Christianity, Islam, Marriage, Parenting, regligious education, Uncategorized

End of the series/back to work

I have to get back focused on other things now, so no more posts from me.  If anyone found the prior posts useful and would like to see the rest, you can read it for free in the kindle library , or if you like paper I published at the minimum allowed price. Especially in these times, when so many people seem to be citing God as the sponsor of hatred and violence, I think it is important to counter the nonsense that confuses people into accepting that sort of thing, and bring all of what Mohammed called “the People of the Book”, his approving term for anyone who followed an uncorrupted version of  Judaism, Christianity, or Islam, back to an understanding of God as a loving being who gives us all what we need generously and freely if we will only take the time and focus to find it, asking nothing in return, but who cannot force us to be good. We must each work to learn to feel pleasure in doing the right thing, which is to do good for all God’s creatures and to participate in the love that is God. The message is simple. It only needs a book full of explanations because people have been so determined to complicate it and distort it to serve their own ends.

Love and peace to all.

 

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Christianity, Marriage, Parenting, regligious education, Uncategorized

Virtue – The Good and the Misguided

If we are to pursue virtue, we need to have some idea of what it looks like. A man may believe himself to be virtuous, while another person thinks him to be a monster. Is virtue in the eye of the beholder, or is one person right and the other wrong? It does not make sense that we could not determine whether or not an action truly is virtuous, or that the virtuousness or evil of an act is just a matter of opinion. God would not leave us that exposed. The task of determining virtue is not always easy, but we do have a basis for discovering the answer.

To do so, again we must look to the principle of connectedness. We are in a world with other creatures beloved by God. God wants what is best for all of his creatures, collectively. Therefore, if a given action helps one or more of his creatures without harming another, it must be good. If another action harms a creature without helping another, it must be bad. If an action does some good and some harm, then it must be judged in light of the relative degree of harm and good and, most importantly, in light of the available alternatives. You cannot claim to have acted virtuously just because your action did more good than harm if you could have instead acted in a way that produced just the good without the harm. This is simply the Golden Rule, do unto others as you would have them do unto you, with the important qualifier that they are not you, and that therefore you must be considerate of their situations in determining how best to act.

This is not complex or difficult in theory. There are few who would argue with the proposition that acting in a way that makes people happier and avoiding acting in a way that makes people unhappy, all things considered, is a good thing to do. The difficulty comes from the complexity of the workings of the world and its creatures. If a child hits her playmate it is generally good to scold her, despite the fact that it makes her unhappy at the time, in order to try to prevent her from making her playmates unhappy and also in order to try to keep her from being unhappy later when her former playmates avoid her. If a child wants something it may sometimes be best to say “no”, even if you can afford to buy the thing for the child, because it is important to teach children that getting material things is not the road to true happiness.  Arresting a degraded drug addict and putting her in a non-punitive work camp of some sort where she can dry out and learn basic life skills may be a good thing, even it is entirely against her will and she insists that she wants to go back to the vile life she was leading, although there are people who will vehemently argue that this is wrong. If a country is having a civil war, with horrible slaughter by both sides, perhaps it is good for a country like America to send troops who will do enough violence to persuade both sides to stop, even if that means the Americans will necessarily kill innocent civilians along with the guilty combatants, or then again perhaps it is best to let the combatants kill each other until they discover it is a bad idea (though, sadly, usually both sides find it more amusing and safer to kill civilians and avoid contacting the armed troops of the other side). Once a war has started, alternative interventions, such as offers to arbitrate and the like, seem to have limited success in dissuading armies that have not yet tired of war. The objective is clear, but the best means of getting there may often be very difficult to determine.

To some extent this is why advanced societies have chosen to separate political authority from religious authority. If the most virtuous course of action was clear in every complex situation, we could simply seek to find a very good person and make her supreme dictator. In reality, however, any one person will make mistakes; no ordinary human is qualified to be the supreme oracle of virtue. So, we look to the collective wisdom and virtue of the population to keep political leaders in check and let them know when they have made mistakes. When political leaders are forced to explain their actions in simple terms of right and wrong, of harms and benefits and alternative choices, rather than claiming to act under divine guidance or through some other form of special knowledge, the chances of choosing a course of action that is pretty close to the right one are increased.[1] The greatest benefit of separating Church from State lies not so much in preventing the State from imposing religious rituals on unwilling participants, but rather in preventing the State from wrapping itself in the mantle of the Church in order to claim that its actions are beyond question.[2]  Virtue grows and blooms under questioning; sin shrivels.

Virtue does not consist of pious enforcement of a book of rules. This is illustrated by the story of the woman taken in adultery. While she had broken the moral rules, the virtuous member of the crowd was not one of the ones who sought to punish her under the law, but rather the one who protected her and sought to lead her lovingly to a better life. Virtue lies in examining the world about you and looking for opportunities to help others to achieve happiness. In one case that may be through helping a delinquent youth to reform. In another it may be through catching a more vicious young criminal and locking him up so that the children of the neighborhood may play together in peace. In either case, all of the consequences of the action must be considered to the best of your ability, and a course chosen that will best serve all of God’s creatures.

This is not quite the same as the utilitarian formula of choosing the course that does the greatest good for the greatest number. Philosophers have been fond of attacking that formula by suggesting that it can be used to justify slavery or other wrongs that inflict an injustice on a minority for the benefit of the majority. The Christian formula for virtue, in contrast, is rooted in the notion that the greatest good for anyone is the achievement of divine bliss, not material well-being. Viewed in that light, the “beneficiaries” of slave labor receive a harm, not a real benefit, because they will be unable to reconcile the duty to love their fellow creatures with a system that harms any set of those creatures. Under the Christian formula, a harm may be inflicted only when there is no other way to prevent a greater harm from being suffered. A child should only be punished when reasoning and explanation fail, and then only because it is necessary to help the child to learn to avoid behavior that will harm it (physically or socially or spiritually) or harm others. A sin should only be punished as a crime when it harms others. A nation should go to war only to stop the army of another nation from inflicting great harm (more on this later). The Christian has a duty, whenever possible, to seek a loving, helping solution to problems, for that is the solution that will best help all involved to achieve alignment with God. When one assumes that all of the parties love and want the best for the others (while keeping in mind that really they may not), it substantially changes the math in determining which course does the greatest good.

The above discussion should not cause the reader to believe that finding a virtuous course of action is too difficult for the average person in our complex world. While coming up with the clear right answer in a given situation may be difficult, the process of reasoning through the problem is based on just the three simple principles outlined above. The chapters of my book illustrate how these principles may be used to address some very difficult problems. Most importantly, though, the key to success in the pursuit of virtue lies not in always finding the “right” answer, but rather in making the effort to try with love in your heart. Indeed, as the discussions in my book  illustrate, in the most difficult problems the solution may not lie so much in the action as in the spirit in which the action is performed. You cannot ask yourself to do more than your capabilities permit, and you may feel the divine joy of virtue so long as you do your best. In this respect, think of a young child who “helps” his mother with the housework. The fact that the child is likely to be more hindrance than help does not alter the fact that he is trying to help to the best of his abilities, and so he will justly feel good about it and his mother will love him for it just as much as if he was really able to assist her. God is no less generous than that mother. To God, the sincere desire to act in a virtuous way, so long as it is in fact attempted in a loving manner, is the only important thing.

[1] This model of democracy assumes that the political leaders are making a good faith effort to find and do the right thing in the spirit of cooperation. Sadly, politicians increasingly are just focused on trying to make the other party look bad, which makes harvesting the collective wisdom impossible.

[2] Many will disagree with me about this, but it makes me gag when a politician invokes the name of God. Politicians should speak in terms of good and evil actions and be forced to explain why a proposed action is good in terms of its specific effects on people and the world. They should not be permitted to speak as though they are God’s chosen and act as though that gives their (usually corrupt) actions, without real explanation, God’s approval.

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Christianity, Marriage, Parenting, regligious education, Uncategorized

Sin and Repentance – The Deadly Desires and Their Cure

Greed, envy, lust, wrath, gluttony, vanity – all are sins of Wanting, of non-virtuous desire.  Sloth is a sin of a somewhat different sort, one of lack of virtuous desire. By examining these we may understand more complex varieties of sin.

To understand sin we need only recall the above discussion of the nature of heaven and hell. Those who allow themselves to be preoccupied with material desires become incapable of experiencing the bliss of heaven, and instead fall into the self-feeding torment of insatiable Wanting. They actively follow a path to hell. Those who simply are too lazy to develop virtue, who waste their lives merely earning a living and finding amusements to fill the dreary hours of their lives, also fail to develop the ability to experience the bliss of heaven. They may not be punished by the gnawing hunger of Want that the more active sins involve, but still they do not achieve the bliss of virtue. Both types of sin, if engaged in to excess without repentance and reform, involve a choice on the sinner’s part not to follow the only path that leads to divine bliss, the path of developing alignment with God. It is for this reason that they are sins. Thus, sins are not arbitrary rules that God has set up just for fun. Rather, sin is something that inherently, in the nature of things, prevents the mind and soul from focusing on virtue.

It is important to understand that sin is not a matter of making God angry by breaking the rules. God does not look down upon a rich and greedy man and think “he must be punished for that after he dies”, any more than a good parent would decide to punish their child for something years after the fact, when the punishment couldn’t any longer be expected to help the child to improve her behavior and avoid future mistakes. God does not have the angels taking names of teenage boys who see an attractive girl and think about having sex with her. Sin is a disappointment to God, not an offense.  It is a disappointment because it is a distraction from the process of alignment with God. If the rich man remains so concerned with earning his next million that he cannot learn to find joy in taking time and wealth to help others, then he will fail to develop the habit of mind that leads to eternal bliss, and God will not be able to help him. If the teenager, after he grows up and his hormones calm down, still spends his days and nights looking for new and more extreme sexual gratification rather than finding true love and learning to regard sex as a way of giving pleasure and affection to his wife, then he will become increasingly obsessed with desires that cannot satisfy the soul. If a woman spends her whole life watching videos and staring at a computer screen to stave off boredom, she will never develop the ability to feel the joy and excitement that flows from love and virtue. God does not banish these people from heaven as a punishment for breaking the rules. They keep themselves from heaven by choosing paths that can only lead elsewhere.

This fact, that God does not become angry with us for sinning, but rather that we lead ourselves to unhappiness through sinning, makes it easier to understand the process of repentance and “forgiveness”. I have often heard people express puzzlement over the Catholic rite of confession. Their statements go something like: “Boy, Catholics have it good. You can be the worst person in the world, but if you confess it to the priest before you die and say a few Hail Marys it’s all okay.” In reality, confession and repentance are not that easy. Confession, for those who practice it, is not about revealing your sins to the priest. Rather, it is designed to force you to think about your actions and reveal your sins to yourself. Once you have reviewed your behavior and found your errors, the next step is to repent of the sins.

Repentance is not a matter of telling God that you are sorry. It is a matter of being sorry. Many parents will at some point have been through the following little drama. Brother hits sister, making her cry. Parent tells brother to say he is sorry, which he does. One minute later, brother hits sister again.  Upon seeing parent’s look of displeasure, brother voluntarily says “I’m sorry!”  Parent then explains to brother that just saying he is sorry isn’t enough, when obviously he wasn’t really sorry or he wouldn’t have done it again.  This same simple understanding of the true nature of repentance applies to all sin. True repentance involves thinking about the nature of the action, realizing that it is wrong, and developing an intention to avoid doing it again.  It is a process of moving away from sin and towards alignment with God.  Without this sort of repentance, no amount of confessing or apologizing will do any good. Likewise, if the sinner truly does repent of his action, if he truly is sorry for what he has done and has resolved to improve, then no particular act of repentance or granting of forgiveness by a priest or anyone else is required to heal the soul of the sinner. The rite of confession is merely an aid to true repentance.[1] Likewise, the acts of penance prescribed by the priest are not a form of reparations to God, but rather are a way to help lead the repentant sinner to further contemplate his error and strengthen his resolve to avoid repeating the sin. Unfortunately, too many people regard them as a form of payment for the sin, to be gotten out of the way before going and sinning some more, rather than taking the opportunity of the prayers to improve their resolve and make real progress in their alignment with God.

Can major sinners be redeemed? Yes, but it isn’t easy. It is hard to change a habit of mind. A person immersed in greed, lust, or vanity will have a very hard time getting away from those desires and finding pleasure in virtue. It is, however, possible, in the rare case that something happens to cause the sinner to make a real about face and realize the error of his ways.  Is it fair that such a person, if he successfully repents and reforms, should be able to achieve heaven, just as a person who has been good all her life can do? Yes, for two reasons. First, again the main reason why sins are sins is not because they involve breaking rules, but rather because they involve a distraction from virtue. A person can be immersed in greed or lust his whole life without necessarily ever harming anyone except himself, so if he then succeeds in seeing the error of his ways and turns around to pursue active virtue, why shouldn’t he achieve bliss? Secondly, to the extent that the sinner has harmed others in his career of sin, if he truly repents and reforms he will suffer in his own mind in proportion to the amount of harm he has caused.  If a wrathful person has gone about beating people up for years and does not greatly regret those actions, feeling real pain of heart for it, then he has not really repented and reformed. Thus, we should not think of the reformed sinner as going unpunished, for he will be punished in and through his own repentance. Indeed, if a formerly grievous sinner claims to have seen the light and adopts a serene and peaceful attitude, one may guess that his reform is far from thorough. Have you ever kicked yourself for days over some fairly minor insensitive or ill-conceived action of yours? Imagine how you would feel, as a normal good person, if you had committed the offenses of the grievous sinner; the truly reformed person will suffer at least that much from the arrows of his own conscience. Indeed, Dante envisioned purgatory, the afterlife waystation where some sects believe reformed sinners go before being admitted to heaven, as a place where the sinners rather gleefully jumped into searing fires of purification. Having truly repented, they are so aghast at their own sins that the pain of burning away the taint is a relative comfort. Don’t try this at home, of course, but Dante’s vision helps us to visualize how true repentance inherently pains the sinner in direct proportion to the degree to which others have suffered from his sins, which should satisfy our sense of fairness. Further, we can be assured that there is no way to get around this. Anyone who truly repents will feel that pain, and anyone who does not truly repent will not be saved.[2]

This brings us to the distinction between sin and crime. People have often been tempted to make all sins crimes, but the two things are different.  If a man steals a loaf of bread because it is the only way that he can feed his child, he has technically committed a crime but he has not committed a sin.  His action does not lead him away from the path of virtue, for he is risking punishment out of love and concern for his child. If consenting adults choose to spend their evenings in a sex club pursuing their sexual desires, they are committing a sin but not a crime. By feeding their wants they lead themselves away from the path of virtue, but they are not hurting other innocent people. If a person, on a sudden whim, shoots someone dead just to see what it feels like to kill someone, then he commits a terrible crime but not – by the act – such a terrible sin. Since the action itself was short and impulsive, it was not a great distraction. The terrible sin came earlier, in developing the depravity of mind that made the murderer so concerned with feeding his own desires that he considers the satisfaction of a whim of his own more important than the very life of another person. Sin is internal, a process of inflicting harm on one’s own mind and soul. Crime is external, a process of inflicting harm on others. Crime can be controlled by governments through punishing and locking up offenders, though they should bear in mind that virtuous people rarely intentionally hurt others, and that investments in stimulating virtue may thus be very effective in lessening crime. Sin, on the other hand, cannot be effectively controlled by putting offenders in prison, for such punishment is unlikely to cause the misguided sinner to reform his mind and soul. The concept of prison as a penitentiary was never notably successful.

Understanding that sin is, in essence, distraction from virtue can also help in understanding a class of actions that are, for want of a better term, “sin-like” without being in themselves something we would think of as bad.  Even the finest of emotions, such as the love of a parent for a child, can go wrong. The infamous Texas cheerleader mother is an example. She was obsessed with wanting her daughter to do well and get whatever she wanted.  This obsession grew to the point where she tried to hire someone to kill the mother of her daughter’s rival for a position on the high school cheerleading squad, in the hopes that the death of the mother would cause the rival to be depressed and drop out of contention. Clearly, trying to have someone murdered is a crime. The more interesting fact here, though, is that the normally good impulse of loving and wanting to help one’s daughter had been warped into a sin-like obsession that was itself a bad thing. As far as the press reports revealed, she had no hatred for the intended victim of the crime, but her obsessive devotion to her child’s wants had the same poisonous effects as sinful, seething hatred.

How can you tell when this line has been crossed? To find the answer, we should recall the principle of connectedness. All actions must be viewed in the context of our place in a world filled with other humans and animals.  Our devotion to ourselves, our families, and our friends must be evaluated in light of its effects on others. Charity begins at home, and it is right to spend extra effort looking after the people who, by virtue of being family or close friends, are your special responsibility. However, when serving the apparent interests of family and friends results in harm to others, the interests of everyone must be considered. God does not play favorites, and those who wish to align themselves with God must be willing to take that broader perspective. A mother who finds that she has great devotion to her child but no sympathy at all for other children has gone astray. A parent who fights for the unrestrained liberty of a child who has proven himself to be an incorrigible danger to other children has also gone astray; the parent should continue to love the child and try to help him reform, but should not fight for the child’s freedom to continue to harm others. We are all creatures of the world, and we must try to be good citizens of the world, promoting the web of good behavior that will help all of God’s children to have the best life possible.

If an act, viewed in isolation on the basis of its individual facts, would normally be seen as evil, then chances are that it is not any less so just because it is performed from a misguided surplus of family loyalty, patriotism, or religious fervor. Using a bomb to blow up a person on the street who has committed no particular offense is evil, even if that person happens to be a member of a religious group that has tended to treat the perpetrator’s religious group unfairly. The religious tribalism that underlies the act is sinful, and has taken the place of real religious devotion. A soldier who intentionally injures a noncombatant citizen of the enemy country acts, at best, out of a sinful excess of anti-foreign hatred that has dispossessed the type of good patriotic pride that causes other soldiers to be careful always to act with honor, even at danger to themselves. People who act as an accomplice to a criminal boyfriend or girlfriend act out of a sinful obsession that masquerades as love. All such obsessions are just as harmful as conventional sin in preventing alignment with God.

[1] For avoidance of doubt, I am not suggesting that Catholics not bother with confession. To the contrary, my point is that they should take the process seriously, and that persons of other faiths without this rite should seek an equivalent means of repenting and steering away from their sins. Also, in fairness, Catholic doctrine would dispute that the rite is not strictly necessary, noting that Peter was delegated power to forgive or not forgive sins. However, I believe this is a matter of how one views the nature of the delegation. One cannot think that God intended to give Peter arbitrary power to deny forgiveness to a good and truly repentant person on a whim, so one must suppose that Christ’s meaning was “Peter, you understand how true repentance works – if you and your followers say someone’s sins are forgiven, it means that they have done what is needed to repent and cure the sin.” Similarly, though the church may not say this, I think most Catholics would be convinced that if a man dies alone after confessing and repenting of his sins in the presence of only God, it will still work. Priests are intended to be a help, not an impediment

[2] In my own unsupported opinion, I think this is the reason why Catholic doctrine really puts a strong emphasis on having a priest perform the Last Rites and grant forgiveness. Even a mundane sinner, upon having her mind focused by impending death, may feel such anguish over her relatively minor sins that her soul will be heavily disturbed not only despite but because of her true repentance. The priest may calm this disturbance and help the soul to depart in peace.

 

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Christianity, Marriage, Parenting, regligious education, Uncategorized

Difficult Concepts 9 – The Enjoyment of Goodness

While the general good feeling that comes from having done a good thing is not normally thought of as a grace, since it lacks a corresponding sacrament, this earthly version of divine bliss may in fact be the most important form of grace of all. If I find a spider drowning in the sink and put her safely outside, I know that the spider will feel no gratitude, and nobody else will know what I have done. I don’t think that this small act will get me into heaven, or earn me any other kind of reward. Yet, I am rewarded for the act by feeling good about it. This is not the earned reward of a laborer, a thing expected as payment for a task performed. It is a grace, a gift freely given to anyone with faith enough to believe in the virtue of doing a good thing just because it is good. Like the other forms of grace, it is a gift that can only be received by a person who is prepared to receive it. If I do the good deed because I am forced to, or to avoid embarrassment, or to impress someone, I will not receive the feeling of bliss. To receive the gift, I must see the chance to do the good deed as an opportunity, a thing to be enjoyed, not as a task. It is only by seeing the opportunity to help as being in itself a gift, rather than as a job to be gotten through in order to receive the reward of feeling good, that the good feeling may be received. By recognizing and accepting this gift, then, we help to bring ourselves into alignment with God, and prepare ourselves to receive the gift of heavenly bliss.

The nature of free will prevents God from forcing us to learn to align ourselves with Him, but He freely gives us every chance to find that path ourselves. All that we need to do to receive these gifts is to open our hearts and minds to the grace that is offered to us. We do not earn them, for they are truly gifts, but we must prepare ourselves to receive them. The joy that flows from these gifts is not the fleeting pleasure of material recreations, but participation in a divine joy that builds upon itself, leading us upward towards the perpetual joy of heaven.

Conversation starters in the media:  A scene that springs to mind is the Tuppence a Bag sequence in Mary Poppins. Using your tuppence to feed the ungrateful pigeons rather than  putting them in the bank has no obvious utility, but the movie helps us to feel that it is a superior choice in terms of embracing giving for its own sake.  Charlotte’s Web likewise show’s that Fern’s kindness is proper, even if others don’t immediately understand it.

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Christianity, Marriage, Parenting, regligious education, Uncategorized

Difficult Concepts Made Simple 6 – Grace and Marriage

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

My previous explanation of prayer may help to illustrate the concept of grace. We say that we receive God’s grace in prayer, in the sacraments, or in our daily lives. What does this mean? What does grace do for us, and how do we obtain it? Why is it important for us to recognize our opportunities to receive grace?

Grace by definition is not a thing that we earn. It is something that we receive, or at least have available to us, by virtue of the generosity of the giver, not the merit of the receiver. As has already been noted, God should not be confused with a petty human monarch, who dispenses favors to those that please him and punishments to those who go against his will. God loves everyone and gives everyone a chance to use their free will to find their way to divine bliss. God’s grace is offered freely to all who will take it. It is not denied because a person has sinned, or held back until the proper ritual is performed using the right magic words. A loving parent would not deprive her child of helpful advice just because the child had been irritating, nor would she withhold it until the child said “pretty please”, but rather gives it as a grace simply because she loves her child, and will continue to give it even if her child turns away from her for a time. If the child will receive the advice, it will be freely given, whatever the circumstances. God is no less generous or loving. If a person is willing to receive grace, it will be given.

However, as any parent who has offered advice to a child well knows, merely offering a grace is no guarantee that it will be accepted, no matter how valuable it may be. While God can offer grace, if a person’s mind and heart are closed to the gift it will do them no good. We must recognize and desire grace or we cannot receive it.

Of what, then, does God’s grace consist? It is assistance in achieving alignment with God. In the discussion of prayer I explained that the things we properly pray for are things that God has already made available to us; prayer is the vehicle by which we receive and use the gift that has already been given. That gift, in its various forms, is part of the grace of God.  Through it we find bliss in virtue. To understand how this works, or fails to work, it may be helpful to walk through a number of the common opportunities to receive grace, and clarify how the grace is transmitted to a willing recipient.

Marriage

Let’s begin with marriage. In the sacrament of marriage we commit ourselves to lifelong, unselfish love of another person. A person who takes the marriage vows is promising to attend to the happiness and well-being of his new spouse, come thick or thin. In practice, however, brides and bridegrooms can generally be sorted into two categories with regard to the significance that they attach to this vow. To one group, it means: “This person has a lot of attractive features, and so I promise to stick with her in a monogamous relationship for so long as I continue to find her attractive and find marriage to be compatible with the things that I want out of life. However, if I ever feel that my marriage is constraining me and keeping me from doing things that I think would make me happier, then I can always get divorced.” To the other group (which, unfortunately, no longer appears to be a majority) it means: “I vow to do whatever I can to help my spouse to be happy, and I have faith that my own path to happiness lies in keeping true to this vow and understanding that happiness does not lie on the other side of the fence, but rather here in our home, together. I have faith that I can never increase my own happiness by chasing ambition, freedom from duties, or a younger and prettier face, but must find happiness in my own heart and the heart of the person who loves me. I have faith that I cannot improve my happiness in marriage by asking my spouse to give me more, but that I may continue to increase my wedded bliss if I offer to give her more every day, for her happiness will be my happiness, and her sorrows my sorrows, tomorrow as today, forever.”

A bridegroom in the second category participates in the sacrament with full understanding, faith and love. In so doing, he achieves, with respect to one other person, the state of divine bliss in which he will receive pleasure from the very act of trying to please and help his bride. That gift of marital bliss, which most are offered but many fail to accept, is part of the grace of God, a chance to participate in a significant way in the full glory of the love that is God. It is not a self-maintaining gift. The bridegroom will need faith in the importance and value of the grace in order to resist the temptation to chase other, inferior goals that would interfere with marital bliss. He will also need some luck in his choice of a bride, for it takes two to make a marriage.  If the spouse becomes extremely selfish and abusive, or is led astray by some worldly ambition that cannot coexist with the continuation of the marriage, or becomes so preoccupied that the love offered by her spouse no longer produces joy, then the sacrament will fail despite the faith and efforts of the bridegroom. Where a marriage begins in love and faith, though, the power of worldly temptations will be weak, for each partner will know the height of joy that love brings. The gilding on the worldly distraction would need to be very shiny indeed to unfasten the gaze of a true lover from the joy that he possesses in his spouse.

Couples living together without the benefit of marriage often ask “what difference can a ceremony and a piece of paper make to two people who love each other?” The sacrament of marriage is not just a ceremony. It is a vow, the heartfelt vow of the bride and bridegroom in the second category.  Without that heartfelt vow a marriage ceremony does not make much difference – there is no sacrament, just a hollow ritual followed by a nice party. Where the vow is truly present, on the other hand, the sacrament exists no matter how it is administered or what form of words is used, or even with no ceremony at all, but it is difficult to imagine that such a couple would not want to celebrate their joy with a marriage ceremony attended by the people they care about, the people who will help them through any difficult times ahead.[1]

A bridegroom in the first category, in contrast, will not receive grace through the sacrament of marriage, no matter how elaborate the ceremony.  He views marriage as a bargain, “I’ll love you if you’ll love me, but I can break the contract and pay money damages if a new opportunity comes along that makes it seem worth it.” He sees value in being loved, but fails to understand the value of giving love. He lacks faith that loving his wife is more important than anything else in his life, and by lacking that faith he fails to feel the unassailable bliss that such a conviction would give. He feels he must weigh his options, pay attention to other opportunities, wonder if he has done the right thing. If his wife has a bad day and is crabby, he will wonder “why do I have to put up with this?” instead of thinking “the poor dear, what can I do to cheer her up?” If he finds himself without time to pursue the recreations of his idle youth he will wonder “why don’t I get a chance to have fun anymore?” instead of thinking “I love just being with her – when we were dating I would have dropped anything for a chance to be with her, and that feeling just keeps growing stronger.” If the demands of parenthood cause her to slip a bit in maintaining her appearance, he will think “gee, why doesn’t my wife look like that film star?” instead of “gee, I’m glad I’m not married to someone whose whole shallow life is her looks, like that film star – my wife is far more beautiful to me than a plastic doll like that could ever be.” In thinking such thoughts he plants the seeds of his own suffering. He loses his chance for bliss, a chance offered but not taken. We would pity the lottery winner who, misreading his ticket, throws it away thinking it is worthless and loses his fortune. Far more pitiful is the person who wins the greater prize of love, and lets it slip away because he fails to recognize the significance of the gift.

How can a person fail to accept this grace? Why would he be so blind that he fails to see the value of giving love? When mankind has devoted so much of its art, literature and music to expressing the joys of love, how can people be so lacking in faith that they demand constant tangible rewards of marriage, at the cost of losing its true value? In part it is a matter of ignorance. How often have you heard a sermon in church that really pointed out the joys of loving your spouse? Did you ever have a Sunday school class where the topic was “some day, you may be lucky enough to have the chance to devote yourself to loving someone with all your heart, to pouring yourself into their happiness, and the joy that it will bring you will be heaven on earth, for you will then feel the joyous love that is God, and it will transport you above all the petty concerns of daily life. It is wonderful to be loved, but when you find that chance to love in return seize it, for it is a prize without equal in the world”? Despite the art and the poetry, the plays and the songs all celebrating the joys of love, we are not well schooled to recognize the grace when it is offered. This ignorance leaves us unnecessarily vulnerable to distractions that may blind us to God’s grace.

The siren songs of the material world can be a very powerful distraction.  In a “winning is everything” culture, nothing is seen as having intrinsic value.  Everything is just a counter keeping score in the game of life. Is your spouse as good looking, as rich, as smart, as famous as someone else’s? If not, can you trade in for a higher-status spouse? In an advertising-centered culture of manufactured desires, we are constantly assaulted by commercial demons luring us towards dissatisfaction. They tell us that we cannot possibly be happy if we are not spending our time earning enough money to buy an ever-growing list of amazing objects that we never knew we desperately needed, or if we are not spending any leftover time pursuing extreme sports or other new recreations. They use beautiful models to convince us that we should want some beer or cola, and in the process sell us on the idea that we should want the beautiful models. We would find it pleasant to look at beautiful models without any help from the advertising agencies, of course, but would the mindset of the average person be different if products were sold with ordinary-looking models made beautiful by the warm smile of a loving disposition? There are in fact actresses who are very attractive despite having less than ideal anatomical features, so it’s not such a ridiculous idea. The great power of advertising is that it can induce us not only to believe that we can get what we want by buying their product, but to urgently want something that would otherwise have been of minor interest. In practice, advertising convinces us to covet the kind of beauty that is immediately apparent in a ten-second shot in a television ad or in a billboard photograph.[2]

In a society where traditions are swept away by dramatic change, we learn of life and love through television rather than from the happily married couples in our village. Television teaches us the rules of a world that has been transformed since the days when our parents were our age; it is the mirror and the propagator of an ever-shifting culture that derives its unity and substance from mass communication. A stable and happy marriage does not make for exciting television, and so we tend to grow up with role models who love for a season and then move on. We see proof on the screen that the people who bail out of a relationship and bounce right on to the next one succeed and are happy. When people stay stubbornly married, one of them is bound to be shot dead in the last episode of the season, the inevitable result of a placid lifestyle. Confused by these images, unprotected by significant efforts by parents or church to point out the importance of a relationship in which one has the privilege of giving love, it is easy to be blind to grace. We see love as in a mirror, pale reflections of the brilliant substance. Now it requires a degree of luck to be one of those who turn around by chance and become transfixed by the beauty of the real thing. Helping a child to turn and behold this grace, to recognize and pursue it when it the chance appears, is one of the great services that a parent can do. Helping Johnny to understand trigonometry so that he can get admitted to a good college will have far less effect on Johnny’s future happiness than would helping him to understand the value of loving.

I said above that marital bliss is a gift that most are offered. Sadly, it is not offered to all. There are those who fully understand the value of loving, yet who never find love, or love hopelessly. This does not mean that they are not offered the grace that flows from the sacrament, for the grace at its core consists of having the power to love. They have this power, and may exercise it, but under circumstances that bring the pain of longing together with the pleasure of loving. Why is fate so cruel to them? How can they bear such a precious gift, yet fail to find someone to receive it?

It is not that the human heart is unduly particular about specific criteria for its target. We are not all waiting for Mr. or Miss Perfection to come along. Indeed, while many of us find a true soul mate who thinks and reacts to the world as we do, it is interesting to note that a study of identical twins – who tend to have very similar personalities – found that their chosen spouses are not significantly more similar in personality than are the spouses of randomly selected unrelated people. Further, for the most part the twins did not find their co-twin’s spouse to be notably attractive. Even in the case of conjoined (“Siamese”) twins, one of the pair will find a partner who loves her alone, not the co-twin. Cupid aims his arrows by his own rules, not by a matchmaking service checklist of compatibility factors, and love may be found in unexpected places. It is not thwarted by superficial matters.

I would suggest instead that forlorn love is a product of the general failure of society to teach the value of love. One who knows the value of love and wishes to give his or her heart completely will not be drawn by someone who is obviously superficial and self-centered (or if he is, then the love may end in sadness anyway). When society does not foster true love, the task of sifting through the shallow sands of ego and materialism for the gem of affection becomes more difficult. Thus the deserving are thwarted by the multiplication of the undeserving, and love’s labor is made more difficult by the scarcity of lovers. Because of this, by teaching one person the value of loving it may be possible to bring joy to two souls, the newly wise and his previously unmatched loving companion. This two-for-one offer on the multiplication of grace gives special value to educating one’s children on the merit of giving love, beginning with providing them with an instructive example of parents who show their love for each other every day, in every word.

[1] True friends or the bride or groom will be deeply supportive of the marriage, checking to see if there are indicia of a bad and abusive relationship, but if there are no such indicia then providing support to find a way forward.

[2] Okay, this has nothing to do with religion, but the new habit of altering models’ photos to enlarge their eyes and so forth seems to be creating a sense of beauty that only space aliens could meet, which seems very strange to me, and rather disturbing.

Summary:

God offers his grace to all, not just to the most outwardly churchy or those who say the right words.

Grace is an opportunity to advance your  alignment with God.

The grace of marriage lies in having someone that you can focus on loving unselfishly, and experience the joy that such divine-expired love brings. Those who view marriage as a contract do not experience this grace.

Conversation starters in popular culture:

As discussed above, this is one where movies tend not to provide great examples, because pure mutual love in itself is not very dramatic. While there are plenty of romances, the movie tends to focus on the drama that the lovers overcome rather than on their ongoing relationship. In my humble opinion, one of the best screen romances is that of Castle and Beckett on Castle. The series takes time to make it clear not only that  these two  would die for each other, but that they take real and enduring pleasure in making each other happy. Beckett cures Castle of his worst habits because he knows he has found what makes his life truly worthwhile, and Castle cures Beckett of her psychological wounds and leads her back to joy. Screen representations of bad, selfish and ineffective marriages are too common to mention.

 

 

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Christianity, Marriage, Parenting, regligious education, Uncategorized

Difficult Concepts Made Simple 5 – Prayer

Prayer – Ask and Ye Shall Receive

There is much confusion surrounding the nature and function of prayer.  I think most people would agree that God is not Santa Claus, and that there is no point in praying for a new red bicycle.  Oddly, though, most people would pray for peace in Afghanistan (or wherever the current war is), for the homeless, and for Aunt Millicent’s speedy recovery.  Is this based on the belief that the war in Afghanistan escaped God’s attention until we thoughtfully pointed him to it?  Or is it based on the belief that God would normally not worry about Aunt Millicent’s suffering, but since we asked so nicely he will be inclined to fix her up?  This is not the purpose or effect of prayer.

Prayer is part of the process of aligning yourself with God.  There is only one thing that it makes sense to pray for, and that is the personal faith, resolve, and wisdom to behave in a virtuous manner.  It makes sense to pray for the spirit of caring and empathy that will help you to do something to help stop the war in Afghanistan or to help relieve its victims.  It makes sense to pray for the wisdom and resolve that will enable you to go out and personally help the homeless. It makes sense to pray that you will be sensitive enough to Aunt Millicent’s plight that you will visit her and help make her feel better.  It makes sense to pray for the strength and focus to lift yourself out of despair. It does not make sense to go to church, ask God to take care of those problems, and then go home to watch television and forget about it. God is not the errand boy of any petitioner, preacher or congregation, nor is he a human king who grants petitions to suit his own vanity and earn the gratitude of commoners. He is a generous father who seeks to give us what we need, but like children we must be willing to accept what is given before it can help us.

In prayer, you are taking time out to firm up your faith by focusing on the things that you should do or avoid doing.  Prayer is not a process of chanting magic words or putting on a show to impress your fellow churchgoers.  It is, properly, a quiet but fairly intense process of concentrating your mind and opening up your feelings.  You must concentrate your mind to clear away confusion and find the path of action that you truly believe to be correct.  You must open up your feelings to shake off the numbness that we all build up around ourselves as protection against the demands that the world makes upon us.  We cannot individually cure all of the horrible ills that exist in the world, so we to a greater or lesser extent screen our feelings from them, learning not to think too much about the latest crime victim in the news or the poor people in other countries.  To some extent, we have to do this to stay sane.  Yet if we allow ourselves to become too numb, then we will not cure as much as we can.  In prayer we must open up our feelings on the selected subjects that we are praying over.  If I am praying for the sensitivity to go and visit sick Aunt Millicent, then I must strip away my numbness towards her suffering.

How does prayer work?  Does God in heaven hear your request and send down a magical bolt to fix you up?  Again, that does not make intuitive sense.  If what you needed was for God to give you something, then would God hold back until you asked politely?  The image of God as a vain monarch that gives favors only when underlings ask him in an appropriately humble way does not fit the God of the Christian religion.  If your boss at work knew that you needed something but refrained from giving it to you until you went in and said “pretty please”, you would think he was a jerk.  Do you have lower expectations of God than you do of your boss?  If not, then we must assume that he does not wait for us to ask in prayer before granting us something that is within his power to grant. If we receive something in prayer, it must be a thing that God cannot just give us at will.  We must receive it not because we ask, but rather through the process of asking.

What’s the difference?  If I ask you for a coin and you give it to me, then you have given it to me because I asked.  If I ask “why do I feel bad?” and figure out the answer, then I receive something (the knowledge as to why I feel bad) through the process of asking.  Prayer works the same way.  For example, if you are afraid to do something you know is right, you might pray for the courage to do it.  In praying, you will think about the thing to be done, and think about your fears, and think about the fact that you want to do the right thing despite the dangers that make you afraid.  Doing this will help you to realize that you truly believe that the virtue of doing right is worth the risk, and your doubts and hesitations will fade.  You will find the courage of your convictions.  Thus, in praying for bravery you unleash the courage within yourself.  You did not need a new gift; you just needed to find the gift that you had already been given.  God cannot give us what we pray for in the absence of the prayer because we already have it within us.  Prayer is a process of choosing to follow your sense of virtue, of using your free will to choose to do good despite the difficulties involved in that choice.  As a creature with free will the process of making that choice is something that only you can do.  God cannot do it for you.

This description of prayer may not sound very familiar.  We are used to ritual prayers, such as grace at mealtime or the various formal prayers recited in church.  These are not really meaningful prayer, and it is important to recognize the difference between such ritual prayers and meaningful prayer.  Ritual prayers serve the useful purpose of reminding us to stop and think about religious issues.  They are popular because the ritual can be imposed upon you by a pastor or by parents, people trying to help you to develop the habit of thinking about religion.  However, meaningful prayer cannot be imposed by anyone other than yourself.  Properly understood, then, ritual prayer is helpful.  On the other hand, if it is mistaken for meaningful prayer, then it can serve instead to confuse the worshiper and cause him to develop a misguided view of God.

We need to understand that a prayer of thanks at mealtime is not required because God will otherwise think that we are ingrates and get mad at us.  Only humans are so vain and petty that they demand a show of gratitude for the gifts they give, and even the average human parent would be satisfied (perhaps overjoyed!) if her children simply refrained from voicing complaints about the dinner they had been given.  The mealtime prayer is instead meant to be a reminder to be appreciative of the good things in life so that we may guide ourselves to contribute towards those good things.  When we remind ourselves not to take basic things like food for granted, but rather to feel lucky to receive them, then we help to protect ourselves against the material obsession that flows from feeling that whatever you’ve gotten isn’t enough.  We must understand that a ritual prayer such as the Lord’s Prayer, where we ask God to “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”, is not a magical charm that keeps an otherwise mischievous God from leading us into temptation.  Rather is a reminder to ourselves to be aware of temptation and, through meaningful prayer, to seek to lead ourselves away from it.  Likewise, the child who prays:

"Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake
I pray the Lord my soul to take"

should not be given to believe that this prayer will determine the fate of her soul if she in fact dies in her sleep.  She should instead be lead to understand that she is using that moment of prayer at the end of the day to shake off the things that disturbed her spirit during the day, and bring herself back to a feeling of peace and happiness, so that her soul is with God even as she sleeps.  Such understanding will help ritual prayer to grow into meaningful prayer, leading the petitioner to God, rather than letting the ritual take the place of meaningful prayer, leading the ritual participant simply to feel that the whole process is nonsense.  When we substitute the form of prayer for its substance we cast ourselves adrift upon the open sea, losing the greatest tool we have for finding our way to God. The infliction of meaningless ritual prayer upon a child, without a real attempt to help him to progress to meaningful prayer, is worse than useless, for it will surely turn him against a process that an untutored child may well grow into on his own. When a parent helps her child to find the meaning in prayer, on the other hand, she gives him a compass that can guide him safely home no matter how off course the winds of sin may take him.  He need only fall back to prayer to find his way out of the fog that the material world has raised up within his mind, for the soul needs only the quiet of prayerful meditation to find the course that it is meant for.

Prayer and Schools

There has been much debate across America as to whether prayer should be allowed or required in public schools.  Generally, the prayer advocates want to impose a ritual prayer consistent with their sect of Christianity.  One wonders whether this debate would have been more helpful if it was suggested instead that teachers ask students:  “Please take a minute to think about something nice that you want to do for someone else today.”  Such a request would not conflict with any religion, or even with the most militant atheism, yet it would teach children far more about the true function of prayer than they would learn from any ritualized recital of words.  Children do not need to learn how to get the words of their parent’s favorite prayers right.  They need to learn to focus their minds and hearts on finding and following the path of virtue.  Parents who focus on the recital of words instead of the meaning are badly missing the point.  Those who think the subject through will see that asking a public schoolteacher to lead children through a ritual recital of words without providing supporting education as to the purpose and meaning of those words accomplishes nothing.  Asking that same teacher to focus the children’s minds on the most basic of Christian virtues, on wanting to perform a generous act for someone else, would provide a far greater service, the beneficial effects of which are not dependent upon the invocation of God’s name.  If children focus on the joy of helping others   they will surely find God, without ever needing to know that they were seeking him.  That achieved, it is not so difficult for parents, without assistance from the public authorities, to tell them his name.

Summary:

God does not withhold good things until we ask nicely. Prayer is a process through which we find that which has already been given to us.

The function of prayer is not to ask for things that God would otherwise withhold

The proper object of prayer is internal, to find faith, strength, and virtue

Prayer is a way to focus on the truth and strength already within you

Conversation starters in popular culture:

The Wizard of Oz teaches us about prayer. Dorothy, the scarecrow, the tin man and the lion think they need a gift from the wizard, but all had what they sought all along.

Further reading:

The Serenity Prayer

Prayer of Saint Francis

 

 

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Christianity, Marriage, Parenting, regligious education, Uncategorized

Difficult Concepts Made Simple 4 – Faith continued

Faith – The Power and the Peril

Can faith cure physical illness?  To some extent, yes.  Any time scientists test a new drug or other medical cure, they must use a control group of patients who take a placebo, a fake pill made with sugar or some such inactive substance, instead of the drug to be tested.  Why?  Because some of the patients always get better just because they think they are receiving a cure.  In order to prove that the test drug is effective, the scientists must show that it cures a percentage of patients that is higher than the percentage who are cured simply by their own belief that they will be cured by the treatment.  More broadly, any doctor or therapist will testify that patients do better if they have a good attitude than if they allow themselves to feel miserable and despairing.  Religious faith helps people to have a hopeful and positive attitude, and to avoid fear and despair.  In this way, faith can work real and sometimes dramatic physical cures.  By curing diseases of the soul it can help to cure diseases of the body.

But focusing on miraculous physical cures can cause us to overlook an even greater and more common miracle of faith.  Parents see a simple version of this form of miracle every day, when a child asks her mother to kiss a scraped finger and make it better.  We tend to think of this little ritual as just “fooling” the child into thinking the hurt has been cured, but in fact, from the child’s point of view, the kiss really does make the hurt better.  The kiss cures the child’s attitude towards the pain, and in doing so it makes the pain essentially go away.  Faith can do the same thing for the larger ills of grown-ups.  If you have faith that you should get on with your life as best you can, then you will focus your mind away from the injury or illness.  By keeping away fear and despair, faith makes us feel much better, even if we are not physically cured.  The wound may still exist, and it may still hurt, but we don’t mind so much that it hurts.  Not everyone benefits from miracle cures of the body, even if they have very strong faith, but everyone with faith benefits from this miracle of the mind.  It may be difficult to accept that God allows good people to suffer serious injuries or illnesses.  We feel that in justice such things should only happen to bad people.  God, however, does not deal in the material, but in the spiritual.  Justice lies in the strength of spirit that good people acquire by learning alignment with God, a strength that will see them through the bleakest adversity, for their vision sees through the clouds that may gather about their person to a brighter light beyond.  Justice lies too in the weakness of the corrupt, who suffer greatly from the thwarting of their material obsessions.  For them, every pain is magnified a hundredfold by the microscope they focus on themselves.  A mother may not be able to fix a bloody knee, but she can distract her child’s attention away from the blood and turn his screams into laughter by distracting him with a joke or a tickle.  In the same way, God may not fix the physical hurt, but through our faith he turns our attention away from the pain, and makes us better. To get the most of this, one needs to focus on an action – caring for your family, working to help others from suffering your problem, or anything where you can focus on doing something helpful. Faith is an active process.

Can faith move mountains?  In a sense, yes.  If a person has faith that she should do the right thing, even if she doesn’t see any positive results from doing it, then she will be a powerful personal force.  Think of the times in your life when you have failed to do something that you wanted to do.  Why did you finally give up?  Did you feel like you weren’t getting any credit or gratitude for your efforts?  Did you get bored or frustrated when you seemed to be banging your head against the wall without making any progress?  What could you have done if you had been absolutely convinced in your own mind that the thing had to be done, no matter what anyone thought and no matter how difficult or time-consuming it was?  A single person with the faith to persevere can find ways to accomplish seemingly impossible tasks.  She may not be able to pick up the mountain, but she will chip it away stone by stone until the job is done. Faith is strength.

Can faith be dangerous?  Potentially, yes.  Faith is a very powerful force.  By freeing us from the constraints of caring about public opinion or our own comfort or convenience, it permits us to take unpopular actions with enthusiasm.  This is often a very good thing.  Persons who opposed the Nazis in wartime Germany were undoubtedly not popular, but they were doing the right thing.  On the other hand, sometimes popular opinion is correct, and an action may well be unpopular because it is misguided.  Concern for public opinion causes a person to think twice before doing something that most people have decided is a bad idea. Strong faith can reduce this checking force, and thus places a stronger burden on the individual to make sure that his actions are not misguided.  The suicidal followers of Jim Jones and the unfortunates in the Heaven’s Gate cult who tried to send their souls after the Hale-Bopp comet clearly had strong faith, but misguided ideas.  Soldiers kill out of faith that their government is correct, when the soldiers of at least one side (and usually both)  in every war should redirect their faith to a more reliable source.  Religious zealots in every age have committed all manner of terrible crimes that would sicken most of us, overriding normal constraints of decency by the strength of their misguided faith in the rightness of their actions.

The above instances all share a common theme, which illustrates the way to avoid the dangers of faith.  In each case, the faith involved is faith in the correctness of an idea mixed together with the faith that correct action should be pursued regardless of personal consequences.  The latter form of faith provides the strength to do that which most people would reject, while the former form of faith provides the willingness to accept as virtuous that which most thinking people would rightly condemn.  We should not have faith in ideas.  Being the fallible creatures that we are, our ideas are probably wrong more often than not.  Correct ideas never suffer unduly by being questioned, for if the questioner probes far enough he will simply clear the dust away from the gleaming beauty of truth.  On the other hand, probing questions are the enemy of lies and error.  Thus, an unquestioning acceptance of any idea is not wise policy; it is an open door to evil.  The Father of Lies cannot succeed where all his lies are questioned.

Again, Christian faith is not faith in the specific tenets of the Christian religion.  It is not faith in the truth of particular ideas.  Even Christian ideas can and should be questioned.  Christ was a great questioner of commonly accepted ideas that were enforced with some vigor by the religious authorities of the time. Not only did he ask questions himself, he relished being questioned by others.  His style of teaching was to receive and answer questions, for he above all knew that questions would burnish, not tarnish, the lamp of truth. He even disliked providing straightforward instructions, which could easily be distorted and turned into dogma, preferring instead to speak in parables so that his followers would be required to think and understand, rather than to follow his commands blindly.

It is important to apply this same questioning spirit to little things as well as the large. It is very tempting to people who have enjoyed the good feeling that virtue gives to then set up a thousand little rules to follow, so that they can feel extra-virtuous for obeying all those rules. We must remember that one of Christ’s primary messages was that the scores of rules professed by the religious authorities of the day were nonsense and should be ignored, that instead we should concentrate on one rule – love. This, again, is the principle of connectedness. Christ wanted to make it clear that following needless rules is not the same thing as virtue, and that faith in rules is misguided faith.

Christian faith is simply faith in the value of virtue, and virtue lies in doing right by others.. Finding that virtue is a different matter.  Fortunately, Christianity provides us with extremely helpful tools for that quest, and it is to one of those tools, prayer, that we will turn in my next article.

 

Summary:

Faith provides the strength to get beyond suffering, to persevere, and to prevail – but its power must be properly directed

Faith can heal, and provides the strength to deal with suffering

Faith can enable you to move mountains – one rock at a time

Have faith in virtue – but be skeptical of ideas and rules

Springboards for discussion:

The movie Leap of Faith illustrates both the manipulation of faith and the power of the real thing

Further reading:

Jim Jones

The children’s crusades

The mormon meadows massacre

 

 

 

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