Friday, November 18, 2011

The ironic theology of "Barabbas"

Those familiar with Christian history know the name Barabbas. He is the criminal given freedom, instead of Christ, during Christ's trial before Pilate. All four Gospels mention Barabbas (Matthew 27:15-22; Mark 15:6-15; Luke 23:18-21; and here is John's account as an example:
But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover; will you have me release for you the King of the Jews?" They cried out again, "Not this man, but Barab'bas!" Now Barab'bas was a robber. (John 18:39-40)
Something occurred to me the other day about Barabbas' name. In the passage when Jesus changes Peter's name from Simon to Peter (Matt. 16:16-19), Peter leads by declaring Christ to be the "Son of God." Christ returns the label and calls him "Simon Bar-Jona." The root "Bar" there refers to "son of" so-and-so. Essentially, in response to "you are Son of God," Jesus says back to Peter, "you are son of Jonah." Bar means "son" in Aramaic. Even today, Jewish custom preserves the term in "Bar Mitzvah" which means "son of the commandment."

So quite literally, Barabbas' name means "Son of Abba." And Abba of course means "Father" in Aramaic. Jesus and Paul both used the phrase "Abba, Father" in reference to God the Father. The Dictionary of the Bible says Abba is an "Aramaic emphatic form of 'ab, "father", employed as a vocative."1 Barabbas' name quite literally translates to "son of the father."

On Mark's reference to Barabbas, the Ignatius Study Bible states:
Barabbas: An Aramaic name that literally means "son of the father". Aramaic-speaking Christians surely detected the tragic irony: the guilty Barabbas is released in place of Jesus, the truly innocent Son of the Father.2
There is an aspect of theology that recognizes the devil as an "imitator." For instance, Paul says the devil will perform "pretended signs and wonders" (2 Thes. 2:9). Yet true "signs and wonders" are properly the gift of God (e.g. Ps 135:9; Dan. 4:2; Acts 5:12; Heb. 2:4). St. Leo the Great said the devil is an "unwearied imitator."3

All of this points toward the great irony of Barabbas being freed in place of Christ. The guilty imitation, the false "son of the father" is released. The true Son of the heavenly Father is innocently sent to death. In Barabbas' name, we can see the diabolical delusion at work in those who wrongly choose the false "son of the father" to solve a problem.

This is something that can be applied to daily life. In our choices, do we choose what is good and true? Or do we delude ourselves and choose the false imitation to try justify our decisions? This is the irony of Barabbas!

1McKenzie, John L., S.J. Dictionary of the Bible. Touchstone. Simon & Schuster. New York. 1995. 1.
2Mitch, Curtis (Compiler) and Hahn, Scott (editor), Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament, 2nd Catholic Edition RSV, Ignatius Press, San Francisco, 2010. 95.
3St. Leo the Great, Sermon 36.2

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

More reason to withhold judgment on Paterno?

New developments in Penn State sex abuse case
To summarize my previous blog post on the Penn State abuse scandal (Joe Paterno: Scapegoat?):

In 2002, Mike McQueary, then graduate assistant at Penn State University was said in a Grand Jury Report to have witnessed Jerry Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant coach, raping a 10 year old boy in the campus showers. The report said McQueary first contacted his own father, and then Penn State head football coach Joe Paterno the next day. The following day, a Sunday, Paterno took the matter to the Athletic Director Tim Curley who conducted an investigation with Senior Finance VP Gary Schultz. Paterno has come under tremendous fire from various news media sources and angry combox contributers throughout the internet for not reporting the incident to on-campus police or public authorities based on McQueary's testimony. My general sentiments as of Friday, as seen in the link above, were to give pause and not incriminate Paterno based on a variety of facts, including what information Paterno was basing his decisions at the time.

Now, let's continue our thought exercise prior to formulating opinions, if we should even choose to formulate an opinion on this matter. I still think those who are harshly condemning Paterno as an accomplice to sex abuse cover-up are still making that claim in the absence of incriminating evidence.

Earlier today, an email from McQueary was leaked (which is another story altogether) to the public. The email is dated Nov. 8. In it, McQueary comments on the 2002 shower incident:
I did stop it, not physically ... but made sure it was stopped when I left that locker room ... I did have discussions with police and with the official at the university in charge of police .... no one can imagine my thoughts or wants to be in my shoes for those 30-45 seconds ... trust me.
As has been noted elsewhere in the media, the Grand Jury Report denies that McQueary spoke with on-campus police. It stated:
[T]he graduate assistant was never questioned by University Police and no other entity conducted an investigation until he testified in Grand Jury in December 2010.
Regarding Paterno, consider the following. If McQueary had spoken to on-campus police, and Paterno knew this fact, and yet went to the AD in addition to McQueary's interaction with on-campus police, then it would seem those who have condemned Paterno for keeping this from police officials of any kind have rushed to judgment and owe Paterno an apology.

On the other hand, let's say McQueary's email is inaccurate and the Grand Jury Report is accurate. Assume McQueary did not speak with on-campus police. Then we move onto the next statement in the email. McQueary says he also spoke "with the official at the university in charge of on-campus police." According to the New York Daily News, the on-campus police supervisor was Gary Schultz, the SVP of Finance, who looked into the matter with AD Curley according to the Grand Jury Report. If Paterno was aware that the supervisor of on-campus police was involved in the investigation, then, again, those who criticized Paterno for deliberately not involving any police officials are mistaken and owe Paterno an apology because the supervisor of on-campus police was already involved.

On first hearing about the email, I thought that skeptics might quickly say it was just Paterno or his supporters coercing McQueary to drum up evidence after the fact. However, McQueary's email is dated November 8, two days before Paterno was fired by Penn State. In the email, McQueary also states he was told by "officials to not say anything." It is unclear if that is a reference to officials at Penn State or otherwise. If this email is authentic, is it more of an indicator that Paterno was used as a scapegoat?

Meanwhile, Sandusky has claimed innocence in a television interview. And his lawyer spoke confidently that the identified victim in the 2002 case has denied being abused by Sandusky.

The matter of justice

Remember, in the last post, I cited the Catechism and the essential meaning of justice:
Justice - The cardinal moral virtue which consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbor. (CCC glossary)
I think this principle should be the driving force of a good Catholic, or anyone who seeks to formulate just opinions when they speak of others, or even interact with loved ones, friends, and acquaintances. I saw a decent article over the weekend from November 11 that I think leant itself well to that principle.

Christine M. Flowers, an attorney, wrote the article Back off from Joe Paterno: It's too soon, and unfair, to rush to trash his legacy. She makes it clear that she would be ready to recognize that if it was found out that Paterno was negligent of permitting child abuse to occur, that "God would probably mete out a stiffer sentence than the good people of the Keystone State" on him. However, she does not believe there is enough evidence at this time to incriminate Paterno.

As evidence of Paterno's character, she cited a 2007 incident.
Back in 2007, a member of the Nittany Lions squad was charged with raping a Penn State coed. Austin Scott was ultimately acquitted, and, of course, nothing happened to the woman who accused him. Scott, on the other hand, was kicked off the football team by Paterno. That's because the coach has a very strict sense of what is moral and ethical, which gives us some idea about whether he would have knowingly ignored evidence of sexual molestation.
Now a person's behavior at one time does not automatically reveal what his behavior was at another time. Yet I think Flowers' point stands here. There is reason to give pause. Combox comments from when this story first broke like "[Paterno] has shown to be a failure morally and only did the legally correct thing to protect HIMSELF!!!!" seem unwarranted based on the evidence publicly known. Is it not proper to give neighbors their "due"?

EDIT 11/17/11: Attorney Anthony Collelouri on November 8 also brought up the fact that Schultz was the on-campus police supervisor, and presented a legal and ethical defense of Paterno.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Joe Paterno: Scapegoat?

This blog post is regarding the Penn State sexual abuse scandal involving perpetrator Jerry Sandusky, but more specifically, the rhythmic, tribal outcry condemning the school's famous head football coach, Joe Paterno. For instance, writers Bennett L. Gershman and Joel Cohen appearing at the Huffington Post wrote earlier this evening:
"Joe Paterno...knew about Jerry Sandusky, allegedly a sexual predator who horribly raped young boys in the football locker room and shower, but did nothing." (Emphasis mine)
One need only read the comboxes beneath related web stories for more extreme rhetoric and bombast condemning Coach Paterno.

Now, in order for the reader to grasp what I'm going to say here, I have to ask that you try to suspend from your mind the information that is available today regarding the Penn State sex abuse scandal. It is all to easy for 20/20 hindsight to take over and condemn a man based on evidence that surfaced after the criticized action in question. Try to transplant yourself into the past as the details unfolded in reality. Consider possible scenarios consistent with what is known. Take this thought exercise with me.

The key document in all this is a 23-page Grand Jury Report (released November 5, 2011) on Jerry Sandusky's crimes. Despite the media frenzy that has called for Paterno's head and questioned his moral integrity, Paterno is mentioned in the Report just a few times. And not all of these are in relation to what detail of abuse, and how credible it was at the time, then-28-year-old graduate assistant Mike McQueary relayed to Paterno. As the Wall Street Journal noted earlier today: "It isn't clear from conflicting reports whether that graduate assistant told Mr. Paterno the ugly details of the sexual assault that is described in the grand jury report."

Here is the key excerpt from the Grand Jury Report that references Paterno's involvement.
[The document describes in horrific detail what McQueary reported about a pedophile rape in a school shower.] [McQueary] telephoned Paterno and went to Paterno's home, where he reported what he had seen. (page 7)
At this point, the document does not tell us if the description reported at that time matched the disturbing details that preceded in the Report. The subsequent text suggests otherwise:
Joseph V. Paterno testified to receiving the graduate assistant's report at his home on a Saturday morning. Paterno testified that the graduate assistant was very upset. Paterno called Tim Curley ("Curley"), Penn State Athletic Director and Paterno's immediate superior, to his home the very next day, a Sunday, and reported to him that the graduate assistant had seen Jerry Sandusky in the Lasch Building showers fondling or doing something of a sexual nature to a young boy.
Paterno is not mentioned again until later. Here are a few more details from the Report.
  • According to Curley, that McQueary described the shower incident as Sandusky and the youth "horsing around." Curley elsewhere denied that McQueary reported "'sexual conduct' 'of any kind'" having taken place. (page 8)
  • The school president Graham Spanier reportedly said that he learned Sandusky and the boy "were horsing around in the shower." He denied that he was told that the incident was "sexual in nature." (page 10)
  • Another member of the school, Gary Schultz, Senior Vice President for Finance and Business, became involved with Curley's investigation. According to Schultz's testimony, "he and Curley 'had no indication that a crime had occurred.'" Schultz also suggested that he understood the incident to have been Sandusky and the youth "wrestling." (page 9)
  • The Report later identifies the school's obligation by law to have reported suspected child abuse. It also states: "The Grand Jury finds that Tim Curley made a materially false statement under oath in an official proceeding on January 12, 2011.." and "[T]he Grand jury finds that Gary Schultz made a materially false statement under oath in an official proceeding on January 12, 2011..." (page 12)
Now, consider the following. It remains unclear what were the nature of details McQueary told Paterno. Paterno, on a Sunday, brought McQueary's report to the attention of his own superior, Curley. Curley then conducted an investigation with Schultz. Their testimony was determined by the Grand Jury to contain falsehoods.

Before we condemn Coach Paterno then, are there not a number of questions that are relevant? First, is what cause did Paterno have to assume the subsequent investigation conducted by Curley and Schultz would be incompetent or dishonest? I've yet to see anyone in the media ask that question, much less provide an answer.

Second, Curley, Schultz, and Spanier all told the Grand Jury that they did not determine any sexual conduct to have taken place in the showers that night. So if they were willing to tell that to a Grand Jury, then might they have told Coach Paterno the same thing back in 2002? And if so, what cause had Paterno to assume they had colluded to protect Sandusky? After all, if one reads the Report, Paterno's involvement was limited. Primarily, he was the one who brought the incident to the attention of university officials.

Third, even according to the Grand Jury Report, it seems McQueary used varying language as to what he saw in the showers. On pages 6-7, the Report indicates without qualification that McQueary witnessed Sandusky raping a boy. But on page 7, the Report reads "he had witnessed what he believed to be Sandusky [raping] a boy..." Between these variations and talk of "wrestling" or "horsing around" that was espoused by the other university officials, is it possible that Paterno did not feel McQueary truly saw sexual misconduct?

Remember, suspend your 20/20 hindsight for a moment and consider such details contained in the report.

Now, if one wants to say Paterno "could have done more," one merely agrees with what Paterno said recently in light of the revelation of Sandusky's apparent guilt. "With the benefit of hindsight, I wish I had done more," Paterno said. And who wouldn't say that in light of what is known now.

So can one say Paterno should have ignored the conclusions of his superiors and brought this to the police anyway? Let's say the answer to that is yes, he should have done "more." Paterno was fired by the University on Wednesday. Paterno did not witness the crime. McQueary, the actual witness, neither took the matter beyond school officials even after they did not report Sandusky to the police themselves. Yet McQueary, as of the time of this post, retains his job and will be an assistant coach on Saturday! Curley, who spearheaded the investigation and is under investigation for perjury, is only on "administrative leave"!

So is it not a fair question: Is Joe Paterno a scapegoat? Did Penn State University use the firing of Paterno, the most famous individual in this saga, as a "big statement" to "show" that they were really taking this seriously?

And is all the rhetoric and bombast for Paterno's head the product of some other form of hatred? Is he too iconic of the old school university seen by many as a culture of exclusivist bigotry? Is there a sentiment against the sport of football altogether?

Rather can we not agree that it is possible to decry sex abuse and yet not pass excessive judgment on a man who did move the investigation forward?

And what credibility have people like The Nation magazine's sports writer Dave Zirin who recently wrote of Penn State: "[F]ootball is so valuable that children can become collateral damage"; yet on another day write an anti-Christian article on Tim Tebow that called him "anti-abortion"! And consider the opening quote from the two writers who claimed Paterno "did nothing." These are the kinds of sentiments that indicate there are other motives to criticize Paterno than that he is actually a villain.

If Paterno was the negligent, immoral villain the way many have described him, I don't think it can be said because of what is publicly known thus far. Whatever we say about Paterno, I think the Catechism's definition of "Justice" is appropriate: "Justice - The cardinal moral virtue which consists in the constant and firm will to give their due to God and to neighbor."

One thing is for sure, Joe Paterno's students will ever love him for all that he did for them. (Watch a group of students supporting Paterno outside his home earlier tonight.)

EDIT 11/11/11 (8:00 a.m.): Since last evening, McQueary will now not be coaching on the field on Saturday––however, not because he is being punished, but because he is being preserved from "multiple threats." According to Penn State officials: "Due to multiple threats made against Assistant Coach Mike McQueary, the University has decided it would be in the best interest of all for Assistant Coach McQueary not to be in attendance at Saturday's Nebraska game."

EDIT 11/11/11 (1:23 p.m.): It was also reported that a lawyer representing the victims in this case has expressed disapproval on behalf of his clients that Paterno was fired. He is quoted:
"The board of trustees got it wrong. They should have consulted the victims before making a decision on Mr. Paterno...They should have considered these victims watch TV and are aware of the students' reaction and may not want to be associated with the downfall of Mr. Paterno. The school instead elected to do what it felt was in its own best interest at the time. Isn’t that what put the school in this position in the first place?"
If that is the case, one would think even the victims, at this point, do not believe Paterno's actions warranted his dismissal.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Book Review: Sin: A History

Sin: A History (2009) by Dr. Gary A. Anderson is an excellent treatment on the historical imagery characterizing the idea of sin. I give it 9 out of 10 stars.

Anderson takes us through the idea of sin throughout the Judeo-Christian tradition. Going all the way back to the first temple period of the Old Testament, sin was predominantly viewed as a weight or a burden to be borne. Another figure is the idea of a blemish or stain that requires cleaning. But the predominant figure beginning in the second temple period through the Christian era is the figure of debt.

The book is fraught with Biblical references demonstrating the idea of sin as a debt. The heart of the book reviews many of the ancient ideas of debt, slavery, land ownership, etc. that figure into the Jewish idea of due payment for debt. One need only review the several blog entries I have made on typology to know that I appreciate Anderson's treatment of Old Testament figures of debt and repayment as prefigurements of Christ's satisfaction for the debt of mankind's sin. These figures are really the heart of the book, which ends with a study of Christ's atonement.

Anderson not only draws largely from Scripture, but he also draws from ancient rabbinic or Jewish commentaries on the Biblical texts themselves. He is able to derive a number of insights from the Biblical texts by understanding the Jewish context in which they are understood. For instance, by studying the rabbinic interpretation of Psalm 32:1-2, we learn that in Jewish thought, sins and merits were not seen as a hard and fast legal accounting system. Rather, the love and mercy of God is revealed when he removes sins from the scales in order to tilt it in favor of Israel's merits (p. 107),

The third section of the book deals with "balancing debt with virtues." Anderson is alert to cries of "salvation by works" that are often made by those since the Protestant "Reformation" who deny man's capacity to merit. His defense of man's merit is solid and brings the reader's attention to the generosity of God. For instance, he cites Proverbs 19:17 Anyone who gives alms to the poor is lending to the Lord, the story of King Nebuchadnezzar who is exhorted to give alms to atone for his sins, or even the story of Jesus and the rich man who is told to store up "treasure in heaven" by giving alms. Though he does not do so with great length, Anderson does touch on the key to understanding man's merit as God's gifts returned. He uses the classic analogy of the penniless child (p. 160). The parent gives the child a gift of money. The child in turn buys a present for the parent. The present is essentially the parent's gift returned, yet the child is able to participate in the order of love by parting with something received. The parent is, of course, moved by this act even though it was the parent's gift returned. So too is it with merit (e.g. CCC#2008). Those interested in Catholic apologetics will appreciate the Biblical and traditional strength of such discourses in this book. As such I was also impressed that the book won the 2010 Christianity Today Book Award in the Biblical Studies category.

Some readers may find the book a little challenging to follow due to the immensity of references and word study. Anderson, who is professor of Old Testament/Hebrew Bible in the Department of Theology at the University of Notre Dame, also delves frequently into word origins, etymology, and parallel word usages in antiquity. Some of these sections may require the reader's careful attention as he intersperses words he has previously defined into subsequent sentences. I would not classify the book as "light" reading, although readers far more adept than I no doubt will have no stumbles. Readers who enjoy deep treatment of language will certainly appreciate Anderson's thoroughness.

I learned of this book while listening to archived audio of the Kresta in the Afternoon radio show. The episode, which was from December 22, 2010, was a replay of a February 3 interview with Dr. Anderson. The interview was rated as the #26 best of the year by the show's staff, which is not bad considering what I would guess are the 100+ interviews Al Kresta does every year. As a frequent listener of the show, I personally would have rated the interview much higher. The MP3 archive of the interview with Dr. Anderson can be heard here.