Saturday, July 30, 2011

Must the pope be Catholic?

You might imagine the pope is a paradigm-case of a high-profile Catholic. You might even assume it’s a job requirement that the pope be Roman Catholic. Presumably Richard Dawkins or John Piper lacks one of the necessary qualifications to assume the Pontificate.

But we live in a surprising world. You see, Dave Armstrong has raised the bar for who’s truly Catholic and who’s not.

But back to D'Souza. Why would I deny that he was a "high profile Catholic"? I do so based on his own report in the very article that Hays sent his readers to. He was never firmly in the Catholic camp to begin with...
Moreover, on his own More About Dinesh D'Souza page (from Rosey Grier's book of 1992), he stated that he was a "believing Catholic but a poorly practicing one."
Well, I think devoted partisans of either side think it is a very important question and business and issue (as Francis Beckwith himself noted in a critique article of D'Souza). The fact that D'Souza does not, plausibly gives some indication, I think, of his less than total commitment to theological maters of great importance.

Suppose we apply these criteria to some of the Renaissance popes. Were they real Roman Catholics? Well, to judge by Dave’s criteria, they clearly fell below the magic threshold.

So you don’t have to be Roman Catholic to be the Bishop of Rome. And that certainly widens and deepens the potential pool for the next conclave. Perhaps the Dali Lama or Bill Maher will be the next pope.

The view from the glass house

One of the favorite objections that Arminians raise to Calvinism is to constantly dust off the musty case of Servetus, as if Calvin’s complicity in the death of Servetus somehow taints Reformed theology.

Suppose we try that reasoning in reverse:

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) - A South Carolina pastor is accused of kidnapping and raping a woman at gunpoint.
The Post and Courier of Charleston reports Saturday that 46-year-old Dale Richardson of Summerville is charged in North Charleston with kidnapping and possession of a firearm during a violent crime.
Police records say Richardson offered the victim a ride, but then pointed a gun at her, put a pillowcase over her head and bound her hands. A report accuses him of forcing her to have sex in a Dorchester County home. Charges are pending in that county.
Richardson says he has a spotless record and will put up a strong defense. He is the minister of Freedom Free Will Baptist Church in Ladson...

And, of course, that’s hardly an isolated incident. Off-the-top of my head, just consider some of these upstanding individuals:

Jim Bakker, Ergun Caner, Morris Cerullo, Kenneth Copeland, Paul Crouch, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Eddie Long, Barry Minkow, Peter Popoff, Richard Roberts, Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Tilton, Paula White, &c.

Stop and ask yourself how many of them subscribe to double predestination, or limited atonement. In fact, if I were a betting man, I’d guess most-all of them subscribe to unlimited atonement, libertarian freewill, &c. 

The Bible Is Part Of History

The presence or absence of a belief in church history often comes up in discussions between Protestants and Catholics. We should keep in mind that the Bible is a collection of historical documents. It's more than that, but that's part of what it is. If we're going to ask how significant it is for a Protestant belief to be absent for a period of patristic or medieval church history, we should also ask how significant it is for a Catholic belief to be absent for a period of Biblical history. Church history began before the patristic era, and God's work in the world began before church history. Do Catholics who act so concerned that a Protestant belief supposedly was absent or widely contradicted for a few hundred years or more of church history act similarly concerned when a Catholic belief is absent or widely contradicted for a similar or longer period of Biblical history or some later era? How do they react when the Bible itself refers to a correct belief or practice as having been absent or widely contradicted for a long period of time?

Finding Material At Triablogue

We get new readers, and people often ask us where they can find material on a particular subject at Triablogue. For those who aren't aware of it, I put together a topical index for the site earlier this year.

For example, Roman Catholicism has been discussed in some recent threads. Those who are interested in what we've written on a topic related to Catholicism could look for it on the topical index linked above. If that doesn't turn up anything, try something like a Blogger search or Google search.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Incompetent book blurbs

I am not a biblical scholar and am simply not equipped to challenge on historical grounds the reconstruction of the social and political forces which led to the Hebrew canon we recognize today.

Should Christianity end? I think not. But unthinking Christianity definitely should. For that reason I am grateful to the authors of this outstanding collection of essays.

If Randal Rauser isn’t qualified to evaluate Thom Stark’s attack on Scripture, how is Rauser qualified to endorse The End of Christianity’s attack on Scripture? 

Dave Armstrong photo gallery

"Commitment Page"

There are a myriad number of dead religions that we don't bother with because they are dead. We simply say we don't believe them, and yet somehow that is supposed to be a belief? How can the statement, "I don't believe you," be considered a belief? In what sense?
A religion by definition must be about supernatural beings and/or forces. Atheism therefore is not a belief nor a religion. I really don't know how much plainer I can get.

It’s striking to compare this disclaimer with the conclusion to The End of Christianity. That book has a “Commitment Page” (435).

I __________, having read this book and/or the series as a whole, do hereby state for the record that I no longer believe. I am a non-believer. As a result, I commit myself to doing some or all of the following actions for the cause of unbelief:
I will tell people in my life at the appropriate moments that I no longer believe. I will set specific dates by which I plan on accomplishing this goal with specific people. We need more and more people to do this. There is power in numbers.
I will tell others about this book and/or this series of books. Christians won’t be convinced with sound bites. We must create within them enough doubt that they will want to read entire books like these rather than avoiding them.
I will get involved to help end Christianity in the following way(s):
I will seek out and become involved in a local freethought group.
I will get active in online forums and blogs.
I will donate money to good secular causes, or to humanitarian causes in the name of secularism.
I will get an education for the express purpose of making a difference on behalf of reason and science.
I will become politically active on behalf of the separation of church and state, or even run for an elected office.

On the face of it, it’s puzzling how one can be so committed to a nonbelief. How can a nonbelief become a cause to live for?

This “Commitment Page” bears a sneaking resemblance to the Convert’s Pledge Card that Billy Sunday used to employ. Also called the Decision Card, which the convert signs and dates. This often incorporated the Temperance Pledge.

Funny how a “nonbelief” parodies a full-fledged religious movement.

The origins of the churches at Rome

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Professor and the Madman

Yummy Yummy Yummy I got love in my tummy‏

The central objection to Calvinism has always been, and will always be, that God’s decision to elect some people to salvation whilst leaving (or electing) others to damnation is inconsistent with the notion of divine love.
Although Luther was often torn by the existential angst of the unknown God of the hidden decree, Melanchthon saw in the moments of Martin’s grief the face of a God who has the same unconditional love for all his children. In other words, Luther’s love was a pale token of the divine type. And surely it must be this way, for if we shall not find love in the face of a parent for their child, then where in this fallen creation shall we find it?
But this is a dangerous starting point for Calvinism. For if we accept the unconditional love of a parent for a child reflects a candlelight glimmer of the blazing solar furnace of the divine love for creation, then what shall be left of an electing love that turns some over to the most unimaginable horrors of eternal damnation?

Here's a good starting point for modeling divine love on unconditional parental love.

HOUSTON (AP) - Wanda Holloway, jailed for trying to hire a hit man to kill the mother of her daughter's cheerleading rival, was freed this morning.
Ms. Holloway had served six months of a 10-year sentence after pleading no contest to solicitation of capital murder.
Jurors in the 1991 trial heard secretly recorded tapes of Ms. Holloway asking her brother-in-law to hire a hit man to kill the mother of a girl who was vying against her daughter for a spot on the cheerleading squad.
Ms. Holloway said she wanted the mother killed because she believed that the daughter would be so upset that she would drop out of the competition.

Civilized punishment for mass murderers

Unlike rightwing Christians, with their barbaric eye-for-an-eye jurisprudence, secularized nations practice humane justice:,9171,1986002,00.html

A personal appeal

I know that I’ve asked folks for help who are coming to this link; as an update, Beth has been diagnosed with “chronic myelomonocytic leukemia” (CMML) and is scheduled for a bone marrow transplant. Those things are described more fully in the links.

Several weeks ago, I mentioned here that my wife has been diagnosed with one of the Myelodysplastic Syndromes (a pre-leukemia cancer of the blood), and I’ve been chronicling the progress of her treatment at I’ve put up a “Donate” button there, and Steve has graciously permitted me to make a blog post here requesting some financial help.

We have very good medical insurance through my employer, which pays most, but not all of our medical expenses. But Bethany is not able to work, and her paycheck has been 30-40% of our family income. She will be “disabled” for more than a year through this process. I’ve only been with my employer for less than two years, and so I don’t have much paid time off; in fact, I’ve used it up during Beth’s two previous hospital stays. I’m permitted to take time off through the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), but it is unpaid time. Taking Beth for doctor’s visits or Vidaza sessions means I have to take unpaid time off. In the near future, as she spends more time in the hospital for the transplant, or possible infections, it will mean no family income at all.

Please help us to get through this time by making a small donation. I’ve placed a “Donate” button in the right hand column of my personal blog; if you’d like to help, you can pay through PayPal, or use a credit card.

It’s true, there are “public” sources, such as Social Security, VA, and other sources. But the process for filing claims for these can take months (five months, in the case of Social Security). And as you know, the mortgage and other bills don’t take a break. Right now, five of our six children are living at home with us, and we’ve got three young men starting various college programs in August.

Nobody asks to get this kind of disease; even though there is good hope, from a medical perspective, it is a truly frightening process. We’re simply asking for financial help with our living expenses as we get through the next several months.

Thank you for your help and prayers.

Nature by numbers


Devil's island resort

If convicted, Anders Behring Breivik could apparently be sent to the following health spa rehab center maximum-security prison. More info about Halden Prison here.

Here are some gruesome photos:

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


A natural law argument for infanticide

Catholics try to deploy natural law arguments against “artificial” contraception. Let’s consider another application of natural law reasoning.

Some animals kill their young. For instance, the mother or siblings may kill the runt. The ostensible reason is to reallocate limited resources to the remaining, healthier offspring. Better to have fewer with higher chances of survival than more with lower chances of survival.

Likewise, among social animals, alpha males or females may kill the offspring of the betas. The ostensible reason is to assert dominance as well as reserving the succession for the offspring of the alphas. Social animals often have a hierarchy which confers a survival advantage on the group, although some individuals may be sacrificed for the common good.

Assuming that natural law ethics is our guide, is it permissible or even obligatory to kill a sickly human baby?

One can’t say that’s contrary to nature, for there’s abundant precedent in nature for doing just that. And there are situations in which that would up the chances of survival for the remaining siblings. So it serves a natural purpose.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Language of God

Natural law-breaker

I don't normally post pictures of gross immorality, but sometimes a graphic image is necessary to illustrate the horrid truth. If you have any young kids, please send them out of the room.

If you look closely, you'll see the pope is wearing glasses. That's right. He's misusing his God-given ears and nose as an artificial platform for glasses. But as any Thomist will tell you, that's a morally disordered behavior. The pope has wickedly redirected his body parts to an end contrary to God's design for the nose and ears.

No doubt some zealous Catholics will accuse me of having PhotoShopped the picture to depict the pope in a morally compromising position. But this isn't the only time I've seen the pope indulge in this flagrantly unnatural behavior. If you surf the web you will find other pictures of the pope self-abusing his ears and nose. So you don't have to take my word for it. Evidence is just a mouse-click away.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Spare parts

I see that John Collins' book Did Adam and Eve Really Exist? has drawn some fire from what we might call “Confessional” circles–for wont of a better term. This is a good occasion to draw some important distinctions which are often overlooked in these debates.

I. Spare parts

I use writers as a source of spare parts. I don’t normally take the whole car as is. I don’t normally find all the car parts equally useful. Rather, when I read a book I normally cannibalize the book for spare parts, then junk the rest.

For some reason you have Christians who take the position that unless everything a writer says is useful, nothing a writer says is useful.

II. Institutional integrity

So does it matter if someone’s overall theology is sound? It matters at the institutional level. We want Christian institutions (e.g. colleges, denominations, seminaries, parachurch ministries) to preserve doctrinal fidelity. Fidelity to Scripture.

In terms of institutional membership, or the doctrinal posture of the institution, the degree of soundness, the content of the whole package, is important. 3 out of 5 is 2 too few. And individual writer can often come short in a way that's not tolerable for a Christian institution. 

In terms of hiring, firing, teaching, preaching, and church discipline, there’s much more justification for taking an all-or-nothing approach.

Of course, even at this level there are certain priorities. Infant baptism and the deity of Christ are not on a par (to take one example).

To summarize: on the one hand, you can harvest lots of useful spare parts from vehicles that aren’t safe to drive.

On the other hand, it does matter what you do with the spare parts. How you reassemble the parts to create a safe vehicle. 

III. Having a better alterative

When some Christians attack the real or perceived deficiencies of a writer, they think it’s sufficient to offer a sounder theological alternative. And that’s fine as far as it goes.

However, in drawing attention to what the writer does badly, they often fail to provide a superior alternative to what the writer does well.

For instance, Collins is attempting to field scientific objections to the historicity of Adam and Eve. It’s inadequate to simply attack his book on theological grounds, while leaving the scientific objections hanging in midair. If he’s doing something that needs to be done, then you, too, need to rise to the same challenge.

And this also circles back to institutional integrity. Christian institutions which don’t know how to defend their beliefs, or even refuse to defend their beliefs (as if that’s beneath them), suffer from a fatal defection rate. You can’t maintain a replacement rate, much less grow, if you just say, “We believe it because our grandparents did.”

Adam and Eve as Historical Persons

Secular justice

"He has been charged in both the explosion in the center of the government area and also the shooting," Roger Andresen, deputy Oslo police chief, told reporters today. The two counts of "dangerous crimes to society" mean he could receive 21 years in prison, Norway's toughest punishment, he said.

Good thing he’ll be punished by the civilized standards of a highly secularized society rather than some rightwing fundy throwback like Texas.

Reveling in tragedy

We’d never stoop to that!

By John W. Loftus at 1/31/2010
We atheists do not revel in tragedy. We hate the fact that people suffer in this world as all people do.

Except when it serves our purpose!

By John W. Loftus at 7/23/2011
So say various Christians about right-wing fundamentalist Anders Behring Breivik, suspected of the bombings in Norway that killed more than 90 people... 

Is Breivik a Christian?

"Anders Behring Breivik Doesn't Represent True Christianity"
By John W. Loftus at 7/23/2011
So say various Christians about right-wing fundamentalist Anders Behring Breivik, suspected of the bombings in Norway that killed more than 90 people. Naw, of course not. Your Christianity is the true one.

PZ Myers, who’s reputed to be less than sympathetic to the Christian faith, skimmed Breivik’s 1500 page manifesto. Here are some of the quotes:

I'm not going to pretend I'm a very religious person as that would be a lie. I've always been very pragmatic and influenced by my secular surroundings and environment.
Religion is a crutch for many weak people and many embrace religion for self serving reasons as a source for drawing mental strength (to feed their weak emotional state for example during illness, death, poverty etc.). Since I am not a hypocrite, I'll say directly that this is my agenda as well.
If praying will act as an additional mental boost/soothing it is the pragmatical thing to do. I guess I will find out... If there is a God I will be allowed to enter heaven as all other martyrs for the Church in the past. I am pursuing religion for this very reason and everyone else should as well, providing it will give you a mental boost.

No, those are not the statements of a professing Christian, much less a credible profession of faith.