Saturday, November 03, 2007

Words Have Meaning

I just read this article about a family who tried to abort a "weaker" twin who refused to die. Now I could go on about certain aspects of that, but what I want to focus on here is this stupid statement by the mother:

It really is a miracle. Doctors carried out an operation to let Gabriel die - yet he hung on.
Did you catch that? "Doctors carried out an operation to let Gabriel die" let him die????

I suppose if I ever kill someone I can stand before the judge and say, "Your honor, I simply pulled the trigger/cut the throat/poisoned the food of the victim to let the victim die. I didn't actually do anything. It was all passive."

This statement by Mrs. Jones is nothing but a rationalization of abortion by making it seem passive instead of admitting it is the active killing of the unborn. We see the same exact terminology used in euthenasia cases too. "We'll pull the feeding tube and let the patient die. It's what they would have wanted."

All this begs the point that anyone who deprives another person of food will CAUSE that person die. Anyone who engages in activities that will cause the death of another human being is not "letting" death occur, it is causing death to occur.

Words have meaning. The fact that this woman felt pricked in her conscious enough for her to twist her words from an active killing to a passive allowing of a death demonstrates that she knows in her heart that what the doctors were doing was wrong. If the doctor's decision is not morally suspect, there is no reason to pretend that what the doctors do is to permit a death instead of causing the death.

Honor your parents and love your enemies

Matthew 5:38-48

An Eye for an Eye

38"You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

43"You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' 44But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 15:1-6

Clean and Unclean

1Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2"Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!"

3Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? 4For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' 5But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' 6he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.


Many Christians interpret the Sermon on the Mount the same way the Amish do. Mind you, I notice that most of them don’t live the same way the Amish do. Somehow they manage to combine Amish theology with a middleclass lifestyle. But I’ll pass on that for now.

There are two fundamental flaws in this approach to the text:

1.It misconstrues the nature of human communication. The fact that a speaker doesn’t introduce a lot of caveats into everything he says doesn’t mean that he expects you to take everything he says without qualification.

Speakers generally say less than they mean. Because they usually become to the same culture as their audience, they share an unspoken level of common understanding. So they take certain things for granted.

The Sermon on the Mount does not exhaust Jesus’ teaching on social ethics. Moreover, he was addressing a Jewish audience. An audience steeped in OT law and rabbinical tradition. That’s an operating assumption which he brings to this discourse. His audience is expected to understand these OT allusions and rabbinical allusions. He doesn’t need to explain everything to them. He can leave many things unstated. Their cultural preunderstanding is the springboard for his correctives.

BTW, Jason has also made some judicious observations about the nature of human communication in the combox:

2.Let’s compare the first Matthean text with the second Matthean text. In the first, he is talking about our duty to our enemies—and in the second, our duty to our parents.

Notice, in the second text, that he introduces the theme of higher obligations. It was a Jewish duty to support the religious establishment. But it was also a Jewish duty to support your parents. And your duty to your parents was a higher duty. In case of conflict, the higher duty suspends the lower. Caring for your parents takes precedence over subsidizing the religious establishment.

Here’s another example:

Matthew 10:34-37

34"Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to turn
" 'a man against his father,
a daughter against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law –
36a man's enemies will be the members of his own household.'
37"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.


Here our obligation to God is higher than our obligation to our own family, and—in case of conflict—the higher duty overrides the lower.

Notice, too, that in this text, our family members are our enemies. Yet loving God takes precedence over loving our enemies in this particular situation.

In Scripture, our social obligations are stratified. Our obligation to God is our only unconditional obligation. All other duties are conditional duties—with degrees of obligation.

The duty to love our enemies is a prima facie duty, but not an absolute duty. Suppose a man were to break into your parents’ home and take them hostage. And suppose you have a chance to shoot him. What should you do?

Should you love your enemy? But if, in this situation, you love your enemy, you thereby dishonor your parents.

You have an obligation both to love your enemy and to honor your parents. But not all duties are coequal. And not all duties can be discharged simultaneously.

In this situation, loving your mother and father takes precedence over loving your enemy. In this situation, you can’t do the loving thing for your parents and your enemy alike.

And that’s because your enemy won’t let you. He has created a situation in which you must choose. And the moral imperative is clear.

To some extent, differing circumstances differentiate our duties. All other things being equal, you should love your enemy; but all things considered, there are situations in which loving your enemy takes a backseat to loving someone else by protecting the victim from the assailant.

Friday, November 02, 2007

"Moral equivalence"

My post on waterboarding elicited a predictable response. However, many of the objections were purely impressionistic. And that, too, was predictable.

It’s hard to respond when critics don’t give you an argument to respond to. And it’s not my job to make their argument for them.

However, I think it may be a useful exercise to try, if possible, to articulate their inarticulate reaction. For their basic problem seems to be an inadequate moral toolkit to evaluate the morality of a given position. Put another way, they appear to have only one tool in their toolbox.

From what I can tell, their objection goes something like this:

If we use the same methods as the enemy, then we’re as bad as the enemy.

Or, alternatively: we’re guilty of a double standard when we do the same thing.

Or, alternatively, unless we treat everyone the same way, we’re guilty of relativism.

Or, alternatively, would you like someone to do that to you?

If we try to turn this into an argument, I suppose it would go something like this:

We should treat everyone equally.

The common denominator is that critics like this judge all moral issues by a single criterion. Therefore, if you and I don’t judge every moral issue by a single criterion, they think you and I are being inconsistent. But, of course, we’re only being inconsistent with their simplistic approach to moral deliberation. It hardly follows that we are being inconsistent with our own principles.

And the problem when you get into a conversation with folks like this is that they can only keep one idea in their nogging at the time, since, for them, it’s all about applying a single rule in every single case.

For some reason, it doesn’t occur to them that there is more than one morally relevant consideration in evaluating the morality of a particular position or course of action. Let’s take a few examples:

Should we discriminate between blacks and whites? I suppose most folks would answer in the negative. We should treat blacks and whites equally.

But suppose a rape victim says that she was raped by a white man in his mid-twenties. As the police search for a suspect, who should they be looking for? Should they be looking for black men and Chinamen and Grandmothers and fourth-graders? Or should they look for a suspect who fits the description?

Shouldn’t they begin to narrow their search parameters to white male twenty-somethings?

What if someone screams: “racial profiling”? Well, yes, it is racial profiling. The police are looking for a white suspect. So what?

Let’s take another example. A woman is mugged at knifepoint. Does she have a right to buy a handgun to defend herself in case she’s accosted again?

But doesn’t that mean she’s stooping to the level of the mugger? He uses force, so she responds with even more force.

But why shouldn’t she respond in kind? Indeed, up the ante by arming herself with a superior weapon?

Let’s take another example. Suppose a hostile government is spying on US installations. Don’t we have a right to spy on them in return? Or is someone going to say that when we respond to espionage with counterespionage, we’re guilty of the same thing?

Let’s take another example. A hostile government has missiles pointed at the US mainland. Should we respond by pointing missiles at their direction as a deterrent? Or should we unilaterally disarm on the grounds that we mustn't fight fire with fire?

Likewise, if they attack, should we refrain from launching a counterstrike on the grounds of moral equivalence?

Reasonable people should be able to see from these counterexamples that there’s something fundamentally flawed with the idea of judging all actions by only one criterion.

At a minimum, the criterion needs to be qualified:

We should treat everyone equally all other things being equal. But if things are unequal, then we should sometimes be inequitable.

In this reformulation, you have to keep two ideas in your head at once.

I’m reminded of folks who think it’s clever to point out that American foreign policy used to support Saddam Hussein and the Mujahidin. Then they gleefully pounce on the inconsistency in our foreign policy.

But all this shows me is their incapacity for forming moral judgments. They seriously imagine that moral consistency means always doing the same thing regardless of the circumstances, so that if you ever threw your support behind someone, then you’re committing to backing him forever.

But what this overlooks is why you supported him in the first place. The basic principle of a military alliance is that you support those who support you and oppose those who oppose you. If supporters become opponents, or opponents become supporters, you change sides.

There’s nothing the least bit inconsistent about that. But that does require the ability to actually keep two ideas in mind instead of one. And if you can’t think about more than one thing at a time, it will seem inconsistent.

Ordinarily, a woman doesn’t have a right to shoot a man. But she does have a right to shoot a mugger or a rapist. She doesn’t treat all men the same way, because not all men are the same. Some men are relevantly dissimilar. A mugger or rapist is not morally equivalent to a loving father or a caring husband.

Let’s go back to the case of waterboarding. Should we either waterboard everyone or no one? But that’s simpleminded.

We wouldn’t waterboard a high-value terrorist who volunteers what he knows. And we wouldn’t waterboard just anyone we pull of the street. We’re after information, remember. A particular kind of information. It’s only applicable to a particular kind of informant.

You wouldn’t waterboard Fanny Crosby. She’s not a terrorist. She doesn’t know about impending plots to attack the United States and kill innocent civilians for no good reason.

If policemen use guns, and gangsters use guns, does that make the police the moral equivalent of the mob? No, because there’s more to ethical valuation than similar methods and techniques. What you intend to do and why does make a morally significant difference. Using a gun to murder someone, and using a gun to defend yourself against a murderer are not morally equivalent.

Both a surgeon and a carjacker use a knife, but heart surgery and carjacking are not morally equivalent.

Likewise, people can forfeit certain rights. Ordinarily, you don’t have a right to kill me. But if I attack you without provocation, with life-threatening force, then I forfeit my own claim on life.

This should all be so obvious that it ought to be unnecessary to spell it out. Why do some people ignore the obvious?

Because they don’t want to make a minimal intellectual effort. It’s so much easier to have one rule of thumb for anything and everything, anyone and everyone. You can mechanically apply your wooden rule regardless of motives or circumstances or consequences.

But there’s nothing moral about that. To the contrary, this represents the abdication of moral discrimination. Rubberstamping the answer to every ethical question with the same self-inking stamp is immoral and amoral.

Friday Night Lights & Sunday lite-piety

Conservative Christian groups routinely criticize the way in which television routinely mocks the Christian faith. But one TV drama that’s attracted a degree of favorable Christian attention is Friday Night Lights. And it’s instructive to see what happens when a TV producer attempts a respectful rather than hostile depiction of Christianity.

Before I highlight three focal points, I’ll make a few general comments. I think Friday Night Lights appeals to some Christian viewers, not just for its public prayers and church services, but also for its blue color ethos. This is in stark contrast to the airbrushed surfer dudes and valley girls that frequent so many TV shows. We’re deep in the heart of flyover country, here—far from Upper Manhattan or the Left Coast.

American culture has a deeply embedded antipathy towards aristocratic affectations. It’s interesting to ask why this is. We root for the underdog. The working class kid. We appreciate self-deprecating humor. I can think of two or three possible reasons:

i) America is a land of immigrants. Limitless upward mobility as opposed to hereditary nobility.

ii) During the Revolutionary War, we ousted the Royalists and disestablished the Church of England.

iii) But I also wonder if Protestant theology doesn’t underwrite some of this. The priesthood of believers. The repudiation of a spiritual meritocracy, a la Rome. Spiritual pride has no place in Protestant theology, and that spills over into other areas of life.

The idea of a small-town football team that can win a state championship also enjoys the enduring appeal of the underdog. Indeed, this has become something of a cliché in movies about competitive sports.

I didn’t grow up in a small Texas town where football is next to godliness, but from what I know about small towns, public high school, and sports, this seems to be very realistic. It’s a fictional version of Two-A-Days.

The TV series is, of course, a spin-off of a popular film. The film, being a film, was more taunt and gritty, whereas the series spends time on character development.

One of the areas in which the show is refreshingly realistic is in its depiction of gender and gender roles. Hollywood has tried to make women’s lib a reality by creating male and female characters that simulate its ideals. This is not about what is, but what ought to be—so there’s no effort to be the least bit accurate.

It isn’t enough to make women equal. Not only must they be able to do whatever a man can do, but do it ten times better. And this includes physical exertion. So we’re treated to a gallery of feminist superheroines masquerading as the girl-next-door.

On the other hand, it’s also necessary to effeminize men. So we’re treated to a gallery of passive, indecisive, and apologetic male characters. None of this bears any resemblance to the boys and girls I went to school with.

By contrast, Friday Night Lights is convincing in its characterizations. You have strong female characters, but they didn’t step out of a Marvel comic book or Gloria Steinem seminar. They’re also allowed to be housewives and mothers.

And the male characters have the aggressiveness and adventurousness of the typical, all-American male. Natural leaders and risk-takers.

Mind you, in real life there are weak men and weak women as well as strong women and strong men. The show also benefits from a fine ensemble cast.

What’s ironic about Friday Night Lives is the even when a TV producer attempts a respectful depiction of Christianity, he exposes his basic ignorance of Christian theology.

Let’s briefly classify and analyze some of the characters.

i) Religious characters.

Among the main characters, the two most overtly Christian characters are Smash and Landry. But, to some extent, this is paper-thin.

Smash delivers eloquent public prayers, but that’s not so much a reflection of his Christian piety as it is his verbal fluency. He’s a natural born orator. He would be equally eloquent no matter what he was hawking.

I’m not saying that he’s a charlatan. For the most part, he’s seems to sincerely believe whatever he says, whatever the subject—but that’s the problem. He believes his own propaganda. He buys his own sales-pitch, whatever he’s selling.

Landry is also articulate, though he’s not a public speaker, per se. Landry’s a backwoods intellectual. I suppose this is a departure from realism, but the producer and screenwriters are deliberately playing against type with a cowboy philosopher. It works in the sense that it’s intentionally against the grain.

Same thing with the witty repartee between Matt and Landry. It’s too clever to be authentic, but since it’s meant to be humorous, it doesn’t have to be authentic.

The other, newly-minted religious character is Lyla, who’s undergone a religious conversion. Whether it’s genuine or ephemeral remains to be seen.

So, when you begin to tally them, there are only about two or three Christian characters in the whole show. The show also has a pastor or two (maybe three), but they’re only given cameo appearances.

ii) Religiously indifferent characters

Most of the characters are simply indifferent to religion. They’re not into the Christian faith, but they’re not opposed to it. It’s a take it or leave it approach.

This is true for most of the male characters. They’re just not interested in Christianity because their interests lie elsewhere. They’re career-oriented. Football is their faith.

We also have some “fallen women” in the show. They’re into men—the wrong men. They have a moth-like attraction to losers. And it’s passed down from one generation to the next.

Then you have women like Tami and Julie Taylor. Tami is the religiously rootless and morally clueless mother of her religiously rootless and morally clueless daughter.

Finally, you have a preacher’s kid (Waverly Grady), who’s religious in the sense that Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton are religious.

These all correspond to men and women you can see in real life.

iii) Irreligious characters.

Tim Riggins is an example of a character who is a bit more hostile to religion. In a way, he’s more spiritually discerning than Landry or Smash. He knows, in principle, the difference between the church and the world, and he knows which one he belongs to.

Tim is the antithesis of Smash: if Smash suffers from inflated self-esteem, Tim suffers from low self-esteem. His nonexistent expectations immunize him from disillusionment, but because he doesn’t trust anyone, he’s a lonely loner. A sympathetic oaf.

At present, the producers and writers are flirting with a possible conversion experience, but that remains to be seen.

What’s striking is how little difference there is between the religious characters and the religiously indifferent characters, or even the irreligious characters. I’ll highlight three things:

i) Vulgarity

By contemporary TV standards, the vulgarity is mild, and it’s mild by athletic standards. But in this show, the believers talk the same way as the unbelievers. Unfortunately, that has the ring of truth.

This seems to be one of those generation-gap issues. Vulgarity entered the general culture in the Sixties. And since that time it’s penetrated the church.

Of course, it was always around, but there’s been a shift in my own lifetime. Permit me to share a personal anecdote. The first time I recall hearing vulgar language in school was an isolated incident in 6th grade, on the playground, when some of the boys had a dustup over a game of dodge ball.

The first time I heard vulgarity on a regular basis was in my freshmen year (1972) of junior high. And that was basically guy thing. There’s a reason we used to call it locker room language. Now the world is our lockerroom.

As I recall, Tom Wolfe also commented on this phenomenon in an interview on C-Span when he was plugging his new novel about Charlotte Simmons. Now Tom Wolfe is a very worldly man, with his ear to the pop culture. He’s far from naive. But when he began to hang around college students to get a feel for modern-day campus life, he was struck by the coarsening of the popular discourse.

He noted two differences: men had always used vulgarity, but they didn’t use it all the time. The women were now as foulmouthed as the men.

I’m not going to get into a general discussion of when vulgarity is appropriate or inappropriate in Christian discourse. For the moment I’m just going to make one small point: I’m curious about Evangelicals who flaunt bad language. Who go out of their way to be obscene or scatological. Who are quite self-conscious in their use of vulgarity.

I wonder what they’re trying to prove. Is it just to show how hip they are? How they don’t suffer from Victorian hang-ups?

Why do they think this is a good witness? Or do they even care?

Once again, I’m not talking about bad language in every possible context. Just the kind of faddish, ostentatious profanity that is becoming mainstream even in some Christian circles.

Ben Shapiro has dubbed his generation the porn generation. And we seem to be inaugurating the porn church for the porn generation. Speaking of which:

Let’s move on to a far more serious issue.

ii) Fornication

The producers don’t seem to have any inkling of the fact that, in Christian ethics, premarital sex is a sin. The producers show some of the destructive consequences of premarital sex, but the idea that their single Christian characters ought to be celibate almost never crosses their mind.

I don’t expect the producers and screenwriters to approve of Christian sexual ethics. I’m just interested in the fact that they don’t even seem to be aware of traditional Christian morality. They apparently know that extramarital sex is sinful, but not premarital sex.

And it almost makes me wonder how authentic this is—not in the sense that it’s inauthentic, but, unfortunately, that it may be all too authentic. I can see how fornication and easybelievism go hand-in-hand. There’s no real connection between the altar call and the marriage bed. You just recite a verbal formula. That’s how you get saved.

iii) Cheating

On a related note, there’s no fundamental distinction in Friday Night Lights between dating and marriage. This is illustrated by the idea that you can “cheat” on your boyfriend or girlfriend.

This, too, is very realistic. It’s endemic in the general culture. It’s become a self-evident truism.

It may shock a lot of people to hear this, but you can’t cheat on a boyfriend or girlfriend. You can only cheat on a spouse or fiancé.

Earlier generations understood that. My mother, who was born in 1918, tells me that back when her generation was dating, the purpose of dating was not to go steady. Rather, the purpose of dating was to find a spouse, and with that in mind, dating was a winnowing process. You dated a number of different people to find a suitable mate. So you were free to play the field.

(Incidentally, some Christians think we should replace dating with courtship. I disagree. My mother’s generation had the right idea.)

I suspect the reason for the change is that, in the age of no-fault divorce and broken homes, going steady has become a substitute marriage.

Indeed, a lot of folks seem to take fidelity more seriously in dating than in marriage. And they also have an amusingly Puritanical notion of what constitutes infidelity. It isn’t just sex with someone other than your boyfriend or girlfriend. If your girlfriend is seen kissing another boy, or your boyfriend is seen kissing another girl, that’s “cheating.”

Once again, I hate to break it to you, but you can’t cheat on a boyfriend or girlfriend. You can only cheat on a husband or wife, fiancé or fiancée.

Dating is not a commitment. Marriage is a commitment.

An engagement is also a (qualified) commitment, although cheating on your fiancé is not the same thing as infidelity. You can only be unfaithful to your spouse. And it’s not inherently sinful to break off an engagement, whereas it is inherently sinful to break up a marriage.

Adultery has no counterpart in dating. Fornication is a moral counterpart, but not a marital counterpart.

So, what we have in the pop culture is a form of legalism that is more permissive about marriage, and less permissive about dating. This represents an unscriptural inversion of values. And it’s more Puritanical than the Puritans.

My Bishop, Right or Wrong

Look at the sexual abuse scandal. Suffering under the leadership of the same men who allowed this abomination, who are now paying ridiculous amounts of money to protect their own hides, is hardly sensible or wise from the temporal perspective. My archbishop is Roger Cardinal Mahony, described in the media as the "Teflon Cardinal" for his ability to slide out from under any reponsibility for the scandal. My bishop faced contempt charges for sending a priest under investigation for sexual abuse charges to Canada for "treatment." But unfortunately, they are the people that God saw fit to ordain to their respective positions, and I have to accept that. I don't get to pick my bishop, my metropolitan, or my Pope. I can only pray for God to send good men and live with it when He doesn't. From the perspective of worldly wisdom, that is "complacency" or even "negligence." I can't disagree or even expect you to understand; it is thoroughly alien to anything in this world. But if you want to understand the Catholic way of thinking, it is that the Church comes from God's will and grace alone.

During the Sixties, I often saw the slogan “My Country, Right or Wrong” on the bumper or rearview mirror of pickup trucks. Regardless of its original intent, it’s come to epitomize blind patriotism. But, in fairness, this was a response to the equally blind unpatriotism (to coin a phrase) of the Counterculture.

Prejean has articulated the ecclesiastical equivalent of the slogan. A good Catholic, like a good German, should salute smartly, click his heels, and follow the orders of his ecclesiastical superiors without question. After all, “they are the people that God saw fit to ordain to their respective positions,”

So his conclusion follows, with flawless fatality, from a flawed premise. It’s not that his church can do no wrong. Rather, it matters not whether his church does right or wrong.

And not just the institution of the church, but its officers. No matter how corrupt his denomination becomes, no matter how depraved its officers, he owes them his unquestioning and amoral allegiance.

It’s instructive, in this regard, to consider what Catholics find scandalous. They are scandalized by Protestant diversity. For them, that’s the worst-case scenario. That is intolerable.

Yet the sexual abuse scandal is not a worse-case scenario. It is not intolerable.

In a free-church or low-church polity, the laity does get to pick who is in charge. And, by the same token, the laity can fire whoever is in charge.

Take the case of Ted Haggard. His church fired him for sexual misconduct. Chaos! Anarchy!

If you want a watertight argument for the superiority of Rome, it’s the fact that the layman doesn’t get to pick his bishop or pontiff. So, if you have a top-down sexual abuse scandal, well, that just goes with the territory.

How could anyone fail to see what a signal improvement this arrangement is over the “anarchy” or “chaos” of the low-church tradition.

Prejean, as a good Catholic, is committed to the system, right or wrong—and to its officers, right or wrong. The system can never become too evil to buck the system or its officers. That would be treasonous.

Prejean is a process purist. All he cares about is the purity of the process and not the purity of the product. If the Pope were to sacrifice a child as a burnt offering in St. Peter’s, he’d have to accept that.

By contrast, let’s compare his Catholic fanaticism to the Biblical view of institutional authority, whether civil or religious. Because institutional authority is a delegated authority, deriving its authorization from God, it is not absolute.

Under the Mosaic Law, both the priesthood and the monarchy were divine institutions. But they took the form of a constitutional priesthood and constitutional monarchy rather than an absolute priesthood and absolute monarchy. Because office-holders were empowered by the covenant, they would be deposed (or worse) for breach of covenant.

In terms of church/state relations, the state was not above the church, and the church was not above the state, for both were answerable to the law of God. For this reason, either sphere could intervene if the other sphere became corrupt. The church didn’t police itself and the state didn’t police itself. The civil authorities could intervene to rectify a corrupt religious order, while the religious authorities could intervene to rectify a corrupt civil order.

A theology of revolution is implicit in the notion of a constitutional monarchy. And, indeed, Jehoiada the priest staged a coup d’etat to overthrow an idolatrous monarch—even to the point of regicide (2 Kgs 11:20; 2 Chron 23:14-15)—and restore the status quo ante (2 Kgs 11-12; 2 Chron 23-24).

Conversely, King Josiah conducted a purge of decadent religious regime. As one scholar notes,

“Josiah (c. 640-609 BC), son of Manasseh, undid all that Manasseh had done and extended his reforms even to the removal of Solomonic bamot in Jerusalem at the Mount of Olives (2 Kings 22:23). To the extent that he controlled parts of the north, he reversed all the cultic innovations introduced by Jeroboam I (1 Kgs 23:15-19). The foreign cultic figures (kemarim) were forced to stop their activities, the Judahite priests were permitted to continue to serve only in a limited way in Jerusalem, and the northern Israelite priests were put to death at their altars (2 Kings 23:5-9,20), R. Hess, Israelite Religions (Baker/Apollos 2007), 253.

Indeed, there is evidence that not only officeholders could be disciplined (from the outside), but the office itself could be modified in case of abuse (Ezk 44:1-14; Cf. I. Duguid, Ezekiel [Zondervan 1999], 502).

Like any good advocate, Prejean tries to make a virtue of necessity by staging a preemptive strike against criticism. If you oppose his Hobbesean view of institutional authority, then you’re guilty of “worldly wisdom.”

But he offers no argument. Indeed, he’s already admitted that he cannot argue for the divinity of the church (meaning his particular denomination). But he doesn’t need an argument cuz he has an “experience.”

Prejean’s apologetic is a communion wafer. My wafer is better than your wafer.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

"Five Bad Evolutionary Designs"

Five Bad Evolutionary Designs

Charles Sullivan

Design Four: The Appendix

"This is a case of a vestigial organ if ever there was one. The human appendix has no known function, except perhaps to put money in surgeons' pockets."

Oh, dear. I guess that sinks creationism once and for all.

On second thought:

"Some scientists think they have figured out the real job of the troublesome and seemingly useless appendix: It produces and protects good germs for your gut. That's the theory from surgeons and immunologists at Duke University Medical School, published online in a scientific journal this week."

So, assuming that the appendix "is a case of a vestigial organ if ever there was one," and if, as it turns out, the appendix is functional after all, then, by Sullivan's own admission, there never was a bona fide case of a vestigial organ.

I want to commend the fine folks over at the Secular Web for helping to prove intelligent design creationism.

Gentlemen don't read other gentlemen's mail

It’s often said that history repeats itself. Opponents of counterterrorism subscribe to Henry Stimson’s philosophy of national defense. Stimson, then Secretary of State under Herbert Hoover, shut down Foggy Bottom’s code-breaking bureau on the grounds that “gentlemen don't read other gentlemen's mail.”

But the only problem with a Gentleman’s agreement is that our enemies don’t always act like perfect gentlemen.

And although the original statement had specific reference to espionage, it encapsulates a view of national defense which is very much with us to this day.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007


To some extent, the debate over counterterrorism has jelled around the issue of “torture,” with waterboarding as the paradigm-case. In general, opponents of “torture” are opponents of counterterrorism. For them, the real enemy isn’t militant Islam, but the Bush administration, or American corporations. “Torture” is simply a marketable way of framing their opposition to counterterrorism.

(As a rule, the opponents occupy the far left, but, unfortunately, outbreaks of Bush Derangement Syndrome have also be reported to infect certain pockets on the far right. Like the movie 28 Weeks Later, lunacy is a communicable disease.)

If they were really opposed to torture, they would also oppose abortion. If they were really opposed to torture, they would redirect their vociferous opposition to countries that practice real, bona fide torture. So torture is just a stalking horse to camouflage their actual opposition to counterterrorism in general—with special reference to American foreign policy.

Opponents of torture want to outlaw torture, but they don’t want to define it. This, of itself, is quite perverse. Nothing could be more Kafkaesque than to penalize an offender for an indefinable crime.

As is also typical in liberal discourse, there is no room for rational debate. Liberals prefer adjectives to arguments. It comes down to assigning the preferred label to the practice, whether it’s “racist,” “homophobic,” “torture,” &c. Once the correct label is assigned, that’s the end of all discussion. To actually debate the merits of the issue is out of the question.

When interviewing a witness or nominee, the sole purpose of the exercise is to maneuver him into admitting to a practice to which they can automatically affix the damning adjective or noun. From this admission there is no pardon or reprieve.

Because they refuse to define torture, they fall back on picturesque examples of “torture.” They can’t tell you what it is, but they can show you what it is.

At present, the showcase example is waterboarding. They treat waterboarding as a synonym or hendiadys for torture. For them, this epitomizes everything that is unspeakably wrong with “torture.” How it subverts American values. Subverts everything we stand for as a nation. Lowers us to the level of our enemies.

This technique illustrates beyond all possible contention or confutation the moral superiority of Democrats over Republicans. End of story.

So what, exactly, is so bad about waterboarding? Here are two representative explanations:


According to the Times, a secret memo issued by Administration lawyers authorized the C.I.A. to use novel interrogation methods—including “water-boarding,” in which a suspect is bound and immersed in water until he nearly drowns. Dr. Allen Keller, the director of the Bellevue/N.Y.U. Program for Survivors of Torture, told me that he had treated a number of people who had been subjected to such forms of near-asphyxiation, and he argued that it was indeed torture. Some victims were still traumatized years later, he said. One patient couldn’t take showers, and panicked when it rained. “The fear of being killed is a terrifying experience,” he said.

For instance, there has been considerable press attention to a tactic called "waterboarding," where a prisoner is restrained and blindfolded while an interrogator pours water on his face and into his mouth--causing the prisoner to believe he is being drowned. He isn't, of course; there is no intention to injure him physically. But if you gave people who have suffered abuse as prisoners a choice between a beating and a mock execution, many, including me, would choose a beating. The effects of most beatings heal. The memory of an execution will haunt someone for a very long time and damage his or her psyche in ways that may never heal. In my view, to make someone believe that you are killing him by drowning is no different than holding a pistol to his head and firing a blank. I believe that it is torture, very exquisite torture.


So that, my fellow Americans, is why we should never succumb to the immoral temptation of allowing the use of waterboarding to extract information from a terrorist which could prevent the mass murder of our citizens. The “victimized” terrorist would be “traumatized” by the experience. . He’d never take another shower. Rain would trigger “panic” attacks. In sum, he would suffer incurable “psychic” damage. Didn’t you know that a simulated death is a fate worse than death?

"My Father, Bertrand Russell"

Lady Katherine Tait was the only daughter of late Bertrand Russell. She wrote a biography about her dad. Here are a few of her personal observations:

“He never gave his whole heart to anyone, though he tried. ‘My most profound feelings have remained always solitary and have found in human things no companionship,’ he wrote. ‘The sea, the stars, the night wind in waste places, mean more to me than even the human beings I love best, and I am conscious that human affection is to me at bottom an attempt to escape from the vain search for God’,” My Father, Bertrand Russell (HBJ 1975), 46-47.

“My father’s scientific optimism was strong and he hoped tha we would share it, together with his dispassionate ability to see both sides of a question. But these things are not easy to combine; fair-mindedness puzzled our wills and muddled our hopes, and left us unable to strike out boldly against any enemy, public or private. For it was always possible the enemy was right. My father dealt with this problem by a sort of intellectual conjuring trick: when he wanted to be indignant over evil, he temporarily put away objectivity in some other compartment of his mind. We never managed to learn the trick, and I think he was a little disappointed by our hesitations, not realizing that he had taught them to us himself,” ibid. 92.

“In practice, at Beacon Hill, ‘making up our own minds’ usually meant agreeing with my father, because he knew so much more and could argue so much better; also because we heard ‘the other side’ only from people who disagreed with it. There was never a cogent presentation of the Christian faith, for instance, from someone who really believed in it,” ibid. 94.

“My parents’ marriage was founded on these principles…They believed it would be easy to live without jealousy, but it turned out that the new morality was no easier and no more natural than the ideal of rigorous lifelong monogamy it was intended to replace. Calling jealousy deplorable had not freed them from it…It took my father a long time to acknowledge that he was expecting too much of human nature. ‘Anybody else could have told me this in advance,’ he wrote later, ‘but I was blinded by theory’,” ibid. 102-103.

“We had imagined our parents to be superior in every way to the conventional: our parents would never quarrel sordidly over conjugal rights or the way to bring up children; they were far too generous and intelligent. Yet there they were, not only doing these things, but even trying to involve us in their disagreements. It was sickening. The only solution was inward withdrawal, my father’s old tactic. It was at that time that I came to regard progress, like Santa Claus and the Easter bunny, as a myth of childhood, and I have never since believed in any utopian project of any kind,’ ibid. 125.

“Though I would no more prefer the extinction of humanity to the victory of world communism than my father would have, I have never regarded the mere existence of humanity as good in itself, and I can contemplate without panic a world devoid of human beings. (Unwittingly, my father was responsible for this callous point of view, having taught us that mankind was no more than an accident of evolution.)” ibid. 178.

“In Grandmother Russell’s religion, the only form of Christianity my father knew well, the life of this world was no more than a gloomy testing ground for future bliss. All hope, all joy were centered on the life after death and were to be achieved only be unceasing warfare against evil in oneself and others. My father threw this morbid belief out the window, but he was never able to obliterate the emotional pattern with which it had stamped him. All the yearnings of his powerful nature were directed to the future, to a golden age to come, if not in heaven, then on earth,” ibid. 183.

“In his many anti-Christian writings, my father attacked over and over again the cowardice of religious people who could not face life without the comfort of their irrational beliefs. He recommended instead ‘the stark joy’ to be found in ‘the unflinching perception of our true place in the world,’ the same proud passion I had offered my Harvard friend in our discussion in the library. Christians were mocked for imagining that man is important in the vast scheme of the universe, even the high point of all creation—and yet my father thought man and his preservation the most important thing in the world, and he lived in hopes of a better life to come. He was by temperament a profoundly religious man, a sort of passionate moralist who would have been a saint in a more believing age,” ibid. 184.

“I believe myself that his whole life was a search for God…Somewhere at the back of my father’s mind, at the bottom of his heart, in the depths of his soul, there was an empty space that had once been filled by God, and he never found anything else to put it in. He wrote of it in letters during the First World War, and once h said that human affection was to him ‘at bottom an attempt to escape from the vain search for God.’ After the war, finding his life more satisfying, he stopped talking that way; nostalgia for religion was quite absent from our home. Nevertheless, I picked up the yearning from him, together with his ghostlike feeling of not belonging, of having no home in this world,” ibid. 184-185.

“The religion my parents had grown up with was a dry morality without grace, a series of impossible demands that left them defeated and depressed. They escaped from it joyfully into a free life that affirmed their own goodness and expected their children’s. And yet they passed on to us the same impossible demands from which they had suffered—no, not exactly the same, for they allowed us to masturbate and talk about sex—but they still expected perfect honesty and kindness and all the rest, without showing us how it was to be done. Consequently, we in our turn were loaded down with inescapable and, to us, inexplicable guilt. The doctrine of original sin gave to me, when I came to understand it, the same sense of intoxicating liberation my father had received from sexual emancipation. It was normal for me to be bad, and I need not feel ashamed,” ibid. 187-188.

“For me, the belief in forgiveness and grace was like sunshine after long days of rain. No matter what I did, not matter how low I fell, God would be there to forgive, to pick me up and set me on my feet again. Though I could not earn his love, neither could I lose it,” ibid. 188.

“He seized on the follies, which are many, and labeled them official religion, while claiming that Christians have never taken seriously the good parts of Christ’s teaching. But he never dealt with it seriously either. When he wanted to attack religion, he sought out its most egregious errors and held them up to ridicule, while avoiding serious discussion of the basis message I found so liberating…I found no message in his books but failure and despair (for me)…the world was not what he hoped it might be, and neither was I, nor could I believe that men would ever become the intelligent paragons of his imagination,” ibid. 188.

“As I went deeper and deeper into religion, however, I found it ever more satisfying. I wished I could convince my father that it added to all I had learned from him and took very little away. I didn’t find it a denial of life, a brier patch of restrictions, but a joyful affirmation. ‘I am come that they might have life and have it more abundantly,’ said Jesus. All that I lost was my anxiety—and the option, perhaps, of sleeping with many men, which I had no desire to exercise. I was already so bound by the exacting moral code my father had taught me that I saw no new restrictions in Christianity, merely the possibility of living with those I already had,” ibid. 189.

“I would have liked to convince my father that I had found what he had been looking for, the ineffable something he had longed for all his life. I would have liked to persuade him that the search for God does not have to be vain. But it was hopeless. He had known too many blind Christians, bleak moralists who sucked the joy from life and persecuted their opponents; he would never have been able to see the truth they were hiding,” ibid. 189.

“Of course there was a failure of communication. Even from that blissful holiday I came away feeling dissatisfied, though mostly with myself. I wanted to tell him about God, to share with him the happy certainty I had discovered…But we sat at tea around the fire, the four of us, making conversation about the state of the world, and I could never break through to real talk. Too shy, too selfish, too subservient, too proud, always a follower of the tone set by others, I sat and allowed myself to be cut off from him by the small talk I had never mastered. It was only as we said good-bye that emotion broke through for a moment and I hugged him with demonstrative affection. But he was old and fragile, almost ninety; he needed to be held in tender hands, like old porcelain, and treasured for what he was. Too late for storms of emotion, too late to stand up and justify myself against him, defending my values by attacking his. Adolescent rebellion is absurd in middle age, if not cruel, and adolescent emotion is not much better. There seemed no solution but to look at each other with love as we drifted apart on our separate rafts of belief,” ibid. 196.

“I drove on to school and went on with life in a world without my father. I had told myself often: he is so old, so deaf, so cut off from me, it’s as though he were dead already; it won’t be too bad when it happens. But it was too bad, and it left me with a numb ache for a long time: now I can never tell him this, never ask him that, never straighten out old confusions,” ibid. 201-202.

To Scatter Roman Darkness By This Light

A sixteenth-century portrait of William Tyndale, in which Tyndale is pointing to an unknown book, probably an English translation of scripture. The couplet in the banner under Tyndale's hand reads "To scatter Roman darkness by this light / The loss of land and life I'll reckon slight." (David Daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001], illustration 4)

Modern champions of the Catholic position like to support a view of the Reformation, that it was entirely a political imposition by a ruthless minority in power against both the traditions and the wishes of the pious lay people of England, with the claim that, if matters had not been interfered with, the Church in its reforming wisdom would have got round to issuing a vernacular Bible in its own time. That may or may not be so: it seems extremely unlikely....Some reforming politicians can be made out to be ruthless self-seeking thugs, no doubt, just as some Catholic politicians can. The energy which affected every human life in Northern Europe, however, came from a different place. It was not the result of political imposition. It came from the discovery of the Word of God as originally written, from Matthew - indeed, from Genesis - to Revelation, in the language of the people. Moreover, it could be read and understood, without censorship by the Church or mediation through the Church, as it was written to be read, as a coherent, cross-referring whole. Such reading produced a totally different view of everyday Christianity: the weekly, daily, even hourly ceremonies so lovingly catalogued by some Catholic revisionists are not there; Purgatory is not there; there is no aural confession and penance. Two supports of the Church's wealth and power collapsed. Instead, there was simply individual faith in Christ as Saviour, found in Scripture. That and only that 'justified' the sinner, whose root failings were now in the face of God, not the bishops or the pope....

'The signs of the times', 'the spirit is willing', 'Live and move and have our being', 'fight the good fight' - the list of such near-proverbial phrases [produced by William Tyndale in his translation of the Bible] is endless. More important is that greater effect whereby the teaching and work of Jesus reached men and women entire, complete in all four Gospels: and with it the further writing and record of Luke in Acts, of Paul, Peter, James, the two Johns, Jude and the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews, also entire and complete and in a pellucidly direct English. The boy that driveth the plough had got his Scripture. With this volume, Tyndale gave us a Bible language....

Tyndale was a worker at the coal-face, a linguist and craftsman who was never seduced away to a more comfortable surface job. He was above all a scholar of the Greek Bible, and now of the Hebrew, who had translated the New Testament into a form of English that would live for ever, and published two books about the implication of the scriptural doctrine of justification by faith, one relating it to works, the other to civil obedience....

In the whirligig of time and fashion, Tyndale is today only known in some powerful intellectual circles as an annoyance to the blessed Saint Thomas [More], clinging like a burr to the great man's coat, as if Tyndale's life were meaningless without More. Tyndale is indeed, sometimes cited first of all as 'opponent of Sir Thomas More', with the fact that he gave us our English Bible mentioned among the also-rans, as being of little account. That is absurd. Even the modern Catholic English Bible, the Jerusalem Bible in its various revisions, depends greatly on Tyndale's legacy of translation. So we may observe here that More did not enter Tyndale's life until July 1529, when half Tyndale's work was done: and he entered as a trained and experienced assassin. This 'Dialogue' [More's work responding to Tyndale] sets itself out as a Socratic, humanist debate. It does not come over as anything so rational; its intention is slaughter....

These pages on faith [in Tyndale's book responding to More], like many others, are an anthology of scriptural points. Once again with Tyndale, the reader who opens this book knowing nothing of the New Testament finishes it knowing a lot. The contrast with More's Dialogue is obvious: the reader finishes that book knowing a great deal about the amusing, richly stored, clever, long-winded, devious, malevolent mind of Thomas More....

Less superficially, the size and extreme ferocity of More's attacks on him [Tyndale] help us to see the height of Tyndale's shadow in 'Establishment' England. Tyndale was a heretic to be greatly feared. Any means, fair or foul, were justified to preserve the Church and the realm from his effects. His books, his followers, he himself, must be burned with proper zeal - something to which More looks forward, appallingly....

The revolution that Tyndale began was not just that, in the teeth of the most ferocious opposition, he gave the people the Bible in the mother tongue: the whole New Testament, in all its comprehensiveness and integrity, and half the Old Testament, and so soon after his death the whole word of God available in English. Those deeds opened the gates of the flood of biblical knowledge which has been freely available to us ever since....

Both men [More and Tyndale] died martyrs, close in time, and curiously honoured in being saved the extremes of torture at their death - More was not disembowelled, and Tyndale was strangled before the flames were lit. But their legacy, in relation to each other, has been totally opposite. More gave us three quarters of a million words of scarcely readable prose attacking Tyndale. Tyndale outraged More by giving us the Bible in English, England's greatest contribution to the world for nearly five hundred years....

His [Tyndale's] discovery of the happy linguistic marriage of the two languages [Hebrew and English], though not quite as important as Newton's discovery of the principle of universal gravitation, was still of high significance for the history of Western Christian theology, language and literature...

All Old Testament English versions descend from Tyndale; even of the books of the Old Testament which he did not reach. Miles Coverdale, who first gave us printed in English the second half of the Old Testament, had worked with Tyndale, and imitated him....

Beyond that is his [Tyndale's] gift for coining words, in the Pentateuch not only 'Jehovah' as an English word, as we saw above, but 'mercy seat', 'Passover', 'scapegoat' and others...

In netting [capturing and arresting] Tyndale, the heresy-hunters had their largest catch. Tyndale was a particularly learned scholar, and a leader of European Lutherans. He was also extremely important in England - had not Sir Thomas More, no less, expended gallons of ink in attacking him? Tyndale was almost single-handedly spreading the heresy of Lutheranism in London and across England, with his books and especially his translations. The case against him would have to be extremely thorough, and the accusations widely known, so that with his destruction would fall a keystone of European heresy. This was no simple, deluded anabaptist: this was a learned enemy and politician who was a 'mighty opposite' to the leaders of the Catholic Church, from the Pope himself down....

As they crossed the space and approached the cross [place of execution], the prisoner was allowed a moment to pray, with a last appeal for him to recant. Then he alone moved to the cross, and the guards busily knelt to tie his feet to the bottom of the cross. Around his neck the chain was passed, with the hempen noose hanging slack. The brushwood, straw and logs were packed close round the prisoner, making a sort of hut with him inside. A scattering of gunpowder was added. The executioner went to stand behind the cross, and looked across at the procurer-general. It is at this moment, most probably, that Tyndale cried 'Lord, open the king of England's eyes'. When the procurer-general was ready, he gave the signal, and the executioner quickly tightened the hempen noose, strangling Tyndale. The procurer-general watched Tyndale die, and as soon as he judged him dead, he reached for a lighted wax torch being held near him, took it and handed it to the executioner, who touched off the straw, brushwood and gunpowder....

In 1550, Roger Ascham, tutor to that Princess Elizabeth who in eight years would be Queen, rode through Vilvorde. 'At the town's end is a notable solemn place of execution, where worthy William Tyndale was unworthily put to death.' (David Daniell, William Tyndale: A Biography [New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001], pp. 58, 142, 262, 271, 278-280, 289, 315, 375, 383-384)

The Islamic Mein Kampf

The Islamic Mein Kampf

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Baldness Is a Blessing!

HT: Justin Taylor

...For James White, "Dusman," the Dawgs @ Fide-O, and, well, for so many others I know (myself included - I've not had a good head of hair for a least a decade).

Carl Trueman writes:

Yet baldness is nonetheless a great gift from the Lord, in that it imposes a certain dignity on the ageing process by cutting off the various less dignified options (e.g., ponytails, which shouldn’t be sported by anyone over 30; and mullets which, frankly, should not be sported by anyone, anywhere, anytime. Period.). Of course, there are those, even Christians, who fight against this divinely-imposed dignity. Dreadful toupees abound in the church, along with frightful transplants, and the ubiquitous 'comb-over' or 'sweep.' The latter seems predicated on the false notion that, if you have six hairs to stretch across the barren landscape of your otherwise shiny pate, nobody will notice that you have gone completely bald. Or perhaps there is a belief somewhere that, in the country of the bald, the one-haired man is king. Come on, gents, parade your baldness with pride and accept the dignity which your divinely-imposed hair loss brings with it.

The lost cause of Catholic apologetics

Obviously, no argument in Heaven or on earth would suffice to show that the Church is who She claims to be, because what She claims to be is something beyond the grasp of human reason.

Fr. Prejean knows best

I wish that Protestant apologetics could make some effort to engage in the sort of scientific argument that I described above. I doubt that it is coincidental that thoroughly unscientific arguments like intelligent design and presuppostionalism frequently gain traction in the sort of intellectual environment that routinely makes such arguments in the place of real justification.

What do you [Cardinal Shönborn] think of the Discovery Institute and its work promoting intelligent design?

I think they do interesting work that deserves attention. What bothers me is the unbelievable aggression unleashed by the questions that the Discovery Institute asks. Why do scientists have to react so aggressively?

Mormonism, The 4th Abrahamic Religion?

Richard Land:

as another faith in the same sense that I would look upon Islam as another faith. I think the fairest and most charitable way to define Mormonism would be to call it the fourth Abrahamic religion — Judaism being the first, Christianity being the second, Islam being the third, and Mormonism being the fourth. And Joseph Smith would play the same character in Mormonism that Muhammad plays in Islam."

This is political pragmatism gone wild. I've long been of the opinion that the head of the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission is far too cozy with the Republican Party to be the head of the ERLC. This is also why I don't believe Christians should vote for Mitt Romney. Just look at the way they have to dance around the truth to do it.

As the article goes on to say:

This raises all sorts of interesting questions. One, is it a promotion or a demotion? "Abrahamic religion" sounds a lot grander than "cult." However, Land also seems to suggest that Mormonism is no more Christian than is Islam. The second is whether it makes it any easier for a Southern Baptist concerned with theological niceties to vote for Romney. A third is whether Land, an extremely well educated and articulate man, is crediting Mormonism with being monotheistic, which is arguably what Abraham was all about. Many evangelicals contend that the LDS are polytheists, believing in plural Gods. Mormons respond that their tenets are no more polytheistic than the Christian belief in the Trinity.

Let me be clear here. I agree with Steve, there are certain things over which I have no control. The ultimate candidates in this next election is one of them. I do have some say in the primary. The primary is where Christians can vote their consciences.

I disagree with men like Stu Epperson Jr. who seem to believe that we should vote as if we have a duty to do so. No,we don't. Our only moral duty is to Christ, and nowhere does Scripture say we have a moral duty to vote. The early Christians did not have a vote for political leaders in Rome. I have no problem sitting out an election if I have good reason. "Responsible stewardship" of my vote includes my right to withhold my vote if I so desire.

Likewise, we should also remember that God can appoint a Cyrus and rule over us as well. Many of our leaders have forgotten that. Maybe what we need is a pagan to rule over us. Maybe that's what it would take for the churches to stop trying to use the state to do their work.

Also, we can learn from 1 Samuel that God gives people leaders after His heart (David), and he also gives them people leaders after their (evil) hearts (Saul), in order to show them that they need Him to rule over them and that their leaders should reflect men after His heart, not their evil hearts. If Romney is elected president, then, I wouldn't take this as complimentary with respect to the people in the churches. Rather, if they are willing to dance around fundamental Christian doctrine in order to justify their vote, what does that really say about them? This sort of latitudinarianism is the sort of thing that we see God passing judgment over in the OT. I think God would rather us vote for an honest pagan than a duplicitous pagan who tries to cloak his paganism, and He would rather us draw a line in the sand to tell a candidate with whom we might find some common ethical grounds that we will reject him in favor of a man who really is "one of us" (Huckabee), even though the latter might not be as likely to win a primary or an presidential election. Let your hot be hot and your cold, cold. Would Land take side of Israel against Jesus? Jesus was a True Jew of Jews, King of Kings, the very Messiah for whom Israel looked, yet when the time came, He was rejected. He came to His own and His own received Him not...

I would also add that if Land does not repent and/or make his comments clear, Ed Stetzer should rise up next June and rebuke Land from the podium of the SBC when he gives his NAMB report. I suggest: "This past year, because of the election cycle's inclusion of a Mormon on the presidential ticket, has brought unprecedented apologetic challenges to Southern Baptists. Let me be clear here, we at NAMB believe unequivocally that Mormonism is a doctrine of demons, a false religion, and by no means is it "Abrahamic" in any sense of the term. Those who think otherwise should reconsider their statements and repent of their error."

Let me also add that if you are a Baptist or Southern Baptist with access to Dr. Land or if you know somebody who does have such access, then may I implore you to contact him/them with these statements in hand and respectfully ask him to clarify them and/or correct him.

Monday, October 29, 2007

"Christian Science" and the apocatastasis

Hi, Ed.

Like a lot of apostates, you’re unable to get Christianity out of your system. Why is that? Is it because there is no alternative to Christianity that is equally good, much less better?

So many apostates turn their back on the faith, yet keep glancing over their shoulder. They leave the church, and yet they continue to live within the shadow of the church.

Why is that, Ed? Why are you unable to tear yourself away from the faith you repudiate? Is it because your alternative is no alternative?

Ed, you’ve erected a chain-link fence between you and the church. Yet you keep your nose pressed against the fence, staring wistfully at the very thing you supposedly put behind you. Why is that, Ed?

You find the sermon inspiring. Well, I find many things inspiring as well. I find Perelandra inspiring. I find The Voyage of the Dawn Treader inspiring. I find some short stories by Cordwainer Smith inspiring.

I do not, however, mistake what is inspiring for what is real. I don’t believe that Reepicheep paddled his dingy over the final wave of the Silver Sea and passed into Aslan’s land.

As for Dr. Wells, there’s nothing resembling exegesis in his sermon. He peddles half-truths and pleasing lies. He’s no better than a medical quack or psychic or religious charlatan who exploits grieving men and women at their point of weakness.

Yes, the discarnate state of man is an unnatural state. But there are some solid exegetical arguments for the intermediate state. And the OT has a doctrine of the afterlife.

I reject his polemical caricature of hell, and—as a supralapsarian Calvinist—I also reject the glib assumptions that seduce him to deny a well-attested doctrine of Scripture.

I understand why folks find universalism appealing. It’s appealing in the same way that “Christian Science” is appealing. “Christian Science” finds the spectacle of evil so appalling that it declares evil an illusion. It finds death so repugnant that it declares death an illusion.

It would be nice to believe that my grandmother didn’t die, that my father didn’t die, or even that my pet dog didn’t die. Likewise, it would be nice to believe that all my loved ones are heavenbound.

But just as I don’t confabulate a theological system around the denial of death, however comforting that might be, so I also don’t confabulate a theological system around the denial of hell, however comforting that might be.

-----Original Message-----

Sent: Mon, Oct 29 4:09 PM
Subject: "Rethinking Heaven and Hell" Monism & Universalism

Revd Canon Dr. Sam Wells delivered the following message/sermon at Furman Sunday night, but it's also online because he's been preaching it elsewhere as well such as at Chinchester Cathedral in Britain. He rejects dualism and also slowly builds to his universalistic finale. Intriguing, colorful, inspiring.

Oil & Water

This is the LORD'S doing;
It is marvelous in our eyes.
Thank all of you for your prayers, and to the bloggers, thank you for taking time to write on this subject. Please continue to keep this in the minds of your readers and the people populating your local churches.

The effect of the rain on the drought locally in NC:

1. Siler City's water supply was extended by 120 days.
2. Greensboro, NC's water supply, extended by 1 month; Lake Townsend up by 60 %
3. High Point, NC, one of their two reservoirs is overflowing its dam by five inches.

The earth was softened for many farmers. There is hope that they will be able to plant their crops. The rains were very good for our basins. Some areas received as much as 7 inches!

I have no word on the effects on Atlanta, GA or Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill, NC, the areas in grave need.

Please continue your prayer. We still need great amounts of rain in these plays.

Also, consider too the rising prices of oil on the market. This will affect those with heating oil costs, particularly the elderly, disabled, etc. It is my understanding that much of this price increase is related to speculation as well as a temporary cut in production in Mexico. Particularly pray the Lord will bend the hearts of greedy men who do this and those who supply it and move them such that the price of oil lowers and comes under control. Also pray for the US dollar itself to strengthen.

The Lord uses these sorts of things to drive His people to pray for His mercy. Let us not be seen ungrateful. Take time to thank our God for His mercy and goodness, and let us watch and pray, interceding for the wicked generation of which we are a part and repenting of the wickedness in ourselves.

Cylon Evolution

Let's start the week with a bit of humor, this time for the SciFi fans.

Cue music...

The Cylons Were Made By Man...

...They Rebelled...

...They Evolved...

...Some Look Just Like Us...

...And They Have A Plan!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The Face of the New Atheism

Hitchens Unhinged



Capt. Christopher LaHaye was exploring a solar system on the far side of Alpha Centuri when the wormhole he came through collapsed, leaving him stranded on the wrong side of the galaxy. There was one barely habitable planet in the solar system.

On its surface, the planet was largely one unending desert, enfolding the globe in a blanket of searing sand. But it also had a few huge lakes below sea level. Evaporation from the relentless sun precipitated snowfall in the mountainous polar regions. And from there, subterranean rivers gouged out deep and narrow ravines.

Although a few hardy shrubs formed a ribbon around the lakes, most life on the desertuous planet took refuge in the ravines. Chris would soon run out of food and water on his space ship, so he landed on the edge of a ravine to explore the world below.


The steep walls were carpeted with bushes and vines, which gave him something to grab on to as he lowered himself into the ravine. Within a few yards of the surface, he found himself on terrace, with flowerbeds hugging the sides of the ravine. The terrace continued in either direction.

Peering warily over the terrace, he could see another terrace, and yet another—in a staircase of flowerbeds. As he looked across the ravine, he saw the same thing on the other side—like a double staircase. He also saw a rope bridge between the opposing terraces.

Perhaps “flowerbed” wasn’t the right word. Apparently, these were vegetable gardens. As they descended, the terraces faded into obscurity.

Far below was the invisible, but audible roar of a swift-moving river. At this time of day you could hear it, but you couldn’t see it.

The ravine was teaming with life. None of it was quite like anything on earth, but it was similar. Snake-like creatures, birdlike creatures, ape-like creatures, and so on.

Suddenly he also heard someone let out a shriek.


When he spun around he saw a little boy running away from him. He considered climbing back up and out of the ravine, but before he had time to decide one way or the other, he was surrounded by a number of young humanoid males with menacing spears.

There were some tense moments when he couldn’t tell if they were going to kill him or not. Apparently, the tribe had traditional enemies, and was at the ready to defend itself against any and all intruders. On the other hand, he didn’t look like an ordinary stranger. Curiosity tempered ferocity.

While they deliberated, an older man approached. I’ll call him a “man” since this was a humanoid species, and it was easy to tell the sexes apart. Apparently he was the chieftain. He studied Chris intently, then spoke to the warriors in some incomprehensible tongue. They gestured that he was to follow them into the village.

The village occupied part of the upper terrace—on either side of the ravine—in a slender column of row houses. The chieftain sat him down and proceeded to interrogate him. Of course, Chris didn’t know a word of their language, so the chieftain found the exercise frustrating and aggravating. The chieftain then sent for a man who appeared to be their witch doctor or shaman.

Chris decided that the shaman would be a good person to impress with a display of uncanny force. Chris had his laser pistol with him. So he shot a bird from a tree.

Everyone began to chatter in great agitation. The shaman was overawed, and bowed to the ground.

Not only were they stunned by his ability to kill at a distance, but as he later learned, the bird he killed was one of their gods. The fact that he had such power over a god made him some sort of god.

Since he didn’t know their language, he must be a god of another tribe. So why had he come to here?


Over the next few months, Chris began to master their language. He learned much from them, and they learned much from him.

They called themselves the Burrone people. And the Burronese were not the only tribe in the ravine. Upstream were the Borro, and downstream were the Gola. There were other tribes further upstream and downstream as well. But there wasn’t much communication between the various tribes, because it was so difficult to traverse the ravine. Overland travel was almost impossible due to the dense, intractable vegetation. Tribes maintained a few trails around their villages for farming, hunting, fishing, and trapping—but nothing continuous. Indeed, the natural barriers cut down on tribal warfare.

It as impossible to take a canoe upstream, against the current. It was treacherous to take a canoe downstream, and even if you could ride out the rapids—that was a one-way trip. There were legends about tribesman who had taken a canoe all the way down the river to the end of the world.

There were other ravines with other tribes, but the desert was impassable. Raiding parties would sometimes travel along the surface of the ravine, but it was too hot to go very far by day, and too cold to go very far by night.

Because the ravine had such a narrow opening, the days were short. Indeed, as Chris was soon to observe, much of Burronese culture was adapted to the limited sunshine. Life in the shady ravine created a stark contrast between sunlight and daylight, for the sun was directly overhead for just a fraction of the day.

That was playtime for the Burronese. They would work all morning and afternoon, but take a break when the sun was visible. They would also go up to the surface to ritually greet the sun at dawn, and ritually bid it farewell at dusk. Their astronomical knowledge was limited by the fact that they could see so little of the sky.

Even though they were pretty primitive in many respects, they had a fairly sophisticated hydraulic system. They built a watermill, powered by the river. Water was pumped through bamboo-type piping to irrigate crops and supply the villagers with water for washing, cooking, drinking, and bathing.


Christ found it both fascinating and lonely to live among them. Although his space ship was till operable, he could never reach home with the wormhole gone.

But, for him, the Burronese also posed a theological conundrum. They were clearly a fallen race, as were the other planetary tribes, but they had no story of redemption. They were religious, in their own, retrograde way.

They worshipped certain animals. There was a leopard-like creature that was their war-god. They also had their share of bird-gods and snake-gods. They worshipped the forces of nature, like fire.

They believed that when you die, you take a canoe ride down the river to the end of the world. They dimly understood that the river emptied into a lake, which—in their religion—was a vast oasis.

But what were they here for? Why did God make them?

Chris had originally planned to be a pastor. But he was torn between his love of theology, and his love of science. A seminary dropout, the prospect of space exploration proved to be irresistible.

Now he felt a little guilty about his failure to share the gospel. But what could he say? They were aliens. They had no Gospel. No Savior. No incarnation.

His history wasn’t their history. They couldn’t be evangelized, for they were literally inhuman. What had happened in his world never occurred in theirs.

Did they exist as an object lesson in depravity? Reprobation without election to illustrate the gratuity of grace? Was darkness their portion?

Or did their redemption lie in the future? Was he an instrument of providence?

Perhaps he would be like an Old Testament prophet. His New Testament would be their Old Testament. Types and shadows prefiguring their redemption to come.

Is that why God sent him to this God-forsaken planet? A dislocated astronaut with a prophetic vocation?

He could die on this planet, keeping what he knew to himself. Marry a native girl. Father kids. Or he could try to make a difference.


So Chris told them his own story. The story of his world. The story of his Redeemer.

Chris also decided to take the chieftain and the shaman on a ride in his spaceship. He showed them their planet. Showed them the polar ice-capped mountains. Showed them their ravine, as well as the other ravines. Showed them the enormous lakes—surrounded by oceans of sand.

At first, the chieftain and the shaman were excited to see the lakes. For them, this was like going to heaven without having to die. They insisted that he land by one of the lakes.

But when they disembarked, it wasn’t an oasis all. It was more like a furnace. They didn’t see their ancestors waiting to greet them, in a grand family reunion. All they saw was some brown shrubbery encircling a dead sea—a steaming, boiling body of water.

The shaman was crestfallen. After they returned to the ravine, the shaman hurled himself down from the upper terrace.

Chris had a final card to play. When the Burronese came up to the surface to celebrate their sunset ritual, he showed them all his spaceship. Then he got inside, and flew back into space. Surely they would believe him now. He came to them like a falling star. And he departed in a flaming chariot—like an angel returning heaven.

Surely the Burronese would tell the story to their children, and their children’s children. And share it with the neighboring peoples of Borro and Gola. And surely they would wait for another to come from above.

Hours passed as he orbited the forbidding planet. As his oxygen ran thin, he wondered if he’d done the right thing. Was it all in vain? To die in space on a suicide mission of his own contrivance? He had been presumptuous?

Perhaps they were a race of reprobates. Maybe it was a fool’s errand. As the Burronese slept, he began to fade from consciousness.


Years later, as the Burronese were once again celebrating the sunset, they saw a meteoric light descending from the skies. Was it the Angel Gabriel, with an urgent message for a Burronese maiden—or a burning spaceship, reentering the atmosphere after its orbit decayed?

The English Reformation

There was in Trinity Hall, Cambridge, a young doctor, much given to the study of the canon law, of serious turn of mind and bashful disposition, and whose tender conscience strove, although ineffectually, to fulfill the commandments of God. Anxious about his salvation, Thomas Bilney applied to the priests, whom he looked upon as physicians of the soul. Kneeling before his confessor, with humble look and pale face, he told him all his sins, and even those of which he doubted. The priest prescribed at one time fasting, at another prolonged vigils, and then masses and indulgences which cost him dearly. The poor doctor went through all these practices with great devotion, but found no consolation in them. Being weak and slender, his body wasted away by degrees, his understanding grew weaker, his imagination faded, and his purse became empty. “Alas!” said he with anguish, “my last state is worse than the first.” From time to time an idea crossed his mind: “May not the priests be seeking their own interest, and not the salvation of my soul?” But immediately rejecting the rash doubt, he fell back under the iron hand of the clergy.

One day Bilney heard his friends talking about a new book: it was the Greek [New] Testament printed with a translation which was highly praised for its elegant latinity. Attracted by the beauty of the style rather than by the divinity of the subject, he stretched out his hand; but just as he was going to take the volume, fear came upon him and he withdrew it hastily. In fact the confessors strictly prohibited Greek and Hebrew books, “the sources of all heresies;” and Erasmus’s [New] Testament was particularly forbidden. Yet Bilney regretted so great a sacrifice; was it not the Testament of Jesus Christ? Might not God have placed therein some word which perhaps might heal his soul? He stepped forward, and then again shrank back......At last he took courage. Urged, said he, by the hand of God, he walked out of the college, slipped into the house where the volume was sold in secret, bought it with fear and trembling, and then hastened back and shut himself up in his room.

He opened it — his eyes caught these words: This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. [1 Timothy 1:15] He laid down the book, and meditated on the astonishing declaration. “What! St. Paul the chief of sinners, and yet St. Paul is sure of being saved!” He read the verse again and again. “O assertion of St. Paul, how sweet art thou to my soul!” he exclaimed. This declaration continually haunted him, and in this manner God instructed him in the secret of his heart. He could not tell what had happened to him; it seemed as if a refreshing wind were blowing over his soul, or as if a rich treasure had been placed in his hands. The Holy Spirit took what was Christ’s, and announced it to him. “I also am like Paul,” exclaimed he with emotion, “and more than Paul, the greatest of sinners!......But Christ saves sinners. At last I have heard of Jesus.”

His doubts were ended — he was saved. Then took place in him a wonderful transformation. An unknown joy pervaded him; his conscience, until then sore with the wounds of sin, was healed; instead of despair he felt an inward peace passing all understanding. “Jesus Christ,” exclaimed he; “yes, Jesus Christ saves!”......Such is the character of the Reformation: it is Jesus Christ who saves, and not the church. “I see it all,” said Bilney; “my vigils, my fasts, my pilgrimages, my purchase of masses and indulgences were destroying instead of saving me. All these efforts were, as St. Augustine says, a hasty running out of the right way.”

Bilney never grew tired of reading his New Testament. He no longer lent an attentive ear to the teaching of the schoolmen: he heard Jesus at Capernaum, Peter in the temple, Paul on Mars’ hill, and felt within himself that Christ possesses the words of eternal life. A witness to Jesus Christ had just been born by the same power which had transformed Paul, Apollos, and Timothy. The Reformation of England was beginning. Bilney was united to the Son of God, not by a remote succession, but by an immediate generation....

Not in the palaces of Henry VIII, nor even in the councils where the question of throwing off the papal supremacy was discussed, must we look for the true children of the Reformation; we must go to the Tower of London, to the Lollards’ towers of St. Paul’s and of Lambeth, to the other prisons of England, to the bishops’ cellars, to the fetters, the stocks, the rack, and the stake. The godly men who invoked the sole intercession of Christ Jesus, the only head of his people, who wandered up and down, deprived of everything, gagged, scoffed at, scourged, and tortured, and who, in the midst of all their tribulations, preserved their Christian patience, and turned, like their Master, the eyes of their faith towards Jerusalem: — these were the disciples of the Reformation in England. The purest church is the church under the cross.

The father of this church in England was not Henry VIII. When the king cast into prison or gave to the flames men like Hitton, Bennet, Patmore, Petit, Bayfield, Bilney, and so many others, he was not “the father of the Reformation of England,” as some have so falsely asserted; he was its executioner.

The church of England was foredoomed to be, in its renovation, a church of martyrs; and the true father of this church is our Father which is in heaven. (J.H. Merle D' Aubigne, Reformation History Library [Albany, Oregon: AGES Software, 1998], History Of The Reformation Of The Sixteenth Century, pp. 1733-1734, 2039-2040)