That’s So Second Millennium
Bonus Episode - Patricia Bellm: Marriage & canon law
CNAG: Deserve, part 3

CNAG: Deserve, part 3

February 27, 2019

I believe I have laid out enough lemmas to proceed to my own solution to the issues surrounding the word "deserve":

  • The word "deserve" is simply not an appropriate one for me, with my history of trauma and self-hatred on the one hand, and my need to have a literal and integrated understanding of concepts on the other, to use in regards to my relationship with Being Itself at all.
  • God is Necessary and I am contingent. There is nothing a contingent being could ever do that could place a moral obligation upon the Necessary.
  • God has chosen to love me and offer me grace. In fact, that was always the intention. Human beings run off of grace. I don't "deserve" it, but God wants to give it to me and knows that it is a good thing to give it to me. Nothing else is needed.
  • Being aware that I am therefore taken care of (and I can note in passing that the very common contemporary phrase "you are enough" seems to be the equivalent to this concept, although "enough" probably deserves its own future CNAG entry), I can finally take the focus off my own wretchedness, guilt, neediness, and shame, and do something to love other people.

As a Catholic, of course, I believe this Jesus of Nazareth is, was, and always will be central to this relationship between myself and God whereby I receive the grace necessary to live in an actual human manner. This grace is offered to everyone, whether or not they ever heard of Jesus Christ or even whether they lived before his time; because the Son of God is eternal, any action of his affects the entire history of the universe.

The New Testament alludes to this in several places. The Catechism of the Catholic Church (para. 605) points some of these out:

"At the end of the parable of the lost sheep Jesus recalled that God's love excludes no one: 'So it is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish.' He affirms that he came 'to give his life as a ransom for many'; this last term is not restrictive, but contrasts the whole of humanity with the unique person of the redeemer who hands himself over to save us."

But if your lens shrinks those down too far, you can miss this truth amid the many other references to the possibility of rejecting grace and carrying on into damnation. Interestingly, the CCC pulls some distillations of this teaching from two first millennium "semi-ecumenical" councils, the Council of Orange (529) and the Council of Quiercy (853). The English CCC quotes the latter as follows:

"'There is not, never has been, and never will be a single human being for whom Christ did not suffer.'"

He did not suffer because he wanted you to feel guilty about it. He suffered for you because he knew it would save you and give you the strength to do good for others.

CNAG is the Catholic-New Age Glossary... not backed by Webster's or any other authority. These meditations are here on That's So Second Millennium because they are an attempt to find maximum harmony between different strands of psychology and spirituality as they are being explored and lived out in Western culture today. It flows from a respect for people's reasons for doing what they do and thinking what they think.

Episode 048 - Terry Ehrman: God vs. Godzilla, carmen Dei vs. strepitus naturae

Episode 048 - Terry Ehrman: God vs. Godzilla, carmen Dei vs. strepitus naturae

February 25, 2019

0:00 - Science is materialist by method, but scientists need not and should not be materialist by philosophy

2:00 - The world must be real and intelligible for science to make sense

3:00 - And faith provides a philosophical basis that allows this to happen

3:30 - Students' testimony on faith and science

4:30 - Removing the faith/science obstacle is only one step on the road toward faith

5:00 - God vs. Godzilla

6:00 - The true God and His use of secondary causes

11:00 - Creation as carmen Dei (song of God; Bonaventure)

12:00 - vs. strepitus naturae

15:00 - Thought and spirit vs. matter

[This harks back to, e.g., the Ed Feser talk at the SCS conference. I personally think there is an enormous gap--bridgeable, but still to be bridged--between these arguments that the ability of the mind to generate and handle abstract concepts implies a non-material component to thought on the one hand, and the work of modern neuroscience to track the activity of neurons around the brain in specific patterns as we think.]

17:00 - Philosophical gaps in the picture of existence without God

18:00 - Infinite regress of causes, temporal/efficient causes and extra-temporal

19:00 - Postmoderns in general have a depressing view: a para-Christian morality without God; doctrinaire atheists live in an even more depressing paradigm of complete lack of meaning

21:00 - Basil & Pope Francis on creation

22:00 - Basil on the interpretation of the six days and other aspects of creation

23:00 - Guides on the tour of creation

25:00 - Symbolic language (numbers) in Scripture

27:00 - Scriptural mandate to tend creation

29:00 - Historic ginning up of the conflict between science and faith

Post Christian: The God of Your Understanding

Post Christian: The God of Your Understanding

February 23, 2019

The modern world has generated no end of addicts: those of us who come to recognize ourselves to be unable to stop some kind of compulsive, destructive behavior no matter what we do, what books we read, or what promises we make to ourselves or others. It seems most likely that this was always the case, and whether it is worse in the modern world or not is an interesting question to ponder but an impossible one to answer. In any case, in the twentieth century a remarkably countercultural movement began with a few handfuls of drunks in the eastern United States: the phenomenon of Twelve Step programs. I say countercultural because the Twelve Steps put God quite squarely before the addict as his or her only hope of transitioning away from the lifestyle of active addiction:

  1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.
  2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
  3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
  4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
  5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
  6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
  7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
  8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.
  9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.
  10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.
  11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
  12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

In the early twentieth century, this was quite contrary to the trend of psychology at the time, enamored of Freud and Jung and their ideas of occult but certainly not divine forces at work in the human mind, and about to embark on the dehumanizing experiment of behaviorism. The Alcoholics Anonymous book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions opens its commentary on Step 2 with the following summary bleat from the atheists and agnostics with which the world was already replete in the 1930s:

THE moment they read Step Two, most A.A. newcomers are confronted with a dilemma, sometimes a serious one. How often have we heard them cry out, “Look what you people have done to us! You have convinced us that we are alcoholics and that our lives are unmanageable. Having reduced us to a state of absolute helplessness, you now declare that none but a Higher Power can remove our obsession. Some of us won’t believe in God, others can’t, and still others who do believe that God exists have no faith whatever He will perform this miracle. Yes, you’ve got us over the barrel, all right—but where do we go from here?”

In order to "be all things to all men, to save at least some," it was not at all surprising that Alcoholics Anonymous chose to make the bar to entry as small as possible. Hence those phrases in Step 3 and Step 11, "God as we understood Him." In extreme circumstances, from atheists absolutely ready to die on their hills, "God" could and can be reduced to "Group of Drunks [who are somehow getting sober]" who are, to be sure, a Higher Power than the individual addict coming to a Twelve Step group admitting total human bankruptcy.

Inevitably, people have become doctrinaire about the very non-doctrinaire-ness of the Twelve Steps. I don't know to what degree Twelve Step programs have played into the modern phenomenon of saying "I'm spiritual but not religious," but the Venn diagram of recovering addicts and people with that motto has a lot of overlap. People in Twelve Step programs can sometimes even speak as though it's a positive command from the Steps to freeze in whatever state of spiritual and religious belief they first took the Steps in.

Obviously, I disagree.

Now, I have it easy, or at least it seems to me that I have it easy. As a practicing Catholic, I have always seen the Steps as basically a distillation of Catholic spirituality honed and sharpened for my particular state as an addict. Fourth and Fifth Step? Hey, I have admitted all my humiliating secrets before. The Ninth Step was more intimidating than all the penances I have ever been issued in all the confessionals I have ever entered, but it was still an extension of something with which I was familiar and, in fact, a step toward perfection of them that I had always longed for without always being able to name it. I sometimes now joke with my sponsor when I attend a penance service that I'm going to a "Tenth Step workshop."

What's really interesting is that the phrase, "God as we understood Him" does not come up until the Third Step. I don't think that's a coincidence. The biggest foulup in my whole spiritual works was the fact that I was in perpetual conflict between thinking God loved me and thinking God was perpetually angry at me, disappointed with me, waiting for me to make a mistake, and ready to pounce on me and ram me into the ground.

The Second Step is there, in my case, to correct that situation and resolve that conflict. God loves me, knows my limitations, made me with limitations, and always intended for me to run off of His grace.

With my understanding of God thus rectified, it's then safe for me to take the Third Step and commit myself to this Being who loves me and wants the best for me.

And I rather think that the Second Step is there to serve a similar purpose for everyone. Further, if you work the Twelfth Step and "practice these principles in all our affairs," that Second Step spirit keeps working in you.

Like so many things in life, it's an iterative process. Life is multiaxial, and progress on one axis depends on progress along other axes. A bit of reshaping my understanding of God is necessary for me to act on that understanding and work the next Steps. Once I've worked the Steps, though, and get in touch with God, I'll find that God is telling me more about Himself and also about myself. Resting and pondering those new and deeper truths then lets me commit myself to something better and work that for a time, when I will be ready for still more insight.

The Post Christian meditations address the larger question, "Why do people believe science and the Catholic, Christian faith are mutually contradictory?" by considering the background reasons why people in the modern West desire to punish the faith of their ancestors and deny it credibility, apart from any cogent reasons to reject its actual dogmas and teachings.

CNAG: Deserve, part 2

CNAG: Deserve, part 2

February 20, 2019

Last week I started to discuss this fraught word "deserve." I laid out the sharp contrast between the way the word is used in self-help circles and the way it's used in the New Testament.

As we'll discuss when we get to money, it's interesting to see how contemporary Western culture still carries concepts from Christianity, but has developed a drastic case of amnesia about where they came from, still less the moral and philosophical and theological framework in which they originally made sense and allowed one to live life. The process had to have begun the moment there were bodies of Christians large enough to be called communities. Once people are surrounded by others saying and doing things based on some common basis, the human tendency is to go along regardless of whether they understand why.

Interestingly, there is a lurid and terrifying story from the otherwise radically cheerful Acts of the Apostles about some of those precise people. The text leaves it implicit, but it's pretty clear that the reason Ananias and Sapphira died was not that they sold their property, and not that they gave some of the money to Peter, and not that they kept some of it for themselves, but that they were claiming and pretending that they were giving it all away, and therefore lying. The hypocrisy was the thing being punished.

In any case, cultures and political communities grew up in which official adherence to external Christian practices became the social norm and to some degree were legally mandated. Hypocrites, and partial hypocrites, multiplied apace. Partial hypocrites are particularly close to my heart, since as I was discussing last time, I am one of them, or at any rate I was. I took the message of the Christian Scriptures, ran it through my filter or distorted lens, and tried to live the parts I could see.

If, then, I try to let the message of both the entire Bible and the experiences I have had since I turned 31 affect me, I can see that my approach to the concept of "deserve" needed to be radically rethought.

There has to be a sense in which "Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath" (Eph 2:4) must be true. This is too fundamental to Christianity to be set aside. If human beings "deserve to be happy" without Jesus, then His own teachings about Himself don't make sense.

The thing is, human beings are completely contingent. We come into existence, and prior to that, there is not even a being to talk about "deserving" anything. We exist because the laws that govern the universe permit it, and the specific series of physical causes that operated on this particular rocky planet made it possible for the first humans to come to exist, and then human history played out in such a way that all our ancestors mated, bore offspring, and we were conceived. That existence is a gift, and God could have chosen things to come out differently. There are countless possible moral and conscious beings that could have come to exist and didn't and never will, and it makes no sense to say that they "deserve" it and aren't getting it. On what basis could one make that claim?

Thus, it seems to me that getting caught up in the idea that I deserve anything may be a complete waste of time.

Here I think it makes sense to point out the false dichotomy between "deserve" and "don't deserve." "Don't deserve" is not a single option. Usually we use "don't deserve" to mean "you're guilty and you should not receive some good because of your guilt." However, it makes equally good sense to say "don't deserve" in the scenario that there is no particular connection between your status and whether or not you should receive or encounter something. In that sense, even if you reject the Christian claims and believe something else, of course no one deserves anything from God.

I see I will need at least a Part 3 to try to tie this all back together...

CNAG is the Catholic-New Age Glossary... not backed by Webster's or any other authority. These meditations are here on That's So Second Millennium because they are an attempt to find maximum harmony between different strands of psychology and spirituality as they are being explored and lived out in Western culture today. It flows from a respect for people's reasons for doing what they do and thinking what they think.

Episode 047 - Terry Ehrman: theology and ecology, respecting the grammar of natures

Episode 047 - Terry Ehrman: theology and ecology, respecting the grammar of natures

February 18, 2019

0:00 - Introduction
1:00 - Catholic roots
2:00 - Early sense of vocation
4:00 - Lure of biology and ecology, early experiences in the field
9:00 - Swing to doing theology with reference to ecology rather than ecology with reference to theology
11:00 - Intellectual honesty in philosophy, science, theology
13:30 - Science, Creation, Theology course
15:00 - A theology course with a lab component
19:00 - (Fr. Terry loves basswood trees. They were a go-to example of a specific created type of being.)
20:00 - How does this dragonfly relate to Christ?
22:00 - Despair that can color one's attitude toward bridging faith and science
23:00 - (The basswood tree that can be counted on to grow the same shape of leaves every year.)
24:00 - Treating things according to their nature, the "grammar" of natures
25:00 - Grammar of connection and hope... and human flourishing (Center for Science, Faith, and Human Flourishing)
28:00 - Scientism and reduction of life to technocracy, rather than being a whole human being engaged in science

Post Christian: The Golden Mean

Post Christian: The Golden Mean

February 16, 2019

I have now lived quite a long time with my particular cluster of habits of thought. I am capable of following pretty extended lines of reasoning and layerings of figurative language, but I also at some point have to have a pretty literal and explicit place to rest my figurative head, especially when it comes to my beliefs and attitudes about myself and how to live in the world.

I take things to extremes. I think I take things literally that few other people do. Take, for example, how strictly I adhered to the implicit mandate, "Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life." Better get right down to making myself miserable, then! I mean, my efforts to make myself miserable were pretty pathetic and heavily punctuated by outbursts of addictive behavior (mostly seeking the intellectual high of strategy games or relentless shallow reading), but the habit of thought was clear and persistent.

I have had to literally spell out what I think about this line from the Gospels for myself. I think I have to take this as hyperbole aimed to shock people out of a self-satisfied mindset of primarily looking out for their own pleasure or security. I think I have to take the literal approach that I take care of myself because when I'm functional, I can do Jesus' work and help other people. I have a lot of experimental evidence that trying to hate myself "enough" or make myself miserable "enough" makes me pretty worthless to other human beings, and I don't think I can square that with the rest of the New Testament or any of my own experience of prayer.

Of course, I bring this up in this context because I think human cultures also take things to extremes. In particular, we overreact and bend the bow too far in the opposite direction. Once we identify an abuse, we collectively decide to throw away everything that seems even tangentially related. Often we become focused on something very tangential and counterproductive.

The Reformation came, and something of the sort was inevitable, because of the hypocrisy of wealthy clergy, welded into the political establishment, and often flagrantly dismissive of their promises of celibacy. Yet the Reformation did not focus on repairing these breaches, but instead gave up on humanity entirely and went after ludicrous ideas like sola scriptura and sola fides.

The Enlightenment came, and something of the sort was needed, because intellectual culture had become fixated on theology and philosophy of a kind that had gone stale. The practice of criticism, and seeking an answer within the material order for natural phenomena whenever they could be found, is absolutely of benefit to humanity. Yet it went too far, and arrogantly decided that religion was bad in all ways and at all times, completely losing sight of the fact that the faith that formed the culture in which it grew was already a critical faith and had originally spread because it actually changed people's lives. Not only that, but the Enlightenment rapidly became enamored of its own preliminary findings... and all findings from the critical method of science are to some degree preliminary. It has been a century since the people actually doing science had to reluctantly accept that Newton's laws don't tell the whole story, overturning the sense of complete certainty those laws had engendered. Philosophers of science have seen the point, and agonize, justly, to this day over whether science "proves" anything... but you wouldn't know that from listening to the contemporary self-anointed heirs to the Enlightenment.

There is a place in the middle, an Aristotelian mean at which to come to rest, but I guess that bores us.

The Post Christian meditations address the larger question, "Why do people believe science and the Catholic, Christian faith are mutually contradictory?" by considering the background reasons why people in the modern West desire to punish the faith of their ancestors and deny it credibility, apart from any cogent reasons to reject its actual dogmas and teachings.

CNAG: Deserve, part 1

CNAG: Deserve, part 1

February 13, 2019

Here's a point of tremendously sharp conflict. What do we do about this word "deserve"?

"You deserve to be happy / fulfilled / have meaning in your life / wake up every day excited..."

 - every contemporary self-help / New Age guru

"As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace [that] you have been saved."

 - this Paul of Tarsus guy (Eph 2:1-5), and not the only time he said something like this

I realize I have bitten off a lot right there. All I want to do at the moment is try to sum up decades of thrashing around in inner turmoil.

I tried to live with the idea that I was unworthy, that that was my fundamental relationship to God, for a very long time. It was not mostly intentional. I can read, and the New Testament says an awful lot of things about God's love and tender care for human beings and therefore for me specifically.

The problem is that I came to the Bible with even earlier experiences and filters. I use the word filter because it is widely used and recognized, but I actually don't like the image of a filter; I don't think it accurately describes the situation. A filter blocks some things and lets others pass. I don't think I had a filter; I had a very warped lens that shrank some things down to very tiny importance and expanded others enormously.

Given my existing lens or filter, then, passages like this got very distorted. I have purposely given you a nice long pull to show you how it worked. The lens shrank down to unnoticeable dimensions the past tense in the first few sentences. I read this and thought, "I do deserve wrath, pain, punishment." After all, I was very used to thinking that; in a horrible way, comfortable with it.

Then I went on to read the next sentence, and I could not really accept it. It seemed to contradict the thing I had just read, or really the conclusion I had just reinforced for myself. My place of rest for that sentence was more or less: "God is sort of offering mercy and forgiveness and happiness in heaven and whatnot, but He knows I don't deserve it, and He's making some sort of mistake, and He'll take it back... probably already has." The really insidious thing is that this was going on at the level of inarticulate emotion and gut reaction, and I could not see what I was doing to myself. I was always uncomfortable reading this passage and others like it; that was all I think I could have told you back then.

CNAG is the Catholic-New Age Glossary... not backed by Webster's or any other authority. These meditations are here on That's So Second Millennium because they are an attempt to find maximum harmony between different strands of psychology and spirituality as they are being explored and lived out in Western culture today. It flows from a respect for people's reasons for doing what they do and thinking what they think.

Episode 046 - Daniel Hinshaw and the frontier between medicine and faith

Episode 046 - Daniel Hinshaw and the frontier between medicine and faith

February 11, 2019

I started off this part of the interview by asking Daniel about his own journey through life and faith. His early love was history, despite having a father who was also a doctor and an academic. His interests only turned to medicine after a time in Peru and exposure to brutal poverty, and then like many of us, he drifted into an academic career. Later in life he has been able to return to that original motivation.

Daniel and his wife were brought up in the Seventh Day Adventist faith, and still greatly respects the grounding in charitable work and the Bible he received then. Eventually he and his wife got the Newman bug and had to go deep into history and join one of the apostolic churches; they joined an Eastern Orthodox church.

In that context, Daniel laments the drift of the modern hospice movement away from Christian spiritual roots and into a secular, palliative mindset, and the broader question of what is missing from the often uttered or thought statement, "if it's legal, it must be moral."

"We confuse technological prowess with being deeper and more thoughtful."

An interesting consequence of our medical progress is that we now face a future where, for the first time, across the world, most people will die of conditions derived from aging rather than contagious diseases, accidents, childbirth, etc.

We discuss a bit the golden mean to be found, steering clear of euthanasia on the one hand, and of resorting to excessive means to stay alive in the face of a fatal illness.

Post Christian: “Selfism”

Post Christian: “Selfism”

February 9, 2019

I am filing this under "Post Christian," but in a way, it would make more sense as "Post... Everything, Really."

I just listened to the latest Word on Fire podcast with Bishop R. Barron (http://wordonfireshow.com/episode165/) in which Brandon Vogt basically reads to him the entire opinion piece by David Brooks with the corny subtitle "The Gospel of St. You."

I was pretty troubled by the episode. I might try to sum my troubles up by noting that I did not hear the word "grace" or any reference to the concept in the entire interview. The interview and article sounded to me like an airy condemnation of people struggling to make their way through the postmodern world, with all of the transcendent hopes humanity has ever held finally demolished and left in smoking ashes by the baby boomers.

The thing about it is, and this is the whole point of what I'm trying to say in these Post Christian entries, that there was a lot wrong with the world in 1960, or 1900, or 1700, or 1500. The cultural thermonuclear holocaust of constant revolution that we continue to put ourselves through is an overreaction and a misreaction, but it's a misreaction to real problems.

Take the first point Brooks implicitly makes in his sarcastic tirade. We should aspire to be like great human beings of the past--out of the vast panoply of human excellence, he plucks Abraham Lincoln and Mother Teresa. But instead, Brooks claims, we reject "external standards of moral excellence, [because] they often make you feel judged. These people [promoting these standards] make you feel sad because you may not live up to this standard."

The problem is that if you have a gram of self-knowledge, and no sense of connection to God, you know very well that you can't live up to such standards. You have at least two options in that scenario. Option A is to reject the standard as irrelevant to your life under some true or false rationalization. An honest "I can't possibly live up to that, because I couldn't live without X comforts and Y attitudes and Z structures supporting my false sense of self" is rare, so false rationalizations abound, but in this case they support a pretty legitimate concern. I'd recommend Option A over Option B, limping along, trying to pretend that you're trying to live up to the standard and hating yourself every day for failing, having tried Option B for at least 17 years.

The whole point of Christianity, and why it's still Good News for people in the third millennium after Jesus of Nazareth, is that it opens up Option C: tap into the power of Someone capable of making you capable of living up to high moral standards, and willing to forgive you and pick you back up when you sin or make mistakes or experience pain.

The Post Christian meditations address the larger question, "Why do people believe science and the Catholic, Christian faith are mutually contradictory?" by considering the background reasons why people in the modern West desire to punish the faith of their ancestors and deny it credibility, apart from any cogent reasons to reject its actual dogmas and teachings.