Sunday, May 31, 2015

We're Not Worthy, We're Not Worthy!



Despite the title of this post and the image above, this is not a post about Wayne or Garth, but rather one that continues the discussion begun in last Monday’s post on Avengers: Age of Ultron.

As I mentioned in that post and in other posts on Christianity & culture, one of my goals with Cruciform is to occasionally offer examples of engaging culture by thinking deeply about the presumptions, messages and questions-posed by the music, movies and other cultural artifacts we encounter. This is what I call playing “movie critic” (as opposed to “movie maker,” i.e. cultural engagement by creating new culture).

In last week's post I looked at some of the more subtle philosophies presented in Avengers. In this post, I’d like to look at one of the more humorous plot points in this blockbuster and its implications…


****(Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t seen the film and don’t like having your surprises spoiled, stop reading this post now!)****


One of central characters in the movie is Thor, currently portrayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) by actor Chris Hemsworth. Both in Marvel Comics and in the MCU, the character Thor is “based on the Norse mythological deity of the same name, is the Asgardian god of thunder and possesses the enchanted hammer Mjolnir.”

In the 2011 film Thor -- in which we are introduced to Thor as portrayed in the MCU -- Thor is stripped of his godly power by his father Odin because of his arrogance. Not only that, but he is additionally exiled to earth along with his hammer Mjolnir, which is now only able to be wielded by the worthy (in Marvel comics, the inscription "Whosoever holds this hammer, if he be worthy, shall possess the power of Thor” is inscribed on the side of Mjolnir). In the course of the film, through an act of self-sacrifice for the sake of others Thor does indeed become worthy, and at a critical moment he regains his godly powers and is once again able to wield Mjolnir.

The inability of anyone unworthy to wield the hammer thus becomes a recurring theme throughout the Thor and Avenger films. In the early stages of Avengers: Age of Ultron, one of the more humorous scenes finds each of the other Avengers attempting -- without success -- to pick up the hammer, with a smirking Thor looking on, indicating that they are apparently unworthy. (At one point, the smirk disappears when Captain America manages to budge Mjolnir ever so slightly.) And then late in the film, all of the Avengers -- including Thor -- are shocked to see one of the new characters in the film (The Vision) nonchalantly carrying Mjolnir, indicating that he is in fact worthy to wield the mighty hammer.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="655"] Thor's smirk disappears as Captain America budges Mjolnir.[/caption]


What struck me about this plot point and what I’d like to explore in this post is the notion of worthiness as it is implicitly understood in Ultron and in the other films of the MCU.

I’m struck by the MCU’s notion of worthiness because it’s a concept which is is many ways outmoded in our culture. In our society today, the idea that I might be morally unworthy to do something is incomprehensible and even offensive. Ours is a culture dominated by what Mary Ann Glendon of Harvard Law School calls “rights talk”: “It’s my right to do X,” “Who are you to deny me the right to Y,” etc. It’s as though we have a moral right to virtually everything. Not only that, but we are similarly repulsed by the idea that when it comes to someone’s morality, someone’s character, that there is any “better,” any worthy or unworthy.

And so here comes Thor, with his British accent (aristocracy, social hierarchy, etc.) and his judgmental hammer.

And yet… we do not disagree, we are not offended, we do not take umbrage at the fact that not Iron Man, not Hawkeye, not War Machine, not even Captain America can lift Mjolnir. Why? Because at a fundamental level, we recognize the fallacy of our culture’s exaggerated egalitarianism, of the claim that we are all morally the same. In short, we recognize that some are more virtuous than others. Or to make it more personal… I, Chris, recognize that there are people who are better than me, not just athletically or intellectually, but morally better than me. My culture can tell me all it wants that I’m just as good as anyone else, but deep in my bones I know that that’s not true, I know that there are men and women who live lives of greater virtue than me.

And here’s a final note: in the end, the only characters who are able to wield Mjolnir are a Norse god and a character who, when asked his name, replies “I am… ‘I AM…,’” the name by which the God of Israel reveals Himself to Moses in the Burning Bush in Exodus 3:14 (“Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you’”).

In the Marvel Cinematic Universe, then, we find an idea which is both deeply Christian and deeply subversive of a dominant cultural narrative.

And we accept it.

What do you think? Why is it that we struggle in real-life with the idea that some are more or less worthy than others?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Simplicity of a Child



Back in 2002 then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (elected Pope Benedict XVI in 2005) published his three book-length interview, God and the World, his second such work with the German journalist Peter Seewald.

Despite the fact that the book is thirteen years old and that Ratzinger/Benedict is now living out the remainder of his life essentially out of the public eye, the interview remains a powerful text, worthy of consideration and reflection. In this post, I’d like to highlight one excerpt that relates to recent posts here at Cruciform.

Seewald asks the Cardinal about Jesus' enthusiastic love for children, and quotes Matthew 11:25: "I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes." Ratzinger comments thusly:
Yes, here again is the mysterious pattern of the way God acts: the whole magnitude of it is more easily grasped by simple people than by those who, with a thousand distinctions and diverse intellectual baggage, ferret out each little bit on its own and are no longer capable of being overwhelmed by the magnitude of the whole.

No rejection of intellectuals, or of detailed knowledge of Scripture, is intended here, but a warning not to lose our inward simplicity, to keep the meaning of the whole in view, and to allow oneself to be impressed, to be ready to accept the unexpected.

It's no secret that for intellectuals this is a great temptation. When we look back on the history of the ideologies of the past century, we can see that simple people have often judged more soundly than intellectuals. The latter always want to make more distinctions, to find out more about this and that--and thereby they lose their overall view. [emphasis added; pp. 243-244]

Ratzinger is right on here. For those of us whose way of living and grasping the faith is perhaps more intellectual, the temptation to over-intellectualize the faith is indeed great. We must always seek to have that childlike simplicity, that awe and wonder at God's work of creation and redemption. We must be on guard against the temptation to "experiment on God," to reduce Him to a scientific project or hypothesis which we are seeking to validate. We must remember that we are the creation, and He is the Creator.

As the Cardinal notes, Jesus is not condemning intellectuals or an intellectual approach to Him per se, but rather He is calling us to retain that wonder, that simplicity, which so characterizes the child's view of the world around him.

How do you maintain the simplicity and wonder of a child in your own faith life?

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cultural Case Study: Avengers: Age of Ultron

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="269"] Theatrical release poster[/caption]

Two things up front: first, this is going to be a messy post. Second, I’m hoping that a good discussion in the comments will enhance the post and perhaps even make the entire thing  -- post and comments together -- somewhat less messy.

Let’s begin.

As stated in recent posts and as implied in the subtitle of this blog (“Exploring the Intersection of Christianity and Culture”), one of my central purposes for Cruciform is to consider how we can engage culture in two ways: by evaluating the culture in which we find ourselves, and by creating new culture. Or to use a metaphor: to be a “movie critic” or a “movie maker”.

In this post I’d like to engage in the first form of cultural engagement (“movie critic”) in a more literal sense by looking at the last Marvel Studio’s blockbuster movie Avengers: Age of Ultron.

If you haven’t yet seen Avengers but are planning to, you’d better stop reading now, as this post will require revealing some of the plot details of the movie. If you haven’t seen it -- or don’t mind reading spoilers beforehand and want to have a better idea of what I’m talking about -- you can find a plot summary of the movie at its Wikipedia entry.

Now… how do we play “movie critic”?

First, the quotation marks around “movie critic” are a reminder that the sort of cultural engagement I’m after here isn’t about attempting to be a movie critic in the Siskel & Ebert sense; I’m not a trained movie critic, nor do I play one on tv. When it comes to formal movie criticism, there are plenty of great options out there (my favorite is Steven Greydanus, because he’s both a movie critic and a “movie critic”; you can find his review of Avengers here).

The sort of “criticism” that I’m after here doesn’t require having taking a course in film studies, let alone cinematography… I’m talking about looking more deeply at a piece of culture (a cultural artifact)... at what it’s telling us, both deliberately and accidentally… at what its creator presumes and assumes about our world… at the questions it wants us to ask… at what is true, good & beautiful about it, as well as what is wrong, evil & ugly about it. Rest assured, every cultural artifact -- every movie, every song, every painting, every piece of writing -- does all of these things, well or poorly, and regardless of whether or not its creator intends it.

This sort of criticism, then, requires “only” that we think deeply about the artifact in question (in this case, the second Avengers movie). I put “only” in quotes because while this sort of thought isn’t complicated in principle, it takes practice to perfect, and hence time as well. But it doesn’t require any specialized knowledge about movie making, painting or poetry… it only requires reflection and thought.

One of my favorite “movie critics” in this sense is Fr. Robert Barron, a priest of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and rector of the seminary for the Archdiocese (a seminary rector is the priest appointed by the bishop of that diocese to run the seminary on his behalf). Fr. Barron is a terrific theologian who has been writing great books for many years, but he first popped onto the radar of many Catholics several years ago when he started posting videos on YouTube in which he’d offer his thoughts on popular movies and books along the lines I’ve sketched here… you can find those videos on his YouTube channel here or collected in written form in his recent book, Seeds of the Word, and you can find his “movie critic” take on Avengers here.

Now that I’ve explained what it means to be a “movie critic”, let’s test it out by looking a bit more closely at this summer blockbuster. But note: I’m only going to introduce this here… I’m hoping that we can play “movie critic” together in the comments. So, let’s dip our feet in...

One of the things that struck me about the movie the amount of “God talk”, as Greydanus describes it, and the implicit Catholic references. This isn’t shocking, given that director Joss Whedon has been noted for raising spiritual questions, for Catholic allusions, and for subtle advances of his atheism in his previous works. But it did surprise me because similar references and themes were mostly absent from the first Avengers movie, also directed by Whedon.

So what do we make of that? Fr. Barron is fairly critical, seeing in the movie a promotion of a decidedly anti-biblical view of life, one more in line with the thought of the 19th century german atheistic philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche.

Nietzsche is famous for -- among other things -- his assertion that “God is dead”. Popularized in the 1960’s -- decades after Nietzsche’s death -- for Nietzsche the slogan had far more significance than merely a defiant assertion of atheism; he knew that without God, nothing has meaning or value, and hence he was far more consistent than the “New Atheists” of our day. And Fr. Barron is on solid ground for seeing Nietzschean undertones in the film, given that in the movie Ultron himself utters Nietzsche’s other famous line: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

But one might argue that the film itself is not actually promoting Nietzsche’s philosophy, but merely portraying it. After all, as Fr. Barron notes in the final paragraph of his analysis, we see clearly in Avengers that the Nietzschean approach of Ultron -- and perhaps even of our heroes -- doesn’t actually work, but it only makes things worse. Ultron himself -- the villian of the film, in case that wasn’t clear -- was the creation of Tony Stark (aka Iron Man), who sought to take into his own hands the protection of the planet. Stark sought -- to quote him from the movie, alluding to Neville Chamberlain’s famous line -- to secure “peace in our time”. And yet Stark’s Nietzschean overreach -- trying to achieve by sheer force of will something which we simply cannot achieve on our own -- almost resulted in the very opposite: the destruction of humanity. So one might say that Avengers is in fact anti-Nietzschean at its heart.

This strikes me as typical of highly effective storytellers like Whedon: while he himself is an atheist and that atheism does make its way into his stories, those stories -- because they are in many ways so well crafted -- end up making points that are contrary to his atheism. That is, despite himself, Whedon’s movies include themes opposed to his own principles. (I find the same thing to be true about Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, but that’s for another time.)

Again, those are just a few thoughts that come to mind as I try to play “movie critic” with Avengers: Age of Ultron. You'll note that I haven't yet rendered any judgments about the message of the movie... I don't want to tip my hand at this point. So...

What about you? What do you see as the message, premises and assumptions present in Avengers: Age of Ultron?

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Taste for Beauty


A few weeks ago I came across a fascinating post by Fr. Dwight Longenecker entitled “Why You Need Poetry”.

Now, I have to confess: I’m not into poetry. And that’s not for lack of trying… I was exposed to it in school, and many an article like Fr. Dwight’s has prompted me to try to get into it.

But so far, no luck.

And yet, I’ll keep trying, for reasons like those spelled out by Father in his post. For I know that there’s a “muscle” in my spirit that is in danger of atrophying: it’s my aesthetic sense, my ability to delight in things, to recognize not only the truth or goodness of things, but their beauty as well, my ability to be in awe of a piece of beautiful music, of a compelling story, of… a poem.

There are all sorts of reasons why this sense is one that I cannot let atrophy any further, why it’s important that I foster my aesthetic sensibility, my taste for beauty, and in future posts I expect to detail and explain those reasons.

For for now, I’ll mention two: first, as I’ve mentioned previously, I want to be more discriminating, more critical in how I consume what our culture offers us, and to do so requires that I strengthen that taste for beauty, that I develop a more discerning palate, if you will.

And second: God delights in my delight. He delights when I am awed by beauty, whether it be the beauty of His creation or the beauty created by His creatures.

And that fact -- that God delights in my delight -- is itself something that I am in awe of.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Sin is Stupid (But Maybe Not in the Way You Think It Is)


Something I've realized over the last several years is that people who are not very familiar with the Christian (specifically Catholic) tradition on sin -- and this includes both Catholics and other Christians -- tend to associate belief in sin with backward, repressive, irrational thinking. In other words, to seriously call something "sinful" implies that you are irrational and backward, that you are restricting yourself from achieving happiness by submitting to an apparently arbitrary and irrational moral code.

What is somewhat ironic about this is that in the classic Catholic teaching, sin itself is what is irrational. Note the definition of sin as found in paragraph 1849 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."

Sin is defined as first being an offense against -- what? -- reason. According to the Catechism, a sinful act is an act against right reason, i.e. it is an irrational act. This same idea was taught by St. Thomas Aquinas in the 13th century; Thomas wrote in his Summa Theologiae that -- among other things -- sin is "contrary to reason" (I-II, Q. 71, A. 6). This understanding of sin is aptly explained by the 20th century german philosopher Joseph Pieper in his book, The Concept of Sin. Pieper also shows how -- again, according to long-standing Catholic thought -- a sinful act goes against our nature. In other words, to commit a sin is to in some way deny or prevent the fulfillment of what it is to be human.

So, contrary to widespread intuitions today, to believe in sin is not to be irrational, but in fact to commit sin is irrational. This furthermore means that one can discuss the sinful character of particular actions in the context of public policy discussions, because this sinful character can also be considered the irrational character of such actions. I'm not advocating using the word "sin" in this sort of format -- precisely because of the common misunderstanding of its meaning -- but rather I am arguing against a tendency to throw out arguments because they discuss acts in terms of sin "instead of" reason. In fact -- as I have shown above -- sins are by definition irrational, and this feature allows us to make arguments against such acts that can't be dismissed by categorizing them as "arguments from sin".

How might this understanding of sin change how you discuss this topic with others?

Monday, May 18, 2015


Catholics and many other Christians don’t ask why enough.


This might seem to some to be obviously false, given that plenty of people question Church teaching. But I’m not talking about questioning Church teaching in the sense of doubting it; yes, Catholics who disagree with Church teaching (i.e. dissenters) do that aplenty, but what they don’t do is ask “Why?” with sufficient depth, with the goal of truly seeking to understand what the Church teaches on topic X and why she teaches that. In the case of most dissenters I’ve encountered, their “why?” is unfortunately something more like “Well, that’s silly, I don’t believe that,” without any substantial engagement with the Church’s teaching, without any grappling with the inner rationale of the doctrine.

For all of us, there are two ways ask “why?”. One looks like this:

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="232"] Auguste Rodin, The Thinker, 1904[/caption]


The other looks like this:

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="240"] "Whyyyyy?!?!"[/caption]

And all of us are called to ask it in the first sense.

Remember the greatest commandment: love God with your whole heart, mind and soul. As our everyday experience of love indicates, you can’t love what you don’t know, and you can’t grow deeper in love without growing deeper in knowledge. We are called to grow deeper in knowledge of Church teaching not merely so that we have a greater intellectual grasp of our Catholic beliefs — although that is certainly essential — but so that we can grow in our love for God, so that we can grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Catholic doctrine isn’t mere abstract theological mental gymnastics… it matters to my life, to our life, to the life of each and every human being. There is no doubt that there is great intellectual depth to Church teaching, but we cannot forget that those teachings have a real impact — or ought to have a real impact — on our existence.

The evangelization efforts of many Catholics today are focused on demonstrating the truth and rationality of Catholic teaching, and rightly so. But we cannot stop at a demonstration of the truth of Catholicism… we need to show its relevance as well. I’m not saying — as some do — that we need to make it relevant… it already is relevant. Just as we are called not to make doctrine true but to reveal its truth, so too are we called not to make Christianity relevant but to reveal its relevance. There are all sorts of truths which have little or no bearing on my life: the atomic weight of iridium, for example, matters little to my day-to-day existence.

The truths of Christianity, however, are far different. Despite the fact that Church teaching can seem abstract and overly-intellectual, the reality is that these truths do speak to our daily existence, if we allow them to.

We need to be encouraging ourselves and our fellow Catholics and other Christians to ask “Why?” even more, not less. The more we know, the more we can love.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Yes, a Personal Relationship

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="309"] Divine Mercy image[/caption]

“The Christian faith is not only a matter of believing that certain things are true, but is above all a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.” As I’ve said often when giving presentations on discipleship, this quote doesn’t come from Billy Graham, but from Benedict XVI, Joseph Ratzinger, the brilliant German theologian not given to flights of rhetorical fancy.

While this sort of language is foreign to many Catholics, as this quote illustrates, it’s not foreign to our popes; similar statements from Benedict and both his predecessor and successor could be multiplied. One more from Benedict will suffice for this post:

“Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction” (God is Love, 1).

As this Easter Season draws to a close, may we grow closer to the Risen One who lives in our midst: Jesus of Nazareth, alive and present in the midst of the community of His disciples. May He open our eyes that we might see Him and embrace Him.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Scandals and Sanctity

The difficulties and scandals that we face in the Church today are real, but not new: unfortunately, even when it comes to sin, it seems that there is nothing new under the sun.

And yet, the solution is the same: sanctity.

Back in 2002, in the midst of the uproar over the priestly sex abuse scandal in the United States, now-deceased Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete told journalist Michael Sean Winters this:
If, in addition to all the terrible things we have learned, if tomorrow it was revealed that the pope had a harem, that all the cardinals had made money on Enron stock and were involved in Internet porno, then the situation of the Church today would be similar to the situation of the Church in the late twelfth century ... when Francis of Assisi first kissed a leper.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="468"] Saint Francis and the Leper, Santuario di San Francesco, Greccio, Italy[/caption]


Not only does this quote give some perspective to how bad things have been at various points in the Church's history (and how things today are far from the worst), it points to the solution: saints. Commenting on Msgr. Albacete’s words at the time, Fr. Richard Neuhaus in turn said this: "In short, the Church will only be renewed by saints, meaning sinners -- bishops, priests, and all the faithful -- responding to the universal call to holiness."

Don't just Be Happy. Be Holy.

Why Not?

Monday, May 11, 2015

Critical Cultural Consumption

One of the things I struggle with is Critical Cultural Consumption: how to “consume” things that the culture offers me (movies, music, tv, books, etc.) but in a thoughtful, intentional way (i.e. critical in the best sense) in which I take the good, true & beautiful while leaving the bad, false & ugly.

I alluded to this struggle in my last post when I referred to two of the ways that we as Christians can engage the culture: by evaluating existing culture and by creating new culture, or, to use the image I proposed at the end of the post, by being a “movie critic” or a “movie maker”. As I mentioned there, being a “movie critic” entails that “sifting” process of separating the wheat from the chaff, the good from the bad, the beautiful from the ugly, the true from the false when we engage or even simply “consume” things in our culture.

I know that leaving the bad, false & ugly is necessary… consuming everything the culture offers me without any thought or discernment is like eating without paying any attention to the nutritional value of the food.

[caption id="" align="alignnone" width="245"] Theatrical Poster[/caption]


And while the monastic or Amish approach -- leaving the world behind almost completely and consuming almost nothing from the wider culture whatsoever -- might work for some, I think most of us are called to be what’s in the title of the previous post: in the world, but not of the world. That’s where the level -- or better, manner -- of engagement becomes a bit trickier to get right.

As I said, this is a balance I can struggle to get right… this will be one of the recurring Culture topics here at Cruciform. But in the meantime, I’d love to hear any thoughts that any of you might have: how do you maintain that balance in your own life?

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

In the World But Not of the World


The mission which Jesus has given to all members of the Church -- and to the lay faithful in a particular way -- entails being in the world but not of the world (cf. John 17:15-16). As lay Christians, we are called to engage the culture in which we live -- or more accurately, the variety of cultures in which we live -- in order to transform them.

This means that we, as Christians, must determine how to best and most effectively engage the culture in which we live, how to make a difference in the lives of those around us, in the places not only where we live but where we work, shop and recreate. We are called, in other words, to be engaged with the world without being worldly, in order to make our culture(s) more Christ-like.

This topic is a central theme of Cruciform, as the subtitle of the site indicates: exploring the intersection of Christianity and culture. In this post I’d like to introduce this topic and note some of its key points.

Bringing transformation to our culture can often be a challenge, for the reason found in the title of this post: “in the world but not of the world”. As Christians -- and in a particular way as lay Christians -- we are called to live in, to act in, to be in the world, but not to be of the world, and getting that distinction right is crucial if we are to most effectively engage the culture in which we live, if we are to make a difference, if we are to make an impact rather than just be impacted on.

There are really two different issues at play here: the first is the task of engaging the culture in which we find ourselves by evaluating it: analyzing it, sifting it, determining its principles and presuppositions, embracing its truth, goodness and beauty while discarding its error, evil and ugliness, etc.; the second is the task of engaging that culture by creating new culture, culture which more deeply reflects reality, culture which more fully embodies truth, goodness and beauty, culture which makes us look both out and within in new ways.

Think of the first task as the movie critic and the second as the movie maker: they are obviously different roles, but they are both important and essential. And in some way, we are all called to do both. How? That’s the question that we’re going to examine and answer in future posts.

What has been your experience of being a “movie critic” or “movie maker”?

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Honey vs. Vinegar

One of my occasional hobbyhorses is the tone of civil discourse in general and online discourse in particular; at least when it comes to persuasion, I'm a firm believer in honey over vinegar: the first attracts more flies than the second.


But I'm also a convert to this approach, and a work-in-progress at that... after over 20 years of internet arguing, I've simply been more successful when I've bitten my tongue and at least tried to rein in my desire to unload on the abortion-rights advocate/atheist/fundamentalist Baptist/liberal Catholic with whom I'm talking.

The problem for me is simply that I love to argue, as family and high school classmates can tell you. But the point in evangelization isn't to win arguments but to win souls, and in my experience, the latter is no guarantee of the former.

Let me give an example.

Back in February of 2003 I discovered a forerunner of the New Atheists: The Raving Atheist. I alluded indirectly to him in a couple of posts, and as a result, found myself the recipient of his Godidiot of the Week award. I engaged him in his comment boxes, doing my best to appeal to his sense of reason and avoid biting back overly much.

A couple days later, he wrote this post:
A Valentine’s Day Olive Branch

February 14, 2003 | No Comments

Via Veritas, this sensitive, intelligent and excellent new pro-life blog, After Abortion. It appears, so far, to be firmly grounded in the only true sources of morality — human emotion and experience. Yes, there’ll be a fair amount of God-talk, but I’ll overlook it in the service of a good cause.

See what you get when you’re nice to me?

After this, there was little interaction with Raving... our conversations didn't seem to go anywhere, and he seemed to most enjoy getting those who disagreed with him riled up. I didn't want to let that happen, so our interactions came to an end.

Six years ago, I was mildly surprised (but not shocked) to discover that The Raving Atheist had converted, and was now The Raving Theist. I commented on one of the newer posts, congratulated him and asked if I'd have to give my previous award back. :-)

In an email response, Raving wrote the following:
Dear Chris,

Thanks for your kind and thoughtful comment on my blog.

I thought of you a couple of months ago when I left this comment on the personal blog of my friend Carla, the team leader for Operation Outcry Wisconsin and a moderator at Jill Stanek's blog.  As you can see from the last line of that comment, and as I have told countless friends, my debate with you in early 2003 is what led to my pro-life advocacy.   Feeling uneasy about the way I had treated you, I went to you blog, found a link to After Abortion and posted it on my blog as an "olive branch" (the link to that post is here; the link to it from Carla's blog broke after my recent changeover to WordPress).  That link led to a friendship with Emily Peterson, which led to my involvement with Ashli's McCall's pro-life work after I met her in the comments at AA.   I never would have found that blog if you had not directed my attention to it; and I would never have linked to it had you not been so civil. [emphasis added]

You can keep the Godidiot award, but I'll give you something better:  credit for so many e-mails like the two below received recently at Beyond Morning Sickness.   They're a small sampling of the 1,500 we've received over the past eighteen months.

You've saved quite a few lives.

Yours in Christ,

The Raving Theist

Now, I'm not prepared to agree with Raving's claim that I've saved lives... a few steps too removed for me to feel I can take any credit for that. But I do want to note what I bolded: at least in this instance, turning the other internet cheek had an impact, even if I didn't know it back in February of '03.

By virtue of our baptism, we are all missionaries and evangelists, and it's incumbent upon us that we employ methods which will bear the most fruit, even if it remains hidden from us.