Saturday, September 03, 2005

Little Lord Fauntleroy

Tim Enloe has favored us with yet another one of his patchwork quilts, stitched together from yellowing newspaper clippings.


Many of the “top names” in Protestant apologetics tell a story about the 16th century reformation which I believe gives away the store to the Catholics–who are, if nothing else, unembarassed by the history of the Church and claim it all as their own. By contrast, the typical Protestant story about Church history is founded upon embarassment–embarassment about the “dirtiness” of the pre-Protestant era Church, and a concomitant willingness to embrace all manner of arguments which seek to distance the Protestant reformation itself, and we as its heirs, from the majority of what had come before.


If Catholicism isn’t embarrassed by its history of fraud, ferocity, and corruption, then so much the worse for Catholicism—not to mention the embarrassment of misspelling “embarrassment” three times in a row. Sorta takes the shine of his intellectual airs, don’t it, though?


Now it’s easy to see where this story comes from, even aside from analyses of the Modern notion that the ancestors were “stupid” and that we have managed to transcend them because we have “grown up” and become “rational.”


Didn’t take him long to retreat into his malicious little caricatures, now did it?

No one is arguing that we are automatically right, and our ancestors are automatically wrong.

But it would be just as mindless to contend that we are automatically wrong, and our ancestors are automatically right. That’s the point, Tim. Try writing that on the blackboard five hundreds times and see if it finally sinks in.


This means, in turn, that since those debates resolved themselves into an epic struggle between the autonomy of the absolute monarchy concept of the papacy and the equity-based theonomy of conciliarism, sola Scriptura must be set particularly in the context of Medieval conciliarism.


Why? Why must sola Scriptura be set in the context of Medieval conciliarism? For a student of church history, Tim knows nothing about the history of ideas.

Ideas, although they have a historical point of origin, are often elaborated and refined over time. That happens all the time in historical theology.

Tim is committing the genetic fallacy. If we want to understand how sola Scriptura was understood at any given time, then, of course, the period in question supplies the context. But the idea is not bound to any particular period of time.

We don’t insist that a philosophical or scientific idea is frozen in the past.


Typically we Protestants take such statements and draw dichotomies from them: councils have erred but Scripture does not err, therefore we will never rely on councils but only on Scripture. But such thinking is, I believe, in direct contradiction to the historical situations in which the Confessions were drawn up–particularly the historical situation of the epic struggles in the 15th century between papalism and conciliarism which led directly to the Protestant reformation in the 16th.


So what if it’s in direct contradiction to the historical situation in which the confessions were framed?

By definition, our historical situation is not their historical situation. By definition, our historical situation will contradict their historical situation.

Now, if you want to know what the confessions meant, then, obviously enough, their historical situation supplies the frame of reference.

But if it’s a question of whether councils can err, but Scripture cannot, then that alethic question is hardly frozen in the 15C or 16C or 17C.

Enloe is confounding the conditions of a true interpretation with what conditions the interpretation of a truth.


It is quite simply not enough to claim that the Scriptures are the “final” authority, for someone has to apply that authority to real life situations.


Yes, Tim, everyone knows that. Tim has a habit of repackaging his trite little truisms as if these were oracular revelations, whispered in his ear by the Angel Gabriel.

Notice, though, the fatal equivocation. It’s like the difference between the law and a law-enforcement officer. Both the law and the policeman are authoritative, but not in the same sense. Indeed, the policeman derives his own authority from the law.

Likewise, Scripture can still be the final authority in the sense of being the only rule of faith, the sole source and standard of faith and morals. The fact that it isn’t self-enforcing in no way modifies its final authority, for the enforcement-mechanism, is not authoritative in the same sense. Indeed, its authority is derivative of Scripture.


Such a reading of our confessional language and of Luther’s actions makes perfect sense when the natural historical context of the confessions and Luther’s actions–indeed, of the entire Protestant reformation itself–is observed and taken to heart. But incredibly, we have it seems, in our very Modern obsession with getting “theology” (particularly “soteriology”) right via the correct mechanism of abstract hermeneutics and exegesis, and fully regardless of the actual situations in which we live and move and have our being, simply eliminated the historical resources and the tools to properly evaluate the activities of our own fathers!


Poor little Enloe is too blinkered to follow the crumbs of his own argument. The historical context of the confessions are distinct from the historical context of the Scriptures. If we must interpret the confessions in light of original intent, according to their historical backdrop, then, by the very same token, we must interpret the scriptures in light of original intent, according to their historical backdrop. The historical setting for the Pentateuch is not the 15C AD, but the 15C BC—give or take a century or so.

In Enloe’s schizophrenic mind, it’s okay to learn Latin, to use Latin grammars and Latin lexicons, and apply the grammatico-historical method to interpret Pierre D’Ailly and Jean Gerson and Nicholas of Cusa, but it’s a big no-no to learn Greek and Hebrew and apply the grammatico-historical method to interpret Matthew and Moses and John.


I believe that it is drastically incorrect to portray our fathers as historically and theologically-innovative revolutionaries standing up bravely for a “the Truth” or a “the Gospel” that is totally disconnected from previous history and tradition, relying instead upon “just” (sola) Scripture in the purportedly “plain” reading which we have derived from “mere” and / or “scientific” hermeneutics. In fact, ecclesiologically speaking, when he started writing in earnest against the popes Luther himself was mostly just repeating the arguments of good catholic theologians such as Pierre D’Ailly and Jean Gerson and Nicholas of Cusa and Wessel Gansfort (themselves relying on much larger, and much older sources). Luther was no self-grounding point of authority as we too often portray him as being.


Once again, Tim is eager to advertise to anyone who will listen what a complete and utter ignoramus he is about exegetical theology. If he’d ever read Thiselton on Interpreting God and the Post-Modern Self or Poythress on God-Centered Interpretation, he’d see what a gross and simple-minded falsification this is of Evangelical hermeneutics.

But at this stage of the game he can’t afford to correct himself since that would be way too humiliating. He would have to recant all of the patent and patented lies which form the foundation of his railing and flailing assaults on Evangelicalism. Better to be pig-ignorant than lose face.


The reformers were not men who, like many of our apologetical luminaries today, went out and got themselves seminary educated (complete with a quantum-mechanics level understanding of the workings of Greek participles and prepositions) and then sat down at their desks, learned to pretend to be able to consciously divorce their minds from all linguistic and cultural factors which had made them what they were, and then “just” exegeted the “plain” Scriptures without anything being “added” to the text–resulting in a neat package of wonderfully “clear” biblical insight that happened to exhibit a (nearly) one-to-one correspondence with the uncontaminated purity of the primitive Church.


Indeed, nothing is more pitifully evident than Enloe’s innocence of a seminary education. Were he a seminarian, he’d have to actually read commentaries and study hermeneutics. And if he ever tried to palm off these empty-headed smears and sneers in a term paper, he’d flunk out of seminary.

No evangelical Bible scholar limits himself to the bare text of Scripture. They all interpret the Bible in light of period historians--as well as cognate sources of background information, such as epigraphy, papyri, graffiti, numismatics, and so on.

Again, though, Enloe would rather be a know-nothing than know this since that would spoil his precious little theory.

Mind you, one doesn’t have to be a seminarian to avoid these gargantuan blunders. Plenty of laymen read Bible commentaries and study Bible archeology.


Why do we find Calvin approvingly citing the excellent evangelical qualities of Bernard of Clairvaux?


Once again, Enloe is acting like a teenager who believes that he’s the very first person to discover what sex is.

You only have to run your finger down the author index of the Institutes to see that Calvin could make approving use of the church fathers and much else besides.


For instance, a certain fringe element of Reformed Baptists of which I am aware repeatedly makes this argument about “consistency”, but just as repeatedly misses the very simple fact that they themselves are on their own criteria “inconsistent” because they hold “Calvinistic soteriology” while being complete “Arminians” on the level of ecclesiology and sociology.


This is an argument from analogy minus the argument. To turn this into a respectable argument, Enloe would need to explain how soteriology forms a tight-knit parallel with ecclesiology and sociology. So far, Tim has given us a musical without the soundtrack.


For instance, the legitimate reformation question “How can I be righteous before a holy God?” is answered with an appeal to a “sola” fide that has been construed with such an exquisite fanaticism about “works” that it reads baptism as a “work” and winds up lopping off even the reformers!


Which Reformers? Did Calvin believe in baptismal justification?

And, more to the point, did St. Paul believe in baptismal regeneration? If you don’t know the answer, just read the exchange between Paul Owen and Eric Svendsen. Owen was darting back and forth like a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.

In addition, Enloe is oh-so selective and self-serving when it comes to Protestant tradition. For example, does Enloe’s church, or Paul Owen’s church, or Kevin Johnson’s church, bear any resemblance to the Westminster Directory of Worship?

Are there organs? Hymnals? Choirs? Soloists? Stained glass?

Are Enloe and Owen and Johnson spiritual bastards—in Owen’s affectionate phrase--because they have turned their collective back on their Puritan forefathers?


Or again the legitimate reformation question “Where is the final authority in the Christian life?” is first conflated with the peculiarly Modern question “How can I have epistemic certainty and a God’s-eye view of Truth?”, which is then answered by a peculiarly Modern appeal to proper mechanistic hermeneutics as construed with a fanaticism that lops off all of Church history prior to the late Renaissance period.


To begin with, the idea of epistemic certainty is hardly a peculiarly modern question:

“Our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts” (WCF 1:5);

“This certainty is not a bare conjectural and probable persuasion ground upon a fallible hope, but an infallible assurance of faith founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, the testimony of the Spirit…” (WCF 18:2).

You can find the argument fleshed out in Calvin and John Owen.

Secondly, the grammatico-historical method is not predicated on epistemic certainty; rather, it is the only correct method of interpreting Scripture whether or not are our interpretations are always correct.

Questions of epistemic certainty go all the way back to the Greeks.


Whatever may be said for “primitive church” arguments in the Middle Ages, in the hands of Modern Protestant sectarians such arguments become merely a justification for spiritual immaturity. Such arguments amount to an appeal to simplistically discount all that happened after the Originary Point, and to opt to spend our whole lives trying to emulate, or rather, to repristinate, the Uncontaminated Originary Point. It amounts to a vision for always remaining a spiritual child, never growing up, always hanging on to the most simple, the most unadorned, the most immature, concept of religion. And because of the immaturity of such a religion, literally the whole world is at stake in these debates. Because the world is too small, such an attitude can’t handle criticism, can’t substantively respond.


I can think of a much better example. Tim Enloe, whose gray-matter atrophied in his mid-20s. An intellectually stunted individual: unteachable, impervious to correction--constantly repeating himself, like a loop-tape, with the same jiggles, and taradiddles, and fortune-cookie clichés. Can anyone remember the last time that little Tim said anything new? Said anything he hasn’t said a hundred times before, in the very same shopworn words?


Like the rationalistic defense that a certain type of Evangelicalism has constructed for biblical inerrancy, to admit that they have erred at one point is to admit that possibly they have erred at all points, and therefore nothing they believe is truly “certain.” And for Modernistic Protestants (as for all Modernists generally speaking), that is simply unacceptable.


So does Enloe now subscribe to limited inerrancy?

Enloe no longer calls himself an Evangelical. Perhaps he, Owen, and Johnson would rather be known as The Three Mouseketeers.

Friday, September 02, 2005




Email from a reader about the great Chief Greenberg:
It's interesting that no one has yet remarked on the behavior of recently-retired Charleston police Chief Reuben Greenberg during Hurricane Hugo in 1989. When the eye of that Category 4 storm passed over the city and offered a half-hour of calm, Greenberg sent out a paddy wagon to round up looters. It got as far as the entrance to the police lot, which was flooded (the police HQ in Charleston is on reclaimed landfill - not below sea level, but not above it by much). He was able to get on the horn to his lieutenants around town with the order: "Don't arrest [looters]; beat them. We don't have any place for them in our jails." I credit the attitude espoused in those lines - a refusal, even in the eye of the storm - to tolerate lawlessness, with the subsequent quality of the response. The National Guard was called in immediately, especially on the barrier islands that had lost their bridges to the mainland (I remember taking our boat to inspect our beach house two days later and being politely told to inspect and leave by the Guard troops on Sullivans Island. Though the entire response in the Charleston area was phenomenal, Chief Greenberg and Mayor Joe Riley were phenomenally strong that horrible night, and they facilitated the rebuilding effort that has led to the Charleston that has developed today. Their response was pure Giuliani - before there was a Giuliani.


A dissent from this column I wrote yesterday:
It is not. It is - or ought to be - a disgrace and an embarrassment to Louisiana and New Orleans. I see the way Florida prepares for and responds to hurricanes; I see the way Mississippi and Alabama are dealing with this one; I've seen the Carolinas and Virginia deal with hurricanes, too. I've been in Miami and Norfolk when hurricanes hit, though not as severe as this one, and seen folks come together to support each other in the crisis. I see the outpouring of support from surrounding states and from the federal government heading to Louisiana as fast as it can. And then I see citizens of New Orleans shooting, raping, burning, and plundering while their government officials stand by helplessly....


Mandatory evacuation ordered for New Orleans

8/28/2005, 10:48 a.m. CT
The Associated Press

Gov. Kathleen Blanco, standing beside the mayor at a news conference, said President Bush called and personally appealed for a mandatory evacuation for the low-lying city, which is prone to flooding.


Rich Bledsoe is Blogging

Just not here. Rather here.

It's good and plenty. Just like Triablogue actually.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Is Iraq another Vietnam?

A stock objection to the Iraq war is that Iraq is another Vietnam. This is associated with the claim that Iraq is a “quagmire.” These charges have been leveled since the initial stages of the invasion, if not before.

They are generally leveled by the liberal media, but also by libertarians. So it’s worth scrutinizing this comparison.

As a rule, it isn’t terribly thoughtful to reach for the last major war as our analogue. After all, it would be quite a coincidence if the last war just happened to be analogous to the present conflict.

There is, in addition, a preliminary difficulty or two with the parallel. It assumes that the two wars are, indeed, comparable. And it further assumes that the Vietnam war was, indeed, a mistake, so the Iraq war must be a mistake as well, given the presumptive analogy.

To begin with, we judge the Vietnam war with the benefit of hindsight. We know how it ended as well as how it began.

Furthermore, the analogy compares one divisive war with another divisive war. The Vietnam war was controversial at the time, and remains controversial to this day—with defenders and detractors, both then and now. So the invidious comparison begs the question.

To judge by the coverage, you’d imagine that the Vietnam was wildly unpopular at the time. Yet the electorate twice had the opportunity to vote the anti-war candidates into office (e.g., Eugene McCarthy, George McGovern), and twice voted for a famous cold warrior (Nixon)—the second time by a landslide.

In order for the comparison to hold, you’d first have to render a negative value-judgment on the Vietnam war, then analogize to the Iraq war. But that’s pretty inefficient. Why can’t we judge the Iraq war on its own merits, or lack thereof?

It is also quite possible to oppose the Vietnam war, but support the Iraq war—on the grounds that there are no relevant parallels between the two. A liberal hawk like Christopher Hitchens has taken this position.

Having said all that, what, if any, are the possible parallels between Iraq and Vietnam? Any comparison is bound to be premature since we know how the Vietnam war ended, whereas the Iraq war is still up in the air.

1.Both are preemptive in the sense that Iraq did not attack us and Vietnam did not attack us. The causus belli was premised on the perception of a geostrategic threat.

2.Appeal to our treaty commitments furnished a putative justification for both.

3.In both cases, there was some dissension within the military itself over the wisdom of the war—whether in principle, planning, or execution.

4.Both cases involve a projection of American power and hegemony abroad.

5.In both instances, the consequences of losing face became an ex post facto rationale.

6.To some extent, both Iraq and Vietnam are pawns on an international chessboard, with international players moving or introducing the pieces.

7.In the case of Vietnam, we were propping up a corrupt and ineffectual government as well as deputizing as the de facto national defense force. At present, Iraq has taken on that appearance.

8.Both Iraq and Vietnam are partly civil wars.

9.In both instances, the enemy is partly motivated by a totalitarian moral vision.

10.In both cases the critics have alleged that we were goaded into war under false pretenses, although that is hotly contested.

11.Vietnam became a war of attrition. Iraq is beginning to look like that as well.

12.Both wars were defended in the name of freedom and democracy.

Again, it is possible for a man to concede some of these parallels, but regard that as an argument for the Iraq war, rather than against it.

At the moment we find ourselves in the paradoxical position of arming Muslims in our battle against militant Islam. To the extent that we can pursue a divide-and-conquer strategy, peeling away the “moderate” Muslims, or setting one faction against another, that may not be as nonsensical as it sounds.

Still, it’s passing strange that we are arming Muslims instead Christians. There are many defenseless Christians around the world at the mercy of the jihadis. If we were to arm them so that they could return fire and put the jihadis on the run, then that would make a contribution to the war on terror—as well as securing a beachhead for the church in a hostile world. But because the Bush administration ignores the religious dimension of the conflict, it ignores more obvious allies in counter-terrorism.

What would Jesus flood?


If you believe in the absolute sovereignty of God, that everything that happens is because God wills it, then tell me why God would possibly think that flooding New Orleans and Mississippi and leaving people dead and homeless is in any way a good idea.

If you believe that God created the world and everything in it and then went back behind the barn to grab a smoke, leaving us to our own devices, then tell me how that is any different than me hearing the cries of an abused child and doing nothing. In the real world, if I have knowledge that a child is being abused and do nothing, then I can be in trouble with the law.

If you believe that what we need to do now is pray for those flooded out of their homes, I have one word for ya- why? God doesn't know already that whole cities are washed away and under water? Couldn't he have kept this from happening? Didn't he say he would never judge the world by flood ever again?


Whenever natural disaster strikes, you always encounter this knee-jerk reaction. You even run across it from the lips of nominal Christians like Sean MacNair.

Now, one can make allowance for dumb, intemperate comments from those who are actually suffering.

What one cannot excuse are those who use tragedy as a pretext to take cheap theological shots.

Those who wait until disaster strikes to discover the problem of evil merit our contempt. Those whose theology is so paper-thin that it cannot cope with the problem of evil merit our contempt.

Since McNair chooses to pose stupid, impious questions, I guess we need to state the obvious.

To begin with, why assume that Katrina represents the judgment of God?

In addition, God’s promise has express reference to a global flood (Gen 9:11), not a local flood.

Some places are more hazardous than others. But people choose to live there for scenic or recreational reasons. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But it means that you are voluntarily assuming a heightened risk.

The residents of the Gulf Coast had advance warning that a Cat-5 hurricane was making a B-line for their neighborhood. The prudent thing to do under such circumstances is to pack your valuables and hightail out of time.

Now, there are reasons why some folks stay behind to wait out a storm. But, once again, if you choose to weather the storm, you are voluntarily assuming a heightened risk.

From what I’ve heard, the levees in New Orleans were not designed withstand anything above a Cat-3 hurricane. So there was no built-in margin for the worst-case scenario.

Up-to-a-point, even that is understandable. It’s very expensive to prepare for the worst-case scenario. And folks tend to be crisis-oriented. They take chances. They play the odds. That’s not unreasonable. But when you gamble, sooner or later you lose.

The citizens of New Orleans chose to sink their public funds into a Superdome instead of a redundant system of dikes like they have in Holland. Well, you get what you pay for.

The Book of Proverbs has a lot to say about the fool. The fool is someone who doesn’t plan for the future. He lives for the moment. New Orleans is, or was, a quintessential party town—like Vegas.

We are not toddlers. We are adults, responsible for making grown-up decisions. Life isn’t risk-free. And there are trade-offs. You may choose to assume a heightened risk for the fringe benefits.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hesychasm under the scalpel

My post on hesychasm has generating both positive and negative comments. I’ll concentrate on the negative comments.

Prejean said:


FYI, the odd thing about your argument here is that it's exactly backward. The reason for the concept of uncreated energies is to avoid attributing rank idolatry to the Scripture itself when describing God speaking to (or even wrestling!) people. If those were created manifestations, then attributing the name God to them would be blasphemous (ergo, Arianism). It was the pagans and Arians arguing that uncreated energies (and the related occurrence of the Incarnation) were impossible.

Oh well. Your soul; your business. Won't bother you about it anymore.


i) The first thing to note is that Prejean is giving a different argument than “Photius.” Now, “Photius” may or may not agree with Prejean on this particular point, but I was responding to “Photius,” not Prejean, so it’s no flaw in my argument that I didn’t address a reason which “Photius” never gave in his reply to me.

Again, Prejean is welcome to change the subject, and his objection deserves to be addressed in its own right, but that’s a separate objection.

ii) Blasphemy and idolatry are Biblical categories. Hence, the question of when or whether we are guilty of such sins is a question of whether our attributions are out of step with the attributions of Scripture. Prejean has offered no argument to justify the claim that if I take my cue from the narrative viewpoint of Scripture, I’m an idolater or blasphemer.

iii) In addition, as the Backwater Biblicist points out, there are many different theories of reference. Hence, it is quite unnecessary to commit oneself to the Palamite distinction, per se, in order to escape the danger of idolatry, if that is, indeed, a danger.

iv) Speaking for myself, I regard a theophany as a symbolic manifestation of God’s presence. A theophany is a genuine public event—a sensible, extramental occurrence in which God makes use of physical media to symbolize his attributes. This can take personal or impersonal forms. And, in that respect, yes, I do come down on the side of Barlaam.

v) In the very context of theophanic events, Scripture itself draws a distinction between sign and significate. The burning bush is described as a divine sign (Exod 3:12). The Plagues of Egypt are described as “signs and wonders” (Exod 7:3). The prophet Ezekiel repeatedly uses the buffer word “likeness” in the description of the inaugural theophany (chap. 1).

Hence, any Bible-based theory of theophanic predication will make allowance for the semiotic distance between sign and significate in these attributions.


"Why the necessity to rationalize these things beyond clear revelation in a dogmatics-styled fashion?"

You're assuming that it's even possible to correctly interpret revelation outside of the philosophical framework, something I don't concede.

"I can understand trying to make heads and tails of something --- no problem there --- but it sounds like you're elevating this to a supreme matter of doctrine ["your soul, your biz"]."

I'm not sure what an irrelevant matter of doctrine would be. One can't deny true doctrine, although there might be subjective reasons that excuse the denial. I find it hard to rationalize that possibility in light of comments about "Timothy Leary on acid."

"While the average layman might get tripped up navigating his way out of the pseudo-problem this theology proposes, one has to wonder what philosophically informed exegetical theologian is going to accept either this crude account of reference and predication, or willingly own the nasty theological consequences ('arianism') that supposedly follow from the rejection of catholic mysticism."

You're entirely misconstruing what I said. My point was that as a historical matter, it didn't develop as Steve suggested. Whether you or I perceive this as a convincing reason is irrelevant; neither Photius nor I were laying out an argument for our respective cases.

But speaking of a "crude account of reference and predication," who do you consider a "philosophically informed exegetical theologian?" ISTM that exactly the problem is that there isn't a philosophical answer sufficient to reject natural theology (Reformed epistemology notwithstanding), and I find little enough reason to think that I am wrong for allowing natural theology to inform my reading of Scripture, rather than taking the rather naive perspective that I can develop my theology solely from Scripture (something that even the Reformed epistemologists reject as a possibility).

Run along and play now, Jason. The adults are talking.


i) The PP can speak for himself. But given his stated sympathies, I wouldn’t be surprised if his philosophical framework is similar to the abductive method championed by J.W. Montgomery.

ii) Speaking for myself, I’ve already argued at length for my own interpretive framework. And beyond the general question, I have, just now, addressed the specific issue of theophanic predication.

iii) My reference to Timothy Leary goes to the question of mysticism as a valid source of dogma. Mysticism involves an altered state of consciousness. There are various techniques for triggering such a mental state. These include sensory overload or sensory deprivation, viz. the dervishes. The methods of hesychasm (e.g., breathing-exercises, naval-gazing, verbal repetition) are homologous with Yogic and Tibetan techniques.

iv) Another ancient technique is a drug-induced state. This was employed by the Vedic sages, Delphic priestess, American Indian shamans, &c.

In our own time it was popularized by the likes of Timothy Leary, Aldous Huxley, and the Beatles. Zaehner wrote a classic critique.

v) The literature on mysticism is vast. Among the more important philosophers of William James, Joseph Maréchal, Nelson Pike, and R. C. Zaehner.

vi) So, yes, I think it’s both licit and, indeed, an epistemic duty to ask ourselves why we should give any more credence to a mystic than we should to an acidhead.

And even if we did give credence to a mystic, why should we privilege Palamas over the Dalai Lama or Al-Rumi?

vii) As to philosophically sophisticated Evangelical exegetes, two good examples would be Vern Poythress and Tony Thiselton.

viii) Natural revelation is relevant, but natural revelation is mute. Hence, you cannot extract a doctrine of natural revelation from natural revelation itself. You must go to special revelation for a doctrine of natural revelation. Although the phenomenon is extrascriptural, the doctrine is not.


It's not as if we Catholic think people are saved by being Christian.


You have to hand it to Prejean: here I think he’s managed to sum up the difference between Catholicism and Evangelicalism in just about the starkest and briefest terms possible. Normally I’m arguing for Calvinism, but now we’ve come to a wider and deeper dividing line with Catholicism on one side and Bible-believing Protestants of every stripe on the other side.

Catholics don’t think that people are saved just by being Christian. No, salvation is a Christian-plus package.

Moving on to “Photius”:


Hesychasm and theosis is true knowledge of God.


Once again, he’s assuming what he needs to prove.


True knowledge of God is the grounding of what makes scripture inspired and ecumenical councils infallible.


”Photius” is confusing revelation and inspiration. Revelation would confer true knowledge of God upon the recipient, but revelation alone wouldn’t make Scripture inspired. In principle, Scripture could be an uninspired record of a revelatory event.

True knowledge of God is what grounds the truth of Scripture, not the inspiration of Scripture.


Did Jeremiah have true knowledge of God? How exactly did that happen?


Since “Photius” offers no exegetical argument to show that Jeremiah acquired his knowledge of God via hesychasm and theosis, he is posing a false dilemma.

There are different media of revelation, such as dreams, vision, auditions. Here God assumes the initiative, not the seer or prophet—unlike mysticism, where the contemplative assumes the initiative through the use of various mind-altering exercises, as if revelation were a natural force which we could harness through spiritual technology.


Orthodoxy is not Neo-Platonism.


True. Orthodoxy is not a transcription of Neoplatonism. And I never equated the two. But on the particular point of contention, Neoplatonic theosophy supplies the interpretive grid for Sufism, Cabbalism, and Byzantine mysticism alike. The experience itself doesn’t generate the framework within which it is catalogued and decoded. These are alike because they share the same primitive experience and the same deep grammar to conceptualize that experience.

Moving on to Robinson:


The Bible says that God is both seen and not seen. The Bible appears to equate God's glory with God. The Bible says that God glorifies us with his glory. The Bible says that we become partakers of the divine nature but yet no one can become God by essence, which at least seems to leave logical room for saying that God's nature is wider than his essence. If not, as Turretin rightly notes, given absolute divine simplicity it is not possible to make a distinction between communicable an non-communicable attributes since they are all identical, and, contra the Bible, it is impossible to become partakers of the divine nature. Then we are stuck beomcing partakers of something like the divine nature, implying that Christ, of whom we partaker is homoiousious, of like essence with the Father. Here we are right back to the medieval doctrine of created grace, which the Reformers had such a tissy over.

Call it whatever you like but the logical space for a distinction between essence, what God is ad intra and energies, God's activities is present in the Biblical corpus. Moreover, it is the distinction that Nicene and Post Nicene Trinitarian theology depends. Without it, we are left with semi-sabellianism where the divine persons are relations or Arianism where every other person than the Father is a creature produced by an act of will. This is why Barlaam's theology is implicitly Arian because given his adherence to ADS it is impossible to make the Biblical distinction between God's ad intra and his activities. Either the Son becomes a creature or the persons are reduced to metaphysical relations (semi-sabellianism).

As to mystical theology, the East isn't mystical if by that is meant that reason never grasps God. It does, just in his energies or powers. And the apophatic theology of the East can hardly be faulted for the Reformed on have their own apophatic theology generated by absolute divine simplicity that was displayed here not too long ago with Steve's post about Van Til's Trinitarian theology. For Van Til, the Trinity is paradoxical and beyond any rational model. Why? Because it is impossible to reconcile God's unity and plurality on Van Til's model in a rational way. This is why Van Til speaks of God being "one person" and other fruity statements.

Why doesn't Van Til saying that God ad intra is beyond our rational grasp not "mystical" and "apophatic" and not "going beyond" the biblical material, but Nicene Trinitarianism is? Looks like special pleading.

By Protestantism's own confessional standards, Svendsen is heterodox. He advocates nestorianism by saying that a person is identified with nous so that Jesus who has two intellects is an an aggregate of two persons. Even White, and I would hope Steve wouldn't advocate such heterodox positions.


There’s a great deal to sort out here:

i) One of the basic problems here is that Robinson is raising exegetical questions without looking for exegetical answers. Rather, he raises exegetical questions to create “logical space” for extrabiblical, nonrevelatory answers.

But if you’re not seeking exegetical answers, why raise exegetical questions in the first place?

ii) In the OT, the visible/invisible dialectic is resolved by the distinction between God qua God and God qua theophany, while in the NT, it is resolved by the distinction between God qua God and God qua Incarnate—which transposes the theophanic category to a higher key.

iii) As for the rest, I’m aware of the Orthodox prooftexts. I’ve already addressed the Orthodox prooftexts and a good deal besides. Cf.:

iv) Then you have Robinson’s divine simplicity hobbyhorse. The problem is that he left that debate half-finished.

I agree that the persons of the godhead are not reducible to relations—as if you could have relations without relata. That’s a problem for the Scholastic doctrine of divine simplicity.

I’d just remark that to say it’s implicitly Arian is to say that Latin theology—a la Augustine, Boethius, Anselm, Aquinas, &c—is implicitly Arian.

v) But how are we to distinguish between God’s ab intra and ab extra acts? On a timeless model of divine eternality, there is no ontological distinction. God is what he does—inasmuch as what he does is not other than what he is, although there is more to God than what he does ab extra. As a spiritual being, all divine acts are mental acts, consubstantial with the divine nature. With God, there is no becoming--only being.

Rather, the distinction is conative. There is what God is of necessity—his triune nature and divine attributes; then there is what God chooses to do in effecting a mode of subsistence other than himself.

vi) Regarding the traditional communicable/incommunicable classification, I prefer, with Leibniz, to regard all natural categories as limiting principles of divine attributes. Space and time are limits, in contrast to the eternal and spiritual nature of God. Human justice is a property-instance of God’s exemplary justice, and so on. On the one hand, this avoids a makeshift distinction between communicable and incommunicable while, on the other hand, preserving the transcendence of God.

vii) It is because I affirm that Christ is consubstantial with the Father that I deny that we are consubstantial with Christ. Actually, Scripture itself says that we are homoiousias with God, in contrast to Christ, who is homoousias with the Godhead. Otherwise, you end up with pantheism.

That, of course, is one reason the Palamite distinction was originally brought in. But the distinction is arbitrary.

viii) To say that reason can grasp the energy of God fails to solve the epistemic problem it posed for itself. How does the energy correspond to the essence? Once you set up the distinction, the object of knowledge is not God qua God, but God qua something seemingly identical with God inasmuch as his energy is increate, and yet distinct from the divine essence. So we end up with a phenomenal tertium quid—a pane of frosted glass obscuring what God is really like. All you’ve done is to reshuffle the old platonic/Neoplatonic deck, whether you call it the Demiurge or hierarchy of intelligences.

ix) As to Van Til’s apophaticism, this is not generated by his commitment to divine simplicity. Rather, it’s generated by the undue pressure of German idealism (Kant, Schelling, Hegel), and its English offshoots. You can also find variations on this in Kuyper, Bavinck, and Dooyeweerd. It’s a Dutch-Reformed, Neo-Kantian sidestreet—leading to a blind alley.

As with Transcendental Thomism, the danger is to turn God into a precondition of knowledge rather than an object of knowledge—whereas God is both.

x) In terms of Biblical Christology as it hones in on the person of Christ, we have to sets of revelatory data: on the one hand, we have an “essentialist” Christology, consisting of third-person statements about the nature and person of Christ. These tend to emphasize the two natures.

On the other hand, we also have a “phenomenological” Christology, consisting of first-person, self-presentational statements. These tend to emphasis the unity of Christ in the sense that, although they often alternate between statements proper to the divine or human natures respectively, the speaker himself undergoes no audible gear-shifting from a divine mode to a human mode, or vice versa, in making these statements. There is no split personality in view.

From a Protestant perspective, what we must avoid is minimizing either revelatory viewpoint in relation to the other. The phenomenological Christ is, ipso facto, his self-revelation. He chooses how to present himself, how to come across, and in so doing he is true to himself—true to who is really is.

At the same time, his divinity is not a tangible attribute, so the essentialist Christology discloses things which are not otherwise evident to the senses.

Same-Sex Couples Win Parenting Rights

Calif. Same-Sex Couples Win Parenting Rights

Mike McKee
The Recorder

Gay rights advocates celebrated while conservative commentators fumed Monday as the California Supreme Court granted same-sex couples parenting rights equivalent to those of their heterosexual counterparts.

The decision, arising out of three cases involving breakups by lesbian couples, holds that both partners in a same-sex relationship are legal parents when they use modern methods of reproductive science to produce and raise children. As a result, the court said, both are entitled to all the rights and responsibilities of parenthood, including custody and child support.

The opinion is reportedly the first of its kind in the country and marks the second gay-friendly decision by the court in the past three weeks. On Aug. 1, the justices held that companies must treat registered domestic partners equally with married couples.

Courtney Joslin, senior staff attorney at San Francisco's National Center for Lesbian Rights who argued one of the cases, declared the rulings "a tremendous victory for children, for parental responsibility and for common sense."

But Mathew Staver, president and general counsel for the Liberty Counsel, a conservative organization based in Orlando, Fla., said the decision "defies logic and common sense."

"By saying that children can have two moms," he said, "the court has undermined the family." The Liberty Counsel was not a party to any of the suits.

Although all three of Monday's cases involved same-sex parenting, each had its own factual and legal issues. The parties and children were identified only by either their initials or their first names and last initials.

In Elisa B. v. Superior Court (Emily B.), 05 C.D.O.S. 7498, El Dorado County sued Elisa B. for child support after she abandoned a six-year relationship with her female partner, Emily B., and reneged on an agreement to help pay expenses for twins birthed by artificial insemination.

In K.M. v. E.G., 05 C.D.O.S. 7504, K.M. filed for parental rights, claiming to be the biological mother of twins conceived when she donated her ovum to partner E.G. three years into their nine-year relationship.

And in Kristine H. v. Lisa R., 05 C.D.O.S. 7511, birth mother Kristine H. tried to set aside a trial court judgment declaring both her and Lisa R. legal parents of a child born in October 2000.

All three cases have caused anguish in the state's gay community, with legions of supporters -- mostly lesbians -- siding with parties on both sides. Advocates for the birth mothers had argued that the cases were less about gay rights and more of an assault on the rights of moms to have authority over the kids they birth.

"This is not about whether it's better for children," Diana Richmond, a Sideman & Bancroft partner who argued on behalf of E.G., said during oral arguments in May. "It's a question of whose decision that is [and] whether the state should interfere."

The court made Elisa B. the lead case and used it to clarify that its statement in 1993's Johnson v. Calvert, 5 Cal.4th 84, that a child can have "only one natural mother," didn't mean that two women couldn't be the dual parents of a child. Elisa B.'s current unwillingness to accept parental obligations, Justice Carlos Moreno wrote, doesn't change the fact that she acted as the twins' mother for years.

"Elisa actively assisted Emily in becoming pregnant, with the understanding that they would raise the resulting children together," wrote Moreno, author of all three rulings and an adoptive father himself. "Having helped cause the children to be born, and having raised them as her own, [Elisa] should not be permitted to later abandon the twins simply because her relationship with Emily dissolved."

Quoting an amicus curiae brief submitted by the California State Association of Counties, Moreno wrote that anyone who helps bring children into the world and holds them out as her own "should be responsible for the support of those children -- regardless of her gender or sexual orientation."

In both Elisa B. and Kristine H. -- the latter in which the court simply ruled that Kristine H. can't attack the validity of the agreement to which she stipulated -- the six justices voted unanimously.

But Justices Joyce Kennard and Kathryn Mickle Werdegar dissented in K.M. v. E.G., pointing out that K.M. voluntarily signed a document declaring her intent not to become a parent of the twins birthed by E.G. Kennard agreed with the lower courts' reasoning that analogized ovum donors, such as K.M., to sperm donors with no parental rights.

"The majority's desire to give the twins a second parent is understandable and laudable," Kennard wrote. "To achieve that worthy goal, however, the majority must rewrite a statute and disregard the intentions that the parties expressed when the twins were conceived."

In her longer and more strongly worded dissent, Werdegar said the all-male majority's decision "inappropriately confers rights and imposes disabilities on persons because of their sexual orientation." She also said the opinion "vitiates" prebirth agreements and "threatens to destabilize ovum donation and gestational surrogacy agreements."

"One important function of Johnson's intent test was to permit persons who made use of reproductive technology to create, before conception, settled and enforceable expectations about who would and would not become parents," Werdegar wrote. "Johnson thus gave E.G. a right at the time she conceived to expect that she alone would be the parent of her children -- a right the majority now retrospectively abrogates."

San Francisco attorney Jill Hersh, who represented K.M., celebrated with her client on Monday and said the ruling in her case provides "parity for gay and lesbian couples."

"If two women in a committed relationship use their combined reproductive systems to create children, they are both the natural, legal mothers," said Hersh, head of the Hersh Family Law Practice. "It's that simple."

NCLR's Joslin, who represented Emily B., said that the point of the decisions "is that the court applied existing family law to these children." She said that while some states have recognized nonbirth parents as de facto or equitable parents, Monday's decision is the first by a state Supreme Court to label such people as fully equal parents.

Emily B., attending a news conference at the NCLR offices with twins Ry and Kaia, called Monday "absolutely an incredible day to be a parent." She said she can now stop turning to the state for welfare checks and food stamps.

She also said she will consider seeking visitation rights for Chance, a boy born to Elisa B. in 1997, two years before the couple separated.

Honey Amado, a Beverly Hills solo practitioner who represented Kristine H., expressed disappointment in the ruling in her case, saying that the high court gave her client "short shrift" by simply ruling that she couldn't attack the validity of her prebirth agreement.

"The court ultimately gave no guidance to the bench or the bar in regard to future prebirth judgments," she said. "How do we create parental rights in our state? These prebirth judgments are in contravention of adoption statutes."

Reporter Pam Smith contributed to this report.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

The charmed cuckooland of hesychasm

Just to recap, I had posted the following:

Several times now, I’ve commented on the danger of theological refinements which outpace revelation. For this admonition, I’ve been branded a heretic by Jonathan Prejean.

If you want a textbook illustration of what I mean, just read the following example, and ask yourself what possible source of knowledge could ground this particular claim.


There is no distinction between the divine being and the energies. This is a misunderstanding of the position. God’s “essence” is not being in any sense at all. As Gregory Palamas says, either God is being and we are not or we are being and He is not. We say that God is hyperousios ousios, and hyperousios is no adjective modifying ousios. The scholastics read Dionysius as God standing above all finite being, and hence their being an epistemic and metaphysical continuity between God and finite beings (the analogy of being). When we say God is hyperousios ousios, it means that God’s ‘essence’ “stands above his own being producing cause of all beings, that is, God as the divine energy.” (John D. Jones, Marquette) Furthermore, when we say “God’s essence”, it is only as a reference point as a causal designation. Quoting Jones again, “On this view, despite the grammatical form of hyperousios ousia, ousia is not a noun referring to a divine ‘essence’ characterized as hyperousios in one sense and as ousiopoios (being producing) in another. Rather, hyperousios “indicates” the Godhead as uncoordinated with all and, thus, beyond all names whatsoever; ousia, however, refers to God as manifested…in the divine energy.”–John D. Jones. “Manifesting Beyond-Being Being (hyperousios ousia): The Divine Essenc-Energies Distinction for Pseudo-Dionysius Areopagite.” St. Louis Philosophy Department Colloquium. April 15, 2005.


One of the regular players over at that website responded as follows:


"What possible source of knowledge could ground this particular claim" ?

The manifestation of the uncreated light on Mt. Tabor, as well as the existential experience of the prophets, apostles, and saints who saw the uncreated Logos in his rule (glory). You must be an Arian and a Barlaamite who thinks they saw a created Logos.

Master Photius


You could hardly hope to find a more unguarded confirmation of my admonition. Like a Russian doll set, “Photius’” answer consists of one question-begging assertion nested within another. Let’s see if we can unscrew all these.

i) Why is he equating a Barlaamite with an Arian? Barlaam was a Roman Catholic monk who converted, for a time, to Orthodoxy before retuning to Rome and becoming Bishop of Hierace. Is “Photius” saying that all Roman Catholics are Arians if they deny hesychasm?

ii) I had asked what possible source of knowledge could ground the distinctive claims of hesychasm. “Photius”gives us two answers:

iii) He refers the reader to the Transfiguration. But notice that this appeal only pushes the question back a step: how does “Photius” know that the light of the Transfiguration was the increate energy of God? What is the exegetical justification for his claim?

iv) He refers the reader to the “existential experience of the prophets, apostles, and saints who saw the uncreated Logos in his rule (glory).”

Notice, once again, that all “Photius” has done is to push the original question back a step: how does he know that the prophets, apostles, and saints had an existential experience of seeing the eternal Logos in his glory?

We know that the Apostles saw Christ, but what did they see? They saw a person who was (and is) the eternal Logos. But did they see his divinity? Was his divinity a visible attribute?

Does the Bible draw that distinction?

For example, many Jews saw the Son of God. But they did not see him as the Son of God. His divine sonship was not a sensible property.

v) As to the prophets, I assume that “Photius” is alluding to the burning bush and other suchlike.

Again, though, this raises the same exegetical questions as before. Did Moses see the hyperousios ousios of God? Was that an observational datum?

vi) As to the saints, I assume that “Photius” is now alluding to a mystical vision of some sort. But that would be a supersensible rather than sensible object.

vii) And how does he know that the saints saw the increate energy of God? How does he know that their inner perception is correspondent with the increate energy of God?

viii) He is also assuming, without benefit of argument, that a mystical encounter is a valid source of theology.

In fact, the mystical model he is dependent upon is not unique to Christianity. It is replicated in Islam (Sufism) and Judaism (Cabbalism).

All three participate in a generic mystical experience which they reinterpret in categories supplied by the Victorian gingerbread factory of Neoplatonic theosophy. There it sloshes around in a syncretistic soup of hermeticism and esoterism.

Let us be crystal clear on what is at stake here. Is our theology a revealed theology, or is it a patois of mantic effusions and Neoplatonic theosophy?

Charges of heresy are being leveled from this quarter against Christians like Svendsen, Engwer, White, and myself.

But if our own theology is grounded in divine revelation whie their theology consists in this make-believe confection of two parts pixie-dust to one part star-dust, then who is the heretic? With all due respect, we might as well get our theology from a vision of Timothy Leary on acid.

There She Blows


There She Blows

by Patrick J. Michaels

Patrick J. Michaels is Cato Institute senior fellow for environmental studies and author of Meltdown: The Predictable Distortion of Global Warming by Scientists, Politicians, and the Media.

Given the recent claims that hurricanes are getting dramatically worse because of global warming, it's too bad we’ve already exhausted the letter "G" for this hurricane season. "Gasbag" would have been a pretty good moniker for the next storm.

In case you’ve missed the hype, MIT's Kerry Emanuel has a paper in the online version of Nature magazine saying that hurricanes are becoming dramatically more powerful as a result of global warming.

Merely venturing into the discussion of hurricanes and global warming is more dangerous than most tropical cyclones. About Emanuel's article, William Gray of Colorado State University -- the guy who issues the annual hurricane forecast that grabs headlines every summer -- told the Boston Globe, "It's a terrible paper, one of the worst I've ever looked at."

There's also nastiness if you say hurricanes aren't getting worse. A month ago, University of Colorado’s Roger Pielke, Jr., posted a paper that was accepted in the Bulletin of The American Meteorological Society concluding there is little if any sign of global warming in hurricane patterns. In a pre-emptive strike, Kevin Trenberth from the federally funded National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, told the local newspaper, "I think he [Pielke] should withdraw his article. This is a shameful article."

Six months earlier, Christopher Landsea of the National Hurricane Research Laboratory, another federal entity, quit the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Landsea is probably the world's most respected hurricane scientist. He was furious that Rajenda Pauchari, director of the panel, condoned Trenberth's statements that hurricanes were worsening because of global warming.

What is going on here? Nothing unusual. Behavior like this takes place every day at faculty meetings across academia. But global warming and hurricanes are hot topics right now, so the bickering spills over into the press.

What is unusual is the especially shoddy nature of the current scientific review process on global warming papers.

Consider the recent Nature article. If hurricanes had doubled in power in the last few decades as Emanuel claims, the change would be obvious; you wouldn't need a weatherman to know which way this wind was blowing. All of these feuding scientists would have agreed on the facts long ago.

Damages caused by doubling the strength of hurricanes would be massive and increasing dramatically. Figures on this are pretty easy to come by, at least in the United States. The insured value of property from Brownsville, Texas to Eastport, Maine -- our hurricane prone Atlantic Coast -- is greater than a year of our Gross Domestic Product. If hurricanes had actually doubled in power, the losses in the insurance industry would be catastrophic.

Pielke has studied this, and his work is well known. Hurricanes are causing greater dollar damages because more and more people are building increasingly expensive beachfront monstrosities that have financially appreciated during the recent real-estate bubble. Account for these and there is no significant change in hurricane expenses along our coast. Illinois climatologist Stanley Changnon has also studied this for non-hurricane weather damage over the entire country with similar results.

Pielke told me that, "analysis of hurricane damage over the past century shows no trend in hurricane destructiveness, once the data are adjusted to account for the dramatic growth along the nation's coasts."

You would think that reviewers of Emanuel’s paper at Nature would have thought to ask whether, in fact, there was evidence for increasingly powerful storms.

But they didn't. There is just no incentive in the scientific community to kill the remarkably fertile global warming goose, a beast that feeds on public fears.

The federal outlay on climate research is now $4.2 billion per year, roughly the same amount given to the National Cancer Institute. The climate research community sees a grave threat when research shows there's no threat from the climate. So papers that hawk climate disaster get superficial reviews and uncritical headlines, while those that argue otherwise are "shameful."


Global warming


When the year began with a two-foot snowfall in Los Angeles, the cause was global warming.

As a Bostonian, I am afraid that the coming winter will -- like last winter -- be unusually short and devastatingly severe. At the beginning of 2005, a deadly ice storm knocked out power to thousands of people in New England and dropped a record-setting 42.2 inches of snow on Boston.

The conventional name of the month was January. Its real name is global warming.


How Global Warming May Cause the Next Ice Age...

While global warming is being officially ignored by the political arm of the Bush administration, and Al Gore's recent conference on the topic during one of the coldest days of recent years provided joke fodder for conservative talk show hosts, the citizens of Europe and the Pentagon are taking a new look at the greatest danger such climate change could produce for the northern hemisphere - a sudden shift into a new ice age.


The vast East Antarctic Ice Sheet -- a 2-mile-thick wasteland of ice larger than Australia, drier than the Sahara and as cold as a Martian spring - - increased in mass every year between 1992 and 2003 due to additional annual snowfall, an analysis of satellite radar measurements showed.

The researchers based their conclusions on an analysis of 347 million radar altimeter measurements made by the European Space Agency's ERS-1 and ERS- 2 satellites between June 1992 and May 2003.

They determined that the ice cap appeared to be thickening at the rate of 1.8 centimeters every year. The ice is thinning in West Antarctica and other regions of the continent.

"The changes in the ice look like those expected for a warming world," said glaciologist Richard Alley at Pennsylvania State University.

"The new result in no way disproves global warming; if anything, the new result supports global warming."


From the horse's mouth

This polling data is in descending order of currency. Some of it is dated to one degree or another. Still, it gives us an insider’s perspective which the mainstream media regularly filters out—even though this source reflects the viewpoint of those most affected and best-informed.


How do you feel about Cindy Sheehan, who is citing her son's combat death in demanding a meeting with President Bush to discuss the war in Iraq?

Her camp-out near Bush’s Texas ranch is appropriate
27.26 % (1,013)

Her camp-out is inappropriate
69.27 % (2,574)

I don't know
3.47 % (129)

Total votes: 3716

The Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services has proposed several changes to help military women adjust to motherhood while continuing their careers in uniform. Among them: leaves of absence for parents of young children; and the right to refuse transfers during critical years of family life. How do you feel about these suggestions? [Poll taken: April 13-April 19, 2005]

They are great ideas
19.07 % (317)

They would help military mothers, but hurt readiness
25.33 % (421)

They would be unfair to service members without children
31.35 % (521)

They wouldn’t make a difference at all
1.20 % (20)

They are bad ideas
23.04 % (383)

Total votes: 1662

The Army is planning to officially place women in combat-support units on the front lines. What do you think of this idea?

I like it, because it would accurately reflect what is already happening.
43.83 % (1,770)

It’s a bad idea. Women should not be anywhere near the front.
51.09 % (2,063)

I don’t know.
5.08 % (205)

Total votes: 4038

What do you think about reports that roughly 3 percent of service members in Iraq and Afghanistan are taking antidepressant medications to deal with the stresses of long separations and combat duty?

It's probably OK. The medication could help some troops cope with a tough situation.
45.78 % (1,813)

It's a bad idea. Service members in the combat zone need to do their jobs with clear heads, unencumbered by any such medications.
46.52 % (1,842)

I don't know.
7.70 % (305)

Total votes: 3960

How do you think training of Iraqi security forces is proceeding?

It's proceeding very well
8.50 % (220)

It's proceeding slowly, but as well as can be expected
48.51 % (1,255)

It's not proceeding well
33.86 % (876)

I don't know
9.12 % (236)

Total votes: 2587

Who do you think is more culpable for recent allegations of abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib Prison?

The soldiers who were guarding the prisoners
13.53 % (1,171)

The chain of command, for not issuing clear guidelines for prisoner treatment
27.37 % (2,369)

Both the unit and commanders are equally responsible
57.18 % (4,949)

I don’t know
1.92 % (166)

Total votes: 8655

From what you've seen and heard to date, do you think John Kerry has offered a comprehensive strategy for how he would deal with the situation in Iraq if he is elected president?

17.20 % (852)

78.46 % (3,886)

I don't know
4.34 % (215)

Total votes: 4953

What do you think about the news media's coverage of the war in Iraq?

It's exaggerating how bad things are there
52.17 % (2,457)

It's pretty close to the mark
14.46 % (681)

It's underestimating how bad things are there
26.79 % (1,262)

Don't know
6.58 % (310)

Total votes: 4710

Who do you think is behind the attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq?

Former Iraqi army soldiers loyal to Saddam
14.35 % (926)

Al-Qaida operatives from other countries
9.82 % (634)

Disgruntled Iraqi civilians
4.45 % (287)

Disorganized factions
3.30 % (213)

All of the above
66.59 % (4,297)

None of the above.
1.49 % (96)

Total votes: 6453

Should the Supreme Court's recent ruling striking down state laws that banned private consensual homosexual acts be used to change the military's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy?

29.51 % (538)

65.00 % (1,185)

Don't know.
5.49 % (100)

Total votes: 1823

Would a pre-emptive strike against Iraq be ethical?

70.76 % (2,067)

29.24 % (854)

Total votes: 2921

Should the U.S. invade Iraq?

73.84 % (2,092)

26.16 % (741)

Total votes: 2833

How should the U.S. government deal with John Walker, the 20-year-old American captured while fighting for the Taliban in Afghanistan?

Try him for treason, with possible death penalty
76.07 % (3,504)

Try him for treason, without possible death penalty
9.38 % (432)

Try him on other charges, such as sedition
10.10 % (465)

He should not face charges
4.45 % (205)

Total votes: 4606


Monday, August 29, 2005

Hiroshima mon amour

The 60th anniversary of the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has reignited a perennial debate over the morality of Truman’s fatal and fateful decision. Since we are presently entrenched in what some dub WWIV (The Cold War being WWIII), this issue has special resonance. I’m just going to venture a few comments of general applicability.

It is important to avoid two opposing extremes. As a kid growing up in the Vietnam war era, I used to see bumper stickers saying “America: Love it or Leave it!”; “My Country: Right or Wrong!” That kind of blind chauvinism is sub-Christian.

On the other hand, you have the hate-America club, consisting of Zinn, Said, Chomsky, Moore, Soros, and the like, for whom America is public enemy number one.

I. Getting it Right

When men talk about doing the right thing, the word can have more than one meaning:

i) Is it morally acceptable?

ii) Is it correct, i.e., did it turn out to comport with our prior expectations?

iii) Is it the best choice?

Now, these are three different concepts with different conditions.

Let’s agree that any action must satisfy (i).

One of the problems with (ii) is that we often cannot know if we are making the right choice, in this sense, unless and until we make it, at which point it might be too late to unmake it! That’s a practical paradox of being finite creatures.

So you must make a decision based on a “knowledge” of the outcome which you can only have after the fact.

Put another way, you have to make a decision based on insufficient information. We are, as Williams James has said, confronted with forced options in life. Is the tiger crouching behind Door A, B, or C? You can only try one door at a time. And each door locks behind you.

(ii), in turn, relates to (iii).

This assumes that there is a best choice. But perhaps each choice has its upsides and downsides.

And even if there is a best choice, we may not know what it is.

The bottom-line is twofold:

a) There may be more than one morally acceptable choice.

b) There may be more than one reasonable choice.

Oftentimes, we don’t know which choice is the best choice or the correct choice. But as long as it’s morally acceptable, and as long as it is reasonable, then it is, in my opinion, a licit choice.

II. Benefit of the Doubt

Critics of Truman’s decision say that since he didn’t know how much force it would take to make the Japanese capitulate, he should only have dropped the bomb as a last resort.

I’m inclined to disagree. Given the way in which the Japanese fought in Iwo Jima and Okinawa, as well as the example of the Kamikazes, I think Truman had good reason not to give the Japanese the benefit of the doubt.

Remember, this is a question of risk assessment. Do you put your own troops at greater risk to spare the enemy, or put the enemy at greater risk to spare your own troops? When in doubt, no rational commander can sacrifices his own forces to spare the enemy.

Since we did not invade Japan, we will never know for sure what the outcome would have been. Both now and then it was, at best, an educated guess over which differing experts differ. Supporters of the war offer high estimates while opponents offer low estimates. Either the supporters are overestimating the fatalities, or the opponents are underestimating the fatalities. Both sides can cite official sources.

But if that is so, then Truman’s decision was a reasonable one, and when we can’t know which choice is either the correct choice and/or the best available choice—assuming there even is a best choice from which to choose—in advance of making the choice, then we have to settle for a reasonable choice based on the best available information and analysis we have at the time, even if our information is inadequate and our analysis is flawed.

Put another way, you either go with what seems to be the most probable alternative or, in case of what appear to be equiprobable choices, any equiprobable alterantive is licit.

This is part of what it means to be a creature. Unlike God, we are not omniscient. We are fallible and shortsighted.

III. Immunity of Noncombatants.

Was it immoral to drop the bomb on civilian populations?

As a rule, I think we should respect innocent life when we can. But there are exceptions.

i) Japan was a warrior culture, part autocracy, part stratocracy. The principle of protecting woman, children, and other suchlike is an essentially chivalric ideal, alien to non-Christian cultures.

In Japanese statism, every citizen was called upon to die for the Emperor, and serve as human shields.

When confronted with an enemy of that stripe, it isn’t possible to be as discriminating as you would like. For the enemy itself does not allow you to winnow the combatants from the noncombatants.

ii) In a just war, it is the enemy that is putting you in a position to make these tragic choices. We are responsible for which forced option we choose, but we are not responsible for the forced options from which we must choose. The enemy is.

iii) We do not kill civilians for the sake of killing civilians. In that sense, they are not the target. Killing civilians is not the strategic objective. But it may sometimes be a tactical objective in the furtherance of a strategic objective.

iv) To my knowledge, both Hiroshima and Nagasaki were militarily significant cities, unlike Tokyo or Kyoto.

IV. How to Die

For some reason you have a lot of folks who freak out over the idea of death by a nuclear bomb. This strikes me as a basically emotional and irrational reaction. Death comes in two forms: fast and slow. Slow hurts. There are many forms of violent death, and most of them are not ouchless, painless affairs.

V. Body Count

Extrapolating from the searing experience of the Kamikazes and the island-hopping battles, it was felt by Truman that an invasion would be an exponential version of Iwo Jima or Okinawa. That strikes me as a reasonable apprehension. In war you must sometimes kill 10 to save 100, kill 100 to save a 1000, and so on.

VI. Ends & Means.

It is popular to say that the end doesn’t justify the means. But this is a mindless, thoughtless overstatement. Certainly the end doesn’t justify any means whatsoever. But teleological ethics, while insufficient by itself, is a necessary element of moral valuation. For example, there are certain high-risk medical procedures. These would be unwarranted, even immoral, if the patient were healthy. But if that procedure is his only chance at survival, then the chance of dying as a result of the procedure is offset by the greater chance of dying without it.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Doctrinal eugenics

For a while now, Paul Owen was hiding and cringing under the bed after Eric Svendsen argued him into silence.

But Dr. Owen apparently feels that it’s safe again to crawl out from under the bed and resume his career as a theological ankle-biter and doctrinal eugenicist.


Recently I saw reference made to some comments by Dr. John MacArthur on the Roman Catholic Church. MacArthur was basically complaining about Protestants who believe that the Roman Catholic Church is a true Christian church. As much as I respect John MacArthur, and as much benefit as I have derived from his books and ministry over the years, his comments remind me once again of the huge gulf which exists between confessional Lutherans, Presbyterians and Anglicans on the one hand, and Baptists and sub-confessional Presbyterians on the other hand. I cannot state more strongly that the idea that the Church of Rome is not a member of the visible body of Jesus Christ is a radical, un-Reformational, sectarian opinion which does not reflect the teachings of true Protestantism.

The most ironic thing in the world is when supposedly “Reformed” Protestants cite the Westminster Confession of Faith 25.6 (which identifies the Pope as Antichrist) as evidence that the Church of Rome is not to be viewed as Christian. Yet the wording of that very article makes exactly the opposite point! The Antichrist exalts himself “in the church.” The very identity of the Antichrist as one who exalts himself “in” the church argues for the fact that the Church of Rome remains part of the visible Church “out of which there is no ordinary possibility of salvation” (25.2).

When Baptist sectarians (even those disguised as Presbyterians) declare that the Church of Rome is not to be viewed as Christian, they are simply showing their true identity as illegitimate children, who were not born of the Protestant Reformation.


1.Much as he respects John MacArthur, Paul Owen regards Dr. MacArthur as a spiritual bastard, along with every Baptist, Anabaptist, Fundamentalist, and Presbyterian who disagrees with him on the spiritual identity of Romanism.

2.Notice that he never calls a Mormon or Roman Catholic a spiritual bastard. No, he reserves this term of endearment for those whom he “respects.”

3.So anyone who is not a confessional Protestant is a spiritual bastard.

4.He brings up the Westminster Confession, which identifies the Pope as the Antichrist. So then, does Dr. Owen believe that the Pope is the Antichrist? If he denies that the Pope is the Antichrist, then would make him a sub-confessional Presbyterian, which is no better than a spiritual bastard in Owen’s book.

5.Presumably Dr. Owen would not attempt to hide behind the American revision. For one thing, that would mark a break with traditional Protestant theology, and any break with tradition is tantamount to spiritual bastardization.

6.Notice that Dr. Owen is highly selective in what he chooses to cite, for the Confession prefaced its identification of the Pope with the papacy in 25:6, by saying, in 25:5, that some churches “have so degenerated, as to become no churches of Christ, but synagogues of Satan.” Given that 25:5 is the lead-in to 25:6, it is logical to infer that Roman Catholicism is a special case or illustration of the general principle stated in the prior article.

7.Dr. Owen has a decidedly eccentric view of the relation between parents and children. By his lights, if a child disagrees with a parent, then the child was conceived out of wedlock.

One wonders if Dr. Owen has any teenagers. Do his kids ever disagree with him? In order for the child to be a bastard, the parent has to be an adulterer or fornicator.

Actually, a degree of intellectual independence is a natural aspect of maturation--that your kids are growing up, have minds and lives of their own, will be leaving home some day. Is that a bad thing?

8.According to the Tridentine anathemas, Lutherans and Presbyterians are schismatics as well.

So, by Dr. Owen’s logic, we should regard Rome as legitimate even though Rome regards all of us as illegitimate.

9.The walk of faith is a relay race. Each Christian generation must hand off the baton to the next generation. Each Christian generation has its own adversaries and obstacles.

Luther and Calvin were cradle Catholics. They were writing about the Catholic church of their own time and place, the church they knew, in which they were baptized and brought up.

We, living hundreds of years later, must judge the Catholic church we know, the church of our own time and place, We have our own perspective. We have the advantage of historical distance. We know what it was, and what it became.

The contemporary Catholic church is even worse than the Tridentine Church. For it retains all the old Tridentine errors, but has added to these the liberalizing tendencies of the modern mainline denominations.

10.We are not answerable to Calvin and Luther. We are answerable to God and God’s word. Even if Paul Owen were a consistent partisan, which he isn’t, when Dr. Owen is on his dead-bed, it will be cold comfort that he played the dutiful role of the company man. For the company man is the chump, schlemiel, and all-purpose fall-guy. His misplaced loyalty leaves him holding the bag.

Guys like Paul Owen can get away with these snobbish dismissals because they are never made to confront those they so smugly dismiss.

If you don’t agree with Owen’s characterization of your spiritual parentage, why not drop him a line at: