Mark 9:24

Archive for the ‘Lay Meditations’ Category

Heresy, that wayward righteousness

In Lay Meditations on September 16, 2012 at 6:18 am

At the core of many heresies [1], if not the spark or the first impulse, there is some understandable, and sometimes laudable, wish. Though all heresies distort some truth at the cost of others, some simplify the truth while others exaggerate a truth. What man tired of mystery isn’t tempted to want a simpler truth better understood, and what man enamored with a point of truth is not tempted to ignore other truths for the sake of his beloved?

Righteousness brings conviction, which can be a good, so long as it is applied evenly; no man with in the cancer of self-righteousness convicts oneself.

Today, simplification of divine truth is sometimes called modernism. Laughingly so, it must be hoped — accommodationists, seeking to smooth out the hard teachings of the church with a wink or a shrug, have haunted the Church in every age [2], right back to the Arians [3]. Because these Sadducees let fashion or politeness trump truth for the sake of peace, they forget the truth which sustains them; therefore, this sect dies and is forgotten [4].

More sympathetic by far, and more dangerous, is the love of truth. It is not for the hatred of the Church or Christ or the truth that a really dangerous heresy arises, but by obsession with a truth at the cost of others. Not only this, but often it is the same love of truth and hatred of scandal which causes the most lingering schisms from the Church. Take these three: In the early Church was Donatism, in the Middle Ages were the reformers, and in this age exists some forms of traditionalism [5].

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Frustrating the natural end

In Lay Meditations on August 30, 2012 at 11:41 pm

In writing a “Kantian” defense of Catholic sexual teaching some time ago, I accepted the artificial restraint of not mentioning God. This effectively takes a partial view of Catholic moral teaching. It is as if a general practitioner only looked at your skeleton during an annual check-up, indifferent to your beating heart. I began by mentioning several ways to fend off the inevitable; let us finally face the inevitable.

Christians do not hope for the end of Creation; we expect it and should be prepared.

If the death of the universe were to come, there would still be no problem with the Church’s teaching, though the answer comes from an unexpected quarter: God has a plan, and we live this out by discerning our particular vocation. This is no cop-out. Vocations are part of complete Catholic teaching, as inseparable as the Mass. We cannot single out “what if we all behaved like Catholics sexually” to impugn the Church because “behaving like Catholics sexually” does not mean we behave like Catholics in other matters.

With this in mind, suppose we Catholics found our resources completely exhausted; that we really did have nowhere else to turn; that billions and billions years from now the universe finally dies, slowly, coldly of heat death — we may find that our vocations may have prayerfully become some flavor of religious or secular continence. But suppose that God does not call us to continence, for not even continence will prevent the end of things.  If our universal vocation becomes at this point not just holiness but holiness in what we call matrimony, perhaps the best use of the last bit of energy in the universe would be conceiving the last new life our Cosmos ever produced.

Just imagine: One lonely spermatozoon racing from the final stillness which would bring Creation to a final winter, this cell only just ahead of the collapsing cosmos. Finally, then at once, it meets its final end — and, in another sense, we meet ours — in the last mother’s last ovum. In bold defiance of the lord of this world, in bold obedience to the Lord of All, the last act of life is new life. One last act emulating the cross: From death, life; by the will of God.

Marriage at the nut

In Lay Meditations on June 23, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Because advocating same-sex marriage — hereafter, SSM — is undeniably a change to the immediate, local standard*, one common tactic asks: If marriage has changed before, why not again?

Modernity, wanting only one thing, will whisper sweet lies, hoping we’ll open up a little. We know better; we do not want to.**

To this end, they may undermine monogamy by historical precedent, specifically by invoking polygamy and polyandry; varying social imprimaturs on divorce may be mentioned; Marriage, A History goes so far as to claim spirit marriages, typically between a dead man and a living woman, are also marriages. See how much these things have changed!

And yet there is the haunting echo that polygamy is between a man and several women; polyandry would be between one woman and several men; spirit marriage, so-called, is nonetheless between a man and a woman. Even divorce has never enabled you to marry whomever you please, civilly or otherwise. What tyrant, what barbarian, even claimed to have married someone of the same sex? And what was the reaction? Athens, frequently invoked as sexually enlightened, may have given attraction between men special status and honor higher than marriage, but this only proves that the philosophers made a distinction.

Marriage, even when not understood as a union of one living man and one living woman so long as they both shall live, always united two halves of an altsexual, warring species. Marriage always united Man and Woman. Read the rest of this entry »

Lost at sea

In Lay Meditations on April 7, 2012 at 1:45 am

Near the shore of a storm-rocked sea, breaking foam crashing against a cliff, a lighthouse may guide the way. It is a kind of pun, and a kind of parable, to say the Church is such a lighthouse: Christ, who is the light, built His house so that we may know the Way toward Him.

I have a difficult time believing that the one, narrow Way would make so many local ways, springing up and falling down through the centuries as they do.

“If some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness.” — G. K. Chesterton

If there is one peril — Christians, you know there is ultimately one peril, which is Hell — there must be only one lighthouse. There cannot be a cloud of lighthouses. There must also be a clear idea about what that lighthouse means, where the rocks are in relation. This not just a matter of life and death but a matter of eternal life and eternal death, to borrow a turn of phrase. If there is no clear relation, we are be better off with a lifetime’s intuition, “as infants, tossed about by the waves.” But if Protestantism is true, there are two reasonable possibilities:

  • First, there is not now, and will never again be until the Second Coming, a single lighthouse. This is intolerable, if indeed this is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. Moreover, if Truth so poorly sustains we are less subject to God than to some terrible Demiurge. Hardly Christian; safely discarded.
  • Second, the true light, the Holy Spirit, we must pursue, and in the fire of pursuit are made saints. But this is also hardly Christian. Assuming your copy of Miracles lacks Chapter 11, I’m happy to explain.

If men pursue God, who therefore changes, this stands not just opposite to the sense of Jewish revelation but contrary to it.

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Men, die for your wives

In Lay Meditations on March 17, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Too many of us postmoderns wield words like a fly swatter, in fits haphazard and careful with terms. Definition, best a scalpel for discerning truth, is instead wielded as a sword, and poorly — imagine a stubborn 6-year-old boy with a pocketknife. For example, take Ephesians 5. Say some: Please.

Male or female, Jew or Gentile, slave or free, all have some cross, in imitation of Christ. Do we imitate Him further?

For reference, refer to the two verses from Ephesians every postmodern knows of:

Let women be subject to their husbands, as to the Lord.

… and …

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ also loved the church, and delivered himself up for it.

Why are men not required to submit? (Why does outrage so often approach glee?) From here we usually see an emotional appeal: Toss Ephesians so to toss Paul so to toss the New Testament so to toss the Bible and finally be rid of Christianity. If we love our brother, we should not let him wave his hand so furiously. His wrist will hurt.

We might begin by mentioning the preceding verse —

Be subject one to another, in the fear of Christ.

— but suppose we forgot this. From just these two verses, and the smattering of Christian teaching everyone knows, we can easily appeal to truth. Read the rest of this entry »

Where points the mountain

In Lay Meditations on February 5, 2012 at 12:06 am

It takes no originality to describe the ascent to truth as climbing a mountain. Christians should take pains to add an emphasis: We do this by only by the grace of God.

Whoever we credit, rightly or wrongly, one feature of an ascent to truth is that as we near the peak it becomes clear we are not headed exactly where we thought we would be. Our chosen path turns too rocky; this land is too real.

Central to mystery is knowledge before us, but still even more some great knowledge beyond.

Discerned as it is by mortal reason, it must occur to us that this summit of small, striking truths can hardly be the Summit of All Truth; this even though the view is nothing we would have thought of; this even though it is eerily as our clearest, sharpest dreams.

From higher yet come the subtle hints of the great tapestry which is Creation, and in the thick air up here we see that we are caught on its messy side. From this height there is just the hint, just glimpse enough, of a greater pattern than we can ever know here. We can almost see something just beyond the cusp of the horizon, and only in the corner of our eye does the sun show his face.

Leaning forward, outward, past the bay below us, we sometimes see as in a sharp focus that all things, and not only all things we see, point in no uncertain direction. To what? — but at that point the horizon impedes us.

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With trembling hands, bear the sacred

In Lay Meditations on January 2, 2012 at 9:11 am

Fascinating exchanges have taken up the bulk of my writing lately, and I think it’s well worth at least my time to debrief. This first point involves the question of the two sorts of theist-atheist arguments — first, there’s the popular one which posits shiny Evangelical treacle of mammon against slick Freedom from Religion Foundation trickle of mammon, where the War on Christmas rages on and the causalities are always far fewer than reported.

It is no boastfulness to talk of men as swine, for we must always approach our fellow men as fellow sinners.

Darrow vs. Bryan, reads yesterday’s banner; Dawkins vs. Craig, reads tomorrow’s; and boy, in my twisted imagination do the atheists always get the top billing, because man, they do not always win.

I am utterly uninterested in this hysteria. Clearer arguments come from surprising corners, which is to say between that endangered creature, the real atheist who yet is polite, and we the backwards relics of the Dark Ages, we lockstep sheep and papist throwbacks. We are not utterly opposed: We both, for example, submit to actual science on the question of evolution. Leah of Unequally Yoked, admirably, takes the tack of our latter route, but, dissenting, here writes an atheist with the earnest name of Heartfout, a reader over at a much better blog than mine. Read the rest of this entry »

Do nothing thoughtlessly

In Lay Meditations on August 16, 2011 at 11:07 am

For freethinkers, atheists seem awfully fond of catchphrases. In response you may fairly say that atheists are not necessarily freethinkers, but in so saying you affirm what I have already said. In any case, despite insisting that they have no dogma they do share a great number of high-fivin’ bon mots stripped of context. In most of these we can see a strong pattern, even aside from the mobbish iconoclasm that seems to think breaking the symbols of a thing breaks the thing.

Your ability to whip up righteous indignation does not mean you are right. It means you know how to press buttons.

One of the favorites comes from John Stuart Mill:

It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied.

Is it possible to say such a thing without smirking? I congratulate anyone who avoids that gaping trap without conscious effort, for on the face of things it seems this taken in and of itself can only be said by a man who believes human beings are pigs and he is something more even than that.

This takes a peculiar turn if said by a former Christian. He means to say he was formerly a pig. This would mean that he became not-pig from pig, this despite there being no natural progression between the two. He might as well believe that a thing may come from nothing, and he does.

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Chaos theories

In Lay Meditations on July 25, 2011 at 2:26 am

Being more a grammarian than a mathematician, and having more interest in what symbols convey than what they describe, the phrase, “chaos theory,” is wonderfully deep. Is it an absurd joke played on us by men smarter than we’ll ever be? I say this with the profoundest respect, keeping in mind the delightful oddity of mathematicians. Keeping in mind their particular character, however, we must reject this hypothesis.

To depict chaos in any way is to define it.

If mathematicians fool around in their jokes with concepts from mere calculus, when it comes to their work they are as much the monomaniac as any specialist. I decide, therefore, that they are serious in talking of chaos theory. I think this does a great credit to men of numbers that such a field can exist without self-contradiction, and, even if not, perhaps it describes a number of impulses of faith made by the mathematicians, at least some of them good. We must note that the idea that there can be any theory about chaos is a huge profession of faith on the part of a mathematician. It means that, “No matter how disorganized this seems, there must at least be some rules governing it.”

For emphasis: All things, even chaos, have some order. No science is possible without the belief that for what exists there is explanation. If scientists did not harbor this assumption, science would have no motive power. We would guess once and, failing, would settle for a mystery. God of the gaps indeed. On the other hand, perhaps it reflects a grim finality: This is really chaos.

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Countering heresy

In Lay Meditations on July 24, 2011 at 1:45 am

We cannot explain why orthodoxy wins over heresy by appealing to the iron heel. If the Church ever crushed opposition, proponents of this view citing the relatively bloodless Inquisition and more sophisticated critics citing the crusade against the essentially anarchist Cathars, it is not the pattern. For example, over the Arians, who had full state support, orthodoxy prevailed through the martyrdom of the again-oppressed Christians. Against the lies of the Eastern bloc governments, Christianity flourished in defiance.

Only in the sense of the eventual victor is orthodoxy a history of the winners.

I do not say that Christian truth is and always has been oppressed — as ignored as it may be from time to time — nor do I attempt to justify the Inquisition, but rather I say that reality is not nearly so simple than the “iron heel” hypothesis.

To go farther we must define our terms: Orthodoxy translates as “right belief,” and so the opposed, heresy, is “wrong belief.” More specifically, heresy is “undue emphasis of a certain portion or aspect of doctrine at the expense of another.” Heresy is, essentially, deception. As with all lies — and all evil things — it begins with a truth and twists or inflames that truth beyond its proper portion. It is obsession, very soon paired with denial of ecclesial authority, and, I believe, motivated more by a desire for originality or worldly fame than for truth. On the simple level of falsehood, heresy is already grave matter.

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