Against Human Rights (again): Sachs on Circumcision

If anyone had any doubts about the validity of Radical Orthodoxy’s critique of the secular rhetoric of human rights let them read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this article in The Jerusalem Post by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sachs (hat tip to Chad Pecknold), in which Sachs trenchantly writes,

Since Hiroshima and the Holocaust, science no longer holds its pristine place as the highest moral authority. Instead that role is taken by human rights. It follows that any assault on Jewish life – on Jews or Judaism or the Jewish state – must be cast in the language of human rights. Hence the by-now routine accusation that Israel has committed the five cardinal sins against human rights: racism, apartheid, ethnic cleansing, attempted genocide and crimes against humanity. This is not because the people making these accusations seriously believe them – some do, some don’t. It is because this is the only form in which an assault on Jews can be stated today (italics mine).

That is what the court in Cologne has done. It has declared that circumcision is an assault on the rights of the child since it is performed without his consent. It ignored the fact that if this is true, teaching children to speak German, sending them to school and vaccinating them against illness are all assaults against the rights of the child since they are done without consent. The court’s judgement was tendentious, foolish and has set a dangerous precedent.

One can see a similar dynamic at play in the recent Dutch ban on the shechitah (thankfully reversed … for now), here endorsed by the secularly machiavellian Peter Singer, as well as in the Obama Administration’s recent deplorable attempt to require payment and referral for abortion-causing drugs and birth control in the health care services provided by various Catholic institutions.

I hasten to add that that the most profound response to such developments is not for the Church (or “religious institutions”) to lobby for “a place at the table” of pluralistic voices, thereby pandering to and invoking the very secular rhetoric which has led to the marginalization of religion (although of course such a move can “buy more time” in the short run).

For more on this I would recommend (especially for my more “conservative” friends) Peter Leithart‘s works on ecclesiology, including The Kingdom and the Power, Against Christianity, and Defending Constantine.

The Church has two basic vocations: to convert the culture (noncoersively, of course) and to suffer as martyr. Christians in postmodernity should be asking, “What time is it now?”

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Dark Roast & Dieties in Small Town Texas

“F*&K YOUR GOD.”

As I strolled up to the patio door of the local Starbucks this morning, these are the words, graffiti’d onto the brick wall, which greeted me.

Now, this kind of thing would never happen in Austin, or, for that matter, in most quarters of the western world. But in Tyler cultural “Christianity” is still identified with the status quo.

I used to think that the status quo had been endlessly deconstructed. Then I moved to Tyler. (The first thought that popped into my mind upon focusing on the graffiti, juxtaposed as it was with the ominous “666,” was, “Really? People still do that?”)

Now make no mistake: the “street urchin” teenagers (for that is how they are known in these parts — for me this is sort of a term of endearment) who scribbled this intended blasphemy on those coffee fortress ramparts are to be pitied and chastened, not least for their immaturity and brazen arrogance.

I must admit, though, that I agree with them. And so do all the Old Testament prophets, St. Paul, Pseudo Dionysius the Aereopagite, Thomas Aquinas, and many others.

Because the god of Green Acres Baptist Church is not the God which Moses encountered in the bush that was burning, yet not consumed. The god of Green Acres, more often than not, is the god wrapped in the American flag, the god who backs the Republican party, the god who sanctions suburban middle class values.

Indeed, the god of Christ Church is, all too often, not the God which appeared to Abraham in the middle of a dream as a smoking cauldron and promised, in essence, that if he were to break covenant with his people he would be torn from limb to limb. The god of Christ Church is the god who prefers the country club to the Salvation Army and the county jail, the god who discourages any kind of emotional outbreak of praise, the god who prefers establishment to marginalization.

The god of liberal protestantism (embraced, for example, by many of my clergy friends in town) is not the God who is both loving and holy, in both the Old and New Testaments. The god of liberal protestantism is the god who equates christian discipleship with secular revolutions and arbitrary, ideological notions of “justice.”

In fact, the god of Matt Boulter — so would say Denys the Areopagite and many others throughout Christian history — is not the God who is both a “still small voice” and a “mighty rushing wind.” The god of Matt Boulter is the god of intellectual curiosity, the god of theory over practice, the god of convenience. For these, if I am honest, are what I worship.

And so therefore Green Acres Baptist, Christ Episcopal, purveyors of liberal theology, and Matt Boulter all must repent. We must repent of breaking the first commandment by multiplying the number of gods we exalt above God. Deeper still, we must repent of breaking the second and third commandments by claiming that those gods are God.

The Buddhist tradition beckons toward the apophatic Christian tradition (that is, the “way of negation” or the via negativa) by saying “If you find the Buddha, kill it.” In the same way, the God of Scripture and Tradition is the God who is always above and beyond: beyond language, beyond being, beyond our reach (intellectual or otherwise). If you think you have grasped God, you be can be certain that you are wrong. We can speak of God only indirectly or “sideways,” and that for two reasons: incarnation and worship.

Incarnation: the Word became flesh and lived among us. The Logos became man, so we can speak of this Man Jesus Christ. In speaking of him, so Christians claim, we are speaking about God.

Worship: it is true that our language about God is problematic, but these complications, slippages, and false motives evaporate in true worship. When we worship God, we are not so much speaking about God. We are speaking to him.

“I love you. I worship you. You are my everything.” This is the language of praise. This is the heart’s deepest desire.

Then and only then, when we sing and speak to God, can we finally speak truthfully about him.

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Benedict’s Rule: Children vs. “Hired Hands”

In her commentary on The Rule of St. Benedict, Joan Chittister writes,

To be a member of a Roman family, the family whose structures Benedict understood, was to be under the religious, financial, and disciplinary power of the father until the father died, whatever the age of the children. To be disinherited by the father was to be stranded in a culture in which paid employment was looked down upon. To be punished by him was to lose the security of family, outside of which there was no security at all. To lose relationship with the father was then, literally, to lose one’s life [italics mine]. Chittister, OSB, Joan. The Rule of Benedict: Insights for the Ages (New York: Crossroad, 2008), 21.

There is a connection here with the story of the “prodigal son,” from Luke 15. In that passage the to-be-inherited-land which is coveted by both sons is referred to as “bios,” or the Greek word for biological life.

The implications here for the manifold biblical teaching on “inheritance” (Gen 48:6; Nu 16:14; Nu 18:23; Dt 15:4; Ps 16:6; Eph 1:11; Col 1:12; Heb 11:8; 1 Pet 1:4) are vast. (Too vast for me to begin to write about here!)

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Tragedy & Comedy, Intertwined: Thoughts on _Bernie_

I don’t know if you have seen the film Bernie yet, directed by renowned Austin film maker Richard Linklater. (I’m grateful to two Christ Church parishioners in particular for urging me to see the movie, despite the fact that Bouquet and I had not seen a movie in a theater by ourselves for four years!). If you have not seen it, I urge you to do so.

When you see this movie, which tells the story of an infamous 1996 crime in Carthage, Texas, you will see a work of art which, though at times uncomfortably dark and dry (be warned!), is a masterful exhibit of “comedy and tragedy, all intertwined.”

These words – “art and tragedy, all intertwined” – are, according to a May 2012 Texas Monthly article about the film by journalist / screen writer Skip Hollandsworth, the words uttered by Linklater right after witnessing the trial and conviction of Bernie Tiede in San Agustine, Texas in 1998. The story of Bernie’s life and times in Carthage is just that: comedy and tragedy, all intertwined, as the film and its dozens of real-life East Texas locals wittily and subtly portrays.

As Christians who gather regularly to confess our faith in the words of the Creed, we, too, have our own story of comedy and tragedy, of tragedy and comedy. Like Bernie Tiede, the man Jesus Christ was delighted to serve others. Like Bernie Tiede, the man Jesus Christ was drawn particularly to the down and out, the destitute, the marginalized. Like Bernie Tiede, the man Jesus Christ knew what it was like to be tried, found guilty, and punished under the law.

Unlike Bernie, however, the man Jesus Christ was no people pleaser. He knew the difference between niceness, which is not a fruit of the spirit, and kindness, which is (Galatians 5). Unlike Bernie Jesus walked around his city as a free man who was not in bondage to the conventions and mores which others assume to be “normal” and “natural.” Unlike Bernie, Jesus was innocently convicted of a trumped up charge, levied against him by a kangaroo court. Unlike Bernie Jesus could not be held in the chains of bondage, but instead rose victorious over death and imprisonment.

I never expected to be living in Tyler watching a film by Linklater (who directed some of my favorite films, some of which take place in Austin) about East Texas. What is most profound about the film is that he allows us to laugh at our East Texas selves without falling into cynicism or despair. There is something about life in Carthage (and Tyler) which is sad and superficial, and at the same time precious and profound.

In this way the film and life are like the story of Scripture. For here nothing is sugar-coated, Nothing is glamourized. Instead human life and culture are taken for what they are.

And what are they? They are tragic and comic. They are good, fallen, and redeemed. They are bound up not with the life of Bernie, but with the life – and the death – of Jesus Christ.

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