Thursday, June 21, 2018

The avengers

One objection to Calvinism goes like this: the Calvinist God is like a Mafia Don who puts out a hit on a rival. He doesn't pull the trigger. Rather, he hires a triggerman to do it. Yet the Don is just as blameworthy, if not more so, than the triggerman. 

And it's true that the distinction between proximate and remote causation isn't necessarily exculpatory, as this example illustrates. So this seems to be the principle: if it's murder for me to kill someone directly, then it's murder for me to facilitate their death. That sounds plausible, but is it true? 

As I've often said, what we find intuitively plausible usually depends on the example. Changing the example can change the intuition. 

Let's take a morally complex example. After WWII, some Nazi's become fugitives from justice. I don't mean Nazis in the sense of forced conscripts, but zealots who were devoted to the cause, viz. Josef Mengele, Walter Rauff. Some of them fled to Latin America, where they hid out or found safe haven. 

This gave rise to Nazi hunters. But some Jews to it a step further, becoming assassins (rather like the OT avenger of blood). They were called the Nakam.

Now, it might be possible to argue that their actions were just reprisal. But for discussion purposes, let's stipulate that assassinating Nazi war criminals is murder. 

Suppose I'm living in Latin America. I recognize one of my neighbors as a Nazi war criminal. 

Suppose the Nakam are hot on the trail of my Nazi neighbor. They come knocking, show me photos, ask me if I know him by name or by sight. 

I realize that these are Jewish assassins. If I give them accurate directions, they will murder him. Does that make me complicit in murder, if I accede to their request?

Although it would be murder if I killed him, surely I have no duty to protect him. I have no duty to lie to the Nakam to shield him from retribution. It's his fault that he's at risk. He brought it on himself. 

This seems to be a case where a second party could facilitate murder without his own action being tantamount to murder. Even if their action is blameworthy, and my action wittingly facilitates their action, that doesn't make my action blameworthy in a case like this. 

Catholicism in the dock, part 2

This is another installment in my selective review of White's The Light of Christ. For the first installment:

A good example of this is the 20C proclamation of the dogma of the bodily Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. This teaching is an expression of what the tradition has always affirmed for the Virgin Mary, and for all human beings in our capacity to participate in divine life. Our bodies are not an impediment we need to shed for shared intimacy with God. From the earliest times the Church taught that all human beings will be resurrected from the dead in the end times and that the Virgin Mary was the new Eve, fully redeemed by the grace of Christ her Son (a teaching we will return to below)…Christ has worked perfectly in the Virgin Mary what he intends to work more broadly in all of humanity at the end of time (185).

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The counsel of Trent

I plan to do a series of posts commenting on Trent Horn's The Case for Catholicism: Answers to Classic and Contemporary Protestant Objections (Ignatius 2017). I'll begin with this:

Finally, if it were true that all Christian doctrine is explicitly found in Scripture, then one would expect the doctrine of sola scriptura to be found there as well. This could be in the form of a Bible passage that teaches sola scriptura or even a logical argument derived from multiple passages that, when taken together, teach the same doctrine…Of course, if sola scriptura were as implicit in Scripture as the doctrine of the Trinity, then why didn't the early Christians affirm it? The answer is that sola scriptura is not found in the Scriptures and, consequently, the early Church did not teach that doctrine (18). 

1. This objection is a Catholic apologetic trope. I first encountered it in Francis Beckwith. However, there's nothing wrong with Catholic apologists raising the issue:

2. Let's begin with a brief definition: according to sola scriptura, the Protestant canon is the supreme source and standard of doctrine and ethics. 

I'll refine this definition momentarily, but that will do for now.

3. As it stands, Horn's dilemma is a verbal trick. Start by saying that according to sola scriptura, all doctrine is found in Scripture. Then classify sola scriptura as a doctrine. Ergo, sola scriptura should be found in Scripture. (I'm not accusing Horn of deliberate trickery.)

But that's too facile. Even if we classified sola scripture as a doctrine, it's not the same kind of doctrine. It's a regulative doctrine. A doctrinal criterion. It has a different function. So it wouldn't be treated just like other "doctrines" in general.

4. Apropos (3), it's like a ruler. You don't use a ruler to measure itself. Rather, you use a ruler to measure other things. You don't use a standard as a criterion for the standard itself (or a criterion as a standard for the criterion itself). A criterion is distinct from what it's used to evaluate. 

5. Apropos (4), asking where sola scripture is to be found in Scripture is like asking where is the ruler to be found in the ruler? But the ruler isn't contained in the rule. The ruler isn't a part of the ruler. Rather, the ruler is the standard. 

By the same token, if I show you a chess set, it would be nonsensical to ask, "Where is the set? Is it the bishop? The queen? The castle? The knight?"

But the set isn't in the set. A chess piece isn't a chess set. Rather, the entire set comprises the set.

Likewise, we wouldn't expect the principle of sola scriptura to be in Scripture if sola scriptura just is Scripture.  

6. Horn's objection is a variation on the composition/division fallacy. The whole isn't necessarily the same kind of thing as the parts, or vice versa. It's not reducible to prooftexts for sola scriptura. If a football team has the best quarterback in the league, that doesn't make it the best team in the league. The properties of the whole aren't necessarily transferable to the parts, or vice versa. So the principle of sola scriptura doesn't require a discrete prooftext somewhere in Scripture. 

7. But let's unpack the principle:

i) Sola scriptura is synonymous with revelation alone/only. To be more precise: public, propositional revelation. To formulate the claim with greater precision: public, propositional revelation is the supreme source and standard of doctrine and ethics.  

Put it this way: who's the best person to answer a question–any question? God is the best qualified person to answer any question. No one would be a better source of information than God. No one would be as good. 

So revelation is the supreme source and standard for whatever it speaks to. And I don't see that Catholics should take exception to that principle. 

ii) Assuming (i), the next question is where, at this stage in history, are we to find public, propositional revelation? There was a time when that included oral communication. There was a time when that was broader than the Bible. But in terms of what's survived, for the benefit of posterity, is there any extant source of public, propositional revelation over and above the Bible?

A Catholic may say revelation is found outside the Protestant canon–in the Catholic canon! But that's not an alternative to sola scriptura. Rather, that's a dispute over the boundaries of Scripture. The principle remains the same. What that corresponds to is disputed. 

iii) I'd add that there's a pattern whereby revelation operates in tandem with redemption. God causes redemptive events, then causes an inspired record of redemptive events. An interpretive historical account. In addition, God causes inspired theological interpretations. For instance, the life of Christ, the Gospels, and the Epistles. 

It's not coincidental that the NT was written within living memory of the historical Jesus. We shouldn't expect new public, propositional revelation during the interadventual age because we shouldn't expect new redemptive events during the interadventual age. 

Catholicism in the dock

I'll be doing a few posts on a recent introduction to Catholicism: Thomas Joseph White, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism (CUA 2017). I believe this is regarded as the best contemporary overview of Roman Catholicism, so it's a good foil. 

This constancy and universality of Catholic tradition are features that no historian can fail to notice (34).

To the contrary, many church historians notice the inconstancy and provinciality of Roman Catholic tradition. After all, many church historians are Protestant or Eastern Orthodox. For that matter, modern Catholic church historians acknowledge dramatic discontinuities. 

Nor can critics of Catholic tradition avoid making use of some king of tradition of their own. On a practical level, the rejection of tradition is not a realistic option for anyone who takes scripture seriously. For as soon as we begin to articulate what we think scripture means (or any other book for that matter), we inevitably set a precedent that can be accepted, denied, or qualified by another. In this way, every text that has a seminal role in human culture also acquires traditions of interpretation down through time, and these are embodied in turn in living communities that promote them or distort them, alter them creatively or develop them homogeneously, reject them or maintain them…To remain constant in any teaching down through time, any community that wishes to maintain its own unity must not only have principles, but also develop a commonality of vital intellectual teaching that is passed on to others across time and place.

The Catholic Church does not dispute whether scripture is to be read within tradition or to be read outside of it, but whether it is to be read according to the human traditions of a John Calvin (some of  whose key teachings function practically as a magisterium of reference for many over centuries) or through recourse to the Catholic tradition and established teachings of the Church. The realistic question is not whether we will have a tradition, but which one are we to have (34-35).

i) The claim that critics of Catholicism can't avoid referencing a tradition of their own is at odds with the common assertion that Protestants are guilty of proposing theological innovations. But a theological position can't be simultaneously traditional and innovative.

There's a first time for everything. It's quite possible for a theologian to make a break with the past.  

ii) However, White objection misses the larger point. The question is whether tradition is regarded as intrinsically authoritative and unquestionable. Tradition as an argument from ecclesiastical authority, that isn't subject to review. 

That's quite different from tradition as an interpretation of Scripture that appeals to reason and evidence rather than authority. There is moreover, a difference between interpretations that become traditions and traditions that prejudge the meaning of Scripture.

There are traditional interpretations in the sense of a tradition that starts out as an interpretation of Scripture, then becomes traditional, and something that starts out as a tradition, then casts about for prooftexts to retroactively validate a tradition that developed independently of Scripture.

In addition, some traditional interpretations become dogma. The tradition is frozen in place and becomes the foundation for a theological skyscraper. But that's different from a traditional interpretation that remains subject to scrutiny. Traditional interpretations that must prove themselves to each new Christian generation. Traditions that are responsive to logic and evidence. 

iii) It's true that some Protestants pay lip-service to sola Scriptura. But that's because humans are social creatures, so theological tribalism is a powerful impulse. Yet there's the same dynamic in Catholic affiliation. If the correct interpretation of Scripture is ascertainable, then sooner or later someone will come up with the correct interpretation. It's not inconsistent with sola scriptura for the right interpretation, whoever is the first to publish it, to become a traditional interpretation. 

To expect each person to adjudicate for himself each and every possible Christian teaching within the course of a lifetime is absurd. Consequently, we do depend upon interpretations of others inevitably, and our own interpretations do contribute to those of a larger community. We are bound to receive the greater part of our understanding of revelation from a life in community with others (35).

It doesn't occur to White that his objection cuts both ways. Each cradle Catholic or convert to Catholicism can't adjudicate for himself each and every possible Christian teaching within the course of a lifetime. They rely on others to do the sorting and sifting for them. But then, isn't their preference for Catholicism just a coin toss? They haven't systematically compared and contrasted the competing theological alternatives. 

Therefore, God has established in the Church from the beginning a living stream of apostolic tradition that is continuously maintained and safeguarded by divinely instituted authority. Had he not done so, a thousand incompatible interpretations of scripture on major issues would proliferate inevitably among Christian believers and splinter them into a disbanded set of divided communities (35).

i) How many interpretations there are is irrelevant. The salient question is whether there's a best interpretation. The most reasonable interpretation. Does the evidence point to the superiority of one interpretation? 

ii) White can't legitimately stipulate that Catholicism is the solution, for Catholicism is itself one of the myriad contenders. 

Furthermore, without such a unified tradition maintained down through time, no one person would ever be able to come to a comprehensive set of judgments about the truths of the faith, simply due to the sheer volume of enigmatic questions posed from theological controversies down through the ages (35).

i) Catholic apologists always frame theological/hermeneutical diversity as a problem for Protestantism. A problem generated by sola Scriptura. Yet that only follows if in fact Catholicism is the true alternative. But what if Catholicism is false?

What if the problem, or situation, is generated, not by Protestantism, but by reality? What if that's the actual situation God has put us in?

To take a comparison, consider the problem of evil. Atheists say that problem is generated by Christian theology. 

But Christians counter that the problem is generated, not by Christian theology, but by reality. That's the actual situation God has put us in.

As I see the world, sometimes God intervenes and sometimes he doesn't. There's a seeming randomness in divine intervention. Who gets the healing miracle and who doesn't. Who gets his prayer answered and who doesn't. Who gets divine guidance and who doesn't. Who gets a divine sign and who doesn't. 

I'm not saying it's actually random. More like God's special providence surfaces from time to time. But on the face of it, it often appears as though God has thrown us back on our own resources. Divine guidance is not continuous but occasional and unpredictable. There's no oracle that answers all our questions. 

ii) White is appealing to an idealized version of Catholicism. A paper theory. But to an outsider, the behavior of the Rome church is indistinguishable from an organization that lacks supernatural direction. An organization that's making things up on the fly. That changes position in response to unforeseen developments. A fumbling, bumbling, stumbling organization with pretensions to divine superintendence. 

The Church is not above scripture. She is only ever subordinate to scripture. But under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the advocate that was promised to her… (35).

i) Catholic apologists and theologians say the church is subordinate to Scripture rather than above it, but if, according to them, the Magisterium is the arbiter of what Scripture means, then Scripture means whatever the Magisterium says it means. So that puts the Magisterium above Scripture. Scripture can never act as an independent check on the Magisterium if the Magisterium is the definitive interpreter. 

ii) Moreover, in Jn 14-16, Jesus didn't promise the Spirit to "the Church", much less the pope or the Roman Magisterium, but to the Eleven. This is a classic example of how Catholics read out of Scripture what they first read into Scripture. 

Catholic appeal to Scripture is circular inasmuch as Scripture is only allowed to mean whatever meaning the Magisterium assigns to Scripture. But in that event, how do they establish the authority of the Magisterium in the first place? 

Modern biblical scholarship, when done well, achieves modest results…None of this is trivial, but none of it proves that Christianity is true either. For that, supernatural faith is necessary because the subject matter of Christianity is a mystery that transcends natural human reason (25).

What would be stranger–in fact illogical in its own right–would be the claim God has revealed himself most certainly but that we might just as certainly deny the capacity of the Church to identify his teaching with any certitude. If the Church cannot teach infallibly, then we are in fact required to say something absurd of just this kind: "God has revealed himself, but the Church can never say with assurance what God has revealed" (37). 

i) To begin with, suppose our interpretations do fall short of certainty? But unless all interpretations are equally uncertain, why is that a problem?

ii) White appeals to "supernatural faith", which seems to function as a makeweight. "Supernatural faith" closes the gap between evidence and certainty. But even if we grant that paradigm, how does that principle select for Catholicism? Why can't Protestant epistemology appeal to "supernatural faith"?

iii) White is shooting a hole in the bottom of his own boat. If, by his own admission, scholarship falls short to proving Christianity, then even by his own lights, the case for Catholicism can only achieve probability rather than certainty. At this stage of the argument he can't invoke the infallibility of the church to bridge the gap since that in itself is one of those hotly-contested issues where he relies on his fallible interpretation of the historical sources. 

iv) Catholic apologists are looking for a mechanism to secure assurance. They locate that mechanism in the Magisterium.

But what about divine providence? We might compare the relationship between providence and theological/hermeneutical diversity to a passenger ship. Ultimately, the passengers only need to be going in the same direction in the sense of boarding the same ship. Some heretics miss the boat. Once on board, the ship takes all of them to the same destination, unless some of them jump overboard (apostates).

Once on board, there's a sense in which passengers going in different directions as well as the same direction. They're continuously moving in different directions. Up and down different decks. Moving from stem to stern, port to starboard. Walking in circles around the deck. 

Yet they're all headed in the same direction insofar as they are going wherever the ship is going. So long as Christians are heavenbound, why is hermeneutical certitude required? 

A second event is depicted in Acts 2. Here, fifty days after the resurrection of Christ (the "Pentecost"), the Spirit is sent upon the apostles gathered in prayer with the early Christian community and the Virgin Mary, the Mother of God. The apostles are given illumination and fortitude, as well as charismatic gifts to preach the gospel to all the nations, without fear of persecution or death (181).

Although the Spirit is given to the apostles at Pentecost, that's inclusive rather than exclusive to the apostles. The Spirit is given to Christians in general, including revelatory dreams and visions (Acts 2:16-17). Throughout the Book of Acts, the gift of the Spirit is common property of Christian converts, including supernatural phenomena. There's no clerical/lay dichotomy in that regard. 

This means that after the time of the apostles there cannot be any additional new revelation that adds to the initial apostolic deposit of faith. The Church can understand more explicitly and conceptually what was contained implicitly and intuitively in the apostolic doctrine. But this "development" of Church doctrine can only take place because it stems from what is truly contained in the primal revelation of the apostolic Church (182).

A basic problem is that modern Catholicism tries to combine two divergent paradigms. The deposit of faith represents the traditional paradigm. That's fixed. Complete. 

But modern Catholicism has added the theory of development. That leads to special pleading, where theological innovations are reclassified as theological developments.

Chosen by Christ himself as the "Rock" upon whom the faith of the Church rests, Peter…(185).

If you consider the rocky setting where Jesus said that, I think the primary reference is not to Peter, but to the symbolism of Caesarea Philippi, a rocky borderland between Jewish Palestine and pagan territory, having historic associations with Baal-worship and Pan. I take Jesus to be saying that he will build his church behind enemy lines. The Church invades the kingdom of darkness. 

[Peter] is portrayed throughout the NT as the central authority of the early Church, the primary apostolic teacher, upon whom the others depend for the final decisions in matters of governance (185). 

It's demonstrably false that throughout the NT, Peter is the central authority, the primary teacher on whom all others depend for final rulings in church governance. For the first few chapters in Acts, Peter takes the lead. After that, others like Stephen and Philip step in. Then Peter is eclipsed by Paul, because Paul is more talented than Peter.

The NT has two letters attributed to Peter. In mainstream Catholic scholarship, sanctioned by the Magisterium, Petrine authorship is denied. Most of the NT was composed by writers other than Peter. The Book of Acts contains some Petrine speeches, but mainstream Catholic scholarship regards the speeches in Acts as fictional. My point is not to agree with that but to respond to modern Catholicism on its own terms. And even if we take a more conservative position, the dominant and predominant NT teaching is from teachers other than Peter. 

United by “Victim Status”. Where does your “victim status” rank?

In this approximately four-minute video, Ben Shapiro shines the light on “the multiple avenues through which racial and gender expression are experienced”, and how various victim statuses now work together under the umbrella of “intersectionality”, to enhance the political impact of the various victim groups that have been and are continually being created:

Monday, June 18, 2018

"Trump's" immigration policy

Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ June 14th statement about immigration policy is actually well thought-out and makes sense. The persons who are endangering children are those who are advocating for policies that will encourage massive increases in such attempts across the border. The greatest risk to children lies not in short-term family separations (separations from parents were a particularly common feature of life in earlier eras) but in the hazardous journey to cross the US border in between legal ports of entry, where children are often at the mercy of criminal elements. Here is Sessions’ statement, which I have reordered somewhat for smoother arrangement, paying special attention to the question of what to do with illegal immigrants who come with children.
First, those who seek to retain the Obama administration’s policy of not detaining illegal immigrants with children but releasing them with a court date (1) makes mush of US immigration law and (2) poses a greater danger to children.
(1) “The previous administration wouldn’t prosecute illegal aliens who entered the country with children. It was de facto open borders. The results were unsurprising. More and more illegal aliens started showing up at the border with children. To illustrate, in 2013, there were fewer than 15,000 family units apprehended crossing our border illegally between ports of entry. Five years later, it was more than 75,000—a five-fold increase in five years.” To this can be added that 80% of those released don’t return for their scheduled court date.
(2) “It should be noted the perils to which these parents subject their children.” “Importantly, children are far more at risk attempting entry in remote areas.” “Hundreds of aliens die every year trying to make it to the border to illegally enter this country. In many cases, children are trafficked, abused, or recruited by criminal gangs. No one should subject their child to this treacherous journey—and yet the open borders lobby encourages it every day…. The open borders, pro-amnesty crowd encouraged that—and they have the gall to attack those of us who want to end this lawlessness and the dangers these children face…. Criminal networks spread the lie that kids could get amnesty. As a result, tens of thousands of vulnerable children made the dangerous journey North—with terrible humanitarian consequences.”
“But the Trump administration is ending the Obama-era incentives to bring children here illegally. Last September, the Trump administration ended DACA. And now that DACA is over, the criminals can’t spread the lie that kids can get amnesty. Our policies are discouraging people from making children endure that treacherous journey. Everything the open borders lobby is doing is encouraging that and endangering these children. It’s that simple.”
Second, separation of children from parent(s) is common for criminal offenses and, in the case of illegal immigration, normally of short duration.
“Our policies that can result in short term separation of families is not unusual or unjustified. American citizens that are jailed do not take their children to jail with them. And non-citizens who cross our borders unlawfully —between our ports of entry—with children are not an exception.” “Having children does not give you immunity from arrest and prosecution. It certainly doesn’t give immunity to American citizens.” In an oral, parenthetical remark to his formal speech, Sessions noted: “Normally the adults are only held in custody for a week or two before they enter a plea of guilty for time served and allowed to go home with their children.”
Children can’t be, shouldn’t be, and aren’t jailed with a parent but protected during a parent’s short detention period: “We are not sending children to jail with their parents. The law requires that children who cannot be with their parents be placed in custody of the Department of Health and Human Services within 72 hours. We currently spend more than $1 billion a year in taxpayer dollars taking care of unaccompanied illegal alien minors. Most are in HHS custody. They are provided food, education in their native language, health and dental care, and transported to their destination city—all at taxpayer expense.”
“[The parents] are the ones who broke the law, they are the ones who endangered their own children on their trek. The United States on the other hand, goes to extraordinary lengths to protect them while the parents go through a short detention period…. If the adults go to one of our many ports of entry to claim asylum, they are not prosecuted and the family stays intact pending the legal process. The problem is that it became well known that adults with children were not being prosecuted for unlawful entry and the numbers surged.”
Third, the Obama administration encouraged abuse of claims of asylum, which now needs to be pulled back.
“Beginning in 2009, the previous Administration released most aliens apprehended at the border who requested asylum into the United States with a document asking them to show up for a hearing at some later date. Word spread quickly that by asserting a fear of returning to one’s home country, one could remain in the United States. The results are just what one would expect. The number of illegal entrants has surged. Asylum claims skyrocketed…. The number of these aliens placed in immigration court proceedings went from fewer than 4,000 [in 2009] to more than 73,000 by 2016—nearly a 19-fold increase [in only seven years].”
“We have also returned the asylum process to what Congress intended it to be. If you don’t meet the requirements for asylum in this country, then you do not receive asylum here. That should not be a controversial idea.” “Under the INA, asylum is available for those who leave their home country because of persecution or fear on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Asylum was never meant to solve all problems—even all serious problems— that people face every day all over the world.”
“You may have heard that I have ‘restricted’ asylum eligibility or ‘denied’ asylum eligibility to certain people. But that’s not exactly right. I have not made new law—I have simply restated and implemented what Congress has passed: asylum is generally not for those who have suffered a private act of violence. It is for members of groups who are persecuted by the state or whom the state will not protect from persecution. Members of those groups cannot go somewhere else in their home country. Most victims of private crimes can. Think about it. There are victims of crime all over the world—1.2 million violent crimes are committed every year in this country alone. Are all 1.2 million of these victims automatically entitled to asylum in Canada, the United Kingdom, or anywhere else they choose?”
Fourth, US immigration policy is already generous.
“We allow in 1.1 million legal immigrants on a path to citizenship every year. Another 700,000 come here explicitly for jobs. Another half a million come here to attend our universities and colleges.” Implication: Opposition to *illegal* immigration is not an anti-immigrant position.
Fifth, illegal immigration has been so out of control for years that US immigration law has become a joke.
“President Obama used his pen and phone to do something he said he couldn’t legally do. In July 2012—a few months before he was up for re-election—President Obama announced that he would give legal status to 800,000 illegal aliens—along with work authorization and other benefits, like Social Security. Congress had rejected this proposal on multiple occasions—but President Obama did it anyway. Again, the result was not a surprise: the number of unaccompanied alien children arriving at our border nearly doubled in one year. The next year, it doubled again…. We agree with President Obama: he didn’t have the legal authority to give any legal status to illegal aliens without Congress. That’s why this unlawful policy is over.”
“And then, in 2014, the Obama Administration doubled down and attempted to expand its unlawful amnesty to any illegal alien here since 2010. Towards the end of the last administration, prosecutions for illegal entry and reentry both declined, and sanctuary policies were encouraged, eroding relationships with state and local law enforcement officers that had taken decades to build. Sanctuary policies are when cities or states refuse to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement. If they’ve got somebody in custody who is wanted for deportation—they release them back into the community. At their root, they are a rejection of all immigration law…. The question is whether cities and states have the right under the Constitution to actively undermine the supreme law of the land—a question that has been settled repeatedly in the negative since 1819….
“Meanwhile in Congress, efforts to end illegal immigration have been blocked at every turn. Any law enforcement policies are attacked by open borders radicals and well-paid lobbyists. Every time something is proposed that would end illegal immigration, it gets blocked. If it works, it gets blocked. If it doesn’t work—if it won’t end illegal immigration—then the elites and the Washington insiders are all for it.”
Sixth, Christians should support the lawful arrest, prosecution, and deportation of persons who enter the United States illegally and don’t wait their turn like law-abiding immigrants. The alternative is a disastrous policy of open borders.
“Under the laws of this country, illegal entry is a misdemeanor. Re-entry after having been deported is a felony. Under the law, we are supposed to prosecute these crimes…. If you cross the Southwest border unlawfully, then the Department of Homeland Security will arrest you and the Department of Justice will prosecute you. That is what the law calls for—and that is what we are going to do.”
“Illegal entry into the United States is a crime—as it should be. Persons who violate the law of our nation are subject to prosecution. I would cite you to the Apostle Paul and his clear and wise command in Romans 13, to obey the laws of the government because God has ordained them for the purpose of order. Orderly and lawful processes are good in themselves and protect the weak and lawful.”
“I have given the idea of immigration much thought and have considered the arguments of our Church leaders. I do not believe scripture or church history or reason condemns a secular nation state for having reasonable immigration laws. If we have them, then they should be enforced. A mere desire to benefit from entry to the nation does not justify illegal entry.”
“We have to make a choice: do we continue to allow the word to spread that you can come here illegally and there will be no consequences—or do we finally send the message that we enforce our laws? In the Trump administration, we enforce the law. There is no right or entitlement—legal or moral—to come to this country. Immigration is a privilege that the American people have chosen to grant in certain cases.”
“We’ve got a choice here. We either have open borders or we have laws. It’s one or the other. Some people in the media have chosen to attack us for enforcing the law. That doesn’t surprise me. But I’m not ashamed of the United States of America. I am not going to apologize for carrying out our laws. That is my duty.”
“President Trump made a generous offer to the Democrats in Congress. He offered to give DACA recipients true legal status if we can build a wall, close the loopholes, and switch from chain migration and the visa lottery to a merit-based system. The Democrats’ refusal of this offer is baffling. He simply asked that they agree to a permanent solution to the problem. Why wouldn’t you want to end the illegality?
“Our goal is not radical. What is radical is the open borders policies that have been pushed on us time and again by the elites and the Washington insiders. Our goal is that immigrants should apply, wait their turn, and that people stop making that dangerous trek across the desert rather than coming here unlawfully. If they meet the standards, then they can be admitted—and those standards should advance the national interest. If we succeed in this—if we finally get a system we can be proud of—then we will start a virtuous cycle of lawfulness, safety, and prosperity. The American people have been patient. We have been waiting for 30 years. They want us to seize this opportunity that we have right now. It’s time that we finally deliver a lawful system of immigration that benefits them.

Illegal immigration and human trafficking

Separating kids from parents

Trump's immigration policy of separating kids from parents has come under fire from evangelical "leaders" (e.g. Roger Olson, Russell Moore, Albert Mohler). A few quick observations:

i) It's not really Trump's policy. The difference is that he's actually enforcing preexisting immigration law–unlike the lawless Obama administration. 

ii) This is using kids as emotional blackmail to extort chain migration. I'm unsympathetic to cynical tactics masquerading as lofty idealism. But you always have dupes who are easily taken in by that ploy. 

iii) Given the phenomenon of Latin American child traffickers, how do we determine if the child is actually accompanied by a parent?

iv) This shouldn't be the responsibility of US taxpayers in the first place. It's not our duty to provide free accommodations for illegal immigrants. American wage-earners have no obligation to make the USA a haven for looters. 

America can't host all the poor, desperate people of the world. It would turn the USA into just another dysfunctional third world hellhole. It would destroy the very thing they come for. 

In general, those who pay into the system have the right to tap the system. It shouldn't be siphoned off by people who come here to get on the social services gravy train. 

iv) It is of course true that the rule of law isn't absolute. It's easy to cite examples of civil disobedience in Scripture.  

v) I'm sympathetic to some illegal immigrants who want to make a better life for their kids, but breaking the law is a gamble, and when you gamble, sometimes you lose the bet. If you cut into line, don't complain if the bouncer ejects you. 

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Weathercock apologetics

Recently I was reading two newer books on Catholicism, which I intend to comment on in the near future: Trent Horn: The Case for Catholicism and Thomas Joseph White, The Light of Christ: An Introduction to Catholicism

I was curious to sample cutting edge Catholic theology and apologetics. I think Horn is considered by some to be the best of the up-and-coming generation of Catholic apologists. His book has endorsements by fellow apologists.

White moves in a higher orbit. He has a fancier education. His book carries endorsements by Bishop Barron, Bishop Chaput, Ed Feser, and papal biographer George Weigel. 

In terms of the current crop, this seems to be as good as it gets. But more on that for later posts. 

For now I'd like to make a general observation. One reason (among many) that I'm not Catholic is that a 21C Catholic apologist has to be like a lawyer: prepared to argue both sides of the case. That's because the Roman church makes dramatic midcourse changes. 

When that happens, it nullifies the arguments for the status quo ante. A 19C Catholic apologist marshals arguments for what Catholicism represented in the 19C. But when the ground shifts in the 20-21C, that cancels out his arguments. A new set of arguments, contradicting the previous arguments, must be put forward to defend the latest "development" in Catholic theology.

To take a few examples, historically the Roman church supported capital punishment. But to my knowledge, John-Paul II initiated a sharp left turn. That's been continued by his successors. 

If you were a Catholic apologist c. 1970 or before, you'd dutifully marshall arguments in support of Rome's traditional position. But now we see the papacy pulling the rug out from under the status quo ante. So what's a Catholic apologist to do?

To take another example, traditionally, suicide was treated as a damnatory sin. According to the Baltimore Catechism: "It is a mortal sin to destroy one's own life or commit suicide, as this act is called, and persons who willfully and knowingly commit such an act die in a state of mortal sin and are deprived of Christian burial."

But the post-Vatican II Catechism of the Catholic Church introduces eventuating circumstances that mitigate the guilt of suicide. 

By the same token, the 1917 code of canon law forbad Catholic funerals for suicides. But that was reversed in 1983. 

Traditionally, suicides were denied burial in church graveyards. From what I've read, the rationale is that their presence defiles hallowed ground. By implication, it defiles the mortal remains of Catholics who were buried in good standing with the church. 

Once again, a loyal 19C Catholic apologist would vigorously defend the stern policy of Rome. But his justifications have been mooted.

If you were to ask a Catholic apologist ten years ago about the admissibility of divorced Catholics to communion, you'd get an unequivocal answer, along with an argument about how this was verboten as a matter of principle. But what's the answer today? 

The upshot is that a Catholic apologist can't trust his own arguments. He will give the reader reasons in defense of current Catholic teaching, but he can't have any real confident in his reasons since, when his denomination changes positions and policies, his reasons are defunct. Why should an evangelical reader have any more confidence in the supporting arguments a Catholic apologist provides than the apologist is in a position to abode in his own arguments? 

Like a lawyer, the arguments shift according to the needs of the client. If the client is innocent, his attorney uses one set of arguments, but if the client is guilty, his attorney uses a divergent set of arguments. A Catholic apologist must be ready to turn on a dime, ditching all his carefully-honed arguments and inventing new arguments to defend the latest swerve in Catholic theology. 

The last things

An interview with Christian philosopher Paul Helm about "the last things": death, judgment, heaven, and hell.

It looks like Helm's The Last Things is currently unavailable at all the other major online bookstores I'm familiar with (e.g. Amazon), but it can still be purchased from the Banner of Truth. It's the final book in a trilogy. I've read the other two books, The Beginnings and The Callings, and I would highly recommend them too.

As many already know, Paul Helm has a weblog here.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

What About Violence in the Bible?

Apologetics glossary

The "Johannine Pentecost"

22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22).

1. Lydia McGrew has been conducting a series on the historicity of John's Gospel:

2. I'd like to focus on one particular issue. Scholar routinely label Jn 20:19-22 the "Johannine Pentecost". The question is how the incident in Jn 20:19-22 relates to the account of Pentecost in Acts 2. Obviously, these two accounts don't bear much resemblance to each other. So the question is whether these are two actual, separate events that happened at different times, or whether the Johannine narrator took historical liberties to craft an incident that never actually happened, but is a theological equivalent to the Lukan Pentecost. 

3. There are two issues: how does this incident relate to the rest of John's Gospel, and how does it relate to Acts 2, if at all?

i) Beginning with the first question, is this an anomalous incident in John's Gospel? Commentators often draw attention to the divine creative/recreative breathing motif in Gen 2:7 (LXX) and Ezk 37:9 (LXX). Assuming that's right, an allusion to Jesus as the Creator God in Jn 20:22 forms an inclusio, which circles back to the Prologue (Jn 1:1-4).

Likewise, an allusion to Ezekiel is consistent with other such allusions. For instance, commentators often think Ezk 36:25-27 supplies the primary background for Jn 3:5–as well as Ezk 34:15-16,23 for Jn 10. Likewise, Jesus as the new temple (Jn 2:19-22) may evoke Ezk 40-48. 

ii) In addition, this incident reconnects with the promise of the Spirit in the Upper Room Discourse:

16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever (Jn 14:16).

26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name... (Jn 14:26).

26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me (Jn 15:26).

7 Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you (Jn 16:7).

The Spirit comes from the Father through the Son. The Son mediates the Spirit, because the Spirit is sent in Jesus name, at the Son's behest. 

So the action in Jn 20:22 is another way of indicating that Jesus is the source of the Spirit (economically speaking). The Spirit cannot be received apart from the Son. One must go through the Son to receive the Spirit. The Spirit is indirectly from the Father, and directly from the Son. The Son will send the Spirit in his place to take his place. 

That the Father sends the Spirit demonstrates the authority of the Father. That the Father defers to the Son demonstrates the authority of the Son.

iii) The difference between the promise in the Upper Room and the post-Resurrection gesture is the difference between saying and showing. In the Upper Room, Jesus says what will happen. After the Resurrection, Jesus illustrates what will happen. 

That's a good communication style. Say something, then give a graphic sign or example of what you mean. Verbal and nonverbal communication reinforce each other.

iv) On this analysis, Jn 20:19-23 is firmly integrated into the overall Johannine narrative. There's no reason to think it didn't happen, as described–unless you regard the genre of John's Gospel as pious fiction. 

v) And how does that relate to Acts 2? I view the action in Jn 20:22 is an enacted parable. A symbolic, proleptic action. I tend to doubt they received the Spirit at that moment. I think there's likely a suspenseful, delayed effect. 

vi) There's some interplay between the few and the many in Acts 2. The Spirit falls upon the Eleven. However, the Eleven are a kind of synecdoche inasmuch as the gift of the Spirit is not confined to the Eleven. Rather, that's common property of converts. That's already clear on the same occasion, in Peter's sermon (Acts 2:16-18,38-39). And that's illustrated throughout the Book of Acts. 

vii) So there's no inconsistency between these two accounts. There's not even a prima facie point of tension. 

You distinguish "gutter humor" by what faculty?

Not unlike Emperor Palpatine, I continue to follow the debate between Dr. David Wood and Dr. James White (and others) with great interest:

  1. I'm afraid I'm still not clear what fundamental criterion (or criteria) Dr. White is using to adjudicate what constitutes unethical or illicit "gutter humor"?

    It does not appear to be the Bible, or at least it has not been satisfactorily established. Dr. White claims he has evaluated the relevant Scriptural passages according to "the fundamental rules of exegesis and hermeneutics", while Dr. Wood claims: "Nonsense. You apply scriptures in ways that the Apostles could never have meant them (unless they were utter hypocrites), all to justify your personal preferences and feelings. Awful exegesis. Requires careful refutation." Likewise, it's been pointed out that the Bible itself does seem to use both gutter humor as well as mockery (e.g. Elijah and the prophets of Baal is a paradigm case to consider in more detail than Dr. White appears to have considered it; my own argument from analogy about watching the Islamicize Me videos and God revealing to biblical prophets dreams and visions arguably containing "crude" content). Both Dr. White and Dr. Wood believe they're behaving consistently with Scripture and argue as much. (It sounds like Dr. Wood may have a more detailed argument from Scripture in the works too.)

    So I would have to (continue to) agree with Dr. Wood. I don't see how Dr. White has established his argument that the Islamicize Me videos are illicit "gutter humor" from Scripture or, indeed, from anything else save for his personal offense at or distaste for the Islamicize Me videos.

  2. Also, I don't think it's fair to make "gutter humor" and "mockery" equivalent to one another which is what it reasonably seems Dr. White meant when he typed "gutter humor/mockery". It's the very point of dispute whether mockery is tantamount to gutter humor. The fact that gutter humor and mockery are equivalent must first be established; it can't simply be assumed to be the case by Dr. White.
  3. What's more, even if Dr. White can establish mockery is equivalent to gutter humor, and that the Islamicize Me videos' mockery of Islam or Muhammad is equivalent to gutter humor, that still does not get us to the conclusion that therefore "gutter humor/mockery" is biblically unethical or illicit. But this is the very conclusion Dr. White needs to arrive at if he is to justifiably condemn Dr. Wood for the Islamicize Me videos, in light of Dr. White's condemnations of Dr. Wood from Scripture.
  4. All this correspondingly brings to my mind the classic debate between the Catholic philosopher Frederick Copleston (C) and the atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell (R):

    R: You see, I feel that some things are good and that other things are bad. I love the things that are good, that I think are good, and I hate the things that I think are bad. I don't say that these things are good because they participate in the Divine goodness.

    C: Yes, but what's your justification for distinguishing between good and bad or how do you view the distinction between them?

    R: I don't have any justification any more than I have when I distinguish between blue and yellow. What is my justification for distinguishing between blue and yellow? I can see they are different.

    C: Well, that is an excellent justification, I agree. You distinguish blue and yellow by seeing them, so you distinguish good and bad by what faculty?

    R: By my feelings.