I began some time ago to write up a tentative theology of books, bookish theonerd that I am. I hit a rut, however, because things weren’t satisfactorily coming together for me. The post was sparked by a debate I had with someone over whether real books were superior to e-books, but I realised that my dislike of e-books had less to do with e-books themselves, than with the broader question of the place of technology in the lives of human beings, and my intensely realist philosophical outlook. Hence, it is these thoughts that I will present to you today, before I narrow in on books specifically.
One word for this post: AWESOME!!
Yesterday: Sin as a loose-end.
Part 2 is here! And it’s crazy awesome!! Hello, TIME TRAVEL!!
The human person summarizes his past in his present. When you meet a person, you meet a presence that is currently affected and presently informed by a past. To love a girl is to love the contents of a childhood that, in the moment of your loving her, shape who she is. When you shake my hand you shake a hand formed by my parents, a hand contingent — and contingent in the now — upon past events, past handshakes.
Which brings us back to the point. If being a person means containing your past, then no sins are past sins. Sin is a present, lived reality. Guilt is not a wallowing in the past, though a perverse guilt may be. Guilt is the pain of a past-filled present, or rather, the felt experience of the presence of a sinful past — of a past that isn’t past at all. If each man introduces himself as a present which sums up and is currently informed by a past, then the difference between the sinner and the sinless is that the sinner presents himself partially. The sinner contains within himself that which ought not be. He delivers a past in his present and this past contains absurdities that ought-not exist, and thus he, presently, offers to the world an incoherence.
If we want to die damn good stories, to be whole, to have consistent, final meaning — then we’re going to have to be rid of sin. If being a sinner is to summarize within the present moment a past that contains that which ought-not-be, then the only possibility of becoming a story free from crappy writing — free from the irreconcilable absurdities that ought never have been part of our narrative — is to go back in time and change the past. We must, quite literally, time-travel, and having done so, alter the quality of our past, that our present might be informed coherently by that which ought be, free from that which ought not. Only then can we introduce ourselves fully, without gaps in our story.
The rest is here: The ethical necessity of Time Travel.
For what is sin? Sin is less like a black mark against our names and more like walking into our home to find our family has grown bat wings. It is that which ought not be, dwelling within us by our own perverse permission. It is absurdity. Our sins present themselves as loose-ends, ought-nots that cannot be fit with the content of our existence. Our sins — locked in our memory, our history, our consciences, our relationships, and our entire state of being — are irreconcilable oddities that niggle and gnaw against our lives for the simple fact that they are not of our lives. They are foreign cells, not-me’s within me, absurdities all and nauseating. We do what we hate, we hurt the one’s we love, we indulge the shameful until we cannot feel the shame, and you hardly need me to remind you of the fact. We say we “are not our true selves” when we sin, and this means the following: That which is not our true selves becomes a part of ourselves. [This is actually heaps helpful for something cool I’m thinking through at the moment! Stay tuned!] Sins are principles of contradiction. We sin, and thereby contain an absence, like hell-bound and miserable doughnuts.
Sin then, is a poorly-written and inexcusable break in the consistency of our existence, one that works directly against our desire for our lives to be, at the end of all things, good stories. Sin is Harry Potter killing himself in the third chapter of the second book, the end. We do what we ought not do, and thereafter live with an absurdity embedded into the flesh of our existence, an ought-not-be, a part that was never supposed to be part of our story — and now is.
No appeal to life is adequate here. No one says c’est la vie to the man who murders his brother. Sin is definitively that which ought not be part of our life story, and thus no consideration of narrative over event will absolve the event. To be in sin is to be without the possibility of a finally meaningful existence. To be in sin is to live an incoherent narrative. To be in sin and to live with past sins is to live a story with loose-ends, a fragmented garble that contains that which ought-not-be and ought-never-have-been. The desire to die a damn good story is impossible to satisfy on the condition of indwelling sin, just as Crime and Punishment could never be the miracle of a narrative that it is if the third chapter contained a disco dance-off between Raskolnikov and Sonya.
Seriously, read it all. It’s great.
Is your thinking consistent? Find out with this fun little test:
Can your beliefs about religion make it across our intellectual battleground?
In this activity you’ll be asked a series of 17 questions about God and religion. In each case, apart from Question 1, you need to answer True or False. The aim of the activity is not to judge whether these answers are correct or not. Our battleground is that of rational consistency. This means to get across without taking any hits, you’ll need to answer in a way which is rationally consistent. What this means is you need to avoid choosing answers which contradict each other. If you answer in a way which is rationally consistent but which has strange or unpalatable implications, you’ll be forced to bite a bullet.
- Don’t be tricked by them calling God “she”, and so saying those statements are false. I dunno why they’ve done it, but oh well.
- If you’re like me and have done a bit of philosophy, you’ll realise you want them to make many of the statements clearer/ more nuanced, before you could definitely answer true or false… it’s not perfect, and you have to pick something eventually, but it’s a fun exercise anyway.
I got the “TPM medal of distinction”, which is apparently their “second highest award for outstanding service on the intellectual battleground”, for taking one hit. Might reveal on which one in a bit, after some of you have done it.
So, how consistent are YOU? 😉
I’m planning to write a bit about the connection between the virtues and the gifts and fruits of the Holy Spirit, as it’s not something I’ve thought about in great depth before. For today, the important points from the Catechism, well worth the read:
“Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”62
A virtue is an habitual and firm disposition to do the good. It allows the person not only to perform good acts, but to give the best of himself. The virtuous person tends toward the good with all his sensory and spiritual powers; he pursues the good and chooses it in concrete actions.
- The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.63
THE HUMAN VIRTUES
Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good.
The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love.
The virtues and grace
Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace. With God’s help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of the good. The virtuous man is happy to practice them.
It is not easy for man, wounded by sin, to maintain moral balance. Christ’s gift of salvation offers us the grace necessary to persevere in the pursuit of the virtues. Everyone should always ask for this grace of light and strength, frequent the sacraments, cooperate with the Holy Spirit, and follow his calls to love what is good and shun evil.
THE GIFTS AND FRUITS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The moral life of Christians is sustained by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. These are permanent dispositions which make man docile in following the promptings of the Holy Spirit.
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. They belong in their fullness to Christ, Son of David.109 They complete and perfect the virtues of those who receive them. They make the faithful docile in readily obeying divine inspirations.
- Let your good spirit lead me on a level path.110For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God . . . If children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ.111
- The fruits of the Spirit are perfections that the Holy Spirit forms in us as the first fruits of eternal glory. The tradition of the Church lists twelve of them: “charity, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, generosity, gentleness, faithfulness, modesty, self-control, chastity.”112
I’ll leave you with this thought, which has been the source of much reflection for me of late:
“The virtuous life and the happy life are synonymous.” ~ Fr Emmerich Vogt