Saturday, January 19, 2013

When was Satan bound?

1 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

4 Then I saw thrones, and seated on them were those to whom the authority to judge was committed. Also I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus and for the word of God, and those who had not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. 5 The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection. 6 Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection! Over such the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they will reign with him for a thousand years.

7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea (Rev 20:1-7).

i) When was Satan bound? Amils typically think Satan was bound at the first advent of Christ. They think the binding of Satan spans the church age.

Premils typically think the binding of Satan refers to a subsection of church history towards the end of the church age. They base this on a chronological reading of Revelation, along with the contrast between his incarceration and his release.

There are a number of factors we have to take into account in assessing these alternatives.

ii) Is the arrangement of Revelation chronological? Many interpreters think Revelation is more cyclical than linear. They think it contains recapitulation. They disagree on the degree of recapitulation. Some think Revelation subdivides into seven sections. That would be appealing, given John’s fondness for septunarian numerology, but there are problems with that analysis:

a) Revelation doesn’t have clear breaks subdividing the scenes into seven sections.

b) Revelation isn’t the kind of book that the author wrote from scratch. Rather, it’s a record of John’s visions. As such, we wouldn’t necessarily expect it to exhibit the kind of artificial literary symmetry which would be possible if he were writing from scratch. John is an editor, not a creative writer.

c) Although John is fond of sevens, there are other significant figures in his numerology.

iii) The presence or absence of recapitulation isn’t strictly a dividing line between amils and premils. Premils like Keener and Mounce (2nd ed.) admit a degree of recapitulation. Conversely, a preterist like Charles thinks the arrangement is chronological.

iv) I myself think Revelation is somewhat repetitious, and intentionally so. That some scenes roughly parallel other scenes seems undeniable to me.

However, Revelation does have some progression. It builds to a climax. Even the recapitulations tend to develop what was said before.

iv) To the degree that Revelation has a recapitulatory structure, the arrangement is spatial rather than temporal. Like folding panels that face each other.

If some events are spatially related rather than temporally related, then that will affect our view of sequence. In that event, it wouldn’t be a case of one scene following another, but one scene corresponding to another. These might be contrasting scenes, depicting the same interval from different perspectives.

v) Revelation isn’t a straightforward historical narrative, with a clear past, present, and future. Rather, it’s a record of John’s visions. The series of visions doesn’t have many temporal markers, informing the reader when things happen in relation to other things. It doesn’t tell the reader where he is in the series of events. Is a particular scene past, present, or future to the reader?

Because we’re living 2000 years later, it’s tempting to place ourselves at certain points in the text. Or, conversely, to place various scenes somewhere along a timeline of church history. But the original audience didn’t have that retrospective viewpoint. That’s reading more into the text than is there. The framework itself doesn’t correlate the scenes to an external timeline. His visions aren’t time-indexed.

To take a comparison, two events might happen in the same month. One will be earlier and one will be later in relation to the month. However, that doesn’t tell you what month it is. That doesn’t tell you if it’s earlier or later in relation to the year. Is it January, March, July, November?

vi) Likewise, because we’re simply dealing with record of discrete visions, the record itself doesn’t tell the reader if these scenes refer to repeatable or unrepeatable events. What we have is a literary sequence of images, which derives from a visionary series of images. Discrete mental pictures, edited into a literary sequence.

Take the theme of martyrdom in 20:4. Christian martyrdom is not a one-time event. Christian martyrdom can (and does) happen periodically throughout church history.

It’s likely that some members of John’s churches were facing the prospect of martyrdom. So they’d see 20:4 in reference to their own time. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s confined to the 1C.

All we have in 20:4 is John’s vision of martyrdom and revival. The vision itself doesn’t indicate when that occurs or how often that occurs. The vision doesn’t arrange itself on a calendar. Where we place that vision in church history isn’t given in the text. Our chronological assignment is external to the text.

Likewise, is the binding of Satan a one-time event? Is the loosing of Satan a one-time event? This is just something that John saw, in a trance. The vision itself doesn’t correlate with a specific time in church history. By that I mean, an image, considered on its own terms, doesn’t map onto any particular event in church history. The actual timing isn’t given in the mental picture. No date. No year. 

No doubt the visionary scene is meant to have an extratextual referent (or referents). But you can’t tell from the vision itself if that’s past, present, future, repeatable, or unrepeatable. Perhaps this alternation occurs throughout church history.

Friday, January 18, 2013

If it saves one life

In justifying new gun-control measures, Joe Biden recently argued that: “As the President said, if your actions result in only saving one life, they’re worth taking.”

This is a fundamental principle of public safety. Clearly gun-control is just the first step in implementing the if-it-saves-one-life principle. Knowing Obama to be a man of integrity, I anticipate his extending this principle to comparable public safety issues, like the need for mandatory breast reduction to alleviate the risk of breast-related homicides. After all, if that results in saving just one life, it’s worth taking:

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Life is nowhere near as meaningful

On the naturalistic view of life, when we die, that is it. Ours is a tiny speck of time in terms of the universe's history, and on the long view every one of us -- even human civilization itself -- probably will vanish without a trace. I've written often that secular humanists and other atheists need to be far more forthright about admitting that we view reality this way. Yes, it is a colder, less satisfying view of eternity than those advanced by various religions. Yes, it is less congruent with the way we thinking, feeling mammals are wired to wish the universe was. In many ways, it is undeniable: the best thing you can say for this flinty view of life is that it is almost certainly true.

What can atheists and other freethinkers say in the face of death? Yes, life is short and nowhere near as meaningful as many Americans are raised to believe. Yes, death is forever. No, the bereaved will never see their loved ones again. I wouldn't recommend shouting these truths in anyone's face at a funeral, but they provide the unspoken backdrop for the fact that Susan Jacoby got exactly right. If we view life and the world the way it really is -- as best we can determine at our current level of knowledge -- then it is the greatest consolation we can offer to observe that the dead do not suffer. It is in fact the only consolation we can offer sincerely.

I appreciate Flynn’s candor.

Everyone suffers! Children get taunted on the playground, they fall and skin their knees. Their dogs bite them. When they get older, they'll probably have their hearts broken a few times. Maybe they'll lose a valued job, maybe they'll go through a bitter divorce. Some of them will die too young of terrible diseases, whether in childhood, young adulthood, or middle age. And some will know truly terrible suffering from chronic disease, injury, or violence. That's just life. Fortunately life also has times of happiness, and if we are fortunate we can look forward to lives with more happiness than suffering. But some suffering awaits us all; it's a lottery of pain we have no choice but to play. The children who died at Sandy Hook were playing it too, and it's outrageous for Prager to suggest that saying so is in any way insulting to their parents. So yes, there is some consolation in knowing that the dead are no longer taking their chances with agony.

Notice how atheism dovetails with antinatalism. We’d be better off not existing in the first place than risk suffering.

If atheism is true, then Jacoby's consolation -- thin gruel as it is, admittedly, compared to the hope of eternal felicity in heaven -- is the best anyone can do. If there are no souls, no eternal life, and no heaven, then the false conviction that these things exist is a cruel and empty consolation indeed.

As a Christian, I don’t think we’re offering the lost false consolation when we present the gospel. However, let’s play along with Flynn’s objection. If atheism is true, to whom is the hope of heaven a cruel consolation? Not to the dead. They may believe in it up to the moment they die, but by Flynn’s lights, they never find out the hard way that it’s false. They don’t die, only to be rudely surprised by the awful discovery that there’s no heaven after all. By Flynn’s lights, they never know any better. They don’t know what they’re not missing. Not only is there nothing to miss, but at that point they’re in no position to miss it.

Does he mean it’s cruel to the living? Well, either the living believe it or they don’t. If they die believing it, they won’t find out that it was an empty consolation. They never knew what hit them. It’s too late for them to be disappointed. They don’t feel let down because they don’t feel anything.

And if they don’t believe it, then it’s not a “cruel” or “empty” consolation for them, for them were never taken in by the empty consolation. They already know it’s an empty consolation, right?

We should probably devote some attention to another inconvenient fact. As many Christians still view the afterlife, it isn't all bliss. There's supposedly that place that isn't heaven, and more conservative believers think it's very real… So the atheist view offers an additional consolation. Not only are the dead not suffering the inescapable pains of living, they are exempt from any threat of eternal hellfire. Hmm, the atheist view is looking better!

How is that an inconvenient fact? Should we want the afterlife to be blissful for everyone? What about a man who cheats the elderly out of their life savings to fund his lavish lifestyle, and always manages to stay one step ahead of the law. If, when he dies, that’s it, then he got away with it. Doesn’t that make the atheist view look worse rather than better? 

Some still believe that even young children can wind up in hell, or perhaps in some celestial holding area that spares their souls the pains of hell but denies them also the joys of heaven. (The Catholic Church no longer teaches that the souls of children younger than seven are warehoused in Limbo, but millions of Catholics around the world still believe that. And some evangelicals who set great store by adult baptism still teach that young children's souls can wind up in that lake of fire.)

i) Many Christians believe in universal infant salvation.

ii) But let’s tackle the tougher alternative. What if all children don’t go to heaven when they die? Of course, since they died as children, that’s how we remember them. We don’t get to see what they became had they grown up.

What if Ted Bundy died at the age of five? It might sound outrageous to say he didn’t go to heaven when he died. But what if we knew how he was going to turn out? Wouldn’t we view him differently? Shouldn’t we view him differently?

iii) Suppose we can’t give grieving parents an ironclad guarantee about their child’s heavenly destination? Still, we can give them hope. The walk of faith is a mix of hope and promise. We don’t have guarantees for everything we wish for. If we did, there’d be no room for faith. But you don’t have to have everything nailed down. However, you do need hope. You can get by with hope. That’s something to live for. Hope keeps you going. Hope keeps you faithful. Hope keeps you prayerful. Just enough encouragement to persevere, but not so much encouragement, that you become presumptuous. You can live with some uncertainty as long as you have a flickering flame of hope to light the way ahead.

Lassie Come Rome

To forestall being scooped by Francis Beckwith or the fine folks at Called to Confusion, I wish to report on another important conversion to Rome. My informants tell me that Bryan Cross has interviewed Tommy on why he crossed the Tiber, and plans to post his conversion testimony forthwith. Here are the background details of Tommy entering into the fullness of the One True Church:

The wit and wisdom of Evan May

Reply to Ryan

This is a belated reply to a post by Ryan. For now I’m going to focus on two paragraphs:

But in the past few months, I’ve come to accept a position on the Trinity that appears to be highly controversial in Reformed circles. Insofar as I would be more inclined to agree that my position is more in line with the early church than with the classic Reformers, this isn’t so surprising. It’s the fact that the position to which I hold has been seemingly singled out by Reformed Protestants who are themselves in disagreement that is a little more surprising.

In any case, by this point I have heard enough insinuations and accusations from Sean to be immunized against superficial comparisons with Jehovah’s Witnesses, Unitarians, and semi-Arians. I believe my position is within the bounds of Trinitarianism as established in the [pre]Nicene Fathers, an assertion I have so far defended here and here.

That’s equivocal:

i) If Drake, Ryan, et al. were simply reaffirming the version of Nicene Triadology ensconced in the Westminster Standards, that would not be controversial, much less highly controversial.

ii) There’s also the question of whether their position really lines up with the ante-Nicene church fathers. How much of this is filtered through the jaundiced lens of Samuel Clarke?

iii) Then there’s the additional question of the extent to which Ryan’s position coincides with Drake’s. Only Ryan can say.

Drake Shelton has said the Father is the one true God–in contrast to the Son and the Spirit. Drake has said Jesus is less worshipful than the Father. For him, the Father is the ultimate and true object of worship.

Drake repudiates the terminology of the “Triune God.” He repudiates the proposition that the three persons are the one God.

Drake has resorted to a classic unitarian interpretation of Jn 10:30. Drake has also resorted to a classic unitarian interpretation of Jn 20:28. He disallows 1 Jn 5:20 as a prooftext for the deity of Christ. And, most recently, he’s attacking Jn 1:18 as a prooftext for the deity of Christ.

He repudiates Tit 2:13 and 2 Pet 1:1 as prooftexts for the deity of Christ.

He repudiates the identification of Christ with Yahweh.

He repudiates the identification of Christ as the Alpha and Omega.

He accepts Samuel Clarke’s interpretation of Rom 9:5, which reduces it to a delegation of divine authority.

He leans heavily on David Waltz, whose own commitment to the Trinity is dubious.

You’d have to have blinders on not to see a pattern here. These aren’t “superficial comparisons” with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Rather, Drake is systematically discounting standard prooftexts for the deity of Christ. And he repudiates basic Trinitarian formulations, e.g. the Triune God, the three persons are the one God.

Drake is backing into unitarianism. 

Now, in Ryan’s post, he’s speaking for himself. I don’t know to what degree he agrees with Drake in the examples I’ve given.

Hypothetical insurgency

A friend asked me to comment on this article:

i) To begin with, we need to distinguish between what we think was the original rationale for the 2nd amendment, and what we think of the original rationale. Even if we think the original rationale was silly, it’s not silly to state what the original rationale was. Original intent is always a legitimate starting-point in discussing the Constitutional rule of law. By “original intent,” I mean both the legislative intent of the framers, as well as the intent of the states which ratified the Constitution.

The alternative is to make the Constitution mean whatever judges arbitrarily impute to the text, in which case we don’t really have a Constitution anymore. Instead, the Constitution is just an Etch A Sketch in the hands of the judiciary. The judiciary unilaterally rewrites the social contract. The judiciary decides from one year to the next what rights we have, what form of gov’t we have–conveniently insulating itself from the process.

ii) I also disagree with how Taylor frames the issue. We’re discussing a hypothetical situation. In that context, historical precedent has limited value. I’m not saying it has no value. But the past is not a blueprint for the future.

Moreover, when you compare one country to another, you have to make allowance for significant differences. At that point we get bogged down in historical analysis, comparing and contrasting the sociopolitical systems of one country with another. Their respective histories. Ethnic factions.

I think that becomes a major distraction, and is fairly irrelevant to the hypothetical. The hypothetical outcome depends on what variables you plug into the hypothetical. There are different hypothetical scenarios, with different outcomes. We must also assess the plausibility of the variables. Consider some of the simplistic assumptions in Taylor’s argument:

First, there is the rather obvious (or at least it ought to be) fact of the matter:  if there is a true and dominant authoritarian impulse within the government—the type that could actually be turned effectively against the population, this would mean that the coercive power of the state would be turned against the population.  It is quite clear that the coercive power of the United States government would not be taken down by an armed populace.  There really is no argument here. 

Given the advanced deadly weaponry available to governments these days — as opposed to the late 18th century — most tyrants aren’t all that threatened by citizens with conventional weapons.

That oversimplifies the issues:

i) It’s not a question of whether a popular insurgency could directly topple a dictatorship by overpowering the military. An American dictator would have to have the cooperation of the military, FBI, CIA, NSA, as well as governors, mayors, and police chiefs. If his dictatorial policies precipitated an all-out civil war, then at some point he might lose support of the officials he needs to carry out his policies. What if subordinates stop following orders? What if his generals decide the civil war is too destructive, and stage a military coup?

On that scenario, it’s not insurgents defeating the military who bring him down. Rather, external pressure ups the internal pressure. He’s brought down from the inside. But that wouldn’t happen apart from the facts on the ground.

ii) It depends on the scale of the uprising. Are we talking about pockets of resistance? A few thousand ragtag insurgents? Or are we talking about tens of millions of armed insurgents?

Consider the collateral damage if the military tried to wipe out tens of millions of armed insurgents. It that realistic? Likewise, wouldn’t that turn the public against the gov’t?

iii) Are we talking about a direct confrontation between massed military forces and massed insurgent forces? Or are we talking about insurgents using guerilla tactics?

iv) To say the insurgents can’t defeat the military doesn’t mean the military can defeat the insurgents. That’s a false dichotomy. Depending on the scale of the insurgency, you might have a stalemate. In that event, the gov’t might decide to broker a peace deal, issue a general amnesty, in order to limit further catastrophic damage to the economy and vital infrastructure.

v) If it came to all-out civil war, it wouldn’t be a simple case of the military or gov’t agencies arraigned against the civilian populace. On the one hand, the insurgency would include ex-military. They’d have active-duty friends in the military. They’d have military expertise. There’d also be deserters. Soldiers who defect to the other side.

On the other hand, you’d have sympathizers within the military, FBI, CIA, NSA, National Guard, and police departments, who funnel guns, Semtext, C-4, &c. to the insurgents. Who feed intel to the insurgents.

vi) And it’s not just a case of a gunfight. If the situation escalated to full-scale civil war, you’d have insurgent hackers. Cyber warfare. Likewise, you’d have homemade bombs used to take out key infrastructure.

vii) It would be easier than in times past for insurgents to coordinate operations using code words and prepaid cell phones, which can’t be traced back to the user.

Further, those who try to argue from within this scenario don’t even understand how authoritarian states emerge.  They do not come about because one day some scoundrel wakes up and decides to impose dictatorship, but rather it is a far more complex process that requires substantial support from within the state and the population. 

i) A lot of liberals are already predisposed to a benevolent dictatorship, as they view it. They don’t care about the process. As long as the state is giving them “free” stuff, they will support it. They don’t have a problem with the judiciary circumventing the democratic process so long as they like the results. They don’t have a problem with a president circumventing Congress through executive orders so long as they like the results.

ii) A lot of liberals are convinced that “right-wingers” are evil, irrational, and dangerous. They honestly think “right-wingers” pose a threat to our quality of life and our very survival. Therefore, they’d be sympathetic to a gov’t crackdown. That’s the only way to deal with crazed right-wingers. They can’t be reasoned with.

That would give a would-be dictator some encouragement. At least initially, he’d enjoy some popular support.

iii) What if a president declares martial law? In theory, there are two ways this could happen:

a) He could exploit an opportune crisis as a pretext to declare martial law.

b) He could stage a crisis as a pretext to declare martial law. Suppose he stages an atrocity, then goes on national TV to pin the blame on the “domestic terrorists” or “gun-nuts,” then declares martial law to “protect” law-abiding citizens from this clear and present danger.

I’m not saying that’s a likely scenario. And I don’t think we’ve reached that tipping out. And I don’t expect that to happen.

At the same time, we have an attorney general who’s on record saying:

“We have to be repetitive about this,” he said.  “We need to do this every day of the week, and just really brainwash people into thinking about guns in a vastly different way.”

Likewise, we have an administration which framed an innocent filmmaker for the Benghazi attack.

iv) Now you might say martial law is not a blank check. That a president lacks the statutory authority to suspend the Constitution. Maybe so. But that’s on paper. What would happen if he actually did declare martial law in a “national emergency”? Would events overtake legal niceties?

Of course, this dystopic scenario incubates in a misapprehension of the relationship between government and the citizens in the first place.  That is:  it assumes that “the people” are on one side even now and “the government” is on the other, without understanding that the government derives from people and is not some foreign entity outside of the rest of us.

But as I pointed out above, that would benefit the insurgents. They’d have inside help.

Of course, the Chilean case, even if it represents an example of democracy going to tyranny of the type that is feared in this context, it also makes my overall point:  the military was quite willing to turn its might against the population and would not have been deterred by armed citizens (and, indeed, its ability to take power was because it had support from a substantial portion of the population).

That depends on whether the Chilean military culture is comparable to the American military culture. I’m no expert, but it’s my impression that many American officers and soldiers are loyal to the Constitution. They don’t see themselves as apparatchiks of the president. They see themselves defending the Constitution and protecting their countrymen.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hawking godlessness

Atheists have different responses to tragedy. The usual response is to use every tragedy as a pretext to attack the Christian faith. However, that leaves unanswered what positive response, if any, an atheist can offer in the face of tragedy.

Some atheists resent Christian eulogies. They resent the claim that they have nothing to say in the face of tragedy. They get very defensive.

If atheists were truly honest, this is what they’d say:

You know what? You’re right. Atheism can’t offer any consolation in situations like this. Atheism is a creed for the living, not the dead.

We’re sorry about that. Sincerely. We wish there was something edifying we could say. We wish we had some uplifting words to offer you in your time of loss, but we don’t. We’d be fooling ourselves, as well as you, if we said otherwise.

We don’t say that to be callous. We wish for our own sake, as well as yours, that the story had a happy ending. But we can’t just make things up. That’s not the world we live in. No use pretending.

Reality is whatever it is, and–unfortunately–the reality of the situation is grim. It’s just a cosmic fluke that humans even exist on one lonely little planet in the vast, indifferent cosmos. We are here for a blink of an eye, and that’s that. No encore. Unlike lower animals, we are just smart enough to know that you and I are screwed. I’m afraid it doesn’t get any better than that. We were dealt a losing hand. There’s no way to prettify the situation.

We don’t say that to sound courageous or superior. We say that because that’s all we can honestly say.

However, Christians and atheists are in the same sinking boat. The difference is that atheists admit it’s taking on water.

In reality, Christianity has nothing better to offer. Sure, Christianity can promise you eternal life. But that’s a broken promise. So there’s no point comparing the wonderful, but futile hope of Christianity to the hopelessness of atheism. That’s not a real comparison. You’re comparing something with nothing.

But in practice, atheists usually find that frank, stark reply deeply unsatisfying. They themselves can’t live with that. Instead, they try to make a virtue of atheism. Turn bleak necessity into an inspirational pep talk. They say things like:

Atheism is liberating! It frees us from the shackles of ignorance, superstition, and oppression. No longer must we grovel at the feet of a cosmic tyrant!

Atheism is a creed for grow-ups. We can make our own decisions. Chose our own destiny.

Immortality would be boring. The prospect of death is what makes life so precious. Every moment counts!

Even if heaven did exist, we’d opt for godless mortality over eternity with a morally repugnant Deity.

Trueman debate

HT: Jeff Downs

It is here and it is now!


The Blessings of Atheism

Let’s assume that atheism is a blessing in the here and now. How is that a blessing to murdered children who, by Jacoby’s admission, have no here and now? Their here and now is lost and gone.

IN a recent conversation with a fellow journalist, I voiced my exasperation at the endless talk about faith in God as the only consolation for those devastated by the unfathomable murders in Newtown, Conn. Some of those grieving parents surely believe, as I do, that this is our one and only life. Atheists cannot find solace in the idea that dead children are now angels in heaven. “That only shows the limits of atheism,” my colleague replied. “It’s all about nonbelief and has nothing to offer when people are suffering.”

This widespread misapprehension that atheists believe in nothing positive is one of the main reasons secularly inclined Americans — roughly 20 percent of the population — do not wield public influence commensurate with their numbers. One major problem is the dearth of secular community institutions. But the most powerful force holding us back is our own reluctance to speak, particularly at moments of high national drama and emotion, with the combination of reason and passion needed to erase the image of the atheist as a bloodless intellectual robot.

Let’s see how well she dispels this alleged “misapprehension.”

The secular community is fearful of seeming to proselytize.

That’s news to me. As one observer recently noted:

It seems like everywhere I go lately, I've been confronted with evidence of gross anti-Christian bias in public high school and colleges.  I've run into professors who mock Christian students publicly (but don't want to be challenged by other scholars), or assume that their job is to deprogram the children under their command.  I've run into grade school textbooks that brainwash 12 or 15 year olds to think of Mohammed as a true prophet of God, and Jesus as an iffy historical also-ran.

Continuing with Jacoby:

Now when students ask how I came to believe what I believe, I tell them that I trace my atheism to my first encounter, at age 7, with the scourge of polio. In 1952, a 9-year-old friend was stricken by the disease and clinging to life in an iron lung. After visiting him in the hospital, I asked my mother, “Why would God do that to a little boy?” She sighed in a way that telegraphed her lack of conviction and said: “I don’t know. The priest would say God must have his reasons, but I don’t know what they could be.”

Christian theodicy does have general answers for questions like that.

IT is primarily in the face of suffering, whether the tragedy is individual or collective, that I am forcefully reminded of what atheism has to offer. When I try to help a loved one losing his mind to Alzheimer’s…

How does atheism help in that situation? Can atheism reverse senility? Can atheism restore lost memories? No. And even if we discover a cure for Alzheimer’s, what about losing your mind when you die?

The atheist is free to concentrate on the fate of this world — whether that means visiting a friend in a hospital or advocating for tougher gun control laws — without trying to square things with an unseen overlord in the next.

Notice how self-centered Jacoby is. Atheism is a blessing for atheists of sound mind and body. But even if that were true, how is that a blessing for those who don’t enjoy mental or physical wellbeing? How is that a blessing for those ravaged by Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s. How is that a blessing for murdered children? 

Robert Green Ingersoll, who died in 1899 and was one of the most famous orators of his generation, personified this combination of passion and rationality. Called “The Great Agnostic,” Ingersoll insisted that there was no difference between atheism and agnosticism because it was impossible for anyone to “know” whether God existed or not. He used his secular pulpit to advocate for social causes like justice for African-Americans, women’s rights, prison reform and the elimination of cruelty to animals.

And how does that benefit African-Americans who lived and died in slavery?

He also frequently delivered secular eulogies at funerals and offered consolation that he clearly considered an important part of his mission. In 1882, at the graveside of a friend’s child, he declared: “They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest ... The dead do not suffer.”

It’s true that dead children don’t suffer. It’s also true that dead children don’t laugh, love, or play.

Only the living can suffer. Likewise, only the living can enjoy what life has to offer. Both happiness and suffering are contingent on consciousness.

We must speak up as atheists in order to take responsibility for whatever it is humans are responsible for — including violence in our streets and schools.

What’s the connection between atheism and social responsibility? I thought atheists keep telling us that atheism is not a positive philosophy or worldview. Atheism is just a negative thesis: disbelief in God or gods.

Finally, we need to show up at gravesides, as Ingersoll did, to offer whatever consolation we can.

And what consolation would that be?

Somewhere in that audience, and in the larger national audience, there were mourners who would have been comforted by the acknowledgment that their lives have meaning even if they do not regard death as the door to another life, but “only perfect rest.”

This misses the point. Fact is, the feelings of survivors is secondary. It’s not just a question of whether I feel the loss of a loved one. Not just a question of what their death means to me.

It’s also, and more importantly, what death means to them. What did they have to lose? Not just how much I miss a dead loved one, but what are they missing out on?

I’m concerned, first and foremost, with the wellbeing of the decedent, not my own wellbeing. And my consolation comes in knowing that they are better off.

It’s not primarily a case of whether their death is a loss to me, but whether their death is a loss to them. I care about what happened to them. If I know they are happy, then that makes me happy. Jacoby severs this connection.

Im not suggesting that every death has a happy ending. Indeed, I dont think everyone ought to have a happy ending. But according to atheism, nobodys death is beneficial to the decedent. 

Pouring salt in the wounds

Theism, Atheism, and Tragic Loss
Posted by Keith Parsons

Does atheism offer less to those who mourn than theism? Let’s start by asking what theism has to offer. Well, naturally, there is the hope of eternal life, right? Surely, mourners are deeply comforted by the promise that their bereavement is only temporary and that they will be reunited in heaven with those they have lost. This is a wonderful assurance, right? Bertrand Russell tells the story of a woman who had lost her only daughter and was, naturally, grief stricken. When a well-meaning friend reminded her that her daughter was now in heaven and enjoying eternal bliss, the bereaved parent glumly replied “Yes, of course, but I wish you would not talk about such unpleasant subjects.” The death of a loved one is a terrible thing, and abstract reassurances about eternal bliss or eventual reunion do not work.

Parsons makes this blanket claim based on what? Is this based on anecdotal evidence? Sociological surveys?

He cites one vignette by Bertrand Russell. For all we know, that’s an apocryphal story. Has anyone ever bothered to investigate the historicity of that vignette? What’s the source of the story? And even if it were true, why think that’s representative?

And this is a good thing. It is natural but exactly wrong to rush to console those in deep mourning.

Why? Because he says so?

Speaking personally, when I have deeply grieved the last thing I wanted was some “comforter” offering me glib reassurances.

If you assume the hope of eternal life is a “glib reassurance,” then by definition, that’s not very consoling. But that’s an atheistic presumption. That hardly means the hope of eternal life is glib in a Christian context.

Whatever one’s theological beliefs such words will inevitably sound cheap, facile, and superficial.

If your theological beliefs are true, why would that “inevitably sound cheap, facile, and superficial”? How does Parsons know that’s how it sounds to the average mourner? Does he have polling data? He has asked mourners? How many? What’s his sample group?

(Job’s “comforters” were his worst torment)

That’s a sloppy comparison. Job’s comforters didn’t offer him assurance of eternal bliss or eventual reunion. Rather, they blamed him for his sorry plight.

Mere words are pathetically inadequate for those who deeply grieve. Grief is real, raw, and deep. Visions of ethereal bliss are thin, insubstantial, and emotionally vacuous. No, grief must be given its day. It must be given its savage due. That is the only way to deal with it honestly and healthily. What do mourners want from others? Tears not words. They want others to grieve with them and share in their pain.

i) Notice how Parsons presumes to speak on behalf of every mourner, without offering a scintilla of evidence to justify his hasty generalizations. He’s simply projecting his atheistic viewpoint onto each and every mourner. But what if the mourner is a Christian. For a Christian standpoint, the hope of heaven, the hope of reunion and restoration, is by no means “emotionally vacuous.”

ii) We need to draw another distinction. Offering mourners the hope of heaven isn’t meant to erase their pain. They will still have to work through the grieving process. But it makes the pain more bearable. And having something solid to hope for is very important to emotional healing. Mourners can become lost in the depths of inconsolable grief without a light to brighten the darkness.

The hope or promise of eternal life doesn’t instantly dispel the darkness, but as the mourner passes through phases of grief, that’s a lifeline to cling to. Even if, in the searing pain of loss, the mourner is in no position to fully appreciate the value of the assurance, that’s something which can gradually take hold and ease the sense of bereavement and abandonment.

“Comforting” words tacitly rebuke grief; sharing the pain of loss affirms and validates those dreadful but necessary feelings.

This is Parsons’ utterly artificial spin. You have to wonder what kind of parent Parsons is.

To take a lesser example, if a teenage daughter comes home in tears because she her classmates taunted her about her appearances, and her mother consoles her, are her mother’s words of comfort a tacit rebuke?

Parsons is just making stuff up out of thin air. He’s not seriously attempting to put himself in the situation of a mourner. Rather, he’s beginning with his atheistic viewpoint, then fabricating a psychological profile of how the mourner ought to respond to Christian consolation, given that atheistic perspective. That has nothing to do with real mourners. Rather, this is how atheists respond when put on the defensive.

What can atheists really offer those who grieve? The same things that anyone else can—just to be there and to share the grief by letting the mourner know that his or her pain is yours as well.

But that’s impotent. Ineffectual. It doesn’t objectively help the situation. It does nothing to rectify the loss. Nothing to make the mourner whole. Atheism can’t reassemble the broken pieces. That’s a dead loss.

Atheists harbor no delusions about an all-powerful being that will someday, somehow, in some totally mysterious and incomprehensible way make everything right. Atheists therefore are required to face the absolute finality of death with the grim honesty that sees the senseless as truly senseless and eschews pious bromides.

i) That’s a backdoor admission that atheists have nothing to offer a mourner. To the contrary, what he just said rubs it in.

iii) BTW, there’s nothing “totally mysterious and incomprehensible” about how God may make things right.

Those who have suffered a tragic and pointless loss deserve such honesty, not a false comfort that candy coats and trivializes.

i) If you’re an atheist like Parsons, then, by definition, Christian comfort is false comfort. But, of course, that begs the question in favor of atheism.

ii) What does false comfort stand in contrast to? Parsons has no comforting alternative. He can’t offer true comfort.

iii) From an atheistic standpoint, what’s wrong with offering mourners false comfort? Suppose a critically injured teenager is wheeled into the ER. The nurses and doctors know he will die in about 24 hours. Suppose he comes to. He asks hopefully if he will recover.

From an atheistic perspective, is it their solemn duty to tell him his situation is futile? Would it be okay for them to tell him a comforting lie, so that he dies happy? Or is it morally imperative that he die in a state of abject terror and misery?

Does everyone “deserve” honesty? What makes that a moral imperative in atheism? Why aren’t there situations in which some things are more important than brutal honesty?

Why must we be “required” to face the absolute finality of death? What’s the overriding value of honesty absent a personal future? What difference does it make if you face oblivion honestly or dishonestly? Either way, death will obliterate you.

Parsons is trying to make something noble and heroic about facing death bravely, but that hortatory sentiment doesn’t make any sense if atheism is true. What if you’re a coward in the face of oblivion. At that point, who cares?

iv) From a Christian perspective, there is a temptation to offer false assurance if we make comforting promises about the fate of dying unbelievers. Everyone who dies isn’t bound for glory. So we do need to resist the temptation to make mourners feel good no matter what. God doesn’t make everything better for everyone in the world to come. Some lives end in pure, unmitigated tragedy for the decedent.

Two Reasons Why Boys are Effeminate Today

I have not seen a real man on television in over 15 years. That is because all the males on television today are effeminate.

I have two reasons why.

I grew up in Wisconsin. You know how parents would tell their children that when they were their age they had to walk to school in the snow?

Well, I actually did.

In fact, during the winter in the eighties it seemed like it would snow every other day, sometimes a week or two every day. I lived a half mile from my high school, so I walked to school every day—even when it was snowing. But before I trudged to school through the snow, I had to shovel the sidewalk and the driveway, and we are not talking a mere two inches, but often a foot of snow or more.

Today, I live in North Jersey and even though the winters here are mild compared to Wisconsin winters, it is really pathetic to watch how society here reacts to snow, as if they live in Florida where it never snows.

This morning it snowed—I kid you not—about two inches and the schools ended up having a "delayed opening." Yes, a "delayed opening," something I do not recall existed back in my high school days. If you were late for school because of the snow...tough luck, you were tardy and got demerits. My school did not even think about closing unless there was an actual blizzard which would require at least 14–16 inches and very windy, which would cause 4–8 or higher feet snowdrifts.

Boys today are pampered, fat, lazy, and effeminate.

I want to address another reason we are a soft nation. One of my most favorite memories as a kid was when I was in grade school during the winter months at recess we played "snow tackle football." I absolutely loved it, and so did my guy classmates. One of my favorite teachers was the quarterback for both teams. The best times for playing tackle football was when it was actually snowing. It was a blast to tackle—and be tackled!—in the snow. My favorite play was when our teacher would throw us bombs that would reach to the end of the school yard.

As kids we never thought about how cold it was or whether the inside of our gloves got sloshy wet. We were warm inside because we were playing. And that was all that mattered.

The fall and spring counterpart was dodgeball, but the liberals have outlawed that childhood pastime with an executive order.

Those days are sadly long over. Our generation of boys will never experience that simple joy.

Today, we are a feeble nation where not only our boys are no longer allowed to go outside if it is under 35 degrees, but the very notion of boys playing tackle football during recess is anathema to our effeminizing generation.

We are a soft nation.

God expects his word to be obeyed

Over at Reformation21, Scott Oliphint is working through the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). At Chapter 1.4, he writes:

iv. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, dependeth not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.

One of the first things that must be firmly embedded in our minds, both as Christians and consequently as biblical apologists, is the absolute self-attesting authority of Scripture. It is generally agreed that, if any section of the Westminster Confession of Faith was more carefully crafted than another, it was the section that deals with Holy Scripture. You can, no doubt, understand some of the reasons for that, particularly in the face of opposition from Roman Catholicism. The Confession is concerned, particularly in section four of chapter one, to show that it is in Scripture's authority that we see its divinity and inspiration represented.

Notice first of all, that the divines are interested here in the authority of Scripture. And the intent of the paragraph is to set out for us the ground or reason why the Scriptures are authoritative, and thus why they ought to be believed and obeyed. They set out, very clearly, that the authority of Scripture does not, in any way, rest on the Church or its councils. Rather, its authority rests on its author, God, and is to be received because it is His Word. This is sometimes called the autopiston of Scripture, translated as self-attesting, or self-authenticating. What does that mean?

It does not mean self-evident. Self-authentication is an objective attribute, whereas self-evident refers more specifically to the knowing agent. It therefore does not mean that revelation as self-authenticated compels agreement. That which is self-authenticating can be denied. It does mean that it needs no other authority as confirmation in order to be justified and absolutely authoritative in what it says. This does not mean that nothing else attends that authority; there are other evidences, which the next section makes clear. What it does mean is that nothing else whatsoever is needed, nor is there anything else that is able to supersede this ground, in order for Scripture to be deemed authoritative. This is, at least in part, what God means when he says, in Isaiah 55, that His Word, simply by going out, will accomplish what He desires. This is the case because of what God's Word is in itself. It always goes out with authority, because it carries His own authority with it.

That, in a nutshell, is how “God’s word” works. It works. As the author of Hebrews writes, “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

It requires no “interpretive paradigm”.

Michael Liccione said in a comment:

(1) The Catholic IP [“interpretive paradigm”] is preferable to the Protestant IP because the former, unlike the latter, supplies a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions.

I’m sure he’s outlined an argument for this somewhere. But what is it that makes it “preferable”? Preferable to himself, maybe, because he wants Rome’s views to come out on top, and this seems to me to be just a fancy way of stacking the deck.

Is this “IP” preferable to God? When has God ever outlined that this is preferable?

In speaking of God’s immutability, Bavinck writes, “God is as immutable in his knowing, willing, and decreeing, as he is in his being” (Vol 2 pg 154). Citing Augustine, he writes:

The essence of God by which he is what he is, possesses nothing changeable, neither in eternity, nor in truthfulness, nor in will (The Trinity, IV).

And citing Confessions:

For even as you totally are, so do you alone totally know, for you immutably are, and you know immutably, and you will immutably. Your essence knows and wills immutably, and your knowledge is and wills immutably, and your will is and knows immutably. (Confessions, XIII, 16)

He continues, “Neither creation, nor revelation, nor incarnation (affects, etc.) brought about any change in God. No new plan ever arose in God. In God there was always one single immutable will. He notes that this immutability as one of the incommunicable attributes of God is not questioned by the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutherans, nor Reformed theologians.

Furthermore, as Steve Hays has said elsewhere, “Christianity is a revealed religion… Only God knows his own mind. We lack direct access to the mind of God. Intentions are hidden. We don’t know God’s intentions unless he tells us. That’s not something we can intuit or infer from the natural order.”

In the “35,000 foot view” model, John Currid, in his Genesis commentary (Vol 1) is able to make the statement that “Genesis 3:15 is Messianic. And the identity of the said descendant is clear from genealogies such as Luke 3 … Genesis 3 is the prophecy that God will send a redeemer to crush the enemy. Jesus is the seed who is descended from Eve and went to do battle against Satan. 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.

God is consistent in time. In his plan, in his will, in his method of revelation, God is unchanging. And when we perceive something different, such as the movement between the “old covenant” and the “new covenant”, we see, as the writer of Hebrews tells us, the old was merely “copies of the heavenly things”. Christ himself revealed “the heavenly things themselves” (Hebrews 9:23)

It is in that way that He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature (Hebrews 1:3).

Where, then, in Revelation [“we don’t know God’s intentions unless he tells us”] does God posit, even in some “implicit, seed form” that having “a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions” is “preferable”?

I’ve cited Beale’s work on Adam, but Beale continues to show that God’s command to Adam continued through to the Patriarchs, then to Moses, where it was written down. Same set of commands:

To Adam:

And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

To Noah:

“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth. The fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth and upon every bird of the heavens, upon everything that creeps on the ground and all the fish of the sea. Into your hand they are delivered. … And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.”

To Abraham:

“I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless, that I may make my covenant between me and you, and may multiply you greatly.” Then Abram fell on his face. And God said to him, “Behold, my covenant is with you, and you shall be the father of a multitude of nations. … I have made you the father of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful, and I will make you into nations, and kings shall come from you.

He says the same to Isaac, and Jacob, and repeatedly to the nation of Israel:

And the LORD will make you abound in prosperity, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your livestock and in the fruit of your ground, within the land that the LORD swore to your fathers to give you. The LORD will open to you his good treasury, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season and to bless all the work of your hands.

He traces this same phenomenon all through the OT. And even though history continued to occur, and prophets continued to speak, the “living voice”, so to speak, faded away, superseded by what was written, and what was written was authoritative.

God expects his command to be obeyed, without providing “a principled distinction between divine revelation and human theological opinions”. He doesn’t use the precise wording every time, but his intention nevertheless is never said to be in question. (Even though “people interpret it wrongly”).

Where, in all of Old Testament history, does the immutable God provide the model for the “IP” which you say is preferable?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Satan bound

12 And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars. 2 She was pregnant and was crying out in birth pains and the agony of giving birth. 3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great red dragon, with seven heads and ten horns, and on his heads seven diadems. 4 His tail swept down a third of the stars of heaven and cast them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was about to give birth, so that when she bore her child he might devour it.

7 Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, 8 but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in heaven. 9 And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.
(Rev 12:1-4,7-9)

20 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain. 2 And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, 3 and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he might not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were ended. After that he must be released for a little while.

7 And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea.
(Rev 20:1-3,7-8)

In what sense is Satan bound? In what sense are the nations deceived?

i)The Apocalypse contains a lot of astronomical imagery. Why is that?

One reason is that Revelation is using stock apocalyptic language, which is often astronomical.

ii) Another reason is that astronomical imagery contrasts with terrestrial or subterranean imagery. This is a way of depicting the fact that behind human conflicts between God’s people and idolaters or persecutors are unseen spiritual forces. God and Satan, angels and demons.

iii) However, there may be a third reason. Zodiacal astrology, along with the corollary doctrine of astral fatalism, was pervasive in the Greco-Roman world. Likewise, thunder and lightning was a part of ancient astrology (e.g. brontologia). Although this had its critics, it was popular at all social strata. Indeed, its popularity gave rise to the critics. At the end of this post I present some documentation.

Therefore, it’s quite possible that Revelation is, among other things, a polemic against astrology and astral fatalism. That would certainly resonant with John’s audience.

iv) To some extent, Rev 12 and 20 are parallel. This may be a case of recapitulation, but I’m not pressing that claim. Even if Rev 20 is recapitulatory, I don’t think Rev 20 simply covers the very same ground. By Rev 19, the narrative has turned a corner. We’re on the homestretch.

Nevertheless, there are some undeniable parallels between Rev 12 and 20. And to that degree, they are mutually interpretive. Understanding Rev 12 helps us to understand Rev 20, and vice versa.

v) What do the figures in Rev 12 represent? Well, at one level, the woman stands for Israel, the newborn for the Messiah, and the Dragon for the Tempter in Gen 3–while the 12 stars evoke the 12 tribes of Israel (Gen 37:9).

vi) However, this scene is set in “heaven” (or the sky). It trades on astronomical imagery. Celestial portents were a fixture of ancient astrology. At that level, the twelve stars correspond to the Zodiac, the woman corresponds to Virgo while the Dragon corresponds to Hydra, Draco, Serpens, or Scorpio.  Which constellation precisely correlates with the Dragon is unimportant, since this conjunction is a literary construct rather than physical description.

vii) The meteoric image of a falling star signifies a fall from power. Indeed, that’s something of a literary cliché, both in Scripture as well as extrabiblical sources.

If John wanted to depose astrology, the cosmic Dragon’s downfall would be a good way of symbolizing the dethronement of astrology and astral fatalism.

viii) On this interpretation, the nations are deceived in the sense that, historically, many gentiles deluded by their faith in the stars. They thought their destiny was written in the stars. And this, in turn, was a way in which the Devil captivated the heathen imagination and made it subservient to his moral and spiritual tyranny.

By the same interpretation, Satan is bound when pagans emancipate themselves from astrology by becoming Christians. And that, in turn, is made possible by the advent of Christ.

But, of course, not all pagans became Christian. And some pagan converts to Christianity reverted to paganism. Apostates resume their Satanic self-delusions. They put themselves back under the Devil’s heel.

xi) This would be appropriate to Revelation, which is about the pressure to renounce the true faith in the face of persecution or martyrdom.

And this remains germane to our own time, for astrology continues to deceive many. 

A new old US policy of avoiding endless wars

This is an exceptional analysis from Stratfor:

[Today, after Afghanistan] the United States has the option of following U.S. strategy in the two world wars. The United States was patient, accepted risks and shifted the burden to others, and when it acted, it acted out of necessity, with clearly defined goals matched by capabilities. Waiting until there is no choice but to go to war is not isolationism. Allowing others to carry the primary risk is not disengagement. Waging wars that are finite is not irresponsible.

The greatest danger of war is what it can do to one's own society, changing the obligations of citizens and reshaping their rights. The United States has always done this during wars, but those wars would always end. Fighting a war that cannot end reshapes domestic life permanently. A strategy that compels engagement everywhere will exhaust a country. No empire can survive the imperative of permanent, unwinnable warfare. It is fascinating to watch the French deal with Mali. It is even more fascinating to watch the United States wishing them well and mostly staying out of it. It has taken about 10 years, but here we can see the American system stabilize itself by mitigating the threats that can't be eliminated and refusing to be drawn into fights it can let others handle.