Defending the Faith: December 2003 Archives

Through a Glass, Darkly


World magazine reports that the State of New York has rewritten its building codes. Henceforth, all new residential structures must have electricity, running water, and windows that measure at least 5.7' square. Plans for new residential structures must be submitted for state approval, the approval of city or county planning authorities is not sufficient to allow anyone to build a new house.

You may be wondering why I think this new law worthy of attention on a Catholic blog. Does this have theological or religious implications for the Christian population of this country? It turns out that it does.

You see in Chautauqua, N.Y., there is a sizable population of Old Order Amish. Old Order Amish (OOA) are hard core Amish, no modern new fangled inventions for them. Houses are built out of wood, using hand tools. They don't use electricity, although running water is allowed, so long as it is through a gravity-fed system and supplies cold water only.(I told you they were hard-core.) They don't use zippers; they use hooks and eyes to fasten their clothes. Electricity, telephones, etc are also foreign to the OOA, they use kerosene lamps for light. Even the use of other kinds of oil is not permitted. Oh, and windows in their houses are 5.0' square, no more no less. Any deviation from these standards is considered by the Amish to be a matter of religious principle. The World article quotes the Amish Bishop for the Chautauqua area, Mose Byler, "If you break a tradition, where's the tradition. You aren't a faithful member."

It turns out the state authorities are willing to compromise on the electricity and plumbing, not on window size. You see, the state has recognized that, after generations of children growing up eating fast food, Americans are, shall we say, increasingly diametrically challenged. The old building code allowed windows 4.0' square. However, the building folks fear that most Americans would have trouble fitting through windows of this size in cases of fire or other emergency. The local fire departments have assured state building officials that, in this case, there is nothing to worry about. Fire departments respond to calls on 911, the Amish don't have telephones, much less 911, and by the time the fire fighters get wind of a fire on a remote Amish farm, the building has burned down. There is no need to worry about the size of the windows, since their wooden houses burn so fast, when fire fighters arrive there are no walls to hold the windows up. In fact, generally by the time fire departments get a call and respond, the industrious Amish have cleared away the debris and rebuilt the house, The firemen are perfectly welcome to come in through the front door. (That last is conjecture on my part.) Also, as reported by World, the Amish live 19th century life-styles, they shun such places as McDonalds and thus have no problem fitting through their 5.0' windows, even two at a time.

But the State of New York is adamant. Windows must be 5.7' square, no ifs ands or buts, religious principle be damned. There is the problem. At what point do laws such as building codes trump the Constitutional principle of the free exercise of religion? As the World writer points out, at what point can state or local authorities demand that the Amish must have electricity in their houses, or use cars instead of buggies? And, at what point can state authorities decide that Christians no longer have the right to celebrate Christmas, or Easter, or go to Mass on Sunday, since these things create too much congestion on city streets, thus increase the chance for accidents. What if Christians are denied the right to meet in small groups in their homes for Bible study, because of the congestion on residential streets? There comes a point at which we should recognize that there are many possible ways our right to practice religion and worship as we please can be denied, and we are no longer living in a society that is friendly to our Christian faith. The OOA are seeing this first-hand, through a glass, darkly.


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I have refrained from blogging for a while for a couple of reasons. One, to coin a Yogi Berraism, I haven't had much to say and didn't know how to say it. Actually, a post Eric Johnson did a day or so ago reminded me why I hadn't been posting and, at the same time got me in the mood to start again.

Eric commented that he was ceasing regular visits to Mark Shea's blog because of Mark's testiness with those who disagree with him on Iraq. I haven't visited Mark's blog in a while and don't know if the charges are true or not. But the reason I left off blogging for a while was that I felt I was becoming less than charitable and that it would be better to let the mood pass than keep on posting in an uncharitable manner. This is a difficult thing to do since, being so right about so many things it's hard to see how anyone could possible disagree with anything I said or wrote. In any case, I needed to get a grip.

As it happens, I am one of the one's who would likely arouse Mark's ire, I firmly believe that the invasion of Iraq was the right thing to do. I believe this is so because Iraq under Saddam was actively aiding Taliban and numerous assorted other terrorists, avowed enemies of the United States who are determined to bring America down. I think we have a right and a duty, in a time of war, to attack our enemies and I believe that arguments about weapons of mass destruction, etc are irrelevant. I think this is a valid position under the so-called "just war" theory and is, I think, the gist of Eric’s position.

On another note, there was a (nearly illiterate) comment posted over at Two Sleepy Mommies by Susie Q. that was quite interesting. I found it interesting in that it shows what has happened today in terms of Scriptural literacy, in fact, literacy in general. The comment by Susie Q makes some rather far out statements about Christianity that betray no hint of real thought, much less a concern for facts. Rather, this post is an example of the typical attitude promoted about religious faith that is abroad in our society. I guess I am more concerned about this because none of the comments in response offer real answers to Susie Q's protests about religious faith. So, without further ado . . .

The first thing SQ seems to be saying that Jesus was a 1st century con artist and that he duped people. She says "back then anyone could have come to town and said 'I am the son of god (sic)' and people would have believed him." The fact is, the Gospels are quite clear that "people", even, perhaps especially, those closest to him, the disciples, hardly understood what he was teaching, did not blindly accept what he was claiming to be, and protested His plans when He revealed them. When Jesus taught that, in order to have life people would have to "eat my flesh and drink my blood", not only did people not blindly accept it, many quit following him. After his crucifixion, his disciples thought that the work He had started was finished, they had no expectation of His Resurrection occurring, and were deeply discouraged, and afraid of being arrested themselves. The picture we have in the Bible is not of a people swept away by a con; rather it is one of a failure of Jesus life and ministry, ended by the death given a common criminal, only the fact of the Resurrection made a difference. Hardly the picture a group of people working a con would want published abroad.

SQ also goes on to say, basically, that whatever is true for you is true. "Nobody's right, noone (sic) is wrong." I might ask: if I choose to adopt a religion, have a "sudden enlightenment", that I can attain complete spiritual maturity and a full and rich life experience by jumping off the Empire State Building, and that no harm can possibly come to me as a result, is that true? What if I decide 2 + 2 = 6? Is that true? And what happens to me if I choose to live my life in this way? Perhaps no harm will be done, as long as I choose to do nothing but be a blogger for the rest of my life. But what if I choose to be an aeronautical engineer? Would you like to fly on a plane I designed? This idea that whatever is true for you may not be true for me is one of the most pernicious, empty headed, "tolerant" ideas that our society has come up with. Its nonsense and no one who stops to think about it for even a minute could possibly believe they actually live this way.

SQ finally states "there is solid proof that moses (sic) used magic to spread the waters of the great sea (sic) to free the slaves?" Was "moses" present at Lincoln's side when he signed the Emancipation Proclamation? Or did he spread the waters with margarine? In any case, is this "solid proof" offered by someone who was there? Or did they test the waters of the "great sea" to determine that on such and such a date they had been magically "spread"? For that matter, which waters did they test?

Many folks today think they can make any statement they want, so long as it makes them feel good. There is no concern for truth, nor even any acceptance of the reality of truth. The problem is this leads to a life that is much less than the one God intended each one of us to live. It reduces us to the level of idiots and makes us subject to any con game that comes along, as amply demonstrated by Susie Q. But religion is not just some “feel good” new age experience. It has little to do with feelings and much to do with choice. In order to make good choices for our lives, we need to make those choices in accordance with reality. In order to do that, we must have some understanding of what the reality of our world really is, we must know the Truth.

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This page is a archive of entries in the Defending the Faith category from December 2003.

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