29 December 2011

Some Thoughts on Religion for the Year End

Another year has nearly passed, and I still find myself extra ecclesiam, at least according to the understanding of the Church of Rome. What once may have passed for invincible ignorance likely has quite the Achilles' heel. I have hoped that my interest in Eastern Orthodoxy would give me a pass, seeing as how they have genuine sacraments and all that. If nothing else, if I should die in this current state of confusion, perhaps the standard sentence of damnation could be commuted to a million years in Purgatory. What is a million years, in light of eternity, after all?

Since God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him, I trust that God has not given up on me, just as I trust He has not given up on all of you fine people. However, I do not want my life philosophy to be “Lord, grant me salvation, but not yet.” I would like to at least be on the right road when the end comes. I hope that this end does not come for some time, of course, as I am very much looking forward to being a venerable old man with a flowing white beard.

Those of you who have been following my random notes and blog posts over the past few years may have noticed a common thread through much of what I write. The general theme is, “Hey, what if the Catholic Church is right about itself? Now, wouldn't that be something? Maybe we should look into this.” The “what if?” angle has prevented my writing from becoming outright Catholic apologetics. Until I step through the door myself, it does not quite feel right to argue with full force and conviction that the rest of you should step through first. If you want to read proper apologetics, I have quite a list I can give you.

How does a (mostly) nice Free Methodist boy find himself drawn to traditional Christianity? I was not born a traditionalist. I had no great passion for beautiful churches or old hymns or traditional liturgy when I was a young lad. It was only when those around me stopped caring about these things at all that I realized I missed them. The hymns were replaced with modern choruses one by one, until they almost completely slipped away. The hymn books were quietly carted off to wherever retired hymn books go. The projector screen took pride of place, and eyes that once looked upon the cross were captivated by Power Point presentations. People forgot how to sing, or at least forgot how to sing well. Nobody bothered to learn to play the organ, and the pianist had to share the stage with a rock band.

The churches began to drop the “Free Methodist” from their name, as I suppose that which separated them from other churches was no longer important. It is great to see churches work together, and I do not like to see fights over trivial matters. However, unity through not caring deeply about the distinctive doctrines of one's church is weak and shallow.

I come from a long heritage of Christian faith. I grew up learning about the Wesleys and the Methodist circuit riders. I went to church camp, where we worshiped in a barn with wood chips on the floor. I heard the tales of missionaries. There was something very serious and authentic about the whole business. For those of you who also grew up in this church, do you remember? The faith of my early years was that of my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and more. I learned the same hymns my ancestors sang over a century before, if not far longer. The current generation may never learn those hymns at all. Our theology and our music (which are closely related) have become fads, which will be out of fashion long before our children reach adulthood.

I am sure there are any number of churches out there where they still sing hymns and use the King James Bible and wear suits and dresses on Sunday. However, I am speaking of my experience, an experience I believe is not entirely unique.

This feeling of discontent led me to the gates of Rome. I would peer inside now and then, in between visits to the gates of Constantinople (or is it Moscow now?). Catholicism done (if I may be so bold) right, along with Orthodoxy, had preserved the beauty I missed from my Free Methodist upbringing, while also presenting so many wonders to me that my own church had abandoned long before I was born.

Beauty alone is superficial, however, if it is not accompanied by depth and truth. In Catholicism and Orthodoxy, I found solid and unchanging doctrine. For example, many (most?) individual Catholics may look, act, and believe no different from a mainline Protestant or a secularist, but there is no doubt what the authentic teaching of the Church is, even if they ignore it. The heresy of the past has not become the doctrine of today. Can any Protestant denomination say that?

This past Christmas Eve, I attended late evening mass (does it ever start at midnight anymore?) at the local Catholic church. The church was quite beautiful on the outside, and not bad on the inside, though the Spirit of Vatican II had done some redecorating. We sang old Christmas hymns, including a verse of “O Come All Ye Faithful” in Latin. It was a thoroughly wonderful and worshipful experience, exactly the place to be on Christmas Eve. The prayers and the hymns set out Christian truth so clearly and boldly.

On a related note, I cannot understand how Catholics who grow up in the Church can have so little knowledge of the faith. That level of ignorance must require deliberate intent so strong it is almost admirable that someone can be that committed. Almost. Then again, perhaps my experience with the Catholic Church has been more positive than that of most people. There is also something to be said about coming to the Church as someone who actually wants to learn, rather than having one's parents drag one through the door every Christmas and Easter.

It is nearly time to close out 2011. Who knows what 2012 and the years to come may bring? May we all reach a ripe old age, die in the state of grace, and reach the blessed land of Heaven. Pray for me, my friends, as I pray for you.

God bless.

P.S. - They say “and with your spirit” now, in case you have been away for a while.

05 December 2011

Class Warfare at the Tea Party on Wall Street

I walked past Occupy Tacoma on Thursday, December 1st. I would have liked to talk to some of the participants, but my lunch hour was sadly too short, and I had to walk back to my corporate office. Perhaps this week, I will eat a sandwich or raw potato while walking, in order to have more time. Friday would be good, as it is “jeans day,” and I will blend in better. Nothing says “I am the 1%” like a pair of slacks.

It appears there is a concern that the wealthiest 1% of the country have too much influence over the government and how things are run. Then again, the problem could be that there is a top 1%, at all. Are the occupiers giving voice to legitimate concerns about the concentration of wealth, or are they jealous that others have more than they do?

There is a feeling of discontent in the air these days. We saw it in the Arab Spring, where the peoples of Egypt and Libya overthrew the old oppressive governments, in order to institute new oppressive governments. We saw it with the Tea Party movement, which called for lower taxes, a balanced budget, and less government interference. Now we see it with the Occupy Wall Street movement and its subsidiaries.

Unemployment is high, goods are expensive, we are in the midst of at least two long undeclared wars, and many of us have the feeling that the elite of this nation do not have our best interests at heart. These are the times when people storm the Winter Palace, or at least camp outside it for months on end.

One could label the Tea Party as the conservative party of discontent, and Occupy Wall Street as the liberal party of discontent, though many would disagree. Some would say the corporate support for the Tea Party robs it of its authenticity as a movement, while the Occupy Wall Street movement is more pure and spontaneous. Then again, it is not really surprising that corporations are reluctant to support a movement that hates corporations.

Perhaps conservative versus liberal is the wrong way of looking at this. If it is, instead, the establishment versus we the people, the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street could be on the same side. Republicans and Democrats alike receive funding from Wall Street and the top 1%. I am of the opinion that Republicans and Democrats are nearly indistinguishable in office, once the campaigns are over. They both vote for foreign military adventures, they both maintain or increase the deficit, and they both are beholden to special interest groups and wealthy financiers.

I will set aside the Tea Party, for the moment. The Tea Party candidates from 2010 are essentially mainstream Republicans now, if I follow matters correctly. Perhaps the Tea Party will surge into the public eye again after the primaries, but for now, the focus is on the Occupiers.

What do the Occupiers want? One disadvantage to being a spontaneous, disorganized movement is that it is difficult to communicate a coherent message. Instead, there is a collage of different goals and movements. There are the anti-war types, who are still mad at Bush for Iraq and Afghanistan, but have already forgotten about Obama and Libya. There are the socialists, who want to abolish private property, and put us all under the care of the all-powerful state. There are the pro-marijuana people, who show up to all these protests, whether they know what is going on or not. There are university students and recent graduates, who are faced with loan debt and think the rich should cover the costs. There are the pro-choice types who survived their pro-choice parents. And, it must be said, there are a number of people with legitimate complaints and goals.

As they chant and wave their signs, it is clear they are all upset about something, and it is clear they want something of some kind to happen. However, it is not always obvious what they want or how they hope to achieve it. There is a general feeling that the top 1% are responsible for much of what is wrong in this country, and they should be forced to make it right. There are some on the left who believe that if someone is rich, it is because they have stolen from the poor. Therefore, they should be coerced, on pain of death or imprisonment, to give their wealth to those who did not earn it. Have people like Bill Gates, Ted Turner, Donald Trump, and Oprah sinned against the proletariat, and must they pay for their sins?

We should fight for justice, and we should oppose corruption in our government. Businesses should not be given special treatment by the government, nor should they be suppressed or brutally taxed. If they succeed, they succeed; if they fail, they fail. No one is entitled to what another has earned, and no one should be required to pay another's debts. If you want what the rich have, then work for it; don't demand that the government steal from the rich for you. When you say, “The government should pay for this for me,” what you really mean is, “My fellow citizens should pay for this for me.” When you say, “The government should pay for this for me, even if it is in debt and needs to borrow money to pay for it,” what you are really saying is, “Our descendants should pay for this for me.”

I will withhold my final judgment of the Occupiers for now. They do have something to say, under the mess, and it may be that a coherent and positive message will eventually shine through. In the meantime, however, there seems to be a great deal of jealousy and a sense of entitlement. Perhaps, in time, the “gimme” kids will go home, and the mature, serious individuals can raise their voices.