Virgin Shield

Roy Moore, Republican candidate for the Senate seat vacated in Alabama by Jeff Sessions, is under attack for his conduct towards underage girls while working in the district attorney’s office during his 20’s and 30’s. In responding to the accusations, Moore appears to be taking the advice of Steve Bannon, who led Trump around the Access Hollywood (“Grab ’em by the pussy”) debacle. Bannon advised to deny everything and double down.

Moore’s supporters have done their best. On the political level, they charge that the revelation of these claims only four weeks before the election reeks of political manipulation by the Democrats and liberal media (the charges were given national airing by the Washington Post). Others note that the acts, even if committed, have expired under the statute of limitations, and so have no bearing on the election.

Before the scandal, Moore achieved notoriety for his defense of Biblical principles. He was removed as a sitting judge for refusing to honor a court order requiring the removal of a Ten Commandments display he had installed. Appointed later to the Alabama Supreme Court, he was removed again for refusing to enforce the US Supreme Court decision upholding same-sex marriage.

So the political arguments have been supplemented by theological arguments. Co-religionists have implored voters to show Moore Christian forgiveness. Others have compared his suffering to that of Christ on the cross.

But the ugliest justification is that the Virgin Mary was only fourteen when she was married to Joseph, and so there is Biblical foundation for older men to pursue young girls.

There is so much wrong with these arguments. Forgiveness is wonderful, but that does not extend to empowering those that do wrong. Women also suffer persecution, and to suggest that Moore is being persecuted is like unto a suggestion that Herod is persecuted.

But the one that hurts the most is the parallel drawn to the relationship between Mary and Joseph. That relationship was not considered unusual in the era – in fact, the principle concern of the parents of an adolescent girl was to ensure that she was established safely in marriage to a decent man. Moore was not married to his victims.

But neither was the Holy Spirit. I’ve heard this issue raised before at a non-denominational Christmas service. The preacher attacked the whole idea of the immaculate conception, stating that “God doesn’t molest little girls.” Trevor Noah took this to its ultimate conclusion on Monday night, observing that the parallel offered by Moore’s supporters seemed to suggest that Moore was seeking to conceive a Messiah, giving new meaning to the idea of a “Second Coming.”

This upsets me because I don’t see Mary as a passive vessel. When women are allowed to choose, beautiful consequences result. The angel Gabri-el proposed a solution to the problems that beset Mary’s tribe, and by extension the whole of humanity. Mary’s humble response was “Here am I.”

Events during Jesus’s ministry emphasize this message. Presented with the paradox of the life in paradise of a woman widowed successively to seven brothers, Jesus observed that in that age everyone will make their own decisions about marriage. When Margaret complained that Mary was not helping with housework, Jesus encouraged Margaret to take also “the better part.” Finally, when a woman appears to anoint him with oil before the crucifixion – as were the kings by the high priest – Jesus rebukes the charge of hypocrisy (“the oil could have been used for the poor”) with the simple statement “She has done a beautiful thing for me.”

That Mary made the decision to bear Jesus when she was only fourteen may seem strange by our standards, but it was her choice. Moore didn’t share that choice with his victims. Mary’s choice carried with it the possibility of prosecution under the law of her day. Safe from criminal prosecution, Moore would do well to learn from her courage and humility, ask personally for forgiveness, and bear the consequences in the court of public opinion.

Whose Free Will Is It Anyways?

“Let’s say that you are on a camping trip with your son, and he suffers a snake bite. What if there was a source of information, freely available everywhere in the world that could tell you how to prepare the leaves on that bush to make an antidote. Would you accept that information?”

“Nobody tells me what to do!”

That was a real conversation on a Boy Scout outing. I didn’t say that there was a connection between receiving the gifts of love and choices that we make elsewhere in our lives, but that was assumed by the listener. Not that I didn’t make different choices: I was the father that stayed behind on that trip when the other dads went off to gamble, or to the topless bar.

As a physicist, the whole proposition of free will makes no sense to me. Given the initial conditions of the universe, things will unfold according to the laws of nature. Given that I believe that the soul can be encompassed by our theories of nature, there doesn’t seem to be any room left for choice at all. We are simply machines moving through time. Choice is an illusion.

But we have choices forced upon us all the time, don’t we? When a vulnerable person turns to us for security in exchange for sex, we have to decide whether to be faithful to our spouse. When a problem in a contract threatens our company, we have to decide whether to miss coaching the youth soccer playoff game or risk being fired. Those are hard choices, but nothing compared to the man watching his children starve who puts a gun into his pocket and goes out to find money for food. Or in an abusive family, the sensitive child that turns to drugs to block out the psychic pain.

What does making any of these choices have to do with “free will”? It seems like there’s no good solution, at least no solution that allows us to feel good about ourselves. If we have “free will”, wouldn’t we choose to have better choices? And if God truly loved us, wouldn’t he give us better choices to make?

But the fact of the matter is that humanity creates our own choices. We decide to accept sex in exchange for the promise of security, when we could donate to charities that provide a safety net for people in trouble. The lack of that safety net pushes that man out the door with his gun. We could narrow our role in the family to “bread-winner”, never be that soccer coach, and vent our frustrations on that child.

This, then, is the Christian promise: God promises that your soul won’t be trapped in the bad choices you make. Your soul, when it sees the opportunity to receive love, will always be free to accept that offering. That may mean death, as so many Christian martyrs have joyously accepted as a surcease from their struggle against hatred, but they receive it willingly because they can feel God’s love reaching down to them in that moment.

Do you ever think whether God is free to choose not to rescue us when we are in need? Think about it: it’s certainly not easy.

When the adulterer is caught in the lie, is he still going to receive love from the spouse that promised to love in the name of God? When the abuser is finally caught by the social services, is she going to receive love from the child that was blessed with the emotional sensitivity to understand her sorrows?

No, because we were offered love, and chose to strengthen the parts of our spirit that don’t want to receive it. Of those parts that we have denied, we have to look for replacements, because often they have fled back to God of their own free will. Is it right for God to force them to come back so that we can try again?

This is the true miracle of this day, the day of the Savior’s birth. Unconditional Love came as man to prove that we have all the parts that we need right here. We have each other, we have the gardens and animals: we can choose to love them, and when that choice is abused by the recipient, God is there to fill us up again, and rescue us when the physical world rejects our gift.

You see, it’s not “free will” from love, which is the choice that only a crazy person would make. It is freedom from the crazy people that refuse love. It is the promise of an escape from the boot on the neck: we don’t have to succumb to the bastards that want control more than they want to share in our choices.

And for the crazy people, it’s the promise that there’s a way back that doesn’t depend upon fixing all the wrongs that you’ve committed. Eventually, yes, you will want to make up for them, but the door opens for free.

Did love have a choice? No. The sacrifice of Jesus was the only way that it could be done: Humanity was given the gift of intelligence to do this work of salvation of the world. It wasn’t enough. Love had to come in human form to show us how it was done.

But it was a gift given freely, of love’s own free will.