The pro-choice versus pro-life argument is only one manifestation of a bigger divide in worldviews. For some it may be as simple as dichotomy between Patriarchalism and Feminism, the latest iteration of the gender wars, or an oppressed versus oppressor narrative, but the truth of the matter is a bit more complicated in that the dividing line is not where the two competing ideological extremes put it.
Rather than Patriarchalism versus Feminism, there are actually three distinct hierarchies, two that are openly male-led (and are often lumped together) and one that is covertly male-led in that it both minimizes the most unique female strengths and is almost entirely defined by masculine pursuits of power.
The first is what is what is most commonly referred to as Patriarchalism and refers to a male dominated social structure, it is where the stereotype of men that keep women barefoot and pregnant originates, it is what motivates Feminists everywhere. The second is that of the secular world, the American mainstream, where the focus is career, success is about earning more money, climbing the corporate or political ladder and sacrificing anything that stands in the way of these ambitions. In these first two hierarchies the leadership role is about imposing our own will through brute force or coercion. The third, which I will get to later, is vastly different than these two and inverts the power structure.
The Rejected Patriarchalism
It is no big secret that traditional hierarchy, in the West, has been on the decline since the Protestants pulled out from under the Papal authority and rejected their kings. There is certainly a case to made against Rome and their abuse of power over the centuries. But that hasn’t stopped their wayward children from following in their footsteps.
Like Father, like son, right?
The misuse of authority did not end or begin with the Pontiff and the Patriarchalism of the most defiant fringes of American Biblical fundamentalism is clear evidence. You won’t ever tell these men what to do, but they sure like invoking God’s will to make their wife and children submit to them. The far extreme of this small minority, if they could ever agree on anything, may even resemble the fiction of Handmaid’s Tale if given power.
However, there’s about as much chance of this type of hierarchy gaining prominences as there is of Joseph Smith resurrecting himself from the dead. This is the strata of internet trolls who post memes and enjoy calling women whores for prudently avoiding men like them. And, this, incidentally, is what feminists happily use as a stereotype and strawman version of all men on the religious right. Misogyny is a good term, as these are men threatened by strong women and see their rule as entitlement rather than a respect that is earned. These men *do* stifle women because it is the only way they can feel strong or significant.
Opposition to abortion isn’t really isn’t about the babies, for the loud mouths of this particular patriarchy, rather it is about the competition and gaining back the social position they think they deserve. In their cult groups women play the role of enabler, they must smile sweetly as their dear husband speaks of his superior role. The great irony is that this is the kind of narcissistic man who creates his own mortal enemy, the angry ‘liberated’ woman, because he’s the embodiment of unqualified, irresponsible and just plain bad leadership. No intelligent woman wants to be his baby making machine.
The problem with this hierarchial structure is that it is all about male dominance without male accountability, it is entirely populated by morally (or otherwise) deficient men and abnormally weak women. It always spawns rebellion. It is precisely what has led to the alternative, which has risen up in reaction to abuses, and is the ultimate expression of an American ideal gone off the rails.
The Dominant American/Western Order
Industrialization has changed the world. The United States was once envisioned as an agrarian society, of small communities, but the rapid technological advancements of the past two centuries have rewritten the vision. The American dream of upward mobility and greater economic independence has now inspired generations in the working class. This ideal of more more more has given birth to our age of consumerism. But the thing is, this has not lived up to the promise, those who do achieve find their success to be a hollow victory and those who do not will always be chasing the next fad.
Many believe more money and increased independence will make them happier. It started with men, the bread winner, leaving the home in the wee hours, with lunch pail in hand, working in the factories or mines, but since WW2 it has ‘progressed’ to include women. I mean, Rosie the Riveter, who started her life as cynical war propaganda tool, has taken root as women have both increase labor supply (driving down wages) and have also provided a generally more compliant workforce for our powerful corporate overlords.
The sad reality is that the rapid changes have not provided additional security for women. Women told that their significance can only come from following masculine pursuits are not any more empowered than their grandmothers a couple generations ago. Indeed, this idea that happiness comes earning more money or that empowerment comes from women filling traditionally male roles is the greatest myth of our time.
Worse, unlike husbands or children that have a real emotional connection to their wives or mothers, these corporate and government bosses only see women as ‘human resource’ to exploit. Sure, they might promote this idea and image of the emancipated woman, claim to care about rights, but it’s all a lie to keep women enslaved. We are made to think fulfillment comes from our next paycheck, but it’s all a ruse. The working class is benefitting less and less from their long hours, big corporations make record profits at our expense.
It is no big surprise that corporations are offering to pay for abortion and even the travel expenses. The bottom line is that they can’t make their huge profits without docile and compliant employees. It is simply much cheaper for them to end a pregnancy than it is for them to pay maternity leave benefits and potentially lose the services of a female employee forever. It is never actually about her well-being or the future of the nation, it is always about the parasitic self-serving elites and their political or financial interests.
The whole system is structured to downplay the most uniquely feminine contribution to our future and that being childbearing. Men cannot do this. Sadly, many women, due to corrupted patriarchy and various narratives designed to subdue her potential (climate change, overpopulation, etc.), have been convinced that their most wonderful asset, the ability to bring new life into the world, is a liability and that they should work for ‘the man’ rather than invest in the only ones who would ever truly love them.
Abortion is truly a result of female despair and not empowerment. It is a ‘choice’ that is brought about by insecurity, a fear of being alone raising a child or their own inadequacy, and stifles the real strength of women. The most insidious thing about this patriarchy is that it is sold as Feminism and freedom, but it is truly as denigrating of female achievement as the widely rejected traditional version of patriarchy. In this new order women are simply the lower cost, lower maintenance, rented mules to replace the poor immigrant men of a prior generation.
Unfortunately, many will realize too late that they’ve been fooled into giving up their youth to the soulless industrial machine. Women, in particular, with their narrower reproductive window, will carry regret as their only lasting reward for their academic excellence and being the employee of the month. No, not at all saying that we should not have a career, or that money is unimportant, it is nice to have financial freedom, but who will care for this current generation as they age?Communities and social structures, like marriage, things that provide stability, have faded. The patriarchy of corporate boards and government bureaucracies is only truly concerned with expanding their power or profits. Even if the intent isn’t explicitly to subjugate, this regime run by controlling men and women attempts to monopolize our choices. To corporate bosses even the competition of a baby is too much for them to handle, that’s why they promote and pay for abortion.
The Faithful/Healthy Patriarchy
Patriarchy gets a bad name because most people see the first two manifestations and not the ideal. There are patriarchs just like there are matriarchs, some are very good while others are very bad and, therefore, we must approach the topic with appropriate nuance to sort the better examples from the worse.
The ideal role of the patriarch is to use their male strength as a means to provide and protect. He is not a tyrant nor a pushover, he is never in competition with or threatened by a strong woman. Instead, he lifts everyone around him up, is the model of submission to authority and willing to sacrifice himself fully for the good of others. He is, like the Centurion commended for his faith, “a man under authority,” and a stark contrast to the abusive Patriarchalism of small men. This is an authority that comes through actions and example rather than through his physical stature, his feelings of entitlement or bellicose demands.
It is the way of Jesus, who both spoke with an authority not matched by the religious elites of his day and yet was also gentle to those of lower social status. In saying, “the last will be first, and first will be last,” (Matthew 20:16 NIV) Jesus points to an inverse hierarchial structure—one that is led by humility and repentance, defined love and faithfulness, rather the power to dominate others through brute force or disparaging comments:
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles Lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
(Mark 10:42-45 NIV)
Men who do not lead by the self-sacrificial example of Jesus, who as a man equal to God still fully submitted to the will of the Father, are not worthy of their position and make a mockery of the leadership role. We live in an era where there are flamboyant displays of gender stereotypes, but none is more ridiculous or absurd than these grown little boys who try to dress themselves up as men and yet have nothing to offer the world besides shit posting on social media.
Some need the male genitalia dangling from their loud smoke spewing vehicles to try to prove what would otherwise be open to question, they call women whores for being single moms or sexually active (in a way that excludes them) and yet seem to forget for every sexual encounter there is another party involved. Women certainly do not impregnate themselves. And most women would not seek to terminate the life inside their womb if they were in a relationship with an emotionally secure and Godly man.
No, the alternative of soft and sanctimonious men is not better. The enablers of the current political establishment, who appease women in a desperate bid to gain sexual access, are just as much an embarrassment to masculinity as their fake tough guy ‘conservative’ counterparts.
Women could be fully actualized as women if men were adequately filling their role. No, this is not to say that women are incapable of sinning, of being power hungry or evil, but only to say that good men will be like Jesus and even take responsibility for sins that are not their own as a means to bring salvation to the most damaged individuals and lost sheep of this world. Sure, laws to protect the innocent and vulnerable are important, but they themselves cannot hold back the rising tide of self-centered abusive men and angry reactionary women.
True empowerment is about giving life, not in taking life. It is about creating, not controlling others. It is found in the soldier’s sacrifice and also in the woman who bravely and courageously carries her pregnancy to term in an uncertain world. Salvation came through Mary’s womb and was finished by the life-bearing Cross of Christ. Two plus two can become three when men and women both contribute to the whole, by selfless participation in the transcendent space of loving relationship. It is when two are brought together in spiritual union with the Divine that a new generation can find a good home.
Let’s talk about consciousness and infant Baptism, shall we?
My entire life, as a child of Anabaptism, I was taught a doctrine called “Believer’s baptism” (or credobaptism) which a) tied Baptism to church membership and b) teachings that Baptism requires a conscious or adult decision. The irony of that is that many Mennonites are Baptized as children, as a result of indoctrination, and not after an exhaustive search for truth that ends with Christ.
It makes sense, at one level, that a believer in Christ must be able to “count the cost” (Luke 14) of discipleship, right?
And yet, if we look at the Apostles themselves, were any of them actually ready when they were picked by Jesus?
No, if Peter had counted the cost, if he truly understood what it meant to enter the kingdom, he would never have denied Christ. The doubts of Thomas, and the betrayal of Judas, all point to a group of men who did not fully comprehend the words of Jesus prior to their Baptism.
#1) We don’t choose, we’re chosen and drawn to Christ:
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day. It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard the Father and learned from him comes to me. […] The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”
(John 6:44-45,63-65 NIV)
#2) We did not decide the hour of our first birth nor do we decide the second birth:
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.”
“How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. you should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
(John 3:2-8 NIV)
#3) We were dead, dead people aren’t conscious to make adult decisions:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
(Ephesians 2:1-10 NIV)
By adding the requirement of adult comprehension, the teachers of credobaptism turn Baptism into a work and base salvation on our consciousness of the need. That’s rational, yet humanistic and not the process we see outlined in Scripture. Lazarus, dead for four days, did not have the mental capacity to listen to the command of Jesus, “Lazarus, come out!” No, we understand that this would be impossible. And, likewise, when the Rich Young Ruler (asks “what must I do to be saved,” the final answer is not “sell all and give to the poor,” as some Anabaptists believe—it is “with man this is impossible, with God all things are possible.”
The real problem with this idea that Baptism requires a certain level of consciousness (and the invented concept of an “age of accountability”) is that it is totally arbitrary and would exclude those not fully capable of making an adult choice. I mean, truly, will we refuse to Baptize the mentally disabled because they can’t count the cost of discipleship? Should we have an IQ test? Maybe make applicants provide proof of their faith? At the very least, if this notion of Believer’s baptism is correct, and adult consciousness necessary to appreciate Christ, then should we cut this silliness of a baby leaping in the womb (Luke 1:41) out of the Gospel narrative?
There is evidence, in Scripture, of whole households being Baptized. But there is little to support this idea that one must reach a certain level of consciousness to be Baptized. It is really like some people think they’ve saved themselves and this misunderstanding of the significance of Baptism, starting five centuries ago, got turned into theological hubris. If Baptism is about being born again or spiritual rebirth—and our first physical birth was not a willful choice—why would we ever conclude that Baptism must be a choice, a matter of age or adult comprehension?
What is Baptism truly about?
Baptism is the start of a journey of faith, like birth, and something to accompany repentance.
But wait, there’s more…
Baptism and the Nuptial Bath
Up until very recently, being unfamiliar with Jewish wedding traditions, I would never have made the connection between Baptism and a Jewish bride’s nuptial bath. A friend of mine shared a podcast that dove into that topic (listen here) and the parallels seem to be very real. Upon further research, this ‘other” meaning is also something understood historically by the church and quite clearly implied in this passage:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
(Ephesians 5:25-27 NIV)
Baptism, in effect, is a symbolic representation of the start of this ritual cleansing that doesn’t end with the act. The Christian life is a life of repentance, of continually turning towards Christ. Our spiritual cleansing doesn’t end with the water of our physical Baptism either.
After this, Jesus and his disciples went out into the Judean countryside, where he spent some time with them, and baptized. Now John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because there was plenty of water, and people were coming and being baptized. (This was before John was put in prison.) An argument developed between some of John’s disciples and a certain Jew over the matter of ceremonial washing. They came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan—the one you testified about—look, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him.”
To this John replied, “A person can receive only what is given them from heaven. You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him.’ The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less.”
(John 3:22-30 NIV)
It was directly prior to this that we have the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus where we get the phrase “born again” and where Jesus tells the perplexed Jewish religious leader about this rebirth “of water and the Spirit” like the wind that goes wherever it pleases. That is an indication of the mysterious origin of Baptism, that it is not something that comes about through our own rational thought processes.
So what is this “ceremonial washing” about?
And how does Baptism relate to brides and bridegrooms?
A few months back I worked on a truss layout for a religious building project, a Mikvah bath, and learned more about the Jewish ritual cleaning process and something observant women of that religion must do on a regular basis.
However, most significantly, it is something they do prior to marriage, which seems to be the connection between the quarrel about everyone getting this ceremonial washing and the response of John the Baptist.
The point and purpose of John’s ministry, like the pre-marital ritual washing of a bride when her groom arrived, Baptism was to make people ready for the marriage to Christ. It was not symbolic of the commitment itself—rather it was only a part of the process leading up to the commitment. So, sure, Baptism is the start of an important transitionary moment and yet our salvation comes through a life-long Theosis, through our being washed, sanctified, and justified by the Spirit of God until the time we depart this world.
One last point, and related to this nuptial bath tradition and the parallels to Baptism. Jewish brides did choose their partners nor the time of their wedding like we do. No, they practiced arranged marriage and the arrival of the groom was at the appointed time of his father once the preparations were complete. So again, where does this idea come from that the bride must choose the time or place of this meeting and bath? Wouldn’t responsible Christian parents want to prepare even infant children for their groom?
The expanded consciousness that comes through our prearranged nuptials with Christ can come after the ritual washing of Baptism—as it did for the disciples who didn’t know what they were being signed up for when they began their journey of faith.
As abstract minded as I am, always living in my own head, the only evidence of the Gospel narrative that works for me is that which is experienced or practical. I know the apologetics and intellectual arguments, but none are able to bridge the gap or overcome the reasonable doubts.
This idea that we can find God by climbing a tower of human knowledge is very appealing and especially for those of us in this age of information. It is a feature of Protestantism, where the soteriology is centered around the text, an individual’s ability to comprehend and then accepting certain propositions, which ends up being very Gnostic.
The blog, a few weeks ago, that questions resurrection apologetics, left things hanging as far as an alternative. If we can’t prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Jesus died and rose again, as an actual historical event, how can we believe anything in the Gospel? Of course, we can’t prove the resurrection or any past event, how could we?
But is truth really about the past tense or some kind of intellectual theorem? Or is it something we relate to personally, that we must experience for ourselves?
Truth in Narrative
The most compelling evidence for the Gospel is the truth of the narrative itself and by that I mean how the older I get the more I realize that people behave exactly as those in the parables Jesus told and the accounts of his ministry. No, it doesn’t absolutely prove the extraordinary claims, but the Bible as a window into human psychology and sociology is quite fascinating.
Jesus started his ministry with a broad appeal, people wanted change and he quickly developed a following. It is very easy to gather a crowd by proclaiming to be the source of hope and change. But, as his teaching progressed, and it became clearer that his kingdom was not about the political power the masses wanted, and he started to say some weird stuff as he got to what would be required, the crowd thinned.
People don’t want the truth, they want their truth, to be validated for what they already believe. But Jesus taught the way to truth was by partaking of his body and blood, to make the sacrifice play, relying on faith and God for their sustenance rather than their own human reasoning. That’s why it was impossible for the Rich Young Ruler to attain eternal life—he was relying on his own goodness to save him.
Truth in Symbolism
It is interesting what freaked out the crowd in Jesus day also is a bridge too far with many who profess to be Christian:
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
(John 6:35 NIV)
And he doubles down when the audience begins to grumble:
Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them.
(John 6:53-56 NIV)
This is what followed:
On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?” Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you—they are full of the Spirit and life. Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.” From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.
(John 6:60-66 NIV)
This was a rejection of materialism. He was pointing to something mystical, something that transcended their understanding of reality, their version of the universe and thus they fled from him. It is also very interesting that the coming betrayal of one of the twelve is mentioned by Jesus in this context, that perhaps this is where Judas Iscariot became disillusioned?
My own Anabaptist religious roots, given the Zwinglian influence, is very agnostic as far as the Mystical Supper. While being strict fundamentalists otherwise, like insistence on a ‘literal’ interpretation of the Creation narrative, in the book of Genesis, they will deny the substance of the words that Jesus said (above) that caused so many to fall away from Him. To them being a “follower of Jesus” takes a very practical turn and too practical in that it ignores the mystical in favor of the rational.
But, if one believes that Jesus actually walked on water or really turned water into wine, why would they ever question (or try to reinterpret) when he says “this is my body” and claim it means something other than what he said?
The thing is, yes, there is a practical, even a humanist, component to Christianity and yet it all must be in this context of Communion with God or it is only human effort. And, to go a step further, no, it is not all about barn raising practicality either, it is about truth in worship. We don’t do what we do in a spirit of utopian idealism, we do it because we believe their is a substance of bread, a bread of heaven, greater than what we can sense with our taste buds.
Truth in Action
There are many who are into the pageantry of religion, wearing the ‘right’ colors or cut according to their tradition, yet not willing to live out the actual substance of faith and Communion. Yes, the Orthodox understand that Christianity centers on the mystical, that there is no spiritual life outside of partaking of the body and blood of Christ. Still, it is a denial of Christ, and not true mysticism, when the rituals are not a reflection of real love of our family:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
(James 2:14-17 NIV)
The book of James was inconvenient for Martin Luther and also for all of those who would rather keep their religion between them, their own understanding of a book, and God.
But the truth is not about our own personal knowledge or judgment. Judas could quote the words of Jesus as good as any of the other disciples. And yet it takes more than our understanding a set of propositions or a mental exercise. As Jesus said, “where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” That is where the truth is, in our coming together, in our loving each other as Christ first loved us:
Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.
(1 John 4:7-12 NIV)
In the parables Jesus told, in the accounts of the ministry of Jesus, there is truth. Also, in our partaking in the mysteries of the Church, in our Communion together as the body of believers, there is truth. But the truth that us most significant, and the only real Christian apologetic there is, is the truth of our love for each other. That is the truth of Christ Jesus, who came in the flesh to demonstrate the love of God.
Want to say “does not respond well to authority” without saying it? Just post a meme proclaiming yourself as a lion and decrying others as sheeple. Of course, the popular origin of this lion meme was a Trump retweet of the quote, “It is better to live a day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” The irony being that these ‘lions’ who have used the phrase since are still following someone’s lead.
The reality is, even in this current age of individualism, we are social creatures and are more often responding to the pressure of the crowd than thinking for ourselves. The ideas that motivate us, the narratives and interpretive overlays that we embrace, these aren’t things that we created in our own minds. But rather we have inherited many base assumptions from our homes or communities and will continue to be influenced our entire life.
And, speaking of influence, there was a review of Downfall, a movie about the last days of Adolf Hitler, that got me thinking about leadership. For obvious reasons, this is viewed from a negative light in regard to the Nazi dictator. The faith of the German people in their government is what enabled the atrocities of the regime. Viewing a flawed human being (or any collection of human authorities) as God is something very dangerous.
I’ve written frequently warning against the mob spirit and peer pressure. We should learn how to think for ourselves, make our own decisions, or we may be swept up in the latest propaganda campaign and used for immoral ends.
However, I also had to think that this unique ability of humans to organize around one charismatic personality is also the strength of our species and has given us a great competitive advantage over the strongest individuals. Our hunter-gather ancestors were only able to take down larger animals for food or to protect the themselves from deadly predators by working together. This took leadership, it required someone to be the point man of the group or coordinator of the collective effort.
So, sure, as the video says, “those full of doubts are desperate to follow those who are sure of themselves,” and “view them as shortcuts to prosperity,” yet this urge to fall in behind the Alpha is not always such a bad thing and is actually key to our success in building civilizations. A great leader can empower and get more from the group than the sum of the individual parts. I see this in John, the co-owner and true boss man at my company, without his infectious ambition and decisive confidence I can’t see us being near where we are.
The truth is that there are extraordinary men, there are those who do better embody the collective hopes of their people and thus are granted a right to rule. One only needs to consider the story of David, a lowly shepherd boy, who faced down the giant Goliath and through his courage inspired the armies of Israel to defeat the Philistines. Of course, this is not only a role for men either, the confidence of Deborah (Judges 4) or faithful example of Joan of Arc is what led to the decisive victories of their people over occupiers and oppressors.
People Need Leadership, Not Lords
We can talk about the ideal and imagine a world where everyone is completely able to take initiative, where order is always 100% voluntary and there is no need of authority or a leadership position. That is the design of the Israelite tribes before they demanded a king to rule over them. But even then, in that sort of anarchist system, there were judges that were appointed by Moses to arbitrate disputes and Moses, for his Divine call and standing up to Pharaoh, was the defacto leader of his people.
Every human is flawed. Moses fled into the wilderness after killing an Egyptian and, despite hearing from God, needed Aaron to speak for him. King David, the great warrior leader he was, had a loyal companion, Uriah sent to die in battle in order to cover for his adultery with Bathsheba. The temptation of every person given power over other people is to use it to their own personal advantage rather than for the good of the group. That is why the children of Israel were given this stern warning before appointing a ruler:
Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.” But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
(1 Samuel 8:10-20 NIV)
Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
We don’t have kings today, but we do have an all-powerful political class, that is mostly exempted from the laws they apply to us, who never met a new tax they do not like, and always willing to send our children to die to defend their own bloated ego or for the financial gain of the ruling class. Sure, call it ‘democracy’ as you vote for Tweedledee or Tweedledumb, but neither team red nor team blue actually represent you. We’re ruled not even by these visibly elected, but by special interests and those behind the scenes who pull the purse strings.
And therein lies the difference between the good leaders and the bad. The shepherd leader fills the role for the good of the flock, even willing to sacrifice themselves for the life of their sheep. The corrupt leader uses their power and authority as a means to dominate those who are under them. A good leader serves as an example, they encourage and try to get the best out of those looking to them for guidance. The evil politician, on the other hand, delights in creating dependency and keeping others subject to their whims.
In the end, no man is actually worthy to lead of their own authority and it is only through understanding our own place before God, that we ourselves are not God, that we can ever fill the role. Self-belief and narcissism, with a little psychopathy, is often what will get a person to the top spot. But humility and faith, valuing all individuals enough to go find the one lost sheep, that is the mark of a Godly leader. The only person fit to lead is one who is willing to submit to those who have authority over them.
The delusion of the Protestant independent spirit is that every man (or woman) and their Bible becomes their own king. This “you’re not the boss of me” attitude, in response to flawed leadership or simply as rebellion, is precisely why the church is becoming increasingly impotent. The Church, at least the one that Christ founded, had those given the authority to bind and loose, a council to decide important matters and those who acted as fathers. This hierarchy was never comprised of those faultless. No, what made them worthy, and the only thing that makes any of us worthy, is being clothed in the righteousness of the one Great Shepherd.
We need sheep who know they are sheep and shepherds, appointed to feed the flocks, like Peter:
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” “Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Feed my sheep.
(John 21:15-17 NIV)
In my own spiritual journey, after my own Bible-based authority failed me, God provided me with a man who would end his emails with the phrase “your unworthy priest” and is truly that. Fr Anthony is a very well-educated man, a college professor, and one who could easily flaunt his credentials as a means to humiliate some like me. But what has given him true authority, in my eyes, is how he humbly serves as a true example of Christian leadership.
He is a shepherd and the Church really needs more who are like him.
What happens when working-class investors combine forces to take on the Wall Street elites? Well, the collapse of Melvin Capital, as a start, and much more to come if retail ‘Apes’ have their way. It’s amazing, for as much as we hear that AMC stock is a losing bet, retail investors buying (and HODLing) shares are sure upsetting many in the corporate media who claim we’re somehow ruining the market.
The burnishers of our financial institutions, the smart and privileged people that they are, love to look down their noses at the common people. This article, “Planet of the AMC Apes: Biggest Market Enemy Isn’t Citadel,” highlights an attitude and contempt, using words like “cult” and”mania” and “conspiracy theory” to describe the Ape movement. We’re the “dumb money” who are mindless following the crowd, governed wholly by our emotions, unlike them.
And there’s an extent to which this is a valid criticism. Many who see the markets as a get-rich scheme, that they will become instant millionaires for buying the latest digital token, will be sorely disappointed. It takes patience and conviction, the ability to overcome our fears when the price drops, as well as good due diligence, to make money in the market. Those who have YOLO’d their life savings into Luna are feeling some real pain as the price of that cryptocurrency fell through the floor.
But this idea that only some are fit to make important decisions, or that the elites are not distorting things for their own personal gain, is laughable. The whole idea of hedge funds being allowed to short a stock into oblivion just seems wrong and especially when they are out trying to manipulate retail investors with bearish valuations, FUD articles—deploying bots to shill or bash. This is not to mention the dark pool abuse. You can smell the fraud, yet we’re bad for calling it out as what it is?
The thing is, most retail investors, like me, entered the market thinking that it was free and fair. We didn’t understand how short selling worked or how much happened behind the scenes at the behest of the so-called market makers. We’re just finally now aware of what they do to distort. We rebelled by taking an opposite position to their own in companies they were trying to bankrupt. And now they’re angry for being bested in their own game.
The true reality is that it is not about the money anymore for those who are buying meme stocks. Of course, yes, we would all be happy to see a huge profit for our efforts. But the real goal is to take on the lack of transparency and ability of the hedge funds to rob millions through cynical means. It is not a free or fair market when some are allowed to use algorithms to manipulate or withhold orders to set the price where it benefits them. It is also evident that there is naked shorting—that is to say they ‘create’ fake shares to sell and artificially drop the price to scare retail get out at a loss or illegal dilution.
The average Joe is tired of taking a beating by elites who sold them out over and over again. From outsourcing, globalism, open borders, and the resultant stagnant wages, to “too big to fail” and bank bailouts at the taxpayer’s expense, they don’t actually care about pension funds, and we’re just fed up with a rigged game and corruption. Fighting this status quo is something that is worth risking my hard-earned cash for. Money comes and goes, but bringing some justice into the system is worthwhile.
As far as Apes being stupid. Sure, there are dumb individuals and, absolutely, we need the meme silliness to keep us focused on the goal and laughing rather than worried. And yet, to counter what the wealthy elites have at their disposal, there is the wisdom of the crowds and a sort of collective intelligence that is greater than the sum total of the parts. This is not Tulip mania, this is a short squeeze play and together we’re simply Wall Street’s biggest Whale investor doing what they would do.
In the end, as a final thought, there are many things more important than money in the world and I try to remain mindful of this:
But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
If there’s one pet peeve of mine, greater than all of the many others, it is the misuse of language that destroys meaning. Sure, words evolve, their usage changing from one generation to the next, but it is religious terms that get watered down that are most offensive to me. The word “miracle” is the chief amongst them.
A miracle, at least according to proper use, is supposed to be something that is completely inexplicable and deviates against natural law or is supernatural. No, you getting all green lights on the way to your nephew’s piano recital is not a miracle! That is easily explained as simply good timing and does not require any angels holding back traffic or special Divine intervention to explain.
So, a few years back I made a wonderful friend, a beautiful Algerian woman named Hajar. Other than being full of life and laughter, even telling my car that she missed it on our second meeting, she was a devout Muslim. She prayed five times a day, ate Halal food, and frequently used the Arabic term “inshallah” as part of discussing future plans. The meaning? If God wills.
Anyhow, back on words and pet peeves, it really should be part of our vocabulary to say “if God wills” rather than simply declare. I know, we’re bold Westerners, things usually do go our way, we’re lazy efficient, and do not think we need to acknowledge our lack of control on a regular basis. But this is, indeed, a wholly appropriate and strongly recommended Christian practice:
Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.”
(James 4:13-15 NIV)
The reason James mentions this, and that we should employ the advice liberally, is because we can so easily slip into a mode of self-sufficiency and arrogance. This is also an attitude that Jesus spoke very strongly against, read the parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21), and, therefore, frequent use of the phrase “Lord willing” is something worth considering for the faithful.
Even if someone doesn’t believe in God, or at least not the Biblical version, this ability to comprehend one’s own place in the universe can help to guard against deadly hubris. We are simply not able to dictate outcomes, no matter how advanced our science has become, and are better to remain humble and understand our own place as those created from the dust of the cosmos. We are at the mercy of forces far beyond our own control.
Going full circle, what is a word that could be used, better than using miracle, to describe good fortune or our getting things right? I like Providence. It both acknowledges God and also is not an overstatement. It was a word once more frequently used and bringing it back into circulation is the perfect antidote to the dumbing down of culture.
Much of what we believe is inherited and that includes how we interpret certain passages of Scripture. It is just the way things are, we do not independently arrive at our own conclusions and could very well have been taught wrong. Those who believe that the ground they stand on is sacred simply because they’re standing on it have no potential for growth in understanding or perspective.
Many in a purity culture would squeal their displeasure at the term “legalism” being used to describe their ‘Biblical standards’ and hide behind mantras such as “God Said It, I Believe It, That Settles It!” Unfortunately, while this kind of obstinate stance may be good as far as resisting temptation, it basically amounts to confirmation bias on steroids in a search for truth.
This is exactly the attitude of those who took issue with Jesus breaking the Sabbath and how they absolutely refuse to see their own application of Scripture as entirely missing the point:
At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, “Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath.” He answered, “Haven’t you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven’t you read in the Law that the priests on Sabbath duty in the temple desecrate the Sabbath and yet are innocent? I tell you that something greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.” Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to bring charges against Jesus, they asked him, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” He said to them, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. But the Pharisees went out and plotted how they might kill Jesus.
(Matthew 12:1-14 NIV)
The Pharisees, like religious fundamentalists today, believed that they were the experts and examples of righteousness. They would know that Moses, by order of the Lord according to Numbers 15:32-36, had a man put to death for picking up sticks on the Sabbath. It is very likely that many of them were very sincere in their saying that Jesus was possessed by a demon. How dare this teacher allow his followers to break the law and then defiantly double down in response to their concern!!! Weren’t there six other days to heal?!?
Now some commentators may try to square this legalistically, by claiming that Jesus was not truly going against Scripture. But I do not believe this is the case. The Pharisees were obsessed with the letter of the law and technically right in their complaint against his breaking the Sabbath. Jesus, by contrast, was focused on the reason behind the law, or spirit of the law, and pointed to Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” to establish the vast difference between the ritualistic devotion to a set of religious rules and genuine love for people.
Legalism, by this standard, is a use of the law that is negligent of the purpose. What is the purpose of law? The law is supposed to be for our own good, to protect us from harm, and thus the exceptions that Jesus mentioned in response to his critics. A legalist, in their strict adherence to rules, loves their rules, and yet they lack love and mercy for people. Thus, a legalist, in their no-compromise application of the law, defies the actual purpose for which the law was established and, therefore, are no longer under the law themselves:
Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.
(James 2:12-13 NIV)
Legalism: Divorced From the Issue
This blog is not meant to be a theological tome. For a more exhaustive look at the divorce and remarriage topic, especially for those of an Anabaptist background, I would suggest reading Dwight Gingrich who has covered the issue exhaustively in a series of blogs. I’ve already covered Biblical proof-texts in prior postings as well. Instead, I’ll stick to a discussion of the hardness of hearts and economia (special exception) as it applies to divorce and remarriage.
First of all marriage, by original intent, is until death do they part and there’s no exception to this. If men and women would live up to their vows, not make promises they not keep, this would solve the entire issue. If people would act responsibly and remain faithful in relationships then there would be no broken homes. That is certainly ideal, it was also the privilege of being born into conservative Mennonite culture for me—in that my parents were encouraged, through peer pressure, to overcome doubts and make it work.
However, this ideal simply is not available to many in the world. Many do marry, or have children, with someone whom they intend as their soulmate and it doesn’t end in a happily ever after for them. This failure of adults can have disastrous consequences for the next generation, the less desirable outcomes for children of single-parent homes are the evidence:
Children who live with only one of their parents do less well in school, obtain fewer years of education, and have trouble keeping a steady job as young adults. Children from single parent families are six times more likely to be poor.
“Single Parenthood and Children’s Well-being,” Wisconsin Family Impact Seminars
Now maybe this is genetic, that the children have the same commitment issues as their parents, and this strong correlation of single-parent homes with poor outcomes for children does not automatically equate to environmental causation. Maybe we need an adopted twin study? But it is pretty safe to say, without a complex analysis, that the insecurity and chaos of a home with one parent will have an impact on children that is undesirable.
So there’s a question: If the law is there for our good and single-parent homes are bad, what should happen after divorce or abandonment?
In the culture that I came from, there was a hardline stance on divorce and remarriage that even nullified the “exception clause” of Matthew 19:9. This perspective, from my personal experience as one who defended it, is about the preservation of an ideal and even at the expense of people. I could reason, like Moses having the man killed for picking up sticks, that allowing one exception would be a slippery slope and lead to far greater social disorder.
And yet this “greater good” logic is exactly why Jesus was put to death:
Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
(John 11:47-50 NIV)
They both missed out on Jesus, their king, and also did not save temple worship. Also equally ironic is that the high priest unintentionally spoke the truth.
Anyhow, maybe, in the time of Moses, sacrifices of animals and the sons of Abraham were needed for the health of the nation. But now, after the death and resurrection of Christ, we are clothed in his righteousness and thus free from the letter of the law that kills:
He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
(2 Corinthians 3:6 NIV)
You’ll need to read further about the context of that statement to fully grasp what St Paul is saying in that letter. But the short version is that he’s contrasting the understanding of the law prior to Christ with that which only comes with the Spirit and seeing the intent behind laws as being greater than the laws themselves. This is different from the Pharisee men who carved out legalistic exceptions for themselves to divorce and were confronted by Jesus for their hardness of heart:
Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
(Matthew 19:3-9 NIV)
The audience is men. The ideal is marriage until death do they part. And the rebuke is against the hardness of hearts. This is what makes it so egregiously wrong that men, in fundamentalist communities, will apply this passage (usually excluding the exception clause) to women who were abandoned by their husbands. It is, at the very best, taking the words of Jesus out of context and it is too often used rather hard-hearted response to those who have no chance of restoring what is ideal.
Jesus was not answering the question of what a woman is supposed to do when left to raise her children alone. And I’m also quite confident that he was not intending for his prescription to these men to be applied in the same dogmatic manner as they approached the Scriptures. It was their lack of mercy and compassion, how these men would misuse of the law of Moses (which did allow divorce) to escape their own responsibilities, that is the focus of his words.
As was explained to me concerning the Orthodox position on divorce and remarriage in contrast to that of fundamentalists:
As to sticking with what is written, I think here you can see the difference in how the Orthodox view the Scriptures—as part and parcel—but never the entirely of the whole Tradition—all of which has been handed down to us. The Orthodox do not take divorce and re-marriage lightly—it’s a complicated process to get a bishop’s blessing to undertake second and third marriages and the blessing is not always given. But the primary issue here is that the Orthodox confess God to be a God of mercy, love, and forgiveness—not a law-obsessed judge who keeps a record of pluses and minuses in order to play “gotcha” with those who fail.
Father Anthony Roeber
That statement above, part of an email that so profoundly reframed my understanding of divorce and remarriage, cuts right to the heart of the issue. Married or single, first marriage or second, what matters more than anything else is will if help us in the journey of faith or will it hinder. And that’s the true intent behind the law, it was a tool to steer us in the direction of doing what is good and merciful, like our Father, and yet would never be sufficient to save us.
I try not to get too political here. However, it is sometimes unavoidable, like those times when a prominent politician misuses the words of Jesus to justify spending 40 billion dollars so Ukraine has enough bombs. The verse used, Mathew 25:35, “when I was hungry you fed me,” out of the mouth of a multi-millionaire, comes off as slimy. It very closely resembles how Judas used words about caring for the poor as part of his scheme to line his own pockets. And, make no mistake about it, phony compassion is the favorite tool of the most shameless exploiters of our time. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing and love power more than truth.
True or false: The truth of the entire Gospel message depends on the bodily resurrection of Jesus.
I’m pretty certain that this is something that both Christians and non-Christians alike, after reading the Gospel accounts, would agree on. If Jesus remained in the grave, a dead man, then doesn’t that make the entire account of these books a lie?
Recently I was invited to watch a lecture by Gary Habermas, a professor, historian Christian apologist, and author of various books about Jesus. This after I had expressed a thought on how difficult this central claim of the Gospel would be to accept for a true skeptic. Presumably, this recommendation was to help me bridge the gap between the claims and reasons to doubt them.
It seems reasonable that Habermas, an expert who believes, would come out with his best argument. I mean, why waste an opportunity by holding the most solid proof of resurrection for a later date, right?
So, after watching, and taking notes, this is the outline of the arguments made along with my own counterpoints:
1) Most Contemporary Scholars Agree
Habermas spends considerable time talking about the changes in perspectives in the last 30-40 years in academic circles. Apparently, most theologians are conservative now and he cites a skeptic who has warmed to even the claims that the disciples saw Jesus after his death on the cross.
However, the first thing I see, when someone uses “experts agree,” is an appeal to authority, which can be a logical fallacy if being used as evidence of a claim. The fact that a majority of doctors had once believed that bloodletting was good therapy does not actually prove anything as far as the reliability of the practice.
So, to a critical thinker, this is a red flag. He is starting with an appeal that is not a true argument for his further claims or at least not any more than “a consensus of scientists believe” disproves the outliers who disagree with their conclusions.
But, more than that, the devil is always in the details and there is a bit of a bait and switch in his presentation. The acceptance of any empty tomb is not the same thing as the real issue at hand which is resurrection. It is possible that something else could explain the disappearance. An empty tomb is not itself proof of the miraculous.
So what about this shift in thinking?
Well, it is no secret that the Western world is falling into unbelief, Christianity is losing influence, and to the point that the ‘liberals’ may have long left the room. In other words, it could be polarization, where nobody in the moderate middle ground survived, and thus only ‘conservatives’ see theology as being a worthwhile pursuit.
When something falls out of popular favor, like eugenics or white supremacy, then it is not really a big surprise when the hardliners are all that remains.
As a young person, I remember an Evolution versus Creation debate at a local university campus. Such an event would not even be hosted by such an institution. The 2014 Ken Ham vs Bill Nye rhetorical battle was held at the Creation Museum for a reason. And it is not because either of these men are taken seriously or viewed as credible by the mainstream.
The point is most people may simply have moved on and the plurality of those remaining, the current theologians, are the fundamentalists. There is much talk about the collapse of the center and this change Habermas mentions could be a product of that rather than anything related to the evidence.
We also have a resurgence of flat earth theories (and the rise of Socialism on the other) which is certainly not an argument for those beliefs. I guarantee more than 350 pages have been written in defense of Marxism and yet that does not convince me in any way, shape, or form that this ideology is the right way forward. No, this does not prove or disprove anything as far as the resurrection, but why waste time on this kind of appeal if there’s better evidence?
2) Paul Is Generally Accepted, Even By Skeptics
Of all the writings in the New Testament those of Paul, the Apostle, are the most compelling and probably because this man (despite his own claims to the contrary) is so eloquent in his presentation. I do find his focus on spiritual transformation to be more inviting than Mathew, Mark, or Luke. And also his ability to be the odd one out as far as important matters of the faith.
He was a controversial figure, even in the early church, and often put on the defensive by those fighting to preserve the Jewish tradition from Gentile converts. The account of his Damascus road encounter obviously convinced the right people of his change of heart. And this acceptance is significant, it is at least an answer to those modern-day Pauline skeptics, namely feminists and contemporary Judaizers, who would have us believe he was in conflict with Jesus.
That said, both Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism, and Muhammad claimed to have had dramatic encounters. Both were committed to these revelations they had received and able to convince a large body of people of these claims. It is always amazing to me how even a fundamentalist Christian can scoff at claims of angels delivering inerrant teachings or laugh off the flight to Medina on the Burāq, all the while accepting Biblical claims.
In short, I absolutely believe that Joseph Smith and Muhammad existed as real people. I also have no reason to doubt that they did not believe what they claim to believe or even that they had some sort of trip and conversion experience. But the truth of their existence and conviction does not mean their most extraordinary claims are actually reliable. It does not matter how many people recorded their lives or believed what they said.
So, of course, a man named Paul existed, and perhaps he did have an encounter with an apparition. I will accept that he was brought into the church. There is no reason to take issue with any of this. And I’m sure, if he was indeed out there killing Christians, this was a very welcomed development. And yet there are also those raised Christian who become Muslims or atheists. A conversion experience does not prove the extraordinary claims of a particular religion.
3) More Sources Than Alexander the Great
Habermas spends significant time in his lecture discussing the typical criteria for accepting a source. There is more proof of Jesus, according to what is acceptable by normal academic standards, than there is of Alexander the Great. Which is no surprise given that Jesus arrived on the scene later and spawned a religious movement through his teaching.
And yet while most everyone agrees that George Washington was a real person, that he crossed the Delaware river, this doesn’t mean that they must accept his ideological perspective or believe the mythology about the cherry tree. Historic texts, like reporting of events in our own time, can be almost entirely fact, yet also be embellished or just incorrect on details.
The biggest lies are always laced with facts. It is how so many people are snookered. A charlatan will make many credible claims to establish themselves. They may have credentials and compelling stories. The New York Times reporter, Walter Duranty, won a Pulitzer Prize for his glowing coverage of the Soviet Union. That he included many verified facts in his accounts does not mean his writing was not deceptive.
The reality is that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. If I were to list off my activities for the day, that I went to Dunkin for coffee, to the gym after that, and then broke Usain Bolt’s 100 meter sprint time, would finding independent verification of the first two claims bolster the last claim that I’m now the fastest man alive?
Most of the Bible being reliable does not mean every claim being made is true. Being correct on a million mundane facts does not prove any of the most extraordinary claims contained. No, it does not even suggest we should be less skeptical. Maybe this makes some of us uncomfortable, but this is a normal burden of proof that we place on those who are outside of our own belief system, why not use the same standard for ourselves?
The big difference between Jesus and other historical figures is that nobody is telling me to devote my life to Alexander the Great. It is one thing to believe that Abraham Lincoln existed as a real person and a significant figure, and quite another to say that he resurrected from the dead and ought to be worshipped as God.
4) We Can Trace the Narrative Back
Most of the New Testament was written down long after the events took place, this is something generally agreed on by all sides, and Habermas does have an interesting response for those who would use this as a basis for skepticism. This, I believe, is where a general consensus is good enough. It is silly to argue that Jesus did not exist or that the narrative was entirely fabricated well after the fact.
And yet, again, this tracing narrative back, using catchy phrases to suggest that these things had been established early and then were passed along made me think of modern memes or protest chants that are created in response to real events.
Michael Brown, for example, was shot by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri. Soon a phase, “hands up, don’t shoot,” became the rallying cry and is a short version of this idea that Brown was gunned down while simply trying to surrender. However, both a St Louis County grand jury and a US Department of Justice investigation cleared the officer of wrongdoing, the actual evidence points to the teen being in a physical altercation with the officer, and the catchy chants, therefore, are not an accurate representation no matter how popular.
The thing is, if we can’t get things right even days after the actual event, does gap or no gap matter?
It really does not.
5) Why Die For A Lie?
Joan of Arc was an extraordinary young woman. She managed to inspire her people to fight and is a wonderful icon of faith and courage. But eventually, she fell into the hands of the English, who had every reason to hate her guts, and they put her on trial for ‘heretical’ exploits. There is every indication that she was cooperative to the point that there was no justification for her execution and had likely been forced to violate the terms so they could kill her.
The martyrdom of the disciples of Jesus is something many Christian apologists tout as being hard evidence of the resurrection. As in who would die for something that they know is a lie? And this is indeed is proof of the commitment that these men had made to the Gospel message.
But let’s consider what happened to the Millerite movement when their prophecies about the Second Coming proved to be false. Did they give up their delusion or even entirely reject the teachers that had misled them? Some did. But, as with Harold Camping, who spiritualized the prediction post hoc rather than admit being wrong, this is what is now the Seventh-day Adventist denomination.
So why do people remain committed to something despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary from an outsider’s perspective?
It is this little thing called confirmation bias, we become emotionally attached to the things we believe and to the point of being blind to the obvious. As the saying goes, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” And people who have had their belief system falsified will simply modify as much as necessary and then move on as if nothing happened. Why? Well maybe because it is too hard to start from square one, to admit being wrong, or perhaps because the community and values feel too important to give up?
So, since I have my skeptic hat on, and we already know that the disciples had been looking for a literal earthly kingdom, what is to say they did not pick up and run with an alternative rather than return to the lives they had before. I mean, even most agnostics will claim that Jesus was a good teacher, so this could be justification for building a mythology to sell this better way. For radicals the ends often justify the means, lying is not forbidden if for a righteous cause in Judaism.
Anyhow, if backed in a corner, if you’re likely killed even if you do recant, why not refuse to go along with what your persecutors want? I doubt Joseph Smith would have given his tormentors the satisfaction of admitting that he never had his angelic encounter. That doesn’t make Mormonism true. No, this is just how we are. Pathological liars are so convincing because they believe their own lies. What Jesus taught was revolutionary, people die for less all of the time.
Is That Really the Best We Have?
I know that I’m not going to win many fans amongst my Christian audience by giving an honest answer to the apologetics they offer. I’m sorry, it may work for many who already buy-in, it may be enough to convert a few, but I simply cannot be impressed.
That said, I do appreciate Habermas for his admitting that the Gospels do not always agree perfectly, and also admire those who can engage in the long form of argument too tedious for my own tastes.
Still, all said and done, these sorts of arguments can never span the gap between the extraordinary claims and the most capable skeptics. It is nibbling around the edges of proof and really only ever evidence that is convincing to those who come in with the right presuppositions—like those claims of the miraculous as an explanation to things not yet explainable.
In his questions and answers follow-up, Habermas mentions how many do not believe for emotional (rather than rational) reasons. He points to C.S. Lewis as someone who fell away from faith over the death of his mom before his eventual rise as a Christian thinker. However, the same is also true for why people believe. We want a world with purpose and meaning, and the Gospel narrative provides this. It is harder to give up a comprehensive belief system, even if it makes no truly testable claims.
It just feels like apologetics always relies on strawman versions of skepticism. Even if I fell totally into unbelief, I could never dismiss all of Scripture. But I also have seen, first hand, how incapable people are at getting the facts right, how they see what they want to see and delude themselves. I know because I’ve made the error of pursuing something, in sincere faith, that could be falsifiable and was forced to swallow the hard reality of my self-deception.
Most who profess belief in Jesus will never be so bold as to risk it all on something that can be disproven. They believe things that are written in a book, they attribute their good fortune to God’s goodness or try to accept the bad as being loving discipline, without ever putting it to the test as they would if they had actual faith. It is as if they hope if they never question then maybe the dream of eternal reward will come true and thus run from any chance of encountering a serious refutation.
The thing is if the resurrected Jesus needed to appear to Peter, James and Paul before they would believe, then why not appear to us all?
Is there an answer to this that doesn’t come off like an excuse?
It isn’t like the creator of the universe lacked the budget. And that the most important decision in our lives would come down to believing the eyewitness testimony of a handful of first-century men, this seems rather odd. Don’t get me wrong either, the Biblical narrative is quite fascinating, the miracles, angelic visits, and promise of life after death to those who believe, it is wonderful. The teachings of Jesus have led to a more compassionate era. Still, the claims like the virgin birth, walking on water, and raising the dead aren’t exactly things a rational person would accept without seeing these miraculous events for themselves.
The biggest problem with the apologetics of Habermas is that it relies on a false dichotomy. A reader doesn’t need to be able to accept that a source is perfectly reliable to believe some of it is true. There is a multitude of possibilities as to why the disciples would go with the resurrection narrative. First, it is much easier than saying they wasted their last few years. Second, it sells the teachings of Jesus better than anything else. And third, it can’t be falsified, how does anyone disprove what they claim to have seen?
This is not to say that the disciples were delusional or lying either. My point is that it is too easy to see an argument as being stronger than it is. It is annoying, perhaps, that we can’t rely on apologetics to do the heavy lifting of the Gospel, nevertheless, the only resurrection of Jesus many people will see is that which is embodied in us. What that means is self-sacrifice and bridging the gap of unbelief with the substance of love.
Talk is easy, actually taking up the cross is not…
Conflict is everywhere, anywhere there are two are more gathered there is potential for conflict. We currently watch the lingering hostilities between the West and Russia unfold into open war in Ukraine, between people of a common Kyivan Rus’ religious and cultural heritage. The reasons are complex (watch this video for a deeper dive) and beyond the scope here.
Nevertheless, the same things that cause wars between nations also lead to schism and splits in the church, and despite the exhortation of St. Paul to make every effort to maintain unity:
Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
(Ephesians 4:2-4 NIV)
If we would ask most who profess Christ, they would probably agree that the Church should be united, there should not be rifts or denominations, yet that’s probably where the agreement would end. The body of believers has split hundreds of different ways, over matters of theology, history, structure, worship style, politics, or personalities.
But, before we get to the broader conflicts and division within Christianity, I’ll confess that I’m currently in my own conflict. This is why I am both the right and the wrong person to write about this topic. I am the wrong person because the impasse has not been resolved yet despite a small gesture on the part of the other person. My anger has exasperated the issue. And yet I’m also still wanting to find peace with this other person and honest resolution.
Conflict is Nothing New or Unexpected
If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were rising against me, I could hide. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among the worshipers.
(Psalms 55:12-14 NIV)
I believe we can all identify with the text above. We expect an enemy to do us harm and will find ways to maintain distance. However, when someone that we trust acts in a deliberately hurtful way, exploiting our vulnerabilities, the betrayal of a friend is the worst kind of pain. It is hard to come back to the table when someone professing Christ, who worshipped with us, seemingly close in spirit, totally destroys our trust.
That said, restoration of what is broken is part and parcel of Christianity. Indeed, we’re told that if we can’t forgive a person who owes us, then we will not be forgiven by God. (Matthew 6:4,5) This is something that Jesus expounded on in the parable of the unforgiving servant, a man who begs for mercy for a vast sum of money he owed, is forgiven, and then turns around to demand from a fellow servant.
And yet, no teaching of Jesus should be taken out of context either. Jesus was not, I repeat, was not telling us to sweep sin under a rug or not hold people accountable for their abuses. This certainly was not unilateral and unconditional forgiveness without repentance:
“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15-17 NIV)
So many conflicts within the Church could be solved if we would go directly to the other person who had caused our offense. This process above is prescriptive and may keep a mere misunderstanding from blowing up into something that leads to separation or divides a congregation. First, before consulting anyone else, we should try to settle the issue amongst ourselves. Then, if that doesn’t work, it is time to seek the counsel of others and confront together. And, if that fails, if they refuse collective council, we should part ways.
It is similar to this explicit command from St. Paul:
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.”
(1 Corinthians 5:9-13 NIV)
Forgiveness is not the same thing as tolerance for unrepentant sin. The church cannot be a hospital if we let the infection of sin to spread, like a superbug, untreated and ignored. The antiseptic is to confront the issue, to give opportunity for confession and repentance to begin the healing process. But, if the limb refuses treatment, then (as an absolute last resort) it must be amputated to save the body, as St. Paul had asked rhetorically in the lead up to the verses above: “Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?”
In cases of actual unrepentant sin, conflict is entirely appropriate. The church cannot be allowed to become an incubator for sin. The toxicity can quickly spread and destroy the fellowship and health of a congregation. It takes proactive pastoral involvement, like that of St. Paul, to keep things from spiraling out of control. Yes, we should pray about all things. Sure, we should not judge without mercy and willingness to forgive the repentant. Still, we must confront sin, endure the discomfort of effective conflict resolution, and not simply resign to fate.
Not All Separation is Sin
Too many seem to skip over the book of Acts and miss the opportunity to see how Christianity played out in the early church:
Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord.
(Acts 15:36-40 NIV)
This seemed like an amicable separation between Paul and Barnabas. Nevertheless, it was an unresolved conflict and they parted ways over it. There is no indication that either of the men was harboring an unforgiving spirit or in the wrong for this and, in the end, it probably helped the Gospel to reach more people than if they had stuck together. That is why with my own current conflict I may simply move on rather than make an effort to settle things. It is sometimes not worth the energy to continue with someone that does not see things the way we do.
Going separate ways, rather than trying to push through a conflict, may serve a greater purpose. At the very least, as with Abraham and Lot who parted ways over the turf wars between their respective herdsmen, we’ll gain a little peace. The key is that we don’t harbor ill-will or bring any hostilities with us Note that Paul and Barnabas did not go out and start competing church groups. They stayed within the same body of faith, carried on the same tradition, and simply moved in a different direction.
Is Ecumenicalism the Answer?
A church unified in teaching and mission should be the desire of all Christians. Some achieve this by declaring themselves the remnant and carrying on the great tradition of Diotrephes who turned away even the Apostles:
I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church.
(3 John 1:9-10 NIV)
Declaring yourself to be the true church and everyone else imposters is certainly convenient and yet not really employing be completely humble. I mean, sure, when I was Mennonite I wanted a church unity built around the doctrines that I was taught. It is easy to assume that the ground that we stand on is sacred simply because we’re standing on it. However, that is not an attitude or spirit that will ever overcome our existing conflicts.
Many are tempted to see ecumenicalism as the better alternative. Let’s all just give up on the particulars, find our common ground in Jesus, sing kumbaya while holding hands together, and move on, right?
But this is a race to the lowest common denominator, we would need to throw out almost everything to reach some kind of consensus. We would end up with a vague picture of the real Jesus and only end up creating one more faction. That’s the grand irony of universalist, non-denominational or ecumenical efforts, they never do actually solve the divisions and only end up creating another group of those willing to compromise for sake of creating a kind of unity that doesn’t really amount to much.
Eccumenticalism tends to be a denial of the reasons why the conflicts exist. It glosses over serious differences in theology and practice. It appeals to a “can’t we all just get along” sentiment, it is modeled off of the democratic process that many in our time embrace rather than the Gospel, and is not the way of the early church.
How Did the Early Church Settle Disputes?
The early church was not conflict-free. And had a fair amount of heretical teachings and false prophets that needed to be addressed. But one of the big disputes was between the Judiazers, those of Jewish background who wished to impose Jewish law on all new converts, and those who did not see this as necessary:
Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them. Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.” The apostles and elders met to consider this question. After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. Simon has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written: “ ‘After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent. Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it, that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear my name, says the Lord, who does these things’— things known from long ago. “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.
(Acts 15:1-19 NIV)
This conflict was not solved by democracy or popular vote. No, it was decided by a council of elders and Apostles, who then told the rest of the Church what the right approach would be. It also went against a strict interpretation and application of Scripture. It was both hierarchical and required submission. We might not like that this dispute was decided from the top down. We can question the authority of this council or those that followed after, nevertheless, this was how conflicts over theology and practice were settled.
This is the strength of Orthodoxy; Orthodoxy centers on the Orthodoxy rather than hierarchy and that does mean the tradition of the Apostles, passed on “by word of mouth or by letter,” (2 Thess. 2:15) a canon of teachings (including Scripture) that have been established as authentic through councils of the Church, and has been held fast by the faithful throughout the centuries.
So Orthodoxy is the Answer to Conflict?
Many Orthodox Christians will tout their unbroken lineage all that way back to the Apostles. Our way of worship goes back over a millennium, the liturgy of St. John Chrysostom celebrated from the 5th Century on and is unrivaled in terms of the beauty of the content and structure. We are the ancient Church tradition and, indeed, Holy Communion is a mystical experience when in the presence of all those through the centuries who have participated. Such unity!
We’ll talk about the Great Schism and do some of that necessary handwringing about the literally thousands of divisions within Protestantism. I mean, judge for yourself, is there any civilization more divided against itself than the West? Even Roman Catholicism, with its progressive Pope and sex abuse scandals, is quite at odds with itself despite having a defined hierarchical structure.
Had I entered Orthodoxy with blind idealism, expecting the perfect church, I would probably have left even before getting started. The Orthodox may have the richest of Christian traditions, it is certainly a treasure trove for those who appreciate history and want to participate in a Christianity recognizable to those in the early Church. There is also a defined hierarchy to settle disputes. I mean, what could possibly go wrong? And yet the same conflicts of personalities and politics happen here as much as anywhere else.
Pretty much simultaneous to my entering the fold, the Ukrainian Schism took place. The gist of the dispute was that the Archbishop of Constantinople and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew decided unilaterally to grant autocephaly (or independence) to the Ukrainian church. The problem was that this overstepped canonical law and violated the jurisdiction of the Moscow Patriarchate. For sake of context, Bartholomew is pretty much the patriarch of a city that no longer exists, is supported by American churches, and is acting outside of his authority in a way reminiscent of the very Papal abuse that led to the Great Schism between East and West in 1054.
And then there were those families that left my own parish, led by a homeschooling mom from a Protestant background, who made some vicious (and completely unfounded, I was on the council and reviewed the books) accusations against the new priest. This woman, one of those pious and outwardly perfect types, the kind that can fool all of the frivolous old ladies, sends up all of the red flags of a classic manipulator. Things didn’t go her way and, therefore, that was proof of abuse and fraud. I tried to be her friend. I don’t completely connect with our new priest myself, and yet she’s way out of line.
Of course, I come from a Mennonite background, where no dispute is too petty to divide over. We would part ways over hairstyles.
The most disappointing fissure, however, other than my own personal conflict with someone that I thought was a real friend, is that between Abbott Tryphon and Ancient Faith Ministries. Tryphon, a convert to Orthodoxy, is a great writer and a favorite of my parish priest. I follow him on social media. He had a falling out with Ancient Faith over his more overtly political content. Of course, the accusations fly between sides, some say that one side has been compromised, has connections to this industry, or that, while the other would say it was over someone getting too entangled in worldly politics.
In other words, both sides are making essentially the same claim about the other and it probably does stem from both sides holding slightly different partisan perspectives. I can understand the perspectives that both sides have. I do not see worldly politics as being a good mix with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and yet I also see that a prophetic voice must speak to the issues relevant to the time. Still, Tryphon, though very eloquent, seems the more butt-hurt of the two parties and even alienated some of his own audience with his lashing out.
I would actually side against Tryphon, based on his visible conduct, if it weren’t for one thing and that thing being that I’m just like him when hurt. He’s a passionate man, someone who speaks with conviction, a bit black and white, and completely like me.
Division Makes Us All Weak
There is no religious system or culture that can prevent conflicts. We can go through all of the correct motions, speak all of the right words, have a perfect understanding of Christianity at a theoretical level, and yet totally fail to resolve conflicts.
Returning to the passage from Ephesians, from the start of the blog, the “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” is preceded by “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” That’s the hard part. When hurt or offended we don’t want to wait, we want to speak out rashly and let them feel a little of our own anguish.
And yet St Paul does not tell us to bury our grievances in the name of keeping unity and peace either:
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
(Ephesians 4-14-16 NIV)
We should not lose our sensitivity:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. That, however, is not the way of life you learned when you heard about Christ and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.
(Ephesians 4:17-25 NIV)
Instead, we need to find a way to navigate through conflicts, to speak truthfully and reject falsehood, while still being completely gentle, humble, and patient at the same time. It is both prayerful and proactive. The potential growth of the church is stunted both by those aggressively confrontational and overly passive in their approach. Again, what good is a hospital that only ever talks about infection without ever treating it? Likewise, who would go to a hospital where they a browbeaten and belittled constantly?
Having the right spirit is the start to resolving (or even completely avoiding) conflicts. There is a need for open and direct communication. We should also not let things stretch out too long, where we let things stew, as Ephesians 4:26-27 says: “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.” The more that I think about something the more upset I can become. I tend to soften up very quickly when face-to-face with someone, it is harder to hold on to the grievance.
Oh No, Here We Go Again!
When I entered Orthodoxy, trying to put the deep disappointments behind me, and already having the romance question answered by Charlotte, I was determined to remain friendly, and yet aloof and impersonal enough not to get hurt. The people were nice at the small parish, a good mix of ages, coffee hour conversations could go deep and I very quickly warmed up to most of the regular attenders.
In the intervening years, there has been some change and conflict. The long-serving Fr. Dan, who helped to build the parish, retired (his last service my Chrismation) and the search was on for a new rector. Unfortunately, not everyone was happy with the choice and almost immediately set to undermine the new priest. I tried to steer clear of those politics, choosing to remain faithful to the parish community despite my own personality conflicts with the burly bearded Harley riding Baptist convert. He’s a gruff man with a golden heart.
It was in the midst of the pandemic, after that initial quarantine phase in the spring of 2020, that a new person started to attend. She looked like someone who could be cradle Orthodox, with dark curly hair, and her veil with a long dress reminded me of the traditional Mennonite style that I loved. So I pretty much had to introduce myself and make them feel welcomed. I can’t really remember how that went, she was reserved and a little standoffish, and yet Orthodoxy provided a bond that allowed us to develop what seemed to be an authentic brotherly and sisterly relationship.
We spent a fair amount of time talking about our long-distance love interests, we became a sort of two-person support group for those waiting on their significant other to arrive, comforting and encouraging each other, and I found the greatest joy when her tall handsome man arrived one evening for vespers. I was so excited, in fact, that I offered to play the part of the photographer to make sure that this moment was captured.
I didn’t realize then that this would be the high point of the relationship. Uriah’s death meant I needed some space to process and mourn. I pulled back. And pulled back even more after a sarcastic remark was directed at me. It wasn’t meanspirited or meant to hurt, but I simply didn’t have the emotional armor for it and decided to let her be with her new nihilistic Ortho-bro Millennial buddies. A church isn’t supposed to be a social club or clique of cool kids snickering at everyone else, I could find more neutral company until I got my feet under me again, and that’s what I did.
It was mutual avoidance at this point. I wanted space, she never really loved me anyway (later revealing that our friendship was fake when I did try to reconcile) and this was fine.
However, eventually, this arrangement started to wear thin for me. It seemed dishonest or out of sorts with the loving claims we made with our mouths during worship together. It was too reminiscent of those cold shoulders Mennonite girls give when they want the pudgy less than hygienic misfit to get the hint and not Christian. So I did what I thought I do well, wrote an email, shelved that one, and wrote another less emotionally charged version that I sent.
Unfortunately, the signals that I got back were not conciliatory and some of the comments seemed to be very intentionally aimed at my known vulnerabilities, I was falsely accused of being romantically interested (100% not the case) and pretty much had everything thrown back in my face. It was at this point some of my past started to bubble back up, seeing her would trigger severe discomfort and a flight reflex. She did gesture to try to make it right and try I have not seen much evidence of a change of heart either.
Rather than reconcile with me directly and be honest, she seems determined to maintain the distance by getting intermediaries involved. And my initial anxiety attacks have morphed into intense feelings of anger from what feels like a betrayal and lies. I don’t trust her anymore and I don’t trust anyone to mediate. I can’t see platitudes or empty motions as being a way forward and would rather stick to the avoidance strategy. So the one triumph for true brotherhood in Christ ends in a messy quagmire.
It’s Not You, It’s Me
“We have met the enemy and he is us.”
The truth is that my interpersonal conflict, like all in the Church, is a problem with me as much (or more) than it is them. I have trust issues and an impossible ideal, the initial estrangement was my fault, she has her own baggage to deal with and is now moving to protect herself from me. In her mind, and in the mind of her allies, I am the unstable and manipulative party in this conflict. She is, no doubt, being encouraged to write me off and move on. I’ve given her reason (like telling her “stay away from me”) to never talk to me again.
So, what is my reason for spilling my guts in a blog once again?
Maybe so that someone reading can offer a solution or that those who are prayer warriors can help by begging God to remove those blinders from our eyes and free us from the bindings of fear. I had initially loved this person because they appeared to be sincere and that (during a sermon about martyrs and contemplating my own weakness of faith) I decided it would be worth dying beside her rather than leaving her to face death alone. It is tragic that we should end up dying now in opposition to each other due to our past. Please pray for me, a sinner, that I can learn humility and live a life of repentance.
This brings me to the final point and another reason why I’m sharing this openly: We cannot solve those broader schisms and divisions within the Church if we can’t even love those who are right in front of us enough to lower our defensive posture or give a second chance to those undeserving. Healing, within the body of Christ, can only be accomplished by working locally to resolve our own conflicts with humility, gentleness, and patience. We cannot conquer the world for the Kingdom when we’re at war with ourselves.
Furthermore, it takes being at peace with who we are as individuals, petty, unworthy, afraid and broken, to solve our own inner conflicts, before we’re going to do much good in our communities. My own insecurities, no doubt, are what cloud my judgment and lead to the wrong kind of response. The Gordian knot that I project onto this situation is less an external reality and more a reflection of my internal state. I am frustrated with my lack of progress. I did find great comfort in this friend who is complex and conflicted like me.
Now my true character has been revealed. I’m not this wonderful even-keeled guy. My emotions do get the best of me. I’m not at peace with myself all of the time and sometimes do look outward for a resolution to this inner battle. Unfortunately, looking to others for security and stability, will leave us further hurt. They have their baggage too, they respond wrong, misunderstand, misrepresent, manipulate, lie and will otherwise disappoint. That’s why spiritual healing has to start with me—with getting my own conflicted heart right.