Saturday, January 21, 2017

Make America Great Again!

I've seen critics take issue with Trump's signature campaign slogan: Make America Great Again! They say compared to what? Then they trot out paradigm-cases of injustice.  

They complain that Trump is appealing to a nonexistent golden age which he promises to restore, but such nostalgia is misplaced considering American history viz. Jim Crow, Japanese-American internment, the Trail of Tears, &c. 

I'll make a two brief observations:

i) Campaign slogans are designed to fit on a bumper sticker. They are catchy, simplistic, and sometimes utter nonsense. Take Bill Clinton's reelection slogan: Building a Bridge to the 21C–as if the 21C wouldn't arrive unless we returned him to office. Time would be forever frozen in the late 20C. 

I don't take campaign slogans seriously one way or the other. 

ii) That said, I presume the implicit contrast in Trump's slogan isn't American history in general, or even 20C American history, but Obama's tenure. Make America great in relation to the previous administration. The target is the preceding eight years. That's the tacit comparison. The early 21C. Not 20C America, or 19C America, or 18C America, or 17C America. I think it's a willful or obtuse distortion to recontextualize the slogan as if the frame of reference is American history in general. It's obvious that he was running against some of Obama's controversial policies. 

Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night

I expect the political climate for the next 4-8 years will be at least as polarized as it has been under Obama. On the one hand, liberals will define themselves by their lockstep opposition to all things Republican. That will make them feel virtuous. That will be an article of faith. 

Trump is such a wild card that many alternate plot endings are possible. If the economy comes roaring back under his watch, that alone may make him, and the GOP, quite popular. And if America is once again seen to be walking tall in the world, that will bolster his popularity among a major segment of the electorate.

On the other hand, his cronyism and business ties are a scandal waiting to happen. And everyday has the potential for him to set brushfires. 

Because George W. Bush was subject to so much relentless, irrational criticism from the Left, that made conservatives spend an inordinate about of time defending Bush. Ironically, if the Left hadn't been so mindlessly, reflexively, and implacably hostile to Bush, conservatives might have been more critical of some Bush policies. But the Left didn't give them the opportunity to put much distance between themselves and the titular leader of the GOP and the conservative movement.

Unfortunately, the same dynamic may repeat itself under Trump. He's such a lightning rod–a role he relishes–that conservatives may feel the need to be defend his policies against knee-jerk opposition and distortion, when, were it not for the Left, they could maintain more critical detachment in relation to Trump. It will be challenging to strike the right balance. 


The scope of "all" figures in debates over the extent of the atonement. In Rom 5, Paul alternates between "all" and "many". That's striking because those aren't really synonyms. They don't have the same meaning. Yet he's using that terminology as if they have the same meaning.

That's in large part because he's constructing rhetorical parallels, where he compares and contrasts X of something with Y of something else. In that context, I'd say "all" is a way of denoting collectives. 

It's like comparing one of something to one of something else, only these are aggregates, so he needs a referring term that indicates a class of individuals. 

Collectives needn't include every individual in kind. They can be a representative sample. 

But it's necessary in human discourse to be able to refer to groups or make general statements about people, so I think "all" is a linguistic device to make statements of that sort. We need a word for that type of referent. How else would Bible writers be able to talk about collectives, if not to say "all" or "many". 

Indeed, in that context, "all" may be a misleading translation. If Paul is using a Greek word to denote collectives, then the English word "all" has the wrong connotations. 

This really isn't discussed in commentaries or lexicons, because it's not in the first instance about the meaning of particular words, but something back of that. More about the function of verbal tokens and referring expressions to denote groups or sample groups, collectives, and representative classes. The concept is more philosophical than the meaning a particular word. It's about how to categorize reality. English has a larger vocabulary of specialized terms than Koine Greek to choose from. 

Long live Hirohito!

Some converts to Rome, such as Called to Confusion, act like the legendary Japanese MIA who stumbles out of the jungles of Bataan 50 years later, still convinced that he is on the winning side, loyal to the emperor right up to his last dying breath. But it's revealing to see some of the more intelligent converts/reverts to Rome becoming very skittish about Francis. Their reaction presents a Catholic conundrum. How can there be a bottom-up criticism of the Magisterium departing from dogma and irreformable tradition when the Magisterium is supposed to be the authoritative interpreter of what constitutes dogma and irreformable tradition in the first place? 

Jay Wesley Richards is a convert/revert to Rome, yet at The Stream, he's posted articles siding with the critics of Francis on the admission of remarried divorcees to communion. 

Likewise, Douthat has been pretty outspoken in his criticisms. And as he indicated back in this 2014 article:

He's a convert for "contingent" reasons. His commitment to Rome is conditional rather than unconditional. 

Then there's a long post by Feser in which he leaves his options open, even though he's tipping his hand in the direction of the pope's critics:

It's clear to me that he's laying the groundwork to disassociate himself from Francis, if that becomes absolutely necessary. 

Then, on the comment thread, is this comment by Catholic ID theorist Torley:

Vincent Torley said...Hi Ed, 
Thanks for this post. Just a few quick questions: 
(1) Who, in your opinion, is in a position to judge whether a Pope's teachings and/or writings are compatible with: (a) the infallible extraordinary magisterium of the Church; and (b) the infallible ordinary magisterium of the Church? 
Laypeople? (But that presumes that laypeople are sufficiently competent to read a papal document and figure out either (i) what its author really meant or (ii) what its "plain meaning" is - which is highly doubtful, in both cases.) 
Theologians? (But they're not teachers of the faith. And who counts as a theologian, anyway?) 
Bishops? (Yes, but how many, and do they have to meet first, before issuing a judgement?) 
An ecumenical council convened without the Pope's approval? (That sounds like an oxymoron to me.) 
(2) No disrespect intended, but given that your return to the Catholic Church took place in 2001 [mine was about four years later], it follows that you've only been a well-informed Catholic for 15 years. Pope Francis is 80. Are you really in a position to be judging the orthodoxy of his pronouncements? 
(3) As a Catholic, you'd be the first to ridicule the Elizabethan notion of the "plain meaning" of Holy Scripture. What makes you think you're capable of figuring out the "plain meaning" of a papal document? 
(4) You mention the four cardinals, 45 theologians and "new" natural lawyers who have taken issue with Pope Francis' apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia . Just as a layperson, upon hearing experts disputing the mainstream scientific view of global warming, might argue that it's safer to stick with the consensus, likewise a lay Catholic might appeal to the consensus of bishops and theologians applauding Pope Francis' document, Amoris Laetitia, and conclude that it must be right after all. How would you argue with such a person? 
(5) Pastor Hans Fiene, one of the contributors to "Lutheran Satire" (great Website!), has written an interesting article in The Federalist, titled, "8 Steps The Catholic Church Could Take To Approve Gay Marriage Like Tim Kaine Expects" at . What are your thoughts? (On the bright side, Fiene thinks that liberalism in the Church has reached its apogee, as the liberals are getting old, and the millennials remaining in the Church are more traditional. I'm not so optimistic: surveys show that young Catholics are much more in favor of gay marriage than older ones. See .) 
(6) Tough but brutally honest question: you returned to the Church under Pope St. John Paul II. I returned under Pope Benedict XVI. Do you think you would have returned to the Church had Francis been Pope? 
(7) Do you think there is any possibility, however faint, that Pope Francis might be right after all on the issue of whether some Catholic couples who have divorced and remarried are eligible to receive Communion, even though their current relationship is not a celibate one? 
For my part, I have very mixed feelings about Pope Francis' pronouncements over the years - some strike me as very charitable, others as confused. Nevertheless, I completely agree with you that Pope Francis needs to address the questions that have been put to him by the four cardinals. Cheers. 
December 19, 2016 at 7:13 AM
And here's a follow-up post in which Feser takes a tougher line:

Friday, January 20, 2017

Yes, Molina, There Could Have Been a Santa Claus

"Yes, Molina, There Could Have Been a Santa Claus" by Prof. James Anderson.


Celestial orphanage

Elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who worketh when, and where, and how he pleaseth: so also are all other elect persons who are incapable of being outwardly called by the ministry of the Word (WCF 10:3).

i) From time to time I discuss the question of the salvation of those who die before the age of reason. I mention that presumably they continue to mature psychologically in the afterlife. Now I'd like to flesh out the "logistics" of how that might occur. Obviously, what I say will be speculative. However, the speculation is an extension of things we know.

ii) In this post I'll confine myself to heaven for those who die before the age of reason. By "heaven", I mean the intermediate state for the saints. A disembodied condition for those dying in a state of grace. 

iii) The Bible contains visions of heaven. Now, these may be symbolic, so that doesn't necessarily tell us what heaven is really like. Perhaps, though, the question of what heaven is really like might be the wrong way to frame the issue. It's like asking what a dream is really like. To take a comparison, consider the Colonial or Antebellum squares in Savanna, Georgia. We can say what these are really like because they are physical spaces with physical objects (e.g. trees, buildings). They have an objective, durable subsistence. Trees and buildings are located in relation to each other in fixed positions. 

By contrast, I think heaven is like a very vivid, inspired collective dream. A dream has a simulated setting (dreamscape). The dreamer has a simulated body. Other characters in the dream have simulated bodies.

By the same token, people in heaven can have simulated bodies. And that's consistent with heavenly visions in Scripture. Likewise, heaven can have a simulated landscape, or cityscape, or seascape, &c. Heaven can be compartmentalized into a variety of different settings. There's no one way it has to be. 

iv) Apropos (iii), children die in different historical periods. They die in different countries and ecoregions. Some live around mountains, or rivers, or lakes, or oceans, or jungles, or forests, or deserts, or cities, or villages, &c. Some died in the Ice Age. Some died in the ancient Near East. Some died in the Middle Ages. Some died in the 20C. And so on. 

v) Let's pick an age group out of thin air for illustrative purposes: say children between 5-10 years of age. Let's say they go to heaven when they die. 

If heaven has simulated spaces and places, they might to go a "part" of heaven that resembles the time and place they're familiar with. If, however, they grew up in a slum (to take one example), they'd go to a much nicer place. Maybe urban or rural. 

Or childreen might go to a playground or amusement park. Or a meadow. They might live in simulated houses. There might be simulated wild animals as well as simulated pet dogs and cats and horses and whatever. The possibilities are endless.

vi) Children in heaven might be grouped according to age, language, culture, and ethnicity. At least initially. By that I mean, suppose you had pre-Columbian children who lived and died in the Amazon River basin. Maybe in heaven they are grouped together because they have so much in common, which eases the transition. That makes it less initially disorienting. But as they mature, they can branch out to explore other parts of heaven. Meet other kids (now teenagers) from different times and places. 

Or maybe communication is telepathic, so they don't need to speak the same language. 

vii) Heaven is full of men and women who died as adults. Men and women who were parents and grandparents in this life. They could be foster parents to the children. Not only do they have experience in child-rearing, but in heaven they are sinless. They aren't under the stress of life in a fallen world. So they could do a better job of parenting than they did in this life.

On this view, children could mature very normally, because their (simulated) physical and social environment is similar to what they knew before they died, only so much better.  

In the case of children who had a Christian parent or parents, they will be reunited with their parents when their parents die. But at that point they will be grown children. 

viii) Maybe children in heaven interact with angels. In addition, perhaps they get to meet Jesus or even see him on a regular basis. Although Jesus is physical, he can interface with disembodied souls the way a dreamer has a simulated body that enables him to interact with the dreamscape or dream characters. And because it's simulated space, he can be in two or more places at once.

ix) Their education could be individualized in a way that isn't feasible on earth. 

x) Perhaps they can do things in heaven, like flying, that we can only do in dreams. Likewise, skindiving without having to breathe. 

xi) On earth, children pass through adolescence. Hormones not only change them physically, but psychologically. Will there be something analogous to that in heaven? Hard to say. Perhaps that awaits the resurrection of the body.  

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Living under an unfit president

I'll make a few comments on this:

I agree with most of what Piper says. In addition, just because Trump won doesn't mean Christians should instantly fall in line. We need to maintain our standards. We need to maintain our distance. 

That said, there are some odd things about Piper's lengthy statement. I agree with him that Hillary's position on abortion is morally disqualifying. That, however, is an understatement. There's a long list of things that make Hillary morally unfit to be president. 

Conspicuous by its absence was any reference to the outgoing president and his lawless administration. Surely Obama was morally unfit to be president. So was Bill Clinton. So was LBJ. So was JFK. So was Nixon. 

Moreover, whatever we might say about his personal morality, Jimmy Carter lacked the wisdom to lead the nation or the free world. 

Which makes me ask: does Piper have a policy of speaking out on the moral fitness of a US President, or is he making an exception in Trump's case? 

On a related note, isn't this a day late and a dollar short? Why not express his public disapproval during the primary season? Why wait until the game is over? It's way too late to change the numbers on the scoreboard. 

Finally, public figures rarely make good role models. It's misplaced idealism to have any expectation to the contrary.

Devil may care

For reference, here's Lieberman's background:

LIEBERMAN: I’ve never believed in ghosts or that stuff, but I’ve had a couple of cases, one in particular that really just gave me pause. This was a young girl, in her 20s, from a Catholic family in Brooklyn, and she was referred to me with schizophrenia, and she definitely had bizarre and psychotic-like behavior, disorganized thinking, disturbed attention, hallucinations, but it wasn’t classic schizophrenic phenomenology. And she responded to nothing,” he added with emphasis. “Usually you get some response. But there was no response. We started to do family therapy. All of a sudden, some strange things started happening, accidents, hearing things. I wasn’t thinking anything of it, but this unfolded over months. One night, I went to see her and then conferred with a colleague, and afterwards I went home, and there was a kind of a blue light in the house, and all of a sudden I had this piercing pain in my head, and I called my colleague, and she had the same thing, and this was really weird. The girl’s family was prone to superstition, and they may have mentioned demon possession or something like that, but I obviously didn’t believe it, but when this happened I just got completely freaked out. It wasn’t a psychiatric disorder—you want to call it a spiritual possession, but somehow, like in The Exorcist, we were the enemy. This was basically a battle between the doctors and whatever it was that afflicted the individual.

ME: Do you completely disregard the idea of possession?

LIEBERMAN: No. There was no way I could explain what happened. Intellectually, I might have said it’s possible, but this was an example that added credence.

Aristotle's naval battle

Dale Tuggy's primary objection to the Trinity is that it (allegedly) violates the logical law of identity. However, one problem with his objection is that Tuggy is an open theist. 

Open theism raises ancient philosophical questions, stretching back to Aristotle's naval battle, about whether propositions regarding the future (or future contingents) have truth value. There are two, perhaps related, issues:

i) In open theism, there is no actual future. The future does not yet exist (pace the B-theory of time).

ii) There is no one future. Rather, there are multiple possible futures. No particular alternate timeline is privileged in advance. 

Considered either in isolation or combination, that raises the question of whether an open theist can make true statements about "the future". 

If the outcome is open-ended until it eventuates, can statements about "the future" be either true or false? Like Schrödinger's cat, it could go either way.  

That's not a problem for Calvinism. A Calvinist could be an A-theorist about time. Even if the future isn't real (as of yet), the future is still determinate. But in open theism, the future is indeterminate. 

Some philosophers attempt to circumvent the problem by denying the law of bivalence. They espouse multivalent logic, viz. Łukasiewicz.

Perhaps that's Tuggy's position. If so, where does that leave his logical objection to the Trinity? 

Stuck in a rut

I just noticed that last week, apostate unitarian Dale Tuggy attempted to critique one of my posts:

As best I can tell, he’s never really had a developed view of the matter. 

I've presented detailed models of my position. Dale's problem is that he can't adapt to categories outside his blinkered repertoire of conceptual resources. 

Unfortunately, these aren’t sufficient for a trinitarian theology.

I never suggested otherwise. To the contrary, I prefaced that as a "crude" formulation. Why is Dale forever unable to follow the trail of bread crumbs?

One can easily interpret these sentences in a unitarian way, or in a modalist / Oneness way. Where’s the tripersonal god part? (He’s assuming that i-v imply it… but just look at them!)

I'm sorry, but Dale comes across as a incorrigibly dim. My purpose is to present that crude formulation as a foil. As it stands, that formulation is inadequate. That's a given. That's the point. It requires further explication and clarification. Why is Dale forever unable to follow the trail of bread crumbs? 

So i-v seem contradictory on the assumption I start this paragraph.

Now he's paraphrasing what I said, as if he uncovered something. As if he exposed something I didn't intend to say. Which, typical of Dale, misses the point. 

And that assumption is implied my trinitarian traditions on which each “Person” alone “is God” or is fully divine, e.g. the “Athanasian” creed.

Except that "is God" and "is fully divine" aren't interchangeable ideas, although they are certainly related ideas. 

BTW a mere verbal contradiction (e.g. “I’m tired but I’m not”) isn’t the same as a formal contradiction (e.g. P and not-P). The first is supposed to have to do with the surface, grammatical structure, while the latter is supposed to be about the deep or true formal structure of the propositions expressed.

Actually, I was using "formal" in implicit contrast to "material". A "material" contradiction would be substantive, whereas a "formal" contradiction is merely verbal–like a rhetorical paradox (e.g. "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there").

But I think he’s gesturing at the point that not every apparent (formal) contradiction really is one…

Correct, although I wasn't "gesturing" at that. 

This move, I think, is confused. “Divinity” is not a meaning of “God” by itself. Rather, “is God” can express “is divine.”

True to form, Dale utterly misses the point. As an abstract noun, "God" is qualitative; as a concrete noun, "God" is quantitative. 

I never suggested "divinity" is a meaning of "God" by itself. Rather, I pointed out that "God" can have more than one meaning. For instance, the difference between "God" as an abstract noun and "God" as a concrete noun. 

But Dale never misses a chance to miss the point. Forever stuck in a rut. 

The Son, etc. can’t be numerically identical to a property.

Beside the point. Divinity is what the persons share in common, not what differentiates them.

Moreover, divinity is only "a property" in the sense that it's a singular noun. But, of course, singular nouns can function as collective nouns, &c. "Divinity" in the sense of the divine nature is an umbrella term for a set of attributes.

i) There is one God.

ii) The Father is divine.

iii) The Son is divine.

iv) The Spirit is divine.

v) The Father is not the Son, &c.

Has this eliminated any appearance of incoherence? No!

To the contrary, that clearly eliminates the "appearance" of incoherence. 

But then ii-iv entail that each is a god. 

No, it entails that each person has the divine nature or divine attributes. 

Finally, Steve admits what I pointed out at the start – that i-v don’t fully express any trinitarian theology.

Notice that Dale has things backwards. He writes as if I'm responding to something he wrote, when he's responding to something I wrote. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Gee, Officer Krupke!

Got into a debate with Jerry Walls on Facebook:

The obvious question is why God does not determine all persons to choose the good, and thus avoid not only the evil of this world, but also the evil of eternal misery in hell. Indeed, if compatibilism is true, it seems God could determine all freely to choose the good and avoid hell.

One of the problems with that objection, as I pointed out to Jerry on more than one occasion, is the ambiguity of "all persons". The way he frames the alternatives suggests a comparison between two possible worlds containing the same set of people, in one of which only some are elect, while in the other all are elect.

But that's deceptive and incoherent, for a world in which everyone is elect will have a different history with a different set of people. Although everyone who exists in that world is heavenbound, there are people who were heavenbound in a world where everyone isn't elect who won't exist in a world where everyone is elect. So there are many hidden losers in Jerry's contrast. Many people who miss out on heaven because they don't exist in a world where everyone is elect. 

When Jerry says the Calvinist God could save everyone, I suspect the picture that conjures up in people's minds is something like this:

There's a possible world A where God damns Judas. Let's say that's the real world. Then there's a possible world B where God saves Judas. 

The problem with that comparison is that it's only true in a qualified sense. Yes, there's a possible world in which Judas goes to heaven. However, that can't be affirmed in isolation to other considerations. It depends. 

The existence of Judas is the end-result of a chain of events in the past. If the past is the same in that possible world, then God can save Judas. 

But what Jerry has in mind is a possible world in which everyone is saved. And there are, indeed, possible worlds in which everyone is saved, consistent with Calvinism.

Problem is, a world in which everyone is saved will have a different past. That past won't lead up to Judas. Although God can save Judas, God can't save Judas in a world in which God saves everyone else. For there is no Judas to save, given that alternate history. 

By the same token, Mary Magdalene is a end-product of the same past that produced Judas. A world in which everyone is saved won't include the Magdalene. She is saved in a world where Judas is damned.

As I have pointed out before, God is not limited by causal chains, given the assumption that he determines all things. He can extend causal chains as long and as creatively as necessary to save all persons in the actual world. Or he can directly act to reveal himself at the moment of death and directly determine all persons to "freely" accept his grace. So no reason why saving all would require a different past.

You're missing the point. If someone exists, God can save him. But what you're overlooking or evading is that a world in which everyone has saving grace will exclude people who would exist in a world where everyone doesn't have saving grace. 

Take children conceived through premarital or extramarital sex. In a world where everyone has saving grace, fewer people would be born as a result of sexual sin. Hence, a world where everyone has saving grace will have an alternate history with a different set of people.

It's unclear what you're attempting to say. Predestination utilizes causal chains. That's one of the distinctions between predestination and fatalism.

No, I am assuming this world, with its actual history and inhabitants. God could surely find a way to determine all people to accept his grace, either with post-mortem chains of events, or moment of death encounters in which he would reveal himself and determine a "free" response of faith.

God utilizes them as he will, or bypasses them as he will. He is not bound by causal chains.

i) That's an overstatement. Even an omnipotent God can't directly produce a second-order effect. Jacob can't be the grandson of Abraham unless Abraham existed.

ii) Postmortem salvation is at odds with Calvinism. So you can't interject that to show that universalism is consistent with Calvinism. If you're attempting to show that the Calvinist God could save everyone, you must confine yourself to Calvinist assumptions and draw inferences from that. You can't smuggle in a principle that's alien to Calvinism. 

iii) As for deathbed conversions, it's unclear what your scenario envisions. Did you have in mind a scenario in which everyone is a lifelong unbeliever until they undergo a deathbed conversion? If so, that's a different world history.

iv) Or did you have in mind a scenario in which all lifelong unbelievers have a deathbed conversion? If so, is their conversion experience evident to observers at their bedside? But if every lifelong unbeliever had a public deathbed conversion, that would change the future. For some people would be impacted by stories of deathbed conversions. 

v) Or did you have in mind a scenario in which all lifelong unbelievers have a secret deathbed conversion? If so, it's unclear what that hypothetical is supposed to prove. Since, in the nature of the case, that's an unverifiable postulate, why should we take it seriously? 

I mean, one could just as well postulate that for all we know, every Christian secretly renounces their faith at the moment of death and pledges allegiance to the devil.

Yes, I was thinking of conversions at the moment of death that are not observable by anyone else. That is one way God could save all persons, given the exact history of the world.

i) Jerry, that's an ad hoc rescue. You're resorting to makeshift fixes to patch up your original argument. But since there's no reason to suppose every lifelong unbeliever has a deathbed conversion, that's concocting a hypothetical, not because you have any evidence to believe it's true, but to salvage your position. That's a way of rendering just about any position unfalsifiable. It's not a philosophical virtue. 

It's like atheists who evade the Resurrection by saying Jesus may have faked the Resurrection, since, for all we know, he might have had a secret twin brother who died on the cross in his stead. Or maybe Jesus faked the Resurrection because he's really an E.T. whose advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. 

ii) In addition, it's unclear what that's supposed to accomplish. Presumably, your objective is to dissuade people from believing in Calvinism. However, you've postulated an unverifiable defeater or undercutter. Suppose God saves everyone in this life or the afterlife. Or he indetectably saves lifelong unbelievers on their deadbed. And let's say that disproves traditional Calvinism (i.e. reprobation, double predestination). 

Problem is, the disproof is unavailable to Calvinists in this life. They only discover that after they die. So, given your setup, that hypothetical can't figure in how we assess Calvinism in the here and now. 

It's like saying, what if a century from now the bones of Jesus are discovered. And somehow, these can be ID'ed as his bones. 

But since I won't be alive a century from now to witness that discovery, the hypothetical has no relevance to my Christian faith.

iii) We have accounts of some unbelievers' last words and gestures. Take Stalin's final moments, recounted by his daughter:

At what seemed the final moment, he suddenly opened his eyes and cast a glance over the room.

It was a terrible glance, insane or perhaps angry and full of the fear of death ... . The glance swept over everyone in a second. Then something incomprehensible and awesome happened that to this day I can't forget and don't understand. He suddenly lifted his left hand as though he were pointing to something above and bringing down a curse on us all. The gesture was incomprehensible and full of menace, and no one could say to whom or at what it might be directed. The next moment, after a final effort, the spirit wrenched itself free of the flesh.

Or the last words of Joan Crawford: "Dammit…Don't you dare ask God to help me!" 

Or the last words of W. C. Fields, "Goddamn the whole f***ing world and everyone in it! Except you, Carlotta" (his mistress).

iv) Jerry's attitude parallels the bleeding heart liberal who can never see the value of retributive justice for its own sake. Punishment is only good if it has deterrent value or remedial value. He seems to treat sin as misfortune. 

Unlike Jerry, I don't prioritize the divine attributes. I don't think some "parts" of God are better than other "parts". I don't think love is better than justice or justice is better than love. Both are essential goods. 

Maybe Jerry developed "optimal grace" from watching West Side Story:

Greater love has no man

From a recent exchange I had on Facebook with a universalist:

You have an undisciplined way of mixing and matching disparate passages. For instance, Jn 15:13 isn't about love in general. To the contrary, it's specifically about selective love: what we do for friends. That stands in implicit contrast to a stranger, passing acquaintance, or even a neighbor.

It's revealing to see how you filter passages through your universalism. Jn 15:13 trades on the fact that friendship is selective. A paradigm-case of selective love. That's why Jesus uses this example, because the connotations are universally accessible. 

We love some people more than others. We love friends more than strangers. Which, btw, doesn't mean we hate strangers. But there are degrees of affection or compassion. 

The whole force of Jn 15:13 lies in the implicit contrast between the special loves one has for friends in comparison to those who don't belong to that inner circle. Jesus is appealing to the universal intuition that we will do things for the sake of a friend that we wouldn't do for anyone else. Indeed, if we did it for everyone, there'd be nothing special about friendship. That would cheapen friendship beyond recognition. 

In fact, the sacrificial love that one is prepared to make on behalf of a friend is a defining mark of friendship, which sets is apart from most other social relations.

"Didn't Jesus lay down His life for everyone—even strangers, passing acquaintances, & neighbors?"

Jesus is using an analogy. Sure, there's a sense in which Jesus dies for strangers. He dies for people who weren't even born at the time of the Crucifixion. He dies for people he didn't know in his lifetime (humanly speaking). 

But that misses the point. He dies for people who are analogous to friends. And that implies selective love.

One of your problems is that you seem to operate with a concordance style associative methodology, where you take a word from one author in one context, take the same word from another author in another context, then use these unrelated passages to interpret each other. So, for instance, you use Rom 12:15 to interpret Rev 21:4. But to begin with, you haven't even established that Rom 12:15 has reference to mourning with mourners in general, rather than Christians mourning with fellow Christians in particular. 

In addition, Rom 12:15 wasn't written with Rev 21:4 in view. Likewise, John didn't have Rom 12:15 in mind when he wrote Rev 21:4. You've introduced an idea into Rev 21:4 from (your interpretation of) Rom 12:15. That idea isn't present in Rev 21:4. You have a habit of importing ideas from one passage into an unrelated passage, then reinterpreting the second passage with that additional frame of reference. But that's illicit.

"I'm sure glad that isn't me!"

An exchange I had with an Arminian on Facebook:

"I can't imagine being in heaven peering down at those condemned to eternal damnation and thinking, 'I'm sure glad that isn't me,' like the pharisee in the parable of the tax collector."

Suppose a person misses their flight due to a traffic jam. The plane they were scheduled to fly on crashes shortly after takeoff, killing everyone on board.

Is it Pharisaical to say, "I"m sure glad I wasn't on that plane"? You can express gratitude that you avoided that fate without gloating over the fate of the passengers. Those are two separate issues.

"Yah, people here in this life would likely say "I'm sure glad I wasn't on that plane," human nature and all, but you cannot compare what a fallen human in this life would feel to what a fully sanctified soul in heaven in union with Christ would feel."

To begin with, I'd avoid putting words in the mouth of Jesus. I think it best to let Jesus speak for himself than presume to turn him into our mouthpiece.

In addition, you seem to think it's unholy for a person to be grateful that they didn't die because they missed their flight. By that logic, they shouldn't thank God that they are still alive. When, exactly, should a person thank God? If you're a cancer survivor, but someone else dies of cancer, it would be unsanctified to thank God that you didn't die of cancer? Given that every time something good happens to you, something bad happens to someone else, when is there ever a time, on your view, to thank God? Do you pray before you eat dinner? What about all the starving people around the world. Is it unholy for you to be grateful that you're not starving to death?

What does sacrificial love have to do with it? It's not as if the person in my hypothetical was in a position to take the place of another passenger on the plane. He didn't know the plane was going to crash.

Are you living under a bridge while paying rent so that other people can live in your home? 

Let's take a different comparison. Suppose a mother drops her child off at elementary school. Midmorning she receives a frantic phone call from a neighbor to switch on the TV. There's live news of a sniper at the elementary school. Preliminary reports of children shot. But police are withholding names of the victims.

If, after agonizing hours of not knowing, she finds out that her child was not one of victims, is it wrong for her to be overjoyed that her own child wasn't killed? She can be happy about her own child, and grief-stricken about the other children at the same time, can't she?

Ben and Barrett on apostolic succession

This begins with a quote from C. K. Barrett. A Catholic then challenges BW3 in the combox. A brief exchange ensues. BW3 talks circles around the Catholic disputant, who's no match for BW3 on 1C ecclesiology. 

Into the light

and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day (Gen 1:2-5).

Here's an interesting detail. Notice the steady progression from general to specific. The contrast between day and night is more specific than the contrast between light and dark, while the contrast between dawn and dusk is more specific than the contrast between day and night. So there are increasing degrees of specificity. Light and dark could be anytime. Any duration. By contrast, day and night have calendar dates, while dawn and dusk are parts of a day–beginning and ending. Periods of light. 

Light and dark is the most general distinction. And that distinction needn't even be temporal. Taken a cavern that's perpetually dark. There the distinction between light and dark is spatial rather than temporal. 

By the same token, firelight (from a campfire or fireplace) and candlelight involve a spatial rather than temporal contrast. That would be familiar to ancient Israelites. 

Day and night involve a temporal and cyclical contrast, while dawn and dusk are brief, borderline conditions that shade into light or darkness. The boundaries of day and night. 

So the creation account has a certain motion to it. From darkness to light. From light to daylight. From daylight to dawn and dusk–as limiting cases. Moving into the light. Moving into daylight. Moving into the dawn of a new day–or twilight, which portends another day.

How would that be significant to the original audience? Well, I can't say for sure, but in general, I think that for people who lived before the advent of electricity, night was fearful. Darkness was threatening. In fact, modern man is still instinctively fearful of the dark. 

So moving into the light evokes connotations of safety. And having that to look forward to evokes hope. 

In the ancient world, people generally traveled on foot. Imagine you plan a trip to a destination that's a day's journey from home. You intend to leave early, but due to unforeseen circumstances, you are forced to get off to a late start. 

Say the sun is ahead of you when you start out. As you continue, the sun is overhead. Then the sun is behind you. And you begin to see your own shadow. And the shadow lengthens. And trees around you cast longer shadows. You are walking into darkness. 

You glance behind you and see the sun nearing the horizon. You begin to panic, because you're running out of light. You won't arrive at your destination before darkness falls. 

By contrast, imagine emerging from darkness into the light. Putting darkness behind you. Walking towards the light.

And that's a vampire trope. The traditional vampire mythos plays on Christian symbolism. Light is emblematic of God. Because a vampire is an evil, godless, satanic creature, it shuns the light. Sunlight is lethal. 

A vampire is active from dusk to dawn. If its prey can survive the night, the vampire can't follow them into the emerging sunlight. If they can make it through the night, if they can hold out until dawn, they put the danger behind them. 

For a vampire, the danger is just the opposite. To be overtaken by the dawn is fatal. 

Although that's fictional, it's rooted in Biblical symbolism. For instance, that's a leitmotif in John's Gospel and First John. Part of the unique power of John's Gospel lies in the evocation of these ancient and elemental symbols. They've retained their psychological grip on the modern reader. 

It has its basis in literal experience. That, in turn, creates a psychological resonance. And all that supplies a theological metaphor. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Mary and Jesus

I recently debated a Catholic on Facebook. The question was whether Mary is the "Mother of God," and the inferences which Catholics build on that premise. They begin with a deceptively simple argument: If Jesus is God, and Mary is the mother of Jesus, then Mary is the Mother of God. 

"Can there ever be a time, place, or location where Jesus is not God? The Church does not teach that Jesus was created in Mary's womb, but that God's word, through the power of the Holy Spirit, was incarnate in the Virgin's womb, and she bore a Son, Jesus. The eternal word was incarnate in her womb and she became his mother."

That suffers from equivocation. There's a sense in which Jesus was created in the womb. The Son qua Son is eternally preexistent, but the Son qua Incarnate has a before and after. Jesus is fully divine, but he isn't simply divine. The hypostatic union was created in the womb. That relation was created. Likewise, the human nature was created.

There was a time when Jesus was not. There was never a time when the Son was not. That's the problem with your equivocal usage. It becomes a shell game.

Jesus isn't simply the Son. Jesus is the Son Incarnate. The Son is timeless, but Jesus has a temporal side as well as a timeless side. Jesus had a first moment of existence, for Jesus is the result of a union in time between the timeless Son and human nature. The relation is temporal, although divine relatum (the Son) is timeless while the human relatum (rational human soul and body) is temporal. The Incarnation is an event. There was no Jesus before Mary became pregnant, although the Son is eternally preexistent. Jesus had a beginning. The Incarnation is a datable event. The Son had no beginning.

"Christ is fully human and fully divine - there can be no separation."

True, However, the question at issue isn't separating the natures but distinguishing the natures. Refusal to distinguish they natures makes you a monophysite.

"God's humanity" is shorthand. What that means, presumably, is that Mary is the mother of his humanity, which is united to his divinity. So she is indirectly the "mother of God" in that convoluted and qualified sense. "Mother of God" is a half-truth.

"Mother of God" has pagan connotations of mother goddesses, like Juno. Their offspring are gods who originate in their mothers.

You can make the title true by layering on caveats, but it's a half-truth because the title itself doesn't contain those caveats. The title itself can be taken in different directions. It dies the death of a thousand qualifications.

Jesus isn't simply God, and God isn't simply Jesus. So, yes, orthodoxy requires qualified usage.

i) For convenience, I've stipulated that Mary was the mother of Christ's human nature. I've said that because it's useful to focus on one issue at a time. If, however, we wish to be theologically precise, that's an oversimplification, and attributes a larger role to Mary than is actually the a case, even in reference to Christ's humanity. 

ii) Christ's human nature has two ingredients: a soul and a body. Even in reference to his body, Mary can't naturally be the sole source, because mothers lack the Y chromosome (or SRY gene) to create a male body in the womb. So that had to be supplied directly by God. 

iii) Then there's the source of his soul. Some Catholics are Thomists, but Thomistic anthropology can't naturally accommodate the postmortem survival of the soul–as Catholic philosophers like Peter Geach and Mary Anscombe concede.

iv) If you espouse creationism, then Mary was not the source of Christ' soul. Rather, God created that directly.

v) If you espouse traducianism, then we're in uncharted waters. Normally, the soul would be the joint product of a biological father and biological mother. There's no precedent in traducianism to say if a mother could be the sole source of a child's soul. So that, too, might require God to act directly, or at least supplement Mary's contribution.

The upshot is that even in reference to the humanity if Christ, Mary is only a partial source. Her contribution to the human nature of Christ is limited, and for all we know, may well be severely limited.

i) What does "mother" mean? Minimally, a biological mother is a necessary source of origin for a child's body. Clearly, though, Mary is not, in any straightforward sense, the "mother of God" in that respect. 

So the Catholic argument boils down to a relation of association. Mary is the mother of God because Mary is a necessary source of origin for Christ's body, which (along with his soul) is linked to the divine Son. 

At best, it's one step removed from God. Mary is the mother of God by association: she is the partial source of his humanity, which makes her the mother of God by association via the hypostatic union. When you bother to unpack the claim, it's rather convoluted. A link of a link. 

Mary is linked to the deity of Christ because she's linked to the humanity of Christ, which is linked to the deity of Christ. 

ii) That, however, is a pretty loose inference. To take a a few comparisons:

a) Aldous Huxley authored Brave New World. Aldous Huxley is the grandson of Thomas Huxley. So he is biologically linked to his grandfather. Therefore, Thomas Huxley authored Brave New World!

But, of course, the fact that the grandson is linked to the grandfather doesn't mean you can attribute to the grandfather the literary production of his grandson. 

b) Suppose an automotive engineer designs the brake system for a Ferrari. And the brake system is linked to the steering system, which is linked to the motor, &c. 

Does that make him the designer of the Ferrari? No. That inference would commit the composition fallacy.

"Then you are your own authority, yes?"

Are you your own authority when you rely on your own reason to conclude that Rome is the One True Church? You didn't begin with the authority of Rome, because you had to establish to your own satisfaction that Rome had the authority in question. So at that stage of the process you had to exercise your independent judgment by interpreting and assessing the documentary evidence for yourself. 

The Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit

"The Internal Testimony of the Holy Spirit" by James Anderson.

Vanhoozer on Sola Scriptura

Sunday, January 15, 2017

The Self Does Not Die

For what it's worth, Mike Licona recently plugged a book on NDEs. Here's the plug:

And here's the book:

Titus Rivas, Anny Dirven, & Rudolf Smit, The Self Does Not Die: Verified Paranormal Phenomena from Near-Death Experiences (International Association for Near-Death Studies, 2016).

Rivas is a New Age figure. This presents a common dilemma in paranormal studies. Because "mainstream" scholarship generally ignores the topic, investigation is often relegated to quacks and debunkers. However, Licona is not a flake, so the fact that he recommends this book counts for something. Presumably, the value of the book, if any, lies in the collection of case studies rather than the editorial viewpoint of the authors. 

Ayer's red light

I already posted a link to this article, but I'd like comment on Douthat's statement:

But the implausibility of hard materialism doesn’t mean the cosmos obviously confirms a Judeo-Christian paradigm. And the supernatural experiences of the irreligious — cosmic beatitude, ghostly enigmas, unclassifiable encounters and straight-up demons — don’t point toward any single theology or world-picture. 
I can make the Friedkin and Verhoeven experiences fit with Christian doctrine; Ehrenreich’s aren’t perhaps as distant as she imagines. But Ayer’s weird red light and the ghost of Peter Kaplan? If I were coming to these kind of stories with no preconceptions, I might reach for polytheism or pantheism to explain the variety and diversity of what reaches through the veil.

1. Although necromancy is a forbidden activity, the possibility of contacting the dead is consistent with the Christian worldview. The soul survives death. Contacting the dead is dangerous, and therefore forbidden, but that doesn't make it impossible. Indeed, the possibility is what makes it dangerous.

2. As for Ayer's NDE, the pluralism of some NDEs is a familiar issue. There are different ways we might interpret that phenomenon:

i) If there was no evidence for veridical NDEs, we could explain the pluralism by saying NDEs are imaginary. But given credible cases of veridical NDEs, that's not a good explanation.

ii) A pluralist might say this is evidence for universalism or religious pluralism. But there are problems with that explanation:

a) Religious pluralism is incoherent. All these contradictory positions can't be true. Hence, that can't be the ultimate explanation. 

b) A pluralist might counter by saying the Divine wears many masks. But even if we grant, for argument's sake, that all roads leads to the same destination, isn't postmortem experience where we encounter the face behind the mask? If that's just another disguise, then there is no destination. Many roads continuing into the afterlife, with no convergence in sight. In that event, why think there is a face behind the mask? 

iii) By way of orthodox interpretations, perhaps some NDEs are like allegorical dreams. A symbolic analogy of the afterlife. 

iv) Or perhaps some NDEs are analogous to a psychedelic experience. Someone who's high may hallucinate, yet his perception of reality isn't merely a figment of his imagination. His sense organs are still receiving input from the outside world. An objective, external stimulus forms the basis of his perception. But his perception of reality is distorted because his brain misinterprets the sense data.

It may be that some NDEs are disorienting in that respect. It represents an unsettled state, where the soul has one foot in this life and one foot in the afterlife. Perception of reality is clouded by that transitional condition. It hasn't had time to make the adjustment. 

And, of course, NDEs are, by definition, temporary. At best, the afford a glimpse of the afterlife. But is that a representative sample?