John 3:16: Show me a Sign – Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity (June 19, 2011)

Exodus 34: 4b-6, 8-9 Daniel 3: 52-56 2 Corinthians 16:11-13 John 3: 16-18   Remember how at just about every major sporting event in the 1980’s there was always that crazy guy holding up a sign that read “John 3:16”?  He almost always found his way into the best camera angles at the Super Bowl, the Master’s, the NBA finals, even the Olympics, and of course he inspired some followers – to the point of quarterback Tim Tebow leading the Florida Gators to a BCS championship in 2009 with “John 3:16” written in the black paint under his eyes. Well, the guy who started this phenomenon had a name – Rollen Stewart – and he got his start by wearing that crazy clown wig in order to be seen on camera at basketball games.  But then he had a conversion experience watching a televangelist in a hotel room after a sporting event, and he combined his antics with a little evangelization of his own.  He spent the years 1977 to 1992 traveling the world getting himself and his sign – “John 3:16” – onto the scene at just about every major sporting event one could imagine.  He went so far out of his way to put up his sign, convinced that he had a mission from God to spread the Gospel in this way, that he eventually went completely...

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Summer (Sci-Fi) Reading

Once, in my graduate school days, I took Heidegger’s Being and Time on vacation. I was trying to squeeze in a bit of work during my free time.  Needless to say, it was difficult to pay attention.  Heidegger does not have a lot to say about Being-at-the-beach. Since then, when I go to the beach, I take what my wife calls “brain candy”, books that quickly and effectively pull you out of your world and entertain you. These books have become a double-pleasure for me.  They are fun but also do some serious reflection on human relationships and society. Below are five of my favorite summer reads that do both.  They are all sci-fi because I find this genre (when it does not get caught up in the technology) is particularly well suited for understanding our world. Like apocalyptic literature, they explore the long-term consequences of the way we are currently living in order to illuminate the dangers and threats to what is good and true and beautiful. Scott Westerfeld’s Extras.  Extras is the fourth book in the Uglies series, which includes Uglies, Pretties, and Specials.  The set up for these books is that kids are “uglies” until they turn sixteen when they get extensive reconstructive surgery to become “pretties”.  (As someone who is about to turn forty, I want to say that the grown-ups in this world are...

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Update on Intervention in Libya

Over at Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Kim Lawton interviews Notre Dame’s Gerard Powers who reassesses the US/NATO intervention underway in Libya. It’s a brief piece, but I think Powers raises the right concerns: 1) Was the intervention morally justified in the first place? 2) Are the means being employed morally justified? 3) Is attention being given to how to foster and implement post-conflict justice? In my view, a case could have been made that the intervention was justified. There was just cause, namely, to stop the bloodshed of civilians that was underway and to prevent escalation of the violence to genocidal proportions. However, the other criteria of jus ad bellum (justice in embarking upon armed intervention) also need to be satisfied (legitimate authority, last resort, proportionality, probability of success), and I’m not sure these were satisfactorily addressed. Moreover, the armed intervention by third-party forces (US/NATO/UN) should have not taken sides in the conflict, which is actually a civil war; rather, the third-party forces should have prevented forces on either side from putting civilians in the crossfire of danger. That might have encouraged a cease-fire at some point so that a negotiated settlement might result. As for the means used (jus in bello), I agree with Powers that the air-strike approach alone is problematic. It protects our forces’ lives, which is important, but this should not be done at a...

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Debt/Deficit or Jobs? The Real Economic Threat to the Common Good

What is underlying the obsession with the national debt as THE economic problem? Over at Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good, Charles Clark , Professor of Economics at St. John’s University examines the false economic assumptions in the Ryan budget  and the need for 21st century economic solutions for 21st century problems: Yet, the biggest break with reality is Ryan’s placing the deficit and debt as the central concern for the common good.  We are in a jobs crisis.  Our financial system is at greater risk then it was in 2007.  Rising income inequality is shrinking the middle class and threatening to destabilize our democracy.  Ryan’s budget will make all of these problems much worse rather than address them in a realistic fashion.  Ryan is providing a path to plutocracy. As an historian of economic ideas who specialized in 18th Century theories, it looks to me that Ryan and company are applying the constitutional philosophy of “original intent” to economic policy.  I expect that the next step will be Medicaid and Medicare reforms that will only fund bleeding and leeches; the military will replace the M4 and M16 with muskets; and mass transit funding will now go for carriages and coaches.  The responsibilities of the government have grown since the 18th Century because the need for collective action on the national level has grown.  In the 18th Century...

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Bishop of San Jose Gets Standing Ovation at CTSA

Well, you might not have expected this.  In response to the Committee on Doctrine’s condemnation of Elizabeth Johnson’s book Quest for the Living God, the Catholic Theological Society of America released a statement some weeks ago defending her work and suggesting that the COD had a fundamental misunderstanding of the ecclesial vocation of the theologian.  So how would members respond to the Bishop of San Jose, Patrick J. McGrath, greeting them at their annual convention?  Well, the reaction was commensurate with his address–which was gracious, respectful and even self-deprecating.  Knowing that Maureen Tilley of Fordham University was about to give the opening plenary on the early Church and the concept of holiness, Bishop McGrath mentioned that that back then all the best theologians were bishops, but also that this ‘was a long time ago.’  He also positively mentioned and even quoted Johnson’s book Truly Our Sister. The result?  A standing ovation from the entire audience.  And a great start to the...

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Review of “Behaving in Public: How to do Christian Ethics” (Nigel Biggar)

Nigel Biggar, Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at the University of Oxford, and author of the new book Behaving in Public: How to Do Christian Ethics (Eerdmans 2011), is unboxable.  An Anglican who is “Protestant with regard to ecclesiology and the Lord’s Supper”, he also believes that “we are saved by grace through faith and works, and not by grace through faith alone.”  To further muddy the waters, he claims to be “much impressed by the rational methodological nature of Thomist ethics” and that he “has a strong penchant for casuistry.”  Add to this  the fact that he rejects strict interpretations of the Bible regarding same sex relations, believes that God is not merely a projection of human ideals or wishes and that Jesus rose bodily from the dead, finds democracy seriously problematic, and rejoices in a plural culture…and you’ve got one unboxable figure in Christian ethics. His method, one which he describes as a “Barthian Thomism”, is a via media between “conservative” approaches which are shy of attending to public policy and “liberal” ones which are theologically thin and bland.  What the Son of God reveals about the good, says Biggar, can only be a confirmation of what God the Father has created in the first place–though what Jesus reveals must always be examined “under the conditions of sin and in the light of eschatological hope.” ...

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Peter Singer in a State of Flux?

There has been some time to digest the conference ‘Christian Ethics Engages Peter Singer’ at Oxford a couple of weeks ago.  For anyone that wishes to watch some of the sessions, all of them are available on the McDonald Centre’s website here.  Whether you want to watch Eric Gregory and Toby Ord talk about poverty, Lisa Cahill and John Haldane talk about Thomas Aquinas and consequences, David Clough and Tim Mulgan talk about animals and climate change–or just John Hare being awesome–there is a lot of good stuff to check out.  The final round table (and especially the exchange between Singer and Nigel Biggar) was particularly good. The Tablet did a piece covering the conference (available to subscribers), but the Guardian also did one that is open to all.   The latter piece generated some 248 comments on the website itself, plus plenty of responses in the blogosphere.  For three interesting ones, go here, here, and here. Much of the ‘buzz’ is coming from the fact that a conference in conversation with Christians was an interesting place for Singer to reveal and publicly comment upon the fact that he is revisiting some of his most basic theoretical and meta-ethical positions.  In addition to talking openly and honestly about not having a good answer to the question “Why be moral in the first place?” (and also ‘regretting’ not having a God...

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CatholicTV’s WOW Attempts to Make Catholicism Exciting For Youth

“A faith experience can’t only be about learning the ins and outs of the doctrine. It has to be a celebration.” So claims Bonnie Rodgers, the marketing and programming manager for CatholicTV, the Watertown, MA-based organization with 10.2 million viewers in 16 states. CatholicTV broadcasts the gameshow “WOW,” the network’s answer to “Jeopardy!’’ — but for the younger set. Instead of queries about geography and science, they face questions about the Holy Spirit, Lent, and eternal happiness. Seven Catholic elementary schools are competing this season, including St. Jude in Waltham and St. Bernadette in Northborough. The show, in its seventh season, has expanded its reach as far away as Pelham, N.H. The quiz show WOW covers a range of material about Catholicism and the children who compete get the questions a month ahead of time so they can study. Some are simple things the children learned in first grade (Question: On which day each year do we celebrate the Resurrection? Answer: Easter). Other questions are harder, and require diligent memorization (Question: What does ecce lignum crucis mean? Answer: Behold the wood of the cross). By the time the children finish studying, they can rattle off biblical phrases in Latin and Greek. WOW “helps people know that our faith is radical, and it’s alive, and exciting, and can be fun,” explains Rodgers. It is reassuring to see a seemingly-successful program...

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Report from the Annual Convention of the College Theology Society

Today is the final day of the 57th Annual Convention of the College Theology Society. Several of us contributors and a number of friends and colleagues have attended a number of excellent papers (of course, some were not so excellent). This year’s theme has been “They Shall Be Called Children of God: Violence, Transformation, and the Sacred.” The National Catholic Reporter has provided (and will provide more in the coming days) some coverage of it. Overall, some 260 persons were registered for the convention. Plenary talks were given by William T. Cavanaugh (“Violence Religious and Secular: Questioning the Categories”), M. Shawn Copeland (“God Among the Ruins: Companion and Co-Sufferer”), James T. Logan (an African-American Mennonite theologian whose book on prisons and punishment I reviewed for Christian Century; he offered a great response to Copeland’s talk), and Todd David Whitmore (“Theology as Gospel Mimesis: Lessons from a Conflict Zone”). During a fourth plenary, “Alive Man Walking: One Person’s Story of Exoneration from Death Row,” Shujaa Graham, of the Witness to Innocence Project, movingly shared his story of being on–and released from–death row with us. During the banquet last night, Peter Steinfels and Margaret O’Brien Steinfels, who were honored with the CTS Presidential Award, also spoke. Afterwards, during the CTS Celebration that began at 9:30 p.m. and included music and singing (a tradition here), a number of us stayed up late reflecting...

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A Character-Based Approach to Artificial Reproductive Technologies

About 10% of women of child-bearing years, that is 6.1 million women in the U.S., suffer from infertility (the inability to get pregnant after 1 year of trying or after six months of trying for those 35 or older). For many, an infertility diagnosis leads them to seek out assistance through artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs) like in-vitro fertilization (IVF) or gestational surrogacy, the use of which helps many infertile couples have the children they always dreamed of. The Roman Catholic Church, however, is well-known for its opposition to the use of such technologies, a stance which has become increasingly unpopular as ARTs become more common (You can read about the Church’s position on IVF here and here). Sean Savage, a Roman Catholic himself, presents an impassioned plea over at CNN’s Belief blog, for the RCC to change its stance on ARTs to accommodate for Catholics like him and his wife who resort to IVF to have the children they always dreamed of. Babies born of IVF are here because their parents loved, respected and longed for these children well before conception. These children could not get here through the conjugal love of their parents and it took a very deep love, respect, and commitment to pursue the medical treatment needed to conceive through IVF. There is no doubt in my mind that God is working through loving parents and...

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