Reason, Emotion, Rationalization, and Forsaking Christian Faith

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After three years in seminary, in 1986, I had temporarily moved from faith in God to agnosticism. At the time, I thought that decision was purely intellectual, based on the reasonable challenges to traditional Christian faith I had found in my readings in seminary. When I later returned to orthodox Christian faith I reflected further on my temporary loss of faith and realized that it was not due to pure reasoning inside “the view from nowhere,” but that I was rationalizing some emotional struggles I was having at the time. There is no need to spill personal details other than to say that often, when a male seminary student loses his faith, the first question someone should ask is, “Who is she?”

First of all, let me make clear that this is not an argument against unbelief and for Christian faith. It only reflects some observations I have made over the years in response to my own personal struggles as well as knowing a number of people who have lost their Christian faith.

Whether the emotional struggle be a relationship gone sour between a man and woman, a loved one dying of cancer or in a horrific car accident, or emotional struggles stemming from a bad childhood, it is easy to idolize these contingent circumstances into a god that takes away any room for the “very God of very God.” Some believe they have the right not to suffer, that if God exists, He has given us a raw deal, that the God of Christianity is, as Bertrand Russell put it, “a fiend.” That reaction may be understandable in someone who has lost a loved one to a slow, painful death from cancer or is dealing with a history of childhood sexual abuse. We all know that suffering a romantic disappointment can be so painful that it trumps all reason and leads one to question the order of the world, including questioning God. As a temporary reaction to pain and suffering, doubting one’s faith is something human beings–and, I think, God–understands. It is an honest reaction to circumstances that seem overwhelming in one’s life.

Some people, however, in the aforementioned circumstances lose their Christian faith entirely. Others give up their faith due to pride, an arrogance that refuses to bow down to any transcendent being. Such individuals may not become atheists but may prefer a more immanent deity such as the universe, that is not threatening to their egos. That also can be an honest, albeit wicked, reason for throwing away one’s Christian faith.

What is not honest is rejecting faith for reasons that are fundamentally emotional and then rationalizing in such a way to claim that reason is what resulted in the loss of faith. This is the case, I would guess, in the vast majority of cases in which human beings have forsaken their Christian faith. It is a form of self-deception, of lying to oneself, and the person who does this is morally culpable for such self-deception.

Now an opponent could argue that the argument can be turned on its head and applied to Christian believers–that they accept faith out of emotional reasons. That probably is true–human beings are not Vulcans from Star Trek, and emotions are part of the way humans interpret the values and dangers of things and events in the world. It would be dishonest for a Christian who believes out of primarily emotional reasons to falsely claim that intellectual reasons are why he believes. I can only speak for myself and my own experience with people, but this seems much rarer than the nonbeliever’s rationalization of a decision that is fundamentally emotional.

I agree with Augustine that the primal sin is pride, and I have found most intellectuals that have lost their Christian faith to be filled with the pride that Satan had when he told God, in Milton’s story, Non serviam–“I will not serve. Intellectuals are especially prone to fall into this trap, and often the arrogance masks a deep emotional pain that led to the loss of faith in the first place. The vehemence and defensiveness of some nonbelievers who were formerly Christians reveals a bitterness toward their former faith and often toward God–and it also masks insecurity. The nonbeliever is forced to ask himself, if he is honest, “What if I am wrong?” Being wrong would bring back the God whom the unbeliever either considers to be an evil fiend or a judge setting limits on his behavior–or someone to serve, which the unbeliever will not do.

Christian believers should avoid pride as well–knowing my own history, when I see someone who has lost his faith, I pray for the person, but I also say, “But for the grace of God were I.” Human beings are fallen, and although as a Thomist I believe that human reason was not destroyed by human sin, it can be easily distorted and misused. It can be use to cover up what is really going on inside oneself. It can be used to rationalize one’s way out of the limits of Christian morality, out of the specific claims of Christianity, and out of belief in the Trinitarian God. I made that mistake once, and all Christians should be willing to realize with me that “But for the grace of God were I.”

A Critique of the “Emerging Church” Movement

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The term “emerging church” identifies a loose collection of individuals from both Evangelical and Liberal Christians traditions who want to go beyond current ideological divisions between the two groups. They tend to be “postmodern” (or “ultramodern,” as I prefer to say), and are often willing to place all Christian doctrines as contingent and changeable given sufficient dialogue between Christians and between Christians, adherents of other religions, and agnostics/atheists. In a way they are radically individualistic, holding the Kierkegaardian view that people must find their own path to Christian faith. However, many also focus on small groups and house churches in order to build community. They believe that worship styles must adapt to the current chaotic postmodern world. Many also tend toward socialism or social democratic liberalism, which they include under “social justice,” though many emerging church adherents participate in projects to better their communities. They emphasize spirituality and spiritual formation, using an eclectic approach with resources from different Christian (and sometimes non-Christian) traditions.

Although my focus will be on critiquing the movement, I first will focus on positives. A major strength of the emerging church movement is its emphasis on spiritual formation. In the past, churches have de facto ignored spiritual development, and seminary training was intellectualistic with little room for developing spirituality. Although the New Testament, particularly the Pauline letters, emphasize all of a Christian’s life as part of spirituality, surely there is room for prayer, meditation, and other forms that help draw a person closer to God in his whole being, not just in his head. Good spiritual formation should help in moral development, including the habituation in good actions that leads to moral virtue.

Another positive is the works of mercy performed in communities by Christians in the emerging church. They put their labor where their mouth is, and work at homeless shelters, at educational programs for disadvantaged youth, and for programs trying to transform crime-ridden communities into communities of virtue.

There are a number of theological difficulties, however, with the emerging church movement. First, the theology is amorphous, varying widely fro individual to individual. There may be a loose unity of thought, but even then there lacks a commitment to the finality of any dogmas the church has pronounced. Influenced by the epistemological relativism of postmodern thought, these Christians flounder about as they seek their own personal theologies. How far a person drifts from traditional orthodox Christianity is left up to the individual. There is no firm theological ground on which a person can stand. What if someone, in his personal journey, denies the bodily resurrection of Christ or the Virgin Birth? What if someone challenges traditional sexual ethics on marriage, which has already been tried by some emerging church members, including scholars who have influence on young people? If such conclusions are part of one’s “personal jouney,” do they apply to others? If so, this is inconsistent; if a person denies consistency as an epistemological norm, there is no room for further discussion. The Christian who accepts the bodily resurrection of Christ, is on the postmodernist account of knowledge and belief, no better off than the person who denies it. There is no metanarrative, no “Truth” with a capital “T,” The result is theological chaos, and William Butler Yeats cry, “the cenre cannot hold” becomes reality. Even spiritual formation, rather than using approaches in one tradition that can only be adequately understood within that tradition, takes A from the Eastern Orthodox, B from the Roman Catholics, C from the Baptists, and so forth, to some up with suggestions for members to find their individual methods of spiritual formation. The loosening of tradition to the point that it has no meaning can only lead to significant numbers of Christians leaving the faith and turning to Buddhism, Hinduism, or some other non-Christian religion. Others may turn to Humanism. What could be wrong with that on the emerging church’s conception of truth?

Of least importance, but deserving to be mentioned, is the political naivety of the emerging church movement. It assumes that the best way to gain “social justice” is by a socialistic or left-wing social-democratic system of government and economics. “Social justice” is often considered to be synonymous with “socialism.” This view ignores other alternatives to the greedy corporatism dominating America – examples include redistributionism what encourages more local ownership of  property or agrarianism. Usually the best efforts to aid communities are small scale, within an individual community, where those who help are the residents or know the residents well. The Roman Catholic principle of subsidiarity surely applies here.

Overall, I believe the emerging church movement is more of a negative rather than a positive for Christianity. A creative recovery of tradition is a better alternative to the individualistic theological chaos of the emerging church movement.

Which is the “Christian Nation” Now?

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() - Emblems of belief available for placement...

() – Emblems of belief available for placement on USVA headstones and markers (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

One of the great ironies of recent history is that Russia, the quintessential atheistic society when it was the largest part of the Soviet Union, is returning to Eastern Orthodoxy. While much of its population retains its atheism, the government of Vladamir Putin strongly supports the Orthodox Church and has increasingly supported a traditionally Christian society. Like the African churches (outside of South Africa), the Russian Orthodox Church is theologically and morally conservative, much more so than mainline American churches.

Although the United States was originally more deist and agnostic than religious, after the Second Great Awakening in the late 1700s it, in effect, became a Protestant Christian nation. There was a general understanding held by the vast majority of Americans, including Roman Catholics and Jews, that a fairly conservative traditional morality was to be followed. This morality included opposition to abortion (abortion, over time, was made illegal in most states during the nineteenth century), opposition to premarital sex, adultery, and homosexual activity, and support of a traditional conception of male and female roles in the family. Going to church (or synagogue) was considered a commendable thing to do. Prayer and Bible lessons took place in both private–and public–schools. Although many people violated the common morality, even the violators, for the most part, believed they were committing morally wrong acts. Church attendance remained high. The last religious revival in the United States continued through 1965.

There were precursors to the destruction of the Protestant consensus before the 1960s, but it was after the assassination of President Kennedy on November 22, 1963, that social change rapidly occurred. The intellectual classes, already quite liberal, did not have the intellectual nor the cultural resources to halt the tide of radical activism. David Horowitz, who participated in much of the activism, was a red diaper baby, a crusading Communist, and he points out that despite the claims of those reacting against the late Senator McCarthy, the radicals behind the 1960s revolution were openly Communist. As such, they were atheists who also opposed the Protestant consensus that included a common morality. The advent of artificial contraception was used as an excuse to defend “free love,” a movement that began as early as the Kennedy years. The late 1960s saw the apex of the debate over the morality of abortion that led to the January 1973 “Roe v. Wade” Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion. With marriage effectively separated for childbirth combined with easy divorce (which had been a staple of some states since the late nineteenth century), marriage was seen as a way for someone to become happy rather than as a sacrament and a permanent commitment. Once marriage became separated from the right to have sexual intercourse, it became more and more a civil arrangement–and it was a small step to support same-sex marriage. Given that climate, one wonders how long it will take before American society supports incestuous marriage or pedophilic marriage. Once the foundations of a social order are destroyed, the house quickly follows.

Many of the Christian Churches, especially the mainline Protestant denominations, have more or less yielded completely to the new social norms. The Evangelicals, tied up for years in gimmicks rather than in Biblical teaching, development of Christian character, and the beauty of traditional worship, are rapidly given ground on traditional moral positions regarding sexual ethics. American Roman Catholics remain deeply divided after radical priests and bishops fundamentally changed many churches during the late 1960s and 1970s. The Fundamentalists remain faithful to traditional theology and morals, but too often focus on minutia rather than on the cultural war that they have, in effect, already lost. Stating traditional Christian positions, already a crime in the UK and in much of Western Europe, is becoming socially unacceptable in many American circles. Eventually, stating traditional positions on sexual morality or defending the exclusive nature of Christian claims will become hate crimes in the United States if current trends continue.

The United States is no longer a Christian nation. To claim that is is denies the obvious transvaluation of values that has taken place during the last 50 years. Russia is the last major superpower that can claim, at least at the level of government policy, to be a Christian nation. If the common people of Russian embrace the Orthodox faith again, it will be Russia that will be a shining light to the world, with the United States a decadent shell of its former self.

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.

Why am I So Hard on Christian Fundamentalists?

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No dancing

No dancing (Photo credit: chrisinplymouth)

I agree with most of what Christian Fundamentalism accepts–the virgin birth of Christ, the incarnation, the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead, the resurrection and judgment of all people at Christ‘s second coming. I am pro-life on the abortion issue (even in cases of rape or incest the act is objectively morally wrong). I believe that premarital sex and any kind of homosexual activity is sinful. It would seem that Fundamentalists should be blood brothers. Yet some of my posts have been rather “outspoken” against Fundamentalism, to the point that I offended some old friends of mine. I owe them–and anyone who reads this blog–an explanation.

It is true that I largely agree with Fundamentalist positions. I think it is far better to be part of most Fundamentalist Christian Churches than to be part of a liberal Protestant body such as the Episcopal Church (ECUSA). However, Fundamentalism harms Christianity because the unfounded positions of many Fundamentalists, the rabid legalism and Puritanism of some Fundamentalist groups, and the extreme ignorance of some Fundamentalist Christians drive people away from the Gospel of Christ.

One example is the Fundamentalist belief in the strict inerrancy of Scripture, even in historical and scientific matters. All I would have to do to discount that view is to have students read two different Gospel accounts of the Limited Commission, one in which Christ exhorts His disciples to take a staff, and the other in which he exhorts them to take no staff. I could also point out that Genesis 1-11 is modified from earlier Babylonian accounts of the creation and flood and reflects the ancient world view of a flat earth, a solid firmanent in the sky with holes for the sun, moon, and stars, and an underworld wherein dwell the shades of the dead. The Bible is not absent of theological error–no Christian should emulate the attitude of the psalmist in Psalm 137, who says, “Happy is he who takes your little ones [i.e., babies and children] and dashes them against the rock.” Holy Scripture is inerrant in all matters necessary to our salvation–but there is no theological requirement for a stronger doctrine of inerrancy.

Young-earth creationism is a view held by some Fundamentalists–the view that the earth is several thousand years old and the Great Flood made most of the fossils and geological formations we see today. As I have noted before in this blog, this position does not fit the facts, such as the difference between flood-based deposits of sediment and sediment laid out over a long period of time. Although there are concerns with how some scientists interpret evolution, evolution as such is not contrary to Christian faith. A young person who is brought up on young earth creationism as the only proper way to interpret Genesis may lose his faith when confronted with the actual evidence.

Puritanism is a part of some Fundamentalist groups. Some forbid dancing, not realizing that there is a difference between the lewd, simulated sex in dance today and the traditional forms of dancing. The same groups allow kissing but not “necking” or “petting,” apparently oblivious to how much a kiss can turn on people. Where I went to school, dancing was banned, so many students engaged in horizontal “dancing” in the dorms. Such hypocrisy is inevitably the result of legalistic moralizing.

Forbidding consumption of alcohol ignores the fact that Jesus drank wine (no, dear Fundys, it was not grape juice–it was wine and one could get drunk on it) and that drinking in moderation is not unhealthy. Some people should not drink alcoholic beverages, not because it is wrong in itself, but because they have a propensity not to stop drinking once they start. For others, however, there is nothing wrong with moderate consumption of alcoholic beverages.

A more serious problem is the acceptance of Dispensational Premillenialism by many Fundamentalists. This had led Christian Fundamentalists to support Israel blindly and to be warmongers, especially if the war involves fighting nations they perceive to be a threat to Israel. Some of the most rabid voices hankering for war with Iran have been from Christian Fundamentalists. They ignore the symbolic nature of the 1000-year reign (10x10x10, a perfect number symbolizing the fullness of time) of Christ, and locate that reign in a literal Jerusalem. Such a view of God’s kingdom was rejected by Jesus Himself (“my kingdom is not of this world). It ignores the fact that the Book of Revelation was written to be understood by its original readers, who would have known that the opponent of God in that book is the Roman Empire that was persecuting Christians.

Fundamentalists are often consumed with fascination about Satan, demons, and hell, to the point that every teenager wearing a trench coat and listening to heavy metal music is a violent threat to others. Fundys fear difference of any kind instead of using practical reason to determine which differences are worthy of negative judgment and which ones are not. The Robin Hood Hills murder suspects who were wrongfully convicted (the “West Memphis Three“) of murdering young cub scouts were convicted by ignorant Fundamentalists who saw Satanism everywhere. Damien Echols had a name that reminded them of the movie, “The Omen,’ and Fundys were too stupid to realize that Echols was referring to Father Damien when he changed his name. His use of the name was to honor the great priest who labored among lepers and eventually died of the disease himself. I listen to heavy metal music (and to classical, jazz, bluegrass, anything but rap, hip-hop, and most contemporary country). I enjoy Iron Maiden, Pantera, Rob Zombie, Anthrax, Zao, and Yog Suggoth. Does that make me a Satanist? Some Fundys would think so–and they would be dead wrong. It is sad that Echols states in his autobiography that the behavior of Christian Fundamentalists in getting him wrongly convicted turned him against Christianity–even so, he has a rosary and engages in some Christian spiritual disciplines. How many people who otherwise would have become active, loving, and orthodox Christians have been driven off by the extremism of Fundamentalism? God only knows, but those guilty of driving others away from the faith will answer for it.

The Exorcist Hotline and the Increase in Possession Cases

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Inside of the Roman Catholic Church in Újkér

Inside of the Roman Catholic Church in Újkér (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/hi-deliver-me-from-evil-church-sets-up-an-exorcist-hotline-to-deal-with-demand-8368988.html is an article on the Roman Catholic Church setting up an exorcist hotline because of high demand. I am old enough to remember the uproar about the movie, The Exorcist, when it was released in 1973. It was only a few years ago when it was re-released that I watched the entire movie, which was quite good, but I enjoyed William Peter Blatty’s book even more. The Exorcism of Emily Rose was also a fine movie that explored the tension between belief and unbelief. More recently, M. Night Shayamalin’s movie, Devil, offered a twist similar to that found in Blatty’s writings—that if demons exist, this means a spiritual world exists, and thus God is more likely to exist than not. The argument as such is weak, but if demons exist and their existence could be verified, it would remove a major obstacle in this materialistic world to belief in God.

The Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Anglican Church, and several Protestant (especially Pentecostal) bodies practice exorcism. Sometimes safeguards are ignored, especially with the small Protestant groups who do not have centuries of tradition that set up careful guidelines on when and to whom an exorcism is given. Organic causes of a person’s symptoms must be ruled out as well as mental illness. Such judgments must not be made quickly and without adequate empirical evidence from competent sources such as neurologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists.

Now I believe that while humans are quite capable of the worst evils without demons existing, I do take the unified tradition of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy (as well as most traditional Anglicanism) and accept their existence. Given the assumption that demons exist, why has the incidence of demon possession that passes the rigorous tests of the Catholic Church increased rapidly in the last twenty years?

Rebellion against authority due to pride is the primal sin, as St. Augustine (354-430) recognized. Beginning with Descartes “I think, therefore I am,” modern man has turned increasingly to the self and away from tradition and external authority. Despite its anti-authoritarian and radically individualistic nature, American society was an anomaly in the Western world due to the influence of the Second Great Awakening. Religion grew in the United States until 1965, and after that there has been a continual decline of religious participation and in weekly church attendance. After the 1962 Port Huron meeting with Tom Hayden and the leaders of the “New Left,” American society began to rapidly change in 1964 (reflecting a change that had occurred by the 1920s in Europe). Sexual freedom, the acceptance of abortion, and later, equal rights for homosexuals, became mantras of the New Left. Mr. Hayden wanted to take over college and university campuses—and he succeeded. Today, much of the academy is staffed by “tenured radicals.” Crime rose rapidly, families began to fall apart, and the divorce rate increased. Abortion was legalized in 1973, another byproduct of the 1960s generation, and by 1969, American society had fundamentally changed from the way it was in 1963. There were enough traditionalist around to pull society from the brink of disintegration in the 1980s, but they only slowed the inevitable moral decline. Now the world is upside down, with good being called evil and evil labeled as good. I often wonder if the radicals of the 1960s generation, the New Left, the New Marxists—were influenced by demonic activity, not in the sense of demonic possession, but in the sense of falling into the demonic view that all tradition is evil, that Christianity is evil, and that murdering the unborn, legalizing physician-assisted suicide, and homosexual marriage are good. The sheer malignant hatred of some of the “gay rights advocates” may indicate demonic influence or even something close to possession in some cases. In a world in which “the center cannot hold” (Yeats), people lose a sense of identity, having been stripped of traditional identity through a radically individualistic, pleasure-oriented society that leaves them stripped bare of belief in the transcendent. They are empty inside, filled with anomie, and something will come in to fill that gap. Sometimes what comes in may be a demon. Thus the higher rate of demonic possession, both in the United States and in Europe, may be due to empty people, shells of personality who only wish to “shop until they drop.” As Jesus said, an empty house is a prime target for demonic attack. Empty, lonely people seeking their next pleasure-burst, having abortions when the birth control does not work, engaging in a perversion of the natural order by same sex marriage, trying to alter nature itself by their prideful acts, may be the perfect opportunity for an evil being to not only tempt, but also to possess. The rising rate of demonic possession is due to a systematic rejection of God in both European and in American society. Unless there is a fundamental change in world view, the number and severity of attacks may rise so high that the situation will become unmanageable—then more than an “exorcist hotline” will be needed to help those who are possessed.

“Our Lord and Savior Barack Obama….”

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Stained glass at St John the Baptist's Anglica...

Stained glass at St John the Baptist’s Anglican Church http://www.stjohnsashfield.org.au, Ashfield, New South Wales. Illustrates Jesus’ description of himself “I am the Good Shepherd” (from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, verse 11). This version of the image shows the detail of his face. The memorial window is also captioned: “To the Glory of God and in Loving Memory of William Wright. Died 6th November, 1932. Aged 70 Yrs.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: Cropped version of File:Official port...

English: Cropped version of File:Official portrait of Barack Obama.jpg. The image was cropped at a 3:4 portrait ratio, it was slightly sharpened and the contrast and colors were auto-adjusted in photoshop. This crop, in contrast to the original image, centers the image on Obama’s face and also removes the flag that takes away the focus from the portrait subject. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I would hope that actor Jamie Foxx was kidding when he referred to “Our lord and savior Barack Obama” in a speech that was greeted by loud cheers in his audience. It seems, unfortunately, that he was serious. Mr. Foxx is merely a symptom of what has been wrong with Western Culture since its rejection of Christianity, a move, at least in the United States, that is most evidence in Academia, Hollywood, and the news media.

G. K. Chesterton said that a person who believes nothing is willing to believe anything. American society, like Europe, has tried to relegate religion to the private sphere, a move that historically makes no sense given the traditional truth claims of religion as well as its worship practices. Once that move took place, beginning at the Protestant Reformation and continuing through Westphalia and on to the Enlightenment, it was only a matter of time that two of the great monotheistic religions, Judaism and Christianity, would be rejected–first by the intellectual elites and later by the common people. Intellectual elites have already rejected Christianity, and a significant number of academics are atheists or agnostics. Many Hollywood actors are atheists or agnostics–among major actors, atheists and agnostics form the largest percentage of actors compared to those from various religions.

The human being requires the transcendent. Thus, stripped of traditional religion, people sought for transcendence in the secular world. Some people, such as the Romantics and the American Transcendentalists, sought transcendence in nature, sometimes deifying nature itself in a form of pantheism. Others, such as Karl Marx, secularized Jewish (in Marx’s case) eschatology, offering a secular salvation through the rebellion of the proletariat over the bourgeois on the way to a “classless society.” Most African American leaders remain religious and believe in God and hold so a theologically conservative version of Christianity. However, their churches have, in general, become so politicized that the political becomes confused with the transcendent, and salvation becomes secular and economic rather than a redeemed community living forever in Christ. Hollywood and academia generally search for salvation in the political and economic order. Mr. Obama becomes the “New Christ,” a secular savior who shall deliver the groups academics and Hollywood types consider as deserving special privileges due to past discrimination–African Americans, Hispanics, and women, at least those women who accept Hollywood’s chosen version of feminism. The adulation of Mr. Obama by people of every race bordered on idolatry in 2008; now Mr. Foxx makes it official–Obama is Christ, Obama is God and the savior of the specially privileged groups the left sets aside for special treatment.

Such blasphemy dishonors God, dishonors Jesus Christ, the true Lord and Savior of all, through whom all things were created and are sustained–as St. Paul said, “in Him all things consist.” In Christ the infinite entered the finite; God became man. To worship an ordinary man as the new Christ, as “Our lord and savior” will inevitably disappoint. No socio-economic order can bring human salvation. Much human misery results from sin, and that is a matter of the human will. Mr Foxx is at least honest enough to admit he worships Mr. Obama–would that some of his other adulating fans admit that they worship Mr. Obama as well. The claim of Mr. Obama as lord and savior should be sickening to anyone with an ounce of wisdom, but wisdom is sadly lacking in our degenerate culture. Mr. Foxx helps conservatives who feel such a sense of anomie at Mr. Obama’s re-election to understand why they have this feeling. Even John F. Kennedy was not so worshipped. Now Mr. Obama should be reluctant to take on the burden of being God. Perhaps he should gently tell his followers that “I am only a man; worship God.” Yet I wonder if he believes in a deity given that such does not seem to be a precondition of being a member of the United Church of Christ. Even if he does not believe in a transcendent deity, Mr. Obama could disabuse his followers of deifying him–unless, of course, he agrees with them. In that case, the United States is in more trouble than the worst nightmares of conservatives.

The Fetus, Parasites, and Narcissism

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This is am image of a fetus about to be vacuum...

When I stop thinking that I can be shocked by what another person says in this narcissistic society, someone proves me wrong. I was part of a group discussing the issue of whether the man should play any role in decision making concerning abortion. Both males and females took one side or the other in about an equal ratio. One woman, however, burst into the discussion and said in an angry tone, “No man is going to make me carry a parasite in my womb for nine months!” Taken aback, I wondered how people would respond to her—and a woman with children said that children already born were parasites. If she had used a joking tone of voice that would have been fine. She was serious. This illustrates how far the “cultural of narcissism,” a term coined by the Christopher Lasch, has penetrated into the psyche of some Americans.

It was after artificial contraception became common that children ceased to be considered a gift. I am not opposing artificial contraception—there are cases in which it is the best option—but the mentality that children are burdens rather than gifts has been a toxic byproduct of the ready availability of the pill. The notion that carrying a child in the womb for nine months is “carrying a parasite” ignores the fact that half the parasite’s chromosomes came through the mother. We are not talking about an alien life form sucking away the essence of the mother. The opposition to the natural bond between mother and child represents an attitude that is wholly oriented toward the self and not toward a dependent being. What would this person think about old people in nursing homes, the homeless, or people on welfare. Anyone wise would shudder at such attitudes among some Americans today. What is more disturbing is the willingness to share such a selfish view. Do people lack the ability to discern when they come across as self-centered spoiled children rather than as adults? Do others listening to comments calling a fetus up to the ninth month—or even a born child—a “parasite” realize that there is something seriously flawed about such an attitude. Too many people do not hide their narcissism. Abortion is the ultimate instance of narcissism, especially considering that the vast majority of abortions are done for the purpose of birth control. People desire the pleasure of sex, and when that results in conception, then they have the “parasite” killed as if they are killing a paramecium rather than a person. The devotion to the autonomous self and the rejection of natural bonds are characteristics of modernity, and with the decline of Christianity in late modernity there are no restraints on narcissism. 1.2 million abortions a year are only one symptom—the increasing acceptance of physician assisted suicide among young people is another. One hopes that T. S. Eliot’s version of the end of the world will not come to pass, but extreme narcissism always results in violence. May God help us.

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.

God and Judgement

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Икона "Страшный суд"

Икона “Страшный суд” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Today many people desire a God who is nonjudgmental. This God will not judge anyone for their behavior. Even if He does judge, He always forgives, whether or not a person is repentant. He never condemns any act as intrinsically wrong. If the Bible or church teaching that something is essential for salvation, this God says, “Religion gets in the way of a relationship with me. Be spiritual, not religious.” This God demands no religious duties. This God is easygoing when it comes to moral rules. For this God, Hell is an impossibility. All people will spend eternity with Him in Heaven.

One of the amazing facts about contemporary America is that some people will actually worship a deity like the one described in the above paragraph. This pusillanimous being is as worthy of worship as Santa Claus dropping down a chimney. A God without judgment is no God at all. He can be merciful–and mercy only makes sense in the context of judgement anyway.

If God is our Creator, it is reasonable to suppose that He would reveal Himself to man, not only though natural revelation but also through special revelation. He would have further reason to reveal Himself if human beings are fundamentally flawed. Now human beings are fundamentally flawed–it does not take the mass killings of the twentieth century or the conflicts of the twenty-first to see that this is the case. As Alexander Solzhenitsyn said in his Gulag Archipelago:

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.”

God would, if He is the personal God in which Christians believe, provide information essential for deliverance from this flawed state. For Christians, God reveals Himself in Holy Scripture (in Roman Catholic thought, through Holy Tradition as well). Both sources of authority for Christianity reveal a God of both judgement and mercy. God holds people responsible for both their moral and religious lives. Humans all sin–they all do things morally wrong–sometimes not knowing an action is sinful, sometimes being controlled by a force such as lust, and sometimes they plan to perform an action they realize is wrong. All sins are forgivable under the condition of repentance. An obstinate lack of repentance yields the judgment of God, and Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition make is clear that God will allow those who wish to sin to keep to themselves. It is not as much that God withdraws from them–He allows them to withdraw themselves. Since God is the source of all being, goodness, and happiness, their state can only lead to misery. Saying to the sinner, “THY will be done” is a form of judgment, for it says that the sinner cannot live in the presence of God. The attitude of rebellion against God can be fostered by a rebellion against the moral law (which is a subset of the natural law that is available to all people who are able to use their reason). Rebellion against religious limitations, especially against the “scandal of particularity” of Christianity, can also influence someone to stop following God’s revelation to man.

The Church sets theological limits through the Creeds, short statements of belief that summarize the fleshing out of Scripture via Holy Tradition. There are certain beliefs Christians must affirm–if a Christian openly denies these key beliefs (the bodily resurrection of Christ, for instance) and teaches that error, he is liable to be excommunicated. This does not imply he is going to Hell, but the attitude underlying heresy, a pride that refuses to submit to the Church’s teaching, may reflect a character that would not enjoy being in God’s presence.

Holy Scripture and Tradition also make moral demands–no one can keep them perfectly, and they are challenging. “Love your enemies” is almost practically impossible to follow, though some Christians have done so. Avoiding hatred, envy, spite, jealousy, and excessive anger are imperative on the Christian, but no one avoids practicing at least one of these flaws at some point in one’s life. The church states that abortion and active euthanasia as well as physician-assisted suicide are morally wrong–and there is an arrogance to the claim that “I have the right to determine the time and manner of my own death.” Such arrogance is spiritually dangerous. The refusal to follow the Church’s sexual morality can occur due to weakness–or someone may be sexually immoral on purpose yet realize it is wrong. There is spiritual hope for such individuals. But God’s judgment may fall upon those individuals who say that “wrong is right” and “right is wrong” concerning the Church’s sexual ethics. This also reveals an arrogance, a refusal to submit to legitimate authority. Such arrogance may result in God’s judgment in the sense that God may allow those people to do what they will on their own. I am sure He will always be open to receiving them, but they, due to their free will, could decide to eternally reject God. “The doors to Hell are locked on the inside,” said C. S. Lewis.

The Christian God is worthy of worship not only because He is Creator of all things, but also because He is our ultimate judge. He is also a God of mercy–but mercy extends to those open to correction and repentance. Others will refuse to receive such mercy, and God’s judgment is to allow them to live in such a state in their own world–that is, Hell. I personally do not want to worship Santa Claus. God in His glory, justice, and mercy is the only being worthy of worship.

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