Saturday, August 13, 2016

Was Mark confused?

I was asked to comment on this video:

1. Feeding the 5000 thousand

To summarize Licona, there are some apparent discrepancies in the feeding of the 5000 and the aftermath. Luke says the miracle took place in Bethsaida or thereabouts. Yet Mark says Bethsaida was their intended destination after they left the location of the miracle (which Mark doesn't specify). How can your destination be the same place as your starting-point? 

Moreover, Mark says they wound up in Capernaum rather than Bethsaida. Conversely, John says Capernaum was their intended destination (Jn 6:17).

Licona then discounts efforts to harmonize the different descriptions as "hermeneutical gymnastics."

So what are we to make of this?

i) In terms of Muslim apologetics, it's suicidal for Muslims (e.g. Yahya Snow) to attack the credibility of the Bible. That's because Muhammad staked his own claim on the credibility of the Bible. He said his revelations were a confirmation of former revelations. He told doubters to consult Jews and Christians. This assumes the Bible was reliable during Muhammad's lifetime. And some of our MSS for the NT antedate Muhammad. So you can't claim the text was altered after the fact. 

ii) Richard Bauckham has defended the general reliability of Mark's geography:

He says Mark is operating with the idea of a ‘mental map.’ The way we construct our spatial environment in our minds is very different from the maps we see on paper or on screen. A close look at Mark’s geography shows that it makes very good sense if it reflects the mental map of a Galilean fisherman based in Capernaum.

ii) To say attempts to harmonize the accounts amount to "hermeneutical gymnastics" poisons the well. That's a prejudicial characterization.

iii) Assuming for the sake of argument that one of the Gospel writers was confused (which I deny), it's odd that Licona would say Mark was confused rather than Luke. On a conventional solution to the Synoptic Problem, Luke is literarily dependent on Mark at this point, not vice versa. Therefore, if anyone is confused, we'd expect that to be Luke rather than Mark insofar as Luke is getting his information from Mark. 

iv) The location of Bethsaida is uncertain. For one thing, the name simply means Fishing Village (lit. house of fishing or fisherman's house). So that's not necessarily its official name. Rather, that could be a descriptive designation for one of several fishing villages on the shores of the lake–just as we might refer to a "river camp" or "lake camp". 

v) The descriptions may be confusing because the disciples in the boat were genuinely confused. They got off to a late start. It was already dark when they launched. When, hours later, Jesus met them on the lake, it was still in the wee hours of the morning (c. 3:00-4:00 AM).  

This is the 1C. Their rowboat wasn't equipped with searchlights, radar, or GPS chartplotters. Fishing villages ringing the shoreline didn't have city lights. It would be very easy to get hopelessly lost or row in circles. Put yourself in their situation. Imagine navigating a boat at night in pitch black conditions. You can't see where you're going. You can't see ahead. You can't see the shoreline. Only at first light would conditions of visibility begin to improve. For several hours they were sailing blind.

It doesn't even seem to occur to Licona to imagine how disorienting their situation would be. 

vi) Mark's terminology is ambiguous:

If in [Mk] 6:53, "crossed over" refers to a return after a period of time to the western side of the Sea of Galilee, there is no need to accuse Mark of ignorance concerning the geography of Galilee. R. Stein, Mark (Baker, 2008), 322.

vii) The original text is unsettled:

Luke's description would place the miraculous feeding to the east of the general vicinity suggested in the other Gospels, near "a city called Bethsaida" (v10). Luke's geography is thus more precise, but its textual attestation is uncertain. See Metzger, TCGNT, 123. J. Edwards, The Gospel According to Luke (Eerdmans, 2015), 265. 

viii) The verb (erchonto) in Jn 6:17 doesn't imply that Capernaum was their original destination. While it could mean they were trying to go there, it could also mean they were on their way to Capernaum. Cf. C. K. Barrett, The Gospel According to John (Westminster Press, 2nd ed., 1978), 280.

Keep in mind that while this is describing an event that was future to the disciples, it was written after the fact, and therefore reflects the narrator's retrospective viewpoint regarding the outcome. The narrator knows something they don't. What's future for them is past for him. So it's only natural that he describes the event with the benefit of hindsight. But when the disciples embarked, they didn't have that perspective. 

ix) As, moreover, one scholar notes:

A contradiction has been alleged between Mk 6:45 ("to Bethsaida") and Jn 6:17 ("to Capernaum"), but if the disciples were setting out from due east of the Sea of Galilee, both cities would be to the northwest, with the former as possibly a stopping point en route to the latter. The storm, as it turns out , blows them far enough south so that they actually land at Gennesaret (Mk 6:53), more directly to the east. C. Blomberg, Jesus and the Gospels (B&H, 2009), 316n64. 
But the two can be harmonized, since a small bay at the north end of the Sea of Galilee would have allowed for  the feeding miracle to occur in the hilly country northeast of Bethsaida and for the disciples to set off for home in the direction of Capernaum, with Bethsaida en route. The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel (IVP, 2001), C. Blomberg, 121n154.
x) Carson takes the view that they first went to Bethsaida, waited for Jesus, then when he didn't meet them, proceeded to Gennesaret Cf. "Matthew," EBC (Zondervan, 2nd ed., 2010), 9:392-93. 

2. Infancy narratives

Here's what Pennington says:

But even in the accounts that do give a birth narrative–Matthew and Luke–there is almost no overlap at all. Matthew traces Jesus's linage through Joseph's Davidic line. Then he gives us a whole raft of little stories concerning Joseph's plans to divorce Mary, the mysterious magi from the East who arrive a couple of years after Jesus's birth. Herod's paranoia and slaughter of children, and the holy family's flight to and return from Egypt. Luke has none of this but traces Jesus's lineage back to Adam. He also includes  a rather lengthy cycle of stories about the miraculous birth of Jesus's kinsman John, the visit of angels to Zechariah and Mary, Joseph and Mary's census-forced journey to Bethlehem, an angelic visit to some nondescript shepherds on the night of Jesus birth…If Jesus did not appear as the named figure in both of these accounts, one would never suspect they were stories about the same person. J. Pennington, Reading the Gospels Wisely (Baker, 2012), 55-56.

That's a misleading comparison:

i) To begin with, there's a dilemma. If two Gospel accounts overlap, critics discount their historicity because one is dependent on the other for his source of information. Conversely, if two Gospel accounts are independent, critics discount their historicity due to lack of overlap. 

ii) It overlooks what they have in common:

a) In both accounts, Jesus has the same parents. 

b) In both accounts, Jesus is a Davidic messiah.

c) Both accounts have angels.

d) Both accounts have the Virgin Birth.

e) In both accounts, his birth its heralded by portents and prodigies.

f) In both accounts, he is born in Bethlehem.

g) In both accounts, he grows up in Nazareth.

h) Moreover, although John the Baptist doesn't figure in Matthew's nativity account, he certainly figures in the public ministry of Christ. So Pennington artificially separates the two in that respect. 

3. Details in Resurrections narratives difficult to harmonize.

I've discussed this on various occasions. The Resurrection accounts are selective. Different people arrive at different times. Moreover, there's no reason to assume each person only went there once. If you were there, wouldn't you be inclined to go back to see the empty tomb more than once? 

Imagine four different people attending the same high school reunion, then making a diary entry after they return home. There might be little if any overlap because they arrive at different times, leave at different times, and chat with different classmates. 

Friday, August 12, 2016

Scripturalists in the Matrix

I ran across a clueless comment by Scripturalist Sean Gerety

Sean Gerety It's funny, Hays doesn't explain how he knows he has a bible in his hands? He just assumes the very thing he needs to prove. Further, he thinks the Scriptures are ink marks on a page in a black book. So, how much does justification weigh? What color is propitiation? He tips his hand when he says the Word of God is "embodied in Scripture."
August 3, 2015 at 1:32pm · Like · 4

Let's review his comment:

It's funny, Hays doesn't explain how he knows he has a bible in his hands? 

How does Sean know he has hands? 

He just assumes the very thing he needs to prove. 

Does Sean believe we have sensory organs? If so, what's their purpose? What function did God design eyes and ears to perform? 

The question isn't confined to sensory organs. Does Sean think lungs were designed to oxygenate blood? Does he think the heart was designed to pump blood? If Sean was diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism or coronary artery disease, would he consider surgery, or does that "assume the very thing we need to prove"?

What does Sean believe about the world? Does he think our organs and body parts actually exist? Or does he think God feeds delusive input into our minds to simulate the illusion of a physical world with bodies, eyes, ears, &c.? 

Further, he thinks the Scriptures are ink marks on a page in a black book. 

i) Well, by definition, Scriptures are writings. So Sean's statement is confused. 

ii) However, he attributes to me a position I explicitly deny. I've done so on many occasions. Let's take a recent example:

Here and elsewhere, Ehrman keeps insisting that unless we have the autographa, we no longer have the words of God. But that confuses the medium with the message. That confounds God's word with a record of God's word. The word of God isn't the paper and ink, but the message. A MSS is just a storage and retrieval mechanism–like a CD. The same information, the same word of God, can be instantiated in various media. It can be written. Or spoken. Or digitized. Or memorized. In the latter case, the word of God is mentally rather than materially exemplified. God's word isn't lost whenever a physical record of God's word is lost.

Back to Sean:

So, how much does justification weigh? What color is propitiation? 

It's a mistake when people like Sean try to be more clever than they are. 

i) To begin with, his statement piggybacks on imputing to me a position I deny. But that's typical of Sean's uninformed comments about his opponents.

ii) Since, however, Sean denies sense knowledge, doesn't that mean he thinks colors are essentially ideas? The color red is just a concept of red? 

He tips his hand when he says the Word of God is "embodied in Scripture."

What does Sean make of all those Biblical commands to "write" down God's revelations, viz., Exod 17:14, 34:1,27; Deut 17:18, 27:3,8; 31:19, Isa 30:8; Jer 30:2; 36:2,28; Ezk 24:2; 43:11; Lk 1:3; Rev 1:11,19, 21:5. ? That means committing the word of God to writing. Paper and ink (or papyrus or velum or stone). 

Prophecy and the progress of science

I'd like to draw a comparison between prophecy and the progress of science. People often ask, what did OT prophets know? For instance, Isaiah prophesied about a Davidic messiah, but did he know who that would be?

I've read it said that Kepler's three laws of planetary motion anticipate Newton's inverse square law. I've also read it said that Mach and Poincaré anticipate Relativity.

Now, in one sense that's anachronistic. That's a retrospective judgement. In light of subsequent developments, we might see how their work led to the work of Newton and Einstein. But of course, they didn't have the benefit of hindsight. Although we're in a position to recognize how their work contributed to later developments, their own perspective wasn't prospective. 

But in another sense, this isn't just reading the future back into the past. Newton and Einstein really did build on the work of their predecessors. That's what made the breakthroughs of Newton and Einstein possible. Although Kepler, Mach, and Poincaré couldn't foresee how Newton and Einstein would exploit their insights, there is a genuine trajectory. We can retrace the pathway. 

Now, this is just an analogy. I'd say the relation between prophecy and fulfillment is stronger than that. But even if, for the sake of argument, it was weaker (see above), there's a real link between what went before and what happened afterwards. To the extent, moreover, that the detailed circumstances of the outcome were unexpected, that makes it all the more striking. 

The Word of Life

In Greek the first word of 1 John designates the Word of Life, who in verse 4 is identified as Jesus Christ. Since the Epistle and the Gospel have the same author, it is permissible to connect this Word of Life with the Word of John 1:1. And no one should object if we equate this Word with him whom Paul calls “the Power of God” and “the Wisdom of God.” This second person of the Trinity is the subject of John’s declaration. Can this eternal Wisdom be heard with the ears, seen with the eyes, and handled with the hands? Is the second person of the Trinity an object of sense? The word hearing comes first; seeing comes second. This discussion will take them in turn. 
– Gordon Clark

i) I've discussed this before, but now I'd like to make an addition observation. Where could the "Word of Life" destination come from? Here's a clue:

The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life (Jn 6:63) 
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life (Jn 6:68).

Jesus told the disciples that his spoken words are life. And Peter echoed that statement when he said Jesus had the words of eternal life.

Therefore, it's easy to see why John would use "the Word of Life" as a title for Jesus. And note that this goes back to the Incarnate Son. So, yes, the Incarnate Son could be heard with ears, seen with eyes, and handled with hands. He was visible, audible, and tangible. Indeed, during the course of his ministry, he touched, or was touched by, many people. 

ii) In addition, Clark denies what the text explicitly affirms. The text (1 Jn 1:1-3) explicitly asserts the visible, audible, tangible nature of the subject, which Clark proceeds to flatly deny. The text uses the same type of terminology John's Gospel uses in reference to the Incarnate Son (1:14) and the Risen Son (20:24-29). Clark's anti-Incarnational interpretation is heretical. He dehistoricizes John's forceful affirmation, with its allusions to the Incarnation and Resurrection. Clark reduces this to an idea. 

iii) Clark doesn't begin with Scripture. Rather, he begins with philosophy. He begins with his rationalistic epistemology. No one who took a passage like 1 Jn 1:1-3 as his starting-point would deny the possibility of sense knowledge. Rather, Clark must deny that in spite of the passage. 

Dreams and visions on the mission field

Daniel Chew is a Reformed cessationist. However, he's enough of an independent thinker that he grounds his position differently than the average cessationist, as a result of which he draws the lines differently:

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Hanky-panky all around

I'd like to make a brief observation about this:

Premarital sex has been around since the Fall. And I doubt the percentage of sexually-active churchgoing singles has changed that much over the centuries. 

But traditionally, the general culture opposed homosexuality. Now, however, that so many members of the ruling class are imposing homosexual "equality" (really, super rights) on society at large, I suspect the prevalence of premarital sex in the church lowers resistance to the the new social agenda. That is to say, if many professing Christian singles are indulging in premarital sex, I expect that makes them decidedly less likely to condemn active homosexuals. In the past, the prevailing social mores made that decision for them. The hypocrisy was less personal, because they didn't have to take an individual stand against homosexual "equality." The culture already did that on their behalf. But now the issue has been joined. So the issue of consistency, one way or the other, now hits much closer to home. Even within the evangelical church, the moral floor for opposing homosexual "equality" is very soft.

I'd add that for many people, hypocrisy is their only moral category. That's the yardstick by which they measure any and all ethical issues.

"Why Rachel Held Evans is Wrong to Tell Christians to Vote for Hillary Clinton"

Part 1 of 3

Part 2 of 3

Part 3 of 3

“The Nonexistent Early Papacy”

Here is a brief overview that I've written in the past on historical literature on the earliest papacy:

“There was … no individual, committee or council of leaders within the Christian movement that could pronounce on which beliefs and practices were acceptable and which were not. This was particularly true of Rome with its numerous small groups of believers. Different Christian teachers and organizers of house-churches offered a variety of interpretations of the faith and attracted particular followings, rather in the way that modern denominations provide choice for worshipers looking for practices that particularly appeal to them on emotional, intellectual, aesthetic or other grounds (15-16).

This is not an esoteric or a “liberal” interpretation of history. This is a mainstream historical position.

That is why, for the first time, the Vatican changed its story from “permanent” and “immediately given” to “we are conscious of development of the papacy” in 1996. They are trying to salvage the sinking “barque of Peter.” The papacy is built on a foundation of quicksand — of less than that — its foundation is nonexistent. It will go down; and thanks to the speed of the Internet, it may go down faster than anyone expects.

On the meaning of sola scriptura

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

The Smell of Hay

Giorgio Bassani published a collection of short stories with the deceptively innocuous title The Smell of Hay. I suspect that for many people, that triggers fond, nostalgic associations with spring and summertime–universal and perennial symbols of new life, new hope, and the prime of life. Likewise, I'm sure that for many people, summer represents the carefree days of youth. Some of their fondest childhood memories are memories of summer break. The mere sound of lawnmowers can instantly evoke that past. 

In that respect, Bassani's title is subversive, because the default associations are juxtaposed against the intended meaning. The title fosters a false impression that Bassani will sabotage. In context, the title alludes to mown hay at the gates of the 17C Jewish cemetery in Ferrara. In that setting, it has reference, not to hope and halcyon youth, but to death and forgetfulness. Bassani trades on the contrast between the default association and the abrasive context. 

And it has a more sinister significance. Not death by natural causes, not death from old age, but the Holocaust. Of the 760 Jews who lived in prewar Ferrara, only 200 survived. So many of Bassani's Jewish friends, neighbors, and classmates perished in the gas chambers. So his title is actually ominous. 

Bassani wrote to keep their memory alive. Ironically, he is now interred in the very cemetery his title evokes. 

At one level, this illustrates the open-textured character of metaphors. Metaphors have surplus meaning. What they signify is context-dependent.

But to some degree it illustrates the ambiguity of good and evil. I don't mean to suggest that good and evil are generally ambiguous. There are unambiguous examples of good and evil.

However, there are situations in which one person's good is another person's evil. What is beneficial for one person may be maleficial for another. For some people, the fragrance of fresh-cut grass brings back memories of a happy childhood. But for Bassani, it's the stench of death and moral horror. 

That complicates the problem of evil. For there are situations in which good and evil are relative. That's not to deny absolute good and evil, but not every event can be dichotomized in that fashion. 
Enclosed all about by an old perimeter wall some three meters high, Ferrara's Jewish cemetery is a vast grassy expanse so vast that the gravestones, gathered in separate and distinct groups, appear far fewer than they actually are. On the eastern side, the circling wall is in the lee of the city's bastions, thick planted even today with big trees–limes, elms, chestnuts and also some oaks–arrayed in a double row along the top of the embankment. At least in this stretch, the war has spared these beautiful, ancient plants. You can only just make out the red sixteenth-century tower that some thirty years ago served as a powered magazine, half hidden as it is behind their broad green domes.  
During the summer months, the grass in our cemetery always grows with a frantic vigor. I'm not sure if that's still the case, but what's certain is that around 1938, at the time of the Racial Laws, the Jewish community used to entrust the cutting to an agricultural agency from the province…The scythers advanced slowly, in a semi-circular formation, moving their arms in synchronized rhythm…in the dog days' heat haze. 
Towards five o'clock in the afternoon, the farm workers would abandon their scything. Overladen with swaying heaps of hay and drawn by a yoked pair of oxen, their carts went out one after the other into Via dell Vigne, where, at that hour, the inhabitants of the neighborhood, pensioners in shirt sleeves with a pipe or a Tuscan cigar between their teeth…were almost all seated out of doors, in a row in front of their little one-story dwellings. 
As soon as the hearse had crossed the threshold of the big entrance gate, doing so at a leisurely jolt, the sharp smell of mown hay wafted across to liven up the cortege oppressed by the heat. Giorgio Bassani, The Smell of Hay (Penguin Books, 2014), 12-13.

Absolute personality

One weakness with Gordon Clark is his lopsided fixation on epistemology. Perhaps his neglect of metaphysics is due in part to his radical skepticism regarding sense knowledge. 

In that regard, Van Til is more balanced. Van Til shares Clark's interest in epistemology, but that's complemented by an interest in metaphysics. Indeed, Van Til attempts to use metaphysics to ground epistemology: the metaphysics of epistemology.

Take his view of God as the Absolute (i.e. absolute personality). That's a metaphysical principle with some epistemological implications. 

Likewise, his belief that the one-over-many problem is harmonized in the Trinity. Admittedly, that's not a conceptual solution. Indeed, he thinks the Trinity is paradoxical. But by the same token, he thinks the Trinity proves the compatibility and equal ultimacy of the one and the many. 

Ironically, Greg Bahsen share's Gordon Clark's overemphasis on epistemology to the neglect of metaphysics. However, Vern Poythress (chance, coincidence, randomness, risk, probability, prediction) as well as James Anderson and Greg Welty (theistic conceptual realism) have been developing transcendental theism in ways that explore and exploit the theistic (indeed, Calvinistic) metaphysical underpinnings of epistemology. In that respect they are doing what Van Til failed to do, which is to turn his programatic suggestions into detailed models. 

Fascism in the wings

Whoever wins in November, America is teetering on the brink of fascism. Our Constitution can't protect us if the electorate refuse to honor the Constitution:

The talking dead

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Moo reviews Paul and the Gift

The significance of this book lies in the fact that it is reorienting the debate away from the New Perspective on Paul.

The woman from Kentucky

The death of God

1. In his recent book, The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought To Live Since the Death of God (Simon and Schuster, 2014), Peter Watson, himself an atheist, endeavors to illustrate how it's possible for atheists to lead meaningful lives. 

2. Watson's analysis is focused on philosophers, poets, playwrights, and novelists. One oversight is his failure to note the way in which music, with its unique emotional power, can be a persuasive medium to propagandize atheism, viz. Berlioz, Wagner, Debussy, Ravel.

Wagner was influenced by Feuerbach and Schopenhauer. Not to mention the tangled relationship between Wagner and Nietzsche. Another example is where a secular composer (Debussy) sets to music the text (Les fleurs du mal) of a secular poet (Baudelaire).

3. In another oversight, one common thread which Watson fails to note is the number of artists who were both homosexual (or bisexual) and atheistic, viz. E. M. Forster, Gide, Keynes, Henry James, Jean Cocteau, Thomas Mann, Proust, Poulenc, Santayana, Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thompson, Oscar Wilde, Wittgenstein, Woolf. There's a natural affinity between homosexuality and atheism inasmuch as the amorality of atheism liberates the homosexual. Put another way, it's not surprising that homosexuals are antagonistic to traditional Christian ethics, and the religion that sponsors traditional Christian ethics: it condemns their lifestyle. 

Of course, the same could be said for heterosexual libertines, viz. Bertrand Russell, H. G. Wells, D. H. Lawrence, Edmund Wilson, Hemingway, Yeats, Sartre, Camus. Indeed, the Bloomsbury Group was notorious for its sexual libertinism, be it straight or gay. As Dorothy Parker quipped, the Bloomsbury Group "lived in squares, painted in circles and loved in triangles".

5. In yet another oversight, there's the connection between Jews and atheism, viz. Freud, Kafka, Proust, Gertrude Stein, Wittgenstein. This reflects the plight of the European Jew. Once Jews were freed from the ghetto, they no longer had that artificial solidarity. Unmoored from their religious roots, they had to navigate in a nominally Christian, antisemitic environment. Their hereditary religious identity became self-alienating, leaving many spiritually estranged. 

6. Ironically, Watson's documentation sabotages his thesis that atheists and can and should lead meaningful lives. That's because, in so many of his examples, the artists and their fictional characters are abjectly miserable, and that's directly connected to their acute consciousness of living in a godless universe. To quote a few examples: 

As he [James Joyce] expressed himself to Arthur Power…In realism you get down to the facts on which the world is based; that sudden reality which smashes romanticism into a pulp. What makes most people's lives unhappy is some disappointed romanticism, some unrealizable misconceived idea. In fact, you may say that idealism is the ruin of man, and if we lived down to the fact, as primitive man had to, we would be better off. That is what we are made for. Nature is quite unromantic (264).
Valéry felt that disappointment "inevitably" arose in all earthly experiences because "they are never quite adequate to what the self might hope to derive from them" (161).

In all of his later plays the dominant them is the protagonist's search for a moral order within him- or herself, to counter the "cosmic emptiness" and the chaos around him or her. For this Ibsen there is no order and no God–except insofar as his characters conceive of him…His later plays are inevitably dramas of "spiritual distress," describing his character's search for consolation in the shadow of death and their attempts to manufacture some form of Paradise here and now. "Redemption from cosmic nothingness, from meaninglessness–this is the nature of the Romantic quest which Ibsen's people share with those of Byron and Stendhal. 

Hardly any of the main characters in Ibsen's later plays fail to conduct themselves on the basis of a deus absconditus (a hidden God) or lead lives that are not governed by that awareness. These characters are either pagan acolytes of Dionysus or self-declared apostates, defrocked priests or freethinkers; they are atheist rebels or agnostics. In Hedda Gabler, Hedda dreams for being a free spirit, "irradiated by the orgiastic religion of ancient Greece"…And in Little Eyolf, "Allmer's predicament seems the paradigm of the romantic dilemma in Ibsen's drama, which, to state in its simplest and crudest terms, is to be trapped between a traumatic sense of existence as process, change and death in a world devoid of consistent value, and a longing for a lost world of static hierarchies where death has no dominion. And in order to resolve this dilemma, the atheist/agnostic/apostate will fashion out of the raw material existence his analogue of that lost Eden–a Symbolic Paradise which promises eternal life, and which he seeks to possess, not as metaphor but as fact (92-93).

This is highlighted and countered in the plays not just by the lurking presence of death (often in the form of terminal illness–syphilis, tuberculosis, cancer) but also in the fact that those who die are the last of their line: this is not just death, but extinction. In a famous article, "Symbols of Eternity: The Victorian Escape from Time," Jerome Buckley grouped Ibsen with Coleridge, Rossetti, Wordsworth, Pater and William Morris in their attempts to "fashion worlds of artifice beyond the reach of change…What Ibsen's plays explore are the pain and tragedy almost inevitably involved in trying to create something of lasting value amid the flux and ceaseless flow of change, the experimental nature of life and reality (93-94). 

After Eyolf, the crippled and thus half-unwanted son, is drowned, lured into the sea by the Rat-Wife, Alfred and his wife, Rita, resolve to do more for the poor children in their area. To help these children in a way they never helped their own infirm and less-than-perfect child brings them together in a way they have not been together before. The value they now see in their lives–to help the children–is an absolute value, in this world, the small world that is theirs, that surrounds them (95).

"The characters in [Henry] James's novels seem to pay little heed to articulated religious belief. Indeed, they often seem to inhabit a moral world in which absolute measures of value such as those associated with God are no longer available" (132).

For James, shared fictions take the place of more traditional religious beliefs…whether the protagonist will tell a "necessary lie" in order to maintain the illusion in which a community would prefer to live"…We can act as if there were a God. In other words, faced with a world without God and at the same time an ostensible moral base deriving from God, if we are to live together we must maintain fictions–even if, on occasion, they are lies–if they oil the wheels of the community to which we wish to belong…"In the fallen world of James's novels, the shared fiction seems to be the only remnant of faith that can allow James's characters to live together. The problem for James, his characters, and his readers is that these shared fictions can hardly be distinguished from lies"…James's characters, especially in The Golden Bowl, are both conscious of evil and aware of the absence of supernatural intervention in the modern world (133-34).

Jean-Paul Sartre, in Mallarmé, or the Poet of Nothingness, places the poet centrally in the death-of-God narrative at least in France…All the poets of the mid-century (in France, that is) were unbelievers, he says, though not without a nostalgia "for the reassuring symmetry of a God-ordered universe"…Sartre therefore concluded that poets, more than anyone else, are "God's orphans," and even here Mallarmé stood out because his mother had died when he was five and his sister when he was fifteen, so that they "fused" together into a single absence-"absence" being the crucial term..a "commanding absence," or a "hovering absence"…For Mallarmé, says Sartre, "his mother never stops dying," and it left a "pathological gap in his "being-in-the-world.'" This was important for Sartre, who saw Mallarmé as the herald of the twentieth century and someone who "more profoundly than Nietzsche, experienced the death of God" (148-49).

"The most tragic thing about the war [WWI] was not that it made so many dead men, but that it destroyed the tragedy of death. Not only did the young suffer in the war, but so did every abstraction that would have sustained and given dignity to their suffering"…And, as Edmund Wilson noted about Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and the Damned: "The hero and heroine are strange creatures without purpose or method, who give themselves up to wild debaucheries and do not, from the beginning to end of the book, perform a single serious act: but you somehow get the impression that, in spite of their madness, they are the most rational people…in such a civilization, the sanest and most credible thing is to live for the jazz of the moment…There was [Idema] said, an "extraordinary increase" in neurosis, in divorce, in sexual and emotional conflict, which was reflected in both the literature of the time [the Twenties] and in the personal lives of the authors. Sherwood Anderson's Beyond Desire was originally to be called No God (240-41).

What [Eugene O'Neil] is saying is that there is no reality; there are no firm values no ultimate meanings, so all of us need our pipe dreams and illusions (our fictions, if you like)…and that brings with it the necessity of the "life-lie, the idea that a man cannot live without illusions…men's lives "are without any meaning whatever, human life is a silly disappointment, a liar's promise, a daily appointment with peace and happiness in which we wait day after day, hoping against hope (252, 254).

Elsewhere, one brother says to the other, "I love you much more than I hate you"… (253)…The love-hate within a family, the closeness-distance, the loneliness within a togetherness, the guilt and need for forgiveness, the knowing and not knowing a loved one, the bewilderment in the face of a mysterious determinism–this is the human condition…they are sharing the death of hope…Families, for O'Neill, are full of private spaces, secrets and concealments in which, despite all, understanding and forgiveness must be the site where our illusions cannot be maintained because fellow family members know too much, were excuses can never be offered or accepted as explanations (253,255-6).

7. Atheism leads to existential nihilism along at least two different paths:

i) The problem of mortality. How things end really does make a difference to how we evaluate what went before. Suppose an accountant for the mob embezzles his employer, then skips town. For a time he lives well. One day takes his family on a picnic. It's a glorious summer day. But he can see a car shadowing him in the rearview mirror. The mob tracked him down.

In a park, by the lake, everything is outwardly idyllic. His wife and kids are oblivious to the fateful denouement. All the time, he can see the hit-man's car in the parking lot, just waiting for him. When the picnic is over, and he must return to the parking lot, he knows ahead of time that he will be abducted, taken to a remote location, and shot in the head. That advance knowledge casts a wee bit of a pall over the proceedings. He can't be happy foreknowing how the story ends. 

ii) Atheism is like the characters in Dark City. They have false memories, implanted by aliens. That gives them an ersatz sense of community and rootedness. They imagine they have a history with each other, as friends, lovers, spouses. Fond childhood recollections. But some of them come to suspect that their identity is an illusion. Their memories are delusive. 

Likewise, according to naturalistic evolution, we've been brainwashed to be altruistic. But like false memories, once you realize that the significance you attach to things is conditioned and arbitrary, there's nothing to fall back on. Life was a cheat.   

8. Atheism has a silver lining. The bleak backdrop of atheism intensifies the value of Christian hope. When honest atheists, by their own words and deeds, live in despair, they bear witness to the irreplaceable value of the Gospel. Ironically, if everyone was Christian, we'd fail to fully appreciate the surpassing value of the faith, which shines all the brighter in outside the shadow of atheism.