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Sunday, January 31, 2010


February 1 and/or 2 is Imbolc, and the feast day of St. Brigid (Bride), and Candlemas/Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, and Groundhog Day :) It makes for some nice pictures ....

- Bill Murray and Punxsutawney Phil

- Presentation of Jesus in the Temple by Fra Angleico

- St Bride by John Duncan. According to Scottish legend, St. Brigid/St. Bride was taken be angels from the island of Iona to Bethlehem on the night of Jesus' birth to be Mary's midwife and/or Jesus' foster mother

Saturday, January 30, 2010

What do you like best about Jesus?

- Damsel, I say unto thee, arise by Gabriel Cornelius Ritter von Max

I guess what many people like best about him is that he suffered and died, and redemptive suffering looms large in their spirituality. I would not be one of those people. There's an interesting post at The Open Tabernacle about suffering and holiness, and within that is a bit on Jesus and the significance of the cross. Here's that part of the post ....


Bearing the Cross and Christian Discipleship

One of the primary effects of Vatican II’s return to the sources was to restore to Catholic spirituality—to place front and center for Catholic spirituality once again—the centrality of the gospel story, of the way in which the gospel narratives recount and reflect theologically on the life of Jesus. When the gospels are read with careful attention to the cultural and historical context in which they were produced, it is clear that Jesus was not a world-denying ascetic who viewed the flesh as the enemy of the soul.

He was, instead, a peripatetic Jewish rabbi who proclaimed that in his life and ministry, the promised reign of God was breaking forth in the world. He both preached about what that inbreaking of the reign of God meant, and enacted the message of the inbreaking of the reign of God through symbolic actions. His preaching and his symbolic enactment of his message were an invitation to those who heard his message of good news to respond by joining him as he wandered about teaching, and by emulating his behavior.

And that behavior had a strongly earthy, visceral, embodied component that is central to the message he proclaimed. Jesus touched those he healed. He took their wounded, disfigured bodies into his hands as he worked healing for them.

He invited himself to eat and drink with public sinners, with social outcasts who, in the culture of his day, brought uncleanness on anyone who touched or ate with them. Jesus broke bread with them, and with his apostles, to demonstrate that the good news of God’s imminent presence in the world through the inbreaking reign of God was good news for everyone—for both souls and bodies, for the rich as well as the poor. For the poor, the outcast, the despised and discarded first and foremost.

Because he ate and drank with sinners, Jesus was regarded by his detractors as anything but an ascetic. He was charged with being someone who loved to eat and drink with a profligacy unbecoming a man of God. His movement also included women, who traditionally did not consort with a wandering rabbi since their menstrual cycles made them unclean, a source of uncleanness for any man who touched them.

And because his behavior, which eradicated lines between the rich and the poor, the clean and the unclean, the righteous and the damned, turned upside down the world of those who needed these lines in place in order to consolidate their power at the top of the social hierarchy of his culture, he was crucified. He was put to death on the cross, an instrument of capital punishment reserved for the lowliest of criminals in his society, a punishment designed to demonstrate to other refractory disturbers of the social order the fate they might expect, if they challenged the powers that be.

So there’s the cross in Jesus’s life, the cross, which is central to the gospel narrative, and anyone reflecting on the significance of the path Jesus walked, anyone who seeks to walk on that path, must take the cross into account. Here, too, the attempt (abetted by tools of historical-critical research that became available to theologians in the late 19th and 20th century), to read the gospels in the cultural and historical context in which they were written casts significant new light that has shifted, for many believers, the meaning of carrying one’s cross in emulation of Jesus.

For the medieval piety that cherished practices such as self-flagellation or sleeping on the floor with one’s arms outstretched, self-mortification provides a privileged way of sharing with Jesus in his passion on the cross. Punishing the flesh becomes an important way, for those who share the presuppositions of such piety, of carrying one’s cross in imitation of Christ.

But note that this piety depends on a worldview foreign to the gospels and the Jewish cultural milieu in which they were produced. It depends on a body-soul dualism characteristic of Greek philosophy rather than of Jewish belief—a dualism that the Christian outlook began to incorporate as Christianity spread from its original Jewish cultural base into Graeco-Roman culture. This dualism, which has been deeply influential in Christian thought and spirituality, views the body as an obstacle to the spirit, something to be beaten into submission by those who wish to live authentically spiritual lives.

This dualistic notion of body and soul, with its disdain for the material world, with its exaltation of suffering that beats the flesh into submission so that the spirit may thrive, is far removed from the Jewish cultural milieu in which Christianity was born, and which Jesus reflected as a wandering rabbi whose life became foundational for Christianity. Nor does this body-soul dualism have anything to do with the theology of the cross in the gospels—with the call of Jesus, in the gospel narrative, for his followers to take up their cross and walk with him.

As Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder noted in his ground-breaking 1972 study The Politics of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1972), the gospels do not view the cross as any and every kind of suffering a follower of Jesus may endure. Instead,

[t]he believer’s cross is, like that of Jesus, the price of social nonconformity. It is not, like sickness or catastrophe, an inexplicable, unpredictable suffering; it is the end of a path freely chosen after counting the cost (p. 96).

The gospel narratives’ meditation on the cross and its significance for the Christian life relates bearing the cross to discipleship—to taking up one’s cross and walking after Jesus as a disciple doing what Jesus did, as one who lived within the present world a vision of the world’s possibility never completely incarnated in its current political, cultural, religious, or economic structures:

The cross of Christ was not an inexplicable or chance event, which happened to strike him like illness or accident. To accept the cross as his destiny, to move toward it and even to provoke it, when he could well have done otherwise, was Jesus’ constantly reiterated free choice. . . . The cross of Calvary was not a difficult family situation, not a frustration of visions of personal fulfillment, a crushing debt, or a nagging in-law; it was the politically, legally-to-be-expected result of a moral clash with the powers ruling his society (p. 129).

Not just any suffering, then, and certainly not physical punishment inflicted on oneself in isolation from the struggle one encounters as a disciple of Jesus to live the values of the gospel in a resistant world: the cross is about discipleship, in the gospels’ telling of Jesus’s life story and their reflection on the significance of that story.

Retrievals of the profound meaning of the story of Jesus’s cross-bearing in recent scripture scholarship such as Yoder’s challenge us to think very differently about the role of suffering in the Christian life, and about the connection of suffering to Christian discipleship. They challenge us to think very differently than our medieval forebears did about practices such as self-flagellation and sleeping on the floor with our arms outstretched.

From the standpoint of the gospels, there is an inbuilt cost, an inbuilt and predictable suffering, when we choose to walk the way that Jesus walked. That suffering arises from our attempt to incarnate the values of the gospel in the world in which we live—through our life in communities of faith and of practice remembering Jesus, and through the ministry of those communities to the larger world.

There is inbuilt asceticism in the Christian life, insofar as we live, hope, work, and put up with one another (and with ourselves) in the communitarian context. With its communal context—its re-membering of the story of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection in a communal context, over and over throughout history—there is a world of inbuilt asceticism designed to temper our tendency to selfishness, pride, despair, and other besetting sins.

There is about ascetical practices like self-flagellation, indeed, an extrinsicism that is perhaps easier than the constant hair-shirt quality of seeking to live according to the gospel in a communitarian context with others hearing and responding to the gospel along with oneself. In the struggle to hear and live the gospel communally (and, in the life of discipleship, there is a constant communal context to this struggle), there is a never-ending process of whittling away one’s rough edges, tempering one’s expectations, chastening one’s certainties about what one knows with absolute conviction to be true and right.

And that asceticism—that cross—is even more apparent when members of the faith community seek to embody the values of the gospel in the world through active discipleship: through ministry. Particularly when we choose to place ourselves in solidarity with those for whom daily existence is a constant struggle for survival—when we stand with the millions of the world’s citizens who struggle to find enough to eat each day, to obtain shelter, medicine, education, freedom from oppression—we will find the cross. We will find the cross among the millions of the world’s citizens who would not dream of needing to punish their bodies through self-flagellation as clerics and religious have often done, because merely living in this world and trying to hang onto existence are, in their own way, punishment enough for those citizens.


Friday, January 29, 2010

US Catholic

Sometimes I visit the US Catholic magazine site, published by the Claretians, a community of Roman Catholic priests and brothers founded by writer and publisher Saint Anthony Claret in 1849. It has news and a lot of other content - I like the pov of managing editor Bryan Cones, who posts a column and a blog. Here's his latest column post - Mind the gap: Teaching doesn’t meet gay Catholics in the pews, and his latest blog post - "Self-mortification" and "Saint" John Paul II?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Three holy wars

Howard Zinn, American historian and Professor of Political Science at Boston University from 1964 to 1988, has died. He was active in the civil rights and anti-war movements and below is a video (Nov. 2009) of him speaking about three holy wars - not religious wars, but wars in American history that are considered by most to be so sanctified that they're beyond criticism ... the revolutionary war, the civil war, and WWII. Some of what he says is challenging but it's interesting too ......

Eugene McCarraher on theocons and natural law

I saw an interview with Eugene McCarraher, a left-leaning Catholic who teaches humanities at Villanova University, which touches on the Manhattan Declaration, and mentions Herbert McCabe and socialism (h/t A Thinking Reed). It's very long, so here's just the first question and answer, which actually make up most of the interview (visit the original for links to parts 1 and 2 and for footnotes) .....


Meet the New Boss, Same as the Old Boss: An Interview with Eugene McCarraher, Part Three of Three

The Other Journal (TOJ): This fall a document called the Manhattan Declaration was drafted and signed by sixty prominent U.S. Christian leaders—Orthodox, Catholic, Evangelical—advocating three truths: “the sanctity of human life,” “the dignity of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife,” and “the rights of conscience and religious liberty.” In the declaration, they claim heritage with the brave Christian heroes William Wilberforce, John Wesley, and Martin Luther King Jr. Additionally, the document appeals to universal reason and natural law, a sign of Catholic scholar and Princeton professor Robert George’s influence on the document.

The Manhattan Declaration’s reiteration of conservative talking points is interesting given that the Christian political vision they are proffering proved anemic for many conservative and liberal Christians alike during the election of President Obama. And although there is brief mention of the work Christians have been doing in the last decade on human rights, it is cursory, and there is little or no mention of poverty in our own country, racism, just war, economic concerns, environmental concerns, access to education, access to health care, access to justice, and on and on. In your view, why the return to these talking points? And can this document offer a critical intervention into its stated concern—a culture of death—with its appeal to universal reason and natural law?

Eugene McCarraher (EM): The Manhattan Declaration is the latest encyclical from those people Damon Linker once dubbed “the theocons”: intellectuals committed to the maintenance of the United States as a “Christian nation,” an imperial hegemon, and a “free-market” capitalist economy. These thecons abhor the remaking of the sexual order that commenced in the 1960s, reject consumer culture without rejecting the political economy of which it’s a part, oppose the expansion of government to regulate business and provide social services for the poor, suspect the greater tolerance for religious pluralism and secularism that now characterizes American religious life, and desire a forceful U.S. presence on the world stage against Islam, radical or not. They aim at a cultural counterrevolution that will reestablish the sexual ancien régime within the parameters of a morally rehabilitated capitalism. (Before publishing his invaluable study of the movement, The Theocons, Linker had been an editor at First Things, so he knows whereof he writes.) Written by a troika of right-wing religious intellectuals—Robert George, Timothy George (no relation), and Charles Colson, the Nixon hatchet-man who found Jesus in prison—the Manhattan Declaration is a short and tiresome document, outlining, as if we didn’t know already, the objections made by evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox conservatives to abortion, gay marriage, stem-cell research, and what they consider to be assaults on religious liberty in the name of political correctness. Stylistically, it’s pedestrian; intellectually, it’s pretty thin, but then, it’s a manifesto and not a treatise. Though I must say that the best manifestos have displayed both literary flourish and intellectual heft: witness The Rights of Man, The Communist Manifesto, and The Futurist Manifesto, all of which are still exhilarating. If these guys want to ignite or re-ignite a movement, they’d be well-advised to take tips from Paine, Marx, and Marinetti.

At first, it’s hard to understand the appearance of this document—as I said, it’s not like these views aren’t already prominent in our cultural and intellectual life—but I’ll take a stab at interpreting its timing and reflect on the larger phenomenon of the religious right in general.

For one thing, the authors and signatories are freaked out by President Obama. During the election and the early days of Obama’s presidency, I heard all kinds of doomsday scenarios from my conservative colleagues, mostly about abortion and gay marriage. The level of hysteria was quite high; you’d have thought from listening to them that Obama represents the arrival of the Brave New World. So when, for instance, you read the political and cultural hysterics published on a bimonthly basis in First Things, you’re reading the highbrow version of “tea-bagging.” So one way to view this document is as a cri de coeur from a religious right whose political fortunes are at a low point.

That makes this declaration appear all the more odd, because it really does repeat a lot of Republican talking points that clearly didn’t work in November 2008. So why keep at it? One reason is that a lot of people on the religious right can’t distinguish any longer between the gospel and Republican talking points. Another reason—and this speaks to your point about the relative absence of concern about poverty, racism, ecology, health care, et cetera—is that the religious right really doesn’t give a damn about poverty, racism, ecology, health care, et cetera. This is nothing new: American Protestantism in particular has a long tradition of thinking poverty a sign of God’s disfavor, or at the very least, a sign of an individual’s laziness or incompetence. Similarly, racism, for the religious right, is usually considered simply an individual failing, not a structural issue. As the denial of global warming demonstrates, ecology isn’t even an issue with many religious conservatives: their commitment to a capitalist economy mandates indifference to its environmental consequences, and concern about the condition of the planet can be easily dismissed as secular materialism or pagan idolatry. So the religious right quite literally has either nothing to say about these problems, or as Robert George’s remarks in that New York Times Magazine profile clearly indicated, they consider them secondary to sexual and bioethical matters.

But perhaps another reason might well be that the declaration articulates the worldview of many Christians who still long for a restoration of the America before the 1960s. In other words, the culture wars, so breezily declared to have been overshadowed by economic matters, are in fact far from over. Obama’s victory deluded a lot of people into thinking that the religious right had packed up and gone away. The tea-bagging events of last summer should have reminded everyone that the Kulturkampf lives and that the religious right is still a potent force in American life. However ill-informed and delusional, the level and ferocity of opposition to “Obamacare” was fueled, to no small degree, by fears of some secular liberal government takeover of the biological basis of life itself. Thus, I don’t think you can understand the traction of Sarah Palin’s “death panel” delusion unless you comprehend the belief that Obama represents the demise of “the Christian Nation.” I don’t know anything about Timothy George, but Robert George and Charles Colson are certainly smart and savvy, so perhaps they want to capitalize on Obama’s quickly shrinking credibility.

If they want to be the intellectual shock troops of a counterrevolution, they’re going to have to amass a better arsenal than what’s on display in the Manhattan Declaration. David Fitzpatrick’s hagiography in the New York Times Magazine made it appear that Robert George is a real intellectual juggernaut, but this document is really lame. (Having met George once, I can attest that he is indeed a learned and gracious man.) The preamble, for instance, is a farrago of half-truth, untruth, and middlebrow history. We’re told in the very first sentence that Christianity has a two-millennium “tradition” of “resisting tyranny” and “reaching out with compassion to the poor, oppressed, and suffering.” Not a mention of the two-millennium tradition of sanctifying tyranny—imperial conquest from the Romans to the Americans, monarchical rule from the Dark Ages to the twentieth century, dictatorships from Francisco Franco to Ríos Montt. Not a mention of the many blessings showered on feudal and industrial squalor, the oppression of slaves with the authority of the Bible, the infliction of suffering on Indians and other non-Christians. Later, we’re regaled that Christians “challenged the divine claims of kings,” but nothing about how Christians also, and more forcefully, sustained those claims. We’re reminded that Christians liberated “child laborers chained to machines,” but we’re left unenlightened about Rev. Thomas Malthus, Rev. Thomas Chalmers, and later evangelical apologists for laissez-faire and wage labor, often the very same evangelicals who fought for the abolition of slavery. And that’s not to mention the impact evangelical thinking had on exacerbating the Great Famine in Ireland. (Those interested in early 19th-century evangelical social thought must read Boyd Hilton’s The Age of Atonement.) We’re informed that Christian women “marched in the vanguard of the suffrage movement,” but not that Christians of both sexes also barred the door to the franchise for women, bolstered, I might add, by centuries of tradition. The authors think they’ve covered their backsides by writing that they “fully acknowledge the imperfections and shortcomings of Christian institutions and communities in all ages,” but the survey they offer betrays no sign of humility or contrition.

The document’s whitewashing of the Christian endorsement of slavery exemplifies its intellectual dishonesty. The long Christian support for slavery remains a chapter in the history of the faith that has occasioned all manner of disingenuousness, and this declaration only encourages that. It mentions that popes excommunicated slave traders—so what? This had no effect whatsoever on the slave trade. The fear of going to hell was nothing next to the fear of losing money. And besides, doctors like Augustine had put their seal of approval on slavery centuries before. (By the way, Augustine’s remarks on slavery in the City of God demonstrate how Georgian appeals to “natural law” can be utterly irrelevant. Augustine says there that while slavery is contrary to nature, it is or can be a legitimate “punishment for sin.” I’m reminded of Gibbon’s acerbic footnote about Augustine in the Decline and Fall: “His learning is too often borrowed, and his arguments are too often his own.”) As the great historian of antiquity G. E. M. de Ste. Croix once acidly observed, Christianity, far from loosening the shackles of slaves, riveted them on even more tightly. Heroes like Wilberforce and Wesley were necessary because their historical brethren had done little or nothing for two millennia to relieve the burden of servitude. By obscuring the historical record, the declaration both confirms suspicions about Christian obscurantism—this history is well-known or easily accessible—and it perpetuates the historical amnesia that makes so depressing the praise heaped on a film such as Amazing Grace. Yes, many North Atlantic evangelicals were abolitionists; but in the antebellum South, most certainly were not, and as Mark Noll, himself an evangelical, demonstrates in The Civil War as a Theological Crisis, the proslavery theologians often had the better of the purely biblical arguments.

Noll also makes an incisive observation in that book that’s pertinent to our time: the controversy over slavery was the culture war of the antebellum period. In other words, our culture wars are not unprecedented, and neither are the kinds of religious arguments deployed in battle. The slavery debate was bound up inextricably with an argument over the meaning of Christianity, and so are the debates over sexuality, marriage, and bioethics. So be careful when the Bible or natural law is trotted out to justify or condemn some practice or idea.

When conservative evangelicals assert, correctly, that homosexual conduct is cursed as an abomination in the Bible, I have to ask why they don’t also advocate debt slavery, the enslavement and forcible marriage of the women of defeated enemies, or the ritual examination of women accused by their husbands of adultery, all of which are clearly permitted or enjoined in the same Bible. If they retort that “times have changed,” then I have to ask why that dispensation doesn’t apply to gays and lesbians.

When the Robert Georges of the world appeal to natural law to condemn homosexual sex, I have to ask why they don’t call for the revocation of the female suffrage in support of which Christians were a vanguard, because it’s a matter of historical record that opponents of votes for women enlisted arguments from “the nature of woman.” It’s worth adding that proslavery ideologues also appealed to natural law, citing either the inherent or the cultural inferiority of blacks. Is it not natural, they asked, for the superior to rule the inferior? And if the Robert Georges of the world retort that their predecessors misinterpreted the natural law, then they are implicitly conceding that what’s considered natural isn’t as evident as right reason thinks it is, and that, therefore, nature depends on historical circumstances.

What’s clear to me is that the Christian worldview or natural law that’s endemic both to the document and to the religious right amounts to the sacralization of a certain form of suburban modernity. In order to understand the cultural politics inscribed in the Manhattan Declaration, it’s useful to think of theocons like Robert George, Charles Colson, and the First Things crowd as an American coterie of “reactionary modernists.” That’s a term invented by the historian Jeffrey Herf to describe an array of intellectuals, who were mostly but not exclusively German, who emerged in the aftermath of World War I. Exemplified by Oswald Spengler, Ernst Junger, and a variety of fascist writers, reactionary modernism represented an attempt to embrace the economic and technological modernity of corporate capitalism while rejecting its Enlightenment rationalism and cultural emancipation. My impression is that Robert George et. al. have very little problem with the commodity cornucopia produced by capitalism nor do they really object to the corporate organization of labor that makes it possible. I don’t really think they’re all that concerned either about what’s labeled consumerism, a term which, as your readers might recall, I don’t like myself, but it’s still a bit odd that it doesn’t often turn up in theocon writing. My impression is that they’re just as enchanted by buzzwords like innovation and creativity as the rest of the country is. What they fear is that the instrumental reason that they laud in the marketplace will jump its supposed boundaries and enter into other realms of life, disrupting, in particular, the sexual and family arrangements they consider natural. Beholden to the Bible or to natural law while spellbound by American market culture, theocons are thoroughly modern, however long and loudly they bewail the prodigal spirit of modernity.

This goes a long way in explaining the theocon obsession with sex to the exclusion of economics, health care, et cetera. As I’ve suggested, the theocons, like other kinds of conservatives, are in the impossible position of wanting capitalism without its inevitable social and cultural turbulence, a large part of which has been the sex and gender trouble provoked by capitalism’s demolition of traditional patriarchy. The greater sexual freedom of women in particular reminds theocons that the self-possession and autonomy they celebrate in the marketplace can be exercised in the bedroom and elsewhere. I mean “sexual freedom of women” here to include, not only what they do in bed and with whom they do it, but a broader range of freedoms in areas of traditional male control and supervision: access to education, employment, housing, et cetera. It’s quite revealing of the level of fear and angst involved here that Leon Kass, another B-lister who gets exalted in some quarters into a sage, once lamented that college-educated women don’t live with their parents until they get married. Rather than ponder the significance of the fact that choice and autonomy are keywords in both economic and sexual libertarianism, and thus rethink their entire conception of the relationship between the sexual and political economies, theocons displace their anxieties about market autonomy onto sex. They make feeble attempts to argue that sexual activity and market activity are in separate spheres, evaluated by different standards, but this ideological obfuscation is becoming more and more apparent. If you really want patriarchy and traditional, “natural” gender roles back, you’ve got to destroy capitalism in the name of some reactionary proprietary vision. Unless they’re absolute loons like the dominionists, the theocons can’t and won’t do that.

Still, having dumped on the theocons, I don’t want to convey the impression that their concerns are misplaced or that their solutions are worthless. One doesn’t have to affirm the ancien régime of sex and gender to consider abortion an evil or to be alarmed at the instrumentalization of the body that’s promoted as liberation in contemporary sexual culture, the complete sundering of sexual pleasure from love, friendship, community, and posterity. (I’ve already shared my views on abortion with The Other Journal, so I won’t dilate on them here.) As lame as it is, the theocons’ attempt to respond to the vilification of Christianity in both popular and intellectual culture is salutary. Most importantly, I support their effort to reintroduce some notion of human nature and teleology back into the moral and political conversation.

Robert George is a self-proclaimed Aristotelian and Thomist, and even if I don’t entirely share his understanding of what that means, I would contend that we should affirm a resolutely teleological conception of human nature. That’s why, even while I’m skeptical about facile appeals to natural law or human nature, I do think that there is such a thing as human nature and that happiness and fulfillment reside in the performance of that nature. What has to be emphasized is that Aristotelian teleology has more than one political meaning. If George represents one (I think quite shoddy) line of Aristotelian-Thomist politics, Alasdair MacIntyre and Herbert McCabe represent another, one that I find more convincing and congenial. (I don’t want to merge MacIntyre and McCabe too closely here. MacIntyre learned a lot from McCabe, but I don’t think he’d quite share McCabe’s lifelong commitment to socialism. Politically, I’d put him somewhere between George and McCabe.) As McCabe often insisted, if human nature finds its fulfillment in a community of friendship, then our arrangements of sexual, economic, and political life should both reflect and foster such a community. I would maintain that, in the current historical circumstances, some kind of socialism is the political economy of friendship and virtue. Obviously, George and the Manhattanites would disagree strongly, but I don’t think they can just dismiss the whole matter by saying that “you can get all the moral principles right, and still not have a right answer” to the question of how to construct economic and social institutions. That’s punting, which means, in effect, that they accept the current system.

That is why theocons like Robert George are, in the end, vying for the role of clerisy in the imperial corporate state. In the mise–en–scène of American corporatism, the theocons play the role of culturally despairing mandarins. Dispossessed by what they consider the leftish remnants of the sixties counterculture—the “cultural elite” or the “liberal media” who they vilify as the root and spawn of all evil—they’re competitors for cultural hegemony in the corporate state, seeking to reestablish an older form of American imperial culture. What’s ironic is that they’re part of the cultural elite. As much as they bray about being beleaguered outsiders kicked to the curb by liberals, they’re employed in an infrastructure of universities, think tanks, and periodicals, many of which are lavishly funded by rich reactionaries and business interests.

Some of them, like the late Richard Neuhaus, were doing penance, in their minds, for their sixties radicalism. One of the many virtues of Linker’s book is that he retrieves some of Neuhaus’s more sanguinary statements from historical oblivion. Neuhaus was writing well of guerrilla warfare, kidnapping, and other forms of terror; he even wrote that Che Guevara’s reluctance to engage in terrorism showed that he lacked sufficient “manhood.” So the notorious 1996 issue of First Things that contemplated “morally justified revolution” had an ancestor in Neuhaus’s venomous and frustrated machismo.

These theocons have direct and frequent access to political elites—if this is outsiderdom, it’s one of the plushest marginalities I’ve ever seen.

Because they want a “Christian nation”—note the absence of Jews, Muslims, and others who I have no doubt share their views—what they want to provide is a covenant theology for the corporate state. I don’t think they’ll succeed in quite the way they hope. They’re useful to the American Empire in so far as they mobilize consent to corporate and imperial policies. But as I’m arguing in the book I’m completing this year, The Enchantments of Mammon, corporate capitalism has its own forms of religiosity or enchantment, and theocon Christianity is, in the final analysis, utterly expendable and even potentially threatening to the corporatist order. However hard they try, theoconservatives can’t suppress for long the incompatibility of the gospel with a system of avarice and brutality ...


Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Daniel Jackson RIP

I've been watching episodes of the Stargate series on DVD and tonight came to Meridian, in which one of the main characters dies, or I should say, ascends.

The character who perishes was archaeologist and linguist Daniel Jackson. I really liked Daniel, so much so that I felt very sad through the whole episode. As another character on the series described him (to himself when he'd once lost his memory) ....

You are brilliant. One of the most caring, passionate ... you're the type of person who would give his own life for someone he doesn't even know. If you had one fault, it was that you wanted to save people so badly, you wanted to help people so much, that it tore you apart when you couldn't make a difference.

In this episode, Daniel saved an alien cultural from a devastating doomsday weapon, getting a lethal dose of radiation in doing so. At the last minute, as he lay dying in his hospital bed, an ascended being, Oma, offered him the chance to ascend instead of die. He felt he was unworthy ...

Daniel - You said I was the only one qualified to judge myself? So, how ever much I want to achieve enlightenment or whatever you want to call it, what happens if I look at my life and I don't honestly believe I deserve it?

Oma - The success or failure of your deeds does not add up to the sum of your life. Your spirit cannot be weighed. Judge yourself by the intention of your actions and by the strength with which you faced the challenges that have stood in your way.

Daniel - What if I can't?

Oma - The people closest to you have been trying to tell you that you have made a difference. That you did change things for the better.

Daniel - Not enough.

Oma - The universe is vast and we are so small. There is only one thing we can ever truly control.

Daniek - What's that?

Oma - Whether we are good or evil.

Finally convinced he can make more of a difference in helping others as an ascended being, Daniel goes with Oma.

- Daniel ascending

Ironically, Daniel later (in the next season) learns that ascended beings are not allowed to intervene in the activities of humans, even to help (hmm - sounds familiar) and when he helps anyway, he gets kicked out of the group, having to take human form once again. Of course it's all just fiction, but still it's surprising how what's make-believe can so touch and move us (or me, anyway).

RIP Daniel, and see you next season.

Obama on Auschwitz

This is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. Here's President Obama's reflection, given today before the State of the Union Speech .....

- Selection on the Jewish ramp at Auschwitz II-Birkenau, May/June 1944. To be sent to the right meant labor; to the left, the gas chambers. - Wikipedia

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

JD Crossan, Keith Ward, body and soul

- Jake

What I found most compelling about the movie Avatar was the idea of Jake moving "himself" from his paralyzed body to a lab-grown avatar body - given my eye disease, I envied him his chance for a replacement body. But if Jake had been a Catholic, would he have done this?

It's all about dualism. If I understand correctly, Plato saw a person as being of different parts, mind/soul, and body, with the mind/soul immortal, and with an existence independent of the body. The neo-Platonists (like Augustine) followed his ideas. Aristotle, though, saw a person as having those parts unified, without an independent existence from each other. Thomas Aquinas, following Aristotle, saw a complete person as having these parts necessarily unified - for him, a soul without a body was not a person, and each soul was the unique soul of a unique body. Is there a Jake who is more than his body even if he can't necessarily exist without it, and who has the right to change his body? Once he does change it, is he still Jake? I'd say yeas and yes.

Though I don't really understand this stuff well, I thought I'd post a couple of bits from JD Crossan who appears to hold the Catholic view, and Keith Ward who seems to feel differently (I like Ward's take).

First, JD Crossan ......

"My criticism of Gnosticism would be this: one of the most fundamental decisions we have to make, going back to dear old Plato, is whether the human being is a dialectic, in the same sense as before, of body and spirit, or if somehow that spirit or soul is only temporarily, possibly even unfortunately, joined to what is either a flea bag hotel or a magnificent palace called the body. But in either case the soul is only temporarily embodied until it goes home to its true spiritual abode. I think that this is the most radical question in Western philosophy. Whichever way you come down on this question, everything else will follow. If you think that human beings are actually incarcerated, entombed spirits, that we're simply renting bodies out, then everything else will follow. But if you think along with the Bible that somehow or other the body/soul amalgam is a dialectic, that you can distinguish but not separate them, then everything else will follow differently. So Gnosticism seems to be a perfectly good, linear descendent of Platonism (I'm not certain though what Plato himself would have said), but at the heart of it is the presumption that the material world is at best irrelevant and at worst evil. Those seem to be the fundamental options. You have to pick your position from there."
- An Interview with John Dominic Crossan, Journal of Philosophy and Scripture

And here's a part of a lecture by Keith Ward on JPII's Veritatis Splendor .....


[...] To speak of a ‘soul’ is to speak of the capacities of a type of physical body, capacities of a type of animal capable of abstract thought and responsible action. Souls cannot properly exist without bodies - a view Aquinas espoused.

The complication here is that the soul is often spoken of as though it is a non-physical agent of thought, action, sensation and perception. Some form of embodiment may be essential to it, in order to provide information, and the possibility of communication and action. But perhaps the same soul could be embodied in different forms. Anyone who believes in rebirth must believe this. Catholics, who do not share that belief, do nevertheless seem to be committed to the existence of souls, both in Purgatory and in Heaven, that have consciousness and experience, but do not have physical bodies. Moreover, whatever the resurrection body is, it is certainly not temporally or physically continuous with this physical body, and it may be significantly different in some respects (it will not be corruptible, and will not have exactly the same physical properties as the physical body when it died).

Aquinas said that unembodied souls exist ‘improperly and unnaturally’, by the grace of God, and will not fully be persons again until the resurrection. But it is obvious that a resurrected body will not be constituted of the same physical stuff as present bodies (it is said to be spiritual, not physical). The present physical universe will come to an end, and there will be ‘a new heaven and earth’. What that means is that the physical stuff of this specific universe is not essential to the nature and continuous existence of persons, even though something analogous to this body must exist.

What is at stake in this discussion is whether human consciousness is an emergent property of a physical object - and so ceases to function or exist without that object. Or whether human consciousness, though it does originate within a physical body, and does require some form of embodiment, is nevertheless dissociable from its original body, and is capable of existence in other forms. Is the soul adjectival to the body, or is this body just one form in which this soul may exist? Aquinas tries to straddle both sides of this divide by speaking of the soul as a ‘substantive form’, something whose function it is to give a body specific capacities, but which is capable of existing, though not of functioning in its full and proper way, without that body .....

John Paul is especially concerned to say that the body should not be regarded as simply ‘raw material’, something ‘extrinsic to the person’, that can be shaped or dealt with in any way one wishes. The unity of soul and body means that we must respect our bodily structure, since that is part of what we essentially are - ‘body and soul are inseparable’, and the body intrinsically has moral meaning. We might contrast this view with some Hindu views that the body is just a garment that we put on or off. For John Paul, the body is constitutive of what we are, and we would not be the same being without it, without the specific body we have. This is what is intended by the traditional Catholic view that each soul is fitted for a specific body. We might say that each soul is the unique soul of a unique body .....

The first question that must be posed by the relentlessly critical philosopher is whether this view of the person is knowable by natural reason. It seems not. For philosophical accounts of human personhood range from the reductive physicalism of Alonso Church (who denies that consciousness is important or even existent) to the pure idealism of Timothy Sprigge (who thinks that bodies are illusory appearances of pure mental realities). These are philosophers trying to give a reasoned account of human persons, and they disagree as much as they possibly could. My conclusion is not that the Catholic view is wrong. But it cannot be established with any certainty by reason. It can be reasonably maintained, and of course it can be accepted as true. But it cannot be defended as an account that all reasonable people can see to be true. To that extent, it cannot be the basis of a morality that all can accept with a reasonable degree of certainty. Catholic morality will depend upon a Catholic view of persons. That view of persons may be true, and it should certainly be defended by Catholics. But it will generate a distinctively Catholic view of moral precepts that is unlikely to be shared by all rational agents .....


Thomas Reese SJ / A world of despair

Jesuit Tom Reese has a post about Haiti that acknowledges the despair such disasters can evoke in observers. I was glad to read I'm not the only one who feels this way. Here's the beginning of the post ....


A world of despair

As I was thinking about this column, there was a part of me that knew I had to write about Haiti and there was another part that simply wanted to ignore it.

On the one hand, we are faced with a humanitarian disaster in Porte-au-Prince that cannot be ignored. An estimated 200,000 people have died. Thousands have been traumatically injured, and many of them will die of their injuries or disease. These people are not just statistics, they are men and women and children with faces and names and feelings. Those who survive will be living in a ruined country without hospitals, utilities or housing. Finding water and food is a daily struggle. Haiti was a basket case before the earthquake and now there is not even a basket.

On the other hand, I want to ignore Haiti. I am suffering from what has been called compassion fatigue. Or maybe it is simply despair. The economy of the world is in the toilet. Unemployment in the U.S. will stay around 10 percent for the rest of the year. Wars are going on in Iraq, Afghanistan and all over Africa. There are millions of refugees around the world. Because of global warming, humanity is heading pall mall toward an ecological cataclysm that will make the Haitian disaster pale to insignificance. And partisan politics has created gridlock in Washington making it impossible to deal with any of these crises.

As a political scientist, journalist and priest, I have followed and commented on the tragedies of the world for the past 30 years, and I am tired and ready to despair. Living in a global village sucks. The problems are too big and we appear powerless to do anything about them. St. John of the Cross would call this the "Dark Night of the Soul." I think it is what Jesus experienced in the agony of the Garden.

How do we get out of this dark night, how do we get out of this despair? ......


Read on at Georgetown/On Faith to find out.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Some paintings

From book illustrators ....

- The Mermaid - Howard Pyle

- Sleeping Beauty - Edward Burne-Jones

- In the Hut There Was Only a Bed, the Sunbeam Stole in to Kiss Him - Eleanor Vere Boyle

- ...And hidden by the sleeve of Night and Morn - Edmund Dulac

Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Euthyphro dilemma

Today I read about the Euthyphro dilemma, a question asked by Plato ... Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods? ... and realized I've been considering it without realizing what it was. When I've read on the one hand that God sends people to hell (or "lets" them go to hell), but then on the other that he saves everyone (Hans Urs von Balthasar), I've wanted to believe Balthasar. I've felt God should conform to a standard of goodness which doesn't fit with eternal punishment (horn #1 of the dilemma), and I've felt that if hell does indeed exist, the only reason God is called good is that might makes right (horn #2 of the dilemma).

OK, maybe I don't really understand all this, much less explain it well :) so here's a little about the Euthyphro dilemma from Wikipedia (bolding mine) ....


The Euthyphro dilemma is found in Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, in which Socrates asks Euthyphro: "Is the pious (τὸ ὅσιον) loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?" .... "Is what is moral commanded by God because it is moral, or is it moral because it is commanded by God?" The dilemma has continued to present a problem for theists ......

The first horn of the dilemma (i.e. that which is right is commanded by God because it is right) ... the view is that there are independent moral standards: some actions are right or wrong in themselves, independently of God's commands .... this is the view accepted by Socrates and Euthyphro in Plato's dialogue .....

Though Aquinas never explicitly addresses the Euthyphro dilemma, interpreters often put him on this side of the issue. Aquinas draws a distinction between what is good or evil in itself and what is good or evil because of God's commands, with unchangeable moral standards forming the bulk of natural law. Thus he contends that not even God can change the Ten Commandments (adding that God can change what individuals deserve in particular cases, in what might look like special dispensations to murder or steal) .....

This horn of the dilemma faces several problems ..... 18th-century philosopher Richard Price, who takes the first horn and thus sees morality as "necessary and immutable", sets out the objection as follows: "It may seem that this is setting up something distinct from God, which is independent of him, and equally eternal and necessary." ..... Nontheists have capitalized on this point, largely as a way of disarming moral arguments for God's existence: if morality does not depend on God in the first place, such arguments stumble at the starting gate.

The second horn of the dilemma (i.e. that which is right is right because it is commanded by God) is sometimes known as divine command theory or voluntarism. Roughly, it is the view that there are no moral standards other than God's will: without God's commands, our actions would be neither right nor wrong.

This view was partially defended by Scotus, in arguing that not all Ten Commandments belong to the natural law. Scotus held that while our duties to God (found on the first tablet) are self-evident, true by definition, and unchangeable even by God, our duties to others (found on the second tablet) were arbitrarily willed by God and are within his power to revoke and replace (which is why God was able to command the murder of Isaac, the spoiling of the Egyptians, and the adulterous marriage of Hosea) .... Protestant reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin both stressed the absolute sovereignty of God's will, with Luther writing that "for [God's] will there is no cause or reason that can be laid down as a rule or measure for it", and Calvin writing that "everything which [God] wills must be held to be righteous by the mere fact of his willing it." .....

This horn of the dilemma also faces several problems ... If there is no moral standard other than God's will, then God's commands are arbitrary .... A related point is raised by C. S. Lewis: "if good is to be defined as what God commands, then the goodness of God Himself is emptied of meaning and the commands of an omnipotent fiend would have the same claim on us as those of the 'righteous Lord.'" .....


The Wikipedia article states that Aquinas asserted that there really was no dilemma, but that his explanation was somewhat wanting.

Conservatives for free speech?

I was disturbed to read of the Supreme Court's ruling to allow unlimited spending by corporations on political ads - Obama Turns Up Heat Over Campaign Spending Decision.

Here below is a blog post from the Chicago Tribune that brings up the inconsistencies of the conservative court ....

Conservative justices and free speech
- Steve Chapman

Yesterday, by a 5-4 margin, the Supreme Court struck down a campaign finance law that effectively prevents corporations from spending money promoting or opposing political candidates. The reason: The rule violates the First Amendment.

I think the court was right. But it's worth noting that this decision, as University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone puts it, came from conservative justices who seldom exhibit much concern for free speech. "It's a little hard to explain their unbounded enthusiasm for the First Amendment" here, he told me.

The decision was right to see the harm to free expression from letting the government impose such controls on people merely because they act through corporate organizations. But when free expression is attacked by those on the right, conservative justices are often indifferent.

A good example is the 2007 decision allowing a public high school to suspend a student because, while off-campus, he raised a banner reading "Bong Hits 4 Jesus" when the Olympic torch relay passed by. Chief Justice John Roberts argued that the banner promoted drug use and that schools have pretty much a free hand in suppressing speech that promotes drug use -- because, after all, it's dangerous.

Another is the 2003 decision allowing Congress to force public libraries and schools to install filtering software on their computers, in the name of protecting children from sexual material. Justice David Souter pointed out that the filters would impede the freedom of adults to access constitutionally protected material, but the conservative justices didn't care.

Freedom of expression is a foundation of our democracy and an essential aspect of individual autonomy. Conservatives understand that in the realm of campaign finance. Why not elsewhere?


Friday, January 22, 2010

Roy Dupuis .....

A while ago I had a post on the documentary movie Shake Hands with the Devil: The Journey of Roméo Dallaire about the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and the Canadian Lieutenant-General Roméo Dallaire, commander of the United Nations mission there at the time.

I'd like to say I'd rented the movie just because I'm so concerned with social justice, but actually I had rented it by mistake, thinking I was instead renting the fictionalized version of that story, Shake Hands with the Devil , which starred French-Canadian actor Roy Dupuis.

Though I rented the wrong movie, it was very worth a watch, and I also look forward still to seeing the version with Roy Dupuis. Here below is a video with clips from the movie and an interview with Roméo Dallaire and Roy Dupuis ......



And I Love Her

More music from A Hard Day's Night ...

The best of all possible worlds - not!

- Dr. Ram Avraham treated a Haitian infant in an Israeli Defense Forces hospital tent near the Port-au-Prince airport.

Still seeing a lot about Haiti: on the secular side, there's info about relief efforts, like the great job done by the field hospital run by Israel's IDF (For Israelis, Mixed Feelings on Aid Effort NYT), and on the religious side, I've seen posts from Eastern Orthodox to Catholic to Anglican on why, given a good God, bad things like earthquakes happen not just to good people but to any people.

Reading about the secular stuff can be disturbing -- some of the stories are harrowing -- but it's when reading the various religious theodicy posts that I've been getting the most uncomfortable. Why? Because so many of them sidestep the problem in the problem of evil.

On thing I read today was The Rev. Dr Giles Fraser's BBC Thought for the Day, Friday 15 January 2010. In it he gives a brief history of theodicy, mentions Leibniz and the best of all possible worlds, Voltaire and the 1755 Lisbon earthquake on All Saint's Day, and then goes on to say .......

Well, I have no answer to the question of how God can allow so many innocent people to die in natural disasters, like the earthquakes of Lisbon or Haiti. And indeed, I can quite understand that many will regard these events as proof positive that religious people are living a foolish dream like the idiotic Dr Pangloss.

And yet, I still believe. For there exists a place in me - deeper than my rational self - that compels me to respond to tragedies like Haiti not with argument but with prayer. On a very basic level, what people find in religion is not so much the answers, but a means of responding to and living with life’s hardest questions. And this is why a tragedy like this doesn’t, on the whole, make believers suddenly wake up to the foolishness of their faith. On the contrary, it mostly tends to deepen our sense of a need for God.

What many believers mean by faith is not that we have a firm foundation in rational justification. Those, like Leibniz, who try to claim this are, I believe, rationalizing something that properly exists on another level. Which is why, at a moment like this, I’d prefer to leave the arguments to others. For me, this is a time quietly to light a candle for the people of Haiti and to offer them up to God in my prayers. May the souls of the departed rest in peace.

I'd bet he's right about one thing -- most believers do not believe in God because it "makes sense" or stop believing because it doesn't. But I cringe at what this seems to say about people who believe in God and are not dumbfounded or outraged at the disconnect between a God who is love and a universe he created where earthquakes crush people. I fear that such people have made a scary deal, one where they trade away the doubt and fear and anger that come with empathy and compassion in the face of tragedy, and get instead peace of mind .... I fear I may be one of those people.

And I think sometimes we believers talk only amongst ourselves so much that we forget what our acceptance of such contradictions seems like to others. Here's an example from Susan Jacoby at On Faith .....


Suffering and the futility of faith

Haiti is not a special case. There is no way to reconcile senseless suffering, whether caused by man or by nature, with belief in an all-powerful, benevolent deity. It's the theodicy problem, and people of faith who try to rationalize the role of suffering in "God's plan" must inevitably fall back on the bromide, "God must have his reasons." Reasons, needless to say, which reason knows nothing of. I listened to an earthquake survivor this morning on the "Today" show, and he concluded that he was rescued from the rubble because "God must have a plan for me." Right. And what about God's plan for the dead and the mutilated? How can anyone cherish these childish, narcissistic notions about a loving god who elects him to survive and others to perish? I am an atheist, so I do not have to torture myself by looking through the Bible or any other supposedly sacred book for an explanation of the inexplicable and a justification of the unjustifiable.

In her brilliant, just-published 36 Arguments for The Existence of God: A Work of Fiction, novelist and philosopher Rebecca Goldstein sums up the self-referential nature of the believer's explanation for suffering: "There are purposes for suffering that we cannot discern...Only a being who has a sense of purpose beyond ours could provide the purpose of all suffering...Only God could have a sense of purpose beyond ours...God exists."

Let us suppose, for the sake of argument, that "God's plan" is to make better people out of those who survived the earthquake in Haiti. Or the Holocaust. Or whatever tomorrow's tragedy may be. I cannot imagine why anyone would want to have anything to do with such a deity. How loathsome it is to suggest that suffering should exist as a form of self-improvement. Is Alzheimer's disease sent by God to improve the character of caretakers? Or perhaps the "purpose" of this brain-destroying affliction is to force humility on those who were once proud of their mind and talents? The truth is that Alzheimer's, like an earthquake, is no more and no less than a natural catastrophe--albeit of a neurological rather than a geological nature.

Let us not waste our time on holy books that attempt, in vain, to "justify the ways of God to man." God's so-called reasons--even if there were a god--are not worth one child's anguished cry. Human beings have the capacity for both good and evil, and all we can do in the face of indifferent nature or malevolent human design is to choose to behave with compassion or with cruelty. Did I say "all" we can do? To choose compassion is everything. And God has nothing to do with it.


I'm like Giles Fraser ... I don't have an answer to the problem of evil, yet still I don't want to give up on believing in a good God. But some part of me is vastly disturbed by my choice.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Hans Urs von Balthasar and the discernment of spirits

As the Creighton U retreat proceeds, I'm thinking more about Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises and especially about the discernment of spirits. By chance I came across a 1999 lecture given at Boston College by Werner Löser SJ on once-Jesuit theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar and the Spiritual Exercises. The lecture is quite long, but here below is just the part that deals with the discernment of spirits .....

The Ignatian Exercises in the Work of Hans Urs von Balthasar

[...] In the Exercises there are two series of "rules for the discernment of spirits" (nosl 313-327; 328-336). Von Balthasar dealt with these as well, especially in the third volume of Theologik, which came out in 1987 and which unfolds a theology of the Holy Spirit. In the chapter that discusses the working of the Holy Spirit in the Church there is a lengthy section on the discernment of spirits, in the course of which von Balthasar recalls Ignatius' rules.(34) Being moved by the spirits was for Ignatius himself the point of departure of his spiritual path. In order to choose God's will, the spirits had to be discerned. Ignatius was able to make use in this context of the experiences and texts of earlier masters of the spiritual life. What is characteristic of Ignatius' rules for the discernement of spirits, according to von Balthasar, is their orientation toward choice. Thus he writes, after recalling the content of the rules in summary fashion,

Text 13: All these rules are primarily directed toward the central process of the exercises, the choice of the way of life appointed by God for the individual person, in which choice the harmony between human and divine freedom must make itself present in its purity: for 'in every life or state which God our Lord gives us for us to choose, we should be able to reach perfection' (Exercises, 135). For this fragile coordination which is endangered by human impurity, this pure and limpid (pura y limpida) coordination of most free divine offer and most free human consent - this is the main concern of the Exercises - must not be clouded by anything, if it is to succeed in all truth. (35)

Ignatius provided for a person going through the Exercises to entrust himself to the company and guidance of a retreat master. According to von Balthasar, it is the task of this master in the process of the discernment of spirits to bring to bear the Spirit of God inasmuch as that Spirit meets one in the givens of the institutional Church.

Text 14: This discernement of spirits is apparently highly subjective, and the master is accordingly forbidden to mix his own opinions into the dialogue between God and the soul (no .15). Neverthelss, since a life within 'the sphere of the holy mother, the hierarchical Church' (nor 170; 353) is to be chosen, it is indispensable that there be a control of this subjectivity through the objectivity of the official Church, embodied in the retreat master who must examine on his part a person's discernment of spirits in the light of ecclesial knowledge of the discernement of spirits (nos. 8-10; 14). It will not be enough to say that 'human reason' is here simply 'sufficient, supported, and illumined, however, by the light of faith, which on its part stems from God, and one cannot contradict the other, because truth necessarily agrees with truth' (Directorium of 1599, 28:5); one must call this 'light of faith' more precisely as the grace of a discernement specifically bestowed on the retreat master by the Holy Spirit. This gift is connected with the objective spirit of ecclesial office so that, in fact, subjective and objective spirit cannot contradict each other here, if both together listen to the inspiration of God's Spirit. (36)


(34) Theologik III: Der Geist der Wahrheit, Einsiedeln 1987, 360-362

(35) ibid. 361. A fundamental work which also moves into currently urgent and concrete areas appeared under the title "Vorerwägungen zur Unterscheidung der Geister", in: Pneuma und Institution, 325-339

(36) Theologik III, 361, cf. also "Autorität", in: Klarstellungen. Zur Prüfung der Geister, Freiburg, 1971, 85 f.


For those interested, I have a more general past post about the discernment of spirits.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The glamour of evil/problem of evil

This coming week in the Creighton online retreat is about Jesus' temptation in the desert, and as I watched the video below, I had the thought that in a way his temptation was a problem of evil kind of thing. Satan tempts Jesus to use his special relationship with God to rid the earth of evils, making it a paradise. Jesus says 'no'. Maybe if I can understand why he did so, I can understand the problem of evil somewhat too.

Anyway, for those interested, here below is a video clip from the movie Jesus - it begins with Jesus being baptised and then heading into the desert. After some time, a dirty and sunburned Jesus is approached by a spirit in the guise of a woman, and then, once he accepts the offer of testing, a strangely modern looking Satan appears who shows him starving children and takes him from the roof of the temple into orbit around the planet, all with the goal of sucessfully tempting him. When it's over, he doesn't concede defeat but he tells Jesus he'll see him again ....

Rain, rain, go away

Or ... :) .....

Garbage I'm Only Happy When it Rains

Tina Nuerotic not yet psychotic | MySpace Video

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Data and Bastet

- today is the five year anniversary of my cat Data's death, so here's a story for him ....

Temple to cat god found in Egypt (BBC)

Archaeologists in Egypt have discovered a 2,000-year-old temple in Alexandria dedicated to a cat goddess. The temple is the first trace of the royal quarters of the Ptolemaic dynasty to be revealed in Alexandria. The find confirms the Greek dynasty of Egyptians continued the worship of ancient animal deities ..... Archaeologists found statues of Bastet, worshipped by the Greek-speaking Egyptians as the moon goddess. For thousands of years the Egyptian Pharaohs believed Bastet was a lion-headed goddess, a relative of the sun-god Ra and a ferocious protector. But her influence waned as the Pharaohs declined, and the Hellenistic Egyptians resurrected her as the equivalent of the ancient Greek deity Artemis .....

- a statue of Bastet found in the temple

Monday, January 18, 2010

The adventure of creation is full of risk

I've become interested in Edward Schillebeeckx since his death and especially in his ideas about Jesus. Looking online, I haven't found a lot - no articles by him (but a sermon - Thomas Aquinas: Servant of the Word) and only a few articles about him at the now defunct Dominican journal Spirituality Today. The articles, for those interested, are Christian Ministry in Light of Schillebeeckx's Theology of Grace by Edward van Merrienboer OP, "Grace-Optimism": The Spirituality at the Heart of Schillebeeckx's Theology by Mary Catherine Hilkert OP, and Schillebeeckx's Jesus and Christ -- Contributions to Christian Life by Benedict T. Viviano OP.

All the articles are fairly long, but here's just a bit of "Grace-Optimism": The Spirituality at the Heart of Schillebeeckx's Theology, about a quarter of the way into the article, which touches on the "problem of evil" ........



At the heart of both our fragmentary experiences of salvation and the hope and courage that arises in the midst of negative contrast experiences is the power of the God Schillebeeckx describes in Jesus: An Experiment in Christology as "bent toward humanity" (267). Schillebeeckx realizes, however, that most people's experience of God in our day is more an experience of God's absence than of God's consoling presence.

Amidst the crisis of secularization in the 1960s, Schillebeeckx suggested that the death of the "God of the gaps" can be a blessing that can give birth to a more profound understanding of human responsibility for the future of human history and the cosmos. That responsibility is always undergirded and empowered, however, by the creative presence of God. The impact of radical secularization and Western technological cultures' "shift to the future" led Schillebeeckx to seek a spirituality of hope including a new image of God as "the future of humankind as a whole." He remarked at that time, however, in God the Future of Man, that this new idea of God was actually a rediscovery of the overlooked biblical vision of the living God as "our future," the one who consistently promises to open up a new future for those who seem to have no human future (188). Grace becomes then, the power of the future within us already straining for fulfillment, thus the basis for a profound "hope against hope" in terms of what is possible for human history and the created world. The Spirit of God is the one who holds open the possibilities of the future as well as who calls to mind the "dangerous memories" of the unfulfilled promises of the past. God is the source of a creative dissatisfaction with all that is less than God's vision for humanity.

This focus on God's Spirit as the source of the human ability to "hope against hope" became even more central in the spirituality of Schillebeeckx's writings as he turned his attention to the vast and senseless suffering in our world today. The main focus of his two-volume Jesus-project was to begin a socio-political retrieval of the Christian claims that God desires the salvation of all and that Jesus is universal savior in the face of such fundamental historical evidence of the demonic in history as Auschwitz, Hiroshima, Vietnam, and irreversible ecological destruction.

In his Church: The Human Story of God, Schillebeeckx further connects the contemporary difficulty with belief in God with the way churches as institutions not only domesticate religious experience, but also become real stumbling blocks to the preaching of the gospel. Given the human condition, Schillebeeckx grants the necessity of some "institutionalization of belief in God," but he continues:

However, things become different when the official religious institution, in its behavior and attitude, above all as a result of explicit or at least de facto alliances with the "powerful of this world," in practice leaves the little ones in the lurch and in one way or another contradicts the message which it preaches. In that case the institutign becomes incredible and a stumbling block to belief in God.

The scandal created by the suffering of the world and, to some extent even by the churches themselves, raises the fundamental question for contemporary believers of the relationship between God's power and God's love. If God is both omnipotent and loving, why does God allow human injustice and natural evil? Schillebeeckx does not attempt any theoretical response to the problem of human suffering. Instead he explores God's own response in and through the life-story of Jesus.

Even Jesus' experience of God, Schillebeeckx suggests, was a "contrast experience." Jesus' Abba experience, the core and secret of his life, was "an immediate awareness of God as a power cherishing people and making them free" (Jesus, 268). Schillebeeckx is careful to point out, however, that that experience was not a self-subsistent religious experience, but rather a constant search for God and God's will (in the tradition of his Jewish spirituality) in the face of "the incorrigible, irremediable history of human suffering, a history of calamity, violence and injustice, of grinding, excruciating and oppressive enslavement" (267). Jesus' death becomes the ultimate experience of contrast in which he clings to God in love and is faithful to the mission of his life in the darkness of apparent abandonment and failure. The crucifixion of Jesus, the summation of human injustice and rejection of God becomes also a radical question about God and God's fidelity. But the God who remained hidden even from Jesus during the course of his life-story is revealed in the resurrection to be the "God of the Living" that Jesus proclaimed and trusted. In and through the human story of Jesus, the crucified-and-risen one, God has defeated evil, injustice, and even death in a definitive way and been shown to be a "God bent toward humanity."

The liberating God remains, however, the God who respects and trusts creation. Jesus' story also reveals that the divine way of liberating is always in and through human freedom. Thus Schillebeeckx argues, the omnipotent and free God has become vulnerable in relation to human beings and human history. Schillebeeckx writes of God's vulnerability or "defenseless superior power" (weerlose overmacht) in terms of God's defenselessness at creation, God's defenselessness in the Messiah Jesus Christ, and the defenselessness of the Holy Spirit in the church and the world.

The adventure of creation, Schillebeeckx remarks, is full of risk for God as well as for human beings:

Daring to call human beings to life creatively is from God's perspective a vote of confidence in humankind and in its history, without any condition being placed on human beings or any guarantee being asked of them. The creation of human beings is a blank check for which God alone is a guarantor. By creating human beings with their own finite and free will, God voluntarily renounces power. That makes [God] to a high degree dependent on human beings and vulnerable.

God's vulnerability does not contradict God's power, rather it highlights that God's power is indeed immanent within creation. While God's love remains the power which gives life, freedom, and the challenge to "choose life" to human beings, God refuses to break into human history or block the power of human freedom. Until the end of human history, God remains present in redemption and forgiveness, but God will not alter the course of free human decision -- even the decisions that are choices for death and injustice.

The radical choice of God to respect human free choice even the choice for sin and radical evil -- with the consequences that holds for the vulnerability of God is brought to radical clarity in God's non-intervention in the crucifixion of Jesus. Yet when considered in the context of his life and ministry and the mystery of the resurrection, Jesus' death also reveals God's power. To speak of the crucifixion or death of Jesus apart from his life and resurrection as an atoning, redemptive death, Schillebeeckx insists, is scandalous ideology. Death is the enemy of life; the crucifixion of Jesus is the summation of radical human injustice. In no way can death or suffering in itself be considered the will of the God of the Living. However, precisely because the God bent toward humanity is also the creator God who respects human freedom, God's way of "undoing death" and defeating the power of evil was to take on solidarity with the human condition even to the point of death. God's grace was victorious precisely in and through the human freedom of Jesus. Just as Jesus revealed the "superior power" of God (God's grace) in disarming evil and creating new life throughout his life and ministry, so too, he filled the meaninglessness of death with meaning in choosing to face his death in fidelity to his life's mission and in solidarity with humanity. The proclamation that "Jesus lives" is also the confirmation of the preaching of Jesus' entire life and death, the definitive proclamation of God's "superior power" over evil. Schillebeeckx writes in Church: The Human Story of God:

The basic experience of the first disciples after Good Friday was: no, evil, the cross, cannot have the last word. Jesus way of life is right and is the last word, that is sealed in his resurrection. . . Suffering and death remain absurd and may not be mystified, even in Jesus' case; but they do not have the last word, because the liberating God was absolutely near to Jesus on the cross, as during the whole of Jesus' career. (96-97)

Yet, God both conceals and expresses superior power over evil in Jesus in order to draw human beings into solidarity with oppressed women and men. Schillebeeckx's reference to the "defenselessness of the Holy Spirit in the church and in the world" underscores the implications of God's entrusting a "blank check" to humanity in creation and Jesus entrusting the mystery of salvation to his followers. As Schillebeeckx's most recent volume emphasizes, the divine story is told only in and through the human story .......


Sunday, January 17, 2010

To Toussaint Louverture

Realized today how little I know about Haiti's history when I came upon this poem about Toussaint L' Ouverture by William Wordsworth ....

To Toussaint Louverture

Toussaint, the most unhappy man of men
Whether the whistling Rustic tend his plough
Within thy hearing, or thy head be now
Pillowed in some deep dungeon’s earless den;
O Miserable Chieftain! Where and when
Wilt thou find Patience? Yet die not; do thou
Wear rather in thy bonds a cheerful brow:
Though fallen thyself, never to rise again,
Live, and take comfort. Thou hast left behind
Powers that will work for thee; air, earth, and skies;
There’s not a breathing of the common wind
That will forget thee; thou hast great allies;
Thy friends are exultations, agonies,
And love, and man’s unconquerable mind.

Marriage at Cana

- Jesus dancing the night away at the wedding, from the movie Jesus

Saturday, January 16, 2010

B16 at the Great Synagogue of Rome

- Great Synagogue of Rome

Tomorrow the pope is scheduled to visit the Great Synagogue of Rome. David Gibson has a good article on this and the issues surrounding it - The Jewish-Catholic Crisis: How Bad is it -- and Why? TIME also has a briefer article on this. Here's the beginning of it ......

Amid Tension, Pope Will Pay Visit to Synagogue

When Pope John Paul II stepped into Rome's central synagogue on April 13, 1986, the man in white was met by a thunderclap of applause. After centuries of Jews suffering through pogroms, ghettos, Nazi death camps and arm's-length-at-best cohabitation with Christians, the first-ever papal visit to a Jewish house of worship — entering the synagogue side by side with Rome's avuncular chief Rabbi Elio Toaff — was much more than a photo op. It was a shared embrace to begin to heal the wounds of history.

Still, the momentous visit 24 years ago, during which John Paul referred to Jews as Christians' "older brothers," could never fully erase that history. And indeed, when John Paul's successor, Benedict XVI, crosses the Tiber River on Sunday to visit that same synagogue, he will be dogged by a new dispute about the past: the controversy over the Vatican's decision last month to push for possible sainthood for World War II-era Pope Pius XII, whom some Jewish groups and scholars blame for not doing enough to try to halt the Holocaust. Because of this and other tensions in the five years of his papacy, Benedict may be met by slightly more tepid applause from his Jewish hosts. One of Italy's leading rabbis, Giuseppe Laras, said he would boycott the service, citing a number of sore points with the Pope, most notably his decision to reactivate Pius XII's sainthood dossier .......

Here's a bit about the Rome Synagogue from Wikipedia ....

The Great Synagogue of Rome (Italian: Tempio Maggiore di Roma) is the largest synagogue in Rome. The Jewish community of Rome goes back to the second century BC when Judea had an alliance with the Roman Empire under the leadership of Judah Maccabeus. ..... The building was constructed shortly after the unification of Italy in 1870, when the Kingdom of Italy captured Rome and the Papal States ceased to exist. The Roman Ghetto [Papal bull Cum nimis absurdum, promulgated by Pope Paul IV in 1555 segregated the Jews, who had lived freely in Rome since Antiquity, in a walled quarter with three gates that were locked at night] was demolished and the Jews were granted citizenship ..... Designed by Vincenzo Costa and Osvaldo Armanni, the synagogue was built from 1901 to 1904 on the banks of the Tiber, overlooking the former ghetto ..... The aluminium dome is the only squared dome in the city and makes the building easily identifiable even from a distance. Commemorative plates honour the local Jewish victims of Nazi Germany and of a Palestine Liberation Organization attack in 1982. On 13 April 1986, Pope John Paul II made an unexpected visit to the Great Synagogue. This event marked the first known visit by a pope to a synagogue since the early history of the Roman Catholic Church .....

- interior of the Synagogue

As you guys know, I've written oh so many posts on why Pius XII should not be made a saint, so I won't go into the arguments here but simply say (again) that I think his refusal to speak out publicly against the Holocaust disqualifies him. Unfortunately, Benedict has deteriorated Catholic-Jewish relations not only with the press for Pius' sainthood, but with the restoration of the Latin Mass and the de-excommunication of the SSPX bishops as well.

This visit by Benedict to the Rome Synagogue reminds me of one of Daniel Silva's novels, The Confessor, in which the pope chosen after JPII's death is not Joseph Ratzinger but the Patriarch of Venice who takes the name Paul VII and who plans to visit the Rome Synagogue where he will both announce the opening of the secret Vatican archives on Pius XII, and will publicly apologize for the Catholic Church's history of anti-Semitism ..... needless to say, Vatican officials try to assassinate him first :)

I guess it's too much to hope that tomorrow life will imitate art and Benedict will follow in the footsteps of the fictional Pope Paul VII of The Confessor, but I do wish he would.