Letters | Darwinian ethics, Jesus & the Jews

Down On Darwin

In “Darwin’s Tree of Life” (January 24), Elizabeth A. Johnson’s contention that Darwin helps us understand our responsibility to creation is pretty startling. Darwin supported the laissez-faire capitalism of his father-in-law Lord Wedgewood, one of the richest industrialists in the world at that time, because it mirrored the ruthless competition he observed in nature. The implication that Naturalism supports the moral responsibility to husband other species or exercise stewardship over the creation is simply not true. The writings of the theologian John Haught and Pope John Paul II are not derived from Darwin or Naturalism.

Paul A. Hottinger

Naperville, Ill.

 

The Author Replies:

The project of Ask the Beasts is explicitly one of dialogue. The purpose of placing On the Origin of Species in conversation with the Nicene Creed is to develop a theology that makes loving the earth an intrinsic part of faith in God, rather than an add-on.

Three points: First, the focus is not Darwin the man, but the way he could see. The evolutionary story he figured out places nature in a new narrative framework, still heading toward the future.

Second, competition is only one aspect of evolution; cooperation also factors in, as does diversification, etc. In our day, Darwin is being read as having a sharp ecological sensibility, utterly clear about the interdependence of species upon one another.

Third, John Paul II called on theologians to engage contemporary scientific findings “to test their value in bringing out from Christian belief some of the possibilities which have not yet been realized.” Here the pope mentioned evolution in particular, saying it could shed new light on human beings as the image of God, and even on understandings of Jesus Christ. In a word, not only is evolution not opposed to faith; it might even clarify faith in new and deeper ways.

Once we see that the evolving community of life on earth continues to be the dwelling place of the Spirit and its ruination an unspeakable sin; once we understand that this community is blessedly included in the redeemed future promised in Jesus Christ; once we realize that the emerging existence of plants and animals is a radically free gift of the Creator: then deep affection for the tree of life shown in action on behalf of eco-justice becomes an indivisible part of spirituality.

Elizabeth A. Johnson, CSJ

 

Maximum Jesus

It may seem the height of hubris to question eleven pages devoted to learned discussion on Jewish-Christian relations (“Getting Past Supersessionism,” February 21). I admire much of the exchange, but it seems to avoid the most crucial issue in answering the question on the magazine’s cover: “Who do you say that I am?” The biggest dilemma isn’t about Messiahship, at least not now. It’s about whether Jesus is God, Second Person of the Trinity, True God and Man. Many Christians confess this, but there has been a mostly condemned and persecuted line of thought from Arians to Socinians to Unitarians that doesn’t so maximize Jesus. My guess is that many progressive Christians today are at least crypto-Arians but don’t write about it for fear of church reprisals. Just as the present dialogue couldn’t have happened in 1914, I wonder how it would look from 2114 if the commentators could get a furlough from heaven to resume the conversation. After centuries of science and historical-cultural analysis of creedal statements, the question will have changed a great deal from how it was imagined in the fourth century and dealt with in our time.

Eugene C. Bianchi

Athens, Ga.

 

Covenants Old & New

Steven Englund and his respondents brilliantly pushed us to consider the most knotty of issues in Catholic-Jewish dialogue: our respective views on Jesus.

A further perspective, humbly trying to discern the workings of God in human history, might enrich our understanding of Christian-Jewish relations. The divine plan, from Abraham through the prophets, was somehow to bring the nations to the God of Israel. Through Jesus of Nazareth and his Jewish movement and then the Jewish-Gentile early church, the latter becoming notably inviting to Gentiles in the Roman and Persian worlds, this plan was accomplished. Only a minority of Jews in Judea and Galilee and in the diaspora needed to follow Jesus as the Christ for this to happen. Indeed, if most of the Jewish nation had become adherents of the Jesus movement—a very unlikely development—the resulting religious-ethnic community might have appeared to be just another national religion with little appeal to Gentiles. The establishment of Gentile Christianity as a fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel for the nations and the emergence of rabbinic Judaism as a direct development of God’s covenant with the Jewish people might both be a positive realization of God’s design.

Any official Christian effort toward “conversion of the Jews” (as distinct from a welcoming of individuals on a personal basis into Christ’s church) can only be seen by Jews, especially in the shadow of centuries of Christian hostility, as an assault on the very survival of the Jewish people, however lovingly such efforts might be intended. Catholics do believe that God’s new covenant in Christ can be the fulfillment of any and all of God’s other ways of relating to the human race, but whether that fulfillment need be realized within human history, now or ever, in particular for a people with their own still valid covenant with that same God, remains open to question.

If the continued existence of God’s covenant with the Jewish people alongside God’s wider covenant through Christ is indeed God’s will and way, then we might even have an obligation as Christians, for positive reasons, to respect and support the distinct existence of the Jewish people, lest we “find ourselves fighting against God” (Acts 5:39), which was Gamaliel’s caution to the Sanhedrin against trying to stamp out the nascent Jesus movement.

Robert J. O’donnell, Csp

Berkeley, Calif.

 

Is He Risen?

The cover of your February 21 issue asks: “Who Do You Say That I Am? Why Jewish-Catholic dialogue can’t avoid the question.” But none of the authors who commented on Steven Englund’s essay noted that the central feature of the Gospel (the Good News) is the resurrection of Jesus. The question, it seems to me, should be: What is your view of the Christian proclamation that Jesus was executed and then was raised from the dead by the God of Israel? Is that proclamation tenable? Did what it proclaims really happen or is it a myth?

How are we to take the claim of Peter et al. that they were eye witnesses to Jesus after his resurrection—they claim that they saw him, touched him, and spoke with him?

As Paul says, if Christ is not risen, then our belief is useless. Christianity caught on because of what the apostles and Paul announced and the result that their announcement had on people. If Jesus was actually raised from the dead by God, then claims that he is the Messiah would seem to have some weight. If he is not, then the world should pay attention to other religions.

Jesus was a Jew, as were his disciples. They saw Jesus as first-century Jews. Were they deluded? Did they invent resurrection as a psychological reaction to his death? Or did the God of Israel truly raise Jesus from the dead?

Richard J. Lohkamp

Moorestown, N.j.

Published in the March 21, 2014 issue: 
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