Saturday, March 19, 2011

In essentials (including morals), unity; or Unity in morals is not a non-essential, not a non-necessarium

"There is a Reformation slogan that sums up the impossibility here: 'What the law demands, the gospel bestows.' The law demands righteousness, the gospel bestows righteousness, and it does so by bringing Christ to us and us to Christ. He is the living fulfillment of the law, the one in whom all that the law requires is fully and unquestionably realized. His righteousness covers our sin, when we become one with him by faith, but at the same time, he lives in us, which means that righteousness dwells in us, alive and triumphant, and we begin to live a new kind of life. But if the gospel bestows what the law demands, then without agreeing substantially on what the law demands, we cannot agree on what the gospel bestows. And pushed to the end, such disagreement will easily turn into disagreement about Jesus Christ and his saving righteousness."

Conway Morris on the brain as an antenna, and on "a 'time-line' for creatio ex nihilo"

"Suppose we were to think of the brain, which is by implication ultimately 'only' a chemical 'machine', as an 'antenna' that has evolved (convergently!) for life to 'discover' the mental world and thereby become conscious by default. . . . Properties such as memory and sleep clearly have some physical basis.  Neither, however, readily explains such matters as the construction of a 'memory palace' (as by Matteo Ricci), unprompted recall (as in Coleridge's famous instance of a servant girl spouting Latin, Greek and Hebrew, that upon investigation was 'learned' when employed by a savant, but only emerged much later when she was in the grips of fever), or, in the case of sleep, its pre-cognitive dreams.  So too imaging studies of the brain may indeed localize some activities; other activities, however, are far more diffuse, and in no case does the region of neural activity reveal anything of the qualia, be it the chess piece or the antiphonal singing.  Not only that:  even when we feel we are the most intensely conscious, almost the entire brain remains a 'black box', silent and ostensibly entirely unengaged.  And this latter paradox is perhaps less surprising with the discovery that in vegetative states, where by definition there is no brain activity, the patients still appear to be conscious.  That too makes it more believable that in well-documented 'out-of-body' experiences, where the individual may be technically 'dead', conscious experience clearly continues for the simple reason that it is subsequently reported.
"All this seems inexplicable from a panpsychic, let alone naturalist, perspective.  If, however, there is a mental world and the brain is the 'antenna' that makes first contact with it, then not only do we have access to new realities, which the intuition of qualia has long indicated, but we find a world where theological discourse is not divorced, but integral.  It is true that, even if this idea wins further acceptance, it could in principle be applied to any world-picture that accepts the supernatural.  On the other hand, there are rival explanations for our perception of such worlds.  [And] These are notoriously not easy to reconcile with each other, apart from via some syncreistic mishmash, of which the present day supplies some splendid examples.  Christianity, of course, makes some highly specific claims that are built on both Judaic experience and wisdom, but argue uniquely for particular interactions between the divine and the mundane.  These certainly find echoes, resonances and rumours in other traditions, but none approaches (even remotely) the concrete specifications of the Christian claim for the incarnation and the resurrection.  Indeed, so far as they are even entertained, they are rejected as a monstrous scandal, if not an insult.  In addition, but I believe consistently with these tenets, Christianity embraces the concept of creatio ex nihilo.  This too is in conflict with Aristotelian philosophy (which is still the main underpinning of science), as well as many eastern religions.
". . . Yet just as many are deeply offended by the Christian scandal of particularity (although I suspect the scandal tells one more of a given perspective on the world), so scientists are justly suspicious of singularities.  Does this not apply to creatio ex nihilo?  At first sight it does, but the Christian narrative seems to point to instances where, from our stance, creatio ex nihilo has recurred. . . .
"Thus, standing (as I hope I do) within the walls of Christian orthodoxy, I would suggest the most compelling examples of creatio ex nihilo are the incarnation via Mary and the resurrection. . . . But I would speculate that the Transfiguration and Ascension may also help to define creatio ex nihilo, i.e., as the time-line that not only serves to link the incarnation and resurrection, but also points to its culmination.  Our perception of these events is begged in the very term 'time-line', but when we approach the eternal and ineffable our language predictably fails.  A metaphor of a 'time-line' for creatio ex nihilo does have a further advantage, however, in not only reconciling our imagination to the ostensibly impossible, but also reminding us that Christian orthodoxy claims to identify a narrativeone set in a historical context in which the story developed, culminated and apparently ended.  So too the 'time-line' of creatio ex nihilo argues that since its original definition in Roman Judea it has remained temporally accessible to all via the Eucharist but must also terminate in the Eschaton.  At that point, when time ends, we will fully understand creatio ex nihilo."

Simon Conway Morris, "What is written into creation?," in Creation and the God of Abraham, ed. David B. Burrell, Carlo Cogliati, Janet Martin Soskice, and William R. Stoeger (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), 188-191 (176-191).

Conway Morris on creatio ex nihilo

"I would suggest that all attempts to understand consciousness will fail until we not only abandon a naturalistic framework, but also re-frame our question in the context of a much wider (and stranger) universe that is not only thoroughly supernatural, consisting of worlds both visible and (to us) invisible, but also only explicable by the agency of creatio ex nihilo."

Simon Conway Morris, "What is written into creation?," in Creation and the God of Abraham, ed. David B. Burrell, Carlo Cogliati, Janet Martin Soskice, and William R. Stoeger (Cambridge:  Cambridge University Press, 2010), 188 (176-191).

Friday, March 18, 2011

Only half right, but what a half

"The problem was [Gene Robinson's] willingness to overuse the rhetoric of civil rights, as if the struggle for gay equality is just as righteous as the struggle for racial equality.
"What's the difference? Sexuality is more ambiguous. Gay rights is joined at the hip to cultural forces that are, from a Christian point of view, dubious. I mean sexual liberation, individualism, hedonism. We are talking about human desire, which is endlessly fallible. The language of liberation therefore does not quite apply. If a racist repents and starts a mixed-race family, that is an unambiguous story of liberation, holy progress towards the kingdom of God. If a man leaves his wife because he decides he is gay, well, that is more ambiguous. To spin it as a marvellous tale of courageous self-realisation is dubious.
"The problem with the Christian gay-rights lobby is that it insists that homosexuality is something to celebrate. Shouldn't all forms of loving relationship be celebrated? Well, we should tread very carefully when sex is involved. The reality is that this thing called 'homosexuality' is ambiguous. It does not just refer to stable committed same-sex partnerships. It also refers to a culture that detaches sex from commitment. But you could say the same of 'heterosexuality'. Yes: all sexuality is ambiguous. But the gay lobby implies that we should overlook the ambiguity and affirm homosexuality as a holy cause.
"So although I am in favour of the ordination of homosexuals, I am very wary of the righteous aura attaching to homosexuality in liberal Christian culture. What is so fascinating about the gay issue is that it has been the best of liberal Christian causes, and the worst. It has been the best of causes because it revives one of the most basic themes of liberal Protestantism: God calls us to move beyond moral rules, beyond 'the law'.
"There is no code of Christian morality other than 'Be perfect' – and we are all forced to decide for ourselves how to failingly pursue this. Even when the person issuing the moral rule is St Paul we must overlook it, for his larger message is that the gospel frees us from moralism. The gay issue separates the advocates of Christian freedom from the legalists. It is a crucial shibboleth. Those who appeal to holy rules against homosexuality should indeed be denounced as sub-Christian.
"And yet it also has been the worst of liberal Christian causes – because it overlaps with secular humanism. It has led to the perpetuation of a rather flabby liberalism that speaks the language of self-help therapy and political correctness. Feminism has also contributed to this, of course. The gay rights (and feminist) narrative of 'accepting who you are' is one that should not be mixed up with Christianity, which teaches that you should strive to be very much better than you are. It points Christianity in the direction of soft spirituality."

Theo Hobson, "Gay-friendly Christianity has become a self-righteous subculture," The Guardian, 16 March 2011.  There's hope.  Maybe someday he'll see his way clear to drop the antinomianism, too.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Not ultimately the Eucharist from the Cross, but the Cross from the Eucharist

"everything that follows the Last Supper receives a new meaning; it takes its meaning from Jesus' decision to give his eucharistic Body unconditionally, that is to say, to give the totality of his personal history, which culminates in the paschal mystery, for his Bride, whom he makes his ecclesial Body.  The subsequent eventsthe sufferingfollow the preceding eventsthe actionnot only chronologically, but flow from them as an effect flows from a cause.  The Eucharist does not have its source in the cross (as a rather narrow-minded version of the holy sacrifice of the Mass would have it); to the contrary, the cross has its source in the Eucharist, understood as the irrevocable decision made by Jesus on the evening of Holy Thursday and attested to by the institution of the memorial before the events they memorialize...."

Jean-Pierre Batut, "Believing in the resurrection, or:  the logic of love," trans. Michelle K. Borras, Communio:  international Catholic review 37, no. 1 (Spring 2010):  43 (34-46).  Furthermore, "This radical absence of any kind of gap between the love expressed and the love given. . . . allows us, whose decisions are so often irresolute and whose fickleness ceaselessly calls into question the most irreversible gifts, to draw from the Lord's fidelity and not from our own resources the capacity for a fidelity to which we aspire, all the while knowing that we are incapable of it."

Sunday, March 13, 2011

but unto God the things that are God's

"What do emperors have to do with councils?"

St. John of Damascus, Commentary on a passage in St. Sophronius' The spiritual garden, in the "Ancient documentation and testimony of the Holy Fathers concerning images" appended to the First apology of St. John of Damascus against those who attack the divine images 16, in St. John of Damascus on the divine images, trans. David Anderson (Crestwood, NY:  St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1980), 48.  Cf.
We will obey you, O emperor, in those matters which pertain to our daily lives:  payments, taxes, tributes; these are your due and we will give them to you.  But as far as the government of the Church is concerned, we have our pastors, and they have preached the word to us; we have those who interpret the ordinances of the Church.  We will not remove the age-old landmarks which our fathers have set, but we keep the tradition we have received.
Second apology 12, p. 60.  Cf. also pp. 47, 53, 59, and 63.