Christopher Kaczor (“Equal Rights, Unequal Wrongs,” August/September) echoes a fallacious argument now popular among pro-life advocates. If human development affected moral status, the story goes, then killing an adult would be worse than killing a teenager, which in turn would be worse than killing a six-year-old. But this is untrue, it continues, and therefore stage of development is irrelevant to moral status.
This claim is obviously false. Water changes between ice and liquid around the freezing point and between liquid and steam near the boiling point. Between the two points, it remains liquid. So if a block of ice is put in a pot and gradually heated, what shall we say happens?
Kaczor’s argument, applied to water, would go like this: “If temperature affected the liquidity of water then hot water would be more liquid than water at room temperature. But both are equally liquids. Therefore temperature has no effect on liquidity. We must conclude that the block of ice, which is merely a piece of preheated water and therefore already possesses all of water’s intrinsic qualities, was a liquid when it was put in the pot, despite what gradualists claim.” To many of us, the idea that a single cell is morally a person is just as believable as the claim that ice is a liquid.
The argument, of course, is absurd, yet it is used routinely by pro-life activists. From the fact that children and adults have equal human rights we cannot conclude that at a much earlier stage of development human organisms must also be the kinds of things that possess rights. The extreme changes the human organism undergoes during gestation might well be compared to the changes in water from ice to liquid to steam. The emergence of consciousness in the neocortex would certainly seem to be such a qualitative change, one even more significant, in the eyes of many, because more closely related to who and what we are, than the beginning of life itself. Missing from Kaczor’s account is the core intuition for most of us: that a zygote, embryo, or early fetus is radically different in crucial ways from organisms we clearly judge to be people, ways that seem to us to be morally significant.
I have been over and over this ground with pro-lifers, and one mystery has so far resisted all my efforts to fathom: Why to some people the question of consciousness and brain development is obviously central—so obviously that it often goes without saying, or is the first thing they think of—while to others this seems irrelevant and ad hoc, but the beginning of life is central. Here, it seems to me, is the great divide. Given these two starting points, we line up our arguments and find the sallies of our opponents preposterous or worse.
San diego, California
Christopher Kaczor replies:
Gerald Lame misconstrues my argument in several ways. I was not trying to establish that all human beings have equal rights or even to show that the developmental view of human moral worth is wrong. Rather, I was suggesting that those who already believe (on other grounds) that all human beings, including the unborn, have equal rights can still accept the common intuition that later abortion is worse than earlier abortion. Put differently, those who believe that late abortion is worse than early abortion do not need to be driven by this intuition to the developmental view of human moral worth. Nothing in Lame’s letter casts doubt on this modest thesis.
A shared nature does not change substantially from the very beginning of life until death. Becoming alive and dying are substantial changes, physiological development a mere accidental change. In a similar way, water remains substantially the same through the accidental changes from solid to liquid to gas form. The radical change relevant for human dignity is from not living to living rather than from lack of consciousness to consciousness.
Pace Lame, consciousness is not relevant to basic moral status for many reasons to which I can here only briefly point. First, human beings do not achieve distinctly human self-consciousness until months after birth, so requiring distinctly human consciousness deprives newborn babies of rights and justifies infanticide. Second, consciousness comes and goes with brain injury and the use of drugs, and so consciousness cannot properly ground the stability of our rights and dignity. Third, consciousness is not shared equally by all normal adults at all times, and so it cannot be used as a foundation for the equality of human rights that virtually everyone acknowledges is enjoyed by normal human adults. Having examined the arguments at length, including perhaps the most sophisticated version of the argument as found in the work of David Boning, I have found no sound and valid argument why consciousness is necessary for having basic dignity and rights.
Nor can I agree with Lame’s implicit body–self dualism. As Patrick Lee and Robert P. George argue in their book Body–Self Dualism in Contemporary Ethics and Politics, dualism cannot make sense of basic human phenomena such as sensing. On anthropological grounds, dualism should be rejected and thus cannot be used to justify abortion.
Finally, Lame rejects the idea that the single-celled human embryo is morally a person. He does not present any argument to justify this view. I once shared his intuition, but no longer. The relevant ethical question is not “How many cells does this being have?” but rather “What kind of being is this?” Every time in the course of history that we’ve divided human beings into “persons” and “nonpersons,” using whatever standard, we’ve made a terrible moral mistake, with terrible consequences.
the cosmopolitan mendelssohn
In his review “Enlightening Judaism” (August/September), Allan Arkush offers several criticisms of my interpretation of Moses Mendelssohn in my book Faith and Freedom. I will address his criticisms in detail in another forum, but here I will focus on an important question he raises toward the end of the review.
Arkush concludes his review by questioning my claim that in light of 9/11 and the threat of Islamic terrorism, “many people have experienced a growing sense that the identity politics that marked the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s are at a dead end . . . [and that] Mendelssohn’s religious cosmopolitanism . . . seems prescient and worthy of reconsideration.” He is “not at all sure what this means” and does “not know who these rather shell-shocked former practitioners of identity politics might be.”
To clarify, I subsume under the title “identity politics” any view that holds that commitment to a particular master value (whether to a religion, ethnicity, nation, race, gender, sexual orientation, political ideology, and so on) trumps all other values, which are measured only by their capacity to promote the master value. Examples? Many Islamists, radical feminists, ultra-Orthodox and settler Jews, white supremacists, and black racialists. In my book, I portray the pietist thinker F. H. Jacobi as providing a strong foundation for this perspective.
In contrast, the cosmopolitan finds many values and commitments commanding his loyalty and has no clear way of deciding at any moment which value to act on. I take this to be Mendelssohn’s view. To the person of “identity,” the cosmopolitan appears weak, indecisive, and muddled. To the cosmopolitan, the person of “identity” is a fanatic whose beliefs threaten freedom. I think that post-9/11 the tension between these two orientations has become especially acute.
It seems to me that one of the main points of difference between myself and Arkush is in how we conceive the relationship between Judaism and the Enlightenment. For him, these two concepts are relatively distinct and fixed. Therefore, when Mendelssohn adapts Judaism to Enlightenment ideals, he sees him as imposing something foreign on Judaism, which he attributes to political motives.
In contrast, I see Judaism and the Enlightenment as dynamic, fluid concepts that are constantly informing and being informed by one another. Because of this I have no problem in seeing his melding of Judaism with Enlightenment as continuous with the Jewish tradition. Put differently, I regard Arkush’s view of Judaism as more Protestant, while mine is more Catholic.
Regardless of our differences, I think that we can agree that inasmuch as we are freely debating the truth and value of Mendelssohn’s ideas, we are both embodying his values and perpetuating his legacy.
New York University
New York, New York
Allan Arkush replies:
I appreciate Michah Gottlieb’s clarification of his reference to the demoralized advocates of identity politics and can only share his hope (if not his belief) that 9/11 and the threat of Islamic terrorism have had a chastening effect on the enemies of the Enlightenment among them. I would also like to hope that his capsule description of my view of Moses Mendelssohn does not lead readers to conclude that I too am an opponent of Enlightenment ideals. I do, however, disagree with Gottlieb, respectfully, about the extent to which Mendelssohn truly succeeded in reconciling certain Enlightenment ideals—for example, untrammeled religious freedom—with the tenets of traditional Judaism.
a popular jesus
Kavin Rowe has been a friend since our time together at Princeton and Duke. He’s already a major player in the world of theological interpretation. I am therefore loath to disagree with him. That said, I consider Brant Pitre’s Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist a better book than Rowe does. His critiques seem directed toward a substantive monograph when Pitre has in fact written something popular, and so he finds fault in four areas for which the book lacks substantive discussion.
The first area concerns Pitre’s aims and therefore Pitre’s Jesus. Rowe asserts that Pitre promises “an objective historical Jesus essay.” I think rather that Pitre presents a kerygmatic Jesus, conflating the Jesus behind the gospels, the Jesus of the gospels, and the Jesus of Christian confession. A proper monograph would require the articulation of the precise nature of the continuity between them.
Pitre doesn’t do this, but then neither does anyone else, really. Even works on Jesus written by faithful Christian scholars usually produce Kähler’s “fifth gospel”—a reconstruction of Jesus alongside the canonical gospels—without articulating any rigorous conception of the relationship between the so-called historical Jesus and the historic, biblical Jesus Christ proclaimed by the fourfold gospel canon.
The second concerns John. Rowe rightly wants to respect the particular narrative logic of each gospel. Hence his hesitance about Pitre’s idea that Jesus’ cry of dereliction signals that the Johannine crucifixion is the fourth cup completing Jesus’ unfinished new Passover meal presented in the synoptic gospels. I have my own questions about this schema, but the broader issue concerns how Christians should conceive of the relationships between the gospels.
John’s later date and the wide dissemination of early Christian literature mean that the author probably knew the synoptics. Traditionally, John is a spiritual gospel supplementing the synoptics, and the four gospels point to the one Jesus Christ. Therefore there is every reason to read John 6 and the synoptic accounts of the Last Supper in light of each other. Those synoptic accounts are explicit that the Last Supper was a Passover meal, and John 6 has something to do with the Eucharist. The trick is reading each gospel as a coherent narrative while also reading them in concert.
The third concerns the use of Jewish sources. Rowe accuses Pitre of engaging in indiscriminate anachronism and reminds us that these sources are “notoriously difficult to date” while claiming that “even the most conservative dating schemes place only bits and pieces of traditions in these texts anywhere near the first century.” While the issues are vexed and complex, I’m surprised Rowe is so minimalist on this question.
In any event, Pitre does indeed inform his readers of these difficulties, while correctly asserting that “both rabbinic experts and New Testament scholars agree that, if used with caution, they are still very important for us to study.” Space precludes him from a sustained discussion of how to use them cautiously, and he does sometimes defend his use of particular Jewish texts (in discussing the Triumphal Entry, for example).
The fourth concerns the development of doctrine. I don’t think Pitre has tried “to prove that a full-fledged doctrine that was worked out much later in the Church’s life can in fact be found directly on the lips of yet another historical Jesus.” No discussion of Newman is found in the book, of course, but the penultimate chapter briefly traces his ideas through Scripture, the Fathers, and the Catechism of the Catholic Church in an attempt to illustrate developmental continuity between the biblical witness and later, detailed teachings about the Eucharist.
In sum, as one whose own academic work concerns evaluating the intertextual relations of biblical materials to Jewish and Christian traditions, I find Jesus and the Jewish Roots of the Eucharist intriguing and stimulating, if not the final word on the Eucharist.
University of Mary
Bismarck, North Dakota
C. Kavin Rowe replies:
My friend misunderstands: I do not think Pitre should have written a scholarly monograph. Indeed, my worries are about the character of popular work in particular. Though some may think that a popular book should be less rigorous than a scholarly one, I do not. To call a book “popular” rather than “scholarly” should describe its genre, idiom, and audience, not its intellectual quality.
My basic criticism of Pitre was that his book capitulates to a way of thinking about Scripture and doctrine that makes it impossible to sustain his general argument about the continuity between the Bible and later Christian teaching. It therefore—quite contrary to its purpose—actually has the potential to deepen anxiety about the very issue that so troubled Pitre himself.
Space permits a response to only two of the four specific issues Huizenga raises. (It is true that his first point is important, but instead of defending Pitre’s book it simply points out the tangled nature of the problem that he has, in Huizenga’s words, “conflated.”)
First, John and the four gospels. It’s worth repeating: There is no Passover meal in John. Why? Because Jesus is crucified before the meal. Reading the four gospels together on this point produces a chronological difficulty with a resultant hermeneutical rule that no amount of “spiritual reading” can overturn: John cannot be used to complete the synoptic version of the meal. To suggest that it can is to engage in a kind of reasoning that could only be misleading to a popular audience (which, as a whole, would not know the textual issue). And of course John 6 has something to do with the Eucharist (it is a christological interpretation of the meal), but it does not narrate a conversation that took place during the earthly ministry of Jesus.
Situating Pitre’s reading of John within the “spiritual gospel” tradition of Clement, therefore, is unsatisfying for the same reason as Pitre’s argument itself: It contravenes the text of John. Canonical reading or “spiritual exegesis,” whatever its results, was never intended to serve as a warrant for obscuring the particularities of the gospels. It was intended, however, to lead us into deeper truths about reality in Christ. In this case, for example, we could learn from reading the four gospels together that John isn’t as concerned with linear time as he is with the christological potential of Jewish symbols and practices to (re)structure our understanding of time. Rather than reading John’s narrative—including Jesus’ own words, as Pitre does—within a chronological time frame that John has clearly discarded, our spiritual reading ought instead to follow him in reconceiving the complexity of time around the Incarnation, Crucifixion, and Resurrection. Such a reconception would not only follow John’s gospel more closely, it would also aid our understanding of several concepts (ubiquity, for example) required to articulate the meaning of “real presence.”
Second, the development of doctrine: The issue is whether an understanding of how doctrine develops shapes the interpretive practice that guides the construal of continuity between the Bible and later doctrine. In Pitre’s book, it simply doesn’t, not even in the penultimate chapter.
The overall hermeneutical assumption throughout is that the Baptist preacher’s challenge can be met on the terms in which it was given. The Baptist says, in effect, “Catholic teaching on the Supper is not in the Bible. Just look and see! Read the passages!” Pitre’s basic hermeneutical response is to accept the premise and try, on historical grounds, to reverse the conclusion—if only we read the gospels like a historian and figure out who Jesus really was, we would see the continuity with Catholic teaching right there in the text.
In my view, if the argument is conducted in this way, the Baptist easily wins. Much of what is indispensable Christian doctrine is not “in” the Bible in the simple and direct sense in which modern historical hermeneutics—whether fundamentalist or liberal, Catholic or Protestant—requires it to be. And no amount of careful historical research on the Jewish context of the gospels can change this: It is a fact that a hermeneutics of continuity and development takes for granted. Pitre thus missed an opportunity to shift the terms of the conversation and instead reproduced hermeneutically the problem that he sought to address.
the sole antidote
As someone who has been entangled in the web of criminal activity and the prison system, I could not agree more with Byron Johnson (“The Religious Antidote,” August/September) that faith and the Church are significant antidotes to delinquent and criminal behavior. Faith-based communities can give a sense of belonging, love, and hope to those who have grown up in single-parent homes and have lived in impoverished cities. Faith-based communities can counter the facade of the “brotherhood” of gang life and instill morality into struggling youth.
Contrary to popular thought, religion has practically the only significant role in rehabilitating prisoners. I can speak from experience and tell you that without the positive influence, love, hope, and assistance given to me by the Lord’s devoted men and women who volunteer their time to come behind these walls, my own life (and countless others) could not have changed. I would still be in the mind-set of committing my next “great money scheme.” I can only humbly thank and praise God for delivering me from my Egypt through religious programs such as counseling, Bible studies, and prayer circles. “My old man is gone away, behold all things are anew.”
Prisons do not need a “furnace of affliction” approach like those advocated in the early nineteenth century, but a loving approach like the one advocated in the late eighteenth century by the Quakers. To bring change, prisons must be reformative, not punitive. Otherwise prisons will only be a “time-out” and “regroup” period for criminals.
If the Church loved more and was more involved in broken communities, I believe crime and violence would decrease. Our youth would look up to “Mr. or Sister So-and-So” instead of Lil Wayne or Eminem. Change would occur. Communities would have block parties and feasts. They would have gardens on rundown lots in which everyone would participate. And our children would be joyful, laughing and playing in our loving streets without having to worry about stray bullets or gang violence.
Rev. Erich W. Kussman Sr.
Risen One Ministries
Leesburg, New Jersey
Hans Boersma, in his friendly review of my Ascension Theology, wonders “why Farrow still insists on using the unhelpful language of transubstantiation.” That’s easy. I use it because it is the language of the Church for saying what has to be said about the real presence, even if there are other things that must be said that are not already made evident by that term. I use it because the Church uses it to disallow Gnostic and Pelagian misunderstandings of the Eucharist and of the Church itself. That it must burst its Aristotelian wineskin to be of use is no great surprise. Grace always casts new light on nature, and on language, in acting to redeem and perfect it.
But what can Boersma, a Protestant engaged in ecumenical exchange with Catholics, mean by calling the language of transubstantiation “unhelpful”? What does this say about his view of the Catholic tradition? That tradition certainly knows how to be judicious in its appropriation of theological resources. It can learn much from Aristotle without being bound by Aristotle. It can learn much from Origen, for that matter, while criticizing him (as Augustine and Aquinas do) for abusing philosophy in his reading of Scripture and introducing “doctrines contrary to faith.”
But it knows nothing of setting aside a doctrine of the faith. The language of transubstantiation is deemed indispensable to such a doctrine. It is a settled feature of the Catholic tradition. Whether we are Catholic or Protestant, then, it will hardly do to call it “unhelpful.” It is my view that thinking together about the Ascension can help us to see (as a former Protestant it helped me see) what kind of sense the doctrine of the Eucharist and the language of transubstantiation actually make. And from that starting point to see more clearly what is at stake in other Catholic–Protestant differences, respecting Mary and Peter, for example, or what I called the politics of the Eucharist.
That indeed was one of my main hopes in writing the book’s later chapters. If we can agree at least about the ecumenical potential of the exercise, then we may want to seek a more appropriate adjective with which to qualify the (as yet unshared) language of transubstantiation.
Hans Boersma replies:
I want to thank Doug Farrow for taking my review so seriously as to respond to one of the issues I raised. I appreciate the clarification that by speaking of “transubstantiation” he is simply using the language of the Catholic Church, whose theological language reshapes philosophical categories. While I respect this deference to the Church, I do not think the argument from authority can stand alone. And if it’s true, as Farrow approvingly notes from Herbert McCabe, that “bread does not turn into the body by acquiring a new form in its matter,” then it is not clear to me why the Catholic Church would need to insist on the term transubstantiation.
So, while I did not straightforwardly reject the term itself (recognizing the transformative impact of theology on philosophy), I continue to find it unhelpful, seeing that its straightforward etymology inclines one to think of the Eucharist as if it were “explicable in terms of the old creation,” to use Farrow’s way of putting it. That such an interpretation is not absolutely necessary, I acknowledge.
When Farrow asks of me, as a Protestant, what my (very gently worded!) objection to the term transubstantiation says about my view of the Catholic tradition, I would say that it implies a mild critique of it. My underlying concern is probably the same as Farrow’s, namely, that we should not explain the Eucharist in terms of this-worldly realities.
The remaining disagreement is especially unfortunate since regarding the doctrinal issue itself—that there is an in-breaking of the Eschaton in the Eucharist—we are probably agreed. (In fact, my review objected to the use of the term absence in connection with the Eucharist, which might lead the reader to conclude that I have a higher view of the Eucharist than does Farrow.)
Finally, my main difficulty with the book—which I think offers in many ways a wonderful theological contribution—is not its adherence to the traditional term transubstantiation but its rather sharp critique of much of the Christian tradition as succumbing to Origenist otherworldliness. The main gist of my review was, therefore, to ask for a more sympathetic, not a more critical, interaction with the tradition of the Church.