Category Archives: Religion

O’Connor: Life Is Violence

Life is suffering and it is violent, so overwhelming is it that we cope by voluntarily consenting to spiritual deafness,” Michael Rennier observes. “The reality of sin must be forced home to us by an act of divine violence so that our pretensions can once and for all be torn away.”

This is what he draws from Flannery O’Connor’s life, which is being featured on PBS in a new documentary, Uncommon Grace. Director Bridget Kurt agrees. “She wasn’t using violence to glorify it; she was showing how extreme moments in our lives are spiritual wake-up calls.”

Like the time when an escaped convict points a gun at a grandmother’s head. In that moment, all of her religiosity melted out of her, leaving her nothing but Jesus. She could have been a good woman had someone been there to threaten her everyday. That would have been respectable. But she didn’t need to be a good woman. She needed Jesus.

Perhaps O’Connor is just too Christian for secular schools. Kurt , a transplant from Northern Wisconsin, found less help than she expected when looking for material on O’Connor’s life.

“Even at her alma mater, GSCU in Milledgeville, very few students that we ran into on campus knew who O’Connor was,” Kurt told Milwaukee Magazine. “In Wisconsin, most of us know that Frank Lloyd Wright was a Wisconsin native because we are taught about famous Wisconsinites and we name libraries and schools after them. I’m not sure how much Flannery O’Connor is taught in Georgia schools.” (Via Prufrock News)

‘Be Thou My Vision’ (martial version)

Here’s the best-loved Irish hymn, “Be Thou My Vision,” done by… I don’t know whom. A male group. I chose this version because it includes the often-skipped third verse, beginning, “Be Thou my battle-shield…”

The original could well have been known by Father Ailill, the narrator of my Erling novels. It’s often attributed to the sixth-century Saint Dallan, though some scholars date it to the eighth century. Pre-Viking in either case.

It was first translated into English in 1905, but the singable verse version was done by Eleanor Hull in 1912. The tune would not have been used by medieval monks, but is an Irish folk tune called “Slane.”

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day.

The faith of LCR

Conservatives are often accused by liberals of having a “civil religion,” of getting our Christianity confused with our patriotism.

It’s a fair cop. I’m sure I do that, and I’m pretty sure I do it more than I’m aware.

But liberals have a civil religion too, and I have an idea very few of them recognize it at all.

Like the conservative kind, Liberal Civil Religion (LCR) is a denatured form of Christianity. It goes like this:

There’s Original Sin. In LCR, original sin is privilege. “White Privilege” is the fashionable variety right now, but liberals have always been ashamed of privilege of one kind or another. Being a citizen of a prosperous, free country is the pretty much the worst kind of privilege. Since liberals believe in a zero-sum world (if you have $2.00 and I have $1.00, you must have stolen fifty cents from me), all our freedom and all our wealth must have been torn from the poor. We are thieves and parasites.

There’s Penance. Penance takes the form of voting for Democrats (or Socialists, if you’re really a saint) and supporting policies which we suspect will hurt ourselves and our families. We deserve it.

There are Indulgences. Indulgences are paid in the form of high taxes. We may know that government programs are by nature inefficient and even counterproductive ways to help the less fortunate. But helping them isn’t the point. The point is making ourselves suffer. The pain provides a momentary, fleeting sense of expiation.

And what about grace?

There is no grace in LCR. The guilt goes on and on forever.

If grace were offered, how would people be persuaded to do perpetual penance?

Cling to Jesus As If Your Life Depends on It

Rod Dreher’s The Benedict Option is being released tomorrow. Collin Hansen reviews it here.

My main fear with Dreher’s book is that the people who need it most won’t read it. How do you convince Americans that replacing fast food and cable news with fasting and hard labor will be good for their souls?

Overwhelming evangelical support for Trump suggests not many conservative Christians would agree with Dreher that “losing political power might just be the thing that saves the church’s soul.” Rather, they seem to believe the American Empire needs our partisan politics in service of God’s kingdom.

Dreher will have many interviews this week. This one with Russell Moore is bound to be one of the better ones.

When God Passes By

And when evening came, the boat was out on the sea, and he was alone on the land. And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, but… (Mark 6:47-49)

Here’s a somewhat academic analysis of the last clause from the quotation above from Derek Rishmawy. Jesus walked out to this disciples while they floated in the sea, and “he meant to pass by them.” Does this aside refer to something in the Old Testament as so many Gospel references do? How about Job 9:4-13 and Exodus 33:17-23?

It’s subtle but beautiful.

 

Don’t Believe In Yourself: Dying to Self-love

Today seems a good day to remember this post on dying to ourselves.

There’s much talk of self-love in Christian circles right now, the kind of self-love that promotes a perceived circumstantial happiness. When I hear of Christian bloggers or authors or even just professing Christians in my own private life diverging from orthodox Christian faith or values because it’s “too hard,” I feel a depressing weight on my shoulders. Their quest for happiness outside of orthodoxy demoralizes me in a way a combative atheist never could. They demoralize me in a way even my own particular burdens of suffering do not.

Believe in yourself

Does God ever call us to accept ourselves, believe in ourselves, or understand that we’re are okay just as we are? No, I think he calls his people saints who are hidden in Christ and completely righteous. He urges us to believe in him, because he has all power and authority. He is the loving father of both the tiger and the kitten. The kitten shouldn’t tell himself he is a tiger. The tiger shouldn’t tell himself he is the greatest. Both are subjects of the Kings of kings, meant to give him glory in their own way.

A pastor friend talks about this is much better ways this year for the Lenten season. He’s putting together three-minute sermons for every day in Lent. Each one has been a stirring meditation on a life that carries the cross. Even if you don’t remember Lent in any personal way, I recommend these brief messages for this month and next.

‘In No Strange Land’

Francis Thompson
Francis Thompson (1859-1907)

On Ash Wednesday, a Lenten poem by Francis Thompson, who also wrote “The Hound of Heaven.” If you pay close attention, you’ll find the inspiration for a famous movie title.

In No Strange Land
“The Kingdom of God is Within You”

O world invisible, we view thee,
O world intangible, we touch thee,
O world unknowable, we know thee,
Inapprehensible, we clutch thee!

Does the fish soar to find the ocean,
The eagle plunge to find the air —
That we ask of the stars in motion
If they have rumor of thee there?

Not where the wheeling systems darken,
And our benumbed conceiving soars! —
The drift of pinions, would we hearken,
Beats at our own clay-shuttered doors.

The angels keep their ancient places; —
Turn but a stone, and start a wing!
‘Tis ye, ’tis your estranged faces,
That miss the many-splendored thing.

But (when so sad thou canst not sadder)
Cry — and upon thy so sore loss
Shall shine the traffic of Jacob’s ladder
Pitched betwixt Heaven and Charing Cross.

Yea, in the night, my soul, my daughter,
Cry — clinging Heaven by the hems;
And lo, Christ walking upon the water
Not of Gennesareth, but Thames!

8 Steps to Revive Christian Fiction

Christian fiction has been pronounced dead in some circle, and E. Stephen Burnett is running with that idea. If it really is dead, how can it be reborn? He offers eight steps.

  1. Figure out what fiction is even meant to do, starting with Scripture.
  2. Find fans who have similar biblical conviction and imagination.
  3. Stride forth with winsomeness, a confident voice, and ‘swashbuckling.’
  4. Encourage bravery about certain words and topics.
  5. However, do nothing for outrage’s own sake—that is the dark side.
  6. Budget each month to buy great Christian novels you’ve heard about.
  7. Don’t ‘ban’ any genres: romance, fantasy, mystery, literary, popular.
  8. This is ‘Christian fiction,’ so let’s see more than generic Christianity.

I like this last one. Let’s write stories with true-to-life people in them, people who attend close-to-actual churches with real theological traditions. I’d be willing to believe many novels depict vaguely Christian characters because their authors have vaguely non-denominational beliefs. But I don’t know what a survey of Christian authors would produce. Perhaps their theological depth is no deeper than that of the reading public.

On quoting the Old Testament

The refugee issue is one that perplexes me. I recognize the Christian duty of hospitality, and the Old Testament injunction to welcome the stranger and the sojourner.

But I’m not entirely sure the biblical situation is exactly analogous to our own. I’m not sure the Lord intended the Israelites to go out and bring in thousands upon thousands of Amalekites. And I’m pretty sure He never meant the welcome to expand to the point it has in Europe, where the strangers and sojourners are inexorably replacing the indigenous people.

I could be wrong, of course.

But what really surprises me is the liberal Christians I see on Facebook, who post Old Testament verses in support of their position.

Wh-what?

These are the same people who, for decades now, have been telling me that if I appeal to the Old Testament on any moral issue, I’m rationally obligated to stone people to death for wearing blended fabrics.

Have they noticed that they’ve just demolished 75 percent of their religious argument for homosexual marriage?

Denying Christ, with a smile

A while back I wrote a post in which I predicted, somewhat audaciously, that the mainline Protestant churches will eventually convert en masse to Islam, since social pressure will be great, and their current beliefs about Jesus aren’t really that different from those of Muslims.

An intelligent commenter who called him/herself “MainlineProtestantWhoLovesJesus” objected that I was caricaturing the mainline churches, and oversimplifying.

In rebuttal, I offer the video at this link (I can’t find a way to embed it).

If you don’t care to click the link, let me summarize. This is a video produced officially by the very liberal United Church of Christ. In it, three smiling clergypeople — a UCC minister, a rabbi, and an imam — switch their vestments. Then they preach in the others’ houses of worship. Their sermons are exactly the same. All the listeners are pleased.

The video ends with the message, “The things that unite us are greater than the things that divide us.”

They do not note (or do not care) that the major thing that divides us from Muslims and Jews is Jesus Christ, risen Savior and Lord.

The inescapable message is that to them, Jesus Christ is a secondary “thing.”

That is plain apostasy.

Now explain to me how a church that believes this way will never convert to Islam.

Extinction is relative

Yesterday I ran across some remarks by philosopher of science Michael Hanby that contrast the understanding we discern in Shakespeare with the attitudes common on university campuses today.

Hanby says, “Your final philosophical options come down to two. Either there is a word, or a logos, at the foundation of reality, so that reality is inherently intelligible and meaningful, and therefore there are natures, forms, that persist in spite of the flux of history and time; or, reality is fundamentally meaningless, and meaning is kind of an epiphenomenal construct superimposed upon it.”

To take a familiar example of the second alternative mentioned by Hanby: In today’s colleges of education, constructionism is common. Colleges of education may require that all faculty teach according to constructionism. Constructionism holds that the world is meaningless except insofar as human beings make/devise/construct meaning. Before the appearance of human beings like ourselves, there was no meaning. Today it is obvious, constructionism says, that humans do make meanings. However, the meanings that they make can’t be confirmed by an appeal to objective, perennial truth because there never was such a thing.

The passage above comes from a short article written by the English professor friend I mentioned yesterday. I won’t print his name here because he has to live and work in the academic world, but I quote him with his permission.

I think I might have given an unfair impression in what I wrote about relativists yesterday. I may have suggested that I thought that such people cannot love. That is, of course, unfair. They are our fellow human beings; they have the same passions as the rest of us. They love their lovers and their children and their families. They thrill to great music and literature. They grieve over disappointed hopes, and over the deaths of friends and loved ones.

Their problem (it seems to me) is that they don’t know what to do with those passions. Look at what my friend wrote above. The relativist thinks that his love for people or things is something he himself created, somewhat arbitrarily. He feels that such feelings are right, but he can’t give a reason why they are better than feelings of hate, other than that they have social utility. But who is to say that social utility itself is good? Continue reading Extinction is relative

The lonely relativist

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us— that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ. And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 John 1:1-4, ESV)

The moment someone says, “The Lord said to me…” or “The Lord moved me to…” do this or that, a great skepticism descends upon my spirit. For that reason, the fact that I feel that God told me to post something on this blog tonight suggests to me that I’m probably deeply wrong in some way. But let’s run with it and see how it goes.

Last night’s post was OK as far as it went, but I felt that I hadn’t been clear enough on the reasons for my Second Refusal – the refusal to adopt a relativistic world view. And I’m reading a very long book right now, so I won’t have a review to do for a few days. So I thought I’d say more about relativism, and why it’s so deadly.

And then I opened my Bible for devotions this morning, and there was the passage I’ve transcribed above. And I thought, “This is exactly what I want to write about.”

And then I got an email from a friend who teaches at a state university, discussing “constructionism,” the relativistic literary-critical theory that reigns supreme at most institutions of higher learning today. And I thought, “This is exactly what I want to write about.”

So I thought maybe I ought to write about it. Could be mistaken.

The problem with relativism (by which I mean the dogmatic belief that everything is relative. Some things really are relative, of course), as I see it, is that it’s essentially solipsistic. The postmodern relativist is not sure that anything exists, except himself (and he’s not entirely sure of that). Continue reading The lonely relativist

Two rejections

I seem to have stirred up a very small tempest with my review yesterday. The author of the book I reviewed (who seems to be a splendid guy) linked to my review on Facebook, and his fans went into a minuscule feeding frenzy. A couple of them even commented here. One concluded that because I believe that “truth is one,” I must be opposed to freedom of religion. This is a common misconception, especially among liberals. They assume that, like them, we on our side wish to criminalize all ideas we disagree with.

Easy mistake to make, in the hall of mirrors that is the modern world.

I wanted to re-state and elaborate on what I wrote last night. I have two arguments, each of which involves a Great Rejection.

I reject the idea of connecting religious truth to race or ethnicity in any way (except for the special calling of the Jews, a unique case and not exactly a privilege). If truth is different depending on the color of your skin, then the races will never be reconciled, because people of one race are essentially different – at their very core – from people of all other races. If truth depends on race, segregated churches are a good thing.

Christianity has rejected this idea from its very beginnings (read Acts 10).

It would seem to follow from this argument that I’m accusing my opponents of being racists. I actually think that very unlikely. They are almost certainly not racists. They are either a) unthinking, or b) relativist.

Most modern people don’t actually think their ideas through. They absorb, from TV, movies, and web sites, what the culture tells them to think, and they think that (to the extent that they think at all). Especially if it feels good. The idea of ethnic religion – when applied to minorities – feels broadminded and multicultural. So they adopt it, without worrying about the implications.

Others consider the issue of truth irrelevant. They believe that there are many truths. Your truth may not be my truth, and therefore black or red truth can be different from white truth. Everybody’s truth is equally good. And if the truths contradict one another, well, you just say that because you’re Eurocentric (“white truth” is considered slightly less true than the others).

I have always rejected the view that ultimate truth is relative. I will continue to reject it, God willing, until the day I die.

Dr. Wayne Barber

From now on, the national news and your social media friends will remind you that Gene Wilder died on August 29, 2016, but another man died that day who had far greater influence on my life. He wasn’t visible to national news writers, but his work was arguably more important than 95% of those who will be profiled this week and next. He was Dr. Wayne Barber, pastor of Woodland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Wayne emphasized God’s grace for as long as I knew him. I studied the book of Romans with him in a class at Precept Ministries, which took two years and required reading that epistle several times–a great way to study the Bible. I believe he said his favorite song mirrored his favorite topic: Jesus be Jesus in me.

I wish I could say I will never forget one of his messages on Romans 6, but the truth is I can barely remember any of it, but the effect of the whole moved me. It was essentially an extended illustration. He even paused after fifteen minutes to say he was not just winging it to burn time but would come to a point soon. That point, bringing with it all the power of a good story, was that we cannot outrun God’s grace nor can we abuse it. If God intends to save us, we can’t force him to forget us, but if he has saved us, he won’t let us forget him either. If we are truly free of sin’s bonds, he will not allow us to continue to submit to sin’s authority.

But the other side of that message is what Wayne apparently saw in many congregations, the desire to live free of sin in our own power. We recognize that we have been made in the image of a hand, designed to hold, pull, touch, and lift things, but we are only gloves. We can’t grab anything without an outside power within us, but that hasn’t stopped us from trying.

Wayne was easily the kind of pastor you’d want to see in a quarter of all of the churches in the world. He was funny, loving, and wise. May the Lord continue to bless us with men like him.

Breaking up is hard to do

Once again I turn to the invaluable blog Mirabilis.ca. Today’s story is of interest to me for several reasons. Annoyance being only one of them.

An article from thelocal.no, an English-language Norwegian news site, explains how the Norwegian state church (Lutheran) will be disestablished at the end of 2016. Sort of.

A typically Norwegian non-solution solution.

The bill that passed parliament resulted in extensive changes to the Constitution. Out went the phrase “The Evangelical-Lutheran religion will remain the state’s public religion”. In its place came the words “the Church of Norway, an Evangelical-Lutheran Church, will remain Norway’s national church and will be supported as such by the state”.

Do you understand what that means? I’m not sure I do either. Continue reading Breaking up is hard to do