Marching To The Beat Of A Different Reality

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Jesus Was Neither A Pacifist, Nor A Peacenik and Christians Aren't Called To Be Either

"But woe unto you, scribes, and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay the tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgement, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone." Matthew 23:23. 

Matthew 23 records Jesus using the phrase, "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!..." no less than SEVEN times (:13, :14, :15, :23, :25, :27 and :29). Prior to that, Matthew (21:12-13) records Jesus entering the Temple and turning over the tables of the money changers and sellers of doves and casting them out, because they had made it a "den of thieves".

The Section on Democracy From C.S. Lewis', "Screwtape Proposes A Toast"

Recently I finished reading C.S. Lewis' The Screwtape Letters.  So influential a book has this been for me, I have rather made it my heart's desire to make sure everyone read it.

Toward this end, I found a link to a PDF copy of Screwtape Proposes a Toast - a "Satirical Epistolary Short Story" written by C.S. Lewis for the Saturday Evening Post, December 19th, 1959. 

This piece was included as an epilogue to the bound version of The Screwtape Letters, and was even more powerful than the book because of the inclusion of the ways in which public education and Democracy would be rendered completely useless by the devils machinations and the human's lack of brilliance in, not only not recognizing these, but falling for them utterly. 

I'm including the section on Democracy below. It is lengthy, and all I can do is lead a horse to water so to speak, but if you choose to read it, you will forever be better for the time you spent to do so. On to Lewis; From Screwtape Proposes a Toast:

Let me recall to your minds what the human situation was in the latter half of the nineteenth century — the period at which I ceased to be a practising Tempter and was rewarded with an administrative post. The great movement toward liberty and equality among men had by then borne solid fruits and grown mature. Slavery had been abolished. The American War of Independence had been won. The French Revolution had succeeded. In that movement there had originally been many elements which were in our favour. Much Atheism, much Anticlericalism, much envy and thirst for revenge, even some (rather absurd) attempts to revive Paganism, were mixed in it. It was not easy to determine what our own attitude should be. On the one hand it was a bitter blow to us — it still is — that any sort of men who had been hungry should be fed or any who had long worn chains should have them struck off. But on the other hand, there was in the movement so much rejection of faith, so much materialism, secularism, and hatred, that we felt we were bound to encourage it. 

But by the latter part of the century the situation was much simpler, and also much more ominous. In the English sector (where I saw most of my front-line service) a horrible thing had happened. The Enemy, with His usual sleight of hand, had largely appropriated this progressive or liberalizing movement and perverted it to His own ends. Very little of its old anti-Christianity remained. The dangerous phenomenon called Christian Socialism was rampant. Factory owners of the good old type who grew rich on sweated labor, instead of being assassinated by their workpeople — we could have used that — were being frowned upon by their own class. The rich were increasingly giving up their powers, not in the face of revolution and compulsion, but in obedience to their own consciences. As for the poor who benefited by this, they were behaving in a most disappointing fashion. Instead of using their new liberties — as we reasonably hoped and expected — for massacre, rape, and looting, or even for perpetual intoxication, they were perversely engaged in becoming cleaner, more orderly, more thrifty, better educated, and even more virtuous. Believe me, gentledevils, the threat of something like a really healthy state of society seemed then perfectly serious. 

Thanks to Our Father Below, the threat was averted. Our counterattack was on two levels. On the deepest level our leaders contrived to call into full life an element which had been implicit in the movement from its earliest days. Hidden in the heart of this striving for Liberty there was also a deep hatred of personal freedom. That invaluable man Rousseau first revealed it. In his perfect democracy, only the state religion is permitted, slavery is restored, and the individual is told that he has really willed (though he didn't know it) whatever the Government tells him to do. From that starting point, via Hegel (another indispensable propagandist on our side), we easily contrived both the Nazi and the Communist state. Even in England we were pretty successful. I heard the other day that in that country a man could not, without a permit, cut down his own tree with his own axe, make it into planks with his own saw, and use the planks to build a toolshed in his own garden. 

Such was our counterattack on one level. You, who are mere beginners, will not be entrusted with work of that kind. You will be attached as Tempters to private persons. Against them, or through them, our counterattack takes a different form. 

Democracy is the word with which you must lead them by the nose. The good work which our philological experts have already done in the corruption of human language makes it unnecessary to warn you that they should never be allowed to give this word a clear and definable meaning. They won't. It will never occur to them that democracy is properly the name of a political system, even a system of voting, and that this has only the most remote and tenuous connection with what you are trying to sell them. Nor of course must they ever be allowed to raise Aristotle's question: whether “democratic behaviour” means the behaviour that democracies like or the behaviour that will preserve a democracy. For if they did, it could hardly fail to occur to them that these need not be the same. 

You are to use the word purely as an incantation; if you like, purely for its selling power. It is a name they venerate. And of course it is connected with the political ideal that men should be equally treated. You then make a stealthy transition in their minds from this political ideal to a factual belief that all men are equal. Especially the man you are working on. As a result you can use the word democracy to sanction in his thought the most degrading (and also the least enjoyable) of human feelings. You can get him to practise, not only without shame but with a positive glow of self-approval, conduct which, if undefended by the magic word, would be universally derided. 

The feeling I mean is of course that which prompts a man to say, I'm as good as you. 

The first and most obvious advantage is that you thus induce him to enthrone at the centre of his life a good, solid, resounding lie. I don't mean merely that his statement is false in fact, that he is no more equal to everyone he meets in kindness, honesty, and good sense than in height or waist measurement. I mean that he does not believe it himself. No man who says I'm as good as you believes it. He would not say it if he did. The St. Bernard never says it to the toy dog, nor the scholar to the dunce, nor the employable to the bum, nor the pretty woman to the plain. The claim to equality, outside the strictly political field, is made only by those who feel themselves to be in some way inferior. What it expresses is precisely the itching, smarting, writhing awareness of an inferiority which the patient refuses to accept. 

And therefore resents. Yes, and therefore resents every kind of superiority in others; denigrates it; wishes its annihilation. Presently he suspects every mere difference of being a claim to superiority. No one must be different from himself in voice, clothes, manners, recreations, choice of food: “Here is someone who speaks English rather more clearly and euphoniously than I — it must be a vile, upstage, lah-di-dah affectation. Here's a fellow who says he doesn't like hot dogs — thinks himself too good for them, no doubt. Here's a man who hasn't turned on the jukebox — he's one of those goddamn highbrows and is doing it to show off. If they were honest-to-God all-right Joes they'd be like me. They've no business to be different. It's undemocratic.” 

Now, this useful phenomenon is in itself by no means new. Under the name of Envy it has been known to humans for thousands of years. But hitherto they always regarded it as the most odious, and also the most comical, of vices. Those who were aware of feeling it felt it with shame; those who were not gave it no quarter in others. The delightful novelty of the present situation is that you can sanction it — make it respectable and even laudable — by the incantatory use of the word democratic. 

Under the influence of this incantation those who are in any or every way inferior can labour more wholeheartedly and successfully than ever before to pull down everyone else to their own level. But that is not all. Under the same influence, those who come, or could come, nearer to a full humanity, actually draw back from fear of being undemocratic. I am credibly informed that young humans now sometimes suppress an incipient taste for classical music or good literature because it might prevent their Being Like Folks; that people who would really wish to be — and are offered the Grace which would enable them to be — honest, chaste, or temperate refuse it. To accept might make them Different, might offend against the Way of Life, take them out of Togetherness, impair their Integration with the Group. They might (horror of horrors!) become individuals. 

All is summed up in the prayer which a young female human is said to have uttered recently: “O God, make me a normal twentieth century girl!” Thanks to our labours, this will mean increasingly: “Make me a minx, a moron, and a parasite.” 

Meanwhile, as a delightful by-product, the few (fewer every day)who will not be made Normal or Regular and Like Folks and Integrated increasingly become in reality the prigs and cranks which the rabble would in any case have believed them to be. For suspicion often creates what it expects. (“Since, whatever I do, the neighbors are going to think me a witch, or a Communist agent, I might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb, and become one in reality.”) As a result we now have an intelligentsia which, though very small, is very useful to the cause of Hell. 
But that is a mere by-product. What I want to fix your attention on is the vast, overall movement towards the discrediting, and finally the elimination, of every kind of human excellence — moral, cultural, social, or intellectual. And is it not pretty to notice how “democracy” (in the incantatory sense) is now doing for us the work that was once done by the most ancient Dictatorships, and by the same methods? 
You remember how one of the Greek Dictators (they called them “tyrants” then) sent an envoy to another Dictator to ask his advice about the principles of government. The second Dictator led the envoy into a field of grain, and there he snicked off with his cane the top of every stalk that rose an inch or so above the general level. The moral was plain. Allow no preeminence among your subjects. Let no man live who is wiser or better or more famous or even handsomer than the mass. Cut them all down to a level: all slaves, all ciphers, all nobodies. All equals. Thus Tyrants could practise, in a sense, “democracy.” But now “democracy” can do the same work without any tyranny other than her own. No one need now go through the field with a cane. The little stalks will now of themselves bite the tops off the big ones. The big ones are beginning to bite off their own in their desire to Be Like Stalks. 

I have said that to secure the damnation of these little souls, these creatures that have almost ceased to be individual, is a laborious and tricky work. But if proper pains and skill are expended, you can be fairly confident of the result. The great sinners seem easier to catch. But then they are incalculable. After you have played them for seventy years, the Enemy may snatch them from your claws in the seventy-first. They are capable, you see, of real repentance. They are conscious of real guilt. They are, if things take the wrong turn, as ready to defy the social pressures around them for the Enemy's sake as they were to defy them for ours. It is in some ways more troublesome to track and swat an evasive wasp than to shoot, at close range, a wild elephant. But the elephant is more troublesome if you miss. 

My own experience, as I have said, was mainly on the English sector, and I still get more news from it than from any other. It may be said that what I am now going to say will not apply so fully to the sectors in which some of you may be operating. But you can make the necessary adjustments when you get there. Some application it will almost certainly have. If it has too little, you must labor to make the country you are dealing with more like what England already is. 

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Screwtape and the Matter of False Christianity

Recently, I wrote a post defending the practice of eschewing church. 

Though, as I try to do for each devotional post I write, I cited scripture throughout so as not to lean too heavily on my own opinion, yet it was, unsurprisingly ill-received. 

Since penning that post, I have come to the near end of C.S. Lewis', The Screwtape Letters.

If you read the book - and I highly recommend you do - and do not find yourself convicted by something written on nearly every page, I'm concerned you need more time for soul-searching.  His writing was dreadfully expedient at hitting the matter of false Christianity - and other issues such as attending church for reasons other than study of the Bible and becoming more educated about how to obediently follow our Father - dead in the head. 

In order to whet your appetite for reading this very short missive, I will give a few takeaways that stood out in stark relief in my mind. 

First, for those unfamiliar with the book, let me set the scene.  Screwtape is a minion of the devil, writing to an underling, Wormwood, in the process of tempting a soul (his "patient") from heaven.  We never hear from the underling but in the running commentary of his master, who advises Wormwood on the best way to win over the soul with whom he has been charged, from the Enemy (Jesus). 

Clive Staples Lewis died the year after I was born, in 1963.  He had been an atheist for many years and had lived through WWII in England.  It will be clear to anyone reading this work that Lewis was nothing short of a prophet.  Not only does he attack head on the problems of the time, but enumerates and describes with crystal clarity how these problems will continue to infect and grow inside human society like a cancer.  

He is wrong in none of his projections and the hindsight afforded today's readers - should they be thinking people at all - might go so far as to render them mortally wounded by his words.  

At one point, Screwtape says, "Talk to him about "moderation in all things".  If you can at once get him to the point of thinking that "religion is all very well up to a point", you can feel good about his soul.  A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all - and more amusing." 

In another, Screwtape tells Wormwood that it's relatively easy to turn virtues into vices. "You must therefore conceal from the patient the true end of Humility. Let him think of it not as self-forgetfulness but as a certain kind of opinion (namely, a low opinion) of his own talents and character.  Some talents, I gather, he really has.  Fix in his mind the idea that Humility consists in trying to believe those talents to be less valuable than he believes them to be. No doubt they are in fact less valuable than he believes, but that is not the point.  The great thing is to make him value an opinion for some quality other than truth, thus introducing an element of dishonestly and make-believe into the heart of what otherwise threatens to become a virtue.  By this method thousands of humans have been brought to think that Humility means pretty women trying to believe they are ugly and clever men trying to believe they are fools.  
And since what they are trying to believe, may in some cases, be manifest nonsense, they cannot succeed in believing it and we have every chance of keeping their minds endlessly revolving on themselves in an effort to achieve the impossible." 
About how many things today do we value opinion over truth?  How often do we tell ourselves a lie about our behavior because exposing it could mean we'd have to deal with it and that would be too painful or too hard and would require quiet introspection that might cut into our TV or computer time?  How often are we falling into the very pitfalls Wormwood is luring us because we are simply not thinking about what we are doing - not examining why we are going to church, or why we have to argue with another who compliments us on our actions, or even our appearance in a day? 

After reading this book, I was able to identify so many things to watch for in my own Christian walk - things I not only need to work on and improve - but things I needed to learn to recognize.  We're all here on Earth for such a very short time.  We Christians need to get our behaviors and attitudes in order while we have time so we may take a room in our Master's House. 

Please get The Screwtape Letters and read every word. If you're TRULY honest with yourself, it won't be the happiest of reads, but if you allow them, Lewis' words will make your life richer and more fulfilling without question.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Church Attendance Is Not A Necessity For Christians

Look out - I'm about to make an argument against attending church. 

I know how unreasonable this might sound, but it's a topic with which I've been struggling lately, so I've got some definite thoughts bubbling up to share here. 

Recently, studies have shown that many kids raised in church leave the church - and the Christian faith - as they begin college.  Some of that is normal age-specific identity search, but much of it is the combined force of the churches they attended not providing them with solid Biblical knowledge and good study in Christian apologetics while, at the same time, not receiving - or seeing - any real practice in Ten Commandment Christian tenets in their own homes during the week.  

There is no surer truth than that Christianity - like most things - is a 'get out of it what you put into it' kind of a deal. The more you practice your faith, the better you become at practicing it.  If we don't practice our Christianity at home, going to church once a Sunday - or even more often - won't do a thing to woo our children to the faith, or keep them strong in its practice.  

There is much about 'church' in the new testament - especially from Paul.  In fact, when I searched the specific word 'together' in my electronic Bible, I find too many references to count.  Many of these passages describe assemblages of people brought together for the purpose of hearing a message or receiving news of some kind.  

For believers in Jesus' time, meeting together was an absolute necessity.  The Romans had no interest in the Christian faith, and in fact, persecuted practitioners of a faith that was brand new to them and undertaken without the benefit of the written instruction we have in the Bible.  Meeting together with other believers solidified faith (Romans 1:12), provided community prayer for one another and the apostles (2 Corinthians 1:1), gave comfort to those in need (Colossians 2:2) and allowed individuals to "provoke [one another] unto love and good works" (Hebrews 10:24-25) in a world exceedingly hostile to their way of life. 

Today, Christians all over America - as has been the case for Christians in numerous other countries for centuries - are feeling a sense of persecution for their faith, yet what is one of the largest responses to this situation from the great bodies of believers meeting together in buildings called churches?  Acceptance, and in some cases, beyond acceptance into proponency.  How many churches (bodies of believers) speak out against abortion or the normalizing of sins such as homosexuality, adultery or alcoholism, as society continues to press on with these practices? 

No church is perfect. Every church is comprised of a body of sinners.  However, if the pastor and other believers within the church don't actively either rebuke sin or work heartily at striving to be better at the practice of Christianity, what is the point of attending that church? 

Almost a decade ago, I removed my children from public education - not even so much because of a need to provide a more religious education - but because I thought school was doing a terrible job at the overall job of educating my children and because I realized I was letting an institution do a job the Bible tells me is mine.  Proverbs 22:6 says, "Train up a child in the way he should go...".  Diagramming that sentence makes clear that the unwritten subject is YOU.  You are to train up your children.  Unfortunately, a relatively few Christian parents harbor the same notion.  Why?  How many actively read their Bibles?  How many are either taught this practice or the importance of this practice? 

I'm beginning to believe, that in the same way public schools alleviate the need - and desire - of parents to instruct their own children, churches can take away the need and desire of individuals to study the Bible.  Read about the beginnings of this country where, though there were churches for corporate worship, families read and studied the Bible more often on their own.  How much more Christian in nature was this particular country for it's first hundred or so years than today based on that practice?  

For many, as with homeschooling, home 'churching' is becoming an ever growing population segment.  At home Bible study allows a family to study tenets and practices of Christianity and the Bible as specifically effects their families' immediate needs and situations. In addition, tithing directly to a non-profit organization such as the Salvation Army provides a way to assist others, while helping those in need in our direct communities force us to 'get our hands dirty' in the same manner as Jesus.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not advocating for the removal or abandonment of churches at all, but I am asserting that church is not an absolute necessity for everyone or even the continuation of the Christian faith.  

In fact, I would go so far as to argue that leaving a 'dead' church - even if that means worshiping at home - is absolute necessity. 

In the end, there are many ways to establish and walk among a community of believers - those who share your Christian convictions - without the requirement of a specific building or corporate belief system and we should be sensitive to that fact.  As with all things, this is simply a topic to think on for ourselves, while we abstain from condemning others who choose to follow a different path to Christian worship and study than we.  As Paul says in Romans (8:1), There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the spirit.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Anthropomorphizing Earthquakes

Oklahoma just had one of the largest earthquakes in recent record. 

Immediately, I began to see Facebook posts pinning the cause of this quake on fracking. 

First, fracking has never been the issue; injection wells (a separate part of the process) have been implicated in the cause of minor, localized earthquakes, but this in no way describes this 5.6 magnitude event felt as far as Wichita, Kansas and Houston, Texas. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

The Reason Behind The Power Of Prayer

Wednesday afternoon, my friend Nancy and I talked about the recovery of our mutual friend Molly, who was hit by a sudden, serious illness which caused her to degenerate into a comatose state in shockingly short order.  Desperately ill and near death in the ICU for nearly two weeks, she was finally diagnosed with and treated for a rare blood disease called HLH (Hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis).