Marriage Civil and Sacramental

2014-badge-300x300Once again, First Things has brought together thinkers from different traditions to reflect on matter central to a free and civil society: marriage and religion (The Church and Civil Marriage). A friend asked respond in particular to the contributions by Dr. Vigen Guroian and Dr. David Novak. As I will explain below, while I share their distress, I think that there are several problems with their suggestion that religious believers withdraw from participating in civil marriages.

If (as Guroian argues) it is wrong for clergy to take part in “delivering marriage contracts on the state’s behalf” where “same-sex marriage is law” then it would seem to me it is equally wrong—and for the same reasons—for Christians to get a wedding license. The couple, like the clergyman who signs the license, are “complicit in a radical redefinition of marriage contradictory to the fundamental teaching of the Orthodox faith.” If as a priest I can’t sign a marriage license without denying the Gospel (at least implicitly) the couple in seeking my signature is doing the same thing.

Novak argues that Jews, Christians and Muslims should “work for the abolition of civil marriage altogether (wherever it has already lost its traditional definition), and for it to be replaced by civil unions.” He goes on to say

Since these civil unions need not involve any sexual relationship between the parties, there need be no concern about the state sanctioning what are illicit sexual unions by traditional standards, whose origins are admittedly religious. Like any contract, they could be worked out among the parties themselves. Of course, for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, marriage is much more than an ordinary civil contract, but by defining civil marriage down, as it were, we’re more likely to preserve its covenantal meaning in our religious traditions. A covenantal relationship is much deeper than a merely contractual one.

Where to begin? Continue reading

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The Bible and Christian Morality

2014-badge-300x300A lot of people, and by the way not just Christians, look to the Bible for advice or to find the right answer. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing but it doesn’t take into account the real richness of Scripture. Instead, they think about the Bible as a big book of rules.

Like I said, it isn’t just Christians who do this. But because Christian think about the Bible like the answer key at the back of a high school math, critics of the Gospel will do so too. Critics will contrast one verse of the Scriptures with another to “prove” the Bible is foolishness.

For example, the Freedom from Religion Foundation (FFRF) here in Madison, WI where I live have webpage to doing just this. You can take a look at it you want (here). Like the well-meaning Christians, the FFRF assumes that the Bible is like a big book of answers. And so, again just like many Christians, they tend to favor some biblical verses over others. Continue reading

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Natural Law

2014-badge-300x300Like Aristotle, the great Western theologian and philosopher St. Thomas Aquinas talks about morality in terms of what it means to be human. So for Aquinas, like Aristotle, morality teleological.

Aquinas has a “natural law” theory of morality. While there are different views of what is—and isn’t—meant by natural law for Aquinas it means that what is ethically right and wrong is found in what it means to be human.

But, I can hear you ask, what does it mean to be human? Continue reading

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Happiness

2014-badge-300x300When I was in college I didn’t like philosophy and I especially didn’t like Aristotle. My opinion of both, however, wasn’t the result of careful study but laziness. Aristotle and philosophy were hard and I simply didn’t want to put in the effort that they required.

I did what many people do. I confused my interest in something with its importance.

It’s ok not to be able to do something. And within limits, it’s even ok to not want to do something. What’s not ok, however, is my saying this is stupid or a waste of time when what I really mean is “I’m too lazy to put in the effort needed.”

I was just lazy.

As I got older, I grew to appreciate philosophy and even Aristotle. What changed was my willingness to put in the effort to understand them. So what did I learn from Aristotle about being free? Continue reading

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What is Freedom?

2014-badge-300x300What is freedom?  In other words, what does it mean to be free?

For many people, freedom means that no one tells me what to do. This is “negative” freedom and while it isn’t sufficient for a full and happy life, it is important. By definition, if someone forces me to do something I don’t want to do, I’m not really free.

But leads to another question. Why would I want to be free? In other words, what is freedom for?

Continue reading

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New Series on Orthodox Moral Theology

Kargopol (Russia), cathedral of Nativity, icon...

Kargopol (Russia), cathedral of Nativity, icon Nativity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we begin the Christmas Fast, I thought I would begin a series of posts on moral theology. In my experience one of the most serious shortcomings facing the Church in America is the lack of serious, systematic scholarship and catechesis in moral theology. Please note, I’m not interested in “Christian ethics” but the theology of the moral life. For the fathers of the Church, it is through my formation in virtue that I overcome by divine grace my sinfulness. Moral theology isn’t concerned with developing a technology to answer ethical questions but articulating the life of virtues needed to live a life in Christ.

So starting November 15, 2014 and continuing through the Feast of the Nativity, I will offer a (hopefully) daily series of posts on different themes in moral theology. While some posts will be based on Orthodox sources, more often we’ll look at Western Christian and pre-Christian sources. This is important because—for better and worse—it isn’t the fathers of the Church, most Orthodox Christians turn to understand the moral life. While this needn’t be a problem, at times leads us to draw conclusions at odds with Holy Tradition. But whether the conclusions we reach are right or wrong, it is still the case that many of us don’t think about morality as Orthodox Christians.

Our first 2 or 3 essays will look at Christian freedom.

Do take a look and tell your friends!

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Samuel Gregg: On Economic Misconceptions

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One of them is the notion that wealth is a fixed amount. This is called the “zero-sum game” fallacy. It implies that one person can only become wealthy by other people becoming poor. Entrepreneurship and the right institutions in place (especially the rule of law) are the factors that nullify that myth.
Another misconception is how the economic value of something is determined. It’s not through the labor that creates an object or service. Rather, it’s through the subjective value that is attached to the good or service by hundreds of thousands of people in a market place. The price of a book I write is not determined by how many hours I spent working on it, but by what people are willing to pay for it. And what they are willing to pay for it is determined by how much they want it compared to all the other books, services and goods they want.

Then there is the notion that free trade can only benefit the wealthy or wealthy countries. Again, if you look at the stories of how nations escape poverty, it’s not through subsidies, protectionism and closed markets. Rather, it’s through entering what St. John Paul the Great called the circles of exchange and embracing institutions such as rule of law.

The whole question regarding economic misconceptions is a fascinating one — so much so that we even have a course at Acton’s summer university program on that topic. We address and correct common economic fallacies, and this is something that many people — Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, evangelical and Jewish — find extremely helpful.

Read more: Cultivating Capitalism’s Compatibility With Catholicism.

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