Sunday, August 11, 2013

Reflections In A Weary Eye: A Sunday Rumination

"Man's got to know his limitations." -- Clint Eastwood as Harry Callahan in Magnum Force

There's really no age at which it's unimportant to "know thyself," but it becomes ever more critical as one ages. By the time you get to my age, it's approximately a matter of life and death, if only to keep the stress from bursting a few choice blood vessels.

In our era of pervasive unearned "self-esteem," far too many of us think we have a God-given right to:

  • Like ourselves;
  • Think well of ourselves;
  • Think ourselves superior to others.

This is, to be maximally gentle about it, not guaranteed.

Why these observations this fine August morning? Well, let's just say some very recent events have compelled me to admit certain things about myself to myself that aren't all that palatable. Worse, I don't think I can do anything about them. However, if I can't change them, I can still avoid those situations and gatherings where they're likely to cause me to do things I'll regret later.

It's a given that no one has complete control over his circumstances. It's less well known, or admitted, that very few, if any, of us have complete control over ourselves.

I have had it up to the eyelashes with priests who conflate the religious obligations of a Christian with the adoption of a particular political stance. I'm not about to commit a murder, mind you, but I am getting pretty near to leaving my parish and finding another.

A priest who tells his flock, whether explicitly or implicitly, that it's their Christian duty to support or oppose this or that government program has departed from the teachings of Christ. "The things that are Caesar's" are matters of conscience: i.e., they're for each Christian to decide for himself. For to take a position on any such matter implies a consequent obligation to oppose the government in the event that events develop in the opposite direction. I don't suppose I need to elaborate on the potential consequences of such a course.

If your congregation suffers a relentlessly political cleric, the sooner you haul him up short, the better -- and don't take any backtalk, whether from him, or (if he's not the pastor) from his superior. He's doing damage to the faith, to the congregation...and to his own soul.

Time was, to name a price and have it met constituted a contract -- possibly not a legally enforceable contract, if the event was conducted privately and orally, but a contract binding upon one's honor nevertheless. Among the great captains of industry of bygone days were many who prided themselves on "deal by handshake." Once they'd shaken a co-bargainer's hand, the deal was set, and they would as soon attempt to renege as try to stop the rotation of the Earth.

I've had two such contracts sundered, against my will, in the past six weeks. Both were for six-digit amounts of money. Both involved significant negotiations and generous time horizons. It got me wondering whether there's anyone out there who still considers his word to be his bond.

Many persons experience such disappointments through channels such as eBay. Sellers who won't follow through on a contracted sale; buyers who bid and then won't pay; buyers and sellers who decide to meet privately so as to avoid paying eBay its agreed-upon slice of the take. Whether petty or grand, it's still larceny. If it's seldom prosecuted, that's mainly because there's so much of it going around.

People constantly fulminate, often in public, about how litigious a society America has become. But litigation doesn't spring up from nothing, like some sort of super-toadstool. It arises from dishonor: the desire to get what one does not properly deserve.

The legal "profession" -- yes, those are "sneer quotes" -- deserves a large share of the blame. Lawyers grow fat when there's a lot of conflict and starve when there's little or none. But their principal role is to act as seducers, holding out the promise of unearned gains through legal action. Were ordinary Americans less susceptible to such promises of payola, we'd be a lot less inclined to sue one another.

Christ might not have said anything directly relevant to this subject, though forgiving one's neighbor for his trespasses "not seven times, but seventy times seven" would appear to apply.

Moods come and go. Good ones and bad. Yours and mine.

No doubt you can tell that I've been in a funk recently. That's due to developments most of which are better kept to myself. I'm hoping the fog will soon lift, for it makes me less than effective at the many things I must do, I should do, and I want to do. I pride myself on my effectiveness; I dislike to have it impeded. I also feel much gratitude to those who, in their several ways, have helped me to bear up.

America is in bad shape. That's generally beyond dispute on the Right side of the political spectrum. But it's important -- nay, critical -- that conservatives and libertarians maintain their optimism. Once that's gone, hope will be gone as well...and despair is the sin for which one cannot atone.

The great Marshall Fritz, founder of the Advocates for Self-Government, once said to me that the thing most obviously lacking from the larger liberty movement is hope. We need hope if we're to restore Constitutional, freedom-respecting government to these United States. When times are bleakest is when we need it most.

Similarly, when things are tough for us materially -- and how long has it been since so many Americans were having trouble making ends meet? -- hope is essential. Nothing worth having comes without effort, and no one can mobilize his forces without hope.

Finally, when one is politically untroubled and materially secure, one can still be lost emotionally. I've been there. You can feel the hope draining out of you as such an interval wears on. If you let that process continue, pretty soon you can't face others. In extremis, you can't even face the coming of a new day. You find yourself contemplating the most terrible thoughts...and presently the Eternal Footman is standing but a little way off, holding your coat and snickering.

There is but One to whom we can apply for hope's replenishment. Fortunately, He's always available and very easy to talk to.


May God bless and keep you all.


pdwalker said...

For someone in a funk, you still write the most hopeful messages.

Anonymous said...

There were MANY pastors in this country who preached revolution from their pulpits. More than one was an active participant in the festivities of April 19th. There is nothing at all wrong with a pastor making a political statement that is in line with the teachings of Christ.

If it were, we would likely not have the nation we do today. The American Revolution according to most historians occurred during a great spiritual awakening and might not have occurred without it.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Anonymous, there is no such thing as "a political statement that is in line with the teachings of Christ." Politics is about the use of force to bend others to the will of the State; Christ's teachings were free of any suggestion that anyone should do that to anyone else.

Anonymous said...

I will agree that God never says that it is the duty of Christians to impose their will on others- as Muslims for example do. We are to serve as examples to others and to teach and encourage them to find faith and a relationship with God of their own.

Having said that, being a Christian is not something you turn on and off as it is convenient for you or when it does not conflict with your "worldly" views of things. I can't see how a true Christian sets aside their faith and beliefs as they enter the ballot box. If you believe that God has known us since before he formed us in our mothers' womb, that has a certain meaning in the context of the abortion debate for example...God has never instructed his followers to tolerate evil as far as I know.....

It's an interesting debate....

Adrienne said...

"I have had it up to the eyelashes with priests who conflate the religious obligations of a Christian with the adoption of a particular political stance."

None of that would be necessary if they actually taught the faith as it was intended. A properly catechized person would, in most cases, make the correct political decisions.

Thank you for visiting me. I'm a huge fan of yours and always look forward to your posts - and not because of a random political rant. I read you because you are a writer who strings words together in such a way that they sing and dance across the page.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Thank you for the compliment, Adrienne. I trust you'll be back often. And I think I'll add your Corner to the Liberty's Torch blogroll.

jeff said...

Mr. Porretto,

I am relatively new to your blog, and was ready to venture into your comments section and do some amen-ing. But, I find myself inclined to take exception with this statement: "Politics is about the use of force to bend others to the will of the State".

Perhaps that is a fair definition for some folks, but not one to which I can subscribe. From my perspective, and for my own purposes, politics is exactly the opposite: actively seeking to have the State bend to the will of the individual. And as a Christian, and a reluctantly political one at that, I prefer a State informed by the teachings of Christ, and an electorate that openly seeks and expects the same.

I'd be interested to hear how you came by that definition, but I think that I'd much prefer a pastor that is unafraid to lead his flock through the political minefields, than the alternative.