"Love! Do you know the meaning of the word?" 'How should I not?' said the Lady, 'I am in love...in Love Himself.'
~C.S. Lewis
The Great Divorce

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Baptism: As Illustrated by a Little Story

I was listening to a short portion of a Christian radio program on my way home this evening. It was narrated by a man who sounded vaguely like the narrator in Disney's Charlotte's Web. He relayed a story about a young 1st grader who, as 6 year old's are wont to do, had a bladder accident at his school desk. Fearful of being called out by the approaching teacher, and subsequently humiliated in front of his peers, the boy began to panic internally. A young girl sitting next to him must have noticed him fidgeting. It happened to be show and tell day and the girl had brought her goldfish to class. Knowing that within seconds the teacher would ask what was under the boy's chair, thus potentially ruining the rest of his elementary school experience, the girl dropped her fish bowl between them. The water mixed with the urine, and while the smell must have still been slightly pungent, it destroyed any evidence of the voided bladder. The girl confirmed later that the dropping of the fish bowl was not an accident. The boy had been saved by water. Water, which you might say, had been poured over his transgressions. I Peter 3 reminds us "Baptism now saves us". The epistle to Titus confirms this teaching when it speaks of the "washing of regeneration." Other passages could be offered in support of the Baptism's effects, but the point here is not an in depth theological discussion. Rather, to point out the obvious. Water cleans things. Whether it be dishes or bodies, that's what water does. The spiritual application is the same: something is being washed. The 1662 Book of Common Prayer leaves no doubt about that which is washed. Almighty and everlasting God, who of thy great mercy didst save Noah and his family in the Ark from perishing by water, and also didst safely lead the children of Israel thy people through the red Sea, figuring thereby thy holy baptism; and by the baptism of thy well beloved son Jesus Christ in the river Jordan didst sanctify water to the mystical washing away of sin: We beseech thee for thine infinite mercies, that thou wilt mercifully look upon this Child, wash him, and sanctify him with the holy Ghost, that he being delivered from thy Wrath, may be received into the Ark of Christ's Church, and being steadfast in faith, joyful through hope, and rooted in Charity may so pass the waves of this troublesome world, that finally he may come to the land of everlasting life, there to reign with thee world without end, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. How it is that physical elements communicate spiritual riches to us is a mystery all its own. Nevertheless, they do. May the story above remind us that the water which came from Christ's side is every bit as much a part of redemption as the blood. And may we take comfort in the Water which initiated us into the Kingdom of God and those other physical elements, Bread and Wine, which help us remain therein.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Detachment, Desire, and Death

My wife and I had a rather long talk with one of our sons about sharing last night. His attachment to certain toys and unwillingness to let others play with them brought this about. Easily, I could write an entire post criticizing him for this and list all of the things we taught him to help other parents struggling with the same thing. It's easy, however, to point out a stingy child and make him an example. What's a little more difficult is looking inward and seeing where you are either stingy or too attached. God is gracious to his children. When we are too attached to things other than him, he reminds us. On the surface, these reminders may seem like punishments. A piece of technology we love, breaks. The money we were saving (perhaps hoarding) has to be used for a car repair or medical bill. We may view these as chance events or as God exacting revenge on us, but ultimately I think God uses events like these to detach us from things that keep us from him. He does it because he loves us and wants us to love him. It's only when we have been torn away from the things in this life that we love, that our soul's desire can be properly focused. Insofar as things can die, death needs to take place in order for the true fulfillment of desire to happen. Today, I was thinking about my own earthly attachments. If I may be so bold, there are few things I'm overly attached to. My computer might be one (which, I suppose, makes this post supremely ironic). But really more than any thing, I'm attached to people. Specifically, I'm attached to my family and a few very close friends. I long for the time I get to spend with these people. I can't wait for the weekends when I actually see my wife, or my parents. Family and friends are wonderful blessings and I think attachment to them is of a different nature than that of material objects. But they can still keep us from God if we are more attached to them than the One who gave them to us. As I said above, God is gracious to his children. Sometimes death occurs in our families. Ones we love are taken from this earth. We grieve. Not as those who have no hope, but still we grieve. Yet, this can be a time to draw closer to the Lord. All believers will meet again in the Kingdom of Heaven. But we must get there first. This is the beautiful thing about proper priorities. If we put Jesus before everything, we get him and all the other riches of this life in the end. If we prefer even the smallest of trifles to Him, nothing, in the end, is ours. What is the point of all this? Attachment to anything other than God will not fulfill any of our desires. Our inordinate desires, our attachments, have to be crucified and our souls rightly focused on him who alone can satisfy. Death then leads to life. Sometimes this means something as simple as sharing what is ours (for it is truly only in the act of sharing that anything is ours) or it could be the cessation of breath in a human being we treasured. As painful as loss can be, it may be the removal of an obstacle to heaven.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rethinking Artificial Contraception

I’ve intentionally titled this lecture what I have to dispel any notions that my plan is to stand before you and condemn anyone who ever has or ever intends to use a contraceptive. While I firmly believe it to be wrong, it is in Anglican thinking one of the areas where the Christian conscience must make a decision to exercise its freedom or to not. What I hope to present to you today is a compelling case for abandoning artificial contraceptives and truly embracing a culture of life. To do so, we will examine relevant scripture on sexuality, the purposes of marriage, and the role artificial contraception has played in promoting the culture of death in which we all live. From a scriptural perspective, Genesis 1 &2 presents us with a fascinating picture of why men and women were created. “God created man in his own image in the image of God created he him, male and female he created them. And God blessed them and God said unto them, Be fruitful and multiply.” We were made to be the image bearers of God; to be reflections of the divine. This image entails much that we cannot broach today, but it certainly includes the ability to make choices. Of these wonderful choices we are given to make, the conscious decision of giving oneself wholly to the other ranks very high. Indeed, this is what Genesis 1 demands of us. Adam and Eve were made with the express purpose of giving themselves to each other in order that human life might be perpetuated. Notice, the propagation of the human race is considered the priority within marriage, even before the broad ideas of companionship or friendship. In Genesis chapter two, we are told that there was a mate found for every creature in the garden, save Adam. It is there that we read the account of God taking the rib from Adam’s side and forming his wife, Eve. This passage has given rise to the oft quoted thought on Eve’s creation “not made out of his head to rule over him, nor out of his feet to be trampled upon by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected, and near to his heart to be beloved.” Genesis two can be read as both heart-rending and heart-warming; Adam searching helplessly for a mate and, through an act of God, given one. In every way his equal, Eve emerged onto the scene of history to be the helper and lover of Adam. Yet it has been well said that marriage and conjugal love were instituted for two reasons, babies and bonding. There is an “inseparable connection, established by God, which man on his own initiative cannot break, between the unitive and procreative significance” of sex. Genesis one and two support this thesis, but the priority is given to the procreative part of the formulation. In fact, the Book of Common Prayer supports this reading of the opening chapters of Genesis as well. When we read through the liturgy for the Solemnization of Holy Matrimony we find that marriage is not something to be entered into lightly but in deep reverence “duly considering the cause for which Matrimony was ordained. First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his Holy Name.” (BCP 490) Indeed, the ideas of companionship which we are most wont to associate with marriage aren’t even listed until third in the “purposes” section for marriage. As the liturgy indicates, procreation presents us with one of the greatest opportunities for evangelism and expansion of the Kingdom. The point is very simply this, while the dominion mandate of Genesis 1 does not specifically forbid the use of contraception, it clearly teaches as normative that marriages were made for the creation of children who would grow to love the Lord. We were made male and female to make this a biological possibility. Have you ever wondered why it is that God forbids homosexual unions? It is not because God is a killjoy. It is not because God does not want all people to have companionship. Rather, the most logical explanation for the injunction against homosexuality is that the Lord expects at least the possibility of life with each act of intimacy. This is not to intimate that heterosexual couples using something like the pill are committing the same sin as homosexuals do, rather it is to point out the priority of procreation within the marriage covenant. Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, puts it this way, “Every marriage must be open to the gift of children. Even where the ability to conceive and bear children may be absent, the will to receive children must be present. To demand sexual pleasure without openness to life, is to violate a sacred trust.” Now as I said, this does not prove that God frowns upon contraceptives, just that procreation should be a significant consideration in marriage. I would like now to transition to a consideration of God’s people as Bride. Whether you consider the prophecy of Hosea or our Lord’s teachings in wedding parables, the Scriptures have established an analogous relationship between matrimony and the salvation that has been brought by Christ. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in St. Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians. After laying out the pattern of Christ as head of the Church and the husband as head of the wife, and the responsibilities this entails for the woman, Paul writes “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.” By his description of marriage as a participation in the love of Christ for the Church, a paradigm has been set up. Christ gave up his own body in order that we, the Bride, may have life. Indeed, that is what we hear each time we come to communion “This is my Body broken and given for you”. And St. John reminds us that this Body is given “for the life of the world.” If our earthly marriages are to be reflections of Christ giving his Body so that humanity might have new life, so too the possibility of life must be present in the conjugal act imitating it. The husband and wife must fully surrender themselves to each other, imitating Christ’s surrender to death in order to bring life. He held nothing back. Husbands and wives should not withhold the ability to create life from each other. Doing so violates the paradigm set up in the Scriptures. It is also undeniable that the Scriptures present children as a blessing from the Lord. This is not an injunction against contraceptives, but a test of our opinion of children. The Psalmist, depending on your translation, refers to them as “gifts” or a “heritage”. It is truly baffling why we have chosen this area to deny the blessings of God-to turn them away. The Lord calls “happy” the man who has a quiver full of children. I am well aware of the stressfulness that children can cause. Whether it be through stubborn behavior, an increased financial burden, or a lack of space in your home, it seems that being open to children can be anything but a blessing at times. In response to these objections, however, I remind that the same God which calls children “gifts” promises to supply for our every need, and he gives perfect peace to those whose minds are stayed on him. Why then, in light of these promises, should we reject the blessings of God by intentionally trying to frustrate his purposes? Furthermore, since the Lord is ultimately the one who opens and closes the womb, can a couple practicing contraception fully say “we wanted this blessing”, when the contraceptive fails? I know many babies are conceived this way and their parents love them dearly. But without an openness to God’s gift, would not some of the joy of the new life be diminished? Wouldn’t it necessarily be an intrusion, albeit one that ultimately would be welcomed? We should want children. I hope that, in reflecting on these passages, you have seen that sex between married persons should be open to life. It is here that we have to call to mind the story of Onan. Onan was commanded by his father to go into his brother’s wife, Tamar and conceive a child. But you may recall that during the sexual act, Onan intentionally spilled his seed on the ground. The author informs us that this angered the LORD who slew Onan for his act. Now this is clearly a case where Onan failed to be Tamar’s kinsman redeemer. You can ascribe many sins to Onan here including disobedience and selfishness. But I think it is impossible in the light of other Scripture to see God winking at the act of spilling the seed. This was the thought of John Calvin who wrote in his commentaries on the tenth verse: I will contend myself with briefly mentioning this, as far as the sense of shame allows to discuss it. It is a horrible thing to pour out seed besides the intercourse of man and woman. Deliberately avoiding the intercourse, so that the seed drops on the ground, is double horrible. For this means that one quenches the hope of his family, and kills the son, which could be expected, before he is born. This wickedness is now as severely as is possible condemned by the Spirit, through Moses, that Onan, as it were, through a violent and untimely birth, tore away the seed of his brother out the womb, and as cruel as shamefully has thrown on the earth. Moreover he thus has, as much as was in his power, tried to destroy a part of the human race. When a woman in some way drives away the seed out the womb, through aids, then this is rightly seen as an unforgivable crime. Onan was guilty of a similar crime, by defiling the earth with his seed, so that Tamar would not receive a future inheritor. Calvin is clear even though many have tried to hide his thoughts on this matter. His commentary has been edited in virtually all modern editions, omitting his thinking on verse 10. But no words are minced, Onan did what he could to destroy a human life, which leads well into the next part of our discussion: Contraception has fostered greatly the culture of death. In his encyclical letter Evangellium Vitae Pope John Paul II, while distinguishing between the evils of birth control and abortion, nevertheless demonstrates how closely they are tied one to another. He asserts that “the pro-abortion culture is especially strong, precisely where the Church’s teaching on contraception is rejected.” The rationale behind his statement is not particularly difficult to figure out. When having children is seen as an evil to prevent, in order that an almost hedonistic life-style can be continued unfettered, what recourse other than abortion is available to those who have been failed by contraceptives? John Paul II had the advantage of hindsight. He was able to see the havoc wrought by wide-spread acceptance of artificial contraception. One of his predecessors, Paul VI, wrote his encyclical letter entitled Humana Vitae in part as a warning about what would follow a society’s practice of contraception. It would not just be an increase in abortions, though that has certainly proven to be the case. Rather, a general decline in sexual ethics was what he foresaw. How many of his predictions have proven prophetic? Paul VI was clear that this would lead to “marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.” “Another effect that gives cause for alarm is that a man who grows accustomed to the use of contraceptive methods may forget the reverence due to a woman, and, disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium, reduce her to being a mere instrument for the satisfaction of his own desires.” It would be hard to dispute that these claims are in many cases a reality. Again, you could argue that sexual immorality or abortion can be divorced from a discussion of contraception. Birth control can be safely practiced without falling into any of these grave errors. But it is undeniable that separating sex from procreation has, at the very least, conditioned our cultural mindset away from life and toward sin, and in many cases death. We’ve discussed the culture of death in terms of abortion only. It extends far beyond that. “Unless we are willing that the responsibility of procreating life should be left to the arbitrary decision of men, we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions—limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed.” This statement from Humana Vitae is a reminder that once we take control over something we shouldn’t, it is only a matter of time before someone else (the public authority) will wield this same power we’ve taken, over us. It is precisely this topic which C.S. Lewis addresses in his lectures turned book, The Abolition of Man. In speaking on contraception, Lewis writes “Each new power won by man is a power over man.” The freedoms of scientific progress always have a cost. In this case, by dictating who will be born and when, artificial contraception means that we have the power to withhold existence from a future generation. Indeed, the powers that be could bind us to do so. How close does the HHS mandate of the Affordable Care Act come to doing this? Lewis seeks to make plain that taking this power over nature will, in the end, result in natural forces and impulses taking power over men. You see Lewis was concerned about changes in the education models of post WWII England. Believing these changes would usher in a new era of Subjectivism and a rejection of Natural Law, Lewis feared what would govern man in the future. Once the Natural Law was gone, only the aggregation of power would matter. One of these powers was the ability to manipulate future generations. Through selective breeding, a race of men would be born wholly subservient to the generation which had permitted them existence. You see, man would be exercising power over man. This combined with a lack of Objectivity in education, would allow the generation practicing contraception to produce children who were slaves both to the men who allowed them existence and to the impulses of their nature. In short, humanity would be stripped from their posterity. It’s not simply that artificial contraception can lead eventually to a culture of death by abortion. It is all by itself a culture of death because it seeks to prevent life and the life that is eventually allowed is not free, but born a slave. It seems that everywhere we turn we are confronted with sexual sin. The explosion of pornography, aided by the rise of the internet, the widespread problems of marital infidelity, homosexuality and other aberrations from the biblical norm, all speak of a culture saturated in sex. While there have been some successes, on the whole the Church has failed in responding to this tide. Could it be that the reason we have such trouble countering the sexual revolution is that we have nearly without question, accepted one of its central tenets? The Anglican Church was the first branch of the Church to officially condone the usage of contraceptives at the Lambeth Conference of 1930. I think if we heed the biblical evidence, the tradition of the Church (both Catholic and Reformed) and look at the very clear consequences the contraceptive culture has produced and will continue to produce, we will see that it is high time the Anglican Church and all men of goodwill reconsider and rethink the usage of artificial birth control.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Electoral College Projection

While I've not had time to write as extensively on the election as I did in 2008, I have been following very closely. Below I would like to give my electoral college projections for tonight's election. I will start with the same phrase virtually every journalist has in the last week, I'm not sure who is going to win tonight. In 2008, my final projection was a "best case scenario" for John McCain, which still had him losing. I couldn't see a way to 270 votes for him. 2012 is very different. I still think Obama is the favorite to pull this out, but Romney created a path for himself in the first debate. Without further ado, here are the projections. Romney will win comfortably in the heartland, Big Sky country, and the Deep South. He will also claim Arizona and the Tennessee Valley states totaling 191 electoral votes. Obama will carry the Mid-Atlantic, Northeast (New Hampshire possibly excepted, see below), the west coast, New Mexico, Illinois, and Michigan. Bringing his total number of EV to 217. Obviously, this makes the road to 270 easier for the president, which is why I think he is still the favorite. I basically see 10 states in play. I do not buy any chance of a Romney win in Minnesota or Michigan. Nor do I see Obama picking off the 1 electoral vote from Nebraska's Omaha district. Here are my thoughts on the ten states below, with a winner picked in each one. North Carolina-From the beginning of this election, I thought Indiana and North Carolina would go solidly for the whomever the Republican candidate was. The states were too red in 2004 to support a democrat in a non-wave election. Obama carried both states by less than 1 percent in 2008. However, the president has had some impressive staying power in NC. While he will probably not win here (I think owing to tamped down enthusiasm among young voters at NC's expansive university system) the fact that he made Romney spend time and money here is strategically important. 15 votes for Romney. Florida-The state that so many predicted would slip the president's way after the Paul Ryan VP pick had other ideas. Florida was again a state that the president did not win definitively in 2008. Just 2.5 percentage points separated he and a very weak candidate, John McCain. Recent polling has been fairly consistent that Obama will lose this big prize. 29 votes to Romney Virginia-Several weeks ago there was a flurry of articles indicating that the Obama campaign was conceding losses in VA, NC, and FL. This meant a much closer race than prior to the first debate. Romney had a real shot at winning the electoral college. But while Bush won VA in 2008 by 8 percent and it is a traditionally red state, Obama has maintained a narrow advantage in state polling. He has lead in 9 of the last 10 polls of the state...albeit barely. However, that kind of consistency has to mean something. A number of columnists have pointed out to low early voter turnout in democratic strongholds of Northern Virginia. But I think that, while this might be the closest vote in the entire country tonight, Obama wins. 13 Votes for Obama. That would give Romney a 235-230 vote lead in the electoral college. New Hampshire-The one Northeast holdout (unless you count PA) is set to go Obama. Romney should be doing better here. This was his firewall in the primaries. He owns a house here. He spends his summers here. But he simply has never been able to close the deal. The polling here again shows a small but consistent lead for the president. 4 votes for Obama Iowa-This state has been a trap for Romney since 2008 when Mike Huckabee came out of nowhere, upsetting Romney's tremendous organization in the state in the GOP primary. Rick Santorum and Ron Paul again kept him from garnering all of the Iowa delegates in 2012. Along with New Mexico, Iowa was one of the traditional battleground states where everyone knew John McCain never had a chance. The state was Obama's then, I believe it is now also. 6 votes for Obama Ohio-Much ink has been spilled on the importance of this state. Republicans have never won the presidency without it. The auto bailout seems to have put Obama in position (possibly helped by Romney's 47% comment) to win Ohio. While I thought Catholics in Ohio would turn on Obama (and they have) and that white working class voters might think twice about pulling the lever for Obama, it has not been enough. Like New Hampshire and Virginia, the state is close but I think it's Obama's. 18 votes for Obama Colorado-This week's polling has shown Obama re-emerging with a very small lead. However, the president's team weeks ago wrote off Colorado as a sure thing. In fact, they seemed less certain of a win here than in any of the southern 3, FL, NC, or Virginia. Some of Romney's rallies here have also been overwhelming. I think Colorado will shift back to the red column for this year. 9 votes to Romney That would mean a 258-244 lead for the president in the electoral college. IT also means that Romney would have to win both Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. Wisconsin-I think Romney pulls off the upset here. It's close. Romney's internals, released last night, show him tied with Obama. Paul Ryan represents a democratic district in a democratic state. If he can carry his district, I think Romney wins here. Wisconsin has certainly jerked rightward with Scott Walker winning his recall election and Russ Feingold being booted from the senate. It'll come down to the wire, but I predict a narrow win for Romney. 10 votes for Romney Nevada-Those afore mentioned Romney internals showed him trailing in Nevada. I'm not aware of any public polling showing Romney ahead and early voting in Clark County, the democratic stronghold has been on pace. The expansive Mormon vote in the state will keep it close, but I think Obama by 5 or 6 in Nevada. 6 votes for Obama Pennsylvania-Romney has been making a strong effort here in the closing days of this election. The race for these 20 votes has narrowed much in the last two weeks. Most public polling still shows this race as Obama's to lose and the fact that no Republican has won this state in the last 5 elections casts doubt on Romney's hopes. I believe that Romney knows that his chances in Ohio have waned. He needs another state. This seemed like the best shot. I would not be shocked if Romney wins, but I would be surprised. 20 votes for Obama 284-254 in favor of the president is my projection. I will point out, that of the 10 tossup states, I truly feel 100% confident in only North Carolina, Florida, and Nevada. The other 7 states could go either way. If Romney were going to win, the most likely paths would be a narrow win VA combined with a win in either NH or IA. I could actually see that. But I'm sticking with the 284-254 projection. Let me know your thoughts.

My Personal Thoughts on Voting

I will go to my polling place this morning and I will be voting on questions 4-7 here in Maryland. I will cast my vote for Rob Sobhani, the independent candidate for Senate. And, on the recommendation of my brother, vote to keep our current judges. What I will not be doing though is casting a vote for president. I've thought a good deal about this and have simply come to the conclusion that there is not a candidate on the ballot worth my vote. This is not because I'm too big of a purist. Many of you who will read this know that I have supported Ron Paul in the last two elections. This was despite the fact that I had disagreements with his positions on legalizing all drugs, prostitution, and his vision of a complete dismantling of all safety nets. (I do think we need to move a LOT closer in that direction, and very soon, for the sake of our economy, but not all the way.) But one thing I could always say about Ron Paul is this: his platform did not include any grave sins. This is a low bar for a candidate to have to clear, but unfortunately, all four candidates on my ballot include immorality in their party platforms. Dismissing the Greens, Libertarians, and Democrats is quite easy because of their embrace of abortion rights. See the post below this one if you want to see why I'm adamant about abortion. Barack Obama is also quite easy to ignore because of his appalling failures in Benghazi, and "judge, jury, executioner" mentality in drone strikes...particularly, the one against an American citizen. Romney is a little different, but equally bad. I will accept at face value his claim that he is now pro-life even though that didn't seem to happen until he decided to run for president. What bothers me about Romney, aside from his serial flip-flopping, is that during the foreign policy debate, there was not a substantive difference with the president. He would continue the same interventionist policies that lead to the consulate attack in Benghazi. If anything, Romney would pursue Obama's policies more harshly. As one commentator noted, Romney's foreign policy was Obama's, just screaming a little louder. With Iran on the horizon as a potential threat, the last thing I want is another president leading us into a middle eastern war. I fear that with Romney. So today I vote by abstaining from voting. It's not a waste, as some will say. It's a conscious choice to declare my independence and to say "enough is enough."

Friday, May 4, 2012

The Viability of a Fetus

Abortion is a hotly contested issue in the American political arena. On one side, you have those claiming that an individual's freedom is compromised if access to safe and legal abortions is terminated. On the other, those claiming that the freedom of the individual fetus is compromised if abortion is allowed to take place. I agree with the latter position and let me explain why. The pro-choice argument is obsessed with a woman's right to do what she wants with her own body. It is not willing, generally speaking, to address the real issue, but satisfied to cloak it in a constitutional debate over personal liberty. The heart of the matter is this: when does life begin? If it begins at conception, you can argue with all of your might that a woman has a right to choose (and, of course, she does!) but not without consequence. The position of the Scriptures and Church have been consistent-life begins at conception. Thus, any Christian supporting a woman's right to choose without consequence is enabling an act of violence on another human being. There can be little doubt that this is part of the reason our culture is obsessed with war, violent video games, and the like. But what of non-believers? What if you do not accept the teaching that human life begins at conception? To that argument, I offer this post. All who argue for abortion rights have to come back to the question of viability at some point. Can you abort a child at three months? Five? Seven? What's constitutes life? Having a discernable sex? Lung development? I suppose the pro-choice movement is filled with people who hold to varying beliefs as to when life becomes viable. But for any who stumble upon this blog who struggle with the question of viability, let me make this point. What infant can get a blanket when she's cold? What two year old is able to fend for himself? What three year old can find food to keep herself from starving? The truth is, a child outside the womb is no less dependent on his/her parents than inside the womb. Thus, if you are going to make an argument for abortion based on the non-viability of a fetus, you must also, in order to be consistent, believe that it is morally unobjectionable for a child to be abandoned or out-rightly murdered by his mother or father. "Similar to his argument for abortion, Singer argues that newborns lack the essential characteristics of personhood—"rationality, autonomy, and self-consciousness"[20]—and therefore "killing a newborn baby is never equivalent to killing a person, that is, a being who wants to go on living."[21] Peter Singer is a beast of a human-perhaps something less than human. But at least he's consistent. He's realized that it is not rational to argue along the lines of viability because the new-born and toddler possess no autonomy. You may not be willing to accept that life begins at conception. However, arguing at what point life begins opens you to the dreadful possibility that it might be alright to take innocent life outside the womb also. "Thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech" Lev. 18:21

Friday, March 23, 2012

Could Hell Be Temporary?

I tend to agree with traditional assessments of Hell as being a state of eternal deprivation of God's presence and love. Whether this manifests itself as utter darkness, gnashing of teeth, or fire is actually quite beside the point. There is no greater suffering than to be cut off from the Life himself.

But recently I have pondered a question, dear readers, which I don't believe contradicts what has just been said, but does cast it in a new light.

All but perhaps some Extremist Calvinists would agree that God does not (and cannot) by his nature cast a soul into Hell. God is Love, according to St. John, and is constantly drawing and alluring humanity back to the source of Life, Love Himself. His will is that all would be saved and share the life of the Blessed Trinity. Such a God can't be the cause of a soul's destruction in any way but at the last day, tearfully, consigning to Hell those who rejected his overtures to the last. Even then, the goats will depart into everlasting punishment knowing it was their wickedness and hardness of heart that caused it, not the Righteous Judge.

This brings up the question at the heart of this post: if God doesn't send anyone to Hell, would God actively work to keep someone there? Are all the passages of Scripture which point to Hell being eternal referring only to the place itself? Or to the last state of all who die outside of Christ?

If a man dies in his trespasses, outside of the grace of Christ, Christianity teaches that he will go to hell. But what if was not necessary to abandon all hope upon entrance through the dark gates? What if true contrition could take place? Would God, seeing the sorrow and penitence of a soul he created for communion with himself, turn it away?

It is at this point that one might call to remembrance our Lord's words from Luke's Gospel 16:19-31. There we see the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. As best we can tell, Hell and Abraham's Bosom (a place of rest and peace) were within seeing distance of each other. The Rich Man cried to have Lazarus bring water to cool his burning tongue. But Abraham informs the Rich man that no one can cross the gulf that has been fixed...in either direction. This would seem to nullify any argument on whether Hell might be temporary. But I would postulate that the Rich man was in no way contrite. He desired only relief of pain and not to truly see and serve God.

The evidence is limited but this passage, while it does not rule out that there could be a contrite person in Hell, does lend itself to the understanding of Hell put forth by C.S. Lewis. Dr. Lewis pointed out that Hell is a door locked from the inside. Those who are there all share what Milton observed as a stronger desire to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven. Since that is the case, it appears that the heart in Hell is hardened to an irreversible degree. Thus, the answer to the question of whether or not Hell is temporary has very little to do with whether God would keep someone there, but whether or not any person in such a state could ever want any more than the relief of pain sought by the Rich Man.

The evidence that God would be lenient to the soul in Hell is paltry...only that we know God's essence is Love and that his desire is for all to be saved. But if Hell were to be temporary, I don't believe it would be solely, or even primarily, an act of God which ended it. For if it was the sinful actions of a human which placed him in Hell, it would have to be that soul responding to God's overtures which caused the deliverance of said soul. It is this which seems highly unlikely and why I hold to a more traditional view of Hell.

Any thoughts?