Wednesday, November 12, 2014

This is an issue on which you shouldn't "settle"

Someone on Facebook linked to this article and set off a firestorm of controversy, which firestorm chiefly arose because I disagreed with the article. With one exception on the thread, the others who commented seemed to agree with the article.  I have to admit that I found that shocking. So, having already produced so many pixels on the subject, I decided to make it the subject of a public post. Note: I'll be using the initial p. on this thread for the word p--n because, since this is a public blog, I don't want the post to attract nasty spam bots or other undesirables doing google searches on that word.

The article is by Mark Regnerus, and for the record, yes, I do know who Mark Regnerus is. And yes, I am indeed sympathetic and grateful to him for the abuse he has taken from the gay mafia for a study in which he questioned the wonderfulness of homosexual parenting, which is an entirely different topic from the topic of this article of his or of my present post. So, no, I don't think that his background or any gratitude we conservatives feel toward him for what he has suffered is relevant to whether or not I should critique this article. I'd like to think that Regnerus, being an academic and presumably committed to vigorous, rigorous, non-personal debate, would agree with me that I shouldn't pull any punches because "he's one of us" or "the bad guys hate him" or anything of that kind, which is really just a reverse variant on the ad hominem fallacy--because of who this person is, you shouldn't criticize what he wrote. You will gather from that prelude that such an argument has been made to me already.

Regnerus's piece is oddly unclear. Time and again one wonders what, exactly, he is getting at, and that makes it difficult to pin down and reply to. But I begin with the disturbingly tepid language that he repeatedly uses to describe p.

Explanations provide only modest comfort to the many women, (and not a few men) who wrestle over the meaning of their spouse or beau’s pastime.
They feel hurt, if not cheated on.
No kidding. Wonder why.
Contrary to what is sometimes asserted, women have the right to be annoyed or upset by porn. It’s not a good thing. It’s spiritually draining.
As a ringing condemnation, that leaves a lot to be desired. "Women have a right to be annoyed or upset." Wow! Thanks very much for that permission to be "annoyed or upset." And it's not a good thing! Wow! Talk about an understatement. "Spiritually draining" is a little better, but still pretty weak. And if you think you hear a "but" coming up after that rather lame negative assessment, you're right, and I'll get back to the "but" in a moment. But first, some more examples of Regnerus's ways of describing p.
A crestfallen young woman discovered her boyfriend “struggled” with pornography. I’m never quite sure what “struggling” actually means, since it can be code for anything from shame at taking pleasure in women’s naked beauty all the way up to addiction to hardcore pornography. (There’s a difference.)
"Taking pleasure in women's naked beauty" is so sanitized and artsy a locution that it really gives the impression, perhaps unintentionally, that the man in question shouldn't feel shame! Such a phrase could describe an entirely platonic and appreciative viewing of a nude as painted by a great master. In fact, such a phrase could describe a heterosexual woman's entirely platonic appreciation of a great painting of another woman. The word "pleasure" is a nicely euphemistic way of referring to sexual arousal and lust, and frankly, no Christian should be describing p use of any kind with such a phrase.

There's more to say about that previous couple of sentences. Aside from the fact that the phrase "taking pleasure in women's naked beauty" sounds like it's downplaying the seriousness of the issue involved, what exactly does Regnerus mean by it, anyway? Since he obviously thinks it's not so bad, given the contrast he means to draw in the sentence, what is it? It's supposed to be something that a man could mean by "struggling with p," which makes its meaning rather mysterious. Perhaps it is a euphemism for watching sex videos but only relatively "normal" ones, instead of the ones with all the extra perversions. But that seems an uncharitable reading, given the fact that apparently we're supposed to think this first thing is waaaay on the mild end. So what could it be? Well, my best guess is that "taking pleasure in women's naked beauty" means only lusting, perhaps briefly, over still shots of women who have few or no clothes on and are posed rather provocatively. Light-weight girlie pictures. No videos or anything. No "actresses" actually having sex.

But now we have a further problem. Am I the only one to detect a hint of condescension in the parenthetical "There's a difference"? Since this is being brought up in the context of wondering what this girl's boyfriend meant when he said that he struggled with p, one has to wonder: Does Regnerus really believe that a significant proportion of men who, in this Internet age, say that they "use p," "struggle with p," or "view on-line p" mean only and solely drooling occasionally over a few soft-core, still-shot pictures of naked women? If that's what we're meant to think from this passage, does he have any statistics to back up such an anecdotally implausible insinuation about the meaning of such phrases? And if not, isn't the condescension a little misplaced, since he appears to be the one asking us to be willfully naive?
I would never dream of telling anyone—devoid as I am of information about particular situations—what they ought to do about their boyfriend’s roving eye.
Actually, the main statement of that sentence isn't true, because as we shall see the burden of Regnerus's article is to tell the church collectively what women shouldn't be doing about their boyfriends' "roving eyes."  And there's no point in telling that to the Christian community collectively if you don't actually intend it to influence real, individual people, so let's not pretend that this has nothing to do with what individuals should be doing about individual relationships. But leave that aside for the moment. Roving eye? Good grief, what a Victorian euphemism. No, a roving eye is a man's letting his gaze linger a little too long on the cleavage of an underdressed female colleague. Going to a p site and viewing p videos is not a roving eye.

Okay, I'll throw in one more:
Inside the Church, we still seem to have trouble admitting that men are attracted to naked women.
Not-so-subtle implication: If you are a Christian and think a problem with p use should be a deal-breaker in a relationship, you're a religious prude who doesn't want to admit the facts of life about male sexuality. And using p is sort of like "being attracted to naked women."

Nowhere in the article (go ahead, look for yourself) is there any genuine acknowledgement of the horrific and corrosive harm of p use--to the individual, to a marriage, and to society. Nowhere is there any further indication that Regnerus is aware either of its moral seriousness or of the harm it does to relationships by destroying healthy sexuality. Nowhere is there any acknowledgement of the extreme depth of evil of the p industry itself, with its unimaginably dark exploitation of women, in particular. This is it. These phrases are what we get in the way of an acknowledgement of what p really is.

So let's move on from form to substance. Where is Regnerus going with all of this? His thesis, insofar as one can discern what it is, is entirely in keeping with the soft-pedaled rhetoric.

But we often overlook another casualty of pornography (and the human reaction to it): relationships that fail to launch. Breaking off a relationship because of pornography use can be a rational, justifiable, and moral reaction to a problem—the predilection for peering at nudity online—but such actions contribute in ways not often noted to our broad retreat from marriage.

There's the "but" part of the paragraph I partially quoted up above. What precisely Regnerus means by a "rational, justifiable, and moral reaction to a problem" is a little unclear, seeing as he's about to suggest that one should actually do otherwise for the good of society. Is he suggesting that an individual woman should do something less rational and justifiable in her particular situation, sacrificing her life for the Greater Good? Maybe so.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that little bit between dashes in my list of downplaying phrases: Regnerus summarizes the problem of p use as "the predilection for peering at nudity on-line." Yeah, that shows a real understanding of what on-line p use is. It's "the predilection for peering at nudity on-line." That's one of the best of them all.

Moving on:

Not long before that, I sat around a campfire with a couple dozen enthusiastic young adults, listening to the women recount their list of relationship deal-breakers—porn was of course one of them—while the men sat by sheepishly.
While I’m sympathetic to their concern, I can also promise you that widespread departures—given the dour numbers on porn use—will only accelerate the flight from marriage in the Church and is likely to backfire on women (as many things tend to do in the domain of relationships) who would leave for pastures that may well not be greener.
So tell us, Professor Regnerus, why were the men sitting by sheepishly? Oh, yes, because the men are right now using p. Got it. Well, golly, what a shame. We wouldn't want to make any poor, p-using men feel sheepish, now, would we?

And why is it going to "backfire on women" if they don't pursue a relationship with a man who is presently using p? Oh, wait, maybe because then they will die spinsters, because so many men are now using p. Apparently that's what he means, but why think that isn't a price they are willing to pay? Maybe they know that already. It's not that I think girls should be enthusiastic about not getting married. I'd love to see my world filled with wonderful, romantic weddings between loving brides and grooms. And that is not sarcasm, either. I really would love it, and I think parents should raise their children to want to get married. But there are worse things than not getting married. St. Paul says so. A woman might well be, what was the phrase?, "rational, justified, and moral" for thinking that one thing worse than not being married is being married to a p addict who can't shake the habit. Or even to a man who claims not to be an addict, not exactly, but is an on-going user. Perhaps if those were her only options, then spinsterhood, while hardly a greener pasture, would at least be better than a blasted heath.

Regnerus is somewhat unclear, but not entirely unclear, as to what he is urging.

However, I have no trouble or qualms in declaring that collectively a categorical call to leave spells doom. Young adults are waiting longer and longer to marry, and fewer are doing so.
To counsel further flight is like asserting that our Christian ancestors should have headed to the hills, as wealthy Romans did, to avoid the plague. You can’t flee far enough, and the Church grew by gutting it out, staying put, and caring for the sick. On the matter of men and pornography, the data suggest you cannot flee far enough. Lots of “prudent” decisions to leave will still lead us to the same place—a widespread marriage avoidance. There’s nothing wrong with being unmarried, but we fool ourselves if we think this is the obvious solution.
I gather that by "further flight" he means what those women around the campfire were doing: Refusing to date men who are using p. That "spells doom," girls, because you don't have all that many options, so better pull up your socks and rethink your dating priorities if you don't want to be responsible for the Doom of the West.

Isn't the solution to p use in the church getting people (men and women alike) to stop using p? Wouldn't that stop the "doom" by giving the non-negotiators more potential spouses to consider? Oh, yes, I know, how terribly naive. But perhaps the women around the campfire do not consider their refusal to be a solution to the collective problem of male p use at all. Maybe that isn't the point. Perhaps they just consider it better for them as individual women with valuable individual lives not to be married than to marry a man who continues to use p. Yes, even if he admits that it is wrong and wants to stop. I cannot possibly blame them for thinking that way. In fact, I would counsel them so.

Regnerus is not-so-subtly implying that "the church" is supposed to respond to the epidemic of p use among (especially) young men by somehow inducing women to marry the men anyway. (Though he would never counsel anyone about a particular relationship!) Presumably hoping to help them stop. The most charitable interpretation is that the women aren't exactly just supposed to put up with it and learn not to mind but that they are supposed to accept and assist prospective mates with this problem so long as they acknowledge it and are trying to work on it. This interpretation is confirmed by the last paragraph of the article.

But the gritty reality remains—the Church will have to learn how to navigate this, and press forward with grace and truth. Men and women have to forge relationships—marriage—with each other recognizing human weakness and fostering each other’s sanctification. While pornography is certainly a problem, we cannot collectively bail on marriage. It’s too important to the future of the Church. Without a marrying culture in the West, chastity will falter on a scale we have not yet seen.
Since when is that a good thing to counsel? Is that how you would counsel a beloved daughter who has saved herself for marriage? To forge a marriage with a man who is presently using p, hoping to "foster his sanctification"?

Let's be blunt: Nobody (I hope) would say this if the issue instead were beating women. Suppose that a man slaps his girlfriend only occasionally. He engages, in a manner of speaking, only in soft-core girl-beating. And suppose that somehow this had become endemic in American society so that even many Christian men were doing it. Suppose, even, that we had to tell our daughters, helping them to be realistic, that they might not get married at all if they made it a non-negotiable that they would not date a man who slapped them around in the course of the dating relationship. Should we then write articles urging the church not to "run away" from prospective wife-beaters, meaning by that that women should "navigate this" and "forge marriages" with such men so that there aren't too few marriages taking place?

What is astonishing about all of this is that there is a much more obvious and straightfoward approach: Tell the p users, just as you would tell women-beaters, to stop it. Stop it first! Then, when you've gotten rid of this terrible habit, which nobody should be negotiating with you about, seek someone with whom to forge a relationship and a marriage. Sure, there may well still be baggage, as there is for anyone with sin in their past (past sexual relationships, for one thing). And the baggage may, sad to say, scotch the relationship in itself. Such is the nature of sin that it leaves earthly consequences. But it should be a sine qua non, a bare minimum, that a person seeking to date and marry does not presently have a serious, on-going, destructive problem, especially not a problem that strikes at the very heart of the prospective couple's sexual relationship.

There is an interesting dilemma here for the downplayers who want to urge women to "foster the sanctification" of men presently practicing p use. On the one hand, they want to stress that there is a big range of what can be meant by "p use." (One sees this in the sentence analyzed above from Regnerus's article.) This means that they are sort of implying (without quite saying so) that they aren't really urging women to date and marry men who are really addicted, who have that bad of a problem. On the other hand, there is their odd reticence to address the problem via the Bob Newhart method. STOP IT!

Why? Why be reticent about telling the Christian men to stop first, before seeking mates, if you're only asking the women to date those who don't have such a bad problem?

See, here's the thing: Either the people you want them to date are at least somewhat addicted or they aren't. Suppose that they aren't. Then, apparently they don't think stopping is that important, or else they would stop. So then we have a very straightforward theological and moral problem, and this should be a non-negotiable. Nobody should be even considering marrying somebody who just doesn't want to stop using p, who doesn't think stopping is important. Suppose, on the other hand, that they can't stop so easily. Then they are addicted. Then all of the words Regnerus is saying about not "running for the hills" are in the service of suggesting that Christians should be considering marrying mates who are p addicts, at least to some extent, which is manifestly unreasonable. (Lest anyone wonder, yes, I would apply exactly the same recommendations and say exactly the same things if the p user were a woman.)

So which is it? I think this dilemma is unanswerable. Either they're addicts or they're not, and either way, no Christian should be dating them, much less marrying them, until they STOP IT.

Then, too, there is the element of deception. What about all those sheepish men sitting around the campfire? If they were p users, and they knew how the women felt about it, should they have been dating the women? There is an element of moral and emotional blackmail involved in deliberately leading someone to fall in love with you and only then revealing a dark, on-going behavior problem that you know will cause them great anguish, revealing it only after they feel at least somewhat committed to continuing the relationship and are loathe to hurt both of you by breaking it off. That sort of emotional blackmail is not right. That's why you should STOP IT first, and truly get past it, and be sure that you can love a normal woman and make a real, loving, physically consummated marriage, before seeking someone to fall in love with you. (Compare: If a woman already knows that she hates the very idea of sex and is going to be frigid and make her husband's life miserable in the bedroom, should she be dating? I say, absolutely not. And that isn't even a sin. Some people just shouldn't get married, cruel though that fact may be.)

Moral equivalence is going to be the bane of this debate. It's the whole pobody's nerfect thing. Nobody's perfect, we're all imperfect beings, we all have "human weakness," we all need to "foster each other's sanctification." Etc., etc. But moral equivalence is wrong. Wrong in the sense of wrong-headed, misleading, false, and inaccurate. It's especially wrong when it is applied to practical matters. Whether or not one maintains at some heady, theological level that all sins equally condemn us before God, it is dead obvious that all sins are not equal in their real-world consequences, and especially not in their real-world consequences for that most delicate of human relationships--marriage. Gluttony is not the same thing as a critical spirit is not the same thing as recklessness is not the same thing as violence is not the same thing as homosexuality is not the same thing as p use, and on and on and on. Each sin is different, and some are vastly more worthy, if "worthy" is the right word, to be regarded as deal-breakers in a prospective mate.

So, I disagree with Regnerus. Run for the hills, ladies. And gentlemen, for that matter. I'd give the same advice to a young man whose girlfriend has a present p problem. If the prospective spouse really gets over it later, perhaps the relationship can be resumed. But until then, a deal-breaker it is and should be.

And what can the church do? The church can help people to stop. (There are such things as church-sponsored anti-addiction programs. And for those who aren't actually addicts, clear counseling and catechesis should be more than sufficient.) Moreover, the church can teach that marriage is not therapy. Chastity should be a way of life, in or out of marriage. Nobody has a right to marriage. In particular, nobody has a right to marriage as therapy. Young people seeking marriage should not be continuing in destructive behaviors while waiting for a prospective spouse to come along and act as a savior girlfriend or savior boyfriend. The church, of all institutions, should not be encouraging them to do so. Rather than addressing solemn admonitions to the church to (somehow) encourage Christians to undertake marriage with people who have a p problem, let's strategize about dealing with the underlying p problem directly.

Whatever else we do, let's not settle, either individually or corporately.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Sons of Thunder--new post at What's Wrong With the World

If you are interested in my work on apologetics and the historical reliability of the gospels, you will want to read, and hopefully comment on, my latest post at What's Wrong With the World on unexplained allusions.

For All Saints and All Souls: Speak of me always to Maleldil

At the very end of Perelandra, when Ransom is about to return to earth and is saying goodbye to Tor and Tinidril, Tor and Tinidril ask Ransom to pray for them and promise prayers for him: "Farewell till we three pass out of the dimensions of time. Speak of us always to Maleldil, as we speak always of you. The splendour, the love, and the strength be upon you."

They make no specific request. They simply say that they will speak of each other to God. (Maleldil is, in C.S. Lewis's space trilogy, the space-dwellers' name for God the Son.)

Compare that notion of prayer with this, from Letters to Malcolm:
Of course I pray for the dead. The action is so spontaneous, so all but inevitable, that only the most compulsive theological case against it would deter me. And I hardly know how the rest of my prayers would survive if those for the dead were forbidden. At our age the majority of those we love best are dead. What sort of intercourse with God could I have if what I love best were unmentionable to Him? (Letters to Malcolm, p. 106)
Lewis goes on to state the argument against prayers for the dead that the dead are no longer on the road, no longer developing, that "progress and difficulty" are no longer possible for them, and that therefore there is nothing for which to pray for them. In response, he openly states that he believes in Purgatory, and he gives his own theory of what Purgatory is.

But I am interested still more in the paragraph I have just quoted. A couple of years ago when a person I had known only on-line died, I found that what Lewis says there is true. On the day after he had died I was praying, and it was virtually impossible not to speak to God of him and to ask...something. It was psychologically incredibly difficult to feel that there was literally no point in talking to God about him, and with fellow human beings, talking to God about someone invariably means some sort of petitionary prayer. I have had the same experience recently with a loved one who died.

How can one go from praying earnestly for those one loves to having nothing to say to God about them? It is true that, if one doesn't simply believe in Purgatory, as Lewis did, one isn't quite sure what to say to God about them. One is especially unsure what to request. A fragment from the Book of Common Prayer seems suitable and such as even a die-hard Protestant might not mind: "And we also bless Thy holy name for all Thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear, beseeching Thee that they may continually grow in Thy love and service." That'll work. "Continually grow in Thy love and service." This corresponds to a conjecture that Lewis makes on the way to his comments about Purgatory to the effect that even in heaven there might be a "perpetual increase in beatitude" gained by a process with its own "ardours and exertions."

I think, too, that it is possible to pray for someone without knowing precisely what to ask, leaving that in God's hands. It is in the realm of petitionary prayer for human beings that I feel most of all the truth of Romans 8:26-27: "For we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." How often, when praying for the living, must we leave in God's hands what we should pray, realizing that what we would request spontaneously might not be best? Or, if a friend is no longer present, as in the case of someone who has moved to another state, we might literally not know their present needs, but we ask that God would do all for their good. Can this be extended to the dead? I believe that it can. As Lewis says, only the most compelling theological case that the dead have nothing whatsoever to gain or to do in the afterlife would convince me that it is pointless, at best, to pray for them. In that case, I suppose that the most one could do would be to bless the name of the Lord for them--i.e., to thank the Lord for them. But do we, even we Protestants, have such a compelling case that the blessed dead have nothing left to gain? I think that we do not. It is not necessary absolutely to believe that the dead still have growth before them to pray for them. It is necessary only to think that it might be so in order to pray that God would do all for them that can be done, that God would draw them ever-nearer to Himself, would give them in a continual outpouring of Himself that unimaginable (to us) increase of beatitude, knowledge, and understanding that is now proper to their state.

Notice, too, that a doctrine that Scripture contains all that we need for salvation (some version of sola scriptura) is consistent with such a practice. For it is not necessary to our or to their salvation that we should pray for them in this way. Nor is it necessary to our or to their salvation that we should refrain from praying for them in this way. We already know that Scripture leaves much of our curiosity unsatisfied concerning the afterlife for those who are saved. We are told that we will be with Christ, that this is far better. We are told that we will "know even as we are known." But the sum total is much less than we should like to know, which is, surely, exactly as God intended it.

Now I will push the argument in the other direction, which is yet more delicate.

But first, a pause for Protestantism: I am of the opinion that it is at least somewhat theologically problematic for us to ask the saints to pray for us, and especially for our particular needs and requests. I hope that is not offensive to my Catholic friends, but it seems to me that, to assume that the dead can hear our intercessions, that they know our present state on earth, and that they are speaking of it to God is to attribute to the dead something uncomfortably close to omniscience and to give to them something uncomfortably close to prayer. I will not say that prayers to the saints are definitely and intrinsically idolatrous, but I will say that I think they raise the danger of idolatry, for to treat the dead in this way is to treat them "too much" as we treat God--as an invisible Personage, far greater than ourselves, who can help us in our need, to whom we fly for refuge, who is always present to us, who knows our needs and what is best for us, and to whom we should cry out.

I also disagree with the idea, which I have often seen expressed by Catholics, that certain dead saints have special influence with God the Father or with Jesus Christ ("Doesn't it make sense to ask a man's mother to intercede with him for you?"), so that by going to them we are making our prayers more efficacious than they otherwise would be. This conveys a notion that seems to me theologically false and even unsavory--namely, a notion of needing to be "in with the in crowd" theologically rather than being loved fully by Our Lord oneself and being able and encouraged to approach Him directly with one's petitions. I note, too, that this notion of special "influence at court" is at odds with the other claim one sometimes sees--namely, that asking for the prayers of the saints is entirely unobjectionable because it is just like asking one's friends on earth to pray for one. But in fact, we don't believe that our ordinary friends on earth have this exalted "influence at court" in the heavenly realm, such as we are encouraged to think of the dead saints, especially certain ones like Mary, as having! So the two defenses of prayers to the saints are in conflict.

Having now (sad to say) probably thoroughly succeeded in offending my Catholic readers, I shall proceed, like a good via media Anglican, to try to offend my Protestant readers. All that I have just said notwithstanding, love between ourselves and others does not, cannot, cease simply because death intervenes. If someone loves you on earth, does he cease to love you because he dies and goes to heaven? God forbid. It seems rather that his capacity for love for other human beings should increase with his increased knowledge of Christ and union with Christ in heaven.

If, then, we find ourselves unable to stop praying for the dead simply because they are dead, since we still love them, might it not similarly be the case that the dead, at least those who have known and loved us on earth, find it impossible to stop praying for us? Just as we must speak to God of them, does it not seem plausible that they speak to God of us?

What remains is the question of what they know of us. Perhaps, as our knowledge of their state is blocked by the chasm of death, and we can pray for them only in the general terms suggested above, their knowledge of our situation is similarly blocked or greatly limited. They are finite beings, as we are, and we have no reason to believe that God has ordained that they shall have supernatural knowledge of all that is going on here on earth. As I already stated, to attribute that degree of knowledge to them seems to come uncomfortably close to making them demigods. Yet the blessed dead have no problem concerning us such as we have when praying for them--the problem of wondering whether there are difficulties still to face! They know quite well that we who are still in this vale of tears have many difficulties still to face, much sin in our nature, much needed growth, many dangers, toils, and snares ahead. On the other hand, it does not seem that the blessed dead should be able to experience worry or anxiety, which (one must admit) lies behind much of our own petitionary prayer.

So what would their prayers be like? Well, that is probably beyond our present ability to imagine. But, conjecturing, I envisage something like an outpouring of the entire self to God for the good of the other. We get a tiny glimpse of this in our own best prayers, perhaps for our children or for others whom, just occasionally, we begin to love with selflessness. And if such an outpouring is effective as prayer when uttered here on earth, why would it not have effect when uttered by one in heaven?

In other words, perhaps the dead really do pray for us effectually, and perhaps we really can pray for them effectually, even though we are absent from each other.

Imagine that someone whom you love has gone far away. He is still very much alive, and you know (in some way) that all is well with him, but you know very little else. He, in turn, knows that all may or may not be well with you, but he knows very little else of you. There is no Internet, no telephone, no physical mail. You are, in the ways of this world, separated from each other. Yet you both have the same Lord whom you love and to whom you pray. You have not ceased in love for one another. In those loves--for Our Lord and for each other--you are united despite the miles and limitations that come between you.

Might it not be, in some measure, like this with us Christians on earth and in heaven?

This is all conjecture, but it is conjecture befitting the season. If it is conjecture too timid for Catholic doctrine and too bold for Protestant doctrine, so be it.

I will only say this to those whom I love and who love me: Whether here on earth or absent from the body, speak of me always to Maleldil, as I will speak always of you.

For all the saints who from their labors rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name, O Jesus, be forever blest,
Alleluia! Alleluia!

O blest communion, fellowship divine,
We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.
Alleluia! Alleluia!

Related post here.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Safe in God's hands

The world is a discouraging place. Herewith, for encouragement, a quotation from Lizette Woodworth Reese:

Oh, unforgotten things,
Gone out of all the springs;
The quest, the dream, the creed!
Gone out of all the lands,
And yet safe in God's hands;--
For shall the dull herbs live again,
And not the sons of men?

From "Herbs" by Lizette Woodworth Reese.

This one, also:
      Wild Geese

THE sun blown out;
The dusk about:
Fence, roof, tree — here or there,
Wedged fast in the drab air;
A pool vacant with sky,
That stares up like an eye.

Nothing can happen. All is done —
The quest to fare,
The race to run —
The house sodden with years,
And bare
Even of tears.
A cry!
From out the hostelries of sky,
And down the gray wind blown;
Rude, innocent, alone.
Now, in the west, long sere,
An orange thread, the length of spear;
It glows;
It grows;
The flagons of the air
Drip color everywhere:
The village — fence, roof, tree —
From the lapsed dusk pulls free,
And shows
A rich, still, unforgotten place;
Each window square,
Yellow for yellow renders back;
The pool puts off its foolish face;
The wagon track
Crooks past lank garden-plot,
To Rome, to Camelot.
A cry!

See also here. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Baylor prof. goes all gee-I-don't-know on assisted suicide

The meltdown of Christian stances in the moral fields is happening with head-spinning speed. This post is from a professor at Baylor University. God have mercy. Looks like we need to include assisted suicide in our statements and our witch hunts. (See previous entry.) Gotta love the reference to "enlightened Christians" who think suicide isn't sinful unless done for "purely selfish reasons." Condescend much, Prof. Olson?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Good witch hunts

I've been thinking lately about witch hunts at Christian colleges. I've had contact with several very conservative colleges in my time, and I know well how difficult it can be for faculty not to have tenure and to face the possibility of being fired over small deviations from school doctrine on unimportant points. It does not foster a good academic environment for people to have to worry that they will lose their jobs if they have the "wrong" views on the order of events in eschatology, for example. And the more or less "fire at will" atmosphere on some Christian college campuses can just as easily be used to penalize conservatives who want to uphold the school's traditional identity as to penalize liberals who want to tear it down.

But when I read a post like this I have to think that at some point there has been a failure of leadership. The whole point of not granting tenure in Christian colleges, or of making that tenure conditional on continuing to uphold the mission and doctrinal positions of the school, was supposed to be to avoid precisely this sort of attack from within. Given the bio of Stephen Dilley (the author of the above-linked post), it appears that he is talking about Whitworth College, about which I know little to nothing. I do know that there are many other colleges who still have a chance to get it right. Cedarville seems to have been doing some house cleaning lately. Oddly, and receiving most attention in the news, this seems to have taken the form of ruling that women cannot teach theology classes with male students in them. I am anti-feminist but am not sure that biblical teaching on that subject mandates that particular reform at an institution of higher learning. However, my hope is that this is just a signal of deeper and more important reforms at Cedarville--specifically, routing out some more-than-nascent "emergent" and postmodern views which I happen to know were getting far too popular among some faculty in the past. There is some reason to believe that this is so given the proposal that one-man-one-woman marriage be added to the statement of faith. Indeed, that should have been done some time ago, but by all means, it should be added ASAP, and any faculty member who refuses to sign on that ground should be outta here.

Long ago, I used to think that a minimalist statement of faith at a Christian school was the way to go. This was an understandable reaction to some over-detailed requirements. The older I get, the more I realize that statements of faith are very much like creeds in Christian history. Why does the Nicene Creed go on and on about the Son's "being of one substance with the Father"? Of course, it is because that creed grew out of the response to the Arian heresy. In the same way, as the Enemy attacks in subsequent ages, it is understandable that the creedal affirmations required at Christian institutions will evolve so as to block the intrusion of new heresies and serious moral false teachings into the institution. The result will, no doubt, be statements that would appear odd in other ages. Others might wonder why statements on marriage suddenly crop up, or statements about God's omniscience (in response, say, to open theism), or statements about the existence of Adam, and so forth. So it will happen, inevitably, that a statement of faith will be to some degree a "monster," in the technical sense of having what appear to be disparate parts put together in an ad hoc manner.

What I am realizing is that this isn't entirely a bad thing. Nor do my own disagreements with the particulars of some school's statement of faith mean that the ideal is to have a "mere Christian" school whose only statement of faith is, say, the minimalism of the Apostles' Creed. (I hate to point this out, but it would be possible to be a non-Trinitarian and affirm the words of the Apostles' Creed.)

The funny thing is that even if I wrote a "monster" statement of faith of my own for faculty at my own imaginary and hypothetical Christian college, it would probably be fairly "mere Christian" in some respects. It might very well not contain inerrancy! It would contain nothing about eschatology except a minimal statement that we look for the return of Jesus Christ, who will come to judge the quick and the dead. It would be by intention broad enough to include both those who affirm only believers' baptism and those who advocate infant baptism. It would be intended to allow both conservative Catholics and conservative Protestants to teach or be administrators. On the other hand, it would be strongly enough worded on Trinitarian theology and the nature of God to make it clear that Mormons would not be regarded as Christians and could not teach at the school and that modalists would be o-u-t, and it would very likely exclude those who refused to affirm the existence of an historical Adam. I'm undecided on whether to exclude open theists. I would like to include something that would exclude doctrinaire, bullying, anti-ID theistic evolutionists and prevent them from taking over the biology department but haven't yet figured out how to word that. The moral section would be fairly extensive, given our present world's Corinthian debauchery and the appalling extent to which approval of this debauchery is entering the Christian world through specious and sophistical arguments. I would support any administrator who was an absolute hawk on these moral issues and promptly fired any faculty member who showed himself to be undermining the mission of the institution on those points.

My point in listing those suggestions is not so much to defend every single one of them as to suggest a trajectory of simultaneous minimalism in some areas and maximalism in others. It seems to me that Christian institutions need to get their priorities straight. I read some years ago about a well-known Christian college that was hiring a high-level administrator whose background was in the Assemblies of God. By my recollection (I haven't time to try to find the exact words) he had also made some disturbingly wishy-washy statements about abortion. I then read about an on-campus interview process (or perhaps this occurred immediately after he was hired) in which he had an open Q & A with students. Even though both his Assemblies of God background and his abortion remarks had previously been published, the students appeared to be questioning him far more about whether he believed in eternal security of salvation than about his down-playing the evil of abortion. In fact, if I recall correctly, I didn't see a single reference in the questions to what he had said about abortion. This was misguided. Was the same set of priorities represented among those who hired him? If so, that was misguided. Eternal security is a far more open question, biblically and in terms of Christian ethics, than the grave evil of abortion.

I suppose it is not surprising that I should have become more authoritarian as I have gotten older, and I'm keenly aware that authority can be abused. But where authority exists, as it certainly does exist in the private "little kingdoms" of small Christian colleges, it should be used aright. Having and keeping faculty who are teaching what Dilley calls "evangelical self-loathing" is a recipe for disaster. If nothing else, it means accepting parents' hard-earned money and/or students' back-breaking debt under false pretenses.

This is especially true in this day and age when it comes to having faculty who are teaching that moral perversion is right. As I noted here, this has apparently happened at Gordon College. Quite frankly, I am not terribly sympathetic to talk about the lawsuits that a Christian college would or might face if it fired a "gay" professor who was opposing the mission of the school by advocating the legitimacy of homosexual acts. For decades Christian colleges have been leaning on religious exemptions to non-discrimination laws to allow them to enforce minor points of doctrine. If they cannot now use such exemptions, or at least attempt to do so, to fire members of "sexual minorities" who are teaching gross sexual perversion (or anyone who is so teaching under their auspices), then the sooner they cease to put themselves forward as Christian schools, the better! Indeed, the sooner they cease to exist, the better, since their raison d'etre will be gone. What? If open advocacy by faculty of the morality of homosexual practice is not a reductio, what is? Would an administrator refuse, out of fear of lawsuit, to fire a faculty member at a Christian school who was openly advocating orgies in the chapel? I suppose the time might come when that person's "orientation" would also gain the sympathy of the intelligentsia and the courts, but that certainly would not mean that he should be kept on staff, paid by the dollars of pious parents under the impression that they are sending their students to receive a grounding in the Christian worldview! Better for the school to close its doors altogether. The same applies to anyone who is teaching the licitness of homosexual sodomy. An administrator who lacks the stomach for that legal and spiritual fight betrays, at least to my mind, a failure to understand the serious moral evil involved.

I'm sorry for those who have been harmed by misguided witch hunts. But I'm even more sorry for students who will someday go to hell because of a failure of proper vigilance against seriously false teaching. May God give grace and wisdom to Christian leaders to know the difference between one and the other.


Saturday, October 11, 2014

The surprise of beauty

Her beauty, with her face a little flushed and her hair ruffled, took him freshly by surprise. This shock of surprise was in all real beauty, he thought. If one was not surprised it was only a counterfeit.
Elizabeth Goudge, The Dean's Watch, p. 310.

The painting below, by artist Timothy Jones, hangs on my wall. It was finished by commission this summer.

It has been on the wall now for almost exactly a month. As the days move into the full glory of a Michigan autumn with much sunshine, welcome in the house to take off the chill, the glowing picture of oranges and strawberries seems somehow to grow more important.

No doubt it is partly the fact that I'm still not used to having it there at all, but many is the time in the last two weeks that I have looked up in the midst of thinking of something else entirely--often something boring or vexing--and have been caught by it, like the Dean in Goudge's book, taken freshly by surprise.

If you have lived any length of time in this world you know what it is like first to be a child, to take in beauty with your full attention and without self-consciousness, then to lose that ability to be captivated, then to regain it, but only in fits and starts. We are creatures, in the words of T.S. Eliot, "distracted by distraction from distraction." It is a great grace to have one's whole attention captured by something lovely and to sense its quiddity, its "whatness." It seems to me that this is where Jones's genius lies as a painter--in drawing attention to the "whatness" of good things. See Oak Leaf 1, for example, or Oranges and Raspberries, Psalm 104, and others. These pictures can give the viewer, for a moment, the opportunity to forget the self, simply to see what is there, and to feel in some way, difficult to explain, that that moment of seeing is all that matters. Jones's use of light accentuates the significant object; the light "tells" the viewer that he is right to see this thing as important, for the light rests upon it. It is only sunlight, natural light. But can sunlight ever be "mere" or "only"? The light shines in darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.

If we are lucky, we have these moments of clear vision sometimes in relation to nature--a shaft of sunlight cast across a church nave, blue tree shadows on the snow on a winter's evening, a translucent leaf green against a blue sky. It doesn't happen nearly often enough. One cannot command such seeings, nor sustain them by one's own power. They come when they will, the wind that bloweth where it listeth.

Nor can the visual artist capture vision in the sense of "canning" it and making it available at will. What the work of art provides is an opportunity.

My thanks to Timothy Jones for his work on the painting I own and on all the others out there. May there be many more of his works in this dark world in the years to come.

(See here for a Christendom Review feature on Jones in 2008.)

Monday, September 22, 2014

"O Christ Our Hope"

It's been a looong time since I did a hymn post. Yesterday I learned of a new hymn. It's "O Christ Our Hope, Our Heart's Desire." The words evidently come from as long ago as the seventh or eighth century in their Latin version and were translated by John Chandler, an Anglican priest, in the 1830's. Here are the words:

O Christ, our hope, our heart’s desire,
Redemption’s only spring!
Creator of the world art Thou,
Its Savior and its King.
How vast the mercy and the love
Which laid our sins on Thee,
And led Thee to a cruel death,
To set Thy people free.
But now the bands of death are burst,
The ransom has been paid,
And Thou art on Thy Father’s throne,
In glorious robes arrayed.
O may Thy mighty love prevail
Our sinful souls to spare;
O may we come before Thy throne,
And find acceptance there!
O Christ, be Thou our lasting joy,
Our ever great reward!
Our only glory may be it be
To glory in the Lord. 
All praise to Thee, ascended Lord;
All glory ever be
To Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
Through all eternity.
I'm not sure what tune Chandler would have recommended that it be sung to, but it is now sometimes sung to a modified version of Handel's "I Know That My Redeemer Liveth," which I think is an ingenious idea. I can't find a performance of that tune, but click on the MIDI file for "Bradford" here and see the print version here. Of the tunes I have seen associated with it, this is my favorite.

I'm quite surprised that this didn't make it into the Anglican 1940 Hymnal, but I hope that church music leaders will consider introducing it, as it is worthy to be sung congregationally. The Handel tune may be a bit difficult for congregations because of the jump on "O Christ," but not significantly more difficult than many other tunes that congregations are able to sing, and if anyone has heard Handel's Messiah, the tune will already be somewhat familiar.