Saturday, October 21, 2017

Some Definitions For Clarity

The terms “pro-life” and “pro-choice” refer, as we know, to the political issue of abortion. It has numerous moral and social implications, but we ought not forget that every political claim is a moral claim. This truth becomes obscured by the fact that some political positions or claims don’t seem like moral claims, or don’t move people as passionately as others do. When many people say, “Keep morality out of politics,” or “You can’t legislate morality,” what they really mean is, “I don’t like the particular moral claims that this person is attempting to enforce.” Just think about that for a minute.

Anyway, some definitions for the issue of abortion:

“Pro-life”—It is never morally acceptable to take the life of a baby in the womb.
“Pro-choice”—It is at least sometimes morally acceptable to take the life of a baby in the womb.

As you can see, there are a lot of surrounding discussions that are worth having, especially surrounding difficult circumstances faced by pregnant women that push people to take a “pro-choice” position. Also, many people think of the issues as involving a “spectrum” of some sort, and that whatever the issue, they are somewhere along it. I have attempted to rid us of these gradations, because they are not helpful. Some people may find themselves described as “pro-choice” when they do not self-identify as such, and I can only encourage you to be honest about what you really think, and why you think it. Others won’t like the moral starkness of this discussion, particularly with my use of the word, “baby.” I cannot imagine wording things differently, without cluttering up the issue. If you find yourself feeling guilty because of some position you take, or changing the terms, you may want to consider why. My definitions do imply a rejection of the idea that people have value because of their utility in some way, or that such value is conferred by others. Guilty.

There is also plenty of room within a “pro-choice” stance to say that abortion would be unacceptable in circumstance X, but not in circumstance Y. I didn’t want to mischaracterize a position, so I left the “pro-choice” position as broad as possible, while accurately framing the discussion. I fully intend and would expect people especially in the “pro-choice” category to argue about circumstances, because it is the circumstances that change the moral quality of an action, in some ways of thinking. The “pro-life” position I have outlined assumes that the intentions or the circumstances of the people involved do not change the character of the act.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Faith Comes From What Is Heard: An Introduction To Fundamental Theology, Feingold (II)

The first part of the book is called, “Revelation and Faith: God Speaks to Man and Our Response”. The first chapter of three in this part is titled, “Revelation and Salvation History”. Feingold writes, “The existence of sacred theology as a discipline distinct from philosophy is based on the fact that God speaks to man in history and man is capable of hearing, receiving, and discerning God’s revealed Word.” One point of departure for Catholics and Reformed is the nature of this capability, and man’s access to natural knowledge of God. This difference has been discussed at length elsewhere. I should note that it is unclear to me whether Reformed theology affirms a natural desire to see God that is frustrated by man’s inability to reach it, or whether man is flatly unable to desire seeing God, on account of his fall from original righteousness. In any case, Feingold says, “That the eternal God speaks to man, a little part of His creation, is logically unexpected, but is secretly longed for as a sign that we are loved by the source of our being.” What can be said by the Reformed with respect to this longing, this natural desire, will help decide how much agreement may be supposed between the Reformed and Catholics.

He says that the purpose of revelation is intimate communion with God. DV, 2 gives a summary of Sacred Scripture on this purpose, and in the Catholic parlance, the common theme of every motif or analogy is friendship. The concept of friendship includes the intimate communion of nuptial union, and that of adoption into a family, but we live in an impoverished culture, where friendship is the substandard version of some reckless eros. Feingold makes the thought-provoking choice to be theocentric when talking about man’s end; that is, rather than view the matter as primarily man’s ascent to God, he frames the “principal subject” of revelation in terms of God’s condescension and man’s elevation by God into intimate communion. Thus, he speaks of two movements or directions of revelation: God’s descent, and man’s ascent. As Dr. Feingold reminds us that the friendship takes place between drastically unequal partners, I am reminded of numerous instructions on the pitfalls of analogies in theology. We should expect, considered from our experience and vantage point, our analogies fail to express God’s love and perfection. On the other hand, the contemplation of God does indeed purify our understandings of those things upon which our analogies are based, whether fatherhood, adoption, or any number of things.

Noting that the first paragraph of the Catechism gives a summary of salvation history and of God’s purpose in salvation, Dr. Feingold notes that the Summa theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas is structured around this double movement. He says that St. Thomas reaffirms the classic (patristic) notion of exitus/reditus; that is, everything comes from God, and is returning to God in Christ. I note with appreciation the numerous Catholic theologians who remind us that the profoundest expression of this idea is the Sacrifice of the Mass. It is the outworking of the teaching of Romans 11:36.

In the words of a subheading, Feingold says, “The principal content of the gospel is the Incarnation and our nuptial union with the Incarnate Word.” He continues, “All of Revelation either treats of the Incarnation and our union with God in Christ and the Church, or else prepares for it in a marvelous way by promise, prophecy, worship, the commandments, and formation of the People of God in whom He will become incarnate.” I don’t think the Christ-centered thrust of the Scripture is in serious dispute, though we will see that what we mean by that Christocentricity may vary, in application.

We do unhesitatingly rejoice that we in Christ are not invited as guests to the nuptial union, but as the Bride! Along with St. Paul, we confess that “this is a great mystery.” (Ephesians 5:32)

Indeed, the condescension of God in making use of sensible realities is not in dispute between the Reformed and Catholics, nor the progressive nature of revelation, or the existence of typology. Mediation in the abstract is also not controversial, but its application will be, owing to differences regarding epistemology and our acquisition of information from natural revelation, the sense of Scripture, and the nature of the Church. Especially in this last sphere concerning the Church, the differences undermine what is, in the Catholic understanding, the anchor for the proper interpretation of Sacred Scripture. There is an inseparable relationship between what we call “the literal sense” and the other senses. Its myriad valid applications rely on the liturgy as the prayerful response and offering to God, which assumes the facts of revelation and the divine condescension. If we do not understand the nature of the Church and our place in it, we cannot know what the proper faithful response is, in the present.

Dr. Feingold highlights the principal danger of Modernism, that is, a belief that dogma and its formulas are merely artifacts of human knowledge about God. If that were so, Christianity would not be a supernaturally revealed religion at all. There would be no knowledge theoretically inaccessible to human reason alone, because everything known would be a product of human reason.

For the sake of dialogue, it is surely appreciated that public revelation is agreed to have ceased with the death of the last apostle. However, if revelation is “inexhaustible” as Feingold says, and the understanding of the faith once-delivered deepens and develops, the Reformed may ask if this alleged cessation of public revelation has in fact occurred.

As we go along, we will find these answers, God willing.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Note About Respect For Other Religions

I have yet to read a statement to the world’s Hindus from the Vatican, but upon seeing that it existed, and that it distinguishes between “tolerance”—regarded as necessary but insufficient—and “respect” that it commends, a few thoughts:

Every person, to the measure of their ability, has the natural desire and capacity to see God. That is, we’re made for fellowship with God. The natural religions of the world represent man’s search for God, in accord with that natural desire. The Catholic Church affirms and teaches that a great many things can be known about God through reason alone. Therefore, we are respecting precisely those things that are true about God, or about ourselves, that can be known by reason alone, in other religions. That’s potentially a lot of stuff, especially regarding the existence of God, and most of His attributes.

Christianity is a revealed religion. We call it “supernatural revelation,” when God reveals Himself and His attributes to man, especially beyond man’s capacity to know Him by reason. God is in fact so loving that things we could know have been repeated! The supreme act of God’s love is of course the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, and His victorious resurrection. But more basically, and prior, is the fact that God became a man. This is God searching for man! When you read the Bible, you are reading the story of God seeking man, to restore us to the friendship we had lost. He doesn’t need us, but we need Him.

One reason that the Catholic Church dialogues with non-Christians is because we believe that man’s search for God is a noble one. It is better still to realize, through heeding miracles, prophecy, and the Church, that God is seeking me!

If someone is coming from a Protestant tradition, where by definition, there is a skepticism regarding the utility of natural reason, this dialogue seems like capitulation. But it need not be. We needn’t fear, because the fullness of truth is Christ. We reach out in love, precisely because we want people to know Jesus Our Lord and Savior. Truth, literally personified.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Few Thoughts On “Me Too”

I cried some today. In fairness, I cry about a lot of things. And it wasn’t simply sexual assault today. But still, many of your stories break my heart, truly. I have nothing to add that seems helpful.

And it’s not enough to say that I am or have been part of the problem, though that’s true. I want to say more. I want to say that even if some on “the Left” want to take this movement places I can’t go, I still want to hear you. I don’t think “consent” is enough, and I’m not “sex-positive,” but I want to be here with you. I’ve said my peace to the counterculture; I don’t need to be defensive right now.

I don’t see a point in defending men, or defending women. If a large majority of us agree that all these actions are not acceptable, why not start there? I could condemn actors for their galling hypocrisy until I’m blue in the face, but it shuts the door to empathy. We all need more empathy.

There is an idea that empathy is for fools, for the weak. Maybe so. Maybe someone will take my outstretched hand, and (metaphorically) cut it off, for the sport of it. Maybe I’ll be sent to a re-education camp with all the deplorables. Empathy still seems worth a try.