The Theology of (Certain) Quarterbacks

Posted: January 12, 2012 in Braak, religion
Tags: , , ,

A friend of mine put this image up on Facebook:

I thought it was kind of funny, you know, and then someone responded with “So, we should just pray for world peace and nothing else?” in a way that seemed to me (purely delusory, of course, since there’s no way to establish tone or feeling on the internet) a kind of a snotty way, and I started thinking about it, and now I’m going to write about it.

What follows is a lengthy discussion of Christian theology, so I guess everyone but Moff and Carl can check out and come back tomorrow, when maybe Holland will write about Iron Man or something.

Special Providence in the Fall of a Sparrow

So, first things first:  does it belittle genuine suffering to pray for touchdowns?  Or, maybe let’s approach this in a little less of a charged way and ask:  does God concern Himself with touchdowns?  When there are smallpox epidemics and Holocausts and millions of people starving around the world, why would God take an interest in whether or not the Denver Broncos win in overtime?

The question itself bespeaks an essential misunderstanding of the nature of God, I think.  God is infinite:  infinitely knowing, infinitely powerful, infinitely good.  God, therefore, has an infinite attention span; all aspects of the universe, divided as a portion of infinity, are the same size — which is to say, “infinitesimally small”.  You might as well as, “does God have time to worry about the fact that a few million humans don’t have enough to eat, when he’s got a Universe that’s a billion trillion miles across in order to manage?”  Or, “Does God have time to worry about my most recent bowel movement?”

All things are equally small in the eyes of God, and because God has an infinite amount of intelligence and potency, everything, no matter how small or irrelevant, can be given an infinite amount of His attention, which means God is paying as much attention to starving children in Africa as he is to Tim Tebow and to whether or not you pooped this morning.

God is watching everything, all the time, so principally, asking God for help with touchdowns isn’t really in any danger of taking away any of his attention to anything else — it’s not like God is letting children starve in Africa because he took a day off to watch the football game; God is in both places at once: watching children starve in Africa while SIMULTANEOUSLY watching Tim Tebow through a game-winning touchdown.

So, What’s the Problem?

The problem, as always, is us:  the issue here is obviously not whether or not God COULD intervene on behalf of the Denver Broncos, but whether or not there’s something essentially distasteful about asking for it.  Assuming that prayer really is transactional — that God is more likely to intervene directly in the material world if someone asks Him to — then actually, yes, I think just praying for world peace is pretty good.

Ostensibly, it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to pray for victory at football, or success or money or anything else, if you actually believe that you have an immortal soul that will spend eternity in Heaven.  After all, anything finite, when divided by infinity, is infinitesimally small, meaning your success at football is, by comparison, essentially irrelevant compared to eternity.

Now, praying for everyone’s heart to be opened up to love and compassion — the only reasonable way to pray for world peace, as opposed to some kind of horrific Pax Christian Theocratic Fascism — is basically the only worthwhile thing to pray for, since it means everybody getting into Heaven, and since everything else is essentially irrelevant.

Ask, and Ye Shall Receive

But is prayer actually transactional?  Are you supposed to be asking for God to give you things?  In fact, the Bible is pretty explicit about how you should pray, and what exactly you should be praying for (which does raise the question as to where all these other prayers came from, but I’m not a Christian, or even a theist, so I’m going to leave that one alone for right now).  It’s called The Lord’s Prayer, and it’s not any of your midrash or your analysis or your Paul opining on what Jesus meant by something:  it’s right there in the Gospel, and Jesus himself says flat out that you should pray for these things:

That the Lord’s name be kept holy.

That the Lord’s kingdom will come, and that His will be done.

That we should have some bread.

That we can be forgiven for our trespasses, and forgive those who trespass against us.

That we will be not led into temptation and also be delivered from evil.

You will notice no mention of touchdowns.  In fact, of all the requests made of the Lord, only one of them is material:  bread.  And even this, if we’re permitted to make a moment of analysis, is more about how WE pray, than how we expect the Lord to respond to our prayers.  After all, you can’t call the Lord unjust because you asked for bread and He didn’t give you any (I mean, you can, but if you accept that the Lord is infinitely wise, infinitely good, and infinitely powerful, then if He doesn’t give you bread when you ask for it, this action must be “just” by definition).

The real key to it is that you literally are not asking for anything more than exactly as much as you need — it’s a way of saying, “I’ve got a hotline to God through the Jesus, but I’m not going to ask for a single thing except that I have just enough to get by on, so that I can continue living and being a good person.”

Everything else is more in line with, for instance, the famous Serenity Prayer — asking for the spiritual strength to be a good person (though, again, why is there even a Serenity Prayer, when the Jesus Himself set down the prayer you should be saying?  I don’t know), rather than the kind of material comforts that would obviate the need for spiritual strength in the first place.

Praying for more than that is, in fact, pretty distasteful — the Lord’s Prayer sets “material well-being” to a bare minimum, in comparison to spiritual well-being; asking for more than the bare minimum of material happiness is to set material happiness higher than spiritual happiness.  I’m given to understand that religion places a premium on spiritual happiness, so I’m going to assume that this considered verboten.

Morever

Moreover, let’s look back at that famous Sermon on the Mount, Words of Christ in Red part of the Bible — you know, the part that is LITERALLY FROM THE MOUTH OF GOD, not from some cat who presumes to be speaking on God’s behalf (you know who you are.  Paul.).  Where, according to Jesus, are you supposed to pray?  Well, not in the synagogue, or on a street corner, like a hypocrite.  You are supposed to go inside where no one can see you and pray there — why?  Well, I think the implication is clear, but just in case it wasn’t, Jesus kind of makes a point of it:  the Lord already knows what you want.

That’s kind of a big deal, right?  The Lord is omniscient, which means he knows what you want NO MATTER WHERE you pray; and if a prayer is as good in your closet, or on a street corner, or in a synagogue, (or a football field) then the only reason that you’d pray out in public is because you want to be seen praying.  Like a hypocrite.

(Maybe you don’t think Tim Tebow is a hypocrite, and that’s fine, but don’t blame me — Jesus is the one who said it.)

Moving prayer from the private sphere into the public sphere is changing the emphasis of that prayer from the personal, private communion between your spirit and God, to the performance of prayer — that is, your relationship with God is no longer about you and Him, but also about you, God, and your million adoring fans.

(Incidentally and tangentially, the notion of praying in the closet does bring up a good question about why church is a public activity, and should an exception be made in those cases?  Frankly, I don’t think so; I think that Christ’s assertion that Peter is the rock upon which he will build his church is indicative that the physical structure of the church is one composed entirely of those who practice its tenets; that is, if the Church of Christ exists in the hearts of all his followers, then what need is there for an actual building?  I also believe that the exclusion of the Gospel of Thomas from the Bible, which says more or less exactly that, was a cynical attempt on behalf of the Nicean Council to maintain control over a religion that otherwise would reject any type of authoritarian influence.  That aside, though, even if we accept that there is an exception for church, imagine an evangelical church — the kind where people are moved by the Holy Spirit to speak in tongues and flop around down the aisle — and tell me that this isn’t problematic.  Sure, I’m not saying those people are faking it, but we can at least agree that the temptation to fake communion with the Holy Spirit in order to be seen as more pious than one’s contemporaries is there, and is strong in the way that only constant social pressure can be.  It is for this [I think pretty obvious] reason that the Sermon on the Mount frequently emphasizes the point of behaving virtuously but in secret — so that the focus for the individual can be, for instance, on actually being charitable, rather than the pride one takes in appearing to be charitable, since pride goeth et cetera.)

But Prayer Isn’t Transactional

Isn’t it?  Well, let’s assume it’s not, and that the reason that you pray is actually not to get things from God, but simply to thank God for the good things in your life.  In fact, Tim Tebow usually Tebows after a success, and not before, indicating that rather than asking for touchdowns he’s actually just thanking God for the touchdowns that he has received.  And good, that seems like a pretty strong position, it’d be hard to argue with that position.

Well, maybe you think it’d be hard to argue with that position; I think it’s easy to argue with that position, and I will do so at once.

If you want to thank God for being alive, or you want to thank God for every breath, or every heartbeat, or every second of life, that’s one thing — indeed, that’s probably a pretty good way to pray, because (as in the case of the Lord’s Prayer — which, again, why aren’t you just doing that?) it de-emphasizes material well being.  You are thanking God for the barest minimum of material existence; thanking, in other words, God for the opportunity to become a better person.

The big problem with thanking God for your success is that God, by virtue of being omnipotent, omniscient, and infinitely good, is also responsible for your failures. God is in charge of everything, remember?  So the question is, why don’t you take a knee and offer a prayer, thanking God for every time you miss your receiver by a quarter mile?  Why don’t you offer up thanks to Divine Providence for every football game that you lose?

(Well, maybe he does, and privately, but my opinion is if you’re going to do some of it in public, you should at least have the cojones to do ALL of it in public.)

The thing about the Universe is that it is all part of a Divine Plan, and every aspect of that Plan must be understood as To the Good.  It is impossible for God to fail, for Him to not anticipate outcomes, for Him to not realize something, &c., and for that reason we have to understand all suffering, all failure, all misery as part of a plan that cannot be perceived in any way other than universally good.

That we don’t know what that plan is, or how, I don’t know, getting your balls eaten off by a rotweiler is part of God’s perfect divine justice, is probably what you need faith for — not the belief that there is a power greater than yourself (as I have often mentioned, we can’t help but believe in powers that are greater than ourselves — no self-respecting atheist disbelieves elephants), but the belief that there is an ultimate good that is bigger than our ability to perceive good.

And so, failing to thank God for your failures is what?  It is your experience of failure, the bad feelings that you suffer as a consequence of that failure, and you prioritizing them above what you necessarily believe (if you’re faithful) must be the profound and ultimate good. To remember God when you succeed is easy — but it equates God with your good luck.  To remember God when you fail is the challenge, because otherwise you’re prioritizing your failures above God’s success.

To paraphrase that Jesus cat, why only be grateful to God for your successes?  Then you are no different from anyone else.  Even tax collectors are grateful when they succeed.

I say to you, be thankful when you fail.

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Comments
  1. Carl says:

    I will try to be succinct here (though the best laid plans of mice and men, yadda yadda):

    Working backwards, then (and divorced for a minute from this specific example). You’re point about gratitude for failures, struggles, sufferings, and pains, is exactly spot-on, I think. Well, largely spot-on, except for what your depiction of the relationship between God and the goings-on of the world seems to imply about the relationship between God and evil. Certainly, failing to score a touchdown is not evil, but frequently failures to succeed in the moral spheres can result in evil. (Whenever you tackle these subjects, by the way, I am struck by how much more comfortable you seem with an Old Testament cosmology than you are with the New. Certainly seems to be what you are describing here in the implications about God and evil. I digress.) That is, yes, Romans 8:28 says “To the ones loving God, He works together all things for good…” (commonly expressed as “God brings good out of what is evil”) by reformulating, we might say, at all times, the best possible outcome for all things that exist, given the compounding choices in free will being made at each moment of existence, by, well, each of us. But that’s VERY different from what seems to be implied in the end of your post, dude: that God causes, is permissive of, or encourages evil so that He can fulfill His purposes, either in us or in the world-at-large. [We’ve been down this road before, though; I don’t believe that God “desires” this universe to be as it is. The Genesis myth seems to explicitly say we were originally intended for a universe predicated on mechanics and relationships radically different from those that define one we inhabit. Though he obviously perpetually “wills” it into being, which I believe is the ultimate act of sacrificial love for an Agape-God. The perpetual crucifixion of the Father, as it were. As such, though, I think we should be careful about drawing conclusions about “what God wants” from, well, what he allows to happen. To say “we have to understand all suffering, all failure, all misery as part of a plan that cannot be perceived in any way other than universally good” is fallacious, I think. Remember, the faith in question holds that the narrative outcome of this sequence of events leads eventually not only to the destruction of the world, but of the universe— the cosmos— all things— and to a radical reordering of the entire affair, which includes a brand-spanking new (and we must assume substantially better) Existence. There’s your eventual universal good: it will be achieved outside of this narrative.] BUT. Yes, we should be grateful for our failure and our successes, as both are opportunities to grow— in human terms, in spiritual terms, and in closeness to God.

    Next: I’m not sure why we’re assuming prayer isn’t transactional, but rather ONLY to be used for “thanking God for what you have.” Or really, transactional is kind of a loaded term, isn’t it. Let’s say this: prayer is conversational. It isn’t necessarily an act of worship or a petition; it’s simply dialogue and it has all the diversity of features that all conversation can potentially contain. Which is why (in the Orthodox Christian faiths, anyhow) you can pray to Christ. Or Mary. Or the saints. Or your dead relatives. Prayer isn’t worship (necessarily), it’s just a hello. It’s wrong to think prayer serves only one limited function (which is why, by the way, the Lord’s Prayer is the centerpiece prayer of Christianity, but only one among many we use when praying to God— some wrote, some extemporaneous. [Also, since we’re on the subject, parenthetically, I should point out that your material analysis of the bit about petitioning for “our daily bread” is actually very much up for grabs. Later Protestant analyses held the meaning of “daily bread” to be literal, but the earlier understanding from the original Greek epiousios had nothing to do with yeast, but with being (supersubstantialem in the Latin Vulgate), and with our daily communion with Christ. Catholic scholarship, obviously, wanted to marry this idea up to the Eucharist. Some Protestant understandings of passage maintained the translation as relating to divine communion, only of the spiritual sort, perhaps a reference to our ‘daily readings’ from the scripture]).

    But okay, fine, let’s get to petitions generally before we talk more narrowly about praying for something “infinitesimally small” as a touchdown. I agree that the highest form of prayer petition is for “everyone’s heart to be opened up to love and compassion” as you write. There must be literally millions of pages of devotional material given to such prayers in my faith tradition alone; if you were to add up all of the ink and paper devoted to recording prayers on this topic across faith traditions, you could probably blanket continents with them. This have not gone un-prayed in the slightest, is my point. I’m quite sure that the saints gave themselves to such entirely selfless and universal petitions with frequency. There are cloistered religious orders that literally devote themselves to prayer unceasingly for this very thing (and receive quite a bit of flack for their wasted detachment from the world, I might add). It helps for the regular shmoe, though, to have selfless petitions that are more specific, narrow, and closer to home; the mind can get tired in prayer when dealing with really broad objects of focus. And what about prayer for ourselves? For small(er) things (than world peace)? Should we not do that? Is that, as you say, essentially irrelevant?

    Well, first, scripture doesn’t seem to think so. In fact, John 14:13 makes the outlandish claim that “whatever you shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” If we’re taking Christ at his word on the mount, seems like we have to take it here too. Get a load of Mark 11:22-24, though. “Have faith in God… Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Check out Matthew 18:18! “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” These are actually the most remarkable claims made in Christianity, in my opinion. Not resurrection, not transubstantiation, this petition business. Because how can this be claimed given all of the unanswered prayers that have been prayed? What a HUGE CLAIM. Christ is explicit. Certainly it has to be more complicated than is stated here; I can’t petition for a bag of gold to fall on my head so hard that it will happen. Petitions for the self must somehow comport with the will of God in service of the greater good in order to be granted. But when they do, nothing— no unthinkable miracle— is apparently off the table. (Frequently, I think, prayers aren’t denied due to lack of faith or because they would thwart the greater good, but because the petitioner really doesn’t know what’s in their own best interest. Judah wants cookies for dinner, but he can’t have cookies for dinner. It doesn’t mean I don’t love him and it doesn’t mean I couldn’t give it to him or that I am lying when I say “I want to give you your heart’s desire, kid”. It just means, it’s more complicated than all that.) So are the odds actually affected by the asking? I guess I imagine that they are on some occasions. Not all. Not most. But some. Okay so it’s possible and permissible. Is it moral? Well, Christ seems to imply that if “the Father may be glorified” by it’s granting, yeah, ask away. Moreover, I think that God LIKES to give us what we ask for. I like to give Judah what he wants, if I can, if it’s good for him. Of course! It brings him joy, it brings me joy to make him happy.

    You write:

    It just doesn’t make a lot of sense to pray for victory at football or [anything temporal] if you actually believe that you have an immortal soul that will spend eternity in Heaven. After all, anything finite, when divided by infinity, is infinitesimally small, meaning your success [in life] is, by comparison, essentially irrelevant compared to eternity.

    But wait, if you believe you have an immortal soul and that eternity is what matters ultimately, is honoring God in prayer when doing whatever-it-is-you-do all day irrelevant? Is asking God to help you / expressing to the Almighty your desire to grow into the best whatever-it-is-you-are during this, your existential incubational period, irrelevant? “Asking for touchdowns” or “asking that God intervene in a sporting match so that you can win and someone else can lose” or so “I can get a part” or so “you can get this script produced” are clearly comparable irrelevancies to anything of consequence in or outside of this life. Acknowledging how ridiculously blessed and fortunate you are to be in the position you are to the One ostensibly responsible— asking for the will to be the very best version of yourself— to honor your gifts in whatever it is you were made to do before you do it? Not irrelevant. Not to that relationship. Not to your self-awareness and perspective. Not if you believe “you have an immortal soul that will spend eternity in Heaven.” I do it every time I’m waiting for my entrance. Maybe I’m a great big selfish douche bag, of course, but I’d like to think not.

    You write:

    I’m given to understand that religion places a premium on spiritual happiness, so I’m going to assume that [my materialist reading of that bit from the Lord’s Prayer should be] considered verboten.

    All I want to say here is that I submit that there is a bit of unintended Christian anthropocentrism at work in this statement. That is not at all what ‘religion’ places a premium on. Many are explicitly concerned with material and practical conditions of well-being in the here and now.

    So, now, to the primary thrust of your piece: Christ asserts (and you concur) that all prayer should be private, and Tim Tebow should knock it off with the public prayer, already. To this I say: context, my friend. Look at Matthew 6, which you’re citing. How does the chapter begin? With Christ giving examples of hypocrites and priests who blow trumpets as they walk the streets almsgiving. They don’t care for the poor, they want the praise. You know this thread in the narrative; Christ picks a fight with the priests because they’re full of shit, the priests try to trip him up to no avail, they rush off and use their political clout have him killed. This entire diatribe is about motive not about location. “But, but, shut yourself up in a closet in secret!” It’s directed at the Pharisees, it’s a jab. At least, that’s how it’s been understood.

    If Christ really wanted everyone praying alone and in secret would be say in Matthew 18:19, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Seems like he’d be there with them breaking his own rules, right? Certainly, he’d be good as his own word, we’d imagine. But instead, we find Jesus praying in public all the time:

    When he’s baptized in public in Luke 3: 21-22, not only does he pray aloud, but God the Father talks back. “Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass that Jesus also was baptized; and while He prayed, the heaven was opened. And the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, “You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.”

    In Matthew 19 he prays over some kids: “Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them. Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.’ When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there.”

    The whole Lazarus business is VERY public. John 11: “So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, ‘Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come forth!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, ‘Take off the grave clothes and let him go.’

    In Gethsemane, the most private of moments, he’s praying in the company of his fellows and asks them to stay awake; as in, please be alert and with me while I pour my anguish out to God in earshot. And of course, on the cross, John 17:1,9,15,20: “Jesus spoke these words, lifted up His eyes to heaven, and said: ‘Father… I pray for them. I do not pray for the world but for those whom You have given Me, for they are Yours. … ‘I do not pray that You should take them out of the world, but that You should keep them from the evil one.’… ‘I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.’”

    You may not count it because it isn’t Christ Himself, but as to this business of public charisms, healings, tongues, etc., I won’t bore you with my own experiences here, but a blanket dismissal of these goings-on as faked is unfair. Sure, I know exactly what you mean about the temptation to perform, and I’m quite certain that goes on with regularity. But Pentecost (Acts 2:1-13) tells the story. Bunch of terrified guys shut up in an attic. Christ shows up and shames them for hiding their lights away. Next thing you know, out and about in public, speaking in tongues, converting people like crazy; that is clearly the template. And Christ prayed in the synagogue himself, in the scripture. He’s runs off there to teach folks as a kid. He’s praying over water and changing it to wine at weddings. He insists that not a letter of the Law is to be broken, which involves very public acts of collective worship. In Matthew 6, he’s condemning the motives behind the public actions of a particular group in a particular context— the hypocrisy of seeking the admiration of people rather than seeking to please God. He immediately follows this, though, with the “Our Father,” which implies communal prayer! There is clearly a conversation to be had about how to conduct yourself in public as a religious person, but I think you’d be hard-pressed to suggest that Christ’s body of work puts him in the “prayer is a private matter that shouldn’t be shared” camp.

    Now, finally, to Tim Tebow. Why doesn’t he pray when he fails? I dunno, man, maybe he does. Have you ever heard the guy interviewed? He can’t talk about anything BUT Jesus. Like it’s Jesus-turrets; he doesn’t seem to know how not to. That may be annoying, but I’m not sure it’s hypocritical. Is he just showing off for attention? I don’t know and neither does anyone else. If it was socially acceptable to be praying after your failures— if it was socially acceptable to be praying in the huddle or in press conferences— I suspect he’d be doing it, that’s how he strikes me. For better or worse, misguided or inspired, he doesn’t strike me like a false guy. Seeing how athletes have been praying after homeruns, goals, touchdowns, titles, and championships for decades, and nobody threw a fit about it before, maybe after a touchdown is just the most socially acceptable moment for all this pent-up zeal. My cousin Tony works at ESPN; he’s a decidedly anti-religious guy. Grew up Catholic, outspokenly non-Christian. Met Tebow, totally taken with him, just says he’s the most genuine, heartfelt, positive guy he’s ever met. Plus, they guy does a shit load of good off the field:

    http://www.timtebowfoundation.org/a-brighter-day
    http://sports.yahoo.com/nfl/news?slug=ycn-10587089
    http://www.gatorsports.com/article/20090802/ARTICLES/908029955

    A hypocrite would pull the public after-touchdown stuff and then jet off to the Rivera in his free-time. I dunno, maybe it’s all a smokescream hiding a great big, selfish douch bag. But not from where I sit. I don’t really have any problems with Tim Tebow (other than the fact that he can’t put together four solid quarters of football under center).

  2. Wimmer says:

    I’m on vacation and not in a real analytical mode or anything, but I would say this all sounds pretty good to me.

    The church thing is an interesting question. I think Jesus prayed with his disciples at times, so it seems like there’s some precedent for group prayer, which may not always be the same thing as public prayer. Speaking in tongues has always seemed awfully showboaty to me, but fairly subdued, “normal” prayer at a church service seems like it’s got a useful function as practice for both the new faithful and the old; and moreover, it’s kind of limited in its ostentatiousness by virtue of the fact that everyone is reciting the same prayer — you’re not really going to appear more virtuous than anyone else, because you’re all doing the same thing.

  3. braak says:

    Okay, so:

    Remember, the faith in question holds that the narrative outcome of this sequence of events leads eventually not only to the destruction of the world, but of the universe— the cosmos— all things— and to a radical reordering of the entire affair, which includes a brand-spanking new (and we must assume substantially better) Existence.

    Well, I don’t see why we have to assume that. But if the narrative outcome of this sequence of events is the destruction of the universe, then the destruction of the universe (and the consequential better universe) still has a causal relationship to the events in this universe. Which does bring me to an interesting question, I guess: does the new universe get made despite the destruction of the old universe, or because of it? In the prior case, it seems that all notions about God’s plan would be moot, as there is no need for an essential plan other than, “yeah, this one is a Mulligan, just let it run down and I’ll start over.” If it’s the latter case, then even the destruction of the universe and the creation of the new one must be seen as still part of the narrative — and a narrative that, once we have a proper perspective on it, must all be seen to be the good.

    Because if we accept the Agape-God, as one that is perpetually self-sacrificing, in that He permits His children to commit acts of evil despite the fact that he could stop them, and we accept divine self-sacrifice as a fundamental good, then the commission of evil acts, as a product of Divine Self-Sacrifice, must still be seen in their way as part of a fundamental good: i.e., “It’s wrong that you did that, but even your act of evil is a consequence of a fundamental Divine Good.”

    (Incidentally, I actually don’t think this IS necessarily something worth accepting, especially if we continue to use the God-As-Father metaphor. If Judah wanted to eat explosive razor blades, and you said to him, “Well, son, because I love you, I’m going to let you make all of your decisions on your own,” we wouldn’t call you self-sacrificing, we’d call you irresponsible. And if we accept the usual argument — that as a father, you have to permit your children to sometimes take risks — that argument seems even worse; you, the father, have to raise a child who will one day need to survive without you, and who must therefore learn the consequence of his actions; God, the Father, is raising children here on Earth that will eventually come to live with Him in a transcendental paradise that would obviate all of those spiritual lessons. But I digress. It’s just not a good analogy, is what I’m saying.)

    Next: I’m not saying that prayer is only to be used for thanking god for your successes. I considered both the possibility that it was transactional, and that it was devotional, and explored the ramifications of both of those possibilities. I guess it’s true that I didn’t also consider the possibility that prayer might be used to just be all, “Hey, Jesus. What’s up?” That’s I guess a meditative approach to prayer? A kind of communion, like in the Cloud of Unknowing, where the purpose is as a mental exercise to enable one to experience something that’s essentially intellectually unknowable?

    “Prayer” broadly defined as an attempt to communicate with something intangible I guess is too broad a definition for me. Or, maybe rather too broad in scope for what I was interested in in terms of this particular piece: I’m interested in the idea of football players talking to God about football, and it seems to me that, the way these are expressed, it’s either a transactional or a devotional prayer.

    Well, first, scripture doesn’t seem to think so. In fact, John 14:13 makes the outlandish claim that “whatever you shall ask in my name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” If we’re taking Christ at his word on the mount, seems like we have to take it here too. Get a load of Mark 11:22-24, though. “Have faith in God… Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”

    I don’t see what the challenge in interpretation is here, because I think it only supports the notion that prayer isn’t fundamentally about getting what you want from God — it’s demonstrably false that any time you pray hard for something, you get it. Otherwise, every football team would always win the Superbowl. Even though it’s impossible, ostensibly since nothing is beyond the power of God, it COULD be the case that everyone always wins the Superbowl, but it doesn’t happen.

    Thus, we’ve got two basic choices: either Jesus was full of shit, or else the purpose of prayer isn’t getting what’s in your heart, but finding what’s in your heart. If you pray to win the Superbowl, and God doesn’t give it to you, it’s not because God doesn’t want you to have what’s in your heart — it’s because “winning the Superbowl” isn’t it. This suggests that prayer is necessarily NOT transactional, but a form of personal self discovery that (I assume) if practiced daily and mindfully, would lead everyone to some kind of spiritual development.

    The question, I suppose, is what is it that God really likes about giving you what you want? Does God like it when you have a sandwich? Or does God like it when your soul grows? I don’t know, but if God really got a kick out of doing nice things for people…well, look, let me just say that I definitely understand where the Gnostic notion that the entirety of the material world (as evidenced by the fact that life is so terrible for so many) is run by an asshole, and that the True God is interested in the state of your spirit.

    But wait, if you believe you have an immortal soul and that eternity is what matters ultimately, is honoring God in prayer when doing whatever-it-is-you-do all day irrelevant?

    I don’t know what this argument is. I think that, if you believe in an immortal soul that will exist for eternity outside of time, then honoring God all the time is the only thing that isn’t irrelevant. What you do for your material well-being: not lasting for eternity, and therefore infinitesimally small. What you do for your soul: lasting for eternity, and therefore infinitely important. I thought that’s what I was saying, though — that all prayer devoted to material success is essentially a waste of your time and mind, since in the Grand Scheme of Things, only your soul lasts forever.

    This is likewise the problem that i have with the notion that the Average Joe ought to be able to pray for something dumb — like only secret monks should prayer for universal compassion, but Joe Schmoe should see if he can get a hold of St. Jude for some rollerskates. Dividing prayer between (if you’ll pardon the mysticism) theurgy and thaumaturgy only puts equal emphasis on thaumaturgy, and thus reinforces the materiality of that kind of prayer. Average Joe, more than anyone, should be praying devotionally, because Average Joe is the one most preoccupied with materiality.

    Whether or not Christ really wanted people to pray in secret is obviously a trickier term — I acknowledged the exemption for Churches, though, as I’m sure you noticed (that’s why it was in parantheses and prefaced by ‘Incidentally”), because I believe that religion is a fundamentally mystic experience, but that’s a personal preference on my part. I will take issue with two things though:

    1) Context for the Sermon on the Mount seems like an implausible argument. This is Jesus’ big moment, his probably most important speech, I don’t buy that he’s just taking the opportunity to take potshots at the Pharisees. Maybe he’s doing both, but I think dismissing the argument that he’s trying to clearly delineate spirituality (which is essentially personal) from piety (which is essentially public) just because he’s using specific pious hypocrites as an example doesn’t hold water.

    2) I also think that if you want to use Jesus’ public prayers as an example of why it’s okay to pray in public, then you can only count prayers that are actually led by Jesus. Jesus, after all, is someone we can safely assume is not a hypocrite, and likewise we can assume he won’t be impressed by false piety. But Jesus’ teachings have to have two purposes: in the first place, they have to tell people what to do right now, and in the second place, they have to be clear instructions about how to behave when Jesus isn’t personally there to lead the service.

    3) Oh, I guess also, “whenever two people are gathered in my name, I am with them” does suggest a Church-based exemption, though I should also point out that it also suggests an anti-authoritarian position when it comes to priests and churches in the first place — i.e., why do you need to go to church, when every time there’s more than one of you, you ARE a church?

    Again, though, I don’t think this is a functional dictate so much as it’s an instructional dictate — the social pressure to be pious is and always has been strong, and potentially interferes with actual, real spiritual growth; prayer-in-secret is an admonition to avoid letting envy or pride interfere with your communion with God.

    You may not count it because it isn’t Christ Himself, but as to this business of public charisms, healings, tongues, etc., I won’t bore you with my own experiences here, but a blanket dismissal of these goings-on as faked is unfair.

    Yes, true, that is probably why I very specifically DIDN’T DO THAT. I was very careful to say specifically that I wasn’t saying that charistmatic pentecostals were faking their glossolalias, but that the problem with public events like that is that they create a social pressure with an enormous temptation to fake it.

    I actually very much believe that the religious experiences that people have in cases like that are real. I mean, in the sense that I believe that many of them are real experiences; I don’t think anything about the experience (up to and including the apparent perception of God) is actually evidence that the experience is divinely inspired, but obviously some of these cats are feeling something.

    As for Tim Tebow:

    1. I didn’t say he was a hypocrite. Jesus said that, WHICH I MENTIONED, yeesh, I sometimes think you aren’t even reading the whole post.

    2. I actually don’t care about Tim Tebow, I was just using him, and specifically the exchange about “what should people be praying for” as a jumping off point for the discussion of the notion of transactional prayer. And look, man, I even said that maybe Tim Tebow prays to God after his failures.

    Dude, you know I’m an atheist, right? I don’t give a shit what Tim Tebow prays for.

  4. braak says:

    I also dispute the lapsarian idea of the Fallen World, but I guess there’s no point in arguing about that with a Catholic. It seems to me that the nature of Genesis is that it’s a tree of knowledge that causes the fall — that is, that the paradise in which Adam and Eve lived was a paradise of ignorance, and it was spoiled by awareness, and that the narrative of human existence is not a return to paradise (because a return to ignorance is simple self-lobotomy) but of radical spiritual revolution, the sort of Zen Master “chid-like mind” as opposed to the “childish mind.” In that respect, you can look at the Bible as being a metaphor for the evolution of human consciousness — it begins with the blissful ignorance of the animal id, evolves into the quarrelsome, bureaucratic and hierarchical ego, then into the compassionate and fluid superego, then finally into a state of universal human compassion, in which human civilization is destroyed and transformed, because all of its members are themselves transformed.

    Alan Moore also once described the story of Genesis as a metaphor for biological evolution: Adam and Eve represented the primitive that divides asexually; the Serpent, which is DNA, introduces sexual reproduction, and consequently the sex drive, which transforms the bacterial paradise of just sitting around and dividing your cells into the mass warfare of the human world. I thought that was a neat descriptor.

  5. Carl says:

    Okay, interlude concluded, we now come to the inevitable response where I blockquote half of your previous reply:

    … does the new universe get made despite the destruction of the old universe, or because of it? In the prior case, it seems that all notions about God’s plan would be moot, as there is no need for an essential plan other than, “yeah, this one is a Mulligan, just let it run down and I’ll start over.”

    Not at all. At the risk of exposing myself as a spiciest, you’re ignoring the fact that the ostensibly central focus of God’s Plan concerns eternal souls IN the mulligan universe that are, hopefully, going to make it OUT of the mulligan universe to whatever’s next. What happens to, and becomes of them, IS, seemingly, of vital important to the Deity. So while everything non-eternal in our universe is irreparably running itself down to nothing, the eternal beings caught up in it, and how they negotiate this process, demands God’s attention, intention, and occasional intervention.

    Because if we accept the Agape-God, as one that is perpetually self-sacrificing, in that He permits His children to commit acts of evil despite the fact that he could stop them…

    Two things here. One, I’m not sure that God ‘could stop them’, per se. Well, of course he could (no, he can’t make a rock He cannot lift), but only by radically restructuring the nature of existence, and only by interfering with free will and choice as we understand them (which, most of the Abrahamic traditions seem to agree, is sacrosanct, and lies at the very center of the entire enterprise. And yes, yes, quantum theory, the multi-verse, implications about free-will yadda yadda; the verdicts out on that, though, so let’s table it). In other words, He honors the arrangement by voluntarily binding Himself to the conceits of our existence unless we explicitly ask Him to do otherwise (and if doing is possible vis-à-vis the wills of third-parties, the impact on the general good, and in consideration of what’s in the best interest of the asker). But couldn’t he stop all sorts of tragedies that aren’t directly caused by free will? I dunno; chaos theory suggests that many events seemingly unrelated to choice might actually have their causal origins in freely chosen human activity. Maybe he does interfere for the good all the time, and all that’s left-over (and therefore observable) is directly related to free will? I mean, probably not, but who really knows how this fine, overlapping causal web is woven. Two, I think you have misconstrued the nature of the perpetual self-sacrifice of God I was describing. Human beings live— how should we put it— Love-lessly?— in response to the nature of the universe we inhabit, which is entropic, privative, consumptive, and characterized by the competition for limited resources. The perpetual self-sacrifice is His concession to will into being (and be “will” here, I mean only the voluntary generation of, and not necessarily generation as expression of preferred design) a universe in fundamental juxtaposition with His own Nature. Why would He do that? Because we live here and He loves us. Why do we live here? Well, again, it seems like the Genesis myth wants to say that we (or our spiritual forbearers, perhaps prior to the beginning of Time or the creation of this Universe) chose the more complex of multiple, available existential options.

    Incidentally, I actually don’t think this IS necessarily something worth accepting, especially if we continue to use the God-As-Father metaphor.

    That’s all Jesus, that metaphor, not me. Though gender aside, I see no reason to think that the parent-child metaphor (which, again, permeates the monotheist tradition) is insufficient to describing the relationship.

    [Y]ou, the father, have to raise a child who will one day need to survive without you, and who must therefore learn the consequence of his actions; God, the Father, is raising children here on Earth that will eventually come to live with Him in a transcendental paradise that would obviate all of those spiritual lessons. But I digress. It’s just not a good analogy, is what I’m saying.)

    I couldn’t disagree more. Who knows what dynamics characterize the next life and what “skills of spirit”, what condition-of-being related to spiritual development is needed to negotiate them? For my money, I’ve always assumed that the spiritual development of a person in this life is directly related to that which is essential for the demands of the next. (This is opposed to the notion of Heaven as a kind of tepid, static, action-less condition-of-rest, earned by checking off spiritual boxes in this life, which have no use or application for anything beyond the “entrance test” for “paradise”.) I for one have never thought it made much sense for God to save-the-best-for-First and make this life the more interesting, dynamic, demanding, and compelling of the two, as many seem to believe. The next life is surely a comparable paradise, predicated on rules that reflect the nature of an Agape-God rather than oppose it, free of pain and suffering as we understand them, BUT there must also be Great Work to do there. The narrative must widen, not shrink; the work to achieve swell, not thin. The strength of one’s “muscles” to do that Great Work is, I have always assumed, related to the cultivation of Christ-likeness one achieves here— in utero.

    I’m interested in the idea of football players talking to God about football, and it seems to me that, the way these are expressed, it’s either a transactional or a devotional prayer.

    Okay, and it’s your post: you can place those polar parameters on prayer if you like, for the purposes of what you’re talking about. Just saying, as a person acquainted with prayer and the way it works, you can be in prayer— you can be in dialogue with God about your life and its particulars— about football, if, based on your given skill-set and the circumstances that formed your life, it makes up most of your life— without necessarily either asking to be profited something particular, or engaging in active worship. Like any relationship, you might just check in about how you feel. Confess fears. Affirm goals. Seek solace. Use God as a sounding board for decisions. It is this very aspect of the notion of a “personal God” that distinguishes it from the traditions that preceded it. Without asking specifically for “Give me a touchdown, God. Give me ten. Make me win and those jokers suck it”, etc. Anyway, this point DOES seems to bear on the conversation about whether or not a person can “pray to God about playing football” and not diminish tragedies and other goings-on of consequence in the world.

    Carl: “Well, first, scripture doesn’t seem to think so. In fact, John 14:13”

    … I don’t see what the challenge in interpretation is here,… [W]e’ve got two basic choices: either Jesus was full of shit, or else the purpose of prayer isn’t getting what’s in your heart, but finding what’s in your heart.

    Sure, yes, prayer is (also) about finding what’s in your heart. My challenge to your interpretation lies in the language of the quote passages. “WHATEVER you shall ask in my name, that will I do”. “WHATEVER you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” “…if two of you agree on earth about ANYTHING they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.” ‘Whatever’ seems to imply that the FULL RANGE of possible human requests, from the personal to the universal, from the material to the miraculous, are permissible subjects for petition. Christ could very easily have said “Anything SELFLESS AND FOR OTHER PEOPLE you ask in my name, that I will do.” “Anything GRAND AND OF GLOBAL IMPORT that you ask in my name, that I will do.” “That which two of you agree to request in the NON-TEMPORAL REALM will be granted.” In fact, this would have been WAY easier promise to make and keep. If Christ wanted you to limit your petitions to certain kinds of requests, I have no doubt he would have said so; he wasn’t the sort to beat around the bush with regards to his encouragements or prohibitions.

    The question, I suppose, is what is it that God really likes about giving you what you want? Does God like it when you have a sandwich? Or does God like it when your soul grows?

    Why would this be a zero-sum proposition? It makes me happy that Judah gets chicken McNuggets when he’s hungry, AND it makes me happy when he shares those nuggets with his brother without my having to chide. (And, I like the analogy, nyeh.)

    Carl: ”But wait, if you believe you have an immortal soul and that eternity is what matters ultimately, is honoring God in prayer when doing whatever-it-is-you-do all day irrelevant?”

    I don’t know what this argument is. I think that, if you believe in an immortal soul that will exist for eternity outside of time, then honoring God all the time is the only thing that isn’t irrelevant. What you do for your material well-being: not lasting for eternity, and therefore infinitesimally small. What you do for your soul: lasting for eternity, and therefore infinitely important. I thought that’s what I was saying, though — that all prayer devoted to material success is essentially a waste of your time and mind, since in the Grand Scheme of Things, only your soul lasts forever.

    But as I’ve said, the WAY in which you do what you do for your material well-being is entirely consequential and the appropriate subject of petition. And I mean, if you want to go to cloister where all of your material needs are met and all you have to do is meditate on the immortal soul and eternity all day, and pray for the conversion of the world to Love, you certainly can; there are opportunities available to live that way, reflecting what you suggest above should be the priorities of the believer. But we’re ALL ostensibly ‘called to sainthood’, and SOMEBODY is going to have to, you know, do all of the work that keeps the world going— that keeps people eating and roads working and cars being made and kids being schooled. And some people are going to have to write plays. You know, for those times when the mind is just too tired to either work or pray. And some people are going to have to throw footballs for those times as well. And so, as I suggested in my first response to your post [I’m not sure you read what I wrote! ;)] the Quarterback-praying-about-football question isn’t about “praying for material well-being” necessarily; it can just as likely be about “praying constantly”, as they say. As I said, it’s about prayer that

    “express[es] to the Almighty your desire to grow into the best whatever-it-is-you-are during this, your existential incubational period.”

    To pray about the desire to be strong-in-will. To pray about the desire to stay focused-in-mind, or to resist the temptation to give-up. To grow in the intangibles that may be related to football in the moment, but which have larger, eternal implications for the condition of the Spirit. Because you’re going to HAVE TO GROW doing whatever-it-is-you-do, aren’t you? Those are the only moments you get on earth. Should the football player just table his spiritual growth during the 9-of-the-12 months he spends in practice most of his waking hours during the (if we include pee-wee football) 20+ years he will spend doing-what-it-is-he-does in life? That seems like an unreasonable request. As I said, prayer may be expressing to the Almighty proper spiritual humility, vis-à-vis football:

    “acknowledging how ridiculously blessed and fortunate you are to be in the position you are to the One ostensibly responsible— asking for the will to be the very best version of yourself— to honor your gifts in whatever it is you were made to do before you do it? Not irrelevant.

    You write:

    Context for the Sermon on the Mount seems like an implausible argument.

    Consideration of context should always be plausible and, indeed, imperative; this is the very basis for the entire field of exegetical study.

    This is Jesus’ big moment, his probably most important speech, I don’t buy that he’s just taking the opportunity to take potshots at the Pharisees. Maybe he’s doing both, but I think dismissing the argument that he’s trying to clearly delineate spirituality (which is essentially personal) from piety (which is essentially public) just because he’s using specific pious hypocrites as an example doesn’t hold water.

    I mean, yeah, maybe Jesus was gearing up for the Sermon on the Mount for days and weeks in advance. Like, maybe he had it circled on the God-calendar in his head: June 12th, “Sermon on the Mount, I lay it all out for these suckers”. Or maybe, in his humanness, (as sometimes happens when teaching people anything) a moment just arose in the natural course of events in which one-thing-lead-to-another, and the content ended up making it into the written record as the centerpiece of his teachings. It’s hard to say, really. I suspect, though, that if you’re presuming that Jesus was a real dude and that these events actually happened— that all of the sloppy and haphazard fortunes of chance that characterize the recording of any ancient event bear on the telling of these stories, and on compilation of the Testament— you’re more like to buy the context argument. If you think that maybe Jesus wasn’t a real dude, and that this is really a piece of literature we’re dealing with— a composed narrative invented for the purposes creating a myth around which you could build a belief system— you might be less inclined to buy the context argument.

    I also think that if you want to use Jesus’ public prayers as an example of why it’s okay to pray in public, then you can only count prayers that are actually led by Jesus.

    I’m confused. Not that I accept this stipulation, but if I did, would it validate or invalidate all of the examples of Jesus praying aloud in public that I provided. Are you distinguishing between “praying aloud so others can see and hear you” as model behavior from “praying aloud and encouraging others to do it with you”? I’m not sure the distinction means much. Also, this doesn’t address the fact that Jesus said explicitly that his coming must not alter so much as a single letter of the existing Jewish Law, which very clearly instructed the Jews to public, collective worship.

    Again, though, I don’t think this is a functional dictate so much as it’s an instructional dictate — the social pressure to be pious is and always has been strong, and potentially interferes with actual, real spiritual growth; prayer-in-secret is an admonition to avoid letting envy or pride interfere with your communion with God.

    Well said. I’m down with that.

    …I should also point out that [Jesus saying ‘wherever two or more are gathered in my name, I am there also’] suggests an anti-authoritarian position when it comes to priests and churches in the first place — i.e., why do you need to go to church, when every time there’s more than one of you, you ARE a church?

    This Sam’s Club-sized can of worms you’ve opened is not one I especially want to begin unpacking here. Suffice it to say, yes, huge swaths of the Christian community that would agree with your take on what this passage (and others) implies about the need for a priestly class. I find those arguments reasonable and meritorious, though ultimately wanting. But with regards to church buildings, you are quite right; the construction of buildings for worship is, as far as I understand it, merely human convention. In the case of Christianity, it’s a human tradition held over from our duel Judeo-Pagan roots, both of which set aside special social spaces (and dedicated the labor and resources of their construction and maintenance) for devotion to God— places to house shared icons and religious trappings. For the orthodox faiths, Churches are where the Eucharist is kept in constant consecrated form, so that Christ is physically present in the community all the time. But it’s all our doing for our benefit, I think; they aren’t necessary. I’ve been to prayer meetings and Masses held in people’s homes, in the woods, on the beach, etc., and they’re just as lovely. And, as I’m sure you know, Revelations (when treated as prophetic rather than apocryphal literature) is generally held to predict a time when the buildings will go away, and the Church is driven underground, and it will be no less the Church for the loss of the churches.

    I was very careful to say specifically that I wasn’t saying that charismatic Pentecostals were faking their glossolalias, but that the problem with public events like that is that they create a social pressure with an enormous temptation to fake it.

    Yep, you did. I stand corrected. Mark the date.

    As for Tim Tebow:

    1. I didn’t say he was a hypocrite. Jesus said that, WHICH I MENTIONED…

    No, Jesus said the Pharisees were hypocrites; that those who pray for the purposes of garnering accolades are hypocrites. He said nothing about Tim Tebow. YOU implied he was a hypocrite by suggesting that the ONLY reason a person could pray in public was to be seen praying, which Christ never said (and which would indict most of the prophets, Christ Himself, and all the cats he hand-picked and directly commissioned to carry on the work in His stead). Furthermore, you gave special emphasis to a particular location (a football field), seemed to endorse the attached imaged (which suggests rather bluntly that Tebow is a hypocrite) and then derisively titled the post “The Theology of Some Quarterbacks”. Which, look, I don’t want to editorialize here, but I think “the errant theology of one particular quarterback” seems to be what you were getting at, right? I have no problem with you calling the guy a hypocrite, but let’s not pretend that wasn’t the commentary.

    Dude, you know I’m an atheist, right?

    I have heard things to this effect, yes.

    I also dispute the lapsarian idea of the Fallen World, but I guess there’s no point in arguing about that with a Catholic.

    Well, let’s not start limiting the discourse here on the basis of its efficacy. That could only lead to an unhappy cul-de-sac.

    In that respect, you can look at the Bible as being a metaphor for the evolution of human consciousness — it begins with the blissful ignorance of the animal id, evolves into the quarrelsome, bureaucratic and hierarchical ego, then into the compassionate and fluid superego, then finally into a state of universal human compassion, in which human civilization is destroyed and transformed, because all of its members are themselves transformed.

    With my humanist hat on, this is exactly how I would understand at the Bible. The narrative is a very lovely. For what it’s worth, I hope you’re right and the lapsarian conception is wrong. I just don’t think so on the basis of what I have observed of the world around me.

    Alan Moore also once described the story of Genesis as a metaphor for biological evolution: Adam and Eve represented the primitive that divides asexually; the Serpent, which is DNA, introduces sexual reproduction, and consequently the sex drive, which transforms the bacterial paradise of just sitting around and dividing your cells into the mass warfare of the human world. I thought that was a neat descriptor.

    I’ve heard this before. Not being entirely settled on the matter of Genesis myself, I actually think this is a strong possibility in either humanist-secular or theist analyses. My only theist qualm with this take: if God exists, and if (as we have come to know) the Genesis story does not actually describe the events as they took place, the use of metaphoric myth must have specific utility. There’s no reason to think that God couldn’t, through the mechanism of Revelation, present this entirely comprehensible narrative in the exact terms you have just laid out, even to ancient peoples. Thus, I can assume, it must be the case that the metaphoric myth of Revelation was required to describe something incomprehensible and radically outside the parameters of our current faculties and frame of reference. Leading me to believe that the mythologized events, if they took place, must use signifiers from our existence to describe events in another, prior universe or which occurred under indescribable conditions of being with different dimensionality from our own. Only the truly incomprehensible, by virtue of condition of being, could justify the willful obfuscation of the Divine, as far as I’m concerned.

  6. Carl says:

    (By the way, seeing how Tebow got his ass handed to him last night by Brady and the Pats, and how the odds are probably 40-60 at best that he’ll even be starting in the NFL next season, I have to commend your timing. It’s entirely possible that we’ll never have cause to utter his name again, so way to get it in under the deadline, Threat Quality.)

  7. braak says:

    Hmm, I’m suspicious of this. On the one hand, you’re telling me that God will give up anything asked for in his name, because it explicitly says so in John 13:14, but that I should not worry about Christ’s assertion that you should pray privately in your closet (rather than in public like a hypocrite), because that’s obviated by context? I mean, yes, you could definitely look at the Bible as a series of writings collected, transcribed, and translated from dozens of languages by fallible people, often erroneously or incompletely, about second, third, or fourth hand accounts of a historical personage who was himself fallible and also sometimes just talked about things that didn’t really matter except to the people within earshot.

    But that’s what I think the Bible is. I was assuming that you guys thought that there was some Divine Ordinance to it — that every part of it had both a contextual purpose (i.e., why does he say it in the first place?), but also a divine purpose (i.e., why is it still in here at all?). Is it the Catholic position that the Bible does not offer privileged access to Divine Truth?

    Like, when you get to that part of the Bible in church, does the priest say something like, “Well, Jesus did say to pray in private, but he was really just taking potshots at the Pharisees. Let’s not look at this as a moral or spiritual lesson, worthy of emulating for the sake of our psychic growth, but instead meditate on Our Lord’s facility for wicked zingers and passive-aggressive behavior”?

    Now, if we’re just obviating things by context, I could point out that the entirety of God’s promise may very well be simply a way of contrasting the morality of the Agape-God with the morality of the Hebrew God, who was notoriously enigmatic in the way that he bestowed benefits and suffering. “No, guys, this God wants you to be happy, and will give you anything that you pray for.”

    But that’s assuming that there’s some actual literal truth to any of it; if we can comfortably ignore a teaching by Jesus because we can safely conclude that he was probably talking about somebody else (or was definitely not talking about me, anyway), then there’s little reason to take any of it at face value.

    Which is good because, again, it is incontrovertibly, undeniably, and demonstrably false that God will give anyone anything that they pray for in his name. This is evidenced by the fact that no amputee has yet grown back his leg, no Superbowl has ended in a 36-way tie, no child has had a puppy come back from the dead after it was hit by a car. For every one example of a miracle rendered, the world offers up a million examples of a miracle denied.

    So, assuming that we have to accept anything that John says as being anything remotely close to the truth (and I just want to point out that I don’t have to accept that, and do not, in fact, accept it. To me, because I believe the Bible is just a piece of old aggregate literature, the possibility that John was just full of shit has equal weight in my mind), then how can he say that? Well, maybe he means everyone will have their reward in Heaven — that whatever you want here on Earth, you will have in abundance when you are made immortal in Christ. Or, maybe it’s just a cynical ploy to increase the profile of Christianity by encouraging people who’ve gotten what they’ve prayed for to stand up and announce to everyone that God gave them something.

    (I call it a cynical ploy because I don’t think it’s to the social good, though it may be good for the church; I think that if that was John’s plan for that, then he’s creating exactly the kind pious one-upsmanship that lets rich people deride the poor as being insufficiently spiritually devout, and that I believe the Sermon on the Mount was specifically warning against.)

  8. braak says:

    I also don’t know about this Mulligan World theory, either. In the first place, let’s get clear on what I mean by “permit”: if you have the knowledge to intervene, and the power to intervene, and you do not exercise that power on the basis of that knowledge, then you are permitting something. Consequently: God has infinite knowledge and infinite power; whenever something evil occurs, God has permitted it. Did he know it would happen? Yes. Could he have stopped it? Yes. That is the definition of “permit.”

    There is no way around that. The only answers, it seems to me, are: this is a Mulligan World, just waiting for its do-over, and God occasionally intervenes to make it slightly more bearable for some of us, but mostly doesn’t give a shit how it pans out. Or else, the reason that this is a Fallen World is so that we can undergo the period of spiritual incubation necessary to maintain in the next world: i.e., that God permits evil and suffering because of the moral strength of character that he builds.

    I mean, I don’t have a problem understanding the notion that we need a temporal world of suffering to be able to, in some way, survive the incomprehensible atemporal Subsequent World. That makes sense to me (though I should point out that notions like “boring” “tepid” and “static” are all illusory concepts based on your own failure to perceive all of time occurring simultaneously — so the negative connotations of those terms are a product of you being mired in three-dimensionality, and such connotations may entirely vanish if you were freed from temporality). But that brings us back to the notion of the Divine Plan — if the eternal souls in the mortal world are of ultimate importance to the deity, and their getting out of the mortal world is of ultimate importance to the deity, then how can we argue that shit bad luck isn’t part of the plan, too?

    So, does God need you to suffer, or not? You have a son: obviously, you don’t want bad things to happen to him. But you also know that he’s going to need to learn how to handle things on his own at some point — he’s going to need to know, I don’t know, not to touch the stove, or something. So what happens? Do you let him hang out with the stove while it’s on, because you know he needs to learn the lesson somehow? If he touches it and he burns himself, then what happened? You’re not “responsible” in the sense that you didn’t actually tell him to do it; but you definitely could have kept him away from the stove for his entire life. You absolutely permitted his suffering for the sake of a greater good.

    What I don’t understand is the notion that God created a world, invited our spiritual forebears to live in a perfect paradise, warned them not to fuck it up, and then continued to allow that paradise to be fucked up for all of their descendants, and just hoping that they turned out well enough to bother with in the next world. Does he need them for the next world? Is he just crossing his fingers and hoping he gets enough? (Ostensibly, if he exists outside of time, then he already knows he has enough; but if he exists out of time, then the universe is deterministic and the notion of free will is obviated.)

    (Double-ostensibly: chaos theory does not acknowledge the possibility of “freely chosen” decisions. Chaos theory is deterministic.)

    But if there is a possibility that a soul is going to fall through the cracks, and God permits it (again: there is no way of getting around the fact that if you can intervene and don’t, you have permitted something), then there’s something deeply passive-aggressive about the whole self-sacrificial world thing. God has all the answers and all the power, and continues to will into existence a universe of privation, why? Because we keep asking him to? Well what the fuck do we know? Why would he listen to us about that shit? If Judah wanted to live in a pit full of dirt with nothing to eat but rocks and maggots because he thought that was the best way to live, would you let him do that? Only if you were criminally irresponsible — and the gap in knowledge between us and God is actually an infinite gap, so it seems to me to be even worse.

    Anyway, though: if God has no plan for this universe except to get the souls out before the whole thing goes to shit, then doesn’t that (again) put a premium on spiritual success before material success, anyway? That it doesn’t matter if you win the football scores or whatever, what matters is that you grow spiritually — because football scores are part of the shit world, and it’s your soul that’s eternal. And if you grow spiritually by striving in the face of failure, then failures are far more important to your spiritual growth than success.

    God, in this case I guess, doesn’t want you to fail — that’s just bad luck on you for living in the shit universe — but the good news is, despite the fact that God wants you to have whatever you pray for, most of the time you don’t get it, which actually brings you closer to God?

  9. braak says:

    Finally, Jesus didn’t say he was talking about the Pharisees, you inferred it. He did say that hypocrites pray in public, and if you pray that way then you are praying like them. it’s not my fault if that also indicts everyone else in the Bible, I didn’t write the Bible.

    But also, no, first of all: I don’t believe there’s such a thing as errant theology, because I don’t believe that there’s a revealed truth, so I can’t talk about anyone’s theology being errant. Second of all, I don’t actually know what Tim Tebow’s theology is, which I said, so I definitely can’t actually talk about it, I can only take a guess at what I suspect it might be. Thirdly, the crux of the jumping off point was actually less the photo (which I brought up as a way of introducing the story) than it was the comment that followed it.

    To be clear: I do not actually think Tim Tebow is a hypocrite. I suspect he probably loves the hell out of Jesus. I do think he’s a good example of a kind of behavior that makes me suspicious, which is the public performance of prayer, whether or not he is personally prey to the spiritual evils of false piety and hypocrisy.

  10. Carl says:

    Hang on, now.

    Based on multiple, mutually reinforcing passages, I stated that we can conclude it to be permissible, moral, and of possible affect to make petitions of God both large and small, material and immaterial. I did NOT say that He would ‘give up anything asked-for in His name;’ in fact, I explicitly stated that which you point out as patently obvious: the vast majority of the time, God doesn’t do that. He’s not a wish-granting genie. And, assuming Christ isn’t a liar (for the sake of this discussion), I therefore extrapolated that there must be multiple, mitigating factors that impact whether or not God will/can grant petitions.

    Well, maybe he means everyone will have their reward in Heaven — that whatever you want here on Earth, you will have in abundance when you are made immortal in Christ.

    I mean, maybe. Maybe he means the exact opposite of what the multiple, mutually reinforcing passages in a variety of sentence constructions all spoken by the same person in a comparably short span of time seem to SAY. It IS possible. I just don’t find it convincing. As I said, assuming Christ isn’t a liar (for the sake of this discussion), he could very easily have just said that. He explicitly did not.

    Now, you’re claiming suspicion of self-contradiction on my part because the analysis I have summarized above CONFLICTS, as you see it, with a view of the Bible that is analytical, contextual, and exegetical? Cause it doesn’t seem like that to me at all. If I were a “every word is intended to be precisely where and what it is” Biblical literalist, I would say, “the text says ANYTHING you ask, you get. Anything you ask, you’re gonna get it.”

    …you could definitely look at the Bible as a series of writings collected, transcribed, and translated from dozens of languages by fallible people, often erroneously or incompletely, about second, third, or fourth hand accounts of a historical personage who was himself fallible and also sometimes just talked about things that didn’t really matter except to the people within earshot.

    But that’s what I think the Bible is.

    With the exception of the part of the last sentence that reads “who was himself fallible and also sometimes just talked about things that didn’t really matter except to the people within earshot”, that is PRECISELY how I think of the Bible. A sloppy, frequently accidental, self-contradictory, heavily-edited, multiple-sourced anthology of myth, historical record, allegory, parable, and correspondence, that is the product of countless unseen human hands throughout time. Some of it was undoubtedly written by men who were inspired by the God who is its subject; much of it, though, was clearly borrowed and reworked from older, pre-existing traditions. And even inspired hands are on the arms of flawed, finite, limited men through which the spirit of a perfect, infinite, absolute Thing moves. As such, the message is only as perfect as the medium through which is comes, and can certainly be colored by the idiosyncrasies and affinities of the particular vessel of Revelation. Taken together, then, I understand the Bible to be a beautiful, messy, eminently human record of man’s encounter with the Divine through the eyes of the people by which He chose to reveal Himself to the world.

    I was assuming that you guys thought that there was some Divine Ordinance to it — that every part of it had both a contextual purpose (i.e., why does he say it in the first place?), but also a divine purpose (i.e., why is it still in here at all?). Is it the Catholic position that the Bible does not offer privileged access to Divine Truth?

    Yes and no. Let me be clear to distinguish here between what “the Church teaches” (as best as I understand it) and what I take those teachings to mean.

    As I understand it, yes, the Church says that the Bible, considered as a complete record, is divinely-inspired and sacred, and that its composition and, more importantly, the Nicean compilation, was a process “guided by the Holy Spirit.” None of that means, though, that the Bible is considered “perfect”, “complete” or “absolute”. That, say, every word is only and precisely what it should be. (The conceit here is very different from, say, the Muslim conception of the Qur’an, in which the literal Mouth of God spoke directly to ONE guy who spoke it to ONE scribe who made it into a book. That’s authoritative. Nor is it comparable to the Book of Mormon, in which, again, ONE eye-witness records the culture of the Nephites and the Lamanites and the calamities that befell them, and ONE guy translates those recordings to make a book. The Bible dilutes God in the many voices which bring this text into being in a variety of ways, the accrued weight of which we take as Holy.) ALL its contents, all of the words of the prophets and Christ, must be parsed, weighed, prayed-upon, considered in the light of historical research, and examined exegetically. Now, unless everyone has an equal knowledge of all of these areas of biblical consideration, it means you need interpretors and analysts of the text. This is a pretty significant sticking point between the orthodox and protestant sects, as you know. It’s also why the Church long held the Bible unsuitable for individual consumption and interpretation, particularly in the periods of human history when education was hard to come by. It explains why the Church has such a Baroque dogmatic tradition that is weighed in importance along side (or ahead of) “the Bible”. After all, from our point of view, the Church (its traditions and dogma) preceded the Bible, not the other way around. Not even the Bible says Christ founded “the Bible,” but that he founded the Church, we argue.

    To this demand on your part that I not hinder the literal meaning of the words of the text by considering context: I’m hardly alone in this. In Matthew, Christ says, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it away. For it is better for you that one part of your body should perish, than for your whole body to be cast into Hell.” Christ might have been using allegory here. Or He might have been misattributed. The Bible is full of crazy things written by flawed, fallen, ancient people, that, without the consideration of the historical context of composition, the culture of the author, the language from which the text comes and into which it is translated, etc., can lead people to crazy beliefs Anything, really, they want to see in it. Everyone, though— even Biblical literalists and non-denominational self-interpreting Christians— take the passage from Matthew I have just cited to have allegorical, context-specific meaning. Nobody is tearing their eyes out when they trip (or even when they sin, as the “stumble” is usually understood). So I don’t see why an interpretive take on the scripture is even up for grabs here.

    I take all of this to mean that the Bible is sacred because of what it represents, and because, to the best of our knowledge and ability, it contains the most complete annals of the most important event that ever took place in the history: the Incarnation, the words of God-in-man (as incomplete a record as it surely must be), His life, death, resurrection, and establishment of the New Covenant. But it is absolutely a product of human hands. The accounts don’t even agree with one another! Surely God, were he to directly put into the brains of the writers of all of the books of the Bible the EXACT WORDS He wanted, could make the four Gospels agree on what God said and did on earth. No, I believe the Holy Spirit guided the process of compilation of some very human texts into a collection that contained everything necessary to understand the eras of Revelation that covered the Old and New Covenants. It contained other stuff too, I’m sure. But (and I’m certain there are some would consider this blasphemous) I don’t believe the Bible to be the last or most complete Revelation of God to the world. Maybe to this point, not for all time. Instead, the unfolding of all fields of human study (including Theology) will meet in a single point of complete Revelation at the end of history. It’s how any good narrative is set up. You don’t give up the reveal on which the whole story turns until the climax. From here, the appearance of contradiction that is illusory; from there, absolute integrated clarity.

    does the priest say something like, “Well, Jesus did say to pray in private, but he was really just taking potshots at the Pharisees. Let’s not look at this as a moral or spiritual lesson, worthy of emulating for the sake of our psychic growth, but instead meditate on Our Lord’s facility for wicked zingers and passive-aggressive behavior”?

    “Potshots at the Pharisees” was a phrase I used which was, perhaps, a bit too cavalier, if not incorrect. As you’ve been rightly saying, there is a crucial teaching in these ‘potshots’ about the need for a personal and devotional (rather than performative and self-congratulatory) motivation for prayer. That is different than the geography of prayer, of course. So no, priests don’t say that. But don’t get indignant about an argument I’m not even making. I’m not suggesting that you can pick-and-choose which words of Christ you like and want to believe in, and which you can ignore and assume he meant for other people. I am saying that CONTEXT MATTERS; if you have a person, in a particular context that relates to the behavior of some particular party some precise instruction, but then in a myriad of other contexts where the party in question is absent, seems to engage and approve of the opposite behavior, it isn’t outlandish to conclude that the instruction may have been contextually related to the party in question. Christ prayed in public, led prayer in public, instructed others to group prayer, and prompted the apostles to public prayer and proselytizing. I know you didn’t write the Bible man, and that contradictory instruction isn’t your problem, per se, but Christ, his actions, and directives ARE what we’re talking about here, and so they are relevant to a consideration of the claims your making about what Jesus (assuming this person was real and said or did anything like these things) believes about prayer vis-à-vis football players. Maybe he was just a hypocrite, or maybe context, audience, content, and circumstance matter.

    Finally, Jesus didn’t say he was talking about the Pharisees, you inferred it. He did say that hypocrites pray in public, and if you pray that way then you are praying like them. it’s not my fault if that also indicts everyone else in the Bible, I didn’t write the Bible.

    Okay, let’s have a look at the passage then. Obviously, unless we use the Koine, we can’t come to a definitive conclusion, but let’s make due with what we have. Here, in full, the first 6 verses of Chapter 6 of Matthew, New American Bible (if you’ll indulge me in a favored Catholic translation):

    1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.

    2 “So when you [a]give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 3 But when you [b]give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your [c]giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

    5 “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners [d]so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. 6 But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.

    Isn’t beware practicing your righteousness before men TO BE NOTICED BY THEM necessarily different from beware practicing your righteousness before men IN EARNEST DEVOTION? The qualifier of motive in that sentence is central to the directive. It’s even different from beware being noticed by men when practicing your righteousness. The same applies to the prayer passage: When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners SO THAT THEY MAY BE SEEN BY MEN. Its not the standing on street corners in prayer that’s at issue, it’s the motivation, as evidenced by Christ’s own prayer actions on street corners. Clearly, though, from the three passages here, the theme you’ve been hitting home IS evident: don’t give to be seen giving, give to give. Don’t pray to be seen praying, pray to pray. I think too (and I can’t find it right this second but I will continue looking) that I remember a homily on this passage that might be useful in figuring out what Christ’s on about which described how revolutionary the notion of private prayer would have been in context. For a community defined by its religious unity and identity in connection to a Tribal (rather than personal) God, which functioned under a theocratic internal governorship, and made use of a formalized Law that defined goodness in terms of prescribed, public acts of worship, ritual sacrifice, and devotion, the idea that private prayer had any place in one’s spiritual life at all was sort of baffling. Seen through that lens, perhaps Christ’s instructions to private prayer were a kind of permission to explore not only heretofore unconsidered prayer activities, but to indulge a complete re-imagining of the nature of a relationship between God and humans. I’m going to go with that as a tidy way of rectifying the apparent incongruence.

    I’ll tackle the middle chunk on the Mulligan World, Judah, and utility of failure tomorrow perhaps (though I’ll get this out of the way and concede that you’re correct about Chaos Theory).

  11. braak says:

    I wrote a long comment for this, but it got lost somehow, and now I don’t feel like writing it again.

    I guess, long story short: from my perspective it’s impossible for prayer to be either immoral or impermissible (I think I actually said that it was “tasteless”, which is neither of those things). The question of its possible effect is the key issue, but the thing is: doing the right thing (prayer) but for the wrong reasons has a negative probably affect on the devotee, I think. Praying to get stuff just teaches you to want stuff; praying for touchdowns just teaches you to want touchdowns. And that’s not what makes you, necessarily, the best football player you can be (it might make more sense, for instance, if Tim Tebow prayed for the ability to throw an actual spiral; or, I guess, practiced at it? He might practice a lot, I don’t know. Probably he does).

    Let’s say for instance that you pray for a touchdown, and you get one. And let’s say for instance, that you could have prayed instead for the strength of will to strive as hard as you can at football, and as a consequence of that you get a touchdown — these are two identical phenomenal effects, with two very different personal effects. One of those effects is good, in that it makes you an actual better person; the other is, at the very least, not exactly productive.

    Praying for material success so that God might be glorified is, equally, different from praying for material success because you want material success; in that case, it’s an accidental property of the glorification of God which is (I guess, debatably, but for the sake of argument) good. But just having stuff isn’t virtuous, and any time your spiritual growth is predicated on getting stuff as a signifier that you’re making progress, you open the door to confusion between virtuous behavior (let’s say, “Loving God”) and selfish behavior (loving stuff).

    I think the issue with public prayer is similar. It’s not that you can’t pray in public, or that you are necessarily doing it because you want people to see you at it and to think that you’re pious. But the fact of the matter is you do want that. I don’t care who you are, you want people to see you doing it because it makes you feel good about being pious. Jesus felt good because people thought he was pious (though, again, Jesus also had a specific purpose in the world that I think obviates his personally-led prayers).

    The question is, how do you remove the temptation of pride from your prayers? Pray where no one can see you. How do you remove the temptation of pride from your charity? Give so secretly that you don’t even know about it. How do you remove the temptation of greed from your prayers? Pray for things intangible. Thank God for your failures, thank your offensive line for your successes.

    Whether or not Jesus thinks it’s okay for you to care about having a lot of stuff, I don’t. So, I guess I disagree with Jesus on that score.

    (Incidentally, the notion that God doesn’t answer all prayers I think could make for an interesting argument — prayers for strength of character are almost always answered, since it’s the act of praying that strengthens character; prayers for dumb shit usually aren’t, because where are the rollerskates supposed to come from? Is it God’s way of teaching you not to pray for stupid shit? Well, no, because sometimes if you pray really hard for rollerskates, you will get rollerskates anyway, and that confuses the issue, in my opinion.)

  12. braak says:

    That was also a long comment.

    Also, I’m interested in the idea that heaven is atemporal. If you imagine a place that exists outside of time, you will probably think it’s pretty boring, and since it’s infinite, it will be infinitely boring until it becomes actually hellishly boring. But why do you think it’s boring? Because you’re a temporal creature, and everything that you have to do in life or to think about is mired in that same temporality. Obviously except for: God, and your eternal soul.

    This suggests to me that Heaven and Hell could be the same place — it’s a paradise to people who have spent their lives meditating on the eternal (and so aren’t discomfited by it’s atemporality; or rather, probably most of them eventually shuck off their last vestiges of temporality in order to appreciate it fully); it’s a hell to people who have spent their lives meditating on the material.

    I like that idea, because it suggests that Hell isn’t punitive (and that it isn’t completely unconquerable), it’s the actual direct consequence of a life mis-spent. It’s also concomitant with some of the Buddhist notions about the temporal world — Buddhists, though, let you keep taking a crack at it until you get it right, which I think is pretty charitable of them.

  13. Carl says:

    ([T]hough I should point out that notions like “boring” “tepid” and “static” are all illusory concepts based on your own failure to perceive all of time occurring simultaneously — so the negative connotations of those terms are a product of you being mired in three-dimensionality, and such connotations may entirely vanish if you were freed from temporality).

    No, I entirely agree and that was my point. The way believers seem to talk about Heaven as a effortless paradise implies, I think, an expectation of these kinds of static conditions, which makes no sense to me. Surely Heaven, in which we presumably exist in a fuller state of being, has greater existential dynamism than does our present life, in which we exist in a lesser state of being. All of which leads me to the belief that our spiritual state in our present lives is of genuine consequence and utility in the next, rather than it just functioning as a standardized test for entrance.

    Let’s say for instance that you pray for a touchdown, and you get one. And let’s say for instance, that you could have prayed instead for the strength of will to strive as hard as you can at football, and as a consequence of that you get a touchdown — these are two identical phenomenal effects, with two very different personal effects. One of those effects is good, in that it makes you an actual better person; the other is, at the very least, not exactly productive.

    But just having stuff isn’t virtuous, and any time your spiritual growth is predicated on getting stuff as a signifier that you’re making progress, you open the door to confusion between virtuous behavior (let’s say, “Loving God”) and selfish behavior (loving stuff).

    PRECISELY. And all I was originally objecting to was the notion that “praying about football” must be conflated with “praying for touchdowns”, because they aren’t the same thing. And again, if God loves you, and your prayer life is primarily about the acquisition of stuff (or fame, or well, self really— if it’s consumptive in nature) then he’s apt to deny those material prayers, I think, because as you point out, granting them is in your spiritual best interest. Though, not all prayers for “material things” are selfish, right? If you’re a doctor for some aid agency in some poverty-stricken part of the world, and your praying that somehow, against the odds, money finds its way to you so you can purchase some piece of badly needed equipment, that is absolutely “praying for stuff”, but one (assuming no wills are bent in the process) that I imagine neither you nor God would have qualms with. That’s an extreme, of course, in terms of motive purity, just as “praying for touchdowns” is an extreme in terms of motive pollution. But humans can petition God in prayer occupying any shade of gray on that messy motivational continuum, and I trust God to sort out the whys and whatfors of the granting.

    I don’t care who you are, you want people to see you [pray in public] it because it makes you feel good about being pious.

    Actually, for what its worth, I don’t. I’m not tooting my own horn here, I just find it extremely embarrassing. I’m not sure why. It’s not a matter of lack of conviction, not fear of judgment. I just feel very, well yeah, exposed when I pray in public. Which, trust me, was a challenge growing up in my family. But I try to remember, too, that we’re called to be brave in our belief. I mean, I wouldn’t hide my artistic self from my artistic community, or my ethnic self from my ethnic community, or my intellectual self from my intellectual community, so it would be odd to hide my spiritual self from my spiritual community. And, too, religion (as opposed to “faith”) is as much for the benefit of other as it is for self; there is strength in any kind of collective human solidarity and testimony, faith included.

    The question is, how do you remove the temptation of pride from your prayers? Pray where no one can see you. How do you remove the temptation of pride from your charity? Give so secretly that you don’t even know about it. How do you remove the temptation of greed from your prayers? Pray for things intangible.

    I don’t disagree at all. I just think this is only part of the instruction we’ve been given about prayer. But certainly if you’re wrestling with pride or greed in your prayers, yes, privacy and secrecy are the appropriate correctives.

    Whether or not Jesus thinks it’s okay for you to care about having a lot of stuff, I don’t. So, I guess I disagree with Jesus on that score.

    Well, no, I don’t think Jesus thinks it’s okay for you “care about having a lot of stuff.” As you well know, the only folks that Jesus is harder on in the gospels than the Pharisees and Temple Priests are the wealthy. But again, depending on the context, praying for something material isn’t synonymous with “caring about having a lot of stuff.”

    Thank God for your failures, thank your offensive line for your successes.

    As a matter of fact, owing to this discussion, I checked into what Tim Tebow said at the mike after getting his ass handed to him in Denver last week. First words out of his face were praise and thanks to God, complete failure notwithstanding, followed by compliments for his coach and his teammates (of whom he said all season long in postgame conferences, “they make me look way better than I am”. Quite rightly). Tim Tebow and Chris Braak apparently agree on this point, folks.

    [The atemporality of heaven] suggests to me that Heaven and Hell could be the same place — it’s a paradise to people who have spent their lives meditating on the eternal (and so aren’t discomfited by it’s atemporality; or rather, probably most of them eventually shuck off their last vestiges of temporality in order to appreciate it fully); it’s a hell to people who have spent their lives meditating on the material. I like that idea, because it suggests that Hell isn’t punitive (and that it isn’t completely unconquerable), it’s the actual direct consequence of a life misspent.

    That’s gorgeous and brilliant. I had always thought something along these lines, actually— that heaven and hell (and purgatory) were (all) the same “place” distinguished only by ones spiritual development relative to agape, but I never married it to this materialist idea. (There’s some trouble in the idea for present trends in Catholic theology, which has been trying to consciously move away from the Cartesian idea of the divorce between material and immaterial that gives preferential treatment to the latter over the former. That is, of soul over body, spirit over flesh, in such a way that makes us think of the body as “bad” and the mind/soul as “good” Still, I think it’s quite lovely.)

    Buddhists, though, let you keep taking a crack at it until you get it right, which I think is pretty charitable of them.

    Indeed. Though, perhaps purgatory is not dissimilar in nature, only in state-of-being.

  14. Carl says:

    Dammit.

  15. braak says:

    Well, and see, if captain snark had point out that bit about Tim Tebow instead of defending the however-erroneous assertion that he was praying for touchdowns, probably this conversation never would have happened.

    I think it’s a pretty good thing that I’m not Christian, because if I were I suspect I’d probably end up being a Trappist Monk. Or a Puritan.

  16. Moff says:

    Go with Puritan. Otherwise you start out with, like, no hit dice or abilities, and sure, you’ll eventually be really powerful, but it takes so long to level up. Not worth it, no matter how much free beer you get out of the deal.

  17. braak says:

    !!! Wait a minute, though, what starting feats do Puritans get?

  18. braak says:

    They should be like Solomon Kane, and be a combination of Barbarian and Cleric.

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