Saturday, September 01, 2018

Transgender self-defense techniques

As progressive Christians, we've put transphobic, homophobic, misogynistic, toxic masculinity behind us. Now's the time to master unisex self-defense techniques:

The Vatican brothel

Although this article is five years old, it provides some useful background to the current situation:

Debate With A Mormon

The miracle of seed-faith

Catholic loyalists remind me of gullible sheep who are suckered into dipping into their life savings, Social Security, pension, or welfare check to pad the wallet of prosperity preachers. Remember "the miracle of seed faith? 

Sharks can manipulate softheaded dupes with an idealistic sales pitch. The sharks don't believe it but the donors do. Cynics in leadership who play the laity for chumps. Just as prosperity preachers have a credulous constituency, that has it's counterpart among the Catholic faithful. 

For instance, Cardinal Dolan has an affable, avuncular TV persona, yet he's deeply implicated in the coverup. Apparently, Cardinal McCarrick oozed empathy on camera. Pope Francis projects saintliness, but behind-the-scenes he's an enabler of the lavender mafia. 

This goes way back. I believe it's well-established that Cardinal Spellman was a sodomite. He had an acrimonious falling out with Fulton Sheen. But Sheen honored the code of silence. 

Apollo and Daphne

Suppose you discovered Bernini's Apollo and Daphne on a desert island. The island has no human inhabitants. And there's no other evidence that it ever had human inhabitants. Still, you conclude that the statue is an artifact. It didn't pop into existence uncaused. It did not and could not have a natural cause. 

That's analogous to the cosmological argument. But that's very coarse-grained. A more fine-grained argument is the teleological argument. That's more powerful, runs much deeper.

The original slab of marble didn't select for that particular sculpture. There are so many different sculptures that might be made from the same block of marble. And they're mutually exclusive. If a sculptor carves it one way, he can't carve it another way. He has to make a choice.

Possibilities greatly outnumber actualities. Although the size, shape, and texture of the material impose built-in limitations on the number of potential sculptures in that block of marble, yet for every sculpture, there's ever so many alternate sculptures. So it's not just a question of why there's something rather than nothing, but why there's this particular something rather than another something.

The block of marble doesn't really contain the sculpture. Rather, the sculpture began as an idea. The sculpture represents the union of something conceptual with something concrete. A relation between the block of marble and something outside the marble. The sculptor has a mental image which he instantiates in the physical medium of the marble. 

It would be absurd to say time and chance can produce the sculpture. Rather, it takes intelligence to make a selection from the panoply of abstract possibilities and actualize that one possibility to the exclusion of all other candidates. In a sense, intelligence is a simplifying device. 

Secular bromides on death

There's a sense in which Christians should take atheism seriously, not because it's true, but because it provides an instructive point of contrast to Christianity. Often we can't truly appreciate something unless and until we lose it or consider the dire alternatives. What would life be like without it? Too many Christians fail to think deeply about the alternatives, and so they fail to appreciate the surpassing value of the Gospel. 

In addition, many people think about atheism the wrong way. They act like there are two sides to every question, and this is just another two-sided issue. But the stakes are far higher on some issues.

Atheists have different perspectives on death. Off the top of my head, here are some:

1. Bravado

Some atheists (e.g. Antony Flew) labor to make a virtue of necessity. They act like mortality is a good thing. According to that posture, the fact that this life is all there is is what makes it precious. You don't get a second chance, so you better make the most of this one-time opportunity.

I don't know how many atheists really believe that, or if this is a just a way to parry Christianity. The best defense is a good offense. Instead of conceding that Christianity would be better if it were true, but alas it's not, you pretend that oblivion is better than heaven. 

2. Feigned indifference

Some atheists like Epicurus and Lucretius contend that oblivion is a matter of indifference. Once you die, you're not conscious of what it's like not to be alive anymore. 

In addition, prenatal and postmortem nonexistence are said to be symmetrical. This sentiment is captured by the witticism attributed to Mark Twain: 

I don't fear death. I was dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and hadn't suffered the slightest inconvenience.

In fairness, Epicurus and Lucretius were pre-Christian, so the hand they were dealt wasn't much to work with. 

3. Stiff upper lip

Some atheists (e.g. Carl Sagan) admit that mortality is bad. Immortality would be better than oblivion. However, they try to make a virtue of that concession by patting themselves on the back for their moral heroism in bravely facing up to the cold hard facts rather than retreating into the comforting illusions of organized religion. 

4. The lucky few

Here's a variation on (3):

We are going to die, and that makes us the lucky ones. Most people are never going to die because they are never going to be born. We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds, how dare we whine at our inevitable return to that prior state from which the vast majority have never stirred? (Richard Dawkins).   

That's all very hortatory. A pep talk for the godless. 

5. Life's a bitch, then you die

There are nihilists (e.g. David Benatar) who think life sucks and death sucks. You'd be better of not existing in the first place, but if you have the misfortune of existing, you now have something to lose by dying. Life is rotten but death is even worse. Death is a rotten end to a rotten existence. 

6. Shaking your fist

This attitude is epitomized by Dylan Thomas's famous poem:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

The sentiment is understandable, but at the same time there's an impotent vacuity to the faux defiance. 

7. Cheating death

Some transhumanists (e.g. Ray Kurzweil) hope to elude death by digitizing and uploading consciousness into a computer. 

8. Immortality would be an interminable bore

Classic example: Bernard Williams, "The Makropolus Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality".

9. Buddhism

According to Buddhism, life is ineluctably tragic. And when you die, that zeros out your former life. You must start from scratch. So you're cursed to keep saying good-bye to everything and everyone, over and over again. Kinda like Ellen Ripley (Alien franchise) who makes new friends, is put into stasis, comes out of stasis. All her friends are dead. Has to start all over again. 

My intention isn't to evaluate each of these. The fact that atheists are so conflicted about death, the fact that they offer so many contradictory bromides, is unwittingly revealing in itself. 

Friday, August 31, 2018

Dealing with death

Why remain Catholic?

A few comments on this:

i) Of course he's a bishop, so he's going to stick up for his denomination. If he wasn't committed to his sect, he wouldn't be a Catholic priest, apologist, and bishop in the first place. It's just a partisan pep talk. 

ii) He seems sincere. He may be sincere. But consider all the seemingly sincere bishops and cardinals who are sharks. Projecting sincerity is a job requirement for a successful conman. Some charlatan televangelists project piety, but that's just a mask. There's no presumption that spokesmen like Barron are for real. Almost the entire Catholic episcopate worldwide is morally compromised by the abuse scandal–all the way up to the current pope. Assuming he's sincere, it's the bona fides of a partisan fanatic who can't imagine he made a wrong turn. No different from Mormon apologists or Muslim apologists. 

iii) What can the laity actually do? The Catholic church has an authoritarian, topdown polity. The hierarchy isn't answerable to the laity. Short of boycotting the denomination, members have no leverage. 

iv) Imagine a diehard Marxist who castigated former Communists for "cutting and running". "You must stay and fight for the revolution! Don't use Communist atrocities as an excuse to quit. We have a duty to persevere with the Marxist experiment. Marxism hasn't failed–Marxists leaders have failed. But the failure of Marxist leaders can't discredit the ideology. Our cause is greater than imperfect individuals. Just because it flunks a bench test doesn't mean it's a flawed paradigm. We just need to get the bugs out."

v) Jesus didn't sign an exclusive contract with the church of Rome. Jesus doesn't belong to you. You don't have Jesus on a leash. You don't have a monopoly on saints. 

You're the church of European royalty. The state religion. You got to be where you are through political patronage and palace intrigue. Kings and emperors imposed Catholicism on their subjects: Cuius regio, eius religio. That has nothing to do with Jesus or the Holy Spirit. The church of Rome is worldly from start to finish. 

Toward a Philosophy (Theology) of Christian Voting

The Scandal of the NeverTrump Evangelical Mind

This is an excellent analysis by Thomas Bradstreet, who examines some recent articles on why “NeverTrump” should be the default position for Christians, and shows clearly why this kind of thinking is so vacuous.

One of the things about politics (vs theology, I suppose), is that in theology we can often cite chapter and verse, or we can cite some prior theologian who said such-and-such, and that can be used as real evidence to support a position.

In the realm of politics, everyone has an opinion, but there are no chapters-and-verses (which aren’t taken out of context, or which aren’t subjected to the kind of rigorous thinking that you’re doing here). Rather:

What’s striking about the writing of [many of the] NeverTrump evangelicals generally is the utter absence of any theoretical discussion of what would seem to be a foundational issue, namely, how one would go about determining how one should vote. Why would a movement, one that so values truth and honesty, give so little attention to what is most necessary to prove their conclusions? The answer is this: NeverTrump evangelicals exist in a sea of rhetorical devices, tricks, moralisms, and pithy lines. The moment that they get precise they disclose their vacuous reasoning and the emotive foundations of their unthought and, in consequence, lose their cheering crowd.

It’s that same thing that we see a lot and have described in the past ... someone may be a competent scholar in one field, but that almost never seems to translate to being particularly insightful in a field that’s not that person’s field of scholarship.

This article, on the other hand, is a model of clear thinking that will benefit many evangelicals (I hope) as we move into the 2018 and 2020 election cycles.

(Thomas Bradstreet is a Ph. D. candidate in political science and teaches at a university in the southern United States.)

The Magician's Nephew

How could evil originate in a good world? Or did it? In The Magician's Nephew, Lewis solves that theological conundrum by making the source of evil a malevolent invader from another world. Lewis has a comparable device in Perelandra

I remember a Bible scholar who said the Tempter in Gen 3 performs the same function. Since Eden was initially devoid of evil, it had to enter the garden. The source of evil lay outside the garden rather than the inside the garden.

Although that may finesse the proximate source of evil, it only pushes the question back a step. It can't explain the ultimate source of evil. How did the malevolent invader become evil in the first place? How did evil originate wherever he came from? 

The issue is sometimes framed in terms of how a holy or perfect agent could ever find evil appealing in the first place. 

It's like asking how a movie villain became a villain. At one level, there may be an explanation inside the plot or narrative. There may be a backstory about some pivotal event that took him in the wrong direction. 

At another level, outside the story, he's a villain because the director had the idea of a villainous character, and he turned his idea into a movie. It began in his mind. The villain was originally a thought. The villain in the story objectifies the director's imagination. At that level, he does dastardly things in the movie because he does dastardly things in the director's imagination, and the movie character is a projection of the director's imagination. 

There's the additional fact that while Adam was initially sinless, that doesn't mean there was no room for improvement. A quest for knowledge isn't inherently wrong. Intellectual curiosity is a good thing. 

In this case, it's forbidden knowledge, but that combines something innocuous with something prohibited. There can be wrong ways to acquire something good.

Moreover, certain kinds of knowledge are corrupting. Getting inside the mind of a serial killer is corrupting. Likewise, learning about evil by doing evil is corrupting. Then there's second-order evils where an agent must commit one kind of evil to be in a position to experience another kind of evil. Some kinds of knowledge are safe for God but dangerous for creatures.  

Pope trims sanctions for abusers

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Waiting for Aslan

I ran across this recently:

I'm not a regular reader of First Things. I'm only became aware of this article because Victor Reppert plugged it. A few observations:

1. Many Trump critics are obsessed with the fact that many evangelicals or "white evangelicals" voted for Trump. They can't let it go. They're trapped in that timewarp.

For them, this is the great evangelical betrayal. The great evangelical sellout. They don't listen to defenses. They assume that any proposed justification is just a rationalization. It's all about power. They can't entertain the possibility that some evangelicals might have principled reasons to vote for him. It isn't possible to have an intelligent dialogue with critics like that. 

2. However, for rational people, assessing Trump is a multi-stage process. Rational people leave themselves open to reassessing a position in light of new evidence. In the case of Trump there are roughly three phases:

i) When he ran in the primaries, there are two criteria: 

a) His statements and behavior as a private citizen. 

b) Comparing him to his Republican competitors. How did he stack up in terms of ideology, credibility, and electability vis-a-vis his rivals for the nomination? 

Electability is necessarily speculative, since we don't know in advance what will happen. It's an educated guess. 

ii) When he ran in the general election, the Democrat nominee–Hillary Clinton–was the major basis of comparison. The major criterion.  

iii) And now we have the Trump presidency. Obviously we couldn't gauge his presidential performance ahead of time. So nowadays, the policies of the Trump administration are the logical basis of comparison. That's the criterion. And it's not just about Trump–but about his administration in general. 

It's obsolete to keep harping on the past–because we make assessments and decisions based on the information we have at any given time. In the nature of the case, we now have information that wasn't available before he became president. Moreover, the information we now have is more directly relevant. Past considerations have been superseded by more timely, more salient evidence. 

3. It's immature to use The Chronicles of Narnia as a moral template, but since that's on the table I'll discuss it. One question is what is ethical framework in the universe of Narnia. The other question is the real-world analogy. Let's start with the first question. Are Narnians obligated to wait for someone–anyone–to respond to Susan's horn rather than making military alliances with what's at hand? What about the horn?

"Susan, Eve's Daughter," said Father Christmas. "These are for you," and he handed her a bow and a quiver full of arrows and a little ivory horn. "You must use the bow only in great need," he said, "for I do not mean you to fight in the battle. It does not easily miss. And when you put this horn to your lips; and blow it, then, wherever you are, I think help of some kind will come to you."  The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, chap. 10.

i) That's not worded as a guarantee. Is Father Christmas infallible? Is that something you can stake your life on? It's certainly better than nothing. But does it mean you're supposed to do nothing to defend yourself? 

ii) Aslan didn't make that promise.

iii) And it's not a promise that Aslan will come to the rescue.  

iv) Do the Narnians have a doctrine of the afterlife? How much do Narians have to lose? Are there eschatological compensations if the villains win?  

Even if, in the Narnian universe, there's a heaven and hell, has that been revealed to Narnians? Is that something they can bank on? What's the religion of Narnia? There is no Narnian Bible. It's rather like the folkloric religion of the patriarchs. Occasional encounters with the Almighty. Oral tradition. 

So it's unclear, within the worldview of Narnia, that they have a duty to pin all their hopes on someone responding to the horn. That's not equivalent to waiting for Aslan. 

4. As for the analogy–what's the analogy? That if we're patient, a deus ex machina will save our bacon? 

But there's no promise that God will intervene–as an alternative to taking matters into our own hands. This isn't like Yahweh making a covenant with Israel: so long as Israel remains faithful, God will protect her from her enemies. Rather, we must play the hand the providence dealt us. To say Trump voters were tired of waiting for Aslan is like some charismatics who refuse to take a deathly ill child to the doctor. They think that's faithless. Their piety may be well-intentioned, but it's theologically uninformed.  

5. No doubt it's wrong in the moral universe of Narnia to revive the White Witch. That's a kind of devil's pact. But is Donald Trump equivalent to the White Witch? That requires an argument–not an assertion. 

Official priorities

Advice for the next papal conclave

Ur-source theories

Paradigm shift

I. Paradigm shift

Converting from the Protestant faith to the Catholic faith, or vice versa, involves a paradigm-shift. I'm defining a theological paradigm as a comprehensive interpretive grid. A way of viewing, integrating, and simplifying a mass of issues by reference to a particular conceptual scheme. One impediment which prevents some Catholics from conversion is that they are used to filtering everything through their theological paradigm, and they can't imagine an alternative. They don't know the explanatory power of a Protestant paradigm. They don't know how it answers the same questions. They don't think it can answer the same questions. 

In this post I'm going to compare and contrast Catholic and Protestant paradigms. This is a thumbnail sketch. I've provided documentation in other posts. 

Of course, there's no one Protestant paradigm–although they share a family resemblance with many common assumptions–so I'll be speaking for myself. In addition, there's no one Catholic paradigm. So I'll be selective and generalize. My analysis deliberately oversimplifies some issues, but the basic contrast remains the same after we add some caveats. Sometimes we need to see the forest rather than the trees. We can revisit the trees at a later date. 

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Mask of Satan

Conservative Catholics are divided on how to respond to Pope Francis and the latest scandals. Here's one reaction:

Rorate Caeli
 It is extremely sad: each and every act of apostasy is very sad.

But it is our experience, and this article makes the same point, that a convert who leaves is a convert who never really gave his heart unconditionally.

On that view, true conversion is a blank check. Unwavering commitment in advance of knowing what-all you're committing yourself to. Taken to a logical conclusion, that's the philosophy of the suicide cult. 

But there's a dilemma. Only God merits absolute loyalty. If you know that you've found God, you should give him your heart unconditionally. But how do you know ahead of time that what you convert to will be worthy of your total devotion? What if it's different on the inside than the outside? What if, after you gain additional firsthand experience and deepen your investigation, you conclude that your conversion was premature and ill-considered? There are things you can't know unless and until you give it a try, at which point you may realize it was a blind alley. 

Here's another example of Catholic loyalists who will march right over the cliff at the pope's behest: 

This is classic cult-mentality–where institutional allegiance is indistinguishable from fidelity to God. To question or criticize the institution is tantamount to spiritual sedition. Imagine if the institution is a mask for Satan? The perfect cover. The perfect alias. At that point, fidelity to God becomes interchangeable with fidelity to the Devil. Christ on the outside, but Satan on the inside. The Devil costumed as the Vicar of Christ. 

Burning railcar

Jason Engwer already made some comment on this post:

I'll add a few of my own:

It’s helpful for understanding the way many Protestants view the larger body of Christ, the “Holy Catholic Church” of the Apostles’ Creed, so here goes: The Church is like a navy, a collection of ships united in purpose and in destination. Each denomination is like a different ship in that navy, and while each crew is primarily tasked with the health and well-being of its own vessel, it’s also deeply invested in the strength of the fleet. Each vessel is more vulnerable as the fleet weakens. Each vessel is stronger surrounded by its protective armada. If the analogy holds, then one of the mightiest battleships in the fleet, the Catholic Church, is taking torpedoes left and right.

i) The persuasiveness of that argument lies in the choice of metaphors. We could, however, take the same idea in a different direction. Innocent bystanders will be killed if they happen to be standing by the target when the bombs drop. They weren't targeted, but they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Sometimes you'd better step away from the blast zone if you wish to survive.

ii) Consider a different metaphor: if a railcar is on fire, you should uncouple the burning railcar to prevent the fire from jumping from one railcar to the next, thereby engulfing the entire train. 

Even on pragmatic grounds, there's a lot to be said for disassociating ourselves from the church of Rome. Why should the whole train go up in flames because we refuse to uncouple ourselves from their burning railcar? 

iii) I don't view the Catholic church as a part of the larger body of Christ. I view the Catholic church as a nominally Christian sect that made a number of wrong turns early on, only gets worse because it continues in the same wrong direction–as well as making additional wrong turns. The residual orthodox doctrine and ethics in modern Catholicism is rapidly shrinking. 

iv) Yes, there can be strength in numbers. If Catholic voters in general were conservative voters, if Catholic politicians in general were conservative politicians, then to some degree the Catholic church would protect our evangelical flank. However, the Catholic church in American has been in bed with the Democrat party for decades. The Catholic church is largely responsible for the liberal establishment that now threatens evangelicals as well as conservative Catholics. 

v) The implosion of the Catholic church is an opportunity for evangelicals to take in Catholic refugees. Expose them to the Gospel. 

Second, given the plethora of recent sexual scandals in Evangelical churches and seminaries, the Catholic catastrophe should remind us that perhaps only the lack of an equivalent hierarchy has spared Evangelical churches from similar, systemic sin. “Our” scandals are more fragmented only because our churches are more fragmented. Yet the entire church should be galvanized by what’s happened and diligently consider the extent to which our own congregations are vulnerable to exploitation and abuse.

No doubt we have our own scandals. That said, the comparison is inapt: 

i) As a rule, sexual scandals in evangelical institutions are heterosexual because evangelical institutions are overwhelmingly heterosexual, mirroring the norm. To some degree, heterosexual scandals are unavoidable because, when straight men and women commit sexual sin, it will be heterosexual.

By contrast, homosexual scandals are largely avoidable by screening out homosexuals. Some will slip through the vetting process, but that's very different from Rome. Rome refuses to even acknowledge that ordaining sodomites is a recipe for disaster. That's aggravated by mandatory clerical celibacy, which creates a magnet for sodomites. They have now burrowed into the priesthood, hierarchy, and ecclesiastical "Deep State" (Catholic bureaucracies, the curia). To my knowledge, no evangelical denomination has a network of homosexual pederasts from top to bottom. The nature and extent of the Catholic abuse scandal has no counterpart in evangelical institutions. 

ii) In addition, some erstwhile evangelical institutions become so corrupt that they must be abandoned. Problem is, Catholic loyalists maintain unconditional fealty to their sect. 

Third, reputational harm to the church can sweep far and wide — well beyond the guilty parties themselves. No one should presume that in an increasingly secular world our fellow citizens can so easily discern the good guys and the bad guys. I remember well moving from the Bible Belt to Boston in 1991, and being stunned to discover that my classmates painted the church with a very broad brush. In my youth and naïveté I had largely pointed and laughed at the televangelist scandals of the 1980s, only to discover that I was one of “them” until proven otherwise, a gullible congregant in a church of con men.

Yes, there's guilt by association. But that provides a teaching opportunity to differentiate ourselves from the Catholic church–or nominally Protestant charlatans. 

As I walk through the wilderness of this world

This is nothing more than a bleat from a sheep (in staccato fashion) about life in the wilderness:

  1. It's intellectual suicide to become an apostate. No worldview makes so much sense and plumbs our totality as the Biblical one: the God of the Bible, Creator and creation, mankind in his image; sin and death, fall and fallen world, our destitute state and hopeless plight; the story of redemption, the sent-Messiah, the God-man who made peace between God and man by his sacrifice, his death and resurrection; hope renewed, Eden reclaimed, the call to return to God; rebirth and rejoice; the resurrection and glories to come in the new heavens and the new earth where our great God will dwell with his thankful people! All unfolding in Scripture, in history, in our lives. Promises made, promises kept, by the One who cannot lie, nor ever change, who is faithful till the end for his own thrice holy name's sake. As C.S. Lewis said: "I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."

  2. At the same time, the flesh is weak, the pull of the world is strong, and the devil is a cunning and formidable foe.

  3. Our hearts are prone to wander. We ought to guard our hearts (Prov 4:23).

    The old self has been dealt a fatal blow, but it refuses to expire. It must die, but it wants to take us down with it.

    We must beware the jaws that bite, the claws that catch. Kill sin or sin will kill you.

  4. The world is like a painted desert, with beauties to behold, and majesties in which to marvel, but it’d be deadly to abide therein. Those who stray too far and wander off from the flock will die in sand-blasted, wind-torn wastelands.

    God's flock should keep together and keep moving forward. The Israelites had to follow God’s shekinah in pillars of cloud and fire, and keep moving through the Sinai toward the Promised Land. They serve "as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did" (1 Cor 10:6).

  5. For some Christian men, forbidden beautiful women might entice. Sirens who sing songs to seduce sailors to sink into the sea. Men in a fit of passion cast themselves overboard, plunging in pursuit, forever lost in the swirling abyss, drowned in the depths. All that remains are the billowing waves above and an eerie silence beneath. Prov 2:18 warns: "her house sinks down to death, and her paths to the departed".

  6. Another temptation might be the lure of riches. Glittery bait on a fish hook.

    Wealth can lead to many "friends". Doors opened to circles once closed. By contrast, poverty can lead to social isolation (Prov 19:7), though so can wealth in that "friends" may not be true friends.

    Wealth can lead to newfound respect, status, or prestige, wherein the rich is sought for advice and help.

    Wealth can lead to people forgetting God. No longer realizing their utter need for and dependence on God who "makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts" (1 Sam 2:7).

    Just to be clear, there are wealthy men who are godly men (e.g. Abraham, Job). Just as there are poor men who are scoundrels. It's not wealth that's the issue. Rather, the issue is "the love of money" (1 Tim 6:10).

    Some love money so much they will do anything to acquire it. Morality is a small obstacle on their path to riches.

    Hoarding hearts turn proud and vain like dragon's heart. They become as hard and as unbreakable as the coin they love.

    Some love money so much they end like King Midas ended, having lost the most basic need and simplest pleasure - human touch.

    Perhaps it'd do well to pray Prov 30:8-9: "Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is needful for me, lest I be full and deny you and say, 'Who is the Lord?' or lest I be poor and steal and profane the name of my God."

  7. Behind it all, the god of this world (2 Cor 4:4), the prince of the power of the air (Eph 2:2), and the ruler of this world (John 12:31) is only too happy to keep one far away from God. To keep one living in illusions or delusions rather than reality. To keep one in darkness rather than light. It doesn't matter how that goal is accomplished, so long as it's accomplished.

    It can be accomplished through external trials or internal struggles. It can be accomplished through physical violence or psychological pressures. It can be accomplished through outward or inward temptations. It can be accomplished through the spectacular or the subtle. Screwtape matter-of-factly observed: "Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick."

    The devil is both dragon and serpent. Both roaring lion and wolf in sheep's clothing. Both chief fallen angel as well as disguised angel of light. Both "murderer from the beginning" and "the father of lies" (John 8:44).

  8. Nevertheless to apostatize for the things of this world and in this life would be like trading in a lush banquet in Beverly Hills for some bread crumbs and a cold pot of stew in Juárez. That’s putting it mildly. Eternity is at stake.

    The "pleasures of sin" are "fleeting" (Heb 11:25), while Christ and his rewards are forever. What awaits those in Christ is "an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading" (1 Pet 1:4). Deep down, Christians know this.

  9. However, it can be a long journey until we arrive in Zion. It can be a painful and toilsome trek until we reach the celestial city.

    We travel on a poorly lit and unpaved road. A road fraught with obstacles and dangers, where one can easily stumble and fall. Or step off the path and lose our way home. Or fly off the knife's edge of a precipice we had failed to see.

    A road likewise traversed by ravenous beasts and evil men. Tricksters and bandits. Giants of despair club and beat the spirit, while Lyssan mania and madness assault the mind.

    A road criss-crossed by eye-pleasing but poisoned fruit. Rotten Halloween candy. Hansel and Gretel’s grim house of sweets. Delicious food and drink that weigh one down not unlike Kierkegaard's parable of the wild duck.

    A road to exotic locales with loose women and fast cars to wipe one's memory of who we are in Christ.

    A road to houses of learning that excite and delight, that tantalize and tease, but may threaten to puff up and pull in, further in, into inner sanctums of secret knowledge and elite societies. Ivory towers where only the learned "we" are truly in the know. We, the thought leaders. We, the trenchant trend setters. We, the intellectuals, whose ideas are more important than any particular individual, for our ideas enlighten the ignorant masses. So say we all in confidence and confidentiality.

    A road with no end in sight at times. No welcome rest anytime soon. Only treacherous terrain or difficult hills to climb as far as the eye can see.

    A road with oases that promise to quench our thirsts then turn out to be mirages. We pour cool water down our throats only to fill our mouths with sand.

    A road littered with travelers turned into pillars of salt as they cast a soulful backward glance at their former life and previous ways.

    A road which our adversary Apollyon roams to and fro, walking up and down on it, prowling like a roaring lion, to waylay wayfarers and devour them (Job 1:7, 1 Pet 5:8).

  10. There's nothing new under the sun, but each generation thinks it has promethean light brighter than the sun to see beyond the sun.

  11. Of course, this is why the Bible constantly calls for God's people to persevere. To overcome. To conquer.

    We have "a great cloud of witnesses" (Heb 12:1) who went before us and made it home by God's grace. Though dead, "they still speak" (Heb 11:4): they cheer us on and bring us good cheer by their testimonies.

    The prophet Isaiah "set [his] face like flint" (Isa 50:7). Even our Lord, nearing the cross, "set his face to go to Jerusalem" (Lk 9:51). No servant is greater than his master (Jn 15:20), and we follow and serve Christ alone.

    We take heart, for Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33). We can trust the Lord will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut 31:6; Heb 13:5). If we are his sheep, then he is our shepherd, and the rest of Psalm 23 follows. Soon, very soon, we "shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever".

    Our good God does not leave us without help, for, among many other gifts, he has given us his Spirit and his word, which is "the sword of the Spirit" (Eph 6:17). And he has given us one another.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Come, Lord Jesus!

Basinger on miracles

Recently I was reading David Basinger's new monograph on Miracles (Cambridge 2018). He draws a number of useful distinctions in the course of the book. That said:

However, since I am in that camp of philosophers who maintain that God’s existence cannot be conclusively disproved... (45).

Wow, what a ringing endorsement. If only traditional Christian creeds used that formulation!

Blindsided by evil

Recently I watched Catholic convert Brandon Vogt interview his boss, Robert Barron, on the Catholic scandals. Brandon and I have had several exchanges over the years. He runs away very soon once I enter the discussion.  As I recall, he used to jump into the combox on posts by Justin Taylor. Try to redirect readers to Catholicism. It was boilerplate Catholic arguments. When I engaged him, he'd bottom out quickly and discontinue further discussion.

He comes across as a sweet, trusting, well-meaning, willfully deluded sucker. I have problems with people who give reasons for their position, but then ignore reasons against their position. That involves a willful refusal to take arguments to their logical conclusion when they don't like the direction of the argument. They start out sounding logical until the logic turns against them, then they turn off their minds. They stop thinking. 

I don't object to his "poaching" on Protestant blogs. That's fair game. I do object to people who think just enough to think themselves into a position but not enough to think themselves out of a position.

I'm not saying that about everyone. Most folks aren't intellectuals. I'm not saying we have an obligation to be intellectually consistent about everything. Life is short. We have to prioritize. Most issues aren't all-important. It's okay to make snap judgments about many things. But this is different. But he should be smarter than that, and he's a Catholic apologist, so there's a higher standard for him. 

Brandon seems like a nice guy. Ironically, good-natured people are easily duped and manipulated by evil people. You know the Hollywood cliche about how FBI profilers have to get inside the mind of the serial killer. I don't know how true that is. But because good people don't think like evil people, they are unsuspecting. Presumably, Brandon would never do the things that some priests and bishops are guilty of doing. People like Brandon project their good will onto other people. They just can't relate to how conniving the sharks are. They see the surface. The smiles. The effusiveness. So they're blinded-sided by evil people. 

When hell prevails

I've discussed whether there's a tipping-point for Catholics. Is there anything representatives of their denomination can do to falsify Catholicism? 

Catholic apologists like to say the gates of hell can't prevail against "the Church". but we could turn that around: if the gates of hell do prevail against the church of Rome, then there's is not the church Christ founded. That promise doesn't apply to their sect. 

However, a Catholic might counter that my objection is inconsistent: what's the tipping-point for me?

It depends in part on the level of the comparison. Are we talking about alternatives to Christianity or alternatives within Christianity? To evoke the web of belief, not all my theological beliefs are equally central. I could conceivably change some of my theological beliefs. That would entail some adjustments in my overall belief-system. But it would still be Christian.

It also depends on whether there are viable alternatives, superior alternatives, alternatives with some evidence. You can't change positions in a vacuum. If there's no available fallback position, then there's no room for change. 

In addition, I can't pretend to approach such comparisons as a blank slate. I'm already pretty familiar with the alternatives, as well as the pros and cons for each alternative.

How Conservative Christians can help foster competition among the Social Media as a way of limiting their influence

Challenging Google
Source: Statistica 2018
In recent days, we’ve heard a lot about the “liberal bias” of many social media platforms, such as Google, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter. Some of these seemingly have “the power to restrict free speech”, because they are private companies where leaders have liberal personal agendas, etc. They are headquartered in liberal Silicon Valley, and they are a part of the social elite.

Nevertheless, money talks, and while founders and some of the big names may have liberal agendas, it’s a sure bet that not all of the shareholders of those platforms have liberal agendas, and they are going to be more interested in profits and share prices than in “sharing the pure leftist agenda”.

The kind of money that businesses care about is the “net profit” line (or “retained earnings”, as some of the financial statements put it). It’s the money that a business owner puts in his own pocket, or that makes its way into shareholder earnings. All the rest of it is money that goes into someone else’s hands … to vendors, or utilities, or other suppliers.

But “net profit” is money in the bank. And so, if you want to send a message to the various social media, you want to focus your fire on their net profit. (I suspect this will work even in the age of social media).

Most of the social media earn huge amounts of money through advertising revenue. It’s the only real way they can monetize their platforms.

Ogilvy on Advertising Profit

Ogilvy on Advertising Profit
Ogilvy on Advertising Profit
Back in the days before “social media” (as a way for technology companies to earn advertising revenue), there were print advertising, radio advertising, and TV advertising. And there was a rigid enough set of rules for ad agencies and clients to follow, that the advertising legend David Ogilvy could summarize them succinctly, as he did in his work “Ogilvy on Advertising” (Vintage Books, 1983).

These rules worked neatly enough for me to get jobs in advertising, first as a copywriter, then as an advertising manager, even though I had no experience or education in the field. (Back in the 1980’s, after I was graduated from college, I worked in a Christian ministry for the better part of a decade, earning neither money nor career experience.)

Ogilvy states his rule for clients (advertisers) in search of a good ad agency (and good advertising):

Ask what the agency charges. If it is 15 per cent, insist on paying 16 percent. The extra one per cent won’t kill you, but it will double the agency’s normal profit, and you will get better service (pg. 66).

Normally, agencies didn’t charge a fee in those days. They added 15% “commission” onto whatever the media outlet would charge. And that paid for the agency’s work (and their rich lifestyles). But agencies (like everyone) worked on a thin profit margin. The difference between 15% and 16% commission was the difference between 1% or 2% net profit.

That’s why Trump’s 4% economic growth is so much better than Obama’s 2% growth. It’s not just adding 2% to the bottom lines of businesses. It’s doubling the net profit (and for stockholders, it’s doubling what’s in their 401K accounts).

[This is how “trickle-down economics” works for the common person. It doesn’t increase their income. It increases net worth.]

The flip side of this can be applied to the Social Media that we are all growing to dislike, because of the “liberal bias”.

How Social Media Make Money

By opening up forms of competition, in the various media, we conservative Christians can significantly affect those bottom line numbers – at least to the kind of degree that will make a difference between 15% and 16%, or 2% and 4%.

There are ways that technology companies (and the “social media” are first of all “technology companies”). They can actually “sell” products … this is how Microsoft earned its fortunes. People were buying PCs, and there was Microsoft software to be sold on every PC. And many software companies would only write their programs for the Microsoft operating system --- because everyone was using it, and everyone wanted “interoperability”.

Microsoft’s monopoly existed insofar as everyone needed to use the same operating system and programs so that the information could be interoperable – so that everyone could read the same documents and spreadsheets.

The other way technology companies earn revenue today is to sell “advertising” on the “platforms”. “Platforms” such as (and spin-offs like gmail), Facebook, and Twitter, don’t really sell anything. They earn their money from advertising. They are paid by “views” or “eyeballs” on their various pages.

The more eyeballs, the greater the profits. The fewer the eyeballs, the less the profits. And in this regard, Ogilvy’s “pay your agency 16% instead of 15%” will work in reverse, too. If Google, or Facebook, or Twitter, lose just a couple of percentage points in terms of “eyeballs”, their bottom line net profit can be seriously affected.

And when that happens, the shareholders will notice.

(If there are enough conservatives to win all the elections that we won in 2016, there are certainly enough of us to affect market share. On the flip side of it, “the left” is currently making all the noise it can possibly make. They can not turn up this dial. Their method is now to limit conservative participation. This is where we need to work against them.)

Helping Google’s Competitors

In our free enterprise system, the way that these numbers are affected is simply through the addition of competition. And while it may not have been easy to add competition for Microsoft in the 1990s because of interoperability standards, we can still introduce “choice” (that magic word to which “the left” cannot object) by just simply giving our conservative eyeballs to other sources of advertising revenue.

Outside of its Android operating system, and phones (which have natural competition in the iPhone), Google doesn’t make money by charging you a nickel for each search that you make. It makes money because it charges advertisers (“clients”) for each search that you make.

So we see President Trump complaining about Google searches. This makes sense. In marketing, one of the new buzzwords is “content marketing”. The idea is to produce “content” (either written or video) that draws lots of eyeballs for you (and hence, revenue for the “platform”).

Perhaps the government can do to Google what they did to Standard Oil in the late 19th century, or to ATT in 1984 … break them into smaller components. But a government-led solution is not necessarily going to be a good one.

Here is how Google makes its money (contrary to how Microsoft gained its dominance):

When an “advertiser” (or “marketer”) gains lots of eyeballs for itself, it’s been demonstrated that those numbers can turn into “demand” (“demand generation”), “sales leads” (“lead generation”), and hopefully revenue (“top line”) and eventually “net profit” (see above).

THE way, in recent years, to gain “search engine optimization” (or “SEO”) was to look to Google’s algorithm. Google re-writes its algorithm on a regular basis – the algorithm is the set of rules that put a piece of content high or low on the Google search page. (A particular “search” may generate millions of “results”, but the only ones that really count are those on the “first page”, because most lazy people don’t continue to flip through the pages; they merely click on the first thing they see).

So for the last few years, marketers (“content marketers”) have been rushing, like lemmings (almost), to understand Google’s latest algorithm, and to write or produce “content” in such a way that is normal, natural, not repetitive, and informative.

(This perhaps is one reason why the journalistic styles of the NY Times and Washington Post may factor into the results so heavily. This may be a self-fulfilling kind of thing).

Regarding search engine market share, shows that Google “generated 63.5% of all core search queries in the United States“ in April of this year. However, this doesn’t take into account searches done on mobile phones. On “mobile devices”:

Despite Google's dominance of the U.S. search market, it is Microsoft's bing service that leads in terms of longer search queries. In terms of the mobile search market in the United States, Google leads again with an over 93 percent market share.

The alternative is to use other search engines. Make certain that those search engines (Bing, DuckDuckGo, Oath (formerly Yahoo), Ask, AOL, etc.) are generating higher traffic numbers.

One way to do this, even on Android phones, is to have those search engine apps handy on your phone, and to re-set some of your default settings.

It’s only a little bit of effort – maybe a lot for those of us who are technologically challenged. But the difference will be significant – Ogilvy’s 16% vs 15% for the competitors – or Trump’s 4% vs Obama’s 2% economy.

Similar tactics can be used for Facebook or Twitter. While there aren’t natural competitors for these platforms, we CAN affect the traffic … instead of shying away from “political discussions” on Facebook, we can add to them. As I noted above, “the left” is currently making all the noise it can possibly make. There are a lot of Christians simply staying away.

The response should not be to turn off social media. The response should be to turn up Christian messaging, to the point that it produces more eyeballs than those on “the left” can (in terms of noise).

Challenge your liberal friends and neighbors when they say something like “you’re a racist and a homophobe”. They are certain to lose that discussion, and you’ll generate more conservative “eyeballs” which, in turn, will persuade the shareholders that it’s in their best interests to eschew censorship and to foster free speech (“competition in messaging”).

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Who's telling the truth?

IQ meritocracy

Based on my admittedly cursory knowledge of the alt-right, they classify Jews and Asians as the smartest races, Caucasians as the next smartest race, while blacks and Latinos fall below that. They also believe the bell curve should figure in our immigration policy. 

I think those comparisons are vitiated by equivocation at multiple levels, but let's play along with the claim for discussion purposes. 

1. I think atheists tend to idolize genius because they don't believe in God, so human genius is the next best thing.

2. By contrast, Christians are in the forefront of protecting people with low IQ, viz. people with senile dementia or Down Syndrome. 

This also figures in the abortion debate. Peter Singer thinks chimpanzees are smarter than human babies. He uses that to defend animal rights and infanticide. 

And even if we bracket the comparison with animals, it's generally the case that children are less intelligent than adults. Does that mean they're entitled to fewer protections–or greater protections?

Of course, this is one reason the alt-right despises Christianity. 

3. Consider an IQ meritocracy. A futuristic society in which the ruling class represents the top 0.5 % of the bell curve. Even if that was overrepresented by Asians, Jews, and whites, most whites wouldn't make the cut. Conversely, the ruling class would include Latino brainiacs, viz. Juan Maldacena, Matias Zaldarriaga, Eduardo Saverin. So some minorities would be ruling over most whites. In addition, there'd be Muslim brainiacs, viz. Ahmed Zewail, Nima Arkani-Hamed, Mohammad Abdus Salam.

4. Some bright guys just aren't cut out to be cubicle people. They like working with their hands. They like working out of doors. Intellectually, they have what it takes to be über geeks, but they're not temperamentally suited to that line of work. 

Social justice

Siren song

There's a parallel between Marxism and Catholicism. Some people are smitten by the idea of Marxism. They fall in love with Marxism. French intellectuals and Jewish-American intellectuals used to wave away the atrocities of Stalinism. It's a love-is-blind attitude. They have unshakable faith in the utopian vision of Marxism. That's impervious to all the gulags, purges, torture, genocide. The sheer idea is paramount. Like a Platonic archetype that can't be tarnished by contact with the grubby fleshy world.

Loyal Catholics exhibit the same fanatical attachment to stainless Catholic ideas that Marxists exhibit. The bewitching ideal hovers above time and space in gnostic purity. No matter how often the Siren lures sailors to their destruction, there's always another sailor who drowns in the Tiber. 

Monday, August 27, 2018

Sen. McCain

A few random thoughts about John McCain:

1. I'm glad he's no longer a US senator. That doesn't mean I'm glad he died of brain cancer. Those are two different things. 

2. To my knowledge, the only admirable thing ever attributed to McCain is the often-cited claim that when he was a POW he had an opportunity to go free, but refused out of solidarity to his fellow POWs. If true, that's a mark of moral heroism.

Mind you, I've never seen any evidence to back up that claim. Why would his captors offer to release him? What would they get in exchange? As the son of a top admiral, he was a quite a bargaining chip. If such an offer was actually made, I can't imagine it was free of strings. So I'm skeptical about whether the US gov't ever agreed to that deal. But I could be mistaken. 

3. The fact that he was a vet doesn't automatically make him wise or good. The military has its share of scoundrels, viz. Wesley Clark, the Walter Reed scandals.

4. I regard McCain is a traitor to the conservative cause. A repeat offender. He took pleasure in sticking it in the eye of conservatives. 

I don't know what made him tick. I'm guessing he thought friendship was more important than ideology.