Thursday, August 31, 2006

Praying for Peace

I was reading Father John Dear, S.J.'s latest essay in NCR entitled What Would Jesus Say? and the subsequent comments from readers in this NCR cafe piece this morning.

I cannot say that I ultimately disagree with Dear.

Indeed, ultimately, I agree with him one hundred percent and then some.

Yet, I found myself troubled by his rhetoric.

Dear is shockingly simplistic and comes across almost like a right wing biblical fundamentalist in his allusions to scripture.

I know he can't be a fundamentalist, because no Jesuit could be.

To sum it up simply, Dear states Jesus would say today that we are to love our enemies to the point of being willing to allow them to kill us, rather than killing them.

We are to go about doing good for the poor without thinking about what evil-doers are up to.

Part of doing good will be dismantling and abolishing all weapons of mass destruction we may have, ceasing all spending of any sort of killing (he includes abortion, as well as military), and instead use the money to create a perfect world of peace and justice.

As the first step towards doing all of this, we must enter into the mind and heart of Jesus in weeping over Jerusalem - as a metaphor for weeping for the whole messed up world we live in today.

That's pretty much all we need to do, and if you aren't on board, you are pretty much denying Jesus according to Dear.

Reading Dear, my mind scrambles for some sort of critical rational argument leading to his conclusions, and he never states one.

I seek more nuance, some sort of caveat, some depth of analysis, some exegesis of the scriptures alluded to, some way of tackling practical emotional concerns in the here and now that critics will raise, or some sort of responsible intellectual dealing with the best reasoned arguments of his opponents.

Dear does none of this.

He simply states a vision he has, claiming it is supported by Jesus as though it is obvious it is.

And annoying as it may sound to those - myself included - who tend to shy away from claiming absolute certainty what Jesus said or did, I cannot help but feel that he is ultimately right.

It is obvious that whatever else we say about Jesus, the image presented throughout all of our sources would clearly hold a vision something like Dear's.

Oh. There are the voices of critics who posted comments to the piece.

Yet, ultimately, none of them at the time I read this seem able to appeal to anything Jesus is reported to have said or did or hinted that would indicate Jesus had a different vision.

The counter-blast seems to be summed up entirely by asserting that such a vision is unrealistic, and therefore, Jesus could not have held it.

A few critics ask what Jesus would do if he saw a bully beating a weaker person.

I'm sure he would not walk away or do nothing, but I see no evidence he would act violently.

Indeed, if we take the story of the stoning of the adulterous woman as reflective of Jesus manner, he seemed to be a genius at creative non-violent solutions to stopping the violence of bullying types.

Is it realistic to assume this sort of creative solution is always a possibility?

I guess that I never saw Jesus as a "realist" in the way that word is typically used.

It does seem rather obvious to me that whatever we say about Jesus, he is an "idealist" - which seems to be a term of derision these days, even among many Christians, and even among progressive Christians.

But the article has me thinking/meditating/contemplating about more than whether we can establish historically that Jesus was an "idealist" who taught the modern concept of "active non-violence".

I am thinking about something else entirely....

One thing that all Christians can agree upon - whether Roman Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, or any other sort of affiliation is that Jesus taught his disciples to pray.

And at the heart of Dear's message is that we should enter into the mind and heart of Jesus, who is said to have wept in at least two instances of scripture: over Jerusalem (Lk 19:41) and over the death of Lazarus (Jn 11:35).

He was also in great "anguish" while in prayer in the garden as the hour of his passion approached.

Do we enter enough into anguished prayer?

I recall reading somewhere that Hindus and Buddhists believe that our thoughts and feelings actually cause things to happen in the physical world.

Among some sects of Protestants with questionable "orthodoxy" there is a concept of "the word of faith" - that spoken words contain a causal force that makes things happen in the world.

The New Testament does contain teachings about "blessing" our enemies, and avoiding "cursing" anyone - as though the mere act of praying for blessings or curses has some sort of power in the world.

In the Old Testament, when Isaac gives his blessing to Jacob, instead of the intended Esau, Isaac cannot take back the blessing. What has been uttered must stand.

I am thinking that where Dear is most right is that we are called into prayer in the current moment.

We are called to pray for peace.

The pope says that. The bishops say that. Everyone says that. Even Bush says that.

I honestly believe that many neoconservatives do that. They say they do, and I have no doubt some do. I have no reason not to take anyone who says that at their word.

I confess that I find the idea of "word faith" Protestantism a bit preposterous, and I am skeptical of notions of pure mind over matter.

Isaac's blessing on Jacob has always been a somewhat troubling passage for me. How can mere utterance of words without intent be so powerful?

Some will accuse me of a lack of faith, I suppose.

Yet, Christ taught that there is power in prayer, and I do believe in the power of prayer in the final analysis.

Christ also taught against vain prayer by rote and repetition. I sometimes wonder if our prayers for peace don't sort of fall in this category.

It's as if we say, "Lord, let there be peace on earth" and then say to ourselves, "Well, I did my duty and prayed for peace, and those Iranians are still trying to obtain nukes, so now I can justly blow them up since God seems to have said 'no' to my prayer."

Praying for peace is more than fulfilling a duty. It is more than crossing off an item on a checklist so that we can get down to the business of waging a just war.

It is more than merely reciting the words, "Let there be peace on earth".

Where I think Dear is "spot on" is that we are enter into a state of anguish for peace - of deep weeping - of joining the Psalmist in crying out "How long, O Lord, will you frown on your people's plea?"

It is that sort of prayer that is effective.

In a classic work on mystical theology entitled The Cloud of Unknowing, which I haven't read in awhile, I recall the anonymous author stating something to the effect that a single nanosecond spent in true contemplation saves more souls and causes more blessings in the physical world than any good work we could do.

On the flip side, Catholicism warns against a heresy known as "quietism" - a narcissistic escape from the world.

Somewhere, about twenty years ago, I read someone commenting on the distinguishing characteristics between Buddhism and Catholicism. This person summed up the difference by examining the art in each religious expression.

Among Buddhists, the saints pray or meditate with their eyes closed. In Catholic devotional art, the saints are typically pictured with eyes wide open and looking up to heaven.

We pray with our eyes wide open. We do not escape reality and the world. The tragedy of war is not an illusion. The pain and anguish we feel over death and destruction is not to be overcome with saccharine piety.

Christ did not say "Blessed are those who think peaceful thoughts" or "Blessed are those who wish for peace."

Rather, the Gospel record him saying, "Blessed are the peacemakers".

But how do we make peace?

We must make peace first by thinking peaceful thoughts and wishing for peace, but not in some saccharine way. We must enter into anguish for peace that changes our hearts and directly causes us to act differently.

In the very moment we reach this state, we are already making peace - as The Cloud of Unknowing does indicate. In a mere nanosecond, more souls are saved and more blessing bestowed on earth than any other work we do.

Yet, the prayer must change the person who prays as much or more than anything it does to other people.

As the New Testament indicates in more than one place, we are to "pray without ceasing". This state of anguished prayer is something we do with eyes wide open as we enter into the real and troubled world.

What may begin as a quiet moment with God in the morning, similar to Jesus' morning retreats to the mountains, is carried into the world where we act out our prayer in word and deed.

Our eyes are wide open and we cannot help but see the evil that surrounds us - but our attention is fixed on heaven - on the reign of God breaking into the here and now.

We look to heaven with eyes wide open to reality, and the faith that can move a mountain - with the seemingly unrealistic hope that by acting out of the very state of anguish for peace, we can make peace happen.

Our every action should flow from the depths of our anxious prayer.

In Catholic doctrinal terms, the Eucharist itself is the source and summit of all of our activity, towards which every grace flows, and from which all grace comes.

And right before communion, we hear Christ say "I leave you peace, my peace I give you."

He gives us peace, but not as the world gives peace. It is not sugar coated piety that brings peace.

In the rite of the Mass, itself, we extend a sign of peace to one another, knowing that if we hold anything against a sibling, we must set our gift to our Father in heaven down before approaching the altar, go and settle with our sibling, and then come to the altar.

We must make this more than mere rote repetition and vain talk.

We need to enter into prayer in spirit and truth - heartfelt longing for the shalom that only God can give and openness to becoming an instrument of his peace.

The first in-breaking of the reign of God into the real world around us will occur in each one of us as we enter into true prayer, and if your prayer is not true, you run the risk of blaspheming the Spirit.

In his only encyclical to date, Pope Benedict affirms that love must come from the heart - that it is affectionate love we seek with all people - that it is even love that has its beginning in eros and desire.

Yes, eros will become unselfish agape, and reason will be caught up and transformed in this movement of eros to agape such that reason has a place in love and the life of faith.

But we are speaking of a moral demand to feel something when we say that the heart of the Christian gospel is love!

My Dad often told me a story of a unnamed nun in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany who supposedly saw a guard brutally treat a prisoner in the camps.

As she looked on, she said to someone standing next to her, "That poor man."

The person standing next to her said, "How can he take that beating?"

The nun responded, "I was referring to the guard."

Maybe Dad was speaking of Edith Steine, though I don't know for sure, and he doesn't know where he first heard the story either.

Anyway, Dad said to me when he first told the story that we should strive for that sort of perception, though he has always admitted he falls far short of such virtue.

Yet, he is right. That is what we should strive to obtain.

If I love Saddam Hussein, I must be in anguish over him right here and right now: genuine heartfelt, gut-wrenching, tear inducing anguish. Here is a man who has brought misery on himself, much less others.

It is not primarily anger I must feel over what he done to others, but pained anguish over what he has done to himself through his cutting himself off from his own humanity.

I'm not saying there is no such thing as just anger. Jesus was angry when he cleansed the temple, and anguish for the victims of Saddam Hussein will lead to anger over the injustice he has committed.

But just anger, alone, is not what we should feel.

To simultaneously feel anguish for Saddam and anguish for his victims will seem overwhelming.

It is overwhelming.

Be overwhelmed.

Mixing together anguish and just anger in our prayer, along with our own fears for our own safety from terrorists and the threat of weapons of mass destruction, will seem even more overwhelming.

If we add to that all the other concerns of prayer - for our own health and the health of loved ones, for financial security, for our relationships, for contrition for our sins and the desire for some blessed assurance of forgiveness, and the concerns of the Church, such as respect for life or even vocations and so forth - we can begin to fear the very act of prayer itself.

And we could lose heart that prayer has any real effect.

Let us fear prayer and be on the verge of losing heart.

Only then will the words of last Sunday's Gospel make sense: "Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life."and from the first reading, "As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord."

Is there anywhere else to turn in this messed up world than to God who made the world?

I have referred to "saccharine piety" already.

Too often, we assume prayer is supposed to lead to tranquility, peace and joy at all times - and only these sorts of feelings.

Where does the Bible promise this?

Where is this notion in the writings of the saints?

John of the Cross certainly doesn't say this when writing of prayer as a dark night of the soul.

Prayer can and should lead to anguish and anxiety.

Prayer is primarily a communion with God. Many refer to it as a personal relationship with God. Others refer to it as a mystical union with God. Prayer is part and parcel of the greatest commandment to love God with all our hearts, minds, and being.

Awareness of God's love and love for God in return does stir gratitude in the heart, bring an inner peace beyond description, and provide a deep joy that will see us through trials, tribulations and despair.

Yet, trails, tribulations and despair are real, and prayer can be and often is angst-ridden, angry, sad, or even sometimes dry.

The prophet Jeremiah speaks of God almost like a rapist who overpowers him.

Our prayers for peace must be constant even in dryness or lack of results. It should be angst ridden as long as there is war. It can be angry - at God and others. It can be full or sorrow and sadness.

We must be open to letting prayer of this sort overpower us. As Jeremiah says "Lord, you duped me, and I let myself be duped".

If we are entering into communion with the God revealed in Christ, our prayer must lead us to weep at times - and a time of war is a time to weep.

President Bush tells us to place our trust in his strategy of taking war to the terrorists and keep on shopping while he brings the hope of democracy to a troubled world. Trust him to limit collateral damage and only wage war with really bad people. He doesn't deny the power of prayer, and asks that we pray for him and the success of this strategy. Fear nobody but Democrats, who will appease terrorists.

Amen, Amen, what I tell you is to stop shopping and pray. Pray for the quick failure of all war, so that hearts will turn to peace. Pray for the grace to feel anguished for civilian casualties, no matter how limited. Pray even for the terrorists, until you feel real passionate concern for them and their well being. Pray for fear of the Lord in adding injustice to injustice.

Pray to enter the state of anxiety that we are not at peace.

Don't stop praying until you are overpowered with anxiety for peace.

When you get to this state, then the plain sense of the Gospel will make sense - and even John Dear will make at least some degree of sense.

If during your prayer, fear of terror and terrorists enters your mind, pray the gift to love the terrorist to the point of anguished sadness for the terrorists.

If anger enters your heart, lift it up to God with a cry for an intervention of his tender love that will stop the injustice that causes your anger, and the grace to love the perpetrator of injustice with gut wrenching passion.

Open your heart to this anguish until it becomes so overpowering that Bush's solutions seem nonsense, and the only solution that makes any sense is to cry out to anyone and everyone who will listen to "Stop the killing!"

Pray until you feel so strongly that you would give your life for peace - laying down your own life to take the bullet for another if you knew it would convert the aggressor.

Then act out in your daily life out of that prayer - walking into the world with eyes wide open and still focused on heaven as you work for peace.

Then you will know what it means to say that the peace makers are blessed.


A Small Sign of Hope?

Last night, while watching a little TV with my wife, we noticed a striking political advertisement in one the local races.

The closing line of the ad showed a picture of the opponent with the words printed and a voice-over saying "A good man with bad ideas."

It struck both my wife and I that maybe the politicians are starting to "get it" that the total war form of negative campaigning is turning voters off - that it's OK to say your opponent is a "good man" with whom you disagree.

Of course, before we get our hopes up too much, this morning's Washington Post indicates that Team Bush is setting out to disingenuous paint all Democrats as those who appease terrorists.

According to the article, even some Republicans who want to make changes in how the war in Iraq is being waged (including a plan to get out) feel caught in a bind by Bush's rhetoric.


Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Hat Tip to Noli Irritare Leones

Lynn has a fun little test to discern if your brain is more masculine or feminine. I scored on the feminine side of the dividing line, but more masculine than the average woman.


The Social Class of Jesus

This is not part of my series on fundamentalism, but it is a follow up to questions raised in my own mind after reading The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (HBHG).

HBHG posits the theory that Jesus was a wealthy aristocrat born of the house of David, who married the Magdalene from the house of Benjamin (from whence came King Saul).

HBHG then argues that Jesus was truly making a bid for the throne of Israel based on a legitimate claim to royal blood.

After reading the book, I wrote that the claim that Jesus was a wealthy aristocrat making a bid for the throne of Israel was a more shocking claim to me than the claim that Jesus was married.

I started researching what better scholars than the authors of HBHG say on the subject.

In my preliminary findings, John Meier indicated in an online article that he had not studied in depth the implications of Jesus davidic lineage.

Raymond Brown posited that Jesus was working class poor based on the argument of John Meier in Volume I of A Marginal Jew.

I indicated that I needed to get my hands on this work, which I hadn't read in over ten years.

I wrote about a week back that I finally had Volume I in my hands, and that Meier builds a good case that Jesus was known to his contemporaries as someone born of the house of David.

Though he doesn't explore the implications of this in depth, Meier argues that it is highly probable that, through Joseph, Jesus was known to be of davidic descent.

The argument is a few posts down.

Yet, I left the question of his social class open in that most recent post, because I had not got to that section in Meier's work, which I am reading straight through.

Well, Meier does reach the conclusion that Jesus is a "peasant" - though he adds some caveat to that.

The caveat is that we cannot think of "peasant" the way we do today. It doesn't mean destitution as we might see in some developing nations today.

Meier does state that the closest analogy an American might understand is lower middle class or working class poor from a rural area - with the caveat that this is an imperfect analogy.

Theologically, I like this view. It is how I have long imagined Jesus.

His argumentation to this conclusion strikes me as not one of his strongest arguments.

The argument largely rests on multiple attestation that Jesus was from the town of Nazareth, and we can know some things about Nazareth.

Meier claims that we can be highly certain that Nazareth was a town of about 1,600 to 2,000 people, none of whom were wealthy.

Therefore, if we accept that Jesus was from Nazareth, he was not likely wealthy.

Further, he builds the case that Joseph and Jesus were "woodworkers" and that woodworkers were not commonly considered wealthy.

There are two difficulties that Meier acknowledges.

First, at least some people in the time period bearing the job description of "woodworker" as it appears in the Greek (techton - cf Mk 6:3) were more like owners of a company that worked with wood.

This usage of the term was not common, but these owners would not be poor.

The most common usage of 'techton' is a working class maker of cabinets, doors and locks and such. But it can mean something else.

Meier believes the less common usage did not apply to Jesus since the townspeople of Nazareth in Mk 6:3 seem to use the term in a derogatory way.

This argument does make sense, but it is not iron-clad.

The second difficulty Meier acknowledges is that about one hour's walk from Nazareth, there was a massive building project occurring initiated by Herod Antipas (the Tetrarch) in a city called Sepphoris, which would become Herod's capitol.

Such a project may have provided Joseph and Jesus an extraordinary business opportunity for the first 26 years of Jesus' life.

It is entirely possible that even if Jesus was born a peasant, he could have accumulated a good deal of wealth as a woodworker.

Jesus may have also been exposed to Koine Greek and the cynic movement in Sepphoris - though Meier builds a good case that Jesus' first language is Aramaic and that he seems to have known Hebrew very well.

Meier rejects that Jesus (and Joseph) worked in Sepphoris on the basis of a lack of evidence and the derogatory tone of the Nazoreans charge that Jesus is just a carpenter - not a prophet or messiah.

Finally, a central theme of Meier's is that Jesus must have been "a marginal Jew" or there would be more information about him outside of the Bible.

Meier's argument makes sense, but it is not as strong as other arguments he makes in his reconstruction of a historical Jesus.

I understand Meier's argument, and on strict rules of evidence, he is correct that there simply is no evidence that Jesus was wealthy, or that he worked in Sepphoris.

Nevertheless, the fact that Herod's building project ends when Jesus would be about 26 years old leaves us an intriguing possibility.

Even if we cannot reach any high degree of probability, it remains possible that Jesus may have inherited his father's business and accumulated wealth as the head of woodworking company in Sepphoris.

In turn, this accumulated wealth may have then given him the freedom to pursue other interests when the job was finished with no sense of obligation to stay home with his presumably widowed mother.

(Meier does present an argument that Mary was a widow by the time Jesus began his public ministry, but that is "off topic" here.)

Perhaps Jesus was able to take an early retirement to become a disciple of John the Baptist.

The timing of the completion of Herod's building project and the rise of the Baptist is nearly perfect.

If Jesus was truly wealthy, it may have been more like we think of person as nouveau rich.

If we were to accept that Jesus truly is from the house of David in his own self awareness, and that he accumulated some independent wealth as a shrewd business man that allowed him to leave Nazareth to explore religion, we can begin to imagine how a Nazorean born in a peasant town may have come to see himself as a potential 'king' of the restored Israel.

I'm not saying any of this probable.

As Meier rightly points out, any such hypothesis should not be uncritically accepted without evidence.

At the same time, I don't think such a hypothesis can be dismissed as entirely impossible either. If not probable, it remains possible.

Thus, no matter how much I theologically like the idea of a peasant Christ, I would tentatively argue that we must not make this an article of faith.

If it turned out to be historically inaccurate to claim Jesus was a peasant based on new evidence (or was revealed to us as inaccurate in the next life), it would shake our faith.

We should probably not stake our faith in Jesus' material poverty, even if we believe it most probable that he was poor and find some sort of meaning in that probability.


Tuesday, August 29, 2006

More on the Problems of Fundamentalism

Hopefully, the detailed argumentation of this post will help make sense of yesterday's post using paintings of the Twin Towers as analogies for the Gospels.

In fact, the last two posts should be read prior to this one - and maybe the post on the telephone game as well.

While there is a good bit of detail here, I am not trying to overwhelm. This is not intended to satisfy a doctoral candidate in biblical studies.

It is intended for those who cling to what I perceive as an uncritical and overly literalistic Catholic form of "fundamentalism".

It is intended for those who I perceive to use a too restrictive definition of inerrancy.

It is intended for those who believe it heresy to suggest the Gospel authors put words in Jesus' mouth or exercised creativity in crafting their narratives.

I just want to highlight some variants and apparent contradictions that raise questions for sincer biblical scholars with faith seeking understanding.

This is simply a small sampling.

Luke and Matthew both have genealogies of Jesus very close to the beginning of their narratives (Lk 3:23-38 and Mt 1:2-16).

Comparing the genealogies is difficult for most people today for several reasons.

First, such things don't generally interest many Americans, who are lucky to know the name of their great-grandfather, and place little to no stock in lineage.

Second, the two genealogies are presented in reverse order compared to each other.

Matthew presents the names in chronological order, while Luke starts with Jesus and moves backwards in time to Adam.

Third, Luke's goes all the way back to Adam, while Matthew starts with Abraham.

So, even when we make the effort to reverse the order of one or the other, we can only line them up from Abraham forward.

Thus, many people miss some obvious problems with the genealogies.

Yet, the task is not impossible. I lined up the names in two columns of an excel spreadsheet and some things jump out.

First, just in the period from Abraham to Joseph, Luke has 13 more names than Matthew when just counting the names.

When we move from counting to paying attention to who is actually named, Luke has 36 names in his list that are not in Matthew, and Matthew has 24 names in his list that are not in Luke.

If we take Luke's order and start with Jesus moving backward, we see the first discrepancy with Jesus' own paternal grandfather.

Luke claims it is Heli, while Matthew claims it is Jacob. I am no expert in Hebrew or Aramaic, but I don't think these are two versions of the same name.

I often hear the evangelical Protestant radio show host calling himself "The Bible Answer Man" proposing a solution to these discrepancies.

Hank Hanegraaff claims that these are two different genealogies, one through Joseph and the other through Mary.

I don't see how such a theory is supported by the plain or literal sense of the texts.

Both genealogies terminate in Jesus through Joseph. Both are patrilineal from beginning to end.

Hanegraaf also states that it was common practice for Biblical authors to skip generations sometimes.

What is gratuitously asserted may be gratuitously denied. If Hanegraaf is correct, what is the evidence for this claim?

Further, even if Hanegraaf has evidence for this gratuitous claim, we are already admitting, by accepting his argument, that biblical scholars assist us in understanding that the original texts are not "literal" in the modern sense of the word.

The texts are not meant in a wooden literal sense as though they meet twenty-first century standards for attention to detail and accuracy in relaying objective facts.

Ancient cultures relay information in ways that are unfamiliar to us. On that point, Hanegraaf and I can agree.

Nevertheless, asserting that biblical authors skip generations sometimes still appears an unlikely explanation.

Matthew seems to make a big deal out of the fact that there are fourteen generations from Abraham to David, and fourteen generations from David to the Babylonian captivity, and fourteen generations from the captivity to the birth of the Messiah (Mt 1:17).

If Matthew was skipping generations, whatever point he was attempting to make seems highly strained.

After David, Luke traces Jesus' genealogy through David's son, Nathan, while Matthew goes through King Solomon. David had many wives and children, so it could be hypothesized that both accounts are "true".

Yet, if Luke is correct in the period from Abraham to David, Matthew did skip some generations early in his list.

The son of Hezron for Matthew is Ram who gives birth to Amminadab. Luke claims Hezron was father of Arni who was father of Admin who was father of Amminadab. Luke makes no mention of Ram, while Matthew has no Arni or Admin.

The Book of Ruth 4:18-22 agrees with Matthew all the way up to David, which means Luke is likely mistaken.

The only other plausible explanation is that Hezron gave birth to both Arni and Ram, and Arni's son, Admin married Ram's daughter - his first cousin. I don't know much about ancient Hebrew family law, but I suspect that would be an incestuous relationship.

But such explanations become strained by the time we work down to Shealtiel, father of Zerubbabel.

There is so much variance between David and Shealtiel that dual lines and skipped generations stop making much sense.

Assuming no skipped generations, Shealtiel seems to have two fathers! Luke says Neri, where Matthew says Jechonial.

Another way of looking at how the genealogies are the "word of God" without losing faith over these variants is to examine what each author may artistically be trying to say about Jesus through his creation of a genealogy.

Matthew mentions four women in addition to Mary along-side of the men.

The first of the women is Tamar, who we know from Genesis as Judah's daughter-in-law who seduced him by disguising herself as a prostitute when her husband (Judah's son) died leaving her childless.

The second woman is Rahab, who is another Old Testament prostitute, but also the mother of Boaz. Matthew also mentions Ruth, who married Boaz, but was a foreigner and a gentile.

Finally, Matthew alludes to Beth Sheba, the wife of Urriah, who bore King Solomon with David through adultery.

The only other woman mentioned is Mary, who became pregnant out of wedlock.

Matthew writes for a Jewish audience and emphasizes that Jesus is a son of Abraham through all of the great patriarchs and kings - including David and Solomon.

Yet, he uses "women of ill repute" to demonstrate that Jesus is born of humble origins. Perhaps Matthew intends to say that God is present even where there is scandal.

Perhaps, in speaking of the text as divinely inspired, the meaning we are to derive is precisely this subtle message that God works in scandously unexpected ways - that we need too be cautious in judging people, since God may be using such people for his greater glory.

In other words, this is something an artist - such as the author of a good historical novel - might convey.

Can we be sure that Matthew isn't relating "pure" and "objective" facts?

Maybe not, but we see hints of possible artistic expression. This doesn't mean Matthew is a "liar".

A painter who creates a work of figurative art is not lying. A novelist creating historical fiction wants his art to be true to history.

If Matthew is writing for Jews emphasizing that Jesus is a son of Abraham, Luke's obvious focus on addressing his Gospel to gentiles explains his own reasons for taking the genealogy all the way back to Adam.

Is this also a literary device?

We could go through much of the New Testament in this fashion pointing out how every variance can be explained by creative touches of the author that form a consistent picture for each author - but seem difficult to impossible to reconcile with each other literally.

If we read Matthew chapters one and two straight through to be certain of context, it seems clear from 1:24 and 2:1-11 that Joseph own a home in the city of Bethlehem and Jesus was born in that home.

There is no mention of a stable or a census bringing Joseph to Bethlehem from Nazareth.

That is Luke's story - and one of these guys either gets the story wrong, or each is crafting a narrative creatively to make points to his audience.

As further example later in the New Testament, Mt 3:17 states "This is my beloved Son..." while Lk 3:22 states "You are my beloved Son..."

Obviously, God didn't say both, but the gospels may be drawing out the fact that in saying it, the Father addressed both Jesus and the witnesses there - and us.

Luke has Jesus taking the cup and proclaiming the words of institution over it before the bread.

Matthew, Mark, and Paul have the bread come first, before the wine.

Unlike an explanation Mark Shea made where he explained the variant versions of the Lord's prayer by claiming Jesus could have said it twice to two different audiences, there was only one time the Last Supper was celebrated.

One or three of these authors got his facts wrong (OR, chose to narrate the story a particular way to make a point under divine inspiration).

We could go round and round with details like this throughout the gospels.

Luke claims that Jesus said to the Twelve on the Eve of Easter Sunday that they were to remain in Jerusalem until Pentecost. It's a very clear and strict order where Luke is claiming Jesus said some precise words.

But Mark 16:7 states that Jesus told Mary Magdalene to tell Peter to go to Galilee to see the risen Lord.

Unless Peter somehow ran sixty miles to Galilee, and sixty miles back between Easter morning and Easter evening, I don't see how you reconcile this.

One of the authors has the words of Jesus a bit jumbled, or got the location wrong or something.

To avoid claiming error, we CAN open our eyes to the theological points an individual author may be making by setting the stage in Jerusalem or Galilee. Then, we can suddenly find potential meaning - a truth God wished to convey.

Luke was writing to a Gentile audience many years after the event and pointing to Jerusalem the way a modern day Catholic says "Look to Rome".

He isn't narrating the "facts" as they went down on Easter Sunday.

He is narrating the meaning to his audience - that apostolic faith is headquartered in the land of Judah with the capitol of Jerusalem - the land where Peter is - at the time of his writing. Galilee may be unknown to much of his audience.

Again, we could go around and around on these various variations and seeming contradictions. There are many more than I have highlighted.


Monday, August 28, 2006

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

Last Friday, I made a post suggesting that the authors (and possible final editors) of the New Testament each left his or her own creative stamp on the text.

It struck me that the best way to describe what I am trying to say is through pictures.

Below are four artists renderings of the Twin Towers - the World Trade Centers:

Imagine that 2,000 years from now, due to some unimaginable event(s), all historical traces from the years 2041 and earlier of the WTC were burned, lost, or destroyed - except these four images.

Yet, a tradition survives on the American continent among certain people with a strong nationalist streak that there were two massive towers that were the tallest in the world. These firece nationalists believe that these towers took on some special significance to what they consider ancient America.

All the evidence that they have for their claim is these four works of art, which they claim date to an era when the Twin Towers actually stood.

Could the historian of the year 4006 begin to reconstruct from these works of art and the oral traditions of fierce nationalists what the twin towers looked like?

I would argue that they could.

The first painting - similar to the way Mark's Gospel starts with Jesus appearing out of nowhere as an adult, doesn't give us a whole picture of the twin towers. Yet, it is fairly accurate.

Also, as the one to put these four images together, I happen to know that this painting is probably the earliest of the four, dating to 1999 by Anna West.

The second image is full of "post 9/11 imagery".

It has an impossibly large flag flying behind it, and cannot possibly be taken as realistic.

It also has the words "United We Stand" under the image, which our historians will deem as post 9/11 rhetoric, indicating it could not originate from pre-9/11 observation of the real twin towers.

I imagine our historians in 4006 dismissing this item as a fraud made up by the American nationalist to generate a myth about 9/11.

It simply has too much post 9/11 imagery to be taken seriously as an image generated by anyone who actually saw the Twin Towers.

Yet, if our historians of the year 4006 casually dismissed the image on this basis, they would miss the fact that of the four images, this is the one that gives us the clearest image of what the Twin Towers "really" looked like.

In fact, it is not a painting, but a doctored photograph!

The third painting is a one of a kind signed oil on canvas by the artist, Idka.

I do not know whether it was painted before or after 9/11, and there is no question to those of us who have seen the Twin Towers that the painting is not purely "realistic".

Yet, there is also no question what it is.

Taken with the other two, we start to form a "synoptic view" of the Twin Towers.

The fourth image is a figurative painting entitled "Taken" by Jim Witkin's.

This is an artists rendering of 9/11 itself. Did 9/11 "really" look like this?

Maybe. Maybe not.

For those of us who lived through it, the artists captured something of the truth of 9/11 that the historian of 4006 may find difficult to grasp. It requires some familiarity with the mind and culture of America at the time of the artist's rendering to see the truth conveyed in the painting.

This painting stands out almost as a distortion and contradiction to our three synoptic paintings. Yet, for those of us who remember 9/11, it may be the most "true" representation of the four.

Our four Gospels are works of art in words, rather than paint.

None of them give us a clear and unambiguous "photograph" of Jesus.

Even "harmonizing" the images will not lead to a clear "photograph" - especially if it leaves a giant flag hanging behind the Towers.

This is the problem of "fundamentalism" - turning art into something it is not - forcing as dogma things that can't be understood so literally.

The painting that gives the clearest "photograph" is overlaid with all sorts of post 9/11 imagery.

How will our historians of 4006 sort through what was real and what is overlaid?

Further, in exploring the historical significance of the Twin Towers, do we really do justice to what happened on 9/11 by stripping away the flag and the phrase "United We Stand"?

In actual point of fact, as cheesy as this image is, it captures a feeling that all Americans who "knew" the Twin Towers felt in the aftermath of 9/11.

The image is not a neutral and unbiased creation. It is not one hundred percent "objective reality".

Yet, it conveys reality - perhaps better than the other pieces of art in its own cheesy way.

If all we had to go on were these four images, there are questions we will not be able to answer in the year 4006.

For example, what did the offices inside the Twin Towers really look like?

To answer such a question, the most we could do is put together an educated guess of what we know about other office buildings of the time period.

We may not know from these images the exact number of floors in the buildings, though it is clear that they tower over everything around them in the synoptics.

There would be challenges to the "nationalist tradition".

For example, our historians in 4006 may scoff at the existence of the Twin Towers on the basis that it is a known fact that there were taller buildings than is claimed of the Twin Towers in Malaysia on September 11, 2001.

And such arguments entirely miss the point of what Americans of this day and age in 2006 felt about the Twin Towers.

Our historians in 4006 may dismiss the fourth painting as useless to the historian, and perhaps with some reason. This work of art requires a bit of an insider view.

One must share, or at least apprehend, the mindset of those who lived through 9/11 to begin to appreciate what the artist is conveying.

I think John's Gospel is a lot like this. If we believe in the resurrected Christ, the creative narrative of the author conveys a reality that the synoptics do not capture.

I get excited by the so-called quests for the historical Jesus even when an historical critic is telling me I need to strip the flags and post 9/11 imagery away from the images to get closer to the reality behind the images.

There is some truth to this, even if we can only garner a limited picture of what the Twin Towers were prior to 9/11.

And there is continuity between what the Twin Towers once were prior to 9/11, and what they have become as symbols in the post 9/11 world.

I recognize that the flags and post 9/11 imagery is part of the story - is part of the history of the Twin Towers - is "true" - and the significance of the Twin Towers cannot be properly understood apart from the images.

There is continuity between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith.

Jesus had a history and significance prior to his resurrection. Yet, it is only in light of his resurrection that the full significance of Jesus becomes apparent as presented in the Gospels.

The Twin Towers had a history and a significance prior to 9/11, and it is fascinating to me that we can discern hints of that history and significance in these images, even if all four of them were produced after 9/11.

The Gospels do give us clues and hints about the Jesus of history. It's fascinating that they do. Yet, they do so through the prism of artistic renderings where the creative and divinely inspired stamp of the author must be carefully discerned.


Friday, August 25, 2006

Did Jesus say Everything John Says He Said?

The link above is to a post at Mark Shea's last Friday. Mark seemed quite upset with Father Andrew Greeley over the following quote on Jn 6:41-51:

One must not take this passage as a description of an actual dialogue between Jesus and some of those who followed him. Rather it doubtless refers to a difficulty in St. John's community over the Eucharist and the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, a difficulty which has plagued the Church through it's history, mostly because we have tried to reduce mystery to prose, to explain the inexplicable.
This lead a total of 24 comments, and I was participating in Greeley's defense.

Mark seemed to think it an affront against Christianity to suggest that the Gospel writers, under divine inspiration, might have used their imagination and their knowledge of Jesus to create a narrative where Jesus says things he did not really say.

In Mark's words, the Gospel writers were not "liars" "chanelling spirits" who "made up a bunch of crap" and "bullshit".

If you read my post yesterday on the problem with the telephone game, which was well received even by some typically more conservative readers, you know that I do believe many of the Jesus sayings in the New Testament are accurate and authentic to Jesus - at least in substance.

And if you have been reading me for quite some time, you know that I am enthusiastic that higher criticism can help us reconstruct an historical Jesus that does not undermine solemnly defined doctrine.

And regardless whether Jesus actually said something attributed to him or not, I accept on faith that the scriptures are divinely inspired - every jot and tiddle.

Nevertheless, I do think the authors of scripture may have put some words in Jesus' mouth that he probably did not say.

And rather than some complex historical argument, it finally occurred to me that maybe a few simple quotes from John's Gospel make the point more clearly.

How likely is it that Jesus, himself, actually said these words which are attributed directly to him:
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (Jn 3:16 - This is Jesus speaking to Nicodemus as though the Son is someone else)

My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come. (Jn 13:33 - Did Jesus really refer to others as "Jews" in exclusion of himself and his disciples?)

Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. (Jn 17:3 - Did Jesus really refer to himself as "Jesus Christ" ? )
Now, I haven't even dealt with the issue of variant sayings, or contradictions in narratives, etc....

And none of these things are an obstacle to faith for me....

What would be an obstacle to faith for me is a dogmatic claim that the New Testament contains no creative stamp of the authors. It is obvious to me that it does.


Follow Up to Post Below

Immediately below, I posted Charles Krauthammers call to take military action against Iran before they go nuclear.

As a few hours passed, I realized Christ had a better response to Krauthammer than my own, stated nearly 2,000 years before me.

When America tells any nation on earth that they must cease pursuing nuclear weapons or face serious consequences, we should hear Christ saying the following:

Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye. (Mt 7:3-5)
Until the United States disarms itself of WMDs, and demilitarizes, I think that it is literally impossible that America will be safe from terrorism or other threats to national security.


Krauthammer's Open Call for War With Iran

You'd think that the neocons would have learned a lesson in Iraq. But noooo:

Realistically speaking, the point of this multilateral exercise cannot be to stop Iran's nuclear program by diplomacy. That has always been a fantasy. It will take military means. There would be terrible consequences from an attack. These must be weighed against the terrible consequences of allowing an openly apocalyptic Iranian leadership to acquire weapons of genocide.
How 'bout this Chuck?

If the United States lead Russia, China, France, India, the United Kingdom and Israel in abandoning nukes, preemptive war, and cultural/economic imperialism, and instead helped developing nations get a bigger piece of the global pie, maybe the Iranians, Pakistanis, and North Koreans would not feel the need to have nukes, sponsor terrorists or spout off racist sounding rhetoric.


Thursday, August 24, 2006

Interesting Observations on the Telephone Game

Back in about sixth grade, at Saint Joseph's Elementary, I had my first full year class on the bible.

We read (or were assigned to read) all the way through a living translation of the Bible and had tests and everything.

It was also the very first time a little tiny bit of higher criticism was introduced to us - and the exercise to do it is still in my memory.

We were told to play "the telephone game".

The teacher wrote something on a piece of paper, and showed it to the person sitting in the front corner of the room.

He was told to whisper this to the person behind him, who whispered it to the next person, and so on, until the message made its way around the whole room, where the last person had to say it out loud.

And by the end, the message was completely garbled.

It was explained to us that some of the Bible was based on oral traditions that may not have been the original words of Moses, or Jesus, or whomever.

I sensed, even in sixth grade, that something was wrong with this notion.

The link above is to a site by a Presbyterian minister named Mark Roberts.

I've been browsing through some of his links in a blog series entitled Are The Gospels Reliable? and More on the Reliability of the Gospels.

The link is to the second, but he has links back to the first series if interested.

Roberts holds a doctorate from Harvard, which he earned in 1992 at the height of the Jesus Seminar craze.

Having graduated from Harvard, he claims familiarity with the sharpest historical critics.

Yet, he is also a self professed "conservative evangelical Protestant".

He wants to write a defense of the reliability of the Gospels for those who are not doctorates - and I think he succeeds at accessibility and readability (with a touch of humor).

He wants to address the issues critics of conservative evangelical Christianity familiar with Jesus Seminar type of scholarship often make.

And because he is familiar with critical scholarly techniques, he is offering a different manner of looking at the reliability of the Gospels than traditional apologetics, like Josh McDowell's Evidence That Demands a Verdict.

Those who like McDowell often simply don't understand why the scholar finds his work not only unconvincing, but at times, silly.

Roberts wants to provide an accessible apologetic scholars won't dismiss so easily.

All this is a laudable goal in my mind.

I've been trying to think about how to do this myself in the back of mind, though not so much to defend "evangelicals" as plain old-fashioned Catholic dogma.

I may be liberal where solemn definitions are not at stake, and I may even minimize the demands of dogma.

Yet, I give the assent of faith to solemnly defined dogma in the end.

I see no conflict between giving this assent to dogma and engaging in an honest and intellectually responsible examination of scripture.

I just can't think how to make the point simply. But Roberts makes a nice attempt.

There is some good stuff in these two series by Dr. Roberts, and a few things I have emailed him asking for some clarification.

Where I have asked for clarification, there are a couple of issues where he may be oversimplifying for readability.

If he is oversimplifying, he may wind up losing some credibility in the process, IMHO.

On the other hand, he may simply have a good scholarly point of view on the issues I see as troublesome that I haven't considered.

Assuming he either has either a point of view I haven't considered, or was simplifying these points for readability perhaps too much, his thoughts are still worth reading.

There are a couple of things I want to borrow from him on this blog, as well, but only with his permission.

One thing he does in the first series is simply brilliant IMHO (he knows which, if he read my email).

I hope I've piqued your curiosity.

In the second series linked above, he examines "the telephone game".

There are many arguments he posits as to why the telephone game does not work to describe what occurred in oral cultures.

One point in particular that he makes is highly salient, even if we cannot begin to imagine life in an oral culture to grasp his other points.

I've kept you in suspense long enough.

The basic flaw of the telephone game is that if we were to play it in such a way to match the reality, the teacher needs to say out loud to the first person what the message is, who needs to repeat it out loud to the next, and so on.

If any person got it wrong, the rest of the class would say, "No. No. She said...."

Early Christians met frequently to tell the story of Jesus, and if anyone departed grossly from what was received, the community would correct that person.

Of course, there would be transmission from one classroom to another (i.e. - Paul's mission to the Gentiles).

Nevertheless, in this case, we can assume that Paul knew the message he received before heading into the other classroom (and Barnabas was with him too) - and he said it out loud, telling the next one to say it out loud, and so forth.

In the telling of Jesus traditions prior to the composition of the Gospels, I don't deny there is some creative liberty exercised within this tradition, and by the authors of the gospels to address the needs of his audience, and there are legitimate questions surrounding sources, and how to deal with variations, and all the issues that critical scholars raise.

Yet, on the fundamental distrust of modern society that oral cultures could convey spoken tradition accurately, we simply haven't thought it through.

They could, and often did.

The telephone game, as it is usually played, is simply a flawed way of seeing how oral transmission occurs.


Brief Reflection on Dominus Iesus

For reasons I don't want to go into, I re-read Dominus Iesus this morning (linked above).

I have never commented on the letter on this blog, since it was published almost three years before I began blogging.

Simply put, let me say that there is absolutely nothing I disagree with in this letter.

That may surprise some readers on both the right and the left. If so, I can only encourage that you read my thoughts on other religions very carefully (sidebar).

There are two or three sentences that I think could have been worded with slightly more "pastoral sensitivity" to the non-Catholic, but the basic substance of those same sentences sums up accurately my doctrinal belief.

The best line in the letter that sums everything up in my mind rather succinctly is this one:

..., it is necessary to keep these two truths together, namely, the real possibility of salvation in Christ for all mankind and the necessity of the Church for this salvation.
The passage selected is from the second paragraph of numbered section 20 and sites its source as "John Paul II, Encyclical Letter Redemptoris missio, 9; cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 846-847."

Salvation occurs outside of the institutional boundaries of the Church, but it is always Christ who saves, and he does so, in some mysterious manner, through the existence of his Church on earth.

Regarding the matter of what I called "pastoral sensitivity" to the non-Catholic, I think the caveat I would have added is that the Church is aware that the absolute claims she makes regarding Christ and the Church as the body of Christ are similar in some way to absolute claims of other religious adherents.

Where a non-Catholic holds absolutely to a claim congruent and consistent with what is revealed in Christ, we believe Christ's grace is operative (or at least probably so).

We even accept the possibility that we, as Catholics, could learn to better express whatever this point of agreement is individually and collectively through our dialogue with others.

The letter clearly indicates Catholics can learn from others, and I agree:
Inter-religious dialogue, which is part of the Church's evangelizing mission, requires an attitude of understanding and a relationship of mutual knowledge and reciprocal enrichment, in obedience to the truth and with respect for freedom.
I think my more conservative readers have trouble accepting we can be "enriched" when we dialogue with non-believers, but I accept this as the teaching of the Church - and one that makes a whole lot of sense to me.

In sharing our faith with others, it is necessary to be open to learning from the other - to approach others with humility and a willingness to really listen.

Yet, where a non-Catholic holds absolutely to a claim that is truly incompatible with what is revealed in Christ, we believe the other is in error, while acknowledging that the other will believe we are in error.

This doesn't mean the other is necessarily going to hell, but the other is simply mistaken on the key point of true disagreement.

Sometimes liberals faced with incomensurability between Roman Catholic belief and another religion's claims decide to "relativize" both claims (ours and the others).

In doing this, I believe all that is accomplished is the creation of an all new religion with a new set of absolutist claims.

I prefer to simply agree to disagree with the other adherent, rather than inventing a new religion - especially one that is not Christian anymore.

It simply cannot be true that all religions are equal.

I certainly hold Judaism in higher regard than the religion of David Koresh, though people may be saved in both.

I do not share the faith of Osama Bin Laden, though I do share more in common with many other Muslims.

I don't mind saying that while I think Jerry Falwell is a brother in Christ who may teach me a few points, he's still mistaken on some of his theology.

I believe the Church teaching is that we are aware that identifying true divergence requires open and honest and in depth dialogue, and should not be presumed hastily and with rash judgment.

The devout and saintly Greek Orthodox adherent may be closer to the fullness of truth than I am as a Roman Catholic.

While we cannot share a belief in absolute claims ultimately deemed to be contrary to Christ, we respect the right of the person with whom we dialogue to hold such beliefs.

We respect this right not because the belief we consider erroneous has a "right", as though error has rights.

Rather, we respect the rights of the person because the person holding the belief has rights belonging to human persons, who have an incomparable dignity we believe is revealed in the incarnation.

We ask those who feel compelled to disagree with us to reciprocate the respect for the legitimate rights of human persons, which all authentic religion expressing the will of God necessarily affirms.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Hat Tip To Mark Shea for This Lost Part of the Summa

Aquinas deals with the question that if cleanliness is next to godliness, is God made of soap?


John Allen's 'All Things Catholic'

I have to hand it to Allen. It is a rare gift to be able to report on whether Mozart was a Freemason as though it is a contemporary newsworthy event.

Perhaps a lesson for today's American Catholic lies in Allen's concluding speculations that in prior centuries, lay European Catholics felt perfectly free to be very devout Roman Catholics with a strong anti-clerical bent:

How to reconcile this [Mozart's] Catholic piety with Masonry?

One way is to recall that down the centuries, criticism of individual churchmen or of ecclesiastical systems by Catholics often had little to do with one's faith. Moderns may reject Catholicism if they become frustrated with the church, but that's not how someone like Mozart thought.
In some ways, I think this is what "progressive" or "liberal" Catholics in America have been trying to say for some time.

We love the Church - the sacraments, the people, the core symbols of faith - too much to leave, and like our ancestors in faith, we have a few bones to pick with some members of the clergy, which may even include the pope at times.


Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Jesus, Son of David

A few weeks back, after having read The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, which is the book behind The Da Vinci Code, I stated that I found the authors' theory that Jesus was a wealthy son of David making a bid for the throne of Israel more controversial and shocking for me than the claim Jesus was married.

I stated I was going to research the issue, and posted a few preliminary findings, stating I needed to get my hands on Volume I of A Marginal Jew by Father John P. Meier.

I finally got my hands on Volume I, which I did read back in 1992, but was not as well equipped to read at the time. I have been plowing through it with more training behind me.

It's a great book, and I've read Volumes II and III more recently and recommend them as well.

Meier is a cautious scholar, never claiming absolute certainty on historical grounds, but trying to demonstrate what we can know with high degrees of certitude, what is dubious, and what remains unclear or could possibly go either way.

He seems to have read everything ever written on Jesus, and his footnotes are a fabulous resource worth buying themselves.

But enough about Meier.

What I really want to know is the probability that Jesus was a wealthy son of David.

I have not got to Jesus social class yet, but on pp 216-218, Meier reaches the conclusion that it is probable that Jesus truly was known by his contemporaries as a son of David.

Meier rests the case on multiple attetestation in Mark, special M, special L, Paul and points out the tradition survived even into the composition of the pastoral epistles, the Book of Revelations, and possibly even the letter to the Hebrews.

Furthermore, he casts doubt on the notion that Davidic descent was a post-resurrection theologuomenon (later post resurrection faith's theological symbolism asserted back into the narrative).

It is untrue that to a first century Jew, there was universal agreement that a messiah absolutely must be born of the house of David. The concept of the messiah was ill defined in first century Palestinian Judaism.

Meier discredits the idea of a universally expected Davidic messiah by appealing to Qumran hopes for a Levitic Messiah, or a prophetic messiah as foretold in Is 61:1.

Thus, the authors of the NT had no reason to make up Davidic sonship to make Jesus a Messiah. If he was not of Davidic lineage, they could have built symbolism around a prophetic messiah.

Finally, he points out that this tradition of Jesus Davidic lineage appears to have been so widespread so early and for so long in Christianity that it would have been too easy for disbelievers to discredit if it were not recognized, even by opponents, as a truth that Jesus belonged to the house of David.

Rather than post resurrection interpolation, the simplest explanation that makes sense of the data is that Jesus truly was of Davidic descent.

Interestingly, while Meier thinks Luke's assertion that Jesus' mother is of the tribe of Aaaron/Levi is highly dubious for the historian using strictly historical methods, we cannot conclusively diprove it (which is true of many historical assertions).

Thus, while we cannot be certain, maybe Jesus was of both the house of Judah/David and the house of Aaron/Levi?


Bush and Plan B

The linked article calls this a divorce with his Catholic base, and highlights the inconsistency between support for Plan B and the veto of funding to ESCR.


Monday, August 21, 2006

Interesting Tid-bit

I don't know for sure that this is true, but the presiding preist at the daily Mass I attended today stated that Pope Saint Pius X suggested that Mass be said in the vernacular way before Vatican II.

If true, how ironic that the Society of Saint Pius X is now a schismatic group refusing to admit the validity of the vernacular Mass promulgated by Paul VI.

Today is the feast of Pope Saint Pius X.


Excerpts From Bush Press Conference Today

QUESTION: A lot of the consequences you mentioned for pulling out [of Iraq] seem like maybe they never would have been there if we hadn't gone in. How do you square all of that?

BUSH: I square it because imagine a world in which you had Saddam Hussein, who had the capacity to make a weapon of mass destruction, who was paying suiciders to kill innocent life, who had relations with Zarqawi.

BUSH: Imagine what the world would be like with him in power. The idea is to try to help change the Middle East.

Now look, part of the reason we went into Iraq was -- the main reason we went into Iraq, at the time, was we thought he had weapons of mass destruction. It turns out he didn't, but he had the capacity to make weapons of mass destruction.

But I also talked about the human suffering in Iraq. And I also saw the need to advance a freedom agenda. And so my answer to your question is that -- imagine a world in which Saddam Hussein was there, stirring up even more trouble in a part of the world that had so much resentment and so much hatred that people came and killed 3,000 of our citizens.

You know, I've heard this theory about, you know, everything was just fine until we arrived and -- you know, the stir-up-the-hornet's- nest theory. It just doesn't hold water, as far as I'm concerned.

The terrorists attacked us and killed 3,000 of our citizens before we started the freedom agenda in the Middle East. They were ...

QUESTION: What did Iraqi have to do with that?

BUSH: What did Iraq have to do with what?

QUESTION: The attacks upon the World Trade Center.

BUSH: Nothing. Except for it's part of -- and nobody's ever suggested in this administration that Saddam Hussein ordered the attack. Iraq was a -- Iraq -- the lesson of September the 11th is: Take threats before they fully materialize, Ken.

Nobody's ever suggested that the attacks of September the 11th were ordered by Iraq. I have suggested, however, that resentment and the lack of hope create the breeding grounds for terrorists who are willing to use suiciders to kill, to achieve an objective. I have made that case.

And one way to defeat that -- you know, defeat resentment -- is with hope. And the best way to do hope is through a form of government.

Now I said, going into Iraq, "We've got to take these threats seriously before they full materialize." I saw a threat.
Another highlight was the manner in which Bush stated we need federal wiretapping to defend freedom.


Pope Benedict Affirms Workaholism is Bad for the Soul

Quoting 12th century Saint Bernard, Pope Benedict told tourists on Sunday:

"watch out for the dangers of excessive activity, whatever ... the job that you hold, because many jobs often lead to a 'hardening of the heart' as well as 'suffering of the spirit, loss of intelligence.'"
I could not agree more.

It may be true that work has inherent value, supports the common good, helps others, is good for personal development, and that excessively idle heads can become the devil's workshop.

It may be true that laziness or sloth is one of the seven deadly sins, and that diligence and commitment are virtuous. The worker is worth his wage, and escapist quietism is a heresy.

All that may be true, but there is an opposite extreme.

We need to have Sabbath rest.

Christ said the Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.

In a book I read some twenty years ago (title forgotten), a man interviewing a practitioner of Zen claimed that he saw an unopened letter on the Zen Master's desk. He asked, "Aren't you going to open that." The Master responded, "Tomorrow. Today is my day of rest."

This may seem a bit extreme, but I think we need to adopt something like a similar attitude.

Blogging is a hobby for me, but I don't do it on Sunday, even though it is not truly "labor".

I am not saying we need to fall into some legalistic debate such as whether a sick person needs to go to Mass on Sunday, or whether lighting a candle is forbidden work on the Sabbath day, as some Orthodox Jews argue.

We don't even need to debate whether the Sabbath should occur on Saturday or Sunday, though there is value in a community picking a day for common rest so that we might nurture relationships.

Too many people work so many hours that whatever time is not spent on the job is spent doing house and yard work or shopping for necessities. That isn't rest in my mind.

We need rest from labor. We need it so much, we believe in faith that God commanded rest.

How odd that God needs to command something so simple.

The human person needs time for prayer and contemplation.

We need time to simply rest in the present moment and enter into reverential awe at the beauty of the created world.

We need time for the ministry of mere presence to family and loved ones.

Indeed, compared to past cultures, we in the West have all but lost the notion that simply spending time with people - the ministry of hospitality - has value.

We also need time for nurturing other sides of ourselves and contributing to culture in other ways than most of our paid labor - such as telling stories, playing a game, writing a poem, painting, playing music, dancing, or just eating good food, getting some exercise, and even just taking a much needed nap.

In general, I believe Catholics - particularly American Catholics - need to retrieve a notion of Sunday as a day of real rest and relaxation and deeper communion with God.

Beyond that, our entire society (Western culture, and American culture in particular) needs to rediscover the importance of daily rest - even simply getting adequate nightly sleep, much less some time for daily prayer.

And if Americans were to talk to people in other cultures, one of the most striking differences is that we have longer work weeks than most, take less vacation than almost everyone else, and take less time for new born babies (i.e. - FMLA leave), and so forth.

Our workaholism, to paraphrase Pope Benedict, is killing our souls and making us stupid.

I would even argue excessive work is counter-productive: that we wind up working slower and harder for poorer results rather than smarter and more effectively.

Furthermore, I think workaholism is likely the number one threat to family values: the chief cause of increasing divorce rates.

America: reclaim your right (and duty) to goof off!


Friday, August 18, 2006


Sackcloth and Ashes

I sometimes feel a slight tug in my heart to don sackcloth and ashes and fast for things like repentance of my own sins, world peace, social justice, a greater respect for the sanctity of life and the marriage covenant.

Yet, I have never acted on this impulse.

A new contributor to NCR, Father John Dear, S.J., relates his experience with peace activists in the Los Alamos region where they quite literally donned sackcloth and ashes in prophetic protest and reparation for the sins of America's militarism.

The column is part of NCR's new "cyber cafe" which invites comments from readers.


Thursday, August 17, 2006

Response to Comment on Yesterday's Post on War

A reader wrote:

Hi Joe:

You wrote in this essay: I am not a total pacifist either. While I support all efforts at non-violent conflict resolution and I support the idea of non-violent resistance to evil as the last resort prior to war, there can be a just use of legitimate military defense after non-violence fails.

But back in 2003, you said: Personally, my predisposition is that we have a reached a juncture in history when no war can be justified. I am not truly a (pacifist). More accurately, I like the notion of non-violent active resistance as practiced by Ghandi and Martin Luther King JR.
Allow me to clarify....

I don't believe you can wage a just war until AFTER active non-violence has been tried. Ever.

Further, I am deeply troubled by the way war is currently fought in the current moment of history where civilians are killed so routinely.

Also, to be very precise, active non-violent resistance is the first stage of warfare. It is a means of combat, and those who employ it must realize that they are engaging in a battle. It is a battle for the heart of the aggressor.

Active non-violent resistance is not passive submission. Nor is it conflict avoidance. Indeed, it is a means of direct confrontation for those with the courage to lay down their lives in defense of the common good.

As Christians, this should be our prefered mode of combat.

As I wrote in 2003, Christians must look beyond merely meeting the laws of justice, and see ourselves as cultivaters of grace. As Saint Paul says, we can conquer evil with good.

Yet, when non-violence fails - which is possible - military defense can be legitimately employed without violating justice when strict means in very specific circumstances with exact ends apply.

There are a couple of different reasons for my thinking and typical rhetoric on this issue:

1) Gandhi, MLK Jr., Nelson Mandela, Solidarity in Poland, etc....prove that non-violence can work effectively, and one condition that MUST be met before employing a legitimate military defense is that all other practical means have been exhausted.

Even a lone man can stand up to a Communist tank in Tiananmen Square, and the conscience of the tank driver will prevent his being run over.

Thus, where non-violence hasn't even been tried, I argue you automatically have an unjust use of military force.

Yet, non-violence works, in part, because the agressor can begin to imagine how his own acts against the innocent will cause an escalation in violence.

It isn't simply the appeal to conscience - though that also plays a primary role and is the primary objective.

2) Modern warfare typically involves weapons and tactics that foreseeably destroy innocent human lives, and it is intrinsically evil to deliberately kill an innocent human being.

As I have written recently, I do not believe that "deliberately" taking an innocent human life merely means that the person was "targeted".

It is not morally permissible to cause "collateral damage" in the form of non-combatant lives so long as you try to limit those casualties to some small imaginary number.

The intrinsic evil of killing innocent human beings means that you cannot ever take any action with the foreseeable consequence of taking even one innocent life. Ever.

The only time causing collateral damage in war is not a potential sin is when you did not foresee it.

This was possible in the age that just war theory developed, when wars were waged with swords.

Given that it would reduce the "reasonable chance of success" to wage a war without using weapons that do foreseeably cause collateral damage today, it is difficult to argue any modern war is a just war.

If active non-violence is to be the prefered mode of combat for Christians, and any war requires that active non-violence is tried prior to resorting to military solutions, and the military solutions available today are intrinsically evil, it follows we must have a strong presumption against all war.

My comment in the prior article that stated "we have a reached a juncture in history when no war can be justified" was intended in the true sense of the word "juncture" - a cross roads.

We are at a precise moment in history where a war that does not cause collateral damage is practically, if not theoretically, inconceivable. In that sense, no wars fought today are likely just wars.

On this second point, however, I must point out that IF there were a reasonable chance of success without using weapons and tactics that have the foreseeable consequence of killing innocent people, that war could be just if active non-violence preceeded military action.

Imagine we had the technology like some science fiction movie that allowed us to completely shut down an enemy's communication devices and disable their weapons without causing a single death as a direct result of this action.

In that case, one could certainly employ those means of rendering the agressor nearly harmless.

Short of sci-fi fantasy, I can imagine that in a situation like what is occurring in the Sudan or even in Lebanon that an overwhelming ground force could be formed by the international community that was so large in manpower that "the enemy" would simply refuse to fight it.

Even here, we would need to presume the agressors violating human rights are not armed with nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons that could obliterate the overwhelming manpower of an international peace keeping force in the twinkle of an eye.

This would require that no nation on earth posseses such weapons, since any nation that possesses such weapons can go to the dark side.

Yet, in a world where WMDs were illegal, an international peace keeping force could work effectively.

Such a peace keeping force could even be used "pre-emptively" to effectively arrest any party trying to develop, aquire, obtain or use WMDs.

Of course, there need to be checks and balances and highly participatory decision making in the international authority. There needs to be clear limits on the power and scope of the international body to ensure it does not abuse its own authority.

As John Paul taught, such an authority does need to become a global "super state" that violates the principles of legitimate subsidiarity.

But the idea of a global peace keeping authority is not outside the realm of possibility.

Here, I am thinking along the lines of the days of the civil rights movement.

When the Arkansas National Guard was pulled out by the Govenor to prevent integration in the schools, Ike legally federalized the guard and called in more federal troops (the 101 Airborne) that stood them down.

This is what I meant when I said non-violence does not always work by appeal to conscience alone.

The success of the civil rights movement did rely, in part, on the appeal to conscience - even as its primary objective.

Yet, it was also backed by the threat of escalated violence - either in the form of federal intervention, or the possibility that the alternative to MLK was Malcom X!

(By the way, Malcom X's philosophy of violence meets just war criteria).

In a like manner to Ike's Arkansas stand down, whan a nation becomes a "rogue nation" violating basic human rights, I am not oppossed to a large enough international force being assembled to stand them down.

I think we should be doing that in the Sudan today, since they do not have WMDs.

At the same time, the United States must dismantle its WMDs.

In suggesting this solution in the Sudan, I mean to say we should have a force so overwhelming in the Sudan and so international in its formation that we are reasonably certain the Janjaweed will voluntarily lay down their arms.

Returning to the United States (and Russia and a handful of others) owning nuclear weapons, it is immoral to possess them even as a deterrent. Their very manufacture should be a crime against humanity that could be tried in international court.

The mere existence of WMDs is immoral and when our nation is judged at the second judgment involving nations, our nukes will be held against us right along with legalized abortion or whatever issue concerns conservative Christians.

Iraq and Iran should not have WMDs - but nobody should.

And this issue of the possession of WMDs was never just cause to wage a unilateral war between equally soveriegn powers. Only a higher authority than a nation can legitimately act to disarm a nation that will not voluntarily disarm.

Just because my next door neighbor owns an illegal gun does not give me the right to go into his home and shoot him with a legally owned gun of my own. His illegal gun is a matter for a higher authority - the police.

If the rationale for action against Saddam Husseine was actually humanitarian intervention, the same idea applies. The United Nations should have authorized an international force to intervene on behalf of oppressed Iraqi's.

Of course, Bush did not present a case for a humanitarian intervention, and he snubbed the U.N. - so he offered wrong ad bellum reasons and was not the right authority to declare a good ad bellum reason.

For the United States to intervene for humanitarian reasons unilaterally would have the same sort of legitimacy as if Tenessee decided on its own to enforce desegragation without Ike's approval or the consent of Congress.

I would imagine that in such a scenario, we'd anticipate Arkansas to fight back against Tenessee alone, and even feel justified.

But we do not feel the same if all 48 other states acting together as one through the federal government stood with Tennessee to oppose Arkansas.

This is why the CCC spells out that nations warring against one another (equal soveriegn powers) only employ a just war when in defense against direct attack.

If Tennessee were attacked by Arkansas, nobody would fault TN for calling out its guard in defense until the federal troops showed up.

Equal powers cannot attack one another, even to defend people in the other sovereignty.

A higher authority must declare the use of force legitimate.

We must come to a point of imagining the possibility of an international authority higher than America - just as our forefathers on the side of the union saw that states rights, while legitimate, are limitted and subordinate to the union.

Weigle's and Novak's arguments that war must be decided by those close to the ground is basically an argument for lawless vigilanteeism and is contrary to the Catholic tradition.

Those close to the ground are exactly NOT the people to decide the case for war, because they are too vested in the outcome to be objective.

Should Hizbollah decide the criteria for just war simply on the basis that they are on the ground?

In reaction to Hezbollah, did Israel truly make a moral - or even pragmatically effective - war decision recently?

The important caveats here in my just war thinking are (1) that the force must be authorized by a publically recognized higher authority than the rogues violating human rights, and (2) the assembled force should be large enough to make the rogues think twice about about fighting back.

If a mayor or county police violated human rights, a state militia may stand it down. If a state within the United States violates human rights, the federal power may legitimately stand it down.

If a nation violates human rights, an international authority - and only an international authority - can and should stand it down: with a sufficient show of force to reasonably believe that the aggressors will back down.

This show of force is more than a scare tactic, however.

This show of force also has to do with my concern for civilians during war.

If the rogue entity refuses to back down and chooses to fight, the higher authority must have enough troops on the ground to have a reasonable chance of winning the battle without resorting to airstrikes, cluster bombs, WMDs and other tactics that take civilian lives.

If at all possible, war should be waged hand-to-hand to avoid civilian casualties, and even to avoid the necessity of actually killing all the agressors, who should be arrested and restrained alive, if at all possible.


You bet.


Not exactly.

I do understand and embrace the concept that sometimes structures of evil take such a grip on cultures in certain historical moments that intervention is necessary.

I am idealistic, but not beyond realism. We must move from pure fantasy to imagination of what might be possible if we set our minds and hearts to effecting reality as it is and as it is effected by sin.

When non-violent resistance leads to SS guards throwing Jewish babies in the air for target practice (as described in Elie Weisle's Night after the first Jews tried to resist), outside intervention is morally obligatory.

For the world to simply watch while Rwanda sank in blood was a crime - and we are all criminally negligent for watching it happen and doing nothing.

Do I support active non-violence like practiced by Gandhi?

You bet.

Even before calling in the troops of a higher authority, I think non-violent resistance should be occurring on the ground.

Christians should take the lead in this.

Those who continue to practice non-violence even after legitimate military defense is invoked should not be faulted, but encouraged to continue.

Military defense is only one means of intervention on behalf of the innocent. There are other means - and all other practical means must be in play before and during military conflict.

Even before resorting to active non-violent resistance, there should be non-violent conflict resolution techniques in use to seek the win-win solution between opposing parties (Dimplomacy and development).

Christians need to be part of this.

Non-violence as a way of life is the Christian ideal - and yet, armed intervention on behalf of the innocent is conceivable in very strict circumstances.

Non-violence as a way of life has applications to every human interaction, from how we treat our family to how we form foreign policy decisions.

While non-violence often works and prevents a war, there may be times - at least in theory - where a show of force is necessary.

When that time comes, it must be clear we are at the last resort, agression is in progress, the troops are authorized by the proper authority for the type of intervention in progress, civilians will not be harmed, there is a reasonable chance of success using proportional means that will not cause greater harm than the agression, and all other conditions of a just war are met.

Christians must ensure all conditions are met, very strictly - with a presumption against war guiding us in the interpretation of facts and opinion.

You see. I am not a pacifist. I do believe there is such a thing as a just and legitimate use of military defense.

I just believe that the bar for what constitues a just war is very extremely high

(I'd pile on more adjectives if it made sense to express that the bar is really, really, really high).

Opponents may wish to argue that historically, no war has ever met all these conditions as I describe them, and/or none in the future ever will.

I am willing to suggest that it is entirely possible that there never has been a wholly just war in God's eyes in all of history. Not even WWII meets every condition (especially after Dresden and Hiroshima, et al).

I do not rule out the possibility that a just war could be waged in the future, but the bar is very high. Yet, with God, all things are possible.

Thus, our presumption should be against war, especially in the current historical juncture.

We must see ourselves less as enforcers of retributive justice, and more as enforcers of grace.

Weigle and Novak are wrong to claim there is no true presumption against war in just war doctrine.

The very name of the doctrine implies a burden of proof that a war is truly just as oppossed to unjust.

It certainly does not mean that any given war is obligatory upon all reasonable people of good will or people of faith.

We should spend more time and energy building peace than rationalizing current deadly conflicts or even building the case for foreseeable deadly conflict in the near future.

If just half the human energy spent developing nuclear weapons were spent building peace, I believe that there would be peace. If half the money spent on the military were spent on building peace, I believe that there would be peace.

Is this going to happen anytime soon?

Given original sin, I doubt it.

But we, as Catholic Christians, are called to make the ideal a little more real today than yesterday, and a little more real tommorrow than today.

The state of original sin has never been an excuse to act immorally claiming God wills it.

We must embrace the ideal, then imagine what is possible tending our every action in that direction, and work towards that ideal through what is possible with every fiber of our being.

All our prayers, votes, words and deeds should be directed towards becoming more and more peacemakers than warmakers.

Our hope is not a naive hope of total success in stamping out all war. Our hope is a realistic hope that we can reduce war little by little from the current aweful and nearly inherently sinful state.

That is not going to happen by "staying the course" of neoconservative ideology that is inherently opposed to even a looser interpretation of just war doctrine than I present. We must change course.


Can a President Become a Saint

My wife and I were sent a paper copy of this article by the author, Maryknoll Father Art Wille.

The bishops of Tanzania have initiated the cause for the canonization of Tanzania's first President, Julius Nyerere.

As frequent readers know, my wife was born in Tanzania.

My mother and father in law, as well as many of my wife's relatives knew President Nyerere personally.

When he died in 1999, the crypt church in the Basilica of the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, DC, was packed with expatriate Tanzanians.

On that very day, every Tanzanian I know stated that Nyerere was already a saint.

I have heard the same from non-Tanzanians who have met Nyerere.

One Kenyan spoke to me about how the simplicity of Nyerere was a striking contrast to every other African political leader. He seems to have never wore a suit. He drove what we Americans might call a jalopy. He lived in a simple house.

In other words, where the article states he lived on $8,000 per year annual salary, it does not mean that he lived on a sum that translates to great wealth in Tanzania.

He was a daily Mass commicant and by every measure, a devout Roman Catholic in a nation where Catholicism has had explosive growth and Christianity is the largest religion when all sects are combined.

Yet, in a nation that is thirty percent Muslim and that continues to have a large proportion of practitioners of traditional religions, Nyerere was known by non-Catholics for his respect for their religions and their religious liberty.

In a nation of many tribes and languages and religious traditions, Nyerere reached out across the lines to include others in his administration.

Tanzania is a land of peace. It has not suffered a military coup or internal revolution since it gained its independance from colonialists, which is rare on the continent. Nyerere laid the groundwork for this through his leadership.

The only war Tanzania has ever fought since its independence was an intervention to stop the atrocities of Idi Amin after Uganda had declared war on Tanzania and invaded the province of Kagera.

Nyerere was the first African post colonial leader to voluntarily step down from his position.

I recently heard the current President of Tanzania state that Nyerere did a great job of unifying the country, but was not so strong on the economy.

Nyerere leaned in a direction Americans would label socialist, and started off with tight control over the nation that gradually loosened.

He believed strongly in democracy and participatory government, but believed equally strongly that Africa could present a communitarian way of living that would be an alternative to cut-throat unbridled capitalism.

Baba Julius, pray for us!