Thursday, June 19, 2014

the essential irrationality of the eschatological type

a phrase from my dad whenever I would come from school wondering about the latest Biblical challenge thrown by the neighborhood evangelicals....

It mystified me at the time, but I've since come to appreciate the insight fueling the remark:  arrogance.  That and self-righteousness.  Eschatology--that part of Christian doctrine dealing with the "end times,"  the Final Judgment, when God calls in all the chips and settles the score.

And along comes some individual or group insisting that they know the infallible, unmistakeable, guilt-free, easy path to negotiating that event.

One time, when I'd really pushed Dad about the confidence with which my classmates insisted on their own rectitude, Dad waved his hand around the sweltering hot southwest Missouri farmland, looked me right in the eye, and said:  "Do you really think that Jesus would pick to come back here first??"  The old man always did have a way of ending arguments....

Now a couple things:  1) Over twenty-five years ago, through my graduate and undergraduate classes, I learned the roots of Dad's comments.  America has a long history of fueling new religious movements inspired by the end times:  Millerites, Latter-Day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.  We see it in popular culture stemming from the Left Behind series, horror movies like The Prince of Darkness and Stigmata, and even more 'preachy' movies like the old standby A Thief in the Night.  For more than twenty years Randall Balmer's Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory has stood as a clear introduction to evangelical Protestant

Sidebar:  quite frankly American Catholics--in the parish AND the university--would do well to, hey, y'know, actually study some of this history.  Part of America's abiding anti-Catholic animus--and folks, let's be honest, it does exist--comes from mutual utter incomprehension.  Evangelical Protestants see Catholics caught up, unwittingly or conscientiously, in fostering the anti-Christian agenda of papal Rome, and American Roman Catholics, ever since Humanae Vitae, simply cannot think outside the box of individual conscience on matters of sexual morality and abortion.  (Corollary:  this includes left-leaning Catholics who occasionally substitute matters of immigration and/or universal health care.)  Will increased knowledge by Catholics eradicate this incomprehension?  Of course not--but it will make us more informed dialogue partners.  Hey, it could be evangelization!!!

2)  Internally the Catholic tradition has St. Augustine's view of time, explained in Confessions Book X and then elucidated differently through The City of God, wherein all time exists within the reality of God.  Folks hate to admit it, but the Augustinian view is that it's quite utter foolishness for we humans then to insist that we know how and when time will end.  Yes, Virginia, there's the Book of Revelation--but St. Augustine knew about that, too.  Catholics on the right AND the left would do well to recover a sense of their own theological roots when advocating a particular social justice agenda.  The Catholic vision is more than just "act the right way and you won't go to Hell."  This is not Pelagianism.  It's also crucial to reacquaint ourselves with our own sense of time so our separated Protestant brethren can experience and receive a fuller, more profound experience of the truth grace has given us.

3)  That all being said, it is awfully tempting to look at recent news and conclude it's gonna hit the fan soon:
Iraq's devolution
extensive and intractable immigration dilemmas
increasing doubts about our presidential leadership (this isn't new, obviously)

Smoke if ya got 'em, folks!

On the other hand, the YOLO (you only live once)/party-while-Rome-burns mentality isn't an option, either.  Catchy tune, but we--Americans, Catholics, American Catholics....--can't afford to repeat mindlessly "I don't care."   Teenage daughters inhabit my house.  They like the song but they get the point:  you really can't act like that.  It's inhumane. 

This is not a public policy blog, but for those who think the current Iraq/Syria crisis isn't our problem, we can't respond "I don't care."  Granted, another full scale invasion of Iraq is not morally, politically, or economically feasible, but we must act.  Part of the eschatological attraction is the sense that time, after all, might run out.  This sort of "do something now or I am walking" appears in all sorts of musical genres.  If it's in the secular iPod, then why can't some (sophisticated, limited) response receive legitimate consideration?  It would seem a Catholic (meaning both "big C"--indentifiably Catholic--and "small c," universal/inclusive) response to some of today's (and by that I mean June 2014) pressing issues is considerate, legitimate, but still limited, action.  Iraq and immigration are both issues that require such responses."Pro-life' at times might require--in this imperfect world--imperfect solutions like (limited) violence and (limited) immigration restrictions.   Doing nothing--either from helplessness, weariness, or apathy--cannot be an option.  In the short term, time is running short.  God, of course, knows about the long term. The former fuels our arrogance while the latter checks it.

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