Saturday, August 09, 2014

Islam on the march

Roman crusading “fossilized Islam into a fanatic posture”

This is a follow-up to my blog post this morning, “Historical Roman Catholicism is the cradle, enabler, and teacher of radical Islam today”.

The question came up in the comments, “But which historians move from this fact [that Islam was born out of a mutant understanding of mutant Christianity] to your conclusion? Does anyone else argue that [the Roman Church] was a "significant" "enabling cause" of radical Islam?”


One stock objection to the Resurrection appearances is the claim that these were hallucinatory. Mass hallucinations. 

One observation I'd like to make is that we live in a day and age when many people have experienced hallucinations by taking psychedelic drugs. Even when you're hallucinating, it's possible to know that you're hallucinating. You keep telling yourself that this doesn't make sense. It can't be real. In that respect it's like a lucid dream. So even when you're hallucinating, you can retain enough objectivity to realize this isn't for real.

And after you sober up, you can compare your hallucinatory state of mind with your normal state of mind. The things you saw and heard in your hallucination don't exist. 

So the hallucinatory theory fails to explain the Resurrection appearances. People who experience hallucinations can still distinguish between appearance and reality, even during their altered state of consciousness, not to mention after the fact. 

Historical Roman Catholicism is the cradle, enabler, and teacher of radical Islam today

About a week ago, I re-posted a comment on Facebook something that Stephen Wolfe had said. The gist of it is:

The Calvinist’s chief theological opponent should not be Arminianism; it should be Roman Catholicism. The “five points” debate is an Arminian construction, and while Arminianism can be reduced to its “five points,” Calvinism cannot be reduced to such a limited set of doctrinal points. Calvinism is ultimately a comprehensive view of living in the world, just as Roman Catholicism is a comprehensive view of living in the world. Calvinism (with Roman Catholicism) is a unique orientation toward God, one’s neighbor, and creation. Arminianism is just a narrow set of doctrine fitting for analytic philosophers. When Calvinists make Arminians their chief opponent they either elevate Arminianism to something it is not or they demote Calvinism to a pathetically limited set of doctrine. The Arminians should be known for their five points, not the Calvinists.

This led to a very long discussion, by a lot of people. Here’s the gist of why I see Roman Catholicism as the chief of evils to be opposed in our day:

And yet, if you look at the grand sweep of history, it is not hard to see that the Roman Catholic empire (the heir of the old Roman empire) was the cradle and teacher of Islam. Certainly we can go back farther than that, but I think the influence on the overall story-line is somewhat diminished.

But Roman Catholicism is the great influencer of the [western] world we have today. I will go further than the OP in saying that “Roman Catholicism is a comprehensive view of living in the world”, and I will say that Roman Catholicism, in its comprehensiveness, is a major source of evil in the world. [Certainly, some good Roman Catholics have done some good things, and it may even be said that Roman Catholicism helped to enable a world to follow-up with the sciences. But arguably it was the Reformation that was the great enabler of the advances in the world that we see.]

In Rome’s historical quest to dominate the world, it has perpetuated all kinds of falsehoods. Insofar as Rome disfigured the gospel (pursuing its own “authority” even back in the 5th and 6th centuries), it was an enabler of Mohammad. And through some of its machinations in the Middle Ages (such as the quest for world domination – domination of the east – and the Crusades, the Inquisition, and the opponent of Jews), it became a teacher of, a motivation for, and an example to, radical Islam today: that heretics must be tortured and killed.

Roman Catholicism is, quite frankly, the source of huge swaths of what is wrong in the world today.

By comparison, Arminianism is just a piker.

“Dogma Appreciation 101”

This is just a personal note, but I’ve found Mike Taylor from NTRMin. I would heartily commend his blog to anyone who wants to try to understand what Roman Catholicism is all about. I have some fairly specific recollections of Mike from my NTRMin days – most specifically, the phrase describing the “Roman Catholic Hermeneutic” as “Dogma Appreciation 101”. Mike was a Roman Catholic seminarian and a Deacon before leaving. But in the process, he received the kind of education that priests received, and he’s in as unique a place as anyone to comment on it.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Terminal lucidity

It's striking to contrast these two claims:

Some of us (myself included) [Douglas Hofstadter] believe that the late President Reagan was essentially “all gone” many years before his body gave up the ghost, and more generally we believe that people in the final stages of Alzheimer’s disease are essentially all gone…. The “I” has either wholly or partially vanished, gone down the drain, never to be found again.

Only recently have scientists begun to take note of a phenomenon first observed by doctors in 19th-century insane asylums in France, Germany and the U.S. Back then, they called it  terminal lucidity. 
Patients with severe and chronic mental illness or dementia would suddenly start speaking clearly and rationally before death. 
Even those with amnesia often recognised family members for the first time in years, and were able to say goodbye. 
More recently, nurses and physicians have been noticing this phenomenon as more people end their lives in hospices. 
In 2007, Dr Scott Haig wrote an account of his patient, David, who had lung cancer that had spread to the brain. 
First, David’s speech had become slurred and then he’d  lost the ability to speak or  even move. 
A brain scan done by his oncologist showed that there was scarcely any brain left. 
For days, said Haig, his patient had ‘no expression, no response to anything we did to him’. 
Then, when the doctor made his evening rounds one Friday, he noticed that David had lapsed into the laboured breathing that often presages death. 
But an hour before he died, he woke up, and talked calmly and coherently to his wife and three children, smiling and patting  their hands. 
As Haig noted: ‘It wasn’t David’s brain that woke him up to say goodbye that Friday. ‘His brain had already been destroyed.’ 
Psychiatrist Russell Noyes had  a similar case: a 91-year-old woman who’d lost her capacity for speech and movement as a result of two strokes. 
Yet she suddenly broke through those walls shortly before  her death. 
Smiling excitedly, the woman turned her head, sat up without effort, raised her arms, and  called out happily to her dead husband. Then she lay back down and died. 
Whether or not she’d had a vision of her husband, the far more difficult and astonishing fact was that she’d regained her speech and mobility.

Why Do Liberals Have Trouble Understanding the Pure Evil of Jihad?

Pro-choice vegetarians

The illustrious Peter Pike makes a few remarks on Douglas Hofstadter's I Am a Strange Loop.

Sex and marriage

1 Cor 7 raises a number of interesting interpretive issues, most of which I'll ignore in this post.

1) One issue is why some Christian couples were either deferring marriage, or abstaining from conjugal relations. Here are two of the more plausible explanations:

i) Perhaps some of them operated with an overrealized eschatology. They thought the new covenant ushered in a new world order, rendering sex and marriage obsolete. Kind of like the Shaker cult. 

If so, I assume it was some of the Corinthian women who took this position, inasmuch as it's hard to imagine men dreaming that up.

ii) There may have been anxieties about the future, caused by concerns about famine or other socioeconomic insecurities. Because sex normally produces children, would it be prudent at that time to refrain from having a child or expand a preexisting family in case socioeconomic conditions might make it difficult to support your dependents? 

I'd also note that these are not mutually exclusive explanations. Maybe both were in play.

2) Another issue is whether the statement in v1 (“It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman”) represents Paul's position or the Corinthian position. Is he expressing his own viewpoint, or is he quoting from their letter, as a foil? There are good arguments, albeit inconclusive, for supposing that Paul is quoting or summarizing the Corinthian position at this juncture (see Thiselton). 

On the face of it, it would be odd for Paul to stake out the position that it's good for a man to avoid sexual relations when he immediately proceeds to insist on conjugal relations. It's possible, though, that Paul has something more specific in mind. So the tension may be superficial and illusory. 

3) It's striking that in his justification of conjugal relations, Paul doesn't appeal to procreation. There may be a couple of reasons for that intentional omission.

i) Paul makes the point that sexual enjoyment within marriage is good in itself, and not just a means to an end. It doesn't require procreation to justify it. It isn't even secondary to procreation. 

ii) Paul is addressing Christian gentiles. Converts from paganism. In Greco-Roman culture (in contradistinction to Jewish culture), sex was bifurcated. Basically, men had procreational sex within marriage, and recreational sex outside of marriage. The purpose of marital sex was to produce legitimate heirs. But for sexual enjoyment, men had recourse to courtesans, mistresses, prostitutes, and slave-girls. Your range of options depended on your social class.

a) One likely reason Paul doesn't discuss the procreative rationale for marriage is because his Corinthians correspondents already accepted that rationale. The problem, though, is that they restricted marriage to procreative intent–in contrast to premarital or extramarital recreational sex.

b) Apropos (a), Paul is opposing that bifurcation. Sex for pleasure is good, but that, too, is confined to marital sex. Marriage is the proper setting for procreational and recreational sex alike.

There may have been gentile converts to Christianity who thought it was just fine to continue their former practice: procreational sex with your wife, but recreational sex with other women. If so, Paul is correcting them. 

Incidentally, this may also be what Paul had in mind concerning his enigmatic statement that an elder should be a one-woman man (1 Tim 3:2). 

iii) Of course, this only works if both spouses understand and honor their mutual roles in that respect, which is why Paul goes on to stress conjugal relations as a reciprocal duty. 

Ironically, some "evangelical feminists" have turned this upside down. Paul says the husband has a duty to his wife. They say the wife has no duty to her husband. 

Magic hair

i) Sacramentalists believe there's something special about the communion elements that makes them a means of grace. The communion elements become Jesus. Or Jesus is physically present in the communion elements.

By parity of logic, what makes the baptismal water efficacious is that it becomes the Holy Spirit. Or the Holy Spirit is somehow "in" the water (like an eye-drop of dye dispersed in water). But sacramentarians don't argue for the nature of the baptismal water in the same way they argue for the nature of the communion elements. Why the lack of consistent explanation? 

If the "presence" or identity of Jesus with the bread and wine is what makes it efficacious, doesn't that require a parallel in the case of water baptism? 

ii) There's another problem with the sacramentalist inference. Because the Bible ascribes certain effects to communion and (especially) baptism, sacramentalists infer that there's an intrinsic link between the two, where the baptismal water or communion bread and/or communion wine causes a spiritual effect. 

(This also depends on whether you think their prooftexts actually refer to baptism and communion.)

But let's take a couple of comparisons:

a) Samson's superhuman might is associated with his long, uncut hair (Judges 13:5; 16:17,22). But does that mean the narrator thought his hair was the actual source of his strength? Did he have magic hair?

But surely ancients Jews were aware of the fact that long hair didn't automatically confer superhuman strength on men. Indeed, not even Nazirites in general had superhuman strength. 

So the hair wasn't what caused his superhuman strength. The hair was only emblematic. God assigned an arbitrary link between his hair and his strength. But his superhuman might came from direct divine empowerment.

b) Take the case of Uzzah, who was struck dead for touching the ark of the covenant (2 Sam 6:6-7). Is that because the ark was electrified? Like people who are electrocuted if they touch a live power line? 

No, the ark was made of wood. The wood wasn't fatal on contact. You could use the same kind of wood to make many other harmless artifacts. It's not like death from eating a poisonous mushroom. 

Rather, the ark was ritually sacrosanct object. It symbolized God's unapproachable holiness. It wasn't the ark that caused his death, but God. 

Peering through the keyhole

Why You Should Be Prepared To Address Paranormal Experiences

Yesterday, I reviewed a new book about paranormal phenomena. In that book, the author cites research to the effect that about half the population of individuals who have experienced bereavement think they've had some sort of contact with the dead. Only a somewhat small percentage, but in the double digits, have had an experience involving something like seeing a deceased individual or hearing his voice. More cases involve a sensed presence, such as an impression that the deceased person is nearby or has touched your body. Whatever form the experience takes, many people think it's happened to them. Of the people listening to a sermon in your church next Sunday, probably at least a large minority of them have had that sort of experience. And people frequently encounter information on near-death experiences and other paranormal phenomena while watching television, in movies, in books, on web sites, in classrooms, and in a lot of other contexts. Even in conservative Evangelical churches, the Bible isn't all that's shaping people's views about the afterlife and related issues.

Christians need to be more careful in thinking through what the Bible teaches about these subjects, and they need to become more informed about paranormal phenomena. Many of your relatives, friends, and co-workers, as well as individuals in your church, have had such experiences or have heard about them. That's part of the reason why so many people believe in reincarnation or reject Christian exclusivism, for example. It's not just a matter of people believing what they want to believe. Often, they think paranormal experiences offer evidence for such beliefs. The Christian response needs to involve more than citing the Bible in support of your conclusions, especially if the Bible doesn't actually teach what you claim it does. A lot of people ought to be spending less time on things like watching trivial television programs, following sports, and doing unnecessary housework and more time reading books and doing other research.

Hogwarts School of the Holy Spirit

Wednesday, August 06, 2014


Did you know that the Arminian God is a robot? Don't take my word for it. Just ask Jerry Walls. Arminians routinely assure us that Calvinism makes men robots because men lack libertarian freedom of Calvinism is true. Yet, according to Walls, God lacks libertarian freedom. 

Jerry Walls It's simple. Love is God's very nature as a Trinity, not a sovereign choice. He necessarily loves all beings.

Since God necessarily loves all "beings" (does that include Brussels sprouts?), God cannot not love all beings. He can't do otherwise. His love is necessitated. So, by the axiomatic logic of Arminians, that makes their God a robot. 

The basis of God's knowledge

God’s knowledge of what happens in this world “corresponds” (is the best word) to what happens; it does not cause it or even render it certain. 
The only way God’s knowledge can be independent of human decisions and actions is if God foreordains them and renders them certain.

Raises an interesting question: Is this a general principle regarding God's knowledge? Does God know how many moons orbit Neptune because x-number of moons orbit Neptune? Is his knowledge contingent on (i.e. caused by, the effect of) the moons in question? 

Or does Olson bifurcate God's knowledge of actualities into two different modes: how God knows what free agents will do is different from God's knowledge of trees, insects, inanimate objects, &c.? Is God's knowledge of human decisions dependent on human decisions whereas his knowledge of comets and butterflies is independent of comets and butterflies? 

For the love of God

Patricia Pearson's Opening Heaven's Door

Patricia Pearson recently wrote a book about paranormal phenomena, especially as they relate to the afterlife. The book is titled Opening Heaven's Door (New York, New York: Atria Books, 2014), and it's received significant media attention (like here and here). Pearson has been interviewed by Alex Tsakiris, though I don't know when the interview will be made public.

The book provides a helpful introduction to deathbed visions, sensed presences, near-death experiences (NDEs), and other paranormal phenomena. She includes a lot of recent research. And she provides some good answers to common objections to the paranormal nature of these occurrences.

There's a lot that's good about the book, but I'm going to focus on some of the problems I have with it. It's representative of a large percentage of modern literature on the paranormal, having many of the same weaknesses.

Freedom is messy

Atheists, Arminians, and the empty tomb

In dealing with the NT Resurrection accounts, atheists take the position that a genuine resurrection is out of the question. That's not open for consideration. Therefore, any explanation is preferable to that. The swoon theory. The disciples went to the wrong address. The body was stolen. Jesus had a twin brother. Jesus was a space alien. 

Now for a striking parallel. Arminians take the position that Calvinism is out of the question. That's not open for consideration. Therefore, any explanation is preferable to that.

Open theism is preferable. Repudiating inerrancy is preferable. Positing that God has middle knowledge of what nonexistent persons, many of whom will never exist, would do. Somehow, these nonentities have a shadowy independence in relation to which God intuits the nonexistent choices of nonexistent agents. 

Stipulating simple foreknowledge despite the admitted contradiction between foreknowledge and libertarian freedom.

In fact, many Arminians have made it abundantly clear that if the alternatives boiled down to Calvinism or atheism, they'd opt for atheism. The Calvinist God is "unworthy of their worship." A "moral monster." Atheism is their ultimate fallback position. Kinda like shooting yourself in the head before the police nab you.  

Both Arminians and atheist will grasp at any explanation whatsoever to evade the remaining explanation, even if it happens to be right.  

"Psychic prayer"

In this post I'm going to discuss Stephen Braude's secular alternative explanation for answered prayer, in chap. 7 of his new book, Crimes of Reason (Rowman & Littlefield 2014). 
The typical secular dismissal of answered prayer requires the atheist to discount every single answered prayer as sheer coincidence. One putative advantage of Braude's approach (advantageous from a secular standpoint) is that, if successful, he can concede a genuine causal correlation, but account for that naturalistically–by appealing to paranormal resources. Of course, I disagree with his explanation, but that's the set-up. 
If telepathic leakage, telepathic influence, and PK [psychokinesis] can occur, then we can see how to explain the apparent (if only occasional) efficacy of prayer causally but without reference to a deity. 
This suffers from an obvious oversight. Assuming the existence of psi, that's not an ipso facto naturalistic. Just as God can endow people with normal abilities, he could endow people with paranormal abilities. God could still be the ultimate source of the answered prayer, even if psi mediates the outcome. That would be analogous to ordinary providence. 
The potential psychic strategies are obvious enough: (1) Relevant people could come to know our prayers through ESP and respond consciously or otherwise.
i) It's unclear to me why Braude appeals to ESP to account for how second parties could know what we pray for. I daresay that in many or most instances, friends and family become aware of our prayer requests because we tell them our needs and solicit their prayers, in conjunction with our own. 
ii) Which is not to deny instances where a Christian feels led to pray for someone else, without having direct knowledge of his situation. There are cases where a Christian will say they were burdened to pray for someone, or the Lord laid it on their heart to pray for someone. They feel a prompting to drop everything and pray for that person. And it turns out the person they prayed for was undergoing a crisis at the time. 
Perhaps that's the scenario which Braude has in mind. 
iii) Even if we grant telepathy, is that the same thing as mind-reading? The contents of our minds and memories aren't organized like a library. There's no subject index at the back of the book which a second-party can consult to find the right page. Our memories are catalogued by associations. Many of our memories are visual. The significance of the memory is private. What it means to me. I don't see how an outsider rummaging through my mind could interpret what he finds. 
Even if a second party had access to our minds, I don't see how he could find what he was looking for. Fact is, it's hard for us to retrieve some of our own buried memories. 
Seems to me that telepathic awareness is more plausible in reference to coarse-grained experience, like sensing that another person is in a state of emotional distress. 
By contrast, Calvinism charts a straightforward path. God knows what we think because he planned what we think. 
(2) We might telepathically or psychokinetically influence others to carry out needed actions. 
i) What does that mean, exactly?  Subliminal messaging? Planting an idea in someone else's mind? How would we psychokinetically influence others to carry out needed actions? Surely he doesn't mean taking control of someone else's body. That would be akin to demonic possession, which is not a naturalistic alternative! 
ii) Even if we grant PK, aren't there are limits to PK? Presumably, Braude doesn't think humans have the psychokinetic ability to change the moon's orbit (to take one example). 
Or (3) we could psychokinetically bring about relevant states of affairs (e.g. a change in someone's health). 
One problem with that suggestion is that it takes more than mere ability to cure someone. It takes knowledge as well as power. How can you psychokinetically heal somebody unless you know what exactly is wrong with them? An automechanic may have the ability to fix your car, but if he can't look under the hood, he hasn't a clue what needs to be repaired. Braude's alternative amounts to a facile placeholder rather than a genuine explanation. 
I imagine most readers would argue that prayers are frequently (and perhaps usually) not answered. For example, when both teams or contestants in a sporting event pray for victory, at least 50 percent of them will not have their prayers answered (I suppose a tie game could be viewed as divine mischief).
i) That's an odd example to illustrate his contention. If only two outcomes are mathematically possible (one winner, one loser), then, by definition, 50% of the supplicants will not have their prayer answered. Given the framework, God can only answer one team's prayers. So unanswered prayer in that situation doesn't require a special explanation. It's not "sporadic." Rather, that scenario places severe constraints on whose prayer can answered. 
ii) In addition, there's no reason to assume God answered the prayer of the winning team or contestant. Some prayers are inappropriate. The prayers of both sides go unanswered because, as a rule, that's a frivolous prayer. 
iii) That said, there are occasions when God might answer such a prayer. A player may be counting on a sports scholarship. If he loses, he won't go to college. His career is on the line. Whether he wins or loses will impact the rest of his life. Who he marries. Where he lives. Which children he has. 
Depending on God's intentions for someone's life, there are situations where he will grant or decline a prayer for a successful performance at a sporting event. But there's no general correlation between answered prayer and which team won or lost. 
So if an apparently efficacious prayer isn't simply a coincidence, what needs to be explained is not simply why prayer occasionally succeeds but also why it sometimes (or usually) fails.
i) A problem with chalking up answered prayer to coincidence is that Braude is a proponent of precognition. But those who discount "apparently efficacious prayer" as sheer coincidence typically discount apparent precognition as sheer coincidence. 
ii) In principle, it isn't hard to see why prayer sometimes succeeds and sometimes (or oftentimes) fails. Answered prayer has a ripple effect. God will decline to grant a prayer request if the consequences are detrimental. If it will do more harm than good. What's the long-term, overall impact of an answered prayer? Who will benefit? Who will suffer? Do the good consequences outweigh the bad consequences?
I'd also say, speaking as a Calvinist, that God answers prayers consistent with his plan for the world. He won't grant a prayer request if the answer would derail his plan for the world. 
Psychic functioning wouldn't be the sort of thing we call forth just to meet the demands of psi research or other overt solicitations, such as police investigations, seances, or for the purpose of entertainment…
i) Braude has to interject this disclaimer to explain away the hit-and-miss character of his paranormal alternative. He thinks the supernatural interpretation of prayer is problematic because answered prayer is so "sporadic." Yet his paranormal alternative is equally sporadic. 
On the face of it, he's solving one alleged problem by recourse to a parallel problem. Prayer has a hit-and-miss record. But psi has a hit-and-miss record. So his naturalistic alternative seems to be just as "random" in a different way–even though he appeals to personal agency. 
ii) There is, moreover, another explanation for the haphazard character of psi. What if psi is something we can't summon at will because that's not a human ability? The exercise of psi is sporadic because it isn't ours to command. Rather, our role is instrumental. We are conduits of superhuman agents. The reason we can't make it work consistently is that we are being used by another agent to further his aims rather than our own.  
If so, then the secular interpretation of prayer as a ritual for invoking our psi capacities actually makes some sense of prayer's mixed and rather underwhelming record of success. By contrast, if we try to explain the efficacy of prayer in terms of divine intervention, then many might feel that we need to tell a variety of ad hoc, convoluted, and antecedently implausible stories about why a presumably loving God withheld his grace from us all those times our  prayers were not answered–not to mention why the prayers of apparently conspicuously wretched persons seem to have been answered instead.
i) One problem with that objection is that he doesn't even state, much less defend, what makes these "ad hoc, convoluted, and antecedently implausible stories." We don't even know what he has in mind. 
ii) I don't think it's hard to explain, at a general level, why God answers some prayers, but not others. Answered prayer is not a closed system of discrete, self-contained effects–where the effect of answered prayer terminates on the immediate objective. Rather, answered prayer is both an effect of prayer, and a cause of subsequent events. Answered prayer generates a chain-reaction. A cause produces an effect. The effect, in turn, becomes a cause producing another effect.

An obvious reason why God might decline to answer many prayers is because they would have deleterious results down the line. Collateral damage. Even little changes in the present can snowball into immense cumulative changes over time.  
It's the law of unintended consequences. Because I'm shortsighted, when I pray I can't foresee all the repercussions of God answering my prayer. But God can. 
iii) Another basic problem with Braude's alternative is that he speaks in such vague generalities. It's too abstract. He doesn't test his claims against specific candidates for answered prayer. Let's take some examples from Scripture. Clearly, Braude doesn't believe these examples. But for the purpose of this discussion, I'm using them to illustrate certain kinds of answered prayer. Can Braude's model account for examples like that? If not, is he forced to deny that those kinds of cases ever happen? 
12 And he said, “O Lord, God of my master Abraham, please grant me success today and show steadfast love to my master Abraham. 13 Behold, I am standing by the spring of water, and the daughters of the men of the city are coming out to draw water. 14 Let the young woman to whom I shall say, ‘Please let down your jar that I may drink,’ and who shall say, ‘Drink, and I will water your camels’—let her be the one whom you have appointed for your servant Isaac. By this I shall know that you have shown steadfast love to my master.”15 Before he had finished speaking, behold, Rebekah, who was born to Bethuel the son of Milcah, the wife of Nahor, Abraham's brother, came out with her water jar on her shoulder (Gen 24:12-15).
i) This is an example of retroactive prayer. By that I mean a prayer in which God initiates the answer prior to the time of the prayer. Minimally, Rebekah has to leave the house before Abraham's servant prayed to God. But it tracks back further in time. Rebekah had to live there in the first place. 
Take another example:
 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms generously to the people, and prayed continually to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God come in and say to him, “Cornelius.” And he stared at him in terror and said, “What is it, Lord?” And he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa and bring one Simon who is called Peter. He is lodging with one Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the sea.” When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those who attended him, and having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa.The next day, as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the housetop about the sixth hour to pray. 17 Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision that he had seen might mean, behold, the men who were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon's house, stood at the gate 18 and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there (Acts 10:1-9,17-18).
ii) Assuming this was in answer to the centurion's last prayer, Peter had to begin his trip to Joppa before Cornelius prayed. Notice how the events are coordinated. Peter has his vision at the very same time the centurion's servants are coming to fetch him. The action is synchronized, even though Cornelius dispatched them a day before. In terms of the human participants, these are causally independent events. Their convergence depends on God prearranging the outcome.
But even if Cornelius had been praying this same prayer for years, the answer to his prayer begins long before his prayer. Peter has to exist in the first place. Peter has to survive to adulthood, in an age of high infant mortality. Peter has to be a disciple of Christ. Simon the Tanner must exist. Simon's house must be within commuting distance of the centurion's house. And so on and so forth. 
In order for the prayer to be answered, many antecedent conditions must be in place long before the prayer. Peter coming to Cornelius in answer to prayer requires a causal change of events stretch back into the indefinite past. 
iii) What is the paranormal alternative mechanism? In theory, Braude might postulate retrocausation. However, Braude is a critic of retrocausation. 
Retrocausation suffers from familiar and formidable objections. Consistency and bootstrap paradoxes.
iv) In theory, Braude might appeal to precognition. Perhaps a human agent in the past foreknew the centurion's prayer, or the prayer of Abraham's servant, then, using PK, set in motion a series of preliminaries eventuating in the "answered prayer." Mind you, I float this hypothetical for the sake of argument. 
a) There are at least two basic problems with that alternative, one of which I'll address now, and save the other for later (see below). One problem is whether secularism has the metaphysical machinery to drive precognition. Take our knowledge of the past. Our knowledge of the past is caused by past events. There's a chain of intervening events linking a past occurrence to our knowledge of a past occurrence.
But that's precisely where knowledge of the future breaks down. Secular precognition inverts the order of cause and effect. How can my knowledge of a future event be the effect of something that hasn't happened as of yet? How can that be contingent on nonevent? 
b) In principle, Braude might say might say PK and precognition work in tandem. The human agent knows the future by influencing circumstances to produce that end-result. He knows the future by knowing the foreseeable consequences of his own actions. And I think there's a grain of truth to that. But it demands more than human agency to pull it off, as I'll discuss momentarily.
c) Apropos (a-b), Reformed theism can account for precognition. God knows the future because God predestined the future, and everything happens according to plan. God providentially causes his plan to eventuate. God can share his foreknowledge with humans. There's a sense in which knowing the future can affect the future, so God's plan for the future includes the affect of disclosing the future to humans. 
I'm not appealing to precognition to explain retroactive prayer. Rather, I'm making the point that even if someone like Braude were to invoke precognition to explain answered prayer, that would not be a naturalistic alternative, for precognition only makes sense given robust theism. 
Let's take another example:
15 And he blessed Joseph and said,“The God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked,    the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day,16 the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the boys;    and in them let my name be carried on, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac;    and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth” (Gen 48:15-16).

That's a case of long-range prayer. Num 26 records the progressive answer to that prayer. At that point Joseph's posterity numbered about 85,000 males–not counting women. 

i) What's the paranormal alternative? Braude might appeal to PK. One problem with that appeal is that Jacob died shortly after his prayer. How can Jacob be using PK to orchestrate events long after he expired? Is that an appeal to postmortem PK? If so, one problem is that Braude seems to have a this-worldly view of psi. He appeals to "living-agent psi" to account for mediumship. That's his alternative explanation to the survival thesis. The medium didn't actually contact the dead.  

ii) There's also the question of whether a human agent, assuming he has psi, can manipulate, or even keep track of, the immense number of interconnected variables which must line up in a particular direction to yield the desired outcome. Surely it's easier to see how God is able to choreograph the needed contingencies. 

15 And Hezekiah prayed before the Lord and said…19 “So now, O Lord our God, save us, please, from his hand, that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you, O Lord, are God alone.”35 And that night the angel of the Lord went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies. 36 Then Sennacherib king of Assyria departed and went home and lived at Nineveh. 37 And as he was worshiping in the house of Nisroch his god, Adrammelech and Sharezer, his sons, struck him down with the sword and escaped into the land of Ararat. And Esarhaddon his son reigned in his place (2 Kgs 19:15,19,35-36; cf. 2 Chron 32:20-21; Isa 37:36-38).
i) Does Braude think that psi can do that? It would no doubt be militarily advantageous to recruit psychics who had some awesome destructive power. But does military history bear that out? Why are we still using tanks and bombers if some humans can annihilate armies with PK? Where's the evidence?
ii) In addition, Hezekiah's prayer had a delayed effect. Years later, Sennarcherib's ambitious sons assassinate their father. In context, that, too, is viewed as a divine answer to Hezekiah's prayer.
What's the paranormal explanation? That Hezekiah used psi to seize their minds and bodies to commit regicide and patricide?  
When you get down to the nitty-gritty details, it is Braude who must resort to "ad hoc, convoluted, and antecedently implausible stories."

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Tricksy hobbitses

About a year ago, Jerry Coyne wrote a post titled "Human evolution: the hobbits were probably real".

However, apparently: "Flores bones show features of Down syndrome, not a new 'hobbit' human".

Of course, the guys over at EN&V have doubted this from the get-go. For example, see here.

Maybe it's still too early, but I haven't noticed any retractions from Coyne or other prominent evolutionists who thought these "hobbit" fossils were quite likely a distinct species of human beings. Let alone acknowledgement that ID theorists were closer to the truth than these evolutionists were. Well, I won't hold my breath!

Lawyerly atheists

In my experience, internet atheists typically act like lawyers. Lawyers only argue their side of the case. And they use whatever argument is convenient.

Despite their affectation of superior rationality, it doesn't even occur to internet atheists that they have an intellectual duty to do elementary fact-checking, to anticipate counterarguments to their arguments, to anticipate counterexamples to their examples. 

A good philosopher doesn't wait for his prospective critics to raise objections. Rather, he tries to anticipate their objections, not necessarily because he wants to be evenhanded, but because he wants to head them off. That's the way of making the strongest case for his position.

This is entirely absent among internet atheists. They always wait to be corrected. They never anticipate even the most obvious responses to their arguments or factual assertions. They don't even have that mindset. They never stop to ask themselves, If I were a Christian, what are some ways I might respond to that? 

They don't really listen. Rather, it's all about deflecting objections to their position. They reach for anything at hand, however dubious. Internet Arminians behave the same way. 

It's funny how utterly hidebound and anti-intellectual they are. That's why they regard it as treasonous when a real philosopher like Thomas Nagel lets down the cause by honestly considering the other side of the argument–even though that's precisely what a philosopher is supposed to do. That's called critical sympathy.

David and Jonathan

Was Jonathan David's boyfriend? Dumb question, I know, but since homosexual revisionists are trying to prooftext their immorality from Scripture by making that claim, it's one of those things which Christians need to be able to refute.

A couple of general points before we consider the details:

i) Some homosexual apologists claim the canonical version has been redacted. That the original account was more explicit about their homosexuality. That's a backdoor admission that they can't get what the need from the text as it stands.

ii) The very same book records David's notorious affair with Bathsheba. Odd behavior for an alleged homosexual! This isn't like wedding a royal daughter, which he might do for the political benefits. Rather, that's straightforward heterosexual lust. 

At best, then, homosexual apologists will have to contend that David was bisexual rather than homosexual. 

As soon as he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul…3 Then Jonathan made a covenant with David, because he loved him as his own soul (1 Sam 18:1,3).
i) As commentators point out, "love" is stock jargon in ANE diplomacy. For instance:
Now Hiram king of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father, for Hiram always loved David (1 Kgs 5:1). 
That's standard, suzerain/vassal terminology. And that's reinforced by the explicit covenantal framework in v3, where Jonathan initiates a treaty with David . So this is about Jonathan's political allegiance to David and vice versa. 
ii) That said, we shouldn't deny the fact that David and Jonathan were best friends. Straight men can love each other–platonic love.  
iii) There's probably a degree of professional admiration, soldier-to-soldier, at seeing David defeat Goliath. Jonathan is a combatant, too, so he'd be impressed by David's brave performance. Mind you, a lesser man that Jonathan would resent David's triumph. 
And Jonathan stripped himself of the robe that was on him and gave it to David, and his armor, and even his sword and his bow and his belt (1 Sam 18:4).
i) Some readers think that's a racy description, but notice the parallel with King Saul:
38 Then Saul clothed David with his armor. He put a helmet of bronze on his head and clothed him with a coat of mail, 39 and David strapped his sword over his armor. And he tried in vain to go, for he had not tested them. Then David said to Saul, “I cannot go with these, for I have not tested them.” So David put them off (1 Sam 17:38-39).
Just as Saul's action has no sexual connotations, neither does the comparable action by Jonathan.
ii) It's a symbolic gesture. Jonathan is the heir apparent. Yet he's relinquishing his "rightful" claim to the throne in favor of David. An emblematic transfer of power. Cf. "And Moses stripped Aaron of his garments and put them on Eleazar his son" (Num 20:28); "Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him" (1 Kgs 19:19); "and I will clothe him with your robe, and will bind your sash on him, and will commit your authority to his hand" (Isa 22:21). 
iii) It foreshadows David's ascension to the throne. How could Jonathan be so prescient? Perhaps he overheard what Samuel told Saul. Or perhaps that was reported to him. It's not as if Saul was necessarily alone when Samuel spoke to him. Likewise, he may have gotten wind of Samuel anointing David, to take Saul's place. Cf. 1 Sam 13 &15. Or maybe he spoke to Samuel directly. 
In any case, he realizes that the Saulide succession is probably doomed. So there's an element of self-interest in his action. If David is God's chosen replacement for Saul, then it's prudent for Jonathan to befriend David and assume a subordinate role. For if David regards Jonathan as a dangerous rival to the throne, then that's a hazardous position for Jonathan to be in. Jonathan fears for the safety of his own family, and takes precautionary measures to care for them.  
41 And as soon as the boy had gone, David rose from beside the stone heap and fell on his face to the ground and bowed three times. And they kissed one another and wept with one another, David weeping the most.
i) As the crown prince, Jonathan is technically David's social superior. 
ii) This isn't something they did on a regular basis. It's a tearful farewell between best friends. 
iii) Males kissing each other on the cheek is customary etiquette in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures. It has no sexual connotations. I remember sitting at an outdoor cafe, some years ago, in Aix-en-Provence, as I saw a couple of school boys returning home. They greeted their older male relatives with a kiss. 
Most of us have seen news footage of Arab leaders kissing each other on the cheeks. This despite the fact that they may hate each other. 
iv)There's nothing abnormal about straight men expressing physical affection. Take this description of West Point cadets:
Cadets are sentimental about any departure; there are hugs, back slaps and complicated handshakes. The corps feels like one huge team exiting the locker room. D. Lipsky, Absolutely American: Four Years at West Point (Vintage 2004), 39. 
A military academy is about as macho as you can get. Same thing with physical affection among football players, UFC fighters, &c. 
 42 Then Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, because we have sworn both of us in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord shall be between me and you, and between my offspring and your offspring, forever.’” And he rose and departed, and Jonathan went into the city (1 Sam 20:41-42).
This reinforces the pragmatic aspect of their mutual defense pact. It isn't just that Jonathan is very fond of David. Jonathan is a married man. He's looking out for the welfare of his owns sons by forming a private alliance with David. Ensuring the survival of his own line. 
14 If I am still alive, show me the steadfast love of the Lord, that I may not die; 15 and do not cut off your steadfast love from my house forever, when the Lord cuts off every one of the enemies of David from the face of the earth (1 Sam 20:14-15).
Jonathan tactfully reminds David to honor their agreement. "Loving kindness" (Heb=hesed) is covenant nomenclature. Fidelity to the terms of the oath or treaty. Cf. "But the king spared Mephibosheth, the son of Saul's son Jonathan, because of the oath of the Lord that was between them, between David and Jonathan the son of Saul" (2 Sam 21:7). 
In the ANE, establishing a new dynasty typically involved assassinating the descendants of the old king, to preemptively eliminate the threat of "pretenders" to the throne. 
I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; very pleasant have you been to me; your love to me was extraordinary, surpassing the love of women (2 Sam 1:26).

In a warrior culture, comrades were often closer to each other than they were to their wives. Fighting side-by-side is a "bonding" experience. Having someone watch your back. Risking your own life to protect your comrade, and vice versa. The friendship between Gilgamesh and Enkidu furnishes another ANE example. 

Conversely, marriage could be a fairly pragmatic affair. A way to produce legitimate heirs. 

Big changes in the face of “virtually insurmountable challenges" in China

From Strathfor:
Chinese President Xi Jinping's anti-corruption campaign is the broadest and deepest effort to purge, reorganize and rectify the Communist Party leadership since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 and the rise of Deng Xiaoping two years later. It has already probed more than 182,000 officials across numerous regions and at all levels of government. It has ensnared low-level cadres, mid-level functionaries and chiefs of major state-owned enterprises and ministries. It has deposed top military officials and even a former member of the hitherto immune Politburo Standing Committee, China's highest governing body. More than a year after its formal commencement and more than two years since its unofficial start with the downfall of Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai, the campaign shows no sign of relenting.

It is becoming clear that this campaign is unlike anything seen under Presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. Both carried out anti-corruption drives during their first year in office and periodically throughout their tenures as a means to strengthen their position within the Party and bureaucracy and to remind the public, however impotently, that Beijing still cared about its well being. But that was housekeeping. This appears to be different: longer, stronger, more comprehensive and more effective.

“What you choose to be your opposite says a lot about you”

From Stephen Wolfe

The Calvinist’s chief theological opponent should not be Arminianism; it should be Roman Catholicism. The “five points” debate is an Arminian construction, and while Arminianism can be reduced to its “five points,” Calvinism cannot be reduced to such a limited set of doctrinal points. Calvinism is ultimately a comprehensive view of living in the world, just as Roman Catholicism is a comprehensive view of living in the world. Calvinism (with Roman Catholicism) is a unique orientation toward God, one’s neighbor, and creation. Arminianism is just a narrow set of doctrine fitting for analytic philosophers. When Calvinists make Arminians their chief opponent they either elevate Arminianism to something it is not or they demote Calvinism to a pathetically limited set of doctrine. The Arminians should be known for their five points, not the Calvinists.

God's bookie

Atheists, as well as many Christian philosophers, attempt to calculate the probability of miracles. Atheists lay odds to make miracles incredible while Christian philosophers lay odds to make miracles credible. 

I must say, I've always found this approach ill-conceived–on both sides. It reminds me of a gambler who's discovered a system to beat the casino. This may involve collusion with one or more fellow gamblers. They pretend to be perfect strangers, but they've devised subtle ways of signaling each other. As a result, they win at a higher than statistical average.

Of course, there's a catch. The casino notices their improbable success. And the casino has hidden cameras trained on the table. The casino replays footage until it recognizes the coded signals. The gamblers may wake up inside the trunk of an unmarked car, headed for a watery destination. 

Assuming someone works out a system for predicting God's choices, I can't help supposing, with all due reverence, that God would take special pleasure in not doing what the odds said he was supposed to do, or vice versa.  

Monday, August 04, 2014

Looting the US

Bad blood

I notice every so often that Dan Phillips and Fred Butler like to take all the credit for warning the evangelical community about Mark Driscoll. If only we had heeded their prescient admonitions, we would not have been snookered by Driscoll's snake oil. 

Now I even see them touting articles from The Stranger. There is, however, a reason why evangelicals might regard The Stranger as a suspect source. For instance:

It's precisely biased sources like that which cause people like me to take what they say with a grain of salt. It's like CNN covering the Israel/Gaza conflict. 

Before the MacArthurites and Pyromaniacs completely rewrite history, Soviet style, let's set the record straight.

i) Driscoll has had a bevy of critics for a long time now. It's not as if MacArthurites and Pyromanics were in the vanguard of the movement. So their back-patting conceit is misplaced.

ii) One reason the MacArthurites and Pyromanics haven't gotten their due, as they see it, is because their criticisms are motivated by barely-concealed partisanship. This isn't disinterested criticism. Rather, this is, in part, sour grapes between two rival megachurch pastors, with competing visions, and their respective supporters. Likewise, it's part and parcel of a running vendetta against The Gospel Coalition. From what I can tell, the MacArthurites and Pyromaniacs harbor an implacable animosity towards TGC because it's not consistently cessationist and premillennial. 

iii) This isn't to deny that the MacArthurites and Pyromanics raise some valid criticisms. For instance, a few years ago, Phil Johnson did a post on Driscoll's "pornographic divination." It was written in a somewhat sensationalistic style, but then, it was an expose of Driscoll's sensationalistic antics. I thought Johnson provided some useful documentation. 

iv) Long-standing critics of Driscoll include ex-church members, former associate pastors, &c. They were also in the lead. That, however, reveals a certain irony in MacArthurite indictment of Driscoll. For Fred Butler is a critic of survivor blogs. Therefore, a major source of information about Mars HIll Church comes from a source that Fred preemptively discredits.

v) Just as Driscoll has critics on the right, he has critics on the left. That's one reason some objections were discounted. Consider the source. They had their own agenda. The Rachel Held Evans wing of the party. Offended feminists and "Gay christians."

vi) Speaking for myself, I was never a fan of Driscoll. I rarely read anything by him. I did think he occasionally said something useful. 

vii) In addition, I happen to be personal friend's with one of Driscoll's leading critics. I've known this critic for over 20 years. He's very well connected. Has lots of inside information. So it's not as if I needed the Pyromaniacs to give me the dish on Driscoll. In fact, I have it on good authority that there's much worse stuff on Driscoll that's yet to hit the fan. 

I for one can do without self-serving, self-congratulatory comments by Dan Phillips about how Pyromanics was a voice in the wilderness, about how the evangelical community failed to heed his sagacious foresight on the impending downfall of Driscoll. Has Dan always suffered from this inflated pride? Does he like to cast himself in the role of Jeremiah? The underappreciated prophet? Driscoll has a big enough ego without Dan adding to the net egotism. 

The game is rigged

Recently I read a couple of articles about nationalistic youth gangs in Israel. Young men who go around attacking Arabs. 

I don't condone the violence, and I don't know for a fact what motivates them, but it wouldn't surprise me if this represents a predictable backlash. You have Israeli youth who see their leaders trying to fight Muslims terrorists with one hand tied behind their back due to pressure from the "international community." They see that even when the IMF goes out of its way to minimize civilian casualties, Israel gets blamed anyway. They see the foreign press exhibit blatant double standards. They see that no one is going to come to Israel's aid. No one will rescue them. They are on their own in the world. They have to look out for their own interests. The world doesn't care about dead Jews. It only cares about dead Muslims. Even dead Muslim terrorists. That's where all the sympathy leis. 

If you're going to get blamed no matter what, if you're going to get blamed even when you try to minimize collateral damage, then why bother? Why hamstring your military effectiveness with restrictive rules of engagement when the international community will still accuse you of war crimes? 

I can see how, out of frustration and aggravation, some young Israeli men would become extremists. I don't say that to excuse their actions, but to point out that this is a predicable result of how the "international community" has decided to make Israel a pariah. It's the international community that's provoking Israeli youth to realize the futility of self-restraint. When they play by the rules, their side always takes the blame–even when the other side never plays by the rules. At that point, what's the incentive to honor the laws of warfare? The game is rigged against them. The cheaters enjoy all the sympathy. No matter what atrocities the Muslims commit, that doesn't count. That doesn't register. 

Like Dr. Frankenstein, Israel's knee-jerk critics are creating the very monster they then deplore. 

Dawkins on Islam

When Richard Dawkins published The God Delusion back in 2006, he became an instant atheist hero. Since then, however his star has fallen. He made some impolitic remarks that offended feminists. The reaction was predictable.

Atheists couldn't get enough of him so long as he was savaging Christianity. But when he shifted to Islam, many of his former fans began to turn on him:

All the world's Muslims have fewer Nobel Prizes than Trinity College, Cambridge. They did great things in the Middle Ages, though. 
I thought about comparing the numbers of Nobel Prizes won by Jews (more than 120) and Muslims (ten if you count Peace Prizes, half that if you don’t). This astonishing discrepancy is rendered the more dramatic when you consider the small size of the world’s Jewish population.

It's understandable that Muslims would take umbrage at these slighting comments. But you have the spectacle of atheists accusing him of bigotry and racism. Disowning their standard-bearer. Why?

He attacks Islam for the same reason he attacks Christianity. He's a militant atheist. He opposes religion in general. He's just being consistent. What did they expect?

Some chide him for failing to distinguish between Muslims and Islam, but they weren't bothered when he lumped Christians and Christianity together.

This exposes the fact that for many, atheism is just a social fashion statement. Liberals treat Muslims as a protected class, like other "minority" groups. Therefore, you have this blatant double standard. Everything liberals find objectionable in Christianity they ought to find twice as objectionable in Islam–both in what it teaches about women and homosexuals, as well as what it actually does to women and homosexuals. Yet we so often see liberals defending Muslims.

Incidentally, his invidious comparison between Jewish Nobel Laureates and Muslim Nobel Laureates is awkward inasmuch as some Jewish scientists are observant Jews. So that makes it harder for him to drive a wedge between religion and science.   

Israel: past, present, and future

I don't support the modern state of Israel for dispensational reasons. That said, it's important to know what the dispensational case for modern Israel is. Hacks and quacks like John Hagee and Pat Roberson do more harm than good. Here's the dispensational case from a number of reputable dispensational scholars:

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Conjugal relations

I'll going to comment on a couple of related articles:

I think there's a problem with the way the issue is typically framed. No doubt a wife should welcome her husband's sexual advances, even if she's not in the mood. There's lots of things we should do even when–or especially when–we don't feel like it. That's the difference between "should" and "want." Duty and desire are often two different things. 

However, that way of framing the issue is slanted, as if a wife is doing her husband a favor by consenting to have conjugal relations. The implication is that women are far less interested in sex than men. As if it's just an onerous duty. I really don't find that plausible. Maybe a woman's sex drive lacks the constancy of a man's. It has more ups and downs. But women are sexual beings, too.

Too often, the discussion depicts men as sexual animals, while women are angelic beings. Sex is beneath them, but they condescend when necessary. Yet that's very misleading.  

For instance, a fair percentage of women have extramarital affairs. The percentage is lower than men, but even so, surely an extramarital affair reflects an interest in sex. It may be more than sexual, but it's hardly less than sexual. 

Occasionally, you also have women who land in marriages where the husband has no interest in sex. This was more common in the past when homosexual men led double lives to keep up appearances. 

For instance, I once read an interview with Elsa Lanchester, wife of Charles Laughton. It was only after she married him that she discovered he was a closet homosexual. As a result, she had affairs with other men. She said those liaisons were "purely physical." 

On a related, French diva Regine Crespin, in her memoirs (On Stage, Off Stage), mentions falling in love with a man who couldn't fall in love with her, because–as it turns out–he was a "repressed homosexual." So she moved onto men like conductor Henry Lewis who were more than happy to reciprocate.  

Likewise, in Conversations with Pauline Kael, the famous film critic said:

"Look at Mr. Goodbar," she continues to her intent audience. "The reviews almost never dealt with the sex drive that might lead people to go to bars at night. Instead, the terms of the film were accepted: that because she's lame and has a father with repressive ideas she's doing this terrible thing–going to bars. they never seem to assume that maybe women go to bars for casual sex. People don't want to acknowledge that sex without love can be terrific. You don't always want an emotional involvement. Sometimes you just want sex." 

Or take the whole Sandra Fluke fiasco. My point is not to commend their promiscuous outlook. These are worldly women. Wanton women. But on that account they are more candid about the female libido than you often find in Christian discussions, which tiptoe around the subject. 

I think there's a lack of honesty about the fact that women can be sexually driven, too. Many non-Christian women have no more sexual self-control that non-Christian men. I suspect the notion that a wife is doing her husband a favor by consenting to sex comes from the experience that husbands rarely turn down a sexual overture if the wife takes the initiative, whereas (some) women are far more likely to turn down a sexual overture if the husband takes the initiative. If husbands turned their wives down as often, or more often, than vice versa, then it would seem like the husband is doing the wife of favor by consenting to conjugal relations. But because that's so unusual, we don't think the husband is doing his wife a favor. Rather, he's doing himself a favor! And she's doing her "duty" by consenting to conjugal relations. When was the last time you read it said that a husband was doing his duty by consenting to conjugal relations? 

There's this constant asymmetry in the discussion. And to some extent I think that becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It makes sex within marriage sound like an act of dutiful submission. A necessary, but joyless chore–like indentured service.