A Contrite Heart You Will Not Scorn

As my sidebar bio says, I have traditionalist and neo-traditionalist sympathies. We traditional types must always guard ourselves from succumbing to Pharisaic tendencies. It's easy for the pious and overly-devotional (POD) to look down their noses at the progressives sharing the pew with them. This Sunday's gospel reading gave me an idea for a modern retelling of a parable for Pharisaical Catholics. Wisdom! Be attentive!

This is parable is for some who trust in themselves that they are righteous and despise others: "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a traditionalist and the other a progressive. The traditionalist stood and prayed thus with himself, `God, I thank thee that I am not like other men, ultra-feminists, pro-choicers, divorcees, or even like this progressive. I go to mass seven days a week, I give tithes of all that I get.'  But the progressive, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, `God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted."

Comments 20

  1. theomorph wrote:

    … Or you could just get it from observing what a society needs to continue existing in a stable form.

    Posted 30 Oct 2004 at 4:16 pm
  2. Jerry Nora wrote:

    And where does that go, when someone says that another person isn’t a Christian? I’ve often heard people say that other people are incorrect in their interpretations (and you, sir, are hardly shy about saying when you think other people are wrong, yet we seem to be able to do with it ;)), but I’m not sure to what extent the disagreement is amongst the vast majority of Christians regarding forgiveness. Do you have some concrete data on this, and moreover, perhaps show us how that particular level of disagreement undermines the authority of the Bible?

    Posted 30 Oct 2004 at 12:52 am
  3. steve wrote:

    BTW, Theo, your indictment:

    And there are more kinds of Christianity now than ever before. It’s almost impossible to be a Christian without actively choosing the theological version you prefer (or at least rationalizing why you’re sticking with your parents’ religion). That’s not an authoritative faith. It’s a faith that reflects your own interests and desires. Hey, it’s Christianity! Get out whatever you put in!

    … is dead on. It is now clear to me what you meant by saying something to the effect that your worldview fits in nicely with some Christian’s viewpoints. But surely you must realize that such a viewpoint is unstable. I.e., it is precisely not a “Christian” (at least if the term is going to denote any coherent thing at all) viewpoint at all. And it is precisely this consumer-driven (try Jesus and you’ll feel good) mentality that many Christians are fighting in their own various (usually American) church cultures. For one, it’s not a recognizable form of Christianity, and second, it’s patently and demonstrably false.

    Bye for now…

    Posted 30 Oct 2004 at 7:39 pm
  4. theomorph wrote:

    But the atheist, who stood by watching, smirked and wondered aloud, “How come both of those guys passed me by like I was invisible and neither of them wants to hang around with me like an ordinary human being, but they are more concerned about differentiating themselves according to a doctrinal taxonomy?”

    Then Jesus, who was standing next to the atheist, said, “I dunno. So who do you think I am?”

    The atheist thought about this. Then he said, “Doesn’t matter what I think. You are who you are.”

    Jesus laughed and slapped the atheist on the back. “At least you’re honest! See that guy there?” Jesus pointed at the progressive. “He doesn’t realize that his sins are already forgiven. And that other guy”–Jesus indicated the traditionalist–“well, he’s too concerned with the finer points of divine protocol to see that he is already permeated with that Other to whom he thinks he is speaking as if it were a person. He forgets that the only human faces are on other human beings.”

    Then Jesus and the atheist broke bread together and had a fine time while the traditionalist and the progressive worried away the rest of the afternoon.


    Posted 26 Oct 2004 at 4:43 am
  5. theomorph wrote:

    Hey Jesus is the guy who forgave prostitutes and adulteresses, hung around with “sinners and tax collectors,” and heaped scorn on the religious leaders of his day. Don’t go turning him into some kind of holier-than-thou parody, because that’s the kind of people he criticized.

    Posted 27 Oct 2004 at 2:27 pm
  6. Funky Dung wrote:

    Hey! Don’t dis smirkers! 😉 (Haven’t you seen my pic?)

    Posted 27 Oct 2004 at 2:06 pm
  7. theomorph wrote:

    Hey, I didn’t say genocide isn’t real, or that violent crimes aren’t real, or that exploitation isn’t real. However, I do think the absolute, abstract qualities of “good” and “evil” as applied to any given act are not real.

    Since when is the Bible “filled with virtually nothing but absolute moral certitude, divine judgement and blessing”? This is the book that says “thou shalt not kill” right alongside “stone disobedient children.” This is the book that condemns adultery, but whose star figure Jesus forgives an adulteress and diplomatically shrugs off her suspect accusers. Is that “moral certitude”?

    And what is so divine in the judgment of a God who first destroys a world for its sin, but then, when sin proliferates again, comes down and, in essence, commits suicide at the hands of his sinful creations, then promises to immolate the whole thing at the end anyway? Sounds to me more like a strange, psychotic being at the end of his wits. For God so loved the world, indeed.

    That the scriptures have only one incontestable meaning is an assertion that defies all of Christian history as well as the reality of diversity within the church today. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a fundamentalist Baptist or a traditionalist Catholic–claiming that there is only One True Understanding of The Faith and that It is Yours is a pretty vain conceit, in my opinion.

    Not that I mean any kind of personal insult. Plenty of people think my atheism is a vain conceit, too. 😉 But I’m pretty amenable to other points of view so long as they neither pick my nor break my leg, as Thomas Jefferson said. Good guy, that TJ. Or, as Morpheus put it in that awful sequel to The Matrix, my beliefs do not require other people to believe them, too.

    Posted 28 Oct 2004 at 3:08 am
  8. Funky Dung wrote:

    I dig your story, but I must take issue with a couple points. Yes, we are already forgiven, but God wants us to confess our sins and be repentant. You should have learned that during your time as a Christian. It’s all throughout Scripture. As for the “Other” not being a person, I point to the Trinity. In particular, Christ took the form of a human person. Also, we are created in God’s image and likeness. God does have a human face.

    Posted 26 Oct 2004 at 5:03 am
  9. Leo Wong wrote:

    I doubt if Jesus and the atheist had a fine time together. Jesus wanted to tell about his Father’s kingdom, while the atheist wanted to argue his unbelief. Also, the atheist smirks (“to smile in a conceited, knowing or complacent way”); he is thus too much like the Parisee for anyone to enjoy being with him.

    Posted 27 Oct 2004 at 1:46 pm
  10. Tom wrote:

    I kind of have to watch that too. Frequently I’ll look down upon the sort of praise & worshippy spirituality that many of the other Newman rats have. As someone who attends the Old Mass somewhat regularly, says the Rosary, and, I’m halfway ashamed to say, recites Latin prayers on occasion, I am in danger of spiritual elitism in a big way.

    Posted 26 Oct 2004 at 6:20 am
  11. theomorph wrote:

    Oh yeah– and it’s nice to know somebody thinks I occasionally make “a great deal of sense.” 😉

    Posted 28 Oct 2004 at 3:11 am
  12. theomorph wrote:

    Sure, but there are lots of countervailing tendencies within Christianity. Maybe God wants people to repent, but God invented the concept of “sin” by defining it as the knowledge between good and evil. Seems to me that plays pretty well into my worldview where good and evil are just imaginary categories that don’t really mean anything. How do you know God doesn’t want people to move beyond sin? No good or evil means no knowledge of them means no sin. Doesn’t mean you can’t be a jerk, just means you don’t worry about your theological categorization or the state of some “eternal soul” based on which finger you showed to the guy in the other car.

    Then there’s the trinity thing. If God-in-the-abstract has a human face, what was the point of the incarnation? And what’s that bit from Jesus about “whatsoever you do unto the least of my brethren you do unto me” and so on? There’s plenty of room within the scripture to interpret things as I have.

    It’s funny, I didn’t have a hard time making the leap to atheism after I discovered the diversity of Christian thought. There are loads of Christians who are basically the same as I am, except they just use different words to talk about life, the universe, and everything.

    Posted 26 Oct 2004 at 5:16 am
  13. theomorph wrote:

    The other problem with the “creed defense” is that creeds themselves do not show up as a necessary element of Christianity in the original source literature (i.e., the New Testament). (In fact, now that I think of it, the idea of “Christianity” as an institution does not even show up in the New Testament. It’s really more of an anti-institution than anything. Of course, when you think Jesus is coming back in just a few years, you don’t really need any institutions, do you?)

    There have been branches of Christianity that have pointed out the non-creedal nature of New Testament Christianity, too. My own cultural and intellectual heritage is in one of them, the Anabaptists. And even though the originally-Anabaptist church I grew up in has basically turned into the standard white-bread-protestant-evangelical thing, as recently as about ten years ago there was resistance to the recitation of the Nicene Creed during services, because it’s not “scriptural.” That’s a legacy of their Anabaptist roots. (Meanwhile, the relative newcomers couldn’t figure out why this apparently decent creed had anything wrong with it.)

    Recall, also, that the Nicene Creed was, in part, specifically created to counter the Arian “heresy” that Jesus and the Father were not of the same substance. Note further that this question is left entirely in the air by the NT scriptures themselves. Jesus never says outright what he is. God never comes down and clarifies. There are no declarative statements in the NT that add up to “of one Being with the Father.” It’s a philosophical question that the authors of the NT apparently didn’t think to write about explicitly. So they convene a council at Nicaea to nail this down. Which raises the question of how you know a council and its decision are valid and according to what standard.

    At this point, you have to start talking about various types of scriptural canon. Orthodox, Catholics, and Protestants all have a different canon, and they all have different related literature that they rank in different ways. How can any outside observer look at the different branches and different standards of canonicity and know which one (if any) is “correct”?

    Posted 31 Oct 2004 at 5:43 am
  14. steve wrote:


    Man, these discussions get time consuming, but I suppose they’re worth it.

    All of the “sects” you mention or allude to (viz., Catholics, Orthodox, Pentacostals, and hard-wooden-straight-sitting-dry-sermon-listeners) all uniformly agree on two things: The Apostles and Nicean Creeds. These form the sine qua non of Christianity. Yes, maybe 2% of self-titled “Christians” who ever lived don’t subscribe to these synopses. Well, the 98% got together and voted them out.

    The differences you observe reflect diversity within essential (if not organizational) unity. And hey, isn’t diversity supposed to be good thing?

    Yes any fool can read a book and misinterpret it. The wiser the fool, usually the bigger the error. So what? As I said, the vast, vast majority of Christians who have ever live give whole-hearted assent to Two (relatively) simple creeds–synopses of the stuff that Scripture does clearly teach.

    Surely even athiesm has a set of rules? At least the denotation must count for something… so it is with any worldview… at least if we want language to be a useful thing.


    Posted 30 Oct 2004 at 7:25 pm
  15. steve wrote:


    Most of the time, you make a great deal of sense. As for your Jesus and the athiest getting along just fine: It rings quite true. They’d probably go grab a beer. This is not to say that Jesus would think the athiest’s “all right”–Jesus came to say that everyone is not at all “all right” (especially those who thought they were), and to try and “fix” them.

    But this bit:

    Maybe God wants people to repent, but God invented the concept of “sin” by defining it as the knowledge between good and evil. Seems to me that plays pretty well into my worldview where good and evil are just imaginary categories that don’t really mean anything.

    does not make quite as much sense, on several fronts.

    – If sin, good, and evil are really nothing, then what is the actual thing that God wants us to repent from?

    – And if good and evil are imaginary categories, then the statement: “Genocide is evil” has all the moral force of “I dislike broccoli.” I.e., they are both mere feelings. How can reconcile that we (at least sane people) “feel” so much stronger about one than the other?

    This gets at the development of morality in culture, and, while I know there are plausible “just so” sorts of stories coming in from evolutionary psychology, it still remains to be answered why morality always (universally and in every culture) tells us to do the thing we do not want? And further, why the most “moral” person is usually the one who gives up the most survival advantage? How could such phenomena arise without an undergirding objective reality: Real Cosmic Good?

    Ask victims of violent crimes, children traded in exploitive slavery, survivors of the Rwandan genocide (even repentent participants for that matter) whether evil is real or imagined. I think we would find (at least anecdotally) that Real Cosmic Evil seems to exist–and oddly it exists in the same place where Real Cosmic Good was to some degree absent.


    There’s plenty of room within the scripture to interpret things as I have.

    This is a bit of reach. And just where would that room be? It’s a book filled with virtually nothing but absolute moral certitude, divine judgement and blessing. I expect Christians to occasionally play fast and loose with scripture, but athiests? No way!


    Posted 27 Oct 2004 at 11:44 pm
  16. Jerry Nora wrote:

    Theomorph, just a quick point (don’t have time for anything else).

    You found forgiving an adulteress a lack of moral certitude. I think we should clarify in that Jesus was quite clear that adultery was bad–at several points in the Gospel, He reaffirms the centrality of the Ten Commandments–but being God, He also had the ability to heal people of their sins and forgive them.

    When a physician gives you an antibiotic for pneumonia, that is no way denying that pneumonia is a bad disease, it is rather a way to destroy that disease’s hold on your body. Just so with sin and its effect on the whole person.

    Posted 28 Oct 2004 at 2:04 pm
  17. Funky Dung wrote:

    Unfortunately, there’s a hole in Steve’s creed-based defense. We all might say the same creed, but we mean different things. Ask a Catholic what “communion of saints” means and then ask a Protestant the same question. Perhaps we need to start using the Athenacian creed again. It’s long and excruciatingly detailed, but there’s little wiggle room in it. 😉

    Posted 30 Oct 2004 at 8:20 pm
  18. theomorph wrote:

    What I was getting at is redefining “Christian” so that people whose theology doesn’t match yours end up on the outside. Pat Robertson, John Spong, the Pope, and Benny Hinn all claim (and represent) the same Christian religion, but do they consider themselves on the same “team” so to speak? I’d love to see those four guys together in public.

    Yes, multiple interpretations absolutely undermine the authority of the Bible. When so many disagreeing people are all claiming to get their theological basis from the same book, and some of them are even claiming that it’s holy or infallible, how can anybody take it seriously? We might as well just go to the postmodern essay generator, whip up some new scriptures, and then see how many different kinds of religious practice we can get out of them.

    If the Bible is authoritative instead of whatever it seems to be (rorschach scriptures?) why is there such proliferation of faith and practice? Christians have almost never agreed on their beliefs. They’ve been calling each other heretics since day one. Then Paul’s perspective got canonized, and a theological center was hammered out, but it didn’t take long before people started arguing over that, too. It’s ridiculous. And there are more kinds of Christianity now than ever before. It’s almost impossible to be a Christian without actively choosing the theological version you prefer (or at least rationalizing why you’re sticking with your parents’ religion). That’s not an authoritative faith. It’s a faith that reflects your own interests and desires. Hey, it’s Christianity! Get out whatever you put in! And you all have the same book in the middle. Some authority that thing is.

    Then you get Catholics sitting around and claiming that their way is the true way, because they have the historical pedigree. Except the Orthodox say the same thing. Oh, wait, and so do the Protestants. Everywhere you turn around there’s some Christian waiting to tell you why all the other Christians are reading it wrong, and can’t they see how clear and unequivocal the scriptures are?

    But look at all the clear and unequivocal statements that are foisted on the scriptures:

    “Thou shalt not destroy embryos and harvest their stem cells.” Where is that?

    “Thou shalt accept women as equals.” Where is that?

    “Thou shalt follow the authority of the pope.” (Or, “Thou shalt not have a pope.”) Where is that?

    “Thou shalt ‘feel’ the Holy Spirit every week and jump around like a crazy person.” (Or, “Thou shalt sit up straight in hard wooden pews and listen to dry sermons every week.”) Where is that?

    On and on and on. None of this stuff is actually in the scriptures. About the only thing you can get unequivocally from the Bible is “don’t lie, steal, or kill.” But heck, you can get that from any religion. Or yo

    Posted 30 Oct 2004 at 4:15 pm
  19. theomorph wrote:

    Yes, but since Jesus and “forgiveness,” there has ever after been little but conflict about what that means. Does it mean that every act is forgivable, or that every act is forgiven? You may believe it’s one way, but I can assure you that there is someone else who believes it’s the other, or something else entirely. Just sitting around and saying “that guy is wrong–that guy isn’t a TRUE Christian,” well, we all know where that goes.

    When it comes down to brass tacks, adultery (the specific sin you mentioned) is most objectionable to the people it hurts because it has hurt them, not because it has been declared a sin by God or the Bible or any other scripture. I see no reason to take my cues for morality from a theologically debatable book when I could just make my decisions according to my very real, undebatable, and inescapable circumstances.

    Posted 28 Oct 2004 at 10:33 pm
  20. Leo Wong wrote:

    Your bride will improve your smile. 🙂

    Posted 27 Oct 2004 at 10:18 pm

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