Saturday, June 16, 2007

Old Keys and Cosmic Laws

When you have been living in a house five years or longer, you have them -- a collection of old keys you can no longer identify. They hang on hooks out of sight here and there or have been put in drawers, trays, or little boxes. You didn't identify them when you put them away because you knew what they were, and now you have forgotten. So periodically you try to satisfy your curiosity. You try them in in all the locks you suspect, but few fit. Here a major temperamental divide arises: the bold and daring throw them away and risk needing one that is gone -- which they will once they get rid of them. The timid and cautious put them back in the fear they may need them, but they never do, thus the pile grows.

Eventually they will have to be dealt with by your children after you die, prompting exasperated comments like, "What the hell are these keys for, and why didn't they dispose of them or at least identify them."

It's a comic law. You throw them away and need them within a month, or you keep them and never need them. Don't fight it.

Multiple Choice Health Quiz

If a man who has been taking one of the ED drugs has an erection that lasts more than four hours, he should:

A. Go to the emergency room immediately.

B. Call his doctor the next morning at at the latest.

C. Ignore it, unless he has an appointment to see the Pope or Queen Elizabeth.

D. Call all the loose women in the neighborhood and schedule appointments.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Objectivity and the Bible

I have read a lot of debates in recent years in which two biblical scholars on opposite sides of the gay love question squared off on what the Bible had to say about the matter. If I knew the general moral and theological outlook of the opponents, I could nearly always predict in advance the outcome of these objective inquiries. Liberals generally come out saying that what the Bible really rejects is sexual abuse and exploitation and not monogamous, faithful relationships between two gay men or two lesbians. Conservatives are sure that what those passages in the New Testament condemn is the same sort of thing we mean by homosexual sex in our time. The Old Testament, of course, raises other issues, but the outcome really hangs on what is done with those verses in Romans and Corinthians.

I suggest no dishonesty, no tricks. Somehow the objective exegesis always produced results that agree with the personal opinion of the interpreter. That's just the way it turns out. Am I right?

Objectivity functions within a general framework consisting of the total set of assumptions the exegete brings to the task of biblical inquiry. That is the human condition. Nietzsche said, "There are no facts, only opinions." Well, I wouldn't go that far, but the philosopher had a point.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Strategy for John Edwards

I spent some time yesterday with The New York Times Magazine issue on economics, especially the piece on John Edwards, my candidate for President in 2008. He wants to fight poverty. The conclusion was that he has the personal passion , some good policies that will work, but he hasn't found a strategy to make it a winnable issue. I am a moralist who writes books on ethic, but I agree that appeals to conscience won't work very well here.

My suggestion is that he make his appeal to strengthening families, especially middle and lower-income families. This is a theme that can capture the imagination of large numbers of people because they have a personal interest in strengthening their families and need help.

He can organize a variety of proposals around this central focus, many of them designed to promote the incomes of average and low-income workers whose wages have been mainly stagnant in recent years, with some exceptions. For further elaboration of this, see my contribution dated Saturday, November 11, 2006.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Basic Errors in Theology

Theology can go wrong is lots of ways, but two approaches in particular need to be avoided. The first is to claim that "At last we've got it." The second is to maintain that "We've always had it." The first is typical of liberal theologies -- the tendency to seek change in the light of new historical circumstances. The second is characteristic of conservative and orthodox theologies -- those that think universal truth is located somewhere in the past, so that out task is to reproduce it today in an appropriate form.

Illustrations abound. The Protestant Reformers played "At last we've got it" by recovering the biblical message they thought was obscured in Roman Catholic doctrine and practice. In the 20th century Walter Rauschenbusch played the game with his claim that the social gospel was the old gospel of Jesus recovered for the first time since the early centuries. Neo-orthodoxy (Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and Reinhold Niebuhr assumed it, although his brother and my teacher H. Richard recognized that a new generation would arise to point out the errors of the current emphases, as they pointed out the errors of social gospel and others liberalisms. Later on liberation theologies (Latin American, black, feminist, Native American, womanist, gay and lesbian, e.g.) claimed to have newly discovered that that the Gospel is a word of this-worldly emancipation for the poor and oppressed, so that at last they have recovered the true Gospel of Scripture).

"We always had it" was the battle cry of 20th century Protestant fundamentalist perspectives that insisted on some fundamentals that must be in all theologies and neglected at the cost of losing eternal Gospel truth. Orthodoxies of all sorts (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, e. g.,) guard a body of divinely certified body of truth that they have have always possessed they must would guard against all revisionisms.

The point could be elaborated indefinitely, but let it be said that it is dangerous to play either game. Humility is called for on all sides unless some new absolutisms emerge (At last we've got it.) or some old one persist (We always had it.) Holding on to what is good in the past must be balanced by the need to be open to new insights and fresh adjustments to changing cultural settings.

Theologies are human creations, and it is idolatrous to absolutize any of them or to sanctify them by claiming divine authority for what they alone possess. We have this treasure in earthen vessels, and we must be ever vigilant about losing the distinction by committing the idolatry of claiming that our own mud pots are identical with the treasure itself and not merely carriers of some version of it. We can do this by our enthusiasm for something new that has at last got it or something old that has always had it.