The Catholic Both/And

The Catholic Both/And June 25, 2018

So the other day, the readings concerned Jesus’ warning about the unforgivable sin of blasphemy against the Holy Spirit:

And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem said, “He is possessed by Be-elzebul, and by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” And he called them to him, and said to them in parables, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand. And if a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand. And if Satan has risen up against himself and is divided, he cannot stand, but is coming to an end. But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his goods, unless he first binds the strong man; then indeed he may plunder his house.
“Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they utter; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”—for they had said, “He has an unclean spirit.” (Mk 3:22–30).

The Pope remarked on this, pointing out that blasphemy is the gravest sin you can commit.

The reason blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable is not because God will not forgive it, but because the sinner, by the nature of his sin, will not be forgiven. When you call black white, good evil and God Satan you are like a man down a well who is thrown the rope and who takes a knife to cut it off out of his own reach. Those in hell are there (assuming any are, which we don’t know) because, incredibly, they want to to be there rather than humble themselves to mercy. The gates of hell are barred from the inside. I think the eastern Church’s idea that we are damned by, not for, our sins covers this idea well. God is all salvation all the time. But we remain free to refuse him.

The Church calls hell the “definitive self-exclusion” of a soul from the society of God and the blessed. God is not looking for some excuse to damn us. His entire will and purpose is ordered to our salvation. He hates sin, not because he has some arbitrary list of things that just irritate him for no reason, but because sin damages us, his beloved. Our sins contain their own punishment because they are self-inflicted wounds (and, of course, wounds we inflict on others that make us crueler, more calloused people). Hell is just sin in fruition, our own choice to go on excluding ourselves from the love of God and others forever. God does not want that and works to woo us back to his love. Even the sufferings caused by sin are ordered toward our redemption if we will let them be. But we can also turn every gift to our own ruin if we choose to and wreck ourselves completely. That’s hell. God will seek our good till there is nothing left of us that can be put back together. But we can bring ourselves to the point where there really is nothing left of us for him to work with. If you want to scare the shit out of yourself, read C.S. Lewis’ description of the ex-human Weston in Perelandra. The idea that we can so cut ourselves off from the source of love as to become to a human being what the gasses and ashes are after having once been a log is why I take seriously the idea of hell. It comports with what I have seen of my own capacity for evil and it comports with what I see in others who just seem bent on being total jerks who sabotage both their own lives and those of others out of spite. I make no judgments about final outcomes and pray grace for all, of course. But hell does not even seem to me to require a lot of imagination. It seems entirely reasonable to me.

So here’s the thing though: Despite the fact that the sin against the Holy Spirit is the worst sin you can commit (and therefore the love of God with heart, soul, mind and strength is by far and away the greatest commandment) Jesus insists that the second greatest commandment is “like it” (Matthew 22:39).  Love your neighbor as yourself.

Indeed, St. John goes so far as to say, “He who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen. (1 Jn 4:20). It’s a typically Christian incarnational test of love.

Why do I mention it?  Because the other day I remarked on Facebook: “To all those saying abortion is worse than ripping a traumatized child from its mothers arms, let me paraphrase St. John: If you do not love the forcibly orphaned child at the border whom you have seen, you do not love the unborn child whom you have not seen.”

Sure as shooting, a member of the “prolife” Right to Life, Not Right to Live” crowd immediately asserted the Christianist Either/Or:

One kills the child and one doesn’t, correct?

All I could think was, “There will be a special circle in hell for Christians who will spend eternity arguing which circle of hell is the worst and why theirs is the best because they opposed abortion.”

In answer to the question: yes. And guess what? Blasphemy and hatred of God is a more serious sin than hatred of man too. But you know what? St. John still says that if you do not love your neighbor whom you have seen, you cannot love God whom you have not seen. Because the second greatest commandment is inextricably linked to the greatest commandment. In the same way, the BS-filled “prolife” Christianist who offers silent approval, lame excuses, or gloating delight over the cruelties being inflicted on families at the border but who claims that he “loves” the unborn is a liar, and the truth is not in him. We love both or we love neither. That’s the deal.

This is not complicated.

Badass prolife feminist Destiny Herndon-De La Rosa summed this up nicely:

Me: “If you care about innocent children in the womb, you should also care about innocent children at the border.”

Them: “Well, now, I see where you’re coming from but there *is* a difference, let me explain…”

Me: “Hey Linda, sorry to interrupt, but real quick, black lives matter…”

Them: *involuntarily* “ALL LIVES MATTER!”

Me: “Exactly.”

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