Sunday, February 20, 2022

#51 / Remembering James Sanders


James Sanders (pictured above) was a renowned Biblical scholar who ended his teaching career at the Claremont School of Theology (CST). Sanders died on October 1, 2020, at the age of ninety-two. You can click right here if you'd like to read more about him in an "In Memoriam" statement posted on the CST website. 

Prior to teaching at the Claremont School of Theology, Sanders taught at Union Theological Seminary, in New York City. I was a student in his Old Testament class, at Union, when I was there during the 1970-1971 academic year, as a Rockefeller Brothers Fellow. 

As described on the website of the Forum For Theological Education, the Rockefeller Brothers Fellowship was awarded to persons who had no plans to enter the ministry, but who might be interested in making such a choice. I was given such a fellowship, which definitely came to me "out of the blue," just as I was completing law school, and just as I was about to get married, and at a time when I had no particular desire, whatsoever, to be a practicing lawyer. 
Recipients of these Rockefeller Brothers Fellowships did not apply directly; candidates were nominated by members of the clergy who thought they might have found a "likely suspect." The idea of the program, which provided complete support for the Fellows for the first year of what was normally a three-year program of theological education, was either to (1) bring promising young people into the clergy who would never have otherwise chosen that path, or (2) to send these promising young people back into the "laity," but with an enhanced understanding of theology. The Rockefeller Brothers program saw this as a win/win approach. Whatever happened with respect to the choice made by a Rockefeller Brothers Fellow, after that first year, theological education was advanced.
During my one year at Union, as reported above, I took an Old Testament class from Professor Sanders. I think it is fair to say that his class has had a profound and enduring impact on my life, and on my way of thinking about the world.
I don't know whether Professor Sanders ever wrote, somewhere, what he told his students, but here is what he told us: the definition of "Sin" is to attribute our lives, and everything about them, to our own efforts, instead of acknowledging that the gift of our lives, and everything associated with our lives, comes from God.

Anyone who has read even a few of the postings I have made here in this "We Live In A Political World" blog will recognize that this insight into the nature of reality is directly related to what I call my "Two Worlds Hypothesis."

In fact, I came, rather suddenly, on the idea that we inhabit "Two Worlds," simultaneously, when I considered the fact that there are two different things called "laws," with the same name applied to what are two completely different phenomena. The "laws" of Nature are descriptive, and tell us what must and will happen, and these laws apply in the "physical" or "natural" world upon which everything we do is ultimately dependent. 

The word, "law," though, is also used to denote those rules that apply in our human relationships (and these are the kind of "laws" that lawyers deal with). Human laws do not describe what must and will happen. Human laws are "prescriptive," not "descriptive," and our laws tell us what we (who write these human laws) have decided we want to do, or ought to do. 

Same word. Two completely different things. We live in "Two Worlds." 

If we get confused, and start thinking we can ignore the laws that apply in the World of Nature, we risk the complete ruin of all our human projects. Think about global warming as the most pertinent and prominent current example. There are lots of others.

On the other hand, if we ignore the fact that we can change the laws that apply in the Human World, the world we most immediately inhabit - if we act as those human laws tell us what must and will happen - we have turned our back on the human freedom that is our greatest gift, our ability, always, to do something new, something that "breaks the laws" we so erroneously think compel our behavior in a world we create. When we act together to promulgate and follow new human "laws," new prescriptions that we want to and ought to follow, we create the human world itself, and we demonstrate, for those who understand the terminology, that we live (most immediately) in a "Political World." 

Ultimately, of course, we live in the World That God Made, or the World of Nature, for those who have become allergic to the "G-word." That world came first, and comes first. Claiming the opposite is what Professor Sanders has warned us against.

If the "wages of sin is death," which the Bible does claim, and if "sin" is our determination to attribute to ourselves the power to define reality on our own terms, and to claim that our "political world," the world which we create, is the world to which we should ultimately pledge our allegiance, then death will be the result of our failure to acknowledge the ultimate claim that the World of Nature has upon our lives. Our erroneous claim that we can supply for ourselves everything that we need and want, instead of conforming ourselves to the laws of the Creation, will lead to the end of us, and of all we have done, and might do.
Think about global warming as the most pertinent and prominent current example. There are lots of others.

Is there any "sin" in "synthetics"? If you have the time, you might want to click on that link and read one of my much earlier blog postings. It's a different discussion of the same point I am making here - going beyond the example of global warming as the most pertinent and prominent evidence that we must respect and follow the laws that govern the World of Nature.
When we look around, we find ourselves living in a world of plastic. This is a world we have created. Is there any "sin" in "synthetics"? Professor James Sanders tells us that the answer is "yes."

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