Sunday, January 08, 2006

Where he's coming from...

There was an interesting discussion two posts below ("Odds and Ends from the Season") in which J.S. Kern found himself besieged on all sides with no allies in sight, or, in his words: "I felt a bit like a half-bright lion swatting a pack of hyenas with PhD’s!" - which I suspect rather flatters the commenters' abilities while exaggerating their terminal degrees. And, considering the state of doctoral wisdom in our universities today, it might be an insult to hyenas.

In any case, considering Mr. Kern's contributions to some long ago posts (see here, here, and here), it seemed to me that something had changed. Perhaps it hadn't, and I was merely more surprised than I should have been by the disconnect between his hatred of abortion (and its parallel, the murder of Terri Schiavo), and his love of contraception, for he's hardly a rarity among Christians who tolerate this cleaving of the two. But, as he admitted in comments, a change had indeed taken place, for which I requested the specifics, and he has kindly obliged via email. He has also consented to my excerpting portions of it. I offered to close comments on the post, but he has, in the spirit of fair play (and perhaps fearlessness), allowed me to keep them open. And so I have, with the caution that any criticism should be offered in all charity. So here is James' story:

I’d like to take another minute or two of your time here and further clarify (not argue or defend) my position regarding abortion, contraception, sex and the Lord. I’m not sure exactly where or how, but I feel that I’ve misstated my position and I’d like to set the record straight.

When my first wife decided to leave me and take my three children with her, I was at the stage in my spiritual walk where I believed that marriages, being made by the Lord, couldn’t be dissolved except when adultery was present (it wasn’t in my case). I believed completely that God would consider my ex and I married until one of us died or she remarried/committed adultery (to date she is single—and I easily believe she hasn’t had sex with anyone else) regardless of our living arrangements or civil status. Divorce didn’t exist; other than as a convenient label for non-believers and sinners. Because of this belief I was convinced I’d never remarry and never call myself anything but separated.

Well, to cut a long story short, a couple of years later I came to realize that in cloistering myself away from the opposite sex I wasn’t staying single for the sake of Christ, I was staying single for the sake of my pride. I was simply playing the poor martyred husband. I realized that the Lord doesn’t want the victims of divorce to be miserable and lonely—he doesn’t want anyone to be miserable and lonely. No, He wants them to be socially active human beings enjoying His blessings to the full. And I knew that He wanted me to be married—in a properly ordered, spiritual marriage—before I died. (I believe marriage to be the sacrament given to humanity through which we enjoy His blessings to the full.)

What makes a proper spiritual marriage is when both parties share genuine commitment, love and a belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. My first marriage failed on all three counts. My second marriage meets all three requirements.

Now, you will disagree on this next point, I’m certain, but it’s an important component to my faith. I believe that all marriages continue after death IF they are ordered spiritual marriages. I simply cannot believe that the Lord would put two people together in life to grow in love to the point where they are almost one person just to separate them after death. Yes, I know the scripture about “they are neither married nor given in marriage” but I don’t believe that it’s applicable to everyone. Or even most.

Furthermore, since I believe marriage continues after death, I believe that all the joys and pleasures of marriage continue for eternity. This includes one of the greater pleasures of marriage, making love.

However, I do not believe that children are created through love-making after death—they’re only “made” here, which is one of the main reasons why we start out our eternal existence on this mortal plane.

What this means with regards to my opinions on sex are probably obvious now. I believe that the primary reason for sex isn’t the natural one, procreation—however this is certainly an important outcome of it—but rather the spiritual one, to begin the process of unifying two souls for their eternal marriage. (Obviously this doesn’t happen in non-spiritual disordered marriages.)

Again, as I said before, I agree with the ideal that all Christians hold. The proper order of things is to marry (with the intention of it being life-long) before having sex. And children, if they are produced, should be done so within the marriage covenant. I do not believe that procreating is a sacred obligation.

By the way, none of what I have written above is intended to refute all your reasons for being against contraception. I agree that many temptations to fulfill evil impulses, desires and motivations are magnified through it. But I also know that these temptations are still strong even in procreating sex; just how strong is entirely dependant on the spiritual maturity of the individual. A spiritually weak man will sate his lust with his wife whether using contraception or not.

With regards to abortion, while I no longer believe that the soul is “inserted” into the baby at conception, I still think it wrong to terminate a pregnancy—even if the mother’s life is in danger or the baby is deformed or any of the myriad other excuses people come up with for aborting. I still think abortion should be illegal.

(To which, I should probably point out, I responded as follows: "You say: I no longer believe that the soul is 'inserted' into the baby at conception. This is not something about which you should have a 'belief.' Even Aquinas thought the soul was infused at 40 days. Yeah, Thomas, how did you know that? He didn't, obviously. It is something we must simply assume (that the soul is present at conception) for the unborn child's sake, for if it is not, people can make up any point prior to birth as the time of infusion, thus surrendering the baby's life to the atomized, moral autonomy of whomever he was unlucky enough to have conceived him. In other words, if pro-lifers abandon the moment of conception, they lose the argument. But the fact that they can't prove it doesn't prevent them from winning.)
He concludes:

...Thanks again for your kindness, Bill, and for letting me explain my position. I hope you aren’t too offended or put off by my beliefs. It’d be nice if at least one person on the Internet kept talking to me.

And in another email subsequent to my response:

You are an honorable man and I know you’ll be fair and considerate even in disagreement. But before you do, I would like to ask you to do something for me first.

My beliefs about marriage and the afterlife are not simply notions from my own head, but are in fact tenets of my religion. I am a member of the Church of the New Jerusalem—New Church, for short. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it before, although I suspect you might have heard of the name of the man the NC believes was used as a special instrument of the Lord: Emanuel Swedenborg. You might also have heard that “Swedenborgians” belong to an apostate Christian cult…or worse.

What I ask is that you do a small (very small) bit of research on the New Church before you cite any of my email. I’d like you to be at least somewhat familiar with the source of my views before you discuss them with others. I do not profess to be a particularly well-versed member of the New Church, or any kind of representative or spokesman for it (which is why I didn’t mention it before), and it’s entirely possible that I’ve misunderstood or misrepresented the Church’s teachings. Your knowing something of them independently of my interpretation might lessen the chances for confusion or error arising from my shortcomings. You can probably find as much information as you need here.

In closing, I’d like to quickly tell you why I became a New Christian.

My spiritual walk from atheism to agnosticism to New Christianity took about ten years. A typical late seeker, I read as much as I could about various world religions and spirituality in my thirties (I was even baptized into the Holy Mother Church and all three of my sons went to Catholic school). And, although I quickly came to realize that Christianity offered the most satisfying image of God and religion, none of the mainstream denominations were able to satisfactorily explain the Trinity. Not being able to understand it, I couldn’t believe in it. Being unable to believe in it, I was unable to call myself a Christian.

Then I read Emanuel Swedenborg’s book Heaven & Hell. It explained the Trinity in a way I’d never heard before (and much, much more besides!). This changed my life forever. From that day forward I was able to say, with a deep and sincere conviction, that I was a Christian.

...And that’s all. Thanks again, Bill. God bless.

And there you have it. I did that "very small" bit of research, which didn't take long because I'd already read Heaven and Hell many, many years ago somewhere along my own journey. If you think you can be of assistance, or possibly change his mind, feel free to help out - rigorously if you must, but gently. I doubt you'll get any response from him, but you can be assured he will be reading.

My thanks to James for opening up as he did.


alicia said...

all that I know about the Swedenborgians is that they have a beautiful chapel above the Pacific, where some friends of ours got married.
I find that their concept of 'eternal marriage' is somewhat reminescent of the Mormon's belief system.
I admit to being puzzled that the Trinity is what pushed him over the edge. I read recently that one cannot explain the Trinity for more than 5 minutes without risking slipping into heresy - I will have to try to find that citation.

TS said...

I was quite heartened to see that Mr. Kern wasn't creating a religion out of his own opinions - that always strikes me as a sign of high hubris - but comes by them honestly in the sense of following a teacher, albeit one that most Christians would consider a false one.

Swedenborgianism reminds me of Mormonism in that both were birthed in eras in which there was an unhealthy interest in pagan and evil spirits. Peter Stravinskas writes that Swedenborg's father, a Lutheran bishop, was "not reluctant to invoke spirits, good and evil alike, in his typically florid fashion from his pulpit".

And the son, the founder, "refused to acknowledge a belief in Christ's resurrection", which tells you a lot. And like Joseph Smith, Swedenborg claimed a number of mystical visions. Mystical theologies are often irresistable and this one certainly seems to have satisfied Mr. Kern's itch.

Like Mormonism, it's possible there are good fruits attached, which is probably part of the reason the devil has been so successful in helping to sow Christian disunity although we humans (self included) seem to do that well enough on our own.

William Luse said...

Thanks guys, good comments. I'll have more to say later.

TS said...

The devil, through the mouthpiece of those like Swedenborg, explains heterdoxy better than most of us can explain orthodoxy. I could have wished he'd have read Sheed's Trinitarian exposition in "Theology and Sanity" before he'd made the leap into falsehood.

William Luse said...

He's still got time to make the leap back. I suspect he will. After doing that little bit of research he requested, I quickly remembered why I'd had to let go of Swedenborg. His notion of the Trinity (which is really not a trinity) was conflicting with the orthodox apologists I was also reading. A choice had to be made, and I went with the one that had been around from the beginning.