Sunny Days in Heaven
Spiritual/Political/Philosophical Blog on the Nature of Truth and Falsehood and Heaven

Saturday, November 06, 2004  

Strange Cases

My wife and I are part of a small Bible study group that tries to meet every Friday. Last night I listened to our friend Nancy talk a little about her objection to all the right wing Republicans who voted for moral values she thought was hypocritical and false.

Her husband, Nick, is a Korean War veteran (101st Airborne Screaming Eagles) who votes Republican.

I’ll try to fairly paraphrase some of our conversation.

“All those right wing conservatives say they voted for moral values, but that’s so narrow. Those aren’t the only moral values and they’re only interested in a few. You have a few right wingers determining what the rest of the country is going to do.”

“But most of the country is not right wing conservatives,” I told her. “Conservative values are the center in America and always have been. When you talk about right wing conservatives, you’re talking about people like me, and I don’t think I’m an extremist. I think I’m in the middle for the most part.”

“Well, it’s not Catholic to just be for one thing, one moral issue. These people are just choosing a few things and ignoring other equally important moral things.”

“I read an Op-Ed in the New York Times by a bishop criticizing those who say that. The Church’s position is that the single most overriding issue of all is life - abortion, cloning and such. Because without life nothing else matters. And so Catholics are told to not vote for any politician who will not support a pro-life position.”

Nancy said she didn’t mean me as a right winger so much as she did Southerners.

“I have a friend who lives in Alabama and she says that they are just so moral and rigid down there that she can’t open her mouth.”

I didn’t say that, 1) what moral rigidities was she talking about, and 2) what’s wrong with moral certainty? I think people who find fault with natural law, common decency, community standards, and revulsion towards depravity ought to keep it to themselves rather than try to make the world more tolerant of sin.

I had a hard time accepting that my friend for these many years was thinking of others in these stereotypes and cliches, and it bothered me.

My friend Nancy was raised much as I was. We are both highly verbal and intellectual in manner. We were raised to be liberal in politics, atheist in spirit, and perfectionists in life. Nancy is a self-admitted control freak and highly revved up. When she gets going she talks very quickly with long digressions starting at point A and zooming here and there to D, G, Z, P, M until finally coming home to rest at B.

We both converted at the same time and became Catholics through the RCIA program at our local St. Mary’s. The difference between us now, though, is that I devoted myself to prayer right from the start (among other things like church history, theology, mysticism).

Because of prayer, my politics changed. I became rooted in conservatism and masculine compassion. That is, a concern for others that meant I did not wish to hurt any in the process of helping by robbing them of personal responsibility for choices where that applied. I also came to see that violence in defense of freedom and in response to attack was necessary for Christians. There was no way to avoid all wars and sacrifice of lives.

Something that was left unsaid before the election in response to hand wringing and criticism of our soldiers being killed was this: “Every member of our Armed Services is expendable if necessary. Quit crying and whining about our soldiers’ deaths. Their lives are meant to be spent for America if need be. After them, our police and firemen are all expendable. After them, any other American’s life is expendable if it can help to save many more. No one American’s life is safe from being spent for the sake and survival of America. No one is more important than the nation. Death comes to us all. If need be, it will come sooner for some.”

Nancy, though, began to develop a prayer life some years ago with our encouragement. She was so often wound up that she had trouble getting to sleep, what with her mind whirling with thoughts, contingencies, plans, and fear of letting others down. She also often became enraged in traffic with other drivers and slow ups.

We encouraged her to practice the Rosary at such times. She began reading the Spanish mystics (in their original language since she is fluent in it and taught it). She was making wonderful progress in achieving moments of peace and clarity, calming herself to some extent while driving, and gaining perspective and loss of fear in her worries at work and in dealing with others. Her speech patterns became more deliberate than rushing. It really was a marvel to see God working so beautifully in her.

But then it stopped. She stopped praying. She went to church faithfully, but she abandoned a private prayer life as she had been experiencing. Apparently she was satisfied with what she had gotten from it, the improvements she discovered God making in her.

My belief, though, is that she stopped out of fear. God was getting too close to revealing deeper problems within her. For example, Nancy would often talk about her mother in reverent tones as a devoted daughter, but childhood stories she occasionally told and laughed about regarding discipline or advice were not really funny.

She’d mention how well behaved and mannered she and her sister were, and that other adults often complimented her mother about them. But her mother would dismiss the praise with cutting words about them not being angels at home or some such put down.

Nancy became a perfectionist always trying to please her mother who could never be pleased enough to offer praise of any kind.

Her mother hated religion and was terrified of sickness and death. Nancy nursed her when she was dying. It could not have been pleasant. It was rewarding, though, for she knew she had done a great deal to ease her mother’s suffering.

Nancy talks of her parents with exaggerated respect. They had many fine qualities, no doubt, but she cannot see how their unfine ones may have damaged and wounded her so that she is nervous, wound up, and intense even at nearly 70.

This would have been true of me if I had not changed through the grace of God.

I see Nancy’s liberalism as a symptom of the way she was raised - the terrible guilt and sense of betrayal she would feel if she acknowledged the serious flaws of her parents and how they affected her, and the inability to develop a prayer life in following God wherever he leads and what he reveals of us to ourselves.

The sad thing is that God knows how to reveal the truth of ourselves to us without it causing us harm, but brings healing instead. But fear prevents many from trusting God and risking the pain. The hardship is much more perceived than actual in operation.

Liberalism, I believe, is much more a matter of transference than wisdom. We transfer our internal anguish from sources we will not acknowledge to an external critique of the world and others that demands our fixing. We won’t let God fix us, so we demand he fix the world and change human realities for our sake.

Nancy straddles that outlook and the Christian one and is paralyzed in between. She knows that Jesus didn’t come to save the world but to rescue souls, yet she thinks she and he can do both.

posted by Mark Butterworth | 1:05 PM |