Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The wood between the worlds

There's a sense in which The Chronicles of Narnia and The Space Trilogy are Christian allegories, although Lewis resisted that classification: 

Here's another way we might draw the distinction: a necessary element of allegory is for an allegory to be set in our world. The Pilgrim's Progress is set in our world; likewise, Dante's comedy is set in our world, according to medieval cosmography. 

By contrast, Narnia represent a parallel universe. Narnia, Charn, and English represent parallel universes in a multiverse. The wood between the worlds exists outside any particular world. Likewise Aslan's Country exists outside individual worlds. Although the worlds are separate, it's possible to travel from one world to another. 

So, for instance, The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe illustrates how Christian theology might play out in a fallen world with a different world history and talking animals. 

The Space Trilogy is superficially different. However, the Mars and Venus of The Space Trilogy were never meant to be astronomically realistic descriptions of Mars and Venus as they exist in our universe. So they're not allegorical in the sense that they're not set in our world, but a different kind of world. Perelandra is not an allegory of the Fall because it belongs to a universe with a different world history than the Venus of our own universe.  

Of course, there's a sense in which they are allegorical because they are fictional, and their theology derives from the real world in which Lewis exists. And they are products of his imagination. So we might say the stories are allegorical from a viewpoint outside the world of the stories, but are not allegorical from a viewpoint inside the world of the stories. 

Correcting Catholic revisionism


Isa al Masih

This is a story you’re going to love. This is God’s story and you’re invited to be part of it. Bring your questions. Find the truth. Was the Injil corrupted? Did Isa al Masih die on a cross? What do Christians mean by saying Isa al Masih is the Son of God? (Source)

Can Christians be possessed by demons?

A tentative foray into the question:

1. One argument for why Christians can't be possessed is there's no example in the Bible of a demon possessed Christian. Of course, that's an argument from silence at best.

2. To my knowledge, the main argument that Christians can't be possessed is based on the fact that Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and as those who have the Holy Spirit abiding in them, Christians can't have an unclean spirit like a demonic spirit abiding in them at the same time. Hence, the argument goes, Christians can't be possessed. Supporting verses like 2 Cor 6:15-16, 1 Jn 2:13, 1 Jn 4:4 are cited.

3. However, empirically speaking, I've heard of credible cases about Christians who have been possessed. For example, the evangelical Lutheran pastor-scholar and exorcist Robert Bennett has talked about such cases in various interviews. I don't see any good reason to doubt Bennett at this time, but to be fair one could question the legitimacy of the evidence.

4. That said, assuming the evidence is reliable and credible, if it's true Christians can't be possessed, then the only alternative is that these weren't bona fide Christians in the first place. Yet if a person has a credible profession of faith, has lived a godly life committed to Christ, and so on, then why doubt they were a bona fide Christian in the first place?

Also, if it's possible for Christians to be possessed, but possessed Christians are treated like non-Christians, then that might do a disservice to these Christians. It might make them question their salvation. It might make them despair. Like fighting a two front war: on the one hand possessed by a demon, but on the other hand their profession called into question by fellow Christians as if their faith isn't genuine.

5. What about the argument itself that Christians can't be possessed because Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit?

Bennett brings up the point that even as Christians we have a sinful nature. We're still warring against the flesh though the Spirit dwells in us. As such, it's possible for two contrary "natures" (there's got to be a better word or term for this) to co-exist in the same person. Bennett seems to believe this is analogous to an unclean spirit like an evil spirit dwelling in the same person as the Holy Spirit.

However, I don't know if that's necessarily the case. Maybe, maybe not, for it seems to me our sinful nature is still part of our person, unlike an evil spirit which would be a completely separate entity or being.

6. Let's step away from persons. Consider a haunted house. Can a Christian live in a house that's haunted? I don't see why not. If so, then wouldn't the house have the presence of God as well as the presence of an evil spirit within its confines? Of course this is another argument from analogy and it assumes that people are like places or houses. Maybe that's not the case.

7. I suppose all this goes to the question of what it means for the Spirit to dwell in the Christian. What exactly is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit?

I don't see how the Holy Spirit can be physically present in a person, for the Holy Spirit is not physical. Likewise neither is an evil spirit. So it seems to me we can rule out a purely physical sense of dwelling. I think that's fairly obvious.

This doesn't mean a spirit can't interact with material objects including human beings. Hence a relevant question may be the question of how a non-physical spirit interacts with a physical human being.

Is being indwelled by the Spirit synonymous with regeneration? Union with Christ? Is it something else or something more?

Anna Murray (1968-2019)


Monday, October 21, 2019

Robert Bennett interviews

Several good interviews on the paranormal and exorcism with Robert Bennett (PhD, Missiology, Concordia Theological Seminary). Bennett is a Lutheran pastor and scholar.


I'm getting propaganda about DACA in my news feed. There are two ways to view DACA: on the merits or from a process standpoint. It's striking how many people think DACA is sacrosanct. But DACA was never enacted into law. It's simply a policy of the Obama administration. Executive policies can always be changed by the next administration. DACA is kepy alive by renegade judges who operate outside the law as members of the Resistance.

Even if you think DACA is a swell idea, so long as it's nothing more than Executive policy, it can be rescinded. If you think a president doesn't have the Constitutional right to revoke Executive policies of former administrations, if you think courts have the right to block the Trump administration from revoking DACA, you support a dictatorship. Our system is based on consent of the governed. We elect officials to represent our interests. If they fail, we can vote them out of office. 

To insist that Executive policies have the force of law, which can't be revoked by successive administrations, you don't believe in consent of the governed. The alternative is an unaccountable ruling class. 

Suppose a gov't official likes your house, or your car, or your daughter. What's to stop him from seizing whatever he wants for his own benefit? In a representative democracy, the law restrains him. But if secular progressives have their way, everyone will be at the mercy of a banana republic or totalitarian state. Think China, N. Korea, Stalinism, Papa/Baby Doc Duvalier, Robert Mugabe, &c. So many Americans are too stupid to think three steps deep. 

War orphan


Sherman was a G.I. fighting behind enemy lines in a war-torn country, ravaged by civil war. He found a war orphan in a burnt-out village. A young boy named Jason. At first the boy was terrified, until he saw that Sherman meant him no harm. Sherman gave him a pat on the head and some chocolate, which the hungry boy wolfed down. The boy was hoping Sherman was his rescuer. Sherman looked into his trusting, pleading, desperate eyes. He felt a strong instinctive pull to take the boy back with him. 

But attempting to rescue the boy would put Sherman at risk. The boy would slow him down. They were surrounded by the enemy. 

He hated the idea of leaving the kid behind to die–or worse. But he knew that was just his evolutionary programming. He was being manipulated by blind evolution to be altruistic and sacrificial. 

Fact is, the kid was just a temporary biological organism like the rest of us. Eminently and ultimately replaceable. One child is pretty interchangeable with another. What difference does it make to world history if there's one more child or one less child, a thousand more or a thousand fewer? It's all so random and arbitrary. 

Why should Sherman risk the only life he's got to save a child's life? Sure, he'd feel rotten if he abandoned the boy, but that's just evolution guilt-tripping him. Why should he let himself be suckered by his biological brainwashing? It's like a phobia: you can't shake the feeling, but you know it's irrational, so you have to override it to do what's necessary.

It reminded him of the movie he saw one time–Screamers–where killer robots disguised as war orphans clutching teddybears mimic vulnerable children. They emit plaintive cries. But underneath it's just a heartless machine, like evolutionary psychology in camouflage. 

Regretfully, he turned his back on the boy and walked away. The boy was later captured by combatants from a rival clan. They took him to a compound with war orphans of all ages, whom they rounded up. The older boys brutalized the younger boys. And the guards brutalized all the boys to toughen them up and turn them into the next generation of soldiers for the revolutionary cause. Jason grew up to be a pitiless killer who massacred old men, mothers, daughters, and young children from the wrong clan, raping the women before shooting them in the head. 


In a parallel universe Jed was a G.I. fighting behind enemy lines in a war-torn  country, ravaged by civil war. He found a war orphan in a burnt-out village. A young boy named Jason. At first the boy was terrified, until he saw that Jed meant no harm. Jed picked him up in his arms and hugged him. 

There was no question about leaving the boy behind. Here was a child with an immortal soul. Yet Jed knew that attempting to rescue him was very risky. They might not make it out alive.

As much as possible they had to avoid public roads and open fields where they might be spotted. Stick to the woods. But that made for slow going. Hunting slowed them down. Often Jed had to carry Jason in his arms through the underbrush. Sometimes they shivered in the rain. While hiking, or huddling before a campfire, Jed told Jason Bible stories about creation; the garden of Eden; Noah's flood; Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph; the Exodus; King David; Daniel–and especially the Gospels. He taught Jason the Lord's Prayer. Every night, Jason slept in Jed's arms. 

They had many miraculously narrow escapes as they were pursued by the enemy. They sometimes used streams to cover their tracks, and mask their scent from dogs. One time, when the enemy sent hunting dogs to track them down, Jeb had to shoot them. That wasted bullets he might need for self-defense, and the shots gave away their location. Thankfully, the enemy was far enough away that it couldn't find them. 

This went on for weeks. As they were approaching the border, the enemy finally caught up with them. Jed and Jason were cornered. Jed figured it was better to die together than for them to be captured alive. The enemy had a terrifying reputation, confirmed by firsthand observation. He prayed the Lord's Prayer with Jason. Then he pulled out his revolver. It was empty. All the bullets were spent from shooting game and killing the dogs in hot pursuit. But the enemy didn't know that. He pointed the revolver at the approaching combatants. They machine-gunned Jeb and Jason, who died in his arms. 

A moment later, Jeb and Jason stepped out into an amber-lit garden. They heard unearthly music in the distance. Then a nimbic Jesus came to them. He embraced Jeb, then took Jason by the hand, and led them towards the music. 

Sunday, October 20, 2019

A bad movie in a good movie

Perhaps it's the amateur fiction writer in me, but I seem to see or look for different things in a film than professional film critics or most movergoers. Sometimes, when I'm watching generally bad movie, I think to myself, "There's a good movie trapped inside this bad movie." Of course, most bad movies are just plain bad, but there are exceptions. 

Paradoxically, a bad movie with a good movie struggling to get out can be much more interesting than a conventionally good or even great movie. For instance, Casino Royale (2006) is a great movie of its kind. Flawless craftsmanship in terms of acting, smart dialogue, clever plot, exotic locations, and all that. So many movies suffer from shoddy indifferent craftsmanship because they're made for a quick buck, so it's refreshing to see a movie where real care went into every element of the movie. But it's a pity that the flawless execution is wasted on a Bond vehicle. At the end of the day it's just an high-end popcorn film. 

Now let's compare it to Skinwalkers (2007), a low-budged werewolf flick. It was panned at Rotten Tomatoes. Indeed, I don't know that any major movie critic even deigned to review it. It was beneath them. 

Yet it has some compelling dramatic ideas. Much more interesting than a better film like Casino Royale:

• A Golden Child (Timothy) who's a savior or natural-born healer

• The Golden Child was heralded by an ancient oracle

• The curative power lies in his unique blood type

• His blood can break the curse of lycanthropy

• But his life is threatened by werewolves who don't want to be cured

• Several characters sacrifice their lives to protect the Golden Child 

• The film has a conspicuous number of Christian names: Adam, Caleb, Huguenot, Jonas, Rachel, Timothy

I think many people panned the movie because they're too theologically illiterate to recognize the sublimated biblical motifs. Admittedly, given the widespread animosity to Christianity, they might pan the movie if they did recognize the biblical themes. 

It's striking how often secular films will appropriate and allegorize Christian theology. There are variations on the theme of humans facing a plague or mass extinction, but one person has a curative mutation, viz. Children of Men (2006) and "The Nest" (The Outer Limits). 

As we approach Advent, I've been listening to Handel's musical setting of Isaiah 9 ("For unto us a child is born…"). There are obvious parallels between the Christchild and the character of Timothy in Skinwalkers. Ironically, some secular filmmakers unintentionally do what C. S. Lewis intentionally did, by encoding Christian motifs in stories, which slip under the radar. 

One change I'd made to the movie is that in the original, Timothy is hunted by Varek, who doesn't realize that Timothy is his son. Varek bites him, but ingesting the blood restores his humanity. Biting Timothy is a simple efficient plot device to get the cure into Varek's system.

However, I think it would be more dramatically effective if, when Varek is about to attack Timothy, as he comes within striking range, he senses a mysterious affinity between them, which restrains him from attacking Timothy. Later he finds out that Timothy is in fact his son. Perhaps at that point he willingly accepts the gift his son offers. 

There are many improvements that could be made to the film. The point, though, is that it has some elemental themes that transcend the material and the execution. It could be turned into a much better film because some of the raw material is so potentially powerful, whereas there's nothing to work with in the case of Casino Royale. That's as good a film as you can make, given the raw material. It can never transcend its intrinsic superficiality. What you see is all you'll ever get, whereas there's more to Skinwalkers than meets the eye if you know what to look for. Watching Skinwalkers, I think it myself, "There's a good movie trapped inside this bad movie!" Someone like Brian Godawa might be able to extract the core elements and rework them into a powerful film. 

From Pepé Le Pew to progressive theologian

Today, however, I found myself contemplating another disturbing expression of violence in Looney Tunes, in this case, the sexually aggressive stalking behavior of everybody’s favorite amorous skunk, Pepe Le Pew.

According to Julia Lipmann, the stalking tropes in romantic comedies can serve to normalize abusive and threatening behavior as part of romance. It isn’t a stretch to suppose that the attitudes which may bloom in one’s teens and twenties might be seeded in one’s childhood.

Increasingly, Looney Tunes are facing a similar exile, first for the ubiquitous violence and gun violence, in particular. I would argue that the sexual violence and aggression of the Pepe cartoons has earned them a similar ignominious fate. 

i) Rauser's a progressive theologian with progressive politics to match. His hearing is attuned to progressive dog whistles inaudible to humans with normal hearing. He's on the prowl for examples of what he deems to be retrograde attitudes to demonstrate how society has improved thanks to progressive values. Of course, it's easy to come up with bad examples from the past. No intelligent social conservative thinks the past was a golden age. 

ii) But he's chosen an especially lame-brained example to illustrate his thesis. To begin with, Pepé Le Pew was never major character in the Looney Tunes canon. The major characters were the Road Runner/Wile E. Coyote, and Buggs Bunny. In addition, a number of other characters were foils for Buggs Bunny. So that in itself limits any potential influence.

iii) Then there's Rauser's pansy progressive aversion to guns. Enough said. 

iv) A basic reason the cat finds Pepé's overtures repellent is…well…she's a cat and he's a skunk. Different species. So if you wish to posit a real-life parallel, a homosexual hitting on a heterosexual or a transgender whatever hitting on a normal man or women would be good analogues. Rauser's objection is ironically counterproductive to his progressive agenda.

v) But saving the best for last, the dumbest thing about Rauser's analysis is his failure to recognize the blindly obvious fact that Pepé is a satirical character designed to parody the French lover and Gallic debauchee (or Latin lover generally). Cue Maurice Chevalier. No normal boy watching Pepé Le Pew is going to think to himself, whether consciously or subconsciously, "Yeah, that's my role model! I want to be just like a lecherous skunk with a thick French accent when I grow up!" The whole point of the character is to make what it represents the object of mockery and derision. 

If you were going to criticize it on politically correct grounds, you'd object to the ethnic stereotyping. So Rauser has projected an artificial narrative onto the character that isn't remotely related to the character. 

But I do appreciate Rauser tipping his hand. He's admitted that as a boy he subliminally identified with Pepé Le Pew rather than Buggs Bunny or the Road Runner. Pepé was his childhood hero. That explains a lot about his political and theological odyssey. 

This too shall pass

"...What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes." (Jas 4:14)

What is your life?

Is your life a sterling success? Remember your life is a mere breath. There may be a heart-racing pause between air inhaled and air exhaled. An exciting if brief span of time when the atmosphere of the party revolves around you. Indeed, when your life is in the stratosphere. However, breath will expire, and your spirit with it. All you are, all you have, shall fade and diminish as life draws to a close. You cannot bring your social status or worldly goods into death with you. Who remembers Ozymandias? Rather remember your Maker. The one who gives and the one who takes away. The one who enrichens and the one who impoverishes. The one who elevates and the one who humbles. Your life is too short to be wasted on success. However dazzling its accoutrements, they shall fizzle away, recede to nothingness, when you turn to dust and ashes and stand naked in the light of eternity.

Is your life a disappointment and a failure? Do you despair over the foolish and even sinful decisions you've made? Is your life one unmitigated disaster after another? Do even the lowly look on you in disgust? Have close friends and beloved family lost faith in you, are unsure what to think about you, or have altogether left you? Do you have nothing? Are you no one? Remember God, for he remembers you, even if no one else does, even if your own mother has forgotten you. Turn to him, your refuge, your true life. The good news is life is a vapor, it too shall soon end; and this life isn't all there is. So much more and so much better awaits you in the world to come if only you cling to Christ. Where else will you go? Where else can you go? There is no solace in the wilderness. There is no life in the desert. There is only one who has the words of eternal life.

Is your life a middling mediocrity? Remember your life is a mist. It has some form, it has some substance, it has some function, but it is entirely fleeting. Like smoke from a cigar. It might taste pleasant enough, smoke rings look cool, but smoke dissipates. One day may bring wealth and prosperity, but the next bring doom and gloom. Or vice versa. Nothing is guaranteed in life. Not even life itself. The young may be suddenly plucked from this life like a flower in full bloom. The old may wither in sadness or harden in bitterness. Those in the middle grow old, grow old, and wear the bottoms of their trousers rolled. They were never meant to play Hamlet. Perhaps at best start a scene or two. Men won't remember their lives nor deeds, but labor in God's vineyard is never wasted. After all, God's eyes saw our unformed substance. God wrote in his book every single day formed for his children before any of them had ever come to be. Like a man in love preparing a beautiful picnic for his beloved, God has planned and prepared each day for us before we ever arrived on the scene. And each of these days, lived for him, will echo in eternity, even if they appear insignificant to the blind eyes of this world. Why trust what the blind say about that which they cannot see? Yet in God's light do we see light.

Take a deep breath in, breathe out, and the breath is gone. Life is hebel.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Modern-day occultism

John 1:10

I've been asked to comment on this:

1. This verse is a reference to the Father, not to Christ. A study of the context reveals that this section opens in verse 6 by telling us, “There came a man who was sent by God.” We are told, “God is light,” and that God’s light shown through Jesus Christ and made him “the light of the world.” Though God was in the world in many ways, including through His Son, the world did not recognize him. He came unto his own by sending his exact image, Jesus Christ, to them, but even then they did not receive God, in that they rejected His emissary. The fact that the world did not receive Him is made more profound in the context as Scripture reveals how earnestly God reached out to them—He made his plan and purpose flesh and shined His light through Christ to reach the world—but they did not receive Him, even though He was offering them the “right to become children of God” (v. 12).

i) The referent in v10 is the creative Word or Son in vv1-5. The opening presents the Son as the preexistent Creator in the Genesis account. 

The referent is consistent through 1:1-18. The same divine Son. 

ii) His title as "the light of the world" traces back to the creation account, where God is the maker of sunlight, moonlight, and starlight. The Son is "the light of the world" because he's the divine source of mundane light. 

iii) However, "light" in the Prologue is a double entendre. It hearkens back to the origin of physical light, but in addition, it is now a spiritual metaphor. The contrast between light and darkness evokes the creation account, but this time it carries moral and spiritual connotations. "Light" as an emblem of new life. Spiritual renewal. In contrast to spiritual rebels. 

iv) The Creator who made the world is now entering the world he made, and the Baptist is a witness to that event (vv6-8). 

v) The irony or paradox is that creatures fail to acknowledge their Creator even when they meet him face-to-face. 

2. Some scholars make the phrase, “the world was made by him,” a reference to the new creation only (see Col. 1:15-20, Heb. 1:2, and Heb. 1:10), but we see it as a double entendre referring to both the original and the new creations. (see #7 under John 1:1)

That's circular because it assumes that Col 1:15-20 and Heb 1:2,10 refer to the new creation. But there's no good reason to think that unless you're a unitarian who requires them to refer to the new creation. In context, they refer to the original creation–just like Jn 1-5. 

Praying the Imprecatory Psalms

At the risk of tripping Rauser's hair-trigger persecution complex: 

Tentative Apologist
The imprecatory psalmist gives us this worldview: there are good people and evil people; God loves the good people and hates the evil ones; God anticipates with relish destroying the evil people; we too, if we are good, should hate the evil people and relish God destroying them.

The imprecatory psalms describes people in binary terms: good and evil; they say God hates the wicked and laughs at their destruction; the imprecatory psalmist likewise relishes their destruction and calls down curses on them.

Kinda like the way Rauser bifurcates the world into progressive heroes and fundy villains, progressive good-guys and wicked Trump supporters. 

The Christian reader who tries to baptize this worldview as a description of reality is fated to the hinterland of cognitive dissonance. 

What about the cognitive dissonance of pitting the OT against the NT when Jesus and NT writers constantly appeal to OT validation? 

The only consistent reading is to judge this worldview mistaken and properly critiqued through the person and work of Jesus Christ.

The person and work of Christ include his endtime role as the eschatological judge. 

Jesus calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. That is the mandate to which we strive even when we experience rage and hopelessness at the injustice in the world. The psalmists are properly interpreted with our christological reading glasses.

i) This is Rauser talking out of both sides of his mouth. He doesn't feel obligated to submit to whatever Jesus teaches. He deems it acceptable to regard Jesus as a fallible teacher, a child of his times, due to the Kenotic Christology Rauser treats as a valid option. 

Rauser himself is a spiteful, vindictive person. Just read how he castigates fundamentalists and Trump supporters. 

ii) It's not as if we're confronted by two sets of contradictory commands. The Imprecatory Psalms aren't divine commands to harm your enemy. So they don't run directly counter to divine or dominical commands to love your enemy.

iii) The Imprecatory Psalms are not about exacting personal revenge, but calling on God to uphold justice. They leave the matter in his hands. 

iv) Suppose, in spite of earnest prayers for his repentance, your enemy never repents? What then? Is it wrong to agree with God about the just deserts that rightly await your impenitent enemy?

A Christian can pray or sing the Imprecatory Psalms hypothetically or counterfactually. He can pray that God grant repentance to his enemies, or more generally, to those who harm the innocent. 

But many enemies don't repent, despite of frequent, heartfelt prayer offered on their behalf. So a Christian can also pray that God mete out justice according to their works, if they persist in patterns of oppression and injustice. 

There's no cognitive dissonance in those two positions. They aren't logically or theologically dichotomous. 

v) Does Rauser think the church should eliminate certain Psalms from the lectionary? Banish them from the public reading of the Bible? Erase them from the canon? 

The psychopath objection

Atheist philosopher Erik Wielenberg is currently the leading exponent of secular moral realism. For the philosophically inclined, here's a takedown of his attack on divine command ethics:

How “Pope Francis” is Dealing with the “Leaving Home” Network

The “Leaving Home” network (leaving Roman Catholicism) is much larger than the “Coming Home” network. And this seems to be one of the key things that’s driving the Bergoglio papacy.

There is a very good reason why we see lots of “Coming Home” stories of conversion to Roman Catholicism, but not many the other way. When one person “comes home”, that really is all they can point to. Just one conversion is a big thing. They can’t point to huge numbers traveling in their direction.

A Roman Catholic may make the claim about the Good Shepherd going to find one lost sheep. But that presupposes that there are another 99 already “home”. In this case, the 99 are flooding away in droves.

The other side of that “home to Rome” coin is that there are simply too many conversion stories that are going the other way. Too many to report. Too many people are leaving.

When someone becomes Roman Catholic, it is just a big event for them. When a Roman Catholic leaves and becomes Protestant, well, that sort of thing happens all the time. Pew Research has recently reported that among US Roman Catholics:

Face masks


1. As many know, Hong Kong police have banned Hong Kong protestors from wearing riot gear face masks. However, Hong Kong police are allowed to wear face masks. They're allowed to be anonymous. They don't don their police badges or other identification. In other words, despite the fact that Hong Kong is still ostensibly a democracy, Hong Kong police face no accountability to the law, whereas Hong Kong police want protestors to be accountable to the law. At least "the law" as envisioned by a corrupt Hong Kong police force and a toady Hong Kong government which kowtows to Beijing.

2. Hence protestors decided to wear masks of China's President (for life) Xi as Winnie the Pooh. That's because Xi evidently hates being compared to Winnie the Pooh. In fact, Xi banned his resemblance as Winnie the Pooh in China not long ago. Oh, bother! Silly old bear! Xi sounds more like Eeyore than Pooh to me.

3. All this is during Halloween season. As such, Hong Kong police may have a difficult time telling the protestors from the trick-or-treaters! Of course, considering how corrupt the Hong Kong police have become, maybe they'll simply go ahead and arrest anyone wearing a mask. Maybe they'll wage a campaign of fear against the populace. That'll be a lot of people though since it seems the vast majority of the city supports the protests. Hong Kong itself wouldn't have the prison capacity if the police arrested everyone wearing a face mask, but maybe the police will (illegally) take Hong Kong citizens across the border to China where they'll be made to disappear, never to be heard from again. Can the police (whom I shall dub the HKGB) whisk away thousands let alone millions though?

4. Hong Kong protestors are wearing other face masks too. This includes another Winnie the Pooh character, Piglet, who has become the mascot of LIHKG which is Hong Kong's version of reddit. Also, Pepe the Frog who is a popular internet meme including at places like 4chan, reddit, and Tumblr. And of course the Guy Fawkes mask from V for Vendetta is a symbol against tyranny. For better or worse, modern opposition and resistance to tyranny are very much in sync with the world online. Especially in a tech savvy hub like Hong Kong.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Shades of assurance

1. Kinds of certainty

One of the perennial debates in Christian theology is the assurance of salvation. Let's begin by drawing some philosophical distinctions regarding different kinds of certainty:

There are various kinds of certainty. A belief is psychologically certain when the subject who has it is supremely convinced of its truth. Certainty is often explicated in terms of indubitability.

A second kind of certainty is epistemic. Roughly characterized, a belief is certain in this sense when it has the highest possible epistemic status. According to a second conception, a subject's belief is certain just in case it could not have been mistaken—i.e., false (see, e.g., Lewis 1929). Alternatively, the subject's belief is certain when it is guaranteed to be true. 

2. Objective certainty

i) In Calvinism, if true, or universalism, if true, salvation is objectively certain. If you're elect, you will be saved. Your salvation depends on God's unfailing will. Universalism is similar except in scope. On both positions, salvation is a sure thing. The outcome is guaranteed. 

ii) In most varieties of freewill theism, by contrast, salvation is objectively uncertain because you can slip in and out of salvation. You can gain it, lose it, and regain it. So at least up until the moment of death, your salvation is constantly indeterminate. 

iii) There's a question of whether universalism is consistent with freewill theism. In addition, postmortem salvation is becoming more popular. 

iv) In that respect, it's rather like whether you're genetically predetermined to develop a degenerative illness. You either are or you aren't. If you're tested, and the result is negative, that's a relief, but there's the risk of having a positive result, in which  case you might be better off not knowing in advance. So long as you're asymptomatic, you will enjoy peace of mind by not knowing. Ignorance is bliss.

v) In that respect, there's a fundamental difference between Calvinism and freewill theism. 

3. Psychological certainty

i) However, psychological certainty is harder to nail down regardless of the theological system. In freewill theism, psychological certainty is well-nigh impossible given the fact that you can slip in and out of salvation. The future is unpredictable. 

ii) And in both Calvinism and freewill theism, there's the possibility of false assurance. Indeed, that's commonplace. 

iii) Even universalism can't offer psychological certainty since a universalist may harbor nagging doubts that universalism is true. 

iv) According to the "free grace" position, justification by faith alone is sufficient for salvation. If that condition is met,  the assurance of salvation is a given.

The "free grace" position has a grain of truth. It's true that whoever is justified is heavenbound. However, the "free grace" position artificially detaches justification from other necessary elements of salvation by grace alone. 

And in any case, it suffers from the same problem as universalism: if it's true, then the assurance of salvation is warranted, but that doesn't forestall doubts and misgivings about whether it's true. 

v) As a rule, traditional Catholicism (Tridentine theology) denies that the assurance of salvation is ordinarily attainable. 

vi) Depending on the theological system, this relation between objective certainty and psychological certainty is like having an illness that is fatal unless you take the right antidote, only you don't know which antidote is the right one. Suppose there are three pills: two are the right antidote while one is the wrong antidote. You can only take one pill. If you take two, you will die from an overdose. It's nerve-wracking not to know which pill to take. Likewise, suppose you won't know for 48 hours if you took the right pill or the wrong pill? That's nerve-wracking, too. 

Still, your level of anxiety has no bearing on your survival. If you took the right pill, you will survive. What ultimately matters isn't your state of mind but what will happen. Even if you're robbed of the comfort of knowing you took the right pill, that's fairly inconsequential compared to whether or not you did indeed take the right pill. 

vii) In Calvinism, paradoxically, one of the elect might be wracked by self-doubt or even (due to clinical depression or mental illness) be convinced he's damned, only to be pleasantly surprised by what awaits him after he dies. Indeed, there's a special kind of relief and gratitude enjoyed by those who assume the worst, only to find out that the best lay in store for them. 

viii) Of course, it's possible for God to simply grant some Christians psychological certainty. Indeed, I think God does that in many cases. 

4. The burden of proof

In classic Protestant theology, the foil was traditional Catholicism. That studiously cultivated dread and foreboding about your eternal destiny in order to keep Catholics chained to the sacerdotal system. It compiled an artificial list of mortal sins. 

But once we clear away the manmade obstacles to the assurance of salvation, then that puts the issue in a brighter light. Is there a presumption that God is out to get you, even though you're a conscientious Christian who struggles with sin, yet you're staking everything on Christianity? 

Catholic assurance

Image result for the uncertainty of the afterlife wiley ink images

See “The Blacksmith who Made the Nails” at your church!

This one-man drama – not the Old Testament prophet Obadiah, but a wholly fictitious character – will take you (via your imagination) to first-century Palestine, where you’ll see and hear and feel what it was like to know Jesus personally, through the eyes of the local blacksmith who made the nails that held Jesus to the cross.

Obadiah was created and is performed by one of my best friends in the world, Dale Crum. He currently has availabilities in his schedule, and if you’d like to consider having Obadiah performed at your church or event, contact Dale at 901-552-8213, or contact him via email, “obadiahdrama” at “gmail.com”.

Obadiah the blacksmith who made the nails that held Jesus to the cross


1. What's the basis for shapeshifters in pagan mythology and folklore? Are they purely figments of the imagination, which undergo further embellishment, or do they have analogues in reality? 

The werewolf character is the best known example, popularized by Hollywood, but I believe that's a part of some American Indian lore. Not sure how widespread that is, and whether that reflects independent traditions or cultural diffusion.

Is that just a legend, or does witchcraft enable practitioners to become animals? If so, do they retain human intelligence in that condition, or have animal psychology? 

2. This isn't confined to mythology and folklore. The cherubim in Ezekiel's theophanies are tetramorphs. Is that physical, or an optical or telepathic illusion?

What about the hybrid monsters in Daniel's visions? Are those merely artificial symbolic constructs? Or is there something analogous in reality that gave rise to the imagery? 

3. In some narratives, angels seem to have the ability to materialize, dematerialize, or even assume the form of human males. How deep does that go? Complete internal anatomy?

An alternative interpretation might be that angels don't have the power to assume human form; rather, they have the power to possess human bodies. If demons can do it, why not angels? Perhaps some descriptions involve angels taking possession of human males as temporary vehicles to perform a particular mission, then releasing the host after the mission is completed. 

4. On a natural level, the closest thing to metamorphosis might be male sexual arousal, which involves a degree of physical and psychological transformation, although nothing like shapeshifters. Human beings are composite entities: ensouled animal bodies. Male sexual arousal taps into something wild and primal. And that doesn't require an evolutionary explanation.

5. A more clear-cut example is the snake magic in Exodus, where the staff of Moses becomes a snake and vice versa. The Egyptian sorcerers are able to duplicate that feat. There is a naturalistic explanation for what the Egyptians sorcerers do, but for reasons I've stated elsewhere, I find that unconvincing. 

Through the hidden door

1. To unbelievers and Rabbinic Jews, the way Christians interpret some OT and NT prophecies smacks of special pleading. However, Rabbinic Jews face a parallel challenge. There are OT prophecies which, from their own vantage point, were not fulfilled during the Second Temple period or medieval Judaism. So these also look like "failed" prophecies. Put another way, if Rabbinic Jews can claim that many OT prophecies remain outstanding, so can Christians with regard to some OT and NT prophecies alike.

2. Individual Bible prophecies are like houses with basements and subbasements with hidden doors leading to tunnels connecting to the subbasement of the house next-door. On the surface, the houses are separate. But if you go down into the house, the houses are connected at the level of tunnels between subbasements. You start on the ground floor of one house. Go down to the basement, then the subbasement, open a door to a tunnel leading to the subbasement of the next-door house, then go up to the ground floor of that house. Or, to invert the metaphor, imagine an underground city with hidden staircases leading to surface.

3. In that regard, it's interesting that the cosmography of Revelation has three stories: heaven>earth>netherworld. Earth is like the ground floor, the netherworld is like the basement, while heaven is like the flat rooftop living space in mediterranean architecture. And there's a progression from the dark basement to the brighter ground floor to the sunny roof deck. Incidentally, it's always a fatal mistake in horror movies to go into the basement! 

4. Although this is metaphorical, it has realistic counterparts. Reality is like parallel worlds connected by hidden doors. The physical universe often seems to be a closed-system. For many people, that's all they ever experience in this life. Yet that perspective can change in a flash when beings from heaven or hell enter our world. Angels, demons, saints or ghosts. 

Discipling Asian-American millennials

1. Here is a transcript of the conversation.

2. I think I most appreciated what Alex Choi said in his first response. To put it another way, I don't think the rest of the comments (apart from Choi's first response) are necessarily unique to Asian-Americans. At least my impression is things like a "lack of community" and trying to "reclaim" one's conversion experience are common in other races/ethnicities cultures too.

3. The term "millennials" sure does seem to cover a lot of years generation-wise. Aren't many if not most millennials now at least age 30? If so, perhaps we should consider doing the discipling rather than being discipled! (Granted, everyone is always a "disciple" but I'm speaking in terms of leadership roles in the church.)

In fairness, if what Choi says about Asian-American culture, marriage, and adulthood is true, then the fact that Asian-American millennials and later generations are getting married at an older age might have a significant impact on discipleship as well.

4. I believe at least two of the guys are Korean-American. Perhaps all three.

In any case, there are some significant differences among different Asian-American peoples and cultures. Take Chinese-Americans. There are Chinese-Americans whose families have originally come from mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, as well as various Southeast Asian nations (e.g. Chinese-Americans with roots in Vietnam). For example, one wouldn't necessarily deal with a Chinese-American with parents from communist China in the same way as one deals with a Chinese-American with parents from democratic Taiwan.

More generally, there are differences between East Asians and Southeast Asians. Simply consider how many East Asians have had to interact with socialist and communist ideologies in their modern history (e.g. the Korean war, communist Chinese today). Consider how many Southeast Asians have had to face persecution by Muslims in their own nations (e.g. Malaysia, Indonesia). Persecutions from communists and persecutions from Muslims.

Consider each nation's broader ideological perspective. The Philippines has a Catholic background. Malaysia and Indonesia are officially Muslim. Mainland China is atheist and communist. S. Korea has a strong Protestant Christian influence. Vietnam has a Catholic heritage but became communist, which many Vietnamese-Americans share. Japan is secular. And so on.

Of course there are also Asian-Americans who have only ever known the US. For example, many Asian-Americans can trace their family histories back to the Gold Rush era (c. 1849) and transcontinental railroad. They may have been in the US as long as many Irish-Americans and Italian-Americans, among others.

Asian-Americans have families which come from one or more of these backgrounds.

No place to hide

The following is from the China Law Blog:

This [Chinese cybersecurity] system will apply to foreign owned companies in China on the same basis as to all Chinese persons, entities or individuals. No information contained on any server located within China will be exempted from this full coverage program. No communication from or to China will be exempted. There will be no secrets. No VPNs. No private or encrypted messages. No anonymous online accounts. No trade secrets. No confidential data. Any and all data will be available and open to the Chinese government...All this information will be available to the Chinese military and military research institutes. The Chinese are being very clear that this is their plan.

I hope American businesses and businesses in general won't put money ahead of morals when dealing with China. Unlike (apparently) LeBron James and the NBA.

By the way, here's a recent photo from Hong Kong:

Hidden camera footage of Mormon temple ritual

It's striking how similar this Mormon temple ritual is to Freemasonry (e.g. the square and compass, knocking three times, answering secret questions):

I wonder if there's any relation? I wouldn't be surprised if Joseph Smith and/or other Mormons borrowed copiously from Freemasonry.

Infinite resignation

Here is an interview with Eugene Thacker.

Thacker is an anti-human and nihilist philosopher. He originally comes from a comparative literature background.

Moreover his work In the Dust of this Planet has influenced the writers for the television series True Detective, a series about a pair of detectives chasing a serial killer across many years, a series which is itself awash in nihilism, especially Matthew McConaughey's character. In this respect, Thacker is kindred spirit to David Benatar (Better to Have Never Been?) and Jim Crawford (Confessions of an Antinatalist).

Vampirism, original sin, and redemption

There's an interesting parallel between vampirism, original sin, and redemption. In vampire lore, vampires have a genealogical identity. They turn humans into vampires by biting them. Vampirism spreads from one vampire to the next. So there are family trees of vampires. 

In addition, a vampire killer doesn't have to destroy every vampire individually. If he can track down the master vampire and destroy him, all his descendants instantly revert to human. So he doesn't have to destroy any of the descendants. He can save them from the curse of vampirism at one stroke by destroying the master vampire.  

Of course, vampires are fictional characters, and they make no scientific sense. At best, they only make sense as creatures of the occult. But the parallels between vampirism and Christian theology are striking. 

A New Way to Understand Men and Women in Christ?


Yoga memory

Such phenomena as instincts, child prodigies, love at first sight, and déjà vu are sometimes said to be evidence for reincarnation, but they obviously have little probative value, since it is quite possible to give convincing explanations of these phenomena that do not involve reincarnation. More serious as evidence for reincarnation is the phenomenon of yoga memory - the experience of certain people, usually children, who claim to be someone else reborn and to "remember" the previous life. Consideration of such cases was almost entirely unsystematic and anecdotal until the recent work of the medical doctor Ian Stevenson, who in several books intelligently discusses various cases of yoga memory.19

There are two issues here. The first is whether the cases Stevenson discusses can be relied upon. To my knowledge, no one accuses Stevenson of dishonesty, but criticisms of his methods and conclusions have been raised. For one thing, in the vast majority of the cases that Stevenson discusses, there was contact between the two families - the family into which the child was born and the family the child claimed via yoga memory previously to belong to - before Stevenson was ever on the scene. For another, Stevenson seems to dismiss far too easily the possibility of fraud on the part of the child. For a third, Stevenson has never even attempted to answer the objections of his several critics, and proceeds as if these critics did not exist.20

The second issue is this: assuming Stevenson's cases (and other cases of yoga memory) are genuine in the sense that there was no deliberate fraud, egregious error, etc., what is the most sensible explanation of those phenomena? One explanation, of course, is reincarnation. But are there other, more plausible explanations?

Suppose that telepathic communication between human minds occurs (and I myself have neither knowledge nor even any particularly firm opinion on the matter). If so, there is the possibility that those who have experienced yoga memory have learned what they know about the past person whom they claim to be identical to by telepathic communication with living humans who know those same facts about the deceased person. This may be completely unknown to the person who is having the yoga memory. Indeed, here is a crucial conundrum for reincarnation: claims based on purported yoga memory will be believable only if they can be verified; verification will normally be achieved via the testimony of people who are in a position to know the relevant facts; but that always opens the possibility that the yoga rememberer was somehow in telepathic communication with those same people. So the point is this: one great difficulty for reincarnation is the fact that the strongest evidence for it admits a variety of explanations.

(Davis, Stephen T. After We Die: Theology, Philosophy, and the Question of Life After Death, pp 26-27.)