Getting It Exactly Wrong: Extremism

Often you’ll hear or see someone making the statement, the “problem” is extremism. Sometimes the term extremism is replaced with fundamentalism. There is a problem with this statement, if you examine what is meant by that, nobody believes it and contrary to being the problem, extremism is exactly what we are supposed to be doing. Extremism is not a vice, it is a virtue. More than that, pretty much everyone would agree that this is so.

Examine common extremists, Olympic athletes, professional athletes, and the top researchers in physics, mathematics and chemistry are all what we would regard as extremists. They have devoted their entire life, to borrow from the Bible have, devoted their pursuit of their goal with all their heart, mind, soul and strength. What they are doing is how extremism is defined. They are taking their pursuit of excellence, be it a time in the dash or a proof of an abstract concept … it consumes their attention, their life. Breaks from that pursuit are (typically) intentionally taken to bank their coals, to spur them to higher and greater efforts when they return. I’d mention politicians, who can often also show great zeal in their extreme efforts mostly in the pursuit of … (yikes).

Oh, comes the objection (from the marginalia), but we mean religious extremism is what is bad. Hmm. So, secular extremism is good, religious extremism bad? Except that isn’t quite so. The most common example of religious extremism a common religious in these parts, are monks. Monastics, like those athletes, devote themselves entirely to God, withdrawing from the world. Horrible they are not. Secular extremism is also bad when the thing pursued is a vice (alcoholism for example).

This may yield a clue.  Extremism may be seen as human in pursuit of particular excellence (as opposed to general excellence). One concentrates on one thing, as exclusively as possible and devotes ones life to that. If the thing for which you pursue is is a vice, or generically “is bad”, then this form of extremism is harmful. But pursuing vice is bad, in and of itself, that is the loci of the “badness” of extremism to the cause of a vice, not the extremism itself.

See also “arete” or what the ancient Greek’s would have recognized as common extremism.

Next up: why fundamentalism, is also not problematic.

Better You Than Me (literally)

So. In the next few essay’s I’m going to begin a small series commenting on my reading the book (of essays coincidentally enough) by Christos Yannaras titled “The Meaning of Reality: Essays on Existence and Communion, Eros and History”. My plan is to go through this book essay by essay. Some essay’s I’ll separate a precis post (summary) and follow that with one or more posts with remarks refering back to that post. What follows (below the fold) is the remarks on the first essay titled, “A Reference to Alyosha Karamazov”. This is short (3 1/2 pages) and I’ll perhaps to combine summary and remarks in one post. This opens with a quote from the Brothers’ Karamazov (from which, obviously, the character Alyosha is drawn).

  • I understand it only too well: it’s the innards and the belly that long to love. You put it wonderfully, and I am terribly glad you have such an appetite for life,” Alyosha cried. “I have always thought that, before anything else, people should learn to love life in this world”
  • “To love life more than the meaning of life?”
  • “Yes that’s right. That’s the way it should be; love should come before logic, just as you said. Only then will man be able to understand the meaning of life.”

And so we begin (below the fold) 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.

Dr Freud Sketched to Eastern Sensibilities

Dr Freud famously sketched the person as consisting internally as ego, super-ego and id. In Eastern Orthodox tradition you find discussions of nous, spirit and soul. Nous is your intellect, your soul motivates you to action … and the spirit is your moral sense and decision making processes. Not entirely dissimilar to the Freudian breakout (and my definitions are inexact … as all such definitions by necessity are). Take that in conjunction with the difference in personhood on East/West and there’s grist for some thought (again rougly West locates person in attributes of the individual and the East personhood is defined by his/her relationships).

In part this means “spirituality” in the Eastern lexicon has very little to do with new age touchy-feely notions … but something completely different. Of what relevance.

Well, Lent begins in mid-March for the East, and I’m going to read this book for Lent. I’ll be blogging about my progress through it and this difference noted came from the introduction.

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 →

Deism and the Personal God

The Greek conception of deity and eternity from the golden age of Greece through the coming of Christianity was one rooted in Eternity. Platonic notions of the Ideals, abstracted but concrete (in an idealic realm) and atomic these anchor reality. The Universe was (in their view) eternal and any creator or originator had too be as well unchanging and eternal as those ideals.  The truths of these claims were established by the inexorable logic of a philosophical framework on which their civilization/culture was based. Modern deism is very close to these notions with the exception that creation is not, as the Greeks apprehended, eternal but has a beginning (and likely an end). It might be noted I’m unaware of how modern deists deal with the conflict between a God which creates a universe and is at the same time unchanging and eternal (or perhaps the unchanging part is dropped).

The Jewish concepts of deity was concrete by comparison. Rooted in history, prophecy, promise and compact. If not personal it was apprended and comprehended by persons. The history and its narrative validated its truth. A God which speaks to a people or persons in an individual way was seen as incompatible and very different in character from the Greek Ideal for God (or gods).

Modern arguments as they appear between deists, atheists and Christians bring up notions of deity that can be  brought into sympathy with both of these two very different notions. That this is impossible is a common mistake that is made in the modern discussion that surround these notions which the following might be viewed as an attempt to bring the Christian viewpoint on the nature of deity into relief (and to contrast with the above). Continue reading →

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? 

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 →

Scripture Is Not Magic

Catholicism and Protestants have as one of their primary disagreements the roles of Scripture and Tradition as authority in the Church. Metropolitan John Ziziolas writes in Lectures,

From the Reformation on, Western theologians asked whether divine revelation has one source or two. Protestants rejected the authority of tradition of the Church and introduced the principal of ‘sola scriptura‘, Scripture on its own, without the experience of all previous generations of the Church in expounding that Scripture. […] The West tends to regard Scripture and doctrine as two distinct sources and tries to arbitrate between what it understands as their rival claims.

There are two reasons why Western churches saw the relationship of Scripture and doctrine as a problem. The West tended to regard revelation as primarily rational or intellectual, and the Scriptures and the Church simply as repositories of truths, available as individual units of inert information. In the Orthodox tradition, however, Scripture and the Church are regarded as the testimonies of those prophets and people who have experience the truth of Christ. But truth is not a matter of objective, logical proposals, but of personal relationships between God, man, and the world.

St. Siluan was quoted as saying that if Scripture were lost, the Athonite monastics and the Church itself could and would recreate it without loss. Why and how? Because Scripture is a record of relationships between “God, man, and the world.” These relationships are not historical or accidental and frozen but living and vibrant in today’s world just as recorded in Scripture. 

I think as well that the misunderstanding of what mystery means is important here, where the Eastern view is that mystery is something that you experience but cannot put into words and the West regards it as a part of their belief/faith which cannot be understood and therefore must be kept at arms length. 

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? 

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



This Thing Called Theology

I’ve recently acquired this little book by the Met. John Zizioulas, Lectures in Christian Dogmatics. One of the important points made by Met. Zizioulas is that (Orthodox) theological thinking often is just a paraphrasing and restating of what has been already set out and stated by the Fathers. In his words, 

It is unfortunate that much of today’s Orthodox theology is in fact nothing but history — a theologically uncommitted scholar could have done this kind of ‘theology’ just as well or even better. Although this kind of ‘theology’ claims to be faithful to the Fathers and tradition is in fact contrary to the method followed by the Fathers themselves. For the Fathers worked in constant dialogue with the intellectual trends of their time to interpret the Christian faith to the world around them. This is precisely the task of Orthodox theology in our time too. 

So, with that in mind, I’m going to begin reading through this book and discussing some small points I encounter on the way (as time permits). Met. Zizioulas begins by defining and discussing what is meant by these terms. What is Theology? How might we define it. He begins:

Theology starts in the worship of God and in the Church’s experience of communion with God. Our experience of this communion involves a whole range of relationships, so theology is not simply about a religious, moral or psychological experience, but about our whole experience of life in this communion. Theology touches on life, death and our very being, and shows how our personal identity is constituted through relationships, ans so through love and freedom. What makes man different from any other creature? Can humans be truly free? Do they want to be free? Can humans be free to love?

Theology is concerned with life and survival, and therefore with salvation. The Church articulates its theology, not simply to add to our knowledge of God or the world, but so that we may gain the life which can never be brought to an end. Christian doctrine tells us there is redemption for us and for the world, and each particular doctrine articulates some aspect of this redemption. We have to inquire how each doctrine contributes to knowledge of our salvation. Rather than isolating each doctrine, we have to set each doctrine out in the context of all other doctrines. Theology seeks a living comprehension of the Christian faith, of our place in the world and relationship with one another. It does not just want to preserve the statements of the Church as they were originally made, but also to provide the best contemporary expression of the teaching of the Church.

Well, that is quite a bit to chew on. What might be offered to start. One thing might be said right off. He goes on in the following to define what he means by doctrine and dogmas. On reflection this begins not so much by defining what theology is, but of what the process examines and consists. What questions does it address, what concerns does theology approach is what is posed here. 

An Ecumenical Question

Throughout Church history, theological controversy has been one of the enduring features. Name any communion or denomination and you will find one which has struggled with this matter. St. Maximus the Confessor was imprisoned, exiled and lost his tongue and compared to many he got off easy. For that matter, I’d be willing to guess that among those reading this very essay, if they are Christian, have themselves had discussions, often perhaps heated, of this sort. As the title indicates, I’m leading towards a question but to start I’m going to preface that with a few remarks.

Two fragments from Scripture are perhaps relevant. (1 Corinthians 13:12) “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.”  For the second passage, Romans 2 offers that Jesus not men will be the final judge. 

We may argue about our view of the theology, Christology, soteriology, or whatever topic, but we all must admit we only see dimly the truths to which we attest. Who is right in these argument? From the second it might be said that these arguments will only be settled at the eschaton.

My question then is why then might we argue? What is the core reason for which we dispute. What is at stake? I’d be very curious to hear a variety of responses to this.

For myself, my answer might be as follows. Trinitarian theology and Christology, the parables and teachings of Jesus, Paul, James and so on are beautiful. They possess symmetry and a poetry have no little impact. Teachings that obscure this beauty … that is problematic. Why? Because it hinders others from seeing it. The core problem is not that you will be judged adversely if you’re a Calvinist and if at the eschaton Calvin’s teaching was fraught with error (and no, please don’t take this as a generic attack on Calvinism, the “if” is important there). The problem might be with Calvinism is whether his teachings obscures or conceals some important part of the Gospel. 

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.

The Question of Augustine

One of the wonderful moments in St. Augustine’s Confessions returned to me in force from out of the blue. Now, I’ve not been a Christian for long in my adult life, having been raised within the fold of the Church, but having fallen away for 20 years of my adult life until fairly recently. The point of that observation is that regular and ordinary Christian culture is often new to me. The point of that observation is that I have questions about my experiences now as a Christian for which I lack the context and background of one who has been within the community for that missing time as an adult. This question in turn requires a little background or stage setting, which in turn can be found below the fold. Continue reading →

Of Noah and Culture

Does the particular anthropological differences between our individualistic/wealth driven culture and the Honor/Shame agricultural culture of the Middle East have in reading, for example, the story of Noah and the flood? This question was asked when last I discussed the flood in another context some weeks back.

Geneticists inform us that the genes which govern the particular patterns which direct the construction of our cornea show very little variation from individual to individual. Other features, even in the eye, which are not tightly constrained in the same way vary far much more from generation to generation and in fact show mutation and changes introduced much more freely between generations. The cornea and the eye are tricky enough that any structural mistake or change will likely lead to complete failure of the organ for its intended purpose, i.e., sight. Our genetic material pays attention to those things which it has found important.

Likewise when we pass events and messages on to others in narratives those features of the story which we find important … remain less prone to transcription error than those features which we do not find important. If one take a narrative, say our founder George Washington and his chopping of the cherry tree as a youth. If we wish to tell this story in a way that also takes on moral and metaphoric meaning as well, one might take the story and alter it in unessential ways that aid in highlighting the message and the particular other meanings which we wish to take. Yet what is for this story unessential is only unessential in a cultural/anthropological context. Therefore understanding what pieces of a story are important to the culture in which a story is told is essential because it is the important and essential details which will be less likely to be warped to the particular purposes of the narrator. Consider yourself and how your memory holds on to details of events in the past which you find important and tends to forget or even alter those feature which we do not.

Additionally, as Mr Doyle’s protagonist Holmes remarks that it was the peculiar detail of the dog barking in the night. There are aspects of stories which we find in texts from other cultures which highlight there differences with our culture by what they do not mention. For example, during Lent our church had discussions on Friday nights over this book, which begins asking the question “what did Jesus look like.” This seemed to be an important question to the author and to many people in discussions, by which one can infer that personal appearance which highlights our individual nature and implicitly our economic status or position is important to us. That sort of description is lacking in the Gospels is akin to the peculiar dogs barking, that is its absence is a significant datum about the people of that time. One obvious conclusion is that while appearance and individual features are important to us in our culture today … it was not an important detail to the authors of the Gospels or to the people in the early Church.

The point is that anthropological methods are salient when one examines narrative. Whether this is political narratives of parties struggling in power, literature from past eras, or Scripture these methods should not be set aside. Returning to the story of Noah. There are aspects to the story, the numbers of species, the counts of days in flood, the extent of the flooding, particulars of how the boat was built. Other aspects include the relational intercourse and attitudes and expressions which pass between Noah, God, his family and others. And H/S culture would be less likely to find the first list of details important and would find the second set of feature essential. In a discussion of the accuracy and the type of narrative which the flood fragment might be, a remaining aware of what are the necessary and the superficial elements of the story is relevant.

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.

Noetic Noah and the Fluffy Hermeneutic

This started as a reply about hermeneutic in the context of the flood on my personal blog. Do we take the flood literally or not. My interlocutor was exasperated exclaiming that to not take the text literally implies words have no meaning. This is exactly backwords. Here is my response to him.

Yes, you are exactly right. Words have meaning. There is this word hermeneutic, which I have used on more than one occasion used in this sentence. Yet, you gaily trounce in with replies like “Why start with the Bible at all? Why not just make up your own stories if that’s what you’re going to do anyway?” or other remarks along the “making it all up” line as if every religious person just takes their preconceptions and hammers the text until it fits. That is not what any honest theologian does (and I think the majority of people atheist or faithful are as honest as they can be). That word, hermeneutic means, “the method by which one extracts meaning from a text.” See that word there. Method. It is there for a reason. Continue reading →

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.

Theodicy Flipped

Theodicy is basically the question of how might a omnipotent good God permit bad things to happen to good or innocent people. This brings me to a question to which I have no good answer. Is there a better way of doing things than the sort of world in which we live? Qualities we consider the Trinitarian God posses include a notion that free loving relationships are of primary importance. God therefore loves us and desires us to love him. Love cannot be coerced but must be freely given. On the apologetics boundary, in discussions between those who believe and those who don’t, theodicy is pointed at as a discussion about whether or not God can exist or not given the existence of evil. But, this question can be turned another way. That is to ask given a God with certain properties does our world fit the expectations of the sort of world that God might create?

So, what properties do we think that a loving God who desires the free-willed love of his creation might possess? One might suggest that the following two qualities be present; that one might rationally choose to love Him and to rationally choose to not do so and that the creatures in that world be free to act against what He might wish. Furthermore observing that those creatures (us) that he has created are (nominally) rational, following Genesis 1 (and the Kass reading of the same) that it is good that the world in which we dwell be rational.

When one considers rape or murder of an innocent and natural disasters, those are typically the problems to which questions of theodicy are more clearly in evidence. These things occur in our world with regrettable regularity. So here’s the flip side theodicy question; that is, if you think theodicy inconsistent with the existence of a omnipotent loving Good God, how would creation differ if that was the case? Does a world in which natural disasters only strike the wicked allow for a person to rationally turn away from God? Does a world in which a rapist is halted by invisible forces allow that?

The claim is that theodicy is an intractable problem for the believer given the evil in the world. I think that this is not necessarily the case, but that those who object to the current state of affairs have failed to provide examples of a reasonable alternative world. Failing to do that means their theodicy objections lack force, that is they object to a state of affairs which may actually be exactly what is prescribed.

Job and Christian Theodicy

Frank Turk at Evangel is doing a short series on theodicy. I asked him how/when he would connect his discussion with Job and got the following response.

Job is where everyone goes. I think the Scripture pretty much screams out from about every third page an answer which we don’t need Job to tell us.

For the record, I think Jesus and the Gospel do a better job of making sense of suffering from a top-down standpoint than we get from Job.

Job makes good use of Job’s place in creation, but in Job, God says to Job, “dude: if you think you can do a better job, I’ll ask your advice when you can answer my questions.” I think the rest of the Bible says something a little more revelatory and Christ-centered.

I think this is partially mistaken, and because Mr Turk offered that he enjoys a little disagreement and discussion, what follows will be a few points on which I disagree with his remark.

The reason we go to Job (and should go to Job) for questions of theodicy is that Job isolates the question. Job stages one question and isolates that from historical accounts. Additionally the common assumption shared by the four interlocutors in Job share a common assumption of the sovereignty of God over earthly affairs. That is to say God’s assent is required for things to occur in the world, which means that suffering and evil in the world requires an accounting with God for those same things.

The Orthodox cycle of readings places three readings of Job in Holy week, those who set up the cycle clearly felt that Job (and therefore theodicy) were relevant and Christ-centered. Now one of these reasons for thinking so is that Job was seen as a type of Christ but I feel that on reflection there are other (possibly more important) reasons for doing so, which will the main point of the following.

In the Gospels, Jesus frequently confounds expectations. One of the way he does this is by inverting the natural moral algebra. The natural moral algebra is where we expect the good to be rewarded with good and evil with evil. The publican and the pharisee is one example. One would expect that the pharisee, a leader of the community would be the one found righteous, but that is not the case. The point is that we find story after story were our expectation of who should be rewarded and how they should be rewarded are confounded. This is a feature shared with Job. The expectation of his interlocutors is that Job must not be a righteous man because of his misfortune.

In much of the Old Testament in the prophets and Kings the natural moral algebra is held. For example David being punished by God for stealing Bathsheba from her husband and Israel and Judah being punished by being conquered and exiled for failing to hold to the faith of their fathers as is repeated told by the minor and major books of the prophets. In the book of Job, as with the Gospels, this natural algebra is broken. Job is in fact righteous and nevertheless God allows Satan to, well, fall on him. 

From Job 42:17 (page 30/696):

And it is written that he will rise again with those the Lord raises up.

A statement which seems quite consonant with the Gospel.

Mr Turk offers a curt dismissal of the relevance of the final lesson of Job. I find this odd, in a person who derides theological liberals for picking and choosing their Scriptural lessons decides in much the same manner to decide that this is the final lesson of the book of Job. And this is a sticking point. Job is a book explicitly about theodicy, if you aren’t going to be a theological liberal who is going to pick and choose those particular passages and books which one finds pleasing to your sensibilities, then there is a problem. The non-theological liberal (Christian) needs still to demonstrate who logically their theodicy is in tune and consonant with the theodicy argument contained in Job, for the argument of Job is in fact consonant with the message of the Gospels and is exposing directly the question at hand, which was the reason for my question in the first place.

A Theological Puzzle.

Something to ponder, and this is from memory so I might get it a little wrong. But it’s been puzzling me.

St. Gregory Palamas asserted that the fall of man was not an ontological change but an anthropological one.

Metropolititan John Zizioulas asserts that Baptism is an ontological change.

So is Salvation ontological or anthropological?

Them Evil Corporations

This morning I posted some links which I thought pointed to an essential divide between left and right. It seems likely that exactly where the left places large corporations in its pantheon where the “bad things dwell” the right puts government. Avatar is just the latest in a long list of left leaning movies which trot out, nominally or at least normally, one dimensional villains acting on behalf of or at the behest of corporate (greed) and wickedness. The movie review of Avatar I had linked notes that that movie trots out three well worn left-wing cinema stereotypes: evil corporations and their stooges, dastardly military commanders (and mindless destructive soldiers), and the good simple native peoples (borrowed I guess from some Rousseau inspired fantasy). But I am digressing a bit, what I’m trying to concentrate on is the left/corporate-as-evil and the right/government-as-evil and compare and contrast these two, for I think they play similar roles for each side. So if you’re on the left (or the right) I’m suggesting where you put corporate evil the other side puts government and vice-versa.

I was starting to write that “There are just a few things wrong with viewing corporations as compared to government in this light” and to go into a point by point fisking of the the left wing point of view why government not corporations need curtailing (and now I’ve just deleted three paragraphs of that polemic). I’m not sure “argument” is the right way to go about this. The point is just as reflexively as the right points to the evils of government, so does the left point to corporate evil. The left points to how corporate money and influence corrupts government. The right points to how government power (in the marketplace) in the first place is what attracts corporations in turn to influence government in the first place.

What I don’t see is why the left consistently looks to the source of the problem as the “evil corporations,” when I suspect few if any of them work for what they would consider the same. Nameless corporate evil … greed and whatever. The whole “evil soldier” thing is a holdover from a caricatures of what the armed forces were like in the Vietnam conflict. But what is the origin of the continuing high place of corporations, especially when compared to government, in the pantheon of “bad things?”

Of Scripture and Tradition

Recently there was a discussion over Scripture at Evangel over whether it was infallible or inerrant and what that might mean. But this discussion I offer, in an important way is missing the point. When pointing at whether or not Scripture is or is not in-whatever verses within Scripture which offer it as inspired by the Spirit of God are used to defend that point of view. Scripture is a primary tool used to understand the divine mysteries. Tradition in turn is the millennia of men and women and their progress into understanding and experiencing these mysteries.

Mystery itself is a widely misunderstood term. When we speak of mystery fiction, such as stories of the famous detectives like Ms Marple, Mr Holmes, and so on the mystery is primarily about unknown answer to the puzzle. The canonical ‘butler’ did it is not the answer to the mystery. The mystery is the experience, the unfolding and walking through toward and understanding of the occurrence in question. Telling someone that that butler “did it” does not move one towards a greater understanding of what occurred without the missing details, the context, the narrative, and the other details like means, method, and motive. These things can only be understood … and are what those protagonists strive to understand by exploring and understanding the fundamental kernel of mystery. To understand and uncover a mystery is an experiential phenomena.

Quantum mechanics is said to be a modern scientific mystery. It is one which cannot, by and large, be understood by hearing stories and words which, like ‘the butler did it’ try to describe the denouement of this 20th century physics discovery. It is understood though the experience gained by working through the mathematical details and mechanics until like the unfolding of the narrative of mystery fiction the kernel of the mystery is understood. Quantum mechanics, like those mysteries of God revealed as through a glass darkly in Scripture, is a mystery for which the core of which is ineffable.

Ineffability is not a rare thing. Most things in life in fact are ineffable. Your feelings for your wife, how to ride a bicycle, most of science (see for example Personal Knowledge), and in fact much of life is at its core ineffable. These things at their core contain central facets which are not expressible in words. They cannot be reduced fragments of language, but must be understood through the doing, or in the context of the above, are a mystery.

The arguments about fallibility vs inerrancy is one which sets aside the mystery at the core of Scripture. It is based, in part, on an assumption that reason can be utilized to unpack and expose the ineffable mystery lying behind and within the core of the key facets which Scripture contains. Trinity, duality, and creed are tools for used by our reason in seeking to understand these mystery, which in turn can only be experienced and understood not by reason alone but what in late antiquity was called our nous, which is our whole mind … including those emotive and intuitive parts of which reason is just one facet.

Liturgy and Tradition contain the wisdom of the Christian millennia of men and women who did understand the mystery trying to uncover and demonstrate for the rest of us ways to deepen our understand the mysteries within our faith. The lives of Saints, heroes of our Church, should be (and are) recounted because in their lives these men and women who did indeed understand the mysteries in ways more profound than is ordinary can be utilized as examples for us to sink into those same mysteries. Scripture gives us a fabric, a background and Tradition gives us hermeneutic, methods, and examples.

Considering Job

The “approximate” text of my homily for my OT final is below the fold. I say “approximate” because it was an oral final and unlike the rest of the class, I didn’t read from the text but used it as a rough outline and just tried to talk. The attempt at levity at the start with the Elihu/Elious quote at the beginning worked a lot better “off the cuff” than on paper.

Continue reading →

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 →

Considering Theodicy

Theodicy is a topic I’ve been thinking about a bit. Next weekend, in the OT course I’m taking my final is to give a 10 minute homily on an Old Testament lection (assigned reading for a liturgy, matins, or vespers service). I was considering doing my little talk on a Genesis reading, because that’s the book I know the best. I’ve read a number of commentaries on Genesis (including the wonderful Kass book) and 4 or 5 separate translations, some heavily footnoted and with generous comments. But … I’ve decided instead to stretch myself and am going to talk on Job 2:1-10 … although I will likely stray to include remarks on the entire narrative of Job and the theodicy contained within that book.

Theodicy connects often as well to apologetics. Blog neighbor Larry Niven at Rust Belt (link) often looks at what he sees as failing theodicy arguments as a proof of God’s non-existence, for in his view without an answer to Theodicy God cannot exist (or be good … or at the very least worthy of worship). One of the likely failings here is that logic is not up to the task of describing everything. If he put his critical analysis of argument to work on those things to which he ascribes then likely he’d find they also fail. As Mr Plantiga remarks (in a book I have yet to read so forgive me I can’t support the details of the argument) that the argument for the existence for God fails, but it fails in a direct parallel to the argument for the existence of other minds, which also fails. We all (I’d venture) expect that other minds in the universe actually exist. Thus the failure of the (logical) argument for other minds really existing does not give us pause in our belief in them … thus that “best” (logical) argument for the existence for God failing also might not be flawed. This isn’t to say that it means that just as other minds exist so must God exist, that is the failure of the argument is no justification for non-belief if you believe other minds exist. On this subject, I’ll try to expound in the coming week.

So anyhow, during the next week I’ll likely be developing thoughts for my homily. In that regard, does anyone have any suggestions for net based resources on theodicy general and Job in particular?

I should mention that the lection noted above is read during Holy Week on Wednesday night. So besides connecting this reading to theodicy a discussion of what connection (which I think is sort of obvious) Holy Week and its events have with Job. My guess is that the obvious connection is that God’s answer to evil (and specifically bad things happening to the innocent) is the promise demonstrated by the Resurrection. But that might be just too easy an answer. I’m suspicious of easy answers.

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 →