's parish, which had begun meeting in a local high school gym under a pseudonym, had offered Ali and his family and several other Muslims asylum in their homes. Stephen had been assigned to feed and clothe Ali's family during that time.

"If there is ever a day that you need me, Stephen," Ali had said once, about three weeks in, "I'll be there."

Two months previous to the meat of our story, Stephen and Ali had lost contact.

Parishoners at Stephen's parish are murmuring. Murmuring about some of the more interesting facts about the trials. The thing is, whereas many semiradical Muslims have been convicted, many semiradical Christians have been let off the hook, despite being known as believers to the community at large.

And what was more, when they come out, many of those acquitted are no longer believers. It is enough to make the parishoners, in their superstition, suspect something Satanic is in play. It is almost as if the Government wants to make unbelievers, and thinks that Christians are a better target for this tactic than the Muslims, who are generally imprisoned and allowed a meager allotment of prayers.

Now someone has gotten mad enough at Stephen to accuse him of semiradical Christianity. Stephen is not afraid of being convicted. He is, rather, afraid of beating the charge.

The day for trial comes, the people take their seats, the room endures the formalities, and the prosecution presents its evidence. It attempts to show that Stephen associates with a known Christian community, does his charity work like one expects a Christian to do, has several religious articles in his house indicative of belief, and disciples new people into semiradical Christianity.

(1) Stephen is known to have been at several Sunday meetings of the "Community Club of Spiritual Growth." (The parish avoids talking about Mass at St. George's; it uses a more ambiguous terminology to avoid being shut down.) Several witnesses are produced; the accused recognizes one or two.

The defense counters by noting that everyone needs a social club, and there is no real reason to suspect this social club's means anything aside from what it says. The fact that the "SG" in "CCSG" is sometimes said to stand for Saint George, says the defense, cannot not be backed up by anything other than hearsay or circumstantial evidence. Even if the community is religious, this could simply be a way of maintaining social acceptability to fellow parishoners, particularly if Stephen hasn't expected to be labeled a semiradical. Religion is, after all, as much cultural as personal.

(2) Stephen has been seen with several known convicted Christians serving food to the homeless downtown. There is also testimony that he has been seen bringing food to widows of the Government's recent war. Some passersby to one such visit say they heard him singing a hymn with one of the widows, who was convicted a few months ago of semiradical Protestantism and allowed house arrest due to her husband's sacrifice. "Dulce et decorum est," after all.

The defense counters by noting that a few billion people are now known to be good without God and don't have to be religious to help the homeless. Even if Stephen has been serving with religious people, that doesn't matter. It just means that they both happened to be serving the homeless. With no mission statement in the soup kitchen marking it as religious, how could anyone say that Stephen is trying to serve the homeless for some Supernatural reason when much of humanity does it for perfectly natural ones? As for the war-time widow, the defense postulates that Stephen was merely engaging in a cultural commonality to comfort a sad old woman.

(3) The accused had his house searched after the accusation, and the Government has found a Revised Standard Version Bible (with the Deuterocanonicals), a King James Bible, and a Rosary within.

The defense counters by noting that, even if this indicates some connection to religion, the connection could just as easily be cultural as anything else. The Rosary might be a gift from his Spanish grandmother, as in fact it happens to be (they did their research on their defendant), and the Bibles could just as easily be for a knowledge of literature. After all, nobody has outlawed the Bible--it is still needed for understanding most of our great writers, if only to understand how they turned it on its head and created society anew.

(4) The accused, in the preliminary investigation, was overheard catechizing a new Christian at a coffee-shop downtown, reciting the eloquent-for-its-time, but still barbaric Nicene Creed, and using the words "as we believe" with respect to the same document.

This is damning on the surface, says the defense attorney, but let us look further. The same attorney then calls the investigator who had heard this supposed discipleship to the stand and questions him.

"Did you actually hear him indicating that he believed in the document?"

"I believe so, yes."

"You believe so. Did you hear it or not?"


"Did you hear him say 'as we Christians believe, Christ has two natures' or anything specific enough that he could not possibly have simply been quoting the document, or giving an example of something related historical figures or documents might have said?"

"No, but I don't know how 'as we believe' could have meant anything else."

"Are you certain? The first two words of the Creed, as translated in English, are 'we believe.' In other words, at no point in this conversation did Stephen actually indicate No further questions."

The prosecution of course does insist that they be allowed a cross-examination, but it is to no avail. Apparently Stephen and his disciple spoke in terms too general to identify either as a Christian. Stephen remembers that conversation. He remembers how they couched everything in ambiguity and allusion to avoid giving themselves away. Had he known this was coming...

The prosecution declines to call Stephen to the stand, stating that his brand of Christianity is simply too dangerous to allow the possibility of a confession, which might cut down on their ability to sentence him should they convict him. And they will convict. The defense declines to call Stephen to the stand for the same reason.

The prosecutor rests his case by noting that Stephen associates with a Christian community, serves with Christians and to known Chrsitians, has Christian materials in his household, and has been seen attempting to create new Christians. If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, barring evidence to the contrary, says the prosecutor, we are justified in concluding that it is, indeed, a duck.

The defense notes that this is, indeed, generally true. But what we are interested in here is evidence beyond the shadow of a doubt. And in our modern society, with so many philosophies informing what people say and do, if we are to accuse someone of a crime as serious as religious semiradicalism, we ought to have evidence that cannot be explained by any other belief system. A mere cultural Christian will have goodness passed down to him, and literature, and even meetings--and possibly even a tendency to teach others about his faith--but the first three can't necessarily be taken as any kind of hard evidence of his supposed religiosity, and the last is circumstantial at best--it can just as easily have been a conversation of two modern enlightened philosophers regarding outdated beliefs. In short, argues the attorney, the prosecution wants Stephen convicted of semiradicalism on shabby evidence. He is casually religious at best.

At the moment of the verdict, Stephen is nervous. What if his defense attorney is right? What if there is no real evidence of his being a Christian? Of course Stephen knows there is evidence of God in the universe, and evidence of the Resurrection, but...what if that evidence isn't good enough, and he really doesn't believe? Is there evidence inside?

The verdict of innocence is read, and Stephen feels darkness. What if it is not true? What if he really doesn't believe? Does he really believe? Stephen feels all the spring leaving his step. And he prays a desperate prayer in a moment of desperation and darkness.

"Saint George, you are the patron saint of my parish and all in it. If you are there, please help me now."

Let's rewind for a moment. Approximately half an hour's worth. And change scenery.

As it turns out, the reason for the separation of the the Muslim and the Christian was a more minor but more sustained Muslim-hunt in Ali's district of the city. As such he and his wife and children have gone into hiding with a group of radical anarcho-libertarians who will take any opportunity to combat the shrinking of freedoms by the Government.

At this moment, approximately half an hour before the verdict is read, Ali feels a distinct and unmistakable feeling, commonly known as the “gut.” He must go to the courtroom. He knows through the grapevine that Stephen is on trial, but now he feels called. He must go now. He must say something. What? It will come to him.

He tells the libertarian husband and wife of his strange feeling. He asks to borrow their car. They say yes, advise him to be careful, and then advise them that if he's not careful, he ought to at least raise a ruckus for the Government. Ali agrees.

Five minutes until verdict time. Traffic is rough. Ali pulls up to the courthouse, then realizes it happens to be time for his prayers. A few minutes' delay will be okay, his gut tells him.

At the time of the verdict, Ali navigates the bureaucracy of entering a Government courthouse and received three rapid patdowns. When an official stops him to ask if he is a Muslim, he grunts once. The official does not ask again. He gets a gut feeling. Floor three, courtroom two.

One minute past the verdict, Ali steps out of the elevator across from courtroom two.

Three minutes past the verdict and his prayer to St. George, Stephen is in the courtroom being congratulated by his attorney. He is not happy to have beaten the charge. He is feeling all kinds of something wrong. Will help come?

Five minutes past the verdict. People are getting up to leave.

A middle-aged Arab-American man busts down the double doors to the courtroom. He rushes in, shouting at the top of his lungs: "There is no God but God, and Muhammad is his prophet!"

The man then proceeds to begin saying his ritual prayers. Relevant uniformed persons promptly arrest the semiradical Muslim and take him off to prison, mid-prayer and--Stephen thinks--smiling.

Stephen gets a curious look on his face, and asks his defense attorney for a piece of paper and a pen. The attorney asks why; Stephen says he is writing a message for a lawyer.

The attorney assents. Stephen writes furiously and secretively, noting that the prosecutor has not yet left the room. He does not show anyone what he is writing. He politely hands back the pen. Then, before anyone can stop him, he makes a mad dash across the aisle to the prosecutor's desk and hands him the note. Stephen's eyes are look angry, but this is just the mask for something behind them. Stephen is feeling some intense feeling which strives to break at once inward and outward. He forces the prosecutor to read his note immediately. It's not certain, but one person will later say he heard Stephen threaten to "kick the prosecutor in the shins" if he would not read the note.

The note reads:

"You and my attorney argued several times during this trial about circumstantial evidence; evidence that has no hard form. This was true, sort of. But faith is the certainty of what is hoped for and the evidence of things unseen. I, the undersigned, fully believe all that the Roman Catholic Church proclaims to be revealed by God. It is on that basis, directly or indirectly, that I frequent St. George's, serve the homeless, sing hymns with Protestant widows, keep Bibles and Rosaries, and indoctrinate the youth with semiradical and barbaric Christian documents. And if all else should be lacking, you may take this signed statement as your hard evidence."

It is signed at the bottom in words only recognizable as "Stephen Squiggly-Line." The prosecutor stares blankly at Stephen for a few seconds, then back at the paper, then back at Stephen. Then he bursts out laughing.

"You know, I can't appeal this case, but I'll keep this all the same. It's just too funny. The things you people do to try and prove your faith."

"Even funnier are the things you people do to try and disprove it. But if you're still offering it, I'll take my freedom. Goodbye, Satan,” he says cheerfully to the lawyer. “We'll be praying for you." Stephen turns and leaves the courthouse, skipping inside despite his relative calmness outside.

As he leaves, he has a lot of thoughts about a lot of things. What all this can mean, the goodness of God, how he now has a friend to visit in prison and a family he will be helping to get by in the meantime, and whether the lawyer he has insulted had any idea what was said. To name just a few. But mostly he thanks God silently for people like Ali.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

To Men Who Style Themselves Chivalrous

To men who style themselves chivalrous, or somehow or other defenders of women, including the author of this post, in what are probably his better moments, if also his more prideful:

If the essence of chivalry ever really was in a darkened alleyway, walking home a mother, sister, friend, or lover, this is no longer the case.

Chesterton said that fairy tales describe what sane men do in mad worlds, and modern psychological novels describe what mad men do in sane worlds. We are the heroes of modern psychological novels, we are trapped in the setting of fairy tales, and there is no hope for us but in Christ. America is a mad world if there ever was one, and we, with our ability to presume false victory over our own impulses, are mad men. Our first duty is to guard our own hearts; if we don't do that, we can only do so much in guarding the hearts of culture.

Our first duty is to pray to God that we regain what is left of our sanity, to avoid losing our sanity to the surrounding psychology of the world. Only when we can begin to remove the planks in our souls can we proceed to remove the planks (and they are planks!) from the soul of our culture; this leaves us with nowhere to begin but prayer. A bunch of people with planks in their souls can do nothing to help each other without the grace of God. Once we've taken the vital step of acknowledging that we cannot do this on our own, we can move on to practicality, a step which I think we will all find remarkably simple, if somewhat uncertain.

As a first practical step I suggest that what we choose to think, what we choose to say, how we choose to conceive of women be guarded carefully, lest we give quarter to lust and concupiscence or anything else which dishonors. Any thought we have that so much as hints that a woman is lesser for being a woman, anytime we even remotely think of another human being as an object to be used, not a subject to be related to...we must take captive those thoughts and make them obedient to Christ. Furthermore we must cultivate a positive Love of all things in our hearts, so as to leave less and less room for these demons, be they personal or actual, to maneuver. And we must do this all without losing the spirit of prayer. Will this be hard? Yes. But virtue is our goal—avoiding sin isn't good enough to be called good.

The battlefield is no longer a darkened alleyway. This may be the case in special circumstances, but for most the bulk of the fight is spiritual, not physical, as much against oneself as against strange attackers. It is, and probably has been for awhile, in subjugating our passions to our spiritual needs, in subjugating our wills to those of Christ. If chivalry is really the middle ground that we have left between male chauvinism and the newer radical feminism, we cannot find it other than by following Christ, who, if chivalry is a virtue, was and is by virtue of that fact a chivalrous man.

Furthermore I suggest that if we are to take this positive meaning of the thing one called chivalry, and make it mean the defense of the honor or the rights of the other, that it is does extended to us as men and our honor. Indeed, in guarding our minds as men we guard our own honor as well as that of the other sex. At the same time there seems a special and qualitatively different mode of defense across the line of sex, but we must not pretend that only men are made to defend or that only women need defending from. But that is perhaps another conversation for another time.