Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Thursday Post: Week 12: A Refutation of American Democracy

The statement that “democratic manners in America are eating the heart out of American democracy” is as much of a true statement today as it was in 1958. According to the context surrounding this statement, one can say that in America, we do not honor the office of a man so much as the man himself. We have disregarded “wisdom, creative ability, and service” because these things do not show on a man. Either that or they can be easily ignored. Rather we regard material possession as being the stature of a man's conduct.
This idea is very possible, it is believable. Not only that, but it is true. It is seen all the time in our society. Wealth breeds influence which in turn gains power. The rich gain power and thus win, at least in political circles. It doesn't seem to matter what your morals are, if you have enough money. Morals are not totally totally gone, there are still those who hold them in high regard. But as a country we do not hold virtues as highly as we ought to.
Over half of the Presidents of the United States have been either in the Republican or the Democratic parties. Out of the dozens of parties to choose from, these are th two largest and richest parties. The candidates from these two parties are well funded and have the best ad campaigns. Because of their popularity, they are able to continually sustain themselves. Because they are well funded and do well, they thus fund themselves all the more for the next year's elections.
It is only natural that people should act this way. With the fall, we gave into material desires. Thus, we were cursed. Now we wallow in our sin. It follows that we would rather have material possessions which help our image rather than virtues which often do not matter.
Furthermore, what reason do we have to act any differently? We are bred to love material things over virtues. I do not think that this is right, just that it is the truth. We have no reason to seek virtue over material possession, so we must work all the more to discipline ourselves and produce within us a high moral character.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Thursday Post: Week 11: A Political Theory

There are three major aspects of mankind which a political theory ought to be concerned about: man as he comes, man as he is, and man as he could become. Or rather, it ought to deal with man at his birth, untouched by culture and civilization, man as he is after a life (or even simply a few years) of experience in this world, and man as he could be in an ideal world.
First, man at birth. Men are born with a sense of free will. However, this liberty does not give man the right or the ability to be God, because we are bound by conscience. We can do and think whatever we will, but since we have been given the knowledge of good and evil, we are also given the choice to obey the good, and shun the evil. We are not physically handcuffed, but mentally; ever haunted by a hovering sense of morality.
As part of this free will, we are given several rights at birth. For example we are given the freedom of belief, since no man can stop thoughts, save by stopping the physical brain. We are given the freedom to defend that which we are responsible for, be it our possessions, our friends or neighbors, or ourselves. There are many more “rights” given to us by human institutions, but even these cannot be used to justify evil. Like everything else that we as humans do, our rights are governed by conscience: they are only good if conscience makes them so.
Secondly, a political theory must also deal with how man is. The expectations for humanity are hardly lived up to. We are given consciences, but we rarely use them. It’s simply human nature: we are bred to disobey. Thus, we have laws. Laws govern and protect man by attacking the vices of society. Rights, on the other hand, protect man by defending virtues. A society ought to have a strong set of laws and a clear view of human rights, and a strong government to enforce those laws and rights, so as to protect the people. Yet, the government must also be understanding. A nation with a ruler who does not listen to his or her people, is little better than a nation without a ruler at all.
A political theory ought to also take these first two points, the nature of man at birth, and the nature of man during the course of his life, and use them to form a third point, dealing with what a man, or man in general, ought to be like. The problem with society is the rooted in the people who make it up. If man in general is corrupted, as he is by sin nature, then it naturally follows that that which he builds cannot, and will not, be perfect. In order to create a good society (simply a good society, since a perfect society is, I believe, unattainable), one must first reform the people living in that society. And, if it is true that we have been given the knowledge to discern between good and evil, and we have a problem making that discernment, then the problem must be based at the human conscience.
Now, many would simply call this stating the obvious, but I believe that “the obvious” needs to be stated. Whenever we attempt to make a cultural difference, it seems as if we spend more time changing the standards of society to fit the people, rather than changing the people to fit the standards of society. The problem lies within us, and following our hearts will only get us into trouble.
Now, most people, especially in this country, argue vehemently for the separation of Church and state. I am basing my argument upon a rather Christian world view, especially since I cite the problem of human nature, but I believe that many would be able to agree with what I am pointing out. The problem remains: what can change the conscience of a man, if the conscience is indeed what needs changing? Religion can. This will no doubt be unthinkable to many, but think of it: a good, moral framework comes most easily with religion. Religion gives man a standard to which he can compare his life. My apologies Mr. Lenin, religion is necessary to the survival of society. Religion allows man to recognize his conscience and obey it, and thus he can make better use of the laws which government sets in place to protect him. Religion is the key which has the potential to unlock the secret to a good, stable society.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Thursday Post: Week 10: An Attack On The Literal Reading of Matthew 23

Despite the reading of Matthew 23 by many Christians today, the use of the term “father”to address clergy is both acceptable and desirable.
Many of these “many Christians” take a very literalistic approach to the phrase “call no man father”. They stress the words “no” and “man”, emphasizing that no one, under any circumstances, ought to be called “father”, “teacher” or “master”. Others are not so aggressive, and declare that only clerics cannot be called “father” and that we may to refer to other men with such titles.
The argument of this first group, however, is simply absurd. They take one simple passage of scripture and eisegete it, taking it to presumptuous heights. The same Christians who say that the Bible ought to have no interpreter but itself, say that we ought to call no man “father”, when the apostles themselves use similar terms of familial, hierarchical, respect. For example, St. Paul, in 1st Timothy 1:2, refers to Timothy as “son”, thus insinuating that St. Paul is a spiritual father to Timothy. In Philippians 2:22, St. Paul again references Timothy and how he served him “as a son with his father”. Also, the word “father” is used half a dozen times by St. Paul in reference to Abraham in Romans 4. One cannot let the Bible contradict itself in saying that we ought to call no man father.
It is also absurd to say that one can refer to anyone but clerics as “father”. In that situation, it is as if the person saying it recognizes that there is a familial relationship within the church, with the priest or pastor as a paternal head, and yet that person refuses to recognize him as such with a title. He or she sees the position and the rank, and yet refuses to use the title fitting for that rank.
How often was Christ literal in his teachings? He was a master of satire. Just look at his parables. They blatantly pictured vices, often the vices of the pharisees. But was he ever really literal? He didn't often just state the problems. That is why he had parables in the first place. He used analogies and stories. When he said that he was the vine and we are the branches, he wasn't making some drugged-out vegetarian prophesy. He was using symbolism. He wasn't being literal.
If both these propositions prove to be absurd, what choice is there to make? One is left only with the option to refer to men of rank as “father”, “master” or “teacher” according to their position, and to suppose that Christ was not being literal in his statements.
But what evidence is there to support this? First and foremost, there is the Church, of which Christ is the head. Within Christ's Church, there are bishops (overseers) and priests (elders). They are fathers under the great father. There is a reason that we call a priest “father”. He is the visible image of Christ (or ought to be). We reference priests with respect because of who they represent. And thus we use the same term which we give to the one whom they represent. Within the great family of the Church, there are many smaller families, each with a head, a father.
Tied to that is an argument from tradition. If the Church has been reasoning thus for two thousand year, we do not have the right to change that way of thought. Not to mention that the basis for the New Testament Church is the Old Testament Church, which held almost exactly the same position for quite a few thousand years prior. To so lightly disregard what has been approved by so many great father's of the faith is a disrespect to our religion.
Again, interrelated is the issue of respect. Because of the way that the Church is set up, and because of the time for which it has been set up in this manner, it is simply respectful to address clergy by calling them “father” (or whichever related title according to rank). But not only clergy. Christ tells us to honor our civil authorities. It is simply improper to address a civil authority without a title recognizing his rank. And thus, if one does not, one once again contradicts the Bible with itself. We are called to respect our authorities, and we respect them by way of title. If we say that we may call no man master, we affirm Matthew 23, but we do not honor the civil authority, and thus disobey Christ's commandment from another passage in scripture.
How then ought we to read this passage? With a grain of salt (not literally). We must recognize the context with which Christ says this. In Matthew 23, Christ is rebuking the scribes and pharisees for their pride. They loved to be called “rabbi” and to be reminded of their rank by their title. But Christ sought to humble them by exhorting those around them to not encourage the proud pharisees by calling them “rabbi”. He was not telling everyone to call no one “father” or “teacher” or “master”. He was only pointing out that that was not the reason for those titles. The titles were coined to let others recognize a certain person's rank so that those others might go to that person for help. The titles were not coined to stroke the bearers' egos. In Matthew 23, context is key.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

The Thursday Post: Week 9: On Promoting The View Of Citizenship As Shown By The Philippians

In his epistle to the Philippians, St. Paul keenly pointed out, not simply the issue of citizenship, but also the connection between heavenly citizenship, and citizenship here on earth. We as Americans, however, do not live in the same context as the Philippians, and thus we do not have the idea of earthly citizenship that they had. Furthermore, because we do not have that concept of earthly citizenship, we lack much in how we think about heavenly citizenship.
The city of Philippi was a Roman colony. As a result, the Philippians were Roman citizens. The Philippians churchmen understood the concept of having a tyrannical king (not necessarily meaning a bad king, simply an absolute ruler) and swearing an oath of fealty to him. Thus, when the Church at Philippi began, the Christians there had no problem recognizing Christ as an absolute ruler.
In America, we don't have an absolute ruler. We have the president, but he is very little like the Roman emperor. We don't have the background that the Philippians had. The social and political worlds which they lived in to is much more like what we see in Arthurian books or films. The sort of books and films which portray everyone bowing the knee to the king. Yes, we have respect for our president, we recognize him as “Mr. President, Sir”, but it still seems so much more informal than any monarchical system. Is this the result of an enlightened era?
Christ speaks very highly of submission to civil authority. After all, he submitted to the Roman government to be beaten, humiliated and killed. But there is another very famous example found in Matthew 22:16-21. In this passage, the Pharisees sought to trick Jesus by asking him whether it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar. They expected the Messiah to be a warrior who would liberate Israel from the burdensome yoke of Roman oppression. If Christ said that they ought not to pay taxes to Caesar, they might be willing to follow him, or they could point out a contradicting passage from scripture to condemn him, whichever they wish. Such an answer would provide them with a very good grip on him. If he had, however, said that they ought to pay taxes to Caesar, they could have proclaimed that he was pro-Roman and ruin his political reputation. Jesus answers in neither fashion, saying that one ought to “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's”. Thus, he simultaneously answered the question of paying taxes to Caesar while lashing back with a statement regarding religious and moral fidelity.
Christ taught that we ought to be loyal citizens to those that are in authority over us, even, apparently, those whom we do not like. St. Paul follows suit in Romans 13:1-7 by saying such things as “let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.” (v 2) and “Render therefore to all their due: taxes to whom taxes are due, customs to whom customs, fear to whom fear, honor to whom honor.” (v 7)
This is the concept that Paul did not have to spend much time teaching to the Philippians. He used the word πολιτευομαι meaning “to live as citizens” in chapter 1 verse 27. They already knew the concept of being a citizen. They were raised in a Roman context in which everyone swore loyalty to the emperor. The knew how to pay taxes to their earthly king, and thus it was not very hard for them to recognize that they also had to pay taxes to their heavenly king.
What about us? How do we deal with our civil rulers, especially in a country laden with immoral practices such as abortion and euthanasia? Do we simply refuse to give tribute to our authorities?
Mr. Tom Wells, the founder of the Family Values Party, would argue in support of that ideal. He states that he was awoken by a bright light and a voice which called out “Tell my people that they are to tell their public officials that they are prepared not to pay their taxes until abortion is no longer publicly funded” (par. 1). Mr. Wells is a Messianic Jew and now believes very strongly that we ought not to pay taxes while our government continues in such immoral practices.
What ought we to do? Ought we to follow Mr. Wells' example and boycott until our wishes are granted? Men and women who have stood up for the Christian religion before often are remembered as martyrs. It is not a sin to die or suffer hardship defending our faith. But, what about honoring our authorities?
I suggest a path closer to that which Paul exhorted the Philippians towards, and which Christ exhorted his followers towards earlier. “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities”. I would argue that Christ's exhortation, and beneath that, St. Paul's, overrides the personal conviction of Mr. Wells, however real his experience may have been. Yes, abortion is a terrible thing, as is euthanasia. But rebelling against authority in order to wipe out such practices is not a good method of handling the situation. To do so would be to give into the all-too-common mindset that “the ends justify the means”. To do so would be to follow the will of God by contradicting Christ. We must recognize our positions in life, and work to the best that we can to expel such evil practices, but we must do so whilst obeying our civil authorities, just as Christ commanded.
If we do not live lives in which we are faithful citizens to our leaders here on earth, how will we be faithful citizens to our Father in heaven? St. Paul did not have a hard time teaching the Philippians the relationship between heavenly and earthly citizenship, but I think he would have a difficult time teaching most of the American population. He gave them an excellent lesson, one that we ought to recognize the importance of.

Works Cited
Wells, Thomas. “Family Values Party.” 6 June 2000. 3 December 2006. .
The Creator