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Sunday, April 23, 2017

On the value of Scripture

April 5, 2017

News these days is depressing. Just this morning the U.S. Attorney General is announcing that the Justice Department will no longer push city police departments regarding discrimination issues. Russia says that the chemical attack in Syria is the work of rebels, not of their Syrian ally. The Senate is about to take one step further into polarization and deadlock by requiring only a simple majority vote to confirm Mr. Gorsuch as a Supreme Court judge. The people with money are more and more successful in steering both legislatures and courts in their favor.

I have the feeling that I am swimming in a sea where moral sensitivity has given way to power as the all-determining factor.

I shouldn't be so shook up. Most of the human race is living under conditions similar to what I am complaining about. And it always has.

Which brings me back to the psalms, and to the Scriptures in general.

I grant that the writings of what we Christians call the Old and New Testaments are the products of human authors, writing under the constraints of their times and cultures. Yet my Church maintains that overall those writings are guided by God's Holy Spirit.

Suppose that more people would live in worlds shaped by those Scriptures. They would know the stories and they would pray the prayers that have come down to us. True, those stories and prayers can be interpreted in many ways, some of them very destructive. But my experience has been that the world shaped by the Scriptures is a gentle world, sensitive to the needs of others, and conducive to lives characterized by passionate, respectful, vulnerable, faithful involvements of people with each other--in other words, characterized by love.

The psalms in particular remind me that their origins were in a world where the powerful took advantage of the powerless, and where people routinely betrayed one another. In other words, they lived in a world where sin existed. We don't live in a world where sin exists. We make mistakes, but we never sin.

We live in a world where the god that is commonly worshipped is the god of Profit, Income, Investments. This god is relentless and heartless. It demands sacrifices similar to what the ancient Aztec people demanded when they had to sacrifice a certain number of prisoners every day to appease their gods. Our world's god creates poverty, explains it as a temporary deviation from a process that will never end, and turns away when lives are destroyed by poverty. That god deadens its people by electronics, the opium of the people.

The Christian scriptures and their Jewish antecedents show us a different God. Their God is probably more like the God that a devout Muslim worships than like the god of Profit, Income, and Investments. They call God Allah. I rather like that name. God can handle more than one name.

Some of our Christian neighbors give the Scriptures a bad reputation when they equate the Scriptures with God incarnate, and then proceed to dictate what those Scriptures require. But we Catholics are guilty of the same mistake when we make the Pope God incarnate. Papal infallibility is a pernicious doctrine. It has locked Catholic orthodoxy into political demands that are destructive, such as the opposition to contraception that keeps poorer nations from receiving aid. In our country it has contributed to the poisoning of our political discourse about the abortion issue. When we decide that people who don't agree with us are evil, our worst instincts are fired up and we go to war.

So we too are sinful, just like the people that have prayed the psalms down through the years. I wish more of us could live in the world that the Scriptures create for us.

1 comment:

  1. A short comment on papal infallibility - fortunately it has not been used much although it is massively misunderstood as if everything a Pope says is automatically true. In my allegiance to the Roman Church I am reminded of a lesson many years back from Dismas Bonner - when Rome makes a rule keep in mind that for the Romans the law was an ideal towards which one would strive rather than a base line below which one could not fall.

    In this country we are afflicted with the baseline notion as various bumper stickers try to shout: only those who oppose all abortions can be considered Catholic. No decision is guilt - free: the decision to have a child can well be as sinful as the one to abort a child - different kind of sin perhaps but still not a simple choice.

    Contraception was - in my eyes - solved in the 1960's and echoed in Pope Francis' statement about not breeding like rabbits.

    Keep up the blogs, Joe. They offer many items to meditate on.