# Doing the Math on ‘Our’

Doing the Math on ‘Our’ April 18, 2013

Melanie Bettinelli has been running a series of guest posts on the Credo for the Year of Faith.  Each week, a Catholic writer writes an essay on one phrase in the Nicene Creed.  Today, I’m up discussing “For Our Sake.”  I’ve excepted the first few paragraphs below, but you can read the whole thing at Melanie’s blog:

The our in the Creed is a terrible temptation to me.

When people talk about the sacrificial love of Christ, I have a tendency to start doing math. Well, if it was for all of our sake, Christ saved an astounding number of people through his crucifixion. In fact, he saved more people than I can try and picture (even with Knuth Paper Stack Notation). The current population of the United States is over three hundred million. I can write that number down, but I can’t get an intuitive picture of how many people that is. And I can’t actually differentiate it from the number of people in the world (nearly seven billion) or the number of people who have ever lived, let alone the number of people who will have ever lived. It’s an unreasonable number.

Which starts to make Christ’s love feel reasonable.

And as I’m wondering all this, I’ve managed to shrink myself to invisibility in the the great throng of people washed in Christ’s blood. If we’re spreading out his sacrifice among all of us, I’m hardly redeemed by his death. Once we average it out, I can’t lay claim to more than one thorn-puncture. And, honestly, I’m more one platelet in that wound than the wound itself.

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• Fr.Sean

Leah,
This week I had our first communicants. I actually did a little “spiritual math” if you will. I asked them if I had 100 pennies and gave them one, one percentage of my pennies did I give them… then asked them for 5 and 10 etc. then I asked them if I had 100 consecrated hosts and I gave them one consecrated host what percentage of Jesus would they be receiving. Although they didn’t get it the first time I tried to help them see 100%. Then we talked about bread offering life because one can live on it for a long time and the symbolic meaning that the Israelites survived 40 years in the desert on the “bread from heaven”. As well as in biblical times people considered the life of the animal to be in the blood, so when we receive him we have spiritual food for the journey as well as his life flowing through us. I think you could use the same “spiritual math” in this case. St.Paul in the Letter to the Galatians 2:20 seems to make it more personal when he said; “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”

• grok

great story- I love the pennies!
Once when I was teaching physics/electricity and “charge” to high schoolers I was struggling to explain how “ground” is an infinite source or sink for charge.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ground_(electricity)
In other words if “ground” gives up an electron and thus makes some object negatively charged, ground does not thereby become “positively” charged (as the students’ thought it should) but still remains neutral.
The best analogy I could come up with was the Ocean- I told them if you took a teaspoon of water out of the Ocean could you then really say (with a straight face) that the Ocean thereby had less water in it? That seemed to resonate with them. Infinity is always a tricky concept…

• Fr.Sean

grok,
thanks for the insight on that. not to change the subject, but i’ve been trying to figure that out for a long time, and asked a couple of physicists and got a couple of different answers. one told me it’s more of a chain reaction, another told me that the electrons jump but the atomic structure of the atoms for the most part remains unchanged. i did read somewhere when atoms bond they can pick off an electron from another atom and make it positively charged but i still don’t understand how or why electrons move up a cloud towards the top, and how the atoms remain largely stable, unless like you said it’s such a small fraction of the total atoms that most of them remain stable. can you recommend a website that explains the phenomenon?

• grok

Hi Fr. Sean,
This Reddit discussion might be helpful
in particular this passage:
“Electricity is just electrons wanting to go somewhere. And they would really like some space for themselves, so they’d prefer a place where there is as much open space for each of them as possible. Now there are some things, they just can’t enter (like wood or plastic), that we call insulators. (Technically they can enter these things, but it needs a lot of pressure.) The ground on the other hand is full of things, electrons can travel through very easily. We call these things conductors.
Now as you can imagine, in the ground there is a lot of space. The whole earth is one connected thing, that is packed with conducting things. Plenty of space for electrons, to stay there and to get far away from their other fellow electrons. So whenever you stick something conducting into the ground and connect something charged (which means “packed with too many electrons) to this conductor, the electrons will flow through the conductor into the ground. … another important term: Electrical potential. This is a measurement for how many electrons you can push into a thing with a specific amount of pressure (pressure is called voltage in this context). So the ground is the biggest accessible potential around us and it is almost empty.
For clarification: The ground still contains electrons. There is a minimal amount of electrons, it naturally has. Charging something means: You put more electrons into it, than this specific amount. That happens, when electricity flows into the ground, but it is an insignificant amount, compared to the ground’s potential.”

• Fr.Sean

Thanks grok,
i guess i just always assumed they were connected to an atom and if they weren’t it would only be for a brief period of time. that article seemed to put it into perspective. Thanks!

• Caravelle

Fr.Sean : i guess i just always assumed they were connected to an atom and if they weren’t it would only be for a brief period of time. that article seemed to put it into perspective. Thanks!
IIRC most conducting metals are in that big bit in the middle of the periodic table, i.e. they have electrons in the f-orbital, but those are loosely-connected enough that they can very easily jump from one atom to the next in a crystalline lattice – which is what electrical current is, the flow of electrons when one hops to an empty space, leaving an empty space behind it that another electron jumps into, leaving a space… etc.
Which is also why, I suppose, those elements can have very different ionization levels – unlike the elements in the first few rows of the periodic table ionization, for whom ionization is the way to get a “full” “outer shell” so they’ll almost always gain or lose the specific number of electrons for that, the metals just have those few electrons in the f-orbital that can get stripped off or not fairly easily.

This isn’t quite the same thing as ionization, when one atom takes an electron from another and keeps it (though given electricity is really the flow of charges that’s why electricity can flow in salt water – it’s just not electrons moving, it’s whole ions), or covalent bonding, when two atoms share electrons exclusively between them. Neither of those things lead to an uninterrupted flow of charges, which is what electricity is. And which is why substances involving long carbon chains tighly (covalently) bonded to each other like wood or plastic are insulators.

• JohnE_o

” If it could have happened another way, He would presumably have done that, but His actions aren’t motivated by a macabre masochism, but by an intense desire to experience the fullness of truth and telos.”

We are talking about a God who is Omnipotent and Omniscient, right?

God could have done the Redemption any way He wanted to and He surely knew the fullness of truth and telos, being Truth Himself, eh?

Don’t try to figure it out – just accept it as Poetry and a Mystery.

(or as just a story – a really effective story, but just a story nonetheless)

• Do try and figure it out. It gets better the more we contemplate it. He could not do redemption any way He wanted. He is a God of justice so sin needed to be dealt with fully and fairly. He is Truth Himself so He must be true to Himself. Love must conquer evil. An executive fiat will not do.

• Alan

Post-hoc rationalizing the actions of an omnipotent being seems so absurd, doesn’t it?

Well, at least it should.

• It is not rationalizing. It is faith seeking understanding. It is like seeing a winning strategy and analyzing it to figure out why it wins.

• Alan

Most of the time you do that with say investment strategies the answer you find is blind luck that doesn’t last.

• Erick

Ah, this charge would make more sense if it wasn’t for the fact that Jesus Himself explicitly teaches the reasoning for his death and resurrection.

Luke 24
45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.

• Alan

Ah, that would make more sense if anything written in the gospels could be definitively linked to Jesus’ teaching – particularly ones that smack of post-hoc rationalization.

• Erick

Whether you believe or not is a moot point. Belief is an entirely different question. You cannot deny however that the reasoning for resurrection is part and parcel of the belief itself.

• B. R. Lind

Help me figure it out, then.
“He is a God of justice so sin needed to be dealt with fully and fairly.” And the torture and death of a completely innocent person (or Being) is a fair way of dealing with sin? If I commit murder, and my parents ask to be imprisoned or executed in my place, is justice achieved by taking them up on it?
“Love must conquer evil. An executive fiat will not do.” So what makes the crucifixion a necessary part of this? Why can’t he forgive us out of his love for us? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do for each other?

• If I commit murder, and my parents ask to be imprisoned or executed in my place, is justice achieved by taking them up on it?

In some ways Yes. Your parents would have paid the price that was owed. There would still be the matter restoring your relationship with society. That could happen if you were deeply changed by their act of love but it would not have to happen. You could just kill again.

So what makes the crucifixion a necessary part of this? Why can’t he forgive us out of his love for us? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do for each other?

What does that look like? If you accept the worst possible offense I can give and forgive me out of love what would that be? Calling you a name? Punching you in the nose? I can do worse than that. Don’t you end up with something similar to crucifixion?

• Caravelle

@Randy :

In some ways Yes. Your parents would have paid the price that was owed.

Owed to whom ? How was that price calculated ? Why does it not matter who pays it ?

What does that look like? If you accept the worst possible offense I can give and forgive me out of love what would that be? Calling you a name? Punching you in the nose? I can do worse than that. Don’t you end up with something similar to crucifixion?

That’s a very confusing response. When we forgive somebody for their trespasses against us, we don’t first ask them to commit an additional trespass against us (calling us a name, punching us or crucifying us) as a necessary precondition for forgiving them.
Or should we ? Is that what “turning the other cheek” is really saying ?

• In this example the price is owed to society. Life imprisonment is the accepted penalty for murder. Does it matter who pays it? In some ways Yes. In some ways No. That is why this is not a perfect analogy. Just paying the price is not enough. There is the matter of rehabilitation that is not addressed in this analogy. People are still living in a society that contains a murderer.

The payment of debt analogy is somewhat limited. I don’t want to reject it entirely even though I don’t like it that much. I know protestants use it all the time and it is not completely wrong. Scripture uses language like that from time to time (Rev 5:9, 1 Tim 2:6, Mat 20:28). It is just not the whole story of the atonement.

That’s a very confusing response. When we forgive somebody for their trespasses against us, we don’t first ask them to commit an additional trespass against us (calling us a name, punching us or crucifying us) as a necessary precondition for forgiving them.

God is both the offended party and the party paying the ransom. Jesus is paying as man but he is not any less God at the moment of atonement. Jesus is not paying by being offended. He is paying by loving. It is the love that satisfies God. Love requires sacrifice but it is not the same thing as sacrifice. Greater love has no man than he lay down his life.

• Caravelle

@Randy

In this example the price is owed to society. Life imprisonment is the accepted penalty for murder. Does it matter who pays it? In some ways Yes. In some ways No.

This is the most shocking thing I’ve read in some time. “Price owed to society” is an abstraction that doesn’t mean anything on its own; its meaning comes from the realities it refers to. One such reality is that society (or even more concretely, the people in that society) is harmed by being the kind of place where people commit crimes, which explains why criminals “owe a debt” not only to their direct victims, but to everybody in that society as well. (for example, if you live in a place with high criminality you’ll suffer from it even if you yourself are never the direct victim of a crime; you’ll spend money in alarms, you’ll be stressed, you’ll be distrustful of others, etc). Even the concept of “owing a debt” to people you’ve harmed is an abstraction (harm and good aren’t commodities we can exchange); it refers to the concept that we should treat each other equitably, i.e. if we do something bad to others we should “even the scales” by doing something good for them, or them doing something equally bad to us. And that abstract concept is justified in that it creates an incentive to do good to others and a penalty against harming them, thus to some extent increasing the amount of good done and decreasing the amount of harm.
In that way it matters VERY MUCH who “pays the price”. If someone else pays for criminals’ crimes then there is no disincentive to committing a crime. Even from the more-abstract accounting perspective it makes no sense – if somebody steals money from me, the ideal “fair” solution would be to have them get it back, so in an accounting sense we’re both back to zero. I can see my getting money back from another source (so I’m back to zero, if not the thief) as a possibly-acceptable substitute; or the thief losing as much money as I did (so neither of us are at zero but we’re in the same situation). But a third party losing as much money as I did has nothing to do with anything.
Please give me one way in which it doesn’t matter who pays the price. Please be as concrete as you can manage.

The payment of debt analogy is somewhat limited. I don’t want to reject it entirely even though I don’t like it that much.

I don’t like the payment of debt analogy much either, which is why I try to get at the concrete realities behind it instead of possibly being misled by too many levels of abstraction.

God is both the offended party and the party paying the ransom. Jesus is paying as man but he is not any less God at the moment of atonement. Jesus is not paying by being offended. He is paying by loving. It is the love that satisfies God. Love requires sacrifice but it is not the same thing as sacrifice. Greater love has no man than he lay down his life.

I’m still confused so I’ll try and paraphrase what I think you might saying : humanity’s sin harms God. To balance those scales humanity needs to love God. Jesus, as a man, paid that love-price by getting crucified – it wasn’t the crucifixion itself that was the issue, but the fact of going through it despite the pain and suffering exhibited an incredible amount of love, and that love is what “compensated for” humanity’s sin.
Is that it ? (if so I still have a few questions but I want to make sure I’m understanding you right first)

• Erick

BR Lind says,

And the torture and death of a completely innocent person (or Being) is a fair way of dealing with sin?

You have focused too much on innocence. Innocence, while important, is not the overriding symbol here. The key event for Christians is not the death. That is only the penultimate event. The key even is the resurrection. Without resurrection, the death means nothing.

So what makes the crucifixion a necessary part of this? Why can’t he forgive us out of his love for us? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do for each other?

This is a lesson in spiritual combat in the material universe. On how to defeat evil as well as h0w to forgive.

The torture and death was necessary to show the power of sin. As if God took on everything that evil had to offer. The Resurrection shows that evil, sin, suffering is 1) not inexhaustible and 2) can still lead to good.

• B. R. Lind

Of the responses I’ve received here, this one – Passion/Resurrection as lesson – makes the most sense to me. However, it seems to suggest that the purpose of the event was not primarily to take our punishment for us and make it possible for us sinful people to enter Heaven, but rather to teach us about how sin operates in this life and what we can do with it. Am I reading you incorrectly?

• Erick

BR Lind,

However, it seems to suggest that the purpose of the event was not primarily to take our punishment for us

Correct. “Taking our punishment for us” is largely a Protestant Reformation teaching. The Catholic teaching does not claim penal substitution, which is how I think you have been reading it.

and make it possible for us sinful people to enter Heaven,

This is still the primary purpose of the Passion/Resurrection.

but rather to teach us about how sin operates in this life and what we can do with it. Am I reading you incorrectly?

Not quite. I don’t like the wording you have used. It’s not “what we can do with sin”, but rather “how we can overcome sin”. We overcome sin by obedience to God, who is the ultimate Good, even unto physical death.

Basically, sin and death has created a gulf in the relationship between man and God. This gulf clouded people’s vision of truth. What is this truth? The sublime dominion of God/good over the devil/evil. Left under this clouded vision, even human obedience to God is still tainted in a way. Consider, the Pharisees who sinfully obeyed God’s Law.

The Passion/Resurrection reestablishes this connection between the human condition and the Truth. It is basically God using evil to fulfill a good purpose. God demonstrates that obedience to Him (the ultimate good) overcomes even the worst consequences of evil.

• Truly forgiving us without any consequences takes away our free will to a significant extent, since it eliminates most of our ability to make meaningful choices:

http://www.jrganymede.com/2010/08/17/you-want-justice-you-need-justice/

• Caravelle

By that logic, under our legal system we aren’t free to pick the colour of our bicycle (that choice has no legal consequences after all) but we are free to decide whether or not to murder someone.

But even if we accept that definition of “free will” the argument still doesn’t make sense. Our choices have consequences on the world around us (you know, the one we actually live in right now ?). This is a directly observable fact that no theological reality can take away. People’s choices affected the world and people around them before Christ came, they affected them while he was around and they continued doing so after his death and resurrection. There’s no reason to think this would have been different if he hadn’t been crucified when he was; it’s a fundamental property of the world.

Saying that God forgiving us for generalized Sin with no consequence “takes away our free will to a significant extent” says that those real-world consequences, i.e. our actual lives, don’t matter much. Which, if there’s an eternal afterlife, is certainly fair enough. Our eternal existence after death will totally outweigh our brief lives on Earth in the long run.
So let’s consider that eternal existence. I know of two options in this context : some kind of Universalism (Christ’s sacrifice redeemed all of humanity) or not (Christ’s sacrifice redeemed people only on certain conditions, contingent on (I’m going to guess) their faith).
The former case from a free will point of view is completely equivalent to forgiving us without any consequences; there was a gruesome ritual involved, but from our point of view today we’re all going to Heaven. So little free will by your definition.
The latter case however doesn’t restore our ability to make meaningful choiceS. It gives us ONE CHOICE, between two options. We’re replacing a concept where our every action affects everything and everyone else and matters in myriad ways for different reasons, and those are the consequences that make our choices meaningful, with a concept where everything builds up to the only choice we’ll ever need to make : Heaven or not. Every action that affects this choice is vital and can be reduced to promoting one of those two options over the other; every action that doesn’t affect this choice is meaningless “to a significant extent”.

And, to get back to a sane understanding of the concept of “free will”, this choice isn’t so much a “choice” as an “offer we can’t refuse”.

This understanding of the concepts of “meaningful choice” and “free will” doesn’t seem sensible to me.

• Theodore Seeber

First to have love, you need to learn to love. I think you just made a connection for me between the Gospels and the Season Finale of _Haven_.

• ACN

Doesn’t omnipotence sort of imply that yes, an executive fiat WOULD do it?

• No, omnipotent does not imply capricious. He can be perfectly true to principles and still be omnipotent.

• Erick

Omnipotent executive fiat contravenes human free will as has been pointed out before. God-Creation is a relationship, so anything done for us has to be done with our assent.

• sqeecoo

Yes, because the blood sacrifice of an innocent is clearly the only way to justly punish the people you created for being the way you created them.

• Excellent, excellent essay.

• Kewois

SSaving us from what?
His own wrath at his own “creations”?
Because we are evil because some gran grand father chooses not to obey.

And why suffering and dying? Why God need someone (in fact himself) to suffer physical pain and a horrible death?

If you do something bad it is necessary that you suffer?? Modern penal systems are far more moral advocating for reclusion of the criminal just to prevent further criminal acts

Something bad happens, so you guess that you have been punished so you sacrifice something to calm down the angry god o natural power. Just a bribe.
Meaningless.

Kewois

By the way
NUMBER WHO HAVE EVER BEEN BORN: 107,602,707,791
http://www.prb.org/Articles/2002/HowManyPeopleHaveEverLivedonEarth.aspx
Not so big really.

• So are you saying you feel no sense of sin? No moral inadequacy? No inner war with yourself trying to be good yet ultimately failing?

• JohnE_o

I don’t feel any of that.

I have a strong sense of moral adequacy. Not moral perfection, but moral adequacy.

I have an inner sense of myself trying to be good and ultimately being good enough. Not perfect, but good enough.

• Erick

If you believe in morality, then there is no such thing as moral adequacy unless one is morally perfect. Every failure is a person not helped, not healed, not fed, etc. Every failure adds to the suffering of another. This means every failure makes you morally inadequate.

Morality is not like being a cook at McDonalds or being a clerk at an office or a student taking a test, where 99% good is good enough. It’s like being a doctor or engineer or tech at a fertilizer plant, where 99% good means you might have just gotten someone or a lot of someones killed/injured or worse.

• JohnE_o

“If you believe in morality, then there is no such thing as moral adequacy unless one is morally perfect.”

• Kewois

>Randy:
>So are you saying you feel no sense of sin?

No.

No. Why?

>No inner war with yourself trying to be good yet ultimately failing?

No.

Sometimes doing something wrong, then giving my apologies. Admitting I was wrong.

Trying to not harm others and succeeding. Why failing?

And eventually doing something wrong and “paying” the consequences.

But nothing that requires someone to die a horrible death.

Kewois

• Alan

“By the way
NUMBER WHO HAVE EVER BEEN BORN: 107,602,707,791
Not so big really.”
Seriously, I make decisions impacting that much money on a regular basis.

Imagine if instead he chose to save the souls of all the ants that ever lived – now we are starting to get impressive.

• grok

Hmm…seriously, \$100 BN dollars? Are you Alan Greenspan?

• Alan

Nope, have met him though – besides, if I was at the Fed I could be playing with a 3 trillion dollar balance sheet, now that would be fun.

• Slane

“NUMBER WHO HAVE EVER BEEN BORN: 107,602,707,791
http://www.prb.org/Articles/2002/HowManyPeopleHaveEverLivedonEarth.aspx
Not so big really.”

That number is way off. It starts off at 2 Homo Sapiens in 50,000 bc. We have found Modern Homo Sapien fossils that are 160,000 years old and Archaic Homo Sapien fossils that are 300,000 years old.

• What Jesus gave is not the most remarkable thing. The number of wounds. The quantity of blood. What Jesus held back is what matters. Nothing. He let the powers of evil do their worst. So nothing held back divided by 1 billion is still nothing. He gives it all for you and for me.

There is a line some speakers use that if you were the only one on earth Jesus would have come and died just for you. In that scenario you would be the one pounding the nails. It is a powerful thought. To understand the depth of God’s love for us but also the seriousness of our own sin. That in the end His love matters more.

• JeezusHimself

And then Jesus came Pom his disciples and said, “Brethren, what is this I heareth about me being a human sacrifice for your sins? May I asketh, who in the goddamn hell came up with that Neanderthal bullshit!!??

What are we, living in the fucking Stone Age!!!??? Blood sacrifice!!!!!!!!????????? Are you all fucking insane!!!!!????

Listen, brethren. Thou can taketh this dying for sins bullshit and shoveth it straight thy fucking asses!!!!! “—Jesus Christ, The Lost Gospel

• Paulus Magnus

Truly a deeply inspiring and well written argument with profound thought behind it. It is indeed a wonder why the whole world is not atheistic with such a wonderful grasp of philosophy, theology, and rhetoric at the hands of its proponents.

On the other hand, I’m reminded of some quite rampant speculation during the Cold War, exemplified in the book and movie Fail-Safe. Suppose that a nuclear device is, quite by accident, detonated over a Warsaw Pact city and, in order to appease the quite reasonable wrath of the Soviet Union and prevent a full-scale nuclear war, an American or other NATO city receives its own nuclear strike, by their own forces as it happens. The fundamental premise and utility as a balancing of scales was always treated as a reasonable solution, but it does result in two questions: 1. Is this a reasonable response and 2. How is this any different from a blood sacrifice?

• JeezusHimself

Hey Paulus Fungus,

Thanks so much for taking time away from your pornography schedule to comment.

Blood sacrifice is, without a doubt. The most asinine, absurd, stupid, vile, evil, sadistic, sickening bunch of Stone Age bunch of donkey shit to ever enter the human mind in the entire history of humankind’s existence on Planet Earth.

Thank’s so much for asking. Now please continue your regular schedule of jerking off to Sarah Palin.

• JeezusHimself

So sorry for the grammatical errors above. I shouldn’t have been laughing hysterically at Glen Beck while typing.

Jesus is still dead. Two thousand years and counting. Right fellas?

Bwahahahhahhahahahahahahahahahahahanahahahnaahah!!!!!!!!!

• And then added he: Also avoid ye constant vain repetion of your lame jokes, lest ye seem boring and dumb.

• Its better in the original Koine.

• grok

“When I stand next to my my brothers and sisters in Christ and say the word “our” with them at Mass, I don’t need to stand outside them, counting up the census. I can notice that love that overwhelms us, and overwhelms our ability to comprehend its magnitude, has given me one more gift—a way to be united to every other person in the group….
What are your thoughts? What else can we learn from “for our sake”?”

I agree with your thoughts above. Very nicely put.
As to what else we can learn from “for our sake”, well here is another thought, stolen from the homily I listened to at Mass today, which focused on reading from Acts:

“Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch…Seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah….
Philip ran up and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and said, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ …
This was the Scripture passage he [the Eunuch] was reading:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opened not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth.’

Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning with this Scripture passage, he proclaimed Jesus to him.”

So perhaps another take away from the “For our sake” is to broaden the “our”, to make a direct connection (ala today’s Act’s reading) between 1) Christ’s suffering/death and 2) evangelization. In other words to think of the “our” as not just being united/connected to our fellow Christian at Mass but to spreading the news to those of “us” who are not yet numbered amongst the Christians (like the Ethiopian Eunuch). For as Isaiah says “Who will tell of his posterity? For his life is taken from the earth.”

• Kim

I guess this is the kind of thing you have to be Christian already in order to enjoy.
I don’t understand why you feel guilty. Do you really think you have done anything bad enough that the death penalty would be appropriate? Because I don’t. I have done many bad things, sure, but nothing that I deserve to die or be tortured for.
And I don’t understand why you think God could find no other way to fix sin than by having himself crucified, when we puny humans have phased out crucifiction for more humane punishments and even rehabilitation programs, which work for some criminals. Really, there’s no better way to fix the world than for an innocent man to suffer and die? How does more pain fix the pain, anyway? What people who’ve been hurt need is not more suffering, but healing.

I don’t know why the little ‘false’ alarm in your head isn’t chiming. Maybe you’re swept up in the emotion of it all. Your last line suggests that being in a crowd of believers is having a powerful effect on you. That’s not surprising, most people enjoy being part of a crowd united in on purpose…but it’s not an indication that the story is true. You can find people united by all kinds of beliefs.

I don’t believe Jesus died for me. I don’t think he even knew I was going to exist. I think he believed that the world would end soon, certainly before all his disciples had died. (Matthew 16:28) He was another failed apocalyptic prophet. Probably killed by the Romans because he was stirring up trouble. His followers then made up this idea of him being a sin offering to rationalize the tragedy and comfort themselves. Maybe they saw his face is dreams. It’s hard to know for certain when we only have third hand accounts written years after his death.

• Kim,
You raise a lot of questions. Many could open long discussions. Not sure we want to go down all those threads right here. In some ways it makes sense. All of Christianity centers on the cross of Christ. Still I will respond to only one line.

I don’t understand why you feel guilty. Do you really think you have done anything bad enough that the death penalty would be appropriate? Because I don’t. I have done many bad things, sure, but nothing that I deserve to die or be tortured for.

This depends on what we are meant to be. If you have a low view of humanity, if you just see us as animals, then you are not going to see your failures as very serious. Nobody blames animals or even children for being self-centered. But that belief comes with a cost. It refuses to accept the greatness of the human person. If we accept that we are capable of great good then we have to accept the huge culpability that comes when we don’t do it.

Jesus tells us that our intuition about the good we might do if this or that were different is pointing to an even bigger truth. We were created for a love and holiness so good that we cannot even imagine it with our human minds. That means each one of our sins are that much more serious. So the fact that Jesus has a way to deal with those sins is huge. He deals with them not by minimizing them for that would minimize us and not by destroying them for that would destroy us. He deals with them by overcoming evil with good. To give us the ability to finally be the good people we always knew we should be. Sure that means facing the ugliness of what is in our hearts but that is the road to true healing. A road that has a cross on it.

• Fr.Sean

Leah,
This was a quote is from Raymond Brown, sheds lite on the subject i guess. “Let me comment on how the statements of Nicaea and Chalcedon are functional and, in popular parlance, “relevant.” Once, after a lecture I gave on Jesus as God in the NT, a student asked me why the issue of full divinity raised at Nicaea was so important. What difference does it make whether Jesus was God or the most perfect creature, so long as one has accepted him as Savior? Behind such a question there is often the suspicion that Nicaea and Chalcedon and indeed all the Christological controversies of the 4th and 5th centuries were matters of diphthongs and of bygone metaphysics that have no relevance today. I could not disagree more; for I think the issue of the full identity of Jesus, which is related to the insights of Nicaea and Chalcedon, is ultimately a question of the love of God for human beings.
If Jesus is not “true God of true God,” then we do not know God in human terms. Even if Jesus were the most perfect creature far above all others, he could tell us only at second hand about a God who really remains almost as distant as the Unmoved Mover of Aristotle. Only if Jesus is truly of God do we know what God is like, for in Jesus we see God translated into terms that we can understand. A god who sent a marvelous creature as our Savior could be described as loving, but that love would have cost God nothing in a personal way. Only if Jesus is truly of God do we know that God’s love was so real that it reached the point of personal self-giving. This is why the proclamation of Nicaea was and is so important- not only because it tells us about Jesus, but because it tells us about God. Indeed were it otherwise, the Nicene proclamation would scarcely be faithful to a Jesus who preached the kingship of God.
So also do I think the proclamation of Chalcedon about Jesus as true man (as well as true God) has enduring value. Again unless we understand that Jesus was truly human with no exception but sin, we cannot comprehend the depth of God’s love. If Jesus’ knowledge was limited, as indicated prima facie in the biblical evidence, then one understands that God loved us to the point of self-subjection to our most agonizing infirmities. A Jesus who walked through the world with unlimited knowledge, knowing exactly what the morrow would bring, knowing with certainty that three days after his death his Father would raise him up, would be a Jesus who could arouse our admiration, but a Jesus still far from us. He would be a Jesus far from a humankind that can only hope in the future and believe in God’s goodness, far from a human kind that must face the supreme uncertainty of death with faith but without knowledge of what is beyond. On the other hand, a Jesus for whom the detailed future had elements of mystery, dread, and hope as it has for us and yet, at the same time, a Jesus who would say, “Not my will but yours”- this would be a Jesus who could effectively teach us how to live, for this Jesus would have gone through life’s real trials. Then his saying, “No one can have greater love than this; to lay down his life for those he loves”(John 15:13), would be truly persuasive, for we would know that he laid down his life with all the agony with which we lay ours down. We would know that for him the loss of life was, as it is for us, the loss of a great possession, a possession that is outranked only by love.”

• Interesting quote. Can you give us the source?

• Fr.Sean

Sure, it was “An Introduction to New Testament Christology” by Raymond Brown, pg. 150. I read it when i was in the seminary, and then thought, who that was kind of profound so i went back typed it up on my computer. it really puts the idea that the best way to understand what God is like is to study the life of Jesus, for Jesus is God translated into human terms. it’s also a reminder that when we go through struggle, misunderstanding, rejection etc. God as a human being went through those same things, instead of thinking like, “well i’m God everything will be easy.” As Brown said, God loved us so much that he subjected himself to our most agonizing infirmities and trials.

• JohnE_o

B. R. Lind:
If I commit murder, and my parents ask to be imprisoned or executed in my place, is justice achieved by taking them up on it?

Randy:
In some ways Yes. Your parents would have paid the price that was owed.

——————–

Randy – if this happened in America, in real life, that a murderer’s parents, who were known to be innocent, voluntarily went to prison in place of their son – who was known to be guilty of murder – and the son walked free – would you really – I mean REALLY and no BS agree with the claim that Justice was served?

Not ‘in some ways’ but in totality that this was a just resolution of the son’s criminal act?

• Erick

if this happened in America, in real life, that a murderer’s parents, who were known to be innocent, voluntarily went to prison in place of their son – who was known to be guilty of murder – and the son walked free – would you really – I mean REALLY and no BS agree with the claim that Justice was served?

If the goal of justice is retribution, then the son has been hurt just as he has hurt others.

If the goal of justice is rehabilitation, then the parents just gave their son an opportunity to turn his life around.

Tell us what goals of justice are not fulfilled by the son’s parents receiving the punishment instead of himself?

• JohnE_o

“If the goal of justice is retribution, then the son has been hurt just as he has hurt others.”

Please elaborate on how the son is hurt when his parents have been imprisoned. Also please elaborate on how this hurt is equivalent to the hurt inflicted by the son’s murderous acts.

Because I think you are making a false claim of equivalence. I’m willing to be proven wrong if you want to make a convincing case as requested above.

• JohnE_o

Also:

“Tell us what goals of justice are not fulfilled by the son’s parents receiving the punishment instead of himself?”

The goal of isolating dangerous criminals from society.

• This is why I said “in some ways” because justice is multifaceted and when you focus on once aspect of it then it works. I did make the comment of the some needing to be transformed by this act. In the language of virtue ethics he must become the sort of person who would not murder. Otherwise you are right. Living with a dangerous criminal would be an issue. Is it an issue of justice or just one of prudence?

• JohnE_o

I will be frank with you Randy…the issue is that you are using the same darned analogy that I’ve heard people using for more than forty years when that analogy has no conceivable application to the Real World, but the people who make that analogy seem to think that they’ve demonstrated something important by using it.

• I don’t like the analogy that much. The problem I have with it is the parents are not really the offend party. With sin God is the offended party. Other people are offended as well but only because the dignity given them by God has been compromised. So when somebody murders the sacredness of their victim’s life has been violated. That sacredness comes from God. It is always ultimately Him that has been offended. So He can make restitution and do it in a way that appropriately restores the dignity of all.

• Erick

The goal of isolating dangerous criminals from society.

Thanks. I am happy to have at least gotten some rational argument instead of a random argument from emotion.

I’ll leave this with Randy’s rebuttal.

the issue is that you are using the same darned analogy that I’ve heard people using for more than forty years when that analogy has no conceivable application to the Real World, but the people who make that analogy seem to think that they’ve demonstrated something important by using it.

Let me tell the story of a man, non-baptized… who read the bible and saw how effective Jesus’ lessons about fighting evil could be. All the Christians he talked to told him that those lessons had no application in the real world. The man used Jesus’ methods anyway, and he liberated his country. His name – Gandhi.

As GK Chesterton would like to remind, “”Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried. “

• ACN

“Hey family of the victim. Yeah, I know this guy murdered your relative. But his parents are in jail now, so justice has been served! See, by seeing his parents go to prison, the murder is clearly deeply hurt, and he now has an opportunity to turn his life around. So we figure we can let him go, roll the dice, and hope things work out for the best. JUSTICE!”

• Erick

An argument from emotion. That’s truly rational!

• Exactly, you point out the seriousness of sin. This is why God could not just ignore it and declare us all forgiven.

Remember God does leave in place the temporal consequences of sin. Not always but often people suffer for the wrong they have done in this life. The principle of justice is seen yet there are some troubling exceptions. Bad people who seem to get away with it and good people who seem to suffer unfairly. God says wait. Justice will be done fully and consistently in time. But He also offers forgiveness. Those would contradict if not for the cross.

• JohnE_o

You seem to be making the unstated assumption that Justice is served by substitutionary atonement.

I don’t see that this has been demonstrated.

If you want to make the claim that God accepts Christ’s death as a substitutionary atonement by fiat, then I certainly don’t have a response to that, but I don’t see any reasoning that supports the general claim that substitutionary atonement is Just or any convincing arguments that the specific example of the murder’s parents being imprisoned in place of the murderous son is an example of Justice.

• Substitutionary atonement is not the whole story. That is the way protestants would frame it. It is not the way Catholics would say it. We would say that the whole mystery of Christ’s incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection becomes something that can be made present in us. That it can transform us and make us saints. We need to open our hearts and allow that to happen. So Jesus does not just conquer sin for us but He conquers sin in us. That is what gives justice and mercy.

It also explains why Catholics have such a different view of suffering. Protestants can’t really make sense of suffering. We don’t expect the process of justification to be painless.

• Here and here are two interesting discussions of various theories of the Atonement. I lean away from penal substitution, myself–my two cents, or part of it, at least, is over here.

• Tom

Well, the goal of protecting the public from a murderer has not been met.
Is it realistic to expect a man who would allow his parents to go to jail on his behalf to turn his life around? I don’t think so. That’s the mark of someone who loves himself more than anyone else. If he was going to turn his life around, he’d need to start by accepting his punishment.

• Caravelle

Um… “giving someone the opportunity to turn their life around” and “rehabilitation” are very different things, and the former is definitely not sufficient to accomplish the latter.

And while this is still rarely true in practice, prison should be a place of rehabilitation. It’s often even a stated aim.

• Humans can’t fully serve justice in the case of murder.

Because justice not only requires punishment for wrongdoing, it also requires a lack of punishment for a lack of wrongdoing. So no matter what you do to the murderer, the murdered person has still been treated unjustly and nothing about that unjustice can be remedied.

If there were a powerfully just being who could thoroughly remedy all injustices, restoring the murdered dead to life instantly, for example, while giving them rewards sufficient to compensate for the terror and pain they felt, then justice would be done. But at the same time this being has deprived the murderer of his moral agency. since meaningful choice requires that my choices change things for better or for worse. Justice requires that all the evil consequences of my evil act be completely sponged away. Moral agency requires that they not all be sponged away.

So justice and moral agency are in conflict. Which is a problem because justice and moral agency are mutually dependent concepts, I think. Its not obvious that either concept can make sense without the other.

This line of reasoning leads you the conclusion that our powerfully just being may have to take the evil consequences of evil acts on himself. That way he can still do justice to the victim without weakening moral agency (and therefore justice). See the link I made above.

• Caravelle

This line of reasoning leads you the conclusion that our powerfully just being may have to take the evil consequences of evil acts on himself. That way he can still do justice to the victim without weakening moral agency (and therefore justice). See the link I made above.

You had me until that last paragraph. Higher up you acknowledge that justice is related to the real-world effects of the crime (it would require restoring the murdered dead to life, compensating for the pain and terror they felt), so what does it mean for our just being to “take the evil consequences of evil acts on himself” ? Jesus was tortured and killed but didn’t actually suffer the consequences of every evil act that was ever committed. But let’s say he actually did (in the same way that Jesus is the Eucharist, maybe). Despite this, the victims of evil acts still suffer the consequences of said acts. People still get tortured, murdered, lied to, stolen from, scammed, so on so forth. And they suffer for it. It’s what we need temporal justice for.
Now having God comfort the hurting, heal people psychologically and punish/rehabilitate those who unrepentantly hurt others after they die does seem like a decent alleviation of the injustice to me; it’s the conclusion your line of reasoning would lead me to actually. But none of that requires that God get crucified.

It seems to me you went from treating justice and evil as real-world issues related to people’s pain and suffering, to treating them as abstract accounting issues where Justice requires that Evil be Taken On, and who and what and whom disappear from the picture.

• B. R. Lind

Thank you – you’ve articulated things I’ve struggled with but couldn’t adequately explain in thinking about the concept of justice. I also agree 100% with Caravelle’s response.

• I think some of the comments here are missing the point. This is an “inside football” post–that is, a meditation from a Catholic, for Catholics, on a topic of interest to Catholics. It’s not really a context for debating the premises.

Analogy: Two guys at work are talking football, discussing their favorite teams, and speculating on the next Super Bowl. A third comes over and begins a long harangue about how sports in general and football in particular are a waste of time, the money spent is what’s wrong with our society, the sport ought to be banned, etc. etc. The obvious response from the guys having the discussion is “WTF??!!” Another analogy: Two Tokien fans are discussing LOTR, or the next Hobbit movie, and a third comes up to run down Tolkien, hobbits, fantasy as a genre, and so on. Once more, WTF??!!

I guess the third person might come back with the argument that football (or LOTR) is not just bad, but detrimental to our society and that it must be extirpated everywhere it is seen, even if that involves butting into a conversation that isn’t at all about the intrinsic value of football or whatever as such, but a friendly conversation about a topic of mutual interest. Such a view, though, is generally typical, not to put too fine a point on it, of jerks. Not always, but very frequently.

If one dislikes football (or Tolkien–in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m indifferent to the former, and a big fan of the latter), that’s fine. If one wants to argue against football as such, or to debate the merits of fantasy, that’s fine, too. The point is that there are appropriate and inappropriate contexts for so doing. Especially on the Internet, lots of people seem not to get that. Look, I’m a believer, but this attitude stinks on all sides–there are Christians who go trolling on atheist/agnostic sites, and that’s just as obnoxious as the guy who interrupts your conversation about the Super Bowl with a diatribe about the evils of football.

Thus, I think the place for arguments about the coherence of the Atonement, or the motivations of God or Christ, or how (or if) the Crucifixion saves us (or anyone) is not on a thread that’s essentially devotional, but somewhere else. Does that make sense?

• I don’t think so. I think religion is not like football or LOTR. It is for everyone. Yes, it is nice to sometimes have things contemplated without someone questioning the basics of the faith. This is not a place for that. Here we are in the Court of the Gentiles as Pope Benedict Emeritus put it. That is a place in the temple where gentiles could go and see and question the most sacred parts of the Jewish faith. God made the Israelites construct such a court. The point is that Catholics need to open such doors today as well.

• JohnE_o

Turmarion, out of respect for you and our long history of good conversation, I will refrain from continuing with my questions on this thread – unless Leah gives explicit consent.

However, I do wonder if encouraging people like me to treat Doctrine as Fan Fiction is really what you intend.

Finally, in the LOTR, why didn’t the Eagles just fly Frodo to Mount Doom directly? One can search the text for reasons, but ultimately the real answer is that it wouldn’t have made a very good story. Perhaps there in an analogy to be made with the question of the coherence of the doctrine of Atonement.

• John, there was no offense intended at all–to be honest, I’d more or less skimmed your posts. I actually had in mind a couple of the nastier ones farther upthread (e.g. “What are we, living in the f***ing Stone Age!!!??? Blood sacrifice!!!!!!!!????????? Are you all f***ing insane!!!!!????” and such). By all means continue with your questions. My impression is that you’re more trying to tease out the implications rather than go on the attack.

I think there are worse models for doctrine than fan fiction–I don’t see that necessarily as insulting doctrine or religion. Nevertheless, try on this analogy:

A capitalist and a socialist each thinks that his preferred social/political/economic system is the best one. Moreover, each believes that this is a matter of actual reality–that is, by some metric (human well-being however defined, etc.) capitalism or socialism really is better. However, whether this actually is so becomes a convoluted question, since things like this are so complicated that it’s hard to agree on the appropriate metrics, criteria, etc. Further, capitalists and socialists have internal disagreements (laissez-faire vs. regulated capitalism, anarcho-socialism vs social democracy vs Communism, etc.). Thus, there are really the following category of discussions:

1. Is it possible to demonstrate with current data that either capitalism or socialism or any other system actually is superior to the others in a rigorous, demonstrable way? (In my opinion, the answer is currently no”.)
2. If the answer to 1 is “yes”, then which (if either) of the two, capitalism or socialism, is better? Or if the answer to 1 is “no”, is there a preponderance of the evidence either way? (I’d say the evidence is against both as practiced, though I lean against capitalism).
3. Given that one has taken sides, does one actively oppose the other or take a long-game approach (like the Fabian Society)?
4. Given that one has taken sides, then what is the best perspective within one’s own side?

This, I think, is a better analogy. We agree that LOTR is fiction, but there is disagreement about economic systems. No one thinks they’re fictional, but unlike say Newtonian physics, they have too many variables for anyone to understand them well enough to say definitively that one or the other really works better. Likewise, contra people on both sides of the issue, I don’t think that any given religion can be “proved” in a rigorous, compelling way that will “settle” the issue either way, in the same way that a geometrical proposition could be proved.

Thus, to go back to my original thesis, some discussions are more like 1 (Can we even prove God exists in the first place?) or 2 (Does the evidence favor the existence of God or the converse?), and some are more like 3 (Do we try to extirpate religion/atheism or live and let live?). Finally, some are like 4 (Is the Baptist or Episcopal view better? How am I to understand the Atonement? Etc.). It seems to me sort of a category error to bring arguments more appropriate to 1, 2, or 3 into a 4 kind of question. If I’m a capitalist and I’m going to debate a socialist, fine and good. If two socialists are discussing, say, the views of Noam Chomsky or David Graeber, though, then what is it to me? Why is it my duty to barge in and call them a bunch of f***ing pinkos? See? Once again, that’s not referring to you.

One can search the text [of LOTR] for reasons, but ultimately the real answer is that it wouldn’t have made a very good story. Perhaps there in an analogy to be made with the question of the coherence of the doctrine of Atonement.

That’s not an absurd analogy at all, and I wouldn’t necessarily have a problem with making it. Robert Farrar Capon (a retired Episcopal priest, whose works I’d recommend to all and sundry, of all denominations) said as much in The Third Peacock. Also, something like that is expressed in the Hindu concept of līlā. Works for me.

• Theodore Seeber

Not sure you’ve moved the goalposts far enough. I for one treat economics as fan fiction.

• I’m not sure economics comes up to the level of fanfic, acutally…. 😉

• Ted Seeber

Depends on the economic system. Marxist Capitalism certainly does, as does the Distributism of the Popes, Chesterton, and Belloc. I can even see the writings of the libertarian von Mises as fan fic.

Friedman and the neocons though, I have my doubts about. Supply side economics has been proven to be evil so often that it is a cliche.

• Theodore Seeber

If the closest you can get to God in this life is to treat him as Fan Fiction, then I’d say that’s an awfully good start at a very long stint in purgatory and a great way to avoid hell.

• JohnE_o

How about if the closest you can get is a postulated First Cause, a la Deism?

Because, in all honesty, that’s as close as I can get, with a soupçon of Abou Ben Adhem on my better days.

• A long stint of swanking aroung purgatory because your name tops the angelic honors list?

• I’m a little-u univesalist, so I think Deists will make the cut.

• Ted Seeber

Deism is pretty damn good too. I think Deists will make the cut.

In fact, I think just about anybody who is willing to admit that they *might be wrong* will make the cut.

But to understand that comment, you’ve got to understand my current personal philosophy on religion.

Heaven can only be heaven, if there are no divisions. The way I’ve seen it put in Catholic circles is that it doesn’t really matter what you were in this life- in Heaven you WILL be Catholic, because it is impossible to be in Heaven and not be Catholic.

This life is just learning how to be that.

The only way you end up in Hell, is if you can’t stand to EVER be that- if when faced with the ultimate truth of the Church Triumphant that is partially or maybe even completely hidden from the Church Militant, you run screaming away and hide out in Hell instead.

Facing that ultimate truth is purgatory.

It doesn’t matter how far you get in this life- there will always be some part of the ultimate truth that you will need to face to get to heaven.

So being even just a little bit along the path, is fine.

The path is narrow. There are steep dropoffs. But it is wide enough to accommodate the entire human species plus any other intelligent beings we meet, if we let it.

• Mike

I see the point you were trying to make and I agree.

• Bob

I get your point but it’s Leah’s blog and she operates an open comment policy. Now, if she decides that she’d prefer some posts to be for Catholics only to discuss, that would be fine and I’d respect her wishes, but at the moment, non-Catholics are permitted to comment on everything. If you don’t want to talk to non-Catholics, you could always try starting your posts with ‘I’d prefer only replies from Catholics, please’ or something like that. I can’t guarantee that no-one would ignore your wishes, but I personally would respect that and leave your comments alone.

• You totally misinterpret me, Bob. I have no problem talking to non-Catholics–given the various blogs I read regularly, I talk more to non-Catholics than to Catholics. I’m married to a non-Catholic, for Pete’s sake. Also, this is indeed Leah’s blog, and the policies are hers not mine; which is as it should be.

Where I’m coming from is as follows: First, I, personally, am not out to change anybody’s way of thinking or to attack their faiths. I’m not interested in converting people to Catholicism or in ridiculing or deriding their beliefs. Even if someone’s beliefs are really weird–say Scientology–I generally have a live-and-let-live attitude. I find it interesting to see what other people do believe, and where they’re coming from. I always try to come from a place of genuine respect and curiosity, although I probably don’t always succeed. I think that John E. would tell you that though we disagree on lots of things, we have got along quite cordially on various blogs, and I’ve often taken his side against fellow Catholics or Christians on some issues. The diversity of viewpoints and opinions humans hold is very much fascinating to me. Now if a person holds a belief or opinion that seems unwarranted or potentially problematic–e.g. the discussion about kids on planes–I have no problem stating my opinions and explaining where I think the other person is wrong–I have no problem with debate.

On the other hand, there is a certain type of personality–and I think the comment I quoted in my response to John E. above is a good example–that basically wants to come in and crap all over a discussion just because it’s on an issue he dislikes. If I were, say, in a public park, and overheard two people on the next park bench over discussing how they were praying, I think most of us would consider me as horrendously rude, totally offensive and inappropriate, and being a jerk if I butted in with something like, “Don’t you idiots realize your God is a LIE?! Can’t you get your stupid minds out of the f***ing Middle Ages, ditch your moronic superstitions, and live like real person, instead of a blind little, dogmatic d***headed stooge?!” However, on the Internet, somehow people seem to have no problem with that. BTW, I think door-to-door evangelists and the types of people who will out of nowhere ask you about your “relationship with Jesus” are also obnoxious.

Now, in a blog that is specifically oriented towards debate–“picking fights in good faith”–there is a place for a bit of rough-and-tumble (though I think that obscenities are a lazy way of arguing, since they tend to display a glee in being offensive for its own sake and save one the trouble of having to actually, you know, make real arguments ). However, some people can’t seem to turn it off. If I were on, say, a pagan blog, I might get into a good-faith debate about whatever; but if a specific thread was obviously not debate oriented but more an intra-pagan issue (e.g. whether reconstructionism or syncretism is better in a neopagan context), I’d think two things. One, since I’m not a pagan, I don’t have a horse in that race anyway. Two, no matter what I might think about their belief system, I’d not consider that specific thread an appropriate occasion to go of on paganism in general (not that I’d do that anyway, because I’m not into crapping on people’s belief systems). I’d wait till later, until another thread more appropriate for debate came up. Too many people on too many blogs of all types seem unable to do that, though.

Does this make sense?

• Mike

Sometimes I think that unless He Loves us infinitely more than we can love Him, our creed is for naught. He can’t Love us just a little or just enough to accomplish some objective even one as monumentally important as eternal salvation. He’s got to Love us beyond all words and indeed all actions: it has to be almost incomprehensible, his Love. The creator’s Love of His creation is manifest it seems to me most perfectly in His radical self-emptying on the cross. It has to be infinite and total, nothing less will do because it has to go face to face so to speak on neutral ground it can not have any advanatages if the victory is to be real and permanent and timeless. It’s either total defeat of evil and our redemption or nothing, or the rest is just post-modern chatter.

Wrote this all at once so excuse if it’s unintelligible :).

• DoctorD

I am constantly amazed at the reverence with which christians hold the Nicene Creed, as if it had been handed to them by their deity.
The Nicene Creed was hashed out by humans in 325 CE on the instruction of Emperor Constantine. He wanted one unified system to fit his newly adopted state religion. And there were an unruly bunch of squabbling early christianities that didn’t fit into the centrally-controlled mold that needed to be quashed (Arianism, Gnosticism, Donatism, etc).
The creed is nothing but a vast human-contrived political compromise. There’s nothing inherently holy about it.

• Fr.Sean

Dr.D,
I think you may be missing the point. Christians believe the Holy Spirit guided the early church in how she made decisions and understood revelation. (Matthew 16). Reading some of the replies it’s apparent that having the gift of faith helps you to understand the subject matter a little better. Otherwise it’s a constant debate on semantics. Perhaps a good way to understand it from our perspective is to say, Love is something that exists but you can’t really prove it exists empirically, yet we know it exists because we’ve felt it ourselves. Scripture tells us God is love. Leah, when attempting to discern the origin of the natural law, or moral law concluded that the natural law goes beyond one’s subjective opinion, as she said it isn’t something you construct but rather something you uncover like an archeologist. It’s human independent. C.S. Lewis also came to the same conclusion in the sense that he realized when he did the right, or good he felt good, when he did the wrong or was selfish, he felt bad. Most people have that sense, although there are fringe groups such as sociopaths etc. we can see how the natural law is above humanity in a sense when in politics we’re trying to discern what the right thing to do is, eg. Gay marriage, nationalized health care. Everyone seems to recognize there’s a right or a good we’re striving for. Realizing the natural law, was more than just a law, but in a sense a person, a source of love if you will. When it comes to God’s justice one may say that the judge is God, or Love. Love then knows that we cannot be in the presence of perfect love if aren’t loving ourselves, there’s a divide or separation. So the judge, commits the sentence, death, but then says that he will step down from the bench and take the punishment himself so that we will no longer be separated from perfect love. But he will not force that love on us, we have to be willing to accept it.

• Ted Seeber

Why can’t God use the State?

• I just thought I’d toss in a more general plug for the books of Rober Farrar Capon, mentioned above. He’s a retired Episcopal priest with a worldview that is in many ways very Catholic, and I think he tackles a lot of theological issues in a very thoughtful and relevant way. I think you’d like his books, Leah, and I’d recommend them to all here, of whatever theological persuasion. His books on the parables are some of his best. I’d also recommend The Romance of the Word (in which is contained the aforementioned Third Peacock along with two others) and The Astonished Heart in particular.

• Theodore Seeber

Beautiful. Is that too short a sentence for the post filter?

• cam

“…an intense desire to experience the fullness of truth and telos.”
Does this even mean anything?

As an outsider, it sometimes seems to me that certain types (not all) of religious discourse involve treating wild speculation and established fact as interchangeable, provided it at least /sounds/ orthodox.
There are types of religious discourse which do make sense to outsiders- citing passages, using logic, talking in probabilities; but you’re not doing that here. And there are times when religious seem to have an unspoken agreement that certain assertions are sufficiently vague to be acceptable, like ‘god is love’, and ‘Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice because he loved us’. But here you’re making very specific claims about the motivations of the creator of the entire universe- ‘he’s not motivated by masochism’ (does love the smell of dead animal blood though!), ‘he had an intense desire to experience the fullness of truth’
Not just a desire, but an intense desire? He wanted an experience? Is that actually what the bible says?
Are you sure these are sufficiently vague as to not require justification, and that you don’t need to use the more rational type of religious discourse, citing passages and using logical argument?

• Fr.Sean

Cam,
You make an interesting point. and i do see the same type of question come up with other people who don’t yet believe or are uncertain about the existence of God. it’s easy to get distracted by the finer points of philosophy or religion if you don’t first believe there is some amount of truth in religion. i would first start with the idea of is Jesus who he says he is. Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis is a good place to start, i would also read through the gospels. if you come to the conclusion that perhaps he is who he says he is then perhaps debating various aspects of the faith will make more sense. in other words, if you investigate it and come to the conclusion that Jesus did die for your sins and loves you then discussing other aspects of the faith will make more sense. keep in mind that you don’t make other decisions in life based on 100% empirical data, you don’t get married knowing 100% that it will work out, or pick a job being 100% certain it will work out. it’s the same with one’s faith, you look at the evidence, perhaps reflect upon it. i know one of the problems with an outsider is, with all of the various religions, if there was a God how would i know which religion was right? i think the Catholic Church has a pretty good answer for that. the Catholic Church doesn’t believe that all other religions are wrong it’s just that they have various amounts of truth. The Orthodox are vary close to us, then Lutherans and Episcopalians, and other protestant denominations, etc. Start with the single question; is Jesus who he says he is, then the other questions will be worth debating.

• cam

But given Catholicism is true, shouldn’t even a Catholic refrain from making claims of certainty about the mind of God? Especially if its not on matters of core doctrine, but uncommon claims like ‘He wanted to experience truth’.
A Catholic could say ‘I believe that for reasons X and Y, and citing passage Z, that God may want (statement about God’s intentions).”, but that’s not what has happened in this article.
Since a person can in good faith be accidentally heretical for various reasons, why would anyone be certain about god’s mind on a very specific issue?

And then even if there were good reasons for such certainty, if the goal here is to be persuasive (there’s no obligation to be persuasive) bald assertions don’t achieve that. It’s a hung case at best, if the justification is to be found in another post or debate.

• St Thomas Aquinas was with you. He said we can’t really know God in a positive sense. We can know negative statements about God. We can know something of God through analogy. But God is so far above out minds that we cannot describe him directly.

Still I don’t think we should fear. Accidental heresy is not really a problem. To be a heretic you have to teach against one of the tenets of the church that has been taught with great authority. It is really not that hard to avoid doing that. That is very different from having wrong opinions about God. That will happen. It is the process of growing to know and love Him.

• Cam

I could say “God loves chocolate icecream more than vanilla icecream” and that probably wouldn’t be teaching against one of the authoritative tenets of the Church, but if I found myself making such claims, should I not be concerned that i’m not being rational? I should ask myself why I hold that knowledge, and why I am /certain/ about that knowledge.
And even if I did have a source for that knowledge, and that source left no doubt in my mind that God did love chocolate icecream best, beyond a shadow of a doubt, why would I expect anyone to believe my claims on that matter if all I did was make bald assertions about it?

• I made/had a similar meditation on the math of the crucifixion while meditating on the scourging at the pillar. I was tempted to think, “well, maybe my sins were just one lash of the whip,” before I realized that that was a little naive!

I also felt this way when I watched “The Passion of the Christ.” I was so *ill* from the feeling of wanting to give it back, pay it back, relieve the burden of owing God that much – for the entire evening after I watched it.