Sunday, May 29, 2011

Memorial Day Blues

The Ethics of War: Christian Involvement in the Military

By Matthew Godwin

“So I am rather puzzled in this situation, and perhaps even more because I feel it is really on Christian grounds that I find it difficult to do military service under the present conditions, and yet there are only very few friends who would approve of my attitude.” ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The question of whether Christians should participate in military service has divided many in the Church and caused a re-evaluation of what it means to be a follower of Christ. At the heart of the debate is the proper understanding and interpretation of the Christian narrative. Many state that to live up to Jesus' ideal is unrealistic and that it is sometimes incumbent upon Christians to enter into the arena of war to prevent a greater evil from transpiring. Arguments typically focus on “just war” principles that illustrate the atrocities of World War II and the concentration camps created by the Nazis. This prevalent way of rationalizing military intervention on behalf of such things as “humanitarianism” or the “greater peace” can be observed in the United State's involvement in Afghanistan and Libya. Are not Christians responsible for doing everything they can to defend innocent life and promote freedom? Should Christians be willing to use military means to achieve social justice and human dignity? For the past 1,500 years, Christianity has adhered to the Augustinian approach to war. However, such an understanding of war is inconsistent with the proleptic in-breaking of God's Kingdom through Christ and the mission of the Church. To appreciate the magnitude of the Church's dilemma requires an evaluation of the culture in which it finds itself. The United States was founded upon the blood of Native Americans and enslavement of blacks. The history of this country is imbued with wars and military conquests. The United States is a country that sacrifices the lives of others upon the altar of American ideology. Within an environment in which the history of war forges the national identity of the country, it is possible to see the extent that Christians find it difficult to properly adhere to the Gospel's teachings of non-violence. There is an intersection within the Christian's heart between their citizenship in God's Kingdom and the world's. It must be remembered that for the first three centuries, the Church practiced non-violence; only after Rome lured the Church to its bosom and cloaked it in purple did “just war” theories emerge.

Proponents of a “just war” approach to combat frequently reference many passages in the Old Testament where Yahweh is depicted as a warrior deity leading Israel into battles where ethnic cleansing and infanticide are practiced to support their premise for engaging in war. The assumption behind these stories is that even God condones some wars. Likewise, if Christians have the right motives and reasons for war, than it is permissible. However, this hermeneutic is only valid if one postulates that the criterion for truth is the Bible and if the belief in a progressive divine revelation and human understanding of God is neglected. Again, this position is unsustainable for the Christian who believes that Jesus is the full revelation of God and that a correct religious and theological framework must be evaluated in light of the person of Jesus. Everything is subject to Christ, even Scripture. That is not to say that what was taught about God before Jesus is necessarily incorrect; such beliefs, however, must be viewed and corrected in light of the person of Jesus. It is in and through Christ that the Church receives and understands its mission. Therefore, recourse to the Old Testament to buttress arguments must be abandoned in light of the Christ narrative. The life of Jesus was the

embodiment of non-violence. He implored his fellow Jews to “repent” from their understanding of what it meant to be Israel-- the overthrow of Rome through armed rebellion. Jesus forbade Peter to kill on his behalf and ultimately surrendered to torture and death.

Nowhere in the life and ministry of Jesus did he try to oppress or use force to accomplish his goals. The Temptation Story illustrates that the ministry of Jesus was not going to be defined through conventional definitions of what was expected in a messiah. Instead, Jesus sought to enact a paradigm shift by constituting the new Israel around himself. In this new community, violence was strictly forbidden. So often the events that transpired between Abraham and God go unnoticed when considering war. For it is within this event that we learn that Yahweh does not require or condone human sacrifice. Yet, in war, the sacrifice of human life and of the faculties that comprise the essence of humanity is what a response to patriotism requires. Additionally, the criteria of what constitutes a “just war” is nowhere to be found in the New Testament (Hauerwas, Sacrificing the Sacrifices of War, 2007). Christian advocates of the “just war” have no foundational mandate neither in the life of Jesus nor the writings of the New Testament. If Christ is used as the template for Christian morals and ethics, the possibility of war must be rejected (Yoder, 1972).

Another position employed in the defense of Christian involvement in war is the position that the ethics of Jesus is simply impossible to abide by in a fallen world (Carter, 2003). Such an ideal has to await the Parousia and the full inauguration of God's Kingdom on earth. The Pauline eschatological reality emphasizes the “already/not yet” character of the present age, and it is within this tension that many Christians stress the need to participate in war at times. If the example of Christ's suffering and non-violence are not viewed as a viable possibility in the present life of the Church, the very humanity of Christ is jeopardized and diminished and the power of the Holy Spirit is restricted. Such a view relegates Christ's example and character to an ethereal plain of irrelevancy. Therefore, the life and ministry of Jesus is something that can be overlooked and subjectivity assessed in favor of world status and gain. As such, the soteriological dimension and missiological function of the Church remain inconclusive and speculative. If the ethics Jesus embodied cannot be emulated by His Church, then it is uncertain whether the Church can present a counter-cultural alternative to the evils of this present age.

One of the major tragedies in Christian history occurred when Constantine wedded the Church to the state. It can be argued that this event serves as the seminal moment in the Church understanding itself as compatible with the political apparatus of the state. After many centuries of persecution, the Church now becomes the persecutor. Nowhere is this reality more pronounced that in the United States. One would be hard- pressed to find a Church sanctuary that did not include the American flag or a service that did not exhort its parishioners to lift up the “troops” before God to the exclusion of the people that are killed as a result of their service. Many cling to the myth that there can exist a Christian nation and that their service to the state is analogous to that of the

Kingdom. Even Christians who recognize the dichotomy may find it permissible to compartmentalize their statuses as citizens of both the United States and the Kingdom of God that allows potentially conflicting allegiances to coexist. However, despite the motives used to justify this accommodation, one is still guilty of idolatry. It is the ancient equivalent of burning incense on the altar to the emperor to indicate your loyalty. I am not proposing that Christians should not render unto Caesar what is due him; however, I am saying that when a conflict arises, a Christians' first duty is to the Church in the service of God. For a Christian to live his/her life at the expense of their eschatological hope and reality is to betray their Christian identity and engage in idolatry. The Church is to represent the Kingdom of God and His reign on earth. If Christians compromise the integrity of their vocation as the people of God, then the Church is prevented from serving as any meaningful alternative to the world and its fallenness- especially war. There are two opposing narratives vying for the influence to construct the Christian's worldview-- Christ and the nation state. It is very easy and convenient for many Christians to lapse into a syncretistic adaptation in order to make allowances for both of the forces competing for supremacy. A good illustration of such a coalescing of influences can be found in the campaign speech of John F. Kennedy. In order to assuage the concerns of many about his Catholicism, he stated to a group of Houston pastors in 1960 that, “What kind of church I believe in should only be important to me.” He would later go on to say in that speech that the one thing that mattered was “what kind of America I believe in” (qtd. in Wood, 2003). Why would a son of the Church be so willing to silence the culture of Christianity that he was meant to represent? These situations arise from a myopic view of the Kingdom of God; the immediate implications of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ are sterilized of much of their transformative efficacy.

The life of the Church is diametrically opposed to societal norms that reserve the option for war. Hauerwas was correct when he argued that war is both beautiful and tragic at the same time (Hauerwas, Why War is a Moral Necessity for America or How Realistic is Realism, 2008). War gives meaning to people's lives and simplifies the complexity of human existence into well-defined categories of black and white. War is waged in the name of such things as freedom, democracy, peace, justice, and humanitarian relief. What is oftentimes omitted in popular culture is that war undermines the very reasons it is fought. Irregardless, the bonds formed in war are among the most intimate that many experience in their lifetimes. War provides many benefits that many would not otherwise experience on their own. It should come as no surprise that many veterans regularly stay in touch with their old units and military comrades several decades after their service has ended. However, these bonds are formed in the midst of a great abyss-- death. Some find war fascinating and exhilarating because of the moratorium placed upon moral restraints; however, the ability to kill with impunity is perhaps the darkest and most reprehensible part of war. War strips people of their humanity and leaves many fundamentally unable to function in society because of the moral turpitude required of them in war. Such a Faustian exchange is simply not an option for the followers of Jesus.

The Church not only needs to offer an alternative to war, but it is also to be the alternative. In his work, The Moral Equivalent of War, William James argues that war is religious and promotes desirable virtues such as loyalty, moral discipline, and fidelity. What the Church must do is to come up with a moral equivalent that entails “effort, discipline, and sacrifice.” James thought that war could not be eliminated unless some alternative were found to preserve the virtues war requires. Like war, the Church gives meaning and purpose to people's lives, but it does so through the narrative of Christ (Hauerwas, Why War is a Moral Necessity for America or How Realistic is Realism, 2008). How can the Church embody the alternative to war if Christians are persuaded to engage the world on its own terms? The Church is to be the lens in which the Christian sees the world and a conduit through which he/she responds to it. The unfortunate reality of the state of the Church is that it has been derelict in its duties and responsibilities to educate Christians and provide a proper sacramental approach to its witness to the world. Christians serving in the military should not be held in contempt for their affiliation with the armed forces because it is the Church that has failed to accurately stipulate what it entails to be a follower of Christ. Often times, the Church fails to provide the support and structure needed to create viable and meaningful forms of non-violence. A tragic testimony to the Church's failure is highlighted in the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. In the absence of a community of believers to join together and support each other in non-violence resistance, Bonhoeffer and his family entered into a plot to kill Hitler. James McClendon argues that the “only functional community of which he could still feel a part” was his family and network of allies and friends. The suggestion has been made by Bonhoeffer's friend George Bell that “no significant community existed that would have supported his open refusal of the draft call” (McClendon, 2002). What happened in the time of Bonhoeffer continues unabated to this day. The Church has aligned itself with the interests of the nation state and by either its silence or active participation of war sanctions its destructive force. How many like Dietrich Bonhoeffer has the Church abandoned and deprived of succor? The contributions that Bonhoeffer and others like him could have given the Church and world will have to remain a speculative endeavor.

Again, many reference situations where innocent lives are jeopardized and military intervention is there only hope. Should we as Christians be guilty of failing to act? Richard Hayes makes the following observation when asked about the Christian's duty to fight against Hitler. His response was, “What if Christians refused to fight for Hitler?” How many wars would have been impossible to wage without Christian support (Hayes, 1996)? In a society where the Church wraps itself in the flag and closely identifies with the cause it represents, the creativity that is needed for peace is neglected. Peace is oftentimes very difficult and is, in many ways, more difficult than waging war. I am reminded of a conversation that I had with a Benedictine monk some years ago. I asked him why he chose to lead a secluded life instead of using his talents and gifts for societal betterment. After a moment he responded that he was primarily concerned with praying for the sins of the world. At the heart of this answer was a deeply Christian understanding of the role of the Church in providing a counter-cultural alternative to the world. The Church should look to itself as being responsible for the sins of the world because all Christians have failed in their duty as representatives of God's Kingdom on earth. Christians should place themselves within the proper boundary of the new eschatological reality and their responsibility to enact it, for the life of the Christian is to be sacramental and is conducted for the benefit of the world.

To lead a sacramental life means to live and conduct life that is in communion with both God and humanity. War precludes fellowship with God because it is the antithesis of love and solidarity with our neighbors. By participating in and condoning war, the Christian has removed himself/herself from their baptismal font and replaced it with a grain offering to Caesar. The Christian has no option of surrendering his/her convictions in order to placate what is deemed to be the “morally responsible” action. Our society's focus on individualism prevents many followers of Jesus from fully comprehending the reality that their lives are no longer their own. The Spirit of Christ grants the person freedom to submit their lives before others and before God. Defined this way, freedom is the ability to follow God by serving others because it is through service and community that one can truly display the Imago Dei.

There is a stark contrast to how the Christian views freedom and what the world defines it as. Likewise, the Christian's view of peace is going to be demarcated by far different criteria and conditions. War is oftentimes conducted in the name of peace. The mantra of World War I was “the war to end all wars.” Other wars were waged to “make the world safe for democracy.” Every war either implicitly or explicitly carries the undertones of peace as being both the justification and terminus of its efforts. In secular terms, peace is oftentimes referred to as the absence or cessation of war. For the Christian, peace is a much more all-encompassing concept that goes much deeper and has far wider implications. Peace may never be divorced from the eschatological narrative that constitutes the life and hope of the Christian (Hayes, 1996).

In closing, the question of a theology of peace must be discussed. What is obvious throughout history is that wars create the pretexts for more wars. Violence is evoked and used in order to provide salvation from the very entity itself. The world calls out to Death saying, “Grant us thy peace.” Tertullian once remarked that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” This quote aptly illustrates the sufferings Christians are called to endure. Central to the Church's identity and vocation is the cross and sacrifice of Christ. It underlies the point that we no longer live for ourselves, but for the sake of others in order that Christ may be revealed in and through us. Such a belief forbids the sacrifice the world demands so that its idea of peace and freedom may be christened with the blood of humanity (Hauerwas, Sacrificing the Sacrifices of War, 2007). The Resurrection provides the answer to the Church's hope. It means that the powers and political forces of this world will not ultimately prevail and that Christians can find solace and encouragement in their desire to follow the example of Christ. The Resurrection showed us that despite the evil of which the world is capable, the power of God is far more powerful (McClendon, 2002). Therein is the hope and teaching of Christianity.


Carter, C. (2003). The Legacy of an Inadequate Christology: Yoder's Critique of Niebuhr's Christ and Culture. Mennonite Quarterly Review , 77 (3), 387-401.

Hauerwas, S. (2007). Sacrificing the Sacrifices of War. Criswell Theological Review , 4 (2), 77-95.

Hauerwas, S. (2008). Why War is a Moral Necessity for America or How Realistic is Realism. Criswell Theological Review , 6 (1), 57-70.

Hayes, R. (1996). The Moral Vision of the New Testament. San Francisco: HarperCollins.

James, W. (n.d.). The Moral Eqivalent of War. Retrieved from Emory University:

McClendon, J. J. (2002). Ethics: Systematic Theology (Vol. 1). Nashville: Abingdon.

Wood, R. (2003). Contending for the Faith: The Church's Engagemtn with Culture. Waco: Baylor University Press.

Yoder, J. (1972). The Politics of Jesus. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Egyptians Gone Wild

Egypt is in turmoil and the rest of the world anxiously waits to see how the chips fall. Television scenes depict swarms of people engaged in skirmishes and Molotov Cocktails streaming across the sky. We also see rocks being thrown, riders on camels welding machetes, fist fights, and a multitude of people in bandages. In other words-ITS CHAOS!! Many Americans have pointed to this upheaval as a chance for democracy to reign supreme. After all, isn't everyone supposed to be democratic? President Mubarack has been pigeonholed as an evil dictator who is hell-bent on oppressing those he rules over. To some extent, this evaluation may have a level of accuracy; however, is that all there is to Mubarack? What are we to make out of all of this-whatever "this" is? Do we really think that an individual who hurls stones at others or sets fire to buildings should be able to determine what form of government rules over them? Why do so many people, especially Americans, believe that the best of humanity should still be seen in mob mentality? I would venture to say that most people involved in these demonstrations do not even possess adequate knowledge of what is involved in government, much less what they want. What is happening in Egypt is simply a movement that encompasses what people are against, not what they are for.

I am not saying that many of the protesters requests are unreasonable. As a result of pressure, Mubarack has agreed not to run for president again, make key constitutional amendments allowing the creation of political parties, etc. What more can the people expect. Mubarack stated that he would remain in power until new elections are called as to ensure an orderly transfer of power. Why is this not good enough for many people? If the president were to leave this very minute, what would change? Would life for the average person automatically be better? Will wages automatically go up? The answer to all of these questions is a resounding NO. What could potentially happen instead is that a power vacuum is created resulting in more disorder. Whatever faults and sins Mubarack has committed, he has been more than responsible in addressing the long-term demands of the people and is doing the right thing for wanting to retain order. Again, Mubarack has fostered an administration of corruption and oppression, but he has also made possible a level of stability in the Middle East for over 30 years. Egypt has also been one of America's greatest allies in that region of the world.

As horrible as the images and statistics documenting the deterioration of the political climate in Egypt is, people should not be surprised. Mubarack has been in power for over 30 years and has a history of maintaining order at all costs. When people rise up to threaten that very power that he has become so adroit at protecting, consequences should be expected. If you corner a wounded animal, don't complain if you become one yourself. When people join mob activities, they should not then parade their bloody bodies in front of news cameras as if they were not alerted to the hazards of such associations. America should be very careful when it likens itself to the "city upon a hill." We are guilty of many of the things Mubarack is. We oppress our "enemies" in Guantanamo Bay and have a history of torture. Our nation needlessly engages in war and fosters an environment that promote a substantial disparity between the rich and the poor. In many ways, our democracy is as dysfunctional and oppressive as many dictatorships. To simplify events in Egypt is to do a gross injustice to the complexities of humanity and its relationships.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

China: Our Sugar Daddy

There has been much buzz this past week over China's president, Hu Jintao visit to the States. Much of the complaints levied against China are its human rights violations and its intention devaluing of its currency, leading to a sustainable trade deficit between our two countries. However, if one were to look deeper at the United State's relationship with China, these are very minor issues. Perhaps the greatest issue facing us is China's continued violation of intellectual property rights. China is the number one purchaser of computer hardware, but only eighth in software purchases. It is no wonder that President Hu made a visit to Microsoft headquarters before arriving in Washington. Major companies are becoming increasingly worried about access to China's markets. China is a master at copying and duplicating technology that many fear that they will soon be downgraded. However, it must also be noted that there has been a notable divergence between American corporate interests and the public sector. American corporations are beholden to their stockholders, and not necessarily the public-at-large. Therefore, it can be argued that violation of intellectual property rights does not affect the average American.

With respect to China's devaluing its currency, this simply is an empty argument. The reasoning goes that since China devalues its currency, its exports becomes more attractive to consumer nations like the USA. Since China can produce more goods at a cheaper price than most, it damages and takes away jobs from American businesses. After all, Americans naturally make better quality goods than any other people in the world by virtue of being American (whatever). What most people don't acknowledge is the fact that if China regulates its currency to the levels we think are fair, businesses and corporations will simply move jobs to places like India and Indonesia. There is no shortage of countries that can cheaply produce goods to circulate in the world market. Again, China's currency does not affect the average American nor is it as disastrous to our job market as many would have the public believe. It is always handy to have a boogieman to blame for our peril. China is merely doing what it must to provide for its 1.3 billion people.

Another thing that America berates China for is its human rights violations. As President Hu makes his way around the country, people carrying Tibetan and Taiwanese flags can be seen everywhere. I must agree that it is lamentable where human abuses exist and I am not excusing China's approach to this issue. Having said that, one must understand that there is a fundamental difference between Eastern and Western philosophy. The West juxtaposes economic freedom with human freedom. For the Chinese, one does not necessitate the other; they are concerned, not with ideology, but with pragmatism. I believe that one of the elements that handicap America's continued emergence as a world power is the predominance of ideological constraints. China recognizes a situation, and then formulates the best way to effectively meet it. Just because a country allows for economic freedom and flexibility, does not mean that human rights is the foundational impetus for this decision. China is driven by results, not ideology. You will not see the Chinese government enter into empty debates about repealing health care or cutting vital funding to education. Our arguments tend to be philosophical, whereas China's focus is more on practical solutions. Sometimes it would be nice to have only one party it seems. That would eliminate much political wrangling and stagnation throughout both political and economic sectors. China's governance is reminiscent of the Roman Empire in many ways. The main concern for both empires is, "Will this be able to work."

The United States must be very careful in how it deals and interacts with China. I find it disappointing the cold reception that President Hu received from many in Washington over these past view days. It is easy to pass judgment on China for this thing or that, but the fact remains that China is extremely vital to the health of our country. It is destined to eclipse the US economy in the upcoming years and it would be wise to adopt more practical policies towards China in the future instead of stand on our own laurels pretending that we are better than they. The fact remains that the Chinese will be here long after our time as a nation is finished. There are many reasons for this. They lead the world in education (2.4 million college graduates in 2006), green technology, federal exchange reserves (1.5 trillion dollars), economic growth, etc. The very things that America is cutting-such as education and green technology research- China is heavily investing in. We may have many differences with the Chinese, but we would do well to emulate them instead of being so judgmental.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Fiddling While Rome Burns

Tomorrow, Republicans will start their "showboating" in the House of Reps by reading the Constitution allowed. The whole process while take approximately 30 minutes and then it is off to the races to dismantle Obama's health care plan and slash entitlement spending (Social Security and Medicare). The Republicans are faced with two options: 1) create jobs 2) reduce the deficit. Of these two choices, it appears that the most important one is the latter. What many refuse to believe is that running short term deficits to create jobs and stabilize the economy is far better than doing the draconian practice of cutting the very programs needed to drive the economy anywhere but a ditch. I would like to focus primarily on Social Security. With the exception of defense spending, everything is "on the table" according to the Republicans- chief among which is Social Security. However, what a little reading and researching will reveal is that Social Security does not contribute one cent to the national deficit; it is self-funding. Another misconception is that Social Security is going broke. This is the first year since 1980 that Social Security will pay out more than it takes in. During those intervening years, it has accumulated a $2.5 trillion surplus according to the Congressional Budget Office. The government has borrowed this revenue to pay and fund other projects during that time and now is having trouble paying it back. If anything, having Social Security has been very beneficial for the government in times of revenue restrictions. Ergo, Social Security is not the problem.

Any cuts to Social Security will further weaken an already volatile and susceptible economy. According to the Christian Science Monitor, the Retirement Income Deficit is approximately $6.6 trillion- five times the size of the national. What this estimate means is that Social Security is going to be half the income for 2 out of 3 retirees and the only income for 1 in 5 retirees. Today, only half of workers in the private sector have retirement plans. Cuts in Social Security would result in many more millions of Americans dropping below the poverty level, thus putting more strain on our government and economy. Why reduce benefits on a program that does not even add to the deficit. It is clear that the Republicans, especially the Tea Partiers, are either oblivious to the ramifications of their stances or just don't give a damn. Either way, those who advocate reducing much needed social programs (programs that allow people to buy food and much needed medicine) are not fit to serve as the people's representatives and champions.

Much of the philosophy behind many of these proposed reductions is the belief that government needs to be made smaller and that regulatory approaches are of the devil. This idea makes for very good politics and campaigning does it not? People love to blame the government for a multitude of woes. So the government as the "Boogie Man" is a very appealing label. What if these people got their wish? What are some implications for everyday Americans? Let's do what most Americans do not, take their ideas to their finial conclusions. Don't worry about regulating airline safety, food and drug safety, carbon emissions, vehicle safety guidelines, Wall Street (remember the housing crisis), or a variety of other things that improve the quality of American lives. There may be many people who are in favor of the abolishment of the government's ability to regulate, UNTIL it affects them.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Not-So Intelligent Design

Tertullian- "What has Athens to do with Jerusalem."

This past week I read a news article saying that archeologists have discovered the oldest human remains in Israel: 400,000 years old. Much speculation surrounds the discovery and could drastically alter theories of human origin. Also this past week, I read a statistic that approximately 40% of Americans believed in some version of Intelligent Design (AKA- "Creationism"). Normally when I speak to religious fundamentalists about evolution, the most popular response that I receive is " I don't believe that we came from monkeys." It is at this point that I abandon the conversation because in most cases the individual's understanding is so misguided I do not wish to take the time having to reinvent the wheel to bring the discussion up to par. To make matters clear, primates are our cousins who share a common ancestor with modern man; we did not come from them as many like to argue.

I would like to approach this topic from a theological perspective since that is the language and discipline I am most familiar. The basis for ID is a strict, literal interpretation of the first chapters of Genesis. To put it simply, there are people who believe that the ancient Hebrews and other Ancient Near Eastern groups processed and defined both history and science in a modern matrix. The Bible is not only a theological document, but can also be used in science text books. Put this way, the whole proposition seems almost laughable. To use the Bible as a polemical weapon to battle against the "evil" designs of science is to forfeit religious and spiritual credibility as a Christian. The most ancient forms of Christian faith, Orthodoxy and Catholicism, do not even endorse such a view. What fundamentalists must understand is that both religion and science seek truth, but do so in different ways. Where science becomes incompatible with religious beliefs, then those beliefs must be changed or modified to remain relevant.

Theologically speaking, evolution is completely compatible with the Christian religion. God the Father is both Creator and Love. The whole concept behind love is freedom- being willing to accept something or someone as is. I believe that evolution more adequately represents the character and economy of God. Since love implies freedom, then would it not be more plausible that God ALLOWS the universe and the rest of creation to "create" itself and pursue paths to life as it sees fit? Could God have given the universe the freedom to create itself? Science has shown how both the universe and carbon-based life have literally taken billions of years to shape itself. From Hubble's discovery that the universe is expanding to Darwin's proposal that life evolved from lesser life forms, we are given a unique perspective of where humanity stands in the great scheme of things. Humans are related to and made up of the same materials as the rest of the creation around us. Evolution can serve to enrich that kinship between the environment and ourselves.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Ownership of God

For many millions of people, the holiday season conjures up images and speculation about God and humanity's role in the grand scheme of things. Many churches around the world hold services commemorating the birth of Jesus and those involved. What becomes increasingly obvious to me is that there are some denominations claiming to represent the Christian God that simply do not. Instead, they detach and ignore the sacraments and portray an aberration of God that is foreign in Christian history. I went home for the holidays to visit my parents. The First Baptist Church there was holding the "Lord's Supper" on Christmas Eve night. No doubt, people earnestly believed that their worship was appropriate and theologically sound. However, their approach and lack of reverence was something alien to the rich history of Christianity and the Early Church. To view Communion as an empty symbol merely observed because it was a commandment given by Jesus is to severely undermine any attempt to serve as the Eucharistic community intended by God. If this is their understanding, then they do not worship the God of Christianity. This is merely one example of a church/denomination falsely representing the Christian God. I do not mean to suggest that people who attend, for example, this Baptist church are not Christian, but instead they are theologically and spiritually impoverished and anemic. This assessment is not based upon lack of piety or dedication, but a purposeful detachment and suspicion of the Sacraments given to the Church by God.

I realize that for many my statements come across as arrogant and divisive, but they are not so when viewed against the backdrop of Christian history and worship. Christians who restrict their view of God solely on the Bible are those who are least able to produce a tenable and intelligent account of Christianity. I often times try to engage and kindle conversation with my relatives about their options and views on God. What I have found is that most of them are ignorant of the Ecumenical creeds like Nicea and Chalcedon. They cannot list the parameters and descriptions of the person of Jesus or the attributes and relations of the members of the Trinity. Instead, many Protestants are only able to reference the Bible in their defense of the divinity of Jesus or the Trinity. What they fail to realize is that the Bible leaves more questions than answers and proof-texting a verse here and there is simply insufficient. For example, it is clear in his writings that Paul assumed that Jesus became the Son of God only after the Resurrection and that in other places, like Luke, Jesus is "adopted" by the Father (i.e. Jesus' baptism). There are so many conflicting views in the Bible that it was left to the Church Fathers, bishops, theologians, etc to determine the proper boundaries of Christian belief. To be ignorant of this fact is to be ignorant of what it means to be a Christian. The reason that the Church has creeds was that the Bible, as important as it is, simply wasn't enough to stand alone.

The holidays are meant to be a time of coming together and sharing. However, holidays are also meant to be a time of reflection and spiritual renewal. Let the full force and appreciation of the holiday season be realized by a return to the ancient faith and worship.

Wall Street and Main Street

As Republicans prepare to take control of the House and seat their members in the Senate, much criticism is still launched at Obama over the "bailout" of Wall Street. A strict dichotomy is being drawn between Wall Street and "main street." However, such a distinction represents a distortion of of the issues surrounding the credit crisis the world finds itself. The argument goes something like this: The banks and mortgage lenders got us into this mess by making imprudent loans which resulted in the vast numbers of foreclosures and other financial defaults experienced in the financial sectors." I am not defending Wall Street for their irresponsible purchasing of "toxic" mortgages or causing such loose regulations in the lending sector. But, Wall Street does not deserve all of the blame here. If one can recall, the US government is in part to blame for the burst of the housing bubble. It was Alan Greenspan who is largely responsible for keeping the return of US Treasury bonds at 1%. This may not seem like a big deal, but what it did was ensure that global investors were going to look to other places that yielded a higher return. With mortgages returning on average 8% and above, many viewed the housing sector as a much more attractive investment.

While Wall Street struggled to keep up with the demand of shareholders desiring a stake in the housing market, loans were issued with no proof of income or job assurance. While Wall Street is culpable, so are those who took out loans that could not be paid back. If Wall Street is irresponsible, then those individuals who took out these loans are even more so. Whether they realize it or not, they are the ones who entered into a contract and agreed to the terms of repayment. Many will complain and lay blame on the financial sector (and much of it is deserved) but to absolve themselves of responsibility in this quagmire is equally disgusting. In large part, capitalism is based upon greed and competition. When you agree to enter into its arena, don't complain if you get hurt because in all likelihood, you had a part to play in it as well. We are a nation that has a strong sense of entitlement, but if you are not too big to fail you really have no argument.