Archive for April, 2010



April 30, 2010

It’s all one great big bloody mire.
Inspector Erlendur Sveinsson

Inspector Sveinsson is the main character in Arnaldur Indridason’s Jar City. While working on prepping the post below I got to thinking about my love of detective stories in the context of justice. As you read below you will see that justice really involves some form of distributing welfare, respect or virtue. As Michael Sandel shows, we can consider justice in the context of a philosopher’s hypothetical or real stories but it seems that in each case we somehow never get to the truth of the matter.

My little epiphany was that we still thirst for justice much the way we thirst for love. Our fallen world gives us only dribs or drabs of both while we long for endless fountains of the stuff. We wind up either becoming cynics or Saints — not much in between, really. The choice is pretty stark. Along the way we read mysteries or detective stories to satisfy our urge to know the truths that we don’t find in our real lives. On to the post:

This is part of a discussion in the book Justice — What’s the Right Thing To Do by Michael J. Sandel. It also forms part of the PBS series of the same name. Justice is one of the most popular courses in Harvard’s history and the book also has some interesting views on same-sex marriage that I’ll be presenting. First some thoughts that lay the foundation for Michael Sandel’s approach to the topic.

In the summer of  20O4, Hurricane Charley roared out of the Gulf of Mexico and swept across Florida to the Atlantic Ocean. The storm claimed twenty-two lives and caused $11 billion in damage.’ It also left in its wake a debate about price gouging

At a gas station in Orlando, they were selling two-dollar bags of ice for ten dollars. Lacking power for refrigerators or air-conditioning in the middle of August, many people had little choice but to pay up.

Downed trees heightened demand for chain saws and roof repairs. Contractors offered to clear two trees off a homeowner’s roof — for $23,000. Stores that normally sold small household generators for $250 were now asking $2,000. A seventy-seven-year-old woman fleeing the hurricane with her elderly husband and handicapped daughter was charged $160 per night for a motel room that normally goes for $40

Many Floridians were angered by the inflated prices. “After Storm Come the Vultures,” read a headline in USA Today. One resident, told it would cost $10,500 to remove a fallen tree from his roof, said it was wrong for people to “try to capitalize on other people’s hardship and misery.” Charlie Crist, the state’s attorney general, agreed: “It is astounding to me, the level of greed that someone must have in their soul to he willing to take advantage of someone suffering in the wake of a hurricane.”

Florida has a law against price gouging, and in the aftermath of the hurricane, the attorney general’s office received more than two thousand complaints. Some led to successful lawsuits. A Days Inn in West Palm Beach had to pay $70,000 in penalties and restitution for overcharging customers.4

But even as Crist set about enforcing the price-gouging law, some economists argued that the law — and the public outrage — were misconceived. In medieval times, philosophers and theologians believed that the exchange of goods should he governed by a “just price,” determined by tradition or the intrinsic value of things. But in market societies, the economists observed, prices are set by supply and demand. There is no such thing as a “just price.”

Thomas Sowell, a free-market economist, called price gouging an “emotionally powerful but economically meaningless expression that most economists pay no attention to, because itseems too confused to bother with.” Writing in the Tampa Tribune, Sowell sought to explain “how ‘price gouging’ helps Floridians.” Charges of price gouging arise “when prices are significantly higher than what people have been used to,” Sowell wrote. But “the price levels that you happen to be used to” are not morally sacrosanct. They are no more “special or ‘fair’ than other prices” that market conditions — including those prompted by a hurricane — may bring about.

Higher prices for ice, bottled water, roof repairs, generators, and motel rooms have the advantage, Sowell argued, of limiting the use of such things by consumers and increasing incentives for suppliers in far-off places to provide the goods and services most needed in the hurricane’s aftermath. If ice fetches ten dollars a bag when Floridians are facing power outages in the August heat, ice manufacturers will find itworth their while to produce and ship more of it.There is nothing unjust about these prices, Sowell explained; they simply reflect the value that buyers and sellers choose to place on the things they exchange.

Jeff Jacoby, a pro-market commentator writing in the Boston Globe, argued against price-gouging laws on similar grounds: “It isn’t gouging to charge what the market will bear. It isn’t greedy or brazen. It’s how goods and services get allocated in a free society.” Jacoby acknowledged that the “price spikes are infuriating, especially to someone whose life has just been thrown into turmoil by a deadly storm.” But public anger is no justification for interfering with the free market. By providing incentives for suppliers to produce more of the needed goods, the seemingly exorbitant prices “do far more good than harm.” His conclusion: “Demonizing vendors won’t speed Florida’s recovery. Letting them go about their business will.”

Attorney General Crist (a Republican who would later be elected governor of Florida) published an op-ed piece in the Tampa paper defending the law against price gouging: “In limes of emergency, government cannot remain on the sidelines while people are charged unconscionable prices as they flee for their lives or seek the basic commodities for their families after a hurricane.” Crist rejected the notion that these “unconscionable” prices reflected a truly free exchange:

This is not the normal free market situation where willing buyers freely elect to enter into the marketplace and meet willing sellers, where a price is agreed upon based on supply and demand, In an emergency, buyers under duress have no freedom. Their purchases of necessities like safe lodging are forced.

The debate about price gouging that arose in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley raises hard questions of morality and law: Is it wrong for sellers of goods and services to take advantage of a natural disaster by charging whatever the market will bear? If so, what, if anything, should the law do about it? Should the state prohibit price gouging, even if doing so interferes with the freedom of buyers and sellers to make whatever deals they choose?

Welfare, Freedom and Virtue

These questions are not only about how individuals should treat one another. They are also about what the law should be, and about how society should be organized. They are questions about justice. To answer them, we have to explore the meaning of justice. In fact, we’ve already begun to do so. If you look closely at the price-gouging debate, you’ll notice that the arguments for and against price-gouging laws revolve around three ideas: maximizing welfare, respecting freedom, and promoting virtue. Each of these ideas points to a different way of thinking about justice.

The standard case for unfettered markets rests on two claims — one about welfare, the other about freedom. First, markets promote the welfare of society as a whole by providing incentives for people to work hard supplying the goods that other people want. (In common parlance, we often equate welfare with economic prosperity, though welfare is a broader concept that can include noneconomic aspects of social well-being.) Second, markets respect individual freedom; rather than impose a certain value on goods and services, markets let people choose for themselves what value to place on the things they exchange.

Not surprisingly, the opponents of price-gouging laws invoke these two familiar arguments for free markets. How do defenders of price gouging laws respond? First, they argue that the welfare of society as whole is not really served by the exorbitant prices charged in hard times. Even if high prices call forth a greater supply of goods, this benefit has to be weighed against the burden such prices impose on those least able to afford them, For the affluent, paying inflated prices for a gallon of gas or a motel room in a storm may be an annoyance; but for those of modest means, such prices pose a genuine hardship, one that might lead them to stay in harm’s way rather than flee to safety. Proponents of price-gouging laws argue that any estimate of the general welfare must include the pain and suffering of those who may be priced out of basic necessities during an emergency.

Second, defenders of price-gouging laws maintain that, under certain conditions, the free market is not truly free. As Crist points out, “buyers under duress have no freedom. Their purchases of necessities like safe lodging are forced.” If you’re fleeing a hurricane with your family, the exorbitant price you pay for gas or shelter is not really a voluntary exchange. It’s something closer to extortion. So to decide whether price-gouging laws are justified, we need to assess these competing accounts of welfare and of freedom.

But we also need to consider one further argument. Much public support for price-gouging laws comes from something more visceral than welfare or freedom. People are outraged at “vultures” who prey on the desperation of others and want them punished — not rewarded with windfall profits. Such sentiments are often dismissed as atavistic emotions that should not interfere with public policy or law As Jacoby writes, “Demonizing vendors won’t speed Florida’s recovery.”

But the outrage at price-gougers is more than mindless anger. It gestures at a moral argument worth taking seriously. Outrage is the special kind of anger you feel when you believe that people are getting things they don’t deserve. Outrage of this kind is anger at injustice.

Crist touched on the moral source of the outrage when he described the “greed that someone must have in their soul to be willing to take advantage of someone suffering in the wake of a hurricane.” He did not explicitly connect this observation to price-gouging laws. But implicit in his comment is something like the following argument, which might be called the virtue argument:

Greed is a vice, a bad way of being, especially when it makes people oblivious to the suffering of others. More than a personal vice, it is at odds with civic virtue. In times of trouble, a good society pulls together. Rather than press for maximum advantage, people look out for one another. A society in which people exploit their neighbors for financial gain in times of crisis is not a good society. Excessive greed is therefore a vice that a good society should discourage if it can. Price- gouging laws cannot banish greed, but they can at least restrain its most brazen expression, and signal society’s disapproval of it. By punishing greedy behavior rather than rewarding it, society affirms the civic virtue of shared sacrifice for the common good.

To acknowledge the moral force of the virtue argument is not to insist that it must always prevail over competing considerations. You might conclude, in some instances, that a hurricane-stricken community should make a devil’s bargain — allow price gouging in hopes of attracting an army of roofers and contractors from far and wide, even at the moral cost of sanctioning greed. Repair the roofs now and the social fabric later. What’s important to notice, however, is that the debate about price-gouging laws is not simply about welfare and freedom. It is also about virtue — about cultivating the attitudes and dispositions, the qualities of character, on which a good society depends.

Some people, including many who support price-gouging laws, find the virtue argument discomfiting. The reason: It seems more judgmental than arguments that appeal to welfare and freedom. To ask whether a policy will speed economic recovery or spur economic growth does not involve judging people’s preferences. It assumes that everyone prefers more income rather than less, and it doesn’t pass judgment on how they spend their money. Similarly, to ask whether, under conditions of duress, people are actually free to choose doesn’t require evaluating their choices. The question is whether, or to what extent, people are free rather than coerced.

The virtue argument, by contrast, rests on a judgment that greed is a vice that the state should discourage. But who is to judge what is virtue and what is vice? Don’t citizens of pluralist societies disagree about such things? And isn’t it dangerous to impose judgments about virtue through law? In the face of these worries, many people hold that government should be neutral on matters of virtue and vice; it should not try to cultivate good attitudes or discourage bad ones.

So when we probe our reactions to price gouging, we find ourselves pulled in two directions: We are outraged when people get things they don’t deserve; greed that preys on human misery, we think, should be punished, not rewarded. And yet we worry when judgments about virtue find their way into law.

This dilemma points to one of the great questions of political philosophy: Does a just society seek to promote the virtue of its citizens? Or should law be neutral toward competing conceptions of virtue, so that citizens can be free to choose for themselves the best way to live?

According to the textbook account, this question divides ancient and modern political thought. In one important respect, the textbook is right. Aristotle teaches that justice means giving people what they deserve. And in order to determine who deserves what, we have to determine what virtues are worthy of honor and reward. Aristotle maintains that we can’t figure out what a just constitution is without first reflecting on the most desirable way of life. For him, law can’t be neutral on questions of the good life.

By contrast, modern political philosophers — from Immanuel Kant in the eighteenth century to John Rawls in the twentieth century — argue that the principles of justice that define our rights should not rest on any particular conception of virtue, or of the best way to live. Instead, a just society respects each person’s freedom to choose his or her own conception of the good life.

So you might say that ancient theories of justice start with virtue, while modern theories start with freedom. We will explore the strengths and weaknesses of each. But it’s worth noticing at the outset that this contrast can mislead.

For if we turn our gaze to the arguments about justice that animate contemporary politics — not among philosophers but among ordinary men and women — we find a more complicated picture. It’s true that most of our arguments are about promoting prosperity and respecting individual freedom, at least on the surface. But underlying these arguments, and sometimes contending with them, we can often glimpse another set of convictions — about what virtues are worthy of honor and reward, and what way of life a good society should promote. Devoted though we are to prosperity and freedom, we can’t quite shake off the judgmental strand of justice. The conviction that justice involves virtue as well as choice runs deep. Thinking about justice seems inescapably to engage us in thinking about the best way to live.

What Wounds Deserve the Purple Heart

On some issues, questions of virtue and honor are too obvious to deny. Consider the recent debate over who should qualify for the Purple Heart. Since 1932, the U.S. military has awarded the medal to soldiers wounded or killed in battle by enemy action. In addition to the honor, the medal entitles recipients to special privileges in veterans’ hospitals.

Since the beginning of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, growing numbers of veterans have been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and treated for the condition. Symptoms include recurring nightmares, severe depression, and suicide. At least three hundred thousand veterans reportedly suffer from traumatic stress or major depression. Advocates for these veterans have proposed that they, too, should qualify for the Purple Heart. Since psychological injuries can be at least as debilitating as physical ones, they argue, soldiers who suffer these wounds should receive the medal.

After a Pentagon advisory group studied the question, the Pentagon announced, in 2009, that the Purple Heart would be reserved for soldiers with physical injuries. Veterans suffering from mental disorders and psychological trauma would not be eligible, even though they qualify for government-supported medical treatment and disability payments. The Pentagon offered two reasons for its decision: traumatic stress disorders are not intentionally caused by enemy action, and they are difficult to diagnose objectively.

Did the Pentagon make the right decision? Taken by themselves, its reasons are unconvincing. In the Iraq War, one of the most common injuries recognized with the Purple Heart has been a punctured eardrum, caused by explosions at close range. But unlike bullets and bombs, such explosions are not a deliberate enemy tactic intended to injure or kill; they are (like traumatic stress) a damaging side effect of battlefield action. And while traumatic disorders may be more difficult to diagnose than a broken limb, the injury they inflict can be more and long-lasting.

As the wider debate about the Purple Heart revealed, the real issue is about the meaning of the medal and the virtues it honors. What, then, are the relevant virtues? Unlike other military medals, the Purple Heart honors sacrifice, not bravery. It requires no heroic act, only an injury inflicted by the enemy.The question is what kind of injury should count.

A veteran’s group called the Military Order of the Purple Heart opposed awarding the medal for psychological injuries, claiming that doing so would “debase” the honor. A spokesman for the group stated that “shedding blood” should be an essential qualification. He didn’t explain why bloodless injuries shouldn’t count. But Tyler F. Boudreau, a former Marine captain who favors including psychological injuries, offers a compelling analysis of the dispute. He attributes the opposition to a deep-seated attitude in the military that views post-traumatic stress as a kind of weakness. “The same culture that demands tough-mindedness also encourages skepticism toward the suggestion that the violence of war can hurt the healthiest of minds . . . Sadly, as long as our military culture bears at least a quiet contempt for the psychological wounds of war, it is unlikely those veterans will ever see a Purple Heart.”

So the debate over the Purple Heart is more than a medical or clinical dispute about how to determine the veracity of injury. At the heart of the disagreement are rival conceptions of moral character and military valor. Those who insist that only bleeding wounds should count believe that post-traumatic stress reflects a weakness of character unworthy of honor. Those who believe that psychological wounds should qualify argue that veterans suffering long-term trauma and severe depression have sacrificed for their country as surely and as honorably, as those who’ve lost a limb.

The dispute over the Purple Heart illustrates the moral logic of Aristotle’s theory of justice. We can’t determine who deserves a military medal without asking what virtues the medal properly honors. And to answer that question, we have to assess competing conceptions of character and sacrifice. -

It might be argued that military medals are a special case, a throwback to an ancient ethic of honor and virtue. These days, most of our arguments about justice are about how to distribute the fruits of prosperity, or the burdens of hard times, and how to define the basic rights of citizens. In these domains, considerations of welfare and freedom predominate. But arguments about the rights and wrongs of economic arrangements often lead us back to Aristotle’s question of what people morally deserve, and why.

Bailout Outrage

The public furor over the financial crisis of 2008-09 is a case in point. For years, stock prices and real estate values had climbed. The reckoning came when the housing bubble burst. Wall Street banks and financial institutions had made billions of dollars on complex investments backed by mortgages whose value now plunged. Once proud Wall Street firms teetered on the edge of collapse. The stock market tanked, devastating not only big investors but also ordinary Americans, whose retirement accounts lost much of their value. The total wealth of American families fell by $11 trillion in 2008, an amount equal to the combined annual output of Germany, Japan, and the UK.

In October 2008, President George W Bush asked Congress for $700 billion to bail out the nation’s big banks and financial firms. It didn’t seem fair that Wall Street had enjoyed huge profits during the good times and was now asking taxpayers to foot the bill when things had gone had. But there seemed no alternative. The banks and financial firms had grown so vast and so entwined with every aspect of the economy that their collapse might bring down the entire financial system.

They were “too big to fail.” No one claimed that the banks and investment houses deserved the money. Their reckless bets (enabled by inadequate government regulation) had created the crisis. But here was a case where the welfare of the economy as a whole seemed to outweigh considerations of fairness. Congress reluctantly appropriated the bailout funds.

Then came the bonuses. Shortly after the bailout money began to flow, news accounts revealed that some of the companies now on the public dole were awarding millions of dollars in bonuses to their executives. The most egregious case involved the American International Group (A.I.G.), an insurance giant brought to ruin by the risky investments of its financial products unit. Despite having been rescued with massive infusions of government funds (totaling $173 billion), the company paid $165 million in bonuses to executives in the very division that had precipitated the crisis. Seventy-three employees received bonuses of $1 million or more.

News of the bonuses set off a firestorm of public protest. This time, the outrage was not about ten-dollar bags of ice or overpriced motel rooms. It was about lavish rewards subsidized with taxpayer funds to members of the division that had helped bring the global financial system to near meltdown. Something was wrong with this picture. Although the U.S. government now owned 80 percent of the company, the treasury secretary pleaded in vain with A,I.G.’s government-appointed CEO to rescind the bonuses. “We cannot attract and retain the best and the brightest talent,” the CEO replied, “if employees believe their compensation is subject to continued and arbitrary adjustment by the U.S. Treasury.” He claimed the employees’ talents were needed to unload the toxic assets for the benefit of the taxpayers, who, after all, owned most of the company)

The public reacted with fury. A full-page headline in the tabloid New York Post captured the sentiments of many: “Not So Fast You Greedy Bastards.” The U.S. House of Representatives sought to claw back the payments by approving a bill that would impose a 90 percent tax on bonuses paid to employees of companies that received substantial bailout funds. Under pressure from NewYork attorney general Andrew Cuomo, fifteen of the top twenty A.I.G. bonus recipients agreed to return the payments, and some $5O million was recouped in all. This gesture assuaged public anger to some degree, and support for the punitive tax measure faded in the Senate. But the episode left the public reluctant to spend more to clean up the mess the financial in-dusty had created.

At the heart of the bailout outrage was a sense of injustice. Even before the bonus issue erupted, public support for the bailout was hesitant and conflicted. Americans were torn between the need to prevent an economic meltdown that would hurt everyone and their belief that funneling massive sums to failed banks and investment companies was deeply unfair. To avoid economic disaster, Congress and the public acceded. But morally speaking, it had felt all along like a kind of extortion.

Underlying the bailout outrage was a belief about moral desert: The executives receiving the bonuses (and the companies receiving the bailouts) didn’t deserve them. But why didn’t they? The reason may be less obvious than it seems. Consider two possible answers — one is about greed, the other about failure.

One source of outrage was that the bonuses seemed to reward greed, as the tabloid headline indelicately suggested. The public found this morally unpalatable. Not only the bonuses but the bailout as a whole seemed, perversely, to reward greedy behavior rather than punish it. The derivatives traders had landed their company, and the country, in dire financial peril — by making reckless investments in pursuit of ever-greater profits. Having pocketed the profits when times were good, they saw nothing wrong with million-dollar bonuses even after their investments had come to ruin.

The greed critique was voiced not only by the tabloids, but also (in more decorous versions) by public officials. Senator Sherrod Brown (D.Ohio) said that A.I.G.’s behavior “smacks of greed, arrogance, and worse.”President Obama stated that A.I.G. “finds itself in financial distress due to recklessness and greed.”

The problem with the greed critique is that it doesn’t distinguish the rewards bestowed by the bailout after the crash from the rewards bestowed by markets when times were flush. Greed is a vice, a bad attitude, an excessive, single-minded desire for gain. So it’s understandable that people aren’t keen to reward it. But is there any reason to assume that the recipients of bailout bonuses are any greedier now than they were a few years ago, when they were riding high and reaping even greater rewards?

Wall Street traders, bankers, and hedge fund managers are a hard-charging lot. The pursuit of financial gain is what they do for a living. Whether or not their vocation taints their character, their virtue is unlikely to rise or fall with the stock market. So if it’s wrong to reward greed with big bailout bonuses, isn’t it also wrong to reward it with market largess? The public was outraged when, in 2008, Wall Street firms (some on taxpayer-subsidized life support) handed out $16 billion in bonuses. But this figure was less than half the amounts paid out in 2006 ($34 billion) and 2007 ($33 billion) If greed is the reason they don’t deserve the money now, on what basis can it be said they deserved the money then?

One obvious difference is that bailout bonuses come from the taxpayer while the bonuses paid in good times come from company earnings. If the outrage is based on the conviction that the bonuses are undeserved, however, the source of the payment is not morally decisive. But it does provide a clue: the reason the bonuses are coming from the taxpayer is that the companies have failed. This takes us to the heart of the complaint. The American public’s real objection to the bonuses — and the bailout — is not that they reward greed but that they reward failure.

Americans are harder on failure than on greed. In market-driven societies, ambitious people are expected to pursue their interests vigorously, and the line between self-interest and greed often blurs. But the line between success and failure is etched more sharply. And the idea that people deserve the rewards that success bestows is central to the American dream.

Notwithstanding his passing reference to greed, President Obama understood that rewarding failure was the deeper source of dissonance and outrage. In announcing limits on executive pay at companies receiving bailout funds, Obama identified the real source of bailout outrage:

This is America. We don’t disparage wealth. We don’t begrudge anybody for achieving success. And we certainly believe that success should be rewarded. But what gets people upset — and rightfully so — are executives being rewarded for failure, especially when those rewards are subsidized by U.S. taxpayers.

One of the most bizarre statements about bailout ethics came from Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a fiscal conservative from the heartland. At the height of the bonus furor, Grassley said in an Iowa radio interview that what bothered him most was the refusal of the corporate executives to take any blame for their failures. He would “feel a bit better towards them if they would follow the Japanese example and come before the American people and take that deep bow and say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and then either do one of two things — resign or go commit suicide.”

Grassley later explained that he was not calling on the executives to commit suicide. But he did want them to accept responsibility for their failure, to show contrition, and to offer a public apology. “I haven’t heard this from CEOs, and it just makes it very difficult for the taxpayers of my district to just keep shoveling money out the door.”

Grassley’s comments support my hunch that the bailout anger was not mainly about greed; what most offended Americans’ sense of justice was that their tax dollars were being used to reward failure. If that’s right, it remains to ask whether this view of the bailouts was justified. Were the CEOs and top executives of the big banks and investment firms really to blame for the financial crisis? Many of the executives didn’t think so. Testifying before congressional committees investigating the financial crisis, they insisted they had done all they could with the information available to them. The former chief executive of Bear Stearns, a Wall Street investment firm that collapsed in 2008, said he’d pondered long and hard whether he could have done anything differently. He concluded he’d done all he could. “I just simply have not been able to come up with anything … that would have made a difference to the situation we faced.”

Other CEOs of failed companies agreed, insisting that they were victims “of a financial tsunami” beyond their control. A similar attitude extended to young traders, who had a hard time understanding the public’s fury about their bonuses. “There’s no sympathy for us anywhere,” a Wall Street trader told a reporter for Vanity Fair. “But it’s not as if we weren’t working hard.”

The tsunami metaphor became part of bailout vernacular, especially in financial circles. If the executives are right that the failure of their companies was due to larger economic forces, not their own decisions, this would explain why they didn’t express the remorse that Senator Grassley wanted to hear. But it also raises a far-reaching question about failure, success, and justice.

If big, systemic economic forces account for the disastrous loses of 2008 and 2009, couldn’t it be argued that they also account for the dazzling gains of earlier years? If the weather is to blame for the bad years, how can it be that the talent, wisdom, and hard work of bankers, traders, and Wall Street executives are responsible for the stupendous returns that occurred when the sun was shining?

Confronted with public outrage over paying bonuses for failure, the CEOs argued that financial returns are not wholly their own doing, but the product of forces beyond their control. They may have a point. But if this is true, there’s good reason to question their claim to outsized compensation when times are good. Surely the end of the cold war, the globalization of trade and capital markets, the rise of personal computers and the Internet, and a host of other factors help explain the success of the financial industry during its run in the 1 990s and in the early years of the twenty-first century.

In 2007, CEOs at major U.S. corporations were paid 344 times the pay of the average worker. On what grounds, if any, do executives deserve to make that much more than their employees? Most of them work hard and bring talent to their work. But consider this: In 1980, CEOs earned only 42 times what their workers did. Were executives less talented and hardworking in 1980 than they are today? Or do pay differentials reflect contingencies unrelated to talents and skills?

Or compare the level of executive compensation in the United States with that in other countries. CEOs at top U.S. companies earn an average of $13.3 million per year (using 2004-2006 data), compared to $6.6 million for European chief executives and $1.5 million for CEOs in Japan. Are American executives twice as deserving as their European counterparts, and nine times as deserving as Japanese CEOs? Or do these differences also reflect factors unrelated to the effort and talent that executives bring to their jobs?

The bailout outrage that gripped the United States in early 2009 expressed the widely held view that people who wreck the companies they run with risky investments don’t deserve to be rewarded with millions of dollars in bonuses. But the argument over the bonuses raises questions about who deserves what when times are good. Do the successful deserve the bounty that markets bestow upon them, or does that bounty depend on factors beyond their control? And what are the implications for the mutual obligations of citizens in good times and hard times? Whether the financial crisis will prompt public debate on these broader questions remains to he seen.
Michael Sandel

At the least you are beginning to see that the concept of justice is becoming elusive – what we seem to be talking about in many of these cases really wind up being about other things all together. The same phenomena underlies Ray Carver’s famous short story “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love” a reading summary of which you will find under the pages section of PayingAttentiontotheSky. Homosexualists speak of the issue of gay marriage as one of simple fairness or justice. Perhaps it’s not as simple as they might have us believe. My next post from Michael Sandel will show how justice has been approached.


Alain Besançon on Benedict XVI

April 29, 2010

Alain Besançon

A renowned French historian and culture critic, Alain Besançon is an expert on Russian politics and intellectual history who serves as honorary director of studies at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales (EHESS) in Paris. He presides over the philosophy section of the Institut de France’s Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques. Educated at the Collège Stanislas and at the Lycée Louis le Grand in Paris, he went on to study at the Ecoles des Sciences Politiques and at the Sorbonne where he earned a diploma in history. He was awarded a doctorate in history in 1967 and a doctorate in letters and human sciences a decade later.

Dr. Besançon first taught at the Lycée de Montpellier and then at the Lycée Carnot in Tunis and the Lycée Pasteur in Neuilly. In 1960, he was appointed to the staff of the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, and he was subsequently a research associate at the Russian Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg and at Columbia University. He joined the faculty of EHESS as a lecturer in 1965 and was named associate director of studies in 1969 and director six years later, a post he held until 1993. Dr. Besançon has been a visiting professor at the University of Rochester and at the Universidad del Norte Santo Tomás de Aquino in San Miguel de Tucumán, Argentina, a visiting scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, and Princeton University, and a visiting fellow at All Souls College, Oxford.

He was an editorial writer for L’Express for five years and regularly contributes to Le Fiagaro. An officier of the Légion d’Honneur, an officier of the Palmes Académiques, and a member of the Académie Scientiarum et Artium Europaea and the Académie des Sciences Morales et Politiques, he is the recipient of the Prix de l’Essai of the Académie Française and of an honorary degree from the University of Moscow. Dr. Besançon is a member of the editorial boards of Cahiers du Monde Russe and of Commentaire. In addition to more than three hundred papers published in academic journals, he is the author or co-author of twenty books, including Une Génération (1987), winner of Prix d’Historie of the Académie Française, and L’Image Interdite: Une Historie Intellectuelle de l’Iconoclasme (1994), awarded both the Grand Prix d’Historie Chateaubriand-La Vallée aux Loups and the Médaille de Fondation Michel Perret. Published in English to wide acclaim as The Forbidden Image: An Intellectual History of Iconoclasm (2000), it traces the privileging and prohibition of religious images over a span of two and a half millennia in the West. His most recent book, La Malheur du Siècle: Communisme, Nazisme et l’Unicité de la Shoah (Fayard, 1998), was published in English earlier this year as A Century of Horrors: Communism, Nazism, and the Uniqueness of the Shoah, and in it, the historian turns to theology as the only resource that can shed even feeble illumination on how we remember ideologies responsible for incalculable destruction.  

Although we regularly pray for the Holy Father at Mass, I had always thought that was something provoked by the assassination attempt on John Paul II but recently with the media attacks on the Pope I have begun to see things in a different light. That “light” is the one that Alain Besançon starkly defines here:

In an article published yesterday by L’Osservatore Romano, historian and member of the Institute of France, Alain Besançon, offered an analysis of the first five years of Benedict XVI’s pontificate. He noted that the media campaign against the Holy Father and the Church reveals a hatred for Christianity, and that the Pope is confronting the “self-destruction” of society, nature and reason.

“Benedict XVI has fought untiringly for clarity and accuracy. For him there is nothing more dangerous than the relativism that is fused with modern democratic society: any organized group can legitimize an opinion merely because it is their opinion without the need to support it with reason,” Besançon said.

After praising the Holy Father for “restoring intelligence to the heart of the Church,” the French historian referred to two “accidents of this pontificate.” The first was the Pope’s discourse at Regensburg, Germany: “It was very scholarly, moderate, benevolent, but it caused very violent reactions.”

“The disproportionate reaction,” he explained, “revealed above all the dramatic ignorance of the clergy and the faithful about the message of Islam, and undoubtedly about their own (faith), because you can’t understand one without the other. Thus there is an absolute need for re-directing Christian knowledge.”

The second “accident,” Besançon said, has to do with the media attacks on the Pope and the Church, which aim to portray the Holy Father as covering up the abuse committed by some members of the clergy, when that has never been the case.

The French historian also made two observations, one about societal history and the other about the Church’s understanding of the relationship between sins and crimes.

In the last 50 years, he explained, the definition of sexual crimes has undergone a transformation, with many consensual acts that beforehand were punished severely now often being considered a right. All of the outrage over the sexual crimes of the past is now concentrated completely on the act of pedophilia, Besançon suggested.

Second, he said, is the fact that the Church sees a distinction in how it treats sins and crimes. “The Church does not forgive crime, it leaves to the judge the task of punishing it, but the assessment of sin falls to her and is under her jurisdiction. She has the keys to bind or to loose it.”

Besançon went on to say that the Church holds that man is a sinner and that reality is present in all of her prayers.

“There exists thus a strange prejudice that causes us to be surprised by the fact that some men, merely because they have embraced the clerical state, are not different or necessarily better than anyone else. Up to now no one has found out how to make men into something other than what they are: proud, greedy, lustful, angry, sinners always. They do not cease to be such just because they undergo a psychological or medical exam beforehand,” he said.

However, he argued, this does not “prevent the media campaign from dragging with it things that will never be accepted: marriage for priests, the ordination of married men, and other such things.”

These things “reveal hatred for the Christian name or a loss of authority and trust in the Catholic Church,” Besançon said. “In any case, the Pope must bear the brunt of this confusion. After five years, to me his pontificate is sorrowful.”

“John Paul II fought against a monstrous political regime: Communism, but he had society and all of humanity on his side. Benedict XVI has the whole of modern society, born out of the crisis of the 60s, with its new morality and new religiosity, against him.

Pope Benedict “finds himself in a situation similar to that of Paul VI after Vatican II, in confronting what he called ‘the self-destruction’ of the Church. This time the self-destruction is of all of society, nature and reason. The glory of his pontificate is not visible: it is that of martyrdom.”


More Evolution Topics by Dr. Francisco Ayala

April 28, 2010

Dr. Francisco Ayala

A continuation of a previous post.

Natural Selection as an Opportunistic Process
Natural selection has no foresight, nor does it operate according to some preconceived plan. Rather it is a purely natural process resulting from the interacting properties of physicochemical and biological entities. Natural selection is simply a consequence of the differential multiplication of living beings. It has some appearance of purposefulness because it is conditioned by the environment: which organisms reproduce more effectively depends on what variations they possess that are useful in the environment where the organisms live. In a sense, natural selection is an “opportunistic” process. The variables determining in what direction it will go are the environment, the preexisting constitution of the organisms, and the randomly arising mutations. But natural selection does not anticipate the environments of the future; drastic environmental changes may be insuperable to organisms that were previously thriving.

Examples of Adaptive Behaviors
Adaptation to a given environment may occur in a variety of different ways. An example may be taken from the adaptations of plant life to desert climate. The fundamental adaptation is to the condition of dryness, which involves the danger of desiccation. During a major part of the year, sometimes for several years in succession, there is no rain. Plants have accomplished the urgent necessity of saving water in different ways. Cacti have transformed their leaves into spines, having made their stems into barrels containing a reserve of water; photosynthesis is performed in the surface of the stem instead of in the leaves. Other plants have no leaves during the dry season, but after it rains they burst into leaves and flowers and produce seeds. Ephemeral plants germinate from seeds, grow, flower, and produce seeds — all within the space of the few weeks while rainwater is available; the rest of the year the seeds lie quiescent in the soil.

The opportunistic character of natural selection is also well-evidenced by the phenomenon of adaptive radiation. The evolution of Drosophila flies in Hawaii is a relatively recent adaptive radiation. There are about 1,500 Drosophila species in the world. Approximately 500 of them have evolved in the Hawaiian archipelago, although this has a small area, about one twenty-fifth the size of California. Moreover, the morphological, ecological, and behavioral diversity of Hawaiian Drosophila exceeds that of Drosophila in the rest of the world.

Why should have such “explosive” evolution have occurred in Hawaii? The overabundance of drosophila flies there contrasts with the absence of many other insects. The ancestors of Hawaiian drosophila reached the archipelago before other groups of insects did, and thus they found a multitude of unexploited opportunities for living. They responded by a rapid adaptive radiation; although they are all probably derived from a single colonizing species, they adapted to the diversity of opportunities available in diverse places or at different times by developing appropriate adaptations, which range broadly from one to another species.

Natural Selection Explains The Adaptive Organization Of Organisms
The process of natural selection can explain the adaptive organization of organisms; as well as their diversity and evolution as a consequence of their adaptation to the multifarious and ever changing conditions of life. The fossil record shows that life has evolved in a haphazard fashion. The radiations, expansions, relays of one form by another, occasional but irregular trends, and the ever present extinctions, are best explained by natural selection of organisms subject to the vagaries of genetic mutation and environmental challenge. The scientific account of these events does not necessitate recourse to a preordained plan, whether imprinted from without by an omniscient and all-powerful designer, or resulting from some immanent force driving the process towards definite outcomes. Biological evolution differs from a painting or an artifact in that it is not the outcome of a design preconceived by an artist or artisan.

Natural Selection Can “Create”
Natural selection accounts for the “design” of organisms, because adaptive variations tend to increase the probability of survival and reproduction of their carriers at the expense of maladaptive, or less adaptive, variations. The arguments of Aquinas or Paley against the incredible improbability of chance accounts of the origin of organisms are well taken as far as they go. But neither these scholars, nor any other authors before Darwin, were able to discern that there is a natural process (namely, natural selection) that is not random but rather is oriented and able to generate order or “create.” The traits that organisms acquire in their evolutionary histories are not fortuitous but determined by their functional utility to the organisms.

Chance is, nevertheless, an integral part of the evolutionary process. The mutations that yield the hereditary variations available to natural selection arise at random, independently of whether they are beneficial or harmful to their carriers. But this random process (as well as others that come to play in the great theatre of life) is counteracted by natural selection, which preserves what is useful and eliminates the harmful. Without mutation, evolution could not happen because there would be no variations that could be differentially conveyed from one to another generation. But without natural selection, the mutation process would yield disorganization and extinction because most mutations are disadvantageous. Mutation and selection have jointly driven the marvelous process that starting from microscopic organisms has spurted orchids, birds, and humans.

The theory of evolution manifests chance and necessity jointly intricated in the stuff of life; randomness and determinism interlocked in a natural process that has spurted the most complex, diverse, and beautiful entities in the universe: the organisms that populate the earth, including humans who think and love, endowed with free will and creative powers, and able to analyze the process of evolution itself that brought them into existence. This is Darwin’s fundamental discovery, that there is a process that is creative though not conscious. And this is the conceptual revolution that Darwin completed: that everything in nature, including the origin of living organisms, can be accounted for as the result of natural processes governed by natural laws. This is nothing if not a fundamental vision that has forever changed how humanity perceives itself and its place in the universe.

Teleology and Teleological Explanations
Explanation by design, or teleology, is “the use of design, purpose, or utility as an explanation of any natural phenomenon” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, 1966). An object or a behavior is said to be teleological when it gives evidence of design or appears to be directed toward certain ends. For example, the behavior of human beings is often teleological. A person who buys an airplane ticket, reads a book, or cultivates the earth is trying to achieve a certain end: getting to a given city, acquiring knowledge, or getting food. Objects and machines made by people also are usually teleological: a knife is made for cutting, a clock is made for telling time, a thermostat is made to regulate temperature. Similarly features of organisms are teleological as well: a bird’s wings are for flying, eyes are for seeing, kidneys are constituted for regulating the composition of the blood. The features of organisms that may be said to be teleological are those that can be identified as adaptations, whether they are structures like a wing or a hand, or organs like a kidney, or behaviors like the courtship displays of a peacock. Adaptations are features of organisms that have come about by natural selection because they serve certain functions and thus increase the reproductive success of their carriers.

The Essential Characteristics Of Teleological Phenomena
Inanimate objects and processes (other than those created by people) are not teleological in the sense just explained because we gain no additional scientific understanding by perceiving them as directed toward specific ends or for serving certain purposes. The configuration of a sodium chloride molecule (common salt) depends on the structure of sodium and chlorine, but it makes no sense to say that that structure is made up so as to serve a certain purpose, such as tasting salty. Similarly, the shape of a mountain is the result of certain geological processes, but it did not come about so as to serve a certain purpose, such as providing slopes suitable for skiing. The motion of the earth around the sun results from the laws of gravity, but it does not exist in order that the seasons may occur. We may use sodium chloride as food, a mountain for skiing, and take advantage of the seasons, but the use that we make of these objects or phenomena is not the reason why they came into existence or why they have certain configurations. On the other hand, a knife and a car exist and have particular configurations precisely in order to serve the purposes of cutting and transportation. Similarly, the wings of birds came about precisely because they permitted flying, which was reproductively advantageous. The mating display of peacocks came about because it increased the chances of mating and thus of leaving progeny.

The previous comments point out the essential characteristics of teleological phenomena, which may be encompassed in the following definition: “Teleological explanations account for the existence of a certain feature in a system by demonstrating the feature’s contribution to a specific property or state of the system.” Teleological explanations require that the feature or behavior contribute to the persistence of a certain state or property of the system: wings serve for flying; the sharpness of a knife serves for cutting. Moreover, and this is the essential component of the concept, this contribution must be the reason why the feature or behavior exists at all: the reason why wings came to be is because they serve for flying; the reason why a knife is sharp is that it is intended for cutting.

The configuration of a molecule of sodium chloride contributes to its property of tasting salty and therefore to its use as food, not vice versa; the potential use of sodium chloride for food is not the reason why it has a particular molecular configuration or tastes salty. The motion of the earth around the sun is the reason why seasons exist; the existence of the seasons is not the reason why the earth moves about the sun. On the other hand, the sharpness of a knife can be explained teleologically because the knife has been created precisely to serve the purpose of cutting. Motorcars and their particular configurations exist because they serve transportation, and thus can be explained teleologically. Many features and behaviors of organisms meet the requirements of teleological explanation. The hand of man, the wings of birds, the structure and behavior of kidneys, the mating displays of peacocks are examples already given.

Distinguishing Different Kinds Of Teleological Phenomena
It is useful to distinguish different kinds of design or teleological phenomena. Actions or objects are purposeful when the end-state or goal is consciously intended by an agent. Thus, a man mowing his lawn is acting teleologically in the purposeful sense; a lion hunting deer and a bird building a nest have at least the appearance of purposeful behavior. Objects resulting from purposeful behavior exhibit artificial (or external) teleology. A knife, a table, a car, and a thermostat are examples of systems exhibiting artificial teleology: their teleological features were consciously intended by some agent.

Systems with teleological features that are not due to the purposeful action of an agent but result from some natural process exhibit natural (or internal) teleology. The wings of birds have a natural teleology; they serve an end, flying, but their configuration is not due to the conscious design of any agent. We may distinguish two kinds of natural teleology: bounded, or determinate or necessary, and unbounded or indeterminate or contingent.

Bounded natural teleology exists when specific end-state is reached in spite of environmental fluctuations. The development of an egg into a chicken is an example of bounded natural teleological process. The regulation of body temperature in a mammal is another example. In general, the homeostatic processes of organisms are instances of bounded natural teleology.

Unbounded design or contingent teleology occurs when the end-state is not specifically predetermined, but rather is the result of selection of one from among several available alternatives. The adaptations of organisms are designed, or teleological, in this indeterminate sense. The wings of birds call for teleological explanation: the genetic constitutions responsible for their configuration came about because wings serve to fly and flying contributes to the reproductive success of birds. But there was nothing in the constitution of the remote ancestors of birds that would necessitate the appearance of wings in their descendants. Wings came about as the consequence of a long sequence of events, where at each stage the most advantageous alternative was selected among those that happened to be available; but what alternatives were available at any one time depended, at least in part, on chance events.

The Compatiblity of Teological and Causal Explanations
Teleological explanations are fully compatible with (efficient) causal explanations. It is possible, at least in principle, to give a causal account of the various physical and chemical processes in the development of an egg into a chicken, or of the physicochemical, neural, and muscular interactions involved in the functioning of the eye. (I use the “in principle” clause to imply that any component of the process can be elucidated as a causal process if it is investigated in sufficient detail and in depth; but not all steps in almost any developmental process have been so investigated, with the possible exception of the flatworm Caenorhabditis elegans. The development of Drosophila fruitflies has also become known in much detail, even if not yet completely.) It is also possible in principle to describe the causal processes by which one genetic variant becomes eventually established in a population by natural selection. But these causal explanations do not make it unnecessary to provide teleological explanations where appropriate. Both teleological and causal explanations are called for in such cases.

Paley’s claim that the design of living beings evinces the existence of a Designer was shown to be erroneous by Darwin’s discovery of the process of natural selection, just as the pre-Copernican explanation for the motions of celestial bodies (and the argument for the existence of God based on the unmoved mover) was shown to be erroneous by the discoveries of Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton. There is no more reason to consider anti-Christian Darwin’s theory of evolution and explanation of design than to consider anti-Christian Newton’s laws of motion. Divine action in the Universe must be sought in ways other than those that postulate it as the means to account for gaps in the scientific account of the workings of the Universe.

Nothingness As A Subject For Scientific Investigation
The Copernican and Darwinian revolutions have jointly brought all natural objects and processes as subjects of scientific investigation. Is there any important missing link in the scientific account of natural phenomena? I believe there is, namely, the origin of the universe. The creation or origin of the universe involves a transition from nothing into being. But a transition can only be scientifically investigated if we have some knowledge about the states or entities on both sides of the boundary. Nothingness, however, is not a subject for scientific investigation or understanding. Therefore, as far as science is concerned, the origin of the universe will remain forever a mystery.

Science as a Way of Knowing?
Science is a wondrously successful way of knowing. Science seeks explanations of the natural world by formulating hypotheses that are subject to the possibility of empirical falsification or corroboration. A scientific hypothesis is tested by ascertaining whether or not predictions about the world of experience derived as logical consequences from the hypothesis agree with what is actually observed. Science as a mode of inquiry into the nature of the universe has been successful and of great consequence. Witness the proliferation of science academic departments in universities and other research institutions, the enormous budgets that the body politic and the private sector willingly commit to scientific research, and its economic impact. The Office of Management and the Budget (OMB) of the U.S. government has estimated that fifty percent of all economic growth in the United States since the Second World War can directly be attributed to scientific knowledge and technical advances. The technology derived from scientific knowledge pervades, indeed, our lives: the high-rise buildings of our cities, thruways and long span-bridges, rockets that bring men to the moon, telephones that provide instant communication across continents, computers that perform complex calculations in millionths of a second, vaccines and drugs that keep bacterial parasites at bay, gene therapies that replace DNA in defective cells. All these remarkable achievements bear witness to the validity of the scientific knowledge from which they originated.

Scientific knowledge is also remarkable in the way it emerges by way of consensus and agreement among scientists, and in the way new knowledge builds upon past accomplishment rather than starting anew with each generation or each new practitioner. Surely scientists disagree with each other on many matters; but these are issues not yet settled, and the points of disagreement generally do not bring into question previous knowledge. Modern scientists do not challenge that atoms exist, or that there is a universe with a myriad stars, or that heredity is encased in the DNA.

Science is a way of knowing, but it is not the only way. Knowledge also derives from other sources, such as common sense, artistic and religious experience, and philosophical reflection. In The Myth of Sisyphus, the great French writer Albert Camus asserted that we learn more about ourselves and the world from a relaxed evening’s perception of the starry heavens and the scents of grass than from science’s reductionistic ways. The validity of the knowledge acquired by non-scientific modes of inquiry can be simply established by pointing out that science dawned in the sixteenth century, but humanity had for centuries built cities and roads, brought forth political institutions and sophisticated codes of law, advanced profound philosophies and value systems, and created magnificent plastic art, as well as music and literature. We thus learn about ourselves and about the world in which we live and we also benefit from products of this non-scientific knowledge. The crops we harvest and the animals we husband emerged millennia before science’s dawn from practices set down by farmers in the Middle East, Andean sierras, and Mayan plateaus.

It is not my intention in this section to belabor the extraordinary fruits of nonscientific modes of inquiry. But I have set forth the view that nothing in the world of nature escapes the scientific mode of knowledge, and that we owe this universality to Darwin’s revolution. Here I wish simply to state something that is obvious, but becomes at times clouded by the hubris of some scientists. Successful as it is, and universally encompassing as its subject is, a scientific view of the world is hopelessly incomplete. There are matters of value and meaning that are outside science’s scope. Even when we have a satisfying scientific understanding of a natural object of process, we are still missing matters that may well be thought by many to be of equal or greater import. Scientific knowledge may enrich aesthetic and moral perceptions, and illuminate the significance of life and the world, but these are matters outside science’s realm.

On April 28, 1937, early in the Spanish Civil War, Nazi airplanes bombed the small Basque town of Guernica, the first time that a civilian population had been determinedly destroyed from the air. The Spanish painter Pablo Picasso had recently been commissioned by the Spanish Republican Government to paint a large composition for the Spanish pavilion at the Paris World Exhibition of 1937. In a frenzy of manic energy, the enraged Picasso sketched in two days and fully outlined in ten more days his famous Guernica, an immense painting of 25 feet, 8 inches by 11 feet, 6 inches. Suppose that I now would describe the images represented in the painting, their size and position, as well as the pigments used and the quality of the canvas. This description would be of interest, but it would hardly be satisfying if I had completely omitted aesthetic analysis and considerations of meaning, the dramatic message of man’s inhumanity to man conveyed by the outstretched figure of the mother pulling her killed baby, bellowing faces, the wounded horse or the satanic image of the bull.

Let Guernica be a metaphor of the point I wish to make. Scientific knowledge, like the description of size, materials, and geometry of Guernica, is satisfying and useful. But once science has had its say, there remains much about reality that is of interest, questions of value and meaning that are forever beyond science’s scope.


Evolution Topics by Dr. Francisco Ayala

April 27, 2010

2010 John Templeton Foundation Prize winner Dr. Francisco Ayala

These topics were written by Dr. Francisco Ayala, Professor of Biological Sciences and Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. He is a member of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology, and has been President and Chairman of the Board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Dr. Ayala is a highly respected evolutionary biologist who has received the 2010 Templeton Prize, an award issued each year by the John Templeton Foundation to a person “who has made an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension, whether through insight, discovery, or practical works.” He is perhaps best known scientifically for his research into the evolutionary history of the parasite scientists have associated with malaria, with an eye toward developing a cure for the disease. He also pioneered the use of an organism’s genetic material as molecular clocks that help track and time its origins.

But for the past 30 years, he has been at the forefront of battles to keep creationism and its more-sophisticated offshoot, intelligent design, out of public-school biology classes, noting that they actually represent religion masked as natural science. At the same time, he has vigorously argued that religion is a vital pillar in American life, thereby confusing those who confuse religion with being anti-science.

The US scientific enterprise is the envy of the world, he says, and the country is the most religious of any nation in the western world. “It is nothing short of tragic to see these two pillars of society are often seen as in contradiction with each other,” he said during the award’s presentation Thursday at the National Academy of Sciences in Washington. “Properly understood, there can be no contradiction because they deal with different subjects,” he said.

Although he has been reluctant over the years to describe his own religious leanings, Mr. Ayala argues that religion and science are “different windows” for looking at the world. Only when each tries to make “assertions beyond their legitimate boundaries” do the two appear to clash.

“Science gives us an insight on reality which is very important; our technology is based on our science,” he says. “But at the end of the day, questions important to people, questions of meaning, purpose, moral values, and the like” are not answered through science.

Beyond championing the roles science and religion can play in their respective domains, he also has argued that “scientific knowledge, the theory of evolution in particular, is consistent with a religious belief in God, whereas the tenets of creationism and the so-called intelligent design are not.”

While intelligent-design advocates point to the complexity of many biological processes as too intricate to have emerged from a random evolutionary process, Ayala points to many of biology’s flawed designs as evidence of a lack of intelligence behind them. “Any engineer who would have designed the human jaw bone would be fired the next day,” he says. Instead, he terms biology’s flawed products as “a consequence of the clumsy ways of nature and the evolutionary process.”

Ayala, a professor at the University of California at Irvine, began his dual journeys into science and religion during his formative years in Spain, where he graduated from college with a bachelors degree in physics. After graduation, he studied theology there, and five years later became an ordained priest. But during his theological studies, two geneticists took him under their wing, and in 1961, Ayala moved to New York to take up graduate studies in evolutionary biology and genetics at Columbia University. And he left the priesthood. Over the course of his career, he has won awards for his scientific work and has served on several high-level science advisory panels in the US. In 2001, President George W. Bush awarded Ayala the National Medal of Science.

In a prepared statement, John Templeton Jr., the president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation said, “Ayala’s clear voice in matters of science and faith echoes the Foundation’s belief that evolution of the mind and truly open-minded inquiry can lead to real spiritual progress in the world.” Ayala has donated the $1.42 million prize to charity.

I advance three propositions. The first is that Darwin’s most significant intellectual contribution is that he brought the origin and diversity of organisms into the realm of science. The Copernican Revolution consisted in a commitment to the postulate that the universe is governed by natural laws that account for natural phenomena. Darwin completed the Copernican Revolution by extending that commitment to the living world.

The second proposition is that natural selection is a creative process that can account for the appearance of genuine novelty. How natural selection creates is shown with a simple example and clarified with two analogies, artistic creation and the “typing monkeys,” with which it shares important similarities and differences. The creative power of natural selection arises from a distinctive interaction between chance and necessity, or between random and deterministic processes.

The third proposition is that teleological explanations are necessary in order to give a full account of the attributes of living organisms, whereas they are neither necessary nor appropriate in the explanation of natural inanimate phenomena. I give a definition of teleology and clarify the matter by distinguishing between internal and external teleology, and between bounded and unbounded teleology. The human eye, so obviously constituted for seeing but resulting from a natural process, is an example of internal (or natural) teleology. A knife has external (or artificial) teleology, because it has been purposefully designed by an external agent. The development of an egg into a chicken is an example of bounded (or necessary) teleology, whereas the evolutionary origin of the mammals is a case of unbounded (or contingent) teleology, because there was nothing in the make up of the first living cells that necessitated the eventual appearance of mammals.

I conclude that Darwin’s theory of evolution and explanation of design does not include or exclude considerations of divine action in the world any more than astronomy, geology, physics, or chemistry do.

The Darwinian Revolution
The publication in 1859 of The Origin of Species by Charles Darwin ushered in a new era in the intellectual history of humanity. Darwin is deservedly given credit for the theory of biological evolution: he accumulated evidence demonstrating that organisms evolve and discovered the process, natural selection, by which they evolve. But the import of Darwin’s achievement is that it completed the Copernican revolution initiated three centuries earlier, and thereby radically changed our conception of the universe and the place of humanity in it.

The discoveries of Copernicus, Kepler, Galileo, and Newton in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries had gradually ushered in the notion that the workings of the universe could be explained by human reason. It was shown that the earth is not the center of the universe, but a small planet rotating around an average star; that the universe is immense in space and in time; and that the motions of the planets around the sun can be explained by the same simple laws that account for the motion of physical objects on our planet. These and other discoveries greatly expanded human knowledge, but the intellectual revolution these scientists brought about was more fundamental: a commitment to the postulate that the universe obeys immanent laws that account for natural phenomena. The workings of the universe were brought into the realm of science: explanation through natural laws. Physical phenomena could be accounted for whenever the causes were adequately known.

Darwin completed the Copernican revolution by drawing out for biology the notion of nature as a lawful system of matter in motion. The adaptations and diversity of organisms, the origin of novel and highly organized forms, even the origin of humanity itself could now be explained by an orderly process of change governed by natural laws.

The origin of organisms and their marvelous adaptations were, however, either left unexplained or attributed to the design of an omniscient Creator. God had created the birds and bees, the fish and corals, the trees in the forest, and best of all, man. God had given us eyes so that we might see, and He had provided fish with gills to breathe in water. Philosophers and theologians argued that the functional design of organisms manifests the existence of an all-wise Creator. Wherever there is design, there is a designer; the existence of a watch evinces the existence of a watchmaker.

The English theologian William Paley in his Natural Theology (1802) elaborated the argument-from-design as forceful demonstration of the existence of the Creator. The functional design of the human eye, argued Paley, provided conclusive evidence of an all-wise Creator. It would be absurd to suppose, he wrote, that the human eye by mere chance “should have consisted, first, of a series of transparent lenses … secondly of a black cloth or canvas spread out behind these lenses so as to receive the image formed by pencils of light transmitted through them, and placed at the precise geometrical distance at which, and at which alone, a distinct image could be formed … thirdly of a large nerve communicating between this membrane and the brain.” The Bridgewater Treatises, published between 1833 and 1840, were written by eminent scientists and philosophers to set forth “the Power, Wisdom, and Goodness of God as manifested in the Creation.” The structure and mechanisms of man’s hand were, for example, cited as incontrovertible evidence that the hand had been designed by the same omniscient Power that had created the world.

The advances of physical science had thus driven humanity’s conception of the universe to a split-personality state of affairs, which persisted well into the mid-nineteenth century. Scientific explanations, derived from natural laws, dominated the world of nonliving matter, on the earth as well as in the heavens. Supernatural explanations, depending on the unfathomable deeds of the Creator, accounted for the origin and configuration of living creatures — the most diversified, complex, and interesting realities of the world. It was Darwin’s genius to resolve this conceptual schizophrenia.

Darwin‘s Discovery: Design without Designer
The strength of the argument-from-design to demonstrate the role of the Creator is easily set forth. Wherever there is function or design we look for its author. A knife is made for cutting and a clock is made to tell time; their functional designs have been contrived by a knifemaker and a watchmaker. The exquisite design of Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa proclaims that it was created by a gifted artist following a preconceived purpose. Similarly, the structures, organs, and behaviors of living beings are directly organized to serve certain functions. The functional design of organisms and their features would therefore seem to argue for the existence of a designer. It was Darwin’s greatest accomplishment to show that the directive organization of living beings can be explained as the result of a natural process, natural selection, without any need to resort to a Creator or other external agent. The origin and adaptation of organisms in their profusion and wondrous variations were thus brought into the realm of science.

Darwin accepted that organisms are “designed” for certain purposes, i.e., they are functionally organized. Organisms are adapted to certain ways of life and their parts are adapted to perform certain functions. Fish are adapted to live in water, kidneys are designed to regulate the composition of blood, the human hand is made for grasping. But Darwin went on to provide a natural explanation of the design. He thereby brought the seemingly purposeful aspects of living beings into the realm of science.

Darwin’s revolutionary achievement is that he extended the Copernican revolution to the world of living things. The origin and adaptive nature of organisms could now be explained, like the phenomena of the inanimate world, as the result of natural laws manifested in natural processes. Darwin’s theory encountered opposition in some religious circles, not so much because he proposed the evolutionary origin of living things (which had been proposed before, and accepted even by Christian theologians), but because the causal mechanism, natural selection, excluded God as the explanation for the obvious design of organisms.

The Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to Galileo in the seventeenth century had been similarly motivated not only by the apparent contradiction between the heliocentric theory and a literal interpretation of the Bible, but also by the unseemly attempt to comprehend the workings of the Universe, the “mind of God.” The configuration of the Universe was no longer perceived as the result of God’s Design, but simply the outcome of immanent, blind, processes. There were, however, many theologians, philosophers, and scientists who saw no contradiction then nor see it now between the evolution of species and Christian faith. Some see evolution as the “method of divine intelligence,” in the words of the nineteenth century theologian A.H. Strong. Others, like the American contemporary of Darwin, Henry Ward Beecher (1818-1887), made evolution the cornerstone of their theology. These two traditions have persisted to the present. Pope John Paul II has recently (October 1996) stated that “the theory of evolution is more than a hypothesis. It is … accepted by researchers, following a series of discoveries in various fields of knowledge.” The views of “process” theologians, who perceive evolutionary dynamics as a pervasive element of a Christian view of the world, are well represented in this volume.

Natural Selection as a Directive Process
The central argument of the theory of natural selection is summarized by Darwin in The Origin of Species as follows:

As more individuals are produced than can possibly survive, there must in every case be a struggle for existence, either one individual with another of the same species, or with the individuals of distinct species, or with the physical conditions of life. … Can it, then, be thought improbable, seeing that variations useful to man have undoubtedly occurred, that other variations useful in some way to each being in the great and complex battle of life, should sometimes occur in the course of thousands of generations? If such do occur, can we doubt (remembering that more individuals are born than can possibly survive) that individuals having any advantage, however slight, over others, would have the best chance of surviving and of procreating their kind? On the other hand, we may feel sure that any variation in the least degree injurious would be rigidly destroyed. This preservation of favorable variation and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection.

Darwin’s argument addresses the problem of explaining the adaptive character of organisms. Darwin argues that adaptive variations (“variations useful in some way to each being”) occasionally appear, and that these are likely to increase the reproductive chances of their carriers. Over the generations favorable variations will be preserved, injurious ones will be eliminated. In one place, Darwin adds: “I can see no limit to this power [natural selection] in slowly and beautifully adapting each form to the most complex relations of life.” Natural selection was proposed by Darwin primarily to account for the adaptive organization, or “design,” of living beings; it is a process that promotes or maintains adaptation. Evolutionary change through time and evolutionary diversification (multiplication of species) are not directly promoted by natural selection (hence, the so-called “evolutionary stasis,” the numerous examples of organisms with morphology that has changed little, if at all, for millions of years, as pointed out by the proponents of the theory of punctuated equilibrium). But change and diversification often ensue as by-products of natural selection fostering adaptation.

Darwin formulated natural selection primarily as differential survival. The modern understanding of the principle of natural selection is formulated in genetic and statistical terms as differential reproduction. Natural selection implies that some genes and genetic combinations are transmitted to the following generations on the average more frequently than their alternates. Such genetic units will become more common in every subsequent generation and their alternates less common. Natural selection is a statistical bias in the relative rate of reproduction of alternative genetic units.

Natural selection has been compared to a sieve which retains the rarely arising useful genes and lets go the more frequently arising harmful mutants. Natural selection acts in that way, but it is much more than a purely negative process, for it is able to generate novelty by increasing the probability of otherwise extremely improbable genetic combinations. Natural selection is thus creative in a way. It does not “create” the entities upon which it operates, but it produces adaptive genetic combinations which would not have existed otherwise.

The creative role of natural selection must not be understood in the sense of the “absolute” creation that traditional Christian theology predicates of the Divine act by which the universe was brought into being ex nihilo. Natural selection may rather be compared to a painter which creates a picture by mixing and distributing pigments in various ways over the canvas. The canvas and the pigments are not created by the artist but the painting is. It is conceivable that a random combination of the pigments might result in the orderly whole which is the final work of art. But the probability of Leonardo’s Mona Lisa resulting from a random combination of pigments, or St. Peter’s Basilica resulting from a random association of marble, bricks and other materials, is infinitely small. In the same way, the combination of genetic units which carries the hereditary information responsible for the formation of the vertebrate eye could have never been produced by a random process like mutation. Not even if we allow for the three billion years plus during which life has existed on earth. The complicated anatomy of the eye like the exact functioning of the kidney are the result of a nonrandom process — natural selection.

Natural Selection as a Creative Process
Critics have sometimes alleged as evidence against Darwin’s theory of evolution examples showing that random processes cannot yield meaningful, organized outcomes. It is thus pointed out that a series of monkeys randomly striking letters on a typewriter would never write The Origin of Species, even if we allow for millions of years and many generations of monkeys pounding at typewriters.

This criticism would be valid if evolution would depend only on random processes. But natural selection is a nonrandom process that promotes adaptation by selecting combinations that “make sense,” i.e., that are useful to the organisms. The analogy of the monkeys would be more appropriate if a process existed by which, first, meaningful words would be chosen every time they appeared on the typewriter; and then we would also have typewriters with previously selected words rather than just letters in the keys, and again there would be a process to select meaningful sentences every time they appeared in this second typewriter. If every time words such as “the,” “origin,” “species,” and so on, appeared in the first kind of typewriter, they each became a key in the second kind of typewriter, meaningful sentences would occasionally be produced in this second typewriter. If such sentences became incorporated into keys of a third type of typewriter, in which meaningful paragraphs were selected whenever they appeared, it is clear that pages and even chapters “making sense” would eventually be produced.

We need not carry the analogy too far, since the analogy is not fully satisfactory, but the point is clear. Evolution is not the outcome of purely random processes, but rather there is a “selecting” process, which picks up adaptive combinations because these reproduce more effectively and thus become established in populations. These adaptive combinations constitute, in turn, new levels of organization upon which the mutation (random) plus selection (nonrandom or directional) process again operates.

The manner in which natural selection can generate novelty in the form of accumulated hereditary information may be illustrated by the following example. Some strains of the colon bacterium, Escherichia coli, in order to be able to reproduce in a culture medium, require that a certain substance, the amino acid histidine, be provided in the medium. When a few such bacteria are added to a cubic centimeter of liquid culture medium, they multiply rapidly and produce between two and three billion bacteria in a few hours. Spontaneous mutations to streptomycin resistance occur in normal (i.e., sensitive) bacteria at rates of the order of one in one hundred million (1 x 10-8) cells. In our bacterial culture we expect between twenty and thirty bacteria to be resistant to streptomycin due to spontaneous mutation. If a proper concentration of the antibiotic is added to the culture, only the resistant cells survive. The twenty or thirty surviving bacteria will start reproducing, however, and allowing a few hours for the necessary number of cell divisions, several billion bacteria are produced, all resistant to streptomycin. Among cells requiring histidine as a growth factor, spontaneous mutants able to reproduce in the absence of histidine arise at rates of about four in one hundred million (4 x 10-8) bacteria. The streptomycin resistant cells may now be transferred to a culture with streptomycin but with no histidine. Most of them will not be able to reproduce, but about a hundred will start reproducing until the available medium is saturated.

Natural selection has produced in two steps bacterial cells resistant to streptomycin and not requiring histidine for growth. The probability of the two mutational events happening in the same bacterium is of about four in ten million billion (1 x 10-8 x 4 x 10-8 = 4 x 10-16) cells. An event of such low probability is unlikely to occur even in a large laboratory culture of bacterial cells. With natural selection, cells having both properties are the common result.

As illustrated by the bacterial example, natural selection produces combinations of genes that would otherwise be highly improbable because natural selection proceeds stepwise. The vertebrate eye did not appear suddenly in all its present perfection. Its formation requires the appropriate integration of many genetic units, and thus the eye could not have resulted from random processes alone. The ancestors of today’s vertebrates had for more than half a billion years some kind of organs sensitive to light. Perception of light, and later vision, were important for these organisms’ survival and reproductive success. Accordingly, natural selection favored genes and gene combinations increasing the functional efficiency of the eye. Such genetic units gradually accumulated, eventually leading to the highly complex and efficient vertebrate eye. Natural selection can account for the rise and spread of genetic constitutions, and therefore of types of organisms, that would never have existed under the uncontrolled action of random mutation. In this sense, natural selection is a creative process, although it does not create the raw materials — the genes — upon which it acts.


Reading Selections from “The Pill’s Deadly Affair with HIV/AIDS” by Joan Claire Robinson

April 26, 2010

HIV-AIDS Quilts in Washington DC

In a meticulously detailed report Joan Claire Robinson details the inherent dangers of a life of perceived sexual freedom versus the world’s deadliest virus. Attention Maureen Dowd: more evidence of a Catholic vindication.  Needless to say, an article you will never find in the NY Times or the liberal media. Spread the word.

The world’s deadliest killer, HIV/AIDS, and the Birth Control Pill have been carrying on a secret and deadly “love affair” for decades. While women swallowed their “freedom” with the morning orange juice, studies that should have made global headlines yellowed in medical journals, unknown to the general public. Only doctors learned about the pills deadly affair with HIV/AIDS, and they were too busy writing prescriptions for hormonal contraceptives to talk.

More than 50 medical studies, to date, have investigated the association of hormonal contraceptive use and HIV/AIDS infection. The studies show that hormonal contraceptives — the oral pill and Depo-Provera — increase almost all known risk factors for HIV, from upping a woman’s risk of infection, to increasing the replication of the HIV virus, to speeding the debilitating and deadly progression of the disease. ( Baeten et al. 2003, “Hormonal Influences on HIV Disease and Co-Morbidites.” J Acquir Immune Def Syndr. 2005, Vol 38, Suppl 1: S19)

A medical trial published in the journal AIDS in 2009 — monitoring HIV progression by the need for antiretroviral drugs (ART) — saw “the risk of becoming eligible for ART was almost 70% higher in women taking the pills and more than 50% higher in women using DMPA [Depo-Provera] than in women using IUDS.” (; Stringer et al, AIDS. 2009, 23:1377-1382)

Studies aside, it is well known that HIV/AIDS strikes more women than men. Some would argue that this is a result of the desire of men for young — and presumably uninfected, sexual partners. Few are willing to discuss a more obvious explanation, namely, that the Pill and Injectables render women particularly vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

How serious is the problem? Oral contraceptives and Depo-Provera are among the world’s most popular and prevalent contraceptive methods. According to one study, “Globally, at least 150 million women currently use hormonal contraceptive methods.”( Morrison et al., 2009, Best Practice & Research Clinical Obstetrics and Gynaecology 23 (2009) 264) In America, hormonal contraceptive rates are over 52% in unmarried women — those at greatest risk of HIV/AIDS. Moreover, in the interest of lowering the birth rate, the UNFPA and USAID continue unloading boatloads of hormonal contraceptives on Africa, Haiti and other AIDS-ravaged developing nations.

The best meta-analysis done to date, done by Dr. Chia Wang and her colleagues, surveyed the consensus results of the 28 best published studies since 1985. They found that the “significant association between oral contraceptive use and HIV-1 seroprevalence or seroincidence … increased as study quality increased.” In fact, “Of the best studies, 6 of 8 detected an increased risk of HIV infection associated with OC [oral contraceptive] use.”

On the National Scale
Moreover, Wang’s results showed even more of a Pill/HIV link when they limited studies to those conducted on African populations. This is significant for two reasons:

  1. First, sub-Saharan Africa is home to the world’s earliest and largest heterosexual HIV/AIDS epidemic, which to date has infected an estimated 22.4 million5 people. This is two-thirds of the total number of infections worldwide.
  2. Second, sub-Saharan Africa has endured decades of contraception-focused population control programs and countless hormonal-contraceptive trials. “Among the six [African] countries hardest hit by the HIV/AIDS epidemic … two in three users in the six countries rely on the OC (oral contraceptives) or injectables,” said Iqbal Shah of the World Health Organization.

Likewise, Thailand, praised for a contraceptive prevalence of 79.2% in 2000 and upwards of 70% today, is a land where, “More than one-in-100 adults in this country of 65 million people is infected with HIV.” ( Among Thai women, “Oral contraception is the most popular method.” (; Family_Planning_Fact_ Sheets_thailand.pdf)

On the other hand, Japan’s HIV rate is, at 0.01%, one of the lowest in the world.  In this context, it is important to note that the birth control pill was illegal in Japan until 1999, and even today only 1% of Japanese women use oral contraception. ( (Homosexual men account for just over half of Japan’s domestic HIV cases.))Similarly, the predominantly Catholic Philippines, with a longstanding popular resistance to contraception, boasts an HIV “prevalence rate of only 0.02%.”

Hormonal Changes Heighten HIV Risk
The studies that demonstrate a connection between hormonal contraceptives and HIV/AIDS infection postulate a number of mechanisms at work.

First, let’s review the basics. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), is carried in warm blood or sexual fluids. It infects through fragile, inflamed, bleeding or needle-pricked tissue, attacks specific T-cells in the immune system, and causes the incurable, debilitating condition known as AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome).

Hormonal contraceptives increase almost all known risk factors for HIV infection.

Studies have found that hormonal contraceptives “alter the microenvironment of the female” (Prakash et al. 2004; Prakash et al. 2002; Furth et al., 1990) and boost the cell count of those specific cells that HIV uses to infect and proliferate (HIV co-receptor CCR5 in cervical CD4+ T lymphocytes).

What is more, a progesterone side effect known to American women as “breakthrough bleeding,” is caused when hormonal contraceptives excessively thicken the uterine lining. The large, bleeding surface of the uterus creates an ideal site for HIV infection.

Progesterone also has an immunosuppressant effect, which means that women using hormonal contraceptives have less in the way of natural defenses against HIV and other STDs, such as chlamydial infection or genital herpes (HSV-2). (Baeten et al. 2001; Cottingham et al. 1992; Avonts et al. 1990; Louv et al. 1989; Hunt et al. 1998; Zang et al. 2002; Gillgrass et al; 2003) In one study, “HSV-2 infection itself more than tripled the risk of HIV infection.”(; Baeten et al. 2007)

In the vagina, increased blood and the independent hormonal effects of the Pill eliminate the natural pH acid protection against infection. What is more, a famous study of rhesus macaques found that hormonal contraceptives thin the vaginal walls and markedly increase SIV infection (the monkey equivalent of HIV —  Marx et al. 1996; Abel et al. 2004; Veazey et al. 2005) Vaginal dryness, another side effect of hormonal contraceptives, is not only painful but also makes one prone to tears and abrasions — fertile sites for infection.

One study points out, “On a cellular level, hormonal contraceptives have been associated with cervical and vaginal inflammation.” (Baeten et al. 2001; Ghanem et al. 2005)

Further, hormonal birth control causes the fragile cervical tissue to grow beyond its natural bounds and replace what would normally be thick, protective membrane. This “cervical ectopy” is dangerous because the cervix’s thin surface is the main site of HIV infection. (Baeten et al. 2007; Critchlow et al. 1995; Louv et al. 1989; Plourde et al. 1994)

Given all these different ways that hormonal contraception promotes HIV/AIDS infection, it is not at all surprising that several studies show women on the pill, Depo-Provera, etc., are more likely to be infected with not just one, but several variants or strains of HIV. This “in turn leads to higher levels of viral replication and more rapid HIV-1 disease progression.” (Beaten et al. 2003; Poss et al. 1995; Long et al. 2000; Furth et al. 1990; Baeten et al. 2007, Clinical and Infectious Diseases, 360-361)

Women on hormonal contraceptives are not only more likely to contract HIV/AIDS, they are also more likely to pass it along to their sexual partners. The three studies which focused on “the impact of hormonal contraception on cervical shedding of the cell-associated virus” (Stringer et al. 2008) all found that HIV-positive women on hormonal contraceptives are far more likely shed HIV in their body fluids. High-dose pill users were over 12 times more likely to shed the HIV virus than women not using contraception, low-dose users were almost 4 times more likely, and Depo-Provera users were 3 times more likely.( Wang et al. 2004; Mostad et al. 1997; Clemetson et al. 1993)

The Pill Pushers Push Back
Some dismiss out of hand the impressive body of scientific research demonstrating a Pill/HIV link. They quote from the handful of studies and highly selective trials which claim to find “no increase in HIV risk among users of oral contraceptives and Depo-Provera.”( Mauck, C. 2005, S11; Studies noted: Mati et al. 1995; Kapiga et al. 1998)

The problem with many of these studies, such as Mati et al. 1995, Kapiga et al. 1998, and Sinei et al. 1996 is that they were conducted with and through “family planning clinics.” Since the chief business of these clinics is the promotion, sale, and distribution of contraceptives, the possibility of bias is undeniable. Who would trust Marlboro to monitor a study on the link between cigarettes and cancer?

Moreover, the handful of studies that deny a link between hormonal contraception and increased risk of contracting HIV are dwarfed by the many studies that have not only found such a link, but convincingly explained precisely what it is about such contraception that contributes to the spread of the disease.

Yet population control groups continue to lobby for more contraception, not less. Take Dr. Willard Cates, president of the Institute for Family Health of Family Health International (FHI), one of the major purveyors of hormonal contraception to the developing world. Wrote Cates to the Journal of American Medical Association, “Preventing unintended pregnancies among HIV-infected women who do not currently wish to become pregnant is an important and cost effective way of preventing new HIV infections of infants. … More must be done to ensure access to safe and effective contraception for HIV-infected women.” (JAMA. 2006; 296:2802 )

Obviously, FHI’s concern here is less to prevent the infection of preborn infants, than to continue to contracept as many women as possible with your tax dollars and mine. What the organization refuses to admit, however, is that by doing so it is arguably contributing to the spread of the HIV virus.

How many lives are being lost because we continue to ship boatloads of hormonal contraceptives to a continent and to countries laboring under an HIV/AIDS pandemic? Isn’t it time that we stopped?


The Forms of Memory: Speech and Writing

April 23, 2010

Christ Carried to the Tomb, Tintoretto c.1560

 Present-day readers of the NT encounter finished literary compositions. Trying to recover the process by which those compositions came into existence involves close analysis as well as a certain amount of guesswork. As a previous post has shown, it is possible to suggest plausible social settings within which the memory of Jesus was shaped and transmitted. More difficult is determining the mix of oral and written elements in the process. Certainly there is strong evidence to suggest that the memory of Jesus was conveyed orally in a variety of settings. But it must be remembered as well that the Christian movement was literary from the start — as evidenced by Paul’s letters (our earliest evidence for the existence of Christianity) as well as the letters from other early Christian leaders. Luke Timothy Johnson considers the process.

But to what extent were the memories concerning Jesus written down before being included in the compositions we call Gospels? Scholars remain divided on this issue, some emphasizing the oral process, others the written. To some extent, a rigid bifurcation is a distortion, since we know that in both Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures, literary and oral activities often overlapped: Rabbis kept notes on halachic debates that were later codified; rhetoricians wrote out speeches that were later delivered orally; correspondents read aloud the written letters that were initially dictated orally to scribes; and the lectures of philosophers were transcribed. Furthermore, in antiquity all “reading” was a form of oral performance. The distinction between “oral” and “scribal” culture, therefore, should not be made too sharply, and is useful mainly as a reminder that these modes of expression interacted in complex ways.

In the following discussion, we look first at those parts of the memory about Jesus that fit most obviously within the framework of oral tradition, without thereby denying that aspects of writing may have been at work. Then we turn to an examination of that part of the gospel story in which the process of writing, or scribal, activity may most easily be seen, without thereby implying that there was no antecedent oral tradition.

(1)Oral Memory and the Stories About Jesus
The memory of Jesus was affected not only by the social contexts of the early Christian churches, but also by certain persistent habits of human memory, particularly by the way it molds the past into usable pieces for the present. An awareness of these patterns — together with the simple observation that in the various canonical Gospels we find individual short segments of material of striking similarity being used in quite different arrangements — leads us to the recognition that the Gospels are written compositions that employ diverse traditions handed down by both oral and written transmission over a period of some forty years. Oral traditions were passed on, furthermore, not in ordered or sustained narratives, but in short sayings and stories. Their stereotypical patterns result from the process of telling and retelling in community contexts. We turn, then, to some consideration of those sayings and stories in which the memory of Jesus was mediated to the Gospel writers. The process of transmission may be grasped in its essential lines by developing a rather extended analogy, one whose anachronistic character and simplicity will remind us that these observations are not a matter of science but of appreciating the art of storytelling.

Oral Tradition: Remember How Grandma Used To Say…
We can imagine a family remembering its recently deceased matriarch. The family as a social group engages in this sort of recollection especially at ritual occasions, such as holiday meals and ceremonies of passage like graduations, weddings, and funerals. The occasion, or some part of the ritual, triggers the process of remembrance. Someone will begin, “Remember how Grandma used to say . . . ,” and then all join in. The basic form of remembrance is the short tale or anecdote. Even Grandma’s wise sayings or memorable mannerisms are related to tales that set up the significant point.

Many of the stories sound alike. The matriarch quite likely repeated herself in word and action in her long life and was observed by different witnesses on various occasions. Her repeated and characteristic behavior in the past, therefore, aids the process of forging her memory into set forms. While the stories are being told, there is also mutual correction taking place. Older members with longer memories correct errors of sequence (“No, she said that after Grandpa died”) and false attribution (“Grandma didn’t say that; Aunt Hilda did”). When eyewitnesses are no longer around, the next generation is dependent on the form and sequence of the stories that the earlier process of criticism left as established. Then an even more formal shape is given to the memories: there is a collection of Our Grandmother stories capable of being told and retold even by generations who never knew her at all except as mediated by these tales.

Closer analysis of the casual family stories shows that they tend to fall into categories. The largest of the categories are those of Things Said and Things Done. Repeated settings and patterns provide the basis for further categories: “Arguing with Grandpa” or “Advice to the Grandchildren” stories. There might even be a loose collection of Grandma’s One-Liners, sayings whose occasion no one can any longer recollect but whose bite and wit are so clearly hers that they are treasured as “typical of Grandma.” Do they resemble bits of wisdom available elsewhere? It does not matter; Grandma made them her own, giving them her own personal stamp and style.

No one is in the least disturbed by a lack of exact chronology in these stories, by a certain amount of repetition, or by the failure to get all the details straight. This is not a biography that is being researched but a family remembering its beloved founder. The memory of her makes her come alive again, just as the eating of the pumpkin pie prepared according to her secret recipe almost makes her appear in the kitchen door.

An observation of several families thus reminiscing about their grandmothers would yield an even greater stock of remarkably similar stories. Since grandmothers do tend to act alike in certain ways, cultural stereotypes of “typical grandmotherly” behavior develop. Sometimes it is hard to tell how much the shape of one family’s very real memories of its grandmother may be affected by these larger cultural patterns. That their grandmother happened to fit several of these stereotypes, however, in no way diminishes their sense of her as real and singular in her presence to them.

Oral Tradition Tendencies
Oral tradition of this sort has certain consistent tendencies.

  1. First, the specific details of time and place are rapidly lost, for the simple reason that they are largely irrelevant. What is important is the significant saying or deed, not the occasion; the point of the story is who the grandmother was and therefore who the family is.
  2. Second, and for the same reason, the punch line or decisive gesture is remembered far more clearly than the setup or situation in which it is now enclosed. Indeed, at times the situations almost appear to be interchangeable. Sometimes only the punch line is remembered and the family debates the appropriate setting.
  3. Third, the more often the stories are repeated, the shorter they get. They become more formulaic, tighter in focus, snappier. As a result, over time the stories tend to resemble each other more. The first time a story is told, it is filled with extraneous detail and subjective reactions; with frequent repetition it is reduced to the essentials.

Applying The Grandma Analogy
The possibility of applying this analogy to the development of the memory of Jesus in the church seems clear. We have seen how ritual occasions and the need for community teaching stimulated the memory of Jesus among those who believed in him as risen Lord. We have also observed that the community’s need for precedent and guidance gave this memory a definite shape, even as it shaped the community’s identity.

The analogy also helps us see how a large number of stories about Jesus in the Gospels fall into stereotypical forms. However, there are limits to such an analysis. The first limit involves our analytic precision. Of course it is possible to divide the memories of Jesus into Things Said and Things Done, as it is possible to describe other subgroupings. But we must recognize that not only are forms combined (e.g., an exorcism story and a controversy story joined together into a literary whole, as in Mark 1:21–28) but also that some materials escape classification altogether. Second, care must be taken not to deduce too readily from the form of a story its life-setting or function within that setting. The real value in cataloguing these forms is twofold: it enables us to appreciate how the memory of Jesus was carried by means of short units rather than by complex discourses and narratives; and the description of a formal pattern enables us to detect deviations from it, which may prove helpful for the understanding of a particular story.

Among The Sayings Of Jesus, We Find Controversy Stories, Parables, Aphorisms, And Other Looser Discourses.

  1. Controversy stories (e.g., Mark 2:15–3:6; 7:1–23; 10:2–9; 12:13–17, 18–27, 28–34; pars.) have a regular sequence of elements: (1) an action by Jesus or his disciples (2) stimulates a challenge from opponents, which leads to (3) a pronouncement by Jesus. The pronouncement is often a well-formed statement of more general application than the particular situation that generated the controversy.
  2. In his parables, Jesus compares some readily observable natural or human phenomenon to the kingdom of God. Some parables are used for attack (Mark 3:23-27), others for defense (Luke 15:4-10); some attempt to enlighten (Matthew 13:24–30), others to mystify (Mark 4:3-8). They range from simple analogies (Matthew 13:44–46) to extended allegories (Mark 12:1-11), but all of them give a narrative form to metaphor.
  3. In Jesus’ aphorisms, we find single striking statements that can easily be separated from, or are only loosely attached to, their literary setting in the gospel story. Sometimes they are found joined together by the mnemonic device of catch-words (see, e.g., Mark 8:34-37). Other sayings material is less easily categorized. The apocalyptic discourse of Jesus in Mark 13, for example, can be broken down into individual parts (aphorisms, parables), but it also holds together as a sustained unit.

Other Narratives Reveal Formal Patterns
As with the controversy stories, other narratives about Jesus also reveal formal patterns. The most regular pattern is found in the healing and exorcism stories. In healing narratives, we find the following: (1) the notice of the sickness, (2) the action by Jesus, (3) the result, (4) the reaction of bystanders (see, e.g., Mark 1:30–31, 40–45; 2:1–12; 5:21–42; 7:31–37; 8:22–26; pars.). The pattern of exorcism narratives tends to be very similar: (1) the mention of the demoniac, (2) the dialogue between spirits and Jesus, (3) the command to depart, (4) the physical sign of departure, (5) the restored state of the exorcised person, (6) the reaction of bystanders (see, e.g., Mark 1:23–28; 5:1–13; 7:24–30; 9:17–29; pars.). Some stories about Jesus, such as his nature miracles (e.g., Mark 4:35–41; 6:45–52; pars.) and his feeding of the crowds (Mark 6:34–44; 8:1–10; pars.), do not fit as easily into set forms. Still other stories, like that of the transfiguration (Mark 9:2–8 pars.), resist categorization completely.

Two further literary remarks can be made about these patterns. First, the formal shape of many of the stories suggests that they were shortened and tightened with repetition, and thus grew to resemble each other; that they preserved the essential deed or saying more accurately than the circumstance; and that they had little concern for geography and chronology. Second, the stories about Jesus also resemble stories found in the broader cultural world of the first century. The form, if not the substance, of many of Jesus’ sayings can be paralleled in parables told by rabbis, in chreia (short biographical vignettes with pronouncements) attributed to philosophers, and in controversy stories found in both traditions. The healings and exorcisms of Jesus can be paralleled by similar accounts in Hellenistic religious aretalogies and biographies.

The Memory of Jesus’ Death and the Interpretation of Torah
Jesus’ death on the cross became the most complex memory in the early church, requiring, therefore, the most interpretation. The shape and extent of that interpretation illustrate well the range of the church’s creativity in transmitting Jesus’ memory. I will begin with some general observations on the Passion narratives, which recount Jesus’ last hours from his final supper with his disciples to his burial. Then I will raise questions concerning the origination of the accounts, before once more returning to the texts.

All four canonical Gospels have Passion narratives (Mark 14:1–15:47; Matthew 26:1–27:66; Luke 22:1–23:56; John 13:1–19:42). In each, the narrative is by far the most extensive segment in Jesus’ story. This length is all the more impressive since the Passion narratives of each Gospel are coherent and sustained stories, rather than the sort of loose sequence of smaller units we find in the narratives concerning Jesus’ ministry. Each is a narrative, moreover, that pays fastidious attention to detail. Notices of time and place elsewhere in the Gospels tend to be casual and vague; here they are specific. Elsewhere, long stretches of time can be indicated by “and then,” whereas here we find virtually a minute-by-minute account.

High Degree Of Agreement Among Synoptic Gospels And The Gospel Of John
The Passion narratives, furthermore, have a relatively high degree of agreement among them. The agreement is most striking between the Synoptic Gospels and the Gospel of John. The agreement of the Synoptics (Matthew, Mark, Luke) among themselves can to some extent be credited to their literary interdependence, but their accord with the Gospel of John requires a more complex explanation. Differences of detail and emphasis persist, to be sure; but by contrast to the rest of the story of Jesus, the Passion accounts show a remarkable unanimity. Even the relationship between the Passion narrative and the rest of the story of Jesus shows agreement as each Gospel meticulously prepares for the suffering and death of Jesus ahead of time, so that the course of the narrative as a whole points in the direction of Jesus’ inevitable end. In the Synoptics, Jesus formally predicts his death three times (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34; pars.). In John, repeated mention of Jesus’ “hour,” his “being lifted up,” and his “being glorified” serve the same function of foreshadowing the cross (John 2:4; 3:14; 7:6, 39; 12:27–32).

These observations tend to support the conclusion that the Passion narratives are the earliest sustained accounts of Jesus’ memory, indicating that the part of Jesus’ life most requiring interpretation was its last hours. This is further supported by Paul’s close agreement with a small segment of that narrative in his report of Jesus’ words at the last supper, written some twenty years after the event (see 1 Corinthians 11:23–25).

Why It Was Necessary To Crystallize The Passion Memory Of Jesus So Early In The Church’s Life
Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians also provides some insight into the reason it was necessary to crystallize this memory of Jesus so early in the church’s life. When discussing the resurrection experience earlier, the kerygmatic tradition in 1 Corinthians 15:3–8 was cited. Before Paul speaks of the resurrection “according to the Scriptures,” he says that Jesus “died according to the Scriptures and was buried.” He also insists that this is the message upon which their salvation rests — unless they believe in vain (1 Corinthians 15:2).

  1. This insistence was necessary because the cross was the most difficult part of the message to accept. Everywhere in 1 Corinthians, we meet a congregation that was richly gifted with spiritual powers (1 Corinthians 1:5, 7), understanding that this bestowal of power established them as leading members in God’s kingdom (4:8). They were, therefore, less than eager to hear a part of the message that implied the need to suffer. Indeed, when Paul refers to his preaching to them, he says that the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing but “the power of God” to those being saved (1:18). He says further that the cross is “a stumbling block to the Jews and a folly to Gentiles.” Why? “Because Jews demand signs and Gentiles seek wisdom” (1:22). But Paul’s preaching did not meet those expectations: “we preach Christ crucified” (1:23; cf. Galatians 3:1). Paul here makes it plain that the preaching of the crucified Messiah reversed the expectations of his hearers’ symbolic world. Not only were the expectations of outsiders overturned, but the expectations of insiders as well. The cross was the part of their experience of Jesus that demanded immediate and detailed interpretation.
  2. By the standards of Hellenistic heroes, Jesus’ end was obviously unimpressive. He had faced death not with apathetic calm but with fear and anguish; he had left his followers not with words of memorable grace but with a cry of utter desolation (Matthew and Mark); he had not embraced a dignified suicide but endured a grisly execution; he did not bypass death through elevation to divinity, escape it through sophistry, or use it as an opportunity to demonstrate virtue. He was simply executed as a common criminal. To Greeks, therefore, the cross was foolishness and weakness. Divine power (dynamis) did not work in this manner.
  3. For those who lived within the symbols of Torah, Jesus’ death was even harder to reconcile with the claim to have experienced the Holy Spirit through him. When they looked to Jesus for signs of messiahship, they were disappointed. He failed miserably and palpably by any zealot test of messiahship: he did not restore kingship, he bore only its mocking title on the tree. His death was particularly a “stumbling block” (see Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:8; cf. Luke 20:17, with reference to Isaiah 8:14) for those Jews who had hoped for a religious messiah, one who would establish the rule of God’s righteousness under Torah. Not only did he not fulfill in any visible or significant manner the recognized messianic texts (e.g., 2 Samuel 7:11–16; Psalms 45; 89; Isaiah 9:2–7; 11:1–16; 49:8–13; 52:1–12; Amos 9:11; Micah 5:2–4; Malachi 3:1–4; 4:5), he was not even a recognizable martyr like those who resisted pagan pressure in the Maccabean accounts, thereby dying in defense of Torah (see esp. 2 Macabbees 6:18–31 and 4 Macabbees 5:1–7:23). Rather, from the beginning to the end he was a “sign of contradiction” (Luke 2:34), standing in complete opposition to their understanding of how God manifested his power and righteousness among his people. His life and death alike challenged the status of Torah as the absolute norm for life. In his manner of living, he was a sinner (2 Corinthians 5:21), and in his manner of dying, he was one accursed by God. Torah could not, on this, be clearer: “Cursed be every man who hangs upon a tree” (Deut. 21:23). In the light of Jesus’ death, this text must have been cited against the claims of the first Christians (see Galatians 3:13). Far from being the source of the Holy Spirit, Jesus was abandoned by God and his death proved it!
  4. For those who believed in Jesus as risen Lord, the problem was no less severe. How could they ease the tension between their experience of the power of Jesus in their lives and the conviction they shared as hearers of Torah, that God did not work through sinners? Once more, we find the conflict between experience and symbolic world. And it is here we discover the impetus for interpretation: to defend their faith from outside attack and to support it against inner erosion and confusion.

Jesus’ Death Was “In Accordance With The Scriptures”
Now we can return to Paul’s puzzling statement that Jesus’ death was “in accordance with the Scriptures.” This was a bold claim, especially if Torah itself called his death a curse. Because of this contradiction, the first Christians turned again to the normative texts of their symbolic world. They reread Torah in search of meaning. This was an instinctive move. The same texts that condemned Jesus were the normative texts by which they understood their experience as well. But now they had to read them in the light of both the resurrection and the manner of Jesus’ death. And this led them to texts they had never before considered messianic, causing them to read old texts in new ways. It was as though their eyes had been opened. Indeed, two Gospels make this aspect of the resurrection experience quite clear. In John’s Gospel, it was when Jesus was raised from the dead that the disciples began to understand both what he had said and done and the Scripture (John 2:22; 12:16; 20:9). In Luke’s appearance accounts, the risen Lord “opens the eyes” of the disciples to the real meaning of Torah: “Beginning with Moses and the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27; cf. 24:44–46).

Several key texts became newly visible as a result of the experience of the crucified and raised Messiah. In light of the resurrection, the first Christians appropriated the text that spoke of a king exalted to dominion but whose rule was not yet fully achieved (Psalms 110:1; cf. Mark 12:36; pars.; Acts 2:34; 1 Corinthians 15:25; Hebrews 1:3). In light of the suffering, they discovered texts that spoke not of a dominating king but of a lowly one (Zechariah 9:9), and of a stone that was rejected by builders but had become the cornerstone (Psalms 118:22). Above all, they read with fresh eyes passages speaking of a just person who suffered at the hands of others not because of misdeeds but because of an allegiance to the Lord, hoping all the while for vindication from God for his fidelity (passages such as these they found in Psalms 69 and 22; cf. also Wisdom 2:12–3:11; 4:7–18). In the Suffering Servant songs of Isaiah, they found almost the precise pattern of what, in fact, they had experienced in Jesus: a righteous one whose shameful death was in obedience to God and an offering for others (Isaiah 42:1–4; 49:1–7; 50:4–11), the result of which led to his being “exalted and lifted up” by God (Isaiah 52:13–53:12). In the encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:29–40), the God-fearer who was reading Isaiah 53:7–8 asked Philip of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke, himself or another. In answering, “Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture, he told him the good news of Jesus” (Acts 8:35).

Reinterpretation Of The Texts Of Torah
Such rereading and reinterpretation of the texts of Torah enabled Christians to place the experience of Jesus within their symbolic world. The way they read these texts would never find agreement among those Jews who did not share their experience or their conviction. But for them, the interpretive process was effective and convincing. They were not manipulating or distorting the texts; they were simply and truly seeing them in a new way.

These perceptions had to affect both the way they remembered the story of Jesus’ last days and the manner in which they told that story. Now, the death of Jesus appeared to them not as accursed, but as a death in which he bore the curse of others (Galatians 3:13). Jesus was not a sinner but a righteous man (Luke 23:47; Acts 3:14), whose death was not a punishment but a sacrifice for others (Romans 3:24–25; 1 Corinthians 15:3). His death was not an accident but a fulfillment of God’s will (Ephesians 1:5–10). Rather than being the result of disobedience to Torah, his death was, in fact, the outcome of radical obedience to the God who revealed Torah (Philemon 2:8; Hebrews 5:8), and, in light of it, Torah would now need to be reevaluated as the ultimate norm of righteousness. These convictions they found confirmed by Torah itself. The categories of interpretation became their categories of perception, and these progressively became the symbols by which they told the story itself.

In Jesus’ Passion predictions, we find expressed the conviction that not only did Jesus know of his fate and accept it but that this fate was part of God’s plan: “the son of man must [dei] suffer” (Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22; 17:25; cf. Luke 24:26; Acts 17:3). In the Passion narrative itself, Jesus tells his disciples at the meal that “the son of man goes as it is written of him” (Mark 14:21). As he gives them the cup of his blood, he says it is “for many” (Mark 14:24; cf. 10:45), words that directly recall the death of the servant “for many” in Isaiah 53:12. After the meal, Jesus himself cites the Scripture concerning his disciples’ betrayal (Mark 14:27, citing Zechariah 13:7):

You will all fall away, for it is written, “I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.

The impact of this rereading of Torah shows itself most emphatically in the description of Jesus’ death. It was the moment of greatest scandal; it appears meaningless as fact. Yet, for the early believers, it was the meaningful revelation of “the power of God.” In this scene, then, we find the very words of Torah shaping the story of Jesus’ last moments. There is considerable variation between the Synoptics and John at this point. While John also uses the words of Torah to narrate the story, he utilizes entirely different texts to do so. I take notice only of Mark’s account here.

In Mark’s account, at the moment of his own death, Jesus cries, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark cites this in Hebrew and has the bystanders, ironically, misunderstand it. The readers hear it translated and understand. They recognize it as the beginning of the psalm of God’s servant who suffers and is vindicated (Psalm 22), and they know the end of the story. A closer look at Mark 15:23–37 indicates that the words of Torah have provided more than a mere citation. Woven into the bare facts of the account are details that are shaped directly and unmistakably from the very words of the Psalms: Mark 15:23 = Psalms 69:21; Mark 15:24 = Psalms 22:18; Mark 15:29 = Pss. 22:7, 109:25; Mark 15:31 = Psalms 22:8; Mark 15:34 = Psalms 22:1; Mark 15:36 = Psalms 69:21). In this way, the Story of Jesus’ Death is truly “according to Torah.”

Jesus’ Death In The Light Of His Risen Power
How did the continuing experience of Christians affect this memory of Jesus’ death? They saw it from the other side of the resurrection and so remembered the death in the light of Jesus’ power and the conviction that he was the Just One and God’s Son. They saw it, further, in the light of their responses to Jewish counterclaims that Jesus’ death was that of a sinner. Finally, in the process of recollection, they interpreted the death through their reading of Torah.

But did they invent or create this memory of Jesus’ death? Precisely the need for interpretation — indeed, the problematic nature of that event — argues for its basic historicity. This community would not have invented a crucified messiah, since it showed itself so eager to escape the implications of that proposition. When we read the Passion narratives of the Gospels, therefore, we find a memory that, while unquestionably selected and shaped by the experience of the church, is equally a memory that itself shaped the church.

What we have discovered here can be applied, one suspects, with a somewhat lesser degree of certainty to the other memories of Jesus. Something happened, but the search for its meaning must recognize the element of interpretation that is always present. Indeed, only as interpreted could it be remembered at all.


Suspended From Catholic Dot Com

April 22, 2010

I recently was banned from forums for coming down too strongly on a young man who would not communicate with a lecturer who was ridiculing the Catholic Church. It appeared to be a college instructor babbling the usual low rent accusations againt the Pope and I gave the young man some links to payingattentiontothesky and materials to read to refute the lecturer. Marshal your facts, state them calmly and quietly — and don’t apologize for them — was my advice. 

He replied by way of praising me for my “position” but like a true modern relativist knucklehead he thought his teachers (“journalists”) could easily parry it and it was pointless to pursue. He added a [Sigh] to his reply. I found his inability to defend his faith frustrating and called him “gutless.” For a lack of charity I have been suspended from the forums for 2 weeks (my second offense – seems I lack charity dealing with abusive atheists as well). Sigh.

Actually it is not so much charity I lack as much as I am clinically depressed and the latter manifests itself as rage and anger. I have a trick I use in emails and other postings to web forums where I write wildly accusatory notes and then go through and cleanse them of words like “gutless,” using “lack courage,” in its stead, etc. I missed that one (gutless), I guess.

Knucklehead is so perfectly descriptive of the moral relativists in our midst I probably would have left that in. I’d hate to think I got canned for that one.

I have tried to stay away from the media and the Pope – it’s the sort of issue that gets me boiling – but over the past year I have made some posts and reading selections on the issue of homosexuality and the Church. It’s kind of hard to avoid. On the most part I go where my faith directs me – solving questions of “person” most recently and posting the things I’ve read about it.

As for the “ongoing crisis in the Catholic Church,” George Weigel has written “The sexual and physical abuse of children and young people is a global plague; its manifestations run the gamut from fondling by teachers to rape by uncles to kidnapping-and-sex-trafficking. In the United States alone, there are reportedly some 39 million victims of childhood sexual abuse. Forty to sixty percent were abused by family members, including stepfathers and live-in boyfriends of a child’s mother — thus suggesting that abused children are the principal victims of the sexual revolution, the breakdown of marriage, and the hook-up culture.”

He adds: “Hofstra University professor Charol Shakeshaft reports that 6-10 percent of public school students have been molested in recent years—some 290,000 between 1991 and 2000. According to other recent studies, 2 percent of sex abuse offenders were Catholic priests — a phenomenon that spiked between the mid-1960s and the mid-1980s but seems to have virtually disappeared. Six credible cases of clerical sexual abuse in 2009 were reported in the U.S. bishops’ annual audit, in a Church of some 65,000,000 members.” In many ways the safest place in North America for a child is the Church and we have Pope Benedict more than any other figure to thank for that.

Yet the sexual abuse story in the media remains a Catholic story, in which the Catholic Church is portrayed as the main actor in the sexual abuse of the young with overtones of a sinister ecclesiastical criminal conspiracy involving the recycling of sexual predators whose predations continue unabated today. That the vast majority of the abuse cases in the United States took place decades ago and the policies adopted by the Church appear to be working means nothing to this story line.

In truth the story is really about taking the Church down and removing it as both a financial resource and voice in the public debate over public policy. Quite simply, if the Catholic Church is a global criminal conspiracy of sexual abusers and their protectors, then it has no claim to a space in the public square debating public moral arguments. So the drum beat remains strong and the pro-abortionists and homosexualists in the media make it a daily occurrence.

The Church does not avoid its own responsibility for this current situation: “Reprehensible patterns of clerical sexual abuse; misgovernance by the Church’s bishops in the U.S.; patterns of corruption in Ireland and Germany; clericalism; cowardice; fideism about psychotherapy’s ability to “fix” sexual predators — all played their roles in the recycling of abusers into ministry and in the failure of bishops to come to grips with a massive breakdown of conviction and discipline in the post-Vatican II years.” No one denies this and the Pope himself has urged us all to do penance.

Weigel defines the current situation here: “The Church’s sexual abuse crisis has always been that: a crisis of fidelity. Priests who live the noble promises of their ordination are not sexual abusers; bishops who take their custody of the Lord’s flock seriously, protect the young and recognize that a man’s acts can so disfigure his priesthood that he must be removed from public ministry or from the clerical state. That the Catholic Church was slow to recognize the scandal of sexual abuse within the household of faith, and the failures of governance that led to the scandal being horribly mishandled, has been frankly admitted — by the bishops of the United States in 2002, and by Pope Benedict XVI in his recent letter to the Catholic Church in Ireland. In recent years, though, no other similarly situated institution has been so transparent about its failures, and none has done as much to clean house. It took too long to get there, to be sure; but we are there.”

Yet the despicable March 25th piece of yellow journalism in the New York Times has obscured all this progress and with revelations in Ireland and Germany ignited a global media firestorm about this current Pope. It has also clearly revealed the motivations and intentions of those who oppose the Church and their agenda to remove it as a financial resource and discredit it as voice of moral leadership.

Once again gay activists are out pedaling their lies and distortions. It’s not about homosexuality they say but “pedophilia.” While there is a clear, well-documented and strong correlation between male homosexuality and child sexual abuse, activists deny this and charge anyone for bringing it up as a “gay basher” or “homophobe.”

They prefer to cite studies concerning “pedophiles” that center on children six years old or younger. Pedophilia is a sickness where sexual orientation has as much relevance as race. But in older children, pubescent or post-pubescent children, homosexual pedophiles are usually classified as “ephebophiles” and the evidence is overwhelming. Six out of seven children victimized in the gay priest crisis were of such age.

In fact gay literature and culture is centered upon the natural links between a homosexual orientation and child sexual abuse. Many “gay” organizations and leaders not only admit to, but support, the sexual abuse of children by homosexuals. An editorial in the San Francisco Sentinel, a member of the National Lesbian & Gay Journalist’s Association, claimed that the love between men and boys is at the foundation of homosexuality.

These are main line views and not extremist at all: White House “Safe Schools Czar” Kevin Jennings is on record praising the founder of the North American Association for Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), Harry Hay whose organization is devoted to promoting homosexuality between boys and men. All of this is documented in a scrupulously researched paper by Brian Clowes that I have summarized here.

Homosexual defenders of NAMBLA have declared that “man/boy love is by definition homosexual,” and that “man/boy lovers are part of the gay movement and central to gay history and culture,” part of “the Western homosexual tradition from Socrates to Wilde to Gide,” and part of “many non-Western homosexualities from New Guinea and Persia to the Zulu and the Japanese.” Denying that would be like a heterosexual denying a Lolita myth or the existence of trophy wives. Yet homosexualists blithely posit such nonsense and call people like myself or Brian Clowes homophobes for stating these simple truths. All we are doing is quoting what they are saying! Not to mention the other paradoxes  that lie at the root of their public cry for normalizing homosexual behavior.

I take the heat for saying these things in countless online forums but lose a sense of charity when dealing with Catholic brothers who tell me Church teaching is “an admirable point of view.”


Jesus in the Memory of the Church — Luke Timothy Johnson

April 20, 2010

Professor Luke Timothy Johnson

I guess one of my problems with Luke Timothy Johnson is that he writes about things that interest me greatly. I am also totally aware that he can distort the Catholic message and lead me astray. Here he attempts to provide “a viable and defensible account of the generative experience that makes intelligible both the need to remember Jesus and the shape those memories took.” Granted that such an attempt must always be more suggestive than conclusive; but perhaps that is its value. It provides us the process of the composition of the writings of the New Testament.

When we read these diverse writings we call the New Testament, it should be with the following realizations:

  1. They are crystallizations of traditions that developed in complex and multiform contexts;
  2. They were written as witnesses and interpretations for other believers;
  3. They continue to engage, in their various literary forms, the symbolic world of first-century Judaism and Hellenism as they translate the story of Jesus for the continuing life of the church.

This following is adapted from a Chapter in his volumnuous work “The Writings of the New Testament.”

Coming To Grips With Jesus’ Story To Comprehend The Powerful Bestower Of The Spirit
The nature of the Christian experience demanded interpretation as well as proclamation, and this interpretation inevitably centered on the person of Jesus. The reason is simple: the one who appeared to the disciples as the risen Lord was identified with the same Jesus who had died by execution on the cross. The man they had known as one who preached, healed, and suffered, they now knew as the powerful bestower of the Spirit. If the community was to advance its own story, it was necessary first to come to grips with Jesus’ story. The identity of the community and the living memory of Jesus were, therefore, inextricably intertwined. It is to the shaping of that memory that our investigation now turns.

Anamnesis: A Recollection Of The Past That Enlivens And Empowers The Present
In quite different ways, the letters and Gospels of the NT represent crystallizations of memory, the literary distillation of traditions about Jesus that were transmitted and developed during the years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. In the Gospels, the story of Jesus is obviously central and explicit, while the instruction of the church and the interpretation of its story are only implicit.

Our present consideration of the memory of Jesus in the early church therefore serves as a natural transition to the reading of those documents. But it should be asserted that the memory of Jesus was no less important for the Book of Revelation and the epistolary writings. Though the instruction of the church and the interpretation of its story are central and explicit in them, the memory of Jesus still plays an integral, albeit implicit, role.

When we speak of the memory of Jesus in the church, we do not mean simply a mechanical recalling of information from the past. We mean, rather, the sort of memory expressed by the Greek term anamnēsis (cf. Luke 22:19; 1 Corinthians 11:24, 25). It is a recollection of the past that enlivens and empowers the present.

Such memory is not restricted to the mental activity of individuals; it is found above all in the ritual and verbal activity of communities. We found that such was the case in the Jewish Passover Haggadah: the recital of the events of the exodus long ago made the power of those events contemporaneous to the present generation (“Let everyone regard themselves as having come out of Egypt”). Anamnesis in earliest Christianity was even more complex, for the one remembered from the past was also being experienced as present here and now. Jesus was not simply called back from the past by mental activity. Thus the present experience of his power threw constant light on the recollection of him from the past.

Memory such as this is intimately bound up with the identity of both individuals and communities. An individual’s story defines one as a person. The myth of a people defines it as a community. Individual or communal amnesia is a terrifying phenomenon precisely because anamnesis is identity. Without a past, we have no present and little hope for a future. The early church’s identity was bound up with the memory of Jesus. It sought an understanding of its present in his past, just as it was motivated to search out his past by the experience of his presence.

Personal memory is inevitably selective. Not all of the past is remembered, for not all of the past is pertinent to the present. But selectivity is not random; it derives from the continuing experience of those who remember. The present situation stimulates the memory of the past. It was at least partially because the church faced opposition from its fellow Jews that it remembered how Jesus faced such opposition and responded to it. Some things are remembered, of course, simply because they were so important and impressive then, and continue to be important and formative now. It did not take the breaking of bread to make Christians remember what Jesus said and did at his last meal with his disciples, though the breaking of bread was an appropriate occasion for perpetuating that memory.

The memory of the past is also shaped by the continuing experience of the community. As new experiences place old ones in different perspective, the human story is constantly revised. As our present situation shapes our past, that which was formerly obscure becomes clear and that which was previously insignificant now looms large. The meaning of a past crisis is affected by our present perception of it as preparatory or analogous to the crisis we are now going through. Our grasp of the present moment enables us to perceive a more intelligible and universal shape in past events.

So also was the memory of Jesus selected and shaped by the continuing experience of Christian communities. The process was made more complex by the distinctive nature of their continuing experience: the one they remembered was present to them now in power. Everything the believers remembered about his past words and deeds was colored by their standing on the other side of the resurrection experience. However faithful they intended to be to the past, their memory could not help being marked by their present perception. The one who spoke then in parables, speaks now through prophets; the one who healed then, now heals through the hands of believers. The interpenetration of past and present experience made the development of Jesus traditions extraordinarily complex.

Nor was the memory of Jesus unaffected by contact with the diverse and changing circumstances of the first Christians. Their need to confront themselves, one another, and their world during a period of turbulent growth and conflict also colored their perceptions of Jesus. A number of these circumstances are located in the social contexts of the early church. What were these social contexts and how could they help select and shape the memory of Jesus?

The Social Contexts of Tradition
The specific social settings of earliest Christianity must themselves be placed within the framework of the missionary expansion over the forty-year period preceding the writing of the first Gospel. The Acts of the Apostles provides the only sustained narrative of the spread of the gospel. Its treatment is selective and affected by its theological purposes, but it provides invaluable information that is corroborated by other NT writings.

In Acts 1:8, Jesus tells the apostles, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” Luke uses this prophecy as an organizing principle for his narrative. He shows the “word of God” progressing from its center in Jerusalem (chaps. 1–8) to Judea and Samaria (chaps. 8–10), then to Antioch (chap. 11), and from there, through the missionary work of Paul and his companions (chaps. 13–28), to Rome, the “end of the earth” (28:16). Luke’s theological concern accounts for two emphases in this picture: he demonstrates the peaceful continuity of the mission from Jerusalem to the gentile world; and, he shows that the preaching began in synagogues and moved to the Gentiles only after its rejection there (13:46–47; 18:6; 28:25–28).

Acts oversimplifies in many ways. It tells us nothing about missionary activity in some areas of obvious historical interest. Concerning Egyptian or Galilean Christianity, Luke tells us almost nothing (see Acts 9:31); of Syrian Christianity (apart from the brief notes on Damascus and Antioch), very little. As a good Hellenistic author, furthermore, Luke is interested mainly in cities; he never mentions rural evangelization. His irenic purpose leads him to downplay conflict and discord in the earliest communities, even though they can be spotted readily between the lines of his narrative (Acts 6:1–7; 9:26; 11:2; 15:1–21, 39; 21:21). And from Acts 13 onward, his focus is so tightly on Paul that all other developments vanish. The reader discovers that when Paul arrives in Rome as a prisoner, there is already a Christian community there (28:16) even though Luke did not describe the evangelization of the empire’s capital city!

Understanding The Spread Of Christianity Through Acts
Despite its limitations, however, Acts provides an important framework for understanding the spread of Christianity. First, it makes clear that the movement grew by the establishment of churches. Christianity was a movement of social groups. The social setting for tradition is, therefore, intrinsic to the nature of the movement itself. Second, Acts shows how rapidly the message sped across vast geographic areas. Within seven or eight years after the death of Jesus, separate communities existed in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and Syria. In twenty years there were communities in Cyprus and Asia Minor; after twenty-five years, communities flourished throughout Macedonia, Achaia, and possibly Dalmatia. Thirty years after Jesus was killed, there was a Christian community in Rome. These are conservative estimates, and the time frame could be even shorter.

Rapidity Of Growth
The rapidity of Christianity’s growth had real implications for the memory of Jesus. It meant that his memory had to be transmitted and preserved through new and changing circumstances. An immediate and fundamental transition was from a predominantly rural setting — presupposed by most of Jesus’ words — to the urban contexts addressed by Paul and Peter. Some linguistic adjustments were also required. Greek was spoken throughout the empire, and there were Greek-speaking Christians even in the earliest Jerusalem community. But the present Greek form of Jesus’ words often suggests the presence of an Aramaic substratum. Insofar as his words required translation, therefore, subtle shadings of meaning would be both gained and lost. The movement’s rapid spread into the pluralistic culture of the Diaspora meant as well that the memory of Jesus could be affected by contact with other traditions, such as those of Diaspora Judaism and Hellenistic philosophy and religion.

No Long Period Of Tranquil Recollection And Interpretation By A Single Stable Community
The point of these observations is simple: the evidence of the NT does not suggest that after the resurrection there was a long period of tranquil recollection and interpretation carried out under the tight control of a single stable community that, having forged the memory of Jesus into a coherent and consistent form, transmitted it to other lands, languages, and cultures. The evidence points in the opposite direction: there was no long period of tranquillity. The first community was from the beginning harassed and persecuted. The spread of the movement was carried out by many messengers and required flexible adjustment to new circumstances. In the light of this evidence, what is surprising is not the diversity found in the traditions concerning Jesus but that there is any consistency at all.

Community Context: Preaching
Three community contexts
were particularly important for both the growth and the stabilization of the Jesus traditions in the early church: preaching, worship, and teaching for the common life. To these we now turn.

Preaching The historical importance of this context is clear, but the determination of how much Christian preaching found its way into the NT writings or how much it transmitted the memory of Jesus is very difficult. Early Christianity was a missionary movement, and the proclamation (kēryssein = to proclaim) or kerygma (the content of what is proclaimed) of what God had done in the death and resurrection of Jesus soon brought communities into existence (see Galatians 4:13; Philemon 1:5; Col. 1:3–7; 1 Thessalonians 1:5; Hebrews 2:1–4; James 1:21; 1 Peter 1:22–25).

Letters May Have Originated As Homilies
Because letters were written to churches already in existence, they presuppose, but do not contain, that earliest proclamation. Even letters like Hebrews and 1 Peter, which may have originated as homilies, move well beyond the first stage of missionary preaching (see Hebrews 6:1–3; 1 Peter 2:2). These sermonic letters do, however, pay relatively explicit attention to the significance of Jesus’ earthly life and suffering (see Hebrews 5:7–10; 12:1–3; 1 Peter 2:21–25). Paul also appears to make reference to the narration of Jesus’ death in his mention of the initial preaching made to the Galatian churches, “before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly displayed as crucified” (Galatians 3:1). Otherwise, we find only fragments of actual preaching (see 1 Corinthians 15:1–8; Romans 10:14–17; Galatians 4:4–7; and 1 Thessalonians 1:9–10). These texts suggest that preaching was what turned hearers from their former lives to belief and commitment to the God who made Jesus both Christ and Lord (Acts 2:37; 10:44; Galatians 3:2–5; Hebrews 6:1; 1 Peter 1:13–22). It is in this sense that preaching was foundational for early Christianity: faith came through “hearing” (Romans 10:5–17; Galatians 3:5).

How Important Was Preaching For The Preservation Or Formation Of The Memory Of Jesus
A decision on this depends to some extent on one’s judgment concerning the missionary speeches found in the Acts of the Apostles. Similar speeches are put into the mouth of both Peter (Acts 2:16–36; 3:12–26; 10:34–43) and Paul (Acts 13:16–41; 17:22–31). Paul’s sermon to a pagan audience in Athens (17:22–31) is distinctive, but the others are strikingly similar. They maintain with more or less consistency that the age of fulfillment has dawned in Jesus, who, as a descendant of David, carried out a ministry among the people of Israel; that he was crucified and raised by God as the messiah; that the Holy Spirit confirmed God’s vindication of Jesus; and that Jesus would return again to judge the world. On the basis of this message, a call is made for repentance. In Peter’s speech of Acts 10:34–43, moreover, one can discern an outline resembling the Synoptic account of Jesus’ ministry.

The critical question here is the extent to which Acts uses genuinely traditional materials or patterns of preaching. The answer is made more difficult by observing Luke’s substantial literary creativity. That both Paul and Peter follow this pattern of preaching would seem to indicate its traditional character. But then we notice that Luke has Peter and Paul work very similar miracles and that, together with all the first leaders of the community, they are described in stereotypical terms for theological purposes of Luke’s own. We further observe that Luke, as a Hellenistic historian, uses speeches to interpret and advance his narrative; that he systematically reworks any source he uses; and that he is generally fond of archaizing the language, especially in the sayings material (see the canticles of Luke 1–2). On purely literary grounds, determining what is traditional and what is not becomes nearly impossible.

To challenge the antiquity of the speeches, however, does not deny that their pattern may have been traditional. In their focus on the death and resurrection of the Messiah in fulfillment of the Scripture as the basis for repentance, they agree with the summary statements of the kerygma one finds in the NT letters. Further than this one cannot go. While it is more than likely that some account of Jesus’ words and deeds was found even in the initial preaching, it is not possible to specify more closely what sort of materials would have been used, whether they would have been part of a standard repertoire, or what function they might have performed.

The Apologetic Function Of Preaching
A somewhat surer point of contact between the activity of preaching and the memory of Jesus may be found in the apologetic function of preaching. At least some early Christian preaching was done in Jewish synagogues (Acts 13:13–16; 14:1; 17:1–3; 18:4–5; 19:8). At times, it led to disputation with Jews who opposed this proclamation of a crucified messiah. Acts mentions several public controversies between the Christian Messianists and their fellow Jews (6:9–10; 9:22, 29; 18:4, 28). In two of them it is explicitly stated that the argument was over the messianic claims of Jesus, involving a disputation over the proper understanding of Torah (Acts 17:1–3; 18:4–5).

Early Christian preachers would have been required to respond to objections from other Jews such as we find answered in the Passion narratives of the Gospels: Was Jesus a sinner and a criminal? Did he die as one cursed by God? Was he rightly condemned as a seducer of the people by a legal Jewish court? Was his body stolen from the tomb by his disciples to perpetrate a fraud? If the death and resurrection of the Messiah was the focus of the early kerygma, it would also be the obvious point of attack for those rejecting its message, and therefore the first part of Jesus’ story requiring interpretation.

In worship, the convictions and experiences of religion come alive, and this context was integral for developing the memory of Jesus in the church. The community’s ritual and myth centered on what God had done through the death and resurrection of Jesus, so its memory of him played a significant role in its worship.

Places Of Worship: The Temple
The Christian community remembered that Jesus had cleansed the temple as a prophetic act (Mark 11:15–18; pars.) and had taught in its precincts before his death (Mark 11:27; 12:35, 41; pars.). In the narrative about the earliest Jerusalem church, Acts depicts the disciples attending temple services together (2:46; 3:1) and the apostles both preaching and healing in its courts (3:11–12; 5:42). We cannot be sure how long this continued, though it obviously came to an end with the destruction of the temple in 70 c.e. The practice seems to have had little effect on the memory of Jesus or even on the use of temple symbolism, which was employed early on (see 1 Corinthians 3:16-17; Ephesians 2:19-22; Hebrews 10:19-25; 1 Peter 2:4-8; Revelations 21:22).

Places Of Worship: The Synagogue
Both in Jerusalem and in the Diaspora, Jewish Christians shared in the worship of the synagogue, at least for a time. Acts portrays Christians as preaching Jesus in that context. At least some early messianists remained in the synagogue, since references in the NT indicate that these Christians were expelled from the synagogues by other Jews (Mark 13:9; Matthew 23:34; John 9:22; 12:42; 16:2; Acts 6:11–15; 18:7–17)—a practice that preceded the formal composition of the birkat ha minim (the “benedictions against the heretics” formulated sometime after 85 c.e., which finally forced the Christians out altogether). In the NT, “synagogue” is used only once for the Christian worship assembly (James 2:2; although cf. Proseuchē, “place of prayer,” in Acts 16:13, 16). The usual term is ekklēsia (e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:23; 1 Thessalonians 1:1). The main contribution of the synagogue to Christian worship was to supply the forms of prayer and the practice of reading and interpreting Torah.

Places Of Worship The House
The dominant place for Christian worship in the NT period was the house (oikia, oikos). Even before Pentecost, Acts shows us the Galilean disciples gathering in an “upper room” for prayer (Acts 1:13), and the first believers who attended temple services were also “breaking bread in their houses” (Acts 2:46). People gathered in households to hear preaching and break bread (Acts 10:33; 16:32; 18:7; 20:7–12) and to pray (12:12). Since the basic societal unit in the Roman Empire was the household, it is not by chance that “whole households” converted at once to the Christian faith (Acts 11:14; 16:15, 31; 18:8; John 4:53; 1 Corinthians 1:16), with the heads of such households probably providing the place for worship as well as leadership. In the NT, we find repeated mention of “the church” that meets at a certain individual’s house (Romans 16:5; 1 Corinthians 16:15, 19; Colossians 4:15; Phlemon 2).
The house setting probably had some impact on the self-identification of the community as the “household of God” (Ephesians 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15; 1 Peter 4:17) and on the use of household ethics for exhortation, such as were employed in Hellenistic moral philosophy (see Colossians 3:18–4:6; Ephesians 5:21–6:9; Titus 2:1–10; 1 Peter 2:13–3:7). Moreover, this setting also had an influence on the use of terms like “edification” (oikodomein), which was used for the activity of establishing and maintaining community identity (Matthew 16:18; Romans 14:19; 15:2, 20; 1 Corinthians 3:9; 8:1; 10:23; 14:4, 17; 2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10; Ephesians 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:11), and “steward,”(oikonomos), which was used for the leadership role within the community (1 Corinthians 4:1; 9:17; Col. 1:25; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10). This context is also reflected in some of Jesus’ sayings, where the household, the steward, and the master of the household all figure prominently (Mark 10:29–30; 13:34–35; Matthew 7:24–27; 12:25–29; 13:27, 52; 20:1; Luke 12:39–48; John 8:35; 14:2).

Forms Of Worship: Cultic Actions

  1. Cultic actions are natural occasions for the transmission of communal memory. The two main cultic activities of the early church were baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Each attracted to itself a body of tradition. Baptism, of course, was the ritual of initiation into the community (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 36; 9:18; 10:48; 16:15, 33; 1 Corinthians 1:15–16) that, over time, replaced the Jewish ritual of circumcision (Col. 2:11–12). Aspects of the ritual action may be reflected in symbols of washing (Acts 22:16; 1 Corinthians 6:11; Ephesians 5:26; Titus 3:5; Hebrews 10:22), light (Ephesians 1:18; 5:8–9, 14; 2 Tim. 1:10; Hebrews 6:4; 1 Peter 2:9), the taking off and putting on of garments (Galatians 3:27; Ephesians 4:22–25; Col. 3:8–10; James 1:21; 1 Peter 2:1), and the unification of opposites (1 Corinthians 12:13; Galatians 3:28; Col. 3:11). The symbolism of death and rising appears to be connected to baptism even before Paul (Romans 6:3–11; Col. 2:12) and is implied by the sayings of Jesus (Mark 10:39) as well as by the accounts of his baptism by John in the Jordan (Mark 1:9; Matthew 3:16; Luke 3:21; John 1:32–33). The Christian experience of baptism also provided a perspective for the reinterpretation of Torah, as in the typological reading of the exodus story in 1 Corinthians 10:1–5 and of the Noah story in 1 Peter 3:20–21.
  2. The second cultic context for the development of the memory of Jesus was the meal. Acts lists “breaking bread in houses” as one of the activities of the first believers (2:42, 46) and describes one occasion of such activity at which time Paul also preached (Acts 20:7, 11; cf. 27:35). This meal was celebrated on the first day of the week (Sunday), which Paul also specifies as a “day of assembly” (1 Corinthians 16:2) and the Book of Revelation calls the “Lord’s day” (Revelations 1:10). As we have seen, all meals in Judaism had a certain sacred character and were accompanied by blessings. Such was undoubtedly also the case with these special meals, which are called love feasts (agapai) in Jude 12 (cf. 2 Peter 2:13, where there is a pun on this word in the Greek). Some if not all of these meals derived their special character from the remembrance of Jesus’ final meal with his disciples. Paul calls such a meal the Lord’s Supper (kyriakon deipnon; 1 Corinthians 11:20), and specifically connects the sharing of bread and wine at it to the actions and words of Jesus the night before his death (1 Corinthians 11:23–25):
    I received from the Lord Jesus what I also delivered to you, that the Lord on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body…”
    As the remembrance of the exodus at the Passover meal made that event real for every Jew, so the remembrance of Jesus’ words and gestures at his last meal makes effective the presence of the Lord.

Three Types Of Stories About Jesus
Three types of stories about Jesus would naturally attach themselves to this setting of the Lord’s Supper.

  1. First, Paul’s use of this tradition is obviously close to the accounts of the last meal at which time Jesus performed those actions and said those words (Mark 14:22–25; Matthew 26:26–29; Luke 22:19–20).
  2. Second, the meal context was also an appropriate setting for the memory of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the multitudes (notice the language of blessing and breaking in these accounts; Mark 6:34–44; 8:1–10; Matthew 14:15–21; 15:32–39; Luke 9:10–17; John 6:1–14, 53–58).
  3. Third, the conviction that Jesus was truly present as risen Lord among those who shared these meals (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:27–32) made them a fitting setting for the remembrance of the resurrection accounts in which Jesus ate and drank with those to whom he appeared (Luke 24:28–35, 41–43; John 21:9–14; cf. Acts 10:40–41).

Influence Of The Synagogue Liturgy
Communal worship also involved the use of set prayer forms. In these we find the influence of the synagogue liturgy on early Christianity, as well as the decisive impact of the experience of Jesus in the lives of believers.

  1. This is seen at once in the blessing formula (berakah), which, as we saw, was the standard form of Jewish prayer (cf. Rom 1:25; 9:5; 2 Corinthians 1:3–7; Ephesians 1:3–14; 1 Peter 1:3–9). In the NT occurrences, the stereotypical opening of “Blessed be the Lord” is fundamentally modified by the Christian conviction that Jesus is somehow also Lord (“Jesus is Lord”; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philemon 2:11), so that these blessings begin, “Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” The special filial relationship between Jesus and God is woven into this prayer formula (cf. Romans 15:6; 1 Corinthians 8:6; 2 Corinthians 11:31; Col. 1:3; 2 John 3).
  2. A similar blessing formula is found in a prayer of Jesus, wherein he addresses God as Father (Luke 10:21; cf. Matthew 11:25–26):
    I thank [exhomologoumai] thee Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yes, Father, for such was thy gracious will.
    God is also addressed as Father in the prayer that, according to Luke 11:2–4 and Matthew 6:9–13, Jesus taught to his disciples. The two versions of the prayer are different, and Matthew’s seven-sectioned rendering more closely resembles the form of Jewish prayer. On major feasts, the amidah (prayers said while standing) consisted of seven rather than eighteen benedictions. The phrases of the Matthean version (esp. the fifth, sixth, and ninth) resemble parts of those benedictions, especially the doxological kaddish (sanctification of the name): “Magnified and sanctified be his great name in the world which he created according to his will. May he establish his kingdom during your life.” The use of set prayer forms seems to have been a persistent feature of early Christian worship.

The mutual influence of the prayer forms of the early church and the living memory of Jesus can be seen especially in the preservation of three Hebrew and Aramaic expressions in early Christian worship. In 1 Corinthians 16:22, writing to a Greek-speaking, largely gentile community, Paul says, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come.” The phrase “our Lord, come!” (maranatha) is in Aramaic. That Paul can employ the Aramaic in this context and presume its intelligibility is fascinating. It indicates first that it was a foreign-language phrase used by the community itself, in all likelihood in its liturgy of the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:26: “. . . you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”). Second, it means that Paul, who founded the community, handed on to it a tradition (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:23) that had its origin in Aramaic-speaking circles, probably in Palestine. Third, it indicates that Jesus was called Lord (maran) in the early Palestinian communities as well as in the Diaspora.

A second Aramaic expression quoted by Paul is “abba,” an affectionate term for “father.” Paul cites it in Galatians 4:6 (cf. Romans 8:15):

Because you are sons, God has sent the spirit of his son into our hearts, crying “Abba, Father.”

This is probably also a liturgical expression, as indicated by the context in Galatians (see 3:23–29). What is most striking here is not simply that the Spirit enables the cry, or that it is spoken in Aramaic by Greek-speaking Christians, but that the content of the cry, “Abba,” is most distinctively associated with Jesus in his earthly life. The most significant occurrence is when Jesus prays to God before his death (Mark 14:36):

Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me. Yet, not what I will, but what thou wilt.

The third expression is in Hebrew, and in it the interrelationship of the church’s prayer and the memory of Jesus is particularly complicated. It is the simple word “amen.” As used in Jewish prayer, it expressed an affirmative response (“so be it” see, e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:16) to a statement or wish made by others or to a prayer said by oneself. Typically it came at the end of a statement and in this form is used throughout the epistolary writings of the NT (Romans 1:25; 11:36; 15:33; 1 Corinthians 16:24; Galatians 1:5; Ephesians 3:21; Philemon 4:20; 1 Thessalonians 3:13; 1 Tim. 1:17; Hebrews 13:21; 1 Peter 4:11; 2 Peter 3:18; Jude 25; Revelations 1:6–7). On the other hand, one of the most distinctive aspects of Jesus’ own speech, as reported in all four Gospels, is his use of “amen.” Jesus, however, used it to affirm the truth not of another’s statement but always of his own, and he never said it at the end of a declaration but always at the beginning: “Amen, I say to you” (see, e.g., Mark 8:12; 11:23; Matthew 5:18; 16:28; Luke 4:24; 21:32; John 1:51; 5:19). In the light of this, one can only wonder at the characterization found in Revelations 3:14. The risen Lord, seen in a vision, employs the phrase “The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation.” And in 2 Corinthians 1:18–20, again with specific reference to Jesus, Paul says,

As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been yes and no. For the son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we preached among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not yes and no; but in him it is always yes. For all the promises of God find their yes in him. That is why we utter the Amen through him, to the glory of God.

Alongside the prayers, the Christians also sang “hymns” to Christ (see the interesting reference to this practice in Pliny the Younger Letters 10.96.7). The worship services undoubtedly included the singing of songs, psalms, and hymns (1 Corinthians 14:26; Ephesians 5:19; Col. 3:16; Revelations 5:9; 14:3; 15:3). Through certain formal features—use of an introductory relative pronoun and rhythmic strophes—it is possible to detect at least fragments of such hymns in the NT epistolary literature, where they are used as the basis for exhortation (Philemon 2:6–11; Col. 1:15–20; 1 Tim. 3:16; 1 Peter 1:22–25; 3:18, 22). Of these, the hymns in 1 Peter and Philippians show the clearest interest in, and resemblance to, the memory of Jesus as described in the Gospels. Several of the hymns in the Book of Revelation (e.g., 4:11; 5:9) are addressed to both God and “the Lamb,” and are almost purely songs of praise.

Spiritual Utterances
The pervasiveness and importance of this aspect of early Christian worship are difficult to assess. There is scattered evidence of speaking in tongues and prophecy in several writings (see Mark 16:17; Acts 2:4; 11:27; 21:9–10; Romans 12:6; 1 Thessalonians 5:20; 1 Tim. 4:14; Revelations 19:10). We also hear of prophets as persons with gifts sufficiently regular in their manifestation to be recognized together with apostles and teachers (Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 2:20; Revelations 10:7). We find a detailed account of these activities, however, only in 1 Corinthians 12:1–14:40, which is devoted to the problems generated by an unstructured expression of these gifts. We cannot even say whether the manifestation of these gifts took place in conjunction with, or separate from, other forms of worship, such as the Lord’s Supper. The distinctive feature of these forms of speech is that they are regarded as directly inspired by the Holy Spirit—in effect, by the Spirit of Jesus (1 Corinthians 12:4–11). Speaking in tongues was fundamentally an ecstatic mode of prayer (see 1 Corinthians 14:2, 14–16). Prophecy, in contrast, although it was equally inspired (1 Corinthians 12:10), had a rational element to it (1 Corinthians 14:19) and issued in speech intelligible to others (1 Corinthians 14:16). Paul therefore views prophecy as speech that can build up (oikodomein) the community in its faith (1 Corinthians 14:4–5, 12, 17, 24–25). This much is clear.

Prophetic “Revelations
More difficult to determine is the content of prophetic “revelations” (1 Corinthians 14:26, 30) and the relationship of these sayings to the memory of Jesus. If, on the pattern of oracles in Torah (Isa. 1:10; Jer. 2:2; Amos 7:16), “prophetic words” (2 Peter 1:19) were introduced as a “word” (2 Thessalonians 2:2), or the “word of God” (Revelations 1:2, 9; 19:9), or the “word of the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:15), then there could easily develop complex relationships between what came from the Lord as life-giving Spirit now present to the community (see 2 Corinthians 3:18) and what came from the Lord by way of the memory of what Jesus said in his earthly ministry (cf. the ambiguity in 1 Corinthians 7:10; 11:23; 14:37; l Thessalonians 4:2; 2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Example: Return “Like A Thief.”
An example of such complexity is the saying that Jesus would return “like a thief.” In Revelations 3:3b, we find it as a statement of the risen Lord, delivered through prophecy to the church:

If you will not awake, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come upon you.

It appears as a classic case of prophetic revelation. Yet, immediately before it, comes “Remember then what you received and heard; keep that and repent” (Revelations 3:3a). Is the prophet repeating an earlier tradition in his own prophetic utterance? If so, what was its source? Next, we find the tradition in a letter by Paul, who tells the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 5:2; cf. 2 Peter 3:10):

You yourselves well know that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.

Finally, we find it in the Gospels. In an eschatological discourse of the earthly Jesus (Matthew 24:42–43; Luke 12:39), there is this variation:

Watch, therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. But know this, if the householder had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have watched and not let his house be broken into.

The possible relations between these versions are obviously manifold. The prophetic utterance to the community could have initiated the saying, subsequently becoming part of the memory of Jesus reported in the Gospels. Or the prophetic word could have recalled in the power of the Spirit a word said by Jesus during his ministry, and this prophetic utterance then might have affected the way it was reported in the Gospel narrative. We cannot, it goes without saying, determine the direction of the flow of influence. But we can observe the complexity, learning from it how the memory of Jesus was undoubtedly influenced by what was said by him in the past as teacher and what was perceived to be coming from him in the present as risen Lord. The process is made even more complex when we remember that the memory of Jesus could also have been affected by cultural parallels.

Example: The Judge Is At The Door”
In another example—the expression “the judge is at the door”—the point is made even clearer. In Revelations 3:20, there is a prophetic message of the risen Lord:

Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and him with me.

In the Letter of James 5:8–9, we find the same image in an eschatological warning:

Establish your hearts, for the coming of the Lord is at hand. Do not grumble, brethren, against one another, that you may not be judged. Behold, the judge is standing at the doors.

We also find the image in an eschatological saying of Jesus (Matthew 24:33; Mark 13:29):

So also, when you see these things, you know that he is near, at the very doors.

The same image, in sum, occurs in a prophetic utterance of the risen Lord, in a paraenetic letter, and in the Gospels. It is thus evident that an interrelation exists between prophetic utterances in the community and the narrative development of the memory of Jesus in the early church.

Reading and Preaching
Here in all probability is a case of a practice being so well established that we find little specific evidence for it. The church remembered that Jesus had read and preached in the synagogue (Luke 4:16–30; cf. Mark 6:1–6; Matthew 13:53–58; John 6:59), as Paul had also done (Acts 13:13–16). Indeed, Acts includes an episode of Paul preaching to an assembly gathered for the Lord’s Supper (20:7–9). Yet we have no specific report of the reading of Torah in the Christian assembly for the earliest period, although Paul tells Timothy to “attend to the reading, prayer, and teaching” in the church at Ephesus in his absence (1 Tim. 4:13). The practice was so much a part of synagogue worship that we can assume its continuance in Christian worship with some confidence, particularly since it continued down into the period for which we have ample documentation (3rd and 4th centuries). Furthermore, the reading of Paul’s letters out loud to the gathered assembly (2 Corinthians 7:8; Col. 4:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:27; 2 Thessalonians 3:14) suggests that a precedent existed for such public reading. The two NT letters that have often been thought to have originated as sermons—1 Peter and Hebrews—are marked by a very vigorous use of scriptural interpretation, such as would be appropriate for homiletic midrash. It would seem that such a context could account for the creative formation of some Gospel narratives in which Torah has shaped—both explicitly and implicitly—stories about Jesus. Beyond such suggestive remarks, however, one cannot go.

Teaching for the Common Life
The memory of Jesus was also selected and shaped by the experience of churches as they tried to live out the implications of their new identity within the structures of the world. The question of how to live in the light of their transcendent and powerful transformation was real. But equally pressing were the questions posed by their mundane circumstances. The first Christians had to deal with critical and obviously spiritual issues such as the discernment of true prophecy from counterfeit (1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 Thessalonians 5:19–21; 1 John 4:1–3), but they were equally required to answer questions about the manifestations of the Spirit in their life together (Galatians 5:13–26), a life that included the realms of political and social structures, work, leisure, diet, and sexual activity. Did their new experience of God in Jesus have any implications for these aspects of their lives?

The necessity of coming to terms with such areas accounts for the development of teaching (didaskalia, didachē) in the early church. Teaching is an activity with many functions and settings, and the traditions that can be associated with it are extensive. In Acts 19:9–10, Paul is said to have spent two years in Ephesus debating in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. From Paul’s writings, it is clear that he saw himself as a teacher to his communities (1 Corinthians 4:17; cf. 1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11). If he followed the practice of some Cynic philosophers, he may even have taught his close followers while practicing his trade as a leather worker (Acts 18:3; 1 Thessalonians 2:9; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12). Paul also taught his communities through trusted delegates whom he sent to remind them of his teachings and instructions (1 Corinthians 4:17; Philemon 2:19–24; 1 Tim. 4:11; 2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 2:1). There were local teachers as well in the Pauline and other early Christian churches (Acts 13:1; 1 Corinthians 12:28; Romans 12:7; Galatians 6:6; Ephesians 4:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:12; James 3:1). In 1 Corinthians 14:26, “teaching” is placed among charismatic gifts such as tongues and prophecy, although most teaching was probably carried out in a non-ecstatic context.

Some communities may have followed the synagogue practice in which the study of Torah and prayer flowed naturally into each other; thus the synagogue was both a house of study and place of prayer. If Christian teaching took place in this context, we can locate such communal activities as midrash and diatribe, both of which appear in NT writings as the literary residue of an individual author, but also presuppose a prior process that is communal and scholastic in nature.

Such a context allows us to make some sense of the Pauline prohibitions against women speaking in the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:34–36; 1 Tim. 2:11–15), even though it is clear that they are already praying and prophesying during worship (1 Corinthians 11:5). If we take seriously the mention of teaching (1 Corinthians 14:26) and learning (1 Tim. 2:11–12) in these passages, we may find Paul (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:2–16) clinging to the cultural perception that moral teaching was a distinctively masculine obligation, specifically associated with the transmission of moral precepts from father to son (see 1 Corinthians 4:14–15), whereas motherhood was the culturally appropriate mode for women to exercise influence over children’s formation (1 Tim. 2:15). Despite this, it is clear that women were in fact also teaching—otherwise there would be no need for correction—and taking an active part in the Pauline mission (Romans 16:1, 3, 6, 12).

Clarifying The Relationship Of Ambiguous Life To The Gospel
The ambiguities of life together, combined with the need to clarify the relationship of that life to the gospel, proved to be influential in shaping the memory of Jesus. The questions formed by the church’s life stimulated the memory of what Jesus had said and done, and the framing of those questions inevitably had impact on the eventual shape of the memory as it was passed on. At the same time, there was undoubtedly something to remember. The process was not one of untrammeled creative fantasy. The first generation of believers was not so caught up in a charismatic cloud that it could not distinguish between its own handiwork and tradition, or that it thought that such a distinction was unimportant.

The best example is Paul’s carefully qualified discussion of virginity and marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. In successive sentences, he distinguishes relative degrees of authority for his statements. In 7:8, he says “To the unmarried and widows, I say . . .”; but in 7:10, he asserts, “To the married I give charge, not I but the Lord, that a wife should not separate from her husband . . .” We see here that Paul distinguishes what he offers on his own authority and what is backed by a command of the Lord. We find, in fact, such an absolute prohibition against divorce enunciated by Jesus in the Gospels (Mark 10:11; cf. Matthew 5:31–32; 19:3–9; Luke 16:18). We do not know, unfortunately, whether Paul had that command by oral tradition from the past or by prophetic announcement in the present—or both. But he makes clear he did not invent the saying. This is made even more obvious when he continues in 7:12, “To the rest I say, not the Lord . . . ,” while in 7:25 he writes, “Concerning the unmarried, I have no command of the Lord, but I give my opinion.

Finding Precedents For The Community Practices
In response to the questions raised by their worldly circumstances, teachers sought to find precedent for the community’s own practices (Why do we act this way?), and guidance for the community’s decisions (What should we do in this situation?). They sought to find both in the words and deeds of Jesus. That they did so is the clearest sign of the importance of the memory of Jesus for the identity of the Christian community.

The community could, for example, find precedents for its practice of sending out preachers two by two (Acts 13:2; 15:40; 18:5; 1 Corinthians 9:6) and for the shaking the dust off their feet when rejected by their hearers (Acts 13:51) in the practice and commands of Jesus (Mark 6:7–12; Matthew 10:14; Luke 9:5; 10:1, 11). Or, as the preachers exercised gifts of healing within the community (1 Corinthians 12:9, 28–30), they could find the pattern of their healing by prayer and their anointing for forgiveness of sins (James 5:14–15) in the healing deeds of Jesus that led to the forgiveness of sins (Mark 2:9–10; pars). When they did not observe the Sabbath the way other Jews did but met together on the resurrection day, they could find precedent for their freedom from the Sabbath law in the deeds and words of Jesus (Mark 2:23–28; pars.; John 5:2–9). Those who chose not to observe days of fasting (Galatians 4:10; Romans 14:5–6) found an example in the freedom of Jesus from fasting (Mark 2:18–21; pars.). Those who did choose to fast could also find warrant in the words of Jesus (Mark 2:19; Matthew 6:16–18). Those who enjoyed open fellowship with Jew and Gentile alike (Galatians 2:12–13; Acts 11:1–18) found a precedent in the free fellowship Jesus enjoyed with sinners and tax collectors (Mark 2:15–17; pars.). In cases like these, it is impossible for us to determine whether the practice came from the narrative example or whether the narrative example was at least partially shaped by the practice.

Guidance For Future Practices
Teaching also sought to provide guidance for future practice, since the demands of the gospel were not obvious in every circumstance. Paul was able, we have seen, to apply a saying of the Lord to one aspect of sexual behavior, namely, divorce, and he could call on the whole range of Jewish precedent to exclude obvious sexual immorality (see 1 Corinthians 5:1–5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3–8). But for other aspects of sexual behavior, he could offer only advice.

We see a similar situation with regard to work. Should Christians who expect the imminent return of the Lord continue in their worldly occupations, making a living and earning money for their families? The answer was not obvious (1 Corinthians 7:29–31). Paul faced a critical instance of the problem in Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 4:11; 2 Thessalonians 3:6–12). Here he reminds the community not only of his own example of working for a living (2 Thessalonians 3:7–9) but also of his earlier command that all should work (3:10), a directive he refers to as part of the tradition they had received from him (3:6). Following upon this, he emphatically repeats the phrase, “in the Lord Jesus Christ” (3:12). Had Paul handed on to them sayings of the Lord regarding work? He was certainly aware of specific commands of Jesus concerning such practical matters as support for the gospel (see 1 Corinthians 9:14; 1 Tim. 5:18). And if so, did these commands resemble the sort of sayings we find in Luke 10:7; 12:37–48; and 17:7–10? We cannot be certain, but it is possible.

Example: The Problem Of Diet and Material Possessions
Another example is provided by the problem of diet in Corinth. Did Christians need to establish alternative sources for their food to ensure its purity, or could they purchase and eat their food anywhere without regard for its possible contact with idols? In Paul’s careful discussion of this issue (1 Corinthians 8–10), he does not refer to any decision made by the church as a whole (cf. Acts 15:23–29), nor does he refer to any sayings of Jesus. In some communities, however, a similar problem must have activated the memory of a teaching by Jesus on just this point, for in Jesus’ controversy with the Pharisees over purification, the direction of Jesus’ teaching is succinctly summarized: “Thus he declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19).

Still other practical questions required answering. How were Christians to use their material possessions? Were the commandments of Torah binding on them, and if so, how? Their memory of Jesus made it clear that the love of God and neighbor was at the heart of their obligation (Mark 12:28–34; Matthew 22:34–40; Luke 10:25–28; Galatians 5:14; Romans 13:8–10; James 2:8). But what did that mean in specific cases? Who was the neighbor? These issues are raised in the epistolary literature, and we find teachings on these issues in the sayings and stories of the gospel tradition (see, e.g., Luke 10:25–37; 12:13–34; 16:1–13). The precise connection between the questions and the apparent answers reflected in the narratives about Jesus cannot, however, be firmly established.

Distinguishing Between The Earthly Jesus And The Risen Lord
Today’s critical reader, therefore, faces a very real problem: it is impossible to sort out exactly what came from the earthly Jesus and what originated in the spirit-filled utterances from the “risen Lord.” This was not, however, a problem for those who lived by these utterances. For them, the same Holy Spirit at work in the deeds and words of Jesus in the past was at work among them now. Both the present worship of Jesus as Lord and the memory of Jesus as teacher shaped the identity of the church. The selecting and shaping of that memory were regarded not as betrayal or distortion but as a deeper insight and understanding of the past by those who continued to live in the presence of the beloved (see John 2:22; 7:39; 12:16; 20:9–10). The words of Jesus in his last discourse in the Fourth Gospel (John 14:25–26) give accurate expression to the religious understanding that underlies this development of tradition concerning Jesus:

These things I have spoken to you, while I am still with you. But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.


Book Recommendation: “The Living Thoughts of Saint Paul” by Jacques Maritain

April 19, 2010

St. Paul And His Teachings
Overflowing with gifts of the Spirit, the graces of mystical contemplation and prophetic power, he [Paul] is the master of masters of Christian perfection and union with God…The irresistible dynamism which runs though all his teaching draws souls toward that perfection of charity which, as Saint Thomas Aquinas would explain, is not merely counseled, but commanded, and which comes under the first commandment to the New Law, not doubtless as something to be instantly realized (that is quite impossible) but as the end to which we are summoned and at which all Christian life should aim…Saint Paul’s teaching is inseparable from his experience. He was not simply called, as were the other Apostles; he was converted; he was the first great convert chosen to carry afar the name of Christ, and his teaching mission is the extraordinary flowering of that even more extraordinary moment – his interior conversion.

Hollow And Deceptive Philosophy
But the mystery of our state is that our nature and our reason, as we see them in real and concrete existence, cannot by themselves alone attain the fullness and the perfection of that of which they are capable. All the more, if they set out to usurp that which is beyond their reach, they will become for us a snare, an occasion of sin and of death, With regard to eternal life and absolute wisdom, faith alone — and reason which heeds faith — truly knows the road.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
Colossians 2: 6-8

The True Wisdom Of Eternal Life
The true wisdom of eternal life is the contemplation of the profundities of God, which the Spirit of God alone knows and of which, through faith and in faith, God causes a mysterious knowledge to come down upon us when we have reached the perfect age of the Christian.

We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:
   “No eye has seen,
      no ear has heard,
   no mind has conceived
   what God has prepared for those who love him”

But God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.
[1 Corinthians 2:6-13]

Man Is Held To Goodness
The meaning of the law has been transfigured: they no longer command bad men to be good and to grow into something which they are not; rather do they command good men not be bad and not to fail in that which they already are, not to fall back into that state of slavery from whence they have been freed. Justification is received through faith, quite apart from works. But once justified man is more than ever held to do good works…And this is not because the works of man would have power to save man by themselves, but because good works proceed from the charity which has been given to man and which is his life — his new and eternal life — and which is joined to faith when faith is living: “faith working through charity.” And also because the works of charity, serving of life, to the extent that man, acting freely under the inflowing of grace, receives from God’s mercy the dignity of being a cause — secondary and instrumental — the matter of his  own salvation. 

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

  All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. .
1 Corinthians 6: 9-12; 15-20

And in like fashion, Paul writes:

Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.

 If we have been united with him like this in his death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection. 6For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with that we should no longer be slaves to sin—because anyone who has died has been freed from sin.

Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.

 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. [Romans 6:2-14]

The Just Man Lives Of Faith And Charity
Even though he feels ever within him the workings of sin (but from thenceforth he is no longer subject thereto; he is stronger than it), the just man lives from a divine life, which is not a life according to the flesh either; and which makes him in truth an adopted son of God.

Life Through the Spirit
 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man,in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

 Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

 You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

 Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation—but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Future Glory
 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

More Than Conquerors
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
   “For your sake we face death all day long;
      we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. [
Romans 8: 1-39

Old Law New Law
The [old] law suffices to punish; it does not suffice to save. Here is a particular case of that dissymmetry which is always found between the good of which we are incapable without God, and the evil of which we are capable, ourselves alone. And the divine inflowing, which in vitalizing us give s us the power to act as good men (not halfheartedly, or limpingly, but lastingly and completely) is the grace of Christ and supposes (supernatural) faith in Him because the goal toward which it makes us tend is entrance into the very joy of God and into his glory. It was by this grace of the Christ to come, and by faith in Him, that lived the just men of the Old Law and those of the times of the Patriarchs….If the New Law requires many less things beyond the prescriptions of the natural law, and many less ceremonial observances than the Old Law, in return it requires that which is the most difficult of all: purity in the hidden movements and internal acts of the soul. But love makes light the yoke of this higher perfection: a yoke too heavy for him who does not love (but he who loves not has already cut himself off from life); and freedom for him who loves.

For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”  
Galatians 2:19-21

The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Romans 5 19-20

Charity is God’s Gift Of Gifts
Charity does not exist here below without faith and hope. But of the three theological virtues, which are given us by grace together with gratuitous justification, it is charity which is the greatest and which deserves life eternal.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. 
 And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge; and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing. 
 And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing. 
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; 
 Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; 
 Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. 
Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 
But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. 
When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. 
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. 
And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.
1Corinthians 13 1-13

Brotherly Love
Feeling for justice is unconquerable in us; charity transcends it; it does not destroy it. To forgive in full and complete measure, we must know that God makes it his affair to redress the balance of things, and that the coals of fire which are heaped upon the head of the unjust man make ready the day when the evil works accumulated by him will be upset, and when the grace of conversion will assault his heart. Each should bear his own burden; that is to say, have care for the task set him by God, without making judgments of others. And we should bear one another’s burdens, that is to say, forgive offenses and mutually help each other along the way.

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.
Galatians 6: 1-5

Supernatural faith is the prerequisite of the supernatural loves of God, of the charity which efficaciously loves God above all things, like a friend who calls us to share his life…Paul clearly holds that faith, which of itself seeks to blossom out into love, can nevertheless through the corruption of sin, exist in a soul without charity: for even while they believe in the truths of faith, Christians can be lost by losing charity. Of those Christians who do not take care of their own, he tells us that by their actions they give the lie to faith, and that they are worse than those without faith. …The faith of which Paul speaks is…always faith joined to charity, the faith which “worketh by love.”

Faith is the substance of things hoped for, a certification of things not seen. [ Hebrews 11: 1]

The whole of Paul’s teaching is suffused and exalted by the virtue of hope
…in his teaching as in Christian life, hope plays a role so profoundly “existential” that it is like some vegetative force which supplies us life, and which we feel no compelling need to make an object of explicit speculation. Yet everywhere it is present. If even enters into the Pauline definition of faith: Faith is the substance of things hoped for.

The Divinity And Paradox of Christ’s Nature
Christ is the very impress of the substance or of the essence of God:

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
 Who, being in very nature God,
      did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
 but made himself nothing,
      taking the very nature of a servant,
      being made in human likeness.
 And being found in appearance as a man,
      he humbled himself
      and became obedient to death—
         even death on a cross!
 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
      and gave him the name that is above every name,
 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.

The Mystical Body
This one and indivisible body which the faithful form in Christ is the body of Christ Himself, the extension of the Incarnate Word, “Jesus Christ, spilled over and conveyed.” (Bossuet) Hence the Church is a visible body but a body whose constitutive reality is essentially mysterious, since it is the body – made up of the multitude of those who believe – of Christ  invisibly present in them in order to communicate to them His life of grace…The visible unity of the mystical body, made manifest n Baptism, in the profession of faith, and in discipline, is the visible and human instrument in the world of a life divine and hidden which is not of the world – for it is the life of grace, the life given by the blood of Christ – and in the invisible unity thereof the Spirit of God prepares sons for God.

The Old And New Covenant
The Old Covenant was entered into in fear. The New Covenant , in grace; and  the mystical body of Christ already forms and builds , in its earthly pilgrimage nd its crucified life, and in the darkness of faith, the city of the living God the heavenly Jerusalem “which is to come.”

You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire; to darkness, gloom and storm; to a trumpet blast or to such a voice speaking words that those who heard it begged that no further word be spoken to them, because they could not bear what was commanded: “If even an animal touches the mountain, it must be stoned.” The sight was so terrifying that Moses said, “I am trembling with fear.”

 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

The Continued Redemption
It is the work of redemption continued in time, by the preaching of truth, and by the fulfillment, through all ages, of “what is lacking to the sufferings of the Savior” – not indeed as to merits, for He has paid by His blood once for all and for all men, but as to the application of the merits of Christ by means of the communion of saints to the human generations and to those who, sitting in the shadow of death, await their redemption.

 Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness—the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.

The Church and Christ are two in the same flesh, which is human nature. The Church is a spouse, and a spouse who has her very being, her soul and her life from the Bridegroom; and it is by this double reason that she is the body of Christ; “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” As a sign of that union, the sacrament of matrimony enables man and woman in their own union to realize a participation in that union; that is why Christian marriage carries the requirements and refinements of the natural law to a point of perfection which can only find its fulfillment by and in grace….In Paul’s eyes marriage is above all the mystery of an indissoluble union – realized through a love that which divine charity penetrates, and at once spiritual and carnal and fruitful – between two human persons.

Views On Men And Women
Paul’s views [on men and women] [have] a very high metaphysical meaning. They relate to the metaphysical finalities inscribed in nature
, and to the fact that womanhood as such is directed toward man, and hence toward love, wherein it finds its fulfillment, whereas the masculine as such is directed toward the operation of the reason (that is to say, in the supernatural order, toward the Incarnate Word) and hence toward authority over nature, in which it finds its fulfillment.


The Angels And The Beasts

April 16, 2010

Thomas Cole, "Angels Ministering to Christ in the Wilderness", 1843

 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Mark 1:12-13

 Fr Robert Barron (from the Word on Fire ) comments on this scriptural passage here:

“MEDIEVAL CHRISTIAN SCHOLARS said that human beings are a kind of microcosm of the whole created order, since we bear within ourselves both the spir­itual and the physical. Through our bodies we reach down to the lower elements and are one with the animals and minerals, but through our minds we commune with the upper realm of spirits and angels. We know instinctively how right this characterization is. On the one hand, we can explore the intricacies of mathematics and geometry; we can soar with Mozart and Shakespeare; we can design high-level computers and machines that move through the galaxy; we can enter into the depth and silence of mys­tical prayer, coming close to the angelic way of knowing.

In all of these ways, we demonstrate the capaciousness of our souls. On the other hand, we are, whether we like it or not, animals. We need food and drink; we get too hot or too cold; we experience instincts and emotions that often get the better of our reason; we revel in the sheer pleasure of the senses and the thrill of being touched; we love to run and to exercise our muscles; we exult in the rough-and-tumble of very physical competition and play. This coming together of the spiritual and the material is our glory — since we combine, in a sense, the best of both worlds — but it is also our agony, the source of much of our sadness and conflict.

A kind of metaphysical mongrel, we bring together in our very persons elements that are, often enough, at odds with one another. The spirit strains against the body (think of Michelangelo’s “athletes” on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel); and the body struggles against the spirit. Sometimes the mind commands, and matter refuses to obey, or matter makes demands that the mind cannot or will not accommodate. One way to handle this problem is imperialist ag­gression, the dominance of spirit over body or body over spirit. Let us consider the first option.

In so many philosophies and spiritualities — both East and West — we find a celebration of the transcendent spiritual ca­pacity and a concomitant longing to escape from the drabness of materiality. Plato, for instance, thought that the entire philosophical life was but a preparation for the wonderful day when the soul — the angel-like spirit — would escape through death from the prison of the body. One way to read Plato’s Republic is as an intricately conceived training manual for prospective jail breakers. Plotinus, an ardent disciple of Plato and one of the most influential philosophers of the late Roman period, was described by one of his followers as “never quite at home in his body” — and that was meant as a compliment.

This dualist strain of thinking can be found in modernity as well, René Descartes, the founder of modern philosophy, starkly separated the body, which belongs to the realm of “extended things,” from the mind, which is a “thinking thing,” and this “angelism” conditions all of Descartes’ program. At a more popular level, one can discover this preference of spirit over body in much of the New Age spiritualities of the present day. Just think of those sad members of a New Age cult who, not many years ago, committed suicide in the hopes of releasing their spirits from the “lower vehicles” of their earthly bodies.

But the imperialism comes from the opposite side as well, when the body seeks, as it were, to escape from the mind. Alongside of Platonism in the ancient world, there was the competing philosophy of hedonism, which put an exclusive stress on pleasure and the satisfaction of bodily desire. And up and down the centuries, this perspective has attracted many, from the Marquis de Sade to Hugh Hefner. On this reading, the “spiritual” dimension is something of an illusion — at best a more ratified form of bodily desire, and at worst a collection of inhibitions and complexes that ought to be repressed or deconstructed. For the hedonist, the human being is not qualitatively different from the other animals; rather, he is an especially clever beast, particularly adept at ac­quiring what his body craves.

Think, in this context, of Sigmund Freud’s insistence that the rational mind is not so much the tamer of the elemental desires as their ser­vant. As is true in regard to political imperialism, which tends to stir up the resentment of the tyrannized party, so this psychological and spiritual imperialism leads, easily enough, to civil war within the person. When Plato and his disciples treat the body as a prison, the body reacts, often in psychologically destructive ways; and when the hedonists treat the mind as an epi-phenomenon of the body, the spirit rebels.

A third option does remain. A person can live alter­nately in the upper realm and the lower, keeping the one carefully sequestered from the other. One of the greatest theologians of the last century, a man of exquisite cul­tural and religious refinement, the author of a massive systematic theology and of deeply moving homilies, also frequented the red-light districts of the cities he visited and assembled an extensive collection of pornography. It was as though body and mind lived side by side in him, unintegrated and unrelated to one another. This sort of isolation of the elements of the self is no solution, for in the long run it leads to a radical bifurcation and disintegration of the personality.

Throughout the Bible, we find the claim — some­times explicitly argued, other times implied — that these tensions between body and soul, these fundamental disin­tegrations, are symptoms of sin. In the Genesis account of creation, we hear that God made the whole of the cosmos, things seen and unseen, the spiritual as welt as the physi­cal. He made, as the crown of his efforts, a rational animal, capable of speech and divine communion, and he placed him within a garden of physical delights and surrounded him with all of his brother animals that fly through the air and creep and crawl upon the ground. But in the wake of the original sin, divisions begin to appear.

Adam and Eve, who once were comfortable with their physicality, now seek to cover themselves, their bodies having become an object of shame. And nature, symbolized by the serpent, has now emerged as the enemy, the cunning tempter. This interpretation is confirmed in the story of the flood. We see that God protects from the waters (evocative of the power of sin) not only his human creatures, but all the creatures on the planet– including, presumably, all those lowly crawling things. Moreover, as the flood waters recede, God concludes a covenant, not only with us, hut with the whole of creation. The biblical teaching seems to be that the harmony of the spiritual and the physical is what God savors arid intends.

The scriptural understanding of the tight relationship between the two elements of the person is nowhere bet­ter expressed than in St. Mark’s laconic account of the temptation of Jesus in the desert, In Mark’s telling, we find none of the dramatic details that characterize Mat­thew’s and Luke’s narratives. Instead, we have only these sober lines: “He was in the wilderness forty days1 tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts and the angels waited on him.”

This picture of Jesus, surrounded by the animals and ministered to by the angels, is a sort of sacred icon of the right relationship between spirit and matter. It is as though Jesus — in opposition to Satan — brings together, in his person, the warring elements of soul and body, angel and animal. The new Adam, he unites what sin had divided; the new creation, he integrates the cosmic order that sin had disrupted. We shouldn’t commune with the angels alone (in the Platonic mode) or with the animals alone (in the hedonist mode); and we certainly shouldn’t oscillate back and forth between the two. Rather, we should abide with both, keeping the physical and the spiritual in a mutually correcting harmony. Then we live out our deepest metaphysical identity; then we become the creatures God intended us to be: embodied spirits and spiritual bodies.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 273 other followers