Wednesday, June 19, 2019

2019 Southern Baptist Convention on Critical Race Theory and intersectionality

Seminary foibles


I'm not an art historian, so it's possible that some of the my generalizations in this post are overgeneralizations. 

1. Standards of modesty are culturally relative. At one extreme are Muslims. To my knowledge, Islam even has nudity taboos about members of the same sex. They also have hangups about showing skin in general. At the opposite extreme is Classical Greek and Indian art. Some Indian statues are overtly erotic. There's also the phallic symbol (lingam). Greek art is characterized by both male and female nudity. Some Greek art is explicitly pornographic. The Greek cult of homosexuality presumably contributes to the prominence of the male nude in Greek art. 

2. Christians agree that modesty is a virtue, but disagree on what constitutes modesty. It's ironic that Catholic theology makes a big deal about concupiscence, yet nudity is a prominent theme among Catholic sculptors and painters. In addition, Marian iconography gave Catholic artists a pretext to paint gorgeous women. Likewise, artistic depictions of martyrdom are sometimes an excuse for sadistic eroticism. Since, moreover, a lot of Catholic art was sponsored by popes and prelates, it can't all be chalked up to randy laymen. 

3. Botticelli, Bernini, Raphael, Ingres, Renoir, and Dante Rossetti are artists paradigmatic for celebrating the female form. It's my impression that generally speaking, French and Italian artists celebrate physical perfection (especially female) in a way that many Northern European artists do not. English artists split the difference. 

One reason may simply be that warm sunny climates are less inhibited about exposing skin than chilly climates. That may be a partial explanation for the exuberant nudity in Greek, Roman, Italian, and Indian art. 

It's amusing that after his "conversion," Botticelli switched from Classical to Christian themes, yet his Madonnas look just like the women who populate his Classical paintings. The setting and outfit has changed, but the women remain the same! Nothing wrong with that. Beauty is universal. 

Although Rembrandt paints nudes, they're not beautiful women. Rather, they're the women he loved. 

4. In Christian art, male nudity seems to be more confined to depictions of Adam and the Day of Judgment. You also have artists like Michaelangelo and Eakins. That raises questions about their "sexual orientation"–although Eakins also did female nudes. 

5. To my limited knowledge, skinny-dipping was the norm until the Victorian invention of swimwear, although I assume it was usually sexually segregated. The public Roman baths were unisex, but that reflected pagan mores. 

6. In traditional Western art, there seems to be a tacit code about pubic hair. Artistic nudity is permissible so long as pubic hair is brushed out. I don't know the rationale for that convention. Was it an arbitrary custom in which pubic hair was deemed to be too realistic and therefore obscene, whereas full-frontal nudity was permissible so long as the artist omitted that detail? Or did it trade on the "innocence" of prepubescent nudity? Of course, if the nude model is evidently sexually mature, then that's a ruse. 

One exception to this unspoken rule is a 5C Byzantine ivory diptych of Adam in paradise (in the Museo nazionale del Bargello in Florence). Perhaps that dates back to a time before the later tradition became entrenched.  

7. In Christian ethics, the notion of modesty revolves around the concept of lust. Standard prooftexts include Prov 6:25, Mt 5:28, Rom 1:24,27, and 2 Tim 2:22.

i) In context, Prov 6:25 refers to prostitution

ii) In context, Rom 1:24,27 has reference to homosexual attraction (and behavior).

iii) In 2 Tim 2:22, does "lust" refer to something in the mind (attraction, imagination) or behavior? In the 1C Roman empire, sexual immorality covers premarital sex, extramarital sex, promiscuity, prostitution, rape, incest, sodomy, lesbianism, pederasty, and abortion. Christians were obligated to foreswear that behavior. 

iv) Mt 5:28. This is the locus classicus:

a) A problem with the traditional interpretation is that lust comes in degrees, so on that interpretation, the text offers no concrete guidance on where you cross the line. 

b) In addition, the traditional interpretation has been challenged: 

8. Of course, lust can't be entirely detached from sexual misconduct since that's the motivation. They are asymmetrically related. It's possible to lust without acting on your impulses, but lust provides the incentive for the corresponding behavior. 

9. Then there's the question of how to define lust. Consulting a Greek or Hebrew lexicon isn't the answer, since that will simply give you an English synonym. One issue is whether the concept of lust can be determined by Scripture, or whether Bible writers expect the reader to have a cultural preunderstanding of lust based on human experience, especially against the pervasive backdrop of heathen sexual mores. 

10. There's the additional question of whether there's a more restrictive (indeed, exclusive) standard for married couples than for singles, especially in the realm of the imagination. Sex outside of marriage is forbidden for both groups, but what about art or fantasies? The alienation of affections is a danger in marriage. 

11. Modesty is a broader category. Take Christ in the House of His Parents, by Millais. That was quite controversial in its time. It offended conventional Victorian piety. Not because there was anything slightly erotic about it, but critics considered it an indecorous way to represent the Holy Family. Too down-to-earth. The hostile reaction reflect the artificiality of some religious sensibilities. 

12. In Christian theology, the human body is both a divine gift as well as God's handiwork. A marvel of engineering. Man is the apex of creation in our solar system. Perhaps in the entire universe. If it's permissible to make artistic depictions of lesser things in nature, why not the greater? Take athleticism. When I watch joggers, some men and women are natural runners while others are manifestly not. They have no idea how to hold their arms or coordinate their arms and legs. By contrast, young runners with innate coordination have an elegant gait. It's enjoyable to watch the natural grace of a good runner. Beauty can be simple. Wildlife photographers take pictures of cheetahs chasing down antelope. It's exhilarating to watch. Art it motion. And of course, we have a special affinity for the human body.  

13. Even if we consider artistic nudity to be permissible, there are ancillary issues. Take Renoir's Les Grandes Baigneuses. Consider the girl in the water, painted from behind, who's splashing the women on the riverbank. She appears to be in her mid-teens. Fresh ingenue beauty, projecting playful, unaffected innocence. But I assume she was a real person, like the other two women. What's the fate of models when their springtime bloom wears off? What happened to that girl? Did she die of old age? Did she die young, from TB or influenza? Did she die in poverty? Did she contract venereal disease and die on the streets? In the painting, she's frozen in time, in the flower of youth, but she lived and died. Do viewers every wonder what became of them? I'm reminded of Anton Chekhov's short story about the model exploited by art students and medical students ("Anyuta"). Used, passed around, then discarded. That's fictional, but based on real-life examples.

What Christians should know about vaccines

Joe Carter wrote an article on TGC that garnered a plethora of comments and considerable debate on Facebook:

"What Christians should know about vaccines"

Just a few comments in passing:

Hiding in the bushes

8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen 3:8-11).

This has always been a puzzling passage. It's understandable why they tried to hide from God. Although that's comical, they knew less about God than we do. So they might believe they could successfully elude divine detection. 

Even so, why did they hide because they were naked? What does nudity have to do with it?

Is it because they were embarrassed to be seen in the buff by God after they ate the forbidden fruit? But once again, what's the logical connection? Perhaps their reaction is inexplicable. When caught redhanded, wrongdoers may react in irrational ways. 

It won't do to say the account is fictional, for even fictional stories are supposed to make sense on their own terms. It had to be meaningful to the narrator. Indeed, good fiction has to be more logical than real life because it lacks factuality to lend it plausibility. 

God's question implies that Adam wasn't conscious or self-conscious of his nudity until he ate the forbidden fruit. At one level, that's reasonable. Having been made that way, Adam had no point of contrast. No occasion to give his nudity a second thought. That was his exclusive experience. 

Perhaps they took shelter in the bushes to provide a barrier against physical harm. Nudity is a vulnerable state which leaves one more exposed to physical harm. There's nothing between you and the elements–or weapons. They were unarmored and unarmed. 

If, as Jeffrey Niehaus has argued, the divine visitation is a storm theophany, perhaps they took refuge in the bushes to provide a measure of protection against the approaching storm.  Assuming it was a storm theophany, we don't know what form it took. A thunderstorm? A whirlwind? 

Perhaps a fire theophany? The Angel of the Lord may assume a luminous appearance or even, according to Exodus, the appearance of a fire whirl. If they saw something like that touch down and head in their direction, it's not surprising that they ran for cover.                            

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Winning yesterday, losing tomorrow

There's some concern that the SBC and PCA are drifting to the left. A quick observation: there's a sense in which there are no closed questions in theology. Nothing is ever settled for all time. That's because the younger generation is a blank slate. It wasn't born knowing the answers and the supporting arguments. It didn't live through theological controversies. So you can never take the younger generation for granted. You can never coast on past victories. 

The younger generation must be shown the "received answers," and moreover, we must provide the younger generation with the reasons to back up the received answers. Otherwise, many members of the younger generation will be swept along with the current of the Zeitgeist. 

Some Catholic apologists will exclaim: "Ah ha! That just goes to show the necessity of a Magisterium!"

But that's no alternative:

i) The Catholic church is hemorrhaging young cradle Catholics. 

ii)  In many respects, the Magisterium is leading the charge to the left.

iii) I didn't say there are no good answers. We don't have to start from scratch every generation. If there are solid stock answers and supporting arguments, we can rehearse that material. 

We must also be adaptable to new challenges. Take transgenderism. Because that's a recent fad, there aren't standard answers and arguments, so we have to think on our feet. 

Why philosophy ruins everything!

A recipe for perpetual misery: become a philosopher!

Cambridge Companion to Reformed Theology

The reviewer has more of a "Confessional Calvinist" mindset than I do. However, the reviewer makes some useful points:

"This is not a difficult concept"

This seems to be a popular meme. A few basic issues:

i) If you remove the yoke and white from the shell, you interrupt the process of gestation. 

ii) Turning silk into a dress is not a natural process or natural continuum. 

iii) Why is an acorn not a tree? Is the difference that some acorns never germinate?

iv) From a secular standpoint, what makes a human a person? There are physicalists (eliminative materialists) who regard consciousness as an illusion.

v) Is a comatose patient a person? Suppose the patient will emerge from their coma in two weeks, with their personality intact. Would it be murder to kill them while they are still comatose?

vi) What about lowering a patient's body temperature to the point where they have no vital signs or EEG reading? That's a surgical procedure to prevent blood loss. Is the patient still a person? 

vii) Does personhood depend on brain development? What about the hard problem of consciousness? 

Show me a miracle!

A popular atheist trope is that if God performed a custom-made miracle for the atheist, he'd believe in God. To put this in reverse, they feel justified in not believing in God unless they see a miracle. There are a couple of problems with this trope:

i) It doesn't occur to them that it might not be important to God whether everyone believes in him. Rather, it's important to you whether you believe in God. An atheist is like a patient with a life-threatening condition who tells the doctor, "I don't trust you. You must prove yourself to be me before I let you save my life".

But that has things backwards. The patient's life can't mean more to the doctor than the patient. The doctor doesn't have a personal stake in the patient's survival. The doctor has nothing to lose if the patient refuses treatment. The patient isn't doing the doctor a favor by letting the doctor save his life; rather, the doctor is doing the patient a favor by saving his life.

ii) What's the next step? What would the atheist do if he witnessed a miracle? How, if at all, would that change his life? There are duties that come with believing in God. (For that matter, an atheist has the same duties–he simply fails to recognize his duties.)

Sing hallelujah to the Lord

More information here: "How a worship song is fueling pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong".

Some stray thoughts:

Monday, June 17, 2019

Reading as seeing

Here's a quick follow-up to my post on eloquence:

Here's a concrete example of what I mean. This is from Mark Twain's autobiography, reminiscing about his old stomping grounds. An example of artlessly expressive, evocative prose. 

Imagine of pastors with the literary knack were to use that ability to describe scenes in the Bible the way Twain recalls his old stomping ground. The ability to take a biblical narrative and bring it before the eyes of the congregation. In the age of biblical archaeology, Bible atlases, and trips to the Middle East, it's possible to supplement the bare text of scripture with atmospheric background information, as if you were there. 

The farmhouse stood in the middle of a very large yard, and the yard was fenced on three sides with rails and on the rear side with high palings; against these stood the smokehouse; beyond the palings was the orchard; beyond the orchard were the negro quarter and the tobacco-fields. The front yard was entered over a stile, made of sawed-off logs of graduated heights; I do not remember any gate. In a corner of the front yard were a dozen lofty hickory-trees and a dozen black-walnuts, and in the nutting season riches were to be gathered there.

Down a piece, abreast the house, stood a little log cabin against the rail fence; and there the woody hill fell sharply away, past the barns, the corn-crib, the stables and the tobacco-curing house, to a limpid brook which sang along over its gravelly bed and curved and frisked in and out and here and there and yonder in the deep shade of overhanging foliage and vines–a divine place for wading, and it had swimming-pools, too, which were forbidden to us and therefore much frequented by us. For we were little Christian children, and had early been taught the value of forbidden fruit.

I can see the farm yet, with perfect clearness. I can see all its belongings, all its details; the family room of the house, with a "trundle" bed in one corner and a spinning-wheel in another–a wheel whose rising and falling wail, heard from a distance, was the mournfulest of all sounds to me, and made me homesick and low-spirited, and filled my atmosphere with the wandering spirits of the dead: the vast fireplace, piled high, on winter nights, with flaming hickory logs from whose ends a sugary sap bubbled out but did not go to waste, for we scraped it off and ate it; the lazy cat spread out on the rough hearthstones, the drowsy dogs braced against the jambs and blinking; my aunt in one chimney-corner knitting, my uncle in the other smoking his corn-cob pipe; the slick and carpetless oak floor faintly mirroring the dancing flame-tongues and freckled with black indentations where fire-coals had popped out and died a leisurely death; half a dozen children romping in the background twilight; "split"-bottomed chairs here and there, some with rockers; a cradle–out of service, but waiting, with confidence; in the early cold mornings a snuggle of children, in shirts and chemises, occupying the hearthstone and procrastinating–they could not bear to leave that comfortable place and go out on the wind-swept floor-space between the house and kitchen where the general tin basin stood, and wash.

Along outside of the front fence ran the country road; dusty in the summer-time, and a good place for snakes–they liked to lie in it and sun themselves; when they were rattlesnakes or puff adders, we killed them: when they were black snakes, or racers, or belonged to the fabled "hoop" breed, we fled, without shame; when they were "house snakes" or "garters" we carried them home and put them in Aunt Patsy's work-basket for a surprise; for she was prejudiced against snakes, and always when she took the basket in her lap and they began to climb out of it it disordered her mind. She never could seem to get used to them; her opportunities went for nothing. And she was always cold toward bats, too, and could not bear them; and yet I think a bat is as friendly a bird as there is. My mother was Aunt Patsy's sister, and had the same wild superstitions. A bat is beautifully soft and silky: I do not know any creature that is pleasanter to the touch, or is more grateful for caressings, if offered in the right spirit. I know all about these coleoptera, because our great cave, three miles below Hannibal, was multitudinously stocked with them...Many excursion parties came from considerable distances up and down the river to visit the cave. It was miles in extent, and was a tangled wilderness of narrow and lofty clefts and passages. It was an easy place to get lost in; anybody could do it–including the bats. I got lost in it myself, along with a lady, and our last candle burned down to almost nothing before we glimpsed the search-party's lights winding about in the distance.

Beyond the road where the snakes sunned themselves was a dense young thicket, and through it a dim-lighted path led a quarter of a mile; then out of the dimness one emerged abruptly upon a level great prairie which was covered with wild strawberry-plants, vividly starred with prairie pinks, and walled in on all sides by forests. The strawberries were fragrant and fine, and in the season we were generally there in the crisp freshness of the early morning, while the dew-beads still sparkled upon the grass and the woods were ringing with the first songs of the birds. Down the forest slopes to the left were the swings. They were made of bark stripped from hickory saplings. When they became dry they were dangerous.

As I have said, I spent some part of every year at the farm until I was twelve or thirteen years old. The life which I led there with my cousins was full of charm, and so is the memory of it yet. I can call back the solemn twilight and mystery of the deep woods, the earthy smells, the faint odors of the wild flowers, the sheen of rain-washed foliage, the rattling clatter of drops when the wind shook the trees, the far-off hammering of woodpeckers and the muffled drumming of wood-pheasants in the remoteness of the forest, the snapshot glimpses of disturbed wild creatures skurrying through the grass,–I can call it all back and make it as real as it ever was, and as blessed. I can call back the prairie, and its loneliness and peace, and a vast hawk hanging motionless in the sky, with his wings spread wide and the blue of the vault showing through the fringe of their end-feathers. I can see the woods in their autumn dress, the oaks purple, the hickories washed with gold, the maples and the sumacs luminous with crimson fires, and I can hear the rustle made by the fallen leaves as we ploughed through them. I can see the blue clusters of wild grapes hanging amongst the foliage of the saplings, and I remember the taste of them and the smell. I know how the wild blackberries looked, and how they tasted; and the same with the pawpaws, the hazelnuts and the persimmons; and I can feel the thumping rain, upon my head, of hickory-nuts and walnuts when we were out in the frosty dawn to scramble for them with the pigs, and the gusts of wind loosed them and sent them down. I know the stain of blackberries, and how pretty it is; and I know the stain of walnut hulls, and how little it minds soap and water; also what grudged experience it had of either of them. I know the taste of maple sap, and when to gather it, and how to arrange the troughs and the delivery tubes, and how to boil down the juice, and how to hook the sugar after it is made; also how much better hooked sugar tastes than any that is honestly come by, let bigots say what they will. I know how a prize watermelon looks when it is sunning its fat rotundity among pumpkin-vines and "simblins"; I know how to tell when it is ripe without "plugging" it; I know how inviting it looks when it is cooling itself in a tub of water under the bed, waiting; I know how it looks when it lies on the table in the sheltered great floor-space between house and kitchen, and the children gathered for the sacrifice and their mouths watering; I know the crackling sound it makes when the carving-knife enters its end, and I can see the split fly along in front of the blade as the knife cleaves its way to the other end; I can see its halves fall apart and display the rich red meat and the black seeds, and the heart standing up, a luxury fit for the elect; I know how a boy looks, behind a yard-long slice of that melon, and I know how he feels; for I have been there. I know the taste of the watermelon which has been honestly come by, and I know the taste of the watermelon which has been acquired by art. Both taste good, but the experienced know which tastes best. I know the look of green apples and peaches and pears on the trees, and I know how entertaining they are when they are inside of a person. I know how ripe ones look when they are piled in pyramids under the trees, and how pretty they are and how vivid their colors. I know how a frozen apple looks, in a barrel down cellar in the winter-time, and how hard it is to bite, and how the frost makes the teeth ache, and yet how good it is, notwithstanding. I know the disposition of elderly people to select the specked apples for the children, and I once knew ways to beat the game. I know the look of an apple that is roasting and sizzling on a hearth on a winter's evening, and I know the comfort that comes of eating it hot, along with some sugar and a drench of cream. I know the delicate art and mystery of so cracking hickory-nuts and walnuts on a flatiron with a hammer that the kernels will be delivered whole, and I know how the nuts, taken in conjunction with winter apples, cider and doughnuts, make old people's tales and old jokes sound fresh and crisp and enchanting, and juggle an evening away before you know what went with the time. I know the look of Uncle Dan'l's kitchen as it was on privileged nights when I was a child, and I can see the white and black children grouped on the hearth, with the firelight playing on their faces and the shadows flickering upon the walls, clear back toward the cavernous gloom of the rear, and I can hear Uncle Dan'l telling the immortal tales which Uncle Remus Harris was to gather into his books and charm the world with, by and by; and I can feel again the creepy joy which quivered through me when the time for the ghost-story of the "Golden Arm" was reached–and the sense of regret, too, which came over me, for it was always the last story of the evening, and there was nothing between it and the unwelcome bed. 

I can remember the bare wooden stairway in my uncle's house, and the turn to the left above the landing, and the rafters and the slanting roof over my bed, and the squares of moonlight on the floor, and the white cold world of snow outside, seen through the curtainless window. I can remember the howling of the wind and the quaking of the house on stormy nights, and how snug and cozy one felt, under the blankets, listening, and how the powdery snow used to sift in, around the sashes, and lie in little ridges on the floor, and make the place look chilly in the morning, and curb the wild desire to get up–in case there was any. I can remember how very dark that room was, in the dark of the moon, and how packed it was with ghostly stillness when one woke up by accident away in the night, and forgotten sins came flocking out of the secret chambers of the memory and wanted a hearing; and how ill chosen the time seemed for this kind of business; and how dismal was the hoo-hooing of the owl and the wailing of the wolf, sent mourning by on the night wind.

I remember the raging of the rain on that roof, summer nights, and how pleasant it was to lie and listen to it, and enjoy the white splendor of the lightning and the majestic booming and crashing of the thunder. It was a very satisfactory room; and there was a lightning-rod which was reachable from the window, an adorable and skittish thing to climb up and down, summer nights, when there were duties on hand of a sort to make privacy desirable.

I remember the 'coon and 'possum hunts, nights, with the negroes, and the long marches through the black gloom of the woods, and the excitement which fired everybody when the distant bay of an experienced dog announced that the game was treed; then the wild scramblings and stumblings through briars and bushes and over roots to get to the spot; then the lighting of a fire and the felling of the tree, the joyful frenzy of the dogs and the negroes, and the weird picture it all made in the red glare–I remember it all well, and the delight that every one got out of it, except the 'coon.

I remember the pigeon seasons, when the birds would come in millions, and cover the trees, and by their weight break down the branches. They were clubbed to death with sticks; guns were not necessary, and were not used. I remember the squirrel hunts, and the prairie-chicken hunts, and the wild-turkey hunts, and all that; and how we turned out, mornings, while it was still dark, to go on these expeditions, and how chilly and dismal it was, and how often I regretted that I was well enough to go. A toot on a tin horn brought twice as many dogs as were needed, and in their happiness they raced and scampered about, and knocked small people down, and made no end of unnecessary noise. At the word, they vanished away toward the woods, and we drifted silently after them in the melancholy gloom. But presently the gray dawn stole over the world, the birds piped up, then the sun rose and poured light and comfort all around, everything was fresh and dewy and fragrant, and life was a boon again. After three hours of tramping we arrived back wholesomely tired, overladen with game, very hungry, and just in time for breakfast.

John Frame's apologetic

In the past, Van Tilian apologists made sketchy, grandiose claims about the inadequacy of non-Christian alternatives. Oftentimes, these programmatic claims never got beyond the level of slogans. In addition, progress was often stalled by insular, repetitious debates over methodology. However, there has been some important work to redeem the vouchers. 

Much of John Frame's work has an apologetic thrust. In some cases that's more explicit and sustained. For instance:

We Are All Philosophers: A Christian Introduction to Seven Fundamental Questions

Nature's Case for God: A Brief Biblical Argument

Christianity Considered: A Guide for Skeptics and Seekers

Apologetics: A Justification of Christian Belief

His monograph on The Doctrine of the Word of God defends biblical revelation. His monograph on The Doctrine of the Christian Life contains a section sifting non-Christian ethics, while A History of Western Philosophy and Theology contains a wide-ranging survey comparing and contrasting Christianity to non-Christian thought. 

While much work remains to be done, in the hands of its best exponents, presuppositionalism has moved beyond slogans and methodological disputes to substantive analysis. 

Sunday, June 16, 2019


1. It's useful for Christian writers who have the latent talent to cultivate an eloquent prose style. If you have a worthwhile message, and you want the reader (or listener) to pay attention, eloquence is a way to make them take notice. Eloquence makes the message memorable. People are more likely to reread an eloquent writer. Indeed, there are people who read certain writers just for the style (e.g. Santayana). 

In addition, a good prose style will enrich the message. For instance, the apt use of metaphor lends greater insight to the message than an abstract style. Well-chosen metaphors make the truth concrete, making it clearer to the mind.

Although they aren't great prose stylists, infidels like Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins have a catchy style that sells the message. We should be able to counter that and do them one better. 

The appeal of hymns by Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and William Cowper lies not merely in the message or musical setting, but in their poetic power. Same thing with the King James Bible, the traditional Book of Common Prayer, George Herbert, and Henry Vaughan. 

I don't think it's coincidental that fine prose stylists like Ruskin and C. S. Lewis were failed poets. While they didn't have what it takes to be successful poets, they had a poet's ear for language and eye for imagery, which infuses their prose.

2. Some Christians might object that what I say clashes with 1 Cor 2:1-5. However, Paul is, himself, an eloquent writer. I think his objection is not to eloquence, as such, but in part to oratory that's ostentatious, designed to impress rather than express–and in part to sophistical rhetoric that substitutes emotive power for truth, reason, and evidence. 

3. It's a mistake for preachers to strain to be more eloquent than they actually are. The Baptist preacher Robert G. Lee is a good example of someone who is laboring for effect. His language is pretty in a tinselly sort of way. Empty showy conceit. I'm not impugning his motives, just his taste.

Another example is Christopher Frye, in The Lady's Not for Burning. Although the language is vaguely Shakespearean, Shakespeare didn't merely string together pretty words, but picturesque metaphors. 

4. Many writers use a metaphorical word, then leave it at that. But that's generally ineffective. Because the stock of metaphorical words is so familiar, merely using a metaphorical word usually fails to conjure a corresponding image in the mind of the reader or listener. In the same vein, I notice that careless writers use other words in a sentence that jar with the metaphorical word. The writer himself didn't pause to mentally picture the metaphor behind the word. 

If you wish to take advantage of a metaphor, you need to do more than use a metaphorical word. Rather, you need to expand that into a visual description which evokes a scene or image in the mind of the reader. 

5. In addition, it's good if writers don't just have stock metaphors to draw upon, but a fresh experience of the world that supplies the stock metaphors in the first place. Go to the source. A good writer is a keen observer. 

6. Euphony is another trait of good prose. A misguided cliche one runs across in style manuals is to prefer a shorter synonym to a longer synonym. But that's bad advice. A good sentence has a certain rhythm. In that case, a writer with a good ear will choose words that contribute to the overall rhythm of the sentence. He's not choosing words in isolation. It's not just a question of how many syllables a particular word has, but how many syllables the sentence has–as well as the accentual stress. 

By the same token, the next word you choose should depend on how the preceding word ends. Does it end with a vowel or consonant? Does the next word begin with a vowel or consonant? Do they combine to produce a pleasing effect? Poetic techniques like assonance and consonance should work their way into prose, albeit unobtrusively. 

It's often good to write sentences with a lilting cadence. But it depends on the subject matter. Sometimes a grating, abrasive style underscores the message. It's good to vary the style. A uniform style is monotonous. Alternate between staccato and legato. 

It would be a mistake for an author to waste his best style on everything he writes about, however, mundane or ephemeral. Best to save the best style for topics that merit a more expressive or elevated treatment. A foreground requires a background. A prosaic style for more forgettable things makes a high style more arresting by contrast. 

Ceremonial holiness

A stock objection which Catholic apologists raise to classic Protestant theology is that justification by faith is a "legal fiction". Among other things, that's a highly ironic allegation given the Catholic alternative. For the Catholic alternative is ceremonial holiness. They imagine that sacraments like baptism "infuse" the soul with the grace of holiness. But that's something they attribute to the sacrament. The purported process of infused grace is utterly indetectable and unverifiable. So they replace the "legal fiction" of sola fide with an external rite. But why isn't that a legal fiction? 

Saturday, June 15, 2019

What's the goal of the prolife movement?

1. I'm on what's conventionally labeled the "incrementalist" side of the prolife movement (in contrast to abolitionists). However, I don't think casting the issue in terms of incrementalism v. immediatism is the best way to frame the issue. 

As I understand it, the usual claim is that incrementalists share the same goal as abolitionists. Both sides aim to eliminate abortion entirely. But they differ on strategy and tactics. 

2. I think incrementalists take this position in part because they are put on the defensive by abolitionists. Imagine if the incrementalist said, "As a matter of fact, eliminating abortion entirely is not my goal". 

i) Is that a damning thing to say? Well, that depends. The statement is ambiguous. It could be taken to mean I don't think we should eliminate abortion in toto. In general, that would be a morally deficient position–although even most hardline prolifers make some exceptions (e.g. ectopic pregnancies). 

ii) However, we need to distinguish between goals and ideals. A prolifer might say eliminating abortion in toto is the ideal, but not the goal, because that's an unattainable goal. Is that a scandalous thing to say?

Suppose a doctor has a patient in the early stages of MS. Is it the doctor's goal to cure the patient? No, because he doesn't have a cure for MS. Imagine if the patient became irate: "What kind of doctor are you that it's not your goal to cure me!" But that's no fault of the doctor. It's not his goal to cure the patient because he's in no position to cure the patient. It can be the goal of a medical researcher to find a cure for MS, but not the average physician. 

3. That said, there can be value in having ambitious goals. One rationale for having ambitious goals is that if you aim higher, then even if you fall short of your goal, you may come closer to the goal that if you lowered your expectations. 

Take an Olympic athlete who thinks he has a shot at winning a gold medal or breaking a record. He may push himself harder, and have a better chance of success, by aiming higher.

Or take an underdog sports team that's up against the best team in the league. The opposing team is undefeated. So the odds are stacked against the underdog team.

If the underdog team goes into the game with a defeatist attitude, that's a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom. A defeatist attitude is self-defeating. It pretty much ensures failure.

If, however, the underdog team aims high, it might score a surprise upset. Perhaps the opposing team was overconfident. The opposing team didn't bring their best game to the competition because they thought they were unbeatable.

4. However, it really depends on the examples we use to illustrate the principle. It's easy to come up with counterexamples where an ambitious goal is foolhardy. Suppose your goal is to graduate from Harvard med school. Suppose you don't have the chops to compete with the cream of the crop. You are no match for your classmates. As a result, you wash out of Harvard med school with humongous student loan bills. 

Suppose, if you aimed lower, you could graduate from a perfectly reputable, but less prestigious med school. By aiming too high, you missed out on both. You flunked out of Harvard, and you blew the opportunity to become a physician by attending a less demanding med school.

In addition, some Harvard students commit suicide because they just can't cut it, and they are too ashamed to face their pushy, ambiguous, disappointed parents. 

To take another example, some competitive athletes suffer injuries at the gym. They push their body to the limit, hoping their body will adapt, but they push their body beyond the limit. They suffer injuries that require surgery. As a result, they may never get back to where they were before the injury.

And they weren't injured in the game. They didn't get to that point. This was conditioning to prepare themselves for the game, but as a result of the injury, they had to drop out.

So overly-ambitious goals are counterproductive. You don't end up with more. You end up with less–or nothing at all. Indeed, you may be worse off than when you started. 

5. One of my concerns with making the total elimination of abortion the goal is whether setting the goal there is the justification for opposing abortion at all. Does the warrant or rationale for saving babies depend on having as a goal the total elimination of abortion? Is it not worth the effort if that's an unattainable goal?

To take a comparison, historically, Christians have been in the vanguard of founding orphanages. Should the goal be to have enough orphanages to care for every abandoned child? Suppose we lack the resources for that laudable project. Imagine someone setting a quota or threshold: unless we can save all orphans, or 90%, we won't build any orphanages! Let them all die on the street!

Rather that stipulating an artificial goal, we should just do as much as we can. Saving babies isn't predicated on the prospects of winning, as if it's not worth the fight if you lose. You do the best you can. To revert to the illustration, if you can only save a fraction of abandoned children, that's heartbreaking, but it hardly means you throw in the towel and refuse to save the few you can.   

6. We should distinguish between targets and goals. Instead of having a utopian goal which may or may not be attainable, we should have targets. Not making the total elimination of abortion your goal doesn't mean you stop short even if you were making steady progress, and could achieve even more reductions in abortion. 

We don't know what the future holds. If you secure one target, you move onto the next target. One might say the elimination of abortion is the goal if it's possible to eliminate abortion. If it's not possible to eliminate abortion, then that's not the goal. There's no obligation to pursue or commit to impossible goals. A problem with a setting hard-n-fast goal is that we don't know in advance if that's attainable. 

7. Abolitionists accuse incrementalists of faithlessness, but there's no biblical promise that God will eliminate all or most evil during the church age. There's no biblical promise that God will eliminate murder during the church age. To some extent we find out what's possible by doing what we can.

Veggie tales

1. I'm not against vegetarianism or veganism per se, but I'm not against meat-eating either. However, humans are omnivorous. Ideally we should have a varied diet (e.g. lean meats, green leafy vegetables, Butterfinger cookie dough cheesecake bars fried in a vat of lard).

2. That said, some strict vegetarians and vegans act like they're morally superior to people who eat meat. They turn their personal choice into a moral crusade against people who aren't vegetarian or vegan. They become zealots for vegetarianism or veganism.

On that front, Tim Hsiao has defended eating meat. Speaking of Tim Hsiao, I just want to note it's hard not to appreciate his artful photos taken at fine dining institutions across the nation such as (to pick a random example or two) steakhouses and burger joints.

3. What's more, some strict vegetarians and vegans act like the medical science is on their side. That vegetarianism and/or veganism represent the side of the intellectual sophisticates. I've even heard some argue humans evolved to eat plants. That we're fundamentally herbivores. That sort of thing. It's usually at this point when I roll my eyes and order a hamburger: In-N-Out, give me your double-double please. On second thought, let's make it a 5x5. Thanks!

4. As far as the medical science goes, strict vegetarians and vegans can often suffer from nutritional deficiencies. For example, take vitamin B12 deficiency. That's one of the most common deficiencies in strict vegetarians and vegans.

a. Plants don't make B12. At best, some plants can absorb B12 like Venom absorbing Spider-Man, but that alone wouldn't be sufficient enough B12 for a strict vegetarian or vegan diet. Not unless we're talking about chowing down forests! (Save the animals or save the rainforests - a moral dilemma for vegheads?) The primary reason is because plants don't have the necessary enzymes for B12 synthesis.

b. B12 comes from animals and animal products. Meat, eggs, cheese, dairy, and the like.

c. If humans are fundamentally herbivores, then (to take one issue) why do humans lack the gastrointestinal fermentation processes which support the growth of B12 synthesizing microorganisms (e.g. bacteria, algae) when these are present in herbivores? Also, where's my extra stomach? (Ruminates the illusive ruminant.)

d. B12 is needed for the body to make DNA, red blood cells, nerves, among other things.

e. B12 deficiency can be pernicious. Strict vegetarians and vegans often don't realize they have B12 deficiency until it sneaks up on them after it already caused some damage (e.g. anemia, tingling or numbness in hands or feet, memory loss, losing the ability to keep veganism to yourself).

f. Hence strict vegetarians and vegans need to supplement their diet with B12 (among other things). Typically that comes in the form of higher doses of multi-vitamins with B12, foods fortified with B12, and/or weekly B12 injections. However, after age 50, give or take, it becomes more difficult for the body to absorb B12 through fortified foods.

5. Obtaining B12 (among other necessary nutrients) without eating meat or animal products is typically something a Westerner living in the comparatively affluent West can afford to do. You don't see too many people in developing nations who are vegans. And the ones who are vegans typically happen to be the ones who are likewise comparatively well-to-do in their own nations.

6. In fairness, some people overeat meat. (So says the guy who orders 5x5s at In-N-Out.) However, that's a separate issue.