What about all these churches?

Reformation Day is nothing to celebrate, according to some Christians.  It marks the day Christianity was shattered into countless little sects.  We need to find unity rather than revel in things that divide us.  Luther’s breaking away from what was then one Church was a tragedy.

First of all, Luther didn’t break away from the Church.  He was excommunicated!  There is a big difference.  Secondly, the Church did need reforming.  Even the Church of Rome came to admit that, finally coming to grips with the financial and moral corruption that had become rife in late medieval Christianity.  If there were no Reformation, there would have been no Counter-Reformation.

As for all of the subsequent church bodies, Paul McCain, in a Reformation Day meditation, offers a useful taxonomy:

Another point that confuses many people is the fact that there are so many different churches to choose from. It is an awful mess, so it seems. Yes, it can be confusing, but it really is not as complicated as some would think, or want to maintain. Up until the year 1054 there was basically one unified Christian church, distinct from a number of non-Christian or anti-Christian heretical groups. In 1054 the church divided into Eastern and Western Christianity. By the time of the late Middle Ages the Western Church, which had come to be known as the Roman Catholic Church, had reached a point of deep corruption, most importantly in what it believed, but also in the morals and life of the clergy and church leadership. In 1517 there began what we know today as the Reformation, when Martin Luther, a professor and monk in Wittenberg, Germany posted a series of “talking points” on the practice of selling “indulgences” by which people were led to believe they could buy forgiveness of sins, for their dead relatives in purgatory. A person has to decide is the Lutheran view of Christianity is correct, or the Roman Catholic view is correct.

After the Reformation, many groups developed from the teachings of persons other than Martin Luther, most notably, two men: Ulrich Zwingli and John Calvin, who did much of his work in Geneva. These two men and their writings gave rise to many churches that can be traced back to and grouped under the general category of “Reformed” churches. In America in the 19th and 20th century there arose many splinter groups from Reformed churches, these would include “Charismatic” and “Pentecostal” groups, along with groups that rejected all denominations and became, in effect, a denomination of their own, the so-called “non-denominational” churches. And so the question then becomes, “Is Lutheran theology correct, or Reformed theology correct?” So, is it Rome or Wittenberg. If Wittenberg, then is it Geneva or Wittenberg?” Once those decisions are made, the myriad of denominations today makes a lot more sense.

But there is an additional challenge unique to our century and more so the past half-century. Today, despite all their denominational differences and historic confessions, the vast majority of Christian churches in Protestantism have been nearly overwhelmed by the rise of liberal Christianity. This unites them more so than any other feature of their confession of faith. Historic differences are no longer regarded as divisive since these divisions were based on one group’s understanding of the Biblical text as opposed to another group’s understanding of the Bible. For example, the difference between Lutheran and Reformed views of the Lord’s Supper are very important and based on very serious and clear differences in how the words Jesus spoke at the Last Supper are understood. Liberalism however regards the words of Jesus in the Bible as unreliable. It teaches that we can not be sure that what is recorded in the Bible is true and accurate, therefore, there is no point in being “dogmatic” about much of anything having to do with the Bible. Modern liberalism has swept through all Christian denominations, Lutheran Reformed, Protestant and Roman Catholic.

via The Festival of the Reformation: October 31 – Does Being Lutheran Still Matter? | CyberBrethren-A Lutheran Blog.

So one must decide if Rome was right, or if Wittenberg was right?  (Or, before that, I suppose, if Constantinople was right.)  If Luther was right to post those theses, the next decision is whether Wittenberg or Geneva was right.  And then, I suppose, a choice between a number of other places (Canterbury?  New Bedford?  Plymouth, Massachusetts?  Upstate New York?  Chicago?  Azusa Street?)

But now EVERYBODY also must decide between conservative theology and the new (and unifying) liberal theology.

Are Christians Mormons?

Joel Osteen, minister of America’s largest church, joins David Barton among others Christian leaders, in believing that Mormons are Christians:

Megachurch pastor, best-selling author and perennial optimist Joel Osteen has good news to share.

“I see faith in America at an all-time high,” he told editors and reporters at The Washington Times on Monday.

Yes, people are struggling, but “our message is so much about hope,” said Mr. Osteen, whose weekly television services are seen by 7 million people in the U.S., as well as by people in almost 100 other countries. . . .

Mr. Osteen expressed admiration for home-state Republican Texas Gov. Rick Perry — “I pray for his candidacy, I pray for him as a friend” — and disagreed with another pastor who said former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney is “not a Christian” because he is a Mormon.

“I believe that [Mormons] are Christians,” Mr. Osteen said. “I don’t know if it’s the purest form of Christianity, like I grew up with. But you know what, I know Mormons. I hear Mitt Romney — and I’ve never met him — but I hear him say, ‘I believe Jesus is the son of God,’ ‘I believe he’s my savior,’ and that’s one of the core issues.

“I’m sure there are other issues that we don’t agree on. But you know, I can say that the Baptists and the Methodists and the Catholics don’t all agree on everything. So that would be my take on it.”

via Osteen: Americans’ faith at ‘all-time high’ – Washington Times.

The usual question has been “are Mormons (or some of them) Christians?”  I think we should turn that around:  “Are Christians (or some of them) Mormons?”

There are lots of people today in churches and in various ministries that are dismissive of historical Christianity and care nothing for theology.  They don’t care about the Trinity and they never say anything about the Incarnation.  They focus on attaining a happy life in this world.  They are moralists.  They have a ramped-up civil religion.  And they think Christianity is mostly about having a certain kind of family.   Isn’t that Mormonism?

So without thinking that Mormons are Christians, I do think some people who think they are Christians are actually Mormons.  Is that fair to say?

Swedish mysteries

We’ve been talking about Swedish literature–particularly, Bo Giertz’s The Hammer of God.   This would be a good time to discuss the latest outbreak of Swedish literature on our shores, the publishing phenomenon of Swedish mysteries.  The biggest sellers are by the late Stieg Larsson, whose “Millennium Trilogy” has sold millions, with the first title  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo being made into what looks like a blockbuster movie that will be released December 21.

I started reading these as vacation diversions last summer and have to admit that I enjoyed them immensely.  I’m interested in the genre and the conventions of mystery stories.  As with all artistic forms, it is possible to follow them mechanically, resulting in merely conventional writing.  But they can also become the framework for infinite variations and fascinating applications.  These Swedish mysteries are especially complicated and absorbing:  There is not only ONE mystery to solve, there are several related mysteries.  And there is not only ONE detective trying to figure everything out.  There are several, working both together and at cross purposes with each other.   (This is true of the Larsson books, and it is also true of another Swedish mystery that I read,  The Hypnotist  by Lars Kepler.  Perhaps someone can say if these features are true of Swedish–or perhaps Scandinavian– mysteries as a whole.)  Also, the alliance between the rumpled but idealistic journalist Mikael Blomkvist and the goth computer hacker Lisbeth Salander advances the tradition of unlikely partners in detection that began with Holmes and Watson.  And Lisbeth is a truly compelling character, another eccentric-to-the-point-of-being-mentally-ill detective (think Adrian Monk) whose problems give them their advantages.  The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo even makes use of the famous “locked room” plot and then completely, we might say, deconstructs it.

So The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo is a really good mystery, combining also elements of the suspense thriller.  The subsequent ones,  The Girl Who Played with Fire and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, not so much.  They are thrillers, but not really mysteries.  One reads them just to see what the characters will do next.  And I would say those other two lay bare the over-the-top sensationalism that is also in the first one, but that is compensated for by the mystery.  After awhile, things get ridiculous.  But you can’t help but keep reading anyway.

Don’t read them, though, if you can’t imaginatively handle violence and sex, which in these novels are not presented in a pornographic way but in a disturbing way.   Here is one of my complaints about Larsson:  His villains are sexual transgressors.  Sex trafficking, sadism, pedophilia, prostitution–these are definitely presented as bad things.   But his good guys have open marriages, cohabit without marriage, experiment with bisexuality, and have a completely casual attitude towards sex that is also transgressive and yet belies how we are supposed to feel about what the bad guys do.

The Swedish settings are also interesting, and these novels are so immersive that you feel like you are in Scandinavia.  Here is a completely secularized society that nevertheless has Christianity as its cultural religion.  Everyone orients themselves according to the church year–such as Advent and St. Lucy’s day–and feels free to consult the friendly liberal pastor of the state church.  Some of the young people, though, are attracted to “fundamentalism,” which their parents don’t approve of, but tolerate because it’s their kids.

The over-riding question is this:  In a society so tolerant, so prosperous, and so welfare-statey, why is there so much evil lurking beneath every surface?  And why is everybody so depressed?  And why is everyone so guilty?


What a game

UPDATE:  The St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series!  They did to the Texas Rangers what I have seen them do over and over again to the Milwaukee Brewers, not only in the playoffs but when I lived in Wisconsin and went to lots of games.  They become just relentless, coming back again and again, even when you think you’ve put them away.  Coming up with that clutch hit just when they need it and consistently performing improbable heroics.   I admire the Cardinals.  I’m going to add them to my list of teams I follow.

[The following is about Game 6, being hailed as one of the best games ever.  I discovered that I taped it!  I'm going to watch those last innings that I missed.]:

After a long, long day, I couldn’t stay up any longer.   In a game filled with mistakes, strange events, and passionate intensity with every pitch, I gave up and went to bed, violating my own baseball rule, and thus missing the extra innings in which St. Louis came back TWICE to win the 6th game of the World Series.

In one of the greatest thrillers in baseball history, the St. Louis Cardinals twice rallied against the Texas Rangers Thursday night when they were down to their last strike of the season to send the World Series to a pivotal Game 7 for the first time since 2002.

First David Freese saved them with a two run triple in the ninth, then Lance Berkman delivered a tying single in the 10th.

“Turned out to be one for the ages,” said Daniel Descalso, who keyed a Cardinals comeback.

Hours after Freese’s home run plunked down on the grass patch beyond the center field wall, long after the ballpark emptied, a message still burned bright on the scoreboard: “See you TOMORROW NIGHT for Game 7 of the World Series!”

Whatever happens, whether the St. Louis Cardinals or Texas Rangers win, they’ll have a hard time topping Thursday night.

“You had to be here to believe it,” St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said.

via World Series: St. Louis Cardinals Thrilling Win Forces Game 7 Against Rangers | Fox News Latino.

Shining with a painful love

Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute passed along a letter he received from his friend, a Coptic bishop in Egypt. It shows the spirit of the Christians there, as they endure terrible persecution (as we have been blogging about). They aren’t about preserving their Christian culture or taking vengeance or planning violence. They remain focused, through it all, on “painful love,” working forgiveness and praying for their persecutors:

Dear Friends,

Thank you for sharing our difficult time.

We are passing through a dark tunnel of violence, feeling grieve of death and injustice. The light of forgiveness is shining with a painful love. Trying to bring forgiveness and justice together is a big struggle, but we are committed to the love that never fails.

We are hardly pressed on every side, yet not crushed. We are perplexed but not lost, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down but not destroyed. We do not lose heart and continue to work for justice to be fulfilled. We continue to love and declare forgiveness so the peace of God will overshadow all hearts. We continue to work on the healing and support of the innocent victims. And we continue to pray for the victims, for the offenders and for a better future.

Thank you all for your love, care, words and actions to bring justice and forgiveness together.

Bishop Thomas

Bishop Thomas Coptic Orthodox Bishopric
of Elqussia and Mair , Assuit ,Upper Egypt
& Anafora retreat farm Αnαφορα , Cairo , Egypt

Bailing out student loans

President Obama plans another kind of bailout:

In keeping with his new campaign theme of “we can’t wait,” President Obama today will roll out a plan to put more money in the pockets of some of the nation’s 36 million student loan recipients.

Obama has broad latitude in this area – certainly broader than the first two parts of his western campaign trip, underwater mortgages and subsidies for hiring veterans – because one of his early legislative initiatives was to have the federal government take over the student lending business in America.

Obama argued for the measure in 2009 as a cost-savings initiative, saying that the old system of privately issued, government secured loans reduced the amount of available money for needy students and also prevented the feds from making the system more efficient.

But Obama is now seeking to use that new power to obtain a taxpayer-financed stimulus that Congress won’t approve. The idea is to cap student loan repayment rates at 10 percent of a debtor’s income that goes above the poverty line, and then limiting the life of a loan to 20 years.

Take this example: If Suzy Creamcheese gets into George Washington University and borrows from the government the requisite $212,000 to obtain an undergraduate degree, her repayment schedule will be based on what she earns. If Suzy opts to heed the president’s call for public service, and takes a job as a city social worker earning $25,000, her payments would be limited to $1,411 a year after the $10,890 of poverty-level income is subtracted from her total exposure.

Twenty years at that rate would have taxpayers recoup only $28,220 of their $212,000 loan to Suzy.

The president will also allow student debtors to refinance and consolidate loans on more favorable terms, further decreasing the payoff for taxpayers.

via Obama Taps Taxpayers For Student Stimulus | Fox News.