Sunday, July 31, 2011

Defending the Sanctity of Confession

Guest post by Ben Carmack

Check out this great post from Martha of Ireland over at

Martha is defending the right of Catholic priests to not reveal to governing authorities anything (which also means everything) they hear during Confessional. Apparently some in Ireland, in light of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, are pushing to remove the privileged status the Confessional has in Irish law and require priests to come clean to authority if someone confesses to abusing a child.

While some may be shocked by Rome's insistence, ancient as it is, that priests refuse to blab anything they hear in Confession upon pain of death, it is perfectly reasonable to me.

Confession and Absolution, also called the Sacrament of Penance or Reconciliation, is for me one of Catholicism's most attractive features. It is something that I think we evangelicals need to think on. It is something we should try to add, as is appropriate, into our tradition.

Roman Catholics get a bum rap from evangelical Protestants for "works-righteousness," "legalism," lack of assurance of salvation, lack of grace and lack of Christ. 

Surprisingly, in my own experience, among devout Catholics I have known personally, none of the foregoing applies. They have been kind, even-keel, hospitable people, fitting none of their stereotypes. I have met many of my fellow evangelical Protestants who are obsessed with works-righteousness, legalism, lack assurance of salvation, lack grace and lack Christ. Perhaps the name-calling of Catholics springs from insecurity. Perhaps it is a case of "projection"?

Anyway, the Sacrament of Reconciliation puts Catholics in a much better position to deal with the reality of sin among Christians. Rather than causing people to doubt salvation, I think it is obvious that the intent of the Sacrament is to provide assurance.

Evangelicals' response to the reality of sin among Christians is to either ignore it, to shout it from the rooftops, to supress it or to make excuses for it. We deal with sin awkwardly. Our awkwardness has manifested itself in my own life many times: group confessions among men to the viewing of pornography, theatrical scandals and confessions, hypocrisy, weakness and weirdness. 

I have found that the open confession of sin of one Christian and the response of total forgiveness from a fellow Christian is a powerful thing. 

The trouble is often one of human weakness. One can never be sure, in many congregations, if one's secrets will not be gossiped about the whole church. So we hide from one another. In theory, our theology tells us that we are totally forgiven and on our way to heaven, because, through some legal fiction, Christ's goodness has been "imputed" to us. In reality, we don't feel this way. 

In mathematics and in the sciences, theory is supposed to help explain reality. If a theory, by experiment and analysis, does not match reality, scientists discount it and seek to reform it so that it does conform to reality.

A similar rule should exist in theology, which is the science of the holy: if theological theories don't match the real experience of Christians, those theories should be reexamined. Those theories that do match reality should be embraced.

In this case, the Catholic Church has done a better job of acknowledging the reality of human weakness.

After we receive the grace of Jesus in our baptism, which is the "washing of regeneration," we continue to sin. We continue to carry with us deep flaws, some of which are so ingrained we will never be victorious over them in this life. 

If we are told that we don't have to worry about our sinfulness because Christ's perfect righteousness is imputed to us, thereby, through legal gymnastics, letting us off the hook, this does nothing to solve the problems of our sin. If you are like me, it makes you feel even worse: how could God completely overlook my sins simply because I intellectually assented to the Protestant theory of salvation and yet send others to hell because of theirs? Isn't that unfair? unjust? 

If salvation is nothing more than a Protestant legal contract in which God is obligated to save me automatically no matter what merely because at one point "I believed," the logic is that my sin does not matter at all. It also "obligates" God to do something; how can God be "obligated" to save sinners?

The logic, in many conservative Protestant circles, is that, because they don't hold to the Protestant legal understanding of salvation, good people like Gandhi, Mother Teresa and Pope John Paul II will roast in hell for eternity, whilst the lousy bunch of "once saved, always saved" Christians who populate First Baptist have a guaranteed inside track to the Pearly Gates. Excuse me?

This is contrary to common sense and common decency. It is also contrary to the Scriptures and to the Church universal understanding of them through the ages.

Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, but in every nation him that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is acceptable to Him.  (It's in the Bible. Look it up.)

The Early Church believed in confession and absolution, not in legal fictions. This is evident very early on, in documents like the Didache

When Christians who have sinned come forward to confess to a priest or confessor, the priest or confessor ceremonially absolves them with the sign of the cross (representing both the crucifixion, where sin was dealt with once and for all, and the blessed Trinity). The penitent is then given a penance, perhaps a prescriptive prayer or spiritual practice, along with helpful advice. 

The sin then passes into the sea of forgetfulness, for it is Christ who absolves: the human who makes the sign of the cross acts merely as a conduit.

It is essential, therefore, for valid and genuine confessions to be completely secret and confidential. Take that away and confession loses its fundamental character. Those priests have every right to refuse to reveal to authority what they know. Authority represents the Prince of the World. Authority represents the old Law. The Church is not to be burdened with the mandates of the State. It is the business of the Church to forgive sins. The Church is a picture of the future, the New Heavens and New Earth; the State, with its system of rewards and punishments, with its obsession with legal fictions, is a picture of Satan's failed order, which will soon pass away.

Those priests don't owe the State nuthin'. And given the generous amount of sexual abuse, murder and theft that has gone on with State support through the ages, the State has no standing whatsoever to tell the Church anything about anything. 

As a Protestant and as someone who tries to obey Scripture, I cannot agree with the particular view of the priesthood held by the Roman Church and other such ancient Churches. If the book of Hebrews and the letters of Saint Peter mean anything, it is that the Levitical priesthood is no more, Christ alone is our High Priest and all Christians are now priests.

However, I do believe that the example given us by Catholic priests is often a good one. All Christians should be about the business of forgiving, absolving and forgetting sins. All Christians should hold what they are told in absolute confidence, refusing to tell anyone on pain of death. We are commanded by Christ in at least two different instances in the Gospel to forgive sins: let's do it.

*       *       *

Comments are always most welcome.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Another Side of Pakistan

       A couple of years ago, the United States Press/Government started using the phrase 'Af-Pak War' to refer to whatever their death campaign is doing in south-central Asia.  A pretty off-handed way of referring to war, don't you think?  Not only do people lose their individual identities -- whole countries are reduced to acronyms that fit well on Pentagon spreadsheets, news-magazine covers, and power-point sound bites.

       Our wannabe-Christian military recruits our wannabe-Christian kids to sit in army compounds in front of computer screens, little robots running robots to execute the damned Drone Wars upon the tribes people in the mountain villages along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, while US/British/Israeli security agents operate in the shadows in the urban power-centers of Islamabad and Karachi, cranking out false-flag terror operations or targeted assassinations to "destabilize" one party or another in the never ending, balance-of-power, revolution-of-the-month-club operation they run.  God bless America/Britain/Israel.  They seem to think it is always His will, like Hitler's, to control the brown people.

       Brown or not, there are millions of real human beings, not acronyms, in Pakistan.  They live their lives.  Here is what some of them do.  Take three minutes and listen to their singing. 

       I'm over fifty, so that song is special to me.  I was there, and I can remember, when the writer of that song, Karen Lafferty, came to a little coffee house in Albuquerque and sang for us.  Us, in this case, being about thirty or forty Jesus People.  Mostly, young hippie peace-and-love types who had met the Holy Spirit, fallen in love with Jesus, and went around making up and singing songs and doing other good crazy things.

       However, that was then and this is now.  American Christianity has moved on to clearer understanding.   Forget those awful kumbaya-peace-and-love-hippie-Jesus-days.  The latest word is that God has rediscovered His Anger and it is His will, like Churchill's, to call us all forth in the latest, most-newly-revised desperate fight to save Christian/Jewish civilization from the Eastern Threat (Huns, Yellow Peril, Communism, Radical Islam, pick one or more).  We are all Warriors now.  This is the 21st Century -- we don't live in reality; we make reality.

       Well, time changes some things, and not others.  I'm glad to see that the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost have found a place in the hearts of some good people in Pakistan.

       I'm just hoping that the CIA doesn't bomb them, and that Mossad doesn't dress up like radical extremists and gun them down.

       Heard of Norway, recently?

Friday, July 29, 2011

Simple Gifts

       A couple of days ago I was reading a pocket version of Kahlil Gibran's old classic, The Prophet.  I picked it up a few months ago in the used-book section of a thrift store -- where I've been finding lots of great treasures for a long time.

       If you are familiar with Gibran, you know he's good.  I really liked his chapter on 'The Teacher,' which you can link to here.

       But that's not why I'm writing this.

       Whenever I read Gibran, I think of a good young lady friend I had in college days, who gave me my first copy of The Prophet -- that copy is now long since lent out to somebody, I think; or maybe I just misplaced it.  In my recollection it was not a birthday or Christmas present, nor did it signify anything romantic:  she just thought I would like it.  And I surely did.  If and when you read this, Jennifer -- thank you very much.

       A couple of years later, same college, another young lady, this time in a college youth group,  played a record for us which had a beautiful song that she liked.  She had just gotten the album that week, and it was a gift from a friend of hers (and mine) who had moved to a distant state.  Once again, it was for no special occasion -- which made it very special.

      It hit me -- I finally was beginning to get it.  Not birthday, not Christmas, not even romance.  Just real friends thinking about real friends.  Thank you, Steve, for that wonderful thoughtfulness.  I have never forgotten it, and I learned a lot.

       If you would like to hear that song, you can link to it right now.

*       *       *

Comments always welcome.

Heard of James F. Lincoln?

Guest post by Ben Carmack

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I'm a dunce and very, very behind the curve. So many of the things I know I have come about by accident or happenstance when I should have learned about them years earlier.

Some of this is due to an intentional media blackout, which shields us from our history. Those Who Control Our Media do not want us to know certain things.

This is the case for the story of James F. Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln founded one of the most profitable (if not most profitable) electrical welding equipment manufacturing companies of all time. Headquartered in Cleveland, Ohio, his methods became the standard of the industry. 

I only heard of Lincoln because I work with an older gentleman mechanical engineer. In 1966 the James F. Lincoln Arc Welding Foundation published Design of Welded Structures, which for years has been a manufacturing industry standard. 

He also wrote a book, four years before his death, in which he put to paper his principles for running a successful business. He titled it A New Approach to Industrial Economics

Lincoln paid his employees roughly double what the "prevailing wage" was in manufacturing at that time. He was open to ideas from each of his employees and gave them generous benefits. Though he operated his business into the Depression, he laid off no one. 

In his book (of which I have glanced at a few pages) he says that he ran his business according to the Sermon on the Mount. He wrote that industrial economics, as it existed in his time and still does today, was seriously flawed because it encouraged workers to work as little as possible. In order to keep his job, an industrial worker must have work to do; therefore, it is in his best interest to take as much time as possible to put out product, because he knows that if he works too fast or if work disappears, he will be laid off.

Lincoln proposed a different paradigm: make workers owners and managers. Destroy the distinction between management and labor. Make everyone part of the team. Reward people for their productivity. Give them incentives to come to work and do the best, most efficient job they can, without fear of being laid off. 

He promoted a sustained and controlled level of production that paid as much attention to high quality and detail as possible. He proposed this in order to control production and to avoid laying workers off if work was slow. Above all, Lincoln's philosophy was to avoid laying anyone off if at all possible. He was concerned for company morale, and he knew layoffs would kill morale.

His humane, Christ-centered approach of course flies in the face of all of contemporary economics. Many great economists of the last century, such as John Kenneth Galbraith, have argued that it is actually in the economy's best interest to keep a certain percentage of the population unemployed. To provide for them, he proposed government-funded assistance. His crude, inhumane prescriptions contain nothing of Christ nor the Gospel.

Why have I never heard of James F. Lincoln or Lincoln Electric? Probably because the Usual Suspects, those who run our great corporations and banks, those who have our government in their back pockets, those who control our media, do not want anybody to have heard of such a fine Christian businessman. His ideas might actually persuade workers to stand up for themselves; if his ideas are adopted, people might be (gasp!) free to provide for themselves and their families, with as little institutional supervision as possible.

During the New Deal, the U.S. government sued Lincoln Electric on the grounds that it was avoiding taxes by paying its workers so much. At the time, personal income taxes were very low, while corporate income taxes were very high. FDR and the New Deal Democrats, noble leaders for "the little guy" and "economic fairness" as they were, couldn't stand the thought of someone paying his employees so much that he cut back on his profits, thereby paying less money to Uncle Sam in taxes. 

Bastards. Socialist, Communist sympathizing, warmongering, statist bastards. I can think of a few other adjectives to describe FDR and his fellows but I'll hold on it.

Woe unto you also, ye lawyers! for ye lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers. Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them.  

Which only goes to show what many people are figuring out now: neither the Left nor the Right has any idea what it is doing. They are unhelpful political factions dedicated to disagreeing with each other and getting nothing useful accomplished. Those who can get something done (like James Lincoln) do so. Those who can't blather on television, talk radio or on the Internet for an obscene salary, telling the masses what their Masters want them to hear.

*       *       *

Comments always welcome.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Lao Tzu Said

Lao Tzu said,

Tao can be talked about, but not the Eternal Tao.
Names can be named, but not the Eternal Name.


     For this word, Lao Tzu is a Son of Heaven.  For this word, he has place in the Counsels of Eternity.

     I suppose that the Old Fellow said it even better in Chinese, but I do not know.

*       *       *

       Thanks to John C. H. Wu for his translation, in Tao Te Ching.  (New York: St. John's University Press, 1961.)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Terrorism Has No Meaning

Guest post by Ben Carmack

Thanks to Rachel Held Evans, I was able to read this article by Glenn Greenwald on why "terrorism" is a meaningless term that essentially means: violence committed by Muslims whom the West dislikes.

It is a variable term that can instantly create an easy enemy against whom we must invade countries that also happen to have abundant oil  reserves. Or perhaps countries that that may one day have key natural gas or oil pipelines built across them. 

What Mr. Greenwald, being a mainstream journalist, fails to conclude in his piece, is that terrorism is a meaningless term for a very specific, predetermined purpose. It is designed to make us afraid in order to invade countries that have the aforementioned resources. It is designed to set up an Orwellian enemy that the population will hate. It is designed to persuade citizens to give up what little freedom we have left for elusive "security" against the made-up "terrorist" enemy.

Mr. Greenwald, who, I presume, wishes to keep his job and perhaps has various bosses he owes favors to, will not say this because it is unthinkable and unmentionable in polite society. 

Polite society, however, is raving mad and complicit by its silence for the deaths of thousands of Americans and tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis and Afghans. 

The ugly truth: 9/11 was a show, a well conceived ploy to get us into wars for scarce resources, morality, the will of God, the Constitution and right living be damned. 9/11 represents the worst kind of pragmatism: a willingness to shed blood in order to gain political and economic objectives. 9/11 represents the descent of our country into police state tyranny.

Why do I make such imflammatory statements about 9/11, "the day that changed everything"? Because steel-framed buildings don't collapse because of fire. That's all I need to know. 

Forgive me if I sound cynical, but this fellow in Norway who killed all of those kids at summer camp: what are the odds that he was set up by the Usual Suspects? I hear that he was "a lone nut" ideologue with something to prove. But aren't they all? Haven't we seen this a million times before? I don't believe this shit anymore.

I choose to remain unafraid. I choose the way of peace. I refuse to pledge allegiance to any political party or country. I refuse to shed blood for any political party or country. I refuse to fall for the lies of malicious men who kill people for money and have been deceiving the peoples of the earth with violence and counterfeit money for a very long time. 

I'm choosing to "come out of her, my people." Enough!

*       *       *

Thanks, Ben.  

As always, comments are welcome, pro or con.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Simplest

       The simplest prose is the period.

       The simplest poetry is the, comma

       The simplest song is


       Some days I, like poetry


       I dedicate these thoughts to the memory of William of Ockham,
an dto (theghost: of  e. e. cummings          ,and to the