Last week I mentioned that the practices of Lent are not about “being good.” Jesus didn’t come to earth to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live. Thus at the heart of these Lenten practices is the acknowledgement of our need for redemption and someone who saves us from our sins and their effects.
I introduced you to Father Dwight Longenecker, a former American Anglican priest who was received into the Catholic Church in 1995 and currently in his blog, Standing On My Head, has written a series of articles about sin and sinfulness that probably need to be considered to help us consider the true meaning of Lent – and Easter.
In his article, Jiminy Cricket Theology, Fr. Longenecker recounts a recent conversation he had with an intelligent, well educated young woman who was questioning the Catholic Church’s moral teaching on same sex attraction. “I don’t know if I really accept that.” Longenecker commented that he doesn’t object to a person rejecting the teaching of the Church if they do so honestly and with integrity. If someone says, “I think the church’s teaching on artificial contraception is stupid. So I’m simply not going to do that.” (So there, take that!) There is something to be said about honest rebellion. There is something normal and expected about wrestling with God and our faith. Numerous examples of such people (including Jesus on the cross) are found throughout the Bible.
However, in the case of this particular woman, this is something different. She was suggesting that because she didn’t accept a certain teaching – therefore it wasn’t true or applicable. This is very disturbing because it indicates the depth to which relativist thinking has penetrated into our society. It suggests that increasingly people think what is true is what they believe to be true. In other words, believing something makes it so. This is not honest inquiry. This leads to defiance and willful rejection of God. “I simply don’t like the teaching and refuse to obey it.”
Another conversation cropped up online. A guy suggested that when he dies he would like the chance to visit heaven and hell and make up his mind at that point which he would prefer. Then he said maybe reincarnation was a more attractive choice.
In both cases there is evidence of what psychiatrists in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual call “magical thinking” (Paragraph 301.22: Schizotypal Personality Disorder). This is where the patient really believes that what he wishes will take place in the real world. Here are two cases of “magical thinking” put forward as completely normal by two ordinary suburban, middle class people.
The irony of this is that more and more “religious” people are living their spiritual lives within the context of “magical thinking.” It is as if they read Mark 16:18 (“They will pick up snakes with their hands and when they drink deadly poison, but it will not hurt them at all”) and believe that, like some snake charmer, if they get “the anointing” they will be so filled with the Holy Spirit that the rattlesnake won’t bite them, and if it does they will not be affected by the venom.
Fr. Dwight says that we’re hearing Jiminy Cricket theology here…“When you wish upon a star – makes no difference who you are. Anything your heart desires – will come to you”
The first issue deals with the basis of Christian truth. We don’t believe something is true just because we wish it to be true. Christianity is not based on superstition, supposition or feelings but on historical events, evidence and natural law. Are you unhappy with your gender? Wish it to be different and hey presto! It is different. Unhappy with the political outcome? Wish it away.
The second interesting aspect of the man’s email is its link to a “consumeristic” spirituality. “I’ll have it my way” is more than a hamburger joint’s slogan. The implication is that he was “shopping around” for the most congenial view of the afterlife, and after comparing prices and services offered he would make his choice. If there is no such thing as truth you make up your own truth. If you can’t immediately find a truth you like, what do you do next? You shop around. You look for a church, pastor, preaching approach that you “like” and “speaks to your soul” and you “choose them.” Flattering, but it’s really about God choosing you.
So, what might that look like?