Never have I found such peace to think about the past few days than a scummy motel in a very small town in Northern Illinois. I'm alone, and I feel great to be so. The world can be so demanding, and I don't have my thoughts organized, my heart stilled, and I end up worrying and stressing about things I either cannot fix or are outside of my control...and this is deadly, for can we add any hour to our life by worrying?
To start with, I sit here rather than with my friend who is awaiting his marriage in several days. Currently he sits with his fiance who is in the hospital. True love consists not in how we handle the good times and sexual desires that accompany them, but in how we bear the cross that the one we love suffers and carries.
One might wonder why I put a video to several selections from the desert fathers of Egypt (and some non-Egyptian) about prayer and the heart/mind. The reason will show itself as this discussion continues. On Tuesday night of this week, I was privileged to again partake of good discussion with Nathan Reese and Jason Ramey on the Faith and Skepticism Podcast. They had invited me to do a podcast a few weeks earlier on the development of the Christian canon of Scripture along with another Christian named Sam who lives in the Twin Cities, and Dr. Robert Price. The discussion was good, albeit short, but was civil, respectful, and genuinely communicated as best as scholars sometimes can given the breadth of a topic. The most recent podcast however was dealing with "Christian pop-culture" generally, and the film "God's Not Dead" (see earlier review).
The podcast could have been better, but some things were brought up which would best be answered in another medium. The philosophical arguments of the film were not really covered, and that is fine. I would much rather have talked about a stronger argument for theism being the intelligibility of the created world through abstract and reasoned concepts such as numbers and shapes apart from and applied to physical reality with precision and accuracy that involves both "real numbers" and "irrational numbers." This is one of the most pivotal questions in my opinion for the operation of a science that has a grounding in true reason and reality (through both the Logos and our being created His image and thus given the gift of reason).
Among two issues that arose, both during the podcast, and after (not recorded) revolved around how youth in a conservative Christian culture come to terms with being gay. There were also discussions involving how a conservative Muslim family is portrayed in the movie and what the intention was on the part of the filmmakers.
One of the speakers suggested that it was in the movie as fear-mongering. Perhaps, but I think a more accurate and full view of the characters should involve the young Chinese student. Obviously the movie at the end shows all of them, the Muslim girl, Josh, and the Chinese student at a Newsboys concert singing about God. This is a message in my opinion that the message of the Gospel transcends cultural boundaries. It is meant for the whole world and can be liberating (the message itself, not necessarily how it is practiced) which is also why the pastor had an African friend present with him. All ethnic groups were represented in a Christian light. At the same time, perhaps it was not the best choice to portray the father beating and casting out his daughter, but I will still defend that the movie shows him as a figure to have compassion on. His world with regard to his daughter is ending. She converted and left the faith which was an anchor for him. Many immigrant cultures understand that apart from religion, language is the key to holding onto an identity of where they came from, and sadly this cultural influence is often severely diminished if not wiped out in 2-3 generations, regardless of how strict the family is. The father is attempting to hold onto the truth and culture he brought with him...he SAYS AS MUCH at the beginning of the film to his daughter. He also weeps for her, which humanizes him. He is not following Sharia like a terrorist...he isn't honor killing her. He is reacting I would argue more from a minority group who feels threatened in this country and culture rather than that it is meant to draw hate mongering from the viewers. Islam, while I believe it to be incorrect, has a tremendous intellectual and philosophical tradition, and this should be respected for anyone who ever delves into such a topic. The situation with these characters was actually more nuanced in my opinion than originally appears.
The second however was with regard to whether or not Christians do this, and it was reapplied to both atheists and/or homosexuals. I will unabashedly say that this happens...it is a fact. Christians can be sinful and do immense harm just like any other sinful human being (contrary to what the film seems to show about them). At the same time, understanding homosexuality in youth and atheism or religious conversion/deconversion in general is highly complex and cannot simply be boiled down to either "they should be like they were born to be or are" (which runs a fine line to saying I should continue to be a codependent because it is who I am either genetically, epigenetically, or behaviorally) or "they are just into drugs and rebellion." The prior argument is often given with little thought to the insanity of it being applied to other factors of life consistently, and the latter argument ignores that it is often just a sign of something else much deeper and personal. Many factors such as abuse, early experimentation, societal or peer influence, hormone imbalance, etc. could lead to such a decision, lifestyle, or predilection. In fact, there could be the shock and horror that they are "convinced(!)" of another way or disagree with yours or their parents. There is simply not enough known about it to predict or explain it. Nevertheless, my point in the podcast was, and still is, that these are human beings created in the image of God. Truly if we saw them as struggling with and "choosing" a sin at this age, they would be considered "the least of these" and deserving of love and mercy. On this point, Dan was spot-on. But the problem is by saying "the church does this" or even Christians saying "the other side does it too! ("they" do it as well), this is the equivalent of complaining about how to build a bridge without realizing that people need to cross it anyway to get the the hospital on the other side. Our children are our children, regardless of what they choose...this is mercy and forgiveness more in keeping with the father of the parable of the Prodigal Son. When the son asks for his inheritance, he asks for his father's bios, what was HIS to take. He's telling his father he really would be happy if he would just feed the worms already (btw, the older son does this as well). When the son goes off to a far-off land...the father doesn't chase after him...he lets him do what he believes he needs to do. The father has done his due diligence to teach his son right from wrong, but the final decision is the son's. There is a point where, victim or not, born this way or not, we are ALL accountable for our choices and actions....and this is where the desert fathers come in.
Many might be surprised that there are homosexual bishops and monks...but it makes sense. Marriage is not about who we love in terms of either sex or friendship...it is about complimentary companionship and bearing one anothers' cross so we can learn to die to ourselves. Marriage and monasticism (that "curse" of celibacy) are two paths to the same goal. The monks and the bishops (chosen from the monks) have both the highest control over the church, and help to illuminate us and support us through prayer. The idea or thought that "we are just now discovering that homosexuality is lifelong" is thoroughly refuted by any study of the desert fathers and their view of temptation, addiction, and the logoi of the human heart/mind. Ask ANY priest worth his weight who has been at his job for a while and I will be willing to bet a dollar to a donut hole that he understands life-long temptation better than anyone...and not just the ones dealing with sex. In fact, the fact that homosexuality was struggled with is present in the early desert fathers. There are sayings with regard to spending the night in a brother's cell, or not growing a beard (thus appearing more feminine), and even the story of St. Anthony the Great's temptation of a young Nubian/Ethiopian boy in his bed, which communicate that the desert fathers were intimately familiar with struggles. Sex and sexual temptation is just one aspect of the passion of concupiscence or lust. There are also the sins of anger (irascibility) and also vainglory. The fact is not that the youth are sinful because they have such desires...this is their cross to bear, just as for another, extreme anger is theirs, another might be bereft of homeland and parents, or not having limbs is another's. We are ALL sinful, for there is no one who is without sin, even the Mother of God herself had original sin! But we are loved by God and shown a way that is to true love of both God and neighbor, and ultimately ourselves, for we are to find humility in the fact that we are equally if not more sinful than any other human being. Our sin and its depth however can drive us to despair, this is true...but Christ entered into our humanity to experience our temptations and touch all of our essence, thus restoring His image in us. There is no sin beyond forgiveness, save "blasphemy against the Holy Spirit," which is the rejection of the very gift that can save and heal. It is not forgiven, because God will not force this salvation on us...for love cannot be forced.
How can we seek such humility? How can Christ save others through this very humility? Because the image of God pointed to Christ in our minds reflects His love to all from out of us. As St. Seraphim of Sarov said, "acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved." Perhaps in this we find the strongest evidence for the existence and LOVE of God (and this is something which Dostoyevsky portrayed with Elder Zossima), by the fact that in a world of selfishness, destruction, sin, hate, etc...there is genuine love for those who not only cannot return it, but who don't because they hate...that is a genuine miracle. The sad fact is that we look at all the bad in the world, saying "God cannot exist," or "God cannot be a God of love and mercy," and yet when we see a genuine saint or person who gives love to one in need, we feel the need to rob this answer from God and make it simply a humanistic endeavor. Job wasn't given an answer that he wanted, but he did get an answer...and while it was not in his desired way...it was the right answer to his question.