Friday, December 19, 2008

Prayers to the Saints

The issue arose between myself and some Protestants of whether it is a "Biblical" practice to pray to saints. I think there is an easy argument, first, for the acceptability of saints as models for our edification. I don't know how many would argue with that, as many such examples are clearly Scriptural with the Old Testament, or even in Jesus' parables.
As for prayers, what is the "cash-value" of denying that the saints pray for us? It might seem rather harmless, but I don't think there is a mistake in that the Nicene creed professes "I believe in the communion of saints." There are two ways, to my mind, to consistently deny that the saints pray for us: first, by denying that ANYONE whatsoever can pray for another person. This seems rather harsh even to most Protestants and clearly non-Scriptural according to the many times where people are called upon to offer prayers for each other in the Bible. The other tends to be the usual route among Protestants: denying that people in death "hear our prayers." This either means [1] they do not WISH to pray for us, [2] they CANNOT pray for us. The latter is even further divided into [a] inability from circumstance, or [b] inability purely speaking.
[1] seems rather easily denied, as we can fairly legitimately assume that, if the saints on earth cared for the needs of others, that they would wish to do so after death. Otherwise, they would seem to be uncharitable, with is impossible for the saint. [2]b seems impossible, as the saints could pray on earth and they would have to likewise be able to pray in heaven. Presumably, heaven is a place where the activity is mostly prayer and worship of God, so that it seems very difficult to deny that. [2]a seems to be a variety of the route most Protestants take; the dead cannot, by circumstance, hear prayers. But what does this imply? They seem to take it to mean that their souls do not persist, or that they are "unconcious" to some degree. If this is true, it seems to deny, on one hand, the immortality of the soul, or, on the other, the immediate judgment after death. The latter can also fairly clearly be shown to be false from examples like the parable of Lazarus. Some, however, do dispute that. The clearest proofs I can think of for the life of saints after death, apart from the obvious "eternal life" statements by Jesus, would be the statement, "The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the God of the living, not the dead," as well as Revelation's picture of the prayers of the saints offered to God.
As a consequence, it seems fairly obvious that denying the existence of the saints and their prayers has rather problematic implications on the whole of Christian doctrine if it is denied. It requires a move that I'm not sure how many Protestants, if they understood this implication, would take. But then again, people amaze.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Another letter to the editor on fideism

This is another letter I wrote to the paper, but I'm not sure if it will be published yet:

I blush in writing another letter within the space of a few weeks from my last, but I read just recently a column titled “___” (____). Mr. H writes about religion as a phenomenon of divisiveness, hatred, and fear, one which “burns” and brings with it a great cost of suffering. His view of religion is neatly summarized when he says, “The primary issue is religion can be used to justify anything.” Can it? To the contrary, look up such people as “Bartolom√© de las Casas.” Some of his claims, though, are not in dispute - evil men exist within as well as without religion and have used religion as an excuse for their misdeeds. Granting all the evil in the world, that does not however justify his conclusion: religion is not thereby false. But, on a more important note, do religious people merely grasp for whatever a demagogue grants them as the word of the divine?
While I cannot answer this fully, I point to the recent "Regensburg address" of Pope Benedict and wish to refer to one particular phrase: “Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God.” There are religions that are fideist, much as Mr. H remarks, and these might well hold that the categories of the rational cannot be applied to God. However, not all or even most religions do. There are and have been religions that take as their founding principle the rationality of faith. While there have been those who stood by or even justified the killing of the Jews in the Holocaust, there was Dietrich Bonhoeffer and many others who went to the camps out of their religious conviction that every man is infinitely precious. While those who rammed planes into the WTC did so out of their twisted religious beliefs, slavery was overturned by religious who embraced non-violent resistance and rational persuasion. While there are those who declared reason to be anathema, there are likewise those who hold that the light which illuminates our reason is the same Word that became flesh in a small town in Palestine.
Saying that “religion is above ridicule” is just dishonest. If Mr. H presumes himself to be the first atheist, he is sorely mistaken. More disturbingly, attempts to bypass rational discussion of religion by calling its followers “idiotic” leads down the same bloody road as the fideism he pretends to abhor, and has led straight to the gulags in other notable places. I suspect that what Dostoyevsky said might quite well be true, that “without God, all is permitted,” as evinced by Mr. H's confusion between religious and moral claims. I fear even more that his explicit project to dispel the light of morality, let alone God, from society might indeed become successful. Then he, as well as I, shall regret that bloody darkness which comes when people reject morality as a “hindrance” to the march of the Volk.

Homosexual Marriage and the Real Issue

This is a letter I wrote in response to a column in my local universities' paper:

These past couple weeks, a recurring question has been that of homosexual "marriage." I appreciate attempts at objectivity by the editors of The _________, but I fear that the news story "____" (___) heavily favored one particular aspect of the debate.

The question at hand in same-sex marriages is not a question of whether or not to discriminate against homosexuals (all agree this is wrong). The issue, rather, is the nature of marriage itself. If the nature of marriage is tied to a certain kind of relationship that excludes same-sex relationships, it has nothing to say either way about the worth of anybody as a human being any more than a zoning prohibition would. The nature of marriage is a complex issue, but not to be confused with "merely" supernatural concern of the religious. The dispute over marriage lies squarely in knowledge available to all rational persons, connected with the deeper question of "What is a human being?"

The classical tradition, in which the Founding Fathers stand, holds that there are natural rights and laws which are prior to any societal determinations of their existence. Human relationships are, in this view, founded in rights and obligations that enable us to become perfect human beings - they are rights and obligations oriented "toward," and not for their own sakes. Sexuality, as a basic potential for relationship, is oriented toward that end of human life in two inseparable ways: union and potential to bring forth life. More simply, it is the potentiality to form a "household" - the basic foundation of society. Marriage, as the natural institution, is the formal "constitution" of that permanent sexual-unitive relationship. It cannot take place, by its very nature, where there is no potential to bring forth life in a stable relationship. Same-sex partners, not possessing this potentiality, cannot be considered to fulfill what that relationship in its essence means, let alone have a "right" to it.

Some endorse "civil unions" as an alternative, but this would be "charity" at the expense of truth. Homosexuals may seek these rights independently, but they cannot be granted to a marital union. These are "marital" rights - recognizing this relation as marital or granting equivalent rights to a "union" is to recognize this relationship as something it cannot be. While I have provided a justification of this view, it is to be noted that the burden of proof is entirely upon the advocate of these unions to prove: [1] the nature of marriage permits these unions, [2] that this is derived from a systematic picture of rights as a whole and [3] that this preserves, rather than undermines, the rest of our picture of rights. Otherwise, we have no reason to assent, even on the pain of being politically incorrect.

If society attempts to re-define or obfuscate the nature of marriage, it does so at its own peril. This position constitutes neither discrimination nor imposition of articles of faith, but a protection of natural rights and, ultimately, society itself.