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Christian Burial
Wednesday, April 20, 2016, 10:45 AM

When I officiate at a Christian burial I have the casket lowered into the earth while reciting the Apostles’ Creed, the ancient Roman baptismal symbol, since burial is also a lowering in anticipation of the raising of the resurrection.  The Creed has the perfect end for the interment of the faithful: “I believe . . . in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.”  This is also one of the reasons I do not believe in cremation, and will not take a funeral service where the body of a professing Christian has been intentionally burned.  The symbolism in one instance is deliverance from death to life, the other is destruction by flame, to which I will not bear witness on behalf of a believer.  Yes, by God, the symbolism means something: beliefs are formed by symbols.  We need to make them right.

I can already hear the chorus of protests to this, and think I have heard them all.  To this I respond: burial is the normal and acceptable Christian symbol.  There are instances in which it is not possible, but not nearly as many as people wish to protest.  It is not without reason that burial of the dead is commended in the church as a “corporal work of mercy.”  Christian pastors should stop passively doing whatever is demanded by relatives of their parishioners (just as they ought to stop doing whatever is demanded by those who come to them to be married), teach from their pulpits the symbolism behind the tradition, and be sure their church budgets provide for the burial of their poor. Those who have no scruples against cremation should apply to a minister who also lacks them.  Do you wish to officiate anyway to “give a Christian witness” when you have already given a pagan witness by agreeing to clericalize over the pot?

The pastor must resolve before God to say and do gently but insistently what is right whoever might object–that is, he must risk his job, trusting that God will provide.  Many churches are deep in all kinds of error because pastoral negligence or cowardice has insured that they are not properly taught.  Anyone who comes along these days and says to them, for example, “For the sake of the gospel, we should bury and not cremate,” will be stepping on a great many toes–including those of bishops who allow cremation on nearly any grounds.

The Intelligence of Liberals
Tuesday, February 9, 2016, 10:16 AM

I have seen much evidence of high intelligence and strategic thinking among liberals.  When they give themselves as a class credit, as they always do, for superior intellect, I am bound to concur, since to become a liberal one must have the ability to be trained in overcoming, in the name of reason, the morality and common sense that are naturally present to  the human mind.  One would have difficulty making a calculating liberal of a someone who is not smart enough to be educated out of thinking straight.  To be a “conservative,” on the other hand, takes no particular intelligence, but is requiring more courage all the time.

The Devil’s Apostle
Saturday, January 30, 2016, 2:43 PM

 Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations I was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from exalting myself.  II Cor. 12: 27

In our world surpassingly high intelligence is probably considered the highest and most substantial of gifts.  All my life I have been well situated to observe the very intelligent, people who are much brighter than I, but whose gifts I have the ability to recognize and appreciate.  Some find the humility to manage it well—for humility is the tool of choice here. Many do not, and become profoundly foolish or intensely wicked.

My observation here is no more than anecdotal, but I think I have enough experience in life now that it bears relating: The majority of believers I have known who have received very great gifts, particularly intellectual gifts, seem also to have been given their own versions of St. Paul’s thorn, which thankfully he did not identify.  (His omission is important. Speculation on what it actually was, such as bad eyesight or an unsympathetic wife, much reduces its power.)  There is in their lives persisting pain of many possible varieties that makes humility easier than it might be otherwise, helps make the sin of devil harder, and receives an apostolic indication that it is (1) not their fault, perhaps even when it is their fault (2) most certainly an evil, but sent by God, as he sent evil in Job’s story, for their ultimate and everlasting good.

Blake’s Rose
Friday, January 15, 2016, 1:37 PM

The Anglican Communion, mostly under the insistence of conservative bishops from Africa, where most active Anglicans now live and worship, has suspended the Episcopal Church in the United States from operating as a full member of the communion by inhibiting its function as a voting member in key commissions and operations.  The suspension is in effect for three years, until the next general convention, in which an official response can be given to the reprimand.

Notably, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, welcomed Foley Beach, the presiding bishop of the breakaway Anglican Church of North America, to the meeting of primates. Bishop Beach noted that the steps taken against an Episcopal Church that shows no intention of repenting its departures from the historical faith were a step in the right direction—strong, but not strong enough.

All too little and too late for the North American provinces in communion with Canterbury, I think, and almost certainly a prelude to further schism, the division lines of which are as yet hard to discern.  The participation of Bp. Beach is significant–for the ACNA–but I doubt this implies any hope for a morbidly weak Canterbury’s ability to sustain the unity of the communion or the historical significance of its primacy.

The ACNA is itself contemplating a lee shore now, since it has no general policy on the ordination of women except the temporizing measure that this is determined by the ordinaries, some of whom do it freely, despite the denomination’s canonical exclusion of woman bishops. My guess on what will happen: in the short run the ACNA, like the similarly constituted North American Lutheran Church, will continue to ordain women, which simply means putting off the inevitable crisis occasioned by those who mistakenly believe women’s ordination to be both compatible with orthodoxy and inevitable.

As a former conservative Episcopalian, I must add to this my own amazement at the seeming impossibility of traditional Anglicanism (very much like the Republican Party in the United States, and reminiscent of Yeats’ line, “the best lack all conviction”) to carry through on doing anything right.  It is more than uncanny that every time it gains a yard it convulsively pulls out its pistol and shoots itself in the foot.  There is no locus at which I have thought as many times Quem deus vult perdere . . . .  And since I have no desire to go down with Ahab’s bark, especially with my family aboard, we left some time ago.

I have come to think Anglicanism operates under a curse, that it is no coincidence a communion begotten in a vile king’s bed–a bald but easy Chronicler’s judgment, to be sure, but which Anglicans who shouldn’t continually evade–is finally dying of a venereal disease.  What seductive beauties are to be found there! and what gifts that church has been given–beauties and gifts I find almost irresistible–but in the end,

O Rose thou art sick.

The invisible worm,

That flies in the night

In the howling storm:

Has found out thy bed

Of crimson joy:

And his dark secret love

Does thy life destroy.




What Many Must Do
Tuesday, January 5, 2016, 8:59 PM

Lately when a friend prompted me to consider the theology of a certain denomination, I was reminded how easy it is for those who stand apart from such groups to see their distinctive and defining errors, transgressions that have become invisible to their partisans through the real and terrible forces that govern inadmissibility.

One of the conclusions I have come to—admittedly after a life under the influence of the idea of “mere Christianity”—is that in the same manner that E. Michael Jones identified modernism as the attempt to rationalize sexual misbehavior, so every “denominational” (i.e., uncatholic) theology is an attempt to rationalize known but unadmitted doctrinal error. These attempts produce massive libraries of evasion, the reading of which engenders confusion, wastes life, and was warned against when it was written, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater condemnation.”

Are you a teacher of Christian doctrine? Is everything you teach in the name of your church and its founders the pure Word of God?  You had better be sure.  If after years teaching something as truth that you were too weak or ignorant to recognize as false when you were young, easily seducible, and so joined your party, for God’s sake and your own unburden yourself before you die.

The Rarity of Theology
Monday, December 28, 2015, 12:50 PM

Fishing in Mere Christianity for a vaguely remembered quotation, I came upon and was struck by this remark:

In the old days, when there was less education and discussion, perhaps it was possible to get on with a very few simple ideas about God. But it is not so now. Everyone reads, everyone hears things discussed. Consequently, if you do not listen to Theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones–bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas. For a great many of the ideas about God which are trotted out as novelties today, are simply the ones which real Theologians tried centuries ago and rejected.

It seemed that either Lewis was living in a fantasy or a golden age where “everyone reads,” for my immediate reaction was that in ours, no one “reads” in the sense that he means it—and what they “hear discussed” is what is found in the popular media, which generally means ignorance, hostile or not, twaddle, and perhaps worse, sectarian distortion in the cloak of good religion.

But I had misread him, for everyone “reads” in our day too.  His point is that the reading and “hearing things discussed” rarely includes “Theology,” and by this he means the historic teachings of the Christian Church, seriously and authoritative treated, as Lewis did in his wartime broadcasts and Bishop Sheen did with what was probably unprecedented success in the fifties and sixties, so that relatively free rein is given to proliferation of bad ideas about God.

One could number among these the idea that charity demands embracing sin in a spirit of inclusiveness, and that the God of the Bible is an egalitarian, for in both instances that would have to be the case if he were Good, right?  One of the best examples is the presentation of “lost books” of the Bible to an ignorant public, in which the purveyors advertise writings known in the church for centuries and by general acclamation rejected as at least non-canonical or at most heretical, as discoveries that were somehow missed or not available when the New Testament canon was coming into existence, and that they belong in the Bible because of their evangelical subject matter.  The fact is that these books—the Gospel of Thomas, for example–are myriad, have been known since they were written, and rejected by every generation since as unworthy of the canon. They are not even in the gray areas of antilegomena or deuterocanonicity. They just don’t belong, and if one is familiar with the canonical books, it is usually easy to see why.

It is still true that everyone reads and everyone hears things discussed, but Theology as Lewis spoke of it in the mid-forties is probably just as rare in our day.  Of course, this wouldn’t be so if more people read Touchstone and Mere Comments. . . .

Jesus Christ Come in the Flesh
Monday, November 30, 2015, 9:34 PM

If the old stories are true, what offends and angers Satan more than anything else is the act of God wherein spirit becomes incarnated.  He hated the creation of man not as a mere animal, but in no less than the image and likeness of God, who treacherously breathed the nephesh chayyah into this thing of dust.  The Serpent had his way with the first Adam in Eden, thinking to destroy him.  Most of all he hates the second Adam, that vessel of clay that has the spirit without measure, with whom he had his way at Calvary, once again thinking to destroy him, and through him all mankind.  The spirit clothed in flesh must be execrable filth to the rebellious who are in substance fastidiously pure spirit, and the Incarnation of God so inexplicable, so hateful, and so enraging, that they cannot bring themselves to confront it as reality, thus providing a way that their loyalties, and those of their followers, can be tested right through the veil of their deceit and self-representation as angels of light.  (Do not look for mere hatred of the West at the deepest spiritual stratum of Islam, but of what the West stands for in the offended mind of its Principalities.)

We can easily understand the old and rather simple heresies–Gnosticism, Docetism, and the like–where a denial was clear, but have difficulty seeing those of our own day because they are more subtle and indirect.  Classical liberal theology, for example, does not deny outright the Incarnation or the Passion or the bodily resurrection of the flesh of Jesus, but treats these as stories for those with a pre-scientific view of reality (that is, who believe they really happened), and regards these beliefs about the flesh of Christ not as referring to actual events with cosmic and eternal significance, but mere symbols of abstract virtues like hope, courage, patience and renewal.  To identify the articles of the Creed, however, as “pre-scientific” is another way of calling them false when presented as statements of historical truth.
Likewise the egalitarians, in their preoccupation with the equality of the sexes, eliminate the cosmic and eternal significance of the sex of Christ by consistently emphasizing that it was his generic humanness and not his male humanness–that is, the actual flesh of his incarnation–that signifies, thus identifying their ideology as another Satanic attack on Jesus Christ come in the flesh.  Both egalitarianism and theological liberalism refuse to make the required positive confession of the whole truth of the reality.  The First Epistle of John tells us an actual denial is not necessary for identification of the spirit of Antichrist, only an inability or refusal to confess.  The most effective ways to do this require the assistance of religion.

My Two Cents on Rush
Tuesday, November 10, 2015, 12:43 PM

In the late 1980s one of my friends, a Lutheran pastor, recommended that I listen to his favorite radio commentator, a fellow with the unlikely name of Rush Limbaugh. I found him on WISN in Milwaukee, and since then have listened to his program on the car radio whenever I have happened to be on the road in the early afternoon.   In twenty-five years that amounts to a lot of listening on my part—and on his, around seven thousand hours of broadcasting.

For a long time now I have felt I owe him something in appreciation for accurate, good tempered (considering the provocation) and well-informed political and social commentary, especially since I am a member of a class with a well-deserved reputation for despising him. Naturally he is hated—and this is not too strong a word—by secularist liberals, but there are not a few Christian intellectuals who disparage him as well. I have several guesses on why: they are put off by his bumptious and roughshod midwesternism, and/or they haven’t listened to him at any length—since, though professing to dislike him, they agree with him on nearly every matter of substance, or they run in circles, including Christian intellectual circles, where it is more than unfashionable to speak well of him.

So I hear from them criticism of his cigar-smoking, his inability to stay married (he is at this writing on his fourth wife), his struggle with addiction to prescription drugs, his alienating rudeness–especially his insults to feminists–his detachment from the church, and the company he keeps. Rush, for his part, appears to belong to a class of believer, not uncommon among conservatives in public life, who decline to wear their religion on their sleeves for a complex amalgam of personal and strategic reasons. While he occasionally identifies himself as a Christian on his weekday broadcasts, the program itself is not distinctively so, although I think it safe to say that it rests on a theistic base–namely, “talent on loan from Gawwd”–and the paradigm of natural law, including moral law, that flows from it.  With a weekly audience of fifteen millions, he is with little doubt the most effective popular advocate of the natural law outlook at work today, for he has made a specialty of aggressive common sense which he (more studied and far more intelligent than his detractors will admit) understands in terms of a compelling universality, the tao as C. S. Lewis describes it, and not as merely a partisan tool.

It is remarkable how little substantive criticism his enemies are able to mark up against him after so many thousands of hours expressing his opinions publicly. The preponderance of them appear to rest on the unmistakably correct charge that he is biased, which seems to me not unlike the accusation that the plumber is biased on behalf of efficient sanitation, and is made by those for whom bias is defined as opinion beneath contempt because it is not held by liberals. Rush is dogged by quotations of things he never said and contorted interpretations of things that he did say.  Like all controversial public figures, liberal and conservative, he has a great many people seeking to take advantage of anything than can be made out as a misstep, and who are, if not enough material comes to hand, perfectly willing to invent something. (There are numerous lies in circulation about Barack Obama as well, presumably not fabricated by liberals.)  Most of what I have heard against Rush, however, is unquestionably liberal invention, soiled and slovenly rhetoric intended for a “low information crowd” of mainstream media-saturated nincompoops.

I have a personal interest in what Rush says and how he is treated because the more I listen to and about him, the more I am frightened by the venom and mendacity of charges brought against the sanity and simple goodness for which he stands as a national symbol, his faults notwithstanding.  Christians who speak ill of him should in justice recognize him as an ally, for if he sinks, they will sink with him, and for the same reasons. Where the hatred of his accusers, fortified by absolute faith in the rectitude of their madness, is not constrained by law and superior force, it will surely lead to persecution, eventually bloody, because that is the way of the world.  Hatred must have a victim to charge with its own sins, and to visit with the appropriate punishments.

Rush seems to me something like a canary lowered into the pits of progressivism to test them for killing airs.  However messy his nest may be, he is doing his job and should be appreciated for it.

O Magnum Mysterium
Monday, November 9, 2015, 3:47 PM

As the husband of one wife and the father of two daughters, all of whom I have observed, with their sex in general, with completely scientific detachment for many years now, I have come to the wholly original conclusion that there is something mysterious about women that is completely opaque to men.  Not, indeed, why a woman might hate us: There are always logical and easily traceable reasons for that.  The fish-and-bicycle feminist is no puzzle.

The mystery (and I think this must also in some way involve Christ and his Church) is why they so often love us with an intense and enduring love that is beyond the understanding of any man who knows himself and his wretched sex.  Why do perfectly normal women want us?   I can prove to the satisfaction of the most rigid empiricist that it goes beyond the killing of mice and the cleaning of gutters.

Not that I am complaining, mind you.

The Secret of Contentment, Briefly Stated
Wednesday, September 9, 2015, 11:24 AM

I cannot remember ever hearing a sermon on covetousness, but if I commanded the power of the pulpit I would, for self-instruction and the love of my people, never entirely leave the subject alone. The desire to have what one does not, excited by jealousy of those who have it, is such a pervasive and crippling sin that its evidences and effects, while more subtle than those of the sexual transgressions continually and distractingly dangled before us, have at least as much to do with human misery on a universal scale.

For the healing of the soul, and to make us content with what we have, to make us able to count our blessings unhindered, we, in whatever state we are found, have been given this commandment by Almighty God:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his ass, or anything that is your neighbor’s.

The last clause is a divine invitation to add anything necessary: you shall not covet your neighbor’s health, beauty, intelligence, education or place thereof, his children, employment, success, popularity, his conveyances, security in the world, or high connections. And this most certainly includes a thou shalt not to indulgence in the sanctimony of observing that all the neighbor has are probably less the gifts of God’s abundance than the result of mere chance, dishonest dealing, or accident of birth, and they shall all be taken from him in this life and the next, when he shall be stripped clean of all, his naked, shivering soul standing finally before a God who requires much of those to whom much has been given.

If we were rid of all this wicked folly we could rejoice with our neighbor on the good things he has been given whatever his sins, for we could then see clearly that we are in this regard the same as he is: unworthy recipients of the good and abundant gifts of God.  A wall that otherwise stands between us would fall because we, instead of hating his happiness, would share it, and our hearts would open in praise instead of withering in the Sirocco of lust and envy that is covetousness. We must place an angel with a flaming sword at the door of our being to protect us from this flesh and soul-eating thing, and no pastor who cares for his people will fail to speak to them of it, strongly and often.  In the avoidance of covetousness and the forgiveness of those who trespass against us lie contentment and rest for the soul.

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