Month: June 2011

Gay Marriage: What’s the Real Issue?

The decision of the New York state legislature to approve gay marriage will be seen by some as a symptom of an underlying disease called “moral relativism.”  But this is a mistake that, I think, blocks our understanding of what is really going on. One need only look at the joy and satisfaction with which the decision was greeted by some to recognize that, far from indicating the disappearance of morality, the legislation is indicative of a strong moral order, and it is this order which is really at issue when we debate gay marriage. Charles Taylor, in his A Secular Age, outlines the contours of what he names the Modern Moral Order (MMO). The MMO replaces pre-modern versions of social hierarchy with an “order of mutual benefit,” organized around the securing of rights for individuals and their ability to exercise these rights in exchanges that conduce to mutual benefit, particularly in securing for all “the needs of ordinary life.” The order does not aim at anything “higher” than this; it does not seek to replicate some transcendent form (Plato), nor conform to any religious command. Its progress consists in the extension of this order of mutual benefit to encompass as many persons as possible – and in theory, everyone. In its more robust forms, the political order is called upon not simply to protect rights, but bring more...

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‘Consenual Cannibalism’ and Grounding Objective Goods

Many atheist utilitarians have long resisted any concept of objectivity in ethics, in part because they do not have any metaphysical beliefs which are capable of grounding such claims.   But with the release of Parfit’s On What Matters there will be renewed interest in philosophical circles about what sorts of goods are ‘objective’ and what, in fact, can ground the claim that something is objectively good or that a particular desire or preference is irrational or bad.  There will also be renewed interest in explicitly theological/metaphysical approaches to ethics which have thought long and hard about how to ground objective claims. Peter Singer is in the midst of reconsidering just how much he believes in objectivity in ethics, but we can see that old habits die hard in this interview he had with Oxford’s Nigel Biggar in the UK’s Standpoint magazine.   In a discussion about the proper role of autonomy in ethics and public policy, Biggar brings out the big guns: The question then is what the bounds of autonomy are because if individuals are given complete freedom to decide upon the value of their lives, and they then take it to extremes, then logic would move us to sanction masochistic suicide. I’m thinking of the notorious 2001 case of Armin Meiwes, who advertised on the internet for someone to be dismembered and eaten. A volunteer came forward...

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Flesh, Spirit, and Bodies

Readings for Sunday, July 3, 2011 ~ Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Zec 9:9-10; Ps 145; Rom 8:9,11-13; Mt 11:25-30 We think about bodies all the time: abused bodies, diseased bodies, female bodies, male bodies, variously pigmented bodies, obese bodies, athletic bodies, and the list goes on. Since we can scarcely think without thinking about bodies, it’s a good thing when we are challenged to reflect on them theologically. Last week we did this when celebrating the Feast of Corpus Christi. This week we seem drawn into it again by the second reading from Paul’s letter to the Romans where we ponder the flesh and the spirit.  But how much is this really about the body? The question is worth asking because as much as we may try to avoid a heretical dualism of body and soul, it seems we cannot help but harbor a bit of resentment toward our fleshy nature.  To be human is to be embodied and so it seems to be embodied is to be sinful.  By looking more deeply into Paul’s words from Romans, we can begin to parse out some of the sin-flesh-body tangle that forever haunts us.  At the same time, we can take seriously the ways that reflecting on the body can teach us something about the moral life. In The Body and Society, Peter Brown notes the highly dualistic imagery...

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Presence and Absence in the Holy Land

Many of us in the Theology Department at the University of Scranton have just recently returned from a week-long trip to the Holy Land which was very generously sponsored and organized by the Weinberg Chair in Judaic Studies here at Scranton. Now that we are home and trying to fight our way through the jet lag, we are also naturally attempting to reflect on and interpret the many sights and events we experienced.  And for me, the overriding theme to which I keep returning is God’s presence and absence. Where can we find God, and in what respect does He remain elusive to us? The question really began to arise at the Western Wall, which I had the privilege of visiting on four different occasions, all at different times of the day. Unlike many of the other sacred sites, the crowd at the Wall is always dominated by people who are visibly and entirely engaged in the act of prayer. The transparency of the devotion at the Western Wall is arresting.  The many movements, murmurs, and gazes that surround you all seem to have a direct and discernible orientation. The rationale for going there is very simple and specific: it is the point of maximal proximity to God’s presence on the Temple Mount. The people who go there do so because He is there. “The Divine Presence never moves from the Western Wall,” reads an information plaque at the entrance of the plaza. Yet of course,...

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New Website of Interest: Daily Theology

A new blog of interest to our readers: Daily Theology They begin with an “invitation to conversation”: As the header says, our aim here is faith seeking understanding in everyday life.  We hope to examine questions and issues that pertain to the role of theology in the daily life of the Body of Christ.  Our topics might range from pop culture to politics, liturgy to dialogue, economics to ecclesiology.  No matter the focus, our goal will always be to contribute in a meaningful way to the broader conversation in the contemporary Catholic and Christian context. In a special way, we hope this conversation will involve not only those who work in ministry and academia, but all of the baptized; indeed, any who are interested are encouraged to join. The beginning posts have all been creative, engaging and draw the reader into faith seeking understanding.  Amanda Osheim (Loras College) raises the question: “what provides holy order in my life?” Jim Keenan, S.J. describes mercy as “the willingness to enter into the chaos of others so as to answer them in their need,” a divine quality made manifest ultimately in Christ (Moral Wisdom 118).  The correlative call for Christ’s disciples is to enter into others’ chaos as well.  And yet, maturing in that discipleship requires that I also continually accept and admit my own chaos and abandon the illusion that efficiency,...

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