Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Fear and superstition

I've been meaning to write this post for .... oh, six months or so.  But something Enbrethiliel said set me off, and now I think I'm really going to do it.

It's hard to be alive and not to be afraid.  It's even harder to be a parent and not be afraid.  After all, most of us would rather die than have something happen to our children, and yet it is a lot easier to keep oneself alive than a tiny helpless human with no judgment.

In the modern world, it's even scarier, because we have the news: in the space of a few days, I have read of maybe four children dying.  I can't cope with this.  I can't even think about it.  And this is just from Facebook and blogs -- I don't actually watch the news or read the paper.

Intellectually, most of us are aware that there are some dangers we can't do much about.  And yet, there is a funny bit of the human psyche that has to try.  We have to do something -- anything -- to make sure the things we fear don't happen to us.

The most obvious case is OCD.  A person has obsessive fears, which they cope with by compulsive behavior.  If they fear dying of illness, they might wash their hands all the time.

And yet there are many cultural compulsions as well.  For instance, Koreans won't sleep with a fan on, because it's a common belief there that fans can kill you.  Meanwhile, Americans are terrified of SIDS and will often compulsively do anything that has been correlated with an even slightly lower risk -- including running a fan while the baby is sleeping. 

I reviewed the book Free-Range Kids awhile back.  It talks about the many things parents fear, like abduction or poisoned Halloween candy, that we really shouldn't fear.  And yet, if you don't fear them the amount our culture deems appropriate, people will think you're a bad parent who doesn't love your kids.

Recently it occurred to me that conservatives fear home invasion, to a point that seems irrational to me.  Everyone seems to have a plan for what they would do if someone broke down their door in the middle of the night and went for their kids.  (The plan is: shoot them.)  But how likely is this to happen?  I can't find out; if I google "home invasion" I get a lot of panicky blog posts telling you you're hiding your head in the sand if you don't have a loaded weapon on your bedside table.  I can't find statistics for my town.  I wouldn't be surprised if the number was zero.

And pretty much all Americans fear terrorism.  Even though you're far more likely to die of a car crash, plane crash, armed robbery, or lightning strike, it's terrorist attack that chills our blood.  It's understandable, with the trauma the whole nation seems to have experienced after 9-11, but the result seems to be that we now must police the entire world and kill any number of innocents just so we can be "sure" this will never happen.  To say nothing of the loss of privacy and civil rights -- the full-body scanners at airports, the ID checks people would like to institute in all public places.

What seems clear enough to me is that we are all desperate to alleviate our fear through some useful-seeming activity.  But it also is pretty clear that the actions we take aren't always helpful.  How many terrorist attacks have been stopped by full-body scanners?  Try none.  What if someone beats down your door and shoots you before you can get your loaded weapon pointed in the right direction?  Uh-oh.  What if you laid your baby on their back on a firm mattress in an approved crib with the door open and a fan running ... and they still die?

Well, at least we can feel we'd done all we could, I suppose.  But I think the real purpose we do those things is so that we can feel safer, so that we can put our fears to sleep and move on with life.  It's like monster-repellant spray, for adults, so that we can go to bed at night.

And that's why, as Enbrethiliel mentioned, we blame other people for the catastrophes that happened to them.  Your child is autistic?  It must be because you had them vaccinated; mine aren't, so it won't happen to me.  Your child died of pertussis?  Well, you didn't get them their vaccines; I did, so it won't happen to me.  You had a miscarriage?  It must be because you weren't thankful for being pregnant; I am thankful, so it won't happen to me.  You are poor?  Don't ask for help from me, it must be because God is not blessing you due to your sin.

I mention these last two because religion comes into it a heck of a lot.  I am tired of people saying, "We tithe ten percent and we've never gone hungry; if you tithe ten percent every single month, God will take care of you."  That was never promised!  It's not part of our religion, any part of it, that God will prevent you from being poor.  Or dying, or losing a child, or getting sick.  This whole "do this and things will work out" nonsense is more like superstition than religion.  Religion is about going to heaven, about building a relationship with our creator.  There is no novena you can say that guarantees you will never know suffering.

When your religion consists in this "prosperity gospel," feeling calm and safe while others undergo calamity because God will protect you, two very bad things happen.  First, you become prideful and assume you are better than people who don't have the blessings you do.  Second, sooner or later your luck runs out, something bad happens to you, and you say, "I suppose this whole religion thing is a lie, because I did it all and bad things still happened."

Neither is true.  If a pagan does his sacrifices perfectly and still has misfortune, he'd better give it up.  He had one purpose -- to get good fortune for himself -- and clearly it's not working.

The Catholic faith is about salvation, love, and relationship with God.  I often repeat the rather depressing promise Jesus made us: "You will be weeping and wailing while the world will rejoice; you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn to joy."

So what sense are we to make of the way the wicked prosper while bad things happen to good people?  The seeming senselessness of random tragedy?

I figure we deal with it just like everyone else does: hope, try not to think about it, comfort ourselves with precautions, look on the bright side.  We can also know that God is with us through tragedy, and that can help a lot.  And maybe remember that death isn't the end, and perhaps we should not be quite so terrified of it.

Well, I'm working on that last bit.


Saturday, February 22, 2014

Seven late takes

1

I'm not even going to bother linking this up since I missed writing it on Friday.  I spent Friday playing outside in the back yard, and it was time well spent!

2

The weather has been truly glorious the past few days, as in it's actually comfortable to be outside.  I can relax outside with a book and just soak up rays.  I feel like a plant .... drinking in life just by sitting in the sun.  I've been feeling down and depressed and anxious and tired and crabby for so long, and a little sunshine just seems to melt those awful feelings away!  (Yes, I take vitamin D.  Maybe not enough?)

It was just amazing, today and yesterday, the way everything improved so fast.  Both days I had migraines and was exhausted due to not sleeping.  (Michael's been hit or miss lately.)  Both days I couldn't get up the energy to do housework, the kids were fighting and making messes, and I had zero tolerance for their clinginess.  But I'd go outside and everything was instantly better.  First there was peace, as the kids found projects to do in the dirt and stick piles.  Then there was tranquility as I soaked up the sun.  Then within twenty minutes or so, I started getting this irresistible urge to get up, do toe touches, run around.  And that seemed to help the headaches, too!

I wish it were real spring, but the weather people say we'll be back to cold soon.  Oh well.  A few more weeks!

 3

Big news for us -- John got the job!  It's an improvement in every possible way: pay is better, he will be using his degree, the work looks challenging but not beyond him, it appears to be a positive work environment, and NO TRAVEL!

John's trips have been the bane of my existence for two years now.  I don't know why they are so awful.  After all, I get through every weekday without him anyway, without much help in the mornings as he's getting ready for work, and with only an hour or two of help in the evenings.  But just knowing there is another adult going to show up and lighten the load at the end of the day changes the whole day.  Even on days when he's got something going on in the evening and can't help out much, just getting to see him seems to keep me sane!

I know I seem like a whiner when there are women who take care of kids solo for months on end due to deployments or whatever, and women who do everything solo all the time because they are single mothers.  All I can say is, that sucks for them too.  Being the only person responsible for such needy people, the only person they want and the only one who can give them what they need, is draining in every way.  It is always, always sub-optimal to be all alone in the mammoth job of raising children.  Just thinking of it makes me want to make friends with some single moms so I can babysit their kids.  You need someone to give you a break.

Anyway, that awful season of our lives is over.  John's job will require the occasional weekend, or an evening event now and again, but he won't be away overnight for work AT ALL.  What a beautiful thought.

4

I have managed to stay out of Facebook drama for several days, go me!  I'm now in a polite and interesting conversation about politics and free markets.  Unlike debates, it actually makes me happy.

Oh wait, I'm in a debate about circumcision.  But it's a friendly one.  ;)  I do enjoy debating as long as everyone is willing to be respectful, and the facebook group for Christendom's debate society is an excellent place to have that kind of discussion.  There's some good-natured joshing, some rather deliberate pomposity, but no personal attacks.  A nice place like that for discussions is hard to find.

I sometimes go to the real debates, too, and have a good time, but I do think I express my ideas best in writing.  I'm afraid if you all met me, you'd find me much more dull in person!

5

Today I enjoyed all the benefits of shopping, without any of the miseries of shopping.  That is, I went to a clothing swap.  It was great.  I'm not sure any of my stuff got claimed -- I took a lot to Goodwill at the end.  But there were boxes and boxes of clothes there, and I walked away with two good church outfits, three pairs of jeans with NO HOLES, and quite a few shirts that fit my standards: comfy enough to be like t-shirts, but not t-shirts so I can stop being that person who shows up to everything in a ratty t-shirt.

6

On the topic of church clothes, am I the only one who hates getting dressed up for church?  You would think, since I dress down the rest of the time, it would be nice to dress up for a change.  And sometimes it is.  But a lot of the time, I get angsty about it.  Who am I dressing up for?  I don't want to dress up just so I don't look out of place .... and anyway, I can't afford to dress to the standard that most people at our parish do.  (I mean the church we often attend, with the nice cry room but in a much richer area than where we live.)  I worry too much about what people think of me, and church is one place where I would like not to do that.

But if I'm dressing up for God, what's the standard?  What I like?  I like to have warm feet and legs, which is basically incompatible with looking nice, at least with my wardrobe.  What God likes?  God created me naked, but I'm sure as heck not showing up like that to church!

What works best for me is designating one or two standard church outfits which are fancy enough to be appropriate and look like I'm going to extra effort, but which never change so I am not moaning as I root through the closet with ten minutes before we leave.  I'm hoping these two new outfits do the trick.  I haven't had a "standard outfit" since I finally wore out my old favorite skirt.

7

How you know you're an English major and a mother -- you find yourself contemplating writing essays like these:

Babar the King as a Defense of French Colonialism
The Utilitarian World of the Island of Sodor
Guilt, Fear, and Parental Absence in The Cat in the Hat
Impossible Expectations: Turns Out There Is Not Always Room on Mother's Lap

As well as all the questions that float through my mind as I read: Why is the bed flying all of a sudden in It's Time to Sleep, My Love?  Can the speaker in My Love Will Find You possibly be anyone short of God?  Why didn't the rabbit in Goodnight Moon finish his mush?  Why do animal bedtime books always have the animal babies going to sleep on their own instead of with their mothers?

And for the last time, Thomas the Tank Engine writers: Are those engines able to drive without drivers, or not?  And if not, why the heck do they have sentience at all?

How has your week been?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Are women less rational than men?

Yes, it's happened again.  I got in an awful facebook debate and you all get to be the beneficiaries.  Here's where I get to really lay out my argument without being ignored, interrupted, or called a "simpleminded woman."

Yeah, okay, it really stung and that's why I'm writing this post.  Sigh.  I could have posted my SAT score and college GPA, but that seemed stupid and I had wasted enough of my life on the ridiculous person I was arguing with, who said that all modern problems are caused by men allowing women (who by nature are foolish, weak, and inclined to sin) to have rights.

And anyway, someone actually asked me once to elaborate my "radical" views on this topic, and I never did, so here you go. 

Reasons to believe women are less rational than men:

1.  St. Thomas Aquinas said so.

2.  Women have been known to do stupid things, like get bikini waxes to impress men or stay with that guy that we all know is a jerk.

3.  Women have written fewer immortal works of literature, won fewer Nobel Prizes, painted fewer well-known paintings, etc.

4.  Women are more emotional.

5.  Women's hormones make them irrational.

Answers to above reasons:

1.  St. Thomas Aquinas spent most of his life in monasteries with only men.  For all his theological genius, he was no expert on women.

2.  Men have been known to do stupid things, like get chest waxes to impress women or stay with that girl that we all know is a gold-digger.

3.  Considering that women have been considered the inferior sex throughout most of history, denied education, and kept at home, it is amazing that any women have achieved any of these things.  But even despite these handicaps -- and the lack of respect given to the achievements of women -- there are famous female authors, scientists, theologians, painters, even from periods in history where women had almost none of the advantages men had.  Yes, it's an exception.  It takes exceptional talent and courage to overcome the pressures of the culture you are born into.

4.  Men can be emotional, too.  They often make bad decisions based on their emotions.  But since they don't cry or admit that they are emotional, we tend not to notice.  Still, a man who runs away from battle (and many do) does it because of the emotion of fear.  A man who beats his wife does it because of the emotion of anger.  Men make stupid emotional decisions all the time.  In contrast, not all emotion is the enemy of reason.  Sometimes, the emotion of love for one's family or distrust of a suspicious person helps us to make good decisions.  Men and women can both be emotional, and in either case it can be either good or bad.

5.  Some female hormones cause irrationality.  Others -- I'm thinking particularly of prolactin -- make one calm and patient.  (If that stuff could be bottled, somebody could make a fortune.)  Testosterone is known to cause aggression and impaired decision-making.  So I think we all have a good argument for thinking with our brains and not our hormones.

Reasons women are equally rational:

1.  Men's and women's IQ averages out about the same, within a couple of points.  (There's a great deal of ink spilled about those couple of points, depending on who is in the lead in the group we're looking at, but it's safe to say there is no massive difference here.)

2.  Girls do better in school.  Yes, this is because they try harder.  But isn't that a rational choice to make?  This holds true as well in college, where more of the instructors are male.  It held true in my college, where almost all of the professors were male and many of them believed women were inferior to men.  They couldn't ignore that the bunch of summa cum laudes every year was mostly female -- in my class, I believe it was 90% female.

3.  Women succeed today in pretty much every field where they were previously told they never would.  There are female professors, scientists, Nobel Prize winners, presidents, doctors, mathematicians, and astronauts.  Now you can admit an unqualified woman into a physics program just out of affirmative action.  But you can't make them discover radium, perform successful brain surgery, or operate a space shuttle.  Women did that themselves.

4.  If you admit we shouldn't just be talking about the outliers -- since most of us are neither an Albert Einstein nor a Marie Curie -- why not just think of the people you know?  Well, there's a problem here, and that's that most women think the men they know are dumb (at least about some things) and most men think the women they know are dumb (at least about some things).  Men can be oblivious to emotional cues (whether by nature or nurture is a debate for another day) and women sometimes aren't good at reading maps.  (I am.  I think it's because I knit.)  If you're going to argue from these details to say that one gender is smarter than the other, that assumes two things: first, that it is nature and not nurture causing the difference; and second, that some kinds of intelligence are more important than others.  Each would have to be proven to make any kind of claim.

5.  That one person knows a lot about something, while another doesn't, proves nothing.  John is rather ignorant about biochemistry, because he never took it.  I don't know much about Austrian economics (besides what he told me) because I never read any.  For us, this is something to admire about each other, not disdain or envy.

6.  Men often appear more confident and dominant in intellectual conversations.  However, this seems to boil down to men's culture vs. women's culture.  When men hang out together, they try to outdo each other, interrupt, talk over each other, and appear to be experts on a topic.  When women hang out together, it's often understood that we will wait our turn and not show off how much we know.  Naturally if you get men and women together, and both stick with their familiar way of talking, the men will dominate the conversation.  (This drives me nuts, but I understand it.)

7.  Since both men and women are created in the image and likeness of God, which the philosophers agreed meant God's rationality, it seems we should both possess roughly equal amounts of it.  Certainly there is nowhere in the Bible that says "in his image he created him, male and female he created them, but only the male was in his image."  The Bible is full of women making decisions, good and bad ones just like the men do, and often prophesying or even in leadership positions (think Deborah).  The stories where women appear in the Bible aren't noticeably "un-rational" or based merely on women's looks or even on her virtue.  Women's wisdom is displayed.  Wisdom itself is referred to as "she"!

8.  Considering that most children are raised primarily by women, and many argue that it is God's plan that they should be, it would have been foolish for God to have neglected to give us fully-functional brains.  Teaching the next generation is literally the most important job there is.  How we could possibly do it without intelligence is beyond me.


Seriously, do I have to go on?

Sadly, I did not get this far in my internet debate.  I asked for evidence, he gave me Thomas Aquinas, I said "No, I mean evidence," and he asked if I was even Catholic.  Then he said he wasn't going to argue any more with a simple-minded woman.  And, God love him, he didn't.  Bless his little heart.

What do you think?  I know this blog is mainly read by women.  But if some brave soul, male or female, would like to argue my rationality is hampered by some defect due to sex, I would love to hear it.  My combox is a civilized place, anyway.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Why I don't wear a chapel veil

I used to, actually.

In college, a lot of girls wore them, and I thought they were awesome.  Pretty, special church accessories!  What could be nicer?  I wanted one, but I resolved I wouldn't do it just because they were pretty.  I had to find out what the reasoning was behind them.

Well, I'm afraid I never really found out.  Someone said something about symbolizing the Church as the Bride of Christ, and that sounded so awfully romantic I went to the fabric store, got myself some lace, and made a veil.  It was very nice, if I do say so myself.

But most of the time, it was either a distraction to me (because it was so dang pretty) or a hassle because I kept forgetting to bring it with me to the chapel.  It didn't enrich my spiritual life in any way I noticed.  If I thought about being the bride of Christ, I either felt sad because I hadn't been able to be one in the way I'd dreamed, or got distracted thinking of what sort of veil I would want at my wedding.  I wound up giving it to my mother, and I think she still wears it.

Lately I've seen more and more people on the blogosphere adopt veils.  This isn't the "old" veil crowd, the Latin Mass goers who insist that we are still required to do wear them (we aren't).  These are run-of-the-mill churchgoing Catholics who are adding this as a new devotion.

I don't mind .... why should I mind what someone else wears?  But I get frustrated, because it seems to be this Big Thing for some people -- as evidenced by the time I got in a blog fight with someone by suggesting a wife should listen carefully to her husband's reservations about veiling or skirt-wearing.  I also was bothered by the comment, made by one of the veil enthusiasts, that they wouldn't dream of entering a church without one and are careful to stock up their purses and cars with extras so that they don't have to turn around and go home rather than go to church without something on their heads.

Seeing as it's not required, why give it that level of importance?  Why does it outrank concerns like consideration of your husband's feelings or your desire to make an unscheduled holy hour?

I decided to push back on a facebook post recently and simply asked, why?  What is the reasoning behind wearing a veil?  I got a lot of reasons, but none of them really make much sense to me.  Here are a few:

"I feel personally called to wear one."
Fair enough, right?  No one can argue with a personal call from God!  But I always wonder, how do these women know?  It's hard enough to discern your vocation in the first place.  Maybe I'm a skeptic for having been burned before, but it's just so easy to confuse your own feelings for a "call."  How do you know it isn't that you envy the pretty veils of other people you've seen at church or online, or that someone whose blog you read and admire is now wearing one and you feel like it must be the holy thing to do?  Can you be sure it isn't a desire to stand out as extra holy?  Maybe you really are called to wear one.  But it seems to me that if you are really called to do it, there should be some reason connected to it -- some spiritual meaning the veil has for you.  So usually there will be another reason besides just this one.

"It is more modest."
What is modesty?  If it's covering parts of your body that could be considered sexual, or wearing what is appropriate in your culture and situation .... veils don't seem to fit.  Hair is not sexual; both men and women have it.  And our culture doesn't consider hair to be indecent.  If it's hiding your most beautiful features, a kerchief tied tightly around your head, I suppose, is modest -- but a see-through lace veil surely isn't.  And if it's avoiding drawing attention to yourself, a veil, at least the Novus Ordo, is about the least modest thing you could wear.

"It is beautiful and feminine."
This is mutually exclusive with the previous reason, I do believe.  And yes, they are very pretty.  But when I'm at church, I'm not looking to draw attention to how pretty I am.

"Women are proud of their hair, so a veil symbolizes humility."
I am not proud of my hair; it's a frizzy mess.  Right now it's growing into a mullet.  But I am rather proud of my fine-boned hands.  Should I wear gloves?

"Sacred things are veiled, like chalices and tabernacles, and women are sacred because they bear new life."
Not all women bear new life; some are perpetually single and others are infertile.  There is something that makes me a little uncomfortable with focusing so directly on my reproductive ability in church as well .... perhaps I am a bit manichean that way.  And are we not all tabernacles at church, since we receive communion?  Why do we not all veil ourselves after receiving?  (That would actually be a kinda cool custom.)

"The Bible says so."
The Bible is really hard to understand, which is why I am glad that the Church interprets some of the tough bits for us.  And the Church has come right out and said that this passage was a disciplinary teaching for the Corinthians, not a doctrine for all time.  Since the Church no longer includes that requirement in canon law, I don't feel bad at all not wearing anything on my head.

"It is a sign of a woman's submission to her husband."
Even if married women should perpetually remind themselves that their husbands are the boss (which, as you know, I don't believe), why do single women still wear them?  The Church has never, ever said that all women should be submissive to men in general.  However, this is where the argument always goes: some people who encourage head covering really do believe that all women should be in perpetual subjection to men.  They'll throw up a million and one reasons for veils besides that, but if pushed, they will admit that they believe women are supposed to be lesser or submissive at all times, in all states of life.

And if that is the meaning of a veil, I sure as heck don't ever want to wear one.  Perpetual subjection of women is not a teaching of the Church, not in harmony with Christ's call to both men and women, not following Paul's words that in Christ there is no male and female, and not respecting of human rights in general.  Life experience will teach you that women have the brains and abilities men have, and a reasonable God would not give us these abilities and then demand we never exercise them.

If you want to wear one because it helps you focus, because it has a meaning to you, because it is traditional, you go right on ahead.  But for me, it really does seem to mean subjection.  I think of burqas and child brides and honor killing, and I get steaming mad.  At this point in my life, veils have a completely different set of baggage and I don't think I will ever get back into wearing one.

But hey, you never know.  Maybe an angel will appear to me with a bulleted list of good reasons.

Do you wear a veil or hat to church?  Why?

Monday, February 3, 2014

Who goes to hell?

A morbid question, hm?  But I have gotten into arguments on this topic rather often lately, usually with the same people.

The Catholic Church does not actually say who goes to hell.  Even Judas, who probably went to hell, was never declared definitively to be there.  And Dante's imagination sent all kinds of people there, but of course he didn't know for sure.

What we do know is what we are supposed to do if we want to go to heaven: believe in Christ, be baptized, keep the commandments, avoid sin.

And yet, what about people who can't even do the first on the list because they don't know any better?  What about babies who die before birth, people from uncontacted primitive tribes who have never heard of Jesus, or people who faithfully follow a religion their parents taught them and avoid looking into Christianity because they think God wouldn't want them to study heresy?

That's where the disagreement comes in.  The Catholic Church, at least in recent years, has been pretty open about the question.  Pope Benedict said he thought unbaptized babies can go to heaven; he didn't say how, but said that a God that is infinitely merciful wouldn't deny them salvation for something (not being baptized) that wasn't their fault.  And the Church accepts baptism of desire, that a person could receive the grace of baptism without being literally baptized with water, simply by desiring baptism.  Some say you can receive baptism of desire by living a good life and seeking God -- because implicit in this is the understanding that they would desire baptism if they knew God wanted it.  And some say, "Well, all we know is God's regular way of saving us, but perhaps he has other ways that we don't know."

The other side of this debate adamantly declares that baptism is required, and that any person not baptized with water goes straight to hell, no matter how good they are otherwise.  One person told me that a person who had never heard of Jesus, but spent their entire life serving others, bathing lepers and feeding the poor, would go to hell; whereas a person who never did anything good other than receive the sacraments and attempt to avoid sin would go to heaven.

Can you guess which side I fall on?

It just seems that from what we know of God -- all-powerful, all-merciful, all-just -- he would never punish a person who did their best.  It goes against a basic sense of fairness.  Why would God create people only to damn them through no fault of their own?

I also think that in what we call the general judgment, we judge ourselves.  We look at God and his infinite goodness, we see ourselves with total clarity, and then we know if we are fit for heaven or not.  Our life is spent shaping ourselves into the person we choose to be, and that is a person who is like God, or is not.  If we have spent our lives loving and serving others, I think it will be obvious to us that we want to be with God.  If we have spent our lives serving ourselves and hurting others, I think the very notion of being with God would be repugnant.  Like the devil, we will prefer to be alone forever than to accept God's company.

What if we have been trying, but aren't ready yet?  Well, that's what purgatory is for, right?  I've always thought the doctrine of purgatory was very comforting.  It's the place where people who did their best can really get ready for heaven.  We all know people who mean well but are aggravating to be with because of one fault or another.  God will heal us of that; heaven will not be full of people we can't stand. 

Someone argued that this renders all of our effort meaningless.  Why spread the Gospel if people could get to heaven without it?  This person believed that it was so important for us to have a share in other people's salvation that there were people in our lives who could be saved with our help, but damned without it.

That just didn't sit right with me.  What kind of merciful God would let me suffer eternal damnation through no fault of my own, just because another person didn't do their job?

That doesn't mean we don't sometimes save people.  It's just that we'll never know what would have happened to them without our effort.  Imagine this scenario.  You are first to arrive at a burning apartment building.  You rush in and save a baby.  A moment later, the fire department arrives.  They go in and rescue all the other residents.

Does that invalidate what you did saving the baby?  Maybe the baby would have been saved by the fire fighters if you had stayed outside.  Maybe not.  You can't know.  But that isn't what happened -- what happened is that you really did save the baby.  You don't need to know the baby would have died without your help for your heroism to really count.

Also, is knowing Jesus in your lifetime a bad thing?  A person I spoke with seemed to think it was, that the truly charitable thing would be to leave people alone so they wouldn't be culpable for not knowing about God, and they could just live how they wanted.  But that's just so wrong.  To know God is always better than not to know him.  And the commandments he teaches us aren't just a test so we can get to heaven -- they help us live better.  I know I would certainly rather know what the truth is, what right and wrong are, than have to guess.  And I can't see what the disadvantage is of a relationship with God.

I think that when we die and see Jesus face-to-face, some of us will rush to him immediately because they already knew him well.  It will be like the continuation of a conversation that's been going on all their lives.  Others will be surprised, because he isn't quite what they expected to see, and yet he will be familiar -- he will be the face of all the goodness they loved and pursued in their lives.  And some will see him and recoil -- "WHAT?  He is like THAT?  He saved THOSE people?  He forgives THOSE sins?  Forget it -- I refuse to be in a place run by a person like that."

Are there people who would really do that?  Sadly, I think that there are.  I imagine Hitler would turn and walk when he found Jews there.  The Pharisees would walk when they saw Gentiles and Samaritans made it in.  Some rich people would leave because there wouldn't be a special place for them, no first-class section for the gifted.  Some people just wouldn't like God.  His love would seem like weakness; his mercy just unfair.

There are people who say "I think to get to heaven all you have to do is be a good person."  Well, fine.  But is it that easy to be a good person?  How many of us love our neighbor .... all of our neighbors?  How many of us daily seek to be closer to God and know him better, based on what we know so far?  How many people do you know who are good at forgiving things that seem unforgivable, loving the unlovable, bearing wrongs patiently without resorting to hate?

With God's mercy being what it is, I think he'll take our best effort and fill up the rest with his own power.  But are we giving our best effort?

I think that's the only question we really need to be asking.  After all, on judgment day, the only person we will be judging .... is ourselves.
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