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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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I'll start with something short and sweet--I hope. I want to develop this thought at some length, but need to grope my way in the dark right now.

Much of what I'll say is borne out of a personal struggle to understand and communicate with God as Father. Much of it has been inspired by an encounter with Donald Miller's book Father Fiction. While I can't whole-heartedly recommend the book (after all, I am not in its demographic), many of the point Miller makes hit home and so this is the beginning of my attempt to translate his observations into a more systematic understanding of God, Our Father.

Many of us have a huge barrier set up in opposition to the notion of God the Father. The opposition stems from the quality of relationships with our own fathers. When the human example is poor, it is hard to make sense of the notion. However, another part comes from what I think is a fundamental misunderstanding both of Church Teaching and of what Jesus and God Himself in revealed scriptures had to teach us about God the Father.

It is difficult to reconcile God the loving Father with the images often given of God through much of the Bible--even some of the parables. How do we bring all of the information given about God into some sort of focus? I don't know yet. That is what these experiments will attempt to do, because I believe this foundational understanding is so critical to a great many of us who struggle with father, with trust, and with acknowledging the creative and supportive presence of God in our lives.

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Beautiful Post on Sex and Marriage


This is a must-read. Beautifully said from a person whose sensibility and sense I admire.

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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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From a Sermon by St. Bernard, Abbot

Because this coming [the second of three] lies between the other two, it is like a road on which we travel from the first coming to the last. In the first Christ was our redemption; in the last, he will appear as our life; in this middle coming he is our rest and consolation.

. . . Where is God's word to be kept? Obviously in the heart as the prophet says: I have hidden your words in my heart, so that I may not sin against you.

Keep God's word in this way. Let it enter into your very being, let it take possession of your desires and your whole way of life. Feed on goodness, and your soul will delight in its richness. Remember to eat your bread, or your heart will wither away. Fill your soul with richness and strength.

What calls to me here is the image of the last line of paragraph 1--"he is our rest and consolation"--a wayside respite--a momentary taste of being fromt he Well amid the waste. How complex and full THAT poetic, echoic image. Our rest and our consolation--our Well amid the waste.

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Good Advice from William James


"Keep the faculty of effort alive in you by a little gratuitous exercise every day. That is, be systematically heroic in little unnecessary points, do every day or two something for no other reason than its difficulty, so that, when the hour of dire need draws nigh, it may find you not unnerved and untrained to stand the test. "

Read the full post at The Maverick Philosopher.

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Making Idols


I've found myself reading a lot of Timothy Keller recently, and if the books I have read so far are any indication, it is entirely like that I shall be reading more in the near future.

from Counterfeit Gods Timothy Keller

Why did we completely lose sight of what is right? The Bible's answer is that the human heart is an "idol factory."

When most people think of "idols" they have in mind literal statues--or the next pop star anointed by Simon Cowell. Yet while traditional idol worship still occurs in many places of the world, internal idol worship, within the heart, is universal. In Ezekiel 14:3, God says about elders of Israel, "These men have set up idols in their hearts. Like us, the elders must have responded to this charge, "Idols? What Idols? I don't see any idols." God was saying that the human heart takes good things like a successful career, love, material possessions, even family, and turns them into ultimate things. Our hearts deify them as the center of our lives, because we think they can give us significance and security, safety and fulfillment, if we attain them.

And who can deny it. It's like a playdough factory, we no sooner press out and reshape one idol than another one, one that we never suspected lurked within, takes its place.

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Faith and Writing

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