Heaven and Earth Bear Witness

As usual, the political divisions over various issues do not match the division between a Scriptural understanding and an idolatrous one. In this case, it’s the division between “conservatives” and “liberals”–or, better, between the rabid Republican and the rabid Democrat–on climate change (what an anodyne, meaningless phrase) and other, related environmental issues. You know it’s a disease because any response is immediately knee-jerking, fist-pumping, and unthinking.

But Christians ought not to be caught up in the extreme partisanship of what seems to be America’s twilight years. There is enough foolishness on either side to make any so-called “discussion” an exercise in engaging a fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:4, not 26:5). When it comes to human responsibility for the volatility of the climate (and similar issues), too many Christians have been sucked into either viewing extreme weather as the moral challenge of our time, an issue of Biblical proportions; or into an involuntary muscle spasm of  mockery and denial.

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St. Coraline the Mundane

[This appeared first at The Jagged Word on November 2.]

Coraline (2008, streaming on Amazon Prime) might be the perfect movie for All Saints or All Souls (not that I’m praying for the dead in Purgatory, understand). What a great, semi-frightening children’s movie that gets to the heart of what matters in a family. I don’t know how closely it follows the story by Neil Gaiman, but the film is profound in ways I didn’t expect.

Coraline moves to a new place in Oregon, brown and barren, far away from her friends, with parents who seem to ignore her or want her to go somewhere else and leave them alone. They’re in the middle of their work, and since it’s raining, Coraline is forced to explore the old house in which they live. She discovers a pathway to an alternate world, where her Other Mother and Other Father are everything that she wants from her own parents. But be careful what you long for. You might get it.

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We Are Not Our Own Saviors

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on July 27.]

[SPOILERS, BUT YOU CAN PROBABLY GUESS THEM ANYWAY]

That seems like far too important a title for thoughts about a dinosaur movie, but underneath the fantastic and seamless CGI, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is claiming to be far more than simply an adventure movie with dangerous animals. The tired part of the movie is that people always do stupid things when it comes to dangerous animals about which they really know nothing. Yeah, we get it: if you’re ever in a room with a caged dinosaur, do not open the cage, no matter how much you want a trophy or a closer look. Don’t pretend to be Chris Pratt if you’re not.

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Faith Deformed

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on June 29.]

I knew this was going to happen. I knew that if a movie was hyped over and over, time and again, as being an incredible, profound meditation on faith and doubt, that it was unlikely to be anything of the sort. If someone has left or been scarred by Christianity, or an American Fundamentalist version of it; if someone is quick to say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious”; or if someone is fully convinced that what the Church should do is take up the apocalyptic cause du jour, then that person is the perfect candidate to be over-impressed with Paul Schrader’s First Reformed.

I don’t mean that those aren’t authentic responses to a real emotional and intellectual experience of viewing this film. But if you don’t find yourself resonating with one or more of those categories, you might well wonder if you’ve completely missed the point of the film. Is there an additional scene after the credits? Did I miss the profundity? Am I too stupid to understand the basic elements of serious film and thereby misunderstand Schrader’s intentions? The last two might, of course, be true. But the simpler answer is probably more accurate: It’s an attempt to be profound about religion, faith, and doubt, without actually achieving it.

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The Swedish Theory of Love

[This first appeared at The Jagged Word on May 25.]

What would happen if an entire country took independence and individualism to their logical and extreme ends? We don’t have to wonder. We have Sweden. For the last 40+ years, Sweden has been engaged in a social experiment which now has borne its desiccated fruit. The Swedish Theory of Love is the documentary telling that story. (You can find it online here. If you don’t want to subscribe, you can simply share the movie—I shared it to be visible only to me on Facebook—and you can watch it for free.)

It is the story of the inversion of Genesis 2:18: “It is good for a man or a woman to be alone; too much human dependence is evil.” I found myself both repelled and interested, because my default is alone and quiet. And yet the effects of this as a national ideal are clearly destructive: the end of husbands and wives; the end of the home with two parents as the natural location of a child; the beginning of loneliness as the more-than-likely outcome of a life.

This is the end of an “old-fashioned, outdated family structure…that made us deeply dependent on one another.” In order to call this progress, complete independence with complete control and choice must be the goal. But that begs the question: is that a good or worthy goal to be pursued? Does such “progress,” in fact, work against what is hard-wired into the human creature, whether one believes that to be the result of a Creator or the result of evolutionary adaptation? Can natural law be so easily contravened?

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The New(?) Sexual Revolution

[This appeared first at The Jagged Word on June 9]

I want documentaries to document. And I want tension: tension between viewpoints; tension in the progression of the story; tension between the filmmakers and the subjects. Propaganda may be interesting for any number of reasons, but not because of its tension. It has a single-minded purpose and a tunnel-vision perspective. It consciously excludes anything that argues against the obvious purpose. But human beings and the events they observe are complicated. So if there’s no tension, I’m not interested. And I appreciate it when documentaries can document that tension without turning into propaganda.

A documentary that documents a disturbing modern tension is Liberated: The New Sexual Revolution, which screened in April at the Newport Beach Film Festival. The story takes for its starting point the thousands of students who attend Spring Break in Florida. It begins by following a group of Australian boys as they plan out their drinking and partying. The foggy atmosphere of alcohol and sex probably won’t surprise anyone. What might surprise is the flippancy, arrogance, and casual attitudes of the people who appear in the film. But this isn’t a sanitized version of Girls Gone Wild. This isn’t voyeurism dressed up by pearl-clutching and gasping. The only emotion aroused is sadness. Here is the hook-up culture presented without varnish, and there’s nothing sexy about it.

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Extra Stanzas

It is a travesty that so many hymns in Lutheran hymnals end–against the overwhelming testimony of the Scriptures–with stanzas about dying and going to heaven.  So I’m rewriting them.  No doubt improvements can be made, and if you don’t like mine, no big deal; write your own.  Here’s what I’m going to sing, unless you give me something better in the comments!

Lutheran Service Book (LSB) 524 (“How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds”), stanza 7:

And then when I awake in life,
Body and soul unite!
Your good creation put to rights,
And make us whole again.

LSB 563 (“Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness”), alternate stanza 5:

When from the dust of death I rise
To greet my Savior in the skies,
Then on new earth my feet will stand,
I will live still from His good hand.

LSB 609 (“Jesus Sinners Doth Receive”), alternate stanza 7:

Jesus sinners doth receive;
Also I have been forgiven;
And when I this life must leave,
I shall find an open heaven.
But my hope is even more:
Jesus bodies doth restore.

LSB 686 (“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing”), alternate stanza 4:

On that day when freed from sinning,
Lay my body in the grave.
But my soul shall cry out louder:
“Lord, how long?” and “Lord, please save!”
But we will not wait forever;
Christ the Life will hear our prayer!
And He will, our dear Lord Jesus,
Come and bring the Day to us.

LSB 702 (“My Faith Looks Up to Thee”), stanza 5:

My faith looks up to Thee,
In Christ, my life I see
Hidden in Him.
And when that life appears,
I’ll see Him as He is,
And at His Word I will
Be made like Him.

LSB 730 (“What Is the World to Me”), stanza 5:

What is the world to me?
When will it cease its groaning?
It longs in labor pains
For Christ and His revealing.
And when true children see
The world made new and free,
It ever shall be so:
Creation is my home. 

LSB 733 (“O God, Our Help in Ages Past”), alternate stanza 6:

And we, when Jesus calls us forth,
From graves as from our beds,
Will wake and live forevermore
Bright, glorious as our Head.

LSB 761 (“Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”), stanza 5:

I will rest my soul in Thee
While my body lies in dust;
Even so, my hope is this,
On Your Word my faith insists:
That my bones shall not remain
In the ground but live again.

LSB 763 (“When Peace, like a River”), stanza 5:

Because in that day mine own eyes shall see
Creation restored and renewed.
I’ll see Christ my Lord, and my body like His.
In that day, finally, all is well. 

No, You Are Not A Soul That (Who?) Has A Body

So I keep seeing this “quote” of C.S. Lewis popping up: “You don’t have a soul.  You are a soul.  You have a body.”  Or some similar variation.  Problem is, Lewis never said it or wrote it.  It was Walter Miller in A Canticle for Leibowitz (which sounds interesting, but I’ve never read it).  Here’s the link to the quote.

Besides the fact that it’s in the mouth of a character in a novel not written by Lewis, and then attributed to Lewis as if he were making a theological statement about human nature, it’s simply false (if not blasphemous).  It is the pithy form of a heresy called gnosticism, and it’s been around a long, long time.  Gnosticism (very generally) is the idea that there is a secret knowledge (Gk: gnosis) available to the enlightened, and that this knowledge essentially equals salvation.  One of the things from which you must be saved, gnostics taught (and teach) is this evil, physical, material world.  Some gnostics thought that the physical was evil and so you should have nothing to do with it (and so became ascetics).  Others taught that it was evil and so you could do whatever you wanted with your flesh, because it was the soul that mattered (and became libertines).

This theology is everywhere and it seems impossible to eradicate, even among otherwise well-meaning Christians.  How often does Jesus become a teacher who came to give us some knowledge that we wouldn’t otherwise know, and now that we know Jesus, we can do what He wants us to?  That’s not Christianity, it’s gnosticism.  Jesus didn’t come primarily to teach us something that we didn’t already know, He came to do something for us that we couldn’t do for ourselves.  And when we disparage the body in order to elevate the soul, we have entered not a Christian conception of human beings, but a gnostic one.  The simple question to identify a creeping gnosticism is this: did God create this?  Gnostics believe(d) that physical stuff is the result of demons, or sin, or lesser gods.  Christians believe that physical stuff is good, and is redeemed by Christ from its corruption by sin.  Gnostics believe(d) that when you die you get rid of this evil physical body and are “freed” to be “who you really are”: a soul.  You will never find such a conception in the Scriptures, and certainly not from Jesus.  You’ll recall that when Jesus is raised from the dead, He has a body that can be touched and that can eat.  He is not a soul freed from His body, but both body and soul.  That is, Jesus is a man; actually, the Man.  And we will be like Him.

John wrote, “…what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (3:2).

Read Romans 8:18-25.  Paul speaks of the whole creation groaning and waiting; of us groaning inwardly as we wait for the redemption of our bodies.  Or read 2 Corinthians 5, where Paul says we groan in the tent of this body, but not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life” (5:4).  Or 1 Corinthians 15:42ff.  We will bear the image of the man of heaven, Jesus.

To suggest that we are something other than body and soul together; or to suggest that our soul is the important part, and this body is just a vehicle or a vessel or something other than integral to what makes a man or a woman; this is nothing less than a hatred of what God created or, worse, a hatred of what Christ redeemed in His body.  You are not a soul or a body; you are a person, body and soul.  That’s how God created you, and since Christ redeemed you (body and soul) in His body, you will be body and soul in the new creation as well.

So can we pretty please stop attributing the quote to C.S. Lewis?  He was wrong about some things, but he was not a gnostic.

Timotheos

Pelosi On Contraception & Faith: “I Do My Religion On Sundays, In Church”

Pelosi On Contraception & Faith: “I Do My Religion On Sundays, In Church”.

Because it’s “private,” obviously.  It has nothing whatsoever to do with how she goes about her job.  But, really, then: why bother?  If what you believe and what you do have nothing to do with each other, one of them is a sham.  At least since the first Roman Catholic was elected as president, this issue has been at the center of politics.  If you look at how thoroughly what Washington and Lincoln, even Jefferson, believed suffused the way they governed, it is a serious deficit when people think that what they believe does not affect how they go about their vocations.  This is not necessarily about Christianity.  I expect atheists to govern as if there is no higher authority to which they owe obedience; therefore, the State or the good of the nation (however that might be defined by an atheist) will determine what he does.  (However, the work of the atheist politician may still, by his recognizing of some order in nature, align with what the Christian thinks the government should do.)   Likewise, if I serve in the government, and I believe human life is not mine to give, take, or manipulate–even for what I think are good ends–then I will work for laws that support that.  If I believe that it is necessary to, first of all, protect all human life by virtue of its being human, then all other goods will be ordered by the standard of that good, whether that be foreign policy, health care, the economy, etc.  What comes first in the order of goods determines how other goods will be ordered.

The fact is, Nancy Pelosi does govern by what she believes (it is literally impossible not to do so), but what she believes is not the same as what the Roman Catholic Church teaches.  She is, in fact, not separating out her Sundays and the days when she is at the Capitol; she just hasn’t recognized the conflict between what she really believes and what her Church teaches.  Actually, she probably does recognize the conflict, but she thinks her Church is wrong.  That’s why she wouldn’t answer the question about the teaching of the RCC on contraception.  She knows she’s on the wrong side of the Church on that question.  Further, her highest good must be something other than a Creator of human life, if she can, in any way, support the intentional taking of that life.  I don’t know what she would say is her highest good, but it’s clearly something different than the highest good of what she does on Sundays, in church.  In other words, she is deceiving either herself or her constituents about what she really believes.

How much simpler it would be if politicians would simply state their highest Good, so we could evaluate how that Good might work itself out in their particular policy decisions.  They all have one, and it unites their political positions into a whole (although, I admit, politicians may still hold contradictory positions because they haven’t thoroughly worked through what their primary goods mean for what they want to do).  For those, like Pelosi, who support the unlimited abortion license, their highest Good clearly is not the same as those whose religion on Sunday proclaims a Redeemer who was conceived, born, lived, died, and resurrected for every member of the human race.

Timotheos

Questions

Watching the testimony on religious liberty yesterday in the House Oversight Committee (I especially appreciated the testimony of my Synod’s President), and following Planned Parenthood’s Twitter feed at the same time, I have some questions.  I don’t need anecdotes or uninformed opinions–so keep them.   The only thing that I want to see is hard evidence one way or the other.

  • What percentage of women use some form of contraception primarily for reasons other than preventing pregnancy?  And what forms of birth control are they?
  • How much, on average, does the Pill cost with and without insurance?
  • How many insurance plans currently do not include coverage for the Pill?  How many include coverage for other forms of contraception?  What forms?  Update: Here are the Guttmacher (research arm of PP, let it be said) numbers for insurance claims (as well as a distilled version of the below CDC report).
  • How many people–actually–would the HHS Mandate affect?  In other words, how necessary does the Administration really think this is?  Update: Here’s a link to the CDC report that is often being cited or alluded to without attribution, which gives many of the statistics.  According to Table 15, only around 3% stopped using contraception because of the cost, around 2% stopped because insurance did not cover it, and around 2% because it was too difficult to obtain.  Also, notice that under Table 1ff., “contraception” includes NFP and other non-medicinal methods, and I think that’s been missed by the media citing a “99% of women and 98% of Roman Catholics use contraception” figure.  Further, if I read Table 4 correctly, the number of women using contraception currently is around 62%, while the other numbers are for those who have ever used any form of contraception.  That 62% is even itself misleading when nearly 25% of that is male or female sterilization.  So the media numbers appear to me to be highly misleading.

Also:

  • Who let Planned Parenthood and NARAL define contraception as “basic preventive health care”?
  • And what ever happened to self-control?  (That might take a dissertation.)

That’s probably a good start.  Even if the answers are unobjectionable, you might want to read this before you take contraception.  Further, none of this addresses the deeper point of religious freedom: even if most non-Roman Catholics do not find contraception to be a problem, do we really think that the intrusion into the fundamental religious beliefs of the largest church body in the country will end with them?  Do we really think that contraception is the issue here, or that the government will not continue its massive growth and its interference with what churches and religious organizations do and how they do it?  (By the way, I’ve got a couple nice bridges on the plains to sell, if anyone’s looking.)  But I would like these questions answered, so we can machete the undergrowth enough to see the trees.

One thing that should be mentioned is the difference in how PP and its ilk define “abortion” from how sane people do.  I saw more than once that the “morning after” pill does not induce abortions.  I assume that PP says that because the fertilized egg has not yet attached to the uterine wall.  But those who understand that once an egg is fertilized, a separate, unique human being has been formed, to which nothing will be added throughout the next nine months (the time in the womb will only develop what is already there), it is irrelevant whether or not that fertilized egg attaches: if a person does something (like take the morning after pill or other contraception) which can cause the lining of the uterus to thicken with the purpose of preventing pregnancy, a human life has been taken.  If that contraception had not been taken, the fertilized egg would (all else being equal) attach to the uterus and the baby would develop normally.  On this point, as on so many others, PP is simply being deceptive in its definitions.

But they are clear about one thing:

In 2011, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) adopted recommendations for women’s preventive health care issued by the Institute of Medicine. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, drawing on these recommendations, requires new private health plans written on or after August 1, 2012 to cover contraceptive counseling and services and all FDA-approved methods without out-of-pocket costs to patients. However, existing plans are exempt from the requirement so long as no significant negative changes, such as cutting benefits or raising cost-sharing, are made to them; DHHS has said that most of these plans will likely lose this protected status within a few years. The agency has also proposed an exemption for some religious employers, similar to the exemption included in several state laws.

Additionally, federal law requires insurance coverage of contraceptives for federal employees and their dependents; it includes a limited but seldom used exception for religious insurers. In December 2000, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made it clear that an employer’s failure to provide coverage of contraception, when it covers other prescription drugs and preventive care, is a violation of protections against sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act; those protections for employees’ benefits include no exemption for religious employers.

Can anyone point me to the facts on those questions [obviously, I’ve found some of them]?  Without the answers, numbers and generalizations and “personal stories” are just being thrown around trying to sway the uninformed.

Timotheos