Saturday, June 02, 2018

The strange star of Bethlehem

Commentators remark on the unnatural motion of the "star". But presumably that's what caught the attention of the Magi. In general, the motion of the sun, moon, and stars is uniform. Sun, moon, and stars always rise in the east and set in West. There's seasonal variation, but that's uniform, too.

To get the attention of the Magi, we'd expect the "star" to do something highly irregular. And that's explicable if it's a supernatural phenomenon. Some people think the motion of the "star" is unrealistic, but that misses the point. It has to be unrealistic to be sign. If it wasn't something extraordinary, the Magi wouldn't be puzzled by its erratic behavior. 


Pie Jesu

Miserere mei, Deus

Friday, June 01, 2018

Another nail in the coffin

Irish abortion referendum

Time to call the exterminator

One problem is that most folks who have the goods are Patterson are SBC/SWBTS employees, so they haven't been at liberty to divulge all the incriminating evidence. Those in the know are afraid to speak out because their jobs or employment prospects are on the line. It's like the Syndicate. His power protected him. Now that he's fallen from power, we'll see if more accusers come forward.

This is just the tip of the iceberg. Kinda like getting Capone on tax evasion. Much more serious problems with Patterson than what got him booted, but it gets the job done. I don't really care what the "official" reasons were. Patterson is an extortionate bully. Good riddance!

No doubt "Progressive Christian/evangelical feminists" are bilking this particular allegation against Patterson as a pretext to advance their own social agenda. That's an unfortunate consequence of thugs who bring a legitimate principle into disrepute through flagrant abuse of power. Thugs like Patterson make it harder for good people to defend a legitimate principle. 

Patterson has given the "Progressive Christian/Evangelical feminists" an opening. They blame it on "the Patriarchy". Patterson's their current poster boy for "toxic masculinity". Sure, that's a non sequitur, but it makes it harder for the good guys to defend complementarianism with Patterson around. That's one more reason to call in the exterminator to clear the rats out of the attic.

Patterson apologists like Gagnon and Geisler are perpetuating the SBC culture of corruption that made these scandals possible in the first place. A microcosmic parallel to the clerical abuse scandal in Catholicism. 

Ironically, Patterson apologists as well as "Progressive Christian/evangelical feminist" critics are two sides of the same coin. Both treat the message and the messenger as if they're inseparable. His "progressive" critics act as though his misconduct delegitimates complementarianism. Yet when apologists like Gagnon and Geisler stick up for him, they, too, are acting as if the message and the messenger are inseparable, only they reject the characterization of the messenger. 

The fact that complementarianism is a hill to die on hardly makes Patterson a hill to die on, just because he's complementarian. Not to mention that he's detrimental to the cause. We shouldn't act as if these individuals are indispensable to the cause. By removing corrupt Christian leaders, that provides an opportunity for better leadership to take over. Patterson is far from irreplaceable. God isn't stuck with Patterson. We need to periodically cleanse the temple (as it were). We need to oust corrupt Christian leaders even when they back the right policies. We need to oust corrupt Christian leaders even if it hurts the cause in the short-term. It can't be moral blackmail where we support immoral Christian leaders in exchange for them supporting our agenda. That doesn't even work at a pragmatic level, because they discredit good policies by association. The positions become unfairly tainted if spearheaded by scoundrels. 

Patterson is like Marshal Pétain. Pétain was a WWI war hero who became a WWII war criminal. From patriot to Quisling.

Likewise, many people remember Patterson's role in helping to reverse the liberal drift in the SBC. But a good start doesn't mean you can't become a villain. 

And the fact that he spearheaded a worthy cause doesn't necessarily mean his motives were ever pure. He used that to march through the corridors of power. The noble cause and self-aggrandizement conveniently coincided. 

The Christian race is a marathon, not a sprint. What matters isn't how you begin or how you're doing on the backstretch, but whether you cross the finish line. 

"The Patriarchy"

For "Progressive Christian/evangelical feminist" critics, the Paige Patterson scandal is yet another example of why "the Patriarchy" is irredeemably evil. Yet another reason Christians should ditch complementarianism for egalitarianism. 

There's a grain of truth to this, although it's highly misleading. In the nature of the case, only people in positions of authority can abuse their authority. If men have all the power, then the abusers will all be men. That's a straightforward correlation.

But that cuts both ways. That doesn't mean that if you replace men with women in positions of power, you thereby eliminate abuse of power. Feminism/egalitarianism amounts to gender reassignment abuse of power. There's no dearth of women who abuse their authority, viz. Rose Bird, Barbara Boxer, Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Loretta Lynch, Annise Parker, Nancy Pelosi, Kathleen Sebelius, Sonia Sotomayor.

Both sexes need the moderating influence of the opposite sex to temper the excesses to which each sex is prone. And that's a complementation insight. And without the grace of sanctification, it's a choice between male and female villains. 

Does Christianity make a difference?

Edgar begins by outlining the main question that he is attempting to address: does the Christian faith actually make a difference? Does it bring about the kind of changes it claims to be able to make? He aims to counter the narrative often advanced by New Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens that Christianity (along with other religions) is poisonous and harmful. Edgar’s credibility in this task is increased by his frank admission of instances in which the church has failed. He is honest about these moments in Christian history, although he does frequently point out that the prevailing narrative (with regard to the medieval Crusades, for instance) unfairly portrays the actions of Christians. Edgar reminds the reader that evil will not be completely abolished until the final judgment. But his thesis is “that despite the numerous setbacks and weaknesses of the church, nevertheless we can point to substantial progress” (25).

Edgar’s first two chapters deal with the issue of making peace. The first chapter asks: why there is so much war in the Bible, if Christians are called to make peace? And how does Christianity respond to ongoing wars in the world today? Edgar answers by explaining that true peace sometimes requires a fight for justice, and he then makes a strong biblical case for just war. As a specific example, he admits that some Christians were complicit in the rise of Nazism, but that overall, a Christian understanding of just war and fighting to rescue the innocent motivated believers to work for the end of the Nazi regime.

The second chapter looks at the other side of the coin of making peace: how has Christianity brought about reconciliation between opposing parties? 

Chapters 3 and 4 deal with Christian contributions in the areas of social reform and healthcare. Edgar speaks at length of the contribution of William Wilberforce and other abolitionists motivated by their Christian faith to the ending of the slave trade in England and her colonies...In addition, he explains how modern medicine and many advancements in healthcare grew out of a Christian understanding of the curse of sin, as well as the biblical call to compassion for the suffering. 

Chapters 7 and 8 deal respectively with “Persistent Sins: Temperamental Inclination” and “Besetting Sins: Addiction.” In both, Edgar seeks to show that Christianity really works through its enabling of people to defeat anger, fear, lust for power, drug addiction, and pornography.

Chapter 9 concludes the book with a general discussion of human suffering and the gospel’s answer of hope in a dark world.

I'd like to take a stab at this question myself:

1. Many atheists do think Christianity makes a difference. That's why they're implacable adversaries of Christianity. They think it makes a difference for the worse. 

2. As long as they're atheists, we won't be able to convince them that Christianity is generally a force for good. That's because Christians and atheists often disagree on what is good. They think biblical ethics is sexist, racist, sadistic, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, misogynistic, violent, and generally intolerant. The two camps are becoming increasingly polarized. Atheism has no positive identity. Atheism is reactionary. Western atheism is defined by opposition to Christianity.

3. One difficulty is the definition of Christianity, for Christianity isn't monolithic. To the contrary, the Christian faith is notorious for its many factions. To some degree, I think traditional European anticlericalism was justified by the venality of the Catholic church. It would, however, be illogical to blame Protestants for Catholic misconduct. You can't reasonably blame Protestants for the Inquisition or pederasty among the Catholic clergy. Protestants have their own problems, but you can't reasonably blame Presbyterians for Luther's anti-semitism, or Anabaptists for Confederate Presbyterians. 

4. In what respect does Christianity claim to be able to change people, and change society? Christianity can't be expected to directly influence non-Christians. In the nature of the case, it primarily changes Christians from what they'd otherwise be. It's no failure of Christianity that non-Christians don't think and behave like Christians. Naturally it doesn't work for people who disagree with it. Who lack faith. 

5. If a society becomes predominantly Christian, that has a leavening influence. Insofar as policymakers are Christian, law, public policy, and public institutions have a trickle down effect. Where it's been tried and applied, Christianity has made the world a much better place. And even where there are notable failures, the non-Christian alternative will be rotten in a different way. 

6. According to Scripture, Christians remain sinners. There's no guarantee that a Christian will be able to overcome an addiction in this life. While Christianity can and does produce many dramatic examples of personal and social transformation, total transformation lies in the world to come. That's the hope that keeps us going. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Why Is There Evil In The World (And So Much Of It?)

I recently read Greg Welty's Why Is There Evil In The World (And So Much Of It)? (CFP 2018), available here:

I previously read a draft copy. The book is pitched at a popular level, although it demands an intellectually serious reader. 

This is a Christian theodicy from a Reformed perspective, by a brilliant, philosophically astute, traditionally orthodox thinker. Briefly put, his book is easily the best treatment of the problem of evil, by a wide margin, currently available.

Greg has roughly two methods of presentation:

He expounds the opposing position, then critiques it.

He expounds his own position, then counters potential objections. In addition, he has a final chapter fielding objections. 

• He defends a version of the greater-good theodicy. For him, the greater-good theodicy is a general theodicy comprising four specific theodicies, including the soul-building theodicy and the higher-order goods theodicy.

• Throughout the book there's trenchant engagement with Scripture.

• He critiques the freewill defense and the natural law (stable environment) theodicy.

• He makes moderate use of skeptical theism.

• He discusses the philosophically contested concept of causality.

I have a few caveats:

i) One objection to the soul-building theodicy is that it's a circular justification for the existence of evil inasmuch as these virtues are only valuable in a world containing evil. Given such a world, these have a purpose, but that fails to justify a world containing evil in the first place. Unless I missed it, Greg didn't address that objection. I have my own response, and I expect Greg has a well-oiled answer if challenged.

ii) I think the greater-good theodicy is overkill. It's a stronger theodicy than required. I think an alternate-good theodicy defense would suffice. And because that's less ambitious, it has a lower burden of proof.

iii) An atheist might object that even if Greg successfully demonstrates the consistency of God's existence with scope and nature of evil, that's special pleading. With sufficient ingenuity, you can make many positions consistent with the facts, but that's saving appearances.

In a sense, a theodicy needs to be supplemented by a case for God's existence. If there's positive evidence for God's existence, then that should figure in an overall theodicy. 

Of course, that's a different kind of book. And Greg provides evidence in his courses on Christian apologetics. 

iv) Greg argues that even if an atheist denies moral realism, he can still deploy the argument from evil because a good God will prevent gratuitous pain and suffering.

I demur. You can't substitute pain and suffering for moral categories. Divine benevolence is a moral category. To claim that gratuitous pain and suffering are incompatible with God's goodness smuggles moral realism back in through the rear door. 

That said, towards the end of the book (p198), Greg points out that naturalism drastically aggravates the problem of evil. Ironically, the problem of evil is incomparably worse for an atheist. 

The Doctrine of the Trinity in History and Scripture

Lee defends the traditional position on eternal generation/procession. I don't. Likewise, his prooftexts for divine simplicity are Mickey Mouse. But putting that aside, this is a useful historical and exegetical overview:

The state of the PCA

At face value, this is a pretty eye-opening survey of the PCA, which you'd suppose is one of the more conservative evangelical denominations. I wonder how representative this is for evangelical denominations generally:

i) Do the survey results reflect massive ignorance of what Christianity stands for?

ii) Ignorance regarding the reasons for traditional Christian beliefs?

iii) Willful disbelief? 


Apostate Dale Tuggy is a pain freak. He can never be refuted too often to satiate his masochistic appetite:

To clarify: the objection is not that there are three beings in his theory which one can or must call “Jesus.” A problem like that would be easy to solve. (“I say: only call this one ‘Jesus.'”)

Hays here misinterprets the objection. It’s not that there is more than one on the theory called “Jesus.” So then, to say that we shouldn’t call the Son/Logos before he has a body “Jesus” is irrelevant to the objection.

i) Dale repeatedly and emphatically framed his argument in terms of more than one "Jesus". Indeed, he continues to do that in his latest post. When I respond to him on his own terms, he accuses me of misunderstanding that objection. More like he's having to backpedal after his original argument went down in flames.

ii) Moreover, this isn't just a question of which synonym to use. Rather, it concerns concepts rather than labels. 

Rather, the objection is that his christology entails that hiding behind the apparent one self of the gospels, the human Jesus, there are in fact three selves – again, the man, the godman, and the god (the eternal Son, second Person of the Trinity). If you like, call it the objection that his theory is “Nestorianism on drugs.”

Do you hold to a Chalcedon-inspired christology on which Jesus has “two natures,” a divine and a human one? If so, how do you keep the number of selves in your theory down to one?

Dale neglects to spell out what he means, but what he seems to be gesturing at is that according to Chalcedonian Christology, Jesus is said to unite two natures in one person. But how can one person have two minds? Doesn't that entail two persons?

There is, however, a complication. "Person" is an English translation of the Greek prosopon. The natural tendency of a native English-speaker is to define "person" in the modern  sense (mind, consciousness). 

But that's anachronistic. The question is what it means in patristic usage, whether it has a uniform meaning in patristic usage–and if the meaning varies, whether the usage of one church father should take precedence over others.

Like so many of Dale's arguments, this objection is vitiated by equivocation. If you say Jesus has two minds, that doesn't automatically contradict the creed of Chalcedon unless prosopon meant person in the modern psychological sense (e.g. Descartes, the hard problem of consciousness). 

Of course, by Protestant standards, creeds have no intrinsic authority. They are authoritative insofar as they are true, not vice versa. So Dale's objection is more geared to a Greek Orthodox opponent. 

Depends on the theorist. There is a tradition of saying that Christ is “man” but not “a man.” This is associated with the idea that precisely because of the mysterious union of the Logos with the body and soul, the body and soul don’t combine to form a man in this case (for this would be a second person in the picture). 

That harkens back to debates about whether the human nature of Christ is anhypostatic/enhypostatic. However, I didn't frame my position in those terms. 

If something is complex and is a person, then it is a person. Hays’s point here seems irrelevant to the objection, which does not depend on saying that Christ (in this theory) is a non-complex person.

Dale can't follow his own argument. Suppose, for discussion purposes, that we equate one mind or one "person" with one "self". On that definition, an individual with two minds can't be one "person" or one "self". 

Ah, but it doesn't follow that a "complex person" can't have two minds. It doesn't follow that one individual with two minds can't be a complex person. 

Well, those are three different distinctions, and it’s not clear how these distinctions could help with his proliferation of Jesuses.

Something can be conceptually distinct without being separate in reality. 

Not clear what his point is here.

The point was clear from the italicized word in the original post. I reject Dale's contrast between the "self" of the Son and the other two "selves".  

So neither of these latter two is numerically the same as the Son.

Unlike the Trinity, which has no parts, the hypostatic union has parts: the Son-cum-body-cum-rational soul. 

A part is not identical with the whole. My arm is not identical with me. My body is not identical with me. 

Also, in the NT, “Jesus,” “Christ” etc. are on the face of it coreferring terms that refer to one who is explicitly called “a man.”

Also, in the NT, “Jesus,” “Christ” etc. are on the face of it coreferring terms that refer to one who is explicitly called “God/Yahweh.”

Generally, if we take a human, and add a part to it, the resulting whole is not itself an additional human.

In generic orthodox Christology, we take the Son, then add a part (human nature). 

If Hays is serious in insisting that his “Jesus” (the Composite Christ, the godman) is truly a human being, then on his theory Mary gave birth to two human beings, two human selves, on the first Christmas.

That only follows from Dale's befuddled effort to bifurcate an individualized human nature. 

The point is that if Hays is right then walking around with the twelve disciples, and on the cross, and now exalted, are three different beings, three selves, which are (rather misleadingly, at best) portrayed as one self in the gospels.

Of course, he can use the name “Jesus” how he wants. But my point stands that, contrary to the New Testament, his christology features three selves, and not one self.

i) Even if resort to Dale's tendentious "self" lingo, the two natures would only be equivalent to two "selves", not three.

ii) Moreover, that's only a problem on a unitarian reading of the NT. But the unitarian interpretation isn't the benchmark for Trinitarians. So Dale's objection is circular. He objects to a multiple-"self" Christology, but his objection is confused because he fails to distinguish between what's inconsistent for unitarian Christology from what's inconsistent for generic orthodox Christology. The two-natures Christology is one nature too many for unitarians, not one nature too many for Trinitarians. 

iii) This goes back to Dale's lack of critical detachment. His chronic inability to differentiate his own position from the position he presumes to critique. He constantly blurs the two by importing assumptions from unitarianism into his analysis of orthodox Christology.

David Robertson On The Enfield Poltergeist

Shortly after Guy Playfair's death, I received an email from David Robertson. He's the last of the major initial investigators of the Enfield case who's still alive. He's also done other paranormal research with John Hasted and in other contexts. In addition to being the last of the major initial investigators of the Enfield case, he's the individual who was most involved in the efforts at filming the poltergeist and, to my knowledge, the last person alive who's seen some of the videos that weren't released to the public. His filming work has had a major role in how Enfield has been analyzed over the years. Anita Gregory cited some of his videos as evidence against the authenticity of the Enfield case, Gregory and Maurice Grosse carried on a public exchange about those videos for years, and The Conjuring 2, a popular movie loosely based on Enfield, makes reference to Robertson's videos. He performed scientific tests on Janet Hodgson that provided evidence of her paranormal abilities. He spent a lot of time in the Hodgsons' home and was largely responsible for arranging and documenting the events of December 15, 1977. You may have heard or seen him in Enfield documentaries over the years. For example, here's a video of him discussing the testing he did to demonstrate Janet's ability to bend metal paranormally. And here you can listen to him discussing the December 15 events.

Robertson has given me permission to post some of what he wrote in our email exchange. His comments are lengthy, they address a large number and variety of topics, and some of what he mentions about Enfield has, as far as I know, never been said publicly before. Much of it is highly significant.

Two independent sources have verified that the email address of the individual who contacted me is Robertson's. There's also good internal evidence, within the emails, that the individual is Robertson.

Since his comments are easier to understand if you know the general layout of the Hodgsons' house, here's a floor plan from the original edition of Playfair's book (This House Is Haunted [Briarcliff Manor, New York: Stein and Day, 1984]):

Click the floor plan for a larger image of it.

I'll occasionally interrupt Robertson's comments to offer some explanatory material, but the large majority of what follows will be what he wrote.

Why did Lucifer fall?

Why did Lucifer fall? Short answer: beats me!

It's a perennial theological question. Ultimately unanswerable. God knows. Some heavenly angels and fallen angels may know. Satan knows, unless he's in denial.

Because Milton wrote an epic poem on the fall of man, he had to have a theory, a backstory, to pad out one chapter of the Bible. 

The question goes to the origin of evil. How is the first sin possible? Sinners sin, but how does one become a sinner in the first place? What's the first step?

And it's wider than the fall of Lucifer. While Scripture is rather elliptical on the subject, there's an indication of a large-scale prehistoric revolt in heaven. So how do we explain the fall of so many angels? Indeed, the virtually simultaneous fall of so many angels? Why did Lucifer have so many followers? 

There are different ways of approaching the answer. It's like asking, what makes Harry Lime a villain? At one level, Lime is a villain because that's how Graham Greene wrote the character. But in principle there could be a backstory to explain why he's so amoral. 

By the same token, we can say Lucifer fell because God predestined him to fall. But there's still the question of motivation.

The problem or paradox depends in part on what assumptions lie behind the question. One way of posing the question is to ask, How can one fall from perfection to imperfection? 

But was Lucifer perfect? What does that mean? We might distinguish between three different things:

i) To be nice

ii) To be happy

iii) To be good

We're apt to think that if you're not good, then you're evil. But is it possible, at least initially, to be on a knife-edge between good and evil? An agent that has the unrealized potential to be good or evil?

We might also distinguish between a perfect agent and a perfect world. If an agent originates in a perfect world, does that ipso facto make him a perfect agent?

It's easy to be nice if you have it easy. It's easy to be happy if you have it easy. It's easy to be generous if you're rich, because it doesn't really cost you anything. 

Consider horror flicks about spoiled rich kids who take a trip. They're classmates. The smart set. They like each other. They're nice so long as the situation is nice.

But if they suddenly find themselves in a survival situation, then the veneer of amiability peels away. Classic fair-weather friends. If they're in competition for survival, they turn on each other.

Because all their wants and needs were provided for, they have no inner resources to tap into when that's removed. It's a cliche that a crisis brings out the best in some folks and the worst in others.

To take another example, suppose you have a teenage boy or girl who's self-absorbed. But then there's a crisis in the family. A parent or sibling becomes disabled or deathly ill. The teenager must take up the slack. There are three possible outcomes:

i) The crisis may reveal that the teenager had hidden reserves. That was there all along, but it took a crisis to bring it to the surface. The teenager was self-absorbed because there was no pressing need, and not because he was uncaring or inconsiderate. But when the crisis arises, he pivots. He adapts. He takes up the slack.  

ii) The crisis may reveal that the teenager is unprepared to face the challenge. It's a struggle. The crisis forces him to cultivate the necessary virtues. The need to meet the challenge is the process by which he develops what he needs to meet the challenge.

iii) He may walk away. He may abandon the ailing family member. Initially, he may make a token effort, but it's too demanding. It crimps his style. It's no fun. 

What if antelapsarian heaven was like a tropical paradise for angels. That's the only world they ever knew, from the moment of their inception. What if God then did an angelic trial by ordeal like he did to test Job or Abraham? What would be the reaction? Would that have a clarifying effect? 

Admittedly, this is mere conjecture, but it extrapolates from God's dealings with humans. And it transposes some insights from the soul-making theodicy to an angelic key.  

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

9 Things You Should Know About MS-13


Recently, Bnonn did a provocative post on whether the superheroine is consistent with Christian theology:

Actually, most of his post was a conventional defense of traditional complementarianism (although there's a token complementarianism promoted by the likes of Carl Trueman that's making the complementation label useless). 

That in turn generated a Facebook debate involving examples like Jael and Buffy Summers. This gives me a chance to take a break from fluffy posts on Trinitarian metaphysics to something truly meaty. There are two separate issues:

i) The social roles of real women

ii) Superheroines

Let's take these one at a time.

1. Jael

To begin with, she's exceptional. But there's also the question of how we should visualize her. Is she a shieldmaiden, a la Brünnhilde? A female counterpart to Viking warriors? If you were a director, filming Judges, would you depict Jael like a Valkyrie? 

What if Jael is more like Mata Hari? It's not a trade secret that some women can penetrate a man's defenses in a way that no man can. To begin with, a man doesn't expect a woman to be dangerous. 

In addition, a man will drop his guard around an alluring woman. He's automatically receptive to her advances. So she can come within striking range in a way he wouldn't allow a warrior from the opposing army. 

I once saw the pilot episode of a short-lived crime drama. There was a male murder victim and two homicide detectives. As I recall, the murder victim was knifed from the front. The male homicide detective was puzzled by how the killer was able to get within range. Since most killers are men, his unquestioning assumption was that the killer was a man.

But his female partner conjectured that the killer was a sexy woman. That's why the unsuspecting murder victim let the killer get so close. 

2. Buffy

It's been many years since I watched it, and I never saw the entire series. With that disclaimer out of the way:

i) Because Buffy has superpowers, she's credibly the physical superior of normal men. However, some female characters are given superpowers so that they can replace the male protagonist in actions films.

ii) Some superheroines fall flat because a pretty ingénue with no acting chops is cast to play the part. Buffy works, not just because the character is well-written, but because of Geller's performance. Same thing with Faith.  

ii) However, Buff retains her femininity. She's sassy, but some women are naturally sassy. And she's emotionally vulnerable. 

iv) However, her vocation comes at a cost. Since no human male is her equal, her boyfriend is the vampire with the heart of gold. In one sense they're a match because they both have superhuman abilities. But they're classic star-crossed lovers, so that can't last. 

As I recall, her fallback boyfriend is a defective supersoldier, so that doesn't work out. And in any event, the series orbits around the Buffy/Angel axis. So she's never able to strike the right balance. 

v) Faith is the rival Slayer. More than Buffy, she illustrates the instability of the superheroine hybrid. It's too damaging to her feminine virtue. 

No doubt there are fans who can expatiate more learnedly than I on the Buffyverse. My interest level is decidedly limited. 

The social Godspell

Mafia loansharks

I’ve become super convicted about the large-scale ills of Facebook and Google.
I fully realize that a major reason the Bee (and my webcomic, for that matter) was able to blow up like it did was because of social media — Facebook in particular. This is just how it goes when you make things for the internet: you create, you post to social media, you hope people like it and it spreads. But the power that Facebook held over me as a content creator began to make me very uneasy.
True crime fascinates me, and this is a comparison that often comes to mind: to become a successful content creator you have to use Facebook, and using Facebook, especially if you’re a Christian and/or a conservative, is sort of like going to a mafia loan shark for $10,000. They’re happy to give it to you, just like Facebook will gladly give you the opportunity for your content to go viral on their massive platform. But then, if it does, they own you. You have to conform to their rules and their worldview, and jump through every hoop they put in front of you, if you want to remain a successful content creator. It’s just like a loan from a local mob guy: sure, now you’ve got $10,000 in your hand, but you’re going to pay a high price in return. You’re going to have to alter whatever needs to be altered — even your worldview — to accommodate Facebook. If you miss a payment or step out of line, you’re going to get a beating. And if they ever decide you’re too much trouble, they’ll just shoot you. Facebook has the power to kill publishers, and they do, not only based on publishing techniques, but based on worldview. Just think about that.
This takes us into the bigger and scarier picture, which is that Facebook and Google have a practical duopoly on information. The web is where everyone gets information about everything, and they literally control what information the world sees. I could write a million words on this topic, but I won’t. I cover it regularly on CDR, and the CDR Manifesto speaks on it. Suffice it to say, my worldview combined with my job description gives me a unique vantage point from which to view the current state of things. As a follower of Christ, I am primarily concerned with glorifying God, loving my neighbor, and spreading the gospel. I’ve thought about this deeply and carefully, and I think the centralization of the internet is one of the greatest threats to the spread of the gospel, and the well-being of mankind, that we face today. Maybe the single biggest threat. It is tyranny over information. It’s a handful of people who are hostile to the Christian message and the plight of the individual deciding what’s good and bad, true and false. It’s never been seen before on this scale. I am no conspiracy theorist; never have been. From where I sit, this danger is as clear as day.
All of this is to say nothing about the long-term ramifications of the massive collection of personal data, or the incalculable intrapersonal effects social media is having on us.
Because of all of this, I have founded the Christian Daily Reporter to be a daily source of news and information that lives outside the centralized tech-giant choke-hold, and I am in the process of becoming something of a conscientious objector to Facebook and Google (I’m sure I’ll have more updates on this process in the future). I have come to a place where I no longer feel morally OK being a part of the Facebook and Google machine, and because of their surveillance-capitalism business models, just existing on their platforms makes me a paying customer. How does CDR grow without social media? Not sure; I’m just focusing on making it so good that people want to come back every day.
(By the way, if you follow the news and have seen what’s been happening with Facebook and Google in the months since I launched CDR, hoo boy, you can imagine how justified I am feeling these days.)

What we are up against: a brief history of cultural Marxism

For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Ephesians 6:12 King James Version (KJV)

We fight against the powers and principalities of the air, but this video provides an historical overview of how they have developed over time. If Christians are to be smart, and to engage the world as Christians, we need to understand the topography. We need to understand the enemy placements. We need to know where they’re hiding. Where the scouts are. Where the strong points are. The weapons they intend to use. Where the ideas come from. How to address them. This video provides an overview of how one significant enemy thinks. This is their history, their various lines of reasoning.

What happens in Germany won't stay in Germany

Monday, May 28, 2018

"Islamophobic Muslims"

Clone soldiers

Apostate Dale Tuggy continues his back and forth with me. Before responding to the specifics, I'd like to make a general point: I've been describing the incarnation of a timeless Deity because I'm stating my own view of the Incarnation, and I take the classical theistic view that God is timeless. 

However, a doctrine of the Incarnation doesn't require a timeless Deity. In theory, there are several different positions you can take on God's relation to time:

1. God is timeless

2. Time is a divine attribute. Time is coeternal with God. God has an infinite past.

3. Time is a product of creation. God was timeless apart from creation, but enters time at the moment of creation.

4. God enters time at the moment of the Incarnation (i.e. conception of Jesus).

5. God is both inside and outside of time. 

I opt for (1), but a doctrine of the Incarnation doesn't rise or fall on that particular refinement. 

Soft pacifism

Ray Ortlund

Why do we think we're Christians at all? "The group least likely to think the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees? Evangelicals."

Ray Ortlund

Moses renounced his social privilege, choosing to be mistreated with God's people (Hebrews 11:24-26). He didn't just decry his privilege; he crossed the line and left it behind, identifying with outsiders. And the Bible calls that saving faith.

Ray Ortlund is a big name in evangelicalism. I don't think I've ever read anything by him. 

Ortlund's position is soft pacifism. He (and likeminded pundits) are using the same logic as the pacifist. Now there are situations in which I can relinquish my right to defend myself. Mind you, if I have dependents, then I may not be at liberty to relinquish that right inasmuch as I have prior obligations to protect and provide for my dependents. In that situation, protecting them is inseparable from protecting myself. 

But even if I can sometimes relinquish my right to protect myself from harm, it doesn't follow that I can relinquish my duty to protect others (the innocent) from easily foreseeable and avoidable harm. I'm not entitled to renounce their right not to die or be harmed. I'm not entitled to endanger them

But that's the problem with opening the door to "refugees", which is frequently a euphemism for 20-something Muslim males. That's importing jihad onto American soil. That's importing sharia onto American soil. That's importing a rape culture onto American soil. It's striking how gullible some people are. Just wave the label "refugee" in their face and that instantly deactivates their critical faculty. 

Moses didn't renounce his social privilege. He didn't identify with the outsiders but with his own people-group. His in-group. He made a snap decision to protect a fellow Israelite. He looked both ways to make sure his intervention went undetected. He didn't expect to be ratted out. He didn't expect to become a fugitive. Moreover, he's the quintessential reluctant prophet. 


A brief sequel to this post:

I can do with or without flags in church. It's a matter of indifference to me. The issue only becomes important if both sides make it more important than it is.

That said, there are Christians who think patriotism is good in moderation, or at least not bad, but they don't think a sanctuary is the right place for American flags. There is, though, a potential problem with that attitude. If, as a Christian, you think patriotism in moderation is okay, then that should be integrated into your overall life and thought. It's generally not good to have a highly compartmentalized piety. That's the Sunday-morning Christian mentally. But Christians are supposed to do everything to the glory of God.

It might be countered that this is a matter of emphasis. There's a time and place for everything. 

Sure, but the presence or absence of a flag is a matter of emphasis, too. A very modest, usually unobtrusive symbol. If patriotism in moderation is appropriate, I don't think a flag is inappropriate. It's just one of many things that may furnish or decorate a sanctuary. 

Picking a roommate

In the past I've pointed out that one's biological sex is far more central to one's self-identity than race or ethnicity. Another example is sexual orientation. 

Just suppose, for argument's sake, that as a white guy I prefer the company of white folks. That doesn't mean I dislike the company of minorities, but on the pecking order, if given a choice, I'd rather hang out with "my own kind". 

In reality, that's not how I divvy things up, but for discussion purposes, let's consider the hypothetical case of a white guy who'd rather spend his time with other white folks.

Suppose, though, I need a roommate to defray expenses. Say I'm a college student. There are two applicants: one is a straight minority and the other is a queer white guy. 

It's obvious that in that case, I have far more natural rapport with a straight guy of another race than a queer guy of the same race. Two straight guys, just by virtue of their heterosexual wiring, share a common outlook that's very fundamental. 

So even if, all things being equal, I'd prefer a white roommate, that's easily offset, by a very wide margin, if it's a choice between a heterosexual roommate and a homosexual roommate. Racial differences are dwarfed by comparison. 

Flags in church

Should churches have the American flag in the sanctuary? I don't think that's a hill to die on. If, say, a minister takes a pastorate in a preexisting church which has the custom of displaying Old Glory in the sanctuary, even if he personally disapproves, it would be a mistake to remove the flag. That would foment needless offense, and a pastor should  pick his battles. There are lots of things we disapprove of, but we let them slide because we have priorities. My personal view is that sanctuary flags are adiaphoric. 

One cliche objection is the clashing symbolism of God and country. A sanctuary shouldn't contain a patriotic statement.

A problem with that objection is the notion that a sanctuary represents sacred space. That's why it's called a "sanctuary". And that was valid in reference to the OT tabernacle and Solomonic temple. 

But under the new covenant, having a sanctuary is just a convention. The symbolism is something we assign to that particular place. In some cases the sanctuary has traditional church architecture and furniture, while in other cases it's just an auditorium. 

I don't think there's anything wrong with sanctuaries. I like traditional church architecture. But that's permissible rather than obligatory. An optional tradition. An aesthetic projection. 

The concept of a sanctuary is just as symbolic and conventional as having an American flag in the sanctuary. If you can dispense with one, you can dispense with the other.

Some sanctuaries have altars, some don't. Some have a cruciform design, some don't. Some have stained glass, some don't. Candles. Banners. Altar flowers. So the notion of what's fitting or unfitting in the sanctuary is often fairly arbitrary and culturebound. 

Not that symbolism is unimportant. Having the Muslim star and crescent moon in a Christian sanctuary would be highly inappropriate. 

Some churches solve the problem by having a Christian flag alongside the American flag to dilute the patriotic symbol. That's a kind of pragmatic compromise. The Christian flag kind of cancels out the American flag. I don't object to having two different flags in church, but it illustrates that this is all pretty token. 

One objection I've run across is that foreign visitors might feel unwelcome or excluded to see an American flag. To begin with, I don't know how often that's actually the case. Seems more like an American writer presumes to speak on behalf of foreigners. But the logic is reversible. If I went abroad, I wouldn't be offended to see the national flag of their country in the sanctuary. 

It's common for critics of flags in sanctuaries to claim that people can idolize patriotism. And that's true. However, just to say patriotism can be an idolatrous substitute for piety doesn't change minds. And many people find that irritating. A better approach is to consider the appeal of patriotism, and consider how that can be contextualized in Christianity. 

Patriotism can mean different things to different people. And in many cases it may be an inarticulate combination of things.

It can include a sense of affinity and solidarity with the people we grew up with, played with, work with, went to school with. And while that's a tiny sample of the totality of Americans, it can be a representative sample. A sense of community. 

It can include a sense of shared history. A connection with generations that have gone before, in this same part of the world. They've passed on. We will pass on. A continuum. A sense of community. 

It can include a sense of gratitude for those who made the "ultimate sacrifice". "Freedom isn't free". 

And these are good sentiments. If, however, this life is all there is, then the good things about patriotism have no basis. What makes them good? If we're just stimulus-response organisms, if we're just temporary replaceable biological units, then patriotism is a mist.

The value of patriotism can only be secured and refined if that's transposed to a higher key. If we're creatures who exist for a reason. If our existence isn't a blip. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

The pope's long game

Tripping over his shoelaces

Of all the things I've read by Dale Tuggy, this is the worst: 

It seems almost unfair to critique it. 

He's just out of answers on the Trinity.

Actually, it was Dale who ran away.

1. In the person of the Son, God assumed a rational human soul and body. The Incarnation is a union between the timeless, incorporeal Son, a mind in time, and a body in space. A union between different individualized natures, analogous to Cartesian/substance dualism (although souls exist in time whereas the mind of the Son exists outside of time).

So, “God” here, I take it, means the Trinity. Somehow this thing, whatever it is…

For Dale, the Trinity is a "thing".

Sedevacantism and atheism

Paradoxically, one way to expose inconsistencies in a belief-system is to try to be consistent within that paradigm. Occasionally you have atheists who try to take naturalism to a logical extreme. Their effort to be ruthlessly consistent with the implications of naturalism exposes strains and self-negations within naturalism. 

In that respect, sedevacantism is similar. In a sense, the sedevacantist is more consistent than a post-Vatican II Catholic. But his effort to be faithful to the entirety of Catholic tradition unwittingly illustrates the incoherence of Catholic tradition overall. The Catholic paradigm is fundamentally flawed, and over time that becomes increasingly evident. Little seminal errors snowball. The belief system pulls in opposing directions. 

Puzzles of identity

Unitarian propagandists like Dale Tuggy act as though numerical identity presents a challenge unique to the Trinity. However, the relationship between personal identity and numerical identity is a source of ancient and perennial philosophical dispute. In that regard, the Trinity at best belongs to a family of similar puzzles. Insofar as there's a point of tension between personal identity and numerical identity, there are different strategies for broaching that issue. What gives? 

For instance, can the same object have incompatible properties? If an object undergoes change, it has incompatible properties at different times. But in that case, what makes it the same object? Or is it the same object?

Am I the same individual I was yesterday? Due to successive thoughts, my mental state is never the same from one minute to the next. 

Likewise, is it meaningful to speculate on what might have been? How would I be different if I was an orphan? Or if I am an orphan, how would I be different if I wasn't an orphan? 

By the same token, how do we finessed the mind/body problem? 

i) Most thinkers take personal identity as fundamental. If that's in tension with numerical identity, they make necessary adjustments to numerical identity. 

ii) Some thinkers like Hume and Buddhists relieve the point of tension by denying personal identity. They take the radical step of denying one side of the tension. That resolves the puzzle, but at a high cost, by relocating difficulty. 

iii) Some thinkers like McTaggart and Gödel relieve the point of tension by denying the reality of time and change. They take the radical step of denying another side of the tension. That resolves the puzzle, but at a high cost, by relocating the difficulty.

iv) Or take the vexed question of transworld identity. Some thinkers relieve the tension by denying the truth-value of counterfactuals. They take the radical step of denying one side of the tension. That resolves the puzzle, but at a high cost, by relocating the difficulty. 

v) Some thinkers resolve the mind/body problem by denying consciousness. They take the radical step of dyeing one side of the tension. That resolves the puzzle, but at a high cost, by relocating the difficulty. 

When it comes to the Trinity, I'm not doing anything unusual. I'm making the same move most thinkers make in relation to other puzzles regarding numerical identity. There's nothing exceptional about the Trinity in that regard. 

By contrast, unitarians like Tuggy are opting for the radical, eccentric strategy of Hume, Buddhists, McTaggart, and eliminative materialists by denying one side of the (alleged) tension.