Saturday, November 12, 2016

Comparative assessments in voting

Although I was a NeverTrumper from first to last (I put that in the past tense since it's now obsolete), I find myself in the paradoxical position of defending Trump voters. Case in point:

Tedla G Woldeyohannes
How should the world think of American Evangelical Christianity anymore? American Christian missionaries, when you go out to take the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people, say, in Africa, what would you say if people ask you, have you voted for Trump? What does Trump symbolize for a Christian? 

To which I replied: Evangelicals voted for Trump in the general election because Hillary put a gun to their head.

There are self-identified American evangelicals who exhibit delusional confidence in Trump's bona fides.

That said, it's meaningless to simply express dismay or disapproval that many American evangelicals voted for Trump in the general election. That's a skewed perspective. Voting in the general election involves a comparative assessment. Comparing one candidate with another

It's not just a question of whether or not to vote for Trump, but comparing and contrasting Trump to the alternatives. So this one-sided analysis is ill-conceived. 

I myself am a NeverTrumper. But you need to frame the issue in terms of a comparative judgment respecting more than one candidate.

The popular vote doesn’t win elections — nor does it grant legitimacy

The Electoral College

In the wake of Hillary's defeat, we have predicable calls for the abolition of the Electoral College. Needless to say, people only complain about the Electoral College when there's a split vote and their candidate loses, never when there's a split vote and their candidate wins. The Electoral College is nonpartisan. Doesn't favor one party's candidate over another's. Same rules for everyone going in. 

Here's my answer to a Frenchman who was asking about the Electoral College. I'm not a political scientist by trade, so someone else might be able to give a bette answer. But here goes:

i) The short answer to your question is that the American political system is a republic rather than a democracy. 

ii) By way of justification: if the popular vote settled things, then urban elites in big cities would always decide who gets to be president. Ultimate political power would be concentrated in big cities. But that's an unrepresentative sample group. The Electoral College system spreads things out to require a more demographically diverse working majority. 

That was an issue even back in the 18C, with population centers and urban elites in Boston, Philadelphia, Charleston, NYC). 

iii) I'd add that Democrats actively solicit voter fraud, which makes it easier to steal elections based on the popular vote. 

iv) Because humans are social creatures, humans in community are apt to think alike more than humans outside a particular community. Due to peer pressure, common social conditioning, &c., the more that generations of people live and work in the same locality, the more their outlook tends to coalesce. 

The Electoral College system cuts across that groupthink, requiring a more demographically diverse sample group. 

v) France has been fully settled for many centuries. The current political system in France was put in place many centuries after the major urban centers were established. Long after the distribution of urban and rural populations was firmly in place.

By contrast, America, at the time of the Republic, was largely an unexplored, uncolonized wilderness. Most of the major urban centers did not exist at that time. The borders were not established. 

So the current political system was put in place long before the country had taken shape. The Founders attempted to devise a system for an expanding nation.

Protected classes

I got into an impromptu debate on Facebook: 

"I say to my friends who are minorities, women, immigrants, Muslims, LGBTQ and to the unborn who are frightened right now, know that many, many followers of Christ, including me, will be there to keep Trump accountable, to fight for justice and equal protection under the law for EVERYONE."

Since Trump is pro-LGBT to begin with, it's not as if his election imperils them. I'd add that the threat isn't to Muslim-Americans (or Muslim foreign nationals) or LGBT representatives, but from them.

"So all Muslims living here are the danger? I see you wrote "to Muslim-Americans". This seems a patently unbiblical approach. Christians are not the majority so tightening or eliminating religious freedom now seems a poor choice also."

Not what I said, but since you asked, most Muslims aren't terrorists, but most terrorists are Muslims. Consider how many jihadist attacks we've had on the home soil under Obama's watch.

"You actually said the threat wasn't to but was from Muslim-Americans, right? And what threat can I expect specifically from 'lgbt representatives'?"

The threat coming from lgbt representatives in terms of laws and policies that fine Christian businesses, that punish students who don't use transgender pronouns, that require battered women's shelters to admit biological men who self-identify as women, that require unisex restrooms and locker rooms, that authorize termination of employment if an employee dissents from the lgbt agenda, &c.

"To decide an entire section of society should be treated as a threat based on their race (you say Muslim but I wonder if this doesn't also apply to immigrants from Muslim countries?"

What race do you think Muslims belong to?

I'd add that although people are normally entitled to equal protection under the law, when the law itself is discriminatory (e.g. "hate crimes," protected classes), then you don't have equal protection under the law.

"In what way are you not protected, specifically? I'm curious about this because I do have some knowledge of the law. Also, if you disagree with protected classes (race- including your race, gender- including your gender, age- like yours) do you think there has ever been a point in history when they were a justifiable solution?"

 There's an elementary difference between striking down discriminatory laws (e.g. Jim Crow) and simply replacing them with a different kind of discriminatory laws. How about just plain equal protection under the law?

"I am not seeing how spelling out protections takes them away from anyone (sexual orientation aside)."

Tell that to Asian applicants to Ivy League colleges who are refused admission, even when they are academically superior to applicants belonging to protected classes. 

"Affirmative action and protected classes are not the same thing."

Try explaining the relevance and justice of that hairsplitting distinction to Asian college applicants.

I'm struck by your selective concern for some groups at the expense of others.

These categories create in-groups and out-groups. The "race" category is pitted against other categories. You end up with competing categories.

Why this pressing need to classify people in the first place? Why create a political taxonomy? Other than criminals, why indulge in all these categories and subcategories?

You fail to draw a distinction between racially discriminatory laws and anti-discrimination laws. There's a third alternative: freedom in the private sector. If I Jewish deli owner refuses to serve a skinhead, he ought to have the legal freedom to do so.

There's a difference between what people ought to do and what people ought to be free to do.

Keep in mind that many "private colleges" receive various forms of gov't assistance. So in that respect, it's intolerable when, say, Harvard discriminates against Asian applicants.

"I strongly disagree. This is how we end up with colored and white drinking fountains- because people were told to treat everyone as equal but were free not to do so."

You blew right past the fundamental distinction between mandatory discrimination and voluntary discrimination. There are tradeoffs for living in a free and open society.

You persistently ignore the distinction between gov't mandated discrimination and voluntary discrimination. For instance, most black churches employ black pastors. Most Asian churches employ Asian pastors. Should that be illegal?

Do you think public school students should be disciplined if they refuse to use transgender nouns and pronouns?

Do you think shelters for battered women should be required to admit biological men who self-identify as women?

Do you think CPS should revoke the custody of parents who raise biological boys as boys and biological girls as girls? 

What's your position on the well-documented fact that Muslims in Europe have imported a rape culture into the host countries? Should immigration policy be revised to screen that out?

"It's telling to me that you refuse to answer anything about race, preferring to deflect with emotionally compelling unrelated stories." 

i) To the contrary, i've been directly responding to your questions about race.

ii) You weren't just asking about race as a protected class. You also asked about Muslims and LGBT representatives. You asked me about the threat posed by LGBT representatives. Forcing women's shelters to open their doors to "transgender women" is a case in point. And you think it's just "emotional" to express concern about putting battered women at additional risk of physical harm from abusive men?

You asked me about the threat posed by Muslims. Importing a rape-culture into host countries is a case in point. And you think it's just "emotional" to express concern about putting women at heightened risk of sexual assault from a misogynistic culture? That's just a "wall of feels"? 

Likewise, the logic of transgenderism is that it's transphobic to raise biological boys as boys and biological girls as girls. That prejudges their gender; parental imposition of gender rather than letting the kids self-identify and transition (if need be). If that logic becomes public policy, children will be removed from the custody of parents who raised them according to their biological sex.

iii) You compartmentalized race and affirmative action as if these occupy separate airtight containers, but they overlap. The fact that "race" is a protected class doesn't mean whites or Asians are protected from racial discrimination. That was originally about nondiscrimination against blacks, not whites. 

iiv) There's a pecking order in identity politics. Some races are more equal than others. Some protected classes are more equal than others. Take the black Atlanta fire chief who was canned because he wrote a book with one paragraph extolling heterosexual marriage. Blacks are lower in the hierarchy of protected classes than LGBT people.

"Our immigration policy is tighter."

In reference to what?

Ban bathtubs

I got into an impromptu debate on Facebook with a commented who complained about the "politicization" of the church. As the debate progressed, he showed his true colors. As I responded:

Christians can be happy that Hillary lost without being happy that Trump won. 

i) The policies of the contemporary Democrat party are decidedly un-Christian. The contemporary Democrat party is dominated by militant secular progressive who despise Christianity because they rightly view it as an obstacle to their totalitarian agenda. 

ii) The fact that many people are turned off by Christian culture warriors doesn't mean they are entitled to be. Popular perception isn't morally self-validating. 

iii) The reason so many moral issues are politicized is because Democrats insist on making gov't dictate so much social policy. Conservatives didn't ask for this. We are usually playing defense, not offense.

iv) I don't even know what you mean to say we need to accept liberal politics in our pews? Morality isn't compartmentalized.

If you have any evidence that I watch Fox News, and get my beliefs about liberals from Fox News, Franklin Graham, and Jerry Falwell, I'm waiting to hear it.

I get my views about liberals direct from the Obama administration, Hillary Clinton, the DNC platform, "Progressive Christians," et al.

"Indeed these are some of the commonly quoted problems with liberals. Let's look at them one by one. Homosexuals have been one of the most mistreated groups in the history of the world."

Not to mention that homosexuals mistreat each other. For instance, they sodomize each other. Likewise, you have high rates of domestic abuse among homosexuals. 

Not to mention that homosexuals mistreat heterosexuals. Take homosexual priests who molest teenage boys.

"No one decides to be gay."

What's your evidence to back up that universal claim?

"There is no Biblical teaching or principle that states that people can't be born gay."

Assuming (ex hypothesi) that's true, it means the Bible condemns a desire or behavior that they were born with. How does that help your case?

"The Bible says we are born sinners."

And the Bible says impenitent sinners are hellbound.

"Treating homosexuals as human with equal rights is Christian."

That bundles two different claims. Compulsive gamblers are human, too. But it would be imprudent to employ them as bankers, with access to other people's money to pay their gambling debts.

Likewise, to say homosexuals are human doesn't mean they should have access to and authority over minors of the same sex. Look at what happened in the church of Rome.

"Do you know any transgender people. It is one of the most unfortunate of birth defects. At least if they were born with both sex organs they would have the sympathy of the church, but born with the wrong sex organs and you are a sinner."

i) What evidence do you have that intersex people are generally considered to be born sinners?

iii) You're confounding people born with defective genitalia with people who are physically normal, but "self-identity" as the opposite sex. The former is physical, the other is psychological. What about people who self-identify as animals?

"Euthanizing the elderly is not being actively promoted by the democrats."

You need to educate yourself. Start by reading updates at Human Exceptionalism (Wesley J. Smith).

"Also we live in a country where non-Christians have rights and a voice."

We live in a country based on majority rule. In addition, non-Christians benefit from Christian social ethics.

"We will win more for Christ if we acknowledge that, stop trying to save culture and start trying to save souls."

This isn't about "saving culture" but protecting the innocent.

"I see that you are not willing to think about what I say."

A euphemistic way of saying I don't agree with you. 

"This will likely be my last response."

What a loss. 

"First of all, pedophiles are not generally homosexual. In fact they are usually straight, if you can call it that. They don't want men, but only boys."

I was specifically referring to the priestly abuse scandal in the church of Rome, which is overwhelmingly male-on-male. 

"Secondly, what you heard some homosexual did to another (anecdotal evidence is not evidence at all)…"

You think the practice of anal sex among homosexuals is merely based on anecdotal evidence? Mouse over to the CDC.

Likewise, just Google domestic abuse among homosexuals. 

BTW, you're the one who relied on anecdotal evidence when you appealed to a single gay friend. 

"As far as no one decides to be gay, you are partly right to question this claim. I have met straight men who over time with an over exposure to sex and/or pornography (especially viewing oral sex on a man) have moved into gay sex to keep themselves stimulated. This is the homosexual the Bible talks about in it's condemnation (I know you will not accept this claim, so don't bother to focus on it)."

That's been debunked by Robert Gagnon. You need to wean yourself from gay propaganda.

"You mentioned acceptance of intersex as a sin of liberalism. I'm glad to hear that you have changed your view on that."

Your comment doesn't bear the slightest resemblance to what I wrote. 

"For instance conservatives want to protect and spread gun ownership, yet every study on the subject has found that in homes with guns someone is much more likely to be killed or injured by a gun than in homes without guns."

Well, that's circular. People with bathtubs are much more likely to slip and fall in the bathtub than people without bathtubs. By definition, you can only be hurt by something that's available to you. You can only have food poisoning if you eat food. You can only get drunk if you have alcohol. You can only get run over on a bicycle if you ride a bicycle. You can only have a child die of cancer if you have a child. You can only be divorced if you get married. You can only accidentally electrocute yourself with a space heater if you have electricity. You can only die from an accidental overdose if you use medications. So your objection amounts to a vacuous truism. 

"You can find no Biblical precedent to protecting gun rights…"

Since, by definition, the Bible antedates the invention of guns and gunpowder, your complain is ridiculous. What about knives, spears, swords, and longbows? 

"…so why then don't you support protecting the innocent here."

It's mindless for you to single out accidental gunshot injuries while completely ignoring the defensive role of guns in repelling or deterring criminals. You need to compare overall death and mayhem that results from unilateral disarmament with accidental gunshot injuries. 

"One more thing about majority rule. I am a Christian. It is the only important thing about me. It informs everything that I think about politics. I don't want a religious government. Who's religion? Yours, mine, how about the Taliban? I believe it is not in the Governments interest, but in the Churches to promote a wall of separation."

You're confusing autocracy with representative gov't. Learn the difference.

"your attempts to keep liberals out of the church only serves to keep people from considering Christ."

Liberals are welcome to attend church. Just don't assume leadership positions.

"I suggest you focus your energy on finding and eradicating the sin in your own heart…"

If you really believed that, you'd shut up, get off social media, and focus your energy on finding and eradicating the sin in your own heart.

"I wish I could call you brother and wish you well, but I see no zeal for the Gospel in you."

It's revealing how egotistical people like you presume to make yourselves the standard of comparison.

"Your words are damaging to the body of Christ. You sound just like a conservative Pharisee. You know the ones who thought Jesus was too accepting and too liberal."

It's always telling when a reader automatically casts himself on the side of the heroes while casting everyone he dislikes on the side of the villains. It doesn't occur to him that by invariably casting someone other than himself as the Pharisee, the reader is unwittingly reprising the role of the Pharisee. The reader unwittingly assumes the superior viewpoint of the Pharisee.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Hacksaw Ridge

Is Trump the advent of the Zombie Apocalypse?

Images of Democrats in a state of utter hysteria over the election results is something to behold. I admit watching their reaction is a guilty pleasure. I say that as someone who was a NeverTrumper from start to finish. Although I can't be disappointed by Hillary's defeat, I'm not gleeful about Trump's rise to power. I view his ascendancy with apprehension (but a different kind of apprehension).

In many cases it's like watching those day-after-Halloween videos about parents who prank their kids by telling them they ate all the candy, then observing the kids react. Shock. Stunned disbelief, followed by a sense of betrayal, then alternating rage, and sobbing. 

Same reaction from Hillary supporters. "You ate all my candy!" "That was my candy!"

In politics, you win some and you lose some. A perennial, alternating cycle that happens to Democrats and Republicans alike. Yet in this election, some Democrats are acting as if they had a permanent lock on elective office. It's childish.

But in some cases it runs deeper. CNN had a scene at the Javits Convention Center. One woman in particular, who appears to be in her 50s:

She's absolutely beside herself. Hyperventilating. Looks like she's about to have a heart attack. I don't mean that facetiously. Apparently, she has no life outside politics. 

Her reaction is so overwrought. She responds the way a mother ought to react when the ER surgeon goes into the waiting room and says, "I'm afraid we weren't able to save your daughter. Her injuries were too severe."

Where's the sense of priorities? If politics means that much to you, it means way too much to you. 

Fact is, freedom-loving Americans had far more to lose in this election if Hillary won than Democrats had to lose if Trump won. Hillary posed an existential threat to freedom-loving Americans. 

By contrast, even though Trump won, the liberty and livelihood of Democrats isn't imperiled by Republican rule. Their job security is not imperiled.   

Miracles, motion pictures, and body-swapping

One way to define and classify miracles is by causality. 

i) Providence is like an automated machine that does whatever it's programmed to do, nothing more and nothing less. Physical causes are unintelligent. Providence operates on the principle of internal causality. When nature operates as a closed system. 

Providence is like a game of pool. The cue stick strikes the cue ball, which strikes the 8-ball, which rebounds against the cushion, in a series of unbroken cause and effect. 

ii) Classical miracles bypass natural processes. At that point nature becomes an open system, subject to external agency. The miracle is causally discontinuous with antecedent states.

A classical miracle is like motion pictures. Motion pictures generate the illusion of causal continuity, but in reality, preceding and succeeding images are causally discontinuous with each other. In a classic miracle, there's a causal gap between the preceding chain of events and the miracle. The chain of events will resume after the miracle, because the miracle establishes a new antecedent state, and which point second causes kick in.  

We might also compare classical miracles to body-swapping in science fiction. Transferring consciousness to a different body. Under that scenario, mind and body are discontinuous with each other inasmuch as that mind has no prior history with that body. 

That has a real-world analogue with the resurrection of the body. On one model, God will create a duplicate body for the soul. It may be very similar to his former body, although this body will be immortal rather than mortal. But even if the new duplicate body was indistinguishable from his former body, his mind has no prior history with the new duplicate body. In that respect, it's like motion pictures.  

iii) Coincidence miracles are in-between. They are like ordinary providence insofar as they utilize physical causes. They are causally continuous with the chain of events. Continuous with antecedent states. 

But they are unlike ordinary providence inasmuch as they are more discriminating and specific. They reflect rational discretion. Both classical miracles and coincidence miracles involve an external agent who overrides the automatic setting. 

A coincidence miracle is like loaded dice or stacked decks. It doesn't circumvent natural processes. But it requires the intelligent manipulation of natural processes by an agent outside the system. 

BTW, "coincidence miracle" doesn't mean it's a coincidence. Rather, it means that independent chains of events coincide at that juncture, in a way that's too naturally improbable and opportune to be fortuitous.

Political satire

Then Paul said to him, “God is going to strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?” Those who stood by said, “Would you revile God's high priest?” And Paul said, “I did not know, brothers, that he was the high priest, for it is written, ‘You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people’” (Acts 23:3-4).

Traditionally, Americans feel free to ridicule gov't officials. Indeed, you even have professional political satirists and cartoonists. 

However, some Christians think, based on passages like Acts 23:3-4), that Christians citizens should always speak respectfully about gov't officials.

The passage is tricky to interpret. It seems implausible that Paul didn't recognize the high priest. If that's the case, it's natural to construe his disclaimer as sarcastic. A backhanded compliment. 

One objection to that interpretation is that it means Paul willfully disregarded Exod 22:28. However, that injunction may envision an ideal situation. A just ruler. There's a prima facie prohibition against cursing your rulers. But like some other Biblical commands and prohibitions, that's implicitly conditional, because it takes for granted a particular situation. If the ruler is a travesty, then all bets are off. Certainly the OT prophets and Historical Books have harsh things to say about corrupt rulers. And Paul was a prophet in his own right.

To some degree, how commentators construe Paul's behavior mirrors the outlook of the commentator. More straight-laced commentators think Paul was sincere; more cynical commentators think Paul was sardonic.

At the very least, I think this exchange is too ambiguous to settle the question of how Christians ought to address their rulers. And I myself think Paul's retraction was sarcastic. Feigning innocence. I think Paul was consistently mocking the high priest, as a perversion of his office. 

Fact-checking fact-checkers

I've seen some gloating Trumpkins say the mere fact that their hero won "delegitimates" his critics. For instance, that pundits like Michael Medved and Ben Shapiro shot their "credibility" by opposing Trump. 

i) There are political prognosticators by trade. When they make the wrong call, that injures their credibility because that's how they make their living. It's an argument from authority, like expert witnesses. So, for instance, Nate Silver's star has waned. He was wrong about Trump in the primaries, and wrong about Trump in the general election. 

ii) However, even when people like Michael Barone are wrong, they can still be useful for post-election analysis. Although they may be unreliable in advance of the fact, they can explain after the fact why a candidate won or lost. There's more to Barone than prognosticator. He has immense knowledge of American political history and demographics. 

iii) Why do they get it wrong? I notice that political prognosticators often rely on historical precedent. The assumption that the future resembles the past. 

Sometimes this amounts to little more than numerological superstition. That if something hasn't happened in 100 years, it's unlikely to happen this time. The fallacy is to generate cumulative probabilities from causally independent events. 

iii) Then you have partisan operatives who mask themselves as nonpartisan "fact-checkers". It's funny how many people are taken in by that ruse. Just call yourself a "fact-checker," and people let down their guard. 

If, however, it becomes apparent that they are rooting for one team, then they lose credibility since their ostensible raison d'être was to play the role of impartial referees who aren't betting for one team or another. An argument from authority that collapses if the authority is suspect.

iv) By the same token, gov't agencies like the DOJ and FBI lose credibility when they become apparatchiks. Likewise, debate moderators who give one side advance knowledge of the questions. 

v) People who endorse candidates can lose credibility if they put their reputation on the line to vouch for the candidate's bona fides. That's another argument from authority. A high-profile figure offers himself as a character witness for the candidate. But that's risky. If the candidate proves to be untrustworthy, then the person who endorsed him looks like a dupe. That does delegitimate them. 

vi) Finally, credibility is important in a candidate. If you can't trust him to try to keep most of his campaign promises, why vote for him? 

Credibility is important in that context because it's about the future. How he will act in the future. The voter doesn't know the future. He doesn't have direct access to the candidate's intent. He can't independently verify or falsify the campaign promise–unless it's obviously unworkable. 

v) By contrast, "credibility" is the wrong yardstick to measure pundits like Medved and Shapiro. They aren't asking the audience to take their word for it. And electoral predictions aren't their stock and trade. 

Rather, they reason for their positions. They offer evidence for their positions. It's not an argument from authority. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

How Trump won

"God never gives us more than we can bear"

It's often said that God never gives us more than we can bear (or handle). That's a popular interpretive paraphrase of 1 Cor 10:13. But is it true? I don't mean, is the Bible verse true, but the popular interpretation. The passage that forms the basis of the platitude says:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

On the face of it, that doesn't refer to situations in general, but temptation in particular. Admittedly, the Greek word is ambiguous. But in addition, the surrounding context is about temptation to commit sin. In particular, the sin of apostasy or sins associated with apostasy. 

So it doesn't seem to be a general promise that God will shield us from untenable situations. That doesn't mean God won't shield us from untenable situations. But you can't get that out of this particular verse.

There's also a distinction between what's objectively unbearable and what's subjectively unbearable. Between what's circumstantially unbearable and what's psychologically unbearable. Even if (ex hypothesi) God always gives Christians an opt-out in untenable situations, it doesn't follow that we never find ourselves unable to cope emotionally. 

Another ambiguity is that something might be unbearable in the short-term, but bearable in the long-term, assuming that if we persevere, the weight will lighten or fall off our shoulders. On the other hand, you have people who live with unending despair–day after day. Or people broken beyond repair. Or people who go through cycles. 

There are passages about the sufficiency of God's grace in Paul's life. Perhaps that's applicable. However, we can't just assume that God will do as much for us as he did for Paul. Paul had a unique role to play in Christian history. 

For some Christians, the promise of 1 Cor 10:13, as they understand it, may function as a self-fulfilling prophecy. It gives them the extra nudge of encouragement they need to get through a crisis.

For for other Christians, it might have the opposite effect. It makes them feel guilty. They take it to mean they have the duty and ability to get through this crisis, yet they find it unendurable, and to be saddled with the belief that they've failed God makes it all the more insupportable. 

What about Christians who commit suicide? Was their plight bearable or unbearable? There's an obvious sense in which the strain was too much for them to take. 

Someone might say their plight was bearable, so if they buckled under the strain, that means they didn't exercise enough faith. There's a circular, unfalsifable quality to that explanation. If you survive the crisis, then it was bearable–and if you crack under the pressure, it was still bearable! 

Likewise, someone might say that while they felt their crisis was unbearable, we need to distinguish between feelings and reality. If, however, we're talking about an inconsolable state of mind, like acute depression, then that is the reality! It's their mental state that's beyond endurance.

Or even if they don't kill themselves, they live mechanically, with nothing to look forward to from one day to the next. They feel trapped in this world. Trapped in their body. Waiting to die. 

In a fallen world, it's not unexpected if some people, including some Christians, find life unbearable. Indeed, some believers might find life more unbearable than some unbelievers. Many unbelievers cling to this life because they think that's all they're ever going to get. They'd rather be miserable than dead. By comparison, Christians have a point of contrast. 

So it may be that God gives some Christians more than they can bear in this life, since this life is temporary. However unbearable, it will end–but not in this life. Rather, it will end when life ends, and heaven begins. 

Admittedly, that may sound hopeless compared to the claim that God never gives us more than we can handle. But I suspect that for some Christians, that platitude aggravates the sense of despair, because it's just not what they experience. So if nothing is wrong with the platitude, something must be wrong with them. 

My point is not to take a dogmatic position, but to question a facile platitude. A platitude that probably helps some believers and probably hurts other believers. A platitude that's far from unquestionable. 

Was Hillary on the wrong side of history?

Popular backlash

A few random observations about the election:

i) I think one reason Hillary lost is that liberals routinely try to coerce and shame people into compliance rather than using persuasion. Not only does that mean they are not even attempting to get people to see things from their viewpoint, but they antagonize voters by pushing them around. That can be a successful policy if you have power over others. But it's not a reliable policy for remaining in power. 

Admittedly, this poses a dilemma for liberals. If their policies are inherently elitist and unpopular, then they have precious little prospect of success in convincing people to agree with them. So they can only resort to brass-knuckle tactics. 

Their best bet is controlling public and private education. Brainwashing the next generation. Turning kids against their parents. Turning the next generation into drones for the totalitarian secular state. 

ii) The 2016 election may be the last gasp of the "angry white male" voter. That's a dwindling demographic. America is becoming increasingly and rapidly multiethnic, which is fine (except for the Muslim component). Conservatives need to do a better job of spreading the message. 

iii) There are different theories as to why Trump won. He tapped into the alt-right. He tapped into the blue collar vote. Those were both elements of his constituency. 

Much indignation has been directed at self-identified evangelicals who voted for Trump in the general election. But ironically, there's a sense in which the liberal establishment created Trump. He's their Frankenstein. 

Although a certain percentage of self-identified evangelicals hold delusional beliefs about Trump's rectitude and consistency, I think that for many evangelical voters, it was just an anti-Hillary vote rather than a pro-Trump vote. Secular progressives have made themselves a direct threat to tens of millions of Americans. For many Trump voters, they simply acted in self-defense. They gambled on Trump. 

There are many examples in which the secular progressives are increasingly oppressive and autocratic. I think that provoked a popular backlash. Just a sample:

Trump: At Least He Was Better Than Romney

For those who are inclined to say that Trump was a bad candidate for the Republicans to nominate, consider that, in this admittedly "apples to oranges" analysis, at the very least, he out-performed Romney in 2012:

Update: the author of the NR article has issued a Mea Culpa, that the data that he used was not up-to-date, and that it affected the substance of the article:

UPDATE: Mea Culpa. Here’s what happened: I used the New York Times vote-record database for the numbers in this post. This was a matter of convenience; I had already been using the NYT database because of its excellent interactive feature, which allows you to scroll over counties in any state color-coded indicators of partisan margin as well as raw vote totals. Here’s the problem: The NYT database doesn’t have the correct numbers in some states.

Wednesday, November 09, 2016

How to struggle with grief

Birthmarks and reincarnation

One primary putative evidence for reincarnation is the recurrence of birthmarks that correspond to the decedent. For instance, Ian Stevenson, a leading apologist for reincarnation, stresses that line of evidence. With that in mind, here's an interesting story:

Meet baby MilliAnna, the fourth generation of women in her family to be born with a wild streak of white hair. 
The 18-month-old, from Ridgeland, South Carolina, was born with a unique birthmark that leaves a patch of her dark hair bleached white — just like the previous three generations of women that came before her. 
The trait was passed down from her great-grandmother Jaonne, 59, to her grandmother Jennifer, 41, to her mother Brianna, 23. Now, MilliAnna is the latest to be born with the extraordinary hair.

By reincarnationist logic, this means the same decedent simultaneously transmigrated in four living individuals! How one person can be reincarnated as four coexistent people poses quite a metaphysical conundrum for personal identity. Put another way, this goes to show that sharing a distinctive birthmark is unreliable evidence for metempsychosis. 

Indeed, I daresay it's statistically inevitable that in a world with billions of humans, some unrelated people will share common birthmarks. That's a natural, predictable coincidence. 

Enjoy Your "Victory"

So it appears we have the victory of the “lesser” evil. I’m still trying to see some silver linings in this mess. What analogy could be used to describe this election?

Think of America as a little boy who is playing out in sub-zero temperatures wearing nothing but his boxers. He’s fast developing frost bite. The situation looks quite grim, so we are told “If we do not amputate his limbs, he will die of gangrene.”

Hillary Clinton is, of course, the gangrene in this scenario. Trump is the amputation of the limbs.

But even this analogy doesn’t quite get at the reality of the situation, because running desperately toward the shivering little boy is the mother screaming at the top of her lungs, “JUST GO INSIDE AND GET YOUR COAT!” That was the voice of conservatives who rightly point out that literally any of the seven million other Republican candidates this year would have been better than Trump—even Jeb! would have been an improvement. Instead, America opted to ignore that advice and pick amputation.

Is it really the lesser of two evils when the lesser evil could have been avoided altogether?

The bottom line is, like in the analogy above where the little boy will have to live on now without his limbs, America will now have to live on without a Conservative candidate ever being nominated as president again. I’ve explained the logic before, but I’ll state it again. The RNC wants to win elections more than they care about principals. Conservatives have just told them that they will vote for a candidate as liberal as Trump is, because the Democrat is worse than Trump. (And believe me, the Democrat is always worse than the Republican, otherwise he or she would have had an R after his/her name instead of the D.) The RNC knows that it will be able to pick off more votes from the middle if they run Liberal Republicans, whereas they will already have just as many Conservative votes either way. Therefore, simple math dictates that they must move leftward on the spectrum.

I will never see a Conservative nominated in my lifetime. Trump’s victory assures that.

But I mentioned I’m looking for some silver linings.


1) Hillary might go to jail. Except no one really expect Obama not to pardon her. So…

1) Liberals might see how “reasonable” Conservatives are in voting for someone who is not a religious fuddy-duddy. Except, as one of my atheist friends on Facebook said, “Those of you who voted for Trump -- especially those of you who are Christian -- never again are allowed to say the moral character and integrity of the president is a priority to you.” So…

1) Trump might not be as bad as Hillary would have been.

Well. There is that.

I sure hope you got some great soup out of selling your birthright, Conservatives. It’s not like the Bible ever says things will go wrong if you give up your principals for political convenience or anything.

President-Elect Donald Trump: “Win-Win”, “Morning in America”. Things like that.

You all didn’t hear much from me this election cycle. Other than a few (somewhat heated) email conversations – not many – with my co-bloggers here, and some ongoing interactions with my kids, I didn’t participate in the political discussions of the season.

Not that I didn’t watch intently. I watched many a Trump speech live or on YouTube, and I paid close attention to what Limbaugh and Hannity and a few other of his supporters were saying.

While I concede, with all of you, that Donald Trump was not the ideal candidate, there is no question in my mind that he was the candidate appointed for this season. I’d urge you to watch his acceptance speech. (Sorry, other than the full event on YouTube, this NYTimes condensed video was all I could find at this early hour).

In this speech, he was kind and gracious and not at all the hateful and bigoted (and worse) candidate that many have portrayed him as, especially as the mainstream media almost universally described him.

While I know that many of you are disappointed with the way things turned out, and in fact have been disappointed with this whole election season, I’d like to encourage you to consider all the good things that will come out of this election:

Hillary: on the wrong side of history

The good news: Hillary lost. The bad news: Trump won.

Trump has consistently outperformed expectations, confounding the pros. Because I don't think like most voters, I can't extrapolate from my personal frame of reference to make reliable predictions. So I turn to the pros. But they were wrong. 

It's a relief that Hillary lost. She posed a more imminent threat than Trump. It's like a situation in which you will have to wage war with two hostile states. The question is the order in which to do it. You make a temporary alliance with one hostile state to defeat a common enemy. That way, you survive to fight another day. Having defeated the common enemy, the next war will be between you and your temporary military ally.  

The GOP will hold the House–as well as the Senate, although I don't know if it will have a working majority. The GOP had some pickups in gubernatorial races. 

Now we'll find out for real how many of Trump's campaign promises he intends to keep. Given that he's been on both sides of most issues, he could simultaneously keep all his campaign promises and break all his campaign promises. 

Seriously, because conservatives probably have little or no direct leverage with Trump, if he reverts to his default liberalism, it will be necessary for conservatives to use whatever leverage they have with Republicans in the House and Senate to counterbalance There's no love lost between Ryan and Trump, so there's no reason to assume Ryan will just roll over. (Not that Ryan is all that great.) In addition, we need to exert whatever leverage we can at the state level. 

I don't know for sure why Hillary lost. Her abrasive personality and her arrogant attitude that she's above the law no doubt contributed. I also suspect that Obamacare is a constant drag on the ticket.

But in addition, the secular progressives overplayed their hand. They felt they were on a winning streak, so they stayed at the table and the kept upping the ante. 

This election gave us a temporary reprieve, but nothing is permanent in politics. A live grenade like Trump is quite capable of leading the GOP to a disaster in 2018 or 2020. 

Tuesday, November 08, 2016

The Bill of Rights

It's my impression that nowadays, conservatives usually assume the original Bill of Rights applies to Americans in general. It applies at the level of state and local government, and to some degree, even in the private sector. But I've also seen it claimed that that's anachronistic. Rather, that's due to the "incorporation" doctrine whereby some provisions in the Bill of Rights were reapplied to the states via the due process clause. Hence, that doesn't reflect original intent. 

However, I think that's questionable. From what I've read, Enlightenment political theorists had a doctrine of natural rights. Indeed, we see an example of this in The Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

To some degree, natural rights were distinguished from political rights. Natural rights were universal whereas political rights were individual. In modern jargon, we might recast the distinction in terms of human rights and civil rights, where human rights are innate and universal while civil rights are conferred by gov't. 

However, the distinction isn't that cut-and-dried, from some political rights were viewed as derivative natural rights. The function of some political rights was to safeguard natural rights, viz. freedom from oppression.

This seems to be the basic relationship between The Declaration of Independence and the original Bill of Rights. Although a few provisions in the Bill of Rights might be merely individual rights, in the main they appear to be derivative natural rights. In other words, they are specific political provisions to safeguard natural rights. Insofar as that's the case, it's not anachronistic to view the Bill of Rights as an extension and application of natural rights to the political sphere. In that event, the Bill of Rights is not confined to the Federal gov't. In some cases, it's not even confined to the public sector. 

The Reliability of the New Testament

Should you lock your door at night?

One of the dumber reactions I've seen to the presidential election is the claim that it doesn't really matter who wins or loses because whatever the outcome, God is in control. People who care about elections are faithless. We have nothing to fear. God has already decreed the winner.

I take it that people who say this fancy themselves to be Calvinists. But they play right into the Arminian caricature of Calvinism as a synonym for fatalism. 

Do the same people who say this lock their door at night? Or would that be distrustful of God's providence? I mean, if God has predestined the house-burglar to break into your home, countermeasures are futile, right? 

In a sense that's true. Yet God hasn't simply decreed what will happen. God hasn't simply decreed who will be president, but who will vote for which candidate and other forms of political activism. The outcome is not irrespective of our efforts, but due to our efforts. Predestination doesn't invite complacency, as if the future will turn out the same way no matter what we do or fail to do. 

By the same token, God hasn't necessarily decreed that the house-burglar will break into your home even if you lock the door. Perhaps he has, but you don't know that in advance. Moreover, it's not as if locking your door thwarted God's decree. It's not as though God decreed that you not lock your door, but you overrode his decree and did it anyway. No, if you lock your doors, then that's why he decreed all along. And that may successfully deter the house-burglar. You only know by trying. 

Fact is, apart from revelation, we don't know ahead of time what God has decreed. That's something we discover in retrospect, as the future becomes the past. Even people who don't believe in predestination fulfill it. So you don't have to give any thought to predestination. You just do whatever you were going to do. God predestines your motives as well as your choices. You act on whatever reasons you had at the time, which turn out to be the reasons God gave you to act on. Not to mention that a certain amount of decision-making is the result of subliminal considerations. You weren't even conscious of all the factors that fed into your choice. 

Some people tie themselves in knots over predestination, but as a practical matter, there's no reason to second guess your actions. It's like saying, if the door is locked, I can't open it. True. But is that a reason not to try the doorknob? No. For if the door isn't locked, then you can open it. And you find out what's possible by giving it a try. Either the door knob will turn or it won't. That doesn't prevent you from finding out which is which. Just go ahead and do what you had in mind. And that's what God predestined! 

Is politics the kingdom of darkness?

I wasn't planning to do another pre-election post, but here goes. Yesterday, JMac outlined his position:

He has a very clear position. He has straightforward reasons for his position. I agree with some of what he says. I disagree with some of what he says. 

I've seen some highly polarized reactions to his position. I've read sycophants who hang on his every word. I've read detractors who say it's a "sad day of compromise…hardcore faithlessness." 

Both extremes are absurd. And it reflects the irrational polarization we've seen throughout the campaign cycle, where you must be totally for someone or totally against them. Now, there are people who merit that absolute dichotomy, but JMac is hardly one of them. 

i) At least to judge by this clip, JMac takes an Anabaptist view of politics. There's the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness. Politics belongs to the kingdom of darkness. There's no connection between politics and the kingdom of God. Politics is earthly and temporal. What happens in America has no relationship to the kingdom of God. Our elections don't help or hurt the cause. 

I consider that highly artificial. Perhaps he's shadowboxing with the liberal postmillennialism and social gospel of Rauschenbusch. The notion that social activism will usher in the kingdom of God.

It's true that God doesn't set his watch by world history. Rather, world history is set by God's watch. 

However, there's an obvious sense in which politics or world history intersect with the kingdom of God. If, say, public school children are brainwashed in atheism, if Christianity is demonized in the classroom, then that's a setback for the kingdom of God inasmuch as you will have fewer Christians. 

Likewise, the Master's College and the Master's Seminary is threatened by the secular progressives in California. If a Christian curriculum becomes hate speech, that's a setback for the kingdom of God.  

By the same token, if authorities begin to revoke Christian custody of their children because they raise biological boys as boys and biological girls as girls, that will be a setback for the kingdom of God. The freedom to raise your kids in the Christian faith is hardly irrelevant to the progress or fortunes of God's kingdom on earth. 

It doesn't mean God's plan for the world has been derailed. In a sense, the kingdom of God is right on schedule. But we need to avoid confusing belief in God's sovereignty with que sera sera fatalism.

It's true that America will go the way of other superpowers. But during their heyday, superpowers exert tremendous international influence. And they can help or hinder the dissemination of the Gospel. 

JMac also talked about how Democrats systematically weaken police. But there are two related problems with that characterization:

i) To the contrary, Democrats are creating a police state. They need ever more expansive and intrusive enforcement agencies to impose their social policies on the nation.

ii) Apropos (i), law enforcement becomes the vanguard for secular progressive social policies. Indeed, JMac fails to notice the tension between his uncritical support for police and his criticism of social policies that punish those who do good while protecting those who do evil. 

Finally, he said America is under God's judgment. I hear that a lot. Maybe it's true. But the appeal is circular. You could argue it either way. Is secularization a result of divine judgment? Or is divine judgment a result of secularization? What would be the evidence that distinguishes one from the other?