Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Another Christian "Dominionist"?

With all this talk of certain Republican Christians and their alleged connection to Dominionism--a view inaccurately ascribed to several Christian writers in articles published in the New York Times and the New Yorker--there's one Christian that our East-of-the-Hudson betters seemed to miss. Here are his shocking comments, where he explains how America's laws should reflect God's eternal law:
Just as the prophets of the eighth century B.C. left their villages and carried their "thus saith the Lord" far beyond the boundaries of their home towns, and just as the Apostle Paul left his village of Tarsus and carried the gospel of Jesus Christ to the far corners of the Greco Roman world, so am I compelled to carry the gospel of freedom beyond my own home town. Like Paul, I must constantly respond to the Macedonian call for aid....

One may well ask: "How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?" The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that "an unjust law is no law at all."

Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.

You can read his entire essay here.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Bible Made Impossible: Why Biblicism is Not a Truly Evangelical Reading of Scripture

That is the title of a new book by Notre Dame sociologist, Christian Smith. I received my copy of it yesterday, and I cannot put it down. (Readers of Return to Rome may recall that in June I blogged about Professor Smith's other recent book, How to Go From Being a Good Evangelical to a Committed Catholic in Ninety-Five Difficult Steps (Cascade Books 2011). My endorsement of the book is on its back cover). Unsurprisingly, The Bible Made Impossible is causing quite a stir on the internet.

Over at First Things, Peter Leithart reviews it, while Smith offers a response. Kevin DeYoung critiques the book on his blog at the Gospel Coalition, with Smith responding to DeYoung and others in the commentary section. Also discussing the book are Chaplain Mike at the Internet Monk, Brent Stubbs at Called to Communion, and my Patheos colleague Scott McKnight over at Jesus Creed. (In fact, Scott has an 8-part series on the book's central thesis!)

There's also a five-part video interview of Professor Smith on Youtube: Part 1Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Mormonism and Natural Law

That's the title of my latest entry over at The Catholic Thing. Here's how it begins:
With the increasing likelihood that Mitt Romney will be the Republican nominee for President, it is important for Catholics and other Christians to reflect on some concerns raised by Damon Linker in a 2007 New Republic article. Linker argues that Mormon theology does not have important resources that traditional Christians have at their disposal, such as natural-law theory.

Although LDS writings say little specifically about the nature of moral law, they do say quite a lot about the nature of laws and principles that include moral laws. The founding Mormon prophet, Joseph Smith, Jr., maintained that laws and principles are eternal and unchanging: “Every principle proceeding from God is eternal and any principle which is not eternal is of the devil. . . . The first step in the salvation of man is the laws of eternal and self-existent principles.”

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Monday, August 15, 2011

C. Stephen Evans on Kierkegaard

My Baylor colleague, C. Stephen Evans, was interviewed earlier this week on KGO radio in San Francisco. The topic was the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, a thinker about which Steve knows quite a bit. You can listen to the interview here.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Eucharist and Cannibalism

My Baylor colleague, Michael P. Foley (associate professor of patristics), is a new contributor to The Catholic Thing. His first entry was published today. Entitled, "The Eucharist and Cannibalism," it begins this way:
Perhaps the most disconcerting Catholic doctrine is the Real Presence of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. Many people today have the same reaction as those disciples who heard Jesus preach it for the first time in Capernaum and were scandalized, “This saying is hard, and who can hear it?” (Jn. 6:61). John says that after, many of His disciples stopped following Him altogether.

What is obviously so “hard” about this saying is that it suggests cannibalism. If Catholics believe the Eucharist really is the body and blood of Christ, then they believe they are eating human flesh and drinking human blood. The Romans accused Christians of cannibalism and that the charge has been made against Catholics in various ways ever since.

But while Holy Communion does involve eating human flesh and blood, it is not true that it is cannibalistic. How so?

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Friday, August 5, 2011

Why I'm Catholic: Philosopher Richard Sherlock

There is a wonderful new website, "Why I'm Catholic," or www.whyimcatholic.com. Among the many stories on this site is the one told by my friend, Richard Sherlock, Professor of Philosophy at Utah State University. Richard, who was received into the Catholic Church just this past Easter Sunday (2011), is a convert from Mormonism. He begins the account of his journey in this way:
One should never leave the religion in which one was born or raised for anything but the most serious of reasons. Warm feelings, family, friends, a social ethos, should never be the reason for joining or leaving a religion. The fact that you do not like the priest, pastor or parishioners should never be a reason for staying or leaving. Anyone who knows me well knows that I have never been a person to "go with the flow" or seek popularity. I was a conscientious objector in the Vietnam War and I have a 1-0 draft card to prove it. I have been an absolute opponent of abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment my whole adult life. When I was a professor of moral theology at Fordham University in the mid-1980's I happily defended the view that artificial birth control is morally wrong. This was at a time when many, if not most, actually Catholic moral theologians wouldn't do so, or wouldn't do so strongly. I have not left religion or Christianity. But I have left Mormonism. I have become a deeper, more intellectual, more spiritual and truer Christian than I have ever been, literally. I am converting to the Roman Catholic Church. All true roads do lead to Rome.

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Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion" at Forty

That's the title of my latest entry over at The Catholic Thing. It is adapted from portions of my August 3, 2011 presentation at the University of Colorado symposium commemorating the 40th anniversary of Thomson’s article. Here's an excerpt:
What Thomson is granting, then, is a view of personhood consistent with the pro-life position only insofar as it is aligned with a minimalist understanding of autonomy and choice. That view isolates the individual from other persons – generationally, contemporaneously, and institutionally – except as those relationships arise from the individual’s explicit choice. But that is not the pro-life view of personhood.

You can read the whole Catholic Thing entry here.

For those who are interested, the August 3 symposium went very well. Chaired by David Boonin, the other participants (besides me) were Don Marquis and John Martin Fischer. As I noted in my opening comments that evening, if this panel were the Beatles, I would be Ringo. It was truly an honor for someone with my modest accomplishments to be included with such giants in the discipline.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August 3 Symposium on the 40th anniversary of Judith Jarvis Thomson's "A Defense of Abortion"

Tomorrow, August 3, I will be at the University of Colorado in Boulder participating in a symposium on the 40th anniversary of Judith Jarvis Thomson article, "A Defense of Abortion," published in 1971 in Philosophy and Public Affairs. (For more on the symposium, go here. It is open to the public.) What makes Thomson's argument so important is that she grants to the prolifer his most pivotal premise, that the pre-born human is a person from conception, but nevertheless concludes that abortion is in most cases morally permissible.

Thomson characterizes the prolife argument in this way: “Every person has a right to life. So the fetus has a right to life. No doubt the mother has a right to decide what shall happen in and to her body; everyone would grant that. But surely a person’s right to life is stronger and more stringent than the mother’s right to decide what happens in and to her body, and so outweighs it. So the fetus may not be killed; an abortion may not be performed.” Thomson then introduces us to her famous violinist analogy. In it you are asked to imagine that you have been kidnapped and rendered unconscious by a vigilante gang of classical music aficionados who have surgically connected you to an unconscious violinist for whom you are alone anatomically suited to be his organic dialysis machine until he fully recovers nine months later. You awake and are told that the violinist will die if you unplug yourself from him. Thomson argues that even though the violinist has a right life, you nevertheless have a right to unplug yourself from him. This allows her to make the point that even if a person, X, has a right to life, that right by itself does not entitle X to coerce another person, Y, to provide bodily aid and sustenance to X, even if such assistance is necessary to keep X alive.

You can read Thomson's article here. In addition to chapter 7 in my book Defending Life: A Moral and Legal Case Against Abortion Choice (Cambridge University Press, 2007), the following are publications of mine that offer critiques of Thomson's argument as well as similar ones: