Disorder & Diseased
As Stanton Jones shows (“Same-Sex Science,” February), the position that “gay is good” is a philosophical, not scientific, conclusion, and so must be argued on philosophical grounds. However, he makes a mistake in framing the question of the psychological status of same-sex attraction in terms of its correlation with psychological adjustment or maladjustment. It is not necessary that a patient first be diagnosed with a mood or anxiety disorder before finding that he or she suffers from a sexual disorder. The diagnosis of the sexual disorder stands or falls on its own merits.
Jones describes the “disease conceptualization of homosexuality” in distinctly negative terms. We Christians certainly share some of the blame for the discrimination and violence that homosexuals have endured. But it is a puzzle why the author judges that believers are culpable for “the mess that we are in” because we bought into the “disease conceptualization of homosexuality.”
It was not because of any new scientific evidence but merely because of political and social pressure that homosexuality was removed as a sexual disorder from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual. The fact that homosexuality is a disease is tantamount to the claim that it is not good. If same-sex attraction is good in the same way or to the same extent that heterosexual attraction is good, then the American Psychological Association is right: “Being gay is just as healthy as being straight.”
But a compelling philosophical argument can be made for the view that gay is not good, which means that it should be considered a disease in the same way as all the other sexual disorders in the DSM.
James Robert Ross
Every person is heterosexual, including those who engage in homosexual behavior. I object to Stanton Jones’ use of the words homosexuality and heterosexuality as equivalent descriptions of different kinds of sexual behavior, because doing so ignores the facts that 1) “heterosexuality” is the result of the allocation of genetic material at conception that determines which reproductive organs people are born with—male or female—and 2) “homosexuality” is sexual action by people who are heterosexual.
Whether homosexuality has a genetic component is inconsequential to the argument for or against moral congruence. Our actions, including our sexual actions, are moral choices undetermined by human genetics.
Hazel Green, Wisconsin
The conferring of an identity upon someone on the basis of “sexual orientation” has now become firmly ensconced in our culture. “Conceptualizing homosexuality,” as Stanton Jones puts it, has soared among practitioners of the behavioral sciences.
“Sexuality” and its compound words have come to suit psychology and sociology, but they are not part of the lexicon of classic Catholic theology, moral or ascetical. When moralists use the categories of empirical sciences, they risk what Servais Pinckaers, late professor at the University of Fribourg, called morales de la dérive. They float.
Before and for a long time after the word homosexual came into English (in 1892 in a translation of Krafft-Ebing’s Psychopathia Sexualis), attractions and friendships, thoughts and actions, were universally classified as ordered and disordered. The failure to distinguish between them and to replace the distinction with an idea of identity has been an impoverishment in our understanding of actions and relationships. As for normalcy, as we have come to understand it since the spuriously “scientific” and (at the time) wildly embraced Kinsey Reports, that had no bearing on the subject.
The Dominican psychologist Albert Plé advanced the proposition that since the moral theology of St. Thomas has for its object human acts in their singularity, he must affirm that homosexuality does not exist. “What exists are men and women who yield to impulses and surrender to activities quite diverse and always complex.”
Raleigh, North Carolina
Stanton L. Jones replies:
I am grateful to my respondents James Ross and Dave Kuhle for their letters, but I think they fail to appreciate the ambiguity of human judgment.
To Ross, I would reply that the American Psychiatric Association stopped listing homosexuality as a disease partly in response to political and social pressure but also to new scientific evidence. It has been standard practice in adjudicating the psychopathological status of a behavioral syndrome to focus on four criteria: statistical infrequency, distress, maladaptiveness, and violation of societal norms. There is conflicting evidence whether homosexuality is pathological or not by each of these standards, complicated further by disputes about what counts as appropriate evidence on each criterion. I raised the question of the correlation of the homosexual condition with psychological adjustment because of the common argument that homosexual people are just as emotionally healthy as heterosexual people, an argument the evidence suggests is false.
Ross is wrong to argue that because “gay is not good . . . it should be considered a disease.” Many human behaviors and conditions, such as idolatry, pride, cruelty, and adultery, are not good but are not diseases; clearly, also many diseases entail no negative moral evaluation. Thus, I basically concur with the 1986 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons in its description of the homosexual condition as a “moral disorder,” a “disordered sexual inclination.” This judgment requires a normative base from which to judge order against disorder. Orthodox Christians believe they have such a normative base.
Kuhle is absolutely right that “our sexual actions are moral choices undetermined by human genetics.” The claim that actions are “undetermined,” however, is not the same as the claim that there are no identifiable variables that influence the moral agent making those choices. The empirical fact that those who are abused have an increased likelihood of later becoming abusers does not morally excuse that later abuse, but it does help explain why they make such a moral choice.
It is wrong to argue, as does Kuhle, that all persons are heterosexual. Some persons experience sexual desire and attraction only or primarily to persons of the same sex; whatever they are, they are not heterosexual.
Monsignor Williams raises a more subtle point. I embrace, as stated above, the Christian perspective that the homosexual condition must be understood at a fundamental level to be disordered. It is a further step, however, to assert that because of a focus on “human acts in their singularity,” “homosexuality does not exist.” Indeed, “What exists are men and women who yield to impulses and surrender to activities quite diverse and always complex,” but do we conclude that there are only single acts of adultery and no such thing as adultery and adulterers?
Call it what you will, but we must call it something. A deeply rooted human condition characterized by stable same-sex attraction exists and demands a reasoned, truthful, and compassionate response, the type of response of which at times the Christian Church has been in short supply.
The Mormon Christ
Stephen Webb’s “Mormonism Obsessed with Christ” (February) is basically correct and reflective of our position about our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. However, he writes, “The Book of Mormon places the birth of Jesus in Jerusalem, much to the delight of biblical fundamentalists who use such discrepancies to score debating points,” but the references to Jerusalem encompass “the land of Jerusalem” and could easily include the smaller nearby town of Bethlehem, and that is how we understand the term’s use in the Book of Mormon.
Phillip C. Smith
Stephen Webb clearly does not understand the vast gulf between Mormonism and Christianity. Mormons believe and teach that “as man is, God once was: As God is, man may be,” in the words of the LDS’ fifth president, Lorenzo Snow. In other words, God the Father was once a mortal human being who became a god. Jesus was also a man who became a god. All good Mormon men will also become gods and be given planets of their own to populate (thus the need for multiple wives). Mormonism focuses on Jesus as an example, not as a savior. This is not Christianity.
Mormonism focuses on human works. Christianity focuses on what God has already done and is still doing. Christians do not live under the condemnation of the law; we live under the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
Stephen Webb writes that Mormons “deny the virgin birth, since their materialism leads them to speculate that Jesus is literally begotten by the immortal Father rather than conceived by the Holy Spirit.” We as Latter-day Saints actually do believe in the virgin birth. We believe that Mary conceived the child by the Holy Spirit, as is made clear in the Book of Mormon: “And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God” (Alma 7:10).
Stephen Webb is right to say that the Book of Mormon is Christ-centered; that Mormons have more faith in the divinity of Christ than do many liberal Christians; that for Mormons Jesus’ divinity is “not trivial”; and that the Mormon Jesus is different from the Jesus of historic orthodoxy.
But the Mormon Jesus is more different than Webb thinks. Joseph Smith taught that just as God “was once as we are now,” Jesus over time grew into becoming “like unto God” (Abraham 3:24). So while Webb may be right that for Mormons “the Son has always been Jesus,” the Mormon Jesus has not always been the fully divine Son.
Nor is the Mormon Jesus the same God as the Father, as Christian orthodoxy proclaims. For the later Joseph Smith and the resulting Mormon tradition, the three divine “personages” are three different gods amid a “plurality of gods,” as he put it in the King Follett Discourse. In his last sermon before his death, Smith taught that the Father of Jesus had his own Father.
Furthermore, the Mormon Jesus is, ontologically, one of our species. Like us, he started with divine potential and by his choices became omniscient and omnipotent, just as we can.
Yet the Mormon Jesus is limited by the cosmos. He does not transcend the universe, because there is nothing beyond the universe, even for the Father and his Son. He is a physical being, as Webb rightly observes, and this physicality limits him to one spatial location.
He is also limited by law, which is independent and coeternal with God, as is matter. Mormon apologist Bruce McConkie has written that “God himself governs and is governed by law.” Because of this, as Mormon philosopher David Paulsen observes, “God does not have absolute power.” Therefore, the Mormon Jesus, just like his Father, must submit to principles of moral law as ancient and eternal as God himself. Even if he delights to be governed by them, as Mormons insist, he is limited by them. They are outside of himself and control the way he acts. He is not the ultimate cause of all things, for there are other things just as ultimate as he. This is true for both the Father and Jesus: Goodness fills Jesus, but it is also outside of him, informing and guiding all he says and does. Ethical values are derived ultimately not from Jesus but from principles that stand outside him.
I agree with Webb that when evaluating Mormonism, mainstream Christians must look at “what gives Christianity its identity.” But that identity is more than the abstract principle of the “divinity of Jesus Christ.” That divinity is given a particular shape and history by the biblical drama, conceived in orthodoxy as enacted by a single God in three persons.
That triune God did not create by organizing and shepherding preexisting matter and human spirits but by creating both out of nothing. He saved not by means of a man who became God but by God who became man.
Gerald R. McDermott
Stephen Webb shows a conspicuous ignorance of the real substance of Mormonism and of the paradigm within which Mormons hold their beliefs. It’s not entirely wrong to say that in the Book of Mormon there is little that is inimical to Christianity, but the Book of Mormon is the most benign part of the LDS canon. The Doctrine and Covenants and the teachings of LDS prophets (both of which hold the same authority as the Book of Mormon) are what make Mormonism what it is, and what make it so blasphemous to Christians.
Joseph Smith in the King Follet Discourse taught unequivocally that God is not eternally God but rather is an evolved human being: “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted Man, and sits enthroned in yonder heavens... . We have imagined and supposed that God was God from all eternity. I will refute that idea, and will take away and do away the vail [ sic], so that you may see.” Does Webb mean to argue that this does not “detract from Christianity to the point of denying it altogether”?
On a more socially relevant note, in his Journal of Discourses (volume 10, page 109), Brigham Young, writing as prophet, seer, and revelator of the one true restored Church, had the following to say about interracial marriage: “Shall I tell you the law of God in regard to the African race? If the white man who belongs to the chosen seed mixes his blood with the seed of Cain, the penalty, under the law of God, is death on the spot. This will always be so.” Does Webb really believe that such teaching from one supposedly chosen by God to lead his Church “does not significantly damage or deface” the portrait of Christ in the New Testament?
And there is a stinging irony in proposing that there is no significant theological conflict between Christianity and a church founded on the premise that all prior forms of Christianity are apostate; Mormonism supposedly began with God telling Joseph Smith not to join any Christian congregation because “they were all wrong” and that “all their creeds were an abomination” (History 1:19).
Red Lion, Pennsylvania
It is ever so easy to state casually that the Mormons worship a different Jesus. To be sure, we have an expanded canon of Scripture,
but nothing within the Book of Mormon, Doctrine and Covenants, or Pearl of Great Price contradicts what is taught in the Bible regarding the virgin birth (which, by the way, we definitely believe in), teachings, miracles, atoning sacrifice, or bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Supplementation to be sure, but not contradiction.
There is nothing within the covers of the New Testament to which Latter-day Saints object or refuse to believe. What we do not accept are the post–New Testament theological formulations. Stephen Webb has it right when he observes that “Mormon metaphysics is Christian metaphysics minus Origen and Augustine—in other words, Christianity divorced from Plato.”
Mormons do in fact attend most carefully to the Garden of Gethsemane. If I may make a slight adjustment in Webb’s description of our beliefs, however, our Lord’s redemptive suffering began in Gethsemane and was finished—climaxed, if you will—on Golgotha. We sing of the cross of Christ with the same gusto as our more traditional Christian friends do; in point of fact, most of the songs within the LDS hymnal that speak of the atonement refer to the cross. The early Book of Mormon prophet Nephi stated: “And I looked and beheld the Lamb of God, that he was taken by the people; yea, the Son of the Everlasting God was judged of the world. . . . And
I, Nephi, saw that he was lifted up upon the cross and slain for the sins of the world.”
Webb’s statement that “Mormons believe that Jesus Christ was never purely immaterial” could be misunderstood. We believe that Jesus lived as a spirit for ages and eons before coming to earth. But we do believe in the eternal significance of the condescension of God, the glorious Incarnation, the singular moment in time when the God of the ancients came to earth to take upon him a body of flesh and bones.
We believe that he was fully God and fully human; that he was the Son of God and God the Son; that he was infinitely more one with his Father than he was separate; and that he does not possess some kind of lesser divinity from the Father. Because it was a material being who died on the cross, rose from the tomb, and ascended into heaven with spirit and body inseparably united, Latter-day Saints have no difficulty believing also that “the Father has a body of flesh and bones as tangible as man’s; the Son also; but the Holy Ghost has not a body of flesh and bones, but is a personage of Spirit.”
The Mormon “obsession” with Jesus Christ does not derive solely from the Christology of the Book of Mormon. Rather, the person and power of Jesus allow us to come boldly to the throne of grace through our prayers, are the focus of our worship, are a model for how we live, are the means by which we face the tragedies and turmoil all about us, and inform our eschatology. Joseph Smith said it well: “The fundamental principles of our religion are the testimony of the Apostles and Prophets, concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”
Robert L. Millet
Brigham Young University
Salt Lake City, Utah
Mocking Mormonism is something to reject, as Stephen Webb rightly does, but condemning Mormonism is to love the Mormon person whose metaphysic, Webb notes, “calls for a revision of nearly every Christian belief.” When the nature of Christ and his gospel was challenged in the church of Galatia in ways less radical than it is by the Church of Latter-day Saints, St. Paul wrote, “But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach a gospel to you besides that which we have preached to you, let him be anathema.” Did Paul not write these words out of love of those souls he believed to be in danger?
Do not truth and love, held together, compel us to address our division with an invitation to the Mormon church to cease her attempt to redefine Christianity and instead visit Nicaea? As they once shed polygamy, could they not now shed polytheism? They could keep much: their love of Christ, their zeal for what is good, their families, their futures together with God. After all, as Paul writes in Romans, “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?”
Edgewood, New Mexico
Surrounded as we are by an increasingly secular “What is truth?” culture, I strongly second Stephen Webb’s objection to the demonizing of Mormonism by the devout as well as the godless. Unlike the godless, we at least agree with Mormons that there is “Truth.” I disagree, however, with his view that “not all heresies are equally perilous,” that it is better to invent a story about Jesus than to turn him into a bloodless Gnostic spirit.
I was a child of that smaller, less prosperous Mormon cousin, the Reorganized [Church of Jesus Christ of] Latter-day Saints. What I can tell about our shared experience with Mormon doctrine is this: Yes, there was a big emphasis on Jesus—ours being a more conventional, fairly trinitarian concept of our Lord—but, as strong as that emphasis was, it never managed to trump the implied and de facto role of Joseph Smith in our belief system.
After all, the very Jesus who promised us that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against” his church was transformed by Smith’s revelations into a muddled mountebank: The church was indeed quickly prevailed against and taken from the earth. But Smith, of course, rode to the rescue in 1830 and “restored” it. Thus our Christian energies were largely preoccupied by and diverted to our new savior, Joseph Smith, and the defense of him and his inventions.
A sample from the “Inspired Version” of the Bible exemplifies the harm we inherited. While some have failed to catch the significance in 1 Timothy of the “pillar and ground of the truth” being “the church of the living God” (and not the Scriptures or anything else), Smith immediately spied the danger and changed it: “The pillar and ground of the truth is, (and without controversy, great is the mystery of godliness) God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.”
It was not until after my Catholic conversion, following years of religious cynicism, that I realized the heavy role the underlying Smith heresy had played in a lifelong disconnect from Christ—and could then recover from it.
Sylvia Swain Rummel
Stephen H. Webb replies:
Thank you to everyone who wrote, including those who wrote privately, in response to “Mormonism Obsessed with Christ.”
I brought up the Book of Mormon’s placement of the birth of Jesus to show how trivial some fundamentalist criticism of Mormonism is, but the virgin birth is another matter altogether—precisely because Mormon metaphysics tries to close the gap between spirit and matter. Does the Mormon position—that Jesus was begotten by an immortal (but not immaterial) father—contradict the ancient Christian doctrine that Jesus had no natural father? Mormonism has no authoritative doctrine about how this conception occurred, but placing the origin of at least some aspect of Jesus’ body in God the Father seems to deny the traditional teaching that Jesus was conceived solely by the power of the Holy Spirit.
On the positive side, Mormon belief brings new insight to the idea that God was preparing a body for Christ prior to the moment of conception (Hebrews 19:5). Moreover, it certainly is not any more obscure than the idea that the humanity of Jesus proceeded from Mary exclusively. And Mormonism does have ways of understanding this mystery that preserve Mary’s antepartum virginity.
The more important question is whether we can imagine the material as one of the perfections of the divine. That exercise is absurd given Platonic metaphysics, but then again, modern philosophy and theology alike have been one long attempt to overcome some of the limits of Platonism. Mormons show us that the only way beyond the immaterial idealism of Plato is through the eternal embodiment of Jesus Christ.
Long before Joseph Smith, some early Christians believed that the Son brought his celestial flesh down with him from heaven, but the Church Fathers thought this idea did a grave injustice to Mary, because it treated her as an empty vehicle through whom Jesus passed—in Valentinus’ chilling image—as if through an aqueduct.
In my new book, Jesus Christ, Eternal God: Heavenly Flesh and the Metaphysics of Matter (Oxford), I recover and reformulate the idea that the Son of God was never completely without some kind of body and that therefore the Incarnation was a specification or intensification of his eternal form. In discussing the virgin birth, I argue that locating the body of Jesus in the eternal (and, for Mormons, procreative) relation of Father to Son does not demean the holiness of Mary’s body. Mary is still the Mother of God even if all of the material of Jesus’ body did not come exclusively from her.
Some of the letters criticize Mormons for speculating about what God was doing before he created the world. When Augustine was asked this very question, he replied that God was preparing hell for those who come up with such questions. Some people evidently don’t realize that Augustine was joking. In fact, Augustine thought this question was meaningless—because God exists outside of time—but Mormons offer the answer that God was trying to become more Godlike. (In Charles Hartshorne’s phrase, God is “the self-surpassing surpasser of all.”)
Gerry McDermott is a great theologian, and he is right to worry about the idea that God is subjected to an eternal law, but even on this issue, Mormons have much to say that is worth pondering. The question of whether God has a nature has an impressive metaphysical pedigree, and the only way around it is to pass through the muddy swamp of divine simplicity, which ends mired in the abyss of negative theology. Yet even simplicity’s great sponsor Thomas Aquinas had a concept of eternal law, which opens the door to the possibility that there is a law common to God and creatures and that God submits to a law that is, in the end, the definitive expression of his own character.
I do not agree with everything Mormons believe, but there is much to learn from their robustly social trinitarianism and their refreshingly straightforward understanding of divinization. They take the lid off heaven when they interpret our participation in God to mean that we will assimilate the divine creativity.
One last thing: Isn’t it funny that leading theologians rush to affirm the proposition that Muslims and Christians worship the same God, even though Islam constitutes the most strenuous attempt imaginable to subvert the divinity of Jesus, while many theologians refuse to admit that Mormons and Christians worship the same Christ?
Religion Can Make You Poor
In her review of Lisa A. Keister’s Faith and Money: How Religion Contributes to Wealth and Poverty (February), Naomi Schaefer Riley takes the author to task for the superficiality of her analysis of her study’s findings regarding religion’s effect on socioeconomic status. But I expected that Riley would provide more interesting and persuasive suggestions than she did for the success of Jews relative to all Christian denominations.
It seems to me very obvious that Jewish material success has far more to do with their history than with religion per se. From the religious angle we have Jews’ early and widespread literacy as a sine qua non of studying Torah, which developed into a passion for education generally. But the most avid studiers of Torah today—the ultra-Orthodox—are also the poorest Jews.
The success of mainstream Jews can be traced to a history of persecution, justifiable fears of insecurity, and proscription from many fields of endeavor. The Jews’ wanderings allowed them to establish trade-route networks among far-flung kinsmen; being forced into moneylending and merchandising established a tradition of economic literacy and experience that gave Jews portable skill sets. And there is no greater motivation for material advancement than the knowledge that at any moment one’s survival and that of one’s family might literally depend on ready cash for bribes and passage elsewhere.
I am also somewhat disappointed that the book’s—and Riley’s speculations—stopped short, ethnically speaking, with Blacks and Hispanics. What about Asians, for whom religion is a seemingly nugatory influence? I believe they are also disproportionately successful and education-obsessed.
All gratitude to David Bentley Hart for his spirited meditation on Matthew 19:24 (“The Back Page,” February). I only wonder if the needle has grown larger with the centuries or perhaps the camel much smaller.
In first-century Palestine—as for most of recorded history—wealth was acquired largely by conquest, occupation, and taxation. The truly rich were the pharaohs, the caesars, and the Herods of Jesus’ day. Hence, his casual statement that we have the poor with us always.
But if wealth can be created and, once created, put to the service of a moral imagination, are we—camels, the bunch of us—not called to be stewards of wealth rather than despisers of it? Poverty is neither a blessing nor a virtue. Material wealth, properly pursued and husbanded, is the ground of poverty’s alleviation in places that have known, historically, nothing but misery.
Those consecrated few who embrace vows of evangelical poverty still solicit the assets of others. (This publication, too, accepts stock portfolios and asks to be remembered in wills.) It helps to stay mindful that the Good Samaritan had money in his pocket.
Does fidelity to the gospel not permit us to approach the impossibly gnarled-up camel as a caution against the temptations of wealth, the idolizing misuse of it, rather than the fact of it?
Chappaqua, New York
David Bentley Hart’s reflections on the “ingenious ways” in which Christians over the centuries have sought to get around “the plain meaning of Christ’s words” about wealth as an impediment to entering the kingdom of God brought to mind the old story of Angus the Scotsman.
Leading family devotions, Angus opened the Bible to Matthew 19:24: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” He sat quietly for what seemed an eternity. Then, closing the Bible, he muttered, “It’s a damned lie. Let us pray.”
Somehow Angus seems more honest than all those divines who tried to explain away the plain meaning of the text. Too bad Angus didn’t read on through the next two verses: “Who then can be saved?” the disciples asked. Jesus answered, “With man this is impossible, but with God, all things are possible.”
Richard J. Niebanck
Delhi, New York
Citing the example of Christ’s admonition to the rich young ruler, David Bentley Hart notes that Christ’s words in this story are “uncompromisingly severe” and “saying something very disquieting about wealth as such,” appears to associate wealth in the process with “spiritual impoverishment.” I wonder, however, how Hart would reconcile Christ’s consistent use of the image of a rich man or ruler to portray the Father in his parables.
If wealth represents spiritual impoverishment, then what does this say about his choice of description of the Father? Perhaps he intended the story of the rich ruler and the camel to be understood in the light of his teaching as a whole: It is what is in one’s heart, rather than the external trappings of one’s life, that makes one clean or unclean.
David Bentley Hart finds it “tiresome” that many conservatives loudly assert, without “subtlety,” that Occupy protesters (“at least the most morally serious among them”) disdain “Christian values.” He goes on to expound briefly on Christ’s teachings concerning taking no thought for tomorrow and relaxing in God’s provision, as do the lilies of the field. Any connection between those sacred teachings and the belligerent conduct of the Occupy forces is imaginary. The very word occupy means to seize someone else’s property by invasion and aggression—not a Christian value.
Despite being treated with remarkable grace and latitude by all police forces in every city, almost five thousand “protesters” have managed to behave so badly that they have been arrested. The number of arrests is just a fraction of the actual criminality. In the encampments, hardy sanitation crews, wearing hazmat gear, have to clean up heaps of excrement, blood-smeared drug paraphernalia, used condoms, and tons of garbage. They do not find much evidence of moral seriousness.
In the annals of protest movements, this one ranks among the lowest in intellectual coherence. “Rich people are bad, real bad. Corporations are bad, very, very bad. Rich people and corporations have way too much money. The government ought to take away their money and give it to us.” Such infantile, covetous, comic-book thinking precludes serious moral dialogue. All this violence, vandalism, covetousness, and immorality spring from spiritual darkness, not the kingdom of light.
Hart suggests that “the accumulation of great private wealth, even when honestly acquired, is spiritually perilous and, as a rule, morally unjust.” Certainly. But Abraham and Job accumulated wealth because they managed their herds well. Boaz was rich, yet one of the most godly, most compassionate men in Scripture. Barnabas sold valuable property to give to the Church. His subsequent exemplary service for Christ speaks for itself. Nicodemus was probably wealthy; Joseph of Arimathea certainly was.
When farmers, entrepreneurs, professionals, and investors perform valuable services or provide excellent goods at decent prices, they bring glory to God. Their stewardship and success meet needs and often create jobs in the community. The parable of the talents applies to material realities as well as to spiritual matters. Hart’s contention that gaining wealth is “as a rule, unjust” is, as a rule, not valid.
David Bentley Hart replies:
My thanks to these writers. I will grant, in response to Gary Hardaway, the unpleasantness of much of the Occupy protests, and I said nothing to deny it. Then again, the only protestors from the movement I have met were three Catholic girls who had just returned from relief work in Haiti, who were pro-life, and who considered themselves followers of Dorothy Day. It is, it seems, a rather mixed movement, and simplistic characterizations of its aims are of no value.
Similarly, I quite clearly said that those who provide jobs and necessary goods are involved in a noble pursuit. If my words were not perfectly clear, however, Christ’s most certainly are. That, I imagine, is why Barnabas (to take the one Christian example Hardaway cites) behaved as he did. Oh and, just to be subversive, let me observe that man cannot serve both God and Mammon.
That Children Weep
In an entreaty that she cites from The Book of Common Prayer, Agnes Howard challenges parents to decide what we believe and to consider how our behavior and attitude toward our teenagers, daughters in particular, reflects our core commitments (“Hating the Teens We Indulge,” February). “Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world,” the supplication says, but to what extent do we labor that the ways of the gospel—the Beatitudes, to be more exact—are the path we lead our children toward? In a prayer service that I attend weekly for my teenagers and those of the community, I am chastened regularly when I find these words in my mouth:
Raise my children to be poor in spirit, that they may inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.
Raise my children to weep, that they may be comforted.
Raise my children to be meek, that they may inherit the earth.
Raise my children to hunger and thirst after righteousness, that they may be filled.
When was the last time we asked that our children weep or hunger? We want to eat the cake of ambition, of social conformity, of consumption; we want to pray our children into their valedictorian or homecoming-queen niche and then wipe the corners of our mouths with 100 percent organic linen napkins before we head back to the office.
All noteworthy quests—from the persistent and annoying neighbor in the New Testament who knocks on the door for bread in the middle of the night (and serves as one model for how we should pray) to Homer’s Odysseus, who seeks to return home—have something in common: They know what they want and love, and they shape their lives to the pursuit of it. As parents of misbehaving teens, we have to do likewise.
I Believe What We Believe
I read with considerable interest the comments on beginning the Nicene Creed with “I believe” rather than “We believe” (“While We’re At It,” February). The singular and plural openings to the creed have both been used throughout the history of Christian worship, and arguments can be presented for both. Among Eastern Christians, there are ample examples of the use of the plural “We believe,” including in the Syrian, Coptic, and Armenian liturgies. In the Western Church, the Mozarabic liturgy retains the use of the plural.
The issue is not the superiority of “I believe” but that the use of the plural was a mistranslation of a text that had been part of the Roman liturgy for centuries. We are not Copts or Armenians or Mozarabic Christians. Our liturgical tradition is the Roman Mass, and the translators trampled on that tradition. Especially for Catholics of my generation, the new Mass texts happily allow us to reconnect with the language and content of our liturgical tradition.
Rochester, New York
I don’t think the change in the Nicene Creed is right, for reasons of translation and liturgy. We confess “I believe” with the baptismal (Apostles’) Creed, because the focus is on the individual’s public confession of faith. But the Nicene Creed is the creed of the “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church.” It is not merely “my” creed but the whole Church’s. I confess this in worship with the Church. It is not my personal opinion. It is the Church’s faith. The change is in danger of supporting the rampant individualism of our culture.
St. Paul Lutheran Church
Spring Grove, Pennsylvania
David Mills replies:
Vincent Lenti and I agree on the primary reason for using “I” rather than “we.” Some of the Eastern churches, especially the so-called Monophysite churches, do use “we” in their liturgies, but the Orthodox churches use “I” in their liturgies, as do the European translations of the Novus Ordo, and the Catholic Church in the English-speaking world has, in that sense, just joined the mainstream.
The Nicene Creed is indeed the whole Church’s creed, as Dan Biles writes, but then so is the Apostles’ Creed. It seems to me, as I wrote, that confessing the Church’s faith as explicitly one’s own increases both the drama of the statement and the investment with which one makes it—and that such submission to the whole Church’s creed offers a symbolic movement away from, not toward, individualism.
Correction: In describing J. Michael Bailey’s study of identical-twin pairs in his “Same-Sex Science” (February), Stanton L. Jones should have referred to 41 rather than 42 pairs studied.