Showing posts from 2017

True Fear, False Trembling

1. In 1843, the Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote a book entitled Fear and Trembling.  The primary focus of the book is the story of Abraham's attempted sacrifice of his son Isaac on Mount Moriah (Genesis 22), known in the Jewish tradition as the Akedah.  Kierkegaard begins his analysis by noting that sacrificing one's own son, or any innocent person for that matter, is unethical.  In the normal course of affairs, if someone asked you or told you to kill your own child or some other random person, you would of course reject that request.  In fact, you would be obligated, by any reasonable moral framework, to reject that request.  Your ethical duty is clear, and it says that you must not kill an innocent child.
But, in the Akedah, it is God who commands Abraham to kill Isaac.  As the creator of the universe and the ground of all being, God is generally seen as the ultimate source for all moral analysis.  If God is the ultimate measuring stick for what is moral, then t…

Telling Stories

Let me tell another story.  I've been thinking about this story quite a bit in the last few days.  I'm not particularly proud of this story, but I think it is worth telling.

When I was in law school, someone I knew well and cared about quite a bit came to me and told me a story.  A very well known and much beloved and admired by a certain segment of the legal world (though, not my segment--more on that below) federal judge came to speak at the school, and several students and prominent faculty went to dinner with this judge afterwards.  One of those people was my friend.  At this dinner, the federal judge groped a number of the female students, evidently in public and in front of the (male) faculty members.  My friend did not say so specifically, but I believe she was one of the one's groped.

She told me this story a day or so after the incident.  I believed her--truthfully, it never occurred to me to doubt what she was saying.  But I also never wavered in what I thought s…

This Is Who We Are

Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declar…

What Can Be Said on the Anniversary of the Reformation?

Five hundred years ago yesterday, the Protestant Reformation is generally considered to begin, with the famous nailing of the 95 Theses on the cathedral of Wittenburg by Martin Luther.  Many people have or soon will be writing their takes on this significant anniversary (here's an example of a very bad take; here's an example of a good one from our old friend Morgan Guyton), so I figured I would try my hand at the take machine as well.

The Protestant Reformation, at least in its mature form, can be distilled down to two basic commitments--(1) that the Roman Catholic Church was corrupt in a structural or existential way, as opposed to an incidental way, and thus in need of structural reform; and (2) the solution to the structural or existential corruption, and a guidepost for the needed reforms, could be found in a purported return to a singular focus on the Biblical text.  In this way, it differed from the Catholic Counter-Reformation (itself just as much of a revolution as th…

Quick Hitter: Why Pastoral Discretion Is Not a Panacea

There is an excellent series of pieces on Bill Lindsey's blog about the state of things with regard to the Catholic priesthood that I would direct your attention to (and not because he says nice things about me).  In particular, he points toward a rather amazing piece in the Guardian entitled "The War on Pope Francis," and more specifically to the following quote:

"What I care about is the theory," said the English priest who confessed his hatred of Francis. "In my parish there are lots of divorced and remarried couples, but many of them, if they heard the first spouse had died, would rush to get a church wedding. I know lots of homosexuals who are doing all sorts of things that are wrong, but they know they should not be. We're all sinners. But we've got to maintain the intellectual integrity of the Catholic faith."

For those who are not deeply immersed in the world of conservative Catholicism, that quote surely comes across as word salad and …

The Sacred is All Around Us

One way you know that you are on-to something useful and significant is that you see it pop up all over the place.  You'll be minding your own business, doing whatever it is you do normally, and all of the sudden something will happen and you will think "wow, that's yet another example of The Thing, popping up in an unexpected place."  That's been my experience with the ideas of Rene Girard.  Every few months or so, something will come up in popular culture that is controversial or ambiguous, and my first thought is "oh, that's an example of scapegoating," or "I know exactly what Girard would say about this."

That was exactly the experience I had this weekend reading a New York Times op-ed piece by Mayim Bialik, which is a perfect example of the Girardian concept of "The Sacred."  Bialik is an actress who came into prominence as the star of the 90s TV show Blossom.  As she states in the piece, she left acting after Blossom to obt…

Reclaiming the Privilege of Carrying Each Other

Some of you, I can confidently predict, don't like Bono or U2.  In this you are wrong, but I acknowledge that this is a reality of the world we live in.  Some people think that U2 and Bono are faux-deep and sappy, but that's because we live in a world where too many people are afraid of things that are actually deep and meaningful, and so armor themselves against the world by constantly taking an edgelord ironic stance.  I love U2, and I love the song "One," as I have discussed before.

On last week's episode of the Inglorious Pasterds, the guys mentioned "One" in the context of the shootings in Las Vegas.  In particular, they quoted the final chorus:

One love, one blood
One life, you have to do what you should
One life with each other
Sisters, brothers
One life, but we're not the same
We get to carry each other, carry each other

After hearing the Pasterds' podcast, I've been thinking about these lines for the last couple of weeks, and the wo…

Filling the Space

I know a guy who would consider himself an evangelical Christian.  At the end of the day, he is a good guy.  While conservative, he's not a flame-thrower.

But, here's the thing about this guy, this evangelical Christian.  He lives his life on the basis of the principle that the goal of this life is to make as much money as one possibly can.  He has said so on numerous occasions, in both private and quasi-public settings.  Sure, he cares about his family and about his religion, but the primary,day-to-day objective of his life is maximizing his personal wealth.  He spends a great deal of time thinking and strategizing about how to make the most money in his current situation.

More specifically, he recognizes that the best way to make money is to put yourself in the same environment as other people that have money and/or are in a position to make money come your way.  So, he makes a point of being around those people, openly sucking up to them and trying as hard as he can to ing…

First, and Last, Confession

Barring some unforeseen development, on Sunday Bishop Thomas Breidenthal of the Diocese of Southern Ohio of the Episcopal Church will officially pronounce that I (and about a dozen other folks) have changed denominations and officially joined the Episcopal Church.  As I sit here, 48 hours from this event taking place, I have some unorganized thoughts about where I am and where I might be going.  This is, perhaps, a "confession" in the classical sense of the term.

If I had to pick a single reason for deciding to make this move, it would be that I wanted to live my faith with greater authenticity and personal integrity.  As time has gone on, it is has become increasingly clear to me that I simply don't believe some of the things that the Roman Catholic Church insists that I believe.  I recognize that many people can, happily and with great personal integrity and self-assurance, believe and live those ideas and principles, and while we can debate the impact of some of those…

Three Thoughts on Rebuilding the Church

Early on in his journey toward God, St. Francis found himself near the small chapel of San Damiano (St. Damian), about a half mile south of Assisi.  St. Bonaventure's Life of Francis says that San Damiano was in disrepair, "on account of its great age."  First off, we should probably put "great age" in perspective.  The original San Damiano probably dates to the end of the 11th or beginning of the 12th Century, so by the time Francis comes upon it in 1205, it is 100, maybe 150, years old.  That's certainly not nothing, but from the perspective of the history of the Christian church--even from the perspective of Francis's time--it is relatively recent.

Nevertheless, San Damiano was in disrepair by the time Francis arrives.  We are conditioned, or at least I was conditioned, to think of our time as some sort of uniquely problematic period in the history of Christianity.  Christianity is in decline, Millennials are leaving in droves, nothing is as good…