Tuesday, July 24, 2012

What the Hell?

People don't like Hell.  Shocking, I know, but the idea of hell isn't easily stomached by the modern generation.  We don't like the idea of a place of eternal torment, where unimaginable torment awaits evil for all eternity, and God is responsible for it.  Seems counter-intuitive, especially considering the nature of God as an all-merciful being and whatnot.  However, while we may not like Hell, we do want Hell.  As unpleasant as it sounds, we desire Hell, and we'd be rather upset if there were no Hell.  L'explanation:

Even Satan is bored in Hell.
Hell exists because God is just.  God separates right from wrong, good from evil, truth from falsehood, and to each is assigned its due.  We want a just God, we need a just God, precisely because we want and need goodness.  Human nature constantly aspires for goodness, we always seek for good, we seek to destroy evil.  Even in our most evil atrocities, we don't aspire to them for their own sake, but rather seek a distorted good through misplaced means and maligned intents.  As people who are oriented  towards goodness, we desire that goodness not to be in vain.  Because we take consequence with the dichotomy of good and evil, we want our quarrel to be consequential.  Nothing would piss us off more that if we found out none of it ever matter, that we could be Mother Teresa or Charles Manson and it would mean nothing either way.  We want to be good, to be right, and we really want that desire to be affirmed.  We'd find ourselves disappointed to discover that our desire for justice, for goodness, and for truth to be the vain anomalies of a cosmic void.  (I smell a prolonged debate a-brewing over this part...)  We want Hell, because we want goodness to be good, and in order for goodness to be good, evil must not be good.  (Re-read that a few times, you'll get it.)  Hell is a just God being just, Hell is a just God letting evil be evil.  We, human beings, being moral agents (dudes and dudettes who have to discern and choose between good and evil.) must then have an end to our moral choices, and having committed killers and convicted saints be ultimately indifferent would make our moral agency ultimately indifferent.  Yeah, you could say you ought to be a good person for goodness's sake, to which I'm going to respond by being an arsonist for arson's sake.  They're ultimately the same thing without justice.

Hell is the result of God's Love.  I'll say it again.  The Fires of Hell are lit by God's Love, not hatred.  People don't go to Hell because God's really really peeved by them, people go to Hell because they choose to go to Hell.  God's Love has given us a marvelously wonderful (and rather terrifying gift), and one all too often understated: freedom of will.  We are not automatons, we are not machines, we have the incredible gift of choice, and with that choice comes the capacity to Love.  This is truly God's image, that man has the perpetual choice to love.  We have the capacity to receive God's Love and return it in kind, as well as the power to receive God's Love and do absolutely nothing about it.  Hell the choice we choose when we don't choose God.  Hell is when we short circuit the Divine Cycle of Love.  The souls in Hell (if there are any there in the first place) are there willingly.  Their perpetual choice to love has been eternally cemented against God, their power of will forever turned away from God.  Their torture is not God's cruelty, but his Love.  By denying the Love that creates, sustains, and redeems them, they are torn down to their very nature.  A will against God is self-destructive, it destroys the soul from within by denying the very principles and truths that created it.  God, being a just God, allows the free will of man to be free, even unto the point of damnation.

Our God is Merciful and Just.  His Justice is His Mercy.  God has the ability to do what no one else can do:  perfectly discern Good from Evil.  He alone can immaculately mark out the line between good and evil, a line that runs right through the human soul, and thus only he is able to separate from our hearts that which is vile and evil and retain that which is good.  In this swift and precise justice, he is merciful, for he cleaves from us what is evil and nurtures in us that which is good.  Most see justice as a condemnation, but God's Justice is so perfect it is salvation.  However, one still has the choice, the choice to resist the execution of Divine Mercy, to fight against the torrent of Divine Justice, and for that person exists Hell.

So, you want to avoid Hell?  Don't resist Divine Justice.  You have married your soul to lies and falsehoods by your sins; submit yourself to God and let him take the razor's edge to your heart, so as to chisel away your hardness of heart.  The mark of a Christian isn't perfection, it is true repentance.  The extent to which you repent is the extent to which you will be exulted by Divine Justice, free of the weights to drag you down.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why Religion is a Crappy Hobby

I grew up with Legos.  You know, the plastic bricks with which you could build a plethora of multicolored glorious artworks.  To this very day, I love Legos.  Legos were (and, when I have the chance, still are) one of my favorite hobbies; they were right up there with finding creative ways to use firecrackers and launching model rockets piloted by an unsuspecting grasshopper (who always managed to survive!).   Legos were a hobby, one that brought me much joy, were a great conversation starter, and allowed me a creative outlet that both inspired imagination and didn't involved pyrotechnics.  However, that's all Legos were for me:  A very fun, very good, very passionate hobby.  I would have never died for the good of Legos, nor were Legos a formative source of my life.  I dictated my interaction with Legos, I held the reins of my relationship with Legos, not the other way around.  Don't get me wrong, I really really liked Legos, I got the catalogs and magazines and read them through and through, and when I found a fellow enthusiast, we would chat and build for hours.  But ultimately, I controlled the experience, and I never the experience control me.  Such is the way with any hobbyist's relationship with his hobby.

"I like this.  Rock on"
Such is not, however, the relationship between a man and his religion, however, all too often, that's what it ends up becoming.  More often than not, a man's religion (at least, the religion names) becomes a hobby, and he treats and is expected by others to treat it as such.  Hence the common modern sentiment of religion being a "private affair"  and the party rule that we should never talk about religion or politics.  The public generally tends to view religion as a hobby, typically a very odd hobby (because really, who makes a hobby out of telling single old men your secrets and calling it forgiveness.).  Our culture tells us that our religion is equal to everyone else's religion, that the only difference is purely subjective and they ultimately distill to the same essential values and lessons (which, evidently, one can learn without the usage of religion.)  Hence, when I say someone "I'm Catholic" they are disinterested and when I say  "I'm a committed, hard hitting, live-holy-or-die-trying Catholic" they give me looks reserved for the guy who only leaves his mother's basement for Comic-Con.  Catholics are hobbyists and die hard Catholics are fanatics, or so modern society would suggest.  And, if the last 11 years of fighting terrorism have taught us anything, its that fanatics are dangerous.  Thus, modern society has made religion into a hobby and fanaticism into something frowned upon at least, damnable at worst.

And, for the most part, many people have accepted those terms.  Religion stays in church pews and remains a one day a week affair (or more likely, a one hour a week affair).  We'll turn our thoughts towards religion in Mass, but then we'll quickly check those thoughts at the door (Because once you leave the church, it's perfectly acceptable to flip the bird to that guy who cut you off in the parking lot, irregardless of whether you just shook his hand 15 minutes earlier with the words "Peace be with you").  Even worse, more often than not, religion isn't even our favorite hobby, usually, its our least favorite hobby, one we cling to out of family tradition or insurance for eternity.

I'm going to be blunt here:  Religion is a terrible hobby (especially Christianity).  As C.S. Lewis once said, "I didn't go to a religion to make me "happy".  I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.  If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity."  If we choose to make religion, especially Christian religion, a pleasant hobby, a sort of sport for your moral and emotional health that ultimately, you're wasting your time and missing the point.  You cannot wield your faith like a tool for your use.  Faith forms men, not vice versa.

To be completely honest, every man has a religion, whether he realizes it or not, and more often than we'd like to admit, its not the religious preference we put down on census forms.  Every man worships at the feet of something.  Some bow to gods, others bow to men, still others craft their own gods and worship them.  The ancient Druids worshiped trees, many a modern tween-age girl worships Justin Bieber.  You judge which is more ridiculous.  We worship, its what we've always done.  The religion, the true religion of a man is judged by the extent to which he gives his soul to it.  The man who worships money is the man who's soul is driven towards and by money.  The man who roams the world shouting in the forums "God is dead!" has not killed God, but merely made his message his religion, because his soul is invested in that cause.  Man does bow.  As Loki notes in the Avengers, man's natural state is to kneel, even if we think we're standing tall, free and powerful, we're only kneeling to the idea that we are gods ourselves.

If every man is bound to be a religion man, then why not let him be a truly religious man?  Let him worship something worth worshiping, something to satisfy his desire for religion.  He worships at man-made altars, let him worship at the Altar built for men.  He kneels to man-made gods?  Let him kneel to the God who made man.  My point is: if we stopped making ourselves into religions and our religions into hobbies, we'd understand why we have religions, why we are religious, and why our hearts are truly "restless until they rest in thee" (St. Augustine of Hippo, 1600 year old and you've still nailed it!)

 I invite you:  Rather than letting your faith (especially Christian faith) sit on a shelf until Sunday morning (or Saturday night, if Jesus and hangovers just don't mix for you.) make your religion more than a hobby, more than something you keep around for special occasions, more than something you comfort yourself with in hard times and comfort children with before bedtime.  Choose to worship, choose to make your religion your religion, not your pastime.  Commit, surrender, and repeat every moment of everyday for the rest of your life.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Let's Talk About Sex! Ep. 3: Attack of the Consumerists

It's been a while.  Many things have happened in the last few weeks, such as vacations and retreats and meeting country music stars.  You know, the usual.

(I could subtitle this post “How Consumerism Devolves into Self-Cannibalism” but I opted against it.  Too wordy.)

True story
 Anyways, if you’ve listened to a rant against our culture by 96% of Christians, you’ve heard the word “consumerism” or “materialism” being tossed around.  We use this word recklessly without every actually examining what it means, so on the behalf of Christians, mea culpa.  Consumerism, as most people use it, looks a lot like many modern women’s shopping habits, i.e., overbearingly excessive.  However, that’s not quite the case, consumerism happens to be a bigger beast than credit cards and clearance sales.  Consumerism is the desire to ingest.  Putting it bluntly, it’s trying to eat the world.  Allow me to explain: while being a shopaholic is a result of consumerism, it’s not the only result.  Consumerist-minded people are obsessed with everything but being.  They’re all about doing, about having, about getting, about experiencing, about ingesting, but never about being.  And there lies our problem.  There’s nothing wrong with doing things, or having things, or getting things, or experiencing things, or ingesting things.  I do work, I have money, I get gifts and whatnot, I experience cool things like hiking next to a moose or Mass with the Missionaries of Charity, I ingest food, air, beauty, comfort, etc.  These things are all good, however, they can become all sorts of wrong when they replace one crucial aspect of life:  being.  Who am I?  The great tragedy of consumerism is the loss of identity, or rather, the replacement of it.  Our identity is no longer a matter of the soul, but of our decisions.  We identify ourselves by our achievements, by our possessions, by the various things of even more various sorts that we have, in some way or another, consumed.  Antoine de St. Exupery, in his excellent novella "The Little Prince", puts it elegantly,

A better book there seldom was...
"Grown ups love figures.  When you tell them that you have made a new friend, they never ask you any questions about essential matters.  The never say to you, "What does his voice sound like?  What games does he love best? Does he collect butterflies?"  Instead, they demand "How old is he? How many brothers has he? How much does he weigh?  How much money does his father make?"  Only from these figures do they think they have learned anything about him."   (BTW, if you've never read  "The Little Prince" take 4 hours out of your life and read it now.  You'll thank me later.)

Our lives are far to important to be reduced to numbers, figures, histories, and decisions.  These things are important, yes, some to an eternal extent, but they do not constitute identity.  Our choices may change us, they may shape us, the may save us or they may damn us, but ultimately, they are not us.  You and I are human beings, and before we do, we are.  Before we can choose, we exist.

Did you survive that bit of philosophy?  Good.  So where does our sexuality come in?  Well, just as we treat everything as something to be consumed, we treat our sexuality as something to be consumed, and by doing so, we miss the point entirely.  You see, while there is a physical aspect to sex (which is important, of course), there is also a spiritual aspect of sex, an immaterial reality surrounding the beautiful collision of two people.  It is this spiritual reality that makes sex something so much more serious than any other sort of physical action (like a sporting game of tennis, a romantic walk, or partner's cooking classes), and it is the spiritual reality of sex that we've been denying, via our consumeristic attitude towards sex.

Sex, as so many cultural icons have noticed, has something to do with love, hence why we call it "making love".  We have sex because we love, or, at least, because we claim to love... and there lies the crux of the matter.  In our eagerness to consume, we've redefined what it means to love, and honestly, it only seems natural that we'd do so.  Love is the defining signature of mankind, it is the primary expression of ourselves, (there's a great tie in our relationship to God (who is love) here, but I'll set it aside for later writings.) and in a society that only knows how to consume, we've defined love as nothing more than an intense favor, or a passionate desire to consume.  We use the word "love" to describe Romeo and Juliet's star-crossed romance and our opinion of Taco Bell, although a mere glance would show that the two are far different.  True love, love in the sense that is tied to romance and sexuality, is no mere preference, not even a loyal preference.  Love is a deference, a neglect of the self for the sake of another.  Love is the emptying of the self, the sacrificial emptying of self.  Love requires then, substantial commitment.  If we intend to sacrifice ourselves, we must commit ourselves.  Love has to be committed, surpassing mere affections and placed in the hands of determined, committed, willful surrender.

Love is not a matter of what we like, even if we like it a lot.  Love is a reversal of consumerism, it requires you give all and take none, that you destroy nothing and create everything anew.  Love crafts worlds, and even more beautifully, it creates lives.  Truly, nothing expresses the meaning of love (or at least on this side of eternity) quite like the beauty of the family, the trinity of husband, wife, and progeny.  Love must have fruits, it must have children.  Love creates in the world, it bonds and blooms.

We've lied to ourselves for a long time.  We've told ourselves that love is about finding someone for mutual satisfaction, and that's a lie.  Perhaps a practical lie, but a lie, and one that ultimately leaves us deprived.  Love is greater, even greater than two matched souls.  Love is real, more real than anything, and our society, by consuming itself into death, has violated that.  By reducing the power of love, by consuming our world and never letting ourselves be consumed by the love in it, we've begun to discover that there's nothing left to consume but ourselves.

So reclaim sex!  Reclaim love!  Reclaim yourself, so that you can give yourself away in love!  Go!