Saturday, July 22, 2017

Il Tassista e La Sua Eminenza

Our new favorite bit of Roman humor comes courtesy of John L. Allen Jr., at the very fine news site Crux.  It goes like this:
For those old enough to remember the mid-1960s, the Vatican II era in Catholicism, Italian Cardinal Alfredo Ottaviani was the stuff of legend. He was the head of the Holy Office, later renamed the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, and was perceived as the leader of the conservative opposition at Vatican II. Even his episcopal motto hinted at intransigence: Semper Idem, meaning “always the same." 
An old joke about that Ottaviani, which was a favorite during Vatican II, went like this:
One day, Ottaviani is across Rome for lunch with friends and needs to get back for the afternoon session of Vatican II. He hails a cab, gets in, and says, “Take me to the council.” The cabbie looks around, sees that it’s Ottaviani, and promptly drives him to Trent!

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Slaves of Love

This is actually the title of my sermon this Sunday, based on Romans 6:22. I will probably resist using this image in any parish publicity, however.

My favorite part of this image, by the way, is that in the three lower panels, the bra and panties have been shopped in.  There's another version floating around the webs without them, but we're a modest blog and will leave the fi-leaves be.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Wages of Sin

Well, this probably won't be the bulletin cover for Sunday's sermon on Romans 6:12-23.  But one might wish it were so!

Friday, May 19, 2017

Unrepentant: A Tale of Two Drunk-Driving Manslaughtering Protestant Bishops

When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ``Repent'' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

This is, of course, the first of Luther's 95 Theses, and foundational document not just for us Evangelicals but for Protestants of all stripes, including (with however much hemming and hawing they claim the label) members of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the USA. This fact seems lost on former suffragan (or subordinate) bishop of the Baltimore, Heather Cook.

A few days after Christmas in 2014, as readers may recall, Ms Cook struck and killed a cyclist named Tom Palermo.  She was driving; he was biking.  Her blood contained more than twice the legal alcohol content.  And she was texting (although, as GR points out, we still do not know with whom).

Ms Cook appears to have been an habitual drunk.  She had been arrested for DUI (with an even higher BAC) in 2010, and her boss, Bishop Eugene Sutton, had told the Presiding Bishop that Cook seemed to be drunk at a party in her own honor, given just before her consecration in September 2014.

All this may sound depressingly familiar to Egg readers.  Two years before Cook killed Palermo, a Lutheran bishop named Bruce Burnside struck and killed a pedestrian named Maureeen Mengelt.  Burnside was also driving drunk and texting. Burnside was sentenced to ten years in prison, Cook to seven. Oh, and both bishops left the scene of their crimes.

But there is a signal difference between the two.  At his trial, Burnside pled guilty, and took responsibility for his crime. He said:
I am responsible for what happened. No one else. I have never been so sorry. Sorry is such an insufficient word for this kind of guilt. ... I do daily return to that everlasting split second. I will be a prisoner of that. I will be another kind of prisoner in a cell as well.

In contrast, Cook pled not guilty at her arraignment, which was her perfect legal right (and in fairness, she later pled guilty as part of a plea bargain). But at no time does she appear to have taken responsibility for her actions. Nor, it seems, does she now.  The Baltimore Sun reports that, at a recent parole hearing, Cook "took no responsibility" for her actions and displayed a "lack of remorse." It further reports that she
... spoke at length, calling her alcoholism a disease and describing the parole process as a "brutal irony," but never apologized to Rachel Palermo, Thomas' widow and the mother of his two children.
Palermo was sitting a few feet away in a small room.

Bear two things in mind:  (1) Cook was not likely to be paroled in any case, according to an official quoted in the story; but also (2) parole boards are known to take displays of remorse and acceptance of responsibility quite seriously in hearings like this.  Had Cook wanted to increase her chances of parole, she would have sucked it up and pulled a Burnside.

But she didn't.  Instead, she went on -- the report suggests at unusual length -- about her disease, and about the process itself. In other words, she acted against her own best interest, both legally and morally.

The only real conclusion to be drawn is that she is genuinely unrepentant.  She seems to feel that her disease killed Thomas Palermo, rather than she herself. So firm is she in this sentiment that she will not betray it, even to get herself out of prison.

We cannot begin to imagine this woman's spiritual life, nor would we choose to if we could.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Newman on Reaching the Heart

The relationship of science to religion, or reason to faith, may well prove the defining question of our time.  It is certainly no new subject.

In 1841, the once and future Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, offered a dedicatory speech at the opening of a new reading-room at Tamworth, in Staffordshire.  It is a curious document, which begins with the tedious story of how the library was established and a request for subscriptions, and proceeds to sing the praises of books on drainage, wheat disease, and emigration to the colonies.

Toward the end, Peel launches an argument against "those who anticipate injurious consequences, either to the moral or religious characters of the people from imparting to them such knowledge." Did such people exist, or are they invented for the sake of argument? It is hard to imagine that many people were concerned about the moral decadence that might result from reading about wheat blight, then one rarely goes broke overestimating the anxiety of the morally scrupulous.

Either way, Peel's speech reaches its climax in a defense of scientific reading against its supposed religious despisers. Marshaling quotations from Newton and Sir Humphrey Davey, as well as Charles James Blomfield, then Bishop of London, he proposes that study of the natural sciences will tend to make people admire their Creator, that
... science and knowledge will not merely impress upon the mind a cold conviction of the truths of Natural Religion - but that they will temper and prepare it for the better conception and comprehension of the great scheme of human redemption[,] ­that new sources of conviction will be opened, independent of the overwhelming force of historical testimony - independent of that assent of the heart and conscience which instinctively discovers in the pure system of Christian morality, the internal evidence of a Divine origin.
This is an audacious proposition: to establish in Science a basis for Christian religious faith (and morals) independent of the Bible and any other "historical testimony."  But it is not, to be honest, so very far from the arguments one hears today among many Christians, nor among those early Christian students of natural philosophy who sought to read, alongside, Scripture, "the Book of Nature." Frankly, we ourselves are not unsympathetic to Peel on this matter.

But do you know who was very unsympathetic indeed?  Newman.

John Henry Newman, in those days still (if marginally) an Anglican, took instant umbrage.  He sensed behind Peel's speech the work of thinkers to whom he was hostile -- Lord Brougham, Jeremy Bentham -- and more generally the emerging tendency to give revealed religion a secondary place in intellectual affairs.  Newman responded with a series of seven anonymous letters to the Times (in the clubby world of Victorian intellectuals, they were, one imagines, about as "anonymous" as this blog). You can read the letters here.  They are quite readable, even when one disagrees.

But one passage in particular stands out, in which Newman comes right to the core of the attack on "historical testimony":
Science gives us the grounds or premisses from which religious truths are to be inferred; but it does not set about inferring them, much less does it reach the inference;—that is not its province. It brings before us phenomena, and it leaves us, if we will, to call them works of design, wisdom, or benevolence; and further still, if we will, to proceed to confess an Intelligent Creator. 
We have to take its facts, and to give them a meaning, and to draw our own conclusions from them. First comes Knowledge, then a view, then reasoning, and then belief. This is why Science has so little of a religious tendency; deductions have no power of persuasion. 
The heart is commonly reached, not through the reason, but through the imagination, by means of direct impressions, by the testimony of facts and events, by history, by description. Persons influence us, voices melt us, looks subdue us, deeds inflame us. Many a man will live and die upon a dogma: no man will be a martyr for a conclusion. A conclusion is but an opinion; it is not a thing which is, but which we are "certain about;" and it has often been observed, that we never say we are certain without implying that we doubt. To say that a thing must be, is to admit that it may not be. No one, I say, will die for his own calculations; he dies for realities. 
We at the Egg are not altogether certain that we take Newman's side on this, but we do admire his style.