Saturday, March 29, 2014

Rock monsters

Although Walsh is awfully shy about expressing his true feelings, from reading between the lines I get the nagging impression that this wasn't his favorite film:

http://themattwalshblog.com/2014/03/29/im-a-christian-and-i-think-noah-deserves-a-four-star-review/

Petrified angels


I'm going to comment on a positive review of Noah:
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/noah.html
I haven't seen the film. I don't plan to. To judge by reviews, I'd find it irritating to watch. Also, I've seen lots of disaster flicks with fancy CGI. 
Noah is another entry in this filmography. It asks big questions: Are humans worth saving? What is the place of justice and mercy in existence? How ought people relate to both powers greater than themselves and to the world in which they dwell?
Are those questions posed the same way we find in Genesis?
But what makes Noah work, even in its more messy bits, is that it usually avoids asking those questions pedantically. Instead, it embeds them in a story shared by the world's major religions (most ancient mythologies as well). 
To say it embeds them in a story shared by the world's major religions (as well as most ancient mythologies) is, if true, decidedly pluralistic. Owes more to the spirit of Joseph Campbell than the Spirit of God.
And it retells the story with a startlingly fresh imagination, generally strong writing, and great acting talent—Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Emma Watson, Ray Winstone, Anthony Hopkins.
Hopkins is at that age where he's becoming typecast as the generic authoritative patriarch. 
The Bible often leaves out things that make for good storytelling, like dialogue and scene-setting sensory details, because that's not its genre. Even the gospels tell us that Jesus performed many more miracles than are recorded, because there simply isn't enough room in the books for everything.
Noah respects the human's imaginative capacity by thinking of itself as a story about how it could have happened. Where the text says something, Noah does that thing. But where it is silent, the filmmakers worked hard to examine tradition, other texts, and what they know of people to think about one way the story could have worked out. (Even the most controversial of their narrative choices—something I won't spoil for you—has echoes of other Bible stories in it; it's probably not what happened, but things like it happened later, so it's not inconsistent.)
It's true that Gen 6-9 is insufficient to make a feature-length film. If that's the aim, then the screenwriters have to include a lot of filler. 
However, that's not the only way to film the Bible. If you film Bible stories as part of a continuous TV series on the historical narratives of Scripture, then a cinematic version the flood account needn't be 139 minutes long (in the case of Aronofsky's Noah). It doesn't require all that additional padding to turn it into a stand-alone viewing experience.    
Reportedly, the good folks at Industrial Light & Magic (the special effects company founded by George Lucas) did some of their most complicated work on this film, and it shows. The ark is enormous. The animals are fantastical, but plausible. The rock giants (Handel and Aronofsky's rendering of fallen angels, one interpretation of the Bible's "Nephilim") are emotionally resonant in the manner of Peter Jackson's rendering of Tolkien's ents. The account of creation is pushed into hand-drawn animation, which fits its place in the narrative.
I admit it: at first, I found myself raising an eyebrow and wondering how much I should have to suspend my disbelief at some of the things that happened in Noah. For instance: rocks that glow and, when hit, start fires. Giant lumbering fallen angels encased in rock. Plants that sprouted from the ground.
Then I remembered something very important: this is a depiction of an antediluvian world, a world that is both very young and different from the post-flood world. In this world, it has never rained. Snakes apparently had legs, only ten generations ago (see the account of the fall of man in Genesis). Men live for centuries and centuries, something that changed after the flood, according to the Bible. And miracles happen a lot, both before and after the flood.
So when things happen in the movie that seem "magical," I have to remind myself that I'm a modern American living in the twenty-first century, for whom "magic" means "sleight of hand" and "enchantment" is part of fairy tales, not reality.
It would not have been so in the past. And, frankly, as a modern who is also a Christian, I believe in some fairly "magical" stuff—such as the idea that baptism does something significant, or that there is some sense in which the Eucharist is a particular means of grace, or that speaking to an invisible being through prayer makes sense.
The problem with ransacking ancient Near Eastern mythology, 1 Enoch, Middle-Earth, &c., to flesh out the plot is that Noah's world suddenly becomes indistinguishable from Clash of the Titans. You might as well as Marvel Comic Book characters like Thor to liven up the action.  
That makes it less believable, not more believable. That reduces it to generic mythology, interchangeable with spare parts from other myths and pious fictions. 

Catholic cognitive dissonance


I'm going to comment on some statements in this article by a Catholic film critic:


Let’s begin by recognizing that most Christians are familiar with a strictly Sunday school version of the Noah story. Children love the stories of creation and Noah’s ark for an obvious reason: children love animals. These stories loom large in picture books and children’s Bibles, which play up the cute animals, sanitize and smooth out the narrative, and so forth.

I've read a number of Christian reviewers make that sweeping claim. Speaking for myself, I rarely attended Sunday school as a kid. I wasn't raised on a cartoon version of the flood narrative. Likewise, many people come to the Christian faith as adults. They had no Christian upbringing.

Whatever the movie looks like, I expect some pious moviegoers, especially biblical literalists, will be upset or angry about anything in the film that goes beyond the biblical text…

Well, Catholics are literalists when it comes to the Bread of Life discourse (John 6). 

Likewise, in the flood narrative, the “sons of God” who took wives from the “daughters of men” have widely been interpreted in both Jewish and Christian exegesis as angelic spirits of some sort. Developed Christian angelology doesn’t easily lend itself to the notion of angels fallen or unfallen marrying human beings, despite attempts of some commentators to paper over the problem with theological speculation.

I think that's an anachronistic interpretation, based on reading later Intertestamental literature (i.e. 1 Enoch) back into Genesis. I disagree with that interpretation: 


It has been recognized for some time that the early chapters of Genesis, i.e., Genesis 1–11 (the pre-Abrahamic primeval history), represent a literary form quite different from later, historical texts.
In fact, Pope Pius XII in Humani Generis characterizes these chapters as “not conforming to the historical method” as practiced by ancient as well as modern writers, calling them instead “a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people” in “simple and metaphorical language.”
This is not to say that Adam and Eve or Noah and the flood are only metaphors for something that never happened. The pope adds that these early chapters still “pertain to history in a true sense” (“which however must be further studied and determined by exegetes”). But clearly the accounts of creation, Adam and Eve and Noah and the flood are not historiography in the same sense as, say, the Gospels. That is, they are not a record of human experiences in living memory, based directly on eyewitness testimony, interviews with eyewitnesses, and so forth. The Gospels offer historical evidence for the basic outline of Jesus’ life that even unbelievers must reckon with.
The early chapters of Genesis are different. They describe events thousands of years before Genesis was written — events which, in some cases, no human eye witnessed. While it’s possible to imagine the stories of Adam and Eve and Noah being handed down by oral tradition for thousands of years, no believer accepts Genesis 1–11 based on the trustworthiness of millennia of oral tradition. Even if the writer of Genesis saw the whole flood story exactly as it happened in a vision from God, that would make it true, but it still wouldn’t be historiography in the same sense as the Gospels; it would be visionary writing.
In fact, the writer of Genesis mentions neither visions nor millennia of oral tradition; he doesn’t say where his material comes from, or on what authority he has it. Historical criticism suggests that the stories as we have them incorporate material drawn from a number of ancient oral traditions (“popular narrations,” Pius XII calls them). Of course, we believe that the selection and shaping of sources was under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.
Pope John Paul II said of the story of Adam and Eve:
Following the contemporary philosophy of religion and that of language, it can be said that the language in question is a mythical one. In this case, the term “myth” does not designate a fabulous content, but merely an archaic way of expressing a deeper content.
Following these papal sources, we should be able to say that it is not beyond the pale of Christian orthodoxy, and defined Catholic teaching in particular, to classify the Flood narrative in Genesis as divinely inspired mythology. Again, that to say this is not to say that there was no flood or no Noah. It is simply to say that the writer of Genesis did not have the kind of historically verifiable access to the events he was writing about that pertains to writers of history.

i) To say Gen 1-11 is metaphorical rather than historical is a rearguard action. That reflects the triumph of modernism in contemporary Catholicism. It's certainly not the traditional view of Gen 1-11.

ii) Scholars who deny the historicity of Gen 1-11, or treat it as metaphorical, don't suddenly view the rest of the Pentateuch as historical. Scholars who take that view of Gen 1-11 don't think the patriarchal narratives, or Exodus, or wilderness account, constitute a record of human experiences in living memory, based directly on eyewitness testimony, interviews with eyewitnesses.

By the same token, Catholic NT scholars like Raymond Brown, Joseph Fitzmyer, John Meier, and Luke Timothy Johnson, are fairly skeptical about the historicity of the Gospels. They spend a lot of time trying to sift the historical residual from the legendary embellishments–as they see it.

iii) But here we also witness a profound tension in modern Catholic piety. For instance, the same pope who characterizes these chapters as “not conforming to the historical method” as practiced by ancient as well as modern writers, calling them instead “a popular description of the origin of the human race and the chosen people” in “simple and metaphorical language,” also said:

we pronounce, declare, and define it to be a divinely revealed dogma: that the Immaculate Mother of God, the ever Virgin Mary, having completed the course of her earthly life, was assumed body and soul into heavenly glory. 
http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/pius_xii/apost_constitutions/documents/hf_p-xii_apc_19501101_munificentissimus-deus_en.html   
Likewise, the same pope who said "the language in question is a mythical one…an archaic way of expressing a deeper content" also commissioned a new catechism, which his successor had a leading role in editing. That document makes claims such as:

The deepening of faith in the virginal motherhood led the Church to confess Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth to the Son of God made man. In fact, Christ's birth "did not diminish his mother's virginal integrity but sanctified it." (499). 
http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p122a3p2.htm 
When the Church asks publicly and authoritatively in the name of Jesus Christ that a person or object be protected against the power of the Evil One and withdrawn from his dominion, it is called exorcism. Jesus performed exorcisms and from him the Church has received the power and office of exorcizing. In a simple form, exorcism is performed at the celebration of Baptism. The solemn exorcism, called "a major exorcism," can be performed only by a priest and with the permission of the bishop. The priest must proceed with prudence, strictly observing the rules established by the Church. Exorcism is directed at the expulsion of demons or to the liberation from demonic possession through the spiritual authority which Jesus entrusted to his Church (1673). 
http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c4a1.htm 
In the most blessed sacrament of the Eucharist "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained" (1374). 
http://www.vatican.va/archive/ccc_css/archive/catechism/p2s2c1a3.htm
John-Paul II was devotee of Fatima: 
This raises an interesting question. Why not interpret "Mary's real and perpetual virginity even in the act of giving birth" as mythical or metaphorical language? Why not interpret demonic possession and exorcism as an archaic way of expressing a deeper content? Why not  interpret the claim that "the body and blood, together with the soul and divinity, of our Lord Jesus Christ and, therefore, the whole Christ is truly, really, and substantially contained" in a wafer as mythical or metaphorical? Why not treat the Assumption of Mary as a metaphor? Why not treat Marian apparitions like Fatima as mythical or metaphorical? 
Devout Catholic intellectuals are by turns skeptical and superstitious. Rationalistic and fideistic.  

Gen 6 & 1 Enoch


Among other things, Aronofsky's Noah has revived a popular interpretation of Gen 6:1-4. The specific details owe more to 1 Enoch than Genesis. I'm going to quote Genesis and the "parallels" in 1 Enoch, so that we can compare and contrast them directly. (I'll be quoting from Nickelsburg's translation in his commentary on 1 Enoch.):

When men began to multiply on the face of the land and daughters were born to them, 2 the sons of God saw that the daughters of man were attractive. And they took as their wives any they chose. 3 Then the Lord said, “My Spirit shall not abide in man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.” 4 The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of man and they bore children to them. These were the mighty men who were of old, the men of renown (Gen 6:1-4, ESV). 
And when the sons of men had multiplied, in those days, beautiful and comely daughters were born to them. And the watchers, the sons of heaven, saw them and desired them. And they said to one another, "Come, let us choose from ourselves wives from the daughters of men, and let us beget for ourselves children."
And they were, all of them, two hundred, who descended in the days of Jared onto the peak of Mount Hermon (1 Enoch 6:1-2,5).
 
Enoch, righteous scribe, go and say to the watchers of heaven–who forsook the highest heaven, the sanctuary of the(ir) eternal station, and defiled themselves with women. As the sons of earth do, so they did and took wives for themseles (1 Enoch 12:4). 
Why have you forsaken the high heaven, the eternal sanctuary; and lain with women, and defiled yourselves with the daughters of men; and taken for yourselves wives, and done as the sons of earth; and begotten for yourselves sons, giants? (1 Enoch 14:3).
Notice what is present in the Enochian passages, but absent in Genesis. There's nothing in Genesis about the "sons of God" coming down from the sky. There's nothing about their banishment from heaven, as a divine punishment for desertion or concupiscence. There's no contrast between heaven and earth ("sons of heaven/sons of earth").
Although one can see how the authors of 1 Enoch might use Gen 6:1-4 as a springboard to evolve the notion of an angelic fall, that's not something we can legitimately read back into Genesis, for key details are missing. So these aren't real parallels. The specific idea of fallen angels is crucially absent in the primary text of Genesis. There's no downward motion, or expulsion from heaven. The "sons of God" aren't "sons of heaven" in contrast to "sons of men" who are "sons of earth." So a back-to-back comparison undermines rather than underwrites the angelic interpretation. 

Genesis: the introduction of God’s “holy temple city” on earth

I’m going to be posting some selections from T.D. Alexander’s “From Paradise to Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch”, one of the best works I’ve found on making the Old Testament understandable, especially in the light of the New Testament.

The opening chapters of Genesis introduce themes that will be central in the subsequent narrative. Principal among these is the expectation that the earth is to become God’s dwelling place through the construction of a holy temple-city. As God’s vice regents, humans are to extend his authority over the earth, at the same time ensuring its sanctity as a sacred space. Tragically, tempted by the serpent, Adam and Eve betray their Creator and thereby lose their royal and priestly status. Expelled from Eden and alienated from God, human beings try to establish a name for themselves by using their God-given ability to build an alternative city. Though their initial attempt is thwarted by God, the aspirations of those who built Babel-Babylon live on. Against this background, the book of Genesis records the call of Abraham, with whom God will begin the long process of reversing the consequences of humanity’s rebellion against its Creator (T.D. Alexander, “From Paradise to Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, (2012 Third Edition), pg 130).

Friday, March 28, 2014

The least Biblical Bible film ever


Noah's director Darren Aronofsky, a self-described atheist who made the Oscar-nominated hit The Black Swan, has described the movie as is "the least biblical biblical film ever made" and called Noah "the first environmentalist". According to one early review, the name "God" is not actually spoken at any stage. 
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/film/film-news/10717724/Noah-epic-awash-in-flood-of-controversy-for-green-agenda-and-taking-liberties-with-Bible.html

Open theism on the silver screen


Darren Aronofsky: Ari put it a good way by defining it—since we're both parents—as this: If you're a parent with too much justice, you destroy your child with strictness. And if you're a parent with too much mercy, you destroy them with leniency. So being a really good parent is about finding that balance, which I think is in the story of Noah. Actually, it's similar to the story that God goes through. At the beginning of the story of Noah, he wants justice, and by the end he [offers] mercy through the rainbow, and grace. It was that balance that interested us. 
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2014/march-web-only/darren-aronofsky-interview-noah.html?paging=off

Was Noah Good?

http://www.alankurschner.com/2014/03/28/was-noah-good/


Antarctic churches

http://www.messynessychic.com/2014/03/19/seven-churches-antarctica/

Hitech demons

http://www.vice.com/print/the-exorcism-industry-joins-the-21st-century-0000262-v21n3

Mixed reviews of Noah

http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/tgc/2014/03/26/darren-aronofksys-noah/print/

http://godawa.com/movieblog/deconstructing-noahs-arc-godawful-storytelling/

http://www.evolutionnews.org/2014/03/noahs_war_on_hu083841.html

Forget ‘Noah’: Here’s a Clear and Readable Introduction to the Old Testament

Noah?
Some time ago, Steve Hays wrote, “When I was 16, going on 17, I felt led to read the Bible. I began with the OT, but at that time it was like a thicket. Impenetrable. So I stopped reading the Bible” (Steve Hays and James Anderson, eds, “Love the Lord with Heart and Mind”, self-published ©2008, pg 52).

With “Noah, the Movie”, drawing mixed reviews, I thought I’d take an opportunity to give a plug to a resource that I believe would be far more valuable, and lasting, than spending the money to see this movie.

T.D. Alexander’s work “From Paradise to Promised Land: An Introduction to the Pentateuch” (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, (2012 Third Edition), is one of the finest and most accessible works I’ve read dealing with the Old Testament. The “thicket” is made clear, and a path forward is defined.

The work falls into two main parts: Part 1 provides a brief (and accessible) introduction to the history of Old Testament criticism, including an account of the rise and fall of the “Documentary Hypothesis” (or, the J.E.D.P theory) – which I skimmed over, but which was very enlightening as to what “the thicket” is all about.

Part 2 provides an introduction and literary analysis of the first five books of the Bible (and indeed, it treats the account running from Genesis to 2Kings as one long, single narrative). Themes are broken out topically, including God’s Temple City, the Royal Lineage in Genesis, (only a brief section on “the Flood Narrative”), The Covenant at Sinai, The Tabernacle, The Sacrificial System, “Be Holy”, Clean and Unclean Foods, “Why Israel?”, and more. Each chapter in Part 2 contains “an Old Testament Summary” and “New Testament Connections”. In that regard, it makes a great book-end to G.K. Beale’s “A New Testament Biblical Theology: The Unfolding of the Old Testament in the New” – studying that theme from the front end of the book.

Longer-lasting, more edifying, and more satisfying than a movie. A good bit less expensive, too.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Christian contribution to medicine

"The Christian Contribution to Medicine" by Rosie Beal-Preston.

Old gossipy wags

Sometimes it doesn't take much to test a man's integrity. A quick, simple test will expose what's lacking underneath. This separates the pilgrims from the apparatchiks. Men of God from company men. 

Fred Butler ‏@Fred_Butler  Mar 23@triablogue Since when has the Tblog team become a bunch of busy body old church ladies? Why do you care how much a pastor is comped?



i) To begin with, what does Fred have against old church ladies? Some of the finest Christians I know are old church ladies. I imagine a fair percentage of the parishioners at Grace Community church are old ladies. Indeed, I suspect Pastor McArthur's wife is an old church lady by now.

ii) Prosperity preachers like Steve Furtick, Creflo Dollar, Robert Tilton, and the Bhagwan Rajneesh (of blessed memory) would deeply appreciate Fred's position. 

Fred Butler ‏@Fred_Butler  Mar 23@triablogue How is impugning JMac w/ dishonest gain seeking a consistent standard? It's like you all have become old gossipy wags.


Since John MacArthur devotes pages and pages of Strange Fire to attacking prosperity preachers, is Fred accusing MacArthur of being an old gossipy wag as well as a busybody old church lady? Why should he care what they are comped? 

Triablogue ‏@triablogue  Mar 23@Fred_Butler @TimmmmBates Witness to the world. Processes that are transparent to the world. Beyond question. Are all those in place at GTY?
Fred Butler ‏@Fred_Butler  Mar 23@triablogue @TimmmmBates Yes. The very email you deconstruct explained to you that it was. Obviously you aren't satisfied w/ that.


The email only discussed his income from GTY. That means most of MacArthur's sources of revenue remain unaccounted for. That lack of transparent is an obvious problem when he presumes to attack prosperity preachers. 

Triablogue ‏@triablogue  Mar 23@TimmmmBates @Fred_Butler Hays: Before he published Strange Fire, did MacArthur attempt to contact the charismatics he targets in his book?
Fred Butler ‏@Fred_Butler  Mar 23@triablogue @TimmmmBates Oh for goodness sakes. Are you for real? Now you sound like a whiney tone police YRR cry baby.

Since it was a member of MacArthur's inner circle who complained about my failure to contact MacArthur or him before doing my post, that must mean Fred is accusing my correspondent of being a whiney tone police YRR crybaby. 


David Kjos ‏@TheThirstyTheo  Mar 24@Fred_Butler That @triablogue throws out "nepotism" as though hiring relatives is a priori corrupt reveals a prejudiced disposition.
Fred Butler ‏@Fred_Butler  Mar 24@TheThirstyTheo @triablogue It's a joke, really. As if families aren't allowed to minister together.

So when a megachurch operation puts relatives on the payroll (or makes them business partners), that's not nepotism. That's just "ministering together." Once again, prosperty preachers will surely appreciate Fred's euphemism. Perhaps Furtick can hire Fred to be his press secretary. 

Moral confusion on World Vision


Arminian ethicist Randal Rauser, whose posts sometimes grace the Society of Evangelical Arminians, has weighed in on the World Vision debacle:



So why would Anderson suggest that Christians should stop supporting World Vision, a development agency dedicated to helping the world’s poor, with a special focus on children, community development and disaster relief
Of course, the conscientious evangelical Christian who is a child sponsor will face a rather embarrassing obstacle at the outset: would Jesus really want you to stop sending money to little Jennifer Ajego because of World Vision’s changed policy on gay unions?What strikes me is that there is no outrage among conservative evangelicals about the preventable deaths of thirty thousand children a day which is comparable to the outrage that sweeps like a raging Aussie brushfire at the very mention of homosexuality.
But let’s set aside genocide and talk, instead, about a more mundane reality: poverty. According to UNICEF:
About 29,000 children under the age of five –  21 each minute – die every day, mainly from preventable causes.More than 70 per cent of almost 11 million child deaths every year are attributable to six causes: diarrhoea, [sic] malaria, neonatal infection, pneumonia, preterm delivery, or lack of oxygen at birth. (source)
There are several problems with playing the Jesus card ("WWJD?"):
i) A few years ago, Rauser was plugging his attendance at the Logos Workshop:
Here's the roster of speakers:
Consider how many hungry children you could feed for the same outlay? Would Jesus really want you to snatch food from the mouths of starving children to squander on the Logos Workshop? Would Jesus really want you to spend that money on combined airfare and hotel lodgings rather than sick, malnourished kids?
Likewise, Rauser uses his website as a billboard to hawk his potboilers:
Just imagine how many hungry kids his devoted readers could sponsor if they stopped buying his books and donated the money saved to World Vision? How many children must starve to death so that Rauser can sell another book? Would Jesus really want you to spend your disposable income on Rauser's books rather than World Vision? 
Here's another shocking fact: Rauser is a seminary prof. Just think how many kids you could save from death by malnutrition if the budget of Taylor Seminary was diverted to the world's poor, with a special focus on children. Every dollar spent on Taylor Seminary is a dollar taken away from poor Third World children. What would Jesus do?
ii) Does Rauser think Jesus needs World Vision? I mean, couldn't Jesus simply do it himself? He has the ability heal at a distance, and replicate food to feed thousands.  
Fact is, feeding hungry children isn't a personal priority for Jesus. If it was, there's be no malnourished kids. Millions of kids die annually from preventable causes. Jesus could single-handedly prevent their untimely demise. But he doesn't. If WWJD is Rauser's standard for Christian conduct, then World Vision is guilty of acting contrary to Christ's own policy of nonintervention.
Now, perhaps we might say God has the right to obligate Christians to do things which he himself is under no obligation to do. That, however, is diametrically opposed to Rauser's analogy. 
Just in the last few days, at the very same time that conservative evangelicals have been rallying to punish World Vision, reports have been flooding out of a developing genocide in the Central African Republic. According to reports from the United Nations and several NGOs, the last few months have seen several thousand people murdered and more than one million displaced. Yet, I am quite sure that the average North American conservative evangelical is not even aware of this horrifying situation. (Genocide? Africa? Meh. Pro-gay policy at a North American evangelical NGO? Argh!!!!)
Is Rauser really that dense? What does Rauser think North American evangelicals can actually do to halt genocide in Africa? By contrast, we can do something about World Vision. Indeed, under pressure, World Vision reversed itself. What is Rauser's solution genocide? 
However, even if your decision won’t hit Jennifer Ajego directly and her village still survives your moral protest, there is one other uncomfortable implication of your moral stand: it represents the end of your relationship with young Jennifer. As Anderson recognizes, many supporters of World Vision develop close relationships with their official “sponsor children”, writing letters and sending gifts over the years. 
i) Of course, for every child you sponsor, there are many more children who have no sponsors. If you were to cut ties with World Vision, and sponsor a different child through a different Christian charity, isn't that a wash?
ii) If you're already sponsoring a child, you could maintain that relationship, but refrain from sponsoring any new children through World Vision. You could sponsor new children through a different Christian charity. Does Rauser think World Vision is too big to fail? 
Let me start by offering a caveat to those inclined to take Anderson’s advice. If you cut Jennifer Ajego and World Vision out of your charitable giving, be sure to cut Starbucks out of your coffee budget since they’ve been on record supporting gay marriage since 2012. (See here and here.) You see, it would look rather bad if you were willing to cut off the poor based on your high moral principles, but not willing to do the same for your favorite espresso beverage.
And be sure you do the same for Apple, Target, Disney, Ford, Levi-Strauss, Microsoft, Amazon.com, The Home Depot, Expedia.com, The Gap, Pepsi, Old Navy, Banana Republic, Macy’s, Walgreens, et cetera. Because how bad would it look to cut off Jennifer Ajego while still driving your F-150 and allowing your daughter to dress up as a Disney princess?
i) To begin with, Rauser's argument is circular. Private businesses aren't even allowed to oppose homosexual marriage. They are being sued or prosecuted if they do. 
ii) Ironically, Disney is Exhibit A of what happens once the homosexual lobby sinks its teeth into what use to be a family-oriented business. 
iii) The analogy is disanalogous. We are holding a professedly Christian organization (World Vision) to Christian standards.  
iv) Rauser is trying to play the hypocrisy card. But by that logic, unless Christians oppose every sinful business, it is wrong for Christians to oppose any sinful business. Unless I oppose Apple or Microsoft, I have no right to oppose a child prostitution racket. Is that Rauser's position? Does Randal himself operate that way? 
This raises an obvious question: just what is the gospel? In the words of Paul, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” (1 Corinthians 2:2) According to Jesus, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” (Matthew 25:40) So I take it that if you want to talk Gospel, works of righteousness carried out for the poor and oppressed in the name of the crucified (and risen) Christ brings us right to the heart of the Gospel.
That exposes Rauser's exegetical incompetence. Mt 25:40 refers to Christians supporting fellow Christians. 
As I noted above, Anderson suggests that one might shift their support from World Vision to Compassion International. This raises an interesting problem. You see, I spoke with a Compassion representative just this morning and she was unaware of any policy that precludes Compassion from hiring folks who have been divorced (for reasons other than covenantal unfaithfulness) and then remarried whilst the former spouse is still alive. This despite the fact that such behavior is, according to the very words of Jesus, adultery: “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)
So far as I can see, then, it appears that Compassion is willing to hire people who, according to the very teaching of Jesus, are in adulterous relationships. I take it that the acceptance of adultery among one’s employees is at least as bad as the acceptance of monogamous homosexual relationships. Consequently, I would think that if we stop supporting World Vision, it is inadvisable to offer Compassion as an alternative.
Another example of Rauser's exegetical ineptitude:
i) There are Biblically permissible grounds for divorce and remarriage. There are no Biblically permissible grounds for homosexual relationships.
ii) Homosexuals are rarely monogamous.
iii) Divorce and remarriage dissolves the prior marriage. Even if adultery was the precipitating cause, remarriage is not continuously adulterous. The affair was adulterous. But once you divorce and remarry, even if adultery was the cause, the marriage itself is not an adulterous state.
If, before you became a Christian, you divorced and remarried, even if adultery was the precipitating cause, that doesn't carry over into your marriage after you become a Christian. You new marriage is not adulterous. 
The closing word goes to Jesus (Mark 9:38-41)
38 “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”
39 “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40 for whoever is not against us is for us. 41 Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward.”
i) A final example of Rauser's persistent exegetical incompetence:
Once again, this is referring to how Christians are to treat fellow Christians.
ii) In addition, World Vision doesn't allow its employees to "give a cup of water" in Jesus' name. As the president of World Vision said:
Question: Are you trying to end poverty or evangelize Christianity? 
Answer:  We don't proselytize. We do not force our religious beliefs on anyone... 
http://blog.guykawasaki.com/2007/05/ten_or_so_quest.html

Reformation Protestantism: faithfulness in little things; and a patient and humble reading of the text

I made some miscellaneous comments to several different Roman Catholics in the thread following Brandon Addison’s article, “The Quest for the Historical Church: A Protestant Assessment”.

Brandon’s comments throughout are exceptional, and he’s even pushed some CTC writers into adopting the positions of writers like Raymond Brown and Francis Sullivan, whom they have decried in the past as liberals and CINOs. (John Thayer Jenson, below, says “the idea of some development in Church polity does not mean that Jesus didn’t foresee and intend the development. In particular, as you comment here, it does seem perfectly possible that the monarchical bishopric may have made little sense when the Apostles were alive – but that the Spirit-guided Church may have reacted to it by setting one presbyter/episkopos over the others in a city.” As it turns out, that is precisely what Brown and Sullivan say. I address this and other issues below.)

Jesus makes me happy

"Salvation in a Dementia Ward" by Barry York.

Easter Resources

For several years now, I've been putting together a collection of resources for each Easter season. Here are the posts from previous years:

2009
2010
2011
2012
2013

Higher education

http://www.psmag.com/navigation/books-and-culture/killing-pigs-weed-maps-mostly-unread-world-academic-papers-76733/

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Jacob Arminius, theologian of semi-pelagianism

http://www.reformation21.org/shelf-life/jacob-arminius-theologian-of-grace.php

Bird on Ehrman

"Did the Early Church Invent Jesus' Divinity After the Fact? Michael Bird Discusses Bart Ehrman's New Book (And An Unusual Rebuttal)"

Note: I don't agree with everything Bird says.

How Jesus became God

http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2014/03/how-jesus-became-god-or-how-god-became-jesus-a-review-of-bart-ehrmans-new-book-and-a-concurrent-response/

What does prophecy mean?


Bible prophecy raises some tricky interpretive issues. That's hardly novel observation, to be sure. But I'm going to explore some issues that don't usually receive as much attention.

i) The grammatico-historical method generally regards authorial intent as a key element in grounding and ascertaining the sense of a passage. This can be complemented by other considerations, like the implied reader.

This also figures in the nature of inspiration. Take Luke's prologue or John's prologue. There the narrator is introducing the gospel in his own words. He's consciously choosing which words to use. Given a theory of verbal inspiration, God is controlling the process. Luke and John aren't aware of that. What they do is the result of that. 

The narrator chooses words to communicate the meaning he intends to convey to his readers. In that case, the connection between text and authorial intent is pretty direct. 

However, Luke and John (as well as Matthew and Mark) quote other speakers. Although they sometimes paraphrase their material, they aren't simply telling the story in their own words. When they quote someone else, they are transmitting the speaker's choice of words. 

In that case, it's not in the first place what the narrator means by those words, but what the speaker meant. He didn't choose their words. He's reporting their words. In that case, the connection between text and authorial intent is indirect. 

Of course, he's quoting them because they contribute to his narrative. At that level, authorial intent is still in play. What function do they serve in his narrative?

ii) Let's take visionary revelation, which often includes speakers within the vision. Take Revelation. When John emerges from his trance, he writes down what he heard. It's like he's taking dictation. He heard a character in his vision say something, and he passes that along to his readers. At that level, he's more like a scribe or messenger. He delivers the message. He didn't compose the message. I'm just discussing the quotations in Revelation. Obviously, John is responsible for much of the framing. 

In that case, to ask what John meant, what he was referring to, can be misleading. It's more a question of what the speaker had in mind, whom John is quoting. 

In theory, it's quite possible for messenger to have little or no understanding of the message he delivers. His role is confined to transmitting what someone else said or told him to say. 

iii) Further distinctions are possible. In Revelation, some speakers are arguably fictional characters, even if they represent real people. To take a comparison, I often dream about real people. People I know. But the people in my dream are fictional characters who stand for real people. The dream itself is a product of my own imagination, even though some people I dream have real-world analogues. 

If they say something in my dream, I'm writing the script. Those are really my words, which I'm putting on their lips. 

In a dream (unless it's a lucid dream), I'm not consciously choosing the words they use. This is subliminal. 

Of course, in the case of Revelation, we're dealing with inspired visions–unlike an ordinary dream. In principle, the seer could be the source of the words which speakers use. It would be the difference between consciously and unconsciously choosing vocabulary. When Luke penned his prologue, he consciously chose those words. Yet when John is quoting an angel in Revelation, it's possible that God inspired him to choose those words, but at a subliminal level–the way a dreamer is unwittingly scripting his own dream.

But let's take a different comparison. In Luke, the narrator quotes Gabriel speaking to Zechariah. One question is whether this is a subjective vision or objective vision. Did Gabriel appear to Zechariah in the sense that if you snuck into the sanctuary, you could see Gabriel conversing with Zechariah? That's one possibility. 

Or is this a subjective vision in which Zechariah underwent a trance. In that case you have a simulated angelic apparition. Yet Gabriel is still a real person who's choosing his own words. He controls his side of the dialogue. Same thing with the angel who spoke to Joseph in dreams. At that level, the statements mean what they were meant to convey by the speaker. 

iv) There are different ways to parse meaning. The words and sentences which a prophet uses have objective semantic content, even if (ex hypothesi) he doesn't understand the message himself. What is more, by divine providence and inspiration, working in tandem, the words are meant to correspond to an objective state of affairs, at some point in the future. 

v) If a prophecy is about the distant future, the description may be analogically true. By that I mean, a prophetic description of a modem city isn't going to depict the technological apparatus of a modern city. It won't describe cars, subways, traffic lights, skyscrapers, &c. An ancient oracle will use ancient descriptors which are analogous to their modern counterparts. 

It is, of course, possible, for God to give a seer a preview of the future. Enable him to actually foresee a modern metropolis. But he'd lack the modern vocabulary to match the scene. 

Project Frontlines, 26 March 2014

At a high school in Oklahoma.

9/11 was a hoax!


Now that I've got your attention with the provocative title...

i) Unbelievers typically assert that extraordinary events demand extraordinary evidence. That's a catchy phrase, but is it true?

I've discussed this in many occasions, but I'd like to take another whack at it.

ii) There's a sense in which the 9/11 attack was an extraordinary event. What's the evidence for the 9/11 attack? Mainly, eyewitness testimony and photography. Yet there's nothing extraordinary about cameras or eyewitnesses. That's extremely commonplace. 

Moreover, if you determined to be skeptical, you could question both. The witnesses could be bribed. Or they could be CIA agents posing as civilians. The news footage could be CGI.

Although the 9/11 attack was the most widely viewed event in human history, that's deceptive. Except for observers on site, most of us only saw what a few cameras saw. The actual source of information is quite narrow. Millions of viewers using the same conduit. 

iii) Now, an unbeliever might object that 9/11 isn't extraordinary in the relevant sense. That's not how unbelievers define "extraordinary" in reference to miracles. Perhaps not. But that raises the issue of a hoc definitions, where their definition of an extraordinary event is custom-made to pick out miracles, and their definition of extraordinary evidence is custom-made to pick on miracles. They begin with what they disbelieve, then they invent stimulative definitions and tendentious criteria to exclude it or disprove it. 

iv) But here's another issue. What's more likely: that 9/11 would go unreported if it did happen, or that reporters would concoct 9/11 if it didn't happen? 

Put another way, what kinds of events are most likely to be reported? Extraordinary events. The vast majority of events go unreported because they are so mundane. They happen every day. No one gives them a second thought. It's the extraordinary events that make people stand up and take notice. The more out of the ordinary, the more newsworthy. 

If 9/11 happened, what are the odds that no one would report it? Aren't the odds of that practically nil? 

Conversely, if 9/11 never happened, what are the odds that this nonevent would be reported? Now, that's not quite nil. Sometimes people make up stories. Mind you, that depends in part on how public it would be. The scale of the event. The number of observers in a position to deny the yarn. 

Nevertheless, if 9/11 happened, there's an overwhelming presumption that it would be reported–whereas, if it didn't, there's an overwhelming presumption that there'd be no public record–since there'd be nothing to report in the first place. 

Yet unbelievers routinely claim that there's a standing presumption against reported miracles. And it takes massive evidence to overcome that presumption. 

But the more unlikely the event, the more likely it will be reported. 

If, say, the Resurrection happened, we'd expect it to be reported. If, however, it never happened, there's no expectation that it would be reported. 

Nonevents are rarely reported. How many people who visit cemeteries report seeing people rise from the grave? And this is despite the pop cultural zombie fad. 

v) In addition, even when a nonevent is reported, that often has a basis in fact. Maybe it didn't happen the way it was reported. The event was misidentified or misinterpreted. 

Take Marian apparitions. Suppose a pious Catholic says she saw the Virgin Mary appear in a window on a sunny day. She's not lying. And it's not purely a figment of her imagination.

It's an optical illusion. Lighting conditions generate an image that corresponds to traditional Marian iconography. 

Is it really the Virgin Mary? No. But it's not a nonevent. There's an objective phenomenon that gave rise to this impression. Although she's projecting something that isn't there, there is something there that forms the basis of her projection. 

Whether or not a reported miracle can be explained away depends on the concrete details. There's a naturalistic explanation for this particular example. That doesn't mean other cases invite the same reductive explanation. 

The paradox of prophecy


i) One objection unbelievers raise to Bible prophecy is the vagueness of Bible prophecy. With few exceptions, Bible prophecies lack names, dates, and addresses. For instance, imagine if Isaiah predicted that "On September 11, 2001, Muslim hijackers will fly jet airplanes into skyscrapers on Manhattan." Wouldn't that be impressive? An undeniable prediction!

ii) But that evinces the paradox of prophecy. In the case of long-range prophecies, the more specific the prophecy, the less intelligible it would be to the original audience. Every detail of my faux 9/11 prophecy would be utterly opaque to Jews in the 8C BC. 

That's because, in the case of long-range prophecy, the world may have undergone such drastic changes in the intervening centuries that a description of the modern world would be unrecognizable to an ancient audience. There were no Muslims, hijackers, jet airplanes, or skyscrapers in the 8C BC. Manhattan didn't exist. The Gregorian calendar didn't exist. 

And it's not just the original audience which would be out of the loop. My faux 9/11 prophecy would be meaningless to anyone living before the mid-20C AD or thereabouts.

iii) This would create problems for the transmission and translation of the oracle. Scribes would be tempted to substitute recognizable words for senseless worlds. Likewise, scribal errors are more likely to creep into the text when copyists don't recognize the words. You can see that when people transcribe a text in a foreign language they don't know. 

And ancient translators would certainly recast the text into something comprehensible to the translators and their target audience. 

iv) There's another catch. If the Bible did contain this oracle, its very presence would subvert its fulfillment. The 9/11 attack counted on the element of surprise. If enough people were expecting the 9/11 attack, the terrorists would choose a different day, different method, different target. For that matter, it's not as if Muslims have an incentive to prove Bible prophecy.  

So prophecy rests on a knife-edge. It must be sufficiently specific that you can discern its fulfillment after the fact, but not so specific that you can discern its fulfillment in advance. 

World Vision


A few brief observations about World Vision:

i) As I've said on other occasion, there's a sense in which I think this sort of thing is a good development. By that I mean, it's good when nominally Christian institutions tip their hand. That separates the faithful from the faithless. 

ii) I expect the World Vision execs are surprised by the extent and intensity of the backlash. Surprised because, unless they were out-of-touch with the Christian community to begin with, they wouldn't change their policy.

iii) What's striking is how they capitulated in the absent of any tangible threat. They didn't have the excuse of a fine or law-suit. They just unilaterally buckled to the new social mores of the cultural elite. 

iv) Apropos (iii), big Christian organizations have a special responsibility to resist these encroachments on Christian liberty. That's because, unlike mom-and-pop Christian businesses, they have the financial resources to contest it. They may still lose, but they can at least put up a fight.

v) It's ironic that they justify their capitulation on the grounds that they just want to focus on their mission, for I expect homosexual marriage is a great affront to many Third World cultures. This is a radical chic cause in the West. 

vi) Sponsoring children through World Vision isn't all it's cracked up to be. I had a relative who used to sponsor a child in India or Pakistan. She got regular updates which mentioned what a devout Hindu he was. She wrote back to say she wasn't donating to indoctrinate a poor child in Hinduism. Hinduism is a major contributor to poverty in the first place (i.e. the caste system).

Miracles and medicine

http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20041220005244/en/Science-Miracle-Holiday-Season-Survey-Reveals-Physicians#.UzJ1AnO0zUQ

God's freedom

http://analytictheologye4c5.wordpress.com/2014/03/24/gods-freedom/

Is the Bible is reliable?

http://www.exploregod.com/is-the-bible-reliable-paper

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Simply fundamentalists of a different stripe


I should say that one of the things that struck me, quite forcefully, in the aftermath of the publication of the book, was just how virulent, mean-spirited, and militant some atheists can be. The hate-mail and hate-response that I received for this book from the far left was absolutely as vehement as the hate-mail and hate-response that I have received for other books from the far right. It’s not easy being a historian, wanting simply to know what happened in the past, when so many have so many vested interests in having things their own way. Many of the mythicists are simply fundamentalists of a different stripe. Or so I’ve experienced! 
http://ehrmanblog.org/video-jesus-exist/

Is Love Wanting the Best for Someone?

http://calvindude.org/dude/2014/03/25/love-wanting-best-someone/

The FACTS of salvation


Recently, Brian Abasciano laid out his basic case for Armininism:
Abasciano is a well-trained NT scholar. I'm going to do a running commentary on his case, because it represents a systematic, up-to-date defense of Arminianism by a capable scholar. I'll ignore the final section on "Security in Christ," since I did an MAR thesis on that topic (see sidebar). 

“Evangelical biblical scholarship” is thriving

I’ve been responding to some of the comments in the Called to Communion thread following up on Brandon Addison’s excellent article there describing the ancient church at Rome:

Ray Stamper, I’m continuing to address your comments in #28:

You seem to be entirely evading his point and mine. A point often voiced on this site, particularly when technical debate concerning pre-Irenaean documentary texts has ensued here. Dr. Owen is manifestly correct. It is a fact that the very same methodological assumptions which lead academic biblical scholars to view Cirlot and Dix as “dated”, such that the new guard has “moved passed” them

I think “dated” is a mischaracterization. And “moved past” is also a mischaracterization.

In the light of my previous comment, outlining Lampe’s methodology, it seems fair to say that the understanding is rather that “they are lacking in some information”. Now, to be sure, that doesn’t invalidate everything they say. And nor does it entail harsh skepticism. But it does involve re-reading what they say and understanding that in some areas, their analyses may simply be lacking.

are the same methodological assumptions which would, without doubt, lead these same scholars to throw “the vast bulk of evangelical biblical scholarship” into the trash can.

This comment betrays a lack of knowledge as to what “evangelical biblical scholarship” is all about, over the last 50 years or so.

The role of “critical scholarship” when looking at ancient works

I’ve been responding to some of the comments in the Called to Communion thread following up on Brandon Addison’s excellent article there describing the ancient church at Rome:

Ray Stamper #28, you said:

as a man formed within and by the intellectual presuppositions dominating academic historical-critical scholarship, the methodological assumptions behind Lampe’s approach to the documentary monuments of the earliest Christian centuries are precisely the same methodological assumptions which determine his approach to the sacred canon.

How do you know this? Do you know the man? Or are you just speculating?

Further down you say:

Far from irrelevant, Lampe’s methodological assumptions most certainly threaten the confessional standards of Reformed churches – and that is the point at hand.

In fact, Lampe’s work on Chapter 16 of Romans (arguing that it was a part of the original document and not something added-on later) is state-of-the-art conservative scholarship, cited by Schreiner and Moo (themselves conservative exegetes who honor the text), for example, in their commentaries on Romans. Both of those men are knowledgeable, confessional Protestants, fully versed in “Lampe’s methodological assumptions”, and not, in any way, as you say, “threatened”.

So if this is your “point at hand”, then it seems as if you need to re-think it.

Monday, March 24, 2014

All looks yellow to the jaundiced eye


3. Displacement: Make yourself the minority. It will help you more fully understand other ethnic and cultural groups. As the majority or dominant culture, you do not have to see things through the minority or subdominant culture's lens. The difference in the way we view the world is often the source of tension. Harris and Schaupp develop this thought in their book, Being White: Finding Our Place in a Multi-Ethnic World.  
Harris and Schaupp write, "...the white person chooses to put herself in a context where people of color are dominant in number and culture and whites are the minority. We call this displacement. Maybe she joins an Asian-led campus fellowship; maybe he goes to live and work on a reservation. Maybe a family moves into a neighborhood and school district that are mostly nonwhite. In this stage, the white person can learn to see whites and people of color in groups. He starts to see our respective racial and cultural systems and how they truly function. The key work in displacement is learning to submit and becoming a student of nonwhite cultures. The white person learns the other culture--celebrations, conflict-resolution styles and so on--and begins having productive, healthy conflict. He learns history through books and people's stories. It is a profoundly stretching stage of the white journey.... The active cross-cultural growth process a white person experiences in displacement causes her to reconsider her white identity in foundational ways... The white person begins to form a new white identity, strong enough to face the truth about white history and current reality... (19-20).   
http://www.reformation21.org/blog/2014/03/walking-on-eggshells-five-more.php

Because Leon Brown always sees the world through his narrow racial prism, he's oblivious to the face that white Americans already experience what it's like to be political minorities. A basic problem is that Brown fails to distinguish between numerical majorities and the cultural dominance. A numerical minority can be culturally dominant. For instance, judges are part of the power elite. Judges are a tiny fraction of the total population. But it only takes one Federal judge with blue-state values to impose his culturally elite values on a red state. 

The same thing applies protected classes. The LBGT community is numerically subdominant but culturally dominant. Judges and lawmakers have empowered the LBGT community. They enjoy super rights. 

Christian Americans greatly outnumber homosexuals and trans, but Christians are currently subdominant. Likewise, feminist public (or secular private) school officials are numerically in the minority, but culturally dominant over boys. Female, homosexual, and trans students are culturally dominant while straight men and boys culturally subdominant. 

And it's not just caucasian men and boys. Heteronormative non-white boys are subdominant in relation to girls, homosexuals, and trans. 

Ironically, Brown's racism prisms makes it impossible for him to effectively minister to minorities, for he views the dominant/subdominant axis in exclusively ethic or racial terms, whereas the dominant/subdominant axis more often falls along religious lines, sexual lines, or gender role-modeling. He constantly stereotypes whites by typecasting them in his all-controlling racial narrative. 

Dogs are people too!


Let me preface this post by saying I like dogs. At least I like likable dogs. 

Matt Walsh recently did a controversial post about a dog-mauling:


There were two aspects to his post. One was his criticism of sociopathic dog-lovers whose empathy is reserved for a vicious dog at the expense of the child who was mauled. Their mercy begins and ends with the vicious dog. They are merciless when it comes to the young defenseless victim.

That part of his post wasn't controversial. Not, at least, for people who like to read Matt Walsh. 

But he also criticized pit bulls because that breed is reputedly responsible for most of the fatal maulings in the US. And that garnered the ire of pit-bull owners. 

I'll use this controversy to segue into a few observations about our dog culture.

i) Our culture is becoming more antinatalist. As a result, dogs are replacing children in the affections of many singles and (willfully) childless couples.

I understand elderly widows who have a dog for emotional companionship. It's pitiful, but it's understandable. 

ii) When I was growing up, the dog was usually the family dog. Parents bought a dog for their kids. 

But, nowadays, the dog is the family. The dog is a surrogate family. That represents a significant demographic and cultural shift.

iii) Because we have an increasing number of dog-owners who think it's wrong to distinguish between dogs and humans, I'm noticing some bad habits, even dangerous habits.

For instance, we have dog owners who turn a school campus into an off-leash dog park. Same thing with trails. Some dog owners keep their dogs on a lease, while other dog owners let their dogs roam at large.

That's a combination with predictable results. Even if the dog is friendly around strangers, there are always some dogs that dislike other dogs. It's a recipe for dog fights. If every dog is on a lease, then you can prevent a dog fight by pulling the dogs apart. If both are off-leash, or only one is leashed, then it's much harder to separate them. 

iv) I also notice women and sometimes kids with large, potentially dangerous dogs. In the case of women, that's deliberate. They get a big dog because they feel safer with a big dog. It's a message to potential muggers or rapists: keep your distance! Don't even try.

That's understandable. Problem is, some of these dogs are clearly more powerful than the owner. Even if the dog is leashed, if it lunges at an innocent pedestrian or jogger or biker, the female owner (or child) won't be able to restrain it. It's too strong. The owner won't be able to pull it back. Indeed, in many cases, it will break free. The owner won't be able to hold onto the lease. The dog will take the leash with it. 

v) There's a certain paradox about big dogs and small dogs. Small dogs tend to be insecure because they are vulnerable, and they sense their vulnerability. In that respect, many large dogs are less prone to bite than small dogs. Large dogs don't feel threatened. But when they do attack, they do more damage.

vi) Recently I saw a nasty little dog that viewed everyone as the enemy. It was chaffing to pick a fight with every pedestrian, every jogger, ever biker, every other dog on the trail. I saw it lunge at a Doberman, and I saw it lunge at a German Shepherd. All within a few minutes. That's just what I happened to observe. Imagine the rest of the time.

In a sense I'm glad. It's only a matter of time before it lunges at the wrong dog within reach of the other dog's jaws. That will be the end of this nasty little dog.

But I was struck by the indifference of the owner. Apparently, he thinks his dog is a person, so it would be wrong to train or restrain his pet, even for its own good.

vii) I also see a lot of grown men with little dogs. Forgive me for saying, but I find that a bit unmanly. I understand grown men with a German Shepherd or something along those lines. But a toy dog? Really? 

viii) There's also a problem when people with big dogs live in condos or apartments. Big dogs need space to exercise. And that's why you have dog-owners using a school campus as an off-leash dog park. 

That may be one reason I'm seeing some grown men with toy dogs. 

I also notice dog breeds that are clearly unsuitable for the climate. People in the sunbelt with a Husky. That sort of thing. It's cruel to the dog. 

ix) Walsh's critics defended pit bulls by saying, "Well, I own a pit bull (or two or three), and it's a very affectionate pet!"

That's such a manifestly stupid argument. As a rule, of course a dog is affectionate in relation its owner, or other family members. That says nothing about how the dog reacts to strangers. Indeed, the very fact that a dog is loyal to its owner means it may treat a stranger as a threat to its owner. 

x) Police have a schizophrenic policy about dogs. On the one hand, if a vicious dog is on the loose, you're not supposed to shoot it. Rather, you're supposed to call animal control. And they aren't supposed to shoot it either. Rather, the dog-catcher is supposed to capture the dog live. In so doing, the  dog-catcher is assuming a personal risk of being bitten or mauled by the dog. 

That, itself, reflects a cultural change. There's a famous scene in To Kill a Mockingbird where Atticus shoots a rabid dog. That's what you did back then. No questions asked. You didn't catch it and test it. 

On the other hand, we have increasing reports of police who shoot dogs with impunity. Shoot dogs on their own property. Say, a policeman is chasing a suspect who's running through backyards. The policeman trespasses on private property, then shoots the dog.

Another variant is drug raids gone bad. The police get a tip. It may be wrong. Or they get the address mixed up. After busting down the door, they shoot the dog. Sometimes they shoot the innocent owner. 

xi) There's another irony. Traditionally, when pioneers would settle the wilderness, they'd eliminate the major predators in the area (e.g. wolves, bears, cougars). That's because major predators posed a threat, both to livestock, and to humans. 

However, we've replaced the major predators with millions of dogs. According to current estimates, one dog for every two humans. Many of these are harmless. However, certain dog breeds can be far more dangerous than wild predators. Predators learn to fear man. They keep their distance. They flee at the sight of man.

By contrast, dogs are fearless. They spend all their time in human company. We're created an environment that's probably more dangerous than when wolves, bears, and cougars were on the prowl. 

xii) I notice some people bringing their dogs to outdoor sporting events. A football, baseball, or soccer game at school. The dog barks at players. It barks at newly arriving spectators. It may even wander onto the field, unless the field is fenced off. This is distracting.

Is this a new trend? Our dog is family, so we take him wherever we go. 

xiii) I notice people who take their dogs along when they go shopping. They leave the dog in the car. Not surprisingly, most dogs don't enjoy being left alone in the car. Why do so many dog owners do that? It's no fun for the dog to sit in a stuffy car. Why not leave it at home? 

xiv) Historically, authorities would evacuate people before a natural disaster, or rescue them after a natural disaster. But nowadays you have dog owners who refuse to leave their pet behind. It's family. But that creates many problems. What if you run out of room for…you know, humans? Likewise, how do you control dogs in evacuation centers? 

xv) Our dog culture is going to become more of a problem, because the dog lobby is very powerful. What politician is going to risk his career over Fido?