Catholics Split: If True, So What?
Friday, February 10, 2012, 7:19 AM

The media continues to show just how tone deaf it is to religion in the recent coverage surrounding the HHS mandate concerning religious organizations and health insurance. This piece from NPR’s Morning Edition today is representative: “Catholics Split Over Obama Contraceptive Order.”

One of the things we began hearing right away was that the position of the bishops is undermined because Catholics already use contraception. According to the NPR piece, “98 percent of Catholic women use birth control at some point in their lifetimes.” And the latest poll to be trotted out has to do not with behavior but with attitudes: “A new survey by Public Policy Polling shows that a narrow majority of Catholic voters think women employed by Catholic hospitals and universities should have access to contraceptive coverage through their health plans.” Even assuming the validity of the results of these kinds of polls, such arguments fundamentally misunderstand the nature of religious doctrine, particularly as expressed in the Roman Catholic Church. Allow me, as an evangelical who shares the sentiments of so many others like Chuck Colson, Timothy George, Richard Land, and Rick Warren about the solidarity that we must show in this matter, to make a couple of observations in this regard.

First, the fact that many Catholics have at one point not lived up to the teachings of the church regarding contraception is no evidence that the teaching is wrong, irrelevant, or appropriately ignored. It just is evidence that Catholics, like the rest of us, aren’t perfect and go astray…”all we like sheep.”

And second, as to the attitudes of the laity, this is again irrelevant in the context of church teaching. The Roman Catholic Church is not a democracy, and the opinion of the majority does not determine the truth value of church teaching. So what if Callie Otto, a student at CUA, thinks the bishops are “wrong” and that they should “back down” so that the president “doesn’t have so much pressure”? (You actually have to listen to hear the inflection as she utters these words. Reading them on your screen just won’t do. You have to hear the self-righteous, patronizing tone of her voice. She sounds like a typical sophomore know-it-all.)

As long as news outlets continue to assume that this is merely a political issue and treat it as such, the real scale of the Obama administration’s overreach will continue to elude them.

Obama and Metaxas Compared and Contrasted
Tuesday, February 7, 2012, 1:04 PM

Over at Christianity Today, Sarah Pulliam Bailey highlights supposed similarities between the talks given by Eric Metaxas and President Obama at last week’s National Prayer Breakfast:

Author Eric Metaxas and President Barack Obama made similar addresses with different emphases during the National Prayer Breakfast’s 60th anniversary, both noting a religious motivation to “care for the least of these” and concern of “phony religiosity” while standing on different positions politically.

Obama’s remarks partly mirrored Metaxas when talking about mutual respect, though the two part ways on the issue of abortion.

But over at The Corner, I think Mark Joseph correctly notes the radical dissimilarities between their talks, such as the disconnect between characteristics of “phony religiosity” (Metaxas), including using the Bible as a weapon, and the president’s interpretation and application of Scripture to contemporary tax code debates.

If the organizers of the national prayer breakfast ever want a sitting president to attend their event again, they need to expect that any leader in his right mind is going to ask — no, demand — that he be allowed to see a copy of the keynote address that is traditionally given immediately before the president’s.

That’s how devastating was the speech given by a little known historical biographer named Eric Metaxas, whose clever wit and punchy humor barely disguised a series of heat-seeking missiles that were sent, intentionally or not, in the commander-in-chief’s direction.

Mollie Hemingway on the Church of Planned Parenthood
Monday, February 6, 2012, 10:24 AM

Joe Carter noted here last week that Russell Moore described Planned Parenthood as a thrall of Mammon. GetReligion contributor and Christianity Today columnist Mollie Hemingway has this to say about the coverage of Planned Parenthood in the context of the last few week’s of religion reporting:

But this week? Whoa. If you thought that the media were irreligious, you were proved wrong. They couldn’t be more religious. It’s just that their church is Planned Parenthood. Their sacrament is abortion. Any attack against their church, such as Susan G. Komen’s decision to stop funding Planned Parenthood, has been met with the most fervent defense of the faith I’ve ever seen. Never mind that Planned Parenthood doesn’t even do mammograms. Never mind that the money in question is a small fraction of either organization’s budget.

As I said before, I think we’re mistaken if we think Planned Parenthood and the abortion culture is just about “profit motive.” We are dealing with true believers.

Politics, Prooftexting, and the Prayer Breakfast
Friday, February 3, 2012, 11:59 AM

Joe noted today some furor over President Obama’s invocation of Luke 12:48 (“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.”) to justify an increasingly progressive tax code at yesterday’s National Prayer Breakfast (over at the Acton PowerBlog I write how glad I am that the president stopped reading at Luke 12. Imagine what a tax code based on Luke 19:24-26 would look like!).

By all accounts Eric Metaxas brought down the house with his talk, although from watching the speech online, it seemed to me that it took the crowd a little bit to warm up to him. This says more about the crowd’s stodginess than the merits of his speech, though.

One of the things Metaxas contrasted was “dead religion” with living faith in Jesus Christ. Dead religion, Pharisaism, and legalism use the Bible as a political weapon, he said. Did he have something like the comments from the president in mind?

Now as my friend Joseph Sunde notes, the president did add a caveat to his statement about the tax code by quoting C.S. Lewis: “Christianity has not, and does not profess to have a detailed political program. It is meant for all men at all times, and the particular program which suited one place or time would not suit another.” Joseph calls that “a flat out contradiction of the entire first half of Obama’s address, in which, as detailed above, he methodically explains how his redistributionist schemes are consistent with Biblical teaching.”

Part of the question turns on how strongly you think the president was in his use of Scripture. It’s one thing to say that something is consistent with the Bible; it’s quite another to say that something is mandated by the explicit teaching of the Bible. Here’s some broader context from President Obama’s remarks:

But for me as a Christian, it also coincides with Jesus’s teaching that “for unto whom much is given, much shall be required”… To answer the responsibility we’re given in Proverbs to “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.” … Treating others as you want to be treated. Requiring much from those who have been given so much. Living by the principle that we are our brother’s keeper. Caring for the poor and those in need.

Heine’s Advice to France
Wednesday, January 25, 2012, 9:35 AM

At the conclusion of his essay, On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany (1835), Heinrich Heine warns the French of the future conflagration that will take place within Germany: “A play will be enacted in Germany which will make the French Revolution look like a harmless idyll.”

He continues, “I advise you French, when that time comes, to keep very still and, on your life, do not applaud. We could easily misunderstand you and, in our impolite manner, ask you somewhat curtly to be quiet…. Take care! I mean well with you and therefore I tell you a bitter truth. You have more to fear from a liberated Germany than from the entire Holy Alliance including all Croats and Cossacks.”

He writes that what little love for the French there is among Germans is held by “the better and more beautiful half of the German people. And even if this half actually loved you, it is the half which does not carry weapons, and whose friendship therefore does you little good.”

In conclusion, he reiterates the warning:

In any case, I advise you to stay on your toes. Let happen in Germany what will… always be prepared, remain calmly at your post, rifle in arm. I mean well with you, and it almost gave me a fright when I heard recently that your ministers intend to disarm France.

Since you are born classicists, despite your present-day romanticism, you know Olympus. Among the naked gods and goddesses who amuse themselves there with nectar and ambrosia, take note of one goddess who, though surrounded by such joy and amusement, always wears a suit of armor, a helmet on her head, and keeps her spear in her hand.

It is the goddess of wisdom.

The later development of “French-German enmity” would include the Franco-Prussian War of 1870 and two World Wars.

A Gospel Culture of Curiosity
Monday, January 16, 2012, 2:06 PM

In Scot McKnight’s new book, The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited, one of the suggestions he has for “creating a gospel culture” (ch. 10) is for Christians to get to know the history of Christ’s church. Now in your evaluation of this advice you have to take into account McKnight’s evangelical audience, many of whom will be highly skeptical about positive assessments of church history. One of the major criticisms I have of the book, in fact, is McKnight’s treatment and evaluation of the Reformation and its legacy (full disclosure: I’m a Reformed theologian and a Reformation historian).

But aside from the particular disputes about this or that era or this or that particular figure, McKnight’s got the right instinct about what is lacking in the largely a-historical evangelical approach to the Bible. The remedy need not simply be an embrace of Tradition with a capital T, although many converts to Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy find this embrace compelling. But the remedy must at minimum include a knowledge of those who have gone before, especially perhaps (but not exclusively) those who have gone before in your own tradition. As McKnight writes, “We need more of us to be curious about our ancestors.”

I’ve had the distinct privilege of being involved with a project devoted to bringing to light some of the many primary sources and writers from the early modern era, the Post-Reformation Digital Library. I’ve described the project at Mere Comments before, but this last fall we went public with a major new upgrade of the site. We are now approaching 2,500 authors from a variety of ecclesiastical and theological traditions. The ability to search the site for early modern works in English makes the site potentially useful not just for specialized scholars of the early modern period but also for those laypeople who want to dig in to some of the primary documents of our ancestors.

Calvin and the Pope Agree on Occupy Wall Street
Wednesday, November 9, 2011, 2:22 PM

First the Vatican and now Geneva's own John Calvin are claimed to be kindred spirits with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The former claim comes via the Center for American Progress. The latter comes from the World Communion of Reformed Churches.

More here and here, respectively.

Update: "It will encourage a revival of the Catholic Left, which will do nothing to solve our current problems and only suggest solutions that would make them worse." –Peter Berger on "Towards Reforming the International Financial and Monetary System in the Context of Global Public Authority."

More Like Athens or Rome?
Wednesday, August 24, 2011, 9:55 AM

I found this WaPo piece intriguing for a number of reasons, "Philosophical counselors rely on eternal wisdom of great thinkers." It outlines the attempts of some of those who, for various reasons, were looking for ways to make their academic philosophical training relevant and practical. They found their answer in "philosophical counseling." Read the piece for an introduction to this line of work.

Here I want to highlight what one of these "philosopreneurs" says about the applicability of philosophy today:

Colleges and universities responding to the demand for majors that students can bring to the bank have cut philosophy departments and classes, decreasing the number of teaching jobs. The last thing a parent wants to hear in this economy is that their college student hopes to makes a career of pondering life’s cosmic questions.

As Marinoff puts it, “What are the first words a philosophy graduate utters? ‘Would you like fries with that, sir?’

“See, the fries joke, that’s exactly what we are trying to change,” Marinoff said. “The Greeks had ancient philosophers at every street corner. Today, our society is more like Rome with our circus culture. It’s all very entertaining. But we have to change the public perception of a philosopher as some useless academic relic.”

It strikes me that theology faces the same challenge as philosophy in this regard. I've posted some further thoughts on the implications for higher ed over at the Acton Institute PowerBlog, but here I want to ask: Are we more like Athens or Rome? Is Marinoff right to say the latter? And what does that mean for philosophy and theology today?

On my read of Peter Leithart's Defending Constantine, he would probably agree that we are like Rome with our infatuation with blood, bread, and circuses. And on what that means for Christian cultural engagement and apologetics, J. Daryl Charles has a good bit to say in his Retrieving the Natural Law.

To Serve Man and Enjoy Him Forever
Friday, August 19, 2011, 12:56 PM

No doubt many of you have seen the story circulating about a NASA report, "Would Contact with Extraterrestrials Benefit or Harm Humanity? A Scenario Analysis," warning that unless we humans take better care of our planet, particularly by addressing the problem of climate change, extraterrestrials "could attack and kill us, enslave us, or potentially even eat us."

I think the NASA researchers have been watching the Twilight Zone a bit too regularly, particularly the famous episode, "To Serve Man." Here's the full episode:

But you can also skip ahead to the kicker.

Maybe this is a report from the Onion that got picked up accidentally. I checked and it's not April 1, anyway, but I can't see how such a report would push public opinion in favor of increasing funding for a struggling government agency.

Worshiping the goddess of environmentalism does precisely what Rod Serling warns, devolving human beings from "dust to dessert" and from steward of the planet to "an ingredient in someone's soup."

Ronald Reagan said, "The nine most terrifying words in the English language are, 'I'm from the government and I'm here to help.'" But maybe we should fear instead the word, "I'm from another planet, and I'm here to help."

It's a cookbook!

Evangelical Engagement of the Body
Monday, August 15, 2011, 10:36 AM

 Evangelical Engagement of the Body

My friend Matthew Anderson has a noteworthy new book out, Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to Our Faith.

I'm looking forward to diving into the book for a number of reasons. Matt is a graduate of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola, an institution whose faculty, staff, students, and alumni continue to impress me the more I become familiar with them.

One of the things that Matt does that is important in this book is dialogue extensively with Roman Catholic thinking, especially that of John Paul II. Deep and principled engagement with Roman Catholic thought on these kinds of questions can be nothing but positive and challenging for evangelicals, especially if it forces evangelicals to mine their own rich traditions for characteristic and normative approaches to many social and ethical questions.

It seems to me there have been two basic trends characterizing evangelical approaches to the body in particular and material realities in general.

The first is to derogate the body and bodily matters as unimportant, especially as they relate to more important spiritual realities. The second is to place too much emphasis on materiality. If fundamentalism and "other worldly" impulses result in the former, the physicalism/materialism of other evangelicals (both philosophically, hermeneutically, and politically) results in the latter.

I expect Matt's book to be a corrective to both errors and to point constructively toward a rich and comprehensive evangelical anthropology, one that properly relates bodily matters to spiritual realities.

You can check out Matt's extensive essay along these lines at Christianity Today to see where he's going, and be sure to buy the book for the whole story.

Matt is also the founder of Mere Orthodoxy, a blog you should add to your RSS list if you haven't already.

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