Nominal Christians in Fiction and Real Life

Particularly for authors who are Christians of one sort or another, or authors who write for the Christian fiction markets, it is important to distinguish between Christians and nominal Christians.

In the United States, a person can follow any religion he likes, or no religion. And he can call himself a Christian whether or not that is particularly true. So there are a lot of people walking around with the ‘Christian’ tag on them who do not meet the normative definition of ‘Christian.’

Some Christians say that real Christians are ones that have had a ‘born again’ experience that they remember, or that have gone forward at a ‘altar call’ in Evangelical churches that have that practice. Other Christians say that being an active Christian can start at the sacrament of baptism, even an infant baptism, and can continue as a child is raised in a Christian home where prayer and church attendance are the norm.

A nominal Christian is a Christian ‘in name only.’ Why does he take the name of Christian? For some people, claiming Christianity as a religion is just another way of saying ‘my family is not Jewish.’ If they have parents, grandparents or great-grandparents who were raised as Christians, they feel they are Christian enough— they are just not ‘fanatics’ about it.

Other people honestly think that if they believe in God and sometimes ask this God for stuff, like help in an emergency or a winning lottery ticket, that makes them Christian, unless their family was Jewish or they have taken up Buddhist meditation.

It does not help that in addition to the faithful Christians— Protestant and Catholic— who believe something that a Christian from 200 years ago would recognize as Christian, there are also very progressive Christians who make headlines. For example, some progressive Christians have blessed abortion centers and said that committing abortions is what Jesus would do. That reinforces a perception that in Christianity, anything goes and you can believe any old thing and it can be part of Christianity.

Nominal Christianity is not the same thing as progressive Christianity. Progressive Christians, as far off from the New Testament as their faith can be, are living a faith that they believe is the modern version of Christianity. Nominal Christians aren’t actively practicing any faith at all. They don’t usually know enough about Christianity to know there is something missing in their faith life.

In fiction, nominal Christians play a role in Christian fiction often by being an obstacle or a challenge to active Christians. In the ‘Left Behind’ series, the main characters included nominal Christians who became real Christians after the shock of the ‘rapture’ event.

In secular fiction, nominal Christians are often seen as sensible and non-fanatic Christians by those writers who know little. Though I’ve never read a book in which a man who doesn’t own a Koran, has never fasted for Ramadan, and who has never been to a mosque or said even one of the five daily Muslim prayers is named as a ‘non-fanatic Muslim.’ Muslims are expected to have some hints of their faith in their lives, both in fiction and in real life. Christians should have that as well. If they don’t, but still say they are Christians, we may suspect that perhaps they are nominal Christians.

Authors who know better should never present nominal Christians as ‘better’ Christians, any more than the no-mosque, no-prayer guy is a ‘better’ Muslim. Religions, both in the real world and our fictional worlds, have content. Nominal Christians, or nominal Muslims, or nominal Buddhists lack that content and so should not be representative of those faiths.

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Purgatory: Mud-Room of Heaven

Non-Catholic Christians often misunderstand purgatory as a second chance at heaven for damned souls. Nothing could be more untrue! Damned souls go someplace warmer. Purgatory is only for folks who have ‘died in friendship with God,’ which is a Catholic phrase that means ‘born again.’

Purgatory is like a mud-room. The mud-room is at the entryway to a midwestern home. It’s the place where you take off muddy boots and manure covered barn jackets, and put on something cleaner. Using the mud-room makes you ready to walk through the home’s kitchen and living room without getting yelled at for tracking in mud. Purgatory is like that, since it is the place where a soul can get ready for the bliss and holiness of heaven.

Many souls are just not ready to meet God, but they are trusting souls who have tried to follow God in the best way they knew how. They may not have known much, like the good thief on the cross. Or they may have been too proud or arrogant or simply lacked insight, so they may have committed serious sins without being aware of them as something they need to repent of, and confess to God (and the priest) about.

My current devotional reading is a devotional book about the ‘holy souls’ in purgatory. It gives another reason for purgatory— to get souls less attached to worldly things. Imagine an older woman who dies, but is constantly fretting over what her daughter-in-law is doing with her house and possessions. She needs to set her mind on heavenly things and not the horrible wallpaper her daughter-in-law chose for the front bedroom!

Some Christian souls, like martyrs, are deemed to be ready for heaven straight off. Jesus said to the good thief that he would be in Paradise that day. So, either Jesus considered purgatory a part of heaven (the mud-room?) or else the thief was given the grace to go direct to heaven or perhaps spend only 20 seconds in purgatory to get ‘ready.’

C. S. Lewis is considered by many an authoritative model of the modern Protestant Christian, but he admits to a belief that ‘something like’ purgatory is needed to make us fit for heaven.

There are Bible verses held to speak of purgatory. An article by apologist Dave Armstrong lists some of these verses. I would suggest that you read the article to understand more about the Bible and purgatory.

25 Descriptive and Clear Bible Passages about Purgatory: https://www.ncregister.com/blog/darmstrong/25-descriptive-and-clear-bible-passages-about-purgatory

The important thing about purgatory is that it is not a substitute for accepting Jesus Christ as your savior now, or living a Christian life now, or avoiding sin now. Purgatory is for the ‘holy souls,’ not for people who want to ‘have fun’ now and worry about their souls later. When ‘later’ comes, in the form of death, there is no more mercy available for the damned soul. No damned souls are in purgatory, any more than they are in heaven.

As a Catholic convert who was not brought up on belief in purgatory, and who once knew a lot of (often silly) arguments against it, I find myself a little behind on knowing the concept. I recommend two devotional books by Susan Tassone and published by Our Sunday Visitor, Inc, for other Catholic converts wishing to gain greater knowledge of purgatory and the Holy Souls. [Where do the ‘holy souls’ get their ‘holy?’ Jesus, of course!]

Thirty-Day Devotions for the Holy Souls – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/809593.Thirty_Day_Devotions_for_the_Holy_Souls

Day by Day for the Holy Souls in Purgatory – https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/23490846-day-by-day-for-the-holy-souls-in-purgatory

“There is no Such Thing as the One True Way”

In Mercedes Lackey’s Valdemar books, the land seems to have a law or motto: ‘There is no such thing as the one true way.’ This is popular enough— I would imagine the typical neopagan reader interprets it as a hit against those hateful and hated Christians— but does it make any sense?

As a general rule, the motto, as it asserts that either there is no such thing as truth, or that it is unbearably rude to stand up for the truth when someone might have a contrary opinion, kills off any hope of scientific advancement or rational discussion.

Imagine the situation when someone who believes in a flat Earth (or Velgarth) meets someone who believes— or has personally observed— the roundness of Earth or Velgarth. Because ‘there is no such thing as the one true way’ neither can enlighten the other without breaking the law.

In our world, there are people who believe that autism is often caused by modern vaccines, and others who believe modern vaccines never cause autism. As a sensible person I believe the ‘cure’ for that is more research, and better reporting of adverse effects of vaccines. But according to the Valdemar rule, both sides of the vaccine issue have to keep silent because ‘there is no such thing as the one true way.’ Or a true answer to a dispute that could be solved with scientific research.

It’s obvious, though, that the Valdemar rule is aimed specifically at religions, or perhaps only at theistic religions. No religious group is allowed to claim that their religion might be true. What effect would that have on religions in the real world? Could a religious group pass on its faith to the next generation if they were banned from talking about truth or reality? Wouldn’t all religions tend to die out under such a law?

And the kingdom of Valdemar makes a lot of use of religions in order to provide social services at low or no cost to the state. In Haven, the capital, the schools not only have the task of educating the children, even poor ones, but they distribute state-provided free food to hungry poor children. A religious order was also used to wall up a woman who wanted a Valdemar Herald punished for killing her son. That story did not mention whether the sisters were to be paid for turning their convent into a jail.

But there is one religion that would be very comfortable with religions without truth. Not any ancient kind of paganism— they also thought their religions had truth on their side— but modern neopaganism.

Having actually been a neopagan and having read a lot of books about it, I know that there were a lot of people who embraced neopaganism and even started neopagan religions or Wiccan traditions who stated openly they didn’t believe it was true. They talked about neopaganism’s aesthetic value instead— in other words, it was a pretty lie. Some early neopagan leaders made claims about having a family tradition of neopaganism or Wicca, and later admitted that wasn’t true. They just said it to get attention and followers, and because others were saying similar things at the time.

How well does this non-true neopaganism work out in real life? Well, they sell ‘magick’ books. But have you ever seen a Wiccan or other neopagan temple being built in your town? They can’t gather enough people together to collect money to create a physical presence anywhere. And if they do manage to create one, will their groups last as long as a local Presbyterian church will last? Do neopagans who don’t believe their religion is actually true have the willingness to work and sacrifice and donate and attend services to make their non-true religion a reality in the world? Why would they care?

“There is no such thing as the one true way” may sound cool and anti-Christian to modern ears, but in the fantasy kingdom of Valdemar, it’s an expression of tyranny. If religions can’t speak about their faith’s claim to truth, and can’t transmit any evidence for that truth to their future generations, religions will die out. And Valdemar seems to depend on being able to use-and-abuse religions for the state’s needs.

Which is probably why the tyrannical law came into being. I would imagine that Valdemar looks the other way when priests or lay person surreptitiously whisper to children and new converts the evidence for their faith. If someone starts preaching it on the street corners— as the early Christians did at Pentecost— they will be punished, if only to keep the religions scared and obedient to the state. But I believe that the government of Valdemar is glad that the majority of their people don’t really believe ‘there is no such thing as the one true way.’

Even Secular Marriage is about Dying to Self

Sometimes in the battle against the anti-marriage true believers (“Marriage is just a piece of paper.”) we point out that Christian marriage is about dying to self. Christian wives are told ‘Wives, submit yourself unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord.’ [Ephesians 5:22] Christian husbands are told ‘Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loved the church, and gave himself for it.’ [ Ephesians 5: 25]

Since Christ loved the church— composed of unworthy sinners— by dying on the cross for it, Christian wives win. We can see that both husbands and wives are given strict commands where the end result is being very unselfish to the marriage partner— dying to self, or at least putting your more selfish side in second place.

Secular marriage is different from Christian marriage— after all, many ancient cultures allowed for easy divorce and remarriage. But the dying to self part of marriage is not necessarily absent.

Let us take the example of a caveman— or, more technically, a Paleolithic man. His name is Marcus (not all cavemen have to be named Ogg) and he’s just taken a wife named Lucia. Once married (or pair-bonded, since they don’t have ‘a piece of paper’ since paper hasn’t been invented yet), they stop living just for themselves and start thinking more of their partner. When Marcus is out hunting, he anticipates how Lucia will react when he brings down an antelope. When Lucia is out gathering edible plants, she rejoices when she finds things she thinks Marcus will like— even if she doesn’t much like it herself. They try to please the other.

In a more life-and-death situation, the fact that Lucia is a wife and not a virgin enhances her chances of getting pregnant. But pregnancy brings with it a risk of dying in childbirth. Marriage may cost Lucia her life. Staying a virgin would have been safer. But Lucia takes the risk.

In time of crisis— perhaps the tribe is being attacked by the men of a rival human band— it is Marcus who may have to give his life. Males, even in animal herds, tend to fight a threat while the females and young can get away. Marcus may have to fight attackers while Lucia takes the babies and runs away. Marcus might die to save the lives of his wife and offspring. But that’s what even secular marriage is about, and if Marcus has living offspring who survive because of his sacrifice, at least his genes will live on.

What about a same-sex couple? Let us say that in Marcus and Lucia’s tribe there is a pair of males, James and Andrew (yeah, also not named Ogg.) James and Andrew may be sex partners, or may just have a very intense friendship that leaves little room for other social relationships. (‘Being Gay’ in the modern sense has most certainly not been invented yet.)

James and Andrew may care about one another every bit as much as Marcus and Lucia do, but neither James nor Andrew has to worry about dying in childbirth because of it. And if the tribe is attacked, both, being males, will be expected to fight against the enemy to help women and children escape. Since their union cannot produce children, their genes will not live on if they both die in battle. Since James and Andrew have no escaping wives and children to worry about, they may be forgiven if they decide that self-preservation is more of a thing for them.

Because male-female couples can potentially produce children which have a genetic future, ‘dying to self’ in a marriage makes more sense, even in secular contexts. And putting self second makes a marriage last longer that deciding that marriage is a 50/50 proposition and then quarreling over what constitutes 50%. Other relationships— whether same-sex or cohabitation or hookups— just don’t normally generate the whole ‘dying to self’ attitude. Which is why marriage is special, and not necessarily the same thing as a friendship or a casual-sex-partner relationship.

If you think my opinions are politically incorrect, thank you for paying attention. I personally am ‘non-heterosexual’, but I believe in man-woman marriage. I realize a lot of people don’t think I’m allowed to hold such opinions.

3 Aspects of the Christian Rosary #prayer #rosary

IM001380While most of us grew up thinking of the rosary as an exclusively Catholic thing, the fact is that the devotion predates the Protestant movement and the resulting division between Christians. Christian use of the rosary is not just found among Catholics, but survived among some Anglicans and Lutherans, and has also been revived, often under names such as Christian rosary or Lutheran rosary, in some Christian communities.

Since the rosary is in common Christian use, it is well to think seriously about it. What is the rosary, anyway? There are three aspects of the rosary we might need to study to achieve full understanding.

The Beads

A rosary is a physical set of beads used to count prayers. Many cultures have something similar to a rosary. In Eastern religions, a string of 108 beads is used to count repetitions of a mantra, or religious phrase. In the Eastern Orthodox Christian churches, a prayer rope is used to count repetitions of the Jesus prayer.  Muslims are said to use beads to count the many names/attributes of Allah.

A forerunner of rosary beads in the Western church was Paternoster beads, which were used to count repetitions of the Our Father or Lord’s Prayer. These were used by Christians who could not read, or could not afford a Liturgy of the Hours prayer book, which is a devotion based on the Psalms. Repeating the Our Father, and later, the rosary prayers, was a substitute.

The Verbal Prayers

The rosary is also a set of verbal prayers to be recited. They were prayers regularly taught to young Christians at the time the rosary was created. Besides the Our Father and the Hail Mary, they include the Glory Be to the Father, the In the Name of the Father, and the Apostles Creed.

I knew all these prayers, except the Hail Mary, from when I was a Protestant. We sang the Glory Be in our Presbyterian church every Sunday. The Hail Mary prayer can be a stumbling block, but the older version of the Hail Mary is made up of two Bible verses, and the longer version just asks Mary to pray for us. To God. The same way we ask our friends to pray for us. It’s not a form of worshipping Mary, which would be a serious sin. For those who worry, the short form Hail Mary or the Jesus prayer can be used in place of the full Hail Mary.

The Life of Christ Meditations

There is a third factor to the rosary. It is a series of 15 events and topics from the life of Christ that we are to think about while reciting the verbal prayers. Much later, Pope John Paul II added 5 more events, called the Luminous Mysteries. Protestants may use these extra Mysteries or not, as they choose. All are Bible stories known to Protestants, anyway.

The meditations add depth to the rosary devotion and keep us from just mindless and thoughtlessly uttering the verbal prayers. They are the heart of the devotion. There are many Catholic leaflets, books and videos that help us keep these meditations in mind when praying the rosary. I don’t know that there is much of this nature made for various sorts of Protestants, but if you can’t find anything, adapt something Catholic!

The Lutheran Rosary

Martin Luther and the Lutheran Hail Mary

 

Deniers or Heretics? #lchf #health

JimmyMooreJust discovered that my favorite health podcaster, Jimmy Moore, has been added to a list of ‘cholesterol deniers.’ Along with other respected names like Dr Jason Fung, Gary Taubes, and Tim Noakes.

I guess this is the latest in pseudoscience. When the research doesn’t come out the way you like, turn it into a dogma and go to war against the heretics. Who you have to call ‘deniers’ if you want your dogma to sound like a sciency dogma.

Actual science doesn’t work like that. Science doesn’t have dogmas. We are welcome to question any scientific idea, theory or law. The ideas that win are the ones with the most proven facts on their side.

Of course, individual scientists are only human. They can hang on to a pet theory for years after research has failed to come out with the evidence they hoped for.

That’s how the flawed cholesterol-heart hypothesis became current medical dogma. Read Gary Taubes’ book ‘Good Calories, Bad Calories’ to understand how that happened, and how, in the United States, government played a role in the adoption of the flawed theory and the ignoring of facts.

I guess I am just a little prejudiced on this topic. Learning some true science from the works of Dr Robert Atkins, Dr Jason Fung, Jimmy Moore, Dana Carpendar and others helped me control my T2 diabetes without drugs and lose over 60 lbs. The approved dietary dogmas, on the other hand, are what helped me gain the extra weight and get the diabetes. They never got me anything but hunger and guilt.

In our current culture, arguers love to use the word ‘science’ to silence an opponent, but few even know about the scientific method, let alone use it. But we need to start questioning those pseudoscientific dogmas in our head. Why do people think that? What was their evidence for starting to think that way? Are there other theories with more evidence? Are there studies that need to be conducted to find more facts?

Science is a wonderful tool, though it cannot do everything. But pseudoscience, especially the kind that calls all dissenters, ‘deniers’, cannot do anything but lead you astray.

Jimmy Moore can be found on Facebook at: https//m.facebook.com/livinlowcarbman 

“We’re Not Christian, We’re Catholic!”

One of my pet peeves, now that I’m Catholic, is the fact that many Evangelical Christians sometimes use the word ‘Christian’ to mean the totality of people who are ‘saved’ enough to go to heaven, and at other times use ‘Christian’ to mean ‘Evangelical Christian’ or even ‘Evangelical Christian like the ones in our church.’ Since I was brought up in an Evangelical-ish Presbyterian congregation and only converted as a mature adult, I resent being sometimes ‘outside’ the Christian fold in the speech of such people.

Sadly, this thinking has gone beyond messing up Evangelical Christians. I have heard of a Catholic husband who corrected his wife, saying ‘We’re not Christian, we’re Catholic!’ Obviously he had imbibed the idea of ‘Christian’ as ‘Evangelical Christian,’ and may have felt that he was sticking up for the Catholic faith against a faith-compromising wife.

OK, here the fact: ‘Christian’ is a term that applies to all followers of Jesus, no matter their denomination. Or non-denomination. Even in groups that both Catholics and Evangelical/Ptotestants think of as ‘cults,’ like Mormons (LDS), Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witnesses, there are folks who are following Jesus. They may have a lot of flawed doctrines (beliefs) in their heads, but if they are looking to Jesus to save them from their sins, they are part of our ‘tribe.’

Some Evangelicals, aware of this, like to use the term ‘Bible Christians’ to differentiate between themselves and between Christians like Catholics and Eastern Orthodox that they consider ‘beyond the pale.’ But from a Catholic perspective, I would resent that. Who is it that preserved the New Testament manuscripts and copied them— not to mention deciding which Christian books were a part of the Bible like Revelation and Romans, and which books, though good, did not make the cut, like the Didache and the Shepherd of Hermas? Protestants and Evangelicals didn’t come along until centuries later. So— when Joel Osteen urges listeners who have prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’ to get themselves in a ‘good Bible-based church,’ I consider my own Precious Blood Catholic Church to be one.

In my lifetime, popular culture has gone from thinking of Christians as virtuous but dull, to characterizing Christians, particularly those who stand up for unpopular teachings, as ‘haters,’ homophobes, and misogynists. We writers who are Christians need to stand up for Christianity as a whole— not just those bits of Christianity we know from our own denomination or church congregation.

Now, I don’t think there is anything at all wrong with a writer who happens to be Methodist or Lutheran or Pentecostal or Catholic using their own specific faith in their fiction, rather than a generic homogenized ‘Christianity.’ Back when I was a Missouri Synod Lutheran, I would have loved to read a Christian sci-fi or fantasy novel that mentioned the ‘means of grace’ or quoted from Luther’s catechism. And I now have favorite Catholic authors that are explicitly Catholic in their works.

But we need to face up to the fact that Christianity is divided and this is not necessarily good. Perhaps the best thing an author could do is to try to show Christians acting in unity in spite of divisions, and being kind to Christians from other denominations that the writer believes are very wrong. (For example, I have Amish and a Lutheran family on my fictional starship Destine, which is otherwise pretty full of Catholics. And in another work in progress, I have a group of young Mormon missionaries who volunteer to act as messengers for the Pope, who is in exile in Upper Michigan during the zombie apocalypse. The awkward bit comes when the Pope gives them his papal blessing and one of the Mormon missionaries responds by giving the Pope his own priestly blessing.)

What about non-Christian authors? Well, if you are non-Christian and still want to be respectful to Christianity, rather than mocking it, in my opinion you are being fair-minded and kind. I hope you will recognize that all persons in the many denominations and divisions of Christianity have a claim to be called ‘Christian’ even if some Christians think of ‘Christian’ as mostly ‘Christians-like-me.’ And that Christians can be kind and helpful to one another without ceasing to believe that their own denomination is the most correct. (After all, these days it is common for Christians to seek out another, more correct denomination if they feel their own is in error in an important way— that’s what I did— twice.)