Saturday, June 09, 2012

Comforting illusions

Militant atheists deem it their duty to disabuse Christians of their faith. Militant atheists think Christian theology is false, and they also think it’s morally wrong to believe falsehood.

Suppose a family is in a terrible traffic accident. The parents and one son are instantly killed. The other son is taken to the ER, unconscious. The son is put on life support. He’s suffered irreparable damage to vital organs. He will die from internal injuries in a few days. In theory, he could be saved by a multiple-organ transplant, but he’s at the bottom of the list.

Suppose he briefly regains consciousness. Suppose the attending physician is an atheist. His doctor could tell him that his father, mother, and brother are dead, and he himself will be dead in a few days.

But suppose the doctor lies to him. Suppose the doctor tells him that his parents and brother survived the accident. They are currently in critical, but stable condition. He will be able to see them when he gets better.

After a few hours, the kid lapses into a coma. But he dies happy.

From a secular standpoint, what should the doctor tell him? Should the doctor level with him, so that the dying, orphaned patient is in psychological agony for his remaining days or hours of conscious existence? Or should the doctor let the kid entertain a comforting illusion? Indeed, foster the illusion?

I’m not considering this from a Christian standpoint, but a secular standpoint.

Triablogue, 10,000 "published" posts

Not long ago, I wrote about 10,000 Triablogue posts. Several commenters noted that that figure included several hundred "Drafts". With his last post, Steve put up the actual "published" 10,000th post. Not sure if this one or that one is the one with the Roger Maris type of asterisk, but in either case, it's quite an accomplishment in a fickle world.

The last boy scout

I’m going to comment on this post.

Where is the Outcry from Theists Against the BSA's Policy of Discrimination against Nontheists?

I find it fascinating (and disturbing) that not one theist has responded to this post with a comment expressing disapproval of the BSA's policy.

i) If I’m interpreting the site meter correctly, The Secular Outpost doesn’t have a very high public profile. Just compare its stats to, let us say, The Volokh Conspiracy. Therefore, there’s no reason for Jeff to assume that most theists are even aware of his post.

ii) And even if they were, atheists don’t generally defend the civil liberties of theists–except for Muslims. Indeed, atheists often have policies that discriminate against theists. Therefore, why should Jeff expect theists to defend the civil liberties of atheists–if atheists are going to turn around and use their civil liberties to violate the civil liberties of theists? If you’re tolerant of those who are intolerant of you, they will win and you will lose. So the relationship is ultimately asymmetrical.

Not only is that a stupid reason, it would also be bigotry. Red heads would rightfully be offended and non-red heads would condemn that sort of bigotry.

i) Assuming (arguendo) that the BSA is bigoted, so what? Why is Jeff bothered by hypocrisy or bigotry? Is Jeff a moral realist?

I recall Jeff reviewing Michael Martin’s case for secular ethics. As I recall, Jeff thought Martin’s case was a failure. Does Jeff have a fallback argument for objective moral norms?

ii) Likewise, even assuming that some things are intrinsically right or wrong, why assume human beings can be wronged. We’re just animals. Why is it wrong for a primate to be a bigot? Why is it wrong for one primate to discriminate against another primate? Happens all the time in the wild.

iii) Jeff is also assuming that his analogy is relevantly analogous. But hair-color is hardly equivalent to ideology.

With that position statement in your head, I want you to now think about what defenders of moral arguments for God's existence typically say. They argue that, on the one hand, there is no ontological foundation for objective moral values if God does not exist, while, on the other hand, nontheists can lead moral lives. If they truly believe that nontheists can lead moral lives, then where is the outcry from these same apologists against the BSA's stated reason for discriminating against nontheists?

i) Even assuming (ex hypothesi) that the BSA policy is inconsistent, why assume that’s “bigotry”? Why think leaders of the BSA are that philosophically astute?

ii) More to the point, the fact that atheists can be moral doesn’t mean atheists will be moral. That’s not a prediction. It doesn’t create any presumption to that effect.

iii) Atheists are more likely to be moral in a culture that reinforces conventional Christian morality. To the extent that atheists are self-consciously atheistic, to the extent that atheists successfully secularize the culture, then to that extent they are less likely to be moral. They lack the same external or internal restraints. On the one hand, the traditional social sanctions are gone. On the other hand, they are taking their secular outlook to its logical conclusion.

Of course, Jeff might disagree with my definition of what makes someone moral, but that's beside the point inasmuch as he's attempting to attack the opposing position internally, on its own terms.

iv) Finally, one way atheists secularize the culture is to infiltrate institutions which were traditionally religious or religiously-conditioned, then secularize those institutions from within.

That way there’s nothing to push back against the atheist agenda. Indeed, they’ve dragooned the opposing institutions to further the secular agenda. Infiltrate, sterilize, then co-opt for your own purposes.

But what if someone says, "I don't care what some Christian apologists have written. I don't think nontheists are moral. I don't trust them." From that perspective, there is even more reason to allow nontheists to join the BSA. If nontheists are so 'morally defective,' then what better course of action than to allow them to join an organization which, other than its policy of discrimination against homosexuals and nontheists, promotes good moral values? If nontheists are morally handicapped, why not give them as much "moral support" as possible to ensure they turn into adults with the best kind of moral character?

i) To begin with, this fails to distinguish between scouts and leaders. Atheists won’t stop with scouts. They will insist that atheists assume leadership positions in the organization. A hostile takeover.

ii) In addition, the BSA won’t be allowed to indoctrinate members. That will be classified as “hate speech.”

Can you imagine a church or Sunday school group banning non-Christians or even just non-theists? Of course not! They welcome them. They view it as an opportunity for evangelism. By the same logic, then, why not view the BSA as an opportunity for moral evangelism, i.e., trying to get boys to develop the best kind of moral character?

That fails to distinguish between attendance and membership. To join an evangelical church, you’re generally required to make profession of faith. And the standards are higher for church officers.

Is the religious right hypocritical?

Jeff Lower recently did a post accusing the “religious right” of “hypocrisy”

I don’t deny that the religious right can be guilty of hypocrisy, although the “religious right” is an umbrella term. Presumably Jeff means certain members of the religious right, and not the religious right as a whole.

That said:

i) Why does Jeff attribute this to the “religious right”? He gives a quote, but none of the spokesmen in the quote are self-identified members of the religious right. Is Jeff just assuming that only a religious right-winger would be opposed to the ceremony?

If so, I don’t see how that follows. The spokemen might simply regard the ceremony as a violation of states’ rights or the rule of law. Indeed, isn’t that how they frame the issue?

In principle, someone who supports the notion of homosexual marriage might still object to an extralegal ceremony. (BTW, I’m not expressing a legal opinion on the circumstances of the ceremony. I’m merely drawing attention to how the quoted spokesmen cast the issue.)

ii) Perhaps more to the point, isn’t the stated objection that the homosexual marriage was performed by military personnel on a military base?

Therefore, it’s not an objection to a purely religious ceremony, but the way in which gov’t resources were entangled in that ceremony. If it were performed in a Disciples of Christ church, it wouldn’t necessarily provoke the same reaction.

Indeed, don’t organizations like the AU, ACLU, and People For routinely draw that distinction? Conversely, don’t many Baptists draw that same distinction?  

So I don’t see that Jeff has successfully pinpointed the objection. He might think it’s hypocritical on other grounds, but not on the grounds he gave.  

iii) Finally, the charge of “hypocrisy” seems overwrought in this context. No doubt politicians can be hypocritical, but Jeff is charging them with hypocrisy for an inconsistency that he perceives, not one that they perceive. Most politicians aren’t intellectuals, philosophers, or logicians. Even if (ex hypothesi) the spokesmen are inconsistent, that doesn’t mean they are consciously inconsistent.

How does Jeff define hypocrisy? If you hold an inconsistent position, even though you’re not cognizant of the inconsistency, does that make you a hypocrite?

Shades of Grey


Friday, June 08, 2012

Eastern Orthodoxy and sodomite marriage

Here's an article by a lay Orthodox theologian critical of legal bans against sodomite marriage:

I'm not going to evaluate his arguments, such as they are. Rather, I'm curious to see if he will be subjected to church discipline. Will his priest or bishop take appropriate action? If not, then it doesn't matter what the traditional position of Eastern Orthodoxy regarding marriage happens to be on paper.

Isaiah by the Day

Freethinkers for Christ

The Early Text of the New Testament

Neo-2kers Confound

Another strange 2K post on the matter

Consider these neo-2kers. They're an odd bunch, I say. Well, at least most of them. At least the most prolific and bloggerific of them. Check it out:

I'm no theonomist, but theonomists are treated like dirt by these guys. They're told they "deny the gospel." They're blamed for almost all that ails Reformedom. They're mocked and ridiculed. Theonomic pastors are called "Rabi." They're called inconsistent Pelagians for their law/gospel confusion.

Similarly with "transformationalists" and "neo-Calvinists" and "worldviewers." If you read neo-2Kers and didn't know anything about those groups, you get the impression that they're silly, confused, stupid, and perhaps wicked. Guys like Darryl Hart, the above blogger, Zrim, etc., have some very strong and harsh things to say to them. They mock and ridicule them to no end. They clearly and obviously caricature them. For example, if you say you're a Van Tillian or believe in a Christian worldview, here's something you might hear: "But you believe regeneration raises the I.Q.." (actual quote by Darryl Hart).

Also, transformers and worldviewers and presuppers are all told that they value philosophy over humble submission to the Bible. That they think they can bring heaven down to earth. That they think the Bible is a manual for things like plumbing, and so they seek to impose it on all areas of life in a blueprint fashion. So motives can be guessed at, even when they've been clearly, forcefully, and ubiquitously denied.  But Carl Trueman makes some comments about probable motives for Stellman, or probable causal precursors, and what happens? He's condemned and scolded by neo-2Kers. "How dare he speculate!" "How dare he talk about motives when he's not inside Stellman's head." The hypocrisy is stunning. How do we make sense of it?

And, heck, you'd better hope you're not named "John Frame." You'll be called a "relativist" for promulgating "triperspectivalism." Worse, you'd be told that your views are "revolutionary," but not in a good way; rather, "revolutionary in the way the French were revolutionary in 1789" (direct quote from R.S. Clark). This is all rather light compared to some of the choice comments neo-2Kers have for Frame.

But, repeatedly, Jason Stellman is treated with respect and dignity. I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that, of course. But consider: Stellman is coddled and protected by neo-2Kers. Any comment taken to be disrespectful is met with strong force and condemnation. Indeed, some 2kers are saying that they're trying to defend Stellman (Zrim). If someone speculates or offers reasons for possible motives for Stellman's change, they're roundly rebuked. Told they're out of line. Told to show some "respect" and act with "comportment." We need to "pray for Stellman" and "love" Stellman. Have similar remarks been made by them about Frame?

Why (and why not)? You see, Stellman was an elder in a Reformed church, and most importantly, he defended Confessionalism and 2K—acts which cover a multitude of sins, apparently—so the 2kers rail and bellyache that he's not getting treated with dignity and respect. He's called "honorable" and "courageous." He's treated as a hero with integrity. Fine. But consider Frame again. Frame is an ordained elder, but that doesn't get him any respect, it gets him the opposite. Frame writes a book critical of neo-2K/Confessionalism, and prominent 2kers write that they are "shocked" and "saddened" by it. It "represents a new low in intra-Reformed polemics." But when one of their own denies SS and SF, they defend and protect him, laud him and glad hand him. He is "thoughtful" and "engaging," even when "we disagree."

Some people started off their response to Stellman by saying they were "shocked" and "saddened" by his recent stance, and Stellman declaimed, "Is that how you start off all your conversations? You don't want a dialogue." Many 2Kers cheered this response and jeered the Reformed commenter who began his comment that way. But consider how they speak to 1Kers, transformationalists, theonomists, etc. 

Or, consider how they talk to and about baptists. Or The Gospel Coalition. They write posts with titles like, "Young, Restless, and Dunked." But what if someone wrote a post with the title, "Beautiful, Bald, and Searching for a Funny Hat to Cover it Up." They'd be called "uncivil." Why? Because it appears that the worst thing to be is some kind of 1Ker, or transformer, or worldviewer, or homeschooler, or Framean, or Bahnsenian. What else explains the blatant, obvious, and undeniable hypocrisy? How can they explain this clearly inconsistent behavior?

"U.S. Bishops Still Stonewall on Sex Abuse"

This issue continues to be in the news. From today's Wall Street Journal:
Who will guard the guardians? Ten years after the Catholic hierarchy of the United States gathered in Dallas and adopted unprecedented policies to address the scourge of child sexual abuse by clergy, the question of accountability at the top remains unanswered.

To be sure, the Charter ... took some critical steps...

But throughout it all, the bishops exempted themselves from accountability—even though records showed that feckless inaction by many bishops, or even deliberate malfeasance by some, had allowed abusers to claim so many victims.

The best answer the bishops had to this in Dallas was a behind-the-scenes "fraternal correction" policy, by which a bishop would quietly pass along any concerns about another bishop to that bishop. Church tradition was invoked to preclude any external oversight by laypeople or other prelates. As always, each bishop would answer only to the pope, who alone had the authority to remove the head of a diocese.

Now, as the bishops gather next week in Atlanta for their annual spring meeting, they will hear an update on the Dallas charter but are unlikely to address this enormous loophole—despite events that make it all the more urgent.

Consider that bishops in the Diocese of Baker in Oregon and the Diocese of Lincoln in Nebraska—plus leaders of the six Eastern rite dioceses in the U.S.—have for a decade thumbed their noses at the Dallas charter's mandatory audits of compliance. Thus monitors from the Conference of Catholic Bishops have never been allowed into those dioceses. Yet the recalcitrant bishops have never been rebuked, and last year Pope Benedict even promoted one of them, Bishop Robert Vasa of Baker, to the larger see of Santa Rosa, in California...

[More examples of how this agreement among the Bishops is skirted]

"In the Dallas Charter, all consequences fall on priests," said a priest in a recent survey of clergy attitudes by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate. "Nothing is in there for bishops."

Not only does this undermine the priesthood's morale, but it impedes important work of the bishops, who are engaged in a major campaign for religious freedom—aiming not only to overturn the Obama administration's contraception mandate but to protect the church from secular encroachments of various sorts. If church leaders want the laity and the clergy to follow them to the ramparts on these issues, they should demonstrate that they will hold themselves to the same standards they set for everyone else.

Searching for our Maker in Prometheus

Why Christianity is false

Christianity is false because Christians are too hateful and judgmental:

Keith Parsons said...


    You say that you can be respectful of the person while having no respect for a belief. I think that this is the only thing you have ever said that in ANY way reminds me of something said by Jerry Falwell. The late, not-so-great Rev. Falwell used to deny the charge of homophobia. Concerning gay people he would say (MOCKERY ALERT)"We do not hate the home-o-sexual. We luuuv the home-o-sexual. It is his si-yin we hate-uh."

    May 31, 2012 2:26:00 PM CDT

Rev. Falwell's problem was simple: Despite his nauseatingly unctuous reassurances, he clearly hated gay people. His offense was simple hypocrisy.

June 4, 2012 4:04:00 PM CDT

Christianity is false because Christians are too loving and forgiving:

Keith Parsons said...


    A further issue I have always had with Christianity is the one you express as follows:

    "Christians are enjoined by their faith to love others, and I take it that means that regardless of how badly a person has gone wrong, we think that, by the grace of God, that they could someday be brought to disconnect themselves from their sin by repentance."

    Taken literally, this means that Christians are enjoined to love, say, people who throw acid into the faces of little girls to keep them from going to school. Indeed, Christians are enjoined to love tyrants, serial killers, traffickers in sexual slavery, drug cartel thugs, terrorists, fanatics, con men who cheat the elderly out of their life savings, etc.

    This is one of the many cases where Christianity, by setting up an impossible (and undesirable) ideal creates conditions that guarantee self-deception and hypocrisy. CAN you love someone like, say, Syrian president Bashar al-Assad? SHOULD you even if you could? I think the answer to both questions is "no."

    I submit that a person with any sense of decency who is well informed about the actions of Assad--shelling towns, sending death squads to massacre unarmed civilians, etc.--cannot love such an individual, not even "by the grace of God." If such a person claims to do so, I think that he is fooling himself or attempting to fool the rest of us.

    Should you love Assad, even if you can? Why? Because of the off chance that he might someday repent? Get real. I submit that the proper, the MORAL attitude to take towards Assad and his vile ilk is one of outraged contempt.

    June 7, 2012 10:58:00 AM CDT

Irenaeus on “Divine Protection from Error”: Scripture Interprets Scripture

According to Avery Cardinal Dulles, “At the beginning of the twentieth century, Maurice Blondel sought to carve out a middle path between post-Tridentine and Modernist theories of tradition....To his lasting credit, he rediscovered the capacity of tradition to transmit what was already known in an implicit way but not yet formulated in conceptual terms.” (From the Foreword of Yves Congar’s “The Meaning of Tradition,” (c)1964, 2004, Ignatius edition, pg ix).

Irenaeus knew nothing of an “implicit-but-not-yet-formulated” type of tradition. In the previous quote, I cited him as having stated that everything the Apostles knew as “tradition,” they wrote down in the form of Scripture.

But Irenaeus also goes into some detail about how Scripture is to be understood. In a very Calvinistic vein, he says two things here: Don’t go beyond the word of Scripture (but leave some things as unknown except to God), and we may “remain free from peril” by allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture, just as the Reformed confessions have said so:

If we cannot find the solutions for all the questions raised in the Scriptures, let us not seek for another God than he-who-is, for this would be the worst impiety. We must leave such matters as these to the God who made it and correctly realize that the scriptures are perfect, since they were spoken by God’s Word and his Spirit, while we, [the “Infallible Magisterium”], as we are inferior and more recent than God’s word and his Spirit, need to receive the knowledge of his mysteries. And it is not remarkable if we suffer this ignorance in spiritual and celestial matters and all those that have to be revealed, when even among matters before our feet -- I mean those in this creation, which are touched and seen by us and are with us -- many escape our knowledge and we entrust them to God; for he surpasses us all....

This is not, by the way, the affirmation of Irenaeus that “unless the church’s interpretation of Scripture is divinely protected from error at least under certain conditions, then what we call the ‘orthodox’ understanding of doctrines …  is reduced to mere fallible human opinion”. As I’ve noted, this is a direct pick-up by Jason Stellman of the argument given by Michael Liccione.

Yet, in the next paragraph, Irenaeus rejects the Liccione method and does give the criterion for “divine protection” from errors: 

If therefore, even in this created world there are matters reserved for God and others also coming under our knowledge, what harm is done if in questions raised by the scriptures (which are entirely spiritual) we resolve some by God’s grace but leave others to God, not only in this age but in the age to come, so that God may be always teaching and man always learning from God? As the apostle said, when the partial is destroyed these will continue: faith, hope, love. For faith in our Master will always remain firm, assuring us that he is the only true God, and that we should always love him, since he is the only Father, and that we should hope to receive and learn more from God, for he is good and has unlimited riches and a kingdom without end and immeasurable knowledge. If, then, as we have said, we leave certain questions to God, we shall preserve our faith and remain free from peril. All Scripture, given to us by God, will be found consistent. The parables will agree with the clear statements and the clear passages will explain the parables. Through the polyphony of the texts a single harmonious melody will sound in us, praising in hymns the God who made everything.

(“Irenaeus of Lyons,” “Against Heresies,” 2.28.3, Robert M. Grant translation, pgs. 117-118. Emphasis supplied.)

Consider this word from the Westminster Confession of Faith: “The infallible rule of interpretation of Scripture is the Scripture itself: and therefore, when there is a question about the true and full sense of any Scripture (which is not manifold, but one), it must be searched and known by other places that speak more clearly.”

Who has the more correct way to find “divine protection from error under certain conditions”? 

As a “Key” to Understand Peter, See Reuben

Roman Catholics look to “typology” to show how Mary is somehow present in the Old Testament, and thus more important than she actually is in the New Testament. At Called to Communion, the folks there noted that “Mary is present in the Old Testament in three ways: in prophecy concerning the mother of the Redeemer, in Old Testament figures of Mary, and in the ultimate mission of Israel…”

Regarding Mary “typologically in Old Testament females, Bryan Cross explains:

Mary is present typologically in various female figures in the Old Testament …  Christ, the Church, the sacraments, and Mary are all prefigured in the Old Testament, in much the way a human author foreshadows future events in a novel. Mary is foreshadowed in the person of Eve, in that both are mothers of all the living, yet in different ways. Eve is the mother of all those living with natural life, while Mary is the mother of all those living with supernatural life, though in other ways they are opposites, for Mary’s obedience undoes the knot of Eve’s disobedience.

And regarding Mary typologically in the “ultimate mission of Israel”, he explains:

the liturgy of the Church recognizes the Old Testament references to the “Daughter of Zion” (and “Daughter of Jerusalem”) as references to Mary, because she sums up in herself the mission of the Jewish people. All Israel is the betrothed bride, but Mary is that bride most perfectly and without blemish; she is the model of Israel as bride, as daughter of Zion.

That’s interesting methodology, but how does it work when applied to Peter? Peter, too, is “foreshadowed” in the Old Testament, in the person of Reuben, and Reuben is a very close “figure”, with closer identification with Peter than than Eve with Mary.

After all, Peter has a number of characteristics that are far more common with Reuben than Mary, either with Eve, or with “the ultimate mission Israel”.

Here’s what the CCC says about Peter:

Simon Peter holds the first place in the college of the Twelve; Jesus entrusted a unique mission to him. Through a revelation from the Father, Peter had confessed: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." Our Lord then declared to him: "You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it." Christ, the "living Stone", thus assures his Church, built on Peter, of victory over the powers of death. Because of the faith he confessed Peter will remain the unshakable rock of the Church. His mission will be to keep this faith from every lapse and to strengthen his brothers in it.

But this is clearly wrong. Paul (Ephesians 4, that great treatise on ecclesiology) and John, in Revelation, do not allow that Peter had any kind of “preeminence” or “primacy”. In both instances, he is at the same level with all the other apostles. If we allow the principle that “Scripture interprets Scripture” (as Irenaeus clearly said), consider all the parallels between Reuben, the oldest son of Jacob, and Peter, which are far more explicit than any “typological” representations of Mary in the Old Testament.

Reuben was the first, Peter was the first. Reuben was “preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power”. Peter, it is claimed, has those characteristics [his name is mentioned first in lists of the Apostles].

Yet in Revelation 4:4, Peter is explicitly compared with Reuben:

Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders. They were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads.

This is no mere “typological” identification of Peter with Reuben. What’s understood about Mary and the Old Testament can be seen far, far more clearly in the identification of Peter with Reuben. The clear implication is that the 12 tribes of Israel were the “foundation” of Israel, and the twelve Apostles were the foundation of the Church. These are clearly (and not merely implicitly) being equated.

And yet, of Reuben, it is explicitly said that Reuben “will not have preeminence” because of his sin.

“Reuben, you are my firstborn,
    my might, and the firstfruits of my strength,
    preeminent in dignity and preeminent in power.
Unstable as water, you shall not have preeminence,
    because you went up to your father's bed;
    then you defiled it—he went up to my couch!

Peter sinned, too, more grievously than Reuben sinned. The great forgiveness of Jesus, offered in John 21, was really a replacing him on his Apostolic throne, from which he could serve as one of the foundation stones of Ephesians 4 (and foundations are all on the same level), and one of the 24 Elders.

“Unstable as water”, you still are my firstborn son. But you “will not have preeminence”. The same thing was said to Peter. This is confirmed in the writings of both Paul and John. The Old Testament comparison is a direct, one-to-one equating of Peter with Reuben. If Roman Catholics want to find Mary in the Old Testament, they certainly must find Peter there.

What is being foreshadowed here?

When Jason Stellman changed blogs, on February 16, 2010, he posted this explanation:

Why the change? A few reasons. First, “Creed-Code-Cult-dot-com” is a lot easier to say than “De-Regnis-Duobus-dot-blogspot-dot-com” (especially if, like me, you’re really into the whole brevity thing). Secondly (and I’m going out on a limb here), having a blog that doesn’t, like, have Hitler on it... that’ll be pretty cool, too. I stand by the image and my reason for employing it, but well, let’s just say I won’t miss seeing ol’ Adolf on a daily basis.

There is another reason for the change, but suffice it to say that that will become known in the near future.

So anyway, I’d like to cordially invite you all over to my new digs. If anyone of you links to me on your own sites, you may want to update your blogroll (and should you feel inclined to dedicate a post toCCC’s launch, I’d surely appreciate it!).



Notice this line: “There is another reason for the change, but suffice it to say that that will become known in the near future.”

As far as I know, this is the first time any obvious reason has surfaced.  “De Regnis Duobus” (literally “kingdoms of two”) is also too Protestant, too Lutheran. It is not a sufficient identity from which to launch a Roman Catholic apologetic platform. But “Creed Code Cult” works nicely for Roman Catholic purposes. And as I've commented, he is already making Roman Catholic apologetic arguments. Could Jason have had this in mind in 2010? By his own admission, serious doubts started in 2008. Is this a publicity stunt as well as a conversion?  Setting up a future career? 

HT: Steven Wedgeworth  

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Stellman who?

Green Baggins and its comment threads have been a tedious bore for a while now.  They are highly predictable with the same factions asserting the same points over the same issues, with Called to Communion vultures circling to pick at the carnage.

I do not understand the public attention Stellman is getting.  The Church is so much larger than one man, whatever his status.  Is there really nothing else for us to discuss or analyze?  Are we really this provincial?  Maybe I just do not spend enough time in the Reformed blogosphere, but of what import is this man, his "conversion" or whatever it is he represents?

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

17 Again

The Last Exorcist

The Rite


The Adjustment Bureau


The Tree of Life

More Proof That Islam is the Religion of Peace and Tolerance

A tale of two writers

Ray Bradbury and Christopher Hitchens died within a few months of each other. Both men were gifted wordsmiths. Both men wrote about the human condition. But there the comparison ends.

Despite his linguistic virtuosity, most of Hitchens’ prolific output will be quickly forgotten. One reason is that so much of his writing is about politics. That’s inherently ephemeral. And, frankly, it’s not that interesting to begin with.

Unlike Bradbury, Hitchens was admired as an earnest and eloquent writer, but his writings will never be loved. Hitchens’ subject-matter is confining, because he writes about the real world. What is or was, not what might have been. The tyranny of the actual.

In addition, the world he writes about is a fallen world, without hope of redemption. The never-ending cycle of depravity. So his material is ultimately depressing. Imprisoning. Like Solzhenitsyn writing about life in a penal colony. Or describing the wallpaper in a mental ward.

Bradbury put his verbal dexterity to a very different use. He articulates an inarticulate yearning in the hearts of many readers. A yearning for lost youth. As well as a longing for unrealized possibilities.

His aliens worlds are scientifically absurd, but that’s not the point. They’re just a vivid literary device to explore alternate timelines. What might have been–in another life, in another world.

In that respect, his otherworldly material is far more appealing than Hitchens’ worldly material. Of course, some of Bradbury’s writings are political allegories. To that extent they’re concerned with the real world. But that’s not where his core appeal lies.

Still, there’s something ultimately unsatisfying about Bradbury’s vision. If Hitchens’ work is unsatisfying because it’s too realistic, Bradbury’s work is unsatisfying because it’s too unrealistic. Within his secular outlook, Bradbury’s possibilities are impossible possibilities. They tantalize the mind, taunting us with iridescent dreams of something forever out of reach.

An unenviable choice between Hitchens’ dyspeptic reality and Bradbury’s imaginary Eden. After escaping for a few hours into Bradbury’s fairy-tale world, we must return to Hitchens’ shard-glass reality. 

Only the Christian outlook does justice to both. On the one hand, reality is ultimately edifying inasmuch as reality is ultimately redeemed. What was lost is found.

On the other hand, our reality is one of God’s infinite possibilities, while our sheer possibilities are God’s infinite realities. All timelines play out in the immutable reality of God’s omniscient mind.

Bradbury’s writing also illustrates the symbiosis between life and art. Bradbury’s particular vision is inconceivable apart from the time and place of his birth and upbringing. His specific background makes all the difference.

Mental Reservation

A lot of people are saying “Jason hasn’t told us that he is converting to Roman Catholicism, so we should give him the benefit of the doubt”. That much is true, he is not yet Roman Catholic, but the words he is using very clearly conveys Roman Catholic concepts. And if Jason is converting to Roman Catholicism, he does not really have to say “I’m Roman Catholic” until [likely] Easter 2013, at which time he will have completed RCIA and only then be “received into the Church”. Until that point, he can say “I’m not Roman Catholic” and still not technically be lying. When does anyone suppose that he will reveal this concept to us? Is he really going to continue to perpetuate the idea that “I’m undecided”?

This, too, speaks to his honesty. 

Jason Stellman stacks the deck: definitions of “church” and “gospel”

Much of the pushback I have gotten in the past few days has sprung from the supposed need to subordinate the church to the gospel. But is this really a wise and biblical expectation?

First, consider the implications of the idea that a true church can only be identified by its faithful preaching of the gospel. While this sounds reasonable at first glance, when we think about it more deeply it begins to appear severely individualistic…

A few paragraphs later, he comes to the conclusion that “the gospel is the church, and the church is the gospel”. But how does he arrive at that conclusion?
Always missing from these sorts of things is a “definition of the word ‘church’”. Whenever a Roman Catholic uses the word church, they don’t mean “church” as a Protestant would understand it (either visible or invisible). When they say “church”, they mean “The Roman Catholic Church”, as the Roman Catholic Church officially defines itself. I’ve written about that here. No, we haven’t heard this from Jason yet. But it is a concept he is holding up his sleeve, only to present it to you later.

In short, the Roman Catholic argument (from Lumen Gentium 8) is this: Christ is both God and man. In the Incarnation, he “assumed” a human nature that is “inseparably united to Him.” In a similar way, the church hierarchy that we have seen throughout history, which [claims to be] affirmed in itself through an [unverifiable] “apostolic succession,” – “the visible social structure” of the Church, is “comparably” “inseparably united” to Christ.

In other words, the Roman Catholic hierarchy that we see, is, as a concept, just as much “inseparably united to Christ” as is any other believer in Christ.

Essentially, Rome, in its post-Vatican II doctrines, has sidestepped the issues surrounding grace and justification, and has, in effect, doubled down on its ecclesiology as “the means of salvation”.

That is a backward way of looking at things. Neither Paul nor the early church saw itself as “the means of salvation”. If you look at the history of the church, from the beginning, it in no wise holds this post Vatican II Roman Catholic idea. This and similar ideas are imputed back to the early church, and then the claim is made, “see, ‘the church’ held these ideas from the beginning”. But it simply is not true, and if you begin by investigating what the earliest church actually believed, you won’t come up with these Roman Catholic ideas. They’re simply not there. And yet Jason is, in the terms he uses here at the beginning of his reasoning, (and given the things he has revealed so far), going to foist this entire concept on us at some time down the road.

So keep in mind, throughout this post and others, whenever Jason says, “the church”, he is holding some cards back. When he says, “the church” is this, or “the church” does that, once you admit he’s correct about that, he’s going, at some point, to add this definition complete with “the society structured with hierarchical organs”, i.e., the pope and bishops and apostolic succession. This is the bait-and-switch that’s inherent in all Roman Catholic apologetics.  

* * *

As for a definition of the word “gospel”, that’s not something that should be in question. Guy Prentiss Waters notes that “Many Christians have rightly seen [Gen 3:15] as protoevangelium, which is Latin for “the first announcement of the gospel.” “In dim and shadowy terms, God is announcing his plan to save sinners. He will do so by raising from Eve a descendant, whom the New Testament tells us is Jesus Christ …. The rest of the Old Testament is commentary on this verse (“How Jesus Runs the Church”, 2011, 5-6). John Currid in his Genesis commentary, also says, “Genesis 3:15 is messianic. … The remainder of Scripture is an unfolding of the prophecy of Genesis 3:15. Redemption is promised in this one verse, and the Bible traces the development of that redemptive theme” (Study commentary on Genesis, Vol 1, 2003, 131). And Thomas Schreiner, in his recent Commentary on Galatians, gives a summary definition of “gospel” from Galatians 1:6 as “the fulfillment of God’s saving promises”. Hoehner, in his commentary on Ephesians, is a bit more specific: “the truth of the [gospel] message is the good news of deliverance of people from their bondage to sin”.

People who are conversant in Scripture do not come to different definitions of what “the gospel” is. “The gospel” is the fulfillment of God’s saving promise to deliver his people from their bondage to sin. Precisely how this is accomplished is a key, or the key, component:

As David Gadbois has noted at Green Baggins:

it is actually an understatement to assert that justification by faith alone is a central plank of the Gospel. It demarcates an entirely different pattern of religion, theology, and piety than a requirement of faith and works as instrumental causes of justification. Believing that one is living their life and pursuing good works to attain right standing before God entails an entirely different motivation, ethic, and faith-orientation than believing that one is living one’s life of good works out of love and gratitude for what Christ has fully accomplished outside of us.

It’s pretty hard to miss the significance of “Jesus Christ, who was promised of God from the beginning, died for your sins. By his stripes you are healed”. Unless, that is, you want to add a whole lot of unscriptural baggage to that simple presentation.

This is not rocket science. Nevertheless, Jason summarily dismisses the power and simplicity of the gospel as somehow able to be nuanced away by “individual pre-conceptions”. Continuing with Jason:

The reason for this is that such an idea necessarily removes the church from having any role whatsoever in teaching the believer what the gospel actually is, since the believer's proper understanding of the gospel needs to exist already as a litmus test for determining whether a church is true or not. In other words, before a church-search can begin, the individual believer must be soteriologically armed with an already-intact understanding of the gospel, and the role of the church is simply to agree with his prior-held conclusions, thereby proving itself to be true.

But that is not the case. It is only an “individual preconception” if you are asking the question “who has the authority to define the gospel?” For “individual” readers of the Bible, from Currid and Waters through Schreiner and Hoehner, all of whom rely on a very sound hermeneutic, the answer is pretty much the same. And lest Jason accuse me of stacking the deck on the hermeneutic, his choice of a different hermeneutic relies, again, on his question “who?”(rather than asking, “what is the correct way to understand the Scriptures?) It’s not as if there is an endless variety of hermeneutics.

So, in making his claim that “the gospel is the church, and the church is the gospel” Jason, actually, is providing a living example of his own straw man. In asking the question “who?”, he seemingly has found a “church” that agrees with his prior-held conclusions [demonstrably prior-held, given the kind of question he asks], thereby proving itself (in his mind, in its own, tightly circular way) to be true. 

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Scott Walker, Political Phenom

From Milwaukee's WISN1130, listen to Mark Belling's keen analysis on Walker's historic victory.

First hour:

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Third hour:

Did Ray Bradbury exist?

Bradbury died Tuesday night in Los Angeles, his agent Michael Congdon confirmed.

Bradbury’s daughter confirmed his death to the Associated Press on Wednesday morning. She said her father died Tuesday night in Southern California.

Legendary science-fiction author Ray Bradbury passed away Wednesday morning in Los Angeles.

How do we account for discrepant reports regarding the death of Ray Bradbury?

“This is evidence that the obituaries for Bradbury were written decades later,” said Bart Ehrman, professor of religious studies at Chapel Hill. “Bradbury really died on Wednesday morning. The report that he died Tuesday night, but his death was confirmed on Wednesday morning, is an orthodox scribal harmonization of two contradictory traditions.”

“It's a telltale clue that Bradbury never existed,” said Richard Carrier, renowned author of Proving History. “If Bradbury really was the world-famous figure that legend imputes to him, it’s inconceivable that major news outlets would bungle the date of his death–especially in the information age.”

According to Robert Price, “The statement that ‘he died Tuesday night in Los Angeles, his agent Michael Congdon confirmed’ is a legendary embellishment, redacting the earlier tradition that he died Wednesday morning. The redactor is deifying Bradbury as an exalted, celestial figure. Notice that his agent is named after the Archangel Michael. Angels are “agents.” In the Bible, angels appear to people at night in dreams. And notice that the legendary place of his demise is the ‘City of Angels.’ So this represents the apotheosis of Bradbury, as a dying and rising god–like Hercules and Adonis.”


Ray Bradbury's Virtual Reality Universe

Ray Bradbury

Much-beloved sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury has died. His science fiction wasn’t very scientific–as he'd be the first to admit. It owed its popularity to his poetic, nostalgic style.

I’m not deeply read in Ray Bradbury. But my impression is that Bradbury peaked early. He basically had to great novels in him (The Martian Chronicles, Dandelion Wine), plus some memorable short stories. The Illustrated Man is really an anthology of disparate short stories. 

The Martian Chronicles was written in 1950, and Dandelion Wine in 1957. He lived for another 55 years, but his creative imagination ran dry after that. Not that he didn’t keep writing stuff. But he couldn’t recapture his early triumphs.

Dandelion Wine was a tribute to his halcyon boyhood. But that was a one-time exercise.

He was about 30 when he published The Martian Chronicles, and about 37 when he published Dandelion Wine. Although he died at 91, his best work was written before he hit 40 (although some short stories may be exceptions).

By contrast, Cordwainer-Smith–another science-fiction writers–was doing some of his best work when he died at 53. He clearly had more great stuff in the pipeline.

So what happened to Bradbury? Why did the stream of inspiration run so low in the last five decades of his life? My guess is that his talent was bigger than his worldview.

I’m reminded of Arthur Miller. He died at in 2005, at 89. Wrote many plays. But he’s only remembered for one play: Death of a Salesman–which he penned in 1949, when he was about 34.

I’m also reminded of how Ruskin lost his love of nature after he lost his faith. When he no longer saw the nature world through the eyes of faith, it lost that hierophanic dimension.

Or, consider Sagan’s Contact. I’m thinking of the movie. You have a big build-up. But when we’re finally transported to the alien planet and encounter the alien intelligence, it’s so banal. Such a letdown. That’s because a fictitious alien can’t be any greater than Sagan’s utterly human imagination.

As a Christian, I like to periodically revisit certain places after a long absence. I’m returning to the same place, but in another sense, it’s not the same. Comparing past and present, the same place acquires new meaning with the passage of time. As we age, we have more sense of God’s providence in our lives, for we have more life to compare past and present. We’re further into the narrative arc of God’s story for our lives. The hidden wisdom of God’s purpose in our lives becomes more evident with the passage of time. What seemed bad at the time is better in retrospect. What seemed forgettable at the time is memorable in hindsight. What appeared to be mundane at the time becomes numinous as we look back on God’s subtle guidance. There is always more to find, not by exploring different places, but by exploring the same place at different times of life.

In contrast to Bradbury, Cordwainer-Smith, a convert to Christianity in middle age, was going from strength to strength when he died. As an atheist, Bradbury projected significance onto the world. But a Christian elicits significance from the world.

A secularist on secular ethics

Forsaking McCallvinism

The 'objective' morality of P.Z. Myers

Is He Talking to Us?

Someone else said this (thank God!)

I haven’t the desire to tell a Catholic how they define their terms, however they foist themselves to be the only true, holy catholic church, guardians of the faith handed down from the apostles and claim this:
CANON IX.-If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema.
CANON X.-If any one saith, that men are just without the justice of Christ, whereby He merited for us to be justified; or that it is by that justice itself that they are formally just; let him be anathema.
CANON XI.-If any one saith, that men are justified, either by the sole imputation of the justice of Christ, or by the sole remission of sins, to the exclusion of the grace and the charity which is poured forth in their hearts by the Holy Ghost, and is inherent in them; or even that the grace, whereby we are justified, is only the favour of God; let him be anathema.
CANON XII.-If any one saith, that justifying faith is nothing else but confidence in the divine mercy which remits sins for Christ’s sake; or, that this confidence alone is that whereby we are justified; let him be anathema.
These are at the very core of the Reformation, doctrines that all of us who hold to Orthodox Reformed Confessions hold dearer than our own lives. Rome has not rescinded Trent, the same (so-called) church that elevates tradition, and the papacy as co-equal with Scripture. This is the same ecclesiastical body that still has the stain of blood from the Crusades and Inquisition, a church who took up the sword in the name of Christ, and her supreme leader still has the arrogance to name himself infallible on questions of doctrine and practice. He can’t even bring himself to deal with the current scandals besetting his church (such as the epedemic of child molestation) in a way that brings any justice or recompense to the offended. So, fine, Rome can define what she means by her own statements, but I am not inclined in the slightest to believe them.
This is the group that has enticed one of our own to leave the true church, one whose ministry many of us greatly valued – so forgive me if I have little patience to bandy about with words about how Rome now qualifies a statement that it has not rescinded to mean something far from what a plain reading of Trent asserts. Trent says “if any man saith…” doctrines which every member of a Reformed church must confess before being permitted membership, they are “anathema”. Yet Rome doubles back and says that it only counts for those who have left her walls – it drips with duplicity to any honest Protestant by either de-fanging Trent, or stating that Rome does not mean what it clearly asserts, because every confessional Protestant “saith” these very things and mean them wholeheartedly. Stellman must answer to God for his part in these choices to be certain. However, so will those who deceived themselves, seek to bring others into a church that has forefited her claim’s to speak truly on God’s behalf
In forefiting his confidence, and confession of the sufficiency of Scripture, Jason has, sadly, placed his confidence in the hands of fallible men to assure him that their reading of Scripture, amongst other sources of authority can carry his soul safely to heaven (with only a few million years of purgatory, mind you). There may be defect with various Protestant readings of Scripture, but this points to the weakness of men, not the veracity or reliability of Scripture. I may have been more inclined to irenic discussion with Catholics on the web, but after recent events, I frankly just don’t have the stomach for it – not when they raid and pilfer our churches with lies exposed long ago. What Rome asserts as infallible seems to me to be nothing less than a lie from the pit of hell itself.

A little perspective on things like “tone” and “unity”

There has never been “unity” in the church. Especially not the Roman church. Claims for, or appeals for unity, especially when coming from Rome, are simply specious. Here’s something I posted some time ago, under the title “The Spirit of the Roman Church”:

Paul had to caution them in Romans 16: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions [Greek: “dissensions”] and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naive. For your obedience is known to all, so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.”
The emperor Claudius had ejected “the Jews” from Rome for “fighting” over “Chrestus”. Even in Paul’s day, there was tension. 1 Clement alluded to “jealousies” at the time of Peter and Paul, that led to their deaths.

Throughout the first half of the second century, the Roman church was led by a network of presbyters in a network of house churches, and these presbyters fought among themselves as to who was greatest. I’ve quoted Hermas from “The Shepherd of Hermas as saying, “They had a certain jealousy of one another over questions of preeminence and about some kind of distinction. But they are all fools to be jealous of one another regarding preeminence.”

This fighting continued on and on.

“In 235, two rival bishops of Rome, Pontianus (230-235) and Hippolytus (c.217-235) were exiled from the city by the emperor Maximin 1 because of street fighting between their followers.” (Roger Collins, “Keepers of the Keys of the Kingdom,” pg. 25)

and …

“Because of the house-church system, such rival bishops could co-exist for as long as they had the backing of some of the city’s many Christian groups. But the divisions usually resulted in violent clashes between the partisans of the two claimants, and in all cases the imperial government intervened to end the bloodshed and to send one or both of the rivals into exile, as happened in 235, and would do so again in 306/7 and 308.” (Collins 26)

Note that in 150 they were fighting, and in 235 they were fighting, and in 306-308 they were still fighting. See a pattern? These last two incidents mentioned were during the fierce period of persecution known as “the Great Persecution,” brought on by the emperor Diocletian and continued under his successors, until Constantine.

The pattern continued; as I mentioned, “Pope” Damasus (366-381), “a man of much practical shrewdness and self-assertive energy” (Shotwell and Loomis, pg 595), became pope as his followers “launched an assault on the Julian basilica, seizing control of it after three days of streetfighting. When the backers of Ursinus (Damasus’s opponent) occupied the Liberian basilica, it too was stormed. In the aftermath of the fighting, a neutral contemporary reported that the bodies of 137 men and women were found in the church.” Collins 52, originally reported by Owen Chadwick, “Catholicism and History: The Opening of the Vatican Archives, Cambridge 1978, pgs 110-116).

In this last incident, the killing of the 137 men and women was accomplished by a mob of professional grave diggers, armed with pick axes, hired by Damasus to help himself to “the papacy” as it existed in the fourth century.

Good Pope Damasus is, by the way, a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church.  

Jason Stellman and the questions he asks

I posted this comment over at his site, on his most recent blog post.

* * *

Of course, Jason, how you frame the questions determines the answers you will receive, as Steve Hays has demonstrated in these posts with the theme of “trick questions”. Choosing to frame your questions in terms of “who is the authority” instead of “what’s true”, you walked yourself right into an “answer” that was more of your own making than anything else.

Do you agree that “how you frame the questions” in large part determines the answers you will get? And that it was you, of your own volition, who asked questions in such a manner that the response was not really going to be in question?

Look at your phrase ”Protestantism seemed no more true ...”

Your working definition here is based on a mischaracterization. Protestantism does not claim to be “true”. “Protestantism” does not claim to speak with one voice. So you are already not being honest with the facts. You are already asking questions in a way that you can justify the responses to yourself.

At the time of the Reformation, “Protestantism” was a gathering of people who found themselves in a position of needing to respond to an ecclesiastical situation that was horrific, overbearing, and unbearable. “Protestantism” didn't claim to be true. “Protestantism” is simply the collective term for the collective outcry of those people who were (a) looking at the existing system and judging it as no longer tenable, and (b) re-articulating the Gospel message from the New Testament.

Ask yourself, “was the Protestant response a proper response given the circumstances?” If not a proper response, then was it a “good” or “well-motivated” or even “understandable under the circumstances”? That's the right way to look at this.

I'm sure it was all of those things. It was good, it was well-motivated, it was understandable under the circumstances. Then ask, how would you characterize Rome's response?

The reason I ask this is because it is clear that “apostolic succession” and the episcopal monarchy were second century “developments”, articulated as an apologetic response to the Gnostic religions that were popping up. Even Joseph Ratzinger admitted this some time ago. With that thought in mind, ask, “was Rome's response to the challenge from truth-seeking Protestants an appropriate one?” I'm sure you've read the council of Trent. Did they reason about the truth? Or did they simply assert their authority? But then, your questions are asked in a way that they are seeking not “truth”, but “authority”.

But do you want to make your decision that an authority structure that was developed and proclaimed in the second century is something that Christ intended “for all time”? I'm not. It was the Reformers who were seeking honesty. It was Rome which was trying to defend its own authority. I'll go with honesty every time.

Don't ask yourself “is Protestantism true”? That's a false question. Ask yourself, “is Roman Catholicism really what it says it is”? Yes or no? Is it “the Church that Christ founded”? Or is it an evolution off of the New Testament church that Christ founded?

Was the bitterly corrupt papal/episcopal church government of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries the thing, or the type of thing, that the Christ you know would say he would always protect? Or rather, was the Protestant response, the re-articulation of the Gospel, itself a sign that the “gates of hell” would not prevail? I'm betting my life, the lives of my family, the eternal life of all of us, on the latter, in the face of Rome’s authority-asserting anathemas.

You and the scoffers who think I'm “mean” won't believe this, but I am, and have been, praying for you too. But doesn't it seem boastful even to say that? “When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

So I don't often say “nice” stuff like “I'm praying for you”. I would rather say true and honest things dealing with factual events.

How many people here have trumpeted that they are praying for you? Where's the outcry about that kind of, in the words of Jesus, “hypocrisy”.

One more thing. I have not called you “a liar”. I made the statement “I saw all this coming three years ago”, and I asked the question, “Have you been wringing your hands this whole time?” For this I am called a jerk by an unknown commenter.

Where is everyone's sense of proportion? Who has got the tone problem?