Being Conservative

In my thoughts, attitudes, and passions relevant to American politics, I am conservative. I find this word to be an increasingly negative way to describe myself. First, because many who are older than I am consider themselves “conservative”–but not in the way I do. They pride themselves in rhetoric which says laziness is the only cause of poverty, individualism and individual liberties are the heartbeat of the nation, government is always the problem, homosexuals are the root of all evil, immigr–YOU MEAN ALIENS are destroying this country! And liberals, you may as well hang them for treason. Second, because many who are my age assume that my self described conservatism means I heartily ascribe to the crude list of aforementioned beliefs–but such an assumption couldn’t be poorer. Although, I do have to be fair here, for many my age, this breed of conservative (which i hope to show isn’t really conservative at all) is the only type they’ve seen in action. Radicals like Michele Bachmann and her Tea Party Caucus in the House often describe themselves and their values as “conservative.” Increasingly, conservative is meaning unfeeling toward the poor, bigoted and hateful towards the homosexual, derogatory and unhelpful towards the immigrant. If you’re not conservative, you are dismissed, after all, you hate the country and you want to destroy it. You’re either ignorant about how government works best, or you’re some sort of domestic terrorist. Since this is the sort of crap that most people my age are used to hearing associated with conservative, I don’t blame them for reacting and taking pride in being themselves liberal. But I would like to make petition here. I am pleading with you my fellow millenial, do not let radicals on the far right, a very small and isolated part of the Right in America, define conservatism for you.

I’d like to consider myself a classical conservative. By that I mean that I see order as a good thing, and as a priority over unrestrained liberty. I would like to see traditional social institutions preserved. I prefer continuity and stability to rapid changes. I think that a good way forward for the United States includes a strong economy, and strong government beginning with the states, and brought to fruition in DC. However, unlike many who also call themselves “conservative”, I do not consider those with a more liberal philosophy to be evil. I admire liberals for their deep concerns about education and their compassion for the poor and the oppressed. I think there is strength in preserving tradition and strength in progress and newness.

Conservatism isn’t about rhetoric and winning arguments and angry old white men (with the exceptions of Palin and Bachmann) getting red in the face. Conservatism isn’t about a crazed mob with signs demonstrating their illiteracy. Conservatism isn’t about a lonely mentally deranged individual that kills an abortion doctor. Conservatism isn’t about cheating the poor and enabling the wealthy to accumulate. Being conservative, is about being moderate. It’s about recognizing the security that comes from tradition, tried and true methods of civil government. Conservatism is respecting and honoring those who brilliantly ensured the survival of our young republic, but that does not demand their divination–something the Tea Party is absolutely guilty of. Conservatism isn’t about smear campaigning, name calling, or elitism. Conservatism is a rich tradition of civility. Beginning with Alexander Hamilton–the father of our economy– and flowing up through the journalism of William F. Buckley. Being conservative, very often, means being contrarian, and holding a vast array of opinions. Thinking well about the issues that face us, and not rushing to harmful solutions. Being conservative is not about being trigger happy and seeking military conflict out. It’s about exhausting every possible alternative and weighing in the balance the morals and virtues at stake in that most dreaded capability of men–but of course recognizing that our ability to end oppression sometimes obligates we do so.

A lot to take in, and in typical fashion, I have not been conservative in my writing. Each of these individual inferences could be developed into its own essay, and perhaps someday after college midterms, when i have the time, I will do so. But for now, dear sister, dear brother, I beg of you to see past the “conservatives” of Washington D.C., and understand that there is goodness and a wealth of opportunity and order– both chief to the flourishing of any nation–in preserving traditions. Conservatism is chiefly required because, as Hamilton, my political hero has said: “The passions of men will not conform to the dictates of reason and justice without constraint.” If conservatism hopes to survive as a popular political philosophy in the United States, we must put down the radicals and establish ourselves as the party that prefers order and security rooted in tradition, over an untamed sea of liberty.

Understanding Catholicism: Jesus

The very first section of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CC hereafter) that I read for this study was “Jesus Christ, the only Son of God.” Regardless of your branch or denomination of Christianity, we agree that Jesus himself is the glorious centerpiece. Yes Christianity was hugely impacted by Paul, but it isn’t named after him, and his letters are not the climax of the biblical cannon. The four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the fire that illuminates every other area of the cannon–they are the focal point, because it is within these four stories that Jesus himself is on the mission.

There is no substitute for going and reading the section yourself, but I’m going to highlight the things that rise to the surface as most central to the meaning and purpose of this section of the CC.

In review of the section as a whole, an obvious and all encompassing sentence is supported: Jesus is the Gospel

Because he brings salvation:

CC: “This is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God: God has visited his people. He has fulfilled the promise he made to Abraham and his descendants. He acted far beyond all expectation–he has sent his own “beloved Son.” (p. 118)

“The transmission of the Christian faith consists primarily in proclaiming Jesus Christ in order to lead others to faith in him. From the beginning, the first disciples burned with the desire to proclaim Christ…” (p. 119)

“At the heart of the catechesis we find, in essence, a person, the Person of Jesus of Nazareth, the only Son from the Father…who suffered and died for us and who now, after rising, is living with us forever. Jesus Christ: only he can lead us to the love of the Father in the Spirit and make us share in the life of the Holy Trinity.” (p.119)

“Since God alone can forgive sins, it is God who, in Jesus his eternal son made man, will save his people from their sins. In Jesus, God recapitulates all of his history of salvation on behalf of men.” (p. 120)

“It is the divine name alone that brings salvation, and henceforth all can invoke his name, for Jesus united himself to all men through his incarnation, so that there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (p. 121)

Because he is the Christ-Messiah-King

“It–Christ–became a name proper to Jesus only because he accomplished perfectly the divine mission that “Christ” signifies. In effect, those in Israel consecrated to God for a mission that he gave were anointed in his name. This was the case for kings, priests, and in rare instances, prophets. This had to be the case all the more so for the Messiah whom God would send to inaugurate his kingdom definitively. Jesus fulfilled the messianic hope of Israel in his threefold office of priest, prophet, and king.” (p. 122)

Because he is the only Son of God

“The Gospels report that at two solemn moments, the Baptism and the Transfiguration of the Christ, the voice of the Father designates Jesus his “beloved Son.” Jesus calls himself the “only Son of God,” and by this title affirms his eternal preexistence. He asks for faith in the name of the “only Son of God.” After his resurrection, Jesus’ divine sonship becomes manifest in the power of his glorified humanity.”

Because he is Lord

“Lord becomes the more usual name by which to indicate the divinity of Israel’s God. The New Testament uses this full sense of the word for the Father and–what is new–Jesus, who is thereby recognized as God himself. From the beginning of Christian history, the assertion of Christ’s lordship over the world and over history has implicitly recognized that man should not submit his personal freedom in an absolute manner to any earthly power, but only to God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ: Caesar is not the lord.” (p. 126)

*end quoting of CC

All together the section “Jesus” is broken up into two main parts. First, the announcement that He is the good news of the Christian faith. Second, the authors move to support this claim by appealing to Jesus as 1. Savior, 2. Messiah, 3. Son of God, 4. Lord.

It’s an interesting thing that Evangelicals are currently in a battle over the answer to the question, “What is the Gospel?” I have written to some extent about this issue, and my own answer to it, elsewhere. This section on Jesus from the CC seems to beautifully bring together the different themes that make up a well rounded answer to the question “what is the gospel.” In Evangelicalism, some would like to emphasize the salvation that Jesus brings, while others say it’s mainly about Jesus as messiah, and still others prioritizing Jesus as lord, politically, and Caesar is not. These various camps, perhaps, would do well to see what the CC has laid out. Jesus himself is the gospel, no one of his apparent missions or qualities can be considered a “full” gospel.

In reading the entirety of the section on Jesus in the CC, I can not find a single written word that a protestant would contest. This section on Jesus, taken on its own, is absolutely impeccably uniform with the things you find written about Jesus in Protestantism.

There is so much more of the CC I have yet to read, and I will, and I will write about it, and continue to be fair. However and in conclusion, taking the Jesus section of the CC by itself, there is no discontinuity between it and a protestant understanding of Jesus. This means that if the current schism between Protestants and Catholics is well supported and necessary, there is disagreement required in an area other than Jesus–the centerpiece, the most important element of our faith.

Understanding Catholicism

For the past two days I have been reading sections of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (1995). This exercise was brought on somewhat spontaneously but I suspect it also grows out of my reading two books. First, was N.T. Wright’s Justification which is the former bishop of Durham’s own understanding  of what St. Paul means by justification and of course how we are to understand it today. Wright is considered a major contributor on the New Perspective on Paul. Second, was Justification edited by Husbands and Treier. Their book contained a series of essays from a broad spectrum of scholars on the justification issue. My reason for mentioning these reads, both very good and important, is to propose to you that justification is not quite as rigid and definable as it was 50 years ago. There is a vast array of views and understandings of Paul and the concept of justification. If it isn’t obvious yet why this matters for the Catholic Evangelical Divide, the most quoted reason for the separation between these two bodies is certainly “there is a fundamental difference in the understanding of justification.” To be clear, I don’t think it’s as simple as settling on a definition of justification and reuniting the Church–there are other differences. However, are the other differences so severe that they can, without including justification, validate a divided Church of Christ? It is becoming more clear to me that Justification is the largest and most important topic for evangelical and catholic theologians to dialogue. More on this soon. For starters, here are a couple of articles discussing the moving target of justification:

Interview with N.T. Wright by Trevin Wax

The Justification Debate: A Primer

Justification Essay by N.T. Wright

A Debate Long Overdue

These are just resources to get anyone interested in where this blog is going in its review of Catholic and Evangelical comparisons “up to speed” on the contemporary trends in theological discourse. Stay tuned.

Catholic and Protestant: What’s the difference?

Clearly something had Luther ticked off in 1517, and while he is noted for being somewhat fiery, it doesn’t make sense that he was willing to die for something miniscule. So why the Protestant reformation, and why the enduring split between the Roman Catholic and Protestant Church?  In this next series of posts, I’m hoping to address some of the most common questions about the differences between the two. That does mean I’m assuming that some difference does exist. The other burning question will be how important are these differences and is the split, almost militantly vocalized by some on both sides, necessary? Basically it seems to me that many in my background, a good sized Baptist church with lots of history, have some misconceptions when it comes to the Catholic Church. Currently, I’m inclined to believe that Roman Catholics are indeed part of Christendom, and that the differences are mainly to do  with non essentials. Some of the first posts on this topic I expect will be basic comparison between the Catechism of the Catholic Church and a protestant catechism (TBA). Seems like a good place to start. I’m really interested in this topic and certain trends in Christian scholarship like the “New Perspective on Paul” are making it a pressing issue.