Saturday, December 08, 2012

Santa stole my faith!

My brother’s faith was greatly affected when he found out Santa wasn’t true. He is big on truth, even to this day, and it caused a rift in believing my parents about God/Jesus. He did not come back to his faith until he turned 42! So this can be detrimental teaching.

A few quick observations:

i) Anyone whose faith is that flimsy ought to have the props kicked out from under his rickety faith. He needs to lose that kind of faith to make room for solid faith. He needs to lose faith in his parents to find faith in Jesus.

It’s fine to be that trusting when you’re four-years-old, but you need to wean yourself from emotional dependence on mom and dad. They’re only human.

Overreactions like this simply illustrate the fact that some men and women have great difficulty growing up. Psychologically, they are frozen in childhood.

I don’t say this to justify the Santa Claus custom. Whether or not that’s permissible requires a separate argument.

ii) Skimming through the meta, which went on for 210 comments, I was not surprised to notice that it was generally women who feared the damage that losing faith in Santa might cause while it was generally the men who brushed that off.

This goes to a basic, stereotypical difference between men and women, fathers and mothers. As a rule, mothers instinctively protect their kids from risky, rough-n-tumble behavior whereas fathers instinctively encourage their kids (especially their sons) to be adventurous and take risks. These are both needed. They counterbalance the extremes of one to the exclusion of another.

iii) The Santa tradition isn’t intrinsically important. It only becomes important when some people make it more important than it really is. I have a take-it-or-leave-it attitude towards the Santa custom. But some opponents act as if this is hugely consequential.

The Santa meme

There are Christian parents who think it’s immoral and/or spiritually hazardous to teach their kids that Santa delivers the Christmas presents on Christmas Eve.

Let’s clarify the parameters of my post. Some Christians don’t even think we should celebrate Christmas. They take the Puritan view of holidays. That position moots the debate by denying a necessary presupposition of the debate. If that’s your position, then my post isn’t directed at you. I’m not debating the merits of celebrating Christmas. This post is for Christians who take that for granted.

In addition, I’m not defending (or opposing) the Santa tradition. I’m not discussing what Christian parents ought to do. Rather, I’m just evaluating what some Christian parents think they ought to do.

i) One thing I’ve noticed is that the issue is often oversimplified. For instance, there’s a distinction between telling your kids that Santa exists, and telling your kids that Santa doesn’t exist.

For instance, it’s possible for a parent to be silent on the status of Santa. To the extent that Santa is part of the pop culture, belief in Santa is something kids could pick up through cultural osmosis. So the question then is not whether the parent should tell them that Santa exists, but whether the parent should correct that belief.

Now, there are probably Christian parents who think they have an obligation to do both. I’m not going to evaluate that position. I’m just pointing out that these are separate questions.

ii) Apropos (ii), suppose you, as a young parent, don’t believe in the Santa tradition, but your mother does. Suppose your mother teaches her grandkids that Santa brings the Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve. What’s your duty in that situation?

Christian opponents of the Santa tradition typically argue that this custom ultimately undermines parental authority, or the equivalent. When the kids are old enough to realize that their parents “lied” to them, they become disillusioned in their parents. At least that’s the claim.

Yet in this case, if you disabuse your kids, you are undermining their trust in their grandmother. But if undermining childish faith in parents is damaging, so is undermining childish faith in grandparents. So that situation poses something of a dilemma.

iii) Apropos (ii), is it inherently wrong to undermine parental authority? Suppose two unbelievers marry. Before they have kids, suppose the wife becomes a Christian.

In my opinion, she has a duty to raise her kids in the faith as best she can under the circumstances. But that may create situations in which she must undercut paternal authority by telling her kids that their atheist father is dead wrong about God.

Now, perhaps you’d say the justification for undermining parental authority in that case is quite different from the trivial case of the Santa custom. I agree. But I’m just probing how far some Christians are prepared to take the appeal to parental authority.

iv) There’s a popular atheist meme using Santa. Infidels have promoted a deconversion narrative involving Santa which allegedly parallels Christian apostasy. And, oddly enough, many Christians buy into that meme.

According to this deconversion narrative, young children believe in Santa because their parents teach them Santa exists. But as they age, children begin to harbor nagging doubts about Santa’s existence. They raise practical questions about the logistics of Santa delivering all those presents one night out of the year And maybe their domicile doesn’t have a chimney. What if they live in a high-rise apartment complex? Likewise, can reindeer fly? How fast? And so on and so forth.

So there comes a point when they reason themselves out of believing in Santa. And that coincides with the shocking realization that their parents “lied” to them. Having lost all faith in their parents’ credibility, they systematically doubt everything else their parents told them. One thing leads to another and they turn their back on God.

v) I wonder how factual that narrative really is. For one thing, is this based on actual memories or reconstructed memories? When we’re very young, we don’t remember as much about what happened to us. So how much of this is based on genuine recollection, and how much is based on the suggestive power of the narrative itself? Are we remembering what happened, or is this deconversion narrative, which we learned much later in life, rewriting our recollection of events?

vi) Apropos (v), I’ll use myself as an example. I have a good memory of my childhood. But when I think back on it, I don’t clearly and distinctly remember believing in Santa. I also don’t clearly and distinctly remember my parents telling me that Santa existed.

I think I probably did believe in Santa when I was very young, and my parents probably conveyed that belief to me in some fashion. But I’m skeptical about the confidence with which both atheists and some Christian parents presume to trace what they believed at an age when we don’t remember much of anything.

I also know, at a later age, that I didn’t believe in Santa. But I don’t recall a conscious process of transitioning from belief in Santa to disbelief in Santa. I expect that belief in Santa slipped away without any cognizance on my part. If you asked me one year whether I believed in Santa, I’d say “yes,” but if you asked me the same question two years later, I’d say “no.” There was no crisis of faith in Santa.

I couldn’t pinpoint how old I was when I lost my belief in Santa. I couldn’t pinpoint a discernable tipping-point.

In addition, I certainly didn’t connect loss of faith in Santa with loss of faith in my parents, or vice versa. I didn’t associate disbelief in Santa with my parents one way or the other. My disbelief in Santa was a discrete, compartmentalized disbelief. It didn’t trigger disillusionment in parental goodness. I don’t think I even put the two together.

That’s probably because my parents were far more real to me than Santa ever was. It doesn’t necessary take much to stop believing in something that isn’t real to begin with. That can fade from consciousness, fade from conviction, without any effort or awareness. To the contrary, it takes continuous effort to believe in nonentities.

By contrast, my parents were overwhelmingly real. Their goodness was indubitable.

Now, I don’t pretend that my experience is necessarily representative for anyone else. There maybe grow-ups who can describe painful stages of doubt in Santa’s existence. It’s quite possible that I’m misremembering my own experience, but that’s part of the problem, isn’t it? How good is memory at that tender age?

But I’m quite sceptical about the Santa deconversion narrative popularized by atheists, and aped by some Christians. That’s strikes me as quite artificial. Too pat. Too schematic. I suspect losing faith in Santa is a generally subliminal process.

Is there really a stereotypical way kids cease believing in Santa? Suppose you have a number of siblings. Your older brother or sister outgrows belief in Santa. What then? Well, one of two things can happen.

On the one hand, your older sibling might seize the opportunity to prove how grown-up he is and how childish you still are by triumphantly announcing to you that Santa doesn’t exist!

On the other hand, he might collude with your parents to perpetuate the Santa tradition. That would make him feel grown up too.

Moreover, most folks lie some of the time. Surely most kids have caught their parents in a lie at one time or another. Maybe their parents didn’t lie to them. Maybe they overheard their parents lying to someone else.

Even if that was momentarily shocking, are we to seriously believe the bottom falls out of a child’s life when he catches a parent in a lie? I don’t think so.

After all, children are prone to lying. If they catch their parents in a lie, they realize that their parents are doing what they do. Children make allowance for their own lies. They don’t think that makes themselves wholly untrustworthy.

Children keep on believing in their parents because they really don’t have a choice. As long as they are dependent on their parents, they have to believe in them most of the time. Of course, if their parents are chronic liars who constantly break promises, constantly let them down, that’s different.

Am I saying this to justify parental lies? No. But I’m just questioning the hysterical narrative in which finding out your parents “lied” would cause your little world to collapse all around you. That just isn’t realistic in the main. For one thing, it credits children with too much innocence. But children have a cynical streak. They don’t fall apart that easily. Not as a rule.

Skeptics Need To Face The Implications Of Their Claims

Critics of Christianity are often very uncritical of their own belief system. I want to discuss an example that's relevant to the present Christmas season.

I Believe

One of the greatest honors and pleasures of my life is to be a writer here at Triablogue. I'm aware of the reputation that Steve and some of the other writers have built over the years, and I'm amazed that I'm a part of this crew.

As a blogger here, I have many opportunities to search the archives, which I do on occasion, and I found this piece from Steve Hays in August 2004, written within the first couple of months of the start-up of Triablogue. I'm reposting it here because it's an excellent reminder of why we do what we do:

1. I believe in one God, infinite in wisdom and power, and high above time and space, futurity or fortuity, yet near to the humble of heart.

Exod 20:3; Deut 6:4; 32:17,21,39; Ps 106:37; Isa 41:29; 44:6; 45:5-6
1 Sam 23:11-12; 2 Kgs 13:19; Ps 94:7-9; 139:1-4; 147:4-5; Isa 29:15-16; 42:9; 44:6-7; 46:10; Jer 23:23-24; 38:17-20; Mt 11:21,23; Rom 11:33-34
Ps 33:6-20; 115:3; Isa 14:27; 43:13; 55:11; Jer 32:17; Eph 3:20; Rev 1:8
Num 23:19; 1 Sam 15:29; Ps 90:1-4; 102:25-27; Jas 1:17
2 Chron 6:18; Ps 139:7-10; Isa 31:3; Jn 1:18; 4:24; Rom 1:20; Col 1:15; 1 Tim 1:17; 6:16
Ps 33:10-11; Isa 40:12-31; 43:10b; 46:5,9; Jn 1:1; 17:5,24; Acts 17:24-25
Ps 34:18; 85:9.

2. I believe that God eternally subsists in an inner symmetry of Father, Son and Spirit. I believe in God the Father, who freely foreordained the salvation of elect, and damnation the reprobate; I believe in his eternal Son, who has revealed the Father, and redeemed the elect; I believe in the Spirit of God, who renews and preserves the elect, and inspires the Scriptures.

Mt 3:16-17; 28:19; Jn 14:16,26; 15:26; 1 Cor 12:4-6; 2 Cor 13:14
Rom 9-11; Eph 1; 1 Pet 2:9
Jn 9:39; 12:37-41; Rom 9:17-18,21-22; 1 Pet 2:7b-8
Jn 1:18; Col 1:15
Jn 6:37-39; 10:11,14-15,26; 11:52; 13:1; 15:13; 17:2,6-7,9,24; Heb 9:15; 10:14
Jn 3:3-8; Tit 3:5.
2 Cor 1:21-22; Eph 1:13-14; 4:30
Mt 22:43; Acts 1:16; 4:25; 28:25; Heb 10:15f.; 2 Pet 1:21

3. I believe that God made the world in a span of six solar days according to his eternal plan and exemplary perfection. I believe that he directs the whole course of history — from the fall of man to the falling sparrow.

Gen 1
Ps 139:16; Prov 3:19
Ps 19:1-6; Prov 3:19; Rom 1:20; Eph 3:9-10
Eccl 3:1-14; Isa 14:24-27; 46:10; Lam 3:37-38; Jn 9:1-3; 11:4
Rom 11:32; Gal 3:22
Mt 10:30

4. I believe that God made man direct from the dust. I believe that all men fell in the downfall of Adam, as the first man and father of all. I believe that fallen man is altogether indisposed to either please God or take pleasure in God apart from his unmerited favor and invincible grace.

Gen 1-2; 1 Cor 15:45-47.
Rom 5:12a,18-19; 1 Cor 15:21-22.
Rom 1:18; 8:8; Eph 2:3b.
Jn 3:19-20; Rom 8:7; 1 Cor 2:14; Eph 2:1-3; 4:17-19
Jn 6:44-45,65; Rom 4:4; Eph 2; Tit 3:3-5
Jn 1:14; Phil 2:6-7; Col 2:9; Heb 2:14; 1 Jn 4:2
Isa 7:14; Mt 1:18-25; Lk 1:26-38
Jn 8:46; Heb 4:15; 7:26
Jn 2:11
Heb 2:14; 1 Jn 3:8.
Lk 24; Jn 20-21
Ps 110:1; Jn 6:62; 20:17; Acts 1:9; Col 3:1; Heb 6:20; 9:12,24
1 Cor 8:25; Eph 1:20-22

5. I believe that the Son of God became incarnate by the Virgin Mary, led an impeccable life, did mighty deeds, died for the sins of his people, and destroyed the works of the devil. I believe that he was raised in the flesh and ascended to the Father, from whence he governs his Church by sending his Spirit to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment.

Jn 16:8-11
Mt 25:31-46; 2 Thes 1:7-10; Rev 19:11-21
Rev 21:3; 22:3-5
Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2-3; Jn 5:28-29; 1 Cor 15:20-23,35-57; Phil 3:21; 1 Thes 4:15-17
Dan 12:2; Mt 25:41,46; Jn 5:29; Rev 14:11
Jas 1:23
E.g., Lk 24:27,44-47
Heb 4:12; Jas 1:23.
E.g., Genesis-Exodus.
Rom 10:17; 1 Pet 1:23; Jas 1:18.
Jn 1:29; 1 Cor 5:7; 10:1-5; 11:23-26

6. I believe that he will return again to judge his enemies and dwell with his people. I believe that the dead in Christ will be raised to everlasting life and bliss while the damned will be raised to everlasting shame and misery.

Mt 25:31-46; 2 Thes 1:7-10; Rev 19:11-21
Rev 21:3; 22:3-5
Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2-3; Jn 5:28-29; 1 Cor 15:20-23,35-57; Phil 3:21; 1 Thes 4:15-17
Dan 12:2; Mt 25:41,46; Jn 5:29; Rev 14:11

7. I believe in the Bible as the infallible word of God, which, like a mirror, enables me to glimpse a true reflection of myself, my world, and my God. I believe that the Bible evinces its inspiration by its candor, concerted plan, discerning scan, archetypal quality, quickening power, and verisimilitude. I believe in baptism and communion as types and tokens of the work of Christ, and inworking of his Spirit.

Jas 1:23
E.g., Lk 24:27,44-47
Heb 4:12; Jas 1:23.
E.g., Genesis-Exodus.
Rom 10:17; 1 Pet 1:23; Jas 1:18.
Jn 1:29; 1 Cor 5:7; 10:1-5; 11:23-26
Ezk 36:25-27; 47:1-12; Jn 3:5; 7:38-39.

8. I believe that knowing God is the highest good, for God is the highest good. I believe that God foreordained the Fall to manifest his mercy, justice, wisdom and power for the edification of the elect. I believe that my chief calling in this life and in the life to come is to glory in God and enjoy him forever.

Rom 11:32; Gal 3:22
1 Kgs 8:37-40; Ps 51:4; 130:4; Ezk 20:26; Lk 7:42b-43; Jn 9:3,39; 11:4; Rom 5:20; 9:17,22-23; Eph 3:9-10; Rev 14:7; 15:1-4..
Ps 73:25; Lk 2:32; Rev 4:8-11; 5:9-14; 7:11-12

9. I believe that my only hope, in life or death, is that I am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who by his blood has made full atonement for all my sins. I believe that I am justified by the sole and sufficient merit of Christ through the grace of faith. I believe that when I die my soul shall pass immediately into the presence of Christ with the all saints in glory.

Rom 3:21-28; 4:1-5:1; Gal 2:16; 3:10-14; Phil 3:8-9
2 Cor 5:1-10; Phil 1:23; Rev 20:4,6

With the RefTagger feature, I'm sure this is much better now than it was under the old format. Just hover your mouse over the Scripture verses and the citations will pop up for you.

Also, the Archives are all accessible in the right hand column; if you're interested in a topic, the Google Search feature is very impressive as well.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Selective gotcha games

Down with pinups!

i) The selective prudery of the politically correct is amusing.

ii) This is a predicable result of a coed military. Instead of concentrating our efforts on producing the most effective combat force, we’ve diverted our attention to vagaries of perceived sexual harassment.

iii) In combating perceived sexism, the policy is ironically sexist. Why draw the line with pinups that “objectify” women? What about pinups that “objectify” men?

Are male soldiers offended, or “made uncomfortable,” by a female soldier who has a male pinup? What about female soldiers who indulge in sexual innuendo?

Or are female soldiers thought to be more delicate than male soldiers, requiring special treatment to protect them from stuff most male soldiers would shrug off in reverse.

And now that Congress, it its infinite wisdom, has repealed Don’t-Ask-Don’t-Tell, what about gay porn?   

The Santa wars

Before I wade into this, I’ll begin with a disclaimer. I don’t have a personal stake in the Santa Claus tradition. If some Christian parents choose to opt out of that tradition, that’s their prerogative. It’s not as if they have a duty to maintain that tradition.

The primary reason to celebrate Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Christ. That should be central. At the same time, there’s nothing inherently wrong with having fun.

And I’m not going to rehash my position on the Christmas holiday.

The natural law tells us, and the Church has always taught, that lying is intrinsically wrong. There is no clause that says “…but it is OK when you’re lying to your kids about Santa!”

i) Of course, natural law doesn’t tells us that lying is intrinsically wrong. Sometimes lying is acceptable if it leads to good consequences.

But because Feser’s denomination says that, he tries to retroactively validate that teaching by concocting a natural law defense.

ii) And because his denomination’s teaching is unreasonable, it creates loopholes in the form of “mental reservations.” Like the Catholic prohibition against divorce, which has the loophole of annulment, the Catholic prohibition against lying has the loophole of mental reservations. What at first sounds very high-minded quickly becomes sophistical and devious. 

iii) BTW, isn’t Santa Claus a tradition in traditionally Roman Catholic countries? If this is so unethical, shouldn’t the Vatican tell Catholic parents to stop “lying” to their kids about old St. Nick? Why does this bother Feser more than it seems to bother the Magisterium?

What do the figures at left all have in common? None of them exists. Nor would any parent ever tell his child that Superman or Batman is real. Yet some parents tell their children that Santa Claus is real. Perhaps some also tell them that the Easter bunny or the tooth fairy is real.

They shouldn’t. These are lies. Parents who do this certainly mean well, but they do not do well, because lying is always wrong. Not always gravely wrong, to be sure, but still wrong. That is bad enough. But there is also the bad lesson that children are apt to derive from this practice, even if the parents do not intend to teach it – namely, the immoral principle that lying is acceptable if it leads to good consequences. There is also the damage done to a child’s trust in his parents’ word. “What else might they be lying about? What about all this religion stuff?”

I would urge them to stop. A child is completely dependent on his parents’ word for his knowledge of the world, of right and wrong, and of God and religious matters generally. He looks up to them as the closest thing he knows to an infallible authority. What must it do to a child’s spirit when he finds out that something his parents insisted was true – something not only important to him but integrally tied to his religion insofar as it is related to Christmas and his observance of it – was a lie? Especially if the parents repeated the lie over the course of several years, took pains to make it convincing (eating the cookies left out for “Santa” etc.), and (as some parents do) reassured the child of its truth after he first expressed doubts? How important, how comforting, it is for a child to be able to believe: Whatever other people do, Mom and Dad will never lie to me. How heartbreaking for him to find out he was wrong!

The problem with this argument is that it proves too much. Should children have unquestioning faith in whatever their Hindu, Muslim, atheist, or Neonazi parents tell them is true? Isn’t part of maturation to scrutinize what your parents taught you?

That doesn’t mean you reject it. Rather, you evaluate it to determine if it’s true or false.

Surely doubting your childhood indoctrination as a Muslim is a good thing. Surely there are situations in which implicit faith in parental wisdom is misplaced. Surely there are situations in which becoming disillusioned with parental instruction, or simply coming to the realization that your parents aren’t infallible after all, is a necessary step in intellectual maturation.

If Richard Dawkins is your dad, and he teaches you that faith in God is delusive, then cultivating mistrust in his wisdom is a positively good development. 

Feser’s argument cuts both ways. Yes, if kids discover that their parents were “lying” about Santa, they might possibly react by telling themselves, “What else might they be lying about? What about all this religion stuff?”

But, of course, that would work in reverse. If their dad is Richard Dawkins, that could lead them to question all this irreligion stuff. Lead them to doubt or disbelieve atheism.

Does Christian faith come down to having faith in your parents? That was fine when you were 4 years old, but when you get above a certain age, don’t you need more to go by than your parents’ word? Shouldn’t your adult faith in Christianity be grounded in something deeper, something independent of, trusting your parents?

In fact, don’t some kids lose their faith because that’s all they were given growing up? “Take our word for it. Father knows best.”

Now there may be other, better arguments against the traditional of Santa Claus. But Feser’s argument is strikingly bad for a smart philosopher.

 Oh, and just speaking for myself, I wasn't "heartbroken" when, at an early age, I outgrew my childish belief in Santa.

Hoping for the lost

Does Calvinism oblige you to withhold hope in your child’s salvation?

Now imagine that the topic is salvation. Should you hope that Jones is of the elect or of the reprobate? That all depends on whether you have reason to believe Jones is of the elect or of the reprobate. If you have no evidence that Jones is of the elect or the reprobate then you ought to withhold hope that he is ultimately of the elect or reprobate.

The argument as applied to the salvation of Jones depends on the Calvinist view that God is the primary determining cause of human election to salvation or reprobation combined with the belief that human beings ought not will contrary to what God wills. Thus, if God wills to be the primary determining cause of Jones’ reprobation then we ought not will other than what God willed.

This is not a problem for Arminianism because on the Arminian view God’s will is that all be saved and it is the determining cause of the human being to reject God’s salvific offer that is the primary determining cause of one’s reprobation. Thus, on the Arminian view the wish that Jones would be saved is a wish that Jones would act in accord with God’s universal salvific divine will. This is very different from the Calvinistic view according to which the wish that Jones would be saved is a wish that Jones would act in a way which may be contrary to God’s particular salvific divine will.

Now let’s replace the generic “Jones” with your daughter or son, your spouse or parent. It would follow that insofar as you do not have reason to believe your daughter or son, your spouse or parent is elect, that you ought not hope for their election. This, I would think, is a problem for Calvinism.

I’m impressed by how many bad arguments Rauser can squeeze into four paragraphs. That’s quite an accomplishment, albeit a rather dubious accomplishment.

i) It is wrong to assume a God’s-eye viewpoint unless we actually enjoy a God’s-eye viewpoint. That’s presumptuous. Since we don’t know God’s will in the case of any particular individual, we’re in no position to will contrary to God’s will for that individual. We don’t know enough to oppose God’s will.

If God wills his salvation, and we withhold “hope,” then one could just as well argue that that’s opposing God’s will.

ii) Even from an Arminian standpoint, Christians often pray for things that God won’t grant. They don’t know ahead of time if it’s God’s will to grant their request. By Rauser’s logic, Christians should never pray for something unless they know in advance that God wills it.

iii) Keep in mind, too, that from a decretal perspective, if we did will (wish, hope) contrary to God’s will, that’s only because God willed us to will contrary to his will. If I hope for someone’s salvation, God predestined me to hope for someone’s salvation. So at one level, that can never be inconsistent with God’s (decretive) will.

iv) There’s also an equivocation here. God “willing” something and my “willing” something don’t mean the same thing. In the context of this discussion, God’s will is synonymous with predestination, whereas our will is synonymous with wishing that something was the case. These can’t be set in direct opposition, for they are not the same thing.

iv) Since God is God and man is man, there’s no reason to think God requires us to feel the same way about the lost that he does. We are human. We have a viewpoint suited to our humanity. And God made us that way. He created us to have emotional attachments. And some people are naturally dearer to us than others.

v) Rauser artificially abstracts predestination from providence. But they are coordinated. Our prayers can factor into the outcome. Friendship evangelism can factor into the outcome. The predestined result doesn’t necessarily or even normally occur apart from what we do, or neglect to do, for the lost.

vi) Apropos (v), we have more reason to “hope” for what we work for (e.g. friendship evangelism) and pray for, than if we’re talking about some random unbeliever in the phone book. 

Likewise, we wouldn’t pray for somebody’s salvation in the first place, or practice friendship evangelism, unless we wish for their salvation. And prayer is a way of aligning our will with God’s will. We submit our desires to God, trusting in his superior wisdom to either grant our request or refuse our request.

vii) “Hope” is standardly defined as a wish, feeling, or desire, combined with confidence, anticipation, or expectation of its fulfillment.

But according to Arminianism, God’s universal saving desire doesn’t result in the salvation of anyone in particular. Therefore, it would be irrational to expect that God will save Jones.

Indeed, there are Arminians who think most human beings are hellbound, based on their understanding of Mt 7:13-14. How can you expect or confidently anticipate that Jones will be saved if only a fraction of humanity will be saved?

viii) Rauser oscillates between “wishing” and “hoping,” as if these are synonymous. But at best that’s equivocal, and at worst that’s a bait-n-switch. For “hoping” means more than “wishing.”

Is the Arminian God ominbenevolent?

The Society of Evangelical Arminians, that beacon of moral and theological discernment, is plugging a post by Randal Rauser:

Arminians like to point out that according to Calvinism God elects some people to damnation.

Calvinists like to point that out too. Reprobation isn’t something we’re ashamed of.

 Of course some Calvinists try to soften this teaching by claiming that the election to damnation is a passive divine act according to which God simply “passes over” and thereby opts not to redeem these people.

Unfortunately this shift in nomenclature doesn’t really make the divine act of election to damnation passive in an ethically significant way. Indeed, it calls to mind James Rachels’ famous thought experiment on passive euthanasia so I’m going to borrow from that thought experiment to make my point.

Imagine that Bob decides that old Mr. Jones should die. There are two ways Bob could bring about Mr. Jones’ death.

    Scenario 1: Bob drowns Mr. Jones in the bathtub.

    Scenario 2: Bob witnesses Mr. Jones slip in the bathtub and stands by passively as Mr. Jones drowns.

Scenario 1 may result in Bob’s legal culpability in a way that scenario 2 does not (though for regions with a Good Samaritan law Bob may bear some legal culpability in scenario 2 as well). But few will dispute that Bob’s moral culpability in Mr. Jones’ drowning is equivalent in scenarios 1 and 2.

When the Calvinist avers that God passes over the reprobate, thereby refusing to impute to them the righteousness of Christ which will result in their salvation, the divine withholding parallels Bob’s withholding of life-saving aid to Mr. Jones. Just as God withholds divine aid to result in reprobation so Bob withholds human aid to result in death.

But the thought-experiment disregards the fact that Jones is wicked. Even at a merely human level, there are situations in which we have no duty to save someone’s life. Suppose the man who slips in the bathtub is a Mafia Don or malevolent dictator. Suppose he’s an “abortion provider.” Am I under some obligation to save his life? By saving his life, I will indirectly take the lives of innocent people whom he will subsequently murder.

I didn’t create the life-threatening situation. But given the situation, that might be a godsend.

At this point the Calvinist might raise the following tu quoque objection. “Arminianism faces a similar problem,” he says. How so? “On the Arminian view God foreknows who will freely reject him and yet he still elects to create those people knowing that they will be reprobated. That isn’t any different.”

The objection reveals an important confusion. Let’s say that there are ten people. 1-5 are elect and 6-10 are reprobate. On the Calvinist view God could have elected all to salvation but opted not to. In other words, on the Calvinist view there is a possible world in which 1-10 are elect. But God opted not to create that world.

Things are very different on the Arminian view. On this view there may be no possible world in which 1-10 are elect because there is no possible world in which 1-10 repent. That’s an important difference.

But still, the Calvinist does have a point, doesn’t he? Why didn’t God just create a world with 1-5 so that everybody would be elect? The problem with that suggestion is this: there is no reason to think that 1-5 would all be elect in a world where only 1-5 exist.

Let’s say, for example, that in the actual world Smith is reprobate and Smith Jr. is elect. Could God create a world in which Smith doesn’t exist but Smith Jr. does? Let’s assume that he can. Still, does it follow that in that alternate world (or, more specifically, in that subset of worlds in which Smith doesn’t exist but Smith Jr. does) that Smith Jr. is elect? This doesn’t follow. It may indeed be the case that in every possible world in which 1-5 exist but 6-10 do not that not all of 1-5 are elect.

In conclusion, the Calvinistic view deals a heavy blow to any doctrine of omnibenevolence and consequently faces a unique problem not faced by the Arminian.

i) First of all, Rauser hasn’t given us any tangible reason to think that out of all the gazillions of possible worlds, there’s not a single world in which everyone freely believes in God. Why should we think that’s a plausible scenario?

ii) And if it only “may” be the case that there is no such world, then it “may” equally be the case that there is one or more such worlds. So why does Rauser lay so much weight on a guess?

iii) In any event, Rauser’s comparison fails on its own terms. For he framed the comparison in terms of divine “omnibenevolence.” But if the Arminian God knowingly creates a world in which some people will be damned, then he’s not being benevolent to them.

However, let’s go back to the original post, which includes some of Rauser’s comments:

Before God creates he surveys the range of possible worlds which have people who freely repent and he opts to create one of those worlds which achieves as optimal a balance of saved over loss as is possible.

But in that case, the Arminian God is not omnibenevolent. For he’s not benevolent to the lost. He’s not acting in their best interests. To the contrary, he’s harming them. He has sacrificed their welfare for the benefit of the saved. On that view, God is utilitarian rather than omnibenevolent.

This is simply a description of transworld depravity…

What positive evidence is there to think transworld depravity is real?

I don't think that God could have achieved the goods he wants to achieve without the evil of hell (i.e. some creatures in rebellion against him). If he could have achieved that good without hell he surely would have.

But in that case, God’s goals conflict with omnibenevolence, and his goals take precedence over omnibenevolence. The Arminian God achieves the goods he wants to achieve at the expense of the damned. His goals override their wellbeing. He squashes anyone who gets in the way of his goals. His goods aren’t good for them. His goods are bad for them.

I'm an annihilationist. That means I believe in a general resurrection to a judgment that culminates in the complete destruction of the unregenerate individual (i.e. "capital punishment).

How is annihilationism omnibenevolent? Rauser may think it’s nicer than everlasting punishment, but that doesn’t make it omnibenevolent in its own right.

If God is omnibenevolent, why does he need to punish anyone? Why would an omnibenevolent God punish unbelievers for being unbelievers? Why destroy them just because they reject him? How is that benevolent? Why not let them continue to exist on their own in some part of the universe?

If God is omnibenevolent, wouldn’t remedial punishment be the only type of punishment he metes out? Punishment intended to help rather than harm?

So what’s the point of annihilationism? It’s not remedial punishment. Seems purely vindictive from the standpoint of someone who espouses omnibenevolence.

The Epistemological Foundation for “The Roman Catholic System”

Before I begin to discuss Möhler’s work, I thought it would be better to provide some epistemological background, so to speak, on the concept of “development”. Paul Helm’s small work, “The Divine Revelation” (London, UK: Marshall Morgan & Scott ©1982) contains a “critical examination” of what it means for something to be “God’s revelation” [from the Editor’s Preface].

As you know, the Roman Catholic Church holds to an account that “Tradition” is what has “transmitted” “the entirety of the Word of God”. Here we see that “system” or “worldview” of Roman Catholicism displayed (according to De Chirico), especially with respect to what he calls “the self-understanding of the [Roman Catholic] Church”.

81 "Sacred Scripture is the speech of God as it is put down in writing under the breath of the Holy Spirit."

"And [Holy] Tradition transmits in its entirety the Word of God which has been entrusted to the apostles by Christ the Lord and the Holy Spirit. It transmits it to the successors of the apostles so that, enlightened by the Spirit of truth, they may faithfully preserve, expound and spread it abroad by their preaching."

82 As a result the Church, to whom the transmission and interpretation of Revelation is entrusted, "does not derive her certainty about all revealed truths from the holy Scriptures alone. Both Scripture and Tradition must be accepted and honored with equal sentiments of devotion and reverence."

Thus “[Holy] Tradition” is the conduit by which “the Church” [through the process of “apostolic succession”] supposedly has “handed on” “all that she herself is” “to all generations” [including our own].

“The Church” itself is “part of the divine revelation that was handed on”.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

Into Darkness

SF stories are often political allegories. To judge by the trailer, the newest Star Trek movie is an allegory of Obama's second term:

New Jerusalem

Jesus and Hanukkah

Evangelical activism

My second objection to the hermeneutic of the evangelical political activists is how they use the Mosaic Law. According to many in this movement, the Mosaic Law should serve as the basis for civil law. From a hermeneutical standpoint, this is puzzling to say the least. The Mosaic Law is part of the Sinaitic Covenant between the nation of Israel and God. In fact, the two are used interchangeably in Scripture. It is one thing for us to argue that the Law of Moses would serve this purpose well. It is another thing to leap to the assertion that gentile governments “ought” to use the Mosaic Law as their basis for civil law. It is even a bigger stretch for the Church to insert itself into the process by issuing such commands or by employing political strategy to move the governments in that direction. There is no precedent in Scripture for this use of the Law or for this function of the Church.

It follows that any attempt to bring a believer under the Mosaic Law is not in keeping with a consistent hermeneutic. Moreover, it is especially tragic when the politico-faith movement attempts to employ a very inconsistent hermeneutic in order to issue imperatives around applying the Law of Moses to unbelieving civil governments. Scripture is clear that it is a serious matter to use the Law in an unlawful manner. Using the Law to obligate civil authorities to fashion civil code is not a proper use of the law nor is it the role of the Church. We come back to the question of rules of interpretation. If God made His Law with the nation of Israel, who can say that man is free to expand that Law, that covenant, to the rest of the nations?

The hermeneutic of evangelical political activism, which I have also referred to as the politico-faith movement proves to be inconsistent in that it violates the rules of interpretation. The method neglects to ascertain the meaning and application of a text to its original audience before seeking its own understanding and application. This opens the method up to an anachronistic approach on the question of social good in Greco-Roman times, politics in the modern era, and how these two relate to one another. The argument commits the fallacy of negative inference when it contends that Christians must engage in political activism if they wish to carry out their duty to be a moral influence in the culture. The argue fails to prove what it assumes to be true.

In addition, the hermeneutics of evangelical political activism uses the Mosaic Law unlawfully by subverting God’s intent for that Law and imposing it on gentile governments. Moreover, the movement presumes it to be the role of the Church, individuals within the Christian community if you will, to interpret that Law and engage in the actions necessary to inform the government of its duty. In other words, it is perfectly right for the Church to manipulate politicians into submission through political activism in order to shape the culture into one that certain evangelicals think we should have. Scripture nowhere imposes the Mosaic Law on believers, let alone gentile unbelievers. Furthermore, Scripture does not place this responsibility on the Church.

i) Ed is operating from a Dispensational Baptist paradigm. However, even if you subscribe to Dispensational Baptist theology, that doesn’t require you to write off OT ethics the way Ed does. For instance, Norman Geisler is a Dispensational Baptist, yet he says:

All the moral principles of the Moses’s law were reaffirmed in the New Testament. For example, nine of the Ten Commandments are reaffirmed. All but the Sabbath were restated, and even here the principle of setting one day in seven was reaffirmed…

Christian Ethics: Options and Issues (Baker, 2nd ed., 1989) 203.

Likewise, Dan Phillips is a Dispensational Baptist who recently published God’s Wisdom in Proverbs.

ii) It’s polemically useful for opponents of evangelical political activism to caricature that position as if it necessarily means using law and politics to morally transform the general culture. However, I haven’t proposed anything that ambitious. What I’ve been arguing for is far more modest.

What I’ve proposed is an essentially defensive policy. Christians have a duty to protect their dependents. They also have a duty to protect the most vulnerable members of society, viz. the young, elderly, disabled, working poor. According to Scripture, loyalty to a good friend is also a social duty.

iii) Ironically, Ed is the one who suffers from a very flatfooted grasp of Biblical hermeneutics and cross-cultural contextualization. In this post and the sequel post, I’m going to quote extensively from two noted Bible scholars who demonstrate the steps we should take in applying Bible ethics, including OT ethics, to our contemporary political scene.

Why the Executive Branch is Tyrannical

The Roman Catholic “System”

I’ve wanted to get into the topic of “Roman Catholic ecclesiology” for some time now, but it is a massive topic, and there are always other things to be concerned with.

But just recently, a commenter at Green Baggins recommended a work by Dr. Leonardo De Chirico, who is now a commentator for Reformation21, entitled Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism (Religions and Discourse, V. 19).

Here are some selections from a review of that work:

Dr. de Chirico has recently completed his PhD studies at King's College, London. His thesis was published last year by Peter Lang and is entitled Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism.

In our present-day context of increased doctrinal confusion, the blurring of historic formulations of faith and an apparently inexorable advancement in the Protestant-Catholic project of ecumenism, Dr. de Chirico persuasively presents the need for evangelicals to engage with Roman Catholicism in a more theologically-integrative way. This is evermore pressing in the light of varied developments within Catholicism since Vatican II (1962-5), which have prompted something of an international change in the way many evangelicals perceive the Catholic Church….

The work explores the way six evangelical theologians (Gerrit Berkouwer, Cornelius Van Til, David Wells, Donald Bloesch, Herbert Carson and John Stott), have grappled with and responded to developments within Roman Catholicism post-Vatican II, as well as summarising the ongoing international dialogue and debate between evangelicals and Catholics since 1965.

The author suggests that evangelicalism's appraisal of Roman Catholicism has lacked systematic awareness, tending instead towards more episodic aphoristic criticism of Roman doctrine, which for all its truth lacks integrated analysis. With this in mind, Dr. de Chirico proposes a critique which (i) applies the category of 'system' or 'worldview' to Roman Catholicism, and (ii) perceives two foundational theological foci in Roman theology - the relationship between nature and grace, and the self-understanding of the Church….

I have tried to suggest something like this “integrated analysis” with blog posts here …

So you, my friend, according to Rome, are saved because “the Roman Catholic Church” is the “universal sacrament of salvation,” because “all grace of salvation is not only ordered toward [the Roman Catholic Church], but in some way comes fromand through the [Roman Catholic] Church. As a sign and instrument of all salvation, the church is not merely the goal toward which grace is directed, it is the channel or medium through which grace is given. You are in a “certain, though imperfect communion” already with the Roman Catholic Church.

… and here, for example.

In fact, in the Roman Catholic conception of “church”, all Protestants really are really just Roman Catholics who have become “separated” (as in “separated brethren”) – still under the visible headship of the pope and visible hierarchy [which is an integral, ontological part of the one body of Christ], yet “institutionally separate from the one Church”…

That’s why Rome can never give up. It’s own conception of itself is just too important in [its own] scheme of things. Rome has defined itself in as the most important element in the body of Christ. This is why I say, Rome is all about aggrandizing Rome.

And in comments over there, I said:

Vatican II ecclesiology has its roots in the writings of Johan Adam Mohler, who brought up the notion that the Roman Catholic Church is the “ongoing incarnation of Christ”. This is one source for the notions about panentheism. I’ve responded to Roman Catholics who tell me “the Church is Christ”. It is said to be a Christological rather than a pneumatological view of the Church.

This Vatican II ecclesiology has its roots in The Tübingen School, home of Ferdinand Christian Baur, in the works of Johann Adam Möhler (6 May 1796 – 12 April 1838), and particularly his 1825 work Unity in the church or the principle of Catholicism: presented in the spirit of the Church Fathers of the first three centuries (Die Einheit in der Kirche oder das Princip des Katholicismus, dargestellt im Geiste der Kirchenväter der drew ersten Jahrhunderte (Tübingen, 1825). English translation (1995): Unity in the Church or the Principle of Catholicism: Presented in the Spirit of the Church Fathers of the First Three Centuries, Peter C. Erb, trans., Catholic University of America Press, Washington, D.C.).

My hope is to begin to look at this work, and its setting in Tübingen, heavily influenced by names like Baur, Hegel, and Schleiermacher. Being primarily liberal, this work of Möhler’s was not widely accepted at first, although after Pius X’s dealings with modernism, he became very influential for other Roman Catholic theologians in the first part of the 20th century: Henri de Lubac, Yves Congar, and perhaps even Herr Ratzinger.

David Wells, in his 1972 work “Revolution in Rome”, had noted this association between Vatican II and the liberal Protestants:

Present-day Catholicism, on its progressive side, is teaching many of the ideas which the liberal Protestants espoused in the last [19th] century. Though progressive Catholics are largely unaware of their liberal Protestant stepbrothers, the family resemblance is nevertheless there. Since these ideas have only come into vogue in Catholicism in the last two decades, they appear brilliantly fresh and innovative. To a Protestant, whether he approves or disapproves of them, they are old hat (pg. 8).

In the coming weeks and months, I’ll hope, Lord willing, to provide more background and details on this.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The fish that got away

A Challenge to Charitable Christians

Divided Christian Church Is 'Biggest Obstacle' to Evangelism, Vatican Says

I agree. That's why the Pope needs to come home to the Presbyterian Reformed Church, so that "they may all be one" (Jn 17:21). The existence of schismatic sects and denominations like the church of Roman is scandalous to the cause of world evangelism. It's time to come home to Mother Kirk.

How “mixed marriages” work

Lutherans provide the vehicle for the humor here.

HT: Andrew

Revisiting the Days of Genesis

Last night I skimmed B. C. Hodge’s Revisiting the Days of Genesis. I focused on the parts that interested me, so it’s quite possible that I missed some important caveats. But here’s my general impression:

i) It’s basically taking the same course charted by John Walton. There’s something ironic about Walton’s position. He entitled his book The Lost World of Genesis One. He meant that was a “lost world” because the true meaning was lost to later generations until modern archeology uncovered the background information necessary to recover or rediscover the original intent of the narrator.

Yet Walton also spends a lot of time trying to prove his position from sundry OT passages. That, however, raises the question of whether modern archeology is the missing key to understanding Gen 1. If Walton can make a good case for his interpretation from the biblical materials alone, then archeology seems to be, at most, a useful supplement which improves the accuracy of our interpretation, even though the basic interpretation can be gotten from Scripture alone.

I also find that tension in Hodge’s treatment. It combines direct exegesis of the Biblical text with comparative Semitics. Is the basic interpretation dependent on comparative Semitics, or independent of comparative Semitics?

ii) Hodge gives the cosmic temple interpretation yet another workout, adding various details to the emerging construct. The cosmic temple interpretation has become an academic fad. I don’t necessarily mean that in a pejorative sense. One potential value of academic fads is the exhaustive examination of a particular thesis. The thesis is explored, developed, and critiqued from just about every conceivable angle. All the pros and cons are duly weighed.

iii) However, the danger of academic fads is to treat the hot new theory as a revolutionary and comprehensive explanation. In an interview, Claude Shannon once remarked on how some people were trying to make information theory explain too much. Chaos theory went through the same phase.

iv) I think Hodge does a good job of documenting architectural metaphors in Gen 1, teasing out the numerology in the creation account and the flood account, and discussing the nature of serpentine symbolism.

He also makes an interesting observation about how the first six days of the creation week are anarthrous. The definite article is reserved for the seventh day.

v) I’m not convinced by his treatment of Balaam’s talking donkey. There’s lots of evidence in Egyptian and Mesopotamian literature that snakes could function as symbolic, numinous figures. But one can’t just switch from that to a donkey, as if a donkey held the same emblematic significance in ANE culture.

Moreover, Balaam’s donkey doesn’t seem to stand for something else. It’s a beast of burden which Balaam is using for transportation. That’s a far cry from the Egyptian tale of bearded, gilded talking serpent, from which Hodge segues into the narrative of Balaam, the donkey, and the angel. There’s scarcely any connection.

vi) Then there’s the use of comparative mythology to provide a backdrop. In principle, one can use alleged background material in two different ways.

You can try use it to flesh out a general cultural milieu or intellectual ethos. This supposedly supplies an unspoken preunderstanding which both author and audience shared. This may be something the narrator takes for granted, or it may be something he uses as a foil.

Or you can try to use it to pinpoint specific literary influence, where a Biblical text is allegedly indebted to an extrabiblical text.

vii) Apropos (vi), Hodge alleges fairly specific parallels between Genesis and the Enuma Elish. Of course, there’s nothing new about that claim. However, I have serious methodological reservations about that analysis.

To my knowledge, the Enuma Elish doesn’t represent mainstream ANE thinking–even assuming there is such a thing as mainstream ANE thinking. Rather, from what I’ve read, this is a sectarian, in-house document where one priestly faction is attempting to supplant another priestly faction by writing a new backstory to retroactively validate the supremacist claims of its own patron god. If that’s the case, then there’s no reason to think this would be a framing device for the Biblical writer. It’s way too parochial. A literary outlier.

There’s a danger of sampling bias when we use background material, or what we take to be background material. Scholars use what they have. They can only use what’s available. And what’s available is what happened to survive the ravages of time. So we need to ask if what survived is likely to be representative or more provincial.

Just because we happen to have the Enuma Elish when so much other ANE literature perished doesn’t automatically make that representative or relevant. It’s natural to default to extant comparative material simply because it’s extant. But is it really comparable? Or do we simply fall back on that because that’s all we’ve got to work with, and so we treat it as if it’s germane?

We need to remind ourselves that that’s just an accident of history. If you’re the last man standing, that makes you stick out. But there’s no reason to assume it enjoyed that degree of prominence when the Pentateuch was written.

viii) Moreover, if all we had to go by was the Enuma Elish, I don’t think ingenious scholars would find the same patterns. Rather, they are mapping Gen 1 onto the Enuma Elish.

ix) On another issue, Hodge uses Ezekiel’s theophany (as well as Dan 12:3) to interpret Gen 1. But, of course, Ezekiel isn’t the Pentateuch, so there’s no antecedent reason to assume it sheds light on Gen 1.

But perhaps Hodge simply thinks that Gen 1 and Ezekiel both bear witness to a stock ANE cosmography, so you can indirectly use Ezekiel to illuminate Gen 1.

x) This also goes to the question of dating OT books. If you think the Pentateuch was written during the Babylonian Exile, or received its final redaction in that historical setting, then Ezekiel could actually antedate Gen 1. Ezekiel could influence Gen 1, or the Pentateuch generally. That’s the opposite of the traditional view, where the direction of influence is in the reverse.

Since I accept the traditional dating of the Pentateuch, I reject that historical reconstruction.

xi) Another issue is whether there’s a consistent ANE cosmography. For instance, Baruch Halpern thinks there was a dramatic shift in ANE cosmography from the Bronze Age to the Iron Age. Cf. “The Assyrian Astronomy of Genesis 1 and the Birth of Milesian Philosophy,” “Late Israelite Astronomies and the Early Greeks,” in From Gods to God: The Dynamics of Iron Age Cosmologies.

My point is not to endorse his arguments, but that’s in part because I don’t share his views regarding the historical composition of the OT canon.

xii) In sum, I think Hodge’s monograph contains some useful exegetical insights, but I also find it unconvincing or unsatisfactory in other respects. It takes its place alongside the work of Walton, Beale, Desi Alexander, Gordon Wenham and others in that general vein. It makes a limited, but helpful contribution to our understanding of Genesis, as long as you make allowance for the limitations I’ve noted.

Intolerant tolerance

D.A. Carson offers three instances of the intolerance of tolerance.

Jeremy Pierce has some follow-up comments.

Molinism: The Contemporary Debate

“Bringing fuller clarity”

A week ago, I noted the discussion between Tullian Tchividjian and Rick Phillips (TCG vs Ref21) on sanctification. This week, Tchividjian reiterates, “Sin Remains”, and Phillips reiterates, “We are Debtors to Grace”.

I think we are looking at two sides of the same coin, two different emphases on the same phenomenon: Christians are not perfect, and never will be perfect in this life, but God assists us to grow in grace.

But the more important part, as I said, is the “fuller clarification” that comes from these kinds of discussions.

This week, Tony Phelps, Pastor of Christ Our Hope PCA in Wakefield, RI, consulted the Westminster Standards to say just how much God assists us in our sanctification.

He writes:

As I read Westminster, for example, I find such expressions as “sanctification is synergistic” or “effort in sanctification” woefully inadequate…

After we are reminded that the Holy Spirit alone enables us to do good works – and that His influence is essential to any truly good work – yet we are not “hereupon to grow negligent, as if [we] were not bound to perform any duty unless upon a special motion of the Spirit; but [we] ought to be diligent in stirring up the grace of God that is in [us].” No “letting go and letting God” in the Christian life! We have Christian DUTIES – outward and observable things we are to diligently DO – in the Christian life.

In fact, one of our duties is to stir up the grace of God that is in us. Yet if this is truly a good work, it too is the result of God’s sanctifying work within us. Nonetheless, WE are to do it! And as we do, by the grace of God, we will grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord.

This is not to say that any of these things contributes an iota to our standing in Christ. But the world depends on us to be salt and light – preserving and edifying in the things we do in the world.

Evidence For The Bethlehem Birthplace

I've written a lot of material over the years about Jesus' fulfillment of the Bethlehem prophecy of Micah 5:2. What I want to do in this post is collect some links to those posts.

The most significant series of posts on the subject can be found here. In the first post, I discussed the messianic and eschatological nature of chapters 4 and 5 in Micah and how well Jesus fulfills that material. I then wrote about how difficult it would have been for ancient sources to determine where Jesus was born. My next post addressed what the earliest sources outside Matthew and Luke reported about Jesus' birthplace.

Here's a five-part series I wrote several years ago:

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Prematurity in Scientific Discovery

HT: Paul Manata

A Nation of Singles

Was Calvin a tyrant?

Matthew 24:34 — "This Generation" and Preterism

Abortion, human sacrifice, and property rights

The stock argument for abortion is essentially a property-rights argument. A woman’s body is her property. She has the right to dispose of (in every sense of the word) her body as she sees fit. And the baby is counted as part of her body, or relevantly dependent on her body–which, by extension, makes the baby her property.

Let’s grant this justification for the sake of argument. Property-rights arguments have wider implications. For instance, here is, in all seriousness, a justification for human sacrifice based on property-rights:

Human Sacrifice

Peter T. Leeson

George Mason University - Department of Economics

November 12, 2012

This paper develops a theory of rational human sacrifice: the purchase and ritual slaughter of innocent persons to appease divinities. I argue that human sacrifice is a technology for protecting property rights. It improves property protection by destroying part of sacrificing communities' wealth, which depresses the expected payoff of plundering them. Human sacrifice is a highly effective vehicle for destroying wealth to protect property rights because it's an excellent public meter of wealth destruction. Human sacrifice is spectacular, publicly communicating a sacrificer's destruction far and wide. And immolating a live person is nearly impossible to fake, verifying the amount of wealth a sacrificer has destroyed. To incentivize community members to contribute wealth for destruction, human sacrifice is presented as a religious obligation. To test my theory I investigate human sacrifice as practiced by the most significant and well-known society of ritual immolators in the modern era: the Konds of Orissa, India. Evidence from the Konds supports my theory's predictions.

Does the logic of abortion entail the corollary logic of human sacrifice? If that conclusion is deemed to be morally unacceptable, does that, in turn, invalidate the stock argument for abortion?


Just how serious is it? And who has the correct understanding of its seriousness?

Rome’s view of sin is based on an allegorical interpretation of Luke 10:30, as I describe below, as well as a view of reality provided by the neoplatonist imposter Pseudo-Dionysius. The Reformers had a much more honestly biblical view of sin, especially as it offends the holiness of God:

Monday, December 03, 2012

Dog-whistle Arminianism

Roger Olson, the crown jewel of Arminian theologians, has remarkably acute hearing. He’s been fitted with hearing aids which enable him to pick up frequencies indetectible to ordinary mortals:

Let me be clear “up front.” I am NOT saying that criticism of Obama is always motivated by racism; that is clearly not the case.

That’s magnanimous. I’m sure his colleague Francis Beckwith will be relieved to learn that his criticisms of Obamacare aren’t always motivated by racism. Just 80% of the time.

For almost five years now I’ve wondered why so much criticism of President Obama seems “over the top,” so to speak. That is, why some of it goes beyond criticism of his policies to character vilification. I have observed this from billboards to bumper stickers and from Facebook to families and friendships broken over differing opinions about our first black president.

I have friends and acquaintances who have very strong negative opinions about his leadership and proposals but do not attack his character. I know they are not racists or motivated by racism.

Why is he linking attacks on character to racism? When people attacked Nixon’s character, or Bill Clinton’s character, was that motivated by racism?

On the other hand, I believe I have detected an underlying current of racism at work in MUCH of the hateful criticism aimed at Obama personally. I cannot think of any other reason why people vilify him as “the Antichrist” and compare him with Hitler, for example. I cannot remember any president, during my lifetime, who has been treated so hatefully by critics, except John Kennedy.

i) Well, presidents during his lifetime would include Ronald Reagan and Bush 43. If he bothered to Google their names, along with “Hitler” or “the Antichrist,” guess what he’d turn up?

It would only take him a few seconds to double-check his theory. Doesn’t he have an ethical duty to do that before he engages in wholesale smear-mongering? Oh, I forgot, he’s Arminian.

ii) What about “the Antichrist” epithet? For someone who’s so conversant with church history, why does it not occur to him that identifying prominent political figures with the Antichrist is commonplace among many Christians. In our own time it’s especially common for premils–although it’s not confined to premils.

iii) And here’s another point: I don’t think Obama’s the Antichrist. However, many Christians think the Antichrist is a future figure. And that includes many amils as well as premils.

Assuming that the Antichrist will arrive on the scene at some point in the future, it’s not inherently off-the-wall to consider the possibility that that might be the US president. After all, he’s the most powerful man in the world. So, if you were the Antichrist, that wouldn’t be a bad launching pad.

What does Olson believe about the Antichrist? Does he believe in a literal Antichrist? If so, does he believe the Antichrist has yet to come? If so, why would it be out-of-bounds to consider a powerful and malevolent politician to be a potential candidate for that dubious distinction?

Doesn’t Scripture portray the Antichrist as a political figure as well as a religious figure?

iv) As for Hitler, it’s ironic that Olson has a higher opinion of Obama than Yahweh. Olson thinks that if Yahweh actually did the things attributed to him in the OT, that would make Yahweh Hitlerian. A moral monster.

v) Why does Olson think the comparison between Obama and Hitler is outrageous? Many prolifers view abortion as our Holocaust. And they’re not speaking hyperbolically. They think that’s a principled analogy.

On top of that, Obamacare will lead to euthanizing the elderly. Wesley J. Smith has been connecting the dots.

If that’s not Hitlerian, what is?

I didn’t want to believe any critic of Obama was racially motivated, but the thought kept occurring to me as I observed the absolutely unjustified attacks on him as a person.

Can we really drive a wedge between the man and his policies? Don’t evil policies reflect an evil character? It’s not as if anyone is forcing these policies on him. To the contrary, he’s forcing these policies on us.

Near where I live there are some large billboards depicting him as angry, scowling, with the words “Socialist by Conduct” printed next to his threatening countenance. Socialist? That label has been slapped on President Obama by critics who have no idea what socialism is. I have wondered where, in what way, how Obama has advocated “public ownership of the means of production.” Yes, he carried forward policies of government financial support (“bailouts”) of major banks and corporations begun by his predecessor. But none of that amounted to the government owning banks, utilities, mining companies, airlines, etc., as in truly socialist societies. If Obama is a socialist, so was his predecessor. The billboards are clearly propaganda intended to create unwarranted fear of him personally, not just of his policies.

i) Political cartoonists routinely caricature the features of the officials they lampoon. That goes with the genre. What US president hasn’t had unflattering images of himself portrayed in the media?

ii) Likewise, is Olson such an ignoramus that he imagines libertarians and conservatives reserve the “socialist” label for Obama? The “socialist” label is routinely used by libertarians and conservatives to brand big gov’t policies. Remember that FDR was called a socialist. Was that racist?

Again, I resisted the thought that any such personal attacks on the president were racially motivated—until I saw two bumper stickers on a pickup truck. They are not handwritten; they are both clearly mass produced by someone. One says “OBAMANATION” in large black letters on a white background.

i) “Obamanation” is an obvious pun. Just like puns on “Bush.”

ii) Does Roger hear racist overtones in black letters on a white background? Isn’t that the color scheme for Olson’s own blog? Aren’t his book printed in black letters on a white background? Does that make Olson as closet skinhead?

What I think is that many Americans harbor racist attitudes unconsciously. They are simply in denial about their racism.

I think Olson harbors an unconscious desire to murder coeds. Of course he adamantly deny it, but that’s cuz it’s subliminal, ya know. It’s “hidden” (even to him).

Are there racist white Americans? Sure. What about racist black Americans? Racist Latino Americans? And so on and so forth.

My opinion is that many people, including many Christians, were so shocked by the election of an African-American as president of their country that their latent racism could no longer be successfully resisted. Most of them would adamantly deny it, but I can think of no other explanation for the vitriolic nature of many of the messages I hear and read about President Obama.

In my opinion, Roger Olson is a latent serial killer. And he can’t disprove it cuz it’s latent. Like those Cylon sleeper agents.

I would like to think that Obama’s double election spells the end of racism in America.

To the contrary, it empowers black racists like Eric Holder.

The Society of Evangelical Arminians must be proud to have such a wonderful standard-bearer. The moral magnificence of Roger Olson is such a credit to their cause.