Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Cliches Christians Use Part 1

My girlfriend actually posted an interesting article on her facebook. The link is here: It highlights cliches you often here Christians spouting in various situations. I find a lot of it quite true, as someone who dislikes cliche; but, some of it misses the point of the statement. In the comment, there are some other cliches that were mentioned, "love the sinner hate the sin" being one of them. I will pay special attention to dealing with that issue after responding to the original list. First of all, let me highlight the well-made points. The following ARE, in fact, terrible cliches (some of them strictly because I am now Catholic): -Everything happens for a reason -If you died today, where would you spend eternity -He/She is in a better place -Can I share a little bit about my faith with you (when done in extremely early encounters) -Will you come to church with me on Sunday? (similar reasoning) -Have you asked Jesus into your heart? -This could be the end of days -Do you accept Jesus as your personal lord and savior? The others either are really silly or completely miss the point of the statement. However, let us first look at: "Everything happens for a reason." Here the blogger actually partly misses the point. I agree that it isn't a comforting statement and that, truly, a lot of comforting does not require words. However, someone saying to a woman who has been raped is not asserting anything that doesn't make any sense. Of course there is a reason for everything that happens, be it due to cause and effect or simple free-choice. The statement is not comforting simply because it misses the entire point. There is always a reason for something, and most would agree with that; but reminding someone who has suffered trauma of any kind that there was a reason it happened is not the way to comfort them. I understand, and hope the blogger I'm responding to understands, that the person who says this is trying to infer some divine plan in the whole thing. However, that is not something they can directly note or define. They should never presume to say it. It takes a bit of gall, though they may not notice it, to claim insight into the divine plan behind something that has befallen a friend or neighbor. The simple truth of the matter is: the world is full of people and people can be quite wicked. They will have reasons (unless severely brain-damaged) for doing whatever wrong they do, but that neither makes them sensible or obviously connected to the divine plan. Additionally, that phraseology commits people to a completely predestined view of the world. A sensible person can accept that some stuff as being inevitable. They could have been born with a defect or had a horrible accident that literally changed their minds into something unrecognizable. Those kind of things, you generally have no control over. You also cannot control your genetics, though you certainly can control how you approach life once getting knowledge of these genetic possibilities. However, a lot of stuff is inevitable simply because of the choices you make. It was not inevitable that I would fall in love with my Alma Mater, Baylor University, upon my first visit to campus; but, it certainly was inevitable that I would attend there after having made my choice to go to there while on that campus visit (note that there are some things that could have happened inbetween that perhaps changed that; but, all things being equal, it was inevitable). Perhaps a better example would be found in drunken driving. People know it is dangerous and are warned constantly about those dangers, and yet find themselves doing it anyway. It is unavoidable that the possibility of an accident increases with your impairment. It isn't a fact you can change. Alcohol lowers inhibitions, including the ones saying: making that lane change is a poor decision or slow down, fool. You are more likely to be risky while drunk that much has always been sure. Thus, the dangers of being drunk. These are simple matters of fact (again, there are variables that may help or hinder your chances; that's why I used the increase in probability of an accident as a example. We have studies that demonstrate this). However, the belief that everything is inevitable ignores the fact that we clearly have free-will. If you do not believe me, become a teacher. The students are not automatons that just respond to outside stimuli, they are living beings who make choices just like you and I. Sometimes, that choice is to be disrepectful and to bring my righteous indignation and doom down upon their heads. I can, of course, choose not to do that; after all, I have control over how I chose to behave or react later. Gut reactions defy this, but you CAN reign yourself in. If people actually indulged every gut reaction, I am sure that there would be even more violence than there is already. So, what does this mean for my main point? We do not know the future and cannot know that there was a plan behind this sin, whatever it may be. It is far more sensible to admit that inability than use this cliche phrase and note that God can turn terrible things into something good. Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and make even the worst pain into something glorious (C.S. Lewis). Pretending otherwise is little to no help at all. Instead, LOVE that person and provide yourself as the "hands and feet" of Christ. Next, how do we view "do you know where you're spending eternity" or any variant of that question? This runs into a similar problem to the previous cliche, namely: the fact that we cannot, for sure, know the future. At best, we can make an educated guess. This is the Catholic view of it; it isn't set in stone, but you can reasonably guess where you'll end up if you have been keeping track of your relationship with God. DO you have unconfessed sins? Have you been obstinate and refuse to give up a particular sin? You're likely not in good shape. If you are making actual efforts to improve, you're probably okay, as that demonstrates faith in a far truer since. This isn't the assurance that Protestant churches claim they have, but it is more sensible. There are still many choices to be made in life and it makes little sense to believe one choice made long ago, for whatever reason, has completely sealed you off from becoming doomed. If you make choices that constant pit you against what that choosing of Christ requires of you, unrepentantly, then you probably are not in good shape. Here I could go into mortal vs. venial sin, but that would be too much. Additionally, as the article I'm responding to say, this reeks of using God as a get out of jail free card. That can work at a conversion right before the end of one's life, but most of us have plenty of living to do. The assumption of being completely saved and needing nothing else is actually going to do more harm than good in the long run. What is there to strive for when one is not endangered? That fact that life is full of various dangers is partly why people have achieved anything (actually I would venture to say this is the main reason). Realizing that you are on a journey and having a ending place for this journey will make you more watchful. Things can go wrong on an adventure and it is not good for you to help those things along. You have to find the problems and fix them. That "get out of jail free" mentality was a large part of my conversion process. That mentality eliminates true conversion. So, in summary: We cannot really know where we will end up in eternity, but can make decent guesses; also, that knowledge can be very detrimental to your spiritual walk as it eliminates the necessity of the whole "walking" part. "He/she is in a better place" has exactly the same problem, except the educated guess come from observation etc. Remember, there HAVE been full saints before. Not every man was heading towards purgatory or needed a quick scrubdown before entering those holy gates. We don't know the resting place of any soul for sure (excepting, perhaps, those who are saints) and are failing to help by saying this to someone. The two questions that pertain to getting someone to church/mass or sharing one's faith have the exact same problem, when approached in a particular way. These statements are the equivalent of an emotional dump on a person you just started dating. A habit of my own I have been slowly breaking with Hannah. The difference is mainly that the later tends to be more negative and the former tends to be a good-hearted attempt to help...someone you hardly know. You simply cannot assume that you know what a person needs when you've only just met them. These questions are best after having formed some sort of relationship. Get to know them, love them. This is the way to help. They'll note your loving care and the fact that you actually are attempting to get to know them. These "tactics"can lead to a more open heart for those two questions to actually have some effect on. Love your neighbor. Have you asked Jesus into your heart? This phrase also has the distinct smell of the whole "get out of jail free mentality" as it is often followed with the statement: once you do, you shall be saved. Again, and this may just be me being catholic (which I hope it is), I think that this is a poor understanding of the Christian life and leads to more paralysis than striving. While there are people of this ilk who do strive for heaven, it is more of an accident, since their philosophy/theology does not truly allow for it. Remember: it makes no sense to strive for something you've already achieved. Any improvement after that is likely going to be for pride's sake, which cannot be too safe. "This could be the end of days" signifies a misunderstanding of the book of Revelation. Knowing the history and context of the book works wonders. That said, we run into the whole cannot predict the future thing with the harsh statement of "no man will know the day or hour" of Christ's return. His return represents the end of this Creation and the process of remaking all that was good, but it isn't nothing we can predict. Early Christians learned the hard way, they sometimes adopted rather unhealthy practices because they thought Christ's return was soon to come. Best thing to do here is not try to predict when He is coming back, or you'll look like that random guy who predicted everything would end next year. Also, you'd likely be a Jehovah's Witness... The final phrase is "have you accepted Jesus as your lord and savior." Here I mostly agree with the authors assertions, but think he misses part of the point. There is actually no equivalent to a lord in our western world, so his thinking about the word lord being archaic and easily misunderstood makes little sense. Also, there are dictionaries. Secondly,people tried to elevate Jesus to the role of "King" in contrast with the dominion of Rome and thus a revolutionary. They did not try to make him a lord. Additionally, historically speaking: a king is technically above a lord (uses promises to get the lords to do things). In any case, he rejected the sort of revolution that the Jews assumed was to come when the Messiah came. Is not most of the Gospels spent showing how people misunderstood things--including the disciples? Also, Christ refers to himself as lord quite a few times. The time I can remember at the moment is: not everyone who cries out to me 'lord, lord' will enter the kingdom of heaven. He accepted tributes and acts of worship. He accepted people having faith in Him. He did this for one of two reasons: 1. He truly was or believed he was the Son of God/God or 2. He was a madman who was not a servant of God but himself. Finally, I find it interesting that we gloss over the more violent words and imagery that Christ used, such as: being a sword that separates or being the cause of hatred between even family members. Pigeonholing Christ into a convenient box does damage to those who cannot understand and fails to realize that Christ's message was complex. He took many moments to explain to just his disciples what he meant. He knew he would be crucified and go back to heaven, so he took the time to try and explain something that is not wholly simple. Christianity is not a connect-the-dots but rather a harrowing adventure tale where anything can still happen and things can get foggy and complex. Trying to wholly simplify the Faith into maxims and the like doesn't do its justice. How odd is it that God allowed himself to feel as we often feel? How crazy is it that Christ apparently resurrected from the dead? Let's remember the complexity and see the beauty of it all. In my next post regarding the blog I mentioned earlier, I will address the quotes I wholly disagreed with. -Zaire

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