If I Speak with the Tongues of Angels…

There is something I’ve been wrestling with in the theological and vocational aspect if my life for a while: How should I “do” theology?

I am almost done with my masters in Systematics, and God willing, will get my Doctorate in it. I have a relatively sufficient philosophical background, probably an above average vocabulary, and when I put effort into it, the ability to write with a grandiloquent thickness often valued by the elite of academia. And indeed, this is the pull I feel from the institution at which I matriculate and most of my peers who are in the same field. My general perception is (and please tell me if I’m mistaken) is that those who are educated in theology should practice a “high theology” that celebrates theological distinctions with infinite regress and jargon “up the wazoo”. And I’ll admit, there is a necessary place for that–among the high-minded academics who’s job it is to discuss these issues. I am occasionally one of these, and I’m honored that I am gifted enough to be able to do so when needed.

However, most of what I write, especially online, is simply worded and simply put. This leaves me with somewhat of an interior dilemma: am I doing a disservice to my field if I remain simple and clear in my teachings?

An answer to my own question, and in an explanation as to why I prefer to speak on the level of the theologically “less educated”, is because I believe that good theology that properly evangelizes is spoken only in love. This includes meeting the audience where they are at and speaking to them in ways they can understand.

Jesus exemplified this by tailoring his teaching to his audience. When he was speaking with the priests and scribes he would use the passages they were familiar with and speak with their jargon. And he had the ability to impress them with his wisdom even at the young age of 12. However, the majority of the time he spoke to the “masses” and he used parables-simple analogies that used everyday life to communicate a basic truth. And while a different method of communication has been used by Greats like Aquinas, Rahner, and pretty much any church father (and rightfully so), other “theologians” whom I would consider influential spoke mostly with simplicity–the Gospel writers and C. S. Lewis to name a few.

Perhaps Lubac said it best: “Complication does not always indicate progress in thought…Obviously one must not…systematically reject every analysis, every distinction, every new precision which results from the need to avoid errors…But it must be admitted that often the force and even depth if a doctrine are more diminished than increased by over-enthusiasm.”

Regardless of whether you tend to speak “high” or “low” (and I cannot stress enough that both have their merits) what is essential is that when you speak, you so so with love. We speak not to praise ourselves, but to praise God and uplift our fellow believers. This is why theology and ministry/evangelization are so closely linked, and why the value of simple words or actions can not be mitigated.

Choice Without Freedom?

Freedom has become a loaded buzz word not only in the Church but also in politics, and especially in the dialogue between the two realms. In the secular sense, freedom has become nearly synonymous with choice, and we have lost the necessary distinction between the two.

So, can you have a choice without actually having freedom?

Pretend I have a daughter (I have not yet been blessed with children) and every night I say, “Abigail, you have a choice. You can go to bed now or in 10 minutes.” Is she really “free”? She has choice, but she has no control over the ultimate outcome. This shows that choice is not always the same thing as freedom.

So what is freedom? Rather, first we must ask… what is it not? Freedom is not the ability to choose what ever we want. In fact, this ability sometimes actually restricts our freedom. The most obvious way in which this secular notion of freedom is the example of addiction. When you choose something addicting it actually begins to control and enslave your future decisions, meaning you become less free in options because you can’t even conceive of choosing something else. This is what the Church (especially the early church and Paul) is talking about when it uses the language and imagery of sin as slavery. Addiction, sin, and vice keep us from choosing what actually makes us happy.

Thus, this is what the Church teaches is freedom–the ability to do the good, or in other words, the ability to choose that which makes us truly happy unimpeded by the shackles of sin. This is perfected when we can choose this quickly, easily, and joyfully… When we make it a good habit. A virtue. Therefore, true freedom is exemplified in the cardinal virtues, when one consistently chooses what is prudent, just, temperate, and courageous. If freedom is supposed to make one happy, than virtue is the way to be free. This is why the “truth will set you free“, it allows us to see the good, and thus choose it in virtue.

In my last post I talked of feminism. As pointed out by a reader, one of the major flaws in that post was that I didn’t give feminism credit for allowing women to “choose”. After considering this post, it becomes clear that feminism is good in so far as it gives freedom to women to become more fully feminine, but not all the choices women are given are good or enable them to be free. Abortion, birth control, and an over-obsession with succeeding in the work force, all could prevent a woman from choosing what is actually best for her and her family. And, before you cry bigot on me, these are all poor choices men can make as well.

One more note: I’ve recently been struggling with this issue of religious freedom…Is it a conservative agenda? What do they mean by religious freedom? Is it really in danger in America? I don’t think myself informed enough to authoritatively speak, but in the context of this discussion it would seem that, while Christian freedom is not in danger in the context of private worship, insofar as liberalism and secularism keeps the Christian from being able to choose the moral life, religious freedom is indeed in jeopardy.


Feminism: The Good, Bad, the Lie.

Radical Feminism is a cancer of the modern church…and one that has gone largely undiagnosed (and is even championed) in today’s society. It is at least partially to blame for many of the moral crises society faces and is a perversion of truth. So what is it about feminism that makes it so dangerous yet appealing? Is there anything good about feminism in general?

The Good

Like cancer feminism grows from a cluster of normally life-giving cells and mutates, perverts, and grows them into something damaging and contagious to the larger organism.

The radical feminism we have today has grown from something beautiful and life-giving to the church–Feminine Sexuality and Dignity. Without this sexuality the church would literally be lifeless, as women would not have as many children. Without this feminine spirituality families and households in the church would start to degrade. Sound familiar?

Women and femininity are of essential importance to the survival of the Church, and so to think that the church doesn’t value or treat women well is mostly a misconception. Granted, the church has made mistakes in the past about how it communicates the role of women, and an authentic “feminist theology” has yet to be adequately developed–this we must admit if we are going to get anywhere–but the importance of women in the church, from the time of Mary and continuing through to the parousia, cannot be under-stressed, especially by a hierarchy that is necessarily and permanently patristic.

The Bad

What are some of the assumptions that modern feminism asserts and how are they damaging? Sometimes these assumptions are stated explicitly, but most often they’re implicit. Some radical feminists may even deny believing these assumptions even though they essential to upholding their other beliefs.

(Note: my intent in discussing these are not to condemn feminists, I don’t even realistically expect to change their mind.  Rather, I merely aim to raise awareness, both among feminists, those who are apathetic about it, and those who are uninformed about it, as an attempt to help them engage in introspection and examination of their beliefs which often times people don’t adequately practice today.)

Women are the Same as Men— Modern Radical Feminists don’t just want to be equal to men, in many ways they want to be the same as them. They want to lead in the same way, parent in the same way, even love in the same way. For some reason they don’t realize that they can be equal without being the same. The unfortunate side effect of this position is that, not only women are completely destroying what makes them unique (and thus special), but they are ironical affirming that the masculine lifestyle is the best. Instead if reclaiming the strength if the truly feminine, they are simultaneously criticizing and grasping for what they see to be the only strength–masculinity.

All Men oppress women–Most feminist women will also inherently believe that men oppress women. The first effect of this is that even the good acts of men (ie. chivalry) become seen as tools of oppression, thereby removing any chance men have to redeem themselves. Furthermore, this leads to the common belief among women that all men are pigs, leading them to preemptively be on the defense. In a sense, feminist women are looking for a fight from men, perhaps as an attempt to validate their own preconceptions.

(If you disagree with me about these feminist preconceptions, please comment so we can dialogue)

The Lie

There exists inside most many women, to varying degrees, two disparate and opposing desires. The first is the desire of the world, to be powerful and respected in the same fashion as men. The second is the desire of the spirit, to be loved, powerful, and respected as a woman. The first is the desire to control–to dominate, emasculate,and be served– the second to be more fully “self”–to be beautiful, romanced, and alluring. The reason why these two desires compete is because Feminism is a lie.
We’ve addressed up above two of the lies that Radical Feminists believe, but there are some practices that are more insipid lies than those above, and women are only hurting themselves by believing them.

The primary and most damaging lie (yes even more so than abortion) of “women’s rights” is birth control. It is most ironic because while women believe it gives them the “freedom” to be unburdened by children and allows for “sex without consequences”, not in the last 100 years has there been a tool more efficient for male domination of women. If women can have sex with no emotional attachment or commitment involved, then so can men, and women become only a sexual object for men to use and discard. You want to explain the rise in divorce, infidelity, premarital sex, infertility, breast cancer, and teenage pregnancy? BC is the primary cause. Just take a look at everything your doctor doesn’t tell you about BC, check and see if your motives for taking it aren’t actually selfish, and then, make an informed decision about whether or not to use it. The good news is the Natural Family Planning method has become more effective than condoms (99% when done correctly), has been shown to promote a .2% divorce rate among users, leads to more satisfying sex, and takes only training and some will-power.

Feminism, while based on the truth that women are deserving of dignity, equality, and posses a special and valuable uniqueness, has damaged church and society. We need both women and men to examine their beliefs and practices to ensure that they are not participating in a worldview that, while attractive, will leave the Church lacking in authentic feminine spirituality.  We need to reclaim true feminist theology for the Christian Church, uphold the glory and dignity of women (especially in their uniqueness from men), and develop and increase their role in the Church without compromising the necessary traditions. We can do it together, not divided.

Is Religion Disappearing?

Recently, “noted” biopsychologist Nigel Barber published a “study” saying that by 2041, religion will be all but irrelevant to the majority of people, and the rest of us who still believe will just be viewed as silly, poor, crutch-wielding, peasants eating the scraps of more the more “civilized” (or “evolved”?) and wealthy of societies finest.

Lets examine 2 of the assumptions embedded in this study, and a couple problems he seems to overlook.

1) Religion is only for the uneducated, poor, and “loud”–Giving a shout out to all those who think religion is just a crutch or an opiate, Barber conducts and interprets the study from the viewpoint that religion is beneath him–probably because he’s a hotshot scholar who is so successful at life, that he doesn’t need religion.  Consider his quote, ““…Yet, noisy as they can be, such groups are tiny minorities of the global population and they will become even more marginalized as global prosperity increases and standards of living improve.”  In his view, religious believers are already in the minority, and though they are loud, they hold no real influence into the ways of the world.  According to him, they are already on their way out.  Is it possible that he conducted a study that was unbiased enough to show accurate results, or did he just conclude what he wanted to see?

2) Wealth is the Antithesis of Religion–Well duh… it doesn’t take a Ph.D. in anything to figure this one out.  Jesus was saying it from the very beginning of his ministry.  Why does wealth decrease religious devotion?  Because whereas wealth is mostly centered on the “I” (what I can have for myself), religion is mostly centered on the “other” (how can I serve, Christ, Allah, Yahweh).  So yes… obviously as wealth increases in a country, religion decreases…. the only reason you would find this a good thing is if you hate religion already.  I would like to believe there are still those “unbelievers” who, while atheist themselves, think that religion has its merits and should generally stick around in one form or another.

3) Causation Vs. Correlation–This scientist is breaking one of the first rules they teach you in science–Correlation is not Causation.  In other words, just because B follows A, doesn’t mean A causes B. Therefore, just because religion declines as wealth increases, doesn’t mean that wealth causes (at least not exclusively, completely, or definitively) the decline in religion.  Yes they are correlated, but that does not mean the increase in one will lead to the decrease in the other, only that there is some common factor which to some extent influences both.  There are rich people who are religious, and there always will be.  Just because wealth increases, does not mean that religion will become inconsequential.

4) The Foundation of Civilization–This is “speculative”, but I don’t believe that society as we know it, as a functioning body of people gathered collectively as a nation, would be able to flourish without religion.  I a sense, our country would destroy itself and some sort of anarchy or mini-apocalypse would ensue.  This could look something along the lines of what happened to Rome (and many other civilizations), and there are numerous theories about how a country’s “deteriorating moral fiber” can cause it’s society to crumble.  While this doesn’t mean that religion won’t disappear, it does mean that if it does, it won’t result in an awesome society where everyone is happy because they’re atheists.

5) Religion’s Influence–Religion cannot be erased or become irrelevant because of its inherent influence in relation to the human person.  From a historical perspective, religion’s influence has become inseparable from our history, development, and human narrative–it has been present in various forms since the rise of civilization, has shaped both the good and the bad of human thought, both hindered and saved technology.  Whether you think religion is good or bad in and of itself, it has become an inseparable part of the human experience.  Even deeper than that however, religion (at least in a broad sense) is actually intrinsically connected to human nature.  While it may be feasible that someday particular religions will “die out”, the human person’s orientation towards the “religious” will never die out.   This is not to say that every person believes in a “higher power” and worships it, but rather that humans in general tend to 1) believe in something greater than themselves (love, money, power, etc.), and then 2) orient their lives around it.  This is religion in the broad sense, and because it is so deeply ingrained in us as humans, there is some part of religious sentiment that will never truly leave us, even if we deny it.

So what do you think about this study?  Do you think he’s correct?  Or do I think I’m correct (for either the right or wrong reasons?

Love is love?

There is an axiom going around that I think needs examining if we are going to continue to use it–especially for Catholics. The axiom is “love is love”, and while it is most often used to support same sex marriage, there are many implications that we need to examine if Christians are going to use it responsibly.

The Essence of Love

Of course on some level this axiom holds true–there are some things that all love has in common. All “true” love is 1) allowing the “other” to influence your actions, 2) wanting the best for the other, and 3) committing to the good of the other.

In other words, all love is Love when we allow it to commit us to the best possible treatment of the one which we love.

What Love is Not

Love is not just a feeling, although it should be at times.
Love is not all about sex, but all sex should be about love (a notion that is nearly gone in secular society)
Love is not giving a person whatever they want or never telling them no.
Love is not always easy, it is sacrifice, sometimes painful, and counter-intuitive after someone has hurt you.

Yet society, in general, says that love is all these things at one time or another.

Different Forms of Love

The most obvious way in which this saying falls apart is that there are different forms of love which are neither same nor equal.

The Greeks distinguished between at least three types of love–unconditional, passionate/sexual, and brotherly. Tradition teaches about a self-giving, oblative love, and a more possessive, sublative love. Even the individual, in their everyday experience, can recognize that, barring some psychological abnormality, one loves their sister differently than their wife, and their brother differently than their “neighbor”. And yet, ideally, we love them all.

Nor are these loves equal (which is different than being the same)–love of family is higher than love of stranger, love of spouse higher than love of brother, and love of God above all other loves. To say that all loves are equal is to say it is just as important to love God as it is the the man who mugged you. Both are important, but one flows from the other and it is more important to have a good foundation before you raise the walls or decorate the room.

Thus, the implication of, and problem with “love is love”, is that it’s a short hop to “all love is the same (or equal)”.

“Love is Love” and Society

What are the effects of this axiom that we see manifested in our society today?

Parenting–Parents don’t know exactly how to love their kids.  Should they do what’s actually best for them and risk being “hated” during the teen years, or should they spoil them and give them what they want?  Should they be their parents, or their best friends?  Does it matter? After all… love is Love, right?

Sex–Not only has sex been separated from love (because according to society, sex is 100% about pleasure) and now its generally not frowned upon to have sex with someone you don’t actually love.  Sex has become about pleasing one’s self.  Still, we WANT to have sex with people we are attracted to (and thus love), so sex isn’t completely separated from love…but there seems to be a blurring of boundaries crossed.  I’ll just leave that as that, for now.

Marriage/Divorce–Marriage, if entered into at all now in the secular world, has become a temporary engagement (pardon the pun?).  It has been something you only do for as long as you feel love.  There is no understanding that marriage is about Eros (your spouse as your lover), Agape (Loving your spouse UNCONDITIONALLY), and Philia (yes, even your spouse as your brother/sister) and once the eros fades the marriage ends.  Society has begun to think that your “soul-mate” is the one who makes you feel the best, rather than the one that will make you the holiest (and thus challenge you the most).

There are others, I am sure, but this is enough for now.  While “love is Love” in some senses of the word, I hope that Christians will start thinking about its implications before using it or accepting it in a argument.  Don’t just speak–think.

On Nostalgia, Faith, and Worship

As part of my job in childcare this summer, I’ve spent the last few days furnishing a classroom in an old abandoned private middle school, getting it ready for 5th and 6th graders to learn and have fun.

I noticed that last month many of the old students (from as far back as 1990 even) had visited the old school and its classrooms and left messages on the chalkboards.  Now… I may be a bit cynical, but I honestly don’t know of anyone (especially in their 20’s and 30’s) who would characterize middle school as “the best time of my life”.  And yet there was not a negative message on the board, and most of them read things like “this was and always will be my home”, and “all my best memories are here”. Now…maybe I’m wrong and there’s actually an entire generation of people who enjoyed middle school (and of course I know that anyone who hated the school wouldn’t have showed up to commemorate it), but this sounds like “nostalgia”:

“A sentimental longing for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations.[and/or] The evocation of these feelings or tendencies, esp. in commercialized form.”

So nostalgia is an emotion that colors our perception of something… It gives us a longing for something past that we’ve perceived to be good in contrast to a current state that we perceive to be not as good. This may be contrary to the actual case, and often times it keeps us from remembering the not-so-good that may have formed our character. In other words, the grass is always greener in the past when we wear nostalgia glasses.

There’s definitely a detriment that can come with this– primarily it distracts us from being grateful for our current blessings and state of life in preference for something that we really can’t get back.  Secondly, in nostalgia we feel to acknowledge (or even move on from) sufferings and inconveniences that have formed our character and given us virtue.  If we ignore these events in our lives we are not using them for our benefit and they, in a sense, beat us and trap is in the past.

Is Nostalgia good for our faith? Does is serve a purpose in worship or drawing us closer to God?

The Hebrews were nostalgic for the kingdom days while they were exiled in Babylon. Psalm 137 shows how the Israelites would not sing or celebrate the old days in gratitude but rather looked on them with longing. They forgot that the reason they were exiled was because of their own disobedience. Instead of learning from the exile, reflecting on how to become more righteous because of it, they only sat and wept. Furthermore, they hung up their harps and refused to sing and worship the LORD. They were trapped in the past, rather than using the current situation to move forward.

Where I most often see nostalgia present in my faith is through Worship music. When I hear certain songs (most often cheesy P&W songs that were written when I was in High School), I think back to the “good old days” when I was first really passionate about my faith, I had a very strong community that I saw many times a week, and when I was really enjoying ministry and learned what it meant to be a leader. Sometimes… I long to go back to those days, to have that type of faith.

But then I realize–God has brought me to where I am in my faith for a reason. I know what my vocation, and probably my occupation, are supposed to be. I’m more educated and able to defend and express my faith. I am ready to raise children in the faith. And I have a deeper understanding of how God works in my life through providence and grace. Those days of past faith were essential in bringing me to where I am now, but they’re not where I’m meant to stay, and I should seek to grow and move forward in my faith, even if that means changing how that faith is manifest and expressed, and even if it means embracing suffering.

I think that nostalgia CAN be acceptable if one does not get trapped by it, if it doesn’t preoccupy one from one’s current situation, and if it motivates one to pursue correct happiness. However, it is a hard thing to do, so perhaps outside of the occasional and brief relapse, nostalgia is best avoided.

You’re Still Beautiful America: Towards a Renewed “Nationology”

I’ve become a big fan of Matt Maher’s new song “Woke up in America” but its gotten me thinking not only about what he’s trying to say about our wonderful country, but also about my own feelings about our “national identity”.

Currently I’m in an ecclessiology class for my graduate program.  I would like to propose here that, just as many our problems in the Church arises from how we perceive the Church to be (our ecclessiological identity), so do most of the problems of our nation arise from our “nationology”.

While I often amn  discouraged by the sate of our nation, Matt Maher’s song reminds me of a couple points.  First, patriotism is a virtue, one that falls under that of Justice.  Not only is it good to support our country, but it is proper and right ordered to do so–to some extent.  Therefore, to what extent should have “patriotism” for a country that is in error concerning many of its values and workings? 

Patriotism is basically having love for your country–especially in history, culture, physical beauty, etc.  America has much to offer from most of these–we have beautiful landscapes of every variety, we are a “melting pot” nation where people of every culture is welcome (which helps us form our own unique culture), and we are a champion of freedom, democracy, hardwork, and social mobility.  All of these things it is proper to love.

However, there is much about the country we cannot love.  While we both democracy and capitalism are inherently good structures, both in our country are inherently broken.  As a country we are individualistic, God-less, against life, materialistic, and petty.

What causes this?  Our idea of what america is, about what constitutes a nation…our “nationology”.  I believe that in general, we view our nation as merely a group of individuals, under the charge of a group of individuals, with a purpose of promoting the good of each and every individual person.  Each of these views is not, in and of itself, wrong, but they are all incomplete and when held without balance lead to an inadequate view of what our country is and thus how we live as a country.

–Yes, our nation is a group of individuals.. but as the virtue as patriotism shows us (and as most american’s would admit, though they live contrary), America is so much more than that.  It is about the beauty of the land, the freedom, the men and women who have given their lives, and that it is a GOD GIVEN GIFT that we are able to live with all of these blessings.  The problem is that most people live their day to day lives without remembering this fact.

–Yes, our nation is run by a group of individuals… and when we focus on that is when we realize the inherent problem with that fact.  Human’s are flawed, therefore a country that is run merely on human values, according to human ideals, and only concerning the will of human’s, will always be gravely flawed.  The fact that we must daily try to remember, the two phrases that will save us, are currently frequently being petitioned for removal–1) One Nation Under God, and 2) In God We Trust.  This reminds us that, though separation of Church and State is inherently good, they cannot be completely separate.  We must not live to merely human values, standards, and desires, but must always be careful not to cultivate a country, culture, and worldview that forsakes God’s will.

–Finally, while each individual person has a right to be happy, and the country and government has a responsibility to do everything possible to ensure that each person flourishes, a focus on individual good leads to a country that is broken and fractured.  We must instead be focused on the “common good”, an idea that isn’t necessarily foreign to America, but which seems to get pushed aside for the individual good.

I believe that if we do all these things–move towards a more collective worldview, remember that God is a necessary aspect of our country, and love America for the appropriate reasons–we will be a happier and more prosperous country, and other countries will have more respect for us.

Our “Nationology” must be more than an individual survival of the fittest.  We must remember why America is beautiful, and continue to work to make it even more so.