Sunday, September 13, 2015

Your Mind On Theology And Off It

States have the right to existence, to self development, and to the means necessary to achieve this. They have the right to play the leading part in the process of their own development, and the right to their good name and due honors. Consequently, States are likewise in duty bound to safeguard all such rights effectively, and to avoid any action that could violate them. And just as individual men may not pursue their own private interests in a way that is unfair and detrimental to others, so too it would be criminal in a State to aim at improving itself by the use of methods which involve other nations in injury and unjust oppression. There is a saying of St. Augustine which has particular relevance in this context: "Take away justice, and what are kingdoms but mighty bands of robbers "
St. Pope John XXIII:  Pacem in Terris

There was something of a tidal wave of idiocy that came in over yesterdays post, none of which refuted the points of the post, all of which confirmed what I said about the inevitable anti-intellectualism of materialism, what I think is at the bottom of the materialist-atheist-scientist dismissal of philosophy and other topics.   There is one piece of idiocy that I did post so I could answer it here.  Responding to, not answering, a good point made by RMJ,  one of the most anti-intellectual of the bunch, and nothing remotely like a scientist, challenged

"apparently all Christians are "biblebillys." Never so much as read the
work of Augustine or Aquinas, have you? Rayner, ring a bell?
Kierkegaard? Tillich? Barth? Niebuhr (Richard or Reinie)?
Go away, you're an ignoramus."

Quick -- name me three Christian Republican politicians in this country who've either read those guys or give a shit about them.

It was, of course, the wrong challenge to make.   As an example, it is impossible to imagine a Republican who read or took even Augustine seriously could possibly support the course of policy that has led the Republican Party through much of any of it after Abraham Lincoln was shot.   If they took even the "just war" theories of Augustine seriously there would have been no invasion of Iraq, no dirty war against the people and government in Nicaragua.   As Noam Chomsky noted in that speech I linked to Friday, the Vatican, under the arch-conservative John Paul II opposed the invasion of Iraq.  He had also opposed George HW Bush's Gulf War.  I can't imagine that any of the wars the United States was involved in in the post WWII period would have been engaged in if the politicians had taken any of those on that list I've read seriously.     I can note that the great founder of Black Liberation Theology,  James Cone, made the point that George W. Bush would have been a much different person and president if he had read Niebuhr and taken him seriously.  He specifically mentioned The Irony of American History, which is a more profound critique of the United States than I've ever seen come from any political writer.  I think it would be possible to look seriously at the criticism of American policy which is theologically informed with that which excludes or rejects that means of observation and criticism to see that theology provides greater scope for discernment than its exclusion does.

And there is evidence that reading theologians and taking them seriously can make an enormous difference in a politician.

I haven't done the research to come up with a list of Republicans who have read those theologians and whose actions demonstrate they take them seriously.   I can, though, point to any number of Democrats who read at least some of them and other theologians and took them seriously.  I have ever confidence that Congressman, Fr. Robert Drinan read some of the more recent names on that list and took them seriously.  He would have, to a degree of absolute certainty read Augustine and Aquinas very seriously in seminary.   That is probably what informed his attempt to have articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon adopted on the basis of his most serious crimes while in office, his conduct of war in South-east Asia, especially in Cambodia.  I could look at the list of those on the committee who voted to adopt those articles, which failed to be adopted, and those who didn't and try to match their educations which could demonstrate that they'd read at least some of those theologians but it is an absolute certainty that Robert Drinan did.

I can't, under any circumstances, imagine how a politician who had read from that list and taken them seriously could not fail to be a far, far more liberal and decent politician than what we have now.   Even the worst things said by Augustine and Aquinas are more than matched by things that would mitigate or even refute those.   If Simels or Skeptic Tank or the other silly billies who have never read much more than a clipped and distorted quote from any of them want to bring up those issues, I might be willing to delve into those matters.

Of course the challenge Simels made is incompetent.  Since the contention is that Republicans didn't read those theologians or take them seriously, it merely points out that THEIR CONDUCT CAN'T BE BLAMED ON ANYTHING THOSE THEOLOGIANS SAID.   It also unwittingly points out that any effect that reading and taking seriously those theologians would have that would impede the depravity of Republican political conduct is absent due to their not having read them or taken them seriously.  That, of course, can be said about politicians who read the Bible and don't take it seriously.

There is absolutely no way to match the conduct of professing Christians on the Republican side or, indeed, many Democrats with the words of a man they claim to believe was God incarnate.  There is no way to match his declaration that "what you do to the least among you, you do to me" with their policy towards people who are destitute, poor, discriminated against, oppressed and imprisoned with that passage of the Gospels.   There is no way to match their economic policy with "Do unto others as you would have done unto you, that is the Law and the prophets."   On that verse alone, taken from Leviticus,  falls any contention that Republican or, indeed, much of Democratic policy is in line with the Bible or the main lines of Christian theology, the lines of which were what RMJ cited.

If I had to choose between being governed by the words of Jesus or the American Constitution I would not hesitate to choose to be governed by the words of Jesus.  They are, in every way, entirely more in line with traditional American liberalism, equality, abolitionism, the rights of women, other groups, workers, the destitute, the poor, the oppressed, the imprisoned.   I think it would be very possible to come up with a comparison of the best which American politics has produced and a list of the words of Jesus, his apostles and the Jewish prophetic tradition that his thought is founded in that could, well, have guided the proposing and, all to rarely, the adoption of those laws and policies.   To remind you, it is the alleged "originalist" interpretation of the American Constitution which has thwarted the adoption and implementation of those laws, not theology, not the Bible.

And, though Simels and Skeptic Tank and the rest of the atheist champions of the untillectual will scoff and mock and slang against such things, here is what a different atheist and even mocker of philosophy said when he bothered to read a theological document

I therefore consider the Encyclical of Pope John XXIII, [Pacem in Terris] which I have read, to be one of  the most remarkable occurrences of our time and a great step to the future. I can find no 
better expression of my beliefs of morality, of the duties and responsibilities of mankind, people to other people, than is in that encyclical. I do not agree with some of the machinery which supports some of the ideas, that they spring from God, perhaps, I don't personally believe, or that some of these ideas are the natural consequence of ideas of earlier popes, in a natural and perfectly sensible way. I don't agree, and I will not ridicule it, and I won't argue it. I agree with the responsibilities and with the duties that the Pope represents as the responsibilities and the duties of people. And I recognize this encyclical as the beginning, possibly, of a new future where we forget, perhaps, about the theories of why we believe things as long as we ultimately in the end, as far as action is concerned, believe the same thing. 

Richard Feynman:  The Meaning of It All

And, if you took the time to read through the Encyclical, you would see St, John XXIII cites Augustine repeatedly, as well as other theological documents, especially other papal documents which, in turn, constantly make reference to theologians and, of course, the Bible.

If my opponents are going to give me such a useful thing as the stupid challenge that was made, I feel morally obligated to use it.

Update:  Another politician whose reading of theology informed his political actions was Mario Cuomo:

So is God a pacifist? Well, first of all, I confess that you get nowhere, in the 
end, unless you’re allowed a heavy dose of faith. “Faith” is a word that is carefully
chosen, because you have to reject knowledge. If you had knowledge,
you wouldn’t need faith. You use as much knowledge as you have, but to make
it all the way across the chasm between you and a belief in God, you have to
use faith for the last part of the trip. So acknowledging that, what God wants
is the perfect society, and He wants you to get there. Now, I’m a Teilhardian,
so I would say that in all the struggles of Phipps and Cuomo and all the rest
of us, what we’re trying to do, in our stupid, trivial way, is contribute to that
effort, move toward what Teilhard de Chardin called the pleroma, the ultimate
consummation, which is perfection. We’re trying to get there. How? By making
it as good as we can make it for now. Would pacifism serve that end? Well,
if pacifism means not butchering one another in a war, then yes, of course,
that would be ideal. Would God allow for a time when He would permit you to
undertake a war? Well, if you meant a war against evil, probably. Probably the
God I believe in would not want you to surrender to evil to the point of allowing
yourself to be obliterated.

I wonder if Steve Simels may have voted for more than one politician who was, by their own admission, influenced by their reading of theology.   How about you tell us if you voted for Mario Cuomo?

You can hear more in this address he gave at the 92nd St. Y in NYC in 1991.

And here, on the immorality of the death penalty.

I will have more to say on this topic later.

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