IRAQ GETS A NEW BISHOP:John Allen writes about Iraq's new auxillary bishop, Andraos Abouna, who was personally consecrated by the Pope on the Feast of the Epiphany, January 6th. Allen's notes on Abouna are worth reading. Allen also provides his usual insights into Vatican goings-on.
Except for the Southern Baptists, virtually every church body in the U.S. that has spoken on the war question has concluded this would not be a "just war." Churches all over the world have also spoken out against an Iraq war. What does it mean when the leaders of the international body of Christ are united in opposition to a war? When huge majorities of the populations of European countries oppose war with Iraq? When the Middle Eastern countries most threatened by Saddam Hussein oppose war as the solution to that threat (except for Israel)? When former U.S. defense secretaries, many former military officers, and Republican former office holders are also against war? Doesn’t it at least mean we ought to have a serious national debate before we go to war?
I wanted to comment on your post on Jesus dying for our sins. Being no theologian, I'm taking this from a good Jesuit friend. He claims that the protestant fundamentalist definition of vicarious atonement is quite hideous. To simplify, they claim that we are all sinners. All sinners deserve to die. Jesus took our place, ergo, we are freed of our sins. Why is this wrong? Because it is predicated on the premise that God is accepts as legitimate the death of an innocent, Jesus the Christ. I also think this distortion explains a lot about the fundamentalists support for the death penalty.
You are right in saying that it is difficult to explain. I like to think of it as follows: God is so merciful, that he himself became a mortal, and was put to death on account of our sins. What greater indication of the sinfulness of humanity than the brutal judicial murder of an innocent man? But through his resurrection, Jesus conquered sin and death and pointed out the way for us to follow. By accepting his infinite mercy and following him, by uniting ourselves with Christ, we are "saved". In the great words of St. Peter, God became man so that man could share in the divine nature. This is the wonderful truth of our faith, and it is so much richer and more beautiful than the vengeful deity theory of vicarious atonement, which is accepted by protestant fundamentalists today.
FUN WITH BREAST CANCER NUMBERS REDUX: Greg Popack at HMS Blog blogs on the study that came out a few months back that women who have more children and breast feed them more have a lower risk of breast cancer. On why such data are likely to be completely useless in getting women in the United States to change their behavior in the way that Greg would like (i.e. having more children and breastfeeding them longer), see this post that I blogged a few months back.
SISTERS:Amy Welborn has a very nice post on her blog about women religious, which is sort of a review of the book Sisters by John Fialka. Amy makes the following observation about the decline in the number of women religious that I think is very well taken:
It’s not just about habits and praying the liturgy of the hours. A great deal of the decline is related to increased opportunities for women, period. Religious orders have always been havens for women who were less interested in marriage and childrearing than others, who were interested in education and had a desire to establish and manage institutions. I don’t mean to say that spiritual factors weren’t a part of it – of course they were – but this plain fact of social relations is as well.
Amy elaborates on this point at greater length and her observations are worth your time.
FOR OUR SINS: A couple of weeks ago Camassia asked what it meant to say that Jesus died for our sins. She’s received some interesting replies, including suggestions to check the usual sources (Anselm, Von Balthasar, etc.) But she makes the following point:
I asked the question less to get a scholarly disquisition than to learn what this means to individual Christians. I mean, if I were asking about some obscure branch of theology like monophysitism I could understand being referred to books, but I assume every Christian must have a conception of dying for sins, since it's such a central idea in Christian theology.
A fair point, I think. It’s all well and good to quote Paul or Anselm, but we are many centuries removed from the cultures in which these men lived and which informed their theology. We may need to find a new language to express old truths.
As much as I love this world and the people in it, it cannot be denied that something has gone very wrong with it. Those of us who live in relative comfort and security may find this truth easy to evade, but that does not make it any less true. The human mind that discovered the wheel and the plough also crafted the sword and the arrow. The same skills that allow us to heal also allow us to unleash devastating plagues of our own design. Every advance of civilization, it seems, is accompanied by a terrifying retreat into barbarism.
Into this world a child is born, and when he grows to manhood he tells the world something astonishing: you are forgiven! We may have squandered our inheritance and taken to living among swine, but the Father is waiting to welcome us back. In fact, he will run to greet us. He will welcome us home and clothe us in garments of honor.
What are we to make of such forgiveness? What about the evil that has been done? Is there to be no accounting? What about the victims, those who have suffered and died? What about Auschwitz, Srebrenica, and Kigali? What about justice?
I suppose God could have refused to answer such questions. He is God, after all. Who are we to question whether and how he should extend forgiveness? He could simply have decided that none of it mattered. What are the sufferings of a few billion beings on a tiny planet in an insignificant corner of the galaxy compared to the vastness and majesty of the Almighty?
But would such indifference be the act of a loving God? How could He tell us “it doesn’t matter” without saying, in effect, “you don’t matter.” In his book, Death on a Friday Afternoon, Fr. Richard John Neuhaus puts this well:
“Atonement.” It is a fine, solid, twelfth-century Middle English word, the kind of word one is inclined to trust. Think of at-one-ment. What was separated is now at one. But after such a separation there can be no easy reunion. Reconciliation must do justice to what went wrong. We could not bear to live in a world where wrong is taken lightly, where right and wrong finally make no difference. In such a world, we—what we do and what we are—would make no difference. Spare me a gospel of easy love that makes of my life a thing without consequence.
So there must be consequences. But who can bear them? Is there any amount of human suffering that can somehow “make up” for the evil that has been done? Can we really sort out who is “responsible?” Our clumsy efforts at justice often descend quickly into vengeance, and yet another cycle of injustice. We truly have a debt we cannot pay.
It is the conviction of a Christian that the debt has been paid, that God Himself has paid it and accepted the payment. We believe that Jesus’ death on a cross was not merely the result of a conspiracy between the religious and political authorities of His day, but, as Saint Peter tells us, that He was “delivered up according to a definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” (Acts 2:23). Caught between a justice that would condemn us and a mercy that would rob our lives of meaning, the Father and Son conspired to find another way.
The hour is late and my words begin to fail me. I don’t know if I have answered Camassia’s question. But I had to try. We all have to.
Not everyone agrees with Pollack's analysis of these two cases. In the most recent issue of Foreign Policy magazein, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt argue that while Hussein is a nasty character, he is not irrational and he is certainly deterrable. In both the Iran-Iraq war and the Gulf War, Hussein tried to use military force to solve problems that he had been unable to solve by diplomatic means. Just because he failed in both cases does not mean his decision to use force, based on what he knew and believed at the time, was irrational. Furthermore, Hussein's behavior during the Gulf War--where he failed to use his WMDs despite the fact that he was losing--suggest that when faced with an unambigious threat of retaliation, Hussein will choose survival over suicide.
JUST CAUSE?Tom Friedman poses some interesting questions in his most recent column. He concedes that a war against Iraq would be, in a real sense, a war for oil. The reason that the Bush Administration wants to remove Saddam from power (and not the psychotic colonels who run Burma, for example) is the threat he poses to the world's oil supply. He argues that "there is nothing illegitimate or immoral about the U.S. being concerned that an evil, megalomaniacal dictator might acquire excessive influence over the natural resource that powers the world's industrial base." But he poses some hard question about the United States' long term aims:
If we occupy Iraq and simply install a more pro-U.S. autocrat to run the Iraqi gas station (as we have in other Arab oil states), then this war partly for oil would also be immoral.
If, on the other hand, the Bush team, and the American people, prove willing to stay in Iraq and pay the full price, in money and manpower, needed to help Iraqis build a more progressive, democratizing Arab state — one that would use its oil income for the benefit of all its people and serve as a model for its neighbors — then a war partly over oil would be quite legitimate. It would be a critical step toward building a better Middle East.
So, I have no problem with a war for oil — provided that it is to fuel the first progressive Arab regime, and not just our S.U.V.'s, and provided we behave in a way that makes clear to the world we are protecting everyone's access to oil at reasonable prices — not simply our right to binge on it.
Well folks, are we willing to "pay the full price?"
The Raelians and others who claim to be busily cloning human children seem to have adopted Kevorkian's strategy of defiance. Society's moral revulsion? Irrelevant. The likelihood that a cloned child would have serious health problems caused by genetic defects? Beneath concern. The Raelians and the parents willing to participate in this immoral human experimentation want what they want, the opinions of society and the health consequences be damned. The cult proudly claims to have several other cloned babies in gestation.
KOREA:Joshua Micha Marshall, who more or less owned the Lott story, is now raising some very serious questions about how the Bush Administration has dealt with Korea. The growing impact of bloggers on important policy debates is becoming obvious. Marshall is a Democrat, but has been something of a hawk on foreign policy. It also helps that he is a great wordsmith:
Tough talk sounds great until your opponent calls your bluff and everybody sees there's nothing behind the trash talk. Then you look foolish. That's where we are right now with North Korea. As Nelson says, no doubt the NKs are the bad guys. And this is an extremely complex problem with no easy solutions. But the Bush administration has pursued a keystone cops policy on the Korean Peninsula for two years now, mixing think-tank braggadocio with feckless inconstancy. Now we're all going to pay the price.
Maybe you have to have lived in Washington for a few years to love a line like "think-tank braggadocio." As Balzac might have said, le mot juste!
THE EUCHARIST: Fr. Jim Tucker over at Dappled Things does us all a service by posting some excerpts from Karl Rahner's Foundations of Christian Faith on the subject of the Eucharist. Foundations can be slow going (lots of talk about the "Absolute Existential" and all that), but these passages are positively luminous.