Wise Guys, Eh: a book review.

One of the principal errors of Christian dogma is that we are fallen from an ideal state in Eden. Archeologically, this is absurd: mankind was distributed across most of the globe at the time of the direct encounter between Man and God in the Middle East. The Fall was a local event, that set in chain events (as the seed becomes the mighty mustard tree) that eventually enmeshed all of humanity.

But it appears also in our theological arguments: we hold that those closest to Jesus must have understood most clearly his intentions. This is a great comfort to those that do not wish to wrestle with the universalism of Christian love – they justify their prejudices by picking and choosing among early writers, rather than confronting the work that must be done in each age.

In fact, our modern dialog is far richer than that among the early adherents to the faith. The participants are more heterogeneous, and we possess words (such as EMPATHY, coined in the 1800’s) that were unknown to the elders.

We are not fallen, we are still rising. Christ is still at work in the world, and continues to lift us up, NOT LEAST through the agency of women that bear witness to virtue.

James Matichuk offers a review of a survey by Christopher Hall on the thinking of early church fathers on issues of modern controversy. In general, I am very sympathetic to James’ theology, and he is constrained in his format to representation of the content of the original work. I am not so constrained, and weighed in with this perspective.


The attitude to the fetus is idealistic. Did the early fathers recognize that there are mothers and fathers that are incapable of providing such nurturance, and that in fact the pressure of adding a child to a household might guarantee suffering and death to both mother and child? I am not asking this to be contrary, but simply as a matter of record: did they grapple with the practical issues of pregnancy and birth from a woman’s perspective?

If they didn’t, why do we reference them?

A contrasting practice is the Roman prenuptial rite. This created a physical experience comparable to child birth, which in its traumas can break either body or mind. If the woman could not endure the ritual, she was encouraged to withdraw from her engagement.

This same type of critical analysis can be extended to others among the selected issues.

thoughts, prayers & songs:

My introduction to patristics came through the Desert Fathers. I picked up a book (I can’t remember if I read Helen Wadell’s or Benedicta Ward’s collection first) and discovered there compelling voices from another age. They were ethereal and strange, sometimes legalistic, but always thoughtful. They offered a compelling vision of the spiritual life. Since then I’ve read more widely the church fathers, exploring the saints of both the Christian East and West. Because their time was so different from our own, and not so different, I think they have a tremendous capacity to speak prophetically into our age.

5188Christopher Hall is an excellent guide to the thought world of the fathers. He is the associate editor of IVP’s Ancient Commentary on Scripture and his newest book is the fourth and final volume of his Church Father’s series (previously published, Reading the Bible with the Church Fathers, Learning Theology with the…

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The Pro-Life Movement Before Roe and Its Lessons for Today: An Interview with Daniel K. Williams

In the form of an interview with Daniel Williams, Millennial offers the most sympathetic articulation of the pro-life stance that I have encountered. The experience of the original activists – proponents of the liberal theory of universal human rights – is typical of the experience of the Pharisees confronted by Jesus: any attempt to use law for moral ends allows hypocrites (such as the fiscal libertarians of the GOP) to suborn those impulses.

The proper approach is that of Jesus on the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” That generation did confront their error, seeing many of their brethren convert to Christianity – including Saul on the way to Damascus.

So should we look at the problem of abortion – as a teachable moment that might not change the heart of a desperate woman, but that should change her behavior, hopefully bringing her closer to God as a result.

Williams’ final paean to life also rings hollow in my ears: babies are not priceless because their genetic code is unique. They are priceless because they represent an opportunity for self-clarification of a soul. We do have responsibilities as parents to optimize the conditions of that opportunity. That is best informed by abandoning the categories “pro-life” and “pro-choice” and choosing to be “pro-creation.” Pregnancy should be a conscious and considered joy, not an accident.

Millennial

What was the pro-life movement like before Roe v. Wade? In Defenders of the Unborn, Daniel K. Williams, history professor at the University of West Georgia, provides an essential overview of the pro-life movement in this period. Millennial editor Robert Christian interviewed Williams on his groundbreaking book and its implications:

The pro-life movement is often associated with conservatism, but could you talk a little bit about the roots of the movement?

The modern American pro-life movement, which originated in the mid-twentieth century, was the creation of Catholic Democrats, most of whom subscribed to the social ethic and liberal political philosophy of Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society.  They believed that the government had a responsibility to protect the rights of minorities and provide a social safety net for the poor.  They viewed the unborn as a minority deserving of legal protection, but many of them…

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Reproductive Rights (Again)

In response to this post at The Federalist.

The commentator writes as though no other jurisprudence exists on this matter. If you want to sway the debate, you need to admit and address the arguments made by those that have sought to preserve reproductive rights for women. Many of them are not spiritually unsophisticated: their desire is to create lives that embody love.

And the details of the partial birth abortion are a canard. This is not typical of abortions, which are now most often chemical procedures (the “morning after” pill). Partial birth abortions are incredibly tragic, and politicizing a situation in which either the mother and/or child will die is immoral. A choice has to be made, and it should be made by the parents and their medical practitioners without bringing the police into the situation.

And I would be cautious about the “life at conception” position. Most conceptions end in natural abortions. If there have been 10 billion people alive on earth, God is responsible for aborting at least 10 billion babies. Obviously there is something more subtle going on in the process, some purpose that God has in filtering those that arrive alive in the world.

My perspective is that, being on the path of the knowledge of good and evil, part of our challenge is learning to not be animals in the way that we create progeny. We need to apply reasoned judgment to the problem. That is the gift that God gave humanity above all other creatures, and decrying the use of judgment by others is not morally tenable.

Respecting Parents that Plan

Who do you think you serve, you constructors of lies?

A woman that has an abortion lives the truth of her experience, and learns from it. It has been my honor to bring healing to them and their unborn children.

Only Satan turns a man’s mind to murder when love offers the alternative of healing.

You stand with one foot on the bridge to destruction. There’s only so long that Christ can hold you back.


OK. Still with the whining.

Let me be clear: if you haven’t had an abortion, or brought somebody through one to healing:

Think of the redemption that Christ brought to Saul on the road to Damascus.

And SHUT THE FUCK UP!

Anger Got the Best of Me

I apologize to those who have been following my commentary on Roseburg. I spent most of Friday morning at work with the Kleenex box when I wasn’t holding my head in my hands. I am emotionally worn out, and have been indulging my anger when I should have been focusing my intentions toward the community that has been so deeply wounded. I pray that they find the strength to open their hearts to Christ in this moment, so that he may help them bear the burden of their sorrow.

However, Friday day ended with a message from James Kushner, who heads the Society of St. James, publisher of a number of conservative Christian magazines. His message regarding abortion echoed many of the statements I made in my post on September 30th. He pronounced the Supreme Court decision as the beginning of a long descent into moral darkness for America.

Given the use of abortion as a political issue to redirect attention from inaction on gun control and financial justice issues, I felt obligated, as the shooter in Roseburg specifically targeted Christians, to respond with following message.


Mr. Kushner:

I know that this is a contentious issue, but following the killing of Christians in Roseburg yesterday, your message touches a raw nerve.

As evidenced by Jesus’s crucifixion, laws are no substitute for compassion. I won’t prescribe policy for you – you need to follow your own conscience. But as you do not write of specific spiritual experience, I hope that these thoughts give you some sense of the complexity of the problem of abortion as I navigate it. The spiritual aspect of pregnancy is something that not every man is sensitive to.

I therefore ask your consideration:

1. A sin is a sin because it leaves wound in the soul, delaying our reunion with God.
2. I am concerned by your resort to material reductionism. Life does not begin when the sperm penetrates the ovum. It begins with the infant soul enters the womb. This can happen long before material conception, or well into the process of development, and typically ONLY THE MOTHER KNOWS.
3. Early in development, the fetus is a weak anchor for the infant spirit. The primary wound of an abortion is therefore entrapment of the infant spirit in the womb. A loving father has the capacity to rescue the unborn child. I have done this upon encountering spirits trapped for years after the procedure. They were ready to give life another chance.
4. The wound of an abortion is not less than the wound of growing up unloved or in a household ruled by fear. Rather the opposite, in my judgment. It is up to the parent(s) to negotiate with the unborn spirit the circumstances of its birth. I have participated in one such negotiation, and the consensus of the mother and child was that they should wait until a man was joined to the family. To be explicit – they agreed that the pregnancy should be terminated.

While most pregnancies abort spontaneously, I would prefer that no surgical abortion be committed. However, as a child I was confronted by the story of a young woman in my religious community who came back from Mexico in a pine box. Making abortion illegal is not going to prevent harm when out-of-wedlock pregnancy carries powerful stigma. The only lasting solution is to make our youth stronger. Those of us with the opportunity to create strong children should not judge too harshly those that grew up without that benefit – and we should certainly not force a woman to carry the burden of a weak man’s aggression. As Jesus did, we need to meet people where they are, and focus on healing and learning, rather than beating them down with the cross of their mistakes.

In entering through the “narrow gate” of self-control, I see our struggle with our sexuality as an essential part of the journey, much as is our struggle with gun violence and “freedom” (the “broad gate” that Jesus warned us against). But I doubt that any surgeon finds satisfaction in performing an abortion, unlike the youth who taunted the Christians he murdered yesterday, or the hedge fund manager who takes home a billion dollars a year. Not everything can be settled on this one issue, and abortion policy should not be offered as a cover for those committing far more egregious crimes of governmental negligence.

Brian Balke

Ms. Richards Goes to Washington

While Ms. Richards’ performance yesterday was inspiring, I would caution against any belief that the ugliness of the tactics used by her accusers is a reflection of desperation. The statistics displayed by Chaffetz, despite the context of lies in which they were wrapped, reveal the success of the partisans in the anti-abortion crusade. The reason that Planned Parenthood is offering more abortions is because in many parts of the country, states have all but shut down the provision of abortions by others. They believe that the goal they have pursued since Roe v. Wade is within reach. Many of them arose out of states in which this moral issue has been tied to electoral funding, not only for religious reasons (applied somewhat hypocritically, as evidenced by yesterday’s execution in Georgia), but also because the moral fever protects Republican fundraisers from scrutiny that would reveal the ties between their misogyny and the anti-tax policies that have shifted so much wealth from the Republican middle-class to the ultra-rich.
 
These men know who signs the checks, and they will continue with this ugly parade of hearings until the Christian rhetoric is confronted by the truth that Jesus died to demonstrate that the use of government to enforce morality leads to enormous injustice that is painful to God the Father. If you want women to not have unplanned pregnancies, gentlemen, DO MORE TO LOVE THEM.

Mercy for Abortion

Pope Francis proclaimed today that during the Jubilee year starting on December 8th, priests will be allowed to absolve contrite women of the sin of having procured an abortion.

Francis hails from a region with both a high rate of abortion and relatively religious populations. As my mother continued an active role in church after starting birth control in the ’60s, I wonder how many women who have had an abortion continue quietly to participate in Catholic life. The proclamation of mercy may simply be a concession to practical realities.

I have offered meditations on the problem of abortion. In the wording of his proclamation, I feel that Frances has a heart that is open to the realities described in my first post. Abortion is not a choice that any woman would seek, and it indeed leaves scars. Those scars deserve healing. It is here that I find Pope Francis’s message to be yet a little tone-deaf, in that it trumpets “mercy” rather than healing.

When incarnation has already occurred, among the most significant scars of an abortion arise from the struggle of the infant spirit to disentangle itself from its mother’s womb. I know of two ways of solving this problem: one is for the chastened mother to seek a stable relationship in which a baby will thrive, and to bear the worthy father of a child. Church should be an incubator for such relationships, and keeping women out of Church is contrary to that purpose. The second mechanism is for a mature spiritual practitioner to aid the infant spirit in its liberation. This is an intercession by Divine Love that priests are supposed to mediate.

I also am frustrated that the conditions of mercy are limited to “a contrite heart.” I have voiced the opinion that religion should be seen as the mechanism by which we bring people out of primitive spirituality into a rational engagement with the divine powers. Cain was not punished for the murder of Abel, but sent away to reflect and learn. I believe the same is true for any sin, including abortion. The repentant woman should be asked not only “Are you sorry?” but “What did you learn, and how have you changed your life as a result?”

There are women trapped in circumstances in which the answer will be “Nothing.” I offer my own proclamation here: whether or not the Catholic Church is willing to forgive you, Christ will be with you when you are ready to receive healing. That may be in the final moments of your life, when the hold that the pimp or abuser or pusher has on you slips away. Be unafraid, and open your heart to healing. It is from the heart that unclean things come, but it is also from there that the light of Christ enters into the world. When you receive it, those that have forced themselves into you will be infected with compassion, and you will enter into the ranks of the angels.

Yes, Francis, I think that you understand me: it is the place of the Church to help the burdened carry their cross, rather than to beat them down with it.