Category Archives: Christianity

Black Lives Matter and the Problem with Slogans

Slogans are often used as shorthand for a conjunctive set of ideological tenets. Affirmation of the slogan implies the affirmation of these tenets.[1] For example, let us suppose that Slogan S entails Tenet X and Tenet Y. Insofar as one rejects one of these tenets, one must also reject the slogan that represents them. More formally, this can be represented simply as:

  1. S if and only if X & Y
  2. Not-X
  3. Therefore, not-S.

While admitting that amorphous entities, such as movements or causes, are often fluid with respect to the tenets comprising them, this will suffice as a general characterization; for a slogan with no clear set of agreed-upon tenets cannot usefully represent a movement.

As with any movement, Black Lives Matter, too, has been built around a set of official tenets. Whether one finds these tenets uncontroversial, objectionable, or some combination of the two will be governed by one’s worldview. Given the desire to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” and “foster a queer-affirming network,” and the deliberate use of terms with Marxist undertones, such as “comrades,” “power, ” and “liberation,” there is much to regard as objectionable from a Christian point-of-view. Therefore, though Christians believe that black lives matter, they are–and should be–reticent to endorse BLM (as a movement). To formalize this, for example, we could say that:

  1. BLM (as a movement) implies the beliefs that, among other things, black lives matter and the “Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” should be disrupted
  2. One should reject the belief that the “Western-prescribed nuclear family structure” should be disrupted.
  3. Therefore, BLM (as a movement) ought to be rejected.

The sort of reasoning that should compel us to distance ourselves from BLM is the same reasoning used when a member of Congress votes against a bill containing pork-barrel projects. If a bill called the “Roads Improvement Act” contains spending devoted to studies of mice, the bill ought to be rejected in principle.

Socially and publicly, this is not easy to do. In the case of BLM, the choice to make the movement’s slogan identical to a single, utterly uncontroversial tenet–namely, that black lives matter–is a powerful rhetorical device. This is the same kind of move adopted by numerous other movements, such as marketing abortion-on-demand as the uncontroversial “right to choose” or construing opposition to legalizing homosexual marriages as being in favor of “traditional family values.” This makes detractors from the movement as a whole easy to vilify, since anyone not willing to swallow the entire, jagged pill on account of controversial tenets is simply painted as a detractor from the uncontroversial tenets.

Most people repeating the phrase “black lives matter” probably do not mean to endorse BLM as a movement, but only to express their solidarity with the belief that black lives matter. Those falling into this camp might be tempted to think that the argument I am making here is an exercise in philosophical hair-splitting. If ideas do not have consequences, then it is indeed. But ideas do have consequences, and bad ideas have bad consequences. I submit that the pork-barrel ideology unhelpfully being subtly tethered to the idea that black lives matter is worse than “bad;” it is dangerous. If we are to “be wise as serpents and innocent as doves,”[2] we ought not be dismissive of our responsibility to think critically. We must separate the ethical wheat from the political chaff.

Ironically, it is because black lives matter that Christians ought not to align themselves with Black Lives Matter. As the human race has learned all too well,[3] a truth mixed with a falsehood is far more dangerous than a falsehood alone. Given that one of the real national crises of many black communities is that of fatherlessness,[4] one can only be appalled that the Black Lives Matter movement has as one of its stated aims the disruption of the “Western-prescribed nuclear family.” There are certainly many well-meaning Christians who wish to do good, to exercise compassion, solidarity, and kindness, who believe that all men are created equal, and yet have unwittingly aligned themselves with an organization they think has but a single tenet: that black lives matter. Yet, those of us who are fervently anti-racist, who want to empathize with those who are hurting, must nevertheless remind ourselves that, though we should respond with grace, it must not be at truth’s expense.

[1] This is true even if a person repeats a slogan without intending to endorse a broader set of tenets. One can only imagine how many German citizens, endorsing the Nazi party in 1920 because they agreed with the demand for “equality of rights for the German people in respect to the other nations,” came to later regret their vote on account of the outworking of another of the party’s tenets: “Only a member of the race can be a citizen. A member of the race can only be one who is of German blood, without consideration of creed. Consequently no Jew can be a member of the race.” See

[2] Matt. 10:16

[3] Gen. 3:1

[4] See “About One-Third of U.S. Children Are Living with an Unmarried Parent,”

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"Money Doesn't Make One Happy:" Examining Christian Folk Wisdom on the Subject of Wealth

Casual conversation is replete with folk wisdom on the subject of money. One becomes accustomed to hearing such remarks as, “Oh, I would never want to be rich.” This is usually followed by some sort of qualifier (“I just want to be comfortable”), or a platitude (“Money doesn’t make one happy, you know”), or the unimaginative, “I wouldn’t even know what to do with a lot of money,” and so on. These, and other like phrases, comprise the sort of commonplace moralizing to which, through familiarity, one tends to become inured, and they are often reciprocated by their hearers with an approving nod, as if the speaker had just uttered a trivial truth, such as, “I just want to be a good person.”

Were such phrases uttered by someone who was not already wealthy, however, it would be much easier to regard them seriously; for phrases of this sort, are, of course, the sorts of things only wealthy people say. Indeed, it is only in rare cases that our American wealth-eschewer does not at that very moment have (at least) a computer worth $500 to $1,000, otherwise known as a “smart” phone, on his person, own a vehicle, a home, a laptop or tablet, have access to air-conditioning, plumbing, running (drinkable) water, electricity, internet, cable television, a formal education, and a source of regular income.[1]

That a person engaged in such a prodigious standard of living can, without experiencing the slightest tinge of cognitive dissonance, blatantly denigrate the possession of wealth is, perhaps, evidence for just how exceptional the American economy is. Such statements reinforce the fact that, beyond the attainment of those necessities essential to survival, “comfort,” like wealth, is a relative state of affairs. The state “being comfortable” means one thing to (say) a Papuan and, to the average American, another thing entirely. In the case of the latter, it usually means something that, both historically and globally, amounts to a standard of living beyond even that of ancient kings; for, despite being unimaginably affluent,[2] there was no amount of gold that could have afforded Solomon, for example, the availability of electricity or the medical benefits of penicillin–advances that, in America, even the relatively poor take for granted. The standard of living most people in the history of the world would have considered “upper-class” is far exceeded by that which contemporary Americans now consider merely “comfortable.” But find me the man whose family is starving, or who is of financial necessity engaged in mundane or dangerous or backbreaking work, or the couple who is forced, for financial reasons, to allow their children to be raised by others, who will yet utter with a straight face such a phrase as, “money doesn’t make one happy,” and you will have discovered one who is either in denial of his predicament or does not understand happiness.

The meaning of “Money doesn’t make one happy”

Were one to ask ten people what the word “comfortable” or “happiness” means, or to define what (to them) constitutes “a lot” of money, however, one is likely receive at least eleven different answers. (This is, after all, not a subject many of us have thought critically about.) The answers produced will inevitably be products of one’s upbringing, social context, and values. Thus, as in any discussion, and especially one at whose center are much-equivocated terms, if we are to avoid speaking in circles, we must clarify at the outset what we mean. Rather than attempt to undergo a lengthy exposition of the various meanings of  “happiness,” or to analyze the etymology, however, I shall simply say what I think most people intend by it. In the context of an assertion like “money doesn’t make one happy,” people cannot mean by this something that is obviously untrue, such as, “money can’t buy comfort” or “money can’t buy pleasure.” Rather, they seem to mean something akin to the following: “no amount of money can provide a holistic sense of satisfaction in life.” This is surely a claim to which only a thoroughgoing hedonist might object.[3] The rest of us are compelled to agree, else profound dissatisfaction would be absent among those with sufficient wealth (whatever that is); yet, there is clearly no shortage of those who are both rich and deeply unhappy. This is because inveterate unhappiness of the kind produced by meaninglessness often stems from becoming discontented with pleasure, rather than from the regular experience of pain.[4] Summarizing Augustine’s thoughts on the matter, Nicholas Wolerstorff notes–correctly, in my view–that, “Only enjoyment of God is worthy of desire for its own sake. If enjoyment of some earthly thing comes your way, praise God for it; but do not desire it, do not seek it for its own sake. That way lies unhappiness.”[5] Therefore, let us agree that material wealth cannot ultimately satisfy.

If this is indeed what people mean by the phrase, “Money doesn’t make one happy,” it is odd that they should utter it in the contexts they usually do; namely, as a reason for why they do not–or would not want to–make more money or to build wealth. This is made all the more strange by the fact the man who, in conversation, shuns building wealth is often the very same man who sends letters to friends and family asking for donations to fund his short-term missions trip, complains nightly to his wife that he is underappreciated and underpaid, prays that he might be granted a pay raise, and could not conceive of turning down a promotion, so long as it came with greater pay. He wants desperately to be financially prosperous, but not too much. By day, he rolls his eyes at lottery winners and “trust fund babies;” by night, he clips coupons and enters online raffle drawings. He wants to be handsomely rewarded, but not if it requires being too uncomfortable for too long.

The Wealth Paradox

It is here we encounter the existential paradox with which some Christians appear to struggle: “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (1 Tim. 6:10), yet money is also clearly indispensible to a society and a means to many good things; it is a thing of which to be wary, yet cannot be escaped. Since it cannot be escaped entirely, apart from a retreat into monasticism, the solution some have adopted is to treat as an extravagance any material wealth beyond being merely “comfortable.” Never mind that, if we are to use our Lord as the paradigm, even this is an extravagance. Indeed, I have been somewhat haunted by C.S. Lewis’ thought on the question of how much we should give:

I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give. I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusement, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our giving does not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say it is too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot because our commitment to giving excludes them.[6]

I say “haunted” because my suspicion is that Lewis has said something right and difficult about the attitude we ought to cultivate with respect to our lifestyle and our giving.

In any case, the reason for this apparent paradox–acknowledging the dangers of money while recognizing its necessity–is, it seems to me, that many Christians tacitly assume that the only reason a person would work long and hard to create significant wealth is to spend it on oneself. If not for this assumption, comments like, “I would never want to be rich,” become virtually unintelligible, especially in view of the ironic fact that most of us will of necessity spend more waking hours attempting to earn money than we will spend doing anything else.

Likely, however, what people really mean by this is not that they do not want to become wealthier than they are, but that they either do not want to do what they believe is necessary to create greater wealth, or else they don’t want to become like a certain kind of person that they associate with affluence (i.e., the “rich man” archetype; cf. Luke 16:19-31). Regarding this latter concern, Lewis cautions that:

One of the dangers of having a lot of money is that you may be quite satisfied with the kinds of happiness money can give and so fail to realise your need for God. If everything seems to come simply by signing checks, you may forget that you are at every moment totally dependent on God.[7]

We would indeed do well to remember that God is ultimately the source of all good things, denouncing an unhealthy emotional attachment to our possessions and any means requiring the oppression of others to obtain them. But why think that working to create significant wealth is necessarily only a selfish endeavor, especially insofar as it allows one in the long run to spend their time in the pursuit of more worthwhile activities than earning a paycheck? On the contrary, why not deliberately delay one’s own gratification, not only for the sake of one’s own family’s future (which is a good in itself; see I Tim. 5:8), but for the sake of others? Correctly understood, and properly ordered among our values–our “loves,” if you will[8]–there need be no existential crisis with respect to creating wealth. Like a hammer, money is but a tool, and it is one’s character that will influence whether it is used for good or for ill: it can either buy slaves or fund an orphanage. As such, it is a useful servant, but a diabolical master.[9]

Wealth and Living Modestly

So long as it means living below one’s means in a manner devoid of vanity, living a modest lifestyle is commendable. But why assume that one must remain poor (relatively speaking) in order to live modestly? Need one assume that wanting to increase one’s wealth is indicative of disordered desires? If one wants to live on only $25,000 per year[10], but has the means to create much greater wealth (all other things being equal), why not continue to live on $25,000 per year and, if one so chooses, give the rest away?[11]

Thought of in this way, it becomes clear that at the root of pious statements, such as, “I would never want to be rich,” is sometimes a kind of selfishness. To the extent that our own needs are met, we tend not to entertain thoughts of making ourselves uncomfortable in the short term for the benefit of others in the long term. Indeed, many people refuse to delay their gratification even for their own future well-being,[12] and it is surprising that some seem to think it an exercise in humility to deliberately work for little pay, while simultaneously accruing debt to buy things they cannot afford.[13]

The reason people say they need to “pray about” whether to give to meet a certain need or fund a worthwhile cause is not because there is uncertainty about the merit of the need–this is usually obvious–but because they lack the resources to assent without reservation; for a drowning man is ill-equipped to save another. There is often little material difference between someone’s needing to “pray about” whether to give to X and someone’s needing to “consider” giving to X. As such, this is often just a way of responding that intends to avoid challenge by one’s interlocutor; for who would dare suggest that one not pray about something?[14] In it’s worst form, much as we often take home leftover food, knowing we will probably just toss it out later, responding this way is sometimes just a passive way of saying “no.” But we should caution ourselves against using God as a screen for our own dearth of confidence in asserting ourselves.

Some have justified deliberately remaining financially hand-to-mouth because of the extent of their giving to others, and of all the reasons to deliberately struggle financially, this is certainly the most laudable. Did not the widow who gave her only two coins effectively give more than even the rich?[15] As in many other cases, Jesus clearly sought to point out that the condition of the widow’s heart, combined with her obedience, was of more spiritual worth than the large gifts of the wealthy–presumably, not because there is something inherently holy about small gifts, but because there is something holy in obedience when obedience comes at significant cost to the giver.

It would be a mistake, however, to cite this passage as evidence that Jesus intended to praise the widow’s being poor. This is, in part, because there are throughout the Bible numerous commands to defend,[16] do justice to,[17] and be generous towards the poor,[18] as well as praises for God’s doing such things–presumably because being poor is something to be remedied, rather than sought, and because justice requires that we not neglect those in need.

The Distinction Between Jobs and Work

A friend of mine recently mentioned to a Christian acquaintance that he was actively pursuing financial independence in order to be able to focus on interests other than his job. His interlocutor responded by asking, “You know [Saint] Paul was a tentmaker, right?” This was as if to say, “if such a venerable figure as Paul remained employed in the course of his apostolic mission, who are you to seek to escape your job?” In addition to the stark assumption that my friend’s job was a good one, and therefore not worth leaving, there is at least one more unjustified assumption underlying this response–that the desire to escape one’s job is equivalent to the desire to escape work in general.

Because we colloquially refer to our jobs as our “work,” it is understandable that the distinction between the categories of “job” and “work,” of which jobs are subset, has become blurred. There are clearly many endeavors that involve work, however, even arduous work, which would not constitute a job[19]–raising children being but one obvious example. Thus, while the desire to avoid work in favor of unadulterated leisure is rightly to be eschewed, it is nevertheless incorrect to equate the attempt to free oneself financially from one’s job with the attempt to free oneself from the responsibility of work in general.[20]

Implicit in such remarks is the assumption that to bend towards the ascetic is in some way to bend towards holiness. After all, if we desire to follow Jesus, are not we to heed the words of our Lord?

Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?[21]

Indeed we must. And it is on a certain understanding of this and other similar biblical passages[22] that the foundations of Christian monasticism were built; for monasticism is an attempt, among other things, to live consistently with Christ’s call to self-denial. This abnegation has historically involved the rejection of those worldly pleasures or drives that comprise ordinary human life in favor of abstinence, temperance, austerity, and, in its extreme forms, deliberately inflicting pain on oneself in the form of flagellation, sleep deprivation, or exposure to extreme temperatures. Hence, falling somewhere on the spectrum from complete self-indulgence to self-harm, asceticism (from the Greek “askesis”) tends to be a matter of degree, and there are many attempts at asceticism that fall short of something as all-encompassing as monasticism.[23]

In my own case, there was something in this call to self-denial that, even as child, I felt compelled to observe. Though no one had taught me to do so, I recall that, for some time, as our family would pray before each meal, I would quietly hold my breath for the duration of the prayer, believing that, in virtue of God’s holiness, I did not deserve even to breathe in His presence. As one might suspect, I had cause to seriously question the feasibility of this practice if, on a given night, my father’s thankfulness happened to be particularly long-winded.

At some point–I do not remember when–I came to realize that this practice, while perhaps admirable in its attempt at reverence, was at least unnecessary. The same could be said for asceticism writ large. Denying oneself food for a time, in recognition of the fact that “man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Deut. 8:3; Matt. 4:4) is good; forever denying oneself food–or air–is deadly. Retreating periodically into solitude to pray is an indispensible discipline; withdrawing permanently from society is to relinquish our responsibility to fulfill the Great Commission.[24] Likewise, remaining ever-vigilant that our desires for comfort, leisure, or resources do not ascend in our hearts to the status of  “loves”–of ends in themselves–we should also caution ourselves against using this concern as an excuse to remain complacent. Becoming wealthy does not guarantee happiness,[25] but neither does being poor.[26] Being wealthy does not entail being materialistic, nor does being poor entail being righteous. We might be called to endure suffering on behalf of Christ. To do so with the right attitude is virtuous. But to inflict suffering on ourselves, or our families, either directly or indirectly, is to be foolish–or worse. While I do not intend to suggest that building wealth or pursuing financial independence is a moral obligation, good stewardship of the opportunities and resources afforded us is. As Solomon reminds us:

Go to the ant, O sluggard;
    consider her ways, and be wise.
Without having any chief,
    officer, or ruler,
she prepares her bread in summer
    and gathers her food in harvest.
How long will you lie there, O sluggard?
    When will you arise from your sleep?
10 A little sleep, a little slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest,
11 and poverty will come upon you like a robber,
    and want like an armed man.[27]

Insofar as one has the means to do so, I submit that we would do well to consider the ways in which our temporary self-denial might be applied, not only for our own gain, but to the very great benefit of others.

[1] See

[2] See I Kings 10:14

[3] And even he might only grant that, holistic satisfaction being illusory, the pursuit of pleasure is just the closest one can come to genuine joy.

[4] Conversely, the regular experience of pain need not produce inveterate unhappiness.

[5] Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice: Rights and Wrongs (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008), p. 144. See also Proverbs 21:17.

[6] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (1952; repr. New York: Touchstone, 1996). See also Luke 21:1-4.

[7] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity,(1952; Harper Collins: 2001) 213-214.

[8] In You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2016), James K. Smith makes a compelling case for the fact that humans are properly understood as beings that love, rather than merely beings that think.

[9] See Matthew 6:24

[10] The weighted average poverty threshold for the United States in 2018 for a family of four with two children was $25,465. See

[11] For now, I set aside those situations in which parents force their children to go without for the sake of their own ideals.

[12] See

[13] For example, encountering a recent college graduate who is debt-free is now an anomaly. See

[14] Cf. 1 Thess. 5:16-18

[15] See Luke 21:1-4

[16] See Jeremiah 5:28, Proverbs 31:8-9

[17] Leviticus 19:15, Ezekiel 22:29, Jeremiah 5:28; 22:3, Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 140:12

[18] For example, see Deuteronomy 15:11, Isaiah 58:10, Proverbs 14:31; 19:17; 22:9, , Matthew 5:42, Acts 20:35

[19] Whereby I mean a situation in which one trades time employing a skill for a wage.

[20] An additional problem with this reasoning is that it could be employed against any number of self-evident goods. Suppose one desired to avoid a hitting an iceberg while on a cruise ship. Another might as well respond with “You know Paul was shipwrecked, right?”

[21] Matthew 16:24-26

[22] Cf. 1 Pet. 2:11; 1 Cor. 9:27

[23] For example, Christians are commanded to engage in regular, temporary acts of asceticism in the form of fasting, abstinence, etc. See, for example, Acts 13:3, Acts 14:23; 1 Cor. 7:5.

[24] Matthew 28:16-20

[25] Cf. Ecclesiastes

[26] Cf. Proverbs 10:15; 14:20

[27] See Proverbs 6:6-11

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Stereotypes, the TSA, and Christian Legalism

At the root of any stereotype there is at least some kernel of truth; for a stereotype, even if it is rarely true, is at the very least not always false. The fact that I tend to regard employees of the Transportation Security Administration as a largely disagreeable bunch is not because it is true that they are always disagreeable, but because in my experience they have seemed to make a peevish attitude rather the rule than the exception; though I suspect that anyone whose job it is to daily perform the practical equivalent of herding cats might find their patience understandably stressed. Still, if one is to be violated, it might at least be with a smile.

Likewise, there is a general sentiment among skeptics that Christians are essentially like the TSA: always patting people down and cavalierly putting fun or apparently useful objects into the rubbish. “Christian” may as well be synonymous with “killjoy.” I wish this sentiment were entirely untrue, but I have encountered these unpleasant types myself. They are like the person who thinks it their sacred duty to cheerfully broadcast their diet regimen to everyone in the vicinity of the hors d’oeuvres. There is nothing wrong either with diets or hors d’oeuvres, but there is something to be said for tact.

But poor tact is not the real problem of the legalist. Finding life much easier to navigate when separated neatly into clearly defined compartments, he can make little sense of the notion that it might be perfectly acceptable for him to drink alcohol in his own home and sinful for him to drink it at his alcoholic brother’s. For the legalist, “alcohol” is synonymous with “drunkenness”. He thinks that since recreational sex is immoral outside of marriage, recreational sex is always immoral. He thinks that an expletive uttered in pain is the same as an expletive uttered in anger. Rather than trouble himself with considerations of an act’s proper context, he finds it simpler either to perform it wantonly or to banish it altogether. The world in which the legalist lives is not the one in which he finds himself, but the one he fashions in his own conscience. He worships himself as Judge, at the feet of his own law. A legalist knows little about mercy and everything about judgment. Wielding a microscope, he is ignorant of planks but an expert on specks. In his own failings he grants himself a pardon; in the failings of others he issues only a sentence. In his zeal to subdue the world with his gavel, the legalist has forgotten his real place in the defendant’s chair.

Though there is some truth to the charge of Christian legalism, it would be equally in error to suppose legalism the result of Christian doctrine as it would be to suppose fascism the result of being German. If there was one thing that drew the ire of Christ, it was the religious hypocrisy and legalism of the Pharisees. Christ was, first, Savior and, second, the great anti-legalist; and to be Christian without following Christ is (crudely) even worse than being French and having no regard for cheese. Legalism is as much a thorn in the side of Christianity as it is annoying to the skeptic. Nevertheless, the skeptic, being predisposed to believe anything that might serve to justify his skepticism, will eagerly take any example of abuse and hold it up as doctrine. Thus, every Christian becomes a hypocrite, a Pharisee, an Inquisitor, and a Crusader; for the rejection of a faith which produces moral abominations is clearly much easier than one that produces Pauls, Livingstones, Müllers, Elliots, Bonhoeffers, and Liddells. The late Mr. Hitchens said quite soberly that religion poisons everything. It is difficult to take such statements seriously. That some religions poison some things is certain, but I think I should just as soon point to unruly school children as evidence that education poisons everything. Nevermind that atrocities are committed only in spite of Christ’s example; the skeptic would have us believe that He is at best a fiction and, at worst, Lucifer himself.

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In the Halls of the Vatican

Having recently had the privilege of visiting Europe, I was gratified to find myself in a great many churches and cathedrals, many of which have stood in some form since the Middle Ages or the Enlightenment. In only rare instances were these buildings not absolutely magnificent works of art in every respect: from the architecture, to the stained glass, to the sculpture and the paintings. If there is one thing the United States lacks, it must be a rich, complex history spanning millennia; nothing, save the ground itself, is very old.

At the Vatican in particular, I found myself in both the Sistine Chapel and St. Peter’s Basilica under the spell of an awe akin to that of gazing at the stars under a perfectly clear night sky: not a square foot was devoid of a masterpiece. “Truly,” I thought, “this is one of the most impressive sights I have ever witnessed.” And while it is possible that my inexperienced senses might be easily overwhelmed, I would hazard a guess that only a brute, cold to beauty, could look upon such a scene unmoved.

Looking round, unable to escape the feeling that I was incapable of the degree of appreciation due such work, my thoughts first dwelt in almost equal measure on technical curiosity (I have done only a little painting), the historical significance of such a collection, and the grandeur of the aesthetics themselves. I readily acknowledged that the skill and acumen necessary to produce something with the beauty and depth of Michaelangelo’s The Last Judgment could only be the result of true genius.

But after the impress of these other contemplations had run its course, they were momentarily eclipsed by a more fundamental reflection: to what purpose is all this?

In pursuit of this inquiry, the diverging paths on which my mind had trod now began to merge into a single track. Where I had before only admired, I now bid Rome to give an account of her actions.  Gazing still upon the marbled and gilded halls, my thoughts ran thus:

For what was all this made? Was it that man might revere God, or that he might submit himself to the glory of Rome? Were such exorbitant commissions weighed solemnly against the plight of the starving? Or were Rome’s marbled halls too thick to admit of their cries? Was this “pure and undefiled religion” (1)? Does God look upon such extravagance in the name of “the Church” with favor or with contempt?

I thought that what had begun as the Body of Christ had become captive to a host of ghoulish intruders: humility had been bound and gagged, and on her throne sat a loathsome successor: Power; while Reverence and Superstition exchanged amorous glances beneath the Pope’s unheeding eyes. Truth had been drowned in holy water and garroted with rosaries, and the stench of its corpse was masked by the scent of countless candles offered to legendary saints whose cold stone visages stared fixedly upon an innocent and expectant congregation. Tradition stood tall and triumphant upon the rubble of what ought to read “sola scriptura” (2), proclaiming boldly the authority of “The Church” and beckoning all to submit on bended knee beneath her gilded scepter. The good done in the name of “The Church” (and there has been much) had been accomplished that all might stand in awe of her good graces and bow to kiss the rings on her benevolent hand. Faith she had forgotten, and Works reigned supreme. Under the weight of a withering but quiet oppression, Salvation had become a pledge of allegiance to Rome’s glory, to her “Sacred Tradition,” and to her Pope.

The frescoes had turned strangely pallid before my eyes.

I considered the similar perversions which had in different guises afflicted the Protestant denominations, wondering if my Reformed upbringing had in some way grafted upon me an illegitimate bias; for surely there were errors in every church (3). No, I concluded: where heresy had crept subtly into Protestant congregations a mere Christianity (4) firmly called all to repentance. Yet here in Rome was a perverted Doctrine enthroned, honored, and worshipped; a thing of human manufacture; a deadly mix of truth and myth and lore offered at the feet of a maternal goddess. Catholicism was not all bad, I avowed, but this had made it that much more dangerous; for, like Eve, she had succumbed to a tantalizing fruit with a deadly core by inclining her ear towards an insidious serpent. Where Rome should have driven a fierce heel into the serpent’s head, she instead fed it crumbs underneath her banquet table and called it “Sacred Tradition.”

Yet, there were qualities for which Rome could not be faulted. She had not embraced the common sin of either apathy or irreverence, but had simply misdirected her allegiance; nor had she fashioned Christian doctrine into an abstraction, only corrupted it in places and exchanged it with her own. I thought she had only to dethrone her false gods and she would be welcomed back from her prodigal wanderings with a chorus infinitely more joyous than even her choirs could produce.

As I wandered amidst the throngs out onto the monumental steps of that magnificent building and sat down among the columns of its courtyard, I was reminded of a passage from Charlotte Brontë’s Villette:

“Oh, lovers of power! Oh, mitred aspirants for this world’s kingdoms! An hour will come, even to you, when it will be well for your hearts – pausing faint at each broken beat – that there is a Mercy beyond human compassion, a Love, stronger than this strong death which even you must face, and before it, fall; a Charity more potent than any sin, even yours; a Pity which redeems worlds – nay, absolves Priests.” (3)

Rome, though you are dead, you might yet live. The God whom you claim to serve beckons you home; you need only heed the knock. (5)


1.)  James 1:27

2.) “by scripture alone”

3.)  Brontë, Charlotte. Villette. London: Smith, Elder, & Co., 1853.

4.)  Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity. New York, NY: HarperCollins, 1952.

5.)  Revelation 3:20

A Rejoinder to Mr. Holloway

The following was printed as a letter to the editor of the Ruston Daily Leader on February 5, 2012, titled, “Man speaks out against alcohol sales:”

This is a response to the Jan.16 column by Mrs. Jessica Darden and the December City Council meeting:

First, I would like to address the City Council meeting held on Dec. 5. I have never been to a meeting that was any more insignificant than the one held on Dec. 5, 2011.

From before the meeting began, I was told that the vote was already decided and would be three to two against the majority of those present and, I believe, the majority of this city. The meeting was a waste of time. I learned that if you are a business in this town, what you want and say matters, and if you are a resident, your views are of no interest to the council.

We were actually told that the best thing that had happened in Ruston was the expansion of alcohol sales here nine years ago. Although no study had been done and no evidence was presented by the restaurant association, we were led to believe that the glorious growth of alcohol was the most progressive event in the last decade in Ruston. That may be one of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard, with zero facts to support it. In fact, a study was presented from LSU that says the expansion of alcohol will never be a financial winner for a city. Only the ones who pay the most taxes matter and the people who live here may as well shut up and sit down. I hope the people of these districts remember that the next time they vote!

My second response is to Mrs. Darden, who in her column printed on Jan. 16 said that all of us “Bible Belt” people were all wrong. She said their generation needed to be allowed to make their own mistakes, of course she is assuming they live over this one. Unfortunately, a number of students traveling down the frontage road did not live over their mistaken choices. She said young people are going to drink whether it is legal or illegal. Well, using that reasoning, we could say that young people will always steal automobiles so just leave your keys in the ignition and the doors unlocked to make it easier on them. Is it really a gain during a recession as she says? It seems to me that during a recession, there is a greater need to purchase gas to get to work, food for the table and utilities for the home instead of going out on Sunday to get a buzz! One last thought is when she said “Let’s join together … to see just how much of an impact can be made right in our backyard.”

I like that slogan of “let’s join together,” and I want to invite the, I guess we will call it the “Bible Belt Crowd,” to join together and voice your displeasure with this expansion of liquor on Sundays, which us old Bible Thumpers call the Lord’s Day. I am asking all who claim to be Christians to choose to use your money wisely on Sundays. I know that I will support the restaurants that support family and faith over finances.

– Mike Holloway

This is my response, which was printed this morning:

Having read Mr. Holloway’s letter to your paper on Sunday, February 5, which concerned his displeasure with the recent changes to the law formerly prohibiting all alcohol sales on Sundays, I wish to make a few comments.

As a follower of Jesus, I have found myself consistently bothered by any language or practice which seems to have at its root a sort of religious legalism. (By “legalism,” I mean portraying in black or white actions that are in reality gray.) Whether or not Mr. Holloway subscribes to a form of legalism, it is precisely this sort of discomfort which a reading of his remarks elicited from me, and it is that which I wish to address.

First, Mr. Holloway seems convinced that legislation prohibiting alcohol sales will in some way either compel the citizens of Ruston to conform to the tradition of attributing to Sunday a special, but arbitrary, significance, or that it will prevent alcohol abuse. I argue that it will accomplish neither.

Concerning the former, it seems hardly appropriate to use the force of law to deny access on a single day to that which is perfectly legal on the six other days. I assume that Mr. Holloway would not suggest we reinstate Prohibition. In the case that the majority of citizens in Ruston wished to observe a special reverence for Sunday, it seems curious to me that a law should be necessary to enforce it. In the case that most citizens do not attribute a special significance to that particular day, the injustice of such a law seems greatly magnified, given that it forces on the whole the religious convictions of the minority. Such laws succeed, but only in falsely construing Christianity as a religion in which there is greater emphasis on religious tradition than on faith in Jesus. No law will ever change the heart, and people forced to conform to aspects of a religion to which they do not adhere naturally do not think favorably of it. One cannot legislate others into having reverence for God (not that reverence for God is dependent on abstaining from alcohol).

Secondly, it is not at all clear that a law prohibiting alcohol sales on Sunday will in any way deter people from consuming it, much in the way that laws prohibiting firearms at schools do nothing to prevent shootings. While I appreciate Mr. Holloway’s concern in wishing to prevent alcohol-related deaths, I see no reason to think the old law was successful in accomplishing this; but even if it were, it does not occur to me why dying from drunk driving on Sunday is somehow worse than suffering the same fate on Friday. Stockpiling enough alcohol to last one through Sunday seems an easy enough task, but I’ve known people to drive as far as Athens to acquire it. People who wish to consume alcohol, will, and if it is neither illegal nor sinful to consume (not abuse) alcohol on other days, I see no good reason whatever to attempt to prevent the practice through legislation.

My last and greatest concern is that the old law has the potential to misconstrue Christianity. Jesus was relentless in condemning the legalism of the Pharisees, pointing out that they cleaned the outside of the “cup” but ignored the inside. Perhaps my failure to understand the difference between Pharisaical legalism and laws prohibiting the sale of alcohol on Sunday is simply due to my being obtuse.

Mr. Holloway places a special emphasis on Sunday, calling it the “Lord’s Day,” and asking Christians to “choose to use [our] money wisely on Sundays.” I would like to go even further and encourage Christians to use their money and their judgment wisely every day. Is not every day the “Lord’s Day?”

“Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch”? These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” – Collossians 2:20-23

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Passing the Plate: A Good Idea?

As someone who values tithing, the tradition of “passing the plate” still always makes me uncomfortable. It is not that the two are necessarily contradictory, but it does seem to unnecessarily add social pressures to the act of giving to the church. Why should anyone see me give or not give when it is none of their business? On the subject of giving to the needy, Jesus commanded his disciples to “be careful not to do [their] ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them” and to “not let your left hand to know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be secret” (Matt 6:1-4). How does passing the plate, or any other form of giving that requires one to act publicly, comply with this?

I have heard that churches that pass the plate see an increase in income than those that do not. But is increased giving over other churches that use more passive methods really better if it is in any way compulsory? “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor 8:7). If there is higher giving in churches that pass the plate (because they pass the plate), then it is for either of two reasons: 1.) people’s laziness has engulfed them to the extent that they will only give when the option is literally placed in their lap, in which case their main priority is not giving to the church, but appealing to their own laziness, or 2.) they give as a result of perceived social pressures. I spoke to someone yesterday who said that her father (a non-Christian) will give, but only if the plate comes to him, because he feels compelled to do so. The church should not want his money because he is hardly a “cheerful giver.” The intention of passing the plate might not be to compel people to give, but it is nevertheless perceived in such a way by those to whom the plate is passed.

I maintain that even with the use of checks or some other method, which may conceal the actual amount given, it is no one else’s business to observe whether one gives anything on a particular occasion or not. Even people who otherwise would not care cannot help noticing who does and does not contribute something to the plate. Why insist on making people do it publicly when there are alternatives?

Again, there is nothing inherently wrong with the practice of passing the plate, but even if the intent is not to pressure people, even subtly, to give by putting them “on the spot,” so-to-speak, it still seems inappropriate to me, given that we are commanded to give in secret and without compulsion. Provide people with a way to give that doesn’t require them to be seen by others.

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