Saturday, December 14, 2013

Making distinctions, discerning the true from the false

In this somewhat rambling post, appropriate for a Saturday morning, I want to comment, yet again, on one of the things that afflicts us societally, namely our increasing inability to make important distinctions.

Most certainly this collective inability carries over to religion. For example, many Christians are unable to distinguish between self-help pabulum and the authentic message of the Gospel. To make things even more confusing, there are quite a few people who are really self-help gurus masquerading as ministers of the Gospel. While there are many of these, two in particular stand out, due to their influence: Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer. Despite the fact that they are more sophisticated in how they communicate it, they are purveyors of the "prosperity gospel," a message that Shai Linne denounced in his song "Fal$e Teacher$." Their fundamental message is- It's all about you, baby!

In my view, the surest touchstone we possess with which to make this distinction is to ask about any such message, Is this self-serving or self-giving? If it's the former, you can be pretty sure it's self-help. If the latter, even if not from a Christian source, it can be useful for us (see Mark 9:40).



Perhaps the most difficult teaching of our Lord is that He bids us, "Come, die." He proposes dying to self as the only way to eternal life:
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. What profit would there be for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? Or what can one give in exchange for his life? For the Son of Man will come with his angels in his Father’s glory, and then he will repay everyone according to his conduct (Matt 16:24-27)
In this passage, Jesus (here comes the Advent bit) not only tells us that He is returning to judge, but He gives us the criteria for His righteous judgment!

It is the saints who show us what this looks like in "real" life. The Little Way of the Little Flower pops immediately to my mind in this regard. The Gospel largely consists in getting over ourselves, not indulging ourselves, whether it be with food, sex, sleep, or self-pity, which tells us to hold on to all of our hurts, to close in, to go into a protective shell.

Perhaps a bit closer to home for both of my readers, it bears noting that marriage is all about dying to one's self and living for one's spouse and for one's children. We must freely choose to live in this selfless manner and then do so cheerfully, or at least without complaint, especially when it proves  difficult, when the "thank yous" and appreciations, that is, the rewards don't seem to be flowing. Without going into any detail, I don't mind saying that I have been doing a poor job of this lately. Meanwhile, the book Cásate y sé sumisa (i.e., Get Married and be Submissive), by a married Italian woman, Costanza Miriano, is now on the best-seller list in Spain, after becoming a best-seller in Italy.

In Spain the publisher of the book is the Archdiocese of Granada, which is headed by Archbishop Javier Martínez, whose quote,"the Eucharist is the only place of resistance to annihilation of the human subject," appears on the masthead of my blog. Predictably, the popularity of Miriano's book has sparked a lot of protests. In Spain there have been loud calls for the book to be banned. In a blog post for Great Britain's Catholic Herald newspaper, Francis Phillips deals with all of this in her very forthright and gracious manner, made all the more appropriate by the fact that today the Church remembers the great Carmelite mystic, St. John of the Cross:
Really, this is straightforward Catholic mystical theology (for homemakers). St John of the Cross, a great Spanish mystic of the 16th century – this was before “equality” ruled – wrote, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love.” This is true in every sphere of life and every relationship, but it matters most acutely in marriage because, by definition, you are thrown on each other’s company a lot of the time
St. John of the Cross

She also offers this much-needed clarification- "The problem lies in translating the word 'submission'. It should be seen as 'self-giving' rather than as 'self-abasing.'

This past week I also came across a blog post by Mike Leake, "7 Ways Social Media Makes Pastoring More Difficult," via Tim Challies' blog. It's one of those short pieces I found very useful. As regards my point here, the last item on the list is the relevant one:
Terrible counselors. If the pastor is wise and stays off of Facebook for most of his week—he’ll be saddened to know that much of his flock has been seeking counsel on Facebook. Those faux problems and vent statuses will be answered by someone. And there is a pretty good likelihood that they’ll be feeding them full of self-help garbage.
One would be hard-pressed to find a better, more accurate, or more humorous, critique of the American self-help phenomenon than the one written by Walker Percy: Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. In his list of things so many of us find ourselves disappointed about, he includes the Church:
The churches are disappointing, even for most believers. If Christ brings us new life, it is all the more remarkable that the church, the bearer of this good news, should be among the most dispirited institutions of the age. The alternatives to the institutional churches are even more grossly disappointing, from TV evangelists with their blown-dry hairdos to California cults led by prosperous gurus ignored in India but embraced in La Jolla

2 comments:

  1. Hello Scott,

    You mentioned Osteen and Meyer. To make a distinction Fr. Robert Barron makes, I find them great optimists, but lacking in hope. Hope and optimism are not the same. There have been many men in history who were very optimistic, but lacking in hope they then hurt a lot of people. An example (and I am not equating Osteen or Meyer with him) would be Hitler.

    Hope acknowledges the persistent limitations of created reality, but takes one beyond the limits of time and space, i.e., hope acknowledges the transcendent. Optimism often is a denial of the transcendent by asserting that man can create whatever he can dream of in the here and now with what is inherently imperfect and limited. I am not speaking of a "dualism" that some would want to say I am falling into here. It is rather incarnational and an acknowledgement of the cross.

    My favorite philosophy professor at St. Mary's, Fr. Andrew Fabian OP, would say, and I paraphrase a bit, "On this side of heaven it is a matter of imperfect beings in an imperfect world, using imperfect means, moving toward perfection." I think he had it right. Christians have every reason to hope for that which is to come, but with a realism, an acceptance of our imperfect embodiment in a redeemed but yet imperfect world.

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  2. Dear Bob:

    Great addendum. Thank you. I hope you are having a blessed Advent dear brother.

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