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Friday, April 21, 2006

John Paul II And Sin

Sigmund, Carl and Alfred wrote a post about John Paul II that really moved me.
John Paul II didn't really change the Catholic Church. In fact, his real achievement was in letting the Church be what it was supposed to be, without being encumbered by political or agendized ideologies. The Pope that survived Nazism and Communism set the Church free. The lessons of Christ were to be true expressions of love. Under his watch, they became unconditional. They would not serve an agenda and they would not be be tempered.
There's more, and there's an intense debate in the comments. Copithorne writes:
If I say: your perception that you are called to the priesthood is false because God doesn't call people without a penis, then I am not respecting you because gender and vocation are intrinsic to who you are in a way that beliefs are not.

There are other examples.

If someone holds abstract doctrines as more important than human dignity, than the ability to respect other people for who they are is compromised.

"Hate the sin, love the sinner" is logic of people who don't understand what is involved in respecting other people.
Hah! Take myself. I've got a lot of bad personality characteristics. My worst, of which I constantly get reminded while praying, is a habit of concentrating on the objective rather than being open enough to people. In other words, I think it's more important to scrub the bathroom than to talk to Chief No-Nag, and more important to meet a deadline at work than to talk to a coworker who is having problems. I think Assistant Village Idiot pretty much summed me up (not that I'll ever be a master) when he wrote this:
My concern is what I actually read -- the childishness of the philosophical underpinnings of their justifications. Like bright sixth-graders who get over-technical and have to correct things said in their presence (That years don’t have 365 days, but 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes, 45 seconds, for example), Asperger-y people get stuck on such things and cannot let them go. If you say something is teal, and they think it’s just a little too green for that, there is no reasoning with them about it. They will sound like they are reasoning, they will think in their own minds that they are reasoning. But some glitchy thing in their brain will be telling them it’s not teal, and that glitch is immovable.
This rigidity carries over to ethical and philosophical ideas.
I'm gritting my teeth about the teal comment but I will let it pass even though I just know he's wrong. (NO! I won't! People do see shades of blue and green differently. So if I say it's not teal, it's not teal to me, okay? No way am I ever going to concede that it's teal if I don't see it as teal. I am willing to concede that you do see it as teal, but I will never concede that it IS teal. There's an objective reality, which is the color of the thing. But your perception of color is a subjective reality, because it's a human perception based on the rods and cones in your eyes and the brain circuitry that interprets them. If you get three people together and two perceive it as teal and one doesn't, that still doesn't make it teal for the third person! The glitch is not in my brain, but in the brain of the person who doesn't understand the difference in color perception! So there - reality counts. )

Ahem. To return to my point, in my case, my failure to be open enough to the human needs of any situation is really childishness and narcissism. I am concentrating on what I know I can accomplish objectively, but ignoring the possibilities that are less definite. And in theory, concentrating on what I know I can accomplish sounds good. But in practice, when I listen to what I'm told in prayer, I find that it is not good. Still, I always revert to the same reasoning. The flaw is in me.

For example, last Wednesday I got lambasted for this again in prayer. And on Friday, I was finishing something just before leaving work when a coworker stopped to talk to me. Because I was still mentally smarting, I stopped what I was doing, looked up and welcomed a conversation. And it turned out that he really did need to talk to me, and that I did have real help for him. He has a hyperactive child and was agonizing over how to deal with him, and well - my brothers and I were all hyperactive. We bounced off the walls. Literally. So I was able to reassure him and he left knowing what he had to do. (They weren't providing the kid enough structure and feedback in order to allow him to learn self-control. My coworker was confused because his parents were more lenient. But after talking with him, it turned out that his older sister was the real disciplinarian in his family, and that he had to be not just his father but also his older sister! Not that I told him that - he figured it out for himself while we were discussing our childhoods.)

But, more abstractly, think about the implications of Copithorne's claim that "Love the sinner, hate the sin" is a fallacy. Really? Are we supposed to tell each other "Just be yourself, I'm okay, you're okay", etc? If my parents had followed that advice, I'd be in prison today, because I was a passionate and impulsive child. I wasn't mean, but injustice always made me passionately angry. By now I'd probably have assaulted someone who uttered some bigoted piece of nonsense.

(There's still a little piece of my inner child that believes heartily that a good sock in the face is the best answer to "Gay people should get AIDS and die if that's the way they want to be, black people are dumb and sleep around, military men and women are baby-killers etc." Oooh. It would be so satisfying. The adult that I am has discovered that gritting my teeth and asking "Why do you say that?" works better. It's not emotionally satisfying, though, and think of the wear and tear on my tooth enamel! Don't I have the right to belt them for the damage to my dental apparatus and stomach lining? They're the ones who are wrong, right? Why shouldn't I just slap them silly?)

People have genuinely destructive pieces of their own nature. It's perfectly natural to get angry and want to hit someone. It's perfectly natural to be upset about something or other and want to lash out at someone. It's probably perfectly natural to child molesters to molest children. If you read NAMBLA stuff, they think what they are doing is just fine. It feels right to them! Obviously those teachers who sleep with their students don't think they are doing a bad thing. Plenty of people who lie, cheat or steal feel perfectly justified in doing so. Wife or husband beaters (there are plenty of those too!) always seem to feel that it's the other person's fault. People who sleep around on their spouses always have a reason for it.

The drunk didn't intend to get into the car and run over that kid on the bike, but the kid on the bike is still dead. The robber didn't intend to shoot anyone, but he did. Without being confronted by others who tell us that we are doing wrong, far more of us would stray down the path of destruction. There have to be some external, objective standards of acceptable and unacceptable behavior.

The truth is that we're not okay, and we all have to control ourselves or it ends in disaster. We really do need other people to reflect back to us the truth about our own behavior. I'm not saying that you are as much of an idiot as I am, and I am even generously willing to forgive any delusions about color that you may have, but everybody has faults and everybody needs some help and guidance in dealing with their own faults. The idea that being greatly loved will result in an adult perfectly spiritually developed and without interior conflicts doesn't seem to fit into reality. The older I get, the more I understand the doctrine of original sin.

Beautifully said, M-O-M. I met myself coming and going in the course of reading your post.

Re Copithorne's comment that "'Hate the sin, love the sinner' is logic of people who don't understand what is involved in respecting other people" -- my Lord calls me to love other people. If there's a conflict between respecting other people as Copithorne defines it and loving them, then his faith and mine simply produce different answers. (It's not a lack of understanding, because we've heard Copithorne's point of view re respect expressed many times in the last few decades.)
Well, the reality of being a flawed human is universal. We have different basic flaws, but we all have them.

The way I understand the command to "love" one another, it means that I have to recognize that all the other persons out there are genuinely and truly as important as myself. That's the acceptance that JPII demonstrated and of which SC&A wrote.

Now I may be silly and self-obsessed, but even I understand that my friends are not my enemies when they tell me that I need to deal with my own problems. The only people who do that are people who take me seriously and who do care about me. So I don't find Copithorne's idea of acceptance very loving.

Now I may not agree with every concern that everyone else has, but I certainly think I do better in a world with shared perspectives. It seems to me that Copithorne's world would end in me being stuck in a solipsistic universe of my own. I know enough of myself to know that would not work out well. My best is sometimes not remotely good enough.
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