Wednesday, December 26, 2012
During the holy season of Advent Christians, but especially Catholics, are reminded of the role of prophecy in faith as we read or hear many of the daily readings that are taken from the prophecy of Isaiah. Prophecy has a multi-faceted role for people of faith. One dimension of prophecy’s function is to foretell of things that are to happen in the future, but another is to ask the believer if the tenets of faith have been forgotten, put aside, or intentionally ignored when evidence suggests that these precepts are not a part of the believer’s life.
During Advent, we Christians often hear readings from Isaiah’s prophecy, and the several functions of prophecy come into play. Thus, we are reminded of the coming of Christ. But why should this happen? The answer is clear to the believer: because I have sinned—I have turned intentionally from God and what He has asked of me. But there is hope for rectification of this. And this is where the dimension of gift comes into play.
Christ is the gift of God Himself for the remission of sins and for the salvation of many—the many who hear the voice of the prophet and acknowledge that there is something amiss in one’s life because the believer has turned from God and His ways. In essence, the Giver is the gift because as Saint John’s Gospel reminds us, God so loved that world that He gave His only son so that we might live with God forever.
As we progress through Christmastide, we are continuously reminded of this inextricably related prophecy and gift. We are also simultaneously reminded of the many gifts we have received in our lives, in spite of the disappointments and difficulties which confront us, and the need to thank God and the many kind people He sends our way to help shoulder the burdens of disappointment and difficulty.
In this regard I thank the many kind people who have written to me informing me of their prayers in view of the health complications which I have been facing—lymphoma and its metastasizing in the central nervous system. But even in this difficulty I find the reminder of prophecy and gift and take hope knowing that both apply to me, too, if I take the time to acknowledge this. Of course, we all face the same destiny in our human existence: this life will assuredly come to an end so that the eternal one may begin. I have come to realize that my own recognition of this inevitable and universal human destiny has a bearing on what each one of us who are believers does in his or her earthly life. In this regard, I pray that God will offer me some time to attempt to offer a few simple and humble thoughts that have a bearing on what we at the Mirror of Justice do in our human lives as teachers and as promoters/developers of Catholic legal theory. Of course, it probably need not be said, but I shall say it nevertheless: these two earthly tasks have a relationship with God’s prophecy and the gift that He has given us.
A blessed and joyous Christmastide to you all.
Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Rabbi Michael Lerner writes that Christmas and Chanukah share a spiritual message: that it is possible to bring light and hope in a world of darkness, oppression and despair. With regard to Christmas in particular, he says: “Christianity took the hope of the ancients and transformed it into a hope for the transformation of a world of oppression. The birth of a newborn, always a signal of hope for the family in which it was born, was transformed into the birth of the messiah who would come to challenge existing systems of economic and political oppression, and bring a new era of peace on earth, social justice and love. Symbolizing that in the baby Jesus was a beautiful way to celebrate and reaffirm hope in the social darkness that has been imposed on the world by the Roman empire, and all its successors right up through the contemporary dominance of a globalized rule of corporate and media forces that have permeated every corner of the planet with their ethos of selfishness and materialism.”
Fox News and their ideological compatriots denounce what they describe as a War on Christmas. But John Brueggemann, writing in Lerner’s Tikkun (see here), is not moved by the crocodile tears of Fox News. Nonetheless, he is concerned about the real war on Christmas: “There is a war under way. But it is not about whether a Christmas tree can be mounted here or there. It is about whether the market will define the sacred. Advent invites Christians to do exactly the opposite of what the Christmas shopping season urges: slow down, get ready for something out of the ordinary, look to the most important promises of God and neighbor, and ponder what gifts we have to offer. For Christians, Jews, Muslims and other people of faith seeking a different sense of time and a different future for the world, we share a common cause in facing this threat together.”
I went to a solstice celebration the other night. Rabbi Lerner makes sense of that celebration, “Radical hope is also the message of Christmas. Like Chanukah, it is rooted in the ancient tradition of a winter solstice celebration to affirm humanity's belief that the days, now grown shortest around December 23rd, will grow long again as the sun returns to heat the earth and nourish the plants. Just as Jews light holiday lights at this time of year, so do Christians transform the dark into a holiday of lights, with beautiful Christmas trees adorned with candles or electric lights, and lights on the outside and inside of their homes.”
It seems to me that Christmas is best understood not as a day of enforced holiday cheer or a day to focus on how we might or might not enjoy our material gifts, but a day of thanks for our lives, a day to recall that we are obligated not to treat the gift of our lives as pointless, and a day to reflect upon how we might bring more light to the lives of others.
Monday, December 24, 2012
By way of reply to Rick's agreeable disagreement with me, my point was that the ideal is for intellectus to rule, indeed to rule and measure. To clarify and amplify my earlier point, the ideal is for the human ruling mind to be measured and ruled by higher law, both natural and divine, and thus to create human law to give effect to higher law. Separation of powers and checks and balances are certainly better than some alternatives -- and they can indeed sometimes deliver human law that gives effect to higher law, but they are not the ideal.
Not only that. I don't doubt that some people embrace separation of powers and checks and balances out of "humility and caution," but others, including many of the Framers, embraced them exactly because they denied the ideal on pseudo-philosopohical and pseudo-theological grounds. They denied, more specifically, that we can know what man is, and not knowing what man is, we do not know that he enjoys an intellectus that can know the higher law that is a participation in the Eternal Law. What such nescient and denying Framers were left with was (to borrow a phrase from Russ Hittinger) "a thermodynamics of power." And what that has delivered, more than two hundred years later, is Lawrence, a legally enforceable right not to be ruled and measured, but to invent yourself (limited only by the harm principle). That is not intellectus at work, it's pure voluntas.
I don't suggest that Lawrence was inevitable, only that, though neo-cons don't like to admit as much, it reflects core elements of many of the Framers' Lockean commitments; for them, the question of man's summum bonum is (as Pangle says of it for Locke) "perfectly idle." To repeat, checks and balances may in certain circumstances be a way to give effect to higher law, but it is not the ideal. And its essential defect is this: with checks and balances as the fundamental organizing principle, what we have is a state that in a self-conscious and principled way cannot think, it can only bicker. Yes, individual members of our government can think, at least in principle; but the fruits of their intellectus then get thrown into that thermodynamics of power.
A Christian king can think, if only we could find one. We cannot find one because we have a Constitution that rejects the ideal.
I have addressed some of these issues here, and I address others among them in a forthcoming paper 'The Pursuit of Happiness' Comes Home to Roost: Same-Sex Union, the Summum Bonum, and Equality.
Sunday, December 23, 2012
I was with Patrick, in his recent post ("Force") when he said that "[t]he use of force against adult human beings [RG: outside the football context!], though sometimes necessary and justified, means that intelligence has failed." (I assume that, if the force is "necessary and justified," then "intelligence has failed" on the part of the party against whom force is used, and not on the part of the party exercising "necessary and justified" force.) But, I think I had to get off the agreement-train when he added this:
[T]he preference for using force against force is reflected, mutatis mutandis, in our nation's principled commitment to a system of separation of powers and of checks and balances. Government by the intelligent part would reflect unity, not institutionalized division and intended friction.
This seems wrong to me -- or, at least, its rightness is eluding me. Maybe I need to know more about the work that "mutatis mutandis" is doing. It seems to me that even the most "intelligent part" might conclude that -- because even the most intelligent part will confront problems, challenges, and questions the resolution of and answers to which are not so obvious as to be unity-creating -- it makes sense to structure government in such a way that things cannot get done too quickly or efficiently. Maybe it is not a "preference for using force", then, that is "reflected" in our constitutional structure, but humility and caution?
Saturday, December 22, 2012
Further to the fine posts by Rob, Susan, and others about the NRA's and others' calls to "solve" the problem by multiplying police and *their* guns, I am reminded of one of my favorites sentences from Bernard Lonergan's book Insight (1958): "Is everyone to use force against everyone to convince everyone that force is beside the point?" I think this sentence contains the key insight for unlocking a solution to the obvious social problem we face. The use of force against adult human beings, though sometimes necessary and justified, means that intelligence has failed.
I'll just add that the preference for using force against force is reflected, mutatis mutandis, in our nation's principled commitment to a system of separation of powers and of checks and balances. Government by the intelligent part would reflect unity, not institutionalized division and intended friction.
Yesterday was the day some people thought the world might end. It didn't. Instead, the big news of the day was the NRA suggesting that the response to the deaths of our children in Connecticut last week should be to have armed guards in all of our schools and create a national database of the mentally ill in the country.
The paranoia and demagoguery reflected in the NRA's comments are deeply upsetting. Because if one is convinced we need guns at schools, why not guns in every day care center, every hospital, every heavily trafficked street corner?
Why not churches? Then we can sit and pray to the Incarnate God who met violence with love, with guns in our laps ready to protect ourselves from anyone we perceive to be a threat.
Is that the society we believe we've become? Is that a society we want to be?
If that is our vision of our future - a vision without hope, the world might as well have ended yesterday.
I've watched the post Newtown commentary with deep (and growing) sadness, shaking my head as people say, "It's not about guns, it' about mental illness." Or "It's not about mental illness, it's about guns." Or "it's not about guns or mental illness, it is that we've locked God out of schools."
The problem with "it's not A, but B" analyses, is that they seek simple solutions to complicated issues, and that they tend to promote the simple solutions that happen to be consistent with the promoters' already-existing views. We do need some meaningful regulation of guns in this country. And we desperately need a sounder approach to mental illness. We also need to, as my friend Mark Osler wrote earlier this week, to be more effective evangelists. We need to do more to help those without one to develop a personal relationship with God.
And we need hope. Hope in God. Hope that we can do better. Hope that we can be better. And responding to gun violence by promoting more guns is not a reflection of hope.
I ended the last session of our Advent Retreat in Daily Living on Monday by reading Daniel Berrigan's Advent Credo. It is worth sharing again in this context.
It is not true that creation and the human family are doomed to destruction and loss— This is true: For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life;
It is not true that we must accept inhumanity and discrimination, hunger and poverty, death and destruction— This is true: I have come that they may have life, and that abundantly.
It is not true that violence and hatred should have the last word, and that war and destruction rule forever— This is true: Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given, and the government shall be upon his shoulder, his name shall be called wonderful councilor, mighty God, the Everlasting, the Prince of peace.
It is not true that we are simply victims of the powers of evil who seek to rule the world— This is true: To me is given authority in heaven and on earth, and lo I am with you, even until the end of the world. It is not true that we have to wait for those who are specially gifted, who are the prophets of the Church before we can be peacemakers— This is true: I will pour out my spirit on all flesh and your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions and your old men shall have dreams.
It is not true that our hopes for liberation of humankind, of justice, of human dignity of peace are not meant for this earth and for this history— This is true: The hour comes, and it is now, that the true worshipers shall worship God in spirit and in truth.
So let us enter Advent in hope, even hope against hope. Let us see visions of love and peace and justice. Let us affirm with humility, with joy, with faith, with courage: Jesus Christ—the life of the world.I choose hope.
Our fellow blogger Robby George has a very interesting review of Akhil Amar's new book, "America's Unwritten Constitution," in the pages of this week's Times Book Review. Robby's review is, on the whole, positive. Here is a bit from the conclusion:
Almost everyone agrees that the Constitution includes whatever its text logically requires or more or less clearly implies. More provocative but also persuasive is Amar’s contention that it includes principles inferred from how the written Constitution was enacted. But can constitutional principles, even broadly construed, include some derived from George Washington’s presidency, or Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, as Amar suggests?
Amar allows that parts of his unwritten constitution are “not on the same legal level” as the written one. But that raises the question: What in general does it mean to say that some principle is part of the unwritten constitution? Does it constrain government actors as stringently as principles of the written Constitution do, or less so? A more unified, detailed account of the unwritten constitution’s function might bolster Amar’s bolder claims — or qualify them. It would help us to see more clearly the boundaries of the constitutional landscape that Amar helpfully sketches, a landscape neither fully lighted by the text nor darkened by “penumbras, formed by emanations.”