Saturday, December 18, 2010

The brain-pickers

Jeff Bender was a psychic P.I. Technically, Jeff’s profession was illegal. Classified as a class B felony, colloquially known as “mind-rape.” Jeff was automatically banned from even stepping foot inside a casino.

However, there was a thriving black market for psychic P.I.’s, with a wide range of clients. They were handy in custody battles, where the ex-wife wanted the dirt on her no-good spouse. In competitive sports, where one player wanted to know the secret weakness of his opponent.

Although illegal, Jeff was a strictly off-the-books consultant to the Pentagon, where he could pick the brains of an enemy scientist.

Even though his profession was technically illegal, his crime was rarely enforced. The DA was afraid to prosecute a psychic P.I., since certain details concerning the DA’s youthful indiscretions or extracurricular interests might mysteriously find their way into the headlines a day after the indictment was handed down.

It took intense mental discipline to be a psychic P.I. You had to learn how to shut out the miscellaneous thoughts of all the men and women around you. And it was very disorienting to immerse yourself in someone else’s mind. Hard to maintain your personal identity. Your thoughts mingled with his, or hers.

After each case, it became harder to disengage your memories from the memories of the host. You needed time between cases to sort it out. Separate yourself from the entangling host.

To penetrate the mind of the host required one’s undivided attention. In his basement, Jeff had a soundproof room with a hospital bed, I.V. line, catheter, and so on, to keep his body under mild sedation and hydration for long hours while he tried to find his bearings inside the bewildering mind of the host.

Psychic detective work often involved a degree of serial mind-jumping. To extract a secret, you frequently had to approach the mind of the host through the mind of a trusted third party. Having that sympathetic connection made it easier to coax incriminating or embarrassing secrets from the mind of the host. After entering the mind of the host through the mind of a third party, you normally had to retrace your steps to regain consciousness.

In his current case, a mobster retained his services to pick the brains of a business rival. Jeff went through the mind of the businessman’s brother to reach into the mind of the host.

Unfortunately, this came with occupational hazards. While Jeff was successfully navigating the mind of the host, he suddenly felt a kickback, like a rifle recoiling. When he went back to check, he found out that his exit was gone. Where there had been a backdoor, there was now a wall. 

As it turns out, the brother just died from a headshot in a gangland slaying. With his escape route cut off, that left Jeff trapped in the mind of the host.

So Jeff had to find another way out. In principle, it was possible to regain consciousness if he jumped into the mind of someone with whom he had an emotional bond. Someone who remembered him. A friend or relative. He could use that preexisting pathway to make the return trip.

However, his profession generated a bit if a dilemma in that regard. When you know what other people really think of you, it’s hard to maintain a friendship. As such, Jeff didn’t have any current friends. He wasn’t in a relationship. He gave up on girlfriends, for however understanding they were, he could always overhear their unspoken resentments. The things they thought of saying, wanted to say, but bit their tongue. The girl talk. What they said bout him when he wasn’t around.

And that applied to his other relationships, or lack thereof. His profession was a recipe for misanthrope. Had he know psychic detective work was so lonely, he would have chosen a different career. But it was too late now.

Was there anyone else he could use as a bridge to get back? He thought of classmates from junior high and high school. But that was so long ago. The emotional connections generally weakened over the years as you lost contact.

Still, he’d been to his 20th high school reunion last year, which gave him a chance, albeit brief, to renew his acquaintance with some students he knew way back when. But he was running out of time. His body could only survive untended for a few days while his mind played hooky. If his body died, he would be stuck in the head of this mobster for life. A distinctly unsavory prospect.

Jeff dipped into the minds of the classmates his chatted with at the reunion. But he didn’t mean that much to most of them, as he found out, trolling their minds.

However, there was one student who still cared about him. They had been good friends in junior high and high school. But that was before Brad got religion. Jeff couldn’t stand Christianity. It was incomprehensible to him how anyone could take the Bible seriously.

So they had a falling out shortly after Brad got saved. Not that Brad broke off the friendship. But Jeff lost all respect for Brad.

That was some twenty years ago. But now, ambling through the mind of his old school buddy, with whom he recently reconnoitered at their reunion, he discovered that Brad was the only one who continued to care about his long-long friend. Indeed, Brad had been praying for Jeff all these years.

But what is more, for the first time in his life, Jeff was seeing the Christian faith from the inside out. Through the eyes of his friend. He was privy to Brad’s inmost experience. And it suddenly fell into place. It suddenly made sense.

Of course, there was some sordid stuff in Brad’s mind. Not the sort of thing you’re proud of. Not the sort of thing you’d publicize.

But Jeff was used to that. Everybody had that sort of thing in the back of their minds. Often in the forefront. Whenever you mucked about in another man’s mind, you got your boots muddy. But Brad had something else. Something not of this world.

Jeff was able to use Brad’s mind as a catwalk to regain consciousness. He awakened, back in his body, lying on the hospital bed, with tubes and all.

He was the same, but not the same. For some of Brad’s memories were now a part of his memories. Memories of Brad’s conversion experience. Of answered prayer. Of God’s subtle, but fatherly providence in Brad’s life over the last twenty years or so. Passages of Scripture, committed to memory. Stanzas of hymns, inaudibly sung in the inner recesses of the mind.

Jeff couldn’t get that out of his head. It grew on him, like a vine.

Friday, December 17, 2010

What In The World?

Yet another something that speaks for itself...

Christmas Idea for Wives and Girlfriends of Bibliophiles

Need I say more?

Artificially-induced religious experiences

Since it's a brief post, I'll quote in full Steven Nemes quoting Mark Anderson:
Some people seem to be of the opinion that artificially-induced religious experiences somehow take from the veridicality of non-artificially-induced religious experiences. This is not compelling. Quoth Mark Anderson:
Our vision of a chair depends upon neurological activity. A neurologist can cause a patient to experience this and other visions simply by manipulating his brain--by introducing the appropriate drug, for example, or by manually stimulating the relevant neural pathways. This does not persuade us that there really no chairs, that our visions of chairs are nothing more than the electrical-chemical activity inside our skulls. Why then should we believe that artificially induced religious experiences or "the God center" in our brain implies the non-existence of the object of our mystical experience?
Pure: Modernity, Philosophy, and the One (Sophia Perennis, 2009), p40.


I finally got around to seeing Inception. It’s one of those “thinking man’s” SF flicks. I’m not quite as enthusiastic about the film as many reviewers. I think it’s better at raising questions than answering questions. And some of the ideas are more intriguing than the execution.

On the plus side, it has a number of things going for it. Like Dante, this is the type of story in which form is content. It’s rare to have a story where plot, characters, and setting are so tightly integrated.

The plot has a concentric structure, like boxes within boxes–which mirrors the dreamscape. And this, in turn, generates parallel action between different dreamscapes, with alternating scenes between what’s happening in one dreamscape and another. That also makes it more interesting than the average film.

The emotional center of the film involves the ill-fated romance between Cobb and his late wife. They had a whole life together in “limbo,” where, as godlike “architects,” they made a vast, detailed world for themselves. Where they even had virtual children.

But Cobb became dissatisfied with the unreality of it. Wanted to wake up, and take his wife with him. The only way to wake up in a lucid dream is to kill yourself in the dream. He planted that idea in her mind. But having killed herself in the dream world, she later killed herself in the real world, which she mistook for the dream world.

At least that’s what happened from Cobb’s viewpoint. But that’s one of the ambiguities of the film. Whose viewpoint is real: Mal’s–or Cobb’s?

Maybe Cobb is deluded and Mal is right. At the end of the story, why do his kids look just the same in the “real world” as they did in “limbo”? And can one phone call from Saito really make the authorities drop the murder charges? Or is that wishful thinking on Cobb’s part–because Cobb is still trapped inside a dream?

This Year's Matthew Commentaries And The Best Books On Christmas Apologetics

In a post on Christmas resources a couple of years ago, I mentioned that the best books I'm aware of on the historicity of the infancy narratives are Craig Keener's 1999 commentary on Matthew and Darrell Bock's 1994 commentary on Luke. A couple of lengthy commentaries on Matthew came out this year from conservative scholars, Knox Chamblin and Grant Osborne. And an updated version of D.A. Carson's Matthew commentary came out. I've read through the sections on Matthew 1-2 in all three of them, and I didn't see anything that significantly advances the case for a traditional view of the infancy narratives. All three have some good material. Carson's commentary is especially good. (It was a while ago that I read through the infancy material in the earlier version of his commentary. From what I remember of the earlier one, I think the updated version isn't much different. There are some changes here and there, such as some discussion of more recent sources on the star of Bethlehem, but not much.) I would still recommend Keener's commentary as the best book on Matthew and Bock's as the best one on Luke.

Between those two, I consider Keener's the better one. (I prefer Matthew's material to Luke's, which is part of the reason why I prefer Keener. I think Keener's commentary is better even aside from my preference for Matthew, though.) Keener may be more interested in issues of historicity than most commentators because of his background in atheism. He either understands the relevant issues better than other scholars or expresses his understanding more effectively. He cites a larger number and variety of both ancient and modern sources. He understands the significance of hostile corroboration and often discusses it. He addresses the issues more deeply and from a larger variety of angles. He comes across as having read and thought about the issues more widely and deeply. He takes issues of historicity more seriously than the vast majority of people in the church today tend to, including scholars.

This year's Matthew commentaries were disappointing, and I'm not aware of any others due out soon that seem promising. There are some promising Luke commentaries on the way. I'm thinking mainly of Richard Bauckham's and Stanley Porter's. But I haven't seen a date for Bauckham's, and the last date I saw for Porter's was 2016. It looks like Keener's and Bock's will be the best for a while longer.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Nice evil

Is the "common man" a "moral monster"? Hilary White on "nice evil."


Social Justice

One of my coworkers recently passed on a link to a page on Willow Creek Community Church’s website showcasing a class they’re holding on social justice:

What’s interesting about this is that there’s a lot of stuff being promoted by a group called Sojourners. Being the civic-minded person that I am, I poked around their website, reading their mission statements, and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s time for me to start my own cult social justice group. I think I’ll call it Civic Apprehension™©® because you have to apprehend civics, lest you become oppressed by the Bourgeois.

Since every good cult social justice group needs a vapid content-less mission statement comprised solely of catchphrases to fawn over, I hereby offer the Civic Apprehension™©® Mission Statement of Purpose™©®:

Civic Apprehension™©® was created in 2010 by activists seeking to broaden social constructs through the diverse surveying of various political theories, filtered through the scope of a homogenous application of a heterogeneous zeitgeist, consisting of three main principals: 1) the adherence to eco-friendly machinations, derived from a green pathos; 2) the promotion of self-awareness via attitudinal metamorphosis (with special attention to avoiding phobic deprecation of disadvantaged groups, whether it be through personal fault or via systemic oppression); and 3) metastasizing our current prospects so they can more effectually integrate an impactful change in socio-economic discourse, providing a new launch-point from which we can more effectively oversee the upkeep of a sanitized program of personal responsibility, invested with cultural and communal traditions, without distorting the individual aspect of transmutable lifestyles through needless judgmentalistic prejudice.
I hereby appoint myself President, CEO, and Grand Poobah of Civic Apprehension™©® with the formal declaration that since Civic Apprehension™©® is a bold cult ministry, any time Civic Apprehension™©® is printed it must be in bold font style. Plus you have to send me $10 because I put a ™©® at the end of it.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Christ canon

Jason Engwer recently plugged Michael Rydelnik’s The Messianic Hope: Is the Hebrew Bible Really Messianic?

I see, upon reading the book, that this is actually a twofer. Building on the work of other scholars, Rydelnik argues that the OT canon is messianically structured.

As such, he is not only making a case for Messianic prophecy in the OT canon, but simultaneously making a case for the OT canon itself. This is an intertextual argument for the OT canon, where Messianic prophecy functions as a unifying principle and even a selection criterion.

Moreover, he also discusses the NT appropriation of some representative oracles from the OT. And that type of argument lays the groundwork for an intertextual argument for the Biblical canon as a whole, since it’s a bridging device, connecting each Testament to the other.  

Not only is this useful it its own right, but it’s useful in Protestant apologetics. Evidence for the canon of Scripture can be Scriptural as well as extrascriptural. Due to the intertextual fabric of Scripture, there is no tension between sola Scriptura and the canon of Scripture.

(Mind you, the use of extrascriptural evidence is not inherently opposed to sola Scriptura, for Scripture itself refers to various events outside itself.)

Rydelnik’s treatment of the subject is illustrative rather than exhaustive. But he presents the basic principles.   

Marian prayer-wheels

I'm reposting some comments I left at Green Baggins:

steve hays said,
December 4, 2010 at 7:31 am

The Marian typology we’ve been subjected to reminds me of a cautionary note by the late Harold Hoehner:

“After reading Hoehner’s arguments on the death of Christ (Friday crucifixion, Nisan 14 or April 3, AD 33), I wrote to him and suggested that another argument that Jesus died on Nisan 14 and that he presented himself to the nation on Nisan 10 was that it fulfilled the typology of Exodus 12:1–6. To my surprise and delight, Hoehner wrote back! And he politely pointed out that my argument could only be brought in as tertiary evidence, for although Jesus did indeed fulfill the typology of the OT, as historians we must look at the evidence that is of a historical nature—that is, evidence that both Christians and non-Christians would embrace—and we must also recognize that typological fulfillment often went in various directions, preventing us from cherry-picking in support of a view. For example, Jesus was not a year old when he died; he was not killed by fire but by crucifixion, etc. In other words, typology can be used in a confirmatory manner for historical study, but not as primary or secondary evidence. It’s what one brings in when discussing the results of one’s investigation.”

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Lord's Supper in Paul

James M. Hamilton Jr.
In a strange twist of God’s providence, we find ourselves grateful for the ways that the Corinthian church struggled. We are not grateful that they sinned but grateful that their problems provoked Paul to apply the gospel to their lives in ways that continue to instruct. Paul’s letters are occasional, and scholars often observe that
if the Corinthians had not provoked Paul to address their abuse of the Lord’s Table, the Lord’s Supper might not have been directly addressed in his letters.

Paul’s words in 1 Cor 11:17–34 explain that the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the gospel made by those who embrace the gospel,those whose identity is shaped by the gospel. In order to establish this thesis we must understand the abuses of the Lord’s Supper in the church in Corinth, and these abuses are tangled up with the other problems in the church that Paul addresses. Throughout 1 Corinthians,
Paul addresses Corinthian error with Christian gospel. The fact that the Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the gospel made by those who embrace the gospel makes what Paul says about the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 10–11 relevant to the issues Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 1–9. (keep reading)

The right to bear arms

Supreme Court Case District of Columbia vs. Heller.
Justice Scalia's court opinion

The "real" reason why sola Scriptura is untenable

According to Michael Liccione:

The distinction I’m invoking is important when dealing with sola scripturists, especially those of the Reformed persuasion. They typically hold that, at some point, we come to understand the semantic meaning of scriptural and confessional statements as well as they can be understood, which is supposed to be all that’s necessary for understanding the Christian faith. It is true that we often can and do reach such a point with scriptural and confessional statements themselves; when we do, that suffices for telling us what the statements mean as expressions of human thought. But of course it does not follow that that suffices for telling us what we ought to believe now. That question can only be answered by locating, identifying, and submitting to the authority by which such statements are propounded. Hence, when dealing with those who uphold the “perspicuity” of Scripture, we can readily grant that, in many instances, Scripture is perspicuous enough to tell us what its human authors meant. The same goes a fortiori for creedal and other confessions. But without some further account of authority, that does not suffice to tell us all that we ought to hold as de fide, or even why what they meant even is de fide.

i) This objection drives a wedge between divine and human intent. Yet the human intent of the Bible writer is divinely inspired. God inspired the authorial intent of the Bible writer. It is therefore fallacious to oppose divine and human intent when human intent amounts to inspired intent. For God expresses his intentions through the intentions of the writers and speakers he inspired to write and speak in his name.

ii) It sounds as though Liccione is operating with a theory of partial inspiration, whereby it’s necessary to winnow the Scriptural statements we’re supposed to believe from the chaffy statements we are free to disregard.

iii) In the meantime, notice his fatal concession. He admits that we can arrive at a correct understanding of the text without the services of the magisterium.  

This is why there’s no getting round the question by what authority Scripture is to be accepted as a record of divine revelation, and by what authority it is to be interpreted as containing what we ought to believe. The authority questions remain even we reach an upper limit of linguistic explication. That’s the real reason why sola scriptura is untenable.

i) Well, if you wish to cast the question in authoritarian terms, then we accept the revelatory status of Scripture on the authority of the very God who revealed it.

ii) But why cast the question in authoritarian terms? Why not recast the question by simply asking how we know the Bible is the word of God? We can know many things without recourse to some “authority” or another. Why make “authority” the default condition for knowing what is true or false?

iii) If the Bible is plenarily inspired, then it’s incumbent on you and me to believe the whole thing. We don’t need an extrabiblical authority to isolate and identify which statements contained in Scripture oblige our belief–in contrast to other Biblical statements which don’t. Liccione is creating a false dichotomy.

The invisible church of Rome

Roman Catholics constantly attack the Protestant distinction between the visible and invisible aspects of the church. For a classic statement of the Protestant distinction, see chap. 5 of the Westminster Confession.

Bryan Cross has coined the phrase “Ecclesial “Docetism” (doesn’t that just send shivers up your spine!) to designate this altogether appalling distinction.

But what’s ironic about all this is that Catholic epologists like Bryan have a conception of The One True Church® which is at least as dualistic or “Docetic” as the Protestant conception (or their caricature of the Protestant conception).  Catholic apologists constantly alternate between two One Church(es). They dichotomize The One True Church® into the functional equivalent of the visible/invisible church.

Let’s take some examples. In the same breath as Bryan touts the “visible Body” of Christ, he also touts the “Mystical Body” of Christ. Yet, on the face of it, a “Mystical Body” is conspicuous for its lack of empirical properties. Has anyone ever seen a “Mystical Body”? What color is a “Mystical Body”?

But that’s just for starters. Catholic epologists bifurcate The One True Church® into a phenomenal church and a noumenal church. They conveniently relegate all the bad stuff to the phenomenal church. That’s just a shell. A simulacrum.

No matter how bad the church becomes, that can never impinge on the real church. For the real church is an inner, ethereal, indetectible, unfalsifiable quintessence of one true churchliness.

The real church is a suprahistorical entity which requires no historical evidence commensurate with the scope of its historical claims. The real church is impervious to historical counterevidence. The real church is a timeless, spaceless, airtight ideal.

For instance, the True church is one, holy, catholic, and apostolic. However, under no circumstances should the marks of the True church be confused with concrete, identifiable properties.

It doesn’t matter how much actual disunity you have in the church of Rome. That can never count as evidence against the unity of the church. Rather, any degree of disunity, however, wide and deep, is shunted off to the phenomenal shell of the church. That can never penetrate the essence of what makes the church “one.”

Likewise, it doesn’t matter how unholy the Roman church may be in practice. However corrupt, in time and space, from top to bottom, that only pertains to the outer shell of the church. For the True church remains spotless underneath the accumulated layers of turpitude.

Even though no amount of turpentine will ever be able to peel away the accumulated layers of turpitude to expose the hidden holiness of the church, buried beneath centuries of corruption, the faithful know in their heart of hearts that at the inaccessible core of the church there resides a pristine essence of sanctity.

The True church is indefectible. But not for a minute should that be connected with the actual performance of the church. No matter how error-ridden the Roman church may be in the actual administration of its internal affairs, each and every declension, however large or small, is automatically reassigned to the accidental shell of the church, while the unseen substance of The One True Church® remains intact and inviolate.

The pope is infallible when he speaks ex cathedra. No matter how many mistakes the pope may make in thought, word, and deed, that can never count as evidence against the infallible charism of the pope. Never confound the visible job performance of the pope with his invisible attribute of infallibility.