Is Christian Religion Sufficient For All Purposes?

Recently this young man, a child of missionaries who went to Bible college, wrote to Rod Dreher about his experience with pornography. Briefly, despite his intense upbringing within evangelical Christian belief and lifestyle, he was completely undone by it.

Isn’t Christian belief supposed to cover all human problems and difficulties? Supposedly, yes, but I am going to say no. Humans need a variety of tools to live well and Christianity can redeem human life but can’t and isn’t intended to start from nothing. Christianity is intended to start from a strong base of natural law and knowledge and revealed law and knowledge that predates Christianity.

Some pagan culture has a sense of the purpose and right conduct of human life. Europeans see this in Greek, Roman, and Germanic culture. Self-control and self-discipline are a foundational part of it. Right conduct prohibits overindulgence and wasteful and frivolous things. Excess of pleasure, certainly of artificial pleasure, and spending time thinking about things you don’t and can’t have is certainly included in this.

Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodox Christianity have some sense of this, Catholicism particularly in that rules are rules and not to be broken. Reformed Christianity has this to some extend but evangelical Christianity is quite weak in this regard.

Christianity does not refute pagan virtue but adds things to it which it can’t contain. Virtue means strength, and to pursue holiness we need to pursue strength as well.

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Valentine and Uncle Laurence

A few years ago my wife got pregnant for the first time. I woke up the morning of my birthday and saw baby emoticons on my phone. Then I got a picture of a positive pregnancy test.

I was overjoyed. Or I don’t know exactly how I felt, but it was wonderful, the fulfillment of a lifetime dream. We told our families. The baby was due Valentine’s Day of the next year. When I got home she had the house decorated, a sign saying “Welcome Home Daddy!” and a pair of baby shoes she had bought at Old Navy.

About a month later I was away again and in the evening she told me she had a little bleeding. Not much to do, but wait. The next morning it was worse and she was distraught. I managed to get an appointment with an OB-GYN and convince her to get in a taxi and go.

I called the company and they were more helpful than I thought they would be- I talked to the owner’s daughter, who had a couple of kids and I hoped would be sympathetic. I got home that afternoon after she was back from the doctor.

It was the beginning of a holiday weekend and no ultrasound tech was available so she had an appointment for Monday. We spent the weekend crying between her visits to the bathroom. On Monday no evidence of pregnancy was visible, so she was spared a D&C.

We named the baby Valentine. I put the shoes and some other little mementos in a shoebox along with a letter. The doctor had told us to wait a couple months and try again, and we now have an energetic little boy.

More recently I was thinking about the fate of my Uncle Laurence, or actually my great uncle Laurence. Over a hundred years ago my grandmother’s family lived in Atlantic Canada. My grandmother, her older brother and their mother all had tuberculosis. My great-grandmother died; my great-grandfather and her older brother went to British Columbia to farm, while my grandmother was left in the care of nuns.

My grandmother recovered but Laurence got worse. Eventually he left BC to go to a tuberculosis sanatorium in the southwest. There he died, alone and far from home, and was buried.

My father tracked down the grave years ago but when I called him couldn’t recall much more than the city it was in. He remembered it was unmarked and very creepy. I called the cemetery district and they gave me the number, in the old section, as they called it. I looked up the cemetery on Google maps and it’s a nice modern cemetery, with flat markers- except for the old section. It looks like something out of a horror movie, with a few decaying concrete monuments but mostly just crazed metal stakes, mostly dirt with a little brown grass.

These are entirely common human tragedies, awful to those involved but too frequent to even be thought about by anyone else. Laurence must have had a hard life. My sister says she saw a picture of him once and he was handsome. But he spent his short life farming in the cold and mosquito-infested northern forest. If there were any girls around they were probably not interested in a tuberculosis sufferer. If he was a pessimist he knew he was done for, and if he was an optimist deep down he knew he was done for.

He saw the light of day, which Valentine never did. Maybe he wished he hadn’t. Life was harder back then. Few people die of infectious disease now, at least at a young age. If he hadn’t been killed by TB he might have been killed cutting down a tree, or he might have had the deep honor of dying in WWI for the Empire.

“He suffered, died and was buried.” That’s in the Nicene Creed, but it could be the biography of the typical human being. I guess we will go on wondering the purpose.



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Pursue Holiness

I was in a small Southern city, in a Starbucks, and a girl of about ten comes in with her family. She had a t-shirt on that said “Pursue Holiness” and then a reference below it, 2 Corinthians I think but I couldn’t see too well.

Good advice, if hard to follow. I had been thinking about this recently. The girl was nobody special. She comes from an average family in an average place. Her parents know enough to give her guidance, although how well it will stick we can’t tell.

But how many people even know this? How many professed Christians, even? Society says do what you want, and most Christians go along with that. For Rob Bell, as an example, the worst sin, and the only real one, is racism. Lots of other progressive Christians promote homosexuality and other kinds of sexual degeneracy.

So let us pursue holiness. It feels awful lonely but we have our instructions.


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The Mystery of Life

I was at my dad’s apartment going through some files I left there, and found one with a bunch of old photographs- the paper kind, when people used to take pictures with a film camera, then take the film to be developed, and get paper pictures back. Does anyone do that any more?

Many weren’t mine, so I sorted them for distribution to other family members. One I couldn’t tell who it belonged to. It was a picture of a woman next to a large, multi-figure sculpture. On the back it said “Mystery of Life, Glendale cemetery, 2001”. The woman in the picture looked like my mother’s sister, but she was long gone in 2001, and the writing looked like my mother’s, but she was long gone in 2001. So who took the picture, why and who it belonged to remain a mystery.

My curiosity was piqued so I looked it up. There is indeed a sculpture called “The Mystery of Life” at the Forest Lawn memorial park in Glendale, California, and it looks like this-

Forest Lawn mystery of life 6.23

A variety of figures surround a pair of doves, who have apparently just hatched an egg, although I can’t find a picture that shows it. This provokes them to ponder the mystery of life.

It’s a little different for a cemetery sculpture. Catholic cemeteries usually have a pieta, a sculpture of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus, or Jesus carrying a lamb, or just single statues of saints, reinforcing the idea of life after death. Forest Lawn provides services to people of a variety of beliefs, including agnostics, so something like this may be aimed at them.

I have never been to a funeral with an internment at a cemetery, but I’m guessing that people who go there are a little disoriented, and that the death is not so much what has them thinking about things they usually don’t, but the life.

“What was that all about? What was the purpose of it?” they think. The “departed” may have had a pretty nice life, or a pretty rotten one. Whatever the case it is over, and why it happened and what meaning it had is hard to understand a lot of the time.

People don’t ask to be born, they just are. They are then left to cope with a decision made by their parents. The options for understanding it are limited, and you may not be able to stick with one your whole life. My sister, a scrupulous Catholic, now has doubts, long after it is too late to be a hedonist or something else.

I was driving to work this morning and an old song by Cheap Trick, “Surrender”, came on the radio. It’s an artifact of my youth, so I cranked it up. I realized that I was no longer the child in the song, but the parents.

We are a mystery to ourselves, and a mystery to others. I hope someday we can all understand.


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Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! (A Little Late)

Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! (a little late).

I was on the road, so the other night I went out and had Thai food then walked around a little. I’m in a downtown area with a lot of bars so many people were out for the holiday.

I had a brief conversation with an apparently homeless guy about the bad drivers, and how the cops bugged him about collecting palm fronds. “But I told them my friend who works at the restaurant said it’s OK!” I told him somebody needs to keep an eye on things, and he agreed. I bid him a good night and went toward the festivities.

A young guy who was with another young guy and girl asked me if he could ask me something, and I assumed it was for directions or something, so I stopped. It turns out they were talking to people about Jesus, and I told them I was a Christian if not a good one, but the guy still wanted me to pray the salvation prayer with them so I requested we join hands and we did. (The salvation prayer? Or what do they call it?) I asked them to let me pray, and they agreed, so I prayed for them in their evangelical work and for the people out on Saint Patrick’s Day.

It’s a good day to evangelize. I guess the had the idea the streets would be full of drunk sinners in need of salvation, which of course it was. Saint Patrick is remembered for his evangelization of Ireland, so it’s really a good day to evangelize. I doubt most Baptists think of it that way, but it is.

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The Things You Learn

I have a really obnoxious coworker. We are theoretically equal but he has long tenure, and management has a high opinion of at least some aspects of his performance.

He behaves normally the majority of the time, and is friendly sometimes, but has a bad temper and loses it when small things don’t go his way. He never tells me what he’s doing, or tells me what he wants me to do, and I’m afraid to ask a lot of the time. It’s not so much that he gets angry, but that he is contemptuously angry, like I was some kind of idiot, which I humbly say I’m not.

I addressed this obliquely with my boss, who told me yes he was a little strange but did a great job. I addressed this more directly with my boss, who told me I already to you he was a little strange, and I took the hint to drop the matter.

My brother has better understanding of people than I do, and he told me the guy probably had some protector, maybe some client of the company who wanted him to work there, and that’s why his bad behavior was tolerated. This made sense to me.

Then I do something the coworker asked me, but not exactly as he wanted it, although he didn’t tell me exactly how he wanted it. He told me he couldn’t believe I screwed this one simple thing up, and I told him him he needed to calm down. A few more heated words were exchanged but for a while he did calm down.

But he keeps doing it. And I don’t want to deal with him, but I have to so I talk to him a little later and he acts like everything is normal.

Is he embarrassed by his behavior? Or he considers it normal so that’s why it isn’t an issue later? I can’t say. I suspect his dad was a dick, and he gets the behavior by modeling or genetics. I think this is true of a lot of men.

Anyway I decided I can’t do anything about it, I have been told all but explicitly to put up with it, and I don’t want to look for another job right now so I’m going to just ignore it. And heap burning coals on his head, if he is in fact embarrassed by his behavior.

At this point, I had an intuition. His protector is not some client, or the owner, but my boss himself. He started about the time our immediate supervisor took on his position, which involves hiring. I don’t know what exactly the deal is but for some reason our boss wants him to work there, and I know he has at least one skeleton in his closet that limits his employment opportunities, and maybe he has more. The owner has made effusive praise of him to me- in front of him- so the owner likes him, but I still think the supervisor is his sponsor.

I think accepting the reality of the situation and the need and value of taking Paul’s recommendation got me the insight I needed. The guy is a pain in the ass, but he can’t hurt me, as long as I ignore his childish outbursts. Is this a God-given insight? I think so, but maybe that’s just my mischievous pneumatology.

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Michelangelo and Charlie Sheen

Going to museums is a nice activity for family visits, so I have found myself appreciating art with my sister a few times.

Once we were at an exhibition of Asian art. My sister objected to the portrayal of breasts, perfectly round and pert ones. That’s not what they look like, she said. Maybe not, I thought, but that’s what men would like them to look like. Centuries later the silicon breast implant was created to realize the dream of these artists.

Another time we were viewing a display of drawings by Michelangelo, and she raised the same objection. This time I said “I don’t think Michelangelo ever actually saw a real breasts.” He must have, she said. “I’m pretty sure he was gay” I responded.

Indeed he appears to have been. He wrote love poetry to one of his artist’s models. He seems to have been enamored of at least one other. In his old age he had a relationship with a widow with whom he exchanged love poetry, but it never went past kissing her hand.

He seems never to have acted on any of these impulses though. He lived very ascetically and devoted himself to his art. It’s not like anything was stopping him- he was living in a Roman Catholic society, but this was Italy, not Ireland or Spain, and I’m sure nobody would have cared. He was a rich, famous artist and that’s all anyone really cared about.

In modern times we have Charlie Sheen. We learned recently that he is infected with HIV. Forty years ago nobody knew what this was, but once the virus was discovered avoiding HIV infection is simple by taking certain precautions.

Charlie however was going full speed ahead. He is very handsome, very rich, very famous, and very charismatic. So if he wants to have sex, he’s got people lined up around the block. He doesn’t need to pay for it, but he has, I guess to make the process just a little bit easier. He was not screening for anything but excitement, and not “taking precautions”, or “practicing safe sex”, as they say.

It’s easy to say he was a crazed sex addict, or a man-slut, but would you do the same thing if you were in his position? I can’t say I wouldn’t. It’s pretty much every man’s dream, from the day you notice the girls in school are starting to stick out in certain places. Most guys get a rude awakening of their place in what the pick-up artists call the “sexual marketplace” which is to say the girl you want to exchange bodily fluids with isn’t going for it, at least not without a lot of work.

I don’t think Charlie Sheen ever had any rude awakening. I think got all the sexual activity he wanted from the day he wanted it. He saw every reason to say yes and no reason to say no. Sheen didn’t live in a Catholic society, but he lived in Catholic home, so it’s not like he was totally unfamiliar with the idea of sexual restraint.

So one man did, and one man didn’t. Sheen’s logic is much easier to see. Other than getting HIV- which is pretty bad, actually, even with modern drugs- he had a great time, we are supposed to think. It sounds to me though that he got to the point where it wasn’t a good time, he was just frantically addicted and needed to have three porn stars and two hookers waiting so he could be sure there was one he could get it up for.

Sex addiction on this level is hard to achieve. Addiction to other things is a lot easier and rampant in the US. It takes a while to get addicted though. The user starts out saying “I can do this, or not do this” and decides to do it.

So why did Michelangelo not do it? I think whatever made him a great artist made him want to preserve his mind and his heart for his art, and not expend them in ultimately empty sexual activity.

The current belief, understood as scientific truth by progressives, is that sex is a basic bodily function that must be exercised for physical health and mental well-being. I’m not sure where this comes from, maybe Wilhelm Reich but I don’t know for sure. In this view expecting people not to act on their sexual urges is simply cruel and heartless.

The problem with this is it is impossible for all your sexual urges to be satisfied. If you are single, you will want to find someone to have sex with. This won’t be ideal- no matter who you have- so you will look for something else. Eventually you may get married, and then you will want to have sex with someone besides your spouse. You can commit adultery or get divorced, but the problem continues.

Our society has long been bourgeois enough that a good marriage- even for gays, now!- has been thought to solve all sexual problems. The Victorian home was thought to be a solution to the licentiousness of Regency England. But there is no solution. You can, if you have the resources, go Charlie Sheen, but even that is not a solution.

Hedonism is going to blow up in your face. But we live in a society that not only gives you no reason to say no, it says you have to say yes.

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