Saturday, January 03, 2009

Joseph Kelly On Christmas

Joseph Kelly, a professor of religious studies at John Carroll University in Ohio, has been working on a three-volume series on the history of Christmas. The first volume came out in 2004, and is titled The Origins Of Christmas (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2004). The second volume came out last year, under the title The Birth Of Jesus According To The Gospels (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2008). I don't know when the third volume is due out, nor do I know which aspects of Christmas it will address. But I've read the first volume and recently finished reading the second, and I want to provide an overview of both.

Page citations from the two volumes will be in the form of a volume number followed by the page number. For example, "2:75" would refer to page 75 of the second volume cited above.

The first volume addresses the history of the holiday during the first six centuries of church history, and the second addresses the relevant Biblical material. The first book is around 150 pages long, and the second is about 100 pages. Both are directed at a general readership. Neither has any notes. Both volumes end with some recommended resources for further study, which give some indication of how Kelly reached his conclusions.

He's not as critical of the traditional Christian view of the infancy narratives as somebody like Geza Vermes or Marcus Borg. He's closer to Raymond Brown, but somewhat less liberal. Either he's largely unaware of conservative scholarship and argumentation on the infancy narratives or he often chooses to ignore that scholarship and argumentation. He frequently makes claims that have been addressed by conservatives, even addressed many times, without interacting with the conservative position or even giving any indication that he's aware of it. Nobody who has read much of Craig Keener's material on Matthew, Darrell Bock's material on Luke, or this blog's material on Christmas issues, for example, should find anything that's significantly challenging to a traditional Christian view of the infancy narratives in Kelly's work.

According to Kelly, Matthew didn't write the first gospel (1:5). There was a lengthy period of oral tradition prior to any writing of the gospel material (2:2-3). He even claims that "both evangelists wrote eighty to ninety years after the event [Jesus' birth] and did not have access to reliable written sources, only to oral traditions passed along for decades, and even then only to the oral traditions known to their own local communities" (1:27). Ancient sources often made up the words they attributed to a source (2:4). The gospel authors didn't intend their accounts to be read as entirely historical, and the early readers of the gospels would have been aware of that fact (2:59, 2:70). Inconsistencies among the gospels, such as the timing of Jesus' confrontation with the money changers and the differences in the wording of The Lord's Prayer, prove that "Clearly, 'lives' of Jesus that do not agree with one another on the basic facts or words cannot be biographies as we think of them today." (2:2) Vague and inconsistent parallels with Old Testament material are made out to be highly significant. For example, Luke 2:6-7 is compared to 1 Samuel 1:20. Then we go several verses ahead in Luke 2, to verse 24, and compare that verse to the next verse in 1 Samuel 1, verse 21. Then Kelly tells us to go ahead several more verses in Luke 2, to verse 39, while going back a couple of verses in 1 Samuel 1, to verse 19. That sort of vague and inconsistent paralleling is supposed to show that Luke "relies heavily upon the OT account of the birth of the judge and prophet Samuel" (2:65). Jewish genealogies focused on men rather than women because of "an attitude that considers women to be inferior in all aspects" (2:29). A woman in the ancient world had "one role in life", and that role was to produce a son for her husband (2:61). If a couple didn't have a child, it was "always" considered the woman's fault (2:61). Because of the words he attributes to Elizabeth in Luke 1:25, Luke is a sexist, even though he did "rise above many of the sexist attitudes of his age" (2:62). Herod would have had some of his men follow the magi if the events of Matthew 2 were historical (2:47). Luke's census account can't be historical (2:83). The plural "their" in Luke 2:22 is wrong (1:25). Etc.

On the other hand, Kelly is more moderate or conservative on some points, and he acknowledges some significant evidence that supports a traditional view of the infancy narratives. Jesus' disciples probably spoke with Him about His childhood and passed some of that information on to the early church (1:4). If the first gospel had been written by Matthew, his testimony would be "of immeasurable value" (1:5). Though Kelly doesn't say much about James' potential role as a source for the infancy narratives, and he doesn't discuss Luke's access to James (Acts 21:18), he does acknowledge that James was "someone who was knowledgeable about the early history of Mary and Joseph" (1:38). Though there was much apocryphal material about Jesus' infancy in the ancient church, most people realized its non-historical nature (1:53). The majority of those who passed on oral tradition were concerned about historical accuracy (2:3). The gospels "show strong agreement on many major points in Jesus' life" (2:3). Luke "knows the Gentile world very well" and writes with a high degree of knowledge and accuracy about the Roman empire (2:13). Matthew and Luke's infancy material was largely gathered by them, not invented by them (2:17). Jesus was born in Bethlehem (2:43-44). Two astronomers who have recently written on the star of Bethlehem, Mark Kidger and Michael Molnar, "make a good case for some unique astral phenomenon or phenomena at the time of Jesus' birth" (1:31). The perpetual virginity of Mary, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of Mary, and the veneration of images weren't beliefs held by the universal church from the start, but instead grew in popularity over centuries of time (1:43, 1:92, 1:104). Christians were associating December 25 with Jesus' birth prior to the fourth century (1:61-70). Etc.

Given how little Kelly seems to know about conservative scholarship and argumentation on the infancy narratives or his unwillingness to interact much with what he does know, the degree to which he agrees with conservative conclusions is significant. Still, the first two volumes in his series are more liberal than conservative, and they don't do much to advance the issues. Kelly considers himself a Christian, and he "loves Christmas" (2:100), but these two books are largely a disservice to Christianity and to Christmas.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Hush Hush Relativism

If one has a good moral theory, it seems that it should be pronounced. Taught to others. Publicized. Moral precepts should be teachable. This seems obvious.

Cultural or subjective relativism claims that there are no universal, trans- subject or culture moral principles. That what is ethically right for one subject or culture, might not be for another. Likewise, what is wrong for one subject or culture, might not be for another.

But, ask any relativist you know whether s/he thinks genocide, rape, pedophillia, etc., is wrong, immoral, bad, you'll no doubt here something like: "Well, I think it is." Or, "Well, our culture says it is."

Besides the many, many problems for any form of ethical relativism, I'd like to raise another I recently thought of.

Given the truth of ethical relativism, it seems highly probable that other subjects or cultures would use its truth to justify what you or your culture takes to be immoral.

This isn't speculative either. Take Bundy:

Then I learned that all moral judgments are “value judgments,” that all value judgments are subjective, and that none can be proved to be either ‘right’ or ‘wrong.’ I even read somewhere that the Chief Justice of the United States had written that the American Constitution expressed nothing more than collective value judgments. Believe it or not, I figured it out for myself – what apparently the Chief Justice couldn’t figure out for himself – that if the rationality of one value judgment was zero, multiplying it by millions would not make it one whit more rational. Nor is there any ‘reason’ to obey the law for anyone, like myself, who has the boldness and daring – the strength of character – to throw off its shackles…. I discovered that to become truly free, truly unfettered, I had to become truly uninhibited. And I quickly discovered that the greatest obstacle to my freedom, the greatest block and limitation to it, consists in the insupportable ‘value judgment’ that I was bound to respect the rights of others. I asked myself, who were these ‘others’? Other human beings, with human rights? Why is it more wrong to kill a human animal than any other animal, a pig or a sheep or a steer? Is your life more to you than a high’s life to a hog? Why should I be willing to sacrifice my pleasure more for the one than for the other? Surely you would not, in this age of scientific enlightenment, declare that God or nature has marked some pleasures as ‘moral’ or ‘good’ and others as ‘immoral’ or ‘bad’? In any case, let me assure you, my dear young lady, that there is absolutely no comparison between the pleasure I might take in eating ham and the pleasure I anticipate in raping and murdering you. That is the honest conclusion to which my education has led me – after the most conscientious examination of my spontaneous and uninhibited self. Louis P. Pojman The Moral Life: An Introductory Reader in Ethics and Literature (Oxford University Press: 2003).

Or take another example from history. Nazi war criminals defended themselves by claiming that they were just following orders given by their culture and legal system. In response, Robert Jackson, chief counsel for the U.S. at the trials responded by saying that: "there is a 'law beyond the law' of any individual nation, permanent values which transcend any particular society."

It seems, then, that, for some, the truth of ethical relativism, for them, will serve as an excuse for them to do things that you, another relativist, thinks is wrong.

Thus, your teaching relativism may lead to people commiting crimes that you take to be highly immoral. That seems highly counter intuitive a result for an ethical theory to produce. Usually we think teaching ethical principles will have the opposite effect. People will be "better" (according to our created standard of better).

Thus it may better to not teach relativism but to teach some kind of ethical absolutism or ethical objectivism where the ethical principles that are absolute or objective transcend subject and culture instead.

The relativist might respond that that would be lying and s/he (or the culture) believes lying to be wrong. But why not allow lying in this instance? Most do not believe it would be wrong to lie to the Nazi at your door step, so what is so wrong about lying about what ethical theory is correct, especially when people might use it to justify henious acts that you take to be highly immoral? Wouldn't it be worth it in this instance to lie?

Another response might be: But teaching relativism is needed because we need tolerance, tolerance among people and cultures would make them less likely to commit genocides, exercise racism, etc. So, teaching relativism will, hopefully, lead to a lessening of genocides &c. Thus my ethical theory will promote what I take to be morally right.

But here the relativist imposes her morality on others. The relativist believes she is right and others are wrong. She is saying with this claim that: what I or my culture thinks is right for us, is right for everyone. Just because the relativist thinks we should be tolerant, doesn't mean another relativist won't use that to his advantage, claiming he doesn't need to be tolerant.

These people could commit what the relativist takes to be highly immoral atrocities. There would be more ground to convince the person or others that he is wrong by claiming a (limited) tolerance is an objective ethical principle, not made true by subjects or cultures beliefs. So, the tolerance principle would still get taught.

Since most ethical relativists will think it is okay to lie in instances where telling the truth could have very disasterous consequences, then it wouldn't violate immoral instances of lying. To tell the truth would, actually, be immoral.

It seems to me that many relativists should think it immoral to teach relativism.

Arminianism Unveiled

In response to my "all means all, except when it doesn't" post, the Arminians have been forced to lay their cards on the table.

Before it was so easy to say, "It's obvious unlimited atonement is true because it says Jesus died for all." Now, not so easy. Now, they are forced to admit that they plop the Bible on their Procustean bed and either stretch it in places or lop it off at the legs in places, depending on what makes it fit their predetermined (!) notions of what God must be like.

For example, we read this from Robert:

Logically there are only three possibilities regarding the “all verses” in the bible: (1) all never means all; (2) all always means all; or (3) all sometimes means all and sometimes does not mean all. We can easily dismiss possibility (1) as no one suggests that. We can also easily dismiss possibility (2) as we can all present verses where all does not mean all. That leaves only possibility (3) that sometimes all means all and sometimes all does not mean all in the bible verses. I believe careful consideration of the texts and contexts will show where all means all and where all does not mean all. The determinist will also grant that possibility (3) is the correct one. Their problem is that when they come to soteriological passages, where all in fact means all, because of their system and not proper interpretation of the biblical texts, they will argue that in those soteriological passages all does not mean all. So for the committed determinist it always comes down to allegiance to an erroneous system over proper interpretation of clear biblical texts. And if someone makes this move, there really is not much chance of dissuading them of their false interpretation. So due to their allegiance to the false deterministic system, they will then have to argue that in fact Jesus does not love all the children of the world. And that He does not want to save them all nor did He want to provide a provision of salvation for them all through the cross. And if they are candid about what they truly believe they have to claim that in fact Jesus planned from eternity to reprobate/damn most of the children of the world. If they wrote the song in accordance with their false theology it would be “Jesus hates most of the children of the world and he reprobated them before they were born for his ‘glory””.
Perhaps Robert can help out his pals like Victor Reppert who says things like:

"You see, every time I get into an exegetical argument about Calvinism I usually end up saying "All means all," and the Calvinist says "well, it means from all groups, not all persons." To people like us, Calvinists are saying "OK you signed onto following Jesus and you think He loves everybody. But read the fine print."

Oh, by the way, Robert lauded Reppert's defenses and understanding of Arminianism., my post demonstrated that Arminians can't appeal to the "But it says Jesus died for all" arguments anymore, Robert saw that, and tries to recover what's left for his fellow Arminians.

Now, notice that no "careful examination of the texts" is made. It is simply asserted that "all means all in the salvation texts, even though it may not elsewhere.

But, can an examination of the text demonstrate this? If so, let's see it.

Actually, what is really being said, as is clear above, is this:

"I have an allegiance to a specific system of what it means to say "God is love" and that must mean that Jesus would die for all men to give 'em a shot at heaven, because if he didn't, that would be unloving.

Now, can this view be exegeted from the text of Scripture? If so, let's see it.

I don't think so, though. Why not? Well, actually, the above a priori tradition is actually based on another a priori tradition that cannot be exegeted from Scripture. It looks like this:

"Well [say that pushing a lot of air out of your mouth and with a perplexed look on your face], it wouldn't be loving because, well, you know, God has to give everyone an equal shot and allow all to libertarianly choose him, 'cause that's real love. If a 'decision to accept Christ' is free, then God knows the sinner really loves God and wants to be in heaven."

Can this conception of libertarianism be exegeted from Scripture? No, it can't. Moreover, if the Arminian appeals to texts that say "God loves all" and they mean "God soterically loves all," why do they think that? It can't be because "all means all." That would be to massively beg the question. No, it's because this is an assumption they have.

So, the Arminian who takes the bait in my "all doesn't always mean all" post is forced to claim that context can determine the extent of "all" passages.

He must then (a) demonstrate that the context of soteric passages means all, but he does this by (b) resorting to raw emotion (we can't be robots, if you love something set it free, if it comes back it was meant to be, whoopee!) and extra biblical philosophical assumptions unable to be proved from Scripture.

Now, the Arminian may think that these assumptions brought to the text are true. That's fine. It's a free country. But, they should stop pretending that they have exegeted things like unlimited atonement from Scripture. They should do the honest thing and admit that they have certain philosophical assumptions, and so, with Wesley, they say, "I don't know what the text means, but I know it can mean that [where "that" means "Calvinism"].

As for me, I'm actually glad God determined that I would love him. Left to my own devices, I'd actually love my sin more than Him.

A world where God and fallen man have libertarian freedom, and man is totally depraved, is a world where God and fallen man are never reconciled. And if, per impossible, they could be reconciled, that world provides no guarantee that they will remain reconciled.

Just like Islam provides no eternal assurance, so does a world with libertarian free will for God and man. Funny how libertarianism ends at the same place as the hard-core conjunction of determinism and voluntarism presented in Islam.

Sexual boundaries


“Now, it makes sense to me that the more extremely sexual and/or uncomfortable a piece of clothing, the more likely it is (in general) that the woman is wearing it for the purposes of sexual attraction; so a catsuit is more likely to be donned for sexual purposes than simply an attractive skirt. Are we agreed thus far?”


“Different families, countries etc have different sexual climates, and these can be hard to infer from simply looking at a woman. Again, would you agree with this?”

To some extent, what constitutes provocative attire is culturally variable. Islam is a case in point.

“Body language, context and so on are therefore useful indicators to a woman's motives. Agreed, again?”


“Do you think it's ethically permissible for an unmarried man to look at an umarried woman for the purpose of sexual enjoyment?”

i) That’s an interesting and complicated question. Traditionally, the locus classicus is Mt 5:27-28. However, most readers don’t really exegete this text. Instead, they consciously or unconsciously plug their own experience into the text. So this becomes an exercise in mirror-reading.

ii) Not that personal experience is entirely irrelevant to the interpretation of Scripture. Like communication generally, Scripture takes certain things for granted on the part of the reader. However, experience shouldn’t become a substitute for other exegetical considerations.

iii) This passage has its background in the seventh and tenth commandments. As such, it has specific reference to adulterous covetousness.

Mental adultery would either involve someone's spouse mentally seducing a single person or else a single person mentally seducing someone's spouse. Something along those lines.

Most readers equate Mt 5:27-28, not only with mental adultery, but mental fornication. However, that’s broader than the OT background which informs this text.

In the OT, adultery and fornication were not equivalent. Whether there’s such a thing as mental fornication goes beyond this text.

iv) That leaves us with three possible options:

a) Mental fornication is morally impermissible on the basis of other passages of Scripture, or other Scriptural principles.

b) There’s no such thing as mental fornication.

c) It’s permissible for a single man to fanaticize about a single woman (or vice versa), but we should avoid that on prudential grounds.

d) It’s permissible for a single man to fanaticize about a single woman (or vice versa) as long as certain restrictions are observed.

v) On a related note, while sexual attraction is involuntary, sexual imagination is generally voluntary (an exception would be erotic dreams).

Using our imagination involves an act of the will.

A single man might imagine taking a single woman out for a date, without imagining a sexual encounter.

vi) Apropos (iv)-(v), I’m not, as of yet, taking a position on which hypothetical option is ethically correct. I’m simply drawing attention to the complexity of the issue, since this is often overlooked in Christian discussions.

Generally speaking, I think it’s probably the case that single men and women are allowed freer play of the sexual imagination than are married couples (or couples engaged to be married). Married couples can only fantasize about each other. Single men and women are not quite as limited in this regard, for they have yet to enter into a committed relationship (e.g. marriage).

vii) The Bible also uses a certain amount of sexual imagery. This involves a deliberate appeal to the sexual imagination of the reader. And the reader is not married to, or espoused to, the anonymous sexual object. (I say “anonymous” because Scripture is using generic sexual imagery.)

So we can’t rule out all use of anonymous sexual imagery.

viii) At the same time, when Scripture uses sexual imagery, that’s directed at marriage. It celebrates marriage. Or it editorializes against the extramarital abuse of marriage. Or it uses sexual imagery as a spiritual metaphor, for good or evil.

So this is not meant to be a permanent alternative to conjugal relations.

ix) On the other hand, Scripture also recognizes special cases in which an individual is not at liberty to marry. But that’s exceptional.

I’ll revisit your second question in a separate comment.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pornography and other innocent pastimes


Nevertheless, even revealing clothes are not necessarily donned for the purpose of attracting men. A low-necked top might be cooler than a high-necked one (given that women don't tend to have the option of removing our shirts entirely!), worn because it's breastfeeding-friendly, or simply because the woman likes the look of it.

But my basic problem with Steve's diatribe is that it assumes he has the right to comment on what women who are not his wife are wearing, as if he knows their reason for dressing…

I do not dress to attract men. I dress in clothes I think look nice; occasionally clothes my husband finds attractive; frequently clothes I find cool and comfy; always clothes which are in my budget and available in my city; and quite often, clothes chosen for a reason no more man-snaring than "this is the one top my baby hasn't thrown up on today". Therefore, if a man like Steve uses the 'women dress to attract men' theory to provide an excuse to criticise my clothing and the success or failure of the sexual allure thereof, he is being sexist--in other words, he is using a sex-based stereotype to treat me disrespectfully.

No, I don't imagine that women wear stilettos for comfort; why does it then follow that the only possible reason they could wear them is to attract men? Maybe the misguided pant suit woman wore stilettos because they were the only shoes she owned which matched the pant suit colour-wise.

So the question is, how can you tell when a woman is 'displaying' herself for your benefit (and is therefore, in your view, fair game for criticism) and when she is just dressing in a way she likes, and therefore should be left alone? You can't. Some outfits certainly seem sexier or more sensational than others; but as I said in my last post, you can't necessarily judge motive from that…

1. Assumption that Britney Spears has dressed to please him
2. Assumption that he therefore has the right to grade her sexually.

From Steve's other comments, it is clear Steve forms a snap judgment on more than a woman's appearance if she is dressed 'a certain way'--he also judges her motives for dressing (to attract men).

Peter, you are not understanding what I am saying. I have admitted that Steve is referring to a specific subset of women, but he himself has provided no criteria for determining who those women are. How does he know which women are dressing in order to attract men? He doesn't; he can't, save by getting inside their minds; but he assumes to know the motives of women who dress 'a certain way' and treats them accordingly.

Well, I have to admit that Sarah Tennant finally convinced me of the error of my ways. Let’s take the case of Britney Spears, whom she so ably defends. Take, for instance, this cover from Rolling Stone magazine.

Now then, in my inexcusably sexist way I always assumed that Britney posed for the cover to be snare male viewers. I also assumed the real motive of the editors in putting that shot of Britney on the cover was to lure more men buy the magazine.

But I now realize that these were grossly sexist assumptions on my part. Britney could have had all sorts of purely Platonic reasons for pulling her blouse back to reveal that push-up bra. After all, even revealing clothes are not necessarily donned for the purpose of attracting men. Maybe she wore that outfit cuz it’s so cool and comfy. Or maybe she wore that outfit cuz it's breastfeeding-friendly. Or maybe she wore that outfit cuz it’s the one and only bra the poor thing owed at the time.

Here I’ve been guilty of using the “Britney dressed to attract men" theory to provide an excuse to criticise her provocative clothing and the success or failure of the sexual allure thereof. I was being male chauvinist pig—in other words, I was using a sex-based stereotype to treat Britney disrespectfully.

Thankfully, we have Evangelical women like Sarah Tennant who are prepared to stick up for Britney and defend the crystalline purity of her motives.

And, unfortunately, she’s not the only woman I’ve wronged in that respect. Here I imagined that a Playmate like Anna Nicole Smith was posing nude to attract male viewers. How sexist could I be? The real reason she made a living by removing all her clothing in front of a cameraman may just as well have been because it was such a hot day outside and the air conditioner was broken.

As for the presence of the cameraman—that was sheer coincidence. He was really a passport photographer who took a wrong turn and accidentally wound up at the Playboy Mansion. Can happen to anyone.

Come to think of it, I’ve also wronged Hugh Hefner, Larry Flynt, and Bob Guccioni over the years. Here I imputed a combination of prurient motives and crass financial intentions to their commercial labors. Until now, I was blind to the live possibility of their nobly humanitarian and socially redeeming intentions. After all, I can’t get inside their minds, now can I?

And I finally see that I’ve also been misjudging all the male consumers of soft porn and hard porn. Here I presumptuously inferred that the average man would buy that issue of Rolling Stone for salacious reasons. But Sarah Tennant has opened my eyes to the rich range of possibilities. A man might buy that issue because he found the color of the satin background simply irresistible. Or perhaps it was the cute teletubby in her arms. Or maybe he was curious about the make of telephone she was holding in her hands. Or perchance he was dying to read the wonderful articles inside.

After all, isn’t that the real reason that men used to read Playboy magazine? Not for the pictures. Not for the naked women. That was such a nuisance. No, they bought Playboy magazine for all those erudite, mind-expanding essays. The pictures were just a distraction.

So, now that I’ve had more time to think about it, I finally realize that there’s nothing wrong with pornography. There are so many perfectly innocent reasons why men might either make pornography or consume pornography. Who am I to judge? I don’t necessarily know their true motives. How could I? I don’t have access to what they’re thinking.

Same thing with pedophiles. For all these years I’ve been imputing the worse possible motives to child molesters. Shame on me! Time to bring in Sarah Tennant as counsel for the defense!

Thanks, Sarah, for bringing such moral clarity to the controversial issue of commercial erotica. Where would the church be without women of your moral discernment? Women like you and Misty Irons and Christie Hefner are truly making the world a better place.

All Means All, Except When It Doesn't

Arminians continue to make the kind of claims like we see in the meta here:


Tyler J said:


Refuting Arminianism is quite simple actually. After all, Arminians fail to distinguish between the revealed truth (what the Bible says) and the secret truth (disclosed only to those enlightened by the doctrines of grace). Whenever the Arminian claims that Jesus died for all (revealed truth), point out that it actually means "all of the elect" (secret truth).


And I stumbled across the typical emotional rant here:


Herman: Well, that song was quite obviously written by an Arminian

Calvin: Why do you say that?

Herman: Well, the song says that Jesus loves “all” the little children of the “world”. That is what Arminians believe, that Christ died for all and loves the world in such a way that He truly desires all to believe in Christ and be saved.

Calvin: Oh, well you have just misunderstood the context of the song.

Herman: What do you mean?

Calvin: Well, the context plainly demonstrates that “all” doesn’t mean “every child without exception.”

Herman: It doesn’t?


First off, even unregenerate unbelievers aren't so stupid as to think that all always mean all. Philosopher of language William Lycan, speaking on restricted quantification, writes that, "What logicians call the domains over which quantifiers range need not be universal, but are often particular cases roughly presupposed in context" (Philosophy of Language: A Contemporary Introduction, p.24).

And it's obvious that many people believe that you can say "whole world" and it not mean "every single person whoever." For example, leftists at the 1968 Democrat National Convention in Chicago chanted, "The whole world is watching." It is fairly obvious that if asked, they would say that, "Of course, they didn't mean 'every single person whoever.'"

But Arminians continue to say things like, "Calvinists deny the plain meaning of the Bible because they don't think all means all or whole world means whole world."

But, it is so obvious that even the Bible doesn't always mean all when it says all, or whole world when it say world.

Just look at a few verses:

1 Kings 10:24 The whole world sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart.

Romans 1:8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world.

Romans 16:19 Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

Colossians 1:23 if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant.

All, world, everyone, every, etc., obviously doesn't have universal existential import, Obviously. Period.

If I need to make it plainly obvious, here's an example:

[1] The gospel has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven.

[2] Sammy the 1st century South American sea slug is a creature under heaven.

[3] Therefore, the gospel was proclaimed to Sammy the South American sea slug.

So, it is clear that erudite atheists, pot smoking hippies, and even the Bible, consciously use universal language without giving them universal existential import.

I need to say it again. It is OBVIOUS that the Bible, in many, many, many places uses "all" and "whole world" and "everyone" while not meaning all and whole world and everyone. Again:

I John 5:19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.

But John did not mean born again believers. People freed from the control and power of sinful dominion.

I said obvious:

Revelation 22:5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.”

[1] Jesus makes all things new.

[2] My dog's poop, my 15 month old son’s boogers, and Satan are things.

[3] Therefore, Jesus makes my dog's poop, my 15 month old son’s boogers, and Satan, new.

So, I am honestly perplexed by those Arminians who constantly and haughtily say things like, "Oh, you need to go read the Reformed theologians because they'll tell you that all doesn't always mean all, even when it says all."

If Arminians think the above verses really mean all, then all I can say (actually, I could say more; I have to make this qualification for our Arminian readers) is that they've made themselves irrelevant. They are disqualified from rational discussion.

If they agree with me about the above verses, then either they are hypocrites or they need to do some major PR work to show just what the heck they mean why they arrogantly act as if we Calvinists deny the plain reading of Scripture.

I'm sorry, but enough's enough.

An Underlying Reason Why Porn is Wrong

Since Steve's recent post on porn addiction has generated so many responses, I thought it might be useful to print the following excerpt from a novel I'm currently polishing up entitled The 13th Prime. Needless to say, since I'm still editing it, it's subject to much change and all that. However, the point of the passage should be clear without my having to enlighten anyone as to the plot or any of that :-)


“Let’s take an example. Pornography. Porn is something that even a lot of people in the church struggle with. I’ve heard statistics that say as many as two thirds of pastors surf internet porn at their home. That’s a lot of people, and you have to wonder why they do it.”

Rick shrugged, hoping his perceived indifference wouldn’t give away his discomfort at how close this topic was to his recent infidelity. “I don’t know. I guess there’s something about the sex appeal.”

“Certainly that’s the hook,” Killen agreed. “But that’s not really the point of pornography. You see, porn has nothing to do with nudity or even sex when you boil it all down.”

Rick burst out laughing. “How can you possibly say that?”

“Because these are married men who look at porn. They download pictures of naked women when they have a wife whom they have seen naked too. They watch videos of anonymous strangers having intercourse, and yet they have a wife whom they’ve slept with too. If it was just the nudity and just the sex they wouldn’t need the porn. There’s something else there.”

“I’ve never thought of that,” Rick said and he sat back. “But what would it be if there’s something else? Just a drive for variety?”

“Perhaps,” Killen said. “But I think it’s more than that. I think that the reason pornography is so addictive is because it is something that men know on an instinctual level is wrong.”

“But how—”

William raised his hand. “Just hear me out for a minute. People who are addicted to porn generally start with softcore porn. They look at beautiful women in skimpy clothes and then graduate to revealing more and more skin. Soon, though, that doesn’t satisfy them. They need something more, because it doesn’t…it doesn’t shock them anymore. And so they look at hardcore pornography, and for a while that gives them the thrill they need. But soon, that wears off and they begin to look for something else to fill that need, that desire inside.

“And so they turn to something else that will shock them more. They look at bondage pictures. They look at sadomasochistic videos. They watch bestiality. And soon that becomes common place too, and so they move on to more and more. They start to watch simulated rape videos. They start to download crime scene photos that show people hacked to pieces. They start to get copies of executions. They watch all these things and soon simply watching isn’t enough. They have to get into the action themselves.

“So they follow a woman home one night and they rape and beat her. But that’s not enough of a thrill so they molest her daughter too. And then they force her to call her husband from a payphone and explain in all the gory details what happened to them while he stands there by the car with a gun pressed to her head. And while they still talk on the phone, he kills your four-year-old daughter and then your wife.”

Rick’s face had gone ashen. “You’re talking about something that really happened.”

Killen stood still for a moment just staring at his wedding band. It was a story he had almost told Rachel Fitzsimmons when she asked why he still wore it, but he couldn’t. Now he knew he had no choice.

“I moved here to get away from all that and I’ve only found it again in another place. When that man murdered Caroline, he killed a part of me that could never come back. And what he did, that seed of evil is within every single one of us. And for the most part, we nurture it. We hide it in the secrets of our life and we try not to let the beast get too out of hand. We fear the consequences of it, you know.

“But when surveys find that most men would rape a woman if they knew they could get away with it, you have to wonder about how well contained that beast is. You have to wonder how long God’s going to hold you from falling into the pit of hell.”

Killen ran his hand over his eye. “You see,” he said, fighting back emotion. “There was no reason for that man to rape and kill my wife. He was married. He had three children of his own. And yet he did it anyway. He did it because he wanted to do something evil. He wanted to let the beast out of its cage, and he did it.

“My daughter was four years old, Rick. Four. No child has sex appeal. The only reason that man raped her was because he knew it would inflict pain. The only reason he forced Caroline to call me and tell me what he had done to her is because he knew it would inflict pain. He wasn’t looking for a sexual release, he was looking to commit evil, pure evil.”

Rick could say nothing so Killen continued. “I know that’s a shocking example. It happened twelve years, five months, and six days ago. My daughter, if she were alive today, would be your son’s age. But she never made it past her fourth birthday because a man committed an act for the sole sake of doing something wrong.

“But you know what, Rick? That man wasn’t so different from you or me. I’ve had a lot of years to reflect on it. For a time, I hated God and I wanted to do everything I could to destroy Him. I wanted to make Him hurt for what He allowed—no, for what He did to me. And I did things too. I did things because I knew God didn’t want me to do them.”

“You didn’t kill anyone, did you?” Rick asked.

“Of course not,” Killen responded. “But that seed was in me. If God hadn’t…I guess the only word I can use is restrain—if God hadn’t restrained me, I would have. I’m sure of it. Because doing those things, even when you know they’re wrong—maybe especially when you know they’re wrong—they provide their own sick pleasure, the pleasure that can only come from thumbing your nose at what’s proper. Have you ever wondered why so many movies depict the cute innocent girl as a slut? It’s because we want to tear down that beautiful, innocent creation simply because it would be evil to do so. Each of us, Rick, each of us has that inside of us.”

Rick shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I’m not sure,” he said, but at the same time he knew it was true. Why had Alice seemed so appealing to him? Wasn’t it because she had that same look of naivety, that innocence? Wasn’t part of the thrill because he had already been married?

No, that couldn’t be the case. He couldn’t allow it to be the case. “No, I don’t buy it.”

“Rick, people can try to justify all number of things. Abuse, infidelity—”

“I said I don’t buy it!” Rick shouted. “Those things aren’t really evil! They can’t be.”

Killen sat back. “Even if we pretend that it isn’t intrinsically evil for a man to rape my wife and daughter—”

“I didn’t mean them,” Rick protested. “I meant th-the, you know, the infidelity and stuff.”

“Fine. Even if we pretend that it isn’t intrinsically evil for a man to have an affair with a woman, it cannot be denied that the man in most cases still thinks that it is wrong for him to engage in such behavior. Tell me, what does it say about a man who will do something that he thinks is wrong?

Rick swallowed. “I don’t know.”

“Would a good person do something he knew was wrong? It doesn’t matter whether it actually is wrong or not. If a man knows something is wrong, and he does it anyway, is that man a good man or an evil man?”

“I guess he’s an evil man.”

“And that’s why we are all evil,” Killen said. “Because we have all done things we knew were wrong. For no other reason that because they were wrong.”

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A Dilemma For VanTillians?

Below is the beginning of an argument still in the test stage:


It's fair to say that a key component to traditional Van Tillian presuppositionalism (of which I still number myself, though in an attenuated way) is the universal knowledge of God thesis (UKT). UKT is taken (mainly) from Romans 1. It can be stated thus:

(UKT) All men have knowledge of God.

But UKT, as it stands, is vague. Almost all sides could agree with UKT as stated, though they would also disagree with each other as to what UKT means. Consulting some standard commentaries bear this out. For example, Barrett, Cranfield, Fitzmyer, and Zeisler are representative of those who claim Paul is only claiming that this knowledge is attainable by men, not that all men have it, or that it is "in" them. Others, like Moo, Schreiner, Witherington, and probably Murray (because I interpret him recognizing his Van Tillianism, though he could fit in the latter category), say this is a knowledge all men have. Others, like Barnett, Morris, and Wright, are vague (thanks to Steve Hays for rounding up all the relevant comments from these commentators for me). Involved here is that there is some textual ambiguity in the Greek. The knowledge could either be taken to be manifest to them or in them. Both sides have a pedigree and it’s not obvious which reading is correct. Add to this that they do not specify what they mean by 'knowledge,' and whether they consider it in its post-Gettier condition or not. Nor do they specify what they mean by "all." Given the fact that many are Reformed, it's not obvious that "all" means all for them! Other views that weigh in are those like the Westminster Confession of Faith. But the statement on natural revelation is vague. It's not clear they meant to argue for an ability or a possession of knowledge. And, if they left it open, it's not clear what is meant by 'knowledge.' The positions are diverse among the Reformers, and the Reformed Scholastics (as Muller's PRRD makes clear, also cf. Sudduth's forthcoming book on natural theology). Not only that, but when interpreting Paul in Romans 1, we should beware of mapping the precisions of modern epistemology onto Paul's language in Romans 1.

As for how some Van Tillians have understood Romans 1, the knowledge of God has been considered in more detail. For example, Greg Bahnsen tries to be more philosophically precise than the theologians. This knowledge is actual knowledge, not just a disposition to know (cf. Bahnsen, VT: R&A, p.222). This actual knowledge is the basis on which men will be held accountable before God (ibid, p.438, 181). It is a "foundational apologetic insight" (ibid, 179). This position is what is used to defeat the reductio that Van Til's position implied that unbelievers don't know anything (ibid, 181, 174 n.74, 208 n.100). Their knowledge of God accounts for the fact that they know a great many things about creation, often times more things than believers. This knowledge is understood as justified true belief (ibid, p.181). Bahnsen and other Van Tillians also view the "all" here as all. That would mean infants and the severely mentally handicapped. So, this knowledge is actual knowledge all men have. So we can add to UKT an Actualist component (as parsed out in the previous sentence), thus:

(UKTA) For any human being S, S has actual knowledge of God

For our purposes, we can bracket out infants and the severely mentally handicapped from UTKA. Though I believe it presents a thorny and strong problem to the UKTA thesis, the present concern isn't to hit actualists with this specific problem. Bracketing out the above groups, I propose a more precise definition is to follow David Reiter's position as expressed in his Faith & Philosophy article on the subject at hand, (Reiter, Calvin's "Sense of Divinity" And Externalist Knowledge of God (F&P, 15, #3, 1998).

I use the UKTA acronym, though it is absent from Reiter's terminology. He used SD, as in, "sensus divinitatis." In discussing Calvin's UKTA Reiter pauses to take notice of an objection to his initial parsing of UKTA:

[1] For any human being S, S knows that God exists.

The objection is that perhaps Calvin only means "mature or adult humans."

Reiter notes Calvin's claim that the sensus divinitatis "is not a doctrine that must first be learned in school, but one of which each of us masters from his mother's womb and which nature itself permits no one to forget, although many strive with every nerve to that end."

But Reiter finds it appropriate, "nevertheless", to qualify [1] for the following reasons:

i) Even if Calvin means to assert a knowledge of God at birth or some stage prior, it doesn't follow that he means to assert that human beings possess this knowledge earlier.

ii) Apropos (i), consider a conceptus C. If C is a human, and Reiter believes it is, then [1] implies that C possess propositional knowledge.

iii) Apropos (ii), we do not know that a human conceptus even has the capacity to have propositional knowledge. It can’t see, why think it knows?

So (i) --> (iii) make it reasonable for Reiter to amend [1]:

[1*] For any sane human being, if S has any propositional knowledge at time t, then S knows at t that God exist.

If we let the term 'cognizer' mean 'human being who has some propositional knowledge,' then [1*] is equivalent to the claim that all cognizers know that God exists. And so this allows that some humans, perhaps due to being at an early stage of development, are not yet cognizers.

Reiter adds one more qualification to UKTA to account for the mentally damaged.

[UKTA*] For any sane human being (cognizer) S, if S has propositional knowledge at t, then S knows at t that God exists.

So, for our purposes, UKTA* is the actualist position we'll attribute to Van Tillians. It allows infants and mentally handicapped to have this knowledge if they are sane cognizers. But if one wants to quibble about that, it also can be read as disqualifying them. It allows us to bracket off the question about whether we can justifiably claim that infants and the like have actual knowledge, cashed out in post-Gettier analysis, that God exists. It is also not the purpose here to look at views of the UKT that understand the term 'knowledge' to mean something other than justified or warranted true belief. These other views are fully compatible with natural theology, and are not sufficient for a robust Van Tillianism. Bahnsen, Frame, Oliphant, and Van Til all take the knowledge unbelievers have to either be justified true belief, or warranted true belief (Oliphint is representative of the latter locution).

The Dilemma

Having adequately set up the position I'm bringing out the worry against, I'll now set forth the dilemma:

[1] The two positions to take on justification or warrant are, broadly, either internalist or externalist.

[2] If one is an internalist about justification or warrant, then one sets the bar of knowledge too high such that not all men could have knowledge of God because not all men have access to the adequacy of the justifying grounds of the belief under question.

[3] If one is an externalist about justification or warrant, then the "no conscious believed defeater" constraint means that not all men have knowledge of God because some believe that belief in God is defeated for them, and one cannot know what they believe to be defeated.

[4] Therefore, either one sets the bar of knowledge too high such that all men do not know that God exists, or the no conscious believed defeater constraint is such that all men do not know that God exists.

[5] Therefore, not all men know that God exist.

If [5] is true, then that presents a major problem for Van Tillians who used the muscle behind UKTA* to remove a lot of objections, and move their own position. A couple immediate problems are that the basis for all men’s guilt is now removed, and the rejoinder to the reductio about some unbelievers knowing nothing is back in play. Obviously other problems lurk in the shadows.

Possible Responses

1. I think [2] is fairly obvious, as it is even admitted by internalists. I also do not see them overcoming Bergmann's worries for internalism. Therefore, [3] is the premise to attack. Namely, the no conscious believed defeater (NCBD) constraint.

2. NCBD has strong intuitive appeal. Michael Sudduth spells out the NCBD condition this way in his IEP entry on epistemic defeaters:

On Bergmann’s view, a person S has a defeater for his belief that p just if he consciously takes his belief that p to be defeated, and a person S takes his belief that p to be defeated just if S takes the belief that p to be epistemically inappropriate. For the latter, S must simply take himself to have good reasons for denying p or good reasons for doubting that the grounds of his belief that p are trustworthy, truth-indicative, or reliable. It isn’t necessary that the person have what are actually good reasons for the negative epistemic evaluation of his beliefs. It is only necessary (and sufficient) that the person take himself to have such reasons, and Bergmann places no restriction on what kinds of considerations might play this role for the subject. So on Bergmann’s view the no mental state defeater condition (as requirement for knowledge) is really a no believed defeater condition (Bergmann, 2006, p. 163). (emphasis original)
Indeed, some may say that it is irrational to reject belief in God. And so it is. The evidence is plain and obvious. It would be irrational to deny the nose on your face, and so the same with God. Even more so. Or, so sez me. But the NCBD constraint doesn't fail if it is an irrational belief doing the defeating. As Sudduth says, "My belief that I have hands is unjustified if I believe (however irrationally) that I’m a brain in a vat, even if it’s more reasonable as a policy of belief revision to give up the belief that is less rational or less warranted" (ibid).

One possible rejoinder to the NCBD constraint is to claim that one doesn't really believe his defeater, or he knows it is false, based on self-deception. The former seems problematic as even Bahnsen allowed for real belief (but, some like Audi, take it that one only avows the alleged defeater; he only says he believes it) in the non-existence of God. The latter is more promising. How could a belief that you know is false defeat a belief that you know is true? But, there are multiple models of self-deception. It's not clear which one, if any, is correct (cf. Perspectives on Self-Deception, eds. McLaughlin and Rorty, California, 1988). Also, this view is dependant upon a UKTA* reading of Romans 1, it's not clear that that reading is correct or that this response doesn't beg the question against one's interlocutors. Moreover, the self-deception arguments are highly dependent on external causal stories (e.g., motivations), but the NCBD objection is highly subjective. All that matters is that one believe that p is defeated for him. The self-deception arguments seems to only be relevant if we move away from the more subjective accounts, then. But this seems hard to do (cf. Bergmann, Sudduth).

3. The last argument is that it seems hard to see how NCBD holds in cases like this:

(*) S believes that he doesn't exist because S is convinced by (the late) Unger's arguments, therefore S doesn't know that S exists.

It seems hard to see how (*) could be true. How could we fail to know a thing like that? But (*) seems disanalogous to cases like belief in God. It's not clear that belief in God is epistemically certain like belief in your existence is. What would the argument that it is look like? (Strong modal) TAG? But TAG, as I understand it, is something like the Osama Bin Laden of apologetic arguments. It's been bombarded with rockets and is hiding out in the caves, licking its wounds.


You will note that this is only a dilemma for VanTillians by subimplication. Really, it is a dilemma for any who hold to a UKTA* thesis, whether classical, evidential, cumulative case, or any variety of presuppositionalism. Given the high level of importance traditional Van Tillians have placed on a UKTA* reading of Romans 1, though, if the above argument is cogent (the form is valid and the premises appear to be true) then traditional Van Tillianism seems to have some worries that affect what these Van Tillians have claimed is a key component to the viability of their project. It may need some serious remodeling to keep the ship afloat, then. At least that's the tentative conclusion of this exploratory post. The good news is that I don’t think UKTA* is essential for an “attenuated” Van Tillianism. Many key, and important, insights remain in tact.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Some thoughts on the resurrection and the life.

The Resurrection and the Life

It's amazing what a funeral and some hours on a plane will lead to.

Some Interviews With J.P. Holding

J.P. Holding was recently interviewed by Craig Johnson on a couple of apologetic issues. You can watch the interviews here. The first interview is about alleged Christian borrowing from paganism. The second is about Bill Maher's Religulous.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

"Satan Claus"

For the record, I don’t have any basic problems with Christmas or various customs associated with Christmas. That said, it is striking to see the confluence between literary traditions of Satan and literary traditions of Santa Claus:

“The Devil is associated with certain places and certain times of day. His direction is north, the domain of darkness and penal cold. Lapland is a favorite place of his, and there he drives reindeer,” J. Burton, Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (Cornell 1986), 69.

“The connections between the Devil and Santa Claus (Sinter Claes, Saint Nicholas) are pronounced. In addition to his association with the north and reindeer, the Devil can wear red fur; he is covered with soot and goes down chimneys in the guise of Black Jack or the Black Man; he carries a large sack into which he pops sins or sinners (including naughty children); he carries a stick or cane to thrash the guilty (the origin of the candy cane); he flies through the air with the help of animals; food and wine are left out for him as a bribe. The Devil’s nickname (!) of Old Nick derives directly from St. Nicholas. St. Nicholas was often associated with fertility cults, hence with fruits, nuts, and fruitcake, which are characteristic of his gifts,” ibid. 71n17.

I suppose the moral of the story is that, if you’ve been naughty rather than nice, you should keep your chimney damper firmly shut on Christmas Eve.

Bid Time Return


“I’d give anything to do it over again,” Adrian Leverkuhn said to himself, as he cleared out his desk.

At 50, Leverkuhn had achieved all his major goals in life. Married his high school sweetheart. Fathered two sons. Become the CEO of a Fortune 500 company.

And yet...

Having put career ahead of family, he now had neither. His wife divorced him 16 years ago, tired of being in a marriage with an absentee, workaholic husband. And she took the kids with her in a bitter custody fight. His grown sons were alienated from their absentee, workaholic father.

And due to a stagnant profit margin, the board just fired him a few hours ago.

Mind you, he would be leaving with a very nice severance package, but that wasn’t the point. Not having to work 18 hour days 6 or 7 days a week suddenly reminded him of what an empty shell his life had been.

What was it all for, really? Competition for its own sake. Trying to impress his long-dead father.

Seeing his own aging reflection in the glass of whisky reminded him of all the years gone by. His wasted, irrevocable youth.

“I’d give anything...” he repeated to himself when he was startled by a flash of light and puff of smoke. Out of the smoke stepped a gentleman sporting a cape and a Vandyke.

“Well I’ll be damned!” Adrian exclaimed, under his breath.

“At your service,” said the gentleman, walking towards him, with a slight limp.

“What are you doing here?” said Adrian.

“I have a business proposition,” said the gentleman.

“What’s that?” said Adrian.

“You said you’d give anything to live your life all over again. I can arrange that,” he answered.

“What are your terms?” Adrian asked.

“Oh, the usual. But it’s not as if you’ve got anything to lose. Your life is in shambles, and you were hardly the pious type. So why not make it official?”


Adrian awoke the next morning, and rushed to the bathroom mirror. He was expecting to be young again. But instead seeing a teenager in the mirror, it was the same 50-year-old face, the same 50 year-old-body.

And, come to think of it, it was the same bedroom he’d slept in last week, last month, last year. Here he was hoping to wake up in his old bedroom. The one he had as a kid.

But nothing had changed. Not that he could see.

Adrian was furious. He’d been taken! Double-crossed!

He began shouting. Demanding that the gentleman in the cape and the Vandyke show himself.

Suddenly there was a flash of light and puff of smoke. This time a black mastiff appeared.

“You wanted to see me?” said the dog.

“You lied to me!” Adrian screamed, at the top of his lungs.

“Well, that wouldn’t be out of character,” said the dog.

“I should have known better than to trust you,” Adrian continued. “After all, you are Evil Incarnate.”

“No,” said the dog. “That would be the Antichrist. I’m Evil Disincarnate!”

“What does it matter, for heaven’s sake!” said Adrian.

“Watch your language!” the dog said sternly. “Besides, I always keep my word. You’ll see. Just be patient.”

And with that the black mastiff disappeared in a flash of light and puff of smoke.


Adrian went to the front door to fetch the morning paper. He didn’t notice the date until he began reading the news. It was fairly familiar, like he’d seen it all before. He glanced up at the date.

“That’s odd,” he said to himself. “That’s the day before I was fired.”

Adrian dressed for work, with a heavy sense of deja vu.

After a week of this, the pattern was unmistakable. He was, indeed, doing it all over again. The gentleman was true to his word. But with a catch.

Adrian just assumed that he would be sent back into the past, so that he could start over again. Instead, Adrian was regressing in time a day at a time. Moving backward rather than forward.

“I should have known better than to take anything for granted when dealing with the Father of Lies! Now I’m sorry I didn’t specify my intentions in the contract. Too late!”

Still, although it wasn’t what he was hoping for, it was not a total loss. He had some fond memories. It would be pleasant to relive the good old days.

And, of course, there’s so much he’d forgotten over the years. Much of that was routine. Boring. Forgotten because forgettable.

But there was also some buried treasure in the past. Things you take for granted when you’re young. When you have no sense of lost opportunities. Little, unrepeatable things that are precious in hindsight.


But living life backwards proved to be a frustrating experience. He wanted to go back in time so that he could change his future. And, for all he knew, he was changing his future. Maybe changing it for the better.

But he never got to experience tomorrow. He could only experience one day at a time. And when that day was over, he’d regress to the day before yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.

So even if he tried to do something different than he remembered having done before, and even if he was having an affect on tomorrow by what he did today, he could never know it or enjoy it.

Then he was seized by another thought. Since he was emerging into the present from the day after, rather than the day before, maybe “today” wasn’t the same day. If he did something today to change tomorrow, and he came from tomorrow, then the “tomorrow” he came from wasn’t the same tomorrow anymore—in which case “today” wasn’t the same today anymore. How many “todays” had he been living?

Living one day at a time, before he shifted back to the day before yesterday, was rather confining—as he was soon to learn.

You could only go as far as you could drive in one day. For as soon as the new day began, you were back where you started the day before yesterday.

Taking a plane was impractical. For one thing, you couldn’t buy your tickets in advance. Or book reservations. Or plan ahead. By the time you got to the airport, and waited in line, and flown to your destination, there was no time left over to enjoy yourself.

You couldn’t make a new girlfriend, for any girl you befriended today would be a stranger the day before. You couldn’t buy a dog. It wouldn’t be your dog the “next” day, since the “next” day would be the day before you bought the dog.

You could only relate to old friends. Of course, they had their own plans. Unlike you, they could plan ahead. And sometimes their plans didn’t include you. Sometimes you could make them change their plans, to spend a few hours, or maybe a whole day, in your company. But sometimes they couldn’t fit you into their schedule.

Adrian was sorry that he never kept a diary. If he had a diary, it would be easier for him to maximize his time. He could consult his diary, see what he had done that day, then make better use of his time.

But all he had to gone by was his patchy recollection of the past. Reliving a day was a rather unnerving experience. One day was often much like another. So it was hard to remember what had happened. He half-remembered what was going to happen.

In some ways it would have been easier to either remember everything or remember nothing. But to remember some things that were about to happen, but not others, felt like moving in and out of yourself. Watching yourself over your shoulder, when you remembered what you were going to do next. “I did this, then I did that, then I did...”

And yet, remembering what you did interfered with what you did. You no longer just did it. Instead, you thought about having done it before you did it. So you ended up doing things a little differently. A note of hesitation. You lagged behind yourself.

And, of course, you weren’t always sure if you remembered correctly. “Am I repeating myself? Is this what I did before? Or am I confusing this something similar I did another time?”

It was a very schizophrenic experience. Like living two lives in tandem. Not quite separate, but not quite parallel. With memory and anticipation slightly out of sync. When memory is anticipation, and vice versa, you being to lose your bearings.

Speaking of anticipation, his fond memories were not as fond when he went back in time. He’d been looking forward to his past. But looking backward wasn’t the same thing as looking forward, even if you were reliving the past.

Living through them the first time was a discovery. He didn’t know what to expect. When it would begin. When it would end. That was a large part of what made it a pleasant experience. A pleasant surprise. A novel experience.

But now there was no suspense. He knew what was going to happen. He knew how long it would last. Like watching a clock the whole time. Knowing it would end. Knowing when it would end.

As time regressed, technology regressed. Adrian had forgotten how technology speeded up the pace of life.

And there was a time when Adrian would have savored the slower pace of life. But time was the one thing in short supply. He had to pack everything into a single day before today became the day before yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that.

Life was continuous, but it felt discontinuous. Nothing that happened to you today had any effect on yesterday. In a sense, each day became a self-contained lifetime.


It was nice to leave that middle-aged body behind. To feel like 30 again. Then 25. Then 20.

Being in junior high and high school again had a certain charm. Every normal boy felt nostalgic about his coming-of-age. For three years, every day was a high school reunion for Adrian—in his upside down, hourglass existence.

At least when he attended high school. Going back in time, he also found it incredibly boring to sit in class. To hear the same old geography lesson. The same old geometry lesson.

When he originally went to school, he was an average student. Now he was brilliant, not because he was any smarter, but because he was a 50 year old inside the body of a 16 year old. Not to mention a 50 year old from the future.

But what good did it do him? He could ace every test, but that was just today’s achievement. Yesterday was another day. And yesterday was just around the corner. The way forward was right behind him.

So he played hooky a lot. Cut class. Went off campus to kill time or fool around. But there was only so much he could do. He was underage. A minor. Couldn’t do grow-up stuff. Just kid’s stuff.

Nothing he did made any difference. At least not to him. If he wanted to, he could murder someone with impunity. Murder him in broad daylight. Surround by witnesses. There would be no consequences, since any consequences lay in the future. A day away. A year away.

It might make a difference to the murder victim, but not to Adrian.

And it was irritating to live at home—under your parents’ roof. To be a grown man inside a teenage body, being told what to do by your mother and father.

So he ran away from home. Everyday. And every morning he woke up at home.


Kindergarten wasn’t his idea of a good time. Crayons. Plastic dinosaurs. Building blocks. The alphabet. A rocking house. Drooling playmates.

Not how a 50 year old wants to spend the day.

And he couldn’t run away from home anymore. He’d get a spanking.

Do you know how humiliating it is for grown man on the inside to be paddled on the outside by his mom?


Lying in a crib wasn’t his idea of a good time. Couldn’t his mom at least mix a little whisky into the baby formula?

He could do without the stuffed animals. Or baby rattles. Or nursery wallpaper. It didn’t occur to his mom that little Adrian might prefer a pin-up.

And he could really do without the Huggies. He knew perfectly well how to go to the bathroom all by himself. But, of course, his parents just assumed he was a normal, ordinary baby.


If you thought a baby crib was restrictive, imagine how he felt floating in amniotic solution. It was dark. Nothing to see. He might as well have been blind. He could hear a heartbeat nearby.

Like solitary confinement in a windowless room. Or more like being strapped to a table.


Last thing he remembered was swimming or wriggling upstream in some sort of warm fluid, in a dark space—like a canal—as he headed towards...