The Spirit/Body Unity-Connection to Communion with the Divine

I want to take another look at this issue of abortion, personhood and the self. Essentially, the concept that was conveyed in the last post was that bodily existence and the spirit or soul or some bodiless “I”/self are inter-connected. Where you see bodily existence you see the person. For me, it’s not like when you die you end up separating the two. When you are resurrected you are not resurrected without a body. To adhere to that is to adhere to Gnosticism in which the body is considered evil.

Here, I want to clear up some loose ends that could possibly arise with the personhood/body connection. The way I hope to accomplish this is via relying on the work of Christopher Veniamin’s little booklet, “Euthanasia: A Theological Approach.”

In this booklet Veniamin deals with euthanasia from an Orthodox perspective. In looking at A: the other end of life—in terms of euthanasia specifically (though euthanasia can occur at pretty much any time) and B: communion with God, I think it will make the grounding for prenatal life (theologically) more clearer. In other words, understanding euthanasia from this biblical/theological perspective helps to get a clearer understanding of abortion and the self and the human person from this end of life. Ironically, this post won’t be talking about euthanasia per se but rather using it as the framework for this matter. I happen to think that abortion and euthanasia are two sides of the same coin with regard to personhood. For if one believes that the moment of conception (the very beginning of bodily existence)—at the zygote and embryo stages that all that is there is a clump of cells and there is no brain activity or consciousness then that works at the other end of life as well.

For an example, Veniamin’s book uses the Terri Schiavo case to make his point. Why preserve someone’s life who is in a vegetative state both physically and mentally?

Veniamin thinks that western theology has been found wanting when it comes to these moral dilemmas. He says:

“…the divorce between doctrine and ethics, between faith and the life in Christ, which in turn stems from the fact that when applied to practical, every-day, ethical or moral situations, western theology is sadly found wanting.“

I think I have to agree with him. As much as I appreciate natural law (and I DO appreciate natural law) it only goes so far. To argue that our essence is human like an oak tree is “oaky” doesn’t tell me anything beyond that as to why I should preserve a human life. It seems all it tells me is that one is human from the moment of conception and hence I end up with speciesism.

Don’t get me wrong. I follow that logic and I agree with it. One is human from the moment of conception. But why preserve a human being? What makes them so special that I should preserve them? I need something deeper. Something that goes further than speciesism and this is where, I think, the Orthodox perspective contributes a response.

In my opinion, a response can only be grounded in theology or a theological metaphysic of the human person or the relationship of the created to the Divine. This was a complaint concerning Francis Beckwith’s book, “Defending Life,”—that it didn’t cover the theological angle—though I understand that was not the stated purpose of his book as the cover and title shows.

Having said that, Veniamin doesn’t want to reduce relationship or interactions to the mind or the physical. He is critical of Augustine’s “image of God” as being primarily rational. As it regards the eternal (the Godhead) there is no discernible organic body. To quote Veniamin:

“The human person, consequently, is seen and defined as the sum of its relationships and inter-actions, which is why, in respect to our earthly existence, such emphasis is placed on “doing”, and why, on the eternal plane, we are seen primarily as spirits or minds, either beholding God’s substance intellectually from a distance (as in the Roman Catholic tradition), or simply enjoying “fellowship” with God (as in the various Protestant traditions). But again, both of these views are understood rationally in terms principally of the mind.”

What Veniamin says is that with such an emphasis on the mind and on the rational there is an

“…absence of the level of communion with God on the level of the Uncreated, which surpasses both reason and mind, and which, in Orthodox theology, refers to the level of deification, the level of glorificatio or theosis.”

In the case of Terri Schiavo:

“…the startling fact is that once Terri Schiavo had become incapacitated in her faculty of reason she ceased to be regarded as a person possessing the capacity for communion, and was subsequently never treated as one still capable of enjoying a personal relationship with other human beings in this life; and even more startling, as one still capable of enjoying a full and perfect communion with God.”

In the Godhead, the unity of God consists in communion. In the case of human beings the unity of the spirit and the body is NOT

“…as a coming together of two distinct elements merely for the duration of earthly life–but as a unity from the beginning of human existence, intended to continue into eternity, and beyond.”

Now why is this important? It’s important because we COMMUNE WITH GOD IN THE WHOLENESS OF OUR EXISTENCE whether we are incapacitated or not.

Veniamin on St. Maximus the Confessor:

“In 1 Thess. 5: 23, Saint Paul adds the “spiritual” dimension, which underlines the fact that the human person is not a person in the fullest and truest sense unless he or she is in communion with God: “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and **body** be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is an important point to grasp or understand. Veniamin again:

“Thus, the human person, created in the image of God, is only fully and properly such as a member of Christ’s Body, and our communion with God **involves the body (soma)**, the soul (psyche) and the spirit (pneuma). The emphasis, therefore, is on the human person’s communion with God **on every level of existence: the physical, that of the soul, and also that of the spirit. Human existence is embraced in its entirety;** it is healed, sanctified and transfigured in God, and at the same time, the union of the created with the Uncreated signifies a transcendence, that is to say, the raising of the human person to the right hand of God the Father (cf. Ascension), which means above and beyond necessity and all the limitations of created existence.”

Interestingly, as a side note, we are not saved as individuals but as the whole body of Christ. We are saved via communion with Christ and SIMULTANEOUSLY through communion with one another. Veniamin quotes 1 Corinthians 12: 25–27, where he explains that “if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member be honoured (the Greek, in fact, reads doxazetai, “is glorified”), all the members rejoice with it.

This communion (with each other) can only be accomplished through bodily existence.

Veniamin finishes with this:

“As mentioned earlier, in the Orthodox tradition we have three levels of existence, three aspects which come together in man qua man, that is to say, when the person is what he or she has been created to be, namely, in communion with God on the physical plane, on that of the rational soul, and also on that of the spiritual or pneumatological level of existence (1 Cor. 12:25-26). Thus, there is the level of reason, the level of the nous, and the level of perfect union and communion in Christ, which both includes and goes beyond the other two. The amazing thing about this schema is that the body is included on all levels of personal existence. Now I realize that there is much more that could be said on this question, as also on other related question that I have not even touched upon. But since my intention is merely to point to certain oftentimes neglected considerations, allow me to conclude these brief remarks on the question of Euthanasia, by stressing that communion with God and one’s fellow human beings cannot be measured either by how physically active we are or by what an Electroencephalogram (EEG) is able to detect, however sophisticated. For this reason, it is of vital importance for us as a society to be mindful of the fact that communion with God and our neighbour is a state that at one and the same time includes and goes far beyond every aspect of our created nature: beyond, therefore, the physical aspects of our existence, beyond the rational or reasonable aspects of our existence, and even beyond the noetic or intellectual aspects of the God-like human mind itself.”

For me, this means that even if you were to have an zygote or an embryo that is not conscious or have any situational awareness as one might have with a Terri Schiavo type person that is not to say that said person cannot be in communion with God. There is a communion in the spiritual/body inseparable unity that goes beyond mind or physical functionality.

Abortion, Personhood and the Self

So I was essentially banned off of Facebook for a month for a meme I posted I don’t remember when. Anyhoo…I was able to read my feed and because of the Alabama signing of restrictive abortion laws I read what a friend of mine (my buddy Dwayne Polk from An Open Orthodoxy [on WordPress]) wrote about abortion among other posts by others. He adheres more or less to a gradualist position regarding the unborn. That is, at some point, (not conception) one becomes a full-fledged member of the human race. I don’t adhere to that. As a matter of fact I think Dwayne completely contradicts himself given his beliefs concerning the “self” and embodiment. Dwayne doesn’t think there is a “core” being called the self that exists through time. On this I agree with him. But partly because of his gradualist position and his ideas about the self he can justify abortion at least until brain activity or pain receptors start kicking in.

But there’s the rub. One doesn’t have to believe in a self that exists through time to believe in personhood. All one has to believe in is bodily existence. And when does bodily existence begin? Conception. And THAT is ALL you need. When you see bodily existence you see human personhood. You can’t separate the two.

Back in ‘98 I came across a book on the web entitled, “Abortion & the Xian.” I don’t remember who it was written by but I printed off Chapter 4 titled, “What Does the Bible Say?” I won’t post the full chapter but I’ll post about a page and a half because it deals specifically with this question.

“Man as Animated Flesh

The relation of the physical and spiritual aspects of man’s nature is very relevant to the status of the unborn before God. [24]The older questions concerning the time of ensoulment and whether the child receives his soul from his parents (traducianism) or by the immediate creative activity of God (creationism) have their secular counterparts in the contemporary abortion debate. They now reappear as questions about the time at which the unborn child becomes a “person,” whether at conception, implantation, formation of the cerebral cortex, “quickening,” viability, or birth.[25] All but the first of these suggestions, conception, separate to some degree personhood from biologically human existence. They suggest a dualistic understanding of man that has more kinship with Greek and certain modern European philosophies than with the biblical outlook. For Plato, the body was the prison house of the soul. Aristotle’s theory of ensoulment postulated a developing sequence of nutritive, sensitive, and rational souls, the latter being infused at the fortieth day in the case of a male and at the eightieth day in the case of a female. Descartes’ distinction of “thinking substances” and “extended substances” as applied to man has led to the impasse of a mind-body dualism that has plagued modern philosophy for centuries. Modern thought is still haunted by dualistic and mechanistic images of man.

All such dualisms are fundamentally foreign to the biblical outlook. As John A.T. Robinson has observed, in Old Testament theology, “Man does not have a body, he is a body. He is flesh-animated-by-soul, the whole conceived as a psycho-physical unity.”[26] Similarly, Edmond Jacob states that, in Old Testament anthropology, “Man is always seen in his totality, which is quickened by a unitary life. The unity of human nature is not expressed by the antithetical concepts of body and soul but by the complementary and inseparable concepts of body and life.”[27] The essence of human personality is not man’s spiritual or intellectual capacities in distinction from his “lower” physical nature. The Greek tendency to deprecate the body and to disassociate it from man’s personality conflicts with biblical thought. Man’s flesh (basar) and his soul (nephesh) are not dichotomized entities thrown together in accidental association, but are complementary aspects of a unified psychomatic being. Man as a whole can be characterized as either basar or nephesh. Both biblical terms express his total creaturely dependence on God in all the aspects of his existence. The Old Testament’s unitary conception of man is also a key to understanding man as the imago Dei. Recent Old Testament scholarship has shown a concern to correct previous tendencies to exclude man’s body as a legitimate expression of the imago. As Gerhard von Rad comments, the image (tselem) and likeness demuth) “refer to the whole man and do not relate solely to his spiritual and intellectual being. “[28] Though man’s intellectual, moral, and spiritual capacitites are of course crucial, the image of God extends beyond them, to his total existence as a psycho-physical unity. Such a view provides an adequate framework for understanding a text like Genesis 5:3, which describes the seminal transmission of the image from Adam to his son Seth. If the imago were restricted to man’s conscious mental capacities, it would be difficult to understand how such a statement could be meaningful. In terms of the more holistic understanding of man found in the Bible, however, such a text points to the transcendent value and dignity conferred on man from the very first moments of his bodily existence.

The New Testament anthropology presupposes and builds on the Old Testament view of man as a psychosomatic unity. There is no dualism of body and spirit, not even in Paul’s prominent contrast between “flesh” (sarx) and “spirit” (pneuma). [29] That is made clear by such texts as Romans 8:6, where Paul speaks of the mind of the flesh; 1 Corinthinians 3:3, where carnality is associated with jealousy and envy; and Galatians 5:19ff., where the “works of the flesh” include idolatry, sorcery, and envy. The body in Pauline thought is not merely the external casing of the real, inner man, but rather the man himself considered in a certain mode of his existence. [30] Paul exhorts the Roman Christians, “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service” (Rom.12:1). In dealing with antinomian tendencies in Corinth that tended to dichotomize the life of the body and one’s relationship to Christ, Paul reminded the church that the body was not for immorality, but for the Lord (1 Cor. 6:13). The believer serves the Lord with his entire being. Instead of being of lesser worth than the spiritual self, the body is in fact a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), and the believer is to glorify God in his body (1 Cor. 6:20). Thus the Old Testament revelation of man’s dignity as the imago Dei is deepened and enriched by the New Testament portrayal of the believer’s body.

The biblical conceptions of the goodness of human bodily life and man’s essential unity should make us very suspicious of attempts to restrict human personhood — and hence moral and legal protection to those among whom man’s “higher,” rational capacities are evident. Man is to be valued not merely as a “thinking substance,” but as the bearer of the transcendent image of God — an image that includes the bodily aspects of life. In biblical thought, man’s “personal” life is not separated from his bodily life. He is animated flesh, and where there is animated human flesh, there man is. Consequently, this consideration of the biblical understanding of man as a psycho-physical unity, again leads us to question approaches that define personhood in purely mental or psychological terms.”

Eric Reitan’s, “The Triumph of Love: Same-Sex Marriage and the Christian Love Ethic: Some Initial Thoughts

I’m in the middle of reading Eric Reitan’s book, “The Triumph of Love: Same-Sex Marriage and the Christian Love Ethic” Chapter 5, “Homosexuality, Mental Health, and the Good of Children.”

Obviously, I will only write about what I’ve read so far. Essentially, (and I’m going with the gist of what I’ve read OVERALL) Reitan is making the argument against the more strict argument that it is not realistic to expect people to hold off on their sex lives as well as the argument from stigmatization. The Christian love ethic, Reitan says, requires that we seek the good of others and when you stigmatize and foist upon people such a stringent moral code you hurt them.

There is much to commend in terms of stigmatization that Reitan speaks about. Obviously, Christians should not stigmatize gay people. This is a basic teaching Churches of all persuasions and denominations would, I think, for the most part agree with, except for your Fred Phelps and some fundie types.

However, Reitan wants to go further than the stigmatization that I’m suggesting here. He wants to go so far as to say that homosexual orientation and acts are not sin (after all, that is why he is arguing for SS intimacy and SSM). To suggest this is in itself stigmatization. I find this problematic.

Reitan doesn’t draw a clear line or clearer line than I’d like between the Church and the world.

The formula I have in mind (principled pluralism) looks like this of which the rest of this post will be how it works out.

1. The World
2. The Church (organic and institutional)
3. Christian should not obliterate all sin and should live side by side with it (this doesn’t mean arbitrarily changing reality).
4. The sinful things of the world should not be obliterated (this means SS intimacy/friendships/”SSM” can exist (in quotes as will be explained below).
5. Churches (institutional) are diverse and exist as such, in part, because of theological reasons (theological consciences). Churches have rules, moral codes, codes of conduct, etc.

For Starters—the Church
I want to make two intial points.

First, I come from the position that our sexuality can manifest itself in sexually inappropriate ways. Heterosexuality can be JUST AS sinful as homosexuality. There are desires and urges and drives on both the homosexual and heterosexual dichotomy spectrum that are inappropriate from a Christian moral standpoint.

Second, I want to inject pastor Greg Boyd into this to make a wider point. Boyd has held for YEARS that homosexuality and SSM are sin. However, he argues that the Church should allow it because God accommodates sin, ie., divorce, divorce and remarriage, polygamy, etc. So my question (and wider point) is this: How does stigmatization (that Reitan talks about) work in this scenario? Say for example, all the people who disagreed with Boyd on this question, left his church like they did when he came out with his Anabaptist views on government such that all you have left are people who agree with his views. Now, say you have a gay couple who are married coming to his church. On the one hand, he obviously allows for it. However, on the other hand, he still holds that it is sin. Reitan, I presume, would stand outside of his church and protest like he did with Village Baptist Church in Oklahoma that he talks about in the beginning of his book? How does one feel stigmatized in this situation exactly? If Boyd were to preach about this subject and still call it sin (though God would allow for it), would these folks be stigmatized? Yes, it’s a better situation than full all out condemnation and stigmatization where they are not even allowed in the church, but by having the very sentiment of calling it sin, according to Reitan, Greg would essentially be unwelcoming and stigmatizing. Greg certainly could not hold to his theological position or his theological conscience.

A less hard line/strict conservative position, ALLOWS for people to be gay and have SS relationships AND for people to hold to their religious convictions. Ultimately, it seems to me, that the problem has to do with pluralism (which is usually the case).

In chapter 3, Reitan tells the story of Village Baptist Church and a fellow named “Don” in which Don had protested in front of the Village Baptist Church. One day Don and a blind friend “decide to worship with” the folks at Village Baptist Church. Don, at one point during the service, stands up and tells everyone how he is gay and proud of it and are quickly ushered out of the church. Don attempts to speak to one of the men where the man tells him that the pastor is entitled to his beliefs.

This is an important point for the pluralism I’m talking about. Reitan wants to change Village Baptist Church’s view of homosexuality as he finds this harmful and stigmatizing. What he seems to do is put the importance of their beliefs and religious conscience on the back burner. THAT’S not as important as how we treat people. However, imagined if the pastor of Village Baptist Church went to Reitan’s church and tried to force his beliefs on him and his congregation. Would there not actually be damage done to those who believe otherwise? We’re not talking about cognitive dissonance here. We are talking about having someone attempting to foist their beliefs on others. True love–agape love–the Christian love ethic allows for people to not be force to believe what you believe or want them to believe. It allows for others to come to a place of their own decision making. It allows for them to grow naturally. This is one reason, fundamentalism is problematic and people have left these churches and those teachings and beliefs behind. Think of this with regard to children. You set the moral/theological horizon but eventually, you have to allow them to find their own way with hopefully that horizon in view.

Furthermore, everything passes through my principled pluralism grid of understanding of these and other issues. For example, I don’t believe the government has a right to tell anyone what to believe. It should allow for people to have their own consciences about matters, religious or otherwise. Thus, (and this is Skillenesque here) if a Church wants to believe that homosexuality is a gift and blessing, the government should not dictate the theological consciences of individuals or churches that believe such. By extension, neither should one church say to another church, “Hey! You believe this and this or this and that!” So, in reality, you can have churches that have theological beliefs that are welcoming and affirming and not stigmatizing gay people on ANY level ie., such as the belief that homosexuality or orientation or SSM is sin ie., Greg Boyd’s stance. People can go to these churches and enjoy fellowship and peace and love.

The Church in its organic form can be very diverse (I’ll leave judgment as to whether liberal or progressive churches are Christian for I’m speaking about pluralism at this point) but in that diversity she also exists in institutional form with boundaries, teachings, doctrine, codes, rules of conduct and so on. Is it any wonder that someone like David Gushee has started to talk about separation over this question? Maybe it’s come to that. Maybe this is or will be one of those things that separate and divide us–like baptism, salvation, communion, etc. That’s OK by my Kuyperian standards. I’m willing to let the chips fall where they may. Now does this mean that one church should not try to convince another or denomination convince another or a individual not convince another? Well, I think it’s OK to do that as long as there is MUTUAL DIALOGUE. In other words, there is a willingness to listen. But if that is not there, then it really isn’t going to get anywhere is it? Also, how would this tribalism play out in non-church settings? Could I attempt to persuade over social media where I interact with people of other traditions? Yes, but as long as it’s cordial. I could possibly change one’s tradition over time as the old guard moves out and the new guard moves in or it may have no affect. The Church changes to some extent and this is about that somewhat.

Reitan spoke about having the gift of celibacy. This is a question I remember talking with friends and our youth pastor about back in the 80’s and was reminded of again in an article from the, “Spiritual Friendship.” My belief is that there is no such thing as “the gift of celibacy” but rather that celibacy is a gift. And the Bible seems to look at it this way. Marriage is a gift. And singleness is a gift. It’s not some divine will power that over-rides sexual drives. We are all wired sexual beings such that even those who are celibate still have sexual drives. Paul is simply saying that when we are celibate, which can happen for a host of reasons we can view EVEN THAT as a gift.

Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen talks about the Kingdom of God as being like a box within a box. You have the Kingdom of which is the largest box and marriage and singleness are boxes WITHIN that box. So everything is relative to the larger box. Whatever station you find yourself in in life what are we supposed to be? Content. You can serve God in marriage and you can serve God in singleness. As a matter of fact being single may be the better of the two options because it gives you opportunities to serve God in ways that you can’t because you have to take care of your family responsibilities. And this brings me to my final related point…

The World (and the Church)
Reitan paints this dark picture of LONG defeat. It goes like this: “Conservatives say: You won’t be able to have intimate relationships for the REST OF YOUR LIFE. Heterosexuals have the opportunity but gay people are not allowed.” I don’t know if I can even call this a strict conservative view. If you frame it as Reitan does I guess you could say that it is. If sex is reserved for marriage and intimacy it should be reserved for the opposite sex and if homosexuality is immoral and wrong then that means that those who hold to this position are saying that gay people are exiled to a sexual Siberia of sorts. Whenever I hear this, I picture closeted gay people sitting in conservative churches loathing their lives while the rest of the congregation get to enjoy their relationships–sex and the whole romantic intimacy and all that fun stuff.But there are several problems with this. We go back to the world and the Church delineation. When you look at the actual sex lives of people you come up with a picture that looks quite different. For example, people “find themselves in a state of celibacy” (involuntarily). They may not want it, but that is what “their lot in life” has handed to them. Those are the cards they’ve been dealt. What do you do now? It’s not voluntary for them. Being in a relationship is not the same as buying clothes or changing your clothes for that matter. It is not something one easily enters into. I’ve always likened being in a good relationship to two things

  1.  Astrology
  2. Shooting arrows at a target.

With astrology, it’s LIKE the stars have to line up to before things work out to where you can say, “I think this is a good relationship. I think I could spend my life with this person.” Things like chemistry, status (from the same basic economic class), compatibility, religion, family, job, distance, and so forth have to be there. Obviously, some of these may be negotiable while others won’t. Liking relationships to shooting at a target is like shooting a bow many times before you hit the right one. In other words, you may go through a few relationships before you can say, “I think this is a good relationship. I think I could spend my life with this person.”

So what happens during the “in-between periods?” What if that in-between period is a LONG time? Perhaps months. Perhaps years. If it CAN be done for an unspecified amount of time, is it not possible that it can be done for life? What about where, in one’s senior years, one spouse has died and the other has to go on without them? I see this in-between period as an extension of the “long life” as a celibate. One is not living in the moment under this view of things.

Lastly, from the paradigm I’m working from, gay folks can establish intimate relationships and get “married” (marriage is in quotes as for a reason. It really is not a marriage on a conjugal/traditional view). This is really a legal point. Under the Constitution, people have the right to associate or not associate with others (marriage is another question). If gay folk want to attend a church which will bless their relationship and hold ceremonies where they “wed” or “marry” each other then both (individuals and church) are and should be free to do so (though the “marriage” would not be legally recognized via the law).

This allows for churches or companies such as bakeries or even private companies such as Hobby Lobby to not have to recognize these relationships as marriage (to hold to their own theological consciences). It allows for churches to hold their own theological teaching about SS relationships and allows them to perform ceremonies in which they could “marry” each other. Thus, gay people are not being denied having intimate relationships on both a religious front nor a societal front. Do I think gay relationships are a sin. Yes. (So does Greg Boyd). Do I believe gay relationships are less than what God’s ideal? Yes. Not God’s plan? Yes. I see them as being a form of friendship (Skillen). If they are this, then the least Christians on all sides could do is think about them in light of a dark, cold wasteland. We all need touch, and relationships and to be loved in a dark cruel world. Why would we deny ANYONE that no matter how far it falls short of God’s idea.

In summary,

  1. People are allow to form friendships and associations. The Constitution allows this.
  2. Churches can hold their own theological consciences and practices.
    This means:
  3. Gay folk can have intimate romantic relationships.
  4. Churches can “marry” (hold ceremonies) and hold theological beliefs where they practice and affirm and bless SS relationships.
  5. Other Churches will have their own theological consciences and rules, and moral codes of conduct which will be able to call certain practices sin, less than God’s ideal, falling short, etc.

If a person wants to feel accepted and not stigmatized by the community then they should go to Churches that accept them. At the end of the day, the stigmatization argument doesn’t hold much water on such a view.


Why Lotteries Are Just Wrong.

They don’t call it a “stupid tax” for nothing. I won’t ever feed into this system. EVER. I won’t bow my knee to the god of chance.  Powerbull: The Lottery Loves Poverty

How Free Is The Market? Pt.1

From my Facebook page.

“Here Augustine points to the social nature of desire, the origination of desire from both inside and outside the individual self. Augustine also points to the unreality of his desire. The object of his desire, because it is not oriented to the true end of human life, is in reality a nothing. His desire is not endowed with reality simply because he experiences it and chooses on the basis of it.”–Being Consumed: Economics And Christian Desire by William T. Cavanaugh

Cavanaugh is placing economics within the Augustinian tradition. The free market economics of say, Milton Friedman is not concerned with where this desire comes from nor whether they can be objectively oriented towards desirable ends. But should we not be concerned about these things? If desire is partially informed by something external to ourselves then should we not be concerned about those influences? And if desire is not oriented to the true end of life (God) then is it endowed with reality?

In the comments section I put:

Cavanaugh later on says that conventional thinking about the market (free) is that individuals are free to choose their own ends based on nothing more than their wants (what I think he earlier calls a “wasteland” and something economists are not concerned with). But he questions this by arguing that freedom is based not on the autonomy of the will but on the end to which the will is moved. Powerful stuff.

For Augustine the most important question was not whether the will was moved via external forces or internally but to what end the will was moved.



Violating the Non-Aggression Principle

I had a talk with a libertarian yesterday. He’s actually quite prolific when it comes to libertarianism (he gave a paper at Princeton on sphere sovereignty before “converting” over to libertarianism there’s a video on that).  

Essentially, his argument was that it is always wrong to initiate coercion against a person or their property–the non-aggression principle. From that, he concluded that because I don’t have a problem with aggressing against someone when it is the right thing to do, that in principle, I would be OK with slavery obviously.  

I pointed out that, in fact, it would be him who would favour violating the principle of non-aggression. Remember, I said, “when it is the right thing to do.” If you were walking down the street, I would not, out of the blue violate you or your property for no reason. But if you were holding people as slaves or (as the example I used), were to sell babies for a profit, then I would violate the principle of non-aggression. My libertarian friend wondered how I could impose my own morality on someone else. But this is not like, say, what are you going to put on your pizza for dinner tonight. There are differences between these things–pizza? Selling babies for profit? What one would you violate the principle of non-aggression for?

Christianity is Not a White Western Religion

I read this article at “Red Letter Christians” with the title by the same name as this post. You can read that article here.  Is it me or does anyone else essentially read this:

A.  White Western religion = White Christianity bad.

B.  Black religion =good.

There really is no reason given as to why this assumption is there and I’m sure that is not the point of the article.  However, it is a main staple of Red Letter Christians throughout their writings.  Here are a few negatives about white religion that are sited in the article.

“But through my activity in church, I felt that people were trying to mold me into this Western white culture – even in the Black church.”

 “But there was still this tension between Western culture, biblical culture, and my culture as a person of African descent.”  “Western culture” should be interpreted as white culture.

“This made me see my reality in the Gospel much more so than the average evangelical. I listened to Focus on the Family and Charles Stanley, but I struggled to integrate their form of Christianity into my everyday life.  These guys are considered, conservative white male Christian religion.  Nothing is ever stated as to how much of what we see in black churches is really not authentically African either.  And what were some of the aspects that you could integrate?  Seems like absolutely nothing of value can come from such Christians?

“If you’re trying to understand Christianity in a Western context, you’ll be lost.”

“It’s so important for Christians to connect to the Hebrew roots of their faith, because otherwise out faith becomes disconnected, becomes Westernized and makes whiteness an idol.”

“But as more Greeks and Romans converted, and Christianity became the religion of the empire, it got watered down and separated from its Hebrew roots. Greeks and Romans were white.  Definitely not black.

“Either we will have a Christianity that is Western or we will have a Christianity based on the truth of the Bible”

“When you separate it from its roots, the whitewashed Western, and often American, version hurts everyone, including white people.”

Now for the positive statements of black religion.

“I also always loved to read and learn about Black history. I read Malcolm X and Dr. King…”

“At Penn State, I took an African American religious studies class where we read God of the Oppressed by James Cone. I reread it again that summer. I began to see the Bible in my reality.”  Apparently, black literature by certain black authors is cool.  In fact, so cool, that it was read over again.

“I’m the founder of Prophetic Whirlwind, an organization that provides Bible study materials and educates via social media, lectures, and workshops on the African roots of the Christian and Jewish faiths. This is a huge passion of mine.”  I guess that’s a positive thing?  That Christianity and Jewish faiths are rooted in African roots?  Well, when you compare it or contrast it next to white religion.

“Until 1869, Israel was connected to Egypt – connected to all of Africa. It was only when the Suez Canal was completed that Israel became separated from Africa. Even until the early 1900s, Israel was referred to as NE Africa.”

“The whole world opened up to me and revealed items that are important to Black Christians, and Christians in general. We have really separated Christianity from the Hebrew faith. But early believers continued to practice Passover and Sabbath. In Hebrew culture, salvation is about everyone – the entire community – not just the individual. This is the norm in African culture.”  This is important and it’s positive because, well, you don’t see this in white Christianity or White Western culture with it’s high individualism right?  Listen, there can be blind-spots in any culture. Why not talk about Asian societies with their culture of shame for example.  Simon Chan talks about this in his book, “Spiritual Theology.”

“It’s even more powerful to understand the cultural roots of our Biblical mothers and fathers. Mark was the Father of the Gospel in Africa. The Last Supper and Pentecost took place at his mother’s house, and she was an African Jewish woman from Cyrene. They were refugees. Do immigrants know this today? Do Black sisters and brothers know this today? This is incredibly empowering if we know these stories.”  Here we see an almost complete contrast to western religion.  This is one HELLUVA positive statement.  This is not all that bad, as making the Bible relevant to someone is a good thing.

“Then there was a large reverse exodus from Israel back to Egypt in Biblical times. The two landmasses were connected, they looked the same, and had similar climates. When Mark and his mother needed to leave Israel, they went to North Africa. It was a place a lot of Jews went. Thomas Oden is a researcher from Eastern University, and his research opened my eyes. Mark was born in Africa, and died in Africa. St. Augustine was African, his mother Monica was African, and when she died, she told St. Augustine to carry her bones back to Africa.”  So Africa is the jam man.  Interestingly, when you get down to it, the continent of Africa is not uniform either and so one might want to ask what group is she is referring to as being so closely biblical?  That is, which group represents Christianity the closest?

“This is significant as Biblical prophecy states that when these tribes begin to come back to the Torah, the Messiah will return. Many researchers, especially from the Jewish faith, travel around the world, like Indiana Jones traveling for the lost ark, looking for these tribes. And research shows that many of these tribes are in Africa.”  Hmmm…it may be significant for Onleilove to talk about what the researchers are saying about those tribes but she also used the word, “many” (“many of those tribes”) which is to say that some of those tribes weren’t of African descent?

Interestingly, there was a statement that is most revealing in this article.  Onleilove says:

The whole world opened up to me and revealed items that are important to Black Christians, and Christians in general. We have really separated Christianity from the Hebrew faith. But early believers continued to practice Passover and Sabbath. In Hebrew culture, salvation is about everyone – the entire community – not just the individual. This is the norm in African culture.

It’s important to understand that the Bible is a multi-cultural book. My work is about reconciling Jesus to his culture – his Hebrew culture. If you’re trying to understand Christianity in a Western context, you’ll be lost.

It’s so important for Christians to connect to the Hebrew roots of their faith, because otherwise out faith becomes disconnected, becomes Westernized and makes whiteness an idol.

If it is the case that black Christians and Christians in general need to return back to their Hebrew faith then why talk about all the positives of black religion as if it is not in need of redemption.  Here.  I’ll say it like this.  Richard Mouw one time spoke about the arts being in need of redemption.  He was referring to the pop cultural art (low brow), yes, but he was also referring to what is sometimes referred to as “high brow” art.  One gets the feeling, when reading Onleilove’s article contrasting white western Christianity and black religion that it is white religion that is in the real need of redemption.  Referring back to Simon Chan’s book, even black religion would be in need of redemption because as with all societies, there is a separation between “doctrine” from “the living God”–orthodoxy and orthopraxis.


Objective Reality?  Some Thoughts In The Context of Being Pro-Life

Red Letter Christians has an article out called, “Becoming Truly Pro-Life” by Greg Dill. This is the old, “you’re not truly and genuinely pro-life until you’re for all of life not just life inside the womb.” The part that really gets me is when Dill says, 

“But, as I grew in my faith, matured a bit more, and learned what it means to truly follow the peace teachings of Jesus, something changed. I had to take a step back, give pause, and closely examine myself and what I believed. And this self examination led me to reassess what it means to be pro-life in the most fullest sense. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that I mostly had it all wrong.”

Think about this. What are you REALLY saying when you say this? That you learned to TRULY follow the peace teachings of Jesus. That you had it MOSTLY WRONG. You are deducing that before this “enlightenment” you WEREN’T TRULY following the peace teachings of Jesus–that before this enlightenment, you mostly had it all wrong. And in saying that, any pro-lifers or Christians that believed what you believed or did what you did were NOT TRULY following the peace teachings of Jesus and that they “mostly had it all wrong.” 


I cannot tell you the how much the condescension is strong in this one. “Hey, I thought about it and I discovered I was mostly wrong about everything. Which, if I was objectively wrong, that means that so are all these other pro-lifers and Christians!”  

Any time you start out like this it’s a turn off for me. I pretty much tune you out. It’s like you’re trying to be nice to my face while being a dick at the same time. Please, just be the dick about it. Outright. Or try to put it like this:
“I believed this before. I believe this now. I don’t somehow stand ‘outside from above reality’ as if I have a bird’s eye view on things. So I can’t say that I’m objectively right or wrong on something or another. The best I can do is say, “This is how **I** see it. Others genuinely see the issue different from me. The reason why is because, let’s face it, there are other traditions out there and I may not have all the relevant information to boot.”

You see. I can live with there being other traditions. I can live with them opposing my particular view of things. With Christians opposing my particular view of things–with each other. I’m not saying one shouldn’t try to discuss and attempt to persuade others. Just don’t do it while putting those others down in the process. We may find that we can oppose each other on some point of disagreement–on this or that point of disagreement while working toward the same goals, such as in this case, fighting against the evil that Dill speaks about, ie., cutting back on abortion, lower the rates of death amount African American males, etc.

Infinite Sin Against An Infinite God?

Here is another thing about Burk’s view of hell that Robin Parry’s response just reminded me of. To say that finite creatures can commit infinite sins against an infinite God seems to say that God is infinitely offended and infinitely “hurt” or infinitely affected by what his creatures do/did.

A Nod Toward John G. Stackhouse’s Response To Burk In Counterpoint Series on Hell

Reading John G. Stackhouse’s response to Burk on hell in the Counterpoint Series. Burk talks about infinite sin committed against an infinite God. I agree with John on this point. There is NOWHERE in Scripture that says this. Nothing wrong with deductive reasoning but that’s not going to “cut it.” There needs to be more in terms of a more positive argument. That is, one should show that it is patently true that an infinite sin committed against an infinite God is the case. I myself have always had some problem with sin being infinite. Just didn’t sit right with me. The other issue has to do with adding the problem Stackhouse brings up with regard to Burk not realizing his own a-priori emotionalism not being at play within his own beliefs about God and eschatology.