It is a bad news good news thing

May 17, 2014 § 33 Comments

In my previous post I made the radical offhand observation that Christianity really, actually is good news to those who hear it.

Christians are puzzled about how to convince modern man that Christianity is good news.  But the reason modern man does not see Christianity as good news is because modern man has become very, very good at hiding from bad news. I will argue that this is not really a problem for Christians interested in evangelizing modern man though, and does not require that Christians engage in any clever marketing or propaganda strategies or other lies-of-omission in order to get to a “baptism close” (or even a “keep coming to Mass and putting money in the plate” close).

I am going to do the traditional thing and talk about the bad news first.

The reason that Christians don’t have to teach modern man the bad news that he doesn’t want to hear is because, as much as he may try, modern man cannot escape the bad news.  That cloud on the horizon that modern man tries very hard to ignore is going to get here, no matter what; and the timing and precise conditions of its arrival are in God’s hands not ours.

The bad news is that suffering and death are coming, and there is no way to stop them.  The even worse news is that we deserve it.

Christianity has the good news, is the Good News, and I (literally) cannot summarize it.  But Christ loves you personally, and all the bad news amounts to nothing next to being the disciple Jesus loves for eternity.  (Naturally loving Him in return means that we will truly want to know what pleases and offends Him and act accordingly, not live in some deceived or immoral state where we do things offensive to Him without ever so much as being sorry for it).

But those whose ears are not thirsty for the Good News right now are absolutely guaranteed to be thirsty for Good News at some point. What precisely that point happens to be for individual people is entirely in the hands of Providence, not us.

So our job qua small-e evangelical Christians is to proclaim the Good News, in and out of season, in as plain and clear and honest terms as possible, so that those who are thirsty for it will hear it. (Possibly even to use words to do so when absolutely necessary). And it is especially important to proclaim the Good News to those who are thirsty for it right now: for those who know and are experiencing the bad news: the tired, the poor, the hungry, the sick, the repentant, etc.

But here is the thing: I don’t think it is our job, nor do I even think it is possible, for us to make people who are not thirsty, thirsty.

§ 33 Responses to It is a bad news good news thing

  • donalgraeme says:

    Well said Zippy. All we can do is sow the seed. When and whether it germinates and grows is out of our hands.

  • CJ says:

    I agree with you for the most part Zippy. But there is something to “all things to all men.” Paul’s speech at the Areopagus doesn’t look much like Stephen’s defense because they were talking to two very different audiences. On one hand you have St. Francis’ “use words when necessary,” on the other, St. John of Damascus writing the first systematic theology. So there are several ways to approach the task of evangelization depending on audience, circumstances, etc. I think we’re agreed that hiding the ball isn’t one

  • vetdoctor says:

    Amen

  • Chad says:

    Very, very good point.

    Modern man is very good at hiding at what makes Christ the good news – our own fallen nature. Too many people are too busy worshiping how wonderful man is to be open to hearing how horrible man can be (and generally is). The good news is both the death and the resurrection – the death for our sins and then the conquering of them.

    But to care about the conquering, you first have to believe something needed to be conquered.

    Thanks for the reminder. That we mere mortals can not be the cause. We cannot make someone thirsty, nor can we be the fire that burns for God. At best, we might be blessed to be an instrument for lighting the fire in God’s time.

  • The Great Commission — “Make disciples of all nations” or “teach all nations” then baptize, and observe all that Jesus commanded us.

    Essentially, to teach or make disciples they have to be willing.

    If there is no willingness — fertile ground or thirstiness — then they will not understand nor learn or accept.

  • The bad news is inside them, but, when they feel it, they attribute their natural feelings to human causes: a vast conspiracy against them and their feelings that somehow seduces people as they get older. They look to the world for validation that they can never truly accept.

    They say that they will only accept reason and knowledge, and their constant refrain is question authority; but they refuse to study.

    In order to avoid discussion, they have salted the language. They are confused about words like virtue and sin, hope, faith, and charity, but worse, words like modesty, prudence, temperance, and fortitude mean absolutely nothing to them. Go ask a modern what he thinks modesty is. He probably thinks it’s like phlogiston or the id.

    I don’t think the bad news is that suffering and death are coming. The moderns will reply to that bad news that suffering and death are inevitable and wishing doesn’t make an afterlife happen. Then they reply to the Good News that what matters is how a person treats others and apologizing to your invisible friend doesn’t change what happened.

    What the modern needs to hear, and really deep down inside wants to hear, is the truth about human nature, human virtue, human sin. Then they can understand that the reason Christians apologize to their invisible friend is not to change the past, but to change themselves.

    Moderns talk about how virtue doesn’t exist. Then they behave, well, sinfully. But inside each sin is a kernel of an appetite for what is good. If they can clarify the concept of the good in their minds, they can only profit from it: as the catechism says, the first victim of any sin is the sinner.

    Summa Theologica is pretty tl;dr; so are Humanae Vitae and even Persona Humana – though Persona Humana directly mentions why moderns are wrong and how they can fix it

    The people of our time are more and more convinced that the human person’s dignity and vocation demand that they should discover, by the light of their own intelligence, the values innate in their nature, that they should ceaselessly develop these values and realize them in their lives, in order to achieve an ever greater development.

    Therefore there can be no true promotion of man’s dignity unless the essential order of his nature is respected. Of course, in the history of civilization many of the concrete conditions and needs of human life have changed and will continue to change. But all evolution of morals and every type of life must be kept within the limits imposed by the immutable principles based upon every human person’s constitutive elements and essential relations – elements and relations which transcend historical contingency.

    How do we tell people to study the nature of the good? I guess if all they want is sound bites and imagemacros, maybe we can say “Eowyn never gave Aragorn a [redacted], and Aragorn didn’t have any dirty pictures of Arwen”.

  • Zippy says:

    CJ:

    So there are several ways to approach the task of evangelization depending on audience, circumstances, etc. I think we’re agreed that hiding the ball isn’t one.

    Bingo.

  • red says:

    If Christianity is the good news then why is the Christian church filled with broken families, adulterous women and men who can’t start families? Sounds more like the bad news bears.

  • Svar says:

    “If Christianity is the good news then why is the Christian church filled with broken families, adulterous women and men who can’t start families? Sounds more like the bad news bears.”

    Because Christians are still people and Christianity doesn’t turn you into Christ, it just makes you closer to Him.

  • CJ says:

    The church is a hospital for sick people and we’re at various stages of recovery.

    Still the question misses the point because the good news isn’t about Christians, it’s about Christ.

  • Scott W. says:

    If Christianity is the good news then why is the Christian church filled with broken families, adulterous women and men who can’t start families?

    Broken people should evoke pity and mercy, not scorn.

  • If Christianity is the good news then why is the Christian church filled with broken families, adulterous women and men who can’t start families?

    Every time you hear good news your problems and flaws magically disappear? Man, I want that superpower.

  • Zippy says:

    red:
    The Good News doesn’t make the bad news disappear, like some sort of parlor trick. You still have to die, and everything that is important to you is going to die too. And we still all deserve it.

    That isn’t all that there is to the story though, because there is Good News.

  • Mike T says:

    This reminds me of a conversation I had with a coworker at my new job. The short version is we were talking about “moral evolution” and he was shocked that I said that I think humanity, generally, reached “peak ethical behavior” in the late classical era. That is, we reached (on most issues) the upper bounds of how righteous and civilized men can be roughly between the time of Augustus through Constantine. After that, we hit a brick wall in terms of hard limits on how much civilization can “refine out” man’s worst, daily tendencies.

    Anyway, when we discussed the 20th century, he made a quip about how people “back then” would have slaughtered each other if they had nukes. He said it like he genuinely did not know that genocides have been recorded going back thousands of years. When I told him about the 3rd Punic War and Caesar’s pacification of Gaul (1 million slaughtered Celts, 1 million slaves, the rest scrambling to learn Latin) he was shocked.

    This isn’t the first time that someone has had this experience when talking to me. I blame it on the extreme lack of world history. You can’t even read Wikipedia without coming to some very conservative conclusions about human nature.

    (On a lighter note, a coworker of mine once tried to defend the canaanites to me, and I asked him “if the people there really were, mother-f#$%^ {in the literal sense}, goat-humping, homosexual, violent child sacrificers as the Bible claims, would you really have sympathy for them?” After about 5 seconds, he said “mmmm no, not really”)

  • Svar says:

    “The short version is we were talking about “moral evolution” and he was shocked that I said that I think humanity, generally, reached “peak ethical behavior” in the late classical era.”

    Don’t you think that each civilization reaches that peak before it slides into immorality? I mean, late Rome was a deeply immoral place but Christendom that came out of it’s ashes started out better than Rome was towards the end.

    “On a lighter note, a coworker of mine once tried to defend the canaanites to me, and I asked him “if the people there really were, mother-f#$%^ {in the literal sense}, goat-humping, homosexual, violent child sacrificers as the Bible claims, would you really have sympathy for them?””

    As for this, I really wondering if all of that is real and not just Ancient Hebrew exaggeration. I could imagine that they were pretty bad but not the extent the Hebrews said that they were. I just can’t believe any race could be incestuous, goat-humping, homosexual, AND into human sacrifice. Most messed up races are just one or the other not all four.

  • Marissa says:

    Zippy, this is totally and utterly off-topic, but I have a question based on a news story I saw last night about a woman who killed her newborn child. Do you think it is a sin to forcefully sterilize someone as punishment for a crime?

  • Zippy says:

    Marissa:

    Do you think it is a sin to forcefully sterilize someone as punishment for a crime?

    Yes I do think so.

  • vetdoctor says:

    Do you think it is a sin to forcefully sterilize someone as punishment for a crime?

    I think that fits in with cutting off a hand or foot as punishment. Mutilation, I think, would be cruel and unusual punishment and sterilizing someone is particularly cruel as it touches closely to what it means to be human.

  • Marissa says:

    It’s interesting that you say that, since the person I was arguing against showed support for cutting off hands as well as forceful sterilization. I wasn’t sure how to argue against it since I do agree with the death penalty, which seems “worse” than mutilation.

  • vetdoctor says:

    I didn’t go through the posts in this link myself but Ed Feser is a catholic philosopher that supports the death penalty. I suspect some one of the links attached discusses limb amputation. If you find remarks about amputation if you would re-post here. I have other fish to fry and am trying not to go all ADD with persuing this. http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2013/03/capital-punishment-lecture.html

  • Zippy says:

    Marissa:
    I dealt with that sort of argument in the Great Waterboarding Debate. See here, and look specifically at the mutilated analogy.

    I wrote a whole series of posts on waterboarding that dealt with all sorts of atrocious arguments.

    The bottom line is that “death is the worst thing we can do to him; the death penalty is morally licit; therefore we can do X to him, since X is not as bad as death” depends on several false premises.

    One of them is that death is the worst thing we can inflict on someone.

    Another is that licit punishment is a mathematically transitive function (think of a number line of “less bad” to “more bad” options) over which we can slide the options until we get to the part on the line where we have permission to torture and mutilate, since torture is “less than” death on the number line. (If morality worked that way then, because suffering forced sodomy is not worse than being killed, it would be morally licit to punish the guilty by sodomizing them.)

    Still another is that the morality of what we can do to him has to do solely with what he deserves, as opposed to being primarily about what it is good for us to do.

    In short, the argument proves too much. If anything goes because death is worse than anything else then anything goes, period.

  • I know Dr. Feser is against torture, and his tentative opposition to Zippy is based around some technical discussion surrounding definitions.

  • I’m also roughly 90% sure Dr. Feser is very much against forced sterilization and amputation.

  • vetdoctor says:

    I’m confident that is all true, just don’t have time to scare up the actual quotes and reasoning.

  • Marissa says:

    Thanks, all, I noticed this post by Edward Feser (with good comments too) explains well why this kind of thing is wrong: http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2011/10/on-rehabilitation-and-execution.html

    This is a good passage:
    The first thing to say in reply to this is that there is a crucial disanalogy between rape and murder. The reason murder is wrong is that the victim has a right to his life and that right is violated by the murderer. But that the victim of rape has a right not to have his or her body invaded is only part of the reason rape is wrong. Another reason rape is wrong is that it involves a kind of sexual perversion, divorcing as it does sexual arousal and activity from the affection and esteem that they ought always to be associated with. (This is why marital rape is a grave evil; and of course, other kinds of rape involve a third evil of adultery or fornication.)

    Now someone guilty of a grave enough offense has forfeited his right to life, and that suffices to make it justifiable in principle for the state to inflict capital punishment on him. And someone guilty of rape has forfeited his right not to have his own body invaded; in that sense he would deserve to be raped himself. But the reason it nevertheless cannot be legitimate to inflict this penalty on him is that it would involve the one inflicting it in the other immoral aspects of rape (sexual perversion and either adultery or fornication). There is nothing like this involved in capital punishment. Capital punishment is just the taking of someone’s life, where the person has lost his right to that life. There is no additional factor involved that would give the act anything of the moral character of murder, in the way that raping a rapist would involve acts that have part of the moral character of rape.

    But someone might now object: What if we merely tortured the rapist, leaving the sexual aspect out but preserving the aspect of his crime that involved bodily invasion? Doesn’t the rapist deserve at least that much punishment? I would say that he does deserve it, but I would agree that we should still not inflict such a punishment on him.

    Why not? The reason is that the moral hazards involved in such a practice are too great. Human beings naturally tend to recoil at inflicting pain on others or causing them bodily damage. The reason nature has given us such feelings is that it is, in general, good for us to avoid inflicting pain on others or causing them bodily damage. Hence, it is, in general, a good idea for us not to become too desensitized to doing such things.

    As is, “Comment #3”.

    Thanks also to Zippy for the mutilated analogy and execution analogy.

  • vetdoctor says:

    Yes, I had forgotten that one but, for the sake of argument, what if I surgically removed a hand in punishment for stealing cookies? Does the “morally recoil” idea apply? What if I morally recoil to the idea of keeping someone in a prison for the rest of his life?

    As we dig the rabbit hole even deeper.

  • Scott W. says:

    Putting an act in a sterile, well-lit environment and performed by a guy in a white lab coat does not change the nature of the act. Dr. Mengele can gibber about research all he wants; it doesn’t erase the fact that he is making a perverted assault on the Imago Dei.

  • Svar says:

    “Yes, I had forgotten that one but, for the sake of argument, what if I surgically removed a hand in punishment for stealing cookies? Does the “morally recoil” idea apply? What if I morally recoil to the idea of keeping someone in a prison for the rest of his life?”

    I always thought the moral approach would be both just and merciful and by being proportionate both justice and mercy would be had. So stealing a cookie? A slap on a wrist(literally). Running a rape-dungeon? Life in prison or death.

  • Svar says:

    “Putting an act in a sterile, well-lit environment and performed by a guy in a white lab coat does not change the nature of the act.”

    What if I put on a tie as well? Does that make a difference or is throwing rocks at cars on the freeway still bad?

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