Being Responsible with Statistics & Numbers…Third in a Series

In harkening back to Stan Lee’s quote, when we use our voice in the culture at large, it is important to recognize that we have a responsibility to use it well. With a feature film there is the potential for a huge audience, and tacking on a statistic like this,* which turns out to be an estimated number with an unsubstantiated insinuation that people are being held against their will in some way – that strikes me as being irresponsible.

The truth is that accurate statistics surrounding people who experience same-gender attractions or gender identity dysphoria are difficult to obtain.** In gathering data, we don’t have a uniform definition of homosexuality, nor do we have a reliable method of gathering this information – here are a few of the commonly known reasons why:

One of the major reasons for the difference in statistical findings regarding homosexuality and bisexuality has to do with the nature of the research questions…

Most of the studies listed below rely on self-report data, which poses challenges to researchers inquiring into sensitive subject matter.

More importantly, the studies tend to pose two sets of questions. One set examines self-report data of same-sex sexual experiences and attractions while the other set examines self-report data of personal identification as homosexual or bisexual. Fewer research subjects identify as homosexual or bisexual than report having had sexual experiences or attraction to a person of the same sex…

…since many individuals may fail to report outside the heterosexual norm or define their sexuality in their own unique terms, it is difficult to fully grasp the size of the LGBT population.

The type of survey being used and the type of setting a subject is in while being surveyed may also affect the answer that the subject gives.**

 

What are we measuring?

There are three components, if you will, of sexual orientation: identity, attraction, and behavior. As noted above, when we are trying to find out these numbers in a population, we need to consider what we are looking for – not everyone who has a same-gender sexual encounter, or even several encounters, considers themself to be gay or lesbian. On the other hand, if you’ve only experienced attractions to the same gender, but never identified yourself as a homosexual, or acted on those attractions, does that mean you’re not gay? If so, then can we consider sexual orientation a state of being / personhood, or is it instead something that one does or claims to be? Are we looking at a person’s behavior, attraction, and identity over the course of their lifetime, or only in their recent history?

Along with the variety of factors to consider, a person’s identity, attractions and behavior are difficult to measure. Studies typically rely on what an individual reports about themselves, with no way to verify the accuracy of what the person states.

Does this mean that we are without a clue as to how many people are considered homosexual or lesbian? No, but we need to keep in mind that our best estimates are just that – estimates.

What’s in a Name?

So as we are left without accurate knowledge of the size of the lesbian or gay population as a whole, we are also limited in knowing how many people might have sought change or resolution of their sexuality or gender in congruence with their faith.

The question of what constitutes change in one’s orientation is not well defined: Is it the complete absence of same-gender attractions, identity, and behavior, or some combination of the lessening of any of those three things? Or, is it the capacity to sustain a satisfactory heterosexual relationship with or without continued same gender attractions? Or is it the ability to find contentment in being single with or without these continued desires?

There is a question as to what terminology we may be looking for. While it is common for someone to identify themselves as gay or lesbian, there is no consistent term or label to use in a survey format to identify someone who has experienced a change in their sexual orientation. I’ve heard of the terms “ex-gay” or “post-gay” or “changed,” but these are not ubiquitous. Further complicating matters, in the last few years there has been a growing movement of individuals calling themselves “gay Christians” – which they use to identify themselves as followers of Jesus who experience same-gender attractions but choose to live celibate lives in accordance with their faith. This trend is rejected outright by many who do not wish to add a descriptive term to their identity as Christians.

There is not an adequate descriptive term that summarizes the variety of experiences that people who call themselves gay or lesbian have (each person’s identity, behavior and attractions differ) and this is all the more true for those who are turning away from their same-gender attractions as some kind of definitive state of being…who do not wish to identify themselves by their experiences.

It is hard to measure what is not defined.

Hidden Figures

Due to the continued social stigma surrounding sexuality and gender identity, which has grown more complicated in my lifetime, people who have experienced a resolution of their faith and their sexuality or gender are not usually open about it. The tendency is to blend into the heterosexual majority and never mention their past again – and this is especially true for those who are married.

Churches seldom, if ever, call for people who have had this background to step forward to share about this part of their lives. There are no parades for us, nor class reunions. And the representation of any characters in TV shows or films is practically non-existent.

Yet we are here, quietly living our lives – teaching music, serving in the military, working in health care, or as engineers, spinning tunes as the DJ at a wedding, or crunching numbers for manufacturing companies behind a desk. We are serving in hospice care or in community counseling services after a disaster strikes; looking after children as nannies or raising children in our own homes.*** Our lives are rather normal – we move forward each day without role models, we are not waiting for anyone to validate what we are experiencing or weave us into the latest cinematic blockbuster.

Always guessing…

People in the psychological, sociological, and health care fields do the best they can with the best estimates that they can find. Comparing the best studies we have, we estimate that somewhere between 2% and 5% of the population identifies as lesbian or gay. We don’t know how many people there are who have sought to leave homosexuality behind, either with counseling or without. We have some studies that have found people who have sought change at some point in their sexual orientation and who now identify as lesbian or gay, and there are some studies being done on the fluidity of sexual orientation throughout one’s lifetime, but we have no idea how many people have chosen to not act on their same-gender attractions in an effort to live in accordance to their spiritual beliefs.

Without an idea of the number of people who make up this population, we are left without the ability to know what percentage of that population is significant in any study that would be conducted about us.

For example – if there are 100,000 people who have left homosexuality behind in the US in their pursuit of a deeper relationship with Christ, and a study is conducted with 10 people within that population, the results are not as meaningful as they would be compared to a study done with 400 people. But as noted above, the number of people who make up this population is not known in the first place – we are scattered across the country, many are reluctant to be known, and there is not a rallying point in sight.

With or without solid data, there is no excuse for using numbers in a misleading statement.* It is better to be honest about what we do not know than to be irresponsible and make things up.

 

* Referring to the quote at the end of the trailer for the film, Boy, Erased, as seen on the movie’s website – please see prior post for more details.

** https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demographics_of_sexual_orientation

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LGBT_demographics_of_the_United_States

*** These are all descriptions of people whom I know who have left homosexuality behind in their lives.

 

 

 

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About That Statistic…Second in a Series

“77,000 people are currently being held in conversion therapy nationwide”

What are they talking about? That was my question when I saw this slowly revealed across my computer screen…what in the world are they referring to, and where did they get this number?

For the sake of those who are unfamiliar with it, “conversion therapy” is the term often used to describe any effort to help those who have unwanted attractions to the same gender or who are questioning their gender identity to find assistance seeking a either a change in their attractions or contentment with not acting on those attractions, or resolution of their gender identity with their biological one. I will come back to this term, and the variety of meanings attached to it, in a later post.

I am interested in this subject because I have experienced same-gender attractions since childhood, and found counseling in a variety of settings along the way to be very helpful. I would like others to be able to receive the same kind of help if they would like it, and I try to communicate with others about what I’ve learned – both what was helpful and what was not – whenever I have the opportunity.

In this blog I’ve written a good deal about my experiences, and if you are new here, I’d like to recommend that you read through these posts in chronological order to find more background on this part of my life.

If you’re not new here, then you most likely already know that I’m fairly familiar with organizations offering counseling in this area across the country, as well as in several places around the world. And that is a great part of the reason why I was so alarmed in reading this particular statistic: “77,000 people are being held in conversion therapy nationwide.”

“77,000 people” – where is this number coming from?

“…being held in…” – what does this mean – are people being retained in some way?

I am not familiar with any such number of people being held anywhere in regards to seeking help with their sexuality or gender identity. So, soon after reading this, I started digging to learn more. The film’s website had no reference for this statistic or quote. I clicked on the link they provided to find out more information, and could not find a reference there, either. After a Google search, I finally came across a reference through a review of the film in Slate Magazine:

“It can feel like a straight filmmaker and his mostly straight leads parachuted in to decree this issue important, while they also collect a few golden statues along the way. This, too, may not really matter if Boy Erased reaches the right audience, but with its distributor declaring, not quite correctly, that ‘77,000 people are currently being held in conversion therapy across America’ in the film’s trailers, the commodified activism here can make you a little queasy.”[1]

In clicking through to the link provided in the text, I found myself on the page of The Williams Institute, UCLA School of Law, where an article from Teen Vogue Magazine from earlier this was featured. In part it read:

“According to a new report from the Williams Institute, about 698,000 LGBTQ adults in the United States have received conversion therapy…An estimated 20,000 LGBTQ young people in states that don’t ban it will undergo conversion therapy from a licensed health care professional before they turn 18, and about 57,000 young people across all states will be subjected to conversion therapy from religious or spiritual advisers before age 18.”[2]

Apparently the “77,000” figure comes from the estimation that 20,000 young people will receive some kind of counseling from a licensed health care professional and 57,000 will receive some kind of counseling from a religious or spiritual advisor before they turn 18.

These numbers are estimations, not known figures and the implication that they are “being held” or retained or restrained is also unfounded in the report. The wording chosen is “subjected to” which implies that anyone under the age of 18 is being put through counseling without their consent. (I did read the report, and found numbers there were based on several other internal “unpublished reports” which used unknown methods to make these estimations, which I found frustrating to say the least.[3])

This leads me to a few areas of concern which I will expand upon in the next few posts:

  1. Being responsible with statistics & numbers
  2. The importance of motivation
  3. Recognizing autonomy

[1] https://slate.com/culture/2018/11/boy-erased-review-movie-adaptation-gay-conversion-therapy.html

[2] https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/williams-in-the-news/new-report-shows-77000-young-lgbtq-people-will-subjected-conversion-therapy/

[3] https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/wp-content/uploads/Conversion-Therapy-LGBT-Youth-Jan-2018.pdf

 

“With great power comes great responsibility.” ~ Stan Lee

Some time last year, or maybe longer, I remember reading about a film that was being made. It was to have a stellar cast – Nicole Kidman and Russell Crowe – and was being put together with the kind of professional production one would expect to come alongside such talent. I first heard about it through someone I’m connected to here on Facebook who was going to be portrayed in the movie. He was excited, of course, but also wondered about how he might be characterized. I remember adding my two cents – that often the story is turned to serve the arc of the film, and people and events can be misconstrued in order to create drama or humor or whatever is needed to make the scenes flow together well.

Fast forward to last week. I was having a conversation with a friend of mine, and this particular film came up. It was the note of concern in my friend’s voice that caused me to look into it further, and I was startled by what I learned…no wonder she was apprehensive.

“77,000 people are currently being held in conversion therapy nationwide”

This is featured at the end of the trailer for the movie “Boy Erased” on the film’s web site.

This statistic is not true.

Unfortunately, I found a number of other things that were not truthful in connection to this movie, which is based on a memoir written by Gerrard Conley with the same title. To be clear, I understand the common practice of taking license with a person’s story in this genre – changing the actual truth to portray an emotion needed to enhance the storyline within a two-hour window happens all the time. This is not the fault of the actors, nor Mr. Conley who wrote his original story, nor the real people portrayed in it – but a film, especially one such as this, leaves an impression, and can leave the wrong impression with a large number of people. With great power comes great responsibility.

This is the first of a series of posts on this film in which I will share what I’ve learned that concerned me, and I hope this will prove to be helpful for anyone who has an interest in learning more.

The Series That Wasn’t…& the One to Come

In reading back over this blog I’m seeing that I had started writing a series about having awkward conversations, and then didn’t add any more posts on that subject.  It turns out that instead of writing about them here, I was having them in real life.  I’ll have to ask for more time and space between the conversations and in writing about them, I’m afraid.  My apologies.

However, I have started a new series of posts on a different subject, and I’ve actually written them out in advance – so this time, I mean it!  Stay tuned!

God of the Awkward Conversation

God is the God of the awkward conversation.

As followers of Christ in the USA, we increasingly find ourselves in a culture that has left much of what we as Christians believe behind, as well as in an atmosphere where political nationalism has polluted the message of the gospel. As such, we will be finding ourselves in more awkward conversations with our friends, families, co-workers and acquaintances.

This post is the beginning of a series in which I’ll try to address a few direct questions put to me by a friend during a long conversation a few weeks ago. Before jumping in, I thought I’d step back a bit and express my gratitude for being able to be in that particular conversation, which in reality wasn’t all that awkward. And this was in great part due to the kindness, grace, and respectfulness of the person I was talking to. I’m very thankful to have several friends who are able to speak about their lives and beliefs on all kinds of topics – from the personal to the political – while maintaining friendships with those who have different views.

Because I’ve been in a number of deep discussions recently, I’d also like to spend some time looking at how Jesus communicated with those around Him, and how we might follow His example in speaking with one another. I’m hopeful that we will find some of these things helpful in a rapidly changing culture.

We read in Scripture that Jesus had amazing conversations with people wherever He went – always going into the deeper matters beyond the immediate concerns people brought to Him. Sometimes it can seem as though every conversation Jesus had came to a happy conclusion…but in the reality of the moment, there was a lot of awkwardness in several exchanges.

In the 5th chapter of Mark, we about Jesus walking into the middle of a grieving crowd of people, mourning the death of a young girl, the daughter of a leader in the local synagogue. Jesus sees all the people in mourning, and asks, “Why all this commotion and wailing? The child is not dead but asleep.”

When they heard Him say this, the grieving people there laughed at Him. (You can read more in Mark 5:21-43.)

One moment they are crying, the next moment they are laughing. And they are laughing at the Lord of Life.

Later on in the book of Mark, a man came up to Jesus, fell on his knees asked Him a spiritual question. After a brief exchange we read, “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ He said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’”

“At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.” (Mark 10:17-22)

One moment the man is on his knees asking Jesus for spiritual answers, the next moment he walks away sad. And he is walking away from the Author and Perfecter of our Faith, who loved him.

In John chapter 6, we learn about a time when Jesus was in the synagogue in Capernaum and gave a “hard teaching,” including statements that eating His flesh and drinking His blood will cause us to have “eternal life.”

And from this time, many of His disciples turned back and stopped following Him. (John 6:54-66)

One moment there is a crowd of dedicated followers, the next moment many decide to abandon Him. And they are leaving the One who will soon die for them.

When we talk about God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit, when we talk about our sin and the good news of the Savior who came and died and rose again for us, we will inevitably find ourselves in awkward conversations. We go to church every Sunday and hear these things again and again…it’s second nature to us to know these truths. Yet and more people are unfamiliar with these things – or have so utterly rejected them that they’ve put them out of mind. There will be times when we are almost speaking two different languages – the language of the Kingdom vs. that of our current culture. We need to think through our own assumptions and take the time to spell them out for a people for whom these are new ideas, strange to their ears.

Even then, are we ready to be laughed at? To see people walk away from us?  Sometimes by individuals who came eagerly looking for help and didn’t find the answers they were hoping for, or sometimes people may abandon us in droves.

In John 15:20, we read that Jesus said, “Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’” If people responded to Jesus in this way, we can expect to have similar experiences…

  • We will be misunderstood.
  • There will be beliefs we hold to that do not make sense to those around us.
  • We will be asked to say things that we cannot in good faith agree with, meaning that honestly, in our good practice of our faith in Jesus we cannot agree.
  • There are and will likely always be things that we believe that our culture, our families, friends and even the government will not.

What will we do in these moments when we have the opportunity to speak about Jesus, in an atmosphere where these truths are not likely to be welcomed?

How shall we then live?*

We can chose to laugh along, or say nothing, and leave the impression that we agree with the rest of the crowd. We can choose to be rude, to speak over someone, or offer clichéd, bumper-sticker answers to their deep hurts and questions.

Yet Jesus gave us a different choice through His example. He was able to look at the greatest need in the other person’s life in every conversation, and He spoke to them there. He was always compassionate with those who were hurting, and He was always truthful, even at the risk of losing followers or friends.

Are we ready?  Are we “always ready to give an answer?”**

I’m not sure how well I will be able to answer the questions my friend directed at me a few weeks ago, but I hope and pray that I’ll be able to follow Jesus’ example in answering with love, compassion, clarity and truth.  I’m thankful that He is the Lord of the awkward and the eloquent, and I pray for some understanding to come through this series of posts that might bring hearts closer to His.

 

*I borrow that question from a book by Francis Schaffer entitled, How Should We Then Live: The Rise and Decline of Western Thought and Culture.

The following is a quote about some of what Schaffer shared in that book:

“Schaeffer was also right that the promises of personal peace and affluence were the greatest threats to evangelical faithfulness. He was prophetic in criticizing the Christian church for a legacy of racism and the abuse of economic abundance. He was right when he looked to developments like Roe v. Wade and knew that something seismic had shifted in the culture, and that bigger shocks were yet to come.

He was also asking precisely the right question: How should we then live? That question, which troubled Schaeffer so much in 1976, troubles all of us now. We’re about to find out if Christians in this generation are going to believe and to live authentic biblical Christianity. How will we live now?”

https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/schaeffers-how-should-we-now-then-live-40-years-later/

** “Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble.  Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing.  For,

‘Whoever would love life

and see good days

must keep their tongue from evil

and their lips from deceitful speech.

They must turn from evil and do good;

they must seek peace and pursue it.

For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous

and his ears are attentive to their prayer,

but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’

Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good?  But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.  For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.  For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.”

1 Peter 3:8-18

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dietrich von Hildebrand, Part II

Christians are distinguished by our belief in the supernatural. Christians in America, however, far too often forget that we are also supernational.  In part II of our series on the life and insights of Dietrich von Hildebrand, we will take a closer look into how the awareness of our supranationalism can protect us from falling for the false idol of nationalism.

holocaust-956654_1280Having served as an assistant to a surgeon in Germany during WWI, Dietrich von Hildebrand experienced the political turmoil within his country in the wake of their defeat. While we can only look back on this time in history with a clear view of Hitler as a demagogue who brought turmoil across Europe and the world, those who lived through his rise to office did not have that advantage. Early on, Hitler did not look like the Hitler we now know. But Dietrich quickly saw through his schemes to what would become a destructive course of action by this man, and became a vocal opponent of Hitlerism. As many people, even Christians, missed these early signs and eventually allowed Hitler to rise to power, it is good for us to learn from what Dietrich was able to discern.

During his collegiate studies, he met Philosophy Professor Max Scheler, whose thoughts and life influenced Dietrich in becoming a Christian. Their talks also opened Dietrich’s mind to the underlying flaws in utopian visions of government:

“Through his discussions with Scheler, he now perceived clearly the danger of an earthly messianism and of the shallow (but tempting) belief that state laws can bring about a transformation of this earth and solve all its problems. It became clear to him that this transformation can be accomplished only through the purification of every single individual, a purification that, as he saw more and more clearly as time went by, can be achieved only by grace…”*** pg 75

Although a young believer, Dietrich had a keen mind, and along with his studies in philosophy he was able to separate the grand promises from the depraved idealism which Hitler was promoting in Germany in the early 1920’s.

“From the outset of the Nazi movement, he had perceived not only its insanity (for the racist principles on which Nazism was based were obviously without foundation), but also its insidious malignity. The Nazi movement was thoroughly perverse, and it incorporated an ani-Christian ethos, which he opposed with his every skill. It was not a question of ‘right’ or ‘left.’ It was a question of truth versus error; goodness verses crime and corruption.”*** pg 194

Hitler made many appeals to the struggling country’s desire to restore the glory of Germany. He used impassioned speeches to build up a vision of a racially superior Aryan population which deserved to take over power from the rest of Europe.

“We do not want any other god than Germany itself. It is essential to have fanatical faith and hope and love in and for Germany.”  (As quoted in A History of National Socialism, Konrad Heiden, A. A. Knopf [1935] p. 100)

“I use emotion for the many and reserve reason for the few.”  Adolf Hitler (https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/adolf_hitler.html)

Yet von Hildebrand saw that the solicitation of racism and of nationalism among Christians made no sense:

“Since his conversion, Dietrich had found it difficult to understand how people who have been privileged to receive the plenitude of revealed truth could be so tepid, so impressed by ‘public opinion,’ so infected by nationalism. To be a Catholic was, to his mind, to live in a continual state of gratitude for the unmerited gifts of faith, the sacraments, and the guidance of Holy Church. To be a Catholic meant to see ‘temporal events in the light of eternity.’ To be a Catholic meant to keep in mind a hierarchy of values – never to allow earthly concerns to overshadow the faith.

How could one be a nationalist when the Church was so gloriously supranationalist? Dietrich himself felt much closer to a pious and faithful Italian or Frenchman than to a German whose religious views were either crippled or non-existent.

Dietrich often gave expression to this grief, the intensity of which was to increase during the 1920’s. Discovering how many otherwise good people had been infected by totalitarian views (which they did not recognize as such), he decided to write a new work in order to shed light on the Catholic view of the relationship between the individual and the community. It was to develop into an important work, one on which Siegfried Hamburger collaborated closely – Metaphysics of Community. This book offered Germany an antidote to the poison spreading throughout the country, namely, the glorification of the state and the metaphysical denigration of the individual.”*** pg 226-7

Shortly after the publication of this book, Dietrich had the opportunity to speak at a conference. The title of his talk was, “Individual and Community.”

“It proved convincingly that any attempt to create community at the expense of the individual person was not only radically erroneous but would lead necessarily to a complete misunderstanding of the very nature of community.” It pointed to the horror of both anti-personalism and totalitarianism and to the incompatibility of these ideologies with Roman Catholicism. It unmasked errors rampant in certain Hegelian formulation that placed the state above the individual, and forcefully argued that the opposite is true. Not only does the individual – rather than the community – deserve to be called a ‘substance,’ in the fullest sense of the term, but only he has an immortal soul destined to an eternal union with God, whereas all human communities will one day disappear with the end of the world. On the other hand, Dietrich emphasized the dignity and value of a true community, thereby also condemning liberal individualism.”*** pg 228-9

totalitarian:

of or relating to a system of government that is centralized and dictatorial and requires complete subservience to the state.*****

Just this past week, Dr. Mark Yarhouse, Professor of Psychology at Regent University posted on his Facebook page the following quote from the Epistle to Diognetus (written sometime between 130 A.D. and late 2nd c.), which contains a description of some of the earliest Christians:

“Christians are not distinguished from the rest of humanity by country, language, or custom. For nowhere do they live in cities of their own, nor do they speak some unusual dialect, nor do they practice an eccentric lifestyle….While they live in both Greek and barbarian cities, as each one’s lot was cast, and follow the local customs in dress and food and other aspects of life, at the same time they demonstrate the remarkable and admittedly unusual character of their own citizenship.

They live in their own countries, but only as aliens; they participate in everything as citizens, and endure everything as foreigners. Every foreign country is their fatherland, and every fatherland is foreign. They marry like everyone else, and have children, but they do not expose their offspring. They share their food but not their wives. They are ‘in the flesh,’ but do not live ‘according to the flesh.’ They live on earth, but their citizenship is in heaven. They obey the established laws; indeed in their private lives they transcend the laws.” (Chapter 5)

Nationalism puts false confines around who we are as followers of Christ. The Lord operates across all boundaries to reach into the lives of individuals – He respects no boarders. He is a supranational God. When we become Christians, we become inhabitants of a new Kingdom, and are expatriates from the very land on which we stand. We bring the “admittedly unusual character” of our own citizenship with us wherever we go.

John Mark Yeats, in his article “A Question of (Alt) Right and Wrong,” puts it this way in regards to racial divisions:

“But this concept is often missed by many in America. The Gospel destroys our broken and sinful concepts of race! Jesus’ victory on the cross ended the hostility between Jew/Greek, male/female, black/white/Hispanic/Asian. It doesn’t erase our ethnic heritage or unique attributes – this is not an ‘I don’t see race’ proclamation. Instead, it is a new vision that despite these differences, we are placed into a new family where we become one because of Christ.

Can you imagine the powerful image of a room full of people from every nation, every socio-economic bracket and every generation crying out to God? This is when we begin to defy expectations since there is no other reason for all of us to gather save for the shared hope we have in Christ! The early church recognized this reality and even referred to themselves as the ‘third race.’ They still came from places of difference, but willingly abandoned those cultural markers to embrace an identity in Christ Alone!”****

Alice von Hildebrand points out in her biography of Dietrich that, “Von Hildebrand always made a sharp distinction between ‘patriotism’ (a legitimate love for one’s country) and ‘nationalism’ (an illegitimate feeling – an expression of a person’s inflated ego.)”*** note on pg 241 He saw that the answer was not to disparage Germany, but to protect it from the abhorrent madness Hitler was rapidly bringing with his rise to power:

“[Dietrich and his new friend Klaus Dohrn]…saw that it [Nazi ideology] was waging war on what was best and noblest in Germany. Hitler was the country’s deadliest enemy. To love Germany and hate Hitlerism were two facets of the same thing. Both men agreed that a true German patriot had to do everything in his power to oppose this evil and liberate his country.”*** pg 251-2

Indeed, there is a place for patriotism, but it is a conception which thrives only when brought under the reign and authority of our eternal King and when we measure our country by the standard of His Kingdom. Without care, the fondness one has for their homeland can become misplaced worship. Tucked away in the conclusion to C.S. Lewis’ sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” is a reminder of the temporary nature of all countries:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest and most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree, helping each other to one or other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, and civilization — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals that we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, and no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner — no mere tolerance or indulgence, which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbor he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat —the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory” – First given at Oxford University Church of St. Mary the Virgin, June 8, 1941 (Emphasis mine.)

No earthly nation will achieve eternal redemption, and no civilization will surpass the Kingdom. Being a citizen of a good society will not save us, but the salvation found when we put our faith in Jesus will bring each of us into a transcendent Godly society that will never end.

***Alice von Hildebrand, The Soul of a Lion (page references in the text above)

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Dietrich Von Hildebrand – Part I

This is the first of a three-part series on the life of Dietrich von Hildebrand.  I wanted to post this in conjunction with the new administration, in hopes that there may be some insights for Christians to gain from his life during these days.

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My ancestry is German, and over the years I’ve avoided looking further into my family’s history due to the ugliness of Nazism in that country. However, after reading about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Eric Metaxas’ wonderful Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy, I’ve bucked up my courage to read more about Germany and the cultural riches it has shared with the world.

To that end, at the beginning of this year on a trip my husband and I took to camp and kayak, I brought along the biography of another Dietrich – Dietrich von Hildebrand*. In The Soul of a Lion, written by his widow, Alice von Hildebrand, I was captivated by the insightful look at this man and the time in which he lived.

“Born [on Oct. 12, 1889] and raised in Florence, in the Kingdom of Italy, Hildebrand grew up in a German household, the son of sculptor Adolf von Hildebrand and Irene Schäuffelen, who lived in a former Minim friary. He received his early education from private tutors. Although raised in a home without religion, Hildebrand developed a deep belief in Jesus at a very young age.*

The composer Richard Strauss** visited his parents day before he was born. Throughout his youth, Dietrich was surrounded by beauty and great artists from around Europe:

“Nothing tasteless, let alone vulgar or ugly, was permitted to enter San Francesco [the family home.] Fashion magazines were forbidden. Only classical music resounded through its halls. Adolf Hildbrand was a passionate player of chamber music; his wife and daughters sang and played the piano or the violin. …as Adolf’s reputation [as a sculptor], the great artists and thinkers of the day began flocking to San Francesco.”*** pg 30-31

Poets, politicians, theologians, novelists, and artists such as Herman Levi, Conrad Fiedler, Felix Mottl, Britain’s Prime Minister William Gladstone, Henry James, Franz Liszt, Isolde Kurz, Rudolf Otto, Hugo von Hofmannstahl, Rainer Maria Rilke, Hippolyte Jean Giradoux, Richard Wagner and his wife, Cosima, all were guests in their home. *** pg 31

With this unique upbringing, Dietrich was able to give an articulate perspective on beauty, a subject which interested him throughout his life:

“It was no wonder that the first public lecture Dietrich gave, at the age of seventeen, was on aesthetics, and that he was still writing about the subject in his eighties, when he composed two large volumes on this topic. In this work, von Hildebrand distinguishes sharply between luxury and beauty – a confusion so widespread in our society. In San Francesco…beauty and authentic culture reigned supreme.”*** pg 34

I’ve purchased a copy of Dietrich’s work Aesthetics, and I’m looking forward to reading it. Here is a quote from the forward of Volume I of that book:

“Dietrich von Hildebrand understood the centrality of beauty not merely to art but to philosophy, theology, and ethics. In his ambitious and comprehensive Aesthetics, now translated into English for the first time, Hildebrand rehabilitates the concept of beauty as an objective rather and purely subjective phenomenon. His systematic account renews the Classical and Christian vision of beauty as a reliable mode of perception that leads humanity toward the true, the good, and ultimately the divine. There is no more important issue in our culture–sacred or secular–than the restoration of beauty. And there is no better place to start this urgent enterprise than Dietrich von Hildebrand’s Aesthetics.” ~Dana Gioia, From the Foreword

In my travels, I’ve been blessed to come across many beautiful sights, and have stayed in some stunning places.  I’m intrigued by the distinction between luxury and beauty – as I’ve often found the simplest of things to be far more comforting than gaudy excess.  A tent nestled below a rocky cliff and open to an alpine lake can be more magnificent than a palace.

Von Hildebrand studied philosophy at University of Munich and earned his doctorate at the University of Göttingen. In 1914, he became a Christian in the Catholic Church, and eventually worked as an assistant professor of Philosophy at the University of Munich.

“Dietrich knew full well that this passion for the supernatural could jeopardize his philosophical career. Even in Catholic Bavaria, it was neither scholarly nor ‘professional’ to hint at the reality of the supernatural on ‘sacred’ university grounds….He firmly decided not to conform to secularist norms….He certainly intended to teach philosophy and not theology, but it was to be a philosophy open to a higher reality, not a philosophy systematically cut off from it. He knew that faith not only did not contradict reason but transcended it. It also shed light on ‘sensitive’ domains of human reason obscured by sin.”*** pg 140

In Part II, we will learn more about how von Hildebrand’s faith helped him to expose the evil falsehoods of Nazism.

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dietrich_von_Hildebrand

**https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Strauss

***Alice von Hildebrand, The Soul of a Lion (page references in the text above)