Thursday, October 25, 2007

Repentance - 2

It bears repeating. The worst aspect of our degenerate culture is not widespread and legalized abortion, nor same-sex 'marriage'. These two frontal attacks upon moral values are both symptoms of a deeper malaise: the popular refusal to call sin by its name.

God, who is holy, would be wholly just to consign each one of us to eternal damnation. Indeed, that is what we deserve. To break God's law is to commit a crime of infinite gravity, to spit in the face of the Almighty. Even a single minor transgression, correctly and honestly appraised, demands a level of supreme atonement and reparation that no finite mortal could satisfy. None of us is good enough; all of us rightly deserve Hell.

Only in the light of this bad news can we appreciate the Good News - that Jesus has taken all this upon himself in his perfect act of atonement. Only the one who recognizes his guilt before God can understand God's mercy.

Here's the point: God's plan is extremely lenient -- but not automatic. Despite the common assumption to the contrary, God's offer is not unconditional. The New Testament puts forth three conditions for our salvation: faith, repentance, and baptism. This is very, very lenient. To escape our just eternal punishment and attain undeserved eternal happiness, all we have to do is believe, repent of our sins, and be baptized. What ridiculously light conditions! But not automatic.

Repent - acknowledge your sins. It's the easiest thing in the world to do. Just agree with God that your sins are evil, and ask forgiveness.

It's also the most difficult thing to do. I suppose this has to do with pride. Rather than confess and receive forgiveness, we think of all kinds of ways to justify ourselves, rationalize, make excuses. I'd much rather patiently explain all about my extenuating circumstances - how my deeply ingrained sin isn't all that bad, probably not even really sinful.

But consider: In all the Bible and in all Church teaching, there are examples and stories galore of God's mercy in forgiving confessed and repented sin. But you'll not find a single instance of God accepting an excuse.

So, the crimes of abortion and militant homosexuality are not the primary problems. The assertion of the 'right' to kill pre-born babies, and of the 'right' to practice homosexuality, etc. - that's what will condemn us, both collectively as a culture, and as individuals who will one day stand naked before the just and holy God.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Incarnational faith

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.
Last Saturday, Lenore and I were talking with two friends, strong Catholic converts. The 6:00 bells rang, and we paused to recite the Angelus. Then we resumed our conversation about the physical aspects of Catholicism: kneeling and standing at Mass, the employment of our bodies in our worship.

The Annunciation The Angelus prayer commemorates that singular moment in history when Mary said yes to the angel, and the second person of the Holy Trinity came to physically dwell within her: God Incarnate, God in the flesh. This is central to the ancient Christian faith, that Jesus was both true God and true man. The baby growing within Mary's womb was no disembodied spirit, but a physical baby, who also happened to be God. Like any human, Jesus nursed at Mary's breast, dirtied his diaper, slept, cried, and grew. He lived a completely human life, working with his hands and growing tired and requiring rest. He felt real pain when he was scourged and nailed to the cross. He shed real blood, and died a real death. It was through his physical human flesh that Jesus won our salvation. From this it becomes clear how we, too, composed of both body and spirit, must live out our faith. Faith involves the whole person: spirit, mind, and body. This is incarnational faith. So, standing and kneeling are a part of our worship, and not mere incidentals. We employ the Sacraments and sacramentals: Baptism, Holy Communion, bells, incense, etc.

Almost as ancient is the Gnostic denial of all the above. To the Gnostic, Jesus was either not truly human, or (like the present-day Jehovah's Witnesses believe) not truly God. Typically, this denial of the Incarnation turns the life of faith into a purely spiritual affair, with minimal thought given to our physical nature and the material world.

Protestantism can run the gamut between these two extremes, but classic Protestantism is also likely to see faith as spiritual, comprised solely of an internal relationship with Jesus. Any emphasis upon physical trappings like rosaries, holy water, ashes, and such may be regarded as unnecessary and even as superstitious or idolatrous. To the Evangelical Protestant, salvation comes via an internal, purely spiritual encounter with Jesus, and baptism is just an act of obedience following that faith experience. To the Catholic, Baptism is the channel of saving grace, the water just as necessary as the internal faith response. To the Evangelical, the Lord's Supper is a symbolic remembering. To the Catholic, the Eucharist is the real Body and Blood of Jesus. So it is with the other Sacraments as well - in the Catholic understanding, each one truly confers God's grace by physical means.

One more Sacrament in particular bears mentioning: Matrimony. In incarnational terms, marriage consists of some essential physical realities, namely, the union of two bodies, one male and one female, with the usual result of producing more incarnations. For that is precisely what every human conception involves: the knitting together of a physical body with an immortal soul to produce an incarnate spiritual being. This explains the incarnational believer's horror over the crime of abortion, the murder of a priceless human being, newly incarnated in the image of God. To overlook or downplay the seriousness of this crime involves a Gnostic-like denial of the pre-born's humanity. Likewise, many folks attempt to redefine human marriage via a Gnostic-like spiritualizing, a denial of the physical essence of marriage. The incarnationalist can never facilely spiritualize these essentials, and can never divorce the physical from the spiritual.

And that's why I find the typical 'Catholic' politician so repugnant. It was, ironically, our only Catholic President, JFK, who popularized the current mantra of not letting his personal religious beliefs interfere with his job as President. Such is not true Catholicism, but is the cry of the Gnostic: Let me be personally and privately and spiritually religious with no Incarnation, with no outward and concrete expression of that faith. The early Gnostics could pretend to be Christian while doing nothing to warrant martyrdom. The modern one claims to be privately spiritual while conveniently accepting or promoting the politically correct heathenism of modern culture.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I have long held that our last good president was the other George W... George Washington. The reason he was our last good president is that he was the last one who didn't really want the job.

Political ambition ought rightly to be seen as a pathological condition, blinding its subject and preventing him from making clear and unbiased decisions. Anyone so afflicted should therefore be excused from the responsibilities of holding any public office. Perversely, our present system of democracy virtually assures that all who hold office will be infested with political ambition, else they would never endure the rigors of campaigning and of selling themselves to voters.

The solution? Instead of the exclusive profession of a few twisted souls, the holding of public office ought to be a duty incumbent upon all citizens, like jury duty is right now. The names of all eligible voters would be stored in a database, and a name selected at random for each office. dice If your name is drawn, you must serve, whether you want to or not. When your term is served, you are exempt from further service, and may return to your chosen life. Many offices could be performed as part-time employment, with minimal impact upon the office-holder's real job. The compensation would be kept modest, to underscore that this is a civic duty, and to further discourage political ambition.

This method would populate our government with homemakers, plumbers, teachers, farmers, programmers, and the like. Some with political ambition would still be randomly selected, but their relatively small numbers amongst the sane majority would be tolerable. A modified version might be to randomly select three names for each office, giving each candidate 15 minutes of prime time to present himself, then hold the election, all within a space of a few days. This would allow voters to weed out the most extreme nutcases, while still handing the reins to non-politicians, and avoiding the perversity of political campaigns.

I cannot take full credit for this idea. It was first proposed by Harry Reasoner, 35 or 40 years ago, in one of the original broadcasts of "60 Minutes", when he did the commentary spot. I think Harry proposed the idea with tongue firmly in cheek. As a young man at the time, I immediately saw that, whatever Harry's intention, it was an excellent idea. (Remember: when Benjamin Franklin first proposed the Daylight Saving idea in his Poor Richard's Almanac, he likewise did so with a figurative wink of the eye.)

I'm not sure how this relates to randomocracy as recently proposed in British Columbia.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

SCHIP: A solution

President Bush's veto of the SCHIP expansion has Democrats complaining that he and other conservatives simply don't care about poor children. Republicans reply that the expansion costs too much money. I think I have the ideal compromise:

As I understand it, the vetoed proposal would expand, among other things, the age limit to include children up to 25 years of age. Leaving aside the question of whether a 25-year-old can reasonably be considered a child, I actually think the age expansion doesn't go far enough. Expand the age criteria just another 9 months - in the opposite direction - and the bill would probably garner plenty of Republican support. Heck, President Bush might even sign such an expansion. Such a nine-month expansion would not only save millions of children's lives every year, it would actually reduce the overall price tag, since federal policy now allocates a sizable chunk of tax dollars for the express purpose of removing health benefits for these very young children.

The reduction in expense might persuade some hard-hearted Republicans to go along with the new plan. And the compassionate Democrats, desiring above all to save children's lives, should also eagerly embrace the additional expansion. It's a win-win scenario!

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

On taking offense

I'm sure you have noted, as have many others, the increase of victimhood in our culture. Probably the most common type of victim is the individual or group who claim to be offended about something, inferring that that constitutes a crime against some inalienable right of theirs.

To ask whether one has the right to never be offended is a question that pretty much answers itself, at least for most reasonable folks. The fact that lawsuits are being filed, and won, on the basis of someone's manufactured offense over holiday decorations or a school mascot, is a sad indicator of rampant irrationality.

But beyond that, it occurs to me that taking offense is a sure sign of immaturity, something that the well-adjusted adult ought never to experience. Or if he does, it ought to signal something that he needs to work on. Not to advocate for the insensitive jerk who goes about deliberately insulting others, but to suggest that the mature adult ought not let such behavior rattle his cage, so to speak. Easier said than done, of course.

If I am insulted or ridiculed or criticized, it is either 1) for something over which I have no control (e.g. my race, height, age, etc.), or 2) for something I could change if I wanted to (e.g. my faith, values, political opinions, etc.)   If it's for the former, as a mature adult, I ought already to be at peace with those factors outside of my control, in which case I can simply shrug off the insults or criticisms as pointless and moronic, and think no more of them.

If the criticism is for the latter, for something I can change, then there are two further possibilities: either 2a) the criticism is valid, or 2b) it is not. If not, I can again just shrug it off. If it is valid, then I ought to take it to heart. To be insulted in such a case is to say, in effect, that I prefer to cling to my inferior opinion and feel insulted, rather than adopt the better view.

And how to tell which criticisms are valid? Weigh the opposing views against one another, and use the faculty of reason to sort it out. Easier said than done. But it can be done. Therefore it must be done.

If you can keep your head when all about you
 are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
 but make allowance for their doubting, too,...
   - from "If", by Rudyard Kipling
Easier said than done. But, really now, isn't it pitiful that a lack of mature strength be treated as an inalienable right?