Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Catalysts of charity…

A catalyst is a means to accelerating, or enhancing, an enzymatic reaction. Catalysts reduce the amount of energy needed to complete the reaction. Reactions can and do happen without catalysts, but they make chemical life easier.

I think human interactions, especially those guided by the fundamental Christian commitment to charity towards all people in all situations, can benefit from certain catalysts as well. The following are phrases that have accrued from my experience as "lubricants of grace" when dealing with others. If these are not the phrases that leave your mouth most often, that probably accounts for a great deal of heartache.

"I'm sorry."

"I don't know."

"I was wrong."

"I wasn't listening."

"What do you think?"

"Could you please repeat that?"

"I did it."

"It's mine."


"Thank you."

"You're welcome."

"Good job."

"You go first."

"How can I help?"

Just as free-floating catalysts will not produce a reaction, so these phrases on their own, divorced from a deeper commitment to charity, will not naturally make for a better, godlier life. The word sarcasm should come to mind. And because of sarcasm, so much for physicalism. Since the same phonemes can be said in exactly the same way, rippling through the same physical matter in the same way, in the same atomic milieu, that is, and yet strike various people differently, then that striking effect is a non-physical fact about the atomic physical situation. "Nice job", atomically, is the same; but nice job spoken by Steve to Rick in Sally's mind, versus in naive Wendy's mind, is an entirely different utterance, on a semantic level. Physical reality can never exhaustively fulfill the formal meaning of most sentences, let alone mathematical operations, which strikes a heavy semiotic blow against the alleged sufficiency of physical reality. Even 'I love you' can be offered as bitter fruit, if hatred and injustice are its root bed. How sweet, really, was the paternalistic affection of Southern slaveowners for their family's slaves?

So, while charity and Christlikeness are, for Christians, the first priority, the above phrases, and certain others I have missed––I'm sorry, I don't know––can reduce the amount of "spiritual energy" needed to affect reactions of love amongst our neighbors and enemies.

Perhaps you can suggest other such "spirit-saving" phrases.

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