Thursday, May 31, 2012

Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family 10

In my latest reading of Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, Santorum offered some thoughtful insights on movies and stories.  A lot of his discussion on this topic was lamenting the illicit sex without consequences and the anti-hero in today's stories, which he contrasts with the clear delineation of good and evil in stories of the past.  But Santorum makes clear that he's not in favor of flat stories that do not show anything unpleasant.  Here are some of his insights about stories:

Page 275: "An ancient rabbinic saying is that 'God made people because He loves stories.'  I say, 'Man makes stories because God made us to love.'"

On page 282, Santorum quotes novelist Walker Percy, who said: "Judeo-Christianity is about pilgrims who have something wrong with them and embark on a search to find a way out.  This is also what novels are about."

Pages 285-286: "Cultural capital consists of the stories, images, music, and practices----all the 'artifacts' and the activities that are the fruit of leisure----that explain ourselves to ourselves, the whole of ourselves, and which do so truthfully, honestly."

I agree with a lot of this.  I love stories that encourage me to care for the characters.  I believe that good stories have characters who grow.  And I think that good stories have realism or (even if they're unrealistic) communicate values.

Santorum takes a swipe at Desperate Housewives, but I think that the series fits what Santorum considers to be a good story, at least in many areas.  It makes me care for the characters.  It presents characters who learn and grow, notwithstanding their flaws.  And, while I agree with Santorum that it does not promote a morality in which sex is reserved solely for heterosexual marriage (since there are gay characters and also people who live together), it does have story-lines that depict the bad consequences of adultery, as well as highlights that pre-marital sex can result in a baby.  Moreover, it has had positive episodes about faith.  I'd say that these are characteristics that I've observed in a number of TV shows and movies nowadays.

153 Fish

I started Robert Grant's 1952 book, Miracle and Natural Law in Graeco-Roman and Early Christian Thought.  In this post, I'll talk about John 21:11, which states (in the KJV): "Simon Peter went up, and drew the net to land full of great fishes, an hundred and fifty and three: and for all there were so many, yet was not the net broken."

Why does John 21:11 mention 153 fish?  Grant proposes that we compare this story with a story in Porphyry's Life of Pythagoras.  (Porphyry lived in the third century C.E., and Pythagoras lived in the sixth century B.C.E.)  In Life of Pythagoras 25, we read:

"Meeting with some fishermen who were drawing in their nets heavily laden with fishes from the deep, he predicted the exact number of fish they had caught. The fishermen said that if his estimate was accurate they would do whatever he commanded. They counted them accurately, and found the number correct. He then bade them return the fish alive into the sea; and, what is more wonderful, not one of them died, although they had been out of the water a considerable time. He paid them and left."

According to this story, Pythagoras knew how many fish the fishermen had caught, before they even counted them.  Is that what we see in John 21?  There are some parallels, such as the statement that the nets are full of fish, and something about the number of fish that were caught.  But there is no statement in John 21 that Jesus predicted the number of fish that were caught, and that he turned out to be right.

So why does John 21:11 mention 153 fish?  My guess is that it mentions the number to highlight that a lot of fish were caught, and yet the net was not broken.  What better way was there to show that there were a lot of fish in the net, than to mention a specific large number?

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Miracle-Less Gospels; Jesus the Magician?; Divinization

I finished Howard Clark Kee's Miracle in the Early Christian World.  I have three items.

1.  On page 292, Kee states that the Bultmann school liked the Gnostic Gospels (including the Gospel of Thomas) and upheld them as the oldest sources for us to access the historical Jesus because these Gospels consist largely of sayings and they lack miracles, which the Bultmann school deemed to be embarrassing.  Rudolph Bultmann himself, after all, asked how we in the modern age can believe in miracles!  I like the concept of a Gospel that relies on teachings and sayings, rather than things that are hard to believe.  At the same time, many of the New Testament scholars whom I have read deem the Gnostic Gospels to be late (in that they appear to assume the synoptic Gospels) and inauthentic in terms of what the historical Jesus was like.  I have to admit, however, that I have not read much Karen King or Elaine Pagels.

2.  On pages 268-271, Kee talks about Celsus' criticisms of Jesus' miracles, and Origen's response to those criticisms.  Celsus essentially states that Jesus was a magician who did his "miracles" in alliance with demons.  Celsus compares Jesus with "sorcerers who profess to do wonderful miracles...who for a few obols make known their sacred lore in the middle of the marketplace and drive demons out of men and blow away diseases and invoke the souls of heroes" (quotation of Celsus on page 268).

Origen responds that this was not so because (1.) a magician would not try to instill in people a teaching about the fear of God, and (2.) Christianity opposed magic.  Origen acknowledged that miracles might occur among the Greeks (Contra Celsum 5.57), but he said that the fact that sorcerers invoke Jesus' name shows that the name has power (Contra Celsum 2.49).  Origen also affirmed that the resurrection of Jesus surpassed previous miracles, even though the risen Jesus did not appear publicly as Celsus would have liked, but rather he appeared only to the spiritually-worthy who were prepared to see him (Contra Celsum 2.61-63).

On pages 211-212, Kee discusses Morton Smith's book, Jesus the Magician.  Smith argued that Jesus was a magician who ate flesh, drank blood, and participated in "nocturnal lustrations in the nude with his circle of male followers" (Kee's summary).  But Smith contends that Jesus' role as a magician has been obscured under subsequent layers of redaction, as the Christian editor made Jesus into a miracle worker like figures in the Hebrew Bible.

Was Jesus a magician?  At the moment, I am skeptical about Jesus eating flesh, drinking blood, or engaging in those "nocturnal lustrations" that Smith talks about.  But there are occasions when Jesus heals through certain rituals, such as spitting on a blind man's eyes (Mark 8:23) and anointing a blind man's eyes with clay he made out of spit and dirt (John 9:6).  Are these acts of magic?  Why perform a ritual, when Jesus can heal by word?

3.  In an excursus, Kee talks about human beings becoming divine.  He quotes Plato's statement in Republic 6.500.C-D that "the lover of wisdom by keeping company with the divine and orderly becomes himself divine and orderly in so far as it is possible for a human being" (page 298).  Kee also refers to Aristotle's principle that a man with political insight be followed as a god among men, for whom no law exists.  This interested me because it gave me insight into divinization in the ancient world: that a person in this life can become divine through wisdom.

Rick Santorum, It Takes a Family 9

In my latest reading of It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, Rick Santorum talked about abortion.  Sub-topics included: How he arrived at his pro-life stance; how he did not focus on abortion in his congressional and Senatorial races (in areas that had a lot of Democrats) but felt compelled to take a public stand in the partial-birth abortion debate; how his wife had a baby with severe defects (the sorts of babies who are often casualties of partial-birth abortion) and loved that baby during the baby's brief life; and how Santorum gave a hundred minute speech against partial-birth abortion in a last-ditched attempt to gather votes to override President Bill Clinton's veto, and, while he failed to get the votes, he did dissuade a lady watching him on C-Span from having an abortion.  There was more to my reading, but those were some of my favorite passages.

Santorum makes an excellent point on pages 262-263, but my question is whether his statement there is at odds with other things he has said.  Santorum states: "I know that for so many women this is the most painful decision in their lives: but the family, the churches, community organizations, and even the government have to be there to help.  Not just during the pregnancy and after the baby is born, but before.  I have introduced a bill to provide government grants for organizations that provide everything from prenatal care to diapers and baby clothes.  If abortion proponents are interested in 'choice,' they should join us in helping poor women afford the choice to have a baby."

But how does this jive with Santorum's criticism of the welfare system (which serves many low-income single mothers), and his statement during his Presidential campaign that health insurance should not be required to cover prenatal tests, which he thinks will encourage abortions because parents could abort their kid when they learn that he has defects?  Prenatal tests could do that, but they could also be an essential part of prenatal care.

Moreover, Santorum talks about how there are babies with birth defects who survive through medical care, against those who argue that partial-birth abortion may be necessary on account of such babies.  Santorum makes a valuable point, but that kind of medical care probably costs a lot, especially in America's health care system.  Health care reform should be part of a pro-life policy.

One area in which I was disappointed in Santorum's discussion about abortion is that he did not talk much about cases in which having a child can take a serious toll on the physical health of the mother.  He mentions that particular argument, so he is aware of it, but (at least in my latest reading) he does not engage it.  I think that this aspect of the debate is important, for one reason that Bill Clinton had issues with banning partial-birth abortion was that he did not feel that the bill in question contained a sufficient exception for the health of the mother.  I recall reading a reference Clinton made to mothers becoming crippled on account of childbirth.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family 8

In this write-up on my latest reading of Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, I'll highlight where Santorum tries to add a tone of moderation to his controversial positions.  Here are three areas in which he seeks to do so:

1.  Earlier in the book, Santorum appeared to argue that it's preferable for a mother to stay at home rather than pursue a career.  On page 211, however, he states:

"The 1950s were not without moral blemishes.  Many conservatives recognize that there was something unsustainable about the role of women made normative in that period, for example.  Allen Carlson has argued that whereas the household had once been a center of productive activity, the advance of industrial technology and suburbanization often left women with few roles beyond those of infant caregiver and consumption specialist, i.e., shopper."

This sounds a lot like Betty Friedan's Feminine Mystique, which argues that consigning women solely to the domestic sphere leaves them bored and unfulfilled, resulting in damage to the women and also their families.

2.  Santorum argues that Griswold vs. Connecticut, the 1965 Supreme Court decision that struck down a state law against the use of contraceptives and affirmed the right to privacy, was a bad decision, a reason being that it established a right to privacy that went beyond what the framers of the Constitution intended and set the stage for Roe vs. Wade.  But Santorum makes clear that he does not agree with the Connecticut law against contraception, and that he believes that the judges who decided Griswold vs. Connecticut were acting according to a tradition of common law, which held that the government should not intervene in the lives of married couples.

3.  Santorum criticizes Lawrence vs. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court decision that invalidated laws against sodomy.  Santorum tried to clarify remarks he made that this could set the stage for a right to bigamy, polygamy, incest, and adultery.  Santorum says that he was not equating homosexuality with those things.  But Santorum does argue that the Lawrence decision has set the stage for state-sanctioned same-sex marriage, and he notes that polygamists have challenged statutes against polygamy on the basis of the Lawrence decision.

So does Santorum support criminalizing homosexual sex?  To be honest, it's tough to tell.  On page 215, he says that he's not in favor of the government "snooping through people's private lives".  At the same time, he does appear to argue that liberty must coincide with virtue, and that a lack of virtue leads to more government restrictions.  Does that mean that he's open to the government restricting people from doing what he considers to be contrary to virtue?  Of course, most people are for the government prohibiting certain wrong behaviors (i.e., theft, fraud, murder), but does Santorum think that homosexuality should be banned as something that is not virtuous?

Does "Graceless" Mean Historically-Accurate?

For my write-up today on Miracle in the Early Christian World, I'll quote what Howard Clark Kee says in a footnote on page 193:

"The most recently published romance, which is partially preserved in a papyrus copy (P. Colon inv. 3328), is edited by Albert Henrichs (Die Phoinikika des Lollianos, Fragmente eines neues griechischen Romans, Bonn: Rudolf Habelt, 1972).  Heinrichs shows that the author wants to claim that his work was written by Lollianos, a rhetorician in the reign of Hadrian, but that the work actually dates from the last third of the second century.  Written in a 'graceless' style (p. 25), the romance resembles the apocryphal gospels and Acts (p. 52), though its mythological base is in the Dionysius-Zagreus cult, said to be of Phoenician origin, and its cultic practices include child sacrifice and anthropophagy."

The reason that this passage stood out to me is that Christian apologists have argued that the Gospels are historically-accurate----and that includes their miracles----because they are written in a straightforward, low-key style, in contrast with more extravagant works.  For many of these apologists, the Gospels have a "just the facts, maam" style because their authors are simply communicating what happened.  But, in the passage above, Kee refers to a writing that is written in a "graceless" style, and yet it contains mythology and also probably was not written when it says it was.  I'm not suggesting that the Gospels are mythological, but what I am questioning is whether a low-key, "graceless" style makes a document historically-accurate.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family 7

In my latest reading of Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Public Good, I liked Santorum's discussion of Tommy D's Home Improvement Centers, one of which is in West Philadelphia, which is the inner-city.  (Remember Will Smith on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: "In West Philadelphia I was born and raised, on a playground where I spent most of my days...")

Tom Delany, who built the business, reports that "In our stores, 90 percent of the workforce can walk to work, and probably 60 percent do just that."  This business employs people in the inner-city.  And the business takes care of its employees, not just the owner.  The employees receive good benefits, and there are monthly bonuses.  And the business participates in a program that advises employees and their families who want expert counsel regarding finances, child care, and other issues.  Moreover, Tom employs a number of people who have been to jail, people who really want to work.  The recidivism rate among these employees is very low.

I admire Tom Delany for giving people a chance and for treating his employees well.

Paying for Access to God

What stood out to me in my latest reading of Miracle in the Early Christian World was something that Howard Clark Kee says on page 140:

"However gracious and beneficent Isis may have been, formal entrance into the ranks of her cult devotees was on a cash-in-advance basis only.  There were no social or economic restrictions on participation in the cult, as is evident in the remark made in passing that the crowd in the procession on the occasion of Lucius's transformation consisted of 'throngs of those initiated into the divine mysteries, men and women of every rank' (11.10).  At the conclusion of the Ploiaphesia and the summoning of the conclave of the pastophoroi, prayers were delivered from a liturgical book 'for the prosperity of our great emperor, the senate, the knights and the whole Roman people' (11.17)----scarcely what might be termed a subversive agenda.  The book ends with the testimony that the man who had to sell his clothes in order to pay his initiation fee to the cult of Osiris began to enjoy life in two ways: 'I was illumined with the nocturnal ecstasies of the supreme god,' and he began to prosper as a result of his substantial income as an advocate (11.28).  It is not at all surprising that details of Lucius's experience----including the brush with death and the passage through the elements (11.23)----should reappear in a modern middle-class movement such as Freemasonry."

What I like about the religions within the Bible and based upon the Bible is that they democratize access to the divine: one does not have to pay money to experience God, for God regards even a poor person who needs God's help.  At the same time, there is a notion in the Hebrew Bible that people can make vows as a way to get God to help them, and that they repay those vows (often an animal) when God answers their prayers or delivers them.  Does that concept imply that people need to pay God to receive God's help?  Or is the purpose of that concept simply to give people a way to say "thank you"?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Missing an Opportunity?

The sermon this morning was pretty ironic.  My Mom was driving me to church, and she and I were discussing the Armstrongs (see here and here for background information).  My Mom said that she does not think that sort of movement could become popular nowadays, for people are jaded about religion.  She also noted that televangelism has declined over the years.

And what was the sermon about?  The pastor was lamenting that a growing number of people do not attend churches, and that the "none-of-the-above" category is becoming larger in terms of religious affiliation. 

The pastor was sensitive to reasons that people do not attend churches: the politics, the arguments, etc.  But he said that going to church is important because then people can put themselves in a position to experience a renewal by the Holy Spirit, the same way that the apostles in Acts 2 gathered together and were baptized by the Holy Spirit.  The pastor envisioned this resulting in a wave of mutual love and understanding, as (to use an example) Republican Christians and Democratic Christians listen to one another.

I know that I myself would like to become a loving person, to be overwhelmed with a sense of peace and joy and a willingness to try to understand where others are coming from----to be at a place where love is doable rather than being a difficult chore, due to my own insecurities.  In some people's case, however, they may feel that church sets them on the opposite path, with its politics, authoritarianism, closed-mindedness, etc. (and I am not referring to my church here, but to others' experiences of different churches), and so they choose not to attend.

Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family 6

For my write-up today on Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, I'll highlight areas in which Rick Santorum worked with Democrats, in terms of what Santorum discussed in my latest reading of his book.

1.  On pages 151-152, Santorum talks about his work with Senator Joseph Lieberman to create Individual Development Accounts for the low-income.  (But I do not know if Lieberman was still a Democrat at the time that he worked with Santorum on this.)  According to this plan, organizations would assist low-income clients in setting up accounts, train the clients on how to manage and grow them, and "match individual contributions to these accounts dollar-to-dollar up to $500 a year."  These accounts can be used for purchasing a home, paying for education, or starting a business, and Santorum says that the outcome will be "new businesses, new jobs, increased earnings, higher tax receipts, and reduced welfare expenditures."

What would the federal government and state governments do in terms of these accounts?  First of all, the interest accruing on these accounts would be tax-free.  Second, there would be tax-credits for private institutions that create IDAs.  And third, governments would contribute dollars.  Santorum states that states are setting up IDA programs with money from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program.

2.  Okay, you're saying that Lieberman is fairly conservative, and so it's not a wonder that Santorum would work with him.  But, on pages 152-153, Santorum talks about kicking around an idea with Senator Bob Kerrey and working with Senator Jon Corzine on a plan.  This plan would create a tax-free (until the money is withdrawn) savings account for every child born in the United States.  The federal government would contribute $500, and kids in homes that make below the median income could get additional money up to $500.  Private interests can contribute to the accounts, and lower-income children would "be eligible to receive a dollar-for-dollar match on the first $500 contributed to their accounts each year."  Kids can withdraw the money once they turn 18, but they must leave $500 in the account for education, purchasing a home, or retirement.

3.  I talked yesterday about Santorum's controversial support for the Nehemiah Project, which helps the low-income to buy a house.  With Diane Feinstein, Santorum introduced a bill that would consider the Nehemiah Project (and similar projects) a charitable activity under the IRS code.  Santorum states on page 162 that "The bill will ensure that legitimate nonprofit assistance programs are protected while also providing some congressionally directed oversight to prevent abuses."

4.  On page 176, Santorum says that he worked with Republicans and former President Bill Clinton on incentivizing investment in low-income areas.  Santorum states that the renewal communities "provide a variety of tax incentives, including a zero capital-gains rate for investments in these communities, while requiring those local communities and governments that wish to participate to shed unnecessary regulatory burdens."

5.  On page 179, Santorum discusses something that he and Carol Mosley Braun added to the 1996 welfare-reform law.  It enabled people from poor areas to get to the suburbs to work, since low-skill jobs have migrated to the suburbs, and there are many among the urban poor who do not have cars.  Unfortunately, many "mass-transit commuter routes" did not go out to the suburbs.  Consequently, Santorum and Braun supported "Federal reverse-commuting dollars [helping to] subsidize routes from reclamation areas to suburban job centers." 

In light of the us vs. them tone that Santorum often uses in the book when talking about liberals and Democrats, I find his discussions about his bi-partisan work to be refreshing.  At the same time, while I appreciate his goal of providing the low-income with a means to increase in wealth, I question whether it's prudent to replace the welfare system (or parts of the welfare system) with his ideas.  I wonder if his ideas could help the poor keep up with costs, the way that (say) food stamps and low-income federal housing do.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family 5

My latest reading of Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family focused on welfare reform and how to help the poor. I have five items:

1.  To his credit, Rick Santorum appears to be supportive of the earned-income tax credit for the working poor, something that Newt Gingrich in Lessons Learned the Hard Way was open to abolishing on account of the fraud within it.  I think that it's good to supplement the income of the working poor, since that could encourage work.  At the same time, I did not care for how Santorum pooh-poohed the idea that the poor are entitled to a living wage.  He talks about the financial burdens on middle-class families and the necessity for tax reform to alleviate those burdens, so doesn't he realize that there are financial burdens for the lower-income as well----that they need an income that is sufficient to support their families?  I'm tempted to say that Santorum does not understand the problems of the poor, but I have to give him some credit: He employed people on his staff who had been on welfare, and he was open to learning from them.

2.  Santorum makes the point that Bill Clinton vetoed welfare reform twice, and then signed it the third time, after which Clinton sought to chip away at the welfare reform law's provisions.  But there are two sides to every story.  And, whether or not you trust Bill Clinton, it's a good idea to consider his side.  In this opinion piece, Clinton says: "The Republicans wanted to require able-bodied people to work, but were opposed to continuing the federal guarantees of food and medical care to their children and to spending enough on education, training, transportation and child care to enable people to go to work in lower-wage jobs without hurting their children."

Both Santorum and Clinton treat welfare reform as a success, and, in a sense, it was.  But, as Jason DeParle (whom Santorum cites as an authority on welfare in his book) points out, it has not been overly successful during the latest recession and hereafter (see here and here).  Rather, the time-limits for receiving welfare have placed a number of poor families in desperate straits.

I agree with Santorum that welfare before welfare reform was problematic, for the goal of welfare should be to bring the poor into the workplace.  The question is how to do that.  Personally, I think it's a good idea to put the people on welfare who are having difficulty finding work in New Deal-like programs, where they can work, make money, and then spend that money to stimulate the economy.

3.  Santorum says that welfare reform should prioritize work over education, for those who enter the workplace from welfare make more money, plus they gain work experience.  But, as Ruth Conniff of The Progressive pointed out, that attitude contradicts a story that Santorum glowingly told in his book about a woman who left her abusive husband, got an education, and got off welfare.  Santorum believes in encouraging the poor to marry, but the problem is that women may be married to abusive spouses whom they should leave.  And, while Santorum questions the value of education in helping the poor to advance, his anecdote demonstrates that education can be a means to advancement.  I wonder if there is a way, though, for the poor to receive education and training, and also to get work experience.

4.  Santorum says that welfare mothers should work, when, earlier in the book, he recommends that mothers stay at home to raise their kids rather than pursuing careers.  It annoys me when people on the right do not spot this contradiction in their mindset (but at least some of the right-wing contributors to the books that Phyllis Schlafly edited criticized welfare reform that pushes mothers into the workforce).  Santorum says that parents should spend time with their children.  Well, remember that working welfare mom on Michael Moore's Bowling for Columbine, who had to work long hours (and thus be away from her children) to satisfy welfare reform requirements? 

5.  Santorum speaks highly of the Nehemiah Project, which seeks to help the poor to purchase a house.  Santorum states on page 148 that some who worked in HUD feared that there would be default rates as a result of the Nehemiah Project's work.  Well, some have argued that the Nehemiah Project helped set the stage for the defaults and the economic crisis that resulted (see here and here).

Psalm 78

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 78 and its interpreters.  I have three items.

1.  Psalm 78:18-22 states (in the King James Version): "And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust. Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?  Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?  Therefore the LORD heard [this], and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel; Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation".

Augustine says that the Israelites were tempting God rather than believing in him, and Marvin Tate characterizes their question about God providing a table in the wilderness as "willful and mocking", asserting that "they did not ask God sincerely for food, nor wait to see whether or not he would provide it."  Regarding v 21's statement that the Israelites did not believe in God, the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary states that the issue is not belief, for the Israelites in the wilderness knew that God exists, since they saw his activity on their behalf.  Rather, they were failing to apply their knowledge by trusting God.

Often in Christian circles, I have heard that it is acceptable for us to be honest in our prayers to God----to share with God what we are truly feeling: the good, the bad, and the ugly.  Christians are told that they can even express to God their anger towards him, for God is big enough to take it.  After all, was not the Psalmist honest with God when he expressed his anger with God and his impatience at God's apparent reluctance to act?

But were not the Israelites being honest with God when they asked if God were able to furnish a table in the wilderness, when they were frustrated and impatient, when God appeared to be slow to act on their behalf?  And, while they knew that God existed and saw his wonders, should they be faulted for being deluded in their hunger and for wondering if God could truly turn a barren land like the wilderness into a table?  Sure, they technically should have known that God was able to do so, but it's quite a feat!  Moreover, they knew that God existed, but how could they be sure that God would provide for them in the future?  In a sense, they were called upon to have faith in the unseen, for the future is unseen.

And what does Psalm 78:18-22 have to do with us?  Granted, the Israelites could arguably be faulted for not trusting God after God had displayed his wonders on their behalf, but what about those of us who live in a time when it's uncertain whether or not God even exists, when some can attribute their "blessings" to luck rather than to God's provision?  Can we really be faulted for lacking faith?

I think that Augustine and Tate would say that there was a difference between the Psalmist and those who wrestle with their faith, on the one hand, and the Israelites in the wilderness, on the other hand.  The Israelites in the wilderness were incessant in their negative carping against God.  They lacked gratitude.  They lacked humility.  That's different from desiring God's presence and goodness and being upset when those things are delayed.  While I'm having a hard time coming up with the words to express why the complaining Psalmist was okay whereas the Israelites in the wilderness were wrong, I have a sense that there is a difference between being a desperate petitioner and being a brat.

2.  Psalm 78:38-39 states: "But he, [being] full of compassion, forgave [their] iniquity, and destroyed [them] not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.  For he remembered that they [were but] flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again."  The note for this verse in The Jewish Study Bible says, "Clearly this author, as is typical of the biblical period, does not believe in resurrection."  

How do interpreters who believe in the resurrection handle this verse?  Theodore of Mopsuestia and Augustine interpret it to mean that human beings by their own power are incapable of rising from the dead, but that God can raise them up by his power.  The problem with this interpretation is that the verse does not appear to discuss human capability, but rather says that people pass away and do not return.  The Midrash on the Psalms denies that the verse negates the resurrection, for its point (according to the Midrash) is that the evil inclination does not return to people when they are resurrected.

I wonder if there are other ways to get around the apparent denial of the resurrection in Psalm 78:39.  Could the rabbinic tradition that the generation in the wilderness has no place in the World to Come be relevant (see here and here), since Psalm 78:38-39 is about the wilderness generation?  I guess that depends on whether or not the Israelite generation would be resurrected before being denied a place in the World to Come!  Could one argue that Psalm 78:39 is saying that people pass away and do not return as they were before, but in a glorious state?  I've not encountered these last two interpretations, but I'm curious as to whether or not interpreters went these routes.  (See here for how Pope Gregory handled passages in Job that appear to deny the resurrection.)

I think that the point of Psalm 78:38-39 is that God had mercy on the wilderness generation because he recognized that their life was short.  Perhaps one can derive a lesson from this: that we should cut ourselves and others some slack because life is short!  Personally, I draw comfort from the idea of an afterlife, but I believe that it's important to see this present life as precious.

3.  Psalm 78:9 states: "The children of Ephraim, [being] armed, [and] carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle."  There are numerous ideas about what this passage is referring to.  When did Ephraim turn back in the day of battle?  The view of Rashi and Radak is that the Ephraimites left Egypt prematurely----before God performed his miracles----and the outcome was that they were whipped by the people of Gath (see I Chronicles 7:21).  Perhaps Rashi and Radak thought this because v 9 precedes a discussion about the Exodus.  Others contend that Psalm 78:9 is about Ephraim murmuring at the Red Sea or on the outskirts of Canaan, when the Israelites were debating about whether or not to conquer the Promised Land (in Numbers 14).

Another view is that Psalm 78:9 refers to events in the time of the Judges.  Ephraim was a prominent tribe, and some have suggested that a reason that Israel lost battles so often in the Book of Judges is that Ephraim was holding Israel back, either through a lack of will to fight, or by disobeying God's commandments and thus bringing a curse on Israel.  Some refer to specific incidents in Judges, such as the Ephraimites not helping Jephthah to fight the Ammonites in Judges 12, or the Ephraimites bringing idolatry to Israel in Judges 17-18.

Others apply Psalm 78:9 to events in I Samuel.  I Samuel 4:10 states that men fled during a battle with the Philistines, and another view says that the Ephraimites could have chickened out during the Battle of Gilboa in I Samuel 31, the battle that cost Saul his life.  In favor of the I Samuel 4 interpretation is that Psalm 78 culminates in the loss of the Ark of the Covenant, which occurred in I Samuel 4.

Others have related Psalm 78:9 to the North seceding from the South during the time of Rehoboam and Jeroboam.  I'm not entirely certain what this has to do with Ephraim turning back in the day of battle.  In I Kings 12 and II Chronicles 11, Rehoboam and Jeroboam almost get into a battle, and the result is that Jeroboam's Northern Kingdom survives and moves forward.  Could that be what Psalm 78:9 means when it says that Ephraim turned back in the day of battle: that the battle did not occur, and so Jeroboam could uphold Northern Israel's secession (turning back) from Judah?

Another view is that Psalm 78:9 is about the destruction of Northern Israel in 722 B.C.E.

There are probably positives and negatives to each interpretation.  Marvin Tate even speculates that Psalm 78 is aware of a tradition that is lost to us!  In any case, the goal of Psalm 78 in its references to Ephraim is most likely to elevate the South above the North.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family 4

Here are some items from my latest reading of Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good.

1.  Santorum does not support passing out condoms to teens in school, for he thinks that sends out a message of low expectations: We don't expect for many teens to abstain, so here's some contraception.  Against this mindset, Santorum cites the 1991 National Youth Risk Behavior Survey, conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which says that 54 percent of high school students have had sex, and Santorum notes that this percentage was down to 46 percent in 2001.  That means that most high school students are virgins, even though Santorum acknowledges that it is not that overwhelming of a majority.

Personally, I'm in favor of abstinence-plus education.  I support contraception being available, but I also think that sex education should teach teens that abstinence is okay, and to respect themselves and others.

2.  Santorum thinks that the tax system should be reformed to help families.  He has problems with the marriage penalty, and also with phasing out the per-child tax credit for families making $110,000 a year, since such a family would need that tax credit if it had (say) eight children!  Santorum also talks about how the Alternative Minimum Tax, which was designed to make sure that the "super-wealthy were paying their fair share at a time when tax shelters were commonplace", hurts families that take advantage of deductions, since these families are deemed to be paying "not enough" (pages 96-97).

3.  Santorum is a strong proponent of parents spending time with their kids.  He supports parents talking with their kids and families eating dinner together.  In the book, he also appears to be critical of mothers with kids pursuing careers, which came back to bite him during his Presidential campaign.  But he also wants fathers to spend time with their children.  In terms of how he believes that public policy can encourage this, his ideas go "from providing money for regional telecommuting planning, to providing pollution credits to companies that encourage their employees to telecommute, to giving a tax credit to individuals and companies" (page 94----see here for information on telecommuting).  He also supports amending the Federal Labor Standards Act to allow hourly workers to choose comp or flex time over overtime.

I don't think that women need to stay home all day to spend quality time with their children.  There is something to be said for them finding fulfillment outside of the home.  At the same time, I appreciate that Santorum does not want for parents to be so bound to the capitalist treadmill that they don't have time to spend with their kids.  For him, there's more to life and society than the bottom line. 

4.  Santorum believes that religion is beneficial to society.  He says that institutions affiliated with religions (i.e., Catholic hospitals) should not be forced to violate their religious beliefs, even when they receive federal funds, the same way that Planned Parenthood can act according to its beliefs when receiving federal funds.  (But isn't Planned Parenthood barred from spending tax money on abortion?)  Santorum also talks about how Prison Fellowship, which teaches prisoners faith and morality and gives them a network to get back on their feet after being released from prison, has produced a lower recidivism rate among participants, in comparison to prisoners who are not in Prison Fellowship programs.  Santorum believes that the government should support these kinds of programs, and, against those who cry "Separation of Church and State", he replies that such a phrase is not in the Constitution.  At the same time, in defending faith-based initiatives, Santorum states that President George W. Bush took measures to ensure that federal funds were not being used to proselytize or to condition help on participation in religious activities.

I appreciated a point that Santorum made on page 103, where he talked about introducing the Workplace Religious Freedom Act with John Kerry.  This act required the workplace to accommodate people's religious practices, such as observance of the Seventh-Day Sabbath.  Although the ACLU has advanced legitimate arguments against this law (see here), I am appreciative of Santorum's sensitivity to the issue, as one who has been in denominations that keep the Seventh-Day Sabbath.

Pre-Enlightenment Skepticism about Miracles

I started Howard Clark Kee's Miracle in the Early Christian World.  In this post, I'll highlight something from page 2:

"Disbelief in miracle and dismissal of it as chicanery or fraud are not modern conceits.  Skepticism about miracle goes back to classical Greece, as Plato's relegation of the Corybantic cures to the realm of psychological alleviation of phobias and anxieties attests."

A commonly-held narrative is that people were gullible and credulous about alleged miracles prior to the Enlightenment, whereas the Enlightenment tended to seek naturalistic explanations.  That narrative may have some truth in it, but things are more complex than that.  For one, as Kee notes, there was skepticism about miracles before the Enlightenment.  Josephus probably was not one who totally bracketed out the supernatural, but he often sought a naturalistic or a rationalistic explanation for miracles in the Bible.  Second, there have been people even after the time of the Enlightenment who believe in miracles.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family 3

There was a lot of good stuff in my latest reading of Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good.  Here are two items:

1.  On Page 62, Santorum says: "...in many states, convicted felons can never vote, practically ensuring that large numbers of black men are permanently disengaged from civic life.  That is why I have supported state laws and even voted for federal laws allowing felons to vote again, provided they have been crime-free for five years."

Some may have issues with Santorum bringing up race when talking about felonies, but Santorum does present statistics about how crime hits the African-American community hard.  For Santorum, strong social capital can be a panacea to this problem, and that entails civic participation.  I applaud Santorum's stance for restorative justice (if that is the right phrase), which respects the humanity even of felons and seeks ways to discourage them from committing more crimes.  Redemption was a salient theme in my reading of Santorum last night, for Santorum tells a moving story about a druggie who decides to become a good father and makes a turn-around in his life.

2. On a similar note, here's a passage from page 75: "For decades, the [liberal] village elders have talked about the need to address 'root causes' of our social problems.  For decades, conservative criticism of liberal policy has argued that the focus on 'root causes' was merely a cover for a liberal resolution not to enforce basic laws of public order.  But there has been something even more out of whack with liberal policy: it has never really understood what the real root causes are."

For Santorum, the real root causes of our social problems stem from the disintegration of the two-parent family, and Santorum especially focuses on the absence of fathers.  For Santorum, the two-parent family provides children with security so that they can go out into the world with trust rather than suspicion.  Santorum also notes that grandparents are a blessing for children who have two parents, for grandparents are generous and are easy for kids to talk to.

In terms of policy, what does Santorum believe should be done to strengthen or restore the family?  Well, on the one hand, Santorum thinks that government involvement in areas undermines the social capital, for it encourages people to turn to an impersonal bureaucracy rather than their neighbors.  Santorum favors a concept in Catholic social thought called "subsidiary", and the idea here is that "all social challenges should be addressed at the level of the smallest unit possible, preferably the family" (page 68).  Santorum acknowledges that sometimes the smallest unit that can truly handle a problem is the federal government, and that's why he supports the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  Santorum also speaks positively about the New Deal.  But my impression is that, overall, he thinks that federal involvement should be the exception rather than the norm.  And he believes that the government has done more harm than good and has not addressed the real problem of family disintegration.  Santorum notes that welfare, for example, primarily goes to single-parent families, and he also refers to a statement by Jason DeParle (a New York Times reporter who covers welfare issues) that the families he studied have no problem finding day care (contra liberals who think that federally-subsidized day care is a solution) but rather finding fathers.

On the other hand, Santorum does believe that there are things that the government can do to strengthen the family.  He supports the government paying for people to receive counseling in regards to marriage, for he believes that the government should encourage marriage.  He supports faith-based initiatives, and he co-sponsored with Democratic Senator Evan Bayh a measure to give $50 million annually to "community- and faith-based programs that promote and foster healthy fatherhood" (page 81).  Santorum supports abstinence-only education, and he cites studies about its effectiveness and the effectiveness of abstinence-pledges (from such publications as the Journal of the American Medical Association and Family Planning Perspectives).  And, while he was initially an opponent of Americorps and still thinks (as of 2005) that it has some waste, he now believes that it is positive in that it encourages social capital.

I think that Santorum has good points, but also that he's pretty selective about what data he chooses to focus on, since there are studies about the ineffectiveness of abstinence education and pledges.  What I appreciate is (1.) how his approach to crime goes way beyond "lock em up", (2.) how he was willing to admit that he was wrong (or not fully right) on Americorps, and (3.) how he worked with a Democrat in an attempt to fashion a pro-family policy.

Completing Witherington's Christology of Jesus

I finished Ben Witherington III's The Christology of Jesus.  In this post, I'll highlight what Witherington says on page 276:

"Material in the Synoptics hints that Jesus had a transcendent self-image amounting to no more than a unique awareness of the Divine.  If, however, one means by divine awareness something that suggests either that Jesus saw himself as the whole or exclusive representation of the Godhead or that he considered himself in a way that amounted to the rejection of the central tenet of Judaism, (i.e., monotheism), then the answer must be no.  Jesus clearly prayed to a God he called abba, which excludes the idea that Jesus thought he was abba.  Jesus' affirmation of monotheism seems clear (e.g., Mark 10:17-18; Matt. 23:9)."

What I expected when I picked up this book was for Witherington to argue via scholarly argumentation that Jesus viewed himself as God.  That would give strength to C.S. Lewis' Lord-liar-lunatic trilemma, which states that Jesus either was God as he claimed, or he was a liar or a madman, and, since the latter two were not the case (since Jesus said and did things that were good and that made a degree of sense), we must conclude that he was God.  But Witherington did not argue that Jesus saw himself as God.  He contended that Jesus may have regarded himself as a shaliach, a person with divine authority; that Jesus viewed himself as a special son of God in the sense that he was the Messiah (for the Davidic kings were considered sons of God); that Jesus believed his death would atone for sins; and that Jesus thought he was wisdom incarnate.  But those were different from Jesus viewing himself as God.

But would the Lord-liar-lunatic trilemma still work, since, even in Witherington's scenario, Jesus had an exalted conception of himself?  That depends on how unusual such a conception was in ancient Judaism.  Jesus was not the only one who was regarded as a shaliach, nor was he the only person who thought he was the Messiah.  Jesus also may not have been unique in believing that his death would atone for people's sins, for there was a belief in ancient Judaism that the death of the righteous could bring vicarious atonement.  Witherington does argue that Jesus was unique in seeing himself as wisdom incarnate, but I don't see why that would be an unthinkable leap from Jesus' other exalted conceptions of himself.  Jesus could have easily gone from viewing himself as the shaliach and as the Messiah, to seeing himself as wisdom itself.  And, just because Jesus saw himself in such terms, that doesn't mean he was accurate, for others in ancient Judaism made exalted claims about themselves.  Were they right?

(UPDATE: I wrote this post a while back, and I've already turned Witherington's book back into the library.  As I think back, I don't remember if Witherington talked much about people who had an exalted SELF-conception in ancient Judaism.  Rather, if my memory is correct, he discussed exalted conceptions that people had about others----that another person could be a shaliach, or could die for others' sins.  My impression is that Witherington still felt that these conceptions were relevant to how Jesus saw himself, however, and that Jesus' exalted self-conception was not unusual in light of these conceptions that were floating around in his day.)

In my posts on The Christology of Jesus, I have mentioned Witherington's conclusions, without really going into how Witherington arrived at them.  Witherington does attempt to establish through scholarly argumentation that Jesus said and did certain things that are recorded in the synoptic Gospels.  My impression is that, most of the time, he does this by relying on a criterion of embarrassment, which states that the early church would not have invented embarrassing things about Jesus, and thus those things were authentic to Jesus himself.  For example, Witherington regards Jesus' claim to have authority over the Sabbath in Mark 2 to be historical, for the early church would not invent Jesus making the blooper that Abiathar was the high priest during David's flight, when Ahimelech was the priest.  That means that Jesus historically believed that he had (an unprecedented?) authority over the Torah.  Witherington believes that Jesus historically saw himself as the eschatological Son of Man, for Jesus tells Jewish authorities in Mark 14:62 that they will see the Son of Man sitting on the right hand of power and coming in the clouds of heaven (I draw here from the KJV's language).  According to Witherington, the early church would not have invented this, for those Jewish authorities technically did not see Jesus on the right hand of power coming in the clouds of heaven.  For Witherington, there is good reason to conclude that Jesus historically had an exalted self-conception, or Christology.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family 2

In my latest reading of It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good, Rick Santorum criticizes same-sex marriage and laments the erosion of community.

Essentially, Santorum longs for communitarianism, which entails people thinking about the well-being of others.  For Santorum, traditional marriage is consistent with that because it entails a man and a woman committing to each other and to their children.  And community associations such as bowling-leagues foster selflessness and community because members have to show up because their team is counting on them.  When there is a greater sense of community, Santorum argues, there is social capital, and this is the sort of thing that can help the poor.

Santorum associates same-sex marriage with individualism, for it makes marriage a matter of romantic attachment rather than commitment to children.  But I ask: Could same-sex marriage be consistent with values such as commitment and selflessness?  I agree with Santorum that it's tragic that marriage these days has become a lot like dating or going steady, but I don't think that same-sex marriage is responsible for that, or that same-sex marriage has to be like that.

At the same time, I wonder: If we as a country are to disregard what our Judeo-Christian heritage says about homosexuality, does that relegate that heritage to a state of non-importance?  What narrative, then, would we have that could help us to strengthen families and communities?  Like it or not, our Judeo-Christian heritage has been a significant factor in encouraging Americans to be selfless.  What could we replace it with?  Or would we even need to replace it, since there are gay-friendly versions of Christianity, plus even American Christianity disregards parts of the Bible (knowingly or unknowingly)?

Regarding same-sex marriage, Santorum believes that marriage being primarily a matter of romantic attachment has contributed to the declining birth rates in Europe.  The result, Santorum argues, is that in Europe there will not be a sufficient younger generation to support the older generation.

Witherington on Jesus' Eschatology, Son of Man, and Abba

I have three items for my write-up today on Ben Witherington III's The Christology of Jesus.

1.  In my post on this book yesterday, I struggled to understand Witherington's view on Jesus' eschatology, as I sought an answer to the question of whether Witherington believes that Jesus envisioned an immanent eschaton that would overturn the current world order and establish the Kingdom of God.  On page 214, Witherington states the following:

"...we saw Jesus as an eschatological messenger who announced the near coming and even presence of the dominion of God.  More than this, however, clearly from Luke 11:20/Matt. 12:28 Jesus saw himself as in some sense bringing in the final eschatological dominion of God, insofar as it affected the human condition directly.  By contrast, there is little or no evidence that Jesus thought he was bringing in that dominion in a way that would cause cosmological change during his ministry.  Human history and human lives are the arena into which he sees the dominion breaking, in spite of the unchanged nature of the earth, the cosmos, and even the continuing existence of 'this generation' or, as Paul called it, 'this present evil age.'  God's dominion is breaking into the midst of a dark world without immediately transforming or obliterating it all.  Only those who have eyes can discern its presence."

Jesus may not have thought that his ministry was causing cosmological change, but did he believe that cosmological change was imminent?

2.  Witherington discusses different views on the Son of Man (who will rule) in Daniel 7.  The first view states that the Son of Man was "one or more angels", for Gabriel in Daniel is said to be one "like the appearance of the sons of humanity" (Daniel 10:16), and Daniel 7 refers, not to a man, but to one like the Son of Man.  Witherington disagrees with this view because Daniel 7:27 affirms that the kingdom will be giving to "the people of the saints of the Most High" (Witherington's words), not to angels, plus the suffering Israelites would not find comfort in the angels being given the kingdom.  Witherington also asks in what sense the horn ("perhaps Antiochus") waged war against the angels (page 239).

I think that the first view deserves more consideration, for Daniel 12:1 says that Michael will stand up and calls him (in the words of the KJV) "the great prince which standeth for the children of thy people."  In addition, Daniel 8:10 talks about the little horn casting down the hosts of heaven.  And I can see the suffering Israelites finding comfort in the notion that angels will rule them, for that is better than Gentile oppressors ruling them.

The second view states that the Son of Man is "a symbol for Israel, or at least for faithful Israel----the 'Saints of the most High' who endure persecution" (page 238).  Witherington thinks that this view makes sense because animals symbolized kingdoms, and so it would be reasonable for the Son of Man to symbolize Israel.  Witherington states that the "symbolism would indicate the inhumanity or 'unhumanity' of the pagan empires in comparison with the people of God" (page 239).  Moreover, Daniel 7:27 affirms that dominion will be given to the saints.  For Witherington, a collective understanding of the Son of Man would have comforted the suffering Israelites.

The third view is the the Son of Man in Daniel 7 is an individual representative of Israel, such as a Messiah.  This is the position with which Witherington agrees.  One reason is that the four beasts in Daniel 7:27 are said to represent four kings, who are individual representatives of nations, and so the Son of Man could likewise be an individual representative of Israel.  Moreover, early use of the phrase "Son of Man" (i.e., the Similitudes of Enoch) regarded it as Messianic.  And Witherington states that, in Daniel 7:27, the reign of the Son of Man "meant the reign of the saints since he was their ruler and representative" (page 240).  The reign of Israel's representative will entail the rule of Israel's saints over the world, in short.

3.  Scholars have advanced two arguments based on Aramaic: that the word "Abba" is not a special term of intimacy (such as "Daddy") but simply contains an Aramaic construction making a noun definite ("the father"), and that the term "Son of Man" is a circumlocution, a method of self-reference (meaning "I").  Witherington disagrees with these arguments, for he maintains that they are based on later Aramaic sources rather than the Aramaic that existed during the time of Jesus.  Regarding "Abba", Witherington believes that Jewish sources (i.e., Targum Malachi 2:10) and the New Testament (Mark 14:36; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:6) indicate that the word is an expression of intimacy.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family 1

I started Rick Santorum's It Takes a Family: Conservatism and the Common Good.

So why am I reading and blogging about this book, when Rick Santorum is out of the race for the Republican nomination for President?  First of all, I think that Santorum has valuable insights, whether or not I agree with all that he has to say.  Second, I've been wanting to read this book ever since I first saw Santorum talk about it on C-Span, and that was long before he ran for President.  In fact, he was still a Senator at the time!  Santorum in that interview was criticizing individualistic conservatism and promoting a communitarian sort of conservatism, and (even though I was not yet disenchanted with conservatism) I admired that kind of outside-of-the-box thinking. 

And, third, while I respect Santorum's belief that the nuclear family and moral values are good for society, I wonder how exactly he thinks that government policy can uphold those things.  When he was running for President, Santorum said that Republicans should not only focus on tax cuts, but should also support strong families.  But how exactly does he think that Republicans in power can support strong families?  Can they seriously turn back the clock to the 1950's?  I wanted to read this book to see where Santorum believes that the government can help families, and where he believes that the government is harming the family.  I also wanted to see if his family policy encompasses more than opposition to abortion and same-sex marriage.

In my post here, I will feature and comment on three passages that stood out to me.

1.  On pages ix-x, Santorum states: "I came to the uncomfortable realization that conservatives were not only reluctant to spend government dollars on the poor: they hadn't even thought much about what might work better.  I often described my conservative colleagues during that time as simply 'cheap liberals.'  My own economically modest personal background and my faith had taught me to care for those less fortunate..."

I think that the sub-text here is that strong families can help the poor.  At the same time, things that Santorum says elsewhere in my reading of this book thus far add nuance to Santorum's argument.  Santorum appears to think that strong families are good for society, period, whether or not they make people financially well-off, and the reason is that healthy families teach moral values and provide children with emotional security.  Santorum acknowledges that there are rich families that are not good families, for the father is so busy that he fails to spend time with his children.  And Santorum also compares immigrant Latino teens with Latino teens born in the U.S., stating that, although the immigrant Latino families are poorer, their families and moral values are stronger, and so they are less likely to engage in violence.  Santorum believes that a strong economy can help families, but he does not think that money is where everything is at.  (UPDATE: On page 422, Santorum states: "Poor families, after all, will most likely be healthier if they are wealthier.")

2.  On page x, Santorum states: "My district and [the welfare-reform] bill started me down the road to building up a conservative philosophy within which we could use government policies and dollars as a catalyst to renew and re-form the poor families and communities in our country."

This passage reminded me of how some people have characterized neo-conservatism: as a belief system that holds that the government should encourage and incentivize doing the right thing, such as getting married. To some, that sort of sentiment can sound pretty patronizing and condescending!

In my reading of the book so far, I have not encountered Santorum's policy proposals for strong families, but my impression is definitely that he wants for people to live in a certain way.  He believes that couples should get married rather than live together apart from marriage, for many couples who live together end up getting a divorce.  (Santorum even says that the shotgun marriages of the old days were sometimes a good thing, and that made me think of Little House on the Prairie, in which Nellie and Percival marry each other, without having known each other that long.  And that turned out all right!)  Santorum laments that, in inner cities, social service agencies do not encourage young couples to get married, but they simply require the father of the baby to sign a paternity establishment paper so that the authorities can come after him for child support; for Santorum, that demonstrates the agencies' low expectations of people in the inner city.  Santorum also dislikes No-Fault divorce, and he believes that two-parent families are preferable to single-parent families----although he acknowledges that there are single-parent families that are healthy, and two-parent families that are unhealthy.

Santorum appears to want for the government to encourage marriage.  At the same time, when he acknowledges that there are two-parent families that are not healthy, that makes me think that there are limits to what the government can do.  The government can encourage people to get married, but can it make the couples good parents?

3.  On page 16, Santorum states the following: "Liberal social policy has never put an emphasis on the family because the village elders, frankly, don't believe in the importance of strong, traditional families...They think of society as fundamentally made up of individuals guided by elite and 'expert' organizations like government, not the antiquated, perhaps uneducated, independent family.  The village elders want society to be individualistic, because a society composed only of individuals responds better to 'expert' command and control.  Your father or your grandmother (or your priest or rabbi) may give you advice that contradicts the latest 'expert' wisdom.  The village elders just don't want such competition."

By "village elders", Santorum essentially means the liberal elite, which includes government, the media, academia, and other institutions.  He distinguishes this elite from your liberal neighbor down the street, who may be a really good parent, and he states that there are many village elders who don't have families of their own.  Santorum also observes that even some liberals agree that the decline of the family is a serious problem, for he refers to a conversation that he had with staff at a college newspaper in which liberal students identified the breakup of the family as the greatest problem in society today.  But Santorum still believes that a liberal elite is part of the problem in American society.  I agree and disagree with this view.  Where I agree is that I think that the entertainment industry perpetuates a cheap attitude towards sex, and I believe that this is deleterious to society.  Where I disagree is that I do not accept Santorum's characterization of the liberal elite as amoral, for I think that the liberal elite is guided by a morality, which includes helping the poor and the disadvantaged.

Where do I stand on Santorum's statement that the village elders do not want competition from the family?  I think that there is a place for expert wisdom and also for family wisdom, and yet both experts and families are flawed.  Experts are not always right, as we can see from the changes in expert opinion over the years.  Yet, there is something valuable in looking to studies for guidance, something that Santorum himself does in this book.  And families can be repositories of prejudice, yet they can also be places to draw from the common sense and experience of one's elders.

Tentative Thoughts on Witherington and Whether Jesus Was an Apocalyptic Prophet

What stood out to me in my latest reading of The Christology of Jesus was Ben Witherington III's discussion on page 194 about whether or not Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet.

Witherington believes that Jesus' worldview had apocalyptic elements, such as the notion that Satan fell from heaven and possibly parts of Mark 13.  But, in an overall sense, Witherington doubts that Jesus had an apocalyptic worldview, which Witherington defines as "a view that the world's end was necessarily imminent and that this world's structures were so inherently corrupt and evil that they were unredeemable" (page 194).  Why?  First, Jesus presumed the "ongoing existence" of the family.  Second, Jesus did not "condemn Roman rule or taxation", which "does not comport" with the view that Satanically-supported empires are afflicting God's people.  Third, Jesus is not calling for "perseverance until some future time when God will act", but rather is "proclaiming good news that God is even now intervening in history."  Fourth, Jesus' parables resemble wisdom literature, not apocalyptic literature.

But Witherington does acknowledge that eschatology was a significant feature of Jesus' message.  Does that mean that Witherington acknowledges that Jesus believed in an impending eschaton, or end-times intervention by God to overthrow evil and set up his kingdom?  Perhaps not, for Witherington on page 193 states that, in eschatology, there can be a long denouement after the crucial events.  Witherington states that the messianic age preceding the end of the world is "an age that in the relevant Jewish literature can last for a considerable period of time before the 'end of the world' (cf. Syr. Baruch 24-30, 4 Ezra 7.29f., 1 Enoch 91-93)" (page 193).  Could Revelation 20 fit that category, even though it is Christian literature?  It envisions the Messiah and certain saints ruling for a thousand years, before the last judgment and the new heavens and the new earth.  I guess the question then would be: When is the millennium?  Will it be a future event, or did it start with the resurrection of Christ?  I tend to go with the former, but amillennialists and post-millennialists go with the latter, as they treat Christ's millennial rule as more spiritual than something literal and physical on earth.

Witherington believes that John the Baptist was proclaiming an impending wrath, however.  For Witherington, was that an eschatological wrath that would immediately precede a new beginning and renewal?  Or was it simply the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., which was not followed by renewal?

Regarding Witherington's reasons that Jesus did not have an apocalyptic worldview, I am not entirely convinced by them.  I think a case can be made that Jesus and the early church thought that the end was near.  The family would be ongoing and would cause Christians trouble, until the end.  Jesus did not condemn Roman rule or taxation, but that could be because he believed that the fulfillment of God's kingdom was imminent, and so why worry about whether Jews should pay taxes to the Romans?  (Witherington likewise says that Jesus regarded taxation as unimportant in light of God's kingdom, but my impression is that Witherington does not define God's kingdom as God soon bringing the present world system to an end.)  Jesus did exhort his disciples to endure until the end.  And, while Jesus did preach good news that God even now was intervening in history, and Jesus most likely saw the Kingdom of God as present in his own ministry, that does not preclude him believing that God would soon bring the present world order to an end.  Perhaps Jesus believed that he was starting the process of ending Satanic dominion over the earth, a process that God would soon complete.  And that is good news, for those who repent.  Is this totally like Jewish apocalyptic?  Not necessarily, but maybe Jesus drew from elements of apocalyptic while diverging from apocalyptic in areas.

I write this, however, not knowing Witherington's overall views regarding Jesus' eschatology.  Witherington wrote a book on that subject, which I have, but I haven't read it yet.  Plus, I have more of The Christology of Jesus to read.  So there is some speculation on my part about what Witherington thinks.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Newt Gingrich's Lessons Learned the Hard Way 8

I finished Newt Gingrich's Lessons Learned the Hard Way.  In this post, I'd like to highlight what Newt says on page 205:

"...we must initiate an all-out effort to get current addicts off drugs.  Finally, we have to take back our prisons, with weekly drug testing and mandatory education and work programs designed to turn back out on the street people who are drug-free and have the ability to earn an honest living."

I appreciated the tone of this, especially in light of what Newt said earlier in the book about criminals.  Newt said that a felon should not be allowed to vote in Congress, for it's inappropriate for his vote to cancel out the votes of law-abiding citizens.  He ridiculed Michael Dukakis' push to register prisoners to vote, saying that this was not a pressing concern to many Americans, who wanted to be protected from criminals.  And he criticized Dukakis' weekly furlough program, which gave Willie Horton the opportunity to torture people.

I agree with Newt that the weekend furlough for Willie Horton and other violent criminals was inappropriate and reckless.  At the same time, I think that it is important to respect the humanity of criminals as well as victims and those who desire protection in society.  In my opinion, these concerns have to be balanced, and, in a sense, respecting the humanity of those who broke the law is a way to rehabilitate them and thereby protect society.  Just continuing to lock people up does not help society, since prisons are expensive.

I'm not saying any of this as an absolute.  Some criminals need to be in prison for life.  There may even be cases when the death penalty is appropriate.  But the reason that I appreciated what Newt said on page 205 is that he was in favor of drug treatment and rehabilitation.  I've heard people (especially tough-on-crime conservatives) lament that prisoners get educational opportunities in prison.  "Yeah, they go to jail, become a lawyer, and come back to sue society!", some have said.  But what good does it do not to provide education and job-training to people in prison?  They'd be less likely to commit another crime if they had work skills and a job.

Jesus as Shaliach

I'm continuing my way through Ben Witherington III's The Christology of Jesus.

So what did Jesus believe that he was, according to Witherington?  In my reading so far, Witherington is open to the notion that Jesus saw himself as God's Shaliach, which was an "agent, someone endowed with divine authority and power, the very authority and power of the sender" (page 51).  Witherington refers to Larry Hurtado's point that early Judaism applied a concept of divine agency to "everything from personified divine attributes, to patriarchs, to special angels" (page 51).  My impression is that Witherington also holds that Jesus viewed himself as pre-existent, for Witherington argues that Jesus thought that he was Wisdom incarnate.

Witherington regards as historical certain Gospel passages in which Jesus nullifies or claims to supersede parts of the Torah, such as the Sabbath and the dietary laws.  Consequently, Witherington concludes that Jesus regarded himself as special.  But Witherington holds that Jesus had reasons for going against the Torah: because Jesus thought that the Kingdom was breaking into human history, bringing a new situation, and because Jesus felt that he had to disregard purity rules in order to reach out to sinners as a spiritual physician and bring them to repentance.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Actors' Sacrifices; Two Views on Forgiveness

I have two thoughts for today:

1.  Yesterday, I watched an excellent documentary called The Captains, in which William Shatner of Star Trek fame interviewed other actors who played captains on a Star Trek show or movie (Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula, and Chris Pine), as well as shared his own reflections about Star Trek.

What particularly stood out to me in the documentary were comments by Scott Bakula and Kate Mulgrew, both of whom I love as actors.  Scott Bakula was saying that working on Quantum Leap essentially cost him his marriage, since he was working 12-hour days (at least), with rarely a day off.  Because he was a fairly new actor and thus did not have the leverage to negotiate his hours, he showed up when he was needed.  Kate Mulgrew of Star Trek: Voyager said that she was a single mother during the Voyager days, and she did not get to see her kids that much on account of her long workdays.  To this day, she said, her kids are not interested in the show—-they do not want to watch it—-for they resent how it took their mother away from them.  I can’t imagine not wanting to watch Star Trek: Voyager, but, of course, I enjoy it from a distance, without being exposed to all that it took to make it, or how that affected other people.

2.  Rachel Held Evans has a post, Ask a Seventh-Day Adventist.  As I discuss the issues of forgiveness and salvation in the comments section with Delina Pryce McPhaull and Nicholas, I am seeing more clearly the type of Christianity that I had growing up, and how that contrasts with the sort of Christianity that I encountered among evangelicals.

The type of Christianity that I had growing up (in Armstrongism) went like this: I accept Christ as my personal savior and my past sins are forgiven.  But I need to continue to ask God for forgiveness to keep my slate clean, and God forgives me continually on the basis of what Christ did on the cross.  But asking God for forgiveness is not enough for me to be forgiven on a continual basis, for I also need to repent (i.e., try not to do the sin anymore) and forgive others.

The sort of Christianity that I encountered among evangelicals went like this: I accept Christ as my personal savior and God then regards me as righteous and as a child of God, even though I still have imperfections.  I confess my sins to God, ask God for forgiveness, repent, and forgive others, not to keep my slate clean, for it’s already clean in God’s sight after I accept Christ.  Rather, I do these things to enrich my relationship with God and perhaps even to make myself feel better.

These are my impressions.  I can’t be absolute here, for I think that there were some elements of the second view in my religious upbringing.  But there was enough of the first view swimming around in my mind that, when I was in an evangelical small group and heard the leader say that one did not have to repent of every sin to be saved, I was shocked.

Tensions

The sermon at church this morning was good because the pastor in his sermon was really highlighting some tensions.  He was preaching about John 17, in which Jesus radically distinguishes his own from the world.  Here are some points that the pastor made:

1.  How do we engage the world and benefit from what it has to offer (i.e., entertainment, money, etc.), without being taken over by the world’s mindset?  The pastor’s answer was continuing prayer and Bible reading.

2.  How can Jesus portray the world as evil and his disciples as set apart from that, when his disciples themselves had flaws?  The pastor quoted a commentator who said that God is more interested in the direction we are facing, even if we in our present state have flaws.

3.  The pastor said that Christ can be at the center of our lives, and yet we may still have things that don’t fit into that, such as resentment.

4.  The pastor remarked that obeying Christ can seem burdensome, and yet Christ being at the center of our lives brings us peace.

I was more impressed by the tensions that my pastor highlighted than by his answers or resolutions.  It’s not that I left the service feeling inspired.  It’s more that I left it thinking, “Good thing I’m not the only one who asks questions like that.”

Newt Gingrich's Lessons Learned the Hard Way 7

As I have read Newt Gingrich's Real Change and Lessons Learned the Hard Way, I have wondered something: Does Newt believe that the Republicans should adopt the tactics of the Democrats?  Newt says that the Democrats are more effective at governing than Republicans (though Newt thinks that the Democratic policies are bad for the country), that the Democrats are more cohesive, and that the Democrats enforce group-think, whereas the Republicans have more independent thought in their ranks.

My impression has been that Newt thinks that the Republicans can learn things from the Democrats.  He says in Real Change that Republicans need to learn how to govern as a majority party, rather than retaining the minority party mindset that they had even when they were in the majority.  In Lessons Learned the Hard Way, Newt tells the story about how conservative activist Paul Weyrich was mistakenly invited to "a liberal meeting on civil rights issues", and, when Weyrich observed the cohesion and the coordination of strategy at that meeting, he went on to establish "a whole raft of conservative organizations and institutions" (page 107).  Newt also expresses admiration for Ted Kennedy for how Ted consistently pushed his liberal agenda over the years, and that is consistent with Newt's view that the Republicans likewise should have a vision and take the offense in pushing the agenda that they think is best for the country.

At the same time, Newt supports the independent and entrepreneurial spirit of Republicans, as opposed to the enforced group-think that exists in the Democratic Party.  Newt actually sees a little bit of himself in the House conservatives who sought to overthrow him as Speaker.  And Newt also expresses admiration for Ohio Congressman (now Governor) John Kasich, even though Newt disagreed with Kasich's stance against the B-2 bomber and a budget that Kasich was promoting.  Newt believes that the Republican Party is best when it is open to fresh, outside-of-the-box, and even dissident ideas.

I do not know as much about the Congress as Newt Gingrich does, but I question his model that the Democrats are a party of leftist group-think, whereas the Republicans tolerate dissent.  There may be truth to that, but I don't think it's the whole story.  The Democrats, after all, have the Democratic Leadership Council, which is more conservative.  Moreover, the Blue Dog Democrats were skeptical about Barack Obama's health care plan.  And the Republicans have exercised their share of party discipline, as occurred with regards to the prescription drug benefit.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Newt Gingrich's Lessons Learned the Hard Way 6: Sonny Bono

In my latest reading of Newt Gingrich's 1998 book, Lessons Learned the Hard Way, I enjoyed Newt's anecdote about the late Republican Congressman Sonny Bono.

The context was that some House conservatives were disappointed with Newt and were plotting to overthrow him from the Speaker-ship.  Why were they so upset with Newt?  They thought that Newt was too accommodating to the other side, and they were also disappointed when Newt helped to pass flood relief legislation that they considered to be too extravagant, and which contained a provision for a certain amount of sampling in the census (an issue that I discussed in yesterday's post).  Moreover, Newt acknowledges that he did not invest much time in listening to their complaints, which could have prevented a lot of problems.

In the midst of all of this, Sonny Bono told the story to House Republicans about how he was once a famous entertainer and singer, yet his career fell from its glory.  Newt relates: "He went, he said, from writing and performing gold records and producing one of the most popular television shows of the early 1970s to being only a guest performer...He wryly described his descent from huge dressing room, to small dressing room, to shared dressing room, to permission to use the men's room" (page 162).

Sonny's fall from glory really hit him when he had a guest spot on Fantasy Island and he botched up his only line in that episode.  Instead of saying "It's a nice day, Tatoo", he said "It's a nice day, Pontoon", and the actor playing Tatoo gave him a lot of grief over that!  Sonny then realized that God was telling him to move on.  And Sonny moved on.  Sonny owned a restaurant, became mayor of Palm Springs, and later became a Congressman.  Sonny was exhorting the Republican Congressmen to move on and to remember that this was not their last shot.

According to Newt, Sonny melted the tension with his self-deprecating humor and his shy modesty.  Newt says on page 162 that "He will be missed more deeply than he in his modesty would perhaps ever have believed" (page 162).

I loved this anecdote because it reminded me of how cool it was to be a Republican in the 90's.  The Republicans swept Congress, and one of those incoming Congressmen was the legendary Sonny Bono.  It was sad when he died in that skiing accident.  I was happy to learn from Newt's book that Sonny was a good guy, for not all celebrities are!

Psalm 77

For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 77.  I have three items.

1.  A theme that I heard in sermons and read in commentaries was that Psalm 77 is about the Psalmist's movement from self-absorption and self-pity to trust in God.  I especially enjoyed a story that Pastor Chuck Smith told about an alcoholic he counseled (see here).  The alcoholic had a stormy fight with his family while he was drunk, and Pastor Chuck then prayed with him.  At first, the alcoholic was complaining to God about how his family mistreated him and did not love him, but, gradually, the alcoholic's prayer changed its focus, as the alcoholic confessed to God that he had not served God as he ought.  According to Pastor Chuck, the alcoholic needed to get his self-pity out of his system before his eyes could be opened, and this occurred within the context of prayer, as was also the case with the Psalmist in Psalm 77.

2.  Psalm 77:10 is a difficult and much discussed verse.  In the KJV, it states: "And I said, This [is] my infirmity: [but I will remember] the years of the right hand of the most High."  Keil-Delitzsch presented four interpretations of this verse (which I encountered elsewhere in my reading), and, in this item, I will give the four interpretations and also justifications for them.  Then, I will look at how the Septuagint renders the verse, and what two Christian interpreters did with the Septuagint's translation of it.

a.  The word that the KJV translates as "the years of" is shenot, which is from the root sh-n-h and can mean "to change".  (The KJV, however, assumes that it's the construct plural of shanah, which means "year".)  The second half of the verse, therefore, can be translated as "the change of the right hand of the Most High".  According to Keil-Deltizsch, Martin Luther said that the point here is that the right hand of the Most High can change everything for the better.  As far as I could see, Keil-Deltizsch did not say how Luther understood the first part of the verse.  Here, though, is Luther's translation of it into the German: "Aber doch sprach ich: Ich muß das leiden; die rechte Hand des Höchsten kann alles ändern."  Based on what I found on Google Translate, that means: "But I said; I must suffer; the right hand of the Most High can change everything".  I'm unclear as to how the second part of the verse follows from the first part, in this reading.

b.  The second interpretation is that Psalm 77:10 is saying that the Psalmist's affliction is that the right hand of the Most High has changed, which presumably means that the Psalmist is upset that God is no longer delivering him.  This interpretation assumes that the Hebrew word that the KJV translates as "my infirmity", chaloti, is from the root ch-l-h, which often relates to sickness, but at times pertains to grief (I Samuel 22:8; Jeremiah 5:3).

c.  The third interpretation is that Psalm 77:10 is saying that the Psalmist's supplication is for the years of the right hand of the Most High, which means that the Psalmist is asking God to deliver him as he did in times past.  This interpretation holds that chaloti (only without the vowels that the Masoretic Text added) means "my supplication", for ch-l-h in the piel is used for supplicating (Exodus 32:11; I Samuel 13:12; II Kings 13:4; II Chronicles 33:12; Jeremiah 26:19).  One can mix and match and say that Psalm 77:10 is saying that the Psalmist's supplication is for the change of the right hand of the Most High, which would mean that the Psalmist is asking God to change his inactivity and to save him with his right hand.

d.  The fourth interpretation is that the Psalmist's affliction is the years of the right hand of the Most High, which means that the Psalmist feels afflicted by God's right hand (perhaps because the Psalmist feels that God is punishing him for some sin).

e.  Brenton's English translation of the Septuagint has: "And I said, Now I have begun; this is the change of the right hand of the Most High."  According to Marvin Tate, the Septuagint's Hebrew manuscript has a word in Psalm 77:10 from ch-l-l, which can mean "to begin" in the hiphil.  What can one do with this reading?  What did the Psalmist begin?  Augustine says that the Psalmist is having a fresh start as he thinks beyond himself and focuses on God.  Theodore of Mopsuestia, however, thinks that the verse is saying that the Psalmist began to think that God had changed his favorable attitude towards him.

3.  Psalm 77:19 states (in the KJV): "Thy way is in the sea, and thy path in the great waters, and thy footsteps are not known."  What is the Psalmist communicating when he says that God's footsteps are not known?  I liked how the Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary handled this (and the subsequent) verse.  It said that God split the Sea after the Exodus, but God left no physical traces of that miracle, for the Sea closed up again and reverted back to how it was before.  Consequently, because there are no physical traces of the miracle reminding us of it, we have to take the initiative to remember it and to pass it on to our children.  Moreover, notwithstanding the absence of evidence for the miracle, God continues to guide his people.  God did so after the Sea-event through Israel's leaders, Moses and Aaron.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Newt Gingrich's Lessons Learned the Hard Way 5

I have two items for my write-up today on Newt Gingrich's 1998 book, Lessons Learned the Hard Way.

1.  Newt talks about one of the prominent ethics charges that was brought against him (the only one that wasn't dropped): that he used tax-exempt money for political purposes, namely, a course that he was teaching and distributing entitled "Renewing American Civilization".  As Newt states on page 100, "The IRS regulations involving tax-exempt educational foundations allow such foundations to beat the drum to their heart's content in support of ideas and programs for achieving certain higher political ends (lower taxes, higher taxes, welfare reform, free trade, tariffs, and so on) but not to lobby for a specific piece of legislation nor endorse any candidate nor participate directly in a political campaign."

Newt states on pages 122-123 that the House Ethics Committee did not conclude that Newt violated tax law, but that it "felt that [Newt] could have avoided public controversy had [he] sought and followed legal advice to ensure [his] activities with the nonprofit agency that transmitted and disseminated the Renewing American Civilization course complied with tax law."  But Newt says on page 107 that he actually was advised by a lawyer, who was once on the Federal Elections Commission staff, and that he was "scrupulous about sticking to the rules."

The New York Times' understanding of the committee's conclusion is partially different from Newt's, for it says here, while linking to the report: "But the ethics committee did find that Mr. Gingrich had used tax-exempt money to promote Republican goals, and given the panel inaccurate information for its inquiry."  I say "partially" because Newt does acknowledge that he gave the panel inaccurate information: he states that his lawyers prepared a poorly-researched report, and that he signed it without reading it thoroughly.  Why did Newt agree to be reprimanded and to pay a $300,ooo fee to reimburse the committee for its work, if he felt that he was innocent of tax violations?  Newt says that he wanted to put the issue behind him for the sake of the country rather than dragging it out for years.  Newt was also dealing with the death of his step-father at this time.

2.  Newt talks about the census, and how he opposed a Democratic attempt to sample ten percent of the population rather than counting it.  What does this mean?  There was concern that the way of doing the census----a door-to-door head count----under-counted poorer neighborhoods, minorities, immigrants, etc.  This was relevant to the representation that areas got in government, and also to the amount of money that they received from the federal government.  To attempt to redress this problem, the Democrats proposed that the Census Bureau count 90 per cent of the population, while allowing for the remaining 10 per cent to be defined according to sampling.  This is called "statistical adjustment".  Newt acknowledges that there is a problem of under-representation of certain people in the census (although he notes that the 1990 census counted 98.6 of Americans, which isn't bad for the government), but he did not think that the Democrats' approach was the way to go.  He refers to it as inventing virtual people, and he feels that it could unfairly tip the balance in certain elections.  

Incidentally, there was a West Wing episode about this issue.  See here for a summary.  On the show, Sam Seaborn says that a reason that people in the inner-cities are not adequately counted is that many of them don't like to talk to people, such as the counters going door-to-door.

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