Monday, May 11, 2009

What Does it Mean to Love Jesus?

Many Christians instinctively take offence at the idea that they practice a religion. Quite often, they'll be quick be point out that they're about relationship, not religion. It's a strange assertion, given that St James says that there is nothing inherently wrong about being religious:

"Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world." - James 1:27

Of course, there is a marketing ploy in all of this rhetoric. By seeking to identify Christianity as a relationship rather than a religion, Christianity becomes differentiated from other religions. I must admit that I am finding this idea all the more strange of late, considering that the phrase "personal relationship" doesn't appear in the Scriptures. The notion of a personal relationship with Jesus sounds more like a slick corporate slogan than a timebound biblical principle.

Closely related to the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus is the idea that as Christians we love Jesus, which I'd argue is somewhat more biblical. Nonetheless, this much more biblical concept has given birth to countless manifestations of this idea. One of these manifestations has been the emergence of so-called "Jesus is My Boyfriend" songs, which seek to define our relationship with Jesus in romantic, or even erotic terms. Though these songs are popular in many churches, they have incurred the wrath of other Christians, who see these songs as essentially oversentimentalised and self-absorbed. Without wishing to subscribe to this point of view absolutely, it is an argument that I believe is not without some degree of merit.

This got me thinking. Seeing that Jesus is no longer incarnate, what is the concrete object of our desire? Some Christians will appeal to the Bible, but I'd ask such Christians this question: In what sense is the love Christians have for Jesus different to the love that Marxists have for Marx? Perhaps this idea is even better articulated by the late Jacques Derrida, who made the following comment about the ambiguities of love during an interview in 2002:

Love is a question of who and what. Is love the love of someone or the love of some thing?

Suppose I love someone, do I love someone for the absolute singularity of who they are? i.e. I love you because you are you. Or do I love your qualities, your beauty, your intelligence?

Does one love someone, or does one love something about someone? The difference between the who and the what at the heart of love, seperates the heart. It is often said that love is the movement of the heart. Does my heart move because I love someone who is an absolute singularity, or because I love the way that someone is?

Often love begins with a type of seduction. One is attracted because the other is like this or like that. Inversely, love is disappointed and dies when one comes to realise the other person doesn't merit our love. The other person isn't like this or that. So at the death of love, it appears that one stops loving another not because of who they are but because they are such and such [a person].

That is to say, the history of love, the heart of love, is divided between the who and the what. The question of Being is divided into what is it 'to Be'? What is 'Being'? The question of 'Being' is itself always already divided between who and what. Is 'Being' someone or some thing? I speak of it abstractly, but I think that whoever starts to love, is in love, or stops loving, is caught between this division of the who and the what. One wants to be true to someone - singularly, irreplaceably - and one perceives that this someone isn't x or y. They didn't have the qualities, properties, the images, that I thought I'd loved. So fidelity is threatened by the difference between the who and the what.

These words were deeply revealing to me. As Christians who say we love Jesus, do we love Jesus as that first century Jew living in Palestine, or do we simply love the ideas we associate with Jesus? And if the latter, is it simply our own ideas that we love - to be blunt, are we enamoured with our own intellect? If so, then this would suggest that our so-called love for Jesus is an act of self-love, rather than love, per se.

Some may lambast me at this point for trying to equate love with a feeling rather than an action. But the fact is, love is no less a noun than a verb. English sometimes works like that. Sure you can show love, but you can't show love without there being an object (of is we proceed existentially, a Subject) of this love. This being the case, it seems that there will always be this tension between loving Jesus as Subject and loving ideas about Jesus, which quite often are ideas of our own making.

As I see it, one solution to this dilemma may lie in Jesus' own words that if we love him that we will obey his commandments. But even then, does our obedience reflect a commitment towards Jesus, or simply a commitment towards our own ideas about Jesus? And if the latter, how do we love Jesus as Subject, rather than a Jesus as the object of our ideas?

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Catholicism on Merit

From paragraph 2011 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:

"The charity of Christ is the source in us of all our merits before God. Grace, by uniting us to Christ in active love, ensures the supernatural quality of our acts and consequently their merit before God and before men. The saints have always had a lively awareness that their merits were pure grace.

After earth's exile, I hope to go and enjoy you in the fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for your love alone.... In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself." - St. Therese of Lisieux, "Act of Offering"

Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Protestant Myth of its Own Origins

Recently I've been perusing a website entitled "Biblical Evidence for Catholicism", the personal site of a person who converted from Calvinism to Catholicism. In one of his articles I discovered a quote that I thought really resonated with truth about Protestant self-identity in which he muses about "the Protestant myth of its own origins -- or a sort of Protestant folklore".

Central to Protestant self-understanding is the notion that Protestants are the "Bible people"; the ones who are Bible-centered (as well as "gospel-centered," of course) and who reject the "traditions of men" and arbitrary rulings of a powerful ruling class with a vested interest in the status quo. Many Protestants assume that they more or less have a monopoly on love and respect for the Bible.

Clearly, the abovementioned self-understanding is no longer held universally among those who call themselves Protestants. However, for Evangelicals (and particularly, for Calvinists), who regard themselves as the true inheritors of authentic Protestantism, this identity is as strong as it ever was. Ironically, it is this very identity that prevents Protestants from coming to a greater understanding of the Bible, as I shall discuss below.

It should be remembered that Protestantism was born, as it were, as a reaction to the Roman Catholic Church. Because of this, the early Reformers had to commit themselves to hermeneutical principles (presuppositions, for the presuppositionalists among you) that justified their reaction against Rome, whether or not these principles accorded with internal biblical testimony. The obvious first step was to deny the authority that Roman Catholicism attributed to sacred tradition. Not only did this provide some kind of a leg to stand upon, it also reinforced the perception that Protestants had a high view of the Scriptures because it was their ultimate source of authority. This presupposition also carries with it a presupposition of the sole sufficiency of Scripture.

The belief that one could deny the authority of sacred tradition and question the interpretation of the established church created further problems. On what basis could the Reformers legitimately do so? How did they know the interpretation of the Bible by the Catholic Church was wrong? The only viable solution to this dilemma is to assert that Scripture at these very critical points relating to salvation was self-evident. From here, we get the presupposition of the perspicuity of Scripture.

It is the presupposition of the perspicuity of Scripture, along with the identity of Protestants as the "Bible people" that has been so self-stultifying for Protestant understanding of the Bible. In short, if Scripture is clear (at least at important points) and you are part of the tribe of Bible people who are devoting to studying the Scriptures intensively, then it stands to reason that you believe your tribe understands the Bible correctly. The problem is, how do you explain the fact that other tribes disagree with your interpretation at different important points when you have affirmed the perspicuity of Scripture? If you're convinced that you've understood the Bible correctly, the only logical conclusion is to suggest that the other tribe is simply ignorant about Scripture. That is, if they had the devotion to Scripture that you did, and because Scripture is clear, they would come around to your understanding. No wonder that Calvinists like to perpetuate the myth that most Catholics are biblically illiterate.

Of course, there is the slightly disquietening thought that there are some who disagree with your understanding of the Bible that have studied the Scriptures diligently. One way around this is to simply claim that those people have simply been brainwashed by that Great Satan, the Roman Catholic Church and are parroting exactly what they hear from their evil overlord. The other way is to reaffirm that you are in fact part of the tribe of Bible people, that you cherish the Bible, that this person stands against you, and as such, they stand against the Bible. In short, if they were being honest with you and honest with themselves, they would quite humbly admit that you were right all along. Quite naturally it would be that way. After all, you belong to the tribe of Bible people ...

Monday, July 21, 2008

10 Insights from World Youth Day

1) While I'm still well and truly on the journey, I'm not quite ready to convert to Catholicism just yet. There is still much prayer and reflection to do before I will decide definitively.

2) Whatever qualms I have about Catholic doctrine, there is no denying that the majority of Catholics I know truly live by faith and are reliant upon the grace of God in their daily lives.

3) The majority of Catholics I know lead lives empowered by the Holy Spirit, far more so than many who would decry them as not being Christian. I found this particularly true on the last afternoon, where they were more than gracious towards my less than perfect behaviour.

4) The Catholics I know have self-aware and reflective faiths. They think carefully about what they believe and take their faith seriously.

5) Contrary to the stereotype, most Catholics I know don't see themselves as "good" people who will get to heaven because of their goodness. They see themselves as unfinished and in need of God's grace to sustain them.

6) Most Catholics I know place far less importance on doctrine than living a life in communion with God. Theirs is a very earthy and grounded faith.

7) Most Catholics I know appreciate that there are many elements of their faith that are a mystery. They don't seek to place God in a box they control, but humbly realise that God is bigger that they are.

8) Most Catholics I know are open to the Scriptures are don't read their own theology and prejudices into the text.

9) Most conservative Protestants don't have a clue about Catholicism and Catholic doctrine and don't have any inclination to become better informed. While this is sad, there is not much I can do to change that.

10) The Catholic Church is the only institution who can bring significant change for the better and the message of Jesus to a lost and broken world. Time will tell to what extent it is successful with this mission.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

My Ambitious Intentions for World Youth Day (Week)

Where I live and work I'm on the edge of World Youth Day celebrations, so until tonight I've really only seen the odd smattering of groups from around this world. But tonight I went to where the action is at Circular Quay and was totally unprepared for what I saw. So many pilgrims. So many countries. So little alcohol.

This gave me an idea ... No, not bootleg liquor, as profitable as this might be. I thought, since there are so many people around, how about I say hello to some of them, maybe give them a sign of the peace. And perhaps, I could get them to sign my WYD book, which I may have to pick up from the supermarket later tonight. My aim will to be to get as many countries in the book as possible.

So, what does everyone think of my plan?

Is it stupid?
Will I even go through with the plan?
And is this simply a thinly veiled idea to talk to girls from overseas?

I guess all these questions and more will be answered in due course. Stay tuned ...

Monday, July 14, 2008

Stream of Consciousness Writing 1

Drifting, seamless star. From where you are; from where you sleep. What are those tangerine dreams that you speak of? Spoke, but no longer speak. Lifting from the ether and rising from the surface, then descend to rend all their due. Karmic consequence, that is. No grace; grace is gone. Sun no longer shines; peace no longer reigns; a new age begins.

Alien nation, why so foreign? Why so aloof? You hold the secrets you never wish to share; those you cling to your breast, and your breast alone. Is it really you that owns them? Disown. Rezone. Transcend and break free; seize and release. Unite with the other lonely being, thirsting for their counterparts.

To strike, to slay, to heal. The double-edged sword and the twisted olive branch. Make crooked paths straight and feeble hands strong. Empower by taking away. Away. Away with it all, away with them all. Simplify. Bring to focal point; the colours concentrated as one.

Sing, sung, unsung. Let the music reverberate, re-enervate. Ill fated swan, where do you swim; from where have you swum and from where have you come? Past is important - decides but not determines. To be determined upon other vicissitudes of life. Left for consideration, reflection, inflection.

Once stranded, once sailed, now failed. Death rattle. Last unfettered breath. Inhales, exhales. Expires and expires. Eyes shoot last flickering signs of life, last sparkling signs of sentience. Blinds drawn across. Eyelids close, shutters shut. Head bobs down, down to sleep, and yet no more to wake. Peace.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Demolition in Doha

It was a wonderful effort in Doha in the early hours of the morning, Australian time, as the Socceroos virtually assured themselves of first spot in their group with a 3-1 thrashing of Qatar. In terms of their attack, it was probably one of the best games I have seen from them in quite a while. The only disappointment was seeing them concede a consolation goal in the dying minutes, but you can't have everything your own way. Suffice to say, the performance was appreciated by all in attendance at Paddy Macguires in the city.

Last night's win means that the game against China next Sunday night in Sydney, which I will be attending, will pretty much be a dead rubber, but hopefully they can show some of their form regardless. I suspect that Australia's toughest games are ahead of them as they progress to one of the five-team groups where pretty much every game will be very tough to win. I'm not sure when the draw will take place to determine who else Australia will be playing, but I look forward to it with interest.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Ulysses is Freakin' Hard to Understand

This time I really do think I've bitten off more than I can chew. I read a few of the great novellists and I thought that I was ready to read James Joyce. Suffice to say, I'm inclined to think that I'm out of my depth. From what I've read so far, it also seems as though you need post-graduate qualifications in English literature to understand the novel.

I'm just wondering if there are any people who could help me get a grasp on this great tome? Perhaps it may be better to read Homer's Odyssey first so I have at least a background knowledge of what Joyce is on about? Or perhaps there is no hope?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Sanity Prevails Again

You may well have noticed that I haven't posted for the last week or so. The reason for this was largely beyond control - my computer decided to stop working. That said, the break was quite necessary for an unrelated reason. Sometimes the good has to be postponed for the better. And hopefully, the better better pay off. I shall keep you posted ...

Saturday, June 07, 2008

The Play's the Thing, Horatio

I had the opportunity to see a production of "Hamlet" by Bell Shakespeare tonight at the Opera House. The accomplished cast included theatre legend Barry Otto as Polonius and rising star Brendan Cowell as Hamlet. As a pleasant surprise, Sarah Blasko not only produced the score, but had a minor role on stage too. I can tell you now, she's even more gorgeous in real life than I had imagined her to be. The performances were absolutely fantastic, especially from Brendan Cowell. He really had such an amazing stage presence.

As a momento to this evening, I thought I might quote the one of the most famous soliloquys in all of Shakespeare's back catalogue. The artful way in which Shakespeare writes is remarkable at the best of times, but one is only made aware of his brilliance when one hears his plays well performed:

To be, or not to be: that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep;
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to, 'tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub;
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,
The oppressor's wrong, the proud man's contumely,
The pangs of despised love, the law's delay,
The insolence of office and the spurns
That patient merit of the unworthy takes,
When he himself might his quietus make
With a bare bodkin? who would fardels bear,
To grunt and sweat under a weary life,
But that the dread of something after death,
The undiscover'd country from whose bourn
No traveller returns, puzzles the will
And makes us rather bear those ills we have
Than fly to others that we know not of?
Thus conscience does make cowards of us all;
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action. - Soft you now!
The fair Ophelia! Nymph, in thy orisons
Be all my sins remember'd.