Thursday, March 26, 2009

Proud of My Fellow Domers


In defense of the unborn, we wish to express our deepest opposition to Reverend John I. Jenkins, CSC’s invitation of President Barack Obama to be the University of Notre Dame’s principal commencement speaker and the recipient of an honorary degree. Our objection is not a matter of political partisanship, but of President Obama’s hostility to the Catholic Church’s teachings on the sanctity of human life at its earliest stages. His recent dedication of federal funds to overseas abortions and to embryonic stem cell research will directly result in the deaths of thousands of innocent human beings.

We cannot sit by idly while the University honors someone who believes that an entire class of human beings is undeserving of the most basic of all legal rights, the right to live.The University’s decision runs counter to the policy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops against honoring pro-choice politicians. In their June 2004 statement Catholics in Political Life, the bishops said, “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.”

Fr. Jenkins defends his invitation by saying that it does not honor or suggest support for the President’s views on abortion, but rather support for his leadership. But our “fundamental moral principles” must be respected at all times. And the principle that requires us to refrain from the direct killing of the innocent has a special status even among the most fundamental principles. President Obama’s actions have consistently shown contempt for this principle, and he has sought political gain by making light of its clear political implications. Leadership that puts the lives of the most innocent at risk is leadership we must disdain. In the face of President Obama’s actions, Father Jenkins’ words ring hollow.

It is a great irony that the University has chosen to award President Obama an honorary law degree. As the oldest Catholic law school in the country, the Notre Dame Law School states that its mission is “to facilitate greater understanding of and commitment to the relationship between law and social justice.” The social justice issue of our day is the deliberate, legal attack on the most vulnerable members of society, the unborn. To award a Notre Dame law degree to a lawyer and politician who has used the law to deny equality to the unborn diminishes the value of the degree itself.

Additionally, Fr. Jenkins has placed some of his students in a moral dilemma as to whether they can attend their own graduation. Many pro-life seniors, along with their families, are conflicted about whether to participate in the commencement ceremony. The lack of concern for these devoted sons and daughters of Notre Dame, who love this University and the Catholic principles on which it was built, is shameful.

In response to the University’s decision, we pledge ourselves to acts of witness that will be characterized by respect, prayerfulness, outspoken fidelity to the Church, and true concern for the good of our University.It is appropriate that only members of the Notre Dame community lead all such protests, and we ask outside groups to respect our responsibilities in this regard. Over the next several weeks, in response to this scandal, our organizations will host various academic and religious events to engage the University community. We request any groups who are committed to respectful actions to support our efforts, thereby ensuring a unified front and a more compelling public witness.

In Notre Dame,

Notre Dame Right to Life
The Irish Rover Student Newspaper
Notre Dame College Republicans
The University of Notre Dame Anscombe Society
Notre Dame Identity Project
Militia of the Immaculata
Children of Mary
Orestes Brownson Council
Notre Dame Law School Right to Life
Notre Dame Law St Thomas More Society
The Federalist Society at Notre Dame Law School

The web site for this coalition of Notre dame Students is

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Parables of Jesus Ignored?

Sorry we've been away!
Michael's been swamped with dissertating and I've been busy writing a new chapter of my book on the Last Supper. This chapter focuses on "The Eucharistic Parables of Jesus and the Kingdom of God." As anyone who's ever tried knows, it is easy to get sucked into the vortex that is scholarly research on the kingdom of God and never get out. Thankfully, I am coming out of it.
In the midst of writing, however, I've noticed two things worth sharing.
First, I have been working through Klyne Snodgrass' new book, Stories with Intent: A Comprehensive Guide to the Parables of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008). So far, so great! I must admit that when this book first came out, I didn't pay it much attention, but it has quickly become the best work on the Parables that I have on my shelf. Two particular strengths stand out. 
(1) Snodgrass does not make his exegesis of the parables contingent on any particular source-critical solution to the Synoptic Problem. He interprets the parables as they stand in the Gospels. (Although this may ruffle the feathers of some reviewers, I suspect it will give his work an enduring value that many twentieth-century studies will not share. Go re-read C. H. Dodd's book on the parables and you'll see what I mean.)
(2) Snodgrass at least attempts to interpret what each of the parables might have meant in Jesus' own historical context. This is a refreshing change from commentaries that simply assume that the parables are allegories of the life of the early Church without even trying to see how they fit into an ancient Jewish context. The results in many cases are quite compelling. 
Second, I have become startlingly aware of just how many Jesus scholars--myself included!--tend to give the parables rather short shrift in full-length books on Jesus. Think back over the last century. Where are the parables in the works of Albert Schweitzer, Ben Meyer, E. P. Sanders, or Dale Allison? Nowhere to be found. What about James Dunn's massive  Jesus Remembered? Surely in 1000 pages he devoted ample space to them? Sorry; just a few pages. Even N. T. Wright, who gives great attention to the Prodigal Son and the Wicked Tenants, ignores a host of other parables (especially those troublesome 'Second Coming' parables, which don't exactly fit Wright's view that the Second Coming will take place, but that Jesus never spoke about it.) Finally, if what he told me a few years ago is still the case, Father John Meier's fourth and fifth volumes will contain little to no treatment of the parables, because only a few of them are multiply attested.
The irony in all this is that if there is anything that modern scholarship agrees on, it is that (1) Jesus preached about the kingdom of God; and (2) he did so using parables. Yet when we turn to major books on Jesus, oftentimes, the parables play little to no role in the reconstruction. Why is this?
Of course, there are probably a host of reasons that are too complex to be summed up in a short post. But I would suggest at least one.
On the one hand, it seems to me that the parables that describe the kingdom as a process of growth that takes place over time (e.g., the Mustard Seed, the Seed Growing Secretly, the Wheat and the Tares) pose a huge problem for Albert Schweitzer's enormously influential theory that Jesus expected the end of history to coincide with his own death. Perhaps this is why they played no real role in his reconstruction of Jesus' eschatology. On the other hand, it's no coincidence that C. H. Dodd, the champion of "realized eschatology," leaves the parables that envision a delay of some sort before the final unexpected advent of the Son of Man until the end of his book on the parables of Jesus (e.g., the Faithful and Unfaithful Servants, the Waiting Slaves, the Thief at Night, the Ten Virgins). They likewise pose real problems for his overall argument, and so he readily disposes of them as creations of the early Church.
In other words, many of the parables just don't fit the eschatological schemas that undergird most Jesus research taking place these days. So what to do? Simple: ignore them, as if they didn't exist. That, at least, is what I've done in my own thought for a number of years. Or, declare them all inauthentic, by stripping them of the elements that pose problems and then reinterpreting them.
However, is this really the best way to deal with the parables? Maybe the reason the parables of the kingdom don't play a role in many books about Jesus is not because they are all inauthentic, but because most modern conceptions of Jesus' view of the kingdom is fundamentally flawed. That, at least, is what I am beginning to wonder.