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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Eye for an Eye or Love & Forgiveness?

QUESTION

Father,

We read in Leviticus 24:17-22:

“Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.”

However, in contrast we read in Matthew 5:38-42:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

These passages directly contradict each other.  How can the Bible be God’s inspired Word if it be inconsistent?  How are we supposed to know which to follow?  What do we believe?

Thank you.

RESPONSE

Remember that for the Christian it is a question not only of what we believe but WHO we believe.  Jesus is God’s Incarnate Son.  As such, he has the authority to abrogate or change elements of both Levitical and Mosaic Law.  He does this clearly in regard to the Writ of Divorce.  He says that from Genesis (natural law) this was not the way things were supposed to be.  Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of hearts.  Jesus disallows it.  The weight is with Jesus because as divine, he is the formal lawgiver.  Note the scene of the Transfiguration.  He is viewed conversing with Moses and Elijah.  Jesus is the fulfillment or consummation of the Law and the Prophets.

One must not read the Bible as if it were a Morality Manual.  It is a collection of different types of literature over many centuries.  God’s revelation comes through the prism of changing cultures and situations.  While there are certain teachings that will always apply because of our fixed human nature; there are other disciplines and laws that change with the seasons of history, particularly because of spiritual and material advancement.  I was going to say “maturity” but given terrorism, war and oppression, I am not convinced that men and women are any better (morally) today than in the past.  Just as our capacity for good has expanded, so has our ability to commit the most repellant evils.

While the commandments retain their force (it is wrong to steal, murder, etc.), the disciplinary laws of Leviticus do not apply to Christianity. We must distinguish between the divine law and man’s interpretation of the law. St. Paul makes it very clear that we are no longer under the yoke of the old Jewish law. Rather, we are given by Christ the two-fold commandments of love. Again, just as Jesus could rescind the Mosaic Law about a writ of divorce, his teachings and practice mitigated any response of vengeance. Indeed, following the precepts of Christ, the Church nullifies the law for ritual circumcision.  Faith and baptism is the manner we enter this new People of God.  Justice is still real but ultimate punishment belongs to God. Jesus urges us to practice mercy. We would no more seek to enforce Levitical laws than we would want Muslims to enforce Sharia laws.

Is Methodism Pro-Abortion Today?

LIFE NEWS had a peculiar story from Sarah Terzo about a Methodist minister who termed concern for aborted children as “idolatry.” It eludes me how Methodism can possibly excuse the sin of abortion, especially since its founder condemned such practices among the Native Americans he encountered. The late Reverend John M Swomley (former president of Americans for Religious Liberty and VP of the pro-abortion ACLU) wrote in his 1999 book, Compulsory Pregnancy: the War against American Women:

“Opponents of abortion in America have attributed to fetal life a sacredness that is actually idolatry… Fetal idolatry denies a woman’s right to control her body, her life, her destiny, all of which must be sacrificed to an embryo or fetus once she is pregnant… Fetal idolatry shows no mercy. … One of the major critiques of idolatry about unborn life is its lack of concern for the abundant or purposeful life to which all of us should be called. No one of us should be an unwanted child or have to experience emotional abandonment or lack of compassion and love in childhood.”

untitledNotice how the advocates for life are labeled in a negative fashion as the “opponents of abortion.” Instead, we would argue that these men and women are “proponents of birth.”  They oppose abortion out of a profound respect for the dignity of persons and the right to life. He is wrong to deny the sacredness of life and his charge of idolatry makes him one with Caiaphas who arrested and condemned Christ. Christians believe in an “incarnational” faith. We are transformed into the likeness of Christ by grace. We are given life and eternal life by the constant operation of the Holy Spirit. We have nothing of our own. Abortion, like all crimes of murder, violates a commandment and seeks to usurp from God what rightfully belongs to him as the author of life. Every child, born and unborn, reflects the Christ Child. It is for this reason that abortion attacks the incarnation. Jesus was Lord even in the womb. In “potency” every child could have been the Christ Child. I suppose the author might attack the sacredness of human life as idolatry just as certain critics attack the Eucharist as such. But Christ enters into human flesh— he is the living Word of God— he is the bread of life and the chalice of salvation— he is made manifest in the Mystical Body of the Church. Swomley’s theology is too shallow to appreciate this. Of course, he conveniently dismisses entirely the objective nature of the situation. Regardless of whether one is a believer or not, the unborn child is a human person and the rights of human persons are incommensurate. In other words, the rights of the mother do not trump the rights of a child to life outside the womb. The real choice and freedom is not over the commission of murder but in regards to marriage, chastity and engaging in sexual intercourse.

Describing the unborn child exclusively as a fetus and embryo, he seeks to distance himself from the fact that we are dealing here with two persons, not one. This is a major flaw in his argument. He has taken sides and just as blacks were once regarded as “property” by slave owners and Jews as “non-persons” by genocidal Nazis, he would wrongly strip the unborn child of his intrinsic dignity as a person and member of the human family. As a Christian, does he still believe in the infusion of a soul? Apparently, he does not. He buys into the ludicrous argument that a baby is only a baby if he or she is wanted. He would argue that it is preferred to kill a child than to allow that child to be adopted by parents who would love and nurture him or her. When we strip away the lies, his views and those of like-minded revisionists is nothing short of monstrous.

There is no “fetal idolatry.” But there is idolatry here and that is in placing human capriciousness over objective truth. It is an idolatry that worships the selfish woman and her choice over divine cooperation in the sacred act of creation. It is the idolatry to demons that want the blood offering of innocent children.

His reference to an “abundant or purposeful life to which all of us (but evidently not the child) should be called” is the rehashed argument from utility. It runs smack into opposition with the very notion of sacrificial love that defines Christian discipleship and parenthood. This argument from utility says that if the unborn child should make us sad or hurt our prospects or cause inconvenience, then the child can be terminated or destroyed. He argues that the unborn baby is only counted a baby if wanted and loved. This same impoverished thinking would threaten the elderly and the sick. If life stops being fun or there is insufficient productivity then it becomes okay to pull the plug or even to poison grandma’s IV. Similarly, if there is too great an expense to keep us around, then this thinking makes us disposable. The quality of life for some is given the higher gravity over the quantity of life for others. It is true that no one should be “unwanted” or “abandoned.” This mandates a change or movement in us to make room at the table of man for others. Instead, he focuses on termination or killing those “unborn” people so that they might not have to feel our resentment. He calls this mercy. It is not.

Ninety something years old, Swomley died a few years ago. He was known not only for his liberal views but for his distrust or even bigotry against Catholicism and its influence in the United States. He was regarded as a theologian and taught Methodist seminarians. However, his views were formed more by a secular humanism than by the Gospel and Christian tradition. Is it true that Methodist churches largely share his perspective? I hope not because it is absolutely diabolical. It is worrisome because LIFE NEWS also reported:

  • Methodist Health Care Ministries gave almost half a million to the nation’s top abortion provider Planned Parenthood.
  • The United Methodist Church opposed the bill to ban late-term abortions.

Methodist doctrine could at one time be narrowed to the creeds and its hymnal. Unfortunately, such objective clarity is hard to find today. Methodism not only tolerates abortions but as an enabler pays for them. Demonstrating how far they were willing to go, the bewildered church organized opposition to efforts that would have banned partial birth “infanticide.” This seemed to violate reason, itself. Even if confused people had doubts about the humanity of the unborn, here we were talking about the killing of nine month old babies ready to be born.

When so-called Christians espouse such things, hell must be laughing. But such hardness of hearts is really a cause for tears. Everyone has value. Everyone is loved. Every child is God’s gift and abortion (as well as infanticide) throws that gift back into the face of God. Dear God save us!

ATHEIST COMMANDMENT 10

“Leave the world a better place than you found it.”

big-bag-of-money-6497-largeThis is a nice platitude but that is about all it is. The truth is that we have very little control over the world. We can try to make a positive difference over our small piece of it, but even here things often do not go our way. Indeed, we might be in conflict with one another as to what makes the world better. Is it technology, more parks, electric cars or gas guzzlers, laws that promote “choice” over human life, legalizing sodomy, what? Those who promote justice for some often want it revoked for others. That was a facet of the religious liberty fight between the Church and the current government administration. Often we experience life as a mess and leave the world in a mess. Despite progress can we say that the world is a better place than in the past? There are still acts of terrorism and genocide. This year it was estimated that the one percent of the world population owns over 50% of the world’s wealth and resources. There is an old saying about this— the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

We live and we die. Many people just scrape along, try to find some happiness and deal with dreams realized and/or broken. Relationships give comfort and belonging but there is also betrayal and abandonment. We are a society of givers and takers and critics debate as to which it might be better to be.

Catholic Charities is the largest social service organization in the world just behind the U.S. government. Believers are often very generous to those in need. I heard one atheist share his deep regrets that they were frequently shamed by believers in how they respond to the needy and human suffering. Why is that? What is it about the so-called “pie-in-the-sky religion” that also focuses on earthly struggles and pain? Why is it that by comparison non-theistic forms of humanism often become oppressive and part of the problem?

ATHEIST COMMANDMENT 9

“There is no one right way to live.”

Eye-3372-largeAnd what is this supposed to mean? Would the atheist tolerate a radical Islam that covered a woman’s face and body, reducing her to property, denying her an education and life outside the home? Would they turn a blind eye to a pre-civil war south where slavery allowed a genteel life for some and one of brutal servitude for others? This so-called commandment is actually nonsense. The truth is that while there are many different states of life and a certain cultural diversity; nevertheless, there are ways of living that countermand human decency and the laws of God. Keeping harems or same-sex partners would also fall within prohibited acts; however, I suspect the atheist critic wants to make room for deviancy. Once more there is a problem with specificity. Who decides what an appropriate lifestyle is and is not? Failure to make any judgment will lend legitimacy to anything and everything.

The Christian would argue that there is a right way to live and that is to live in right relationship with God and man. Sex outside of heterosexual marriage is a sin. A lifestyle that depends upon the oppression of others is a sin. A life that is addicted to booze and drugs is one that faces imminent destruction. Commercialism and materialism will ultimately fail to satisfy the longing of the soul. We live in such a way, in accordance with our nature, so that we can draw out the best that makes us human. We are social creatures which need to interact with each other in a manner that both preserves human freedom and insures the healthy functioning of society. Putting it bluntly, there are right “ways” of living and there are wrong ways, too.

I am somewhat surprised that that a man who promotes science would suggest this dictum. The Mythbusters devote each episode at dispelling myths and trying to ascertain the truth. There is little truth in this so-called new commandment. As with the proper fuel for a car a protocol before a dangerous experiment or explosion— there is a right way and a wrong or dangerous way to proceed.

This new law is really just an excuse for liberality and unhampered toleration. Not that I think he really means it because I suspect there are elements to the Christian life that he would find personally objectionable. In other words, the rule here is biased with unspoken exceptions. He would stretch the definition of marriage and family. Marriage, itself, might be viewed as an unnecessary human construct. Obviously, the atheist critic would not interpret it as a sacrament configured to give grace.

Man is not the final arbiter of right and wrong. The rejection of this truth is at the heart of many contemporary problems. Everything is politicized, even human behavior. If the law says something is right, many presume that it must be okay. The war against drugs goes badly, so advocates argue for their legalization and taxation. When the prostitution situation resists resolution, there is a lobby that suggests making it legal with defined health or safety standards. Assault against children, even in the womb was reckoned as manslaughter and a war crime but now it is regarded as a right of women to choose. Within living memory homosexuality goes from being criminalized to being protected and promoted as a basic civil right. No matter what the issue or behavior, people no longer turn to ministers or philosophers but to lawyers and politicians.

This process promotes a lie… about human nature, about God and his commandments… and about our sphere of influence. The subjective eclipses the objective. The relative dominates over point of permanence. The end result is that we damage ourselves and all our associations. Not only is there a loss of a sense of sin but also of any concrete definition.

ATHEIST COMMANDMENT 8

“We have the responsibility to consider others, including future generations.”

landscape-with-a-tree-swirl-cloud-4545-largeWhy? God is out of the picture, so why care? No matter what we do, top scientists tell us that the universe is doomed. It is hard enough to care for ourselves and find happiness. Does it really make sense to care for others and generations unborn? We already abort half a million unborn children in the U.S. each year. If the living does not matter then caring about prospective people seems arbitrary and meaningless. Cold and honest atheistic logic cries out: “Maybe it would be better to let the poor and the defective die outright? If we eliminate the world’s refuse, then there will be more for us and the Western elite. We can make the world safe for endangered species by subtracting overcrowding populations of humans. Do we have any more right to the earth than the animals? Show me scientifically that we have an obligation to others and the future! Prove it or give it up. Our personal world might be better off if there were a few less mouths to feed.”

Anyway, we are all such hypocrites. Look at all the stuff we buy these days that comes from slave labor and where people are oppressed. If it is cheaper, it is better… that is today’s mantra. We take advantage of the poor and the worker. The host of Mythbusters can make up this commandment… but even his television show bobble heads and DVDs are manufactured in Chinese sweatshops. We can thus avoid paying local workers at all and pay others a non-livable wage. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer! Yeah, we really care about others… NOT!

As a Christian, I believe that every person has an incommensurate worth. All human life is sacred and we are called to be good stewards of creation. I believe that there is something immortal and lasting about every person conceived into this world. We are all God’s children and God loves you no more or less than he does me. I believe there is an order and a divine plan. It is important to play our part as instruments of divine providence.

ATHEIST COMMANDMENT 7

“Treat others as you would want them to treat you, and can reasonably expect them to want to be treated. Think about their perspective.”

creepy-guy-pointing-6790-largeEarlier I spoke about how there is a certain Christian spillage into the non-theistic environment. There is no table rasa for the atheist in the creation of his godless Decalogue. Here he has essentially borrowed THE GOLDEN RULE from Jesus: “Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets” (Matthew 7:12). Stripped from the commandment is the underpinning of a divine imperative. Also missing is the unique appreciation of sacrificial love espoused by Christ. Our Lord tells us to lend without expecting repayment. He urges us to love those who hate us. He says we must forgive those who hurt and persecute us. This means that we would treat others with compassion and generosity and not measure the cost. Without this appreciation, the Golden Rule might be interpreted as a quid pro quo situation: you rub my back and I will rub yours. There is no bartering when it comes to the quality of love. Once again, there is an element of uncertainty. What can we “reasonably” expect? We might want someone to show us charity and mercy, but in earthly terms are they obliged to do so? Similarly, how far do we put ourselves out for others? Each of us has his own problems and debts. I have heard hard men say, “I ask nothing of others and in return I would like to be left alone by all the panhandlers!” In a cold and cruel way this might be applied to the rule here. I have also heard people say, “Nobody ever gave me a free lunch so why should I have to buy for everyone else?” This reductionism can reach a level where the rule is no more than this: “Don’t try to kill me and I won’t kill you!” The rule is echoed in many cultures and among many religions. However, the full meaning and truth comes clear within the Christian dispensation. God has been good and generous to us. We need to extend this generosity to others.  The matter is deeper than “their perspective” but rather how does God see it?

ATHEIST COMMANDMENT 6

“Be mindful of the consequences of all your actions and recognize that you must take responsibility for them.”

Praying-Skeleton-4870-largeThis is not so much a commandment as it is a quality of good character. All of us need a level of integrity in how we approach the world and behave. This does not tell us what to do. Rather, it is a premeditation and a later resolve to carry through and accept what comes. I was surprised to see this one on the list because it is the edict that atheists and secularists so often seek to escape.

Notice what is left unsaid.

1. How does one judge the consequences?

2. How far can one go to change the consequences?

3. Should the weight of the consequences upon the agent and others be equally measured?

4. Do others have a right to weigh in upon the consequences of acts that one proposes to perform?

5. As long as one will accept responsibility for acts, what determines that these acts are good and moral?

6. What exactly does it mean to take responsibility… obedience, dissent, not getting caught?

The Church urges this dictum when it comes to sexual activity between men and women. Couples should first be married and they should be mindful that this activity is how lovers become mothers and fathers. Sexual intercourse is geared to fecundity and fertility. Of course, the critic objects to this necessary connection. He would prefer a reflection so that an escape clause or out might be found. Thus, as an example, sexual acts might be manipulated or the faculty of generation destroyed through contraception. Instead of avoiding such acts that are inherently life-giving, the act is distorted into one where bonding and pleasure are now the only ends. If the contraception should fail, the traditional believer would say then the child should be welcomed. However, here the so-called commandment is violated or expanded again to include abortion. In truth, responsibility for acts is avoided.

As a Catholic, a difficulty I see is the ingredient of atheism itself. What if Christians should be right about the last things: death, judgment, heaven and hell? Then there are obviously consequences for our actions that the non-believer has failed to evaluate. The tragedy here is that there will be an eternity to suffer remorse.