XKCD. Sure. But everybody knows this, yes? And to make this point alone — it’s a pretty cheap and easy point, after all — is to avoid the questions that really matter: What kinds of differences in opinion ought to result in shunning, shaming, marginalizing, and banning? When, by contrast, is it better to tolerate differences in opinion because by doing so we enable certain social goods? How far do we want to go in excluding, whenever we have the power to do so, people with whom we disagree?
So, why am I going on and on this week about Christian unity?
Because as a follower of Jesus I am commanded to seek it.
And because such unity has never been more important. Christianity in the West is struggling. Its cultural influence hasn’t been lower since the time of Augustine, and more and more of its core practices, in countries throughout the Western world, are coming under legal prohibition or at least restriction. In predominantly Catholic countries around the world Mass attendance has been declining for decades; the mainline Protestant denominations in the U. S. have utterly imploded; in many parts of the globe, the ecstasies of Pentecostalism are giving way to celebrations of the prosperity gospel; the evangelical world in which I lived for so many years has misplaced its impetus and sense of purpose. Never has there been a time when we more desperately need the resources — intellectual and spiritual — and the love of one another.
In response to this situation , megachurch pastors are lying and buying their way onto the New York Times bestseller lists, and/or bullying their staffs into obeisance; Catholic bishops are closing schools and parishes while building magnificent mansions for themselves and continuing to cover up cases of sexual abuse; evangelical and Pentecostal pastors are even more energetically pimping out their homes and freighting themselves with bling in order to become living posters for the Abundant Life; — and my Catholic and Protestant friends alike are delightedly taking snarky potshots at one another across the denominational divides.
Men in power will do what men in power always do. It’s the otherwise thoughtful, serious, faithful Christians who, it seems to me, are fiddling while Christendom burns whose attention I’ve tried to catch with these reflections. But it’s quite obvious from the responses I’ve received on Twitter and via email that no one’s buying what I’m selling here. So I’ll be quiet now; which is not the worst thing to do on Good Friday, anyway.
You, Mr Wells, evidently start out with the assumption that all men are good. I, however, do not forget that there are many wicked men. I do not believe in the goodness of the bourgeoisie. — Josef Stalin to H. G. Wells, 1934
There: the Eucharist, a gold sun,
hung in the air — an instant of splendour.
Here nothing should be heard but the Greek syllables —
the whole world held in the hands like a plain apple.
The solemn height of the holy office; the light
of July in the rotunda under the cupola;
so that we may sigh from full hearts, outside time,
for that little meadow where time does not flow.
And the Eucharist spreads like an eternal noon;
all partake of it, everyone plays and sings,
and in each one’s eyes the sacred vessel
brims over with inexhaustible joy.
Osip Mandelstam. Untitled poem from Tristia (1922), translated from the Russian by Clarence Brown and W S Merwin, in Selected Poems (1973) — Unapologetic: Maundy Thursday
Her most personal book, Celebration, came out in 1989, shortly before Bridget died at 22. It is a tough, clear meditation on illness and suffering in the light of her faith in God. Margaret itemised without flinching the cruelties she had discovered in creation, in her daughter’s life and on the wards at Great Ormond Street, where she once reached out to stroke a crying child’s face and was stopped by a nurse who told her that the slightest touch could break the child’s bones. She could reconcile none of these things with the idea of a loving and benevolent God and she made no attempt to do so. Instead, she was convinced that God shared in the sufferings of his creation and that through the symbolic recreation of Jesus’s acceptance of death in the eucharist it could somehow, sometimes, be made bearable. — Margaret Spufford obituary
About this —
@ayjay If someone believes Catholicism is a false Gospel, don’t they have a duty to say so?— PEG (@pegobry) April 17, 2014
— which answered a comment of mine on Tim Challies’s claim that Pope Francis is a “false teacher”, I would say, no, they have a duty not to say so unless certain stringent conditions are met. At least, that’s my inclination. So I tried to figure out why that’s my inclination — which led me to these thoughts:
The identification of a person as a “false teacher” is a particularly strong condemnation with a clear biblical source, 2 Peter 2:1-3:
There will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
It’s a sound general principle, I think, that the stronger the charge you bring against a person, the stronger should be the evidence that you have against him. With that principle in mind, here are the steps that I think a Christian should follow before denouncing another Christian — or self-proclaimed Christian — as a false teacher, or a church as proclaiming a false gospel.
1) If I, for example, “believe that Catholicism is a false gospel” and its Pope a false teacher, what is the epistemological status of this “belief”? Is it a feeling I have? A long-held prejudice? Something I’ve thought about a bit but not in a systematic way? Or a position I have reached by long and serious study? Only in the last case should I even consider uttering my denunciation publicly.
2) Have I studied the relevant writings or speeches with true charity — that is, have I read in a way that seeks to build up the love of God and of my neighbor, including the neighbor I disagree with? As Augustine wrote about biblical interpretation, in a passage that is relevant to all acts of reading, “Whoever … thinks that he understands the divine Scriptures or any part of them so that it does not build the double love of God and of our neighbor does not understand it at all. Whoever finds a lesson there useful to the building of charity, even though he has not said what the author may be shown to have intended in that place, has not been deceived.” Have I read my opponent in this way? Have I resisted the temptation to interpret him as saying what I would like to denounce?
3) Closely related: am I in my interpretation of this person or church who claims to be Christian prayerfully seeking the oneness of the Church that Jesus implores us to seek in his great farewell discourse in John 17? Jesus pleads with the Father “that they may be one even as we are one, in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.” Has that been my prayer also? Have I heard the appeal of St. Paul to the Corinthians? “I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment” (1 Corinthians 1:10).
4) And also closely related: Have I read and meditated on the parable of the wheat and the weeds?
He put another parable before them, saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while his men were sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared also. And the servants of the master of the house came and said to him, ‘Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have weeds?’ He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ So the servants said to him, ‘Then do you want us to go and gather them?’ But he said, ‘No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.’”
5) Who am I? What status do I have to make public pronouncements on matters of such import? Am I in danger of “darkening counsel by words without knowledge” (Job 38:2)? Even if I am reading with care, and reading with charity, and even if I think I have been granted an exemption to the command to let the weeds and wheat grow together until the harvest, do I have the wisdom, discernment, and intelligence to make a pronouncement for others to read and heed?
6) Moreover, might I, through my own limitations, end up doing damage to the cause I want to uphold? As Thomas Browne wrote long ago, “Every man is not a proper champion for truth, nor fit to take up the gauntlet in the cause of verity: Many from the ignorance of these maxims, and an inconsiderate zeal unto truth, have too rashly charged the troops of error, and remain as trophies unto the enemies of truth: A man may be in as just possession of truth as of a city, and yet be forced to surrender.”
7) Presumably, I do not wish merely to denounce others, but to uphold and celebrate some form of Christian life and belief. Pascal wrote, “Men despise religion; they hate it and fear it is true. To remedy this, we must begin by showing that religion is not contrary to reason; that it is venerable, to inspire respect for it; then we must make it lovable, to make good men hope it is true; finally, we must prove it is true.” Have I considered that, if I indeed have a strong conviction that my understanding of Christianity is the right one, there are alternatives to denunciation of others, and a vital one is the difficult task of making my model of Christianity so lovable that people will want it to be true?
8) Am I praying for those whom I believe to be in error? If not, I should dare say no word against them. And if so, have I considered that such prayer may be a superior alternative to denunciation?
I’m asking people to go to a lot of trouble before publicizing their denunciations, am I not? Indeed I am. I am also setting a standard that I have rarely lived up to. But I can’t see how we can avoid at least asking the questions I have pressed here.
David Jones, Jesus Mocked
This has already done the rounds, but I’m mesmerised by this brush so had to post: “All you down strokes are thick, all you up strokes are thin…snap to the right, up thin.”
Roundhand Lettering Demo by Glen Weisge.
In my view, a genuine pro-life political position takes its commitment to human life seriously, and is therefore willing to commit to supporting the lives of mothers and children rather than simply their births. I do not believe harsh punishment is the way to address the challenges facing mothers and infants that tragically conclude, at times, in abortion. Yet penalty seems to be the one way those operating under the “pro-life” banner feel comfortable expressing their commitment to life, which is why I find the usual rightwing anti-abortion approach underwhelming and incomplete. Compassion isn’t cheap, and it’s defined by its longevity: If we are to take seriously a cultural commitment to life, which I believe we should, then we’ll conduct ourselves with mercy and sensitivity to the difficulties that bring women to choose abortion, and will commit ourselves to concrete political change aimed at reducing those struggles. — Elizabeth Stoker
Note the detail of who is behind the accident. From Monographien Zur Deutschen Kulturgeschichte by Georg Steinhausen, 1899.
Once we have surrendered our senses and nervous systems to the private manipulation of those who would try to benefit by taking a lease on our eyes and ears and nerves, we don’t really have any rights left. — Marshall McLuhan in Understanding Media (1964), quoted by Nick Carr here