Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Reality, magic, and temptation

The issue of magic has been on my mind a bit lately, partly because of this post by Jeff Culbreath at W4.

There are, I'm sure, many reasons why contemporary people are attracted to magic. But one attraction of magic has got to be the thrill of making the supernatural real, of having real things happen via something other than the rather boring agency of natural means. To be sure, in an age when we can speak with some truth of the miracles of science, it hardly seems that one needs to turn to magic for that. When I was a child the Internet would have seemed akin to magic. Still, one knows in one's heart that there is some natural explanation for all of this, and one even has some idea of what it is, and that takes the magic out of it. Which is all to the good, in the end.

I imagine that Jesus' followers must have been awestruck when He healed a blind man or made the lame to walk: He really did it, just like that! He has the power to do that. It's real! It's a miracle.

Magic promises that thrill, and promises to give that thrill to the magician: Now you can be the one who can "really do it." That's why, in Acts, Simon Magus (that is, Simon the Magician) offered to pay the apostles for the power to confer the Holy Spirit on people (Acts 18:17-24)! He believed that this "Holy Spirit" thing was a new form of magic power and wanted to be able to do what the apostles did. Peter responded angrily, "Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money."

The difference between miracle and magic is that miracles are the gift of God. Even the extraordinary abilities (e.g., the ability to do some miracles) which God gave to his apostles when founding the church were recognized by Peter as gifts that came immediately from God in each individual case, not as "powers" which the apostles possessed in themselves. There is no techne, no magical art, to receiving or bestowing the gifts of God.

Moreover, God does not always do miracles. Many people are not healed. Most people (to put it mildly) are not raised from the dead.

God bestows His miraculous gifts sparingly to remind us that they are gifts. We seek after signs and wonders, after the excitement of personally seeing the real supernatural in action. (Wow! He really did it! It really happened! She was healed just like that!) But for most of us, the sign that is given is the sign, as Jesus said, of Jonah the Prophet (Matthew 12:38-40). For as Jonah was three days in the belly of the fish, so Our Lord rose after three days in the tomb. Powerful evidence? Indeed. But it happened a long time ago, and the study of it does not, for most of us, bring that special magic thrill. And that's all right.

Meanwhile, we walk by faith, hope, and charity. What we have instead of signs and wonders before our eyes or within our power are prayer, obedience, love, and Holy Communion, which, whatever else it is, looks just like bread and wine.

All these, too, are gifts.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

"Before the Throne of God Above"

It has been a long time since I've learned of a new (to me) hymn that is actually old, historically--that I like, that is. It turns out that the evangelical community of the 1980's was ahead of me on this one, and more power to 'em. As I've recently learned from Eldest Daughter, this hymn text written around the time of the U.S. Civil War by an Irish lady named Charitie Bancroft was revived and given a brand-new tune in the late 20th century. Here it is as sung by the Haven of Rest quartet:

Some brief but intense googling has failed to turn up reliable information on the tune the hymn text was originally sung to. This new (that is, 20th century) tune is by Vikki Cook.

Here are the lyrics:

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea,
A great high Priest whose Name is Love
Who ever lives and pleads for me.
My name is graven on His hands,
My name is written on His heart.
I know that while in Heaven He stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

When Satan tempts me to despair
And tells me of the guilt within,
Upward I look and see Him there
Who made an end to all my sin.
Because the sinless Savior died
My sinful soul is counted free.
For God the just is satisfied
To look on Him and pardon me.

Behold Him there the risen Lamb,
My perfect spotless righteousness,
The great unchangeable I AM,
The King of glory and of grace.
One with Himself I cannot die.
My soul is purchased with His blood,
My life is hid with Christ on high,
With Christ my Savior and my God!

Here is a post that has a pretty comprehensive list of the Scripture allusions and possible Scripture allusions in the lyrics. I haven't checked them out systematically, but they look accurate.

Monday, July 04, 2011

Moral equivalence about homosexuality is a serious confusion

Below, I made a comment about Thomas Cranmer. In his response, commentator Alex mentioned in passing that he began to read a biography of Cranmer but was put off and lost interest in reading more when he found that the author of the biography dedicated the book to his homosexual "partner."

Subsequently, someone who occasionally reads this blog (but does not comment) came to me and said, apropos of that exchange, "Well, if you're going to refuse to read any book written by a sinner..."

The implication was pretty clear: Alex shouldn't have been put off from reading the book, because all books are written by sinners, after all.

Now, this is a completely misguided way of looking at it, as I tried to tell the reader. But I lacked time and clarity, being, among other things, taken very much by surprise at the remark. So here is further detail.

First, the author of that book about Cranmer (I haven't tried to look it up, so I don't know the author's name) is not simply "a sinner." The remark about "not reading any book written by a sinner" reflects a failure, or a refusal, to acknowledge that homosexual activities are not just generic sins. They are sins against nature. They are perversions. Hence, the author is not just "a sinner," he is a person with a seriously warped sexuality, a person with a serious problem. Moreover, he glories in and is proud of this perversion. He is openly living in a sexual relationship with another man and is so proud of this that he dedicates his book to him. One wonders: Suppose the author had dedicated the book to a minor child with whom he was having an affair. Would my reader then have made the remark about "refusing to read any book written by a sinner"? It is completely understandable that someone would feel less inclined to read a book, and especially a book about Cranmer, upon seeing the dedication to the homosexual "partner."

Second, the author of the book is attempting to normalize his perversion in society by publically dedicating the book to his sexual partner. He is being "in your face" with the reader in an attempt to promote acceptance of his sin. This attempt to corrupt the morals of society, and in particular, of Christians in society (likely a large part of the audience) is an additional wrong.

Third, and relatedly, by spitting in the face of the Christian morality of two thousand years, the author of the book is insulting his likely audience by making this reference. So on top of everything else, the author of the book is rude to his readers.

Fourth, self-identified "gay scholars" often have an agenda. In literature, this takes the form of bizarre reading of texts in order to talk about sexual matters frequently, to turn all literature into pornography. In history this can take the form of weird psychologizing of historical figures and baseless implications that these characters were homosexual. "Queer studies" has been a horrible blight on the humanities for quite a while, but I suspect my reader has never heard of it and hence was unaware of the fact that the dedication calls into question the quality of the book's scholarship.

Having (unfortunately) paid good money for the book, Alex might have decided to see how good or bad it was by further reading. But I fully support his decision to stop reading and would also support him if he simply dropped it into the slot for the local library book sale. Or into the garbage can. Life is short, and of the making of books there is no end.

I write this, because it is important that someone be willing to come out and say such things. Increasingly it is considered simply "not done" to call homosexuality a perversion in public or even to be annoyed or put off by proud displays of it, as in the dedication of the book about Cranmer. So upside-down has our society become that the author's action in dedicating his book to his homosexual lover is not considered bad manners but saying frankly why there is a problem with his doing so is considered bad manners. Unfortunately, such acceptance of proud, active, and blatant homosexuality as, at most, "just another sin," is becoming prevalent among Christians, even among Christians one would have thought to be conservative. But such moral equivalence is part of what has gotten our country into the mess we are presently in. It should therefore be answered clearly.

Under God

A happy 4th of July to all my readers. Here is "Under God" by the Booth Brothers:

I used it in this post back in the winter at W4.