Sunday, March 07, 2004

The Christian Perspective on Vegetarianism

Most Christians (with the exception of Seventh-Day Adventists) do not believe it is wrong, immoral, or unethical to eat meat (or, by extension, to hunt). This would be quite difficult to do in light of the facts that Jesus Himself ate fish, even after His Resurrection (Lk 24:43), and seeing that many of His disciples were fishermen. So no biblical case can be made of the inherent wrongness of meat-eating or hunting.

Furthermore, God commanded the Jews to kill and eat lamb as part of the Old Testament sacrificial system. Jesus ate lamb Himself, as part of the Last Supper (which many scholars believe was a Passover meal). God cannot command what is inherently wrong.

On the other hand, some Christians - as a matter of preference or even individual conscience - abstain from meat, on an aesthetic basis, or on the basis of an ideal return to conditions before the Fall, where there was no eating of flesh. I myself eat only fish (with some exceptions because I have hypoglycemia and sometimes need to eat whatever is available rather than to start becoming weak and having other symptoms of the malady), and this is based on an aesthetic and subjective preference, not derived from an opinion that eating meat is evil. I have no objection whatsoever to others doing so. Such a judgment is impossible to make on a Christian, biblical basis.

With regard to a related issue, Christians ought to oppose all unnecessary cruel treatment of animals (e.g., painful traps, excessive hardships in research and caged environments, pollution and trashing of landscapes, etc.). Christians are to be kind to animals just as they are towards people (St. Francis of Assisi offers a notable example of this). But a prohibition of all (swift and efficient) killing of animals cannot be established, as absolute "pacifism" is not a biblical teaching, nor has the historical Christian Church ever held to it (some significant sects such as Mennonites, have).

Lastly, a common blatant hypocrisy must sadly be pointed out: Many secularist or religious non-Christian (or "liberal Christian") vegetarians seem not to notice that the legality and permissibility of abortion (which they oftentimes espouse) is far more morally objectionable than any cruelty (real or alleged) to or killing of animals for meat or other purposes (fur, leather, medical research, zoos and circuses, etc.). If one considers all killing of animals as evil and immoral, certainly the barbaric killing of preborn human beings (even up to the moment of birth, as in partial-birth infanticide, currently legal in the U.S.) must be included in the moral outrage.

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Pacifism vs. "Just War": Biblical and Social Factors

By Dave Armstrong (April 1987) 

1. Jesus' Attitude 
A. Our Lord Jesus acknowledged the right of civil defense: " . . . let him who has no sword sell his robe and buy one" -- Luke 22:36.

B. Jesus accepted the notion of obedience to civil government in general when He said: "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's" (in this particular instance, taxes, which, no doubt were used in part for maintenance of the Roman armies -- Matt. 22:21; Mk. 12:17; Luke 20:25).

C. In Jesus' short parable about counting the cost of discipleship, the example of a king going to battle was used (exceedingly strange, if warfare was an absolute evil -- Luke 14:31-33).

D. Jesus didn't rebuke a Roman centurion for being a soldier, but rather, strongly commended his faith and healed his servant -- Matt. 8:5-13 / Luke 7:1-10.

E. Lastly, Jesus, being the Messiah, who had largely a military function throughout the Old Testament, will come again in great power as an all-conquering warrior. He Himself taught this on several occasions: Matt. 16:27; 24:30; 25:31; 26:64, etc. For those accustomed to viewing Jesus as the meek and mild type who wouldn't hurt a flea -- which wasn't true His first time here, either -- the account of His return will come as quite a shock: ". . . in righteousness He judges and wages war and the armies which are in heaven . . . were following Him . . . And from His mouth comes a sharp sword, so that with it He may smite the nations . . . and He treads the wine press of the fierce wrath of God, the Almighty" (Revelation 19:11-21).

How can all this be explained according to Christian pacifism? Non-Christians also continually misrepresent Jesus by ignoring this information.

2. John the Baptist

John's emphasis in his preaching was on repentance from evil-doing. Here is a man who unhesitatingly addressed a whole crowd of Jews who came to him as "You brood of vipers"! (Luke 3:7). Yet when Roman soldiers came to him and sought his counsel John said: "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." (Luke 3:14). The significance of this cannot be minimized. Why in the world -- if pacifism is the true biblical outlook -- would John not tell these men to get out of the army immediately, to renounce all use of force, etc.? For the pacifist, this would be the moral and logical equivalent of not telling the prostitute to stop selling herself, or not telling the thief to stop stealing. Thus, the concepts of military service and war cannot be unmitigated evils.

3. St. Paul and the Early Christians

The Apostle Paul: the greatest missionary of all time, and author of most of the New Testament, appealed to his Roman citizenship in protest of his beating and imprisonment (Acts 16:37-38), and to avoid being scourged (Acts 22:25-29). In fact, most of the last seven chapters of the Book of Acts, the history of the first Christians, is devoted to Paul's defense of himself before the Jews and various Roman authorities (the Jews had sought to kill him ). During the whole legal process, Paul accepted the help of Roman military escorts and guards, in order to protect his life (Acts 23:12-33; 28:16), and appealed to Caesar (Acts 25:11).

This is all highly relevant to our discussion. The pacifist often argues that Jesus' injunctions in the Sermon on the Mount are absolute and normative for all situations ("Do not resist him who is evil . . . " -- Matt. 5:39). If this is true, then Paul failed quite miserably to apply this teaching in his own life. This is unacceptable for any Christian who accepts the New Testament as authoritative. The logical alternative view, then, is that Matthew 5:39 does not have a universal application. This is clear from the facts in #1 above.

We also hear so much about the early Christians dying for their faith instead of resisting. However, in most cases they had no power to resist, as Paul did by virtue of his Roman citizenship, and the issue was usually a situation where the Christian had to renounce Christ and worship Caesar. Obviously, the Christian had no choice but martyrdom if he or she was to remain a Christian under these circumstances. This does not require that a Christian must die in a situation where there exists a moral escape from such injustice. Thus, Paul's actions are altogether moral and ethical, according to New Testament teaching. His example also shows the wrongness of those pacifist strains which denounce Christian involvement in government.

The Christian is to obey the present governmental authorities (Rom. 13:1-7; I Pet. 2:13-15), but not to the extent of transgressing God's moral law, which transcends man's law and provides the basis for justice. The first believers, including Peter, immediately engaged in civil disobedience, when necessary (Acts 4:18-20; 5:27-29).

We also find that some of the early Christians were soldiers (Acts 10:1-4,22,30-31). Cornelius, one of them, is called "a righteous and God-fearing man" (10:22) and Peter himself showed no qualms whatsoever as to the notion and fact of a Roman centurion being a Christian.

4. Military Heroes in the New Testament

Hebrews 11:32-34: " . . . Gideon, Barak, Samson, . . . David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight." These men and their military acts are extolled as examples of faith, a fundamental New Testament concept.

5. Military Metaphors in the New Testament

These are quite common and are used in reference to spiritual warfare. Some of the more notable examples are: II Cor. 10:3-4 ("weapons of our warfare"), Eph. 6:10-17 ("Put on the full armor of God "), I Tim. 1:18 ("Fight the good fight"), and II Tim. 2:3-4 (". . . a good soldier of Jesus Christ"). Again, it makes no sense to use such terminology if such things are absolute evils. This would be the same as saying "Be a good mass-murderer of Jesus Christ" (since pacifists consider all wars, as far as I can tell, as just that). The very existence of such metaphors is inexplicable if the New Testament teaches total pacifism. I believe it is clear, for all who honestly look into the matter, that there is no radical break in morality and teaching between the two testaments of the Bible. The underlying reason for this is simple: God does not change. He merely reveals Himself more fully and progressively in history.

6. "Thou shalt not kill"

Unfortunately, an extraordinarily simple-minded pacifist argument is based on the one word kill, from the sixth commandment. Many have said that all killing is prohibited, based on this one verse (Exodus 20:13). The problem here derives from unfortunate translation of the original Hebrew into English. The original word in Hebrew here is ratsach, which is much more accurately translated as "murder." Ratsach is always used in a disapproving sense in the Old Testament.

Other words are used for killing which is morally justified (there are at least 21 Hebrew words for various types of killing, and 13 Greek words in the New Testament). Webster's Dictionary defines "kill" as "To deprive of life; to slay"; whereas it defines "murder" as follows: "The offense of unlawfully killing a human being with malice aforethought, express or implied." This is a legal definition, and implies moral wrongdoing. I have 12 translations of the Old Testament and 8 of them use "murder" for Ex. 20:13. The standard King James Version and three modern translations have "kill". In any event, it's obvious that the Old Testament teaches the correctness of many types of killing, usually in the sense of ultimate lifesaving for the many, and the protection of the innocent. Examples: Gen. 9:6; Ex. 22:2; Gen. ch. 14; Lev. 18:24; Numbers 25:8; Josh. 7:25 and 10:40.

7. War as Judgment in the Old Testament

This is a bit more complex idea, and is often greatly misunderstood by those who don't interpret the Bible on its own terms, and in its totality. Various nations in history, according to the Bible (which is an impeccable historical source), were judged by God for their evil, in the sense that He allowed them to be defeated in warfare. The secondary purpose of such "judgmental wars" -- when they were against Israel's enemies -- was to ensure the survival of God's chosen people, with whom He established a covenant. Such wars were to eliminate all extreme forms of immorality which might corrupt the life of the Jews, whom God was using as His saving instrument for the world. This theme of God's "chosen" people runs through the entire Old Testament. The Jews, however, did not, by any means, receive preferential treatment. They were subject to even more severe judgment if they rebelled against God, because so much was revealed to them. Now, if God's right to judge is questioned from the outset, then the ethical issue becomes an entirely different one.

The Nations: Ex. 23:23-24, 32-33; Lev. 18:3, 24-30; Deut. 9:4-6; 18:9-14; 20:17-18; Isaiah 10:1-19; 13:17-19; 45:1-2; Jeremiah 25:12-13; 43:10-11.

The Jews: Lev. 26:14-17,31-39; Deut. 28:15,25,36,45-52,58; Judges 2:14; II Kings 15:37; I Chron. 5:25-26; II Chron. 24:23-24; 33:10-13; Ezra 5:12; Jer. 25:3-11; 27:6; Ezek. 29:18-20.

8. The "Just War" as Classically Formulated by St. Ambrose and St. Augustine (3rd-4th cent. A.D.)

A) There is an organic connection between justice and necessary and just warfare.

B) War must be declared by the proper governmental authorities (Rom. 13:4).

C) War is to be fought only if all peaceful negotiations fail to attain justice (Deut. 20:10-12; Hebrews 12:14).

D) Both the cause and the motive for a war must be just.

E) War is engaged in only for defense purposes and the protection of the innocent (Gen. 14:14-16).

F) War is fought only with a realistic expectation for success, and must be justly waged:

i. Fought against soldiers, never civilians (Principle of Discrimination).

ii. Only as much force as is necessary to secure a lasting and stable peace is used (Principle of Proportion).

It would appear that nuclear war, by virtue of its nondiscriminatory nature, would always be immoral. Perhaps mere possession of nuclear weapons for purposes of deterrence is not necessarily immoral, given the malevolent character of many of the governments of the world. Part of the reason deterrence works, is the self-preservation instinct. One tends to not want to fight a war when annihilation of one's entire country (as opposed to mere defeat) looms as a distinct possibility. This prospect unites all kinds of people -- good and bad.

9. The "Police" Question

For the pacifist to be consistent with his or her own position (the total renunciation of lethal force as immoral), all use of force within states must be condemned along with force between states. Police forces, judges, and politicians are all involved, directly or indirectly, in the maintenance of public safety. All states preserve order and stability by means of coercion and, if necessary, lethal force (the shooting of madmen holding hostages, riot control, prison sentences, etc.). Many pacifists do not wish to deny these societal institutions. Of course, total pacifism has even more dreadful results, especially the closer it hits home, for it would require standing by and doing nothing while a close relative, spouse, good friend, or child (God forbid) was being tortured and killed. It seems utterly obvious that a viewpoint which violates our most basic instincts of justice and honor and love must be a false (and ultimately immoral) view. And the pacifist will generally quickly forget his or her intellectual concept of pipe-dream peace and togetherness once in a horrifying position like the ones above. The Bible certainly doesn't advance such a concept, as has been shown. This is why pacifism in the Church has always been a minority view.

10. Gandhi's Follies

Incidents in the life of the famous pacifist Gandhi illustrate the moral illegitimacy of the total pacifist outlook in the real world, where those who would hate and harm others are never lacking. During World War II, Gandhi urged the Viceroy of India to stop fighting, saying "Hitler is not a bad man," and suggested that the English should accept Hitler's fate for them, that the Czechs should face the German armies unarmed, and that India should let the Japanese overrun the country and then "make them feel unwanted." What was his comforting advice to the Jews of Europe, who were being slaughtered mercilessly by the millions? He thought that they should have committed collective suicide, so as to leave a "rich heritage to mankind". He reached the very pinnacle of the heights of folly, perhaps, when he wrote to Hitler, starting out, "Dear friend," and made a heartfelt appeal for him to embrace all mankind!

Of course, Gandhi's tactic of nonresistance in striving for independence from England, was a success because it was directed towards a people who had a measure of conscience and magnanimity. Likewise for Martin Luther King in the American South. Nonresistance, needless to say, would be absurd in Nazi Germany or Lenin's and Stalin's Russia, where marchers would immediately have been gunned down without the batting of an eyelid. Pacifism, like consistent atheism, once thought out in all its implications, will collapse from within, because it simply cannot be lived out. While I admire anyone's nobility in being willing to die for a cause, I do not admire a willingness to let so many other people die (literally millions when tyrants aren't stopped).


Thursday, March 04, 2004

How on Earth Can Christians Vote For Pro-Abortion Candidates?

The following is derived from letters and dialogues I had with Catholic Democrats:

How can a "faithful Catholic" (or a faithful orthodox Protestant who accepts the historic Protestant doctrines and moral teachings) vote for a politician who sanctions the practice of sticking scissors in the neck of a full-term baby and sucking its brains out (let alone abortion in general)? That's not even including things like homosexual "marriage," radical feminism, fetal experimentation, assisted suicide, and suchlike.

They can try to separate their vote from the responsibility of the promulgation of abortion, but I just don't buy it. Our choices have consequences. Legal abortion arrived in the first place in large part because the Catholic Church was weak. The dissidents were already attacking the ban on contraception, heroically reaffirmed by Pope Paul VI in Humanae Vitae in 1968. Contraception was legally crucial as the groundwork for Roe (the Griswold case). It paved the way, very directly. So the time was ripe.

Catholics vote for pro-abortion politicians and this allows abortion to continue. This is contrary to Church teaching. Such voters participate in a causal sense in promoting abortion if they vote in men and women who believe that it should be legal. It is an outrage. It seems to me the only way they can possibly defend this is to separate their vote for a Democrat from the causal factor of how this might perpetuate the status quo of Roe v. Wade. And I think that will be an uphill battle (to put it mildly).

One must flat-out deny what the Catholic Church teaches in order to make the assertion that one can be a "good Catholic" and also a card-carrying Democrat today, given the morally-troublesome Democratic platform and advocacy of various immoral issues. This is why I maintain that it is impossible to synthesize the two at present (it wasn't always so - before legal abortion).

I agree that the Democrats have traditionally had a more fruitful social conscience. They were in the forefront of the fight for racial equality and justice (though more Republicans than Democrats voted for the Civil Rights Act in 1964; Al Gore's father, e.g., voted against it, along with many Southern segregationalist Democrats). They brought us social security, Medicare, and praiseworthy programs for first-time home buyers, etc. which are social goods. But that was then; now they are a force for child-killing, homosexual rights (i.e., preferential treatment), radical feminism, assisted suicide, etc.

This is the sad state of affairs that we live in today. Now we have serious debates about whether the brutal, savage slaughter of a full-term baby about to be born should moral and legally permissible. It's almost beyond belief. I can't even comprehend this level of moral lunacy and outrageous injustice anymore. Yet we went into a lengthy national mourning after 9-11, which (horrible as it was) caused less deaths than a day's work in an abortion clinic. And at least those people had some sort of life before they were killed, and some chance to escape (however slight, in many cases). The baby about to be ripped to shreds has neither.

In presidential elections, it has been clear for years now that the Democrat has to favor legal abortion to run at all. So no Catholic or pro-life non-Catholic Christian can vote for such a person. It can't be justified, just as we now condemn anyone who voted for Hitler (who only killed 6 million, compared to the 50 million legal abortions in the US in 30 years). I think this is morally and ethically obvious.

I think it all comes down to the willingness (conscious or otherwise) to separate public and private morality; personal and civic virtue. That's what brought us abortion, the sexual revolution, and also the schizophrenic nonsense of being so-called "pro-choice" (i.e., "personally opposed" to abortion, but willing to allow it to continue legally).

This derives historically, I would argue, from elements of the Renaissance, the so-called Enlightenment, English Deism and rationalism, and onto more modern forms of secularist philosophy and thought (liberalism, Marxism, libertarianism, legal positivism, humanism, pragmatism, et al). They all separated things such as faith and reason, private and public morality, Christ and culture, church and state, etc. And these strains of thought have deeply penetrated into the American psyche, if not all of the western world.

That bizarre inconsistency is the foundation for millions of professed Christians (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant alike) voting for people whose principles are diametrically opposed to Christianity; in fact they are often outright espousals of rank paganism and blatantly utilitarian, even at times nihilistic, ethics. Ignorance of one's own supposed religious beliefs doesn't help, either, of course.

I have lambasted Republicans also on my website. But I continue to say that a Catholic in good standing cannot possibly defend a vote for a pro-abort. I have voted for pro-life Democrats in local races, and will not vote for any pro-abort Republican. Abortion is the morally-defining issue of this generation. It is immediately morally schizophrenic to vote for a guy like Kerry, whereas one can vote for Bush without violating any Catholic precept.

It is largely a failure of consistent thinking, and of molding one's outlook in harmony with the "mind of the Church." One's view of culture and politics (indeed, all of life) must be synthesized with their religious worldview. That's what it means to be a disciple of Christ: everything (that includes politics and government) comes under His Lordship. But if someone is informed of, say, partial-birth abortion and continues to vote for the guy who upholds it, what do we conclude then? Is there not some sin in that?

A position which is the moral equivalent of Nazism is neither respectable, nor arguable in "polite circles." Many pro-lifers act as though a person can be both "respectable" and "honorable" and a pro-abort.

We don't regard the Nazis in that fashion; we loathe them because they were for wanton massacre. Yet many conservatives (e.g., Rush Limbaugh) express such admiration for, say, Colin Powell, as a "great man," even though he is a pro-abort. More schizophrenia. We must qualify his "greatness"; we can say he was a great general. But a "great man"? Not if we are pro-lifers . . . .

I am not seeking to judge any person's heart or soul. I am addressing hypocrisy and moral schizophrenia, just as Jesus did, particularly with the Pharisees. I haven't yet found a Catholic Democrat who put up any sort of reasoned defense for why they vote the way they do (particularly regarding abortion). I either get nothing, theological liberalism, or a pack of propaganda-induced lies about both the nature and motivation of Republicans and Conservatives. It gets very frustrating.

When people vote for politicians who favor abortion, they are a party to that outrageous crime. They don't get off by taking the libertarian route and simply saying that they personally oppose abortion. 4000 babies die every day. Al Gore and Richard Gephardt were pro-life at one time; so was Bill Clinton and Jesse Jackson. They all caved because any Democrat running for President, or hoping to, has to be in favor of child-killing. This is the party that Christians want to support (God help us)? It can't be justified from a Catholic or a conservative Protestant standpoint. Christianity is about love and compassion and putting the little guy first: not about butchering defenseless babies. A Catholic cannot vote for a politician who supports abortion. He just can't do it. he have to choose between his Church and his political party, I'm afraid, on this issue.

And that is, of course, exactly what many Catholics do: they are much more "American" and "Democrat" and "liberal" than they are Catholic. And so they will ditch those teachings of the Church that they don't care for, such as the ban on contraception, the immorality of fornication, and of abortion. It always seems to be the sexual issues, for some strange reason.

Jesus tells us to protect the innocent. And that is why a Catholic or any sort of Christian who believes in the inspiration of the Bible cannot vote for people who sanction the slaughter of children. I've always opposed racism and prejudice and the oppression and exploitation of the poor, as a political conservative (generally-speaking); so-called "liberals" and mainstream Democrats should oppose child-killing as political liberals, since liberalism historically was in favor of the little guy and the oppressed and exploited. This is the inconsistency in the Democratic Catholic position (insofar as the person votes for a pro-abortion candidate).

The Democrats are no longer the party of JFK or FDR, because advocating abortion is not helping the "little guy" and the oppressed. It's one thing to advocate social reform along more traditionally liberal or left-leaning lines (New Deal, Great Society, unions, civil rights, equality for women and minorities, health care provisions, social security and Medicare, etc. -- much of which is very good and consistent with Catholic social teaching); quite another to adopt wholesale radical moral teachings that contradict Christianity, as formerly understood by both liberals and conservatives.

Malcolm X was a greater revolutionary than Dr. Martin Luther King, because he stressed personal behavior and ethics as well as social reform, which the latter almost solely concentrated on. I think Rev. King (much as I immensely admire the man) should have publicly taught much more biblical personal morality, but that was a function, I think, of the separation of "social gospel" from personal righteousness, which unfortunately occurred in Christianity (both Catholic and Protestant).

The theological liberals (who tended to be politically liberal) emphasized the social and institutional, while conservatives (who tended to be politically conservative as well) emphasized individual traditional Christian morals and the family. The Catholic Church brings both impulses together and refuses to separate them. That's why I consider it a "third way" -- distinct from both political parties, which have become polarized in such an unnecessary manner, and mostly secularized, too.

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Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Slavery as America's Original Sin & Root Cause of the Civil War (Expanded)

My esteemed friend (and Southerner) Rod Bennett wrote:

[T]he issue of slavery brought the matter to a head…but was not, in and of itself, the basis of the conflict. That basis, or underlying cause, was already present 250 years earlier – right from the start at Plymouth (Massachusetts) and Jamestown (Virginia).
I would disagree with this, because it reduces to the same thing. It is a distinction without a difference. If we ask what was the major issue that divided the states (at least by the time of the Declaration of Independence and the drafting of the Constitution), it was clearly slavery.

That's why I say that this is America's "original sin." It was wrong and could not be justified, and the South's greatest minds, figures, and influences (Washington, Jefferson, Madison) knew this. It created what must have been tremendous cognitive dissonance.

The North, of course, was equally to blame, because it tolerated the institution, traded with the South for goods that were a result of it, passed fugitive slave laws, etc. And it goes without saying that the people in the North were every bit as much racist as Southerners were -- if not even more so (then and now).

So this is not a "moral superiority of the North" tract; it is simply an analysis of American history with Christian ethics brought to bear. There is plenty of blame to go around. The North is much more morally bankrupt with regard to the leading moral issue of our time: abortion. And soldiers from North and South participated in the near-extermination of Native Americans from 1865-1890 (or at least the extermination of their culture and dignity, if not all of the people).

What I find curious is: why, if Rod is correct about slavery being only a precipitating but not underlying cause of the Civil War, did the seceding states place it front and center in giving their reasons for secession?

For example, the Georgia statement concedes that "The question of slavery was the great difficulty in the way of the formation of the Constitution." So even when referring back to the colonial period, slavery is right in the middle of the debate over federalism and the new constitutional republic.

The Mississippi declaration states:

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery . . . a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization.
And the Texas declaration made very clear what it was opposing in seceding from the union:

. . . an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, [Northerners were] proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law.

Now, if the problems were much deeper than this, and slavery was only on the surface, why were these declarations written in this manner, where slavery almost completely dominates the grievances?

The great ambivalence and guilt which the South's greatest statesmen felt over slavery is apparent in a text from Thomas Jefferson which was removed from the final draft of the Declaration of Independence. He stated that King George II had:

. . . waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation hither. The piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain, determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold. He had prostituted his negative [veto power] for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce . . . he is now exciting these very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them by destroying those people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another.
Historian Page Smith, author of an eight-volume history of America, comments:

This effort to indict George III for the misery of slavery was surely one of the most exaggerated efforts in the history of political rhetoric . . . the king had aided and abetted, indeed had ruthlessly foisted slavery upon the defenseless Americans . . .

It should not take a trained psychologist to discern in this mistaken indictment the strength of Jefferson's feelings about slavery. What we cannot bear to face ourselves, we are most prone to blame on others. Jefferson's fear and horror are only too clearly manifest in these sentences . . . thus the paradox of a people claiming their rights as free men while holding other human beings as slaves might be obscured or somehow palliated . . .

But Congress would not buy a denunciation of slavery for a moment. Those delegates who were opposed to slavery felt the passage smelled of hypocrisy -- not Jefferson's, but Congress's. Those who were disposed to defend the institution felt personally impugned by Jefferson's attack on it. In short, it upset nearly everyone, making them either embarrassed, uncomfortable, indignant, or guilty; some of the delegates felt all of those unpleasant emotions . . . and Jefferson was certainly not the only Southerner whose deepest feelings were reflected in it.
(A New Age Now Begins, Vol. I, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Co., 1976, 704-705)

Historian Forrest McDonald, in a book about the Constitution, wrote, concerning slavery:

Some Americans expressed concern about the matter. No small number of Virginia slaveholders, including Jefferson, Madison, and George Mason, agonized over it, though few made serious efforts to free their own slaves . . . Mason's remarks in the Constitutional Convention were almost repetitive of Jefferson's observations in his Notes on Virginia . . .

". . . Every master of slaves is born a petty tyrant. They bring the judgment of heaven on a Country. As nations cannot be rewarded or punished in the next world they must be in this . . . providence punishes national sins, by national calamities."

[Footnote 53: . . . "Madison's difficulties in reconciling theory with the reality of slavery were clearly heartfelt. See his June 19 statement . . . 'Where slavery exists, the Republican Theory becomes still more fallacious.' "]
[Dave: Mason sounds downright Lincolnesque . . . ]

(Novus Ordo Seclorum: The Intellectual Origins of the Constitution, Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1985, 50)

James Madison nevertheless indulges in moral absurdities in his Federalist Paper No. 54, justifying the notion of slaves as 3/5 of a person legally and population-wise:

In being compelled to labor, not for himself, but for a master; in being vendible by one master to another master; and in being subject at all times to be restrained in his liberty and chastised in his body, by the capricious will of another -- the slave may appear to be degraded from the human rank, and classed with those irrational animals which fall under the legal denomination of property . . .

The federal Constitution, therefore, decides with great propriety on the case of our slaves, when it views them in the mixed character of persons and of property. This is in fact their true character. It is the character bestowed on them by the laws under which they live . . .

Such is the reasoning which an advocate for the Southern interests might employ on this subject; and although it may appear to be a little strained in some points, yet on the whole, I must confess that it fully reconciles me to the scale of representation which the convention have established.
(The Federalist Papers, New York: New American Library, 1961, 337, 340)

The self-contradiction in the "orthodox" Southern position prior to the Civil War is still evident in an essay by a Southerner in 1930, from the famous compilation of twelve Southern writers, I'll Take My Stand: The South and the Agrarian Tradition (New York: Harper Torchbooks; reprinted 1962):

For ten years the South, already ruined by the loss of nearly $2,000,000,000 invested in slaves, with its lands worthless, its cattle and stock gone, its houses burned, was turned over to the three millions of former slaves, some of whom could still remember the taste of human flesh and the bulk of them hardly three generations removed from cannibalism. These half-savage blacks were armed . . .
(Frank Lawrence Owsley, "The Irrepressible Conflict," 62)

Yet Owsley states eleven pages later (p. 73): "Slavery, as we shall see, was part of the agrarian system, but only one element and not an essential one."

Why, then (back to my earlier argument), do the statements of secession read the way they do? There the overwhelming concern is the potential horrific equality of the races as a central platform of Lincoln and the Republican Party, and the loss of $3 to $4 billion dollars worth of slave property. Hence, Owsley states:

The irrepressible conflict, then, was not between slavery and freedom, but between the industrial and commercial civilization of the North and the agrarian civilization of the South. (p. 74)

It was no essential part of the agrarian civilization of the South -- though the Southerners under attack assumed that it was. (p. 76)
But this reasoning breaks down, too, once we realize that this agrarian society was based on slavery and free labor (to the tune of $2-4 billion, depending on whose figures we accept). Without that slave labor, all the wealth produced for the rich plantation owners would obviously be much less (just as corporate profits today would be much less without cheap overseas labor -- some literally in slave camps, as in China).

Any way you look at it, the system rested upon slavery and free labor acquired therein. Otherwise, how could the South be "ruined", according to Owsley, because it lost $2 billion worth of property (i.e., the human property of slaves), yet slavery at the same time was "no essential part" of the economy? That makes no sense. Elsewhere, he freely admits the financial goldmine:

[T]he invention of the cotton gin and the opening of the cotton lands in the Southwest, 1810-36, made the negro slave an economic instrument of great advantage. With the aid of the fresh cheap lands and the negro slave vast fortunes were made in a few years. Both North and South having now conceded that emancipation was impossible, the Southern planters made the most of their new cotton kingdom with a fairly easy conscience. They had considered emancipation honestly and fairly and had found it out of the question. Their skirts were clear. Let the blood of slavery rest upon the heads of those who had forced it upon the South. (p. 78)

Owsley also adopts the same silly, self-serving reasoning that Jefferson tried to include in the Declaration:

Slavery had been practically forced upon the country by England -- over the protest of colonial assemblies. (p. 77)
So England forced America to be slaveholders and the North forced the South to do so also so plantation owners could make a fortune. Yeah, right.

Negroes had come into the Southern Colonies in such numbers that people feared for the integrity of the white race. For the negroes were cannibals and barbarians, and therefore dangerous. (p. 77)
If this weren't enough justification, then Owsley gives us the coup de grace:

. . . slavery as a moral issue is too simple an explanation . . . as one of the many contributing causes of war it needs an explanation which the North has never grasped -- in fact, never can grasp until the negro race covers the North as thickly as it does the lower South. (p. 68)
Be that as it may, Owsley virtually clinches my case for me when he states:

. . . had there not been slavery as an added difference between the agrarian South and industrial North, the two sections would have developed each its own political philosophy to explain and justify its institutions and demands upon the federal government. (p. 84)
If indeed slavery wasn't the central or "essential" issue, then the South should have done what General Longstreet (who later converted to Catholicism) said: it should have freed the slaves before seceding. Then the righteousness of its cause would have been far more defensible, since it wouldn't have been guilty of fighting for states' sovereignty and freedom while upholding slavery, just as the American revolutionaries had been guilty of the moral absurdity of fighting for freedom from colonialism while sanctioning slavery in the Constitution.

I concede that the South had a legal right to secede, every bit as much as America did to secede from the British Empire (that's not my issue). But in both cases, the "cause" was shot-through with a huge moral (not legal) self-contradiction: slavery. The American experiment was thoroughly flawed from its outset: slavery was the original sin.

The American flag represents slavery far more than the Confederate flag does (as black economist Walter Williams points out), because it flew over a nation of legal slavery for 89 years. Therefore, slavery is not a "Southern" flaw; it is an early American flaw that we all share, to our shame (in terms of history and heritage).

Pre-union exploitation of labor in the North and the sad history of subsequent race relations show us, I think, the root of the evils of slavery: cheap labor, racism, and class prejudice. Again, the South had no lock on these faults: it was a nationwide epidemic.

Today we face an evil exponentially greater than slavery ever was: child-killing. At least black slaves were allowed to live, by and large, and they were fed and housed; at least Indians had some length of life before it was snuffed out, and (in many cases) could defend themselves and their homelands.

Now, the greatest crime is to be in one's mother's womb. Preborn children are defined out of the sphere of the human race and legal rights. The Nazis killed 6 million Jews and perhaps 3-4 million more Gentiles in their camps. Stalin starved 10 million Ukrainians. That's a Sunday picnic compared to America's outrageous evils: we have "legally" slaughtered some 47 million babies. Hitler and Stalin murdered because of ethnic background; we murder simply because a human soul and body dares to come into existence apart from the God-like will and sexual and financial conveniences of one or both parents.

How far we have progressed . . . so some Northerners (and "good liberal" Southerners) want to look down their noses on Southerners for a fault that took place 139 or more years ago, while this abominable butchery takes place every day, day in and day out? Talk about beams in one's own eye . . .

* * * * *

Sunday, February 29, 2004

Civil War #1: Slavery as the Stated Primary Cause for Secession

This will be the first of what I hope will be many threads about the Civil War, or War Between the States, or War of Northern Aggression (as it is variously known). I've asked several Southern or "Southern sympathizer" friends of mine (I'm a lifelong Michigander who loves the South and whose mother's father was born in Alabama -- my father was born in Canada, too, so I am half-Canadian) to write a guest post. So far, one has said he would in the near future. I am very interested in this topic and would like particularly to learn more about the Southern perspective on it.

One of my friends up here in Michigan is fond of telling me that slavery was not the primary cause of the Civil War (as I will call it, because of normative usage -- I don't begrudge people using the other terms at all). In digging up some resources for a new post on this topic today, I ran across the following very interesting information, which (I would contend) highly suggests otherwise.

It is from a website called "Declaration of Causes of Seceding States" and it simply cites the documents of secession from four Southern states: Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, and Texas. Here are some highlights, but I would urge anyone who wishes to pursue this discussion to read the documents in their entirety, which will make abundantly clear that slavery was the overwhelmingly dominant reason for the secession of these states. I can't demonstrate that by the selected quotes I have chosen for (relative) brevity's and summary's sake (all bolded emphases added):


[Beginning]: The people of Georgia having dissolved their political connection with the Government of the United States of America, present to their confederates and the world the causes which have led to the separation. For the last ten years we have had numerous and serious causes of complaint against our non-slave-holding confederate States with reference to the subject of African slavery. They have endeavored to weaken our security, to disturb our domestic peace and tranquility, and persistently refused to comply with their express constitutional obligations to us in reference to that property, and by the use of their power in the Federal Government have striven to deprive us of an equal enjoyment of the common Territories of the Republic. This hostile policy of our confederates has been pursued with every circumstance of aggravation which could arouse the passions and excite the hatred of our people, and has placed the two sections of the Union for many years past in the condition of virtual civil war.

. . . A brief history of the rise, progress, and policy of anti-slavery and the political organization into whose hands the administration of the Federal Government has been committed will fully justify the pronounced verdict of the people of Georgia. The party of Lincoln, called the Republican party, under its present name and organization, is of recent origin. It is admitted to be an anti-slavery party . . . anti-slavery is its mission  and its purpose. By anti-slavery it is made a power in the state. The question of slavery was the great difficulty in the way of the formation of the Constitution. While the subordination and the political and social inequality of the African race was fully conceded by all, it was plainly apparent that slavery would soon disappear from what are now the non-slave-holding States of the original thirteen.

. . . The North demanded the application of the principle of prohibition of slavery to all of the territory acquired from Mexico and all other parts of the public domain then and in all future time. It was . . . her fixed purpose to limit, restrain, and finally abolish slavery in the States where it exists. The South with great unanimity declared her purpose to resist the principle of prohibition to the last extremity.

. . . The prohibition of slavery in the Territories, hostility to it everywhere, the equality of the black and white races, disregard of all constitutional guarantees in its favor, were boldly proclaimed by its [i.e., the Republican Party's] leaders and applauded by its followers. With these principles on their banners and these utterances on their lips the majority of the people of the North demand that we shall receive them as our rulers. The prohibition of slavery in the Territories is the cardinal principle of this organization.

. . . for above twenty years the non-slave-holding States generally have wholly refused to deliver up to us persons charged with crimes affecting slave property.

. . . In several of our confederate States a citizen cannot travel the highway with his servant who may voluntarily accompany him, without being declared by law a felon and being subjected to infamous punishments . . .

For twenty years past the abolitionists and their allies in the Northern States have been engaged in constant efforts to subvert our institutions and to excite insurrection and servile war among us.

[End]: . . . by their declared principles and policy they have outlawed $3,000,000,000 of our property in the common territories of the Union; put it under the ban of the Republic in the States where it exists and out of the protection of Federal law everywhere; because they give sanctuary to thieves and incendiaries who assail it to the whole extent of their power, in spite of their most solemn obligations and covenants; because their avowed purpose is to subvert our society and subject us not only to the loss of our property but the destruction of ourselves, our wives, and our children, and the desolation of our homes, our altars, and our firesides. To avoid these evils we resume the powers which our fathers delegated to the Government of the United States, and henceforth will seek new safeguards for our liberty, equality, security, and tranquillity.

[Approved, Tuesday, January 29, 1861]


[Beginning]: In the momentous step which our State has taken of dissolving its connection with the government of which we so long formed a part, it is but just that we should declare the prominent reasons which have induced our course.

Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery-- the greatest material interest of the world. Its labor supplies the product which constitutes by far the largest and most important portions of commerce of the earth. These products are peculiar to the climate verging on the tropical regions, and by an imperious law of nature, none but the black race can bear exposure to the tropical sun. These products have become necessities of the world, and a blow at slavery is a blow at commerce and civilization. That blow has been long aimed at the institution, and was at the point of reaching its consummation. There was no choice left us but submission to the mandates of abolition, or a dissolution of the Union, whose principles had been subverted to work out our ruin.

[Short paragraphs of grievances follow -- eleven of which give specifics: of those, six mention slavery or race; e.g., "It advocates negro equality, socially and politically, and promotes insurrection and incendiarism in our midst."]

[End]: Utter subjugation awaits us in the Union, if we should consent longer to remain in it. It is not a matter of choice, but of necessity. We must either submit to degradation, and to the loss of property worth four billions of money, or we must secede from the Union framed by our fathers, to secure this as well as every other species of property. For far less cause than this, our fathers separated from the Crown of England.

Our decision is made. We follow their footsteps. We embrace the alternative of separation; and for the reasons here stated, we resolve to maintain our rights with the full consciousness of the justice of our course, and the undoubting belief of our ability to maintain it.

South Carolina

[begins with an exposition on the sovereignty of states, but as soon as specifics are mentioned, slavery is obviously the primary consideration]

. . . The General Government, as the common agent, passed laws to carry into effect these stipulations of the States. For many years these laws were executed. But an increasing hostility on the part of the non-slaveholding States to the institution of slavery, has led to a disregard of their obligations, and the laws of the General Government have ceased to effect the objects of the Constitution.

. . . In the State of New York even the right of transit for a slave has been denied by her tribunals; and the States of Ohio and Iowa have refused to surrender to justice fugitives charged with murder, and with inciting servile insurrection in the State of Virginia. Thus the constituted compact has been deliberately broken and disregarded by the non-slaveholding States, and the consequence follows that South Carolina is released from her obligation.

. . . We affirm that these ends for which this Government was instituted have been defeated, and the Government itself has been made destructive of them by the action of the non-slaveholding States. Those States have assume the right of deciding upon the propriety of our domestic institutions; and have denied the rights of property established in fifteen of the States and recognized by the Constitution; they have denounced as sinful the institution of slavery; they have permitted open establishment among them of societies, whose avowed object is to disturb the peace and to eloign the property of the citizens of other States. They have encouraged and assisted thousands of our slaves to leave their homes; and those who remain, have been incited by emissaries, books and pictures to servile insurrection.

[End]: . . . A geographical line has been drawn across the Union, and all the States north of that line have united in the election of a man to the high office of President of the United States, whose opinions and purposes are hostile to slavery. He is to be entrusted with the administration of the common Government, because he has declared that that "Government cannot endure permanently half slave, half free," and that the public mind must rest in the belief that slavery is in the course of ultimate extinction.

This sectional combination for the submersion of the Constitution, has been aided in some of the States by elevating to citizenship, persons who, by the supreme law of the land, are incapable of becoming citizens; and their votes have been used to inaugurate a new policy, hostile to the South, and destructive of its beliefs and safety.

On the 4th day of March next, this party will take possession of the Government. It has announced that the South shall be excluded from the common territory, that the judicial tribunals shall be made sectional, and that a war must be waged against slavery until it shall cease throughout the United States.

The guaranties of the Constitution will then no longer exist; the equal rights of the States will be lost. The slaveholding States will no longer have the power of self-government, or self-protection, and the Federal Government will have become their enemy.

Sectional interest and animosity will deepen the irritation, and all hope of remedy is rendered vain, by the fact that public opinion at the North has invested a great political error with the sanction of more erroneous religious belief.

We, therefore, the People of South Carolina, by our delegates in Convention assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, have solemnly declared that the Union heretofore existing between this State and the other States of North America, is dissolved, and that the State of South Carolina has resumed her position among the nations of the world, as a separate and independent State; with full power to levy war, conclude peace, contract alliances, establish commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.

[Adopted December 24, 1860]


[begins with the history of Texan independence and conditions of joining the United States as a state]

. . . She was received as a commonwealth holding, maintaining and protecting the institution known as negro slavery-- the servitude of the African to the white race within her limits-- a relation that had existed from the first settlement of her wilderness by the white race, and which her people intended should exist in all future time. Her institutions and geographical position established the strongest ties between her and other slave-holding States of the confederacy. Those ties have been strengthened by association. But what has been the course of the government of the United States, and of the people and authorities of the non-slave-holding States, since our connection with them?

. . . The States of Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Iowa, by solemn legislative enactments, have deliberately, directly or indirectly violated the 3rd clause of the 2nd section of the 4th article [the fugitive slave clause] of the federal constitution, and laws passed in pursuance thereof; thereby annulling a material provision of the compact, designed by its framers to perpetuate the amity between the members of the confederacy and to secure the rights of the slave-holding States in their domestic institutions-- a provision founded in justice and wisdom, and without the enforcement of which the compact fails to accomplish the object of its creation . . .

In all the non-slave-holding States, in violation of that good faith and comity which should exist between entirely distinct nations, the people have formed themselves into a great sectional party, now strong enough in numbers to control the affairs of each of those States, based upon an unnatural feeling of hostility to these Southern States and their beneficent and patriarchal system of African slavery, proclaiming the debasing doctrine of equality of all men, irrespective of race or color-- a doctrine at war with nature, in opposition to the experience of mankind, and in violation of the plainest revelations of Divine Law. They demand the abolition of negro slavery throughout the confederacy, the recognition of political equality between the white and negro races, and avow their determination to press on their crusade against us, so long as a negro slave remains in these States.

[ten short paragraphs of grievances follow: seven of which mention slavery]

. . . We hold as undeniable truths that the governments of the various States, and of the confederacy itself, were established exclusively by the white race, for themselves and their posterity; that the African race had no agency in their establishment; that they were rightfully held and regarded as an inferior and dependent race, and in that condition only could their existence in this country be rendered beneficial or tolerable.

That in this free government all white men are and of right ought to be entitled to equal civil and political rights [emphasis in the original]; that the servitude of the African race, as existing in these States, is mutually beneficial to both bond and free, and is abundantly authorized and justified by the experience of mankind, and the revealed will of the Almighty Creator, as recognized by all Christian nations; while the destruction of the existing relations between the two races, as advocated by our sectional enemies, would bring inevitable calamities upon both and desolation upon the fifteen slave-holding

[adopted: February 2, 1861]

* * * 

Lenten Meditation #1: The New Testament on Suffering With Christ

From my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (1996), pp. 158-161.

Matthew 10:38 / 16:24 [RSV] And he who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.

Then Jesus told his disciples, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me."

(see also Mark 8:34-35)

The disciple of Christ is called to suffer (Matthew 10:22, Mark 10:37-39, Luke 6:22, Acts 14:22, Romans 5:3-5, 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, Philippians 1:29, 1 Thessalonians 3:3, 2 Timothy 1:8, 2:3, 3:12, Hebrews 5:8, James 1:2-4,12, 1 Peter 1:6-7, 2:20-21, 4:12-19, Revelation 1:9).

No biblically informed Christian would dispute that. Controversy only arises over whether such sufferings can improve one's estate vis-a-vis salvation, or help anyone else in the Body of Christ. Catholics believe that all our sufferings can be a source of grace for the one experiencing them as well as helpful with regard to the spiritual graces of another (Romans 15:1, 1 Corinthians 12:24-26), to whom these penitential sufferings are applied (as in intercessory prayer), thus giving suffering the highest possible purpose and meaning.

Furthermore, the painful experience of being corrected by God, as parents discipline their children (Leviticus 26:23-24, Deuteronomy 8:2,5, 2 Samuel 7:14, Job 5:17-18, Psalm 89:30-34, 94:12, 103:9, 118:18, 119:67,71,75, Proverbs 3:11-12, Isaiah 48:10, Jeremiah 10:24, 30:11, 31:18, Zechariah 13:9, Malachi 3:3, 1 Corinthians 11:32, Hebrews 12:5-11, Revelation 3:19), is quite similar to the Catholic notion of temporal punishments for sin, which can be lessened by penance.

St. Paul explicitly expounds the Catholic doctrine of penance, suffering, and vicarious atonement in the following sixteen passages:

Romans 8:13, 17 For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live . . . and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.

(see also 1 Corinthians 15:31, 2 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Peter 4:1,13)

1 Corinthians 11:27, 30 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord . . . That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

(see also 11:31-32, 1 Corinthians 5:5)

2 Corinthians 4:10 Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies.

(see also 2 Corinthians 1:5-7)

Philippians 2:17 Even if I am to be poured out as a libation upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

(see also 2 Corinthians 6:4-10)

Philippians 3:10 That I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death.

(see also Galatians 2:20)

2 Timothy 4:6 For I am already on the point of being sacrificed; the time of my departure has come.

(see also Romans 12:1)

In this verse and in Philippians 2:17, the Greek word for libation and sacrifice is spendomai. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament which was the Bible of the early Christians, this term is used for a variety of offerings and sacrifices commanded by the Mosaic Law (for example, Genesis 35:14, Exodus 29:12,38 ff., Leviticus 4:7 ff., 23:37).

Most intriguing is its occurrence with reference to the Messiah, Jesus, in Isaiah 53:12: . . . he poured out his soul to death . . . It appears, then, that St. Paul is stressing a mystical, profound identification with Jesus even in His death (as also in 2 Corinthians 4:10 and Philippians 3:10 above).

This comparison leads inexorably to the Catholic doctrine of vicarious atonement among members of the Body of Christ. In some mysterious, glorious way God chooses to involve us in the very Redemption (always in a secondary and derivative sense, but actual nonetheless), just as He voluntarily involves us in His Providence by means of prayer and evangelism, and in His Creation by our procreation and childbirth.

Our sufferings become identified with those of Christ (instances of the stigmata, whereby saintly persons -- such as St. Francis of Assisi -- actually receive the wounds of Christ in their bodies, are an extremely graphic image of this scriptural teaching).

Since we are the Body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:27, Ephesians 1:22-23, 5:30, Colossians 1:24 below), such a "radical" convergence is not to be unexpected. For instance, when St. Paul was converted to Christ, Jesus said to him, I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting (Acts 9:5). This couldn't literally refer to Jesus the Divine Person since He had already ascended to heaven (Acts 1:9-11). Rather, Jesus meant that Christ's Church really was His Body, whom Paul (Saul) was persecuting (Acts 8:1,3, 9:1-2).

Jesus also identifies the Church with Himself in Matthew 25:34-45 (25:40 -- brethren. Compare Matthew 12:50, 28:10, John 20:17). Thus, Jesus' sufferings are ours, and ours are His in a very real sense, as St. Paul unmistakably teaches, particularly and most strikingly in Colossians 1:24:

Colossians 1:24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ's afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.

(see also 2 Corinthians 11:23-30, Galatians 6:17)

Saturday, February 28, 2004

Why Catholics Believe in the Perpetual Virginity of Mary

The following is based on a chat on a blog with two Protestants (both Presbyterian, I believe, and one a pastor). It is, therefore, written in the first person. Their thoughts are paraphrased in brackets.

* * *

[It was stated that nothing in the New Testament "even remotely suggests" the perpetual virginity of Mary.]

But there is nothing in the Bible that even remotely suggests the biblical canon, either, yet you accept a tradition handed down to you by a local council, approved by the pope (excepting the "apocryphal books" which were also accepted by that council and never separated from the other books in Scripture until the 16th century).

This is the point: we all accept some traditions which are not, or may not be (arguably) explicitly biblical, or in the Bible at all. You haven't answered my question yet (this is now my 3rd time asking -- Ted Koppel style) about why Protestants have shifted away from this and why Luther and Calvin accepted it, but I am happy to answer your question (Why do I believe in this doctrine?). I believe it first of all because it is received Christian tradition; denied by virtually no one until liberal theology started becoming a force. That's an argument in and of itself, of course, but we all accept received traditions in some manner.

You accept the Westminster Confession and TULIP and the Protestant canon, and so forth. A Catholic accepts the perpetual virginity of Mary, as it is a dogma, proclaimed early on by an ecumenical council (Ephesus, 431). That's more than enough reason for us, given our epistemological presuppositions and our Rule of Faith.

But of course you are probing beyond that and want to know the biblical and theological "why's". That's fine; that's what I do as my profession: an apologist, and I appreciate the opportunity and your congeniality and graciousness to this Catholic guest on your blog.

The Catholic believes about this the same thing that he believes about the Immaculate Conception of Mary: neither doctrine is ontologically, intrinsically necessary. Rather, both are seen as "fitting" and the way things should properly be. I can't think of a Protestant parallel to this offhand but I'm sure there are some.

It was fitting (but not absolutely necessary -- where it couldn't have been otherwise in any other world) for Mary to be without sin (actual and original) because she was the Mother of God (Theotokos). Likewise, we think it is altogether fitting that she remain a virgin after bearing Christ.

Partly this is because of the nature of the miracle itself: Mary was a virgin and we believe that even the birth was miraculous (that Mary's virginity -- without getting physiologically graphic -- was retained even during and after the birth). This is traditional Catholic dogma (and, I believe, Orthodox, too).

It strengthens and supports the doctrine of the Virgin Birth (Mariology is always christocentric). It's a miracle to have a virgin birth: a conception without the participation of a man. If Mary had had other children, and a normal sexual life after, people could always say, "well, how do we know that Jesus' birth was before she started being sexually active? Why should we believe all this Holy Spirit 'overshadowing' foolishness?"

I believe that is part of the traditional theological reasoning on this, though I am basically speaking for myself here, not necessarily "officially" for what the Catholic Church would say. If we pursue this, of course I could look up what Aquinas and Augustine and others said about it.

The second thing is the appropriateness or propriety that the womb which bore the God-Man should not bear another child. One either grasps and accepts that notion or they don't. It is not an argument from reason or Bible but from propriety (which is a very subjective thing and often culturally determined). It can't and won't be perceived or understood by the usual Protestant outlook of "everything must be fairly explicit in the Bible or else we reject it utterly."

Traditional Catholic thought (particularly regarding Mary) does not operate along those lines. The Church ponders things for centuries. It did so with regard to christology (up to 451 and even after if we include the Monothelite controversies); it did with regard to the biblical canon (up to 397) and it did so with Mariology.

So that is the argument from tradition and "fittingness." I know it sounds very foreign to Protestant ears, but I can't help that, in explaining why we believe as we do, and how I understand the belief, in my apologetic, reason-loving mind. The biblical data is another matter; of a different nature. What we have would not require (and perhaps not even suggest) this belief on the surface, but I think that when we examine it closely, it at least suggests it, or at the very least shows us that the data we do know about is perfectly compatible with the notion. One can make many deductions from what we know: some of which rule out that blood brothers are being referred to in specific instances of adelphos.

There are other "situational" arguments from plausibility, such as: "where were Jesus' siblings when He went to the Temple at age 12? If he had them, certainly they would have been around, no? -- unless there was a 12-year gap between births. The narrative (Lk 2:41-52) gives not the slightest hint that there were any brothers involved. When Joseph and Mary were looking for Him, it doesn't say they went to His supposed five brothers and four sisters (I would certainly do that first, as a parent); rather, "they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances" (Lk 2:44; RSV). When they leave, it reads, "And he went down with them and came to Nazareth . . . " (2:51).

Now, this doesn't technically rule out siblings, true, but it sure doesn't positively suggest them, does it? If I took my three sons and a daughter down to Cedar Point for a day of fun, would I talk about it as "I took my first son . . . " without mentioning the other three? No, not likely. You could do that if you were talking about one child specifically in another context ("Joe's a good kid; we have a lot of fun together; the other day I took him to the carnival . .," etc.), but chances are if you were simply describing the day, you would mention all the children.

Why did Jesus ask John to in effect be Mary's son after He died? Semitic custom would have dictated that He ask His blood brothers to do so. All you have to go by, on the other hand (that I can see) is mention of "brothers" -- but this proves nothing because there is such a wide range of meaning for the word adelphos.

[The pastor stated that the Bible gives "explicit" reasons for not accepting perpetual virginity.]

This I deny. It's based on an interpretation of the meaning of adelphos in specific instances that is by no means necessary or certain (or even plausible, I would contend). Unless you have some new arguments I haven't run across before . . .

[The second person said that much of my biblical argument was merely an argument from silence.]

I don't see how. I gave two positive arguments: Jesus at the temple at age 12 and John taking Mary as his "mother" rather than all these supposed siblings running around everywhere. I also noted that there were deductive arguments that ruled out blood brothers in various specific instances. I have yet to present that, so all my cards aren't on the table yet.

Tradition trumps the (current, not traditional) Protestant position on this one. The ancient Church was right when its councils proclaimed on things like the Holy Trinity and the canon of Scripture. I see no reason to believe that it erred with regard to the perpetual virginity of the Blessed Virgin in 431.

And what is the "positive" evidence to deny this? Interpreting adelphos literally as "blood brothers" when any lexicon will quickly show you that it has a very wide range of meanings.

Sometimes Protestants will say, "well then, why didn't the Bible use the Greek term for "cousins"? The reason is simple. Adelphos and the Hebrew equivalent (I forget what it is) functioned much like our word "brother" in English. We have the word "cousin" too, but we use "brother" for friends, ethnic groups, religions (e.g., how Catholics say "separated brethren" and Protestants will say "my Catholic brother"). We say "brother in Christ," "brothers" in terms of fellow soldiers, the "big brother" mentoring system where the man is not a sibling and functions like a father in some cases, etc. So the word can mean sibling, but it can also mean much else. In Semitic culture, extended family was much more important too, so a cousin could be called a "brother."

The biblical evidence can be summarized as follows:

1. Many Protestants assume that whenever they read of Jesus' "brothers," this is referring to His siblings, other sons and daughters of Mary. But it is not that simple. Adelphos, the Gk. word for "brother" in the NT, has multiple meanings (like the English word), and they all appear frequently in Scripture. In addition to sibling, it can also denote

(1) those of the same nationality (Acts 3:17;
Rom 9:3);
(2) any man, or neighbor (Mt 5:22; Lk 10:29);
(3) persons with like interests (Mt 5:47);
(4) distant descendants of the same parents (Acts 7:23,26; Heb 7:5);
(5) persons united by a
common calling (Rev 22:9);
(6) mankind (Mt 25:40; Heb 2:17);
(7) the disciples (Mt 28:10; Jn
(8) all believers (Mt 23:8; Acts 1:15; Rom 1:13; 1 Thess 1:4; Rev 19:10).

Clearly, then, this issue is not at all settled by the mere word "brother" / adelphos in the Bible, and a more in-depth examination of the biblical data will be necessary.

2. "Brethren" - Biblical Exegesis

A. By comparing Gen 14:14 with 11:26-7, we find that Lot, called Abraham's "brother", is actually his nephew.

B. Jacob is called the "brother" of his Uncle Laban (Gen 29:10,15).

C. Cis and Eleazar are described as "brethren", whereas they are literally cousins (1 Chron 23:21-2).

D. "Brethren" as mere kinsmen: Deut 23:7; 2 Sam 1:26; 1 Ki 9:13; 2:32; 2 Ki 10:13-14; Jer 34:9; Amos 1:9.

E. Neither Hebrew or Aramaic has a word for "cousin." The NT retains this Hebrew usage by using adelphos, even when non-siblings are being referred to.

F. In Lk 2:41-51, Joseph and Mary take Jesus to the Temple at the age of twelve, with no sign of any other siblings.

G. Jesus Himself uses "brethren" in the larger sense (Mt 23:1,8; 12:49).

H. By comparing Mt 27:56; Mk 15:40; and Jn 19:25, we find that James and Joseph - mentioned in Mt 13:55 with Simon and Jude as Jesus' "brethren" - are also called sons of Mary, wife of Clopas. This other Mary (Mt 27:61; 28:1) is called Mary's adelphe in Jn 19:25 (two Marys in one family?! - thus even this usage apparently means "cousins" or more distant relative). Mt 13:55 and Mk 6:3 mention Simon, Jude and "sisters" along with James and Joseph, calling all adelphoi. Since we know that James and Joseph are not Jesus' blood brothers, it is likely that all these other "brethren" are cousins, according to the linguistic conventions discussed above.

I. Even standard evangelical Protestant commentaries such as Jamieson, Fausset & Brown admit that the question is not a simple one: "an exceedingly difficult question . . . nor are opinions yet by any means agreed . . . vexed question, encompassed with difficulties." (commentary for Mt 13:55)

J. Some Protestant commentators maintain that Mt 1:24-5 ("Joseph knew her not till . . .") implies that Mary had marital relations after the birth of Jesus. This does not follow, since "till" does not necessarily imply a change of behavior after the time to which it refers (cf. similar instances in 1 Sam 15:35; 2 Sam 6:23; Mt 12:20; Rom 8:22; 1 Tim 4:13; 6:14; Rev 2:25).

K. Likewise, "firstborn" (Mt 1:25) need not imply later children. A mother's first child is her "firstborn" regardless if any follow or not (Ex 13:2). Also, in the Bible, "firstborn" often means "preeminent," and even applies to those who are not literally the first child (Jer 31:9), or, metaphorically, to groups (Ex 4:22; Heb 12:23). Thus, "firstborn" in Mt 1:25 actually is more of an indication that Jesus is Mary's only child, than that there were others. This position is held by many evangelical Protestant scholars on these criteria, rather than Catholic dogmatic grounds.

* * *

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Thoughts on Mary in "The Passion" and So-Called "Catholic" Elements

First of all, I am always interested in speaking the language that my Protestant brothers and sisters can relate to, according to the dictates of Vatican II, ecumenism, and my emphasis of building bridges between the two camps (stressing things where we entirely agree) and working for greater mutual respect and understanding. So in the present context, I naturally tended to write in ways which did not sound specifically "Catholic." St. Paul urged us to "be all things to all people."

Secondly, I actually don't believe there is all that much in the film specifically "Catholic" at all. What is there is explicitly biblical, for the most part. We can all agree on this. It has been said a lot that Protestants don't emphasize the suffering of Christ as much as we do, and tend to go right to the Resurrection and Glorified Jesus (I heard a Protestant scholar from Fuller Seminary on a news show yesterday humbly concede this very point).

This is true, but I would contend that it is not intrinsic to Protestantism. I think it is a failure in practice and in emphasis that has come about probably largely due to over-reaction against Catholicism.

It's not inherent in Protestantism because Lutherans (the original Protestants) have a robust theology of the cross, and traditional or "Anglo-Catholic" high church Anglicans hold to many of the same beliefs and emphases that we do. Many individual Protestants of many stripes do not fall into this trap. I was never of this mindset when I was a low church evangelical Baptist-type Protestant -- who didn't care much for liturgy or sacramentalism -- (though I certainly understand these things better as a Catholic than I used to). We would put out our little sculpture of Michelangelo's Pieta during Easter season just as we do now. We understood this. It was common (biblical) sense.

I have a little semi-humorous response that I make when a Protestant asks me why I am concentrating on Jesus on the cross when He is in heaven now. I ask them, "then why do you reflect upon Jesus in a manger as a baby at Christmas, then?"

Failure in practice in Protestantism is the same as the failures in practice of Catholics; e.g., our abysmal lack of Bible knowledge and Bible study. That is not intrinsic to Catholicism, but it is, sadly, the way things are for many, many Catholics (for a variety of reasons), and Protestants understand this far better than we do. We can help each other and complement each other. Likewise, the ignorance of Church history among many Protestants . . .

That said, I do think there were arguably some particularly "Catholic" elements in the film (in some sense) and I will now note them. One was the wiping up of the blood of Jesus after the scourging. That is very "Catholic" because it constitutes a relic. But even here, this is a "biblical thing" at bottom, not a "Catholic thing," because the Bible reports how the bones of Elisha brought a dead man to life; the shadow of Peter healed people, and Paul's handkerchief did the same.

Therefore, to the extent that Protestants would frown upon this, they are not being as "biblical" as we are. Ironic, isn't it? Opposition to this would be every bit as irrational and unbiblical as opposition to crucifixes or meditation upon Jesus' sufferings in the Rosary or in other ways. It so happens that we Catholics "get" this and many Protestants don't, but that doesn't make it intrinsically "Catholic" -- just "Catholic-practiced" and (mostly) "Protestant-ignored."

One might say that the big role for the Blessed Virgin Mary in the film was a "Catholic thing." I don't see how, because this is simply historical fact. We know from the Bible that she and John and a few other women were the only followers of Jesus present at the crucifixion. So it is not unreasonable to assume that she was present for some or all of the other proceedings (especially since it was all on one day and mostly in one area). Mainly it shows her following Jesus and suffering with Him, empathetically and maternally.

This is simply history (or reasonable assumptions about what probably occurred). It is no more "Catholic" (whatever one's Mariology might be) to show a mother concerned about her son being tortured and killed than it is to show John watching the whole thing, too, or for any of us "watching" vicariously through the medium of cinema.

The film presents a visual representation of the "Pieta": Mary holding her dead Son Jesus (as in Jesus of Nazareth which had a very moving similar scene -- that gets me every time -- , but with Mary wailing uncontrollably). Is this peculiarly "Catholic"? If it is, it is only insofar as Protestants wish to deny that it might have happened just like that, since Mary was at the cross, and loved her Son, and would want to hold Him even in death, as the natural impulse of any mother (or father) would dictate. So I just don't see it. That is not Catholic theology (i.e., no more Catholic than Protestant): it is simply being a normal human being and a mother.

What I found very "Catholic" myself was the careful way in which Gibson portrayed Mary: she was (of course) extremely distraught and in agony, yet it was with a certain stoicisim and acceptance that this was the way it had to be (and this interpretation was followed through in the "pieta" scene as well).

She knew her Son came to die and redeem the human race and she knew it early on (arguably from Simeon's prophecy (Luke 2:35) but in all likelihood earlier, because she knew He was the Messiah (right from the angel at the Annunciation) and if she knew her Scripture she would have known that Messiah was to suffer and even die for us (e.g., Isaiah 53). Furthermore, He talked about it quite a bit. The disciples may have been dense about that, but it doesn't follow that she was, too. She heard this and understood it. Views about the "ignorance" of Mary with regard to Christ's mission are unbiblical, implausible, and "liberal" in the same way that views about Jesus' "ignorance" are.

Therefore, Mary willingly accepts His passion and death. That doesn't mean she was overjoyed about it (any more than Jesus Himself was); only that she suffered in a way that excluded the total despair of a person who has lost all hope and sees no meaning whatsoever in some suffering or calamity. There is a huge emotional and existential difference between despair and a distraught state and utter, black despair without hope or meaning.

I believe Gibson was consciously aware of this and incorporated it into the film; otherwise Mary would have cried and carried on much more than she did (just as we viewers cried and carried on).

Lastly, here is what I thought was perhaps the most distinctively "Catholic" moment in the film (and no one I have yet read caught it). It's just my opinion and mere speculation, but see what you think: During the "pieta" scene, Mary looks straight at the camera for a long time and I agree that this could be read as her saying "why did you do this to my Son?," or "look what love my Son had for you."

But a detail I noticed was that her right hand was opened, either heavenward or towards the viewer (I'd have to see it again). That might be construed as Mary offering Jesus her Son up to the Father, much in the way that we participate in the Sacrifice of the Mass every Sunday. This is quite Catholic. My wife noted that it might also signify Mary saying, "come accept the salvation that my Son just made possible by His horrible suffering." Mary in turn helped make that possible by bearing Jesus in the first place (being the Theotokos); thus participating in the Incarnation, without which there is no Redemption.

Does that make Mary equal to God or Jesus, or make her role in salvation history at all equal or on the same level as the work of Jesus. No, no, and NO (with the highest emphasis). But it does make her a key human "player" in redemptive history. And that is very "Catholic" indeed, but also -- I firmly believe -- not contrary to biblical teaching, even if not explicitly spelled out in it.

But I admit that this is speculation based on one observation of a gesture in the movie. Take it for what it's worth. If Gibson ever confirms this, then my impression will have been justified.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004

"The Passion": My Reaction (and Yours)

The following is one of the most difficult things I have ever written (and writing comes very easy for me), because words are so utterly inadequate to describe the impact of this film. One could cite Holy Scripture, but Christians are already familiar with that, and the biblical passion is a different thing than the filmed version of it (i.e., one is real; the other is artistic depiction, which can be done in many kinds of ways). I'll try to do the best that I can do, given these limitations. I wanted to write "fresh" from seeing the movie . . .

One could talk about the now-familiar phenomenon of the silent audiences after it is over (so I will). I didn't look around too much because I was almost in front (I didn't want any distractions), but I did see many people sitting in stunned shock, teary-eyed, in a daze.

The two women about ten seats away from me in my row certainly broke down several times, but that wasn't all that different from my own reactions (I maintained general composure -- being a guy and all -- but I had to wipe my eyes three times so I could keep watching).

The most difficult scene to endure for me was the one where it shows the Blessed Virgin Mary comforting Jesus as a child, juxtaposed with His carrying of the cross and His mother watching in agony and yearning to comfort Him again. I don't think any mother in the world could get through that dry-eyed (and fathers are not all that different, when it comes down to it). It's enough to break your heart all by itself in a film otherwise far and away the most emotionally intense imaginable.

Driving home, about 15 minutes after it ended -- in a daze and moved beyond words, I happened to look over to a car at an intersection and I noticed a couple waiting at a red light, both with their heads tilted to the side and buried in their hands.

This is the way to do a biblically based movie. It is absolutely realistic; it shows what it would have been like to be there at the time. It took over a hundred years for the movies to finally show the day of crucifixion as it was. We have long since known all the technical and physiological details of crucifixion, scourging (and those scenes in the movie are arguably more excruciating than even the crucifixion, apart from the unbelievably graphic "nails" sequences), the brutality of Roman soldiers, etc., from historical research.

But no one (for some odd reason) ever put it all together in one film, as Mel Gibson has done. The Passion, in its extraordinary realism, makes the similar scenes of Jesus of Nazareth (my favorite Christian movie up till now, and superb in its own right) look like a tea party in the park.

It is real and gory and gruesome and almost impossibly painful and gut-wrenching to watch, while at the same time the direction and cinematography and acting and editing and music are all first-rate (so that it is so much more than what a video recording of the same events might have looked like).

It is art gloriously at the service of history and Christianity. The use of slow motion and flashbacks to related incidents; the devil figure, insinuations of demons (both outward and inner ones) the crushed-yet-accepting reactions of the Virgin Mary, the mocking soldiers and sneering Jewish leaders: all are brilliantly done.

What I felt as I watched it, is fairly simple to at least summarize, if not to fully describe: how it feels "on the inside". I kept thinking to myself: "God loves us THIS much; He was willing to go through all THIS! What love, what love, what love, what mercy, what forgiveness; what an awesome, GOOD GOD we have! How unworthy WE are to deserve any of this . . . "

Those who know a bit of theology about what God had to do and what He chose to do, may know that both St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas held that there could have been another way to accomplish redemption: God being God (with all power and knowledge). That only makes the impact of this film all the more profound: Jesus went through these unspeakable tortures for our sake.

He did it willingly. He knew what was to happen (many passages in Scripture). He chose to suffer for us and with us, because that is such a prominent characteristic of life for most human beings throughout history -- for the purpose of saving our souls (we who are absolutely unworthy of such salvation).

And beyond that, the biblically literate person knows that our Lord Jesus had the load of the entirety of human sin on His shoulders as well. There is no way to adequately portray the unfathomable horror and ugliness and "cosmic catastrophe" of that, even in a remarkable film like this. It can't be described in words, either (even the Bible doesn't attempt to say all that much about it). It can scarcely be comprehended by our small human minds.

That's what I thought of and felt soul-deep while watching this film. You can read the well-known passages in the Scripture, such as "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). We Christians hear and read that all the time and casually process it into our brains, more or less abstractly.

But a film like this shows what the kind of love that the God-Man Jesus has for us, entails. We believe it, but The Passion gives us a chance to SEE it and experience this love, right before our eyes and deep down into our hearts and souls.

And that is the beauty and power of dramatic presentations of the biblical events -- especially of the life of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. They appeal to the whole person and make the Bible come to life. I've always been very moved by the better biblical films (sadly, there aren't many which don't have some phony or corny or "Hollywoodish" elements in them).

This one is perfect. I don't see how it could have been done any better. I'm no film expert, but I could easily see how someone might think this is among the best movies ever made, in any genre. After all, Gibson won the Oscar for Best Director and Best Movie for Braveheart, so he is not without great skill as a filmmaker.

How one reacts, watching this, is not just the emotion that any normal human being would feel, seeing a person tortured and mistreated for the better part of two hours; it is the realization of what redemption cost God. And the more we realize what it cost Him, the more we see how utterly lost in sin we all were before the spiritual power of regeneration was graciously applied to us by God the Father, through the Holy Spirit, as a result of what Jesus did for us on that dreadful, horrific Good Friday.

If this film doesn't move a person down to their bones and fingernails and the deepest recesses of their souls, -- both emotionally and (hopefully) spiritually -- then they are as un-alive as a rock. And no one who is not changed in some way for the better by watching this, has any inkling of the sublime events which it portrays.

To recognize that level of spiritual deadness in oneself (itself only by the grace of God) would be even more terrifying that what the sin of mankind caused Jesus to have to endure -- what this film enables us to SEE as we never have before; "Jesus died for you" -- , yet it would be the first step towards redemption and salvation (which, in a word, is the entirety of what this film is about).

May all Christians unite in our prayers and efforts: that this extraordinary movie may bring about many changed lives, and more and more committed disciples of our Lord Jesus. This is our moment. The time is now. Let's stop our stupid and petty in-fighting (over these basic issues where we should all readily agree) and show the world what Christianity is really all about. The film is the first step: our behavior as Christians is the crucial second part of the witness. Please God, be with us; it's the least we can do to thank You for what You have done for us . . .