Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Kittels and Quislings

On my Facebook timeline I have begun to employ a noun that is of my own devising. I refer to a kind of Christian, most often of a clergyman or theologian, as a Kittel. Just like the word Quisling, it is taken from the name of someone associated with the second world war. And, just like the word Quisling, it is not complimentary. Nor is it merely insulting. It is more in the nature of a very serious warning.
            At this very moment of history we are witnessing something that distinguishes people of conscience from the common herd. I say that fully aware of the danger of allowing myself to fall into the error of self-righteousness, or of comparing myself to others I see as sinners, in the manner of the Pharisee in our Lord’s parable. Nonetheless, that is not the only danger, and the danger of which I warn you, if I call you a Kittel, is consequential and frightening to the point where I must speak up.
            Earlier today I was informed that fifty-seven percent of white Evangelicals in the United States believe that only a Christian can be a real American. I began to think: One problem with their current state of mind is that denying status as an American has become one step away from dehumanizing people. I see dehumanizing, narrowly defining personhood, an exercise meant to deny personhood to certain other people, as the antithesis of what I believe as a Christian, and thus the opposite of what I preach as a priest and theologian. My Faith boldly teaches that “God became human so that man would become Divine (St. Athanasius).” That’s the opposite of dehumanization, and it adds a further link that connects love of God with love of neighbor. The refugee is my neighbor, the poor woman trying to feed her children is my neighbor (and, yes, the child in the womb is my neighbor too). Of course, even Donald Trump is also my neighbor- so, I pray for him (who needs it more?), largely praying that he will change. 
I don’t see this major theological belief of traditional Christianity that I have mentioned, the Incarnation, in the political and social apologetics of the Trump-supporting Evangelicals. I warn some of them (especially clergy who have become corrupted by Trumpism) that they are following in the footsteps of Gearhard Kittel. I feel like Jeremiah prophesying in the temple. Our Rabbi, Jesus, taught us that the two greatest commandments in Torah are the commandments of love for God and for neighbor.
        It is not only Evangelicals who are erring in this. I see the same online behavior in Christians of various different denominations, or I hear it in conversation. I have come across it even among some of my fellow Continuing Anglican clergy. One essential fact of life for us, if we believe our Faith as it has been handed down from Christ and His Apostles, is that our moral reasoning must be based on the Word of God, most clearly the teaching of our own Rabbi, our Lord. He laid it out very clearly, and we must read the Sermon on the Mount, the Summary of the Law (those two greatest commandments), the Parable of the sheep on the King’s right hand and the goats on his left hand, as well as everything else He said, without equivocation (as in, without “yes, but”). He warned, in closing the Sermon on the Mount, that if we hear His teaching and do not obey it, we will be like the foolish man who built his house on the sand.
        I have for several years warned my own congregation, as well as many who “click here” to listen to my sermons, that if you are overly loyal to a political party or to a candidate eventually you will find yourself arguing to defend injustice and atrocity. As an American I appreciate a paradox our Founding Fathers expressed, that government is necessary, but also a hungry beast that we must, as Thomas Jefferson observed, “Tie down with the chains of the Constitution.” Political partisan loyalty is a hungry beast also. However, that kind of loyalty is not necessary at all, and should be treated like an insurance policy that you are willing to replace with one that appears to be better or more competitively priced. Political leaders, when they go too far and exercise power that is unrestrained by just laws, want to devour your conscience. They want to own and control it.
The heart of the matter is this: If you align your moral reasoning with political ideology and loyalty, you must betray Jesus Christ at some point. Instead, base all your moral reasoning on His word. For a long time we have rightly pointed out the error of those whose political loyalty causes them to look the other way at, or even champion, the destruction of children in the womb. Make no mistake: Abortion is a convenience for people who want to engage in sexual relations as if there should be no natural consequence, as if pregnancy itself is somehow a strange and unnatural event. Thus, they refuse to acknowledge what we know to be true. The child in the womb is thy neighbor; thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. In the name of sexual immorality, or of worldly power masquerading as a just form of equality, they defend injustice. And, often, they do so only out of partisan loyalty.
But, the refugee at the border is also thy neighbor. Whether it is a father or a mother, or a little child too young to be separated from his parents, that refugee, that asylum seeker, is thy neighbor. Dehumanizing such desperate individuals as “illegals” (as if a person can be illegal), or justifying the neglect and outright abuse that observers have witnessed and reported, is also a great evil. Refusing to believe a member of Congress, not because she has a record of telling lies, but because you are at odds with her politics; spreading the lie that her testimony simply cannot be true despite the fact that 9,500 members of the Customs and Border Patrol were caught red-handed as members of the infamous “10-15” Facebook group (which makes Ms. Ocasio-Cortez’s accusation more than believable, whatever arguments you may have with her on specific issues); making legalistic arguments about how properly to apply for asylum (mostly erroneous nonsensical arguments); parroting lies from the President that the adults are not really the parents of the children (for which he has no evidence); laughing when Rush Limbaugh tells his listeners that the asylum seekers are better off drinking toilet water because it’s a “step up for them (just as he once justified the atrocities at Abu Graib as “letting off steam”);” and generally reciting the talking points of the worst op-ed talking heads on FOX News, simply makes you a mouthpiece of evil propaganda.
Obviously, there are various arguments that can be made for how best to absorb the many people fleeing here from the dangers of Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, and, yes, for sending some of them back across the border. But to justify neglect and abuse is never morally right. Furthermore, you already know that, and you make arguments that can only sear your conscience with a hot iron.
Donald Trump, whatever achievements you may wish to give him credit for (something that can be argued another day), has grown a loyal following largely by  inciting fear, which leads to hate. He continues to do so as he goes into the next election. This political tactic is (as much as this name is invoked too frequently with no real justification) a page out of the Hitler handbook. He dehumanized a whole group of people in order to build his following on the fears and hate of prejudiced people. He was supported by some of the clergy, though opposed by many of them as well. The worst of the clergy who supported Hitler, and spread his propaganda, was Gearhard Kittel. I never use the phrase “The wrong side of history.” It is a silly term indeed. Nonetheless, do not let history brand you, some day, as a Kittel.

Friday, July 05, 2019

Looking Awry at Resurrection Bodies

by David Bentley Hart

James Ware has taken exception in these “pages” (or however one describes a web-journal) to an earlier article of mine on Paul’s metaphysics of the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 15. Now, everything I said in that original piece was—let me brash up front—both entirely correct and entirely uncontroversial among serious scholars of late antiquity, as well as among good New Testament scholars who have a deep training in Graeco-Roman intellectual history. In a sense, I feel no need to defend myself in that regard. I do feel compelled, however, to point out that Ware in fact did not attack me for what I said so much as for what he imagined I was saying; and that, moreover, his misunderstanding regarding the import of my argument is a splendid example of precisely the kind of habitual misreading of Christian scripture I originally set out to expose. Because, as I said there, the principal difficulty we have today in understanding the exquisitely abstruse spiritual and speculative language of the earliest Christian writers is the result of our (almost inevitable) tendency tacitly to superimpose our modern categories on texts from an age that thought in very different forms.

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