Isn’t It Ironic?

So today I came across an interesting comment which read:

Isn’t it ironic how Christians/Catholics are “pro-life” in the sense that life is important to them, but if that life happens to be gay, like me, it’s suddently worthless. So you’ll fight for fetuses but applaud Russian men who beat homosexuals?

This certainly reeks of a bad experience with the Church and I actually feel compassion for this guy because while he may be believing a lie it doesn’t mean the lie doesn’t give him genuine sadness. And in light of that revelation it bothers me that I get accused of hating things all the time, whether directly or indirectly, not based on my actions but as a “natural” result of my beliefs.

I would not deny being pro-life after writing so many pieces about the topic but I reject the notion that because I believe in something I must by default hate everything else that is not that something. This is an absolutely baseless assumption because the nature of choice implies exclusion. By choosing to wear my cute gray sweater from Kohls to work today I rejected every other top in my closet not because I’m anti t-shirt or against my navy blue sweaters or because I hate cardigans (I love them), but because I had to pick a top for work today and this one is pretty, weather appropriate, and convenient as I had a limited window to make my choice since I overslept.

But there are more important choices in this world than which top to wear and when it comes to religion I’m never sure whether I chose Catholicism (I did) or it chose me (also true). But to be Catholic is to believe it’s teaching to be the truth revealed to man through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And I do. Call it mindless submission to authority if you like, but it is my free choice to be Catholic and that decision binds me to its teaching because if I profess it as my faith but don’t believe or practice its teachings then I am a hypocrite.

And with Catholicism, it is often explained to me that because I follow Church teaching which upholds traditional marriage I automatically hate all gay people. False. That because I follow Church teachings on chastity I’m a prude who looks down on everyone and has “unrealistic” expectations about life and men. False (and rather jaded). And that because I follow Church teaching on contraception I’m against women’s rights. Also false. The list goes on. I’m thinking you get the idea. The ironic part is those I have argued with and who bring such claims forward are using their own bias to condemn my perceived bias and demanding I apologize for their incorrect perceptions.

I can tell you I’m not against the individuals of the LGBT community, women, etc. but I have no control as to whether or not you believe it. I would hope my words and actions demonstrate as much to you but that’s the tricky part about bias, if people are looking to hate or denounce you they can certainly find a way and once the claim is out there our shallow world cares very little about whether or not it’s actually true so long as it fits the narrative of Christians as bigoted, oppressive, ignorant etc. And to use such a narrative to justify hating me because of my religion, to use that ill will as the basis for assuming that I would do something so callous as to cheer one man beating another solely because of his sexual preference is perhaps the most ironic of all because in that moment this anonymous man becomes the very type of person he is condemning, one who chooses to hate others based on nothing but their life choices.

And that is an irony of the worst kind.

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The Littler Way

So as you all can probably imagine I spend more time than I ever dreamed I would arguing with people I’ve never met on the internet. (Believe me it’s embarrassing to admit because I never wanted to be that person.) But as fate would have it I publish a lot of stuff online and when people misunderstand, offer a crappy counter-argument in an arrogant way, or bash something that doesn’t deserve bashing I just feel some inexplicable need to defend it. Anyway, in one such instance I innocently posted my article A New Faith and a guy responded, “the only thing I hate more than people who blame God for their problems are people who give Him credit for their successes.”

I can’t imagine a person needing to begrudge another person their gratitude, and I said as much to this mystery man and I explained how I felt about God and I admitted honestly that “I hope by the end of my life that I take credit for nothing, because I would rather be anything than proud.” And oh my goodness the internet exploded.  Had more people read it the internet might have shut down entirely because people were furious about my attitude and horrified by my religious “brainwashing.” Like I’ve just been so brainwashed by religion that I don’t realize how dumb I am and if I saw my ignorance through their eyes I’d feel sorry for my pathetic self and repent by reading Richard Dawkins.

If you have to be brainwashed by anything, it should be religion, the water of grace, the stuff of the Saints, nothing like truth and solid dogma to refresh your mind. In fact, I would rather be “brainwashed” by religion than the new atheism because I have studied the effects of both and made an informed decision to remain Catholic. Because I think a fantastic measure of truth and sound dogma, that is seriously underutilized in this day and age, is to look at the lives of the people who live their creeds and ask yourself which way you’d prefer.

But before I go too far down an entirely separate tangent I’d like to come back to the purpose of this article, which was to enlighten people to what exactly I meant by my apparently super controversial statement. Because there was a reason it sounded so outlandish to my atheistic and cynical counterparts, to the point where it angered them, and the reason is a sad one. It was because they don’t understand the essence of humility which I believe, in large part, is why they also have so much difficulty having any kind of relationship with God.

To explain, let’s examine the nature of the disagreement. The article I wrote was discussing a gratitude and a new faith I had developed in the past year or so and a confidence that if God could get me through those particular trials then He could get me through anything. The counter was that I had gotten myself through the various trials on my own and that my credit to God was, in a word, stupid. (Or ignorant, if you liked that one better).

Now what I was trying to get this guy to understand was yes I did make some economical decisions that helped me save money and yes I was proactive in searching for jobs while unemployed etc. But to tell my tale of hardship and woe out of the context of my relationship with God would not only render it significantly less interesting but horrifyingly incomplete. My article glossed over the year as a whole, it did not include my daily prayers or take into account the fact that my new faith came second, not first. What these people missed was that with God great things never start off great, they start off small.

To clarify, my big year didn’t begin as a year, it didn’t even begin as a day, it began as a moment. A moment where I was really afraid, intimidated by the future, and unsure of what to do next. So in that moment, I decided to do something new because my old way, the type-A extremely well-organized 5-year plan method, the way of the world that career experts recommend as foolproof, was leaving me in knots and getting me absolutely nowhere. I decided to forgo my careful planning and trust God. In 23 years as a practicing Catholic, I’m not sure I had ever truly and genuinely trusted in God before to actually come through for me in my adult world. I had always kept everything rather compartmentalized, maybe due to my skepticism that God really does have a grand plan for my life and cares about my day to day needs too.  I don’t know I guess I’d always had God as an idea, but certainly an abstract one that I wasn’t sure how to incorporate into my life, and I guess it was time for us to finally get personal.

And get personal we did. Because instead of living in fear I thought I’d dare to be daring. I basically said something to God along the lines of “well God with everything I have going on, with my old plans out the window, it seems a good a time as any to finally start living life like it’s an adventure again instead of a calculated chess game where the object is only to win. And adventures always have a good ending, so I want my final destination to be heaven. Forget the rest of it, forget making a name for myself, or having it all, or living in the suburbs. My goal now is just to go to heaven and enjoy the trip, and I’m going to need You to take care of me each moment until I’m finally there, because I trust in Your mercy and I can’t wait to see it.”  And that was that.  I started sharing each moment with God: the good, the bad, and the ugly crying. And the more I tried it the easier it became and the more I actually enjoyed the little moments of being alive again. I realized that, although extremely informal, this was prayer and as it became more natural to me I was noticeably happier, even though my circumstances hadn’t even changed for the better yet.

So as the time started flying and nearly a year had passed, I wanted to pay tribute to that way, which I affectionately call “the littler way” (because St. Therese had a “Little Way” of offering random acts of kindness to God but since I can’t always be counted on to be kind my way was even littler in that I was going to share the moment with God no matter what it held, whether I was managing kindness or was my usual sassy self.) But after those many months I wanted to give God credit for exceeding my expectations, because as I found out God has a way of making the most insignificant, or even awful, moments of life really beautiful just by being a part of them.

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And this littler way, be warned, has a way of making you extremely little too, because with God it wasn’t merely “coping” as they cheer you on to do in the self-help section. It was learning how to live in the present moment in peace, in joy, and with a new faith (hence the title of the original article). And the reason I said I would rather be anything than proud, is because to reframe what I just told you as an empowering story of how I pulled myself up by my bootstraps, made a plan and stuck to it without compromise, and did all of this without help from anyone would not only be self-serving, arrogant, and misleading it would be an outright lie (which I strive never to do). The worst kind of lie too, one that diminishes the light of the truth by blowing the smoke of the world. I mean, it’s impressive how much work has been done already to that effect, because I actually had the intellectuals (and by that I mean those who were not ignorant like me) lecturing me on how “pride is not a bad thing” and “you realize there are different degrees of everything, right?” (i.e. as long as I keep my pride in reasonable check it won’t harm me or others at all, which, interestingly, is the ironic error that Elizabeth Bennet mocks Mr. Darcy for in Pride and Prejudice.) It was certainly something to behold. Ignorance is truly bliss by comparison to this mental game of Twister.

Because when my adventure comes to an end and I finally get to heaven, I hope that when I stand before God I don’t feel the need to brag about a single accomplishment or hand Him my resume. I hope instead that I look Him in the face with one of those thousand-watt smiles and say, “thanks for everything Dad. I loved every minute.”

Can’t We All Just Get Along?

So in the chaos of modernity where the first world is aware of both global, national, and local news almost instantly I admit it can be difficult to hold on to hope. And in light of that statement I respect those people who care about others beyond just themselves and I think it’s admirable when people want to change the world for the better.

However, that does not excuse the laughably bad, yet socially acceptable, notion espoused by the media, those in office, and echoed in college campuses across the country which proposes that the solution to our chaotic world and the violence that we see before us is to demonize dissent with the hopes of eventually eliminating it entirely. This sentiment is echoed in President Obama’s recent speech calling for an end to Catholic and Protestant private schools.  To use his own words:

“… If towns remain divided — if Catholics have their schools and buildings, and Protestants have theirs — if we can’t see ourselves in one another, if fear or resentment are allowed to harden, that encourages division… [and] discourages cooperation.”

Granted his speech was given in Ireland, where Catholic and Protestant divisions run deep, yet I see this school of thought gaining momentum everywhere. It is a response to a problem based on the following set of ideas:

  1. People who disagree don’t like each other
  2. People who don’t like each other don’t respect each other
  3. People who don’t respect each other can feel justified in hating each other
  4. If people feel justified in hating each other they can become violent
  5. If all people choose to become violent the world will become a very violent place

These observations are fairly true in my limited experience on this planet, but the problem is not the competing viewpoints it is the choice made by the individual. Our belief systems certainly influence our actions, but it absurd to propose the solution of imposing the same set of beliefs on everyone in order to get the same predictable actions and outcomes, especially if you believe in freedom.

In fact, if the President truly believes his own assertion that the problem is not individual (or even collective) behavior but instead the freedom of thought in the first place, then by this same logic we should also eliminate American political parties because their existence and emotionally-charged opposition hinders us from “seeing ourselves in one another” and the mutual resentment stirred up on both sides of the aisle “encourages division and…discourages cooperation.”

Furthermore this quote, while seemingly innocent, places religious freedom in very dangerous waters because he betrays his feelings that Catholic and Protestant schools that are allowed to exist separately from the state promote and foster the violence and hatred that are contributing factors to the hostile political, social, and economic environment we live in. He is essentially revealing that in his mind the existence of these schools threatens the “peace,” “tolerance,” and “equality” that are at the core of his administration and the goal of all “progressive” moderns who encompass the left. Look out Catholic and Protestant schools, because this logic is laden with bias and the conclusion he draws from his biased logic is false, but that has never stopped any politician with a mission and good campaign funding.

And before you think I hate Obama and all politicians, I do not. I merely disagree with the way they handle true diversity and differences in opinion. They may be in earnest when they say they want peace, but they are willing to compromise their (but mostly my) freedom in order to get it whereas I am not. Because I have experienced that type of “peace” and it’s a lie. The sort of “peace” they want is a tolerance full of concessions where no one speaks up or gets angry or gets their feathers ruffled, a compromise where all agree to subscribe to a new narrative that has no specific religion, race, creed or distinction of any kind, but is instead a secular social code rather like the manual used at the beginning of the Lego Movie. 

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A world that opts for conformity rather than diversity, an urbane and suburban existence where everyone shops at Whole Foods, watches Good Morning America, uses a condemn, exercises, has very few children (if any), overpays for coffee, dresses like a catalog, and doesn’t go to Church on Sunday. It’s the new American dream of peace by materialism, prosperity at the expense of humanity. It is an existence whose only concern is appearances and surface level status quos, rather than true human community based on mutual respect and love of neighbor. 

It’s like the “peace” of relatives who hate each other but put on a good show for the holidays, bragging that it was a good holiday not because it was truly good but simply because both sides of the family managed not to kill each other. This is how the politicians want us to relate to each other, forget a true dialogue, just everybody take it easy and smile for the photo.

And this is a problem because this false peace masquerades as a high ideal, something that we should all be striving for as a societal virtue when in fact it will destroy us. It is the John Lennon lyrics of imagining a world without religious wars, the lingering sadness in wake of all the violent shootings, the disenchanted American populace in light of the political acrimony between Republicans and Democrats, and the fear of global terrorism that wears on us and makes this lie of false peace seem appealing. The idea that if we all gave up everything about us that makes us unique or passionate (like religion or politics) and trusted the universal state to dictate our lives then things would be different, simpler, more peaceful. The ugly dissent that gets everybody all riled up will be gone, and there will be no more violence- and then we would be free to create a better world…Forget the means, think of the glorious ends of universal brotherhood, world peace, and prosperity for all. So tempting, isn’t it? Especially in situations like ours, that feel so desperate and disheartening.

There’s only one problem. It will never work. I’m not saying I don’t believe in those glorious things, I’m saying I merely don’t subscribe to the ideals of earthly paradise. I am a Catholic and I want the paradise of heaven, to finally be home with God where all those high ideals of genuine virtue become a living reality. Becuase the world is a fallen place. I’m not saying that to be bleak or because I’ve given up on it. But it is made up of imperfect people and giving the state authority to rid the world of dissent will not solve the problem, merely silence it, and that is not true peace. True peace begins in love, love of God and love of people. And the choice to do that cannot be mandated by any government, only put into practice by those who choose to believe it. And as much people get cynical these days when it comes to believing in people’s capacity for love, I think they are misguided. Because true love is hard, perhaps the hardest thing that humans can take it upon themselves to do, and I cannot condemn those brave enough to try because I am the type that would rather fail at something glorious than succeed at something meaningless.

And I would argue that this call to love is important because the absence of genuine Christian love is noticeable in our world today. Because it is not Christian love, but worldly love that separates, that loves by degrees and draws distinctions between “us” and “them.” It is the worldly love of the new atheism that is tainted with pride and is taught to love only when it sees a reflection of itself in the other. It is worldly love that only cares about its own feelings and the vanity of how things appear on the surface. This is the love that permeates our world and this is why the world is currently the way it is, not because of the failure of Christian love or the presence of Christian schools.

And it is high time that we remembered how to truly love each other once more, to re-ignite the spirit that unites us all as the true brothers and sisters that we are.