Our “Shadow Side”

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English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Ch...

English: Ashes imposed on the forehead of a Christian on Ash Wednesday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When I was in high school, I did something that deeply shames me even today, thirty-three years later. A classmate and someone I knew from church asked me to take his tray since I was going to put mine up. The proper thing to do would be to say, “Sure, I’ll be happy to,” and put the tray up–it is a small thing, but as Jesus said, a cup of cold water given in His name is of eternal importance. Out of nowhere I said, “Why should I help you?” and walked away. I had no excuses. To this day I cannot explain my actions. I suppose that I was on the low end of the social totem pole and this individual perhaps was a bit lower–so I did a cruel, mean, and hateful thing to make myself feel better. I do not know if the person remembers it–in any case I have no idea where that person lives and that person may not remember what happened so long ago. I wish I had apologized at the time–too late now.  Psychologists have referred to a person’s “shadow side” that seems to come out of nowhere. Superficially that sounds profound–that at a subconscious level we have a cruel side that can break through into consciousness unexpectedly. I suspect, however, from the standpoint of Christian theology there is a simpler explanation–we are fallen, sinful beings. A natural love of self, which is good, turns into selfish pride, which is evil. The tendency to pump up one’s own pride by demeaning another person is part of that tendency. We have free will to resist, but we do not. We all sin, we all fall short of God’s glory. Thus, we all need God’s grace. If we have a shadow side, it is on the very edge of our consciousness rather than being far from it–we are responsible for our evil thoughts and evil deeds. Even a shadow side is a side, not separate from the self but part of the self.

I know that I cannot–and neither can any of you reading this post–overcome the temptation to pride on our own. It requires God’s help to do so. Even then, we will often fail. I suppose that is why the Catholic Church in all its branches affirms some kind of intermediate state between death and resurrection even if it is not called “Purgatory.” That prideful tendency to cut down others that reveals itself in cruelty when one’s guard is down must be, with God’s help, drawn out of our system. In my own tradition (Anglican Catholic) the Eucharist is the way to improve while in this life so that the next time an opportunity to help someone arises, I will help gladly and without complaint.

This is Ash Wednesday–“Remember, O man, that dust thou art and to dust thou shalt return.” Keeping that mortality in mind focuses us to be motivated to seek something beyond ourselves, our Creator God, to help us live a life in love and service to others and live with God and our loved ones (and, I believe, plants and animals too) in eternity. Hopefully all of us can put on that armor of light during this Lenten season.

As a Traditional Anglican Catholic Christian, What do I Believe?

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The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most ven...

The Theotokos of Vladimir, one of the most venerated of Orthodox Christian icons of the Virgin Mary. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The American philosopher William James, in his classic book, The Varieties of Religious Experience,  pointed out that a belief has to be a “live option” for a person in order for that person to seriously consider that belief. Other beliefs are closed options–and everyone, whether or not they are willing to admit it, have closed some options to serious consideration. As a traditional Anglican Christian, a member of the Anglican Catholic Church, there are certain beliefs I have about the nature of reality that close off other beliefs:

I believe in one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three persons in one substances. He is a personal God, both transcendent of the universe and immanent in it, all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good, all-loving. He is the personal ground of all existence and the source of all value.

I believe that God created the universe and thus that the universe is contingent.These two beliefs rule out pantheism. I will not consider it as a live option–period. I am open to versions of panentheism that preserve Christian orthodoxy if such could be found.

I believe that Jesus Christ is fully God, fully man, “God of God, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, begotten not made, being of one substances (homoousias) with the Father.” Jesus is qualitative different from the Buddha and the great Hindu teachers. Although non-Christian religions can and do contain truth and Christians can learn from them, ultimately Christianity has the fullness of the truth. Although non-Christians can be saved, everyone who is saved is saved through Jesus Christ.

I believe that Jesus came to earth as “very God of very God,” yet fully human as well. I believe that he taught in Palestine in the 30s of the so-called “Common Era,” that he was crucified, died, and was buried, and “on the third day rose again.” That is, I believe Jesus’ body was really dead, cold, dead by any standard, and had been dead for three days–then he was raised from the dead–literally. No Bultmann or Tillich or Crosson game playing allowed. I believe the literal bodily resurrection of Christ.

I believe that Jesus “ascended into Heaven,” though I do not fully understand what that means. I accept it through faith. He remains fully man and fully God, and is literally present in the Eucharist (the Mass or the Lord’s Supper) in both His human and divine natures. This takes place in a church in the apostolic succession that holds to catholic and orthodox teachings. What God does with other churches’ Eucharists is up to God, but His real presence is guaranteed in the Catholic Church (Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic, some Old Catholic groups, and the Anglican Catholic Church and some continuing Anglican groups).

I believe that we are born with the capacity to sin, a capacity that will inevitably be actualized once someone is of the age of accountability (which will vary from person to person). “Original sin,” the capacity to sin, is a reasonable concept. “Original Guilt,” Augustine, Luther, and Calvin’s idea, is not.

I belief in salvation through Christ that is normally given at the point of baptism.

I believe that one day we will be raised in physical, bodily form, from the dead–but with glorified bodies, physical bodies under the complete control of the spirit.

I believe in Purgatory as a place of continued sanctification after death, in Heaven as an actual place of eternal life in the presence of God, and in Hell as a possibility, praying that if possible God might save everyone, but realizing this may not happen.

I believe in the traditional moral teachings of the Catholic Church, including:

The duty to perform corporeal works of mercy.

The sinfulness of hatred, wrath, jealousy, and envy.

The sinfulness of adultery and of premarital sex.

The sinfulness of abortion at any stage of pregnancy.

The sinfulness of practicing homosexual activity.

The sinfulness of most wars.

The sinfulness of ALL torture.

The need to hate sin for its destructive power but still loving the sinner.

I am a Christian, certainly not a good one, whatever that means. Lord knows I have violated some of the Ten Commandments, but that is where God’s grace comes in. Grace is not a totally private matter but is mediated through the Catholic Church; Protestants may receive grace as well because their church is imperfectly in fellowship with the Catholic Church and retains the sacrament of baptism. If anyone asks why I try to put other systems of belief in a Christian framework, it is because I think there is something to those beliefs, and I am trying to find a niche for them in Christian orthodoxy. Any belief that is not able to be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church is a false belief, period. Am I closed-minded to some options? You betcha. So is any reader of this blog.

The 2012 Christian Scholars’ Conference

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English: Lipscomb University in Nashville, Ten...

English: Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

550 scholars from throughout the nation and some from overseas participated in the 2012 Christian Scholars’ Conference at David Lipscomb University. This was the first CSC I attended. It was only two years ago that I discovered that those outside Churches of Christ could present papers and/or attend the conference. Since Lipscomb was my Alma mater, I could not pass up the opportunity.

Besides seeing old friends I had not seen in years, I was treated, as were the other conference attendees, to top-notch Christian scholarship. I learned something valuable at every session I attended. In the session in which I presented a paper on functional magnetic resonance imaging and mind-reading (I do not think fMRIs can read minds!), respondents gave me some names of people from the computer science field whom I need to read. That advice should strengthen the paper considerably as I try to get it into journal-submission shape.

The theme was reconciliation, but there were papers in many areas: religious studies, theology, Biblical studies, church history, pastoral theology, and philosophical theology. The strong interdisciplinary focus of the conference is one of its strengths.

The highlight of the conference for me was the talk by Immaculee Ilibagiza, a woman who hid in a small bathroom with seven other women during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. Her entire family was killed. During her time hiding, she discovered faith in a God who acts, a God who requires forgiveness, and she was able to forgive those who murdered her family. Her willingness to forgive, the seriousness with which she takes her Christianity, her love for others, and her humility make her a saint of God. Her story put me to shame—and so many others who often refuse to forgive much less serious offenses than Ms. Immaculee Illigabiza suffered. What a fitting end to a splendid conference.

Having been outside Churches of Christ since 1986, and a member of the Anglican Catholic Church, one thing that surprised me was the openness of the members of the Church of Christ to those of other faith traditions. Another surprise was the higher liturgical religious services with litanies and responsive readings of the psalms. The participation of women in various parts of the service was also a big change from my days at Lipscomb. A big shock was that I was more conservative, both theologically and politically, than the majority of the conference participants. There were a number of papers covering issues of race, class, and gender, areas that, in my judgment, are too often abused by people on the left to further their particular agenda. There was a strong liberal political bias toward social democracy in the sense of the New Deal/Great Society model. There was also a strong sense that the Courts should override the power of the states for the sake of what is good. The difficulty with that strategy is that a Court that has the power to rule for the good also has the power to rule in favor of evil—and world history does not provide a particularly favorable picture of the use of government power. Those who assert such positions mean well and believe that they are practicing their Christianity by changing society for the better and by being “prophetic.” A friend of mine once said that a man at church who is tired after driving a truck for a living does not need a “prophetic sermon” on what a jerk he is for ignoring the concerns of (pick your favorite one or more of the liberals’ “favored groups”). What I hope is that the more liberal people at the conference realize that both liberals and conservatives are concerned for justice and for the poor, but they differ on strategy and on the role of government.

I am more concerned that theologically those questioning much of the tradition in which they were reared would be careful “not to throw out the baby with the bathwater.” There are essential Christian beliefs which are stated by the Apostle’s and Nicene-Athanasian Creeds and by the early councils of the church. The bodily resurrection of Christ, the Incarnation, that Jesus is fully God, fully man, the virgin birth, the Holy Trinity—all are essential tenants of Christianity that cannot be jettisoned without destroying the faith. In addition, the traditional moral teachings of the Church, including traditions concerning sexual ethics, should be affirmed and lived. When people are unsure of the identity of their tradition, especially intelligent and sometimes brilliant academics, it is tempting to lose one’s way.

Another temptation is intellectual arrogance, that “we are better than all those ignorant people in the pulpit.” I have been down that road—and it is a road of sinful pride. Everyone should read Helmut Thielicke’s A LITTLE EXERCISE FOR YOUNG THEOLOGIANS.

All that being said, the 2012 Christian Scholars’ Conference was a splendid conference, and God willing, I hope to present a paper there next year.

Should Churches Discipline Heretical Members?

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St Peter's Rome

Image by nerosunero via Flickr

The word “heresy” is considered politically incorrect these days in a world in which the only “heresy” is orthodoxy. As someone in a traditional Christian church (the Anglican Catholic Church), I would hope that the church would act against the threat of heresy, including excommunicating someone who openly promulgates heresy despite warnings.

“Heresy” means “division.” It refers to doctrines, which if taught by church members, oppose the central teachings of the church. Now church members can hold heretical opinions, but they do not become heretics until they publicly espouse such opinions. So a member of the Anglican Catholic Church may not believe a central doctrine such as the bodily resurrection of Christ and happily take communion as long as he keeps his mouth shut about his position. But if he publicly proclaims his views, then he is a heretic and should be, first of all, warned to cease proclaiming heresy. If that does not work, formal church discipline, up to and including excommunication, can and should be administered.

Now what if an ACC member publicly supports the moral rightness of abortion? That person should be warned, and the rationale behind the church’s condemnation of abortion should be explained. If he still proclaims the rightness of abortion in a public setting, then the Bishop may impose other penalties, including barring the individual from taking communion. If the behavior continues, excommunication may be the only viable option.

Some bishops read the parable of the wheat and tares and figure that God will sort out the wheat from the tares at the end of time, so why discipline heretics now? The problem is that a failure to discipline a heretic becomes, in the mind of the public, evidence that the church either approves what the heretic says or at least that the church does not consider what the heretic proclaims to be that important. This sends the wrong message.

I would argue that a weak approach to dealing with heresy has harmed the Roman Catholic Church. It routinely tolerates those who openly speak of their public support of abortion. It allows heretics who deny the resurrection of Christ to openly proclaim their views while still allowing them to partake of communion. I realize that the Church may fear a societal backlash if the Bishop excommunicates heretics in his diocese, but I believe that the public would have greater respect than before for the Roman Catholic Church. A group that stands up for itself would be a group that many American people would find refreshing. I hope that the Anglican Catholic Church does not repeat Rome‘s mistake and that it will always maintain church discipline.

The Freedom of Christian Orthodoxy

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Anglican Catholic Church

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Over and over I hear opinion leaders say that traditional religion is constricting, and I will admit that some forms of traditional religion are. Radical Islam, radical Fundamentalist Christianity, and other fringe movements have given traditional religion a bad name. But I found since entering the Anglican Catholic Church in 1989 that orthodox Christianity is freeing, not binding.

All my life I have been a thinker, a philosopher, someone who wonders at the hows and whys of the world. Growing up in Fundamentalist Christianity was not healthy for that kind of thought. But neither was my short stay in liberal Protestantism. For liberal Protestantism, there is no place to set one’s feet. Sands shift, opinions blow in the wind, and the only heresy is orthodoxy. Speculation without some foundation from which to speculate turns into anarchy, which is every bit as imprisoning as Fundamentalism. Contemporary liberal Protestantism reduces Christianity to a distortion of social justice, with the mantra of “race, class, gender” the only words that its brainwashed adherents can speak. To say that there is anything about Christianity that is important other than the political will get you excommunicated from liberal Christianity. I felt like a puppet on a string–I had more intellectual freedom in Fundamentalism.

When I discovered orthodox Anglicanism, I discovered the richness and breadth of the Catholic tradition. Within the boundaries of the great Creeds–the Apostle’s, the Nicene, and the Athanasian–and under the teaching of the bishops on moral and theological matters I could speculate to my heart’s content as long as such speculation did not become an idol. Within Christian orthodoxy, I can accept any metaphysics compatible with the basic teachings of Christianity. I am a Thomist along the lines of the late Fr. Norris Clarke of Fordham University, but I could hold many other metaphysical frameworks and still remain an orthodox Christian. There is even room for psychical research and parapsychology–even the most traditional Anglicans have been generally open-minded about psychical research in England, and European Roman Catholics, including Pope Pius XII, had no problem with research on electronic voice phenomena. If someone at the Rhine Center or SPR asked me how I could be such a traditional Christian and still accept psi and be open to the existence of ghosts, I would ask that person, “Why not?” Orthodox Christianity has boundaries, of course, but knowing those boundaries makes me comfortable in exploring what I can within those boundaries. The world remains full of wonder, and like a child I can explore it to my heart’s content as long as I remain within the limits God has set. I am grateful for that.