Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Sacrifice? Could You Unpack That Please?

(Continued from here)

Well, where were we? Oh yes, I'm in the middle of a series examining the theological underpinings of Dom Gregory Dix's Shape of the Liturgy. To review:

I first noted that Dix sees the fundamental meaning of the Eucharist as something we do, as a sacrifice. Without that sacrificial underpinning, any acknowledgement of the Real Presence is ultimately meaningless.

I then took a brief tour around the world and concluded with a spiritual law: To receive the benefits of a blood sacrifice and membership in the community formed by the blood sacrifice, one ordinarily consumes the flesh of the sacrificial victim. Bloody offerings, unbloody offerings, and prayer and proper attitude are part of the human sacrificial system from the beginning with Cain and Abel, and to be part of it, the offerings have to be consumed. So yes, the Eucharist should have some link to sacrifice in it, since by we receive the benefits of Christ's sacrifice on the cross.

But before we go any further, we need to sort out what exactly kind of sacrifice we are talking about. And fortunately, this is an issue along which fairly clear lines have been drawn. The Catholic Encyclopedia has an excellent presentation (if really long) of the Catholic position, emphasizing the following points: the Eucharist has two separate functions: sacrament and sacrifice, which must be kept separate. The sacrament is received by the communicant with the intention of the sanctification of his soul, while the sacrifice is recieved by God (especially in His person as Father) with the intention of glorifying Him by adoration, thanksgiving, prayer, and expiation/propitiation. Note that last item. The sacrifice involved is propitiatory, that is expiates our sins and turns aside God's wrath from us as sinners.

The article then goes on to point a number of ways of understanding sacrifice that are inadequate, from the Roman Catholic viewpoint. Two points stand out. The sacrificial aspect must not be understood as

1) a "figurative or unreal" sacrifice, on the level with "prayers of praise and thanksgiving, alms, mortification, obedience, and works of penance."
2) or as taken place in the Offertory, that as the created gifts of bread and wine are offered to God by the church.

No, the sacrifice to be a truly expiatory sacrifice must be the bodily offering of Christ Himself. (The reason is fairly obvious, as on even the lowest view of sin, the mere offering of prayers of praise and thanksgiving, or of bread and wine to God could hardly be enough to expiate sins.)

From the Evangelical side, Philip Melanchthon's distinctions in his chapter on the Mass in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession used these same distinctions. (In fact, of course, most of the extremely subtle language in the Catholic Encyclopedia is Tridentine and post-Reformation.) The Mass as a sacrament (received by man for the good of his soul) is accepted, as a sacrifice (received by God for the expiation of sins) it is rejected. (Note that eventually Evangelicals began to use "Mass" for the Eucharist understood as an expiatory sacrifice; that is why the Smalcald articles denounce the "mass" while the Augsburg Confession accepts it--the understanding of the term is different.)

Melanchthon likewise distinguishes sacrament and sacrifice:
1) Sacrament: a ceremony or work in which God presents to us that which the promise annexed to the ceremony offers
2) Sacrifice: a ceremony or work which we render God in order to afford Him honor.

He then distinguishes between two types of sacrifice:
1) Propitiatory: one makes satisfaction for guilt and punishment, i.e., one that reconciles God, or appeases God's wrath, or which merits the remission of sins for others.
2) Eucharistic (i.e. thanksgiving): one rendered by those who have been reconciled, in order that we may give thanks or return gratitude for the remission of sins that has been received, or for other benefits received. It does not merit the remission of sins or reconciliation, but is the thanksgiving for the fruit thereof.

Melanchthon then defines the Evangelical position as follows:

1) The only true propitiatory sacrifice in the whole world has been that of Christ on the cross.
2) The Mass/Eucharist is rightly understood as a sacrifice only in the eucharistic sense, on the same level as "praise, . . . preaching of the Gospel, faith, prayer, thanksgiving, confession, [bearing] afflictions," etc.
3) This sense of the Eucharist as a thanksgiving is in addition to its efficacy as a sacrament, i.e. as God's promise forgiveness, the reception of which needs only faith.

While the idea of the offertory as a sacrifice is not mentioned by Melanchthon (the historic link of the offertory with the Eucharist had been heavily obscured by centuries of liturgical evolution by then), there is no reason why it could not be accepted as long as it is understood as a eucharistic sacrifice, not a propitiatory one. [UPDATE: Actually the idea of the offertory as the Eucharistic sacrifice is explicitly found in Martin Luther's Babylonian Captivity of the Church, as cited here. Undoubtedly Melanchthon was aware of this passage, even if he chose not to refer explicitly to it.]

Finally it is worth reemphasizing that Melanchthon and Luther both agree wholeheartedly with Dix that justification by faith alone and the evangelical understanding of the Gospel are flatly contradictory to any understanding of the eucharist as a propitiatory sacrifice whose merit can be applied to the living or the dead. They are, however, compatible with the understanding of the Eucharist as a eucharistic sacrifice, i.e. as an act of worship offered in thanksgiving. This eucharistic aspect is not so explicitly emphasized as the sacramental aspect, but it is well ensconced in the Augsburg Evangelical confessions, as well as in the current offertory hymns of our churches.

So one question is now, what the New Testament and early patristic evidence on this is: is the eucharist a propitiatory or eucharistic sacrifice? And can the understanding of the eucharist as a sacrament be coordinated in any sense with the sacrificial eating that seems demanded by the typology of the Old Testament, not to mention the expectations of humanity?

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Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Posts on Justification

The continuing debate about hard times in the ecumenical Protestant world and conversion to Catholicism has sparked three interesting posts on issues related to justification. First Contarini at Ithilien asks "Justification By Faith Alone: The Real Issue?" Despite his qualifications on the classic Evangelical teaching on imputation and monergy (his background is Methodist), he gets to the heart of the matter, which is what is faith? Is it merely historical knowledge about what happened in AD 30 in Judah, or is it trust and resting upon the news one has heard? Contarini, despite all his doubts and hesitations, lays out the true Evangelical faith. (The contrast with, for example, the maunderings of Ronald Knox on the salvation of those outside the church, is painful.)

At Pontifications, Father Kimel cites the Lutheran theologian David Yeago on the fundamentally antinomian cast given to the Law-Gospel distinction in modern ecumenical Protestant theology. Why is the Law bad for us? Because, said the old confessions, our corrupted flesh revolts against it, ever the harder the more it is imposed. Because, say the new confessions, laws are always bad, limiting, restrictive, cookie-cutter solutions to complex problems, Procrustean beds that lop off whole areas of ambiguity and paradox. ("I liked white better," said Gandalf.)

Justification is the issue, the Law Paul says deals death in Romans and Galatians is exactly the moral law, the faith that justifies is not just assent to facts but trust in the promise apart from the law, and the reason we need such a promise is because the good law is always weakened by our corrupt flesh.

Monday, August 29, 2005

The Image of God

A lot of bloggers have been commenting on the "human exhibit" at the London Zoo (nice posts here and here; here's a bizarre blog of one of the exhibits (hat-tip to the Corner). Christian bloggers have naturally pointed out the deliberate attempt to downplay the unique role of humanity in creation. . Lest anyone think these bloggers are expressing some parochial Christian idea, it is worth citing here Wang Daiyu, the Chinese Muslim who set out to express Islamic Sufi ideas in Chinese language -- which meant, given its influence on the language, in Confucian garb. Here he describes the role of man:

You should know that heaven, earth, and the ten thousand things -- the sun, the moon, and the stars -- were at root all set up to plant this one grain of true grace [zhen ci "true/real grant/favor/gift". This Wang Daiyu uses to translate Arabic iman "faith" since faith is God's gift to man]. Whoever does not have this true grace is as a mirror without light. If a mirror does not have light, how can it be a mirror? If heaven and earth did not have man, they would be a mirror-stand without a mirror. If a mirror stand does not have a mirror, what good is it?

This is enough to see that the creation of heaven, earth, and the ten thousand things is all for the sake of man.

The creation of men and spirits [ie. jinn, elves] is at root for the sake of receiving this ultimate treasure of true grace. If people clearly understood the honor and nobility of their own body and so surely obtain the ultimate treasure of the body [i.e. the resurrection], then they would know that this body reaches everywhere in heaven and earth. It subtly unites the definite [you] and the indefinite [wu], and nothing whatsoever is lacking from it. But unfortunately, people in the world abandon and throw aside the ultimate treasure of their own body without knowing how to be at ease within it (p. 67, with some alterations in terminology).

That to which man alone bears witness, in contrast to all other beings [i.e. to unique and transcendant reality of the Creator], is intimately connected to him because he is the fruit of the ten thousand things, the highest and the noblest, and he transcends the ten thousand condition. This [relationship with the Creator] is like the relationship between a beautiful woman and a mirror (p. 86).

Here we find a more subjective Neo-Confucian statement of the same theme:

Heaven is my father and Earth is my mother, and even such a small creature as I finds an intimate place in their midst. Therefore that which fills the universe I regard as amy body and that which directs the universe I consider as my nature . . . The prophet [sheng, which can also be translated as "lawgiver"] identifies his character with that of Heaven and Earth, and the wise man is the most outstanding man (p. 76).

One whose physical nature is excellent will be perfectly intelligent, the impure dregs in him will be completely transformed, and he can form one body with Heaven and Earth (p. 58)

Like the Muslim author, the Confucian writers see Man as summing up the cosmos. Where they fall short, Wang Daiyu points out, is in confusing this reality of the one Man, the Chief Servant, the prophet/lawgiver, with the ultimate one, the Real Lord or Unique One, that is, God.

The uniqueness of humanity then lies in our ability to "witness" that is to be conscious of God's creative act and the expression of the revelation of His nature in creation. Multiplicity is made to reveal the unity behind it, and the purpose of humanity as the conscious microcosm, the summing up of Heaven and Earth, is to know and reflect this letter that is the world revealing the glories of God. To this idea, the Christian first adds, that since the fall of Adam we have been incapable of doing so, losing even the idea of God and being perfectly capable of living without God. As the Augsburg Confession states:

Since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with concupiscence.

Philip Melanchthon explained this further in the Apology:

And Scripture testifies to this, when it says, Gen. 1, 27, that man was fashioned in the image and likeness of God. What else is this than that there were embodied in man such wisdom and righteousness as apprehended God, and in which God was reflected, i.e., to man there were given the gifts of the knowledge of God, the fear of God, confidence in God, and the like? (full text of this article here.)

Knowing God, and seeing Him in all creation, is the purpose of humanity. The ultimate prophet (zhi sheng) is the man Christ Jesus, who as Man received grace and glory to fulfill the destiny of our human nature.

This discussion highlights in what the image of God consists. To Melanchthon and the Lutheran confessions, the image of God consists first of all in the ability to know God. This knowledge is naturally absent in all people, yet it is the meaning of our lives. Hence for the Lutheran, the image of God has been lost in the fall. We were made in the image of God, but are born now in the image of fallen Adam, one capable of living all one's life with no knowledge of our Creator whatsoever. By contrast, in the Reformed and Catholic understandings of the fall, the image of God is more often seen as being our reason, our ability to think abstractly and exercise moral reasoning toward our fellow creatures. For then, then, the image of God in man is thus damaged but not destroyed, for such things are clearly inherent in human nature. The study of animals, however, is I think putting a great challenge to such a view of "reason" and regard for other creatures' feelings as a human monopoly. The higher mammals, especially the exemplary elephants and gorillas, seem to have these abilities in rudimentary form (orangutans, chimpanzees, and bonobos may have these abilities, but overall seem to have a revolting character). Yet since they are not in the image of God, such qualities, admirable as they are, are not His image.

The image of God is the ability to witness God in creation, not the ability to handle ourselves within creation. And without the deliverance of prophecy, that is revelation from God, whether it be the original sorrowful tale of his creation and fall told by Adam, the first prophet, to his children, or all the later prophets, in Israel and among the nations, we can have no way of knowing what it is we were created for. This is the common burden of all prophecy, against which the zoo-keepers in London have set their face.

Man that is in honor and understandeth not is like the beasts that perish.


Is and Ought

The last paragraph of the previous post touched on the issue of is and ought, the famous fact/value distinction. It also turned issues such as kinship reckoning that we are accustomed to see as culturally relative into issues where modern science can change our culture.

But neither of these "illicit moves" are really all that illicit. We learn that cigarettes are bad for you, and pretty much all of us draw the conclusion we ought not smoke them. We learn that red wine in moderation is good for you, and I for one have drawn the conclusion I ought to drink red wine moderately. Since food and drink are part of culture, scientific facts play a role in influencing culture. The middle term is the idea that health is good; deny that and the fact/value distinction again walls off the is of smoking's harms from the ought of quitting.

The same can occur in kinship. Before the advent of modern genetics, in societies that allowed divorce, it was common for a man to divorce a wife if she did not bear him a son. But what really put paid to this was the knowledge of the fact that the man determines the sex of the child; divorcing one's wife to secure a son is simply absurd. One might similarly argue that the essential identity in degree of genetic inheritance between a son and a daughter would eventually chip away at the idea that a daughter cannot possibly inherit (i.e. grandsons by a daughter and adopted son-in-law are just as genetically similar as those of a son and a daughter-in-law, so there is no genetic reason to prefer one's farm or business being inherited by the second as opposed to the first.) And as I argued, early genetic theories tended to postulate unbroken continuity between one generation and another in certain elements, such as the bone. A change in the beliefs about conception and heredity will result in a change in the morals of the family.

The middle term here is the idea that turns is into ought, is this:

One ought to reproduce something like one's self, seen a particular assemblage of 1) genes, 2) memes, e.g. cultural ideas, practices, and allegiances, 3) memberships, e.g. citizenship, religion, party affiliation, and 4) attached goods, i.e. things with cultural/emotional value.

Exactly how like? That is the question since identity is impossible; sexual reproduction means you get at most half of your genes in your child. And the process of marriage means that increasing identity in memes, memberships, and attached goods between one parent forces the other parent to lose some identity.

David M. Schneider in his American Kinship: A Cultural Account made exactly this point that since American culture sees kinship as natural and defined as biogenetic, then "If science discovers new facts about biogenetic relationship[s], then that is what kinship is and was all along, although it may not have been known at the time" (p. 23). As he points out, scientific facts may be controversial or denied, but in theory, scientific facts have cultural consequences. Or to put it differently, science and culture are not separate spheres, and Americans grant the science of genetics and sexual reproduction the power to shape their culture. Scientific is's are from the beginning expected to turn into ought's.

Schnieder plays this in a cultural direction; this is the way it is in American culture. His work with the Yap, who culturally assign essentially no role to the male seed in procreation, even in the 1970s when public school education spread the facts of genetics to all pupils, has certainly made him aware that not all cultures grant science this license to alter culture. But I wonder in the long run if any culture can sustain inheritance practices that go head-on against facts taught as scientific. Genetic theories will transform our ideas of family. Given the "fit" between American culture and much of current genetics this may not be disturbing to us, but it is worth noting.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Flesh of my flesh, bone of my bone . . .

Reading in 1 Samuel, I came across a reference to an interesting funerary custom which I had not noticed before.

After he was defeated at the battle of Gilboa by the Philistines, Saul 's body was mistreated by the victors:

They cut off his head, and stripped off his armor, and sent into the land of the Philistines round about, to publish it in the house of their idols, and among the people. And they put his armor in the house of Ashtaroth; and they fastened his body to the wall of Beth-Shan.

Beth-Shan was the Philistine's main fortress in the valley of Jezreel, one of the lowland cities which the Philistines dominated, while the Israelites held the hills.

And when the inhabitants of Jabesh Gilead heard of that which the Philistines had done to Saul, all the valiant men arose and went all night and took the body of Saul and the bodies of his sons from the wall of Beth-shan, and came to Jabesh and burnt them there. And they took their bones and buried them under a tree at Jabesh and fasted seven days. [1 Sam. 31:9-11; emphasis added]

Jabesh Gilead was a city in Trans-Jordan with a long connection to Saul's tribe of Benjamin (cf. Judges 21:8-12), and which Saul had long ago rescued from Ammonite siege (1 Samuel 11). It was very fitting that they loved him above all other cities in Israel.

Now as any resident of the Lutheran blogosphere will know, there has been a bit of a to-do about cremation (see posts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, all with long comment strings). But what interests me is that the bones were not burned, only the flesh. Or to put it differently, the aim of the burning was not to destroy the body utterly, but to remove the flesh. I find this interesting because it relates to a widespread belief in Eurasia about the origins of bones and flesh.

This belief, which is a really brilliant piece of observation and deduction, despite being wrong was based on the following observations:

1) The male seed is white
2) Bones are white
3) Menstruation produces blood
4) Except when a woman's period results in pregnancy

Put these facts together and you get the obvious conclusion:

In conception, the male seed merges with menstrual blood in the womb to produce a baby. The bones come from the father and the blood/flesh from the mother. If a male seed is not available, the blood that would have produced a baby is shed in menstruation.

Like I said, wrong, but brilliant given the information available.

The other side of this is what happens in death. The flesh rots first, falling off, and leaving only the bones. Given the theory, this means, the maternal side of one's body falls off first, leaving only one's paternal side. This interacts with the patrilineal descent system of most Eurasian peoples to produce a system of secondary burial. How so? Most Eurasian peoples have a legacy of viewing the dead as not really gone. The living's relationship with the dead person continues through cultic actions directed at the body. But, the facts of nature mean that that relationship continues only with the bones, that is the relatives in the male line. Only those with the same "bone" (which in Mongolian as yasu is also the root for words of lineage, clan, or ethnic group) can reverence/worship the dead bones. But by the same token, the dead body is best worshipped only after the bones fall off. Death and mourning separates the departed loved one. But only after the flesh has been cleaned off (by time, by fire, by exposure) can the bones be collected and the dead man be treated as a purely patrilineal ancestor (paternal bones, and no maternal flesh). This collection of the bones is called secondary burial.

The Israelite family was seen as father, mother, their sons, daughters-in-law, unmarried daughters, and slaves (e.g. Lev. 21:1-3). The mother became a full member of the patrilineage into which she married when she gave birth to a son; in other words, a woman belonged to the family fundamentally as the mother of a patrilineage member, not as the wife of the patrilineage member; this is particularly clear in Lev. 22:10-13. This patrilineage was a continuing corporation holding land that ideally was initially shared out to the family's ancestor in the sharing of the land after the conquest of Canaan (Lev. 25, Nu. 36, esp. vv. 7-9; 1 Kings 21, etc.). In the land of Israel during the Middle-Late Bronze Ages and the Iron Age, burial of family members was usually in a communal cave on the ancestral property (the classic case is the cave of Machpelah in Gen. 23). The body would be placed there after death, then after a period of time, the bones would be collected and placed in a niche in the cave. It was this process of "gathering [the deceased] to his people" that constituted full treatment of the dead, not just one-time burial. This is what Jeremiah meant when he declaimed

And those pierced by the LORD on that day shall extend from one end of the earth to the other. They shall not be lamented, or gathered, or buried; they shall be dung on the surface of the ground.

"Lamented" is the initial burial process, while "gathered or buried" refers to this secondary burial. Going back to the case of Saul, the men of Jabesh Gilead probably were worried about some Philistine effort to desecrate his remains and wished to get him into the "fully buried" state as rapidly as possible, and so burned off the flesh. Similar forms of secondary reburial of the bones alone are widespread, being found in China, Mongolia, and elsewhere. Northern Eurasian hunting peoples return the bones of honored game, especially the bear, to the forest; the bones serve as the essential (patrilineal) part of the animal and returning them to forest keeps the animal's "bone/patrilineage" from being cut off (you can see this reflected in chapter 47 of the great Finnish epic Kalevala, on the bear hunt).

By contrast in the Late Bronze Age (probably the period of the early Judges) , the lowland peoples of Palestine abandoned the communal cave graves and adopted individual pit burials, often with anthropomorphic coffins and indications of embalming. Archeologists belief that this shows the influence of Egyptian ideas of personal bodily immortality beyond the grave, replacing the idea of the ancestors being transformed into patrilineal, communal ancestors. The quality of grave gifts indicates that the plains dwellers were also considerably richer than the upland proto-Israelites under their judges. (This data from Amnon Ben Tor's Archeology of Ancient Israel)

What's the significance of this? Writers in "Biblical politics" contrast the Israelites as a poor, communal society with the wealthy individualists of the Philistine/Canaanite plains. Only relatively late in the monarchy did the Israelites move toward individual tombs as monuments to their owner: Isaiah excoriates one such pioneer in conspicuous defunction, Shebna, in Is. 22:14-16. One may wonder whether it is really appropriate to abstract vague "communal" values from the specific type of community, a collective-property owning patriclan. Is the message that Christians should fight for reorganizing our lives on the basis of communal, egalitarian values? Or for reorganizing our lives on the basis of property-holding patriclans with communal graves? (If you think the first is a dog, try selling the second as the cure for America's ills!)

But one also has to recognize that the bone and flesh dichotomy, despite its long reign from prehistory, is now defunct. Modern genetics teaches us that the only thing we get solely from our mothers is a measly 20-30 genes on our mitochondria, and the variable X chronosome set, and the only thing solely from our fathers is our Y chromosomes, including not much more genes than the mitochondrial set. And thus no significant part of our bodies is simply transmitted from father to son (or mother to daughter). It's all scrambled anew, making each of us unique (and even twins end up having different personalities and interests.) So, although sociological data is confirming the crucial role of fathers in passing on culture/religion, thus confirming the utility of a moderate patrilineal bias, the is of modern genetics argues strongly for the ought of linking families not into rigid patrilineages travelling unchanged through time (the old Eurasian model), but in nuclear or stem families linked by a cognatic web of affiliations to both husband's and wife's family, and in which identity and family roles are passed on to either son and daughter-in-law or to daughter and son-in-law. Such families existed in Japan and Korea, before the Confucianists got hold of them and transformed Korea, at least, into a rigidly patrilineal, patrilocal society (the story of this most amazing piece of social engineering in all time is here.) Fortunately the Japanese resisted this excessively rigid Confucianization. And in Europe, German and Slavic clans broke down in the Middle Ages, leaving this basically cognatic system, with a slight patrilineal bias, in place by the time of the colonization of America.

Thus ironically the old phrase in the beginning of Genesis: "a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh" makes more sense in a neolocal cognatic family than in Israel's patrilineal, patrilineal families.

Terms: neolocal "new place": new couple takes residence in a separate house.
patrilocal "father place": new couple takes residence in the groom's father's house.
cognatic: descent/inheritance reckonable in either line according to circumstances.
patrilineal: descent/inheritance reckoned strictly in the father's line.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

A Different Kind of Empire

One of the common assertions of writers on "Biblical politics" (a pretty good example here) is that all world history is a struggle between the humble poor of Israel vs. the whore of Babylon, the spiritual Egypt and we (the United States or the industrialized West) are the bad guys in the scenario. And indeed this has a lot of Biblical evidence to make it look pretty plausible. In the Old Testament, the small and weak nation of Israel is oppressed first by the Pharoah of Egypt, then by Assyria, then by Babylon, on into the Greeks and Romans. At the same time, the commercial city-states next to Israel, Tyre and Sidon, are compared to prostitutes corrupting the nations of the earth with their luxuries. See that pattern enough and you start to assume the world power is always setting itself up for well-merited destruction.

The book of Daniel is the locus classicus here. In the book of Daniel, chapters 2 and 7, we see the power of the empires, summed up as four metals and four beasts: gold/a lion (Babylon), silver/a bear (Perso-Median empire; the three ribs are her conquests of Lydia, Babylon, and Egypt; the bear has a hump because the Persians prevailed over the Medes), bronze/a leopard (Greece; the four wings and heads are Ptolemey, Seleucus, Antigonus, and Lysimachus who divided up Alexander’s empire), and iron/a ten-horned beast (Rome). In the book of Revelation, this prophetic denunciation is recapitulated and summed up as the beast from the sea (the Roman empire as the sum of all empires), the beast out of the earth (the priests of the deified Caesar as the sum of all idolatry), and the whore of Babylon (the wealth of Rome as the sum of all commercial wealth). All persecute the church and Israel, but the beast will attack and plunder the whore (the earliest precursor of this being Nebuchadnezzar attacking Tyre in Ezekiel 26-28), before being thrown with the false prophet into the lake of fire at the end of time.

So it is easy enough on Biblical grounds to divide the world into two sorts of states: the weak and poor on the one hand, and the possessors of political and commercial power on the other. The former are the godly good guys, the latter are the idolatrous oppressors. Everything neat and tidy.

However, in the Bible's actual history books, there is another kind of empire in Israel’s history. The Persian empire began with Cyrus being moved by the Lord to proclaim liberty to Israel. This is what Cyrus king of Persia says in his decree:

YHWH, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you -- may YHWH his God be with him and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of YHWH, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. And the people of any place where survivors may now be living are to provide him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem. (2 Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1:2-4).

Cyrus proceeded to return all the articles belonging to the temple and entrust them to Sheshbazzar. It is not surprising that Isaiah prophesied about Cyrus in these words:

He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid (44:28) . . . Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates; and the gates shall not be shut; ‘I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight: I will break in pieces the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the bars of iron and I will give thee the treasures of darkness, and hidden riches of secret places, that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant's sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. . . . I have raised [Cyrus] up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the LORD of hosts. (45:1-13)

That God works through empires who knew Him not is nothing new; Assyria was God’s rod to punish Israel (Is. 10:5ff.) and Babylon was His agent as well (Jer. 27, among many others). What is striking here is that: 1) God works mercy through a conquering empire, not wrath, and 2) that God gives no sign of any plan to rebuke the instrument of His mercy.

This strongly "pro-Persian" impression is only strengthened in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Yes, the exiles have problems in Ezra 4-6, but the provocateurs are the "peoples of the land," the melange of Levantine neighbors, fooling Darius, Xerxes, and Artaxerxes with false reports about the Jews. Eventually in Artaxerxes’s reign, first Ezra and then Nehemiah are granted high privileges, including rich gifts from the king’s treasury to the "God of heaven," immunity from taxation, and jurisdiction for the Jerusalem priesthood over all Jews (Ezra 7:17-26; 8:25-27) and an armed escort and permission and timbers to rebuild the city wall and gates for Nehemiah (2:7-9). In Nehemiah, the Jewish leader and the Persian king have a particularly close relationship. While Nehemiah is frightened when Artaxerxes accuses him of being sad at court (all those at court were supposed to be have glad faces to cheer up the king), Artaxerxes responds in a kindly and generous manner when Nehemiah tells him that it’s the troubles of Zion that have got him down (Neh. 2: 1-9).

Even more striking is the religious relationship clearly at work between these religious Jews and the Zoroastrian Persian kings. The two sides find common ground in acknowledging the authority of the "God of Heaven", used by Cyrus (Ezra 1:2), Darius (Ezra 6:9-10), Artaxerxes (Ezra 7:12, 21, 23), whose authority the Persian king himself accepts (see esp. Ezra 7:23). When speaking to the Persians, Ezra and Nehemiah and the other Jews themselves used this otherwise not particularly common epithet for their God YHWH (Ezra 5:12, 6:9, Neh. 1:4-5, 2:4, 20; cf. Daniel 2, and Jonah 1:9). Artaxerxes was evidently impressed by Ezra’s confident of the God of Heaven’s protection for the Jews (Ezra 8:22-23), although Nehemiah didn’t take such chances (Neh. 2:9). Darius expected the temple in Jerusalem to offer prayer for the king and his sons (Ezra 6:9-10) and Artaxerxes worried that interrupting this sacrifice might put the kingdom at risk of divine wrath (Ezra 7:23). Knowing as we do, that the Persian monarchy espoused Zoroastrianism and looked to Ahura Mazda as their all-powerful protector, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion not only that the Persian kings identified YHWH with Ahura Mazda, using the neutral term "God of Heaven", but that Ezra and Nehemiah were at any not at pains to disabuse the Persian monarchs of this notion. Receiving Artaxerxes’s edict that he will in fact pay for the daily sacrifices at the temple in exchange for prayers for his kingdom, Ezra exclaims:

Blessed be the LORD God of our fathers, which hath put such a thing as this in the king's heart, to beautify the house of the LORD which is in Jerusalem (7:27).

Finally, there is a massive bit of negative evidence. Not a single prophet writing before the fall of the Persian empire announces any doom to Persia. No blessing of those who dash her brats against the wall, no celebratory cry of "fallen, fallen is Persia the Great!", no forcing of the Medes and Persians to drink the wine of God’s wrath, no exultation that even now God’s whistles for Macedonians and summons them from the west and render Susa desolate, a haunt for jackals and owls. Nothing like that at all in Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, the three literary prophets of the Persian era.

If the Jews from 535 to 325 BC loved Persia and her kings so much, why has that made such little impact on searchers for "Biblical politics"? I would submit that it is the effect of the still Greek-centered view of the ancient Near East. In Greece, the Persian kings were the very emblem of despotism, who dragged all of Asia out to attack the Greek city states, who only barely rescued themselves in 480 BC (cf. Daniel 11:2). Readers from the Hellenistic era to today bred on tales of Leonidas heroically dying at Thermopylae for liberty and law as he battles the endless ranks of Persia’s degraded slave soldiers serving the mad whims of a luxurious despot would hardly be receptive to the favorable portrait of Persia seen in Ezra, Nehemiah, and Isaiah. That the Persian empire is, above all others, rightly despised by God's people as an oriental despotism would seem only axiomatic.

But then the Jews had their own issues with the Greeks. Back in the time of the divided kingdom, before the Persians had ever appeared, the Lord spoke through Joel about them, charging the nations:

They have cast lots for my people; and have given a boy for an harlot, and sold a girl for wine, that they might drink. Yea, and what have ye to do with me, O Tyre, and Sidon, and all the coasts of Palestine? will ye render me a recompence? and if ye recompense me, swiftly and speedily will I return your recompence upon your own head; Because ye have taken my silver and my gold, and have carried into your temples my goodly pleasant things: The children also of Judah and the children of Jerusalem have ye sold unto the Greeks, that ye might remove them far from their border.

This accusation of the Greeks as above all slavers trafficking in human flesh continues in Ezekiel 27. Denouncing Tyre, the Lord speaks through him (vv. 13-19):

Greece, Tubal, and Meshech [two peoples in eastern Anatolia], they were thy merchants: they traded the persons of men and vessels of brass in thy market. . . . Dan also and Greece going to and fro occupied in thy fairs: bright iron, cassia, and calamus, were in thy market. (The word translated Greece here, Javan, is the Hebrew form of Ionia, the main sub-ethnic group of Greeks in Anatolia and the islands).

And in the time of the Persian empire, Zechariah made it clear where Judah stood in the emerging Greco-Persian dispute, as he looked forward to a great day (9:13):

When I have bent Judah for me, filled the bow with Ephraim, and raised up thy sons, O Zion, against thy sons, O Greece, and made thee as the sword of a mighty man.

Greek hatred of Persia influences our reading of the Bible to this day. In a Bible study on Esther at our church, the study guide made much of the Persian monarch as a lecherous and despotic tyrant. At key points, the study guide quoted the Greek historian Herodotus’s famous legends about Xerxes, flogging the waters of the Hellespont for daring to make waves that overthrew his pontoon bridge for example. (A Persianist colleague of mine laments how this legend still colors his students' attitude to anything Iranian.) This same effort by Hellenistic Jews to darken his reputation can be seen in comparing the Apocryphal additions to Esther to the original text.

Here is the original description of Esther’s climactic meeting with the Persian monarch (chapter 5:1ff):

On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king's hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance. When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. Then the king asked, "What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you."

Despite all previous her fears that in coming without being summoned she risks the king’s displeasure, the king is instantly kind and affable, willing from the first to give her what she wants. The parallel with Nehemiah 2 is close; the servant's fear of the king's wrath proves groundless. Note too that the description of her appearance is quite restrained; no effort to heighten her erotic attractions is alluded to. She wears the royal robes appropriate to her status and that is all.

Here by contrast is the Greek version, edited by Jews soaked in the Hellenistic environment of contempt for Persia and all things Persian that followed Alexander’s vengeful conquest of the Persian empire (chap. 15):

And upon the third day, when she had ended her prayers, she laid away her mourning garments, and put on her glorious apparel. And being gloriously adorned, after she had called upon God, who is the beholder and saviour of all things, she took two maids with her: And upon the one she leaned, as carrying herself daintily and the other followed, bearing up her train. And she was ruddy through the perfection of her beauty, and her countenance was cheerful and very amiable: but her heart was in anguish for fear. Then having passed through all the doors, she stood before the king, who sat upon his royal throne, and was clothed with all his robes of majesty, all glittering with gold and precious stones; and he was very dreadful. Then lifting up his countenance that shone with majesty, he looked very fiercely upon her: and the queen fell down, and was pale, and fainted, and bowed herself upon the head of the maid that went before her. Then God changed the spirit of the king into mildness, who in a fear leaped from his throne, and took her in his arms, till she came to herself again, and comforted her with loving words and said unto her, "Esther, what is the matter? I am thy brother, be of good cheer: Thou shalt not die, though our our commandment be general: come near. And so be held up his golden sceptre, and laid it upon her neck, And embraced her, and said, Speak unto me. Then said she unto him, I saw thee, my lord, as an angel of God, and my heart was troubled for fear of thy majesty. For wonderful art thou, lord, and thy countenance is full of grace. And as she was speaking, she fell down for faintness. Then the king was troubled, and all his servants comforted her.

Every trope of "oriental despotism" is brought in: the erotic as the only way to the heart of the tyrant ("carrying herself daintily . . . ruddy through perfection of her beauty"), the tyrant’s luxury ("all glittering with gold and precious stones"), his immediate tendency to irrational and capricious anger ("he looked very fiercely upon her"), the degradation of the subjects in court ceremonial ("he laid the sceptre on her neck").

One need not add here the various later and of course completely groundless Midrashic elaborations, such as that Xerxes sought to have Vashti come to his feasting wearing only a crown (cf. Esther 1:11; a version illustrated in this Jewish comic book here; hat tip to Dissonant Bible, whose take on the Persian monarch I obviously disagree with). One can simply say, back at the time when the Jews had to actually live under the Persians they viewed things very differently.

So where does that leave us?

1) Not every world power is an oppressive empire in the Bible. World powers can liberate, as well as enslave. The decrees of world-straddling superpowers can be animated by God’s mercy as well as His wrath.

2) Ezra and Nehemiah, like the prophet Jonah (cf. 1:9 and passim), without falling into universalism, found a way to communicate with men of different religions in a way that acknowledged some common understanding of the "God of the heavens" as the creator, who seats and deposes every monarch and through them shows wrath and mercy in proportion.

3) Tiny little ethnic groups in some dump of a country disliked by all their neighbors for their nutty religious customs can be won over by even small acts of kindness and mercy. And one can never tell exactly which one of those tiny little parochial people with strange food laws will write the books that writers will be commenting on in some unimaginable communication medium two and a half millenia from now.

4) Yet relations between the "little people" and the empire are always three-cornered: the "little people" and their traditional neighbors/enemies competing for the favor of the imperial nation. In this game, every one's ultimate loyalty is to their own people. Yes, affection can subsist, but it is fragile and easily derailed when the "other guys" get the ear of the imperial nation's leaders (cf. Tattenai in Ezra, Sanballat and Tobijah in Nehemiah, and Haman in Esther).

3) Finally, even with all the good done by the Persian kings to the people of God, that good was easily forgotten and their names blackened and slandered once the Persian kings had been overthrown by the new masters of the hour. The evil that men do, or even didn’t do, lives after them; the good is oft interred with their bones.

If America is the new world empire, all of these lessons are worth remembering.

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"Safe Treyf"

What is it with formerly revivalist (a.k.a. generic evangelicals) Lutherans and drinking stories? Maybe it's enjoying the happiness of finding "safe treyf". Safe what? Well, read this wonderful piece of food criticism/cultural history here, and you'll see what I mean.

OK, so you didn't read it and you want me to summarize? Here goes: Basically it starts off with another question: What is it with secular New York Jews and Chinese food? Why are they so crazy about it (I mean apart from the obvious reason why everyone else is crazy about food that is cheap and usually pretty good)? Well, George Tuchman and Harry Levine go on to explain in a brilliant and affectionate essay, Chinese is food is treyf (that is, unclean, not kosher) but in ways that are safe. The food rules for Jews focus on no forbidden meats (pork, shrimp, lobster, etc.) and no milk with meat. Secular and Reform Jews rebelled against these rules, but "a culture spawns the terms of its own rejection":

Rebels can disavow the strictures of a food-oriented culture by eating forbidden food. But a food-oriented rebellion cannot be accomplished with just any forbidden substance. It cannot be food that looks so like prohibited fare that it automatically triggers revulsion, nor can it be food that requires some expertise to eat (such as a whole lobster).

Chinese food fits the bill perfectly. Full of pork and shrimp, it's all nicely shredded so your head knows it's deliciously forbidden, but your gut can't tell. And no cheese or other dairy products. And unlike the local Italian restaurants there were no crucifixes, Jesuses, Marys or saints to remind them that they are a religious minority in a Christian society. Cosmopolitan, without being Christian - - that's the ticket!

So that's what it is with pietists gone Lutheran and drinking beer. It's a sign that I'm not in the revivalist ghetto any more, but one that doesn't trigger the revulsion that real treyf would - - you know, one night stands, blaspheming God, or voting for Howard Dean. It's safe treyf. Which is great. Jeremy and I were talking at lunch about some of the kids (not all, some) you find coming out of Christian schools. What's their problem? We agreed that it's that they never had any safe treyf; something that's outside their culture without being outside their real morals, like some long haired junior high teacher in Social Studies who assigns Howard Zinn to a class of young conservatives, "to see the other side." Safe treyf - - if you don't have some, get some!

So drink away, guys! Just make sure your wives drive you home!

Saturday, August 20, 2005

That's What I Love About Sunday

Anyone who listens to country radio at all regularly will be familiar with this song sung by Craig Morgan. Take away some of the more obviously Southern Baptist references, and the sentimental cliches conventions of the country music genre (I have neither a front porch, nor a swing on it, and the few times I've gone fishing, I used a pole of fiberglass, not cane), and I feel quite the same about this blessed day.

Others might prefer George Herbert:

O Day most calm, most bright
The fruit of this, the next world's bud,
Th'indorsement of supreme delight,
Writ by a friend, and with his blood;
The couch of time; care's balm and bay:
The week were ever dark, but for thy light:
Thy torch doth show the way

Sunday observance and the doctrine that Sunday in the New Covenant replaces or fulfills the holiness of the sabbath in the Old Testament has long been associated with the Reformed. Less commonly understood is that the Catholic church as well takes Sunday as a replacement/fulfillment of the Jewish sabbath, and a required day of rest, although in a less rigorous fashion. By contrast, Lutheran churches, as found in the LCMS's 1932 statement of faith, treat it as not a divine ordinance but a church ritual, and explicitly dissociate it from any connection with the Jewish sabbath:

We teach that in the New Testament God has abrogated the Sabbath and all the holy days prescribed for the Church of the Old Covenant, so that neither "the keeping of the Sabbath nor any other day" nor the observance of at least one specific day of the seven days of the week is ordained or commanded by God, Col. 2:16; Rom. 14:5 (Augsburg Confession, Triglot, p. 91, Paragraphs 51-60; M., p. 66).

The observance of Sunday and other church festivals is an ordinance of the Church, made by virtue of Christian liberty. (Augsburg Confession, Triglot, p. 91, Paragraphs 51-53, 60; M., p. 66; Large Catechism, Triglot, p. 603, Paragraphs 83, 85, 89, M., p. 401.) Hence Christians should not regard such ordinances as ordained by God and binding upon the conscience, Col. 2:16; Gal. 4:10. However, for the sake of Christian love and peace they should willingly observe them, Rom. 14:13; 1 Cor. 14:40. (Augsburg Confession, Triglot, p. 91, Paragraphs 53-56; M., p. 67.)

Indeed that same statement of faith specifically anathemized sabbatarianism and premillenialism as especially unacceptable:

Not to be included in the number of open questions are the following: the doctrine of the Church and the Ministry, of Sunday, of Chiliasm, and of Antichrist, these doctrines being clearly defined in Scripture.

When I first became a Christian, it was in large part through reading Puritan writings that I encountered in studying family history. The English Pilgrims and Puritans abandoned all the rest of the Christian church calendar in exchange for a particularly strict observance of Sunday. Cotton Mather, in telling the story of how the Pilgrims were disatisfied with living among the Dutch emphasized:

[The Pilgrims] could not with ten years' endeavor bring their [Dutch] neighbors particularly to any suitable observance of the Lord's Day; without which they knew that all practical religion must wither miserably.

The catechism of the Catholic church makes a remarkably similar (mutatis mutandis) argument as to Sunday being the practical foundation of church life:

The Sunday Eucharist is the foundation and confirmation of all Christian practice. For this reason the faithful are obliged to participate in the Eucharist on days of obligation, unless excused for a serious reason (for example, illness, the care of infants) or dispensed by their own pastor. Those who deliberately fail in this obligation commit a grave sin.

The question of Sunday became, however, the first area on which I became convinced that the Reformed churches were clearly and dramatically in error.

First of all there's the terminology issue: nowhere is Sunday referred in the New Testament to as the "Sabbath"; instead the sabbath is Saturday, what the Jews do (Colossians 2:16), and Sunday is the Lord's Day (Rev. 1:10). The very use of "sabbath" for Sunday is something I would eliminate if I could; the Romance languages and Russian have a better wall against this distortion: Latin dominica ("Lord's Day") > Spanish domingo, French dimanche, or else Russsian voskresenie ("Resurrection") for Sunday and Spanish sabado and Russian subbota "Sabbath" for Saturday.

And while Christian worship is always on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:2), i.e. Sunday, nowhere is abstention from work mentioned. Indeed the tendency to place Sunday worship in the wee hours of the morning may well be related to the need to go out and work later that day. Jewish Christians may abstain from work on Saturday but they must not make it a rule for Gentile Christians (Romans 14:6). Indeed our Lord seems to have had considerable trouble from strict sabbatarians, and appears to have relativized its observance almost out of existence (Mark 2:23-28).

Let's not mention the long discussion of the Sabbath in the Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 4, which as the Apostle does in Colossians, interprets it entirely in an eschatological sense: the sabbath rest is a type of the rest to come:

For He has said somewhere concerning the seventh day: "AND GOD RESTED ON THE SEVENTH DAY FROM ALL HIS WORKS"; and again in this passage, "THEY SHALL NOT ENTER MY REST." Therefore, since it remains for some to enter it, and those who formerly had good news preached to them failed to enter because of disobedience, He again fixes a certain day, "Today," saying through David after so long a time just as has been said before, "TODAY IF YOU HEAR HIS VOICE, DO NOT HARDEN YOUR HEARTS." For if Joshua had given them rest, He would not have spoken of another day after that. So there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God. For the one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works, as God did from His. Therefore let us be diligent to enter that rest, so that no one will fall, through following the same example of disobedience. (NASB; note that the King James translates "sabbath rest" - - Gr. sabbatismos - - as simply "rest"; evidently sabbatarianism prevailed over their scholarship).

Section 15 of the Epistle to Barnabas (actually an anonymous letter of the late first or early second century later ascribed by tradition to that apostle) pursues the same argument at more length:

Furthermore it was written concerning the Sabbath in the ten words which He spake on Mount Sinai face to face with Moses. "Sanctify also the Sabbath of the Lord with pure hands and a pure heart." And in another place he says, "If My sons keep the Sabbath, then I will bestow My mercy on them." He speaks of the Sabbath at the beginning of the Creation, "And God made in six days the works of His hands and on the seventh day He made an end, and rested in it and sanctified it." Notice, children, what is the meaning of "He made an end in six days"? He means this: that the Lord will make an end of everything in six thousand years, for a day with Him means a thousand years. And He Himself is my witness when He says, "Lo, the day of the Lord shall be as a thousand years." So then, children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, everything will be completed. "And He rested on the seventh day." This means, when His Son comes He will destroy the time of the wicked one, and will judge the godless, and will change the sun and the moon and the stars, and then He will truly rest on the seventh day. Furthermore he says, "Thou shalt sanctify it with clean hands and a pure heart." If, then, anyone has at present the power to keep holy the day which God has made holy, by being pure at heart, we are altogether deceived. See that we shall indeed keep it holy at that time, when we enjoy true rest, when we shall be able to do so because we have been made righteous ourselves and have received the promise, when there is no more sin, but all things have been made new by the Lord: then we shall be able to keep it holy because we ourselves have first been made holy. [emphasis added] Furthermore He says to them, "Your new moons and the sabbaths I cannot away with." Do you see what He means? The present sabbaths [NB: Jewish Saturdays] are not acceptable to Me, but that which I have made, in which I will give rest to all things and make the beginning of an eighth day, that is the beginning of another world. Wherefore we also celebrate with gladness the eighth day in which Jesus also rose from the dead, and was made manifest, and ascended into Heaven.

This passage is truly remarkable, not least for the connection made between sabbatarianism and a legalistic view of holiness. One may celebrate on Sunday the work which God did in Christ, but we cannot consecrate any day with heart-holiness.

Finally, there is the resounding silence on any abstention from work on Sunday. Surely living amongst pagans, the attempt of slaves, say, to avoid working on Sunday or matrons to avoid doing housework would have been a flash-point of conflict with their non-Christian family members. Given the nature of the case, it became simply unbelievable to me that either Jesus or the apostles actually taught an observance of Sunday as a sabbath on which to abstain from work, or taught any connection between their Sunday worship and the Jewish sabbath. At the time when I came to this conclusion I was still, albeit painfully, attempting to observe Sunday as a sabbath. The Reformed books on the topic, such as Call the Sabbath a Delight, made no attempt to argue that the apostles actually taught their doctrine. Rather they worked from prophetic passages (such as Isaiah 58:13 and 56:4-6) and argued that if the Bible is read as a close secret code one can apply rules to such passages to generate a somewhat literal sabbath observance. Such arguments are simply unbelievable to me now. Typology cannot be used to create doctrines that Jesus and the apostles never made. Nor can I, like the Catholics, say that Sunday as a creation by the church, is even so a day whose observance is binding on my conscience at the penalty of grave sin. The Lutheran churches alone teach about Sunday what Jesus and the apostles taught.

But I still call Sunday a delight. And Cotton Mather is not entirely wrong in saying Sunday-observance is the foundation of all practical holiness. As a matter of mercy, a legislated day of rest is a great blessing to workers everywhere. And the worship of God on the day when His Son rose from the dead is likewise most fitting. Tomorrow, after church I won't be going into the office and I won't be reading books and looking at papers for my work. I will be reading Scripture and Christian works and spending time with my family. That's what I love about Sunday, but I will never forget that my real rest will come only in the new heaven and earth.

UPDATE: I've moved the update to a new post here.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Confucian Puritans

By the way, don't get the idea from the post below that the Confucians (as exemplified by Zhu Xi - - old spelling Chu Hsi) are strongly sacramentalist. In fact they rather resemble Anglican evangelicals, in having strong ritual forms yet insisting that the value of the forms lies solely in stimulating proper thoughts within the participants and audience.

As the preface to the section on sacrifice in Chu Hsi's Family Rituals says:

The essential part of sacrifices is to fulfill sincere feelings of love and respect. Therefore, before performing the rites the poor should evaluate their resources and the ill their energy. Naturally, those with the wealth and strength to conform to the rites should do so (p. 153).

As Confucius said, the gentleman sacrifices to the ancestral spirits as if they were present. Whether spirits are real, or only projections necessary to externalize for the simple certain ritual principles, is a question on which Confucians vacillated endlessly.

This Confucian opposition to ritual activity is seen in a wonderful way in the biography of part Uighur-part Kitan Confucian scholar Lian Xixian, whose life mission was to make his sovereign Qubilai Khan a true Confucian monarch. When Qubilai Khan at the behest of the Tibetan monk 'Phags-pa (pronounced Pagba) Lama,

His Majesty ordered Xixian to fast for the State Preceptor ['Phags-pa] but Xixian replied, "Your servant has already vowed Confucius’s fast." His Majesty said, "Does Confucius have a fast too?" He replied, "He who is a minister must be loyal, and he who is a son must be filial—this is the fasting of the Confucian sect. That is all there is."

Rituals must give way to morals, as Matthew Henry said -- and no Puritan exemplified that principle better than Lian Xixian who risked his career and even at times his life to make Mongol rule in China fit the highest standards of ethical behavior.

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Why Do We Need to Eat Christ's Body?

Continued from here.

A common Reformed/revivalist response to the Augsburg Evangelical (Lutheran) understanding of the Real Presence is to ask "Why isn't a symbolic understanding of Jesus's statement 'This is My Body' sufficient?" To which the usual Evangelical answer is: "Because that's not what Jesus meant!" Fine enough; I agree. But despite that agreement, I think more is needed. As when people ask about women's ordination, a simple "God said so, so shut up!" answer is not enough. You've got to give a reason (I've made this point before.)

Which brings us back to Dix. As I said in my previous post, he says the Real Presence plays no role in Luther's Evangelical theology. Why? Because, he claims, justification by faith alone deprived it of any role, by removing the idea of a sacrificial meaning to the Mass/Eucharist. In other words the real presence is a meaningless theological doodad unless there it is part of a sacrificial action.

Although I think this is wrong, there is indeed an element of truth here. Why indeed do we need to eat Jesus's real Body and drink His real Blood, the same one that died and was shed for us on the cross? Human consensus supplies an answer: because one receives the benefit of a bloody sacrifice only when one eats the meat of the sacrificial victim.

Look at the rules for sacrifice given in Chu Hsi's Family Rituals, pp. 153-177. An essential part of all the meals is the consumption by the family of the foods offered to the ancestor. The food of the sacrifice is distributed to the congregants with these words:

The ancestors instruct me, the liturgist, to pass on abundant good luck to you filial descendants and calls you, filial descendants, to approach and receive riches from Heaven, have good harvest from the fields, and live a long life forever, without interruption (p. 164).

And in Mongolian, the word keshig which in other contexts means "the unmerited favor shown by a superior to an inferior," especially the favor of the emperor, the reception of which sends the loyal servant into transports of delight, means in other contexts the share of meat in a sacrifice, the reception of which confirms one's receipt of the benefits of the sacrifice and the membership in the congregation worshiping the deity or spirit concerned. As in a famous passage from the Secret History of the Mongols, when Genghis Khan's widowed mother is excluded from the sacrifice on the pretext that she arrived late (but really because rival queens wish to seize rule for their branch of the ruling family), she complains

How dare you leave me out from the grace/sacrificial meat (keshig) of the ancestors, from the reserved meat (bile'ür) and the sacrificial liquor (sarqud), thinking only that Yisugei Ba'atur [her late husband] has died and my sons have not yet grown big?

Today, among the Buddhist Mongols, blood sacrifices have fallen out of favor, but they are still practiced in the ancient cult of Genghis Khan. Owen Lattimore described Mongols rushing forward to receive their share of the sacrificial meat being distributed at one of the four annual sacrifices.

So if we assume this as a general principle of sacrifice, then we have a perfectly good answer to the Reformed question, "Why do we have to eat the Body and drink the Blood of Jesus?" The answer is "Because He is our sacrificial victim and in line with the universal human knowledge about sacrificial victims, one must eat of it to receive the unmerited grace of the sacrifice."

Now at this point, the Zwinglians are certainly shaking their heads at the grossness with which I make clear the pagan origin of the teaching of the Real Presence. And even to my mind comes the stern warning of Moses:

When the LORD thy God shall cut off the nations from before thee . . . Take heed to thyself that thou be not snared by following them . . . and that thou enquire not after their gods, saying, How did these nations serve their gods? even so will I do likewise. Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods . . . .

But Scripture makes it just as clear that the Lord Himself ordained necessity of the application of the sacrificial victim to the body of the congregant who would worship. First of all we see that bloody sacrifice is the part of the common heritage of mankind (Genesis 4:4, 8:20-22). And in His own ordained cult, the consumption of the meat was intended to make atonement for Israel as was clear when, for an emergency, the meat was not consumed:

And Moses diligently sought the goat of the sin offering, and, behold, it was burnt: and he was angry with Eleazar and Ithamar, the sons of Aaron which were left alive, saying, "Wherefore have ye not eaten the sin offering in the holy place, seeing it is most holy, and God hath given it you to bear the iniquity of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the LORD? Behold, the blood of it was not brought in within the holy place: ye should indeed have eaten it in the holy place, as I commanded."

Likewise with the meat of the Passover and the smearing of things with blood; as Hebrews summarizes (9:22),

And almost all things are by the law purged with blood; and without shedding of blood is no remission.

Left unspoken, but implied, is the necessity physical application of the purifying sacrificial substance, in the old law the blood by sprinkling and the meat by consumption.

Most relevant is Paul's admonition in 1 Corinthians 10:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? For we being many are one bread, and one body: for we are all partakers of that one bread. Behold Israel after the flesh: are not they which eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What say I then? that the idol is any thing, or that which is offered in sacrifice to idols is any thing? But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord's table, and of the table of devils.

What I want to note here is that Paul assumes an identity of procedure between the Christian church, the temple cult in Israel, and the pagan cults of Greece: consumption of the sacrificial offering results in receiving the benefits appropriate to the offering: communion with the living God, communion with superseded shadows of God, and communion with devils, respectively. The procedure (consumption of the victim) is the same, the result (communion/commensalism with the God to whom the sacrifice is offered) is generically the same, but differs specifically according to the differing nature of the God worshiped.

So we can make it a general spiritual law: To receive the benefits of a blood sacrifice and membership in the community formed by the blood sacrifice, one should consume the flesh of the sacrificial victim. Whether that is to your spiritual life or death depends not on the sacrificial procedure, but on the nature of the spiritual being whose favor is being won by the sacrifice.

UPDATE: As Eric Rasmusen points in the comment box on the post above, not all individual sacrifices will have the meat shared out. The Mosaic system is composed of several types of sacrifices, some (the burnt offering, and the sin and guilt offerings) of which are wholly destroyed, but others of which (the fellowship/peace offerings and the consecration offering) are consumed (cf. Lev. 1-8). The key point is, though, the system mandates the consumption of the sacrificial meat at specified points.

Another account of sacrifice can be found in the Iliad in Book 1, where the Achaeans make an offering to Apollo to avert the plague sent on account of the priest Chryses whose daughter they had raped. After restoring her, they pray:

And when all had made prayer and flung down the scattering barley
First they drew back the victims' head and slaughtered them and skinned them,
And cut away the meat from the thighs and wrapped them in fat,
Making a double fold, and laid shreds of flesh upon them.
The old man [the priest Chryses] burned these on a cleft stick and poured the gleaming
Wine over, while the young men with forks in their hand stood about him.
But when they had burned the thigh pieces and tasted the vitals,
They cut up all the remainder into pieces and spitted them
And roasted all carefully and took off the pieces.

Then after they had finished the work and got the feast ready
They feasted, nor was any man's hunger denied a fair portion (vv. 458ff.)

In addition it should also be noted that in all these cultures, blood offerings are not the only form of sacrifice. Sacrifice of vegetable food (barley sprinklings in Greece, rice in China, the grain offering -- flour and oil -- and shewbread of Leviticus 2) and of liquor are found in all. In all of these cases, a portion or first fruits is presented to the spirit being worshiped, and the rest is then eaten. In Israel, the shewbread was regularly eaten by the priests -- see Mark 2:25ff. All of these things: blood offerings, unbloody offerings, and of course prayer and the proper attitude are part of the human sacrificial system from the beginning with Cain and Abel.

(Continued here)

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Thursday, August 18, 2005

Lessons of Christian Democracy

Jeremy has drawn my attention again to a great web-site on family issues: The Howard Center for Family, Religion, and Society (hmm, sounds like Luther's three hierarchies). The web-site has a great name for what Christians stand for in social ethics: the natural family, which for reasons they explain far beats the alternative "traditional family" or "nuclear family." It also has great articles by Allan Carlson, John Howard, and others.

Among the Allan Carlson articles is the text of his recent speech on the history and lessons of Christian Democracy. Read the whole thing. I hope everybody reads the whole thing. He ascribes the failure of "Christian Democracy" in the US to the first past the post system and our ambivalent (as opposed to purely hostile) relation to the French Revolution. I think the problems may go with part of the fundamental program:

Notably, Christian Democracy has stood for organic society. The legacy of the French Revolution in both politics and economics was a quest for uniformity, which meant the suppression of diversity, the denial of “everything fresh and natural.” Christian Democrats have held that the spontaneous, organic structures of human life—villages, towns, neighborhoods, labor associations, and (above all) families—need protection from the leveling tendencies of modern life. For only through these organic structures could the human personality thrive.

Now, organic society means something real in a town with a cathedral dating from the thirteenth century, families who assume, even if they can't prove, that they date back even further, memory of craft guilds only recently weakened, neighborhoods named after old saint's relics, etc. But what does it mean in a town that was created in 1880 to take advantage of a railroad, whose residents from the beginning have bought land with the aim of reselling at a profit to the next in-migrant, and where the most visible insignia of patriotism and pride are the murals on the U-Haul trucks proclaiming "America's Moving Adventure"? A Christian Democracy in America is going to have to make peace with that reality. For a view of what Christian Democratic politics in America might look like, here's Allan Carlson on the recent tax bill proposed by Senators Brownback and Terry.

I have also posted this at the group Lutheran blog Here We Stand.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Don't Let the Chain of Life Stop With You.

Al Mohler has a great piece up exhorting Christians to accept that voluntary childlessness in marriage is a grave sin. Read here. Browsing in Borders, I came across Rodney Stark's history of the rise of Christian in the Roman empire. He's a great sociologist and historian of religion, a really fertile mind. And the point he stresses again and again in different ways is that "pro-life" is not part, or add-on, to Christian ethics but its the heart of Christian ethics.

You've heard of the Four Spiritual Laws? Here's my spiritual law:

"Life is the greatest gift of all which imposes on us the duty of gratitude and obedience to those who have created and given birth to us. This gratitude and obedience is first expressed in the desire to pass that gift on to others." In other words: "Don't let the chain of life stop with you."

This goes for physical life, baptismal life, intellectual life, for every form of life. None of them started with us, none of them should end with us.

(Thanks to Jeremy for telling me about the column.)

Thank God for Justice At Last

The New York Times today reports (free registration required) about preparations for the first executions since the fall of Saddam Hussein.

"We know that public opinion is eagerly waiting for this," said Ghadanfar Hamood al-Jasim, the chief general prosecutor of Iraq, of the Kut case, which his office oversaw. "They are in pain and they are waiting for justice to take its course."

That was certainly true of the families of three police officers who were among those killed by the three men, who in May confessed to 63 crimes, an unknown number of them killings.

. . . .

One of the defendants, a taxi driver, Bayan Ahmed Said, described how he had cut out the eyes of one of the victims and then put them in his pocket in order to take them to a sheik who he said had ordered the murders.

The other two defendants were a builder and a butcher.

The men also were convicted of raping women, beheading them afterward and throwing the bodies into a river.

The usual suspects -- outside Iraq of course -- complain about various procedures not being followed, and the possibility of mistakes; being human they will happen. The people in Iraq know better:

Still, the current system is widely considered a vast improvement from the time of Mr. Hussein. Though thousands of families were destroyed in his system, few equate it with today's proposed executions, human rights advocates said.

Aiad Jamal al-Din, a Shiite intellectual who supports the death penalty, said Iraqis even wanted public executions. He gave a succinct explanation for the popular support for the death penalty: "This is a war field. In every war, innocent people fall down."

In the early days of the insurgency, with the first suicide car-bombings, one constantly heard the refrain from the shocked bystanders, "No Iraqi could have done this, no Muslim could have done this" and even "If the Americans would just go away all of this would stop." The Iraqi people seemed unable to accept the facts staring them in the face: that it wasn't just Saddam's government that was the author of their misery, but thousands upon thousands of ordinary Iraqis, Sunni Arabs, who were Saddam's willing executioners, and, now that he had fallen, were willing to kill however many it took to get back in power. For the ordinary Iraqi, especially the Shi'ites, being Muslim was a reason to love your fellow Muslims, but the terrorists had gone deep into the esoteric "knowledge" beyond good and evil, the secret placed by Satan at the heart of every religion, that the favored of God must sin and sin again to prove the power of grace. And so blind vegetarians lived in a kingdom of seeing cannibals. And the Americans, living in their dreamland of peaceful, consensual movement of all Iraqis toward a mature democracy without the ugly business of retribution, never wanted to open their eyes, banning the death penalty and insisting that the insurgency was just a few "dead-end Ba'athists." Since then, it's been (in Daniel Pipes's phrase) "education by murder." And the Shi'ite vegetarians now have eyes in their heads and can see past the "Islam! Islam!" banner the Sunni cannibals carry.

Mankind's been here before. Before the flood, God put his mark on Cain, the first murderer, keeping him free from man's hands, at the pain of a seven fold vengeance. And so Cain seed, Lamech, could kill at will, confident that God would avenge his death seventy-seven fold (Genesis 4). He did it so that the goodness of God might move them to repentance (Romans 2:4). But it didn't. The cannibal children of Cain ate the vegetarian children of Seth until wickedness overflowed the world. And God swept the whole place clean and gave a new rule: Now men -- good men, just men -- will eat animals, now the fear and dread of Noah's seed, the seed of Seth, will fall upon every creature. And now for the lifeblood of any man, God will demand blood from whoever sheds it, man or animal:

Whoever sheds the blood of man,
By man shall his blood be shed,
For in the image of God
Has God made man.

Now the rabbits are biting back, the hunters getting hunted. May God bless them to use this new power firmly and wisely.

UPDATE: David Warren's new column on the Iraqi constitution is right on the money.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

The Sacrifice of the Mass

Despite the vast size of Dom Gregory Dix's The Shape of the Liturgy (for previous posts on which see here, here, here, and here), the key point can be summed up this way: the most essential word in the Words of Institution is not is but do, not this is my body, but do this in anamnesis/remembrance of me.

His story can be summarized rather simply: the original ante-Nicene liturgy focused with admirable economy on the action of the Eucharist, doing the meal as Jesus had commanded. In the post-Nicene period from AD 325 to 800, this simple action was elaborated. Much was gained in this period: theology of sacrifice was developed more explicitly, the Eucharist was adapted to sanctify all Christian times and circumstances, while still maintaining its essential nature, both 'puritan' (about which Dix is surprisingly positive) and ceremonial aesthetics received due recognition. But some valuable things were lost: the eschatological element (the idea that the Eucharist is the in-breaking of the age to come) was replaced by an over-emphasis on the remembrance of the historical facts of Christ's Passion. The theology of the Eucharistic sacrificial action sometimes degenerated a crude viewpoint of the Eucharist as a repetition of the Passion. The tight connection of the offertory to the Eucharist which gave an explicit role for the laity to do something, not just communicate, was likewise lost. The excess of devotional language to some degree obscured the central action, although the Roman church stood like a bulwark against this.

After about AD 400, a much more dangerous distortion (according to Dix) developed. As lay communion declined, as the presbyters/elders became priests and the bishops/overseers became feudal lords, the mass was transformed from something that the church does together to something that the officiant (almost always now a presbyter, often serving alone) does and the church observes. For the laity the focus was now not doing the Eucharist, but watching the priest as he did it, meditating on the Passion that occurred in Israel a thousand years ago and worshiping the result: the Body and Blood of Christ made present. Devotion began to focus on the adoration of the consecrated host, not on communicating, and still less on the church as a whole joining in the Eucharist. The is had replaced the do, and seeing replaced participating.

When the Reformation and Counter-Reformation came, neither understood the issue. Both continued to focus on the is rather than the do. The Zwinglians (the only coherent Reformers in Dix's view) made the Eucharist an optional occasion for meditating on the Passion, explicitly reducing the laity's role to merely reverent attention (the triumph of the puritan aesthetic) and incoporating the suggested late medieval devotional literature into the very words of the liturgy itself, thus wounding fatally the true focus of the Eucharist: the church together doing this in anamnesis/remembrance. Eventually the Eucharist virtually disappears from devotional life and the Protestants revert to a kind of 'catechumen' spirituality. The catholics (a word he consistently leaves uncapitalized, along with christian, jewish, etc.; how clever an evasion is that!) continued the late medieval emphasis on remembering the Passion and worshiping the "is my body." But the retention of the liturgy and the theology of the Eucharist as sacrifice left the Shape of the Liturgy intact as the unspoken framework of Christian life, ready for more conscious recovery as scholarship illuminates the ante-Nicene theology (i.e. as people read and assimilate Dix's book.)

Where do Luther and the Lutherans fit into this picture? Surely we are an is people, not do people, yet presumably the Eucharist is important to us as well? Well, actually not; being an anomaly in his theory, Dix magisterially banishes us into the realm of historical mistakes. Putting aside his comments on the Luther = Hitler argument (a tad oversimplified, but at points remarkably insightful, he concludes on p. 636), Lutherans will be puzzled by statements like this: "Faith for Luther is always not in Christ as redeemer, but faith in my redemption by Him . . . The whole process [of partaking in Communion] is self regarding and self-generated as Luther presents it" (p. 635). How exactly Luther morphed into Jonathan Edwards is a puzzle here. Here is -- complete and unabridged -- his summary of Lutheran eucharistic theology since 1546:

It is perhaps not surprising that Luther's doctrine of the objective reality of our reception of our Lord's Body and Blood in the eucharist slowly declined in precision within the Lutheran churches. It is based simply on the literal understanding of the words of institution and logically unrelated and unnecessary to the Lutheran doctrine as a whole. (!!!) It kept its place in the Lutheran doctrinal confessions, but it received and could receive no adequate expression in the Lutheran liturgies. When the bulk of the German Lutherans were united with the German Calvinists in the Prussian State Church in the early nineteenth century it was in the result the Calvinist eucharistic doctrine which prevailed, though the question was formally left open for every communicant to decide for himself.

That it! That's all! Lutheran theology is just a evanescent wave in Luther's deluded brain! Move along, folks, move along, nothing to see here.

I think there's more to say about the matter. Future posts will address the natural theology of sacrifice, in what respect the Eucharist is or is not a sacrifice, the do and the anamnesis, and the place of the Sacrament of the Altar within the Lutheran theology and the Letter to the Hebrews.

UPDATE: Continued here.

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Monday, August 15, 2005

Is China Really About to Convert? (And Will It Make a Difference If She Does?)

John H at Confessing Evangelical recently posted some links about the flourishing Christian movement in China. Like many observers, including one Christian journalist who wrote a book (publisher's page here) on the topic, he holds out the possibility that Christianity could reach a scale in China that would actually change the nation and her policies.

Color me skeptical.

True, I have worshipped in packed and fervent Chinese churches. An agnostic college friend of mine was waylaid in a Chinese hutong (alley) by an insistent old lady pleading for her to believe NOW, for the sake of her soul. But that's not the whole story.

First of all, let's take a look at some numbers from the Pew Global Attitudes survey. Asking people of seventeen nations (US, Canada, six EU countries, Russia, six Muslim countries, India and China), the Chinese joined Pakistan, Turkey, and Morocco as the only four countries where Christians are viewed favorably by less than half of the population (26% in China, compared to, for example, 58% in Indonesia, 61% in India, 80-87% in all the EU-North American countries, and 92% in Russia). Likewise it's in the top four (the same again) with unfavorable attitudes (47%), and the only predominantly non-Muslim country surveyed with unfavorable ratings for Christians above 20%. Yes the church is expanding, but so far conversion is not changing the bulk attitudes of Chinese to the Christian religion.

The same survey also looked at world attitudes to Jews and Muslims. Put together, China's attitudes form a distinct profile found in no other country surveyed. Favorable ratings for all three monotheistic religions ranged from 28% (Jews) to 20% (Muslims), while unfavorable ratings ranged from 47% (Christians) to Muslims (50%). The similarity in the numbers is striking. My own guess at interpretation would be that for the vast majority of Chinese these three religions are all still vague names in the news not living presences in their lives, despite the presence of the ten million-strong Hui (Chinese Muslim community; see books here and here) and the growing (but still small, statistically) Catholic and Christian churches (that's how the Chinese public and government divide them).

Note also that the Chinese public's reaction to a religious community they don't know much about (in China I have often been asked "Who are these 'Jews'? The only thing I know about them is that Einstein was a Jew" - - that must account for the slightly higher favorable rating). It seems that when Chinese don't know about a religious community, they are likely to be half unfavorable, one quarter favorable and one quarter undecided. Compare that to Indians with Jews (28% favorable, 17% unfavorable), members of whom Indians are also unlikely to have ever met, and you can see a general dislike in China for people who define themselves by religion, for "sectarians."

Confucius has a saying: the gentleman is broad and not narrow; the small-minded man is narrow and not broad (junzi zhou er bu bi, xiaoren bi er bu zhou). He also stated that worshiping a self-chosen spirit other than the one(s) pertaining to oneself (one's ancestors for the head of the family, the county god for the county magistrate, Heaven for the emperor) is flattery. For the Chinese, this translates into a widespread and strong suspicion of any religion that advocates a solidarity narrower than the whole society (tianxia literally "all under heaven") and the country/dynasty (guo) that rules it. Such religious communities (whatever the inspiration, Buddhist, Daoist, or syncretic ones like Falungong are all common) are seen above all as selfish and anti-social, unconcerned with the common good. In the majority view, sectarians pray for their little god (Maitreya, Queen Mother of the West, Jesus, whatever) to give their little community their selfish little benefits, while really good people help the state help all the people in a selfless way. In fact the sociologist Rodney Stark in his For the Glory of God (p. 6, I think) cites poll data that suggests that Chinese Buddhist and Daoist sectaries really are more selfish and less moral personally than the average Chinese. One presumes this is not true of Chinese Christians, but this sets up a very high bar of suspicion to overcome.

Thus, while China has always been bubbling with sects, the majority attitude, and that held by the government, is that religion is at best a harmless but somewhat anti-social hobby, particularly of senile oldsters, and at worst a "perverse cult" (xiejiao, a word long used in imperial China and now the label given to Falungong and many house churches). I don't think that attitude has changed much on a broad scale.

For the "sects" themselves, the result is often a kind of "encystation" in which originally missionary religions like Islam and Catholicism are transformed into quasi-ethnic or indeed simply ethnic communities. (Hui or Chinese-speaking Muslims are a designated minority nationality in China.) In these communities, rural villages are basically mono-religious. Girls marry in from the pagan villages, but pretty much all convert due to the social pressure; if girls marry out, they are soon ridiculed out of keeping their Catholic or Muslim faith. Urban communities have more open boundaries, but again primarily recruit by marriage. Rural Protestant Hakkas (a subethnic group among the Han Chinese) have been similarly "encysted." (This author is a great ethnographer of the Christian Hakkas.)

Will Chinese Protestants as a whole go this route? I have my doubts. I think the danger there is different. Since the 19th century, a certain strain of liberal Protestantism has been very powerful among Chinese converts, which meets the "selfish sectarian!" charge by claiming that in fact it is Christianity (i.e. Protestantism) which is the key to modernizing and democratizing China. Chinese nationalism, the 1911 revolution, the 1927-28 Kuomintang revolution, indeed Chinese Communism, far from being simply the enemy of Chinese missions were in part breed among Chinese Christians in foreign-run mission schools (Ryan Dunch as argued this here - - another review here.) I found one such "reform Mongolia and China through the social gospel" Christian in my research on remote Inner Mongolia as well.

This may be great: if democracy is great and so is Christianity, why aren't they even greater together? The problem is, that there's a strong tendency for such "public spirited" Christians to gradually wind down their commitment to Christianity and simply argue for political change. The pervasive dominance of "man is good and only needs right education" ideas in Chinese political culture makes moralism a grave danger. The search for democratization and political reform in China through Christianity has done little for either democratization or for Christianity (I will just note here my own cranky, but very well-founded, opinion that the overthrow of the Manchus in 1911, heartily welcomed by Chinese Christians, was the biggest disaster in the country's twentieth century history).

And finally, even if Christians become a majority without watering down their religion, will they really change the public discourse? Again, I wonder. Here my skepticism is based on the example of similarly Confucian South Korea, where Protestants and Catholics are, together, about half of all religious people, with a formal affiliation of 21% of the population. That's far higher than anything we've seen in China yet. But when Asiaweek magazine surveyed the views of Far Eastern elites, they found pro-life attitudes (the best marker of a monotheistic world view in Asia, given the prevalence of abortion/infanticide) noticeably stronger than average only in Malaysia (traditionally Muslim) and the Philippines (traditionally Catholic). (Indonesia would seem to be a Muslim case of a defectively Islamized Asian country.) The reality is, most people in any country are not 'born again' into any fervent religious belief, and it is this "only nominally if anything" majority who set the overall moral tone. The strength of the confessional state idea was that it Christianized (or Islamized) the whole population, thereby rendering the legal/moral assumptions of the non-religious and non-reflective citizen Christian, or at least a reasonable facsimile thereof. That's certainly not a possibility in South Korea or China, and without that I am very skeptical that voluntary conversion will make any great change in China's political or social morals.

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