Tuesday, May 18, 2010

New and Improved?

Someone sent a link to a CNN story, in which seven year-old girls in something called "the World of Dance competition" performed a completely inappropriate dance, frankly, for any girls or women at any age. The children were clad in scanty outfits and had been taught moves, performed in the dance, that would be seductive if they were several years older. This was to a vastly inferior "song" called "Single Ladies." To her credit, one reporter at CNN voiced her disgust. Do these girls have parents? What does Dad think of such a sight? Obviously, he is missing in their lives, even if he hangs around the house after work.

In the 1960s just about every manufacturer of daily supplies, like toothpaste or soap, insisted that their product was "new and improved" compared to last year. Perhaps they took their lead from automobile makers. The concept of "new and improved" has a right application in technology, and in scientific breakthroughs, especially in the field of medicine. However, medical ethics, to the degree that they are new, are by no means an improvement, but rather several large steps backward to a time that was, by Christian standards, uncivilized (my brother's book, Atheist Delusions, places that in historical context). The same is true of most things where "new and improved" is applied to anything that touches morality; for new ideas in morality and ethics are truly barbaric, even to the point where innocent human life is not protected. The same may be said, of course, for "new and improved" religion, in which the very essence of the Christian faith is drained away, and God's laws forgotten.

Of course, if innocent children cannot be protected in the womb, how can their innocence be protected after birth? What rights do the survivors of the Abortion Holocaust have anyway? Certainly not, it would seem, a right to childhood. The time to be fully exploited begins early (not unlike the Chinese girls in nineteenth century San Francisco who had no protection from the Law). These girls, along with their brothers, should be learning to read and write, and they should be learning the Ten Commandments, the Apostle's Creed, the Lord's Prayer and the Gospel. The innocence of children needs to be protected, for once childhood is over there is no getting it back. Moral lessons need to be taught at home and in church, and public schools cannot be trusted when they try to usurp that office. In all of these matters we need to understand very clearly that "new and improved" morality and religion do not exist. The only thing truly new and improved is the newness of life for those who are in the New Covenant.

Let us get a few things straight, and let those of us who are of the clergy remind our people of these things from the pulpit:

1. It is the duty of parents, especially fathers, to make sure that the children are raised knowing God's commandments, and that they are given enough mental and spiritual fortitude to resist the world's false morality.

2. It is the duty of parents, especially fathers, to teach their children that, no matter what our society considers normal, Christians wait until marriage. Not until they are 21, or 18; but, until they are married, even if that is not until they older.

3. It is the duty of clergy to include these things in sermons from time to time, reminding people that our God has not changed His commandments; He is not swayed by fashions.

This past Sunday our Old Testament reading for Morning Prayer included these words: "For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; he will save us." (Isaiah 33:22) This is true for all of us, and it matches well what St. Paul tells us about our baptism: "Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins." (Col. 1:12-14) We no longer belong to Satan's domain, for we were translated into Christ's kingdom. Our Judge, Lawgiver, King and Savior is Jesus the Lord, whom the world does not know; but we know Him.

I hope that none of those girls had parents in the ACC, or the UECNA or the APCK. I hope we abide by standards that protect the innocence of all of our children. Parents need to stop feeling bullied by the culture around us, and so do clergy. Fathers need to regain their protective role as head of the family, fashionable or not, and both fathers and mothers need to have the word "no" in their vocabulary. Priests need to set and abide by standards. I wrote this in an article for Touchstone:

"I once made it clear, during a sermon, that I am unwilling to marry any couple who refuse to abstain from sexual relations before their wedding night. Neither would the church building itself be available to them. One woman confronted me in the parking lot. 'I think I am in the wrong church!' she pronounced. 'Maybe young people won’t want to join us if we make such rules for them.'

"I could only agree with her first statement. She was in the wrong church. And why did she think that we were making any rules at all? God gave his commandments quite a while back, and a woman who had spent six decades in the Church should not have needed to be informed of that fact."

Below I will reproduce another article I wrote for Touchstone, for it occurs to me, I have said these things before.

“Possible to Live Without” first appeared in the May, 2008 issue of Touchstone.

Robert Hart on Putting the Premarital House in Order

Fifty years ago it would have been terribly rude to ask this question,” I said, “but these days I have to ask it.” Opposite me was a young woman with the face of innocence itself, about the age of my daughter at the time, and a young man. “Have the two of you already begun to have a sexual relationship?”

People coming into a church they have not been attending, because they want to be married, bring with them the errors of the time. Authority figures have held them to a very low standard for almost three decades, giving them no relief from the influence of peers and the personalities of popular entertainment. It seems almost a sin not to be “sexually active” outside of marriage.

“Yes, we are having sex,” she said. It had seemed a silly question to ask a couple already living under the same roof. Nonetheless, it is necessary to clarify such things.

Another basic question to be clarified, even more important than the status of their sexual relationship, is: What do they believe marriage to be? Too many people find in churches an affirmation of their mistaken assumptions instead of higher and better expectations, the sort of expectations that require asking these questions.

Clouded Understandings

The conventional wisdom of our time cautions me to stop before I go even this far. People today can’t be expected to live as if we were still in the first half of the twentieth century, or so I have been told by well-meaning people who offered unsolicited advice.

Exactly so, and that is the problem. I had only just met these two people, a young couple coming to me because they liked the sight of the church and because the young woman had an Anglican background of sorts. With their clouded understanding, just how much would they put up with from me?

“I am not nearly as interested in the wedding as I am in the marriage that follows. So I owe it to you to require something from you.” They were still with me this far. “I want you to promise me that you will abstain from any more sexual relations until the wedding night.” (What I would say next, if they hesitated, would be, “Otherwise, I will not marry you, or allow you to use this building”).

Without batting an eyelash the young woman said, “Okay, we can do that.” I looked to the young man, and saw a small drama unfold in less than a second. He was suddenly challenged to demonstrate his love for her by agreeing to what she wanted and needed. “Yes, that’s fine.”

It is religious deception to prepare a church wedding, but not a Christian marriage. What the couple needs at this point is a radical new understanding.

And so, “That’s not all,” I said. Still they were with me, four open eyes staring back into mine. “I want you to commit to meeting with me in the coming weeks for regular sessions about marriage, and about Christianity.”

No Experiment

It is not always this easy. There was the woman, older than this one, who told me that, after all their years of living together, she and her man knew it was time to get married because they had proved they could get along. That is, living together as if married (in every sense) was the necessary, prudent, and reasonable course before making a real decision; it was like a test drive. Obviously, God would approve. Who wants to marry somebody and commit to a relationship that might not work out?

“Actually, that worries me.” The woman looked stunned as I went on: “You have been living in an experiment, and there is no reason why the formality of marriage would change your habit of treating the relationship as an experiment. Christian marriage is a commitment, not an experiment.”

Those who have heard my standard wedding sermon have heard that every experiment in human relations is doomed to fail at some point, because everybody is impossible to live with. If you do not believe that you are impossible to live with, you need to read what St. Paul says about you in the third chapter of Romans. Experiments in love are no exception. I have preached this and watched scales fall from more than a few eyes.

We live in a time of such deadly assumptions as the one I encountered one day on an elevator in Baltimore. Two men got on the elevator, and it continued its descent to the street level. “I’m telling you,” said one of them, clearly a lawyer, “these days you just have to have a pre-nup.” The more humbly dressed fellow, a client, shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

The suited man turned to me—I was not wearing my collar—and made the mistake every attorney is taught to avoid. He asked a question without knowing the answer. “Don’t you agree sir, that these days a couple should have a pre-nuptial agreement before getting married?”

“No. I am a priest, and if a couple wants me to marry them, and they have a pre-nuptial agreement to provide for a potential divorce one day, I will refuse.” The client brightened up. “That’s right,” he said. I had granted him permission to live by what he knows, deep down inside, to be true. Of course, I don’t know what his attorney charges for “pre-nups.”

Sensible Lives

Never have I seen a young couple storm off in anger when I laid down conditions that every respectable clergyman would once have set. Imagine being surrounded for years by the noise of the latest rap numbers and then one day hearing music for the first time. Suddenly there is a genuine reason to marry, and life makes sense again.

In an era when young people grow up believing that no one can control his basic urges, it is often a necessary kindness for some authority figure, such as a clergyman, to grant them permission to abstain. In fact, it usually seems that they see that permission has finally been granted, by somebody, for them to put their lives in order.


Anonymous said...

Father hart said....'I hope that none of those girls had parents in the ACC, or the UECNA or the APCK. I hope we abide by standards that protect the innocence of all of our children'.

And may I add, in any Christian Church that holds to the Catholic Faith as handed down by the Fathers, thus not limiting us to the Church as quoted by the good Father.


Deacon Down Under said...

A truly inspiring piece Father. It is a real responsibility that you have reminded our clergy of: the responsibility to fearlessly teach the commandments of God and the standards of Holy Church, His Body.

Barely a generation ago no-one questioned the role of the priest, or the teaching that he taught from the pulpit, confessional or in catechism class. Now in the "everything is relative" world people question not only the priest but God Himself in Scripture.

Allen Lewis said...

Well said, Fr. Hart!

Your message needs to be heard today more than ever!

Anonymous said...

Many thanks for this posting. Needs to be said repeatedly. I am familiiar with divorces for frivolous reasons, divorces affecting young children who never really understand why this is happening, children that never really recover. Also, grandparents losing their grandchildren to divorce and subsequent re-marriage.
Please keep on hammering at this. Left to the culture, the damage just keeps getting worse.


The Shrinking Cleric said...

Good job, Father. I would only add that couples who cohabit prior to marriage have a much higher divorce rate than those who do not. Same goes for pre-marital sexual relations. Kind of shoots holes in the "try it before you buy it" theory so prevalent in today's world.

Canon Tallis said...

Given our popular culture it is amazing that we are able to get away with saying any of these things at all, but I believe that there are many your persons who want to hear them and need to hear them. And much more, for their own long term happiness they need to learn to live by them.

Since I am personally convinced that in this day and time we live in an age of functional illiterates, these vows which they are willing to take will only make the necessary sense if explained to them, that job falls on the clergy. Unfortunately too few are willing to do so for fear of losing those they have. It also means that the members of the cloth have ourselves to live up to the standards which we must set for others and not feel ourselves exempt from them. For the clergy as a whole and for the good of the Church we must not tolerate in others what we would not find acceptable in our own lives - and the opposite as well.

Thanks for a whole set of excellent reminders.

Joseph said...

There has always been premarital sex etc. But in the past we were encouraged to aim higher and get beyond our primal urges. Now there is not the clear teaching... its all "I'm OK you're OK" As a church there should be moral ideals but "... through our manifold sins and wickedness" we will fall short but that is not a reason to stop trying and give in to our nature