Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Lisa Miller, who has a recent book on heaven, (for discussion, see http://www.religiousleftlaw.com/2010/03/heaven-.html) maintains that 80% of Americans believe in heaven, but belief in hell is plummeting. She argues that this phenomenon is attributable to the rise in the view that there are many paths to the same God. Not only are vastly fewer people believing in hell, she says that those people who do believe in hell do not believe that hell is their destination. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/video/2010/03/27/VI2010032703846.html
In the Catholic tradition, there are three views of hell
that I know about: The view that hell is permanent conscious separation from
God; the view that hell is permanent suffering in fire; and the view that hell
is death. I think the first view is the one most widely held by leaders of the
Church; the second is a metaphor.
The third draws support from two sources. First, if one believes in a loving God, the first two seem disproportionate (though a standard response is that hell is chosen and that the disproportionate idea misconceives the gravity of offending God). Second, the frequent biblical references to fire are references to trash burning in a constant fire around Jerusalem. The fire is constant, but the trash does not burn forever. On this theory, the reference to fire is a metaphor for death. In any event, it is not a metaphor for eternal suffering.
cross-posted at religiousleftlaw.com
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
On Passover, Jews are told to “remember” that they were slaves in Egypt. I have often wondered what kind of an act this remembering is supposed to be. It has an important purpose: memory is motivation. At many points in the Bible, when justice or kindness is commanded, the command is followed by the injunction: Remember that you were slaves (or strangers) in Egypt.
But what does this mean? I have no personal memory of Egyptian slavery. I remember being told the biblical story. I remember reading about it. But the memory is collective, not personal. It is sustained by ceremonies and rituals and by texts that are read in gatherings, not in solitude. We remember that we were slaves. Individualism is ruled out here; no one embroiders on his or her experience of slavery. We all remember the same experience and are (supposed to be) led to the same acts of justice and kindness.
Is this a practice that might be extended? Americans are taught something like this: Remember that you were immigrants from a foreign country. That doesn’t apply to all Americans but to most of us, and the act of remembering is possible for the children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the immigrants. It would help in opposing anti-immigrant politics if we had some ceremonial enactment of that remembering.
And what about: Remember that you were laborers in fields and factories? After all, few of us are the descendants of aristocrats. We are, overwhelmingly, the children of men and women who did the backbreaking work that “civilization” once required. But that deep truth has been repressed. It is never the subject of collective memory; we are not commanded to remember the labor of our ancestors. Upward mobility is founded on forgetfulness. But how different would American politics be if we gathered once every year and ceremonially remembered our working class past—the tiredness, the sweat, the bent backs, the hungry children? I am sure it would be harder to attend a tea party.
A friend alerted me to this interview with John Allen on NPR regarding the abuse scandal. His parting words, which I think are right on: The church has been dealing with its priest problem, but the issue going forward is what is Benedict going to do about the bishop problem.
My daughter Caitlin is in her freshman year of high school at Benilde-St. Margaret's in the Twin Cities. When the time came to select a high school, she wanted a high school with both solid Catholic teaching and advanced academic classes, which led her to Benilde-St. Margaret's (BSM), even though it meant that she went a different direction than most of her junior high friends. We were proud of her mature and conscientious decision.
With all the attention given to March Madness and college basketball, let us not forget that this is also the time of year for state high school basketball tournaments. The Benilde-St. Margaret's Girls' Basketball team finished their season by going through the tournament and winning a close championship game for the Minnesota state championship (triple A). Go Red Knights! No, my daughter wasn't on the team, but she was in the pep band, which of course played its own integral role in supporting the team.
As the BSM girls proceeded through the tournament, during one game the two schools competed in opposing cheers, as is common, usually in good fun, and displays team spirit in any sports rivalry. At one point, the other school's cheering section began yelling "Public SchOO-uls. CLAP. CLAP. Clap-clap-clap." In extemporaneous response, the BSM cheering section began to chant: "We Got JEE-sus. CLAP. CLAP. Clap-clap-clap."
Out of an understandable sense of discretion, the BSM administration quickly closed down this responsive cheer. And being sensitive to the general audience, the nature of the opposing school, and respect for the name of our Lord, I might have made that same call on the fly. After all, no Christian school should appear triumphalist -- and there is a fine line between faithful pride and religious arrogance -- and needless religious division should be avoided. Moreover, when we encourage the faithful to call on the Name of Jesus, we probably don't have in mind a rally cry for a sports team.
But after thinking about it, I began to second-guess my initial reaction. Isn't it a healthy thing that Catholic high school students immediately identified their commitment to Jesus as something that sets them apart from a public school and proudly proclaimed it in a public setting? In fact, "We Got Jesus" is one of the logos for t-shirts available for sale in the BSM "Spirit Shop." Is this another example of how our society has become so secular and so discouraging of public expressions of religious sentiments that even people of faith tend to hide their light under a bushel lest we give offense to others?
James Martin, SJ, of AMERICA and (Catholic) Stephen Colbert skewer America's Village Idiot, Glenn Beck
The Nation (April 5, 2010) has printed a letter from pro-life feminist Sharon Long. Excerpts:
"Abortion violates the basic tenets of feminism: nonviolence, non-discrimination and justice for all. ... I became a prolife feminist thirty years ago when, as a foreign student in Costa Rica, I heard liberation theology speakers say that abortion does nothing to solve any social problem or change any spocial or economic relations. What it does do is help maintain the economic, political and social status quo. Our society has largely lost its sympathy for unmarried single mothers, saying 'It's her choice, then why should I have to pay for it?' Abortion has become both a symptom and a symbol of alienation in the society and the culture.
"[Feminists for Life] believes that abortion degrades and exploits women through invading and objectifying their bodies, distorting their physiology, misdirecting their anger and obscuring the true causes of their oppression. We know from the Guttmacher reports over the years that most women have abortions because they lack resources and support they need in workplace, school, home and from our government. Women deserve better. FFL opposes the criminalization of women (as almost everyone in the prolife movement does) and focuses our efforts on freeing women from abortion by addressing the issues reported by the Guttmacher Institute - and working along wirh prochoice advocates to check off our task list.
Feminists for Life of America