the most effective means of control

the most effective means of control cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward

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Ok, so let’s deconstruct this cartoon. This is the most effective way many try to control people. It is subtle and often not recognized as control or even manipulation or abuse. They shower you with what feels like love and kindness. So much so that they would be absolutely alarmed that you would think, feel, say or do anything that might even remotely disappoint them. They love you so much and take such good care of you and know what’s best for you that you are terrified of hurting them.

This is why, if you complain at all about the arrangement, you are perceived as an ungrateful whiner and complainer and that nothing makes you happy. Everyone else is happy with the arrangement. But deep down you know something is wrong. The person controlling you has such an intense affection for you, and it is matched with just as an intense idea of how you should be. But you recognize that you are not allowed to disappoint that because the consequences amount to you betraying that person’s love for you. You can’t think independently, you can’t feel negative feelings, you can’t say disagreeable things, and you can’t do what you would like. All because it flies in the face of this person’s lofty and even noble expectations for you.

It feels like this: you are not free. You are bound by their kindness.

But the truth is: you are free! It is your fear of hurting them that keeps you bound. Disappointing others is an important and necessary component in our personal growth.

Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

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  • Kathy Gibbs

    It is painful to reflect on this one. I feel let down by so called leaders and pastors

  • Exactly.

    It is ALL about ‘us’.

    That is what most churches say. The religious project that is actually the ascension of the uninterrupted self, is everywhere.

    God’s will be done?

    Hell no! ‘My will be done!’.

  • Gary

    No Steve…it is all about Him and His love. For some reason the thought of boundless, irrepressible, unchanging, endless love being freely given to us makes you cry foul. I will never comprehend your need to insist on perverting such a perfect gift.

  • actually Steve, it IS all about US! that’s the gospel, dude!

  • Gary

    I agree David. His perfect love is for us and about us. And nothing we can do will mess that up.

    Well said.

  • “The Cross is the vital intersection where the searing reality of God’s grace in Jesus Christ meets, exposes, overwhelms and forgives the sham and phony pretense of our claim to love anything ultimately but ourselves and our own plans and projects.”

    (from my pastor’s blog)

    Actually, the gospel is about God. And what He has done for us…those who have lost their way, their true calling, and who have fallen into a self-centered existence.

  • No Steve it’s not about God. You do say “for us”, but you don’t mean it. You mean “to us”.

  • Shawn Fernandez

    Actually in many respects you are both correct. As with most things about God, it depends on whose perspective you are holding at the moment. The problem most Christians and churches have with reconciling the “irreconcilable’ issues is this very basic idea. From God’s perspective the same concept looks very different than it does from ours. We truly screw up our theology when we try to take something from God’s perspective and apply it to our frame of experience. We experience things from our perspective, and God from His in eternity.

    That aside, the question must be asked what is God’s motive for what He has done for us? Is it to glorify Himself? Yes, that is part of it. So God has done it TO us for His glory. What’s in His heart though? His unimaginably passionate desire FOR us. God works from both His head and His heart, but which do you think drives Him to do what He has done?

  • Carol

    Yep, I prefer the overt aggression of our secular culture’s predatory selfishness to the subtle manipulative passive aggression of the ecclesiastical sub-culture.

    Human nature is human nature. Sometimes the only difference between some secular people and some religious people is that secular people don’t claim divine sanction for it when they screw someone over.

  • My family still tries this one on me, I’ve just always been so much of a rebel that it has never stopped me.

    As to the debate, it’s a relationship. God loves us unconditionally. He takes care of us and gives us everything we need. We, in return, give Him our love and devotion. Like any relationship there is a give and take, and if one party is doing all the giving without any reciprication the relationship will fall apart. Even the Bible uses the metaphor of marriage. So it isn’t all about “us” or “God” but about the marriage between us and God.

  • tana

    This hurts my heart, it’s so true. You’ve done some really evocative work, David – all so meaningful, but this one has cut me to the core.

    Of course, first I feel hurt because I recognize this is being done TO me. But this thought is quickly followed by the realization of how I am doing this to others. I didn’t even recognize it until this moment.

    I’m sure I’ll catch my breath soon. Thank you so much for this gift.

  • Very insightful, David, into all kinds of relationships, not just ecclesiastical ones. (And really, why would we expect our ecclesiastical relationships to function any differently than all our others?)

    Shared far and wide.

  • faithlessinfatima

    @Shawn…’God’s head and his heart”…whaaaaaaT?

  • @faithlessinfatima —
    If we’re going to anthropomorphize God (and it can be a useful metaphor sometimes), it doesn’t seem like such a stretch to talk about God’s head and heart. Though personally, I would’ve avoided the gendered pronoun, since I tend to gynemorphize God at least as much as I anthropomorphize God.

  • Renny

    Thanks David, this is so insightful…and why it is so hard to come out of the closet (whatever that closet is). “It makes me very sad that you have decided to leave” “How could you…” “we still LOVE you, you know”. “Awww, you just need a rest”. “We’re praying for you” etc.etc. you get my drift.

    And this one really makes me shake my head: My husband is accused of leading me away from god and church. Perhaps they don’t think I have a mind of my own.

    Having said that, I know I made some of those remarks myself, all well-intentioned of course.

  • Kris

    I call that “emotional sabotage.”

  • faithlessinfatima

    I wd somewhat agree Jenny,it seems we don’t have other options when we speak of “invisible beings”…”gotta put some flesh on that ghoul”, but my point suggests or asks how far can we take that metaphor before we sound downright silly?(unless yr Mormon)What’s next…the bowels of God?

  • Carol

    Yes, PrayerPunk, as you post: As to the debate, it’s a relationship. God loves us unconditionally. He takes care of us and gives us everything we need. We, in return, give Him our love and devotion. Like any relationship there is a give and take, and if one party is doing all the giving without any reciprication the relationship will fall apart. Even the Bible uses the metaphor of marriage. So it isn’t all about “us” or “God” but about the marriage between us and God.”

    The problem is that the 16th century Reformers taught that it is “Grace Alone.” Only in the sense that our faith is a response to God’s loving-mercy is it “Grace Alone.” Until then the relationship between nature and Grace was understood to be synergistic; not one of radical opposition.

    As one homiletist rather shockingly put it, “The Holy Spirit didn’t rape Mary!” The dualistic radical opposition of nature to Grace is probably the reason that Protestantism never developed a Marian Tradition.

    Both Catholics and Protestants need to revisit the theological controversies of the 16th century. Many of them are totally non-issues among the Orthodox Churches of the East. When we begin by asking the wrong questions, we get the wrong answers and when the polemics kick in the conclusions on both sides become even more extreme.

  • VanPastorMan

    People might do this, but Jesus doesn’t. When He was on the cross He prayed that the Father would forgive those who were hurling insults at Him. With God there is no manipulation. He says what He says and you believe it or not.

  • renatus

    Yes, i did .. It’s a guilt based manipulation module.It’s the scariest sort of manipulation in existence, simply because it does damage without it (the damage) being identified as a problem.There are exceptions off course 😉

    Something we should try to chance.

  • Wow…This one really hit me hard. David, I think your work is like Japanese Koans…little parables that don’t force themselves on you but rather offer up truth you can access for yourself.
    I’m a fan.

  • I’m guilty of this occasionally…I hate it. I constantly remind myself that I must give freely without expecting something in return … Ppl don’t need to earn my love.

  • Carol, you and I seem to be on the same page, but you seem to think only the eastern Church has a mystical or contmplative tradition. Don’t forget that St. Francis, St. John of the Cross, St. Teresa of Avila, the anonomous writter of the Cloud of Unknowing, Julian of Norwich, Thomas Merton, and Blessed Teresa of Calcutta are all Roman Catholics. Also let us not forget the Vatican considers us one Church. We are allowed to take communion in Orthodox Churches. Honestly I don’t think there is a difference in teaching. Since the Reformation we have taken the emphasis off the mystical tradition, but it never went away and it has been rediscovered by men like Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, John Main, and Laurence Freeman. I know our liturgies are different, and our hierarchies are um crazy, but we have more in common than not. Peace everyone!

  • Caryn LeMur

    Steve Martin: I am a bit lost on how you viewed the cartoon in your first posting. Could you elaborate on what the cartoon evoked in you?

    Much love in Christ always and uncondtionally; Caryn

  • Caryn LeMur

    I had a similar experience to this cartoon, an elder at a church said to me, “I feel cheated that I never got to know Jim”. (My previous name was Jim).

    I laughed at him, because it was so preposterous. After all, I had reached out to him in friendship several times many months before, and he had ignored me for about 1 year.

    So, his oh-so-serious comment struck me as absurd. But what if… just what if we had become friends? wow… you are right, David, it would have been manipulation, rather than edification.

    “You disappoint me”, “You’ve ruined everything”, “Your actions caused me pain”… “I would have never done what you did…” yeah… all manipulation rather than edification.

    Great food for thought. Thank you, David.

    Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

  • Carol

    PrayerPunk, yes, the Catholic Church HAS a mystical Tradition; but the Eastern Churches ARE a mystical Tradition. Actually, St. Francis and St. Therese of Lisieux are my favorite Saints. I explain to my Protestant friends that St. Therese is my special prayer partner in the Church Triumphant. In spite of the “cloud of witnesses” mentioned in the Book of Hebrews, and the Jesus’ reminder that “our God is the God of the living, not the dead, few Protestant Christians have any sense of a connection with our brothers and sisters in Christ who have passed into the fullness of Eternity.

    Mystics are spiritual erotics. Being a mystic has more to do with how our brains are wired and/or brain chemistry than it does with spiritual maturity. Rasputin, the “mad monk” was a mystic and my guess is that David Koresh was and Charles Manson is, also.

    Human nature is human nature and we all have a problem with egoistic narcissism [sin]; although the tendency varies in degree from person to person. I doubt that Orthodox faith communities are any easier to abide in than Catholic or Protestant communities when it comes to the mundane experiences of life; but at least those of us with mystical tendencies would not be attacked for being “pietistic” as we so often are in most Protestant, even many Catholic, excesssively rationalistic and legalistic Latin/Western Churches.

  • Doug

    If the only people seeing this cartoon were the manipulators, I’d applaud it (anything that brings us to humility and repentance is of value). After all, human love is susceptible to all manner of corruption.

    But since there are also the “manipulated” seeing this cartoon, I’m not so sure — as its message is far too… manipulative (irony!):

    It tells us that love has no price-tag. What nonsense. It tells us that our self-expression and self-determination are the ultimate trump-card. What deceit! It tells us that love must not move us. What tragedy!!

  • Carol

    In America the Liberal/Progressive Churches wink at individual/personal predatory behaviors and the Conservative/Traditional Churches wink at predatory socioeconomic behaviors while each accuses the other of compromising the Gospel Message.

    Doug, you might find this essay of interest:

    The Church: A Non-Prophet Organization?

    Excerpt from the article:

    Lewis Smedes argues that there are two moral absolutes: justice and love. By justice he means being fair; by love he means being helpful to one in need. The words echo throughout scripture, where justice is to the Old

    Testament what love is to the New: the standard for measuring God’s rule in the hearts of God’s people.

    The church is what God is “up to” in our world. It is, as Hays claims, an eschatological beachhead, which God establishes on our soil. As such it is a glimpse of what God has in mind for all of us. God is re-creating the world

    through Christ. Therefore, the prophet today must call us to be who we are: a new creation! Here all baptized persons are one in Christ (Galatians 3:28).

    In this new creation, compassion replaces domination, love displaces evil, and Jesus—not Cain, Caesar, mammon, or self—is Lord!

    What to do then with the haunting indictment, pronounced by Romano Guardini, “The church is the cross on which Christ is crucified?”

    Surely Bonhoeffer is right. The last word with Christ, when He gets His way, is grace. Yet, as the twentieth-century martyr reminds us, we cannot speak the last word until we have spoken the next-to-last word. True,

    the last word is “grace.” But the next-to-last word is “guilty.” Are we not all guilty of misrepresenting Christ? Do we not each stand in danger of judgment and in need of Christ’s grace? The true prophet of God says so.

    Where have all the prophets gone?

  • Doug

    Sometimes I think that “unconditional love” is a myth.

    What, after all, is the practical, observable difference between:
    1. “unconditional love” (that is, perfect affirmation, no response required)
    2. “perfect indifference” (for example, the “feelings” of the nearest fire hydrant)

    None. Nada. Zip.
    True love cares. It cares about the response it gets. It cares enough to be hurt. It cares enough to confront, to fight, to submit, to sacrifice. It cares enough to die. This modern “unconditional love” is a ghost — insubstantial as it is impotent.

  • Carol

    Perfect love is not “affirmation”; it is acceptance.

    It has been observed that “Grace accepts us as we are; but it doesn’t leave us there. Perfect love empowers; it doesn’t enable.

    Perfect love also respects boundaries. It does not demand a response from us; but waits patiently for permission to help us change.

    It is only those who believe in Grace Alone that believe no human cooperation is required for transformation to occur. Bonhoeffer criticized the concept of “cheap grace” in the Christian Church. Grace is free; but it isn’t cheap. If accepted, it will, over time, cost everything the disordered human ego holds dear.

    As St. Augustine declared, “The God who created us without our help will not save us without our consent.”

  • Renny

    We just have been thinking (believing) that the Bible teaches unconditional love. Unfortunately, not believing earns mankind eternal torture. There was / is obviously a condition attached.

    Could it be that humans may still be better at loving than god?


  • I have let this be my guide.

    Love is only unconditional. If something is conditional than it’s manipulation.

    I have had incidents where someone has given me something and then expected me to reciprocate. I realized that by accepting their “gift” I had signed up to an unwritten contract. So I asked them if their “gift” was really a gift or pre-payment for services?

    If it was a gift then I didn’t owe them anything. If it was payment then we needed to agree on a contract, because I didn’t think it was an equal trade.

  • Carol

    Renny, not in my admittedly limited experience.

    But then *my* God is the Divine Lover to whom Jesus and the Holy Spirit give witness; not Calvin’s Cosmic Bully.

  • Carol

    Richard, Nietzsche stated that love is Beyond Good and Evil.

    Nietzsche also declared that God is dead. I would guess that for many on this list, including me, the Dogma God is dead.

    Fortunately, the Pneuma God is alive and well and still quite active among us; but often in such ordinary, quiet ways that few even notices the slow; but steady transformatative change that is taking place.

  • Anne

    Christian religious leaders who resemble this characteristic are only imitating the god of the OT/NT. Unless you cherry pick all the condemnation and conditional love out of the texts and only keep the warm, fuzzy ones, that is the god you are left with in the bible.

    On my quest through RC (childhood), evangelical (most adulthood of varying flavors), EO, liberal christianity, and UU, I realized I wasn’t really trying to save the baby while tossing out the bath water, but in reality there is no baby.

    I remain in awe of mystery and the unknowable. I now experience love, hope & gratitude in my life and relationships without having to define a ultimate source of existence and purpose.

  • Doug

    I have a brother.
    We have the same mother.
    Later in life, this brother was convinced by his psychiatrist that Mom’s behavior toward him was of the kind illustrated in this cartoon.
    I had the same upbringing.
    I am convinced that my Mom was not like this at all, but was truly, selflessly, devoting herself to her sons, and doing her very best for (by her lights) their well-being.
    My brother sees things differently.
    Is one of us right and the other wrong?
    It would seems so.
    Or perhaps we are both wrong, or both partly right.
    Growing up, I was constantly fighting with Mom.
    My brother was continually cooperative.
    Go figure.
    Life is complicated.

  • Renny

    @Doug. I think I am your mother, although not your brother’s mother.


  • Renny

    @Anne – I love what you said: “I remain in awe of mystery and the unknowable. I now experience love, hope & gratitude in my life and relationships without having to define a ultimate source of existence and purpose.”

    @Carol – I appreciate your views. In my view the dogma god and the pneuma god are the same, except for in a person’s mind.

    @Richard – If love were only so black and white

  • Doug

    @Rennie – Really?

  • I think it is always imperative NOT to make God sound like a nagging mother: see what I’ve done for you, what will you do for me. Ineffective, anyways. Certainly not love instilling.

    Recently, this other thing has come to me. As a young and averagely attractive person I’ve always hated the thought that someone would love me for my body. Now, you might laugh at this, I’ve had some people tangle with me because they loved my brain. I didn’t like it either. I need the love for me to be about nothing in particular. I need to just be.

    Thankfully, God is love, and his love creates what it seeks on its own. I don’t have to be anything, do anything, be smart or dumb, or ugly or pretty, or anything. So, so glad!

  • Of course, this love is sacrificial, as is a good mother’s love. But the pressure tactics are not going to serve the relationship.

  • Renny,

    I actually see love as black and white. You either love me or you want something from me. The key is not to resent people when they want something.

    It’s my ego who wants everybody to love me. For me I think it’s because I needed validation that I was lovable. At some point I just decided to love myself and quit looking for permission.

    To get to that point required rigorous honesty. And part of that honesty was the realization that these ideals about love are mostly ego driven. A lot of people get disappointed or disillusioned, but when you stop judging it, it’s a relief.

    The people I have in my inner circle are committed to that level of honesty. To me, that’s the experience of love. It requires courage at first, but soon one realizes there’s nothing to fear.

    Just love yourself by being honest with yourself and be who you are. When I put who I was out there, the people who like that person show up, instead of the ones who liked my act.

  • Carol

    Anne, some people are attracted to the unknown, more are terrified by it, most are somewhere in between.

    Mystics are attracted, not merely to the unknown; but to the unknowable. Mystics are not only spiritual erotics, they are “Transcendence freaks.”

    Mysticism is an apophatic theological tradition–“knowing by unknowing.” There is a difference between knowing ABOUT God and knowing OF God. The first is conceptual, the latter is experienctial. Theology/dogmatic belief is faith seeking understanding, it is not faith. Faith and beliefs are complementary as long as the beliefs remain open to formation through new experience. It is dogmatic absolutism that is the enemy of trust/faith. Persons of mature faith have certitude, the conviction that God is Good and Loving even when circumstances inflict pain and suffering. In the words of Job, the prototypal OT example of faith, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” Certitude is the opposite of the certainty that God will always grant a temporal deliverance. Certitude comes from realizing that, although temporal existence is a relative good, Eternal Life is the Ultimate Good and that is what the Gospel promises. Temporal deliverances are a sometimes thing and now matter how well we live our lives, we will still die. For one who longs for justice and believes in Eternal life, death has “lost its sting.” Death is the “great leveler.” There is an Italian proverb that states it quite well,”After the game is over, the king and the pawn both go back into the same box.” Psalm 73 says much the same thing. Knowing that we are only “passing through” and that temporal life is a pilgrimage, not a destination helps to keep our materialistic greed in check. We are feeling the affects of greedy consumerism in our death-denying culture. Paradoxically, denying death has a deadening psychological and spiritual effect, while facing the reality of it deepens our appreciation for and experience of the gift of life.

    “Your life feels different on you, once you greet death and understand your heart’s position. You wear your life like a garment from the mission bundle sale ever after—lightly because you realize you never paid nothing for it, cherishing because you won’t ever come by such a bargain again. Also you have the feeling someone wore it before you and someone will after. I can’t explain that, not yet, but I’m putting my mind to it.” ~ Louise Erdrich, Love Medicine, A Novel

    “When treading through areas where hatred and greed and depravity are running amuck, it is more important to watch our hearts, than it is to watch our backs. For if we rage at the rageful, grab from the greedy, or assault those we deem immoral out of self-righteousness, then we become them. And what goodness we had in us, is cut away by the swords we hold in our own hands.” ~Sandra Kring

  • Carol, I’m learning some things from you, as to how mystics think of themselves and others. But can I just ask, if dogma is bad and certitude is bad, is there still sin, repentance and redemption in this, or is it irrelevant, divisive, or something else? Just really wanting to know how this fits in or not. Thanks.

  • To make good people does not belong to the Gospel, for it only makes Christians. It takes much more to be a Christian than to be pious. A person can easily be pious, but not a Christian. A Christian knows nothing to say about his piety, for he finds in himself nothing good or pious. If he is to be pious, he must look for a different piety, a piety in some one else.

    To this end Christ is presented to us as an inexhaustible fountain, who at all times overflows with pure goodness and grace. And for such goodness and kindness he accepts nothing, except that the good people, who acknowledge such kindness and grace, thank him for it, praise and love him, although others despise him for it. This is what he reaps from it. So one is not called a Christian because he does much, but because he receives something from Christ, draws from him and lets Christ only give to him. If one no longer receives anything from Christ, he is no longer a Christian, so that the name Christian continues to be based only on receiving, and not on giving and doing, and he receives nothing from any one except from Christ alone. If you look at what you do, you have already lost the Christian name. It is indeed true, that we are to do good works, help, advise and give to others; but no one is called a Christian by reason of that, nor is he on that account a Christian.

    – Luther’s First House Postil for Trinity 24 (Matthew 9:18-26)

  • Carol

    Brigitte, dogma is not bad, dogmatic absolutism is bad and certitude, unqualified trust in the goodness and mercy of God is not bad, certainty, the belief that we have infallibly understood the ways and will of God is bad.

    Of course, there is “sin.” Even non-religious people, while they may not use the word “sin,” realize that there is something not quite right, something disordered or dysfunctional with the way we attempt to cope with the challenges of life.

    The question has to do with “evil.” Augustine taught that evil has no substance. It is either the absence or the disordering of the good–the corruption of love (substance) by lust (disorder) for example. Evil is a shadow of the Good. Shadows are always dark, distorted images of the reality that is casting the shadow.

    We are aware of the shadow; but to obsess over it rather than focus on the opening ourselves to the Good is not going to affect any transformative change in either indivdiuals or societies.

    Of course, there should be zero tolerance for predatory behavior; but we must never forget that there is more to the person than the worst thing s/he has ever done.

    It is Calvin who taught the doctrine of Total Depravity, not Luther. Luther taught that we were saints/good and sinners/bad simultaneously.

    I have read both Luther and the Book of Concord. The Book of Concord was written by Philip Melancthon and others who were influenced by Calvin as well as Luther. Luther made an attempt to make contact with the Orthodox Churches in the East; but they were engaged in a struggle with Islam and the Ottoman Empire had neither the time nor desire to engage with an upstart Catholic ex-monk. The history of Protestantism may have been different if an exchange had taken place. Scandinavian Lutheranism is quite different from German Lutheranism because of the geographical proximity to Russia which is an Eastern Orthodox country rather than a Roman Catholic country.

    The Churches teach their history from a primarily doctrinal perspective; but there are many other factors, especially political, that have influenced their sectarian beliefs. If the German Elector Frederick the Wise had not recognized the potential for Luther to give him an advantage in seeking more freedom from Rome’s domination and given him sanctuary, Luther may have suffered the same fate as another Augustinian monk, the Czech Jan Hus who was burned at the stake.

    The historical and spiritual realities are not as simple as your Missouri Synod Luther Church would have you believe.

  • Carol

    Brigitte, if you are interested in learning about the Christian mystical tradition a good starting place is the Center for Action and Contemplation:

    Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr is to this generation what Thomas Merton is to my generation (I am 70 years old).

    I must caution you though, if you are drawn into a direct [mystical] experience of God, you will probably be drawn into a conflict with your formal [church] community. That can be very painful. Also, the brighter the Divine light shines in you life, the larger and darker your own shadow becomes. That, too, is very painful; but it is the only cure I know for self-righteous judgmentalism.

    It takes more courage than brains to become a disciple of God in Christ Jesus.

    I want to share with you an excerpt from a letter I received from a more mature mystic when I first began my own pilgrimage of faith within the mystical tradition:

    Of all the creatures on the planet, we seem to have aborted our intended destiny. It is simply not within the realm of possibility for us to “be right.” There is always some important piece of data we can’t or don’t or won’t know, some effort of the will we fail to make, some time when our attention flags. I don’t feel particularly guilty about this. In fact, I admire human beings for being able to operate at all, given these conditions. I don’t feel guilty, but I do feel hopeless. Except insofar as I am able to participate in God’s own Life. Then all things are possible, all things are mine in Christ.
    But participating in God’s Life is about like jumping off a cliff or rushing into a fire, or any other of the million ways there are of losing your life. It’s not a gentle saunter in the Elysian Fields. It’s having your hide flayed off. …Mercy is not just getting off the hook. Mercy can be having your eyes opened to the reality of your situation, for example, as the fiery serpents got the attention of the children of Israel in the wilderness of Zin.
    It seems that in the end we only have the choice between life in ourselves or Life in God. Which looks very like a choice between two deaths—eternal death and death in Christ. I’m not at all convinced that life in God—or dying with Christ—is the easier choice. Nor even particularly commendable. Those who make it do so, I suspect, because they have a “taste” for God. They desire (hunger, thirst, yearn for) God, none of these very comfortable states of being. Other people can simply take Him or leave Him, and are probably a good deal more comfortable doing so.
    Therefore, to say I find my only hope in participating in God’s Life is to say I choose a life of hunger, thirst, fiery serpents, and all the other necessary conditions for knowing God.

    Think about it, pray about it and know this:
    God will not love you any less, if you chose not to follow the road less traveled; or any more, if you do. Unconditional Love is just that, unconditional, which leaves the beloved totally free and, here’s the scary part, totally responsible for his or her own choices.

    Grace is free, it is not cheap. If accepted, it will, over time, cost the believer everything that the disordered ego holds dear. The Cross upon which our disordered egos are sacrificed through our union with Christ is as great a scandal in the Church as it is in the world. Human nature is human nature. . . .

  • Carol, I have a little bit of time this morning. I will read this carefully and respond in a bit.

  • Carol, in the meantime, you might google “Augustana Graeca” to get the idea of what passed and didn’t between the Orthdox and the Lutherans.

    Rev. Stuckwisch, who is on FB and has a blog, etc. and well known in Lutheran circles, has an imporant entry on it here:

  • Carol, you seem like a kind person, but this forum here is to speak your mind. So will try to be both clear and reasonable. I read your posts over with my husband over his late breakfast cooking. (He is off, today, and I have to go to work in a bit.)

    You start out by making distinctions which seem like semantics and don’t really work: “dogma is not bad, but dogmatic absolutism is bad”. We are always teaching or presenting some teaching, even if it is the teaching that there are many ways. This is also a doctrine. And if it is not a teaching then it is a discussion point which we work on trying to settle. There isn’t dogma which is not “absolutist”. The teaching of that there are many ways is absolutist in the sense that it excludes the way, there there is one way, or one, best, most enlightened way, a narrow way, which needs treading. — Either we are confessing something to be true. Or we are confessing something to be an open question. There isn’t really a middle thing.

    Similarly, the distinction between “certitude” and “certainty” is just a muddle to me. Both mean “freedom from doubt”. The way you phrase things represent to me a double-speak, trying to build a bridge,–but it is none.

    When you put unqualified trust in God, what God is this? Do you know anything about him or her. Is it me? Is it Mother Earth? Is it the Islamic God which sends you to subjugate the infidels. Is it one of the million Hindu gods? Or does it not matter at all? With mysticism is it not the “feeling” that matters in the end? Is that what trust is placed in?

    In terms of sin and evil, I don’t know why we have to change the word to evil and bring in Augustine. I am not an Augustine scholar, so I wouldn’t have minded to hear exactly what Augustine said in context. In any case, sin and evil are often enough a misuse of what is good. This is easy to see. But evil/sin are often enough with substance. Sometimes, it even seems palpable. I have perceived it as palpable at times. The damage is very real and what is bad can be stated pretty clearly a good deal of the time.

    You also, even though predatory behavior must not be tolerated, tell us not to obsess over evil. Again, you sidestep the question about repentance and forgiveness, which is key, as Jesus has sent us out to forgive and retain sins. So this is really ignoring what Jesus stresses specifically.

    In contrasting Calvin and Luther, you seem to me to have imbibed some skewered tertiary sources. The “total depravity” is not in contrast to the sinner/saint, “simul justus et peccator”. In matters of faith, human reason is no use to us. We use our reason to discuss things as the historical context, when the disciples worked and Jerusalem fell, etc., but it does not give us the gift of faith (certainty/ceritutde of God’s mercy in Christ.) So, we are equally depraved, none have done good or seen the light, as Paul tells us. We need to have the good news told us, preached to us. It is not intuitive–that in Christ, God has made salvation available to us. And there is a small gate and narrow way. Lot’s don’t want to be on it.

    Simul justus et peccator, is something else. It means, that through the gift of faith, trust and salvation, we have become saints, that is redeemed. There is a new nature in us, of joy, hope, patience, etc. but our old nature is at war with this new nature. So, henceforth until the incorruptible comes, we will be in this battle, which will keep us both on our toes and also on our knees, receiving forgiveness daily. This forgiveness is nothing morbid. It is always a new beginning, also and a new joy. This is “simul justus et peccator”. Being both sinner and saint until the Lord comes and fixes everything, including me. It is a tension and we keep on striving. We are both fully saint and fully sinner, at the same time. Not a bit of this and a bit of that. This is what the teaching is.

    I’ll break it up here, for a moment.

  • Carole, you have “read both Luther and the Book of Concord.” I must say, once more, which I have said to you on a previous occasion: you do not know either Luther or the Confessions. If you did know the most basic thing you would not contrast Calvin’s depravity with the saint/sinner paradigm, as we just discussed. Nor was the Book of Concord written by Melanchton. Luther and Melanchton worked together in close partnership for a long time, with Melanchton being the language specialist and less vehement in his expressions. Issues with Calvinism come in at a later date and especially after Luther’s death. I would recommend some good Luther biographies. Personally, I’m still trying to make it through Martin Brecht’s,the most recent and thorough account of all this. Very interesting, but long. There are others. In the Luther course, we just use a simpler one, by Kittelson. Anyhow, I would suggest a look at the actual history of it. The confessional documents were written as they were required by the circumstances, and they are not all by Melanchton, or in contrast between Melanchton and Luther. For the reading of the Book of Concord, there is a beautiful new Reader’s Edition at Concordia Publishing House, which also gives decent introductions and explains some of the context, including the difficulties encountered later on with the insinuation of Calvinists of themselves into Wittenberg. This is explained in an appropriate detail in the introduction to the Formula of Concord. I highly recommend it both for interest and accuracy.

    Scandinavian Lutheranism is not different from German Lutheranism because of its proximity to Russian and Orthodoxy. This is false. Plainly and simply. Scandinavian Lutheranism is more liturgical because it did not have Calvnism forced down its throat like the German state church had through the kings of Prussia, etc. Unfortunately, the state did not stay out of the business of the church.

    You conclude by saying that grace is free but not cheap. And you have brought up Bonhoeffer before. And I like Bonhoeffer, a lot, though I am not entirely certain of his theology and how liberal it is. It does not read very liberal to me. But when grace is not cheap, it is first of all expensive because it cost the Son of God, the unigenitus, the one and only. It also costs us our own death, as you say. But is is also our rebirth. — I’ve read the bit about the “crucified ego” a lot, lately. It is a thought with some merit, but the way I’ve come across it has been to deny that the one and only Son of God died for the sins of the world, including my own. So, if we’re missing that, all that talk of the crucified ego is just a hollow thing. Being sinner and saint and quite depraved, that crucifixion of the ego doesn’t just happen. In fact, it seems to be stressed by many, who exactly want to have their own way, and then also baptize this way as the most “spiritual”, “kind”, “profound”… though only one of many…

  • The problem that I have found with dogma and all the intellectual processing around it is that it only exists unless you start with a certain set of assumptions. These usually include authoritarian writings. The dialog with dogma often looses the humanity of the issues they try to address and within the history of Christianity some rather horrendous deeds were done within a certain set of dogma set by some rather influential writers.

    Within the history of Christianity you have a number of pivotal writers such as Augustine, Luther, and Calvin. The problem I encountered with all of these men is that they all did some rather detestable things based on their interpretation of these authoritarian writings.

    Augustine used bribes and influence to bring about his particular neo-platonic view of Christianity. It is reported that he sent monks to flay a competing pagan priestess within her own temple. Luther burnt so called witches at the stake and wrote probably the single most anti-semetic book there is which became the guideline for Hitlers treatment of the Jews by Hitler’s own report. And Calvin used such painful methods of torture to “convert” the heretical in his eyes that prisoners had to be kept in irons to prevent them from committing suicide. He was known to take revenge on those who disagreed with his views.

    You will find quite a number of incidents of depravity among the church fathers based on their particular dogma.

    I have come to a point that it makes no sense to keep trying to rehabilitate Christianity to reflect some type of humanity when simply going directly to the truth is far simpler.

  • Carol

    Richard, there is nothing in Christian dogma that can be interpreted as a claim that the followers of Jesus are sinless, even though there are too many professed Christians who seem to believe that grace has made them not only righteous; but inerrant in spiritual/religious matters.

    But your point is well-taken that if one’s presuppositions are flawed, logic will not lead to correct conclusions. Since omniscience is not a human attribute, we are all dependent on our own and the collective subjective experience of our social group for our presuppositions.

    I believe that there is Absolute Reality/Truth; but I also believe that all human understanding and experience of it is relative. That does not mean that all relative truth is equally valid, however.

    Just as scientific theories must be empirically tested in a laboratory before gaining wide acceptance, theological beliefs must be tested in the crucible of human experience before receiving consensual (as in consensus) validation. There are universal human values on which all people, both religious and secular, agree, that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, the difference is that secular humanists think that we can realize them without Grace.

  • Carol

    Brigitte, of course I don’t have exhaustive knowledge of either Calvin, Luther, Melancthon or the dynamic between them; but I do know that Calvin was a lawyer and a Protestant scholastic, Luther was a biblical scholar and Melancthon was a Protestant scholastic who attempted to translate Luther’s spiritual insights into dogmatic categories. It may very well be that this is an impossible task since Luther had strong mystical tendencies and mystical theology is contemplative, sometimes speculative, rather than dogmatic. All I do know is that something was lost between Luther’s writings and the creedal professions of the Book of Concord.

    My fundamental disagreement with the Reformers, both Calvin and Luther, is on the radical dualistic opposition of Grace to nature and the Imputation of Christ’s righteousness.

    For 1500 years the Church, both Orthodox and Catholic had a synergistic view of the relationship between Grace and nature. Of course, the Divine initiative must be preserved or one becomes Pelagian; but there must be an acceptance and cooperation as the human response before Grace can have a transformative affect. Faith, or unqualified trust in the goodness and loving/mercy of God is the human response to Grace, which is not a created power that enables us to fulfill the demands of the Law; but the Uncreated Presence of God.

    As for the Imputation of Christ’s Righteous, I believe that it is a legal fiction conceived to solve a theological dilemma created by an excessively juridical theological mindset. The Orthodox Churches of the East would never embrace such a doctrine. When your theological presuppositions raise the wrong questions, you get the wrong answers.

    I am looking forward to reflecting on Stuckwisch’s article:

    Most of the people on this board could probably could care less about these issues, so, hoping that I am not committing a breach of rules, I am providing my email address in case you want to pursue the off-topic Lutheran vs. Catholic/Orthodox issue further without subjecting the other members to our theological hair-splitting ;-D :

  • Carol,

    You wrote:

    “Just as scientific theories must be empirically tested in a laboratory before gaining wide acceptance, theological beliefs must be tested in the crucible of human experience before receiving consensual (as in consensus) validation.”

    I have looked at these within the crucible of human experience. There is no difference between the behaviors of the religious and the secular. In fact many studies show that the quality of life and behavior in general is often better in less religious cultures. And if we look at the main founders of Christian belief we find far less than perfection. We find depravity in their behavior. If we to point to the most loving behavior we would probably point to Janism which taught against violence long before Jesus showed up. There is a saying that says, “Evil men will do evil and good men will do good, but it takes religion to make good men do evil.”

    You also posted:

    “There are universal human values on which all people, both religious and secular, agree, that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, the difference is that secular humanists think that we can realize them without Grace.”

    I have found no evidence that it requires grace to embrace these values. There are many very rational reasons to embrace these values. When people don’t embrace these I see it as evidence of some combination of ignorance and fear. And if fear and ignorance are not involved it is generally madness.

  • Barry House

    I remember inaccurate and stretched ‘truths’ from scripture as a young kid. Not sure if it was an atttempt to control or a self-preservation mode to keep people wooing and interested or attending. Soooo hope there aren’t any churches still out there doing this. It is quite unnecessary.

    I mentioned in one of your othe rposts the great real work churches are doing out here. Government has done a lot for syre but there are many that fall through the cracks and need help.

    I love the enthusiasm which with many give and support for the low income housing projects and transistional housing project in the works in GP. Here in RD one church is feeding and clothing 180 families. There is much one can do and its important to be charitable when we can on an individual basis but as a corporate body there’s even more we can do to an exponential level.

    Good thought provoking thread.