Charlie's Blog: July 2015


A Catholic Stranger in a Protestant Land

Whenever I’m asked why Southern writers particularly have a penchant for writing about freaks, I say it is because we are still able to recognize one. To be able to recognize a freak, you have to have some conception of the whole man, and in the South the general conception of man is still, in the main, theological. That is a large statement, and it is dangerous to make it, for almost anything you say about Southern belief can be denied in the next breath with equal propriety. But approaching the subject from the standpoint of the writer, I think it is safe to say that while the South is hardly Christ-centered, it is most certainly Christ-haunted.

My wife asked me to write this essay. I can only write it as a stream of consciousness because I don't really know what it is that I want to say in this essay. It's nice to have a thesis to hang your words on, but this post has no thesis. I begin these things wherever I am and hope I end up someplace good. So, where do I begin?

My experience with religion began at an early age when I was invited by my elementary schoolteacher to attend the humble Baptist church up the road from our home. My parents were not religious as they remain to this day. This was a strange thing, and it deserves comment because it colors my perspective on things to the present day. My parents are Baby Boomers and like almost all Boomers I encounter, they have little to no use for religion. I can only hope and pray this changes before they die and have to answer for their sins. I look to John Wayne as hope because he was a hard man who converted to Catholicism shortly before he died. Conversion is hard not because people can't admit that they are sinners but because they can't admit that they are going to die.

I've known that I was going to die from an early age. I had family members die in a terrible plane crash when I was six years old. I lost two cousins in that tragedy. I remember getting my cousin's bike, and my dad repainted it a different color as if that changed the fact that I rode a dead child's bike. It did not disturb me as I put a lot of time on that bike. But I never forgot that I rode a dead child's bike. And I could be dead at any moment as well. Everything I was to become in life goes back to that bike because it produced in me a depth and seriousness about things that really matter. My younger brother was too young to process the tragedy, so he went down the shallow path which he remains on to this day. I was always on the deep path. Knowing that you are going to die will do that to you.

Going to that humble Baptist church affected me because it touched on that deepness in my thoughts for the first time. It was the first time people told me that there was something beyond this world, and we needed to get ready. I read the Bible stories book we had at home and an old black leather King James Bible with the words of Christ in red. I was fascinated by those red words. They burned so hard--way harder than those black words. Then I told a lie to my old man, and he called me out on it. I was a sinner. I felt so ashamed, but there it was. I knew. In hindsight, I know this was Providence, and these things were my first brush with the Divine. I was not Christ-centered yet. But I was Christ-haunted.

My parents were not religious. They were fine with religion in its place if it made me a good little boy and kept me out of trouble. Parents always want their children to benefit from religion even if they crap all over it themselves. My parents crapped all over it. They were evil. I cannot say they were particularly worse than other parents. They were simply typical of their corrupt generation that rejected the values and religion of their parents. I would come to embrace that religion of my grandparents, and my parents did their best to beat it back out of me. They probably regretted letting me go to that little Baptist church, but it was too late. I had become the goad to their conscience, and I took the licks they wanted to lay on the Almighty. When you can't spit in God's face, just find a little kid and spit in his face instead. God will get the message.

I embraced the Baptist religion. I declared myself a born again Christian at age 13. I read the Bible, and I went to church. I would watch Billy Graham on the TV set, and I was glad that such a man like that existed. He was a good man. Billy Graham and Andy Griffith are awesome for forming the conscience of a child. My old man had abdicated the moral authority in our home because you can't be truly moral without God. God is everything. If I have any advice to fathers out there, it would be this. Go to church. Read the Bible. Pray. Whatever your failings maybe as a man, don't fail on this thing. If you love God even imperfectly, that love will cover a multitude of sins.

I took to the evangelical flavor of Protestantism because it was all I had. It was deficient, and I knew it. But the Baptist religion was all I knew and would know in those days. I believe God works in those churches. God works in many places. I am fond of that verse that says that he reaps where he did not sow. I don't know if I have it theologically correct, but I believe that God judges, rewards, and punishes relative to the knowledge that each person is given.

I would run with the Baptist thing until college when I began to read further on religion. When I was in high school, I had my first encounter with Flannery O'Connor when I read "Good Country People" for an English class. I found the story fascinating and disturbing. It was the best thing I had ever read in high school, and I never forgot that story. Then, in college, they had an entire class on her. I had to take the class, and I did. It was that class that taught me that Flannery was devoutly Catholic. This blew my mind because I had read that initial story with the impression that she was some nihilistic atheist. I read everything that O'Connor wrote that semester, and she became and remains my favorite writer of all. At the same time I was reading O'Connor, I had a friend who introduced me to the writings of John Calvin. Unfortunately for me, I listened to Calvin instead of O'Connor.

There is one thing I learned from my Baptist/Evangelical/Protestant world. The Roman Catholic Church was bad. I was taught that the Church of Rome was the Whore of Babylon. Popes, bishops, and priests were in league with the Devil. They all conspired to delude the faithful, and they would have won except for the heroic defiance of Martin Luther and the other Protestant reformers. Now, I was no fan of John Calvin because I knew he taught about the doctrine of predestination which evangelicals reject. But my Calvinist friend "cured" me of my aversion to this doctrine that I thought made God out to be a really bad guy. What my friend taught me was what he still teaches today. You are worse than you think you are. In other words, you and all human beings are so utterly wicked and loathsome that we are unable to even make a choice to do even one good thing which is to believe in God. I knew I was a sinner, and I could not be saved apart from God's grace. What I learned from Calvin was that I was so sinful as to not even have free will. This is a heresy, but I swallowed the bait and the hook. I would become a rabid Calvinist.

Calvinism is not fun. It produces in you a profound self-hatred and a general misanthropy. If it has any virtue, it tends to not care to evangelize since God will save who He will and damn the rest. But it does offer one comfort. It lets you relax a bit on the holiness pursuit. This was one of my chief frustrations with being a Christian. I wanted to do better, but I couldn't. I tried really hard, but I did not have the ability to make progress towards anything like sanctity. Calvinism let me quit that project. I didn't have to try so hard because I was always going to be a failure. There are no Protestant saints. There are definitely no Calvinist saints.

Becoming Calvinist gave me something else I lacked as a Baptist and an evangelical. I finally had a sense of history. Evangelicals tend to live in a strange world where the gap between the first century and today is a void. Somehow, God fumbled the ball for 1500 years before ol' Marty Luther got hit with an epiphany about faith alone. Even then, not much is said about the Reformation as we fast forward to Billy Graham and Campus Crusade for Christ. The sad fact is that the only reason I knew about Martin Luther was because of my high school history class. Luther was never mentioned in my Baptist church. In fact, I couldn't even tell you where the Baptist church came from. When I became a Calvinist, a huge gap was filled in my knowledge. I learned church history and theology. It was the wrong information and terribly slanted, but it had two effects on me. The first is that it gave me a firmer foundation to stand on. The second was that it gave me a reason to hate the Catholic Church.

To be a Calvinist is to be intensely anti-Catholic. Even atheists don't hate the Catholic Church as much as Calvinists. Today, Catholics find all sorts of ecumenical efforts among Anglicans and Lutherans yielding fruit. But Calvinism is a desert. Luther merely left the church, but Calvin sought to sanitize it of the last speck of Roman corruption. Much of the Protestant hatred of Catholicism and the mythmaking against the Catholic Church comes from Calvin.

I would take the Calvinist trip into the Presbyterian Church and all the way to seminary as I studied to become a minister. Then, after a year, the Calvinist trip ended in tragedy as my world was rocked when my friend and housemate at seminary committed suicide. I found his body. It was a shock to me since any other tragedy would have been mere adversity to overcome. But when a fellow believer kills himself, it makes you question those beliefs. His reasons for killing himself will remain a secret that I will keep except to say that he was filled with immense self-hatred reinforced and amplified by Calvinism. The lesson I took away from that incident is that religion can kill. I withdrew from seminary and lost myself in a dark world of disbelief and atheism.

I have wondered many times why God allowed me to go through that, and I don't know why any of that happened except that it rescued me from being a heretic and leading others down that same path. Becoming an atheist felt like fresh air after being a Calvinist because I could stop hating other people and also stop hating myself. I don't recommend atheism, but that move felt refreshing in the same way that stepping out of a 110 degree car into 95 degree weather feels like stepping into an air conditioned room.

Atheism had a flattening effect on my soul. It's like drinking Coke that has lost the fizz. Life is the same, but you lose the joy. This is because atheism teaches that you came from nothing, and you will return to nothing. All there is in life are a few momentary pleasures that never satisfy. Sartre referred to it as "nausea," but it feels more like numbness. This lead to me being more radical and provocative because the conflict I created would give a little jolt to the numbness. This was also when I declared that the opposite of happiness was not depression but boredom. I would not say that today. The opposite of happiness is despair.

I would spend over a decade as an atheist. Atheists who knew me declared that I was never really an atheist, but the truth is that I was more unbelieving than they were. Many of them were rebelling against a Christian upbringing, but I had been far down the path by my own choice. Once you know a road leads to a dead end, you don't take it again. Protestants would try and convert me not realizing that I knew their faith better than they did. And when I became Catholic, I think they preferred that I had remained an atheist. And this, Gentle Reader, is but the prologue to what I was getting at.

There is only one true and complete religion, and this is the religion of Jesus Christ. There is only one true church that remains faithful to this religion, and this is the Roman Catholic Church. All other churches are but copies of this One True Faith. Protestantism is a cruel joke played upon the faithful that was cooked up by that heretic Martin Luther. Luther simply kicked open the door and a parade of heresies and bad ideas marched out such that he almost certainly regretted what he had done by the end of his life. My life was merely a microcosm and a miniature replay of Western Civilization ending in nihilistic atheism which is where we find ourselves today. I suspect that God allowed me to experience these errors so that I would know them inside and out when I converted. The world is being crushed under these errors.

My knowledge of Catholicism was scant, and the only time I ever contemplated becoming Catholic was all the way back when I was reading Flannery. So, why didn't I become Catholic then? The answer is simple. I didn't know any better. To be Protestant is to be lied to. You are told that Catholics are a superstitious lot given to worshipping statues and the Virgin Mary. My vision of the Catholic Church was of a ship encrusted with the barnacles of heresy such that it was no longer recognizable as the church that Jesus founded.

For me, Flannery O'Connor and Catholics like her had a personal relationship with Jesus but had the misfortune of being in the wrong church. I believed in the invisible church of Christ which is the belief of a church within a church. This is stupid nonsense, but it was a way for me to explain how some hypocritical Catholics weren't so hypocritical and sincerely loved Jesus. Their faith was authentic in spite of their church. Since we are saved by "faith alone," I figured God would be merciful to these poor ignorant folk. I never contemplated that I was the one who was poor and ignorant.

It was easier for me to convert from atheism to Catholicism than it was from Protestantism to Catholicism. After ten years as an atheist, I was beyond caring about whether or not Catholicism or Protestantism was the authentic Christian faith. So, when I was introduced to Catholicism through my wife, I concluded while I was an atheist that Peter and Paul and all those apostles were totally Catholic. When you don't have to look at the Bible through the scratched lens of Protestantism, it is pretty plain to see that those early Christians were totally Catholic.

The reality that Catholicism was true Christianity was a moot point for me. I was an atheist. It was like finding out an old girlfriend had been cheating on you during the relationship ten years after you broke up with her and had moved on. It was an interesting fact but of no consequence to someone who considered Christianity to be a fraud and a sham regardless of what flavor that Christianity might be. But I envied the faith of my wife. I was also a know-it-all, yet I had to admit that her viewpoint on things made way more sense than my own. This is because her worldview was essentially Catholic. My wife had the same spirit I had discovered in Flannery O'Connor two decades ago. So, how did I move from atheism to Catholicism? I moved exactly one inch. God did all the rest.

I never wanted to be an atheist. Had my friend not committed suicide or had died in some other manner, I would have continued on my Calvinist path. But the tragedy painted in my mind a picture of God that I found horrifying. I saw God not as loving Creator and Redeemer but as some sadistic child pulling the wings off of flies for his own amusement, and human beings were the flies. This was a byproduct of Calvinism. We would debate at seminary the difference between supralapsarianism and infralapsarianism. These are ten dollar words to describe two answers to one question. Did God elect people to Hell before or after the fall of humanity? For those disgusted by predestination, such an argument amounts to whether male or female flesh is tastier to the cannibal. Yet, it wasn't enough to be Calvinist. If you were a supralapsarian Calvinist, this meant you were bona fide while the infralapsarians were seen as kinda wishy washy.

To be Calvinist is to delight in God's hatred and in the damnation of sinners. Here is Calvin's doctrine:
God preordained, for his own glory and the display of His attributes of mercy and justice, a part of the human race, without any merit of their own, to eternal salvation, and another part, in just punishment of their sin, to eternal damnation.
In a nutshell, a supralapsarian Calvinist believes that God created certain people from the very beginning to be fuel for the fires of Hell. Now, to be Calvinist at the beginning is to be utterly grateful for God's grace and mercy for having picked the sinner to receive the promises of salvation and heaven when knowing that he deserves Hell. It is a sweet doctrine when you accept it, but it corrodes the soul as it goes down and is digested. This is what heresy does. It is a sugar coated pill of poison. The gratitude turns to self-loathing, despising others for their sins, and fearing God as He becomes a sort of monster actively desiring the damnation of humanity. When my friend killed himself, the debate at my seminary was whether he had gone to Heaven or Hell. Believing in the perseverance of the saints doctrine and justification by faith alone, it did not matter. He was in Heaven. But he killed himself which indicates he had not persevered meaning that he did not actually have faith. No Catholic would ever engage in such presumption, but it is commonplace among Calvinists. I do not presume on his fate, and I pray for his soul often.

The Calvinist heresy had severely distorted my view of God such that I was left with two roads to take. I could believe in God the Monster. Or, I could stop believing in God. I took the better path. I rejected Calvinism and embraced atheism. I could not believe then or now that God would ever desire the damnation of anyone. This is what the Council of Trent has to say about predestination:
If anyone says that the grace of justification is shared by those only who are predestined to life, but that all others who are called are called indeed but receive not grace, as if they are by divine power predestined to evil, let him be anathema.
As a Calvinist, I used to think the Council of Trent was the worst thing ever and as something cruel and evil. Now, I read those declarations and see the charity in them. God does not desire that anyone be damned nor does He force anyone to love Him. This begs the question. Is God sovereign? Does man have free will? The answer to both questions is yes. One does not negate the other. Do I understand it? Of course not. Like the Trinity or the dual natures of Christ, my brain cannot grasp the coexistence of God's providence and humanity's free will. But what I can grasp is this. God wants everyone in Heaven, and no one is in Hell that did not choose to be there.

I wish I had known these things before I became a Calvinist and then an atheist. But I did know these things because they are what evangelical Christians believe. I think my real wish is that my Calvinist friend had not lead me into the error of this heresy. When I met him last, I could not help but notice the corrosive effects on his own soul of these damnable doctrines. I can only hope and pray that he escapes these errors. I forgive him as I ask God to forgive me for leading people down the wrong path.

Atheism saved me from Calvinism in the same way that being thrown through the windshield of the car will save you from the flames that engulf the vehicle. I was busted up, but I would live. I debate whether it is worse to be an atheist or a heretic, and I have come to the conclusion that it is worse to be a heretic. The atheist is in error, but he or she is not beyond reason. The heretic is beyond reason. The atheist is the patient who refuses treatment. The heretic is someone who refuses treatment because he believes the arsenic he is consuming will cure him. Though I may not like admitting it, I had to stop drinking the Calvinist poison before I could ever take the Catholic cure.

Atheists will cite many reasons for being atheist. Some will use scientific arguments while others will either admit or deny that atheism allows them an unhindered sex life. But when you cut through all of the arguments, the one most common among is atheists is the problem of evil. Why does a good God allow evil to exist? This was where my atheism came from. I could not understand how God could allow my suicidal friend to be tormented and kill himself. My two conclusions were that God was either evil or non-existent. I know from the arguments of Aquinas that nothing comes from nothing, so God has to exist. And I know from the life and death of Christ that God is not evil. But these are arguments after the fact. The simple fact is that God was good to me. He came into my life through my wife and her prayers for me, and I could not believe. But I wanted to believe, and that was enough. That was the one inch that moved me in God's direction. That small movement was like turning on a light switch and watching an entire room light up. God moved mightily in my heart and soul. People have expressed amazement at how quickly I converted, but they do not realize the 40 years of preparation that preceded it. Conversion is a process, and this process goes on even after you become a Catholic.

I am in my third year as a Catholic convert. The difference between being atheist and being Catholic is very simple. Life has become interesting again. I no longer feel the numbness and flatness of existence that I felt as an atheist. It has calmed me down considerably because my over the top behavior was done just to feel something in the emptiness. I am reminded of the James Dickey poem about the blind eye beaters who would smash their dead eyes to send an impulse of color to their optic nerves in order to see something in the darkness.

The difference between being Catholic and Protestant is more profound to me. Thanks to the sacraments and God's grace, I make progress where I experienced frustration as a Protestant. Protestants only have baptism which gives them faith, but they remain in that state like a kid repeating first grade over and over. As a Protestant, I would struggle with sins and never get anywhere. As a Catholic, I actually get somewhere. This did not happen until I actually went to confession and began taking the eucharist. It is a weird experience to sit in the confessional and only have a handful of venial sins to confess. This is far superior to the frustrations I felt as a Baptist Evangelical or the self-loathing I felt as a Calvinist. I am still a sinner, but I believe that it is possible to become a saint now. God's grace works, and you need the sacraments. I believe Protestantism is Satan's trick to deny those sacraments to God's children.

Not everyone shares the joy of my becoming Catholic. This is what it feels like to be a Catholic stranger in a Protestant land. Catholics do not hate Protestants, but Protestants hate Catholics. When I was an atheist, Protestants would try to reach me believing my atheism was a phase. They were half-right. Now, that I am Catholic, they are torn between either still trying to reach me or believing that I am now eternally damned and beyond hope. The digs and slights are constant, and I know the wicked things they say behind my back. This is because I used to be Protestant.

Protestants are an ignorant bunch of people, and I do not say this to be insulting. It is simply a statement of fact. They hate what they do not know or understand. Their errors are so numerous that I hardly know where to begin in addressing them. In talking with them, I can win one argument which only makes them pivot to another argument. It's like trying to prune a bush by cutting each leaf with a pair of scissors. They don't outsmart you. They outdumb you. This is because it is easier to manfacture errors than defend the truth. Eventually, you tire of trying to talk sense to someone who prefers nonsense. Prior to Luther, heresies would pop up and then die in singular fashion. The insidiousness of Protestantism is that it is a factory of heresies pumping them out one after another. With thousands of denominations and tens of thousands of preachers and millions of believers acting as the captains of their souls, arguing with them is like trying to kill fire ants with a sledgehammer.

There is one thing that all Protestants have in common. They despise the Catholic Church. They may differ with each other on all sorts of doctrines and split over the most trivial of things. But they all agree almost monolithically that the Roman Catholic Church is bad. But this is actually a good thing because it makes the job easier. You can waste a lot of time trying to prove that all these Protestants are wrong on a hundred different doctrines and issues. But you will lose on this. The better way to go is to prove the Protestants are wrong on the one thing they all agree on. To defeat Protestantism, you merely have to show that the Roman Catholic Church is good. This is best done through good works and becoming a saint.

Protestants know that their churches are defective. This is why they hop from church to church and start new ones all the time. They are always looking for the next exciting preacher and megachurch desperate to be fed. As long as they can always be turned back into this maze of madness, they will not escape. As a Protestant, I spent considerable time in this maze. I have attended services at just about any kind of church you can imagine from a hardcore Church of Christ cult church to a biker church to a charismatic church to an Episcoplian church to a Lutheran church and on and on. This endless array of options may seem daunting to the Catholic until you consider that we have been here before. Paganism was a many headed beast, too. Yet, those people managed to find the real thing out of that madness.

I do not pretend to think anymore that I can debate someone out of Protestantism and into the One True Faith. By the end of my RCIA classes, I had already capitulated to that reality. I think there is value in apologetics and evangelism, but I think they are most helpful to people who have already made the move to Catholicism but have lingering doubts. But you can give a book or a CD or a video to your Protestant friend that will totally answer their questions and show their errors, and they will simply tell you later that they never bothered reading, watching, or listening to anything you gave them. This begs another question. Why do people persist in such willful ignorance?

People will persist in any error that they perceive is working for them. For instance, if someone believes in the Prosperity Gospel, and they end up in a mansion and a Mercedes, you will find it virtually impossible to convince them to give that up to live in a trailer and drive an old Ford pickup. If you read or listen to any story of conversion, you find that the convert went down a few dead end roads before getting on the right road. A roadmap would help, but no one looks at the map until they realize they are lost.

To show the world that it is in the dark, you have to turn on the light. That means being the light. I have been very frustrated in my attempts at evangelism, but I keep coming back to this elemental truth. Evangelism is 90% show and 10% tell. If you are living it, you don't have to say much. If you aren't living it, then it would be a good idea to shut up. True evangelism is when you show the world the difference your faith makes in your life and in other people's lives.

It is hard living among heretics who think you are a heretic. Not a day goes by that I don't encounter some Protestant indulging in some error. One presumes upon God's grace and claims to be saved all while living in a way that is clearly not saved. Another clarifies that it is the LOVE of money that is the root of all evil, and then deny their love of this money as they point a diamond encrusted finger at you. Every day for them is a blessed day as they ride by some homeless person with the attitude that that person deserves to be homeless for whatever sins they committed with drugs and alcohol. Then, they say something stupid like, "Do Catholics even read the Bible? You know between worshipping those statues and eating fish." Plus, to be Catholic in the Protestant South is to automatically be grouped in with the other two groups the KKK has despised for over a century--blacks and Jews. And that is probably the weirdest thing of all is how Christian people can also be racist. The most segregated time of the week here in the South is Sunday morning. All of this a holdover from the pre-Civil War days when Christians in the South would defend slavery and commit atrocious acts on their slaves like rape, murder, mutilation, and busting up families. If you push a bit on some Baptists here, they will still defend slavery. It boggles the mind.

This bizarro world of Christianity and atrocity is the world Flannery O'Connor lived in. The whole thing about Protestantism from the beginning with Martin Luther all the way to our present day is that you have an entire people who want to have it both ways. They want the blessings of God Almighty while living like the Devil. O'Connor's fictional world of misfits and the grotesque is not fictional. It is real. I could never really understand her stories, but I understand them now. To be Protestant is to be mindful of God but to have a blunted conscience. They seem to only get it when something violent or atrocious happens yielding a brief moment of grace. The recent slayings of the Charleston Nine is a potent example of this as for a brief moment white Christians recognized that these black victims were also Christians. But most of the time, it is just a mix of religion and madness.

The primary difference between the South and other parts of the USA is that the religion has grown cold in those places while it still runs hot here. I don't know if that it is a consequence of culture or climate or both. America is predominately a Protestant land that is swiftly becoming secular. The South resists this change as to declare oneself an atheist here has as much appeal as a relative that farts at the dinner table at Thanksgiving. These Southerners--black and white--resist the Catholic faith because they don't care to live under the authority of the pope or to actually try and live up to the demands of the Gospels. Like Henry VIII, they want the cake, and they also want to eat it. They want to read the Bible and make it say what it doesn't say. They want to condemn perverts while ruining women through repeated marriages and divorces. And Christian living is reduced to a few blue laws urging the prohibition of alcohol and tobacco products while neglecting mercy and justice.

Like Flannery O'Connor, I find myself here in this strange Protestant land. I cannot forget that I came from this madness, but I also know that I don't belong to it anymore. I encounter many converts in the Catholic Church who come from a background similar to mine. Many were disowned by their families for becoming Catholic. It would be easier to come from a stock of atheists to the Church instead of the halfway place of Protestantism. The break would be cleaner. But Protestants are still Christian by virtue of their baptism, so they are like half brothers and half sisters sharing a common DNA but raised by a stranger. You want to embrace them, but they keep punching you in the face.

All of this leads us to a burning question. Is it malice? Or is it ignorance? You can overlook ignorance, but malice is a different thing. I want to say that these Protestants don't know any better which paints them in a better light. But if they read the Bible, how can they hate each other? And that is the crux of it right there. I can see them hating Catholics they don't understand, but I can't understand how they can hate fellow Protestants or the poor who they do understand. Therefore, they are without excuse. Protestants put the conclusion before the premise and work backwards. This is how they can twist Scripture to support just about any sin you care to name. Protestantism is a religion of a thousand popes, and they are all wrong. I am just coming to accept that they know it, too. And they don't give a damn.

So, where does that leave me and others like me? The circumstances may change, but the response is always the same. Pray. Receive the sacraments. Do the works of mercy. Be obedient to the Magisterium. Become a saint. I always remind myself that Christ has not called us to be successful but to be obedient. I have to be the light and the salt, so I will keep working on that. Will there be a tidal wave of conversion among Protestants to the Catholic faith? Probably not. But they do trickle in like I did. If you keep seeking, you will find yourself in the Catholic Church.


Sadducees and Pharisees

. . .Jesus said to them, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

One day, I was visiting with the neighbors of a relative. They were Catholic, and I told them that I had been attending daily mass at the parish just down the street from their house. "We don't attend that parish," the wife informed me. "It is too conservative. We attend the one across town." I was a bit perplexed because the parish down the street had a modern aesthetic, celebrated the mass in the ordinary form, and was involved in various social justice ministries. What made that parish conservative was that the priest, nuns, and parishioners there were pro-life and actually attended mass on the regular. A true conservative traditionalist Catholic would have been put off by the church for not doing a Latin Mass and not having an old school Catholic design. This was my first corporeal encounter with the modern day Sadducees and Pharisees.

It is helpful to understand these enemies of Jesus. I will begin with the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the first modernists in the world. They denied the resurrection of the dead and the afterlife and were the ones responsible for maintaining the temple. Basically, they disbelieved in God, held the keys to the property, enjoyed a cush lifestyle, and reduced the Jewish religion to a mere philosophy. They were the forerunners of today's Anglicans and Episcopalians.

The antagonists to the Sadducees were the hyper legalistic and scrupulous Pharisees. This Jewish sect did believe in the resurrection of the dead and the supernatural. But they also obsessed over the most trivial of matters much as Hasidic Jews obsess over whether tearing a piece of toilet paper violates the injunction against working on the Sabbath. We can laugh at this until we consider the modern day Pharisees in the Catholic Church who obsess over such trivialities as communion in the hand.

It is easy to point out the Sadducees outside of the Catholic Church. They make up most mainline Protestant denominations, and you can tell them easily by their outspoken support in favor of abortion and gay marriage. It is the Sadducees inside of the Catholic Church that are harder to spot. A good identifier would be the letters "SJ" after their name, but the fact is that there are many Jesuits who are orthodox and faithful to the Magisterium. The reason the Sadducees are hard to spot in Catholicism is because they camouflage themselves out of self-preservation. So, they wink and nod with their gay friendly masses and calls for "tolerance." They pursue the same strategy that their Protestant counterparts did in their denominations as they quietly debased the faith in appeasement to the culture.

The followers of the Sadducees are a perplexing bunch. They can't stand what the Catholic Church teaches, yet they never leave for their true church which is the Episcopalian/Anglican/Lutheran/Old Catholic Church. I might disagree with the people that belong to those various denominations, but I appreciate the fact that they openly espouse their beliefs and live up to them. It is the closet Sadducees within the Catholic Church that make no sense as they try to turn Catholicism into a religion that already exists outside of Catholicism. Many of these are priests and bishops who could leave for higher paying gigs and release from their vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience. Yet, they stubbornly stay. Why? That is easy. They belong to the Devil, and they do his work which is destroying the Catholic Church. They do more damage inside than outside which is why they stay.

The Pharisees and their followers are the exact opposite of the Sadducees. If the Sadducees refuse to leave, the Pharisees are quick to hit the exits. These would be your sedevacantist types who deny there has been a legitmate pope since before Vatican II. To a lesser degree, you have the Society of St. Pius X who remain in communion in name only but essentially operate in schism and revolt. The reason these people are quick to leave is because they also belong to the Devil drawing away the faithful and encouraging them to abandon the One True Faith to embrace an alternative version. They despise the modernist Sadducees, but they are actually working with them to destroy the Roman Catholic Church. Their aim is to stir up scrupulosity which can be as damaging as the indifferentism of modernism.

Pope Benedict XVI identified these Sadducees and Pharisees as the adherents to the "hermeneutic of rupture." Both parties could agree that Vatican II was a break with the past. For the Sadducees, that past was horrible. For the Pharisees, that past was glorious. For the faithful, they adhere to what Pope Benedict XVI called the "hermeneutic of continuity." Vatican II was not a break with the past but an outgrowth of it. The best part of that council was the universal call to holiness which the Pharisees could not understand. Prior to Vatican II, a certain clericalism had taken over, and the idea had taken hold that holiness was the province of the priests and religious while the laity should count themselves lucky to land on Purgatory's doorstep. Groups like Opus Dei were challenging this thinking, and the universal call to holiness was reclaimed in that council. For the Pharisees, this was terrible as they watched the Mass change under Pope Paul VI to be more inclusive by embracing the vernacular. For the Sadducees, the laity could be important allies in their mission to debase the Church's teaching. The result is that large numbers of Catholics apostasized into the Catholics in Name Only we see today leaving a remnant of believers who take the faith seriously.

The other thing in common with these wolves is they always wear the sheep's clothing. For the Sadducees, this sheep's clothing is the social justice doctrine, so they are always dressing up their pro-gay and pro-abortion efforts as being "merciful" and "compassionate." They do this because truth is harsh. On the Pharisee side, their sheep's clothing comes in being orthodox in belief and practice such that they are more Catholic than the pope himself. The irony is that they can't get along with each other and have a tendency for antisemitism and Holocaust denial. If you want to know the authentic followers of Jesus, look at their fruits.

I don't know why God allows these wolves to tempt the flock except that it produces some good. To witness both at work is to shake your faith and make you want to let Catholicism go. But this has been the story of Catholicism since Pentecost. The Church has been plagued by Arians who were the Sadducees of their day and the iconoclasts who were the Pharisees of their day. The reality is that Satan is a chess player who adeptly plays both sides of the board. The way to win is to always remain faithful to the pope and the Magisterium because this was the promise of Jesus to us. The gates of Hell would not prevail against the rock of Peter. My hero in this regard is St. Athanasius who literally defied the entire world by clinging to the truths we find in the Nicene Creed. This faith will prevail until the end of time. We just have to remain in it no matter what.


The Thief of Joy

Comparison is the thief of joy.

I do not know how long it has been since I left Facebook. I think it has been two years or more. Regardless, I can honestly say that the time since my departure has been joyful. When it comes to your life online, the most solid advice I can give to people is to delete their Facebook accounts and go live their lives.

I despise Facebook. When I was on Facebook, I used it the wrong way. For me, Facebook was a platform to share links and thoughts on things I found interesting. For everyone else, my oversharing was obnoxious and annoying. In hindsight, I realize that Twitter was the platform I should have been using and which I use now. As someone else put it, "Twitter is for exhibitionists while Facebook is for narcissists." I'm not sure what the gist of that quotation was getting at, but I find that Twitter is for people who love life while Facebook is for people who love themselves.

I was an annoyance on Facebook because all my links to interesting things crowded out what people were really interested in which was other people's business. This is the genius of Mark Zuckerberg. When people aren't fixated on themselves, their second favorite thing in the world is to stick their nose in other people's lives. This is why Facebook is so insanely addictive to so many people. It is also why it is so awful.

The first and most prevalent problem with Facebook is what is known as "Facebook envy." This is where people see the edited lives of their friends and family living out their dreams while their own lives are nightmares. The irony is that they edit their own pages to only show the good and not the bad and the ugly. The consequence is that Facebook is now populated by envious liars. These people appear happy except they feel awful inside because their lives can't measure up to the fantasies that friends and family are broadcasting to the world. If Facebookers were honest, they would include divorces, break ups, misscarriages, job losses, herpes outbreaks, and that last stubborn ten pounds that just won't come off no matter how much they diet and exercise.

The second biggest problem with Facebook is the lack of privacy. Now, I don't really care that Facebook takes your personal information and sells it to advertisers who then sell you products and services you might actually want or gives it over to the NSA whenever they ring up Zuck. But it can be traumatic when granny sees a selfie of her granddaughter gleefully getting gang raped at a frat party. If Facebook Edited produces envy, Facebook Unedited produces horror and disgust. Thanks to Facebook and your own lack of modesty and common sense, your relatives and boss can see you snorting cocaine off the naked bodies of those strippers at that crazy party you attended last weekend.

The third biggest problem with Facebook is the adultery problem. It is reported that Facebook is responsible for 1 in 3 divorces. It is easy to see why. Thanks to Facebook, people now have a way to contact old flames and rekindle those romances. Or, they can meet new people to chat and arrange hook ups. They even have a website about it.

The fourth and most costly problem with Facebook is the time that it steals. Facebook is the number one app on smartphones, and I consider it the biggest reason people want smartphones. Thanks to those connected phones, Facebook has gone from being something to pass the time on evenings and weekends to sucking up every spare moment of your life. But the biggest hit has to be to employers who pay their workers to goof off on Facebook unknowingly. Adults and children are little more than smartphone zombies these days unable to make eye contact at social functions because their faces are buried in their phones.

I didn't have these problems on Facebook because I wasn't a typical Facebooker except for the time issue problem. Leaving Facebook gave me my time back, but I think most people would get more back than I did if they deleted their Facebook pages and left it behind. Will people take my advice on this? Of course not. I've lived long enough to know that most people don't listen to good advice. They would rather complain than change. I give people advice, so that I can tell them to shut up when they complain again. If you want to put some joy back in your life, delete that Facebook account.


Ups and Downs

I believe the market will fluctuate.

I am not a good spiritual director. Most of the advice I give here is merely being handed off as a baton that I received just recently. I used to think I knew things, but I don't think wisdom truly takes hold until sometime past age sixty. It gives me something to look forward to if God wills that I live that long. But at my current age of 44, there is one bit of wisdom that I know is rock solid and will always be true about life under the sun. There will be ups, and there will be downs.

People don't like ups and downs. They either want it to all be up, or they want it to all be down. This explains optimism and pessimism. The optimist wants to will heaven on earth by some sort of trick of the mind, but that person lives in perpetual delusion and disappointment. The pessimist wants to give up on life and caring and wallow in depression and despair. Then, life gives them something wonderful. The despairing person experiences anger as this unexplained goodness seems like the bait for a trap. But the reality is that life is neither all good nor all bad.

The reason human experience is like this is because God is the author of that experience. Nothing happens in life that is not willed by God. And it is God's will that you neither despair of life nor fall in love with it. If you truly love God with all your being, you are able to hold the world with its ups and downs in its proper place. Here are the words of St. Paul:
I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me. 
The irony of Paul's words come not from finding strength from Christ in the bad times but in the good times. Marcus Aurelius put it well when he wrote, "One can live well even in a palace." Even a pagan could recognize that it is not our circumstances that make us what we are but what is inside of us. In this context, prosperity can be worse for us than adversity because prosperity tempts you to comfort and amnesia. In the proper frame of vision, you see that the prosperous are actually cursed while those in adversity are blessed. This is the essence of the Beautitudes of Our Lord.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.  
I like to use the turkey analogy when it comes to having the right perspective on life. I take this from Nassim Nicholas Taleb who used it as an illustration of black swan events, but I use it instead for illustrating how good and bad fortune depend upon time frames. Imagine a turkey who is well fed, watered, and cared for by a farmer. The turkey grows nice and fat and thinks that life is awesome right up to the day before Thanksgiving when the farmer takes the fat turkey out to the chopping block. Imagine that turkey's surprise! But we don't have to imagine hard because we see this daily as the wicked prosper. It is my personal belief that those who enjoy the greatest comforts in this life will endure the greatest torments in the life to come. I base this on the story of Lazarus that Jesus gave us.
Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.
Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ 
But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 
And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 
But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 
But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 
But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'
LUKE 16:19-31 NASB 
Time horizons are what move us from envying the prosperity of the wicked to pitying those poor people. They are all fat turkeys oblivious to their date with the chopping block. But some despair before their time, and they fall into the opposite trap of depression and suicide. This includes those who are prosperous. Once again, their time horizons are shortened, and they conclude that life ends at death. Perceiving their life is not worth living, they hasten to a fate even worse than anything in this life. This is what the prosperous and despairing have in common. They both believe that life ends at death. They differ in that some wish to prolong life while the others wish to shorten life. Both are erroneous ways of looking at life and the world.

With your eyes set firmly on God and the life of the world to come, you avoid the pitfalls of prosperity and despair. You learn to take both comfort and adversity as being from the hand of the Lord and for our good. God does not allow us to become too comfortable nor to be too afflicted beyond what we can bear. The smart athlete knows that it is not only strenuous training but also rest and recovery that strengthens the body. The same applies to the soul.

In my reading of the saints, I cannot help but notice this up and down pattern in their spiritual journeys. Their experiences include both times of utter bliss and also dark nights of the soul. This reflects the journey of Our Lord. For those who pray the Rosary regularly, the meditations span the joyous to the luminous to the sorrowful to the glorious, so you learn from these meditations the up and down nature of the life of Our Lord. A saint is someone who embraces all that God gives him or her in this life. By clinging to God always, God shapes us through our comforts and our trials. We learn to trust in Him and in His goodness knowing that He works all things for good.

Those who reject God pull off their rejection by taking one aspect of life and enlarging it into the totality of life. This is the essence of heresy and addiction. The comfort of beer and wine becomes the perpetual abode of the alcoholic. The painkilling properties of the opium plant become heroin addiction. The material blessings of the Lord become the gospel of prosperity and self-indulgence. The trials of the Lord become atheism and nihilism as happened to me in my life. The antidote to heresy and addiction is to take in the bigger picture. This is why I think a belief in God is essential to living a good life. The life of the body is short, but the life of the soul is forever.

I don't know what God has planned for me, but I do know one thing. It will fluctuate. I am going to laugh, and I am going to cry. I am going to love, and I am going to lose those I love. I am going to lose, and I am also going to win. I am going to work, and I am also going to rest. In all things, there will be ups and downs. The one thing I hope will be constant will be my faith in the Almighty. May our faith never waver as we journey through the ups and downs of life.


The Cult of Liberty

Libertarians are a monstrous, disgusting bunch of people.

I used to be a libertarian. My arrival at libertarianism was the logical destination when I lost my faith and became an atheist. In my twenties, I was a right wing Limbaugh listening conservative Republican. I was also a staunch Calvinist Presbyterian. When the Calvinism went, the conservatism went with it. The joke goes that a libertarian is simply a Republican that smokes dope. That joke gets it exactly right even if libertarians wish to deny it. Libertarianism is the belief that freedom in all things is the best way to go. Naturally, this makes it anti-Christian. The Christian believes that the only true freedom is the freedom to do good. The libertarian believes that all freedom leads to doing good, but reality shows otherwise.

The appeal of libertarianism for me was that it offered an ethic to replace the Christian ethic that I had abandoned. This ethic was the non-aggression principle or NAP. Basically, the NAP is the principle that you should not violate anyone's life, liberty, or property unless they violate your life, liberty, or property. All things considered, it is a nice principle mainly because it borrows from the Christian ethic. As long as you don't go around hurting people, you are a good person. The flaw is that you don't go around helping people either. Though libertarians will argue that people are free to pursue charitable aims, I never encountered any that actually did beyond trying to repeal the income tax. When I was a libertarian, panhandlers and homeless people would approach me asking for money. I always responded in this manner. "What's in it for me?" This line would always shock them and shut them up. This is because all beggars appeal to a sense of God and a shared humanity. When they met me, they were meeting a monster who believed in neither God nor any humanity except his own.

Libertarianism is about the individual. The individual is all that matters. Society ought to promote the interests of the individual. This all seems right and good except for one fatal flaw in the libertarian logic. This is the word "ought." Why should I respect anyone else's life, liberty, or property? Why should I be compelled to not steal? Why can't I exploit the weak and the helpless for my own selfish gain? Libertarians will try and make the case about best possible societies and all that as if they can use logic founded upon an abstraction to arrive at the only sane and rational conclusion which is the libertarian society. Yet, it never goes that way.

All rights and duties find their foundation in natural law which finds its foundation in God. This was not a problem in a Christian country that was Catholic. But that Protestant Revolution put a wrench in the machine, and people were suddenly able to arrive at their own theological conclusions. Once you are set free to be your own pope and priest, the individual becomes the final arbiter of what is true, good, and beautiful. The result is obvious to see from the thousands of Protestant denominations that proliferate today. When Luther nailed his 95 Theses to that door in Wittenberg, that one act became the beginning of all that would come later from Protestantism to the Enlightenment to Atheism to Commmunism and on and on. The reason for this is because the cause of the greatness of Western Civilization was the Christian religion and the Roman Catholic Church. The Church brought order to the barbaric lands of Europe. I doubt Luther would approve of all that happened since his act of revolution. But he started the ball rolling when he exalted the individual over God. He laid the cornerstone for a new order of things that was really just the old disorder of pagan Europe.

When you are cast into a world of such unfettered freedom, it can be exciting but also disorienting. You have the freedom to go where you want, but you have no idea how to get there. The compass is thrown overboard, and the stars have dimmed. Without God to order things, some new foundation has to be laid which is how the Protestant Revolution gave birth to the Enlightenment. Reason would be the new guide in things. Instead of a living deity to worship and serve, the new man would worship and serve an abstraction. If this sounds eerily like pagan idolatry, you are correct. People exhanged the Creator for the created. The Cult of Reason in Revolutionary France is the most potent and visible example of this new paganism as Enlightenment minded people converted Catholic churches into temples for the worship of reason. If Protestantism set people free to embrace heresies, the Enlightenment set them free to embrace idolatry.

Those idols are still with us today in the form of the various "isms" that came from that Enlightenment era. Today's secularism is essentially the Enlightenment carried forward from that time. Libertarianism is simply one of those idols fashioned after communism turned out so radically bad. Unfortunately, the Enlightenment has rewritten the history books such that the Catholic Church is painted as the darkness while these modern thinkers are painted as the light of a new age instead of the rebirth of a barbaric old paganism.

Abstractions such as liberty or equality truly are idols. They are not bad in themselves anymore than a statue is a bad thing. But when you put it on a pedestal and erect an altar to it and start making the sacrifices to it, then its idolatrous nature is clear for everyone to see. Since the Enlightenment, people have fought and died for what amount to mere words. Millions of lives have been sacrificed on the altars of one idol after another. The chief one in the twentieth century was Marxism but a close second is the one we know as "liberty."

True freedom is the ability to do what is good. True freedom is not the ability to decide what is good. That is the key distinction between Christian liberty and Enlightenment liberty. With Christianity, you are free to create beauty. With the Enlightenment, you are free to decide what is beautiful. With Christianity, you are free to pursue truth. With the Enlightenment, you are free to define truth. With Christianity, you are free to do good. With the Enlightenment, you are free to decide what is good. The result is that nothing good, true, or beautiful came out of the Enlightenment except by accident. And this is where libertarianism finds its footing.

Libertarianism believes that the freedom is what matters most. In the petri dish of liberty, the true, the good, and the beautiful are allowed the space to emerge. Competition will remove the ugly, the false, and the bad. This is why libertarians love the free market so much and wish that it was applied with equal zeal in the political realm. Certainly bad things will crop up from time to time like a tacky strip club next to a church, but they are a small price to pay for all the blessings of liberty like the new iPhone and craft beer! Let chaos go unfettered, and order will emerge. Unfortunately, that new order is a new totalitarianism. In the history of the world, freedom is that small blip of time when the slaves exchange one master for another master. Unfettered economic freedom produces monopolies and cartels. Unfettered political freedom produces dictatorships.

Cultivation is what produces a garden from a field of weeds. One side says to let the weeds grow wild and tomatoes will emerge eventually. The other side says to burn the field to ashes so that the tomatoes will have the space to actually grow. The Christian ethic is to allow the good to grow while weeding out the false. This takes work and lots of it. Yet, this is the only way a good garden can grow. You encourage the good and discourage the bad. This cultivation requires wisdom, virtue, justice, and many other things that secularists can only guess at and try and reinvent. The sad reality is that people don't want what works which is Christianity but that thing which saves them from working and thinking. Libertarians are those who think the garden that is uncultivated grows best, and they spend the bulk of their time not doing anything about it except to lament when someone sets their field of weeds on fire from time to time.

My own life and intellectual journey has been a microhistory of the macrohistory of Western civilization. I began with Protestantism which led to atheism, philosophy, and libertarianism. But when I encountered Catholicism which is the true Christian religion created by God and not man, I knew it was superior to my inferior worldview. Whatever criticisms can be hurled at Catholicism, it isn't because Catholicism fails but because people fail to live up to what Catholicism teaches. People wonder why I suddenly embraced the Catholic religion, and I did it the same way a thirsty man reaches for a glass of water. In a world of confusion and emptiness, I could see clearly the order and common sense and wisdom in Roman Catholicism.

People are not going to find the right way on their own. That is the story of the Bible and human history. Humanity cannot save itself. God had to intervene, and God still intervenes even today. People believe that Christianity emerged from pagan superstitions, and today's enlightened thinkers have emerged from the superstitions of Christianity. But this is a myth. The reality is that Christianity came from God, and people now reject it to return to the pagan superstitions of the pre-Christian world. There is no progress. There is simply regress. The barbarians have traded their axes and swords for predator drones and nuclear weapons.

Libertarianism was born out of the reaction to the horrors of all those Enlightenment philosophies run amuck. It doesn't have the answer, but it does have the virtue of dismantling the guillotine before the heads start rolling. Libertarianism is the Enligthenment defanged. It doesn't have any answers except to refrain from killing people for not thinking like you do. But this is essentially a Christian idea. If some kind of order were to emerge from the chaos of liberty, it would look very much like Christianity which is why I ask the most absurd yet most elementary of questions. Why reinvent something that already exists?


Heritage and Hate

We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

I love South Carolina. I realize that the image of South Carolina beyond her borders is very negative. We are at the bottom of every list of good things and at the top of the list of every bad thing. We are the butt of every joke a Northerner makes about the South, yet it doesn't keep those Yankees from moving down to stay. But I love my state the same way a mother loves her child even if he isn't on the honor roll at school. It is enough that this state is my state, and I will love her always.

South Carolina hasn't always done the right thing. But I can say the same thing for any other state in the union and even for the USA which I also love. I believe in fidelity for its own sake acknowledging that the good and bad of a place are preferrable to the doublemindedness of being a nomad. The legacy of all places and institutions are a mixed thing, and I do not think we should live at the extremes of hagiography or absolute condemnation. This would be the whitewashing of sins by some and the blackwashing of virtues by others.

South Carolina has been in the news recently because of the evil actions of a disturbed young man and the presence of the Confederate battle emblem on the grounds of the South Carolina Statehouse. There are those who believe the flag should be removed because it is a symbol of hatred. Others say that it should remain because it is a symbol of heritage. Where do I stand on the issue? I believe that flag should come down.

I do not believe that all of the flag supporters are hateful or belong to the KKK. But I do believe that they are ignorant of the history they claim to be preserving. What they are preserving is not history but a historical myth that the War Between the States (the Civil War for the Yankees) was about states' rights against an encroaching and overpowering federal government. But this is nonsense. For the South, the Civil War was fought to preserve slavery. The states' rights argument is propaganda after the fact to whitewash an evil. For more on this, I recommend this article from Ta-Nehisi Coates in The Atlantic that uses the words of the South's defenders to show that the cause was absolutely for slavery.

The cause of the South was not an honorable one because there is no honor in owning slaves. People who persist in the heritage arguments and honorable cause arguments do so at the peril of common sense. You can see even in the South Carolina Declaration of Secession quoted above that slavery was the animating cause of the conflict. It would help if those making these silly arguments could actually read. Instead, they go off in zeal and ignorance defending a belief in something that never existed.

If the South fought to defend slavery, it must also be stated that the North did not fight to eradicate it. This is another myth that needs to be exposed for its falsity. The reality is that a loudmouthed Yankee can be every bit as ignorant as a poorly read Southern redneck. The North was largely indifferent to slavery as indicated in this quotation from Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address:
I have no purpose, directly or indirectly, to interfere with the institution of slavery in the States where it exists. I believe I have no lawful right to do so, and I have no inclination to do so.
The North did not care about slavery in the South. The abolitionist cause was a minority cause in the North. The abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison even called for secession from the South:
By the dissolution of the Union we shall give the finishing blow to the slave system; and then God will make it possible for us to form a true, vital, enduring, all-embracing Union from the Atlantic to the Pacific -- one God to be worshiped, one Savior to be revered, one policy to be carried out -- freedom everywhere to all the people without regard to complexion or race -- and the blessing of God resting upon us all!
Why did Garrison call for secession? Because he had no hope in trying to eradicate slavery but merely to separate himself and this country from it. Secession was an easier path than war, and the North would have become a permanent sanctuary for escaping slaves from the South and not the tenuous one made by the Dred Scott decision.

I find the best way to understand history is through an economic understanding of events. The South had a valuable economic asset in a slave workforce. The North had a valuable economic asset in the South who they pushed to buy manufactured goods from the North by placing tariffs on imported goods from Great Britain. (Britain would ally itself with the Confederate States even though it had abolished slavery in 1833 in its colonies, The Brits wanted to get around those tariffs.) The North could care less about slavery as long as the South remained captured to buying northern goods. Lincoln would sign an emancipation proclamation later during the Civil War only as a cynical move to provoke a slave uprising in the South to help win the war. Slaves in states that remained in the Union would remain in chains. If all this sounds ugly and greedy and self-serving, it was. Towards the end of the war and afterwards, morality began to play a role in the direction of the nation. Trauma and bloodshed have a way of doing that.

Human history is ugly. From all my readings about history, the only firm conclusion I can draw is that the good things are almost always false while the ugly things are almost always true. And both sides tend to be the bad guy. A great example of this would be how Native Americans stopped slaughtering each other long enough to slaughter the white people who were slaughtering Native Americans. The only reliable history is the one written by people who acknowledge the doctrine of original sin.

This leads us to the present. Why do some people in South Carolina support the Confederate Flag? The answer to that should be obvious. They are racist. They may deny this in public, but they will confess it in private. And why are they racist? It is not because they hate black people. It is because they hate themselves.

When you perceive that you are at the bottom of society, the easiest way to get off the bottom is to put someone else beneath you. So, when you look in the mirror, you can say to yourself, "I am a poor pitiful piece of white trash but at least I'm not a nigger." You have nothing to boast about in your life except the small consolation that you were born white instead of black. The confederate flag becomes the badge of this identity and flying it even in defiance salvages the ego. To everyone else, it is just pathetic.

All humans are created in the image of God. This includes black people and the racist rednecks that kill black people. This imago Dei gives all people an inherent dignity and a right to that dignity. Beyond that, humanity has nothing to be proud about because that image of God is marred by original sin. We are all sinners. Pride is foolishness. It doesn't matter if you belong to the KKK or the Black Panther Party. All should be humble before God and acknowledge our unworthiness while also acknowledging that no one is worthless.

I love South Carolina, and I am saddened by all that has happened here recently. I wish South Carolina was a better place, and I think it would be a better place if that flag was removed to a museum. In its place, there should be a new monument to forgiveness. The Civil War began here in this state. I think it would be nice if it ended here.

UPDATE: Today (7.10.2015) by vote of the SC General Assembly and the signing of the bill into law by Governor Nikki Haley, an honor guard removed the Confederate Flag from the grounds of the SC Statehouse. Since posting this essay, I have heard various reactions and viewpoints about the flag, the Civil War, race relations, etc. I can agree that this act today is more symbolic than substantive. Yet, I think it marks a real change in the hearts and minds of many people in SC. If Dylann Roof wanted to spark a race war with his evil actions, he failed. I now pray for the souls of his victims, and I will pray for him, too.


How To Change the World

I will fight with all the weapons within my reach rather than let myself be nailed to a cross or whatever.

Che Guevara wanted to change the world. Che was a true believer in Marxism-Leninism and was the closest thing that system ever had to creating a saint. Che was uncompromising both in his willingness to fight and die for his beliefs and also his willingness to kill for those beliefs. And what is his legacy today? His image sells a lot of t-shirts, and the world has retreated utterly from the system he fought to establish in the world. Despite the failure of his efforts, the life of Che Guevara has become a template for those who seek to change the world. This template is one where the end justifies all means, and all sins can be forgiven so long as the intentions are pure. This is utter folly and madness.

You can't be a great humanitarian while also killing a lot of people. Che killed a lot of people. People weep over his martyrdom while forgetting the numerous people Che killed in his revolution. His death was sad while the deaths of his victims mattered little. Maybe they should put their images on T-shirts. Here is a list of Che's victims in Cuba.

The popularity of Che Guevara is bedeviling. His appeal is simple. People want to change the world. They yearn for violent revolution. They want to overturn the old and fix what is wrong with the world. The desire for change is a proper one because the world is messed up, but the means for that change are inherently flawed and will never bring about that change. Che fought on behalf of Fidel Castro and to rid Cuba of dictatorship. The irony is that Castro was every bit as bad or worse than Batista. Other revolutions produced similar results leaving people to conclude that the more things change the more they remain the same.

As a former libertarian, I desired revolution and change. As an atheist, I wanted some sort of cause to live and die for in life, so I chose human liberty and freedom. My belief was that change happens when people are free to do their own thing. If we could just roll back the oppression of the government, human freedom and ingenuity would fix what ails us. Unfortunately, the only things libertarians think ails us are the income tax and the drug laws. They miss the problem completely. The great conservative Russell Kirk did not miss the problem. Here is what he had to say on the matter of libertarianism:
Libertarians (like anarchists and Marxists) generally believe that human nature is good, though damaged by certain social institutions. Conservatives, on the contrary, hold that "in Adam's fall we sinned all": human nature, though compounded of both good and evil, is irremediably flawed; so the perfection of society is impossible, all human beings being imperfect.
Human nature is not good. This is why all revolutions are doomed to failure. Even the celebrated American Revolution yielded a federal government every bit as oppressive as anything King George had for us. And the Founding Fathers like Thomas Jefferson were slave owning hypocrites. The problem with revolution is that once the destruction is done you are left to rebuild with the same inferior materials that comprised the old regime. The problem with the world is not outside but within. People are evil, and their hearts are inclined to wickedness.

The desire for revolution was what Jesus encountered in His life. The messiah was expected to be the first century version of Che Guevara. But Jesus did not take that path. In hindsight, it is obvious why He did not take the path of the revolutionary. It would have been failure. What difference would it make if the tyrant was Roman or Jewish? Jesus struck to the root of the problem with the world which is the sinfulness of humanity. Unlike Che, Jesus actually did change the world. He offered a way out of the abyss that we find ourselves in.

In order to change the world, people need to become good. There is no point in trying to separate the good from the bad and simply destroy the bad. This was what Che attempted by his mass murder. It is also the lesson of Noah's Ark. You can cleanse the world of humanity and begin again, but human nature remains stubbornly sinful. You can't kill your way to utopia. It will never happen. And no systemic change, political arrangement, policy changes, or new laws will ever bring about the change people desire. This is why all utopian revolutions end up becoming campaigns of mass murder. They are exercises in futility.

The opposite of the revolutionary is the conservative. Think Edmund Burke instead of Fox News. To be a conservative in the mold of Burke and Kirk is to be pessimistic about revolution and human nature. It is to accept humanity's flawed condition and turn to the only thing that has ever helped to remedy it which is the Christian religion. The irony is that this pessimism actually brings hope and change. Freedom and humane treatment of all people are the consequences of embracing the Christian religion as the only answer to the problem with the world. Critics will point their fingers at the flaws in Christians and the Catholic Church, but I point the finger right back at those critics. Where have they done better? The answer is that they haven't done better. The only perfect thing these critics ever achieved was to be perfect murder machines in their revolutions.

If you want to change the world, the first step is to accept what is wrong with the world which is the evil in every human heart. The second step is to embrace the only thing that can fix this evil in the human heart which is the grace of Almighty God offered through Jesus Christ our Lord. The third step is to pray that others will accept and embrace the same things you have. The fourth step is to cooperate with God's grace to become a saint and inspire others to follow the same path.

You have to decide which path you want to take. Do you want to be a revolutionary? Or, do you want to be a saint? If you look at the results from history, you will find that it was our saints and not our revolutionaries who made the world a better place. The world will never become better until people become better. Be the change you want to see in others.