Saturday, December 17, 2016

“A civil war is in progress in the [Roman Catholic] Church”

“A civil war is in progress in the Church”:
“A civil war is in progress in the Church” .... The conflict was opened, consciously or not, by Pope Francis himself, most of all after the Exhortation Amoris laetitia, and today the Church is not advancing but sinking, into a ground furrowed by crevices and deep divisions.

Someone compared the failure of Pope Francis’ pontificate to that of Barack Hussein Obama. What Washington took eight years to accomplish has now happened in Rome after 3 years: the passage from the euphoria of the first hour to the final depression, having totally missed the targets that had been pre-established. Yet, it would be a mistake to read Pope Francis’ pontificate in purely political terms. Pope Francis would never have been able to pronounce Obama’s “Yes, we can”. For a Pope, unlike a politician, not everything is possible. The Supreme Pontiff has supreme power, full and immediate over the entire Church, but cannot change the Divine Law that Jesus Christ gave to His Church, nor the natural law that God has impressed in the heart of every man. He is the Vicar of Christ, but not his successor.

Even Roman Catholics see the corrosive, duplicitous, and laughable nature of Pope Bergoglio’s “Amoris Laetitia”

The rhetorical strategy to debunk the dubia:
As you read through these talking points, you might notice some contradictions. We’re saying that it’s all very simple, yet we’re saying that it’s all very complex. We’re insisting that “Rome has spoken,” yet the whole point is that Rome has not spoken, leaving fundamental questions up to individual priests. We’re inveighing against “clericalism,” yet giving priests enormous new powers with no means of accountability. We’re saying that the Pope is a pastor rather than a lawmaker, yet we’re trying to lay down the law. We’re telling people that Amoris Laetitia upholds the traditional Church teaching, yet we’re making fun of that teaching. These are not comfortable arguments to make. That’s why we’re trying to end the debate quickly. When in doubt, remember point #1: Don’t talk about the dubia.

Companion plots

I've said I don't think Christians have a duty to bury their dead. I think the choice between burial and cremation is adiaphorous. Cemeteries are of value to the living, not the dead. If survivors visit the cemetery, then burial is beneficial. But after a generation or two, the grave will be neglected and forgotten.

Traditionally, married couples used to buy companion plots. These were two burial plots side-by-side. Typically, one spouse predeceased the other (unless both happened to die in an accident or plague), and was buried first. The surviving spouse would be buried beside their spouse. The tombstone already had a birthdate, while the date of death would be filled in when the time came. 

I think that arrangement is commendable–for couples who can afford it. Admittedly, this is all about symbolism, but the symbolism is potent. It sends a message about an outlook on life that may be alien to many people with a post-Christian worldview.

Just in general, cemeteries make death a public fact. They don't conceal death. Cemeteries are a visible and enduring reminder of our inevitable mortality. That's something many people avoid thinking about.

In addition, companion plots symbolize ultimate devotion. Where you marry someone with the intention of remaining together for the rest of your life. And even in death, a companion plot is a token of their inseparable bond. Love that's stronger than death (Canticles 8:6). 

Again, it's just an emblem of their devotion. Only God can actually reunite the dead. But it's a powerful witness to the world.

Marriage is sacrificial. Due to our mortality, and the brevity of life, we can only make our life with one person at a time, and we only have one life. Life is a card we can only play once. That deck will not be reshuffled.

Marriage opens up many opportunities within the bonds of matrimony, but by the same token, it forecloses many other opportunities. To make your life with one person, to have children by one person, is to foreclose the opportunity to make your life with someone else, or have children by someone else. 

Even if, due to divorce or premature widowhood, you remarry, you can't really start over again, because you can't make up for the lost years. That's time you will never get back. The hourglass only has so many grains of sand. Time is running out. 

There are forks in the road of life where you must choose to go right or left. You can't do both. Whichever road you take you must take all the way to the end. By going down one road, you deny yourself the chance to explore other roads. That makes certain choices momentous. You give up a lot in the hopes of getting a lot in return. It's a gamble. You bet everything on that particular relationship–for better or worse. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

Blue lagoon

There are well-meaning evangelicals who wish to reach out and minister to professing Christians who experience homosexual attraction. This takes different forms. One form promotes reparative therapy. Another form rejects reparable therapy and promotes celibacy. Both forms rightly reject homosexual activity as a live option, since that's diametrically opposed to Christian ethics. 

I'd like to take a comparison. Suppose a private jet with a half dozen teenagers, plus the pilot, crashes on a tropical island, killing all but two passengers.

The two survivors are male and female. They make a signal fire, arrange rocks on the sandy beach to spell S.O.S, and patiently wait to be rescued. But after a few months it becomes depressingly clear that no one is looking for them. Although there would have been frantic initial efforts to find them, by that time search-and-rescue efforts have been called off. No one has any idea where the plane went down, and they are presumed dead. Hence, our two teenagers can't count on anyone ever discovering them. They may have to live out their lives on the remote island. Thankfully, it has fresh water, fruit trees, wild pigs, high ground, a cave for shelter, a lagoon for fishing, and a leeward side for protection from squalls and gales. Plus some useful tools from the plane. (That's one of the advantages of fiction. I can ensure a well-equipped island!)

Now, if these were normal teenagers, it doesn't take much imagination to figure out how they'd pass time in-between chores. But here's the catch: let's say the guy is homosexual. 

Ordinarily, he'd ignore the girl, but since she's his only human companion, do you really think he'll be remain Platonic? Given the available options, wouldn't he adjust to that situation much like a straight male? Even if that's not his preference–and it's not exactly the girl's first pick–isn't that what he'll fall back on, under the circumstances? After all, he's still designed to have sexual relations with a member of the opposite sex, and find it physically enjoyable. Not only is he perfectly capable of adapting to that role, but he may even take a liking to the girl.

Nowadays, how many homosexual males even give themselves a chance to find out if they have an undeveloped capacity to love a woman? They've been drilled into believing that their condition is immutable, so they jump right into homosexual liaisons. And it probably gels them in that direction. 

This doesn't mean the guy in my hypothetical scenario will necessary turn into 100% straight male. I'm not making any predictions.

I'm just making the point that given the male sex drive, I strongly suspect that if a homosexual male found himself in that situation, he'd opt for a sexual relationship with a female rather than a sexless relationship. But how often does that possibility eve occur to homosexuals–especially in a culture that fanatically steers them away from ever considering it. The purpose of my scenario is for someone in that condition to imagine what he'd do in that situation. Take away the male competition. If what's left is a woman of the same age, won't he choose that over nothing? And having done so, he may find there's more to be found in that relationship than he ever expected. 

In Shantung Compound

Al Mohler relates the following:

[A] professor assigned me to read Shantung Compound by theologian Langdon Gilkey of the University of Chicago Divinity School. Gilkey was in many ways the opposite to Liddell. Gilkey was a theological liberal whose father, famously liberal, had been the first dean of the chapel at the University of Chicago. Langdon Gilkey had gone to China to teach English after graduating from Harvard. He found himself interred with Eric Liddell.

In Shantung Compound, Gilkey analyzed what happens when men and women are put under extraordinary pressure. He argued that the worst moral dilemmas in Weihsien came not from their Japanese captors, but from the prisoners themselves. His point was that, for many if not most of the captured, the experience brought out the worst in them, rather than the best. He changed the names of those inside the camp when he told their stories.

There were a few moral exceptions. Gilkey wrote of one exceptional individual, a missionary he named “Eric Ridley.” Gilkey wrote: “It is rare indeed when a person has the good fortune to meet a saint, but he came as close to it as anyone I have ever known.” Gilkey described how Liddell had largely single-handedly resolved the crisis of a breakout of teenage sexual activity in the camp. In the midst of a moral breakdown, with no societal structures to restrain behavior, few even seemed to want to help.

Gilkey made this observation: “There was a quality seemingly unique to the missionary group, namely, naturally and without pretense to respond to a need which everyone else recognized only to turn aside. Much of this went unnoticed, but our camp could scarcely have survived as well as it did without it. If there were any evidences of the grace of God observable on the surface of our camp existence, they were to be found here.”

Gilkey had renamed individuals as he wrote about them, but he described “Eric Ridley” as having won the 400 meter race at the Olympics for England before going to China as a missionary. Eric Ridley was Eric Liddell, and Langdon Gilkey was writing of a man he has observed so closely as a living saint. I realized that Langdon Gilkey had told the most important part of Eric Liddell’s story long before Chariots of Fire.

Gilkey closed his words about Erid Liddell with these: “Shortly before the camp ended, he was stricken with a brain tumor and died the same day. The entire camp, especially its youth, was stunned for days, so great was the vacuum that Eric’s death had left.”

A difference, to be a difference, must make a difference

Reposting an exchange I recently had with a Catholic church historian on Facebook:

1. In my experience, when Catholic apologists attack the Protestant faith, they stress the certainties afforded by a Magisterium, but when Protestants attack the Catholic faith, Catholic apologists suddenly take refuge in uncertainties. Any evidence that might falsify Catholicism is relegated to something insufficiently authoritative. Certainty, which had been so accessible when attacking the Protestant faith becomes inaccessible when Protestants counterattack. Now you see it, now you don't. When Catholic apologists are on the offensive, they advertise certainty. When Catholic apologists are on the defensive, they play hide and seek.

2. You ask, what constitutes sufficient evidence? It depends. Sufficient for what?

Let's distinguish between reasonable belief and dutiful belief. I have many beliefs for which I have sufficient evidence to be justified or warranted in which I believe. 

That, however, is different from the claim that God requires me to believe certain things. I can and do believe many things without having a divine obligation to believe them. 

Catholicism takes the position that in addition to Biblical revelation, I'm duty-bound to believe Catholic dogmas. It is sinful to disbelieve them. Indeed, it may be a mortal sin. For instance:

We declare, pronounce, and define that the doctrine which holds that the most Blessed Virgin Mary, in the first instance of her conception, by a singular grace and privilege granted by Almighty God, in view of the merits of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the human race, was preserved free from all stain of original sin, is a doctrine revealed by God and therefore to be believed firmly and constantly by all the faithful.

Hence, if anyone shall dare -- which God forbid! -- to think otherwise than as has been defined by us, let him know and understand that he is condemned by his own judgment; that he has suffered shipwreck in the faith; that he has separated from the unity of the Church; and that, furthermore, by his own action he incurs the penalties established by law if he should are to express in words or writing or by any other outward means the errors he think in his heart. "Ineffabilis Deus"

By the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul, and by our own authority, we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory.

Hence if anyone, which God forbid, should dare willfully to deny or to call into doubt that which we have defined, let him know that he has fallen away completely from the divine and Catholic Faith. It is forbidden to any man to change this, our declaration, pronouncement, and definition or, by rash attempt, to oppose and counter it. If any man should presume to make such an attempt, let him know that he will incur the wrath of Almighty God and of the Blessed Apostles Peter and Paul. "Munificentissimus Deus."

What is sufficient evidence to justifiably believe something has a much lower threshold than what is sufficient evidence that I have a sacred duty to believe something, failing which I have sinned (perhaps a damnable sin, no less).

3. You said:

Just as you say that the "church of Rome" is a 'short-sighted, uninspired institution,' so many atheists insist that the Bible is nothing more than a collection of ancient books containing a savage 'Iron Age' (or sometimes, less accurately, 'Bronze Age') view of the world.

i) One problem with that analogy is that unless the evidence for Catholicism is comparable to the evidence for Scripture, it's reasonable to make allowances for Scripture that I wouldn't or shouldn't make for Catholicism. 

ii) Moreover, Another problem with your comparison is that when I interpret the Bible or defend the Bible, original intent is one of my hermeneutical principles. (Prophecy is a partial exception inasmuch as prophecies are forward-looking, so the perspective of the prophet isn't the only salient consideration. There's the timeframe of the prophet as well as the timeframe of the predicted event. So we have to take past and future viewpoints into account.)

By contrast, reinterpreting traditional positions is the opposite of original intent. So your comparison is disanalogous. You compared criticisms of Catholicism to criticisms of the Bible. 

ii) Furthermore, it would be necessary for you to unpack that comparison in detail. Hypothetically speaking, the Bible (indeed, Christianity) is falsifiable. Take Paul's statement about the Resurrection. 

Now, if (ex hypothesi) we discovered the bones of Jesus in the tomb, some theologians would say Christianity is still true. We just need to redefine the Resurrection. But Paul, for one, denies that Christianity is that flexible. Because it's based on ostensible historical events, it can't remain true if the foundational events never happened. 

I keep making this analogy because your complete dismissal of the unbeliever's perspective is one of the most consistent features of your posts. And, alas, even Jerry, who should know better, has been falling into the same error. You keep attacking Catholicism on grounds that logically refute Christianity as a whole.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I'm guessing that you're a theological moderate. You don't subscribe to the inerrancy of Scripture. You don't think Gen 1-11 is historical. You don't think the Exodus happened, or if it did, it was nothing like Biblical descriptions. I'm guessing you don't think the Gospels are consistently historical. 

If so, your comparison is predicated a flexibility in your own position that's not analogous to my own position. The problem is with an ad hoc plasticity, which we impose on past events or past statements, rather than deriving from past events or past statements, whereby we make these adjustable to the perceived demands of modernity. Interjecting enough fudge factors that you can never say something was wrong or fundamentally wrong. It's an intellectual compromise that works for some people, but a makeshift compromise that lacks any principle other than indefinite adaptability.

I keep making this analogy because your complete dismissal of the unbeliever's perspective is one of the most consistent features of your posts.

I don't simply "dismiss" the unbeliever's perspective. I go out of my way to find the best exponents of atheism, then present a detailed critique of their arguments.

4. I don't always need to reinvent the wheel. When I cite supporting material by, say, Cardinal Dulles, that's a sympathetic source. I'd add that on Facebook it's more convenient to cite online material. That's something readily accessible to readers in a way that print media is not. 

Of course, Dulles isn't going to say the Magisterium falsified its claim to be a divine teaching office. As a Catholic prelate, he's committed to the system. So he and like-minded defenders will invoke escape clauses to show how these radical changes are someone consistent with essential continuity. Escape clauses invented on the spot for just that purpose. 

But in the course of his historical overviews, he lays out evidence for drastic changes in traditional positions. If that's consistent with the divine guidance of the Magisterium, what would be inconsistent with divine guidance? Within Catholicism, with its ace in the hole regarding gradations of authority, what would ever count as evidence against the system? 

5. Another problem is that these reassessments of traditional theology are necessarily retrospective. No one living in the Middle Ages (say) would understand these positions the way they've been domesticated by modern Catholic theologians, popes, and bishops. As a result, everything in Catholic theology is up for grabs, since the standard of comparison is no longer the past or present, but the future. Not what is or has been, but what might be. 

The church of Rome is like Neurath's ship, which undergoes constant remodeling after it leaves dry dock. You can no longer say what Catholicism is or means because that's subject to some unforeseeable future revision or reinterpretation. What is ever truly definitive? What is ever truly authoritative? 

6. Let's begin with a principle. Gertrude Stein famously said "A difference, to be a difference, must make a difference."

One way of testing whether the church of Rome has a divine teaching office is to ask what difference the presence or absence of a divine teaching office would make in Catholic historical theology. There must be a discernible difference. Let's begin one example I cited, from Cardinal Dulles. Among other things, he says:

The views of Augustine and Fulgentius remained dominant in the Christian West throughout the Middle Ages. The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) reaffirmed the formula “Outside the Church, no salvation,” as did Pope Boniface VIII in 1302. At the end of the Middle Ages, the Council of Florence (1442) repeated the formulation of Fulgentius to the effect that no pagan, Jew, schismatic, or heretic could be saved.

A major theological development occurred in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The voyages of discovery had by this time disclosed that there were large populations in North and South America, Africa, and Asia who had lived since the time of Christ and had never had access to the preaching of the gospel. The missionaries found no sign that even the most upright among these peoples had learned the mysteries of the Trinity and the Incarnation by interior inspirations or angelic visitations.

Pope Pius IX incorporated some of their ideas in two important statements in 1854 and 1863. In the first, he said that, while no one can be saved outside the Church, God would not punish people for their ignorance of the true faith if their ignorance was invincible. In the second statement, Pius went further. He declared that persons invincibly ignorant of the Christian religion who observed the natural law and were ready to obey God would be able to attain eternal life, thanks to the workings of divine grace within them.

Paul Knitter makes the same point:

i) That's not a development of doctrine, but a retraction of a traditional position that had been reaffirmed by two ecumenical councils and Pope Boniface VIII. That isn't "nuance". That's not a logical development of the principle. Rather, that's a radical departure from the principle. 

ii) If, moreover, you maintain that it's somehow internally consistent, you can only do so be resorting to radical skepticism concerning how official church teaching can be understood. That's not how the principle was understood in the Middle Ages, at the highest levels of the Magisterium. If past Magisterial statements can be that drastically reinterpreted, then there's no presumption that our understanding of modern Magisterial statements is any more stable in light of some future reinterpretation. 

iii) At best, it could be argued that this was an attempt to reconcile the traditional principle of "Extra ecclesiam nulla salus" with the belief of some Medieval theologians regarding God's universal salvific will. Yet that would mean you had a tension in Catholic theology between the traditional position (Extra ecclesiam nulla salus) and a newer, emerging position regarding the scope of God's salvific will. 

But how would this outcome be any different if the Catholic church never had a divine teaching office in the first place? Indeed, isn't this logjam exactly what we'd expect from an organization that can't see ahead, and therefore stakes out untenable positions from which it must later extricate itself? 

Even supposing that's consistent with a divine teaching office, it's equally consistent with no divine teaching office at all. What's your evidence to distinguish the effects of a divine teaching office from its absence? When modern Catholic theologians begin retrofitting Catholic theology in light of unforeseen contingencies like the discovery of pagans in the New World, how is that distinguishable from an organization that made the wrong call the first time around? 

7. Let's take another example: What's the official ecclesiology in Vatican II? Is it the more collegial, conciliarist model that the majority of bishops voted for, or is it the more ultamontane model in the "explanatory note" of Paul VI?

Paul VI was clearly alarmed by what the bishops promulgated, so he overruled it with his explanatory note. Yet these two competing models of ecclesiology bump up against each other in the final edition. Both were codified at the same council. 

If you think that train wreck is consistent with a divine teaching office, that's equally consistent with the absence of a divine teaching office. What appreciable difference did the stipulated divine teaching office make to the results? Indeed, wouldn't we expect a divine teaching office to be able to head off that train wreck in advance, rather than letting the two trains collide, then leaving it to onlookers to decide which has the upper hand?

8. Here's another example:

Before Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was defined, all theological faculties in the world were consulted for their opinion. Our teachers’ answer was emphatically negative... ’Tradition’ was identified with what could be proved on the basis of texts. Altaner, the patrologist from Würzburg...had proven in a scientifically persuasive manner that the doctrine of Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was unknown before the fifth century; this doctrine, therefore, he argued, could not belong to the ‘apostolic tradition.’ And this was his conclusion, which my teachers at Munich shared. This argument is compelling if you understand ‘tradition’ strictly as the handling down of fixed formulas and texts...But if you conceive of ‘tradition’ as a living process whereby the Holy Spirit introduces us to the fullness of truth and teaches us how to understand what previously we could still not grasp (cf. Jn 16:12-13), then subsequent ‘remembering’ (cf. Jn 16:4, for instance) can come to recognize what it had not caught sight of previously and yet w as handed down in the original Word, Milestones (Ignatius, 1998), 58-59.

Notice that this involves a twofold theological innovation:

i) To begin with, the particular doctrine (Assumption of Mary) is a theological innovation. It was unknown before the 5C. 

ii) In addition, the theory of development is a theological innovation. It represents a fundamental break with how the church of Rome used to define sacred tradition. Notice that the Assumption of Mary was promulgated despite unanimous opposition of Catholic theological faculties at the time. That's not just because the doctrine itself lacks traditional pedigree, but because the justification is yet another theology innovation. 

iii) It will hardly suffice to say "Catholicism allows for theological development" when that, in itself, represents a repeal of the traditional criterion.

9. Or consider how Mark Daviau blew off the question of whether the Leonine-era strictures of the PBC regarding the historicity and traditional authorship of Scripture are still in force. He indicated that the PBC strictures regarding the Pentateuch and Isaiah are passé. He was less clear about the PBC strictures regarding the Gospels. 

So there's another dilemma: were those pronouncements authoritative or not? If Magisterial teaching can become defunct in barely a century, what confidence should Catholics have in Magisterial teaching generally? What's the official status of the anti-modernist policies promulgated under Pius IX and Leo XIII? Has that been "developed" out of existence? If so, the evolution of Catholic theology is moving at light speed.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Victor Stenger’s Scientific Critique of Christian Belief

Roman mojo

Let's consider the concept of church office. Before we do that, let's consider the concept of office. An office is a permanent position with temporary incumbents. Officeholders come and go but the office remains. There are many political examples of this, viz. kings, queens, presidents, prime ministers, senators, governors, mayors, generals.

Succession, in this sense, is to take over the same duties and responsibilities. 

There's a difference between succession within that official framework, and instituting that framework in the first place. Take the founder of a company. He may create administrators who will run the company after he dies or retires. But they don't succeed him in the sense of doing the same thing he did. He was the only founder. And he may have greater authority than they did, since he started the operation from scratch. He makes the rules.

Or take the transition from monarchy to democracy. Say revolutionaries abolish the monarchy and establish a representative form of government based on elective office. Before that, you had royal succession. Now you have officeholders. Within each system, processors and successors are comparable to each other, but members of one system aren't comparable to members of another system. Kings aren't comparable to elected officials. There's a paradigm shift between the role of a founder and the custodial role of officeholders. Successive officeholders didn't create the office. Their duties and responsibilities are determined by the office, whereas the founder determines the official duties and responsibilities in the first place. As the founder, his own prerogatives may be different, and more extensive, then the offices he institutes. He isn't bound by those constraints. Rather, he functions outside the system he instituted. Within the system, it's the same kind of relationship, from one incumbent to the next. But the relationship between a founder and his initial appointees or deputies is not the same kind of thing. His constitutive role is unique, including the constitutive prerogatives. 

The fact that the apostles chose elders to carry on their work doesn't amount to "apostolic succession" in the sense of transferring their teaching authority to elders. That's not a logical implication of church office. That's like saying the first president is the successor to the last king. But that's equivocal. The position of president is very different from the position of an absolute monarch. 

Moreover, nothing in the concept of church office requires a continuous line of succession. If, for some reason, church office was interrupted for a century, it could restart. The concept of office can be operative whether or not you have any officeholders. 

Consider a hypothetical situation in which Christianity is systematically persecuted to the point where Christians die out. There are no Christians for a century. Then the brutal regime implodes. People rediscover the Bible, become Christians, and reinitialize the system of elders and deacons. It can start up at any time or place. Indeed, that happens on the mission field. It's just a question of observing the job description in the Pastorals. 

Here's what the Catholic catechism says about apostolic succession:

77 "In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them their own position of teaching authority."35 Indeed, "the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time."36
78 This living transmission, accomplished in the Holy Spirit, is called Tradition, since it is distinct from Sacred Scripture, though closely connected to it. Through Tradition, "the Church, in her doctrine, life and worship, perpetuates and transmits to every generation all that she herself is, all that she believes."37 "The sayings of the holy Fathers are a witness to the life-giving presence of this Tradition, showing how its riches are poured out in the practice and life of the Church, in her belief and her prayer."38
79 The Father's self-communication made through his Word in the Holy Spirit, remains present and active in the Church: "God, who spoke in the past, continues to converse with the Spouse of his beloved Son. And the Holy Spirit, through whom the living voice of the Gospel rings out in the Church - and through her in the world - leads believers to the full truth, and makes the Word of Christ dwell in them in all its richness."39

Problem is, you can't infer that from what the NT says about elders. The Catholic paradigm is analogous to witchdoctor to transfers his mojo to his apprentice. There's this "power" that must be transmitted from one person to the next by direct contact, like an electrical current. If the flow of energy is stopped, it can't jump over the circuit breaker and resume on the other side. The Catholic paradigm is a pagan paradigm, based on magic. A magician conveys his magical powers to a successor. If he dies before transfing his mojo, it dies with him. He's the vessel of the mojo. Unless he touches someone, and empties his mojo into a new vessel, it ends with him. 

Responding To Christmas Books By Raymond Brown, John Dominic Crossan, Et Al.

I recently changed the Featured Post at the top of our sidebar on the right side of the screen. What's linked there is an updated collection of my reviews of Christmas books. You'll now find links to reviews at Goodreads, in addition to the ones here and at Amazon. Generally, the Triablogue reviews are the lengthiest, and the Goodreads ones are the shortest, with the Amazon reviews falling somewhere between those two.


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Informed consent and the Virgin Birth

On Facebook, I got into a debate with John Mark Reynolds on the Virgin Birth. Reynolds is Eastern Orthodox, and I take it he's a freewill theist. 

God is not a rapist and came with consent.

Do Biblical prophets consent to be prophets? Did Moses consent to that? Or Jeremiah? Or Ezekiel? Or St. Paul. They had pretty grueling lives. Let's drop the demagogical "rapist" label, shall we?

"Demagogical" is the old ethical. No. The prophets did indeed consent to be prophets. As did Saint Paul . . .

Let me suggest: to conceive a child without full consent (knowing what one is getting into) is rape. It is bad.

Really? Did Jeremiah know what he was getting into? "You deceived me, Lord, and I was deceived; you overpowered me and prevailed. I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me" (Jer 20:7). Is that your notion of informed consent?

Moses is a paradigm of the reluctant prophet. So is Jonah. It's a real stretch for you to claim that consented to be prophets.

You think parents know what they are getting into? Did the parents of Ted Bundy or Jeffrey Dahmer know what they were getting into?

What about the parents of a boy who becomes a hopeless drug addict and commits suicide? 

There's a continuum. At one extreme there's having no idea what you're getting into. At the other extreme is exhaustive foreknowledge or counterfactual knowledge. Only God has that. In-between those two extremes are many gradations of knowing and not knowing. 

Hasn't John Mark Reynolds made decisions which, with the benefit of hindsight, he would not have made? Events often turn out differently than we expected, going in.

What about a man who marries a women who later develops a degenerative illness like MS or Huntington's disease. He didn't know what he was getting into. In some cases, if he had the benefit of foresight, some men would have married a different woman.

Given JMR's strictures, does he think a man in that situation has grounds to divorce his wife since he lacked informed consent when he said "I do"? 

If not, then where does that leave his original argument?

i) If you're mistaken, you called God a rapist. Don't you think you ought to be more circumspect? You're prepared to call God a rapist based on your a priori stipulation that to conceive a child without "full consent," which you define as "knowing what one is getting into," is "rape". I'm curious about people who are so utterly confident in their intuitions that they have no hesitation about making potentially defamatory statements about God. How is that distinguishable from hubris or impudence? 

ii) But let's play along with your stipulation. Since Jesus only had one biological parent, in principle, God could have made Joseph the biological parent rather than Mary. Suppose he miraculously created a temporary womb in Joseph and made Joseph the surrogate "mother" or incubator of Jesus. If he did so without securing Joseph's "full consent," would he be guilty of "raping" Joseph?

iii) Actually, there's nothing about consent in the account of the Annunciation. Gabriel simply gives Mary advance notice of what's going to happen. He doesn't come to Mary with a proposal from God and ask for her to vote it up or down. It's not a request, but a prediction. It gives her an opportunity to prepare for what awaits her. 

iv) Suppose, for argument's sake, that Mary had no warning. Suppose she simply become pregnant by direct divine agency. She'd be unaware of the process by which she became pregnant. The agency of the God in effecting that result would be indetectable. How is that equivalent to rape? 

Lots of things happen to us without our consent to, including bad things. Take cancer or degenerative illnesses. Is that equivalent to divine rape?

"I do think you need informed consent to have sex and make a baby."

Since the virginal conception didn't involve sex–which is what makes it virginal–your comparison is already disanalogous.

"I do think a lack of consent is rape"

That's so simplistic. Although it's true that rape is nonconsensual, that's hardly a sufficient criterion. As we know, rape involves a man physically forcing himself on an unwilling woman. That, in turn, generates psychological trauma.

Suppose Gabriel hadn't given Mary advance notice. Even though she didn't consent, none of the other elements would be present. It trades on the odious connotations of rape without most of the elements we normally associate with rape.

"We marry for better or worse or in sickness or in health to having considered the weight of our decision."

But that's an abstraction. How is massive ignorance of the future compatible with informed consent? You have two principles that tug in opposing directions: risky commitment and informed consent. 

You duck the point that we often make decisions we later regret because we had to act on the information which we had at the time, which turned out to be inadequate to make an informed decision. That's a commonplace of human experience. 

"This is why modern vows are so risky…As for having a child, when I have a child I choose the risk."

What makes it risky is ignorance of the consequences. Informed consent and risk pull in opposing directions. Risky because we don't know the future. You need to come down on one side or the other of your conflicting principles. 

"Second, God isn't the proximate cause of evils like cancer."

That's getting a bit offtrack, but since you bring it up, although God is not the proximate cause of natural evils like cancer, he's the remote cause. Or, to put it differently, his prior action is a necessary condition. How that distinction is supposed to help your overall position is unclear. 

"Third, a prophet has a choice. None of your examples contradict that."

I don't see where your getting that from examples like Moses, Jonah, Jeremiah, and St. Paul. Rather, you appear to have an a priori commitment to choice, which you impose on these examples. They *must* have had a choice.

Unclear what you mean by choice in that context. Even if you put a gun to a man's head, there's a sense in which he still has a choice. He can choose to be shot in the head. But he's acting under duress. 

"Fourth, men do get raped, so "yes" the situation you describe would be rape of Joseph."

Equivocal. That's typically in the case of, say, men sodomized in prison. But that's hardly comparable to the situation I described. 

"If you insist on not seeing consent in 'the let it be done into me…' Because of foreknowledge, I would of suggest John Martin Fischer."

i) I didn't bring up the issue of freedom and foreknowledge. However, John Martin Fischer rejects libertarian freedom, so citing him is counterproductive to your position. He takes the position that freedom and foreknowledge are consistent in a compatibilist (or "semicompatibilist") sense of freedom, not the libertarian sense. 

ii) More to the point, there's a distinction between willing and unwilling submission. Mary willingly submits to God's resolve to make her the mother of the messiah. That doesn't imply that she had a veto. Scripture contains many examples of unwilling submission to God's inexorable resolve.

You can't get what you need out of Mary's "be it done until me according to your will," if by that you mean the Incarnation was contingent on her consent. 

"I don't think God deceived Jeremiah and you don't either. What we cry out to God in sorrow... Can be immoderate."

Sure, the way Jeremiah expresses himself is emotional and rhetorical. But as one commentator notes:

"Almighty God enlisting an innocent young man (probably just a teenager!) in a lifelong, hapless task, not telling him upfront that he would never be able to marry or have children, nor telling him that he would, in fact, be beaten and imprisoned and publicly humiliated (didn't God promise that he would be rescued from his enemies?), not fully explaining to him the living hell he would experience," M. Brown, REBC 7:288.

That just doesn't fit into your preconceived grid about the necessity of informed consent. Your not starting with the data. 

"Finally, to assume any Gospel account is 'all there is' is belied by the Gospels themselves. The stories are summaries. The Gospels don't have Jesus ever laughing, but I am confident he did."

I haven't assumed that any Gospel account is all there is. But if it's not in the Gospels, and it's not in some reliable extrabiblical source, then you have no evidence for your claim. 

"And by the way, if a man signs up to be a prophet and then is shocked…"

Which misses the point. Moses, Jonah, Jeremiah, and St. Paul didn't enlist. Rather, God conscripted them. They were draftees, not volunteers. 

"She also knew the prophets, what they experienced, and said. She knew."

We have a pretty good idea of what she knew from the Magnificat, and it's quite triumphal. There's no Suffering Servant in the Magnificat.

Just to be know: who was the first person in Church history to adopt your own preferred view of Mary? That date would be helpful.

If you're asking me, that would Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. 1C.

That is the question, isn't it. The BVM spent 30 years pondering out Lord's birth and unlike most followed him to the Cross. I bet...she knew.

You bet she knew what? That she had advance knowledge regarding the Passion of Christ, or did you have something else in mind?

The Passion... The sword piercing her heart.

How does a generic metaphor like that amount to specific knowledge of the future?

"generic"...if I lived through the Annunciation, the birth of the baptist, the shepherds, the Wise men, the Temple incident, knew Isaiah, lived with Jesus...I might suspect his mission wasn't to have a good time.

What was she pondering?

Most of that doesn't fit your criterion of informed consent, since it's after the conception of Jesus. Too late for her to know what she's getting into before the die is cast. 

So you seem to be shifting ground and changing the subject. 

She was pondering Simeon's cryptic comment. Of course, if she knew what he meant, what would there be to ponder?

Actually it does fit my previous argument. She was pondering the mystery of the Suffering Servant. I view it as phenomenally implausible that someone who went through what Mary did (even assuming we have an exhaustive account of what was said to her) and lived with Jesus for 30 years did not much gain more than the initial redemption account (required for the initial yes). Did Jesus teach in the Temple and they found out nothing? Did they talk for decades? Much to ponder beyond the basic outline ...

Essentially nobody in church history had your low view of Mary...until the reformation and later then! Why would anyone think the Mother of God "blessed among women" would be ignorant? Nobody did...see images in catacombs, early 3rd century prayers, and the consensus of almost all gospel readers for centuries.

Steve Hays 
The question isn't whether his mission was to have a good time. That's a straw man. If you can't bring yourself to be serious in how you frame the issue, so be it. What is there in the Annunciation, the birth of the Baptist, the shepherds, the Wise men, and the Temple incident to suggest that Jesus would encounter vicious and malicious opposition? The Annunciation, for one, describes his career in triumphal terms. And there's nothing in the other items to counter that.

As to Isaiah, it's easy for us to see Jesus in Isa 52-53 because we have the benefit of hindsight. As far as Isaiah goes, the passage that might jump out at her is Isa 7, but there's nothing about a suffering messiah in that passage. To the contrary, he's depicted as a triumphant king who subjugates his enemies on the battlefield. 

Moreover, you keep moving the goal post. You're now up to the 30th year of Jesus. That's not foresight. 

My "low view" of Mary is that Mary is human, not a goddess. She's not even prophetic. Rather, Simeon and Anna are prophetic. 

I'm not ashamed to be Protestant. 

Your question is a non sequitur. To be the mother of God incarnate doesn't' make the mother omniscient or even prescient. She doesn't share divine attributes. 

What do 3C prayers have to do with anything? 

"Ignorance" is a matter of degree. Your problem is an all-or-nothing fallacy.

The flight to Egypt suggested that things were not going to be easy. Herod acts as a murderous opponent of Jesus and they are forced into exile. Symeon suggested it.

Beyond that, I think informed consent in a relationship requires knowing what you are getting into... And see no reason to think Mary didn't know and good reason (informed consent) to think she did. Why see the Suffering Servant only after Jesus? Is Mary allowed any insight? 

My view doesn't require Mary knowing everything
..just what she was agreeing to do. I mention 30 years with Jesus, because she is the only person we know of with that much exposure to Jesus.

Mary is no goddess, but the Magnificat is...amazing...and behold all generations have called her she said.

My point is this ... Every text or image we have in the first centuries of the Church has a high view of Mary. Reformers shared this early on...a bizarre minimalism began . Why? Misogyny? Fear of idolatry? Gnostic views? Hard question

We haven't even mentioned John's image of Mary in Revelation

"Misogyny". Yeah, that must be it. And if JMR disapproves of homosexual behavior, then he must hate homosexuals.

"Gnostic views". Actually, it's perpetual virginity that betrays a gnostic disdain for physicality and sexuality. 

The "bizarre minimalism" is basing one's belief on reliable historical evidence rather than pious fiction and legendary embellishment. 

Your appeal begs the question of whether the woman in Rev 12 is reducible to Mary.

Mark Daviau 
The problem, Steve Hays, is that you seem insistent on making us adopt your view that Mary was simply some poor peasant girl…"

You mean like: 

"26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29 so that no human beingmight boast in the presence of God" (1 Cor 1:26-29).