Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Christian Disunity as a Problem of the Imagination

I used to live in one of the liberal hotbeds of the Midwest, Ann Arbor, MI.  Some of my most interesting experiences there came from volunteering at the Right to Life booth at the Ann Arbor Art Fair that took place every summer.

One encounter at the Art Fair has stuck with me over the last five years since it occurred.  A man walked up and posed the following dilemma:
"Imagine that there was an IVF clinic that contained a refrigerator full off 500 embryos.  Also in the clinic was a baby playing in the back nursery.  Now, imagine that the clinic caught fire, and the firemen could only rescue the embryos or the baby.  Who would you suggest they save?"
The innocent older lady sitting next to me fell for the trap and answered, "the baby, of course."  Next thing I knew, the vindicated man had marched away before I could even begin to form a response.

Now, there are a number of problems with the dilemma posed by this gentleman.

First, the dilemma (as stated) sets up a false opposition by structuring the problem such that you can only save the baby or the embryos.

The only proper response to this problem is: shame on you for even imagining such a dreadful situation where 500 embryos are left to burn.

Second, the man's dilemma breezily accepts a situation in which 500 embryonic human beings are created without the caring, loving protection of their mothers' wombs and are stored like pieces of meat in a refrigerator...without even a comment on the atrocity of this evil.

The only proper response to this is: shame on you for even imagining a situation in which 500 human beings are left in a refrigerator without rightful protection of their mothers.

In short, I should have told the man: "You don't need an argument.  You need a spanking."

In other words, the real problem in this experience was a problem of the imagination.  This man, and many in our culture, has allowed himself to imagine as perfectly normal a situation in which 500 embryos are left to freeze or burn.

This problem of the imagination came to mind as I was reading a recent blog post by Bradley Cochran at his thoughtful and engaging blog, Theo-philogue.  On Bradley's blog, I chimed in some thoughts related to Cochran's discussion of Albert Mohler's distinction of doctrines (and, by extension, doctrinal differences) into three tiers.

Here is the relevant part of my comment:
On the flip side, if Jesus Christ is the Truth, how can we take any of these critical issues and say that it is acceptable for Christians to divide over them? What truth of Jesus Christ can be viewed as unessential? And where do Jesus's and Paul's constant prayers and commands that...we be perfectly unified allow for us to even *imagine* a situation where we allow divisions (and the "institutions of division"*** that support them)?
***John Paul II, Ut Unum Sint
It strikes me that the real problem underlying Mohler's three tiers of Christian doctrine (essential, ecclesial, unessential) is that it also breezily assumes doctrinal differences between Christians.  Even though we as Christians should be just as horrified at doctrinal differences at any level as we are at the idea of 500 embryos burning in a clinic, here, Mohler seems to just accept that the differences are going to exist.  You just have to choose: the baby or the embryos....ecclesial unity or doctrinal purity or both.

(UPDATE: In the above sentence, I'm not trying to equivocate the two sets of choices.  I AM equivocating the structure of the respective decisions, however.  That being said, it is worth noting that the doctrinal and ecclesial disunity that exists in Christianity today has allowed for ecclesial communities that accept IVF and a host of other morally problematic behaviors to exist.  The truth will always be a matter of life and death.)

I really pray that in this new millennium, we lovers of Jesus Christ will fervently pray that he wake us up and purify our imaginations.  Let us no longer passively imagine a situation that Jesus offered His passion to avoid.  Jesus hates divorce, whether it occurs between a bride and a groom or between groups of Christians and His Mystical Body, the Church.

Let us no longer imagine a situation where Christians revel in the twists and turns of doctrinal disputes, always willing to play the trump card of "well, that's not an essential doctrine, so let the arguments continue!"

And, by God's grace, let Christians return to the living, breathing authority that Jesus left us to protect those doctrines that are truly essential, so that we may not fall into schism and division over those that truly are not.

I believe that deep in many Christians' hearts, there exists the knowledge of where that authority is found...and can only be found.  It is not easy for any of us, myself most included, to submit our minds and wills to this authority that speaks in Jesus's name ("he who hears you, hears me").  But, let us pray that the Holy Spirit will grant all of us the humility and honesty to turn our minds and hearts back to the Church that Jesus himself founded.

Woe to those that know where the fullness of truth (who is Christ himself) is to be found and choose not to pursue Him.

But how great the blessing for those who abandon all (man-made traditions, family, friends) to follow the pearl of great price.

Lord Jesus, give us pure imaginations...give us your imagination...and let things be on earth as they are in heaven!

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