Monday, April 30, 2012

One of these things is not like the other....

So I read Charles Pierce and learn this:
"We made some al Qaeda with American blood on their hands uncomfortable for a few days, but we did the right thing for the right reason. The right reason to protect the homeland and to protect American lives."
Or this, while practically giggling about knocking suspects around and the effectiveness of nudity as a psychological weapon:
"The objective is to let him know there's a new sheriff in town and he better pay attention."
Or this, about waterboarding Khalid Sheikh Mohammed 183 times:
"I don't know what kind of man it takes to cut the throat of someone in front of a camera like that, but I can tell you this is probably someone who didn't give a rat's ass about having water poured on his face."
Rodriguez also compared sleep deprivation to "jet lag," which is probably why both the KGB and the South African security services were so fond of using it.
Of the use of "stress positions," he said this:
"Forever and ever? I was thinkin' about this the other day. The objective was to induce muscle fatigue, and most people who work out do a lot more fatiguing of the muscles."
Then I click the link at Pierce's blogroll to Crooked Timber, where I find a link to this:

Most people today are spontaneously moral: the idea of torturing or killing another human being is deeply traumatic for them. So, in order to make them do it, a larger "sacred" Cause is needed, something that makes petty individual concerns about killing seem trivial. Religion or ethnic belonging fit this role perfectly. There are, of course, cases of pathological atheists who are able to commit mass murder just for pleasure, just for the sake of it, but they are rare exceptions. The majority needs to be anaesthetized against their elementary sensitivity to another's suffering. For this, a sacred Cause is needed: without this Cause, we would have to feel all the burden of what we did, with no Absolute on whom to put the ultimate responsibility.
I'm highly dubious of that "spontaneously moral" claim.  The idea of torture is not so deeply traumatic that, as Pierce points out, people like Rodriquez can't make a quick buck off of it.  George Zimmerman seems less traumatized over shooting another human being while sitting atop them, than at not being universally approved in his action.  I suppose national security qualifies as a "sacred cause," but I don't see that as uniquely post-Enlightenment or peculiarly 21st century.  Is Jose Rodriguez an atheist?  Does it matter?  He could be a devout Catholic for all I know; or a Bible-thumping fundamentalist.  He certainly seems to be more motivated by a spirit of vengeance than a spirit of sanctification:  "I don't know what kind of man it takes to cut the throat of someone in front of a camera like that, but I can tell you this is probably someone who didn't give a rat's ass about having water poured on his face."  There's not much more behind that sentiment than an atrocity for an atrocity, which has nothing to do with either religion nor any particular schema except the ability to torture someone else.  And since when has religion ever kept people from committing atrocities?  Where does this "elementary sensitivity to another's suffering" come from?  I feel compassion for people I know, but strangers?  And worse, abstractions?  Kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out.  That seems as human a position as preferring to live in groups rather than alone.  You might think I'm making too much of nothing, but the argument goes on:

Religious ideologists usually claim that, true or not, religion makes some otherwise bad people to do some good things. From today's experience, however, one should rather stick to Steven Weinberg's claim: while, without religion, good people would have been doing good things and bad people bad things, only religion can make good people do bad things.
 Which is just pure nonsense.  What religious motivation does Mr. Rodriguez display?  What religious motivation lies behind the torture regime sanctioned by George W. Bush, and continued and expanded (indiscriminate bombing of civilians is no less horrific than individual torture, and Pierce notes:

 A suspected U.S. drone strike killed three people Sunday at a high school in northern Pakistan where militants were hiding, intelligence officials said. The drone fired two missiles at the school in the city of Miranshah, killing three suspected militants, the Pakistani intelligence officials said.
Did Obama approve that strike because he is a Christian?  Or in spite of it?  No, religion isn't to blame; the "Big Idea" is.  And perhaps Zizek sees that:

But what about the Stalinist Communist mass killings? What about the extra-legal liquidations of the nameless millions? It is easy to see how these crimes were always justified by their own ersatz-god, a "god that failed" as Ignazio Silone, one of the great disappointed ex-Communists, called it: they had their own god, which is why everything was permitted to them.
 An idea can be as much a "god" as a religious belief can be; indeed, the two are usually indistinguishable in practice, if not in theory.

I started this, as I say, at Crooked Timber, where the general tenor seems to be that Zizek is full of blue mud (as my grandmother used to say).  I was inclined to agree, but by the end, I'm not so sure.  Zizek's argument begins with Sartre misattributing an idea to Dostoevsky (at least, according to Zizek; I remain mildly unconvinced) and in the process, I had thought, misunderstanding Sartre's point.  By the end, though, he's back to Sartre; or might as well be:

Is this not Dostoyevsky's version of "If there is no God, then everything is prohibited"? If the gift of Christ is to make us radically free, then this freedom also brings the heavy burden of total responsibility.
 Or, as another Frenchman put it:  "Religion is responsibility, or it is nothing at all."  I'm still not quite sure how Zizek gets there from what he starts with, but his end is certainly better than his beginning.  Which makes me think he may not be saying what Crooked Timber thinks he is saying.  But, admittedly, it's kind of hard to tell.*

A footnote, as it were, to this discussion.  Zizek's argument is based, in part, on the assumption that the purpose of God is to provide a moral standard which cannot be refused.  It's not an argument Aristotle would have recognized as valid, nor even Plato; but it has become the sine qua non of atheistic arguments about ethics (mostly by people who don't know what they are talking about, or who don't understand Sartre; or just both).  Zizek mentions the argument of "God=love," in passing.  I won't make the mistake of assuming he approves of it, or accepts it as the final statement of Christian theology; but Stanley Hauerwas absolutely demolishes it; in a good way.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Truth is Subjective

I've just finished watching (on DVD) "The Iron Lady," and much of the history of Thatcherism it presents there oddly enough explains the predicament we are in today; especially Thatcher's determination to make her conservative principles work despite all evidence to the contrary.  When the '80's boom in Britain finally happens, one has very little reason to believe, from the film anyway, that Thatcher's policies had anything to do with it.  But one can also see how the resolutely anti-Keynsian Thatcher has set the standard for the Western world in response to a much more serious crisis today.  She could not, Meryl Streep declares, allow Britain to go bankrupt.  Well, until it was time to go to war over the Falkland Islands (interesting aside, that).  But helping the people of Britain, who were losing their houses?  She knew the price of milk and butter (the grocer's daughter), but what did that matter when they couldn't pay for their homes?

Still she insisted on her principles, not because they were right for the situation, but because they were right:  period.  The Big Idea must prevail.  And when the economy responded, she was vindicated.

Or was she?

Which brings me 'round (more or less) to this comment from Windhorse:

Paul Ryan undercuts his own appeal to Catholic social doctrine as a justification for his budget a number of different ways. Firstly, his stated concern has always been about balancing the budget as a routine matter of "fiscal responsibility." He never appealed to the concerns of the poor prior to his (conveniently timed) rebuke by the bishops and it's pretty clear that his attempt to portray his budget as some kind of passive social activism is just as cynical a move as theirs.

Secondly, if his Catholicism is really that primary in his life then I would think his faith would require him to withdraw or at least radically rework his budget in favor of the poor out of obedience to his spiritual leaders. Crickets on that front. While I understand his mocking retort about "some people" thinking that they've owned Catholic social doctrine in this country was directed at the liberal nuns, it may as well have been directed at the bishops whom he is disinclined to obey.

And finally, his budget actually takes what is an historically low tax burden for wealthy and LOWERS it even more, cutting out all sorts of revenue streams the government has collected for years while balancing that by cuts to programs the poor rely on. How the hell can he pretend with a straight face that he is working on behalf of the poor when he is actually giving a preferential option to the rich? Why not maintain social programs, cut defense, and raise taxes if you have such solidarity with the poor?

So I guess this is just my long-winded way of saying that I don't take his words at face value and that I believe that Paul Ryan is a lying sack of shit who could not care less about the struggling and impoverished, at least not if their continued existence is going to sustain that irritating bugaboo of big government.
 It's that "routine matter of 'fiscal responsibility' which is the lingering stench of Thatcherism, because Meryl Streep's Thatcher is no more concerned with "the struggling and impoverished" than Paul Ryan is, especially "if their continued existence is going to sustain that irritating bugaboo of big government."  People must fall in favor of the Big Idea.

Which, to bring it back around, is where I part ways with the Bishops, or anyone who insists abstract notions must, in any case, in even one case, trump the needs of any given individual.  And yes, I know how radically unethical that statement sounds.  But I say it as a pastor, and defy anyone to tell any individual in ethically complicated straits the dogmatic doctrinaire line to that person's face in the very moment of crisis.

If you do so, and don't feel you did something wrong, you are the one who is ethically compromised.  Which is not to say the proper response is whatever you think that person wants to hear.  But if you do not, in that moment, understand that you are now in a foreign country where you don't speak the language, that you are, in fact, wholly in another person's life which is not your own and when the crisis has passed they have to live with their decision, but you do not, not ever, not for one moment.....if, as I say, you don't understand that simple existential fact; then your ethics are worthless.  They are a clanging gong and a rattling cymbal, and nothing more.

To deal in abstractions is to insist the world conform to you.  To find the world will no more conform to you than it will stop turning, is the beginning of wisdom.  To insist on pain for others that doesn't fall on you and yours at all, is the root of sinfulness.

There is no other honest way to put it.  Margaret Thatcher, like Paul Ryan, was shielded by her position, and her ideology.  We who have tried to help the living keep from dying in the trenches, do not salute them.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Time, time, time, see what's become of us....

Look at the worldly and at the whole world that exalts itself above the people of God; are the image of God and his truth not distorted in it?  They have science, and in science only that which is subject to the senses.  But the spiritual world, the higher half of man's being, is altogether rejected, banished with a sort of triumph, even with hatred.  The world has proclaimed freedom, especially of late, but what do we see in this freedom of theirs; only slavery and suicide!  For the world says:  "You have needs, therefore satisfy them, for you have the same rights as the noblest and richest men.  Do not be afraid to satisfy them, even increase them"--this is the current teaching of the world.  And in this they see freedom.  But what comes of this right to increase one's needs?  For the rich, isolation and spiritual suicide, for the poor, envy and murder, for they have been given rights, but have not yet been shown the say of satisfying their needs.  We are assured that the world is becoming more and more united, is being transformed into brotherly communion, by the shortening of distances, by the transmitting of thoughts through the air.  Alas, do not believe in such a union of people.  Taking freedom to mean the increase and prompt satisfaction of needs, they distort their own nature, for they generate many meaningless and foolish desires, habits, and the most absurd fancies in themselves.  They live only for mutual envy, for pleasure-seeking and self-display.  To have dinners, horses, carriages, rank, and slaves to serve them is now considered such a necessity that for the sake of it, to satisfy it, they will sacrifice life, honor, the love of mankind, and even will kill themselves if they are unable to satisfy it.  We see the same thing in those who are not rich, while the poor, so far, simply drown their unsatisfied needs and envy in drink.  But soon they will get drunk on blood instead of wine, they are being led to that.  I ask you:  is such a man free?  I knew one "fighter for an idea" who told me himself that when he was deprived of tobacco in prison, he was so tormented by the deprivation that he almost went and betrayed his "idea," just so that they would give him some tobacco.  And such a man says, "I am going to fight for mankind."  Well, how far will such a man get, and what is he good for?  Perhaps some quick action, but he will not endure long.  And no wonder that instead of freedom they have fallen into slavery, and instead of serving brotherly love and human unity, they have fallen, on the contrary, into disunity and isolation....  And therefore the idea of serving manking, of the brotherhood and oneness of people, is fading more and more in the world, and indeed the idea now even meets with mockery, for how can one drop one's habits, where will this slave go now that he is so accustomed to satisfying the innumerable needs he himself has invented?  He is isolated, and what does he care about the whole?  They have succeeded in amassing more and more things, but have less and less joy.

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, tr. Richard Pevear and Larissa Vokohonksy.  New York:  Vintage, 1991, pp. 313-314.

The words of the Elder Zosima, a Russian monk.  Aside from a few archaisms (carriages, slaves), the words could apply to the present, especially the assurance of unity and "brotherly [sic] communion" brought about "by the shortening of distances, by the transmitting of thoughts through the air."  Or the internet; or text messaging.

The Enemy of My Enemy

Paul Ryan defends the nuns!

“I suppose there are some Catholics who for a long time have thought they had a monopoly of sorts,” Ryan said. “Not exactly on heaven, but on the social teaching of our church. Of course there can be differences among faithful Catholics on this.”

Or, you know, not.

Last week, following an assessment by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican stripped the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, representing most American nuns, of its powers of self-government, maintaining that its members have made statements that “disagree with or challenge the bishops, who are the church’s authentic teachers of faith and morals.” Archbishop Peter Sartain of Seattle has taken control of the Conference, writing new laws for it, supplanting its leadership, and banning “political” activity (which is what Rome calls social work).

Gary Wills defends the nuns:

Nuns were quick to respond to the AIDS crisis, and to the spiritual needs of gay people—which earned them an earlier rebuke from Rome. They were active in the civil rights movement. They ran soup kitchens.

But I don't think Ryan would find that argument persuasive:

“Simply put, I do not believe that the preferential option for the poor means a preferential option for big government,” he said. “Those unwilling to lift the debt are complicit in our acceleration toward a debt crisis, in which the poor would be hurt the first and the worst.”
In fact, I'd have to say Ryan and the Bishops are more alike than different.  They're just arguing over who gets to own the pin the angels are dancing on.

The nuns are concerned with people.

Adding, just because I can, and just because Ryan (as Charles Pierce points out) brought Aquinas into this, something from the esteemed theologian:

Things which are of human right cannot derogate from natural right or Divine right. Now according to the natural order established by Divine Providence, inferior things are ordained for the purpose of succoring man's needs by their means. Wherefore the division and appropriation of things which are based on human law, do not preclude the fact that man's needs have to be remedied by means of these very things. Hence whatever certain people have in superabundance is due, by natural law, to the purpose of succoring the poor. For this reason Ambrose [Loc. cit., 2, Objection 3] says, and his words are embodied in the Decretals(Dist. xlvii, can. Sicut ii): "It is the hungry man's bread that you withhold, the naked man's cloak that you store away, the money that you bury in the earth is the price of the poor man's ransom and freedom."  (Question 66, Article 7.)
Pierce is right; this could start to be fun.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Language Games

Jacob’s heart bent with fear,
Like a bow with death for its arrow;
In Vain he searched for the final truth
To set his soul free of doubt.

Over the mountains he walked,
With his head bent searching for reasons;
Then he called out to God
For help and climbed to the top of a hill.

Wind swept the sunlight through the wheat fields,
In the orchard the nightingale sang,
While the plums that she broke with her brown beak,
Tomorrow would turn in to songs.

Then she flew up through the rain
With the sun silver bright on her feathers,
Jacob put back his frowns and sighed and walked
Back down the hill.

God doesn’t answer me
and He never will.

--Judy Collins

Friday, April 20, 2012

Shut up, shut up, shut up!!!!!

I don't like to comment on the public positions of the Roman Catholic Church in part because such positions by any religious institution lose any valuable nuance just in the proclamation. That said, it's more of a reason for religious institutions not to make such proclamations. That isn't going to happen soon, however. Institutions are run by human beings, and human beings love to tell other human being what they should do. The US Catholic Bishops, however, have gone 'round the bend, starting here:
The Church will survive the entrenched corruption and sheer incompetence of our Illinois state government, and even the calculated disdain of the President of the United States, his appointed bureaucrats in HHS, and of the current majority of the federal Senate. . . .

Hitler and Stalin, at their better moments, would just barely tolerate some churches remaining open, but would not tolerate any competition with the state in education, social services, and health care.

In clear violation of our First Amendment rights, Barack Obama – with his radical, pro abortion and extreme secularist agenda, now seems intent on following a similar path.
Bishop Daniel Jenky.

I want to respect the Catholic Church. I really do. But this is flat nuts. Worse, it's obscene. As ThinkProgress points out:

For the record, Hitler tried to systematically exterminate the members of faiths that he did not approve of. Obama, by contrast, wants all working women to have access to contraception, regardless of whether they work for a religious employer. The very suggestion that Obama or his actions even vaguely resemble those of the Third Reich is deeply offensive and calls into question whether Bishop Jenky possesses the most basic understanding of the history of Nazi Germany.
Bishop Jenky is not Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He's not even Karl Barth.

And let me just add that all education, social services, and health care are subject to government regulation in almost any country on the planet. Catholic hospitals are not, for example, required to perform abortions nor even to permit in-vitro fertilization, but they are required to apply the laws of the land equally to all who come to them for services. Does Bishop Jenky really think government regulation of employers is equivalent to eliminating competition?

But, of course, it doesn't stop there:

The Vatican orthodoxy watchdog announced Wednesday a full-scale overhaul of the largest umbrella group for nuns in the United States, accusing the group of taking positions that undermine Roman Catholic teaching on the priesthood and homosexuality while promoting "certain radical feminist themes incompatible with the Catholic faith."

An American archbishop was appointed to oversee reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, which will include rewriting the group's statutes, reviewing all its plans and programs -- including approving speakers -- and ensuring the organization properly follows Catholic prayer and ritual.
I'm walking a fine line here, because I want to respect the internal controls of any religious hierarchy (especially since my own, the UCC, doesn't have any to speak of, and suffers for the lack of them; but that's another story). And you have to recognize this is a news story; things get misunderstood in the communication from source to publication. So I accept the reasoning here:

The report from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said the organization faced a "grave" doctrinal crisis, in which issues of "crucial importance" to the church, such as abortion and euthanasia, have been ignored. Vatican officials also castigated the group for making some public statements that "disagree with or challenge positions taken by the bishops," who are the church's authentic teachers of faith and morals."
But the nun's real offense is that they supporting the wrong political brand:
Church officials did not cite a specific example of those public statements, but said the reform would include a review of ties between the Leadership Conference and NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby. NETWORK played a key role in supporting the Obama administration's health care overhaul despite the bishops' objections that the bill would provide government funding for abortion. The Leadership Conference disagreed with the bishops' analysis of the law and also supported President Barack Obama's plan.
Then again, sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

The sisters’ leaders said they reaffirmed their opposition to abortion but also claimed the right to speak out on a “moral imperative” like health care, just as the bishops had.
The Bishop involved in this decision is determined to inject his entire church into matter strictly political, in ways that, in my humble opinion, violate IRS regulations* regarding what pastors and priests can say from the pulpit, or do in church:

The two bishops of the Catholic Archdiocese of Seattle, in a letter to the faithful, say they will deploy parishes to collect signatures for Referendum 74, a measure for the November ballot designed to roll back same-sex marriage in Washington.

While asking that signatures not be collected on Easter Sunday, the bishops described the issue as “critically important” and said information on the signature drive is being sent to pastors throughout the Western Washington diocese.

The letter is signed by Archbishop J. Peter Sartain and Auxiliary Bishop Eusebio Elizondo. Sartain testified against marriage equality at a Washington State Senate hearing earlier this year.
But the reaction of two priests under Bishop Sartain actually brings me to my point:

Reverend Michael Ryan of Seattle's St. James Cathedral noted on the church website that "after discussing the matter with the members of the cathedral's pastoral ministry team, I have decided that we will not participate in the collecting of signatures in our parish," he wrote. "Doing so would, I believe, prove hurtful and seriously divisive in our community. In saying this, I do realize that there are some who will be disappointed with this decision."

Ryan went on to express gratitude to Archbishop Sartain "for giving pastors discretion in this matter. He knows that we are in the best position to make this judgment."
There is a vast difference between the world as you imagine it to be in seminary, and as it actually is in parish ministry. People no longer in parish ministry, or who will never be in parish ministry, lose sight of that rapidly. Dorothy Day spoke of being among the poor, but never of being poor. She reminded all those who worked with her that their presence there was voluntary, that poverty was not a choice the poor they tried to help, had made. She insisted her helpers were visitors in the country of the poor, and that the poor therefor were to be respected. We too easily forget to do that with people not situated just as we are.

I know within my own UCC of "officials" (we don't have bishops, or anything remotely like them) coming to local churches to pronounce the position of the UCC on some public issue, virtually demanding the local pastors fall in line with Cleveland (UCC headquarters) in spite of the local concerns about that grand issue. Everything looks easier and neater and less complex from a distance; everything is tangled and snarled and intricately interlocked on the ground. I am as anti-death penalty as a person can be, and yet in my church there was a family who was waiting for the killer of their son to get off Death Row and into the execution chamber. When they found out the UCC agreed with me, they left the church. They didn't leave me, and they made that clear to others in the church, because they didn't know I agreed with the UCC. It wasn't, for me, a matter of my ministry. My ministry was to them first, to my ideals second. You may find this hypocritical, but if you do, I would bid you get out of your adolescence and join the adult world. I maintained a vital connection with them in their grief, rather than spurned them over the, to me, abstract ideal of abolishing the death penalty. They had a concern in that arena I did not share, and would only belittle by my insistence on placing the policy issue above the personal trauma.

To put it another way: the Roman Catholic church famously opposes abortion and contraception. Yet the control of the latter leads inevitably to the necessity of the former. Many abortions are performed on women with children, not on promiscuous teenagers. They are women who cannot afford contraception, because they don't have health insurance either, or the insurance won't cover it (yes, I'm glaring at the US Bishops when I note that). So they get pregnant, probably even within marriage (not that it really matters). Then what? A child they cannot afford, a pregnancy they cannot pay for, an adoption they don't want to go through? If they are poor enough, pregnancy means lost work and lost wages, too. All for the want of a prescription some in the middle class find no more costly than monthly trips to Starbucks. And so they have abortions, because they have no other family planning options. What manner of moral madness is this?

Morality is inevitably judged as much on outcomes as it is on abstract ideals. The first thing you learn as a pastor or priest is that abstract ideals always lose in the face of reality. When you walk into an ER after a phone call from a church member only to have the doctor walk in 5 minutes later and explain the only reasonable choice is to remove life support, that there is no hope of recovery or survival, and the spouse turns to you and asks: "What do I do?"....

Grand moral ideals are completely useless at that point. You have to answer, and a disquisition worthy of Aquinas is not what is called for. Nor is a dogmatic statement the answer either. At that point, as they say where I grew up, you fish or cut bait. Principles underlie your response, but you have to address the person right in front of you, not your idea of what the situation is supposed to be.

The Bishops, clearly, have forgotten that.

*It at least strikes me as a matter as worthy of investigation as the investigation into All Saint's Church. I'm not holding my breath, however.

Update:  Speaking the IRS and investigations, not exactly from my keyboard to God's ear, but I don't have a problem with this:

 A prominent advocate for the separation of church and state filed a formal complaint with the Internal Revenue Service Thursday, accusing the Roman Catholic Diocese of Peoria of violating federal law by intervening in a political campaign.

The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, alleges that a fiery homily by Peoria Bishop Daniel Jenky last Sunday effectively urged Catholics to vote against Obama in the 2012 presidential election.
Mostly because this is what the Bishop said:
“This fall, every practicing Catholic must vote, and must vote their Catholic consciences, or by the following fall our Catholic schools, our Catholic hospitals, our Catholic Newman Centers, all our public ministries -- only excepting our church buildings – could easily be shut down,” Jenky said.
If that doesn't cross the line, I don't know what does.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Fear of a Brown Planet

Richard Land:

The head of the Southern Baptist Convention's public policy arm condemns the response of many black leaders to the Trayvon Martin case as "shameful." Some black pastors within the nation's largest Protestant denomination say Richard Land's comments are setting back an effort to broaden the faith's appeal beyond its traditional white, Southern base.

Land says he stands by his assertion that President Barack Obama "poured gasoline on the racialist fires" when he addressed Martin's slaying and that Obama, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton have used the case "to try to gin up the black vote for an African American president who is in deep, deep, deep trouble for re-election."

"I have no doubt, based on the emails I have received, that a vast majority of Southern Baptists agree with me," he said.
I like the way he avoids the hot-button word "racist" by using the neologism "racialist." I also have no doubt he's right:

Americans are deeply divided by race over the killing of unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, with 91 percent of African-Americans saying he was unjustly killed, while just 35 percent of whites thought so, a Reuters/Ipsos poll showed on Thursday.
The poll also showed a stark racial divide between whites and blacks over whether heavy media coverage of the case had been appropriate. A total of 68 percent of blacks surveyed said they thought the amount of media coverage had been appropriate, while only 24 percent of whites thought it was right.
But the problem is with African-Amerians because, you see, America is "Still the Least Racist Country in the World":

The other issue is black memory. Apparently, most blacks either cannot or refuse to believe that the vast majority of whites are no longer racists. Most Americans were hopeful that the election of a black president — thereby making America the first white society in history to choose a black leader — would finally put to rest the myth of a racist America. More than three years later it seems not to have accomplished a thing. I now suspect that if the president, the vice-president, the entire cabinet, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and all nine justices on the Supreme Court were black, it would have no impact on blacks who believe America is a racist society — or on the left-wing depiction of America as racist.
And no, there's nothing at the link to prove the validity of the article's title, or the assertion made in that quote. Obviously African-Americans in that Reuters survey have been duped by Democrats and their own poor memories, while white Americans see the situation with clear-eyed objectivity. And just to prove how non-racist we are, this was posted to Facebook by Miami-Dade Fire Captain Brian Beckman:
"Listening to Prosecutor Corey blow herself and her staff for five minutes before pre-passing judgment on George Zimmerman," it read.

"The state seeks reelection again, truth aside. I and my coworkers could rewrite the book on whether our urban youths are victims of racist profiling or products of their failed, sh*tbag, ignorant, pathetic, welfare dependent excuses for parents, but like Mrs. Corey, we speak only the truth. They're just misunderstood little church going angels and the ghetto hoodie look doesn't have anything to do with why people wonder if they're about to get jacked by a thug."*
The article goes on to note:

Beckmann responded to questions about the page in a Facebook message, saying, "I am a private citizen and have the same right to freely express an opinion on any subject that anyone else does. I choose not to embellish or alter the facts as your employer chose to do."
Because racism in America is a biased liberal media conspiracy; or something. Anyway, Trayvon Martin died because he was wearing a hoodie.

He really shoulda known better than that.

*that racial profiling can be used to defeat the concept of racial profiling is an argument that should pass without further comment....

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Boundaries not yet falling in pleasant places....

I'm still struggling with what to do with this, from Alberich:

Overall, I tend to agree with Niebuhr: government doesn't enforce morality so much as it follows its prime function, which is to keep the community safe and intact. That we confuse that with "morality" is our error, not government's. - RMJ

But in fact that is the argument of many a conservative interlocutor of mine: government should not and in fact cannot enforce morality, and in particular, it cannot promote economic justice. What government can do is to create an environment where people are more likely to be moral and also keep the community safe and intact (e.g. by ruthless enforcement of law and order, with an emphasis on the latter).

I don't know what Warren says or really thinks, but the argument I always hear from his ilk who claim to follow a morality in which wealth redistribution is a key factor (even if they try to avoid even thinking about the wealth redistribution aspect of their morality) is indeed that government cannot and should not be moral.

OTOH, some moral systems do place the safety and intactness of the community as a key moral good and also as a consequence of moral behavior on the part of individuals. Indeed, this is arguably the point of view of the Torah. And wealth redistribution (e.g. via the system of tithes and some of the sacrifices which serve as communal meals) is a key aspect of not only "morality" but also of ensuring the safety and intactness of the community: c.f. the many blessings and curses in the Torah relating to what will happen to the community depending on people's morality and sense of economic justice. In this view, a key part of the government's function in keeping the community safe and intact is the enforcement of morality, at least the communal (e.g. economic justice) aspects of morality.

Anyway, thank you for getting me thinking ;)
I've made several attempts a post on it, all to no avail. But for the time being, let me just say that somewhere between "government cannot and should not be moral" and this:

Cardinal Raymond Burke, former Archbishop of St. Louis and now the head of the Vatican’s highest court, told Catholic News Agency that he could envision a time when the Catholic Church in the U.S., “even by announcing her own teaching,” is accused of “engaging in illegal activity, for instance, in its teaching on human sexuality.”

Asked if the cardinal could even see American Catholics being arrested for their faith he replied, “I can see it happening, yes.”

In his remarks to several U.S. Bishops meeting with him Saturday, Pope Benedict XVI made similarly emphatic warnings about the U.S. The pope told the bishops that “the seriousness of the challenges which the Church in America, under your leadership, is called to confront in the near future cannot be underestimated.”

He added: “The obstacles to Christian faith and practice raised by a secularized culture also affect the lives of believers.”

In the interview published today, Cardinal Burke declared that “it is a war” and “critical at this time that Christians stand up for the natural moral law.” Should they not, he warned, “secularization will in fact predominate and it will destroy us.”
There is a sensible middle ground.

Now I just gotta figure out how to define it....

Monday, April 09, 2012

Easter Monday 2012

For no other reason than to satisfy my scholarly inclinations toward the Scriptures, I thought Easter Monday might be a good day to consider the resurrection stories in the canonical gospels.

Mark's gospel is the earliest of the four, and it includes no resurrection story at all. At least, most scholars now agree it ended merely with the empty tomb, and the "longer ending of Mark" was added later. This is Mark 16:1-8 (the "shorter" version):

6.1And when the sabbath was past, Mary Mag'dalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salo'me, bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 16.2And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen. 16.3And they were saying to one another, "Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?" 16.4And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; --it was very large. 16.5And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. 16.6And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. 16.7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you." 16.8And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.
This is the "longer" ending:

16.9Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 16.10She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 16.11But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. 16.12After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 16.13And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. 16.14Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they sat at table; and he upbraided them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 16.15And he said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. 16.16He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 16.17And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 16.18they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover." 16.19So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. 16.20And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen.
There are notable parallels to Luke's narrative, especially the reference to appearing "in another form," but no real reference to a bodily resurrection. That the body is resurrected is implied by the empty tomb, but nothing in Mark's version, early or later, indicates what kind of body. It is not, in other words, a strictly human body. And the question is: why not?

Matthew is no more enlightening. There is little question, according to the Q hypothesis, that Matthew and Luke took their narratives from Mark and from the conjectured gospel Q (in German "Quelle," or "source"). There's also a conjectured passion narrative behind Mark, if you're interested. Again, what is interesting in Matthew is how much of what he offers sets up stories in the later gospels; and how much of what he offers, is so different from Mark's original ending, or even its later one:

28.1 Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Mag'dalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre

28.2 And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. 28.3 His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. 28.4 And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. 28.5 But the angel said to the women, "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. 28.6 He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 28.7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you." 28.8 So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 28.9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, "Hail!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. 28.10 Then Jesus said to them, "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."

28.11 While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place

28.12 And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers 28.13 and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' 28.14 And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." 28.15 So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.

28.16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them

28.17 And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted

28.18 And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 28.19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 28.20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, to the close of the age."
Again, the body is missing; but note this time the women "took hold of his feet" and worshiped him. There's the curious insertion of the "cover story" about the disciples stealing the body, a rumor Matthew seems at pains to squelch some 50 to 70 years after the crucifixion. This is the first indication in the gospels that there are concerns with establishing the validity of this claim.

Luke follows shortly after Matthew, perhaps even contemporary with Matthew. His resurrection story embellishes the other two:

24.1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. 24.2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 24.3 but when they went in they did not find the body. 24.4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; 24.5 and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? 24.6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 24.7 that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise." 24.8 And they remembered his words, 24.9 and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. 24.10 Now it was Mary Mag'dalene and Jo-an'na and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; 24.11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

24.13 That very day two of them were going to a village named Emma'us, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 24.14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 24.15 While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. 24.16 But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 24.17 And he said to them, "What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. 24.18 Then one of them, named Cle'opas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" 24.19 And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 24.20 and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. 24.21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. 24.22 Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning 24.23 and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. 24.24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see." 24.25 And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 24.26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" 24.27 And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. 24.28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, 24.29 but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them. 24.30 When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. 24.31 And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. 24.32 They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" 24.33 And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, 24.34 who said, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon!" 24.35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he was known to them in the breaking of the bread.

24.36 As they were saying this, Jesus himself stood among them. 24.37 But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. 24.38 And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? 24.39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have." 24.40 24.41 And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, he said to them, "Have you anything here to eat?" 24.42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 24.43 and he took it and ate before them. 24.44 Then he said to them, "These are my words which I spoke to you, while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled." 24.45 Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 24.46 and said to them, "Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 24.47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 24.48 You are witnesses of these things. 24.49 And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high."

24.50 Then he led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. 24.51 While he blessed them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven. 24.52 And they returned to Jerusalem with great joy, 24.53 and were continually in the temple blessing God.
The stories get longer and longer as the event moves into the past. Again the empty tomb, again the heavenly messenger (though not identified as such here), and again a story much like Mark's: one so strange, who could believe it?

And then the curious tale of Emmaus, where Jesus appears among some followers (not, however, the 11 disciples) and they don't realize who he is until a gesture betrays him, until he breaks the bread ("this is my body, broken for you"),at which point he vanishes.


And then Jesus appears to the 11, and shows them his hands and feet, and eats cooked fish, to show he is not a geist, a spirit, a ghost. And this makes them witnesses of what the scriptures said; says Jesus. And yet it ends with the ascension, with Jesus "carried up into heaven" as they watch; an event meant to underline the election of Jesus to divine status, and to indicate that, like Elijah before him, Jesus was taken to God alive, not dead.

Finally comes John's gospel and, as usual, he goes on for more than a bit:

20.1 Now on the first day of the week Mary Mag'dalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. 20.2 So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." 20.3 Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. 20.4 They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; 20.5 and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. 20.6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, 20.7 and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. 20.8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 20.9 for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 20.10 Then the disciples went back to their homes.

20.11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; 20.12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. 20.13 They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." 20.14 Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 20.15 Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." 20.16 Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Hebrew, "Rab-bo'ni!" (which means Teacher). 20.17 Jesus said to her, "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God." 20.18 Mary Mag'dalene went and said to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

20.19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, "Peace be with you." 20.20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 20.21 Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you." 20.22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. 20.23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained." 20.24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 20.25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and place my finger in the mark of the nails, and place my hand in his side, I will not believe."

20.26 Eight days later, his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. The doors were shut, but Jesus came and stood among them, and said, "Peace be with you." 20.27 Then he said to Thomas, "Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side; do not be faithless, but believing." 20.28 Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" 20.29 Jesus said to him, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe." 20.30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 20.31 but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name.

21.1 After this Jesus revealed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tibe'ri-as; and he revealed himself in this way. 21.2 Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathan'a-el of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zeb'edee, and two others of his disciples were together. 21.3 Simon Peter said to them, "I am going fishing." They said to him, "We will go with you." They went out and got into the boat; but that night they caught nothing. 21.4 Just as day was breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. 21.5 Jesus said to them, "Children, have you any fish?" They answered him, "No." 21.6 He said to them, "Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in, for the quantity of fish. 21.7 That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, "It is the Lord!" When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on his clothes, for he was stripped for work, and sprang into the sea. 21.8 But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, but about a hundred yards off. 21.9 When they got out on land, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish lying on it, and bread. 21.10 Jesus said to them, "Bring some of the fish that you have just caught." 21.11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three of them; and although there were so many, the net was not torn. 21.12 Jesus said to them, "Come and have breakfast." Now none of the disciples dared ask him, "Who are you?" They knew it was the Lord. 21.13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and so with the fish. 21.14 This was now the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.

21.15 When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Feed my lambs." 21.16 A second time he said to him, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" He said to him, "Yes, Lord; you know that I love you." He said to him, "Tend my sheep." 21.17 He said to him the third time, "Simon, son of John, do you love me?" Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, "Do you love me?" And he said to him, "Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you." Jesus said to him, "Feed my sheep. 21.18 Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you girded yourself and walked where you would; but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will gird you and carry you where you do not wish to go." 21.19 (This he said to show by what death he was to glorify God.) And after this he said to him, "Follow me."

21.20 Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" 21.21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" 21.22 Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!" 21.23 The saying spread abroad among the brethren that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?" 21.24 This is the disciple who is bearing witness to these things, and who has written these things; and we know that his testimony is true. 21.25 But there are also many other things which Jesus did; were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.
Step back to Matthew a moment: "28.17 And when they saw him they worshiped him; but some doubted." Those who doubted now becomes a particular person, and his doubts become specific doubts. Thomas stands in for all those who question the veracity of the resurrection story in John's day (let the reader understand). His story means to nail down the bodily reality of the resurrection, and again all of the stories John tells emphasize that reality. At the same time, Jesus comes and goes like a ghost. Jesus tells Mary at the tomb "Do not touch me." He appears behind closed doors to the disciples, without knocking and getting the door opened to him first. He does this again to prove to Thomas that his body is physical, not merely spiritual; which just raises the paradox higher, rather than satisfying it. And, of course, John rewrites the Emmaus story by using familiar figures rather than a cast of unknowns, and by moving it to a fishing story from a trip to Emmaus (Emmaus? Where's that?) story. And this time, again, Jesus hangs around to eat, just to emphasize that he's not merely a ghost, a mere wisp of an idea, a fragment of wishful thinking by grief-stricken followers.

The gospels become more and more concerned, as time passes, with issues of veracity (if not verifiability, the obsession of this modern age). They start (or start to end) with an empty tomb, and end with a loquacious Christ giving Peter further directions over a meal of freshly caught fish. What they have to say about the resurrection is a marvelous grab-bag of stories that develop detail as they get further and further away from the event. And saying this doesn't disturb me or my faith confession in the least. Indeed, it fascinates me, as it reveals a very human effort to relate a very non-ordinary event. I like that it starts with Mark's final words (per the Scholar's Version): "Talk about terrified...." Fear and trembling is a good place to start a revelation. It is "at least as a signal or symptom, is something that has already taken place," something "prompted by a secret, a frightful mystery." Something that, for better or worse, changed the course of Western history.

Mysterium tremendum indeed.

Justice is not fair

Apropos of TBogg's observations, I would just add in response to Rick Warren's statement:

WARREN: Well, certainly the Bible says we are to care about the poor. There’s over 2,000 versus in the Bible about the poor. And God says that those who care about the poor, God will care about them and God will bless them. But there’s a fundamental question on the meaning of “fairness.” Does fairness mean everybody makes the same amount of money? Or does fairness mean everybody gets the opportunity to make the same amount of money? I do not believe in wealth redistribution, I believe in wealth creation…
there's almost nothing in the Scriptures that addresses "fairness."

What the prophets address, and certainly what the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth address, is justice. Those "over 2,000 versus [sic] in the Bible about the poor," don't address fairness to the poor. They address justice.

And believe me, as a lawyer who represented people in court, justice is not fair; especially if you lose. It seems very unfair indeed.

Justice is not about fairness. It is about what is just. As for what is "just" and "redistribution of wealth," I would start with the words of John the Baptist:

The crowds would ask him: "So what should we do?"

And he would answer them, "Whoever has two shirts should share with someone who has none; whoever has food should do the same." (Luke 3:10-11, SV)
Is it fair for John to demand that level of sacrifice? Or is it just? Or is he just demanding a redistribution of wealth in a teaching contrary to the clear will of God, else why would some people be rich, and some poor? In simplest terms, fairness is about me, and what is good for me. Justice is about what is right; and that certainly may not be good for me. For Warren to jump from scriptures that mention the poor, to "fairness" that defends the position of the wealthy (like Warren), is reprehensible.

To John's words I would add words I've used here more than once before*:

"What keeps you from giving now? Isn't the poor person there? Aren't your own warehouses full? Isn't the reward promised? The command is clear: the hungry person is dying now, the naked person is freezing now, the person in debt is beaten now-and you want to wait until tomorrow? "I'm not doing any harm," you say. "I just want to keep what I own, that's all." You own! You are like someone who sits down in a theater and keeps everyone else away, saying that what is there for everyone's use is your own. . . . If everyone took only what they needed and gave the rest to those in need, there would be no such thing as rich and poor. After all, didn't you come into life naked, and won't you return naked to the earth?

"The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; the coat hanging unused in your closet belongs to the person who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the person with no shoes; the money which you put in the bank belongs to the poor. You do wrong to everyone you could help, but fail to help."

4th Century

"The large rooms of which you are so proud are in fact your shame. They are big enough to hold crowds--and also big enough to shut out the voices of the poor....There is your sister or brother, naked, crying! And you stand confused over the choice of an attractive floor covering."

But as long as these matters are not within your control, or it's about "redistribution of wealth," or you can't help it if you're well off and others are too lazy or greedy to be as comfortable as you, then everything's okay. Apparently. After all, as long as you give money to the church, God wants you to be rich!

Well, that's what Rick Warren seems to think. The passage TBogg quotes comes from an interview where Warren says just that:

“The biggest problem for all of our economic problems is our inability to delay gratification,” Warren said, with individuals and the government following the attitude of, “I want it and I want it now, and I’m going to buy it even if I can’t afford it.”
The consistent teaching of Christianity since the letters of Paul is that our expectation of gratification is the fundamental problem. Not that we should suffer in order to achieve perfection; but the relentless pursuit of gratification, delayed or immediately satisfied, is what got us into this mess in the first place. And frankly this:

WARREN: I hold everybody responsible for that. I hold the people who got themselves in debt. I hold the government that got themselves in debt. I hold multiple administrations. It’s not the fault of any one person. There's plenty enough blame to be passed around.
Just sounds like: "First we point the finger at everyone who screwed this up, because the best starting point is laying blame." And that is so antithetical to Christian teachings as to be virtually un-Christian (if it weren't so commonly accepted among Christians). 'Do not judge, and you will not be judged.' Does that sound at all familiar?

*in fact, in connection with Rick Warren. There is indeed nothing new under the sun.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

Send in the Clowns

Or: Eric Holder's Ever So Polite "F*ck You"

First, this wasn't just the lone judge on the Fifth Circuit panel.
"When a formal order directing the filing of the letter emerged later in the day, Judge Smith was joined by the other judges on the panel, Circuit Judges Emilio M. Garza and Leslie H. Southwick."
And here's a breakdown of Attorney General Holder's response:

The government's brief cites jurisdictional bars to the instant suit and urges that plaintiffs' constitutional claims are insubstantial....At no point has the government suggested that the Court would lack authority to review plaintiffs' constitutional claims if the Court were to conclude that jurisdiction exists. The case has been fully briefed and argued, and it is ready for disposition. The question posed by the Court regarding judicial review does not concern any argument made in the government's brief or at oral argument in this case, and this letter should not be regarded as a supplemental brief.
There's some legal positioning there; but it also is a clear statement this isn't an issue in the case, and really never should have been raised from the Bench. It gets better.

1. The power of the courts to review the constitutionality of legislation is beyond dispute.
Okay, we could have expected that.

2. In considering such challenges, Acts of Congress are “presumptively constitutional,” ... and the Supreme Court has stressed that the presumption of constitutionality accorded to Acts of Congress is “strong.”
This is, in other words, an issue from first year Con law. But wait! There's more:

3. While duly recognizing the courts’ authority to engage in judicial review, the Executive Branch has often urged courts to respect the legislative judgments of Congress. ...The Supreme Court has often acknowledged the appropriateness of reliance on the political branches’ policy choices and judgments.
That's the third step, and the right hook to the presumptuousness of this panel which has rallied 'round this out of line judge. The letter includes that case law I have elided here, including the case law for this final point, indicating deference to Congress when it acts under the Commerce Clause. But the real point of this third item is in those first words: "the Executive Branch has often urged the courts to respect the legislative judgements of Congress," followed by a number of citations to case law. That's the lawyers way of telling the Judge: the President knows the law better than you do. Now shut up and do the job you're supposed to do. Follow the law, not your personal political predilections.

In legal circles, this is a slap down. You want to mouth off at the DOJ? They'll bring the case law. What've you got?

The judge (and his peers) are the guy coming to kill Sean Connery in The Untouchables, and finding out they've brought a knife to a gun fight. There is a world of stupid in this judge's temper tantrum, and Eric Holder and the DOJ just explained that to him in the restrained language of the courtroom. Orin Kerr got it absolutely right on the day before this letter was sent:

I think the court’s order was highly inappropriate, and Rush’s comments are an excellent example of why. Whatever the judges were thinking, their order was inevitably going to be interpreted as the product of three conservative judges trying to enter the political fray and take on a Democratic President. As Rush and many others saw it, the judges were joining the GOP “team,” trying to “punish” Obama and make him a “one-termer.” Rush Limbaugh celebrates that political role for the Fifth Circuit. Others condemn it. But given that the President’s statement at the press conference was not at issue in the case, and the court’s order was based on a very strained reading of a single sentence in the press conference, it was inevitable that the order would be interpreted in that way on the national political stage.
There is a reason the courts stick to their legal reasoning, and this is a perfect example of that reason. Obama won't be a "one-termer" because of this; but Judge Smith really needs to reconsider his fitness for the bench after this outburst, and especially this smackdown. It may not be clear to Limbaugh, but to lawyers and judges alike, Judge Smith and this panel look like clowns.

Holy Saturday 2012

Apropos of recent events, I will merely offer a repeat from a few years ago.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

They'll know we are Christians by our....Maundy Thursday 2012

Exodus 12:1-4, (5-10), 11-14
12:1 The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt:

12:2 This month shall mark for you the beginning of months; it shall be the first month of the year for you.

12:3 Tell the whole congregation of Israel that on the tenth of this month they are to take a lamb for each family, a lamb for each household.

12:4 If a household is too small for a whole lamb, it shall join its closest neighbor in obtaining one; the lamb shall be divided in proportion to the number of people who eat of it.

12:5 Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year-old male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats.

12:6 You shall keep it until the fourteenth day of this month; then the whole assembled congregation of Israel shall slaughter it at twilight.

12:7 They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it.

12:8 They shall eat the lamb that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire with unleavened bread and bitter herbs.

12:9 Do not eat any of it raw or boiled in water, but roasted over the fire, with its head, legs, and inner organs.

12:10 You shall let none of it remain until the morning; anything that remains until the morning you shall burn.

12:11 This is how you shall eat it: your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly. It is the passover of the LORD.

12:12 For I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike down every firstborn in the land of Egypt, both human beings and animals; on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments: I am the LORD.

12:13 The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live: when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague shall destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.

12:14 This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance.

Psalm 116:1-2, 12-19
116:1 I love the LORD, because he has heard my voice and my supplications.

116:2 Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live.

116:12 What shall I return to the LORD for all his bounty to me?

116:13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD,

116:14 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.

116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his faithful ones.

116:16 O LORD, I am your servant; I am your servant, the child of your serving girl. You have loosed my bonds.

116:17 I will offer to you a thanksgiving sacrifice and call on the name of the LORD.

116:18 I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people,

116:19 in the courts of the house of the LORD, in your midst, O Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!

1 Corinthians 11:23-26
11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread,

11:24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me."

11:25 In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me."

11:26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.

John 13:1-17, 31b-35
13:1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

13:2 The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray him. And during supper

13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God,

13:4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself.

13:5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples' feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.

13:6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, "Lord, are you going to wash my feet?"

13:7 Jesus answered, "You do not know now what I am doing, but later you will understand."

13:8 Peter said to him, "You will never wash my feet." Jesus answered, "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me."

13:9 Simon Peter said to him, "Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!"

13:10 Jesus said to him, "One who has bathed does not need to wash, except for the feet, but is entirely clean. And you are clean, though not all of you."

13:11 For he knew who was to betray him; for this reason he said, "Not all of you are clean."

13:12 After he had washed their feet, had put on his robe, and had returned to the table, he said to them, "Do you know what I have done to you?

13:13 You call me Teacher and Lord--and you are right, for that is what I am.

13:14 So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet.

13:15 For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.

13:16 Very truly, I tell you, servants are not greater than their master, nor are messengers greater than the one who sent them.

13:17 If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.

13:31b When he had gone out, Jesus said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him.

13:32 If God has been glorified in him, God will also glorify him in himself and will glorify him at once.

13:33 Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, 'Where I am going, you cannot come.'

13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."

This became the first of months for the Hebrews (later the Jews). And the observance of passover became a perpetual ordinance for them. But we Christians preferred the words of the synoptics, and of Paul, over the words of John. So many of us profess to love John 3:16; but so many of us completely overlook John 13. So many of us overlook the sacrament that wasn't.

It wasn't always so. Once upon a time, the kings of England had beggars brought in on Maundy Thursday, and the king washed their feet and gave them gifts. "Whatever you did for the least of these, you did for me." But the gifts were easy, the footwashing was hard; and soon the practice devolved into simply giving the poor some gifts. "This do in remembrance of me." And we knew we were Christ's disciples, because we were generous; because we gave what was, really, most valuable to us. We gave some of our stuff.

Not that it was much, in the strictures of the gospels. John the Baptist told us we only needed one coat, that the other should go to our brother or sister who was naked. John the Baptist also told us we only needed the food we could eat today, that the extra should go to our brother or sister who was hungry. The Hebrew Scriptures were behind both of those challenges, too. They were challenges to our justice, to bring our justice in line with God's justice. But it's easier to blame God for injustice, to wonder why God doesn't do something about injustice in the world, and then to enjoy our comforts even more, because they are ours, and are unknown to others. And certainly the greatest comfort of all is that we only have to show hospitality to our friends.

In Jesus' day, as we all know, washing your guests' feet was a sign of hospitality. Palestine was a dusty land, people walked about in sandals, washing the feet was a kindness and an act of favor. But it was done, when it was done, by servants; never by the host. No host would stoop to take of his guest's sandals and pull up the bowl and bring out the towel and go to work. That was a menial task; it was suited only to those lowest on the social and economic ladder. It was only just that they be assigned such tasks.

Today we don't wash each others feet; but neither do we clean each others toilets. That's a menial task. We pay janitors to do that; and to scrub the bathroom floors in our public buildings. We would never think to do it for them; or even to do it just once ourselves. It's a menial task, a degrading task, a filthy task.

Perhaps that is closer to what footwashing was about. We can hardly imagine it, today. I thought, once, of doing the practice on my Church council, on Maundy Thursday. No one wanted to subject themselves to the intimacy of it. To take off their shoes, to take off their socks or hosiery, and let me touch their feet. It was too much; it was too awkward; it was unacceptable. I've seen it done in some churches, but it's always the priest or pastor, and the church leadership: the very people with the power to make the priest's life miserable, or remove him altogether from his place (I speak of Protestant churches, obviously). Not exactly the equivalent of Christ and his disciples; and never can you imagine the entire congregation being involved in it.

It's not that it isn't important. John put this on the last night of Jesus' earthly life for very good reasons. There is no "Last Supper" in John's gospel, no breaking of bread, no offer to take his body and eat it, to drink the wine that is now his blood and remember him whenever you do this. There is a progression, though. The gospels are oddly connected, but the connections teach us something.

Mark's gospel is the oldest of the four, which makes it the earliest. Two days before Passover, according to Mark, a woman enters the room and breaks a jar of pure nard over Jesus' head. The disciples object, but Jesus says "what she has done will also be told in memory of her!" (Mark 14:9b, SV)

Matthew picks up the story, and keeps all the major elements from Mark, even connecting it to his burial. Luke has the story, too, but he makes radical changes in it.

The connections are obvious: the homeowner is still Simon, but now he is a Pharisee, not a leper. And a woman enters, angering the company, but now she washes Jesus' feet, and there is no mention of burial, no reference to death; only to love. John picks up on that reference, but recovers the perfume from the synoptics; and he names the woman (Mary, the brother of Lazarus). Oh, not here. In chapter 12; but Mary anoints Jesus' feet, not his head. John picks up that theme of love, and the connection to washing the feet, in the passage we have for this Maundy Thursday.

This is, for John, an act of love because it is an act of humility. It is an act attached to the actions of a woman earlier in his story, because Jesus does what is a servant's work, and women used to service might well think of perfuming the feet of someone they greatly admired, of someone they loved. A man would only do that in absolute privacy, or perhaps in great contrition. This is part of the new commandment Jesus gives his disciples: the commandment to love one another, as he has loved them. And that love is not just an abstraction; not just a nice thought or a hopeful goal or a wished for consummation. That love is action, and that action is not just in caring and sharing but in humility and contrition. It is in intimacy, but not the intimacy we today associate with love. This is the intimacy of touch, but a touch combined with absolute humility. This is the humility of absolutely being last of all and servant of all.

And that is why we still can't bring ourselves to do it. That is why this is not a perpetual ordinance for us. That is why we do anything but this in remembrance of our Lord and Savior. It is, we think, too much to ask. It is too much to even think about.

But is it? Is it too much to ask, if only once a year, to humble ourselves, and to wash each others feet? Really, physically, truly; to kneel down and wash the feet of those around us in the pews, to do to them and accept having it done to us, to recognize the Christ in all we see, and humble ourselves. "If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them."

Surely that is not too hard a blessing to seek.