Saturday, April 20, 2013

I'd rather have Jesus than silver or gold

George Beverly Shea died a few days ago. He played Ira Sankey to Graham’s Dwight Moody. Shea has three distinctions:

1. He lived to be 104. That’s very rare. It’s even rarer for a man. Women typically outlive men.

2. His unrivaled vocal longevity. To judge by YouTube clips, he was able to sing to the very end.

Part of the key to his vocal longevity was the fact that he as a pop vocalist as well as a bass. Hymns are usually about an octave or so in range. And as a bass, when he lost the high notes, he could simply transpose the music down. Given, moreover, the limited range of hymns and gospel songs, there was lots of spare room to keep transposing down before he bottomed out.

Yet it’s still remarkable that he could hold a tune, with a firm resonant tone, past the 100-year mark.

He had a solid technique and a sturdy constitution. Genetics dealt him a royal flush.

The only singer I can think of whose vocal longevity approaches his is Jerome Hines. His achievement is both more and less impressive than Shea’s. More impressive in that opera singers must sing the music as written. Opera singers rarely have the luxury of transposing their numbers. In her twilight years, Joan Sutherland sometimes did that, but she could only get away with it because she was a superstar, and her husband was the conductor or accompanist.

Moreover, opera arias have a wider vocal range than hymns. And you have to hit the high notes. Even the lower voices are paid to hit the high notes.

But in another respect, his achievement was less impressive, for Shea was still singing at 100+, while Hines was still singing at a mere 80.

Mark Reizen, the Russian bass, was still singing at 90–but a shadow of his former glory. 

3. However, Shea’s greatest achievement wasn’t how long he sang, or how long he lived, but how well he lived. Pop entertainers aren’t famous for their moral consistency. They usually have many affairs. Wreck their own marriages, wreck other marriages.

Although he was in the public eye for 80 years, there was never a breath of scandal attaching to his life or reputation. From what I’ve read, he was a humble godly man, without pretense or pretension.


“Lockdown” has become an increasingly frequent term in the news. I don’t merely mean frequency of usage, but frequency of the phenomenon denoted by that term.

It’s not just that lockdowns seem to be more frequent, but the scope of lockdowns is quietly and steadily expanding. At least that’s my impression.

When I was growing up (60s-70s), lockdowns were limited to prisons when inmates rioted. At least that’s my recollection.

But more recently, you have school lockdowns when a suspected shooter is on the loose. I understand that authorities wish to contain the area to prevent the suspect from escaping, but in the process they are locking students in with the shooter. I often wonder if that’s even legal. Do school administrators (or local police) have the authority to prevent students from exiting the building when they feel–often rightly–that their lives are endangered by hiding huddled in classrooms as the sniper goes from room to room, seeking fresh victims?

Be that as it may, the Boston bombing introduced a citywide lockdown. Hotels were locked down within a certain radius of the crime scene.

What does that mean, exactly? Does that mean there were security guards or policemen stationed at hotel exits? What would happen if you tried to exit the hotel? Would you be arrested? Shot on sight?

Although it maybe convenient for the authorities to declare a lockdown–the better to facilitate their manhunt–is that legal? Doesn’t that really assume an undeclared state of martial law, where normal civil liberties are suspended and authorities can impose a curfew on the citizens?

It looks like we’re beginning to take lockdowns for granted, as a normal part of life, even though that’s extralegal or unconstitutional. When did Americans agree to this? Is this an Act of Congress?

Moreover, this involves a false dichotomy. We know the profile for likely suspects in terrorist incidents: twenty-something male Muslim bachelors.

Why should all ordinary Americans surrender their civil liberties to protect Muslims?

Liberals scream “racial profiling,” and unilaterally take the profiling of Muslims off the table. That leads to the false dichotomy: between public safety and civil liberties.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Protecting our enemies from the public rather than protecting the public from our enemies

The jihad marches on (with a little Bayesianism thrown in)

Witnesses to three murders

What does it mean to love our enemies?

Bible Reading:         Luke 6:27-36
v. 27-28:  But I say to you who listen: Love your enemies, do what is good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. (HCSB)
Boston Bomb FBI PhotoAt least three people are dead so far due to the terrorist bombing at the Boston Marathon. If that fact does not make you angry, you are either one of the perpetrators or it would seem to me that you've allowed yourself to become desensitized to mindless killings. Remember that being angry is not synonymous with being in a rage, screaming for blood, seeking retaliation (let alone revenge), or engaging in some irrational act of hate. Anger, as I've mentioned before, is one of the emotions with which God has endowed us; he himself shows it from time to time. There's no point in not acknowledging the fact that you're feeling angry. Furthermore, quickly covering it up by referring to the next segment of the passage about "turning the other cheek" may demonstrate how pious you are, but does not make much sense in this situation. Are we going to invite whoever these terrorists are to blow up a few more bombs and kill and maim another bunch of people? I don't think that's what Jesus had in mind. I've talked about the above matters at greater length in the second edition of Neighboring Faiths, chapter 4, which is entirely devoted to 9/11, radical Islam, and our reaction to such acts. Having said that, I need to quickly clarify that, as of the moment that I'm writing this, even though the event has been officially labeled as "terrorism," it has not been linked to an Islamic group, to the best of my knowledge. There are resemblances to bombs used in Afghanistan and Iraq, but resemblances are not evidence; they can only be leads in an investigation.

Christ's exhortation is premised on the fact that we have enemies. When I say "we" and look at the context, it is clear that he is talking to 1) individuals or groups of individuals who are serious about walking in divine righteousness and 2) who are being hated for the sake of Christ. This is not a piece of advice to a government to abdicate its god-given authority to carry the sword so as to bring wrath on the one who does wrong (Rom 13:4). Nevertheless, in a democracy I am one small constituent of the government, and I need to take that fact into account. So, in order for me to sort out my thoughts on the incident, I need to look at the event from a "governmental" perspective and then deal more explicitly with the effects of Jesus' words on that point of view.
What most news commentaries seem to be agreeing on is that in some ways this bombing may potentially have a worse effect on our nation's psyche than 9/11. Such statements may possibly overreactions of the moment, but there does seem to be a difference in terms of how invidious this attack was. The bombs appeared to have been two pressure cookers filled with shrapnel of various kinds. Some of the injured people have up to forty hurtful objects spiking their bodies. These bombs are called IED's (Improvised Explosive Devices), and according to news reports they are becoming increasingly popular, but are quite difficult to trace. They could be the product of a major terrorism group, such as al-Qaeda, or they could be made by your local crackpot who wants to destroy humanity so that bats (mammals of the order Chiroptera, not baseball implements) can rule the world.
In a rather thoughtful editorial, psychiatrist Keith Ablow makes some worthwhile points. He observes that
    We are no more vulnerable today than yesterday, but we will feel more vulnerable, because we had no known hint of what was to befall us. (Emphasis mine.)
He goes on to describe how this event will cast a shadow over many a large gathering where people have come together simply for enjoyment. And he is at least implying that this shadow it will not go away as long as America is America. To quote:
Here is the irony:  We are vulnerable, because we are free and strong.  These qualities attract the ire of those who would have us shackled and weak, who are consumed by hatred for individual possibilities, rather than love for what a free person can dream about and strive for and accomplish.
No question about it: In straightforward theory, the more we allow these incidents to limit our freedom, the less enticing it should be for terrorists to disrupt our freedom. But, as right as Ablow may be in the part of his analysis he provided, he does not cover the subject in sufficient depth to rationalize even an unacceptable solution, viz. to limit our freedom--not that he either pretends to have done so or that such a travesty would be his point. To the contrary; he wants us to cherish and maintain all of our freedoms. In any event, things are not quite that simple.
Rational theory concerning pro or con freedom certainly plays little role in the mind of the deluded person who makes bombs to advance the cause of the Flying Fox. And if you want to talk about the theory of Qutbism, the main ideology behind a-Qaeda, the goal is such that there's nothing we can do that would please them sufficiently to stop their misdeeds on the way (the "milestones") to achieve it: to destroy every government around the globe (including supposedly Islamic ones) by violence so that the entire world can be governed by Shari'a directly. Please see various posts of the past, as well as my lengthier piece on groups of Islam and, of course the book. Actually, when I say "the book," I should say "the books." I am, of course referring to Neighboring Faiths, but I also continue to plead with you to please read Seyyid Qutb's Milestones so that you can see the reality of the blueprint for yourself. 
Thus, whatever we are going to do to ourselves to suspect each other, up to and including scrotal searches by TSA functionaries, is not going to make serious differences, I'm afraid. The only thing that I can think of that will help solve the problem is a) serious profiling, particularly--and here's the hitch--by the so-called moderate Islamic nations themselves within their borders; they know better whom to trust than we do (there, I said it, and, if you are angry at me for saying it you're making my point), and b) serious inspections of locations around large groups of people. It would be wrong for me to insinuate that someone should have found the bombs, but I'm wondering if it would be wrong to consider such an insinuation.
This is a minimal response, in my opinion, but we dare not turn our anger into blind acts of retribution, least of all against ourselves. But neither may we simply ignore in the name of love the horrendously unloving acts done by some people to others. That would not be love on our part, but the opposite of love, which is not hate, but indifference.
So how can I make sense of the above as well as Jesus' exhortation to love my enemies? Once again, I'm going to have to break up my discussion into some segments. Thus: more on this topic next time.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Nothing but Posturing

Gun-control fallacies

The spoils of war

And Samuel said to Saul, “The Lord sent me to anoint you king over his people Israel; now therefore listen to the words of the Lord. 2 Thus says the Lord of hosts, ‘I have noted what Amalek did to Israel in opposing them on the way when they came up out of Egypt. 3 Now go and strike Amalek and devote to destruction all that they have. Do not spare them, but kill both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.’”

4 So Saul summoned the people and numbered them in Telaim, two hundred thousand men on foot, and ten thousand men of Judah. 5 And Saul came to the city of Amalek and lay in wait in the valley. 6 Then Saul said to the Kenites, “Go, depart; go down from among the Amalekites, lest I destroy you with them. For you showed kindness to all the people of Israel when they came up out of Egypt.” So the Kenites departed from among the Amalekites. 7 And Saul defeated the Amalekites from Havilah as far as Shur, which is east of Egypt. 8 And he took Agag the king of the Amalekites alive and devoted to destruction all the people with the edge of the sword. 9 But Saul and the people spared Agag and the best of the sheep and of the oxen and of the fattened calves and the lambs, and all that was good, and would not utterly destroy them. All that was despised and worthless they devoted to destruction (1 Sam 15:1-9).

OT holy war is a favorite target of unbelievers. Mind you, the same unbelievers who wax indignant at OT holy war generally support abortion, infanticide, and euthanasia.

In light of the popular new TV drama Vikings, it’s instructive to compare OT holy war with traditional warfare. Although Vikings isn’t strikingly historical, I think it’s accurate with respect to what motivated their raiding parties.

In that regard, Saul would make a great Viking. The incentive for Viking warfare was booty. They were looters. Murderous looters. Pillage everything of material value. Enslave the able-bodied survivors. Rape the women. Slaughter the “useless” men, women, and children. Burn whatever you leave behind.

By contrast, OT holy disincentivized warfare for personal aggrandizement. Israelites did not wage holy war for plunder. They were denied the conventional spoils of war.

I’ll make one related observation. To my knowledge, social ethics in “primitive” cultures is mainly a tribal code of honor. Unwavering allegiance to your kith and kin.

For instance, in primitive cultures, I don’t think rape and adultery were considered intrinsically evil. That’s an outrage rather than a sin.

Although it may sound counterintuitive, I suspect that in most traditional cultures, rape doesn’t dishonor the woman so much as it dishonors the male members of her family. Indeed, sometimes rape is committed with that in mind. In traditional cultures, the male members of the family are the protectors of the female members. So raping a woman is an affront to her father, uncles, brothers, cousins–or the entire clan. A slap in the face. Look what we did to your women! It’s an expression of dominance, not over the woman so much as the men in her family or clan who were impotent to defend their honor (not her honor) by defending their women.

It’s not the woman who brought shame on the family; rather, the rapist is using the woman to shame her father, brothers, &c. They were powerless to protect her.

I think that sort of thing underlies many classic blood feuds. Before you had a police force, it was up to family members (mainly the men) to protect the women and children. That reinforced the sense of in-group solidarity and camaraderie. “You come after my come after me!”

Likewise, I suspect that adultery is similar. It dishonors her husband. Brings shame on her husband. Consider the old literary/dramatic convention of the cuckled husband. He can’t protect his honor.

In a similar vein, adultery was treated more harshly than fornication because adultery blurs the lines of inheritance. That’s especially problematic in tribal cultures where the major land holdings belong to the clan, not the individual.

The Iliad is a good example. Agamemnon is the commander, not because he’s the best warrior (Ajax, Achilles, and Diomedes are all better fighters), but because he’s the tribal chieftain. Paris dishonored the Achaeans by stealing the wife of Menelaus, who is–not coincidentally–the brother of Agamemnon.

Conversely, Paris has endangered Troy. Yet Priam defends his son rather than extradites his son out of family loyalty.

We can see a similar dynamic in Judges 20. In the history of Israel, there’s a constant tension between the Mosaic covenant and the tendency of Israelites to revert to their pagan social mores.  Likewise, Islam is a throwback to tribal morality. Dishonor instead of sin.

Although the socioeconomic system of Israel was tribal, the Mosaic law cuts against the grain of tribal morality. In the Mosaic law, some things are wrong, not because they are shameful or dishonorable in the sociological sense, but because they are sinful or intrinsically evil. From what I can tell, that’s a novel concept in human history.

Up from the grave they arose

In his recent commentary on Matthew, Craig A. Evans argues that Mt 27:52-53 is a scribal gloss. If you’re going to question the historicity of this incident, I think his approach is better than Michael Licona’s.

I’m not going to quote his argument. If you’re curious, you can read it for yourself. Use the “search this book” feature, type Akhmim in the search box, and it will pull up his discussion (pp466-67):

That said, I’m puzzled by why so many otherwise conservative scholars balk at this account. I understand why liberals deny this account. At least they’re consistent. They deny all the Gospel miracles.

For some reason, many conservative scholars find this scene bizarre. But isn’t this scene the resurrection of the just in miniature?

Both OT and NT have a doctrine of the general resurrection, as well as the resurrection of the just–in particular. That lies in the future.

What do they think that will look like when that happens? Won’t it be similar to Mt 27:52-53, only on a vaster scale?

So I don’t see how we can question Mt 27:52-53 in principle without questioning the general resurrection. It’s a difference in degree, not in kind.

Seeing is disbelieving

In 33 AD, Richardus Carrier, a natural philosopher of world renown, was on the island of Capri, where Tiberius Caesar was vacationing. 

April 23, 33

Centurion: We just received report of a mass resurrection in a Jewish cemetery in Jerusalem. A moment after the Messiah died, the earth shook, splitting rocks. Some tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the Jerusalem and appeared to many.

Carrier: Nonsense! I won’t believe it until I know who the reporter was.

April 25, 33

Centurion: My contacts tell me the reporter was one Matthew or Levi–he goes by two different names–an apostle and one-time tax collector.

Carrier: I won’t believe it until I interview Matthew personally:

April 30, 33

Centurion: How did the interview go?

Carrier: I won’t believe it until I know who the witnesses were.

May 2, 33

Centurion: My contacts have given me a list of names and addresses of observers who witnessed the mass resurrection in the Jewish cemetery.

Carrier: Nonsense! I won’t believe it until I interview the witnesses personally.

May 7, 33

Centurion: How did the interviews go?

Carrier: Eyewitness testimony is notoriously unreliable. I won’t believe it until I personally interview some of the “raised saints.”

May 11, 33

Centurion: How did the interviews go?

Carrier: I won’t believe it until I know the saints were really dead and buried.

May 13, 33

Centurion: I just received word from the Chief Coroner of Jerusalem that the saints were truly dead and buried.

Carrier: Nonsense! I won’t believe it until I see the results of DNA testing to the confirm that the saints who were said to be raised are the very same individuals who were buried there.

May 15, 33

Centurion: Based on DNA samples taken both before and after the event, the Chief Coroner of Jerusalem informs me that they are one and the same individuals.

Carrier: Nonsense. DNA samples can be tampered with. I won’t believe it unless I can see it for myself.

May 17, 33

Centurion: Here’s footage from security cameras at the cemetery which show the mass resurrection.

Carrier: Nonsense! Photographic evidence can be tampered with. And even if your photographic evidence is accurate, how can I be sure the whole event wasn’t staged by mischievous aliens? For all I know, the Mother Ship may be hiding behind the moon, conveniently out of sight. I won’t believe it unless I can go back in time to be there when it happens, so that I can see it with my own eyes:

May 19, 33

Centurion: Your butler tells me that the Archangel Michael appeared to you yesterday and transported you back in time and space to the Jewish cemetery, at the moment it happened.

Carrier: Nonsense! I was obviously hallucinating. 

Canadian Bacon 2

Don’t be taken in by polite Canadians. That’s just a ruse de guerre to trick us into lowering our guard while they surreptitiously implement their plan for world conquest!

Ancient Non-Christian Sources On The Death Of The Apostles

Last year, I wrote a series of posts about what the apostles and their contemporaries tell us about the death of the apostles. I want to supplement that series with this post about what ancient non-Christian sources tell us.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Maggie & Methodism

Another "victim" of abortion

So I just posted this video yesterday from last Friday's exertions, and I already have some golden comments.

I want to gather a gang of thugs to threaten you hecklers off the property. If it requires assault, then so be it.
Filth like you need to be arrested for harassing people with your cult.

Bergoglio’s Gig, Part 3: Opposing Ratzinger

In one of his first major public addresses as pope, at St. Peter’s Square, Sunday, March 17, 2013, “Pope Francis” specifically cited Cardinal Walter Kasper’s book “On Mercy”:

In the past few days I have been reading a book by a Cardinal — Cardinal Kasper, a clever theologian, a good theologian — on mercy. And that book did me a lot of good, but do not think I am promoting my cardinals’ books! Not at all! Yet it has done me so much good, so much good... Cardinal Kasper said that feeling mercy, that this word changes everything. This is the best thing we can feel: it changes the world. A little mercy makes the world less cold and more just. We need to understand properly this mercy of God, this merciful Father who is so patient.... Let us remember the Prophet Isaiah who says that even if our sins were scarlet, God’s love would make them white as snow.

Now, who has made the world “cold” in the first place? Could it be anyone from the previous generation of popes? In what way did the world seem “less just”? Who is it, really, who has been working so hard for “social justice” in the world? I’m just askin’.

I remember the days when the Soviet Union was still a world power, and “Kremlinologists” would study posed photos of the leadership, to see who was standing closest to Breshnev. It was a way of understanding who was “in” and what the policy directions of the Soviet Union might be. It wasn’t perfect, but it was one of the better methods for understanding that regime at the time.

Cardinal Walter Kasper says that “Pope Francis” is going to bring new life” to Vatican II, the same “spirit of Vatican II” that Hans Küng says is needed, and that the two previous popes sought to suppress. He says that Bergoglio has “inaugurated a new phase” of Vatican II.

For those who don’t know, Kasper is a former Assistant to Küng; he was “removed in 1999 by John Paul II as the Bishop of the Diocese of Rottenburg-Stuttgart”. He was transferred to Rome, where until 2010 he was the President of the Pontifical Council on Promoting Christian Unity.

Roughly from 1999 to 2002, Kasper and Ratzinger had a “dialog” – Kasper is called a “conciliarist”, which in Medieval days, was the impulse that arose from the ashes of the “Great Schism” (when there were two and even three popes), and which opposed the imperial papacy. Conciliarism held rather (similar to the Eastern Orthodox) that councils and their doctrinal pronouncements are the highest “law of the land” in the church.

For the Eastern Orthodox, Ecumenical Councils are “extraordinary synods of bishops which primarily decide upon dogmatic formulations, especially in the face of heresy. Secondarily, they also issue canonical legislation which governs the administration of the Church.”

Kasper and then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger disagreed vehemently on a point of ecclesiology. You can find that disagreement summarized here:

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Meanwhile, also in Boston

More than a hundred other people were murdered by well-paid hitmen.

No arrests so far.

The new normal

Unconditional love

Perseverance and suicide

I’ve been asked how suicide relates to the perseverance of the saints. There are many potential permutations to that question, depending on how nuanced an answer we wish to give.

i) At one level, the doctrine of perseverance means a born-again Christian can’t lose his salvation. So unless we think suicide results in loss of salvation, there’s no prima facie tension between suicide and perseverance.

ii) Likewise, the doctrine of perseverance generally means a born-again Christian will die in the faith. Even if we think suicide is sinful, dying in sin and dying in the faith are mutually compatible. After all, every Christian is a sinner. Every Christian dies a sinner. In that sense, every Christian dies in a state of sin. Dying in a state of sin, and dying in a state of grace, are mutually compatible.

iii) It isn’t even strictly necessary that a Christian be a believer at the moment of death. There’s a sense in which senile Christians may no longer be believers. They lack the cognitive ability to exercise faith. But loss of faith, due to dementia, doesn’t entail loss of salvation. 

iv) On the other hand, regeneration entails sanctification. Fruits of grace. So how we live and how we die can reflect our inner spiritual condition. We need to avoid any antinomian version of eternal security.

v) Traditionally, Catholicism treated suicide as “self-murder.” A mortal sin. Basically an express ticket to hell. Suicides were denied Christian burial on hallowed ground (e.g. a church cemetery).

There’s a danger that the pendulum has swung to far in the other direction. Rick Warren quotes his son as saying: “Dad, I know I’m going to heaven. Why can’t I just die and end this pain?”

The doctrine of perseverance is not a license to take your life with impunity. Not a contingency plan. That’s very presumptuous.

Although suicide is not a guarantee of damnation, suicide is not a guarantee of salvation. It’s a fearful thing to take your own life.

vi) Is suicide always sinful? There may be hypothetical situations in which suicide is not a sin.

Suppose an army unit dispatches a scout to scope out the area. Suppose the scout finds himself surrounded by the enemy. He knows that if he’s captured, they will torture him to discover the location of his unit. Suppose he kills himself to protect his unit. That might be a case where suicide is morally justifiable.

Let’s take a similar, but somewhat different, and perhaps more controversial example. Suppose Christianity is illegal in a particular country. There’s an underground church movement. This consists of semi-autonomous cell-groups. By subdividing the underground church into cell-groups, that makes it easier to elude detection by the authorities. Moreover, if the authorities discover a cell-group, that won’t lead them to the whole church.

Suppose a Christian knows that the authorities are on to him. If they bring him in for interrogation, they will torture him to track down the other members of his cell-group. Suppose he kills himself to spare his fellow Christians. That might be a case where suicide is morally justifiable.

I’m not taking a firm position on that. Just considering potential counterexamples to the facile assumption that suicide is necessarily wrong.

Let’s take one more example. Suppose a family man is diagnosed with terminal cancer. Suppose he commits suicide so that his family will collect on the life insurance policy.

Now, I don’t that’s a justifiable reason to commit suicide. However, that’s morally ambiguous compared to someone who commits suicide as an act of revenge, to make the survivors feel guilty. So even where suicide is culpable, there can be degrees of culpability. It’s possible to do the wrong thing with the best of intentions. That’s different from doing the wrong thing with malicious intentions.

vii) Apropos (vi), we also need to make allowance for extenuating circumstances. Maybe the Christian in that situation was wrong to take his own life. It was a snap judgment. But the fact that his actions were in the best interests of others, the fact that he was acting under extreme duress, even if we conclude that his actions were ill-considered, mitigates his guilt.

Likewise, if someone commits suicide because he is mentally ill, we usually consider that to be an extenuating circumstances or even an exculpatory circumstance. He was in a state of diminished responsibility.

This assumes the suicide is mentally ill through no fault of his own. In some cases, there are individuals (e.g. Ted Kaczynski, Bobby Fischer) whose madness seems to be self-induced. They work themselves into that mental state. But that’s probably exceptional.

viii) What about cases where suicide is sinful? Does that seal your damnation?

Well, Christians do, in fact, commit sin. You don’t lose your salvation by sinning. Otherwise, every Christian would be an instant apostate.

ix) Some might say what’s different about suicide is that, unlike other sins, that’s the very last thing you do before you die. There’s no time for repentance.

(Actually, that depends on the method of suicide. In some cases you might regret your rash act, but it’s too late to recover.)

This is especially significant in Catholic theology. Did you die in a state of mortal sin? Did you have time to confess and receive absolution?

However, that makes salvation contingent on lucky or unlucky timing. What if I commit a sin, and a minute later I die in a traffic accident? Am I doomed by the clock?

Flying spaghetti monsters and celestial teapots and invisible hiphopopotami and lunar unicorns, oh my!

"Russell's Teapot: Does it Hold Water?" by Bill Vallicella.

Obama...the Talker

Monday, April 15, 2013

Lies for lives

I’m going to quote and comment on this essay:

It is important to clarify at the outset exactly what is being discussed. The question is the narrow one of verbal affirmations of something one believes to be false. In this sense, Lying is affirming in speech or writing something you believe to be false.

 There are several related acts that are not included in this definition. On this narrow definition, “lying” does not include:

 (2) Nonverbal actions intended to mislead or deceive someone (An action is something that happens; it is neither true nor false like a verbal affirmation of something. An example is leaving a light on in our house when we are away for a weekend – an observer may rightly conclude, “The Grudems left a light on,” but that may or may not prove that we are at home.) 

The problem with this narrow definition is that it rigs the analysis. The definition is prejudicial, by preemptively excluding potential counterevidence. By definition, certain types of counterevidence no longer count as evidence.

So this leaves Grudem open to the charge of special pleading. He’s framed the issue in a way that automatically discounts potential defeaters for his position.

Grudem anticipates this objection: 

Of course, some may argue against this narrow definition of lying, saying, for example,  “Deceptive actions are the same thing as lying.” But that is not a careful statement. Deceptive actions are in some ways similar to lying (their goal is to persuade someone else to believe something untrue) and in some ways different from lying. For example, actions are ambiguous and can have various meanings, while verbal affirmations ordinarily are not ambiguous. Also, the Bible treats deceptive actions and false affirmations differently, as I will indicate below. And lying involves a contradiction between what you think to be true and what you say, which does not occur in deceptive actions (a difference that was very significant to Augustine). The differences are important, and show at least that the two categories should be analyzed separately.

I’ll have more to say, but for now I’ll simply point out that his distinction is ad hoc. We’re dealing with a distinction between verbal and nonverbal communication. On the face of it, that’s not a morally principled distinction. Rather, that merely concerns the difference between one medium and another. Mode rather than content.

And, in fact, as Grudem knows, you have sign prophets in Scripture who use nonverbal as well as verbal communication.

Isn’t the morally salient distinction between deceptive and nondeceptive communication rather than verbal and nonverbal communication?

Likewise, isn’t the motivation to deceive a morally salient distinction? Do you have a licit or illicit motive?

The Bible has numerous commands prohibiting “lying” in the sense of affirming something that you believe to be false.

For the moment let’s focus on prohibitions against perjury. As Grudem points out, Biblical prohibitions with respect to “lying” are broader than perjury, but for now let’s focus on perjury to illustrate an underlying principle.

i) The basic flaw in Grudem’s reasoning is that he fails to take into account the implied situation.

Indeed, Grudem basically admits that later on, but he fails to appreciate the significance of his admission when he says:

Therefore there is an alternative to seeing “against your neighbor” as limiting the scope of the ninth commandment. It seem that a better understanding is that “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor” is chosen as a particularly hateful example of lying, because it is a courtroom setting where you intentionally speak falsely against your neighbor (whom you should love!) in a way that will cost him his goods (perhaps to your benefit) or even his life. By this God means to show us how hateful all lying is, not merely this kind of lying.

But that’s context-dependent. It isn’t perjury, per se, but perjury with malicious intent, that’s forbidden.

Case law doesn’t address every conceivable contingency. Rather, case law commonly deals with typical, representative situations.

Take a witness who lies to either inculpate the innocent or exculpate the guilty. What are the usual circumstances under which a witness is tempted to lie?

On the one hand, a witness might lie about his enemy to harm his enemy, even if his enemy is innocent in this particular instance. On the other hand, a witness might cover for kinsman based on a tribal honor code, where you automatically stick up for your kith and kin, even if they were in the wrong.

ii) On a related note, keep in mind the legal framework. This is the Mosaic law. A divinely inspired law code. By definition, the laws are just. That’s another aspect of the implied situation.

Can we automatically transfer those prohibitions to a legal system that is unjust? Or does that rip them out of context?

iii) In addition, we have many different social obligations in Scripture. The general prohibition against perjury involves one social obligation, but there are others we need to consider. Balancing different duties.

Let’s illustrate these principles:

iv) Suppose you attend a public high school. Suppose you’re chatting with one of your classmates, who’s a friend of yours. Suppose he says something like “boys are better at football than girls” or “homosexuals are morally depraved.”

Let’s say his statement violates the school speech code. His statement is “sexist” or “homophobic” according to the speech code.

Let’s say another student overhears the offending remarks, and rats him out. He’s hauled into the Vice-Principal’s office. He denies the accusation.  

You are also brought in and questioned. Did he say what the other student attributed to him?

v) What’s your duty in that situation? Like Grudem, we could simply recite the Mosaic prohibitions against perjury. However, in all likelihood, these envision a very different implied situation. Therefore, it’s dubious to assume that we can simply extrapolate from the Mosaic prohibitions to a situation where your classmate is liable to be unjustly punished based on your testimony. 

And if you tell the truth under those circumstances, you are making yourself an agent of an unjust regime. You are directly complicit in the miscarriage of justice.

The student wasn’t punished for wrongdoing. Rather, the punishment was the wrongdoing. He didn’t wrong anyone. Rather, the school is wronging him. If you witness against him, you are accessory to the injustice. 

vi) In addition, your testimony would be a breach of confidence, as well as a betrayal of trust. Because you’re his friend, he felt it was safe to speak freely in your presence.

So there’s more than one potential duty in play. There’s a prima facie duty to be a truthful witness. But in addition there’s a prima facie duty to honor a confidence and be a trustworthy friend. 

vii) Now let’s vary the illustration. Suppose your classmate says: “I hate fags.”

Now, unlike the first illustration, here’s a case where, from a Christian standpoint, he said something wrong. He doesn’t have the right attitude towards homosexuals. In that case, should you witness against him? That raises a couple of interrelated issues:

viii) Even if what he said was wrong, do we want to empower a system in which all our statements, public and private, are subject to prosecution? Where the authorities can haul us in to interrogate us for saying the “wrong” thing? Where we have to have to be prepared explain, defend, or retract our statements when questioned by some “human rights commission” or whatever?

ix) On a related note, how should we respond when people ask questions they have no right to ask? How should we respond in a coercive situation where we are compelled to answer? Where we are penalized if we refuse to answer? Just saying “that’s none of your business” is not an option.

They demand answers, so they put you in a situation where you have to say something, even though they have no right to ask you that. They gratuitously created that situation.

Like Grudem, we could simply recite the Mosaic prohibitions against perjury, but the implied situation is very different. The Mosaic law has a completely different position on the proper role of gov’t.

The passages fall into several categories, but none of them contains a clear lie (in the sense of a verbal affirmation of what the speaker believed to be false) that is approved by God. Some passages contain deceptive actions such as a military ambush at Ai (Josh. 8:3-8), a surprise attack (2 Sam. 5:22-25), or David pretending to be insane (1 Sam. 21:13). These deceptive actions do seem to be approved by God in these passages, but these do not fall in the category of a “lie” as defined in this article.

 But are such deceptive actions sufficiently different from a “lie” (as defined in this article) so that we are justified in putting them in a different category? I think they are,
for several reasons: (1) Scripture treats them differently, always condemning lies but not always condemning such deceptive actions.

Does Scripture treat them differently because there’s a morally relevant difference between verbal and nonverbal communication, or because the implied situations are so different?

 (2) Actions are not true or false (as verbal affirmations are), but they are just something that happens.

That’s simplistic:

i) Strictly speaking, most actions lack truth-value. They don’t make assertions. They don’t affirm or deny something to be the case. Grudem is right about that.

ii) However, not all actions are “just something that happens.” A ruse de guerre is specifically intended to deceive.

iii) In addition, Grudem downplays the role of manual gestures in human communication, especially in some cultures (e.g. Italian).

 (3) People instinctively treat them differently: If on a weekend I leave a light on in my house (to deter burglars by making them think I am home) and then my neighbor bumps into me staying in a hotel in Tucson (2 hours away), the neighbor might have seen my light but will not think me to be a liar. But if I tell my neighbor, “I’m going to stay home this weekend” and then the neighbor bumps into me in staying in a hotel in Tucson, he will think that I lied to him.

I don’t see that his “instinctive” appeal survives ethical scrutiny. Yes, people may treat those differently, but now that he brought it up, is it fundamentally different? Is so, how so?

This is because (4) actions have ambiguous meanings, but propositions ordinarily do not.

On the one hand, I can think of obscene gestures whose significance is pretty unambiguous. On the other hand, human speech is often ambiguous.

I am not saying deceptive actions are never wrong (sometimes they surely are), but that they belong in a distinct category, one I am not dealing with in this essay.

Do they belong to a distinct category? That’s the very issue in dispute.

Therefore the Bible’s moral standards regarding lying include not only the ninth commandment, but an entire collection of Old Testament and New Testament verses that prohibit speaking lies or falsehood. And there are many other similar verses to those listed here, condemning things such as “lying,” “falsehood,” “liars,” and those who “speak lies.” 

 I agree with him that we’re dealing with a larger principle than perjury. But those also presuppose an implied situation.

But this would be impossible for Jesus, who was also God, since “it is impossible for God to lie” (Heb. 6:18).  Therefore, Jesus never lied. And therefore we never have to lie either. Jesus’ own moral character, and the truthfulness of all his words, provide additional evidence that Scripture prohibits us from ever telling a lie. The character of God who never lies is manifested to us in the life of Jesus, who never told a lie.

Actually, Jesus sometimes resorts to misleading words and deeds–misleading to an outsider:

18 Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” 19 And he said to them, “What things?”

28 So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He acted as if he were going farther (Lk 24:18-19,28).

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 (Jn 6:5-6).

41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me” (Jn 11:41-42).

So Grudem’s appeal backfires.

Did Elisha (a prophet of God) lie to the Syrian army? He said, “This is not the way, and this is not the city” (v. 19), but the words are actually ambiguous, somewhat enigmatic. What way? What city? (The one where God wants them to go?) The Lord had “blinded” them (v. 18) so they decided to follow Elisha. The statement “I will bring you to the man whom you seek” (v. 19) is, again, somewhat enigmatic, but rather than leaving them, Elisha did in fact bring them to a place where they encountered him face to face.

This is by no means a clear example of a clear falsehood approved by God. (And in any case, it was not told to save Elisha’s life or anyone else’s life, for the Syrian soldiers were already blinded and harmless.)

Needless to say, studied ambiguity is a standard form of deception.

Other passages have to do with God sending a deceptive spirit or a lying spirit to wicked unbelievers (1 Kings 22:19-23; 2 Thess. 2:11), and these passages raise difficult questions about God’s providential use of evil agents to carry out judgment, but they do not necessarily show God’s approval of the lies any more than God’s ordaining that evil people would crucify Christ (Acts 2:23; 4:27-28) shows that God approved of their evil deeds (he did not: Acts 2:23).

Well, that’s pretty facile. God assuredly approves of his own actions. God is deceiving the wicked through a third party.

It must be said that real-life situations are always more complex, and offer more options, than a hypothetical situation sketched in a sentence or two in an ethics textbook. For example, telling the truth and lying are not the only options, since silence is always an option (though it may lead to suffering, as with the bishop that Augustine used as an example).

i) Silence is counterproductive. The interrogator will interpret your silence as guilty silence. You have something to hide. That confirms his suspicions.

ii) It’s not only or primarily a case of whether you will suffer, but whether what you say will be misused to make others suffer unjustly.

A fourth option is saying any of a hundred different things that don’t answer the question asked, such as, “I will not cooperate with any attempt to capture and kill Jewish people.” Yes, that may mean the Nazi soldiers will force their way in and search around, but they probably would have done that anyway. Who can say that they would even believe the Christian if he said, “No”?

There’s more to it than “yes” or “no”. There will be the demand for specific information regarding the whereabouts of the Jews.

 Some would argue in this situation that such evildoers, such as murderers, had “forfeited their right to the truth.” I would probably agree with this (at least the truth regarding the hidden Jews), and so I would not tell them the truth (we have no general obligation to tell everything we know). But that does not mean that I would have to lie to them either. A Christian in that situation should immediately pray for God’s wisdom to know what to say without lying, and without disclosing where the Jews were hidden.

I wonder if Grudem’s fallback at this point isn’t impacted by his charismatic theology.

Some ethicists would use this situation to argue for a “tragic moral choice,” a case where we have to do a lesser sin (lying) to avoid a greater sin (murder, or giving aid to a murderer, or at least not preventing a murder when we could do so). But John Frame would disagree with this viewpoint, and so would I. This is because I agree with Frame that there are no such tragic moral choices, where God wants us to disobey one of his commands in order to obey another. Frame gives several reasons for rejecting the idea that there are situations where we have to sin, including the following:

(1) “In Scripture, we have a moral duty to do what is right, and never to do what is wrong.” (3) This view implies that “the law of God itself is contradictory, for it requires contradictory behavior.” (6) Since Jesus “in every respect has been tempted as we are” (Heb. 4:15), this view requires that Jesus himself had to sin in some situations, but Scripture repeatedly affirms that Jesus never sinned. (7) 1 Corinthians 10:13 guarantees that God “will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape,” and this implies that there are no tempting situations so hard that all the options are sinful.

Frame writes, “So I must conclude that there are no tragic moral choices, no conflicts of duties.”23

I agree with this position. I think this is significant, because I am concerned that in today’s evangelical Christian world, too often such carefully constructed “hard cases” are used as a wedge to open the door a crack, to get people to admit that there are some situations where it is morally right (and acceptable to God!) to disobey one of God’s commands in Scripture. This was essentially the position of Joseph Fletcher, whose 1966 book Situation Ethics24 constructed all sorts of “hard cases” in which a person supposedly had to lie, or murder, or commit adultery, or steal, in order to act follow the greater principle of “love” for others (that is, to do good for others). 

 But such reasoning from “hard cases” quickly leads to easy rationalization for many other sins. It is easy for people to progress from (1) it is sometimes right to lie to preserve a human life to (2) it is right to lie when it does more good than harm to (3) it is right to lie when you think it will bring a good result to (4) it is sometimes right to break other commands of the Bible when it will do more good than harm. The end result is a terribly weak personal ethical system that lacks any backbone, that ignores the commands of Scripture, and that simply seeks to bring about good results by whatever means (without getting caught). The whole system can slide quickly to moral relativism. 

Grudem’s summary is simplistic:

i) Every obligation isn’t equally or simultaneously obligatory.

ii) One prima facie obligation can come into conflict with another prima facie obligation.

Jesus healing on the Sabbath illustrates both principles.

iii) As a matter of fact, ethics does confront us with borderline cases.

iv) There’s a difference between choosing between the lesser of two “evils” and the lesser of two “wrongs.” Christians should never do wrong. But the lesser of two “evils” is not synonymous with moral evil.

When considering this “situational perspective” for an ethical question, we need to ask what results will come from a given action.  If a person lies (even to protect life), several results will follow:
 (1) The other person’s life might or might not be preserved. But we cannot be sure that different actions (silence, or giving other answers) would not have also preserved life (especially if we trust in God’s sovereign control over situations).

No, we can’t be sure of the outcome. But responsible decision-making includes considering the likely consequences of our actions, to the best of our knowledge. Not all uncertainties are equally uncertain. Not all consequences are equally consequential. For instance, there can be a greater risk of a lesser harm or a lesser risk of a greater harm.

 (2) God will be dishonored, because a human being who is in God’s image, and who represents God on the earth, has told a lie and thus represented his Creator as a liar.

Given the phenomenon of divine deception in Scripture, the logic is reversible.

 (3) People will begin to think of the person who lied as (at least sometimes) a liar, someone whose words cannot always be trusted.

If always telling the truth means you betray a confidence, then that will send the same message.

 (4) The moral character of the person who lied will be eroded, because in a difficult situation he failed to obey the biblical commands against lying. 

That begs the question.

  (5) It will become easier to lie in the future, because once a person thinks it is right to lie in some circumstances, this will seem to be an easy solution in additional circumstances, and the person’s lying will become more frequent.

That’s like saying, if you kill in self-defense, that makes it easier to kill in the future. Even if that’s the case, so what?

 (6) The act of lying may be imitated by others, multiplying these results in other situations.

If you have good reason to lie, then they should emulate your example in comparable situations. People need to learn moral discrimination. An ability to draw relevant distinctions, rather than applying a single rote principle to every issue.

Pseudointellectual posturing

97% of scientists accept some form of evolution (there must be something wrong with them)

A few days ago I posted the main bullet points for the lecture I gave at the Evangelical Theological Society on April 6. Some of the responses perpetuate common yet unconvincing lines of defense.

For example, I began my talk by saying that I accept the scientific consensus as a staring point when discussing the question of human origins.

A response I have heard–more times than I care to recall, and that I knew would likely come again even though I think I was super clear in my lecture–is, “Aha. See! If you start with science, of course you’re going to end up with evolution. And that’s your problem. You put too much faith in science instead of in the Bible.”

“Faith in science” suggests that one’s view of scientific matters is on the same sort of playing field as “faith in the Bible,” which then gives a sort of rhetorical oomph to the posed choice. But I don’t have ”faith in science.” I have made a conscious, intellectual decision to accept the overwhelming consensus of demonstrably knowledgable and trained scientists across the world and for several generations.

For now I’ll just make one elementary observation: the fact that you’re a “scientist” doesn’t mean you are qualified to assess the scientific merits of a theory that falls outside your field of expertise. To take a trivial example, if my car is malfunctioning, I take it to an automechanic, not a phlebotomist. So the 97% figure is bogus. 

This illustrates the pseudointellectualism of Enns.

Misframing Adam and evolution

I will comment on this post:

My starting point for how I handle this issue of Adam is twofold: (1) I accept the overwhelming scientific consensus concerning evolution, and (2) our considerable knowledge of  how ancient stories of origins functioned. These factors affect how we read the Adam story and they cannot be dismissed or marginalized.

From an exegetical standpoint, why would his belief in evolution affect how he reads Gen 2? Isn’t a major rationale of the grammatico-historical method to guard against anachronistic interpretations? Surely reinterpreting Gen 2 in light of evolution defies the outlook of the narrator and his target audience.

It strains credulity to think that, of all ancient peoples with origins stories, Israel alone escaped this story-telling mentality and gave us something approximating “history” or “science” in the modern sense.

i) This is unintentionally comical. Notice how he poses the question. Basically, he’s asking, what are the chances that Scripture beat the odds?

What this ignores is a little thing called divine inspiration. It was never a question of whether Israel would naturally resist cultural misconceptions.

Of course, Enns denies the inspiration of Scripture. My point is that he isn’t even considering the inspiration of Scripture for the sake of argument. He doesn’t bother to address the obvious counterargument to his objection. So his objection is a straw man.

The tensions between evolution and evangelicalism are real and cannot be “fixed” by simply “grafting” evolution onto evangelicalism. The two most common ways of doing that are by (1) making Adam and Eve into a pair of hominids chosen by God to be the “first,” and (2) making Adam and Eve a “gene pool” of the earliest hominid group, according to genetic studies.

Both of these options fail because they are ad hoc, i.e., made up to support a position once wishes to maintain. A more spiritually and intellectually satisfying way forward is to leave aside ad hoc explanations and take a more exploratory, dialogical approach to solving the issue.

I agree with him. However, his own “Incarnational” model/Israel=Adam compromise is equally ad hoc.

Neither literalism nor inerrancy should be given the status of default positions of orthodoxy. They are themselves theories of how the Bible works that are as open to scrutiny as any.

As scholars like Warfield have documented, this is based on the self-witness of Scripture.

Inerrancy in particular has a difficult time accounting for how the Bible looks so “untended” and “misbehaved” by inerrantist standards.

That’s an odd statement. Does Scripture looks so “untended” and “misbehaved” by inerrantist standards. Enns is clearly judging the appearance of Scripture by his own standards, not inerrantist standards.

Speaking for myself, Scripture looks the way I’d expect an inspired communication to look which was revealed in the idioms of the receptor culture. What we call the organic theory of inspiration.

An incarnational model of Scripture, though hardly the last word, is a better way of accounting for how the Bible behaves than an inerrantist model…

Which D. A. Carson tore to shreds:

…(and C. S. Lewis wasn’t an inerrantist).

A red herring.

A well-rounded approach to addressing the Adam issue is the metaphor of a trialogue of three voices: historical context, canonical context, and Christian tradition. None of these voices is dominant or the judge over the others, including “Christian tradition.”

The historical context includes ancient origins stories that “calibrate” how Genesis and Paul should be read. The canonical context is three levels: exegetical, Old Testament, and New Testament, and each adds its own complex of issues to the discussion. Christian tradition refers to the various Christian iterations of the gospel, all of which are provisional, not the final word on the gospel. (Fleshing out the “trialogue” metaphor was probably the longest section of the paper and it brought in a lot of issues I discuss in my book.)

So the canonical context, which Enns defines as how Scripture itself understands the historicity of Adam, shouldn’t be dominant or the judge over the other two?

Two things were clear to me as the day progressed: (1) Evangelicalism has a number of big questions ahead of it for addressing evolution, and I am not sure the evangelical system is designed to move forward without a lot of soul searching and discomfort.

The Origin of Species was published in 1859. So, no, this is not ahead of us, but behind us. It’s not as if Bible-believing Christians haven’t addressed this issue before.

Bergoglio’s Gig 2: On speaking out of both sides of your mouth

On the one hand, “Pope Francis” Bergoglio is “reluctant to call himself pope”, preferring to be called the more “humble” title, “Bishop of Rome”:

He still goes by "Bergoglio" when speaking to friends, seems reluctant to call himself pope and has decided to live in the Vatican hotel rather than the grand papal apartment in the Apostolic Palace.

It might seem as if Pope Francis is in a bit of denial over his new job as leader of the world's 1.2-billion Catholics. Or perhaps he's simply changing the popular idea of what it means to be pope, keeping the no-frills style he cultivated as archbishop of Buenos Aires in ways that may have broad implications for the church.

The world has already seen how Francis has cast aside many trappings of the papacy, refusing to don the red velvet cape Benedict XVI wore for official occasions and keeping the simple, iron-plated pectoral cross he used as bishop and archbishop...