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Homosexuality

This blog entry will make some people mad, I think, but please bear with me.  It’s about homosexuality, and specifically about how it’s possible for someone to think that homosexuality is a disorder and still to approach homosexuals with love.

Here’s the part that will make some people mad: I think of homosexuality in the same way that I think of brother-sister incest.  Does that seem wrong?  Maybe your knee-jerk reaction is, “That’s disgusting that you could even think that.”  But why?  What is the problem with incest?

You could say that incest leads to children with a higher chance of deformity.  But does that mean that there’s no problem with incest where one partner is infertile?  Of course not.  You could protest that brother-sister incest between consenting adults is very rare – but compared to heterosexuality, homosexuality is rare too.  You could say that it’s just obviously wrong – that there is natural biological and social resistance to it – but you could say exactly the same thing about homosexuality.

Obviously, many incestuous relationships involve coercion.  But what about incest between consenting adults?  This does happen. In a quote from a Guardian article (that I found through Wikipedia), someone involved with his sister says, “You can’t help who you fall in love with, it just happens. I fell in love with my sister and I’m not ashamed … I only feel sorry for my mom and dad, I wish they could be happy for us.” (You can read the whole article here.)

So say you have a friend who is involved in an incestuous relationship.  He says, “We’re perfectly happy together.”  How do you feel toward him?  If I were in that situation, I would feel nothing but love for my friend – but there is no way I would believe that the relationship was healthy.  I’d believe he loved his sister, yes, but that he was profoundly confused.

Now someone could easily say, “You’re just prejudiced against brother-sister relationships because of your religion.”  Well, it’s true that my religion says it’s wrong.  In fact, it has a lot more to say about incest than it does about homosexuality.   But I hope it’s pretty clear that in that case it wouldn’t be a blind adherence to a hateful religious dogma that made me see a problem in my friend’s relationship.

The reaction that you might have to that brother-sister relationship, or at least the reaction that I would have, is almost identical to my reaction to people involved in homosexual relationships.  I do not love them any less.  I do not deny that they really do feel love for each other.  I just think they are profoundly confused.  Does this make me a hateful bigot?  And if so, then does it make me a hateful bigot to feel that way about incest? I’d love to hear and respond to any thoughts people have on this.

There were two things that happened this week that led me to a few realizations that I’d like to share.  First, I read some conversations online between atheists and believers.  And second, at the Youth Group I was leading this week, I initiated a conversation with the teens about where they are in terms of faith.  There were a lot of good responses, but one girl’s response stuck with me more than the others.  She said, “Well, I don’t really know, and maybe it’s just a teenage thing or whatever.  But I guess I think the idea of a God is comforting, and it would be nice, but honestly, if I’m praying or whatever, do I think there’s actually someone there?  No.  Not if I’m really being honest with myself.”  I was thinking about this, and comparing this state to the state of a confirmed atheist (or confirmed agnostic), and I think I’ve had a few insights.

I think everyone comes to a point where they realize that “if they were honest with themselves” – that is, if they looked at their heart – they would realize they didn’t believe in God.  This doesn’t mean that everyone lets go of their intellectual faith, or their willingness to “stick with” their religion.  But the fact is, faith only exists where there’s charity, and we don’t start with charity.  We can have enough faith to keep following the path that will lead to real faith, but we come to a point where we realize that our faith is basically just historical.

Some people decide at this point to start being honest with themselves.  And because at their heart they don’t actually believe in God, they feel like a weight has been lifted off their shoulders when they reject faith, because it was artificial – they were lying to themselves when they said they believed.  And some of them assume because of this that everyone who has faith is deceiving themselves.  Because that had been their experience of faith.  Still, I think many people come to this state and then later do come to see God in an honest way.  But others start to see this state as the only truly reasonable one and back up their positions with arguments and set themselves firmly in this state.

But other people don’t take this step, and there are those who do take this step who decide to at least be open to the idea of God .  And some of these people come to a place where they keep learning, they keep trying, and then at some point or another, they see God.  They have a sense of incredible awe from the order in the universe – that we live in a universe with structure and rules.  Or they actually feel the unfathomable miracle that a baby can be born.  Or they realize just how incredibly real love is – and they realize that the love they feel must be from something (well, Someone) much bigger than themselves.  We have moments where we realize that if we are honest with ourselves, we completely believe in God.  And we realize that this belief, this sight, is much truer, much clearer, much more alive than our old “honesty with ourselves.”  Our faith is not a construction; our faith is the rock that everything else is constructed on.

The thing is, though, that until we’re regenerate, there are going to be times in our lives when we feel like if we were honest with ourselves we couldn’t say we believed in the Lord.  Even after knowing the Lord, there are times when I don’t feel His presence – when if I was “honest with myself” I wouldn’t see Him.  The beauty of it, though, is that the Writings pinpoint these moments with perfect accuracy.  They say that if we’re acting entirely from the sensuous level of our minds, or that if we are putting love of self above love for the neighbor, then we’re shutting off heaven.  And those are exactly the times when I don’t actually feel like the Lord is there.  But (and like I said, this is the beauty of it), because the Writings so accurately describe these states, my faith in what the Lord says is strengthened rather than weakened.  And when I’m able to feel love for other people again, I always know that the Lord is real, because I know Him.

[Note: I’ve added a little bit since I first wrote this, acknowledging that many people who go through the stage of rejecting faith come back to it later.]

(Note: this was originally written as a note on Facebook in response to a note left by my cousin Erica in response to a comment left by my mom on a different note by Erica)

This is one of the most fascinating questions in the world to me: how do people get to the point where they accept something as Divine Revelation? I think it’s one of those things that has a different answer for everyone.
And so, even though you didn’t ask for it, I’ll share my story of how it happened for me. (This is partly because I was reading my journal from late high school/ early college and I had forgotten just how much questioning I went through). I’m still trying to piece it all together, but this is basically what happened, I think:Towards the end of high school, I started to wonder what I really believed. I don’t know that I ever directly questioned the Writings – but I got to the point that I felt like the only reason I believed was that I had been raised in Bryn Athyn and it would be so devastating to me if I ever let go of the Writings. I wrote this in my journal on 6/26/02:

The real insurmountable fear, though, is in questioning the religion, I mean really questioning it, not questioning it in a cursory way while I completely accept it in my mind. I am more afraid of losing my religion than dying, I think. Bryn Athyn is bad that way; you grow to depend on the community, on your parents, on your friends, so that denying the religion would not be primarily a religious decision, but a social one; I’d be shunned by everything and everyone that I love. So I believe in the writings, but I have doubts, and I’m too scared to really confront those doubts.

After that, I think there were a few things that contributed to my trust in the Writings. They came from various places. First of all, I always had doubts because of Earths in the Universe. How could the things contained in that book possibly be true? I asked several ministers, and they all gave me several possibilities, but it wasn’t until I asked Andy Heilman that I got an answer that really changed how I saw things. He essentially quoted TCR, which says “Thought from the eye closes the understanding; thought from the understanding opens the eye.” The point, he said, was that FIRST you had to trust the Writings; THEN you tried to see how it was true. So what the actual explanation was wasn’t so important; what’s important is that God said it, so it’s true somehow. You can try to understand how it could possibly be true – and the explanation might be something radical – but there was no reason that external evidence should shake your faith.

It’s pretty obvious that this raises on objection: “But that only works if you’ve already accepted the Writings!” That’s true, so I suppose that whenever he said that I had already accepted the Writings in some way or another – although it was probably still mostly historical faith at that point. The point is that it made a big impact on me, because I’d never been told that the Writings advocated believing in Divine Revelation BEFORE reasoning from external evidence. I think to a lot of people that would be a turn-off: it seems like it’s telling you to turn off your brain, and it seems antithetical to the idea that there is no “blind faith” in the New Church. But I loved it. (Blind faith vs. believing in revelation above external evidence is still something I try to figure out. Short answer: “blind faith” means believing in something that doesn’t make sense, or believing something that you don’t understand. The first is shallow, the second is impossible. Believing that Divine Revelation is Divine Revelation simply because it says so and because you just BELIEVE is something different, although it takes a process to get to it. In fact, that process is what this note is about, and the tension between avoiding “blind faith” and believing something to be true apart from external evidence is one of the reasons that stories about how people come to accept something as Divine Revelation are so interesting to me. But I digress.).

I’m not sure when that was – probably some time during my freshman year of college. Another thing that made a big impact on me was philosophy class at college. I wrote this in my journal February of ’02:

I really like philosophy class. It’s really pushed me toward believing in the Writings, because I know what kinds of questions they were trying to answer and what problems they resolve. Before, it was like reading the answers to a test without reading the questions: you get all the information, but you’re not quite sure why it’s there or what it’s supposed to be about. Also, the fact that Swedenborg’s visions and ideas of another world aren’t all that “out there” is reassuring, although that’s probably a bad reason for believing in something.

The summer after my freshman year of college, though, is when I really started to get into the Writings. I think what inspired it in part was an off-hand comment that Scott Frazier made to someone and I overheard. He was basically saying that people shouldn’t use New Search so much or flip to random passages from the Word, but should just sit down and read sequentially. From that, I came up with an idea: I was going to try to treat the Writings like any other books – that is, instead of randomly looking up passages or reading a tiny bit at a time, I would sit down and read it for long periods of time, like I would with a novel, like I probably would if I came across the Writings for the first time in a book store.

I decided to start with True Christian Religion. During the summer after freshman year, I read through the first half of True Christian Religion. I was blown away. It answered so many of the nagging questions I’d had. The most powerful teaching of all was one of its main messages: anything good or true that a person does comes from God, not from the person; and anything evil or false comes from hell. For the first time, I could see how loving God and loving the neigbor were one and the same. And I could finally see how it was possible to do good without being conceited and in love with myself. It answered everything.

It was in the winter of my sophomore year of college that I actually said to myself, “I believe this, and nothing will shake my faith in this.” I was still reading through TCR, and still loving it. One day, a friend of mine dropped hints that he might attempt suicide. I went into his room and confronted him about it. It wasn’t something I would normally do. The whole story of that time is too long to tell, but basically for almost a month I was trying to keep my friend from committing suicide. And during that time, I felt the Lord acting through me. Not to say I became God or channelled God or anything – I made a heck of a lot of mistakes. But that sensation, that feeling, was more real than anything else I’ve ever experienced – and it fit perfectly with what I was reading about in True Christian Religion. I had no doubt; and I told myself that whatever else I took out of the experience, I had to remember how real that was.

So, that’s where I come from. After that I had a pretty dark time for about half a year, actually, where I became bitter and judgmental because I didn’t feel like my friends were good enough or religious enough. They were pretty hellish times, but I eventually came out of them, and my faith remained. During that time I started reading Arcana Coelestia, which reinforced my belief that faith in the Word simply because it’s the Word is stronger than faith in the Word for various reasons from external evidence. I made that the foundation, and now I’d just as soon doubt the existence of the physical world as doubt the truth of the Writings (not that I don’t occasionally experience times of doubt, but to the extent that belief is a choice, I know that I will always choose to believe).

That’s about the whole story. I think it’s the first time I’ve told it in its entirety, and it feels really good to be able to look back and see how I got where I am now. If anyone else is reading this, I’d love to hear their stories of how they got to where they spiritually are today.

[Note: I forgot to mention a couple of points in the first note.  First of all, I did not immediately come to the conclusion that the Writings were Divine revelation as soon as I realized that they were true.  Instead, I thought, “The Writings are true, and so I will believe whatever they claim about themselves.”  After some digging around, I was satisfied that they do indeed claim for themselves the status of Divine revelation.  Second, I did not mention that the primary reason that I continue to believe in the Writings is that I see more and more truth in them.  In other words, it’s not just belief because I’ve decided to believe – it’s belief because I see that it’s true, although the decision to believe is always there in the background.]

I’ve read a little bit more and talked to some people about vegetarianism, and I’ve clarified my ideas a little more. The section of AC that I quoted is about the commandment not to eat blood with flesh, since that would be to mix what is holy (blood) with what is profane (flesh) – representatively speaking. This is the next number, AC 1003:

From these things it is now evident that “not to eat flesh with the soul thereof, the blood thereof” is not to mingle profane things with holy. Profane things are not mingled with holy by one’s eating blood with flesh, as the Lord clearly teaches in Matthew:

Not that which entereth into the mouth defileth the man; but that which proceedeth out of the mouth, this defileth the man; for the things which proceed out of the mouth come forth out of the heart (Matt. 15:11, 18-20).But in the Jewish Church it was forbidden because, as has been said, by the eating of blood with the flesh there was then in heaven represented profanation. All things done in that church were turned in heaven into corresponding representatives-blood into the holy celestial; flesh, outside of the sacrifices, because it signified cupidities, into what is profane; and the eating of both into the mingling of the holy with the profane. For this reason it was then so severely interdicted. But after the coming of the Lord, when external rites were abolished, and thus representatives ceased, such things were no longer turned in heaven into corresponding representatives. For when man becomes internal and is instructed about internal things, external ones are of no account to him. He then knows what the holy is, namely, charity and the faith therefrom. According to these are his external things then regarded, that is to say, according to the amount of charity and faith in the Lord there is in them. Since the coming of the Lord, therefore, man is not regarded in heaven from external things, but from internal ones. And if anyone is regarded from external things it is because he is in simplicity, and in his simplicity there are innocence and charity, which are in his external things, that is, in his external worship, from the Lord, without the man’s knowledge.

The thing that struck me about this particularly are the Lord’s words in the New Testament that declare that what goes into a person does not defile him I think this is important, and it’s convinced me even more that eating meat is not a sin.

Does this mean my newfound vegetarianism is doomed to die an early death? Nope. This is because I still like the attitude that it describes the Most Ancient Church as having: regarding animals as useful providers, rather than as sources of meat, and regarding their products and the products of the vegetable kingdom as food. I don’t think it’s a doctrinal thing, and I don’t even think it’s a conscience thing for me now that I’ve read a little more – it’s more just an attitude toward the world that I’d like to adopt.

I think one of the main problems with vegetarianism is that it can go along with a sense of merit and superiority. That’s also one of the main problems with being Coleman. I don’t think the former will be nearly as hard to deal with as the latter is.

* Edit 10 June 2008 – As I mentioned in a comment to this post, I stopped being quasi-vegetarian shortly after I started.  The comment explains why. *

Vegetarianism

How would you react if someone told you that in itself, eating meat is profane?  If someone had said this to me yesterday, I think I probably would have said, “Well, it was for the Most Ancient Church, but things have changed, so it’s not really the same thing.”  As it happens, though, someone DID tell me that, and that someone was a pretty good authority.  This is AC 1002 in its entirety:

Shall ye not eat. That this signifies not to mingle together, follows from what has just been said. Eating the flesh of animals, regarded in itself, is something profane, for in the most ancient time they never ate the flesh of any beast or bird, but only seeds, especially bread made from wheat, also the fruit of trees, vegetables, various milks and what was made from them, such as various butters. To kill animals and eat their flesh was to them a wickedness, and like wild beasts. They took from them only service and use, as is evident from Genesis 1:29-30. But in process of time, when men began to be as fierce as wild beasts, and even fiercer, they then for the first time began to kill animals and eat their flesh; and because such was man’s nature, it was permitted him to do this, and is still permitted, to this day; and so far as he does it from conscience, so far it is lawful for him, since his conscience is formed of all that he supposes to be true and thus lawful. No one therefore is at this day condemned because of eating flesh.

I’ve read this before, and it actually led to me not eating meat for about a month or so.  I had forgotten how strongly it was worded, though: it says that eating meat, regarded in itself, is profane – not corresponds to profanity or used to be profane.  It was permitted, and it seems to maintain its status as a permission, rather than the Lord’s will.  So how do we respond to this?  The Lord did eat fish while in the world, and presumably ate lamb at Passover, which leads me to believe that eating meat is not at all a sin.  But at the same time, this passage reminds me of the Lord’s words in the New Testament: “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it has not been so.”  I’m not trying to equate eating meat with adultery but rather trying to point out that the Lord does allow things in His laws that are not actually His will if these things would be too hard or would turn people away from Him.

It is something of a leap to say that this is one of those cases, but that is how it seems to me.  I don’t want to say I’m a vegeterian (although I was telling people that earlier today) because I might make exceptions in certain social situations, but as a general rule I’m going to stop eating meat.  I certainly don’t look down on anyone who doesn’t draw the same conclusions I do from the passage, but it would also be a mistake – and not in good conscience – for me to ignore my thoughts on what the passage means.

Note: I don’t think that the eating of flesh being “profane” means that it involves profanation, i.e. the mixing of holy things with unholy things; I think in this case it means “completely worldly”, and the commentary on this statement seems to indicate that it means this with negative connotations.

This is from Divine Providence, n. 136:2 (emphasis added):

The external cannot compel the internal, but the internal can compel the external. Who can be compelled to believe and to love? One can no more be compelled to believe than to think that a thing is so when he thinks that it is not so; and one can no more be compelled to love than to will what he does not will, for belief belongs to the thought and love to the will. There is, however, an internal which may be restrained by the external from speaking ill against the laws of the kingdom, the moralities of life and the sanctities of the Church. To this extent the internal may be compelled by threats and punishments; and it, moreover, is compelled and ought to be. This internal, however, is not the human internal that is properly so-called: it is an internal that man has in common with beasts; and beasts can be compelled. The human internal has its seat above this animal internal; and it is the human internal that is here meant, and it cannot be compelled.

So, should we have laws against speaking against the U.S. law, morality, and religion?  I’m not sure – I’m just putting this out there to hear what other people have to say.

I don’t want this blog to turn into a Ron Paul fansite, but I keep coming across Paul-related things that I want to post about.

 Anyway.  A lot of my political thinking is based on a passage from The True Christian Religion, which states in part,

Anyone can see that there is no empire, kingdom, duchy, republic, city or house which lacks the support of laws, to impose order and so control the form of its government. In each case the laws of righteousness occupy the highest place, political laws the second place, and the laws governing the economy the third. If we make a comparison with a man, the laws of righteousness are the head, those of politics the body, those of the economy the clothes. That is why these last can be changed, like clothes. (n. 50)

When I’m deciding who to vote for, policies or beliefs that have a genuine moral element trump the lower policies.  For example, even if Candidate A’s budget-balancing plan is far superior (in my opinion) to Candidate B’s, I’ll vote for Candidate B if Candidate A would support a law that I view to be truly unrighteous.

Now, I think that for the most part, the laws of righteousness are universally agreed upon.  They are fundamental principles, such as the idea that it is wrong to murder.  But there are a few cases where candidates do have different beliefs about laws of righteousness.  And the candidates opinions on these laws trump all the other positions and platforms they might have.

This brings us to my specific point.  I believe that the principle of never attacking until you are attacked is a law of righteousness.  And no matter what a candidate’s other opinions on economic or political policies, this principle takes precedence (unless, of course, their policies would break another law of righteousness).  This is why I will vote for Ron Paul in the Republican primary, and why I will probably vote for the Libertarian or Constitution Party candidate if Paul is not the Republican candidate.

This has always been true.  It’s why I voted for the Constitution Party candidate, Michael Peroutka, in the last election, even though I hated his policy on immigration.  But something Ron Paul said earlier tonight in the Republican debate made me appreciate him more than before.  Wolf Blitzer asked him, “What’s the most pressing moral issue in the United States right now?”  Ron Paul replied,

I think it is the acceptance just recently that we now promote preemptive war. I do not believe that’s part of the American tradition. We in the past have always declared war in the defense of our liberties or go to aid somebody, but now we have accepted the principle of preemptive war. We have rejected the just- war theory of Christianity. And now, tonight, we hear that we’re not even willing to remove from the table a preemptive nuclear strike against a country that has done no harm to us directly and is no threat to our national security!

I mean, we have to come to our senses about this issue of war and preemption and go back to traditions and our Constitution and defend our liberties and defend our rights, but not to think that we can change the world by force of arms and to start wars.

I might disagree with him about some of his foreign policy, I might have some doubts about his economic policy, but what matters more to me is his position on preemptive war, and on this issue we’re right on the same page.

(I got his response from The New York Times’ transcript of the debate.  Printing transcripts is the best thing newspapers ever do.)