Saturday, September 20, 2008

The parable of the good secularian

And, behold, a certain trial lawyer stood up, and tempted Ted Kennedy, saying Master, what shall I do to inherit liberal brownie points?

He said unto him, What is written in the DNC platform? How readest thou?

And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy Nanny State with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbor as thyself.

And he said unto him, thou hast answered right; this do, and thou shalt inherit many liberal brownie points.

But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Ted, And who is my neighbor?

And Ted answering said, A certain Amerasian went down from Cambridge to Boston, and fell among muggers, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.
And by chance there came down a certain liberal that way: and when he saw him, he text-messaged his Congressman to create a new social program to assist the victims of muggers.

And likewise a Democrat, when he was at that place, saw him through his windshield, and shook his head—blaming Karl Rove.

But a certain secular progressive, as he journeyed, came where he was; and when he saw him, dialed 9-1-1 and drove away in his Volvo.

And when the ambulance arrived, paramedics took him unto the Boston ER. But the Boston ER was closed on account of it going into the red by providing free medical services for Mexican Mafia gang-bangers.

Thus the paramedics had to have our Amerasian victim medevaced to Amherst, many furlongs thither.

And there he was told to take a number and stand in line forasmuch as Hillarycare leadeth unto the rationing of medical goods and services.

After a fortnight he was admitted unto the ER. There he partook a transfusion for blood loss. As ill luck would have it, he partook the wrong blood type, for the phlebotomist could in no wise read his medical chart in the King’s English inasmuch as that would be sore discriminatory. And so he fell straightway into a coma.

Thereafter, his foot was accidentally amputated on account of a dyslexic hospital orderly who mistook his room number for the room number of another, diabetic, patient—whence he wheeled the wrong patient into the operating room. (The hospital had an hiring quota for dyslexic hospital orderlies.)

As a comatose amputee, the Amerasian was summarily euthanized, the better to put him out of the hospital’s misery—and free up some precious organs for the transplant team.

By and by, his muggers were apprehended and put on trial. They were forthwith acquitted as the piteous victims of tragic circumstances.

As their ACLU barrister remonstrated with the jury, the Amerasian decedent was the abhorrent issue of demi-white privilege. Verily had the proverbial chickens cometh home to roost.

Aye, he was but half honky. Was he not part Asian as well? Verily. But some underprivileged minorities were more equal than others. Asian immigrants were too industrious and law-abiding to condignly merit minority status. To merit minority status, thou hadst to rob a mom-and-pop store, not run a mom-and-pop store.

Accordingly, the Amerasian decedent was posthumously charged with an hate crime for grievously provoking the muggers by being the abhorrent issue of demi-white privilege. His estate was heavily fined while his muggers were awarded reparations for their posttraumatic slavery syndrome.

Which of these, thinkest thou, was neighbor unto him that fell among muggers?

And he said, He that shewed mercy killing on him. Then said Ted unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.

Did Hector Avalos ever exist?

I was recently reading the Legend of Avalos. For an online version, see here:

As a keen student of comparative mythology (e.g. Campbell, Eliade, Frazer, Frye) I instantly saw how the Legend of Avalos is a highly redacted pastiche of mythopoetic archetypes.

I. The Monomyth

1. In general, the Legend of Avalos represents a variant on the Quest. In particular, it represents the anti-Quest, with Avalos as the anti-Hero.

2. His grandmother represents the Heroine.

3. Harvard represents the Tempter or seductress.

4. He must traverse a major river (the Rio Grande) to reach his new destination, thereby recapitulating the life of Joshua (crossing the Jordan).

5. Moving from the country to the city represents a stock plot motif. Small-town boy makes good.

6. Moving from south of the border to north of the border symbolizes his downfall. In ANE cartography, east lay at the top of the map. Facing east, north would lie on one’s left-hand side. Hence, a northern reorientation carries ominous connotations (i.e. the hand of the devil).

7. His migration exemplifies the Journey motif.

8. His rags-to-riches story exemplifies the Cinderella motif.

9. His life-threatening illness exemplifies the Death-Rebirth motif.

10. His admission to Harvard exemplifies the Rite of Passage.

11. Admission to Harvard also represents the Temptation motif. His initiation (stock plot motif) into the cuneiform mysteries precipitates his fall from innocence and self-exile from Paradise.

12. His name (Hector) is a heavy-handed literary allusion to a Homeric hero from the Iliad.

II. Criteria of Authenticity

Is there a kernel of truth in the Legend of Avalos? To answer that question, we need to apply standard Historical-Critical techniques to authenticate his words and deeds.

1. On the face of it, it’s highly unlikely that a real person would exemplify so many archetypal motifs.

2. What if we apply the criterion of dissimilarity to the Legend of Avalos? Just as a Jesus tradition must be dissimilar to both the church and the synagogue to be deemed authentic, an Avalos tradition must be dissimilar to both the church and the academy to be deemed authentic.

But the various details of the Avalos legend all reflect stock characters and stock plot devices derived from Pentecostalism or academia.

III. Conclusion

Based on the criterion of dissimilarity, as well as multiple parallels with the literary anti-Hero, we’re forced to conclude that the Legend of Avalos is pulp fiction. The anonymous redactor cobbled together the narrative details from either reading comic books or watching B-movies—possibly both.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Liberal logic

At 4:13 PM ,  Doctor Logic said...


I see that racism is still alive and well in the Republican party. No wonder your friends are praying Obama doesn't win... like you, they believe Obama must be a mugger/gangbanger with "post-traumatic slavery disorder" who only became president of the Harvard Law Review because of "racial quotas". This is the third time this week I've encountered such racism. And I thought America was above this kind of bigotry.

Change in Selection System

Mr. Obama was elected after a meeting of the review's 80 editors that convened Sunday and lasted until early this morning, a participant said.

Until the 1970's the editors were picked on the basis of grades, and the president of the Law Review was the student with the highest academic rank. Among these were Elliot L. Richardson, the former Attorney General, and Irwin Griswold, a dean of the Harvard Law School and Solicitor General under Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Richard M. Nixon.

That system came under attack in the 1970's and was replaced by a program in which about half the editors are chosen for their grades and the other half are chosen by fellow students after a special writing competition. The new system, disputed when it began, was meant to help insure that minority students became editors of The Law Review.

Harvard, like a number of other top law schools, no longer ranks its law students for any purpose including a guide to recruiters.

Where does all this lead?

The actual content of Jason’s thread is concise, accurate, and presented in a charitable, non-controversial, manner.

Yes, that would be typical of Jason. Jason is a Christian gentleman, which makes him twice the man I am.

However, if Waltz truly thinks that a charitable, non-controversial manner is a virtue, then he’s in the wrong denomination since Catholicism has a long history of controversialists, not to mention a decidedly uncharitable treatment towards dissenters.

So why doesn’t Waltz join an Amish community?

As I reflect upon the material, I am left asking myself the question: “where does all this lead”?

It leads to the real world. You know, the world that God chose to make.

Questions concerning interpretation, development of doctrine, eccesiology, schism, church discipline, et al., are racing through my thoughts…

But God chose to make a world in which schism occurs, even though it lay within his power to make a world in which schism does not occur. For example, he could choose not to create schismatics. They would never be born. Never be conceived. Or he could strike them dead in the crib. So schism must serve a purpose in the providence of God.

And what about church discipline? Did the Catholic church discipline predatory priests who molest underage children? Did the Catholic church discipline bishops who were complicit in the priestly abuse scandal?

If it hadn’t been for the media, and lawsuits, and prosecutors, would there have been any accountability whatsoever?

Does the Catholic church discipline high profile Catholic politicians who promote abortion or stem cell research? How many of them have been excommunicated?

If Waltz truly believes that church disciple is a virtue (or even a mark of the true church), then he belongs in the wrong denomination.

If one jettisons the possibility that there exists an infallibility teaching authority instituted by Jesus Christ and His apostles to guide His Church through the perils of heresy and schism, what is left?

I don’t think anyone jettisons that “possibility.”

I also don’t jettison the possibility that Martians are living in subterranean cities beneath the barren surface of the red planet. It’s possible that they’re hiding from us. That’s why we can’t find them.

Here’s another possibility: once upon a time, a wicked witch cast a spell on a handsome young prince, turning him into a loathsome toad. He labored under that accursed condition until, one day, a beautiful princess broke the spell by kissing him on the lips. They lived happily ever after in a marble place, surrounded by swans and puppy dogs and butterflies.

Here’s another possibility: once upon a time an evil stepmother was envious of her beautiful stepdaughter. So she locked her stepdaughter in a tower, and posted a man-eating ogre to guard the tower. Then, one day, as a knight in shining armor was riding by the tower, he heard her piteous pleas. He slew the ogre and rescued the fair damsel. They lived happily ever after in a marble palace, surrounded by fawns and bunny rabbits and nightingales.

Here’s another possibility: once upon a time there was one true church on earth. Everybody belonged to the one true church. Every member of the one true church agreed with every other member of the one true church. The angel Gabriel appeared to every member of the one true church and catechized them in the one true faith of the one true church. Heresy and schism were unheard of. Church discipline was swift and effectual. And they all lived happily ever after.

What’s left? What’s left is the real world. The real church.

How did God guide Abraham’s servant to find a wife for Isaac? (cf. Gen 24). Did Abraham consult the infallible teaching office of the church? Or did God silently guide Abraham’s servant through the providential orchestration of opportune circumstances?

Are we to attempt to identify qualified, authoritative “teachers” to assist our private interpretation/s? If so, how does one come to know that they speak the truth?

As a convert to Catholicism, didn’t David Waltz have to identify qualified, authoritative teachers? If so, how he did he come to know that they spoke the truth? Can he use the Magisterium to test the Magisterium?

If one replies, “we test them by the Scriptures”, does this not raise the question: “if I can discern whether or not their teachings conform to God’s Word, why do I need them

Simple: you evaluate which commentator makes a better case for his interpretation. This is something we do all the time in other walks of life.

Once more, “where does all this lead”?

It leads us out of ecclesiastical fairy tales and back into the real church of the real world.


I see that hippie philosopher Victor Reppert has redated an old political post. I’ll take the occasion to return the favor.


Joe gets up at 6 a.m. and fills his coffeepot with water to prepare his morning coffee. He can only afford to drink four ounces a day because his tree-hugging governor raised the sales tax for the fifth time in four years to pay for gov't run Daycare, the Playboy channel for incarcerated sex-offenders, free needle-exchange programs, social services for illegal aliens, and condom-vending machines in preschool.

But he savors every drop, for next year he'll only be permitted to buy decaffeinated coffee because FDA testing found that force-feeding lab rats 20 gallons of coffee per day raised their cancer rate by .0003% per thousand.

With his first swallow of water, he rations his daily intake of medication. He can't afford all his meds because some stupid commie liberal ambulance-chaser drove pharmaceutical costs through the roof with frivolous lawsuits.

His meds are subsidized by his employer's medical plan because some liberal closed shop union workers fought their employers in order to garnish employee wages so that Joe would labor under the illusion that someone else is picking up the tab when in fact his employer is reaching into Joe's own back pocket.

He prepares his morning breakfast, bacon and eggs. Joe's bacon is unsafe to eat because some girly-man liberal fought for limited liability laws so that if anyone dies of food poisoning, the meat packing industry will pay a fine and pass the cost on to the customer.

In the morning shower, Joe reaches for his shampoo. His bottle is properly labeled with each ingredient because some crybaby liberal thought that he was too stupid to know that imbibing a pint of shampoo might be harmful to his health.

Joe dresses, walks outside and takes a deep breath. Joe begins to cough, choke, and gasp for breath because some environmentalist wacko liberal fought for passage of the Kyoto treaty, allowing Third World countries to contaminate the world air supply with carbon monoxide.

Joe doesn't dare go out at night because some environmentalist wacko liberal lawmaker forbade the spraying or draining of malarial swamps.

Joe lost his first home to wildfire because some environmentalist wacko liberal lawmaker forbade the thinning old growth forestland.

His dad used to take the train to work. But when the Federal highway system destroyed our once-magnificent train system, Joe had to resort to the filthy, crime-ridden subway system because some fancy-pants liberal fought to disarm law-abiding citizens so that street gangs could mug commuters, then cop a plea based on post-traumatic slavery disorder.

Joe begins his workday. Joe's dad used to support his family at a middle class lifestyle on a single income. But it now takes two or three incomes to do the work of one because liberal bureaucrats drove up the cost of doing business through overregulation and usurious corporate taxation.

If Joe gets bored with his job, he can fake an injury and collect workman's comp., retiring to the slopes of Aspen to recuperate because some stupid liberal didn't think that employees might try to bilk the system.

It is noontime and Joe needs to make a bank deposit so he can pay some bills. Joe's deposit is federally insured by the FSLIC because some godless liberal thought that financial institutions should be able to defraud their customers and then file for bankruptcy, thereby shielding the pension and severance pay of board members while sticking the taxpayer with the tab.

Joe has to pay his federal student loan because some elitist liberal decided to subsidize college education so that universities, freed from competitive pressure, no longer had to keep tuition costs down.

Joe had the GPA and SAT scores to get into Harvard, but he had to settle for a community college because racial quotas kept him out while admitting inner city students who couldn't read or write, but had mastered multiple techniques of fitting a condom in high school sex-ed.

Joe is home from work. He plans to visit his father this evening at his farm home in the country. He gets in his car for the drive. He has to practice defensive driving because some America-hating liberal had alcoholism classified as a legally-protected disease and disability.

He arrives at his boyhood home. The countryside used to be a quiet, leisurely, pristine place to live until the Federal highway system and forced bussing overran the bucolic countryside with suburban sprawl as urbanites fled the cities.

His family used to live off the land, in harmony with nature, until some big-government liberal stuck his nose where it didn't belong and demanded rural electrification, powered by fossil fuel consumption.

He is happy to see his dad. Dad will be the last generation to retire on Social Security because some wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberals regularly raided the SS trust-fund to subsidize social programs, instead of allowing workers to invest their own earnings in compound interest-bearing accounts.

Joe's Dad was forced into early retirement, without a pension, because some environmentalist wacko liberal discovered a snail-darter in the cooling system of the local nuclear plant, where his dad used to work.

Joe's uncle used to be a cattle rancher until he was driven out of business because some environmentalist wacko liberal lawmaker kept him from shooting wolves that preyed on his livestock.

Joe's cousin used to work at the local lumber mill until he was laid off because some environmentalist wacko liberal discovered a spotted owl on timberland.

Joe's relatives used to receive assistance from the local chapter of the Salvation Army until it had to close its doors because some liberal civil libertarian sued it for refusing to offer domestic partnership benefits to all its employees.

Wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberals also invented a Constitutional right to an abortion, resulting in 45 million fewer workers to support the retirees.

In addition, wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberals promoted SS so that no able-bodied, adult child should ever be saddled with the onerous burden of caring for the elderly parents who devoted the best years of their lives caring for them when they were young and helpless.

Finally, wine-drinking, cheese-eating liberals lobbied for involuntary euthanasia so that burdensome parents can be put out of their children's misery.

As the day ends, Joe reflects on his nation, his liberties and his freedoms. He is free because conservative cold warriors kept commie lefty Liberals from unilaterally disarming America.

Joe resents having to be so dependent on gov't goods and services, but since he didn't ask for it, since--indeed--it was imposed on him anyway, against his will, and forcibly deducted from his hard-earned wages, the only way he can recoup a fraction of his losses is to play the hand he's been dealt--even if the deck is stacked against him.

Joe gets back in his car for the ride home, and turns on NPR. The radio host keeps saying that liberals are good and right-wingers are bad. He doesn't mention that the beloved liberals have fought for the infringement of every freedom that Joe's old man used to enjoy and take for granted.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Canon And Church Infallibility

Steve Hays and I have been involved in an e-mail discussion with another person about some arguments against sola scriptura and for an infallible church. The discussion has primarily been about the claim that one of the arguments for the Protestant New Testament canon could also be used to support church infallibility. Supposedly, just as the patristic support for the canon suggests the apostolicity of that canon, so also the patristic support for church infallibility suggests the apostolicity of that concept.

What's below is most of the text of two e-mails I wrote on these issues, one yesterday and the other today. I divided my responses into twenty sections. The first fourteen are from yesterday's e-mail, and the last six are from an e-mail written today, after I read an article by A.N.S. Lane that this person recommended.

1. Though you asked about external evidence and referred to what the church fathers believed about the church, we also have internal evidence and other forms of external evidence for the canon. Even if the canon and church infallibility had comparable external evidence from the fathers, or church infallibility had better evidence in that category, we would have to take the other categories of evidence into account as well.

2. If some fathers refer to a form of church infallibility or contradict sola scriptura in some other way, it doesn't follow that all such beliefs should be categorized together in the manner you've suggested. If church father A claims that church Y is infallible, whereas church father B claims that church Z is infallible, then there is no single church that those two fathers are pointing to as infallible. If five alternatives to sola scriptura are offered by the patristic Christians, but none of the five have support comparable to the support we see for the Protestant canon, then what does it prove to compare the support for five different alternatives combined to the support for our canon? As you said in your first letter, the testimony for an infallible church could be ambiguous, such as by not allowing us to discern which church is infallible.

3. My position is that we do see a variety of rules of faith among the patristic Christians. Sola scriptura is sometimes advocated, and it's sometimes contradicted. However, the alternatives to sola scriptura that are offered are different from and contradictory to one another.

4. Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy aren't the only candidates for church infallibility in this context. Why couldn't the infallible church include some or all Catholic and Orthodox churches, but also include others, such as Protestant churches? Or, if it's to be argued that each church must have a succession of bishops going back to the apostles (a conclusion that must be argued, not just assumed), why not include Oriental Orthodox and Anglicans as well, for example, not just Catholicism and Orthodoxy? Why couldn't the infallible church be something other than Catholicism or Orthodoxy or something that goes beyond those two groups?

5. If we were to conclude that there's an infallible church, a third option (something other than Catholicism or Orthodoxy) would not only be possible, but would also be more likely. The earliest sources, like Irenaeus, don't define the church as Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy. The doctrines the earliest sources describe as held by the apostolic churches are ones that are held by Protestants as well (monotheism, the virgin birth, the resurrection, etc.), and they argue for some doctrines that contradict what Catholicism and Orthodoxy believe. We know that the churches of Irenaeus' day disagreed on some issues (eschatology, the celebration of Easter, etc.). Irenaeus and other sources tell us so. Whatever rhetoric Irenaeus may use to the contrary at times, hyperbolically or carelessly or with a more limited context in mind perhaps, he didn't believe that every church agreed on every issue. If we were to look for an infallible church with the beliefs Irenaeus outlines when discussing the beliefs held in common by the churches (monotheism, the resurrection, etc.), we wouldn't limit ourselves to Catholicism and Orthodoxy. It's commonly assumed that Catholicism and Orthodoxy would be our only options if we were to conclude that there's an infallible church. Not only is that assumption not true, but it's also not true that Catholicism or Orthodoxy would even be the best option among others. If we're going to use people like Irenaeus as our standard, then we need to look for an infallible church that's much broader than merely Catholicism or Orthodoxy or the two combined.

6. I've read everything Irenaeus wrote, and I'm not familiar with any affirmation of church infallibility in his writings. Steve is correct in differentiating between infallibility and inerrancy, and other distinctions could be made. Irenaeus does refer to the current reliability of the apostolic churches. But he gives reasons for their reliability that could change with the passing of time. The historical proximity of the bishops of his day to the time of the apostles isn't applicable to the bishops of our day. The fact that the churches of Rome and Ephesus had been faithful to apostolic teaching until the time of Irenaeus doesn't prove that they would be faithful fifty, five hundred, or five thousand years later as well. Since Irenaeus cites the Roman church as the primary example of a reliable apostolic church in his day, would Eastern Orthodox maintain that the church of Rome should be our primary standard today? How often do you see Roman Catholics appealing to the churches of Ephesus and Smyrna in the manner Irenaeus does? How many Catholic and Orthodox bishops have met the moral and doctrinal requirements that Irenaeus says bishops must meet? When Irenaeus says that all apostolic teaching is known to every church and is available to the public, are we to conclude that concepts like praying to the deceased, the veneration of images, the perpetual virginity of Mary, and the papacy were accepted by all of the churches and known to the public? Catholics and Orthodox can cite some agreements they have with Irenaeus' view of the church, but they also disagree with him on some points and would add qualifications to Irenaeus' comments that Irenaeus himself doesn't include.

7. You refer to Irenaeus' view of "the current church". How would you get from the reliability of the church of Irenaeus' day to the conclusion that the church will be infallible throughout church history?

8. Prior to Irenaeus' comments, Papias' search for apostolic tradition leads him to consulting eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Jesus and the apostles, without any reference to an infallible source of such information in the church. Justin Martyr and Trypho discuss some of the New Testament documents, and Justin discusses the church to some extent (what happens during baptism, the eucharist, etc.), but church infallibility has no role in his argumentation or that of his Jewish and Gentile opponents. Though they often criticize the New Testament documents as sources of Christian authority, I'm not familiar with any reference to church infallibility among the earliest enemies of Christianity. Men like Trypho and Celsus comment on the Biblical documents, but they say nothing of a Pope, infallible councils, or church infallibility in general. Hegesippus' comments on the corruption of the church (Eusebius, Church History, 3:32, 4:22) wouldn't lead one to conclude that he held a view of church infallibility like what's advocated by Catholics and Orthodox today. Even long after the time of Irenaeus, we find sources like Augustine making comments about church authority that are inconsistent with a Catholic or Orthodox view (On Baptism, Against The Donatists, 2:2-4). It's not as if all high views of church authority or all forms of belief in an infallible church are equivalent to a Catholic or Orthodox view on the subject. I see no reason to assume that the views of somebody like Irenaeus were equivalent to those of Catholics or Orthodox, I don't see any reason to think that his views would naturally develop into a Catholic view or an Orthodox view, and I see no reason to assume that men like Papias and Augustine agreed with Irenaeus' view. Some elements of Irenaeus' view were popular among patristic Christians, but I see no reason to conclude that his view of church reliability (which isn't the same as infallibility) was as widespread as acceptance of the Protestant canon.

9. We have many lines of evidence for the widespread acceptance of the books of the Protestant canon, such as Eusebius' comments about the degree of acceptance of the books among the churches. Where's the comparable evidence for the degree of acceptance of belief in an infallible church? In my experience, advocates of an infallible church tend to group together a variety of patristic affirmations about different subjects (church reliability, the evidential value of apostolic succession, etc.), act as if all such comments are equivalent to belief in the infallibility of a single church that we today can identify, and assign belief in that church's infallibility to the patristic Christians in general. In contrast to the dubious steps in that form of argumentation, we have many detailed accounts of the widespread acceptance of the 27 books that Protestants accept in their canon. When patristic sources refer to the gospel of Matthew or the second epistle of Peter, we have detailed knowledge of what they're referring to. When Eusebius, Jerome, or some other source comments on how widely accepted such a document is, we're being given a relatively specific assessment of the acceptance of a specific document. A reference to the church isn't as specific. Irenaeus, Cyprian, and John Chrysostom may all refer to the church, but have three different definitions in mind. However, if all three refer to the gospel of Matthew, we can be confident that they're referring to the same document and that we possess it today. Any argument for widespread belief in church infallibility would have to involve more than just vague references to "the church", "apostolic succession", the evidential value of agreeing with what Christians have historically believed, etc. In other words, in my experience, Protestants are citing highly specific and convincing evidence for a highly specific conclusion, whereas advocates of church infallibility are being much more vague in their argumentation and conclusions. The gap between the patristic data and a specific system of church infallibility like Catholicism or Orthodoxy is large. The patristic evidence is too vague to lead us to the specific systems of infallibility that are popularly advocated today.

10. We're not living in the context of somebody like Papias or Irenaeus, much as we aren't living in the context of the Old Testament patriarchs or a contemporary of Moses or Jeremiah. The churches at the time of Papias or at the time of Irenaeus had some advantages that we don't have today. The evidential value of consulting a bishop of Rome in the second century doesn't lead us to the conclusion that there's just as much evidential value, or any, in consulting a Pope today. I've said before that if I were in the position of somebody like Papias, I wouldn't adhere to sola scriptura. But we aren't in his position. We're in a much different position. If sola scriptura had been widely or universally rejected early on, it wouldn't follow that it couldn't be appropriate later, under different circumstances.

11. The ecumenical councils are the most popularly accepted examples of an exercise of alleged church infallibility. Yet, there have been many disagreements, and continue to be many, regarding which councils are ecumenical and which portions of the ecumenical councils are to be accepted. Councils like Nicaea and First Constantinople helped in sorting through some controversial issues, and those councils were eventually widely accepted, but they were also widely rejected for a while. While heretics and the many branches of what we call orthodoxy widely agreed about scripture, there was no comparable agreement about a system of church infallibility. The Arians would reject anti-Arian councils, and the anti-Arians would reject Arian councils, but neither side would reject the gospel of Matthew or Paul's epistle to the Romans when such a document was cited against that side's position. It seems that Christians, heretics, and those who didn't even profess to be Christians accepted the foundational role of scripture in Christianity while widespread disputes over church authority went on for centuries and continue to this day. A Celsus, an Arius, or an Athanasius will be more concerned with scripture than with any other authority when discussing Christianity. That doesn't rule out the existence of some other infallible authority, but it does say something about the level of evidence for one type of authority as compared to another.

12. Patristic scholars, as well as other scholars, often refer to inconsistencies between church fathers and within the writings of a single father. A given church father might have held multiple views of what the Christian rule of faith ought to be. Such inconsistency is understandable when we consider the sort of transitional phases of history an individual might live through. Somebody might live part of his life during the apostolic era and part of his life after that era ends. A Christian might see the Council of Nicaea widely rejected at one point in his life, then see it widely accepted later. Etc. People often change their mind on an issue over time, upon further reflection. Augustine, for example, repeatedly acknowledges his own inconsistencies on some issues. Not only should we not assume that there was one rule of faith held by every father, but we also shouldn't assume that each father held to only one rule of faith throughout his life.

13. We have precedent for trusting a canonical consensus: Jesus and the apostles' apparent acceptance of the Jewish consensus on the Old Testament canon. That precedent doesn't rule out extra-Biblical authorities in the New Testament era, but it does add weight to the New Testament canonical consensus, weight that doesn't exist for an alleged consensus on church infallibility.

14. We already have good reason to accept the Biblical documents. If we continue to have doubts about our rejection of church infallibility, we can continue to think about that issue while continuing to follow scripture at the same time. We shouldn't think of these things in an all-or-nothing manner. Life goes on. It's not as though we have to suspend our more confident conclusions because of some other conclusions we aren't so confident about. There's good reason why Protestants, Orthodox, Catholics, and others agree about the New Testament canon, yet continue to widely disagree about other issues of authority, like church infallibility.

15. The article by A.N.S. Lane that you referenced addresses some of the issues I've discussed, but doesn't address others. He doesn't demonstrate that the view of authority that he attributes to Irenaeus and Tertullian (and others) was as widely accepted as the Protestant New Testament canon. He doesn't discuss my point about the necessity of limiting Irenaeus' comments to only some teachings, not all teachings. (The churches of Irenaeus' day agreed about many things, but not everything.) He repeatedly, in the two notes you cited (notes 29 and 30), refers to Irenaeus' comments in Against Heresies 4:26:2, but he doesn't discuss Irenaeus' comments in the sections that follow (4:26:3-5), where he says that Christians are to separate from bishops who don't meet moral and doctrinal standards. He doesn't discuss the ambiguous nature of Irenaeus' view of the reliability of the church. If some bishops can depart from the apostolic faith and are to be avoided, then the location of the church led by the Spirit can change from time to time. Even if there's to always be a church led by the Spirit, one that's always correct on the core teachings Irenaeus mentions, the location of that church can keep changing, and it isn't assured of always being correct in all of its beliefs. As I said earlier, there's a large gap between the sort of data we find in a source like Irenaeus and the systems of infallibility that are commonly advocated today by groups like Catholicism and Orthodoxy.

16. I wasn't able to find one of the passages Lane cites in note 29. He cites Against Heresies 1:1:6. The editions of Against Heresies that I've consulted have only three sections in chapter 1 of book 1. There is no section 6. In other passages he cites, it's unclear to me just what portion of the citation he has in mind or just what he thinks it proves. For example, he may be referring to the phrase "the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us" in Against Heresies 3:5:1, but it's unclear to me what "permanent among us" means. Does Irenaeus mean that there will always be people who will believe the doctrines he discusses? Does he mean that the apostolic tradition, considered in itself, will always be available? The sort of ambiguities I've discussed above remain. I don't fault A.N.S. Lane for outlining the history of Christian beliefs on issues of authority without addressing every detail that could be addressed and without agreeing with every source he cites or claiming to understand what every source meant in detail. But anybody who would cite a source like Lane's article to justify belief in some sort of infallible church, not just to address the history of Christian beliefs about authority, would have to go into much more detail than Lane does.

17. Lane says that he's discussing Irenaeus and Tertullian for "The first clear attitude to emerge on the relation between Scripture, tradition and the church" (p. 39). But earlier sources don't have to be as clear in order to have some relevance. The points I've made about sources like Papias, Justin Martyr, Hegesippus, and Celsus have to be taken into account, even though such sources don't discuss these issues in the sort of depth we find in a source like Irenaeus or Tertullian.

18. Lane's assessment of Papias is misleading in some ways. Though I disagree with Richard Bauckham on some points regarding Papias, his recent assessment in Jesus And The Eyewitnesses (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2006) is far more detailed, documented, and accurate than Lane's.

19. Lane frequently confirms my assessment of the variety of views of authority that existed among the fathers, as well as my comments about how a single source is sometimes inconsistent with himself. See, for example, pp. 39-42 and notes 29, 41, and 49.

20. Lane alludes to another point I've made in note 29, when he comments that "But it must be remembered that Tertullian became a Montanist" and makes reference to how "the fathers could sit very loose to tradition when it suited them". In other words, as I noted in my e-mail yesterday, commitment to scripture in the patristic era was more deeply rooted and consistent than commitment to various concepts of the church and extra-Biblical tradition, as is the case in our day.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

"I suffer not a woman"

In the modern, egalitarian age, this verse (1 Tim 2:12) has been a lightning rod. It raises several interrelated issues—teaching, authority, social roles—and the question at issue is how these issues are properly interrelated.

1. A preliminary question involves the meaning of authenteo. One scholar reviews a range of meanings: “to rule, reign,” “to control, dominate,” “to compel, influence,” “to act independently,” “to assume authority over,” “to exercise one’s own jurisdiction,” “to flout authority,” “to be primarily responsible for or instigate something,” H. Baldwin, “A Difficult Word,” A. Köstenberger et al. eds. Women in the Church (Baker 1997), 65-80.

Some of these meanings are neutral while others are negative. To some extent the context will narrow down the range of semantic options.

2. For purposes of this little post, I don’t think we have to decide whether a neutral or negative meaning is intended. Rather, I’d like to raise the larger question: how was a 1C woman in a position to exercise the forbidden conduct, however defined?

Here I think the answer probably lies in the nature of 1C churches. A modern church is generally a public facility. The congregation financed its construction or upkeep. Same thing with a rented facility.

The pastor doesn’t own the building. Usually, he’s on the payroll too.

3. But 1C Christians generally met in private homes. House-churches. The home belonged to a wealthy couple or wealthy man or wealthy businesswoman or wealthy widow or wealthy divorcee.

For more on 1C house-churches, see B. Blue, “Acts and the House Church,” D. Gill & C. Gempf, eds. The Book of Acts in Its Graeco-Roman Setting (Eerdmans 1994), 119-222; L. White, The Social Origins of Christian Architecture (Trinity 1996).

In addition, a wealthy couple or wealthy woman would also have slaves and servants at their beck and call.

Strictly speaking, 1 Tim 12 doesn’t mention the church. However, the context is implicitly ecclesiastical. It’s written to Timothy, who—at the time of writing—is responsible for the church of Ephesus. That supplies the background and occasion for the letter.

4. Now, once we think in terms of 1C house-churches, it’s easy to see how the problem Paul is combating could arise.

It would be easy for the hostess to abuse her authority or exercise authority over male parishioners (e.g. slaveboys). To some extent, her household is a captive audience. She could also patronize iterate false teachers.

So she could use her power to manipulate the situation in one form or another.

5. The house-church arrangement also has some bearing on 1 Cor 11 & 14. While Paul says that such women should learn at home, this is probably not an absolute distinction. The contrast doesn’t lie between church and home, per se, but between your own home and another home which is hosting a Christian worship service.

So it’s a question of how to conduct yourself as a guest in someone else’s home—which, in this case—also functions as a house-church.

And it’s obviously possible for a wife to undercut her husband’s authority in a public setting or neutral location like that.

Are Perceptions Totally Subjective?

Zilch recently attempted to link the atheistic subjectivity of the concept of meaning to the proposed subjectivity of perception by stating (emphasis his):
I think you would agree that perception is "subjective" by your definition: my seeing a red hat, for instance, does not mean that you see a red hat: it is solely my perception. Of course, given the same or similar conditions, we might have similar perceptions, just as we might assign similar meanings to, say, the sight of a car veering off toward a group of deaf students. But my perception is in my mind, and does not affect your perception in your mind, unless I communicate it to you in some way.
The problem with that is perception is not solely in your mind at all (unless you do believe in the brain-in-a-vat theory). Indeed, if you perceived something that was only in your mind, that would be the definition of a delusion, wouldn't it?

The only way you can link perception and meaning is if you agree that objects have something that makes them meaningful in and of themselves. That is, meaning has to be objective in some way.

Consider it. We see a red hat. Even if the concept of "redness" is different for you than for me (that is, suppose that you see as the color "red" as what I see as the color "green") the fact remains that the object that we see exists and it exists in such a way that it absorbs all light except for that which we both perceive. That our perceptions are different is irrelevant here. After all, the object emits color X. The fact that your "red" is different from my "red" is irrelevant, because X itself is always labeled "red." The objective nature of X remains the same regardless of what we perceive.

But your idea of "meaning" is in no way similar at all. In atheism, objects do not exist with "meaning" attached to them in any way. There is no property "X" that conforms to "meaning" which we both perceive. Meaning is completely manufactured by you, and by you alone. Meaning totally exists within your subjective sphere and never shall depart it.

So your illustration is disanalogous.

I also find it interesting that you add: "unless I communicate it to you in some way." How can you communicate something that is completely subjective? Communication can only occur if you have ideas that transcend individuals, but that requires an objective sense for them. In the color example, the fact that X is objective allows us to communicate X to one another. We give X a specific label: "red." It doesn't matter how we perceive that, each of us labels our perception of X as "red" and therefore communication results.

In order to talk about meaning, you have to have an objective concept of meaning in place; but in your atheism, you've already said that meaning is itself completely subjective. It doesn't exist in the object, but in the "meaner." It is therefore impossible to communicate it.

Consider this: we can communicate colors because we link them to an objective fact. But suppose again that what I see as "red" you see as "green." This is a literal fact for the purposes of argument. But how do we communicate this to one another?

We cannot. I don't have access to your perception, so I can never compare it to what I perceive. All I have access to is what the object emits, and we both conventionally use the same label for that. So if our perceptions are different here, it is impossible for us to say they are different. I can never know that when you see color X that is labeled “red” you actually see what I call “green”, because I don’t have your perception.

In fact, the only way to determine that another's perceptions are actually different from ours is if they are unable to distinguish between the objective qualities of the object. For instance, my father is color-blind. He cannot see the color red at all. The problem for him arises not in the perceptual area, but instead in the objective area. That is, one object emits a color B and we call it "blue" and another emits the color P and we call it "purple." My father, who does not see the red in purple, says that B = P because to him both are "blue." We can tell this is wrong because we can see that B is NOT the same as P; there is a difference that he cannot see.

We know the problem not because we have access to his perceptions, but because we have access to the objects themselves. Thus, perception has an objective quality to it.

Meaning, however (according to your own stated views) does not have this objective quality at all. It is therefore impossible for atheists to talk about meaning at all, because meaning can never escape the subjective in atheism.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Invincible ignorance


“Hi Steve ,I have been reading your blog for years now. I just created my blog today and wanted to ask you a question which is off topic, you mentioned before in your article about mother teresa that you wouldnt give much allowance to pope benedict xvi,raymond brown and karl rahner if they are saved unlike mother teresa , does that mean that it is nearly impossible for a RC clergy who is consistent with RC theology to be saved?, what about Eastern Orthodox priests?, also are all evangelicals who converted to Romanism and Eastern Orthodoxy lost ? Do you think there are elect RC priests even if they dont believe and embrace solafide?, I am from the Phillippines and just wanted to be clear about this since most people I talk to are Catholics.”

I don’t have precise answers to all these questions. I operate with a few basic principles:

1. To whom much is given, much is required.

2. There’s such a thing as saving faith. That has a certain doctrinal content.

To some extent saving faith person-variable.

3. There’s such a thing as damnable error.

4. No one is saved through invincible ignorance. Ignorance is not equivalent to saving faith.

5. There are degrees of culpability. Willful ignorance. Willful disbelief.

6. You don’t have to be a theologian to be saved.

7. In the course of church history, the elect are often found in situations where their theological and ecclesiastical options are pretty limited. God understands that. God put them there.

8. It’s best to play it safe. Leave yourself a margin of error. Make your best effort to know the truth.

How these principles cash out in any particular case is hard for us to say.

1. Most popes and priests are cradle Catholics. They grew up in Catholic countries or Catholic communities.

Social conditioning is not a very good reason to believe something. It’s a default belief. Are they Catholics by accident? What if they grew up in Mormon or Muslim or Marxist or Hindu or Buddhist countries or communities? Would they be devout Mormons, Muslims, Marxists, Hindus, or Buddhist instead?

Depending on your natural aptitude and opportunities, you have some responsibility to examine the competition. To believe what you do because the geographical lottery caused you to be born in a Catholic country or community isn’t much of a reason to be Catholic (or Protestant, for that matter).

It’s culpable for people with the means and opportunity to never question their social conditioning.

2. The situation with Eastern Orthodoxy is somewhat different. Protestant theology developed in conscious reaction to medieval Catholic theology. And modern Catholic theology has developed, in part, in conscious reaction to Protestant theology.

To some extent, modern Catholicism is a clear-eyed rejection of Protestant theology—although, ironically, modern Catholicism has been influenced by liberal Lutheran Bible criticism.

By contrast, Orthodoxy for the most part came of age before the Protestant Reformation. Its formative years antedate the Reformation. It’s undergone less internal development and reaction.

I don’t want to overstate that situation. Subsequent to the Reformation, Orthodoxy has had occasion to disown Protestant theology—and it’s done so.

On the other hand, the Greek Orthodox read the NT in the original, so, in that respect, they’re more culpable than Latin Fathers and Scholastic theologians who didn’t know any better.

3. As for evangelical converts, some of them converted because they were ignorant of the best that evangelical theology has to offer.

That’s not necessarily a mitigating circumstance because, in some cases, the converts are willfully ignorant of the best that evangelical theology has to offer.

Some of them were asking good questions. They got bad answers to good questions. In that case, I’d cut them some slack.

On the other hand, the deeper they delve into Catholicism, the more they should realize that Catholicism is giving them the wrong answers. It’s no solution. No alternative.

Catholicism is a cop-out for seekers who get tired of looking for answers. They subcontract their religious duties to a second party.

The same psychology can be at work with evangelical converts to Orthodoxy.

In addition, some converts are attracted to the aesthetic dimension of Orthodoxy. That attraction isn’t necessarily a bad thing, although they tend to compare the best of Orthodox aesthetics to the worst of Evangelical aesthetics, which isn’t fair to either tradition.

And, of course, we shouldn’t confuse beauty with truth. Many films and novels and paintings are very beautiful and, at the same time, false to reality.

Islamic architecture is very beautiful, in service to the false prophet of a false God.

I’d add that unless your a Puritan, nothing prevents Protestant worshipers from worshiping in a building in the style of Romanesque architecture or Gothic architecture or Byzantine architecture or listening to Vivaldi choruses or Russian Orthodox choruses.

Is male headship arbitrary?

The Palin candidacy has raised the question of whether the Biblical doctrine of male headship is arbitrary. This criticism is coming from different fronts. On one front, unbelievers are accusing evangelical supporters of hypocrisy. For them, it’s an ad hominem argument.

On another front are “evangelical” egalitarians or “evangelical” feminists who level the same charge.

The tacit assumption here is that if something is arbitrary, then it’s unwarranted. And that’s often the case.

But it all depends on the example. There’s nothing inherently irrational or unreasonable about certain arbitrary distinctions. Take a chain-of-command.

There are situations in which a vice president would make a better president than the president. In that situation, it’s somewhat arbitrary that the president has all the authority, and the vice president as none.

But should we therefore amend the Constitution to give the vice president the same authority as the president, or even more authority than the president, to accommodate those cases where the vice president would make a better president than the president?

The distinction between a 2-star general and a 3-star general is rather arbitrary. Still, it’s a useful distinction. Everyone can’t have the same level of authority.

The distinction between a colonel and a general is somewhat arbitrary. After all, some colonels have better strategic or tactical sense than their superior officer. And there are even situations in which a subordinate officer ought to disobey his commanding officer.

Should we therefore revise the chain-of-command to give a colonel the same authority, or more authority, than a general—to accommodate those cases in which a colonel has better military judgment than the general under whom he serves?

There are isolated situations in which that would lead to a better outcome. But, in the main, then military would become dysfunctional without a chain-of-command.

Or take parental authority. Some parents abuse their authority while other parents abdicate their authority. Does it follow that parents should have no authority over their children?

So the objection to male headship involves a half-truth. Any command structure is somewhat arbitrary. But that, of itself, doesn’t make it unreasonable. Some things are both arbitrary and necessary.

The Palin predicament?

John Loftus has posted a summary of a questionnaire by David Gushee:

The point of the questionnaire is whether Evangelical supporters of Palin are being inconsistent in their support of a female candidate for vice president.

Is it now your view that God can call a woman to serve as president of the United States?

The phrasing of the question is tendentious since it assumes that God calls individuals to be president. Why would we assume that? In the past, God called men and women to be prophets. He occasionally called a man to be king, although succession was ordinarily dynastic.

But there’s no theological reason to treat the presidency as a divine calling.

Are you prepared to renounce publicly any further claim that God's plan is for men rather than women to exercise leadership in society, the workplace and public life?

This question is also tendentious because it assumes a change in position. What I now believe, in contrast to what I used to believe. But I can’t very well renounce a position I never had.

All things being equal, I think it’s better to have men in positions of power. Dennis Prager has written a good article on the subject:

All things considered, some women are better than some men in positions of power. For one thing, some men have an effeminate temperament or an effeminate ideology. They don’t bring masculine virtues to public office.

Obama is soft and dovish. Palin is much tougher. Margaret Thatcher is another example.

Deborah is the paradigmatic exception to the rule.

Would Palin be acceptable as vice president because she would still be under the ultimate authority of McCain as president, like the structure of authority that occurs in some of your churches?

Palin’s acceptability as vice president isn’t contingent on her subordination to a male president.

Have you fully come to grips with the fact that if after his election McCain were to die, Palin would be in authority over every male in the USA as president?

This question contains some faulty assumptions.

i) Presidential authority is limited to presidential prerogatives. In a system of popular sovereignty, authority is ultimately vested in the electorate, and not our elected officials.

ii) Does a president have authority over every male in the US? The executive branch is not the only branch of gov’t. Does the president have authority over congressmen or Supreme Court justices (not all of whom are men)?

Likewise, a president doesn’t have unlimited authority over mayors or governors.

If you agree that God can call a woman to serve as president, does this have any implications for your views on women's leadership in church life?

i) I don’t agree that God calls either men or women to the presidency.

ii) It has no implications for church office. That’s determined by whatever the Bible has to say on the subject.

Would you be willing to vote for a qualified woman to serve as pastor of your church? If not, why not?

Whether a woman ought to serve as pastor depends on the polity of the particular church or denomination. How much authority does the pastor have? That varies from one denomination to another.

Can a woman teach? I think so. Is teaching an exercise of authority? No.

Can a woman exercise church discipline? No. That would be an exercise of authority over men.

Megachurches often have a number of pastors who assume different roles. Any answer, yes or no, would depend on the way in which a pastorate or multiple-pastorate is structured.

For example, it’s not a bad thing for a woman to counsel other women. Indeed, it can be a problem for a man to counsel women (one on one).

Do you believe that Palin is under the authority of her husband as head of the family?

She’s under the authority of her husband, although that’s a qualified authority. A husband can abuse his authority.

If so, would this authority spill over into her role as vice president?

I don’t see that her husband’s authority spills over to her vice presidential authority, or vice versa. A 4-star admiral has authority in the naval chain-of-command. That doesn’t spill over to the civilian sector, or the air force chain-of-command.

Do you believe that women carry primary responsibility for the care of children in the home?

i) No, I don’t think that a woman has primary responsibility for child-rearing. Both mothers and fathers have a distinctive and indispensable role to play in child-rearing.

Indeed, Christian conservatives have been complaining for some time now that feminism marginalizes the role of men in the lives of their children.

ii) Even if I disapproved of the Palin’s domestic arrangements, that’s irrelevant to my voting criteria. I’m not electing a president or vice president to be a role model. I vote for a candidate based on his (or her) policy positions.

Suppose I had a military operation to carry out. I could choose a more competent general who’s a womanizer, or I could choose a less competent general who’s a wonderful family man. Which general should I choose?

I should choose the general who’s better at completing the mission. The fact that he’s a womanizer who will burn in hell when he dies is irrelevant to my military criteria. I’m not responsible for his sexual ethics. I am responsible for the success or failure of the mission.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Remember When

HT: Steve:

Our Modern Chains

I remember when there were no cell phones. I remember life without laptops, desktops, and I-Pods. I remember when we talked to our neighbors and didn't look away from each other as we walked down Main Street. I remember IBM Selectrics and White-Out. I remember 45's and LP's. I remember when...

Apostolic exegesis redux

Did the Apostles interpret Scripture the way we do? The question is ambiguous.

If you read a standard, modern commentary on the Bible, it will contain an introduction. In that introduction, the commentator will try to answer a series of preliminary questions: Who wrote this book? When? Where? Why? To whom or for whom? What’s the literary genre? What’s the state of the text? What unstated influences are feeding into the narrative or the argument?

Now, let us suppose that after he wrote Romans, some Roman Christians wrote Paul, asking him to explain what he meant in Rom 9-11.

Would Paul go through the same preliminaries? Would he ask himself the same questions?

No, because he already knows the answers. So he can skip the preliminaries. Does this mean that Paul interprets Romans in a different way that we do?

Again, the question is ambiguous. Paul doesn’t have to run through the same process. But that’s because he can take the process for granted.

Likewise, Paul doesn’t have to investigate the meaning of the Greek words he uses since he already knows what he meant by them.

Likewise, if they quote from Romans, Paul doesn’t have to perform textual criticism on their quote. He knows whether the quote is authentic, or a scribal interpolation. He knows what he wrote—or dictated to a scribe.

But to interpret Romans correctly, what was a given for Paul must be (or become) a given for the commentator. In that fundamental respect, a modern commentary must interpret Romans the same way.

It would be equivalent to asking a modern commentator what he meant by something he wrote in his commentary on Romans. Since he wrote it, he knows what he meant without having to run through a series of preliminary questions on authorship, date, audience, and so on.

What is a given for the author is not necessarily a given for the reader. For a reader is not necessarily in the same position as the author.

If he’s part of the original audience, he can take more for granted. Otherwise, he needs to make some effort to recover what the author took for granted.

But the aim is the same: to interpret a passage according to the original intent of the author. What he meant to express.

Let’s take a different example. Suppose Paul is interpreting a passage from the Pentateuch.

Now, a modern scholar may know a few things about the Pentateuch that Paul didn’t know. He may know more about the geography of the ANE. He may know more about Egyptian mythology. He may know more about Sumerian or Egyptian loanwords.

But this doesn’t mean that Paul will build his interpretation on the basis of erroneous geography or erroneous philology. Paul, as a beneficiary of inspiration, will know whatever he needs to know to say whatever he needs to say. His interpretation of the Pentateuch will still be correct.

And for a modern scholar to correctly interpret the Pentateuch, he needs to avoid erecting his own interpretation on erroneous geography or erroneous philology. Even though a modern scholar may use some different techniques in approaching the text, both he and Paul are concerned with reading the text in context, according to the author’s intentions. What the author took for granted is still a given.

One of the ironies in this debate is that you have people who claim that apostolic exegesis is at odds with grammatico-historical exegesis. Ironic, I say, for when they try to demonstrate their point, they exegete apostolic exegesis using grammatico-historical exegesis.

Even when they claim a NT writer is construing the OT allegorically, they themselves don’t construe the NT writer allegorically. They don’t offer an allegorical interpretation of the NT writer to show that our NT writer is construing the OT allegorically.

Rather, they find it necessary to use grammatico-historical exegesis on the NT writer to show that a NT writer is (allegedly) allegorizing the OT. So they themselves rely on the grammatico-historical method as a necessary first step in trying to make their case against the necessity of the grammatico-historical method.

So the grammatico-historical method is unavoidable even when their objective is to undermine that method. They must use the method to disprove the method—in which case they end proving the method in the process of disproving it. It’s an odd dilemma.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Speaking truth to power

One of the current objections to Palin is that she has exaggerated her record as a reformer. For example, that she was for the bridge to nowhere before she was against it.

Now, unlike all the scurrilous attacks on her and her family, at least that’s a legitimate issue to raise. Comparing a politician’s claims to his actual record is fair game.

Speaking for myself, I think it’s a penny-ante issue. Not something I’d vote on. But I’ll use it to discuss some larger issues.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that she did exaggerate her record as a reformer. What should we make of that?

First of all, I don’t necessarily blame a politician who schmoozes the political establishment and cuts some deals on the way up the ladder. I’m more interested in what a politician does once he (or she) assumes a position of power. Does the politician continue business as usual? Or does he challenge the corrupt status quo?

It’s almost impossible to assume a position of power if you pick a fight with almost everyone in power. So I understand if a politician is more compromising in his rise to power. You’ll never get to the top if you alienate everyone above you.

I’m more inclined to judge a politician by what he does after he’s made it, and not what he does on the way up.

Of course, that doesn’t justify winning at any cost. You have to draw some lines.

Then there’s the question of honesty. Most politicians exaggerate. Do I have a problem with that? Depends.

I have low expectations for politicians. So it doesn’t surprise me or shock me or disappoint me.

And it doesn’t bother me personally since I’m not personally responsible for another man’s character.

There’s a reason that most politicians lie to one degree or another. The political culture punishes candor rather than rewarding candor.

Suppose a candidate for president were to say, “I’m not running as the education president. If you read the Constitution, that’s not in my job description!”

Do you think he could still win?

Suppose he were to say, “I’m not running as the economist-in-chief. That’s no part of my Constitutional job description!”

Do you think he could still win?

Or suppose he simply pointed out that a president doesn’t control a global economy. That’s beyond his power even if he wanted to.

Do you think he could still win?

Or what if he said, adjustable mortgage rates can go up as well as down. That’s what makes them adjustable. It’s a gamble. A roll of the dice. You win some, you lose some.

Do you think he could still win?

Suppose he were to say, “If you choose to live in a dangerous part of the country, you do so at your own risk. Don’t expect Uncle Sam to bail you out!”

Do you think he could still win?

Politicians are generally dishonest in varying degrees, and that’s because the electorate requires them to be dishonest to some degree. Most voters don’t want honest politicians. Year after year they vote for candidates who make campaign promises which they obviously can’t keep and won’t keep and have no intention of keeping.

Or take judicial nominations. Senators ask nominees trip-wire questions. They want to trap the nominee into admitting that a “Constitutional right” which is nowhere in the Constitution is, in fact, a Constitutional right.

If they successfully extract that confession from the nominee, they will then use it to discredit the nominee. As a result, nominees give evasive answers to trip-wire questions.

Or suppose Bush is privately of the opinion, knowing now what he didn’t know then, that if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t invade Iraq. What if he were to admit that, with the benefit of hindsight, it may have been a serious miscalculation.

(At the moment I’m not taking a position on the Iraq war—I’m just floating a hypothetical case.)

Would he be praised for his newfound capacity for self-criticism? Or would his moment of unguarded candor be ruthlessly exploited by his political opponents?

Do I think it’s a good thing that politicians lie to us? No. But they lie to us because most voters vote for the best liar. The candidate who tells them the lies they want to hear. So there’s a lot of blame to go around.