Friday, December 30, 2011

How to React to Panhandlers and Beggars on the Street: What is Our Responsibility? / Poverty: Causes and Solutions

By Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong (12-30-11)

My friend Brent Robbins sent me the following "self-examination" of sorts and made a request that I write about it, if possible:

I get panhandled all the time by supposed homeless people while walking down the streets of Seattle. There is a person on a street corner holding up a cardboard sign at every stop light as well. I even get panhandled at church after mass! It’s kind of epidemic. In all honesty, my reaction is pretty standardized when someone approaches me, “NO! Leave me alone!”

I assume they are alcoholics, drug addicts, potential muggers looking for an opening or legitimate people needing help. I can’t tell their true intentions so I treat them all the same. Honestly, if I stopped and truly tried to help each person that panhandled me, I literally would never make an appointment or even make it anywhere. Plus, sometimes I fear for my safety or fear being put in a bad position. Anyone that lives in a large city would know what I’m talking about.

With all that, I have questioned my technique and don’t think Jesus would do that. On the flip side, I’m not God, so I give myself slack. I am a big supporter of donating and volunteering at homeless shelters and food kitchens, but I have taken a hard stance against panhandling, but am questioning if what I do is in the mind of the Church.

If you could answer these questions:

As Christians, what are we obligated to do towards panhandlers?

As Christians, what should we do towards panhandlers, assuming we want to maximize holiness and minimize purgatory time for ourselves?

If we are obligated to do something more than tell panhandlers to go away like myself, could you give an example of how that conversation may play out?

Does it make a difference on if you get the feeling the purpose is lying to you?

Thanks for any help!!

This issue is a very good one to ponder, and can get quite complicated ethically in one sense, while it might be said to be simple in another. It's what could be called a "large and lumpy" topic. Holy Scripture is abundantly clear (beyond all argument) in teaching that we have an obligation to help the poor, insofar as we are able to do so. That is so obvious I don't think I need to even cite Bible passages, for those of us (most of my readers, I think) familiar with the Bible. But the first one that immediately came into my mind was Luke 3:11 (RSV, as throughout): "He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise."

For a biblical survey of the general topic of "The Poor", see related Scripture passages, arranged by sub-topics, from Nave's Topical Bible. To pick out just one of many, here is Matthew 5:42: "Give to him who begs from you, and do not refuse him who would borrow from you." The Catholic Church and most Christian communions I know of would concur in a general sense: that this is a Christian obligation incumbent upon all.

The question before us is practical application of the biblical commands to help the poor, to be beneficent and caring and compassionate for the plight of people less fortunate than we are: to be our brother's keeper. This is where complexity and confusion enters in. We need to clarify in our minds (Brent's sense of obligation and guilt that I think most of us can relate to) and for the sake of the poor and needy. Riches are to be shared, not hoarded solely for ourselves, etc. What do we do about it? We may have the very best of intentions: the biggest heart of gold in the world, but despite that, may go about it in an unwise way.

It doesn't follow, we need to note, that there can be no one at all who has possessions or savings in the bank or investments, or that all nice things (houses, cars, pools, big book or music collections [ahem!], fine clothes, etc.) are forbidden. Not everyone is called to give up everything they own, like the disciples and the rich young ruler (Luke 18:22). It's not a command binding upon all, to "Sell all that you have." Riches had become an idol for this particular man, and Jesus stated what was necessary in his specific case. In other instances, such as ordained / religious who take a vow of poverty, or the early Franciscans, it is a case of following the evangelical counsels. Scripture refers specifically to this:

Jeremiah 35:8-10 We have obeyed the voice of Jon'adab the son of Rechab, our father, in all that he commanded us, to drink no wine all our days, ourselves, our wives, our sons, or our daughters, [9] and not to build houses to dwell in. We have no vineyard or field or seed; [10] but we have lived in tents, and have obeyed and done all that Jon'adab our father commanded us.

St. Francis de Sales, in his Catholic Controversy, commented on this passage as follows:

So the Rechabites are magnificently praised in Jeremiah 35, because they obeyed their father Jonadab in things very hard and extraordinary, in which he had no authority to oblige them, . . . Fathers certainly may not so tightly fasten the hands of their posterity, unless they voluntarily consent thereto. The Rechabites, however, are praised and blessed by God in approval of this voluntary obedience, by which they had renounced themselves with an extraordinary and more perfect renunciation. . . .

If everybody runs after money and possessions, to whom will that word of Our Lord [Matt 6:19] be addressed: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, “or that other [Matt 19:21]: “Go, sell all, give to the poor”? If every one will govern in his turn, where shall be found the practice of that most solemn sentence (Luke 9:23): “He who will come after me let him deny himself”? . . . [it] would be vain and useless if in the true Church all these parts are not made use of.

But the rest of us who are not bound by personal choice and divine calling, to follow the evangelical counsels,  are nevertheless called to be good stewards of what God has blessed us with. How do we help the poor? What do we do when approached by beggars and panhandlers; ostensibly destitute sign holders who appeal to the good will and good-heartedness of the average American person who is very well-to-do, by the world's standards, and especially by the historical criteria of "possessions"? Let's take a closer look at this.

I grew up in Detroit (till age 17), in an old, almost inner-city working class neighborhood (my house was built in 1916); went to all Detroit public schools, including Cass Technical High School and Wayne State University, both just outside downtown. I attend church in a parish (St. Joseph's) close to downtown, and have for twenty years, and lived in Detroit again from 1988-1999. Thus, I am very familiar with panhandlers and the destitute. There are plenty of them in Detroit, as is well-known.

Our parish actually states in its church bulletin, to not give money to beggars outside the church. We are told to direct them to our food outreach that occurs at certain times. This is the prudential judgment of our pastors, as to what is best, and we ought to be in subjection to our own priests. My own family brings food to contribute to this charitable work, every Sunday.

The last time I was approached by such a person outside our church (about four weeks ago), I said (quite truthfully) that I had no money on me. Oftentimes, I literally have no or very little extra money beyond my bills (as a full-time apologist of very meager income, with a family of six to provide for). Other times, I have some in the bank, but don't have cash, preferring the ATM debit card. This person had asked in the usual manner, then when I said I had no money, I noticed that she went off grumbling and (from what I could tell) putting me down.

Perhaps she (a black woman) thought I was racist, and had a stereotype of  what she thought was the typical white suburbanite, unconcerned about African-Americans in Detroit (which does indeed oftentimes hold true, and the highly segregated neighborhoods of metro Detroit reinforce it). Thus, I was falsely deemed to be an uncaring person. My heart was judged.

I have often had one or more of the following thoughts:

1) Many (who knows how many, but a lot) of such beggars and panhandlers are drug abusers or alcoholics, who will take the money given them and immediately go buy more drugs or drinks. They are almost never, however, violent. It's not a "mugging" scenario, though there is often the "con game" aspect to it. Very few beggars -- in my experience, none -- are muggers.

2) Assuming #1 is the case, it is far better to physically go with the person to eat at a restaurant, so that the money is used for healthy purposes. This way, we know that the money was used properly. While eating with them, we can also share Christianity and become more personally involved.

3) It is better to teach a man to fish rather than giving him fish to eat ("hand up" rather than a handout, which is the motto of a local charity called Joy of Jesus).

I think these are all relevant factors. There is much more going on than simply a person who has a need, and our obligation to help them in an immediate circumstance of begging. And there are more ways of assisting them than giving money on the spot. There are underlying, immediate and remote causes for their plight; both personal and societal senses of causation; closely related factors such as moral and familial issues, and personal responsibility. For every case of a truly "hard-luck" scenario, I suspect that there are five or more where the person under consideration has made wrong choices and is primarily responsible for his or her plight. I don't know the ratios, but these are all important considerations.

It doesn't necessarily follow that we don't help the person if we deem that they have largely brought about their own misery (I'm not saying that; mercy and charity includes compassion for these wrong life choices), but it gets to the question of underlying causes, and what to do about them, in order to effect long-term solutions to human deprivation and misery.

We know that there are many causes for poverty and homelessness (my major was sociology): drugs, family breakdown (in turn closely related to immoral sexual practices that lend themselves to divorce and broken homes), poor government programs such as the "Great Society" (the well-intentioned "war on the poor" begun by LBJ, that is a demonstrable failure), racism, economic conditions (here in Detroit the auto companies are extremely important), bad laws, lousy schools, negative influences of media and entertainment, music, or unsavory products of the Internet, etc.

How do we apply all that to the panhandling situation? I have tried to make a determination of whether the person who is soliciting was being truthful or not. One time I encountered a man who gave the usual story (I've heard it well over 100 times) of his car breaking down, and just needing $10 or $20 for gas. I decided to test it out. This particular person (I recall general details), who did not outwardly look like a "bum" or homeless person, said he had some money at home, and all he had to do was get there and would then be happy to pay me back. He swore that this was the case over and over. I gave him the money, and a way to get back to me. He never did. He was never heard from again.

I considered that a test case. I wanted to help and have the proper compassion, but not to be gullible, and not to be a stooge for a con. We are obligated to help less fortunate people, but we are not obligated to help liars and manipulators and con men, for in doing so, we are being bad stewards ourselves, not showing good judgment, and actually contributing to the ongoing personal problem by feeding into the sin; helping to enable it, in other words. If everyone falls for the con and gives money, they will go on doing this indefinitely, and lying is a serious sin.

Oftentimes, the beggar is a liar, who has honed his or her craft by cynically developing heart-grabbing tactics that have proven successful. They know what works, and they milk the tactics for all they are worth. We are not obliged to help liars of this sort: at least not in the form of immediate cash on the spot. We should take them out to eat. Then we're not taken advantage of. We freely share with them the necessities of life and show Christian love.

Once when I was in high school I ran into a guy outside the library I used to go to, who wanted a ride. He said he would give me some tickets to a concert in return.  I was completely taken in by this con man. I drove him around for several hours, often waiting out in the car, and scared my mother half to death, by not letting her know where I was (I still cringe thinking about it, even after some 35 years). He was a liar. I was utterly used. He took advantage of my good intentions, and even my mother had to suffer as a result of my naive and gullible stupidity.

On another occasion, my wife and I ran into a young woman who was in a very bad situation. We actually took her into our home for a few days, and then arranged to have her go stay at a temporary Salvation Army shelter (that coincidentally was the same place where I was born: it used to be a hospital). We tried to help her gain a footing and make a new start. Sure enough, once at the shelter for a day or two, we got a phone call from her. She said she had broken the curfew there and wanted to stay with us. We refused, on the grounds that she was not willing to help herself and be responsible; therefore, there was nothing further we could do.

I dimly recall a fourth incident where I tried to work with a man in the same manner. He said he had skills as a baker. Nothing came of it. It was a fiasco, just like the other three instances. I think these things have to be dealt with on a grand scale: with moral teaching, education, avoidance of broken homes and divorce. As our society rejects traditional Judaeo-Christian values, things get worse and worse. We see it all around us, and the inner cities are the worst.

I don't want to get "too political," but my own opinion as a Christian is that the root cause is the loss of these traditional moral values and the breakdown of the home and basic sexual morality. As a political conservative, I also critique the "Great Society" and welfare and more liberal social engineering for actually bringing about the misery through a series of complex causes, that they intended to alleviate. These efforts were socially naive (to put it mildly) and historically and morally shortsighted.

Families in the inner cities are far more broken down than they were before the 60s and all these massive social programs, designed to eliminate poverty. It has been said that the black family survived even the horrors of slavery, but couldn't withstand the deleterious effects of the Great Society. Children from unmarried African-American mothers in 2008 accounted for 72.3% of all births in that sub-group. Among white women it was 28.7%.

For unmarried white women, aged 15 to 44 in 1966 (just as the Great Society was kicking into high gear), the birth rate was 16 out of 1000 or 3%. Thus, the rate had exponentially exploded, to over nine times as much in 44 years: one biblical generation. And that is despite the fact that some one out of three pregnancies end in childkilling (aka abortion). The rate for "nonwhite" women under the same criteria, from 1966, was 12%, whereas now it is 72.3% among black women, or about six times higher.

These are momentous, massive societal problems, and we know from many sociological studies that illegitimacy and broken homes are perhaps the leading indicators of further poverty or a life of crime. A broken home (which usually means without a father) is a greater predictor of a life of crime, than even poverty itself. It perpetuates poverty in great proportion, too. Nor can racism be blamed as the primary culprit.

It is well-known now that the vast majority of black people who are murdered, are killed by other black people; not by racist whites (with figures as high as 90%). Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King was murdered by a white man (I visited the site in 2007), but Malcolm X was not. His widow, Betty Shabazz, died in 1997 of burn injuries as a result of her grandson setting fire to her apartment. Violence and deaths among African-Americans have gone far, far beyond racist white persecution.

Another illustration of this is the case of an incident involving Rosa Parks: the civil rights giant. I met her once; visited the spot where she refused to move to the back of the bus (in Montgomery), and have sat in the bus itself. The Wikipedia article on Parks states:

On August 30, 1994, Joseph Skipper, an African-American drug addict, attacked 81-year-old Parks in her home. The incident sparked outrage throughout the United States. After his arrest, Skipper said that he had not known he was in Parks' home but recognized her after entering. Skipper asked, "Hey, aren't you Rosa Parks?" to which she replied, "Yes." She handed him $3 when he demanded money, and an additional $50 when he demanded more. Before fleeing, Skipper struck Parks in the face. Skipper was arrested and charged with various breaking and entering offenses against Parks and other neighborhood victims. He admitted guilt and, on August 8, 1995, was sentenced to eight to 15 years in prison. Suffering anxiety upon returning to her too small central Detroit house following the ordeal, she moved into Riverfront Towers, a secure high rise apartment building where she lived for the rest of her life.

One article on black-on-black crime noted:

The Reverend Damon Lynch III says the family unit is suffering and therefore, so is the community at large.
"The biggest challenge is restoring the family unit," said Rev. Lynch. "The destruction of the black family is the main cause - the root cause - for all of these ailments that we see in our community. The violence, the teenage pregnancy. The infant mortality rate in our community - and people watching this - many of them know the history. In 1920, 90 percent of black families had a father in the house. In 1960, 80 percent of black families had a father in the house. In 2011, it's only 30 percent. Three out of 10."

I digress into these stories to show that neither poverty nor crime are primarily due to racism. They are huge societal problems that have very complex causality (including a close relation to the breakdown of the family and traditional Christian values), and therefore, are not resolved in a simple fashion, by giving money out to a panhandler.

Therefore, in my opinion, the problem of poverty must be dealt with on a grand scale, not a small scale, but with a very different model than the failed Great Society: going back to the self-help, learn-a-vocation philosophy of Booker T. Washington. What we need is a Christian-informed capitalism; not socialism. The former is a proven success: the latter rarely if ever is. Rather than giving a beggar a fish that helps him for a half-hour, we teach him how to fish, which helps him survive for a lifetime. Non-metaphorically, this means teaching him an occupation (and to make one available by fostering a thriving economy), so that he can support himself and not have to beg.

That isn't accomplished by giving a person $20 on the street, that will likely be transformed into drugs or another drink. We do have models of successful programs to help the poor: usually private, faith-based enterprises, such as Joy of Jesus, here in Detroit, or the widely-praised Focus Hope: another local organization that was led by a Catholic priest, the late Fr. William Cunningham. Charleszetta "Mother" Waddles (d. 2001) was a legendary figure in Detroit charitable works. Her organization now primarily donates cars to poor people. We have donated one of ours to it. Faith-based charities always seem to be far more effective than government programs.

There are some government (bipartisan) incentives to economic development that actually work. Free enterprise zones, promoted by Robert Kennedy and Jack Kemp, are quite effective to create opportunity. Mexicantown in Detroit, a mile from where I grew up (Springwells Village), was a great recipient of this benefit in recent years.

We must teach traditional values, too. If a preacher talks about concern for the poor, but ignores the known factors (other than racism) that create poverty: bad social programs, crime, broken homes, promiscuous sex, then he does nothing to alleviate the problem in the long run. He puts a small, temporary band-aid on a gaping wound. We must have good schools for everyone. For years, school choice (a proven method to improve quality) and teacher pay based on merit have been rejected by the teacher unions, so public schools (and the poorer the neighborhood, the worse) continue to crank out kids who can't read, and thus, won't be able to get a job. I was privileged to attend the best public high school in Detroit, and one of the very best in the country, but Detroit high schools today on the whole are a disaster, with widespread illiteracy and atrocious non-graduation rates.

It is a known fact that schools can succeed, even in the inner-city, with the right techniques and devotion. An example in Detroit is the Cornerstone Schools. Good education, like strong families and hopeful economic opportunities and faith and religious observance, defeat poverty. Merely throwing money at the problem without sensible longterm solutions (Great Society) doesn't help things; it makes them worse. This is now demonstrable fact, once we get past all the posturings and rationalizations and mere partisan bickering: always blaming the other guy or race or social class.

Another entire discussion could be had about creating economic opportunity (meaning, bottom line: decent-paying jobs available for all). This existed under both Republican (Reagan, both Bushes) and Democratic (JFK, LBJ, Clinton) presidencies, while in presidencies under both parties (Nixon, Carter, Obama), bad economic conditions have dominated. The thing to do is to put into place policies that will help alleviate poverty by creating widespread opportunity through availability of jobs, solid education, and promotion of traditional family and sexual and communitarian values.

To go beyond a quick $20 bill handout and provide some lasting solutions, which is really where love and compassion "get practical and prudent", we have to take into account these larger causal factors. The best way to truly assist such a person is to direct him to a church that teaches traditional doctrines and morality, a good school, and a faith-based social program with a proven track record (if needed), to help get him on his feet and established and self-sufficient.

By supporting the appropriate (most effective) institutions and charitable organizations financially, we help the poor in a tangible, effective way. Our taxes also go to governmental assistance programs like food stamps or unemployment insurance. Our donations in the Catholic Church go partially to a wide variety of social programs.  We're already providing some solutions to the beggar's plight just from taxes and church donations, as well as other charitable works that we support. I may not directly aid a beggar outside my church with a ten dollar bill, but I have put food in the offering basket, and donate to the church that in turn offers a food pantry for the area's poor. So I have helped them: just in a different way.

I think all of this necessary analysis lies behind the proverbial scene of being confronted by a beggar. If someone feels led at the time to give them money on the spot, that's fine and great, and good as far as it goes, but it is not going to help alleviate the poor person's problem as a final solution. It works for a few minutes. The best way, as I stated above (if we want to help right now), would be to take them out to eat right at that time, if possible. If a beggar's family or other personal influences have let him down or led him to these straits, the Church can be his family. There is hope.

But the first thing necessary is to not keep repeating the same old society-wide mistakes and folly that have led to the tragic, truly alarming and troubling situation as it is now. Good life-choices set the stage for the progression of the quality of our life. And there are many things we can do and promote in order to ensure that solid life-choices are made on a wide scale. We can't solve every social problem, but there is an awful lot we can do if we will closely examine what actually works and what has abysmally failed and led to sad results the opposite of the original good and charitable intentions. We must apply our minds to come up with effective solutions, and not just our hearts. Both together create acts of profound love that surpass the often guilt-laden urge to give money to the panhandler on the spot.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Blaise Pascal on Biblical and Theological Paradox, and Heretics' Miscomprehension and Consequent Resort to False Dichotomies

By Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong (12-29-11)

From: "Thoughts on the Pope and the Church," included in Miscellaneous Writings (translated by M. P. Faugère; London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1849), pp. 376 ff.

* * * * *

There is then a great number of truths, both in faith and morals, which seem antagonistic, and yet harmonize in admirable order.

— The source of all heresies is the exclusion of some one of these truths; and the source of all the cavils brought against us by heretics, is their ignorance of some one of these truths.

— And it usually happens that, being unable to perceive the relation of two opposing truths, and believing that the admission of the one involves the exclusion of the other, they adhere to the one and renounce the other; and fancy that we do the contrary. Now this exclusion is the source of their heresy, and the ignorance we have shown them to labour under, the ground of their cavils.

+ 1st Example. Christ is God and man. The Arians, unable to combine these things, which they hold to be incompatible, say, he is man : therein they are orthodox. But they deny him to be God: herein they are heretical. They pretend that we deny his humanity: therein they show their ignorance.

+ 2d Example. Respecting the Sacrament:—We believe that the substance of the bread being changed, and being consubstantially in that of the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, it is really present in it. This is one truth. Another is, that this sacrament is also one of the types of the cross and the glory, and a commemoration of both. This is the Catholic faith, which comprehends the two truths seemingly opposed to each other.

The modern heretics, not understanding that this sacrament contains both the presence of Christ and its type, and that it is both a sacrifice and a commemoration of a sacrifice, believe that the one of these truths cannot be admitted without necessarily excluding the other.

They make their stand upon this one point,—that this sacrament is figurative; and therein they are not heretical. They think we exclude this truth; and thence it is that they bring so many objections to the passages in the Fathers which affirm it. Lastly, they deny the presence; and in that are heretics. . . .

— Therefore it is that the shortest way to prevent heresies is to instruct men in every kind of truth ; and the surest way to refute them, is to declare it as universally. . . .

+ The error they all fall into, is the more dangerous, from each pursuing one truth: their fault is not in adopting falsehood, but in not embracing the countervailing truth.

Ridicule and Sarcasm Regarding Sin and Absurdity Sanctioned by God (Argues Blaise Pascal); Many Biblical Examples Provided

By Dave Armstrong (12-29-11)

From Provincial Letters, Letter XI (18 August 1656), pp. 167 ff. Bracketed, blue-colored additions are my own: biblical passages from RSV. Everything else is from Pascal.

* * *

Indeed, reverend sirs, there is a vast difference between laughing at religion, and laughing at those who profane it by their extravagant opinions. It were impiety to be wanting in respect for the verities which the Spirit of God has revealed; but it were no less impiety of another sort, to be wanting in contempt for the falsities which the spirit of man opposes to them.

For, fathers (since you will force me into this argument), I beseech you to consider that, just in proportion as Christian truths are worthy of love and respect, the contrary errors must deserve hatred and contempt; there being two things in the truths of our religion—a divine beauty that renders them lovely, and a sacred majesty that renders them venerable; and two things also about errors—an impiety, that makes them horrible, and an impertinence that renders them ridiculous. For these reasons, while the saints have ever cherished towards the truth the twofold sentiment of love and fear—the whole of their wisdom being comprised between fear, which is its beginning, and love which is its end—they have, at the same time, entertained towards error the twofold feeling of hatred and contempt, and their zeal has been at once employed to repel, by force of reasoning, the malice of the wicked, and to chastise, by the aid of ridicule, their extravagance and folly.

Do not then expect, fathers, to make people believe that it is unworthy of a Christian to treat error with derision. Nothing is easier than to convince all who were not aware of it before, that this practice is perfectly just—that it is common with the fathers of the Church, and that it is sanctioned by Scripture, by the example of the best of saints, and even by that of God himself.

Do we not find that God at once hates and despises sinners; so that even at the hour of death, when their condition is most sad and deplorable, Divine Wisdom adds mockery to the vengeance which consigns them to eternal punishment? "In interitu vestro ridebo et subsannabo—I will laugh at your calamity." 

[Proverbs 1:26-27 I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, [27] when panic strikes you like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.]

The saints, too, influenced by the same feeling, will join in the derision; for, according to David, when they witness the punishment of the wicked, "they shall fear, and yet laugh at it—videbunt justi et timebunt, et super eum ridebunt."  

[Psalm 52:5-7 But God will break you down for ever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. [Selah] [6] The righteous shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying, [7] "See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches,
and sought refuge in his wealth!"]

And Job says: "Innocens zubsannabit eos—The innocent shall laugh at them."

It is worthy of remark here, that the very first words which God addressed to man after his fall, contain, in the opinion of the fathers, "bitter irony" and mockery. After Adam had disobeyed his Maker, in the hope, suggested by the devil, of being like. God, it appears from Scripture that God, as a punishment, subjected him to death; and after having reduced him to this miserable condition, which was due to his sin, he taunted him in that state with the following terms of derision: "Behold, the man has become as one of us!—Ecce, Adam quasi unus ex nobis!" [Genesis 3:22] —which, according to St Jerome and the interpreters is "a grievous and cutting piece of irony," with which God "stung him to the quick." "Adam," says Rupert, "deserved to be taunted in this manner, and he would be naturally made to feel his folly more acutely by this ironical expression than by a more serious one." St Victor, after making the same remark, adds, "that this irony was due to his sottish credulity, and that this species of raillery is an act of justice, merited by him against whom it was directed."

Thus you see, fathers, that ridicule is, in some cases, a very appropriate means of reclaiming men from their errors, and that it is accordingly an act of justice, because, as Jeremiah [48:26?] says, "the actions of those that err are worthy of derision, because of their vanity—vana simt et risu digna." And so far from its being impious to laugh at them, St Augustine holds it to be the effect of divine wisdom: "The wise laugh at the foolish, because they are wise, not after their own wisdom, but after that divine wisdom which shall laugh at the death of the wicked."

The prophets,"accordingly, filled with the Spirit of God, have availed themselves of ridicule, as we find from the examples of Daniel and Elias.

[1 Kings 18:26-27 And they took the bull which was given them, and they prepared it, and called on the name of Ba'al from morning until noon, saying, "O Ba'al, answer us!" But there was no voice, and no one answered. And they limped about the altar which they had made. [27] And at noon Eli'jah mocked them, saying, "Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is musing, or he has gone aside, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and must be awakened."]

In short, examples of it are not awanting in the discourses of Jesus Christ himself. St Augustine remarks that, when he would humble Nicodemus, who deemed himself so expert in his knowledge of the law, "perceiving him to be puffed up with pride, from his rank as doctor of the Jews, he first beats down his presumption by the magnitude of his demands, and having reduced him so low that he was unable to answer, What! says he, you a master in Israel, and not know these things!—as if he had said, Proud ruler, confess that thou knowest nothing." St Chrysostom and St Cyril likewise observe upon this, that "he deserved to be ridiculed in this manner." [John 3:1-15]
. . . I am sure, fathers, these sacred examples are sufficient to convince you, that to deride the errors and extravagances of man is not inconsistent with the practice of the saints; otherwise we must blame that of the greatest doctors of the Church, who have been guilty of it—such as St Jerome, in his letters and writings against Jovinian, Vigilantius, and the Pelagians; Tertullian, in his Apology against the follies of idolaters; St Augustine against the monks of Africa, whom he styles "the hairy men;" St Irenaeus against the Gnostics; St Bernard and the other fathers of the Church, who, having been the imitators of the apostles, ought to be imitated by the faithful in all time coming; for, say what we will, they are the true models for Christians, even of the present day.

In following such examples, I conceived that I could not go far wrong; and, as I think I have sufficiently established this position, I shall only add, in the admirable words of Tertullian, which give the true explanation of the whole of my proceeding in this matter:

What I have now done is only a little sport before the real combat. I have rather indicated the wounds that might be given you, than inflicted any. If the reader has met with passages which have excited his risibility, he must ascribe this to the subjects themselves. There are many things which deserve to be held up in this way to ridicule and mockery, lest, by a serious refutation, we should attach a weight to them which they do not deserve. Nothing is more due to vanity than laughter; and it is the Truth properly that has a right to laugh, because she is cheerful, and to make sport of her enemies, because she is sure of the victory. Care must be taken, indeed, that the raillery is not too low, and unworthy of the truth; but, keeping this in view, when ridicule may be employed with effect, it is a duty to avail ourselves of it.

See also related passages:

Psalm 2:4-5 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the LORD has them in derision. [5] Then he will speak to them in his wrath, . . .

Psalm 37:12-13 The wicked plots against the righteous, and gnashes his teeth at him; [13] but the LORD laughs at the wicked, for he sees that his day is coming.

Psalm 59:8 But thou, O LORD, dost laugh at them; thou dost hold all the nations in derision.

Proverbs 3:34 Toward the scorners he is scornful, but to the humble he shows favor.

Proverbs 14:9 God scorns the wicked, but the upright enjoy his favor.

Amos 5:21 I hate, I despise your feasts, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies.

Nahum 3:6 I will throw filth at you and treat you with contempt, and make you a gazingstock.

Matthew 7:3 Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 


Tuesday, December 20, 2011

St. Paul on Sinners in the Church: Example of the Galatians

By Dave Armstrong (12-20-11)

St. Paul is our model of behavior (Gal 4:12; Phil 3:17; 4:9; 2 Thess 3:7-9). He, in turn, imitates Christ (1 Cor 11:1; 1 Thess 1:6).

The Apostle Paul on Galatians as Miserable Sinners

Galatians 1:6 (RSV) "I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel"

Galatians 3:1-3 "O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? [2] Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law, or by hearing with faith? [3] Are you so foolish? Having begun with the Spirit, are you now ending with the flesh?"

Galatians 4:9b ". . . how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits, whose slaves you want to be once more?"

Galatians 5:4 "You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace."

Galatians 5:7 "You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?"

The Apostle Paul on Galatians as Fellow Christians

Galatians 1:2 "To the churches of Galatia"

Galatians 1:11 "For I would have you know, brethren, . . ."

Galatians 3:25-27 "But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; [26] for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. [27] For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."

Galatians 4:4-7 "But when the time had fully come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, [5] to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. [6] And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" [7] So through God you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son then an heir."

Galatians 4:9a "but now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, . . ."

Galatians 4:12 "Brethren, I beseech you, become as I am, for I also have become as you are. You did me no wrong"

Galatians 4:19 "My little children, . . ."

Galatians 4:28 "Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise."

Galatians 4:31 "So, brethren, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman."

Galatians 5:1 "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand fast therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery."

Galatians 6:1 "Brethren, . . ."

Galatians 6:18 "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen."

There are similar dynamics with the Corinthian church as well.

Our Lord Jesus also calls all seven assemblies of Revelation "churches" (2:1; 2:8; 2:12; 2:18; 3:1; 3:7; 3:14; along with the repetition of "what the Spirit says to the churches" in 2:7 and similar passages), yet excoriates several of them in no uncertain terms (2:4-5; 2:14-16; 2:20-22; 3:1-3; 3:15-18).


Thursday, December 01, 2011

Blasphemy Against Creatures and Immaterial Things in Scripture (Not Just Against God)

 Moses (Rembrandt)

Anti-Catholic Reformed Protestant apologist Steve Hays dogmatically (and quite erroneously) proclaimed:

His satire would only be blasphemous if it were directed at God (specifically, the one true God). It isn't possible to blaspheme mere men and women. Your complaint reflects Catholic idolatry. (11-30-11)

Holy Scripture contains the Greek words blaspheemeo [βλασφημέω](Strong's word #987), blaspheemia [βλασφημία] (#988), and blaspheemos [βλάσφημος] (#989). They are often applied to men or angels. Hence Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (one-volume) states (p. 107):

It may be directly against God . . . or angelic beings (Jude 8-10; 2 Pet. 2:10-12). . . .

Persecuting Christians is also blasphemy (1 Tim. 1:13). The community has to suffer blasphemy (Rev. 2:9; 1 Cor. 4:13; 1 Pet. 4:4). Opposition to Paul's message is necessarily blasphemy (Acts 13:45 [+ 18:6]) because it attacks its basic content.

. . . A bad action is blasphemy either because it resists God's will or beings Christianity into disrepute (1 Tim. 6:1; Jms. 2:7; Rom. 2:24; Tit. 2:5).

Kittel's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (ten-volume set) elaborates:

3. But the Christian, too, is in danger of giving cause for blasphemy. Denial of Christ in persecution would be such. Hence Paul can say of his activity as a persecutor: αὐτοὺς ἠνάγκαζον βλασφημεῖν. Even in partaking of idol meats Christians in bondage could see blasphemy (1 C. 10:30), as distinct from Paul. Violation of the obligation of love even in such matters ὑμε͂ν τὸ ἀγαθόν (R. 14:16) could expose to scandal. False teaching is blasphemy when it perverts from the way of truth (2 Pt. 2:2; R. 3:8). The blasphemy does not have to find verbal expression. Any bad or unloving action can contain it, either because it resists the holy will of God or because it causes the enemies of Christianity to calumniate it (1 Tm. 6:1; Jm. 2:7; R. 2:24; Tt. 2:5). The basis is clearly set out in 2 Cl., 13, 2–4.

(Vol. 1: 1964- (G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley and G. Friedrich, Ed.) (electronic ed.) (624). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans)

Note: Steve Hays attacked the usefulness and methodology of Kittel, when I cited him. I replied with partial or fairly full scholarly support of this famous lexicon, from Helmut Koester (p. 242), E. F. Harrison (p. 57), Marvin R. Wilson (p. 7), David Hill (p. 121), Darrell L. Bock and Buist M. Fanning (p. 158), and Thomas F. Torrance (p. 333).

Likewise, The New Bible Dictionary (1962, "Blasphemy", p. 159):

God is blasphemed also in His representatives. So the word is used of Moses (Acts 6:11); Paul (Rom. 3:8; 1 Cor. 4:12; 10:30) . . . because these representatives embody the truth of God Himself (and our Lord in a unique way) an insulting word spoken against them and their teaching is really directed against the God in whose name they speak (so Mt. 10:10; Lk. 10:16). . . . 
The term is also used, in a weaker sense, of slanderous language addressed to men (e.g. Mk. 3:28; 7:22; Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Tit. 3:2). Here the best translation is 'slander, abuse'.

Even immaterial things can be blasphemed, such as the "word of God" (Titus 2:5: "discredited" in RSV), "good" [acts] (Rom 14:16), "teaching" or "doctrine" (1 Tim 6:1), "the way of truth" (2 Pet 2:2), "matters of which they are ignorant" (2 Pet 2:12). Follow the Strong's word links for comprehensive documentation of usage.

Zondervan Dictionary of Bible Themes (#5800: "Blasphemy") also shows a wide application of blasphemy in the Bible:

God blasphemed indirectly

Rejecting his word and his servants blasphemes God Ne 9:26 See also 2Ch 36:16; Ps 107:11; Isa 5:24

Defiling sacred things blasphemes God Lev 22:1-2 See also Eze 20:27-28; 22:26; Mal 1:6-13

Despising the poor blasphemes God Pr 14:31 See also Am 2:7; Jas 2:5-7

Speaking against his people blasphemes God Zep 2:8-11; Ac 9:4-5 To persecute the church is to persecute Jesus Christ; Ac 26:9; 1Ti 1:13; Rev 2:9

Slandering celestial beings blasphemes God 2Pe 2:10-12; Jude 8-10

(M. H. Manser, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1999)

Blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω) [Strong's word #987] is applied to God (or "his name" -- which, in the Hebrew mind, is the same thing) in  Matt 27:39; Mk 3:29; 15:29; Lk 12:10; 22:65; 23:39; Rom 2:24; 1 Tim 6:1; Js 2:7; Rev 13:6; 16:9, 11, 21.

Blaspheemia (βλασφημία) [Strong's word #988], is applied to God in Matt 12:31; Rev 13:1,5; 17:3.

Blaspheemos (βλάσφημος) [Strong's word #989], is applied to God in Acts 6:11

Here are the relevant biblical passages (RSV):

Blasphemy Against Men, as God's Representatives

Acts 13:45 But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him. [blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω) Strong's word #987]

Acts 18:6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, "Your blood be upon your heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." [blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω) #987]


1 Peter 4:4 They are surprised that you do not now join them in the same wild profligacy, and they abuse you; [blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω) #987]


Revelation 13:6 it opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. [blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω) #987]


Acts 6:11 Then they secretly instigated men, who said, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." [blaspheemos (βλάσφημος) Strong's word #989]

Blasphemy Against Angels, as God's Representatives

2 Peter 2:10 and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority. Bold and wilful, they are not afraid to revile the glorious ones, [blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω) #987]

Jude 8 Yet in like manner these men in their dreamings defile the flesh, reject authority, and revile the glorious ones. [blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω) #987]

Revelation 13:6 it opened its mouth to utter blasphemies against God, blaspheming his name and his dwelling, that is, those who dwell in heaven. [blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω) #987]

Blasphemy Against the Gospel and Christian Message / Teaching / The Word of God

1 Timothy 6:1 Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be defamed. [blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω)  #987]

Titus 2:5  to be sensible, chaste, domestic, kind, and submissive to their husbands, that the word of God may not be discredited. [blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω) #987]

2 Peter 2:2 And many will follow their licentiousness, and because of them the way of truth will be reviled. [blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω) #987]

Blasphemy Against the Law

Acts 6:13 and set up false witnesses who said, "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; [blaspheemos (βλάσφημος) #989]

Blasphemy Against the Temple

Acts 6:13 and set up false witnesses who said, "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; [blaspheemos (βλάσφημος) #989]

 Blasphemy Against Goodness or Good Acts

Romans 14:16 So do not let your good be spoken of as evil. [blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω) #987]

2 Peter 2:12 But these, like irrational animals, creatures of instinct, born to be caught and killed, reviling in matters of which they are ignorant, will be destroyed in the same destruction with them, [blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω) #987]

Jude 10 But these men revile whatever they do not understand, and by those things that they know by instinct as irrational animals do, they are destroyed. [blaspheemeo (βλασφημέω) #987]