A Wrong (but very common) Notion

Take two sets of actions and deeds, in the first set we have “things which are moral” in the second “things which are legal”. There may be overlap. Observing the fights about various things in our (mostly urban/rural cultural divide for which party serves as proxy) like marriage, divorce, abortion and so on .. many if not most people confuse the two and figure what overlap there is (most killing for example) is intentional and what is moral and what is legal in a “good” society would be a very close if not exact match. This. Is. Wrong. Very wrong. It is an unconstitutional and un-American idea.

Here’s the thing. The purpose of the law is to structure our society to promote life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness (and happiness != pleasure but the meaning Aristotle and the like intended).  This structuring of law as constructed in our country leaves morality out of the metaphysical framework underpinning it. “Life, liberty and the pursuit …” is not the 10 commandments. It isn’t a call to act rightly. It isn’t a prescription of how to act or think. Our law is not encoded so that we will be righteous by what ever meta-ethic you or I live by. But free, alive, and able to pursue excellence.

This isn’t precisely true however. You notice our founders made particular exceptions for freedom of religion and the law subsequently has made a point to encourage religious practice. Many, especially of the academic left and press think religion and it’s place in our society is a relic and it’s time has passed. It might be worth noting a really good start in this discussion which shouldn’t be ignored is first to read through this discussion. Then argue from there.

This realization that law and morals (personal ethics) are independent has consequences. For example,

  1. For most, what is moral should take precedence. If you must do something because it is right, you must do it even if it is illegal.
  2. Take abortion as an example. If you think abortion is immoral, don’t do it and don’t advise those around you to do it. If you want to argue that it should be illegal those arguments shouldn’t center on how it is immoral but how it doesn’t exactly give a chance at, erm, life, liberty and pursuits to those who are among the weakest and smallest in our midst (there’s a Rawlsian argument to be made there). You could point out that excluding people from personhood based on particulars of their existence and not the ontology of their being has a very poor history of human rights vis a vis the 20th century. There may be good arguments on the other side of this question, but they are not known to me so I won’t attempt that. Similar “life &c” argument can be made with respect to most, if not all, of those things over with the rural/urban cultural divide quarrels.
  3. Moral instruction for children, an essential responsibility of parents, is quintessential. This is the most important thing a parent can impart to their child. Why? Because the civil environment (law) does not do that. But you can’t be happy (see link above) without ethics. After all ethics can be succinctly coined as a study in what is good (and doing that). Without know what excellence is, how can you be happy?

Ethics to Ponder

Monday Mr Burgess-Jackson posted a short ethics question:

You are a doctor. You have five patients, each of whom is about to die due to a failing organ of some kind. You have another patient who is healthy.

The only way that you can save the lives of the first five patients is to transplant five of this young man’s organs (against his will) into the bodies of the other five patients. If you do this, the young man will die, but the other five patients will live.

Is it appropriate for you to perform this transplant in order to save five of your patients?

I’d like to propose a variant, because I don’t think the doctor (“do no harm”) should ever consider this as given.

Consider the ethics of both patient and doctor.  Let’s change the patient in question (the one) slightly, the one patient is elderly and has been diagnosed (and checked by two independent doctors) with early onset Alzheimer’s which is and will progress. The patient does have very healthy organs. He has been tissue typed, matched, and have contacted, corresponded, befriended and dined with the five recipients in question. Then he goes to the doctor and request that the organs be taken to save lives now.

Consider the ethics from both from the point of view of the doctor and patient.

Should the doctor perform the operation? Is it appropriate for the patient to request this operation?  Was the patient’s request appropriate?

The patient is (and doctor) are Christian. Is this suicide or sacrifice? Charity or selfishness.  Dying so that others might live, or just avoiding the degradation and life of your sense of self decaying? Should it go forward in the context of Christian ethics, which opposes euthenasia?

Confused About The Other PoV

Well I’ve come to a point where I’ve been far enough from the abortion debate, which the Philadelphia kerfuffle has brought back to the front burner, that I feel I can’t muster a coherent argument for abortion at all. So, what I’m going to try to do here is mention the two or three points/arguments that I know for that case and see if anyone out there can fill in the gaps or offer argument not mentioned that are stronger. Continue reading →

Continuing Musings on Government and Spirit

Much if not most of the hard divisions between right and left these days goes back to the often mentioned (by me) Habermas/Ratzinger debate. Mr Lieter has tossed a book into the fray, which was discussed in First Things. Mr Lieter questions the practice of government protection/privilege of religion, alas apparently without establishing a clear victory for the Habermas side of the debate previously noted. This continues the prior essay in which I started out in the essay with the idea that thinking personal moral beliefs (which we will abbreviate in the following as EMS for ethical/moral/spiritual which in turn follows Dimitru Staniloae’s book which notes that spiritual = moral/ethical far more closely than in Eastern than Western thought patterns). One of the discoveries, for me, was that my assumption on the start of penning that former essay was that the American assumption with which I was raised, namely that personal EMS notions do not mix with legal/state ones is likely flawed. However, I did not address or question (yet) the fitness of that the separation question (or for a future essay perhaps whether the suspicion that I have that the correctness of this separation is a key aspect of the left/right divide).

So, let’s follow a bit with the idea that the core notion in many if not most of the societal debates we are having right now hinge on the place in public square for personal or communal EMS thought. The two extreme positions in this debate are those which maintain that EMS is required or that it should be completely divorced from the public square, law, and government. There are arguments for both, but what is missed is by the extremists is that alternatives exist. But first, let’s examine the actual not pretended extremes. Far too often both sides are guilty of painting a straw man extreme as the nominal “other” side. But alas, for both sides, more moderate positions exist on both sides at which points the debate should be centering but isn’t. Perhaps because demonizing the opposition is far easier than confronting more reasonable ideas.

So we are going to identify six “positions” in the Habermas/Ratzinger political spectrum. There are two extreme straw man positions, there are two extreme positions which are held by many (not straw men) and there are two moderate positions on each side. Habermas and Ratzinger in their debate argued around the two moderate positions, btw.

The extreme H (Habermas) position is to insist on complete divorce/separation from the ethical/spiritual and government. Those things which are moral or ethical should not be used as reasons in government or law. Examples of this are rampant. Just witness the allergic reaction by some to incidental expressions of religion by government (10 commandment or Christmas displays for example which might occur on state properties). This side would hold that your particular ethical/spiritual/moral beliefs are personal. They shouldn’t be used as arguments or even mentioned in the halls of state (in Babylon after all where particular notions must always give way to abstract or consequential ones, which are all that are left after the ethical/spiritual ones are removed from play). What then is the extreme straw-man H stance, that would be the one where expressions of public EMS beliefs are illegal, where priests get sent to mine minerals in Kolyma in the archipelago. It is a real historical non-fictional existence, just one that nobody reasonable on the H side of the debate is actually advocating, hence it’s a straw man.

That same (dominant) voice would hold that the other extreme is some sort of theocratic backwoods unenlightened, inwards looking space. But this isn’t so. That too is a straw man. Yes in fact there have been mono-religious oppressive states.  So what?  This is the bogey man raised by many arguing against the R case, but again it’s a straw man. What then is the extreme R position that isn’t a straw man? I don’t know. Nobody debating against the R position argues against it, they move directly to the “theocracy” bugbear. Few, if any, in the US argue for anything I’d identify as a extreme R position? Comments or assistance in this regard might help some, I have a weak suggestion below … is that right?

So then, what in fact is the opposite number. Well, read the debate. What is the normal moderate Ratzinger state? It is one where the government realizes that the spiritual/moral/ethical life is *required* for a Democratic state to continue. What then is concluded? Just that therefore the members of that same state should find it natural to foster an environment where that life is encouraged and nurtured so that their society might prosper.

In some countries (very few in number) the religious beliefs of its constituents are predominantly of the same faith. This isn’t the case in Babylon, a community in which people from many nations, many people come together in one society. So the question at hand for those honestly participating in the H/R debate is to consider what these two states look like, for in fact they aren’t as different as one might pretend, the only difference is quite minor.

Both states (the moderate H and R) are by the thesis the argument are democratic. They have similar institutions, the only difference is that the H position holds that independent ethical/moral/spiritual (EMS) institutions are not required to keep the democratic regime functioning and the R position is that they are required. The extreme H position is that the EMS institutions, should be held at arms length, the moderate one that they should be given no advantage and not protected (the extreme straw man H position is that EMS institutions should be held as harmful and perhaps made illegal). The R extreme is that EMS institutions have legal standing and powers, the moderate R position is that that members of the society should realize that these institutions are essential, need to be protected, fostered, and nurtured and as noted, the extreme straw man R side is an actual not pretended theocracy.

So now that we have set the stage, …. the next essay might consider how this might affect our actual debates if cast from a moderate on moderate stances instead of straw man on moderate in either direction.

Category Errors Considered

Note: I started writing this with the notion that the category error alluded to below was a mistake and a sidelight hiding behind the issues being argued. As I continued in writing I have come to believe that the category error is both the primary reason for the arguments and further is a fundamental problem which is well known.

Much wroth, fury, words, and accusations of ignorance, bigotry, and perversion have crossed from both sides in the recent decades long struggle by various factions in the debates about marriage and who might be married rightly. A few observations

  1. Defenders of SSM remark that this sort of marriage is private and affects none outside of the marriage. Yet, if this were so, then why would not civil unions suffice? The logical answers is because this reply is a lie. It does in fact affect others and in this lies a category error to which I alluded in this essay’s title.
  2. To read the papers and hear the debates this is an important issue. Yet, why is that? Why is that more important than other issues. As that famous statistician Bjorn Lomberg  pointed out that getting vitamin supplements to the third world would saves tens if not hundreds of millions of lives (and would be cheaper and more effective than most of the aid we send to the third world), world-wide millions are affected by human trafficking indeed the numbers trafficked within the states is comparable to those affected by SSM … and those affected are mostly well educated affluent couples. Yet what debates are heard? 

How are these issues a sidelight issue and the other a hot button issue? I suspect my  I offer it is because those entrenched against SSM are also committing that same category error. What is the error of category to which I allude? Simply the following, laws and lawmakers are not our spiritual guides. Note, the use of the term “spiritual” is not the normal one, but one which I will continue in this essay and perhaps in further essays. 

So let me digress for a moment. Spiritual? What is that? In the introduction to Dimitru Staniloae’s book (Orthodox Spirituality), it is pointed out that in the EasternChristian doctrine, your spiritual life and its tending is perhaps better translated as your ethical life and its care. Spiritual health and ethical well being are synonyms. 

What is legal or not and what is righteous (in good spirit or a good moral/ethical decision) are independent. This is a founding principle of American jurisprudence. (Or is it?) It certainly is the assumption now. Mr Daschle defended a Senatorial philandering colleague by pointing while he while he was dishonest he didn’t break any laws. The correct reaction to this is that the colleague got his priorities exactly backwards, i.e., it is more important to be ethical than stay on the right side of the law.

Laws are not ethics. Laws and what lawmakers conspire to create has very little to do with ethics and instead its primary purpose is to provide a framework. This framework provides so that peoples may live harmoniously alongside each other in an ordered way.  So that, when conflicts between people arise, there is an orderly way of handling those same conflicts. Personal ethics overrides and sits over the law. For the most part, there is no conflict, most of our choices, our ethical decisions do not lead us toward choices which are illegal. Where they do, it is right, it is correct to choose the ethical over the legal. On the other hand, there are things you may do legally which however are not ethical. Even where there is no conflict, normally ethics binds our actions tighter than the law.

Solzhenitsyn warns that this separation that is part of modern Western democracies (and was part of the former Soviet state) is an error. That itself is an interesting counter point. So it seems likely that this why this debate is important is not what it is about, but sort of the issue is the ground on which it is being made. What is at stake is perhaps not about the particulars of whether certain young dinks (dual income no kids) can have their relationship legalized or not but really what is being debated here and in other forums is whether law should be neutral or be admitted to have spiritual (ethical) content or should it not. Kant (and our founders) explored law devoid of ethics, can a safe lawful republic of demons (not angels) be constructed or not. Perhaps it can. Perhaps it can’t. The question at hand is should it? Recall the Ratzinger/Habermas debate, debating whether a democratic society can be constructed and sustain itself independent of religion, i.e., “does it need things outside itself to sustain itself.” Ratzinger and Solzhenitsyn think not. Bertrand de Jouvenal pointed out in his meta-political science musings about what he termed Babylon (the large multicultural state) envies the unity of the small state. My reading of Solzhenitsyn (and Jouvenal) is that a solution exists. If the larger federal state limit itself to promoting commerce and unity between smaller entities within itself, while foster their ability to form strong local identity, laws and praxis then you could have the best of both worlds. You can find local loyalties and ties and bonds within the framework a larger multicultural state.

Both sides of the cultural debate miss this point. Both sides wish to apply the same laws and sensibilities in artists boroughs of San Francisco, in Amish villages in Ohio, in rural Lutheran Wisconsin, and so on. Why? Why try? It seems wrong to insist that behavioral norms universal.

Locally laws can be tied to spirit. Federally, the are not, but there they run to the Habermas separation of Spirit and law. It seems to me laws about birth, death, marriage are those which the federal level should keep its hands away, to set aside for local regions to coin their own practices, to tie their own view of ethics and spirit what is allowed, to what is righteous in their region.

Instead of insisting that laws be spiritual or devoid of spiritual considerations is wrong. Federal laws laws which bind us all, might be best be light and aim only to promote commerce, unity, and ease frictions. Local laws … let them tangle and wind the ways the local choose. That is, after all, nothing more than freedom.

Marriage: A Short Exposition

Alasadair MacIntyre in his book Whose Justice Whose Rationality demonstrates using ancient political divisions to illustrate how, when meta-ethical differences between groups arise conversation between those groups is difficult. Well, perhaps “difficult” is putting it mildly. We see this today as it unfolds in conversations between those in different sides of the political aisle. Highly paid commenter Boonton on this blog noted recently that the only good arguments concerning SSM are on the pro-SSM side, there are no arguments and only avoidance of the same seen from the right. My response was that the left side of the aisle perceives it this way because they insist on a “small playground”, only debating this issue in the context of their particular meta-ethical context and refusing to step outside. And yes, by analogy, if you assume flat 2-dimensional Euclidean geometry there is no good way to dispute that the the interior angle of a triangle sum to pi. But all geometries are not 2-d Euclidean, in fact the world we live is not. So what follows will be an attempt to bridge that divide, to give a glimpse to the left the basics of the marriage debate as seen from the right. Be warned however, in crossing this bridge there are always hermenuetical difficulties, when speaking across meta-ethical and foundational divisions the same words can be viewed from different context and what is said can easily be misunderstood. That is to say, bear with me … and this gets a little longer than the usual essay … so the rest is below the fold…

Continue reading →

Secular vs Religion and the Public Square

On and off again I refer to the little book published that consists of the debate between Jurgen Habermas (eminent German philosopher) and Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict). The title of this book is Dialectics of Secularization. Mr Habermas opens, sets the stage and gives a brief argument (streching 30 pages of a small format book) … and Cardinal Ratzinger replies in like length. This book is published by Ignatius Press (2006) and is quite inexpensive (and available on Amazon). It was, of course, originally published in German.

The Question:

Does the free, secularized state exist on the basis of normative presuppositions that it itself cannot guarantee? This question expresses a doubt about whetherthe democratic constitutional state can renew from its own resources the normative presuppositions of its existence; it also expresses the assumption that such a state is depenedent on the ethical traditions of a local nature.

Mr Habermas takes the affirmative, and of course Mr Ratzinger the negative. Continue reading →

Standing at the Precipice


I had been enrolled in the local diocesan late-vocations education program … but dropped out for the next cycle because I’ve been a little too busy. Anyhow, the last assignment (which I didn’t go to class to deliver) had as part of the homework an assignment to delivery a short 5 minute homily on Baptism. This is intended to be given to the parents, god-parents/sponsors, family and witnesses  just after a Baptism. Orthodox Christians practice infant Baptism, so this talk is geared in that regard (below the fold). 

So. Are you sweating? Is your heart racing? Are your knees weak? If not, they probably should be. Why, you ask? Well, you’ve just done one of the most  awful, dreadful things that a Christian might do, that is participated in a Baptism of a human. You scoff? Well, let’s take a moment to consider the things we’ve just done. Remember when I said Baptism is awful and dreadful? That means you should be filled with awe and dread. Recall the words of Scripture, “Fear (or awe) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Why is this the case? Well, consider the following notions.

First we’ve taken your precious young baby child and exorcised her. Look out the window (or at least in your minds eye) and notice that in the wide world out there that Satan and his demons have no small influence. That exorcism that we did is akin to walking our baby into to the bears den and kicking that old bear in the teeth, banging on a drum and making a loud clamor.

Secondly right after doing that, as if that wasn’t enough, we’ve gone ahead and Baptized the child with Water and the Spirit, marking her as Christ’s own. So minutes after getting the adversary’s attention we’ve painted a big fat target on her back, marking her out for them as their enemy. Just to make sure they don’t mistake who their opponent might be.

And then finally, as if that wasn’t enough we’ve anointed her with Chrism. Marking her as not just any ordinary run of the mill worshiper of God, but a princess of the Kingdom, anointed into the service of God in a princely way, just as Samuel anointed Saul and David as Kings of the Chosen of God.

And is she ready for that attention? She’s a baby, for heaven’s sake (literally). She’s going to need help. Remember the words of Elijah, who sought the word of God in the tempest and didn’t hear it. He sought it in the roaring inferno and forest fires and didn’t hear it. He looked far and wide in the awesome works of the nature and man and didn’t find it. He found it in a quiet cave, in a very small voice. Look again at that tempest, that fire, and the world. You will find the word of the enemy there.

There’s a wonderful little book, about a priest in the Soviet Gulag, Father Arseny. In that book a vision Fr Arseny had is recounted in which he is granted to see, in each of the people of the camp, that flame within them. In some strong, in others it was weak. This flame he saw was the Spirit of God within burning within those around him. It is our task to nurture this Spirit in everyone around us. You might consider that this task, this nurturing of God in us and our neighbors, is really in essence the only task we have from God to do on this green earth. That spirit of God is a hard thing to nurture in this world. It is however, what we need to concentrate on doing for this little one. So that she can grow up with that flame as a fire raging within to withstand and to live up to the promise made to day marking her as a princess of that Kingdom riding out to oppose that bear we kicked today.

Now, lest you go out thinking that you’ve just made a terrible mistake and you want to run from here (and me) as fast as you possibly can. Remember there are a few things in our favor, chief among them is that Christ is Risen!  (this, btw, is the Paschal declamation. The response is “Indeed He is risen!”)

So. Whaddya think?


What is this Thing Called Sin?

And no, this is meant not bo be a definitive answer for y’all. However, recently the Weekend Fisher has written a short post comparing it to losing face

Recently in a Dogmatic theology class a quote from, if I recall, one of the Cappadoccian fathers had offered that your sin “like” a veil being drawn between you and God. People in the class reacted positively, as if this was interesting and insightful way of stating it. However, this was for me problematic, because my understanding was that sin was basically defined pretty much in that way. So the question might be why is that an interesting observation if it is also basically the definition for sin. A week later, our instructor came back with a definition for sin that she managed to find, which was that sin is “taking your attention away from God.” 

So, for y’all what is your working definition for what is this thing called sin? 

Connecting Wednesday Matins and Catholic Episcopal Scandals

Tonight (Tuesday Night) during Palm/Holy week in the Orthodox tradition the Wednesday morning Matins service is held. Toward the end of this service the Hymn of Cassia (Kassia, Kassiani) is sung. 

Sensing Thy divinity, O Lord, a woman of many sins
takes it upon herself to become a myrrh-bearer,
And in deep mourning brings before Thee fragrant oil
in anticipation of Thy burial; crying:
“Woe to me! For night is unto me, oestrus of lechery,
a dark and moonless eros of sin.
Receive the wellsprings of my tears,
O Thou who gatherest the waters of the oceans into clouds.
Bend to me, to the sorrows of my heart,
O Thou who bendedst down the heavens in Thy ineffable self-emptying.
I will kiss Thine immaculate feet
and dry them with the locks of my hair;
Those very feet whose sound Eve heard at dusk in Paradise
and hid herself in fear.
Who shall reckon the multitude of my sins,
or the abysses of Thy judgment, O Saviour of my soul?
Do not ignore Thy handmaiden,
O Thou whose mercy is endless.”

During the service, elsewhere in the service (in verse) the story of the harlot washing Jesus feet with Myrrh at the Pharisee’s house is interwoven with comparisons with Judas as he prepares his betrayal.

Recently, in the news, more accounts of scandals in the Catholic episcopacy have apparently resurfaced. Those who feel this is an indictment against Christianity and the Church in general forget that the Church is not a collection of good people gathering together to do good works. A better description would be more akin to a hospital for the wounded, who are ministered not by the well, but are tended by other whom are just as wounded. Those who pretend they are well, might not seek a hospital.

Re-read the prayer above. This poem/hymn is the heartfelt plea of a ascetic monastic nun. She was a Saint, but this is the cry of her heart (and not on account her view of someone else’s). Like last night’s gospel reading (the Woe to you Pharisees and Scribes, Hypocrites!) … the protagonist is not some other whom we might look down upon, but us. The distinction (made clearly in the service) is not that she sins “more than us” but that she repents (and we so often do not).

One of the more outrageous conceits found even among Orthodox (who should know better) is to regard those outside of the Church as “more” sinful than those inside. Perhaps we might be more aware of how we fall short of the mark.

Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Of Belief and Reason

Frequent commenter at this site, the Jewish Atheist recently noted that he’d written an essay on his blog. In this post, he coins two categories of belief, which he coins “load bearing” and “cosmetic”. Roughly speaking, to my reading, load bearing beliefs are those you can support via the epistemic methods to which he ascribes (and perhaps assumes either are our should be universal) and cosmetic ones are those which, knowingly or unknowingly, dishonestly hold as the reason for your belief but which under inspection are not really the reason.

Alasdair MacIntyre has a book (actually several) titled Whose Justice Which Rationality, which offers some interesting perspective on this issue. For much of the time, what you might title “cosmetic”, irrational, or “not the real reason” a person holds a belief, what is really going on is that they are working from different premises. Ethical differences cannot often (or even usually) be resolved by logical analysis.  Continue reading →

America’s “Original Sin”

Mr Schraub talks race. Before I get to the claim that slavery is America’s “Original Sin” I’d note that Mr Schraub says that the toxicity of being labeled racist makes “true dialog” about what constitutes racism impossible. ‘Cept that’s not really true. Racism is pretty a pretty simple thing to define. Racism is when one makes decisions or assessments based on race, e.g., voting for Mr Obama on account of his racial makeup. And yes, that makes most “race” activists racist themselves, which on reflection is quite obvious. Those who are conscious and likely to notice race are those more likely to make decisions based purely on that. Racism is felt quite universally to be a bad thing, yet given its prevalence, especially amongst those most vocal about the evils of racism and the neutrality of the definition given, perhaps what Mr Schraub is hinting at is that we need a better discussion of why racism is wrong. If one were to assume that the progressive/left is more racially conscious than the right … and therefore more racist is born up by the data linked last week that highlighted the finding that Black elected officials when elected from a mixed race district were more likely to be Republican than Democrat and those who were Democrat were more often from majority Black districts. In past conversations, Mr Schraub noted that race theorists indeed are aware that their work might serve to heighten and strengthen malign race consciousness that they hope to combat. Yes, but the personal imperatives of personal employment in their chosen field seems to defeat that idea quite handily. 

However, the primary point of this essay is to examine original sin in the context of American history.

St. Augustine of Hippo is perhaps the primary theologian influencing thought regarding Original Sin in the Western strand of Christian theological thought. There are a lot of parallels between that theology and strands of thought about slavery and race in America. Both notions suffer however, from the same sort of mistake. St. Augustine, in summary, taught that Adam’s primordial sin in the garden passes on to all of us. Adam as proto-human committed the sin of disobedience. All men, from birth, share in that guilt. From this viewpoint then, the importance of Penal Substitution and Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross becomes a linchpin of Western soteriology. 

This is however, a quite unnatural way to view justice. If my father steals, I and my children do not share in his guilt. The weight and import (the guilt if you will) of his crime, legal or moral, do not pass to his children. We don’t even consider that in sexual crimes, if a child results, that the child of that act is legally or morally impugned or tainted by that act (well, we don’t justifiably view the child in that way). This is the crux of Augustine’s error.

A better way of viewing Original Sin, which is the prevailing view in the Eastern/non-Augustinian strands of Christian theology, was that we do not inherit guilt or sin from Adam. What we inherit is his exile. Adam, by not being repentant, was cast from the Garden and God’s presence. The consequences of that are estrangement from God and death entering the world. He was exiled. We, as his descendants, share his exile (and to the point, not his guilt). To look at the example from a criminal point of view as was done above, if my parents were exiled as a result of my father’s crime, then I grow up in that place of exile. I inherit the consequence, that is my residence, not the guilt or blame. I and my children are not accountable for this act. From a theological perspective this means in the East, it is the Resurrection which is the dominant soteriological event, not the crucifixion. 

Take this back to the notions about American, race, and slavery. Guilt is, contra-Augustine, not heritable. The social conditions and ethnic consequences do exist. However, nobody living today is accountable for the actions begun in the 16th century by Bartolomé de las Casas and the social mechanisms that unfolded from those social/economic innovations. Perhaps it is the prevalence of St. Augustine’s error found so prevalently that allows those who consider slavery America’s “Original Sin” implies that guilt and things like reparations logically follow. They, alas, don’t. 


Another Just War Theory

In my late-vocations class were were informed that during late antiquity in the Eastern (very Christian influenced) Roman empire there was an operational just war theory. That theory was quite simple and was as follows. 

War is never just. 

Now this is an interesting theory of war to be held by a Empire which was almost continuously at war (mostly for defense) for 800 years or so. This merely points out that the conclusion that war is not just is not equivalent to the claim that war is at times necessary. 

War not being just however, did not mean war was not practice or even should not be practiced. Those engaged in war, because of its inherent injustice, were excluded from Eucharist for a period of five years (if the war was not deemed defensive, in which case it was three years). I think there are some problems with this theory as presented about how the Eastern Roman Empire viewed justice vis a vis war, in that I’m pretty sure that clerical presence was found alongside the army. What was its purpose if these soldiers were all “out of communion” during wartime? 

On Opinion and Quality of Judgement

Recently I was asked my opinion on anthropogenic global warming. In the ensuing discussion, there was criticism of my rejection of “the majority opinion of ‘experts'” as a good or valid method to base my position. Having rejected that, I was asked by what means, if not the majority of experts, would I personal espouse as how to base your belief or understanding of the truth behind a matter which is in contention. In the following, first I lay out a number of different methods that people use to form opinions, next I briefly describe the two methods I try to follow.  Continue reading →

Ms Rice and Our Divided Church

Some ink (some virtual) has been spilled on novelist Ms Rice announcing that she has “left the Church” but not left Christ. Recently I have been reading and studying the five theological orations by St. Gregory the Theologian (also known as St. Gregory of Nazianzus where he was Bishop for a time). These orations (or homilies) in an important sense define what it means to be an orthodox Christian today. In the time just prior to the convening of the 2nd Ecumenical council in Constantinople, the majority of those in the area and expected in attendance were (roughly speaking) Arian in sympathy. St. Gregory just before this council gave in short succession, just outside the city, a series of 5 orations and the matter was settled in the cause of orthodoxy. And for the following 800 or so years, these lectures were the primary pedagogical examples of the art of rhetoric for those studying the art of the rhetor in the Eastern Roman world. An American analogy might be Lincoln’s Gettysburg address, after which the case for the Civil war was arguably settled and subsequently this has been a speech studied by debators and rhetors as a jewel of the art.

What does this have to do with Ms Rice and her disillusionment with the earthly Church? Her situation came to mind when I read this (from the 1st homily of this set, which is Oration #27 in oeuvre of St. Gregory). He wrote (spoke):

Such is the situation: this infection [to much bitter disputation and argument over theological detail] is unchecked and intolerable; “the great mystery” of our faith is in danger becoming a mere social accomplishment. [emphasis mine]

Later in that homily he writes (speaking again against bitter theological quarrels):

But first we must consider: what is this disorder of the tongue that leads us to compete in garrulity? what is this alarming disease, this appetite that can never be sated? Why do we keep our hands bound and out tongues armed?

Do we commend hospitality? Do we admire brotherly love, wifely affection, virginity, feeding the poor, singing psalms, night-long vigils, penitence? Do we mortify the body with fasting? Do we through prayer, take up our abode with God? Do we subordinate the inferior element in us to the better — I mean, the dust to the spirit, as we should if we have returned the right verdict on the alloy of the two which is our nature? Do we make life a meditation of death? Do we establish our mastery over our passions, mindful of the nobility of our second birth? … 

So, what might this have to do with Ms Rice? Well, it might be said that her disappointment with the Church was that it wasn’t good enough as a social accomplishment. It might be offered, in the Church’s defense, that to complain of the failings of others and their tarnished social accomplishments is something like fretting about the log in my brother’s eye. Recall 1st Timothy 1:15. 

The orations can be found in this small paperback: On God and Christ: The Five Theological Orations and Two Letters to Cledonius



Considering Open Communion

Many of the more liberal Protestants churches these days practice an “open communion”, in which they welcome anyone professing to be Christian to share Eucharist with them. Apparently the ECUSA doesn’t even require Baptism for participation in Eucharist. I don’t know what the common practice is at other Evangelical churches, Baptist or the conservative reformed churches might be … but my particular church (Eastern Orthodox) does not practice this. To share Eucharist in the Orthodox church one must be a member in good standing, have confessed recently, and fasted from food and water (on Sunday) since midnight.  In the Didache, Chapter 14 we find (wiki on the Didache is here): 

And coming together on the Lord’s day of the Lord, break bread and give thanks, confessing beforehand your sins so that your sacrifice may be pure. And everyone having a quarrel with his fellow member, do not let [them] gather with you until they have reconciled so that your sacrifice may not be defiled. For this is what was said by the Lord: “In every place and time, offer me a pure sacrifice because I am a great king,” says the Lord, “and my name [is] great among the nations.”

It seems to me this teaching is both based in Scripture and applicable to the notion of open communion. There are in fact non-trivial doctrinal differences between our churches. That we might approach these irenically does not belie the underlying seriousness and importance in working to resolve these differences. However, the word “quarrel” is important. We do not gather together and share communion until we are reconciled so that our sacrifice might not be defiled, not the least of which by our quarrel.  So I’m curious, if your Church practices open communion … why? By what reasoning do you justify that practice? What tradition? 

The New Testament and Dialectical Methods

This last weekend our N.T. class delivered homilies based on New Testament passages. I’m drawing on parts of one of the other student’s homilies for what follows.

And when he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came up to him as he was teaching, and said, “By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?” Jesus answered them, “I also will ask you one question, and if you tell me the answer, then I also will tell you by what authority I do these things.The baptism of John, from where did it come? From heaven or from man?” And they discussed it among themselves, saying, “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ he will say to us, ‘Why then did you not believe him?’ But if we say, ‘From man,’ we are afraid of the crowd, for they all hold that John was a prophet.” So they answered Jesus, “We do not know.” And he said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things. (Matthew 21:23-17)

and take quick read of of the story of Jesus encounter with St. Photina Equal to the Apostles (who is known to the Western traditions as the Samaritan woman at the well) The passage is from John 8,  ESV here

Here’s the point. Look at the structure of the conversation between Jesus and the priests and elders. The elders when asked a question by Jesus when and discussed this among themselves and considered what answer is right or true but instead what would be the implications of their possible answers. Truth was not the consideration, but instead the rhetorical imperatives of trying to win the debate. Contrast with the conversation from John 8. St. Photina does not consider the ramifactions of her conclusions regarding the outcome of the encounter but instead looks only to the correctness of the statements being made.
Consider that comparison in the light of dialectic in the public square and for that matter in your own life, e.g., yourself. 

Sophomoric Homiletics: Tolerance

What follows is the essay from which I drew my homily for the oral portion of the final in our late vocations N.T. class. First the two readings are given (cut/pasted from the ESV … take your own translation as needed). Note that the audience to which I was aiming was the class and not a general congregational talk.

Two readings: John 8:2-11

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

And a second selection Romans 14:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since she gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

When casting about for a topic for this talk, Fr. Andrew suggested that the theme for this months newsletter was tolerance. So when considering tolerance, the above passages seemed relevant. Why? Webster gives this (one of its definitions anyhow … and the one which applies) as “sympathy or indulgence for beliefs or practices differing from or conflicting with one’s own.” It might be noted there is a modern cultural push to redefine tolerance as celebration and not merely sympathy or indulgence regarding practices differing from our own. Tolerance as discussed below does not go so far as to suggest celebration. What then does the above tell us about tolerance? How do they, if they do, connect? (find the rest below the fold)

Continue reading →

Sophmoric Homiletics: Tolerance (pre-draft)

When I asked Father Andrew (the priest of my parish) for suggestions for a homily or short talk on the New Testament he suggested talk on the theme of tolerance, which was a theme for articles in this months parish newsletter. For myself the following came to mind. (John 8)

Early in the morning he came again to the temple. All the people came to him, and he sat down and taught them. The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?”  This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.  And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground.  But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.”

A suggestion at Evangel as well was from Romans 14:

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand.One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since she gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died and lived again, that he might be Lord both of the dead and of the living.

Others suggested Revelations 2, Romans 12: 17-21, and Mark 2:15-17 as well a general reference to Jesus commandment that we love each other.

As is often the case, I before I begin a draft … out comes the dread bullet list. Continue reading →

Bleg: Some N.T. Passsages

One week from Saturday, I’m giving an oral final/homily to a (late vocations) N.T. class that I’m taking. I had a suggestion to do my homily concentrating on the topic of tolerance. Right now I’m thinking of starting (and wrapping up?) with a look at the section in John in which Jesus confronts the crowd and those who would stone the prostitute.

What I’m asking for here is other N.T. verses and sections in which the theme of tolerance is significant.

Thanks much.

Oh Happy Fall … Or Not

St. Augustine once coined the phrase, “Oh, happy fall” regarding the fall from Eden, or at least I believe the phrase originated with him. As the narrative relates Adam and his spouse were truly innocent having no knowledge of good and evil. St. Augustine is pointing out that yes, there were a lot of bad things which resulted in breaking God’s command, we were expelled to a life of hardship and death and so on. Yet we became, after tasting the fruit of that particular tree, truly human. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote that man can be distinguished from the animal because no animal repents (or for that matter feels a need to do so). Without that fruit, no repentance is possible.

Now if God were more clever than I (yes … that’s supposed to be a joke) perhaps He would have arranged His world (or the garden) in the following way. That is to say, there is simple way to arrange it so what He wishes from his world could transpire and yet leave His creatures with free will. Tic-Tac-Toe is a simple game. No matter what choice I give a player, a sufficiently competent person or a computer can run the game to a tie. Similarly the Garden choice could have been set so that no matter what choice Adam made, take of the fruit or not, ran to a conclusion that ultimately ran to the same (or similar) conclusion. In gaming terms, He can arrive a winning solution irrespective of Adam’s (and our) choice(s). To restate the head’s I win tails you lose, it’s eat the fruit you become learn about ethics, don’t eat and you do as well.  Now in the case of the Garden, if you think that an essential aspect of man qua man is that he can make ethical choices and can repent then St. Augustine was wrong. That is to say, Adam’s choice was not necessarily the better one. Perhaps, for example, failing to eat of the fruit then God might have other means of teaching man ethics.

Flipping Theodicy Sans Pangloss

Jim Anderson considers my turning the Theodicy question around. He suggests that this, in essence, means this is the “best of all possible worlds.” Now I suppose that could be a charge put to an omnipotent Good God, that is if this is not a Panglossian utopia … why not? But my claim in flipping theodicy was weaker than that. Let me try to isolate more abstractly (or succinctly) the question I had posed.

  1. God wishes the love of his creatures. Love cannot be coerced his creatures must be free willed.
  2. Following Kass’ arguments in The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis from Genesis 1, creation is (and should therefore be) reasonable, that its workings comprehensible to rational creatures.

So, we have a rationally understandable universe in which creatures within it can do evil things if they choose. The ‘trap’ here for your omnipotent God wanting to prevent evil is the brute force approach is unworkable. That is if somehow an evil person, say SW (Snidely Whiplash), is prevented by deus ex machina or Rube Goldbergian coincidence every time he attempts acts of gratuitous violence they fail that this will make it impossible for a rational person to reject God.

Mr Anderson brings 6 points to bear.

  1. His first point is one of imagination. He cannot imagine a rational universe with free willed actors without evil. He asks if his failure of imagination “imagine a world you can’t imagine” is a problem.
  2. A “rigorously logical attempt will be confounded by the Butterfly Effect” … is an objection I don’t understand.
  3. Point three (that there might be too much gratuitous evil in the world) argues that this is likely not the “best of all possible words”, a point I am not defending.
  4. Point four reflects on point 3.
  5. His fifth point is incomplete, considering that an “inversion of the Ontological Argument” might be necessary when considering the inversion of the Theodicy problem.
  6. Is a self-directed ad hominem. That is, the evil in the world reflects really really poorly on us men and if it is indeed necessary it is callous to think that men have been, perhaps, constructed so that we were more naturally nice fellows.

This last point offers perhaps a clue as to where we might find a better universe, that is one populated by men less inclined to do evil?

The comments in his post trend toward mathematical thinking and I’ll offer one mathematical comparison. A school of mathematics is not happy with the method of proof by contradiction. A proof by contradiction demonstrates a fact not by construction but by demonstrating that a thing is impossible without really pointing to exactly why, i.e., by demonstrating that implications of a thing lead to a contradiction.

This “turnaround” of theodicy is perhaps similar, in that it suggests that assuming the opposite that is that a better universe is possible leads to a problem, that is our constructions of better universes have inherent contradictions, i.e., SW is magically ineffective.

Exegetical Reflections on Job

Well, as promised I’m going to try to talk about my upcoming oral final exam, an Old Testament homily for my late-vocations class that I’m taking. We were given the task of selecting a OT lection (reading section from the liturgical rubrics) and give an approximately 10 minute homily on that topic. I’ve selected to give a homily on Job 2:1-10, and I might note that being Orthodox we’re using the Septuagint (for that is their Scriptural canon) and the book of Job differs considerably (it’s 400 lines shorter but is longer in some places). The Job 2:1-10 reading is significantly extended in the Septuagint. Many of the changes are not very consequential. However, the final chapter differs in some surprising ways, which indeed might affect one’s interpretations of the story. Continue reading →

Meta-Ethics, Memory, and the Torture Question

The topic of torture and Christian ethics is now a heated discussion topic at Evangel over at the First Things blog cluster. I’d like to ask a (perhaps naive) question about torture. Where is the harm located? What ethical principles are being violated by torture?

Sixteen years ago, I contracted appendicitis and was in the hospital three days recovering from surgery. During that recovery, I was receiving intravenous pain medication (Demerol I believe) to ameliorate discomfort after the procedure. One one occasion my wife returned to the room after being out for some hours running errands. She asked me if I had any telephone calls in her absence. I replied in the affirmative. She asked who and inquired about details about what had been discussed. I had no clue. The pain medication had severely impacted my ability to retain memory of events. It is likely that if not present in the modern pharmacological arsenal there are drugs which completely block short/long term memory formation these drugs could quickly be developed given modern technology and reasonable expectations of the abilities of modern medical technology.

So my question is the following: How does memory relate to harm? Does memory have anything to do with the harm or wrong which we associate with what is wrong with torture?

An interrogator uses “waterboarding” or similar techniques which do no lasting physical damage. The subject breaks under the stress and confesses and talks freely for hours for questioning afterwards. Is the harm or evil we associate with that occurrence changed if the subject is incapable of recalling that it occurred? What if both the subject and the interrogator have no memory of the event … that only in some small corner of intelligence archives exist transcripts of the event afterwards. Does that change the moral calculus or not? Why?

What does continuing to say that this act is wrong imply about your meta-ethics? Are there non-deontological arguments that still hold this to be wrong? For it seems to be that consequential arguments against using this sort of drug and method is likely very weak, i.e., the consequences afterwards are negligible and are likely outweighed if there are any appreciable benefits.

Spirit and Me

I’m not a poet. Actually, a more candid statement more accurately state that I’m just about as far removed from being a poet and possessing poetic sensibilities as one might get. When I read prose fiction, I don’t see words … images and a sense of what transpires moves through my consciousness as my eyes and the reading process occurs at an unconscious level. When the story gets slow or I’m hurried by external circumstances, I turn the pages faster and the story picks up. Writing as a result comes very hard for me, as normally I don’t interact with sentence, phrase, and the art of the written word. Thus most of my reading misses and fails to perceive the quality and beauty of the prose. Narrative, yes, that I get, wordcraft not so much.

Similarly modern evangelical movements, especially in the US, are for the most part barking up the wrong tree. All to often they fall back on Pharisaic proclamations declaiming legalist standards regarding behavioural norms. There are indeed scriptural precedents for this. Scripture, for example Jeremiah and the minor prophets, abound in strong declarations of consequences of forgetting and falling away from God. But, for the most part, these same minor prophets are inspired by the Spirit of God and also promise reconciliation and a restoration of the covenant after a period of exile. I might suggest that few of those making those proclamations are in a position to offer the same promises, for they are not speaking as God’s prophets.

It is a Christian dogma that we come to Christ through the action of the Spirit of God working within us, drawing us to Him and to seek his Grace. So, how does that work? What does that action look like? Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn famously remarked that the line between good and evil passes through every human heart, so too one might paraphrase this to offer that another line (perhaps with hook attached) can be found in every human heart, that being the one of the Spirit pointing out God to man. But unlike the more obvious maxim of Mr Solzhenitsyn it might be instructive to spend a moment considering what sort of features God’s hook in my heart looks like and what part in me it might be. Continue reading →

Because They Are No More

Today the church remembered the “slaying of the holy infants”, a voice heard crying in Ramah. Today living in as we are in the period of late modernity in the shadow of the great ideological killings of the 20th century (and likely waiting in the lull before the great ideological murders and atrocities of the 21st) this remembrance has no little relevance to our life today.

A voice is heard in Ramah,
weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
and refusing to be comforted,
because they are no more.
– Matthew 2:18

Recently I viewed the Polish film-maker Andrzej Wajda’s film Katyn. Like the verse above (and unlike much of the remembrance of the atrocities of the 20th century) the focus is not on the event and the slaying but on the impact on the families and specifically the mothers (and women married to those ) who were killed.

This raises for me a question, to which I will not offer any answer. When we remember the slain would it be better for our remembrance to concentrate our attention not on the specific details of those slain and their particular lives but to focus instead our attention on Rachel, i.e., the mothers and wives of those slain. For example, in our recent US history, the 9/11 monument and memorials to not denote and focus on those who were killed but those who mourn and are left behind?

To Sign or Not to Sign
A Reply to Mr Turk

The occasion of the Manhattan declaration has been one in which a number of evangelicals, the very active Frank Turk at Evangel, has decided that the primary reason he will not sign is that it was done in concert with Roman Catholics, and apparently even worse than that, with the Eastern Orthodox. His point of view, and in fact his very reason for not signing has a number of prominent bloggers and those who self-label as Evangelicals who share his point of view. He writes:

I’ve said it elsewhere, so it should be no surprise when I say it here that I am sure there are Catholics who are saved, and likewise for the occasional Eastern Orthodox you may run into who exercises an Evangelical (large “E” intended) understanding of Jesus and the consequences of Him; but to throw out the wide blanket and just call all of these groups “Christian” in an overly-broad sociological sense, and to call all of them “believers” in the sense required to make the rest of the reasoning in this document is much.

This, to my ears, sounds very Pharisaic. Here we have Mr Turk standing in judgement of the whole of Catholicism and Orthodoxy and finding them wanting … except those few who secretly are “Evangelical.” Well, fortunately (apparently) for me, Mr Turk is not my judge, for I have a Judge already. It seems to me the Gospel has a few things to say about those trying to put themselves in the place of that Judge. Continue reading →

Of The Hero and the Act

John Mark Reynolds takes another tack on the question regarding the heroes in our midst and not in the distant past, although he mentions at least one of them as well.

One approach to the question of the hero is to start with the particular. That is to say, before you have a hero, you have heroic acts. The acts of our heroes are, one might suggest, those momentary flashes, those instances where the ecstatic is made plain for the outside observer. And here the term ecstatic refers to eks – static, the taking oneself outside of oneself. He, in the act, transcends the ordinary and the merely human and displays something more. For it is in these actions a glimpse of the possible, the true, the good, or the beautiful is made plain for the ordinary observer.

Our popular heroes then are people who are gifted enough to regularly display these transcendent moments, normally only in their field of endeavour, such as the football arena of the Brett Favre example used in the prior posts by Mr Reynolds. These individuals, our athletic and artistic heroes regularly perform inspiring acts. Yet, at the same time today’s press revels in revealing that these people have feet of clay and makes no bones about exposing their weaknesses and foibles.

Socrates was informed by the oracle at Delphi that he was the “wisest of men.” After some deliberation and discussion, he arrives at the notion that his wisdom consists of realizing, in part, that being an expert in one thing does not confer expertise outside of the realm in which one is skilled. And this is essentially the equivalent error wherein we attribute excellence and heroism to a ball player off the field of play. This is not as stupid as it sounds. To acquire that level of excellence and expertise requires a number of virtues including diligence,  perseverance, and other qualities of character which are indeed excellent virtues. Yet, the fame and fortune comes with a host of temptations and lures which often bring vices which overshadow or at the very least discolor those same virtues. Achilles excellence at war likely was not accompanied by similar excellence at law, at medicine, or in the nursery. Likewise excellence on the athletic field does not transfer or imply to excellence in ethics.

The first suggestion would be that not fall into the common error regarding our heroes is we confuse the moments which give us glimpses of the good and ascribe that same goodness to an otherwise ordinary man. But there remains a problem. When a scrambling Brett Favre zipps a frozen rope across the grain, a Steve Nash fires a no-look pass in transition, or a Hillary Hahn unfolds a flawless effervescent cadenza … it is that act itself which we should laud, idealize, remember and fixate upon … and perhaps the person not so much.

The other problem, for the Christian, is how to frame and to put into perspective this glimpse of the good, the true, or the beautiful into the framework of virtues extolled by Gospel, Beatitude, and Psalter.  Bridging the gulf, if gulf exists, between that athletic or artistic moment and living a life of love, charity, apatheiea, and humility … is at the very least an exercise for another essay.

Of the Cross and Culture

Much discussion has been had by Christians today (and in past ages I’d imagine) of the role of the Christian should take in the public square, especially in a modern multicultural democracy. People speak derisively of a Christian ghetto and/or the consequences of withdrawal. Others promote activism, marches and other ways of

For myself, I would offer another tack, that our ventures in the public square be dominated by some of the cardinal virtues from early Christianity: humility and charity and love.

A hermit advised, “If someone speaks to you about a controversy, do not argue with him. If what he says makes sense, say, ‘Yes,’ If his comments are misguided, say, ‘I don’t know anything about that.’ If you refuse to dispute with his ideas, your mind will be at peace.”

We can carry that into our public life and projections. I’d further that with the observation that others bad opinion of us, is good our our souls, it fosters native humility at the very least.

So, if you are told you hate gays because you oppose gay marriage, do not defend your pride and your honor, with rebuttals on loving the sin and hating the sinner or anything such as that. Just offer  “I don’t know anything about that” or go further and just humbly assent … and continue volunteering for hospice and other medical care.

If you are told, because you don’t support various tax policies or the current healthcare shambles that you hate the poor, don’t explain your view or defend yourself. Just offer, “I don’t know anything about that” and keep giving freely of your time and money for the homeless and those in need.

If you are told, that because you adhere to a pro-life position, you hate women, don’t counter with argument of person and the life of the fetus. Just offer, “I don’t know anything about that” and keep working with PASS and the like.

If the law asks you to act against your conscience, fill the jails with psalter and song. What do you fear, you who have the words of eternal life? Do you think you need to strike out with political power and organization to defend Christ? If His armies were of the world, they would have mobilized before Pilate to defend him.

In all cases where a person with which you are interacting is convinced your beliefs are hateful or harmful, rhetorical defences will not convince the other that you are right or righteous, but that you are clever enough to rationalize those harmful beliefs. Hitler killed millions, convinced he was doing it for the good of Germany. Lenin, Stalin, Mao and the other communist leaders killed their millions seeking to reshape society to what they felt would be a better world. With these examples still ringing in the air, one cannot use dialectical methods to convince the other your cause is just. You can’t convince a person with polemic. Rhetoric and the pen might be mightier than the sword, but a carpenter born in a stable and a dozen fishermen from the back-country didn’t change the world on account of rhetoric nor by their particular actions. The charity, their love, and their humility did.

Each of us, made in the image of God, has the flame of His Spirit burning within us. It is the Christian calling in community to foster and help that flame to grow in our neighbor. When confronted with secular culture, more specifically with a person or persons with whom you disagree over point or principle the question should not be how do I persuade that person I am righteous. The only question at hand is how do I nurture their flame?

Don’t argue, but do vote your conscience. Don’t talk, but do act. Teach your children to love and fear the Lord with your love and example. And when acting do so always with the humility and the love that comes from Christ.

On Virtual Church

A number of posts at Evangel have been touching on the subject of e-Church or having a virtual parish community.

Virtual worship services lack the following features:

  • Sacrifice —  A the fundamental aspect of liturgy is sacrifice. The service is our offering to God and part of that sacrifice to God is of our time and our presence. Reducing that sacrifice to sitting before your computer screen in your proverbial pajamas certainly severely diminishes if not eliminates the sacrifice involved. There is also an aspect of “standing to be counted” especially in an increasingly secular world to worship … which when done anonymously and virtually causes that aspect to be eliminates as well. Moses travelled up the mountain to write the tablets. He did not have God “wire” him his message because he could not be bothered to go to God himself.
  • Holiness — “Then he said, “Do not come near; take your sandals off your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” Liturgy is (or should be) a participation in the Holy. For myself, I fail to see how participation and contact with the Holy can be done by wire.
  • Contact with the liturgy and with the community. We have 5 senses. A virtual service may serve, poorly, two (hearing and sight). Touch, taste and smell are sensory channels missing in form the virtual sensory pallet. Humans remain more primitive and essential in our connection with these other senses. Hugging, kissing, touching, even smelling the presence of our neighbour remain an essential part of the human community experience. If the human essence could be reduced to a purely rational floating intellect then virtual community and church might work. Yet man, created in the image of God is not purely rational and the organism and the meat of us is part of that image.
  • Isolation in modernity is exacerbated by virtual contact. It is a bug not a feature of the modern world. Moving church to the virtual realm does nothing to reverse this.

How does the concept of virtual church confront these aspects of worship? Why or how do these aspects become inessential?

Of Heroism and Popular Culture
The Secular vs The Cross

John Mark Reynolds in a comment to my (first!) post at Evangel offered:

A child would view Favre well . . . but a real man would see him better. He would glory in his manly exploits as an image of excellence and be provoked to go and do likewise in his own chosen profession.

This is in short hoping a hope (or a recognition) that Favre (or pick your favorite athlete) and his exploits might do good in us by inspiring the Greek virtue arete in us. However that leads to the question … can one find support for the type of excellence of the sort Mr Favre would inspire … as being good (or Good) in Scripture (or enlarge that to church tradition for the non-sola-scriptura crowd). I think the answer is … no … but I might like to be convinced otherwise (after all I am not without my own sporting heroes, i.e., Fabian Cancellara). Continue reading →

A Life of Humility

These culture wars aren’t new. Via the magic of RSS and Google Reader … a reply to Jared comes apropos post from the Desert (and I quote in full, because that’s sort of the point):

It was said concerning Abba Agathon …that some monks came to find him, having heard tell of his great discernment. Wanting to see if he would lose his temper, they said to him, “Aren’t you that Agathon who is said to be a fornicator and a proud man?” “Yes, it is very true,” he answered. They resumed, “Aren’t you that Agathon who is always talking nonsense?” “I am.” Again they said, “Aren’t you Agathon the heretic?” But at that, he replied, “I am not a heretic.” So they asked him, “Tell us why you accepted everything we cast you, but repudiated this last insult.” He replied, “The first accusations I take to myself, for that is good for my soul. But heresy is separation from God. Now I have no wish to be separated from God.” At this saying they were astonished at his discernment and returned, edified.

Aren’t you one of those right winger Christians who [hates gays, is a hypocrite, hates women … does or says or thinks X, Y and Z] ?? Well, we might say  … yes, unless they accuse of separation from God.

[Update]: I should add the reason we might say yes is not because it is true (which is usually not the case) but because it is good for our souls to bear the burden of false accusation.