Thursday, February 21, 2019

Gay piety

There are some intriguing facets to Marian piety. Take the specter of sexless priests venerating the sexless Madonna. In traditional Marian iconography, Mary is frequently or usually depicted as a beautiful woman. That's not surprising. Most Catholic artists are straight males. There may be the notion that physical perfection symbolizes spiritual perfection. There may be the notion that Mary represents idealized womanhood, and idealized feminine beauty is emblematic of her exalted status. 

Be that as it may, it gives the artist an excuse to paint or sculpt a gorgeous woman under pretext of religious art. Male artists like to paint or sculpt beautiful women. And these are typically drawn from life: a live (female) model. 

It's pretty arbitrary what figure she represents. She could represent a Greek goddess or the Madonna. Botticelli is an example of a painter who used the same woman in Classical and Catholic art. In so much Marian iconography, she could just as well be a love goddess. Only the setting and attire (or lack thereof) makes the difference.

That raises some interesting questions about the psychology of Marian devotion, especially at a concrete level when visual representations function as an aid to veneration. When a normal man views a beautiful woman, there's bound to be a sexual undercurrent. So there's something artificial about Marian piety in that regard. 

So what lies behind the higher flights of Marian adoration? On the one hand, conventual inspiration is probably a factor. The piety of nuns. Normally, there's no sexual undercurrent when another woman views a beautiful woman. Mind you, there's the issue of what percentage of nuns are lesbian. But bracketing that question, conventual piety would be free of any sensual tension or dynamism. 

In addition, Marian piety is a safe outlet for homosexual monks and priests. That's "chaste" because they lack normal feelings for beautiful women. Adoration for eunuchs. 

So the upper altitudes of Marian devotion are likely the product of nuns and homosexual monks. Vestal piety or gay piety. But when that's grafted onto normal male piety, there's a clash between charged hormones and chaste sentiment. 

Compartmentalized theology

Before I do another post critical of Roman Catholicism, it's important to note that we can't use what's wrong as a basis of comparison. There's a danger in taking satisfaction from the fact that I'm not like that! But I could still be bad in a different way. 

i) One way Catholics rationalize remaining in such a corrupt denomination is to compartmentalize morality and theology. They put the morality of Catholic clergy in one container, and Catholic theology in a separate container. But one problem with that strategy is that in Catholicism, the true faith is inseparable from its institutional expression. In Catholicism, you can't detach true religion from institutional religion. There's a one-to-one correspondence. They can't be pried apart. The faith is mediated by the guys in funny hats. They embody the faith. They are the official spokesmen. 

ii) But here's another issue: the Protestant faith has a static rule of faith–the Bible. The Bible isn't going to change. It's frozen in place. There may be some tweaking if we discover new ancient MSS, but what we have is pretty much all we're going to have. So in that respect, clerical misconduct has absolutely no impact on Bible-based theology. 

By contrast, Catholicism has a fluid rule of faith. Living tradition. The development of doctrine. The pope as the voice of God. A living oracle. 

This means the personal mores of Vatican and diocesan policymakers may rewrite theology, where the sexual morality of popes, cardinals, and bishops is the locomotive pulling the theological caboose. In the past, homosexual clerical hypocrisy was necessary because sodomy was stigmatized, but nowadays, not only is sodomy fashionable in the general culture, many lay Catholics are social liberals. Given such a welcoming climate, what's to prevent Vatican and diocesan policymakers from changing traditional theology to sanctify their homosexual lifestyle? What's to hinder them from following the same well-worn path as mainline Protestant denominations? Indeed, that's well underway. 

Fake news

I didn't follow the Jussie Smollett story closely. My awareness of the story was confined to evolving headlines and Twitter. 

Why does the "news" media keep falling for stories like this?

i) The liberal media are bigots, and bigotry is self-reinforcing. They associate with like-minded people. They stereotype Christians, conservatives, and Trump supporters. Men.  White men. Straight men. They think they already know everything they need to know about us. We're the enemy. So they instantly believe the worst. 

Conversely, they are  predisposed to throw their support behind the social mascots du jour. He's black and gay. 

ii) They don't learn from their mistakes in part because this was never about reporting what actually happened. That's boring. Instead, liberal journalists wish to be agents of change. They don't care about the facts if the facts get in the way. Their cause is so just that it warrants winning by whatever means necessary. The noble lie. "News" and "fact-checkers" are camouflage for crafting narratives that further their social agenda. 

iii) And they don't learn from their mistakes in part because it's a tactic or strategem. Throw everything you've got to up the odds that something will stick. They're prepared to miss 9 times out of 10 so long as they get the occasional hit. They hope it has a cumulative effect. People are more likely to remember the first report than subsequent retractions. That's what sticks in their mind. 

Their mistakes would only be mistakes if they were aiming for the truth. But that was never the target. They don't learn from their mistakes because these aren't mistakes. Rather, it's a reflection of their political strategy and tactics. So they will keep on doing it.

Mind you, this does erode what little credibility they have. But that's a risk they're prepared to take because they think short-term rather than long-term. Success builds on success. Winning in the short term empowers the winners, upping the odds of a winning streak. 

Catholic rentboy

From what I can tell, Brandon seems to be a genuinely likable guy, which I wouldn't say about some other Catholic apologists. Mind you, it's easier to dupe nice guys with an idealistic sales pitch. Natural SOBs like me aren't so easily conned. 

One reason he doesn't mention is that Brandon is a Catholic employee. He works for a bishop. He's a "best-selling" Catholic author. He appears on EWTN. 

It would be a financial hardship for him to leave Catholicism when his career is so invested Catholicism. How would he support is family? Where is the next paycheck coming from? That might put a real strain on the marriage. 

I don't say that to be judgmental. That can be a real dilemma. Lots of breadwinners are understandably reluctant to quit their job when they have no  fallback. That's surely something he has in the back of his mind. Financial coercion is powerful. 

And that has caused many Catholics to understandably wonder why they should remain Catholic. How can I remain associated with such a corrupt institution? How can I keep my children in Catholic parishes and schools if the Church seems incapable of protecting them from sexual abuse? These are questions I’ve asked myself.

At the same time, people outside the Church who are considering becoming Catholic must wonder, Why should I become Catholic in light of all this sickening news? Wouldn’t life be easier in some other church or religion? Those are good questions, too.

So, in a book titled Why I Am Catholic, I can’t avoid the elephant in the room, the most obvious reason not to be Catholic: the sexual abuse crisis. In response, I’ve written this preface to answer why I, a Millennial Catholic, young husband and father, remain Catholic despite these horrific cases of abuse and cover-up.

The main answer is that I’m Catholic because of Jesus, not because of the leaders of the Church. As you’ll see in this book, the principal reason to become Catholic is because you’re convinced Catholicism is true and you believe what the Church teaches about faith, morals, and its own identity. I’m convinced Catholicism is true because of Jesus. I believe the Church wasn’t just started by a group of bumbling bureaucrats but by Jesus himself, God in the flesh.

It’s Jesus I’m drawn to, Jesus I’m committed to, and Jesus I trust. It’s true that Catholics are often drawn to the faith by charismatic leaders, warm parish communities, or impressive schools. There’s nothing wrong with those entry points, as long as we remember that our faith is not ultimately rooted in those things and isn’t compromised when they fail.

As a Catholic, my faith is in Jesus Christ, not his followers. When sin and evil swirl through the Church, I keep my eyes fixed on that reliable center, that untainted source of the Church’s authority and attraction: Jesus.

So he can't come to Jesus outside the Roman Catholic church? Jesus requires Brandon to go through the Roman Catholic church to come to him? 

Although that's traditional Catholic theology, it's not post-Vatican II theology. In fact, Brandon's boss, Bishop Barron, is a hopeful universalist. You don't have to be Catholic to be saved. You don't have to be Christian to be saved. So even on Catholic grounds, Brandon can find Jesus in a Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, or Baptist church (among others). 

My second answer is that I know that the sexual abuse crisis is not indicative of the entire Church. The percentage of priests and bishops complicit in these crimes is relatively low (smaller, in fact, than in many other religions). The vast majority of priests and bishops are good, holy men who are just as disgusted as the laity about this abuse. Some of my closest friends are priests and they’re among the most selfless, virtuous people I know.

Even if that were true, the problem is much larger than sexual abuse of minors. There's a gay subculture in Catholicism that goes right up to the top. Indeed, according to a new, heavily documented book (Frédéric Martel, In the Closet of the Vatican), the Catholic church gets gayer the higher you go. 

My third and final answer is that I remain Catholic because I want to be part of the solution. The Church is not just an institution but also a family, and when your family faces a crisis, you don’t flee—you stay and help. When we experience evil or terror, our natural reaction is to run. That’s understandable; we’re scared and scandalized.

But for Catholics, the Church is our family and home; and when evil threatens your family or home, you don’t give up and run away. You batten down the hatches. You plant your feet. You resolve, “This is my home, and I will not let evil destroy it.”

Or, to switch metaphors, when a family member has cancer, you don’t just give up on them and leave. You move closer to them. You resolve to stay by their side and help battle the cancer. You give all you can offer.

That’s what the Catholic Church needs now. In times of crisis—and there have been many such crises throughout the Church’s history (and indeed there will be more)—the Church summons new heroes who are committed to holiness and driven to uproot whatever sin and evil have infected the spiritual family.

So, scandals don’t push me away from the Church, just as a relative’s cancer diagnosis doesn’t push me away from her. In both cases, the evil demands a heroic resolve to stay and fight, to be part of the solution, especially on behalf of the victims.

i) First of all, Brandon is not a policymaker, so he's not part of the solution. Rather, he's one of many loyal enablers. 

ii) There are situations when it's proper to stay and fight, but that assumes there's no alternative. 

I want to be very clear: these sexual abuse cases are horrific. There’s no downplaying them or justifying them or explaining them away. They’re egregious and scandalizing. But Catholicism doesn’t fall when its members fail. 

But that's just a throwaway disclaimer if there's absolutely nothing that would cause you to walk away. If you continue to support that institution no matter what. 

I’m Catholic not because Church leaders are perfect, but because the Church channels to me the love and forgiveness of Jesus in unparalleled ways: his body and blood in the Eucharist, his forgiveness in Confession. Life may seem easier outside the Church. But these divine treasures are only found within, and they carry Catholics through even the darkest of times.

That's the bait and hook. That enables cynical prelates to make patsies out of sweet gullible guys like Brandon. They're blinded by the idea of Catholicism. Like a love-struck teenager, they can't perceive the reality behind the projection.  

Why be good?

1 In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
    “Flee like a bird to your mountain,
2 for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
    they have fitted their arrow to the string
    to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
3 if the foundations are destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”
4 The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the Lord's throne is in heaven;
    his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
5 The Lord tests the righteous,
    but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
6 Let him rain coals on the wicked;
    fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
    the upright shall behold his face.
(Psalm 11)

To be a Christian can be dispiriting and aggravating. It so often seems like we're fighting harder for what's right than God is. He isn't giving our side much help. Feels like Napoleon leading his troops into battle, then leaving them behind to die in the snow. So why be good? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. 

But ironically, that constantly reminds me of how I sure dislike what the other side represents. If that's the winning side (for now), I sure don't care to be on their side, because they're so despicable. If that's what it takes to be on the winning side, I want no part of it. I'll stand with the losers. 

I look at Democrats, atheists, secular progressives, "progressive Christians," and they're such morally repellent individuals. Even if I had no other reasons to be a Christian, I'd still rather be on our side by default because the alternative is so repulsive. 

Look at what they do to other people. Killing newborn babies. 

Destroying the Boy Scouts.

Reviling guys for "manspreading". Fining guys for "manspreading". 

Mothers who kill their own babies. Fathers who have no say even if they wish to keep the child. It's his child, too! 

Women generally initiate divorce, women generally get customary, and the ex pays child support for a child he rarely gets to see.

Brainwashing normal healthy innocent kids with transgender propaganda, pumping them full of puberty blockers–which permanently damages their physical maturation, since adolescence is unrepeatable and irreversible–then butchering their sexual anatomy. 

Terminating custody for parents who refuse to destroy their kids physically and psychologically to appease the transgender monsters.

Fetishizing drag queens. Handing innocent young kids over to drag queens to be indoctrinated. 

Fining, expelling, or imprisoning students, employers, or employees who refuse to use transgender pronouns or make products that valorize sodomy.  

Euthanizing the elderly and developmentally disabled. 

I'd rather be on the losing team than be on that team! 

This is a test of faith. It's easy to be a Christian when it's cost-free. Costly discipleship is the acid test and refining fire. 

In times like this Christians must cling to the eschatological promise that the first shall be last and the last first. The miscarriages of justice in this life will be reversed in the afterlife. But boy does it burn in this life. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Lost & Found

The son of middle-class parents, Ralph became a business magnate through a wining combination of mendacious charm and ruthless cunning. His first wife divorced him because of his philandering, but he paid her off to have custody of their son Justin. Outwardly, Justin had everything, yet there was something missing in his life until he discovered the Bible. Or did the Bible discover him?

Ralph was diagnosed with cancer when Justin was 15. Ralph had the best treatment that money could buy, but unlike most things in Ralph's world, cancer couldn't be bought off. It just wasn't impressed by his portfolio. 

Before he died, Ralph bribed a judge–an old acquaintance–to make Justin an emancipated minor, so that his ex-wife wouldn't claim the estate. Ralph was always good at buying people. Only the cancer rebuffed his financial solicitations. 

At 16, Justin became the sole heir when his father succumbed. Rummaging through his late father's private and legal correspondence, Justin discovered that he had a younger half-brother named Jason, age 14. Turns out his father had a mistresses. When she became pregnant, he tried to coerce her into having an abortion, but she refused. She was holding out for a settlement. The child was a bargaining chip. She understood the value of leverage as well as Ralph. So he bought her silence with a princely onetime lump sum payment. That's what he did best. Buying and selling people in his life. 

Justin was eager to track down his long-lost brother. Partly out of duty. It wasn't fair that his brother was banished. But also out of genuine curiosity to meet the brother he never knew he had. 

Yet Ralph was good at covering his tracks. So Justin had to hire a private eye to locate Jason. Turns out Jason was living in the slums. His mother had a very comfortable existence at first. The hush money was considerable. But she had poor judgment in boyfriends, squandering the settlement. Then she died of cervical cancer when Jason was 11. In and out of foster care, he wound up in a halfway house due to minor juvenile delinquency. School was hell. He was beaten up everyday.

Just to confirm his identity, Justin arranged for Jason to take a DNA test. Jason was also shown pictures of Ralph and his mistress, as well as handwritten correspondence, to see if he recognized the handwriting and the woman in the pictures. He never knew his father. But the rest was familiar. 

Jason was naturally curious about what was all about. The physician whom Justin retained to collect the sample didn't wish to get his hopes up in case the results came back negative, but he had to provide some explanation. 

Jason was astonished to find out that he might have real family. The existence of a brother he never suspected. A brother who was looking for him!

The suspense was all-consuming. Two sleepless nights. In the daytime, he wandered around in a daze. Oscillating between elation if true and desolation if not. It seemed too good to be true. 

Finally the physician who collected the sample phoned him to confirm that the results were positive. An hour later, Justin phoned him to see if Jason wanted to meet him. Jason could hardly wait.

Justin flew over by private jet. They arranged a rendezvous at a park a few blocks from the halfway house. Jason got there early, looking intently at anyone and everyone who might possibly be his brother. Asking them, "Are you my brother?" They flipped him off. 

Finally he sat down, discouraged, staring at the pavement. Then someone quietly came up to him, casting a shadow. Jason looked up. "Hi Jason, I'm your brother Justin!" 

Jason jumped up. Justin, who was taller, and athletic, gave him a big hug, lifting him right off the ground. Although it was the first time they saw each other face-to-face, there was a built-in bond. 

After a few minutes, they took a limo to a private airport and flew home. He had a real home! It only took him 14 years to get there. Like he was left behind..abandoned…until his brother came back for him. 

Because Jason was technically a runaway, he had to maintain a low profile until he turned 18. Justin arranged for fake ID. Ironically, the fake ID was his true identity, using his father's surname. Justin also arranged for false records to be input in official databases, to maintain his brother's cover–until he reached majority age. A flawless fictional backstory. From Ralph, Justin had mastered the art of paying people off to get what he wanted, but unlike his father, Justin did it for a good cause. 

Over the following months and years they had to make up for lost time. Perhaps, had they grown up together, they'd take each other for granted–but because of the separation, they made the most of their newfound opportunity, due to the lost years. It didn't take long to learn out how much they had in common. The bond of blood transcended time and space. 

An elite disconnect

There's a disconnect between Catholic ecclesiastical policymakers and lay Catholic conservatives on the issue of homosexuality among the clergy. The policymakers don't think homosexuality is a problem, but for a different reason than outsiders might suppose. For instance, you might suppose they don't think it's a problem because they don't think the percentages are high enough to be statistically significant. But that's not the reason they don't think it's a problem. There seem to be two factions on this:

1. Policymakers who don't think there's anything inherently wrong with homosexuals in the priesthood (or episcopate) so long as they remain abstinent. 

2. Policymakers who distinguish pederasty from homosexual activity between consenting adults. They don't think it's a problem if Catholic priests and bishops engage in homosexual activity so long as that's between consenting adults. It's only a problem if that's between adults and minors.

In addition, many lay Catholics are socially liberal, so that's a position that may gain traction and prevail over the next few years. A coalition between progressive lay Catholics and progressive Catholic clergymen. 

3. At the same time, I doubt the sincerity of that distinction. For two reasons I think it's unstable:

i) Many homosexual men seem to prefer teenage boys because they find them more physically appealing. The aging process hasn't kicked in. Pristine youth. Youthful adulthood or near adulthood. 

ii) Many adolescent boys are easier to dominate and manipulate by adult men because, at that age, they are less sure of themselves. They are just entering into their manhood. That's a new experience for them. They're attempting to get their bearings. What does it mean to be a man? And they look up to older men as mentors and role models. That makes them easier to take advantage of. 

Naturalized miracles

I was asked me how to respond to the counter that purported events like the Resurrection might happen, yet not be miraculous, but be due to some as of yet undiscovered natural cause or process.

One problem with that explanation is that there are so many different kinds of well-documented miracles. So an atheist must postulate so many undiscovered natural causes. 

In addition, I ran the question by three philosophers who specialize in the philosophy of miracles. They indicated that it's okay to share their responses:

Naturalism of the gaps. That's not applying all evidence and inferring the best explanation. Actually, the more science progresses, the lower the probability of such a thing becomes. We now know *why* the dead do not spontaneously rise by natural causes, in ever-greater detail. Cellular death, denaturing of proteins, bacterial activity, etc. 

If we discovered robots on another planet, we could hold out indefinitely for "some natural cause," but that wouldn't be rational. People are always able to be irrational (and often are irrational). That doesn't make it epistemically legitimate.

– Lydia McGrew

In our Blackwell paper, Lydia and I consider a number of such attempts to give a non-miraculous account of the evidence. The short answer is that they do not account for that evidence nearly as well as the resurrection itself does. 

A slightly longer answer is that there is no better way to evaluate such hypotheses than to look at the evidence in detail and consider the hypotheses on a case-by-case basis. For some miracle claims -- the Hindu milk miracle comes to mind -- there is a superior naturalistic explanation. (Lydia recreated the Hindu milk miracle in our kitchen with a spoonful of water and a piece of unglazed tile. No statue of Ganesh was required.) For others, this option turns out not to be true.

As far as an undiscovered natural cause, anybody can postulate that possibility for anything whatsoever. Perhaps there's an undiscovered natural cause that makes it look like the Earth orbits the sun even though in fact Ptolemaic astronomy is true. Perhaps there's an undiscovered natural cause that makes it look like the Earth isn't flat even though -- surprise! -- it is. Perhaps there's an undiscovered natural cause that generates all of the evidence we have that the universe is billions of years old even though it isn't. Perhaps there's an undiscovered natural cause that makes it look like Jesus miraculously rose from the dead even though his coming back to life was just a very, very rare natural event, and it was just lucky that this purely natural event happened to look like the culmination of many centuries of increasingly specific prophecy. 

– Timothy McGrew

I think you will find that in chapter four of The Legitimacy of Miracle I discuss that suggestion at length. The basic point is that the progress of science has made such a suggestion less convincing rather than more. The more we know about human physiology the harder it becomes to suggest such a counter. Similarly with other miracles. We know, for example, a lot more about the chemistry of wine than we did two thousand years ago but that makes it harder, rather than easier to give a natural explanation of how water could turn into wine at the spoken word of Jesus. If one is positing some natural process for such an event or the resurrection then one needs to explain why that process only worked in that unique instance. Note also that positing such a process is simply a promissory note. Presumably, the only reason to trust such a promissory note is the inductive argument that science has been successful in the past. This fails, however, in that it makes no distinction between nomological and historical science. The fact that pigeons are easy to catch does not provide a good inductive argument that foxes are easy to catch. Analogously, the fact that regular law-like events are susceptible of natural explanations provides no reason to think that events such as the resurrection, Jesus walking on water, the virgin birth, or the origin of life are susceptible of natural explanations. So the progress of science argument really cuts the other way. Everything we know makes natural explanations of such events less plausible than more.

The alternative for the naturalist is to suggest not that there is some repeatable identifiable natural process that will explain why dead people generally stay dead, but Jesus did not, but rather to claim Jesus's return to life was a chance event. Given the reluctance of scientifically literate naturalists to accept the chance origin of life - because the probabilities are so minuscule they are desperately attempting to find some natural process that will not have to invoke chance - such an alternative smacks of hopelessness.

– Robert Larmer

Rules of the closet

Rules of the Closet
  • For a long time the priesthood was the ideal escape-route for young homosexuals. Homosexuality is one of the keys to their vocation. (8)
  • Homosexuality spreads the closer one gets to the holy of holies; there are more and more homosexuals as one rises through the Catholic hierarchy. In the College of Cardinals and at the Vatican, the preferential selection process is said to be perfected; homosexuality becomes the rule, heterosexuality the exception. (10)
  • Rumors, gossip, settling of scores, revenge and sexual harassment are rife in the holy see. The gay question is one of the mainsprings of these plots. (60)
  • Behind the majority of cases of sexual abuse there are priests and bishops who have protected the aggressors because of their own homosexuality and out of fear that it might be revealed in the event of a scandal. The culture of secrecy that was needed to maintain silence about the high prevalence of homosexuality in the Church has allowed sexual abuse to be hidden and predators to act. (92)
  • In prostitution in Rome between priests and Arab escorts, two sexual poverties come together: the profound sexual frustration of Catholic priests is echoed in the constraints of Islam, which make heterosexual acts outside of marriage difficult for a young Muslim. (129)
  • The homophiles of the Vatican generally move from chastity towards homosexuality; homosexuals never go into reverse gear and become homophilic. (169)
  • Most nuncios are homosexual, but their diplomacy is essentially homophobic. They are denouncing what they are themselves. As for cardinals, bishops and priests, the more they travel, the more suspect they are! (311)
  • Rumors peddled about the homosexuality of a cardinal or a prelate are often leaked by homosexuals, themselves closeted, attacking their liberal opponents. They are essential weapons used in the Vatican against gays by gays. (388)
  • Do not ask who the companions of cardinals and bishops are; ask their secretaries, their assistants or their protégés, and you will be able to tell the truth by their reaction. (537)
From Frédéric Martel’s, In the Closet of the Vatican.

Hijacking reality

Dialogue with a Buddhist philosopher

How should a Christian apologist argue with a Buddhist philosopher? Folk Buddhists retain many common sense beliefs, so they are easier to witness to, but Buddhist epistemology and metaphysics are quite radical, presenting less traction. 

In some cases, an individual can put themselves out of reach of evidence by retreating so far into the maze that they are hopelessly lost (barring divine intervention). So there may not be enough common ground for a Christian apologist to have a constructive dialogue with a Buddhist philosopher. 

One issue is how seriously a Buddhist philosopher or Buddhist monk actually takes Buddhist skepticism. In general, their Buddhism is the result of social conditioning. They wouldn't normally adopt such a counterintuitive philosophy. To what extent are they saying this to keep up appearances? Deep down, how many are truly committed to it? Especially if presented with an alternative?

Buddhism is a tragic worldview that reflects radical alienation from the world into which they are thrust. It's an elaborate coping mechanism. It cultivates an attitude of fatalistic resignation to an uncaring reality. And that attitude makes sense given the pre-Christian background.  

There are, of course, a variety of Buddhist schools of philosophy. It's not monolithic, although they share a family resemblance. 

Buddhism is pre-Christian. Although classical Buddhism is atheistic, the foil is Hindu polytheism and pantheism. It didn't develop in opposition to Christianity. And while Buddhist philosophers can try to retool traditional arguments to deflect Christianity, that's rather ad hoc. If they were starting from scratch, with Christianity on the table, would Buddhism even have a foothold?  

One of the ironies of Buddhist atheism is the mythological deification of Buddha: 

The most articulate recent spokesman for this position has been Paul J. Griffiths, e.g., in his On Being Buddha: The Classical Doctrine of Buddhahood (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994). There, and in his seminal article, "Buddha and God: A Contrastive Study in Ideas about Maximal Greatness" (Journal of Religion, vol. 69, 1989, pp. 502-529), Griffiths seems to argue not only that Buddhists did adopt an increasingly God-like conception of Buddha, but that they had to, since religious theorizing about the ultimate is driven by the need to maximize that which is regarded as highest, truest, or most real. Without going into the strengths and weaknesses of this provocative idea, I would note that it is eerily reminiscent of the ontological argument for God's existence, but applied to the realm of intellectual history. Jackson, Roger (1999) "A Theology And Buddhalogy In Dharmakirtis Pramanavarttika," Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers: Vol. 16 : Iss. 4 , Article 2, p499n7. 

Here atheism comes full circle to reunite with robust theism. Perhaps the most consistent–albeit extreme–version of Buddhism is Buddhist idealism:

However, even a radically antirealist position like Buddhist idealism offers a number of openings for Christian apologetics in terms of certain a priori and/or transcendental arguments, viz. 

• Argument from logic
• Argument from design
• Argument from reason
• Argument from numbers
• Argument from simplicity
• Argument from contingency
• Argument from counterfactuals

There's still the challenge of how to bring that down to earth in terms of Christianity's claims about historical redemption, but establishing the necessity of God is a preliminary step. 

There's also the question of whether philosophical Buddhism is skeptical to the point of self-refutation, viz. :

If so, then it can't provide a standard of comparison to judge Christian theism. 

On the one hand, Buddhist philosophy appeals to intellectual pride and autonomy. On the other hand, it represents a despairing and desiccated worldview. Christian apologetics can exploit the emotional fault-lines. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Christians, Immigrants, and the Border

Is God an evildoer?

In theory, there are different ways in which God might relate to evil:

i) Allows 

ii) Determines 

iii) Causes 

iv) Commands 

v) Commits 

Freewill theists grant that God allows evil. And they say Calvinism makes God "causally determine" evil, which they set in contrast to their own position. However, they rarely define their terminology. Some freewill theists think the OT contains "abhorrent commands" or "texts of terror," and they deny that God issued the commands which the narrator attributes to him.

Normally, both sides (Calvinists, freewill theists) deny that God commits evil. They strive to put some kind of buffer between God and evil. To say that God commits evil is typically discountenanced as wholly unacceptable. On a spectrum from allowing to committing evil, committing evil is the worst. Of all the theoretical ways God might relate to evil, that's off the table. That can't be exonerated. If God commits evil, that makes God evil. 

In my experience, that's the usual position. However, in a book review, Michael Almeida makes the following observation:

Since God has the traditional attributes of perfect beings Rowe concludes that it is impossible that God should choose to perform an evil action. But it is not at all clear why Rowe urges that" a being who freely chooses to do what it knows to be an evil deed thereby ceases to be a perfectly good being"(p. 26). Certainly in ordinary moral contexts no one would make such a claim. Suppose a being freely chooses to do what it knows to be an evil deed because it necessarily faces a moral dilemma. If an agent necessarily faces a moral dilemma then there is nothing the agent could have done to avoid the dilemma. Indeed there is nothing that an omnipotent being could have done to avoid the dilemma. The agent must choose some wrong action or other. It is difficult to see how the agent's choice might nonetheless be blameworthy or how that choice might reflect poorly on his character. Since blamelessly choosing to do wrong does not diminish moral perfection at all, it cannot be assumed that necessarily a perfect being does not choose to do wrong. Almeida, Michael (2006) "Book Review: Can God Be Free?," Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers: Vol. 23 : Iss. 3 , Article 8. 

And that's of more than hypothetical consequence. For the freewill defense is usually cast in terms of how God's hands are tied. He'd like a better outcome, but he's stymied by the intractable defiance of free creatures. Given the freewill defense, God is routinely confronted with moral dilemmas, because human agents remove the best options from consideration. God stuck with the worst remaining options. So freewill theism leaves God with no choice but to commit evil, and does so on a regular basis.  

In Calvinism, by contrast, creatures never back God into a corner. Ironically, then, the Calvinist God is never in a position that requires him to be an evildoer–whereas the freewill theist God often finds himself in that predicament. So their theology and theodicy commits freewill theists to the most odious position along the continuum–one which Calvinism escapes. 

Making a map

Catholic apologists generally frame everything in terms of authority. What's your authority for the canon of Scripture? What's your interpretive authority?

Now, there are situations in which that's a legitimate question, but it can't be universal. Is it a general principle that we can't know anything or be justified in what we believe unless we have it on authority?  

What's my authority for knowing that I had a dog when I was a boy? What's my authority for knowing I saw a lunar eclipse? What's my authority for knowing I have blue eyes? 

If you ask me by what authority I believe those things, the answer is zip. I don't have it on good authority. Rather, these are things I simply know–from experience. 

So the demand for authority needs to be more qualified. Otherwise, it backfires. Do we necessarily or even usually need authority to interpret a text? Do Catholics need authority to interpret the Catechism of the Catholic Church? Do they need authority to interpret books by Joseph Ratzinger? Do they need authority to interpret the church fathers? 

To take a comparison, you can't always begin with a map. Someone has to make the map. There has to be a first map. Before the map, someone had to find their way without a map. An explorer may draw the map as he goes along. As he discovers what lies over the next hill, what lies around the next bend, he adds that to the map. The map is a work in progress. 

The NT canon wasn't originally a product of ecclesiastical authority. It didn't begin with a canonical map, but a canonical landscape, as NT writings were produced. The map was drawn from the canonical landscape. 

They had different geographical points of origin or destinations. The first readers shared them with other readers. Readers copied them. So they fanned out from separate points of origin, spreading over the Roman Empire. A steady, unbroken process of dissemination. Regional churches would have local lore about the pedigree of NT letters written to them, or Gospels written when the author was living there. Christians didn't start out with a bunch of books to choose from. Rather, they started with the books of the NT canon.  

Around the mid-2C (give or take), forgeries began to appear. Moreover, as time went on, regional churches far removed from where a NT writing originated, might not know the provenance of the document. So later on a sorting process took place. But that was about excluding pseudepigrapha which began to arise in the 2C. In addition, in the far-flung Roman Empire, not every regional church was privy to the pedigree of a NT writing. But the notion of an evolving canon or evolving canonical consciousness has it backwards. The NT canon evolved in the sense that NT documents were written at different times, so it was incremental. But the period of composition shouldn't be confounded with the notion that the NT canon was the product of "the Church" in the 4C. That's a basic equivocation.  

Collecting the books of the NT is different from listing them. If a NT document was written in one place or sent to another, it would have to be copied and recopied before it was in general circulation throughout the ancient church. There's the distribution phase. The parts of the NT canon were always recognized by parts of the church. The parts of the church in which or to which they were written. If St. John was living in Asia Minor when he wrote his Gospel, then Christian communities in Asia Minor might be the initial recipients. Yet Christians moved around. Consider the peregrinations of Priscilla and Aquila. Likewise, Luke had a literary patron. But in addition, Luke had access to the Pauline churches. It just takes a little imagination to consider how regional churches shared NT writings with other regional churches, in a developing network. 

The NT writings would be the best-known and most-widely known because they were the earliest. They had been around the longest. They had been in use, with a chain-of-custody. Later apocryphal works would be suspect for the opposite reasons. 

Catholic chess: trading bishops for queens

Monday, February 18, 2019

10 Things About You That Will Change When You Lose Your Parents

Deconversion and reconversion

The question of sola Scriptura

I like to keep up with the competition. Brand Pitre is one of the best younger generation Catholic apologists. I recent read his book The Case for Jesus, which was pretty good.

So I decided to look at the outlines posted at his website. One thing I notice is that his view of Scripture is very retrograde by contemporary Catholic standards. It's nice that he has such a conservative view of Scripture, but that's highly unrepresentative of the modern-day hierarchy. In addition, many of the arguments in his outlines are simply atrocious. In this post I'll comment on his critique of sola Scriptura. Let's see if the younger generation does any better:

i) Let's begin with the video clip. Does he honestly think the only reason Protestants offer for how they know the Bible is the word of God is because they know it in their heart? Is he really that uninformed? Or is he referring to evangelical folk theology? If you ask the average layman, you might get an answer like that. But that's not how Protestant apologists generally argue for the inspiration or canonicity of Scripture. 

ii) That said, many readers find the Bible convincing. Just reading the Bible engenders faith. Some people are unbelievers when they begin reading, but are believers on the other side. They become believers in the process of reading the Bible. So even though the "know it in your heart" criterion is too coarse-grained to determine the canon, it has a grain of truth.

iii) How many Mormon missionaries actually experience what they claim? Or do they just say that because they've been trained to say it?

iv) Since God won't witness to a false prophet, they can't have the same experience as Christians.  

v) Assuming that somebody must be the sole authority, why shouldn't I be the authority for me rather than punting to someone else (the pope) to make ultimate decisions about my fate? That's part of growing up. To be an adult is to make decisions about yourself for yourself. You may mess up, but then, delegating the tough calls to someone else is no guarantee that they won't mess up your life on your behalf. 

vi) By what authority did Brant conclude that the pope was his ultimate authority source? How can the pope be his sole authority if it's up to Brant to determine whether the pope has that authority? 

vii) Does sola Scriptura generate 33,000 Christian denominations? Even his fellow apologist Trent Horn rejects that claim:

First, this citation from the World Christian Encyclopedia is misleading (even though many Catholics are fond of citing it). For example it counts the same religious group existing in different countries as belonging to different denominations and even cites liturgical rites within the Catholic Church as being completely different denominations, which is false. 

viii) Anyway, from a Protestant perspective, the church of Rome is just one more denomination. It takes its place among the "33,000" denominations.