Saturday, June 12, 2010

SF Abortion Outreach Videos

The following videos are examples of our church's ministry efforts outside "A Woman's Choice" abortion clinic at 201 Pomona Drive in Greensboro, NC. We make it a practice to go out at least twice monthly to preach the gospel and offer practical help to abortive mothers and pro-death clinic workers. I post these videos to encourage your church to do the same!

"Don't Be A Pre-Born Hit Man!"

Double-Minded Pro-Life Politicians

An Open Letter to Florida Governor Charlie Crist

"a double minded man is unstable in all his ways . . ."
James 1:8

Governor Crist,

You are a professing pro-lifer who obviously hasn't the courage of your convictions to support the Fla. bill requiring ultrasounds for women seeking first-trimester abortions. Instead, you state that you "prefer changing hearts to changing laws."

With all due respect Gov. Crist, it looks like you misunderstand what it means to be "pro-life". Let me define it for you in three simple points:

1. If the preborn is a human person, then abortion is murder.
2. The preborn is a human person (cf. Exo. 21:22-25; Psalm 139:13-16).
3. Therefore, abortion is murder.

Again Gov. Crist, abortion is murder. This means that you must take all Biblical and lawful means necessary to stop it. The problem is, you really aren't pro-life, you are modified pro-choice. So let's make sure we state clearly what you believe:
Even though you truly believe that abortion kills an innocent human child, mothers should still be allowed to kill their own children and we shouldn't legislate against it.
Just pause for a second and let the logic of that statement sink in. How about this statement for comparison:
Even though you truly believe that raping a woman is wrong, men should still be allowed to do it and we shouldn't legislate against it.
The absurdity of the second statement is obvious, just like the first. However, given your statements, it appears that you really don't believe that the unborn is an innocent human being.

Mr. Crist, if you love children you will hate abortion. Your hatred for it will change the way you behave, starting with your own legislation. Sadly, your stance reveals that you are a typical compromising politician that is full of flowery rhetoric.

Your job is not to change bad hearts, but to change bad laws.

If you want to change bad hearts, then preach the gospel. According to Romans 13:1-5, you have the God-given responsibility to protect your constituency by punishing the evildoer. This means that you are to change bad laws into good laws; laws that protect your people instead of putting them in harms way. This includes the most defenseless of your constituency, namely the unborn. Requiring an ultrasound by law before a first trimester abortion will cause women to face the truth that they have a little person growing within them. However, this means decreased abortion rates and angry pro-death voters. Don't worry about them, stand for the truth, regardless of the consequences; one of which may be the end of your political career. It's better to be a physically dirty garbage man with a clean conscience than a governor with dirty conscience due to a dirty, double-minded legislation history. If you are pro-life, then legislate consistently with your pro-life convictions since they are grounded in the Christian Scriptures and supported by modern medical science.

My exhortation to you is this:

Stop compromising and start standing against the genocide that is taking place in the womb at the rate of approximately 4,000 babies per day, a statistic that makes Hitler look like a sweet little Dutch grandmother.


Dustin S. Segers, Pastor
Shepherd's Fellowship Baptist Church


In his biography, Craig Venter says he wants "to take us far from shore into unknown waters, to a new phase of evolution, to the day when one DNA-based species can sit down at a computer to design another. I plan to show that we understand the software of life by creating true artificial life."

But one problem with going into "unknown waters, to a new phase of evolution, to the day when one DNA-based species can sit down at a computer to design another" is that there's no fault tolerance in the system.

What happens if Venter or someone else on his team accidentally wipes us all out while taking us out into the deep toward his "new phase of evolution" - say he accidentally creates a zombie virus?


That's why I think we need to take some precautionary measures.

First, let's make a backup copy of our species. We need to implement a redundant array of independent disks for humanity. We might begin with RAID 1 and step it up from there. Let's mirror the critical data on at least two separate physical drives. If one crashes, then the other will immediately take over.

At the same time we ought to begin sending expeditionary teams to the next most Earth-like planet in our solar system, Mars. This will be the first step toward colonization and, in turn, eventual terraforming of the Red Planet to make it hospitable for humans.

This way, we can reboot with Humanity 2.0 on a terraformed Martian landscape should the first one crash.

Later we can expand to RAID 2 and beyond as we deem necessary. And terraform additional planets in the process.

Of course, we might not need the backup copy or copies. But they'd be good to have. You never know if we'll need it. And we can always delete it.

Again, I'm just saying this should provide a significant level of fault tolerance.

What's more, we could go beyond all this.

For example, we can modify our backup copies too. Or we can use our backup copies to modify current Humanity 1.0.

Say we let our backup copy or copies of Humanity run at the same time as our original program. Say we bring both programs online. We can make them go live simultaneously. Thus we'll have two (or more) running copies of Humanity. Say Humanity 1.0 runs concurrently with Humanity 2.0, 2.4, 2.7, 3.0, 4.0, and so forth.

Perhaps we could then introduce modifications into one or the other to see what'd happen. We could take the various versions of Humanity on different developmental tracks.

If we find we don't like a certain development in one of the real-time running versions of Humanity, or even in our own original Humanity 1.0 program, we can stop it in order to modify it. We can copy the code in, say, Humanity 2.7a which we do like, and, after some tweaking by the software developers, integrate it into Humanity 2.7b which we don't quite like.

But let's not program the whole thing in C or C++ which are susceptible to buffer flow attacks (among other problems).

We can develop patches for our Humanity program as well. For example, we could add a utopia patch. Or even a dystopia patch for fun. We could add a superheroes patch that would take a certain number of humans in Humanity 5.0 to "a new phase of evolution." Or, if Venter wants to experiment with a zombie patch, hey, that's totally cool too! Just make sure he does it on an asteroid, not on a moon let alone planet since they're arguably more difficult and expensive to terraform.

BTW, some might think we'd need more than just a handful of terraformed planets in order to run all our various programs, which might get a bit time-consuming as well as costly in terms of needed resources and manpower to terraform. It's not as if planets grow on trees!

But that's not necessarily the case. Sure, it'd be nice to have multiple planets to play on. But it's not an absolute necessity. We could just re-use the ones we've already got. What I mean is we could just delete Humanity version 3.x if it's getting a bit old or too many bugs keep cropping up or whatever, and subsequently reformat it with a version we do like on Earth 3.x. It's all good.

Moreover, perhaps we could dual or even multi boot different versions of Humanity on the same planet. Obviously we'd have to divide the planet into various partitions.

We might not want to run pirates and ninjas together. Or, wait, maybe we do, in order to better answer the age-old question.

Or if we don't like how slowly Humanity 3.1 is running on Earth 3.1, then we could heat the planet's core and overclock Earth 3.1.

Eventually it'd be nice if we could run several planets together in parallel to harness their collective power and achieve higher performance levels.

Also we ought to consider networking the various planets together for better file-sharing. Or to play MMORPGs. Let's hope Humanity 7.21 on Earth 4.2 (the planet formerly known as Jupiter) doesn't utterly obliterate Humanity 6.1 on Earth 3.8 though, since we'll disable things like respawning.

Of course, we'd have to come up with a multi-planetary defense system. We'd need a firewall to keep out invading alien species. In this case it might help to install the Ender Wiggin update as well.

Stars and Stripes forever

As many already know, the U.S. is set to play England in the World Cup.

Now, I could be mistaken, but I hope each and every Tblogger will be supporting the Stars and Stripes in the upcoming match.

Although I suppose Peter might excuse himself if there's a hockey match on at the same time.

But I'd especially hope James Anderson will be cheering on the Red, White, and Blue. Not only because he's found a happy home on these golden shores. But also because, as a loyal Scotsman with a brave heart and steadfast spirit, I expect him to show no mercy toward the English!

Anyway, with all this in mind:
From: Philip Breeden, US Embassy London
To: Martin Longden, British Embassy Washington DC
Subject: World Cup Bet

Mr. Longden,

It has not escaped our attention that a certain sporting event is fast approaching, and that our respective nations will soon be meeting on the fields of South Africa. My Ambassador has asked me to see if your Ambassador might be interested in a small wager? We will understand if you decline, given the outcome of the last such encounter.

Sincerely, Philip Breeden, U.S. Embassy, London

From: Martin Longden, British Embassy Washington DC
To: Philip Breeden, US Embassy London
Subject: Re: World Cup Bet

Mr. Breeden,

Even for such an exceptionally optimistic nation as the United States, I am struck by the confidence with which your Ambassador proposes this wager. It is testament, I assume, to the generosity of your great nation - since the British Ambassador does not anticipate paying out.

Your email does not specify the exact terms of the wager. May I suggest that, in the event of an England victory, the US Ambassador agrees to entertain the British Ambassador at a steak-house of his choosing in downtown DC? And in the event that the United States is able to engineer a fortuitous win over England, then my man will entertain yours at a London pub of his choosing. Loser pays.

Your reference to a previous sporting encounter between our two countries puzzles me. Since the history of English football is long and extensive, in contradistinction to US soccer, I regret that I cannot immediately recall the encounter to which you refer. No doubt it is remembered fondly on these shores; we have quite forgotten it, however.

Are you sure you want to do this?

Yours sincerely,

Martin Longden

British Embassy Washington DC

From: Philip Breeden, US Embassy London
To: Martin Longden, British Embassy Washington DC
Subject: Re: World Cup Bet

Mr. Longden ,

It is with great pleasure, and no small measure of anticipation, that the U.S. Ambassador accepts the terms of the wager. I am surprised, given the well known love of the British for history, that you have forgotten what happened the last time the "special relationship" was tested on the pitch. Of course, given the result, you are to be forgiven for having misplaced that particular episode in your memory banks. I refer of course to the victory of the U.S. over England in the 1950 World Cup.

It is true that our soccer (a fine English word we have kindly preserved for you) history is not as long and illustrious as yours. However, as your generals noted during WWII, we have a unique capability for quickly identifying and advancing talent.

Game on!

Sincerely, Philip Breeden

From: Martin Longden, British Embassy Washington DC
To: Philip Breeden, US Embassy London
Subject: Re: World Cup Bet

Mr. Breeden,

Very well; it's a bet!

Incidentally, you should know that the Ambassador takes his steak like American soccer victories - somewhat rare.


Martin Longden
HT: Joe Carter.

1. After being eliminated from the World Cup, England, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Algeria are expected to arrive back home in the UK later today.

2. An angry fan managed to get into England's changing room after last night's game. Robert Green tried to grab the man but missed.

3. Sorry, all these Robert Green jokes are getting out of hand. In fact, they're crossing the line.

4. The England team went to visit an orphanage in South Africa this morning. "It's so good to put a smile on the faces of people with no hope, constantly struggling, and facing the impossible" said Sipho Umboto, age 6.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Voglio vivere

The following is from Andrea Bocelli who was born with glaucoma:

HT: Tim Challies.

Debunking the parascientific

From Marilynne Robinson:
What I wish to question are not the methods of science, but the methods of a kind of argument that claims the authority of science or highly specialized knowledge, that assumes a protective coloration that allows it to pass for science yet does not practice the self-discipline or self-criticism for which science is distinguished.
HT: Kris Lundgaard.

The clay-footed, silver-tongued orator

[Quote] Has President Barack Obama lost his ability to inspire hope?

Shepard Fairey, the artist whose iconic, Warhol-style "Hope" poster became one of the most enduring images of the 2008 presidential campaign, seems to think so.

In an interview appearing in this month's Angelino magazine, Fairey says the president he helped elect is "not pushing hard enough."

"I had a lot of hope for Obama, but it's not panning out," he says.

Fairey was speaking in the context of a new exhibit called "May Day" that he put on this spring in New York that featured Washington gridlock as a key theme. "Washington is too intertwined with corporate America," the artist argues.

But the question of Obama's hopefulness quotient remains an important political one, however fickle voters can be when it comes to their emotional support for a candidate or elected leader.

Congress' passage of health care reform in March seemed to restore momentum to a presidency that had appeared to be on the rocks when that signature issue was stalling months earlier. The impetus seemed to pick up in the weeks that followed, as Democrats trumped Republicans in the effort to enact changes to regulation of Wall Street and the banks.

But then the BP oil spill hit the Gulf of Mexico, a problem that seemed to get worse as weeks went by without a company or government solution. It fouled the surrounding waters and shoreline, and the can-do claims of the Obama administration as well.

Obama's popularity ratings at the end of May fell to a new low, according to the weekly polling data of Gallup.

Has President Barack Obama lost his ability to inspire hope?

Shepard Fairey, the artist whose iconic, Warhol-style "Hope" poster became one of the most enduring images of the 2008 presidential campaign, seems to think so.

In an interview appearing in this month's Angelino magazine, Fairey says the president he helped elect is "not pushing hard enough."

"I had a lot of hope for Obama, but it's not panning out," he says.

Fairey was speaking in the context of a new exhibit called "May Day" that he put on this spring in New York that featured Washington gridlock as a key theme. "Washington is too intertwined with corporate America," the artist argues.

But the question of Obama's hopefulness quotient remains an important political one, however fickle voters can be when it comes to their emotional support for a candidate or elected leader.

Congress' passage of health care reform in March seemed to restore momentum to a presidency that had appeared to be on the rocks when that signature issue was stalling months earlier. The impetus seemed to pick up in the weeks that followed, as Democrats trumped Republicans in the effort to enact changes to regulation of Wall Street and the banks.

But then the BP oil spill hit the Gulf of Mexico, a problem that seemed to get worse as weeks went by without a company or government solution. It fouled the surrounding waters and shoreline, and the can-do claims of the Obama administration as well.

Obama's popularity ratings at the end of May fell to a new low, according to the weekly polling data of Gallup.

Positive moral development

From the CADRE:

Brad Haggard said...
6/10/2010 06:41:00 AM


I think you can push the illustration a little further, because for a video game to have any sort of coherence, it has to have a uniform physics. The physics and hit detection are probably the most crucial part of building a good game, and if the math isn't consistent, there really isn't any game to be played. That's what makes the classics so good, is that their system of movement and hit detection is intuitive and consistent.

When, for instance, someone finds a way in the original Super Mario Bros. to get caught halfway into a wall, it is considered a "glitch" and a mistake of the programmers. If these glitches characterized the entire game, then there would be no game to play, because there would be no internal coherence to the physics.

Ok, I'll stop now before I reveal too much of my inner dork. That was a very interesting post.

Brad Haggard said...
6/10/2010 06:42:00 AM

BTW, Alexander Pruss has a very interesting set of posts on Theodicy. Here's one that really struck me in evaluating the moral outcomes of the Holocaust:

steve said...
6/10/2010 08:04:00 AM

How is your illustration distinguishable from Deism? Or is it?

steve said...
6/10/2010 08:20:00 AM
Regarding Pruss:

“Now, add the following thesis: In terms of value, a moderate amount of positive moral development trumps a very large amount of suffering. (Socrates would say—and I think he'd be right—that any amount of positive moral development trumps any amount of suffering.)”

That thesis strikes me as far from self-evident.

“Suppose I knew that by preventing a great suffering to myself I would be losing an opportunity for significant positive moral development. Would prudence permit me to refrain from preventing the suffering? I think it would. Nor would such a refraining from prevention be morally wrong.”

Several obvious problems:

i) Suffering isn’t equivalent to moral evil.

ii) Even if suffering is morally beneficial for me, it doesn’t follow that to make a second party suffer for my own benefit is justifiable.

iii) In many cases, suffering doesn’t contribute to the moral development of the affected party. To the contrary, it frequently contributes to a person’s moral decline.

steve said...
6/10/2010 11:40:00 AM
Brad Haggard said...

"Oh, and for Pruss, I don't want to defend his thoughts here. I just thought that they were interesting in light of J.D.'s post. I also think there is a case to be made for the first thesis you present, but I'm not going to take the time to do that here."

Are you referring to his thesis statement: “Now, add the following thesis: In terms of value, a moderate amount of positive moral development trumps a very large amount of suffering. (Socrates would say—and I think he'd be right—that any amount of positive moral development trumps any amount of suffering.)”

It would be interesting to see you make a case for that thesis.

Let's take a concrete illustration. Suppose I'm a recovering serial-killer. Due to a disadvantaged childhood (I'll spare you the Dickensian details), I used to be a sociopathic killer. Had no conscience or compassion.

But after I started torturing women to death, I began to feel a twinge of guilt. Seeing them weep and beg for mercy, seeing their friends and family go on TV to plead for their loved one, began to awaken in me a dormant sense of empathy and remorse for my crimes.

Therefore, my moderate positive moral development trumps the suffering of my victims, as well as the suffering of their surviving loved ones. After all, "any amount of positive moral development trumps any amount of suffering"

Is that the thesis you'd like to defend? Give it your best shot.

Deconversion testimonies and testimonial evidence

Apostates assure us that testimonial evidence is unreliable. You can’t trust the eyewitness testimony preserved in the Gospels. You can’t trust the eyewitnesses to the Resurrection. And so on and so forth.

On the other hand, the very same apostates treat us to deconversion testimonies. Bart Ehrman, Dan Barker, Robert Price, and John Loftus make a big deal about their deconversion testimonies. Ed Babinski edited a book of deconversion testimonies. You have whole websites like devoted to deconversion testimonies. It’s become a rite of passage in apostate circles–like a hazing ritual.

In these deconversion testimonies, apostates bear witness to their religious upbringing. To their childhood and adolescence. To what they saw and heard. To what they said and did. To what others said and did.

Usually there’s no corroboration. No multiple-attestation. And, of course, their accounts are hardly unbiased. They are using their deconversion testimonies as a polemical tool to rationalize their apostasy.

On the one hand, if the Bible contains testimonial evidence, that’s incredible. Only a credulous believer, with his blind faith, could accept that at face value.

On the other hand, if an apostate gives a detailed account of his religious upbringing, or crisis conversion, along with a blow-by-blow account of what experiences led him to lose his faith, then his claims are entitled to our implicit, unquestioning faith. Just take his word of it.

So this generates an awkward dilemma. If testimonial evidence is good enough for deconversion testimonies, then it’s good enough for Scripture. But if testimonial evidence is unreliable, then we should discount every deconversion testimony we see or read.

A legion of lesions in his brain

A 50 year old businessman with a bachelor's degree in theology from the Baptist University of America and a doctorate in theology from Bob Jones University was brought to the emergency room by his friends because of severe progressive memory problems.

At baseline, the patient had normal cognition, exercised regularly, and maintained an active schedule, driving himself to appointments with friends and business associates. Ten days prior to admission he met a friend for lunch and had a normal, clear, precise conversation, except that he did remember the name of the hostess, whom he had known for years. Four days later, the same friend spoke with the patient on the phone and discovered that the patient had no recollection of having lunch or in fact any of their conversation. He seemed normal otherwise. The next day the patient missed an important business meeting. When the patient's son contacted him over subsequent days, his conversation seemed appropriate except that he was totally unaware of current events including the BP oil spill.

On examination patient was normal except for profound problems with recent memories and milder problems with remote memories. He said the year was 1990 and realized he was in a hospital but did not know which one. Attention and immediate recall were normal with a digit span forward of 7 and backward of 5. He was able to repeat three words immediately when asked to memorize them. After 5 minutes, however, he did not even recall the task, and he got zero out of three words correct even with multiple choice. When the examiner left the room and came back 5 minutes later, the patient had no recollection of having met him before.

One week later, the patient had no knowledge of recent current events and was completely unaware of the highly publicized health care reform bill signed by President Obama. More remote memory was better but still not perfect. For example, he was able to describe his hometown, childhood, family members, marriage, and the fact that he had left his religious beliefs behind and become an agnostic-atheist. However, he could not recall let alone formulate any logical reasons or give any sort of evidence for why he no longer believed in God. When he tried to offer reasons for no longer believing in the existence of God, he was surprised to hear that his objections had already been answered years ago. With some prompting, however, he was able to generate a couple of names in response, although he couldn't do much more than name names: Dawkins, Hitchens, Dennett. In addition, he confused John Loftus with a cowboy in Brokeback Mountain, Dan Barker with the former host of The Price Is Right game show, and Ed Babinski with the Chacma Baboon.

There was also an increasing tendency to confabulate. For example, when asked why he was in the hospital, he said he was "here to research the connection between religious experiences and brain science." When asked if anyone had visited him while he was lying on the hospital bed, he mentioned several prominent atheists including Robert Price and Richard Carrier, despite having had no visitors. He reminisced about going through NT manuscripts looking for errors with Bart Ehrman. When Ehrman was contacted, he had no idea who the patient was.

At this point his mental status exam results were within normal range but gradually falling. That is, although he had a normal attention span, pleasant affect and behavior, normal language, average calculations, slight but not significant difficulty with elementary reading comprehension and writing, as well as interpretation, and normal drawing of three dimensional objects, his condition began to worsen.

As his condition progressively and then severely depreciated over the next several weeks, he reached and then crossed a critical threshold when he no longer perceived himself as a human being. Instead he thought he was an ox and began eating grass and straw. He spent his days in the hospital courtyard, with his head planted in the soil. At first the hospital orderlies attempted to bring him inside, but, when physicians and other staff determined he could not be restrained without routine difficulty and more importantly there was no harm to the patient involved in leaving him outside during daylight hours, they left him alone during the day and brought him back when he was tired at night. Eventually he became unshaven and unkempt. His hair grew as long as eagles' feathers, and his nails were like birds' claws. Finally, the epidermal layer of his skin metamorphosed into something resembling straw.

In short, he went from this:

To this:

Perhaps because of too much of this:

Lame in the brain

Abstract of a paper studying the neuroanatomy of irreligion:
We hypothesized that irreligiosity, a set of traits variably expressed in the population, is modulated by neuroanatomical variability. We tested this idea by determining whether aspects of irreligiosity were predicted by variability in regional cortical volume. We performed structural magnetic resonance imaging of the brain in 100 healthy adult participants who reported different degrees and patterns of irreligiosity on a survey. We identified four principal components of irreligiosity by factor analysis of the survey items and associated them with regional cortical volumes measured by voxel-based morphometry. (1) Experiencing a profound disconnect with God and engaging in irreligious behavior was associated with decreased volume of R middle temporal cortex, BA 21. (2) Experiencing hatred of God was associated with increased volume of L precuneus and L orbitofrontal cortex BA 11. (3) A cluster of traits related with pragmatism and doubting God's existence was associated with increased volume of the R precuneus. (4) Variability in irreligiosity of upbringing was not associated with variability in cortical volume of any region. Therefore, key aspects of irreligiosity are associated with cortical volume differences. This conclusion complements our prior functional neuroimaging findings in elucidating the proximate causes of irreligion in the brain.

Homosexuality Is Acceptable For Christians, But Not Pagans

From another thread:

Scott Windsor wrote:

"You may have turned a blind eye to the context, even after quoting some of it, just to further a bigoted agenda, but the context most certainly does state the prayers to the dead men he objects to are these dead men spoken of by the poets who have been deified by them."

You're ignoring what I wrote against that argument. Again, Lactantius twice chose similar phrases ("prayers to dead men", "prayers to the dead") to describe what he had in mind, and his focus both times was on the dead in general. He didn't use other phrases available to him that could have been used to express the focus you're suggesting, such as "prayer to false gods" or "prayer to the dead as if they're God". You aren't explaining why he repeatedly focuses on the dead status of the recipients of the prayers. If you think there's nothing wrong with praying to the dead, why would you repeatedly focus on the dead status of the recipients of prayers?

I gave you an example of a somewhat similar comment on a different subject, a comment Aristides made about homosexuality. You haven't responded to that example. Here's what Aristides wrote:

"By reason of these tales, O King, much evil has arisen among men, who to this day are imitators of their gods, and practise adultery and defile themselves with their mothers and their sisters, and by lying with males, and some make bold to slay even their parents." (Apology, 9)

Do we assume that Aristides is only condemning such practices if done by people as "imitators of their gods"? When he refers to "lying with males", do we assume that he's only condemning homosexuality when done in pagan religious contexts? Or that he's only condemning it when it's done outside of marriage, for example? No, despite the immediate context of pagan religions, and despite the fact that the homosexual activity in question did occur outside of marriage, we conclude that homosexual activity in general is being condemned. Not only is that the prominent view of Christianity in general at the time when Aristides lived, and not only is it the view of the sources that would have most influenced Aristidies on the issue (such as scripture), but it's also the most natural way to interpret his choice of words. If his focus was on pagan homosexuality or the fact that the sex was outside of marriage, then he could have said so. But a broad phrase like "lying with males" is most naturally taken as a condemnation of homosexual acts themselves, regardless of whether they take place in a pagan religious context or outside of marriage. If he meant something like "lying with males in a pagan context" or "having sex outside of marriage", he could have said so. But he chose to focus on the homosexual nature of the sex instead.

Similarly, as I argued in the previous threads linked above, the Christianity Lactantius had lived in and the sources that would have influenced him (primarily scripture) viewed God alone as the proper recipient of prayer and sometimes condemned any attempts to contact the deceased. And Lactantius repeatedly chose terminology suggesting that he had the dead in general in view, not just false gods or some other narrower category that would be consistent with Roman Catholicism. When somebody who comes out of Lactantius' context repeatedly uses such broad language about prayer to the dead, the most natural interpretation isn't to conclude that he had your qualifiers in mind. The fact that he shows no concern for adding such qualifiers suggests that he didn't come from a perspective like that of a modern Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox.

And you'll have to explain why my "agenda" allegedly is "bigoted", whereas yours isn't.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Anencephalic atheism redux

Apostate Ken Pulliam recently drew attention to some cutting-edge neuroscientific data correlating brain lateralization with religious orientation. The results are quite exciting.

As it turns out, left-handers are mystics and Pentecostals while right-handers are apologists and theologians. Put another way, southpaws have all the religious experiences while northpaws have all the theistic proofs.

Every southpaw is another Kathryn Kuhlman, Santa Teresa de Ávila or San Juan de la Cruz while every northpaw is another Augustine, Aquinas, or Calvin.

Needless to say, this rigorous scientific finding will greatly simplify one’s vocational options.

In a related discovery, confirming earlier predictions, atheists are literally brainless. Neurosurgeons and forensic pathologists found that, upon opening the skulls of atheists, their cranium was full of spinal fluid.

Finally, researchers have also studied some half-brained patients who are one part theist to one part atheist. This involved test-subjects from the BioLogos Foundation.

Lactantius And Prayer To The Dead Again

Scott Windsor recently wrote a response to my post on Lactantius and prayer to the dead. He writes:

So, what Lactantius is speaking of here is the deifying of dead men and praying to these dead men as gods.

Notice the qualifiers he adds, as if prayer to the dead is acceptable as long as it doesn't include those qualifiers. Lactantius doesn't say that, and his context doesn't suggest it.

Apparently, Scott didn't read my previous discussion of Lactantius with Christine, which led up to the post to which Scott has responded. I'll repeat an analogy involving abortion that I cited in that discussion.

Professing Christians didn’t normally have abortions in antiquity, so the earliest Christian condemnations of abortion are primarily given in the context of criticizing non-Christians. And other activities that Christians didn’t normally participate in would be mentioned along with abortion. It doesn’t follow that abortion is wrong only if done by non-Christians or only if accompanied by those other activities. Similarly, when Lactantius condemns prayer to the dead, without telling us that it's wrong only with the qualifiers Scott has mentioned above, we don't conclude that he meant to condemn it only when those qualifications are in place.

Scott goes on:

So, yet again - the context is objecting to praying to other gods and that the images of these "dead men" are being so worshiped. This has nothing to do with the practice of asking the Saints to pray with and for us.

He's repeating more arguments I addressed in my earlier exchanges with Christine. See here and here. As I explained in those threads, Catholic prayers to the dead involve more than "asking the Saints to pray with and for us". And even if they only involved what Scott describes, they would still be prayers to the dead.

He writes:

Well, yes - they refer to physical death - but of men whom those pagan poets believed to be gods! Again, Mr. Engwer has missed the point here and has based his argument on a false premise which then leads him to conclusions which are just as false....

Well again, referencing Book 2, Chapter 18 is regarding the worship of false gods and false religions, namely paganism.

Scott repeatedly makes such points in his article, as if I was unaware of these things. But I quoted some of Lactantius' references to gods and paganism in the post Scott is responding to, and I addressed the objections he's raising in my earlier exchanges with Christine.

If Lactantius meant to condemn prayer to false gods or some other such category, then why would he refer to prayer to the dead? Why didn't he refer, instead, to prayer to false gods or some other such category in particular? His focus is on the dead. As I documented, Lactantius argues for the dead status of these men by pointing to their tombs and other evidence leading to the conclusion that they're dead men. Scott's assumption that Lactantius meant to condemn only a narrower category, as if praying to other dead men outside that category would be acceptable, is a less natural way of reading the text. He's assuming that "dead men" only means something like "dead men who are false gods", which adds a qualification that Lactantius doesn't state or imply.

It would be like adding a qualification to early Christian condemnations of abortion or homosexual activity, as if they were only condemning such practices if done by non-Christians or done in the same context in which non-Christians were practicing those things. If an early Christian condemns homosexual acts without qualification, but the individuals he's condemning were non-Christians who did those things in the context of a pagan religious ceremony, we don't assume that only homosexual acts done in that context are being condemned. See, for example, section 9 of the Apology of Aristides, which contains an early Christian condemnation of homosexuality and other sins in the context of criticizing paganism.

Scott writes:

And again, the section refers to dead men being worshiped as gods/deity so what Mr. Engwer is doing, continually throughout this treatise is ignoring the context which denies his conclusions.

Actually, Lactantius condemns some of the activities in question even if they're singled out. Below is the entire sentence from Divine Institutes 2:18, referring to prayer to the dead. Notice the term "either" and the repeated use of "or":

"But if it appears that these religious rites are vain in so many ways as I have shown, it is manifest that those who either make prayers to the dead, or venerate the earth, or make over their souls to unclean spirits, do not act as becomes men, and that they will suffer punishment for their impiety and guilt, who, rebelling against God, the Father of the human race, have undertaken inexpiable rites, and violated every sacred law."

We can't assume that everything these pagans did must be present in order for anything they did to be wrong. Apparently, Lactantius thought that something like "making prayers to the dead" is wrong if done by itself, without the other practices accompanying it. And he doesn't add qualifiers like "if the dead men are false gods". What Scott is doing is assuming qualifications that will reconcile Lactantius with Roman Catholic tradition. That's a possible interpretation of Lactantius. But it isn't the most likely one.

Scott continues:

Here Mr. Engwer gets SO CLOSE to pointing to the truth when he points out the "except the single deity..." condition for adoration and worship, but fails to make the connection that what Lactantius is objecting to is not the praying with the Communion of Saints to join us in our petitions but rather he objects to deifying dead people and worshiping them as gods. Neither Catholics nor Orthodox worship saints as gods.

Now Scott is adding another qualifier. He's assuming that Lactantius means "prayer that is worship". Supposedly, what Lactantius meant was "worshipful prayer to dead men" or "non-worshipful prayer to dead men who are false gods" or some other such qualified condemnation that would be consistent with Roman Catholicism. Why are we supposed to read such qualifiers into the text?

Since Scott ignored some portions of my Lactantius post and seems to be unaware of my previous exchanges with Christine, I'll repeat some points I made earlier. For documentation, see here and here. The evidence suggests that prayer to the dead is absent and condemned in the Bible and among the earliest post-apostolic Christians. Consider how often prayer to the dead is evidenced in Catholicism and Orthodoxy today. It's present in their church services, in their books, in their conversations, and in many other contexts. Its absence in scripture and early post-apostolic church history offers a stark contrast. Lactantius came out of that context. We don't begin with the default assumption that he believed in praying to the dead. And Scott hasn't produced any evidence that Lactantius believed in the practice. Thus, when Lactantius condemns prayer to the dead without the qualifiers that Scott wants to add to that condemnation, the most natural conclusion to reach is that he was condemning prayer to the dead in general, not just if the dead are false gods or with some other such qualification attached.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Video games and the argument from evil

I'm going to begin by quoting most of a recent post by JD Walters. Let me begin by saying that, in my experience, JD is one of the three best contributors to the CADRE. He almost always has something thoughtful and worthwhile to say.

(I say “almost” due to his unaccountable lapse of judgment on global warmism. I find it hard to believe that anybody as astute as JD would buy into global warmism. But I don’t actually attribute that to JD. Rather, I attribute that to a body swap–when a wormhole, generated by temporal rift in the hyperspace continuum, momentarily channeled the consciousness of an alien being into JD's cerebral cortex. Thankfully, this was a temporary condition, with no lasting effects.)

I do think that video games can help clarify and reinforce one popular response to the problem of evil, which is normally called a 'free will' defense but which I think should be called the 'consistent consequences' defense, or something similar.

It goes something like this: in order for moral choice to be meaningful, the consequences of those choices have to be consistent and irreversible. If you attack someone with the intent of hurting them, that person has to get hurt. If you chose to lie to someone and you are found out, the embarrassment has to be real. Choices have consequences. This means that God cannot intervene every time human beings are ugly to other human beings. It is inherent in the concept of a moral universe that the consequences of one's choices be consistently upheld, however monstrous those consequences might be. On a (much) smaller scale I am aware of this reality as a teacher: if I want a smoothly functioning classroom environment, I must lay down the class's rules and procedures, as well as the consequences for disregarding them. If I doll out those consequences inconsistently, applying the full penalty to some while letting others off the hook, the students will rightly suspect me of hypocrisy and will not know what to expect in my class. This will encourage their inherent opportunism in testing boundaries (children and adolescents always try to see what they can get away with), and will inhibit their moral development.

Contrast this with playing a video game, in which most choices are completely reversible: if you go down a wrong path or make a move which results in the death of your character, or someone you are defending, you can simply restart the level. In many games, including my all-time favorite Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, you can choose whether to play the story as a good guy, accumulating wisdom and virtue as you go along, or a bad guy, deceiving others and acquiring demonic power as you go along. It doesn't matter which way you go, because you can always play the game again and make different choices. It's even fun to play the dark side, all the more so because you know people aren't really being hurt.

I submit that a world more like a video game than the real one, in which bad choices rarely if ever have lasting bad consequences, would not be a moral universe at all, and would not reflect the wisdom of a loving God. A world in which choices did not have consistent consequences would be a world unable to produce morally mature persons.

Of course these considerations do not address what may be at the heart of the problem of evil: why bad things happen to good people, or why people who make good choices often suffer, while those who make bad choices flourish...But I think they do go some way toward explaining why God doesn't intervene more in those cases when people make bad choices that result in the suffering of others.

There are a number of ostensible problems with this theodicy:

i) JD is apparently addressing the inductive argument from evil rather than the logical argument from evil. In that case,he assumes a higher burden of proof. It isn’t sufficient for him to show that his conjecture is logically possible or merely unfalsifiable. Rather, he must show that it is plausible.

ii) Even if we grant his contention that consequences, including monstrous consequences, must be respected if moral choice is to be meaningful, the value of a meaningful choice must also outweigh the cost of the consequence.

But why should Hitler’s capacity for moral development outweigh the cost to 6 million Jews (not to mention collateral damage)? Isn’t that a morally exorbitant price to pay for his moral potential?

Which is the worse-case scenario: inhibiting his capacity for moral development, or saving the lives of 6 million innocent victims?

Or we could take smaller-scale instances. Say a child predator deflowers a five-year-old girl and then buries her alive. Why should his capacity for moral maturity outweigh her wellbeing?

Likewise, suppose an elderly widow is dependent on her grown son to provide for her. One day, when her son is in the 7/11 to buy a six-pack, a robber enters the store, steals the loose cash, then murders the cashier as well as the customer. Why should his capacity for moral development trump the needs of the elderly widow?

iii) Perhaps JD would say that while the cost exceeds the benefit in many individual cases, the overall good of moral development counterbalances the exceptions.

But if that’s his response, then that raises additional questions:

iv) How does he measure the aggregate gain?

v) He is also assuming that:

a) Necessarily, there are no possible worlds in which morally meaningful choices are attainable apart from some evil consequences.

b) Necessarily, there are no possible worlds in which morally meaningful choices are attainable apart from some harmful consequences to a second party, rather than the agent.

c) Necessarily, there are no possible worlds in which morally meaningful choices are attainable apart from some “monstrous” consequences.

But it isn’t obvious to me how any one of these assumptions is intuitively plausible.

vi) Put another way, given that monstrous consequences, and harmful consequences to second parties, are necessary to moral development, then God cannot routinely intervene to preempt the consequences.

But why should we accept that assumption as a given? Why is it a given that morally meaningful choices necessarily include choices with monstrous consequences and/or harmful consequences for second parties?

Since not all moral choices have dire consequences, why is there no possible world containing only a subset of moral choices without dire consequences?

vii) Another evident tension in his theodicy is that the capacity of some agents for moral development incapacitates the moral development of other agents. Hence, the principle works at cross-purposes.

Take young girls who are sold into child prostitution. That consequence is hardly conducive to their moral maturation.

viii) Likewise, some choices are so catastrophic that once you make the fateful choice, you lose the opportunity of learning from your mistake.

ix) JD’s theodicy also treats moral evil as a necessary means of moral development. As if a human being is a blank slate who must commit both good and evil to learn the difference. Every child must torture a few puppies and kittens to learn that animal cruelty is wrong.

But if that is JD’s general position, then there’s no categorical distinction between the creation and the fall in his theological outlook.

x) I’m also unclear on where redemption fits into a scheme of “consistent consequences.” If the consequences of one’s choices must be “consistently upheld,” then what room is left over for divine mercy and forgiveness? It sounds like the inexorable law of karma. Rigid cause and effect.

xi) Even at a human level, it is sometimes incumbent on parents to jump in before their teenagers make a catastrophic choice. Likewise, we sometimes soften the consequences of a foolhardy choice. True, it would be counterproductive to do so all the time, but it would be equally counterproductive to allow every rash action to terminate in its self-destructive consequences. That’s like destroying the village to save the village.

Take a drug overdose. Do you let your child die, or do you seek medical intervention? “Tough luck, kid! Them’s the breaks!” How does it benefit the child to let him die? How does that advance his moral development?

Same thing with friendship. Doesn’t a friend sometimes interpose himself to prevent another friend from hurting himself by a reckless, impulsive choice?

xii) I’ll finish with a comment that I left on his post:

There's some truth to what you say. However, isn't this rather like one of those SF stories in which an advanced alien race kidnaps human beings and subjects them to brutal experiments to learn about the nature of compassion?

At the end of the experiment, the aliens are more empathetic to the plight of others. But does that justify the sacrifice of human test-subjects?

One could come up with similar scenarios. A rich parent wants to teach his young son compassion. He kidnaps street children to be experimental playmates for his son. At first his son abuses his playmates. Injures some, kills others. The rich parent disposes of the victims. But after a while the son learns the value of compassion.

Chicken soup for the Arminian soul

Steven Nemes, Paul Manata, and Steve Hays have already dispensed their sagacious advice to Arminian parents about how to cope with losing their child to Calvinism. Thanks, guys.

That said, and for what it's worth, I'd like to add my two cents'.

Understandably, it's hard for Arminian parents to deal with the overwhelming, undulating emotions from losing their child to Calvinism. So perhaps it might help if Arminian parents better understood some of the medical science behind their grief and depression.

Here is a PET scan comparing two brains - a normal brain and a brain of a grief-stricken Arminian parent:

As one can see, the grief-stricken Arminian parent's brain displays significantly reduced neural activity. Also, note the pattern diminishes in a classical "Calvinist-to-Wesleyan" (C2W) fashion: from a complex chain of Calvinistic cerebral conductive competency to only a few, less than perfect holy hypothalamic "hot spots" left.

Although neuroscientists and neurologists understand much about depression, they don't understand everything. In fact, they're still trying to piece together what precisely causes this sort of depression in Arminians. Broadly, the modern prevailing theory is depression is due to altered brain structure and certain chemical levels. For example, a neurotransmitter known as serotonin seems to be negatively imbalanced.

But serotonin levels aren't the sole problem. Sure, serotonin plays a major and arguably central role in grief and depression. But it's in fact part and parcel of a larger disease process called the Servetus Syndrome, which not only affects the central nervous system but likewise affects the peripheral nervous system as well.

For example, take a look at the following image:

Here we observe the failure of the action potential to properly propagate across the length of the neuron to the presynaptic nerve terminal, thus in turn disallowing key neurotransmitters from traveling across the synaptic cleft to the adjacent neuron. Scientists theorize this is due to an inhibitory chemical enzyme which blocks cell receptors known as the LFW factor. In fact, scientists speculate the LFW factor is genetically inherited. Hence, if we can find the gene(s) which codes for it and manipulate its synthesis, physicians might be able to medically treat the individual predisposed to the LFW factor.

What's more, individuals suffering from Servetus Syndrome have been prone to irrational behavior including concocting semi-fictitious stories about what actually happened to their children (e.g. they weren't so much lost as they were kidnapped by a dreadful Green Baggins monster; or an avaricious James White made mince meat out of them and ate them for dinner). Or having fits of anger to the point of calling their own beloved if lost children "diabolical" and "Satanic."

Of course, while it's been hypothesized there is a genetic component to depression, it's likely environmental triggers to genetically predisposed individuals are involved as well.

Many have undoubtedly heard of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which often has a gradual onset beginning in late autumn and early winter, though in minority cases onset can be acute.

Epidemiologists and other relevant experts suggest SAD is a necessary if not sufficient causative agent for as much as 75% of patients suffering from depression (based on tests which feature high sensitivity - 99.99%, albeit admittedly shockingly low specificity - 16.89%). With such a strong correlation, it'd be a good idea for distraught Arminian parents living in less sunny climes such as Nome, Alaska, Augusta, Maine, Wilmore, Kentucky, or Lynchburg, Virginia to be aware of this and take necessary steps and precautions to prevent or at least mitigate its affects. After all, to foreknow is to forearm oneself. For example, they might consider undertaking synergistic light therapy or resisting prevenient cloudy or rainy weather patterns. In any case, although it's not guaranteed, one hopes they will persevere through the autumn and winter seasons.

Arminians who are depressed are more likely to attempt suicide. Warning signs include talking about open theism or universal salvation. Or engaging in risky behavior such as threatening to attend Keswick conventions or start Higher Life movements. These are but precursory signals of the downward spiral toward oblivion. Friends of affected Arminians should urgently call a suicide hotline if they suspect let alone observe such symptoms (e.g. 1-800-Free-Will).

Now let's turn to treatment and management options.

There are three main lines of treatment and management which vary depending on the degree of depression: from mild to moderate to severe.

In mild cases, it'd be helpful to take an herbal remedy such as St. John Wesley's wort, pictured here:

However, St. John Wesley's wort is contraindicated with the use of other Johns including Calvin, Knox, Gill, Winthrop, Piper, MacArthur, Frame, etc. Likewise with regard to John-similars such as Jonathans (e.g. Edwards). Thus, the depressed Arminian should make sure to steer clear of using St. John Wesley's wort with the other Johns or Jonathans. Especially since most are derived from tulips which could provoke anaphylactic or anti-proginosko shock in susceptible Arminians.

In moderate cases, the Arminian might take an antidepressant such as Methodoxide or Norepinephremonstrants:

Adverse effects may include general malaise, headaches, nausea, upset stomach, water retention, weight gain, insomnia, and speech impediments including difficulty pronouncing words such as infralapsarianism or supralapsarianism.

Finally, in severe cases, the Arminian who has lost their child to Calvinism might consider the experimental Pelagian Nerve Stimulation (PNS) device:

Although PNS is still in clinical trials, it has proven highly effective in patients who otherwise show no improvement with medication. The PNS device is a surgically implanted micro machine which sends electrical pulses to the brain via the Pelagian nerve and causes significant improvement in the patient's ability to cope with traumatic emotions of depression and grief. In fact, Arminian patients can have full assurance of redemption and restoration of their mental health provided one condition: that they remain attached to the PNS device for life.

The author would like to thank Dr. David Martyn Lloyd-Jones for contributing his medical expertise to the review of the pre-publication manuscript.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Coping with Calvinism

Steven Nemes, Paul Manata, and I have pulled together some crisis counseling tips for grief-stricken Arminian parents who just discovered that their innocent kids succumbed to the perditious clutches of Calvinism:

When your family learns you’re Calvinist
June 8, 2010 by Steven

There is not a more uncomfortable few hours you can spend than those when your family (note: not immediate family, like your parents and brother, but your extended family, like aunts and cousins) learn that you are a Calvinist. If you were born in an “unbelieving” family, like me, it was a big enough deal when your parents learn you’re one of those wretches who believes you can do whatever you want after you’re saved, cuz you’re never going to lose it. But it’s twice as bad when family you don’t even see that often–like your parents’ siblings who live half way across the US (or across the world even) learn you’re a Calvinist. Then, it seems, you’re branded–”Oh, that’s my brother’s heretic of a kid–he’s one of them Calvinists, you know. They believe God chose them to be saved cuz they’re so special.” It’d be better to keep it secret, but then again, whoever is ashamed of me before men…

steve hays

That’s why we need to form support groups for Calvinists who come out of the closet. Paul Manata heads up a local chapter in Grand Rapids. It’s a safe place for Calvinists who’ve been shunned by family and friends to hold hands and have a good cry.


Here’s something I worked up for our local group, maybe this will help you, Steven:


Things You’ll Need:

* Confidence

Step 1

Seeking out the support of your friends and even your pastor if you already have one is important when you are preparing to tell your family you’re a Calvinist. Many families have a negative reaction when they hear this, thus they may disassociate with you for awhile or express disappointment. This can be extremely emotional and stressful for you, which is why it is important that you have supportive friends around to help boost your spirit and morale, as well as reassure you that you made the correct decision (especially when those who dislike your choice tell you that you did not make a decision).

Step 2

Preparing yourself for criticism or disassociation by your family is important. Most families need time to come to terms with the fact that someone is a Calvinist before they can fully accept them again. Before they can see them as human. You may find it beneficial to hear stories of others who have came out to their family and what they went through in order to prepare yourself.

Step 3

Understanding the cycle families, especially parents, go through when you tell them you’re a Calvinist can also help in managing the criticism and disassociation you receive. Generally most people experience anger, grief and disappointment before they fully accept you as someone who is a Calvinist. This is especially true for parents who often question what they did wrong that made you accept TULIP. Let them hang out with you and your Calvinist friends. They will begin to see you as human, and love you just as you are.

Step 4

Providing your family members, especially your parents, with books about being a Calvinist and having Calvinist children can really be an asset as they go through the above cycle. There are a number of excellent resources that you can purchase and give to them when you tell them you are a Calvinist (R.C. Sproul’s _Chosen By God_ is a classic). This helps them to learn more as well as understand they are not the only family with a Calvinist person in it.

Step 5

Seeking out the support of family friends that can be of assistance during this process is also beneficial (like the local PCA or OPC, or even a Reformed baptist church). Your parents may have friends that are more orthodox than your own, whom you feel comfortable telling you are a Calvinist. By coming out to them in advance and talking about how you will be telling your parents or family, these friends can act as a support system. They can help your family come to terms with the fact that you are a Calvinist.

Step 6

Consider who in your family you want to tell that you are a Calvinist to first. Some family members will react better than others, and you probably know which ones they are (family members that drink beer or wine in moderation or don’t let emotion determine truth are the most likely to accept your change). Often telling cousins or siblings is much easier than parents, grandparents or other adults since most cousins or siblings your age know of someone that is Calvinist or have friends that are. Telling someone in your family who will be accepting of the fact that you are a Calvinist can give you the boost of confidence you need to tell the rest of your family.

Step 7

Finally tell your family you’re a Calvinist. Although you may be dreading it, you will feel a sense of relief once you get it over. Instantly a huge weight will be lifted off your shoulders (kind of like how accepting the doctrines of grace was a weight off your semi-Pelagian shoulders) as you now know you can be yourself and you no longer have to pretend to be someone else, like Joel Osteen.

Step 8

Repeat steps 1-7 as necessary.

steve hays

Parents who discover that their children have converted to Calvinism pass through the classic stages of grief. According to Kübler-Ross, it’s the same reaction patients have when diagnosed with a terminal disease:

Shock stage: Initial paralysis at hearing the horrible news.
Denial stage: "How dare you say my child would do that!"
Anger stage: "How could my child do that to me!"
Bargaining stage: "If you recant, I’ll buy you a Mustang!"
Depression stage: Sense of hopelessness.
Acceptance stage: Stoic resignation.

1 Enoch 1:9

I. Canonics

Jude’s quotation of 1 Enoch 1:9 is often touted as a problem for the Protestant canon. If, however, that’s a problem for the Protestant canon, then that’s also a problem for the Roman Catholic canon, the Eastern Orthodox canon, and most Oriental orthodox canons–except the anomalous case of the Ethiopian Orthodox canon.

Of course, Roman Catholics default to the Magisterium. That, however, is a makeshift solution that fails to address Jude’s use of 1 Enoch 1:9. Either Jude treats this passage as inspired Scripture or not. If not, then we don’t need the Magisterium to broker the issue; but if he does, then the Magisterium can’t very well overrule Jude.

II. The Text

I’m going to reproduce both passages. I’ll quote Jude in the ESV, and I’ll use the translation supplied by Nickelsburg in his commentary for the Enochic passage.

1 Enoch 1:1-2,9

The words of the blessing with which Enoch blessed the righteous chosen who will be present on the day of tribulation, to remove all the enemies; and the righteous will be saved. And he took up his discourse and said, Enoch, a righteous man whose eyes were opened by God, who had the vision of the Holy One and of heaven, which he showed me…Behold, he comes with the myriads of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all, and to destroy all the wicked, and to convict all flesh for all the wicked deeds that they have done, and the proud and hard words that wicked sinners spoke against him.

Jude 14-15

It was also about these that Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of his holy ones, to execute judgment on all and to convict all the ungodly of all their deeds of ungodliness that they have committed in such an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things that ungodly sinners have spoken against him.”

III. The Crux

Jude’s use of 1 Enoch 1:9 raises at least two related issues:

i) Unless he regards the speaker as the historic Enoch, why does he ascribe the utterance to Enoch?

ii) Unless he regards 1 Enoch 1:9 as true, why does he quote it?

IV. The Enochic Ascription

From what I can gauge, the obvious reason that Jude, in quoting this passage, attributes the utterance to Enoch, is because that ascription is, itself, a part of the original quote. Jude is quoting from a book quoting “Enoch.”

1 Enoch 1:1 is a general superscription for chapters 1-5 (in our extant editions), followed by an introduction (1:2-3) which reaffirms the Enochic superscription. (For details, see Nickelsburg’s commentary.)

Jude introduces 1:9 by paraphrasing 1:1 and then incorporating that ascription into his quote. In effect, he’s quoting 1:1,9. He carries the ascription of 1:1 down into the quotation of 1:9–skipping over the intervening material.

But this does not imply that he himself attributes the utterance to Enoch. Rather, he’s quoting the citation that comes with the pericope (1:1-9). A summary quotation of 1:1,9 (or 1:1-2,9).

He quotes the superscription because the superscription was already a part of the primary text, and, what is more, a part of the text that introduces the oracle of judgment.

So it’s not as if he’s adding his own attribution, or vouching for the ascription. Rather, he’s quoting a quote. For 1 Enoch 1:1-2 explicitly quotes “Enoch” making the statement recorded in v9. Therefore, an accurate quote by a secondary source (Jude) will reproduce the superscription in the primary source–though not necessarily verbatim.

To take a comparison, suppose a pastor preaches a sermon series on Hebrews, using the KJV. He inaugurates the series by reading his sermon text: “The Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Hebrews. God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets…”

Is the pastor attributing Hebrews to St. Paul? No. The pastor is quoting the KJV, which attributes this letter to St. Paul.

Of course, this doesn’t rule out the possibility that our pastor may agree with the citation. But we can’t infer that from the mere practice of quoting the superscription to introduce the sermon text.

V. The Enochic Background

A common problem with the way the issue is framed is that scholars tend to focus on the background of Jude 14-15 rather than the background of 1 Enoch 1:9. Once they have identified the source of Jude 14-15, that’s where they stop.

Yet, to a great extent, 1 Enoch 1:9 (indeed, the whole pericope) is, itself, a secondary source which has its primary source in OT scripture. Therefore, Jude isn’t simply quoting 1 Enoch 1:9. For by quoting 1 Enoch 1:9, he is indirectly quoting whatever OT passages 1 Enoch is alluding to. To the extent, which is considerable, that 1 Enoch 1:9 goes back to the OT scriptures, so does Jude 14-15. It’s the truth of the OT scriptures, appropriated by 1 Enoch 1:9, which underwrites the truth 1 Enoch 1:9.

As a couple of scholars have noted:

“The holy ones are the faithful angels of God, as in Dan 4 and Job 5:1; 15:15. This reference to God’s celestial band recalls Deut 33:2…Zech 14:5c envisions an advent of God along with his holy ones. It is possible that Ps 68:18[17] also speaks of God’s heavenly retinue within the context of theophany…Dan 7:10, a part of Daniel’s throne vision, also pictures God as surrounded by myriads of heavenly attendants as at the time of judgment,” J. VanderKam, “The Theophany of Enoch 1:3b-7, 9,” Vetus Testamentum 23.2 (1973): 148-50.

“That God comes with myriads of holy ones derives form Deut 33:2…The universality of this judgment, indicated already in [1 Enoch] 1:7, is emphasized here by the fourfold repetition of ‘all.’…the language here should be read in light of three related OT texts. The first is Genesis 6-9, which repeatedly speaks of the corruption of all flesh and of the judgment that falls on all flesh except for a very small remnant [Gen 6:12,13,17,19; 7:15,21; 8:17; 9:11,15,17]…Two other OT passages (Jer 25:30-32; Isa 66:15-16) may have influenced the wording of 1 Enoch 1:3c-5,9,” G. Nickelsburg, 1 Enoch 1 (Fortress Press 2001), 149.

VI. Audience Adaptation

Apropos (V), the substance of the passage, quoted by Jude, is thoroughly Scriptural. The only apocryphal element is the Enochic setting, but that’s embedded in the citational formula of the primary source which Jude is quoting. An incidental consequence of his requoting the terms of the original quotation.

We might still ask why Jude references this material in the first place. An obvious explanation is that he did it because this type of literature was venerated by his opponents, and so he’s turning it against them. A polemical, tu quoque technique which we find elsewhere in Scripture.

Religious scandals

The Caner scandal once again raises the general issue of religious scandals. Unbelievers often cite religious scandals to discredit the faith.

But there’s another way to look at these scandals. In the providence of God, religious scandals often have fringe benefits.

Consider the downfall of Jimmy Swaggart or Jim and Tammy Faye. On the one hand, Evangelicalism took a hit in the popular media, even though Evangelicalism in general wasn’t to blame.

However, let’s look at this from another angle. Suppose Swaggart or the Bakkers hadn’t been brought down by personal scandal. Consider the long-term effect if they continued in their position of influence?

They would have done far more lasting damage, absent their downfall, then as a result of their downfall. Same thing with other disgraced preachers like Richard Roberts and Robert Tilton.

Not only do they lose followers, but it makes it makes others more wary of prosperity preachers in general.

And this applies at the institutional level as well. The church of Rome, with its institutional corruption, involving pedophile priests and nuns, as well as bishops who facilitate their crimes, has opened the eyes of many.

Scandal is bad for the wrongdoer, but it can be good for the Christian community at large. It helps to purify the church. The short-term harm is more than offset by the incidental, long-term benefits of pruning the dead branches.

Jonestown revisited

Atheism is a devil’s pact. Mephistopheles has a good sales’ pitch. On the one hand, he talks down the Bible. The Bible is such an evil book, you know. Why, Yahweh is nothing short of a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully!

Conversely, apostasy is a liberating experience. If I am someone’s slave, that ruins everything. An eternal supervising parent who would never let me get on with my life, never let me grow up. An eternity of praise and groveling and thanksgiving would be my idea of hell.

So apostasy isn’t paradise lost, but paradise regained!

However, the problem with a devil’s pact is that it always has a catch. Once you hastily sign on the dotted line in your own indelible blood, you find out that the contract has some fine print buried in the appendix.

For instance, here is how a leading atheist portrays our role in the great scheme of things:

The 19th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer held that even the best life possible for humans is one in which we strive for ends that, once achieved, bring only fleeting satisfaction. New desires then lead us on to further futile struggle and the cycle repeats itself.
Schopenhauer’s pessimism has had few defenders over the past two centuries, but one has recently emerged, in the South African philosopher David Benatar, author of a fine book with an arresting title: “Better Never to Have Been: The Harm of Coming into Existence.” One of Benatar’s arguments trades on something like the asymmetry noted earlier. To bring into existence someone who will suffer is, Benatar argues, to harm that person, but to bring into existence someone who will have a good life is not to benefit him or her. Few of us would think it right to inflict severe suffering on an innocent child, even if that were the only way in which we could bring many other children into the world. Yet everyone will suffer to some extent, and if our species continues to reproduce, we can be sure that some future children will suffer severely. Hence continued reproduction will harm some children severely, and benefit none.
Benatar also argues that human lives are, in general, much less good than we think they are. We spend most of our lives with unfulfilled desires, and the occasional satisfactions that are all most of us can achieve are insufficient to outweigh these prolonged negative states. If we think that this is a tolerable state of affairs it is because we are, in Benatar’s view, victims of the illusion of pollyannaism. This illusion may have evolved because it helped our ancestors survive, but it is an illusion nonetheless. If we could see our lives objectively, we would see that they are not something we should inflict on anyone.
Here is a thought experiment to test our attitudes to this view. Most thoughtful people are extremely concerned about climate change. Some stop eating meat, or flying abroad on vacation, in order to reduce their carbon footprint. But the people who will be most severely harmed by climate change have not yet been conceived. If there were to be no future generations, there would be much less for us to feel too guilty about.
So why don’t we make ourselves the last generation on earth? If we would all agree to have ourselves sterilized then no sacrifices would be required — we could party our way into extinction!
Of course, it would be impossible to get agreement on universal sterilization, but just imagine that we could. Then is there anything wrong with this scenario? Even if we take a less pessimistic view of human existence than Benatar, we could still defend it, because it makes us better off — for one thing, we can get rid of all that guilt about what we are doing to future generations — and it doesn’t make anyone worse off, because there won’t be anyone else to be worse off.
Is a world with people in it better than one without? Put aside what we do to other species — that’s a different issue. Let’s assume that the choice is between a world like ours and one with no sentient beings in it at all. And assume, too — here we have to get fictitious, as philosophers often do — that if we choose to bring about the world with no sentient beings at all, everyone will agree to do that. No one’s rights will be violated — at least, not the rights of any existing people. Can non-existent people have a right to come into existence?
I do think it would be wrong to choose the non-sentient universe. In my judgment, for most people, life is worth living. Even if that is not yet the case, I am enough of an optimist to believe that, should humans survive for another century or two, we will learn from our past mistakes and bring about a world in which there is far less suffering than there is now. But justifying that choice forces us to reconsider the deep issues with which I began. Is life worth living? Are the interests of a future child a reason for bringing that child into existence? And is the continuance of our species justifiable in the face of our knowledge that it will certainly bring suffering to innocent future human beings?

Suddenly the secular utopia resembles a global Johnstown. It becomes our civic duty to commit mass suicide for the good of the planet.

Indeed, on this view, Yahweh is reprehensible, not because he executed so many Sodomites and Canaanites and prediluvians, but because he spared anyone at all.

Secular humanism is Flavor Aid, laced with cyanide.

Monday, June 07, 2010

The Hunger

I recently saw The Hunger (1983). Admittedly, this was largely an excuse to see Catherine Deneuve.

The film was generally panned by Roger Ebert and other critics. And I understand why they dislike it.

The Hunger tries too hard to be artistic. True artistry isn’t that self-conscious. True artistry conceals its own artistry. The film also suffers from a ludicrous ending.

I could also do without the lesbian theme, or some of the language. On the other hand, I don’t expect vampires to be paragons of virtue, so in that respect, why wouldn’t they be bisexual?

The Hunger has a very spare plot and little narrative momentum. But in that regard it’s rather like the better works of David Lynch (Mulholland Drive, Twin Peaks). Not that Lynch is above criticism, by any means.

It’s not so much about telling a linear story–like a journey, with a beginning, middle, and end–as it is about exploring an idea. Lingering on a central idea, from different angles, like a still-life, or series of still lives (e.g. Monet’s lilies) rather than a trip with a well-defined route and a well-defined destination.

And in that respect the treatment suits the theme. Although vampires are immortal, they have no purpose in life. No hope. No fulfillment. No direction. They live to kill and kill to live.

Having outlived their parents and grandparents, spouses and friends, they have lived beyond their time. They don’t belong here anymore. They simply adapt. Outwardly they may blend in, but inwardly they remain rootless, restless drifters. Miriam's townhouse is chock-full of museum pieces, and she, herself, is a museum piece. Timeless, flawless, and dead.

To some extent The Hunger is a vampiric twist on the old Greek myth of Aurora and Tithonus. Miriam’s paramours live for a few centuries, but in the end the price they pay is immorality without eternal youth.

Miriam’s vaguely Egyptian ancestry, underlined by Deneuve’s iconic looks, reminds me of Nefertiti. Deneuve was about 40 when she made the film. Unlike some movie stars, she apparently forsook cosmetic surgery. So her fabled beauty is a bit worn. Still arresting, but not quite what it was in her Chanel No. 5 ads. Yet that, too, suits the world-weariness of the character.

The Hunger is a merciless and unblinking study in the fear of death and dying, as well as the curse of mere immortality–which is no true alternative to death and dying.

A memorable film. An uneven film. An artistic failure, yet more significant and satisfying, in its way, than many by-the-numbers productions which don’t suffer from its evident flaws, but also lack its flashes of greatness.

If we make allowance for the film’s deficiencies, I think The Hunger is actually one of the best films of the genre. Stylish, noirish, and despairing. What is damnation if not eternal life without the giver of life?