Thursday, August 30, 2012

The Unforgiving God of Protestantism

I should provide an immediate caveat: talking of "Protestantism" is a difficult thing. So many Protestants believe so many things that attempting a general address to all of them is nigh impossible. This is primarily directed toward those Protestants who subscribe to what is called the Penal-Substitution Theory of atonement, or else understand the atonement primarily in legal or financial terms. Having gotten that out of
way...

It seems to me that when many Protestants speak of God forgiving sins they use the term "forgive" in a way quite foreign to its normal usage. I will first examine this matter from what might be called the "financial" imagery of atonement. Every time someone speaks of our "debt" to God, and of Christ paying that debt, they are using this imagery. Likewise, every time a pastor uses the analogy of someone paying off a speeding ticket in our stead or some such, this too is financial imagery, albeit intertwined with legal imagery.

The financial imagery is problematic because it fails to have God actually forgive anything. For there is an important difference between having a debt paid and having it forgiven. If someone else pays off my student loans then none speak of those loans as having been forgiven, and they ought not to because that is not what forgiveness means. Forgiving someone a debt means taking a loss, as in the parable of the Unforgiving Servant wherein the King forgives the servant his debt, and that debt is simply never paid, or at least that is what was going to happen before the servant failed to forgive another. To reiterate: forgiveness of a debt means the debt goes unpaid.

Switching to more legal terminology I still find no forgiveness. For if it were possible in our society for another to, for example, serve a prison sentence in our stead, it does not appear that the criminal is thereby forgiven, but that the sentence has been removed from him and shifted to another. If a friend does me wrong and I forgive them, then I seek no recompense from them, much less from someone else.

So this poses a problem: it seems to divorce rather drastically what it means for you or I to forgive someone, and what it means for God to forgive someone. For some that might not be so much of an issue, but I think we ought to be wary of distinguishing so utterly between God and man. We are made in His image, and therefore we bear similarities to Him. To simply cross our arms and say: "God is so far from us that of course His forgiveness is radically different from ours" is to not give due attention to linkage between God and man.

Now, another caveat is helpful here. People may, and the Church historically has, employ both legal and financial imagery. They are useful ways for beginning to get a grasp on the Crucifixion. However, problems arise when analogy is pushed too far, and I feel that this is precisely what so many Protestants have done: take an analogy and say "This is, more or less, exactly what it is like." The Penal/Substitution theory is essentially a codification of the legal/financial imagery.

Having said all that, I must insist that in order to maintain a proper understanding of atonement and the Crucifixion and Resurrection we must treat the financial/legal analogies properly, which is to say: as analogies, and certainly not the only ones we have.

Friday, August 10, 2012

The Degradation of Feminine Beauty by Immodesty

It's far too easy to sound curmudgeony and super-conservative when bitching about standards of modesty. People who know me would say that I am hardly guilty of the latter, while drastically losing a battle to the former. I shall just have to do my best.

It hardly needs to be said that the United States, and the world, has lower standards of modesty than ever before. Clothes be tighter and cover less, year after year, at least in some sectors of the fashion world, incomprehensible system that be. Why this is baffles me. Some might say that the less-covering clothes are better in a hotter clime, such as is present during summer. But I would note that some of the hottest regions of the earth, specifically the Middle East, have historically, and even to a certain degree contemporarily, maintained quite modest garb, even overly modest garb. This could be linked to a certain amount of over-emphasis on modesty present in certain forms of Islam, but the clothing styles insisted upon in fundamentalist Islam are largely, if not entirely, based on pre-Islam clothing forms. Of course such covering garb is practical only in hot and dry climates, and most tropical climates have used decidedly less clothing. But this lack of clothing was accompanied by a completely differing understanding of physical attraction. What we have done today is take ancient Hawaiian modesty standards and combined them with a dramatically over-sexed worldview. 

Almost paradoxically this has in fact had a negative effect on feminine beauty. Oh women are attractive enough nowadays, but more and more they are attractive in the way deep-fried snickers are attractive. But attractiveness is different from beauty. Beauty is appreciated, attractiveness is used. Beauty is good whether anyone sees it or not, attractiveness is wasted without an admirer. 

So I implore us all, men and well as women, to be modest in our attire, so that we can attain to real beauty.