A word on the blog

I'm using this blog as a workspace to post rough drafts of content: essays, stories, poems, jokes. Pardon the messiness, and the awfulness.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Mere Christianity: Moral Law

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis backs into his topic. He does not, in the first chapter, outline what he thinks Christianity is but rather he begins with where he thinks we all are, namely that we all have a basic understanding of the moral law. Plainly put, we all walk around with some idea in our head that people ought to be treated some certain way. I don't steal from you and you ought not steal from me, because there is this basic rule we ought to apply to one another as humans.

Lewis notes that where there's a rule or law when it comes to human affairs, that rule or law can and will be broken. So it goes with this basic moral law that we all have knocking around in our heads.

At this point, it'd be hard to see how Lewis's argument can be doubted. This is precisely because the point of the argument is so simple. Yet simple truths like this one are profound, in a way--the point being that whatever our religion, whether we have one or not, we still have this primitive morality innate to us, and we know we ought not violate it.

We're off and running with Lewis's view on Christianity, but we have a long way to get from this moral law to what Christianity is.

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Writing Assignment

Write a brief comparative paper (about 500 words) on the following three works:

Homes, A.M. "A Real Doll." The Safety of Objects. W.W. Norton & Company, 1990. 151-173.

Nelson, Antonya. "Stitches." Female Trouble. Scribner, 2002. 41-56. Also available (behind a paywall?) from The New Yorker archive at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1999/09/20/stitches.

Roupenian, Crystal. "Cat Person." The New Yorker, 11 December 2017. 64-71. Also available from The New Yorker archive at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/12/11/cat-person.

You can read these stories in any order but suggested order is most recent to oldest. Consider these stories in light of #MeToo.

Mere Christianity: Introduction

Last night, I finished reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. There have now been several books on Christianity or related to Christianity that I've read, but Mere Christianity will be the third book I'm blogging about. (Part of me thinks why bother? I'm writing this playing hooky from a much larger writing project that I've got to get done by the end of this month. I excuse this on a few grounds, though: One, what's more important than trying to perfect yourself as a spiritual being? I could stop there, but two, it seems to me that trying to blog about these books under time constraint just might help me write short stories a little more on the fly. All else fails, third, I've been pretty good about putting in an hour a day of writing stories, so I can afford to forgive myself this time spent reading about another Christian book.) Mere Christianity doesn't have an introduction, but let these be some preliminary remarks on that book and Christianity in general.

The biggest takeaway from reading Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Life is that Christians are called two follow the Great Commandment and the Great Commission. The Great Commandment appears in Matthew 22:36-40 and says that we're to love God with the fullness of our being and love everybody as we love ourselves. Let's pause there for a moment. Some people don't even love themselves and therefore have a difficult time internalizing the Great Commandment in their life's mission statement. I include myself among that set of people--I am at least pretty hard on myself. But perhaps we could put the Great Commandment another way, which will reveal how we could begin to treat others as we treat ourselves. Most of us probably walk around thinking that whatever path we follow, or however it is that we're inclined to think, is the right way. Well, we can at least assume that everybody else is walking around with a similar mindset. If that's true, then we could think about the Great Commandment like this: let's assume that other people are trying to do their best by their standards. Let that be the starting point, so we don't trip over all those psychological hurdles and worry about why someone is or isn't acting how we think they ought to. If this doesn't work for you, then, as C.S. Lewis would say, Act as if. Act as if you love yourself, your neighbor, God, all to the fullest measure. If you act that way long enough, it's bound to become true.

A larger stumbling block for me with Warren's book, though, is not the Great Commandment but what is called the Great Commission. This is found in Matthew 28:16-20. Christians are called to spread the teachings of Jesus Christ to all the nations of the world. I hear that and think, I too am burdened with that responsibility? What about other people's religions? What's the likelihood that you could talk someone out of their religion? What's the likelihood someone could talk me out of my religion? Would anyone want anybody to do that to them? At first blush, there appears to be a conflict between loving everybody and trying to persuade them to the Christian message. It seems overbearing, is what I'm saying. But as Aristotle once said, when something looks like a contradiction, make distinctions to see if the contradiction still exists. All right, then. I'm no theologian, but in my view, not everybody has to be an evangelist in the same way the Jesuits are evangelists, in the way, as the name says, evangelical Christians are evangelists. Not everything has to come down to mission work. Another way to do it, it seems to me, is to live in such a way that other people will naturally see the transformation into a new life in you. It's best, I think, to be a good example of Christianity. Does that mean you shouldn't do mission work? No. It just means that we should expand our conception of what this larger mission is. Mission work is not only going to other countries and handing out fliers. (The effectiveness of that is questionable to me, and I don't like that as a tactic, but I'll leave that outside.) Mission work is really about building a better life for yourself, your neighbor, your enemy, the world. And it's all hard to do, but we're called to be perfect (Matthew 5:48). We have to take that call seriously.

I think we should be perfect. But not try. Trusting in God's grace is what we should do. Asking for discernment through prayer is what we should do. The more we remove our egos from the equation, the less we will struggle to live like Christ. Which brings me to the next book I finished, titled Lord, Change My Attitude by James MacDonald.

James MacDonald's book was about replacing some negative attitudes with positive ones. Since I spent so much time summarizing the negative attitudes in a previous post, I'll focus on the positive attitudes here. First is gratefulness for what and who we have in our lives. These are all gifts from God, and while some have more gifts, others fewer, our job is not to compare the gifts but to cherish our gifts. The same goes for our talents. Our talents are a gift from God, and we have a moral obligation to make use of the talents God has given us (Matthew 25:14-30). If we don't, we're wasting God's time and ours.

These other attitudes, we'll move through fast. The second attitude MacDonald encourages us to adopt in his book is contentment. This means not wanting all kinds of things. Simple enough. Third, love is that positive attitude that gets us away from judging other people harshly. And as the great commandment tells us, we're supposed to love all our neighbors, and everyone is our neighbor. Fourth, instead of doubt God's plan, we ought to have faith in it. And finally, we are to be obedient to God and not rebel against him with our sinful nature.

Now, I moved through all that stuff at the end, out of impatience perhaps, but also because in my previous posts, I've covered these recommended attitudes as MacDonald laid them out in his book. Another point to make is that I'm not trying to use Rick Warren's book or MacDonald's or, upcoming, Lewis's book as a new form of dogma. Rather, I want to examine other Christians' approaches to what the life of a Christian means. I hope to do that as thoroughly as possible in exploring the upcoming chapters of C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

Lord, Change My Attitude: To Action

To sum up James MacDonald's Lord, Change My Attitude, there are five recurring negative attitudes that human beings must own up to and there are five positive attitudes that God promises will serve us better. The five negative attitudes are complaining, coveting, criticizing, doubting, and rebelling. Complaining is being upset with your situation and not doing anything about it to solve it. I know this one: I just found out that I live in a place with termites. Now I've got two options: get out of Dodge or get an exterminator on the case. I called an exterminator. I should have contacted the exterminator a long time ago to fumigate the place, but seeing as the place isn't mine, I thought better of it. The truth, of course, is that the termites have probably been here for a while, and I'm just now saying them. I've got to get the exterminator on the case tomorrow and not complain about it.

The second negative attitude, coveting, sounds like an old-fashioned word to modern ears, but in plain English it's really just wanting too much or wanting the wrong thing. We're all prone to this. I buy so many books the termites in the house could eat for years. There's no reason for me to have so many books. I've got two eyes, and weak ones at that. Why would I need 100 books?

The third negative attitude is criticizing. This is talking about a person just to talk about them. I could go to another person and seek help for someone else, but my talking about them is only criticizing if I'm not seeking help. MacDonald is bright to point out, though, that only in the most extreme cases should we be interfering, anyway, so this naturally limits the amount of times we ought to be talking about another person at all. If the person is severely mentally or physically ill, if the person is in harm's way, if the person is at risk of harming others, those are all cases to tell someone and help out. Otherwise, there's no reason.

The fourth negative attitude is doubt. It's common for us to fear that things won't work out, that the world doesn't have anything in store for us or that such-and-such a move in life is risky. And maybe of the possible paths before us, the one we want to go down is risky. In that case, we should pray for discernment. We may still make the wrong decision. In fact, it's very likely that we will make plenty more poor decisions in life. In those cases, we learn from our mistakes and pray that God helps us in the future. To doubt, especially to doubt in excess, is to not move forward.

The fifth and final negative attitude is rebelling. There are times God tells us a decision, a way of thinking, an act, whatever, is right, and we don't want to follow. But this is to our own detriment. God wants what is best for us, and we have to trust in that and be obedient to his will.

Now, at the risk of repeating myself, I won't go through all the positive attitudes step-by-step, but I will point out that each of the above negative attitudes has a corresponding positive attitude. The antidote to complaining is being grateful. We work to solve our problems and we be thankful for the rest. The antidote to coveting is being content. As the Beatles said, all you need is love, which in addition to clothes and food and water and a decent place to live and some money is right. And speaking of love, it's love that replaces a critical attitude. We're called to follow God's greatest command, which is to love God and love people. Doubt, we replace with faith, trusting in God that he will do his work through us, and we choose not to rebel against his will, however tough things may be, but we be obedient to him instead.

And that's MacDonald's book.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Lord, Change My Attitude: To Submission

Quick note: The tenth chapter of Lord, Change My Attitude by James MacDonald concerns changing a rebellious attitude into what MacDonald calls "an attitude of submission." I have nothing against the word submission, per se, but outside of religious context, it can sound bad. Also, it seems that obedience is a better match as antithesis to rebellion, and the Bible's passages are clearer regarding what obedience means as opposed to submission. Paul tells us we ought "to bring about the obedience of faith" in ourselves and others, that it's "the command of the eternal God" (Romans 16:26). The book of Isaiah says, "If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land" (Isaiah 1:19). Of course it's the case that rather than rebel against the will of God, we ought to follow it, and we ought to do our best to discern what that will is, through prayer, through practice, through faith, through friends and family.