On Personhood

I want to offer a thought or two on personhood. What got me thinking was the recent pro-abortion rally in Washington, D. C. Though it is tempting to rant on some of the excesses in evidence at the rally (not the least of which was not allowing the women who’d had had abortions and were now against abortion to have their own space to assemble), I’d really rather discuss the issue of personhood. I will make some connections to the matter of abortion, but I also want to speak about personhood in a way that goes beyond the abortion polemics.

My friend, Tripp, would want me to assert that the issue of abortion is more complex than any one aspect on which one might choose to focus. And while I admit that the issue of abortion is not a simple logical syllogism one can work out, I do think that the entire abortion question rests squarely on the question of personhood. Address the question of personhood adequately and appropriately, and you will then have a clear and immistakable response to the abortion question.

But of course, personhood is itself a very complex matter. (And Tripp, I think, would be glad to hear me say that.)
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The Fatherhood Chronicles XXXVI

We live each of these days under the shadow of mortality. This is a damnable thing, a thing to be hated.

Yesterday, after work, I walked to the bookstore and there met my wife and daughter. Sofie, in Anna’s arms, saw me as I came up to them. She smiled and raised her arms in greeting. And she laughed. My breath almost stopped for joy at this precious gift: a daughter’s gleeful anticipation of her father’s embrace.

This morning, I awoke and as I always do, took Sofie in my arms, wishing her good morning, and announcing to her God’s love. Our time together this morning was cut short as I had an early meeting at the APA downtown to get to. Anna lay next to her in the bed, and Sofie kept pulling herself up to a standing position. She would then let go, balancing on her own two feet for an eternity of seconds. Then down she would go, plopping–as only young eight month old daughters can plop–bouncily on her diapered bottom. Her infant giggles were infectious and I could not help but burst out laughing. I grabbed her up in my arms. After some hugs and kisses, I made to put her down. She clung to me, refusing to break the embrace. I said, “I have waited eight months for this”–this daughter who knows her papa, and in her own way cherishes his affection.

My joy was so intense as to be painful. I kissed her almost weeping, and kissed her mother, too. Telling Anna I loved her, I signed the cross on Sofie’s forehead. As I was stepping through the front door, I tossed back over my shoulder, “Bye-bye, beautiful Healy women.”

My father’s heart was created for this, this child’s faith. This is a sign for us. A sign of the garden. A foretaste of the final consummation. It is God’s “This is my beloved Son” given us by adoption. It is the fellowship of the cool of the day, the fellowship before the question, “Where art thou?”

But this joy is pierced by a sword. I do not have the mother’s heart in which these things are pondered. Rather, mine is the fitful sleep, the dreaming vision. I must be told, the reality made clear for me. And these are the words: it is given unto men once to die and after that to face the judgment.

For there is another garden this signifies. Here in the cool of the night fall drops of blood. Here there is the “Nevertheless” and the bitter cup. This joy, this daughter’s laugh, and my father’s heart will one day be stilled. Over us will the earth be piled, until we, too, become once again earth. My daughter, my wife, I, myself, have only these numbered days, these finite hours in which to live and to love. All around us the forces of the enemy stand arrayed, seeking our destruction. It is for us to defy them, to claim our inheritance, and to fling this morning laughter, these kisses and hugs, and most of all the purity of our love sanctified by the cross, back in their faces.

It is this mortality which infects this father’s joy with pain, laces the laughter with tears. It is this mortality I curse as these father-daughter moments seem so difficult to cultivate, these moments which seem to require being stolen from other obligations. But it is this joy, this laughing communion which is also my salvation. God has given me Anna, and that crucifixion of myself brought me to a certain redemption. God, Anna and the Theotokos have given me Sofie, and this second crucifixion has deepened that other redemption.

These things with which I have been filled overflow me. They are difficult to articulate. They are a Lenten joyful sorrow. They presage the final Pascha. I laugh. I weep. And I hope.

Faith, Reason, Knowledge III

One of the important matters related to this understanding of the relationship between faith, reason and knowledge is our ability to know God, and to know God we must come to some conclusion about whether or not he exists. If it is granted that he does exist, then what are his attributes? How can we know them?

I want to say more about faith, reason and knowledge specifically, but it has been helpful for my thinking to lay the groundwork for further discussion by running through the ancient sceptical arguments against whether one can dogmatically assert God’s existence and make claims about his attributes. I will use the third chapter of Book III of Sextus Empiricus’ Outlines of Pyrrhonism, especially paragraphs 6-12, as my working text.
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The Fatherhood Chronicles XXXV

I had not intended to do any blogging till after 5pm today (when my grades are due), but Sofie didn’t synchronize her sleep schedule with my grading today. She’s up. I really can’t focus on grading. She’s in her bouncy saucer next to me at the computer, and seems content for a few minutes. So here goes.

There have been a couple of occasions over the last month which have really highlighted something for me. My language is more G-rated. And I’m not as funny as I used to be. And it’s all Sofie’s fault.

When I was graduating from Bible college, I had gone through a couple of years questioning some of the major tenets and social mores of my conservative evangelical upbringing. I had discovered and developed an appreciation for great classical human achievements in the arts and music and philosophy and literature (this was a good thing). I had also come to realize that consuming wine and other alcoholic beverages was not the ultimate sin–though one must of course not be drunk on wine but filled with the Holy Spirit. Though smoking is not to be encouraged, I also developed an appreciation for smoking a pipe–though it takes me about a year and a half to work through two ounces of tobacco. Neither of these things are bad in themselves, though potentially destructive. Then there was the “liberalization” of my tongue. I came to a rather casuistrical understanding that swearing, far from being a huge sin, was, gosh, a rhetorical tool.

Then Sofie came. Arts, music, literature and philosophy: still good things. Wine, beer, Scotch: adiaphora. Smoking a pipe: caution is to be observed. Swearing: CLEAN UP YOUR ACT, BUSTER!!

I could see Sofie appreciating arts, music, literature, and philosophy. I could see her enjoying and responsibly using wine. Smoking? Um, rethinking that one. Swearing: Yeah, right. I want to see my daughter rip off “Shut the f*** up you g****** m******F*****!!” (Shudders. Wipes brow.) No. She’ll hear it soon enough from the world. She needs to know it’s not appropriate. She can only learn that it is inappropriate from me (and her momma).

I’m also not finding the humor in things I once did. Take for example the religion articles in The Onion. I have on a couple of occasions started to post a couple of stories at which I chuckled. Then I thought better of it. What is Sofie going to think when at church we worship Christ the Harrower of Hell (depicted in our wall-sized icon in the sanctuary), but at home Daddy laughs his head off at: “Christ Converts to Islam”?

Don’t get me wrong. I understand there’s a place for satire. And if one can’t mock one’s own failures and hypocrisies (which satire attacks), then one has a real problem.

But Sofie is too young to know the difference. And won’t know the difference for some time.

No, I’m raising a daughter now. I am at this very moment teaching her the Faith . . . or disavowing it through my words and behavior. She needs to know that a mouth that praises God cannot speak in ways that dishonor God. She needs to know that God gave us humor, but not everything is to be laughed at.

Did I say it was Sofie’s fault? No. It’s not her fault. Rather, I have been given the grace to see myself through her eyes. I didn’t like what I saw. Time to change.

Faith, Reason, Knowledge II

Christ is risen!

The Union of Faith and Reason

One need not spend much time talking about faith and reason before encountering the split between them. From questions about whether or not it’s possible to “prove” the existence of God, to whether or not the Genesis account can be taken as a “literal” description of the origins of the earth especially given what science has to say about cosmogony, to questions about the place of faith and religion in public life, we generally operate under an assumption of the dichotomy between the two. These questions have further implications, such as, to speak specifically, the nature of faith itself and the whole question of “believer’s baptism.”

The relation of faith and knowledge can be seen from two crises: that of an intellectualized faith, or sometimes a pietized intellect, or, more usually, a dichotomized life of intellect versus pietism. That is to say, the intellect subsumes faith under its own rubric leading usually to a variant of secularism, or faith subsumes the intellect leading to fundamentalism, or, more usually, the intellect and faith are compartmentalized, leading to a split life of secularism and pietism. In all cases, the problem is a lack of union between faith and knowledge.
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Bright Monday: Reflections on the End of Holy Week

Christ is risen!

The Healy’s began their part of the intensive Orthodox Holy Week services with Good Friday Matins, which was celebrated Thursday evening. The Twelve Gospels are read and hymns sung for what was a liturgy lasting more than two and a half hours. During this service–in which the entire nave is dark, save for candlelight–a procession is made with the crucifix (a large cross on which the icon body of Christ is nailed) through the congregation. We slowly sing, “Today He Who hung the earth upon the waters is hung on the tree./The King of the angels is decked with a crown of thorns./He Who wraps the heavens in clouds is wrapped in the purple of mockery./He Who freed Adam in the Jordan is slapped on the face./The Bridegroom of the Church is affixed to the Cross with nails./The Son of the Virgin is pierced by a spear.” I wept. Nothing spectacular, but the tears just kept coming, despite my efforts to maintain some decorum. When we venerated the crucifix at the end, the tears came again. Anna asked me, “Are you alright?” I said, “Yes,” but was still on the verge of more tears on the ride home.
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Faith, Reason, Knowledge I


This past winter (yes, it’s officially spring, though one barely can tell here in Chicago) I reflected on what it meant for a Christian to think faithfully, that is to say, what foundations lay under a Christian’s mind in the various tasks of thinking. I would like to turn my attention now to a related question: can faith, specifically Christian faith, provide knowledge?
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