Saturday, September 05, 2015

Unlawful orders

One popular reaction to Kim Davis is that "She should just do her job or resign." 

That's a reaction which contains several dubious, unexamined assumptions, some of which I've already addressed.

In addition, I think some people feel that every gov't employee can't be a Supreme Court in miniature. They can't substitute their own interpretation of the Constitution for the Supreme Court. If that were the case, then chaos would ensue. 

Let's consider a comparison: I'm not a JAG, but to my knowledge, the military draws a necessary distinction between lawful and unlawful orders. 

I believe that barring extenuating circumstances, a soldier is duty-bound to obey lawful orders. He can get into a lot of trouble if he disobeys a lawful order. 

However, a soldier is duty-bound to disobey an unlawful order. He can get into a lot of trouble if he obeys an unlawful order. (This is true in law enforcement as well.) 

Take the Mỹ Lai Massacre. To say the soldier should either "do his job or quit" is hardly the right response in that situation. 

In addition, it is initially up to the soldier to make a personal determination about the legality of the order. Now, his decision may well be reviewed. But he is required to exercise his individual judgment regarding the legality of the order. In that respect, every soldier must judge for himself. Every soldier must be a military tribunal in miniature.

That's not what it may come down to in the final analysis, but he must be able to justify his actions. It's not enough to say "I was just following orders." Rather, it's incumbent on him to interpret the legality of the order. 

For instance:

Seems like pretty good motivation to obey any order you're given, right? Nope. These articles require the obedience of LAWFUL orders. An order which is unlawful not only does not need to be obeyed, but obeying such an order can result in criminal prosecution of the one who obeys it. Military courts have long held that military members are accountable for their actions even while following orders -- if the order was illegal.
In principle, you might object that it's chaotic to say every solider has an obligation to second-guess the legality of orders, yet that hasn't destroyed military discipline. And the alternative is the Nuremberg Defense. 

Papal indulgences

The Catholic Church, instructed by the Holy Spirit and in accordance with sacred Scripture and the ancient Tradition of the Fathers, has taught in the holy Councils and most recently in this ecumenical Council that there is a purgatory and that the souls detained there are helped by the acts of intercession (suffragia) of the faithful, and especially by the acceptable sacrifice of the altar.

Related Canon 30 from the Council of Trent's Decree on Justification (Sixth Session, 1547)

30.  If anyone says that after the grace of justification has been received the guilt is so remitted and the debt of eternal punishment so blotted out for any repentant sinner, that no debt of temporal punishment remains to be paid, either in this world or in the other, in purgatory, before access can be opened to the kingdom of heaven, anathema sit ["let him be anathema" or excommunicated]. 
1030 All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. 
1471 "An indulgence is a remission before God of the temporal punishment due to sins whose guilt has already been forgiven, which the faithful Christian who is duly disposed gains under certain prescribed conditions through the action of the Church which, as the minister of redemption, dispenses and applies with authority the treasury of the satisfactions of Christ and the saints."81 [Paul VI, apostolic constitution, Indulgentiarum doctrina, Norm 1.]

i) If, for the sake of argument, you accept the Tridentine premise, then there's a certain inner logic between purgatory and indulgences. In the Tridenine definition, purgatory involves retributive punishment. It's about guilt. Paying off your debt. Same thing with the treasury of merit. The "satisfactions" of Christ and the saints presume the same forensic category.

If you think there's a treasury of merit which the pope can tap into, then, within that framework, it makes sense to say your purgatorial sentence is subject to commutation or pardon. Someone else paid the debt. Someone else made restitution on your behalf.  

ii) Mind you, even on its own terms, that's dubious. It operates with a quantitative view of guilt, as if as sinner has incurred x units of guilt which may be offset by x units of merit. But why think guilt is quantitative rather than qualitative? There are other problems, but I'll pass on that.

iii) Another problem is the contradiction between the traditional conception of purgatory and the contemporary conception (in Roman Catholicism). The contemporary conception has undergone a paradigm-shift from retributive justice to remedial justice. From objective guilt to subjective corruption. Purgatory is now a process of postmortem sanctification to purify the decedent before he is ready for heaven.

But even if you grant that for the sake of argument, it clashes with the traditional theology of indulgences. If purgatory is necessary to complete your sanctification, then that process can't be accelerated or short-circuited by a papal indulgence. Rather, that would operate at its own pace. However long it takes you to eradicate your sinful disposition. An indulgence would prematurely convey you to heaven, before the refining fire has had time burn away the dross.  

So you end up with a hybrid theology of purgatory and indulgences, combining disparate elements from two incompatible paradigms.  

The least dangerous branch of government

i) On paper, we have separation of powers. Now, humans being what they are, the temptation of each branch is to use the legitimate power it has to gain illegitimate power at the expense of the other two branches. We have this perennial tug of war where one branch attempts to augment its power by taking power away from another branch, or vice versa. 

Within limits, the system can survive. But ultimately, separation of powers is a honor system. It depends on each branch exercising self-restraint. If one or more branches refuse to play by the rules, then the system breaks down. It becomes unworkable.

When that happens, moreover, there may be no solution within the system. You can only have checks and balances on abuse of power if the abusive branch honors the checks and balances. 

ii) To my knowledge, one function of the courts is to adjudicate between conflicting laws. You can have conflicting laws between state and Federal statutes, as well as conflicting Federal statues. Or conflicts between statutory law and the regulations promulgated by executive agencies. 

In case of conflict, the court may have to decide which law prevails. In ruling in favor of a litigant, it must pick which law prevails. 

Likewise, the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. The courts must interpret the Constitution, just like the courts must interpret state and Federal statutes. So, for instance, you might have a conflict between state law and the US Constitution. That has to be resolved.

In that respect, I think judicial review has some validity. This is reinforced by the fact that, in some cases, Federal law trumps state law. In case of conflict, I can understand why Federal judges might have the authority to strike down state laws. 

iii) Even in these instances of judicial review, judges need to act in good faith. If they abuse their authority by using a case as a pretext to strike down a state law on ideological grounds, then that delegitimates the ruling. And it becomes a question of whether a state or another branch of gov't should acquiesce to that ruling for the sake of stability. 

iv) I'd add that (ii) that has limitations, given Federalism. For instance: 

The U.S. Constitution grants the federal government with power over issues of national concern, while the state governments, generally, have jurisdiction over issues of domestic concern. While the federal government can enact laws governing the entire country, its powers are enumerated, or limited; it only has the specific powers allotted to it in the Constitution. For example, Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution grants Congress the power to levy taxes, mint money, declare war, establish post offices, and punish piracies on the high seas. Any action by the federal government must fall within one of the powers enumerated in the Constitution.

v) Mind you, I don't think it's incumbent on the court has to fix vague or conflicting laws. The court can send it back to Congress or the legislature. Say it's up to Congress or the legislature to rewrite the law to eliminate the conflict or eliminate the ambiguity. 

vi) Ever since FDR, we've had a proliferation of executive agencies that issue endless regulations. These are promulgated, not by elected officials, who are answerable to the voter, but by faceless unaccountable bureaucrats. 

As such, the only recourse a private business or private citizen has is to challenge it in court. To that extent, I can appreciate why judges might have the authority to strike down regulations of executive agencies. These have the force of law, yet they lack the legitimacy of statutory law, which was the product of  legislators, enacting the will of the electorate–at least in theory. 

vii) Of course, one partial solution is to ax some of these agencies. Likewise, instead of Congress merely authorizing an executive agency to do something, Congress could and should detail what the agency is required to do.

viii) Then there's the stickier question of whether the judiciary should have the right to strike down acts of Congress. To discharge its Constitutional duties, each branch of gov't must interpret the Constitution. The executive branch must construe what the Constitution has to say about the jurisdiction of the executive branch. Ditto: the judicial and legislative branches.  Jefferson had an interesting theory:

"My construction of the Constitution is . . . that each department is truly independent of the others and has an equal right to decide for itself what is the meaning of the Constitution in the cases submitted to its action; and especially where it is to act ultimately and without appeal."
   —Thomas Jefferson to Spencer Roane, 1819. ME 15:214

On that view, as I understand it, each branch might be at liberty to disregard how the other two branches interpret the Constitution when it concerns actions that don't require the cooperation of the other branches. That wouldn't be the same thing as striking down an act of Congress. Rather, a judge would refuse to take that into account when ruling for or against a litigant. It would rule on the basis of the judge's own understanding of the Constitution, or refrain from ruling at all unless the Constitution speaks to that particular issue. 

However, I'm not sure how practical that is. At most, that would only work in cases where the court doesn't need the cooperation of the executive for the ruling to take effect. And in many cases, moreover, the Constitution doesn't specify a legal remedy. That's why we have statutory law. 

ix) Thus far I've been using examples where the court has a legal frame of reference. A conflict between one law and another. Sometimes, however, the Supreme Court strikes down laws when no other preexisting law forms the standard of comparison. It isn't picking one law over another. Rather, it fabricates a right. 

One tactic is to build on a false premise. The use of dubious precedents to justify a lawless ruling. 

x) This generates a dilemma. To disregard judicial rulings has a destabilizing effect. After all, we do need a judiciary branch. It must have authority to do its job. Taken too far, if you flout judicial rulings you end up with a banana republic.

However, that must be offset by the danger of judicial despotism. A runaway judiciary is just as threatening to a democratic republic as nullification. So there are tradeoffs. Separation of powers requires a degree of judicial independence, but if that's abused too often it will become tyrannical. 

And this hazard isn't confined to the judiciary. Each branch of gov't has the potential to go rogue. So we have the same tradeoffs. When does the risk of tyranny outweigh the risk of anarchy? When does the risk of anarchy outweigh the risk of tyranny? 

It's like human shields. If the enemy puts military assets in civilian population centers, then dares you to defend yourself by bombing civilians, it has deliberately taken the most humane military options off the table. What's left is a choice between bad and worse.

Likewise, if one branch of gov't flagrantly abuses its authority, there may be no good solution. The remaining options all have potentially dire downsides. There may be no political solution, no redress within the system itself, if the internal strain becomes too great. 

Not the law of the land

The Supreme Court ruling on homosexual marriage was based on judicial review. That's a contentious issue in American jurisprudence, with a very checkered history. To say, without further ado, that judicial rulings are "the law of the land" is not a given: 

Religious accommodation

Many critics of Kim Davis who ignorantly accuse her of breaking the law are oblivious to the fact that the law requires employers (including the gov't) to make reasonable religious accommodations.

Although he's clearly unsympathetic to Davis, this prominent law prof. makes some useful points about religious accommodation:

Revolution from within

Interesting observations from a law prof who's unsympathetic to Davis on the merits, but can still see a principled argument for civil resistance:


If disobedience or some form of revolution were acceptable here, why should it be off-limits to keep my job while undermining it? Why isn’t undermining one’s job from the inside, in the service of a larger moral goal, an acceptable form of revolution? The “quit or do your job” folks, to the extent they hold out the extreme option of revolution, seem to be all implying that revolution must, at a minimum, require quitting. But if gay marriage justifies revolution, it’s hard for me to see why a form of revolution can’t be fifth-column undermining on the job.

Scalia and others have an answer: public officials have a duty not to engage in this form of revolution because of their oath. But that assumes that the oath is really valid in immoral conditions. Surely there can be oaths that, while not immoral on their face, cease to be binding once it’s clear that they require one to engage in immoral acts. Imagine you’re a public official in  Nazi Germany — I don’t know what kind of oaths they took, but suppose you took an oath when it wasn’t clear that you were serving an immoral regime, and the regime gives you orders that are more and more immoral. And suppose there’s nothing to prevent you from resigning — and, if you like, joining the Allied armies or the armed resistance. Are you required to do that rather than keep your job and seek to undermine the regime? I don’t think so.

Admittedly, I don’t think that all resistance that’s justifiable in Nazi Germany is also justifiable in the contemporary United States. As Dale Carpenter says in his recent post, “ not every moral problem is like slavery.” I agree: in fact, Dale and I think Davis is wrong on the merits, so of course we don’t think this is comparable to slavery (or Nazi Germany). But it’s tough to put ourselves in the position of people who believe differently: I’ve observed some hard-liners who really do think that gay marriage is a comparable evil. Not that we have to agree with that view, but the question is whether the (possibly oath-based) proceduralist argument (“do your job or engage in revolution, but if you do that you have to quit, because OMG the oath”) should carry any logical weight with adherents of that view. While I think acceptable resistance against Nazis differs from acceptable resistance against liberal democratic governments, the reason I think that has nothing to do with oaths, and it’s not clear to me how an oath-based theory would successfully distinguish between the two situations.

Bottom line: I’m fine continuing to criticize Davis on substantive moral grounds. And I’m fine showing why Davis’s actions are illegal under the positive law; but once you get to the point where you’re making the illegality serve a normative goal, you have to confront issues of legitimate disobedience, and I’m not sure that a purely procedural (“quit or do your job”) argument will work to exclude Davis’s “keep your job but follow your ideals” strategy of disobedience.

We Don’t Get to Choose our Martyrs

Friday, September 04, 2015

For an Example of Lawlessness, See the Supreme Court, Not Kim Davis

Judicial supremacy

According to Princeton law prof. Robert P. George, 

Judicial supremacy is an anti-constitutional doctrine, not a constitutional principle. Cases such as Dred Scott v. Sandford, Roe v. Wade, and Obergefell v. Hodges are unconstitutional usurpations by the judiciary of the constitutional authority of the American people acting through their elected representatives in the Congress and state legislatures. The edicts handed down in these decisions are not "the law of the land" and should not be treated as such by the people or other public officials. What Abraham Lincoln said in rejecting the Court's lawless and usurpative ruling in Dred Scott remains true: to accept judicial supremacy would be for the American people to "resign their government into the hands of that eminent tribunal." In the debate between Abraham Lincoln and Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney, the author of the Dred Scott opinion, we should side with the Great Emancipator. To do otherwise is to abandon republican government and accept, to quote Thomas Jefferson, "the despotism of an oligarchy."

Lowder needs to take a chill pill

Where is the Condemnation from Theists For Zacharias’s Dishonesty?
September 2, 2015 by Jeffery Jay Lowder  
If a prominent atheist such as Richard Dawkins had exaggerated his credentials in the way Ravi Zacharias has, then we can be sure that theists would have shouted that fact from the mountaintops. 
So why is it that Zacharias is getting a “free pass” from theists? 
I won't name names, but I know that several prominent, vocal theists do read this blog on a regular basis. (You know who you are.)

I'll begin by making some general comments about "hypocrisy" before turning to the specific case of Ravi. 

i) Like liberals generally, Jeff is obsessed with the specter of hypocrisy (or equivalent terms). Mind you, liberals and atheists are only bothered by real or perceived hypocrisy by Republicans and Christians. When it comes to hypocritical Democrats, they shrug.

ii) Because Jeff shares this obsession, he just assumes that Christians are as alert to "hypocrisy" as he is, and would be quick to jump on that issue if someone like Richard Dawkins were the hypocrite. But due to our partisan commitments, we turn a blind eye when one of our own is guilty.

iii) Hypocrisy can stand for two different things:

In my experience, unbelievers fixate on the ethical dimension of hypocrisy. Hypocrisy as a character issue. Behavior that preemptively disqualifies the Republican or Christian from having an argument or position we should take seriously. You must have moral authority to speak to an issue. If you're a hypocrite, then we can safely discount your position or argument. That's the tactic. 

As I say, they only care about the ethics of hypocrisy when it concerns a Christian or Republican. 

iv) Now, I think the avoidance of hypocrisy is important for individual ethics. My personal behavior. 

As a rule, I'm less concerned about hypocrisy in other people. It's not my responsibility. I'm not living their life for them. 

A partial exception would be people who wield power over me. When voting for a candidate, his integrity (or lack thereof) is one consideration. Policy and morality are often linked, for good or ill. 

Likewise, there are certain jobs, like the pastorate, that demand personal integrity.

v) "Hypocrisy" carries an ethical connotation. But I'm less concerned with the ethical dimension than the intellectual dimension. 

Even then, intellectual consistency in the abstract isn't a virtue. If you begin with a faulty principle, and you think or act consistent with that faulty principle, then intellectual consistency is vicious rather than virtuous. 

My concern isn't primarily with someone's consistency or inconsistency, but with whether their position is right or wrong. Consistency is good if the underlying principle is good, but if the underlying principle is bad, then the more inconsistent the better. 

vi) That doesn't mean inconsistency is unimportant. There are people who begin with their cause, then resort to any argument to defend it. They don't hesitate to use contradictory arguments. They are blind or shameless partisans who routinely apply double standards. 

What is that important? If they had a reasonable position, they should be able to defend it with consistent arguments. Lack of intellectual consistency may mean they don't have evidence and reason on their side. There is no guiding principle beyond whatever furthers the cause. 

In that respect, it's useful to expose intellectual inconsistencies. That's a test of rationality rather than morality. Not so much what it says about their character, but their coherence–or lack thereof. 

Mind you, people can be inconsistent for innocent reasons. They may lack the aptitude, expertise, or leisure time to work out a consistent position. 

vii) Suppose Dawkins was guilty of resume inflation. That would be significant, not so much because of what it said about his character, but his qualifications. Is he an authority on the question at issue? It's not that his character is unimportant, but it's fairly unimportant to me, since I'm not him

viii) Turning to Ravi, Jeff links to an earlier post on the same blog. I don't recall having seen that post. I don't mouse over to The Secular Outpost everyday. And when I do, I begin skimming it. I check the authors and titles. Depending on the author or title, I may or may not read it. It's a question of time management. 

ix) I don't pay much attention to Ravi because he's a popularizer. As a rule, I don't read Christian popularizers. Rather, I read people I have something to learn from. Ravi isn't on my regular reading list. I don't recall if I've ever read a book by him. If so, it was many years ago. 

Sometimes I'll read just enough of an author to make a preliminary judgment about whether he is worth reading. If I'm unimpressed, I likely will not revisit that writer. 

It's different with atheism. I do read some popularizers–as well as the philosophers, scholars, and scientists. But that's because atheist popularizers are influential, and I use them as a foil. 

x) The post Jeff links to accuses Ravi of resume inflation. For all I know, that may well be the case. If so, it is wrong for him to misrepresent his academic credentials. 

xi) That said, I have no independent confirmation for some of the allegations in the post. And the post itself is from a hostile, partisan source, so it would be naive to presume the accuracy of the allegations. 

To evaluate the supporting material, I'd have to attempt to do my own fact-checking. But why should I expend my time on that rather than something else? What makes that a priority? 

xii) The post says his website altered his CV after some of his academic claims were challenged. That's quite possible. But I don't have before and after screenshots, so I can't verify that allegation. 

xiii) The post faults him for touting a doctorate when, in fact, all he has are honorary doctorates. Well, I don't approve of honorary doctorates. But Ivy League institutions award these to prominent atheists. So why single out Ravi for opprobrium? 

In fact, it's ironic that in the name of consistency, a Christian apologist is reproached for flaunting honorary doctorates when so many atheists do the same thing, yet that's passed over in silence.

xiv) The post uses the charge of resume inflation as a pretext to attack Ravi on positions they disagree with, like dating the book of Daniel. But that has nothing to do with resume inflation. Rather, that suggest the case against Ravi on resume inflation is thin, so they must pad it with extraneous allegations to make it look more impressive. 

xv) East Indians (as well as other minorities) are severely underrepresented in Christian apologetics. So we need to encourage their participation. 

What if Kim Davis was Muslim?

This has become an overnight trope for opponents of Kim Davis:
What I want is even one reputable journalist (if any remain) to ask that question to any of the vocal supporters of Ms. Davis' civil disobedience.  In case you didn't get it, I'll repeat the question.  How would you feel about this Rowan County Clerk if she were instead a dark-skinned Muslim who refused to do her job because she thought it violated the teachings of the Koran?
That's a pretty stupid question, really; because we all know the answer.  If a Muslim Kim Davis were allowed to hold up the civil workings of her county based on the Koran; you all, along with the whole Fox News megaphone would be apoplectic about Sharia Law!!!!!! on a 24/7 basis.
Really, answer that then tell me why you're not a gigantic hypocrite who actually hates religious freedom. 
So what about her religious conscience? If you think Davis’ religious conscience is sufficient grounds for a same sex couple to be denied a marriage license then be prepared to defend the religious conscience of a Muslim clerk who denies a heterosexual couple a marriage license because the woman is a Muslim and the man is a non-Muslim. Islamic law forbids Muslim women from marrying non-Muslim men unless they convert. Somehow I can’t see Mike Huckabee going out on a limb for a Muslim marriage clerk who demands an Evangelical Christian male convert to Islam in order to marry a Muslim woman. 
I would say I can't wait for a Muslim county clerk in, say, Dearborn, Michigan (which has a huge Muslim community), to refuse to issue a marriage license to a Christian couple on the grounds that the this kafir couple hasn't been paying jizya... but that's not going to happen. 
Finally, the defenders of “religious liberty” are never entirely honest about what they mean. They only really care about the liberty of Christians, not religious people as such. What would they say if a Muslim county clerk refused to marry a Muslim to a non-Muslim? What would they say if that clerk consented to polygamous marriages in accordance with Sharia law? My guess is they’d sound the alarm bells and hysterically protest the theocratic encroachment.
Slippery slope arguments are almost always sloppy, but not in this case. Once you permit religious objections of this kind, where do you draw the line? What constitutes a genuine religious belief? Who can make such a determination? And how do you apply religious exemptions in a secular and pluralistic context? There are no definitive (or acceptable) answers to these questions, which is why church and state are separate in this country.
As you can see, they imagine this is a real humdinger of a counterexample to Christian supporters of Davis. This will leave us speechless. 
Several issues:
i) To defend Kim Davis's action doesn't mean I have to defend her argument. It's not incumbent on me to frame the issue in the same way she does. People can be right even if they don't know how best to argue for their position. 
ii) The problem with the analogy is that it's crucially disanalogous. Due to his commitment to Sharia law, the Muslim clerk doesn't respect the Bill of Rights. He doesn't acknowledge Constitutional freedom of religion, freedom of speech, or freedom of association. His religion is antithetical to the civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights. 
Therefore, that disqualifies him from being an American gov't official in the first place. He cannot, in good conscience, swear an oath of allegiance to uphold the US Constitution. 
By contrast, the Bill of Rights implicitly protects Christian freedom of expression. That's one of the primary religions that James Madison had in mind when he drafted the Bill of Rights. Unlike Islam, there's no conflict between Christianity and the Bill of Rights. So the comparison is vitiated by equivocation. 
Davis isn't acting in defiance of the Constitution. To the contrary, the Constitution protects the right of Christians to exercise their faith.
iii) Now some critics would say that's fine in reference to the activities of a private citizen, but a public official must do their job and carry out the law.
Well, in 2004, Kentucky voters outlawed homosexual marriage by amending their state constitution. Therefore, Davis was doing her job. Far from breaking the law, she was following the law. She was doing precisely what the voters of Kentucky authorized her to do in that situation. Opponents of Davis are bent on forcing her to break the law. 
In addition, there's no Federal statue that mandates homosexual marriage. No Federal statute that supersedes state law in this situation. By contrast, we do have the RFRA. That's a Federal statue protecting religious freedom. 
iv) The real contention is that she defied a Supreme Court ruling. But that raises two issues:
a) The Bill of Rights explicitly protects religious freedom. By contrast, the Constitution contains no explicit or implicit right of homosexual marriage. 
It's the duty of the Supreme Court to uphold the Constitution. What happens when, instead of respecting our Constitutional liberties, Justices violate our Constitutional liberties by conjuring up an imaginary right out of thin air, which conflicts with our express Constitutional liberties? They just pretend that there's a Constitutional right of homosexual marriage, when there's nothing in the text, logic, history, or original intent of the Constitution to justify that imputation. 
b) When the same Court rules against the Obama administration in the Hobby Lobby case, the Obama administration simply circumvented the ruling:
No rule of law is anarchy; selective rule of law is tyranny. Liberal officials exempt their own constituency from the rule of law, but use that as a weapon to blugeon their political opponents. 
v) As to drawing lines:
a) We can begin by asking what kinds of religions James Madison had in mind when he drafted the Bill of Rights. In the 13 Colonies, what religions were in play? Likewise, when the 13 colonies ratified the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights, what kinds of religious were in view? You can analogize from that to the contemporary situation.
So, for instance, the free exercise clause was never meant to cover a homicidal doomsday cult like Aum Shinrikyo. Rather, it was meant to cover religions like Judaism and 18C Christian sects. 
b) In addition, we have a legislative branch. It isn't necessary to read the tea leaves of the Constitution. The Constitution is silent on many specifics. It's up to Congress or state legislatures to fill in the details. For instance, Congress or a state legislature has the authority to outlaw Aum Shinrikyo. It's not the kind of religion that James Madison or the states which ratified the Bill of Rights had in mind. By the same token, Congress or state legislatures have the authority to outlaw jihad. 

Hypocrisy and homosexuality

Arminian theologian Randal Rauser continues to stump for homosexual marriage:

In “Christians standing against gay marriage need to be consistent on divorce” I pointed out the tension with Christians impugning gay marriage as unbiblical whilst ignoring Jesus’ teaching on divorce and remarriage.
i) Notice the studied equivocation. "Ignore" in what sense? Is he referring to Christians who get divorced? If so, how are Christians who don't get divorced ignoring Jesus' teaching on divorce and remarriage? How is it hypocritical for them to impugn homosexual marriage? 
ii) What about Christians who divorce and remarry on Biblical grounds? They aren't ignoring Jesus' teaching on divorce and remarriage. So how is it hypocritical for them to impugn homosexual marriage?
iii) What about men and women who got divorced and remarried before becoming Christians? Are they disqualified from impugning homosexual marriage? By parity of logic, does that mean former drug addicts are disqualified from impugning drug abuse? 
At best, Rauser is alluding to a subset of professing Christians. 
In his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, p. 18, Ron Sider points out how serious the problem of divorce is within the evangelical community. Indeed, he suggests that divorce rates may be higher among evangelicals than in the general population.
Rauser fails to engage evidence to the contrary. For instance: 
I understand why Christians would rather talk about gay marriage than the ethical black hole of Christians who are divorced and remarried. 
Notice how he keeps lumping all Christians into one group, as if Christians who don't divorce are somehow complicit in divorce. How does Rauser draw the line on collective guilt? If people who don't divorce are ipso facto complicit in divorce, are people who don't murder ipso facto complicit in murder? 
But if one purports to uphold the Bible as an ethical guide in matters of marriage, one must apply the standards consistently.
That's hopelessly ambiguous. Does he mean apply the standards consistently in your own life? Or does he mean applying that standard to others? If so, in what sense?
I should apply the same standard in evaluating the conduct of others. But that hardly means I'm in a position to enforce that standard on others. There may depend on factors beyond my control, like what's politically feasible in a democratic republic. 
I have heard one way that Christians have attempted to deal with the problem. They concede that remarriage in cases other than marital infidelity results in an adulterous union. However, they add, the moral ascription of adultery applies to the event of the divorced man and/or woman marrying rather than to the resulting state of affairs of that man and woman being married. In other words, the moment was adulterous, but the resulting marriage is not.
Presumably the point of this tortured argument is to shift the spotlight back off divorced and remarried Christians and onto gays. But the reasoning is completely spurious. If the original marital event was illegitimate then the resulting state of affairs does not constitute a legitimate marriage.
By that logic, a child who is conceived in sin (e.g. adultery, rape, fornication) is morally tainted. By that logic, if a young athlete is mortally injured by a drunk driver, it would be wrong to harvest his organs (after he succumbs to his injuries) and donate them to needy patients inasmuch as the moral ascription of (vehicular) homicide applies not only to the precipitating event, but the resultant chain of events.
In like manner, Jesus considers the event of becoming married to result in an ongoing reality which persists even if one receives a certificate of divorce from a civil magistrate. 
Rauser doesn't present an exegetical argument for that conclusion. Rather, that's an inference based on his extraneous claim that the moral ascription of the precipitating event automatically transfers to resultant consequences. 
Don’t skip over that fact. Mull over it. Let it sink in. Hundreds of thousands of Christians are in ongoing unrepentant states of adultery and all the while the church communities in their midst are saying nothing. They’re saying nothing on divorced and remarried Christians, but they sure are saying a lot about gay marriage.
So here’s the fact of the matter. Christians who want to speak with some moral authority on the topic of gay marriage really ought to start by applying to themselves and their immediate belief communities the very biblical standards that they attempt to enforce on others. This isn’t rocket science. It’s ethical consistency 101.
i) To begin with, Christian laymen don't typically interview a candidate for membership and vote on who joins the church. That's usually up to the pastor and elders. Laymen don't know ahead of time which new church members were divorced and remarried. Likewise, some new church members were divorced and remarried on Biblical grounds. In addition, some were divorced and remarriaged before becoming Christian.   
These are important moral and theological distinctions, which Rauser deliberately blurs in his demagogical zeal to defend homosexual marriage. 
ii) In addition, if a majority of voters want permissive divorce laws, there's nothing that we can do to prevent it or repeal it. We're outvoted. Does that mean we shouldn't do the good we can in other where we have greater political clout? 
iii) Rauser is so fixated on "hypocrisy" that he's blind to harm that the homosexual agenda does to many innocent people. The harm to adopted children. The harm to students who are indoctrinated in LGBT propaganda. The harm to students who are punished for dissent. The harm to employees who lose their jobs unless they affirm the LGBT lifestyle. The harm to parental authority. The harm to minors who are molested by homosexual adults because the establishment puts homosexuals in positions of power over minors and gives them access to minors. And so on and so forth.
iv) Finally, for all his high-minded rhetoric, consider the possibility that Rauser's position is dictated by self-interest. Given the political climate in Canada (as well as the US), a way for him to preempt persecution is to capitulate on homosexuality. 

Biblical theology and Christ in the OT

Wilson’s Way: Calvin’s Solution

There is a difference between contempt of court and seeing that the courts have become contemptible”.

We want a pagan society to respect our sentimental religiosity, and that is not going to happen any time soon.

The point here is not just private conscience. The right to liberty of conscience is at play with florists, bakers, and so on. But Kim Davis is not just keeping herself from sinning, she is preventing Rowan County from sinning. That is part of her job.

Every Christian elected official should be determining, within the scope of their duties, which lines they will not allow the state to cross. When they come to that line, they should refuse to cross it because “this is against the law of God.” They should do this as part of their official responsibilities. This is part of their job. It is one of the things they swear to do when they take office.

This is nothing less than Calvin’s doctrine of the lesser magistrates (Institutes 4.20.22-32), which I would urge upon all and sundry as relevant reading material. And as Calvin points out, after Daniel — a Babylonian official — disobeyed the king’s impious edict, he denied that he had wronged the king in any way (Dan. 6:22-23).

Thursday, September 03, 2015


It seems to me many actresses don't know how to act like mothers. They don't seem natural when they're around kids on screen. Sure, they try to act like mothers, since the role calls for it, but their acting feels wooden or stilted. It's not how mothers normally behave towards kids in real life.

That's a bit surprising to me because I would've thought most women including actresses would innately know how to be mothers. At the least, wouldn't they remember how their own mothers were like and try to imitate their mothers?

I wonder if this may reflect a cultural shift of some sort? Perhaps gender roles are becoming so confused in our society and culture that even women have become confused about how to act like mothers? Perhaps women are no longer having as many children so there are less children for women to be exposed to, and thus even if women know in theory how they should behave around kids, they don't know by experience how to behave around kids?

When miscegenation was illegal

i) For now I'd like to make two more points on the Kim Davis story. You have liberal outlets (e.g. Democratic Underground, Daily Kos, MoveOn, ACLU, SPLC) who find her dissent intolerable. They are happy to see her thrown in jail. Suddenly, they applaud the rule of law. 

Let's take a comparison. Liberals constantly remind us about slavery and segregation.

Well, suppose Davis was a county clerk during the Jim Crow era. Back when there were laws against miscegenation. Suppose she broke the law by issuing a marriage license to a black and white couple.

Would liberals today say a judge should have thrown her in jail? Would they defend the rule of law when the law in question was a ban on miscegenation? Or would they regard that as commendable or even necessary civil disobedience? 

ii) BTW, what is the rule of law? In 2004, Kentucky voters amended their state constitution to ban homosexual marriage by 74.6%. Why isn't that the rule of law? The will of the electorate, expressed through the legal process of amending a state constitution. And that didn't conflict with any Federal statute.

World's oldest Koran may predate Muhammad

I wouldn't take this report as the final word on the subject, but it's interesting. Let's see if it holds up:

The ever-receding “hill to die on”

Kim Davis

I'm going to venture a few more comments on this post by Arminian theologian Randal Rauser:

i) For starters, Rauser is using divorce as a wedge issue to make space for homosexuality in the church. Although he plays his cards close to his vest, if you've read his posts on this subject, it's clear where his sympathies lie.

ii) Another one of his intellectual confusions is that some people oppose the Supreme Court decision on jurisprudential grounds rather than moral grounds. Some people support homosexual marriage, but criticize the Supreme Court ruling because it has no basis in the text, logic, or history of the Constitution. As such, it represents a judicial usurpation of authority. 

By contrast, even if our divorce laws are too permissive, they were enacted by duly constituted authority. By elected representatives rather than appointed judges. 

iii) Another problem is his false analogy. Homosexual activity is intrinsically wrong; divorce is not. You don't have to question a homosexual "couple" to know that their request is immoral. 

By contrast, sometimes divorce is licit and sometimes not. Moreover, the permissibility of a given divorce can be complicated for an outsider to assess. It may depend on which spouse was the offended party and which was the offending party. Sometimes both were in the wrong. A clerk would have to take the word of the marriage applicant. But, of course, that could be unreliable. The clerk is only getting one side of the story.

The evaluation isn't straightforward, as in the case of homosexuality. 

iv) As I've remarked in the past, even if you think our divorce laws are hypocritical or too permissive, there are limits to what you can do in a democratic republic. If the majority demands something, that may be unstoppable. 

But that doesn't mean that out of consistency, you should not oppose wrongdoing when and where you can. It is fallacious to think that if you can't oppose immorality in every case, you should not oppose immorality in any case–just to be consistent. 

Rauser says:

Oh yeah, and as for that clerk Kim Davis, she’s been married four times. (To be fair, that’s three divorces before she says she became a Christian. But that doesn’t change Jesus’ above-mentioned indictment.)

He fails to explain the significance of that statement. Is he claiming that past misconduct automatically disqualifies a person from rendering a value judgment? But since all of us are guilty of misconduct, of one kind or another, that would be a recipe for moral relativism.

Or does he mean her current marriage is adulterous? Is he suggesting that if a marriage originated in adultery, it remains adulterous? Is he saying Davis should dissolve her current marriage?

He needs to explicate and defend his interpretation of Mt 19. 

He also says: 

This brings me to an issue I’ve raised at several points in the past. So long as Christians apply to others different standards from those which they apply to themselves and their immediate belief community, they will not have a credible moral voice in the public square.

i) That's hopelessly vague. How many contemporary Christians are responsible for our current divorce laws? 

ii) He operates with collective guilt, as if a Christian who was never divorced is somehow culpable for professing Christians who are divorced. 

iii) Many unbelievers take the position that, by definition, Christians have no credible moral voice. Their religion automatically disqualifies them from having a credible moral voice. So the real objection isn't about perceived hypocrisy. 

iv) Unbelievers need to be educated in what Christian standards are. Many ignorant unbelievers impute hypocrisy to Christians because they are biblically illiterate. Not surprisingly, many unbelievers have no knowledge of Christian ethics. 

Unfortunately, Rauser, rather than correcting their ignorance, reinforces their ignorance. 

Finally, I'm afraid Davis's resistance is futile. That's because the entire political establishment is arranged against her. So she's bound to lose.

Mind you, that circular. If she had more support, if she wasn't having to fight this single-handedly, it would not be a losing battle. 

Moral inconsistency is better than immoral consistency

I'm going to comment on a post by Arminian theologian Randal Rauser:

One of the things I appreciate about Rauser is that he's so reliable. You can always count on Rauser to offer a morally obtuse evaluation of a serious moral issue. You can set your clock to his predictably muddled moral understanding. In a world like ours, it's so refreshing to have someone that dependable.

The allegation is that Kim Davis is a hypocrite. Some people have defended her on the grounds that she's only been a Christian for four years. 

In addition, she's not a Bible scholar or theologian. In that respect, it's stilly to hold her to the same standard of theological sophistication as a professional Christian ethicist. 

But suppose, for the sake of argument, that she is a hypocrite. In my experience, one infallible test of people's moral discernment, or lack therefore, is how they frame issues of hypocrisy.

Let's take a comparison: suppose a DA vigorously prosecutes child pornography and child prostitution. Suppose it turns out that the DA is a consumer of child pornography. 

That undoubtedly makes him a hypocrite. But does that mean he shouldn't prosecute child pornography and child prostitution? 

Conversely, suppose you have a DA who is consistent. He doesn't consume child pornography, and he doesn't prosecute child pornography or child prostitution. There's no conflict between what he says and does in public and private. Is that an improvement? 

It is better for a hypocritical DA to do the right thing–because it is the right thing to do–than it is for a DA who is not a hypocrite to refrain from doing the right thing. Consistency can be more immoral than inconsistency. 

In addition, it is not hypocritical for me to support a hypocrite who happens to be doing the right thing. I'm not supporting his hypocrisy. Rather, I support the action. 

You can approve of somebody's action without approving of the agent. Even very bad people can sometimes do good things.

It's not a double standard for me to support the actions of someone who's guilty of double standards if they happen to be applying the right standard in that situation. Sometimes a hypocrite will inconsistently to the right thing. Should I oppose their action in that instance unless they do the right thing all the time? 

Suppose I'm in a country where gov't corruption is rife. Suppose I need to bribe an official to get an innocent relative out of jail. If I can get him to do the right thing, even though he did it for the wrong reason, that's preferable to his acting consistently, when that means consistent wrongdoing.

Now, we can debate the actions of Kim Davis on the merits. And that's a worthwhile debate. But that's obscured by the hypocrisy canard. 

As a rule, I have more control over my own conduct than I have over the conduct of others. I'm not responsible for the lifestyle choices of Kim Davis. That doesn't rub off on me. 

How to back out of a Faustian bargain


Jimmy Lee was a Taiwanese immigrant. As the story begins, Lee is a student at Lamar High in Houston. He got good scores in math and science. But he was too nerdy to be successful with the girls. He pined for the cheerleaders, but–alas!–they didn't pine for him.

One time the head cheerleader invited him over to her house. Jimmy was ecstatic. He spent hours deciding what to wear. He was so nervous.

But, as it turned out, she just wanted him to troubleshoot her computer. He got a reputation for that. Other cheerleaders asked him to troubleshoot their computers. Not one ever took him out on a date. Some of them even had the bad taste to have their boyfriends over at the same time he was troubleshooting their computers.

He attempted to ingratiate himself with the cheerleaders by trying out for the football team. But in Texas, you have to be a member of the Nephilim to make the football team. 

Jimmy became so frustrated that he decided to make a pact with the devil. Next morning, after the blood was dry on the 30-year-contract, he jumped out of bed, expecting a sudden transformation. But when he saw himself in the bathroom mirror, it was the same scrawny kid staring back at him.  

He felt the devil double-crossed him. And if you can't trust the devil, who can you trust? 

But when he got to school, things were different. Although he looked the same and felt the same, although he was the same, when girls looked at him, they magically saw the boy of their dreams–whoever that might be. If it was the quarterback, that's what they saw; if it was the lead singer of a boyband, that's what they saw. 

And that's not all. When Jimmy went to the ATM to withdrawal $20, his account had the same amount of money after the withdrawal as it did before. So he began to test it. He withdrew $133, which is all he had in the bank. But it still showed $133 after he emptied his account. So he withdrew $500. The machine spat out 5 C-bills, and it showed $133 remaining in the account.

Three months later, Jimmy was a high-school dropout. By then the cheerleaders were low-hanging fruit. He was getting unsolicited invitations from supermodels. He drove a Lamborghini Egoista. Had a superyacht. Bought the Breakers for his summer home. Bought the Getty villa for his winter home. Bought Hearst Castle for his other winter home. 

And it's not every 16-year-old boy who can take a private jet to Monaco to play high-stakes poker. Not to mention that every hand he was dealt was a winning hand. Indeed, sometimes he had to fold to fake a losing hand–otherwise, casino security would become suspicious. 


The years flew by. Then, early one morning, Jimmy was suddenly transported to a firepit. Actually, after his eyes adjusted to the infernal lighting, it was a throne room encircle by flame. Mephistopheles was on the throne, with Wormwood at his right hand and Screwtape at his left hand.

"Why am I here?" Jimmy asked.

"Advance notice that your contract comes due today," said Mephistopheles. "At midnight tonight, I will dispatch the hellhounds to drag your soul to the everlasting bonfire."

"You've got the wrong man!" Jimmy protested.

"Mistaken identity? We hear that excuse all the time. But here's the contract. Here's your signature on the dotted line. My legal department has authenticated the signature," Mephistopheles replied. 

"I'm afraid you don't understand," Jimmy said. "I don't deny that that's my signature. Rather, I deny that that's my blood!"

Mephistopheles was momentarily speechless. "That's impossible! I sent Wormwood and Screwtape to witness the phlebotomist draw your blood, label the vial with your name, and store it. That's the vial you brought when you dipped the quill pen into the vial and signed the contract in your own blood."

Mephistopheles turned to Wormwood and Screwtape. "You better not tell me that you bungled the chain of custody!" he glared. "I needn't remind you what I did to the last demon who bungled a contract!"

They were terrified. "No, your Lowness, we did just as you said." 

"That's true enough so far as it goes," Jimmy interjected. "What they didn't know is that my mom was the phlebotomist. She switched samples. Relabeled the sample I brought." 

Once more, Mephistopheles was momentarily speechless. "Give me a moment to consult the legal department," he said–dialing his cellphone.

After a couple of minutes, he turned to Jimmy: "According to Clarence Darrow, what you did is technically legal. Shady, but legal. And around here, we like shady. The shadier the better. I even got second opinions from F. Lee Bailey and Melvin Belli," Mephistopheles explained.

"Ordinarily, I don't take kindly to humans who try to trick the devil," he continued. "But for you to sign a blood pact in someone else's blood is so fiendishly clever that it's worthy of yours truly–and that's not a compliment I pay often or lightly–let me assure you!"

Jimmy heaved a sigh of relief that his ruse worked. "Does that mean I'm free to go?" he asked.

"You yourself are off the hook," Mephistopheles answered. "Saved by a technicality. But there's a loose end to tie up. It's still a valid contract. According to legal precedent, it is ultimately the blood donor, and not the signatory, who is party to the bargain. So I still have a soul to claim. Before you are free to leave, you must give me the name of the donor. Whose blood does that signature belong to?"

"Jerry Walls," Jimmy answered. 

"Sounds vaguely familiar," Mephistopheles replied. He then leaned over as Wormwood whispered something in his ear."

"Ah, that Jerry Walls!" Mephistopheles exclaimed. "The quack philosopher who fancies himself an expert on heaven, hell, and purgatory. Admittedly, my recollection of heaven is a distant memory, but as the world authority on all things infernal, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that Walls doesn't know the first thing about hell. His books should be shelved in the fiction section. This, however, will be a splendid opportunity to set him straight!"

"Just out of curiosity, what about purgatory?" Jimmy asked. 

"No such thing!" Mephistopheles guffawed. "Just a fundraising stunt to pay for the pope's building projects."

"I appreciate the clarification," Jimmy said.

"In any event, there's a certain–how shall I say?–poetic justice that a hell dabbler like Walls bought out your contract. Serves him right! You might consider it penal substitution, in a twisted sort of way. And around here, we like twisted. The twistier the better!" Mephistopheles chortled. 


Late afternoon, as Jerry Walls was driving home from work, he noticed a Rottweiler with glowing eyes in the rearview mirror. He assumed it must be eyeshine as the dusky light impinged on the tapetum lucidum. Yet every time he looked in the rearview mirror, there was another Rottweiler tailing his car. By the time he got home, there was a pack of Rottweilers with glowing eyes tagging along.

And long after sunset, when he peered through the blinds, he could see multiple pairs of fiery eyes on his front yard. Like a row of little stoplights in the dark. It was a bit unnerving. 

And that's before they began to howl. Made sleep impossible. He glanced at his clock: 11:59 PM. A minute later he felt unaccountably hot. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

How prevalent were the charismata?

How widespread were the charismata in the NT church? Cessationists downplay Corinth as anomalous. Charismatics counter with Rom 12:6-8, Eph 4:11, 1 Thes 5:20, and various passages in Acts. 

But this seems to be a neglected passage: 1 Cor 11:16. I take it Paul is referring to the custom of head-coverings. He suggests that's universal in the NT churches. Even if his statement is hyperbolic, he must still mean it's the norm rather than the exception. 

However, Paul has indexed head-coverings to women who pray and prophesy in church. By parity of argument, the scope of the charismata must be commensurate with the scope of head-coverings. If the latter are universal or the norm, so must the charismata be. That implies the charismata were pervasive in the NT church(es). 

That, of course, doesn't settle the question of charismata in the post-apostolic era. 

A duo of dueling fatalisms

Universalist: Do you consider yourself an apologist for atheism?

Atheist: Yes.

Universalist: How do you go about that? 

Atheist: We have atheist philosophers. An atheist journal (Philo). An atheist publishing house (Prometheus Press). Atheist weblogs and websites (e.g. the Secular Web, the Secular Outpost).

There are lots of ways to get the message out.

Universalist: Why do you expend so much time and effort in proselytizing for atheism?

Atheist: Because it's important for people to believe what's right and live accordingly.

Universalist: What happened to Hitler when he died? 

Atheist: He passed into oblivion.

Universalist: What happened to Bonhoeffer when he died?

Atheist: He passed into oblivion.

Universalist: So according to atheism, what you think or do in this life makes absolutely no difference to your final destiny. 

Atheist: I suppose that's one way of putting it.

Universalist: In that event, why is it so important for people to believe what's right and live accordingly?

Atheist: I could ask you the same question.

Universalist: What do you mean?

Atheist: Do you consider yourself an apologist for universalism? 

Universalist: Yes. 

Atheism: How do you go about that?

Universalist: We have universalist philosophers and scholars. We have a website (Evangelical Universalist). We have a universalist (Robin Perry) who's editor of Christian publishing houses (Paternoster, Wipf & Stock). 

There are lots of ways to get the message out.

Atheist: Why do you expend so much time and effort proselytizing for universalism?

Universalist: Because it's important for people to believe what's right and live accordingly.

Atheist: What happened to Hitler when he died?

Universalist: He went to heaven.

Atheist: What happened to Bonhoeffer when he died?

Universalist: He went to heaven. 

Atheist: So according to universalism, what you think or do in this life makes absolutely no difference to your final destiny.

Universalist: I suppose that's one way of putting it.

Atheist: In that event, why is it so important for people to believe what's right and live according?

Universalist: I could ask you the same question.

Atheist: You already did.

Universalist: Since both our positions are fatalistic, perhaps we should save on overhead by merging our websites, publishing houses, &c. 

Atheist: That would be more efficient. I'll have my man talk to your man about a merger.