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phariseepublicanDavid Schütz, at Sentire Cum Ecclesia, has had a combox discussion with a Lutheran Pastor in which the Pastor quotes his wife (a former Catholic) as saying that Pope Benedict resigned because the crisis of evil in the Church broke his heart.

Below, I publish David’s response in full, but I urge you to go and read the whole post, and the comment stream. It’s well worth a look:

What, you wanted me to say “sex abuse”? Happy now? No. I don’t talk about it very often. Because my reaction to it is just what your wife thinks Benedict’s was: it breaks my heart.

And yes, I am sure that it did break Benedict’s heart too. I am sure he knew a lot more about the evil in the Church than you, or I, or your wife or anyone could possibly know.

But to say that this is the reason he resigned? I don’t think so. He has had to deal with that particular evil his whole papacy. I am sure it wore him down, but… some other needle must have broken this particular camel’s back.

If “the crisis” to which you refer, Pastor Mark, is “evil in the Catholic Church”, well, then that truly is a crisis that has been with us since the beginning. It is the very same crisis that I find every time I look into my own heart and see what is there – more than you, or anyone else other than God, could know.

But perhaps one of the greatest evils that has come as a result of this particular evil is the fact that it has become the only evil we can see. It is like the person who goes to confession again and again and confesses the same sins each time. This particular sin becomes the only thing he can think about, the only thing he thinks he needs to repent of – and he does not realise the other more subtle evils affecting his life.

Yes, evil exists in the Church. This is not something to be accepted (“well, it has always been so, so why try to change it?”) but it is certainly not something we should be surprised at. I would have it that the whole world could look at the Church and see nothing but holiness and love – what an evangelising moment THAT would be! Instead the body of Christ is shamed and spat upon because of the betrayal of her members.

But should anyone stand like the pharisee in the temple and say to himself “God, I thank thee that my church is not like that one over there in the corner etc” – well… Pastor, if you and your wife and family have found a Christian community in which there is no evil, no crisis, I wish you luck.

I didn’t choose to become a Catholic because Catholics were more holy than other Christians. I wish it were so, but on balance I know that probably they are not. I chose to become a Catholic because I was convinced that the Catholic Church is the visible society upon earth in which the Church of Jesus Christ fully subsists. That is something quite different.

All that having been said, I do remain convinced that if one is seeking to become holy, then the Catholic Church is the place where the means of attaining holiness are most fully to be found. For all the dreadful, horrific evils committed by members and priests and leaders of the Catholic Church over all the centuries, yet I can name you so many more whose life here on earth, by the grace of Jesus Christ working within them, enabled them to reach that perfection of holiness in this life that there was no sin at all left in them from which they needed no be purified after their death.

Does that sound horrific to you? Does that scandalise you? It should not. Because I used the words “by the grace of Jesus Christ”. One thing you must say about us Catholics: we believe in the power of God’s grace – perhaps more than the most ardent protestant – because we believe that God’s Grace in Jesus Christ really CAN change lives and make sinners into saints.

That is – now and always and world without end – the answer to the crisis of which you speak: the crisis of evil in the Church.

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DNATree-616x602I’ve passed on a flawed genetic history to my offspring. My father’s line gave me Von Willibrand Disease, which means that many of us bruise and bleed easily and for ages, and my mother’s family bequeathed Coeliac Disease, which explains a long family history of digestive disorders. From both sides, I’ve passed on to one of my daughters an allergy to bee venom. In addition, a very rare complex of infancy cancers has popped up in my father’s line several times; my brother, my son, and a couple of distant cousins have all been victims (and survivors).

All of these disorders are damaging and potentially life-threatening if they’re not diagnosed or understood; all of them are manageable if they’re expected.

It’s only in the last few decades that we’ve learned about the genetic nature of these disorders. (My husband bemoaned that I didn’t break down till I was out of warranty.) Some of the younger members of the family have been offered genetic counselling, which – as pointed out in this article by Philip Burcham on First Things – is code for eugenic destruction of those the geneticist considers to be imperfect.

Let us imagine Jessie [the writer’s grandmother] fell under the spell of the coercive eugenicist my wife resisted and agreed to abort her three OI-affected offspring—Lloyd, Mabel, and Cyril—while retaining her firstborn Laura as her sole “genetically pure” child. How, precisely, might snuffing out her affected offspring have made my local society stronger?

Aborting these three babies would only have exacerbated the severe skills shortage afflicting our state economy. The multigenerational list of those who would have been flushed away is incomplete but includes a doctor, a medical student, several nurses, and an even greater number of teachers, plus a headmaster, two scientists, a systems engineer, a musician, an occupational therapist, a dental technician, a physiotherapist, a draftsman, some pastors, and several skilled tradesmen.

Each has been a caring, socially engaged, and responsible citizen without a single criminal conviction among them; none has depended on the state as a welfare recipient during his working years; and virtually all have been, or remain, selfless contributors to several mainstream branches of the Protestant tradition in Western Australia. The loss of human and social capital to our state had Jessie aborted her three OI-affected offspring would have been substantial.

I went looking for a report on the research Burcham mentions that shows that all of us are genetically imperfect.  The average person has around 400 genetic flaws that could potentially cause disease. And these are just the ones we can test for with our current level of technology. For most people, the risk is to their children if they have them with another person carrying the same flaw, but for one in ten people, their genes are likely to have personal health consequences.

Should they know? It seems to me it depends on the reason for checking. Early warning is a good idea, I believe. So many things can be done; so much trouble can be saved; if people know they need earlier and more regular tests, or a particular diet, or anti-venom agents. The bowel cancer that carried off several of my mother’s family two and three generations back has merely inconvenienced my own generation, with earlier diagnosis, and is not likely to appear in my children’s generation since those with the genetic flaws are taking regular tests from an early age.

Making marriage or reproduction choices on the basis of genetic testing seems trickier to me. I think there are far more important things to consider, but I understand that other people might take a different view. Their call, I’d say. Making the choice to abort a child that is genetically imperfect is a step too far. If this is what genetic testing is for, I want no part of it.

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slavesThe Patheos book club has been discussing the book ‘Refuse to do nothing’, by  Shayne Moore and Kimberly McOwen Yim. It’s about the scandal of modern slavery – with an estimated 27 million people enslaved worldwide, it’s a bigger problem than most of us realise. The book suggests that we each should do what we can to contribute to its end.

Joanne Brokaw, one of the book club members, gives some examples:

For example, would you eagerly reach for a chocolate bar if you knew that the cocoa beans used to make the candy were harvested by young children, forced into labor and held against their will?  Child labor is used in almost 70% of the world’s cocoa production. As the sweet, chocolatey goodness melts on your fingers, imagine a young child, taken from his family and smuggled across the border to another country, working long hours with little food or pay, away from his family and threatened with violence. He made your treat possible.

Pick up your cell phone, and as you text, talk and surf the web, imagine a 6-year-old child in Africa – let’s say in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which boasts more than $20 trillion in natural resources at its disposal but is ranked by the United Nations as last in the world in human rights. This child is abducted by a militia group and given a machine gun, forced to kill his own parents (and likely rape and then horribly mutilate his own mother) and then instructed to burn down his entire village. That child soldier is now a  pawn in ongoing conflict over the minerals used to make electronics. He made your LOLs possible.

Imagine a young girl of 13; she argues with her mother, decides to run away, and ends up at the house of a friend’s older brother. A man living there locks her in a room, beats her, drugs her and then forces her into prostitution. She is denied food, and threatened with more violence, against not only herself but also her family if she tries to leave. Now imagine that it’s your own daughter, right here in the U.S., because 83% of sex trafficking victims in the U.S. are U.S. citizens (based on confirmed cases of trafficking).

Imagine a man, born into a family with a debt owed to a sugar plantation owner. At birth, his life is already not his own. He, his children and his children’s children will toil under excrutiatingly horrible conditions, locked away from the outside world, bonded to a debt he didn’t incur but which continues to accrue – one step forward, ten steps back, forever working yet never getting closer to freedom…

… recognize that you have a responsibility to consider how everything you do affects everyone else. You don’t have to become a modern day abolitionist, hitting the lecture circuit or traveling to Cambodia to free young girls held in bondage. You can start by simply becoming an educated consumer. Read labels, look for “fair trade” symbols, ask questions about where your products were made. What we buy on the cheap often comes at the expense of someone else.

Joanne also gives some more ideas and some other reading – as does the first link at the top of this post.

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Zac Altin has an article in MercatorNet about the natural law and its place in Confucian thought. It adds quite a bit to the brief exchange in our comment streams a few days ago – I particularly liked his robotic analogy.

Here’s part of his discussion:

… we are constrained by the logical limits of our own essential qualities. Tall people like me are constrained by stupidly low kitchen benches. Short people are constrained by wall cabinets placed at a reasonable height. One person cannot be both short and tall at the same time in the same way. We should therefore choose things that are suited to our nature.

In ethics, choosing things in accordance with our nature is known as ‘natural law’. Unfortunately, whenever an ethicist uses the term ‘natural law’ a certain proportion of his audience pictures an apple falling on Sir Isaac Newton’s head. We are used to hearing of ‘natural laws’ or ‘laws of nature’ in regard to physics rather than ethics. Yet it should come as no surprise to hear that human beings are subject to both physical laws as well as ethical ones. It is in the nature of human beings that our bodies are subject to the force of gravity; and we call this a physical law of nature. It is likewise in the nature of human beings that to choose to subject oneself to the force of gravity from a great height is not good for one’s continued survival, let alone one’s further flourishing. We call this an ethical law of human nature.

At this point, some are liable to object: how can it be an ethical law of nature, if we are free to break it? We aren’t free to break the law of gravity, after all.

But this objection misunderstands what the law is about. The ethical law does not say “You cannot throw yourself off a building”, rather it says “suicide is incompatible with human flourishing” and leaves you to work out for yourself the implications with regard to falling from a great height.

The title of this post is from a quote: “It is evident that an acquaintance with natural laws means no less than an acquaintance with the mind of God therein expressed.” James Prescott Joule.

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H/T to Mark Shea, whose commentary is below the video clip:

What do we mean by “kill” for instance? It’s sooo complicated that I don’t even know if we can define it? Is it really “killing” if the poor are a threat to peaceful and decent law-abiding citizens? Isn’t it self defense to kill these sources of Terror? And isn’t killing in self-defense just? And even if some Pharisees are going to get all self-righteous when brave Americans are dying at the hands of poor people, isn’t it a fact that killing the poor *works*? Well, excuse me for living, but I’m not going to split hairs about “murder” in some abstract theologian’s Ivory Tower when a poor person might possibly be thinking of doing something bad in several years. I say kill the poor *now* before they commit the crime I am fearful about. The fears of decent people like me are sufficient grounds for killing strangers on the off chance it will keep me safe. It’s not murder. It’s enhanced metabolic reduction.

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Fr Longenecker makes an interesting distinction between being good and doing good:

…these well-meaning Catholics (and of course this applies to a multitude of well-meaning Protestant Christians as well) who think they can “be good without going to church” are really in the same position as the polite atheists who also say they can “be good without God.”

By this, they mean they can start a charity, raise money for helpless people, run a soup kitchen and special Olympics, campaign for poor workers and ecological causes without starting their meetings with a prayer. True enough. All those things are possible.

They may go further in their definition of what it means to be good and suggest that this also means “reaching one’s full human potential” or “being self actualized” or “being fully mature and caring and loving.” This too is possible with a certain amount of determination, hard work, good manners, working out at the gym and reading the right self-help books.

Fr Longenecker says, though, that this is about doing good, not about being good.

Catholicism is about a supernatural transaction between an individual and God. God’s power, which we call “grace,” works on the person’s whole being to effect a transformation from the inside out. We call this “divinization.” The ancient church of the East calls it “theosis.” This transformation allows a human being to live in a new dimension of power and glory unimagined by most of us. The second century theologian Saint Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive” or as Jesus Christ himself said, “I have come to give you life—life more abundant!”

This “abundant life” means something greater than just doing good. It means being good. It means every cell and muscle, every sinew and particle of soul, every part of us being transformed with the radiant power and glory of God. It means the individual lives in a new, more dynamic dimension of reality. He or she begins to display even in this life a “god-like” quality.

You can read for yourself his answer to the inevitable comments about those whose Church attendance doesn’t have this effect – the hypocrites, the judgemental bullies, the predators who hide behind their church position in order to continue to do evil.

In this post, I’d rather focus on what he says about those who are transformed.

…in the saints we do not find what we expected to find.

We thought the saint’s story would be one of exclusive piety, sweet suffering and a sort of rose-scented limp through life. Instead, we find what the church calls “heroic sanctity”—amazing stories of ordinary individuals who achieve extraordinary things because they have become extraordinary people.

The life of the Polish priest Maximillian Kolbe is just one example: a physically sickly man living on one lung because of tuberculosis, in the 1930s he led thousands of young Polish men in a renewed Franciscan order. He started a printing press, a national newspaper with circulation in the millions, and pioneered radio broadcasting to spread the faith. Then he went to Japan as a missionary, learned the language and lived in extreme poverty, enduring persecution and misunderstanding. He built a monastery and started a seminary, wrote and printed a Japanese language paper, established a printing operation and radio station, before being summoned back to his country because of the outbreak of war.

Because of his passive resistance to the Nazi regime, he ended up in Auschwitz where, witnesses say, his wasted body was physically radiant with light. Giving up his own meager rations, he finally also gave up his life—stepping up to take the place of a man with a wife and children who had been sentenced to death. Even in the death cell he radiated a love and goodness beyond imagining—lasting far longer in his slow starvation than anyone thought possible until he was finally dispatched with a lethal injection.

Maximillian Kolbe is just one. Should anyone doubt that this power has been released into the lives of ordinary people, let him read the real stories of more saints, for each one (in a vast variety of people around the world and down through the ages) exhibits this same unimaginable heroism—this same supernatural transformation.

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Over on Sentire Cum Ecclesia, David Schutz has an excellent article on how to read the Bible. He discusses James Kugel’s ‘two agendas ‘– of the modern biblical scholar on the one hand and of the Bible’s role in bible-based religions on the other,’ quoting from Kugel:

the Bible was from the beginning understood to mean something quite different from the apparent meaning of its various parts. This fact, exemplified in hundreds of specific interpretations, might, it seems to me, serve as a model for modern readers, encouraging them (again, in varying degrees and through different explicative strategies) to seek in the words of Scripture a message beyond that seen by the modern critical eye.

Kugel claims that the two ways of reading the bible are incompatible. David sums up his message as: ‘You can’t have your Bible and criticise it too.’ David goes on to discuss what a commenter calls ‘the texts of terror’ in the light of  Kutz’s insight.

Read the whole article, and take a look at the comments, which include this from Peregrinus:

The suggestion that they “never happened” I am inclined to dismiss immediately – not so much because I’m convinced they did happen as because, even if they didn’t, that doesn’t make the problem disappear. Even if the events go away, the texts of terror are still there – canonical, inspired, inerrant. We still have to grapple with what they teach us.

What we can say, though, is that the texts don’t exist in a vacuum. The texts of terror are not the only inspired texts we have; they’re part of a much larger corpus, and I think it’s not only legitimate but essential to read them in the light of, and as a strand it, that body of work. If you take some of the texts of terror in isolation, on a simple reading they portay God as a genocidal terrorist. But before we accept that reading we must reflect that other texts portray God as merciful, loving and just.

Secondly, we should bear in mind that we are not the first to confront this problem. Pretty much as long as the scriptures have been received by the believing community – first the Jews, and later ourselves – this problem has presented itself, and been addressed. We’re not starting with a blank page here.

Thirdly, we should think about what we mean when we say that the scriptures are “inspired”. The scriptural texts – particularly the OT historical books, I suggest – were not written in a single sitting, immediately taking their final form…

The point is, “inspiration” is not something that got stamped onto the final product as some kind of guarantee of quality or authenticity. Inspiration describes the work of the Holy Spirit throughout this process, which would have lasted centuries.

And it doesn’t stop there, because even when you have the text that we know today, it’s not scripture. It’s only scripture when it’s received by the believing community, accepted as authoritative, employed for study and worship. There, too (in fact, perhaps there especially) we see the Holy Spirit at work.

If you think about it, this collective decision on the part of the people of God to receive a text as scriptural necessarily involves an engagement – a critical engagement – with the text. Did it come from an authoritative source? Was it congruent with tradition, already-received scripture and established faith? And so forth. This isn’t your full-blooded historical-critical approach, of course – that hadn’t been invented – but, still, the process must have involved some difficult questions. There would not only have been questions like “is God really genocidal?” – and we’ve no reason to think that earlier generations would have struggled with this any less than we do – but other issues as well. For example, the history narrated in 1 & 2 Chronicles is fairly clearly a retelling, from a new perspective and with some revising or corrective intent – of the history already told in earlier books, up to and including 2 Kings. And this is interesting, because we what we have is the believing community – inspired by the Holy Spirit – accepting as scriptural a work evidently written to revise/correct an earlier work, already received (again under the inspiration of the Spirit) as canonical…

I think the significance of a work being “canonised” as scriptural is a collective recognition that we need to engage with that text, to be open to what it teaches us, to accept that it does have important things to teach us – when read in the light of scripture as a whole, and in the light of our faith.And, I would add, when read as a part of the believing community. As Catholics, our instinct would be to engage with scripture collectively in any event, because we do things as a community, as a body, rather than individually. But if we look at the account of inspiration I’ve just given, we see that it’s predominantly the community, rather than the individual, who is inspired, and for an inspired reading of scripture, we should read it together – that is to say, with the church.

There’s more – I’ve abbreviated Peregrinus’ comment, and there are a number of others.

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