Monday, February 18, 2019

10 Things About You That Will Change When You Lose Your Parents

Deconversion and reconversion

The question of sola Scriptura

I like to keep up with the competition. Brand Pitre is one of the best younger generation Catholic apologists. I recent read his book The Case for Jesus, which was pretty good.

So I decided to look at the outlines posted at his website. One thing I notice is that his view of Scripture is very retrograde by contemporary Catholic standards. It's nice that he has such a conservative view of Scripture, but that's highly unrepresentative of the modern-day hierarchy. In addition, many of the arguments in his outlines are simply atrocious. In this post I'll comment on his critique of sola Scriptura. Let's see if the younger generation does any better:

i) Let's begin with the video clip. Does he honestly think the only reason Protestants offer for how they know the Bible is the word of God is because they know it in their heart? Is he really that uninformed? Or is he referring to evangelical folk theology? If you ask the average layman, you might get an answer like that. But that's not how Protestant apologists generally argue for the inspiration or canonicity of Scripture. 

ii) That said, many readers find the Bible convincing. Just reading the Bible engenders faith. Some people are unbelievers when they begin reading, but are believers on the other side. They become believers in the process of reading the Bible. So even though the "know it in your heart" criterion is too coarse-grained to determine the canon, it has a grain of truth.

iii) How many Mormon missionaries actually experience what they claim? Or do they just say that because they've been trained to say it?

iv) Since God won't witness to a false prophet, they can't have the same experience as Christians.  

v) Assuming that somebody must be the sole authority, why shouldn't I be the authority for me rather than punting to someone else (the pope) to make ultimate decisions about my fate? That's part of growing up. To be an adult is to make decisions about yourself for yourself. You may mess up, but then, delegating the tough calls to someone else is no guarantee that they won't mess up your life on your behalf. 

vi) By what authority did Brant conclude that the pope was his ultimate authority source? How can the pope be his sole authority if it's up to Brant to determine whether the pope has that authority? 

vii) Does sola Scriptura generate 33,000 Christian denominations? Even his fellow apologist Trent Horn rejects that claim:

First, this citation from the World Christian Encyclopedia is misleading (even though many Catholics are fond of citing it). For example it counts the same religious group existing in different countries as belonging to different denominations and even cites liturgical rites within the Catholic Church as being completely different denominations, which is false. 

viii) Anyway, from a Protestant perspective, the church of Rome is just one more denomination. It takes its place among the "33,000" denominations. 

An inspired table of contents

1. A stock objection to sola Scriptura is that Scripture, or the NT in particular, lacks an inspired table of contents. That's trivially true. However, that's the framing fallacy, where a disputant tries to frame an issue in artificially narrow terms. If you can't meet the objection on his terms, the disputant acts like you failed. But there can be equivalent ways to meet the condition, even assuming it's a reasonable demand. 

2. In addition, the objection commits the straw man fallacy. Sola scriptura doesn't rule out the use of supplementary extrabiblical information to identify the canon. That's no more inconsistent with sola Scriptura than eyewitnesses to Jesus using their fallible senses to I.D. Jesus. 

3. Apropos (2), the "traditions" we use to help establish the canon are not for the most part Roman Catholic traditions. For instance, how many of the church fathers were Roman Catholic? Was Papias? Ignatius? Justin Martyr? Tertullian? Athanasius? Eusebius? Basil? Origen? Irenaeus? Ephrem? Chrysostom?

Was Ambrose Roman Catholic? Did the pope make Ambrose a bishop? Did the pope make Cyprian a bishop? 

To the extent that Protestant scholars cite patristic testimony to supplement their case for the NT canon, that doesn't imply any commitment to Roman Catholicism. Most-all  of the patristic testimony for the NT is independent of the Roman Catholic church. 

Sunday, February 17, 2019

If I could do it over again

I don't think that's true. I explicitly identified a type of morally sufficient reasons, i.e. those that produce greater goods. And there are countless examples where suffering produces greater goods. For example, I recently heard a paraplegic athlete say that if he could do it all again, he would accept the accident that paralyzed him because it made him the person he is today including the cultivation of individual character and relationships with other loved ones at a far more profound level. I don't think those who don't suffer can speak into those kinds of cases, but when those who have suffered enormously make their own judgments about coming to own their suffering, we should listen. And that can open our minds to the kind of redemptive stories that are indeed possible.

Comparative abuse scandals

I don't think SBC leaders can be let off the hook quite that easily. Given that SBC leaders have so many contacts within the SBC, I find it hard to believe that they had no idea what was going on–even if they couldn't be cognizant of the scale. 

However, Olson does make some important points about how decentralized the SBC is compared to the Catholic church. So that's a mitigating factor (but not an exculpatory factor). 

My body, my rights

A popular abortion slogan goes like this: "a man has no right telling a woman what to do with her body". There are verbal variations on that slogan, but that's the basic idea.

But what does it actually mean? I doubt most women who say it have given it much thought. On the face of it this slogan bundles two claims into one statement:

1. Does it mean a man never has a right to tell a woman what to do? By contrast, does it mean women do have the right to tell other women what to do?

Does it mean that if a woman joins the armed forces, a male C.O. has no authority to issue lawful orders to a female subordinate? We could multiple examples.

If women who recite this slogan really believe no man ever has a right to tell a woman what to do, do they put that on their resume or job application? 

2. Or is the claim more specific? Is the claim that while there are situations in which a man has a right to tell a woman what to do, he never has a right to tell a woman what to do with her body?

Once again, is it a general principle: no adult has the right to tell another adult what to do with their body? Or is it specifically about men and women? Do women have the right to tell other women what to do with their bodies?

Human beings are embodied agents. I daresay many feminists think human beings just are their bodies. 

Don't laws generally tell us what we can and can't do with our bodies? A law against arson says human agents can't use their bodies to set fire to someone else's house, car, or business. 

A law against vandalism says the agent can't use their hand to scratch the paint on someone's car with a key.

A law against shoplifting says the agent can't use their hands to steal stuff from a store.

Laws like these apply to men and women alike. 

The Deity of Christ and the First Table of the Law

The apologetic mask

Again, a map of an apologetic argument (and its structure) is not the same thing as a position on what the documents actually are. Recommending a "map," in this case, is simply recommending not question begging...There is a certain structure to one's overall set of propositional beliefs, and circularity is not legitimate in reasoning structure.

– Lydia McGrew

i) On the one hand, a Christian apologist should avoid invalid or unsound arguments. 

ii) Apropos (ii), one apologetic gambit endeavors to begin where the unbeliever is. Seek common ground. Have rules that both sides agree on. Have mutual agreement on what counts as evidence.

iii) On the other hand, what does it mean to beg the question? Suppose I get into a conversation with a philosophical Buddhist. He believes the sensible world is illusory. When I appeal to empirical evidence, that's begging the question from his standpoint. However, his position is begging the question from my standpoint. Which side is begging the question? 

Or take a methodological atheist. If I play by his rules, I lost the argument before I began. I can't win by his rules. But since his strictures are arbitrary, who's begging the question?

Which side has the burden of proof in cases like that? 

iv) I expect many unbelievers are suspicious of Christian apologetics precisely it's often so calculating. The apologist dons a mask. He's feeding the unbeliever reasons the unbelief might find plausible. 

But I expect many unbelievers don't want to be on the receiving end of an apologetic strategy. They don't like to be manipulated or pandered to, as if this is a sales pitch. They don't want the apologist to second guess what they're prepared to believe. 

Rather, they wish the apologist would take off the mask and just tell them why he believes what he believes. Honestly tell them what his reasons are. 

Are the reasons you're feeding me the same reasons for your own faith? Are those your true reasons? I want to know the reasons you live by and die by. Your unfiltered reasons. Not arguments customized for my consumption. 

That's why many readers find writers like Augustine, Pascal, Newman, and Kierkegaard compelling. They show their face. They don't hide behind a mask. You're in touch with the real person. 

The problem with an apologetic strategy is that it frequently creates a dichotomy between the reasons the apologist has and the reasons he gives. It thereby fosters the impression that he's afraid to share his real reasons because they're weak. If he seems to be concealing his true reasons, his personal reasons for why he's a Christian, the message that sends is that he doesn't have good evidence for what he believes, and his official apologetic is P.R. 

I think it's best for a Christian apologist to say, this is why believe what I do, and this is why I think these are good reasons for what I believe. You may not find that convincing or credible, but at least you know I'm not trying to play you. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

The a priori argument against sola Scriptura

It is proved finally by reason. God was not ignorant of the fact that many difficulties would arise in the Church concerning the Faith. Therefore he had to provide a judge for the Church. But that judge cannot be Scripture…It is clear that Scripture is not the judge, because it is subject to various meanings, nor can it say which interpretation is true. Robert Bellarmine, Controversies of the Christian Faith (Keep the Faith 2016), 205.

In my experience, that's the most popular and influential objection to the Protestant faith. That objection is endlessly repeated and paraphrased by Catholic apologists. It's convincing to many cradle Catholics and evangelical converts to Rome. 

Notice the nature of the argument. It's an a priori argument. The argument is premised on what Christians should expect God to allow or prevent. God would not allow something like that to happen. God would have a mechanism in place to prevent that outcomes. It reasons back from unacceptable consequences to divine provision and prevention. 

As I say, many Catholics and prospective Catholics find that utterly persuasive. But is it in fact reasonable. Consider a few counterexamples that operate from the same principle:

It is proved finally by reason. God was not ignorant of the fact that many difficulties would arise in the Church concerning the Faith if Luther lived. Therefore God had to cause Luther to die in childhood.

It is proved finally by reason. God was not ignorant of the fact that billions of people would embrace a false religion if Muhammad lived. Therefore he had to cause Muhammad to die in childhood.

It is proved finally by reason. God was not ignorant of the fact that billions of people would embrace a false religion if Buddha lived. Therefore he had to cause Buddha to die in childhood. 

It is proved finally by reason. God was not ignorant of the fact that Bart Ehrman would be the most influential apostate of his generation. Therefore he had to prevent Ehrman from becoming Bruce Metzger's student. 

It is proved finally by reason. God was not ignorant of the fact that if Nabeel Qureshi died of cancer at 33, many Muslims would conclude that Allah punished him for apostasy. Therefore he had to heal Nabeel.

And so on and so forth. Point being, it's generally quite unreliable to predict what God would not permit. 

Problems with the real presence

Usually, arguments about whether Jn 6 and 1 Cor 11 teach the real presence revolve around exegetical considerations. However, that's not the only pertinent consideration:

i) Sometimes reality can serve a hermeneutical role. If the bread or wine just is Jesus, then why doesn't it look like Jesus? The total lack of correspondence between the interpretation and empirical reality is, in itself, a reason to question or reject the interpretation. If it is Jesus, shouldn't it bear a recognizable resemblance to Jesus? 

If I held up a banana and said "This is Marilyn Monroe," the fact that the claim defies manifest reality is good reason to dismiss the claim out of hand. 

ii) Sometimes reality is a check on our interpretations. Suppose a guy shows up on my doorstep tomorrow and announces that he's Jesus. He came back, just like he predicted.

Well, I need to compare that claim against reality. Does he do what Jesus can do. Does it match what Scripture says about eschatological signs when Jesus returns? Certain observable things are supposed to happen in the world that herald his return.

iii) Suppose someone objects that I'm overlooking the miraculous nature of the Eucharist. But one problem with that appeal is that even if we grant the Eucharistic interpretation of Jn 6, Jesus doesn't say it will be miraculous. There's nothing in the text of Jn 6 to indicate that the Eucharist is a miracle–even assuming the Eucharistic interpretation.

Indeed, none of the accounts of the Last Supper in the four Gospels and 1 Cor 11 say the Eucharist is a miracle. The miraculous nature of the Eucharist isn't required by the text, but by a particular interpretation of the text. Appealing to a miracle is an extraneous, stopgap explanation to save appearances for a particular interpretation. 

Two kinds of Christian apologists

At the risk of oversimplification, there are roughly two kinds of Christian apologists:

i) The first kind calibrates the evidence to the plausibility structure of the "sincere truth-seeker" (an ideal abstraction). He seeks common ground with the unbeliever. He leads with a weaker position than his actual position because it's easier to defend. That's the opening move in a multi-stage argument.

So there's a gap between the reasons he gives and the reasons he has. The reasons he gives are a subset of the reasons he has. As a matter of apologetic strategy, he keeps some reasons in reserve because he limits himself to what the unbeliever ought to find persuasive.

ii) The second kind gives his own reasons for why he's a Christian. He doesn't filter his reasons. When he makes a case for Christianity, he explains why he is a Christian. That's the evidence he finds persuasive. He's not adapting his position to what the unbeliever might find persuasive. 

So there's no gap between the reasons he has and the reasons he gives. That's because those are the only reasons he has. He's not holding back. It's not an apologetic strategy. Rather, he has no additional reasons. That's it. What you see is what you get. 

He's hopeful that an unbeliever will find his reasons convincing, but he can't anticipate or control what an unbeliever will find convincing. Unbelievers don't have a monolithic plausibility structure. What the apologist finds persuasive may intersect or coincide with what the unbeliever finds persuasive, or they may be ships passing in the night. 

At the moment I'm not offering a value judgment on which approach is better. Both are legitimate. Both are useful.

A little lost

1. I've seen Protestant apologists and theologians struggle with sola scriptura. Is that a damaging admission? No. For one thing, I see Catholic apologists and theologians struggle with their own position. Both sides have struggles.

2. Suppose someone raises an objection to your position, and you don't have a good answer. That could mean one of two things. 

i) Your position is wrong

ii) The question is wrong

There are no good answers to bad questions. Sometimes the question is the problem. Take loaded questions that have dubious assumptions.

3. It's quite possible not to have the right answer, but sense that someone else has the wrong answer. Many Protestants look at Roman Catholicism and think, "Whatever the answer is, that's not it!"

This parallels the history of science. There's a process of elimination. Take a brilliant young scientific maverick. He thinks the standard paradigm is wrong. He doesn't know what the right answer is–yet. But he can recognize a wrong answer even though he doesn't have the right answer. And he has to rule out bad explanations as a preliminary step to make progress in finding the right explanation. 

Likewise, even if a Protestant didn't have a good answer to objections, that doesn't mean he can't spot a wrong answer. 

4. The stock objection to sola scriptura is that it fails to settle theological controversies. Scripture isn't self-interpreting. Without a living interpreter, Christians disagree about what it means. Scripture alone fails to secure doctrinal consensus. 

However, we can flip that around. If Scripture alone fails to secure doctrinal consensus, then that's not the function of Scripture. That doesn't mean sola Scriptura is false. Rather, that means Catholics have misidentified the purpose of Scripture. 

5. Catholics approach the question from an a priori standpoint. They have an expectation about God's intentions for "the Church". God will intervene to protect "the Church" from error.

Ironically, this parallels the argument from evil, which has the same a priori structure. If there's an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God, he'd intervene to prevent evil, but since there's evil, God does not exist.

The argument operates from an expectation about what God would do or should do. Since that expectation is disappointed by experience, it follows that God doesn't exist.

But we can turn that around. If God doesn't intervene to prevent certain kinds of evil, then that doesn't falsify God's existence–rather, that falsifies an armchair expectation about what God would or should do. 

Suppose you use a spoon to cut a steak. You complain about how ill-designed the spoon is. Surely there's a more efficient way to cut a steak. No doubt. 

Does the spoon suffer from a design defect because it doesn't work as well as a steak knife? The spoon may be ideally designed to do what a spoon is supposed to do. The problem isn't with the tool, but misuse of the tool. 

6. Even if you consider the Catholic alternative, does it solve the problem it posed for itself? It's not like Catholicism actually secures consensus. Take "ecumenical" councils like Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II. The bishops don't think alike when they go into the council, and they don't think alike when they leave the council.

Competing factions are represented at "ecumenical" councils. As a result, compromise is sought to get enough votes for passage. When the vote is taken, there are winners and losers.

The losers aren't persuaded that they were wrong. In public they may submit to the results, but in private they remain unconvinced. In some cases, moreover, because the documents were deliberately ambiguous to forge a winning coalition, the losers can interpret the documents to agree with their own position. 

7. Suppose we infer the purpose of Scripture from how it actually functions in the life of Christians. It guides them through life. They locate themselves in Scripture. They find their own story in the story of Scripture. They join the ongoing pilgrimage.

8. But how can it be a guide if Christians disagree? How can it be a map if Christians get lost? 

Actually, I think every Christian is a little lost. Some Christians are more lost than others. But I don't mean "lost" in a damnatory sense. 

There are degrees of lostness. Suppose you grow up in a mid-sized city. It's small enough that you know parts of the city very well, but it's large enough that you may lose your bearings if you go into a strange part of town.

Here's the thing: you can get lost in your hometown, but you can't get totally lost. Because you have a good general knowledge of the layout, if you make a wrong turn, you can continue to driving in that direction, or experiment with different routes, until you find a landmark. Then you exclaim, "So that's where I am!"

Or suppose you're a tourist visiting an island like Port Townsend. You don't know your way around. You may lose track of where you are. 

But even if you're lost, you're still on the island. There are boundaries to how lost you can get. The island is surrounded by water. That's what makes it an island. The roads only go so far before they circle back or run out at the sea. 

Even though you may lose your way, you can only get a little lost. You may be temporarily lost, but you can't be hopelessly lost. For the island limits how lost you can get. The island imposes a physical barrier on your degree of lostness. You may be lost somewhere on the island, but your disorientation is within the confines of the island. You won't turn up as a missing person. The authorities won't discover your body a month later.

Or suppose your home sits on 5-10 acres of land with meadows and woods, hills and dales. A fenced-in property. You have a 4-year-old son. He wanders off to explore the property. He becomes hopelessly confused. Is he lost? He is lost and not lost. He's lost in the sense that he can't find his way out. But he's not lost in the sense that he can't be found. If he doesn't come back, a parent or older sibling walks around the property until they find him. There are only so many places to look. It was safe to let him out of their sight because he can only go so far. How lost can he get? He was never truly lost. 

To take a final illustration, suppose you get lost on a passenger ship. You make a wrong turn inside the ship. So many nooks and crannies and hallways leading to dead-ends.

But even if you couldn't find your way back, you are going wherever the ship is headed. The fact that you lost your way on  the passenger ship doesn't affect your destination. You are lost, but the ship is not. The ship will ferry you to your destination even though you are lost onboard. 

9. Sola scriptura doesn't mean we're saved by Scripture alone. In addition to Scripture, we're saved by God's grace and providence. 

And that may be why God doesn't intervene to prevent Christian disagreement. We're not saved by our own cleverness. We're not saved by having 20/20 theological insight. 

10. I'm not saying Bible readers can't be lost in a damnatory sense. But the good shepherd protects his sheep. To be lost in God's pasture, like the "lost" child in the fenced-in property of his parents, delimits how far you can stray. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Dichotomized faith

Philosophers of science are well aware that a theory does not need to have answers to all anomalies in order to be well-supported and rationally accepted. We have ample, to my mind overwhelming, evidence, quite independent of our response to the question of the Canaanite slaughters, that God exists, that He is loving and all-good, that His goal is to redeem mankind, and that Jesus is God the Son who reveals the loving Father to us. That means that we can handle points where we do not know the answer while still retaining a robust confidence in the truth of Christianity. It is a brittle and irrational approach that says, "You must have an answer to everything or else your faith is vain and not founded on fact." Being an evidentialist, as I am, does not at all mean having to have all answers to all questions. On the contrary, it means viewing the totality of the evidence one has and trying, to the best of one's ability, to come to an intelligent and judicious conclusion. I believe that any fair-minded inquirer who investigates the evidence for Christianity will come to believe it to be true. This means believing that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the one true God and is a necessarily good and perfect God, worthy of all worship.

Communion and cannibalism

The charge of cannibalism does not hold water for at least three reasons. First, Catholics do not receive our Lord in a cannibalistic form. Catholics receive him in the form of bread and wine. The cannibal kills his victim; Jesus does not die when he is consumed in Communion. Indeed, he is not changed in the slightest; the communicant is the only person who is changed. The cannibal eats part of his victim, whereas in Communion the entire Christ is consumed—body, blood, soul, and divinity. The cannibal sheds the blood of his victim; in Communion our Lord gives himself to us in a non-bloody way. 

i) First of all, I always find ironic how proponents of the real presence stress the literal interpretation of Jn 6, but then when asked if that doesn't commit them to a cannibalistic view of the Eucharist, they back off. So do they take it literally or not? They take it literally until you press them on the implications, at which point they get defensive and distance themselves from a literal interpretation. 

ii) Suppose a psychopath kidnaps teenagers, chains them in his basement, then uses an I.V. tube as a straw to suck their blood. Isn't that cannibalistic? But it doesn't kill them unless the psycho exsanguinates them. He can keep them alive and sample their blood. 

iii) Suppose a human body is dehydrated, ground into powder, and made into pills. If you pop those pills, you're consuming a corpse in a different form, but it's still cannibalistic, is it not? It's not the form but composition that makes it cannibalistic. 

iv) What does it mean to eat a soul? What does it mean to eat divinity? Eating is a physical process. Is a soul physical? Is divinity physical? 

v) Even if you take Jn 6 literally, it says nothing about consuming the soul or deity of Christ. 

The Lord of logic

If, on the one hand you think that God is (necessarily?) logical, while, on the other hand, you think the source of logic is not God, but is independent of God, then that makes divine rationality contingent on something that's not God, that's independent of God, and more ultimate than God. If God isn't the source of things like logic, numbers, and possible worlds, then that's a smaller God, a less impressive God. Not the greatest conceivable being. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019


The journey within a journey

Life as a journey is a familiar and fundamental metaphor. And the Christian pilgrimage is a variation on that metaphor. But the familiarity of the metaphor may obscure the multiple dimensions of the metaphor. It operates on at least two levels. There's the individual level. Everyone is on a personal journey. Each life is a journey. It has a starting line, course, and finish line. 

But at another level, all of us are born into a journey. Born on the road. Like a caravan that left long before we were born. It will arrive at the final destination long after we die. We find ourselves born in the course an ongoing trek. We immediately take our place in the caravan. Many have gone before. Aging pilgrims tell us the old old story of the original embarkment. And they tell us where we're headed.

When we're born into the world, we have no idea what to expect. For all we know, the world might be unrecognizably different than it is. Think of science fiction and fantasy movies and novels about surreal worlds. Suppose you were parachuted into one of those mind-bending landscapes. That would be utterly disorienting. And even those are severely limited by the provincial, earthbound experience of the human authors. 

We must discover what reality is like. We don't know in advance. Try to remember what it's like to see the world through a baby's eyes. To be bathed in warm water by a loving mother. Or nursed. Or see a butterfly for the first time. 

After we get used to it, it's easier to take for granted, as if it had to be that way. But what if it hadn't been that way? What if we were born into a world far stranger or far worse? 

If we're lucky, we learn that reality had to have certain parameters. It couldn't be just any way. It had to have a God. 

However, we're confronted with competing narratives. The Biblical backstory and counter narratives–as well as rival narratives about the destination. Guides who misdirect us. 

In Hebrews 11 we see a journey within a journey. A procession of pilgrims on their way to the unseen country. Each has his own pilgrimage, from beginning to end. Then there's the overarching journey of the procession itself. That was written 2000 years ago. But the caravan continues, as we pick up where they left off. And we will hand it off to the next generation, when we reach the unseen country, one by one, while they retrace our steps. 

What did they know and when did they know it?

Regarding the SBC abuse scandal, I wonder about major players like Al Mohler. He rose through the ranks at rocket velocity. He's held top positions in the SBC for many years now. 

Did he have no inkling what was going on? Never heard rumors? Nothing through the grapevine? No victims or friends of victims ever confided in him?

When the Cardinal McCarrick scandal broke, people asked "What did they know and when did they know it?" How could some of his associates and superiors not know what he was up to? And it turns out that they did. The SBC needs to ask itself the same hard questions.

Perhaps some people did confide in Mohler, but no one who spoke to him was prepared to go on record.

Are You Allowing Your Child to Be Injected with Vaccines that Contain Chopped Up Aborted Baby Parts?

There is a lot of justified outrage out there of late about abortion among Christians. However, many Christian parents either do not want to know or are simply ignorant of the fact that major vaccines given to children contain aborted baby parts.

This is not a post about the question of the safety or effectiveness of vaccines. So please do not comment on that facet of the vaccine debate in the comments. It's about whether we are consistent in our ethics: Can you be a Christian and knowingly allow your child to be injected with aborted fetal tissue? 

How can you know what vaccines contain it? The following video discusses this issue.

How to be forgiving

i) How should we understanding passages like Mt 6:15 and Mt 18:21-35?

One problem is that it might suggest a cynical view of forgiveness. A quid pro quo. I don't forgive you for your sake but for my sake. I don't care about you. I don't forgive you because that's in your best interest, but because forgiving you is an act of enlighten self-interest. Unless I forgive you, I will be damned.

ii) Another difficulty is the specter of coercive forgiveness. "Forgive or else!"

But if I'm forgiving you at gunpoint, I'm I really forgiving you? Isn't coercive forgiveness grudging? Don't I still resent you? I resent having to forgive you. So isn't coercive forgiveness oxymoronic?

iii) Yet another difficulty is that we lack direct control over our feelings. We don't have total control over how we feel about other people. It's not a switch we can flip on and off. 

iv) One issue is whether the forgiveness in view is primarily psychological or performative. What does forgiveness mean? On a behavioral interpretation, I forgive in the sense of relinquishing vengeance. I refuse to get even. 

That parallels the nature of divine forgiveness. What's the opposite of divine forgiveness? Divine punishment.  For God to forgive means foregoing punitive actions. 

v) This is not to deny that forgiveness can have a psychological dimension. I'm just addressing an exegetical question. What does the command to be forgiving mean?

There are ways we can try to cultivate a forgiving attitude. Consider the opposite. Nursing a grudge. Brooding about the past. Keeping a mental list of slights. Reminding ourselves of what that person did to us, rather than letting the memory and intensity of the experience naturally fade with the passage of time.  

In addition, we need to learn not to take ourselves too seriously. Self-importance is a recipe for resentment. 

Hard cases

i) Not surprisingly, proponents of abortion and infanticide like Peter Singer lead with the hard cases because that's a wedge issue. Is it wrong to bring a child into the world at high risk of a short, painful life?

From a Christian standpoint, this life is not all there is, so the fact that you get off to a bad start in life doesn't mean it stays that way. There's the hope of heaven. But that wouldn't be available if you never existed in the first place. 

Antinatalists sometimes counter that the danger of hell offsets the hope of heaven. Not that antinatalists believe in heaven or  hell. They just raise that objection for the sake of argument. But there are problems with that objection:

ii) That applies to healthy happy kids as well as the case of kids at high risk of a short painful life. So unless you're an antinatalist, that argument proves too much or too little. That's not an argument for abortion or infanticide, but sterilization to forestall procreation. 

iii) In a cost/benefit analysis, it's not enough to single out one side of the equation, for the potential loss must be considered against the potential gain. The high risk of harm may be offset by the high risk of losing a compensatory good. 

iv) I'm not suggesting a cost/benefit analysis is an appropriate tool to evaluate abortion or infanticide. I think that can be a legitimate consideration regarding contraception, but once a child is conceived, it's too late for a cost/benefit analysis to pertain. Abortion and infanticide can't be justified by a cost/benefit analysis. However, it's useful to consider that perspective for discussion purposes, to rule it out even on its own grounds. 

v) Suppose I'd like to have four kids. Suppose I have counterfactual knowledge that the firstborn will have a short painful life. And it doesn't matter when my wife and I have our first child. I don't think it would be wrong to practice contraception in that event. In the age of contraception, Christian parents do make decisions about how many kids to have, and spacing them. Unless you oppose contraception in principle, it's not wrong to take into consideration whether the woman is at high risk of medical complications (e.g. miscarriage) or fetal abnormalities. 

vi) But even in that situation, you can go ahead and conceive the child for the child's sake. The gift of life carries with it the potential for eternal bliss. 

vii) However, my scenario introduces another consideration. I can't have later kids unless I have the first one. If I refuse to have the first child, then that denies the future kids an opportunity to share in the gift of life, because their existence is contingent on the existence of the firstborn. It's a nested relationship in which I can't have more than one child unless I have at least one child. Yet the lead child will suffer a short painful life. Therefore, even if we frame the issue in crass cost/benefit terms, there are tradeoffs. The justification for having the first child can't be isolated from the other children, in that internal relation. 

viii) A critic might object that this improperly uses the firstborn as a means to an end.

But to begin with, I'm not a Kantian deontologist. And even if I was, the principle is not using people as a means, but using them merely as a means. As I've already discussed, the existence of the firstborn isn't just for the benefit of his siblings–for he himself is as much a potential beneficiary (in the long run) as they are. And he will be loved during his short painful life.  

ix) A critic might object that I'm resorting to a consequentialist justification. But even if I was, that doesn't commit me to consequentialism. I'm simply responding to the antinatalist, abortionist, or infanticidalist on his own grounds, for argument's sake.

On consequentialism, aborting the first child would be the logical alternative. A special needs child will be demanding on the parents. And aborting the first child will clear the way for his siblings. But I already ruled that out. Eugenic abortion is evil. 

x) Finally, a critic might object to my counterfactual calculation on the grounds that hypothetical humans who never exist have nothing to lose or gain. 

That's the Epicurean argument. One issue is whether that commits the critic to the symmetry argument, where prenatal and postmortem nonexistence are equivalent. I've argued elsewhere that to be denied the opportunity to exist is the greatest deprivation of all. 

This doesn't mean there's a duty to have as many kids as possible. And this doesn't mean we're wronging nonexistent persons by not conceiving them.

But there is a sense in which potential persons have a stake in the lottery of life. They have a personal interest in sharing the same goods as those who exist. 

Suppose I have a teenage brother I dislike. Suppose I could step into a time machine, change a variable in the past. I exist in the new timeline, but my brother does not. He never existed in the new timeline. If my brother found out about my plans, would he have reason to feel threatened? Would he have reason to thwart my plans?