Category Archives: Ethics

Thoughts on Marriage

Even though I haven’t been writing here, I have been pretty busy over the last few weeks. One of the things I’ve been working on is now up at the Fully Alive site. If you’ve not been following along, a group of four authors—all of whom are regular writers at the Covenant blog run by The Living Church—released a position paper called “Marriage in Creation and Covenant” that was highly critical of the work of the Task Force on Marriage.

Essentially, they’re trying to appeal to the “Augustinian tradition” to argue against same-sex marriages in the Episcopal Church. Unfortunately, there are several rather glaring issues with it that I point out.

Now—I have to admit that I haven’t read the new material out there on the marriage issue. As you can imagine, the polemics of recent years have been bolstered by a number of books on both sides; I haven’t read any of them. As a result, I’m coming to this discussion in the position of a layman who doesn’t know the marriage literature but does have a certain amount of experience with biblical and patristic texts so that’s where I focus.

I am fully committed to our use of Scripture and the Church Fathers as we try to be faithful Christians in the 21st. But part of being faithful means recognizing the cultural distance between us and the Fathers, between us and the Scriptural text, and working through what those differences mean. MCC failed to do that; I try to point out why that’s problematic.

Give it a read and let me know what you think…


Xunzi and Ritual: An Initial Suggestion

Xunzi was a Chinese philosopher active at the very end of the Warring States period and lived roughly between 312 and 230 BC. A Confucian, his eponymous Xunzi is the earliest surviving attempt to systematize Confucian thought in the face of rival schools (like the Daoists and the Mohists) and earlier Confucian interpreters (especially Mengzi/Mencius). The classic Confucianism of the Analects is based on living life in a well-ordered society, a revivalistic use of tradition, proper participation in ritual, and education that cultivates the virtues. The word “ritual” here is the Chinese li which is broader than the American usage and includes everything from etiquette to proper decorum to actual religious ceremonies as we think of them. Coming from my Western Classical perspective, Xunzi strikes me as being almost Epicurean in his approach to the presence and usefulness of gods and spirits; he’s rather agnostic about them. What’s significant—especially given this stance—is that he is emphatic about the importance of ritual (li) and its direct connection to the cultivation of virtue. On one hand, rituals and ritual observance are part of the cosmic pattern of things; on the other, rituals were created (and adapted and modified) by the sages to guide and norm human affections and actions into virtuous habits. (Here’s the Wikipedia entry on him; his teaching on ritual is rather downplayed in the article IMO.)

A few years ago, I first ran across chapters from the Xunzi in the Burton Watson translation. Naturally, I was struck by his teaching on the connection between ritual and virtue. I thought about him again when preparing the electronic text of Frere’s Principles of Religious Ceremonial because Xunzi’s teachings on the root source and purpose of ritual/ceremonial was both absent and complementary to what Frere was expounding. I was reminded of him again this past week while reading through a new acquisition, Bryan Van Norden’s Introduction to Classical Chinese Philosophy. After years of reading around in Confucian and Daoist material, I thought it was time for a good systematic intro to put it into a big picture. The book’s an easy read for such weighty material—well-written, thought provoking, and engaging; I recommend it! 

Seeing Xunzi placed within the larger perspective of the classical Chinese tradition, I’m even more convinced that he would be a very interesting dialogue partner in an Anglican catholic appraisal of ritual and ceremonial. For form’s sake I’ll state clearly here that I have no interest in syncretism and that’s not what I’m suggesting—people who know me will already know that’s not what I mean. Rather, I’m intrigued by what a catholic Christian understanding of liturgy can be informed by when we consider the philosophical and ethical dimensions of Xunzi’s understanding of li.

On the Ethics of Giving

I have a new piece up on the Washington Post’s site about the ethics of giving.

As usual, the difficulty was paring down what I had to say to fit within the word limit. I incorporated a bit from the Talmud, but wanted to put in a bit more rabbinic material. Since I wasn’t able to fit it in there, I’ll go ahead and include it here! Thus, these items were definitely floating around in my head, they just didn’t make it on the page:

“All men are to be loved equally; but since you cannot be of assistance to everyone, those especially are cared for who are most closely bound to you by place, time, or opportunity as if by chance.” (Augustine, On Christian Doctrine 1.28.29)

Then these gleanings from  the anthology Jewish Wisdom by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin:

Rabbi Shmelke of Nikolsberg (d. 1778) said: “When a poor man asks you for aid, do not use his faults as an excuse for not helping him. For then God will look for your offenses, and He is sure to find many” (p. 15)

If a person closes his eyes to avoid giving [any] charity, it is as if he committed idolatry. [Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 68a] (p. 16)

A person who gives a thousand gold pieces to a worthy cause is not as generous as one who gives a thousand gold pieces on a thousand different occasions, each to a worthy cause. [Anonymous; sixteenth century Orhot Zaddikim (The Ways of the Righteous)] (p. 17)

The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbor is a spiritual question. [Nicholai Berdyaev] (p. 25)

Will Revolt For Food

(I’m still “away” but I couldn’t let this go unremarked…)

From the Independent by way of TOD, bls and Dean Knisely:

Thousand of protesters took to the streets, waving the orange flags of the opposition. Before long, looting began. Buildings were set on fire. But the turning point came when a crowd moved from the main square towards the presidential palace. Amid the confusion, someone panicked and gave the order to the troops guarding the palace to open fire. Scores died. The leaders of the army decided they’d had enough and stormed the palace, causing the president to flee.

A typical African coup d’état? Not quite. Certainly there were allegations of corruption in high places. The president had bought a private jet – from a member of the Disney family – for his own personal use. He was accused of unnecessary extravagance, of mismanaging public funds and confusing the interests of the state with his own. But something else had whipped up the protesters in Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar, earlier this year, when the government of Marc Ravalomanana was overthrown in the former French colony.

The urban poor were angry at the price of food, which had been high since the massive rise in global prices of wheat and rice the year before. Food-price rises hit the poor worse than the rest of us because they spend up to two-thirds of their income on food. But what whipped them into action was news of a deal the government had recently signed with a giant Korean multinational, Daewoo, leasing 1.3 million hectares of farmland – an area almost half the size of Belgium and about half of all arable land on the island – to the foreign company for 99 years. Daewoo had announced plans to grow maize and palm oil there – and send all the harvests back to South Korea.

Wow—why didn’t we see this coming? Oh wait, we did

You might believe internet propoganda and think that that 45% of the population (9 million and change at last estimate) are Christian; about half of those Roman Catholic, we have some 120,000 Anglicans in the area. Americans, however, are better informed and know that Madagascar is populated entirely by animated animals who make popular movies, so it’s all good.

I’m glad the Anglican Communion isn’t being distracted by little things like this and is hard at work on restructuring around genital issues.

(And lest you have any qualms, have no fear; this item is entirely unrelated to the whole neo-colonialism thing. No relation in any way.)