Monthly Archives: February 2010

Text and Subtext of the “The Bible Told Me So”

I have just finished watching “The Bible told me so” on Geraldine’s Compass programme on the ABC. If you missed it, the whole program is on Youtube in a number of separate clips (see this search query here). What can I say? Only that if this program is really about how people read the bible in relation to homosexuality, then we are dealing with a veritable Sare Lee danish pastry: Subtext upon subtext upon subtext of the text itself.

It is interesting that while the program deals primarily with Evangelical and Liberal Protestants, and tangentially with Judaism, not one word (as far as I heard) is mentioned of the Catholic Church, the biggest homophobic bogey man on the block according to many commentatosrs. Why was that?

Well, for one thing this program was entirely about America (except for a couple of cameo appearances of Archbishop Desmond Tutu), and I guess that Catholicism still isn’t an authentic form of American religion. Secondly, this program was about “the bible” and “what the bible says” – or doesn’t say – about homosexuality. Catholic doctrines regarding sexual morality are a little more complex than the Protestant (or Jewish?) “because the bible tells me so”. Same conclusion, admittedly, but that conclusion stands on more legs than one or two passages in Scripture. Just as the Church’s opposition to abortion is not based upon any single biblical passage, neither is the Church’s evaluation of the morality or otherwise of homosexual activity. Thirdly, the Catholic approach to sexuality is somewhat alien to that of Protestantism and Judaism – stop to think for a moment of the role of celibacy in Catholicism, and on the other hand the sensuousness of an art form such as the baroque.

A Catholic watching “The Bible told me so” is likely find himself in a confused muddle by the end of the program, because the picture which the documentary paints is alien to the picture that most Catholics (at least, outside the States) will be familiar with. At so many points one whats to stop the tape and say “Hold on a moment!”, but the ideological merry go round keeps going round and round and faster and faster. The program starts from the simple and thoroughly understandable premise that loving parents always love and accept their children no matter what, and ends up with nothing less than a religious ideology in support of the morality of homosexual behaviour entirely comparable and equally if not more strident than the “homophobic” religious ideology which the documentary sets out to condemn.

It is not “the bible” which one hears speaking in this documentary – still less any thing of which one could say “The Word of the Lord” and express a heartfelt “Thanks be to God” in response. What one hears is the subtext of all the unhappiness currently afflicting American religion and morality, and the complete inability of the self-appointed spokesmen for God – on either side of the argument – to say anything with any authority on the subject of homosexuality and homosexual activity.

All in all, usual Compass fare. Watch out for the new series starting next week on Compass on the history of the Church. At first I thought it might be the BBC series based on the excellent History of Christianity by Dairmaid MacCulloch, but no such luck. Instead it seems like it will be the usual unhistorical, cynical anti-Christian propaganda we have come to expect from this program.

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Actually, the probability is that there IS a God


While Cathnews is reporting the story that “Organisers of The Atheist Bus Campaign in New Zealand are considering taking legal action after their ads were rejected by the national bus company”, the A2 in yesterday’s Saturday Age was running a story on Richard Dawkins “Keeping the Faith” using a picture of the walking edition of the Atheist Manifesto with just such a bus in question. (not online).

In her article, Stephanie Bunbury writes:

What is beyond doubt, at least for me, is that you would think twice about starting any kind of argument with “Darwin’s rottweiler”, a man of gimlet eye, rapier tongue adan armoury of intelectual weaponry, no matter how much evidence you thought you had.

Well, we have given a couple examples on this blog, that more than one (ie. at least two) interviewers have had no such fear, one being Hugh Hewitt and the other Andrew Denton, in which Dawkins had his “rapier tongue” rather tied…

In any case, back to that bus ad campaign. It is questionable at just about every level. Pascal, author of the idea now known simply as “Pascal’s wager”, would say: How can you be so sure that “there’s probably no God” in the first place and secondly, are you willing to bet your eternal life on it? Apart from any Christian claim (and, in my book, the historical fact of the resurrection of Jesus Christ rather weights the probability toward the opposite conclusion), from the perspective of pure logic, can one ever say that there “probably isn’t” something? Evidence can point to the fact that something “probably” exists, and clear evidence can also point to the fact that something “probably” does not exist, but lack of evidence cannot justifiably lead one to conclude that there “probaby isn’t” something. The best example of this fallacy can be seen if we were to ask a 17th Century Englishman if there is any such thing as a “black swan”. The lack of evidence – ie. no Englishman before that date had ever seen a black swan – would not have been grounds for concluding that black swans “probably” don’t exist – for even in the 17th Century, black swans really did exist here in Australia. In other words, black swans not only “probably” but “really” existed, despite the lack of any positive evidence available to 17th Century Englishmen.

On the other hand, even if this statement were true – that God “probably” does not exist – Pascal’s logic would answer that even if there is only a remote possibility that God did exist, it would be worth living “as if God existed” because of the outcome of such a belief not only for the afterlife but for this life also.

That is the guts of what Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger said the day before Pope John Paul II died:

The attempt, carried to the extreme, to manage human affairs disdaining God completely leads us increasingly to the edge of the abyss, to man’s ever greater isolation from reality. We must reverse the axiom of the Enlightenment and say: Even one who does not succeed in finding the way of accepting God, should, nevertheless, seek to live and to direct his life “veluti si Deus daretur,” as if God existed. This is the advice Pascal gave to his friends who did not believe. In this way, no one is limited in his freedom, but all our affairs find the support and criterion of which they are in urgent need.

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Something that Muhammad and I have in common

After all that rather tedious business with Steve Kellmeyer, I would like to add that on a lighter note, I have just discovered something that I have in common with the Prophet (PBUH, as they say – at least for this opinion):

Reported cultivated around 4000BC in the western Asian region, figs were revered by the prophet Muhammad, who said: “If I had to mention a fruit that descended from paradise, I would say this is it.” (The A2, Saturday Age, page 6)

Amen to that, Brother! I have just come back from the local Knox Festival, with a couple of bags of pot plants for which I paid $3. I also entered a free lottery (the only sort I ever enter!) for a box of seedlings, in which the question was “What is your favourite plant?” I thought for only a few seconds before putting down “Fig tree”.

The figs on our (neighbour’s) tree will be ripe in a week or two. I’m looking forward to trying out the A2’s suggestion that I stew them up with powdered ginger to make a sauce to go on roast beef… Yum, yum and drool drool. As the good book says “Every man ‘neath his vine and fig tree should live in peace and unafraid.”

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Does the Pope “allow the gospel”?

Philip Melanchton famously signed the Smalcald Articles with a proviso:

I, Philip Melanchthon, also regard the above articles as true and Christian. However, concerning the pope I maintain that if he would allow the gospel, we, too, may (for the sake of peace and general unity among those Christians who are now under him and might be in the future) grant to him his superiority over the bishops which he has “by human right.”

This is not official Lutheran doctrine, but many Lutherans would agree with him.

One such Lutheran is our own Pastor Mark, who wrote on a post below:

Lutherans regard the primacy of the Pope – his headship of the college of bishops – as existing by human rather than divine ordering, but nevertheless we would – for the most part – be willing to accord him that position of honour and service, in the Western church at least
(bearing in mind that the nature of the Pope’s primacy is also an issue for the Eastern Orthodox), if he would accept that the Gospel is the good news that we are saved through faith in Christ, and that this salvation is entiurely a gift from God, and thus we are not saved by our works and nor do our works contribute to our salvation, and if he would subsequently permit the Roman church’s doctrine and practice to be reformed according to this great scriptural truth.

I have posted a number of times on this page passages from Pope Benedict’s magisterium in which he undoubtedly “that the Gospel is the good news that we are saved through faith in Christ, and that this salvation is entiurely a gift from God, and thus we are not saved by our works”. Where we part company (and the reason why there has not been a subsequent ““top down” review of doctrine in light of the Gospel, from the claims about the Papacy, to Mariology, the nature of sainthood, right down to the question of the indulgences” is that we do believe that “our works contribute to our salvation”. This is the real nub of the matter. I don’t know whether Melanchthon would have insisted on that last phrase if, in negotiations with Rome, he had received a complete assurance of the rest, but that is beside the point. I believe the difference between what we Catholics call “the gospel” and what Lutherans call “the gospel” is not unrelated to the fact that while we affirm that salvation is entirely a gift from God, given by grace through faith in Christ, we uphold what we believe to be a Scriptural understanding of the participation of the saved in their salvation.

Another Lutheran theologian who shared Melanchthon’s point of view, and who acted upon it in 2005 by “allowing the papacy”, is now-Catholic Bruce Marshall. I am much aided by his First Things article “Treasures in Heaven”. HT to Michael Root for this one. Michael had linked to this article from his blog “Lutherans Persisting” (which he runs with David Yeago and some others), saying:

If one wants to see an important element missing in contemporary Lutheran theololgy (or in Lutheran theology simpliciter), see the reflections of Bruce Marshall in the most recent issue of First Things, especially the final paragraphs. …There is not a direct conceptual connection between his reflections and the present plight of Lutheranism, but the indirect connection is of profound significance.

[Addition in response to comment. I think the ‘profound significance’ relates most closely to whether and how we understand the gospel as a call into a specific form of life. If the gospel is a call into a specific form of life, then some agreement on the shape of that life is inherent to the gospel. And, in that case, the assertion of the Sexuality Social Statement that agreement in the doctrine of justification is all that the church needs must be wrong.
More distantly, but more importantly, there is the question of how we are called and graced to participate in Christ and Christ’s saving action. That we are called to participate is clear: our participation in Christ’s death and resurrection is our salvation. But do we participate in the way Marshall describes? I increasingly think that Marshall (and behind him, Aquinas) is correct.]

Marshall says that the idea of debt and merit is in fact a very valid Scriptural approach to the question of sin, as evidenced by the use of “debts” and “debtors” in the Lord’s Prayer, of all places! Those “last paragraphs” to which Michael refers read:

Jesus makes the definitive thank-offering of the creature to God for all his gifts, an offering whose value reaches even beyond satisfaction for sin.

But this return of gift is our doing, too. In Christ’s Church and through his sacraments—not least through the giving of alms as a penitential satisfaction—we come to share in our own small way in the one great redemptive act accomplished by Jesus Christ. When he joins our modest efforts to his own supreme gift, he graciously allows the salvation he has accomplished for us to come, in some small way, from us as well. United to him, our salvation is not simply an event that happens to us but includes our own grateful gift of self—our merit.

In Christ, then, none of us is a spectator to our salvation; we are all, painfully and joyfully, full participants in it. Far from lowering God to an unworthy economy of self-interested exchange, Thomas Aquinas and others argue that God’s willingness to accept payment for our sins is a sheer gift from God to us, an act of greater mercy and generosity than any forgiveness by fiat would be, because God allows each of us to claim nothing less than a place in his salvation of the world in Christ. And for this the appropriate creaturely response, as to all God’s gifts, is not a sense of burdened obligation but an ever-greater gratitude.

So it may indeed not be the case that “the gospel” excludes the fact that “our works contribute to our salvation”. In the light of Bruce’s article, it appears that the Papacy does indeed “allow the Gospel”, nay more, the Pope has preserved elements of the Gospel which the Lutherans have forgotten.

I look forward to your entry into full communion with the Bishop of Rome, Pastor Mark! Let me know the time and the place and I will be there with bells on. Ribbons too, if you like!

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What Steve Kellmeyer says about Muslims

Steve asked for this, so reluctantly I feel obliged to give it. You will already be aware of our conversation over Cardinal Tauran’s speech “We must not fear Islam”.

I have listened to Steve speak on Islam in three different podcasts:

1) My first encounter with Steve’s teaching was through his History of the Church series in four mp3s available from Steve’s website Bridegroom press. He deals with Islam in a the last three of these podcasts.

2) Then I listened to this one called “Catholic perspectives on Islam”.

3) And then, in preparation for this exercise, I listened to this one, simply called “Islam”. I thought in fact that it was the same as the one above, until I went to find the link on the internet and then realised that they were in fact two separate, although very similar, talks. For the rest of this article then, I am referring to this talk.

Critiquing podcasts is very difficult, and time consuming, in a blog format, partly because you can’t simply cut and paste text, and partly because the way in which people express themselves is not as concise in a live talk as in a written paper. So I won’t be quoting chapter and verse except when only the ipsima verba themselves are required to be cited to make the point. Please, Steve, be satisfied with this. I recommend to readers that they in fact download the third talk referenced above and listen to all of it before reading my points of criticism here.

So here we go. Points are in order of the speech.

1) First an over all comment: what is the purpose of this particular talk (Islam.mp3)? I am forced to conclude that the purpose is not simply to inform people in good faith about the teachings and practice and history of Islam. (For that, I recommend that you actually go to something like Islam for Dummies). Steve’s purpose seems to be rather to do all in his power to discredit Islam as a religious faith and to give an over all negative picture of the religion.

2) He is at odds with the Holy Father on this from the get-go. He begins his talk with a reference to the famous “Regensburg Speech”, which the Holy Father gave on September 12, 2006. He quotes the Pope’s own words:

“Without descending to details, …[the Emperor] addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

Note that Pope Benedict himself says that this is a “startling brusqueness” which “we find unacceptable”. But Steve ignores the Holy Father’s words at this point, and takes such “startling brusqueness” as his modis operandi. He is “startlingly brusque” in everything he says in a way to match the Emperor’s “startling brusqueness” and even excels it. With Pope Benedict, WE too find this “unacceptable”.

3) I have already commented on Steve’s tendency to use “us” to mean us Christians, Catholics, the West, the Crusaders and the US forces. At the same time he always refers to invading Arab or Turkish forces as “them” and as “the Muslims”. He makes no distinction in his historical overviews between the invaders as a particular nationality or racial group and the invaders as Muslims. He often accuses “Muslims” of this or that atrocity when he should specify the actual identity, rather than the religion, of these forces.

4) He concertinas the historical timeline of the invasion. It is true (and indeed startling) that in a few short years after the death of Muhammed the Eastern tribes had united and advanced on the territory of the Byzantine/Roman Empire from Jerusalem to Spain, but the conquering of the lands of the Byzantines (today modern Turkey) took a little while longer than that.

5) He refers to the Byzantine society as being “completely gone” often. This is not strictly true. It continued but with new overlords for some centuries in these lands after the invasions.

6) He also says, specifically of Nicea, “gone” and “you can’t even find it on the map”. This is not true. The name is changed, yes, but only because of the language difference. So Smyrna becomes “Izmir” and Nicea become “Iznik”, both which are recognizably still the same name, and both which are still there (I have visited both). Indeed during the Latin Patriarchate in Constantinople after the Crusades, the Byzantine Emperor continued to rule his “empire” from Nicea itself – five centuries after the initial invasions began.

7) He says that following these conquests, all the men were killed, the women forced into marriages with Muslims OR all used as sex slaves, and all the young men were castrated. This happened, but not on the scale that he suggests. By emphasising “sex slaves” he suggests a moral depravity of the new ruling class, the “Muslims”.

8) He mentions (rightly) the sack of St Peter’s by Saracens (from Northern Africa) in 846, and sees this as an example of specifically “Muslim” violence against the Church. He bemoans (repeatedly) that the Church at the time did not start a violent and forceful retaliation against the “Muslims” at this time.

9) He says that “the Muslims destroyed the Holy Sepulchre”. The Holy Sepulchre was destroyed under orders from Fatimid caliph Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah in 1009. This act was unusual, because the Arabs had held Jerusalem already for over 200 years. It was an highly unusual act of desecration, and most believe that the Caliph was insane when he ordered this action. So ONE Muslim did this, not “the Muslims”, and it was not their first action upon conquering Jerusalem. Again he decries the fact that the Church did not immediately launch a violent retaliation against “the Muslims”.

10) In calling the attacking and invading forces “Muslims”, Steve does not properly acknowledge that many of the soldiers (indeed most, in the case of the conquest of Constantinople in 1453) were Christian mercenaries from Christian communities who had no love for the Byzantine Emperor and who had actually welcomed the coming of their new Eastern overlords. He makes an historical error in saying that from the decree of Theodosius in the late 4th Century “the whole Empire was Catholic”. In fact, the empire included many non-Catholic Christians, including the Donatists, the Mia- (Mono-) Physites and the Nestorians. Part of the rapid downfall of Christian North Africa can be explained by the divisions within the Christian Church there. This accounts for much more of later history also. The Nestorians were particularly strong in the native lands of Islam.

11) He “quotes” Pope Urban II’s appeal to the kings of Europe for a Crusade as “Let’s kick some Muslim brunny” (I have no idea what “brunny” means – but I guess it means “ass”) to which all replied with one voice “Deus vult”. He got the reply right, but I don’t think that is quite what Urban said… Again, when he describes the First Crusade, he says that it was not so much an “invasion force” as an “armed pilgrimage” proceeding with the attitude “Anyone who gets in my way, I’m going to kick their ass”.

12) He bemoans the fact that the Crusaders were satisfied with capturing Jerusalem when they could have gone on to destroy the Ka’aba. “We [sic] would have been justified if we [sic] had taken out the Ka’aba”, he says.

13) After dealing with the “history” he moves to Islamic theology saying “there are many problems with Muslim theology”. Well, yes, from a Christian point of view; but the same could be said for the theology of any non-Christian religion, and even some Christian ones!

14) One of the problems is the assertion that in Islam God is not bound by his own word. This is what Pope Benedict was referring to indirectly in his speech, but it is notable that many Muslim commentators on that speech say that the Holy Father was not correct on that point. Let us just say that not ALL Muslims believe this.

15) And so for example Steve says that Allah could decree that incest is okay. He repeatedly uses “examples” that suggest that Muslim men are – because of their faith – sexually immoral. He uses the example of Mohammed marrying a 6 year old girl and having intercourse with her at the age of 9 as proof of this. However this is explained, it needs to be recognised that this does not mean that Islam teaches that paedophilia is acceptable. It does indicate that in some Eastern tribal societies, early marriage to girls still in their childhood was practiced. This does not make it an article of the Muslim faith.

16) He speaks of the abrogation theory as if it was accepted by all Muslims, and uses as an example the “early” statement in the Koran that there should be “no compulsion in religion” and the “late” injunction to “slay the unbelievers wherever you find them”. This theory is not agreed upon by all Muslims, and then there is an argument about which are exactly early and which are late. Many Muslim teachers today argue that the teaching that there be “no compulsion in religion” has not been abrogated.

17) While much mystery and myth surrounds the history of the origin of the Koran, a history which I believe will benefit from very close and careful scholarly study that is now happening, Steve takes this as an opportunity to ridicule the Koran. He refers to the original writing materials used: “Shoulder blade of a half eaten camel? Bring it on!” [laughter from audience] “I wish it was a joke, but it isn’t.”

18) He asks “Is every Muslim to be feared?” He answers “No” and then gives the example of the Muslims and Jews at Georgetown University who discouraged the faculty there from taking down the crucifixes. But the implication is that this was an aberration, and that, yes, usually you should fear Muslims. “The Muslims in this case [my emph] were honest.” Ie. Usually they are not.

19) This one needs quoting in full:

“In addition, we should recognise that Muslims are having a lot more babies than we are. Now you may think that, you know, what’s that got to do with violence? They’re making love, not war, come on! The thing is this. IF I’m a seventy year old man with my walker, how likely am I to firebomb the local police station? …Old people don’t start riots. Young people do. If you’re seventeen, you’re much more likely to throw the oil cocktail, because you’re seventeen. 25% of the population is below the age of 25. 14% of our population is below 25. They’ve got a lot more pent up energy in their population simply because it’s a lot younger. And young people are much more likely to start a riot than old codgers. …I mean…I’m not going to start a riot; but if I was 17 I’d think about it.”

20) He also gives the idea that prostitution is regarded as moral among Muslims due to a “temporary marriage contract”. He goes further to suggest the sexual immorality of Muslims. This too needs quoting in full:

“According to Islamic theology and tradition, any woman who has sex outside of marriage should be stoned. That includes if you are raped. Because you cannot prove that you have been raped unless you have 4 Muslim men who witness and testify to the actual penetration. And how do you know that they are Muslim men? Because they stood back and watched. That’s the only way to prove rape. That kind of law, where you can be stoned to death for having sex outside of marriage or where you can be stoned to death for being raped and you will be raped if you are arrested for anything because a law breaker should not go to heaven and women should either be virgins or married so an unmarried woman in prison will be raped to make sure she goes to hell. That’s Islam.”

Or at least, THAT is Steve Kellmeyer’s take on Islam. I repudiate his approach utterly and hope that you can now see what I find so problematic about his whole approach to this subject.

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Public Meeting in Sydney (9 March): Does Religious Liberty Matter?

I’m not going to be able to get to this, but some of you might. It looks good. HT to Tom.

BTW, I am going to be in Sydney, however, for Bishop Anthony’s installation at Parramatta, and am staying over for another event on Saturday night, coming home on Sunday morning.

If any Sydney-siders at the Commentary Table would like to get together for a REAL glass of port (or red wine or coffee) on Friday 5th or Saturday 6th March, I would be delighted to meet you.

And now for that public meeting:

The Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty and the University of Notre Dame present

PROFESSOR GERARD BRADLEY
AND DR MICHAEL CASEY

DOES RELIGIOUS LIBERTY MATTER?
Does the Catholic Church have a role in public debate?

A public meeting will be held on this subject at
7.00pm Tuesday 9 March 2010
St Benedict’s Hall, University of Notre Dame Australia Broadway Campus
Corner of Abercrombie St & Broadway, Sydney

OUR SPEAKERS:

PROF. GERARD BRADLEY
University of Notre Dame, Indiana USA

DR. MICHAEL CASEY
Private Secretary to Cardinal George Pell

in reply: MOST REV. JULIAN PORTEOUS
Auxiliary Bishop of Sydney

Chair: ROCCO MIMMO LLM
Founder & Chairman of the Ambrose Centre

Don’t miss this opportunity to hear two expert speakers, highly qualified on this subject, discuss: The importance of religious values in public life The progress of radical secularism to the detriment of religious liberty

All are welcome.

Parking is available at Broadway Shopping Centre. The venue is also close to Central Station with Broadway/Parramatta Road buses stopping right outside.

The Ambrose Centre For Religious Liberty has been established to defend religious freedom as one of the foundations of human rights, second only to
the right to life. The Centre is a non profit organisation with a Chairman, Board of Advisors, representing various faiths, and International Advisors.

The Ambrose Centre for Religious Liberty
401 / 160 Goulburn Street, Surry Hills, NSW 2010
P (02) 9264 2777 E info@ambrosecentre.org.au
www.ambrosecentre.org.au

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Quick Question

Here’s a quick question for y’all:

In Catholic theology, what is the Pope “head” of?

Yes, it is a trick question as well as a quick question. Here’s a clue: Google it and take note of what NON-Catholic internet soures say the Pope is “head” of, and then take note of what CATHOLIC sources say he is the “head” of. Note, however, that not even all the Catholic site getthe answer right.

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