Saturday, March 18, 2006

predestination for dummies (or "orange you glad I wore green"?)...



yesterday being a lenten friday, instead of celebrating st. patricks day with corned beef and green beer, we went to our local parish fish fry put on by the knights of columbus. there, during our meal, one of the topics my eight year old son was demonstrating to us his recent discovery of the middle finger hand gesture and it's meaning. some might have been shocked to see him do this at church, especially since just as he was showing this to my wife, a priest came wandering by to say "hi" and shake hands. I thought it was hilarious and was thinking "if I only had my camera!". it's that kind of funny crude humor that people really appreciate -- a little boy flipping off a priest to his face. but nope, that photo op was lost so you'll have to just picture it yourself (the pic of one of my favorite holy men - Johnny Cash will help). the priest seemed oblivious, he was just spreading good cheer and nicely shook Zach's middle fingered hand.

another dinnertime topic, it being st. paddy's day, was the tradition of the "wearing o' the green". do you know the significance of wearing orange on st. patricks day? it was done by protestants to distinguish themselves from the catholics as a form of protest or insult. historically this goes back to the Battle of Boyne in 1690 when the protestant King William (of orange, holland) defeated the british catholic King James. I asked my older son if he knew what a protestant was. nope. I explained they are christians that have some different beliefs from catholics. so inquiring minds want to know -- what's the difference?

I tried to explain with my rusty knowledge the doctrine of "by faith alone" and predestination - the split by John Calvin way back in the middle ages. I didn't get very far. so we moved on... to the fact that I had just noticed both my sons were wearing orange jackets over their green shirts. coincidence or...?

later, my interest piqued, I jumped on the net to do a little followup research. what is the significance of predestination? what were those people protesting that made them protestants? I remember one of the things was the practice of "indulgences" by which if you had enough money you could buy your way into heaven -- really! anyway, that's what some in the church wanted you to believe. to a certain degree that epitimizes what it was (and still is) all about. the catholic idea is that if you have faith, you will do the right thing; that faith without works is meaningless. and the "right thing" varies, but somehow "good catholics" all do it. protestants insist that they are saved from hell "by faith alone" - "solo fide"; that only God's grace and the forgiveness of Jesus wins us a place in heaven. the idea is that all knowing God already knows who will go to heaven, everyone will be judged and some will make it, some not. so if we are already doomed, there is nothing we can do, say, or think to earn a place in heaven. even if we have free will. contradictory?

both sides have plenty to say about the matter (see the links below).

so what is my take? are we all doomed because we're all imperfect sinners and have no choice? was it predestined that my son would accidently flip off the priest? was it predestined that I couldn't share a picture, but could share the story? was it predestined that you are reading this? who knows?

my favorite predestination example is about the lottery - your odds of winning millions are so small, there is nothing you can do to ensure a win. so you don't have to do anything - including buying a lottery ticket. because if it is meant to happen, it will happen and there is nothing you can do to prevent it. so don't bother trying because all effort is futile. and yet we still buy the tickets; without good reason people just won't give up. they still believe in luck or magical thinking. maybe that's the same with faith - we have no good reason to believe and yet we still do, still go through the motions and rituals even though it doesn't matter. because hey, you can't earn a ticket to heaven, it's a free ride. but we still try.
in the end, maybe that's what really matters.

references:
predestination as the catholic encyclopedia 'splains it.
Not by Faith Alone: A Biblical Study of the Catholic Doctrine of Justification - read the reviews, particulary the 2 star rating by "theologicalresearcher".
the "troubles" of northern ireland in a nutshell.
northern ireland: more in depth material from bbc