Friday, April 15, 2016

Things I don't understand

There are a lot of them, unsurprisingly. The Library of Alexanderia, vast as it was, wouldn't stand a chance at cataloging, not to mention collecting, all the things I don't know. Much of it is probably unimportant, at least to me, although if you were, say, an architect or a brain surgeon, they would probably be extremely important*. Some if it is out there, just waiting to be discovered - as my wife says, a day you don't learn something is a wasted day. And then there are the things I don't understand that frustrate me, because they seem so obvious to me that I have to wonder if I'm missing something. A couple of recent examples:

*On the other hand, I doubt they know or care much about the role of television in midcentury culture, so we're even.

First, the Pope, and I guess this isn't so recent because he's been talking about it constantly. In almost every one of his documents that touts mercy and forgiveness, he refers to mysterious Pharisees in the midst of traditional Catholics, people who can't wait to judge and condemn those who fall short of their standards. He also comments on priests who preach nothing but sin and negatives, urging them to talk more about compassion. I don't know about you, but I've been in very few parishes where I've heard priests say anything about sin, let alone abortion, homosexual marriage and the like. They're really too busy playing at being Mister Rogers than being scolds. And as for the modern-day Pharisees, I'm sure they do exist, but they have to be vastly outnumbered by the "do what feels good" Catholics who take the Ten Commandments to be more suggestions than anything binding, and tend toward the relativistic way of looking at "truth."

So I don't really understand just who the Pope is talking about, or where these people (phantoms?) happen to be. Perhaps he knows something I don't know*, but if that's the case, could he provide us with a few examples?

*I'm sure he knows quite a bit more than I do - but he's very bad at demonstrating it.

This leads more or less directly into the second thing I don't understand today. It comes from this Federalist column about former porn star Bree Olson, who's trying to create a new life for herself away from the industry. I think this is terrific, but apparently there are those who aren't as welcoming:

People look at me as if I am the same as a sex offender. They look at me as though I am less than in every way, and they assume the absolute worst in every way. I had never realized how progressive my mind was and how scared people were of sexuality until this. I also realized I could never go back and be a nurse or a teacher, or work for any company really that can fire me under morality clauses for making customers feel ‘uncomfortable’ because of who I am.

Now, I have no reason to doubt what she's saying, or that she's making all this up for dramatic purpose. So based on the assumption that this is all true, my question is: why? Why hold this young woman's past against her while she's trying to start her life over again? And how many people would really be that "uncomfortable" with who she is?

Most of us are familiar with Christ's words to the woman prostitute: "Go and sin no more." This is an important part of mercy, by the way; love can and should be unconditional, but justice often requires paying the price. When Christ promised the Good Thief that he would join Him this day in paradise, he did not free the Thief from the cross: there was still justice to be served. One of the things the Pope seems to overlook (or ignore, depending on what he really believes) is that God's Divine Mercy does include a commitment by the sinner to repent of his past behavior and to make the best effort to go forth as a new man without an attachment to sin, understanding at the same time that man is an imperfect creature and will fall back into sin many times. It is the desire to avoid sin that is paramount; if you have that desire, the grace to be stronger against sin will follow.

That's not the message that most people pick up from the Pope, however, as Fr. George Rutler points out in this article on the recent Amoris Laetitia:

A lack of clarity in the text might endorse the conceit already expounded in some media interviews, which says contrition is not a necessary element in petitioning for mercy. [Emphasis mine.] Any parish priest should wonder at the description of the confessional as a torture chamber. . . Dramaturgic references like that to torture are straw horses, and a straw horse is the rhetorical device of a weak argument.

Ah, yes - a lack of clarity. Becoming the papal trademark, don't you think?

And so perhaps that's Bree Olson's problem, that she's been reading too much of the Pope's writing. Because people don't detect a sense of repentance in her words. Why should they, after all?

My biggest regret was leaving the industry. Leaving all of that money and trying to get the world to like me. They still don’t, and they never will. I should have just put in another five years at least so that in more my smart financial years as I was older, I could have saved enough to live comfortably for the rest of my life.

Bree, the fact of the matter is that nobody ever gets the world to like them. Christ warned His disciples that the world would hate them, as a matter of fact. As many a politician has discovered, the man who tries to please everyone winds up pleasing no one.

In general, I've found that Americans in particular love the idea of second changes, of people pulling themselves up by their bootstraps and overcoming past problems. Look at how many times we give someone a break in hopes it will help that person turn his or her life around? We're suckers for a good sob story, and I don't say that to be critical. We want to think that everyone can change, that they can turn away from their past sins or troubles or whatever skeletons exist in their past, that they can, indeed, start all over again - the prostitute, the thief, the addict, the philanderer, the goldbrick. All we usually ask from them is one thing, and that's for an honest effort to reform. Not everyone will be forgiving of a relapse, but most people will be - if that's what it is, a relapse and not a reversion.

An addict, for example, must accept the truth of who they are: that the addictive personality is an undeniable part of that identity, and that to deal with it means not returning to the addiction. It's the same for everyone who wants to turn away from an unfortunate past, whether caused by illness, psychological trouble, or simply misplaced desire. If Bree Olson sincerely wants to be accepted for who she is and not who she was, she has to demonstrate that willingness to separate herself from her past, to start over as a new person. If she can and does, and we still don't accept her - if we become the Pharisees that the Pope endlessly refers to - then shame on us. If she can't or won't do it, then shame on her - and one those who tell her it isn't necessary, those who should know better.

Either way, it's something I just don't understand.

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