Sometimes it's worth reading the comments an article in a blog has garnered. More and more often, it's not. Reading the responses to articles on news sites like CNN.com or Telegraph.co.uk will at least have some give and take, though the former tends to attract the secularist liberals the reporters mostly write for. Web periodicals like Inside Catholic and First Things tend to draw a less diverse crowd, though there will often be two or three people who go to such sites to a) play devil's advocate or b) find out how the enemy thinks. Every once in a while, though, someone will post a comment that either effectively challenges the original post or riffs off that post in another equally insightful direction.
And then you have what I call "drive-by shooters". Drive-by shooters aren't interested in debate or insight. They just want to make you aware of their contempt for the author and the tribe s/he camps with: "Hi, just thought I'd drop by to shoot off a couple of zingers to make fun of you straight Christian conservatives, though I might just content myself with a sneer or two at your loathsome, hateful ideology."
(Truth hurts? So do lies. The person who utters that cliché as a credo is less interested in truth than in hurting people.)
Read this wickedly funny satire by Pastor Peter Speckhard, nephew of the late great ELCA convert Fr. Richard John Neuhaus, Temple Prostitution: A Modest Proposal. It's a hilarious send-up of the theological bilge liberal Christians use to justify surrender to "the spirit of the times". Then read the comment from "Epictetus":
I find nothing absurd or parodistic [sic] about this at all. On the contrary, I find it refreshing and persuasive—and vastly preferable to nearly every element of historical and contemporary institutionalized Christianity, Lutheran or otherwise.
But that's just me (and others).
I am grateful that some half a century ago I was sufficiently brutalized by religion [italics mine—TL] to finally have been able to find my way to spirituality.
I can say that as, among other things, the heterosexual father of two heterosexual sons who would rather see both of them in gay leather bars than to see them become as vicious, inhumane, and filled with hate as so many self-righteous and mentally and spiritually constrained soldiers of God.
"Brutalized by religion"? What the hell does that mean? Is it anything like being "raped by anthropology"? or "blinded with econometrics"? or "dissected by English literature"? "Brutalized by religion" is such a vague, gasbag indictment that only those whose critical skills are crippled can refrain from rolling their eyes (at least mentally): "Oh, puh-leez!"
Let me tell you what it means: "Epictetus" was abused either by a minister or by some other Authority Figure (Mom? Dad?) who used pseudo-Christian justifications for their cruelty. Sad? Yes. Outrageous? Certainly. Proves that institutional Christianity is inhuman and unnatural? Doesn't even begin to reach the issue.
As for "Epictetus'" spirituality—it's practically synonymous with "tolerance" as something to extend to everybody but conservatives, Christians and anybody else who disagrees. (Being a non-Christian buys you nothing if you're conservative). The last sentence gives it away: it's the literary expression of a damaged psyche barfing in public.
Tsk, tsk, Mr. Layne (I hear you say). Not very charitable.
Having said that, I'll admit that as I grow older—and as I continue to work customer service, which means continuing to have my compassion imposed upon and worn down—my tolerance for asinine impostures, which was never all that great, diminishes even further. It's tough to remain sympathetic towards people who truly deserve pity when you have to search for them among the charlatans and the irresponsible. When the same people use their victimhood to justify sweeping generalizations and group condemnations——
Sorry, we no longer accept your victim discount card. You'll just have to use logic and evidence like everybody else.
I wish I could remember where I saw this, but one blog quoted an advocate of gay marriage who moaned about the orthodox Christian rule: "'Hate the sin, but love the sinner'? What does that mean?"
Parents understand what it means. It means if you truly love someone, you don't encourage them to engage in illegal, immoral and/or self-destructive behavior. It means you draw bright lines, and it means you define reality clearly and vividly. It means that when your child whines, "If you really love me, you'll let me do X," you answer, "It's because I love you that I don't let you do X."
And when s/he stomps his/her foot, and cries tearfully, "It's just not fair!" you find yourself saying exactly what your parents said when you stomped your foot: "Life isn't fair!" You can no more stop yourself from saying it than you can stop the Niagara River from going over the Falls.
Because fairness isn't the most important value in the algorithm of life. Nor is tolerance; in fact, selective intolerance is better for a community to foster than an uncritical embrace of everything everybody does. No, "faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love" (1 Cor 13:13). By love we mean caritas, or agape: a love that puts the good of the other first. It's the kind of love that on the one hand can lead a person to die for the sake of someone else, and on the other is strong enough to break a badly-set bone—or a wounded heart—so it can heal properly.
One of the reasons I support (and have signed) the Manhattan Declaration is that it's time we stopped indulging those who use compassion as a tool to emotionally blackmail us into tolerating evil. It's time we stopped accepting the victim discount card, and demanded facts and logic instead of emotional manipulation. It's also time we reminded the heirs of Woodstock that this country is a democracy.
At least, while it is still a democracy.
* * *
On an unrelated note, I'd like to greet the New Year—and celebrate the Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God—with an apology to the Blessed Virgin Mother.
You see, despite being a cradle Catholic, I didn't get the whole "immaculate conception" thing for many years. For one thing, although I've never accepted sola scriptura (it's badly-flawed doctrine that's almost singlehandedly responsible for the doctrinal confusion that reigns in the Christian West), I couldn't see how it was supported by scripture. For another, I thought that the doctrine diminished the role of free will in her Motherhood, as if it reduced her compliance to being the "designated yes-sayer".
I have to study New Testament Greek sometime. The late "Father Mateo", who was an emeritus professor of Greek, pointed out that the verb in Luke 1:28 (kecharitōmenē) which St. Jerome translated into Latin as gratia plena—"grace-filled"—is a perfect passive participle. "The perfect stem … denotes 'continuance of a completed action'; 'completed action with permanent result is denoted by the perfect stem.'" The sense of kecharitōmenē, then, is that Mary was perfectly endowed with permanent grace. And the only time it makes sense to say this gift was applied is at her conception.
Also, if I'd been paying attention, I would have realized at a much younger age that Adam and Eve also came into the world without original sin. That obviously didn't disable their free will; otherwise we wouldn't need to talk about original sin now! God knew from all time that she would say "Yes" freely, not as an adventure or out of desire for notoriety but from simple obedience.
The perpetual virginity also puzzled me; it just didn't seem necessary, as if it were some slight upon marital sex. The answer is not in the New Testament Greek, though, but in the Hebrew underlying it … especially in the Semitic manner of reckoning relationships at the time. Neither Hebrew nor Aramaic had words for "cousin"; making the distinction involved circumlocutions like calling, say, my cousin Tim "my brother Timothy, the son of Paul". So St. James could have been St. Joseph's son from a previous marriage or Jesus' cousin. It also doesn't make sense that, if Jesus had uterine brothers and sisters, he would bestow care of Mary upon St. John the Apostle (cf. Jn 19:25-27).
St. Augustine of Hippo makes another point: "'How,' says she, 'shall this be, seeing I know not a man' [Lk 1:34]? Which assuredly she would not say, unless she had before vowed herself unto God as a virgin" (On Holy Virginity, 4). Again, the Greek underneath is the difference: the verb ginōskō ("I know not") is in the present indicative active. It's the difference between "I've never had a cigarette" and "I don't smoke": ginōskō indicates that knowing man is not part of her future plans, which is strange for an affianced woman to say unless—as the apocryphal Protoevangelium of James (chap. 9) reports—St. Joseph was marrying her to protect her status as a consecrated virgin.
Finally, what kind of man would St. Joseph have been if he could feel anything less respectful—and more salacious—than awe (possibly bordering on terror) for the woman who bore Godhead in her body? I'm not one-tenth as righteous as he was, and I know the one thought that wouldn't cross my mind would be: "Man, I gotta tap that booty!"
So mea culpa, Blessed Mother, Queen of Heaven (cf. Rev 12:1-6). Ora pro nobis peccatoribus nunc et in hora mortis nostrae.
 Refuting the Attack On Mary: A Defense of Marian Doctrines, p. 21.