How literally should we take these words?:
“We, in the Green movement, aspire to a cultural model in which the killing of a forest will be considered more contemptible and more criminal than the sale of 6-year old children to Asian brothels.” (Carl Amery of the Green Party, quoted in Mensch & Energie, April 1983, quote found here)
I think those words should be taken very literally. We know that taking people seriously means taking their words literally – not “literalistically” (see here and here) – when it is appropriate to do so. Again, contrary to what Stanley Hawerwaus states, I do not think that the main problem in America is that people are taking the Bible too literally (see here). Fundamentalism, for example, does not take the whole of the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit uses seriously – literally! – enough (hear just one timely example in this one minute clip from Michael Horton).
Vishal Mangalwadi, in words completely at odds with the quote above, also means to be taken literally in this far-reaching and weighty statement:
By asking rhetorically, ‘Can God also become a dog?” Muslim apologists reduced man to the level of beasts. They followed the Greeks in putting limits on what God could or could not do. In contrast, the nominalists believed God was free – he was not limited by our presuppositions or by logical conclusions derived from our assumptions… we had to go beyond logic to observe what God had actually done…. Far from violating God’s dignity, the incarnation was to be the proof of man’s dignity: of the possibility of man’s salvation, of a man or a woman becoming a friend and child of God… The poet Petrarch used the incarnation as a central argument in developing Renaissance humanism… Except for Seneca (4 BC – AD 65), all the ancient Greek and Roman writers insisted on the absolute separation of divinity, leaving man in his misery, without remedy. Seneca alone believed that “God will come to men; no mind is good without God.” While Petrarch insisted on the infinite distance between man and God, he rejoiced that the distance had been bridged by the mystery of divine grace. His grace brought God close to man. It enabled him to lift man above his misery.
God’s descent means man’s ascent. Misery, helplessness, despondency, and eternal self-conflict are normal for men. They can be resolved because the transcendent can also become immanent – “Emmanuel,” that is, God with us. One who will wipe away ever tear and remove the curse of sin, including death. [Charles] Trinkaus[, in his In Our Image and Likeness: Humanity and Divinity in Italian Humanist Thought,] concluded that the incarnation of Christ ‘is one of the theological foundations of the humanists’ much-repeated theme of the dignity and excellence of man.” It reversed the traditional emphasis on human lowliness. Petrarch put it this way:
“Surely our God has come to us so that we might go to Him, and that same God of ours interacted with humanity when He lived among us ‘showing himself like a man in appearance.’… What an indescribable sacrament! To what higher end was humanity able to be raised than that of a human being, consisting of a rational soul and human flesh, a human being, exposed to mortal accidents, dangers, and needs, in brief, a true and perfect man, inexplicably assumed into one person with the Word, the Son of God, consubstantial with the Father and co-eternal with Him. To what higher end was humanity able to be raised that that this perfect man would join two natures in Himself by a wondrous union of totally disparate elements?”
Of course, the Renaissance writers quoted classical writers (more Romans than Greeks) to garnish their treaties on man. But they could not and did not derive their high view of man from the Greco-Roman worldview. It was the Bible’s vision of what man was created to be, and saved to become, that became the commonsense view in the West.”
At this point, Mangalwadi reflects on the story he began the chapter with, that is, he and his wife’s efforts to preserve the life a small Indian girl whose family was trying to kill her due to her poor health:
“It was this biblical view that inspired Ruth to try to save Sheela. Our neighbors did not understand her compassionate impulse because three thousand years of Hinduism, twenty-six hundred years of Buddhism, a thousand years of Islam, and a century of secularism had collectively failed to give them a convincing basis for recognizing and affirming the unique value of a human being.” (pp. 70-72, The Book that Made Your World)*
The things one thinks would be obvious. After all, there is a reason why even very secularized folks are hesitant to inform even older children of the reality of abortion, for example – it does not just have to do with “age appropriateness”.
Thomas Joseph White, O.P. has said that “Human freedom has to be understood ultimately in light of the mystery of God, the love of Christ, and the beauty of the natural law.” Of course notions of human freedom go hand in hand with the notion of human dignity so powerfully expressed above by Mangalwadi. And here, talk of “rights” does make some sense, but in this way: we as Christians, are those who are to be concerned about the rights of our neighbors – that God would give them in His goodness – precisely because we are our brother’s keeper. As Issues ETC. host Todd Wilken says in regards to politics and voting: “Vote for the other guy”. Our neighbor’s legitimate rights before God are to be very important to us.
(and going back to how I introduced this series this has nothing to do with our neighbor’s supposed right to be hired by our small business in spite of his or her sexual immorality).
So what are those legitimate rights – in light of what we have discussed so far, what should they really be? More on this tomorrow.
*More provocative claims from Mangalwadi:
“A postmodernist would be absolutely right in insisting that the Declaration of Independence was wrong. These ‘truths’ are not ‘self-evident’. Human equality is not self-evident anywhere in the world – not even in America. Equality was never self-evident to the Hindu sages. For them, inequality was self-evident. Their question was, why are human beings born unequal? Hinduism taught that the Creator made people different. The higher castes were made from his head, shoulders, and belly, and the lower castes were made from his feet. The law of karma accentuated these basic differences. The Buddha did not believe in the Creator, but he accepted the doctrine of karma as the metaphysical cause for the inequality of human beings….
Equality and human rights are not self-evident truths. In his original draft, Thomas Jefferson penned, ‘We hold these truths to be sacred and unalienable.” That was the truth. That is why the Declaration grounded the ‘unalienable’ rights in the Creator rather than in the state. The most honest declaration would have been, ‘We hold these truths to be divinely revealed.’ Revelation is the reason why America believed what some Deists ascribed to ‘common sense.’ To be precise, these truths appeared common sense to the American founders because their sense was shaped by the common impact of the Bible – even if a few of them doubted that the Bible was divinely revealed.” (391, 392)
I note here that Gregg Frazer, writing in a monograph about the founding fathers published by the University of Kansas Press, thinks very few of the founding fathers were actually Christians. On the other hand, he says that the category of “deist” also does not work for most of them either, as most of them believed in a present and active God (who intervened in history) and also allowed for the existence of some divine revelation, although they believed that all true revelation would be acceptable to human reason. He says that many of them also show evidence of believing that “all roads lead to God” – God has different names, but it is all the same… For these reasons, he says we need a new category: not deist, not Christian, but “theistic rationalist”. (note: not even a “rationalist theist”). Frazer argues that men like Jefferson and Adams really did believe themselves to be Christians because they actually did appreciate the moral teachings of Jesus. That is what they meant by “Christianity” (see here for an interview with the author and a somewhat critical review of the book here)
Image credits: Vishal (http://myfaithradio.com/authors/vishal-mangalwadi/)