Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Limits of Our Faith

The biggest temptation of self-styled "religious" people is pride.

That is to say we think that, since we're religious, we're better than others.  This is especially tempting to think if we've paid some sort of price for our faith - if we've lost friends or given up what could have been great sex outside of marriage or told the truth and suffered the consequences when a little white lie would have made everything so easy.  So jealousy plays a part too.  "If I'm not having the kind of fun my wild friend Bill is having - who, even though he calls himself a Christian, drinks and sleeps around and makes a lot of money in some very dishonest ways - if I'm not gettin' what he's gettin', I must be holier than thou ... or at least holier than Bill."

But we forget - especially if no one reminds us - that the point of our faith is not self-satisfaction, not jealousy, not pride, not a sense of moral superiority.  The point of our faith is love.

And we forget - even though we are sustained by love - what love is capable of, and what a God who is love really is and really does.

As I wrote to a friend the other day ...

The Incarnation shows us that there is nothing that God is squeamish about.  You and I are squeamish and we draw back from the down and dirty part of reality.  But Jesus Christ does not.  He is right there with every victim, every addict, every murderer and cheat, every moral monster and sexual pervert.  There is nothing so bad that Love cannot redeem it.  Mother Teresa could pick the worms out of the skin of a dying homeless man.  God died even for Hitler.

One of the things you and I have in common is a lively imagination and an over-sensitivity that old Jack Lewis also shared.  It makes it easy for us to imagine in a very real way a God who is much different than what He really is.  When our bubbles start to burst and we find situations that are less than pretty, it's hard to picture the pristine God of our dreams getting involved in something so sordid or jarring or messy.  The God of our imaginations (our fuzzy-perfect-God) is not the God who roots through the garbage to save a soul - that's not what we picture him to be.

But it's our image of God that's off, not God Himself.  Whatever shame or sin is at the heart of any problem, He's going right at it. 

With that in mind, consider Woody Allen.

Let me say, to begin with, that we know he's a child molester.  No normal man marries his teen-aged step daughter.  A man who would do that would do what Dylan Farrow has accused him of, especially when the accusation rings as true as it does.  (Also, incidentally, the entire argument of his movie Manhattan is that romance trumps all convention, especially when a grown man loves a teen-aged girl, as a middle-aged Woody does in that movie - if memory serves me).

20 years ago some people got a kick out of pretending that we didn't know if OJ killed two people, or if Clinton was with that intern.  "How dare we judge!" some people would say, and some people would get a false sense of moral superiority from saying that.

Well, having a sense of moral superiority is not what life is about any more than having a pretty idol serving as a stand-in for your god is what faith is really about.  Common sense sees things that squeamishness won't.

Oh, and dirty old men and very young women is nothing that a sinner like me should get all morally superior about.  Yes, what Woody did crossed the line - in a horrible way that had nothing to do with sex whatsoever - but all of us dirty old men know that we're blurring that line all the time, in our hearts at least.  Indeed, there is something pathological about abusing anyone - but look at what we've learned on this blog alone.  When the issue of sex abuse came up a few years back, some of my most "devout" and "super-Catholic" readers were adamant that statutory rape was nothing but a legal fiction, period.  Since the age of consent is somewhat arbitrary, they argued that the entire concept of consent was arbitrary.  If I were foolish enough still to allow comments on this blog, I guarantee you that the whole can of worms would open up again and "serious Christians" would be telling me that an old guy and a fifteen year old is not that big a deal, and what's wrong with anime, after all?

This is a much darker problem than we'd care to admit.

But here a writer deals with it in a very forthright and Christian way (though the article is entirely secular).

One quote (emphasis mine) ...

Those of us who were abused by a family member, or a family friend, have shared banal time and space with the sort of people who molest kids. We have sat in their cars in traffic and gone to diners with them, watched them scarf cheeseburgers or try to quit smoking, need an aspirin. And mostly, they are not utter sociopaths or sadists.
We are in the paradoxical situation of being subject to pure evil and knowing from experience that its representatives are rarely pure evil themselves. No one is. We have almost certainly seen at least a flicker of innocent joy or generosity in their face. We have puzzled over this person who hurt us, and considered the fact that they too were children once. And we know that many of them were also sexually abused as children. At some point in healing, we just know that there will never be, could never be enough jails to contain this – that it would never work anyway ...

And also ...

We don't really just condemn the sexualization of children. Instead, we condemn the very existence of child abuse altogether. It's as if the crime includes being victimized by it, or [being] responsible for bringing it into the light. We take an ontological roach spray to the whole event, either denying its status in reality altogether, or competing with one another to proclaim the most exquisite forms of torture for the perpetrators. I can't count how many times I've seen the most strident liberal break character to loudly call for the prison rape of perpetrators.
That this darkness is actually woven into and throughout the fabric of our society—that these abusers are among us—is simply too much to bear. So the darkness is ignored except for the most distilled, theatrical, and viscerally repellent cases.

We are a confounding mixture of good and evil - and it is only the God of the Smelly Manger and the Bloody Cross who redeems us.