“Imagine All the People”

Someone’s ‘Tweet’ about sin and how someone else responded showed up in my Twitter feed Sunday. I noticed an unusually goofy item in my Google news feed that evening.

Instead of expressing outrage and (self?)-righteous indignation over either or both, I made a few notes and went on with my day.

That’s no great virtue on my part. I’m no fan of emotional outbursts. I like them even less when I’m the one melting down. Avoiding that sort of eruption is much easier now. I talked about that yesterday. (January 7, 2018)

But I haven’t talked about what I believe, how it affects what I write, and where I get most of my news. Not recently. Not much at all, about news and me.

Loathsome Insects, Fire, Hell, and Me

Jonathan Edwards inspired centuries of preachers and righteous writers with his ‘Angry God’ sermon.

“…every unconverted Man properly belongs to Hell….”
“…The God that holds you over the Pit of Hell, much as one holds a Spider, or some loathsome Insect, over the Fire, abhors you….”
“…you will be wholly lost and thrown away of God….”
(“Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” pp. 6, 9, 15, 18; Jonathan Edwards (July 8, 1741) (via Digital Commons@University of Nebraska-Lincoln))

It was effective rhetoric in 1741. It still is for a few folks.

Not me. I’m pretty sure others have pretty much had it with J. Edwards wannabes. My emotional response to tirades like that is closer to what Twain said. (March 5, 2017)

“I don’t like to commit myself about heaven and hell – you see, I have friends in both places.

“When I think of the number of disagreeable people that I know who have gone to a better world, I am sure hell won’t be so bad at all.”
(Mark Twain, p.377 of Evan Esar, “20,000 quips & quotes” (1968))

“[H]eaven for climate, Hell for society.”
(Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), Speech to the Acorn Society (1901); via Wikiquote.org)

“I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then I’ll go to Hell.”
(Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), via Bartlett’s Quotations, 16th ed.)

My emotional response is one thing. It’s not necessarily what I think.

I think sin is a bad idea and I shouldn’t do it, but I do not think God has anger management issues.

I’ve occasionally felt like God was using me for target practice to blow off steam.

That’s partly because no human could fully understand God, even under ideal conditions. (March 5, 2017)

We don’t live in ideal circumstances. Haven’t since the first of us made a really bad decision. It’s not that God made a defective creature, or that we’re now rotten to the core. We’re still basically good, just wounded. (July 23, 2017; April 23, 2017; November 6, 2016)

One reason that I don’t rant about ‘those sinners over there’ is that I’m one of them. That needs explaining.

Sin! Sinners! Oh! Those Wretched Sinners!

Sin is what happens when I don’t love God and my neighbor, or don’t see everyone as my neighbor. Everyone. No exceptions. (Matthew 5:4344, 22:3640, Mark 12:2831; Luke 10:2537; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1706, 1776, 1825, 18491851, 1955)

It’s an offense against reason, truth and God. (Catechism, 18491850)

I don’t do what I know is good for me, and avoid what’s bad. Not consistently.

Whenever I decide to do something that hurts me or someone else, I offend reason and truth; and God. That’s a sin, so I’m a sinner. (Catechism, 18491850)

That’s one reason I’m not highly motivated to lambast wretched sinners. I’ve got a slew of psychological and psychiatric problems already, and don’t want more. Then there are theological and relational concerns, and my long-term goals, that’s another topic. Topics.

I was going somewhere with this. Let’s see. Twitter, news, Jonathan Edwards: got it!

“The Drunkard’s Progress,” Fabulous Fifties, and 2018

Nathaniel Currier’s 1846 “The Drunkard’s Progress” was popular. At least for folks who sympathized with America’s temperance movement. In the 1840s.

I’ve talked about that, Carrie Nation, “Reefer Madness,” and getting a grip before. (July 10, 2016)

What was effective social commentary — or propaganda, and that’s yet another topic — in the 1840s doesn’t, I think, have the same impact in the early 21st century.

Wailing and wringing my hands in anguish over the decline and fall of the America that was is an option. A daft one, I think.

We didn’t have a perfect society in the 1840s. We didn’t in the 1950s, and we don’t now.

We have, however, tried to correct some faults. And succeeded, in some cases. Not perfectly, but we’re still working on the issues.

I talk about that a lot. (October 30, 2017; September 25, 2016)

That brings me to a well-intentioned ‘Tweet.’

Personal Sin

I thought the Tweet’s basic idea made sense: that sin isn’t a strictly private matter.

I also think folks who thoroughly understand Catholic beliefs would understand. But I sympathize, a bit, with the person who disagreed.

Sin is a personal thing. But what I do will affect others. So sin is a social matter, too. (Catechism, 18461869, particularly 18681869)

That’s a colossal over-simplification, and the bit from the Catechism isn’t much more than an introduction to the ideas. It’s all I’ll say about it today, though.

Make that ‘almost all.’

One of my frustratingly-durable sins is gluttony. (June 18, 2017)

I could say that it only affects me, but that would mean ignoring how the resulting health issues affect my family. Among other things.


John Lennon’s “Imagine” has been a highlight of New York City’s New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square:

“…Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace….”
John Lennon, “Imagine” (1971)
(posted oldielyrics.com)

I wasn’t a Catholic in 1971, and wouldn’t be for decades.

But I was a Christian and took my faith seriously. I still am, and I still do.

At the time I thought the “and no religion too” idea was wrong.

But I sympathized a bit with folks who felt that way. Particularly since I thought imagining “all the people living life in peace” made sense. I still do.

That didn’t change when I became a Catholic.

“…The answer to the fear which darkens human existence at the end of the twentieth century is the common effort to build the civilization of love, founded on the universal values of peace, solidarity, justice, and liberty….”
(“To the United Nations Organization,”1 Pope St. John Paul II (October 5, 1995))

I don’t, thankfully, run into quite as much of the malignant virtue1 permeating ‘Christian’ radio in my youth, or the ‘be like me or be damned’ attitude.

Some Christians still act as if they thought God agreed with them: instead of trying to agree with God. I hope they mean well, for their sake if nothing else. I strongly suspect they’re not so much numerous as noisy.

The ‘sin isn’t private’ thing on Twitter wasn’t malignant, but my guess is that the person who responded had gone through experiences not unlike mine. He (maybe she) said, in effect, ‘what you believe means nothing to me.’

And that is about as good a reason as any too not expound on the wretched sinfulness of something I think is a bad idea. That goes quintuple for ranting against someone whose life isn’t just like mine.

Even if I imagined that what I wrote would be read exclusively by folks with my ethnic, social, and cultural background — Holy Willie isn’t a good role model. (February 12, 2017; December 4, 2016)

I live in a world where too many folks have endured malignant virtue, sometimes worse than what I experienced. That sort of thing leaves an enduring mark.

That’s why I think saying why I believe what I do makes sense.

Just as important, I try to say it in a way that will make sense to folks who, like me, are living in 2018. Not in some rose-colored version of an earlier era.

And Now, the News

I check my Google news feed regularly, at least once a day. I ran into that ‘hit and run’ entry yesterday.

I tell myself that I’m keeping an eye out for something to write about, and seeing what nonsense may show up in my other feeds. That’s partly true, but I figure part of it’s simple curiosity.

That ‘Hit-and-run driver’ item showed up in Google news > U.S. > More Articles. The link got me to an item in The Sacramento Bee. The picture of President Trump may have come from an unrelated video on the newspaper’s website. I don’t know.

I’ve noticed that a great many ‘bad news’ items lead with a snapshot of the president: the sort tabloid photographers were getting by sneaking up on celebrities and yelling. Sometimes America’s chief executive is more-or-less involved in the issue.

If you’re bracing yourself for a diatribe against, or panegyric for, the current President: relax. I am reasonably certain that no president is or has been a Nazi, fascist, white supremacist, or the antichrist. (November 8, 2016)

I’d think English-language news media’s continuing meltdown over the current officeholder was funny.

If so many folks weren’t apparently taking what the news says seriously.

Me? I think an American president affects America’s politics and economics. And has some influence over world affairs. But I don’t think the president is solely responsible for climate change, or humanity’s last hope for survival.

Which reminds me, about ‘making America great again:’ I wasn’t aware that America ever stopped being great.

What my country has been a great example of keeps shifting, and we’re far from perfect. But on the whole I think we’re okay.

I take news, particularly political news, seriously: as a reflection of the mores of a particular subset of my civilization’s population. Also as a useful signal that something’s happening that I can check into.

I started recognizing emotional triggers used to grab and hold attention in the 1970s. A couple decades in marketing gave me opportunities to learn more.

That’s why I took my wife’s advice: stopped watching television news entirely, and do little more than scan headlines from most news outlets. Like I said, they’re a useful tool. But not the sort of thing I think is trustworthy.

I am pretty sure folks who write news — traditional, alternative, and satirical — believe what they write, or think their satire is based on reality. I’m inclined to think the satirists live a bit closer to the real world than many, and that’s yet again another topic.

I lean heavily on science news from BBC, since I like their style. And greatly appreciate their apparent willingness to check a few facts before publishing.

I do my own research, anyway. It’s fun, and I don’t assume BBC News never makes mistakes. Besides, they’ve got a distinct viewpoint that’s not mine.


Even if I wasn’t incurably curious, I’d find ways to stay more-or-less-current with (real) issues.

Being a good citizen means, among other things, balancing individual and community needs and respecting others. (Catechism, 19051912)

It means thinking — not supporting a party or candidate just because if feels good or ‘we’ve always done it.’ Family or cultural traditions sometimes should change. (October 1, 2016; September 25, 2016; October 1, 2016; July 24, 2016)

This is another election year, so I expect the usual hysteria will intensify.

I could join in the frenzy, I’m an very emotional man. But I don’t think that’s be a good idea. And that’s — you guessed it, another topic.

I think these posts are related. Your experience may vary:

1 I ran into “malignant virtue” in a Sayers mystery. It’s the earliest instance of the phrase I’ve found:

“There are times, Charles, when even the unimaginative decency of my brother and the malignant virtue of his wife appear to me admirable.”
(Lord Peter Wimsey, in “Murder Must Advertise,” Dorothy L. Sayers (1933))

About Brian H. Gill

I'm a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I'm only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.
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3 Responses to “Imagine All the People”

  1. Serious yet chill and even inspiring talk about religion and politics…Something I’ve been looking for very much, indeed! Thank you very much, good sir, and God give you more strength and more worthwhile days! \(^o^)

    • Thank you! And amen: God’s help I always need.

      You might — or might not — be interested in some of the blogs and aggregator sites on my blogroll. They’re generally a bit more conventional than mine, but they’re generally calm.

      Chill is a newish term to me – I understand it means something like what “cool” did in my day – – – calm, non-hysterical, not apt to go along with a crowd. That’s how I like being. It’s nice to know I succeeded here.

      You’ll find that I mostly talk about science (Friday) and ‘being Catholic’ (Sunday). Sometimes there’s a political angle, sometimes not.

Thanks for taking time to comment!