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The question of sin and the forbidden nature of sin looms large in the understanding of God as Father. What is God's nature as Father--arbitrary rulemaker or dedicated guardian. Is something sinful because it is forbidden? Or is there something more?

Reading through Edmund S. Morgan's biography of Benjamin Franklin, we find the following passage:

from Benjamin Franklin Edmund S. Morgan

He never came to accept the Bible as a divine revelation or Jesus as the son of God. But he characteristically discover a new basis for Christian morality in the usefulness that was so unhappily missing from what he had earlier taught his friends about the rightness of everything. His new view was "that tho' certain Actions might not be bad because they were forbidden by it [the Bible], or good because it commanded them, yet probably, those actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us."

This is how Franklin remember his change of heart and change of mind in the autobiography, and it seems to have been a accurate description. He enunciated the same view of moral in Poor Richard's Almanack for 1739, in slightly different form: "Sin is not hurtful because it is forbidden but it is forbidden because it's hurtful. . . . Nor is a Duty beneficial because it is commanded, but it is commanded, because it's beneficial." Franklin arrived at this formula for reading the biblical Commandments only after a great deal of thinking on his own about what was hurtful and what was beneficial to himself and to the rest of God's creation.

We have in one way a very utilitarian view of sin and virtue and one result of this is that Franklin develops a very odd list of virtues. However, utility aside, is the view of sin more compatible and more coherent with respect to the image of God as a loving father.

What is more plausible from a loving Father--that he will arbitrarily forbid some things and encourage others or that the reasons for his strictures would have foundation in what is good for the child He is guiding? It would seem to me the latter. If so, that would mean that we should look upon sin as an action that is forbidden because of the harm it causes the individual committing it and the community in which it is committed. Morgan later calls such reasoning heretical (although, I think he means in this instance "going against the common strain of religious thought" rather than technically heretical.

I have not yet consulted the catechism on the matter and so cannot advance this theory without the caveat that it might indeed run counter to the teaching of the Church; however, I don't think that it does: I suspect that it falls into the realm of the theologian rather than the proper realm of the magisterium--but if there is anyone left who is still reading this blog, perhaps they can better advise as to the Catholic validity of the statement.

However, I have always viewed the commandments of the Bible as being there to prevent harm to God's children--body, mind, and soul. For example, I look upon many of the provisions for kosher as dietary laws that either (1) prevent sickness of the body--think trichinosis, or (2) prevent harm to the soul--think about the provision against eating the flesh of strangled animals--more about cruelty and the mark that inflicts upon the soul than about the arbitrary provision that the means of death somehow taints the person who consumes of the flesh.

I don't know, but I offer these speculations, half-formed as they are, as a reflection on the nature of Fatherhood. A good father makes his rules and laws not to impress upon his children a whimsical and variable will, but because he knows the inevitable consequences of actions and the harm or good that will come from performing them. If it is legitimate to consider sin in this light, we have a deeper insight into the Fatherhood of God and why that image is so important in our understanding and relationship to all things Divine.

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Words from Pope St. Leo the Great

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Ash Wednesday--Beginning Lent


at Momentary Taste

It is my sincere hope that I will be able to return to Flos Carmeli and post more on matters spiritual during this season.

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From Morning Prayer


The rolling phrases of Pope St. Clement I

from The Letter to the Corinthians
Pope St. Clement I

Helper of those in peril, Savior of those in despair, you created and still kepp watch over all that draws breath. You cause the peoples on Earth to multiply, and from them all choose those who love you through Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Through Him you have instructed us, sanctified us, honored us.

I think in reading this of the threefold mission--priest, prophet, and king that was announced as of His Baptism. I don't know why, perhaps it is simply the way things are phrased and particularly the trifold "instructed us, sanctified us, honored us."

The rhythm of this thought and its delicacy are pursued until the end of the passage and we culminate with being honored by God. I have to wonder how many have thought of it in that way--being honored by Him. Too often we are busy being cowed or bowed or cozzened or otherwise perturbed in our path. but no--instructed, sanctified, and honored. Honored as children, honored as sons and daughters.

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From Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

Thich Nhat Hanh

Sometimes when we are on the computer, it is as if we have turned off our mind and are absorbed into the computer for hours. Mind is consciousness. The two aspects of consciousness, subject and object, depend on each other in order to exist. When our mind is conscious of something, we are that thing. When we contemplate a snow-covered mountain, we are that mountain. When we watch a noisy film, we are that noisy film. And when we turn on the blue light of the computer, we become that computer.

I tend to read such things in a very metaphorical sense, and I must preface any further comments by saying that it may not be the intent of the author to be metaphorical. There may be some elusive sense in which he is being quite literal. Not being Buddhist, and reading this passage from a strictly Catholic point of view, I see exposed (metaphorically) a fundamental truth. Neuroscience has pretty clearly demonstrated that so called multitasking is no more multitasking than it was (or perhaps still is) on previous generations of Pentium chips. It simply isn't biologically possible to truly multitask--take the incidence of traffic accidents while using cell phones as an exemplar.

We become, not physically, but in some sense mentally, what we engage with. When we shoose to be a part of something, we give a part of ourselves to that something. This is a difficult truth and it is the truth that lay behind custody of the sense. When we give ourselves over to indulgence in the sense, we cannot rise above them and we find ourselves driven by them. This can be an ugly and fearsome thing. Thus, the investment of energy is a profound investment of a part of ourselves. In investing that energy, we become in some sense part of what we are investing in. We betray ourselves when the object is not worth the investment.

To paraphrase George Harrison, "You know that what you do, you are." And this is true in a very substantial way--do worthy and worthwhile things, you tend toward doing more of the same. Do less worthy things, the tendency towards less worthy becomes more pronounced.

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A powerful blog defense that includes this:

First up, the Church doesn't bluff. There may be a surface resemblance between the Church's move and the typical move of politicians facing budget cuts -- make the cuts in the most visible, most popular, most needed areas first -- but that's where it ends. The Church does NOT use the poor as hostages for imposing its social agenda.

Read the whole thing here.

And I think his send-off is worthwhile:

"And that's coming from an agnostic gay marriage supporter who is still uncertain as to whether the Catholic Church has been a net boon or bane to modern civilization."

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Faith and Writing

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The Dangers of the Language


I know I shouldn't rail. I know, particularly in the place I am in, that I should roll over and allow the tide to swirl past me. But I can't. The principle of human dignity does not allow me to stand by and observe while we continue to treat people with such barbarity--starting from the first words out of our mouths.

I am used to HR speak that tends to refer to people in aggregate as "resources." I understand what is meant by it--both on the surface and in the subtext. On the surface, it is seemingly harmless enough, a shorthand for people and other essential material. Or so it seems--but given that resources rarely refers to "other essential material" it is really short-hand for the interchangeable mass each of whom is as incapable of the next of accomplishing the task.

People are not resources--not unless you are Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, or any number of others I could name, eminently capable of doing away with useless "resources." Human dignity rises above the level of a resource, and those of us who are true to our Christian calling need to resist with all of our might the tide of dehumanization that sweeps through our workplaces and our civilization. As small as it may be, changing the language is one place to start with this. When we can stop regarding people as resources, we can begin to understand people as they are--people. A resource is a tool or material that can be put to a limited number of uses in entirely predictable and transferable ways. This description in no way applies to any person. And when we can start thinking of people as people rather than resources, then we no longer have available to us such deplorable and evil euphemisms as "resource reallocation" or "resource sizing" to refer to the potential destruction of hundreds of human lives at corporate whim.

As I said, it's small but it is important. This morning I received an e-mail that asked me "which resources will be used to cover" such-and-such a task. I have not yet phrased my response, but I will tell you without any hesitation at all, it will sharply correct and reflect upon the original phrasing. I do not work with resources--I use them. I work with people, and I endeavor not to use them in that negative sense.

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