Friday, December 24, 2010

The Word Becomes Flesh

Thinking about the Christmas story what strikes me is how surprising it is. Nobody expects God to become man. Nobody expects God to do it through such an obscure family. They are talking about John the Baptist. The son of a priest. Miracles surrounding his birth. People were predicting great things for him. But nothing like that is recorded for Jesus. There are some saying of prophets and Mary is pondering things in her heart but nothing like Luke 1:65-66:
All the neighbors were filled with awe, and throughout the hill country of Judea people were talking about all these things. Everyone who heard this wondered about it, asking, “What then is this child going to be?” For the Lord’s hand was with him.
This refers to John the Baptist and not to Jesus. So Jesus comes to us under the radar. All that seems to be widely known about him is he is conceived out of wedlock. Nobody is expecting God to do anything amazing though that child.

I strikes me that such is always the way with God. He is so amazing and glorious and holy that you would think He could not sneak up on you. But He does. The more we think we have God figured out. The more we have a strong idea of what God will look like when He shows up. That is when the word can become flesh and dwell among us and we can just miss it.

Certainly finding God in the Catholic church was like that. Having been a serious protestant for so long and having very strong ideas about how God works. I even believed that God would often surprise us. But I never expected Jesus to be using the Catholic church. The surprise I was ready for was that God does NOT work through structured liturgy or church hierarchies. I was all ready for that surprise.

It amazes me how many people are so close to the body of Christ and yet cannot see it. It is like we are looking for a formula. For a systematic theology. For a way of generating spiritual experiences. For simple, practical formulas. For anything but a person. Flesh and blood that is willing to bleed for us. We don't look for martyrs. Even white martyrs who have sacrificed in the form of religious vows. We look for a teacher rather than a savior.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Calling Yourself Catholic

Bishop Olmsted of Phoenix removed the right of a hospital to call itself Catholic. That is quite something. The hospital performed an abortion in one of the "hard cases." That is a case where it could be argued the mother's life was in danger. Abortion was one way to solve the problem with the mother's health but there are other treatments that would have saved the life of the baby. Bishop Olmsted explain the whole thing here. The NY Times's story that completely fails to explain the facts is here.

This seems like a new chapter in the rift between Catholic bishops and Catholic institutions. Many hospitals and schools have been drifting away from Catholicism slowly but surely. But every issue seems small. The bishops typically have only one option. That is to do what has been done here and say the institution is no longer Catholic. They have hesitated to use it because it means long term their influence over the institution is likely to disappear completely. So they have used persuasion with some success. But over time we have seen many of these Catholic institutions become less and less Catholic. At the same time we have seen Catholic bishops become more and more orthodox.

This is why this is such a big deal. This could become the first of many hundreds of similar decisions by Catholic bishops. If it is that will forever change the nature of the Catholic church in the US. Catholic institutions will either have to really be Catholic or give up any pretense of being Catholic. My guess it the vast majority will choose the latter but there may be some interesting exceptions. What that will do is purify the church. The church will become a lot smaller but a lot more authentic. This is what we need for a new evangelization. An orthodox magisterium insists on an orthodox church. Then people will see the true value of the gift of apostolic succession.

So God bless Bishop Olmsted. For his willingness to see the big picture and be willing to dig in his heels on this issue. To stand up to nuns and PhD's and tell them that it is bishops that define the faith. To stand up to secular pressure as well. Look at this from the linked NYT article:
This is no small matter. Catholic hospitals account for about 15 percent of the nation’s hospital beds and are the only hospital facilities in many communities. Months ago, the American Civil Liberties Union asked the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare Services to investigate reported instances where religious doctrine prevailed over the need for emergency reproductive care, and to issue a formal clarification that denying such treatment violates federal law.
Emergency reproductive care is code for abortion. That applying Catholic doctrine would violate federal law. Somehow the ACLU seems to think the federal government imposing it's doctrine on Catholic institutions is what civil liberty is all about. We live in strange times. But thank God that he has given us bishops with some backbone. God didn't promise us schools or hospitals with backbone but he did say His church would not fall.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The Idea And The Reality

One thing we notice with our kids is they can love the idea of something but not the real thing. Like when we come in from the cold. The kids get very excited about hot chocolate. But often they don't finish their hot chocolate. They get excited about the idea of having it but once they have it the reality is not as exciting. People talk about the same thing with stock markets. The saying is the market goes up on anticipation and down on realization. So if there are reports Apple Computer is going to post great numbers their stock will go up. Once the numbers are published the stock often goes down. The idea of higher numbers is exciting. The reality is they are just numbers.

There is the idea and the reality of being a Christian as well. People like the idea of going to heaven. They like the idea of living a moral life. They like the idea of being part of something big like the Kingdom of God. But the reality is sometimes not as exciting. Heaven means being close to God. People say they want to go to heaven. Then you ask them what they can do to get close to God. They answer with things like reading the bible, praying, going to church, etc. But do they do those things? Often the answer is No. So they like the idea of heaven but do they like the reality?

This distinction really creates problem if you believe in "faith alone."  How do you know the person has not just accepted the idea of Jesus and not the reality? The truth is there are many idea about who Jesus is. It is only when somebody grows in holiness that they understand the true Jesus. You say Yes to the idea but more and more your Yes becomes a Yes to the reality. So Catholics believe God gives you a choice every step of the way. If you find the road to heaven is too hard and you prefer the things of this world God will not force you. But it is a problem if you want to say everything depends on the initial Yes. Because that initial Yes can be based on a very shallow and even a very wrong idea about Jesus. 

So if someone says Yes to Jesus based on a "health and wealth" gospel does that save him? If he rejects a more orthodox gospel does that matter? Or maybe someone accepts a gospel that is quite liberal on question of sexual morality. Many people will start there and grow into the fullness of the faith. You can see they really did fall in love with Jesus and it was only a matter of time before they surrendered themselves to the true gospel. But then there are others that don't follow Jesus when he asks them to surrender the hardest areas of their lives. Their initial Yes looks exactly the same.

So protestants go in two directions. They both lead to real problems. One group talks about how just accepting Jesus is all that matters. They would take that initial Yes as always leading to eternal salvation no matter how flawed the person's notion of the gospel might be. Now if you scratch them they will admit some boundaries. Leaving the content of the gospel wide open is pretty untenable. But even if you did you get another problem. Why should we preach the true gospel? Get people to say Yes to Jesus anyway you can. Just get them saved and move on to the next person. But that is not what Jesus did. He made sure they understood the true gospel and how hard the path to holiness really is. So you end up with a strategy for evangelism that is, by your thinking, much better than the strategy Jesus used and the strategy most Christians have used throughout church history.

Then there is the other direction. To assert some sort of reasonableness to the gospel that a person accepts. The idea of a baseline Christianity of certain doctrines people need to get right for the Yes to count as salvific. But there are huge problems there too. First of all, there is nothing like that in scripture. Secondly, people disagree wildly on what should be a baseline doctrine. It leads you into the endless subjectivity that can never be resolved because principle of a resolver is rejected. Requiring any content at all to the faith means you require a definition of that content. A definition, in turn, requires a definer.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

No Strings Attached

This is a movie going to come out next year. If they thought it was good they likely would have released it for Christmas. The plot is familiar. People try and treat sex as a purely physical thing and they fail. They find out there are endless emotional and spiritual overtones to our sexuality. It is interesting that in a culture where so many are willing to analyze sex in purely scientific terms our movies present that as an impossibility and people seem to accept it. When a religious person says that sexuality cannot be separated from spirituality there is huge skepticism. But on another level people know it is true.

The other think that strikes me is the inability of movies to actually explore the complexities of sex and love. Like the news story about pornography that always seems be become pornographic and fail to give any insight into the reality of pornography. Movies are another medium that just cannot stay away from the graphic sexual content so we can keep our brains engaged in the deeper insights. Sin is stronger than reason. We want to think about things and do what is right but we can't. We need grace.

Addictions are like that as well. People try and reason their way out of an addiction but they can't. The power of sin is just too strong. You get smart people making the same mistake over and over again. They just can't see it. In clear thinking moments they can see it. But they can't see it when they need to see it. When the temptation comes on strong the mind is simply no match for it. We need grace.

This is why this a society that focuses on the primacy of human reason has such problems with unreasonable behavior like materialism, promiscuity, and drunkenness. But it goes further. When behavior can't confirm to reason then reason will conform to behavior. So the defeat of reason becomes complete. People have to bend their reason out of shape to justify the way they live.

So if you leave God to pursue reason you not only lose God but you lose you ability to reason as well. If you humbly seek God's grace you not only don't lose God but you don't lose your mind either. Faith actually empowers the mind rather than obliterating it. The struggle with sin is still there but you can understand why such stupid behaviors are so hard to avoid. There are powerful spiritual forces at work. You can understand why it is more important to be prayerful than smart.

Then you can love a world where everything has strings attached. Thomas Howard talked about Catholicism being a philosophy where everything means everything. That secularism is a philosophy where nothing means anything. Why would we want things to be shallow and superficial?

Monday, December 13, 2010

Joy and Vocations

The 3rd week of advent is supposed to focus on joy. At our parish we had the vocations director for the diocese giving the homily. The homily he gave was a rather unremarkable vocations talk that completely ignored the readings and the liturgical calendar. But I got to thinking about the relationship between joy and vocations.

When you talk to a young person about a religious vocation you often get a strange reaction. Sometimes they laugh. Sometimes they groan. Sometimes they just go all quiet and look embarrassed. Why is that? Why is a religious vocation so hard to even talk about? I think one of the main reasons is the person lacks the gift of joy. The Catholic faith is supposed to give you a deep spiritual joy. When you don't have it then you can't imagine a religious vocation. A joyless faith is something you want to minimize. A bit like paying taxes. You see the need to do it but you don't want to do any more of it than you are required to. The real source of joy in your life is worldly things.

That is sad. It is common but it is sad because the catholic faith is meant to give a person the most profound experience of joy possible. If that was not true then religious vocations don't make any sense. A vow of celibacy would be silly if we can't find greater joy in God than we can find in sex. A vow of poverty presupposes that money can't give us the joy God can. A vow of obedience only makes sense if power and personal freedom are means towards the ultimate end which is God. We know this. We confess it. But does our heart really believe it?

If we lack this spiritual joy we tend to fall into the deadly sin of sloth. We just can't work up much energy for living the faith. We don't deny it. We just don't get as excited about it as we do about worldly things. Spiritual sloth is not just deadly for religious vocations. Any time we have a crisis in religious life we also have a similar one in marriage. That is why when you talk with young couples about contraception you get almost the same reactions you get when you talk to young singles about vocations. They have already decided that the Catholic faith is not worth such a sacrifice of worldly pleasures. God is not seen as the source of joy but rather the enemy of joy.

Like many sins sloth tends to prevent it's own solution. When we are slothful Christians we don't meditate on the great truths of the faith. We don't frequent the sacraments. We don't give sacrificially of our time and money. So our fears become realized. Christianity is boring. No. Half-hearted Christianity is boring. Real faith, where you give your whole life with no plan B, that is anything but boring.

Bad Catholics

Why should I become Catholic when there are so many bad Catholics and so many good reformed Christians? I asked that question. I think every potential convert does at some point. CtC raises the issue here. There are many answers to that. I thought I would go over some of them:
  1. Should we judge a church based on works or on grace? Protestants emphasize grace and rightly so. So why should we expect the church of Christ to be remarkable based on the virtue of it's member rather than based on the special graces it receives from Christ? 
  2. Who are we to judge? Are we not assuming to much when we can discern who is walking with Christ well and who is doing it badly? Why does it matter who knows more bible verses or who consumes less alcohol? We think that is important but that is based on our understanding of God's truth. Isn't the accuracy of that precisely the issue? So it is a different form of judging a church based on how well it conforms to your opinions. Not judging the doctrine but judging the spirituality. 
  3. Are we really looking at the best Catholics? Bad Catholics tend to continue to call themselves Catholic and return to the church for weddings, funerals, baptisms, Christmas, etc. Bad protestants don't. They just stop coming altogether. Because protestants vote on many issues and Catholics  don't they tend to get non-attenders off the membership list much more efficiently. But if you exclude those and just look at faithful attenders in both churches the gap pretty much disappears. 
  4. Many Catholics are living like protestants. Having sacred tradition and apostolic and petrine succession only helps you if you set aside your personal opinions and agendas and obey God's word. In fact, it is worse to sin knowingly than to sin out of ignorance. So a Catholic who uses artificial contraception is worse off than a protestant who uses it because the Catholic has less excuse for not understanding it is wrong. But the point is not to dodge culpability for out disobedience. We want to know and obey God's word. Many suggest we are better off not knowing so we can have more sex. But obedience always carries more blessings than disobedience. God's way is better than the world's way. 
  5. Sacraments can be harmful. Paul talks about people eating and drinking judgment to themselves if the take the Eucharist in an unworthy manner. People point out how many Catholics are going to communion and not becoming holy. But how often do they go to confession? When they go do them make a good confession or do they hold obstinately to a mortal sin? Jesus gave us the sacraments but we have to allow them to change us. Just going through the motions is not enough.
  6. The church is flawed because guys like you are not in it. I can see how protestant converts have already made the Catholic church much more faithful to it's own teachings. How many of these problems in the church are a direct result of the people best equipped to solve them have been leaving the church and joining a protestant fellowship with like-minded people? It is precisely the reason we are called to unity. It is a command of God. One we have been disobeying big time. So it is a bit like the man who says he will keep committing adultery because his marriage is so bad. But his marriage is only bad because he commits adultery. 
  7. What do you want from a church? As a protestant it was important for me to have good preaching and good music on Sunday mornings. As a Catholic it does not matter that much. Our parish does OK but if it didn't I have lots of places I can go to find good preaching and good Christian music. I don't need the change churches for that.
I remember long before I considered becoming Catholic a nun said to me,"If you become a Catholic become a good one. We have enough bad ones!" That has stuck with me. Nobody converts and tries to be the stereo-typical Catholic. We convert to embrace the gifts God has for us through His church. If other Catholics don't embrace them that is sad but really irrelevant. It was never about them. It was about God. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

3 Out of 4 Gospels

Suppose some piece of historical evidence was discovered to cause some group of Christians to reject the gospel of John as part of the bible. That is they change the classic protestant 66 book canon and makes it a 65 book canon by removing John's gospel. The question is whether these people have a less solid foundation for their belief than a typical protestant holding to the 66 book canon of scripture. Is there something inherently less reasonable about this group?

We would still have the essentials of the gospel. Those who say Sola Scriptura is right because scripture is sufficient would have to admit the 65 book canon is still sufficient. All the major doctrines of Christianity can be built up from the remaining books. The gospel of John would still be there. It just would not longer be seen as inspired or inerrant.

Then there is the "last man standing" idea. That scripture, tradition, and apostolic succession were once trustworthy sources of truth but tradition and apostolic succession were deemed to have been corrupted over time and so now only scripture can be trusted. Well, if sources thought to be trustworthy have been rejected before. Why not now? As long as we have enough revelation we can proceed.

The New Testament canon is based on which books are apostolic in nature. But if that is based on fallible human analysis of historical data then there is no great surprise that that answer can change over time. Many protestants have left open that theoretical possibility. When that possibility is realized how can they say a bad thing has happened?

Most protestants, I think, would be strongly averse to changing the canon. I think quite rightly so. But why? What would the basis for disliking the 65 book canon? In a word, tradition. That would be the problem. That the 66 book canon has a long history of being at the very center of protestantism. Now the 66 book canon has almost no defenders prior to the reformation but most protestants don't know that. But it is very strong in all the various branches of protestant tradition. They would never assert any kind of infallibility in that tradition. Still it is unthinkable that there is an error in the very center of the Christian faith passed down through the generations.

The truth is Christianity needs tradition to know innovations like this are wrong. There are a lot of them but when you bring one up people get lost in the details of why they don't think this idea is biblical. But comparing the exegetical arguments is not the heart of why people know it is wrong. The truth is they know the faith. They know what has always been part of the essence of Christianity. It has been part of the soul of the church for as long as they can remember and as long as their father and grandfather can remember and back to the beginning. There is a sense of infallibility there that cannot say it's name.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Being Sinless

Every Christian believes that when we get to heaven we will be sinless. But as a protestant I found that hard to imagine. I had been trained in the doctrine of total depravity. That all people are stained by sin at all times. Nothing is spared. Least of all me. I was so far from being sinless I could not even imagine it. In fact, imagining it was probably the sin of pride.

The effect of this was for heaven to be unreal. Sure you believe that after you die you go to heaven and it is very nice. But you can't even think of what one  moment in heave might look like. Not what you will be like or what anyone else would be like. You are just sure that whatever it is it will be totally outside any experience on earth. Not even comparable. It is almost like the being in heaven will be something else, even someone else.

Then I became Catholic and had to deal with the idea that Mary was sinless while on earth. That seemed too weird. The transformation that was supposed to happen when we enter heaven had already happened to her. But she lived her life on earth. She was a mom. She had a husband. She got frustrated when she could not find the boy Jesus for 3 days.

It was one thing to believe Jesus was sinless. Jesus is God so I am not going to think that a sinless me would be exactly like Jesus. But Mary is not God. It makes me wonder if sinlessness is something we could achieve or at least get close to. It gives me a continuity between heaven and earth. The person I will be in heaven and the person I am on earth are one.

Why should I believe in the Immaculate Conception? Why should I believe in the virgin birth? As a protestant I believed in the virgin birth because it was in scripture. I understood that accepting scripture meant accepting all of it. I could not just opt out of this part without knocking the foundations out from all biblical teachings.But beyond that there was a certain logic to it. Mary needed to be pure because Jesus was special.

But the logic of the Immaculate Conception was exactly the same. It was based on revelation from scripture, tradition, and the magisterium. I could not ignore that without effecting the logic foundation of everything. I had been doing a ton of thinking about that so that was obvious. But the logic was the same as well. If it was important for Mary to be free from sexual sin why would it not be important for her to be free from other sins? If Mary needed to be pure then why would God go halfway?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mary and Catholicism

Taylor makes an interesting point at CtC:
I’ll close by saying that if you “Get Mary” you “Get Catholicism.” Mary represents everything that Catholicism is: sacraments, incarnation, sanctity, matrimony, celibacy, prayer, silence, love, charity, faith and works, and even the synergy of the divine work within human vessels.
I have long thought this but not been able to express it this well. Seeing that the church father's had a devotion to Mary was on the surface just one area where they disagreed with protestants. But it was more than that. I felt that it showed a deep Catholicism.

I see that in the modern church as well. When I try to sort out liberal Catholics from those that understand the faith I have learned that Marian devotion is a very good sign. It is related to the concept of spiritual motherhood. If you accept Mary as a mother you will accept the church as a mother and vise versa.  Even though the church does more mothering. The church gives us spiritual food in the Eucharist, she nurses us back to spiritual health when we sin, she makes the rules for the house, etc. Still Mary is mother in other ways. She is what we want to be when we grow up. She is in heaven. She is free from all sin, both original and actual. She blesses the world by mediating God's grace.

The other parallel is both Mary and the church offer the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf. Mary did it at the cross and the church does it at the mass. The idea that a sacrifice must be offered willingly to be effective. That we are not able to do that. We need a special grace to do that. So the grace of the immaculate conception was needed at the cross. The grace of an immaculately conceived church is needed today.

It boils down to what a protestant would call Sola Christo. That is the sufficiency of Christ. But that is not accurate. Because Christ provided us a church and He provided us with His mother. So Christ is not lacking. Really what is lacking is us. We need help that goes beyond letting Jesus into our hearts. Not because Jesus lacks anything but because we need to be more fully transformed. We need to know what that looks like before we can say Yes to it. Before we can go out and live it. That has to be constant. Like the difference between a wedding vow and a marriage.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Why Less Giving?

Up here in Canada we are seeing that charitable giving is down again. Volunteering is down too. Secular society is doing its very best to change that. Lots of TV shows profiling volunteers and singing their praises. They don't mention their religion but secular society knows that does not matter. People do good things to achieve self-fulfillment. The particulars of their doctrine won't make any difference. The trouble is doctrine does make a difference. Modern humanism simple cannot motivate people to do good in the same way that Christianity did.

There is a sense of breaking life down. A person's inclination to give to society needs to be analyzed in a vacuum. We can talk about whether the Christmas story is true completely separately from why people get caught up in the Christmas spirit. We can promote a sexual morality that completely ignores the dignity of the human person and then wonder why people don't sacrifice for their fellow man like they used to. The reality is that serving God and serving family are the strongest motivators for doing good. Yet we work so hard to undermine both and then are shocked when people are less concerned with the good of society.

What is our connection with eternity? There is life after death and there are the children we raise. A person who is godless and sterile is never going to think about eternity. In fact, they don't even want to think about growing old. So why would it matter if they leave the world a better place then they found it? It is a nice sentiment but how much short term self-interest are you willing to give up for such nice sentiments? When it comes down to giving time and money we it doesn't happen.

The truth is it is easy for Christians to get caught up in the same thinking. We talk about storing up treasures in heaven but do we do it? We also talk about having love relationships that last and bear much fruit. Yes that means children but that is just part of it. True agape love will always overflow and bless others. But how often do we sterilize relationships? To make relationships fun but not fruitful. People can enjoy listening to the word of God for many years and not really change their lives. We need to have an openness to life that permeates everything we do. It starts with out sexuality because that is an icon for our entire spiritual life. But it has to go beyond that. We need to avoid the superficial pleasures and desire the deep joy that comes form lasting fruit.

For all the analysis of how we arrived at such a faithless society and even such a faithless church there is not a lot of mystery about how to fix it. We need saints. People who decide to embrace the faith fully and love sacrificially and intercede for lost souls. Mat 13:23 says:
But the seed falling on good soil refers to someone who hears the word and understands it. This is the one who produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.
We need to be one of those seeds. That does not means we need to have that many biological children. But we should have that many spiritual children. We need to be open to God's seed. To nurture them into fruit that will last.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Celebrate Reason?

Interesting billboard. I find it funny because it celebrates reason but does not engage in reason. Is it rational to just assert something is a myth? Is it more reasonable to reject all stories of the supernatural? There is a common perception that science has shown the supernatural can't happen. Really science has very little to say about the supernatural. It is in the business of analyzing the natural. That is explaining events that occur in the world in some sort of predictable way. It can't analyze the supernatural. All it can do is declare that the event is impossible within the framework of the laws of science. But that is not even in dispute. Nobody accepts the virgin birth and claims it is anything other than a miracle. Even Mary knew it was impossible. That didn't mean she lacked faith. It just means she knew science. Virgins don't have children. There is a perception that atheism is advancing because science has advanced to a point where we know these things are impossible. But no new scientific knowledge has changed the facts since the first century. The relationship between sex and children was well understood then.

So what has changed? We have more detailed information about how natural conception takes place. What does that tell us about supernatural conception. Not much.So our level of knowledge has not changed but our acceptance of ignorance has. We tend to be more quick to say that if I don't understand it I don't believe it. But is that based on reason? If we are investigating possible interventions by God into human history is it reasonable to expect to understand how God does things?

We have many stories of supernatural events. Some credible, some not. Some from long ago, some quite recent. A small percentage of them are quite well documented. That small percentage still amounts to thousands of events. So what is the reasonable response to these stories? Is it just to dismiss them all as impossible? How do we know that? From science? What experiment would you expect a different result from if the virgin birth was true? Same for any miracle story. Experiments can show that miracles are not reproducible. But who is saying they are? So science tells us something is not possible naturally. That is precisely why people are suggesting a supernatural cause. So declaring you just KNOW something is a myth is hardly a celebration of reason. It is a refusal to engage in reason.

The truth is most people are afraid to think seriously about the big questions of life. Atheism is gaining popularity not because it encourages deep thinking but because it avoids it. The atheism of a Bertrand Russell was deep and brutally honest. The atheism of Hitchens or Dawkins is more about sneering at Christian thought than responding to it. It is often good because it encourages those who secretly rejected the gospel to more openly reject the gospel. But they are still not being honest with themselves. They think they have rejected faith and embraced reason. The truth is they have embraced a faith IN reason that does not stand up to rational scrutiny. They often are unaware that faith AND reason is what Christianity actually teaches.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Charity and Justice

There is a piece on First Things that talks about charity by the sword. Can the government make people love their neighbor? The answer, of course, is No. Faith, hope, and love are theological virtues. We cannot force people into these virtues. They have to surrender to God. Surrendering to the sword does not count.

But the real question is what is charity? Consider Chesterton:
Charity is the power of defending that which we know to be indefensible. Hope is the power of being cheerful in circumstances which we know to be desperate. It is true that there is a state of hope which belongs to bright prospects and the morning; but that is not the virtue of hope. The virtue of hope exists only in earthquake and eclipse. It is true that there is a thing crudely called charity, which means charity to the deserving poor; but charity to the deserving is not charity at all, but justice. It is the undeserving who require it, and the ideal either does not exist at all, or exists wholly for them. For practical purposes it is at the hopeless moment that we require the hopeful man, and the virtue either does not exist at all, or begins to exist at that moment.
So what the government is doing when it guarantees basic living, health care, eduction, etc. for the poor is forcing people to exhibit the virtue of justice. Justice is not a theological virtue. It is a cardinal virtue. Those we can cultivate without reference to God. Governments should cultivate them for the good of society. Certainly making theft illegal is one way a government cultivates the virtue of justice. Making health care available to all is another way.

Now this guy does make this distinction but not consistently. For example he says:
Protestant authors such as Tony Campolo have advocated for charity by the sword in a more directly partisan manner. “I buy into the Democratic Party,” he wrote, “. . . because there are over 2,000 verses of Scripture that deal with responding to the needs of the poor.”
But are the 2000 verses of scripture dealing with charity or justice? He begs that question. But many of those verses come in the prophets and they are addressed to the Kings of Israel and Judah. That means they are not just thinking about individual choices but public policy.  Many of those 2000 verses even use the word justice. So it is not fair to assume he is advocating charity by the sword. That is just partisan exegesis. That is assuming any interpretation that leads a person to support a political party I don't like must be wrong.

It is interesting that Republican worry about legislating morality when it come to the poor. Democrats worry about it when it comes to the unborn or gays. The truth is we are a million miles from charity by the sword. There was a time when that was a problem but it isn't now.  We are in danger of imposing evil by the sword. But we tend to worry about problems we don't actually have. It is the problems we don't acknowledge that kill us.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

A Person or a Plan?

When protestants despair about the number of denominations and the doctrinal confusion on so many issues one thing you will hear a lot is that Christianity is not about doctrine but it is about a relationship with Jesus. Rhetorically it works. You say not X but rather Y and you push the person's mind to an either/or. Of course it is about both. But it is more than that. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." He is not just saying both but actually saying the two are in fact one. To have a relationship with Jesus is to have a relationship with the truth and it is to have a relationship with the way we are to live and it is to have a relationship with eternal life.

It reminds me of some of St Thomas Aquinas's thoughts on divine simplicity. That God cannot be divided. His goodness, His beauty, His truth, His justice, His mercy, etc. are all really the same thing. His essence is all of these things You cannot separate them. That actually predates Aquinas but I read it from him.

This connects with the Catholic church. Having a relationship with the church is having a relationship with Jesus and it is believing in the doctrines that make up the faith. There is a unity of many things that we think of as separate but are really one. So those that eat and drink the body of blood of Jesus are those that have faith are those that see Jesus in the poor are those who repent of their sins are those who are baptized.

As a protestant I did think of Catholicism as too simple. There was one simple answer for any and every doctrinal question and any and every liturgical question and questions about leadership and on and on. Every question seemed to go away with one simple answer. But if the nature of God is simplicity then why should we expect Christianity to work any differently? When someone would say Jesus is the answer to all your questions I was OK with that. When someone said the Catholic church is the answer to all your questions that would rub me the wrong way. Of course neither is literally true but Catholicism provides a lot more answers in one, holy, Catholic, and apostolic package. It cannot be divided just like God cannot be divided.