Christianity, Marriage, Parenting, regligious education, Uncategorized

Christianity Made Simple: A Regular Parent’s Guide to Making Sense of Christianity, Answering the Hard Questions, and Building Lasting Values in the Modern World

My book is now available as a Kindle e-book,  a $2.99 download or free for Amazon Prime members. Also in paperback.  It is intended for parents  who wish to be able to help their children to develop a solid, logic-based set of values grounded in true Christianity, without the buzzwords and mystical noise that often gets in the way. Research shows that children typically will purport to sign on to their parents’ religion and values at home, but will dump them when they are with their peers or when they leave home. To be more successful in building a strong set of working morals parents need to be able to explain things in a way that makes fundamental sense. My goal is to help with that task.

Who is the book for?

This book is aimed at three main groups. First and foremost are parents who may or may not be particularly churchgoing, but who want to provide their children with a useful moral compass to guide them through modern life. You may have found that there is a lot of advice on Christian parenting that centers around worshiping and praising Jesus, rather than on helping to explain to your children how to make good choices and how to identify bad ones. We have all seen plenty of people who make a big show of their Christianity, but who seem to have completely missed the point and clearly don’t think or behave as Christ intended. The book arose from my own efforts as a parent to explain Christianity in a sensible and useful manner to my children so that they could avoid those mistakes. I found that church, Sunday school, and the religious books on the market provided surprisingly little help in this effort, so I have tried to fill that gap.

The second group is active, churchgoing Christians who find that they have questions that no one has been able to answer to their satisfaction. For you, this book offers a comprehensive framework for understanding Christianity, one that makes it easier to fill in the holes and to sort out conflicting information or things that don’t seem to make sense. If understanding Christianity seems to be unnecessarily difficult, and if your questions have been met with responses that are vague, mysterious, or unhelpful, this simple guide may provide what you have been missing.

Finally, this book is aimed at those who want the spiritual comfort and purpose of religion, who feel a void in their lives without it, but who have never been able to buy in to the versions of Christianity that were presented to them. For you, I offer a correction of the errors that you may have been exposed to. Because most people never get a very firm grasp of what Christianity is really about, many of us grow up being exposed only to versions that don’t make sense or that propose a vision of God that is unattractive, one that we can feel must be wrong. A proper understanding of Christianity will remove those errors and allow you to find the attractive, sensible, useful faith that can give you what you have been seeking to give your life meaning and to strengthen your marriage. If you have viewed God as cold, random, or unhelpful, then you have not been properly introduced to the God of love.

Table of Contents

Foreword and User’s Guide i

CHAPTER I – THE THREE PRINCIPLES

a) PRINCIPLE I:  Alignment With God

b) PRINCIPLE II:  Free Will

c) PRINCIPLE III:  Connection

CHAPTER II – SOME DIFFICULT CONCEPTS MADE SIMPLE

a) Heaven and Damnation – We Choose That Which We Desire

b) Faith – The Strength to Do What Needs to Be Done

c) Prayer – Ask and Ye Shall Receive

d) Prayer and Difficult Issues

e) Grace – The Reward to Him That Works is Not Reckoned of Grace, But of Debt

f) Marriage

g) Holy Communion

h) Baptism

i) The Enjoyment of Goodness

j) Good Works – Doing the Right Thing for the Wrong Reason

k) Sin and Repentance – The Deadly Desires and Their Cure

l) Virtue – The Good and the Misguided

m) Loving Your Neighbor – Love Works No Ill to His Neighbor, Therefore Love is the Fulfillment of the Law

n) Christ’s Death for Our Sins – His Humanity Displayed His Divinity

CHAPTER III – IS SEX SINFUL?

a) Teenage Sex

b) Pederasty and Other Nastiness

c) Prostitution and Pornography

d) Onan’s Issue

e) Homosexuality

f) The Significance of Marriage

g) Divorce

h) Sex Redux

CHAPTER IV – THOU SHALL NOT KILL, USUALLY

a) Murder from Sin and Sin from Murder

b) Capital Punishment

c) War: Is Killing a Million Innocents Less Sinful Than Killing Just One?

d) Terrorism and Counter-Terrorism

CHAPTER V – SORRY GORDON GECKO, GREED IS NOT GOOD

a) What Do We Face?

b) Can We Avoid Obsessing About Money in This Harsh World?

c) What is Greed?

d) How Does Greed Begin?

e) Green-Eyed Greed

f) “Look At Me!” Greed

g) Gluttonous Greed

h) Greed and Business

CHAPTER VI – THE PERILS OF POPULARITY

a) Vanity At Work

b) Vanity in the Neighborhood

c) The Vanity of Holier Than Thou

d) Vanity as in a Mirror

e) The Web of Vanity

CHAPTER VII – WEIGHTY MATTERS

a) Junk Calories

b) Junk Possessions

CHAPTER VIII – “WINNING IS EVERYTHING” IS A LOSING PROPOSITION

a) I Want What He Has!

b) “Sour Grapes” Can Be a Sweet Solution

c) He Doesn’t Deserve That!

d) Envy and the Vandal

e) Injustice, Real or Perceived

CHAPTER IX – BARTELBY’S BANE

a) America’s Culture of Isolation

b) Vapid Video

c) Placid Politics

d) The Disaster of Drugs

e) Slothful Spouses

f) Slothful Parenting

g) The Right Amount of Protection

AFTERWORD

EXCERPTS below and in my other posts

 

Junk Calories

I love the experience of food. I am always eager to try new things, and I spend a significant amount of time on buying and cooking food. (The eating part, sadly, tends to go by in a flash, with the dinner that took an hour to cook taking ten minutes to eat.) This is okay. Christianity does not ask us to give up the pleasant things in life and spend all our waking moments in good works. Creating and sharing food is a basic and positive way that people interact with each other. Many studies have shown that families that eat dinner together are more successful than those that don’t, and the common practice of saying grace at mealtime shows the importance that we place on the shared meal. We seek to remind ourselves of heaven’s bounty when we sit down to a meal, so that we appreciate the food before us and the company around us and think about the goodness of the world rather than just wolfing down the food. That can be a soul-enhancing experience, as much as appreciating and sharing a desert sunset or good music or art. God does not ask us to be cold and joyless. To the contrary, He works through the good things in life. The pleasure we feel when we experience love, beauty, the scent of a rose or the taste of a good meal helps us to ground ourselves, to shrug off frustration, pain, and despair and regain the warmth that our spirits are meant to have. By experiencing the joy of simple pleasures, by living in the moment and appreciating what we have, we can actually immunize ourselves against obsessive desires.

Gluttony creeps in when we start to crave quantity, particularly in a manner that causes us to lose sight of the experience of quality. Sinful excess involves, sooner or later, loss of real pleasure in the thing. Most of us have experienced at one time or another the compulsion to eat a whole bag of potato chips or candy, and to then feel slightly ill and realize that we did not even enjoy it. Gluttony and other obsessive desires are like that. Rather than savoring a single, exquisite chocolate truffle, we mindlessly down a pound of M&Ms and then look around for more, and more, and more. There is nothing wrong with M&Ms in their place, but when you scarf the whole bag at once you are not appreciating the experience of eating them. You are instead following a compulsion that undermines one of life’s simple pleasures.

American society tends to push people down the path of gluttony. I remember as a child enjoying what was then called a California hamburger at a drive-in, a sensibly-sized object that was generally accompanied by a little bag of French fries or onion rings. Then came the marketing companies, who wanted us all to consume more and thus spend more money. They told us that if we liked that burger, surely we would be happier with one that had a full quarter pound of beef. If we liked that, then we would REALLY like a burger with two quarter-pound patties. We would like it even more if both patties were covered with a large amount of cheese, and then some bacon. Since it would take us longer to eat that massive creation, we would run out of fries from that small bag as we took breaks from biting the burger. So, we needed a giant box of fries, and a big milk-like shake, and desert. The idea of settling for that little California hamburger came to seem foolish, like one was being cheated somehow. Likewise, if an urban desk-jockey’s breakfast did not include a stack of syrup-sponges, three pale eggs from hens in tiny cages, sausages, bacon, and hash browns, we obviously weren’t getting our money’s worth (which was true, because the clever marketers made a sensible breakfast cost nearly as much as the mega-breakfast, so that we would choose excess). As we became used to giant portions, we simultaneously got used to cheaper ingredients that substituted fat, sugar and salt for actual flavor. A smaller, better meal seemed too expensive, because after finishing it one did not have that somewhat uncomfortable sense of bloat that we had become used to thinking of as “feeling full”. These habits carried over to our home-cooked meals, and we bought and ate more per meal. Manufacturers were happy to encourage this, balanced somewhat by the rise of the calorie-controlled frozen meal industry as we started viewing our waistlines with dismay. We were offered thousands of calories of relatively flavorless and non-nutritive sugared glop.[1]

This commercially-induced form of gluttony is unlikely in itself to destroy your soul, as opposed to merely killing you, but it is instructive. Life is meant to lived observantly. To achieve alignment with God, we need to be aware of our fellow creatures and to want to make them happy. We need to want to make the world a better place. That involves appreciating the things that are good. Again, God wants us to enjoy love and beauty, scents and flavors, music and peace and contentment. We are to recognize that others would like to experience these things as well, and to want to help them to have that opportunity. When we see a particularly beautiful sight, we want to tell our loved ones about it and to take them to see it, too, or at least show them pictures. When we hear beautiful music we want to play it for others. When we find a delicious recipe, we want to share it with our family and friends. This is the proper, Christian reaction to all things good, to want to increase them and share them. If you have four M&Ms and four family members, each gets one and you all enjoy the experience.

As we move towards gluttony, we start to lose that interest in experiencing and sharing the good thing. When we look at that bag of M&Ms, we do not think of people that we might share them with. As we eat them, we do not savor the flavor. We just consume.

It is not that the desire for the food burns in our brain. Rather, the harm comes in undermining our better sensibilities, our desire to sense and to share. Most of us experience strong cravings for junk food just as a form of withdrawal. When a bag of sweet or salty fat is opened we will absent- mindedly devour it, but we don’t devote our lives to that pursuit. However, most of us know the feeling of going into the kitchen and finding that you are out of junk food, and being unhappy about that. As this experience repeats itself, we start to pay more attention to the chip aisle than to the produce aisle in the grocery store. (The produce section, objectively viewed, is a beautiful thing. I have taken photos of produce markets on my travels and they are always pretty. I have never felt the urge to take a photo of the junk food aisle.) We lose the battle of the bulge, getting fatter than we want to be while knowing that we should be eating less and exercising more. We suffer from high cholesterol and high blood pressure, and take pills for it that have assorted nasty side-effects rather than just correcting our diet. Our eating habits, to that extent, control us, interfering with romance, health, and well-being despite the fact that we know we should do better. We know that we do not get twice the pleasure from that second slab of beef on our burger, but we order it anyway. We lose effective control over an important aspect of our lives. What was a shared family pleasure becomes a mere guilty compulsion. The family dinner, which should be an occasion of joy and conversation, becomes meaningless, and we lose closeness because of it.[2]

It can get worse, of course. Now imagine the people who eat so much that they can no longer care for their children, or work, or even walk, who find someone who will enable their self-destruction by continuing to feed them when they become too grossly obese to feed themselves. Such people effectively devote their entire lives to feeding their obsession with consuming (not necessarily enjoying, but consuming) food. They do not have room in their lives for healthy love, charity, or support for others, because they are consumed by their consumption. That is obsessive gluttony of a type similar to obsessive greed or lust that involves a cycle of wanting desperate enough to crowd out everything else.

But it would be a mistake to think that that is the primary hazard of gluttony. The more dangerous version is the type discussed above, which merely undermines our observant, sharing, engaging lives. As we drift away from active interaction, sharing and enjoyment, our souls move from divine warmth towards the cold limbo of apathy. As with sloth, mindless chip munching does not lead us down a path of sinful desire so much as it diverts us from the path of virtue. Despite our high levels of obesity, few Americans are obsessive gluttons, but almost all of us allow ourselves to be diverted to some extent from the caring, mindful co-enjoyment of real food that is supposed to follow the saying of grace. Because of this we lose a part of the life that we are meant to have. This becomes a serious danger when it is mixed with the other types of gluttony discussed below.

What can we do about food gluttony? Pay attention. We feel like we are too busy to spend time making real food, but we need to find ways to de-busy our lives and make time. (Not by sacrificing more sleep, please.) Cook together, or at least have a child within sight of the cook to allow for interaction. Look at recipes with someone. Shop together, or at least plan the shopping together. Spend time looking in the produce aisle and imagining what you could make with what looks good, or even better grow things in a garden. Have family dinners and family breakfasts. Have lunch with friends. Focus on making the food taste good, on adding variety, on noticing the flavors and sharing the experience. Keep in mind that a lot of restaurant and chef-type cooking is overly dependent on butter and other fat. Experiment with instead adding flavor with herbs and appreciating the flavor of fresh food and real ingredients. If you are careful you can reduce your calorie intake while enjoying the food far more and feeling happily full. While this may seem like a recipe for becoming MORE preoccupied with eating, it is a different type of eating, one that restores the appreciative, loving, sharing experience that we are meant to have. As you try to please others with your creations or to notice the creativity and love that went into the meal before you, you will move from the cold realm of the chip-eating chair to the warmth of family and friends. Volunteering in charitable food pantries and soup kitchens is a good and Christian thing to do, but we can do much, and perhaps even more, to place ourselves on the path of virtue just by paying attention to how we eat at home.


[1] Read jars of spaghetti sauce and notice how hard it is to avoid added sugar. Your Italian grandmother probably did not add sugar to her sauce.

[2] The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University conducts periodic studies on family dinners in America. Only 57% of teens report having dinners with their family at least five time a week. Those who do not have family dinners are 3 ½ times more likely to say it is okay for teens their age to get drunk, and over 32% more likely to report high stress levels.

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