The Federalist God is a psychopath

Yesterday, after the mass shooting at baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, Lutheran pastor Hans Fiene wrote: When the Saints of First Baptist Church Were Murdered, God Was Answering Their Prayers.

I gave Fiene the benefit of the doubt. Authors often don’t choose their titles, and editors are always looking for clicks, so maybe he didn’t really mean what the title said.

I read it. He meant it. I’m not familiar enough with Lutheran theology to say whether he’s describing it accurately, but it sure isn’t Catholic theology, and he makes God sound like a psychopath.

First, let’s discuss what Fiene probably meant to say. He meant to say that God can bring good out of any evil; that good will always triumph over evil; that evildoers can kill the body, but not the soul; and that this world is fleeting, but salvation is eternal. He perhaps meant to say that suffering can be salvific, and that physical suffering is not the greatest evil that can be. All true, if perhaps not as comforting to the grieving as he seems to believe.

And he was responding to some awfully cruel and boneheaded comments from the Twitterverse. Snarky atheists are saying things like, “If prayers did anything, [the murdered victims] would still be alive.” They seem to believe that people of faith expect God to leap in like a Jedi and mow down evildoers on behalf of anyone who prays. They betray a complete failure to understand the much-abused divine gift of free will.

Unfortunately, so does Pastor Fiene. Let’s look at what he actually says, what it implies, and how wrong he is.

ERROR #1: The world is evil

When those saints of First Baptist Church were murdered yesterday, God wasn’t ignoring their prayers. He was answering them.

“Deliver us from evil.” Millions of Christians throughout the world pray these words every Sunday morning . . . we are asking God to deliver us out of this evil world and into his heavenly glory, where no violence, persecution, cruelty, or hatred will ever afflict us again.

This is gnosticism. In Genesis, it says, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” Although creation has been tarnished by original sin, the world is still good, and goodness and holiness can be achieved in this world, in this life. When we pray “deliver us from evil,” we are not asking God to hasten our deaths. We are asking Him to draw us closer to Him in this world so we can be with Him forever in the next.

If death were an answer to prayer, then murder, including abortion and euthanasia, would be the greatest act of charity.



ERROR #2: Everyone who calls himself “Christian” goes straight to Heaven

So the enemies of the gospel can pour out their murderous rage upon Christians, but all they can truly accomplish is placing us into the arms of our savior.

We certainly pray and hope that this is what happened. But we cannot assume that every human who finds himself inside a church is automatically heaven bound. The victims may very well all be saints and martyrs; but the murderer may also very well have shot someone mired in mortal sin. When we sentimentally and carelessly declare all dead people “saints,” we deprive them of what all the dead deserve from us: prayers for their souls.


ERROR #3, and the worst: Evil has a place in God’s will

Sometimes, God’s will is done by allowing temporal evil to be the means through which he delivers us from eternal evil.


We also pray in the Lord’s Prayer that God’s will be done. Sometimes, his will is done by allowing temporal evil to be the means through which he delivers us from eternal evil. Despite the best (or, more accurately, the worst) intentions of the wicked against his children, God hoists them on their own petard by using their wickedness to give those children his victory, even as the wicked often mock the prayers of their prey.

Pastor Fiene comes very close to saying that God wills evil. This idea is so outrageously false, even coming close to saying it is nearly blasphemy.

If God wills evil, He is not God. 

God can bring good out of evil, and He does. God can use suffering to save us, and He does (if we let Him). But listen to me now.

When a man mows down a pregnant woman and her children, this is not God’s will. Not even sorta kinda God’s will, not even God’s-will-by-way-of-man’s-screw-ups, not even a little ugly streak hidden inside the much nicer and larger kind of God’s will that we like better.

God does not and cannot will evil to happen, not even so that good may come of it. God allows evil to happen, because He has given us actual free will. He accepts that evil is in the world because of original sin. But He is the only source of good, and He is the source of nothing but good. Evil cannot come from Him, and He cannot will evil to come about. This is who God is.

When horrible things happen, there is always a contingent of Christians — sometimes even of Catholics — who insist we must breathe shallowly, stretch our eyes open very wide, stare fixedly into the shiny distance, and declare all things good-fine-happy-triumphant-wonderful-terrific and joy-joy-joy-now-now-now. There is always a contingent who will say these things even to the faces of people who have just suffered immense, incomprehensible grief.

It is blasphemy. Christ wept when Lazarus died. Christ begged for his suffering to pass in Gethsemane. Christ cried out in agony and desolation on the Cross. Why? Because suffering is real. Death is horrible. It is not from God. He accepted and allowed and used all the evil and suffering that came into the world through sin, but it was not His will that there should be evil and suffering. He wept.

This is why we hoist a crucifix front and center in our churches, and not a risen Christ: Because this good, great, beautiful, lovable world is soaked with real suffering and real grief. The Christian thing to do is to weep with the ones who mourn, just as Christ did. Not to tell them that a tricksy, winking God somehow wills it, somehow doesn’t mind our blood being spilled, and it’s really all right their babies are riddled with bullet holes, because God, that bastard, willed it to happen.

The crucifix means salvation. The crucifix also means that an immortal God knows what it means to suffer, bleed, and die. It means that God, the source of all that is good, has been pierced for our sins, and that salvation flows from his hands, feet, and side to wash away sin. Only goodness flows from Him. He pours out Himself. He does not, cannot, pour out death.

If you think there’s no difference between what I said and what Pastor Fiene said, then the God you worship does not know pain and is not truly human. He is not, in short, Jesus.

The wheat and weeds in my heart

I was startled to realize that even some of the things I think of as wheat are really weeds.

What kind of things? Righteous indignation that goes on too long, feeding on itself, delighting in itself. Vigilance that turns into paranoia and unseemly scrutiny of friends. An important political argument that takes so much time and energy that I have nothing left for my family. Whistling in the dark that finally stops hoping for comfort and starts revelling in the darkness.

Read the rest of my latest for The Catholic Weekly.

Oh, such depravity. Tell me more!

What interests me is how eager so many people were to believe that the sick, twisted, evil of California just got a little sicker, more twisted, and even eviller. There is a very fine line between drawing back in horror and swooping in with glee, and thousands of outraged readers, bloggers, pundits, and shock jocks vaulted right over that line.

Why? Because evil isn’t content with prowling around like a ravening lion, looking to devour this and that. It wants us to sit on the sidelines and cheer it on, munching popcorn as we enjoy the spectacle.

Read the rest of my latest for the Catholic Weekly here.

“I don’t own my child’s body” is a clever mask for something cruel


“I Don’t Own My Child’s Body” is the weirdly melodramatic title of a parenting piece from CNN Living.  (It’s from 2012, but is making the rounds again.)   You can see from the URL that the original title was probably something more like, “Give Grandma a Hug” — and that’s really all the piece is about.  The author’s kid sometimes doesn’t feel like hugging or kissing somebody, so her mom doesn’t make her:

She doesn’t have to hug or kiss anyone just because I say so, not even me. I will not override my own child’s currently strong instincts to back off from touching someone who she chooses not to touch.

Okay, lady.  Big deal.  I don’t make my kid take off her favorite outfit, which happens to be a heavily upholstered puppy costume, but it’s because (a) it’s not hurting anyone, and (b) I’m saving my strength for the big battles.  And I also don’t make my kids hug or kiss people they don’t want to hug or kiss.  Like the author’s child, they are required to be polite, but not in a way that skeeves them out.  But then the author goes on to say:

 I figure her body is actually hers, not mine.

She then quotes a mental health clinician who says that insisting that your child hug a relative

sends a message that there are certain situations [when] it’s not up to them what they do with their bodies … If they are obligated to be affectionate even if they don’t want to, it makes them vulnerable to sexual abuse later on.

She backs this up with a warning from parenting blogger Jennifer Lehr:

 “Certainly no parent would wish for their teenager or adult child to feel pressure to reciprocate unwanted sexual advances, yet many teach their children at a young age that it’s their job to use their bodies to make others happy,” [Lehr] said

The readers of the piece largely agreed with the author, many of them immediately bringing up the phrase “rape culture.”  They firmly believe that there is a direct, possibly inevitable line between “Please give Grammy a kiss, because it makes her happy” and “Please put out for the entire varsity football team, because it makes you valuable as a person.”

I suppose it’s possible that some kids could make that connection, but only if there are other severe problems with the family of origin or with the child’s mental or emotional health.  Healthy families with standard-issue kids do not need to be on permanent freak-out mode about their kids’ bodies.  What you do is you tell your kids, “Look, unless I say it’s okay, like at the doctor’s office, nobody is supposed to touch you under your clothes, and nobody is supposed to get near the parts of your bodies that are covered by underwear.  And if somebody does something that makes you feel creepy, you tell Mom or Dad right away.”  And then you give them lots and lots of examples of normal affectionate behavior, so they can tell the difference between things you go along with, and things you fight.

This article, with its ludicrous leap of logic, reminded me of a phenomenon I see more and more:  the most progressive parents, those who embrace every modern degradation of sex, marriage, and childbearing, are the ones who are the most likely to go completely overboard when trying to keep their children safe.  I don’t know a darn thing about the author of this article, but if she’s writing for a major news outlet, chances are she’s not pro-life.  Her audience certainly isn’t likely to be.  And yet here she is, saying, “I don’t own my child’s body.”

I’m going to try really hard not to talk about abortion here, because I don’t want to have the same old, same old, same old conversation.  I know that pro-lifers will say, “If you don’t own your child’s body, then you don’t have the right to murder him in the womb!” and pro-choicers will say, “If a child owns his own body, then so do I, and that includes anything that might be inside my body, like a parasitic fetus!”

So let’s not even talk about that phrase, “I don’t own my child’s body.”  Let’s talk about why this kind of article is so common — why, as our culture accepts more and more horrors as commonplace, there is an attendant increase in hysteria over little things, trivial dangers, potential risks.

Why do we fret over the dangers of hugging, but shrug aside — well, death?  The death of babies.   The crushing of heads, the marketing of organs. How is this possible?

It’s not enough to say, “Hypocrisy!  Evil!”  I believe the two phenomena, the hyper-tenderness and the cruelty, are actually related:  one comes from the other.

We look around, compare our world to that of our grandparents, and the guilt seeps in like blood through a bandage. We know there is something amiss – all of us do.  And so we compensate by making sure that we’re assiduous about bodily integrity and safety for our chosen children.

Extremism is a very convenient mask for existential negligence and evil.  When we get hysterical over something minor, we feel like we’ve done our duty — we’ve hit all the right notes: I CARE about my child.  I THINK about how I am raising her.  I have GUIDING PRINCIPLES that sometimes make other people feel uncomfortable.  I’m not AFRAID to tackle the hard issues.

And once you’ve hit the right notes, it’s easier to tell yourself that you’re singing a tune that is very beautiful indeed — never mind that that “Ave Maria and “Deutschland Uber Alles” have a lot of notes in common, too. It’s no coincidence that modern people are capable of both deep cruelty and overly fastidious care:  these are two sides of the same coin.


Those unsophisticated Catholics just exorcised the entire country of Mexico.

santa muerte

He was speaking about being too guarded against inexplicable wonders, being so sophisticated that we “miss Christmas.”  But I think his warning is just as useful when we encounter inexplicable horrors. Just as we savvy, sophisticated, skeptical Catholics are in danger of insulating ourselves against the glorious works of God, we might also miss the blunt and obvious signs that the devil is also busy and active in the world. If the Mexican clerics believe an exorcism was necessary, then I believe them.

Read the rest at the Register.


At the Register: Evil Isn’t Private (And Neither Is Good)

Like it or not, we are all part of that family — as we see in the story of a drug addict who infected dozens of patients in the hospital where he worked, and the young judge who thought hard about his sentence.