Thursday, April 30, 2009

A Moral Nation

As usually happens when I ready anything by C. S. Lewis, I was struck with an insight - oddly enough, about politics, our President, and the nature of Christianity.

Lewis, in Mere Christianity, is discussing "love your neighbor as yourself." This is, as he rightly points out, not an easy concept for humans to wrap their arms around - no pun intended.

Typically, Lewis puts it in order for me: he asks us to consider how we love ourselves. He reminds us that we don't necessarily "like" ourselves or our actions all the time; we can be harsh in our judgement of ourselves. We can be impatient with ourselves when we fail, and we can demand that we do better the "next time."

Too often, he says, Christians think that "loving one's neighbor" means being all warm and fuzzy toward him, approving him, almost feeling "infatuated" with him. And of course, we can't do this with most people.

Christ wasn't expecting us to be all cuddly with everyone we encounter. Just as he cautioned us, again and again, to keep try - to "sin no more" - there is no reason why we can't expect the same from our neighbors. Just as we judge our lapses and falls from grace, try to obtain forgiveness (from God and ourselves), and try again - this is how we should be "loving" our neighbor as we "love" ourselves. 

This got me to thinking about Obama's policy of non-judgemental interaction - bowing to the Saudi King, for example - as opposed to having moral standards that we live by, and while we may have to accept other standards as "real," this does not mean we have to accept them as "moral." We can and we should judge them as not meeting our standards.

"Judge" has become such a bad word. But in fact, we judge every day of our lives: we choose this restaurant over that; this brand of shoes over another; Winesap apples are better than Delicious. By our standards, one things fails to measure up to another.

So, we do not believe that stoning adulterers is appropriate. On the other hand, we can also believe that adultery is wrong - we can judge it wrong, without going all the way to stoning. We can acknowledge in a  public arena that we disapprove of this behavior, and our relationship with anyone who indulges in it will be tempered by that behavior.

I had an argument with my sister and niece some years ago, when I was still off in exploratory mode. It was the typical intellectual elite versus fundamental Christian dispute: I said that any person who was honestly trying to live by his principles, his religion, was worthy of salvation; my niece argued that one religion was not as good as another. A religion that nodded to, for example, infibulation, was simply misguided, wrong, and not worthy of the same respect as Christianity.

Well, it could be argued that a lot of bad things have been done in the name of Christianity. Gays would argue that fundamental Christianity persecutes them, for example. And what about (pulling a few chestnuts out) The Inquisition or The Crusades?

The difference, I was reminded, is that Christianity does not recommend that gays be castrated in the name of purity. It simply suggests that they not act on their impulses, and that to do so is simply a sin like many others. While adultery may be a sin according to Christian morals, the punishment recommended is not stoning. (In fact, wasn't the heart of Christ's message, "I forgive you, I came here to die for you so that you could be forgiven, now go and don't do this again?"

That's a vastly different message from "We condemn you for this, we will now bury you up to your neck in the ground and throw stones at you."

How about the bad things done in the name of Christianity - Catholicism in particular? What about the Inquisition? While it's impossible to clear the Church's name where events like these are concerned, the more important point is: was the Church acting according to Christian principles when these things were done? Of course not.

These events were the result of an unhappy marriage between the Church and monarchies - a thing that the United States, at least, has been at pains to correct for. Even Catholics, who desire the Kingship of Christ, don't presume to want the Kingship of the Pope, for example. We know that's probably not a safe thing, as, much as he is the Vicar of Christ, and his representative on earth, he is still human, and is only "infallible" when speaking on matters of faith and morals, not when speaking on matters of politics and commerce.

So, getting back to "loving our neighbors," and our moral standards as both Christians, and as citizens of the United States: Obama's brand of tolerance is like my old, and I now think misguided notion that all paths to God are equal. The United States has to stand for decent, moral, humane behavior (we can get into torture another time). We may not always live up to our own standard, but we've got to try. (Just as, individually, we may not always live up to our own standards but we must judge both ourselves and our neighbors when we fall short - and we must expect the same behavior of both ourselves and our neighbors.)

1 comment:

  1. Something is going on and I don't know what or why. Monday a friend stopped by and I asked how his son an exstudent was doing. The son had been a priest in Las Vagas. I was told that he had been assigned to the Archdiocses of Hawaii as the Judicial Vicar. His father gave me a business card and offered his son's phone number. I called the son's office on Tuesday ro say hello but he was at a meeting.

    Then tonight I read your blog entry. I totally agree with your comments on love you neighbor as you love yourself.

    I agreed with you that all rightous people shall enter the kingdom of God. After all Jesus was a Jew (the Chosen People of God) why shouldn't the right Jew ente?. Why shouldn't the rightous Moslem be able to enter? They believe in the same God ( the Koran is based on the bible and the Moslem's believe in the same God even though they believe that Jesus was a just a great prophet.

    Then I read further and discovered a change in your belief to one that aligned with you sister's belief. I wondered where the Church stood on this matter. And so I talked to Father Mark tonight. We disccused The flying chalk wene he didn't pay attention in class and how rainy the Islands really are. Before we ended our conversation I asked Father Mark about the stand of the Church. " While we believe that the Catholic Church is the only true Church. It is not the position of the Church that a person must be a member of the Chuch to enter the kingdom of God"

    What is God saying to us? May God bless all associated with this blog.