Monday, December 05, 2016

Pope Bergoglio Pulls On Thread; “Seamless Garment” Falls Apart

Bergoglio-appointed Bishop
Robert McElroy of San Diego
openly permits divorced-and
civilly-remarried-Roman Catholics
to take communion
Here’s a headline that caught my eye this morning:

New Appeal to the Pope. The Catholic Doubts of
“The New York Times”

by Sandro Magister

Then the first paragraph sent off some warning signs:

In California the bishop of San Diego, a favorite of Bergoglio, admits de facto divorces and remarriages, as in any Protestant church. From the news arises the question: Can “Amoris Laetitia” be interpreted this way, too?

It turns out that “the news” in this first paragraph (Magister’s “first paragraphs” are always summaries of his articles) is the New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, a “Catholic Convert” along the lines of Richard John Neuhaus of First Things, who is “mostly convinced that Roman Catholicism is the expression of Christianity that has kept faith most fully with the early church and the words of Jesus of Nazareth himself”. These are folks claim to know more than popes and bishops together, as has been noted elsewhere. So he is able to compartmentalize history somewhere, and forget it and then ignore that he has forgotten it. But anyway….

Sunday, December 04, 2016

Another Way To View The Delay Of Christ's Return

"I want us to think of Christmas this year not as a great event in the flow of history, but as the arrival of the end of history which happened, as it were, but yesterday, and will be consummated very soon by the second appearing of Christ. Let me make one last effort to help you see it this way. Most of you probably know someone who is 90 years old or older—probably a woman. I want you to imagine 22 of these ladies standing here in front, side by side, facing you, each one still alert and able to remember her childhood and marriage and old age. And then instead of seeing them side by side as contemporaries, have them turn and face sideways so they form a queue, and imagine that each one lived just after the other. If the one on my far left were alive today, do you know when the one on my far right would have been born? At the same time Jesus was. Jesus was born just 22 ladies ago. That is not a very long time. Just 22 people between you and the incarnation." (John Piper)

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Quick: what do Paige Patterson, Fidel Castro, and Marshal Pétain have in common?

Patterson doesn't own the SBC, much as he might like to. It's a big denomination with many different, sometimes rival power centers. And at 74, he's hardly the future of the SBC. 

Some men should quit while they're ahead. Marshal Pétain went from being a war hero in WWI to a Nazi collaborator in WWII. Died in disgrace.

Patterson did some yeoman work during the inerrancy wars back in the 70s, but he had a taste for power. His frequent abuse of authority and mismanagement of SWBTS has sullied his former reputation. 

He's like those revolutionaries who had a good cause, but having toppled a bad regime, replaced it with their own bad regime. A certain Cuban dictator, recently deceased, comes to mind. 

The Trojan horse comparison is inept. In that ruse, the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse to stage a takeover. By contrast, Calvinists in the SBC are out in the open. 

Eschatological compensations

From what I've read, eschatological compensation is a neglected feature in philosophical theodicy. When Christian philosophers formulate responses to the problem of evil, it's usually variations on some standard issue theodicies, viz., the freewill defense, the greater good defense, the need for natural laws, soul-making virtues. By contrast, eschatological compensations are neglected.

That's striking, both because Scripture emphasizes eschatological compensations, and because the promise and prospect of eschatological compensations are something that helps many lay Christians cope with personal tragedy. So there's a disconnect. 

Consider Joseph the patriarch. He had a pretty miserable life. He received two related premonitory dreams. He's excited to share his experience with his family. In his charming naivete, it doesn't occur to him that his brothers will resent the dreams. He's too self-absorbed to anticipate the reaction.

Indeed, resentment is an understatement. His brothers are so incensed that they plot to kill him. Only Reuben's intervention restrains them. 

So Joseph becomes an Egyptian slave. Things seem to be looking up for him slightly until he's falsely accused of rape, resulting in his imprisonment. Finally, due to his oneiromantic reputation, Pharaoh elevates him to the prime ministership. 

While that's certainly an improvement on his status as a slave, then a prisoner, think about how much he's lost. He's been separated from his entire family. He's had to learn a foreign language on the spot. Consider his social isolation. Consider how lonely he must be, cut off from all his relatives. 

Although there's a family reunion, you have to wonder if he can ever look at his brothers the same way. Apart from Reuben, he might well feel permanently estranged from his other brothers. And his father dies. Joseph can't make up for the lost years.

In God's providence, Joseph was made to suffer for the benefit of others. To save his relatives from famine. To illustrate how God knows and controls the future. And for Jews and Christians to learn from his experience.  

You have other notables in Scripture who led pretty miserable lives. Consider Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and St. Paul. 

What can make up for that if not compensations in the world to come? It's too late for them in this life.

The point is not that God owes them anything. It's not a question of what they deserve, but what they need. They need to be made whole. 

Where's God?

As one great Furnace flam'd, yet from those flames No light, but rather darkness visible.(Milton, Paradise Lost) 
By faith he left Egypt, not being afraid of the anger of the king, for he endured as seeing him who is invisible.(Hebrews 11:27)

"Where's God?" That's a common complaint, by believers and unbelievers alike. 

One time, as I was returning from a walk, it was getting dark. The street lights were on. Cars in the oncoming lane had their headlights on. And I could see cars with glowing taillights in the other lane. 

I was on the sidewalk when, a block or so ahead of me, a minivan pulled out of a parking lot and made a right turn onto the road. Only he didn't have his lights on. 

I dimly saw the side of his van, but once he straightened out, he was essentially invisible. I couldn't see the back of the unlit van in the darkness. 

But here's a paradox: I knew he was there because I couldn't see him! At first blush that doesn't seem to make a lick of sense. Yet I knew he was there because of what I couldn't see. When he pulled out onto the road, he blocked my view of cars of ahead of him. If he hadn't been there, I'd be able to see the last car in line from the glowing taillights. But his car obscured the view, like a black spot where there ought to be light. Like a black spot encircled by light. I knew he was there due to the contrast between what I could and couldn't see. 

By the same token, God can be active when he seems to be inactive. God can be blocking evil, only we can't see it because his intervention renders his intervention indetectable. If God preempts an evil, then there's no record of that nonevent. If God prevents an evil, that preemptive action leaves no trace behind–for the evil never happened. 

"The real reason evangelicals don't baptize babies"

From a sociological standpoint, Morris is probably on to something. Mind you, it's patronizing insofar as you have many Baptists who have thoughtful, principled reasons for opposing paedobaptism. So his analysis borders on a hasty generalization.

But that caveat aside, he's probably right that for many evangelical Americans, opposition to paedobaptism is influenced by a revivalist paradigm. And I share his aversion to decisional evangelism.

However, even though I myself am a tepid paedobaptist, his analysis is one-sided. To begin with, decisional evangelism represents a travesty of conversion. But we shouldn't judge the principle by the travesty.

Moreover, we need to compare and contrast that to the opposite error. The 18C evangelical revival was a heaven-sent reaction to the dead formalism of liturgical churches. If decisional evangelism is bad, so is the presumption that your child is saved because a minister sprinkled water on its head. Many people are only too happy to seek spiritual shortcuts and vest false assurance in religious ceremonies. Ironically, the revivalism of Finney and Graham is just a different kind of ritualism, replacing baptism with the sacrament of the altar call. 

The basic problem is taking a cookie-cutter approach to everyone. But everyone doesn't have the same experience. On the one hand, some people are devout, lifelong Christians. They were Christian for as long as they can remember. For them, there was never a conscious transition. And there couldn't be, since it was real to them as soon as they had the cognitive development to reflect on it.

On the other hand, you have nominal Christians. Some of them lose their hereditary faith. Others assume they are Christian just because they grew up in church. 

A good pastor needs to preach an evangelistic sermon every so often. Take nothing for granted. 

Friday, December 02, 2016

Sleep paralysis with awareness

SJW insult generator


i) Except for Bannon, Trump has made some good picks for the incoming administration. If you wonder why I think Bannon is bad, here's some background:

To be sure, some of these are political payoff for early, important supporters. But they're still good in their own right.

How significant this is depends on whether he gives them a free hand. If it's just for show, then that's a Trump-l'œil. 

Another litmus test is whether he will cancel Obama's subversive executive orders. Likewise, will he keep his promise on judicial nominees? 

His appointees and nominees for economic positions will be less significant than in some administrations, inasmuch as Trump will view himself as the Economist-in-Chief. 

ii) We're waiting for the shoe to drop on Secretary of State. But thus far his picks are shaping up to be a potentially bellicose foreign policy. On the upside, this hopefully means we will ally with Israel to prevent Iran from getting the bomb–assuming it's not too late to prevent it. The deranged policy of the Obama administration has given Iran eight years to play out the clock and positively enabled Iran in its quest for nuclear weapons. Just in general, I hope the Trump administration will reverse the pro-Muslim, anti-Israel policies of the Obama administration. 

We also need to get serious about state-sponsored cyberterrorism. The Obama administration has allowed hackers from hostile regimes to attack our computer systems with impunity. And his indifference only emboldens them to escalate their attacks. In a civilization where everything is run by computers, that's a deadly threat to our national security. 

By the same token, Obama constantly groveled before foreign dignitaries, abjectly apologizing for American history and foreign policy. He said that to countries with atrocious human rights records. Hopefully, the new administration will put an end to that obsequious, self-loathing rhetoric. 

iii) That said, there may be some reasons for concern. There's the question of how many senior military will occupy civilian positions. Our system is based on civilian control of the military. I don't mind the occasional retired admiral or general in civilian positions, but Trump may be surrounding himself generals. As one news outlet put it,

More than any other president-elect in recent memory, Donald Trump has sought out military brass to populate his inner circle. Trump announced Thursday that he wants retired Marine Gen. James Mattis as his defense secretary — a post traditionally designated for a civilian. Trump is also considering retired Army Gen. David Petraeus for secretary of state, retired Marine Gen. John Kelly for secretary of state or homeland security, and Adm. Michael S. Rogers as the director of national intelligence. His national security adviser-designate, Michael Flynn, retired from the Army as a lieutenant general after decades as a military intelligence officer. And CIA Director-designate Mike Pompeo graduated from West Point and served during the Cold War as an Army officer. 

It remains to be seen what the final shakedown will be, but one problem with having too many generals in key civilian positions is a militaristic orientation. For instance, Gen. Michael Hayden is a patriot, but he suffers from an inadequate appreciation for the privacy rights of ordinary Americans. It can also be beneficial to have an outside perspective on issues in distinction to the military culture. That prevents tunnel vision. 

iv) Another potential reason for concern. Eisenhower didn't need to prove his toughness or resolve to our enemies. That was a given. 

By contrast, Trump cultivates a tough-guy image. He feels the need to prove himself. That may make him a warmonger. 

A military paradox is that ideally, you should have a military so formidable that you never have to use it. No one will dare provoke you because retaliation would be so devastating. A credible threat of fearsome reprisal is the best deterrent. That worked for Eisenhower. He was able to keep us out of new wars. 

v) The there's the question of ISIS. If ISIS poses a significant threat to our national security, then we should do what's necessary, within reason, to neutralize the threat. Or if that's not feasible, at least lower the threat level. Cut it down to size. 

vi) There is, though, a temptation to intervene militarily for humanitarian reasons. Indeed, ISIS seems to commit ostentatious atrocities to taunt or shame other countries into responding. Perhaps ISIS is hoping to lure them into an ambush. If so, we shouldn't take the bait. 

The American military exists to protect American lives, not foreigners. As a rule, an American president has no moral warrant to sacrifice American troops to save the lives of foreigners.  

Although humanitarian wars are idealistic, I think they're generally unethical. The justification for having a military is national defense. And the justification of national defense is an extension of self-defense. 

I have a duty to protect my dependents. I have a duty to take a bullet for my family. I don't have a prima facie duty to take a bullet for a stranger, or even a neighbor. 

However, self-defense sometimes requires a common defense, where we pool our collective resources. An individual can't do it alone. And that's the rationale for some military alliances. Say my country and your country share a common enemy. My country can't defeat the enemy singlehandedly, and your country can't defeat the enemy singlehandedly, but if we combine forces, then our combined forces can defeat our common enemy. So we're doing each other a favor. 

The principle in that case is that I'm prepared to take a bullet for you if you're prepared to take a bullet for me. I will defend your family if you defend my family. So that's predicated on mutual risk and reciprocity. 

Humanitarian wars violate that principle. It is wrong to get our soldiers killed to prevent foreigners from getting killed. That's because there's no reciprocity. The foreigners don't return the favor. 

It's morally wrong to treat American lives as less valuable than foreign lives. It's morally wrong for a president to send an American soldier to his death, thereby depriving his own relatives, &c., to save a stranger. For his own relatives have a prior claim on his presence in their lives. 

From a surfeit of altruism, you can voluntarily risk your life to save a stranger, but that's not obligatory. And you may have prior obligations to friends and family. Social duties are concentric. 

The justification for foreign wars is to defend vital American interests. Admittedly, that justification can be easily abused by stretching what counts as a vital American interest. 

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Prayer and psychic suggestion

Stephen Braude is a preeminent researcher on the paranormal. Both Jason Engwer and I refer to his work on occasion. The paranormal is antithetical to naturalistic physicalism, so it's a useful foil against mainstream atheism. I've done at least two posts on Braude's book Crimes of Reason:

In this post I'm going to revisit that topic. In chap. 7, he propose a psychic alternative to account for prayer hits and misses. Here's a representative statement:

The potential psychic strategies are obvious enough: (1) Relevant people could come to know our prayers through ESP and respond consciously or otherwise. (2) We might telepathically or psychokinetically influence others to carry out needed actions. 

1. As I mentioned before, I don't know quite what he has in mind. Under psychic suggestion, does a person have an inexplicable and irrepressible urge to carry out the needed actions? They don't know why they are doing it, but they feel compelled to do so? Is it like sleepwalking? Although I think there's credible evidence for telepathy, I don't find Braude's explanation in this case to be credible. 

ii) But I'd also like to revisit the issue of retroactive prayer. Suppose for the sake of argument that some outcomes are consistent, either with answered prayer or psychic suggestion. They overlap insofar as either explanation could account for that outcome. 

Yet are there other kinds of outcomes that can't be explained by psychic explanation, but only by answered prayer? Note, I'm not suggesting that some outcomes are in fact due to psychic suggestion. I'm just discussing what explanations are logically or evidentially consistent with the same outcome. A mistaken explanation could still be logically consistent with the outcome or consistent with the evidence.

I'm exploring the kinds of examples that filter out those cases, so that, by process of elimination, only answered prayer would explain the outcome. And that, in turn, creates a presumption for answered prayer as the correct explanation in the other cases.

Let's consider a hypothetical case. Suppose I wake up one morning, feeling just fine. But mid-afternoon, out of the blue, I suddenly experience a medical crisis. I don't know what's wrong with me, but I'm convinced something is terribly wrong. I dial 911. I'm rushed to the ER. Maybe I have a ruptured aorta, pulmonary embolism. Whatever. The physician informs me that I need emergency surgery. 

But there's a catch: I have a very rare blood type, the hospital doesn't have enough units on hand, and it will take too long to have additional units flown in from out of town. 

So there's a dilemma. If I don't have surgery right away, I will die. If I wait for the hospital to restock, I will die. It will be too late. If I have surgery right away, I will die from blood loss, because they don't have enough units of my esoteric blood type to transfuse me during surgery. At this point I pray that God will do what's necessary to save my life. I have a wife and kids to support. For their sake, I can't afford to die. Not now. 

The physician walks into the waiting room and asks the people sitting there if anyone has that exotic blood type. As luck would have it, three do. They agree to donate, and that's enough to supplement the hospital's supply. So I survive!

Of course, that's a highly artificial hypothetical scenario. Indeed, it might seem outlandish. If, however, we believe in answered prayer, then there will be analogous situations, where wildly improbable things happen due to divine intercession.

Likewise, under Braude's alternative, otherwise outlandish things are possible if telepathy can steer people in the needed direction. So I'm not stacking the deck against Braude. 

However, this example, and other examples in kind, poses a problem for Braude's theory. The examples has two crucial aspects:

i) A conjunction of events too lucky to be coincidental

ii) A retroactive component

Even if Braude's psychic mechanism can explain (i), it can't explain (ii). What I mean is this:

In the hypothetical, I had no warning. No advance knowledge of my medical crisis. Yet for people to be on hand at just the right time and place to donate just the right blood, they had to decide to go there or make arrangements to be there long before my prayer, and long before my crisis. It would be too late for me to telepathically influence them to be at the right time and place. For instance, they might be there because they brought a relative. The appointment was made weeks earlier. 

Likewise, they had to leave home, drive or take the bus, to be there at the moment I needed them there. But they had to do it before I knew I needed them there. Opportune circumstances had to be set in motion before I had any idea that I'd be needing blood donors for emergency surgery. By the same token, even if they became aware of my prayer through ESP, they can't get there in time. Indeed, people with that rare blood type would normally be scattered hither and yon. For them even to be within commuting distance of the hospital requires prearranged events. Ordinarily, three people with that blood type wouldn't be in the same vicinity of each other. 

Of course, this isn't a real life example. So that doesn't actually disprove Braude's alternative. My immediate purpose is to describe a type of case that, if it ever occurs, could only be explained by divine agency rather than psychic suggestion. If there are, in fact, real-life cases comparable to that, then Braude's proposal is a failed alternative. 

I'd add that if answered prayer happens, odds are that there will be a subset of cases like that. There will be crisis situations where Christians pray, the outcome is too lucky to be coincidental, yet the outcome depends on an opportune trajectory or convergence of events that precedes the prayer, precedes the crisis, precedes any intimation of the crisis. 

Braude's theory won't work in that scenario, because the people needed to carry out the action can't know about it before I do. Preparations must be in place or underway in advance of the crisis, but without advance knowledge, that can't be in progress ahead of time. 

Did Matthew Derive His Infancy Narrative From His Scripture Citations?

Since some critics still claim that Matthew's accounts in his infancy narrative were made up on the basis of the passages of scripture he cites, I want to quote what Raymond Brown wrote on the subject:

In this matter there have been two general lines of scholarly opinion, namely, that the citations gave rise to the infancy narrative, or that they are appended to a narrative that already existed….

Several factors favor the thesis that in chs. 1-2 Matthew added the citations to an already existing narrative. First, in a section like 2:13-23 it is extremely difficult to imagine how the narrative could ever have been made up by reflection on the three formula citations contained therein, since the citations deal with aspects that are only minor in the story line. The same may be said of the citation of Micah 5:1(2) in Matt 2:5b-6. Reflection on that citation might have caused a Christian to compose a story locating Jesus' birth at Bethlehem, but it could scarcely have led him to the narrative about the magi. Reflection on the LXX of Isa 7:14 (cited in Matt 1:22-23) might have caused a Christian to compose a story about Jesus' mother being a virgin, but it could scarcely have led him to compose a narrative wherein Joseph was the main figure.

Second, four of the five formula citations in the infancy narrative have a definite air of being appended. The reader should make the experiment of reading the stories in 1:18-25 and 2:13-23 omitting four of the formula citations (1:22-23; 2:15b; 2:17-18; 2:23b). The story line not only makes perfect sense without them but even flows more smoothly. The only citation that is woven into the plot is the one that is dubiously a formula citation (2:5b-6). This observation weakens even the more subtle form of the thesis that Matthew composed his narrative on the basis of the citations, for they are too tangentially related to the plot to have served as a nucleus in gathering fragmented traditions into a consecutive story.

Third, we have other instances of Matthew's appending formula citations to stories that already came to him. For instance, Mark 1:14 and Luke 4:14 agree that after his baptism Jesus went to Galilee, but only Matt 4:12-16 comments on this with a formula citation from Isa 8:23-9:1 (=RSV 9:1-2) which speaks of the land of Zebulun and Naphtali, toward the sea, Galilee of the Gentiles. Matthew prepared for the introduction of the citation by reporting not only that Jesus went to Galilee, but also that he went to Capernaum by the sea in the territory of Zebulun and Naphtali. The citation could not have caused Matthew to create the story of Jesus' going to Galilee - he had that in Mark - but it did cause him to color and adapt the Marcan narrative, so that the correspondence to the prophecy might be more obvious. We have a good analogy then for arguing that the same process occurred in the infancy narratives where we do not have a control coming from comparative Synoptic material….

We have a partial control in relation to the formula citation: "He will be called a Nazorean" (Matt 2:23). The citation did not cause Matthew to invent the information that Jesus' family dwelt "in a city called Nazareth." Such geographical information was part of the common Gospel tradition.

(The Birth Of The Messiah [New York, New York: Doubleday, 1999], 99-101, n. 8 on 101)

For more about the broader argument that the infancy narratives were derived from the Old Testament and ancient traditions about the Old Testament, see here.