Tuesday, September 30, 2008
1. Why did so many Congressmen vote against it, including 40% of the Democrats?
2. Why are so many Americans upset about it? Is it because they don't understand that it's not supposed to be about bailing out big companies but about the very fundamentals of our economy? In other words, is American ignorance causing angry communication that is spooking nervous Congressmen up for re-election?
3. But is that really what the bailout is about? Is it really gloom and doom? What will the markets do today? What's the real danger?
4. Would this bill really turn us decisively down a road to a more socialist economic system?
What's really up?
Monday, September 29, 2008
Funny enough, I've decided in the end to take my cue from Warren Buffet. If he says we need it, okay. Fine.
Here are some of the provisions of the current draft (taken from the CNN website):
- The $700 billion would be disbursed in stages, with $250 billion made available immediately for the Treasury's use. [I'm glad for this.]
- Curbs will be placed on the compensation of executives at companies that sell mortgage assets to Treasury. Among them, the bill would limit golden parachutes to executives at companies that participate; they will not be able to deduct the salary they pay to executives above $500,000. [Seems fair to me.]
- An oversight board will be created. The board will include the Federal Reserve chairman, the Securities and Exchange Commission chairman, the Federal Home Finance Agency director and the Housing and Urban Development secretary. [Happy for the oversight. Would like some additional people from contrasting points of view]
- Allow for the Treasury to receive the option to take ownership stakes in participating companies under certain circumstances. [I like it. Let the American people own some of it and maybe get some money back one day.]
- Treasury may establish an insurance program - with risk-based premiums paid by the industry - to guarantee companies' troubled assets, including mortgage-backed securities, purchased before March 18, 2008. [This was part of the Republican rebel base.]
Saturday, September 27, 2008
I'm working in relation to the worship of the Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch, so I thought I would do what I have done with some other early Jewish literature and quote the texts from the Parables (1 Enoch 37-71) that seem most relevant to New Testament study. The translation is taken from the recent translation of George Nickelsburg and James VanderKam (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2004).
And after this, I (Enoch) saw all the secrets of heaven,
how the kingdom is divided,
and how the deeds of humanity are weighed in the balance.
There I saw the dwelling places of the chosen and the dwelling places of the holy ones.
And my eyes saw there all the sinners who deny the name of the Lord of Spirits being driven away from there,
and they dragged them off and they could not remain because of the scourge that went forth from the Lord of Spirits.
For no angel hinders and no power is able to hinder,
for the Judge sees them all and judges them all in his presence.
Wisdom did not find a place where she might dwell,
so her dwelling was in the heaven.
Wisdom went forth to dwell among the sons of men,
but she did not find a dwelling.
Wisdom returned to her place,
and sat down among the angels.
Iniquity went forth from her chambers,
those whom she did not seek she found,
and she dwelt among them like rain in a desert and dew in a thirsty land.
This is the second parable concerning those who deny the name of the dwelling of the holy ones and of the Lord of the spirits.
To heaven they will not ascend, and on earth they will not come.
Thus will be the lot of the sinners who have denied the name of the Lord of the Spirits,
who will be kept thus for the day of affliction and tribulation.
On that day, my Chosen One will sit on the throne of glory,
and he will [test] their works, and their resting places will be innumerable.
And their spirits will grow strong within them,
when they see my chosen ones and those who appeal to my glorious name.
On that day, I shall make my Chosen One dwell among them,
and I shall transform heaven and make it a blessing and a light forever;
and I shall transform the earth and make it a blessing.
And my chosen ones I shall make to dwell on it,
but those who commit sin and error will not set foot on it...
There I saw one who had a head of days,
and his head was like white wool.
And with him was another, whose face was like the appearance of a man;
and his face was full of graciousness like one of the holy angels.
And I asked the angel of peace, who went with me and showed me all the hidden things,
about that son of man--who he was and whence he was (and) why he went with the Head of Days.
And he answered me and said to me,
"This is the son of man who has righteousness,
and righteousness dwells with him.
And all the treasuries of what is hidden he will reveal;
for the Lord of Spirits has chosen him,
and his lot has prevailed through truth in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits forever.
And this son of man whom you have seen--
he will raise the kings and the mighty from their couches,
and the strong from their thrones.
He will loosen the reins of the strong,
and he will crush the teeth of the sinners.
He will overturn the kings from their thrones and their kingdoms,
because they do not exalt him or praise him,
or humbly acknowledge whence the kingdom was given to them.
The face of the strong he will turn aside,
and shame will fill them.
Darkness will be their dwelling,
and worms shall be their couch.
And they will have no hope to rise from their couches,
because they do not exalt the name of the Lord of the Spirits.
In those days I saw the Head of Days as he took his seat on the throne of his glory,
and the books of the living were opened in his presence,
and all his host, which was in the heights of heaven,
and his court, were standing in his presence.
And the hearts of the holy ones were filled with joy,
for the number of [the righteous] was at hand;
and the prayer of the righteous had been heard,
and the blood of the righteous one had been required in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits...
And in that hour that son of man was named in the presence of the Lord of the Spirits,
and his name, before the Head of Days.
Even before the sun and the constellations were created,
before the stars of heaven were made,
his name was named before the Lord of Spirits.
He will be a staff for the righteous,
that they may lean on him and not fall;
And he will be the light of the nations,
and he will be a hope for those who grieve in their hearts.
All who dwell on the earth will fall down and worship before him,
and they will glorify and bless and sing hymns to the name of the Lord of Spirits.
For this (reason) he was chosen and hidden in his presence
before the world was created and forever.
And the wisdom of the Lord of the Spirits has revealed him to the holy and the righteous;
for he has preserved the portion of the righteous.
For they have hated and despised this age of unrighteousness;
Indeed, all its deeds and its ways they have hated in the name of the Lord of the Spirits.
For in his name they are saved,
and he is the vindicator of their lives.
In those days, the earth will restore what has been entrusted to it,
and Sheol will restore what it has received,
and destruction will restore what it owes.
For in those days, my Chosen One will arise,
and choose the righteous and holy from among them,
for the day on which they will be saved has drawn near.
And the Chosen One, in those days, will sit upon my throne,
and all the secrets of wisdom will go forth from the counsel of his mouth,
for the Lord of the Spirits has given (them) to him and glorified him.
And the Lord of the Spirits seated the Chosen One upon the throne of glory
and he will judge all the works of the holy ones in the heights of heaven,
and in the balance he will weigh their deeds.
And when he will lift up his face to judge their secret ways
according to the word of the Lord of the Spirits
and their paths according to the way of the way of the righteous judgment of the Lord of Spirits,
they will all speak with one voice,
and bless and glorify and exalt and sanctify the name of the Lord of Spirits.
And thus the Lord commanded the kings and the mighty and the exalted and those who possess the earth, and he said,
"Open your eyes and lift up your horns,
if you are able to recognize the Chosen One."
And the Lord of Spirits [seated him] upon the throne of his glory,
and the spirit of righteousness was poured upon him.
And the word of his mouth will slay the sinners,
and all the unrighteous will perish from his presence.
And there will stand up on that day all the kings and the mighty
and the exalted and those who possess the earth.
And they will see and recognize that he sits on the throne of his glory;
and righteousness is judged in his presence,
and no lying word is spoken in his presence...
And all the kings and the mighty and the exalted and those who rule the earth
will fall on their faces in his presence;
and they will worship and set their hope on that son of man,
and they will supplicate and petition for mercy from him.
But the Lord of the Spirits himself will press them,
so that they will hasten to depart from his presence;
and their faces will be filled with shame,
and the darkness will grow deeper on their faces.
[And he will deliver them] to the angels for punishment,
so that they may exact retribution from them
for the iniquity that they did to his children and his chosen ones...
And the righteous and the chosen will be saved on that day;
and the faces of the sinners and the unrighteous they will henceforth not see.
And the Lord of Spirits will abide over them,
and with that son of man they will eat,
and they will lie down and rise up forever and ever.
Friday, September 26, 2008
Thus far I've only dipped in the book with "targeted hits." Loren Stuckenbruck's summary of chapters by Nickelsburg and Knibb seemed a good place to start. He tends toward Knibbs dating in the first century, which is where I am currently as well from a much more novice perspective. Stuckenbruck, with usual attention to detail, also suggests that the Parables are slightly more likely to be based on a Greek translation of the Book of the Watchers than on the Aramaic version.
I dipped also into a chapter on the cosmology of the Parables. Here Jonathan Ben-Dov concludes that the Parables is not dependent on the Astronomical Book for its cosmology.
The next dip that I thought would give me a cross-section of the book was John Collins' response to two other chapters that deal with the Parables in the history of the Son of Man expression. I'm in the middle of this piece now. Since Collins expressed on the side agreement with Sabino Chialà's view of the relationship between the Parables and Matthew, I dipped back into his chapter.
There he believes that the Gospel of Matthew is dependent on the Parables for its imagery of the Son of Man. The influence of the Parables on Matthew, he believes shows up particularly in the image of Son of Man as judge, a Son of Man theme that is sparse in Mark and Luke but significant in Matthew.
Thursday, September 25, 2008
As we mentioned in relation to the final verses of Philippians 2, some scholars have suggested that we are reading an excerpt from a different letter of Paul to the Philippians at this point. The end of Philippians 2 reads a bit like the usual end of Paul's letters, and with 3:2 Paul's train of thought suddenly takes an unexpected turn to a topic that does not connect to the rest of the book.
This argument makes sense, although we do not seem to have compelling evidence to conclude in its favor. It could be the case, but it just as well might not be. Philippians reads fine as it is. So we should probably presume that Paul sent the letter as it is in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary.
These comments are rife with sarcasm, an attitude on Paul's part that might give us pause. "Dogs" is a term that Jews used in derision of non-Jews, of Gentiles. Dogs were uncircumcised, like Gentiles. And "dog" was a term of great derision, a trace of whose tone has survived in the English slang word that refers to a female dog. Dogs were not cuddly pets to the common person of the ancient world, but scrounging scavengers.
So when Paul refers to certain Jews as "dogs," he is turning a term of derision they use toward Gentiles on its head. He is saying that they are the truly uncircumcised ones because they are uncircumcised in heart (cf. Rom. 2).
Some debate exists over whether Paul is talking about Jews in general or about other Jewish Christians. Given the other comments in this verse, it seems likely that Paul is referring to Jewish Christians who insisted that Gentiles must be circumcised in order to be justified before God. In other words, he has in mind "Judaizers" such as those he addresses in Galatians.
Indeed, in our preferred dating, Paul writes Galatians from Ephesus less than a year prior to writing Philippians from Ephesus. Both of these dates and places are debated of course, many dating Galatians some 5 years earlier from Antioch and Philippians some 5-7 years later from Rome. In our reconstruction, however, Paul includes these comments to the Philippians not because he actually knows of such influences at Philippi but because he has this issue on the brain from his encounters with the Galatian church and he wishes to warn the Philippian church well before they might encounter such teaching.
The mention of evil "workers" (ergates) quite possibly echoes his ongoing debate with this segment of the church, since they are urging that "works (erga) of Law" are necessary to be justified before God. Paul's position is that works of Law like circumcision are not necessary for acceptability before God. In fact, Paul considers them a hindrance for Gentiles who should rather rejoice in the gracious gift of God's justification.
We favor that interpretation that does not see Paul merely referring to the idea of earning your salvation, even though he surely agreed you could not earn acceptibility with God. But the context of Paul's "works of Law" discussions almost always focus on those aspects of the Jewish Law that most distinguished Jew from Gentile--circumcision, food laws, Sabbath observance, and so forth.
When Paul says to beware of the "mutilation" he uses the word katatome, which is very close to the word for circumcision, peritome. The play on words is similar to those who called "television" "hellovision" when it first began to take hold in American culture. He derides the "circumcision," those in his Christian circles who especially emphasize the necessity of circumcision for justification, by calling them the "mutilation." The word reminds us of Galatians 5:12, where Paul expresses a wish that those urging the Galatians to circumcise might cut a little further up and emasculate themselves.
3:3 For we are the circumcision (peritome), those who serve by the Spirit of God and who boast in Christ Jesus and have not put confidence in flesh,
This comment solidifies our interpretation of 3:2. Paul is contrasting true circumcision with merely physical circumcision. The "real" circumcision serve God in spirit rather than in flesh. In Romans and Galatians Paul makes it clear that the Spirit empowers believers to be victorious over the temptations of their flesh. "Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfill the desires of the flesh" (Gal. 5:16).
Those who serve God by His Spirit thus are the true people of God. These individuals boast in what Messiah Jesus has done for them and they are indeed "in Christ." These individuals do not put their confidence in their weak bodies, susceptible to Sin, but in the empowering Spirit within them.
3:4 ... although I myself also have [reasons for] confidence in flesh.
Paul wants to make it clear that he could take this angle on confidence if he thought it was appropriate. He had a very good resume as a devout Jew, better than any of those who might boast in these sorts of credentials.
3:5 If someone else thinks [they] have [reasons for] confidence in flesh, I [have] more: in circumcision on the eighth day, from the race of Israel, the tribe of Benjamin...
Identity in the Western world today is largely a matter of an individual. Sometimes we do take note of a person's family or religion, but we generally give much room for an individual to make their own choices in these areas. Americans have the myth of the "self-made man" as one of their cultural stories, the person who started with nothing and made themself into something important.
Our individualism is especially seen in the way the Western world approaches marriage. We date, often for long periods of time, in order to decide whether or not we want to make a life commitment to another individual. It is important for us to see if we are compatible with one another, whether we "fit."
By contrast, the ancient world was a "group" culture, where one's identity was primarily a function of the groups to which you belonged and was relatively fixed even before you were born. In group cultures, marriages can be arranged long before the couple in question are even born, for the main features of identity are already known. One needs to be a male and the other a female. Both families need to be compatible in terms of their social status and identity within the culture. Finally, there is the general assumption that the two be from the same race.
When Paul identifies himself as someone circumcised the eighth day, he thus indicates both his gender and his race, two key identity markers. He is an Israelite, the people of promise. He may strongly believe that the Gentiles can be part of the people of God as well, but he holds firm Jewish credentials. He can even identify the tribe from which his family comes, the tribe of Benjamin. If as Acts presents, one of his names or nicknames was "Saul," he was not unlikely even named after the most famous Benjamite in the Old Testament, King Saul.
... a Hebrew of the Hebrews, according to the Law, a Pharisee...
If Paul is using the term "Hebrew" in the same way as Acts 6, we should probably infer that he identified himself more as an Aramaic rather than Greek speaking Jew. Certainly his letters indicate that he was fluent in Greek and that he operated as much from the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Septuagint) as from the Hebrew. But in an earlier phase of his life he identified more with Aramaic speaking Judaism.
Whenver he came to Jerusalem, in the period before he joined the Christian movement, we can say with some certainty that he operated in Aramaic there and identified with Aramaic speaking Jews there rather than Greek speaking ones. We can speculate that Aramaic might also have featured regularly in his home in Tarsus as well.
By identifying himself as a Pharisee in relation to the Jewish Law, he indicates the stream of Old Testament interpretation he followed. He would thus distinguish himself from the interpretations of other groups like the Sadducees and the Essenes. Of the three groups, the Pharisees would appear to have had the greatest popular influence and to have commanded the greatest numbers.
The precise origins of the Pharisees are a matter of some debate, but certainly it is not controversial to suggest that they may have served in some way as the heirs of the hasidim of the Maccabean crisis (e.g., 1 Macc 2:42). They may not of course have been the sole heirs of the hasidim or in some fixed lineage from them. The Jewish historian Josephus speaks of the three best known Jewish sects as rising in the time of Jonathan Maccabeus (ca. 150BC).
The word Pharisee may mean "separated one," although the Dead Sea Scrolls likely refer to them negatively as the "smooth ones." They are best known in the New Testament for their belief in a coming resurrection of at least some of the dead, an idea that the Sadducees rejected (cf. Acts 23:6-10). By resurrection they meant a point in the future when the dead would be reimbodied in some way. Essenes seem to have had some sense of an afterlife, but not nearly so dominated with the idea of reimbodiment at a specific future point in time.
Different schools of thought existed even among the Pharisees. The best known are the schools of Hillel and Shammai. From what we can tell, the school of Hillel took a more fatalistic approach to God's will, such as that we see embodied in Gamaliel's "let God take care of it" approach in Acts 4. They also took a looser position on the issue of divorce. The school of Shammai, on the other hand, seem to have taken a more activist approach to God's will, that Jews should work to bring it to pass. Their view of divorce was also much stricter as well.
While the book of Acts explicitly connects Paul with Gamaliel, a Hillelite (Acts 22:3; indeed, Jewish tradition would eventually consider him to be Hillel's grandson), Paul's own depiction of his prior attitudes and actions fits better with that of the school of Shammai. Of course it is certainly possible that Paul studied with Gamaliel and then somewhat went his own way later on. He seems to have worked with the high priest in his persecution activities, rather than representing the Pharisees in some way.
The Pharisees were strict in following their understanding of the Jewish Law, although the Essenes seem to have been a stricter sect. Many Pharisees likely belonged to groups called the haberim, dining clubs that ate together at a high level of purity. If Paul belonged to such a group prior to becoming a Christian, we can understand his difficulty in taking Peter's actions at Antioch very seriously (Gal. 2).
3:6 ... according to zeal, persecuting the church,
We do not know for certain why Paul persecuted the Christians of Judea and beyond, but he did. His personal motivations may have been different from the reasons he had official political authority to do so. As a strict Pharisee, we can imagine that he detested a movement that seemed rather to obliterate the boundaries rather than keep them well defined. The gospels present us with a Jesus who was far from scrupulous in his keeping of Jewish purity laws. Indeed, he seems deliberately to disregard them in many instances.
The pre-Christian Paul likely found such attitudes abhorrent, perhaps even potentially harmful to Israel if God visited His wrath on it for such defilement within. If as is possible the Greek speaking Jewish believers of Jerusalem were even more inclusive than the original apostles, we can see why he might be personally motivated to do as much damage to this group as possible.
His official sanction for such persecution, however, seemed to stem from the high priest. Here we suspect that it was not ideology but politics that empowered him. If Stephen's sermon in Acts 7 is at all representative of the types of attitudes Greek speaking believers had toward the Jerusalem temple, we can imagine that the high priest might have been motivated to track down these people as subversive types.
We do not have evidence that Paul actually brought about the deaths of any Christians, however. Acts 8:1 portrays Paul as approving of Stephen's death, but does not indicate that he was an instigator of it. Similarly, neither Acts nor Paul's own writings ever mention him as actually bringing about the death of someone.
3:7 ... according to righteousness that is in Law, having become blameless.
Paul of course does not believe that a person can attain a standard of righteousness by keeping the Jewish Law that is sufficient to "justify" you before God. No one will be found "innocent" on the Day of Judgment because of how well they have kept the Law. Paul's comments elsewhere and his hints here indicate that not even those who focus so much on "works of Law," the finer points over which Jewish groups argued among themselves, would be able to attain blamelessness in their own power.
However, Paul indicates here that to the extent that one could be righteous by way of the Law, he had accomplished it. One of the reasons the Pharisees had so many traditions about keeping the Law was so that you could actually keep it, concretely. So if the commandment says not to work on the Sabbath, what exactly did that mean for concrete living. How far would you have to walk on the Sabbath, for example, before you had worked? Because they had laid down the concrete particulars of the Law so extensively, a person could actually keep it blamelessly.
Paul's comment here should put to rest those who see his turn to Christ as a consequence of a long standing struggle with guilt. Paul gives us no evidence that he struggled with a guilty conscience before he came to Christ. Rather, he more likely resembled the Pharisee in the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector in Luke 18:9-14. The picture of Paul as someone who struggled so much with his sense of guilt that he found the doctrine of justification by faith is far more appropriate of Martin Luther than of Paul himself.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
11.2 Absolutes and Relatives
We learned in the previous section that one approach to ethics is called "duty based ethics." Duty based ethics focuses on actions that are intrinsically right or wrong. For example, most cultures consider lying or stealing to those closest to you to be wrong in itself. Even if it would be to your own personal advantage, most consider it wrong to act in this way.
At the same time, most cultures consider it good to help those closest to you when they are in need. The word duty might seem inappropriate for such things, since we often want to act in this way and, indeed, it is hopefully a pleasure for us to act lovingly toward those close to us. Nevertheless, in philosophy we can call such behavior "duties" because we believe it would be morally wrong for us to do otherwise.
The bigger philosophical question is why these are duties. Is it simply a matter of culture? Is it only that our culture finds it abhorrent to steal from your parents or harm someone who has nurtured and protected you? Or is there something that makes values like these universal or even exceptionless absolutes?
Some philosophers have argued that core rights and wrongs are absolutes. An absolute right or wrong is one that is always right or wrong without exception. Many Christians use language of absolutes in an imprecise way. We often find people calling something an absolute when they really mean that something is definitely right or wrong.
But if you can think of an exceptional situation to some principle or action, then by definition it is not an absolute. For example, many Christians are opposed to abortion, except in the case or rape or when the life of the mother is in danger. By definition, therefore, these Christians are not "absolutist" when it comes to the issue of abortion.  Similarly, when Jesus made exceptions to the fourth commandment on keeping the Sabbath, he showed that he was not an absolutist in relation to that command. 
[Note 1: An absolutist might argue that simply removing the unborn from the womb to save the life of the mother is not an abortion if one does not actively kill the unborn but removes it to save the mother's life.]
[Note 2: As we will see below, Paul in the New Testament is actually best classifed as a "relativist" when it comes to the Old Testament Sabbath law, because he does not consider the Sabbath law binding on all people in all times and all places.]
Several famous philosophers have been absolutist. For example, the philosopher Plato believed that if something was morally right or wrong, then one must always either do or not do it. The most famous illustration of Plato's ethic is the story of Gyges' ring (**).
Gyges was a shepherd* who found a ring that could make him invisible. So he placed himself among certain delegates to the king and then proceeded to have an affair with the king's wife, who then with him plotted and killed the king. The question that Plato poses in this story is whether or not a person should do the right thing even when you will not get caught.
Plato's answer is that you should. His reasoning is that a person is only happy when their whole person is healthy and each part of you--your soul and your body--is doing what it is supposed to do. Plato thus did not believe that a person like Gyges would be truly happy. They might not have any physical consequences for such actions, but they would not be healthy in their souls for doing them.
[Note 3: Plato's ethic flowed naturally from his sense that behind the shadowy world we see around us with our senses is a more real world of ideas we can access with our minds. This world of ideas is unchanging and is thus a realm of absolute truth. Accordingly, our actions should line up without exception to these truths.]
The best known absolutist of all was Immanuel Kant. You might remember from chapter 4 that Kant believed we had certain built-in categories of thinking in our minds that help us process the content of our senses. He believed that this "reasoning software" also could help us determine right and wrong.
David Hume, you might also remember, saw no clear connection between facts (things that happen in the world) and values (the moral values we assign to those events). Kant's built-in categories were his attempt to deal with Hume. Kant acknowledged that we have no basis in our experiences for saying things that happen are right or wrong. We can simply say some things bring us more or less pleasure, more or less pain. But if it gives someone pleasure to cause someone else pain, we have no experiential basis for saying the inflictor should not gain personal pleasure in that way. [Note 4]
[Note 4: This is my extension of Hume's point. Hume's ethical dilemma is called the fact-value problem.]
Kant's "mind software" is his solution to Hume's problem. In our minds we can reason to universal law, to what is "categorically" necessary for us to do or not do. This is Kant's categorical imperative. An imperative is a command, something that you must do, that is your duty to do or not to do. The word categorical means that these imperatives are absolute, without exception. For Kant, if something is right or wrong, then it is always and without exception right or wrong. It is "categorically" right or wrong.
Kant's attempt to put his categorical imperative into words proved to be a struggle over the years. His best known formulation went like this:
"Act only on that maxim that, at the same time, you will to be a universal law."*
This wording might seem a little vague, but this is Kant's way of saying what we have already said. A "maxim," an ethical statement, is only truly an imperative when it is always and everywhere an imperative. In other words, if something is right or wrong, then it will always be right or wrong.
[textbox: categorical imperative, "ends justify the means," "end-in-itself"]
Countless ethicists have rightly raised questions about such a sweeping sense of ethical absolutism, and they did in Kant's day as well. He made more than one attempt to clarify what he meant. For example, at one point he said that his categorical imperative amounted to treating people as "ends in themselves."
If something is a "means to an end," it is simply a stop on a journey to somewhere else. For example, nurses have to study chemistry at some point in their education. But the study of chemistry for them is not an "end in itself," just because it is a great subject where you get to mix things together. They study chemistry in hope that it will make them better nurses later, that they will have some background context for understanding how one aspect of the human body works. Studying chemistry is thus a "means to an end."
What is problematic in ethics is when people believe that "the end justifies the means" in any subject. A person who believes that the end justifies the means believes that if the goal is good, then it doesn't matter what path you take to get to that goal. For example, World War 2 probably ended earlier than it would have because we dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshema and Nagasaki. One might argue that fewer people died by dropping the bomb than if we had not.
But did, in this case, the "end" (the goal of ending the war) justify the "means" (killing two cities filled with men, women, and children who were simply going about their daily business and not actively fighting the United States). It is a matter of debate. Are those uninvolved in active fighting in a war "guilty" because they are associated with the enemy?
When Kant said that people are ends-in-themselves, he implied that you cannot harm or do wrong to a person as a means to achieve some other end. And he suggested that this principle is basically what his categorical imperative was about. But is it, really? If anything, Kant's absolutism, because it does not allow for exceptions, seems to make "rules" far more important than people.
For example, let's say that you lived in Holland during World War 2 and were hiding Jews in your apartment. Then let's say that some Nazi soldiers come to your door and ask if you are aware of any Jews hiding on your block. Kant's categorical imperative would seem to say that, if it is wrong to lie, then it is always wrong to lie under any circumstances.
Now some believe that this is the case. However, it is difficult to see how following this maxim categorically makes people an end-in-themselves. If you tell the truth, "Yes, I know of Jews hiding on this block," you will likely find that the end is coming for both you and the Jews hiding in your apartment. In short, Kant's ethic seems to make the maxim the end in itself rather than people.
In another attempt to clarify his categorical imperative, Kant said that it amounted to the Golden Rule: "Do to others what you would have them do to you." [Note 5] But again, it is hard to see that this is anything like an accurate representation of Kant's ethic. If I were a Jew hiding from Nazis, I might be quite happy for you to lie to the Nazis at your door about my whereabouts, as well as to do the same for you.
[Note 5: A form of the Golden Rule appears Jesus' Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 7*]
In the end, we wonder whether it is far more virtuous to consider the majority of ethical maxims as universally true, but with possible exceptions. Certainly the two great ethical commands are exceptionless absolutes: love God and love neighbor. It is difficult to imagine any situation where the right thing to do would be not to act in a manner consistent with love of God or love of neighbor. But it would seem that the norm we find in the Bible, as well as in Christian history, is to treat ethical norms as universal and timeless, yes, but not exceptionless and, thus, not as absolutes.
The topic of lying is a good case study. Most Christians would be very comfortable with the idea that it is wrong to lie no matter when you have lived in history or where you have lived. However, we can seriously question whether this ethical maxim is an absolute, that is, whether it is an imperative to which we should never under any circumstances make an exception.
Certainly the Bible does not treat this ethic as exceptionless. You might remember the logical fallacy from chapter 3 called "circular reasoning." Circular reasoning is where you assume your conclusion in your argument. Some arguments that treat biblical teaching as exceptionless commit this fallacy.
"How do you know that it is always wrong to lie without exception?"
"Because the ninth commandment says, 'Thou shalt not bear false witness.'" [Note 6]
[Here I am using the most prevalent Protestant number of the Ten Commandments. Lutherans and Roman Catholics number the commandments slightly differently. as do Jews]
We will leave aside the fact that this commandment was originally about perjury rather than lying in general. [Note 7] Nevertheless, this answer does not address the issue at all. The question we are asking is whether these commandments were meant to be absolutes. The commandment itself says nothing about this question, about whether there would be exceptional situations where God would want you to bear false witness.
[Note 7: Discussion of the Ten Commandments frequently generalizes these commandments in ways that rip them from their original meaning. For example, the third commandment not to take the name of the LORD in vain was originally about keeping oaths that one had made by swearing by YHWH, the name of God]
One must be careful not to assume that because a biblical narrative tells about a biblical hero doing something, God or Scripture as a whole therefore endorses that action. Such is the case with biblical cases of lying. For example, the book of Joshua seems to look favorably on the prostitute Rahab because she lied to protect the Israelite spies at Jericho (Josh. 6:25). Old Testament stories like this one must be read in the light of all Scripture and not simply applied straightforwardly to today, but here we have an instance where the biblical text seems to consider it better to lie than not to. [Note 8]
[Note 8: Interestingly, some very early copies of John 7:8 have Jesus tell his brothers that he is not going to the feast in Jerusalem, after which he then goes secretly. ]
The point here is not to commend lying. Almost all Christians would surely agree that truthtelling is a universal value that applies in all times and all places. What we are suggesting is that this ethic is a good candidate for a maxim that is universally valid but not exceptionless. Lying is universally wrong, but not an absolute in situations where a higher value conflicts with it, such as when a life is at stake.
So many use the word "absolute" in reference to values that they more accurately consider universal rights and wrongs that might have rare exceptions. We would argue that it is at this level that many biblical commands take place. Paul's letters, for example, did not take the form of legal documents where his ethical charges are always written in a way so that there would not be any situations where we might make an exception.
Paul implies in 1 Corinthians 6 that it is a shame for Christians to take other Christians to a secular Roman court and that it would be better to lose out than to do so. But did he mean this as a timeless absolute, to where there would never in any situation in any of history be a time or a place where a Christian might appropriately take another Christian to court. It seems doubtful that he intended his words to have that sort of scope. We will have to debate with each other whether God wants them to have--Paul himself did not know we would be reading these words 2000 years later in a vastly different time and place.
We might offer a final biblical example just to show that there are clear issues where the Christian ethical position is universal in scope, but not exceptionless. One New Testament imperative is to "be subject to the governing authorities" (Rom. 13:1, TNIV). At the same time, we find Peter and John deliberately disobeying the Jerusalem Sanhedrin, saying, "Which is right in God's eyes: to listen to you, or to him?" (Acts 4:19).
These two passages are easily fit together from a Christian perspective. It is universally a Christian principle to obey those in authority over you, unless that authority commands you to do something that ranks higher as a Christian value. So if the conflict is between obeying God and obeying the higher authority, you should obey God.
[textbox: universal rights and wrongs, nihilism]
We find similar misconceptions on a popular level about what ethical relativism is. For example, people commonly define relativism as not believing in any right or wrong. But that is actually a philosophy called moral nihilism. A relativist does believe in right and wrong. They simply believe that it is relative to either the person or the culture. [Note 9]
[Note 9: a person who believes in universal rights and wrongs, but who believes there may be exceptional situations is not a relativist. The position we presented above with regard to lying, for example, is not a relativist position because it believes that lying is wrong in all times and places. It simply argues that there are exceptional cases.]
It is important to recognize that everyone is relativist on some issues, just as everyone makes exceptions on some issues (even Kant, no doubt). Christians are absolutist on the two love commands, and they have a universal ethic on many other issues. But we will surely find other issues on which each individual Christian must form his or her own convictions, his or her own sense of what God requires of them as an individual.
A "relative" in this context is a position that you affirm as definitely right or wrong for you but not necessarily for someone else. We can identify two levels. Cultural relativism is the view that right or wrong is defined by particular cultures. Personal relativism is the view that right or wrong is a matter of individuals.
[textbox: personal and cultural relativism]
When Christians oppose relativism, they are usually opposing the idea that all right and wrong is a matter of culture or the individual. Obviously such a wholesale relativist position is not in keeping with historic Christianity. The Greek historian and the Sophists that Socrates debated were such cultural relativists. And many cultural anthropologists today, because they are aware of the great diversity that exists among cultures today, often lean in that direction.
Herodotus tells a story about the Persian king inquiring of some Greeks and some from a group called the Callatians what they did with their dead parents. The Greeks informed the king that they burned them on a funeral pyre, something like what is done to Darth Vader's body in the Star Wars saga. The Callatians were appalled. When the Persian king then inquired of them how they disposed of their dead parents, they responded that they ate them.
The conclusion that Herodotus reaches at the end of this tale is that "Custom is king over all." In short, what a person believes is right or wrong is simply a matter of where that person is from and what the customs of that place are. In fact, the Greek word that is usually translated "law" in the New Testament, also had the meaning of "custom" in secular Greek culture.
Although we commonly hear people talk about some universal sense of right and wrong that all people have built into them, the list of common ethical customs among the peoples of the world is really not that long. Almost all cultures have customs about how to treat your children and parents, as well as about incest. It is generally considered wrong to murder an innocent person within your particular group or family.
But beyond this short list, we find immense ethical diversity. For example, it used to be the practice of Eskimo culture either to bring about the death of your parents once they became a burden to a very sparse food supply. The ancient Spartans and the Dobu tribe today encourage stealing among their own group to develop survival skills. Polygamy is considered fully acceptable in much of Africa.
Wealthy Egyptians used to have the wives and pets buried with the dead husband, killed so that they could be with him in the afterlife. Until recent times, those of India would burn the wife of a man who died on the same funeral pyre as him, the practice of suttee. In Japan until recent times, a wife who was even accused of infidelty was expected to commit suicide to save her husband from the shame of the accusation.
Even in the Bible we find instruction that most Christians would consider relative to the times and places of the Bible, but not applicable to us today. For example, we find the practice of levirate marriage in the Old Testament (e.g., Deut. 25:5-6). If brothers are living together and one of them dies without a son, the brother that survives is to marry the wife of his dead brother to raise up seed for his brother. Since polygamy was fully allowed at this time in Israel (e.g., Deut. 21:15-17), we should probably imagine the brother adding her as a wife rather than taking her on as his first wife.
In the New Testament, we similarly find Paul probably telling the women of the Corinthian congregation to wear a hair veil in public worship when they are praying or prophesying (1 Cor. 11:5). Part of the reason is perhaps so that they show proper respect for their husbands in the presence of other males, not least putative "males" such as angels (11:10) and God "him"self (11:13). [Note 10] Some groups do follow practices today such as wearing prayer bonnets or putting their (uncut) hair up in a bun. But it is questionable whether these practices function the same way veiling did at Corinth. In short, most Christian women by their very practices imply that they take 1 Corinthians 11 as teaching relative to ancient Mediterranean culture.
[Note 10: God is of course not literally male, for literal maleness requires male sexual organs, which of course God does not have. God has no body; therefore, male language in reference to Him is by definition metaphorical.]
Interestingly, it is possible to interpret the New Testament to have a relativist approach to the fourth of the Ten Commandments, to remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Christians over the centuries have reconceptualized the Sabbath law in terms of Sunday and have generalized it to mean setting aside a day of worship to God. But of course the original meaning of this commandment had to do with Israelites not working on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath. Paul's writings, however, do not consider this Sabbath legislation binding on non-Jewish Christians (Rom. 14; Col. 2). If Paul considered it still binding on Jews, but not on non-Jews, then he by definition considered obedience to the fourth commandment relative to one's ethnicity.
Are there some issues on which Christians are appropriately relativist today? It would seem likely. For example, Arab Christian women in the Middle East should probably cover more of their bodies in their cultural context than North American women would need to in order to be modest. [Note 11] Similarly, it seems likely that North American Christian women should cover more of their bodies than Christian women from parts of New Guinea or Africa. Few missionaries return from these parts of the world without reaching these sorts of conclusions.
[Note 11: It is deeply ironic that so many American Christians equate in their mind Israel with Christian and Arab or Palestinian with non-Christian. As a point of fact, there are far more Arab and Palestinian Christians than there are Jewish Christians living in the Middle East.]
Many Christians also have "personal convictions" that they do not consider binding on other Christians. In other words, they believe that something is right or wrong for them as a Christian individual but not necessarily for other Christians. For example, many Christians believe that it would be wrong for them to drink any form of alcohol. At the same time, many of these same believers would affirm that there are other Christians who drink moderately and are no less spiritual for doing so.
These are instances of personal relativism, where a person considers something right or wrong on an individual basis. The real debate points over ethics for Christians, however, are often over when an issue is appropriately relative and when it is universal. For example, many Christians would not consider abortion to be an appropriate issue on which to be relativist. In other words, they would not believe that this issue is a matter of personal conviction but rather of universal scope.
So we find that Christian ethics are not as simple as simply absolutism versus relativism. There are issues on which Christians will be absolutists. And there are issues where Christians will be relativists. One cannot simply dismiss a perspective by labeling it as relativist, and one does not prove a perspective as Christian by labeling it as absolutist. There will be issues where an absolutist perspective is not Christian, and there will be issues where a relativist perspective is God's perspective.
We thus have to discuss and debate whether a right or wrong is an absolute, a universal, or a relative on the merits of each topic, and labeling an issue such says nothing about whether it is right or wrong.
Monday, September 22, 2008
I attribute our current economic crisis (again, these are my hunches as a complete amateur) to:
1. The War in Iraq
On this one I feel confident. The Iraq War has cost us outrageous amounts that we have borrowed from the Chinese and others. I blame this war as a major cause of our economic crisis.
2. The Runaway oil situation
I do not at all buy the arguments (I haven't heard them lately) that gas prices are simply a matter of supply and demand. I blame investors in oil who have driven up the price of a barrel to their current levels.
3. Vast Deregulation
This is just a hunch, but I think we will find (and I assume the experts already know) that the Bush administration has taken a real libertarian approach to business, vast laissez-faire on the market. I'm not saying they began this approach, but I suspect they've taken it to new levels. I have great suspicion that they have not controlled capitalism the way it has to be controlled to keep Marx's predictions from coming true.
I am a capitalist, not a socialist by any means. But capitalism must be carefully controlled if it is to achieve the purposes that Adam Smith intended it to have. Even John Stuart Mills recognized this in the second generation of capitalists. Smith simply can't be carried forward to a global economy, even a contemporary national one, without taking on board the lessons of the nineteenth century. The key is as little government control as necessary to allow for true competition in relation to goods and services. This blind short selling stuff, on the other hand, does more harm than good, it seems to me.
4. The Easy way out
Here I am really out of my depth, but I suspect that Greenspan and the government might have been a little too soft on bailing people and businesses out for bad decisions. I am not opposed to some of this--I am not for the "let the economy crash; it will eventually right itself" approach. But I wonder if they have played with the interest rates just a little too much, created an environment where taking risks was, well, not risky enough.
5. Republican Entanglements
It is here where the candidates start coming into view. We're in Iraq. I imagine we will get out about the same similarly no matter who is elected because the Iraqis themselves are setting up a timeline for us. So perhaps our economic drain here will diminish some in coming years, although it may just shift back to Afghanistan (where it should have been all along).
Oil is going to be a problem until we aren't using it any more, even if we start drilling immediately everywhere. My strong hunch is that Obama would move faster away from oil than McCain, so I've already given Obama the energy vote.
On deregulation and speculation, it seems to me that a Republican president will have a really hard time going in a different direction than Bush has gone. Here is where I get to Republican entanglements. It makes no sense to me, for example, that oil companies be given massive tax exemptions with all the money they're making. It makes no sense to me to perpetuate Bush's tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans.
These were all tax benefits implemented by the Bush administration that weren't there before. I can see the argument of not taxing small business owners, but the people in the above paragraph are big business owners. I do know some people who earn in the 250,000-500,000 dollar a year range who are so in debt that they might struggle under Obama.
All of that is to say that I find Obama's proposed tax on the upper 5% of the population (much of which is a return to pre-Bush levels) reasonable in order to work on some aspects of American society that have suffered under the Bush administration--like education and social services. I am not for simply handing out money to the impoverished. Roosevelt's initiatives like the WPA created jobs for the poor. So the goal should be to get people working, go to them, empower them, rather than to pump money into the black hole of poverty.
I firmly believe that there are some people out there who are smart enough that, if they really wanted to and if the powers that be didn't get in the way, they could devise healthy systems for empowering those who are in a cycle of poverty and to enable health care for everybody in a way much better than what both those with and without have now. I believe we don't have this now because those who have the power to make it so don't want it so.
In terms of the election, my sense of who to vote for here is uncertain, although I think it leans Obama. I seem remember McCain making some comment in the primary season about not knowing much about economic theory. A week ago today he said that the fundamentals of the American economy remain sound but last night they were talking Depression--not even recession. I fear that McCain will simply appoint the same type of people in this area that Bush has--and thus that whatever the causes of our current crisis, they will simply be perpetuated. I suspect that any hope for change in this area would more come from Obama.
I'm sure some of you out there know a whole lot more about these issues than I do, so I now open up the floor for discussion.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
The latest has me laughing this evening. Here's a question she gave on a test, with original spelling and punctuation:
"If you were going to take a trip to Timbuktu, Mali. what is the weather like there and what should you plant to take with you? *Look at page 29."
My son, who obviously takes after me in his intelligence, wrote this in response:
"I would take a sunflower plant and it is hot in Timbuktu."
He received a half point.
I've beat this dead horse before, but thought I might rehearse the evidence of Romans 6-7 again this morning. I am not unusual in this interpretation--it is the majority interpretation and, in my opinion, painfully obvious if you approach Romans with an open mind.
The train of thought in Romans 6-8 makes it very difficult to read Romans 7 as a statement of Paul's current experience.
6:1--Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? Certainly not!
6:12--"Do not let sin reign in your mortal body to obey its evil desires."
6:14--"For sin shall not be your master."
6:17-18--"Thanks be to God! Though you used to be slaves to sin, you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness."
Are we really to think that Paul is still a slave to sin while the Roman church is not?
6:20, 22--"When you were slaves to sin... but now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God."
7:5-6--"For when we were controlled by the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our members... now we have been set free from the law..."
Romans 7:14-25 is an explication of "when we were controlled by the flesh" yet wanted to keep the Jewish Law.
7:24-25 "Who will free me from this body of death? Thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord!
7:25b then summarizes the condition of the person "controlled by the flesh."
8:1 "There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, for the law of the Spirit has set you free from the law of sin and death."
I personally do not even think the hypothetical person of Romans 7:14-25 is a good reflection of Paul's feelings before he accepted Christ, especially in the light of Philippians 3:6. Krister Stendahl's "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West" is still the definitive statement here, I believe.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
I thought this paragraph was very interesting:
"As a Bryan Democrat, Morrison was deeply concerned about the economic plight of farmers and workers. He supported Prohibition and Sunday blue laws and opposed the teaching of evolution in the public schools. Although committed to traditional holiness teaching, Morrison formed coalitions easily with non-Wesleyans, such as Keswick holiness advocates, non-holiness Methodist Fundamentalists and national Fundamentalist leaders, such as William Jennings Bryan."
It would be hard to know what groups he would belong to today. These words and groups still exist, but they are hardly the same.
Part of being of one mind and having an attitude like Christ's is to live together as Christians without grumbling or disputing. Paul has just told them to work out their salvation together with a deep awareness of the seriousness of the task. Disputing with each other or with leadership or grumbling about them is not helpful in moving toward the goal, nor does it reflect the proper gravitas for such a serious matter.
2:15 ... so that you might be blameless and spotless, children of God without fault in the middle of a crooked and twisted generation,
Further, grumbling and disputing makes the community of faith look like the crooked and twisted generation outside the church. The church is to look different, not least as a unified and loving community toward one another.
We once again note that Paul has no sense whatsoever of the church as a community of sinners in general. Galatians 2:17 looks primarily to individual Jews in relation to the Jewish Law, not to the inability of believers to live above the impulses of the flesh or the community as a whole to be pure. Both in Galatians (5:16) and throughout his writings Paul affirms not only the possibility but the essential need for believers to be "blameless and spotless" on the Day of Christ, "without fault." In this passage, unity and the absence of grumbling and disputing are in view.
2:16 ... among whom you are shining like stars in the world, holding on to the word of life, [which will be] boasting for me on the day of Christ, because I have not run in vain nor labored in vain.
Paul expects that believers will be noticeable in the difference between them and the world around them. The world around them is "crooked and twisted" while they "shine like stars" and are "blameless and spotless." Again, he is talking about not grumbling and disputing among each other and looking out for each other's interests and being of one mind and having the mind that was in Messiah Jesus. These are concrete, observable features of the Christian community that Paul expects to be in place.
On the Day of Christ, the honor of the Philippian community before God will be honor for Paul as well. It will show that Paul's labors bore fruit. In one dating of Galatians, Paul has recently written it from Ephesus. On this hypothesis, it is interesting to note there that he is afraid he had run in vain in relation to them (Gal. 4:11).
We note that Paul considers it okay to boast in this type of thing. In other places he indicates things he should not boast about. Boasting about works of (Jewish) Law are excluded in Romans 3:27. In Galatians 6:14 he says he should only boast in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ rather than things like whether the Galatians get circumcised.
2:17 But if I am poured out on the sacrifice and ministry of your faith, I rejoice and I rejoice together with you all.
Paul now compares himself to a drink offering, something he does in Romans 15:16 as well in relation to his ministry to the Gentiles as well. If he writes Philippians from Ephesus, then Romans was written perhaps less than a year later. He is thinking of his sufferings as a kind of sacrifice that furthers the faith of the Philippians and the Gentiles in general. His sufferings thus, as he had said, are not a hindrance to the gospel, but a help and celebration of its advancement.
2:18 And you are rejoicing in the same way and you rejoice together with me.
And Paul implicitly urges the Philippians to rejoice together with him that the gospel is being advanced, even if it means some suffering for him at the moment.
Friday, September 19, 2008
Here is the content of some Power Points I've put together for an approaching interpretation assignment:
1. Give the text of Philippians 2:6-11
- You can use whatever translation you like…
- ... but your interpretation should reflect awareness of issues relating to the Greek original.
a. What is the “state of the question” on the situation behind Philippians?
- Be careful not to let pre-judgments here unduly influence your interpretation.
c. Are there any socio-cultural aspects of the Greco-Roman or Jewish world that impact your interpretation of this passage?
a.Are there key aspects of this book in general that impact your interpretation of this passage?
b.Where does this passage appear in the train of thought of the book? What do I need to know about the verses that have just preceded to understand this passage?
3. Go thought by thought.
- Most of the time, sentence by sentence is probably the place to start.
- But some phrases and clauses merit special focus.
- And sometimes more than one sentence is easily treated at the same time.
- In the observation phase, you stuck fairly closely to the “surface meaning” of the text. Then you raised questions that would require more extensive research.
- This interpretation assignment assumes you have already done that research.
Types of Interpretive Research
- Word and phrase studies—to answer questions of definition.
- Literary Context studies
- Background studies
- Commentary studies
5. Give a conclusion.
- After you have gone verse by verse, summarize the basic sense of the passage’s meaning and implications in its original setting.
- This is an interpretation assignment. It is not about what this passage means to you or today. It’s about what it likely meant for its original author and audiences.
I feel more and more strongly that we must drive a sharp distinction between reading the Bible for what it originally meant and reading it as Christian Scripture. Both are valid readings; the latter is more important for us as Christians. But without awareness of the first, interpretation becomes and has especially in America been a free for all.
The myth of objectivity is a myth--and one that we need to recultivate as a major priority for education in American culture!
2:12 Therefore, my brothers, just as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence alone but now much more in my absence, with fear and trembling work out your own salvation,
Paul now resumes the idea that they should walk worthily of the gospel, whether he is able to come or not. They have submitted to his authority before, he expects that they will do so again. He sees following his instructions, particularly those he has just made in relation to unity, as key to their salvation.
Salvation for Paul is escape from the wrath of God on the Day of Judgment. In its most literal sense, it refers to a future event. Talk of being saved now is thus "proleptic" language, language that speaks of a current confidence of what will happen in the future on that Day.
Paul thus tells them to work toward that goal of salvation carefully, with a great sense of the seriousness of the task. Not to be saved on that Day is a matter of great fear and trembling, so the importance of making it to the end comes into clear focus. Despite the overemphasis of Protestant theology, Paul sees no contradiction to his theology elsewhere to suggest that we have to work to be saved. And he does not typically think of salvation through faith--Ephesians 2:8 is unique in the Pauline corpus--but of justification by faith.
We should also note that Paul is not talking about individuals working out their individual salvation. The verbs and pronouns in the verse are all plural. In other words, the church at Philippi is to work out their salvation together, as a group. This fact fits well with the unity Paul has been encouraging in their community. If they will show toward each other the same attitude that Messiah Jesus had, they will be saved.
2:13 ... for God is the One who is working among you both to will and to work for [His] good pleasure.
Because they share the Holy Spirit, the spirit within their body, the body of Christ at Philippi, they have God among them, bringing about His will and His good pleasure. If they are obeying, then God is the one leading them from within, whether Paul is present or absent.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
After talking to some other Shizu owners, it has become clear to me that this type of dog was not bred to be easily potty trained. Our dog does okay--although now that a three foot long Great Dane pup often inhabits our kitchen, she is less likely to pine for the back door.
This morning my children informed me amid my other morning activities that our little "Princess" had left me a present on the stair landing. You generally need to catch these animals in the act of their dastardly deeds to create the desired Pavlovian environment, although that doesn't necessarily stop the yelling and chasing that often ensues from my mouth after such delightful experiences.
All that is background. I've often suspected that the small brain of this "lap dog" probably thinks--if they don't see me poop, they won't know it was me. Of course this is true of young children and adults too (I don't mean in reference to pooping on landings, but in general). I love the story my father-in-law tells about a dyslexic neighborhood kid who spray painted some profanity on a neighborhood wall. Everyone knew it was him because two of the four letters in the word were switched around. He was completely dumbfounded how everyone knew it was him.
Just to multiply the illustrations endlessly for fun, my wife's family have been genetically bred to have killer noses. They can smell things--even get sick off of smells that I can't even smell. So I can just forget sneaking some food off to myself when no one is around--they'll smell it and I'll be caught.
So where's the illustration? I suppose more than anything it's a lesson that honesty is the best policy. I have had children tell me obvious "stories" thinking they were pretty smart and that I would blissfully be fooled. There's always someone smarter than you. For example, God. "Be sure your sins will find you out."
When I was England I knew some college students who were geniuses. One in particular comes to mind who I suspected could lie his way out of a paper bag with the vast majority of people not even suspecting it. I wondered if it had become a way of life for him.
But there's always someone smarter than you and, in the end, a dumb person has the edge over a genius... if the truth is on his or her side.
Monday, September 15, 2008
In general, this is the way the United States is structured. The structuring is uneven, to be sure, but this is the general idea behind our "social contract."
The impact of this general approach is perhaps most visible when it comes to the Constitution's approach to religion. Although initially some states had official church connections--thus Maryland was Roman Catholic--the collection of states as a whole was not to have a state religion. To maximize happiness--and because many of the original settlers of America were fleeing religious persecution--individuals are free to choose whatever religion they wish here, as long as their practice of religion does not impinge on the freedoms and rights of others.
For this reason, it is difficult to see how someone could (technically) say that we were founded as a Christian nation, other than the fact that the original settlers were predominantly Christian in religion (at least nominally). Of course many of the "founding fathers" were Deists, which would not qualify them as Christians in the historic sense of the word.
Now, it was perhaps only in the late 20th century that the laws really began to reflect this basic principle of not having a state religion. And it is here that we see many Christians protesting a turning away from aspects of American law that had retained Christian influence. In my opinion, it is not that America was getting away from its Constitutional beginnings. It was rather that as the United States became more and more secular, those beginnings were finally making their way through the specifics of the legal system.
For example, it is difficult to see, on the basis of the Constitution, how homosexual practice could be illegal. On what non-religious basis would it be prohibited? But if Congress is not to pass laws that are based on specifically religious beliefs, how could such laws be constitutional?
The current conflict between political parties over issues like abortion or gay marriage are really a symptom of conflict over this constitutional principle. Can Congress pass laws that have a specifically religious basis but cannot be argued for on a purely secular basis? On what secular basis could Congress prohibit abortion in the first weeks of a pregnancy? Or on what secular basis could Congress deny gay couples the benefits of a civil union?
It is for this reason that we have heard talk in recent years of constitutional amendments on these sorts of issues. In this discussion is a tacit recognition that the Constitution provides no basis for prohibiting these things. Our drive to prohibit them comes from our Christian beliefs, beliefs that the Constitution does not afford status if we cannot demonstrate a concrete detriment to the happiness of others.
What we potentially find as Christians is thus that the Constitution is not nearly so Christian as we imagined. Indeed, we find that the Constitution may very well stand diametrically opposed to our Christian values. After all, do we not believe that our values are the right ones, and that true happiness would be for all of American society to follow them?
There is actually more than one model of Christian engagement with society when it comes to matters of this sort. Unfortunately, however, most Christians have no awareness either of the basis of their own position or how it relates to the others. They unthinkingly assume that their way of engaging culture is the right way and the Christian way.
For example, the Calvinist approach to society tends to follow the model set by Calvin himself, namely, to try to take over society. Puritan New England had no "non establishment" clause. The Calvinist assumption is naturally that Christians should take over the American government and make it our kind of Christian. After all, is this not how God relates to the world, manipulating those who will be saved and, by default, those who will be damned?
Of course this approach is the heart of why so many Christians fled to America in the first place, and why Quakers settled in Pennsylvania and others in Rhode Island--to get away from the Fascist Christian machines of Europe. Nevertheless, most of grass roots conservative Christianity has mindlessly absorbed this approach as well, even theological traditions like my own. The unthinking assumption is that, of course, we should try to make American law mirror our Christan understanding and force others to live the right way.
The inconsistency of this approach with my own theological tradition, coupled with how vigorously people in my church fight for it, is really ironic. For example, as Wesleyans we believe that God does not force anyone to choose him. We believe that God has sovereignly allowed humans to resist His will. Even in Romans 1, the language Paul uses in relation to homosexual sin is that God "gave them up." Certainly the presumption is that God will judge all at the judgment, but we believe that God does not force the world to obey Him for now.
In that sense, the American system is less in tension with the Wesleyan-Arminian tradition than it is the Calvinist system. Of course there are other approaches. Quakers and Anabaptists have tended to remove themselves from participation in the broader society altogether. The Lutherans tend to have a "two kingdoms" approach in which the government is the government and Christianity is Christianity and both just follow different rules. Probably the American system fits best with their approach to society.
But the question of how a Christian should vote in relation to these issues becomes a tricky one. On the issue of homosexuality, a Calvinist will vote against the American system and try to perpetuate specifically Christian laws. Indeed, Calvinists should probably plot to take over the Constitution and establish their form of Christianity as the state religion. I think Ariminians would vote in a way that they thought would most encourage movement toward God, which isn't always effectively done with a stick.
The issue of abortion is different because most Christians see it as murder. Concrete harm to others is a matter of the Constitution. I'm not sure that we will be able to make the secular case in the earliest weeks of pregnancy, but I think most states have become convinced that third trimester abortions should be severely limited. When people see what a second trimester unborn looks like, they are often convinced that it is murder as well.
Of course a vote for a president is not automatically a vote for or against abortion. Reagan and Bush were both in office for 8 years and abortion is still legal. If the Supreme Court were to overturn Roe vs. Wade, it would still be a matter of individual states whether abortion was legal or not. Most states would continue to allow it. It might require a little travel, but the vast majority of women would still be able to have an abortion if they wanted to.
Another serious question is what the side effects would be of appointing justices that are interested in overturning Roe vs. Wade. If we leave Roe vs. Wade out of the discussion for a moment, we should remember that it was the Clarence Thomas type justice that declared that the children of slaves--even if they were freed--could never be citizens and that Congress had no constitutional right to prohibit slavery (1857). And it was the Antonin Scalia type justice that upheld the Jim Crow laws that forced blacks to sit in the backs of buses in the South and would not allow them to go to the same schools as whites.
From a legalistic standpoint, these may very well have been the right decisions from a strict reading of the law. Part of me respects that. But true justice would have been to go the other way with the Dred Scott case, and true justice was done in the civil rights cases of the 60's and 70's. Those Christians who trumpet strict constructionism should pause to remember that, for the most part, they are championing an approach that most of the time rendered or would have rendered anti-Christian decisions. Roe vs. Wade is ironically far more likely to be the exception, than the rule.
A final thing to keep in mind here also is that the New Testament, and the roots of my own theological tradition, are far more interested in true change in a person than in making people follow the rules. To be sure, there was a 50 year period in my own church's history where we were rather shallow on the moral development scale and mostly just wanted people to look and act a certain way.
But this is not the true Wesleyan tradition that was interested in heart change. And it is certainly not the New Testament's "virtue based" approach to ethics, where it is from the heart that uncleanness comes and where the fruit of the Spirit comes not from the letter but from the Spirit within. From that perspective, the more Christian agenda is the one that aims to change people more than to make them follow the right rules.
How does this relate to the current election? I believe that McCain's position on abortion fits better with that of the majority of Christians. At the same time, we should not make light of Obama's goal of decreasing the number of unwanted pregnancies. I think McCain would support this goal too. These broader concerns represent a higher level of moral development than the lower "law" oriented approach that simply wants to make sure no one breaks a rule.
Saturday, September 13, 2008
These are all quite different arguments and none of them in themselves addresses the others. So when a person responds to one with another, no real conversation has taken place. Your argument goes nowhere because you have not shown how your position relates to the others. In this section we want to tease out these sorts of arguments and explore the kinds of logic that lies behind them.
As we mentioned, most of the arguments against allowing abortion are duty based. They make the claim that it is one's duty not to have an abortion. The underlying logic goes something like the following:
1. You must not kill innocent human beings.
2. The unborn fully constitute innocent human beings.
3. Therefore, you must not kill the unborn.
Few of those engaged in debate over abortion would contest the first premise. The point of debate from the duty based perspective is almost always the second premise. In a moment we will discuss different perspectives on when the unborn might fully constitute "innocent human beings."
Meanwhile, the duty not to kill innocent human beings is almost always a very high priority on a person's value list. It usually trumps most other values. Indeed, many would consider it an absolute value, meaning that you cannot imagine any situation--even in a philosophy class--where it would be right to kill an innocent human being for some greater good.
For this reason, if we conclude that the unborn count as innocent human beings in the fullest sense, most utilitarian arguments would be inadequate to counter the duty not to kill the innocent. For example, let us suppose that testing seems to indicate a child will be born with some debilitating, even deadly physical or brain "defect." If the unborn are innocent human beings in the fullest sense, then the question of whether to abort that unborn "for the greater good" is tantamount to asking whether it would be permissible to euthanize a born child with such a condition, to give it a merciful death.
Again, if a person believes the unborn are innocent human beings in the fullest sense, allowing for abortion in the case of rape might be taken to imply that it is also allowed to kill an innocent adult under certain circumstances. The overriding values can be both duty based and utilitarian:
1. It would be wrong (duty based) to make a woman bear a child forced on her by such violence. The wrongness of the rape outweighs the wrongness of taking an innocent life.
2. The context of the child's birth would extend the pain of the rape for the mother indefinitely (utilitarian). The child's existence perpetuates the wrong.
3. The child might grow up in potentially less than ideal circumstances, either because of adoption or because the family cannot afford him or her full belonging (utilitarian).
If, however, the unborn are considered innocent humans in the fullest sense, then to be consistent we would have to allow for putting innocent born children to death if we could imagine analogous situations with similar consequences or wrongs.
The question of the mother's life being in danger is a slightly different situation, because in this case the focal act is not to kill the unborn but to save the mother. For example, those who reject murder but allow for war recognize that innocent civilians will inevitably be killed in the process of pursuing targets considered legitimate in war. The difference, however, is that one presumably is not targeting the innocent civilians.
One might at least argue that abortion is similar when the life of the mother is in danger because saving the mother's life is the target activity, not killing the unborn. Indeed, in some cases both mother and unborn might otherwise die. An absolutist, however, because he or she does not allow for exceptions, might consider it wrong to take the life of the unborn, even if it would mean the deaths of both.
What emerges from this discussion is that the primary point of debate is the question of whether the unborn have full status as human beings. Ironically, however, this issue is seldom the focus of debate. The argument, "Murder is wrong" has no impact on the issue of abortion if the unborn do not have full status as human beings.
Similarly, if they do, then the argument, "Someone cannot force a woman to do something with her own body that she does not want to do" does not have full force because the unborn within has status independent of her body. The argument, "A male has no right to tell a woman what to do with her body," would then be similar to saying "You cannot tell someone from another culture that they cannot throw deformed children to Hippopotami," a practice once done in parts of Africa. If the unborn have full status as innocent human beings, then they presumably have duties associated with them that impinge on the freedoms of those around them, just as adult humans do.
But do the unborn have full human status? On the one hand, it would seem somewhat peculiar to argue that the human status of the unborn changes dramatically from one moment to the next depending on whether the child is inside or outside the womb. Whether or not you can see the child seems a dubious measure of human status. Does it make sense to suggest that in twenty minutes, an unborn goes from having no status as a human whatsoever to having full status as a human? Indeed, many states in the United States place severe limitations on third trimester abortions (7-9 months along). If a child could survive outside the womb without unusual medical measures, many would consider it to have full human status.
However, the question becomes more ambiguous the earlier one goes in the pregnancy. On the one hand, modern medicine is often able to save the lives of those born prematurely, even in the second trimester (4-6 months along). But it requires significant medical measures only possible in recent years.
The status of the unborn is most ambiguous of all in the first trimester (0-3 months). During this period, the mother's body is absolutely essential to the unborn's survival, at least given the present state of medical research. Even most women who oppose abortion during this period would not have a funeral for that unborn if they miscarried. Indeed, many women miscarry in the early days of a pregnancy without even knowing they were pregnant. In other words, most people--whether they forbid or allow for abortion--do not treat the human status of the unborn the same, depending on how far along the pregnancy is.
For Christians, other factors come into play because we believe that God has revealed various things to His people. For Roman Catholics, God has revealed to the church that it is wrong to harm the process of life at any point. Birth control is prohibited for more than one reason, not least because it does not allow God to control the process of conception. The unborn also have full human status from conception to birth and are not to be harmed in any way. On the other end of life, Roman Catholics would forbid euthanasia as well, the inducement of a merciful death to shorten one's suffering. The Roman Catholic Church thus has a fairly consistent view from before birth to one's death, and it believes that God has revealed this point of view to it.
Other Christians believe that God has revealed His opposition to abortion in the Bible. These inferences are always more indirect than direct. In other words, no passage in the Bible explicitly prohibits abortion. [interestingly, a Christian writing from around AD100 does, the Didache] For example, the sixth commandment not to murder, in its original setting in ancient Israel, focused on the intentional killing of one innocent adult by another. Gradations in the punishments Israel's civil law set out for various deaths indicate that not all innocent deaths were considered equally offensive.
Thus a person was punished for beating a slave to death in Exodus 21:20-21. But the punishment was not as severe as killing a free individual and in fact there was no punishment at all if the slave recovered, "because the slave is his property." Similarly, if two fighting men accidentally strike a pregnant woman and cause her to miscarry, "but there is no serious injury," the man must compensate in some way (Exod. 21:22-25). The wording implies that the injury in view is to the woman rather than to the unborn child. The death of the child is a factor because of the loss to the parents, rather than because it is a consideration in itself.
To apply the sixth commandment to the unborn thus requires us to go beyond the issues it originally addressed. Certainly it is permissible to do so, since Christians regularly consider the "New" Testament to expand, supplement, and even modify "Old" Testament teaching. And it would seem highly problematic, from a Christian standpoint, to apply the civil laws of ancient Israel directly to our context without much more ado.
Other passages sometimes brought to bear on this issue are even more indirect. In a number of instances, for example, God is said to have plans for various significant individuals from the biblical story even before they are born. Thus God says of the prophet Jeremiah, "I knew you before I formed you in the womb, before you were born I set you apart and appointed you a prophet to the nations" (Jer. 1:4-5).
This verse obviously was not addressing the issue of abortion, nor is it in the form of any kind of command. It is a statement of God's purposes for a specific individual, purposes that, from a Christian standpoint, God had for Jeremiah even before conception. To apply it to the issue of abortion thus requires us to move beyond the original meaning of the Scripture, a process that we regularly must do when our questions are not the same questions the biblical text originally addressed. It is not illegitimate to use Scripture in this way, but we should acknowledge that we do so because we believe God has revealed to us an understanding that goes beyond the Bible itself.
The expression, "from the mother's womb" is sometimes also taken to imply human status to the unborn (e.g., Luke 1:15; Gal. 1:15), although the expression more generally has the sense of "from birth" rather than "from conception." Again, it may be entirely appropriate for Christians to find such resonances in such passages. At the same time, it is clear that the issue of abortion was not in view in the original contexts of such statements. Such statements are not commands and poetry is often involved. When the psalmist says, "With sin did my mother conceive me," it is parallel to "with wickedness I was born." The author is not making strict theological statements about the origins of his depravity or about when life begins, but was poetically expressing the extent of his need for God's forgiveness.
Modern science has and will continue to present us with issues like this one that the books of the Bible, because they were first inspired to ancient audiences, do not directly address. And what is more, since God wanted to be understood, even the biblical texts themselves are largely God's revelation within the categories of those audiences. The presuppositions of the texts often turn out to be the ancient clothing in which God clothed the ancient revelation that was the direct point.
Thus we probably should not infer from 2 Corinthians 12:2 that there are three layers of sky as you go up directly from the earth to the heaven where God dwells, nor should we probably conclude from Philippians 2:10 that the universe is three stories--under, on, and above a relatively flat earth. The inspired point in such cases would seem to be revealed within the categories of Paul's world. In other words, God often conveyed the inspired point by way of ancient presuppositions, but those presuppositions were not the point itself. The ancient clothing enabled Paul's audiences to understand what God was revealing, just as our categories help us.
So it is probably unhelpful to look for answers to the question of when the unborn gain full human status in verses like "The life is in the blood" (Lev. 17:11) or "God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living person" (Gen. 2:7). One might argue from these that the unborn take on human status when they have blood or, alternatively, when they first breathe. But the inspired point of these verses was not to address this issue.
The common Christian sense that abortion at any time during a pregnancy is murder is thus a conviction of faith. It is a belief shared by perhaps even the majority of believers, a belief they find resonates with Scripture's approach to life, even if the Bible does not directly address the issue. The nature of this faith perspective, however, makes it difficult to engage a secular context in debate on the topic, for there the topic is approached with different presuppositions.
Friday, September 12, 2008
By the way, Stuckenbruck is a genius among geniuses and one of the best doctoral advisors you could ever wish for. He's tireless, has an exhaustive knowledge of second temple Judaism, and is one of the most personable scholars I know. At Durham, he is like an unofficial advisor to everyone, even those like me who weren't actually his advisees. He's quick to write a reference--I attribute my Fulbright in large part to his reference. Many a scholar is better known because they can write in a more popular style, but few a scholar can come close to this man's intellect or mentoring ability.
If you're looking for a place to do a PhD in New Testament or Second Temple Judaism, you can't go wrong with Stuckenbruck at Durham. But back to Capes...
Capes' first section surveys how the divine name, YHWH, was written in manuscripts at the time of Paul. What he finds is a variety of practices. Sometimes it was written as any other word. But he agrees that there was an archaizing tendency at the time as well, where some were making it distinct by writing it in an archaic Hebrew script. He does not see this as the older practice but as a new trend.
Similarly, Greek manuscripts seem to have had some variety as well. Sometimes it was simply translated with the Greek kyrios for Lord. But at other times other ways of writing it appeared too. His conclusion is that Paul would have been aware of the divine name standing behind the kyrios of various Old Testament texts.
Capes then launches into the thirteen texts where Paul quotes OT YHWH texts (by the way, did you see that the Roman Catholic Church will no longer vocalize Yahweh in worship. The Christian Reformed Church has similarly stopped singing Jehovah in "Guide me, O Thou Great Redeemer"). He engages with the prior work of Lucian Cerfaux, which he then critiques. In general, "Unless otherwise specified, kyrios in Paul's quotations refers to Christ" (126). The rest of the paper examines Paul's use of two important YHWH texts he uses of Christ: Joel 2:32 and Isaiah 45:23.
1. Romans 10:13
As Capes looks at the use of Joel 2:32 in Paul, he notes the cultic context of "calling on the name of the Lord," as well as other uses. This seems potentially very significant to me. Capes believes that "The application of Joel 2:32 to Christ with its attendant cultic associations appears to imply the worship of Jesus by Paul and his churches" (128).
2. Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:10-11
Now you see some of the reason I'm reading this paper this morning. We're almost to the Philippian "hymn" in my Prison Epistles class.
Capes' first suggestion for how Isaiah 45:23 is clever, but uncertain. He suggests that Paul takes the first half of the quote in relation to Jesus and the second half in relation to God: "the text should be understood as follows: 'As I live (again by the resurrection), says the Lord (Jesus), every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will confess to God (at the judgment seat)'" (129).
I don't think I will end up going with Capes here. The most likely reading of the text is "all will stand before the judgment seat of God," and from this point Paul launches into the quote of Isaiah. Yes, this reading thus contrasts with comments by Paul elsewhere about the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10) and his use of this verse in relation to Christ (Phil. 2:10-11). So sue him. If your interpretive scheme does not allow Paul this room to wind through interpretations of Scripture, you are bound to skew Paul.
I agree, however, with this comment Capes quotes from L. J. Kreitzer: "It is difficult to imagine any first-century Jew or Christian even remotely familiar with Isa. 45 hearing this final stanza of Phil. 2.9-11 without recognizing that words of theistic import have now been applied to Christ." Thus, Capes concludes, "the universal worship of Jesus as Lord by creatures inhabiting the heavenly, earthly, and subterranean realms" (131).
So Capes begins his conclusion. He sees the understanding that Jesus bears the Name of God explains many aspects of early Christian faith and practice, not least the application of theos to Jesus. At the same time, Paul never confuses Jesus with God or rejects monotheism.
In this final section, he discusses the positions of Larry Hurtado, Crispin Fletcher-Louis, and James Dunn on the worship of Jesus. Hurtado sees precedents in Jewish ideas of divine agency but sees a distinct mutation in the cultic worship of Jesus. Fletcher-Louis finds distinctiveness in the worship of a specific person rather than an office, but sees precedents in the earlier worship of individuals who are in one way or another the image of God. Dunn largely agrees that the worship of Jesus became distinctive but only after a long process, that Jesus was not yet worshiped in this way at the time of Paul.
Of these, Capes sides more with Hurtado than with Fletcher-Louis or Dunn. He disagrees with Dunn on the timing. He disagrees with Fletcher-Louis on the question of precedent. So he raises what is a crucial question: what exactly "should be regarded as 'cultic' worship that contravenes the uniqueness of God" (134). Unfortunately, he never answers the question.
The remainder of the paper disappoints in that Capes simply presents and endorses Richard Bauckham's sense of divine identity as the right path toward proper understanding of the worship of Jesus. He affirms Bauckham's idea that "the catalyst for this innovation [the worship of Jesus within monotheistic faith] emerges in scriptural exegesis" (136).
So the paper starts out strong, but fades into Hurtado and Bauckham at the point where we expect the real contribution. No offense.