Apparently Humanae Vitae was a miracle!

So there he [Pope Paul VI] was making a decision on "Humanae Vitae" and he left it to the Holy Spirit. That is really remarkable. That one moment in making the decision to write "Humanae Vitae," that one moment, is all we need from him to be a saint.

As difficult as it was been since "Humanae Vitae" was released, to have taken this position, it is absolutely a miracle. That miracle on its own is enough to canonize him. He was a very, very holy, person and he made probably one of the toughest decisions, if not the toughest, in the 20th century. But it was the right one. I hope his canonization happens.

Wow. I've heard people defend Paul VI's decision not to change the official teaching on contraception, but this is hilarious.

This quotation comes from an interview with Dr. Thomas Hilgers, director of the Pope Paul VI Institute. The interview was published in response to the 40th anniversary of Humanae Vitae, which is today.

What can I say about Humanae Vitae? A lot of people see it as a great tragedy. In some ways it was. In at least one way, though, I think it's served a positive function: I imagine this encyclical has woken more than a few people up to the fallibility of the magisterium.

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The Human Origin of the Bible

Marcus J. Borg, in his terrific book Reading the Bible Again for the First Time, describes two different ways of looking at the Bible.

The more traditional way is to see the Bible as a divine product:
The inspiration of scripture is understood to mean that God guided the writing of the Bible, directly or indirectly. What scripture says, then, ultimately comes from God. (22)
The alternative is to see the Bible as a human product, which is the way Borg proposes.

I suspect a lot of people are somewhere in the middle, acknowledging to one degree or another than humans were involved in the writing, while maintaining at the same time that God was somehow involved, at least some of the time.

Borg anticipates this possible objection, but rejects it:
Why see the question as an either-or choice? Why not see the Bible as both divine and human? In my experience, affirming that it is both only compounds the confusion. (26)
The problem, he points out, is that when the Bible is seen as both divine and human in origin -- or partly divine and partly human -- it tends to lead to the attempt to separate what comes from God from what is merely human. To discern, in other words, what parts we have to take really seriously, and what parts we can dispense with. The problem with this is obvious enough:
[T]he parts that we think come from God are normally the parts we see as important, and thus we simply confer divine authority on what matters to us, whether we be conservatives or liberals. (27)
So there are some people, for example, who insist that everyone observe the prohibition of homosexual behaviour, while showing little or no concern for those who violate the prohibition of planting two kinds of seed in the same field (Lev 19.19), or for women who braid their hair, or wearing gold jewellery (1 Tim 2.9).

It does sort of raise the question, though: There are countless books that are "merely human" in origin -- why even bother with the Bible at all?

Some other time.

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Garfield, but without Garfield

I read about this a few weeks ago, but didn't get around to checking it out until today: a comic strip called Garfield Minus Garfield. As you may have guessed, it's the well-known strip by "Jim Davis,"1 but with its main character, Garfield the cat, having been digitally removed from every panel in which he originally appeared.

So, it's just Jon Arbuckle, Garfield's owner. Instead of talking to Garfield, he talks to himself. Without Garfield's sarcastic replies, there's just silence. (When you reflect upon the fact that Garfield's replies are really only thoughts, you realise how one-sided Jon's conversations with Garfield have always been. With Garfield removed altogether, it becomes particularly evident, and even a little sad.)

The effect is quite interesting. The site says the strip is a "journey deep into the tortured mind of an isolated young everyman as he fights a losing battle against loneliness in a quiet American suburb."

Yeah, maybe.

At any rate, it's an improvement. Some of them are actually very funny.

(I hate Garfield, by the way. HATE it. It's not even inadvertently funny.)

Check it out here, and read a pretty good article about it here. (Links open new windows.)


[1] I put "Jim Davis" in quotation marks because the strip as published is not actually drawn by Jim Davis. Davis provides an artist with a sketch, and then signs it when it's finished. Davis used to draw the strip in its early days, but had to stop, apparently, so he could focus his attention on the real money-maker, officially licensed Garfield merchandise! Just one more reason why I hate Garfield.

Davis, to his credit, has given the thumbs-up to Garfield Minus Garfield, which was cool of him.



What did the early Church have that we don't?

I've written before about the problem of authenticity in religion traditions (see "What I'm Doing Here").

I've asserted in numerous places that inauthenticity has plagued the Christian tradition from early in its history -- not an original observation, to be sure -- and that one of the central concerns of "progressive Christianity" is the undoing of that inauthenticity.

This idea, hardly original to me, meets with a great deal of resistance by conservative Christians. If someone disagrees with doctrines originally articulated in the first few centuries of the Common Era, it's attributed to simple hubris, nothing more. That someone might have legitimate reason for finding fault with established doctrine has already been excluded as a possibility.

Underlying this is a rather curious confidence in the competence of ancient authorities -- whether biblical authors, or Church Fathers, or whoever -- apparently for no reason other than that they are ancient.

This is a curious assumption that warrants some attention. Why, for example, should Augustine's interpretation of the second creation story -- and, more specifically, the doctrine of Original Sin that derived from it -- be held as definitive against the interpretations of contemporary exegetes? Did he have access to any relevant resources that we lack? (The short answer is, "no.")

Conservatives will argue that the truth of the doctrine of Original Sin lies elsewhere than the authority of Augustine as an individual. It lies, they might argue, in the authority of the Church that accepted his doctrine, under the infallible guidance of the Holy Spirit. In other words, we'll ignore the fact that actual humans, whoever they were, actually made the judgment that Augustine got it right, and pass the buck to God himself.

And why not? We know church leaders are directed by God, because that's what they tell us -- and since they're directed by God, they can't possibly be wrong about it!

(Have you ever wondered what would happen if every human on the planet woke up one day with an awareness of the fallacy of circular reasoning, and the implications of this for their own belief systems?)

I suppose the real answer is simply that people want to believe that the very fallible humans who originally judged these doctrines to be true were somehow protected from error by the hand of God.

The absence of reason is arbitrariness. And as Bernard Lonergan points out,
"Arbitrariness is just another name for unauthenticity." (Method 122)
As much as I try to write about other things, I keep running into the same conclusion: a lot of the inauthenticity one finds in the Christian tradition is rooted in circular reasoning. Which is odd, because the fallacious nature of circular reasoning is so easy to grasp.

Why does it persist, in Christianity in particular, to such an extent? Is it just wishful thinking? That's a big part of the story, undoubtedly. But what does one do about that?

I have some thoughts about that, but I'll talk about that later.



Tradition and Progressive Christianity

I've given a lot of thought to the role and function of "tradition" in Christianity, particularly in the progressive form I happen to identify with.

Progressive Christians, in my experience, spend a lot of time deconstructing aspects of the Christian tradition, while creating a new (sub-)tradition, but I haven't seen much reflection on the role of tradition as a whole. So I thought I'd share my thoughts on the subject.

"Tradition" is a pretty broad concept. Etymologically, it refers to that which is "handed over," which, in a religious context, encompasses a whole lot of stuff. Any transmission of religious information is, in a sense, a participation in tradition.

In practice, of course, tradition is rarely defined this broadly. A line is generally drawn between "orthodox" and "heterodox" elements, the idea being that only "orthodox" elements should be transmitted.

The most obvious difference between progressive and "traditional" Christians is in which elements we have judged worthy of continued transmission. But this difference concerns the content of tradition, which is not what I'm interested in right now.

The larger issue is the role of tradition. For "traditional" Christians, tradition is inextricably tied up with authority. For example, consider one of the central points of disagreement between Catholic and Protestants, namely, the authority of "tradition," vis-à-vis "scripture." It is often said that Catholics affirm the authority of tradition, while Protestants reject it, but this is rather simplistic. When one realises that scripture is itself a product of tradition, one sees that Protestants did not reject tradition, they simply limited it's extent. And even this is a simplistic description: the doctrine of sola scriptura is an extra-biblical element of tradition that is held up as authoritative. In reality, the Protestant Reformers didn't reject tradition, they simply replaced the old one with various new ones (to which Protestants, to one extent or another, ascribe some measure of authority, de facto if not de jure).

What traditional Christians (Catholic, Protestant, or otherwise) have in common is a tendency to treat tradition as a norm against which each individual's faith can be measured. It provides a "box" within which each individual must sit in order to claim membership.

Progressive Christianity, as I understand it, largely does away with this. The role of tradition is not to provide a norm against which we measure our own faith to determine if we merit this or that label. It is simply a part of the context that shapes us, that makes us what we are. If we find fault with what has been handed down, we don't break with tradition so much as we expand it by seeking newer and better ways of expressing our understanding.

More on this later.



The Wit and Wisdom of Ben Stein

"I had long thought," says Ben Stein, "that Darwinism had a huge role to play in the mindset of the leaders of the Nazi party, and consequently a huge role to play in the Holocaust."
Ouch. What is he implying? That the fact that scientific knowledge may have led to evil actions somehow disproves it? I wonder if the Japanese are similarly skeptical of the possibility of nuclear fission, after Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

Later, in the same Toronto Star article, in response to the decision by a Dover, Pennsylvania court to exclude Intelligent Design from the science curriculum, I read this pearl of wisdom from Stein:
"You cannot tell me for one minute that a court is competent to tell me what is science and what is not. A court is not divinely inspired. It's just some guy in a black robe."
*Jaw drops*

Does this guy really think only a divinely-inspired authority is capable of deciding what should and should not be taught in a science class?

Dear Mr. Stein: maybe you are unaware of this, but "science" has a definition. It's too complicated to get into, but empirical verifiability is a major criterion -- which, unfortunately for you, excludes "Intelligent Design" right off the bat. If you want to get more sophisticated, you might also consider that "falsifiability" is another criterion. In other words, it would have to be possible to demonstrate that a theory is false if, in fact, it was. "Intelligent Design" fails that one, too. That's why it shouldn't be taught in science classes. It's not that it's bad science. It's that it isn't science at all.

You don't have to be "divinely-inspired" to make that judgment; you just have to know what "science" is.


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