Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Power to Hurt: Or Help

Sin and free will are not well-understood by many folks in my native culture. Quotes, one from a fictional detective, another attributed to one of the 20th century's outstanding leaders, showcase an all-too-common attitude, and its effect:

"There are times, Charles, when even the unimaginative decency of my brother and the malignant virtue of his wife appear to me admirable."
(Lord Peter Wimsey, in Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy L. Sayers (1933))

"I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ."
(attr. Gandhi)

Verbal Venom and Born-Again Atheists

Malignant virtue oozing from radio preachers drove me to an appreciation of rock music, and later to become a Catholic. I think some - perhaps many - folks assume that the loud, colorful, advocates of a particularly venomous brand of faith are all there is to Christianity. That's sad.

On another cluster of soapboxes, born-again atheists denounce the 'hateful,' 'tyrannical,' 'discriminatory,' Catholic Church: whose beliefs, in their world, bear a striking resemblance to those of the 'kill a commie for Christ' radio preachers of my youth.

That's no surprise, since I've encountered folks who say they're Catholic, and seem to have learned their faith in the 'First Church of Holy Hate.' Also sad.

On a brighter note, I've long since learned that Christianity - and humanity - aren'tt defined by the occasional antisocial soreheads I run into.

Before getting to this week's 'Bible and catechism' post, here's a quick look at what I believe:

Eden, and One Simple Rule

Another section about original sin starts with this paragraph:
"God created man in his image and established him in his friendship. A spiritual creature, man can live this friendship only in free submission to God. The prohibition against eating 'of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil' spells this out: 'for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die.'276 The 'tree of the knowledge of good and evil'277 symbolically evokes the insurmountable limits that man, being a creature, must freely recognize and respect with trust. Man is dependent on his Creator and subject to the laws of creation and to the moral norms that govern the use of freedom."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 396)
I suppose I could complain about God creating this world, and us: and giving us a choice. That doesn't make sense, though. Not to me. I like having free will. I'm also willing to acknowledge that God's God, and I'm not.

Free Will and Natural Law

We could "freely recognize and respect with trust." Or we could decide that we didn't like God's creation, including its moral norms, and would rather do things our way.

The "moral norms" in Catechism, 396, seem to refer to natural law. That's the idea that cause and effect exist; and that ethical principles are part of the universe, just as physical laws are. There's more to it than that, of course. (Catechism, 1954-1960)

By the way, given the narrow scope that the word "moral" has in my dialect of English, I'd be a little more comfortable with "ethical norms," but "moral norms" is accurate - providing that the reader remembers that "morality isn't just about 'morality'."

Choice and Responsibility

The choice our first parents had about "the knowledge of good and evil" is described in Genesis:
"The LORD God gave man this order: 'You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden

"except the tree of knowledge of good and bad. From that tree you shall not eat; the moment you eat from it you are surely doomed to die.' "
(Genesis 2:16-17)
There's quite a bit going on there. Being "free to eat from any of the trees of the garden" except one seems to show the remarkably wide scope of dominion humanity has over creation. And the remarkably heavy responsibility that goes with it: although folks in Victorian England and America seem to have missed that implication.

Free Will and Wrecking the Car

God's putting "the tree of knowledge of good and bad" off limits, without actually removing it from Eden, seems to upset some folks. Apparently God's not being fair, by:
  • Creating
    • A world with ethical principles
    • People with free will
    • Opportunities to exercise free will
  • Allowing our decisions to have consequences
    • Good
    • Bad
Some of the complaints I've read seem a trifle unreflective. A common sort of 'God is unfair' response to ideas about free will remind me of a situation that some parents may recognize:
  • An adolescent gets
    • His driver's license
    • A new car
      • Which he promptly wraps around a tree
  • The adolescent is
    • Injured
    • Angry
      • At his parents
        • For letting him wreck his car
As we get older, we generally get better at making 'see what you made me do' and 'it's not my fault' seem reasonable. I think it's easier when the self-described best and brightest make saying 'I couldn't help myself' a virtue. And that's another topic.

There's more, about that first sin. (Catechism, 397-401)

Fault and Consequences

Bear in mind that Catholics aren't Calvinists:
"Man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart and, abusing his freedom, disobeyed God's command. This is what man's first sin consisted of.278 All subsequent sin would be disobedience toward God and lack of trust in his goodness.

"In that sin man preferred himself to God and by that very act scorned him. He chose himself over and against God, against the requirements of his creaturely status and therefore against his own good. Constituted in a state of holiness, man was destined to be fully 'divinized' by God in glory. Seduced by the devil, he wanted to 'be like God,' but 'without God, before God, and not in accordance with God.'279"
((Catechism, 397-398)
Despite the impression that "mea culpa" ("through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault" in the current English translation)1 may give the impression that the Catholic Church preaches a message of shame, guilt, and self-hatred.

That's not the way it is, as should be obvious from Romans 13:8-10.

I don't think it's reasonable to assume that "love your neighbor as yourself" means to 'hate my neighbor because I hate myself.' More to the point, that's not what the Church says. (Catechism, 2196, for starters)

On the other hand, the Catholic Church doesn't preach a 'feel good' gospel. We're supposed to recognize that this is a basically good world: but that it's not perfect. Neither are we. Yet. And that's yet another topic.

Who's Boss: Me or God?

I know that God's God, and I'm not. I also have a hard time living as if that's true.

That's a consequence of the first sin. I'm still responsible for conforming my will to God's: yet again more topics.

Here's what I got after breaking one paragraph from the Catechism out as an outline:
  • In that sin man
    • Preferred himself to God
      • By that very act scorned God
  • Man chose
    • Himself over God
    • Himself against
      • God
        • The requirements of his creaturely status
          • Therefore against his own good
  • Constituted in a state of holiness
    • Man was destined
      • To be fully 'divinized'
        • By God
        • In glory
  • Seduced by the devil
    • Man wanted
      • To be like God
      • But
        • Without God
        • Before God
        • Not in accordance with God
    (Catechism, 398)
Humanity's story didn't end there, of course.

As for the 'fairness' of God allowing us to make decisions that make a real difference? God could have created a world where we lived lives of futile activity, where nothing we did could hurt - or help.

I prefer being able to do good: even though responsibility comes with that power.

Related posts:

1 Source:
  • "Order of Mass"
    Excerpts from the English translation of The Roman Missal; © 2010, International Committee on English in the Liturgy, Inc. All rights reserved (2010)
    (archived November 27, 2011, currently available at on June 26,2012)

No comments:

Like it? Pin it, Plus it, - - -

Pinterest: My Stuff, and More


Unique, innovative candles

Visit us online:
Spiral Light CandleFind a Retailer
Spiral Light Candle Store

Popular Posts

Label Cloud

1277 abortion ADD ADHD-Inattentive Adoration Chapel Advent Afghanistan Africa America Amoris Laetitia angels animals annulment Annunciation anti-catholicism Antichrist apocalyptic ideas apparitions archaeology architecture Arianism art Asperger syndrome assumptions asteroid astronomy Australia authority balance and moderation baptism being Catholic beliefs bias Bible Bible and Catechism bioethics biology blogs brain Brazil business Canada capital punishment Caritas in Veritate Catechism Catholic Church Catholic counter-culture Catholicism change happens charisms charity Chile China Christianity Christmas citizenship climate change climatology cloning comets common good common sense Communion community compassion confirmation conscience conversion Corpus Christi cosmology creation credibility crime crucifix Crucifixion Cuba culture dance dark night of the soul death depression designer babies despair detachment devotion discipline disease diversity divination Divine Mercy divorce Docetism domestic church dualism duty Easter economics education elections emotions England entertainment environmental issues Epiphany Establishment Clause ethics ethnicity Eucharist eugenics Europe evangelizing evolution exobiology exoplanets exorcism extremophiles faith faith and works family Father's Day Faust Faustus fear of the Lord fiction Final Judgment First Amendment forgiveness Fortnight For Freedom free will freedom fun genetics genocide geoengineering geology getting a grip global Gnosticism God God's will good judgment government gratitude great commission guest post guilt Haiti Halloween happiness hate health Heaven Hell HHS hierarchy history holidays Holy Family Holy See Holy Spirit holy water home schooling hope humility humor hypocrisy idolatry image of God images Immaculate Conception immigrants in the news Incarnation Independence Day India information technology Internet Iraq Ireland Israel Italy Japan Jesus John Paul II joy just war justice Kansas Kenya Knights of Columbus knowledge Korea language Last Judgment last things law learning Lent Lenten Chaplet life issues love magi magic Magisterium Manichaeism marriage martyrs Mary Mass materialism media medicine meditation Memorial Day mercy meteor meteorology Mexico Minnesota miracles Missouri moderation modesty Monophysitism Mother Teresa of Calcutta Mother's Day movies music Muslims myth natural law neighbor Nestorianism New Year's Eve New Zealand news Nietzsche obedience Oceania organization original sin paleontology parish Parousia penance penitence Pentecost Philippines physical disability physics pilgrimage politics Pope Pope in Germany 2011 population growth positive law poverty prayer predestination presumption pride priests prophets prostitution Providence Purgatory purpose quantum entanglement quotes reason redemption reflections relics religion religious freedom repentance Resurrection robots Roman Missal Third Edition rosaries rules sacramentals Sacraments Saints salvation schools science secondary causes SETI sex shrines sin slavery social justice solar planets soul South Sudan space aliens space exploration Spain spirituality stem cell research stereotypes stewardship stories storm Sudan suicide Sunday obligation superstition symbols technology temptation terraforming the establishment the human condition tolerance Tradition traffic Transfiguration Transubstantiation travel Trinity trust truth uncertainty United Kingdom universal destination of goods vacation Vatican Vatican II veneration vengeance Veterans Day videos virtue vlog vocations voting war warp drive theory wealth weather wisdom within reason work worship writing

Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

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.