A Failure of American Christianity

James Cone makes the bold claim that the fundamental sin of the US is slavery and legacy of racism that has persisted throughout our history. The more I reflect on this claim in light of events of the last four years, such as Ferguson, Flint, Baltimore, and now Charlottesville, the more I’m convinced he’s right.

Racists exist and may always exist. Structural injustices are perpetuated by people who fear they are losing power and cannot stand the idea that they may not be in charge anymore. This isn’t about freedom of speech or freedom of belief. This is about vocal threats harkening back to genocide. This is about groups of young white men carrying torches and making threats because they can no longer attempt to dominate others without consequences. This is about normalizing violent behavior that will inevitably lead to widespread violence, endangering the lives of human beings for no other reason than the color of their skin or who their parents were. This is also about the other dangerous aspect of this coin: the active or passive acceptance of this kind of bigotry in our communities.

I’m not a lawyer or a political scientist so I won’t make arguments on that front. I can address this phenomenon, at the very least, from the perspective of the theologian and philosopher, titles I might be worthy of on my better days. The White Nationalist movement is made up of people of various religious beliefs, including those that hail from the Christian tradition, entering into this ideology via the KKK. The actions and message of this group could not be farther from Christ’s message. Throughout the Gospels, Christ sought out the marginalized and ministered to them. Christians are called to serve, not dominate. (Mark 10:42). The concept of the Suffering Servant is in stark contradiction to the motivations of power and domination. Love does not dominate and does not oppress. Love pours out like a libation; love acts in self-sacrifice to save another from pain.

In this, I feel like I have failed in my response to racism and the legacy of slavery in the US, just as American Christianity as a whole has failed in this respect. We are complicit in this violence and hatred to some degree. We have allowed this hatred to become acceptable, and fostered it with our apathy, our silence, and perhaps our own political ambitions. When we read the words of Holy Writ and do not challenge these unjust acts of violence, we are participating in Christ’s crucifixion by proxy. We are putting a crucified people upon the cross. To paraphrase Fr. James Martin, S.J., every time a person yells out “White Power,” that person might as well be yelling “Crucify Him!”

By permitting this to continue, we have failed our sisters and brothers in Christ, as well as the other members of the Abrahamic faiths, our cousins if you’ll permit the extended metaphor. Let’s not forget the White Nationalists marching in Charlottesville flew Nazi flags and chanted “Blood and Soil.” These symbols represent a great evil, one that St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, St. Maximilian Kolbe, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and countless others gave their lives resisting. So long as we let this evil continue to fester, we dishonor their memory, and that of the rest who died at Auschwitz and Dachau, among the other camps. This also shows a lack of respect for countless others who were slaughtered in Armenia and Rwanda; we even further disregard those who died on the Trail of Tears and in bondage on the plantations of the American South.

Part of what adds to the toxicity is the utter failure of the current President of the United States to give a consistent response to the events in Virginia this past weekend. Ignoring the other political issues that surround the 45th POTUS, he had an opportunity to use the authority of the office to take a stance against hatred and racism. He failed in a spectacular fashion. (See CNBC’s transcript of the 8/15 press conference where 45 walks back his scripted comments about blame: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/08/15/read-the-transcript-of-donald-trumps-jaw-dropping-press-conference.html) Regardless of the weak interpretation (refusal to condemn as passive acceptance) or strong interpretation (explicit support for the White Nationalist cause), 45 has emboldened these racist elements by implying that he does not disapprove of their activities.

So, what do we do? There is a need for action, but not violence. Violence cannot be the answer. What can work, however, is social pressure. Agents of hate like to work in ways that conceal their identities, whether it be in large groups or anonymously on the internet. Taking away that anonymity strikes straight at their power source, and can be done without violence. I know I said earlier that I would not be making political science arguments, but a tidbit to remember: the 1st Amendment’s freedom of speech clause refers only to protection from legal consequences, not social ones. A White Nationalist may be protected from laws preventing him from chanting “Soil and Blood,” but that doesn’t mean he is safe from rejection by his community for such hateful behavior and other social stigmas. In other words, there are creative, non-violent steps we can take, but we must act as communities proudly condemning hatred and bigotry. Otherwise, we are complicit.  

We have been stained, and we must carry that burden. Redemption requires genuine contrition, which can only be shown by action. We cannot stand for this any longer. We must not only speak out but act out. White Nationalism is immoral, and a stain on our souls. Let’s actually do something about it before we get any more blood on our hands.

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Restarting the Blog: Reboot for Justice

I abandoned this blog close to two years ago out of boredom, but I think the last two years have made me think I need to restart this project with a new mission. Given my focus on political theology, I think the rise of White Nationalism and Alt-Right need a consistent response from a Christian perspective. Evil cannot be allowed to fester in darkness but must be called out into the light. We must act in love, stand in the truth, work for justice, and resist evil. More to come…

Schism in the Church? No Thanks. 

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted an article from the  National Catholic Register in response to a New York Times letter, written by Marquette Professor Dan Maguire, in which Maguire predicts a schism in the Catholic Church akin to split within Judaism. I think Maguire’s claim is a bit outlandish for one primary reason: it focuses on tertiary, non-dogmatic issues to divide us rather than the primary truths that bring the Church together as a community united in love. 

In the history of Christianity, schisms happen over dogmatic issues. The split between East and West in 1066 dealt with the theological authority of the Pope as well as issues dealing with the addition of the filioque to the Niceane Creed. (I admit I may be slightly reductionist here, but the point still stands.) The Reformation, while having a political element, was influenced by differing interpretations of scripture and the sacraments. These issues are central to one’s understanding of the Christian faith.

Maguire thinks there will be schism, in short, over matters of sexual ethics, which are not matters of dogma? Highly doubtful. One cannot start a church on the basis of a sexual ethic. It takes Christ away from the center of the Church. If that’s Maguire’s view of what Catholicism should be, then I want no part of it. 

Maybe instead of schism, dialogue would be a more fruitful option?

On Marriage: Sorting Out Equivocations

Well, I was looking for an excuse to get me writing again, and here we are. I wanted to focus on writing about superheroes and theology, but once again, praxis calls, I must answer.

Here’s the deal: The US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) has ordered via a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that marriage is a right for all US citizens, meaning that any couple, regardless of gender makeup, can be issued a marriage licence and be legally married. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), among numbers of other people, are not happy with decision, with the USCCB saying the court is wrong about marriage, and does not have the authority to define marriage. The less nuanced among the upset masses sling the usual anti-LBGTQ verses out of context. I’m not a scripture scholar, so I’ll leave those arguments alone. Part of the tension that I am primarily concerned about in terms of the debate surrounding this issue comes down to an informal logical fallacy: equivocation.

For those who chose to take a math class over Logic 101, here’s an explanation. Equivocation is when a term is used in two different ways in an argument without distinction, and a conclusion is reached based, at least in part, due to this manipulation of the term. For example, in the days of my youth, I wrote a paper about Nietzsche and tragedy. Unfortunately, this paper ended up collapsing in on itself because I ended up equivocating the term tragedy, using it in some places as a genre of drama, and in others as an event that can befall a person or character.

Why does this matter? Well, most of the debate is happening because we are using the word “marriage” in two different ways: A theological sacrament and a legal arrangement. To avoid the same error, I will be using the terms “Holy Matrimony” and “Legal Marriage.”

Today’s decision by SCOTUS deals with Legal Marriage. Since the Court has the power to review laws and deem them constitutional or unconstitutional. Declaring Legal Marriage a right for all US citizens is well within the court’s authority. Also, let’s consider for a second what Legal Marriage actually is. It’s a contract that two parties enter of their own free will. It can be dissolved, and has no weight outside of the context of one’s society. Holy Matrimony, on the other hand, is a sacrament, determined by the authority of the Magisterium and the tradition of Holy Mother Church. SCOTUS has no authority to, and made no claim to, alter the definition of Holy Matrimony. As Justice Kennedy’s decision states, the plaintiffs were seeking to be seen as equal in the eyes of the law, which is their right.

So, why get angry about this? If you oppose homosexual behavior in general, this really doesn’t change all that much. Gay couples will continue to engage in those activities. The only difference is a legally binding contract that will affect tax returns and the like. Why not be in constant outrage prior to marriage equality becoming an issue for SCOTUS? If you are anti-gay, well, then that’s your problem, and in contradiction with what the Catholic Church actually says. Go ahead and check the Catechism. I’ll wait.

In short, giving people the ability to enter into a legal contract does not diminish the beauty of the sacrament of Holy Matrimony. All this decision does is allow people of any gender and sexual orientation to enter into contracts with other consenting adults. Not a big deal when you ignore the sex.

Now, we have dealt with an injustice in this country. Have a beer and celebrate this evening. How about we now focus on more dire ones, like children in poverty?

Are Our “Freedoms” Worth the Lives They Cost?

There’s been a question on my mind for a while that brings together several problems I’ve been seeing in our culture.  It all boils down to this question: Do we, as Americans, value our freedoms more than the lives they cost?

One thread of this is a basic choice in our every day purchases. I can go to the Wal-Mart less than 2 miles from my house and buy a t-shirt for $8. I may be able to find the same shirt on Amazon for less. The reason such a shirt is so cheap is because it’s been made in a sweatshop for someone working for pennies a day. People live and die in this extreme poverty, in large part due to the American market clamoring for cheap goods. In short, is the convenience of buying clothes for cheap worth so much that the exploitation and deaths of people who make these goods are acceptable?

A similar consideration has to do with the firearm situation in this country. Due to the 2nd Amendment, some people see it as their God-given right to own as many firearms as they see fit. The majority of these people are responsible individuals and enjoy their firearms without harming others around them. Others buy them for defensive purposes; there’s nothing wrong with that. The problem, however, is that while firearms are available for these legitimate purposes, people will still be able to purchase firearms for more devious purposes. The obvious answer would require placing limitations on firearm ownership, but to a certain sector of the population, the right to own firearms outweighs the potential dangers and lives lost. Are the lives of men, women, and children killed by firearms in the US worth so little in comparison to one’s right to own a weapon?

Given the attitudes of our culture, I think the unfortunate answer is “yes.”

Conference Paper Accepted!!!

Such wonderful news: My paper submission for Lonergan on the Edge 2013 has been accepted!! My abstract is below, and I look forward to the conversation!

Geschicte, Systematics, and Dasein: Bringing Together Lonergan and Heidegger

In item #47200D0E060 of the Lonergan Archive, Lonergan sketches out the system of functional specialties that would eventually make up the bulk of Method in Theology. Upon inspection of the “Speaking” specialties, there is a relationship between “Explanations,” which would be renamed as Systematics, and Geschicte, a distinctive form of understanding history that favors reflection on the experience of the events in question as opposed to a simple reporting of dates and facts. Geschicte lends itself to reflecting upon the mysteries of faith, an essential element of the functional specialty of doctrines, and understanding these mysteries as a cohesive whole. This leads to the idea, to paraphrase Robert Doran, that systematic theology must be grounded in a theory of Geschicte. The question is then what kind of theory of Geschicte lends itself to theological reflection. My answer is an appropriation of Heidegger’s phenomenology. First, I shall offer an interpretation of Heidegger’s phenomenology, as presented in Being and Time, that I think serves Lonergan’s project quite well. Second,I shall briefly argue how my interpretation of Heidegger is superior to the standard interpretation of William Blattner, citing the focus of Heidegger’s work as Dasein in the world as opposed to Kantian intuitions of space and time. Then, I shall show how my interpretation of Heidegger’s understanding of Geschicte fits into the context of Lonergan’s functional specialties, particularly systematics and its relationship with doctrines. Finally, I will give an example of how Heideggerian phenomenology can serve systematics, primarily through the evaluation of the coherence of doctrine through reflection on the experience of grace.