Saturday, May 05, 2012

The Walking Dead

This is a deliberately meandering post, but it has a common thread.

Roger Ebert recently updated his list of the greatest films of all time:

What’s striking, but not surprising, about his list is that most of the films on the list don’t seem to be very entertaining. Rather, these are generally “serious” films. Artistic films.

If he were asked to compile a list of his favorite films, rather than the greatest films, I suspect the list would be quite different. And that raises a question: should great art be dull and difficult? Is it wrong to judge a film by how enjoyable it is to watch?

If he was stranded on a desert island, would he rather have Apocalypse Now or That Man From Rio in his satchel?

Mind you, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with art that’s intellectually stimulating. That stretches us.

But at the end of the day, this is fiction. These aren’t real people. And even when it’s based on a “true story” (e.g. historical novel), these aren’t people who are a part of your life or mine.

Now, in fairness to art, one function of art is to vicariously broaden our experience. My life is just a sliver, a random sampling of human existence. Plays, movies, novels, and TV dramas give us a chance to imaginatively live many lives within a single lifetime. And that extends to things that don’t even happen in real life–like time-travel, or magical worlds, or your counterpart in an alternate universe.

And I think that’s a legitimate expression of the human imagination. But it’s still fictitious. So that limits how seriously we should take it.

Again, one theoretical justification is that fiction, even though it’s not real life, is about real life. Life-like. And so we can analogize to our own experience.

And I think that’s valid, too. But a vicarious experience is still vicarious. So that still limits how seriously we should take it.

Speaking for myself, my TV and movie viewing is basically recreational. A way to unwind after a long day. When I’m too tired to do anything more important, but not tired enough to go to bed. A way to slow the mind down.

For instance, I’ve seen a few episodes of The Killing (an AMC crime drama). But it’s not something I view regularly, and that’s because it’s just not very entertaining. What it does, it does well, but it’s like a rainy day that never ends.

Now that might strike some people as frivolous criticism. It’s not the sort of drama I’m supposed to enjoy.

But it’s not like I have a duty to watch it. I really don’t care if a fictitious character is murdered. I really don’t care if her fictitious murderer is apprehended. And why should I spend my time watching depressed imaginary characters in depressing imaginary situations? Is this remedial punishment for the viewer? Is it supposed to be virtuous to put yourself through all that?

Which is a build-up to The Walking Dead. Here’s a tribute to The Walking Dead:

Honestly, I find this a bit pretentious. Like an elaborate effort to justify a guilty pleasure. I don’t think it’s wrong to view The Walking Dead. I just don’t think that requires you to make it more important than it really is.

The zombie genre ranges along a continuum. Some are cheap spatter films. Some are black comedies. And some are serious explorations of the human condition.

The zombie genre also fudges on some practical issues. Do zombies eat their victims alive, or do they turn their victims into zombies? It can’t be both. Likewise, wouldn’t zombies starve to death after a few months?

I’ve seen some episodes of The Walking Dead, but I’m not a regular viewer. For one thing, it’s no pleasure to watch. Again, someone might object that that misses the point, but for me, that is the point. It’s not that significant.

In addition, you don’t have to view many episodes to get the moral of the story. So it’s fairly repetitious. Variations on a common theme.

But from a Christian standpoint, The Walking Dead raises some hypotheticals that are useful to reflect on.

i) Do you, or should you, keep on living when you have nothing left to live for? Does the survival instinct prevail, or does loss of hope result in losing the will to live?

What would happen if you suddenly lost everyone who made life worthwhile? What would happen if your future was utterly bleak?

Losing the will to live doesn’t mean you die. Short of suicide, the body may keep you alive for years, even if you’re just going through the motions.

ii) Speaking of suicide, that’s an issue in zombie drama. If it’s just a matter of time before the zombies get you, is it preferable to take your own life? It’s one narrow escape after another. Sooner or later your luck will run out.

iii) It’s also a study in how people cope, and disintegrate, under constant fear. You’re never safe. You can never let your guard down. The danger is unrelenting. You never again enjoy a good night’s sleep. You’re wakeful. You have nightmares.

Of course, human beings can’t maintain a state of heightened alertness. It wears you down.

iv) In addition, it’s a study in how the survivors get along. Total strangers are thrown together. Do they bond, or do they turn on each other from the unbearable strain?

This is fictitious, but there are real-world counterparts, like POW camps.

v) Finally, a zombie drama can also model those pragmatic dilemmas that ethicists like to toy with. Do you risk the few for the many, or do you risk the many for the few?

“Co-Dependence” and Roman Catholic Buyer’s Remorse

The topic of Evangelicals converting to Rome has come up in recent days. I want to remind everyone that, even though some Evangelicals seem to want to be moving in that direction, it’s not the end of the story.

There is a kind of “buyer’s remorse” among Roman Catholic converts. I know this because I have experienced it. (Remember, I was a “Catholic convert” back in the early 1980’s).

The Roman Catholic Convert Andrew Preslar recently compared his Roman Catholicism to “a marriage, in which romance does not reduce to sentimentalism, nor prescind from difficulty and pain, but rather flows from the realities of a life shared together, come what may”. He was (characteristically) not entirely forthcoming about all that’s entailed in that “marriage”.

One might infer from his comment that this “wife”, Roman Catholicism, has grown fat and ugly and now has warts. But I would suggest something else is going on, and it goes deeper than that. Roman Catholicism is actually dysfunctional in a major way, so that one may further infer that one has married a less than totally honest woman, and one must, after the manner of a person who’s married to an addict, become “co-dependent”, and actually learn to make excuses for the errant/addict spouse.

From a Catholic point of view, we never assume as part of our theological methodology that a prima facie contradiction within the Tradition is an actual contradiction. Out of humility toward the Tradition, we instead assume as a working hypothesis that the appearance of a contradiction is due to our own ignorance or misunderstanding. So from a Catholic point of view, if we have at hand an explanation that integrates the apparently conflicting pieces of evidence, we already have a good reason to accept it rather than conclude that there is an actual contradiction…

What provides this good reason is faith, faith which denies ecclesial deism, and affirms the authority, unity, and continuity of the Tradition according to our belief in the guidance of the Holy Spirit dwelling faithfully within the Church until Christ returns. Within a Protestant perspective in which ecclesial deism and the discontinuity of the Tradition are presupposed, that good reason is not available. So, this denial on your part, …, presupposes a Protestant paradigm.

Brian’s “faith” is actually a form of co-dependence. The battered spouse says “it’s really my fault, I was asking for it”. The spouse of the alcoholic tries to hide the alcoholism, and makes excuses for it.

In the first place, “ecclesial deism” is a term and concept that Bryan made up, so it has no roots in “the Tradition”. Regarding this, someone noted (in another thread) that, making the charge of “ecclesial deism among Calvinists is laughable”.

But further to this, note Bryan’s statement, “Out of humility toward the Tradition, we instead assume as a working hypothesis that the appearance of a contradiction is due to our own ignorance or misunderstanding”.

So “Catholic theological method” understands that there “appearances of contradiction” within Catholic doctrine. And the presupposition is that it is not an “actual contradiction”. I’ve written about this under the heading “The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic”. Perhaps that’s too kind.

Turretinfan immediately commented, “No wonder you can never see the actual contradictions! Your methodology precludes it. Even after every rational attempt to harmonize them is addressed, it will still only be proven that it is a prima facie contradiction”

It may sound and even feel pious to describe this as humility to “the Tradition,” but this humility isn’t justified. Your own church does not teach that “the Tradition” is free from contradictions. Indeed, councils that your church deems ecumenical have condemned some of the writings of prior bishops, including even at least one bishop of Rome.

So, your working hypothesis should be that appearance and reality correspond, not that they are at odds for an as-yet-undetermined reason.

In fact, “the Tradition” is littered with innumerable “contradictions”, many of which are insuperable. During this thread, a less charitable explanation would have held that Bryan was trying to lie his way out of one of these contradictions. Instead, he ‘fessed up with this “apology”:

My mistake. I was going from memory. It was St. Hilary (along with some other Church Fathers) who was discussed during the Sixth Session.

The discussion was about 1 Clement. I’m sure lots of folks as smart as Bryan get Clement and Hilary confused. Turretinfan has continued to challenge Bryan on the particular point in question, for anyone who is interested.

* * *

A writer back on the old NTRMin discussion board, who had studied in a Roman Catholic seminary, and who subsequently left the RCC, called this phenomenon, “Dogma appreciation 101”.

Whether you call it “The Roman Catholic Hermeneutic”, “Dogma appreciation 101”, or simple co-dependence, it’s important to keep this phenomenon in mind as people convert to Roman Catholicism. I found it, and eventually left. “Dogma Appreciation 101” drove our NTRMin commenter out of Rome. Gerry Matatics left for the Trads. Rod Dreher left for Orthdoxy. Some people just feel they have an obligation to allow their brains to function.

Rome may not demand the kind of wishful thinking that Bryan is espousing here, but it does demand obedience, and if Bryan wants to rationalize things this way, maybe he’s doing it because it’s the only way he can find to be “obedient”. I’m not convinced he is entirely comfortable now in his own skin as a Roman Catholic. Sure, the scholastics had centuries to try and rationalize things, but Bryan is just too smart, and 21st century America just knows too much, to allow Roman Catholicism to stand “as is”. Bryan probably meant well, in becoming Roman Catholic, but you just can’t help running aground.

That’s what I ran into. I spent some time affiliated with Opus Dei. Yes, I was a devout Catholic. Not necessarily a theologian, but a devout Catholic nevertheless. One thing that I found was, the higher up and closer in you get, the more obedience is demanded, and the more contradictions there were. I made the decision to use the brain that God gave me, to search the Scriptures, and to try to understand what the contradictions were all about. Bryan has evidently made the decision to take the blue pill.

Without getting too bold with my predictions, it doesn’t seem to me as if Bryan can continue on the path that he is on. He is intelligent enough to find out what Roman Catholicism is really about, but his “method” is genuinely wishful thinking, and he is also intelligent enough to know the things that you gentlemen are saying here. Up next for Bryan, if he is not already there, will be a “dark night of the soul”. And that will be, if he doesn’t break first. That’s always a possibility. I know he may not seem like it at times, but he’s only human.

Friday, May 04, 2012

The great escape

19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19).

According to a popular interpretation, Jesus dematerialized, passed through the locked doors, then rematerialized on the other side. A fundamental problem with this interpretation is that it threatens the physicality of the Resurrection, which John is at pains to accentuate.

Here are some scriptural examples of how embodied people miraculously get past physical barriers:

21 Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided. 22 And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left (Exod 14:21-22).
13 And when the soles of the feet of the priests bearing the ark of the Lord, the Lord of all the earth, shall rest in the waters of the Jordan, the waters of the Jordan shall be cut off from flowing, and the waters coming down from above shall stand in one heap.”
14 So when the people set out from their tents to pass over the Jordan with the priests bearing the ark of the covenant before the people, 15 and as soon as those bearing the ark had come as far as the Jordan, and the feet of the priests bearing the ark were dipped in the brink of the water (now the Jordan overflows all its banks throughout the time of harvest), 16 the waters coming down from above stood and rose up in a heap very far away, at Adam, the city that is beside Zarethan, and those flowing down toward the Sea of the Arabah, the Salt Sea, were completely cut off. And the people passed over opposite Jericho. 17 Now the priests bearing the ark of the covenant of the Lord stood firmly on dry ground in the midst of the Jordan, and all Israel was passing over on dry ground until all the nation finished passing over the Jordan (Josh 3:13-17).
 8 Then Elijah took his cloak and rolled it up and struck the water, and the water was parted to the one side and to the other, till the two of them could go over on dry ground (2 Kgs 2:8).
18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” 21 And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach.
Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council, all the senate of the people of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside" (Acts 5:18-23).
 4 And when he had seized him, he put him in prison, delivering him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. 5 So Peter was kept in prison, but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church.
6 Now when Herod was about to bring him out, on that very night, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison. 7 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood next to him, and a light shone in the cell. He struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his hands. 8 And the angel said to him, “Dress yourself and put on your sandals.” And he did so. And he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 And he went out and followed him. He did not know that what was being done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. 10 When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went out and went along one street, and immediately the angel left him (Acts 12:4-10).
26 and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone's bonds were unfastened (Acts 16:26).

In not a single case does this involve a body dematerializing then rematerializing. 

The WRF Statement of Faith

After two days in the tomb, Jesus of Nazareth rose again from the dead with a transformed but still recognizable human nature.  His resurrection body was capable of transcending natural physical laws but still retained its own physical properties.  In his ascension, that body was further transformed into the heavenly state which it still possesses and has been taken up into God.  Human beings will be resurrected, not as Jesus was on the first Easter morning, but as he is now, in his ascended state. 

Several issues:

i) I’m unclear on what motivated the transition from a transformed “nature” in the first sentence to his “body” in the next sentence. Are these being used synonymously, or is there an intended distinction? If the latter, in what sense is his “nature” transformed in contradistinction to his body? Was his soul transformed as well as his body?

ii) What’s the scriptural basis for claiming that his resurrection body was “further transformed” in the Ascension?

iii) In what sense is the body of Jesus taken up “into” God?

iv) I suppose the assertion about his body “transcending natural physical laws” alludes to a popular interpretation of Jn 20:19, according to which Christ (allegedly) passed through solid doors.

Of course, the text doesn’t actually say that. At most, that’s a possible inference.

v) For some reason, it doesn’t occur to framers of the WFT statement that Christ’s pre-Resurrection body already capable of transcending natural physical laws. Let’s quote two Johannine incidents back-to-back:

19  On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”
26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you” (Jn 20:19,26).
16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were frightened. 20  But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they were glad to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat was at the land to which they were going (Jn 6:16-21)?

At the risk of stating the obvious, walking on water also transcends natural physical laws. So why does the WFT statement attribute the incident in Jn 21 to a “transformed” body, but not the comparable incident in Jn 6? Indeed, the incident in Jn 6 is explicitly miraculous, unlike the incident in Jn 21.  Why assume his body had to be transformed by the Resurrection to appear in the Upper Room, but not to walk on water?  

And while we’re at it, here’s another Johannine incident:

6 After this Jesus went away to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, which is the Sea of Tiberias. 2 And a large crowd was following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing on the sick. 3 Jesus went up on the mountain, and there he sat down with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews, was at hand. 5  Lifting up his eyes, then, and seeing that a large crowd was coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these people may eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he would do. 7  Philip answered him, “Two hundred denarii worth of bread would not be enough for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish, but what are they for so many?” 10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” Now there was much grass in the place. So the men sat down, about five thousand in number. 11 Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”

While this isn’t a case of Jesus’ body transcending natural physical laws, it’s surely a case Jesus doing something that transcends natural physical laws. Is that essentially different from the Upper Room incident in Jn 21–even assuming the latter incident is miraculous?

Vow of poverty

9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
(Mk 7:9-12)
15  Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2  “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” 3 He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 5 But you say, ‘If anyone tells his father or his mother, “What you would have gained from me is given to God,” 6 he need not honor his father.’ So for the sake of your tradition you have made void the word of God. 7  You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said:
8  “‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their heart is far from me;
9 in vain do they worship me,
    teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
(Mt 15:1-9)

i) This is a classic prooftext against Catholic traditionalism. And I think that’s perfectly valid as far as it goes.

However, using it as a general argument against Catholic traditionalism, while legitimate, can blind us to the specific force of the passage.

ii) This is a classic case of an unlawful vow. According to Jesus, an implication of the 5th commandment is the duty of grown children to care for aging parents who can no longer care for themselves.

This also requires foresight. Planning for a rainy day. The vow is unlawful because the son no longer has enough in reserve to provide for his elderly parents in case they need his financial assistance at a future date. By taking the vow, he’s no longer in a position to discharge his filial duty.

iii) In several respects, this is clearly analogous to a monastic vow of poverty. A vow of poverty is a more drastic example of the same principle–a minore ad maius.

iv) Just as, in Jewish culture, vows were generally considered irrevocable, solemn monastic vows are perpetual. It takes a special dispensation (or laicization) to nullify the vow.

v) This is directed at a religious authority. And in that respect, it's also analogous to the vow of obedience. However, we don't have the right to sign away our duties to a second-party. 

vi) It can be undertaken for pious motives. The monk may genuinely believe that he is honoring God by taking the vow, when–in fact–this is impious rather than pious.

vii) Implicit in Christ’s condemnation is the principle that unlawful vows ought to be annulled–Jewish custom notwithstanding. There can never be a moral obligation to do something immoral.

viii) Now, I think the obligation is subject to certain caveats. If your parents are rich, then the issue is moot. Likewise, if you’re one of four able-bodied, gainfully employed brothers, then it’s permissible for one of you to take certain risks which would be impermissible if you might be your parents’ sole means of support.

For instance, if you’re one of four brothers, you could be a missionary in a dangerous theater of operation. If you die in the field, your parents have three other sons to fall back on–if need be.

There are also complications in a divorce culture. If your mother or father walks out on the family, and a stepmother or stepfather takes up the slack, your primary obligation is to those who raised you. Likewise, in a divorce culture, you must sometimes be more supportive of one parent than another.

Furthermore, as Jesus mentions elsewhere, if your parents disown you for being a Christian, then your religious duties trump your filial duties (10:37-30). There is, however, a fundamental difference between divinely-sanctioned religious obligations and man-made religious obligations. And that’s the point of Jesus’ indictment.

Now that Romney's the presumptive nominee [ugh!], what's next?

Anglican preacher barred from pulpit over opposition to gay marriage

Lectures on Tiber swimmers

Why “Gay Marriage” Is Wrong

The "counsels of perfection"


Your post suffers on account of its missing the concept of “counsels of perfection.”

I’ve already discussed the traditional prooftexts. Now I’d like to examine the issue from a different angle.

i) Historically, I expect that many men and women entered monasteries or convents to avoid starvation. At a time when famine was commonplace, this would be a way of feeding yourself.

ii) Peasants were already dirt poor. Taking a vow of poverty didn’t entail a personal sacrifice on their part. They had no riches to give away.

iii) By the same token, peasants were already at the bottom of the totem pole. Taking a vow of obedience didn’t require them to relinquish their freedom or authority, for they had nothing to relinquish in that regard.

iv) To my knowledge, convents were also a dumping ground for ineligible noblewomen. Or a form of punishment.

v) Regarding the vow of chastity, that has to be counterbalanced against the practice of concubinage and monastic sodomy.

vi) I don’t deny that some monks and nuns were genuinely pious. And some monks did take a pay cut (e.g. Aquinas, Francis of Assisi).

vii) For some monks, the vow of poverty was a pay raise. Some monasteries were notoriously wealthy. Isn’t that when Henry VIII plundered the monasteries? For the loot?

Of course, you can say a vow of poverty distinguishes between personal property and common property. But that can be a gimmick. Technically, the Bhagwan Rajneesh didn’t own 93 Rolls-Royces. Technically, they belonged to the commune.

viii) To my knowledge, the church of Rome wasn’t in the habit of lecturing Catholic monarchs on their harems. Indeed, that might be a bit compromising inasmuch as high-end callgirls serviced both laymen and clergymen, viz.:

During her teen years, [Ninon de] Lenclos began her career as one of Paris’s most celebrated courtesans.  During her many public affairs, she became the mistress of numerous prominent men.  Statesmen included the Grand Condé, Gaston de Cligny; Louis de Mornay, marquis de Villarceaux; and François, duc de la Rochefoucauld.  Clergy included the Abbé de Chateauneuf and Canon Gédoyn.  Cardinal Richelieu counted among one of her spurned petitioners.

Affirming Protestant Unity

Roman Catholics like to make the point that they are unified, whereas Protestants are not.

To some degree Protestantism exhibits a superficial lack of unity, given that it arose in a particular historical context. Protestants of the Reformation were unified in that they all knew they had to get out of Rome. But they headed in different directions. That’s not the kind of problem that some might think it is. Because most conservative Protestants in our day, now having separated themselves from the theological liberal influences within their midst, (unlike Rome, which has embraced its liberal wing only now to be seen to be changing its mind and cracking down on it) are unified around core doctrines that have always been the core doctrines of historical Christianity.

In the model showing the Churches of the Reformation, salvation is by Christ alone. Christ alone, and Him crucified, is the object of our faith. Explicating this, there is a core of orthodox beliefs, surrounding Scripture, God, Christ, man, sin, redemption, etc. That is, the doctrines explain how Christ brings about this salvation. With some small exceptions, these doctrines, especially for the first 100 years or so after the Reformation, virtually all the big and important doctrines were the same among the Protestant churches. Any differences that existed among these churches were to be found not in the core doctrines, but in some of the peripheral ones. (And the list in the illustration is taken from the order given in many systematic theologies of what is known as “theology proper” -- again, this is not intended to be representative of any one school of thought, but just to be representative of how things worked).

James Anderson has shown, for example, how early Presbyterian and Baptist confessions, to which many conservative Protestants now adhere, are essentially the same document, with minor changes in areas of sacraments and church government. These differences are not central to their faith.

Roman Catholicism, however, as I’ve been showing, puts a façade of unity over top of some deep-seated rifts. I don’t want to make any predictions, but the in the Internet era, in the age of communication, things can happen quickly.

Just sayin’. Stay tuned. 

Thursday, May 03, 2012

Roman Catholics unite ... against their priest

And in this case, it's that sacrament of sacraments, "the Eucharist", that's taken hostage:

This is really a follow-up to the situation in Austria to this blog post. But what's funny is that the unity was a unity of "disobedience", so to speak. Here's the scene:
The parish church of Amras, Austria, near Innsbruck in Tyrol, was chock-a-block full for the first-Communion Mass on April 22. Shortly before Communion, the parish priest, Norbertine Fr. Patrick Busskamp, announced that only Catholics who were in a state of grace should come forward to Communion. Catholics who are divorced and remarried and Catholics who do not attend Mass every week were not worthy to receive the Eucharist, he said.

When Communion time came, not a single adult came forward. The entire congregation demonstratively remained seated. Only the children received Communion.
I don't know how long this will continue in Austria, but it illustrates, again as I mentioned here, “the splendor of unity” that Vatican II put into place when they thought they were being clever by being “so brilliantly ambiguous as to be capable of serving the interest of both parties”, the Liberals and the Conservatives, with the same equivocal statements.

“The Life of Julia”

Determinism and open theism

Open theists like to quote Bible verses in which God expresses surprise to prove indeterminism or disprove determinism. But even if (ex hypothesi) we grant their exegetical appeals, divine surprise is entirely consistent with determinism. It’s only inconsistent with divine determinism. The universe could still be determinate, apart from God. Indeed, this is rather like Classical mythology, where finite gods, including the high gods like Zeus, were subject to the Fates.

As one writer notes:

The key idea is that machines can only do what we know how to order them to do (or that machines can never do anything really new, or anything that would take us by surprise). As Turing says, one way to respond to these challenges is to ask whether we can ever do anything “really new.” Suppose, for instance, that the world is deterministic, so that everything that we do is fully determined by the laws of nature and the boundary conditions of the universe. There is a sense in which nothing “really new” happens in a deterministic universe—though, of course, the universe's being deterministic would be entirely compatible with our being surprised by events that occur within it.

Who the hell is "Julia" and why am I paying for her whole life?

Is football unchristian?

I’m going to comment on this post:

Before I get to the details, I’ll make a few general observations:

i) I don’t object to Christians discussing the ethics of contact sports. I also don’t object to reasonable efforts to make contact sports safer.

ii) This is sometime cast in bumper-sticker terms: WWJD? In general, I disagree with that way of framing issues. It’s usually presumptuous or impious–making Jesus a mouthpiece for our personal opinions. Unless Jesus has really spoken to an issue, it’s sacrilegious to put words in his mouth. We don’t write the script for Jesus.

iii) But as far as that goes, I expect boys in 1C Galilee engaged in rough-n-tumble play. That’s what normal boys do. I doubt that, as a boy, Jesus absented himself from normal social interaction with his male age-mates.

iv) Like the current hysteria about “bullying,” this is simply another front in the war on boys. The attempt by the liberal establishment to emasculate boys and men.

(Not that bullying can’t be a genuine problem. But this has become a pretext to promote homosexuality and demote heteronormativity.)

Is it ethical to watch football? For those of us who consider ourselves Christians do we have an obligation to disengage from the culture of violence promoted by college and professional football?

To label contemporary contact sports as part of the “culture of violence” is silly, as if football is equivalent to gang violence in the ghettoes and barrios. Intramural and professional contact sports have various rules and safeguards to minimize the risk of serious injury. You may still say that’s too violent, but it’s hardly a “culture of violence.” “Culture of violence” is one of those pretentious academic phrases.

In a recent interview with Slate Magazine Malcolm Gladwell argues that college football should be banned (see “Head Games”).

i) I seriously doubt that’s realistic. Banning college football would lead alumni and students boycotting colleges that do that. They’d take their business elsewhere.

ii) And even if it were successful, it would create an underground football culture lacking the safeguards of college and pro football. Same thing in spades for MMA. 

Is the NFL the “gladiator games” of our empire? Is boycotting the NFL and college football the Christian thing to do when people seek to make money from violence?

i) “Gladiatorial” is another bit of a facile hyperbole. Gladiatorial games involved mortal combat, man-eating predators, &c. That’s hardly equivalent to contemporary contact sports.

If you want to have a serious debate about the ethics of sports, you need to resist the temptation of resorting to cheap, prejudicial exaggeration.

ii) Boycotting is very different than banning. People should be free to mobilize economic boycotts. Of course, that’s a two-way street. Boycotters can find themselves on the receiving end of that tactic. 

Stop Panicking About Bullies

Martial Virtues

Which is more violent: MMA or ecoterrorism?

Nick Norelli defends MMA:

We could extend his argument by pointing out that MMA is safer than radical environmentalism and animal rights activism:

Clergy Come Out as Atheists

Folk epistemology

Larry Laudan
It was, as always, a delight reading Alex Rosenberg’s essay. It has the usual Rosenberg characteristics: trenchant, clear-headed and unafraid in its dismissal of various influential idols of the tribe. I have scarcely more use than he does for folk psychology or folk religion (although I think he might have shown a slightly more nuanced grasp of Sellars’ distinction between the ‘scientific image’ and the ‘manifest image’, rather than arguing for the wholesale repudiation of the latter).
What puzzles me about the piece is that Rosenberg grounds his scientism on what can only be regarded as a traditional thesis of ‘folk epistemology’. He is, unabashedly, a scientific realist. That realism rests on the quaint belief that, because scientific theories –at least the best of them– predict and explain a staggering range of phenomena, we do and should suppose that they are true. None of the principal arguments of his essay goes anywhere without this version of Putnam’s so-called miracles argument. Rosenberg makes his core epistemic thesis very explicit: “The reason we trust physics to be scientisms’ metaphysics is its track record of fantastically powerful explanation, prediction and technological application.” Can there be anyone (Rosenberg included) who believes that this core assumption is unproblematic?
Among the many troubles with the thesis that “science works so well that it must be true” is that working well, even working very well, is no guarantee that one has managed to cut the world at its joints or that these currently well-working beliefs won’t become casualties of the next scientific revolution. The history of science is a minefield littered with the remains of theories that once worked very well indeed (yes, even to the point of making surprising, precise predictions successfully) but eventually came unstuck, as they encountered one anomaly after another. Ptolemy’s astronomy, Newton’s physics, stable-continent geology, and classical chemical atomism are only a few examples of empirically theories that were strikingly successful until they eventually stumbled over grave anomalies.
Scientism tends to ignore this inconvenient historical fact. That is scarcely surprising since the success of false theories has to be rather unnerving for any project that is founded on the inference rule “X works so X must be true.” Worse, this particular piece of abductive inference is a prime example of precisely the sort of folk epistemology that a hard-headed skeptic like Rosenberg would ordinarily be scathing about. While he is (properly) keen on stressing how empirical research has established that one premise after another of folk psychology, folk psychology and folk biology is ill-founded, he acts as if our folk beliefs about empirical support (and let there be no mistake that the inference from apparent success to prima facie truth is deeply rooted in human doxastic practices) can be taken as largely if not wholly unproblematic.
There would thus appear to be a disconnect between the skepticism Rosenberg brings to most folk practices and his readiness to ground truth claims for science on what boils down to the fallacy of affirming the consequent.
So, Alex, cheer up; the situation looks as glum as you describe it only because you have made yourself hostage to a highly implausible and incorrigibly folk account of what it takes to establish the truth of a theory.

Michael Kruger’s Criteria for Canonicity

Yesterday I mentioned that Kruger had outlined the criteria for canonicity, the ways in which “God has created the proper epistemic environment wherein the belief in the New Testament canon can be reliably formed”. This epistemic environment includes three components (From pages 91-93):

·         Providential exposure. In order for the church to be able to recognize the books of the canon, it must first be providentially exposed to these books. The church cannot recognize a book that it does not have.

·         Attributes of canonicity. These attributes are basically characteristics that distinguish canonical books from all other books. There are three attributes of canonicity: (1) divine qualities (canonical books bear the “marks” of divinity), (2) corporate reception (canonical books are recognized by the church as a whole), and (3) apostolic origins (canonical books are the result of the redemptive-historical activity of the apostles).

·         Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit. In order for believers to rightly recognize these attributes of canonicity, the Holy Spirit works to overcome the noetic effects of sin and produces belief that these books are from God.

Now I’d like to fill in some of the flesh on these outlines.

Providential Exposure to the Books of the Canon
A question was brought up the other day about the “lost” letter from Paul to the Corinthians (see 1 Cor 5:9). Kruger says, “to state the obvious, the church cannot respond (positively or negatively) to a book of which it has no knowledge. Christ’s promise that his sheep will respond to his voice pertains only to the books that have had their voice actually heard by the sheep (John 10:27, pgs 94-95).

Books must be known to be corporately recognized (see “Corporate Reception” below), and so Kruger notes that “the self-authenticating model we are putting forth here can only be used to evaluate books that God has allowed the collective church to be exposed to” (95). Regarding the “lost” books, he says, “it seems best to refer to these lost apostolic writings as ‘inspired books’ or even perhaps as ‘Scripture’”, creating a kind of distinction between “canon” and “scripture”. However, “this distinction is only applicable to the narrow foundational and redemptive-historical period of the apostles and driven by their God-given function as caretakers and founders of the church”:

During this unique apostolic phase, canonicity was a subset of Scripture—all canonical books were Scripture, but not necessarily all scriptural books were canonical.

Given this distinction, the term canon may be used for books before they are corporately recognized (e.g., John ten minutes after it was written), but not for books that were never corporately recognized (e.g., lost letters of Paul). Such terminological distinctions, of course, are inevitably retrospective in nature. John was really canon when the ink was still wet on the autograph, but the church would have realized this only at a later point, after being exposed to John and recognizing it as canonical. The church could then look back, as we do, and realize that a canon really did exist in the first century even though at the time the church was not yet fully aware of it. Likewise, Paul’s other Corinthian letter was not canon in the first century, but this would not have been known at the time by the limited groups acquainted with it. Only later, when it was lost or forgotten, would it become clear that it was not canonical.

Therefore, canonical books, as we have defined them here, cannot be lost … (96-97).

Attributes of Canonicity and the Holy Spirit: 1. Divine Qualities
“John Murray reasons, ‘if … Scripture is divine in its origin, character, and authority, it must bear the marks [“indicia”] or evidences of that divinity’” (98) Kruger continues to cite him later, “‘If the heavens declare the glory of God and therefore bear witness to their divine creator, the Scripture as God’s handiwork must also bear the imprints of his authorship’” (99).

“As the Westminster Confession of Faith notes, these divine qualities are considered to be objective means ‘whereby [Scripture] doth abundantly evidence itself to be the word of God’” (98).

There are, of course, some critical models of canonicity which do not allow for God, and thus, they would not accept this aspect of Kruger’s argument as evidence. But for those who do believe in God, for those who have “prior theological convictions” about what Scripture is, - if God is speaking, then one could not expect otherwise than that he created an “ear to hear” what he is saying. That’s the point of this section.

On the other hand, it may be asked, if God is reliably speaking, “how is it that so many people do not receive” what he is saying?

The answer is that, because of the noetic effects of sin, the effects of sin on the mind (Rom. 3:10-18), one cannot recognize [the divine imprint] without the testimonium spiritus sancti internum, the internal testimony of the Holy Spirit (Calvin’s Institutes, 1.7.4-5; 3:1.1-3; 3.2.15, 33-36). The Holy Spirit not only is operative within the canonical books themselves (providing the “marks” of divinity noted above), but also must be operative within those who receive them. The testimonium is not a private revelation of the Spirit or new information given to the believer – as if the list of canonical books were whispered in our ears – but it is a work of the Spirit that overcomes the noetic effects of sin and produces the belief that the Scriptures are the word of God. The reson some refuse to believe the Scriptures is not that there is any defect or lack of evidence in the Scriptures (the indicia are clear and objective) but that those without the Spirit do not accept the things from God (1 Cor 2:10-14, pgs 99-100).

In a footnote, Kruger notes that there has been confusion on this point. “For this reason the term testimony has been confusing and led some to think that the Spirit is telling us some new revelation. Aquinas uses the more helpful “inward instigation” of the Holy Spirit, and refers the reader to Plantinga’s discussion in Warranted Christian Belief, pgs 249 ff.

[Steve Hays goes into quite a bit of detail about God having embedded himself in the world and in his Word, in this article of his: Why I Believe: A Positive Apologetic.]

Attributes of Canonicity and the Holy Spirit: 2. Corporate Reception
“In all of this discussion, we would be mistaken to think of the recognition of the canon as happening only on a personal and individualistic level (which is perhaps partly why it has seemed subjective to some)” (103).

Kruger says “there are good biblical reasons to think that the testimonium would result in a corporate, or covenantal, reception of God’s word”. This would not – and did not – lead to absolute unity regarding the canon. But throughout the ages, he says, there likely would be – and there has been – “predominant” unity. And he gives three reasons why we should expect that this should be so:

1. God’s redemptive pattern has not simply to redeem individuals, but to redeem a people, a church for himself. And when God, by his redemptive activity, creates covenant community, then he gives them covenant documents that testify to that redemption.

2. “If we affirm the efficacy of the testimonium on an individual level, why should we be less willing to affirm its efficacy on the corporate-covenantal level?” That is, God is not the author of confusion. We should expect that, if he is adequately leading the individuals in his community then the community as a whole ought to be moving in the right direction. (This works in reverse, too).

3. Quoting Stonehouse, “although the church lacks infallibility, its confession with regard to the Scriptures represents not mere opinion but an evaluation which is valid as derived from, and corresponding with, the testimony of the Scriptures to their own character. The basic fact of canonicity remains, then, the testimony which the Scriptures bear to their own authority. But the historian of the canon must recognize the further fact that the intrinsic authority established itself in the history of the church through the government of its divine head”. That would be Christ leading the church. More on this “evaluation” later.

“The role of the church is like a thermometer, not a thermostat. Both instruments provide information about the temperature in the room – but one determines it and one reflects it.”

Attributes of Canonicity and the Holy Spirit: 3. Apostolic Origins
“In regard to the establishment of the new covenant, the message of redemption in Jesus Christ was entrusted to the apostles of Christ, to whom he gave his full authority and power”. So the apostles are “the link between the redemptive events themselves [Christ’s life, death, and resurrection] and the subsequent announcement of those events. … Thus, the New Testament canon is not so much a collection of writings by apostles, but a collection of apostolic writings – writings that bear the message of the apostles and derive from the foundational apostolic era” (109).

The books of the New Testament, thus, are “not only about Christ’s redemptive work in history … but that these books are the product of Christ’s redemptive work in history – that they are the outworking of the authority Christ gave to his apostles to lay down the permanent foundation for the church” (110).  

Roman Catholics link apostolic succession with canonicity (see, for example, then Fr Joseph Ratzinger’s 1962 article Primacy, Episcopacy, and Successio Apostolica, in the recently reprinted God’s Word: Scripture, Tradition, and Office, but the writings of the Apostles came during the first century, and the concept of apostolic succession came during the second century. It’s important to state clearly here that, once a foundation is set and fixed, then anything built on top of it is no longer foundation. This is, of course a metaphor, but it is an adequate one here to say that, while the Apostolic writings (the New Testament) were “foundational”, it has largely been agreed that the concepts of “monarchical bishop” and “apostolic succession” were second century developments and not a foundational part of the church.

* * *

These, then, are the criteria that Kruger lays out as criteria for canonicity for the New Testament books, according to what he calls “the self-authenticating model”. This is a positive statement of his views; he provides greater detail into all these elements, and responds to objections, in other parts of the book.