Saturday, October 04, 2008

Dispatches from the true church

"His [Maher's] two most delightful guests, oddly enough, are priests stationed in the Vatican. Between them, they cheerfully dismiss wide swaths of what are widely thought to be Catholic teachings, including the existence of Hell. One of these priests almost dissolves in laughter as he mentions various beliefs that I, as a child, solemnly absorbed in Catholic schools."

Upstairs, Downstairs

Watching Catholic laymen defend Catholicism is like watching a dutiful butler put his drunken master to bed. The butler is so loyal and conscientious while his master is such a rowdy, boorish lout. The discrepancy is striking.

The butler is discrete while the master is indiscrete. The butler tries to protect his master’s reputation. Wipe the vomit from his lips. Undress him and tuck him into bed. Why is it that some subordinates continue to defend their “betters” when their “betters” are so much worse than the subordinates who defend them? They act as though they can’t survive without the master, when—in fact—the master can’t survive without them.

It’s like the old story of a butler who expects the lord of the manner to be generous in his will for the butler’s many years devoted service. He’s shocked when his master leaves him a mere pittance.

I’m reminded of this when I look at the kind of abuse that John Bugay has been subjected to over at Jason Stellman’s blog:

At first I thought you were bluffing about not thinking you are sometimes uncharitable. But, I am begining to think you may not really realize it. Sort of like Archie Bunker.But, you could be simply testing me, so I will find and give an example later.

As I said before, a racist, bigot, pro abortion advocate, Hitler,the KKK could also say the same.

The ironic thing about this statement is that a Catholic is accusing Bugay of being uncharitable. But it doesn’t occur to this Catholic that comparing Bugay to Hitler, Archie Bunker, Klansmen, &c., is itself uncharitable.

You have repeatedly insinuated and represented the moral fault of Catholicism and individual Catholics without adequate justification. Things like calling Gregory VII a "megalomaniac", indulging in a bit of snide humor about "kissing the sacred foot", asserting that Catholics and Catholicism are guilty of unspecified moral failings and/or harping on the pedohilia scandal as if it were unique to Catholics, and expressing outrage because the Catholic Church offers the hand of friendship to you, implicates rash judgment, detraction or calumny.__Certainly, we can talk about these things, but temperate language is in order to avoid the sins of rash judgment, calumny and detraction.

How is “harping” on the pedophilia scandal a case of “rash judgment”? This is a well-documented phenomenon.

The implication of your original words, which you have now qualified, is that the Church is indifferent to the pedophilia scandal.

True, the Catholic church is not indifferent to the pedophilic scandal. To the contrary, its attitude was far worse than that. It has engaged in a systematic cover-up. Hush money. Stonewalling authorities. Confidentiality agreements.

Far from being indifferent, the Catholic church was very concerned about the pedophilic scandal. Yet its concern wasn't about pedophilia, but scandal.

This is obviously untrue in light of the apologies that have been made by representatives of the Church, including the Pope, and so your original comments constitute detraction and calumny.

Of course, it’s not as if the pope or his representatives volunteered information about priestly abuse. They apologized belatedly after the media and the authorities exposed the misconduct of priests and bishops.

So, your current equivocation runs afoul of “rash judgment” since you don’t know what you are talking about and “calumny” since you are untruthfully slandering the Church for not doing something which it cannot do.

i) Of course, considering the fact that the Catholic church has made every effort to conceal the truth, it’s rich to accuse Bugay of not knowing what he’s talking about.

ii) And what, exactly, can't the church do? It can't attempt to screen out homosexual seminarians? It can't report abusive priests to the authorities? It can't defrock abusive priests or complicit bishops?

Second, on its face, your claim is nonsense. Protestants aren’t noticeably more angelic than Catholics and Catholics aren’t noticeably more demonic that Protestants.

Is moral equivalence a valid defense of Catholicism? Shouldn’t we hold the one true church to a higher standard than schismatics and heretics? Shouldn’t members of the true church, imbued with the grace of the true sacraments, be holier than graceless schismatics and heretics?

Sadly, all human institutions have done what a tiny minority of Catholic bishops did.

i) Was it just a “tiny minority” of bishops who were complicit in this scandal?

ii) And even if it was, what has the Vatican done to discipline this “tiny minority”? How many have been defrocked?

Third, your purpose is to smear all priests and bishops with the scandal by constantly banging on about the scandal as if it were unique to Catholic priests. Do you have any idea of the human cost of this calumny is?

What about the cost to the victims? Why is actual sanctity less important than maintaining the church’s false reputation for sanctity? Are deceptive appearances all that matter?

There are priests, like Raymond Brown, in the Church today who have written, at least, implicit heretical material. There are no doubt bishops who have protected priests like Brown, and would therefore be guilty of the same sin. However, the Church isn't here to kick everyone to the curb, the Church is here to lead everyone to Christ. If Church authority wanted to, they would have plenty victims underneath their hammer of justice excommunicated for their openly heretical arguments.

Of course, if the aim of the church is to lead everyone to Christ, then it ought to oust heretical priests like Ray Brown who lead the faithful away from Christ.

John,__These can not apply to Protestant churches or an invisible church. Can you really say that they could? __1 Cor 1:10 "I urge that there be no divisions among you"__Jn 17:17-23 " I pray that they may be one, as we are one"__Eph 4:3-6 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God & Father.__Rom 16:17 avoid those who create dissentions__Phil 2:2 be of same mind, united in heart, thinking one thing.__Rom 15:5 God grant you to think in harmony with one another.

Several issues:

i) It’s been 2000 years since Jesus uttered this prayer. Is the Father hard of hearing? If this prayer has gone unanswered for 2000 years, then when, exactly, do Catholics think it will be fulfilled? In the year 3000 AD? 4000 AD? 5000 AD? On the eve of the Parousia?

ii) In the nature of the case, you generally have more unity within a given denomination than between one denomination and other. Denominations tend to be composed of like-minded individuals.

iii) Imperatives are not indicatives. For example, the church of Corinth was disunited. Does this mean the church of Corinth was a false church? If a NT church can be a false church, why is the Catholic church immune to apostasy? And if the church of Corinth was not a false church, then quite a lot of disunity is compatible with being a true church.

iv) Why do lay Catholics quote Scripture? Does this mean they can interpret the Bible for themselves?

So if it is permissible to dismiss the testimony of the second bishop of the Church of Antioch on his way to martyrdom by wildbeasts, then surely you will understand if we Catholics treat the opinions of Lampe and Johnson as what they are, their opinions.

i) Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that a 2C bishop is in a position to vouch for the unbroken succession of bishops. Needless to say, this doesn’t mean a 2C bishop is in a position to vouch for apostolic succession in the 4C, or the 10C. You can’t extrapolate from the 2C to the 20C.

ii) Let’s also assume, for the sake of argument, that we have an accurate list of successors from the time of the apostles down to modern times. A ordained B, B ordained C, C ordained D, &c. Suppose we can document every link in the chain.

Would that be sufficient to establish an unbroken succession of bishops, going back to the apostles? Not at all.

For there’s more to apostolic succession than the outward rite of ordination. You also need to verify the valid administration of holy orders in each and every case. There are potentially many ecclesiastical impediments to the valid administration of holy orders. How does an outsider ascertain, in each and every case, that the ordination was a successor was not invalidated by some hidden ecclesiastical impediment?

I would qualify that a little, because the term 'diversity' has different senses. There can be diversity within unity, and there can be a diversity that is equivalent to division. The kinds of diversity that "weakens Truth" are doctrinal disagreement, cultic disagreement (i.e. disagreement regarding worship), and governmental disagreement (disagreement about who is in charge).

i) Notice that Catholics like Bryon don’t really believe in the marks of the church. Rather, they believe in the church of the marks.

The marks of the church are supposed to function as criterion to identify the true church. But that’s not how Catholics like Bryan appeal to the marks of the church. Rather, they assume, in advance of the fact, that the Catholic church is the true church, and then they add enough ad hoc qualifications to the marks of the church so that nothing could every count as evidence against the claims of Rome. The marks don’t qualify the church; rather, the church qualifies the marks.

It doesn’t matter how unholy popes or bishops or priests may be. It's still a holy church. It matters not how disunited the church may be. We just define away inconvenient disunity. It’s still the one church. It matters not how unrepresentative an ecumenical council may be. It’s still a catholic church. It doesn’t matter if we can’t trace a dogma back to the apostles. It’s still an apostolic church.

ii) And, of course, the four marks of the church go back to an ecumenical council. So the church is issuing its own criteria. But unless the church which issues the marks of the church is the true church, then how can these be true marks of the church?

As a seminary grad who’s currently pursuing a doctorate in philosophy, you might suppose that Bryan would have the elementary logical skills to see through all the logical fallacies he’s committing.

I've already read Steve's rebuttal to Bryan's questions. He doesn't really address them.

That’s because Bryan’s questions are rigged with his tendentious assumptions.

I also don't know where he received his authority to speak so authoritatively on the topic, but I do know that it wasn't derived from the Apostles, so it really it is a self-made authority.

That accusation is ironic on the lips of a lay Catholic. By what authority does a lay Catholic pose as a spokesman for Rome?

She had us at hello

Well, at this point everyone and their mother has weighed in about the Veep debate last night in St. Louis.

I don't have anything particularly special to add to what's already been said.

Even so, that ain't stop me from sharing my general impression of the debate, i.e., blabbing away with my big ol' mouth about it!

Of course, everyone knows the focus was almost entirely on Palin, for better or for worse. Everyone was at the edge of their seats, anxious to see how she'd do. America tuned in to see her either crash and burn big time or salvage something of herself. To either make it or break it, once and for all. Nearly 70 million viewers, too! That in itself is extraordinary.

But few expected her to have come away as she did. How did she come away then?

I think you could say the following:

At worst, Palin held her ground against the far more experienced, informed, and usually tough-as-nails Biden. The punchy statesman whom many expected to wipe the floor with her...well...he simply didn't. Some might say it ain't so, but she stood toe-to-toe with Joe and did just fine. In any case, at the very least she put her vacuous interviews (particularly with Katie Couric) behind her and perhaps breathed some new life back into the GOP campaign, thereby saving a bit of face for herself and more importantly for the McCain campaign.

At best, Palin was the main act and Biden her prop. She played off of him, and then she played him with a couple of well-aimed quips. All eyes were on her, and she didn't disappoint. While Biden droned on and on about what Biden has done and what Biden has accomplished, and Biden this and Biden that, she cleared the way for McCain and held him up more than she did herself. She didn't talk too much about herself but rather pointed Americans to McCain, and tried to give us a sense of their vision together as a team.

Thus, my take is that, while it's perhaps arguable Biden may have won on substantive grounds (although the day-after fact-checking is taking a heavy toll on his alleged facts and figures; and neither am I suggesting Palin was a slouch in this regard), Palin won hands-down on stylistic grounds, in terms of presentation and sheer personality. And that's what's more persuasive to voters in this sort of debate, to be frank.

Biden was polished and articulate in his speech and delivery whereas Palin's syntax was quaint. She used down-home phrases like, "you betcha," "heckuva lot," "doggone it," and "darn right." What's more, she kept smiling at the camera virtually the entire time. She also interspersed knowing winks and other little gestures here and there with viewers, which made her seem familiar, and even endearing, just like she was one of us. Overall, I thought Palin came off far more upbeat and confident, and simply more sincere and real than Biden did.

Understandably, given his background, and perhaps the Obama/Biden lead in the polls immediately prior to the debate, Biden probably tried to play it safe. And that he did. Overall, he came across as decent but nothing to write home about. He seemed knowledgeable and informed (he'd have to be after so many years in public service) but also dull and dry.

However, as others have rightly described, Palin really hit home in a folksy, down-to-earth, homespun kind of way. She was your next door neighbor, an average American mom, someone you could relate to right off the bat. You might even say she connected like Bill Clinton often did and does with common folks -- except that she was the real deal, genuine and transparent, which Clinton never truly was. Clinton could talk the talk but he never walked the walk. Hence, she positively connected with folks -- she sparkled and beamed from start to finish, and, as it's been said of Reagan, I believe, made us as Americans begin to feel good and certain about ourselves again. She was fresh, energetic, and lively -- a marked contrast to Biden, the settled, and even somewhat stuffy, Washingtonian.

Speaking of which, I found Palin was plain-spoken and clear in addressing topics such as economics and especially energy (no doubt her expertise). I always understood what she said and where she was going, whereas I thought Biden made things more difficult and complicated than they needed to be -- at least for the average American like me. Then again, Biden has been a senator for a number of years. Maybe he can't help speaking "above" folks rather than "to" folks, because it's what he's now accustomed to doing on the floor of the Senate. If so, it's a telling point.

Palin set much of the tone and (to a lesser extent, obviously) direction of the debate more or less from the get-go. At one point, near the beginning, she even said quite directly that her answers might not be what the moderator or others expect to hear from her. Something like this could come off as avoiding the question, but in my view Palin instead somehow managed to come off sounding strong and independent, a maverick if you will, by making this move.

Of course, Palin had a couple of incorrect facts and figures (e.g. Gen. McClellan?!). But, whether or not it's right, the bar here was far lower for her; and despite her mistakes and missteps, she more than cleared it.

In short, to paraphrase Jerry Maguire, Palin had us at, "Hey, can I call ya Joe?"

Friday, October 03, 2008

Eye in the sky

“Do they just do forum searches for things like that or is someone here sekretly giving them our hacked infoz”

Your paranoia is well founded, Gwildar. Yes, I do have a plant at Formumopolis, not to mention paid informants at other dens of infidelity.

Of course, I don’t limit myself to low-tech methods of monitoring your nefarious activities. We have other ways of tracking the every word and move of unbelievers by using electronic eavesdropping, satellite surveillance, security cameras, hidden cameras, bugs, directional microphones, &c. The usual Jason Borne stuff.

We’re watching you and listening to your every idle word. It’s all fed into the Intersect of the vast rightwing conspiracy as we implement our plans for global theocracy.

Sarah Barracuda is back!

There are different ways to score last night’s debate.

1. Palin won the expectations game. Liberals must be disappointed by her performance. Not only were they hoping that she would self-destruct on national TV, they were expecting her to self-destruct on national TV. They had already created the narrative of a backwoods, holy roller whom their elder statesman would systematically dissemble. It didn’t turn out that way.

Palin rose to the challenge. She can handle the pressure.

To some extent, the liberal establishment shot itself in the foot by setting the bar so low for Palin.

2. Another criterion is whether her performance will give McCain a bounce in the polls. It’s too early to say.

3. Yet another criterion is winning arguments. Biden has more factoids at his fingertips. After 35 years in Congress, he has a fund of examples and counterexamples he can rattle off at a moment’s notice.

When Palin made a charge, he often had a comeback. And Palin often had no response to his comeback.

In that respect, we should award some provisional points to Biden.

4. But there’s a catch: a factoid needs to be…factual. As it turns out, Biden has a facility for fabricating fact-free factoids. A number of pundits are have been fact-checking his factoids, and the exercise isn’t pretty. Here’s one example:

Biden tries to counter her outsider credentials by returning to his working class roots. But is that for real?,0,7175933.column

I’ll cite an example of my own. He kept faulting McCain for predicting that we would be greeted as liberators by the Iraqis.

Well, as a matter of fact, we were greeted as liberators. As there’s plenty of news footage to prove that point.

After we got bogged down in Iraq, Iraqi public opinion became more ambivalent, but when our troops swept into Baghdad, we were greeted as liberators.

So we have to rescind the provisional points we awarded to Biden. And that’s about all he had going for him in the first place.

This is not to say that Palin was inerrant. But Biden has less excuse. He was supposed to be Mr. Experience. Have all the expertise she lacks.

5.Apropos (4), there were also times when Biden didn’t have a comeback. There are easily documentable differences between his record and Obama’s. Since that’s in the public domain, when Palin cited some examples, Biden could do little to weasel out of his past statements or past votes. And Palin was only scratching the surface:

6. You can win an argument, but still be wrong. The ultimate question is who has the right position. Let’s take a few examples:

i) Biden prides himself on opposing the Bork nomination. That’s a classic liberal/conservative divide.

ii) Biden tries to play both sides of the homosexual rights debate. On the one hand, he wants to take credit for being oh-so tolerant. Homosexuals are entitled to equal rights across the board.

On the other hand, he doesn’t endorse homosexual marriage. So, when push comes to shove, homosexuals are not entitled to equal rights after all. And if Biden draws the line there, then why not elsewhere?

This isn’t a principled position.

By contrast, Palin made very minimal concessions to homosexuals. Hospital visitation rights. The right to enter into private contracts with each other.

iii) Like all liberal Democrats, Biden acts as if a gov’t subsidy can make otherwise unaffordable goods and services affordable. But, of course, gov’t subsidies come from tax revenue, so the taxpayers are merely writing themselves a check, minus the gov’t overhead.

iv) He faults the Bush administration for opposing a nuclear test ban treaty. But why should we support such a ban? On the one hand, we have the right to defend ourselves. On the other hand, rogue states will sign treaties and break treaties. So a test ban amounts to unilateral disarmament.

v) With reference to Iran, Biden says that we should “talk, talk, talk.” But diplomacy is useless without a credible threat as leverage.

vi) Biden’s rhetoric last night was remarkably bellicose. Rather than winding down the war effort, he proposes an escalation in the war as we open up a new front in Pakistan. We should simply redeploy from Iraq to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Expand the war. Are anti-war Democrats listening to this strategy? This is to the right of the Bush administration.

vii) He also supports humanitarian military intervention.

viii) He’s blind to the fact that, in geostrategic terms, the fate of Iraq is more important than the fate of Afghanistan.

ix) He also acts as if jihadism has a permanent address. But jihadism moves around. When we invaded Iraq, the jihadis redirected their resources to Iraq.

Jihadism isn’t a place on a map. You can’t defeat jihadism by defeating the jihadis in one country.

x) The Bush administration was not all bad on the economy. Despite the fact that Bush inherited a bad economy from Clinton, and despite the further fact that our economy had to recover from the body blow of 9/11, we’ve had a good 7 years of economic growth.

xi) Biden buys into all of the global warming hype. There is global warming, and man is to blame.

If you take that seriously, then we must drastically lower our standard of living to compensate.

Palin is far more guarded. She speaks of “climate change,” not global warming, and she’s noncommittal on the human factor.

xii) I could have done without Palin blaming the financial crisis on Wall Street greed and corruption. Not only is that inaccurate, but the blame needs to be put where it belongs. The source of the crisis lies in liberals who decried “redlining.”

When you add it all up, Palin won handily.

The Islamization of Europe

Dutch politician Geert Wilders, infamous for his film Fitna, delivered a powerful speech last week calling for Western resistence to the threat of Islam.

Wisdom and Courage by Geert Wilders.

In the Cross-hairs

Bryan Cross has been responding to John Bugay over at Stellman’s blog. Let’s see how well he’s faring:

I beg to differ. An unbroken succession can exist even if those at the end of the chain cannot themselves verify that it is unbroken. We should be careful not to confuse ontology and epistemology.

i) Of course, Bugay didn’t say it couldn’t exist absent verification. Bugay’s point is that you have no right to assert its existence unless you can verify its existence.

ii) And notice that Bryan dodges that issue, even though it’s absolutely crucial to his case. How, if it all, does Bryan propose to verify apostolic succession? If he can’t, then he’s in no position to assert apostolic succession.

But He did promise that the gates of hell would not prevail over the Church. For us (Catholics) this promise includes the promise of preserving Apostolic succession.

How do you exegete apostolic succession from 16:18? You can’t. Notice that Bryan doesn’t even try to exegete apostolic succession from 16:18. He falls back on the statement that “for Catholics,’ this promise includes apostolic succession.”

All he’s doing here is to assert his belief in Catholicism. He doesn’t give anyone a reason to believe in Catholicism.

That Lampe and Johnson use words like "fictive construction" does not show that the unbroken succession is a "fictive construction". It just shows that that is what Lampe and Johnson think it is. On my blog, you referred to St. Ignatius's statements regarding bishops as "wishful thinking". So if it is permissible to dismiss the testimony of the second bishop of the Church of Antioch on his way to martyrdom by wildbeasts, then surely you will understand if we Catholics treat the opinions of Lampe and Johnson as what they are, their opinions.

i) Lampe and Johnson don’t merely opine. They argue for their position. Where is Bryan’s counterargument?

ii) Again, to say “we Catholics” fails to give anyone a reason to be Catholic in the first place. How is that any improvement over “we Mormons” or “we Scientologists”?

Treating us to an exposition of what Catholics believe is a sorry substitute for defending what Catholics believe.

Behind your accusation is an implicit philosophical assumption, called monocausalism. You assume that if Mary does something, then Christ can't also do it. The Church isn't limited by philosophical monocausalism, as I have pointed out on my blog a number of times.

i) The question at issue is not what is hypothetically possible, but what is actual. Even if it were hypothetically possible for Mary to be Mediatrix or Co-Redemptrix, that’s irrelevant to the factual question. It’s hypothetically possible that Jesus was born in Bombay. Would drawing attention to that hypothetical be an adequate response to the evidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem?

John,__the church is the sum total of the "elect" individuals.__"On this rock I will build my [set of all the elect], and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. ... And if he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the [set of the elect]; and if he refuses to listen even to the [set of all the elect], let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax-gatherer."

i) Of course, Mt 16:18 and 18:17 don’t give us a full-blown doctrine of the church, one way or the other They simply use the word ecclesia, and say a few things about the ecclesia.

When Bugay equates the church with the elect, that’s a theological construct based on a whole range of Scriptures.

ii) BTW, what’s wrong with saying the gates of hell will not prevail against the elect?

At what point does the Scripture itself testify against this docetic reduction of the Church? If your ecclesiology weren't docetic, how would it be any different?

Bryan is now resorting to demagoguery. “Docetism” is a formally defined Christological heresy. Bryan is taking it upon himself to redefine standard theological jargon, and then apply his redefinition to Protestant ecclesiology as if the term carries the same stigma in his idiosyncratic usage as it does in its traditional usage. This is pure sophistry.

And it’s quite high-handed of a Catholic layman like Bryan to presume that he has the right to unilaterally redefine a traditional classification of heresy.

If you pull your Berkhof off the shelf and open it up to page 565, you will read this regarding the distinction between the visible and an invisible Church: "It is said that Luther was the first to make this distinction, but the other Reformers recognized and also applied it to the Church."__The notion that the Church is merely the set of all the elect is a sixteenth century novelty that allows for visible divisions not to 'count' as schisms, since the set (or "sum total") of all the elect cannot itself be divided.

Several problems:

i) The claim that Protestant theology is false because it’s innovative represents a throwback to the polemical strategy of Bellarmine and Stapleton. But that’s a double-edged sword. If we apply Bryan’s criterion to theological novelties like the Assumption of Mary, then Bryan has falsified his own denomination.

In fact, in his autobiography, then-Cardinal Ratzinger mentions that at the time Pius XII was contemplating whether he should formalize the Assumption of Mary, “all the theological faculties of the world” were opposed because it lacked sufficient traditional pedigree. Cf. Milestones, 58.

ii) The visible/invisible distinction is equivalent to Paul’s distinction between the outward/inward Jew in Romans. Not all Jews who were members of the covenant community were elect.

iii) And there’s no reason to suppose that the elect always agree about everything. Divisions are possible between true believers.

Does Bryan deny that? What about the division between Rome and Constantinople? Does he regard the Orthodox church as a false church? Does he think the members of the Orthodox church are all reprobates?

But the fact that in the NT we are warned against schism shows that the NT conception of the Church was not the "set of all the elect", as I argued here, and here.

How would that follow? You have true believers and nominal believers—some of whom are schismatics.

John,__So now "docetic" is merely a label? Do you deny that docetism is heresy?__My question to you was this: if your conception of the Church as the [set of all the elect] were not docetic, how would it be any different?

Once again, Bryan falls back on his demagogic ploy. Note the equivocation: is Docetism heretical? Yes. Does this mean that Bryan’s made up category or “ecclesial docetism” is heretical? No. That is Bryan taking a heresy, then concocting a do-it-yourself category, then using the old label to designate his do-it-yourself category, than transferring the odium of the actual heresy to his ersatz heresy. This tactic is both fallacious and unscrupulous.

If you want to propose a position, then you should either defend it or admit that you can't defend it.

I agree. And if we measure Bryan by his own yardstick, he comes up short. When, if ever, is he going to start defending Catholicism rather than begging the question?

If you say, "Well, I can't defend the position I'm proposing, but I know there is someone who can", or "I can't defend my position but I know there is a knock-down defense out there somewhere", that's called the phantom argument fallacy.__You have put forward your ecclesiology, but then when you are asked to defend it, you say, don't "argue with little old me; take on the likes of someone like Turretin".

Bryan is the one who keeps attacking the Protestant Reformers and their successors. So why shouldn’t he directly engage the arguments of a theologian like Turretin?

But that's precisely the phantom argument fallacy, because I could just say the same sort of thing back to you: "Don't argue with me, take on the likes of Pope Benedict", etc.

Actually, there’s some truth to that. Bryan is not entitled to pose as a spokesmen for Roman Catholicism.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Panic over Palin

Some conservative pundits are hitting the panic button over Palin because she apparently didn’t perform well in a segment or two in an interview or two. They’ve even urged her to withdrawal, which is absurd. Even if she’s unqualified, for McCain’s Veep to step down 5 weeks before the general election would inflict incalculable and irreparable harm to his campaign.

In addition, no one is going to remember her performance in a couple of interviews. For better or worse, her performance in tonight’s debate will eclipse anything she said in a couple of interviews.

According to conventional wisdom, the basic qualification to be Vice President is that you can step in at a moment’s notice and take over the presidency.

I happen to think that’s a reasonable standard, and, at this point in her career, Palin would be underqualified to fill in for McCain.

But, as a practical matter, voters have never held a Vice Presidential candidate to that standard. And that’s because they’ve never even held a Presidential candidate to that standard.

We already knew, going into the interviews, that Palin was not a foreign policy wonk—or even a national policy wonk. And there’s a simple reason for that: she’s a governor. By definition, most governors don’t have much, if any, foreign policy or national policy experience. Yet, by my count, 18 of the 43 US presidents were governors. Nearly half of our presidents.

Many pundits are holding Palin to a standard they never held any other candidate to. And Palin isn’t even running for the top job.

Palin has good values and good instincts. That’s more than I can say for either Obama or Biden. In that respect, the opposition is less qualified.

Unless McCain drops dead the day after his inauguration, Palin will have plenty of time to get up to speed on the issues. And if she were to assume the presidency, she would have many advisors. Indeed, that’s why Obama picked Biden.

Politics isn’t fair. Perception is reality. If, tonight, Palin commits a major gaffe on domestic or foreign policy, the media will be unforgiving (although it will give Biden a pass for a similar gaffe).

But this wouldn’t come as a shocking revelation. We knew all along that she wasn’t a national or foreign policy wonk. That’s because she’s a governor. That’s not something you expect to find in the resume of a governor. And the electorate has often promoted a governor to the White House.

Love the Lord with Heart & Mind

Wonderful news from Steve Hays:
A while back I sent a questionnaire to a number of Christian intellectuals. James Anderson has compiled their answers in an eBook, which you can access here (PDF).

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Ecclesiastical Etiquette 101

This leveling egalitarian spirit violates not only tradition and the laws of civility, but also the practice of justice. We need only look to a basic principle of Roman Law, so coherent in its logic, which states that that each one should be given what he has a right to receive. Because people are unequal in status, situation, and talent, the necessity of justice demands unequal treatment. Catholic doctrine used to be applied concretely in Christian Civilization. Thus one could judge a person according to a code of rights, merits and honors, and according to this code, use a formula of respect suitable for each one and each occasion.

For the same reason, it is inconvenient for a Catholic to call a Protestant preacher “reverend,” because this is to indirectly confer legitimacy to his heretical confession. It is much better to call a Lutheran Mr. Jones instead of reverend Jones, or use the title Doctor or Professor, if it is applicable. In writing, it is sometimes necessary to refer to a Protestant as bishop, but the title should be lower case, e.g. bishop Philip Robinson, or Protestant bishop Robinson, as a sign of differentiation from the Catholic Bishop.

Going up the Catholic hierarchical ladder, these are the basic rules to serve you in day-to-day circumstances:


Direct address: Brother Elias.
Written address: Brother Elias, O.F.M.
Formal introduction: Brother Elias of the Order of Friars Minor.

Religious Priest

Direct address: Father McKenzie, or Father.
Written address: The Reverend Father Leo F. McKenzie, S.J.
Formal introduction: The Reverend Father Leo McKenzie of The Society of Jesus.

Diocesan Priest

Direct address: Father Butler, or Father.
Written address: The Reverend Father John W. Butler.
Formal introduction: The Reverend Father John Butler.
Protocol: Stand when a Priest enters the room, and remain standing until he invites you to sit. Men should remove their hats in his presence. A good custom at greeting the Priest is to kiss his hand, to honor the fact that they conescrate the Holy Eucharist. The same signs of respect should be given shen leaving his presence.


Direct address: Monsignor Smith, or Monsignor.
Written address: The Right Reverend Monsignor Thomas R. Smith, or The Very Reverend Monsignor Thomas R. Smith.
Formal introduction: The Very Reverend Monsignor Thomas Smith. Protocol: the same as for Priests.


Direct address: Your Excellency, or Bishop McNeil.
Written address: His Excellency, The Right Reverend William A. Scully, D.D. Bishop of Baltimore. or His Excellency, The Right Reverend Bishop William Scully of Baltimore.
Formal closing: Kissing the Sacred Ring,
Formal introduction: His Excellency, the Bishop of Baltimore.
Protocol: Stand when a Bishop enters the room, and remain standing until he invites you to sit. Men should remove their hats in his presence. For your own Bishop, you may kneel on your left knee and kiss his ring as a sign of respect for his office. If kneeling would be ackward, or if it is not your own Bishop, you may bow at the waist and kiss his ring. Do not do either if the Pope is present. The same signs of respect should be given when leaving his presence.


Direct address: Your Grace, or Archbishop Kovak.
Written address: His Grace, The Most Reverend Michael T. Kovak, S.T.D. Archbishop of New York, or His Grace, The Most Reverend Archbishop Michael T. Kovak, of New York.
Formal closing: Kissing the Sacred Ring,
Formal introduction: His Grace, the Archbishop of Baltimore.
Protocol: The same as for a Bishop.


Direct address: Your Beatitude.
Written address: His Beatitude, the Most Reverend Michael Cardinal Sabbah, Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Formal introduction: His Beatitude, The Patriarch of Jerusalem.
Protocol: The same as for a Bishop.


Direct address: Your Eminence, or Cardinal Hand.
Written address: His Eminence, Thomas Cardinal Hand, Archbishop of Los Angeles, or, His Eminence, The Most Reverend Cardinal Thomas J. Hand, of Los Angeles.
Formal closing: Kissing the Sacred Purple,
Formal introduction: His Eminence, Cardinal of Los Angeles.
Protocol: The same as for a Bishop.


Direct address: Your Holiness, or Holy Father.
Written address: His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, or better, The Sovereign Pontiff, His Holiness Pius XII.
Formal closing: Kissing the Sacred Foot,
Formal introduction: His Holiness, the Pope.
Protocol: After being introduced, kneel on your left knee and kiss his ring as a sign of respect for his office. Stand when the Pope enters the room, and remain standing unless he invites you to sit. Men should be wearing a suit coat and tie and remove their hats in his presence. Women should wear black dresses and have their heads and arms covered. The same signs of respect should be given when leaving his presence.

If you bring a new white zucchetto with you at a scheduled meeting with the Pope, a customary gesture of amiability is for His Holiness to trade the one he is wearing for the one you offer.

There is a special protocol for formally greeting a Bishop that needs to be dusted off and put back into daily usage. Because a Bishop has received the fullness of Holy Orders, that is, the power to administer confirmation and Holy Orders as well as all the other Sacraments, he receives a special distinction. He is a Prince of the Church and a Successor of the Apostles.

A Catholic formally greets a Bishop by kissing the ring on his right hand, one of his marks of office. Should circumstances permit, one kneels on one knee to kiss his ring. Kneeling on both knees as a mark of respect is reserved for the Blessed Sacrament when it is exposed.

If the circumstances make it difficult or gauche to kneel, it is appropriate to make a small sign of deference, standing and bending forward slightly from the waist to bring your lips to the ring of the Bishop, whose hand rests lightly in yours.

The Pauline Magisterium


Can you name any time between Pentecost and the 16th century, when "there were no layers of authority, just the Lord the people"?

You seem to be proposing an 'egalitarian' way of conceiving of the Church, and that doesn't seem to fit with 1 Corinthians 12, Hebrews 13:17, or the first 1500 years of Church history.

In the peace of Christ,

- Bryan

Well, I think that Bryan Cross is definitely on to something here. It’s obvious that John Bugay has never bothered to read 1 Cor 12, for if you turn to that chapter you’ll immediately see the startling one-to-one correspondence between Pauline polity and Catholic polity:

“Now concerning holy orders, brethren, I do not want you to be ignorant. There are diversities of clerics, but the same charism. To each cleric is given the charism of the holy orders. These are all ordained by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each cleric individually as he wills. And God has appointed in the church first the Queen of Heaven, second the Pope, third the Nicene Fathers, fourth the Tridentine Fathers, fifth the Church Fathers, sixth the College of Cardinals, seventh the Doctors of the Church, eighth the Archbishops, ninth the Bishops, tenth the Monsignors, eleventh the priests, twelfth the saints, thirteenth the lay religious, fourteenth the laity, and fifteenth the livestock” (1 Cor 12:28).

The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow

The Orthodox Church of Tomorrow
By Fr. John A. Peck

There is an interesting phenomenon occurring in Orthodox Christianity in America today, and reflected powerfully in our seminaries. Seminaries are loaded almost exclusively with converts, reverts (cradle Orthodox who left the faith, and were re-converted to it again), and the sons and grandsons of clergy.

I believe we are looking at the future of the American Orthodox Church — today. (keep reading).


John,__Let me offer one more thought. You have referred a few times now to Triablogue's "trick questions for Protestants" post, which was a response to something I wrote back in January.

That’s a true statement of my overall position. However, I was making a narrower point in my post on trick questions. My point, which I made repeatedly in the course of that post, is that Bryan is simply and constantly begging the question by recasting all interpretive questions as questions of authority. He has yet to justify his operating assumption.

Bryan begins with his utopian preconception of the way things ought to be, then concocts an ecclesiastical narrative to illustrate his preconception.

In his view, there simply is no authoritative interpretation of Scripture, because there is no magisterium.

i) Actually, we do have “authoritative” interpretations of Scripture. The NT gives us many “authoritative” interpretations of the OT. And some OT writers give us “authoritative” interpretations of earlier OT writers.

ii) But it’s true that we don’t have a magisterium.

iii) Of course, even if we did have a magisterium, Bryan’s conclusion doesn’t follow. It’s not as though the Catholic magisterium has ever devoted much time to offering authoritative interpretations of Scripture. There are about 31,000 verses in the Bible. For what percentage of those verses has the magisterium offered an authoritative interpretation?

So Bryan’s demand for magisterial authority to confer interpretative authority is just a paper theory. The magisterium is falsified by Bryan’s own criterion. If that’s what we need it for, then it’s fallen far short of its appointed task.

iv) Bryan also needs to explain what he means by “authoritative,” and how it functions. Is an “authoritative” interpretation related to a correct interpretation?

Yet even if, for the sake of argument, an authoritative interpretation entails a correct interpretation, a correct interpretation doesn’t entail an authoritative interpretation—if, by “authoritative,” he means an interpretation issued by some authority-figure or authoritative body.

But as long as you have the correct interpretation, who needs an authoritative interpretation? Is an authoritative interpretation sometime over and above a correct interpretation?

There are just various exegetical and scholarly techniques for trying to determine what is the best interpretation of Scripture.

Which is exactly how Catholic Bible scholars operate, viz. J. Fitzmyer: The Interpretation of Scripture: In Defense of the Historical-Critical Method.

I didn't respond to Steve's post, because he makes my point better than I could. Is there anywhere in the first fifteen centuries of the Church, where we find Steve's idea that there is no living authority, no magisterium, no possibility of an authoritative interpretation of Scripture? No, not at all. Both the Church at Rome and the bishops in general council had an authority the laity did not have.

Notice how he completely begs the question by assuming that ecclesiastical precedent is the only relevant consideration. He begins and ends with the church: a perfectly vicious circle.

That comes from the very fact that the Apostles had an authority that the laity did not have.

Of course, that’s a non sequitur. The fact that the Apostles had an authority which the laity doesn’t enjoy doesn’t imply that church councils or the church of Rome has an authority that the laity doesn’t enjoy. Notice that Bryan doesn’t offer even the semblance of an argument to bridge his two claims.

So Steve's position (if I'm understanding him correctly) implies that the Apostles did not confer authority on their episcopal successors.

Bryan is equivocating on three grounds:

i) ”Episcopal” doesn’t mean the same thing in NT usage that it means in Catholic usage.

ii) ”Succession” doesn’t involve the same concept in NT ecclesiology that it does in Catholic ecclesiology.

iii) What “authority” are we talking about? Do elders enjoy a measure of administrative or disciplinary authority? Yes.

Do elders enjoy interpretative authority? Not by virtue of their office. At most, they enjoy the interpretive authority of an expert witness, assuming that they do, in fact, bring some expertise to the exegesis of Scripture. Sometimes true, sometimes false. Depends on the individual. Some laymen are more competent to interpret the Bible than some pastors.

But just left a book (in the form of gospels and epistles scattered about the empire), and each Christian to decide for him or herself what that book means, in a kind of egalitarianism with respect to ecclesial authority.

Several problems:

i) As usual, Bryan begins with what he deems to be an unacceptable consequence. He then reasons back from the consequence to what he deems to be the correct alternative. This is pure, armchair speculation. Bryan does theology the way a creative writer composes a novel. You end up with an imaginative construct from start to finish.

ii) What is Bryan’s practical alternative? He doesn’t have one. For example, how many medieval peasants were adequately catechized in the dark ages? Haven’t there being many times in church history when the Rome lacked the resources to properly indoctrinate the laity?

Or take our own time. Given the acute shortage in the priesthood, the average priest hardly has the spare time to study the Bible or historical theology on a regular basis. And he doesn’t have the spare time to give individual Catholics the ethical or theological guidance they need. He’s overworked. Far too few priests to go around.

Why do so many Catholic layman find it necessary to turn to other Catholic layman for advice? Why do they go to do-it-yourself “experts” like Karl Keating and Dave Armstrong for their knowledge of Catholic dogma and moral theology?

Bryan’s denomination doesn’t measure up to his own criterion. Bryan poses a problem. He proposes a solution. But even if we conceded all of his gratuitous assumptions, his denomination fails to solve the problem he posed for it.

iii) Am I an “egalitarian” about the interpretation of Scripture? No. Some people have more aptitude than others. Some people have more training than others.

However, as I’ve said many times before, even a Bible scholar shouldn’t invoke his own “authority” to justify his interpretation. He needs to argue for his position. And his process of reasoning must be subject to the evaluation of the reader.

I don't find that notion in the fathers at all.

Which begs the question.

Nor could unity possibly be a mark of the Church had that been the case.

Which begs the question.

Notice his stipulative methodology. He simply posits that the church must exhibit this mark or that.

BTW, exactly how many marks of the church are there? Four? Fifteen?

Should we split the difference?

Bryan worships at the altar of a fictitious church.

Gone With the Wind

BJ has responded:

Whoever you were referring to when you said “we need to own up to that.” I am assuming you don’t mean Blacks when you refer to “we”.

White Americans should own up to the fact that Southern slavery was unjust.

What exactly was unjust? Was better medical treatment than poor white Sotherners, like my family, unjust? Was a typical 4,000 calorie daily diet unjust?

i) I find it fascinating that a Ron Paulette like yourself has suddenly discovered the virtues of socialized medicine and the nanny state. I thought that libertarians took a decided dislike to political paternalism. I take it that you’re planning to vote for Barack Obama.

ii) You’re also cherry picking the best, incidental consequences of slavery, while conveniently disregarding the downsides, such as rape and the separation of families.

Or were you talking about the movie “Roots” and the portrayal of slavery promulgated by the NAACP?

Try to remember that I was quoting from Thornwell and Dabney. Were they charter members of the NAACP? I don’t recall seeing that on their resume.

Furthermore, what type of slavery is just in your view?

Some OT examples (see below).

Your right he does deploy those. However, most important for this discussion are chapters 4 & 5 where he presents his Biblical arguments from the Old & New Testamants, which is what you should be focusing on as a Christian that thinks he is wrong.

You’re backing down from your initial position. You originally said: “Funny....I always thought Dabney gave arguments in support of slavery, Southern or not, based on biblical exegesis.”

i) Since Dabney didn’t limit his proslavery arguments to biblical arguments, why should I? If Dabney also deploys economic and ethical arguments, then why shouldn’t I respond to him on those grounds?

ii) Moreover, they’re interrelated. At most, his biblical arguments would only show that bondage is permissible under certain conditions. But when he tries to extrapolate from OT slavery to Southern slavery, he must resort to ethical or economic arguments to justify that application. He is not, for example, arguing that black Southerners have a right to enslave white Southerners. So he has to go beyond the biblical data to justify this particular institution. General arguments for the permissibility of bondage (under certain circumstances) don’t, of themselves, warrant their automatic application to a specific case. It’s an argument from analogy. You must also show that the two cases are relevantly parallel.

And he attempts to do that by arguing that black are morally inferior, that blacks are in a condition of diminished responsibility, analogous to underage children.

So even if, for the sake of argument, I granted his exegesis, his conclusion wouldn’t follow.

iii) You’re also reversing yourself. You original said “Now, whether that exegesis was correct is an entirely different debate altogether.”

But if that’s the case, then the onus is not on me to overturn his exegesis. Now, however, you’re saying that it’s not a different debate at all, and I’m obligated to show where he went wrong.

Which is it Steve? Is he deluded or an ingenious defender of his beliefs?

Both. These are not contradictory states of mind. The same individual can be both deluded and ingenious. Ever heard of the Unabomber?

Yes, we are. You say he was a self-deluded genius that was racist, and I say he could have argued his points if he were Black with white slaves. That was the genius you see in this self-deluded man.

Brilliant men can be delusional, viz. Ted Kaczynski, Bobby Fischer, Emanuel Swedenborg.

Thornwell and Dabney were blinded by their racial loyalties.

Granted, If ethnicity was his “only” motivation. However, I don’t see it that way.

Given your sympathies for “kinism,” I do think you see it that way.

I am still trying to wrap my mind around you calling him brilliant, and out the other side of your mouth calling his arguments fallacious.

You suffer from conceptual confusion on this point. A brilliant man can use fallacious arguments. Consider Hume’s attack on the Christian faith, to take one example. Consider all of the ingenious arguments that are used to prove naturalistic evolution, to take another. Noam Chomsky’s a brilliant man. He’s also deluded. There are brilliant Catholic theologians and brilliant Calvinist theologians. But they can’t both be right.

Because Christians are still sinners, they can be self-deluded about some things.

Yes, I do support slavery, where and when it was practiced. To me, slavery is slavery. Whether its in the South, North, China, or the Bible. I side with Dabney and the Bible on this one.

No, you don’t side with the Bible on this one since the Bible doesn’t treat “slavery as slavery.” It draws a number of basic distinctions:

i) It distinguishes between the indentured service of an Israelite and the enslavement of a foreign POW. The terms of bondage are not the same for both.

ii) In the case of a foreign POW, by taking up arms against Israel, he forfeits certain immunities which he would ordinarily enjoy. He exposes himself and his family to certain liabilities if he loses.

That’s quite different than say, invading a country to kidnap its citizens and enslave them or sell them into slavery.

iii) In the case of a Hebrew bondservant, he sells himself into indentured service. That’s voluntary. And he can only be indentured for six years.

iv) The Bible also forbad an extradition treaty for the return of runaway slaves (Deut 23:15-16).

v) Because God delivered the Israelites from slavery, they were to minimize the practice of slavery wherever possible.

vi) All things being equal, kidnapping a man to enslave him is a capital offense (Exod 21:16).

There are special situations in which bondage of some sort is permissible, but certain preconditions must be met.

It’s analogous to the difference between murder and self-defense. All things considered, there are special situations in which it’s permissible to kill someone. But all things being equal, it’s impermissible to kill someone.

vii) At a more fundamental level, you fail to appreciate the nature of a law code. A law code does not condone everything it allows.

As one scholar points out, “The law sets a minimum standard of behaviour, which if transgressed attracts sanction…What legislators and judges tolerate may not be what they approve. Laws generally set a floor for behaviour within society, they do not prescribe an ethical ceiling. Thus a study of the legal codes within the Bible is unlikely to disclose the ideals of the law-givers, but only the limits of their tolerance: if you do such and such, you will be punished. The laws thus tend to express the limits of socially acceptable behaviour: they do not describe ideal behavior,” G. Wenham, Story as Torah, 80.

Also, it would stregthen your case if you quit begging the question on whether they were wrong, and demonstrate it.

i) Once again, you’re moving the goalpost. You originally said: ““Now, whether that exegesis was correct is an entirely different debate altogether.”

ii) In addition, I can only respond to you to the extent that you’re forthcoming about your own position. When you started this debate, you were less than candid about your own commitments. You didn’t lay your cards on the table. To the contrary, you implied that race had nothing to do with the issue. When, however, I uncover your “kinist” sympathies,” it becomes quite clear that race is a fundamental factor in your position.

And neither does a Biblical argument for slavery, which is what Dabney offered. If you could somehow take off your “Dabney only argued Biblically for slavery because he was White” lenses, you should be able to understand that he could have Black and owned every race on earth and his arguments(chapter 4 & 5) would stand because they were straight form the Bible.

No, they don’t stand on their own. Even if, ex hypothesi, his exegesis were correct, it doesn’t follow that the application of his exegesis to Southern slavery is correct. That’s a separate argument, and in order to make that argument, he had to shift to ethical and economic considerations.

It’s not as though they were Christianized.

And if you’re going to use that argument, then Thornwell and Dabney should have lobbied for the emancipation of Christian slaves. That would be analogous to the situation of a Hebrew bondservant.

And why not enslave white Southerners who were unbelievers? It’s not as though all white Southerners were devout Christians.

If I were a slave to Black Christians, I would have no other choice (if I were a Christian slave), but to live my life in obeidience to my master.

There’s a fundamental tension in the Confederate position. On the one hand they claim the right to enslave black Africans. On the other hand, they rail against the War of Northern Aggression, Sherman’s March, or the Reconstruction Acts imposed on the South after the war.

But if “slavery is slavery,” then the North had the right to subjugate the South. No different than Assyria or Rome.

Secession is a two-way street. If white Southerners were entitled to be free of the Union, then black Southerners were entitled to be free of the Confederacy. The argument for liberation and self-rule cuts both ways.

It only applies differently to blacks on the assumption that blacks are different. That’s not a biblical argument.

Still begging the question? Who, besides you, says Dabney suspeneded his critical judgement. This is an unargued for assertion.

And you’re begging the question in favor of “kinism.”

No! I classify you as a myth maker of history and of Dabney.

Really? Show me where I misrepresented the position of Thornwell or Dabney. You're the one who misrepresented Dabney's position. I had to correct you on that. Only then did you admit his use of other arguments.

Blogroll update

The resourceful and indefatigable Patrick Chan has updated the blogroll. This consists of fixing broken links, deleting defunct sites, adding a number of new sites to the roster, adding a new section on bioethics, and moving some preexisting links to more logical locations on the blogroll.

If your blog didn’t make the cut, it’s probably because your blog is so much better than mine that I couldn’t stand the competition!

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

"Bailout Politics"

Economist Thomas Sowell provides some background history on the current financial crisis.

Free baloney & loose screws

I see that the white supremacists don’t like me:

To some extent, the white supremacist movement is a dumping ground for losers. However, it also represents a backlash to affirmative action and liberal assaults on “white privilege.”

How important is racial identity from a Christian standpoint?

1. Race qua race seems to be a natural adaptation to climatic variation. At that level, it’s a pretty trivial feature of self-identity or social identity.

To the degree that race becomes a more important feature of self-identity or social identity, that isn’t due to race qua race, but the incidental association of racial identity with other forms of identity.

2. There’s an obvious sense in which, for me to be a different race, I’d have to have different parents. In that sense, racial identity is essential to my self-identity. But it isn’t racial identity, per se, that’s essential to my self-identity. Rather, it’s only essential in the derivative sense that if I had different parents, I would be a different person. Here the differential factor is parentage, not race.

3. And even with respect to (2), it’s possible to be a biracial child.

4. Hypothetically speaking, it’s easy to conceive an SF scenario in which my racial characteristics are altered. Yet I’d still be the same person inside (as it were). The same mind, same brain, same memories, same parents, same formative experiences. So a change in racial identity wouldn’t entail a change in self-identity.

5. There’s also an obvious sense in which my self-identity is frequently bound up with my relatives: my siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents, &c. We tend to be close to those we’re related to by blood. And, in many cases, that involves a degree of racial identity.

6. But that, too, is rather incidental. I can grow up with anyone. It could be a blood brother, half-brother, or stepbrother. Race isn’t intrinsic to the emotional bond.

7. Likewise, the fact that I’m close to my white parents or my white siblings doesn’t mean I’m close to your white parents or your white siblings. Being white doesn’t mean I related to you, even if you happen to be another white man or woman. You’re a perfect stranger to me. By contrast, my best friend might be a childhood friend of another race.

To be sure, there’s an attenuated sense in which all white folk are related to each other, but in that respect there’s an attenuated sense in which all human beings are related to each other.

And, of course, many people are estranged from their parents or siblings. Conversely, adopted kids may be much closer to their adoptive parents than their natural parents.

8. A more important sense in which racial identity can figure in self-identity involves the relation between race and culture. Social conditioning has a powerful influence on self-identity. And there’s often a correlation between race and culture.

Even so, that’s quite incidental. For example, it’s quite possible for a person of one race to become acculturated to a society with a different racial composition. Take the case of white children who were kidnapped by Indians and raised as Indians. They went “native,” as the saying goes.

9. In addition, many societies are racially and culturally diverse. Western civilization is an amalgam of different cultures. And America is a nation of immigrants. Under those circumstances, the correlation between race and culture is quite diffuse.

10. In this respect, Confederate racism is rather ironic since the old South was not a racially or culturally homogeneous society like Iceland. There was a crosspollination between black and white.

11. Up to this point I’ve found it convenient to speak of a person’s race. But, of course, race is a fluid identity. What race is Tiger Woods?

Racial differentiation ranges along a continuum. There’s no such thing as racial purity.

12. Modern white supremacy is the flipside of the hip-hop culture. Both subcultures represent reactionary and degenerate expressions of self-identity, grounded in a particular form of social-identity.

At one level, white pride is the logical counterpose to white guilt. But it’s only logical if you accept the premise of racial identity as a fundamental feature of self-identity.

And there’s something ironic about an obsession with racial self-consciousness. If you have to spend a lot of time second-guessing whether you’re white enough or black enough or whatever, then you’re playing a role rather than doing what comes naturally to you. Whether it’s a hip-hop “artist” or a contemporary Confederate, what we see on display is a lot of playacting as a substitute for genuine self-identity. It merely exposes the emotional insecurity of the individual. An identity crisis. The felt need to have your self-identity conferred on your by the group.

But from a Christian standpoint, our self-identity ultimately comes from God, not society.

Bush, the rightwing, and the GOP

Victor Reppert acts as though a vote for a Republican candidate is a blanket endorsement of everything he does in office. Should we chalk this up to self-reinforcing ignorance? Did Reppert arrive at his view because his information about the rightwing is filtered through leftwing sources? Or is it just a bit of demagoguery on his part? Certainly he has a habit of resorting to deliberate sophistries when dealing with his political opponents.

Whatever his reasons, anyone who gets his information about the rightwing from the rightwing would be aware of the fact that the rightwing never took the position that the Bush administration can do no wrong.

To take a few examples, conservatives were always critical of Bush’s deficit spending. Critical of McCain-Feingold, which he signed into law. Many so-called neocons called for Rumsfeld’s resignation when they felt he was felt he was bungling the conduct of the war. Conservatives shot down the nomination of Harriet Miers because they felt she was a lightweight. And they shot down his “comprehensive immigration reform" plan.

These are just a few examples. Conservatives have never rubberstamped the Bush administration the way Democrats used to rubberstamp the Clinton administration.

When we vote for a candidate, we don’t issue him a blank check. Our vote expresses provisional support for some of his policies—in contrast to the policies of his opponent.

Is Loftus a serious thinker?

YOU write a book like I have done, okay? YOU find important people on both sides of this so-called battle to recommend your book in the same manner they recommend mine, okay? You be as helpful to your side in this so-called battle as I am being on the other side, okay?

After LCS I attended Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (TEDS), and graduated in 1985 with a Th.M degree, under the mentoring of Dr. William Lane Craig, considered by many to be the foremost defender of the empty tomb of Jesus and his bodily resurrection from the grave.

Craig goes on to say that if you look at these testimonies closely we didn't leave for intellectual reasons. Instead we left for emotional reasons "having to do with a negative experience" of some sort. To "make it look credible" he says, "they [we] will emphasize the intellectual aspects of it."

In this context Justin mentions my name and Dr. Craig said "exactly," as if I am a typical case of what he just talked about. Craig says: "The merit of John Loftus's testimony is that he's candid about his adultery and pornography and the way he felt burned and abandoned by the local church when he fell into sin; that it was really these things which prompted him to leave the faith, not the intellectual problems."

William Lane Craig is an important person. Indeed, Loftus even claims him as a mentor. Loftus has been riding on Craig’s coattails for years. Evidently, Craig doesn’t regard Loftus as a serious thinker.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hector Avalos on the sawdust trail

That is Avalos’s take on the book of Jonah: “distorted,” “aggravating,” “annoying,” “ugly.” Ironic, I think. The book of Jonah is delightful precisely because it is permeated by a self-deprecating humor that is altogether lacking in Avalos.

If I look into the eyes of the woman I love, what do I see? I see a reflection of the gaze of love I direct towards her. Avalos looks into the eyes of the book of Jonah, and what does he see? A reflection of the spite he directs towards it. Avalos has eyes that kill.

With rare exceptions, Avalos dismisses other biblical scholars because they are, in his words, imbued with “apologetic intent.” They traffic in “meaningless or circular rationales.” Avalos is particularly incensed that Psalm 137, which he formats as prose and quotes in its entirety, has not led to an expression of revulsion among his colleagues. “None . . . use the psalm to repudiate it, eject it from the canon, or as an argument to reject the whole Bible for endorsing violence in any portion.”

Avalos takes himself very seriously. He is a man on a mission. Behind the carefully constructed scholarly apparatus, one can still discern the child evangelist he once was.[1]

Avalos does not think highly of his fellow biblical scholars. In his “Introduction,” he says that what they have to say is “either bland, ambiguous, or outright fatuous. Since 1982, I have encountered only about a dozen truly memorable papers.” I’m not making this up. That’s what he says.

Shiver me timbers, I am a world-class Pollyanna if what Avalos says is on the mark. I can think of literally hundreds of papers I have read since 1982 that I thought advanced our understanding of the Bible in significant ways.

There is an anti-intellectual foundation to the approach that Avalos takes which is simply arresting.

I will say this: the text Avalos chooses to engage at a high point in his sermon, Psalm 137, is well-chosen. This is one of my favorite passages in the whole Bible. My feeling is that if one can embrace this text rather than be repelled by it, then one has come close to understanding the human predicament.

According to Avalos, Psalm 137 is vicious. You don’t say. In my view, the fact that this prayer is found in the Bible is a remarkable testimony to that body of literature’s ability to hit the reader with truth as hard as Tarantino does in Pulp Fiction or Kill Bill.

The Bible has an uncensored quality about it that continues to offend the pious (including the secular humanist variety). I will post on this in more detail at a later date.

In my view, the humorless, missionary style of The End of Biblical Studies dooms it to irrelevance except among those on the opposite end of the ideological spectrum who suffer from the same illusions of self-importance that afflict its author.

Rarely do we find a book so harshly critical of our field, our livelihood, and I dare say our collective intellectual integrity. Written by one of our own, the book may be seen by some as a professional betrayal of an angry scholar.

Furthermore, rarely do we find a book in Biblical Studies with as blatantly an atheistic orientation as Hector’s. The book could be read as a guide to losing one’s faith while studying the Bible—probably one of its goals.

Given its stated purpose, there is a fundamental problem with the book’s implied audience. Is Hector addressing scholars and their institutional/media publishing support base, the very people he most needs to convince to end, that is, to change Biblical Studies? If so, the book belabors points about the Bible that are common knowledge among this crowd. For example, are scholars really unaware that translations contain theological biases, especially ones related to relevancy? It is right, I think, to call attention to the issue of intellectual honesty, the need to eschew theological bias, and the problem of paternalism in translations, but this chapter is not writing to encourage self- awareness in scholars. Ending with the words “(m)istranslation is . . . often the goal of all biblical translations” (58),3 the chapter incites a near paranoid-level of distrust not only of biblical translations but of biblical scholars. I think this is misrepresentation and some might suggest border-line collective libel. Also, Hector takes several pages in most chapters to rehearse basics about each sub-discipline—do we need a lesson in textual criticism?—and frequently peppers the text with statements that are superfluous to scholarly readers, even to the point of annoyance. For example, do scholars need to be informed that Michael Coogan is “a (widely) respected biblical scholar” (17, 258) and Frank Moore Cross “is one of the most prominent biblical scholars alive” (228). Clearly, biblical scholars are not the primary implied audience in the text, even though, as our meeting at the colloquium and a number of biblio-blogs indicate, the book is most obviously relevant to scholars in the field. Given its stated goal, the book should have been written directly to scholars and published by a scholarly press. The fact that it wasn’t is one of the book’s great mistakes.

Is Hector addressing the interested lay person, then? Given the fact that he has published the book with Prometheus Books, a strongly atheistic publishing house, one can hardly believe he is writing for a religionist audience, a group of people, according to him, that most need convincing of the Bible’s irrelevancy.4 Even if the book does provide persuasive reasons for abandoning biblically-based faith, how many people holding such faith will buy it for themselves? And how many of those who somehow come into possession of the book will get beyond the brash Introduction before setting it aside?

What about secular lay readers? Might they be the book’s implied audience? This is probably the best bet, but is there really much of a market for this book among interested lay readers who have no biblically-based faith but sufficient interest in Biblical Studies as a field to care about its future direction? If Hector is writing the book to them, it seems that he is undermining his own goal of helping the field fade away into obscurity by preaching to the converted. Why bring up the Bible at all to such an audience? I suspect therefore that the book is actually aimed at a subset of secular readers, namely, apostate Christian atheists who would relish a thorough articulation of why the Bible and its scholarship are irrelevant nowadays. This explains not only the anti-Bible but also anti-religion stance throughout the book. The fact that atheistic blogs like are featuring interviews with Hector speaks reams.

I don’t have a problem with biblical scholars writing books for atheists. But, for a book that wants to reform our profession, one wonders why he has chosen to write to such a niche audience and not more directly to us, his colleagues, those of us standing accused.5

The take-no-prisoners tone of this book and its impoverished view of the role of scholarship in society, though implied only, make it very difficult to read the book as a serious attempt to change Biblical Studies as a field. It certainly does not reach out to biblical scholars to change their ways.

I think the ubiquitous use of the words “end” and “irrelevant” promotes an inflammatory style throughout the book,6 implies a utopian or naïve conception of scholarship generally that Hector cannot possibly really mean (it undermines his own book!), and, most importantly, hides what is at the heart of Hector’s project. Concerning the last of these, what Hector really wants to end is biblical authority’s hold over humanity, as the conclusion makes quite clear (342). Biblical Studies, which he thinks currently aides and abets biblical authority, must change as a field in order to accomplish that goal.7 So why talk about the end of Biblical Studies at all? Why not call the book The Brave New Future of Biblical Studies instead? Furthermore, why advocate such an extreme idealistic position, or rather, imposition, when rejection is assured by nearly all biblical scholars with a religious commitment—who are fully within their religious freedom to study the good book? It’s simply inflammatory.

Hector writes about the illegitimacy of psychoanalyzing ancient scribes for text critical purposes (92), and he decries the poor state of a field that “cannot settle arguments by much beyond psychoanalysis of opponents” (127), and then goes on to tell us on the same page that the self-avowed atheist Bill Dever constructs his idea of ancient Israel “on the basis of his own social history,” which seems to be an implicit assertion that Dever’s Christian past continues to affect his archaeological work. Now who’s psychoanalyzing?

Purity & politics

One of the many incongruities about Victor Reppert’s position is that he’s been assailing Sarah Palin’s character. He’s implicitly cast this election as a choice between corrupt Republicans and upstanding Democrats. And he’s implicitly suggesting that we should make that moral criterion a political criterion.

But he’s set up a false dichotomy. It’s not as though Obama is a moral purist, by any stretch. For years now, Obama has found it politically expedient to cultivate the most corrupt members of the Chicago machine. And when, in running for the presidency, that became a political liability, he found it politically expedient to distance himself from his old cronies. For his part, Biden has a reputation as a plagiarist.

So how is Reppert’s moral criterion an argument for the Obama/Biden ticket? If that’s an argument against the McCain/Palin ticket, then, by parity of reasoning, it’s also and equally an argument against an Obama/Biden ticket.

For someone who pretends to be a political moralistic, Reppert’s ethical elasticity is startling.

The Red Philosopher


So we are going for a one-issue vote here?

i) You’re the one who decided to focus on abortion, not me. I’m responding to an issue you chose to single out. Try to keep track of your own argument.

ii) In addition, the “single-issue voter” objection is a ruse. Politicians are not that compartmentalized. Is not as if a politician is liberal on abortion, but conservative on everything else. Obama is a case in point.

If I were a "goose-stepping apparatchik for the liberal establishment" I would not criticize my own party for its "doctrinaire" response to the abortion issue.

Your criticism is duplicitous in light of the fact that you’re trying to downplay Obama’s stance on abortion to make him a morally acceptable candidate.

I am not going to say that people who support the war in Iraq, who have no problem with "enhanced interrogation techniques," who think that trickle down really trickles, etc., are not Christians.

i) You have never offered anything resembling a serious, sustained defense of your opposition to “enhanced interrogation techniques.” You simply react and emote.

Therefore, you don’t have the right to use that as an argument, since you’re too lazy to actually turn your knee-jerk opposition into a respectable argument.

Ditto: your opposition to the Iraq war.

ii) I, by contrast, have argued for my position on interrogation in detail. I've also discussed the pros and cons of the Iraq war. It isn't all of a piece.

iii) You also naively act as if voting for a candidate is an endorsement of his position on everything. That’s not how it works in a real world situation. Not all issues are equally important. Not all issues are all-important.

iv) BTW, it’s possible to be a conservative economist like Ben Stein and oppose supply-side economics.

Perhaps you think that the kind of secrecy, the _refusal to be held accountable for one's actions, the use of "executive privilege" to avoid even showing up when subpoeaned by Congress is OK.

i) Other issues aside, I notice that you have a very one-sided standard. You’re only concerned with Executive secrecy, Executive privilege, Executive accountability.

What about Congressional secrecy or Congressional accountability?

ii) You’re also being very vague. What are you alluding to, exactly? The fact that Alberto Gonzales fired some US attorneys?

a) First of all, if you ever bothered to get your information about conservatives from conservatives, instead of getting your (mis-)information from hostile thirdhand sources like the Daily Kos, you’d realize that conservatives never cared for Gonzales. He was never a standard-bearer for the conservative cause. Indeed, conservatives were worried that Bush might nominate him to SCOTUS. They were glad to see him go.

b) Second, unless it was a crime for Gonzales to fire the US attorneys, Congress has no more right to subpoena White House aids than the Justice Dept. has a right to subpoena Congressional aids if the White House happens to disapprove of Congressional policies.

Perhaps you think that it's OK to tell lies about one's history in order to get elected, if you are on the right side of the abortion issue.

i) I’m assume you're alluding to the charge that Palin lied about her opposition to the Bridge to Nowhere. To begin with, if you’re going to charge her with dishonesty, then you yourself need to be honest about the way you frame the charge.

From what I’ve read, she changed her mind. She supported the Bridge before she turned against it.

Is your claim that she lied because she oversimplified her record and exaggerated her opposition to the Bridge?

If so, then you’re a liar when you oversimplify her record and exaggerate her support for the bridge.

ii) In addition, you also act as though her record as a reformer is limited to this one project. When you do so, Victor, you misrepresent the extent of her record as a reformer. If we measure you by your own yardstick, does that make you a liar?

Your moral indignation would be more convincing if you gave some evidence of moral consistency on your own part.

iii) More to the point, you have a very naïve view of what a vote represents. I don’t vote for a candidate because the candidate is my role model in life. I vote for a candidate based on his/her policies.

If I had a five-year-old son with cancer, I’d take him to a physician who’s the best oncologist, not a physician who’s the best person.

The best oncologist might happen to be a womanizer, while a less competent oncologist might be a wonderful family man. Which one should I choose to medicate my son? The physician who's a better role model, or the physician who's a better oncologist?

If I recall correctly, Art Holmes, the longtime chairman of the philosophy department at Wheaton College, took a pro-choice position on abortion. As does Bill Hasker, who defended his position in a print debate in Human Life Review back in the 197os.

Before Roe v. Wade came down the pike, many evangelicals took a more liberal view of abortion. Your illustration simply reflects the generation gap.

Politically, I don't think a judicio-political solution to the abortion issue is feasible. Even with the overturning of Roe, I don't think there will be any states who pass anti-abortion statutes

Over the years, a number of states have tried to place various restrictions on abortion. State laws attempting to do that have been struck down by SCOTUS. So, yes, it would make a difference.

So I'm certainly not going to one-issue-vote on something that can be affected by the President in only the most indirect of ways.

You have a demagogical habit of stereotyping your opponents. Do you seriously think my opposition to Obama is limited to his view of abortion?

It’s not as if I think Obama is right about everything else. No, Obama is consistently wrong.

Truth Unites says that those Christians who support Obama are not good Christians on the abortion issue.

I agree.

I don't think Christians who support the Bush administration on waterboarding are good Christians on the waterboarding issue.

You’re right, Victor. You’ve never exhibited the slightest capacity to actually think through that issue. You simply react and emote.

Take a hint: you don’t get to use this as a reason unless and until you make a reasoned case for your position.

One more question. How can you be so strongly pro-life on abortion and also defend killing "babes in arms" as enjoined by I Samuel 15? Oh, wait, there's was a divine command there. I forgot.

Why do you think a divine command one way or the other is morally irrelevant?

Yes, there was a divine command in 1 Sam 15.

On the other hand, abortion is a capital offense (Exod 21:22-25). For an exposition and analysis of the Biblical data, cf.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

"The Man Comes Around"

I’ve already noted some religious themes in the Sarah Connor Chronicles. I’ll now touch on a couple of others.

In the 1st season finale, the soundtrack uses Johnny Cash’s “The Man Comes Around” in one climatic scene. That’s an explicitly Christian ballad, interwoven with eschatological imagery.

And this ballad is, in part, a creative adaptation of an old Negro spiritual, “There's a Man Goin' Round Takin' Names.” Jesse Norman made a classic recording.

In the premier episode of the 2nd season, Cameron is in church, gazing at a crucifix. She asks Sarah if Sarah believes in the Resurrection.

The paradox of this exchange lies in the fact that the cyborg is a seeker while the human is a sceptic.

One might ask why a network drama would evoke so many religious themes: indeed, so many distinctively Christian themes. As a rule, Hollywood is not exactly sympathetic to the Christian faith.

It could be a cynical ploy to attract Christian viewers. On the other hand, Hollywood has a habit of snubbing Christian viewers even when that’s bad business.

Perhaps a better explanation is that Biblical themes and narratives have a dramatic resonance that secular themes and narratives cannot match. Indeed, Hollywood, try as it might, can never go back to pre-Christian innocence. It can try to be post-Christian and anti-Christian, but that’s a reactionary pose, and not an independent identity which can stand on its own two feature. 2000 years of church history has left an indelible mark, no matter how often the modern unbeliever tries to efface its legacy. And, of course, it’s not just a think of the past.

Finally, there are some Christian artists attempting to break into the Hollywood subculture. Perhaps this is a sign that they are beginning to make some inroads.

The Mother of Pearly-Gates

Ralph MacLean didn’t know quite what to make of it when he woke up in a strange bedroom. Mind you, that wasn’t an entirely novel experience for him. Back when he was a youthful womanizer, he often woke up in strange bedrooms. But unless he’d had one too many martinis the night before, he usually remembered how he got there, even if he didn’t remember the name of his latest conquest.

He got out of bed, walked over to the window, and drew the drapes. He was greeted by a sweeping view of the ocean. He couldn’t quite tell which ocean, although it looked vaguely familiar.

Turning around, he could now view the bedroom in the full morning light. It was palatial, both in size and decor. Once again, it looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn’t quite place it.

As he walked around the bedroom, examining the antique bric-a-brac, he became aware of something else. He felt wonderful. He hadn’t felt this good since he was 20.

That’s something he didn’t notice right away because…well…because you tend notice what’s wrong with you, not what’s right with you. Back when you have it, you take good health for granted. As an old man with the usual aches and pains of old age, he’d forgotten what it was like to feel young again.

Ralph headed for the bathroom, which was every bit as palatial as the bedroom. You’d need a roadmap just to find the bidet.

When he saw himself in the mirror, he was taken aback. He didn’t just feel like 20 again, he was 20 again. At least, his reflection looked like he was about 20 years old, give or take a year or two.

But how was this possible? Maybe he was having a dream—a lucid dream. If so, it was a very nice dream. He should make the most of it before he woke up for real.

He went to the walk-in closet to see if he could find anything to wear. In fact, all the clothing fit him to perfection, as if it was tailored just for him. Tailored for him back when he had the waistline of a 20 year old.

He dressed and headed downstairs. Well, you had to find the staircase before you could go downstairs. The house was enormous. And everything he saw was vaguely familiar.

He finally made it to the first floor and walked outside. Looking over the grounds, he suddenly knew where he was: San Simeon.

Back when he was a kid, his dad had taken Ralph to see the sprawling, baronial estate of the late William Randolph Hearst. And that was a turning point in his young life. From that moment on, he knew that he wanted to own San Simeon when he grew up. That became his ambition in life. That’s why he went to Harvard Law School. Became a corporate lawyer. Landed a job at a top law firm.

His specialty was bankruptcy law. How to cheat shareholders out of their life savings.

Ralph sometimes felt a twinge of conscience at all the widows he turned into bag ladies. But in a godless world, the law of the jungle prevailed: eat or be eaten!

Even though he had a very lucrative career, he never had the amount of wampum you need to buy a place like Sam Simeon. So he was always a bit disappointed. He lived well, but alimony payments to five different wives took a toll on the portfolio.

He went back inside and switched on the TV. He found a news broadcast. But it was broadcasting yesterday’s news. Other stations had reruns of various TV shows.

Feeling hungry, he hunted around for the kitchen, and stumbled across the dining room, which was about the size of a Rhode Island. The table was already set with a buffet of gourmet food and drink.

Ralph was used to gourmet food, but this was exceptional. Never had he eaten so well.

He then decided to do a little tour of the estate. He found his way to the garage, which was full of classic cars. He drove around the estate for a few hours, visiting the gardens.

Everything was gorgeous, but deserted. Even the private zoo was deserted. No people or animals in sight. No boats on the ocean. No airplanes overhead.

He went back inside the house and tried to place a few phone calls, but the phone lines were dead.

He became suspicious. This was awfully long for a dream. True, dreamtime was different from real time. You know, when you wake up in the middle of the night, glance at the clock, go back to sleep, have a dream that seems to go on for hours, then wake up again 20 minutes later.

Still, he’d never had a dream like this. Not even a lucid dream like this.

Maybe it was a trick. Maybe one of his ex-wives was trying to extract some strange sort of revenge on him. Was this virtual reality? Was his sedated body strapped to table somewhere in the real world, with virtual stimuli feeding into his brain? But how could he tell? And it would be a strange sort of revenge. Why the best of everything?

Anyway, he was hungry and thirsty after his outing, so he went back to the dining room to grab a few leftovers. But this time the table was set for lunch. A brand-new buffet, just as scrumptious as the breakfast fare. If this was an illusion, it was a very tasty illusion!

He then conducted a room-by-room search of the main house, but never found a soul. Not even in the servant’s quarters.

On second thought, why not just enjoy the mystery for as long as it lasted? Wasn’t this what he always wanted? He could figure it out later.

And so he made the most of his time there. Slept in a different bedroom for 56 days. Swam in the Neptune pool as well as the indoor pool.

At first it was a dream come true. Heavenly! Maybe he had died in his sleep and gone to heaven? His cardiologist always said that Ralph would probably die of a heart attack. An old man with a heart condition. It was just a matter of time.

Not that Ralph believed in heaven. He used to believe in heaven, as boy, growing up in the local Baptist church. Mind you, the preacher did far more sermonizing on hell. Lurid descriptions of hell. Hell was enough to scare the hell out of any young boy.

As a result, Ralph had been saved more times than he could count. He’d go to the altar, get saved, fall off the wagon during the week, go back on Sunday, get saved again.

It led to a daredevil life as an adolescent. How much sin could you pack into one week, and wipe the slate clean on Sunday? Nothing like zero-sum spirituality!

Of course, that was a gamble. What if you died in a car accident Saturday night?

Indeed, his best friend lost that bet in a drag race. After that, Ralph began to question hell. He couldn’t bring himself to believe that his best friend was roasting in hell. He couldn’t believe that God would torture the damned for all eternity.

At first he switched to annihilationism. His best friend wasn’t suffering. He best friend had been extinguished like a match. Snuffed out like a candle.

But, after a while, he began to question that belief as well. Zapping a man out of existence didn’t seen like a very nice thing for God to do. Wasn’t that the sort of thing Zeus used to do? Strike people dead with a bolt of lightning? Would a loving God make someone go up in a puff of smoke?

So he became a universalist. Surely God was going save everyone. But, after a while, that struck him as wishful thinking. This didn’t look like the sort of world that God would make if God were a universalist. If Ralph was a universalistic deity, is this the sort of world that he would make? Was all this pain and suffering really needed to get everyone into heaven?

So Ralph decided there was no God. Heaven was too good to be true, while hell was too bad to be true.

But now, here he was. He had San Simeon at long last. And that was his idea of heaven on earth.

Indeed, he had San Simeon all to himself. And that was the problem. It was fun at first, but it wasn’t much fun watching a film all by yourself in the private movie theater. (And it didn’t help matters that the film projector only played Citizen Kane.) To eat dinner by yourself at the end of a table as long as a runway. To play solo tennis.

After a while he moved out of Casa Grande and into one of the guesthouses. But even a 6000 square foot guesthouse like the Casa del Mar wasn’t what you’d call cozy or intimate.

The loneliness became crushing. The loneliness and the monotony. Every day was a sunny day. Every night was a moonlit night. Every meal was a feast. The gardens were miraculously trim and well-watered day after day.

The TV played the same reruns. Played the same newscast from the day before he passed away in his sleep. Assuming that he had died. Was he dead or alive? Who could tell?

One time he decided to stake out the dining room to see what happened. Would servants emerge from hidden doors? To his amazement, the food magically materialized out of thin air.

At the outset, he was delighted to have his libido restored. In his youth, that was the center of his existence. But in his old age, all the Viagra in the world couldn’t make him feel like 20 again. He sorely lamented the inexorable loss of his youthful virility.

And now? It was very frustrating to have the mojo of a 20 year old without a woman anywhere on the premises. At one time he was very finicky about the women he slept with. They had to look like fashion models. Indeed, many of them were fashion models. Indeed, he’d married several of them. But now, any woman would do.
And what was the point of owning such an immensely impressive piece of real estate when there was nobody to impress?

Ralph sank into despair. At first he tried to escape. San Simeon had a private airfield. But while all the classic cars were working in mint condition, he couldn’t get the airplanes to start.

Although there were many roads on the estate, there was no road leading out of the estate. When he tried to hoof it out of the estate, he was repulsed by some invisible force field.

Finally, he tried to kill himself. He began with a hunger strike. But while the hunger strike made him hungry, he didn’t drop a single pound.

So he switched to a more direct approach. Several rooms had antique revolvers in vintage condition. He inserted one in his mouth and pulled the trigger. For a split second he felt excruciating pain, then blacked out.

When he came too, there was a bloodstain on the carpet, and his hair was matted with dry blood. But as he felt around, there was no hole in his head. He didn’t even feel a headache.

Evidently, he’d been cursed in immortality. Where in the hell was he, anyway?