Socialism: What Would Jesus Do?

Implementing socialism in the name of the Lord Jesus will bring us no closer to the world he envisioned for humanity.

As political division increases, people on every side are increasingly keen on bolstering the legitimacy of their political philosophy. Sometimes, this means reaching outside the realm of politics and into religion to attempt to appeal to higher values. For some, this involves going so far as claiming that Jesus Christ himself would be a supporter or believer in one side or the other. Many Christians, even some conservative Christians, will admit that they believe Jesus envisioned an idealized socialist society for humanity. Their claim is that socialism represents Christian charity put into widespread practice. (As a note, in this article I will be referring to Jesus in the past tense, though Jesus is alive in heaven today, just for simplicity, and to indicate that I am referring to his time teaching incarnate.)

I think it’s important that we define socialism in the way that socialist Christians would before we can address this idea. When people make the claim that socialism and Christianity go hand-in-hand, they are referring to an idealistic and theoretical sort of socialism. We all know that, in reality, socialism as it has been historically implemented has not worked. Socialism, in theory, means that the community owns the means of production of goods and handles distribution of wealth. This would allow for provision for the poor while opposing extreme wealth by a few. It means radical social change and justice for the underserved. By itself, this sounds like something that Christians really ought to support. These ideas are, after all, part of the worldview that Jesus spent time promoting. Of course we should want to serve the poor. On the surface, it makes sense that we should vote for a system that would implement Jesus’ teachings, even if it wouldn’t work out as intended. However, voting in favor of socialism would actually go against many of Jesus’ teachings.

First, Jesus would not have been political at all. Had Jesus been alive (in the flesh) today, he would not have participated in marches or engaged in political debate or even voted. You will never find an instance anywhere in the Gospels where Jesus endorses politicians or bureaucrats or gives them the power to allocate resources, nor does he tell anyone how to run their business. He really has nothing to say about how the economy ought to be run. Christians in support of certain modern political structures fight to claim Jesus as their own or as the ultimate authoritative supporter of their ideals. Forcing Jesus and his teachings to conform to the structures we have developed today subverts his universal and ultimate authority by making him fit into our limited view of the world.

At the very core of his being, Jesus was charitable. The definition of “charity”, according to the King James Bible dictionary, is “In a general sense, love, benevolence, good will; that disposition of heart which inclines men to think favorably of their fellow men, and to do them good”. Charity is, importantly, freely given. Consider 2 Corinthians 9:7, which says that “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver”. You are not fulfilling your Christian duty to help the poor if you “give” because someone with more power forces you to do so. 

The truth is, socialism is completely antithetical to the Christian ideal of charity. There is no benevolence in socialism. There is no free will in socialism. Even if socialism “worked” as it should, if all the funds taken by the government were redistributed to the poor, it would not be Christian. 

But, what about the events in Acts 4:32-35? This seems to be an ideal society of believers providing for one another by laying their money at the apostles’ feet, who would then give it to anyone who had need. Further, in Acts 5, a man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property and only gave part of the proceeds to the community. The apostle Peter knew of their deception and condemned their actions, at which point God struck them dead. Does this not indicate that we should aim to live in a redistributive society, and that people ought to be punished who don’t do their part? Answer: it does not.

What should be noted about this passage is that the believers did not live under a governmental regime that held the threat of force over their heads lest they not pay their societal dues. Everyone participated and contributed willingly, and the only one who reserved the right to inflict punishment for disobedience was God himself. Additionally, the apostles were the ones carrying out redistribution. They were men of God and their actions were according to God’s will. The same cannot be said for money laid at the feet of a secular governing body. Such a body cannot be trusted to carry out the Lord’s will, and as such, giving money to them, rather than to legitimate men of God or directly to the needy, will not carry out the Lord’s will. 

Jesus wants people to choose to follow him. He wanted them to want to give charity due to a personal spiritual drive originating in the heart. This is the core of the principle of free will. You aren’t doing your Christian duty by simply paying your taxes under socialism. Charity is freely given and done as a result of faith, as a part of free will. Socialism tries to appear charitable, but even if it did “work”, the “giving” would not come freely from the heart and would therefore not be Christian.

Implementing socialism in the name of the Lord Jesus will bring us no closer to the world he envisioned for humanity.

Socialists claim that Jesus disdained the rich, citing his driving of the money-changers from the Temple and his remark that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven. Jesus did condemn the hoarding of wealth, telling us that it is better to lay up treasures in heaven than on earth. But you’ve the right to be a rich atheist if you choose. You can also be a rich Christian, if you use that wealth wisely. Implementing socialism in the name of the Lord Jesus will bring us no closer to the world he envisioned for humanity. All it will do is create a worldly body that infringes on people’s legitimate rights to their own property and mask the crucial importance of the heart in matters of giving.

Government controls from the outside-in, while discipleship transforms from the inside-out. Jesus sought to complete his vision via discipleship, focusing on the means rather than on the ends. He didn’t establish a government or any sort of governing body during his time on earth. Outside-in control will lead to resentment and rebellion and resistance against truth. Inside-out transformation will lead to new life and to revelation of the truth.

Use Quarantine to Grow Your Faith

Love is to will the good of the other. And willing the good, that is, choosing the good, of the other, is difficult, because oftentimes it involves sacrificing our own desires.

There is not one person whom COVID-19 has not affected, whether patients who have contracted the virus or those of us in quarantine. Regardless, the most important question to be answered, which many people are asking, but many are also ignoring, is the following: how do we respond spiritually? The answer is the same as it has always been, namely, to be a saint. But how?

Well, speaking from experience, I have no idea. However, one thing is certain: in order to be a saint, one must choose to be. The difference between those who become saints–canonized or not–and those who do not become saints is a choice. Rather, it is a series of choices that puts the person on a path to holiness and conformity to the person of Jesus Christ. While we must take advantage of all of the spiritual tools available to help us grow in our spiritual life, these tools will do nothing if the person’s free will is not in a state of cooperation with the grace of God.

If a person wants the spiritual life to be easy, then they also will not be able to pursue sanctity. They are confused about who the Lord is. The Lord Jesus said it clear as day: “If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it” (Lk 9:23-24). So we must be clear what we are getting into. The person we follow is not Buddha, it is not Gandhi, it is not Joel Osteen, and it is not even your priest. The person we follow is the Lord Jesus Christ, the King of kings, the Lord of lords, the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. He is Truth incarnate and He is an everlasting Father. But He is all of these things crucified. And we likewise must be crucified, that we may rise again with Him on the last day. “For if we have grown into union with him through a death like his, we shall also be united with him in the resurrection” (Rom. 6:5). So we need to be clear that there is no easy trick to becoming a saint, other than to simply choose to be. And doing this is hard. But with God’s grace, it is eminently possible.

This is all nice and true, but how specifically can we accept the gift of God’s grace and become holy during this time of the virus? This will differ from person to person, but we can start with Jesus’s command to love our neighbor. Most likely, the people we are spending the most time with are our family members, who may also happen to drive most of us insane when all quarantined together for weeks. While this sounds like a nightmare at first glance, it’s actually the opposite when you look at it from God’s perspective. What is love? Love is to will the good of the other. And willing the good, that is, choosing the good, of the other, is difficult, because oftentimes it involves sacrificing our own desires. Someone might do something extremely bothersome in your home and get on your nerves. Instead of impulsively responding to your desire to tell them to stop doing whatever is bothering you, take that annoyance and unite it to Jesus. We might not want to do the dishes, and we might not want to help make our home a more peaceful place. Well, do them anyway and unite it with Jesus. When Jesus said to pick up your cross, He didn’t mean you’re going to be walking around with a physical cross all the time. Rather, we have all sorts of varying sufferings of various sizes. We can take the little sufferings and crosses that often happen in family life and unite them with Christ’s passion. This is infinitely beautiful and redemptive. It’s part of St. Therese’s little way, and it’s absolutely the truth. 

In addition to loving our family and neighbor, even, and especially, when we don’t want to, we must also love God. We do this by avoiding evil and doing good. The evil we must avoid is sin. If you have sin in your life (we all do, don’t worry), you need to work to avoid it. This is impossible on your own strength, but it’s extremely easy for God. Look around you; God created everything. And you doubt his ability to sanctify you and remove sin from your heart? Of course He can do that. Sin can only be avoided if it is acknowledged, so honestly examine your conscience to see what kind of sins you might be lying to yourself about. Once you have examined yourself, you must turn back to goodness. The only way we can turn back to goodness is through grace, and this is distinctly found in prayer. 

Prayer is the pillar of the spiritual life, and without it, we will not be able to love our neighbor, we will not be able to avoid sin, and we certainly won’t have much luck loving God. Every day, when you wake up, the first thing you should do is pray. Don’t go looking at your texts. Save that for later. The very beginning of your day should be devoted to booting up your spiritual system to be able to handle the trials of the day, as well as to be receptive and grateful for the many blessings God will give you during that day. At a bare minimum, you should spend ten minutes with God before you start living out the day God gives you. If you don’t do this, it’s going to be much harder to get through the day in terms of doing good and avoiding evil. This prayer should continue throughout the day, and be supplemented with spiritual reading such as the gospels, other scriptures, or other spiritual books such as the lives of some saints you find interesting. You might turn to Jesus randomly with aspirations, asking Him to show you His love and mercy throughout the day. 

So, to keep this short and to the point, let’s review the keys to the spiritual life during quarantine. First, love your neighbor and be kind and patient, especially when it’s hard. If you can’t be nice and are in a bad mood, just keep your mouth shut, but not in a passive aggressive way. This is a hard balance, but ask Jesus to help you and He will. Second, avoid sin, and examine your conscience so you can actually acknowledge your sins. And third, you must pray. Through prayer will you receive grace to be able to live the spiritual life during quarantine. With all of this time on your hands, I bet you can find some time to connect with the Creator of the universe. Probably a significant amount of time. 

If you can keep all of these things in mind, you can become a little saint, whether you become canonized or not. Enough reading this article and get after it!

New Worship Group Joins Campus

Author: H. Lon Rubbard

If you’re looking to increase your faith through community, I would recommend looking into a variety of spiritual organizations offered at Trinity such as the Catholic Student Group, RUF, and the Secular Student Alliance. I would like to say, as a Scientologist, I am very impressed with the infrastructure of the Secular Student Alliance which holds high their creed to “build welcoming communities to promote secular values, and set a course of lifelong activism”. But one who is more evangelical in nature and wishes to spread their dogma might ask, 

“Is atheist activism really for me?”

 “Oh absolutely,” I respond, and, if you don’t believe me, attend one of their conversion sessions and receive their holy condom communion.  

Now I should say, I’m not particularly religious, I do not have any personal issues with the atheist ideology, my issue runs strictly with the ideas of anti-Christianity and communities built around these concepts. Nonetheless, I digress. 

I have overheard from P.L. Hovecraft and Fody Joster that they wish to draft a book to promote these secular values, outlined in separate books as a part of the whole. 

“Fascinating,” I remark, sipping my scotch and soda in Hovecraft’s study. “Well,” he said, very much enthused, “We shall call it the ‘Abible’, we will make copies and hand them out whenever we get the chance. Much of our atheist army will go door to door spreading the Good Word”. 

In continuation of our conversation, I discovered that in order to foster their community, they will be holding an Atheist Secular Service (ASS) every Wednesday at 7, but seating is limited so feel free to kneel. I have reason to believe that in lieu of COVID-19, their ASS will also be available for viewing over Zoom. Promotion of their ASS will be announced in the Leeroy emails. I do not doubt that the Secular Student Alliance will be tabling nightly for the ASS and helping it grow at Trinity University. Important holidays such as Zombie Jesus Day will be celebrated with a service as they attempt to relieve themselves of the impairment of being part of a religiously affiliated institution. Their ASS is open to all who wish to partake and never runs out of necessary contraceptives to ensure safe habits of the flock. I understand now, more than before, how important their services really are in promoting their values and lifelong activism.

 Now, if you’re not really an ASS man, you do have the opportunity to tithe for the Secular Student Alliance via their website donation page. In addition to providing an easy to access religious group on campus, it also provides financial assistance by way of scholarships for “like-minded” students who share in the beliefs of their fellowship. Altogether, the Secular Student Alliance’s attempts to branch out and promote their values and holidays have been met exceedingly well. In yet another instance, the Secular Student Alliance’s mantra to “bring welcoming communities” into their ASS will be exemplified in the upcoming event Zombie Jesus Day, held on Easter Sunday. 

The Secular Student Alliance is currently looking for individuals to become ASS worshippers for the fall semester. If you have an interest in filling this large opening, please contact me personally by carrier pigeon. 

With Grace and Devotion, 

H. Lon Rubbard

Love Is the Greatest Gift

It doesn’t have to be complicated.

Everyone loves gifts. We get excited at the prospect of opening a present from our friends and family. However, not everyone can receive a brand new car, jewellery or a gift card to a favorite restaurant for Christmas or Valentine’s Day. These holidays that include the act of gift-giving only come once a year. However, there is a present which you can both give and receive throughout the year: love.

Love is quite possibly the purest and most innocent virtue. The simple dictionary definition of love is “an intense feeling of affection for someone or something.” The feeling of loving someone or being loved is the most precious. Just looking at a mother and her child, or even at the adoring way in which pets sometimes look at their owners, we can see the love that we all have for one another. Love is one of the strongest feelings humans have. It can motivate us to do our best or to be our best selves. It is never the wrong time or place to love someone, or to be loved. 

Love is more than just a feeling, though. Love is also an action, which we express in our everyday lives. Showing love for someone is more powerful than simply saying, “I love you.” You cannot expect others to give their love to you without giving love to them in return. Love should be reciprocated. We tend to think that love is associated with romance or family. However, love does not always have to be romantic or familial. Love does not have to be specific, either. You can even love people you don’t know. This may seem odd to show love for people you don’t know, but it can happen everyday. To love others is to put others before yourself. Being selfless, helping others, or simply giving someone a compliment are all acts of love. 

Because we never truly know what those around us are suffering, it is important to always show our love for others. A simple “How are you today?” or a hug can seriously make a difference in someone’s day. To people whom you may not even know, a compliment on their appearance or question about their day can lighten the burden of sadness or even change their mood completely. Even when you are feeling bad yourself, you should always show someone love. Having a bad day is not an excuse to be rude to others. Kindness is love in its most basic form. Everyone should be treated with love: hence, the saying goes, “treat others as you wish to be treated.” 

Love is a universal message that, deep down, everyone knows regardless of background. Love transcends religion, race, and politics because we all know what it is and how we ought to express our love for one another in our own, unique ways. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is I Corinthians 13:13, which says,“now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” Love is the greatest gift because faith and hope depend on love. You cannot be faithful or hopeful without love. I truly believe that if everyone shows love, then this is the start for a better tomorrow. Love can change the world, whether only the status of relationships or of an entire civilization. Love is the greatest gift because it is timeless, simple and priceless. Not everyone can afford to give tangible gifts, but we can afford to give our love to others. Opening a tangible gift can be pretty exciting, but nothing can overpower the gift of opening your heart to others.

Easter Service Recommendations

Easter is less than a week away. As we ponder Christ being welcomed into Jerusalem as a king, only to be put to death less than a week later, we’re going to be thinking about how to celebrate Easter, if we haven’t already.

Easter is the most important holiday in the Christian year – it’s the chief day we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. But, in the middle of the semester, and with only a three day weekend, it can be hard for those who aren’t from Texas to make it home to spend this day with their families (perhaps Trinity should give us more time off for Easter next year). For those of you who aren’t able to make it home for Easter, or are choosing to stay for another reason, I asked our staff and friends of our staff to write short descriptions of just a few of their Churches and what they’re doing for Easter. If you don’t know where you’re going yet, we hope this list can help you!

St. Anastasia the Great Martyr Byzantine Catholic Community – Luke Ayers

St. Anastasia is a small community of Byzantine rite Catholics that meets at the old St. Stephen’s Church on South Zarzamora. Show up for Vespers and the Divine Liturgy of St. Basil the Great on Saturday afternoon at 4pm. This is probably the most welcoming Church I’ve ever been a part of, and I’m sure you’ll feel just as home your first time as I did.”

Calvary Temple Assemblies of God – Isaiah Mitchell

“I go to Calvary Temple Assemblies of God on O’Connor Road. At 12:30, right after their morning service, they’re having an Easter picnic. Bring a lawn chair and some food and meet the friendliest people in the world.”

Our Lady of the Atonement – Angelique Lopez

I love my parish, Our Lady of the Atonement Catholic Church (OLA), because of the amount of reverence shown at each Mass, the beautiful architecture and imagery, and its traditional use of the Anglican rite. For Easter, OLA has something called “The Great Vigil of Easter” where the night before Easter a solemn vigil is held. The congregation lights their candles from the Paschal candle, a burning sign of the presence of the resurrected Christ. Everything is dark until the candles are lit, and it’s truly beautiful to see. The Great Vigil of Easter is perhaps the most theologically important service of the Church Year.”

One theme you might have noticed in these recommendations is that we all love the people at our Churches, and you’re sure to be welcomed there. Have a blessed Easter!

Editor’s Note: We may update this post with more staff recommendations, so check back!

Photo: Byzantine Christian icon of the Resurrection. Read about the symbolism here.

Book Review: VOX

A couple of months ago, I read an article in the New York Times that listed several new books that had come out under a budding genre: feminist dystopian fiction. If you’ve ever heard of or watched “The Handmaid’s Tale” TV series (or read the book), then you have a fairly good idea of what kind of themes and content you will find in this genre. While I was reading the article, one of the books caught my attention: VOX, by Christina Dalcher. The summary looked interesting, so I decided to pick up a copy for myself.

To provide a brief summary, Dalcher’s novel centers on Dr. Jean McClellan, a neurolinguist living in a United States that is run by the “Pure Movement,” a Christian fundamentalist political movement that has gained control of Congress and the White House and has instituted a policy whereby women are only allowed to speak up to 100 words every 24 hours. This policy is enforced by women being required to wear metal counters on their wrists that are tied to their voices; these counters will deliver a small electric shock if the wearer goes over 100 words, which increases every 10 words the wearer says afterwards. Eventually, if the wearer says too many words, the counter is capable of delivering a lethal electric shock.

Overall, I enjoyed reading the novel. The novel forces you to think about certain issues, especially if you are not a feminist. For instance, does teaching AP classes on Christian fundamentalism bring us one step closer to a dystopian world where women are suppressed? Dalcher seems to think so, and so does Jean, who draws a timeline in her flashbacks that brought the United States to its current state. There are other instances in which Dalcher briefly brings up other issues that seem unrelated to the novel’s main themes but nevertheless play a part in the dystopian world. When Jean and her family (consisting of her husband, Patrick, and her three sons and one daughter) try to leave the United States when the counters come out, they avoid going to Mexico since there is a wall along the entire border, preventing people from leaving. Aside from being a subtle jab at President Trump’s proposed border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, I read this part of the book as “walls eventually keep people in, not out.” I imagine this part will irk some conservative readers and Trump supporters.

The first 24 chapters of the novel are where the readers will encounter the most “political” statements. The dystopia is explained and the main conflicts are laid out. Afterwards, Dalcher’s book mostly reads like a regular novel (mostly because she tones down the political content) and the plot moves forward, which is where the novel begins to fall apart. I have some reservations about the climax, which did not make much sense to me. But other than that, I really like the novel’s structure and how the plot moved forward.

Moving on to themes, several emerge in the novel, such as Christian fundamentalism, family, marriage, patriarchy, women’s rights, masculinity and femininity, gender and gender relations (particularly under a patriarchal dystopia) and the slide into authoritarianism. Many of these themes and conflicts emerge in particular scenes. When Jean gets her counter off, she gets into an argument with her oldest son, Steven, with whom she has several arguments throughout the novel and with whom she has a contentious relationship (Steven is a diehard believer in the Pure Movement’s ideals). During the argument, Steven tells his mother off, saying that it will eventually be illegal for women to insult men. In another scene, Jean gets into an argument with Patrick, where Patrick eventually wonders aloud if his mother would have been better off with her counter on. These two scenes struck me as gut-wrenching, not because it’s the main character’s own family beating down on her, but because of the circumstances in which the arguments took place. In both instances, Jean was propelled by the utter helplessness and verbal hamstringing she felt under the new laws, at times flirting with misandry because of the poor relationships she has with her husband and oldest son.

Another theme that is worth discussing is masculinity and what it means to be a man. Jean frequently compares her husband to a former lover, Lorenzo. Jean sees Lorenzo as having a backbone and willing to stand up for her, while Patrick is a more passive type, willing to let things happen. This is compounded by Patrick working as a scientific adviser to the president; while Patrick was not directly responsible for the counters, Jean still holds him in disregard because he does nothing about it. I believe that Lorenzo’s character is what Dalcher thinks is the ideal man and embodies a “proper” type of masculinity: Lorenzo is portrayed as smart, protective, strong, and romantic. I imagine Lorenzo is the answer that feminists like Mrs. Dalcher have to the “problem” of masculinity in our society.

I highly recommend this novel to anyone who is interested in the themes that I discussed. I will add that the novel is a good follow-up or compliment to “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which has a similar dystopia to that of VOX. While it has its faults, Dalcher’s novel highlights some of the key issues facing America today with regards to gender and tackles them from a feminist perspective.

Photo from Amazon.

Bob Fu of ChinaAid Speaks to YCT about Christianity, Communism

Tuesday, March 19, Trinity University’s Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) hosted Bob Fu. Fu is the founder and president of ChinaAid, a non-profit, Christian-based organization that advocates for human rights and religious freedom in China. ChinaAid gives financial and moral support to Christian Chinese families who have been persecuted by the Chinese government. His main goal is for Chinese Christians and other religious groups to express their religion with ease and without persecution from the Chinese government.

To begin his speech, Fu gave a short backstory about his earlier life and how ChinaAid came to be founded. While attending university in Beijing, he participated in the 1989 Tiananmen Square student and intellectuals demonstrations. During which Fu and his girlfriend at the time, now his wife, Heidi, converted to Christianity. Soon after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, he was imprisoned in China for identifying as a Christian. It was these incidents in his life that highlight his history of fighting for freedom and democracy in China.

Bob Fu is not the only one to have been imprisoned for his religious beliefs. Even today, many Chinese Christians are being imprisoned for their faith. In fact, one who expresses his or her faith is considered a political dissident, which can warrant imprisonment.

“Hearing that from the point of view of someone who grew up under a regime like China was shocking,” said Daniel Mitchell, a junior at Trinity University.

However, it is not only Chinese Christians who are being persecuted for their faith. “One to three million Muslims are being put into concentration camps by the Communist Party,” explained Fu.

The Uyghurs, a majority Muslim ethnic minority from Xinjiang province, are being torn from their homes and sent to concentration camps by the Chinese Communist Party.

Fu further explained that the amount of Christians in China actually grew after the Tiananmen Square Massacre. He predicts that there will be over 200 million Christians in China within the next 20 to 30 years.

“It was interesting to see Fu’s predictions of the numbers regarding the amount of future Chinese Christians,” said Ian Kavanagh, a senior at Trinity University who worked at ChinaAid this past summer.

Fu is optimistic about the growth of the amount of Christians in China, he predicted there will soon be more than 200 million Chinese Christians. “Sooner or later, they [Chinese government] will realize that imprisoning these Christians will not be a sustainable policy,” he said.

Fu believes that imprisoning people for their faith will eventually become unsustainable because Chinese prisons “will not able to hold every single Christian in China.”

Even though religious persecution continues in China, Bob Fu will not give up. Today, he continues as president of ChinaAid to advocate for religious freedom and basic human rights in China. ChinaAid continues to support persecuted families in need and educating those who are not familiar with this issue.

Photo courtesy YCT.

Religion, Noise, and Dr. Seuss

On Tuesday, March 26, Dr. Isaac Weiner gave a lecture “When Religion Becomes Noise” at Trinity University. Dr. Weiner has a Ph.D. in Religious Studies from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and currently serves as a faculty member in the department of Comparative Studies at Ohio State University.

Weiner’s lecture discussed religious pluralism in the U.S. and the way that public religious sounds, such as Christian church bells or the Islamic call to prayer, complicate the issue. He explained that sounds are more invasive than sights, and are more likely to be the cause of complaint.

This begs the questions: Which sounds get classified as merely “noise” and which sounds are tolerated on the basis of religious freedom? Which sounds are “out of place” and which sounds belong in the public sphere? How do religions coexist? How are Americans inclusive without becoming oppressive?

“I want people to think about the relationship between our public culture and our assumptions about the kind of society we want to build,” said Weiner. “What we’re willing to tolerate in public says something about what we aspire to be as a society.”

According to Weiner, only the sounds of the majority typically prevail. The majority has the ability to reclassify their sounds as secular in order to justify their presence. For example, a church’s bells are not a call to the service, but a secular marking of time; Christmas is not a religious celebration, but rather a national holiday.

Weiner referred to a well-known children’s book, Dr. Seuss’s How the Grinch Stole Christmas, to illustrate his point. The Grinch’s heart grows three sizes after the Whos are unaffected by his attempts to ruin Christmas, and he joins in with the Whoville caroling. Weiner asked attendees to imagine a more sinister reading of the story, in which the Whos’ singing is forced upon the Grinch, a minority, who is then forced to assimilate to their attitudes and join in their sound. As it turns out, this is the reality of religious pluralism in the U.S. today.

Weiner presented several historical examples of regulation or repression of religious sounds, including St. Mark’s church bells in 1870s Philadelphia, Jehovah’s Witness sound cars in 1946, and the Islah Islamic Center’s call to prayer in Hamtramck, MI in 2004.

Each of these case studies is heavily discussed in Weiner’s book, Religion Out Loud: Religious Sound, Public Space, and American Pluralism. In each case, the sound is treated differently depending on the majority opinion and tradition.

For example, in Hamtramck, MI, many claimed the Islamic call to prayer was “out of place” in the historically Polish Catholic city where church bells were practically a part of the landscape. In one sweep, people could suffocate the sounds they didn’t want to hear and replace them with ones they did. In cases like this, the minority finds itself unable to make sound and instead forced to join in with the noise of the majority, as the Grinch does with the Whos’ caroling in Dr. Seuss’s story.

“As we negotiate what it means to live in a religiously diverse society,” said Weiner, “we must continue to work toward the full inclusion of all religious communities in our public and civic life.”

The public sphere should be a place for the freedom of religious expression, including religious sound. Oppression of minority expression is not an option for Americans who wish to build a better and more virtuous society.

The lecture was sponsored by the Trinity University Humanities Collective as part of their current focus on the First Amendment, particularly the freedom of religion clause. On April 8 at 5:30pm in Chapman Auditorium, Trinity University will host another religion scholar, Dr. Nicola Denzey Lewis from Claremont Graduate University, to speak on lost ancient Christian documents from Egypt.

Photo by Kathleen Arbogast.

CSG Lecturer Uses Mathematics and Philosophy to Create Proof of God’s Existence

On Mar. 4, Trinity University’s Catholic Student Group (CSG) hosted a speaker from the Thomistic Institute: Alexander R. Pruss, a professor of philosophy at Baylor University. This is their second speaker from the Thomistic Institute this semester. Pruss’s lecture focused on one of the many philosophical proofs for God’s existence: The First Cause. The First Cause proof is a cosmological argument proving the existence of God based on the idea that some first cause must have caused the universe to exist, and that this first cause is God.

CSG’s motivations for the talk were very similar to Pruss’s motivation for coming to campus: both hoped that students on campus would see that religion and the belief in God are not a matter of faith, but of logical reasoning. “There are good reasons to believe, it is something reasonable to believe,” said Pruss.

Alex Jacobs, the Activities Director of CSG, said, “As a Catholic, the history of the Christian tradition is full of very good arguments for the existence of God, that I think that a lot of people don’t know about or don’t fully understand. I’ve heard people here at Trinity claim that it’s unreasonable to believe in God, and so we wanted to bring in Dr. Pruss because we think that a lot of people could benefit from hearing him talk about why it is reasonable to believe in God.”

Pruss has two PhDs, one in Mathematics from the University of British Columbia, and another in philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh. Pruss said that his background in mathematics is helpful in his theology. “[My degree] helps with seeing how all these infinities are handled. I think mathematics gives one the picture of how to reason in a precise way,” said Pruss.

Pruss focused on only one proof so that he could thoroughly explain the proof and his reasoning to the audience—a fully-packed lecture room on Trinity University’s campus. Before starting his lecture, he addressed the idea that it is unreasonable to believe in God.

“Some people think that believing in God is entirely based off of faith. They also believe that faith cannot be reasoned. This causes some people to believe that it is unreasonable to believe in God,” said Pruss. He explained how passages in the New Testament (Romans 1:20 and 1 Peter 3:15) encourages Christians to use logical reasoning in their own faith and when telling others about their faith.

“Pruss approached his argument slightly differently than the approach taken by the typical theologian,” Blaise Fort, a senior student at Trinity who attended the lecture, said. “Most theologians go from the supernatural to the scientific to make this argument. Dr. Pruss explained the science and logic behind the proof, and then explained how that related to a supernatural being.”

Pruss approached his argument very methodically. He fully explained each step of the First Cause proof before moving on to the next set of ideas. His lecture was very easy to understand, even if the concepts were difficult.

While Pruss’s argument was laid out clearly, not everyone in the audience agreed with him or liked some of the things he had to say about the typical atheist argument. Alex Bradley, the founder and president of the Secular Student Alliance (SSA) at Trinity University, said, “There was at least one part where I felt misrepresented as an atheist, especially when Pruss said that an atheist argument is that some things have no explanation. I personally don’t believe that, I believe that we as a human species do not know the true cause of some things.”

CSG brought in Pruss to explain why it is reasonable to believe in God. They hoped that his lecture would have an effect on campus, or at least on those who came to his lecture, according to Jacobs. “[The effect on campus] is directly related to their openness to hear what he said. So, I think that if people were open to what he said, then it will have a big impact on them. The impact depends on how people respond tonight, and how they received his talk. At the very least, the next time someone tries to argue with me that God doesn’t exist, I can ask why they didn’t come to the lecture, which proved that He does,” said Jacobs.

Rethinking Sex: Catholicism, Sex, and Morality

Before I start, I would say that I am pessimistic about the prevalent cultural attitudes toward sex in America, particularly on college campuses. So, what motivated me to write this article? Primarily, a lack of articles in this space (and in Trinity University’s school newspaper) about sexual morality (although we have recently published some good pieces about love, morality, and relationships, which I recommend taking a look at) in general. Is it morally right to have premarital sex? What about gay/lesbian sex? What about using protection during sex? Should sex be seen merely as a means for pleasure?

All interesting questions, and none of which I can provide an answer to in a short article such as this one. However, I do want to discuss the problems with the current sexual climate; I write this article acknowledging that, as a self-identified libertarian and lifelong Catholic, people have a right to do what they please with their lives. But so long as I do not impose my own beliefs on others, I should be free to criticize others’ actions as immoral and wrong. That being said…

Let’s talk about sex.

To start off, I might be the worst possible person to talk about sexual morality. My own church is embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal that has spanned over the past several decades, with a new scandal involving priests and nuns emerging just last week. I unapologetically condemn these incidents and pray to God that the perpetrators are brought to justice. But this is a good springboard to talk about sexual morality, because for far too long, one of the main criticisms of Catholic morality has been the stingy criteria it places on its followers and clergy for having “acceptable” sex (or none at all).

And for that, I want to propose a new (Catholic) approach to thinking about sexual morality, but one that is inclusive enough so that everyone can take something away from it, regardless of religion. Because right now, I believe that we are in a sexual crisis. As traditional gender and sex norms have given way to “explorations” of gender and sexuality, we need to consider whether or not this “shift” has been for the better, that “shift” being the product of the sexual liberation movement spearheaded by feminists and the broader left-wing.

To be clear, I am not looking to “move backwards” or lament about “days gone by.” The only direction we can look now is forward, so that should remove any notion that I want to roll back any genuine progress we have made as a society. But I will point out that problems some might think are isolated are rather part of a larger failure of the sexual liberation movement that happened under multiple waves of feminism and a relativistic approach to gender and sexuality. Those problems range from a 40% out-of-wedlock birth rate (the bulk comprising minority groups) to the rise and growth of the “incel” (short for “involuntary celibate”) subculture.

It goes without saying that sexual freedom can have its consequences, and I do not think the way forward should be paved with irresponsibility.

I do not want to understate the severity of these problems. Children born out of wedlock are much more likely to have social and behavioral impairments, lower education and job prospects, and engage in early sexual activity. These problems are compounded when the child/children live in a single-parent home. It goes without saying that sexual freedom can have its consequences, and I do not think the way forward should be paved with irresponsibility.

On the other hand, the incel community is a hyper-misogynist online subculture whose members have at times engaged in violence in “retaliation” for their lack of sexual fortune, as is the case with Elliot Rodger, Alek Minassian, and Dimitrios Pagourtzis. There are many takeaways from studying this group, but what I understand is that these men feel an entitlement to sex, and if they do not get it, then violent retaliation is justified (which is horrifyingly celebrated within the incel community).

Of course, there are many others problems that I can discuss, like porn, the oversexualization of women, and prostitution, but for the sake of length, I want to answer the burning question in the room: what is the solution? Is there a one-size-fits-all answer to the diverse range of problems we have about sexual morality? As I have said, it is not a culture that encourages having sex with whomever you want, whenever you want. But neither is it an entitlement, where if a man fails to get sex, it is the collective fault of women and that there must be a Marxist “redistribution of women” so everyone gets their “fair share” of sex.

My solution is simple: take on responsibility. Some intellectuals have already been talking about this, so let’s build on their work and apply it to sexual ethics. Teaching people to be responsible for themselves can build self-respect. If you respect yourself, you can respect others. For those inclined to have lots of sex, being responsible will help in foreseeing potential consequences in having so much sex (like having children out of wedlock). For the “sexually challenged,” having more responsibilities can take one’s mind off constantly thinking about sex. Focusing on oneself and one’s talents will surely attract someone’s attention at some point, and people like (and love) a responsible person every now and then.

In the Catholic tradition, the act of sex is the renewal and sign of the sacrament of matrimony, the ultimate expression of giving oneself over to the other. In other words, sex is something to be cherished as gift from God, not something that is to be feared, reduced to a one-liner on a bucket list, or become an entitlement. And I fear if we do not change our attitude toward sex soon, much less have a serious conversation about it, we will continue to suffer the problems that I have outlined in this article, and then some.

Photo by Prayitno. CC BY 2.0. Flickr.