Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Migrant Jesus, at the border

Kim Fabricus has composed the following hymn, which we could start using at church. 
Migrant Jesus, at the border,
refugee of fear and hate,
you’re a threat to law and order,
     nightmare of the nation-state.

Child of Israel, fleeing soldiers,
     from the Jordan to the Nile,
were your parents passport-holders,
     were you welcomed with a smile?

Home from Egypt, Spirit-breathing,
     in the towns of Galilee,
how you had the people seething
     when you preached the Jubilee.
Ease our fears, forgive our hatred
     of the other and the odd;
help us see the single-sacred:   
     face of stranger – face of God.
See the full hymn here.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Was Jesus Married? Discussion point by point

Unexpectedly, some weeks ago I entered into a discussion about whether Jesus was married or not, and if so, could it have been with Mary of Magdala?

I am convinced that the traditional understanding that Jesus was single is very correct. Yet, for the sake of the discussion, and edification of others, I post here, in a nutshell, what I found to be the main related arguments of this topic (as I understand them), and my answers (in scare quotes).

Point 1:
Jesus was a Jewish rabbi and as such it would have been very unexpected that he would not have married. He was expected to marry.  All the rabbinic literature endorses marriages and indeed the Torah command it (Gn 1:22, be fruitful and multiply).
Actually, during the time of Jesus, it was not that uncommon for a Jew to be unmarried. For instance, Paul himself was unmarried (1 Co 7:7). And there is also the group of the Essenes, who were known for their emphasis on celibacy (Josephus, Antiquities; Jewish War; Philo, Hypothetica 11.14-18). [cited here ] Basically, although most Jews were married, some were not. It is possible that Jesus saw his celibacy as a dedication to announce the Kingdom of God.

Point 2:
The wedding at Cana is in fact the wedding of Jesus and Mary of Magdala. At Jesus time the broom was expected to provide the wine and this is what Jesus did at Cana. 
This is a quite extravagant reading of John 2;1-11. The plain reading is clear: Jesus, his mother, and his disciples were invited into a wedding party that runs out of wine. Prompted by his mother, Jesus tansformed water into wine, providing the first sign of who he was. This was done discretely, not in front of everybody. Because of this miracle the disciples believed in him. As for Mary of Magdala, she is not even mentioned in this passage, as she will only encounter Jesus later in the gospel.

Clearly, this story is not evidence for Jesus marrying Mary of Magdala. If you want to read Jesus wedding into this text, well, that is your call, but you have to force this interpretation into into the text. 

Point 3:
The gospel of Philip have a passage where Jesus kisses Mary of Magdala. And there is also the gospel of Jesus' wife.
The gospel of Philip would have been written more than two hundred years after the death of Jesus. In comparison the canonical gospels written only a few decades after Jesus' death.  It is easy then to realise which ones are more reliable. The particular passage in Philip's gospel, even if unreliable as historical witness, could just read that Jesus have kissed Mary's hand and the disciples got upset by that (see wikipedia). Finally, as for the gospel of Jesus wife, which is not really a gospel, but more like a paragraph, it seems it is a forgery. The reason is that the document have been provided by an "anonymous" person, who moreover had also been demonstrated to provide other forgeries. That the person cannot be traced back, and that other material he or she provided is demonstrably forged makes the case very suspicious. Weight the evidence against the whole of the canonical gospels and there is no case.
Point 4:
The disciples didn't want the people to know that Jews was married, but there are hints here and there. You don't want to see them because you are a doubting Thomas.
It seems to me that the only way to criticise the solid evidence of of Jesus being single, is by buying into the conspirational theory. This is to claim that the disciples knew the truth, but didn't want people to know. This is much more than to say that the disciples might have been mistaken about such and such particular issue, but is to say that they were dishonest. That they sold a lie. At this point I start to wonder if some people are not deceiving themselves here, that there is something more here than trying to study and learn from history. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Dorthody day, the old lady and diamond story.

Tom Cornell, who was an editor of the Catholic Worker paper, wrote once this story about Dorothy Day.
One day a woman came in and donated a diamond ring to the Worker. We all wondered what Dorothy day would do with it. She could have one of us take it down to a diamond exchange and sell it. It would certainly fetch a month's worth of beans. That afternoon, Dorothy gave the diamond ring to an old woman who lived alone and often come to us for meals. "That ring would have paid her rent for the better part of a year," someone protested. Dorothy replied that the woman had her dignity; she could sell it fi she liked and spend the money for rent, a trip to Bahamas, or keep the ring to admire. "Do you suppose God created diamonds only for the rich?"  

This story reminds me quite well another one story in the gospels where Mary pours a whole bottle or very expensive perfume on the feet of Jesus.

Dorothy Day Selected writings p xlii

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Atonement explained with chairs

Here a very nice video explaining the theories of atonement from the Evangelical and Orthodox standard perspectives. The Orthodox view is as well an acceptable position for Catholics. Enjoy!

 Did you find it interesting or helpful? Please comment.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

How natural law could favour homosexual acts

This is my answer to Marc Barnes post on homosexuality,

It seems to me that Marc Barnes might be answering to weaker (and somehow stereotyped) arguments instead of to the stronger case one might find. In particular I would like to comment on his reading of Paul in Romans, and on the natural law. So this is my answer to Marc Barnes:

Prologue: the silence of Jesus

As you mention, it is true that Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, or about rape, or genocide, or suicide, or paedophilia, or crystal meth; and that it would be silly to assume Jesus approval for everything he doesn't mention. However, all this is already know by the well minded and intelligent people on the pro-homosexual side of the argument, so there might be more to the argument than what meets the eye.

I believe that the silence of Jesus is a good point on which to start the discussion about homosexuality. Jesus was quite vocal about issues which he seemed to consider important: hypocrisy, for example, or lack of commitment to righteousness, or the failure to embrace outcasts and foreigners. That Jesus was not at all vocal about homosexual acts suggests that the particular issue about sex between men (or women) was not at the core of his doctrine. It may follow from his teachings that homosexual acts are intrinsically evil, but whether it follows or not is a matter for further interpretation.

For some gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people that have perceived the Church basically as being a bunch of people obsessed about sex and about prohibiting same gender relationships, the fact that Jesus was silent about homosexual acts comes as a good news. In the same way, for some LGBT people, the ones hate themselves for being queer, the fact that Jesus didn't speak a world of hate to them should also comes as a good news.

To summarize this section. The silence of Jesus can be a positive point to be made, as it tells us that the first word of Jesus to us, is not about sex. From this it can be learned, that the first word from the Church to LGBT people is not (and should not be) about sex. For many people this is good news.

Part 1: homogenital acts and the natural law in Paul
A careful reading of the argument you develop from the letter of Paul to the Romans (chapter 1) seems to go as follows:

    a)  Paul is not talking about same-sex committed relationships but about same sex genital acts
    b)  Paul claims that same-sex genial acts are contrary to the natural law
    c)  Acting contrary to the natural law is always sinful
    d)  Therefore, same-sex genital acts are sinful even if performed within a committed relationship.
I think that the problem with your argument is an equivocation of terms. It seems you are using here the concept of natural law as it was used in the middle ages and famously championed by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274). I would claim that this understanding of natural law cannot simply be forced onto the term "unnatural" [para physin] that Paul uses in his letter. In other words, to understand Paul's actual argument, we need to stablish what *Paul* means by the term "unnatural."

The best way to know the meaning of a word is to study its use in context. There are several times where Paul uses the term natural/unnatural, which include the following:

             Letter to the Romans chapter 11:13b 23a,24
             Now I am speaking to you Gentiles, ... [regarding Israel] God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature [kata physin] a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature [para physin], into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural [kata physin] branches be grafted back into their own olive tree.
             Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 11:14-15
             Does not nature [physis] itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him,  but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?          

             Letter to the Romans, chapter 1:26b-27 (which is what we are discussing here)
            Their women exchanged natural [physiken] intercourse for unnatural [para physin] , and in the same way also the men, giving up natural [physiken] intercourse with women, were consumed with passion for one another.

From this we learn that the term "contrary to nature" or "unnatural" [paraphysin] is a term that 
       *  can be applied to some kind of intercourse
       *  can be applied to something that God can do.
and that "nature" [physis] is a term that 
       *  denotes the rational basis for knowing that having long hair is degrading for men.

It seems to me then that the appropriate the meaning for the Greek words for "nature" [physis] or "natural" [kata physis, physiken] should be related to something as it is *expected* to be, that is, that which is apparently common-sensical, the socially standard. In the same way, the term unnatural [para physin] in Paul would be related to something that appears contrary to what is expected of it: non-standard, uncommon, even socially unacceptable, but not necessarily morally bad (since God can do it, and God is Good)

Part 2: homogenital acts and the natural law   
I hope I have shown that Paul cannot be used to prove that homogenital acts are always sinful. Maybe you have read into Paul a different argument, an argument that the Church seems to make, and that I want to explore now.
Once again, the argument:

    a)  Let's focus not on same-sex committed relationships but about same sex genital acts
    b)  Same-sex genial acts are contrary to the natural law
    c)  Acting contrary to the natural law is always sinful
    d)  Therefore, same-sex genital acts are sinful even if performed within a committed relationship.

I don't think that focusing on same-genital acts without taking into account their context is a good starting point in a discussion, but this is what is advocated in point a), which seems inappropriate to me for the following reasons:
1- Pastorally, moral issues are commonly discussed within a context. Not allowing for the context to enter into this particular discussion, while at the same time keeping attention to context as an integral part of other pastoral discussion, seems difficult to justify a priori.
2 - It might be true that same sex genital acts are always wrong regardless of the context, but this independence from the context should be the result of the argument, to be found in the conclusions, rather than in the premises.
3 - I suspect that it is impossible to talk about natural law disregarding the context as a starting point since natural law, by definition, requires the use of reason and the actual observation of the world. Basically, without observation (and thus without at least in some sense, a context) we cannot know the natural end of beings. Natural law seems to require then, some sort of consideration for the context.

So, what is natural law?
Using some quotations from your blog, I would explain it in the following way:
Natural law comes from Aristotelian metaphysics. It is the idea that all things and all organisms have a natural end (telos), which can be deduced from reason and observation. "Situations and actions can be decided as contrary to an organism’s natural end based on their effects upon that organism", and consequently should be avoided. "For example, putting a rosebush in a closet leads to the withering of the rosebush. To wither is not the natural end of the rosebush. In fact, inherent in the rosebush’s biology is its natural goal of growth and reproduction. Therefore, rosebushes should not be placed in closets." In the same way. "Humans are meant to be happy. Good actions will ultimately make human beings happy, bad actions won’t. If an action is seen to be detrimental to the human person — that is, if it ultimately leads to unhappiness — then that action can be defined as contrary to our nature," and thus should be avoided.

In other words, arguments about natural law, are arguments about flourishing, about what a good life is meant to be. Situations and actions that are detrimental to the flourishing of the human being (and thus its end) are to be avoided, while actions that foster it are to be promoted.

The question is therefore the following: do same-sex genital acts (in a committed long term relationship) foster or diminish the flourishing of the human person?

And previously, or simultaneously, we could also ask: do same gender committed relationships foster or diminish the flourishing of the human person?
The natural end of a person is union with God, which is happiness. The well being of a person, the fact that it is growing into happiness, into its natural end, is shown by the fruits of the Spirit, which (according to Paul in his letter to the Galatians) are "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." This is what flourishing looks like for a human being.
Paul's words are moving and beautiful, but they are not the source of our understanding of natural law. To the contrary, for Aristotle and Aquinas, and for the Church's teaching on natural law today, what constitutes human flourishing is not a matter of divine revelation, but a matter of observation and reasoning. That is why, once the principle that every being has a natural end is accepted, then natural law becomes the framework to argue morality in the public forum, where not everyone is a follower of Jesus.

Now, do same-gender committed relationships foster or hinder a growth in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?

And, in particular, does sex within same-gender committed relationships foster or hinder a growth in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control?
My answer is that yes, same-gender committed relationships foster and help in the flourishing of LGBT people, and this is the reason I support them. I came to this conclusion from my experience; from knowing loving and caring people in relationships who have shown me this.
Yours in Christ,


Wednesday, July 16, 2014

School to Prison Pipeline

Tolerance zero policy for schools end up treating children like criminals. This needs to change.

The goals of Ending the Schoolhouse to Jailhouse Track are:

To document and expose the use of zero tolerance and other harsh disciplinary policies and the “School-to-Prison Pipeline";
 To develop and implement school discipline reforms on the local level that will serve as models for other communities;
To strengthen the capacity of the youth and parents involved in this work to become engaged citizens and agents of change;
To impact the national conversation about this issue in order to facilitate broader reforms.

See more

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Understanding Orthodoxy

I have collected some links about Eastern Orthodox theology:

Scholarly Notes

a) The Filioque controversy and its implications. A very good technical text that helped me a lot to understand it. The full book from Laurent A Cleenwerck can be bought here.
(I may be wrong but I think Laurent was my teacher of an online greek course I took in New York!)

b) Perry C Robinson in his Energetic Procession blog on Orthodoxy explains why he chose Orthodoxy over Catholicism basing himself on systematic theology. I found it very interesting, and gave me food for thought. He has other interesting posts like this on Diothelitism.

c) Orthodox Teaching on Personal Salvation. A comprehensive text, and possibly a good review. The few introductory paragraphs maybe have a more negative view of the person that I think I found in other orthodox documents, though.  

Testimonials that choose Eastern Orthodoxy rather/or than Roman Catholicism:

a)  Robertbar finds the Catholic Church too medieval, with the papacy and the dogma of transubstantiation ad odds with the Early Church. He considers the Novus Ordo Mass an innovative major break in the Church liturgy, and worries that the Catholic Church is going too liberal.
b) Michael Whelton explains how he doesn't like liturgy innovations and the papacy.  
c) Nick explains why he is Catholic and not Orthodox. Ordodox don't agree of whether Catholic have valid holy orders or other sacraments. Some EO would even re-baptise a Catholic. He also find suspicious that Orthodoxy didn't manage to have an ecumenical council in a 1000 years.

Random documents
Website with links explaining or helping you to become Orthodox