Saturday, September 17, 2011

I'm Human: No Excuse, Just a Fact

Update (September 18, 2011)
My #1 daughter told me it was hard to figure out what this post's topic was, until near the end. She's right. I've added introductory paragraphs that may fix that. Or, not.
I like living here, but I think America could be better; and that the same is true for every other country.

As a Catholic, I'm supposed to help make my homeland a better place to live.

Dreaming of Utopia

The notion that there's gotta be a better way of getting things done isn't new. Plato wrote his Republic about 23 centuries ago. Since then, we've had quite a few 'looks good on paper' efforts: Tao Yuanming's 桃花源记/Tao Hua Yuan; Thomas More's Utopia; and B. F. Skinner's Walden Two.

By the last half of the 20th century, while surviving large-scale efforts to make people live in a perfect society, we got not-so-utopian stories like Logan's Run. And that's another topic.1

Ideal Society, Real People

The biggest obstacle that I see for someone trying to establish an ideal society is that human beings will be involved. Unless the founder of Erewhon II, or whatever, is satisfied with a virtual world - and that's yet another topic.

There's nothing basically wrong with humanity. Like I've said before, God doesn't make junk. But at this point, we're flawed.2

The next visionary idealist, full of enthusiasm for the latest 'perfect' society, will have the same problem everybody else has: people. A society that works needs to face at least one unpleasant reality. Human beings will act like human beings, no matter what.

High Ideals, Sensible Expectations

For two millennia, the Catholic Church has been saying we should 'love God and love our neighbor.' (Matthew 22:36-40)

It gets worse. The Catholic Church says that everybody is our neighbor:
If the Holy See left it at that - saying we should sort of love people, most of whom aren't close enough to bother us - I think the Catholic Church wouldn't have quite so much of an image problem.

Vague, Hateful, or Satanic: Some Choice

As it is, the Church tells me that I have to act as if I love God - and my neighbor. Even the one who stole the parish church's Gospel Book. And that I must love God, and my neighbors - all of them - for real. Inside.3

Well! No wonder what the Church says gets called:Considering where some of those labels come from, I think they're a sort of compliment: along the lines of 'you're known by the enemies you keep.' And that's almost another topic.

Religious Beliefs: Good for a Laugh, and Otherwise

I can see how folks, at least here in America, get the idea that people with religious beliefs are at least a bit nuts. If not sociopathic. We keep seeing what 'those religious people' are like:

(Oakland Blog, via SFGate, used w/o permission)

(Non Sequitur, Wiley Miller, used w/o permission)

(Reuters photo, via, used w/o permission)

I'm not complaining about the news focusing on religion's weird and wacky side. As I said earlier today, it's the man bites dog stories that make the news.

I wouldn't mind if more reporters and editors started looking up what 'those religious people' really believe, and that's yet again another topic.

About that "God Hates You" photo: in my considered opinion, which I've shared before, those folks aren't typical Christians. They're not even typical American Protestants.

Moving on.

'The Good Old Days' - Weren't

Back in my 'good old days' which I'm sincerely glad won't come back - America's establishment was rather keen on going to church. I suspect part of that was because all the 'right' people would be there - and the grounds fees were a whole lot lower than at the country club.

Oh, dear: That was rather uncharitable of me. Still, I remember how hard it was to sort out secular motives from conventional piety. Like I've said, the '60s happened for a reason.

Over the last half-century the establishment's changed. And it hasn't. I've been over that before.4 The current lot aren't quite so eager to claim that America is a "Christian" nation. And I'm getting off-topic again.

Death Cookies

An American sub-culture that's held on to its' values like bubble gum to your shoe are the sort who love to pass out this sort of thing:

(Chick Publications, via, used w/o permission)

The Eucharist is a central part of my faith - and I am not going to get off-topic.

Loving My Neighbor - Realistically

What I think helps get the Catholic Church in trouble with the 'right' people is that our faith is intensely practical.

That's right: practical.

I'm not allowed to 'love' my neighbor is a sort of warm, fuzzy way: that doesn't make me pay attention to what the person is really like. I have to love my neighbor in a way that makes me give a rip whether he lives or dies.

Right now, this is a fairly theoretical point for me. My close neighbors, the ones I know something about, aren't doing anything crazy. I don't have to wonder how to encourage someone to lay off the booze, stop having cheating on a spouse, or plan suicide.

In a way, it's a dull sort of life - which I don't mind a bit.

Poking Noses into Other People's Affairs

There's an idea that religious people try to tell others how to live their lives. Like I've said before, there's something to that.

I've had fairly well-defined religious beliefs ever since I can remember. Even before I became a Catholic, I figured that suicide was a bad idea. That belief led me to try telling someone very dear to me how to live her life. Specifically, I urged her to keep living.

She killed herself, anyway.

So much for my trying to meddle with someone else's life.

After I became a Catholic, I made a point of learning what the Church had to say about suicide. Bottom line? It's wrong. We're not allowed to kill ourselves.

So, do suicides get a guaranteed eternity in Hell? Oddly, we're told to hope.5

I still think killing yourself is a really bad idea, if only on practical grounds. Alive, there are options. Dead, your options are pretty limited.

I'm Human - And That's Okay

My opinion, based on what I've read about Catholic teachings, is that the Church thinks I'm a human being. Not just me, of course. The Church, again in my opinion, acts as if Catholics - and everybody else - are human beings. Finite creatures. Not able to see the future, lacking omniscience, and generally not all that much like God Almighty. Not in terms of abilities.

Which means that when I run into instructions, try to follow them, and fail - I try not to feel that all is lost.

God designed me, and knows my limitations. The Church has been dealing with human beings for two millennia: and gives ample-enough-for-me evidence of having learned what we're like.

Which doesn't mean I think I can use 'I'm only human' as an excuse - and that's still one more topic.

Almost-related posts:

1 I find 'post-apocalyptic' films and stories involving crazed computers or mutant frogs mildly entertaining. Particularly if there are lots of explosions. I don't necessarily take these more (serious?) views of humanity's future seriously, though:2We don't live in a perfect world: which shouldn't be a great surprise, if you've been paying attention.

Original sin explains this quote:
"For mischief comes not out of the earth, nor does trouble spring out of the ground; 2But man himself begets mischief, as sparks fly upward."
(Job 5:6,7)
Original sin, as taught by the Catholic Church, does not mean that humanity is basically bad - an egregious mistake made by a bungling God. We're flawed, not inherently evil:I've posted about original sin a few times:3 Lip-service, just going through the motions, won't cut it. The Church is firm about deciding to love - right down to the core of our being:Firm: or stubborn; or close-minded; or obstinate. It depends on your point of view.

4 I explained what I mean by "the establishment" recently. Also how it's changed - and not changed - over the last half-century:5 The Catholic Church says that suicide is a bad idea. I agree:


Brigid said...

Your fingers have a cold? "in a way that makes be give a rip"

You were going to say something else? "stop having cheating on a spouse"

Wrong word, I think: "I try not to fell that all is lost."

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Kimberly said...

I absolutely love your writing style, Brian.... not to mention the 'stuff' you choose to write about and the great links you provide. The sum total equals a great experience for your readers. Thanks.

Brian Gill said...


Wow. Thanks for the kind words.

Brian Gill said...


That *did* sound like my fingers' nose(s?) was/were stuffed. Found, fixed, thanks!

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What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.