Saturday, July 17, 2004

Jesus & jihad

Nicholas Kristof, op-ed writer for the New York Times, has struck again. In a rambling, stream-of-consciousness hit-piece, entitled "Jesus & Jihad," he tries to connect the Left Behind series with Abu Ghraib and militant Islam.

The disjointed narrative is not the result of sloppy writing. To the contrary, the abrupt transitions are strategic turning-points. Because his case would fall apart if he were to use linear logic, he eschews close reasoning for Joycean innuendo. This sort of sophistry is the shopworn ruse of every demagogue.

Kristof begins by taking the Left Behind series as his point of reference. Now, there is nothing wrong with commenting on the popular expressions of piety. To the extent that this series is both an influential and representative expression of much Evangelical religion, it is fair game in its own right.

But one of the problems is when Kristof appeals to the comic-strip theology of popular pulp fiction, with its cartoonish literalism, as a stalking-horse to attack the Bible, as well as more intelligent and responsible expressions of the Christian faith.

In addition, he indulges in a willful distortion of the opposing position. He equates the final judgment with "ethnic cleansing." But that loaded phrase has nothing whatsoever to do with the standard of judgment. For the church has been redeemed from every tribe, tongue, people and nation (Rev 5:9).

Kristof plays a rhetorical shell-game by taking the word "fundamentalism," which originally applied to an American religious movement, reapplying it to militant Islam, and then applying it once more, with the Islamic overtones, to Evangelicalism.

But this is nothing more than a semantic trick. It may be persuasive for liberal illiterates who don’t know the history of words, and readily confound words with concepts, but astute readers will not be impressed by this verbal legerdemain.

Somehow, Kristof manages to turn the Left Behind series into a rear guard action in response to militant Islam. But just as Kristof has no use for linear logic, he has no use for linear chronology. It should be needless to point out that the Left Behind series made its publishing debut long before 9/11. The entire series was planned and plotted out well in advance of 9/11. It is, as everyone who *knows anything knows, a literary adaptation of a dispensational timeline that has been around for decades.

More to the point, the idea of a martial messiah has extensive OT and NT precedent (e.g. Ps 2; 72; 110; Isa 9; 59; 63; Ezk 38-39; Dan 7; Mt 25; 1 Thes 4; 2 Thes 1-2; Rev 19-20).

To create a moral equivalence from a formal equivalence, based the fact that Muslims and Christians both resort to martial rhetoric and armed conflict, is like equating Hitler and Churchill on the grounds that both made use of bombers and battleships and belligerent oratory. This only illustrates the inability of the liberal mind to keep more than idea in its head at a time.

He laments "fundamentalism" for fostering a stark moral division of humanity. But, other issues aside, you need to know your enemy and fight him accordingly. If you enemy sees the world in black-and-white, then you need to see the enemy in black-and-white. If the enemy sees you as an unredeemable reprobate, then there’s no room for diplomacy. The enemy has made this a fight to the death. The enemy has opted to take no prisoners.

Kristof goes on to say that "we did imprison thousands of Muslims here and abroad after 9/11, and ordinary Americans joined in the torture of prisoners at Abu Graib in part because of a lack of empathy for the prisoners. It’s harder to feel empathy for such people if we regard them as infidels..."

This is a classic case of moral and logical poll-vaulting. Because the actual facts do not enable Kristof to mount a stepwise argument from one thing to another, he resorts to free association. It is a wonderfully economical style of writing because the writer can jam-pack so many fallacies into such a compact verbal space. It is much more time-consuming to unwind all the fallacies wrapped up in two little sentences.

1. He begins with the question-begging insinuation that it was a miscarriage of justice to round up Muslims after 9/11. Kristof offers no supporting argument for his operating assumption.

i) In criminal profiling, you target the individual or group most likely responsible for the crime. In a lynching, you profile Klansmen. This is just plain common sense. A survival instinct.

ii) Ashcroft rounded up illegal foreign nationals. They didn’t belong here in the first place. They were in violation of their visas.

iii) The attack on 9/11 was pulled off by domestic sleeper-cells, so that’s a natural and necessary target.

As to Muslims abroad, these were enemy combatants captured on the battlefield. This was not a random raid of everyone with a Muslim last name.

2. As to Abu Graib, Kristof would need to do the following to establish a causal connection:

i) The culprits were:

a) Avid readers of the Left Behind series and/or:
b) Fundamentalist Christians.
c) Their lack of "empathy" was the direct result of either (a), (b), or both.

Okay, so where’s the supporting argument to bridge the gap from theory to fact? All that Kristof gives the reader is a washed out bridge.

ii) Since conservative Christian ethics frowns upon sadomasochism, it is hard to see how the hanky-panky of Private English and her cohorts in the direct result of their indoctrination in, and devotion to, Christian fundamentalism.

iii) To the contrary, what I see in the prison flap is, in part, the MTV generation come of age. If a second party is to blame, let's turn the spotlight back on the liberal media.

iv) We also see the consequences of a co-ed military. For years, the liberals have lobbied for a coed military. This, of course, leads to a breakdown of sexual discipline.

v) Why should we feel empathy for the prisoners? Many of them were in custody for murdering and maiming our soldiers. But, of course, Kristof, as a bleeding-hearted liberal, naturally sympathizes with the victimizer over the victim.

I would invite Mr. Kristof to spend a night in a prison-cell with the detainees, and let him practice his empathy on them. It would give him a chance to commiserate with them on the root-causes of terrorism. Our prison guards could come around the morning after to collect the body.

Kristof trots out the old canard of African enslavement. But there was no race-based slavery in the Bible. For that matter, the two men who did the most to end the African slave trade were the both of them Evangelicals—John Newton and William Wilberforce. So this criticism is yet another non-sequitur.

He then says that religious intolerance is not what America stands for, or even for what the good Lord stands for.

I suppose this depends on whether you think that American history begins with the Warren Court.

As to God, you cannot be tolerant and also say what God does and does not stand for. Kristof is now indulging in the very thing he faults the "fundamentalist" for. He is speaking for God. He is saying that God takes a stand, that he takes sides, siding with one position or party against another.

The difference, then, is that Kristof is a far-left fundamentalist; he is just as intolerant of the people he condemns as the people he condemns, but without the theological support-system.

Friday, July 16, 2004

And the two will be one

It's my impression that many marriages sour because the husband and wife come to the marriage with different, sometimes false, unreasonable, and unspoken expectations. I think a man and woman contemplating marriage should fill out a questionnaire to see if the have the same expectations, if they both have realistic expectations, and if they can adjust their expectations to make for a happy marriage.

They should fill this out separately. Take a week or two to do it so that they have the time to give the questions some serious thought. They should then compare their answers. See how far apart they are. If they can't strike a balance at this preliminary stage, they'll never pull off a successful marriage.

1. Do you expect your spouse to satisfy all your emotional needs?

2. Do you think you'll love your spouse so much that you'll never be attracted to and tempted by anyone else?

3. Do you plan to maintain your friendships after you get married?

4. Do you plan to maintain your extracurricular activities after you get married?

5. How involved will your in-laws be in your marriage?

6. Do both of you plan to work?

7. Will you work outside the home?

8. How many hours a day/week?

9. What standard of living would you be happy with right now?

10. What standard of living would you be happy with 10-20 years from now?

11. Who makes the big decisions? The husband? Both of you? What about a conflict?

12. Does it matter to either or both of you where you live? What if you move?

13. Do you look forward to sex?

14. How much?

15. What if your spouse puts on a lot of weight after you marry?

16. Do you plan to have kids?

17. How many?

18. What if one of you changes your mind?

19. How should children be punished?

20. Who should do it?

21. Will one spouse back the other up, or take the side of the child?

22. Do you hold grudges?

23. Do you want to go out a lot, or spend most of your time at home?

24. What does your wife need to do to make you feel like a real man?

25. What should a wife not do to demean you?

26. What does your husband need to do to make you feel like a real woman?

27. What should a husband not do to demean you?

28. What do you look for in a man?

29. What do you look for in a woman?

30. Have you had a bad childhood experience that would adversely affect the marriage?

31. Do you have the same political views?

32. Do you have the same religious views?

33. What interests do you share in common?

34. How do you plan to educate your kids? Homeschooling? Public schooling? Private schooling?

35. Who should do most of the housework? Babysitting? Shopping? Transporting?

36. What is your idea of a vacation?

37. Do either of you like to drink?

38. Gamble?

39. Do either of you have problems with addictive-compulsive behavior?

40. Do either of you have irritating habits?

41. Will you schedule time together?

42. Which means more to you—time together or a high standard of living?

43. In case of conflict, who do you plan to talk to? Your spouse? Friend? Parent? Pastor? Counselor? Psychologist? Male or female?

44. Do you like your boyfriend/girlfriend the way they are, or do you plan to change them?

45. Are either of you willing to change? Or are you happy the way you are?

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Too hot to handle-3

11. Polygamy

Many students of Scripture find the OT practice of polygamy a moral embarrassment, and dismiss it as a dispensational concession.

But polygamy is not all of a piece. For there are several types of polygamy:

i) War brides (Deut 21:10-14).

ii) Treaty wives. Many of Solomon’s wives were treaty wives.

iii) Surrogate motherhood (Gen 16:3; 30:3)

iv) Levirate marriage (Deut 25:5-10).

v) Promiscuity (2 Sam 11).

The reasons for taking a war bride might be several: love, lust, a marriage of convenience.

Treaty-wives were a cynical political arrangement.

Surrogate motherhood and Levirate marriage existed because Israel was a tribal society in which land-holdings were the common possession of the clan. Without a legitimate living heir, land would pass out of the clan.

It was also a safety-net for childless widows.

Levirate marriage may also have received a measure of Scriptural sanction insofar as it served to advance the seed of promise (Gen 3:15; 17:6-8).

The Bible condemns promiscuous polygamy (Deut 17:17).

The Bible does not approve of everything it records or regulates. On the other hand, marriage was often seen as an economic institution and economic necessity.

The OT already looked upon polygamy as, at best, an accommodation to besetting sin or special circumstances, and the NT is even less tolerant of this concession (Mt 19:3-12; 2 Tim 3:2).

On the other hand, if, say, a man marries two women, and has children by both, then he has assumed a set of obligations to each which he cannot dissever after the fact—just as a young man who seduces a young woman was thereby bound to marry her (Exod 22:16; Deut 22:28-29). He is committed to care for her forever after. So sin often entangles the sinner in a web of unforeseen obligations.

Monogamy remains the Biblical ideal, but we need to take into account the practical demands that gave rise to certain forms of polygamy, and we also need to come up with our own alternative strategies for dealing with the same circumstances.

12. Pornography

Once again we’re on a continuum. One question is whether sexual fantasies are always sinful. By way of answer, Canticles is written in a way that directly and deliberately stimulates the erotic imagination.

But this raises the question of where we draw the line. If Canticles is licit, what about Botticelli, and if Botticelli is licit, what about an X-rated movie?

There are different ways of broaching the answer.

i) One of the dangers of pornography is that it sets up a certain ideal, if “ideal” is the right word, which a normal woman cannot and ought not measure up to. It can spoil the viewer for real women.

ii) In addition, it recruits women who, by definition, make their money engaging in fornication. In effect, you are paying people to sin for your own pleasure.

iii) X-rated movies and other suchlike glorify vulgarity and promiscuity.

iv) Many of the most important things in life defy definition. They cannot be quantified. But that doesn’t render them unreal, or prevent us from drawing some distinctions based on native taste and intuition.

v) The difference between pornography and Canticles is like the difference between bad art and good art. Good art elevates and ennobles its subject. Good art conveys moral, spiritual, and intellectual insight. Bad art trivializes and debases its subject. It demeans rather than redeems. We cannot squeeze this into a uniform formula, but most folks instinctively know the difference. There’s a reason the Uffizi would never swap its Da Vincis and Botticellis for Warhol and Mapplethorpe.

vi) Going back to Canticles, this affords us a striking study in indirection. Canticles creates an explicit impression, but if you take a second look, the impression is fostered, not by anatomical descriptions, but by suggestive comparisons between one thing to another—say a breast and a cluster of grapes, while leaving the rest to the imagination. So there is, in fact, no X-rated imagery to go with the X-rated imagination.

What we have, rather, is the technique of the oblique. Canticles is a sexual allegory rather than a sex manual.

13. Profanity

Traditionally, Protestant morality has censured profanity as a violation of the Third Commandment. But in this regard, a few distinctions need to be drawn.

i) The usual application is apt to misconstrue and trivialize the original import. What is in view is probably not the mere use of the Lord’s name as an expletive, but its employment as an imprecation to hex your enemies. Indeed, this residual meaning is still reflected in the designation of certain words as “curse words.”

ii) There is a moral and religious distinction to be drawn between the profane use of holy things and the profane use of unholy things. Using the devil’s name or domain as an expletive is not on the same plane as using the name of God or Christ in vain.

This distinction is oddly lost sight of in traditional Protestant morality. But by definition, there can be no irreverent treatment of the devil, for the subject is inherently impious.

At the same time, there is a danger of trivializing and secularizing something fearfully real.

14. Slavery

Many men regard slavery as inherently immortal. But we need to draw some distinctions.

Under the Mosaic law, slavery served two different functions: (i) it was a form of financial restitution for property crimes, and (ii) a way of dealing with POWs.

The first function is really a form of indentured service. There is nothing wrong with it. Indeed, it’s much more sensible than our prison-system. In the Biblical system, the offender works to support himself and restore the victim; in our modern-day system, the victim receives no compensation, and must further finance the cost of the convict's imprisonment and upkeep. So this is both unjust and inefficient all around.

The second purpose may strike us as harsh. But in Bible times, it was a choice of either enslaving the enemy or taking no prisoners.

The problem with POWs is that if you repatriate them, they will live to fight another day. Unless you win the war, and the losing side surrenders, if you release a POW today, he will return to the battlefield and shoot at you tomorrow.

So the Biblical system was about as humane as it was possible to be back then. It was not practical to house POWs in concentration camps. And concentration camps are not distinguished by their quality of life.

There is no nice way to wage war. All the options are bad options. It’s just a choice between the lesser of two evils.

15. Suicide

Historically, the church has treated suicide as a damnable sin. Suicide was regarded as a mortal sin, and since—in the nature of the case— the suicide had no chance of absolution once he took his own life, he died outside the state of grace. Hence, he could not be buried on consecrated ground.

Much of this is based on a sacramental theology that does not command the assent of every reader. So we need to revisit the issue.

i) One preliminary question is whether suicide is always a sin. For example, is a suicide mission sinful? Is it sinful for a soldier to knowingly lay down his life to save others—assuming that he cannot accomplish the mission without sacrificing his own life in the process? Samson’s suicide is a suicide mission (Judges 16:21-31). He kills the enemies of Israel at the cost of his own life.

To take another example, suppose an intelligence officer is about to be captured. He has information which, if tortured out of him, will give the enemy a strategic edge. The above examples would seem to be warranted by the altruistic principle of 1 Jn 3:16.

Let us vary the last example. Suppose a soldier is about to be captured by the enemy. He knows that the enemy will torture him to death, out of sadistic glee. Perhaps he is morally wounded already. Is it sinful for him to hasten his own death by suicide? Saul’s suicide is a case in point (1 Sam 31:1-7).

This case is more difficult than the first or second. Still, I would find it hard to condemn a soldier who committed suicide under such circumstances. Is there a moral imperative to endure sodomy and mutilation unto death?

Someone may object that this shades into euthanasia. And maybe it does. Many things shade into other things, but it doesn’t follow that the entire subject is enshrouded in indistinct shades of gray. Doctors and nurses don't ordinarily abuse and torment their patients.

For an extensive analysis of euthanasia, cf. J. Frame, Medical Ethics (P&R, 1988). Since I cannot improve on his discussion, I have no separate entry for mercy-killing.

In ethics we are frequently faced with limiting cases and borderline cases. But the fact that dawn and dusk are borderline cases does not reduce midnight and high noon to borderline cases. We may not always be able to drawn a bright line between the point at which something begins and ends, but the moral continuum is only blurry at the outer edges.

These are extreme cases, but in ethics we must deal with extreme cases. The more common motives for suicide are boredom, guilt, grief, depression, despair, and mental illness.

In discussing the relation of suicide to sin, we need to distinguish between the subjective motive and the objective act. In principle, one can do the right thing for the right reason, the right thing for the wrong reason, the wrong thing for the wrong reason, or the wrong thing for the right reason. So sin can attach one or the other, to both or neither.

Likewise, a certain mental state may either result in sin or be a result of sin. Is mental illness a sin? Sometimes yes, sometimes no. Depression is a borderline condition.

Is guilt a sin? Depends on what you do with it. We have many things to feel guilty over. But that should drive us into the arms of Christ.

Is despair a sin? I would say that despair is incompatible with faith in the providence of God, so—yes—despair is a sin.

More generally, suicide does reflect an absence of faith in the mercy and providence of God. It loses hope. But a Christian is never bereft of hope. Yet he may need to be reminded, or remind himself, of God’s good promises. There is no reason to fear the future, for God is the Lord of future time, no less than times present and the past.

In general, then, suicide is sin. And although the traditional view of suicide is someone confused, it is true that the suicide, by his very act, denies himself the possibility of repentance and restoration. So this is not to be taken lightly—by any means. Most of those who take their own lives are not like a soldier on a suicide mission, but a sentinel who deserts his post.

One of the common consequences of sin is to burn our best exits and options. But when find ourselves in a bind of our own doing, the proper course of action is not to add sin to sin, but to take our lumps like a man, in submission to the godly chastisement. And I dare say that most of those who escape a dire straight through suicide will find the welcome on the other side infinitely worse.

In this respect, I regard Saul's suicide as a final act of cowardice, crowning a life of infidelity. But a better case could be made for his armor-bearer.

Which brings us to the next question—is suicide a damnable sin? That depends. Strictly speaking, there are no damnable sins—only a damnable state of the soul, which issues in sin (Mt 7:17-19; 15:19). .

Can a Christian commit suicide and still be saved? I would broaden the question and ask, can a Christian commit sin and still be saved? The answer is yes.

A Christian is still a sinner, a lifelong sinner. At the same time, a Christian is still a believer—a lifelong believer. There is, in a Christian, a mix of faith and sin. There is, in the unbeliever, sin undiluted by faith.

So we want to avoid two extremes. On the one hand, we want to avoid the legalistic extreme of saying that our fate is sealed by the very last thing we do, as though I’m damned if I commit suicide, but saved if I die of a heart attack an hour before I'm able to carry out my suicidal designs. Or that I’m saved if I commit murder an hour before, but make it to the Confessional just before I expire.

On the other hand, we want to avoid the antinomian extreme of saying that no matter how faithless we are, we are always entitled to the benefit of the doubt. Rather, the presumption lies in the pattern of faith and life, for better or worse.


I would like to thank John Frame for taking the time to comment on a draft version of this essay.

Too hot to handle-2

4. Divorce

Traditionally, there are two grounds for divorce: infidelity (Mt 5:32; 19:19) and desertion (1 Cor 7:15). One preliminary question is why the Matthew version, with its exemptive clause, is more liberal than the Markan version (10:11-12), on the one hand, but less liberal than the Pauline discussion, which “adds” a second ground?

Of course, any answer is bound to be somewhat conjectural, but the following may be suggested. It may be that Mark took adultery for granted, since that was assumed on all side (both Jewish & Greco-Roman) as a valid ground for divorce, whereas Matthew, in order to avoid future confusion, spells out the exception.

Or it may simply be that Matthew knew more than Mark. Mark had heard of the teaching of Jesus, but Matthew had heard the teaching of Jesus. Mark’s citation is accurate as far as it goes, but Matthew reproduces a bit more of the original, quoting directly from his inspired memory of the event.

Or it may be that after Jesus completed his public address, the Twelve asked him some follow-up questions in private and elicited this additional caveat. Indeed, we know from other accounts that the Twelve often quizzed their Lord in private when a provocative public utterance of his confounded their understanding and expectations. In that event, the exemptive clause is a parenthetical gloss.

As to the Pauline expansion, it may well be that the words of Christ ought to be taken in the tradition of proverbial wisdom, where you have a statement that is formally universal, but understood to be a generality that admits a number of individual exceptions. Many well-meaning Christians have been misled by failing to make allowance for the hyperbolic element of the proverbial genre.

The next question is what the “Pauline privilege” amounts to. It is usually assumed to allow the innocent party the right of divorce and remarriage.

But beyond that is the question of whether abandonment alone is a grounds for divorce, or only in the case of an unbeliever leaving a believer. Is the unbelieving status of the deserter a necessary condition of a valid divorce, or is desertion alone a sufficient condition?

The prima facie reason that Paul discusses marriage and divorce in relation to believers and unbelievers is because that is how the question was posed, and it was so posed because that was the situation within the Corinthian church.

But it does not necessarily follow that the spiritual status of the deserter is a separate condition. Rather, this may be a special application of a general principle, occasioned by the circumstances of the Corinthian church.

Indeed, it is hard to see the moral relevance of deserter’s state of grace, or the absence thereof. The question is whether a marriage remains a real marriage without cohabitation. Marriage is a covenant with bilateral duties. Each party must uphold its end of the bargain.

A practical problem with making the spiritual status of the deserter a condition of divorce is that it puts the burden on a second party to establish that the deserter is a genuine unbeliever or nominal believer rather than, say, a backslidden believer. But no human authority has x-ray vision into the regenerate, unregenerate, elect, or reprobate state of another human being. It is difficult to see how the onus could ever be discharged.

Desertion, with no prospect of reconciliation, is easy to establish, for it depends on physical abandonment and an unwillingness to return and resume marital relations. And infidelity is often easy to establish. These conditions rest on evidence in the public domain, and can therefore be met with a reasonable degree of certainty, but whether or not the deserter is a believer or unbeliever is a condition whose satisfaction is well-nigh unverifiable.

At most, one would have to form a practical judgment based on outward conduct. And this is a legitimate basis of church discipline. If the subject acts like an unbeliever, he is treated as though he were an unbeliever, whether or not he really is. But although this is a valid distinction, it succeeds by blurring the original distinction between believer and unbeliever. In that event, extended abandonment, without prospect of reconciliation, remains a valid ground for divorce.

It is possible that there are other valid conditions for a divorce, such as battery, or premarital misrepresentations. A contract is ordinarily invalid if either party enters under false pretenses.

But we must be very guarded lest we stretch an essentially strict and conservative position into an open-ended divorce policy. Remember the shock-value of our Lord’s prohibition, where he took a position to the right of both rabbinical schools, and admitted that his position was so inflexible that some would be better advised to forgo marriage altogether.

5. Drugs

Scripture’s position on alcohol, which—on the one hand—permits moderate intake, while—on the other hand—forbidding immoderate intake, sets the boundaries for other forms of drug use.

Mood and mind-altering substances are permissible as long as they do not cause us to lose control. Various drugs, in various ways, may fall under a Biblical ban. If they are addictive. If they are unhealthy. If they are unpredictable.

6. Fornication

Traditionally, fornication is regarded as incompatible with the Christian calling. I suppose that, nowadays, many men and women in various churches, seminaries, and Evangelical colleges would regard this prohibition as a big joke or Victorian hang-up.

However, both Jesus and Paul treat fornication as a bar to heaven (Mt 15:19; Gal 5:19). It doesn’t get more serious than that.

Some people feel that the advent of contraception has made fornication acceptable. This assumes that the Biblical prohibition was based on the relation between sex and pregnancy.

But the Bible never says that, and Scripture condemns certain other sexual expressions where pregnancy is not in the cards (e.g., sodomy, bestiality, adultery with a post-menopausal woman.

Paul has an interesting analysis of fornication in 1 Cor 6:12-20. Here he argues that fornication consummates a common law marriage. This would lead directly to adultery, for if the fornicator then had sexual relations with anyone else, he would be an adulterer in relation to his very first sexual partner.

In addition, Paul says that fornication is in a class by itself, for it commits a sin against the sinner. His reasoning seems to be that the body is both the medium of sexual and social intercourse. When you form a sexual bond, you become one with another, not merely in the flesh, but on a plane of moral transference. If you unite yourself to a whore, you become the moral equivalent of a whore. You exchange your own identity with whomever you unite yourself to.

7. Incest

Incest takes two different forms:

(i) Vertical incest, between one generation and another (e.g. mother/son; mother-in-law/son-in-law; father/daughter; father-in-law/daughter-in-law; grandparent/grandchild; aunt/nephew).

(ii) Horizontal incest (brother/sister; brother-in-law/sister-in-law).

Vertical incest is always condemned. Horizontal incest is generally condemned, but allowed in the case of Levirate marriage. Horizontal incest was implicitly permitted, even essential, for the first few generations of the human race.

Horizontal incest was licit according to the nomadic and less regulated lifestyle of the patriarchs, but illicit under the Mosaic law—except for Levirate marriage, which is a customary carryover from the patriarchal period.

The implication is that vertical incest is intrinsically wrong, as involving an unnatural transgression of the social hierarchy.

Horizontal incest is not intrinsically wrong, but it is imprudent, and thus is ordinarily forbidden, except under special circumstances.

Because Israel was a tribal society, a certain amount of inbreeding was inevitable, so it came down to prohibited degrees of consanguinity.

And because Israel was a tribal society, the land belongs to the clan. Hence, inbreeding was a way of keeping property within the family.

This also accounts for the custom of the kinsman-redeemer (e.g., Book of Ruth).

Assuming that Scripture took tribalism into account on the subject of horizontal incest, the same allowance cannot be made in the case of cultures where tribalism has broken down.

8. Marriage

What, exactly, constitutes a valid marriage in Scripture? It is a little difficult to sort this out. On the one hand, you have a Biblical theology of marriage. On the other hand, the concrete examples of marriage in Scripture are situated in the social conventions of the ANE. So it's a bit tricky to separate the theology of marriage from the incidental cultural customs.

One way of broaching the answer is to approach the question from the opposite end of the spectrum by asking what makes for a valid divorce. In Scripture, there are two stated grounds: (i) infidelity (Mt 5:31; 19:9) and (ii) desertion (1 Cor 7:15).

That implies that at least two conditions of a valid marriage are fidelity and cohabitation. This figures in broader ideas of commitment and companionship.

Positively, Scripture defines marriage as a covenantal arrangement (Prov 2:17; Ezk 16:8; Mal 2:14). And consummation is certainly a prerequisite of a valid marriage—based on the one-flesh principle.

OT marriage took place in tribal societies where you married into an extended family or clan. That is not the essence of marriage, but that is how the institution was observed in OT times.

Love is not a necessary precondition of a valid marriage. Many marriages in Scripture were arranged marriages. Also, the betrothal customs did not allow for the kind of physical contact we take for granted in dating or engagement. In the OT, marriage was more of an economic institution—a social safety net.

So there was not much opportunity to fall in love before the marriage, although that might or might not happen afterwards. Romantic love is obviously an ideal to work towards, but not a condition of marriage.

Moving to our own time and place, our culture discourages early marriages for economic reasons. But there's no Biblical reason why a good many teenagers shouldn't marry, and putting off marriage until one's 20s or beyond naturally ratchets up the sexual pressure and temptation.

At the same time, economic stability is important to a solid marriage. If there's not enough money to pay the bills, or a regular source of income, that's a steady source of friction.

As far as the Bible is concerned, I don't think you need a big ceremony with a lot of guests and a minister to officiate.

At the same time, marriage is an inherently social institution. Unlike Adam and Eve, we bring preexisting relationships to the table (parents, siblings), and when we get married, we acquire in-laws and we have children of our own.

The Bible also has a theology of the state, and so we ought to pay at least a minimal degree of deference to the laws of the land. And that is also to ensure that the children will have some legal rights as well.

In principle, if a single man and woman were shipwrecked on a desert island, with no prospect of rescue in sight, I see no reason why they could not marry each other in the eyes of God.

However, we're not castaways on a desert island, so other considerations come into play. Thus it would be a mistake to treat marriage as a self-contained unit between one man and one woman.

9. Masturbation

This once went under the quaint name of Onanism. How it came to be associated with sin of Onan is puzzling. If you read the Biblical account, Onan achieved a state of sexual climax by having sexual relations with a woman, which is hardly the textbook meaning of masturbation.

At most, this would be a prooftext against contraception, but in that case we’d have to say that contraception is a sin, but polygamy is not. The account is really about Levirate marriage.

Traditionally, the church has frowned upon masturbation. One reason is the relation between masturbation and lust. This cannot be denied. On the other hand, lust is also aggravated by the absence of a sexual outlet. That is, indeed, in the nature of sexual tension, of a tension between sexual desire and sexual release. Unrelieved sexual tension only builds.

Another objection is the view that sexual activity is illicit outside the context of procreation. Yet if sex were impermissible outside of procreation, we would expect Scripture to forbid sexual relations with a barren, pregnant or postmenopausal woman.

The Bible does not directly address this issue. The Bible has general prohibitions against the sin of lust, but this takes external subjects, such as homosexual lust, incestuous lust, or adulterous lust, where a particular individual and a particular relation are in view.

It is striking that the Bible is silent on the subject of masturbation—striking, both because the Bible is quite specific and explicit about a number of other sexual sins, and because masturbation is extremely widespread. The argument from silence is always a bit tricky, but if masturbation were intrinsically evil, you’d expect of find a warning to that effect somewhere in Scripture.

Since the Bible doesn’t address the question, either directly or by necessary inference, we cannot be dogmatic one way or another. So a few suggestions are in order:

i) Since we are responsible for the revealed will of God, and he has not disclosed his will on this particular subject, I don’t think that Christians should go around guilt-ridden if they engage in this practice.

ii) On the face of it, this seems like a natural sexual safety value for single men—especially younger men in their sexual prime.

iii) Like learning how to walk or perform other athletic activities, this form of sexual experience and physical experimentation may train an unmarried young man in attaining some degree of mental and muscular control so that he is not a total novice on his wedding night.

iv) But, by the same token, it is generally illicit for married men—except for periods of prolonged physical separation. Likewise, it should not become a permanent alternative to marriage, unless marriage is not an option.

v) As with any appetite, it runs the risk of becoming addictive or sinful if wrongly directed.

So I can’t say absolutely if it is right or wrong, but I tend to deem it permissible under some circumstances.

10. Obscenity

Traditionally, Catholic morality frowns upon profanity, but is indifferent to obscenity, while Protestant morality frowns up both.

We might begin by asking why obscenity is so popular. The answer, I submit, is that we inhabit a sacramental universe. The sensible world is a metaphor for the moral order. That is why human speech is laden with figures of speech. That is why a well-chosen metaphor is meaningful. It conveys insight because there is a genuine point of analogy between the visible and invisible, moral and material.

Now the human body is a master metaphor, for we inhabit a body. Our body is the medium by which the immaterial soul is able to interface with space and matter. Because the body is quite literally our fundamental point of reference in relating to the world, the body is also a figurative frame of reference by which we position ourselves in moral space.

Hence, all the members and organs, aptitudes, appetites, illnesses, products, and by-products of the body constitute a warehouse of handy metaphors by which we orient our moral compass. And this runs the gambit from both the honorable and dishonorable features of the body—to borrow a Pauline distinction (1 Cor 12:22-25).

The next question is whether obscenity is sinful. As a rule, Scripture forbids obscenity (Eph 5:4; Col 3:8).

Obscenity can be both verbal and visual. A graphic instance of the latter is found in Mal 2:3. A classic example of the former is found in 2 Kg 18:27, where the red-faced rendering of the average translation fails to do it justice.

Because the Bible occasionally employs a few choice expressions, usually in quotation, which never make their way out of the translation committee, this has fostered a somewhat prim piety.

The exceptions are just that—exceptional. But it does suggest that obscenity is not always a sin.

It would be impossible to do personal evangelism if we blush at blue language.

One of the problems with obscenity is that it breeds a bitter view of life. Expletives are used to express rage, or to demean embodied existence, or to demean our fellow man. These are not healthy habits of the mind. They reflect and reinforce a thankless view of life—a view of life characterized by murmuring rather than gratitude. Ugly words are a window into an ugly soul. Unless we wash the windows of our life, we cannot see the beauty of God’s gracious providence.

Christians should avoid obscene humor, but not all sexual humor is obscene. Because life has its humorous side, and because so much of our social life revolves around the male/female dialectic, a certain amount of sexual humor is inevitable, and not all of it is in bad taste. Is there anything funnier than Gen 29:25?

One subdivision of sexual humor is derogatory humor about homosexuals. On the one had, a Christian should avoid demeaning homosexuals as subhuman, of indulging in self-righteous pride, or resorting to obscenity.

On the other hand, there’s nothing wrong with making fun of homosexuals. It is a good thing to stigmatize sin, to make sin an object of shame and ridicule, as a deterrent to others.

Christians ought to avoid obscene slang, but not all slang is obscene. There is a place for somewhat rough, earthy language that falls short of obscenity. Medical nomenclature will never displace colloquial usage.

It’s somewhat mysterious why some synonyms are obscene, and other not, but that’s the nature of language, with its contextual connotations.

It is my impression that obscenity comes more naturally, or at least more normally, to men than women. When you hear women swear, is says more about the kind of men they hang around.

Too hot to handle-1

There are a number of ethical issues for which I’ve read no entirely satisfactory treatment. Sometimes they’re passed over in silence because Christian writers are uncomfortable with the subject-matter. Sometimes they’re assumed to be wrong without adequate argumentation. Sometimes there’s a failure to draw elementary distinctions, or else the distinctions are wrongly drawn. Sometimes they draw us into borderline cases that are difficult to adjudicate.

But these need to be scrutinized, for many of us will find ourselves in situations where we must make a choice, or advise someone else.

Even if we cannot always give a clear answer, that is important to recognize. We need to know what we don’t know, to know the limits of our moral certitude.

1. Abortion

What are the arguments against abortion?

i) Exod 21:22-25.

In this situation, two men get into a brawl. A female bystander is accidentally injured. She happens to be pregnant, and as a result of her injury she miscarries. The perpetrator is put to death.

This is remarkable for its severity. Ordinarily, Scripture does not classify manslaughter as a capital offense. If, therefore, the lesser crime is punishable by death, how much the greater in the case of induced abortion?

ii) Presumption of life.

The Bible generally treats the taking of life as murder. Special circumstances must obtain to justify homicide.

iii) Innocent life

The unborn baby is innocent of actual sin. An abortion involves the taking of innocent life. In the absence of mitigating circumstances, this cannot be justified.

iv) Culpable life.

Although prolifers usually appeal to the innocence of the baby, this appeal, while valid, overlooks the counterintuitive fact that a prolife argument can also be constructed along the lines of prenatal guilt.

Infant mortality is a consequence of original sin (Rom 5:12-21; 6:23; 1 Cor 15:22). This implies that, at some level, the child, whether born or unborn, is a morally responsible agent. He is subject to the law of God. On the other hand, original sin is not a crime. Under the Mosaic law, no one was put to death for original sin, only personal sin.

So the unborn child cannot be treated as subhuman. He is a child of Adam, under the law of God, not of man.

v) Mitigating circumstances?

The most commonly cited mitigating or exculpatory circumstances are rape, incest, life & health of the mother, or health of the baby.

a) Some of these circumstances involve cases of emotional and physical hardship. The mother is entitled to all the support that church and family can muster.

However, Scripture never treats a hardship as an excuse to duck our duties. Frankly, the Bible is rather hard-nosed about this. Hardship goes with the moral territory. It is hard to be moral in an immoral world. But you have a duty to do the right thing even if you suffer for it. Indeed, that is the acid test of virtue. Anyone can do the right thing when it doesn’t cost him. But personal sacrifice is of the essence of moral fiber.

b) Regarding the life of the mother—in Scripture our social obligations are hierarchical. It is the duty of a husband, if need be, to lay down his life for his wife (Eph 5:25). The principle here is that the social superior has an obligation to defend the social inferior. With greater authority comes greater responsibility.

By parity of logic, it is a maternal duty to die for one’s child, not vice versa. Once again, this goes to the moral toughness of Scripture.

A possible exception would be where both the life of the mother and the child are forfeit unless medical intervention is taken to save the mother. It is a choice between either allowing both to die, or sacrificing one for the other. This is a tragic choice, but that’s a fact of life.

This would be analogous to approaching a busy crosswalk, only to have my brakes go out. I cannot avoid running over some pedestrians, but I can limit the damage.

c) Regarding the health of the baby, the Scriptural prohibitions against murder make no exemption for the disabled or retarded. And we must remember that the Bible was revealed before the advent of medical science, when poor health was commonplace. So the Biblical value of life is not predicated on the quality of life.

In addition, the Bible does not place a premium on high intelligence. Indeed, Scripture says that most intellectuals are hell-bound reprobates (1 Cor 1-3).

The only possible exception I can think of would be in the case of anencephalic infants, where the unborn baby has no functional brain, or no brain at all. Such a child will never be viable outside the womb. So abortion might be permissible in this instance. But I would raise a few further caveats:

i) Whether or not a baby will ever be able to survive on its own can only determined by letting it come to term. So an abortion is not necessary. Why not allow nature to take its course?

ii) The mere fact that someone is not naturally viable is not, of itself, an argument for the suppression of life. People can come down with all sorts of medical conditions that require artificial assistance to keep them alive.

iii) The mind/body relation is complex. The soul can be very ingenious about rewiring or rerouting a defective brain to interface with the sensible world.

For example, Dembski reports the case of a socially well-adjusted honor student with an above-average IQ who had no brain to speak of. Cf. B. Dembski, Intelligent Design (IVP 1999), 216.

2. Civil Disobedience

Scripture strikes a balance. On the one hand, it inculcates a general principle of submission to the state (Mt 22:15-22; 13:1-7; 1 Pet 2:13-17).

On the other hand, you have a theology of revolution in the OT. The OT magistrate was a constitutional ruler (Deut 17:14-20), not an absolute monarch.

During times of national apostasy, the godly remnant rebelled and plotted an overthrow of the regime (e.g., 2 Kgs 9-11).

Of course, civil resistance will ordinarily fall short of revolution (Exod 1:15-20; Dan 3, 6)—which is a last resort.

The basic principle is this: resistance is warranted as well as obligatory if we are either bidden to do what is wrong or forbidden to do what is right (Acts 5:29).

3. Deception

Is deception always wrong? Some Christians are of that opinion. Their reasons are as follows:

i) God is the exemplar of truth

ii) Scripture generally condemns deceit

iii) Scripture generally commends honesty

By way of comment:

i) Although God is the exemplar of truth, God is also an agent of deception. God deceives the reprobate (2 Kg 22:23; Ezk 14:9; 2 Thes 2:11). So this appeal cuts both ways.

It may be said that God has the right to do certain things that we don’t have the same right to do. And that is no doubt the case. But such a codicil modifies the original argument in the opposing direction. For the original argument was predicated on the moral analogy between God and man, whereas the fact that God has some rights which we do not is predicated on a moral disanalogy between God and man.

It may also be said that the counterexamples involve the use of secondary agents. And that is, indeed, so. But its relevance is unclear:

a) Working through a second party doesn’t necessarily absolve the first party of complicity. The first party is still responsible for delegating the action to a second party. The deputy would not have acted except at the instigation of his superior.

Since the question at issue is whether a rational creature is ever entitled to deceive his fellow creatures, the fact that God sometimes tasks a rational creature to do just that is no counterargument to the original claim that deception is always wrong.

Regarding the next two points, a couple of comments are in order:

i) In Scripture, ethical prescriptions and proscriptions are generally addressed to the community of faith. It doesn’t necessary follow that the code of conduct within the church carries over in toto outside the church.

To this it may be objected that I am proposing a double standard according to which we must be truthful with fellow believers, but are at liberty to freely lie to unbelievers. But that objection is a wild overstatement.

a) To merely bandy the phrase “a double standard” as a term of abuse begs the question, for it assumes that a double standard is intrinsically wrong. Yet that assumes the very point at issue. So this objection needs a supporting argument.

b) There is nothing inherently outlandish about the idea that a subculture may have its own code of conduct. For example, the Uniform Code of Military Justice does not obtain in civilian life. I am not in a chain-of-command. I don’t have a license to kill.

c) The objection also assumes that this is, indeed, a double standard. But is it? Church life assumes a certain level of mutuality. One Christian is truthful with another Christian.

But this sort of moral reciprocity cannot be assumed in relations between believer and unbeliever. For the unbeliever, by virtue of being an unbeliever, does not operate with a Christian value-system.

So there is nothing necessarily duplicitous about treating someone differently if he treats you differently. That is not a double standard, but a single standard. If a sex offender is released back into the community, I will treat him differently than I would my wife or pastor.

ii) Priority structures.

In Bible ethics, not all obligations are equally obligatory. Some obligations are instrumental to other obligations. Some duties are higher duties that others.

And there are times when one obligation interferes with another. In that event, the lower imperative is temporarily suspended in the interests of the higher. The classic case is Sabbath-keeping. In Scripture there was (some one say, still is) a general duty to keep the Sabbath. But under special circumstances, a higher duty could supervene over a lower one.

If, for instance, a man's ox, which is the source of his livelihood, falls into a ditch, it is permissible to break Sabbath in order to rescue the best (Lk 14:5).Likewise, homicide is ordinarily classified as murder. But in the interests of justice or the defense of the innocent, where the talking of life is permissible and even obligatory—viz., the deathpenalty, holy war.

As a rule, believers are to be truthful with fellow believers and unbelievers alike. But the question is whether there are ever situations in which the general obligation is demoted?

And there do seem to be concrete cases in Scripture where that principle is in play (e.g., Exod 1:19-20; 1 Sam 16:2-3; 2 Kg 6:19; Heb 11:31).

At this point the critic may introduce a number of hair-splitting distinctions to show that, appearances notwithstanding, none of these verses really justifies deception. But there are a number of problems with this move:

i) It is only necessary if you feel the pressing need to harmonize these passages with your prior belief in the universal obligation of truth-telling. But if, as we have seen, the Bible does not justify this overarching presumption, then there is no reason why we must explain away these otherwise awkward verses.

ii) It interpolates into the text a number of fine distinctions that are not present in the text itself. These arise, not as a result of exegesis, but as face-saving distinctions to salvage the original thesis.

iii) In the name of honesty, it resorts to a brand of exegetical casuistry that savors of special-pleading. This is an ironic way of defending the truth.

iv) It either assumes that the subject of the action had a practical alternative, or absent this, that he should have refrained from action. In other words, either the Rahab and the midwives had, and ought to have availed themselves of, an honest alternative, or—absent that—they should not have tried to save the lives of the spies or the babies.

This contention is offered without any direct supporting argument. I guess the argument is that if it is always wrong to lie, then either providence will intervene, or else we should stand by helplessly as evil-doers do their worst. By way of reply:

a) I deny the presumption.

b) Scripture does not promise providential intervention.

c) There is sometimes a positive duty to take action.

We always have a duty to do the right thing. All other things being equal, we should do the right thing by honest means. But if evildoers prevent us from doing the right thing by honest means, we have a right to do the right thing by dishonest means.

That does not justify any means whatsoever. Some means are sinful. But I’m thinking of something like, say, smuggling Bibles into a country where the Bible is banned. We have a standing order from God to evangelize the world.

Ordinarily, unbelievers are entitled to the truth. But unbelievers are not entitled to the truth when they prevent us from doing the right thing by honest means. They are the ones who have imposed unnatural restrictions on our moral sphere of action.

On a related subject, what about broken vows? If we make a vow to God or man, are we under obligation to keep it no matter what the consequences? The classic case is Jeptha's rash vow.

Many Christians seem to be of the opinion that an oath, once taken, is inviolate. I demur.

As foolish and fallen creatures, we are often guilty of making shortsighted offers. If this is a sin, it lies in the making, rather than the breaking, of the promise. It can never be right to do what is wrong.

In addition, it is hard to see how I have the right to bind a second, involuntary party. And if breaking my word is punishable, then it is I rather than an innocent party who ought to endure the penalty. And a merciful man would release his neighbor from a foolish vow.

In this I agree with William Ames:

"Lawful contracts are not properly exercised, but about lawful things.

i) Because in every contract, consent is given; but consent to an unlawful thing is sin.

ii) A contract in itself has the force of a promise, but it is not lawful to promise what it is not lawful to perform.

iii) From a contract an obligation arises; but no obligation can be lawful which obliges us to sin, [for that would be] repugnant to the obligation of the divine law," Conscience: with the power and cases thereof (Stillwaters, n.d.), 228.

Vows are regulated in the Mosaic Law. But since this supplies the legal framework for lawful vows, it is unreasonable to suppose that a vow which broke the Mosaic Law would be binding.

In addition, the Mosaic Law itself addresses various circumstances under which a vow could be commuted or voided (Lev 27; Num 30). Case law doesn’t address every conceivable situation, so these examples do not, presumably, exhaust every possible exception under which a vow could be commuted or voided.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

The egalitarian absolute

I. Egalitarian Assumptions

The culture wars have many fronts, and on the face of it liberalism presents a rather ragtag alliance. It seems to be nothing more than a loose coalition of special-interest groups vying for entitlements of one kind or another. But upon closer inspection, there is a common thread running through the varied and perennial liberal/conservative debates. To pull this thread, let's begin by running through a representative statement of liberal ideals.

1. Equal rights for racial minorities. No racial profiling.

2. Equal rights for women. No "sexist" language. Abortion on demand.

3. Equal rights for sodomites, bisexuals, and transsexuals in employment, housing, mar-riage, adoption and ordination.

4. Equal rights for minors. No corporal punishment, parental consent or even parental notification (for abortion, contraception). Kids should be free to sue or divorce their parents.

5. Equal rights for citizens and foreign nationals. No distinction between human rights and civil rights. International law trumps national sovereignty.

6. Equal rights for fauna and flora. No "speciesism." No pet "ownership." The common good of the ecosystem trumps the survival or prosperity of the human race.

7. Equal access to goods and services, viz., public housing, transportation. Elimination of regressive taxes (e.g., sales tax) or tax breaks for the rich. Massive foreign aid to poor Third World nations.

8. Equal access to education, viz., free tuition, racial quotas, bilingual education, forced bussing, and elimination of competitive standards.

9. Equal access to health care, viz., health insurance, contraception, euthanasia, needle-exchange, medical Marihuana, &c.

10. Equal access to the best legal representation. Demographically equitable sentencing. The world court trumps national sovereignty.

On the one hand, this list is intended to be illustrative rather than exhaustive. On the other hand, not all liberals would necessarily push such a radical agenda, but this is the general goal or basic drift of liberal ideology, even if approached incrementally. It is further along in Europe and the UK than in the US.

So what's the common thread? One only has to run through the platform to answer the question. To be sure, there's a sense in which I built the answer into the way in which I phrased the ideals, but I think this is a logical way of classifying liberal ideals.

We might call it the egalitarian absolute. The guiding idea is that human beings, or all living beings, are equal in principle, and for this reason, every effort must be made to make them equal in practice. The same standards, opportunities and outcomes apply to one and all. Equality is the rallying cry that unites political and theological liberals.

Many different tributaries feed into and issue out of egalitarian ethics, including , Dar-winism, socialism, secularism, feminism, Buddhism, the Sixties counterculture, Native American spirituality, Wiccan religion, animal rights, deep ecology, queer theory, the Communist Manifesto, the Humanist Manifestos I-II, the UN conventions and declarations on human rights, women's rights, children's rights, K. Marx, P. Singer, A. Naess, J. Goodall, R. Reuther, Green Peace, the Green Party, ALF, ELF, PETA, &c.

A logical corollary to the egalitarian absolute is a totalitarian regime, for only the force of law can impose such uniformity of opportunity and outcome. The regime must control all educational and economic resources in order to smooth out social inequities. Thus, the state or global regime supplants the church and the natural family, as a kind of extended parody of both. Social programs supplant word and sacrament, bureaucrats supplant pastors and parents.

The egalitarian absolute is somewhat neutral on the precise mechanism of implementing its program. The effect is socialistic, but that can be powered by either democracy and capitalism or autocracy and collectivism. Yet the tendency is towards one-world government.

Now, it is an old debater's trick that he can always win the debate as long as he can define the terms of the debate, for that puts the opposing side on the defensive by placing the onus on the opposing side.

And this tactic has achieved some level of success in the debate between liberals and conservatives. For what we usually see is that the conservative affirms the basic principle of general equity, but denies its application in this or that particular case. And this always situates the conservative in a weakened as well as generally and gradually losing position. Instead of challenging the underlying premise, he is left trying to challenge the results or limit its application on a piecemeal basis, while the liberal can naturally ask why, if the premise is sound, it should not be carried to its logical extreme.

II. Inter-Evangelical/Egalitarian Assumptions

Why have Christian conservatives been so slow to perceive and confront this tactic head on? There are, I suppose, several reasons.

1. I suspect that many Christian simply fail to see how individual controversies over, say, the ordination of women or homosexuals or war and peace figure in a more sweeping social program.

2. There are some egalitarian elements in Christian theology. We believe that all men are sinners, in equal need of divine grace, and that the grace of God is distributed without respect to outward distinctions of race, sex, and social class. A Calvinist would say that grace is particular, but not on those grounds, for election is unconditional.

We believe that all men are entitled to equal justice. We believe that the Great Commission (Mt 28:19), in fulfillment of the Lord's covenant with Abraham, presages and promises a diverse church of the redeemed, drawn from every tribe and tongue, people and nation, sharing alike in a universal priesthood and kingdom (Rev 5:9-10).

Frequent appeal is also made to Gal 3:28. However, Paul doesn't say that the respective groups are "equal," but rather, "one" in Christ. Equality and unity are not interchangeable concepts, and it is question-begging when egalitarians casually substitute equality for unity in exegeting this passage.

3. Many conservatives feel a collective burden of guilt for past discrimination insofar as the Church has often been on the side of the establishment and status quo. As over against that, it should not be forgotten that the Church has as often been in the vanguard of providing for the poor and needy. Still, even if judged by its own standards, there is some blame to be laid at its own doorstep.

4. When conservatives oppose various elements and initiatives of the egalitarian agenda, it makes us appear ungenerous. If we talk about tax cuts and free trade while liberals talk about the poor and needy, the comparison is inevitably unbecoming to us. Of course, many conservatives would say that tax cuts and free trade help the poor and needy. But even if true, that often gets lost in the debate.

III. Internal Critique

How, then, should the Church respond to the egalitarian absolute? I would suggest a two-pronged approach. To begin with, it is a useful exercise to challenge the egalitarian absolute on its own stated grounds.

1. To say that everyone is equal in principle, in consequence of which every effort must be made to equalize everyone in practice is, at first glance, an appealing idea with a plausible inference, but does the premise or the conclusions really withstand serious scrutiny?

To begin with, we must ask, equal with respect to what? On the face of it, there are natural differences between men and women—as well as natural inequities between individuals of the same gender. Some men are smarter and more ambitious than others. They are naturally more successful than the less industrious or intelligent.

So is this claim much more than stirring rhetoric or a sentimental slogan? Do egalitarians believe in the egalitarian absolute because they know it to be true, or because they want it to be true?

2. Does the worldview of the average egalitarian justify the egalitarian absolute? What is the source and standard of this moral imperative? Certainly the liberal platform, in all its particulars, cannot be justified by appeal to divine revelation. But if the Bible does not underwrite such social engineering, then what does?

Is it nature? But surely there's a great deal in the animal kingdom that presents a highly hierarchical and ruthlessly competitive aspect. Nature is far from equitable or charitable or forgiving in her distribution of opportunities and advantages.

In addition, the average egalitarian subscribes to naturalistic evolution. But on such a plastic view of human nature, there's no prior reason why one race might not be superior to another—just as some dog-breeds are smarter or swifter or braver than others. To be sure, many Darwinians wax indignant when natural selection, the struggle for existence, and survival of the fittest is extended to Social Darwinism; but, if so, they should shift their ire and fire from the conclusion to the premise. Just consider all the furor that erupted when two Harvard professors (Richard Herrnstein & Charles Murray) published The Bell Curve: Intelligence & Class Structure in American Life.

In Scripture, by contrast, humanity has a common point of origin and historic identity throughout time and space. That's what makes it mankind.

3. Furthermore, many egalitarians embrace some postmodern form of cultural or moral relativism. So there's an odd disconnect between their denial of moral absolutes and univer-sal norms and their absolutist agenda and sweeping public policy initiatives.

4. Another irony is that egalitarians wish to retain hierarchical social structures, but merely promote their social mascots to the top jobs. In other words, they think that women, homosexuals, racial minorities, &c., should occupy all the traditional positions of power, viz., bishop, president, senator, general, governor, quarterback, CEO, and so on. So they still believe that some people (or people-groups) should have power over other people (or people-groups). Thus the egalitarian absolute is superficially equitable, but fundamentally elitist inasmuch as it fails to challenge institutionalized forms of social stratification. For a truly egalitarian society would be a truly classless society.

The reason for this central contradiction is, in part, that a decentralized government or dismantled power-structure cannot serve as an instrument of social promotion or social redemption. So the basic tension between egalitarian ends and means is irreconcilable, for it takes a chain-of-command to defeat a chain-of-command.

That accounts for the elitist fist within the egalitarian glove, for feminism must employ masculine means to further feminist ends. It retains and exploits a command-structure by promoting women in the chain-of-command as magistrates and judges, bishops and gen-erals. Such paternalistic tokenism is a parody of male and federal headship. Egalitarianism is parasitic on hierarchical prerogatives. Egalitarianism is just a code word for feminism, because it imposes a maternal problem-solving strategy on both sexes. Feminism is misogyny, for feminism despises feminine traits in favor of masculine traits.

You can see this in the gender gap. Women are more likely to vote for big government and social programs because the State becomes the father-figure and surrogate husband. The default mode of feminism is a desexed brand of male headship and federal headship.

The contrast between matriarchal and patriarchal strategies plays out in many domains. In jurisprudence, retributive punishment is paternal, remedial—maternal. In theology, Cal-vinism is patriarchal, universalism—matriarchal. In ethics, deontology (command ethics) is patriarchal, utilitarianism (the common good)—matriarchal. In economics, capitalism is patriarchal, socialism—matriarchal.

There's a reason that God made two different genders. They are complementary. Natural masculine and feminine virtues degenerate into unnatural vices when they are isolated and absolutized.

Another reason is less high-minded. And that has to do with the seduction of power. The revolutionary rails against the establishment, not because he really prefers anarchy to ar-istocracy, but because the aristocracy is a glass ceiling in the way of his own ambitions, and he must dethrone the old incumbents before he can move up the social ladder. And it is evident that many egalitarians are power-hungry and relish all the perks of power. They like to throw their weight around and issue orders and be fawned over and have the butler bring them their slippers. They like long titles and stretched limos, they like big offices and fancy letterhead.

5. A hidden premise of the egalitarian absolute is the unquestioned assumption that the fundamental unit of comparison is the group rather than the individual. This is the basis of identity politics. But is this assumption necessary or even meaningful? Why should I venture any universal opinion on the relative equality of one block of humanity over against another? Does it make any sense to say that all Italian restaurants are essentially equal, or that Italian restaurants are equal to Chinese restaurants?

Wouldn't it make more sense to say, for example, that some blacks are smarter than some whites, or vice versa, and that many fall somewhere in the middle? What intellectual merit is there in venturing such sweeping comparisons about respective people-groups? Shouldn't any broad comparisons be carefully grounded in inductive evidence instead of a priori stipulations?

6. And even if we grant that the standard of comparison should be the social unit, that leaves open the question of what social unit. Why not, for instance, choose the family as the natural and irreducible unit of society and build on that basis? For that matter, a Christian might well regard the spiritual family of the Church as just as basic as the natural family. So why not organize social ethics around kirk and kin? Why not take kirk and kin as the primary and positive social institutions, with the state as a secondary and conservative institution?

7. Even if, for the sake of argument, we were to grant that everyone is equal in principle, whatever exactly that's supposed to mean, one of the striking omissions of the egalitarian absolute is the absence of any emphasis on individual initiative and personal responsibility. For even assuming the premise, it hardly follows that the state should force equality of opportunity or outcome. To say that the state should not enforce inequality (e.g. Jim Crow laws) does not imply that the state should enforce equality. The duty of government is not to coerce equality, but to defend us from coercion.

8. Indeed, there quickly comes a point at which egalitarian principle clashes with egalitarian practice. For isn't there something inherently paternalistic, sexist and racist about saying that the government must save individuals from the consequences of their own lifestyle choices? Isn't there at point at which, if you really believe in the essential equality of all people and people-groups, that a given group must assume the initiative and responsibility for its individual, communal and national destiny?

Not to put too fine a point on the matter, but isn't there an ironic sense in which, if you closed your eyes, the egalitarian would sound just like the hooded white supremacist with his benevolent noblesse oblige about the white man's burden?

9. The egalitarian exhibits a love/hate relationship with big government. He loves the welfare state, but hates the police, armed forces, FBI, CIA, &c. He loves Big Mamma, but hates Big Brother. He loves a maternal state, but fears the intrusion into his zone of privacy. Momma can make the bed, but Momma can't look under the bed. Isn't there something deeply schizophrenic about this attitude?

10. The egalitarian absolute represents a paradigm-shift from a paternal to a maternal model of social relations. What are the stereotypical differences between men and women? Men are naturally ambitious, adventurous, aggressive, competitive, confrontational and daring whereas women are naturally nurturing, cooperative, conciliatory, domestic, deferential and risk-aversive. Women favor people over principle and mercy over justice, whereas men generally reverse the priorities. Women like to talk, but men like to act.

IV. External Critique

Finally, something needs to be said about the egalitarian absolute from a Christian per-spective.

1. In Christian ethics, my social obligations are concentric. I don't owe your mother and father the same debt of honor I owe my mother and father. I don't owe your wife the same debt of love I owe my wife. I don't owe your sons and daughters the same support as I owe my own. Neighbor love is an element of Christian ethics, but there are priorities.

It is immoral to seize the assets of responsible wage-earners and redistribute their income, especially to subsidize irresponsible behavior. The breadwinner has a primary obligation to support himself and his family. By contrast, the egalitarian absolute operates with a polygamous, wife-swapping, hippie-style kibbutz-code in which all social relationship are leveled out and rendered interchangeable.

2. Equal treatment is only obligatory in the case of equal claim. Inequality, per se, is not unjust, but only unjust when equal rights are denied—when I'm denied something to which I'm entitled. But equality is not entitlement. A householder and a house burglar do not have equal claim on the furniture.

Put another way, Christian ethics upholds equal treatment all other things being equal. By elevating equality to the only standard of reference, the egalitarian charges the Christian with a double standard. But this is a straw man argument inasmuch as the Christian was never operating with such a simplistic criterion.

3. Much of the egalitarian appeal rests on a palpably fallacious overgeneralization. Because the word "discrimination" is frequently used in invidious cases, the word itself has picked up a negative connotation. Then egalitarian then universalizes that odious connotation in every case, without further argument.

But some forms of discrimination are good. Moral discrimination adjudicates between right and wrong. Rational discrimination adjudicates between truth and falsehood. Dis-crimination against hiring child molesters as Sunday school teachers is a good thing.

4. In Christian ethics, there are priority-structures. Sabbath-keeping is obligatory, but saving life is a higher obligation that supercedes the lower when the come into conflict.

But for the egalitarian, equality is the one and only priority. This result in an obsession with hypocrisy and personal motives, for hypocrisy is the original sin—to be avoided at all cost (not that egalitarians are any less hypocritical in practice than the rest of us).

This fixation loses all sense of moral proportion. There are worse things than hypocrisy. It is better to do the right thing for the wrong reason than not to do it at all. Although hy-pocrisy is a sin in the hypocrite, his subjectively evil action may be objectively good and beneficial to a second party. Even a hypocrite can give good advice (Mt 23:3).

For example, if I had to choose between a brilliant brain surgeon who happened to be a cad, and a virtuous surgeon with a hand tremor, I'd opt for the former, even if that were "unfair" to the latter.

To take another comparison, even if our foreign policy were hypocritical, a double standard might still serve the common good if it protected the public. Diplomatic consistency doesn't trump elementary public safety and national security. Moreover, the state should not be consistent in continuing a foolish or failed policy of the past.

In addition, it is not morally inconsistent for party A to change if party B changes. A supports B when B supports A. But A opposes B when B ceases to support A and instead opposes A. An egalitarian brands this change of policy as hypocritical because he can only keep on idea in his head at a time—the idea of sheer, unconditional equality. But, in the nature of the case, any social relationship involves a two-way reciprocity that allows for or even demands a mutual adjustment if one party no longer hold up his end of the bargain.

5. In Christian ethics, the rule of law is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Justice, and not a system of justice, is the principle at stake. What makes a fair trial fair is the acquittal of the innocent, and the conviction and punishment of the guilty. Put another way, the moral law (of God) is prior to the rule of law, and hence, the moral law is prior to the state.

6. The Egalitarian Absolute frames the entire debate in terms of human rights, according to which every individual is autonomous bearer of certain inalienable rights. And this, in turn, leads to the reductio ad absurdum of saying that I even have a right to do wrong.

Now, the Bible has a great deal to say about right and wrong, but next to nothing about human rights. Rather, the Bible says that there is a right and wrong way to treat other persons, whether in relation to our duty before God or to our fellow man. So a Bible-believing Christian could just as well scrap the whole framework of natural rights, which was an Enlightenment construct, and recast the entire debate by returning to a version of divine command theory—based on the revelation of the moral law in Scripture.

7. God established kirk and kin as the central social institutions. This goes back to the creation ordinances (Gen 1:26-2:3). Although both institutions have a vertical (Godward) and horizontal (manward direction), the church accentuates the vertical aspect whereas the family, the horizontal.

Kirk and kin have a positive role to play in human affairs inasmuch as they offer substantive directives and directions in shaping our personal, corporate and religious life and thought, as well as a supplying a concrete forum for their free exercise. By contrast, the state has an essentially negative role to play (Rom 13:1-7) inasmuch as its mandate is to ensure the freedom of family and liberty of the church to discharge their God-given duties (e.g., work, worship, marriage, child-rearing, dominion).

8. Our Lord drew a distinction between the political and religious spheres (Mt 22:21). The state should be as large as necessary to fulfill its assigned function, but no larger. When the state assumes a more positive role, it oversteps its mandate, encroaching on the proper prerogatives of kirk and kin. Not only is the state unable to fill that role, but in so doing, hinders kirk and kin from doing the job that only they can do.

Although it is not the role of the state to make life unfair, neither is it the role of the state of make life fair. And it is not the duty of the state to shield individuals from the unhappy consequences of their foolish behavior. Just as the state shouldn't be in the business of issuing bulletproof vests to bank-robbers, or gas-masks to bioterrorists, it is not the duty of the state to spread a safety net (e.g., abortion, drug treatment) for reckless and immoral lifestyle choices.

9. None of this is intended to deny the charitable impulse. But charity should be voluntary and vested in kirk and kin. Most wage-earners need most of the money they make to live on and support their family. Only they know how much they can afford to donate. If the tax burden were lowered or even eliminated (in favor of user-fees or fee-for-service), charitable giving would rise. And wage-earners are also entitled to exercise moral dis-crimination in how they share the remainder of their earnings.

10. Although social injustice is a secondary source of some social ills, it is more symp-tomatic than causal, for the primary origin of injustice and decadence is sin. Law can re-strain evil, but only grace can heal an evil heart. The state can never be the organ of cultural renewal and social redemption.

11. One of the motives underlying the egalitarian absolute is a vicarious form of works-righteousness. If you can't be good, you can do good, and if you can't do good, you can feel good. And the way that liberals feel good about themselves is to be very charitable with everyone else's money. They are constantly casting about for some new cause, some social mascot to adopt. They are professional busybodies. Everyone's business is their business. The egalitarian absolute has its historic origin in Christian socialism, which was the political wing of Victorian Broad-churchism. Egalitarianism is a Christian heresy.

When faith goes into eclipse, it often exchanges traditional theology for political ideology. Its utopian outlook is a profane parody of Christian redemption and eschatology. Salvation by works restores an earthly Eden. The social Gospel is the ghost of dead dogma—just as Marxism is secular Messianism.

12. Another motive is desperate wishful thinking. If you're a secularist, then there is no divine redemption, no escape from the inhumanity of man. If history is any judge, the logical lesson to draw is that that human problems are humanly insoluble.

But man cannot live without hope. Despair has no future. As a consequence, humanism resorts to make-believe and wishful thinking. It posits the perfectibility of man by a blind leap of faith. This must be possible because the alternative is too depressing to contemplate. No amount of evidence can overturn this postulate. However many the atrocities, however often the social programs fail or worsen the problem, the humanist clings to his utopian vision.

In the name of human rights, process trumps principle and the means become an end in itself—even when innocent men, women and children are ground up like so much ham-burger in the cogs and wheels of the political machinery. The only heaven is heaven on earth, and political purgatory is the appointed way to paradise.

This is why the egalitarian politicizes every moral and religious issue. Man must rule himself and save himself. Ultimately, there is no zone of privacy. Politics expands the public sector to invade and pervade every sphere of life. There is no life outside of politics. This is a throwback to the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle, Athens and Sparta. But even they didn't subscribe to the welfare state.

Christian theology is both more pessimistic and optimistic. The Christian is a short-term pessimist and a long-term optimist. This is true whether you're an amil or postmil, but a postmil situates moral progress within the unfolding of the church age. The Christian doesn't trust in horsemen and chariots to advance the kingdom, but in the Holy One of Israel (Isa 31:1), exalted at the right hand of power, from whence he governs the church and the world (Eph 1:20-23).

Why gender matters


Since at least the Victorian era, a gender-bending and gender-blending agenda has been at work. And this, in turn, represents a throwback to the cult of sodomy we find in the ancient world. It suffered something of a hiatus when the church was strong, but as the influence of the church as a social force has gone into steep decline, we are witnessing a reversion to the old blurring of sexual identity.

Symptoms of this are manifold, viz., abortion rights, queer and transgender rights, unisex Bibles, bathrooms, feminist theology, &c.

From a Christian standpoint we need to ask, why does gender matter? And once we begin to give it serious thought, we see that distinctions of gender run wide and deep in theology and ethics.

Godhood & Gender

Gender-specific titles and role relations are applied to God in Scripture. They designate two persons of the Trinity.

Are these relations essential or merely economic? Throughout the NT, Christ’s filial relation to the Father is treated as a mark of his divinity. Cf. G. Vos, The Self-Disclosure of Jesus (Eerdmans 1953); B. Warfield, The Lord of Glory (Guardian Press, n.d.).

Divine sonship not only means that he is the Son of God, but by virtue of his filial relation to the Father, is divine in his own identity. So this would imply the eternal sonship of Christ.

And since fatherhood and sonship are correlative, that would, in turn, imply the eternality of divine paternity as well. Hence, gender distinctions figure in the very nature of the Godhead.

God's communicable attributes need not have an earthly counterpart. But God is the source of all possibility and actuality. If there is to be a world at all, it must mirror or shadow forth a few of the communicable attributes of God:
"Though we call God by names derived from the creature, God himself first established these names for the creature. Indeed, although we first apply to the creature the names which designate God because of the fact that we know the creature before we know God; essentially they apply first of all to God, then to the crea-ture. All virtues pertain first to God, then to the creature: God possesses these virtues 'in essence,' the crea-ture 'through participation,'" H. Bavinck, The Doctrine of God (Banner of Truth, 1979), 94.

And God has willed that this world faintly mirror his inner life. He has decreed that the Church be one as the Father and the Son are one (Jn 17:22-23). God the Father is the father after whom every other fatherhood is named (Eph 3:14).

This is often denied on the grounds that God is sexless. But although that is true, it fails to distinguish between different levels of abstraction: masculinity is more general than maleness, while maleness is more general than manhood. Even though God is sexless, it doesn’t follow that God is not masculine—at least in some respects. Scripture does not ascribe gender to the Spirit of God. The Creator/creature, exemplar/exemplum relation is still one of analogy, not identity.

For example, many animals are male without being manly. A man is a specific instance of maleness.

Likewise, we can say that the writing of Dante, Spenser, Milton, and Scott is manly or masculine, while the writing of Jane Austen, Christina Rossetti, Eudora Welty, and Sigrid Unset is womanly and feminine. Now, strictly speaking, their writing is sexless. It consists of inanimate words on a page. Yet their respective writings embody certain stereotypical properties of masculinity or femininity.

We could even extend that to more abstract art forms. We could say that the music of Bach, Handel, and Beethoven is very masculine while the music of Mendelssohn is more femi-nine.

The universal is not wedded to the particular. That's what makes it a universal. Being es-sentially timeless and transcendent, it can be exemplified in many times and places.

Godhood & Manhood

The fact that gender designations and role-relations are applied to God and his creatures alike assumes some level of analogy between the Creator and the creature. Many men have taken this to mean that divine gender designations and role-relations are mere metaphors, representing an extension of human language, sexual distinctions and social institutions to God.

But if gender is an essential and eternal aspect of the Godhead, and if gender-specific terms are applied alike to God and man in Scripture, then this does, indeed, imply an analogical relation, but in the opposing direction—flowing from the Creator to the creature—and not merely metaphorical, but metaphysical. Divine fatherhood and sonship are exemplary for human fatherhood and sonship. Manhood is not the model of Godhood; Godhood is the model of manhood, as the imago Dei (Gen 1:26-27).

Godhood & Womanhood

But where, if anywhere, does the feminine figure in this framework? Well, not only does Scripture designate a father/son relation, but also a husband/wife relation. Yahweh is the husband of Israel while Christ is the bridegroom of the church.

This is no doubt an economic rather than an essential relation, yet it is grounded in an es-sential relation, for the roles are complementary—as answering one to the other. So there’s an asymmetry between essential masculinity and economic femininity.

And this also has an exemplary aspect. Christ’s relation to the church is the underlying paradigm for man and wife. Marriage is the mirror of election.

Manhood & Womanhood

The male/female dialectic generates, quite literally, as well as figuratively, all of our social relations and social institutions.

It generates the vertical, primary and secondary relations, viz., parent/child; father>son/ daughter; mother>son/daughter; grandparent/grandchild; aunt/uncle-niece/nephew.

It generates the horizontal, primary and secondary relations, viz., siblings; brothers, sisters, cousins, and second-cousins.

By extension, it generates analogous social relations not based on blood; whether supe-rior/subordinate relations (e.g., king/subject, commander/foot-soldier, teacher/student, boss/employee) or peer relations (friends). This is the basis of hierarchical institutions in government, the boardroom, the schoolroom, the pulpit, and so on.

There is a nested hierarchy of social relations: within the Godhead you have the eternal father of the eternal son. This does not, of itself, prove the essential or functional (unless economic) subordination of the Son to the Father, for we must still make allowances for the relevant level of abstraction in comparing the divine examplar to the human exemplum. Many things that hold true in a human father/son relation do not carry over to the inner life of the Godhead, or vice versa.

God is, in turn, the exemplary model of manhood, fatherhood, sonship, and husbandhood, for men and women. Men and women are, in turn, the exemplary models of manhood, womanhood, fatherhood, motherhood, husbandhood and wifedom, for their sons and daughters.


By striking a blow to gender, liberals strike at the root of theology and anthropology alike at a single stroke. So the stakes could not be higher.

None of this is to deny that tradition roles can be abused. But you can only abuse a role if you have a role to abuse. The abuse does not negate the use. And unnatural or ungodly roles are inherently abusive of God, self, and others.


I wish to thank Dr. John Frame for commenting on a preliminary draft of this essay.

Vanity of vanities

Recently, a friend asked me about a view of Ecclesiastes that is making the rounds, according to which—aside from the first few verses and the last few—the rest of the book is said to be presenting error-ridden worldly wisdom.

Because this is a subject of general interest, I'll post my reply.

1. This view of Ecclesiastes goes back to Michael V. Fox. Cf. M. V. Fox, A Rereading of Ecclesiastes (Eerdmans 1999).

2. It was adopted by Dillard and Longman in their intro to the OT. Cf. R. Dillard & T. Longman, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Zondervan 1994)

3. It receives further elaboration and defense in Longman's commentary on Ecclesiastes. Cf. T. Longman, The Book of Ecclesiastes (Eerdmans 1998).

4. This interpretation is Reformed only in the adventitious sense that Dillard and Longman taught at a Reformed seminary. That no more makes it Reformed than the brand of toothpaste that Longman happens to use.

5. For that matter, in his commentary on Daniel, Longman can't make up his mind on whether Daniel really wrote it or not.

6. In terms of inspiration, we could draw a distinction between 1st-order and 2nd-order inspiration. All of Scripture is inspired in the 2nd-order sense.
That is to say, every writer of Scripture is inspired. Scripture is an inspired record.

But in a 1st-order sense, Scripture is often a record of what someone else said. As such, Scripture is both an inspired record of inspired statements, and—at other times—an inspired record of uninspired statements. Every writer of Scripture is inspired, but every speaker within Scripture is not inspired.

7. For example, Luke quotes Gamaliel. Luke is inspired, but Gamaliel is not. So we must consider the speaker. If the speaker is a prophet or apostle, he is inspired.

I am using "prophet" in the broad sense of any divinely appointed spokesman, whether Isaiah, Daniel, the Chronicler, Mark, Luke or the author of Hebrews—to name a few.

8. But under the providence of God, inspiration can also pop up in unofficial channels. Who would have expected a godless man like Caiaphas to be a prophet of God? But in a least one instance, under the overruling providence of God, he was unwittingly prophetic (Jn 11:51).

Like, paradigm pagans such as Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar could be the recipients of divine dreams. So there is, in Scripture, a prima facie presumption of 1st-order inspiration, even for reprobates who are caught in the web of God's redemptive designs.

9. How does this distinction apply to Ecclesiastes? On the traditional view of authorship, it is inapplicable, and for a couple of reasons:

i) If Solomon is the author, then Solomon is inspired by virtue of his divine wisdom (1 Kg 3-4).

ii) There is (at least on the traditional analysis), no writer/speaker division in Ecclesiastes. It is a writing by and about the writer himself. It is a philosophical memoir. Hence, the narrative/editorial voice is identical with the author himself. There is only one voice, not two.

10. A necessary preliminary step in establishing the view of Longman is to deny Solomonic authorship. In fact, that is precisely what Longman does.

11. In terms of traditional orthodoxy, the self-witness of Scripture is authoritative. The Bible's self-referential claims are just as inspired as any of its other claims. Some books of the Bible are anonymous, but others either state or imply their authorship.

12. A favorite way around this is to claim that pseudonymity was an accepted and transparent literary device. This was understood by writer and reader alike. No one was taken in—or so the argument goes.

13. This is, of course, part of an old and ongoing liberal/conservative debate. By way of general reply:

i) Arguments for pseudonymity are either circular or equivocal. They are circular when the scholar appeals to another pseudoepigraphical book of Scripture as precedent, for that begs the question. A is pseudoepigraphical. How do you know that A is pseudoepigraphical? Because B is pseudoepigraphical? Okay, how do you know that B is pseudoepigraphical? So this line of argument only pushes the problem back a step by assuming what it needs to prove.

ii) They are equivocal when the scholar appeals to an extracanonical book as precedent. This is equivocal because it assumes the Biblical author was directly and uncritically indebted to that practice. But when the proposed parallels are trotted out, they have their share of dissimilarities as well as similarities. So this could just as well be taken as an argument from disanalogy rather than analogy.

iii) If this were an accepted and transparent literary convention, then how come Jewish tradition attributes the book to Solomon? Why is an ancient convention obvious to a modern commentator, but oblivious to an ancient commentator? Looks more like a modern convention that is being superimposed on an ancient genre.

14. Longman rehearses several standard liberal objections to Solomonic authorship:

One reason is that the preface contains a couple of comments that don’t seem to fit the facts. The speaker's comparison with his predecessors (1:16) is considered odd when he had only one such predecessor. Again, why the past tense in v12? Solomon never abdicated the throne. Furthermore, the book depicts a background of decadence and disillusionment that ill-accords with the golden age of Solomon.

But on closer inspection these objections are not very impressive. At most, v16 would amount to hyperbole (cf. 1 Chron 29:25). Solomon is presenting himself as uniquely qualified to comment on the human condition. He's seen it all and done it all. This claim is entirely justifiable. And v16 is just a way of saying, 'I'm the greatest king who ever lived. Therefore I'm in a singular position to speak with authority on the affairs of men.' The fact that he couches the comparison in terms of Jerusalem is legitimate license. What other focal point would he assume? Jerusalem was his base of operations, and—under his reign—the cultural capital of the ANE. I would add that v12 is also consistent with this somewhat idealized projection. If he were writing towards the end of his reign, looking back on his life and achievements, what would be more natural than to employ the past tense? After all, an autobiography is ordinarily written at the end of life, and not in one's twenties. A true literary critic is supposed to exercise a modicum of sympathetic imagination.

The entire work is highly stylized. Its aim is to generalize from the author's own observations to the world at large. The literal and literary levels of abstraction are wonderfully consonant, for if Solomon is the actual author, he is supremely situated to draw some universal lessons from his personal experience. It was for that very purpose that God elevated him to such a paradigmatic role. If, moreover, the past tense is supposed to pose a problem for Solomonic authorship, postulating pseudo-Solomonic authorship merely relocates the alleged difficulty. Again, if the number of predecessors were really problematic for Solomonic authorship, attributing the claim to a forger only shifts the incongruity. So the pseudonymic alternative fails to solve any problems since it merely transfers all of the alleged difficulties of the traditional identification onto the back of the impostor. At the same time, the pseudonymic alternative is more complicated and conjectural than the traditional identification, without offering any explanatory value in return.

As to social conditions, surely it is a truism that cultural fluorescence and extravagant vice often go hand in hand, whether it's in the glory days of Alexandria, Assyria, Babylon, Baghdad, Constantinople, Egypt, Florence, Prague, Rome, St. Petersburg, Venice, Versailles, or Vienna. The ennui of the rich is proverbial. The realism and pessimism of this work is a mark of authenticity. For if the work were by a much later hand, feigning a Solomonic persona, we would expect him to wrap a gauzy glowing nostalgia around the good old days when Israel was at the apex of her outward reach and glory—in contrast to his own sorry times.

15. Another common objection is that Ecclesiastes reflects a mix of hedonism, pessimism, and fatalism which is at odds with the rest of Scripture. Longman calls it a foil or teaching device. By way of general reply:

The central conundrum of Ecclesiastes is the existential question of the meaning of life. From an empirical standpoint, the distribution of blessing and bane seems to be random (9:11-12). Good men prosper and bad men prosper, good men suffer and bad men suffer. Where's the justice?

To an observer, nature seems to support a cyclical rather than linear philosophy of history (1:2-11). Is life a means without an end? A broken clock? A decorative case that fails to tell the right time? What is the answer?

i) The Fall is a presupposition of Solomon's apparent pessimism. 1:13, 3:20, 7:29 & 12:7 allude to the account of the Fall in Gen 3. Hence, Solomon's gloomy outlook is not a reflection of the natural order as such, but of a fallen moral order.

ii) Solomon finds solace and hope in his theodicy of the right time (3:1-15). In the plan and providence of God, there is a right time for everything (1-8). God has granted man sufficient evidence to discern the existence of an eternal order and providential hand in history, but insufficient evidence to discern the purpose of providence (11,14). So there is just enough evidence to save us from the extremes of presumption and despair.

iii) Solomon's theodicy goes back to his doctrine of creation: just as God made all things good, he's made all things beautiful in their time. Just as God made man in his own image, he's planted an intimation of eternity in the human heart.

iv) But the ways of God are often inscrutable—seemingly random, inequitable, even perverse. And this astigmatism figures in the parallax of time and eternity. We are captive creatures of the moment, inching into the future. Our perspective is prospective rather than retrospective. But God's vantagepoint is timeless. And only with the benefit of inspired hindsight can we begin to discern how the pieces of the puzzle all fall into place. And so we live by faith rather than by sight, for now we see in a glass darkly, but then face-to-face (1 Cor 13:12).

According to Solomon, we should enjoy the good things of life in moderation, but as a happy windfall rather than a universal entitlement. We should steer a happy mean between the extremes of dissolute indulgence and monastic asceticism.

On the one hand, raw materialism is self-defeating. It is a paradox that those who live purely for pleasure are unhappy, for man has a soul as well as body. Indulgence and adventure become bland and routine, and make us dependent on things undependable.

On the other hand, raw monasticism is self-defeating. Man has a body as well as a soul. The Buddhist foregoes pleasure to forego pain. But the cure is as bad as the disease. He avoids a little misery some of the time by making himself a little miserable all of the time.

Finally, Longman adduces a piece of evidence which is actually another prooftext for Solomonic authorship:
"there is likely an intentional link between Solomon and the chosen acronym Qohelet. 1 Kings 8...uses the verbal root qhl quite often in reference to Solomon gathering people to hear his speech (cf. vv1-2,14,22,55). Thus, the 'Assembler' may be an intertextual reference to 1 Kings 8 and a subtle hint that Solomon is the referent," The Book of Ecclesiastes, 2.

16. A more specific objection is that the sceptical view of the afterlife presented in this book is at odds with the Biblical hope.

By way of reply:

i) According to the liberal, evolutionary view, belief in the afterlife was a late bloomer in the canon of Scripture.

But if we deny Solomonic authorship and date the book late, then it should be more affirming rather than disaffirming of the afterlife. So one liberal argument cancels out the other.

ii) When we read OT passages that present a stark contrast between life and death, we need to keep the following in mind:
a) Allowance must be made for hyperbole (e.g., Ps 86:13; Jonah 2:2).
b) When in despair, one speaks despairingly—but that doesn't tell the whole story. Just study the mood swings in the Book of Job, psalms of David, and oracles of Jeremiah.
c) The contrast often involves a reversal of fortunes, as the famous are forgotten, the potentates left impotent. In the just judgment and overruling providence of God, today's celebrity may be tomorrow's nobody (Eccl 9; Isa 14; Ezk 32). This carries over to the NT (e.g., Lk 16:19-31; 1 Cor 1-3; Rev 20:4-6).

17. Longman regards the prologue/epilogue as a framing device for the body of the text. But to reason from this unobjectionable analysis to two conflicting voices is a non-sequitur.

i) Many writers, whether inside or outside of Scripture, employ this framing device. But the same author is responsible for all the material. He writes the prologue, epilogue, and body of the text.

ii) Longman draws attention to what he dubs fictional Akkadian autobiographies, but he doesn't impute composite authorship to them. If he's going to invoke the principle of literary artifice, then we'd expect the literary artifice to be consistently maintained from start to finish. It would speak with one voice--the voice of a single author.

iii) Longman contends that the shift from 3rd to 1st person and back again indicates two different voices.

But why not treat that as a literary device?

iv) Longman draws attention to the 'intrusive' use of the 3rd person in 7:27. But this undercuts his own analysis, according to which what distinguishes the framing device from the body of the text is that the prologue/epilogue employ the 3rd person while the body of the text uses the 1st person.

If, however, the author is not uniform in his usage, but alternates at will, Longman's argument falls apart--for the putative evidence cuts both ways. What we have is stylistic variation.

18. Longman tries to draw an analogy with Job: "the body of both books contains dubious teaching when judged in the light of the rest of the canon," ibid. 37.

But this is a careless comparison:

i) There is, in Job, unlike Ecclesiastes, a clear writer/speaker(s) demarcation.

ii) In Job, the point of tension is not between the theology of Job and the rest of the canon. Rather, there is a dramatic tension between the prologue (1-2) and the rest of the book. The writer and his readers are privy to something that the figure of Job is not. Job doesn't know why he is suffering. He's out of the loop. That's key to his ordeal. But the reader/writer knows.

In sum, there is no good reason to deny the Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes, or use that as a harmonistic device to account for the so-called contradictions of Ecclesiastes. The book drops broad, unmistakable hints of its Solomonic authorship, and far from contradicting the general tenor of Scripture, Ecclesiastes is an extended, intertextual meditation on the creation and the Fall.