Tuesday, January 17, 2012

My take on an ancient controversy

The Roman Catholic church claims special authority for itself on account of the alleged fact that the disciple Peter was the first Bishop of Rome and that Christ had given Peter special powers that Peter passed on to later bishops of Rome. The Bishop of Rome is these days referred to as the Pope, which simply means "father". So there are 3 claims there in need of validation.

1). There is no mention in the NT that Peter was ever in Rome. It was Paul who went to Rome according to the NT. But could Peter have followed on later? If so, such an important event would surely have been noted somewhere at the time in the 1st century. The Catholic Encyclopedia can rustle up just 3 alleged 1st century references:
"Earlier still is Clement of Rome writing to the Corinthians, probably in 96, certainly before the end of the first century. He cites Peter's and Paul's martyrdom as an example of the sad fruits of fanaticism and envy. They have suffered "amongst us" he says, and Weizsaecker rightly sees here another proof for our thesis.

The Gospel of St. John, written about the same time as the letter Clement to the Corinthians, also contains a clear allusion to the martyrdom by crucifixion of St. Peter, without, however, locating it (John 21:18, 19).

The very oldest evidence comes from St. Peter himself, if he be the author of the First Epistle of Peter, of if not, from a writer nearly of his own time: "The Church that is in Babylon saluteth you, and so doth my son Mark" (1 Peter 5:13). That Babylon stands for Rome, as usual amongst pious Jews, and not for the real Babylon, then without Christians, is admitted by common consent (cf. F.J.A. Hort, "Judaistic Christianity", London, 1895, 155).

It should be obvious that these are all weak reeds to lean upon.

What did Clement mean by "amongst". That it meant "in Rome" is just one interpretation. Since Clement was bishop of Rome, however, it may be this selfsame sly allusion that gave rise to the later belief that Peter reached Rome. As Bishop of Rome, Clement would have an obvious interest in fostering such a myth.

I pass over the second "reference" in polite silence.

The third reference asserts that there were no Christians in Babylon at the time. But there certainly were Jews and the famous Babylonian Talmud eventually emerged as the product of their deliberations. So it is entirely plausible that Peter did go there in an attempt to make converts and had some success. So this passage too is no proof of anything.

I would have entertained the idea that "Babylon" was symbolic if the reference had come from a sometimes gnostic writer like St. John but Peter writes a perfectly straightforward book of instructions. I think we must take him at his word. He went to Babylon, not Rome.

2). Special powers conferred? The basis for this claim is the passage in Matthew 16:18. "And Jesus answering said to him: Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-Jona: because flesh and blood hath not revealed it to thee, but my Father who is in heaven. And I say to thee: That thou art Peter; and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give to thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven. And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven."

Transliterating the relevant Greek of the original we get: "ou ei petros kai epi tautee tee petra oikodomeeso mou teen ekkleesian". That shows that Christ was using two different words for Peter and the rock upon which he was to build his "church'. He was making a distinction, not an equation. I go into more detail about the Greek passage here

An issue seldom addressed, however, is that Christ spoke Aramaic, not Greek. So what we read in Matthew is itself a translation. So what was Christ most likely to have been saying in Aramaic?

Alfred Persson has done the most extensive exploration of the Aramaic background to the text but he really rambles on so I will try to summarize: He points out that "petros" is the Aramaic word for "firstborn" but that it was also known at the time (educated Israelites at the time spoke Greek, as indeed did educated Romans) that the same word in Greek meant "rock". So Jesus was using that known double meaning to make a point vivid.

What point? What was the rock upon which he would build his group of followers? That is no mystery at all. There are numerous references in the NT which equate Jesus's TEACHINGS with a rock -- e.g. Matthew 7:24; 1 Corinthians 10:4. So Jesus expected his teachings to form the foundation of a new group. He was certainly right about that! To encourage his followers, Jesus then goes on to say that the wisdom he imparts is very special indeed. It will give his followers entry into the kingdom of heaven. So the new group will be a privileged one indeed. Orthodox teachings among the Israelites at the time foresaw a resurrection to life on earth, not a transformation into spirit beings.

But what about: "And whatsoever thou shalt bind upon earth, it shall be bound also in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, it shall be loosed also in heaven."? Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? Catholics claim that the passage gives Christians on earth the power to control events in Heaven. But that is surely absurd. Christ was surely saying that his teachings are an accurate guide to what has already been bound or loosed in Heaven.

3). But say we ignore all of the above and concede that Peter was given some special power. Where is there any statement or evidence in Christ's words that this power could be passed on? There is none. So all three of the Roman claims are mere assertions with no obvious truth value.


Where Have All the Liberals Gone

Where are two conservatives for every liberal in America. That's the message of a recent David Brooks column as well as a Gallup survey. I think the imbalance is much starker. I would guess there are four conservatives for every liberal. Maybe even more.

Here's a test I invite you to take. Watch C-Span's morning call-in show and listen to what people who phone in on the "Democrat" or "liberal" line have to say. When is the last time you heard a caller say, "We should all pay higher taxes so that the government can provide us with universal day care"? Or how about, "We should all pay higher taxes so the government can provide us with universal long term care"? I bet you can't remember ever hearing that.

Here is what I suspect you will hear: Teachers complaining that teachers aren't paid enough. Union members complaining about competition from workers overseas. Senior citizens whining about the meagerness of Social Security or Medicare benefits. Minority callers advocating more affirmative action. And what is the common denominator of these comments? Self-interest.

Yes, I know. Special interests are in both parties. Why wouldn't they be? Yet as I wrote in my analysis of "progressivism," the left in America has elevated special interest privilege to an art form.

Here's the point: people wanting more, more, more are nothing more than people pursuing their own self interest in politics. They are not in principle different from any other special interest group. Importantly, they have nothing in common with what we normally have in mind by the term "liberalism."

There is a reason for that. There are very few people around who want to give government more power over their money, their property or their lives. And Brooks is probably right about the reason why: Most people don't trust government. In fact, only 10 percent trust the government to do the right thing most of the time, according to opinion polls.

Here is a second test. Keep watching C-Span. After the outside callers are gone, most days you get to watch Congress in action. Have you ever watched a series of speeches on the House floor? Have you ever watched a real Congressional debate? Try it some time. Then ask yourself this question: Do you trust the people you are watching on TV to manage your retirement pension? Or do you have more confidence in your employer or Fidelity or even Merrill Lynch? Do you trust the people on the House floor to manage your health care? Or do you have more confidence in your employer or even UnitedHealthcare or Aetna?

Congress in action most days reminds us of school children insulting and taunting each other. It's like a group of adolescents desperately in need of adult supervision. It's the opposite of the civil, rational deliberation that the Founding Fathers must have hoped for.

It takes a very special kind of person to watch lunacy in action and then decide to give the lunatics more control over your life. There are such special people, of course. They are disproportionately congregated in Hollywood, on the campuses of the nation's colleges and universities and in the elite news media. What are the common characteristics all too many of them share? Arrested development (they never bothered to grow up), aversion to the rest of humanity (they really are elitists), a lack of common sense (they've never really managed anything) and a failure to master the syllogism (they approach the world emotionally, not logically).

Here is something you need to understand: liberalism is not an ideology. It's a sociology. It's not a way of thinking. It's a way of responding to the world emotionally.

What was the core issue during the dispute over the constitutionality of ObamaCare's requirement that everyone buy health insurance? It was whether there are any limits to government power. If the government can force you to buy health insurance, can it also require you to eat broccoli every day, one federal judge asked. Surprisingly, liberals in general refused to draw a line on the hypothetical broccoli mandate. They were unwilling to say that it's unconstitutional for the government to tell you what you must eat for lunch.

Then George Stephanopoulos during the Republican presidential debate the other night surprised Governor Romney with a truly off-the-wall question: Do you think state governments should be able to outlaw contraceptives? Romney was nonplused, as were the other candidates. They can be forgiven for not knowing that all true liberals believe that it is unconstitutional for government to tell you what contraceptives you can and can't use.

Think about that. It's permissible for government to tell you that you must eat broccoli, but impermissible for government to tell you that you can't have a contraceptive. Anyone who thinks this way isn't thinking at all. He's emoting.

That's why you don't find very many real liberals in places like Dallas, Cincinnati or Indianapolis. But you do find a lot of people in those cities who are self-interested. If liberals get votes in cities like these, it is only because they are appealing to self-interest.



What Happened to the GOP's Free-Market Principles?

You expect Democrats to accuse former businessman Mitt Romney of “putting profits over people — making a buck or a few million of them no matter what it took or who it hurt,” as Democratic National Committee spokesman Brad Woodhouse did in releasing a new Web video.

But it’s sad to see the economic ignorance displayed by Romney’s Republican rivals. Rick Tyler, long the closest aide to Newt Gingrich who is now running the pro-Gingrich super PAC, Winning Our Future, declares, “His business success comes from raiding and destroy businesses — putting people out of work, stealing their health care.” The PAC’s ad calls Romney “a predatory corporate raider.”

Gingrich himself says that Romney’s work buying and selling companies at the investment firm Bain Capital was comparable to “rich people figuring out clever legal ways to loot a company.”

Rick Perry ran TV ads in Iowa saying that Romney “made millions buying companies and laying off workers.”

In a growing economy, companies succeed and fail every day. Technology changes. Consumer tastes change. New competitors offer a better product or a better price. Raw materials or labor becomes too expensive. Some companies just aren’t viable, and some investments turn out to have been mistaken.

That’s what the “creative destruction” of a market economy is all about. Companies constantly seek to serve consumers better. And often one company’s success means that other companies fail. Manufacturers of obsolete products often go out of business. Jobs and investments are lost, but what’s the alternative? Should we be keeping the firms that once made horse-drawn buggies, gramophones, and slide rules in business? No, we understand that the process of economic change makes us all better off, even though there can be short-term pain for the owners and employees of failed firms.

Republicans are supposed to know all this. That’s why they proclaim their devotion to free markets and oppose industrial policy, government subsidies, bailouts, and other schemes to override the market process and keep current firms in business even when they’re no longer meeting consumers’ needs.

But when a businessman runs for president, all bets are off. Republicans let fly with the same denunciations of normal business practices that Democrats do.

Think back to the 2008 campaign when Romney first ran for president. During a Republican debate at the Reagan Library on May 3, 2007, Sen. John McCain derided Romney’s leadership ability, saying, “I led ... out of patriotism, not for profit.” Challenged on his statement, McCain elaborated that Romney “managed companies, and he bought, and he sold, and sometimes people lost their jobs. That’s the nature of that business.” He could have been channeling Barack Obama.

There are plenty of good criticisms of Mitt Romney. His health care mandate in Massachusetts was a model for President Obama’s national mandate. No one knows what he really thinks about abortion and same-sex marriage, after he dramatically changed his positions at age 57 as he prepared to run for president. He wants to increase military spending by $2 trillion. Many of his foreign policy advisers helped to get us into the disastrous Iraq war.

But the fact that sometimes he closed companies and laid off workers is not a good reason to criticize him. We’d never get new companies like Staples, Domino’s, Bright Horizons, and Sports Authority — companies that Romney helped fund and nurture at Bain Capital — if investment capital was locked into existing companies.

And sometimes, as the movie “Other People’s Money” demonstrated, it takes a “predatory corporate raider” to go in and shake up a company, moving the land, labor, and capital to places where they can be more productive.

Republicans should stop attacking Romney for his role in the dynamic market process and spend more time explaining how they would limit government and improve the environment for business and economic growth.



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1 comment:

leperous said...

My take on an ancient controversy
in reference to Babylon and Peter, the City was emptied of most inhabitants by the greeks to Seleucia.
Babylon by the time of Jesus would be abandoned.