Tuesday, March 16, 2004

Psychology of, and Reasons for Catholic and Christian Belief

By Dave Armstrong (3-16-04)

C. S. Lewis presupposed the existence of natural law and morality in his apologetics and argues that Christian morality merely builds upon what is already known by pagans and heathen (what he calls the "Tao" in his appendix of his book, The Abolition of Man).

St. Thomas Aquinas makes a (rather famous) clear distinction between natural law and revelation or faith. He argues, for example, that men can know that God exists from creation, but that a doctrine like the Holy Trinity can only be known through supernatural faith and revelation.

I think (as anyone would fully expect) that the theistic proofs are compelling and the atheist ones implausible and fallacious, yet I believe that the "psychological" aspects of belief (all sorts of belief, not just religious faith; i.e., epistemology) and the many many complex influences which make one believe what they do, "nullify" -- in large part --, the clearness of the objective proofs qua proofs.

In effect, then, it would not be such a clear thing, either way, once these other non-philosophical influences and factors are taken into account. Nor (for largely the same reason) is it so straightforward (as some atheists seem to think), that if a person is presented with a fantastic miracle, that they automatically believe in God or Christianity. That is not the biblical teaching, nor what we have learned from human experience and history. And that is because every person comes to the table with a host of prior belief-paradigms and theoretical frameworks, and experiences, including the emotions and the will, which are not to be underestimated, either, in their effect on beliefs, in all people, of whatever stripe.

I think any belief is extremely psychologically and intellectually complex. I don't question anyone's sincerity or intellectual honesty. That's not the issue. Both sides have to come up with some reason why the "other guys" aren't convinced by the same evidence.

We all see things through an interpretive grid. We emphasize and tend to see and not see certain things according to what our prior position is. This is natural and it is not necessarily a bad thing. It simply is. It is the way brains and minds function: how they make sense of reality, and construct and organize the outer reality (whatever it really is) abstractly for themselves. I often see a parallel in philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn's classic analysis: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. We all have paradigms that guide our perceptions. That is true in theology as well as in science. One has to overthrow the paradigm to see things fundamentally differently. And before that happens it is extremely difficult to even see, let alone comprehend another framework, theory, or worldview.


And this is because worldviews and theories start with different assumptions. Then the house is built upon those foundational assumptions. Therefore, I don't have to assert that Protestants are "dishonest" or "stupid" because they can't see what I take to be evident realities about certain of the Fathers' views on various doctrinal matters, and so forth. They see what they have been conditioned to see, based on their own presuppositional grid.

And the Catholic does the same from his Catholic grid. I have never denied this. I believe it about all fields of knowledge, across the board. I understand the Protestant position on this because I used to hold it myself. I can see both sides, having held both. I think it is a worthwhile exercise, however, to compare two paradigms and try to determine relative plausibility and factuality.

I regard Christian faith as an extraordinarily complex phenomenon, arrived at (apart from the absolutely necessary and definitive grace of God, of course; speaking strictly of the human, intellectual reasons one would give for having adopted Christianity) by many, many factors, some of which are rational in nature, some not; some intellectual, and others "psychological" or "environmental."

Some critics of the Catholic Church seem to think that Catholics believe Catholicism is "clear as day" and that anyone who doesn't see this and convert is a scoundrel, dishonest, pulls the wings off of flies, etc. I have responded that I follow Cardinal Newman's philosophy. For Newman and for myself, conversion (to Christianity in general or to Catholicism in particular) is an extraordinarily complicated process.

In a limited, theoretical (one might say, "human") sense, no knowledge is absolutely positively certain. But that's from the outlook of mere reason and philosophy in and of themselves, not the "eyes of faith," so to speak. Christians possess certainties by faith, which the outsider does not have, and in many cases is not even able to comprehend, let alone accept.

So when I claim that I am "open-minded" and would consider a possibility (however remote -- and it assuredly is) that Catholicism is wrong, I am going as far as I can go in abstractly arguing philosophically, or "historically." I would contend that the very fact that Christianity is -- by nature -- unavoidably and intrinsically historical and reasonable, and that the apostles (following the lead of Jesus) sought to bring forth real reasons and evidences for faith, presupposes that it is also possible to disprove Catholicism and Christianity in general. If we can offer no proofs from reason, history, OT Scripture, etc., then we are engaging in pure fideism (faith without any reasons whatsoever), in which case, Christianity cannot be disproven, either. I don't think that this is the case, and that if it were, Christianity would possess far less credibility than it does now, from the perspective of the unbeliever.

Sometimes it is implied that anyone who takes a certain view and defends it is special pleading; therefore not seeking after truth. That would mean that the only honest intellectual stance is agnosticism or skepticism or relativism. This I vehemently reject. One mustn't be so "open-minded" that their brains fall out. It is illogical to believe that once one feels that they have discovered a certain amount of "truth," that they are no longer seeking truth per se. This may be true of certain individuals, of course, but it can't be shown to be generally true, nor does it have to necessarily be true.

One must be willing in principle to overthrow one's own views if it is warranted by the evidence, even though in matters of faith it is admittedly exceedingly unlikely.

Like Bishop Butler (Analogy of Religion) and Cardinal Newman, my epistemology and religious faith (insofar as it is connected with reason) is based on (in Baptist theologian Bernard Ramm's words) "brute fact . . .The ultimate data of religion must be of the same stuff as the ultimate data of science." This has always been my view, for 21 years now, and it didn't change when I became a Catholic. It didn't have to. I have developed it through the years, of course, but it hasn't fundamentally changed.

My own view on philosophy is essentially syncretistic. My apologetics are based in the notion of accumulated evidences adding up to a great deal of overall plausibility, which is, in turn incorporated into the faith which goes beyond reason.

* * *

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Dr. James Dobson Sanctions Masturbation

By Dave Armstrong (3-14-04)

First of all, let me make it clear that I love Dr. Dobson and have the greatest respect and admiration for the man. He's done more good in his lifetime than all of us put together will ever do. He has been almost a prophet-like figure in our time. So it greatly pains me to have to point this out. But on this issue he is, sadly, dead-wrong.

My wife Judy and I were watching an otherwise excellent, at times funny and heartwarming, and insightful video series of his tonight on how to raise boys (we have three, along with our little 2 yo daughter). He stated outright that with regard to masturbation, he did not take a position that boys should be told it was wrong. By strong implication then, he does not think it is wrong. I was aware that a friend of ours had read as much in a book of his recently (the name escapes me).

His reasoning was quite curious: he claimed that probably (close paraphrase) "99% of boys do it and the other 1% are lying" (which was a bit of news to me since I grew up never having done this). Then he said that if we tell boys it is wrong and that God disapproves, what happens to those [implied multitudes] who aren't able to stop? They grow up thinking God hates them or that they are some miserable, shameful, dirty creature that belongs under a rock. Therefore, let them do it . . .


On the surface, this appears reasonable. However, when scrutinized, it breaks down almost immediately. It is essentially a secular libertarian, or even utilitarian argument, not a Christian one. Dobson contradicted his own reasoning of no more than five minutes previous to these comments, for he was decrying pornography and contended that one exposure of it in a 13 year-old might wreck their whole life and begin a lifelong addiction.

As pornography is addicting, so is masturbation, and often they coincide (as we know from learning about President Clinton's phone sex with Monica Lewinsky). Yet Dr. Dobson has not, to my knowledge, suggested that pornography ought to be freely available, as a good thing, lest those who can't break the habit feel condemned and worthless and turn against God as a result.

I doubt that he advocates free availability and moral sanction of cocaine and heroin, or that he approves of alcoholism (or that he would oppose remarkably successful programs like AA). I don't think he has taken a position that homosexual acts are permissible and moral simply because the lifestyle is extremely hard to break (as we know it is). So why does he make an exception for masturbation? Who knows? He acknowledged that there were probably many in his audience that night who disagreed with him, and he was clearly somewhat uncomfortable taking the position he did.

The Catholic Church disagrees, of course, It regards masturbation as a mortal sin. And it will continue to do so, no matter what the prevailing zeitgeist may be. If something is wrong, it's wrong. What period of history (or cultural decadence) we happen to be in has no bearing on that wrongness.

Masturbation is a form of non-procreative sex. It perverts sexuality and has an adverse effect on proper, healthy sexual development. It turns sex into something entirely selfish, rather than giving and other-directed. This "if it feels good, do it" mentality is in perfect harmony with the sexual revolution and humanist ethics and hedonism, but in perfect disharmony with traditional Christian sexual morality.

If even a marvelous man like Dr. Dobson can fall into this sort of elementary ethical contradiction and misunderstanding in such a sexual matter, then that is a truly frightening prospect. And (dare I say it?), having a strong Church authority is precisely what prevents these "slippery slope" descents into sexual compromise (even with the best of -- thoroughly mistaken -- intentions, as I'm sure is the case here).

Who in Protestantism can authoritatively tell Dr. Dobson that he is wrong in this matter? If someone has, God bless them (certainly many Protestants remain opposed to masturbation, as I was in my Protestant period), but it has had no effect, since he is still teaching this. If no one has, then I think that is symptomatic of the decline of traditional morality in Protestant ranks (as in Catholic as well -- but it has not changed our official teaching).

A good and influential man is thus sanctioning a practice which was regarded as a mortal (soul-threatening) sin in traditional (and current orthodox) Catholic Christianity and an exceedingly serious and defiling sin in traditional Protestantism. Martin Luther described the sin of Onan, in spilling his seed on the ground (traditionally applied to masturbation), as follows:

Onan must have been a malicious and incorrigible scoundrel. This is a most disgraceful sin. It is far more atrocious than incest and adultery. We call it unchastity, yes, a Sodomitic sin . . . That worthless fellow . . . preferred polluting himself with a most disgraceful sin to raising up offspring for his brother.

(Lectures on Genesis: Chapters 38-44; 1544; LW, 7, 20-21)

John Calvin, in his Commentary on Genesis, stated: "It is a horrible thing to pour out seed besides the intercourse of man and woman."

This is literally calling evil good. Is Dr. Dobson that divorced from Christian history and the history of moral theology, I wonder? In most cases, he is an advocate (and an eloquent one at that) of traditional sexual morality. Why does he switch gears then when it comes to this sin? Your guess is as good as mine.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Conquer Depression and Anxiety Naturally

By Dave Armstrong (3-13-04)

Millions have problems with depression and anxiety. Why that is (apart from physiological reasons) would be a huge discussion in itself. But I wanted to share with others the success that my wife Judy has had with various natural remedies.

She has had fairly serious depression and post-partum depression, particularly from 1993 (when our second child was born) to 2000. She took Zoloft during that time, and it had several negative side-effects, such as making her what we called "zombie-like".

We have had success controlling or eliminating several maladies by vitamins, herbs, homeopathy (see my article on that: Homeopathy, Pragmatic Medicine, Dogmatic Science, and Supposedly "Unscientific" Religion), or amino acids.

I did some research on the Internet a few years back on Zoloft and natural alternatives and discovered some very interesting information. The following amino acids all have to do with the brain and the areas of it which are related to depression and anxiety:

tyrosine (the best, if you choose one of these): 1500 mg/day
taurine: 1500 mg/day
GABA: 1500 mg/day

(also, glutamine has similar functions and effects, too)

Judy has taken these successfully without side effects for about three years now. It works. It replaced Zoloft. She feels great (and that is with four kids to take care of, at age 45, including a 2 year-old rambunctious little girl). St. John's Wort is also effective for many people. And another supplement called SAM-e is pretty effective as well (but expensive as heck, so we got rid of it). Note: all of these generally take six weeks or so to get into your system and really start working.

Every day, she also takes chamomile (1000 mg daily) and black cohosh (1600 mg daily), which is a "female herb." It is the leading supplement for menopause in Europe (my wife is starting that). For severe anxiety, she takes chasteberry tea. Judy has reported that she did fine over Christmas and the last few months, which usually cause her (like many women especially, it seems) to have some depression. These last three supplements were what we added in addition to the amino acids.

There is also a homeopathic sleeping pill that is good for anxiety. My mother (BIG worrier) and son (autistic) have had success with that. It's called Calms Forte by the brand name Hylands. I bought it last time at our local chain drugstore (Rite Aid). It includes passion flower, avena sativa, chamomile, and other ingredients. Valerian root is also a good sedative and natural sleeping pill but it smells and tastes like dirty socks. :-)

My wife and I both have hypoglycemia (low blood sugar). That can cause depression itself (among many other symptoms; notably, headaches). If someone suspects that they have that (millions do without even being aware of it), it is crucial to start reducing or eliminating white sugar and white flour, and taking a time-released B-100 complex with all 11 B vitamins. Also, chromium (200 mcg daily) is essential for blood sugar metabolism. Niacin, one of the B vitamins, is good for depression, as is Calcium-Magnesium (everyone should take a 1000-500 mg combination every day).

Protein is also most beneficial. And exercise. I personally believe that all but the most extremely serious depression and anxiety can be reasonably controlled or eliminated by supplements such as these above, natural food diet, and exercise. My wife proves that (at one point her post-partum depression was so serious she was near-suicidal. I wasn't even aware at the time HOW serious it was, but it was a very stressful period, in any event).

My mother was on ten drugs at once and was falsely diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. She was a basket case a year ago: could hardly walk and was hallucinating (!). She looked and acted like your typical (drugged-up) elderly person in a nursing home (that's another huge scandal -- the "walking dead" -- that can largely be avoided).

I did Internet research from medical and pharmacological sites and consulted a nurse-friend. It turns out that there were all sorts of negative drug interactions taking place: to such an extent that we could have sued for malpractice. The anti-depressant Paxil (the doctor prescribed an almost ridiculously high dosage) was actually causing many of the symptoms (shaking, etc.).

My mother is vastly better now, and seems like she was 15-20 years ago. No shaking; no great trouble walking. We decided to be "nice" to her two doctors (honey rather than vinegar), and convinced them both that she was better off without all the drugs. Her diagnosis was reversed. Now she is fine without even taking any anti-depressant drug. Last I heard, she was taking only the homeopathic sleeping pill (see above) for occasional anxiety.

I hope this is helpful. I felt duty-bound to share what my wife and I have learned (and from my experience with my mother). These remedies are relatively inexpensive, they work, they get right to the cause of the problem, and they have few (if any) side effects. And it is always good not to use a drug if you don't have to. I figured out much of this simply from Internet research and my general knowledge of vitamins, minerals, herbs, and natural foods, from 20 years' experience. This is partly why I look so young (that's what I'm told). :-)

If anyone would like to further explore this, I would be happy to discuss it on this blog and give you more details, tell you how to buy the supplements cheaply (I go to a chain store called Vitamin Outlet), etc.

In severe cases, however (the obligatory disclaimer), these things may not work, and some drug might be necessary. If your doctor advocates natural remedies at all, it would be good to check with him or her. More and more doctors are not averse to natural medicines, because they have been so effective and it is hard to argue with success.

They have also softened a bit on their traditional antipathy to chiropractic. It gets old after a while trying to deny that a person no longer has a sore back or neck or piched nerve when their firsthand experience is otherwise. And patients get sick of hearing that they really aren't better when they are. Doctors serve us. We're not they're servants. If they don't care if their patient feels better because of some remedy outside of themselves, it's time to vote with our feet and find another doctor.

No need to suffer needlessly. Life is too short . . .

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.

* * *

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.

* * * * *

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]

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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.

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[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.

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