Friday, May 28, 2010

Beating the Rat Race (Part One)

"But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase" (Daniel 12:4).

The angel's description of pell-mell activity and exploding information depict our society to a tee, convincing proof that we are indeed living in the end time. Interestingly, the angel—Gabriel, who had interpreted earlier visions (
Daniel 8:16; 9:21)—instructs the prophet to "shut up the words and seal the book [of Daniel] until the time of the end." Present-day conditions are now paralleling what the prophecy describes, and the words have been opened up so that we can figure out the mysteries of the book of Daniel.

Human knowledge now doubles every few years, as millions of people have pursued higher education, enabling exhaustive research, exploration, investigation, and experimentation in just about every field of study. What they find is then published and disseminated widely—globally, in fact—through journals and the Internet, and others take their findings and add them to their own research. In this manner, knowledge grows exponentially as people strive to innovate and be the first to invent some new thing that will garner them acclaim, fame, power, and wealth.

It is no wonder that futurist Alvin Toffler (the author of Future Shock and other trend-watching commentary) has dubbed this era as the "Information Age." We are awash—and often thrashing about—in increasing knowledge. We cannot seem to go a day without hearing something "new" that someone has discovered, whether it is a new species, a new invention, a new therapy or drug, or a new spin on an old idea. It is almost impossible to keep up with it all.

This other factor—"running to and fro"—can be seen as a result of the increasing knowledge. The rapid flow of information makes everyone live in a hurry; we are all dashing and jerking around like the proverbial headless chicken. To change the metaphor, many of us have had to enter the rat race just to get by. The rat race is such a demanding lifestyle that to keep from falling behind, we have to pick up the pace of our lives drastically, devoting far more time and energy to "the cares of this world" (
Matthew 13:22) than we would like.

To employ another analogy, the whole world is like six billion-plus ants all scurrying about the anthill, trying to set as much in store before winter sets in (
Proverbs 6:6-8). The pace of life is almost maddening—ceaseless, frenzied, pulsating, enervating. Everything seems to be "24/7/365" these days. If a product or service is not "fast," "speedy," or even "instant" it is considered to be worthless—who has time for "slow," "leisurely," or "gradual" anymore?

Television is an excellent example of the pace of modern life. Try this next time the boob tube is on: For a few minutes, ignore the content of the program and commercials and notice the pace of the presentation. Some change in the picture happens every few seconds: The camera pans or tilts; it zooms in or out. The scene often changes entirely to some other place or time. A new graphic appears, flashes, disappears. And we have not even considered the machine-gun pace of speech or music "behind" the video. Something has to be moving all the time to keep a viewer's attention.

Will God's Kingdom be like this? Will life in God's Kingdom run at a frantic pace? It is hard to imagine God endorsing a society that is merely a "more righteous" version of this one. While it is clear that the Father and Son are constantly working (see
John 5:17), they are not bouncing from pillar to post in a mad attempt to get everything done at once. Instead, He works out His plan over millennia, patiently guiding people and events to fulfill His will. From what we know of His character, He works steadily and surely, not frenetically.

Perhaps His more sedate pace comes as a result of His righteousness. Consider the fact that most of the worst components of this society would simply vanish if the majority of the people in it were righteous. If we removed just one sinful element—say, covetousness—the pace of life would instantly slow because people would not be so determined to get ahead of their neighbors. Gone would be the maddening quest to "keep up with the Joneses," as would be the vain and often cutthroat pursuit of "climbing the ladder." People would be more content with themselves and with what God had given them. Their strivings would be more to better themselves and reach their full potential than to prevail over the competition. Life would slow down because they would no longer have a driving need for more.

Therefore, we can conclude that this life's ramming-speed tempo is not of God. He never intended for us to live in such a fast-paced world. It produces excessive, prolonged stress, which is certainly not good for us. Although a certain amount of stress is necessary, more stress than we can physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually handle is wearying and debilitating. Eventually, it will wear us down.

Life today is also full of fear, not necessarily of something tragic happening all the time, but of slipping behind everybody else. This world produces fears and anxieties that motivate us down avenues that are self-destructive in the end. As mentioned earlier, the adversarial competition into which this society throws us has an edge of life-and-death reality. Just the fear of losing to "the other guy" and of not reaping the "rewards" of aggressive business practices can make a person cut corners and take chances that bring only trouble.

Nor should we ignore the element of confusion. Herbert Armstrong used to say that it is a hallmark of Satan's society, and the world we live in is chaotic, often to an extreme. Events move so fast that it is hard to make sense of them. Society is like a crowded Turkish bazaar, where dozens of vendors hawk their wares all at once, shouting that their goods are better than others, cajoling passersby with promises of amazing deals, undercutting their competitors, wheeling and dealing, and ultimately unloading their worthless trinkets on bewildered shoppers who know they have been hoodwinked but cannot tell how it happened.

Obviously, "God is not the author of confusion but of peace" (
I Corinthians 14:33). In a hectic society like ours, peace is almost impossible to achieve, much less to find. We must come out of that confused, pulsating lifestyle before we can have real peace. In fact, the modern way of life is often described as a war to be waged and won, no matter what the cost. As God says of mankind in Isaiah 59:8, "The way of peace they have not known."

Jesus Christ tells us in
John 14:27, "Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you." How do we imitate His peace in ourselves? One way is the opposite of "running to and fro": It is being still. Only when we are still do we have the time and the perspective to have real peace, and as we will see, it is how we come to know God.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

The Catholic Church: Declining or Reviving?

The world at large became uncomfortably aware of the Roman Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal in the mid-1990s, when news of priestly pederasty sparked a public outcry against both the occurrence of such perversion and the Church's lackluster response to it. However, the problem is far older. As early as the 1950s, bishops were routinely sending abusive priests to various "facilities" operated by the Church for therapy—either spiritual or psychological—but clearly, the Church, which mandates a celibate clergy, had been dealing privately with such deviants for a very long time.

A series of criminal cases have made national and international headlines. In a 1981 case widely covered by the media, a priest from the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Father Donald Roemer, pled guilty to felonious sexual abuse of a minor. Four years later, Gilbert Gauthe, a priest from Louisiana, pled guilty to 11 counts of molestation of boys. Even so, it took a Pulitzer Prize-winning exposé by The Boston Globe in 2002 to bring the scandal to real prominence, encouraging many victims to come forward with their stories of abuse, as well as lawsuits against the offending priests and the Church.

Coincidentally, a 1980 abusive priest case in Munich, Germany, came to the attention of the Archbishop there at the time, Joseph Ratzinger, who is now Pope Benedict XVI. He has recently been accused of covering up the abuse—just as many bishops and archbishops all over the world seem to have done routinely—by reassigning the offender to another parish or other duties, rather than defrocking him and remanding the case to civilian justice.

Later, as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Catholic Church's enforcer of orthodoxy, Cardinal Ratzinger had oversight of these cases under Pope John Paul II. Yet, during that time, the Church continued to handle the bulk of them internally and with great secrecy. For instance, in response to one case, Ratzinger wrote:
This court, although it regards the arguments presented in favor of removal [from the priesthood] in this case to be of grave significance, nevertheless deems it necessary to consider the good of the universal church together with that of the petitioner, and it is also unable to make light of the detriment that granting the dispensation can provoke with the community of Christ's faithful, particularly regarding the young age of the petitioner [a pederast priest who was 38 years old at the time].1
Because of such statements seeming to give greater weight to the Church's needs than the victims', radical atheists Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have gone so far as to demand that the Pope be prosecuted for crimes against humanity for his role in covering up abuse by priests. However, in this instance, Hitchens and Dawkins have misrepresented the facts. When Ratzinger wrote this, the offender had long before been removed from all pastoral duties and contact with parishioners, and what is more, had already been convicted and sentenced for his crimes!2 Evidently, the Church hierarchy desired the priest to leave the priesthood on his own (which he did after completing his prison sentence) to avoid provoking a crisis of confidence among church members. It got the crisis anyway.

This ongoing scandal, along with rampant secularism and humanism in the Western world, has made many wonder if we are witnessing the slow demise of the Roman Catholic Church—and by extension, of Christianity.3 The political power of the Pope and the Church's various institutions has waned considerably in recent years—certainly since John Paul II's triumph over Communism in Eastern Europe. Its moral authority has similarly declined as leaks of abusive priests, vicious intra-Curia feuds, and even Vatican ties to Nazi Germany have made headlines around the world.

Nevertheless, we should not be so quick to toss the Catholic Church into the dustbin of history. It is a nearly 2,000-year-old institution with deep ties to Europe's most powerful elites and multiple billions of dollars in assets around the world, including universities, nonprofit organizations, and think-tanks. While the sexual abuse scandal is certainly embarrassing and annoying, it does not have the power to bring down the world's largest Christian denomination. On the contrary, the scandal is showing signs of actually strengthening the Church.

Some Vatican watchers wonder aloud if the 83-year-old Benedict XVI can use the scandal to force a scouring, whether selective or wholesale, of the Curia, the central governing body of the Church. Most, however, do not believe that he can accomplish this at this point in his papacy. He may have the clout to force out a few of the older cardinals, particularly those who have championed the traditional cover-up policy, replacing them with younger cardinals loyal to him and his conservative theology. But a more sweeping housecleaning may be too long-term a project for the aging pontiff.

More likely, the Pope will use the scandals as a catalyst for reformation within the Church. Conservative cardinals and bishops consider this crisis to be an opportunity to emphasize the traditional, orthodox doctrines of Catholicism—particularly its teachings on sexual matters, including priestly celibacy—and they are willing to go so far as to reject and even excommunicate Catholics who will not toe the line. Benedict XVI may utter profound apologies where these abuse cases are prevalent, and he may go so far as to repeat the Day of Pardon (enacted by John Paul II in March 12, 2000, to confess the Church's historical sins) to atone for the hierarchy's errors during this crisis. As his nicknames, the "Panzer Cardinal" and "God's Rottweiler," suggest, this Pope's tendency is to go on the offensive to encourage and enforce greater orthodoxy among the faithful.

While the Catholic Church may take a momentary drubbing in the court of public opinion, it is old and strong enough to endure the beating and come out swinging in the next round. As it has done several times during its history—through the fall of Rome, barbarian invasions, the Renaissance, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, and the onslaught of modern and post-modern ideas—it will adapt to the vicissitudes of societal change and maintain its dominant place among the professing Christian churches of this world.



1 Dawkins, Richard, "The Pope Should Stand Trial," The Guardian, April 13, 2010 (

2 Mees, Paul, "Here's a Crazy Idea: What If the Pope Is Innocent?", April 23, 2010 (

3 Israely, Jeff, & Chua-Eoan, Howard, "The Trial of Pope Benedict XVI," Time, May 27, 2010 (,8599,1992171,00.html).