If I Should Fall from Grace with God…

Well, I have also fallen from grace with my blog. Because my Muse travels westward during the summer in the Dirty South, I could barely find the inspiration to drink let alone to write. You are right, sweetheart –I should not joke about such serious matters. The drinking continued unabated, more or less, throughout the summer; I simply slacked on my writing. Now with the school year resuming, grading and lesson planning consume whatever morsels of energy and creativity are left once my students finish with me.  Yet, as writing may very well be my vocation, let me try to honor this damned calling.

Madly inspired by a mosaic of conversations that I cannot relinquish, this: the Protestant notion of eternal security is for cowards. The Calvinistic notion of Perseverance of the Saints and the (non-Reformed) Baptist notion of Once Saved, Always Saved brings a dangerous level of presumption that can cut both ways. Having grown up a Reformed Baptist who did a short stint in the Presbyterian church before he non-soberly stumbled to Rome, Sweet Home, I can speak with a degree of knowledge. At the age of fourteen I was regularly reading from Matthew Henry’s commentary, trying to wrap my hormone-addled head around the Reformed Faith. At seventeen I tossed and turned and put away sleep, fearing that people I loved were non-elect and there was not a damn thing that could be done to change the holy and perfect will of an all-knowing, all-wise, and all-good God regarding the damned. Eighteen: worked my way through Loraine Boettner’s The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination, convinced that I had The Faith neatly worked out for me. Spliced in reading R. C. Sproul, Jr.’s Tabletalk. At twenty-one, I was having debates regarding the merits of classical apologetics over against presuppositional apologetics.  And the names: Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, Spurgeon, Edwards, Boettner, Sproul, Sproul, Jr., Van Til, Clark, Frame, Bahnsen, Rushdoony, et al. (What a grand bore I must have been. ) I write all this for one reason only: to show that I do not criticize this particular aspect of the Reformed faith as a stranger looking inside the comfy home. I may have left the house a while back, but I still remember how the rooms were arranged.

When I was not fretting about the dark and mysterious decrees of God regarding my family and friends, I was fretting about the dark and mysterious decrees of God regarding myself. What if God had not elected me from before the foundation of the world to glorify and enjoy Him forever? In that case, no amount of tearful prayers could effectively petition God. Of course, as I was told, the fact that I had such fears in the first place was probably a good sign that I was one of the elect. Thus, the best thing for me to do would be to live life with the hope that I was elect yet still go through all the hoops (and they changed from church to church) to make my calling and election sure. In other words, live with the intellectual belief that nothing I could do could ultimately affect my eternal standing juxtaposed with the working belief that I needed to live a holy life in order to attain any level of comfort and personal assurance. To reprobate hell with that… Things happened. Words were exchanged. More books were read. Sacraments were administered. Catholic.

What was the theme again? Yes–presumption. Cuts both ways. Those who believe that they are part of God’s glorified Mickey Mouse Club can comfort themselves with the belief that when life gets hard, they can simply reach for their Mickey Mouse ears, tug on them, think of Romans Chapter Eight, and recite TULIP.  However, for those who incline to darker dreams, such presumption might lead them to conclude that God has left them to die in their sins. Thus, if hell is coming, and it indubitably is for the reprobate, one might as well have a hell of good time damning oneself in the process. Sweet–God letting you do His dirty work for Him.

As a Catholic, I cannot presume either way. When I am in state of grace (rare these days), I must keep ever before me the possibility that I may sin mortally and fall from grace. And, as the Church teaches, were I to die before sacramental confession (or the rare act of perfect contrition) my soul will experience a foul but just private judgment, only then to await the Final Judgment, at which my body and soul will be thrown into the eternal flames of a gaping hell, and I will be eternally separated from God, forever ruing the fact that *I* cut myself off from His love. Likewise, no matter where I might find myself spiritually, restoration is only one visit to the Confessional away. Therefore, to allow myself to get bogged down in the Slough of Despond constitutes the sin of despair against a God who truly does love me and wants me to participate in His divine life.

Where am I going? Purgatory, if I am lucky, but this blog…Right. When I sin mortally (A. grave matter, B. committed with full knowledge of the grave matter, C. committed with full deliberation), I do so knowing that I may very well be sending myself to hell. No comfort regarding God’s secret will that I may have a purpose-driven-elect-life to prevent such a fate. To re-appropriate something once said by Fr. Martin Luther: a bold sin. If sin cannot sever the elect from God, then those who treasure such belief sin like cowards. What is the worst that may happen? Their “devotional time” may not be as rewarding, I suppose.

That is the key to Protestantism: mediocrity. With the Catholic Church, truly vile sinners sin with a boldness that Protestants cannot touch. Going in the opposite direction, saints aim for a life of perfection and self-denial that would only bewilder most Protestants. What? Sleep on a wooden plank while wrapped in chains like St. John Vianney? Roll around in a briar in order to combat lustful thoughts like St. Francis of Assisi? Climb a pole and just sit on the top of that pole for years, making oneself “useless” for the sake of the kingdom like St. Simon the Stylite? Wash the wounds of lepers, eventually to infect oneself with leprosy, like St. Damien of  Molokai? Corporal punishment? Wear a cilice? Madness! Yes, a holy madness that rarely infects respectable Protestants.

Other news: In good Catholic fashion, here is a litany of thoughts that I have had brewing:

1). We are a transitional generation. Gertrude Stein wrote around the turn of the twentieth century that great novels may not currently be possible (she included Joyce’s Ulysses). At best, people may write novels that may function as a foundation for the great writers to come. St. Louis de Montefort writes in his True Devotion to Mary that great saints of whom the world has never seen are yet to come. Perhaps, at best, we might be the parents and mentors to these artists and saints.

2). With the continuous distraction of online media and cell phones, the Muses will no longer speak. Rather, they may very well be speaking, but who will enter into the great silence needed to hear them? I doubt that we will see any truly profound works of art in the near future.

3). For the most part, adults in modern Western society are to be just as despised as the youth. Why should children look up to “adults” who walk around with a Bluetooth apparatus in the ear, dress with the insouciance of adolescents, watch reality TV, still care about looking sexy, and think that Time magazine qualifies as serious reading (when any reading at all is done).

4). Ten years ago when I was sharing my jeremiads about the imminent collapse of Western Civilization in general and of the American Empire in particular with anybody who would not roll his/her eyes at me, I may have been able to pull off a bit of cultural clairvoyance among the gullible. Now, anybody who does not see these things a-coming can only be accused of willful head-in-the-hypodermic-needle-infested-sand ignorance.

5). The race riots have already started in America. *Flash mobs in the Northeast.* Not pretty. Really, not a good time to be white in quite a American few cities. (Surprise: race relations are worse in Yankee Land than they are in the South.) Good thing that major media outlets have stepped up to the nobility of their profession and have bravely covered these noteworthy events. Wait a minute…

6). Except for an ever shrinking contingent of traditionally-minded people, marriage (at least the kind between a man and a woman) seems to be going the way of the wild plains buffalo. Then again, why should kids get excited about marriage when, for the most part, adults are just as clueless about the true nature of marriage? Personal fulfillment–yeah, that is a great reason, and that will get one through the hard times.

7). Romance may as well be dead. Risk is at the center of romance. Who these days wants to risk anything? People want security–in their spiritual lives, in their jobs, in their vacations, in their junk food, in their relationships, etc. (Safe sex? Sex can never be safe, nor should it.) If men can now barely tolerate a mean look or a wayward comment, then they surely cannot live in a world where women might possibly reject them. What a blow to their self-esteem. Better to stick with the girls who they know will put out.

Finally, a songwriter who has destroyed himself following the Muses. In the process, though, he has proven himself to be one of the most inspired songwriters of the twentieth century.

About Bourbon Apocalypse: A Whiskey Son of Sorrow

"If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing." ~ Kingsley Amis
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