Saturday, April 21, 2007

I have a dream

Excerpts from a recent article by Victor Davis Hanson:
I recently had a dream that...

...Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, in Syria at the time, would lecture the Assad regime that there would be consequences to its serial murdering of democratic reformers in Lebanon, to fomenting war with Israel by means of its surrogates, and to sending terrorists to destroy the nascent constitutional government in Iraq.


Fellow Democrats like John Kerry, Barbara Boxer, and Harry Reid would add that, as defenders of the liberal tradition of the West, they were not about to call a retreat before extremist killers who behead and kidnap, who blow up children and threaten female reformers and religious minorities, and who have begun using poison gas, all in an effort to annihilate voices of tolerance in Iraq.


In this dream, I heard our ex-presidents add to this chorus of war-time solidarity. Jimmy Carter reminded Americans that radical Islam had started in earnest on his watch, out of an endemic hatred of all things Western. I imagined him explaining that America began being called the “Great Satan” during the presidential tenure of a liberal pacifist, not a Texan conservative.

Bill Clinton would likewise add that he bombed Iraq, and Afghanistan, and East Africa without congressional or U.N. approval because of the need for unilateral action against serial terrorism and the efforts of radicals to obtain weapons of mass destruction.


I also dreamed that the British government only laughed at calls to curtail studies of the Holocaust in deference to radical Muslims, and instead repeatedly aired a documentary on its sole Victoria Cross winner in Iraq. The British, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, and Spanish foreign ministers would collectively warn the radical Islamic world that there would be no more concessions to the pre-rational primeval mind, no more backpeddling and equivocating on rioting and threats over cartoons or operas or papal statements. There would be no more apologies about how the West need make amends for a hallowed tradition that started 2,500 years ago with classical Athens, led to the Italian Republics of the Renaissance, and inspired the liberal democracies that defeated fascism, Japanese militarism, Nazism, and Communist totalitarianism, and now are likewise poised to end radical Islamic fascism.

Europeans would advise their own Muslim immigrants, from London to Berlin, that the West, founded on principles of the Hellenic and European Enlightenments, and enriched by the Sermon on the Mount, had nothing to apologize for, now or in the future. Newcomers would either accept this revered culture of tolerance, assimilation, and equality of religions and the sexes — or return home to live under its antithesis of seventh-century Sharia law.


And then I woke up, remembering that the West of old lives only in dreams. Yes, the new religion of the post-Westerner is neither the Enlightenment nor Christianity, but the gospel of the Path of Least Resistance — one that must lead inevitably to gratification rather than sacrifice.

Once one understands this new creed, then all the surreal present at last makes sense: life in the contemporary West is so good, so free, so undemanding, that we will pay, say, and suffer almost anything to enjoy its uninterrupted continuance — and accordingly avoid almost any principled act that might endanger it.
Click here to read the article in its entirety.

More guns, less crime

A Country in the Crosshairs
Gun Crime Soars
This is what happens when governments try to ban guns
An Englishman's Home is His Dungeon
Flawed Laws Help Stalkers Victimize Women
An Interview with John Lott
The End of Myth

Friday, April 20, 2007

Who can forgive sins but God alone?

I just read this article which begins:
While it seems most people are resigned to express hatred toward Cho Seung-Hui, the Virginia Tech gunman who shot and killed 32 people before taking his own life, there are some who aren't thinking twice about forgiving the 23-year-old student for his heinous crimes.
First off, in one sense, what right do these people have to forgive Cho? It's not as if they were the ones wronged (murdered) by Cho. Nor are they (as far as I know) in any way related to those who were murdered by Cho. They aren't friends or relatives. Or even acquaintances. So, again, who are they to forgive Cho?

Murder, of course, is an irrevocable sin. Once it has been committed, it can never be taken back. So another question is, can Cho ever be forgiven by those whom he murdered since they are no longer alive to offer him forgiveness?

And to complicate matters, Cho took his own life. Thus, there can be no justice because Cho escaped justice.

Not that there could in fact be full and total justice anyway. After all, if one human being murders another human being, then would not justice, strictly speaking, demand that the murderer's life is now forfeit? But what of the murderer who murders 32 people? Even if Cho had been captured, tried, and convicted, and suppose executed for his murderous rampage across the Virginia Tech campus, would justice ever truly be served, since Cho only has one life to forfeit, not 32?

How can humans ever hope to mete out justice in the case of a serial or mass murder committed by a single person? The highest punishment we have -- the execution of the murderer -- would not wholly satisfy justice. If there is to be complete justice, then there must be a punishment greater than death. But there isn't. At least not in this life. Thus, this might work as an indirect pointer to the reality of a fate worse than death. And by it, perhaps, to the existence of other things.

Otherwise, life is and forever will be unfair. But if we go down this trail, at best, it's all meaningless. Vanity of vanities. At worst, well... maybe we can see how deep the rabbit hole really is another time. For now, I'll leave off making any remarks.

In addition to his multiple murders, however, Cho committed arguably the most heinous sin of all: he committed idolatry.

What is idolatry? As I understand it, it is both reducing God into something which he is not as well as placing something -- anything, including oneself -- in the place of the true God. It is not recognizing let alone accepting God for who he is, as he has revealed himself in the Scriptures. It is making him out to be something which he is not. Or making him into something which one thinks he is or should be, to conform God to one's own notions of who or what God is. It is putting God in a box. More specifically, it is the (post-modern) claim that religion and spirituality and God are whatever one decides to make of them. It is the belief that the reference point for God and religion is oneself. As I've heard Don Carson characterize it in the past, idolatry is the de-"God"-ing of God.

Witness some of Cho's statements:
I did it for them. I did it to make you stop what you did to me. The future generations of the weak and defenseless.

Like Moses, I split the sea and lead my people, the weak, the defenseless, the innocent children of all ages...

You have vandalized my heart, raped my soul and torched my conscience. You thought it was one pathetic boy’s life you were extinguishing. Thanks to you, I die like Jesus Christ, to inspire generations of the weak and the defenseless people.

Do you know what it feels like to be humiliated and be impaled upon on a cross? And left to bleed to death for your amusement? You have never felt a single ounce of pain your whole life. Did you want to inject as much misery in our lives as you can just because you can?
Cho compares himself to Moses and likewise to Christ. He sees himself as a martyr for the weak and defenseless. Also, Cho sees himself as the one who has been wronged by others. Perhaps wronged by his community and society. There is a self-centeredness to all he has said and to all he has done. Cho considers himself the greatest victim as well as the greatest leader, a martyr for the weak and defenseless. Psychiatrists might perhaps diagnose him as a megalomaniac, and pronounce that he has a God-complex. Of course, Cho's "megalomania" is no different than the "megalomania" of many other serial killers and mass murders -- from Hitler (cf. The Psychopathic God by Robert Waite) to Harris and Klebold. The world revolves around them. But, biblically speaking, let's cut to the chase and call it what it is: Cho was an idolater. He placed himself in the place of God.

Murder leaves behind tangible, physical evidence. There is a body. Serial and mass murder leaves behind tangible, physical evidence. There is a body count. But for the most part, modern idolatry in the West does not leave behind tangible, physical evidence. There are no wood or stone idols or carved images to bow down before. Perhaps that's one reason why idolatry doesn't seem as abhorrent to us as does something like murder. But from God's perspective, idolatry is just as bad if not worse than murder. Murder may take away human life, a human being created in the image of God. But idolatry attempts to take away from God himself, to re-fashion the Creator into an image within his creation, perhaps even after one's own likeness. It exchanges the glory of God for images resembling mortal man and/or things within creation.

Now, in Psalm 51:4, King David cries out to God, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight." What on earth could David mean that he has only sinned against God? Hadn't he sinned against Bathsheba by committing adultery with her? Not to mention Bathsheba's husband, whom he had murdered? And in fact, this says nothing of the countless others whom David likely caused or at least influenced to sin when he involved them in his cover-up! Nevertheless David has the temerity to pray to God, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight." What gives?

But David understood something we perhaps don't. David understood that, in the deepest sense, whenever we commit an act of sin, we are not merely sinning against others or ourselves, we are likewise sinning against God himself. Who God is is wound up with what God has revealed to us in his law. God is good. And as the source of good, when we sin against that which is good, we sin against God himself. As Carson (to whom I owe nearly all of my thoughts on this) states, in every act of sin, God is the most offended party. David understood this, and hence he cried out, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight." In the deepest sense, David's sin was directly against God himself.

Getting back to the original question, who are these random strangers, then, to forgive Cho, as if they were in the place of God himself?

As I mentioned above, in one sense, only those wronged can forgive Cho for his evil, murderous acts. Yet those wronged are dead. And so is Cho.

But, as we see here, in quite another sense, God -- who created us and whose we are, at least as creatures (if not redeemed in Christ) -- is the most deeply offended party of all in any of our transgressions. Any and every sin we commit is a slap in the face against him, if not worse.

And since it's patently transparent Cho never repented of his sins (murder, idolatry, etc.), but rather died in them, the following may come across as a hard saying, but it is a biblically unavoidable one: there is no forgiveness for Cho. The wrath of God abides on him forever.

This may be the last word for Cho, but this isn't the last word for us. If you have never turned away from your sins -- whether they be as large as Cho's or as small as to be indiscernible even to those closest to you -- and pleaded with God to have mercy on you, do you think there will somehow be forgiveness for you when you stand before God? Do you think you can escape the just wrath of God, who is the most offended party in all your sins?

Reader, consider these things.

Scaredy Cats R Us

What’s so striking about this bunker mentality is the fact that these three apostates happen to be the most intellectually competent bloggers to cycle through DC. If they can’t withstand rational scrutiny, what does that say about the B-team?

It also tells you something about the level of paranoia among militant unbelievers when they are prone to this siege mentality.


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Not Many Wise--On Pause for a While

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Get Busy Livin', or Get Busy Bloggin'

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Blogroll update

Charlie Sebold and I have just updated the blogroll. This includes deleting a few defunct weblogs/websites, repairing a few broken links, and adding a number of new weblogs/websites to the roster.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Constitutional abortion rights

Justice Ginsburg objected vehemently that “this way of thinking reflects ancient notions of women’s place in the family and under the Constitution — ideas that have long since been discredited.”

So, according to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there’s a Constitutional right abortion because the Constitution reflects ancient notions of a woman’s place in the home that have long since been discredited.

In other words, she’s appealing to the Constitution to find a Constitutional right of abortion based on the fact that our Constitution reflects an antiquated view of women’s rights. Yeah, thanks for clearing that up.

The Good, the Bad, and the Bethrick

Dawson Bethrick thinks he has something insightful to say about the Christian reaction to the V-Tech massacre:

On a preliminary point, it’s quite revealing to see so many militant unbelievers revel in this tragedy as a pretext to attack the faith.


Many Christians have expressed outrage over the senseless and bloody massacre that took place at the beginning of this week on the campus of Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. But if they are truly faithful to the worldview they preach, why would they feel any outrage at all?

On the Christian worldview, life is eternal. For the 32 victims and the gunman who “died” on Monday, their lives did not really end. They just passed on to the next stage. Biological demise is simply a doorway to a supernatural eternity thereafter. Rather than great loss, “to die is gain,” wrote St. Paul (Phil. 1:21). It seems believers should be rejoicing, if they truly believed, for the god of the bible is glorified by such things.


i) This is a truly dumb statement since it would be, at best, applicable to the heaven-bound and not the hell-bound. When St. Paul said that “to die is gain,” he was referring the fate of Christians, and not the damned.

ii) And even where Christians are concerned, while death may be a boon to the individual, it is not necessarily a boon to those he leaves behind. The survivors. Mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and spouses. They will suffer the emotional loss of extended separation.

The Bible describes the grieving process. So there’s nothing unscriptural about our reaction to the massacre.

Most of the victims were twenty-somethings. Suppose I lost my older brother to this gunman. Suppose both he and I are Christians.

Even so, I will not see him again for another fifty or sixty years, give or take.

iii) Let’s also recall the context of Phil 1:21. Paul is a speaking for himself, as a sick old man who sacrificed the natural blessings of life in the service of the gospel. So, for him, at this stage, death would be a boon.

This doesn’t mean that he would always regard death as preferable to life, regardless of one’s age or station in life. The Christian faith is a life-affirming faith. You can find that throughout the OT.

It’s one thing for a believer at the end of life to look forward to the afterlife (e.g. Lk 2:28), quite another thing for a teenager or twenty-something, who has yet to fully experience the natural blessings of manhood (or womanhood), to rate the afterlife above the earthly goods of God’s handiwork here below.

iv) There is, moreover, a difference between good and evil, on the one hand, and good, better, or best, on the other. The Bible doesn’t teach us to despise the good just become something better might come along. Rather, we are to savor the good.

“The lesson of Abraham (cf. Genesis chapter 22) is clear: Be willing to kill.”

And the point of this reference is what, exactly? Yes, there are times when we should be willing to kill. For example, what pity that none of the students was able to return fire and stop the assailant dead in his tracks before he could take any more innocent lives.

“The lesson of Jesus (cf. the four gospels) is also clear: Be willing to die.”

A nice case of acontextual prooftexting. Indeed, there are situations in which a Christian should be willing to die. But, needless to say, there is no general mandate in Scripture to lay down your arms.

“Cho Seung Hui and his victims find their models in the bible, which Christians claim is divinely inspired and fit for us to follow.”

Only if you’re a demagogue like Bethrick who likes to cite Scripture out of context.



And what of Cho Seung Hui and his actions? What about them? “God controls whatsoever comes to pass,” says Van Til (The Defense of the Faith, p. 160). It's all an inevitable part of God's plan.

Were Cho Seung Hui’s actions evil? The question is irrelevant, given what Christianity teaches. Why? Because “God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists,” writes Bahnsen (Always Ready, p. 172).

The gunman's proper attitude, given what the doctrine of predestination teaches, could only be expressed by one uncompromising statement: "Yes, Lord." He is only carrying out the ruling consciousness' will.

If the Christian believer feels any outrage over this divinely predestined event, he either feels outrage toward his own god for planning this massacre all along, or he countermands his religious teachings by having automatized a non-Christian perspective on the world, most likely without realizing it.


Yet another simple-minded argument. As Paul Helm has observed:


“So does it follow from such knowing and willing permission of evil that the universe is in every detail as God intends it to be? This is an interesting question, but it is unclear as it stands. There is no reason to think that God intends the details of the universe separately; there is one divine will, which encompasses all events. It would be fallacious to suppose that the divine attitude is the same with respect to every detail of what God wills…As Aquinas put it, “God, and nature, and indeed every causal agent, does what is best overall, but not what is best in every part, except when the part is regarded in its relationship to the whole.” We may suppose that when God knowingly and willingly permits certain events he does so in furtherance of some wider consideration wholly consistent with his character with respect to which they are a logically necessary condition. And likewise some of those things which he causes are means to some further end. It is a fallacy to think that because some arrangement is wise, every detail of that arrangement, considered in isolation, is wise,” J. Beilby & P. Eddy, eds. Divine Foreknowledge: Four Views (IVP 2001), 182.




And his victims? On the Christian worldview, the ideal attitude proper for the believer is one of selflessness. The believer is to "deny himself" (Mt. 16:24), to "resist not evil" and "turn the cheek" (Mt. 5:39), and to present his body as "a living sacrifice," which is said to be a "reasonable service" (Rom. 12:1).


More problems:

i) We’re treated to more acontextual prooftexting. For example, the Sermon on the Mount is dealing with personal slights to one’s honor—and not a threat to life and limb.

ii) In addition, Bethrick isn’t bright enough to realize that there is more to resisting evil than self-defense. For example, a Christian husband and father should be prepared to defend his wife and kids at the risk of his own life. So it isn’t just a case of protecting myself against an assailant. To the contrary, it may often be the case of protecting others from an assailant, at my own risk.



And we cannot call Cho's victims "innocent," for - as one believer puts it - "no human being is completely innocent." Either the Christian god was calling them home, or they were getting their just desserts.


More simplemindedness. The fact that everyone is guilty before God doesn’t mean that everyone has wronged everyone else. It doesn’t mean that Cho’s victims did anything to him deserving of death at his hands. They can be innocent in relation to him without being innocent in relation to God.

For someone who prides himself on the intellectual superiority of atheism, Bethrick likes to raise an awful lot of awfully lame-brained objections to the faith.

Finally, like so many other unbelievers, Bethrick acts as if he’s discharged his own burden of proof by simply punting to the believer. But leveling a string of objections to the Christian faith, even if they were successful objections, would do nothing to refute the objections to his own position.

As a matter of fact, though, Bethrick loses on both counts. In his attempt to exploit the Virginia Tech massacre, his feeble attempt at showing the inconsistency of the Christian reaction is systematically inept, while, in the meantime, he has done nothing to show, on his own grounds, why Cho did anything wrong.

Cho Seung-Hui Should Not Be Punished

Recently John Loftus came into the combox of this post and responded to a statement I had made. I wrote in response to the question, "Where was God in all this":

PM: "Controlling all the details of His plan. Holman may not like this, but God ordained that Seung-Hui would do this."

John W. Loftus responded,

JWL: "While our views may seem problematic to you, your view is absolutely sick."

Now, we must remember the context here. John holds to physical determination. Thus, both sides hold that these events were brought about by antecedent causes. From there I point out that in my view this was planned by a person, there is meaning here, there is real right and wrong here, there is true moral good that will come out of this, there will be justice, and these events were done, ultimately, and in some way, for the good of those who love (or will love) God.

On the other hand, in John's view, this event was still determined; but it has no meaning, it is not really wrong, it will be forgotten, there will be no justice, and these events were ultimately done for no purpose.

That's John's view and my view.

But, I'm not here to comment on the above, just to use it as a spring board into bringing out something else Loftus has said while in the safety of the ivory tower. While in the context of debating Christians, making purely an academic point. I'm going to offer an example of how unbelievers, like John Loftus for instance, are not being very consistent.

You see, John thinks that because I said that these events were planned by God, that is morally reprehensible. Why is it "sick" that God would plan this? Well, supposedly because what Seung-Hui did was evil. What happened was a moral outrage.

His buddies at Debunking Christianity, if you read the comments in the combox of the original post by Holman which I responded to in the linked post above, think this event was immoral, evil, and a terrible tragedy.

Well, what if Seung-Hui had not killed himself and the police caught him after he shot 30 people. What should happen to this man according to John W. Loftus. Was this man a "bad" man even? Let's read John Loftus' comments on why people do bad things, and what should happen to them:

"People don't misbehave because they are evil, they may just be sick. Punishment isn't what people need, so much as healing and understanding." - John W. Loftus ( SOURCE)

So, we need to "heal" and "understand" Cho Seung-Hui. If he didn't take his life, we should send him to a 4 star hotel along with doctors to "heal" him and "understand" why he did what he did. But what if Seung-Hui says that "Bertrand Russell is right. That there is no meaning to the world, other than what we create, and I [Seung-Hui] want to create my own meaning, which entails being a mass murderer." Should we "understand" this? Do we then let Seung-Hui go on his merry way? To keep him confined to the supervision of the doctors against his will would constitute punishment. And we can't have that, says Loftus!

The is Holman's leader's view. The view of the boss man at Debunking Christianity. This is the view of the atheist.

Clearly the sides are divided. Debate has left the comfort of mere words and has entered into the realm of reality. How do the atheists words comport with what happened? With our feelings? Is the atheist worldview satisfying? Sure, they can talk a big game when nothing is on the line, but will they step up when the chips are on the table? Tell us to not be upset with Seung-Hui, rather, we should try to "understand" him. Seung-Hui does not deserve punishment? Tell that to the victims! Let atheists run the show and any form of justice is out the window. Remember that Loftus says he doesn't punish his dog, Franklin J. Loftus? He's trying to be consistent. So in Loftus' world, if Franklin went on a rampage, killing dozens of school children, Loftus' wife would say "no-no!" and "put him in his cage for the night."

Furthermore, to say Seung-Hui was "sick" simply means that his neurons didn't fire in the type of pattern that Loftus' and most others fire. That's all.

So, when you want to get upset with Seung-Hui or these events, remember to try and "understand" Seung-Hui. And, if you wish he were here to reap justice, remember that Seung-Hui should not be punished, says atheist John Loftus.

That's the worldview of Loftus. That's the worldview of atheists.

The line has been drawn. The blood is in our face. Is this event really wrong? Was it meaningless? Is there no justice? Will there be justice? Will the victims have vindication? Ask yourself if your worldview can handle these events? Ask yourself if you're acting as if your worldview were not true. If you realize the problem, call a local church. If you want to remain a meat bag, then try to act consistently. Stop acting as if what happened was "evil" or "terrible" or a "moral outrage." Just remember that you're a lump of matter who is thinking (having neurons go snap, crackle, pop in your head) about one lump of matter who flung a bunch of matter at high speeds at other lumps of matter.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The court giveth, and the court taketh away

ACLJ Applauds Supreme Court Decision Outlawing Partial-Birth Abortion - "Monumental Victory" for Life

"The Case for War"

Here’s an interesting q/a between Richard Perle, a leading proponent of regime change in Iraq, and various interrogators.

"Times Like This"

Joe Holman, contributor to Debunking Christianity, has written an emotionally charged post that uses what Cho Seung-Hui did to throw a temper tantrum against the caricature of Christianity - the sappy and weak version - he held to.

"In trying times like these, when terrible crimes against humanity have been committed, like the recent murders of Cho Seung-Hui, a 23-year-old South Korean man of Virginian Tech University in Blacksburg, Virginia, we must be extra careful not to rush to judgment or let anger get the best of us!"

Yes, let's not get carried away. One meat bag shot other meat bags. One cog in the evolutionary wheel of life shot other cogs.

Cho Seung-Hui was described as a deeply troubled man, one who never smiled or greeted strangers, and always expressed deep-seated hatred of “rich kids,” and people who led lives of “debauchery.” He took antidepressants, and it is believed once set fire to a dormitory, stalked women, and wrote very disturbing pieces of literature. He was what many would call “a bad guy.”

Surely what is left out above is not a mistake. If Holman read the literature to pick up on the above features of Seung-Hui's life, why did he leave out these features:

  • "A law enforcement official who read Cho's note described it Tuesday as a typed, eight-page rant against rich kids and religion."
  • "Cho indicated in his letter that the end was near and that there was a deed to be done, the official said. He also expressed disappointment in his own religion and made several references to Christianity, the official said."

If Seung-Hui had written that he was told by God to do what he did, atheists would be railing against the "evils of religion." But, in Seung-Hui, we have a man who dropped religion, and seemed particularly upset or angry with Christianity. Why does Holman leave this out?

"Where is God when terrible things like this happen?"

Controlling all the details of His plan. Holman may not like this, but God ordained that Seung-Hui would do this.

But, say God is nowhere. There is no God. Then what happened was about as "terrible" as an anteater filling up at the local ant colony.

"What we must remember is, God is there, even though it seems at times as though he isn’t."

The only way there can be real "times like this" is precisely because "God is there."

"God loves us all, including those of us who have chosen the wrong path. God loves Cho Seung-Hui very much and looks down from heaven with compassion, despite his wreaking sheer havoc on an unsuspecting college campus, taking many innocent lives in the process."

Where does Holman get this? God "loves" Seung-Hui but "Esau He hath hated?" Who said "God loves everyone?" Does he not "hate all those who do iniquity?" This is sloppy theology. This type of theology births apostates like Holman. No strong ground, and so when the waves of "times like this" come, he sinks in the sand. So, he gives up "the ground," but the unfortunate consequence is that he must also give up the reason for giving up "the ground" - that is, the "times like this."

"Jesus was right there all the time, looking down with love as this angry man premeditatedly sawed the serial numbers off the guns he used to blast screaming college kids into tomorrow. Jesus was watching as young people, with their lives still ahead of them, stood petrified with fear in those brief moments before their demise. Jesus was there, waiting in the wings to comfort those mourning families who lost their loved ones at the whim of a tarnished soul. Jesus was there, my friend, Jesus hasn’t forgotten! As the song goes, Jesus knows, Jesus cares!"

Holman needs to pepper his post with emotional verbiage to get sympathy. Holman doesn't want to tell it like it is. Holman believes Seung-Hui is an evolved meat bag. Holman believes the victims were evolved meat bags. Holman is a naturalist. The Personal has been kicked out in favor of the Impersonal. But the Impersonal doesn't care about Seung-Hui, the victims, or Holman. Holman must assert his feelings in the face of the Impersonal unfeeling force. To live a contradictory life is the Way Holman has chosen. He's Bertrand Russell's poster child:

"Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless of destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way; for Man, condemned to-day to lose his dearest, to-morrow himself to pass through the gate of darkness, it remains only to cherish, ere yet the blow falls, the lofty thoughts that ennoble his little day; disdaining the coward terrors of the slave of Fate, to worship at the shrine that his own hands have built; undismayed by the empire of chance, to preserve a mind free from the wanton tyranny that rules his outward life; proudly defiant of the irresistible forces that tolerate, for a moment, his knowledge and his condemnation, to sustain alone, a weary but unyielding Atlas, the world that his own ideals have fashioned despite the trampling march of unconscious power." - Bertrand Russell, A Free Man's Worship

Holman can stand up to the uncaring cosmos and shake his fists in despair, asserting his own meaning, but for some reason, Cho Seung-Hui cannot do the same. Seung-Hui looked into the "gate of darkness" and saw that omnipotent matter rolls on its way, making Cho's life ultimately meaningless, and so he acted upon this situation. What's Holman's beef with his own worldview?

"There’s a lot of anger in the air because of this tragedy. The world is wishing this guy straight to Hell, thinking of how much people like Cho Seung-Hui deserve to suffer, but its times like these when we must try especially hard to think like Jesus."

Think like Jesus? It is Jesus who said the world would be judged by His Words. It is Jesus who came to "bring a sword." It is Jesus that said it was His Way or the highway. Jesus said sinners would be thrown into the lake of fire. So, why does Holman not want to "think like Jesus?" It's because Holman has a nice Jesus. A blond-haired, blue-eyed Jesus. An effeminate Jesus. Jesus with a dress, and without the jeans. So, Holman must attack a caricature, rather than the real deal.

Furthermore, it's at times like this when we must strengthen our resolve. Be consistent with our beliefs. Try to think like Momma Nature. Ultimately, no one cares about the victims. Ultimately, what Seung-Hui did, was not objectively, morally wrong. The grand Imperson doesn't have "moral obligations." We make them up! So, that what Seung-Hui did is called "wrong," is actually fantasy. It's made up. Reject Christianity and its story of the world, you must invent your own story. There is no grand meta-narrative, there's millions of subjective autobiographies. Windowless monads, without any pre-established harmony. And thus we need to not only affirm this worldview while engaged in polemical debate, but we must hold it when we face "times like this." We must not cheer the proclomations of the materialist worldview when we are detached from the issues of life, but when we run smack dab into them. Thus materialist Richard Vitzthum,

"Human thought and feeling is the most complex, versatile, adaptive, sensitive, perceptive, creative, purposeful, and voluntaristic product of terrestrial evolution and perhaps cosmic evolution as a whole... It creates all the value and meaning that humans find inside or outside of themselves. The material order outside of human self-enclosure and self-definition is empty of human value and meaning, consisting as it does of an aimless interplay of natural process dictated by invariable physical laws. Its amoral indiscriminateness contrasts sharply with the human compulsion to discriminate and judge. This compulsion evolved from the billions of years of biological adaptation to earth's environment that transformed simple cells into multicelled animals.

Human thought and feeling is a material offshoot of this very indiscriminateness. It consists of neural events that individually are insensitive, unthinking, and unfeeling as all other basic chemical reactions but that collectively are capable of processing raw electromagnetic signals into emotional and intellectual information. Although the process is not yet well understood, it may consist of computation that mathematically measure incoming arrays of signals against synaptic weightings in the brain's neural networks...." - Richard C. Vitzthum's "Materialism: An Affirmative History And Definition," Prometheus Books, 1995, pp. 230-232

So you feel upset about this whole Virginia Tech thing because your individually unfeeling neurons went snap, crackle, and pop. This whole thing wasn't really wrong. You just had some electromagnetic signals which operate according to laws of physics and biology give of certain physical impulses in yoru body. These are not right, wrong, or meaningful. It's the way it is. Seung-Hui had his own electromagnetic signals go off in his head, the results of which ended in what happened in Virginia. And, when the victims died, what happened on Holman's worldview? Well, electromagnetic signals ceased to "go off." And, all of this was set in motion eons ago by unfeeling and unthinking physical processes. No purpose for it. That's the way the cookie crumbles. It's no different than the erosion of the beach cliffs here in Southern California which were also brought about by prior unthinking and unfeeling processes. Cliffs erode, people erode. Sometimes they take more sand with them than other times. Oh well. This is the grand and glorious worldview of the atheist.

Now, I know that at "times like this," with "worldviews like that," it may be hard to hold back the anger. We know what happened was really wrong. It seems so hollow to look upon "times like this" and know that what happened was only wrong because we made it all up!

" Its times like these when the grace of Jesus Christ our Lord shines out brighter than the sun. The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance! We should not wish evil on this disturbed and erring child of God, no matter how horrible and unsettling his deeds."

And in "times like this" to wish for "cosmic justice" is to live contradictory to the way things are. Assume Holman's worldview and there will be no justice for the victims or their families! To wish for any ultimate meaning and ultimate justice is to wish that your worldview was not true! Thus the "times like this" cause the holders of weak theology to give up their worldview only to have the "times like this" cause the holders of evolutionary naturalism to wish that evolutionary naturalism were not true. Welcome the irrational man. He gives up a position which makes intelligible the supposed reason for giving up his position.

"We should all aim never to be judgmental or hateful, and we must be careful where we place blame."

This is Holman's Jesus. Holman's castrated Christianity. The Jesus of the Bible, had Holman ever cared to open it rather than hold to his faith by his feelings, said that we must judge. "You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." Jesus doesn't say that we should take the plank out from our eye, and then do nothing about our brother, no, he says and then we may go to our brother and judge him.

People are quick to judge Cho Seung-Hui, but before they do, they should consider judging the people he executed first. They were college kids, most of them, and like the majority of young men and women today, probably experimented with premarital sex, smoked pot, and drank alcohol—not exactly followers of Christ! So we shouldn’t judge him too harshly.

Well, Holman is just pontificating here. But, what is his point? We shouldn't judge Cho because the people he killed may not have been Christians? I don't get it? What we should add, though, is that if these pre-marital sex engagers were so normal, possibly they had abortions as well. And so why can they participate in the mass murder of a population of our society - the unborn - but Cho can't participate in the murder of other members of our society? That's odd. Holman only has a problem with some people being murdered. The one he arbitrarily deems "human people." So, Holman shakes his fist at reality, makes up moral laws, and then makes up who is and who isn't allowed to be murdered. The unbelieving worldview is a big kid’s fantasy. They live in ways which contradict the way reality really is, and they tell us creation myths about things that happened "once upon a time, when a frog turned into a prince."

"Perhaps just before that last bullet ravaged his brain, doing away with his thought processes, he muddled a prayer to God, asking for forgiveness of his sins and relief from the pain of life under which he snapped. For God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life! God loves Cho Seung-Hui, just like he loves you and me. He wants us to spend eternity in heaven together."

Holman even had a magic version of Christianity. Simply saying "the magic words" somehow does something.

Though it is highly unlikely that Seung-Hui repented, especially given that he was anti-religion, probably an atheist at the time of his rampage, let's say that he did. So, God forgives him. This is only on the basis of Jesus Christ's life and death. Jesus would have been punished in Seung-Hui's place. So, Christianity still preserves ultimate justice. There is no justice to be had for this event given Holman's version of reality. The desire for justice is a holdover from these apostate's days as Christians. They need to stop playing both sides of the fence. They need to repeat this before they go to bed: "A meat bag killed meat bags. A certain collection of chemicals killed other collections of chemicals. An animal killed other animals." They should not only cling to Darwin to "fit in" in the Science classroom, but Darwinism should be applied to "times like this." Thus Richard Rorty,

"The idea that one species of organism is, unlike all the others, oriented not just toward its own increated prosperity but toward Truth, is as un-Darwinian as the idea that every human being has a built-in moral compass--a conscience that swings free of both social history and individual luck." - Richard Rorty, "Untruth and Consequences," The New Republic, July 31, 1995, pp. 32-36.

"Maybe, even as I write this article, those slain men and women that meet God at the pearly gates are in for a surprise!"

But above he said they were not Christians.

Actually, after we're long gone, there will be no memory of these people or Seung-Hui. All is ultimately meaningless. People will forget. There will be no justice. And we all look rather silly protesting this and acting as if something "really bad" happened. Acting as if there is meaning. Acting as if reality were such that what Bertrand Russell proclaims was not true. In light of what happened at Virginia Tech, and coupled with atheistic evolutionary assumptions, can we really disagree with Lord Russell,

"Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins--all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand."

I think not. I plea for consistency from the atheists during "times like this." Go on, tell the world what you have no problem telling them from the ivory tower. God is dead, and with Him so are morals, meaning, and justice.

If you are honest with yourself, at "times like this" you need a God. You cannot live out your worldview. You need ours, the Christian's. But it doesn't come without a price. You must repent and submit to Jesus as Lord. You must live according to his rules, his stipulations. We will not disintegrate into The Imperson, we will meet The Person, and be judged by him. Instead of worrying where Cho Seung-Hui will be, worry where you will be. Truth be told, none of us are any better in God's eye than Cho Seung-Hui. To hate Seung-Hui is to hate yourself. If it is laughable that God would save him, it is laughable that God would save us. Oh but for Christ! If you want to find meaning here, justice, and the intellectual right to condemn Seung-Hui's actions, you need to hold on to Christ and accept His version of reality.

Tektinny objections to Calvinism

I’ve been asked to comment on an article by J. P. “Holding.”

After reading the article I don’t have much to say.

1.Much of his objection to the Reformed reading of Rom 9 involves a couple of stock, Arminian objections, viz. Rom 9 is not talking about salvation, and even if it were talking about salvation, it’s talking about corporate election rather than individual election.

So, it’s not as if Holding is, in this respect, raising any novel objection to the Reformed reading. And it’s not as if Calvinism is speechless in the face of such objections.

i) For example, these stock objections have already been refuted by Steven Baugh and Tom Schreiner:


b) Tom Schreiner, “Does Romans 9 Teach Individual Election until Salvation?” T. Schreiner & B. Ware, eds. Still Sovereign: Contemporary Perspectives on Election, Foreknowledge, and Grace (Baker 2000), 89-106.

So what Holding has done is to dust off some musty old arguments without addressing, much less rebutting, the counterarguments.

ii) Likewise, he devotes some time to the hardening of Pharaoh without bothering to interact with Beale’s online essay:

iii) In addition, there’s no interaction with Schreiner’s commentary on Romans.

Hence, I’d advise the reader of Holding’s essay to also read Beale, Baugh and Schreiner.

2.Another weakness with Holding’s essay is a failure to distinguish between scholarly argument and scholarly opinion. Sometimes he will quote an actual argument (albeit a flawed argument) in favor of his position. But at other times he will simply quote so-and-so’s claim in favor of his position, without any supporting argument.

But just to tells us, as he often does, that Cranfied (for one) disagrees with the Reformed reading is not a *reason* to side with Cranfield over Calvinism.

BTW, there’s no doubt that Cranfield is one of the top commentators on Romans. But remember that Cranfield is also a Barthian. Hence, he has his own ax to grind.

So I’d advise the reader of Holding’s essay to ask himself, every time he runs across a quote in favor of Holding’s position, if Holding is quoting an actual argument, or if this is simply an appeal to some “authority” who happens to disagree with Calvinism.

3.Yet another fundamental failing with his essay is the way he frames the issue. He attempts to dilute the Pauline witness to predestination by the following ploy:


Paul is in fact addressing several potential objections:
"If the Jews are covenant people, why do the majority reject the Gospel?" As noted, this question is rightly identified by White and others as germane.

But there is more even to this question:
"If the Jews are condemned for rejecting Christ, how do you explain that they remain in power in Judaea with Roman blessing even now, that their religion thrives, that they possess this beautiful Temple?" This critical component is neglected by Calvinist commentators like White, who look back through the lens of post-70 AD events, and fail to realize that at the time Paul writes (c. 45-50), these very serious and immediate questions were a prima facie case against Christianity. The fate of a nation was an important signal of its favor with its "home court" deity. Jews could hardly accept that God had abandoned them as long as their Judean government remained in power (even with Roman watchcare) and as long as the Temple remained standing. Thus Paul is between two points diametrically opposed: He must walk the line between acknowledging that the Jews did have God's blessing in the past (for otherwise, he implies that God has erred in blessing Israel previously) and showing that they no longer have it, but the body of Christ does -- in spite of what evidence exists in his world in that day to the contrary.

Finally, Paul must also tend to the potential objection that the failure of Jews to believe was a reason to reject and condemn Israel as a body -- not on a theological level, but on a social level; Paul must also counter the tendency for Gentiles (in this day of strong ethnic prejudices) to use Israel's rejection of the Gospel as a reason for personally rejecting non-Christian Jews.


The problem with this claim is that, as a matter of fact, only the first question is the actual question posed by Paul (Rom 9:6). That’s the programmatic question which, according to Paul, he’s addressing.

And nowhere in the remainder of Holding’s essay does he make any effort to show that Paul was addressing these other questions.

Indeed, when Holding calls them “potential” questions, this is a tacit admission that he cannot, in fact, exegete these questions from the text of Romans.

So what he’s done, instead, is to interpolate a couple of made-up questions in order to water down the predestinarian force of Rom 9.

BTW, it’s pretty silly to claim that the Jews were still in power. Judea was a client state of Rome. The reason the Jews fought two disastrous wars with Rome was to cast off the yoke of Roman oppression and regain their national autonomy.

4.On the hardening of Pharaoh, he makes to basic mistakes:

i) He fails to see the programmatic function of Exod 4:21 & 7:3. The subsequent references are understood to be in fulfillment of God’s prediction and purpose. God is the ulterior and ultimate agent.

ii) He also fails to see the function of the plagues, which are staged to unfold as a unit. If Pharaoh had the libertarian freedom to relent at any point in the process, that would break the cycle. But breaking the cycle would destroy the purpose of the plagues in the first place.

God could have delivered the Israelites without such an elaborate process. The point of the plagues is polemical, to systematically publicly discredit Egyptian religion:

6.Holding also says, “there is no indication that Paul thinks that Pharaoh's hardening was permanent or irreversible.”

But even if that were true, it’s irrelevant. For it’s temporary or reversible condition wouldn’t depend on the object of hardening (Pharaoh), but the subject of hardening (God).

8.In relation to 9:15, he absurdly redefines divine mercy as “the debt of interpersonal obligations …paying of one's debt…to pay back previously earned favor!”

But other issues aside, this utterly fails to explain why God would pay off some debts, but not others. For if God is obligated to pay up, then he cannot discriminate.

Yet the point of 9:15 is that God has mercy on some, but not on others.

9.He cites 2 Thes 2:10f. in support of his libertarian take on hardening. But that hardly follows. Divine hardening does not assume that its objects were free (in the libertarian sense) before they were hardened. Rather, they were already sinners, and the purpose of hardening is to exacerbate and compound the consequences of their sin in order to expose the true character of sin.

10.On v22, he disregards the arguments of Käsemann, Moo, Piper, and Schreiner (in his commentary) that “fitted” or “prepared” is a divine passive construction. The divine passive is a stock convention of Scripture.

11.Finally, Holding recycles a number of arguments that I’ve dealt with extensively in the past. So I needn’t repeat myself here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Making a 2nd Amendment Issue Out of a 6th Commandment Problem

In the wake of the latest campus shooting, the topic has already been hijacked by 2nd Amendment concerns. I first noticed this myself reading some of the British news articles about the response, but this morning I’ve read it in several US papers (as well as their on-line comment features).

It is tempting to offer a response to some of the arguments against the 2nd Amendment (I am, after all, a supporter of the right to bear arms), but it strikes me as the “easy” argument to get into to avoid the actual “tough” issue.

Perhaps the most striking point about the tragedy was what I saw yesterday as I walked past the local courthouse. What I saw there was the usual scene. Nothing had changed at all. The flags weren’t even at half-staff.

This, I think, illustrates more than anything else how complacent we’ve gotten toward mass shootings in general. These things no longer shock us like they used to. And when you look at some of the many school shootings over the past decade, their sheer quantity tells you that there is something wrong here.

Even a simple examination of the way the media reacts tells us a lot. Consider the reaction that Herbert Morrison had when he witnessed the Hindenburg explode and cried out emotionally, “Oh, the humanity!” Today, that’s a punch line. Compare Morrison to the reporters who search for survivors before the bodies are even moved and, in almost salivating tones, ask such “journalistic” questions as: “How do you feel?”

Again, there is something seriously wrong here.

The problem with the shooting at Virginia Tech isn’t a problem about the 2nd Amendment. It’s a problem stemming from the 6th Commandment: “You shall not murder.” If Cho Seung-Hui had followed this commandment, he could have had a thousand guns and no one would have any reason to fear him; the fact that he would not follow this commandment means he was dangerous even without a single gun.

Our culture has, in many ways, become a culture of “death.” We have taken away human dignity by removing morality from every facet of our lives. It is easy to divert the issue to the questions of gun control, because that allows us to ignore the deeper issue: the heart issue. What are we doing to make murder unthinkable in the first place? Because until people embrace the 6th Commandment, we will continue to have these problems even if the 2nd Amendment is repealed.

Some may question why apologetics is necessary. Had someone shown the moral necessity of following the 6th Commandment instead of, say, teaching that morals are simply contrived beliefs held by a group of social individuals, it may well be that the shooting would never have occurred in the first place.

Coulda, woulda, Buddha

"Death with Life contended: combat strangely ended! Life’s own champion, slain, yet lives to reign".
It's important to first note that this above quote is taken from a roughly 500 year old (if not older) Easter sequence regarding the crucifixion of Christ for the sins of his people called the Victimae Paschali Laudes. It is referring to Christ's death on the cross and points to his resurrection.
Buddhism teaches the exact same concept
Unless you're somehow suggesting that Christ's death and resurrection is central to Buddhism, you're far astray here.

And if you are suggesting this, or something similar, then what distinguishes Buddhism from Christianity in your mind?
good action in life means that death is not the struggle we believe it to be, that beyond death there is more.
Nowhere in the quote you cite is there a suggestion that living a good life implies less struggle in death. Let alone that there is anything more beyond death. Rather this is good evidence of your reading into the quote rather than allowing the quote to speak for itself.
Even the concept of hell is similar really, in Buddhism you go around in circles if you do not improve yourself, you are destined to come back again and again until you realise your existence and learn mindfulness.
Except that this is contrary to traditional Buddhism as well as traditional Christianity. For one, according to Christianity hell is interminable. But according to your own reapplication of the term to fit Buddhism, hell is going around in circles until you get it right, so to speak. In Christianity, there are no second chances whereas, in your reapplication of the term to fit Buddhism, there are. This is just the most obvious point.
If you attain that, then you achieve enlightenment forever, and do not return.
Common to all Buddhists is the belief that suffering is caused by desire, and enlightenment is the extinction of desire. According to Christianity, however, heaven is not the same as enlightenment. Heaven is not the extinction of desire, either in this or the next life.

And Christianity has no problem with certain desires and passions in this life.

What's more, Christians are not saved by self-enlightenment or some other gnostic means. Christians do not enter heaven by any merit or by anything at all in or of themselves, but solely by the grace of God in Christ Jesus.

Nor is heaven some sort of transcendental state of bliss. Although it's true being in heaven will make one joyous, heaven itself is not equivalent to joy and bliss. Heaven includes joy and bliss, but it is not defined as joy and bliss.
Lack of good practice in Christianity means you are denied entry to 'eternal life' - which is the same thing in my mind.
Actually, sin is what causes someone to end up in hell, separated from God, and in eternal punishment and torment. That would include but is not limited to "lack of good practice."
Does this mean I believe in God, rebirth, and enlightenment? Should I counter that there is no proof of any of the above?
How do you define terms such as "God" and "proof"?
Should I point out that there was no proof of gravity a thousand years ago, but that we could feel it anyway?
By chance are you suggesting that you're an empiricist?
What I do know is that people actions over thousands of years have continuously been greater than themselves, that we can learn so many good lessons from them.
Sure, we can learn good lessons from people. But we can also learn bad lessons from people.

Why do you suppose people's accumulated actions over a long period of time are (morally?) greater (or worse) than the people themselves? Especially when they've resulted in things such as pogroms, the Holocaust, Killing Fields, and the like?
And really, God can be anything you like. It can be the universe, it can be the sum of mans actions since their existence, it can be a chocolate pudding that makes you happy,
If God can be anything I like, then can God be me? I am God! Is that what you're saying? If so, what a self-centered way of looking at God, wouldn't you agree?

But your definition of God is meaningless at best. If I can define God however I like, then what's the use of definitions for God? And if there's no use using definitions for God, then why listen to what you have to say about God in the first place?
hell, it can mean non-existence if you like.
Or, if I like, can it mean separation from God and all that is good? Or how about eternal punishment in a burning lake of fire? Or how about a deathless death, forever and ever, due to your sins? Or how about the place where the souls of the wicked are cast, and remain in tormet and utter darkness, reserved for judgment on the day of judgment (per the WCF and LBCF)?
No church in my mind has defined God in any real terms,
For starters, I'd suggest attending an actual church rather than having church in your mind. Who knows? You may begin to learn a thing or two about God.

In the meantime, this definition from the LBCF should more than suffice:
The Lord our God is but one only living and true God; whose subsistence is in and of himself, infinite in being and perfection; whose essence cannot be comprehended by any but himself; a most pure spirit, invisible, without body, parts, or passions, who only hath immortality, dwelling in the light which no man can approach unto; who is immutable, immense, eternal, incomprehensible, almighty, every way infinite, most holy, most wise, most free, most absolute; working all things according to the counsel of his own immutable and most righteous will for his own glory; most loving, gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin; the rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and withal most just and terrible in his judgments, hating all sin, and who will by no means clear the guilty.
other than he's referred to as a guy, and depending on you speak to, is either kind or loving, or totally vengeful. It's up to us to decide I suppose.
Let's assume there is a God. If there is a God, then is it really "up to us to decide" who or what he is? Wouldn't it rather be up to God to decide who or what God is?

Otherwise, if God does not exist, then does it really matter what definitions we might concoct for ourselves, however appealing to us these definitions might be?
"God" makes people do much good, and so much bad. And if all of this is in the name of God, then the meaning of that word truly does belong to us.
Does "God" make people do "much good" and "much bad"? Is that a fact? If the Son of Sam murders a victim, is it the Son of Sam that murders the victim or is it God making the Son of Sam murder a victim? If you help a little old lady across the street, are you helping a little old lady across the street or is it God making you help a little old lady across the street?

Also, for example, are things such as persuasion or influence the same as, say, compulsion?
So am I Catholic? Buddhist? Both? (You can be both).
How so? Please spell it out for us.

And according to whom? According to you? Or according to, say, the Pope or the Magisterium?
Do I need to define myself, if even God can't be?
At this point, it'd be a pleasant surprise if you could define anything at all.
These definitions of our religious leanings only exist to make other people feel comfortable (or uncomfortable). I'm happy with no definition, although I get really pissed off when people call me atheist or agnostic because I'm neither, those words were made up by people to create definable religions where there were none.
Definitions might also exist so that we can communicate with one another. And to distinguish truth from falsehood.

Then again, maybe you're right, why bother with passé things like definitions, communication, and truth and falsehood if it makes people uncomfortable?

Monday, April 16, 2007

In search of the true church

“The appeal to the Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) as paradigmatic for church decision-making procedure is frequently made by those emphasizing the importance of the hierarchy in the process of defining the faith…seemingly a perfect example.”

“On closer examination, the example is problematical. Did the hierarchy really make the decision? First, Peter makes a speech and in it takes responsibility for the Gentile mission; but then James, the brother of the Lord, speaks and states, ‘I have reached a decision…’ Next, we find that ‘the apostles and the elders with the consent of the whole church decided…’ (v22); and again, when we read Paul’s account of what is ostensibly the same council (Gal 2:1-10), he states that he is the leader of the Gentile mission and the meeting in Jerusalem added nothing to his message or method.”

“Finally, the Council was not really about orthodoxy at all, but about orthopraxy: The decision did not involve theology (q.v.) or the content of the faith, but only whether circumcision and certain types of abstinence would be practiced,” M. Prokurat et al. Historical Dictionary of the Orthodox Church (Scarecrow Press 1996), 49-50.

“The appeal to ecumenical conciliarity (sobornost, in Russian) and the emperor are frequently taken as normative for the Eastern Church’s self-expression. Certainly the Seven Ecumenical Councils (q.v.) have unique authority in the East, and the emperor was looked upon as blessed by God to enforce secular, if not religious, justice.”

“The problem with the councils and the emperor, briefly put, is that terrible difficulties in the conciliar period began immediately with Constantine the Great (q.v.). Councils were convened that attributed ‘ecumenical authority’ to themselves, but which were subsequently judiciously overturned.”

Similarly, the emperor soon showed himself capable of being as much a hindrance to the faith as a help. Heretical laws were passed and enforced. The state inferred in the Church and itself created new martyrs (q.v.)—most recently with Soviet sovereignty.”

One of the worst conciliar debacles occurred with the Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438-1439) wherein all the sitting hierarchs except Mark of Ephesus (q.v.) capitulated to Rome; and on returning to their dioceses they met any angry reception—and most swiftly recanted in order to hold their sees,” ibid. 50.

“The appeal to Holy Tradition (q.v.) (including Scripture and/or the Councils [qq.v.]) is recognized as of ultimate authority…The primary hurdle in appealing to Holy Tradition as an authority lies in the selection of appropriate sources, applicable to a given situation.

“Similarly, precedent is difficult to establish quickly, since the selection of sources itself is a matter of interpretation, and the question raised might not have been asked previously.”

“Everyone agrees that Holy Tradition is authoritative, but which beliefs and practices truly manifest Holy Tradition is open to a variety of interpretation,” ibid. 50-51.

“Various appeals to the authority of ancient patriarchates, especially Rome and Constantinople (qq.v.), have been made throughout history. During the later Ecumenical Councils (q.v.) the Roman Church had a remarkable record of protecting orthodoxy from heresy (q.v.), less so Constantinople.”

“Unfortunately, dominant heresies occurred in each of these centers; so, one finds Hippolytus’s papal adversaries and Honorius I in Rome, and Theodore of Mopsuestia and Cyril of Lukaris (qq.v.) in Constantinople, as notable, fallible examples,” ibid. 51.

“Holy Tradition (with a capital ‘T’) is to be distinguished from tradition (with a lower case ‘t’) or custom…The distinction is firm in theory, although its precise application in practice is often thorny,” ibid. 323.

Objective morality

I was wondering if you could respond to some material critiquing objective morality and affirming moral relativism. I guess
you are a moral absolutist, so I would be interested in hearing your reply to these:



"A primary criticism of moral objectivism regards how we come to know what the 'objective' morals actually are…”



"A primary criticism of moral objectivism regards how we come to know what the
'objective' morals actually are. In science one can perform objective
empirical tests of claims, but there are no such objective tests for moral
claims. At best one can point to a widely accepted authority. But if this
authority has no objective way of obtaining moral truths itself, then our
knowledge through that authority is still corrupted by subjectivity. In
addition the authorities quoted as sources of objective morality are all
subject to human interpretation, and multiple views abound on them. If morals
are to be truly objective, they would have to have a universally unquestioned
source, interpretation and authority. Therefore, so critics say, there is no
conceivable source of such morals, and none can be called 'objective'. They
claim that even if there are objective morals, there will never be universal
agreement on just what those morals are, making them by definition unknowable."

1. Among other things, this assumes a particular epistemology which the writer needs to defend rather than take for granted. For example, a mathematician doesn't operate with an empirical criterion, for mathematical entities are abstract objects.

2. Scientific claims are also subject to human interpretation.

3. The writer is conflating ontological objectivity with epistemic objectivity. Even if moral norms or absolutes are subjectively intuited and/or acquired, this doesn't mean there are no objective moral norms at the metaphysical level.

4. Apropos (3), it hardly follows that if "If morals are to be truly objective, they would have to have a universally unquestioned
source, interpretation and authority."

i) To begin with, that would invalidate his scientific standard of comparison, for he would have to say that if scientific evidence is truly objective, then it must have a universally unquestioned source, interpretation and authority. But no such scientific consensus exists.

ii) He also confuses knowing right with doing right. But it's quite possible for someone to knowingly do wrong. Indeed, that happens all the time.

Someone may do the wrong thing simply because he wants to do it. It benefits him. Selfish, instant gratification.

5. He ignores Christian ethics. In Christian ethics, God is sovereign over our subjective life as well as our objective life.

The fact that we appropriate many things at a subjective level does not, of itself, rule out objective norms—even at the epistemic level. Not if you factor divine providence into the equation. God is responsible for our social conditioning. Our character traits. Our subconscious and conscious mental states, &c.

Conversely, it may be God's will that some men lead immoral lives. That would not invalidate objective moral norms. Such men continue to violate the law of God, but they do so because they serve as an object lesson.

"Objective denotes something which exists regardless of whether there are beings who perceive it or not."

That's fine as far as it goes.

"The word objective only makes sense when it is used for those things which affect reality...Thus an objective morality would be a morality which exists regardless of the existence of beings able to perceive it, and it would also leave its marks in reality. An objective morality, thus, would be empirically detectable."

This is highly debatable.

i) For example, there are metaphysicians who believe in abstract objects or abstract universals which subsist outside of space and time.

And some of these are unexemplified universals, like counterfactuals grounded in possible worlds.

ii) Or, let's take the relation between the past and the future. Both are objective, but the past affects the future whereas the future does not affect the past.

If I have a grandson, I have an affect on my grandson. If I didn't exist, he wouldn't exist. But it doesn't follow that if he didn't exist, I wouldn't exist.

Moreover, he could be born after I die. So he has no affect on me.

His misdefinition of objectivity will undermine much of his subsequent argumentation. So I don't need to directly comment on everything that follows from his misdefinition.

"Since it is quite impossible to know whether it is right or wrong to kill six million Jews, there is no foundation for the statement that it is true that it is right to kill Jews. We could not verify it empirically. If we could, it would be a task for science to find out what is right and wrong, but since we can't it is not a matter of fact, but of opinion."

He's assuming, without benefit of argument, that sense knowledge (empiricism) is the only form of knowledge.

What about intuition? What about revelation?

He may reject these sources of knowledge, but where's the argument?

"The obvious conclusion of this essay is that we must take personal responsibility for what we allow to be the motives of our actions."

But he calls himself a moral nihilist. He denies objective morality.

So how is a moral nihilist in any position to obviously conclude that we must take personality for our motives and actions?

Zorathruster claims to have a 20-point critique objective morality. Actually, there's a lot of redundancy in what he says. Variations on a few basic arguments.

I guess he thought it would be more impressive to come up with 20 objections rather than boil them down to five, give or take.

"Necessarily any moral code or ethic that could be called objective would need to be transmitted or presented through a medium that would eliminate the influence of humans to maintain a level of objectivity."

How is that necessarily so? Where's the supporting argument?

1. He confuses ontological and epistemic levels of objectivity. Something could be ontologically objective whether or not we're aware of it.

2. If the elimination of human influence is necessary to maintain objectivity, then he must deny, not merely objective morality, but objective knowledge. All fields of knowledge would be undercut by his criterion.

Yet he seems to speak with a dogmatic degree of confidence about what is knowable or unknowable.

"All other forms of life adhere to the natural selection and survival of the fittest."

This assumes the truth of naturalistic evolution. But evolutionary theory is subject to human influence. It's a human mental construct. So, by his own criterion, it cannot count as objectively knowable.

"Therefore: Since no morality has been observed to emanate from any intelligent source other than a human mind, it is so far impossible to determine if an objective morality exists because we have no other testable examples of an intelligent mind."

i) A non-sequitur. To insist on a comparative frame of reference courts a regressive fallacy. If we can't know A unless we compare A with B, then we can't know B unless we compare B with C, &c.

ii) From a Christian standpoint, objective morality emanates from the exemplary mind of God.

"If there is no other way to determine moral behavior than that which is desired to be done by a God, he must exclusively communicate to the individual to prevent any subjective process from coming to bear on the communication."

How does that follow? God doesn't need to *prevent* subjective processing. He only needs to *control* subjective processing. Indeed, he can make use of subjective processing as a medium of communication as long has he controls the outcome.

From a Christian standpoint, God is responsible for all the variables, whether external or internal.

"Ex. David Koresh claimed to speak for God? The majority of citizens claim the opposite, David Koresh does not speak for God, yet there is really no way for them to determine the communication veracity."

Two problems:

i) There are Biblical criteria to distinguish between true and false prophets.

ii) Koresh didn't merely claim to be divinely inspired. He also appealed to various books of the Bible to substantiate his claims. So that supplies an external check on his claims.

"Therefore: Since it cannot be differentiated at what level psychotic immoral behavior and moral behavior in accordance with the directives of a God can be differentiated, all immoral behavior which is not self reported as otherwise (confession) becomes morally acceptable when judged by an observer assuming an objective morality exists."

Is this an internal critique or external critique? Since Zorathruster denies objective morality, he denies that there is such a thing as psychotic immoral behavior.

So this is, at best, an internal critique. But for reasons I've just given, it's flawed.

"The proposed existence of a universal moral law implies that an action which is immoral in one situation must be immoral in all situations?"

No, that's simplistic. There are moral priorities. When a higher obligation conflicts with a lower obligation, the higher obligation suspends the lower obligation.

It is ordinarily illicit to lie or kill, but there are circumstances in which it is licit to lie or kill. For some obligations are a means to an end rather than an end in themselves.

Telling the truth is ordinarily obligatory, but if telling the truth puts the innocent at risk, then it ceases to be obligatory since telling the truth is not a value in itself, but valuable only insofar as it facilitates other values.

"We can answer this by looking at another 'universal law', the law of gravity."

A category mistake since moral norms are disanalogous to natural laws.

"Deanna Laney of Tyler TX who killed her children is a special case of moral behavior in concert with an objective morality where God told her to kill her children. We cannot discern whether God did tell Deanna Laney to actually kill her children or not."

We can judge her actions by the revelation of the moral law. Private revelation (assuming there is such) will not contradict public revelation.

"The inability to differentiate a characteristic that distinguishes moral from immoral behavior prevents the determination of morality using the proposed objective morality criteria."

Revealed morality is a differential factor.

"To over punish an individual for a specific infraction is not morally appropriate."

According to whom? Zorathruster or his Christian opponent? Is this an internal or external critique?

"Punishment should be correct, adequate, proportional and appropriate all of which can be discerned by a proposed omnipotent being. Since humans have no idea what the real underlying moral basis for or against an action is, it is inappropriate for humans to interfere with the punishment process. If an objective criterion exists of which humans have no insight, decisions about crime and punishment are made in an arena of ignorance and therefore should not be made at all. All appropriate and adequate punishment will be administered upon arrival at divine judgment."

Not if God has commanded us to exact justice on the basis of a revealed law code.

"Andrea Yates killed her children to save them from eternal damnation. This appears to be a compassionate act from a theistic perspective...We should not punish Ms Yates because we do not know whether she was acting compassionately in accordance with an objective morality, criminally or psychotically. That determination will be made by God who supposedly knows the objective moral criteria."

Not from a Christian perspective. Her action was in flagrant violation of the Biblical duty of parents to children. God has revealed the objective moral criteria.

Motives alone are an insufficient condition for moral justification.


(1) Any act that God commits, causes, commands, or condones is morally permissible.
(2) The Bible reveals to us many of the acts that God commits, causes, commands, and condones.
(3) It is morally impermissible for anyone to commit, cause, command, or condone, acts that violate our moral principles.
(4) The Bible tells us that God does in fact commit, cause, command, or condone, acts that violate our moral principles.


This is simplistic:

i) Even at a human level, everyone does not have the same rights and responsibility. Obligations vary depending on whether the relationship involves subordinates, superiors, or peers, viz. parents, children, and friends.

ii) It can be morally permissible to permit what is morally impermissible to facilitate a higher end.

If two rival terrorist organizations (e.g., Sunni v. Shia jihadis) get into a mutual blood bath, it is permissible for me to stand by and let them kill each other—even if I could stop it.

iii) What does he mean by our moral principles? Conventional social mores?

"To deny (3) would be to assert that it is morally permissible to violate our five moral principles. It would be to ally oneself with moral monsters like Genghis Khan, Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot."

Why does Zorathruster classify these men as moral monsters? As a moral nihilist, he forfeits the right to render these value-judgments.

"If a universal or objective morality applies then, as with other universal laws, such as gravity, it applies to all animals, substances and elements, then an objective morality should likewise apply to all creatures. Many creatures exhibit behaviors which contrast to proposed objective morality as understood by humans who proclaim such a thing exists."

This is a silly comparison. A valid code of conduct is adapted to the specific nature of the agent. Animals are amoral.

"Moral values change. It is true that moral values prominent 500 years ago have changed. If it is true that there is an objective morality this would not be the case. A universal or objective morality should be consistent over time. "

A non-sequitur. He seems to assume that to know right is to do right.

Morality can be universally binding whether or not it is universally observed. And the fact that public opinion may change doesn't evidence a change in moral absolutes.

"The Bible affirms slavery as valid. "

This is simplistic:

i) Certain forms of slavery are regulated in the Mosaic code. This doesn't mean that all forms of slavery are sanctioned.

ii) One has to take the ANE socioeconomic conditions into account. What were the viable options back then?

iii) Biblical law does not necessarily represent an ethical ideal. More often, it establishes an ethical floor rather than an ethical ceiling. A minimal, practical code of conduct—adapted to life in a fallen world. It's primary purpose is to proscribe the grosser forms of vice rather than prescribe the ultimate forms of virtue.

Cf. G. Wenham, Story as Torah (Baker 2004), chapter 5.

"Since humans collectively agree today that slavery is immoral, there must have occurred a change in the objective moral criteria."

This equivocates over "slavery." It's also a non-sequitur.

"If objective morality exists in order to be transmitted must avoid mechanisms that might impart subjective influence on those moral truths it cannot follow normal transmission mechanisms of speech, writing or sight. Since there exists no known mechanism for the transference of an objective morality even if it did exist, humans have no way to perceive it outside subjective mechanisms."

He simply overlooks the role of divine providence in Christian ethics. God is the author of means. God can and does orchestrate our external circumstances.

"Since the actual objective criteria cannot be observed those objective moral criteria could either exist or not exist but either way indiscernible."

Consciousness is also indiscernible. We cannot see our own thoughts.

"Since modern moral positions are held on more solid moral basis than Biblical moral positions..."

How is a critic of objective morality in any position to posit this invidious comparison?

"For information to be valid basis for truth, observation of the combined actual object is necessary. Objective morality cannot be observed directly. Therefore: From the perspective of humans, information constituting objective morality is inaccessible. If it exists, it cannot fulfill information requirements and therefore is irrelevant to humans."

i) Does he apply this same criterion to his own private mental states? Moral intuitions are on a par with the privileged access of consciousness generally. They're a special case of the latter.

ii) Public revelation (i.e., Scripture) is observable.

"In order for a communication to occur a message must be formulated, transmitted, received, and understood. The proposed objective morality fails not just 1 but 3 of the necessary qualities to be communicated. Transmission, Reception, and Clarity. Therefore: An objective morality cannot be adequately communicated to human observers."

This is self-refuting when you consider that Zorathruster cites certain Biblical injunctions for purposes of criticism. But he couldn't illustrate his claims by reference to Scripture unless it met his three conditions.

"What are the criteria in accordance with Popper’s falsification criteria which if shown to be true would invalidate the proposed objective morality?"

He gives no reason for why we should apply Popper's metascientific falsification criteria to moral norms.

"Objective morality does not exist except as circular arguments, which have no basis for truth."

Circularity isn't inherently vicious. If, say, there is no alternative to certain truth-conditions, then it isn't viciously circular to invoke these truth-conditions. The fact that we can't do without them is indirect confirmation of their necessity.

"It is possible that an omnipotent being could ensure all persons know the objective moral criteria."

He does.

"Not all humans understand the proposed objective moral criteria."

They suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom 1:18; cf. Jn 3:19-21).

Indeed, the denial of moral absolutes is a paradigm-case in point.

"What would be the basis of a proposed objective morality? Is it proper because God says it is proper? Which would mean God could arbitrarily assign moral or immoral status to any particular act. To discern the actual moral code would be impossible using ambiguous criteria therefore unusable. Or could it be that God recognizes particular acts as moral and abiding by a higher moral truth, the proposed objective morality. If morality exists separate from God then he like us are searchers trying to discern the appropriate moral choices. God is not necessary for moral behavior. A theist is hard pressed to form an argument that allows an objective morality."

The Euthyphro dilemma. But it's an artificial dilemma. Among other things, it disregards the relation between creation and command.

The moral law is adapted to our natural constitution. To the way in which God has designed us. So there is nothing arbitrary, here.

To take one example, that's why Scripture condemns sodomy. For it defies the very purpose of sexual differentiation and complementarity.

"Is incest immoral because God dislikes or disapproves of incest, or is incest immoral in and of it’s self? Biblical points occasionally condone incest as appropriate. Does that mean it is arbitrary and 'subjective'?"

This is simplistic.

i) We need to distinguish between parental incest and sibling incest. The former is intrinsically evil, the latter is not.

ii) Some things can be right in some situations, and wrong in others. Remember my examples about lying and killing.

But that isn't the same thing as moral relativism. For it doesn't mean the same thing can be licit or illicit in the very same situation.

iii) Also remember what I said about the limitations of Biblical law: it establishes an ethical floor, not an ethical ceiling.

"One might assume killing innocents is contrary to an objective morality. However, I read about the city of Ai in the book of Joshua. Every man woman and child were killed and the city as well as the surrounding farm lands were utterly destroyed. Someone who thinks God disapproves of killing innocents would find it difficult to harmonize the story of Ai or the Midionites with an objective moral criteria that opposes killing innocents."

This is simplistic:

i) There are degrees of innocence. Due to actual and/or original sin, no human being is completely innocent.

ii) God ordinarily withholds immediate retribution—otherwise, the human race would be extinct. But God reserves the right to punish sinners.

iii) Not every divine historical judgment is a judgment on the personal sin of the causality. Actual and/or original sin renders one generally liable to suffering, illness, and death, without there having to be a one-to-one correspondence between sin and judgment.

iv) There are situations in which it is morally licit to kill the innocent. This isn't punitive.

For example, when the Titanic hit the iceberg, there were not enough lifeboats for all the passengers. In the tradition of Christian chivalry, priority was given to the women and children.

This meant killing the male passengers. And, in a sense, they didn't deserve to die. Yet it was the right thing to do under the circumstances.

"Because morals are relative, they depend on circumstance. If you are unwilling to believe that the circumstance changes morals, then you will be unprepared to do what's right under changing condition."

This is confused thinking. Circumstances don't change morals. Rather, certain actions are appropriate to certain circumstances. They are always appropriate under those circumstances, and inappropriate under contrary circumstances.

Same situation, same duty. Different situation, different duty—if the situation is sufficiently disanalogous.

Public Service Announcement

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Meredith Kline

Dr. Meredith G. Kline passed away on Friday night, April 13, 2007. He was a great scholar and theologian. He taught seminary students for over 50 years and also is responsible for some very original work. Though many may disagree with some of the points of his theology, we should all agree that he will go down into the books as one of the great/influential reformed theologians. The Church militant lost a great warrior, the Church triumphant received a great sinner who trusted and rested in Christ alone.

You can go here to read many Kline articles.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

The Unity Of The One True Church

Life for the Christian used to be so much simpler. Everybody was Eastern Orthodox (except for the people who weren't). There were no significant disagreements, like when one Baptist denomination celebrates communion less often than another Baptist denomination. If we were living 1500 years ago, everybody would be like Orthodox. Take Epiphanius, the bishop of Salamis, for example:

"Moreover, I have heard that certain persons have this grievance against me: When I accompanied you to the holy place called Bethel, there to join you in celebrating the Collect, after the use of the Church, I came to a villa called Anablatha and, as I was passing, saw a lamp burning there. Asking what place it was, and learning it to be a church, I went in to pray, and found there a curtain hanging on the doors of the said church, dyed and embroidered. It bore an image either of Christ or of one of the saints; I do not rightly remember whose the image was. Seeing this, and being loth that an image of a man should be hung up in Christ's church contrary to the teaching of the Scriptures, I tore it asunder and advised the custodians of the place to use it as a winding sheet for some poor person. They, however, murmured, and said that if I made up my mind to tear it, it was only fair that I should give them another curtain in its place. As soon as I heard this, I promised that I would give one, and said that I would send it at once. Since then there has been some little delay, due to the fact that I have been seeking a curtain of the best quality to give to them instead of the former one, and thought it right to send to Cyprus for one. I have now sent the best that I could find, and I beg that you will order the presbyter of the place to take the curtain which I have sent from the hands of the Reader, and that you will afterwards give directions that curtains of the other sort--opposed as they are to our religion--shall not be hung up in any church of Christ. A man of your uprightness should be careful to remove an occasion of offence unworthy alike of the Church of Christ and of those Christians who are committed to your charge." (Jerome's Letter 51:9)