Friday, June 8, 2007

Strike One for "Trey" on Homosexuality

A comment from "Trey" on my post regarding homosexuality writes that "The number 1 reason why God doesn't need you to worry about other people's sexuality: 1. Because he is God, and can judge us individually."

Typical of today's rationalistic mentality, Trey seems to believe that because God is the one who ultimately judges our hearts, we should back off in trying to guide one another from paths of spiritual destruction.

The truth is, however, that we are each responsible for speaking for truth and reminding others to avoid sin. It is not our place to judge another person's heart. It is not even our place to judge our own hearts, as Paul makes clear in his epistles. However, it would be silly to infer from that that we shouldn't step in when we see another engaging in behavior that is destructive to himself.

I'm sure that if Trey knew a friend of his was viewing child pornography, he wouldn't be so cavalier as to say, as he did in his comment, that God does not need us to "add to the pile of condemnation flying about on any given topic."

If he found out his own son or daughter was cheating on a spouse, would he really take the attitude that it isn't his problem because God is the only one who (again, as his comment suggests) should "guide our lives".

If Trey had read my post carefully, which he obviously did not, he would see that I absolutely did not encourage a condemnation of people with homosexual tendencies. I also did not encourage a condemnation of people who chose to act on such tendencies. What I did condemn, however, was attitudes such as Trey's, which tell us to ignore the teachings of Scripture and Tradition on homosexuality. I did write that the most unchristian thing we could do when a friend or relative is battling homosexuality is to withhold the truth of Christ from that person.

People who are tempted by sin do not need Trey's indifference. He may be perfectly content with allowing them to fall into sinful behavior. Maybe it is just easier for him to allow others to face judgement without his support and Christian guidance. Perhaps he even thinks he knows better than the Church, which was entrusted by Christ to uphold a moral standard.

He wouldn't be the first to make that assumption either. That credit goes to Adam and Eve, who chose for themselves the right to decide right and wrong.

Trey ends his comment with a snide suggestion that perhaps, instead of worrying about those who are slipping into sin, I should, "Go do some work for an elderly person instead." The hypocrisy here is that, in attempting to chastise me for condemning others, Trey, himself, condemns me (and anyone else who would uphold a moral standard), assuming that our adherence to truth means that we are callous individuals who do not contribute to social welfare. How, exactly, does Trey know my own personal contributions, either monetarily or physically, to charitable works? I have observed it to be a mark of his own brand of moral superiority that such an indignant attitude would be displayed to anyone who chooses Christian morality over a trendy political correctness. Is he not able to take to heart his own suggestion that God does not need him to "add to the pile of condemnation flying about on any given topic?"

Finally, his comment is evidence that the age of indifference in the Christian church (assuming Trey is Christian) is marked by a characteristic promotion of the social gospel to the exclusion of our first duty, which is to be God's tool in bringing others to salvation. The Christian mandate isn't a sum-zero proposition. We can be concerned for the less-fortunate (and Trey seems to assume that anyone who is elderly is less fortunate), and speak the truth of Christ and his Church.

Trey may not be willing to take on this responsibility. As he suggested in his comment, though, God will hold each of us individually accountable. I am not in a place to judge Trey's heart, but I am curious how he will explain to Christ his unwillingness to defend the teachings that Christ, himself, passed on.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Figuratively Speaking

One of the things that non-Catholics are most surprised about when they really begin studying our faith is how literally Catholics take much of Scripture. Perhaps the clearest example of this is in the Last Supper passages, where Christ says of the bread, “This is my body”, and of the wine, “This is my blood.”

Often, however, when Catholics bring these verses to the attention to someone who does not believe in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the conversation goes something like this:

Catholic: “Christ says, ‘This is my body’. Why can’t we take him at his word?
Non-Catholic: “Because Christ also calls himself a vine (John 15:1) and a door (John 10:7), among other things. Are we to believe he is actually a plant or a thing on hinges?

It’s interesting to see how an otherwise literalist student of the Bible suddenly turns figurative when it comes to reconciling his rejection of a distinctly Catholic doctrine.
The point such a person would be making, of course, is that Christ often spoke in metaphors to help his followers understand the full scope of his being. Why, the non-Catholic might ask, would we believe that the Last Supper discourse is any different?

To be fair to this perspective, here are several more “things” that God (in the person of Christ or otherwise) compares himself to through inspired Scripture:
  • The Branch (Zech. 3:8)
  • The Bright and Morning Star (Rev. 22:16)
  • The Chief Corner Stone (Eph. 2:20; 1Peter 2:7)
  • An Eagle (Deut. 32:11)
  • A Fountain (Zech. 13:1)
  • The Lamb (John 1:29; Rev. 5:6)
  • The Rock (1 Cor. 10:4)

This line of reasoning has never really made sense to me. Perhaps that has something to do with the fact that, for the last eleven years, I spent a great deal of time teaching eighth graders grammar and figurative language.

There’s something of a verbal sleight-of-hand trick happening when non-Catholics try to equate the institution of the Eucharist to Christ’s many metaphorical statements about himself.

A metaphor works this way. The subject of the sentence is joined by a linking verb to a seemingly different predicate nominative, which reflectively describes something unique about the subject. A literal truth about the predicate nominative describes a figurative truth about the subject. For instance, in the sentence, “My dad is an ox”, the subject (dad) is probably big and hairy, given his resemblance to the predicate nominative (ox). It is important to note that, given the structure of a metaphor, “ox” is describing “dad”, not the other way around. The ox literally weighs near a thousand pounds and is literally covered from head to foot with hair; my dad is only figuratively an ox in that his size and hair exceed that of the average person. To understand it more clearly, one can take the metaphor and turn it into a simile by adding “like” or “as”: My dad is like an ox.

The simile approach emphasizes that it is impossible to flip the comparison around without outright changing the meaning. “My dad is like an ox” becomes outright weird when we flip it to say, “An ox is like my dad.”

Let’s take the metaphors of Scripture and state them in simple declarative sentences (using the generic “God” to simplify the process):

  • God is a vine.
  • God is a door.
  • God is the branch.
  • God is the bright and morning star.
  • God is the chief corner stone.
  • God is an eagle.
  • God is a fountain.
  • God is the lamb.
  • God is the rock.

Now, notice the problem when we look at the institution of the Eucharist:

This [bread] is my body.

Or, to make the comparison easier, I’ll substitute the word “God” for the words “my body”:

This [bread] is God.

Or, to be specific:

This [bread] is Jesus.

It would make no sense to flip the comparison (unless one’s grammar resembles that of Yoda):

  • A vine is God.
  • A door is God.
  • A rock is God.
  • A lamb is God.

These last four don’t make sense because, in the figurative examples above, God is always the subject. The predicate nominatives describe qualities of God. God is a source of life, like a vine. He is our entrance into Heaven, like a door. He is the foundation of our faith, like a “rock” or “cornerstone”. He was sacrificed for us, like a lamb.

This is how metaphors work, which is why it is outright silly to claim that in the last supper narrative, when “God” or “my body” becomes the predicate nominative. To do so would mean that we are using the divine figuratively to describe a literal truth about the bread. How is this possible? Is the bread in anyway omniscient? Omnipotent? Omnipresent? To illustrate, let’s turn our “metaphors” into similes:

  • God is like a rock. Makes sense.
  • God is like a lamb. Makes sense.
  • God is like a vine. Makes sense.
  • God is like a door. Makes sense.
  • This bread is like God. Huh?

Even the original text would fail this test (This [bread] is like my body). The reason? By putting God as the predicate nominative, the metaphor serves to exalt bread to something divine by comparison. This makes no sense and has no place in the unity of Scripture unless

Unless it wasn’t meant to be figurative …

Which would mean it was literal …

Which would mean that the bread isn’t bread anymore.