Saturday, May 19, 2012

Is John gone?

Okay, The Time Has Come, I'm Done
I have no more desire to engage Christians. They are deluded, all of them. I have never been more convinced of this than I am now. I have better things to do. I spent 39+ years of my adult life on a delusion. If I add the years of my childhood that's almost my entire life. Yet this is the only life I will ever have. It's time to move on, or at a minimum take a very long hiatus. I just finished what may be my last book, on The Outsider Test for Faith, to be published by Prometheus Books early next year. How many times do I need to kick the dead horse of Christianity? I don't think I need to say anything more. If what I have written isn't good enough then nothing is good enough for some Christians. What I intend to do is turn this blog over to a few qualified people. I'll still be a part of it and I suppose I'll post something from time to time. But I see no reason to waste large chunks of my time on this delusion anymore.

i) Of course, this isn't the first time Loftus has threatened to call it quits. Every so often he steps out on the ledge, hoping his followers, if he has any, will talk him down from the ledge. He wants to feel indispensable. "No, John, don't jump! We can't live without you!"

ii) He also acts as if Christians let him down. He's disappointed that we didn't blow over like tumbleweed when he huffed and puffed.

iii) The basic problem is that Loftus doesn't have anything to live for. He has no positive alternative. He has nothing better, or as good, to replace Christianity with. To spend all your time denouncing your long lost faith isn't much to live for. What's he fighting for?

It's like middle-aged men and women who constantly complain about their dead parents. Constantly complain about their unhappy childhood.

Even if your mom and dad were rotten parents, it's pointless to keep blaming everything on your dead parents. They've been gone for a long time now.

In effect, Loftus goes to the cemetery every day, stands over the grave of his parents, and chews them out. Except for his little coterie of malcontents, no one wants to hear that.

iv) In his Lilliputian self-importance, Loftus evidently imagined that he could singlehandedly change the world. Now he's bitter because today is much like yesterday, and tomorrow will be much like today. Well, Solomon said that 3000 years ago (Ecclesiastes). Until Jesus returns, life goes on much as it always has. Loftus will die. Be cremated. His books will take their musty place alongside the soon forgotten works of Harry Fosdick, Harvey Cox, and John Spong.

In the meantime, Christians will continue to read the Bible and go to church, generation after generation, until the Second Coming.

You're irrelevant, John. Get used to it.

The modern development of the foundations of mathematics in the light of philosophy

Jacob's well

5 So he came to a town of Samaria called Sychar, near the field that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob's well was there; so Jesus, wearied as he was from his journey, was sitting beside the well. It was about the sixth hour (Jn 4:5-6).

Here is irrefutable evidence that Bible writers thought the earth was flat. This passage obviously alludes to tacit belief in the triple-decker universe. You see, people in the ANE thought there was water under the earth. And this carries over into the Bible.

Take the legendary town of Beersheba. I say it’s legendary because it’s named after a well (“the well of seven”). Needless to say, a town named after a well is about as real as Shangri-La. Just try finding Beersheba on a modern map.

Back then, primitive people dug wells, imagining that there were actually underground sources of water. Hard to believe, I know, but we mustn’t judge them too harshly. Belief in subterranean water tables was part of their obsolete prescientific cosmography. They didn’t know any better. How could they? Thankfully, modern, science-minded men and women have been emancipated from that quaint mythological picture of the universe. Like the fountain of eternal youth, well water is clearly fabulous. 

Kurt Gödel on the afterlife

This is my second post on Gödel. Why am I quoting Gödel? Militant atheists like Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett–not to mention bottom-feeders like John Loftus–act as if theological beliefs are beneath intellectual contempt. They don’t even merit serious consideration. The only appropriate response is ridicule. By affecting a tone of rational superiority, they attempt to bully the Christian or religious inquirer into silence. Yet Dennett, Dawkins et al. are intellectual midgets compared to Gödel.

Here Gödel is answering some questions from his mother. She didn’t operate at the same level he did, so he tries to keep things simple.

In general, I think his speculations are reasonable and fairly orthodox, although they need to be refined by revelation. We should look first and last to the word of God for guidance.

In your last letter you pose the weighty question whether I believe we shall see each other again [in the hereafter]. About that I can only say the following: if the world is rationally organized and has a sense, then that must be so. For what sense would it make to bring for a being (man) who has such a wide range of possibilities of individual development and of relations to others and then allow him to achieve not one in a thousand of those? That would be much as if someone laid the foundation for a house with the greatest trouble and expense and then let everything go to ruin again. But do we have reason to assume that the world is rationally organized? I think so. For the world is not at all chaotic and capricious, but rather, as science shows, the greatest regularity and order prevails in all things; [and] order is but a form of rationality.
Now one can of course ask: Why didn’t God create man so that he does everything right immediately from the beginning?…But then if one of those characteristics is that we do not do everything right immediately, but many times only on the basis of experience, it follows that if God had created in our place beings that had nothing to learn, we just wouldn’t be those beings. That is, we wouldn’t exist at all.
One must in particular imagine that the “learning” will in large part take place only in the next world, namely in this way, that we will recall our experiences in this world and only then really understand them, so that our experiences here are, so to speak, only the raw material for the learning. For what, for example, could a cancer victim learn here from his pains? It is entirely conceivable, however, that in the second world it will be clear to him through what mistakes of his (not in hygienic matters, but perhaps in quite other respects) that sickness was caused, and that he thereby learns to understand not only that connection with his illness, but at the same time other similar connections.
The contemporary study of philosophy also doesn’t help much for understanding such questions, since 90% of contemporary philosophers see their principal task to be that of beating religion out of men’s heads.

Kurt Gödel: Collected Works: Volume IV: Selected Correspondence, A-G (Oxford 2006), 429-431, 433, 435.

Instant machismo

For wimpy Christians who aspire to the ranks of manly manliness and hanker to get in touch with their inner macho-man, here are some quick tips:

Chest Wig

Aquamid Chin Cleft -YouTube
1 min - Feb 3, 2011
Uploaded by francesmarques

The death of the author

I'm going to post some comments that a commenter left at TFan's blog:

  • Hebrew Student
    I would like to see what the claim of the various Orthodox Churches is based on so that its validity can be assessed.
    What the other churches seem to be doing is doubting Christ’s words to Peter – rather than having a genuine problem with the fact that the authority of Peter has to be interpreted. It is more an historical problem too – suspicions and political mistrust. I guess you have yet to read what I wrote in my blog – my series on Peter. If you take a look you will see how Scripture itself affirms what the Petrine ministry means.
    Not seeing it cannot be justified by saying that there are different interpretations. The Roman Catholic interpretation is most definitely NOT just one among many as if all such interpretations are equal. The question is which interpretation is more truthful to Scripture, to history in the Early Church and did Christ mean what he said? It is easy to discount any other interpretation that is very far removed from Christ such as the Mormon one – Christ said he would be with the Church guiding the Church ALWAYS and not just in a thousand years time. It is Christ’s own integrity that is being called into question.
    It most certainly does not mean that no accurate interpretation can be determined – that is if what you are seeking is really the truth and not just what is convenient or fitting in with an individual’s version of history.
    But what you don't see is that you just contradicted the premise upon which your initial question was based. You asked:
    How do you know your interpretation of Scripture is according to God's will and more infallible than someone else's?
    The question I now have to ask you is how you know that your conclusion with regards to history, Peter and the Rock, etc. are more infallible than the Syrian Orthodox or the Mormons? There simply is no way to answer that if you have already said that multiple interpretations mean that we cannot decide which is correct, unless we somehow claim infallibility. Well, now you have to claim that you are infallible in your interpretation of which group has the proper claim to Petrine primacy. If not, then to parallel your question, how do you know that your interpretation is more infallible?
    BTW, I agree with you that we can recover the original intent of these historical figures, even though there are many different interpretations, and we are fallible interpreters. The problem is, I am also consistent in that I also argue that we can recover the intent of the Biblical authors, even though there are many different interpretations and we are fallible interpreters. How do we do that? By, as you have said with the issue of Peter and the rock and the history of the church, going and assessing the validity of the arguments on the basis of the author's intent.
    The point I was raising is that, when you reject this, and you pull out the argument that there are many interpretations, and we are fallible, and thus we cannot know which one is correct, you are pulling out an argument that leads to postmodernism, because postmodernism is the logical conclusion of that argument. The fact that folks like Stanley Fish and Jacques Derrida are making the same argument should tell you something. Now, you can contradict yourself as you have done above, and that is fine; it just means that you haven't followed the argument all the way to its logical conclusion yet. My concern for you, and all Roman Catholics who have bought into this line of thinking, is that you don't realize how deep this pit of multiple interpretations and fallibility is. It is something that destroys traditionalist Roman Catholicism because it destroys all truth in interpretation of any text, and leads directly to liberalism and postmodernism, as the Catholic church has done.
    You are not correct to state that the Catholic Church has made no infallible statement regarding the inerrancy of Scripture but it is clear that it would make no difference quoting it to you since you would interpret that as well and not trust it.
    I hope you can see that what you truly have difficulty with is an acceptance of Peter the Rock because of the postmodern problem with authority. Fortunately Christ was pre-postmodern – what he stated we can trust. Peter is the Rock upon which the Church is built and did not leave us orphans or in a quagmire of doubt and confusion.
    No, actually I think it is the Roman Catholic who has difficulty with the acceptance of the Scriptures as the sole infallible rule of faith for the church because of a postmodern attitude towards its sole infallible authority which they cannot carry out consistently to other areas. [BTW, when we follow the intention of the text, I would actually say that the interpretation of all of these groups is wrong-Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Syrian Orthodoxy, and Mormonism. However, I argue it on the basis of the text, and the intention of the author.] I also don't believe that God left us as orphans or in a quagmire of doubt and confusion. However, I believe he left us that which is God-breathed, and that, in the scriptures, he gives us his intention. It is through the intention of this text that we hear the voice of God. Of course, the question of whether or not you will submit to it is another story.
    So to answer your question finally I would never be content to follow a Church that does not seek to find the intent of the author because the Catholic Church does already do that always and has done so for 2000 years.
    You do realize that the Catholic church has added its tradition to scripture, don't you? Do you understand that the addition of something to a text affects its intention? Let us say that I describe a scene having a park bench, a giant oak tree, and a serene lake. That sounds like my intent is to describe a nice rustic setting. However, what happens if I add a whole mess of skyscrapers behind it, a bunch of large businesses in front of it, and an eight lane highway running on either side. Now it sounds more like Central Park in New York City. The problem is that the church has not followed the intent of the author, because it has added its traditions, either in addition to scripture, or as the lens through which scripture must be interpreted. When you do that, it radically alters the intent of the text. The Marian dogmas are the most striking examples of things that are nowhere even close to the intent of the author, and some [such as the perpetual virginity] that are actually contradicted by the text. So, no, the proof that the traditional Roman Catholic church is not about authorial intent is in their traditions that have absolutely, positively nothing whatsoever to do with the Biblical text.
    I do sincerely wish you God’s blessing Adam. I would like you to prove from Scripture itself and from history and a keen knowledge of the Early Church why the Catholic Church is not the true Church that Christ left us, warts and all. It is indeed an ethical issue – we should be united and stop this nonsensical fighting between brothers regardless of how charitable it can be – and just get on with the job of being slat of the earth and light to the world as one voice. I hope that day will come one day.
    I think we should be united too, but not at the expense of truth. An "infallible" church is merely a quick fix to this problem. Sometimes that truth takes a while to work through, but we should it. However, I don't believe that the Bible teaches that Christians must agree doctrinally [especially on the issue of what happened to Mary after she died!] in order to have true unity. The unity that we have which is the basis of our working for unity in doctrine, is the fact that Christ has purchased us on the cross, regenerated us, and is constantly getting rid of the sin in our lives. It is on this basis that we can work for more and more doctrinal purity. However, blindly submitting your authority to an alleged infallible church because of false pretenses of humility based on your own fallibility is not any way to settle issues of truth. We have to acknowledge that God did not stutter when he wrote the scriptures, and, while we cannot be certain that everyone is going to seek the intent of the author, we need to do so if we are truly seeking to understand what the truth is.
    God Bless,
  • Hebrew Student
    I don't think you are understanding the argument I am making. Let me take your points one by one:
    1. The problem is that there are different interpretations of this 2000 years of church history. The Eastern Orthodox claim you are going against 2000 years of church history. The Mormons say you have completely misunderstood what happened in those first 2000 years. Not only that, but if the author's intent is still there in the text, as is his context, then doesn't it follow that we can arrive at the meaning of the text without an infallible interpreter, because we have the author's intent to correct us where we are wrong?
    2. While this is true [and I acknowledged as much in my post], it does point out the fallacy of simply pointing out that two people have different interpretations. You have to allow for the possibility that the non-contradictory interpretations are both true.
    3. The Syrian Orthodox claim their church goes back to Peter. In fact, they say that their claim to Petrine primacy is far stronger than Rome, since the scriptures actually say that Peter went to Antioch. The Eastern Orthodox say that Petrine primacy includes all of the Bishops, and hence, it is their Bishops that have the final authority. Again, even the authority of Peter has to be interpreted, and different groups interpret the authority of Peter differently. The Roman Catholic interpretation is one amongst many. If there are so many different interpretations of the authority of Peter, does that not mean it is impossible to decide what exactly Matthew 16 is talking about?
    4. However, the Eastern Orthodox have a different authoritative interpretation of Matthew 16, as I mentioned above. How do you know that your interpretation of Peter and the rock is correct, and not the Syrian Orthodox or the Eastern Orthodox? How do you know that the Mormon interpretation of that passage as dealing with revelation is not correct? With so many different interpretations of that text, it must mean it is impossible to come to the correct meaning, right? Why is the authoritative interpretation of Rome better than the authoritative interpretation of Eastern Orthodoxy, Syrian Orthodoxy, or Mormonism?
    Finally, you have not understood the infinite regress of the argument of infallible interpreter. The problem is that the infallible interpretations of the Roman Catholic church still need to be interpreted. For example, Eric Svendsen points out this authoritative pronouncement:
    107. The inspired books teach the truth. "Since therefore ALL that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures." [Vatican II DV 11]
    There are some Roman Catholics, such as Raymond Brown and R.A.F. McKenzie, who take the phrase "for the sake of our salvation" to mean that the scriptures are only inerrant in matters of salvation. Interestingly enough, Rome has never made an infallible pronouncement on this matter, and, even if they did, one would have to interpret that pronouncement as well.
    The point is, once you go down this road, it all depends on which community you are a part of-not just which church community you are a part of, but even which community within the Roman Catholic church you are a part of! The point is that you are proving Stanley Fish right, namely, that interpretation is merely a matter of your community. You are a traditionalist Roman Catholic, and that affects how you interpret, not only the scriptures, but also the pronouncements of Rome. The problem is, once you take this position which destroys the author, and puts, in his place, some authoritative community, there is no way to know which authoritative community is right on anything. The liberal Roman Catholics cannot be proven wrong, nor can the Syrian Orthodox, the Eastern Orthodox, or the Mormons. It is just simply a matter of the community, nothing more.
    Again, the simple solution is to return to the notion that the correct interpretation of scripture deals with beginning with the fact that we are created in the image of God, and thus, we reflect his nature and his character as a personal, relational being who can intend and understand intention. If that is the case, then, not only does the human author intend things, but we can understand the human author, since, although we are fallible and fallen, we are still created in the image of God, and thus can recognize where we are wrong. That is why I said the key here is really an ethical issue. Are you going to continue to follow a church that does not seek to find the intent of the author, and thus, bears false witness against God himself?
    God Bless,
  • Hebrew Student
    How do you know your interpretation of Scripture is according to God's will and more infallible than someone else's?
    That assumes that interpretation of scripture only involves the interpreter, and in that sense, the very question, as I have pointed out many times, presupposes the "death of the author" position of deconstruction. If we allow that the text preserves an artifact of the authors intention, then the way we can test our interpretations is by holding them up to the intention and world of the author. More specifically, if we presuppose that God is triune, and thus relational, and that he has created us in his image, then we will allow that we as human beings can therefore intend things in our language and interpret those intentions just like the Triune God in whose image we are created. The fact that we are created in the image of God means that we will be able to recognize intention in human language, and recognize when we get it wrong, because it is a part of who we are as created in the image of God.
    Secondly, who ever said that two different interpretations cannot be right? Is the bed I am sitting on right now soft, or is it about six feet long? Both. Hence, just because there are two different interpretations does not mean that the two interpretations are mutually exclusive.
    Thirdly, if you take this "death of the author" position, can you please explain how your position does not reduce down to postmodernism? For example, you said that you have an infallible pope, and that allows you to know that your interpretations are correct. The problem is that there are many churches that claim that same infallibility. Eastern Orthodoxy, Syrian Orthodoxy, Coptic Orthodoxy Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and numerous cultic groups all claim that they have infallible authority to interpret scripture. Also, before you run off to history, remember that these groups all have different ways in which they interpret history. Hence, one would have to ask you know your interpretation of history is correct, and more infallible than their interpretation of history?
    In other words, how do you avoid the conclusion of Stanley Fish:
    What I finally came to see was that the identification of what was real and normative occurred within interpretive communities [Fish, Stanley. Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Harvard Univ. Press. London and Cambridge Massachusetts. 1980. p.15.]
    As Kevin Vanhoozer points out:
    Postmodernity does not mean the end of all authority, however, only universal norms; local norms remain in force. Interpretation is always “from below,” shaped by the readers contextually conditioned context and regulated by the authority of community based norms [Vanhoozer, Kevin. Is There a Meaning in this Text? The Bible, The Reader, and the Morality of Literary Knowledge. Zondervan Publishing House. Grand Rapids, Michigan. 1998. p.168].
    If you look carefully, that is exactly what you are saying, namely, that the interpretive community [the Roman Church] must decide what is normative for the believer in terms of interpretation. The problem is that there are other groups that claim the exact same thing that Rome does. Hence, the only thing that provides meaning to a text is the interpretive community. That is why most Roman Catholic priests around the world are universalists, because they have taken your arguments to their logical conclusion. If the meaning of a text must be determined by the authority of an interpretive community, then it all depends on which community you are a part of, and there is no way to tell which community is right.
    Finally, it seems like you think that every person who interprets the text actually seeks to understand what the author has said. This is where the ethical dimension of interpretation lies. There are some people who could care less about the intent of the author, and would rather simply defend what their interpretive communities have said. Yes, there are many Protestants who, I am afraid, behave much more like Roman Catholics when interpreting scripture. There are also some people who seek to insert their own ideas into the text without any regard for what the author has said, and there are some who seek to simply follow what one or another teacher has said, again brushing aside the author. As I Kevin Vanhoozer has said, and I have said many times, when people do these things, they are breaking the ninth commandment, not just against a human neighbor, but against God himself. The thing that concerns me the most about Rome is that Rome does this blatantly, killing the author, and replacing him with the community and authority of the Roman Catholic church. That, for me anyway, raises enough of an ethical issue that I could never even consider becoming Roman Catholic.
    God Bless,

Straight white males

A friend asked me to comment on this:

1) It’s not clear what Scalzi is trying to prove. Is this an argument for affirmative action for women, minorities, and homosexuals?

The problem is that his comparison bundles three independent variables, and there are different ways of combining the same variables. Therefore, that makes it difficult to draw sweeping generalizations.

Suppose we recombine the variables. Take three different combinations:

i) Straight white male

ii) Queer white male

iii) Queer Latino male

Is he saying (i) is privileged compared to (ii) while (ii) is privileged compared to (iii)?

If so, how should society adjust for that disparity? Should we give you some extra points for being homosexual, but knock off some points for being white and/or male? So do you end up with more or fewer points than before?

2) Likewise, what’s the scope of the comparison? Is it advantageous to be straight in San Francisco? Is it advantageous to be white in Berkeley, CA?

Compare a Cuban aristocrat in Batista-era Cuba with a working class white American. Which one enjoys the privileged status? 

3) There’s also a sense in which Bible-believing Christians could agree with Scalzi, but draw a different conclusion. For instance, Christians agree with him that it’s disadvantageous to be homosexual. That’s because the homosexual lifestyle is physically and psychologically self-destructive in this life, not to mention spiritually self-destructive in the afterlife.

It’s because heterosexuality is advantageous that we discourage homosexuality.

4) So there’s a suppressed premise to his argument. Indeed, he spells that out in a follow-up post when he says:

Nope. Money and class are both hugely important and can definitely compensate for quite a lot, which I have of course noted in the entry itself. But they belong in the stats category because wealth and class are not an inherent part of one’s personal nature — and in the US particularly, part of our cultural sorting behavior — in the manner that race, gender and sexuality are (note “inherent” here does not necessarily mean “immutable,” but that’s a conversation I’m not going to go into great detail about right now). You can disagree, of course. But speaking as someone who has been at both the bottom and the top of the wealth and class spectrum here in the US, I think I have enough personal knowledge on the matter to say it belongs where I put it.

But to stipulate that homosexuality is “an inherent part of one’s personal nature” begs the question.

5) Apropos (4), it’s counterintuitive to say people should be penalized for being normal. For instance, it’s normal for males to be male. If you’re biologically male, that’s “an inherent part of your personal nature.” Likewise, it’s normal for whites to be white.

Yet Scalzi also thinks it’s unfair to be a man. That’s a privileged status. Therefore, he seems to think we need social policies that compensate for that unfair advantage.

But if it’s permissible or even obligatory to discriminate against men for being men, why is it impermissible to discriminate against homosexuals (or minorities or females) for being homosexual? Assuming (arguendo) that both masculinity and homosexuality are natural, then why not treat both alike? Either it’s permissible to discriminate against both or impermissible to discriminate against both. Same thing with race.

6) Also, if he sincerely believes that his acquired wealth confers an unfair advantage, then we should tax him down to the point of the mean per capita income. Not just that we should tax him at a higher rate, but tax him to the point where he doesn’t have greater wealth than the average American.

7) Finally, suppose, for the sake of argument, that homosexuality is an “an inherent part of one’s personal nature.” Is that an argument for equal rights?

Suppose pedophilia is an “an inherent part of one’s personal nature.” Suppose pedophiles have a naturally irrepressible predisposition to molest little boys and girls.

Does that mean we shouldn’t discriminate against pedophiles? Or is that all the more reason to discriminate against pedophiles? All the more reason to take extra precautions in their case? 

Divide and Conquer in the Service of Unity

In its efforts to produce unity with the traditionalist SSPX (Society of St. Piux X) , the Vatican has adopted a “divide and conquer” strategy, setting up separate negotiations with different bishops from the group.

Vatican City, May 16, 2012 / 10:25 am.- The Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has announced it will hold separate talks with the superior general of the breakaway traditionalist Society of St. Pius X and each of its three other bishops to try and acheive reconciliation…

The 16-person committee – known as Feria Quarta – met this morning to discuss the modifications made by the Superior of the Society of St. Pius X, Bishop Bernard Fellay, to a “doctrinal preamble” prepared last year by the Vatican. The document establishes a framework for agreement on some key issues of Church doctrine, including acceptance of the teachings of the Second Vatican Council.

In contrast to Bishop Fellay, the Society’s three other bishops seem hostile to the idea of reconciliation with Rome.

Today’s Vatican communiqué said the situations of the three other bishops “will have to be dealt with separately and singularly.”

Earlier this month, Bishops Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Alfonso de Galarreta and Richard Williamson sent a letter to Bishop Fellay warning that an agreement with the Vatican would see the Society “cease to oppose the universal apostasy of our time.”

They also argued that the Second Vatican Council “did not just include particular errors but represented a total perversion of the mind, a new philosophy founded on subjectivism.”

Pope Benedict XVI was dismissed by the three Pius X Society bishops as a “subjectivist.”…

Feria Quarta consists of some of the Vatican’s senior curial figures, such as Secretary of State Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone and several bishops from key dioceses, including Cardinal Christoph Schonborn of Vienna and Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard of Bordeaux. It is chaired by the Prefect of the Congregation, the American Cardinal William Levada.

The Society of St. Pius X was founded by Archbishop Marcel Lefebrve in 1970 as a response to what he described as errors that had crept into the Catholic Church following the Second Vatican Council. Its relations with the Vatican became strained in 1988 when Archbishop Lefebrve consecrated four bishops against the orders of Pope John Paul II.

Organic farming

The Roman Catholic Church is willing to let this commenter be deceived

The Council of Trent held that “the purity itself of the Gospel [is always] preserved in the Church; which (Gospel), before promised through the prophets in the holy Scriptures, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, first promulgated with His own mouth, and then commanded to be preached by His Apostles to every creature, as the fountain of all, both saving truth, and moral discipline; and seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand”.

Concerning the method of transmission, Trent was clear to state, “(the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, [considers that the books of the Bible] as having been dictated, either by Christ's own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession.

This principle, of exact dictation, conforms with the principle known as Semper Eadem, “always the same”. Owen Chadwick explained:

‘The Catholic faith’—what is it? An unchanging gospel, handed down by pen and mouth from age to age, generation to generation, mother to child, teacher to taught, pulpit to pew. An inexhaustible treasure deposited in a bank, so that all may draw from it. That which has been believed in every place, in every century, by all Christian men and women” (“From Bossuet to Newman” London: Cambridge University Press, ©1957, 1987, pg 1).

For a time, it was thought, Rome never changes. But now, in the world of Vatican II, Roman doctrine has certainly changed. Not only did Rome change in the period of time through the middle ages up until Trent (as Newman recognized), but it has changed radically in the days following Newman. And in Vatican II, seeking, in the words of “Good Pope John” (John XXIII):

The certain and unchangeable doctrine, to which we must remain ever faithful, must be examined and expounded by the methods applicable in our times. We must distinguish between the inheritance of the faith itself, or the truths which are contained in our holy doctrine, and the way in which these truths are formulated, of course with the same sense and same significance (citing from the opening speech at Vatican II, Gaudet Mater Ecclesia).

Except, in the “reformulating” of these “truths which are contained in our holy doctrine”, Vatican II used the very words of the flaming liberals, as one commenter put it. This writer contends that he and other “conservative Catholics” (whose “personal interpretation” of the Vatican II documents is perspicuously the correct one, whereas, the liberals are wrong), notes, that “belief in six-day creationism” is not merely “simplistic literalism”. Rather it is “a literal historical fact”. This commenter, is, in fact, much smarter and even more correct than Pope John Paul II, who said that “the recognition of the theory of evolution [is] more than a hypothesis”. Of course, now, “The Church's magisterium is directly concerned with the question of evolution, for it involves the conception of man”. In fact:

“Pius XII stressed this essential point: If the human body take its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God ("animas enim a Deo immediate creari catholica fides nos retinere iubei"; Humani Generis 36)”.

Fortunately, both of these evolution-friendly popes are dead, and this commenter now may continue to be the bulwark of support among Roman Catholics that “belief in six-day creationism” is “a literal historical fact”. (Any day now, Pope Benedict is going to kick the bucket; a new pope is waiting in the wings to recognize, infallibly and ex cathedra, what this commenter has been saying all along).

As I mentioned, Raymond Brown, was, according to this commenter, “was a flaming liberal, who unfortunately influenced a lot of Catholic laity and clergy”. Apparently, he and “other flaming liberals” not only influenced “a lot of laity and clergy”. But they influenced popes and conciliar doctrinal statements.

In his “Introduction to New Testament Christology”, here is what Brown says:

By the 1960s official church teaching affirmed that the Gospels were not necessarily literal accounts of the words and deeds of Jesus. [Contra Trent: see above]. … Yet this change of teaching has not been successfully communicated to the Catholic public at large; and so nonscholarly conservativism still prevails … Most churchgoing Catholics are not yet aware of any other view, even though now almost all Catholic biblical scholars (see below) have accepted that the Gospels manifest a development beyond the era of Jesus and for years have taught such a development to candidates for the priesthood or theological degrees (Brown, “An Introduction to New Testament Christology”, Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, ©1994 by Associated Sulpicians of the U.S., pg 9).

Sulpicians, by the way, are an order devoted to teaching “candidates for the priesthood”, and Brown was one of them.

Brown points to the Pontifical Biblical Commission's 1964 "Instruction on the Historical Truth of the Gospels", noting that “The substance of this instruction made it into Dei Verbum 5.19”, he said.

Here is what the “Instruction” said:

IX. This primitive instruction, which was at first passed on by word of mouth and then in writing--for it soon happened that many tried "to compile a narrative of the things" which concerned the Lord Jesus--was committed to writing by the sacred authors in four Gospels for the benefit of the churches, with a method suited to the peculiar purpose which each (author) set for himself. From the many things handed down they selected some things, reduced others to a synthesis, (still) others they explicated as they kept in mind the situation of the churches. With every (possible) means they sought that their readers might become aware of the reliability of those words by which they had been instructed. Indeed, from what they had received the sacred writers above all selected the things which were suited to the various situations of the faithful and to the purpose which they had in mind, and adapted their narration of them to the same situations and purpose. Since the meaning of a statement also depends on the sequence, the Evangelists, in passing on the words and deeds of our Saviour, explained these now in one context, now in another, depending on (their) usefulness to the readers. Consequently, let the exegete seek out the meaning intended by the Evangelist in narrating a saying or a deed in a certain way or in placing it in a certain context.

Now, here is what Dei Verbum 5.19 said:

19. Holy Mother Church has firmly and with absolute constancy held, and continues to hold, that the four Gospels just named, whose historical character the Church unhesitatingly asserts, faithfully hand on what Jesus Christ, while living among men, really did and taught for their eternal salvation until the day …  The sacred authors wrote the four Gospels, selecting some things from the many which had been handed on by word of mouth or in writing, reducing some of them to a synthesis, explaining some things in view of the situation of their churches and preserving the form of proclamation but always in such fashion that they told us the honest truth about Jesus. For their intention in writing was that either from their own memory and recollections, or from the witness of those who "themselves from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the Word" we might know "the truth" concerning those matters about which we have been instructed (see Luke 1:2-4).

There is no question that, even if our commenter rejects this 1964 “Instruction”, Vatican II certainly endorsed it. This episode, of course, falls into the category of “those passages which are so brilliantly ambiguous as to be capable of serving the interest of both parties”, according to David Wells.

My point, for the sake of the commenter, is not that the Pontifical Biblical Commission today has any authority. My point is, it had very real authority for the writers of Vatican II, (wasn’t one of them named Ratzinger?), and that, this is one of several statements of “passages which are so brilliantly ambiguous as to be capable of serving the interest of both parties”.

So to be sure, “flaming liberal” interests have been served well – they are on the books now, written into a Roman Catholic Council, endorsed by popes and bishops, and if our commenter thinks that the infallible Magisterium of today’s Roman Catholic Church believe in “the historical Gospel accounts and in six-day creationism” that “Church Fathers shows very clearly they believed in”, well, he can go on deceiving himself. His “Church” is certainly willing to let him continue to be deceived.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Tony Evans: Gay Marriage Is Not a Civil Rights Issue

“Progressive covenantalism”

Everyone is saved outside the church

Rome has come quite a ways from Unam Sanctam:

Of course, his eminence doesn't speak for all Catholics. But to my knowledge, he hasn't been disciplined for his public position.

For the Cardinal Under Ban, the Quarantine Has Ended

Islam's Origins

Cheaters win

Over the years I’ve tried to read and respond to the best exponents of universalism. Today I got around to skimming Keith DeRose’s case for universalism, just in case he had something novel to add to the stock arguments for universalism.

As I’ve noted in the past, there are many parallels between arguments for Arminianism and arguments for universalism. Therefore, when a Calvinist reads the case for universalism, there’s often a sense of déjà vu. Many arguments for universalism have no particular traction for Calvinists, because we’ve already been over the same ground with Arminians.

For now I’d like to single out one basic problem with DeRose’s case for universalism. He tries to defect objections to universalism which appeal to Bible passages about eternal punishment by resorting to standard annihilationist strategies. But there are two problems with that move:

i) By blunting the force of passages about eternal damnation, you simultaneously blunt the force of passages about eternal salvation. So that strategy is self-defeating.

ii) But I’d like to focus on a broader issue. A running theme in Scripture is the admonition that what we do in this life makes a difference. Scripture presents two divergent destinies. The godly and the ungodly don’t share the same destiny. What you think and do in this life matters to how you end up in the long run.

This is a running theme in both the OT and the NT. It cycles through many different books of the Bible. Many different genres bear witness to this theme.

It’s broader than specific language about your eternal destiny. Rather, it’s a general statement about two different paths leading to two different outcomes.

Universalism cuts against the grain of this pervasive Biblical theme. Universalism is fatalistic. For if universalism is true, then all paths lead to the same ultimate destination. It makes no difference what you think, say, or do in this life. This life is irrelevant to the afterlife. Whether you live for God, suffer for God, die for God, center your life on Christ–or whether you live a thankless, godless, spiteful life, has no effect on how things finally turn out for you.

The problem for universalism isn’t limited to some standard prooftexts for everlasting punishment. Rather, the Bible places massive emphasis on the importance of how, and for whom, we live in the here-and-now as that affects the hereafter.

Universalism trivializes everything we do or fail to do in this life. This life becomes aimless, frivolous, pointless. The faithful and the faithless share a common destiny. It makes a mockery of faith, fidelity, and self-denial. There’s no motive to live one way rather than another. No incentive to aspire to a life of godliness.

Universalism is idealistic, yet it cuts the nerve of idealism. It’s a recipe for cynicism.