Feb 15 2012

American Catholicism’s pact with the Devil?

In this article at ToRenewAmerica, I wrote about the failure of the “Seamless Garment” perspective of Cardinal Bernadin to provide a proper moral compass for Catholics and other Christians by equating the moral necessity to resist abortion with the promotion of essentially socialist perspectives on society and government, making resistance to abortion the hostage of socialist policies.  Bernadin’s positions on this have provided cover for way too many Catholics to support leftist, pro-abortion politicians, in the name of vague sounding concern for the poor, politicians whose policies and enacted laws have had a distinctly non-vague, and very negative impact on life in these United States.

And now the comeuppance of these very confused Christians and Catholics has arrived, in the form of a President Obama whom they helped to elect, a president whose plan all along was to find a way to force all Americans to pay for abortifacient birth control, even if it is against their religious beliefs.

Now, Professor Paul Rahe has written on American Catholicism’s Pact With The Devil.

….the leaders of the American Catholic Church fell prey to a conceit that had long before ensnared a great many mainstream Protestants in the United States – the notion that public provision is somehow akin to charity – and so they fostered state paternalism and undermined what they professed to teach: that charity is an individual responsibility and that it is appropriate that the laity join together under the leadership of the Church to alleviate the suffering of the poor. In its place, they helped establish the Machiavellian principle that underpins modern liberalism – the notion that it is our Christian duty to confiscate other people’s money and redistribute it.At every turn in American politics since that time, you will find the hierarchy assisting the Democratic Party and promoting the growth of the administrative entitlements state. At no point have its members evidenced any concern for sustaining limited government and protecting the rights of individuals. It did not cross the minds of these prelates that the liberty of conscience which they had grown to cherish is part of a larger package – that the paternalistic state, which recognizes no legitimate limits on its power and scope, that they had embraced would someday turn on the Church and seek to dictate whom it chose to teach its doctrines and how, more generally, it would conduct its affairs.

I would submit that the bishops, nuns, and priests now screaming bloody murder have gotten what they asked for. The weapon that Barack Obama has directed at the Church was fashioned to a considerable degree by Catholic churchmen. They welcomed Obamacare. They encouraged Senators and Congressmen who professed to be Catholics to vote for it.

I do not mean to say that I would prefer that the bishops, nuns, and priests sit down and shut up. Barack Obama has once again done the friends of liberty a favor by forcing the friends of the administrative entitlements state to contemplate what they have wrought. Whether those brought up on the heresy that public provision is akin to charity will prove capable of thinking through what they have done remains unclear. But there is now a chance that this will take place, and there was a time – long ago, to be sure, but for an institution with the longevity possessed by the Catholic Church long ago was just yesterday – when the Church played an honorable role in hemming in the authority of magistrates and in promoting not only its own liberty as an institution but that of others similarly intent on managing their own affairs as individuals and as members of subpolitical communities.

In my lifetime, to my increasing regret, the Roman Catholic Church in the United States has lost much of its moral authority. It has done so largely because it has subordinated its teaching of Catholic moral doctrine to its ambitions regarding an expansion of the administrative entitlements state. In 1973, when the Supreme Court made its decision in Roe v. Wade, had the bishops, priests, and nuns screamed bloody murder and declared war, as they have recently done, the decision would have been reversed. Instead, under the leadership of Joseph Bernardin, the Cardinal-Archbishop of Chicago, they asserted that the social teaching of the Church was a “seamless garment,” and they treated abortion as one concern among many. 

 

There is more at the link, all worth reading, and pretty forthright in its condemnation of the Catholic church leadership’s “deal with the devil,” that is, its deal with the powers of the state.  Basically, it failed to render unto God what is God’s, and gave way too much away to Caesar, and was aided in this by liberal Christians of all stripes.


Dec 16 2011

Christian universities not Christian enough to be allowed full freedom of religion by the US government?

It seems that the National Labor Relations Board is now in the business of judging whether Christian colleges and universities are sufficiently serious about their Christian commitment to warrant the full protections of religious liberty from the First Amendment’s free exercise clause.  The matter in question is whether the NLRB can force Christian institutions of higher learning to accept unionization similar to that which afflicts state and secular private schools, and enforce other “non-discrimination” aspects of federal labor law (e.g, can Christian institutions be forced to hire or retain employees who are clearly living at variance with Christian moral expectations?).

According to Patrick J. Reilly, in Are Catholic Colleges Catholic Enough? – WSJ.com, the case hinges

on the Supreme Court’s ruling in NLRB v. The Catholic Bishop of Chicago, et al. (1979), which found that the NLRB had violated the First Amendment’s free exercise clause by requiring Catholic schools to comply with federal labor laws, thereby possibly interfering with religious decision-making. But that ruling didn’t stop the NLRB from claiming authority over most Catholic colleges and universities by arguing that Catholic Bishop protects only “church-controlled” institutions that are “substantially religious,” a phrase taken from Chief Justice Warren Burger’s majority opinion in the case. Many of the nation’s 224 Catholic colleges and universities are legally independent of the Catholic bishops or the religious orders that founded them.

So the NLRB has put itself in the position of judging schools’ religious character, and it has concluded over the years that many Catholic institutions are inconsistent in their application of Catholic principles to teaching, course requirements, campus life and faculty hiring. It’s a serious overreach by the government, though many Catholics would agree that colleges and universities often demonstrate inconsistent religious observation.

Of course, it isn’t only Catholic colleges and universities that “often demonstrate inconsistent religious observation.”  Many protestant and evangelical institutions are fighting similar battles….  or maybe not fighting them enough.

The erosion of religious identity in Catholic higher education over the past 50 years has been marked by theological dissent, hostility toward the bishops, and increasingly liberal campus-life arrangements such as co-ed dorms and lax visitation rules. These issues fueled the 2009 confrontation at Notre Dame, for example, when pro-life Catholics objected to the school honoring President Barack Obama.

The temptation to please the world is always there in Christian higher education.   Many initiatives undertaken by ostensibly Christian universities seem to be very similar to those that get excited attention at secular schools, but there are things that Christian higher ed talks about less and less (abortion-on-demand, for example) while it holds countless workshops on hot topics like human sex trafficking (as if there was something controversial about it, as if there was someone, somewhere, who thought it was a good thing).

Catholic educators are now awaiting the result of Manhattan College’s appeal to the NLRB regulators in Washington. Their appeal relies heavily on an argument put forward in 1986 by future Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. Writing for half the members of an evenly divided D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, Judge Breyer argued that the NLRB had contravened the Catholic Bishop ruling by establishing a “substantial religious character” test to determine whether a college meets sectarian standards.

The D.C. Circuit has formally embraced Justice Breyer’s reasoning twice over the past decade, instructing the NLRB to stop interfering with any college or university that “holds itself out to students, faculty and community as providing a religious educational environment.” In ruling against St. Xavier University and Manhattan College, NLRB regional staff seem to have ignored that instruction.

Protestant and evangelical Christian colleges and universities, take note: the candidate of hope and change you helped elect, possibly as part of your diversity initiatives, has his sights set on making you follow the same federal employment rules as any other school.  You may be forced to hire people who do not “model the Christian life” for students…  unless, of course, your notion of the Christian life has recently undergone radical revision.


Sep 19 2011

The Gentle Jesus Myth

Category: humor,theologyharmonicminer @ 5:55 pm

Not that Jesus isn’t gentle.   He certainly is.  But He isn’t ONLY gentle.

My latest post at Renewing American Leadership is up.

It’s called “The Gentle Jesus Myth.”

There is a little humor in the situation regarding the photo they put up.  It isn’t me.  Instead, it’s this guy.

This is not harmonicminer

Who is this guy, you may reasonably ask?  Well, he’s one of the stars of the original Jurassic Park movie, in the role of the mad scientist, if memory serves.

Oy vey…..  I’ll be trying to get them to change the photo to reflect my own inestimable physical beauty.

This is harmonicminer

I suppose I can understand the confusion.

Sigh

It’s possible that the ReAL website will have changed the photo by the time you read this.  I’m sure it was a practical joke or something.

And I’m laughing about it.

Really.

UPDATE:  as of Sept. 20, ReAL fixed their post to show the correct photo.  I’m almost sad about it.  It was really pretty funny.


Jul 10 2011

God, Christians and politics

Category: church,God,government,legislation,politics,society,theologyharmonicminer @ 8:39 pm

This is just a bit of an excellent article that I commend to you on Government and God’s People

I want to be careful not to make policy pronouncements on specific issues that the Bible does not address. I think sometimes Christians simply have to make decisions based on the results of one policy or another. People can evaluate the factual data in the world in different ways; evaluating the results of different tax policies and things like that. However, on unemployment, there are at least two principles that come into play. One is that we are to care for the poor and those in need, and the Bible frequently talks about the need to care for the poor. I think government has a legitimate role in providing a safety net for those who are in genuine need of food, clothing and shelter.

There is also a strong strand of biblical teaching that emphasizes the importance of work to earn a living. Paul commands people to work with their own hands and gain the respect of outsiders, be dependent on no one. He says if anyone will not work, he should not eat. In the book of Proverbs, it says a worker’s appetite works for him. The longer that unemployment benefits are continued, the more we contribute to the idea that some people should not have to work in order to earn a living, but we should just continue to have government support them. That creates a culture of dependency, which is unhealthy for the nation and unhealthy for the people who are dependent, year after year, on government handouts.

In the book The Battle, Arthur Brooks says that what people need is not money, but “earned success.” The example that comes to my mind is a student at the seminary here who told me that a number of years ago, he had been in jail. He was arrested for the sale of drugs and other crimes, and his life was just a mess. Later, he finally got a job at a fast food restaurant and one day his manager told him he was doing a good job of keeping the French fries hot. All of a sudden, this young man had a sense of “earned success.” That is, he was doing well at something and he felt great about it and it spurred him on to work harder, to seek to receive more managerial responsibility at the fast food restaurant, and now he is a straight-A student at the seminary and has had a number of years of successful Christian ministry already.

So we need to be asking the important questions about how we can we get the economy growing so that more jobs are available.


May 12 2011

NT Wright: not right about everything

Category: religion,terrorism,theologyharmonicminer @ 3:16 pm

Here is another take on the issue of the Christian response to terrorism, and specifically the killing of bin Laden.

The Flawed Theology of N. T. Wright « Commentary Magazine

One of the world’s leading New Testament scholars, N. T. Wright is a man from whom a great deal can be learned about church history and Christian theology. When he ventures from his specialty into areas he does not know very well—international affairs, for example—Bishop Wright is unfortunately prone to silly statements motivated by a brittle political ideology.

In the aftermath of the killing of Osama bin Laden, Wright criticized the United States for practicing a “form of vigilantism” and providing “ ‘justice’ only of the crudest sort.” America acts as the world’s “undercover policeman,” according to Wright, and he doesn’t much like it. And then he added this:

And what has any of this to do with something most Americans also believe, that the God of ultimate justice and truth was fully and finally revealed in the crucified Jesus of Nazareth, who taught people to love their enemies, and warned that those who take the sword will perish by the sword?

Wright is falling into a common error, which is to assume the Sermon on the Mount was intended to articulate a political philosophy and blueprint for how the state must conduct itself. In plain fact, the moral duties placed on persons are, in important respects, different from those placed on the state. Indeed, within Judaism and Christianity the state has invested in it powers and responsibilities that are different from, and sometimes denied to, persons.

In Romans 13, for example, St. Paul—to whom Wright has devoted several books—makes it clear that human government is divinely sanctioned by God to preserve public order. If the standards of the person are simplistically applied to the practices of the state, it would follow that, because persons are called to “turn the other cheek,” the state must do the same—thereby making the criminal-justice system unworkable and invasions by foreign powers inevitable.

Collapsing the distinction between person and state represents a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of government, which has granted to it powers of life, death, and coercion denied to individual persons. And these powers can be used to defend innocent lives and establish social order. They can also create the conditions that allow the church to exist, Christians to minister, and good works to be done. For this reason, the callings of soldier, policeman, and president are not merely permissible for Christians, but honorable.

By the logic of Wright’s argument—Jesus told us to love our enemies and those who take up the sword will perish by the sword—we should never retaliate under any circumstances: not against bin Laden, Mugabe, Pol Pot, Saddam, Hirohito, Hitler, or anyone. Proportionate and discriminate force would never be justified. What kind of moral world does Bishop Wright conclude would emerge from his political theology? And would he, who attended Oxford and now teaches at St. Andrews, be willing to live (or to ask his children and grandchildren live) in it?

The Christian response to tyranny is not nearly so simple-minded. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a German Lutheran pastor and theologian during the time of Hitler’s rise to power. His American friends helped him escape in 1939, but he believed that he had to return to Germany to stand in solidarity with persecuted Christians there. “I shall have no right . . . to participate in the reconstruction of Christian life in Germany after the war if I do not share the trials of this time with my people,” Bonhoeffer wrote to his friend Reinhold Niebuhr.

Once an avowed pacifist, Bonhoeffer joined an organization that was at the heart of the anti-Hitler resistance, became an advocate for the assassination of the Nazi dictator, and was eventually executed for his role in the plot. The camp doctor who witnessed the execution wrote:

I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer . . . kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this unusually lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of the execution, he again said a short prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brace and composed. His death ensued after a few seconds. In the almost fifty years that I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.

Bonhoeffer’s decision reflected “the finest logic of Christian martyrdom,” Niebuhr declared, and belongs “to the modern Acts of the Apostles.”

Quite apart from his obvious valor, Bonhoeffer displayed tremendous integrity, sophistication, and deep understanding when it came to Christian ethics. It would be beneficial for N. T. Wright to reflect upon, and to learn from, Bonhoeffer’s example.

It’s probably dangerous for we mere mortals to criticize the likes of Rev. Wright, with his amazing contributions to New Testament scholarship and the like.  But that very erudtion is what prompts me to wonder how such a brilliant person can fail to see the distinction between personal ethics (and a person acting only AS an individual person) and governing necessities.  If all the Muslims in Britain decide to organize and burn down every church in the Isles, not to mention every Christian seminary and institution, at what point will Rev. Wright’s disdain for violence in response to violence give way to recognizing the responsibility of governments to protect their citizens?

On another occasion I plan to discuss what seems to be included in the “turn the other cheek” metaphor, and what does not.  But it surely is not intended as a charge to renounce all violence, when that’s what is necessary to protect the innocent.


Feb 08 2011

“Prosperity gospel” for Christian institutions? Part 2

The previous post in this series is here, and will help provide background for what follows.

There are many instances of people and groups who take risks for the gospel, do the unpopular thing, and God does bless them. But obvious worldly blessing is not a given. God has His own agenda and ways of doing things, and we cannot assume that our worldly success is due to God’s blessing, nor our difficulties evidence of our failure to seek God’s will and do it. Some missionaries are murdered, and martyrdom in Christ’s service did not end with the fall of the Roman Empire. Lesser difficulties also occur with some regularity, even in the modern world.

Yet how many boards and leaders of churches and para-church organizations proceed with the assumption that apparent worldly or financial success equals God’s blessing, with such a rigid conflation of the two that any policy which carries some attendant risk of worldly disapproval is assumed to be the wrong one? Consider the logic: if we are doing good, God will bless us in worldly ways. Therefore, we should not consider doing something that risks getting worldly disapproval, since if the world disapproves, by our benighted definition, God is not blessing us.

So how can we decide if we are making our decisions according to God’s plan, from a fully Christian worldview, or if we are simply doing what seems best to us, within our human expertise (and afflicted with human pride and desire for power), as we try to strengthen our organization or institution in a worldly sense? There is no way to know for sure, of course….

But one thing seems indicative.

If we find we are mostly making decisions from the point of view of what the world will think of us (not from the point of view of God’s will, God’s commands, God’s moral precepts, and Christ within and among us), even if we have great institutional and public success, even if we are doing some good, we are not doing what God desires of us. Christ’s way is one of sacrifice and risk-taking for the sake of the gospel, most particularly the risk of being misunderstood and vilified by those who do not know Him. This is true whether we are explaining His way to the world, or standing for the principles He taught.

I’ll be developing this idea further in subsequent posts.

The next post in this series is here.


Feb 07 2011

“Properity gospel” for Christian institutions?

Much is made of the centrality of sacrifice in the Christian life, and justifiably so. Christ’s own life on earth was one of individual sacrifice and service, and not only on the cross, though that is the preeminent example. Simply being incarnated was a sacrifice (Philippians 2:5-9), and his very manner of living was sacrificial, in that he never married and had a family but instead lived for others, took risks of many kinds at various times for the sake of doing his Father’s will and speaking the truth, and so on.

As individuals, we are all called to sacrifice in one way or another for the sake of Christ and the gospel, though it’s a mistake to assume that everyone should live sacrificially in the same ways. One may choose to live simply and have greater financial freedom to give more (though all should give some), another may choose to give greatly of time and service (though all should do this some), and another may choose a lifestyle of great self-denial of one kind or another (though all of us must deny ourselves in some ways), all for the sake of doing God’s will. Few are called to sacrifice all. What seems fairly clear is that a person who has sacrificed nothing, not time, not finances, not manner of living, is likely to be a person who is not listening to God’s whispers, and probably a person who has not closely read the scriptures.

Yet some churches and para-church organizations seem to operate as if it is God’s will for them never to suffer or risk suffering, and never to choose a path that is hard and uncertain, or one that is likely to earn some degree of disapproval from the world, especially the secular world. Some para-church organizations operate as if their leadership believes in a sort of “prosperity gospel” for their organization (even when they deny that as a proper perspective for individuals), assuming that their role is to manage their organization with the same professional risk management as they would apply for any secular organization. And this risk management is fine, up to a point.

The “prosperity gospel” approach to a church or para-church organization is that somehow it can just get bigger and bigger, more and more popular, and it will all be because of God’s blessing. This may work for a time. And God may indeed be blessing certain efforts of the institution, while at the same time some of the institution’s apparent success may be coming from “playing it safe,” maintaining “good public relations,” even innovative business practices and good luck with market demographics or placement. Unfortunately, it can be difficult for people in an organization, including its leadership, to really know what measure of an organization’s apparent success is due to God’s blessing of its efforts, and what proportion is due to good business practices, smooth marketing, or just plain good luck. The temptation, of course, is to ascribe all success to God’s blessing, especially in public pronouncements.

Of course, it doesn’t always work that way. The assumption that God will increase the institutional strength and vigor of any organization that is doing His will is itself evidence of “prosperity gospel” thinking, not scripturally sound thinking about the nature of sacrifice for Christians, and Christian organizations. Even a cursory reading of the New Testament and church history reveals many instances of people and groups (institutions) who appear to be following God’s commands, but who suffer in various ways, sometimes almost in a “no good deed goes unpunished” sort of way… which is of course, the intention of Satan. The point is that apparent prosperity in the world is not proof of God’s blessing. Indeed, it is a sort of heresy to assume so.

I will develop this line of thinking further in future posts.

The next post in this series is here.


Jan 23 2011

The Next Great Awakening Part 15: Reasoned response to skeptics

Category: apologetics,Bible,God,philosophy,Scripture,theologyharmonicminer @ 1:52 pm

The previous post in this series is here.

Here is a website that addresses many of the claims of skeptics about Christ and Christianity.  It does so in the context of responding to various claims made by a prominent scholar/skeptic, Bart Ehrman.  The speakers and writers on this site are also prominent scholars who do not respond with polemics or personal attacks, but with calm reasoning and observation.  It has many short, well-produced videos with concise responses to various issues and problems.  Click the links along the top of the page linked above to reveal other videos and links.

Highly recommended.

h/t:  Koinonia

In general, I think too many upwardly mobile Christian universities put too little emphasis on apologetics, and I hope more of them will seek the contributors to the site linked above as guest speakers.

 

The next post in this series is here.


Sep 29 2010

The Next Great Awakening Part 15: Doubting doubt

Category: philosophy,science,theologyharmonicminer @ 9:00 am

The previous post in this series is here.

Doubts linger over godless multiverse

STEPHEN HAWKING’S new book The Grand Design sparked a furore over whether physics can be used to disprove the existence of God. But few have noted that the idea at the core of the book, M-theory, is the subject of an ongoing scientific debate – specifically over the very aspect of the theory that might scrap the need for a divine creator.

That the laws of nature in our universe are finely tuned for life seems miraculous, leading some to invoke divine involvement. But if there is a multiverse out there – a multitude of universes, each with its own laws of physics – then the conditions we observe may not be unique.

Hawking suggests that M-theory, the leading interpretation of string theory, calls for a multiverse. Others are divided over the strength of this link. “My own opinion is that we don’t understand the theory well enough to be able to say whether there is one single universe or a multitude of universes,” says M-theorist Michael Duff of Imperial College London.

………………..

For now, it is hard enough to test string theory, let alone M-theory. Two weeks ago, Duff and his colleagues made some progress by using string theory to make predictions about the behaviour of entangled quantum bits (Physical Review Letters, DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.105.100507). This demonstrates that aspects of string theory can be tested in the laboratory, but won’t reveal if it is “the right theory to describe all the elementary particles, the big bang – the ‘grand design’ as Stephen describes it”, says Duff.

“It’s dangerous to pin your beliefs on any theory of physics,” Duff adds, “because it might turn out to be wrong. But if Stephen wants to stick his neck out, I wish him good luck.”

But wait!  I thought all right thinking scientists knew that God was a myth, the universe was a grand accident, or has always been here, and humans are accidental bags of water, carbon, nitrogen, calcium and trace elements, containers who process data.  Though why anyone should think the universe is a place where semi-intelligent meat machines should even find it vaguely possible to comprehend its deepest mysteries is beyond me.  Why should the universe be understandable?  And if it is, why should WE be able to understand it with brains evolved to run from carnivores on the savannah, hunt small game and gather fruit and nuts?

The notion that the universe is in principle understandable by primates sharing 95% to 98% of genes with chimps is itself reasonably laughable….  unless, of course, we were designed to be able to understand an intelligently designed universe.

In any case, string theory is not at this time falsifiable, as the article above points out….  which means that, by the rules of those scientists who deride “intelligent design theorists,” it isn’t even science, yet.  It’s just interesting mathematical speculation mixed with philosophy.  M-theory is even farther from fitting the definition of science that is most commonly used, namely testable, falsifiable theories backed with data.

If and when string theory or M-theory become scientifically supported theories, neither will disprove the existence of the Creator, of course.  How could they?  And it is encouraging, at least, that some scientists are becoming skeptical of the ability of science to answer all questions, or to remove any consideration of teleology in the universe.

And as others have pointed out, theories of multiple universes can’t answer final (or fundamental questions) at all.  All they can do is shove them back to an “earlier” “time,” and make it clear that the Creator is even more magnificently powerful than anyone understood.


Aug 16 2010

The smartest person in the room who knows nothing?

Category: philosophy,religion,science,Scripture,theologyharmonicminer @ 9:37 am

There are those folks who like to pretend their superiority by claiming to function only on reason, not having any need for faith.  They delude themselves, of course.  No one functions only on what they know, or can prove in a scientific or rationalist way.  Most people make most of their decisions on faith, whether they allow themselves to admit it or not.  In that, I include enormous, life determining decisions, like what to study, whether to study, whom to marry, what life path to choose, what values to live by, and so on.  Even science cannot be shown BY science (or any rational process) to be the valid path to truth.  At the link there is a discussion about that, and other things.

My point here is a little different, though.

Some people seem to delight in not being sure about anything, because that way they think they aren’t responsible for anything.  It’s rather as if they think ignorance of the law is a defense (including natural law and revealed law).

Neither natural laws nor God are impressed by feigned ignorance, however, even when you have maintained the pretense for so long that you’ve forgotten it’s just a script, so that you can safely play your role as a person who isn’t sure of anything much.  Shoot, I’ll bet some people could pass a polygraph examination, convincing the operator they’re “agnostics,” sort of the ultimate triumph of method acting.

I’m afraid you’ll have to decide.  You can’t sit on the fence forever.   You won’t live that long.


Next Page »