Sunday, July 6, 2014

Psalmody Psunday: Psalm 143

Thanks be to my cousin Matt, who jumped on the bandwagon that which had ground to a halt and got the thing going again!  You can read his thoughts on Ps. 123 here...and you should.  Go ahead, I'll be here when you get back.

I looked through my past Psalmody Psunday entries to see if I'd picked a Psalm from last time to take up this time.  Nope.  Ah well, to the random number generator top hit on Google, then.  The number it randomly selected for me was 143.  Double checked to see if I'd already done that--nope.  Okay, let's pull it up on Bible Gateway...ah, here we are...

Blammo.  Right between the eyes.

I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised. Same thing happened at both the church services I attended today: 8 AM Mass at the majestic Cathedral Basilica, and then the usual Sunday service at Old Orchard Presbyterian.

Whether it was in the Scripture readings or the hymns sung or the confessions we read aloud, there was the same insistence of the Spirit.  Hey you.  Wake up.  Take notice.  You know you are beset with sin; now, are you going to stay enslaved or are you going to cry out for freedom?

David begins the Psalm by pleading with God not to exercise judgment against him, because he would be proved guilty (as would we all). He ends by saying that he is God's servant.  There's a part of me that is shocked by this seeming presumption.  "Not a very good servant," I think.  But then, I think of God's fondness for the weak things of the world and the small amounts.  Only a mustard seed sized faith is required to start amazing things set in motion.  Only two mites from a widow can please the God who owns cattle on a thousand hills.  Perhaps only a very poor and wretched servant, acknowledging this fact, is precisely where God is delighted to set up camp and start the work of renewing us once again.

It's also interesting to note that David's enemy/enemies get mentioned in each stanza.  A good reminder that there are enemies that we need to be rescued from and not merely our own inclination to stumble.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Five Favorites: C.S. Lewis Quotations Relevant to the Hobby Lobby Kerfuffle

I suppose you'd have to be living under a rock on Mars not to have had a snootful of opinions about the recent Supreme Court decision in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga's right not to pay for certain types of birth control which they--ostensibly--find morally objectionable.

I say "ostensibly" because some investigative reporting I've been pointed to suggests that:
(A) Hobby Lobby's previous health insurance policies (before ACA/Obamacare) did cover the types of birth control which they now do not wish to cover.
(B) Hobby Lobby's retirement funds for employees also invest in companies which manufacture some of the very devices they consider immoral.

Being in no position to know the hearts of the Green family and whether they have recently had a change of heart or whether they were terribly ignorant about what their retirement plan was investing in, I am not prepared to label them as wicked hypocrites who only care about the financial bottom line and eschewing government regulation for the sake of money and not principle.

That could be true, I suppose, and I think this whole affair raises the larger question of how a Christian businessperson ought to act when they are trying to balance the attitudes which make a business prosper (competition, saving money where possible, etc.) and the attitudes of Christ (serve the poor, the impossibility of loving God and Mammon, etc.)

I am keen to see how EWTN's day in court will go, and what will happen to Catholic hospitals or Catholic social service agencies.  Will it go the way of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who were granted the right not to pay for birth control for their employees because of religious objections (and not, I am convinced, out of greed or caring about profit margins)?  We shall see.

But you're probably about as tired of reading about all of this as I am, and I'm especially sick of the mudslinging and name-calling that's happening on all sides of this issue.  I'm pleased that the discussion which ensued on my FB thread, though largely conducted by people with opposing viewpoints to my own, was respectful and mostly stuck to sharing links to non-super-partisan sites (because it's pretty hard to find a truly non-partisan site.  Politifact is as close as I've found.)

So instead, may I present you with five quotations from the eminently sensible Mr. C.S. Lewis in his essay, "The Abolition of Man."  I have this in audiobook form, and I'd wager that I've listened to it a dozen times since downloading it a few years ago.  It is a clear-eyed piece of analysis written in 1947 which rings truer today than perhaps when he penned it.  That is to say, some of the predictions and fears that he raised have come to pass and are in the not-so-distant future.

It's far from a fear-mongering piece in tone, though.  Perhaps it's a poor reflection on me, but I quickly tire of newsletters, Facebook articles, memes, and the like which sound desperate and apocalyptic in tone: "Oh my goodness, our country is going to hell in a handbasket and fill-in-the-blank court case/law/ruling/debate is proof that there's just no hope."  I don't debate that our country is going to hell in a handbasket, but I also don't think that's a recent phenomenon.  Any country populated with, well, people--and especially any democracy where lots of people get a voice in deciding things--is going to have problems and moral decay.  I think it is human nature.  By the same token, there can be revivals and changes of course to the ship of state.  If Ninevah, to a man, can repent, why not the U.S. of A?

But my familiarity with Thucydides and Herodotus makes me wary of expecting a democracy to rise to the standards of its most moral citizens.  The lowest common denominator often sets the pace, especially if that group is advocating "realistic and dynamic ethics" to advance our civilization towards "progress" at any cost.

Enter Lewis (and exit my rhapsodizing).

1.  "The Chinese also speak of a great thing (the greatest thing) called the Tao.  It is the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself.  It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road...This conception in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as 'the Tao.'  Some of the accounts of it which I have quoted will seem, perhaps, to many of you merely quaint or even magical.  But what is common to them all is something we cannot neglect.  It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are." (pp. 28-29, emphasis my own)

2.  "For those within [the Tao], the task is to train in the pupil those responses which are in themselves appropriate, whether anyone is making them or not, and in making which the very nature of man consists.  Those without [the Tao], if they are logical, must regard all sentiments as equally non-rational, as mere mists between us and the real objects.  As a result, they must either decide to remove all sentiments...from the pupil's mind: or else to encourage some sentiments for reasons that have nothing to do with their intrinsic 'justness' or 'ordinacy'...the practical result of [this second type of] education must be the destruction of the society which accepts it." (p. 31, 39)

3.  [On the Innovator who has rejected the Tao as being outdated and instead seeks a more 'realistic' motivation for our actions, such as Instinct]:
 "We have an instinctive urge to preserve our own species.  That is why [i.e. in the Innovator's view] men ought to work for posterity.  We have no instinctive urge to keep promises or to respect individual life: that is why scruples of justice and humanity--in fact the Tao--can be properly swept away when they conflict with our real end, the preservation of the species.  That, again, is why the modern situation permits and demands a new sexual morality: the old taboos served some real purpose in helping to preserve the species, but contraceptives have modified this and we can now abandon many of the taboos.  For of course sexual desire, being instinctive, is to be gratified whenever it does not conflict with the preservation of the species.  It looks, in fact, as if an ethics based on instinct will give the Innovator all he wants and nothing he does not want." (pp. 44-45, emphasis my own)

4. "In order to avoid misunderstanding, I may add that though I am myself a Theist, and indeed a Christian, I am not here attempting any indirect argument for Theism.  I am simply arguing that if we are to have values at all we must accept the ultimate platitudes of Practical Reason as having absolute validity: that any attempt, having become skeptical about these, to reintroduce value lower down on some supposedly more 'realistic' basis, is doomed." (p. 61)

[Sorry, I must interject here: Much pixelated ink has been spilled over how women are being disregarded, disenfranchised, and disdained by the recent court decision, and corporations elevated to the status of personhood.  I quite agree that it is a dangerous precedent to consider corporations to be people, precisely because people can be so very wicked.  

No one minds corporate personhood when the corporation says, "I will give 50% of my profits to agencies which fight human trafficking," or "I will not allow my company to use child labor or inhumane sweatshop style working conditions."  We laud those corporate persons, because they are acting like GOOD people.  It's when a company does something that we think BAD that we get upset, isn't it?  

But as Lewis points out, if we as a relativistic society insist that Good and Bad are merely conventions, emotions, speculations, or sentiments--and as such, have no place in decision-making or ethics--we have no right to be upset when a corporation acts like a horrible human being, because they are just doing what is evolutionarily expedient: looking out for number one.]

5. [On our supposed power over Nature gained by modern (in the 1940s) technological advances such as the airplane, the wireless, and contraceptives]:
What we call Man's power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by.  Again, as regards the powers manifested in the airplane or the wireless [radio], Man is as much the patient or subject as the possessor, since he is the target for both bombs and for propaganda.  And as regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive.  By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer.  From this point of view, what we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument. (pp. 68-69, italics my own)

Some have argued that for a company or corporation to deny a woman the "universal right" of contraception means that a company is being given more and more power to rule over the underrepresented or underpaid.  "Those with the gold make the rules," etc.  Undoubtedly true.  However, when we complain that it is monstrously tyrannical of a company to tell a woman that she can't decide to control future generations with her ability to prevent their existence, well, that sounds hypocritical to me.

In other words, don't let those white male fat cats have all the fun of world domination and imposing their values by disenfranchising those without "concurring voice." Let the common woman and man do the same.  If a woman working at Hobby Lobby is a David compared with the Goliath of the company, how much more the potential children whose existence she would like to prevent by means of artificial contraception?
(Please Note: this is NOT the same as saying a woman must have as many children as biologically possible.  There are other ways of avoiding pregnancy that don't involve chemicals or devices, but they are quite incompatible with the "modern sexual morality" that Lewis speaks about in quotation #3.)

In another post, I shall have to examine what I am coming to believe is the inherent illogic of the view most Christians take on birth control (one that I myself used to hold quite firmly).  But for now, I'm sure I've said enough things to make people mad.