Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Harry Potter Mass

Adam, Eve, and me

Tiny, Targeted, and Temporary

The "cosmic Jewish zombie"

A cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree.

This little ditty has been making the rounds of the internet. It’s quite popular among militant atheists. However, it unwittingly illustrates the fact that infidels would rather feel clever than be clever. It’s all about image. Projecting a pose of intellectual superiority.

The manifest purpose of the ditty is to make Christian theology look as ridiculous as possible. However, the ditty is systematically inaccurate. As such, it fails to show the absurdity of the Christian faith.

Even if the ditty is meant to be satirical, a good satire must have an element of truth. It may exaggerate, but it has to be analogous to the thing it satirizes. A satire is only successful if, in fact, the thing it satirizes is actually like that in key respects.

So let’s parse the ditty.


What does that correspond to in Christian theology? What’s a cosmic zombie? Is that a zombie from outer space? Is this a way of saying Jesus came from somewhere else? But, strictly speaking, God isn’t in another place. God exists outside of time.


That’s true.


In pop culture, or Hollywood depictions, a zombie is a decaying corpse with minimal brain function.

But that’s disanalogous to the risen Christ. He has a youthful, ageless body. And his mental faculties are fully intact.

Yes, he came back from the dead, but what’s absurd about the notion that God can restore someone to life?

Perhaps the zombie motif is a riff on the eucharistic imagery (see below).

“His own father”

In what sense was Jesus his own father? In terms of Trinitarian theology, the Father is not the Son. In terms of incarnational theology, the divine nature is not the human nature.

So this is either unitarian or equivocal. In any case, it doesn’t correspond to Christian theology.

“Symbolically eat his flesh”

And why is that absurd? After all, metaphors were never meant to make literal sense.

To symbolically eat his flesh is a metaphor for faith in his sacrificial death.  So that’s not analogous to man-eating zombies.

Moreover, even if you were going to woodenly press the cannibalistic imagery, Jesus would be the object rather than the subject of that imagery. That wouldn’t make Jesus a “zombie,” but his followers.

The reason Jn 6 uses this imagery is because the narrative comes on the heels of a communal meal (the feeding of the five thousand), and also refers to the manna in the wilderness.

Mind you, I don’t think Jn 6 is eucharistic. In context, this foreshadows the Crucifixion, not the Last Supper. Perhaps the ditty takes Roman Catholic theology as its launchpad.

“Telepathically tell him”

We’re not saved by telling Jesus what we think of him. Believing in Jesus isn’t the same thing as telling him what we believe.

Since, moreover, Jesus is divinely omniscient, he doesn’t need us to tell him what we think of him. So telepathy is irrelevant.

This tries to make Christian faith seem ridiculous on the assumption that telepathy is ridiculous, and saving faith is comparable to telepathy.

But that’s inaccurate. And even if it were accurate, why assume telepathy is absurd? That’s a well-attested phenomenon. Maybe the evidence is defective, but it’s not something you can reasonably dismiss in advance. That’s something to investigate.

“An evil force from your soul”

Actually, there are two basic aspects to sin: culpability and moral corruption.

People often do evil things. Do things which are detrimental to their self-interest. Why is that?

“A rib-woman”

What, exactly, is absurd about that? If we recast Gen 2 in scientific terms, the creation of Eve is a type of molecular cloning (or recombinant DNA).

Likewise, if you were starting from scratch, why not make a prototypal human couple?

“A talking snake”

Actually, I don’t think the tempter was a snake. Rather, that’s an angelophany, which is trading on ophiomantic connotations. Ophiolatry and ophiomancy were commonplace in the ANE. That wasn’t limited to literal snakes–but what they stood for.

“A magical tree”

There’s nothing magical about the tree of knowledge. It’s no more magical than the curses in Gen 3:14-19. The tree of knowledge is an emblematic object. It symbolizes illicit knowledge.

God assigns certain consequences to certain actions. That’s not the same thing as cause and effect.

The “cosmic Jewish zombie” tries to be witty and clever, but it winds up being ignorant and stupid. 

9/11 photos

Here are a series of photos in memoriam of 9/11 from The Atlantic: In Focus with Alan Taylor (who originally created and used to work over at The Boston Globe: The Big Picture):

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Prophets of Baal

Michael Horton has posted a response to Jay Sekulow. This may be the oddest part of Horton’s response:

We don’t live under the old covenant, driving the prophets of Baal through with the sword. Rather, we have the privilege of religious freedom for true and false worship in this country.

Was Sekulow urging Mayor Bloomberg to execute idolaters within the city limits of NYC? I don’t think so.

How does this have the slightest bearing on Sekulow’s letter to Mayor Bloomberg? How is it even analogous to what Sekulow was proposing? Horton’s statement is like an outtake from another movie which was accidentally spliced into this one.

But there’s another problem: Horton seems to think there’s only one worst-case scenario. But there’s more than one evil extreme.

For instance, it wasn’t so long ago that Eliot Spitzer was trying his best to shut down prolife clinics in New York. Spitzer eventually fell from power due to a prostitution scandal, but what if that fortuitous turn of events hadn’t thwarted his political ambitions?

Horton talks about religious freedom as if that’s a given, but Christian freedom of expression is under attack. 

Jesuit ethics

Papal check-kiting

One thing I left out–that is actually the most important thing–is the fact that the Holy Spirit protects the pope from error in his teachings on faith and morals (papal infallibility) which is the ultimate form of “checks and balances.”

So if the pope says the Holy Spirit protects the pope from error in faith and morals, that’s the “ultimate form ”of “checks and balances”? What’s the check on the underlying claim of papal authority?

Seems less like a system of checks and balances than the pope writing himself a check. Indeed, seems even more like papal check kiting.

“I’m infallible when I say I’m infallible!”

Historically, the pope is better at writing checks than balancing the checkbook. That’s the ultimate form of papal bookkeeping.

Devin's rose-tinted glasses

I recently got into an impromptu debate on Catholicism over at Justin Taylor’s blog. Rhology also left some trenchant comments. I’m going to post my side of the debate here.

Before proceeding, I’ll make a general observation. Catholic commenters have a modus operandi. Justin will post something related to the conflict with Rome. Catholic commenters perceive an opening. They then drop in, hoping to get off a few free rounds before retreating. But when they encounter return fire, they act as if they’ve been mistreated, then stomp off in a big huff.

steve hays August 30, 2011 at 6:27 pm
Brandon Vogt

“Open up the Catechism of the Catholic Church which is, in it’s essence, the Church’s entire Tradition. Consider it thrown on the table. If there’s something in particular within it you disagree with, let’s start there.”

As Cardinal Ratzinger remarked:

The individual doctrines that the catechism affirms have no other authority than that which they already possess. The Catechism of the Catholic Church and the Optimism of the Redeemed, 479.

So their presence in the catechism doesn’t validate their authority. Rather, that only pushes the question back a step. You’d still have to run through them one-by-one to assess how authoritative they are apart from the catechism.

steve hays August 30, 2011 at 6:30 pm
Brandon Vogt

“One problem with the T1/T2 categorization is that it fails to explain what happened between Jesus’ Ascension and the settling of the canon (fourth century).”

Actually, the Roman Catholic canon wasn’t settled until the 16C.

“There must be something else–a living, breathing Tradition that existed before Scripture was written down–that guides and illuminates Scripture itself. This is the Magisterium of the Catholic Church and it’s precisely what Newman found.”

I see. So the OT scriptures were written after the Roman Magisterium was established.

steve hays August 30, 2011 at 6:34 pm
Brandon Vogt

“First, there was no agreed upon Old Testament canon fifty years before Christ. There were many competing lists which was precisely why both early-century Jewish and Christian communities began to discern the true list.”

Feel free to point us to your documentary sources, dated 50 years before Christ, to corroborate “many competing lists” at that time.

steve hays August 30, 2011 at 6:37 pm
Brandon Vogt

“First, the Catholic Church has never taught something that contradicted with previous teachings.”

For starters, try capital punishment.

steve hays August 31, 2011 at 1:40 pm
Devin Rose:

“But you also stated that God ‘eventually’ led His people to “virtually” the same canon. This took centuries.”

It took centuries for the papacy to develop. It took centuries for ecumenical councils to develop. It took centuries for tradition to develop. Indeed, the Roman Church is still developing. Catholic theology is still developing.

steve hays August 31, 2011 at 1:50 pm
Devin Rose

“How do you explain that the Christians prior to that time (who were Catholic or some flavor of Orthodox) did not come to ‘virtually the same conclusion’ as Protestants did on the OT canon?”

It’s not as if most Christians prior to that time were given a chance to vote on the issue.

“Again, what is the principled reason for believing God protected the Church from error on the canon (a long, messy process) but allowed her to err on baptismal regeneration (a unanimously held belief from the beginning)?”

We don’t have to believe God protected “the Church” from error on the canon. There are ways of evaluating the end-product of a process after the fact.

steve hays August 31, 2011 at 1:58 pm
Devin Rose

“Luther illustrates this wonderfully with his grave doubts about the book of James’ inspiration, using that notion to dismiss the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, as well as works being involved in one’s justification.”

That cuts both ways. Trent “settled” the canon based on certain assumptions regarding the authorship of the canonical books which modern Catholic Bible scholars reject. Did Paul write the Epistle to the Hebrews? Did the Apostle James write the Epistle of James? Did Peter write 2 Peter?

Even by Catholic standards, Trent got it wrong.

Sabato on the GOP debate

The news media really don’t get Rick Perry and his appeal to Republicans. The questions designed to undermine him (Social Security, death penalty, creationism, etc.) strengthened him with Republicans. Mainly, they liked what he said and how he said it. Perry’s a natural, like the man whose library served as a backdrop. No question Perry’s problem will be in finding enough swing voters in Purple states to create an Electoral College majority; being deeply Red probably isn’t enough, even in a strong GOP year, and the stereotype of Perry as “Bush on steroids” was proven true. As usual, Romney turned in an acceptable performance, but he appealed to the head, not the heart. Romney’s nomination depends heavily on Republicans’ coming to the conclusion that Perry cannot beat Obama — and the polls are going to have to show this clearly, month after month. Obama is not cooperating with the Romney “remainder” strategy, since POTUS is sinking steadily. Michele Bachmann got little time when it mattered, and is proving how deadly is the combination of gravity and inertia. Newt is winning applause but not votes. Jon Huntsman (R., News Media) got caught in a trap laid by his own campaign manager; he’s going nowhere. Paul will keep but not expand his 10 to 15 percent. Santorum and Cain didn’t break out. On to the next two debates — and the long roller-coaster ride before a victor is crowned.
— Larry J. Sabato is director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.

Jesus the insincere?

In my seat

"Only one life, 'twill soon be past; only what's done for Christ will last." - C.T. Studd

HT: Tim Challies.

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

GTCC Outreach Report 9-7-2011

INTRODUCTION:  Today was a beautiful day for evangelism on the campus of Guilford Technical Community College.  I was thankful to have brother Steve from our church join me in this outreach.  To my knowledge, Steve had never really done anything like this before, but, because he knew his faith so well, he was able to immediately help out and have conversations with folks like he'd been doing it for years.  Praise the Lord for this brother, he is an answered prayer!

He and I had several enjoyable conversations with professing Christians and unbelievers.  We had the opportunity to present the gospel to many, but we had one conversation that stood out above them all.

Cultural Relativism gone to seed

Steve and I approached two young men who were hanging out at the edge of the Administration building sitting on a bench and listening to music and we handed them our Shepherd's Fellowship ministry cards, explained our purpose for being there, and asked them the $64 million dollar question:  What do you think it takes for a person to get to heaven?

They both said that you have to be a good person.  I asked them the usual questions ("Do you think you're a good person?) and that led into a discussion revealing their cultural relativism.  One of them asked "What do you mean by good?"  I said "Excellent question!"  Then I told them that my fundamental presupposition was that the Bible is the word of God and that God defines what good is.  I asked them how they determined what the difference between good and evil is and they said, "our parents, our society", etc.  Thus, they argued that morality is culturally relative.  We discussed this for about 15-20 minutes and Steve and I asked questions like this:
  • If society determines what good is how can you condemn the actions of Nazi Germany?
  • If society determines what good is what basis would you have to say that my punching you in the face is an unacceptable way to greet you if our society deemed it acceptable?
  • If society determines what good is what basis would have to condemn torturing little girls for fun?  What about if it was your daughter?
As usual, their cultural relativism quickly imploded in on itself.  At this point one young man had to leave and we thanked him for his time and we then spent the next hour talking to his friend Chris.  I then took Chris through a modified form of the "good person test".  He admitted that if a righteous, holy, and just God was fair with him, he'd get what he deserved and go to Hell.  I then asked, "Do you know what God did so that people don't have to go to Hell?" he said, "No, I don't go to church."  I told him that going to church doesn't make someone a Christian anymore than going to MacDonald's makes someone a hamburger.  I then tried to explain the gospel to him with an emphasis on the doctrine of the substitutionary atonement and justification.  Both Chris and his friend that left earlier were courteous, patient, listened well, and asked great questions in light of what we already said.  Here's some great questions that Chris asked that we were able to answer and give follow-up literature about:
We were not only prepared to answer these questions from the foundation of the Biblical worldview, but we also were ready to give Chris follow-up material from Creation Ministries International and our own church.  I recommend this outreach pack to provide follow-up material for questions regarding creation/evolution issues.  Chris was grateful for the time we spent with him and joyfully the materials.  I have noted that when I do three simple things, God provides plenty of opportunities for productive discussions like this: (1) pray, (2) know the Bible, (3) be nice. 

IN CONCLUSION, we will continue to pray that God will water this huge seed that we planted in Chris today.  We gave him much literature, explained the gospel to him, told him to read the gospel of John, and told him if he had any follow-up questions just to give me a call.  May the Lord present you with similar opportunities as you live your life day-to-day for the glory of God!

"God doesn't exist, and I'm mad at him!"

"So if reason isn’t enough to wake up this god’s believers to see his non-existence I can only hope that one day his nasty nature will do the job and shake open their eyes." (source)
Classic illustration of "God doesn't exist, and I'm mad at him!"

Publik ejucashun’t-use-a-hammer/

Day-old bread

Peter Enns has a forthcoming book entitled The Evolution of Adam: What the Bible Does and Doesn't Say about Human Origins.

Content aside, another basic problem with his book is that he already tipped his hand by doing a series at BioLogos. We know his position, as well as his supporting arguments, before we crack open the book.

It’s like couples who cohabit before they marry. Their wedding night is anticlimactic. Their honeymoon is just another vacation. They know exactly what to expect. It becomes a rerun rather than a discovery. 

Why buy what you can get for free? Sure, he may fill out the contours of the argument a bit more, but we already know his interpretive strategy. How many times do you need to see the same commercial to know about the product? 

Hear the word of the Lord

One popular apologetic strategy is to bracket inspiration by simply treating the Bible as a primary historical source. Having established his claims on this basis, the apologist may then circle back and discuss the evidence for the inspiration of Scripture.

The potential justification for this strategy is that our apologist is meeting the unbeliever on his own grounds. Holding the unbeliever to his own standards. After all, an atheist doesn’t think any document is divinely inspired, yet he thinks many uninspired documents are sufficient to establish factual claims. Therefore, it’s petty for him to hold Scripture to a higher standard. That’s a double standard. That’s a stalling tactic. Trying to force the apologist to prove the stronger claim when a weaker claim will do.

I’m not crazy about this method myself, but an apologetic strategy or methodology is just a means to an end, not an end in itself, so that’s not a hill to die on. And there’s some merit in measuring the atheist by his own yardstick.

That said, there are moderate to liberal professing believers who never take the next step. They think you can skip inspiration altogether. But there are fundamental problems with this terminus.

There’s a basic tension in treating the Bible as a naturalistic document which bears witness to supernatural events. Can we still believe in a God acts in history even though he doesn’t speak in history? A mute God? A God who expresses himself in the historical process, but doesn’t express himself in language?

That’s a pretty arbitrary dichotomy. It combines a theistic view of redemption with a deistic view of revelation. A God who, figuratively speaking, uses his hands and feet, but not his lips.

In Scripture we’re told far more often to “hear the word of the Lord” than we are to see the works of the Lord. Both are important–even complementary. But certainly divine speech is not expendable.

Fallible infallibilism

One standard type of argument in Christian apologetics is to infer that if Scripture is reliable on those occasions where it can be corroborated, then this creates the presumption that it’s reliable on other occasions when it can’t be corroborated. If a man is accurate whenever you can verify his claims, then he’s trustworthy in general.

After all, it’s something of a coincidence that corroborative evidence survives. For the survival of corroborative evidence is a fairly random, hit-n-miss affair. A writer couldn’t predict what corroborative evidence would survive, then make sure his testable claims were accurate while fibbing the rest of the time. Given the haphazard nature of the corroborative evidence, if a writer is accurate on just those occasions when we happen to have corroboration, then it’s unlikely that he would be inaccurate on just those occasions when we don’t have corroboration.

Mind you, corroboration isn’t always a straightforward process. For instance, it can be complicated to correlate textual place names with extratextual sites:

The most basic problem is that in a great many cases several names are possibilities for a particular site. On the other hand, there may be several candidates for a name that has been historically recorded…On the other side of the issue, there are tells that could be the remains of any number of historical sites. J. Currid, Doing Archaeology in the Land of the Bible (Baker 1999), 57.

Yet Catholic epologists deploy the opposite argument. Take Munificentissimus Deus. They take the position that infallibility only extends to the formal definition. To the dogma, and not the pope’s supporting arguments. On this view, the historical and exegetical arguments of Pius XII could be balderdash, but his sheer declaration of the Assumption is selectively shielded from error.

Put another way, all of the pope’s testable claims could be dead wrong, but when he happens to make an untestable claim (the assumption of Mary), that particular claim is true. It’s like saying that even though a man is a chronic proven liar, he’s suddenly credible whenever he happens to make unfalsifiable statements. 

Monday, September 05, 2011

There Never Was Such Another

The Obama follies

Liberal pundits are attacking Obama for “caving in” to the Speaker of the House over the timing of his televised address to a joint session of Congress. But his liberal critics are making the same mistake he did.

i) Obama was in no position to stand his ground. He has no jurisdiction over the Capitol. The Speaker of the House is not his employee. Congressmen don’t work for the Executive branch. He had no cards to play. Short of declaring martial law, he can’t force the issue. 

He had to back down. He had no choice.

ii) His mistake wasn’t that he “caved in.” His mistake was supposing that he could unilaterally dictate to Congress a Congressionally sponsored event.

What a dunce! No wonder he refuses to release his college transcripts. His monumental ego is matched only by his monumental stupidity. If you want to see what’s wrong with affirmative action, Obama is Exhibit A.

iii) If he were a wildly popular president, he might be able to muscle his way into the party. But when you’re politically weakened to begin with, it’s especially dumb to pick a losing fight. A fight you ought to know you can’t win going in.

iv) Who cares if Obama is going to give yet another “major” speech on his “#1 priority”? Here’s a guy who, when he isn’t on vacation, gives a speech a day. No one pays attention. When you give a speech a day, even your supporters tune out.

His presidency is one long speech, punctuated by golf games. People stop listening. Even supporters. Can anyone remember his speeches?

v) Is the economy bad because we suffer from a dearth of speeches by Obama? Would the economy suffer if we had one less speech by Obama? Would anyone notice?

Speeches are no substitute for results. If Obama had results, the results would do the speaking.

vi) It’s not as if Obama was in any hurry to give this speech. It’s been sitting on ice for weeks.

And when he does deliver it, this will be just another partisan rant denouncing partisanship.

Gun control

The river of time

There are different ways to imagine of time’s passage. And this, in turn, involves different ways to imagine the human lifespan.

1. Linear

One popular way is to imagine time in linear terms. The river of time is a conventional metaphor, immortalized by Isaac Watts’ adaptation of Ps 90:

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by the flood,
And lost in following years.
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away.

On this view, we’re like rafters swept downstream by the current. We never see the same thing twice. Life is always in motion. We are facing into the future, while the past is rapidly receding behind us.

Life is a blur. We skim life. We see time passing us by on either side of the riverbank.

This metaphor captures the fleeting, ephemeral nature of time.

2. Cyclical

Another popular way is to imagine time in cyclical terms. The four seasons are a conventional metaphor. Spring represents birth and childhood; summer represents youth; autumn represents middle age, while winter represents old age and death.

Before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return after the rain (Eccl 12:2)
11for behold, the winter is past;
    the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth,
   the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
   is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree ripens its figs,
   and the vines are in blossom;
   they give forth fragrance.
(Cant. 2:11-13)

This captures the lifecycle. From a secular standpoint, this is cyclical in the sense that each spring represents the next generation. Taking the place of the older generation.

From a Christian perspective, the seasonal cycle represents birth, death, and rebirth. We are born. We live, we age, and we die. But that’s not the end. There’s the afterlife. The resurrection of the body. 

3. Layered

Then there’s another, albeit neglected, metaphor–which was more familiar to folks in Bible times. And that is the mound or tell. This preserves the ancient cycle of settlement-abandonment-resettlement.

Thus says the Lord: Behold, I will restore the fortunes of the tents of Jacob and have compassion on his dwellings; the city shall be rebuilt on its mound, and the palace shall stand where it used to be (Jer 30:18; cf. Ezk 32).

This reflects a stratified view of time. A new city built atop the ruins of the last city. Deserted for a time. If you take a cross-section, you can see successive occupational levels. What’s lower is generally earlier, what’s higher is generally later.

This models the passage of time in both vertical and horizontal dimensions. The corporate dimension of life. The epochal nature of time.

Not just the lifecycle of individuals, but members of the same generation. Not just the diachronic aspect of time, but the synchronic aspect. Simultaneous lives. Interwoven lives. A group of individuals who grew, lived, aged, and died together at about the same time and place. A shared existence. A shared experience. Shared memories. A network of family and friends.

When contemporaries died off, they don’t merely die as isolated individuals. Relationships die. Their livelihood becomes obsolete. The world they knew becomes a lost world. Buried ruins.

In a sense, all of us reside in a cemetery. The living walk on the graves of the departed. We’re just one more level in a multi-storied existence. One generation stacked atop another.

It’s interesting to consider the extent to which heaven, the new Eden, and the New Jerusalem, will either combine or preserve different epochs.

Divine, Demonic, Or Something Else?

The subject of Marian apparitions came up in another thread. Some resources are mentioned by some of us who posted there, and I put up a post concerning some of the principles involved in evaluating such phenomena.