April 6, 2010

Thought for 04.06.10

To what extent do the exponents of Natural Law mistakenly "worship the creature rather than the creator" (Rom. 1.25) and "conform themselves to this world?" (Rom. 12.2)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG
suggesting that some should re-read Romans with an eye to Pauline irony


Tim said...

I can be behind those who wish to consider everything in light of the 7 Cardinal virtues, for the principle of them is Caritas (translated alternately as Charity or Love), the selfless love which is God (1 John 4:8).

The trouble comes here...
"The doctrines of Christianity is a finger pointing at God. Do not mistake the finger for God."

It is a shame that too many seem to be mistaking the finger for God.

Grant said...

My initial thoughts here led to a critique of the content (i.e. what is natural) of Natural Law theory. But upon further reflection and re-reading of the question, I'm now thinking something a bit different.

If Natural Law theory tells us that we should all know what is right simply by virtue of being human (i.e. right thinking or whatever), then it has in a large sense eliminated the need for revelation. So, the Natural Law exponents seem to be suggesting that we are just fine on our own (i.e. worshiping the creature), for if something is not known to be true simply by virtue of our humanity, then it could not be a part of Natural Law. So indeed, it seems as if hardcore Natural Lawyers, by definition, are elevating the creature with little regard for the creator.

Regarding the notion of conforming to "this world" vs. to something that is implied to be superior, I would simply say that this entire notion seems flawed to me. Paul's hellenistic dualism creeps quite a bit, and I think this is great example. The whole notion of this world over against that world is dangerous in the same way that Natural Law theory is in that it is fertile soil for demonization, ostracization, etc. Also similar to Natural Law theory, such decisions cannot be made with any sense of intellectual honesty.

(I've read some other Paul today too. That dude wrote some great things and some that I find to be rather stupid (and dangerous, etc.). It's weird. Sometimes makes me cringe when it's cited as "the word of the Lord," during the Liturgy of the Word.)

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Tim. I love that quote.

Good thoughts, Grant. On the first, the NL folks would say that "right thinking" is itself a divine gift ("the light of reason") and so sneak revelation in sideways. The whole system of NL appears to have to entail far too many such begged questions to be a reasonable account either of this world or of God. Thus the intellectual dishonesty.

As to that dualism, "world" for Paul, like "flesh," has a lot of different meanings. As you note, at its worst the notion becomes demonizing.

At the same time, as I suggested in the postscript, Paul bears close reading for irony -- I'm convinced most of Romans 1 cannot make sense in keeping with the rest of the epistle unless it is read as a kind of set-up for his more fulsome argument that we are saved by grace alone, not at all by the Law. Those who read Romans 1 without that awareness are thus at opposition to his real message! And that's where he's dangerous. Pity the Koine tradition didn't have emoticons! ;-)

Grant said...

Thanks for the tip on Paul, Fr. T! If you get a chance, I'd very much like an example of Paul's irony, so I can get a better idea of what you mean.

I see a connection between the NLer's notion that "right thinking" is a gift from God and the idea of "salvation by grace alone."

If we start from the premise that there is a God who willfully created everything, then the NL position and Paul's position are, I think, rather meaningless. Well, not meaningless, just not uniquely meaningful. Here's what I mean. Seeing as everything finds its source in God's will, "right thinking" is no more a gift from God than is cheese. Separating it out intellectually is a useless exercise.

(Tangent Warning!)
And the same goes for "salvation by grace alone." We EXIST by grace alone. What does it mean to add "salvation" to that? Assuming we are "saved" in any literal sense at all, the idea that it is through the grace and will of God is redundant and rather superfluous if one already believes that existence is the result of God's will and grace. To me, believing in a creator God and then adding the "salvation by grace" thing is like saying, "I think therefore I am...indeed, I am because I think!" It's like writing 2 + 2 = 4 twice and arguing that the two instances are different because you've switched the order of the "2s." I mean, even if we are “saved by the Law,” the Law is no less a gift of God’s grace. Any “salvation program” would exist by virtue of God’s grace and will, and thus even by following the path set out by it we would truly be “saved” by grace. This is not something that needs to be articulated if one believes already in a creator God; it goes without saying.

Maybe this is part of Paul’s irony. Maybe he’s trying to lead us to the realization that we are all equally far from and/or close to the infinite reality that is God. We all exist by virtue of God’s will and grace; we are all contingent beings. Nothing connects any one of us more to God than any other. No sin is more egregious to God than any other. No being is more bereft of God’s grace/love than any other. Maybe “salvation by grace” is not the root of Paul’s Gospel, but rather its branches. Maybe the root is the universal equality of creation. And maybe Paul’s attack on the circumcisers, etc. comes as the result of his perception that the people would not understand this – that physical differences would foster perceived spiritual difference.

OK, that’s enough of that…this now has nothing to do with the original post...:-)

Oh, RE: Emoticons…is it possible that Paul’s reference to the size of his script should point us to read him as being full of them? ;-)


Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG said...

Thanks, Grant. I think Romans 1 is a good example of irony at work -- the key is the opening of Chapter 2, where the punchline falls. The idea that one could become virtuous by acting in accord with "Nature" is so foreign to the rest of the letter that Paul really couldn't be serious about it; rather he is using this notion to lead this listeners on to his primary point that the Law (of Moses or of Nature) cannot save. He uses a similar rhetorical turn in the address recorded in Acts on Mars Hill.

Another example of ironic humor is in his comment that those who advocate circumcision (in Galatians) should "mutilate themselves." The New English Bible took the hint and freely translated as, "go the whole way and make eunuchs of themselves." Another version I can't recall at the moment has, "I hope the knife slips."

As to the rest in the tangent, yes; Everything comes from God -- it is all gift, life and new life!

In haste, as I am about to rush off to a meeting!