Tuesday, October 26, 2004

Keeping ourselves unspotted from the world

The temptation of youth is to shoot for the moon, the temptation of age is to wax opportune. The young are far too otherworldly for the world below while the old are far too worldly for the other world above.

The political chameleon exemplifies the spirit of cynicism. He blends into the seasonal setting, whether snowy or stony. In the words of W. H. Auden, "Our researchers into Public Opinion are content that he held the proper opinions for the time of year; when there was peace, he was for peace; when there was war, he went." Or as Groucho Marx more succinctly put it, "Those are my principles. If you don't like them, I have others."

But the political stargazer exemplifies the spirit of utopianism. You can see this is Marxism, which is a secularized brand of Messianism.

You can see this in the social gospel.

You can see this in the overrealized eschatology of the Anabaptist, for whom there is no intersection between the city of God and city of man, but only a grand chasm separating Dis from the New Jerusalem.

You can see this in Platonism, with its hiatus between spotless universals and bespotted particulars.

As I've had occasion to say before, the lesser of two evils is not synonymous with the lesser of two sins. Every political candidate is a sinner, and there are degrees of personal evil.

Choosing between the lesser of two evils is not necessarily a choice between moral evils. If I see a wildfire approaching my home, and I don't have time to save both my five-year old son and the family dog, I have three choices:
i) I can throw up my hands and let nature takes its course, on the theory that any compromise is a moral compromise;
ii) if I were a member of PETA, I'd save the family dog, lest I commit the crime of speciesism my favoring my own flesh-and-blood;
iii) if I were a Christian, I'd sadly consign my pet dog to the flames while I fled with my son in arms. This is not a choice between right and wrong, but better and best.

The only solution is to have a carefully thought-out value-system. For further reflection, I'd refer readers to my essay (posted at Triablogue) on "The Art of Christian compromise," as well as:


Monday, October 25, 2004

Now & then

You always have unbelievers who deny the historicity of the Bible. In our own day, the Jesus Seminar is the best-known example, but this is a perennial phenomenon.

Now, it's nothing short of amazing, when you consider how little interest the ancient world took in Israel or the NT church, and how little of this has even survived, that we have any corroboration whatsoever, much less as much as we do.

But despite that, you have unbelievers who deny the historicity of Scripture because it allegedly contradicts something in the ancient record.

Actually, the number of examples in which this is the case is, again, remarkably small (e.g., the census of Quirinius, the location of Ai). But to put this in perspective, imagine if, a hundred years from now, our knowledge of the Bush administration came from Michael Moore, the BBC or the NYT?

Even though I'm an American, contemporaneous in time and contiguous in place with the events, I have to spend more time than I like, and probably more time than I should, getting the facts straight. I've seen these events unfolding in live, real-time footage, and yet I still need multiple sources to correct for all the distortion.

To take another example, I'm a native of the Greater Seattle area. Some TV dramas are putatively set in Seattle, but for budgetary reasons are really filmed in Vancouver BC--with a few location shots to establish the putative setting.

I know Seattle like the back of my own hand. I don't have the same feel for Vancouver, but I've been there often enough that I can tell the difference.

Sometimes I tune into one of these shows just to test my memory. In one recent show, the pilot episode was obviously shot in Seattle, but the next episode was clearly shot in Vancouver.

Apparently, the director shot the pilot episode on site to fix the tell-tale landmarks in the viewer's mind, hoping that this splash of local color would carry-over when he pulled up stakes and moved the camera crew north of the border.

In another TV series, one episode was supposedly set in Spokane. But the greenery was much too lush for E. Washington.

On yet another TV, most of the show was filmed on location in Fall City, North Bend, and Snoqualmie, but the opening scene was clearly shot evidently shot elsewhere--on Whidbey Island, I was later to learn. A native would never mistake the Snoqualmie River for Puget Sound.

Now this sort of comparison demands a very broad and minute knowledge of the locale--not only in space, but also in time. If we were to go backward or forward 50-100 years, my indigenous knowledge would be useless--for the landscape and cityscape would be so greatly altered.

Canadian actors can often pass for Americans, but I can tell the difference between the American actor and the Canadian actor playing an American. The difference is very subtle. The Canadian accent isn't conspicuous, like the working class or uppercrust British accent. It's not that it sounds like something else--something identifiably foreign. Rather, it just doesn't sound quite like idiomatic American pronunciation. It's a bit classier…not as nasal or slurvian…the intonation and placement are a shade different.

Okay, my point is this: here we have so-called scholars, writing some 2000-3500 years after the fact, based on some historical or semi-historical source, which is, at best, within the general vicinity of the Biblical event, although it may be hundred or more years before or after the fact, and a hundred or more miles distant from the event. And that is even before we factor in the ancient historian's private bias or official agenda. Say, he's a court historian. Or a political rival of so-and-so.

It is quite possible, under such circumstances, that you could have a genuine discrepancy, or misidentification, between two sources (biblical and extra-biblical) without any prejudice to the veracity of Scripture.