August 15, 2003

A Disagreement with C.S. Lewis

A Disagreement with C.S. Lewis and with Yancey

A shorter quote just sparked a notion--

from Soul Survivor--C. Everett Koop Philip Yancey

C.S. Lewis shocked many people in his day when he came out in favor of making divorce legal, on the grounds that we Christians have no right to impose our morality on society at large. Although he would preach against it, and oppose it on moral grounds, he recognized the distinction between morality and legality.

Of course we will have to exercise the skill of ethical surgeons in deciding which moral prinicples apply to society at large. If we fail to exercise that skill, once again we will risk confusing the two kingdoms, the kingdom of God and that of this world

And yet, it is somehow fine for a Christian to live in a society that consistently seeks to impose its morality upon the Christian framework?

I think there is a grave, typically Christian error here--an error I believe stems from a misunderstanding of Jesus's statement to "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's. . ." Many seem to read that as saying there are two kingdoms--one of God, one of this world (as articulated above). Such a reading strikes me as utter nonsense. The kingdom of this world is ordained by the will of God one cannot live in it without also living in the Kingdom of God because He is all pervasive. What Jesus says to me in the phrase is not that Christians should buckle under to the Caesars of the world, but that once they are present, all due order should be observed, and Christians should be good citizens of that kingdom. However, when and where possible this world should as much as possible reflect the glory of God. So, do Christian's have "a right to impose their morality on others?" I would argue that every law is an imposition of morality and Christians have as much right as anyone else to impose their morality in a legal, civil, compassionate and humane way.

That said, the Christian morality should not be the morality of individual Christians, but the morality that comes from living in a Christlike way. That is, because we determine homosexuality to be immoral (for example) does not mean that we can pass laws that would not allow a gay man a home to live in or food. Morality must reflect first and foremost God's love and law, not our own wishes tarted up as God's Will.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:32 AM | Comments (0)

Those Who Sin Differently Than We Do

Those Who Sin Differently Than We Do

More Yancey--from whom I appear to be learning a lot. This book has been a most worthwhile and eye-opening read. Admittedly Yancey has his own viewpoint, and perhaps his own agenda. Nevertheless, I feel I have much to learn from him.

Today--C. Everett Koop (actually not, but you'll see).

from Soul Survivor--C. Everett Koop Philip Yancey

"I've noticed that Christians tend to get very angry toward others who sin differently than they do," one man said to me, a man who directs an organization ministering to people with AIDS. I've noticed exactly the same pattern. After I wrote in a book about my friendship with Mel White, formerly a ghost writer for famous Christians and now a prominent gay activist, I received a number of letters condemning me for continuing the friendship. "How can you possibly remain friends with such a sinner!" the letter writers demanded. I've thought long and hard about that question, and come up with several answers which I beleive to be biblical. The most succinct answer, though, is another question, "How can Mel White possibly remain friends with a sinner like me?" The only hope for any of us, regardless of our particular sins, lies in a ruthless trust in a God who inexplicably loves sinner, including those who sin differently than we do.

Too often I have discovered myself in the situation described above. I have also noticed it in others. I have friends who have been in a number of different relationships in and out of marriage who rail against homosexuality as a sin. I have good Catholic Friends who scream and rant and rave against abortion doctors and yet have had surgery to assure that they will have no more children.

We do tend to like least those whose sins differ from our own. If we're murderers, we can't stand thieves. The only real solution is to focus on the fact that we are all sinners. Is a homosexual any worse a sinner than myself? I would argue that the sins differ in kind, not in number. And yet consistently we seem to make out that homosexuality is a greater sin than say heterosexual promscuity, or allowing our poor to go without food or medical care.

Another example--abortion is a heinous, horrible sin and crime against God and humanity. So too is abandoning a young mother and her child to the care of some governmental system that may or may not provide her with a sufficient means of support in life. So also is depriving anyone of the basic necessities of life--food, water, shelter, and medical care--and yet we constantly face initiatives that would stigmatize illegal aliens and migrant workers in such a way. We can exploit their labor, but we want nothing to do with their problems.

Perhaps the best solution for this is the solid awareness that we are all sinners. We all, each one of us, every single day of our lives, give God and Heaven some cause for sadness. Yes, there are degrees of sinners and of sin, but do we stand as the Pharisee or as the Publican? Do we say that our sins are not so grave as those of our neighbors and thus inveigh against them with a strength that sometimes suggests madness?

Sin is sin, heterosexual, homosexual, abortionist, self-mutilator. We are all sinners before God, and when we really grasp that, we will have little time to spend accusing others, because we will be accusing ourselves and asking God for His mercy and help that we might stop the insanity of our own self-destruction. Grace alone may step in, pick us up, cleanse us, and set us back on our way. Better that we watch our own stumbling steps, than that we spend all of our time looking up from the muck to rant about how others stumble.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:22 AM | Comments (0)

August 14, 2003

Sharing Samuel's Wisdom

Sharing Samuel's Wisdom

Yesterday at school Samuel had a grilled cheese sandwich at lunch time. His comment regarding it when he came home to us is that he wanted a "boy cheese sandwich."

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:56 AM | Comments (0)

The (Im)Pure Cussedness of Humankind

The (Im)Pure Cussedness of Humankind

Some notes from Soul Survivor.

from Soul-Survivor--"Mahatma Gandhi" Philip Yancey

In 1983, after I had just returned from India and Richard Attenborough's film Gandhi was released, I wrote a profile of the man for Christianity Today magazine. Although I have received plenty of venomous letters over the years, I was not prepared for the volume of hate mail the article generated. Readers informed me that Gandhi is now roasting in hell, and that even the devil believes in God and quotes the Bible. "So it's Gandhi on the cover this month," wrote one reader. "Who will it be next month, the Ayatollah?" Another called him "a heathen agitator who did more than any other person to undermine the influence of western civilization." A prominent Christian spokesman railed again the magazine for "replacing Jesus on the cover with Mahatma Gandhi!"

Most of the complaints boiled down to one question: Do Christians have anything to learn from someone who rejected our faith?

First, I'd like to remark that it is so lovely to know how many people are aware of the fates of others with respect to their eternal destination. I have not been so blessed and while I continue to hope that I may achieve the destination that God has intended for me, I do not hold out the presumption that I can continue to conduct my life in the way I have been and make it there.

It's ironic that the man who perhaps most dramatically exemplified some of the more difficult teachings of Jesus is consigned to the pit by those who say that he rejected Jesus.

My answer would be that he rejected (perhaps rightfully) Christianity and all of its glamours and charms--including brutal racism in South Africa, the slaughter of innocent thousands in India, and the horrors of the partition--overseen by Lord Mountbatten (though not brought about by him) in the name of His Majesty's Government. Being brought up a Hindu, he expresses the typical Hindu complaint about Christianity--the paucity of incarnations of God.

However, I would argue that Jesus told us, "By their fruits ye shall know them." And I look at the fruits--peace where there was no peace, patience where there was no patience, and entire class of people raised from the lowest of the low to a place only marginally better, but still better, during his lifetime.

I don't know where Gandhi is. As always, I pray that he is in heaven. He certainly has more "right" to a place there than I do. (I know, no one has a "right' to anything of this sort, and all is given by grace--but I am just Calvinist enough to believe that sometimes you can see glimmerings of that grace in a life on Earth--and in Gandhi, I seem some of that.)

Again I say he rejected not Jesus but those who would thrust Jesus upon him. Those who, at the same time, would not allow him to worship in their churches. (Let's give them credit--those who would put down the most horrific regime the world had seen up to that point.)

I think some of the vitriol that Yancey indicates was directed toward Gandhi might have been a result of the fact that he showed how conspicuously lacking Christianity was in the presence of Christ. Would Jesus have approved of racism? Of antisemitism? Of the judgmentalism that pervades much of our daily discourse? Of our need to feel good at the expense of others? Of oppression? Of murder?

On the whole, I think Gandhi got it more right than wrong and as I observe the fruits of violence, I become more convinced that Gandhi, Dorothy Day, to some extent Merton, and always the Quakers and the Mennonites have a firmer grasp of the truth of the matter than many who would support violent resolution of nearly any conflict. Obviously, I am still in a formative stage with regard to thinking about the issue--but every thought pushes me more closely to their viewpoint. (Though not to the extremes of their views. Gandhi's wife died because he refused to allow doctors to inject penicillin that might have saved her due to the violence it would do to her body--one can go too far.)

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:52 AM | Comments (0)

August 13, 2003

Mr Gonzalez Reminds Us

Mr Gonzalez Reminds Us

I thought everyone knew--our machines were out at work because of it--there is a really nasty worm making the rounds, largely designed to launch a DDOS attack on Microsoft (distributed denial of service). It infects Windows 2000 and Windows XP by exploiting a port problem, so you don't even need to load an executable. A patch has existed since mid-July that corrects the problem. Get it at here before infection. If you have strange things happening on your computer you may need to take the next step and get the Fixblast exectutable from

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:04 AM | Comments (0)

August 12, 2003

A Review of The Crisis of Islam

A Review of The Crisis of Islam

Admittedly, not a terribly good one--but nevertheless an opinion is available here.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:12 AM | Comments (0)

Yet More on Yancey

Yet More on Yancey

Yancey quotes Tolstoy:

from Soul Survivor--"Leo Tolstoy and Feodor Dostoevsky" Philip Yancey

We think the feelings experienced by people of our day and our class are very imporant and varied; but in reality almost all the feelings of people of our class amount to but three very insignificant and simple feelings--the feeling of pride, the feeling of sexual desire, and the feeling of weariness of life. These three feelings with their outgrowths, for almost the only subject matter of the art of the rich classes.
(From [Tolstoy's] What is Art?)

This remains true today, it would seem. If one reads the fiction of the day that is highly touted as literary, these three feelings seem to dominate much of literature. Some in greater measure than others, depending upon the writer, but all of them in some mix. There is a tremendous sadness in that confession, and it is a sadness that pervades our media and much of what we choose to do for recreation.

Once again, scratched CD that I am, I point out that the only escape from this trap is the relentless, meaningful, and joyous pursuit of truth. Everything else pales in comparison to grasping the truth of the love of Jesus Christ for each of us. And nothing revives, or should I say resurrects, the soul deadened by much of the crisis of the modern world, than a realization that this world need not be the way that it is--that there is Light, there is Truth, and there is Love available from one unfailing source. Look to it, and you shall not fail.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:58 AM | Comments (0)

Some Thoughts on Philip Yancey's

Some Thoughts on Philip Yancey's Soul Survivor

The book is a series of essays about "heroes" who helped restore Yancey's faith when it was sorely challenged. It's a mixed bag of people, all interesting. But more interesting yet are some of the issues Yancey brings up.

from Soul Survivor--"Dr. Robert Coles" Philip Yancey

I belong, with Robert Coles, to a privileged minority. Everyone reading this sentence belongs, in fact, for only a small percentage of the world's people has the ability and leisure to read and the resources to buy a book. How do we, the "privileged ones," act as stewards of the grace we have received? We can begin, Coles tells us, by ripping off the labels we so thoughtlessly slap on others unlike ourselves. We can begin by finding a community that nourishes compassion for the weak, an instinct that privilege tends to suppress. We can begin with humility and gratitude and reverence, and then move on to pray without ceasing for the great gift of love.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. told Coles in the course of a personal interview:

I have begun to realize how hard it is for a lot of people to think of living without someone to look down upon, really look down upon. It is not just that they will feel cheated out of someone to hate; it is that they will be compelled to look more closely at themselves, at what they don't like in themselves. My heart goes out to people I hear called rednecks; they have little, if anything, and hate is a possession they can still call upon reliably, and it works for them. I have less charity in my heart for well-to-do and well-educated people--for their snide comments, cleverly rationalized ones, for the way they mobilize their politcial and even moral justifications to suit their own purposes. No one calls them into account. The Klan is their whipping boy. Someday all of us will see that when we start going after a race or a religion, a type, a region, a section of the Lord's humanity--then we're cutting into His heart, and we're bleeding badly ourselves.
(From Cole's Simone Weil: A Modern Pilgrimage)

This struck me rather hard. It is always easier to pigeonhole than to treat a person as a person. Even here at St. Blogs we've had a long debate on the efficacy of "modifier"-Catholics--whether we self-identify (and hence tend to identify others as "Orthodox," "Radical Traditionalist," "Liberal," etc.) I have questioned the wisdom of such division, and have eschewed any such labels for myself in hopes that it would prevent me from seeing others through the filters established by such a world view. It has not entirely, which I regret deeply. To forestall further inroads, I have decided to note this and state general opposition to labels for people. The views that are held may, perhaps, be categorized, but a person should never be stigmatized with anything other than God's own loving label--"child of God." We are all God's children, and brothers and sisters in the larger family by adoption. Thus we are prone to the rivalries of all children, and have the need to prove ourselves in views, opinions, and sometimes even by labelling a view we do not favor in such a way that it brings us the favorable comment of those whose favor we wish to curry.

The truth cannot be found in labelling. The truth cannot be found by identifying "us and them." And the truth is the only thing worth finding. The truth is found in a direct and continuous encounter with Jesus Christ. When we label a person, we have effectively found a way to remove that individual from Christ-likeness and put them in a place where we do not have to deal with them.

Throughout I have said we, because I know the phenomenon is widespread, even if mostly involuntary. But I say specifically, that I have failed here as often as (or more often than) anyone else, and for those failures I apologize to all. With the grace of God and the love of Christ, I move forward with the fervent prayer that this habit of being will gradually diminish to be replaced with the ability to look at each person for the image of God that he or she is. It is also my prayer for all of you. Hopefully, enough of us can infect the entire world with a view of the person as ultimately worthy of our respect and love by virtue of Him whose image each one is.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:46 AM | Comments (0)

August 11, 2003

A New Scupoli Translation Mr.

A New Scupoli Translation

Mr. Perry seems to be working on a new translation of Scupoli's The Spiritual Combat, along with some cogent notes and details. So far only fourteen chapters, but I hope the work continues.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 11:29 AM | Comments (0)

On Disputations

On Disputations

While Mr. da Fiesole's blog is always entertaining and interesting, parties in the blog world wonder when summer will ever be over and we can return to school. Here in the south, where things are not judged by temperature alone, we are inclined to believe that summer has expired. (After all, my child started Kindergarten this morning). So, we stand by waiting, seemingly patient, and trying hard, but the tap, tap, tap you hear is the toe of my boot, hidden discretely, by my Carmelite habit.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:34 AM | Comments (0)

Just In Case

Just In Case

I've gotten two weird error messages this morning about space available is some device or another; however, the posts made it to the blogworld fine. Don't know what the messages mean, but they prompt me to think in Alicia's and Bill Luse's direction.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:03 AM | Comments (0)

Spiritual Combat Revisited I have

Spiritual Combat Revisited

I have been reading the book with the title above on and off for a couple of month. Last night I finished a section that prompted some fairly serious thought.

from Spiritual Combat Revisited Jonathan Robinson of the Oratory

The good in us is God's and the evil in us is our own. However much this may go against contemporary modes of thought, this unpleasant truth is the lesson of Scripture and the teaching of the Church. But it is not just contemporary modes of thought that find the truth repellent--it is we ourselves. Somewhere, buried not all that deep in ourselves, is a conviction that we are not really all that bad. Here we have to learn to pray for the humility to see and accept this fundamental lesson of the Gospel about the human condition. (p. 56)

I wonder about this--not about the truth of it, but more the nuanced subtleties of it. Stated this boldly it begins to sound a bit Calvinist. One would expect the next words to be "utter depravity." But scripture and the Church both teach that mankind was created good as part of a good creation; this would seem to imply that there is something good. Now, as Mr. Robinson points out, that good comes from God, and yet we experience it and are part of it and are inseparable from it. Therefore, it should not come as a surprise that we tend to embrace the good as our own doing. But it is not, it is part of our being, but not something we have caused to be. Whereas everything that God made is beautiful and good; and yet, we see the tracery of destruction, unhappiness, and corruption throughout the human world. Why is this? Because we are, in fact responsible for all of that. Everything that is ugly, unwieldy and depraved is of human origin--perhaps promoted and encouraged by the Evil One, but willingly undertaken by people themselves.

Do we accept that all good is from God. Intellectually, every Christian acknowledges the truth encompassed in this passage; however, equally our emotional aspects resist it because it seem a vast abyss wherein we will become utterly lost. If we accept that we are capable only of evil (St. Thomas Aquinas points out that the only act a person is capable of without the assistance of grace is the rejection of God's will) then we might begin to think of ourselves in that fashion.

And yet, we are loved by God and we are loved for ourselves--corrupt, imperfect, and unloving. His Love makes us worthy of love. If we lean on that and rely upon His goodness to support us we will begin to understand to truth of the passage above without sinking into a mire of self-revulsion and hatred--hardly conducive to active Christian ministry and life.

So we must carefully tread the brink of an abyss--total self-involvement and self-assurance and total self revulsion. With the truths of the scripture and the teachings of the Church these two resolve quite readily and we needn't think about the act.

However, we do need to adjust ourselves to the fact that we are in need of transformation, and everything that is foul around us, is more than likely contributed to by us. Even if not, it is the product of human beings and not of God. We need to be very careful about taking credit for all the good that flows from our Gracious Lord and part of our examen should be to tease out those places where we continue to give ourselves credit for what we do not do ourselves.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 08:01 AM | Comments (0)

Alicia Has a New Home

Alicia Has a New Home

Here is the new Fructus Ventris establishment. Please drop in and make the house-warming an example of rousing St. Blog's hospitality.

Posted by Steven Riddle at 07:44 AM | Comments (0)