Saturday, February 13, 2016

The First Sunday of Lent

Boy, this is a biggie.  The Gospel readings for the First Sunday of Lent deal with the Temptation of Christ.  Not the one hoisted on us by Martin Scorsese.   The ones recorded in the Synoptics as the starting point for Jesus' public ministry.  His boot camp, so to speak.  Of course we all know that Jesus would be tempted many other ways and at many other times.  He was tempted in all things, the letter to the  Hebrews tells us.  That way we know God isn't aloof from our own temptations.  God knows what it is to be tempted, if you think about it.  He knows, through the Incarnation, what we go through every time that pesky little devil pops onto our shoulders and begins egging us on to do what we damn well know we shouldn't.  Or, sometimes, to avoid doing what we damn well know we should.

Of course today, temptations fly about like mosquitos on a muggy, summer evening.   Many are those temptations we're all familiar with, or at least we think of when we hear the word temptation: sex, alcohol, money.  You have others, such as lying, avoiding responsibility, laziness, envy, resentment, revenge. 

And then you have those macro-temptations.  Those are the ones that are so part of our culture that we have a hard time sorting out when it's a temptation, and when it's just the world we live in.  Of course we're pretty insightful when it comes to judging those in the past that weren't as good as we are at recognizing the sins the times.  We can look back on people yucking it up to an old episode of Amos and Andy, sneer a little, shrug our shoulders, and wonder just how they could have bought into such horrible, hateful and racist imagery.

That's easy.  Because it was the cultural ocean in which they swam.  Sure, you could find people who objected to such portrayals.  But they probably didn't matter anyway.   Plus, deep down, even if they knew racism and such comedy wasn't right, they didn't care because they liked it.  And more to the point, everyone liked it. 

That's the sort of temptation I worry about.  The temptation to be in our ocean and just follow the currents.  I can recognize sex, or pornography, or too much alcohol, or envy, or jealousy.  I can also recognize gluttony - my own pet weakness.  But I wonder how good I am at recognizing the temptation to be part of the times. 

Take fundamentalists.  Why, you can say just about anything regarding that vaguely defined group of people known as fundamentalists.  You don't even have to define it well.  Just say fundamentalists, wag an accusing finger, and you're off scot free.  Even the word Fundamentalist is now more of an insult than anything.  Just accuse someone of being a fundamentalist today, and you're halfway to where you would have been in the 1950s by accusing someone of being a Socialist.

Odd turn of events. Turns out Socialism might well be the next, hip thing.  And Fundamentalism?  Why, there's scarcely a difference between fundamentalists and terrorists who fly jets into skyscrapers, wouldn't you say

Well, no.  I wouldn't say.  And I shouldn't say.  That's why I deleted a post I put up that took to task some Catholics making ideological hay over the death of some ultra-right wing activist.  I still think it's wrong for Catholics to do such a thing, especially if those same Catholics are quick to condemn others for doing it when it comes to something like Osama Bin Laden's death.  But I linked the behavior to Fundamentalism in some quick and easy stereotype that was clearly meant to be negative.

I know, Catholicism is not a fundamentalist Faith.  It certainly has no love for that Protestant branch of Fundamentalism that spends most of its time assuring people that we Catholics are on a one way trip to the fifth circle. Nonetheless, while I can disagree with fundamentalists, or argue with fundamentalists, or rebuke fundamentalists, I draw the line at taking Jew, Black, Socialist, Communist, homosexual, or some other potentially damning label of the past and replacing it with the latest word to whip up the masses and show how awesomely pure I am. 

I can't always recognize the corporate sins of the times.  That's one reason to go easy on those of the past who missed the obvious signs of their times.  Who knows what I might be condemned by future generations for embracing?  Fundamentalism might never be vogue, and in some ways, it probably shouldn't be.  But I see growing currents of free contempt and loathing for a group yet to be clearly defined, and I see a growing willingness to put teeth to the sneering when it comes to what we think should happen to this group.  Lest I become the next Amos and Andy fan of tomorrow when things go sour - as they always do - I'm going to be a bit more careful about how I toss that label around, no matter how tempting it is do go with the flow of the day.

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