Saturday, January 19, 2008

Thought For A Sunday

Taken from A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law.

Every exhortation in Scripture to be wise and reasonable, satisfying only such wants as God would have satisfied; every exhortation to be spiritual and heavenly, pressing after a glorious change of our nature; every exhortation to love our neighbour as ourselves, to love all mankind as God has loved them, is a command to be strictly religious in the use of our money. For none of these tempers can be complied with, unless we be wise and reasonable, spiritual and heavenly, exercising a brotherly love, a god-like charity, in the use of all our fortune. These tempers, and this use of our worldly goods, is so much the doctrine of all the New Testament, that you cannot read a chapter without being taught something of it. I shall only produce one remarkable passage of Scripture, which is sufficient to justify all that I have said concerning this religious use of all our fortune.

"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him,then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as as hepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: and he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: naked,and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me . . . Then shall he say unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: for I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: Iwas a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. These shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal." [Matt. xxv. 31-64]

I have quoted this passage at length, because if one looks at the way of the world, one would hardly think that Christians had ever read this part of Scripture. For what is there in the lives of Christians, that looks as if their salvation depended upon these good works? And yet the necessity of them is here asserted in the highest manner, and pressed upon us by a lively description of the glory and terrors of the day of judgment.

Some people, even of those who may be reckoned virtuous Christians, look upon this text only as a general recommendation of occasional works of charity; whereas it shows the necessity not only of occasional charities now and then,but the necessity of such an entire charitable life, as is a continual exercise of all such works of charity, as we are able to perform.

You own, that you have no title to salvation, if you have neglected these good works; because such persons as have neglected them are, at the last day, to be placed on the left hand, and banished with a "Depart, ye cursed." There is,therefore, no salvation but in the performance of these good works. Who is it,therefore, that may be said to have performed these good works? Is it he that has some time assisted a prisoner, or relieved the poor or sick? This would beas absurd as to say, that he had performed the duties of devotion, who had sometime said his prayers. Is it, therefore, he that has several times done these works of charity? This can no more be said, than he can be said to be the truly just man, who had done acts of justice several times. What is the rule,therefore, or measure of performing these good works? How shall a man trust that he performs them as he ought?

Now the rule is very plain and easy, and such as is common to every other virtue, or good temper, as well as to charity. Who is the humble, or meek, or devout, or just, or faithful man? Is it he that has several times done acts of humility, meekness, devotion, justice, or fidelity? No; but it is he that lives in the habitual exercise of these virtues. In like manner, he only can be said to have performed these works of charity, who lives in the habitual exercise of them to the utmost of his power. He only has performed the duty of Divine love,who loves God with all his heart, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. And he only has performed the duty of these good works, who has done them with all his heart, and with all his mind, and with all his strength. For there is no other measure of our doing good, than our power of doing it.


The Objectification of Women

Byron passes along a good piece by Bob Herbert about what seems to be an epidemic of mistreatment of women in our culture. Herbert is right, of course, that there is terrible violence being perpetrated against women in the United States, but the question I wonder about is why. Why do more men than in previous generations seem to hold women in such low esteem?

In my opinion, the problem goes back to the 1960s and the moral revolution that took place in this country concerning our attitudes toward sex and violence.

During the '60s and '70s pornography was mainstreamed and with the advent of the internet it became easily accessible to adolescents. Two generations of young men have thus been raised on ubiquitous pornographic images. This has had several affects, I believe. First, it has desensitized men to sexual stimuli. A hundred years ago a glimpse of a woman's lower leg was stimulating. It no longer is because now there's much more to be seen anywhere one looks than just a shapely calf.

Consequently, men require stronger and stronger stimuli in order to achieve the same level of arousal as someone who is not exposed to the constant barrage of sexual images as are young men today. Because of this need for ever more erotic stimuli many men want their women to be like the women they view in movies, magazines, and online - they want their women to be sexually voracious playthings, and that desire often has a dehumanizing effect on women. A lot of women simply don't feel comfortable in that role and that incompatibility can create tension in their relationships. The man feels cheated, the woman feels cheapened and trouble results.

At the same time that pornography exploded, sex was disconnected from marriage and commitment. Many women were perfectly willing to live with men and give them all the benefits of marriage without demanding of them any kind of permanent commitment. This suited many men just fine. When men could have sex without having to bond themselves to a woman, women were more likely to be objectified and used by men who reasoned that there was no sense in buying a cow as long as the milk was free. People who give us what we want may be popular as long as the benefits keep coming, but they are not respected. Respect is feigned as long as the benefit is imminent but when the benefit no longer seems all that novel or exciting the lack of respect results in the woman being treated accordingly.

Men are naturally promiscuous, they have to be taught to value hearth and family, and our entire culture has conspired in the last forty years to minimize and deride that lesson. So, when today's man, unfettered by a profound commitment to a particular woman and children, gets too accustomed to that woman she'll eventually begin to bore him and his eye will start searching elsewhere for another potential source of sexual excitement.

Along with the decline of traditional sexual morality was the emergence of a radical feminism that castigated the old Victorian habits of gentlemanly behavior. It became quaint for a man to give a woman his seat on a bus or to open a door for her. Men who had been raised to put women on a pedestal - to care for them, provide for them, and nurture them - were told they were no longer necessary for a woman's happiness. In Gloria Steinem's famous phrase "a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle."

The more vocal feminists also made it clear that women no longer appreciated being treated differently than men. Thus our entertainment culture began depicting women in movies as just as raunchy, coarse, and proficient at killing and mayhem as men, and the idea of a woman being an object of special respect and courtesy because she needed male protection and care became risible. This, too, dehumanized women by eroding the esteem in which their sex had formerly been held among men.

As with sex so with violence. The inclination to violence in the male population follows a Bell curve distribution. At some point along the tail there is a line on the other side of which lies the part of the curve which represents men who are violent. Most men sublimate and control their natural inclination to violence, but when they are exposed to it over and over as young men, when they amuse themselves with violent movies and video games, when they immerse themselves in violent imagery and themes, they become desensitized to it and tolerant of it. When they're no longer horrified by violence the population of males undergoes a shift toward that line, spilling many more men onto the other side than would have been there otherwise.

This affects women as much as men, if not more, because women are often the victims of that violence. As men become more inclined to violence, as they lose respect for women, as our culture portrays women as sexually insatiable playthings, women become increasingly the victims of male lust, anger and aggression.

It would be well for any young woman who is beginning to get serious about a young man to find out how much of his time he spends on violent movies and computer games and what he thinks about pornography. She'll learn a lot of very valuable information about him by so doing.


How We See 'Em

A couple more primaries come up this weekend, South Carolina and Nevada, and they turn our thoughts to consideration of who we would vote for were we voting today. If we had to rank the top tier candidates in order of our assessment of their suitability to serve as President of the United States, our ranking would look like this:

  1. Fred Thompson
  2. Mitt Romney
  3. Mike Huckabee
  4. Rudy Giuliani
  5. John McCain
  6. Barack Obama
  7. Hillary Clinton
  8. John Edwards

Of course, events may conspire to cause us to reconsider the order tomorrow, but as of now that's how we see 'em.