Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Comparative Exegesis of Hebrews 8 / Sacrifice of the Mass (vs. James White)

From James White's website. His words will be in blue.

"A Comparison of Exegesis"

Dr. James White quoted from my book, A Biblical Defense of Catholicism (first edition, published by 1stBooks Library, 2001, from Chapter Five: "The Sacrifice of the Mass: 'A Lamb . . . Slain'"), pp. 69-70 (pp. 97-98 in Sophia Institute Press edition, 2003):

The theme of the Epistle to the Hebrews is Christ as our High Priest. As such, the "priestly" verses are very numerous (for example, 2:17, 3:1, 4:14-16, 5:1-10, 6:20, 7:1-28, 8:1-6, 9:11-15, 24-28, 10:19-22). The teaching here acquires much more meaning within Catholic Eucharistic theology, whereas, in evangelical, non-sacramental Protestant interpretation, it is necessarily "spiritualized" away. For nearly all Protestants, Jesus Christ is a Priest only insofar as He dies sacrificially as the "Lamb" and does away with the Old Testament notion of animal sacrifice. This is not false but it is a partial truth. Generally speaking, for the Catholic, there is much more of a sense of the ever-present Sacrifice of Calvary, due to the nature of the Mass, rather than considering the Cross a past event alone.

In light of the repeated references in Hebrews to Melchizedek as the prototype of Christ's priesthood (5:6,10, 6:20, 7:1-3,17,20), it follows that this priesthood is perpetual (for ever), not one time only. For no one would say, for example, that Christ is King (present tense) if in fact He were only King for a short while in the past. This (Catholic) interpretation is borne out by explicit evidence in Hebrews 7:24-25:

He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

If Jesus perpetually intercedes for us, why should He not also permanently present Himself as Sacrifice to His Father? The connecting word, consequently, appears to affirm this scenario. The very notion, fundamental to all strains of Christian theology, that the Cross and the Blood are efficacious here and now for the redemption of sinners, presupposes a dimension of "presentness" to the Atonement.

Granting that premise, it only remains to deny that God could, would, or should truly and actually re-present this one Sacrifice in the Mass. God certainly can do this, since He is omnipotent. He wills to do this because Jesus commanded the observance of the Lord's Supper (Luke 22:19). Lastly, one can convincingly contend that He should do this in order to graphically "bring home" to Christians His Passion, Crucifixion, and Resurrection, and to impart grace in a real and profound way in Communion. The One Propitiatory Atonement of Calvary is a past event, but the appropriation of its spiritual benefits to Christians is an ongoing process, in which the Mass plays a central role.

The Sacrifice of the Mass, like the Real Presence in the Eucharist, is an extension of the Incarnation. Accordingly, there is no rational a priori objection (under monotheistic premises) to the concept of God transcending time and space in order to present Himself to His disciples. Nor is there any denying that the Sacrifice of Calvary is always present to God the Father and to Jesus Christ, God the Son. How then, can anyone deny that God could make the Cross sacramentally present to us as well?

Now let's examine Dr. White's reading of Hebrews 8 (his words will be in blue; to read his statement by itself, follow the above link; I have moved the footnotes to where they occur in the text).

James White, introductory exegetical comments prior to deeper exegesis of Hebrews 8:6ff.

The immediately preceding argument, leading to the key presentation of the new covenant in Heb. 8:6-13, flows from the identification of Christ with the superior priesthood of Melchizedek (Psalm 110:4, cited in Heb. 7:17, 21), leading to the description of Christ as the e;gguoj (guarantee/guarantor)[1]

[1] e;gguoj is a hapax legomena in the NT, appearing only in the Apocryphal books of Sirach and 2 Maccabees prior to this. It has semantic connections to avrrabw.n (down payment) in Eph. 1:14, for in common secular usage it refers to providing security or a guarantee, normally in a financial or business transaction. The guarantee then of the better covenant is introduced here within the context of Christ’s superior priesthood, His indestructible life, and divine ability to save to the uttermost (7:24-35).

Nothing to quibble with here . . .

of the new covenant, and also bringing the first use of krei,ttonoj diaqh,khj, better covenant, in 7:22, “so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant.” Heb. 7:23-8:5 comprises a demonstration of the basis for the apologetic assertion that the new covenant is, in fact, a better covenant (part and parcel of the purpose of the letter), one that flows from the priestly nature of Christ’s work. 7:23-25 proves this by the contrast of the mortal priests with the one priest, Jesus Christ; and 7:26-28 does so in light of the sinfulness of the many priests and hence their repeated sacrifices versus the singular sacrifice of the innocent, undefiled Christ.

This is uncontroversial as well (as far as it goes). But of course White does not here deal with my own particular argument, that Jesus holds a perpetual priesthood ("He holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever" -- 7:24; not just a one-time priestly sacrifice of Himself that has no application to His priesthood beyond the time it occurred in history).

Yes, we agree that Jesus sacrificed Himself once on the Cross (7:27). But that is a one-time act, in history. Why, then, does 7:26 continue to refer to Jesus as a "high priest" in the present tense, "exalted above the heavens"? It is this paradoxical interplay between the one act and the "present-ness" of Jesus' priesthood that suggests a timeless nature of the sacrifice: precisely what Catholics claim is occurring at the Mass: the one-time sacrifice is being made present to us, because Jesus is a priest "forever."

8:1-6, then, provides first a summary statement of the preceding arguments (i.e., our one high priest has entered into the heavenlies) and then provides the thesis statement for the description of the superiority of the new covenant from Jeremiah 31 with the assertion that Christ has obtained “a more excellent ministry” than that of the old priests, that He is the mediator (in contrast, in context, to Moses, v. 5, Gal. 3:19, John 1:17) of a “better covenant” enacted on “better promises.” Some brief comments should be offered exegetically on these texts.

Again, no significant disagreement, if at all. Of course the New Covenant is better, and Jesus surpasses Moses, etc.

First, Christ’s role as singular and never dying high priest, and the resulting assurance of the perfection of His work, is seen by the writer as part of the demonstration of why the covenant of which He is the guarantee is “better” (7:23-25). While our English translations normally say something like, “The former priests existed in greater numbers” at 7:23, the literal reading is simply, “the priests,” contrasting[2]

[2] Using the common me.n/de. form translated “on the one hand/on the other hand.”

the plural with the singular “he” (oi` vs. o`) in v. 24. The work of the many priests is, of necessity, imperfect, for they are “prevented by death” from “continuing” or “abiding.” But, in contrast, He “abides forever,” He is no longer subject to death. Hence, He, unlike the old priests under the old covenant, holds His priesthood (which has been shown to be superior in the preceding arguments) avpara,baton, permanently, or, in some sources, without successor. Both translations fit the context, for He never lays aside this priesthood, hence, it is “permanent” in contrast to the former priests. But likewise He has no successor in His office. The entire concept is meant to be in contrast to the old priests and their inherently temporary nature. As a result of the permanence of His priestly position,[3]

[3] o[qen, “for which reason.”

Sure, but this doesn't rule out the Catholic claim with regard to Jesus' priesthood. It makes little sense to me to keep referring to Jesus as a "priest" in the present tense when He is (according to most Protestants) no longer doing at all what a priest does (sacrifice). Jesus sacrificed Himself as the Lamb of God. That was His priestly act (this is stated explicitly in 7:27, so it cannot be doubted).

But if that was strictly a past tense and not perpetual, why keep calling Him a priest after He is glorified in heaven? It would seem much more sensible to refer to His one-time priestly act, rather than continuing to call Him something denoting a characteristic activity that He is no longer performing.

Christ has an ability the old priests did not possess. He is able to save. The profundity of the words may deflect proper attention. The permanence of His life and position as high priest grants to Him the ability to save. He is active in saving, and He is capable of so doing.

If He is actively saving men -- present and future tense -- (as is undoubtedly true), but is doing so as a priest then He is presently saving by the sacrifice of Himself (i.e., the priestly act) which is an act made eternally "now". Thus we are right to the heart of the Sacrifice of the Mass, which is the same concept. Jesus saves us as a priest. The sacrifice is of both an ongoing and salvific nature. This is the Mass! It's heartening to see that James White can present it so clearly from the Bible despite his own lack of belief in it.

As noted above, the soteriological content of the superiority of Christ’s work as high priest and of the new covenant cannot be dismissed or overlooked.

I agree 100% That's why I go to Mass every Sunday and partake of the body and blood of the once-for-all-sacrificed Lamb of God, my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, made sacramentally present by the sublime miracle of transubstantiation, because this sacrifice is my salvation. It's not often that I get excited about the Mass based on the arguments of an anti-Catholic Baptist who detests the very concept. :-)

The extent of His salvific work is noted by the phrase eivj to. pantele.j, which can be translated “forever” in the sense of permanence, or “to the uttermost” in the sense of completely, similar, in fact, to avpara,baton above. Owen noted the propriety of seeing both senses in the text:
[John Owen] "Take the word in the first sense, and the meaning is, that he will not effect or work out this or that part of our salvation, do one thing or another that belongs unto it, and leave what remains unto ourselves or others; but 'he is our Rock, and his work is perfect.' Whatever belongs unto our entire, complete salvation, he is able to effect it. The general notion of the most that are called Christians lies directly against this truth….That this salvation is durable, perpetual, eternal… and there is nothing hinders but that we may take the words in such a comprehensive sense as to include the meaning of both these interpretations. He is able to save completely as to all parts, fully as to all causes, and for ever in duration."[4]

[4] John Owen, An Exposition of the Epistle to the Hebrews, Hebrews 6:1-7:28, in The Works of John Owen, William Goold, ed. (Ages Digital Library, 2000), pp. 646-647.

Of course Jesus is "able to save completely." We Catholics adhere to sola gratia just as much as Protestants do. But that doesn't mean that the Eucharist is irrelevant as a sacramental means to receive this salvation that was accomplished at the cross. Jesus showed this when He gave His exposition recorded in John 6. He makes it clear that what He means by "bread" is His body:

. . . the bread which I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh. (John 6:51)

In this verse, even White has to concede that bread = flesh. Otherwise, it would mean that what won our salvation on the cross was literally a chunk of bread, rather than the precious body of our Savior and Redeemer. So He means this quite literally: the bread is His body. That's why He states two verses later:

. . . unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you have no life in you; he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life . . . (John 6:53-54)

And four verse later, He reverts back to speaking of "bread" as His body:

This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died [i.e., not merely natural bread]; he who eats this bread will live for ever. (John 8:58)

It's very clear (it could not be any clearer than it is):

1. Bread = Jesus' flesh (Jn 6:51)
2. Eating Jesus' flesh and blood gives eternal life (Jn 6:53-54)
3. Bread = Jesus' body; which, partaken, causes one to live forever (Jn 8:58)

So the equation of Jesus' body and the bread is stated outright (Jn 6:51) and then by inexorable simple deduction:

A. Jesus' Flesh and Blood give eternal life.
B. Bread gives eternal life.
C. Therefore, Bread = Jesus' Flesh and Blood (for how can mere bread cause one to attain eternal life?).

Just as the Father’s will for the Son revealed in John 6:38-39 demands perfection in His role as Savior, so too here the very same soteriological perfection and completion is central to the work of the eternal high priest. This is brought out with strong force in the rest of the verse, for the author indicates both the object of the salvific work and the basis thereof, and both are intensely “priestly” statements. The singular priest saves “those who draw near to God through Him.” This clearly harkens back to the people who drew near in worship to God in the temple, and their representative, the high priest on the day of atonement. There is specificity to the salvific work of the priest. He does not make a general plan of salvation available, He saves a specific people (cf. Matt. 1:21). And secondly, “He always lives to make intercession for them” points to the same perfection of the high priest. His indestructible life means He never lays aside His priestly role, hence, since the high priest interceded (evntugca,nein, Rom 8:34) for those for whom He offered sacrifice, Christ ever lives to make intercession for those who draw near to God through Him, resulting in the perfection of their salvation. The work of intercession guarantees the salvation of a specific people in this passage. This is vital to remember as we look at the key text in Hebrews 8.

No quibble here; Jesus saves utterly as a result of His sacrifice on the cross.

Similar themes appear in 7:26-28, including the perfect character of the high priest (v. 26), which establishes another element of His supremacy over the old priests, for He does not have to offer sacrifice for His own sins, and then the sins of the people. But here also appears a concept that will be expanded upon greatly at a later point, for the author says, “because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself.” Self-offering is yet another aspect of what sets the priesthood of Christ apart, for obvious reasons, from the priesthood of old. The high priest presents the offering in His own body, a concept expanded upon in chapter nine. But He did so “once for all.” The sacrifice is a singularity in time, for the author uses the temporal adverb, evfa,pax, to strongly emphasize this concept. The old priests sacrificed often for themselves, while Christ offered one sacrifice (Himself) for the people.

No disagreement to speak of here. The sacrifice was once and for all, historically-speaking. But for God, it is still "now" and there is a sense expressed in the Bible that it is constantly made "present" to us. It was intended to be a perpetual rite and remembrance, because Jesus commanded us to observe the Lord's Supper. Paul, too, recounts a eucharistic tradition that he "received" and "delivered" (1 Cor 11:23). He noted that Jesus said, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood" (1 Cor 11:24; cf. Lk 22:20, Mk 14:24, Matthew 26:28). Martin Luther made an excellent exegetical argument pertaining to these verses:

[T]his spirit will not believe what the Word of God says, but only what he sees and feels. What a fine faith . . . The text is too clear and too powerful . . . For this word more forcefully and powerfully than any before requires that the blood is in the sacrament . . . this word of Luke and Paul is clearer than sunlight and more overpowering than thunder. First, no one can deny that he speaks of the cup, since he says, “This is the cup.” Secondly, he calls it the cup of the new testament. This is overwhelming, for it could not be a new testament by means and on account of wine alone.

(Against the Heavenly Prophets in the Matter of Images and Sacraments, 1525; LW, 40, 216-217)

In the same work, Luther makes a fascinating argument that a symbolic Eucharist turns the sacrament into a futile work of man rather than a grace and blessing from God:

He thinks one does not see that out of the word of Christ he makes a pure commandment and law which accomplishes nothing more than to tell and bid us to remember and acknowledge him. Furthermore, he makes this acknowledgment nothing else than a work that we do, while we receive nothing else than bread and wine.

(Ibid., LW, 40, 206)

Jesus' Sacrifice is not only present to us on earth, but also in heaven. In the next section of the same chapter in my book, I noted that an "altar" is mentioned as in heaven, in the book of Revelation many times (6:9, 8:3,5, 9:13, 11:1, 14:18, 16:7). Why is this, if altars and priesthood ceased with the one Sacrifice of Jesus? This is after Jesus' Resurrection and Ascension. Nor is it just Jesus at this altar in heaven. We are told that the "prayers of the saints" are being offered there (5:8-9, 8:3-4). Altars are also mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament.

St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, in an explicitly eucharistic passage, uses language suggesting that he sees the Eucharist as a sacrifice involving an altar (hence priesthood, hence the Sacrifice of the Mass): He mentions the "altar" of the Old Covenant in 10:18 and makes a direct analogy with the altar of the New Covenant in 10:21:

You cannot drink of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.

Even Baptists like James White (and many other Protestants) have not completely avoided the language of priestly sacrifice, since they still speak of the "Lord's table" and even an "altar call." What altar? That is the language of priesthood and sacrifice. So even non-sacramental Protestants can't help retaining a remnant of New Testament eucharistic and sacrificial, priestly talk. Hebrews 13:10 states that "we have an altar." Again, why, if the old system of priesthood is gone and the only priesthood of the New Covenant is that of Christ at Calvary? This is the New Covenant!

Lastly, I will close with the final words of the chapter here considered, from my first book, showing, I think, that the Sacrifice of the Mass is in perfect accord with the New Testament indications, and that James White has a lot of explaining to do.

He is welcome to do so. I have agreed with much of his presentation because it does not conflict with Catholic teaching (it is simply incomplete; purged of all clear-as-day New Testament sacramentalism). But he would disagree with much of my exposition above. We don't know why he would unless he tells us.

[T]he climactic scene of this entire glorious portrayal of heaven occurs in Rev 5:1-7. Verse 6 describes a Lamb standing as though it had been slain. Since the Lamb (Jesus, of course) is revealed as sitting in the midst of God's throne (5:6, 7:17, 22:1,3; cf. Matthew 19:28, 25:31, Hebrews 1:8), which is in front of the golden altar (8:3), then it appears that the presentation of Christ to the Father as a Sacrifice is an ongoing (from God's perspective, timeless) occurrence, precisely as in Catholic teaching. Thus the Mass is no more than what occurs in heaven, according to the clear revealed word of Scripture. When Hebrews speaks of a sacrifice made once (7:27), this is from a purely human, historical perspective (which Catholicism acknowledges in holding that the Mass is a "re-presentation" of the one sacrifice at Calvary). However, there is a transcendent aspect of the Sacrifice as well.

Jesus is referred to as the Lamb 28 times throughout Revelation (compared to four times in the rest of the New Testament: John 1:29,36, Acts 8:32, 1 Peter 1:19). Why, in Revelation (of all places), if the Crucifixion is a past event, and the Christian's emphasis ought to be on the resurrected, glorious, kingly Jesus, as is stressed in Protestantism (as evidenced by a widespread disdain for, crucifixes)? Obviously, the heavenly emphasis is on Jesus' Sacrifice, which is communicated by God to John as present and "now" (Revelation 5:6; cf. Hebrews 7:24). The very notion of lamb possesses inherent sacrificial and priestly connotations in the Bible.

If this aspect is of such paramount importance even in the afterlife, then certainly it should be just as real and significant to us. The Sacrifice of the Mass bridges all the gaps of space and time between our Crucified Savior on the Cross and ourselves. Therefore, nothing at all in the Mass is improper, implausible, or unscriptural, which is why this doctrine was virtually unanimously accepted until the 16th century.

In conclusion, then, it is, I think, evident that the Book of Hebrews and the scenes in heaven in the Book of Revelation are suffused with a worldview and “atmosphere” which is very "Catholic.” The Mass, rightly understood, fulfills every aspect of the above passages, most particularly in the sense of Christ as the ultimate Priest for whom the earthly priest "stands in," and in the timeless and transcendent character of the Sacrifice "made present" at Mass, but never deemed to be an addition to, or duplication of, the one bloody Sacrifice of our Lord at Calvary.

(p. 71 in 1stBooks edition; pp. 99-100 in Sophia edition)

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Jesus, Vegetarianism, Bambi, and Us (vs. Keith Akers)

Keith Akers is a vegetarian writer, brought to my attention by the vegetarian advocate regular to this blog, Sogn Mill-Scout. First a little background on some of Mr. Akers' religious beliefs. Though he apparently eschews formal involvement with churches, he is drawn to several ideas of the Unity School of Christianity (which is not a Christian group, according to traditional notions of orthodox Christianity held by all the major Christian groups: Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox).

Let us move on to interaction with Mr. Akers' thoughts on Jesus and vegetarianism. First, I will respond to various portions of his article, "Christian / Vegetarian Dialogue": [his words will be in italics]

[M]ost vegetarians, when confronted with the idea that Jesus at meat, will say something like this: "Jesus ate meat? Your Lord and Savior, who is God incarnate, ate meat? Why should we pay any further attention to this unethical religion?"

This illustrates the "non-negotiable" status of vegetarianism as an ethical absolute in that position (at least what might be construed as the "purist" position).

The heart of the vegetarian movement is the claim that it is wrong to eat animals killed for food. Once you stipulate that Jesus ate meat, further discussion between Christians and vegetarians on ethical issues is not impossible, but progress will be limited.

I agree.

What kind of basis do we have for ethical vegetarianism, if we stipulate in advance that Jesus ate meat? The answer I would give is simple: in practical terms, there is none; to condemn meat-eating is to condemn a meat-eating Jesus.

Consistency would seem to demand this, yes. And such a position obviously is a virtually impossible one for Christians to take: Jesus being sinless and the incarnate God.

There are ways you can consistently maintain both ethical vegetarianism and follow a meat-eating Jesus, but they are quite awkward and would have limited appeal. So let us examine, from various sources, possible arguments in favor of vegetarianism in spite of a meat-eating Jesus.

1. Different periods of history require different ethics . . .

. . . "Somehow, it was all right for Jesus to eat meat, but it’s not all right for us; somehow, we are ethically obligated to uphold a higher standard than Jesus did." Who can fail to see that this is inconsistent?

Mr. Akers is thinking consistently, according to his own premises.

2. Killing animals is sometimes necessary . . .

[Mr. Akers makes some small concessions, then concludes]:

The question is not whether we can be perfect and avoid killing every tiny bug and insect; the question is whether not eating animals for food is a both desirable and a reasonable behavior to expect from us or from the Prince of Peace in a time when we do not have to eat animals for food.

So Jesus sinned once again . . .

3. The "Factory Farming" Gambit: Jesus may have eaten meat in the first century, but with the manifest cruelty involved in the modern factory farming system, it is wrong to eat meat today and Jesus would not eat meat today.

. . . But will it convince anyone to become vegetarian who thinks that Jesus ate meat? This appears to be a rationalization adopted by conservative Christian vegetarians after the fact, rather than a serious attempt at talking with Christians about factory farming. It makes Jesus a rather inconsistent moralist; meat-eating is all right, as long as it doesn’t cause too much suffering. This argument would legitimate most meat-eating throughout history.

. . . This position of course is possible, and it is certainly more enlightened than that of most meat-eaters, but it is not an ethical vegetarian view. It is a "reformist" point of view that vegetarians and animal rights advocates often ridicule . . . it’s hard to see how anyone who believes, and feels, that meat-eating is wrong is going to be persuaded to follow such an indecisive Jesus.

All of the above analysis, presupposes, of course, that meat-eating is absolutely wrong in the first place. But Christians (or anyone else) will want to know how one arrives at such a position; on what ethical and epistemological grounds?

4. For world hunger reasons, and the inefficiency of producing meat and other animal products, vegetarianism is necessary.

Here is another argument that lets Jesus off the hook for eating meat; presumably, the inefficiency of meat production was not a significant factor in the hunger of Jesus’ day. This is indeed an ethical argument, but it is about the ethics of our treating humans. In other words, we have no obligations towards the animals themselves, but we do have obligations toward humans, and because eating meat causes other humans to suffer (they are deprived of the grain fed to cattle), we should be vegetarians. By this logic, it is all right to kill a stray dog, but it is not all right to kill your neighbor’s dog. This isn’t a bad argument to use with people who have no compassion for animals; at least this way the dogs who have owners are safe. But an ethical vegetarian is one who sees our obligations to animals as extending at least as far as not killing them for food, regardless of the economic or other factors involved in meat production.

Again, these intermediate positions are deemed unacceptable and inconsistent with a "hard-core" or "purist" vegetarianism.

5. Jesus is fallible, so perhaps he did not see the vegetarian issue clearly, though we should follow him in other respects.

This argument, as far as I know, has never been made in public, though some people have suggested it to me privately. Such an argument, while it would satisfy most ethical vegetarians, essentially takes us out of Christianity. Here is a key ethical issue, central to our lives, and central to the lives of at least some of Jesus’ contemporaries and followers. Yet Jesus himself did not understand this issue. If we are to find spiritual role models, it will either have to be Christians who saw this issue more clearly than Christ, or it will be among non-Christians. To say that Jesus was wrong about a key ethical or social issue does not logically take us out of Christianity, but it does take us beyond Christianity for all practical purposes.

Mr. Akers is absolutely correct about how such arguments rule out Christianity, and he has maintained logical consistency throughout -- as we would expect from a philosophy major (i.e., assuming the correctness of his initial premises). Vegetarianism is adopted with such conviction, that if Jesus rejected it, so much for Jesus.

Despite the arguments of some conservative vegetarian Christians, they remain largely uninterested in vegetarianism for ethical reasons, concentrating instead on the health aspects. One can also advance various reasons, such as mercy and compassion, to limit the worst abuses of meat consumption, but obviously mercy and compassion is inherently limited — it cannot be extended to the act of killing and eating an animal for food without changing conservative Christian theology. I wish them luck in their efforts. However, as a practical matter, ethical vegetarianism is incompatible with the orthodox view of a meat-eating Jesus.

This is correct (and that is why blog regular Sogn must choose between the Bible and "ethical vegetarianism." There is no cogent, sensible, intermediate position (as Mr. Akers is eloquently proving). And there is such a thing as historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity, and an absolute prohibition of killing animals (and eating them) as unethical is inconsistent with it. It can't be sustained for a second if one accepts the Bible as an infallible divine revelation.

I have met countless people in the vegetarian movement who were once Christians, or were raised as Christians, but upon becoming vegetarian found no place for themselves in the church they were raised in. They simply dropped out. They correctly perceived that their new beliefs were incompatible with the conservative Christianity which they knew. The vegetarian movement today is significantly secular, anti-religious, and anti-Christian.

Thanks for the honesty and drawing the inevitable stark contrast.

That element of vegetarianism which is interested in spiritual matters tends to be eclectic, open, tolerant, and progressive. The vegetarian subculture did not acquire this character either because of a deliberate program to exclude Christianity, nor by chance; this happened because people who are open, tolerant, and progressive in matters of food are usually also open, tolerant, and progressive about other matters as well.

I wonder how "progressive" and "tolerant" it is on the issue of abortion (child-killing, usually entailing child-torturing)?

Christianity is in ferment. The struggle to change society and the struggle to change Christianity are not two different and independent events; they are parallel and interrelated events. Everywhere, people are saying things that have not been questioned for centuries and that would have been unthinkable a century ago. The spectacular and steady popularity enjoyed by such progressive thinkers as Matthew Fox and John Shelby Spong is evidence that Christianity is changing.

Not at all; it is evidence that liberal Christians who reject historic, biblical Christianity are more numerous and currently fashionable according to the zeitgeist. That has no relation to the truthfulness or falsity of orthodox Christianity. Liberals and dissidents, like the poor, are always with us.

On the other hand, there is a strong conservative element within Christianity that wants to keep things the same.

Yes, truth has an annoying way of being quite "samey." The laws of thermodynamics or of gravity don't change according to the whims and fancies and trendy fads of a particular age. Neither do Christian doctrinal and theological truths.

. . . In the long run, this conservative element is clearly losing the battle . . .

Why didn't they lose it centuries ago, then? Why is orthodox Christianity still here if there is this mythical, inexorable "progressive" direction of history? G.K. Chesterton has a great line about, "at least five times in history the Church has gone to the dogs, but in each case, the dog died."

Efforts to promote vegetarianism within Christianity — if they are to be more than just "back door" efforts — must attack the problem at its source. Christianity has lost its way on countless issues: by making judgments on people whose lifestyles or religions are different, by advocating war and violence, by putting forward a primitive and hateful theology, and by ignoring consumerism in a rich and wasteful society. Vegetarianism cannot be separated from these other issues. If we are committed to Christian renewal, we must start with the practice and teaching of Jesus and must radically reinterpret the nature of Christianity.

Thanks to Mr. Akers for another clear statement of the inherent anti-Christian nature of this philosophy, complete with the inevitable "tolerant hatred" of Christian thought, assumning it is hateful because certain ethical distinctions are made, and some behaviors are deemed sinful. It's okay to assume killing an animal is sinful, but how dare we say that homosexuality is!!! That must be hatred and could be no other . . . so suddenly (but not surprisingly, Mr. Akers becomes quite unreasonable (in terms of internal consistency -- his premises already were unreasonable, in my opinion).

Now onto his article, "Was Jesus a Vegetarian?":

Was Jesus a vegetarian? This issue is too complex to be answered with just a few Bible verses. In fact, it cannot be fully answered in a short article . . . The New Testament takes contradictory stands on this issue, sometimes seeming to condemn and sometimes seeming to support vegetarianism.

Ah, of course; so those terrible "conservative" Christians who came after the apostolic period obviously changed the Bible and perverted it into a contradictory document: half-enlightened and so-called "progressive," and half-"fundamentalist" . . .

. . . The letters of Paul give clear evidence of a controversy over vegetarianism. Paul believes that it is not necessary to be a vegetarian in order to be a Christian.

Good. Jesus agrees, since He ate fish and lamb.

The Jewish Christians are alone in early Christianity in placing heavy emphasis on the rejection of animal sacrifice. Yet the historical Jesus was clearly opposed to animal sacrifice, as we can see from one of the key events in Jesus’ life — the last week of his life, leading up to his crucifixion. According to all of the gospels, Jesus went into the temple and disrupted the animal sacrifice business:

And Jesus entered the temple of God and drove out all who sold and bought in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the moneychangers and the seats of those who sold pigeons. He said to them, "It is written: ‘my house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you make it a den of robbers." (Matthew 21:12-13; parallels at Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46, John 2:13-17)

Who were the ones who bought and sold in the temple, and why were they selling pigeons? The animals which are being sold are sacrificial animals, and it is these dealers in animals whom Jesus is angry with. The primary practical effect of this confrontation was to disrupt the animal sacrifice business — chasing out the animals to be sacrificed, or those who were selling them to be sacrificed. "Cleansing the temple" was an act of animal liberation.

This is sheer nonsense. If Jesus had rejected the system of animal sacrifice, then He wouldn't have observed the Passover, and Scripture tells us in several places that He did that (the Last Supper was a Passover meal). He wouldn't have included in his parable of the prodigal son a reference to killing the "fatted calf" in order to celebrate the wayward son's return (see my above-mentioned paper).

This is a classic example of an otherwise intelligent person becoming quite the special pleader and irrationalist when it comes to sensible Bible interpretation, committing massive eisegesis (i.e., reading into the text one's preconceived notions rather than letting it speak for itself). "Fundamentalists" aren't the only ones who engage in shoddy and specious hermeneutics. Those who disbelieve in the inspiration of the Bible do far worse.

Most of the rest of this article involves the usual higher critical arbitrary and by no means proven historical theories, culminating in the obligatory (but equally unproven) conclusion:

Later editors of the New Testament further distorted and confused Jesus’ views on animals.

Of course, all the evidence I have brought to the table (no pun intended) contrary to the position of "ethical vegetarianism" would be part of these cynical, self-serving distortions by these "later editors." No one has any cogent, consistent method by which we determine such additions, of course, but that is unimportant; a mere trifle. The main thing is to have some means by which we can disagree with and "diss" any biblical passage that we don't personally care for.

Jesus was undoubtedly vegetarian, since this was the original teaching of Jewish Christianity.

He was? I thought the question was so complex it couldn't be dealt with in an article? Hmmmm.....

For Jesus, the law commands nonviolence; we are not to shed blood, whether the blood of humans in warfare or the blood of animals in meat consumption or animal sacrifice.

No matter how many texts to the contrary are produced . . .

Jesus risked and gave his life to disrupt the wicked and bloody animal sacrifices in the temple.

That's one of the silliest claims about the Bible I have ever heard, which is really saying something, since I have seriously studied the Bible for over 23 years now.

But the religion of Jesus has been lost from modern Christianity.

So you say (and wish). Others think quite differently.

Thanks for the debate.

Fictional Dialogue on "Sola Scriptura" ("Bible Only")

By Dave Armstrong (mid-1990s)

Catholics accept Church authority and a reliable, divinely-protected Tradition, whereas Protestants "pick and choose" which traditions are to their own particular denominational taste. This is arbitrary in two ways:

1) There is really no cogent, non-arbitrary method for Protestants to determine which tradition is true (e.g., NT Canon) and which is false (e.g., Marian doctrines);

2) The notion of "authority," where present at all in Protestant ecclesiology, is inadequate for the task of proclaiming "authoritatively" which tradition is true, and the grounds will be circular in any event:

Protestant (P): X is a true, biblical doctrine because it is biblical.

Catholic (C): According to which denominational tradition?

P: Ours.

C: How do you know your tradition is true, while others which contradict it are false?

P: Because we are the most biblical.

C: How do you know yours is the most biblical?

P: Because our exegesis is the most all-encompassing and consistent, and true to the clear teaching of Scripture.

C: But the other Protestant traditions claim the same superiority . . .

P: I must say in love that they are wrong.

C: How do you know they are wrong? I thought that Protestants were supposed to be tolerant of each other's "distinctives," especially in "secondary" issues, yet you are calling fellow brothers in Christ "wrong."

P: I am compelled to because they have a faulty hermeneutic and exegesis, and I must stand firm
for biblical truth.

C: How do you know they have a faulty method of interpretation?

P: By Scripture and linguistic study, and the consensus of scholarly commentaries, and because R.C. Sproul said so [ :-) ]

C: But again, the others claim the same prerogative and abilities.

P: Then if they are wrong, they must be blinded by their presuppositional biases, or else by sin.

C: How do you know that?

P: Because they come to the wrong conclusions about the perspicuous biblical data.

C: Frankly, I would say that that is circular reasoning. But, even granting your contention for the sake of argument, how does an uneducated seeker of Christian truth choose which denomination is true to the Bible?

P: The one which is most biblical . . .

C: Now, don't start that again [smiling]. They all claim that.

P: Well, then, the one which is apostolic and has roots in the early Church.

C: Then the Fathers must be studied in order to determine who has the early Church, "apostolic"

P: Yes, I suppose so [frowning].

C: But what if it is found that the great majority of Fathers have an opinion on doctrine X contrary to yours?

P: Then they are wrong on that point.

C: How do you know that?

P: By studying Scripture.

C: So when all is said and done it is irrelevant what the early Church, or the Fathers, or the Church from 500 to 1500 believed?

P: Not totally, but I must judge their beliefs from Scripture.

C: Therefore you are - in the final analysis -- the ultimate arbiter of true Christian Tradition?

P: Well, if you must put it in those blunt terms, yes.

C: Isn't that a bit arrogant?

P: Not as much as the pope and a bunch of celibate old men in red hats and dresses telling me what I should believe [scowling].

C: You make yourself the arbiter of all true Christian doctrine, down to the smallest particular, yet you object to a pope who makes an infallible pronouncement about every hundred years or so!!!! Most remarkable and ironic! I say you are obviously a Super-Pope, then.

P: You can say that if you like. We call it the primacy of the individual conscience.

C: So you think that your own individual opinion and "conscience" is superior to the combined consensus of hundreds of years of Church history, papal pronouncements, apostolic Tradition, Councils, etc.?

P: Yes, because if a doctrine is biblical, I must denounce any tradition of men that is otherwise.

C: For that matter, how do you know what the Bible is?

P: Well, I'll quote from John Calvin: "Scripture is indeed self-authenticated; hence it is not right to subject it to proof and reasoning . . . Illumined by his power, we believe neither by our own nor by anyone else's judgment that Scripture is from God . . . We seek no proofs, . . . Such, then, is a conviction that requires no reasons . . . I speak of nothing other than what each believer experiences within himself."

[Institutes, Book I, chapter 7, section 5 / vol. 1, pp.80-81 in Battles/McNeill ed.; emphasis added]

C: That seems intrinsically unreasonable, by Calvin's own stated criteria. Yet you've attempted to give me reasons and logic throughout this whole conversation!

P: Faith requires no reasons. The Holy Spirit makes it clear.

C: Well, that's a whole 'nother ball of wax. But I would say that you would not know what NT Scripture was for sure, if not for the Catholic Church. Calvin's criteria is essentially no different than the Mormons' "burning in the bosom" as a justification for their beliefs. Besides, on what
grounds do you trust Calvin, when he contradicts earlier Church Tradition? Scripture is not self-authenticating, in the sense of its determining the extent and parameters of itself. This is clearly shown in the divergences in the early Church on the question of the NT Canon.

P: There was a broad consensus among the Fathers.

C: I'll grant you that . . . very broad. But there is more than enough difference to require an
authoritative decree by the Church to put the matter to rest.

P: But God guided those Christians specifically because His Word was at stake.

C: Oh? First of all, I'm glad to hear that you acknowledge the 4th century Church as "Christians." Many Calvinists and other Protestants think the Church was already off the rails by then!

P: Well, that's silly, because Chalcedon was a good Council, and that was held in 451. So was Ephesus in 431.

C: Good. So you agree that God guided the early Church. But not in all matters?

P: No, not when they talked about the papacy, Mary, bishops, the Real Presence, communion of saints, penance, purgatory, infused justification, baptismal regeneration, confession, absolution, apostolic Tradition, apostolic succession, and many other erroneous doctrines.

C: How do you know that?

P: Because those doctrines clearly aren't biblical.

C: According to which "clear" denominational tradition?

P: Ours . . .

C: [smacks forehead, then throws hands up and gazes toward the heavens, wincing in despair]

And so on and so forth. Yet Protestants claim we are the ones with an epistemological problem!

Monday, March 22, 2004

Lenten Meditation #3: Suffering and Comfort in the Psalms

Compiled by Dave Armstrong (3-22-04)

Revised Standard Version (RSV)

Psalm 9:9-10 The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble.
10 And those who know thy name put their trust in thee, for thou, O LORD, hast not forsaken those who seek thee.

Psalm 23 (all)

1 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want;
2 he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

Psalm 27:5 For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent, he will set me high upon a rock.

Psalm 27:14 Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; yea, wait for the LORD!

Psalm 30:5 For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.

Psalm 31

1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. In thee, O LORD, do I seek refuge; let me never be put to shame; in thy righteousness deliver me!
2 Incline thy ear to me, rescue me speedily! Be thou a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me!
3 Yea, thou art my rock and my fortress; for thy name's sake lead me and guide me,
4 take me out of the net which is hidden for me, for thou art my refuge.
5 Into thy hand I commit my spirit; thou hast redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.
6 Thou hatest those who pay regard to vain idols; but I trust in the LORD.
7 I will rejoice and be glad for thy steadfast love, because thou hast seen my affliction, thou hast taken heed of my adversities,
8 and hast not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; thou hast set my feet in a broad place.

Psalm 33:20 Our soul waits for the LORD; he is our help and shield.

Psalm 34 (all)

1 A Psalm of David, when he feigned madness before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away. I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the afflicted hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!
4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles.
7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 O taste and see that the LORD is good! Happy is the man who takes refuge in him!
9 O fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no want!
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
11 Come, O sons, listen to me, I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12 What man is there who desires life, and covets many days, that he may enjoy good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
15 The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and his ears toward their cry.
16 The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.
19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
20 He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.
21 Evil shall slay the wicked; and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Psalm 37

1 A Psalm of David. Fret not yourself because of the wicked, be not envious of wrongdoers!
2 For they will soon fade like the grass, and wither like the green herb.
3 Trust in the LORD, and do good; so you will dwell in the land, and enjoy security.
4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.
5 Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act.
6 He will bring forth your vindication as the light, and your right as the noonday.
7 Be still before the LORD, and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over him who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices!
8 Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil.

Psalm 40

1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD.
4 Blessed is the man who makes the LORD his trust, who does not turn to the proud, to those who go astray after false gods!

Psalm 41:1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. Blessed is he who considers the poor! The LORD delivers him in the day of trouble;

Psalm 46

1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
3 though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult. [Selah]

10 "Be still, and know that I am God. I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth!"
11 The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge. [Selah]

Psalm 50:15 and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."

Psalm 55:22 Cast your burden on the LORD, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.

Psalm 59:9 O my Strength, I will sing praises to thee; for thou, O God, art my fortress.

Psalm 62

5 For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.
6 He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is God.
8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us.

Psalm 71:20 Thou who hast made me see many sore troubles wilt revive me again; from the depths of the earth thou wilt bring me up again.

Psalm 73:26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion for ever.

Psalm 94

12 Blessed is the man whom thou dost chasten, O LORD, and whom thou dost teach out of thy law
13 to give him respite from days of trouble, until a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the LORD will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage;
15 for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.
16 Who rises up for me against the wicked? Who stands up for me against evildoers?
17 If the LORD had not been my help, my soul would soon have dwelt in the land of silence.
18 When I thought, "My foot slips," thy steadfast love, O LORD, held me up.
19 When the cares of my heart are many, thy consolations cheer my soul.

Psalm 119

50 This is my comfort in my affliction that thy promise gives me life.
67 Before I was afflicted I went astray; but now I keep thy word.
71 It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes.
75 I know, O LORD, that thy judgments are right, and that in faithfulness thou hast afflicted me.
93 I will never forget thy precepts; for by them thou hast given me life.

Psalm 126:5 May those who sow in tears reap with shouts of joy!

Psalm 130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

Psalm 138

3 On the day I called, thou didst answer me, my strength of soul thou didst increase.
7 Though I walk in the midst of trouble, thou dost preserve my life; thou dost stretch out thy hand against the wrath of my enemies, and thy right hand delivers me.

Psalm 145

14 The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.
16 Thou openest thy hand, thou satisfiest the desire of every living thing.

Psalm 147:3 He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.

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).