Sunday 10/30/16

  1. Immortality of the Soul? Not exactly.
  2. Doing God’s heavy lifting for him
  3. Did the Resurrection “change history”?
  4. This charade of bonhomie
  5. Erasmus, Moore, Dreher and Libresco
  6. Gospel plagiarizes The Matrix


First Things

1

The existence of the soul apart from the body (after death) is sheer miracle and beyond imagining. It is something that God alone makes possible. It is not in the nature of the soul to have an existence apart from the body. The “immortality of the soul” is a statement about what God does for us, not a statement about an inherent property of the soul.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman) That last sentence resonates with my long claim that Christianity doesn’t teach the immortality of the soul, but rather the resurrection of the body. It’s not identical to my claim, but both emphasize that the soul isn’t the free-floating, intrinsically immortal “real me,” temporarily trapped in a body/prison.

2

The drive to practicality often carries within it a certain amount of “necessary evil.” We do a bit of harm in order to arrive at a greater good. This is atheism, regardless of the greatness of the good. We find ourselves trying to do the “heavy lifting” for God, because, we do not trust that He’ll do it Himself. This is the inherent temptation of “making a better world.” We have no such commandment from God. Every atheist regime that has existed has done so in the name of a better world.

(Fr. Stephen Freeman)

3

“What happened here 2,000 years ago completely changed history.” These words were spoken in earnest innocence by one of the onlookers at the recent work being done on the tomb of Christ in the Church of the Resurrection in Jerusalem. It is a sentiment that sounds obviously true, but is profoundly untrue. The resurrection of Christ did not change history, it revealed history to be what it is: the unfolding of God’s work to restore all things to union with Himself ….

(Fr. Stephen Freeman)

Secondary Things

4

Then there’s the problem, every four years, of how to square the dinner’s proud, tribal Catholicism with the fact that one (or in 2016, both) of the principal guests advocate public policies that starkly contradict the Church’s settled moral teaching, based as it is on both reason and Revelation.

Hillary Clinton is the most perfervid, indeed fevered, supporter of the abortion license ever nominated for the presidency by a major political party—which means that she and the Church are at loggerheads on the most fundamental principle of Catholic social doctrine, the inalienable dignity of every human person at all stages of life and in all conditions of life. Her understandings of the nature of marriage and the dimensions of religious freedom are also in sharp contrast to those taught by the Catholic Church.

As for Donald Trump, his concept of the dignity of the human person seems to end at his own mouth, beyond which he spews venom at war heroes, Mexican-Americans, women who have displeased him, immigrants, political foes, and a variety of others he deems losers. His “I, alone” authoritarianism is just as serious a contradiction of Catholic social doctrine’s principle of subsidiarity as Mrs. Clinton’s Leviathan-state progressivism. And Trump’s record on right-to-life issues over the years has been, at best, extremely sketchy, and not infrequently off-side.

Yet there they were on October 20, sharing the dais at the Al Smith Dinner, as if their profound differences with the Catholic Church in matters of moral sensibility and moral judgment were small beer.

This is demeaning. And it’s a self-inflicted wound. In a city as awash in money as New York, there are any number of ways to raise needed funds for at-risk kids other than this charade of bonhomie, in which the candidates pretend to be witty by reading jokes written by others. Once, the Al Smith Dinner contributed to breaking down anti-Catholic prejudices. Now, its tribalism and its seeming indifference to grave moral issues are an impediment to the New Evangelization.

The Al Smith Dinner has become the Al Smith Embarrassment. It’s time to give thanks for what it once did—and then give it a decent burial.

(George Weigel, calling for an end to the Al Smith Dinner)

Tertiary Things

5

Southern Baptist Russell Moore’s Erasmus Lecture is doing part of what it’s meant to do: stimulating conversation; provoking pushback; continuing an iterative process by which we adjust our dealings with the “political” world.

Susannah Black, who I’ve read and enjoyed in several other publications, pushes back at Mere Orthodoxy. After discussing Moore’s trashing of Falwell père’s Moral Majority version of political engagement, and painting a picture of what he sees as the direction of Evangelicalism more recently, Black reacts:

He likes this picture because he doesn’t want to go back to abrasive and hectoring Americanist Christian politics of his youth. This is a decent and sane instinct. These politics were built on, ironically, something like a mutation of the logic of Baptist revivalism: The whole of the nation becomes a camp meeting, and America, the prodigal son, is called to repent, to return to its Fathers and to the Constitution. The assumption is built in that to return to these fathers is to return to the Fathers of the Faith, and that to return to the Constitution is to return to a text that can’t possibly be in conflict with the Bible. But these assumptions are so wrong that the only return that could even in principle be made is to a superficial kind of good behavior, founded on sentiment and on symbolic affirmations of patriotism—the very things that Dr. Moore is so appalled by, and from which he rightly turns in disgust.

What the God-and-country abrasive evangelicals reject for libertarian reasons, Dr. Moore rejects for an (attempted) return to a more consistent traditional anabaptist political theology. But the odd thing is that his stance here is actually a rejection of the good he found in [C.S.] Lewis. To reject reasoning together in favor of a bias towards speaking prophetically to power is to reject the vision of the common sense of Christianity that Lewis emphasized. It is to reject the lessons of the Abolition of Man, and to reject the natural law tradition.

It is even to reject politics. Why is this a problem? It has to do with a commitment to how things actually are—to reality as it is described in the Bible and experienced in the world. It has to do with Christ’s claim to be known and honored as the King of New York and not just as the King of Heaven.  But there’s more.

To reject politics is also to reject the idea that we can reason with each other—that Christians and non-Christians can do so, that this is something that all humans do. To be sure, Dr. Moore does not consistently reject philosophical reasoning:  “We need public arguments,” he says. “We need philosophical persuasion. We need political organizing.”

There is, however, a significant “but.” “But behind that, we must have consciences formed by a prophetic word of “Thus saith the Lord.”” This prophetic stance is his baseline:

What we have to offer is more akin to the abbot in the dystopian novel A Canticle for Leibowitz who in seeking to persuade a woman not to euthanize her child, ultimately realizes that the most important thing he could say is “I, a priest of God, adjure thee.” When, as he puts it, God’s priest was overruled by Caesar’s traffic cop, the narrator tells us, “Never to him had Christ’s kingship seemed more distant.” In an age suspicious of all authority outside of the self, the appeal to a word that carries transcendent authority can be just distinctive enough to be heard, even when not immediately embraced.

There is something not entirely wrong about this, but still —First Things was founded on the idea that the eternal law of God speaks not just through the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and not just through the pages of Scripture, but through the natural law as well, the law written on the heart; the law that is accessible to public reason.  I almost hesitate to say this, but it seems to me that even this way of thinking about speaking prophetically does not quite do justice to the facts of the matter: Christ’s kingship, God’s rule, is very precisely not only through prophetic “pronouncements,” and those pronouncements— the Ten Words on Sinai, paradigmatically— are very precisely not voluntarist, arbitrary expressions of divine will, but are related to our own natures and to His.

His backing away from right reason as the basis of common discourse between Christians and non-Christians parallels his implied rejection of the naturalness and inevitability of politics, and this was, I think, evident in his response to one of the questions that followed his talk …

Leah [Libresco Sargeant]’s question seemed to me to be an eminently sensible followup to his general theme: “People find it easy to get involved in politics because they are directly invited to do so,” she said.  “What are some helpful concrete things that we can do in the next two weeks before the election to share love?”

It was a pitch for the Libresco Option, which as I understand it is a kind of casserole-based model of community formation: dinner parties and cupcakes and Arcadia readthroughs for the sake of the Kingdom. It is one of my very favorite Options on the whole Island of Manhattan, and I have benefitted from it personally.

And Dr. Moore, confronted with this Option, fumbled it. There’s nothing to be done, he said, more or less. Not in the next two weeks. Because despite what he had said and despite what Leah had asked, he was still thinking in terms of electoral politics.

I do hope she’s not doing a disservice to Dr. Moore as many authors do a disservice to Rod Dreher’s notion of a Benedict Option.

I don’t think she is. I think Moore is returning to:

a more quietist, ecclesiocentric vision of what it means to be a Christian in the public sphere.  This is at its heart a very traditionally Baptist way of seeing the world: To be Christian is to be outside of political questions. It is to be, as a member of the invisible Church, over against the Kingdoms of this earth.

Dr. Moore has drunk deeply enough of C.S. Lewis to know that the prophecy-pornified Christianity of his youth is not the whole of Christianity, but perhaps not deeply enough to know that the more traditional Baptist “social doctrine” described in the preceding block quote sells common grace short.

And maybe Rod Dreher has, too, in his Benedict Option. Read his take of Dr. Moore’s lecture. I want to pay more attention to this “Libresco Option,” though gregarious hospitality doesn’t come naturally to me.

I’ve quoted liberally from Susannah Black, but there’s much more there, and as I bring my own biases to the discussion, you’d be well advised to read Dr. Moore and the Politics of Dinner Parties yourself.

6

“While Christians have come to think of ideas like resurrection, a messiah-like figure, and the Trinity as unique to their faith, I have found, in fact, that the Bible has liberally borrowed from movies like The Matrix, and to a lesser extent, Superman II and Alien 3,” Dr. Gary Essex said in an interview on NPR.

“What we find when we look objectively at the written record is that the Bible parallels earlier sources quite closely,” Essex added, explaining that he took extensive notes while watching a VHS copy of The Matrix unearthed at a local rummage sale. “Where the Wachowskis had created this intricate mythology surrounding a foretold chosen One who sacrifices himself to free humanity, the Jewish writers of the New Testament seem to have latched onto these concepts and adapted them to fit their own purposes.”

(Babylon Bee. This is satire, folks. Don’t let things like “NPR” throw you.)

* * * * *

“In learning as in traveling and, of course, in lovemaking, all the charm lies in not coming too quickly to the point, but in meandering around for a while.” (Eva Brann)

Some succinct standing advice on recurring themes.