Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Marketing Away Morality

From the “Where are we going, and why are we in this hand-basket?” file:

Planned Parenthood is selling a t-shirt which simply reads: “I had an abortion.”

My oh my, the thoughts are flying.  I titled this blog “Marketing Away Morality” for the simple and clear reason that we as a culture seem to be able to reduce absolutely anything to an advertising slogan, slap it on a t-shirt or a refrigerator magnet, and turn it into a marketing niche.  We have the capacity to take something like cold-blooded murder and reduce it to a fashion choice. (“Should I wear my Nike shirt, or my Abortion shirt with these sneakers?”)  I think it is clear that in so many ways our culture has shoved morality out the window of convenience and replaced it with vapid terms like “rights” and “choice.”  We cover up horrendous acts with relativistic and subjective thoughtstoppers and then make money on it.

I caught a snippet of an interview on CNN covering this t-shirt, and the representative from Planned Parenthood gave the typical and predictable argument that they are only giving young girls the opportunity to own their choices and not be driven into shame by those who would judge them.  This is the belief that choices are entirely subjective and the way to avoid guilt and self-condemnation is to “come out of the closet” and proudly proclaim your choices.  Without going into how self-defeating this point of view is, I think it is important for us to reflect for a second on the notion of shame.

Much has been made recently about the loss of shame in our culture.  Shame, ultimately, is a check against immoral behavior, so it is natural that if we want to rid ourselves of the pangs of sin, we would rail against the natural feelings that result from sinful acts.  For instance, shame, properly understood, keeps us chaste.  Shame helps to develop propriety.  Shame keeps us from becoming sexual predators.  Shame keeps us from killing innocent people in cold blood.  So, in our culture’s twisted sense of value, when we feel shame (only about politically correct issues, of course) as a result of our actions, we are not encouraged to reflect on the action and its relative virtue or vice.  Instead, we should do what we can to get rid of the shame.  Instead of addressing the disease, we view the symptom as the problem.

This brings me to another point-maybe a more political point.  Imagine some website selling a t-shirt which reads, “I killed a small Arab.”  What are the odds that they would receive a congenial invitation for a thoughtful interview regarding their goals in selling this shirt? (From anyone-this is not about CNN.)  And can you imagine what the reaction would be if their answer had to do with helping young men embrace their actions and avoid the shame of keeping their feelings bottled up?  Yet we find ourselves in an analogous situation with the PP t-shirt and we find our culture reacting mildly.  

The loss of things like shame, or even a simple notion of what morality is supposed to do for us, have monstrous consequences.

Suffering and God's Goodness

These lines are in the preface to Brother Lawrence's The Practice of the Presence of God:

Good when He gives,
supremely good;
Nor less when He denies: Afflictions,
from His sovereign hand, Are blessings in disguise.
This book is a great short read.  I avoid the label of “easy” on purpose.  It is a very challenging read despite its length, and one that should be read a few times as a reminder of our attention toward God.

It was this stanza in the preface which caught my attention this time through.  I believe that God is good.  Do I believe He is good all the time?  I may say I do, but is that something I cling to when trials and struggles hit?  I think one of the most pervasive problems when living out the Christian life is practical atheism-we may believe God is what He is, but too often, in all practicality, we don’t behave that way.  Am I willing and able to act as if God is good (more good and loving than I can even imagine) when every visceral reaction within me says He is not?

In addition, consider Psalm 119:75-

75 I know, O LORD , that your laws are righteous, and in faithfulness you have afflicted me.

Even in our afflictions (God caused or God allowed), God is faithful and righteous.  And what about the reaction of the Psalmist to these afflictions:

74 May those who fear you rejoice when they see me, for I have put my hope in your word.


79 May those who fear you turn to me, those who understand your statutes.

Do those who long to know God turn to you or away from you?  Does your reaction to the vicissitudes of life enable people to see God, or does it make it more difficult?

Monday, July 26, 2004

Missional Church - Church Models

One of the latest rages in evangelical ecclesiology is the idea of a “missional” church.  There are a plethora of resources on missional churches on the web, but this article by Len Hjalmarson makes for a pretty decent introduction to the ideas behind this movement.  As I have reflected on the church I am helping to plant and what it will look like in the community we are targeting, I have been drawn to some of the qualities of the missional church model-mostly without knowing it.

As I envisioned this church, and then as our leadership has reflected on its desired impact, we have come down on the side of a model that is basic, almost simple, and highly incarnational.  We simply want the church to be a place where the Word of God is taught and where the Word of God is lived.  I believe there is no stronger influence on an individual or on a culture than the Word of God taught by and incarnated through His people.

The incarnational aspect of church life turns out to be a big part of the missional model.  Another aspect of this model which receives a lot of attention is its intentional divorce from the Modern culture.  It sees the traditional church model (and traditional churches) as being inward-looking and culturally dead.  Now, when a point like this is made, it is almost always in need of qualification.  I happen to disagree with this aspect of missional church for a couple of reasons.  First, there is no serious model of church which has actually died.  For instance, the model birthed in the early Middle Ages (the Catholic and Orthodox Churches) is still alive and well today.  The models created in the last two centuries (more democratic structures of “mainline” churches) are still alive and ministering to people.  (I happen to be of the opinion, however, that the pragmatic church of the last two decades will fizzle and die.)  And secondly, cultures are never homogenous.  Although it is true we live in a postmodern culture, there are hundreds of thousands of people, maybe millions, who are not properly a part of that culture.  So to claim that a new model has a better handle on the latest version of society is only to say that it has a handle on the latest addition to society (not the whole).

The Church will always be “bound to” a culture, and will never entirely divorce itself from culture.  So the notion that the latest model is making a radical break from culture and striking out on its own is not entirely true.  What needs to be reflected upon while a new model is developed is to which culture it is binding itself, not whether it is separating from another culture.  No doubt each generation and culture needs to be reached in terms it will understand and respond to, but we must always be weary of thinking that the latest and greatest model is the latest and greatest thing.  In our search for relevance or for a workable model we must never bind ourselves too closely to a bad cultural model-especially a model that is too postmodern for its own good.

I like the missional model in large part because it wants to take the energy of the church and funnel it outward.  But I think it goes too far in assuming that it is the latest and greatest break from one of the old models and/or cultural styles.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

The Call and Vocation of Pastoring

I ran across an article by Gordon MacDonald earlier today which contained this paragraph: 
Urgency (I think we prefer the word passion today) is an interesting word when it comes to the consideration of soul-deep preaching. It is used to describe a preacher who really believes that the eternal destiny of human beings is caught up in the issues a sermon might address. This is a scary thought. Truth be told? I don't get the feeling that most preachers really believe that eternal issues are in the balance when they preach.
This kind of sentiment causes me to reflect again on the import of preaching and the profession of the pastor; it reminds me that pastoring is not a job.  Jobs do not always require that the employee be intimately and emotionally involved with their work.  Employees certainly can be, but they need not be.  Jobs certainly do not always require the spiritual attentions of their employees.  People may be spiritually wrapped up in their job, but we might consider them odd or some kind of workaholic. 
In contrast, pastoring involves spiritual intimacy and emotional connection.  It would be wrong for a pastor to be spiritually disconnected from their work, and it would be devastating to their parishioners if they were not emotionally involved with the congregation.
In response to MacDonald’s words, I wonder if there is a vicious cycle between pastors who are not spiritually in tune with their calling and vocation and congregants who don’t expect their shepherds to be spiritual “experts.”  Take for instance the careers of lawyers and doctors.  Our culture requires years of training and certification of them before we allow them to ply their trade.  And then when we have a legal or medical need we can enter their offices and be reassured that they are expertly trained and able to deal with our particular need.  What do people expect when they enter a pastor’s office and see the degree on the wall?  And further, what are the credentialed able to give in return? 
I argue that we are in a cultural situation (maybe even encouraged by pop Christianity) in which laypeople don’t always know to expect spiritual direction from a pastor as opposed to something like psychotherapy, and pastors don’t know that they should be the “experts” in things spiritual. 

Monday, July 19, 2004

Devotional Reading vs. Reading for Study

From time to time I will pick up The Message and read a book or two or a few passages in order to get a new feel for a section of Scripture or to breath fresh air into something I have read a million times, or even memorized.  I enjoy The Message more than any other paraphrase version in large part because it makes such a wonderful devotional tool.  Reading it recently, I began to reflect on the differences between devotional reading and reading for study.
Good paraphrases are a great tool and they ought to fill a niche for believers.  Too often, however, paraphrases and devotional works are the sole Scriptural tools that Christians have in their belts.  When the average believer attends to the Word, they do so with a devotional mindset of “what does this have to say to me today?”  And after years of being a part of the Church and paying pretty close attention to ministers, I am afraid that a lot of ministers have the same mindset.   I think that when a believer lacks the discipline of study (at least some level of biblical study), they miss out on a sizeable chunk of God’s revelation.
There are advantages and disadvantages to devotional reading.  One advantage is that at least people are reading Scripture.  This may not be much in some cases, but it is something.  Another advantage may be that people are trying to be attentive to God’s voice either through the words on the page or through God’s living Spirit among us.  On the other hand, devotional reading has the distinct disadvantage of eliminating a vast quantity of Scripture from the sight of the reader.  Who would read the minor prophets devotionally?  (If you say you have, it is probably because you have actually studied them or had to read them for some kind of a yearly Bible reading cycle.)  How much of Isaiah is really useful for an American’s day-to-day living?  Not much, if you approach it devotionally.
Another disadvantage to limiting yourself to devotional reading is that it is inherently selfish.  Even though the devotional reader is trying to be attentive to God’s voice, they are interested in what God is saying to them about their lives at this particular moment.  There is nothing necessarily wrong with wanting to listen to God’s direction and wisdom for our lives, but we can easily become wrapped up in ourselves and loose sight of God.
I believe that the discipline of study is crucial to the life of a well rounded disciple.  To begin with, I am not arguing that every believer needs to go out and buy the latest commentary series or learn Greek and Hebrew so they can judge the relative merits of the KJV and the RSV.  What I am saying is that people should learn to approach Scripture in a way different from devotional reading.  And honestly, buying some kind of commentary or serious book about Romans, for instance, never killed anyone.
The discipline of study has some distinct advantages.  First, it opens the entirety Scripture to the reader.  No longer is the believer limited to passages that can be easily applied to the question of whether I should do drugs.  Now, they have the entire revelation of their God in front of them and they are beginning to approach it in such a way that they will be attentive to all of it instead of just little snippets.  Secondly, it works against the selfishness that is a danger with devotional reading.  Instead of approaching Scripture looking for what is says to me, I will now approach Scripture looking for what is says about God.  There is a universe of difference between the two approaches.
Overall, I do not want to dissuade believers from their devotional reading-what I do want to do is encourage them to develop another kind of habit when they open their Bibles.  I think when we look for God in all things, especially Scripture, we find that the benefits include finding ourselves and the strength and wisdom we so often long for.

Friday, July 16, 2004

Reading Books-The Church and Imagery

Most of us have probably seen this study by the NEA referenced in some fashion or another recently.  It concludes that reading, especially the reading of literary fiction, is declining fairly sharply.  Having read a few reactions to it in the “main stream press” I think the best treatment came from the NY Times.  There the author detailed some of the categories that were oddly excluded and even oddly included in the survey, shedding light on what was considered “reading” by the NEA.
Without quibbling about the details, though, I think there are a couple of points to ponder.  The first is what I consider to be the clear superiority of the printed word over visual mediums and the internet.  The NYT author noted that even though people are reading books less, they are filling a lot of that time on the internet reading.  Although that is no doubt a good thing (better than watching TV or playing video games all day), there is simply something more permanent, more enduring with a printed book.  Anecdotally, I know that reading the Bible over a web page is a poor substitute for reading a printed Bible.  Maybe I am not quite used to it yet, but I simply don’t interact with the text as well when I can replace it with the Yahoo News page or The Onion with a couple flicks of the wrist.  Even though I close my printed Bible when I am done reading it, the words are still there and are never replaced with something less valuable.  And when people, young people especially, read printed books more than the internet, I think it instills an important, although subtle, lesson about the importance and permanence of ideas.
As just a thought, I wonder if this subtle lesson about the import of words and ideas was caught in the NYT’s final paragraph:

Not that books are likely to improve any time soon. The really scary news in "Reading at Risk" is tucked away on page 22. While the number of people reading literature has gone down, the number of people trying to write it has actually gone up. We seem to be slowly turning into a nation of "creative writers," more interested in what we have to say ourselves than in reading or thinking about what anyone else has to say.

 It seems almost natural that if we have learned that other people’s words are impermanent, we will be less inclined to pay attention to them.
As I reflect further on this study, I wonder what the implications are for the use of technology in the Church.  We are, after all, a People of the Book and not a People of the Power Point.  When it comes to the Church’s relevance to the culture, it is one thing to analyze the culture and describe it as something which has moved away from the printed word; it is another thing altogether to prescribe that kind of approach for the Church.  I am not against the use of technology and/or visual imagery in the Church per se, but I think it has to be done in a reflective and thoughtful fashion.  I cannot count the number of times I have heard pastors say things like, “most of my people don’t read much, so we…” and use that as a kind of justification for not encouraging people to read more, or for their ubiquitous use of technology in place of the printed word.   In my opinion, part of the job of discipleship is to get people into the Word, even if they are not readers.
There are several good books and articles out there on the differences between the written word and visual imagery.  Dr. Groothuis’ web page contains several articles.  Neil Postman has also written wisely on this issue in Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology and Amusing Ourselves To Death.   

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Stem Cell Letter to the Editor-Redux

It looks like the Rocky Mountain News did actually publish my letter to the editor without any editing. Again, kudos to the clearly superior editing at the RM News!

This makes the "big three" in Colordao for me-all three of the largest papers in the state published my letter.

Here is their (edited for paragraphing, not for content) version:

Adult stem cells viable option for research

According to Sen. John Kerry, limiting funding for fetal-tissue research on stem cells is a matter of being "too focused on ideology, not facts." I think he is exactly wrong on this issue.

According to a leading body of scientists of our day, the President's Council on Bioethics, adult stem cells provide an opportunity for harvesting viable stem cells that is as great (if not greater) than fetal stem cells.

Kerry was right to mention that this issue requires ethical oversight and reflection, but to actually do that leads to the conclusion that we should use adult stem cells.

Scientists have shown that they can use tissue that is routinely thrown away, such as umbilical cords, to harvest stem cells. So why should we destroy human life to get our hands on stem cells? I can't think of any good reason. Why don't people push for adult stem-cell research instead of fetal tissue research? I think it is typically because they have not been informed about the viability of adult stem cells.

Phil Steiger
Colorado Springs

Christian Kitsch

There is simply something wrong and deeply troubling with this statement:

Still, retailers are turning up the volume on figure-hugging clothes with Christian messages.

It comes from an article covering a segment of the young evangelical wave of Christianity. The article which produced that disturbing sentence focuses on the marketing of kitsch. I find it very telling that when someone from outside the church world looks in on a new wave of evangelicalism they see an advertising niche being filled with newer and “hipper” versions of the Bible, clothing and body piercings.

No wonder we are not making an impact on the world! No wonder the culture thinks it is basically Christian and yet looks less and less like Christ all the time. It is, in my opinion, because the Church looks less and less like Christ and more and more like the surrounding culture all the time. In far too many ways the evangelical movement has looked to pop culture for its inspiration and direction instead of more divine and lasting teachers.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Isaiah 59

I am always thrilled when I read Isaiah 59. It does not begin like the kind of prophetic utterance that makes its way to a Christian kitsch coffee mug or wall plaque, but in it resides what may be the greatest pair of truths there are.

My brother used to work at Focus on the Family as a supervisor and he once asked me to come and do a devotional for his group. This is the passage I selected. This is probably why his group did not ask me back. (John would have had me back, but his teammates would have reported me to the “that’s-not-insipid-enough-for-our-devotional-time” police.)

1Behold, the LORD's hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
2but your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.
3For your hands are defiled with blood
and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies;
your tongue mutters wickedness.

The vast majority of the chapter goes on like this listing our inherent and inevitable sinfulness. The point being that I have offended the holiness of God and torn an impassable cavern between Him and me. There is no getting around the blood on my hands and the iniquity (I love this Hebrew word = “twisted”) in the works of my hands.

But that is only half of the story. God not only hates sin and injustice, He is pained by it; it actually hurts God to behold it all.

15The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice.
16He saw that there was no man,
and wondered that there was no one to intercede;
then his own arm brought him salvation,
and his righteousness upheld him.

The language shifts so subtly that you almost miss it-God takes it upon Himself to fix something which disturbs Him. God choose to initiate-He was moved by our plight and our sin. How incredible! It is not just that we need to turn to God from our own sinfulness-the crux is that it is only possible because “his own arm brought him salvation.”

I find it amazing that God could behold the entirety of this broken and sinful mess and be moved to compassion.

Monday, July 12, 2004

Pascal and Human Nature

I was skimming through some Pascal earlier and ran across this thought about human nature and goodness:

426. True nature being lost, everything becomes its own nature; as the true good being lost, everything becomes its own true good.

In a recent interview on the Mars Hill Audio Journal (I am afraid I don’t remember which) a cultural observer noted that there is a lot being invoked in the name of “human rights” by those whose fundamental philosophy does not have any kind of set notion of a human person. He found it ironic that on the one hand people were pressing for more and more rights as human persons when, as a matter of fact, they didn’t believe in personhood per se. For example a good deal of Naturalism today treats human nature as not so different from animal nature. After all, we are just the latest (and maybe not the greatest) rung on the evolutionary ladder. Irony enters the picture when a Naturalist of that stripe demands legislation which is intended to protect their rights as humans. What they are really attempting to do is remove all the fetters of human nature. They are not demanding more rights as humans; they are calling for less humanity.

The same kind of thing can be said about the notion of “good.” When people become afraid to draw any lines in the sand between good and evil, then the worst possible thing happens-nothing is evil any longer. In this scenario is it not the case that we assume all things evil and must be shown what is good; we assume all things are good and don’t like the moniker of evil. Does a relativist think all things evil? Are they afraid to label anything as good? In actuality it seems they are ready, willing, and able to label all things as good and nothing as evil.

When a culture seeks freedom by casting off the old constraints, it finds only chaos where it intended to find a new liberty.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Sacred Space

I can’t remember where I first heard of this web site, but since running across it I have come back to it over and over again. It is called Sacred Space and it is a web site designed by Irish Jesuits which takes a person through a daily prayer, meditation and lectico divina. I admit that I was a little skeptical about reading a web site and being moved to prayer and reflection, but this site is so well done that it has never failed to be an inspiration. It is especially helpful at this stage in my life when I spend my entire day looking at a computer screen.

I wanted to share a couple of sections from today’s prayer.


There are very few people
who realise what God would make of them
if they abandoned themselves into his hands,
and let themselves be formed by his grace. (St Ignatius)
I ask for the grace to trust myself totally to God's love.

It strikes me that if I were to become what I designed for myself, I would be caught up in a vicious cycle with my own sinfulness. My plans and my desires are slaves to sin and for all their supposedly noble goals they would serve only my own self-centeredness. True freedom is to be released from my slavery to sin and to become obedient to the designs and plans of God alone for it is only there where I find escape from the corruption of this life. Paul said we are always slaves-the only meaningful decision we make is to whom. We cannot choose to not be slaves, but we can choose to be willing bondservants to the incorruptible will of God.


In God's loving presence I unwind the past day,
starting from now and looking back, moment by moment.
I gather in all the goodness and light, in gratitude.
I attend to the shadows and what they say to me,
seeking healing, courage, forgiveness.

Far too often I look for God in my life in all the wrong places. To probably put that more accurately, I fail to look for God in all places-I fail to search for God in all the nooks and crannies of my life. As I reflect on yesterday I am tempted to think that because I had no epiphany or because I did not receive some marvelous gift I did not really see God. But if I pay closer attention and focus my faculties on the shadows, I begin to hear a voice. It is a voice that should be more familiar to me. The sounds of this voice teach lessons that cannot be learned in any other way. I am thankful for the goodness and the light and I should grow exceedingly grateful for the voice speaking from the shadows. God is so good that he does not leave me as an orphan in the dark.

Thursday, July 08, 2004

Pragmatic Christianity

I am often struck by the pragmatism that exists in the Church. Of late, I have interacted with several individuals and ideas (books, websites, and articles, etc.) where Christianity was wielded in a pragmatic fashion. In other words, faith in God was boiled down to notions like, “if it doesn’t tell me what to do from day to day, it is useless,” or the ever-present “relevance,” or even a general anti-intellectual bias. There is a set of misperceptions and fallacies in all these interpretations of the value of Christianity, but the over-arching problem is Pragmatism and it is a problem that American Christians are especially comfortable with.

What I mean when I call something Pragmatic Christianity (PC) is that it places far too much value on the practical value of a thing or on the consequences of a thing. For example, why do cars exist? Is it for our aesthetic pleasure and the possibility of intellectual reflection on “carness”? It is clear they do not exist for that purpose; they do exist for pragmatic reasons and any aesthetic pleasure is secondary. The problem with PC is that it turns our faith into something like a car. In other words, we approach Christianity as if its primary value is in its pragmatic use, and every other angle of the faith is secondary. Clearly, the Christian faith is concerned with the right kinds of consequences to our actions and ideas, but its value cannot be reduced to those kinds of things; there is far much more to Christianity than that.

To put it a little more succinctly, I believe that the tenants of Pragmatism are inconsistent with the tenants of Christianity. Pragmatism can roughly summed up as, “the value of a belief/action/idea is entirely wrapped up in its consequences.” So if I were to make a statement about reality like, “Christianity is a good religion,” the value of Christianity would be assessed only by the actions/consequences of Christians. Additionally, if I made a statement like, “Satanism is a good religion,” that statement would be judged on the same terms. So then we have judged Christianity and Satanism with the same criteria, and they can both come out great! If Satanists do “good” things just like Christians, then there is no difference between the two because the only measure of value is in practical consequences. We could put this argument in a kind of syllogism this way:

1. The only measure of a religion’s worth is in its consequences.
2. The consequences of Satanism and Christianity are the same.
3. Therefore, the value of Satanism and Christianity are the same.

This should shock Christians because we believe something vastly different from Satanists about reality. We would protest Christianity being made of equal value with a religion which turns our claims about ultimate reality on their heads. At least, we should protest.

The kicker is that there is a significant tide of Pragmatism in the American church. One of those tides is what can be generally called the “seeker-sensitive” movement. When the church growth movement speaks of success for instance, it should always be assumed that they mean numbers. In my personal contact with that theory, people will adamantly deny that connection, but their actions and values say differently. That particular search for relevance has sold out to the philosophy of Pragmatism.

One of the things I find ironic about pragmatic Christians is that the ones who think the least about the inherent value of Christianity are the ones most likely to be philosophical Pragmatists. The ones who think the least about the doctrinal distinctions of their faith are the most susceptible to denying their metaphysical and theological uniqueness by becoming pragmatists. And this is where the typical Christian-on-the-street seems to find him or herself. The average Christian has only been given the tools of a pragmatist in their churches and so they know no other kind of value by which to measure their faith. They then respond to serious Bible study and discussion with responses like, “how will this help me say no to drugs?” or “will this help me become a better husband?” Both of these are noble goals, but they are mindless reductions of the value of faith in Christ. I am convinced (maybe rather cynically so) that the vast majority of American Christians can’t answer the question, “What is the difference between a good Buddhist and a good Christian?”

Another tide of Pragmatism in the Church is the distaste for orthodox theology. More and more leaders dislike theology and the distinctions it makes. Christian theology, for instance, draws a distinction between good and evil. Many people do not like calling some things evil. Theology also draws a distinction between those who are headed to eternity without God and those who are headed to eternity with God. There are a lot of people who do not like that one, so they try to find ways to avoid that distinction. In response to not liking those kinds of distinction and proclamations, many in the church today would rather value people and their religious systems based on their supposed “goodness” and nice consequences. Hence we get pastors who would rather measure a belief system on the basis of things like non-judgmentalism and social activity than on what it believes about reality. The result is pure Pragmatism-we loose all serious distinctions between theism and atheism, between heaven and hell, and between good and evil. And if there is nothing unique about Christianity (in the serious and deep sense of unique), then there is no use in being a believer at all.

The long and the short of this point is that the search for relevance can easily become a sell out to Pragmatism. An unthinking search for the cultural relevance of the Gospel can easily lead down a path where there is no difference between the culture and the Gospel.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Ideas, Dogma and Bigotry

At one point a few years ago during one of the peaks of frenzy concerning homosexuality, Christianity, and public policy, I drafted and never sent in a letter entitled, “Disagreement is not Hate.” What I wanted to do with the letter was point out that holding a particular view does not condemn a person to unblinking fanaticism. The argument that was being made by the homosexual-friendly community at the time was that to disallow homosexual activity the protection of State and Federal law was to hate them as people. After all, if we truly love people, we will allow all their behavior as right and good.

When I was wrapping up Chesterton’s Heretics today, I ran across another wonderful passage which addresses the connection between bigotry and dogma. In typical Chesterton fashion, he clarifies the complex with pinpoint accuracy in a style that almost makes you laugh for the volume of revelation. Here is one snippet:

A common hesitation in our day touching the use of extreme convictions is a sort of notion that extreme convictions, specially upon cosmic matters, have been responsible in the past for the thing which is called bigotry. But a very small amount of direct experience will dissipate this view. In real life the people who are most bigoted are the people who have no convictions at all.

He goes on to argue that people who have the deepest understanding about their dogmas understand (and in that sense, tolerate) the opposing points of view the best. It is those who really do not have any clear ideas about what they believe and have no deep understanding of their convictions who are the most closed minded.

The economists of the Manchester school who disagree with Socialism take Socialism seriously. It is the young man in Bond Street, who does not know what socialism means much less whether he agrees with it, who is quite certain that these socialist fellows are making a fuss about nothing.

It is the hard-headed stockbroker, who knows no history and believes no religion, who is, nevertheless, perfectly convinced that all these priests are knaves.

The source of narrow-minded politics and views on religious dogma are then from the most tolerant (in the Postmodern sense of the word). To hold no view deeply inclines you to rail against foreign ideas. More specifically, and more culturally to the point, to hold an opinion emotionally will incline you to hate people who disagree with you. At the time when I wrote the letter I mentioned, it seemed to me that reality was exactly the opposite from what the homosexual lobby claimed it to be. They claimed that Christians hated them because they disagreed with homosexuality; Christians (when their heads were on straight) disagreed with homosexuality because they had deep ideas about human nature. Christianity has ideas and dogmas, homosexuality has behavior and emotionalism. Chesterton notes:

Bigotry may be roughly defined as the anger of men who have no opinions. It is the resistance offered to definite ideas by that vague bulk of people whose ideas are indefinite to excess. Bigotry may be called the appalling frenzy of the indifferent.

So what is the cure for the conflicts which arise as a result of different ideas? More and better understood ideas. A little more Chesterton:

But there is only one way of really guarding ourselves against the excessive danger of them, and that is to be steeped in philosophy and soaked in religion.

Christian Love

I have recently been reading up on ethical theory from a Christian point of view in Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics. One of the sections is on Situational Ethics, the brand of ethical theory pioneered by Joseph Fletcher. Beginning from a Christian point of view, his basic point is that love is the final guideline in determining what is morally right and wrong. In short, if something is done in the spirit of love, then it is ethically right. He goes so far as to say (and I can remember when I first read this section) that the Ten Commandments can be broken if they are broken in a loving manner or for a loving reason.

This has reminded me of what the notion of “love” has become in our culture at large. When it is said that we should love someone, what is typically intended is that we should unflinchingly accept that person’s behavior. We have all heard it said with reference to different “lifestyle choices” – “God made them that way and he loves them, so who are you to deny them their behavior?” The connection being that apparently the ultimate form of love, God the Creator’s love, allows them to behave in accordance with their nature. So anything less than total acceptance from a human is not love at all.

Pascal had this to say about these kinds of public invocations of “love”:

451. All men naturally hate one another. They employ lust as far as possible in the service of the public weal. But this is only a pretnece and a false image of love; for at bottom it is only hate.

In other words love is the political foil for lust (in any form) and hate. At bottom the agenda that would employ a false and shallow form of love is in fact an agenda which is aimed at fulfilling lust and hate.

And what a shallow form of love it is! I have said many times that a crucial component of love in a biblical sense is its unwillingness to do certain things. Love simply does not do some things! God is love and he hates sin. Who are we to be loving in a godly fashion and fail to call sin, sin? To paraphrase an old proverb-if everything is love, nothing is love.

As with so many other things, the Church must stand up for the truth about love. The greatest form of love we know, God the Creator’s love, loves people to death and eternally hates sin.