Monday, August 27, 2007

Mother Teresa's Dark Night of the Soul

This really fits my recent mood, and was released in Time the day after my last post regarding a sort of dark night I feel myself experiencing.

I also liked John Allen's recent piece on a deep personal friendship between a bishop and an athiest on Aug 24. The comments also mention Mother Teresa's dark night of the soul.

Mother Teresa, pray for me.


Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Slow Blogging....

I haven't been blogging lately for a number of reasons. The top reason is that with my wife on strict bed-rest, I'm just too tired between the job and our two year old.

I don't know how single mothers handle kids, a full time job, etc....

It's exhausting. And on top of that, money is tight and I am under pressure at work.

The "good news" on the front with my wife is that we're up to week 31 now of the pregnancy, and hopefully can make it six more weeks. Our "problems" started at week 20.

For those who missed what was going on, my wife, who is pregnant with our second child, started contracting and her cervix began "funneling" and thinning at week 20.

She's still contracting more than normal, but the cervix is holding and the baby is growing normally. Relatives and parishioners have been wonderful, but I'm still extremely tired.

If we can just make it six more weeks....Keep us in your prayers.

Another (probably related) reason for slow blogging is that I am going through a sort of spiritual dry spell - maybe a kind of "dark night of the soul".

It's a little hard to describe what I mean.....

It borders on what I imagine is a kind of depression at times, and I feel plagued with doubts.

Yet, I continue to be productive at home, and at work and to go through the motions of faith, sitting at daily Mass or regular prayer and offering up all my doubts, feelings of anger at times, anxieties and insecurities, feelings of sadness, and so forth.....

....offering it all up on behalf of all who doubt, or feel angry at God or the Church or their own family, and all who are beset with anxieties and insecurities.

Does "offering it up" actually do anyone any good?

Well, that's one of the doubts,....

..., and I plug right along offering it up anyway - out of desperation, if nothing else....

What the hell else can I do in my current state for those suffering what I am suffering - or all the suffering people in the world who have it about a billion times worse than me - like some kid in Iraq who's missing a limb and who's parents died during American "shock and awe"?

And yet, for what it is worth, somehow, offering it up does ease the pain for ME - giving the psychic pain I am experiencing some sort of meaning.

So, it's not "just" desperation (not just "What the hell else can I do for others?" ).

I almost have to believe that offering it up is helping others in order to help myself - and if it isn't helping others, then my own suffering is simply in vain.

By going through the motions of faith, I actually feel that somehow the state I feel is redeemed a tad....has some sort of cosmic meaning I cannot yet fathom, but that may be revealed to me someday.

And in this sort of hunch I see a seed of hope,....

Is this simply narcissism?

Maybe....But by going through the motions of faith, my faith is kept alive in some mysterious way despite this interior assault I am feeling upon the foundations of faith.

I hesitate to blog about this state of mind.

There will be those who will pity me, and I don't want any one's pity.

There will be those who want me to seek professional help, because clinical depression is serious business (if that is what I am going through). I know depression is serious business, and I am not too proud to ask for help.

Well, I don't have much more to say at this point....Keep my family and I in your prayers.


Friday, August 10, 2007

Religion in a Violent Age

The link above is to the blog of Father Joseph S. O'Leary, and the essay is long - it printed 194 pages off my printer (and y'all thought I am verbose).

I haven't finished reading it yet, and I'm not sure I agree with every jot and tiddle,...., but he's dealing with a theme I raised earlier this week in my post entitled, "Does God Command Killing?".

In what I have read so far, whether I agree or disagree with everything said, I am finding the article very thought provoking.


Thursday, August 09, 2007

Another Excellent Review of the Pope's Book

I ran across this through a link on Amy Wellborn's blog.

Dr. Benjamin Meyes uses a highly critical negative book length review of Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth by Gerd Ludemann as a springboard for pointing out both the genuine weaknesses, and the strengths of the Holy Father's book.


Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Does God Command Killing?

A few times this year, I have made disparaging comments about Moses based on the story narrated in Exodus 32, and particularly verse 27. I have even gone so far as to call Moses a psychopath based in this story.

At least part of the narrative is familiar to many of us through Cecil B. DeMille's movie, The Ten Commandments.

Moses is up on Mount Sinai receiving the ten commandments. The people down below begin to wonder what happened to him.

They go to Moses' brother Aaron, and say they need a god (idol) so that they might worship.

Aaron asks everyone to give him anything they have made of gold, and he throws it in a fire. A golden calf emerges. It seems a miracle. Aaron says to the Israelites that this is the god who brought them out of Egypt.

It is important to note here that Aaron does not say that the golden calf is a different god than the god who brought them out of Egypt. He does not say that this is a different god than the god of Moses. There is not a hint of polytheism here.

Further, the people saw the ten plagues and the parting of the red sea and all the mighty works God had done for them.

It seems that the purpose of the golden calf was to be a symbol or sign of the same god who brought them out of Egypt. Indeed, in verse 5, Aaron explicitly says the calf will be used for a "feast of the LORD [YHWH]".
Thus, the NAB commentary points out the intent of the golden calf as follows:

The calf . . . a feast of the LORD: from this it is clear that the golden calf was intended as an image, not of a false god, but of the LORD himself, his strength being symbolized by the strength of a young bull. The Israelites, however, had been forbidden to represent the Lord under any visible form.
This calf was created before the people had seen or heard the ten commandments, and the intention in making the golden calf seems similar to the way we Roman Catholics use statues and icons in our own worship.

Continuing with the basic story line, God tells Moses to go down the mountain because of this great depravity where God intends to wipe the people out.

Moses pleads for the people and argues with God that if the people are destroyed, all the world will make fun of God for leading the people into the desert to die.

God relents.

I actually very much like this part of the story, where the prophet argues with God for the cause of humanism and prevails. I really like that part - and I argue with God in my prayer more forcefully than I argue with my readers.

However, the story takes a dark turn after that.

Moses comes down, and sees the people engaged in "revelry" and blows up. He throws the tablets with the Decalogue to the ground shattering them. He has the golden calf ground up to powder and makes the people drink it. And then he asks who will stand with him, and the Levites come forward.

So far, I'm not troubled.

Then, in verse 27, the text says the following:
and he told them, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Put your sword on your hip, every one of you! Now go up and down the camp, from gate to gate, and slay your own kinsmen, your friends and neighbors!"
Verse 28 continues by advising us that three thousand people were killed that day.

This at least appears to be the behavior of a psychotic cult leader. It's the sort of thing we expect Jim Jones or David Koresh to say and do.

Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins have been hammering the theme that religion causes people to act in evil ways they otherwise would not do, while all the good that religion inspires could be done for better reasons than religious reasons.

In light of 9/11, they argue that it is time for "the end of faith" where we abandon "the god delusion" and admit that "God is not great".

I am not an atheist, but I have to say as a believer that I am sympathetic to their point. The God I worship absolutely would not ever, under any circumstance, order one human being to kill another being. Never.

I am not saying it is immoral to defend the life of an innocent human being from another human being who threatens deadly harm.

You may certainly try to repel unjust agression. In doing so, you should strive to use the minimum force necessary to defend the innocent.

It is one thing to say it is not immoral to use deadly force in defense of life. It is another thing to say that God commands killing, as though it is a sin not to kill.

God does not make such commands. Ever.

It isn't a question of whether God could. The omnipotent creator of the universe can do whatever She wants.

Her ways often do transcend our understanding - but she gave us reason, and does not act irrationally even when acting non-rationally.

The issue is that it is entirely against the character of the God revealed in Jesus Christ to order one human being to kill another.

This God created us in the divine image. To kill a human being is like killing God.

The God revealed in Jesus loves each and every one of us with unimaginable love. "Abba" seeks the destruction of none of His children.

How does a Christian make sense of an Old Testament verse like this?

I have suggested in prior commentary on Exodus 32:27 that one of the most fundamental questions we can ask is whether Moses even existed.

There is reason to doubt that he did exist - such as the fact that there is no record outside of the Bible of this man supposedly known to the Pharaoh who led some six hundred thousand slaves out of Egypt. Further, the geography of the narratives is confused.

Assuming Moses did exist, there is no reason to believe that everything recorded in the Old Testament about him is factually accurate in an modern historical sense.

I have suggested, based on the material I learned in numerous scripture courses in Roman Catholic schools of theology that the Torah was written over a long period of time and edited several times such that it has embellishments and legendary motifs and even myths that express theological points.

I do not think the text we have received was completed until the time of the Babylonian captivity about 600 years before Christ.

This would make the text at least 600 years after the events described in Exodus, and maybe 1,400 or more years after Abraham supposedly lived.

How accurate can these stories be, even if there is history "behind the texts"?

In trying to demonstrate that my view is not some minority heterodox opinion of "liberal" bible scholars, I pointed out that Pope Benedict has indicated that the Torah was finalized during the Babylonian captivity and contains fictional narratives intended to convey theological points.

For example, on the opening creation narrative in Genesis, the Holy Father had stated the following:
The moment when creation became a dominant theme occurred during the Babylonian Exile. It was then that the account that we have just heard -- based, to be sure, on very ancient traditions -- assumed its present form. (Source).
The Holy Father wrote this while he was still known as Joseph Ratzinger. The Cardinals elected him Pope knowing that he does not take the Old Testament literally. Pope Benedict XVI is not a fundamentalist.

Recently, I stated that few of the ordained clergy believe that Moses face glowed in the dark or that clouds of fire hovered over him as described in last week's daily Mass readings.

A Roman Catholic priest made a comment here that he does believe Moses' face glowed.

He also stated that he believes that Moses did exist, and that God did give Moses the command to have the Levites kill their kinsmen.

I did clarify that the priest was not saying that Moses perceived God to be giving this command.

The priest stated that the text is clear. The LORD commanded Moses.

This priest was perfectly clear that he believes the one true God actually and objectively gave Moses this command.

The priest stated that idolatry deserves death, and the only reason we no longer kill idolaters is that Jesus told us to respond differently to this grave evil.

This implies it is not intrinsically evil for a non-Christian monotheist to kill an idolater.

I pointed out that Pope Benedict XVI had stated in his Message for the Celebration of the World Day of Peace 2007 the following:
..., unacceptable are conceptions of God that would encourage intolerance and recourse to violence against others. This is a point which must be clearly reaffirmed: war in God's name is never acceptable! When a certain notion of God is at the origin of criminal acts, it is a sign that that notion has already become an ideology.
It is my opinion that if the non-violence taught by Jesus is true, and Jesus is God, then Moses could not have received a command to kill another human being from the same God revealed in Jesus.

It doesn't make sense to say that God commanded us to kill idolaters at one time, but then forbids at another, unless we hold the opinion that sanctions against violence are merely temporary.

We can, as some Muslims do, hold the idea that all human reason is flawed - that God so transcends reason that the irrational can reflect his will.

That's not Catholic faith. There can never be a contradiction in truth.

If we believe it is intrinsically evil for one human being to kill another innocent human being, that means that God never allows it.

The priest stated that idolaters are not "innocent", but my understanding of innocence in the context of the CCC on the fifth commandment is that innocence refers to one who is not in the act of aggression when dealt a deadly blow.

The priest states that God knows the hearts of people, and God knew these people deserved death.

My response is that even if God gave a command to kill directly to Moses, the Levites did not directly speak with God. According to Church teaching, they should have conscientiously resisted Moses' orders.

We can't even argue that because Moses worked miracles, the Levites should obey him.

The Egyptian magicians were able to replicate many things Moses did. Magic tricks do not excuse from following the natural law written on our hearts, which applies always and everywhere.

And it could be argued Moses should have told God to do it Himself.

Further, none of us are innocent according to Catholic doctrine. We are all born in original sin, and we all do sin.

It cannot be the case that it is intrinsically evil only to kill the perfectly upright (Jesus and Mary).

It is intrinsically evil to deliberately kill anyone and everyone who is not in the act of aggression against another. That is the teaching of the Church founded by Christ.

God cannot give an immoral command.

The only way I see to make sense of the text if taken more or less literally is to say that Moses thought God gave him a command to kill. Moses was mistaken.

If we allow that the text is not recording history in the modern sense, we can even say that the writers are creatively making a point, and God spoke directly to nobody at all.

I believe it is dangerous to believe that God actually commanded Moses to kill people.

This is dangerous, because it is the way Osama Bin Laden or Sayyid Qutb think - and I agree with Sam Harris and the atheist that the world doesn't need this - and I am utterly convinced that the God revealed in Jesus Christ doesn't want us thinking such thoughts.

To believe in a God who commands killing is believe in an idol. It simply isn't the truth.

I believe that the Old Testament is divinely inspired, but I do not believe it was divinely dictated. A creative narrative can convey truth, often more effectively than a narrator of "facts". I believe God is more a poet than a logician in his style of communication. Poetry can sometimes be difficult to understand.

I suggested to this priest that if Moses really lived, Moses was absolutely correct that there is only one true God. Moses may have been righteously indignant at idol worship after seeing people made slaves to build temples to idols, or children sacrificed to idols. As a shrewd political and religious leader, he may have also recognized the importance of unity in worship. He may have also felt strongly that idols robbed God of transcendence. He may have also been genuinely concerned about the negative effects of fatalistic superstition. He may have also desired that the people see the image of God in one another.

I am willing to try to retrieve some sort of moral kernel from the story regarding idolatry. I also suggested that the Exodus narratives are necessary for understanding Jesus, because Jesus is often commenting upon, making illustrations with, or reacting to Old Testament texts and motifs. I suggested that the Exodus narratives are rich in symbolism and images that could fuel endless relevant homilies. There are some great social justice and liberation themes in the Mosaic narratives. The ten commandments have stood the test of time as an inspired code of personal ethical conduct. I openly stated that even when the authors did not likely intend to foretell future events, it is uncanny how some Ols Testament passages seem to foreshadow Christ. I am not a marcionite heretic saying we should toss the Old Testament. Preserving the texts is even important for historical studies alone. There is much of value here, even if we are not fundamentalist.

But it seems obvious to me that Exodus 32:27 is an excellent example of where the Old Testament, while conveying truth, does so in shadows - where truth and a sort of apparent error seem mixed together. God cannot give an immoral command. Yet, the command the texts say that Moses said God gave is immoral.

There's no easy way around this. I went to a book I used in my Pentateuch class to see if there was anything specific about the verse.

Lawrence Boadt's Reading the Old Testament may be a bit dated, but it's what I have on my shelf. It doesn't address the specific verse, but does speak to how the chapter was compiled by the P source and combines conflicting J and E source material into a more or less seamless narrative.

I began a search online for some sort of commentary on the passage by the fathers of the Church. I ran across several references to Saint Gregory of Nyssa's Life of Moses.

This great saint would find the whole discussion frustrating.

For Gregory of Nyssa, the Moses' narratives have absolutely nothing to do with Moses, or even morality. The narratives are symbolic and allegorical paths of Christian prayer. We ascend Mount Sinai into the cloud of unknowing.

Today's Mass readings give a good example how Gregory of Nyssa interpreted Moses life. The readings are from Numbers 13 and 14.

They tell how Moses sent spies into the promised land to scope it out. They came back carrying some of the fruit of the land, and spoke of giants. The people became frightened, and Moses declared that for their lack of faith, they would wander in the desert for another forty years.

This site explains how Gregory of Nyssa interprets today's readings. Gregory says that the Israelites had been idolaters, fornicators, murderers and so forth, and yet they are brought to the promised land. So too, we are brought as individuals to the promised land of heaven despite our sins. Grace is a free gift.

Gregory indicates that there were two spies carrying grapes on a wooden pole between them. This symbolizes the blood of Christ on the cross between two insurrectionists.
If we simply accept God's promise, we may enter the promised land. If we reject it, we are left to ourselves.

This is hardly historical or literary exegesis by modern standards. As beautiful and prayerful as such a meditation may be, it doesn't help us determine the moral point of Ex 32:27 or what actually happened (or did not happen) on the day described.

I suspect most of the fathers of the Church treat the passage as a sort of allegory for the soul. I suspect many Jewish commentaries treat the passage in a similar fashion, without Christic overtones.

While that may not be "history" as we think of history, I believe the world will be better off if we stick with these traditional readings rather than falling into fundamentalism.

Saint Paul says that vengeance for wrongdoing belongs to God alone (Rom 12:19). The right to take a human life belongs to God alone, and cannot be delegated to human beings.

It is my opinion, which I believe is supported by the Church, that God does not ever command killing.


Tuesday, August 07, 2007

A Good and Positive Review of the Pope's Book

Peter Steinfels, writing for Commonweal, seems to understand the limitations of the Holy Father's book, Jesus of Nazareth. Yet, he gives it a very positive review for what it is:

Jesus of Nazareth is a patchwork, not a scholarly treatise, and readers will be richly rewarded if they accept it as such. Some sections clearly derive from homilies on topics like the Lord's Prayer or the temptations in the desert or the parables of the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son. These Benedict has probably polished over years, carefully folding his scholarship into an eloquent language of reflection, exegesis, and exhortation. Other sections feature a more outright engagement with the arguments of (mostly German) biblical scholarship, making points that seem plausible, though here the cautious lay reader (like me) may want to reserve judgment until more returns come in from the scholarly precincts. But in both cases, Benedict constantly weaves the events, prayers, and symbols of the Old Testament with those of the New, producing, to me at least, powerful and fresh insights. (Emphasis added)
Steinfels is correct that if we recognize the work for what it is, it can be helpful.


Monday, August 06, 2007

The New Catholic Manliness???

The link is to Crisis magazine, and I added the question marks to the original title.

My question is whether this macho version of being Catholic has any basis in the teachings of Jesus Christ.

Where in the Gospels or early traditions is there a demand for male Christian athletes who wear muscle shirts with Christian symbols and idealize "saintly warriors"?

The article states men like a challenge in their spirituality. What if the challenge of the Christian message is to embrace being seen as a loser - as weak?

Men like competition. What if being a Christian man means competing to be the most non-violent and least competitive of men?

Men supposedly like intellectually rigorous faith formation. But what if Christ wants heart formation before head formation - the ability to feel and express genuine feelings of love and compassion for others?

What if the reason the Church seems to appeal to women more than men is that Jesus Christ, himself, did not found a religion all that attractive to un-redeemed males?

While I do believe that grace builds on nature, what if the challenege of the Gospel for males is precisely in recognizing that we need to be more open to what we tend to think of as our feminine sides?

What if it is natural in the eyes of the Creator for men to be soft - just like our penises are soft most of the time we are alive - and the Gospel calls us to be in touch with our softer side rather than inordinately and unnaturally seeking to be hard all the time?

What if overemphasizing so-called "manly virtues" actually leads us to act against our God given nature to do the most unnatural things - like dropping bombs on one another?

While the article praises male chastity as a manly virtue, what if chastity is most easily achieved when I really come to perceive the image of God that is fully present in women and children?

What if seeing women as something totally other and objects of temptation makes chastity more difficult?

I do not believe that the Church needs a witness to macho Christianity in the manner I sense this article conveys.

The authentic form of Catholic manliness is to live for others and love others to the point of laying down one's very life.

As hired hands, servants, or slaves, we are most like Christ.

The Gospel seems to say that real men turn the other cheek. The Gospel seems to say that real men don't need to prove themselves stronger or smarter than everyone else.

If anything, we are to be more forgiving, patient, generous, humble and open to listening than everyone else.

The Gospel seems to say that real men are not financially successful, or the best providers, or the best protectors, or the greatest leaders.

Family values may be good and important, but Christ states we must transcend and go beyond family values to truly be his disciples. Our primary loyalty is beyond being a good family man.

The Gospel seems to say that real men are poor in spirit, meek in behavior, merciful of character, able to mourn, pure of heart, peacemakers, obedient to God, and persevering when made a laughingstock for following Jesus in his humility all the way to the cross.

These are the beatitudes, after all.

To imitate the Master is to live one's life for others, reaching out to the marginalized or public outcast and empowering others, rather than puffing up the self.

The self awareness of a Christian man should include being that of a sinner in need of grace, and the image of God when most child-like in trust.

The Christian male should hope to be slandered by those who think him effiminate, weak, maybe gay, a loser, unrealistic, ineffective, and not a repecter of worldly ways and worldly power.

The Christian male is a sign of contradiction to the powers that be in the world - to the powers that have been in place since the Fall and that continue to reign in our own day.

In thought, word, and deed, the Catholic male should not seek to be seen as strong.

Rather, his strength is the inner strength unseen by those caught up in the ways of the world. His wisdom is a hidden wisdom.

It is a strength that can bear a cross and find new life in apparent death, victory in loss, grace in weakness, and so forth. It is a wisdom that finds God in the small and quiet wisper.

Maybe I'm reading a bit too much into the article, but I don't see what is described as a sign of healthy Catholic male spirituality emerging. If anything, it is a cause for concern.


Friday, August 03, 2007

I Want to Know the Truth

I'm feeling sort of down lately.

I have a lot of stress going on in my personal life - my wife's high risk pregnancy, some financial woes, job dissatisfaction, maybe hitting my mid-life crisis, etc....

All of that probably has something to do with the funky mood I'm feeling. And maybe factors like the local heat or hay fever add to the feeling.

I don't blog much about these personal things.

Some of what I am reading is effecting my mood (more to come).

And the way I'm wired seems to be that when I get down in the dumps, my mind gets into an obsessive rut mulling over things that have nothing to do with the more probable trigger of stress.

At the moment, my mind is trying to wrap around the issue of honesty from religious leaders.

And the scope of what I mean by "honesty" is very broad.

By religious leaders, I mean just about anyone in any religion in a broad sense.

Yet the pope, bishops, priests and deacons of the Roman Catholic Church are the most specific focus of my current obsession.

And when I say I am sort of obsessing about "honesty" among the ordained clergy of the Roman Catholic Church, I do not mean to suggest that most of them are deliberately lying about something they know to be untrue.

Rather, I mean that there are certain things I am reasonably certain most ordained clergy believe or know to be true that they do not openly admit without putting a bunch of spin on the truth.

And the thing is, I think they mean it. There's a spinning the truth to the self that goes on....rationalizing, denying, repressing, etc....

Or, sometimes, a question is simply placed on hold ,..., which is fine. If we're "honest", we all have to do this. It's the 'ol, "I don't know, but I'll look it up" sort of thing.

But the problem is that when a question is on hold in your mind, and you act as though or explicitly say it is not on hold when it is.

Let me use what I think is likely a "safe example".

I've been going to daily Mass this week. The first readings have been from Exodus.

Yesterday's reading tells us how Moses' face had become so radiant after receiving the ten commandments that for the rest of his life, he would have to wear a veil - others could not bear to look at him.

The day before, we had heard about how Moses spoke to God "face-to-face" under a pillar a cloud - not just once, but on a regular basis.

All the Hebrew people could see this "cloud by day, pillar of fire by night" and Moses' radiant face that was so bright it seemed to hurt the eyes.

These were the same people who had seen a sea part in two while they walked on dry land.

When I was much younger, I used to think that if I really prayed regularly, and prayed hard enough, and just believed hard enough, I too might come to see the Lord face-to-face, and my face might become radiant and I might be able to levitate, bi-locate, make stigmata appear in my hands and feet, heal lepers with just a touch, etc....

Of course, the scriptures say "When I was a child, I thought like a child, and now that I'm a man, I think like a man."

On the other hand, they also say "Be like little children" and "out of the mouths of babes, comes wisdom to foil the enemy".

I don't deny that the Exodus narrative is jam packed with meaningful images, symbols and narrative - stuff that can be excellent material for an inspiring homily - stories that can be relevant for our own day and age and our own personal lives.

But did Moses' face glow so brightly that it hurt other people's eyes?

After years of regular prayer, and after learning a good bit of theology and a good bit about ancient near east literature and so forth, I am convinced that this is not the way God works.

And I am utterly convinced that the vast majority - perhaps coming close to one hundred percent - of deacons, priests, bishops and even the pope do not take these stories literally.

HOWEVER - and here's where the "honesty" question comes up - if you ask almost any ordained clergy outside of a college level classroom whether this text is to be taken literally in front of "a conservative" likely to argue for literalism, he will hedge.

The closest to honesty he might come is to say something long winded like this: "As Catholics, we believe that with God, all things are possible. All scripture is inspired by God. However, many scholars today believe that these particular passages contain some literary devices common to the era they were written to make theological points. I find some of these arguments plausible, and recent Church teaching supports the efforts of modern scholarship to uncover the truth the authors intended. That doesn't mean that the miraculous is impossible. Nor am I denying that the text has a divinely inspired meaning that is relevant today. If the modern scholars are correct about the intentions of the authors of these passages, the deeper theological points may be the divinely inspired message."

What's wrong with this response?

In one sense, nothing.

It is "honest" in the sense that the deacon, priest or bishop, or even the pope did not lie.

Indeed, it may even be the most accurate response one can make in conveying "the objective truth".

But here's the rub. What if we make the question a bit more pointed in the same context and ask "Based on what you know today, do you, personally, take these passages literally? Yes or no."

We're likely to get the same response.

That's what I see as a sort of dishonesty - even if small. It's a sort of evasiveness.

Everyone at any age can answer the question as it is asked with a "yes" or "no" about these passages without hedging or offering a defense or an explanation.

Indeed, there is a sense that these are the only two possible answers.

"I don't know" is a cop out. "Maybe" is a cop out.

At least in this scenario, it's a cop out. It may not be a cop out to say "I don't know" if you honestly have no opinion or clue, but that can hardly be the case of a priest responding to a question about a Mass reading.

You don't get to take the fifth in your own conscience. In your own opinion TODAY, based on what you know or think you know right NOW, do you take these passages literally?

Of course your answer may change with new information. Of course your answer today may have a low degree of certainty. Of course you may even know that whatever answer you hold today is not well informed, and needs more research.

But if you made it all the way to ordination, meaning you took a bunch of courses in scripture and have certainly heard or read these passages at Mass before, you can answer "yes" or "no" based on what you know today.

And we could run through much of scripture like this. Did Jesus say exactly these words? Yes or no, based on what you know today - just your personal opinion.

I understand that an example like determining Jesus' words can be more difficult.

What if I think Jesus said something substantially the same - almost exactly like - or having the same content - as the Gospel says, but I also believe it is obvious that he could not have used the exact words preserved, since such words did not exist or could not be grammatically constructed in Aramaic?

Well, whoever is asking the question can clarify the rules for whether this is "yes" or "no".

However, I believe that the vast number of ordained clergy accept that there are words attributed to Jesus in the Gospel that aren't even "like" what he said.

It is my belief that the entire ordained clergy - even the young ones who loudly profess their orthodoxy - are more liberal than most conservative laity.

By this, I mean that where a lay person would say, "Yes. Jesus said that." or "Yes. Moses face glowed.", the vast majority of priest would answer "No." if forced to give a simple "yes or no" response.

But they won't outright say the things they believe or know to be true that would piss off conservatives.

Yet, a conservative priest will piss off the liberal laity without compunction, just as the openly liberal priest will piss off the conservative laity.

The difference is that the conservative priest is lying - or withholding the truth - or spinning it in this instance.

I'm not saying that liberals don't lie. I'm just saying that on issues like taking the Bible literally, ordained conservatives are almost always lying when implying that they take a passage literally.

Yes. I know that there are certain questions where a "yes" or "no" is extremely difficult.

"Do you believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus?" is a tougher question to answer simply than "Do you believe Christ is risen?".

And this leads some folks to want to hedge or add clarification.

Actually, I am not so much against adding the clarfication AFTER the "yes" or "No".

Heck, I add all sorts of caveat and nuance to whatever I say.

"No. I do not believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus, if you mean that he rose like Lazarus. Yes. I do believe Christ is risen."

I suppose a sort of hedging is not dishonest....

Ask me if the glorified body of the risen Christ that Paul calls a "spiritual body" is "physical", and I get nervous.

I hedge - but not out so much out of dishonesty as a lack of language to properly describe a mystery.

Resurrection, trinity and some other dogmas are mysteries that cannot be simplified to the "yes" or "no". At some point in describing a mystery, we have to say "I don't know" or "I can say no more" or "it goes beyond words and reason".

But it is not really a mystery whether I believe at a given moment in time whether clouds of fire hovered over the wandering hebrews in the sense described in Exodus.

If my answer is "yes", describing those clouds may take us into the realm of mystery - but I can answer "yes" or "no" as to whether some strange phenomenon observed by thousands of people over a long period of time occurred or not.

This whole issue is important because it may have to do with how we are going to take a passage of Leviticus on homosexuality, or a passage where the Israelites go to war, or a passage where Moses commands the death penalty.

Let me move into deeper waters than whether Moses' face glowed in the dark.

Ask a priest, "yes" or "no" if he is gay.

Many times, you simply will not get a "yes" or "no" answer.

Or, you'll get those who do a sort of mental reservation. They'll answer "no" because they define "gay" as being sexually active ,...., or as supporting a so-called gay life-style ,..., or as making sexual inclinations central to "identity".

In other words, they know darn well know that their own inclinations are predominately to exclusively homosexual, but they find ways to answer the question with a "no" by defining the term differently than the questioner may have intended.

To me, that's lying if done freely and knowingly. It's immoral.

You'll also have those who outright tell the more common bold-faced lie with no mental reservation. They know they are gay by any definition you want to use, but will say "no" anyway to protect themselves.

Again, this would be immoral, except by proportionate reasoning if the threat is grave and unjust.

You'll also have those who lie to themselves. They have predominate to exclusive same sex attractions, and have had them all their lives. But they somehow convince themselves that being gay is something different from their own experience.

This sort of dishonesty may not be immoral, per se. But it is dishonest in the end - and not healthy.

And there will be those who will object to the "yes" or "no" way of asking such a question - going into long winded explanations that sexuality is more fluid than most people tend to think, and bisexuality is a possibility, and there are many homosexualities, and so forth.

But even if you try to nail down the question as precisely as you can, asking something like "If we define homosexuality as same gender sexual attraction that is predominate to exclusive, whether acted on or not, based on your subjective experience so far, are you homosexual, yes or no?"

This is a question that would seem to have a "yes" or "no" question for everyone, at least as of today.

Yet, even with such a precisely worded question, you will often not get a "yes" or "no".

It is my belief that more than half the ordained clergy would have to answer this question "yes" if they were being honest.

Many would argue "who cares?" or "why does it matter?".

Well, truth matters.

It matters even when it is not doctrinal truth we seek.

For example, prior to the invasion of Iraq, it mattered whether we believed Iraq possessed WMDs. This was a question of fact with a "yes" or "no" answer.

Of course, the "yes" or "no" question could only be answered by an American with a caveat of "what we know today".

And it matters whether Bush actually believed Iraq possessed WMDs on March 19, 2003, and what he based his beliefs upon.

It matters that he was either mistaken or lying.

It matters whether the majority of priests are gay simply because the very question is a question of fact with a "yes" or "no" answer.

But the answer might have some bearing on a number of things. If the answer is currently "yes", does a 2005 Vatican instruction barring gay men from being ordained make a lick of sense?

If the answer is "yes", could it be that mandatory celibacy has unintentionally excluded heterosexual men who have a genuine calling to priesthood for centuries while serving as a safe haven for homosexuals in prior eras?

If the only openly gay priests we know about are the Paul Shanley's, does it do the homosexual community any good for gay priests to remain closeted?

Not only will you not get a simple answer from each individual priest you ask, but if you begin asking around too much, I predict the Church would make efforts to stop you....or find creative ways to dismiss your results.

It's not just these two issues I think about with this whole "honesty" thing that is bugging me lately.

The sex abuse scandal is much on my mind with the $660 M payout in Los Angelos and a book I have been reading by David France entitles Our Fathers: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal.

What France describes is a deeper degree of dishonesty than I ever imagined possible among clergy.

And in a way that is analogous to everything I have spelled out above, the dishonesty involves different forms of dishonesty.

There is the desire to avoid scandal. There is the spinning the message. There is the redefining of words. There is the deliberate attempt to withhold or conceal truth - the cover up. There is the lying to themselves that bishops and priests did. There's even out-right blatant lies that were told.

At times, simple mistakes were made. At times, perhaps false allegations appear to have been made.

But the number of times and the manner of dishonesty described by France is overwhelming.

There was also strong coercion used to compell victims into the cover up, ranging from threats of hell to smear campaigns to threats.

It seems that the primary reason survivors went to court was to make the truth heard.

Perhaps reading this book is contributing strongly to my depressed mood.

The scope of what France describes is equal in magnitude to what I would expect from a deadly cult or the mafia.

It is that evil in its effect - though there are so many cases where clergy lied to themselves that it is hard to determine if many are morally culpable.

Judgment belongs to God alone anyway. So I do not really need to know who is morally culpable for all the harm done by the sex abuse scandals.

What I am trying to point out, however, is that it is my belief that most of the clergy are not being honest with us laity.

Half the time they are being dishonest, they don't even know it. The other half, it isn't so much that they frequently tell an untruth. It is more often that the truth is spun, redefined, withheld or obfuscated with excessive nuances.

And the issues where I feel the clergy are being dishonest run far and wide - from biblical interpretation to whether Humanae Vitae is true to women's ordination and married priesthood and homosexuality to a priests own personal struggles or those of his brothers.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Is Big Government Inevitable?

Of course, the war in Iraq is an extreme exercise in big government. Further, the erosion of civil rights under neoconservative Republicans is hardly what libertarians or paleoconservative Republican advocates of limited government have argued for a long time.

Despite the neoconservative dominance of the current administration and the Republican party in recent years, we still often hear arguments from the right for limited government. Ron Paul's primary candidacy is trying to give voice to these principles.

Yet, I believe a paradigm shift may be occurring, even among conservatives, where libertarian attitudes are slowly eroding under the weight of reality.

Last Tuesday, in a post entitled Green Conservatism, Andrew Sullivan stated:

Of course, to some extent, the environment involves a public good that only the state can regulate.... It's foolish to deny this.
Sullivan is not generally an advocate of big government. Thus, I found it interesting that he admits, as a conservative, that government must be involved in protecting the environment.

In today's Washington Post, two more columnist weigh in that big government is simply inevitable, though health care and the aging population are the issues that make it obvious to each.

The articles are not written by "conservatives".

At the same time, the columns highlight trends among conservatives, politicians, and the business community and the general population that show that big government is more and more becoming seen as an inevitability, regardless of what anyone may wish.

In Who's For Big Government, E.J. Dionne, Jr. argues the following:
One of the most predictable arguments is also one of the most useless: that politics comes down to a choice between being for "big government" or "small government." Those catchphrases explain remarkably little about what politicians do or what voters want....

..., inconsistencies apply even to that dreaded concept "socialized medicine." Last week, American auto companies opened what will be difficult negotiations with the United Auto Workers union. The toughest issue will be health care. General Motors paid $4.8 billion for health care last year, including $3 billion for retirees. Is it any wonder that the good capitalists at GM and the other car companies would love the government to pick up some of these costs?

"There's been an enormous paradigm shift in the business community," says Gov. Jennifer Granholm, a Democrat who has led Michigan during the crisis in the auto industry. Health care, she said, has "gone from being a moral issue to being an economic issue," meaning that business leaders who once had objections in principle to government-led health-care reform now have a powerful interest in making it happen.

Shrewd industrialists who love the free-enterprise system have noticed how "countries that have big-government health care" are at a competitive advantage, Granholm said in a telephone interview, and "they're asking government to help them out."
If Dionne is correct that big business sees big-government health care as providing a competitive advantage, that practically ends the debate.

Whether morally right, wrong, or neutral, if Dionne is correct, big money will go to candidates who support big-government health care.

In Making the Think Tanks Think, Robert J. Samuelson argues similarly that big government is inevitable:
Just in case you haven't noticed, the major presidential candidates -- Republican and Democratic -- are dodging one of the thorniest problems they would face if elected: the huge budget costs of aging baby boomers....

Consider the outlook. From 2005 to 2030, the 65-and-over population will nearly double, to 71 million; its share of the population will rise to 20 percent from 12 percent. Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid -- programs that serve older people -- already exceed 40 percent of the $2.7 trillion federal budget. By 2030, their share could hit 75 percent of the present budget, projects the Congressional Budget Office.

These projections are daunting. To keep federal spending stable as a share of the economy would mean eliminating all defense spending and most other domestic programs (for research, homeland security, the environment, etc.). To balance the budget with existing programs at their present economic shares would require, depending on assumptions, tax increases of 30 to 50 percent -- or budget deficits could quadruple. A final possibility: Cut retirement benefits by increasing eligibility ages, being less generous to wealthier retirees or trimming all payments....

Liberals might have to concede that government could grow too large and that spending and benefit cuts are needed. Conservatives might have to concede that, even with plausible benefit and spending cuts, tomorrow's government would be bigger than today's.
I do not see any way to embrace limited government libertarianism as traditionally understood when faced with current realities.


The Unnoticed Casualties of War

A recent study by JAMA reveals that children of the troops are more likely than other children to suffer neglect and abuse while one of the parents is deployed in war.