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)

****http://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/a-question-of-alt-right-and-wrong?utm_content=buffereeeb0&utm_medium=social&utm_source=twitter.com&utm_campaign=buffer

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Keeping Sin in Perspective

This post by Matt Moore was timely in the wake of Kim Burrell’s statements earlier this week. Matt shares his thoughts on feeling that homosexuality was somehow different than any other sin, and how that mindset can undermine the potential for growth in one’s relationship to Jesus:

http://www.moorematt.org/not-an-anomaly/

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

saltimages

The title of this post is a bit misleading – it actually should read more along the lines of “This is why we cannot have meaningful relationships and conversations.”

Earlier this week, singer Kim Burrell in a video, predicted that homosexuality and those “who play with it in God’s house will die in 2017.” She also spoke about “the perverted homosexual spirit” in her sermon. (She has since stated that her comments were taken out of the context of her message, and that she holds no hatred for gays or lesbians.) The comments made in her original video came to the attention of Ellen DeGeneres, who cancelled Kim Burrell’s upcoming scheduled appearance on her show.

And I don’t blame her (DeGeneres) for taking that step.

Once again, someone who is a follower of Christ was found to take homosexuality out of the greater context of Scripture and twist it into a something unrecognizable. Predicting the death of anyone in this or any other year is beyond the pay grade of any disciple of Jesus.

I believe that there are several reasons behind this type of thinking:

  1. Bad teaching.
  2. Resentment
  3. A Lack of Discussion Regarding Sexuality in the Church

Let’s take a closer look at these…

1. Bad Teaching

At this point in the history of the church, there really is no excuse for this. There are more resources available than there have ever been. (You can find a list of some of them under the “Resources” tab of this blog.) For Kim Burrell to have said these things, it seems that she has spent little time in understanding how homosexuality is addressed in Scripture, and how God works in the lives of those who have experienced same-sex attractions, or any other sin for that matter.

Singer and songwriter Keith Green once said, “This generation of Christians is responsible for this generation of souls on the earth!” We have a responsibility to learn about the issues our culture is concerned with today in order to reach the souls of those around us with the Gospel.

2. Resentment

Sometimes it seems as though Christians speak out recklessly in regards to homosexuality in particular because of a resentment of the wider cultural acceptance of those who identify as gay or lesbian. It is as if lashing out with words you would never hear applied to any other sin is done in a terribly misguided effort to take back ground in some way.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on this blog, I’m thankful that people are able to be more open about their same-sex attractions in our culture – I don’t want to go back to where we were. It is good for people to be able to walk down the street without being afraid of getting beat up. It’s good for people to be able to go about their days at work or running errands on eating meals with friends without harassment. It was not a good thing to treat homosexuality as a cultural taboo.

Christians always walk in two worlds – we live here on earth as citizens of another Kingdom. It makes no sense to waste time railing against our status as expatriates. This world is not our home, and we have the privilege of showing those around us what it is like to live a life of freedom and love in Christ. When others see His love in us, they will want to join in the call to know and glorify God.

3. A Lack of Discussion Regarding Sexuality in the Church

“Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:5-6

Kim Burrell lost her opportunity to meet Ellen DeGeneres, to appear on her show, and to have any kind of conversation or build any kind of relationship with her because she chose to pick out homosexuality as a sin deserving some kind of special punishment from God. Her theology was wrong, and it will take some time and effort to ever have that kind of opportunity come her way again (if ever.)

Without discussions about sexuality – whether about homosexuality or heterosexuality – within the church, room is created for bad teaching and resentment to build, instead of wisdom and contentment in Christ. Too often people are afraid to bring up the subject in a Sunday School class or Bible study, and their conversations end up being seasoned with flamethrowers instead of salt.

Salt is known to be one of the basic human tastes. (The others are sweet, bitter, sour and savory.) According to Wikipedia:

“As taste senses both harmful and beneficial things, all basic tastes are classified as either aversive or appetitive, depending upon the effect the things they sense have on our bodies. Sweetness helps to identify energy-rich foods, while bitterness serves as a warning sign of poisons.

According to Lindemann, both salt and sour taste mechanisms detect, in different ways, the presence of sodium chloride (salt) in the mouth, however, acids are also detected and perceived as sour.

The detection of salt is important to many organisms, but specifically mammals, as it serves a critical role in ion and water homeostasis in the body. Because of this, salt elicits a pleasant taste in most humans.

Sour and salt tastes can be pleasant in small quantities, but in larger quantities become more and more unpleasant to taste.”*

I’ve made the mistake of adding too much salt in recipes, and the results were inedible. When we fail to use wisdom and discernment in our conversations, we make relationships with people who don’t know Jesus unpalatable. (Now, of course, we know that some people may find the message of the Gospel hard to digest – but that is not what is happening in this example with Kim Burrell.) We need to spend time learning within our fellowship groups how to address questions surrounding sexuality in a Biblically sound and compassionate way. I believe that Kim’s words would have been different if she had spoken to other mature Christians first.

Here are some suggestions:

Invest some time in learning more about what the Lord has to say about our sexuality in general, as well as about homosexuality. (Again some excellent resources are listed on the Resources tab of this blog.)

Spend some time listening to those who have experienced same-sex attractions. Ask questions just to gain insight into the perspective of other people.

Find other Christians who are interested in learning more about how to reach out to people around them who are involved in the LGBT community, and talk about your concerns and questions. Invite someone to come speak to your small group on the topic, and ask your church staff for more teaching to be made available so you can ask your questions within the Body of Christ.

There are ways to speak about sexuality without alienating people – and those conversations are best when they are earned. We need to be involved in serving everyone around us, and being ready to give thoughtful (not bland), graceful answers when opportunities do arise. Here is one example that I thought was very good – you may recall that there was an article raising a controversy about Chip and Joanna Gaines late last year, where it was noted that they attend a church in which the pastor has addressed homosexuality as a sin. Just this week, Chip has posted the following response on his blog…it is well worth taking your time to read:

https://magnoliamarket.com/chips-new-years-revelation/

Instead of decrying the state of being attacked and misunderstood, Chip Gaines has asked us all to raise the level of the conversation. He asks us to be considerate of one another and give one another breathing room. It is possible to lovingly disagree and work alongside each other in a community. Let us look for opportunities to do that in this new year.

 

 

*https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Taste#Basic_tastes

For Parents

What do you say when one of your kids “comes out” to you as gay or lesbian?

Here are some thoughtful things to consider:

12 Vital Things for Parents to Say to Their Gay Child

Trusting Love

Here is yet another great post by Jean C. Lloyd, PhD shared on Public Discourse.

My Same-Sex Attraction and My Brother’s Disease: On Suffering and Serenity

Another Short But Deep Read

Over the past few months I’ve come across some excellent resources that I wish would have been available when I was growing up.  The quality of writing has been on the rise, matching up to the great need of helping the church to grow into it’s calling to walk alongside those who experience same-sex attraction.  I am excited to see how the Lord will use these things to help followers of Christ in the days to come.

Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: How and Why Christians Should Have Gay Friends

by Brad Hambrick

I came across a recommendation for this book recently and added it to my Kindle. I was able to read it in it’s entirety during a long car ride, highlighting passages on almost every page.

The inscription on the first page was striking:

This book is dedicated to those who have felt that their experience of same-sex attraction has left them isolated within or from the Body of Christ.

May this book help the church better embody the gospel we proclaim and be the family of God.

~ Brad Hambrick

I’ve never read a book that was so directly dedicated to me, or to people like me (outside of Scripture, of course!) It took me aback for a moment – to think that the author even noticed that experiencing this temptation can be an isolating experience, often leaving a person feeling detached from the conversations going on in a church group, or even cut off from the gospel – the good news of salvation and redemption itself. To see that the goal of this book was to help end and mend this isolation through the maturation of the church was touching.

As I then read through the recommendations, I came across a familiar name – John Freeman, President of Harvest USA:

Finally, a practical book that helps us engage people as Jesus would! Brad Hambrick captures the heart of what is means to invite into dialogue and relationship people who you might otherwise see as so unlike you that you may not know how to begin a substantive conversation. Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk teaches the lost art of how to talk with people, draw them out, get to know their story and, therefore, know their heart…all of which makes fertile soil for the gospel to take root and flourish!

That is a fine summary of what this book can help one accomplish. I’ve probably mentioned this on this blog before, but the number one question I receive from people after hearing my story is, “How can I talk to my gay / lesbian friend / family member without offending or hurting them in some way?” People really want to show that they care, and they want to love others well, which in and of itself is a world away from the mainstream of the culture I grew up in.   So there is already a great need for a book like this, and Brad Hambrick does indeed do a wonderful job of giving practical help.

It is a short work – only 100 pages, divided into six chapters which build on one another, so it’s worth reading from beginning to end. The last chapter was the most awkwardly worded, which the author acknowledged as it was a compressed fictional conversation, but you could catch the application of what was shared in the previous five chapters enough to justify reading it through.

Do Ask, Do Tell, Let’s Talk: How and Why Christians Should Have Gay Friends would be an excellent follow up to Messy Grace by Caleb Kaltenbach* for a small group wanting to learn more about bridging the divide between those who experience same-sex attraction and the church at large.

*See the Resources tab for more information.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Truths

Matt Moore writes an encouraging post on his blog, sharing 10 truths that those struggling with same-sex attraction would do well to keep in mind:

http://www.moorematt.org/10-empowering-truths-for-the-same-sex-attracted-christian/

These truths actually apply to anyone struggling with chronic temptations, so feel free to pass his post along!