Thoughts on Motu Proprio?
Surfing Catholic blogs, it seems there is a lot of buzz about the restoration of the Tridentine liturgy, and a general consensus that liberals are against it.
I just want to be on record as saying I have never been oppossed to wider availability of the Latin Mass.
I've been to approved Latin Masses, and it is a beautiful way of worshiping, though my preference is for the Post-Vatican II Mass. When done well, I like the Novus Ordo better than the Tridentine rie.
My main beef with the SSPX, sedevacantists, and/or other rad-trads and is when they say the Novus Ordo is invalid, Vatican II is heresy, and the current Pope is an anti-pope and the Jews are Christ killers conspiring to take over the world. Some of what these people say is mean and evil and even heretical.
But the Latin Mass is the Mass of my parents and grandparents and so many of the greatest saints. I'll keep going to Mass in the vernacular, as will my parents. But I have nothing against the Latin rite, per se.
I'm more concerned about the ICEL translations than whether the Latin Mass is made more widely available.
Friday, June 29, 2007
Thoughts on Motu Proprio?
What Happens When You Google the Word "Failure"?
You probably guessed it.
Chapter 3: The Gospel of the Kingdom of God
I liked this chapter of the Pope's new book much better than previous chapters, though there do seem some points worthy of critique.
In this chapter, the Holy Father does seem to be delving into a true attempt at exegesis and historical investigation.
Of course, he is still mixing in some theologizing and homiletics without being clear that he is doing so.
Yet, he is beginning to ground his theology more in what the historical Jesus' probably said and did than in the theological interpretations of the post-resurrection church.
The Holy Father seems to agree with vast literature indicating that the proclamation of the Kingdom of God is the historical Jesus' central message.
He points out the frequency of the motif (122 times in the NT, 99 times in the synoptics, 90 times in the mouth of Jesus).
The Pope does a linguistic analysis of the full phrase "the Gospel of the Kingdom of God/Heaven" as used in the New Testament.
The word translated as "Gospel" in Greek or Latin does literally mean "good news", but more than that. It is an official proclamation of a king or emporer.
Benedict highlights that "Kingdom" is not strictly a noun, and implies something more like "rule". I tend to use "reign of God" to capture something of this in my own blogging.
Benedict highlights the obvious point that what we are speaking about is something like a royal inaugural proclamation of the rule of God.
The emphasis the Pope is making is that we are speaking of the rule of God, as opposed to a new human social order.
The Holy Father explains how certain uses of the phrase counter various ways some biblical scholars or theologians have spoken of "the Gospel of the Kingdom of God".
For example, he does not see how Jesus' comparisons of the Kingdom to a seed that will blossom and grow over time can be reconciled with the notion that Jesus expected the world to end at any moment.
Referring to several Old Testament allusions and first century Jewish prayer disciplines, the Holy Father dismisses the notion that the rule of God would mean a political program to a first century Jew.
Benedict asks if Jesus' is presenting a message of the Kingdom as something apart from himself, or whether his announcement of "the Gospel of the Kingdom of God" means that in and through him, God's reign is breaking into the world?
And Benedict's conclusion is that Jesus is proclaming himself when he proclaims the Kingdom of God. Thus, the historical basis for high Christology - the Christ of faith - lies in this central proclamation of the Jesus of history.
The critique of the Pope's book that I posted yesterday by Father Joseph O'Leary seems to take issue with the point of separating Jesus' proclamation from any political implications.
Father Joseph points out various prophetic passages that indicate that the rule of God involves justice and peace, and even goes so far as to site Church doctrines to suggest that the Church continues to understand Jesus' message as having a political dimension.
At this point in my reading of the book, I feel a bit caught in the middle, because it seems the truth is sort of in the middle.
I would agree with O'Leary that certain passages of this chapter lend themselves to the Pope potentially creating a false dichotomy between an interiorized sense of the reign of God, and active work for peace and justice in the world. It can be both/and.
If the Pope is saying that the Gospel has no political implications, that would seem incorrect - even on a purely historical basis, much less theological.
If, on the other hand, the Pope's real point is that the political implications are secondary to something more central, that may be a valid point worth examination.
My own opinion is that Jesus was proclaiming something more than a political program, and I am therefore sympathetic to giving the Holy Father a chance to flesh this out more as I continue reading.
Furthermore, I had already concluded before this book was published that something in Jesus' proclamation of the Kingdom of God and the way he goes about acting as if the reign of God is breaking into the world probably is the true basis of high Christology, especially as this message is clarified in and through resurrection faith.
I still have more to read before making any real decisions, but so far, chapter 3 seems a vast improvement over prior chapters.
Thursday, June 28, 2007
A Critical Review of the Pope's Book
I haven't yet finished the next chapter of the Pope's book (The Kingdom of God), much less the whole book.
What I have read so far in this chapter seems to be getting a little better than the earlier chapters from the view point of intergrating historical scholarship.
So far, my chapter by chapter critique has consistently been that the book does not integrate the best of historical scholarship with theology, the way I was lead to believe it would do.
Instead, it simply ignores the questions raised by the historical critical methods, except in sarcastic asides directed at various scholars or opinions.
So far, I am reading homily, rather than an attempt to integrate historical investigation with classical theology.
The link above is to a very erudite and well read scholar who has taken the pains to reference page numbers and quotes from the Pope's book, lined up with references to prominent exegetes, biblical scholars, church documents, theologians and so forth to make the same point.
I have not read this author before, and he is more current in his academic reading than I am.
This critique printed 42 pages on my printer, and it highlights both the good and the bad. It is very well documented, and even links to blog commentary to show the impact of the Pope's work on those not as well read as the critic.
Here is a quote that I think sums up best what the critic is saying:
Reading Benedict, one has the impression that his real quarrel is not with exegesis, but with the Gospels themselves, which simply do not provide the historical and doctrinal transparency he seeks. He has adopted a strategy that could be highly dangerous to Christian faith, by implying that if the Gospels are not historical in the sense that he claims, then they are not historical at all and are not worthy of any trust. Many Christians have reconciled themselves to the actual historical texture of the early Christian records, and have found a mature and serene faith in doing so, including the possibility of maintaining a Johannine and Chalcedonian vision of Christ. Benedict pulls the mat from under these people, and encourages an assertive attitude to the texts that borders on fundamentalism (a pathology that some have detected in parts of the Catechism of the Catholic Church). The boomerang effect of such a policy could be disastrous pastorally.Of course, this paragraph quote proves nothing. It merely describes the critic's conclusion. To see why he concludes this, you need to go through his 42 pages of well documented argumentation.
I am not finished with the book, so I still hold out some hope that I will not agree with this scathing critique of Benedict's book.
If, however, the critique I have made so far continues, then I will wind up standing largely with Father Joseph O'Leary and some others he quotes in the position that the Pope's work is simply intellectually indefensible.
Wednesday, June 27, 2007
Hat Tip to Reformed Catholic
I took a little break from reading the Pope's book and did this quiz on B's site. I feel like I may have seen this before a couple of years ago, but it was fun to do again....I wonder if the conservatives are surprised by the results.
B also has a great 2 part series on Western dating verses Hindu dating....
|You scored as Roman Catholic, You are Roman Catholic. Church tradition and ecclesial authority are hugely important, and the most important part of worship for you is mass. As the Mother of God, Mary is important in your theology, and as the communion of saints includes the living and the dead, you can also ask the saints to intercede for you.|
created with QuizFarm.com
The Temptations: Chapter 2 of Pope's Book
How do I describe this chapter?
I liked it. I really liked it alot. This is a fantastic homily on the temptations of Christ as presented in the Gospels.
One reader left a comment hinting I may not like Benedict's swipes at those who would reduce the Gospel to a political manifesto to give bread to the poor.
Actually, I had little problem with the Holy Father's insight. Humanity does not live by bread alone, and the best efforts of the most committed, passionate, loving, compassionate and just Christians will not feed all the starving. The poor will always be with us.
And the Holy Father is spot on that we can never identify any political program with the Gospel (including neoconservative Republicanism or liberatarianism as much as Marxism or socialism).
This doesn't mean that we weaken our efforts to feed the poor. It doesn't mean that faith doesn't impact our politics. It simply means that our ultimate priority must be elsewhere - developing a relationship with God and inviting others into that same communion.
Life without bread is aweful, but a well fed person living without meaning is worse off than the poor and starving. And those without bread may be closer to God than those with all earthly power.
I did not mind his swipe against biblical scholars either. Yes. Even the devil is presented as a Bible scholar in the text, and we can draw some lessons from that.
Intellectual arrogance and contempt for simple faith is not the goal of rigorous scholarship. A child can draw deep meaning from the Gospel, and the mentally retarded are often closer to God than the intellectual genius.
The Pope's homily is just fine to me. I liked it.
I only point out, as I have been pointing out the past couple of days, that a homily is not history.
Historically, there is reason to doubt that Jesus even went into the desert to fast and be tempted.
A key question is how anyone would have known about what went on for those forty days.
Aside from this rather obvious question, which might be answered by speculating that Jesus told the Twelve what happened during some time before he died, there is reason to believe that Jesus did not encourage fasting - rejected the practice.
The Gospels contain hints that maybe Jesus opposed fasting, and his opposition would become reinterpreted by the post-resurrection community that would fast.
The Pharisees and the followers of John are both presented in the Gospels as asking Jesus why his followers do not fast. The common thread of critique aimed at Jesus by his opponents is that he is always eating and drinking (alcoholic beverages) with sinners and offers easy or cheap grace.
Jesus often likens the reign of God to a wedding banquet breaking into our midst, in stark contrast to John the Baptist's message of gloom and doom as the end time approaches.
In one parable, Jesus compares a Pharisee who fasts and prays regularly to a tax collector begging for mercy for his sins. It is the tax collector who is justified, rather than the fasting pharisee.
When we combine all of this with the question of how anyone knew about the forty day fast, the historian allowing the evidence to lead where it may could easily reach the conclusion that the story is doubtful as history.
Maybe it did happen, and maybe it didn't.
All I am saying is that the evidence it did happen is weak in comparison to other aspects of Jesus' life that we can know more certainly. Further, there is reason to believe Jesus opposed fasting, or saw it as unimportant.
This does not mean that the story, as presented in the Gospel, is meaningless. The scripture is the word of God - a divinely inspired text. The Church allowed this text into the canon because it expressed something true of our faith. The Holy Father's homily draws some of this out.
As a homily, this is a fine piece of work. Indeed, it is a piece of art that opens up Joseph Ratzinger's own soul to us, as well as highlighting potential divine inspirations in the texts.
As any good homilist does, the Pope has interwoven three stories into this chapter: His own personal story, our collective story in the here and now, and the story of God revealed in the text.
The references to contemporary literary works, or incidents like Chernobyl, and so forth help to draw us into the homily - our story is here.
This is a deeply personal rendering of the texts that reveals something of Joseph Ratzinger's own experiences of temptation and grace.
And throughout, he is returning to the texts of the scriptures interpreted by the early fathers to draw out meanings that open new horizons for himself and for us.
That's exactly what a good homily should do.
But it ain't history.
Tuesday, June 26, 2007
More on the Pope's Book
Ok. I just got through the first real chapter: "The Baptism of Jesus".
What a dissapointment!
Perhaps I had the wrong expectations when I picked up this book. I was under the impression that this was going to be a synthesis of the best of historical studies that shape the Holy Father's Christology.
I don't mind that the Pope wants to do some Christology and theology - but I expected it to be based upon sound historical arguments.
Trouble is, there's no consideration of historical critical scholarship in this work so far. So far, this is sacramental theology and Biblical apologetics, but not history.
The Pope takes swipes at historians in many asides, but he doesn't present an argument for what historically occurred. Indeed, he side-steps history altogether.
The Pope correctly points out how various New Testament texts interpret the baptism of Jesus and the meaning of baptism for the Church. I find no fault with this theological reading of the scriptures to form a homily on baptism - which is what this really is.
The "problem" is that he has not answered the very question he raises - why was Jesus baptized?
To fully grasp the question, theologically, the baptism of Jesus is a scandal for us Christians. Why did the sinless Son of God need to be baptized?
Historically, we can be reasonably certain that Jesus was, in fact, baptized, precisely because preservation of this tradition was a bit of an embarrasment for us.
The New Testament writers, relating events several years after the death and resurrection of Jesus provide a deep theological interpretation of the event, using it to foreshadow Christ's descent into the tomb and his glorious resurrection.
His willingness to undergo baptism is interpreted as entering into solidarity with all people - all sinners.
In highlighting the scriptural roots of this post-resurrection theological interpretation and its meaning for us, Benedict is not dealing with the question of what the man, Jesus, was doing in history.
Let me step aside from history for just a second.
It is solemnly defined dogma that Jesus is two natures, human and divine. It is solemnly defined dogma that Jesus is not God in a human shell, but fully human in every conceivable way but sin. It is even solemnly defined dogma that Jesus had two minds, and two "wills" (phystis - principle of action).
In Luke's Gospel, the author states that Jesus grew in knowledge and wisdom. The human mind of Jesus experienced that most common of all human experiences - ignorance!
Theologically, the Pope writes a niece meditition on baptism, but the goal of history is not to write a homily or an apologetic.
The goal of historical studies is to try to get at what was going on in the human life of the human person known as Jesus of Nazareth.
When Jesus was baptized, it is improbable that his human mind understood that going down in the water symbolized his own death on a cross on behalf of sinners throughout all times and places.
For believers who find my point a little hard to grasp, forget about the mind of Jesus for a moment.
Pope Benedict says we cannot know the mind of Jesus in his quips dismissing those historians who suggest that Jesus' baptism was a defining experience of coming to know his own vocation.
For the sake of argument, I'll agree with Benedict that we cannot know the mind of Jesus. We cannot fully know the mind of any historical figure, for that matter.
But we can often know what was NOT possibly in the mind of a historical figure.
As an easy example, Saint Thomas Aquinas had no opinion on embryonic stem cell research - a science that did not exist in his day.
And again, let's move away from Jesus, per se, since Benedict and I will both ultimately agree he is divine, and the interaction between his divine and human minds may be impossible for us to discern.
Let's focus on John the Baptist instead!
Benedict uses the Baptist's reference to Jesus as the "Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world" as evidence that his [Benedict's] theological interpretation of baptism was understood by John.
Certainly, Benedict is aware that other scripture passages indicate John sent envoys to Jesus asking if Jesus is really the one, isn't he?
John does not seem certain who Jesus really is.
Is there any evidence at all from the Gospels that Jesus saw his own mission extending beyond the fallen house of Israel in the manner Pope Benedict implies in this first chapter?
If so, Jesus was not a very clear teacher.
I'll admit that if the human Jesus walking around before the first Good Friday and Easter Sunday consciously intended a global mission, he was ultimately effective.
Nevertheless, there is nothing at all in his teachings pre-resurrection that clearly indicates a global mission. I find it more probable that he did not consciously consider his mission to Gentiles.
Yes. Yes. I am aware he cured the centurion's son/servant (after expressing surprise that a foreigner showed more faith than all of Israel), and the syro-phoenician woman (after calling her a dog).
These passages, if historical, do lay some seminal grounds for the post-resurrection Church to go global. But only as an implication of something that doesn't seem fully thought out. Jesus' explicit teaching is that he came for the fallen house of Israel.
And who knows, maybe the resurrected Christ really appeared in bodily form to Paul and told him with an audible voice to go to preach to the Gentiles. Maybe the glorified Christ really appeared bodily and told the Eleven in an audible voice to go to all nations and baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.
But on the river Jordan, somewhere around a year and half to three years before the crucifixion, it is highly improbable that anyone watching Jesus being baptized would have said "Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world" and grasped that this man has a universal mission to all humanity.
The Pope makes a big deal out of the fact that the phrase probably has Aramaic origins, and therefore probably goes back to John - as though John and Jesus are the only early Christians who speak Aramaic.
The idea that simply because a phrase or word has an Aramaic origin means it goes back to Jesus or John has fallen out of favor years ago.
While it may be true that what cannot possibly be said in Aramaic is less likely to go back to the life of Jesus, it does not follow that whatever was said in Aramaic goes back to the life of Jesus. We need to weigh other evidences.
I am not picking on the Pope's chapter simply because it runs against some pre-conceived idea I have of what Jesus' baptism meant to Jesus or those who observed it.
I don't have a clear idea in my own mind what Jesus' baptism meant to him, or what it meant to John, or anyone else observing.
And that's the real problem. Pope Benedict does not help me formulate a clearer idea of what baptism meant to Jesus or John than I already had.
Instead, he offers me a homily on what it meant to the early fathers of the Church and what it can mean to us.
That's all fine and good. It might get an "A" in a class entitled "The Theology of Baptism".
But that's not history.
And if, as the forward stated, our faith must have a historical basis, I was expecting that I might gain a deeper understanding of what baptism meant to Jesus and John and those who observed Jesus' baptism.
Instead, I get what it meant to furture generations.
So far, I'm not impressed with this book, but I'll keep plowing along. Maybe it gets better as I move forward.
Monday, June 25, 2007
The Pope's Book
I've been pretty busy with my toddler while my wife is on pretty strict bed-rest during a high risk pregnancy. I haven't had much time for reading and blogging.
However, I did manage to get my hands on Pope Benedict's book, Jesus of Nazareth, which I am slowly plowing through in my few moments of free time.
The forward to the book is worth the price, in my mind. Benedict is clear that he is not offering magisterial teaching, and we are free to disagree with him.
Yet, I disagree with nothing in the forward. Indeed, the forward is the best defense of higher-criticism against fundamentalism I have seen.
What is interesting is the Pope even sees historical critical methods as necessary to understanding Jesus - as demanded by faith, itself!
It very fairly outlines my own view of how to approach the Biblical texts as both works of literature, and works that we believe are divinely inspired.
I honestly think I have not seen a better explanation of what we mean by revelation in such short space.
I have only made it through the forward and introduction so far. I am not sure I like the introduction as much as the forward.
In the introduction, Pope Benedict starts with an Old Testament prophecy from Deuteronomy that one will come like Moses.
He then explains that what marks Moses out from religious figures known to the Old Testament Jews is that Moses spoke with God as a friend.
His central argument, therefore, according to the introduction, will be that Jesus can only be understood as the new Moses - one who speaks with the Father face-to-face in intimate communion.
I agree with the Holy Father that the New Testament presents Jesus as this new Moses who speaks intimately with his Father, and reveals the Father through his intimacy with God.
The point I would critique is merely that a distinction can be made between what the authors of the New Testament present, and what the historical man, Jesus, actually did and said.
Certainly, we could argue that it is the belief of of the Church in faith that Jesus is, in fact, the new Moses.
And certainly, the New Testament affirms this faith proclamation.
Further, we can ask how this faith came to rise so early if there is not something about the real Jesus in history that gave rise to the claims.
The point I am making is merely that we cannot prove through historical methods that what the New Testament authors portray is an accurate representation of reality. We cannot know that Jesus, the man, saw himself as the new Moses.
To be fair to the Holy Father, his forward and introduction admit that he is sometimes going beyond what can discerned solely through historical methods.
What I am critiquing is not so much that he may go beyond historical methods, per se, as that he is not very clear when he is doing it so far in what I have read to date.
Having admitted that he will be sometimes going beyond what can be discerned with high degrees of certitude through historical methods, he seems to then make assertions that go beyond historical methods as if he is still doing history.
In other words, it is not his meager conclusions I am faulting in the small bit I have read so far, as the fact that he isn't being very clear about what he discerns through scholarship and what he takes on faith.
Of course, I have much more to read to be sure my critique is ultimately fair. Perhaps he will flesh out his case as I progress through the book. Those who have read further may wish to correct me.
More to come....
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
Vatican Releases Ten Commandments for Drivers
I'm not making this up. EWTN reports that the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, under the leadership of Renato Cardinal Matino, has issued ten commandments for drivers:
I. You shall not kill.
II. The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.
III. Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.
IV. Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.
V. Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.
VI. Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.
VII. Support the families of accident victims.
VIII. Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.
IX. On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.
X. Feel responsible towards others.
Wednesday, June 13, 2007
Homosexuality and the Church
Despite all that's going on, I did find a few moments to read this exchange in Commonweal between Bible scholar, Luke Timothy Johnson, and blogger/journalist Eve Tushnet on homosexuality. Both views are very thought provoking.
My wife is on bed rest, and my daughter now has a fever probably due to being woken up in the middle night to go to the hospital and eating irregular meals.
On top of all else, we're dealing with the fact that our air conditioning broke down, as did one of our cars, and a hard drive on a PC crashed with some financial info that wasn't backed up recently.
So far, things are going as well as can be expected under the circumstances. We're humbly forced to ask people for help, and family and the parish is doing that.
Blogging or commenting will likely be slow.
I want to say a word about how touched I am that people who have passionately disagreed with me leading to some rather heated discussions have offered prayers. At the end of the day, that's what Christianity is all about.
Keep the prayers coming.
Friday, June 08, 2007
Thanks so much to everyone praying. God is good!
We found a wonderful doctor able to give my wife the right treatment to stop contractions and opening of the cervix - and he knew a solution using some sort of ring with a sort of web that will hold the uterus to remove pressure on the cervix.
Most of all, he gave us hope.
This morning, even he was nervous we would not make it through the day.
My wife responded well to his drug medication, and the ultra sound looked much better by late this afternoon. He thinks we can realistically make it all the way to 37 weeks if Monica takes it easy and this ring works well.
The flood of emotions I've been feeling are probably worth a post, but I'm just too beat.
Thanks again to everyone, and keep praying for us. No matter what, this baby will be premature, but if we can hold it all the way to 37 weeks, that will be fantastic.
Thursday, June 07, 2007
KEEP THE PRAYERS COMING!
My wife is in the hospital with pre-term contractions. No time to say much more (see below). Please pray for us.
URGENT PRAYER REQUEST!
My wife and I went in for the 20 week ultrasound today. This is our second child.
About two weeks ago, she was experiencing prolonged contractions, and went in to be checked, but everything was fine by the time she got to the doctor. They told her to take it easy and drink lots of water.
There have been sporadic contractions since, even as we were driving in for the routine ultrasound, but not long enough or close enough together to cause us to be overly worried.
In the ultra-sound, her cervix is funneling and thin - meaning she could go into pre-term labor at any time. Now she's on strict bed rest, and since we got home, she's started having cramps.
The baby is just absolutely perfect, and seemed to be dancing around.
We need at least two more weeks for viability to become possible. The longer the better. I don't know how common this is, but please pray for us.
Wednesday, June 06, 2007
Is This the End of the Stem Cell Debate?
Scientist believe that they have found a way to convert adult cells taken from a person's own body into pluripotent stem cells without creation or destruction of a human embryo.
Tuesday, June 05, 2007
Preliminary Thoughts on Sam Harris' The End of Faith
A few months back, I posted some of my thoughts on the online debate between Sam Harris and Andrew Sullivan at www.beliefnet.com.
I stated that I considered Harris to be winning the debate, and offered my own critique of points he had made to that date with Sullivan.
I received in response to this post an email from an atheist who commended me for admitting that Harris was winning the debate, and correctly assessed that I had not read Harris' The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason, or his follow up Letter to a Christian Nation.
I admitted that this was true and set out to rectify that.
I still have not read the second book, but I just finished The End of Faith today,....,literally about twenty minutes before sitting down to type out my preliminary thoughts and reactions.
This is not a full scale critique or book review. It is more some impressions....
First, let me say that I enjoyed reading the book. Harris is a very gifted writer, and has a real knack for presenting some complex philosophical and scientific subjects simply. He also injects just the right amount of humor to force the reader to crack a smile without losing track of his rather serious points.
I should say that my reading did including stopping to read every single endnote, and the endnotes of this book are fantastic. They add just the right clarity where I thought he may have made a mistake.
As I stated back in the February post on the debate with Sullivan, Harris' reasoning is generally flawless. I don't see any blatant contradictions, assertions of completely unwarranted facts, logical fallacies, and so forth in his work.
And my faith is entirely unchallenged by this book.
Indeed, I did not run across a single argument that I had not seen in my undergraduate seminary days of pre-theology where I read many of the same sources, including studies on the brain and consciousness.
Graduate level theology - at least in Roman Catholic priestly formation - picks up where Harris leaves off - almost exactly where he leaves off in the last chapter.
This should really come as no surprise to a Roman Catholic. There simply is no conflict between faith and reason, which is solemnly defined dogma in the Catholic Church.
Irrational beliefs are not faith, no matter how many religious people hold them.
My basic critique of Harris' work at the highest level is that he hasn't touched faith in the book. He isn't addressing faith at all.
He has masterfully written a very good defense of what the Church calls "natural reason" - explained what it is, why it is useful - even how we know it sometimes arrives at truth claims that are not merely cultural bias but are accurate representations of reality.
I do not agree with him one hundred percent on his ethical conclusions, but I agree with many of his starting points, and can follow him to his conclusions, pointing out where we depart exactly.
So, let me do a bit of that while it fresh in my mind. Not wanting to slow down my train of thought in simply formulating an impressionistic reaction, I will not be supplying page number references.
I want to start with some comments on his ethics and work from there, because Harris's critique of religion is largely an ethical critique.
Given that a woman driving while on crack ran over something like 40 people today, it may be a bad time to say that I largely agree with Harris on legalization of naturally occurring plants used as recreational drugs.
There is no rational reason to criminalize marijuana while alcohol and tobacco are legal. Harris exposes the irrationality of this as well as its social costs.
I suspect that Harris' suggestion that we do not do this because religious people do not want any pleasure to compete with prayer and procreative sex might have a grain of truth.
That doesn't disprove religion in general. It's just proves that some religious people may be idiots.
Indeed, this charge could be leveled at much of this book. If half of atheists believe idiotic things, and half of people of faith believe idiotic things, it should come as no surprise that it is easier to find the idiocies of people of faith. There are simply more people of faith than there are atheists.
I am not advocating that people use marijuana or other non-addictive naturally occurring hallucinogens that do not lend themselves statistically to violent and reckless behavior. I am merely saying that we do not need laws against all private pleasures, even if we chose not to engage in such pleasures while pursuing a greater good.
On foreign policy....
Harris admits that Chomsky's critique of American foreign policy is entirely true and even (with his touch of humor) adds to Chomsky's list of American terror as though he is writing a recipe for a tasty dessert.
Then he states that Chomsky is dead wrong to suggest that Islamic suicide bombings targeting civilians was caused by American policy. I agree, with a caveat.
It would be absurd to suggest that a swarm of bees have stingers because I stood bare-chested under their hive swinging a bat at it.
It would be equally ludicrous to suggest that standing under a beehive bare-chested and swinging a bat at the hive did not lead to me getting stung.
Further, swatting at bees with a bat is not a good way to kill bees, if that is your aim.
Let's assume that there are reasons not to use a truly effective means of eliminating a beehive (i.e. - the environmental damage caused by pesticides, which is analogous to the principle of collateral damage).
Given that scenario, one may chose to move away from the bee-hive, or cover up appropriately to avoid being stung, or even simply standing perfectly still. Continuing to swing a bat is simply the height of stupidity.
Harris is correct throughout much of this book that there are unique tenants in Islam that can be taken as inspiration for and rationalization of suicide bombings targeting what the West calls civilians.
While not universally embraced in Islam, these tenants are widely embraced in Islam.
There is no point in soft pedaling that this is a horrendously bad religious idea and a supreme example of religious idiocy.
These tenants are not held by most believers in many other religions.
Suicide bombing targeting what we in the West call civilians is rare to non-existent among Jainists or Christians (though Harris will point out the faults of tenants these religions hold as well).
Harris is correct to focus his critique squarely with Muslims on the issue of suicide bombing targeting civilians.
I agree with Harris, as well, that anyone who would embrace this idea holds to a "bad religious idea".
Indeed, I agree with much of Harris' critique of moral relativism throughout the book.
Suicide bombing targeting civilians is wrong, and it is a problem that arises out of bad religious ideas held by large numbers of Muslims. American foreign policy did not cause the bad religious ideas that give rise to this particular problem.
However, American foreign policy played a role in America becoming a target of this particularly horrendous religious idea. We have been standing under a beehive bare-chested swinging a bat for about five decades. We shouldn't be surprised we are being stung.
Harris states that Chomsky's major flaw is equivocating the actions of George W. Bush with those of Saddam Hussein. What distinguishes the two men, in Harris' mind, is their intentions.
There is a difference between deliberately targeting civilians, and causing unintended collateral damage.
This would make some degree of sense if I knew exactly what George W. Bush's true intentions were in leading the nation to war with Iraq in 2003.
I should be clear that I was opposed to the invasion from the very first public whispering that it might happen in June of 2002.
The questions I am raising here are NOT questions asked with 20/20 hindsight. They were questions I was asking in 2002 and have not ceased to ask nearly every day since then.
What evidence is there Iraq was involved in the events of 9/11?
What evidence is there that Iraq is in any way a state sponsor of terrorists activity aimed directly at the United States or its allies?
What evidence is there that Iraq possesses WMDs and imminently intends to use them against the United States of America and/or our allies?
What evidence is there that the Sh'ite, Sunni, and Kurdish factions in Iraq would be able to live peacefully together in blissful democracy and universal respect for basic human rights in a post Saddam world?
Bush's explicit notions that we would found a democracy in the middle east were an irrational 'faith' claim preposterous beyond belief.
Note that these were questions demanding evidence, and Bush supplied none that I considered compelling prior to the March 2003 invasion.
I did pay very close attention to the debates, and I am aware of the arguments that were made. I will not repeat the arguments and counter arguments and counter-counter arguments here for the sake of space and focus. Let's just say that I always found them extremely wanting beyond credulity.
I am merely trying to say that those of us who have drawn comparisons between Bush and Hussein or Hitler and so forth were/are trying to wake everyone up to the fact that too many people are placing uncritical faith in this president's claims.
Reason - the type Harris encourages - would not have led us to war in Iraq.
It isn't just that the invasion of Iraq was a distraction from Afghanistan, as Harris says on his web site. It was that. But what is worse, we waged a war based on weak to non-existent evidence.
None of Bush's reasons for war in Iraq held up to rational ethical scrutiny when weighed against an action that we knew in advance would cause collateral damage.
That was the critical question too few Americans want to ask or answer: What rules of evidence are required before WE knowingly cause collateral damage to civilians?
I believe those standards should be very high indeed. Harris' own logic would lead to the same conclusion.
I had some trouble following Harris' justifications for torture in extreme cases until he made the point that once we accept acting in manner that will foreseeably cause collateral damage, it is obvious torture might be justified where it minimizes such damage.
At face value, this is a true statement.
Since I have an extremely high bar for what would constitute justification for causing collateral damage, I would seldom be in such a situation - if I even believed that torture could minimize collateral damage in any circumstance to begin with - a "faith claim" I do not accept based on abundant counter-evidence.
There is no evidence that anyone anywhere is more likely to tell the truth under torture than by other more humane treatment. Indeed, there is plenty of evidence that people will tell fantastic lies under torture - which Harris documents quite well in his treatment of the inquisitions.
I need not go so far back in history. Senator John Mccain has told us the lies he told his captors in deliberate ways while being tortured aimed to lead them to believe he told the truth. Wouldn't a terrorist with bad intentions do the same?
The terrorist tells you that there is a ticking time bomb. It's in RKF stadium. You rush the bomb squad to RFK while a JFK stadium goes up in smoke. The terrorist smiles inwardly as he says "Ooops. Did I say RFK? English is not my first language, you know..."
If under torture, otherwise good people will admit to witchcraft and sex with demons involving even their family and friends, as Harris indicates, what are the chances a known terrorist will tell the truth under torture?
Or just enough truth to deceive you into believing the really big lies he wants you to believe the most.
While I understand that our human fear, anger, and anxiety in a ticking time bomb scenario may lead us to torture against our more rational impulses, it remains an irrational act.
It is never rational to torture anyone, not because civilian lives (including my daughter) are less valuable than a terrorists. They are not less valuable.
Rather, it is unethical to employ torture even in these extreme cases unless and until hard evidence can be presented that torture elicits truth. All available evidence I am aware of points to the contrary. Any useful information gained through torture can be gained in more humane ways.
From a purely rational point of view, the motive to torture in the ticking time bomb scenario is not entirely different than when torture is employed for lesser reasons (i.e. - a desire to control the will of another, venting frustrations, and perhaps even taking pleasure in the release of these feelings).
The worse part of employing even "a little torture" is precisely that we are training certain members of our society to be calloused to the suffering of another sentient being - those who will employ these "aggressive interrogation" tactics must learn to tune out the cries of the tortured.
How Harris does not see this as very problematic even in the situations he describes is beyond me. His own reasoning should lead to the conclusion that torture is intrinsically evil.
On the debate about stem cells, I must confess that Harris' case is more of a challenge to my own pro-life convictions than most articulations of the argument.
However, I do not think my argument is as far beneath his consideration as he implies.
Harris is correct that we can formulate much of ethics according to Kant's categorical imperative, or Jesus' golden rule, or by saying that we should maximize the happiness and minimize the suffering of sentient beings.
Harris is also correct that I have no evidence an embryo feels pain. Indeed, not only do I lack evidence, but I don't believe it. Human embryos most likely do not feel pain.
I also do appreciate that on the grounds he outlines, killing a fly could cause us graver concern if we thought about what a fly might feel.
Indeed, I have never argued that defending the unborn human means that we do not have compassion on other sentient life forms, and I am a practicing vegetarian as one small step in this direction. I do try to shoe flies away, rather than simply swatting them.
While I do not deny that we should be concerned about such issues as animal testing on chimpanzees or what have you, I feel that human beings must take a priority. Call me anthrocentric if you wish, but that is my stance. I'll appeal to Harris' defense of common sense in some instances. Until we treat human beings well, let's not get bogged down with the rights of a fruit fly.
Within this anthrocentric perspective, I do not accept the premise that consciousness is entirely dependent on the brain, and Harris doesn't seem to either by the afterword to his book.
As a point of common ground, Harris accepts as open to empirical verification that we can achieve an awareness of consciousness beyond the "I" and distinct from the thoughts that impress themselves on consciousness. I agree. That is my experience too.
I do not know with certainty that an embryo shares such consciousness, but I also am not sure that it does not.
What I am sure of is that this is human life capable of consciousness as Harris describes consciousness at some point in its natural existence.
It is, in my mind, unethical to take the life of a being capable of human consciousness. By "capable", I am not referring solely to the future capability, but of a potentially present capacity that I can not empirically verify as absent.
I am suggesting that the selfless consiousness beyond thoughts that Harris admits exists in adults might be present in an embryo.
To view this argument another way, if I may not kill a sleeping man by means of painlessly filling his room with carbon monoxide, I cannot destroy a human embryo.
Harris is correct that this line of reasoning could raise questions regarding other forms of human life that have no potency of future development - such as an adult stem cell line or the cells the president kills while scratching his nose during a speech.
As he suggests when drawing a line somewhere with animals, common sense says that we have to draw a line somewhere with human life at the cellular level.
I appreciate Harris' defense of reliance on certain forms of common sense in these areas where things can get so murky.
A cell destined for death by nature is not the same as a cell with potential to naturally develop into a full fledged human adult. That is common sense in my mind.
Even the argument that any cell can be potentially cloned is not a problem here. Cells cannot naturally clone.
An embryo, even if formed in a petri dish, can develop into a full fledged adult with only the assistance of being placed in its natural environment - a (willing) human (female) womb.
The natural capacity to develop into a human adult is a sign that consciousness of some sort is possible even at the embryonic stage. While this consciousness may not be subject to pain in the sense we know pain, the basic instinct of consciousness is to live - "to be" as opposed to not being. And this is human consciousness because it is present to a being with human DNA.
I cannot prove an embryo already has human consciousness without thoughts apart from a brain, but I cannot prove it does not either.
When dealing with a being that may "have" human consciousness, our presumption should be to protect that being in its natural existence.
In any discussion of embryonic stem cell research I must clarify that I do support increased funding for research into cures for diseases that cause grave suffering. I even support increased stem cell research.
Research in adult stem cells, which has produced known effective cures and treatments for illnesses, where embryonic stem cell research has produced no results to date.
Adult stem cell reasearch is nowhere near exhausted, and it is an empirical fact that it works and holds future promise.
Should protecting an embryo be a higher priority than so many other pressing moral issues of the day? I'll defer discussion on this question for another time.
Finally, in regard to ethical questions, Harris is quite hard on what he calls pacifists, which include Gandhi in his mind.
Both Gandhi and I would deny that we are pacifists. We believe in active non-violent resistance to evil that may get one killed, though the intention is not to get one's self or anyone else killed.
Harris quotes a secondary source to say that Gandhi believed the Jews should have committed mass suicide in opposition to the Nazis. If Gandhi said that, which he may have, I would not agree.
However, only a pacifist would have freely boarded the trains to the death camps and walked freely into the gas chamber.
A practitioner of active non-violence of the sort I advocate would force the Nazis to either carry him onto the train to the ghetto and then onto the train to the death camps and then into the gas chamber, or shoot him in his original home while going about his daily routine.
I would argue that if the Jews had done this, far fewer would have been killed. Carrying six million people onto trains into the ghetto and back onto the trains and into the gas chambers would have been too exhaustive. Shooting them in their homes in front of their countrymen would have shocked the conscience of the ordinary German out of his or her complacency.
Herein lies the beginning of my more serious critique of Harris' assault in faith.
Harris admits that happiness is known in, or perhaps even caused by love. He admits that this love can become truly altruistic - self emptying love at least as concerned for others as the self, if not more so. Happiness can be achieved even in a love willing to risk life and limb for the beloved, according to Harris.
I agree. We also agree that we want to build a culture that encourages this sort of love.
If an increase in happiness for ourselves and others - the achievement of shared happiness - and the minimizing of suffering are the criteria of good ethics, what would it mean to say that the ultimate happiness of the human person is finding that worth dying for?
My basic "critique" remains the same now as it was in February. Harris is not quite defining faith the way a religious moderate or progressive would likely define it. Thus, we are often talking past one another.
Faith is not primarily intellectual certitude about propositions without evidence.
It is trust that all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well (as he quotes from Julian of Norwich). It is believing this even when your own life is on the line, such as in the act of standing up to the Nazis.
It is believing this even when chosing to bring a difficult and unchosen preganacy to term or chosing to live with chronic pain knowing suicide is an option.
It is being willing to risk your life like a soldier, even if you embrace non-violence.
Whether you embrace active non-violence, or resort to a just war theory, being willing to lay down your life for the happiness of others and trying to minimize suffering is the highest form of happiness.
The motive to embrace active non-violence, by the way, lies precisely in recognizing that one is happiest by being willing to lay down one's life for others, but not being willing to contribute to human suffering in the process.
It is not the actual act of dying that is sought. Suicide would add to suffering.
While being killed unjustly does cause suffering, the survivors do find meaning in it when they know you were killed for their sake, and were happy doing so.
Even during the act of active non-violence in the face of a deadly threat, one achieves the happiness Harris admits arises from perfect love - in this life.
Belief in the afterlife - in heaven in particular - may be more hope than a faith claim as Harris defines faith, per se.
To die believing in such is not done for selfish gain alone - but in recognition that the survivors need to believe my act of non-violence will be vindicated.
Further, when it is your own life on the line, whether in armed battle against Muslim extremist with bad religious ideas, or on the front lines of non-cooperation with the Nazis, heaven can become one's own hope as well.
Heaven is belief in shared happiness with all those we love - the communion of saints.
There is more than wishful thinking occurring here. It is a claim about reality - that all will be well, and all manner of things will be well.
In order to reach the state of consciousness where one is truly willing to give one's life for others one must believe that good triumphs over evil - that reality is structured such that all will truly be well (maybe even for our temporary opponents threatening us with death).
One must believe that it is an accurate representation of reality to suggest that laying down one's own life in love brings happiness to the self, and to others.
The propositions of religion become a condition for the possibility of believing that this sort of faith is an accurate representation of the world as it is. In turn, this maximizes shared human happiness.
This belief becomes a principle of action not only in the grand test of faith at the moment of death, but in the ways we lay down our life for others in small ways each and every day.
In doing love, our faith grows that all shall be well as our own happiness and shared happiness with loved ones grows, which is a claim that Harris and I both admit is empirically verifiable.
On pragmatic grounds, in order for the faith propositions to achieve their ultimate function, it is necessary to believe certain propositions, but not necessary to believe them entirely without evidence.
It is also necessary that the claim is not assailable. The claim must be logically non-falsifiable, which irritates the heck out of the strict empiricist.
Harris states that it may make one happy to wish that a diamond the size of a refrigerator lies buried somewhere in your own back yard. The problem with such a wish is that it is patently falsifiable. When the diamond is not found, you will die a miserable death.
When I say that Christ is risen, I do not make the claim without any evidence. I may make the claim based on weak evidence, but it is false to say that there is no reason for my belief.
One reason to believe the claim may simply be that my parents told me so. Or I might say that the people who affirm it in my circle of aquaintance largely seem to be trustworthy people. In either case, I have a reason, even if weak.
Further, it is possible to mount various forms of evidence that something quite remarkable seemed to have occurred in the first century of the common era leading several people to give their lives for the claim that Christ is risen.
I could also point out that the earliest opponents of Christianity were never able to falsify this claim by the easiest manner possible - by pointing to Jesus' corpse.
Yet, I would believe in the resurrection even if a corpse were produced. The witness of the apostles and early believers is sufficient evidence that the early chuch was not basing their claims on deliberate fraud.
They were either deluded, or came to know the truth. I chose to believe that they came to know the truth which brings happiness to humanity.
People will give their lives for a mistake, but not for what they know to be a lie.
It is the belief of the apostles that I embrace, summed up in the unfalsifiable kerygma: Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.
Further, I do not claim one must embrace the truth claim to be saved. Rather, I claim that because truth claim is true, it has salvific power.
It leads to happiness in this life, and its implications may even be good news for those who reject the claim in the here and now!
Of course, you could explain all of this with alternate hypothesis, and insist that there is no evidence that people rise from the dead, and therefore no reason to believe that Jesus, in particular, rose from the dead.
I prefer not to get into this debate at any level of detail yet, which can become really quite tedious, until we have first nailed down what is at stake.
Is resurrection a good religious idea, compared to bad religious beliefs?
Are there good and bad interpretations of the implications of resurrection?
These are more interesting questions to me than weighing evidences, though I am willing to get around to weighing evidence once we know what is at stake.
Once we understand what is at stake, I am willing to examine the evidence and take it where it might lead.
Harris knows - as all atheists know - that it is difficult, if not impossible, to prove a negative. It cannot be proven that Jesus did not rise from the dead.
On the other hand, it may not be possible to provide iron clad proof of the resurrection, but once I understand the wish for it to be true, the meager evidence available may be sufficient to make the intuitive leap of faith - and Harris doesn't deny the validity of intuition in grasping what might go beyond reason, so long as it doesn't contradict reason.
If the maximum human happiness is achieved by reaching a state of being in the world where one is willing to die for others, even if not willing to kill or commit suicide, it is necessary to have a conceptual framework that encourages this state of being.
Believing the kerygma is basically a true (if mysterious) representation of reality provides exactly this conceptual framework.
Religion - Western religion in particular, including Islam, with its belief that Mohammed ascended to heaven on a winged horse - undoubtedly does achieve the end of helping people reach a state of being willing to die for a cause, which is to die for what one believes to be the happiness of other people.
It is not belief in Jesus' resurrection or Mohammed's flying to heaven on a winged horse that saves as though one must know the claim in order to gain a deferred reward. The Muslim and the Christian - and even the atheist - can all be saved simultaneously in the afterlife, for all I know. I hope this is true.
To be saved in this life is to achieve happiness, enlightenment or whatever name you want to call some state of near perfection achieved here and now.
It is by imagining eternal happiness in union with God in Christian language that leads to some idea of what happiness here on earth is all about.
The various beliefs conveyed in religious truth claims are valid to the extent that they assist in achieving happiness, wholeness, health, liberation, redemption, salvation and so forth, in this life, and do not violate reason, cannot be falsified, and even have some degree of evidence in their favor.
Irrational, meaningless, falsifiable religious claims or claims made with literally no evidence at all and lots of counter-evidence do not merit our attention.
The competing and incommensurable truth claims of various religions is not a problem when we realize what it is that we seek beyond the language of the proposition, even as we recognize that we each need to truly believe our own claims to experience "salvation" in this life.
Beliefs are principles of action, as Harris indicates and as the council of Trent affirmed against the notion of sola fidei.
Beliefs that increase happiness, may go beyond reason, but are not irrational, have meaning and relevance to action, are unfalsifiable, and that may even have some evidence are worthy of our attention.
Harris rightly critiques where religion is perverted into a willingness to kill, maim, and torture others in the name of God out of arrogant and condescending regard for the soul of others.
Therefore, we must avoid a glib ecumenism. Bad religious ideas need to be denounced as contrary to true faith.
Our different faith claims that work well have nothing to do directly with whether I will be saved OR a Muslim will be saved in the next life. Perhaps we BOTH can be saved in the next life without abandoning the best in our respective traditions today.
Rather, in dialogue with a Muslim, I become aware of my blind spots, and hopefully, he becomes aware of his. We do not need to convert one another to assist one another in achieving happiness and growing in our respective faiths.
Awareness of blind spots does not entail giving up more general belief in God or the more specific claim of a proposition I hold within a tradition as the condition for the possibility of achieving happiness.
Why must I believe in God to hold this belief that religion brings personal happiness?
The answer is simple. I cannot control the universe. Indeed, empiricism assures me most certainly that there is a high statistical probability that I will suffer and I will surely die. So will everyone I encounter in life on earth.
The empirical evidence suggests that it is possible and even reasonable to infer that the universe is structured such that all will not be well, and all manner of things shall not be well. This would lead to unhappiness.
Thus, we feel a need for something unassailable to evidence that would suggest that the data we have is illusory or incomplete.
At the same time, this need must be met with enough evidence to make the intuitive leap - a leap no more wide than Harris' own intuition.
The other end of chasm we have leaped is the belief that all will be well.
All religions attempt to supply this assistance to believing all will be well, and it is, as Harris suggests, a matter of rational inquiry to determine how well each religion expresses and encourages this.
It is not that suicide bombers are willing to become martyrs that is evil.
It is that they take their own life, and that of innocent people into their own hands rather than trusting in Allah's providence that is evil.
By controlling who lives and dies, the suicide bomber has denied the basic thrust of trust that all will be well, and all manner of things shall be well because reality is structured this way by the One who made it.
A word must be said about ancient religious texts and their reliability.
Harris is correct that some passages of the Bible or Q'ran - many passages - do not seem to come from a God who is concerned for the happiness of all of us.
Too many passages, taken in a wooden sense as God's literal word lead to misery for others. Commands to kill idolaters seem a perfect example.
I completely agree with, and very much enjoyed, the way Harris debunks mystical readings of hard passages of scripture by demonstrating how a common recipe in a cook book can be translated into a mystical allegorical treatise on spiritual transcendance.
I am not arguing this. We need not ignore, deny, repress, downplay, elide, allegorize, skip over or "reinterpret" the hard passages of scripure through "literary games" that defy reason.
In my post a few months back, I suggested that the genuine insight into why the Jews were so against idolatry perhaps came from an escaped group of slaves who may have been dehumanized to build the temples of gods in Egypt.
Perhaps the extremism of the death penalty for idolatry - as advocated by Moses in Ex 32:27 - is a reaction to being made to serve as slaves in the service of idols.
In this sense, Moses (assuming he existed) was a religious reformer who made an advance in ethics, even as he made a fall.
Against slave masters who dehumanized the Hebrews in service to superstitiuous statue worship, he said God could not be imaged in idols.
Then, imitating those who oppressed the Jews by killing their sons, Moses demands death to idol worshipers.
We see throughout the Old Testament a gradual progression in ethics to the deep social justice concerns of the prophets and the interdepentant egalitarian communion of persons Jesus tries to form.
Harris denies any ethical advance in the world's religion. I answer that if we had not advanced, the inquisitors would have killed Sam and burned his book before I got my hands on it.
As a Catholic Christian, I am comfortable saying that what is true in the Old Testament is definitively revealed or discovered in Christ. A Jew may have different answers to Harris.
It seems absurd to me that the man who prevented the stoning of an adulterous woman would say we should kill someone for having a different way of imagining God than we do.
I want to preserve the Old Testament not because of its bad religion. Rather, I see it as necessary to understanding Christ, who is often reacting to these texts. Without the Old Testament, I cannot fathom what Jesus the Jew was up to doing.
Where Harris quotes Deuteronomy to suggest that Christians parents ought to kill their sons when he comes home from yoga class singing the praises of Krishna, the moderate or progressive Christian today recognizes that eastern religion somehow grasps at the same God revealed in Christ.
We no longer think like the author of Deuteronomy on this issue, and we keep reading the book to remind us what Jesus was up against, and how his way was being prepared in history.
Meanwhile, we believe that our sons are not committing idolatry until they embrace a bad religious idea - and Harris and I can agree on what a bad religious idea is. It is an irrational idea.
Such an idea is also contrary to the character of Christ portrayed in the New Testament.
How do we know sucide bombers targeting civilians have bad religious ideas, while some other religious ideas are either morally neutral or morally good?
Harris, himself, using reason, admits the distinctions can be made.
Joined with love and compassion, reason can discern good ethical demands, and bad ones. This discernment can assist in reading a text for what the text actually says in its historical context.
As Harris rightly explains, difference can sometimes be equally valid, but there are simply bad ideas.
Killing in God's name is a bad idea that it seems all too obvious to me that Jesus rejects. It is high time that the whole human race rejected the idea as impossible.
It may not be ontologically impossible for God to command killing, but it is as practically impossible as saying that Mother Teresa killed 150 babies and buried them behind the convent. It isn't in God's character to command killing - and anyone claiming Jesus is God knows this at some level.
Perhaps this is where there is an intersection between weak evidences for unassailable (unfalsifiable) claims and ethical imperatives. If there is a God, and God became flesh to reveal something of his personality, is there a better candidate than Jesus for such a revelation?
Bhuddha comes closest. I'll give Harris that.
Religion, at its best, would cultivate the culture of love Harris imagines where every sentient being would be willing to give his own life for every other in shared happiness and avoidance of suffering.
In such a world, there would never be a murder, suicide, torture, and so forth.
Abortions might be undesired, and we might devote our energies to alternate ways to alleviate the sufferings of those with Parkinson's than destroying innocent human life.
The atheist claims that what is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence. That is true.
And dismissing the unfalsifiable claims of religion as cavalierly as Harris does without looking at whatever meager evidence there may be can lead to the possibility of not being as happy as you could be - which is a claim that people of faith suggest can be empirically verified.
It's becoming late at night, and my thoughts are becoming scattered, so I am going to stop and accept comments.
Friday, June 01, 2007
A Bishop Takes a Swipe at Rudy
Bishop Thomas Tobin of the Archdiocese of Providence, RI, has publicly printed his "R.S.V.P." to a fund raising event for Rudy Giuliani.
There is no mention of denying Giuliani communion over his pro-choice stance, per se, but Tobin does refer to a "defection from the Catholic Faith" and "abandoning the Faith for political expediency".
I am not in favor of denying people communion without having a private conversation with the person first. And I think administration of this "penalty" should be reserved to bishops. I am not personally advocating that Rudy be denied communion.
My main reason for posting this is that one of my readers did not believe Rudy will be criticized like Kerry, because the reader believes the bishops are all in cahoots with the RNC.
Well, I don't think that's true. I'd wager that if Rudy wins the Republican nomination, Sherridan, Burke, Chaput and O'Malley will all say about Rudy pretty much what they said about Kerry in 2004.
Kerry was not criticized by the bishops until after he won the primaries either.
It's also important to note that these bishops did not all say the exact same thing. There were some differences in nuance.
For example, while Burke was explicit that he would deny Kerry communion if Kerry presented himself, O'Malley stated that Kerry should deny himself communion.
Theodore Cardinal Mccarrick warned against using the eucharist as a political weapon and led the bishops conference to a more moderate and nuanced stance that allowed variation between dioceses.
Nevertheless, the gist of these four bishops was that pro-choice politicians should not receive communion, and many Catholics agreed.
Bishop Tobin's piece indicates that a storm is already brewing, and will be unleashed on a Republican presidential candidate just as fiercely as it was on a Democrat.
I know bishops Chaput and O'Malley personally, and I do not believe that their pro-life convictions are politically motivated.
Quite the opposite. Their politics tend to be motivated by their pro-life convictions.
Furthermore, two New York City priests have publicly stated they would deny Rudy communion.
Msgr. Thomas Modugno, a priest at St. Monica's on the East Side where Giuliani married his second of three wives, says he would deny Rudy communion.
Modugno refers to the counsel of Archbishop Burke in 2004 against Kerry as his rationale.
Rev. Joseph Marabe at St. Patrick's Cathedral agrees.
The archdiocesan spokesperson for New York declined to comment specifically, and referred to recent comments by Pope Benedict XVI regarding denying pro-choice politicians communion in Mexico.
The Catholic bloggers are murmering about Giuliani's pro-choice stand too.
National Review Online takes Rudy on in an article entitled A Singular Issue.
The storm is coming - especially if Rudy wins the primary.
Many bishops do not want to deal with a pro-choice Catholic president, regardless of party affiliation, even if they tolerate pro-choice Catholics in lesser offices.
Daniel Callahan & Bioethics
This Commonweal article by Paul Lauritzen is interesting.
CNN on Religion in Politics
I'm not sure what to make of the way candidates are pursuing the religious voter.
On the one hand, if a person claims to have faith that doesn't impact political choices, that faith cannot be very deep. Faith impacts everything you do by choice in one way or another.
I once said that to my brother while we were conversing over a beer. He said that's ridiculous.
He stated that God doesn't care what brand of beer we drink, and his faith has nothing to do with his choice of beers.
I responded that faith will inform your decision whether to drink beer or not. A devout Muslim or devout conservative evangelical Protestant would not be having a beer with my brother and I.
As a Catholic, I have no problem with moderate drinking - and my faith supports my choice to engage in it.
I argued further that when I first came of legal drinking age at 18 at that time, and went out for beers with my former Catholic high school classmates, many of them refused to buy beer produced by non union breweries.
We might not think of this as a faith informed choice, but it is a principled or moral choice that was instilled by their Catholic working class parents who supported unions.
Their choice was made in a manner consistent with the Church's social justice doctrines, even if these parents were unaware of such doctrines in any conscious sense.
So, I do believe that even the choice to drink beer generally, and even some specific brands of beer generally, can be affected by faith.
On the other hand, it would be difficult to argue that God commanded me to choose one single specific brand of beer on a specific day at a specific time - which was my brother's valid point.
Faith impacts my political choices, but it is silly to think that God commands me to vote for one specific candidate - as though one candidate stands out as God's candidate.
I am concerned about the efforts of candidates to reach religious voters specifically by talking about God and their personal faith.
This strikes me as bordering on using God's name in vain, if not actually doing so.
To suggest that God endorses a political party can even become idolatry.
It is not that I want candidates to wax eloquently about how much they love Jesus that will inspire me to vote for them.
I may very well vote for an atheist - inspired by my faith to do so.
If an atheist runs on a platform of specific policies that comes closest to what I believe God actually requires of all of us, I would vote for that atheist.
And that is possible, because what I think God requires of all human persons is that we follow the golden rule and work for the common good - ideas which most atheists accept!
It is not religious rhetoric I want to hear from candidates. It is not some sort of score card on the number of times one goes to church that would impress me.
What would impress me is a genuine concern for the common good, a consistent ethic of life, plans to promote peace, defense of universal human rights, defense of worker's dignity, leadership that inspires us to embrace our responsibilities and duties, practical policies to support families without scapegoating anyone, policy decisions that show a preferential option for the poor, a call to global solidarity, just and prudent application of laws, and care for the environment.
An atheist can support all of this.
Of course, some personal integrity matters as well. I want to know the person won't be bribed, corrupted, lie, or what have you. But again, an atheist can be honest. Most atheists I have met are more honest than Christians.
And ultimately, we need to consider some other factors in candidates, such as simple adminstrative skills and ability to work with people.
Like many religious believers, I am not entirely comfortable with banning all mention of God or religion from the public square.
Furthermore, a politician who claims to have faith that has no impact on her or his politics either has a shallow faith, or is lying.
At the same time, for a politician to admit that faith shapes many of his or her decisions is not something to brag about or use for political gain.
Like most Christians and other religious believers, I tend to want to examine the issues in light of faith. It is the issues that need examined in light of faith - not the persons!
Letting candidates win our vote because they profess loudly their love for God while backing issues conflicting with faith is problematic.
And just as there may be more than one brand of beer I might morally choose, there may often be more than one morally valid political solution to social issues faith inspires us to address.
My own religious belief forbids taking God's name in vain and building up idols. Use of religious rhetoric must be done very judiciously.
Too much religious rhetoric ought to be seen as a bad thing to a Christian - not because the secularist say so - but because our faith demands that we do not overuse God's name or use God's name wrongly.