Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sunday worship

I've discussed this before:

https://triablogue.blogspot.com/2019/01/presbyterian-papists.html

but I'll make some additional observations:

i) I don't have a problem with Sunday worship, so long as we recognize Sunday worship as a custom rather than a divine mandate. By the same token, I have no intrinsic problem with messianic Jews making Saturday their Sabbath, although I might disagree with their rationale if they make Saturday their Sabbath for the same reason they continue to practice circumcision and kosher diet.

ii) Over and above what I've already written, there are two additional obstacles insisting that Sunday is the divinely-mandated day of worship. To begin with, there's the question of how we demarcate a day. When does one day end and the next day begin? You can define a day as the interval between sunrise and sunrise or sunset and sunset. That's a matter of convention. One definition isn't right while the other is wrong. But depending on which system you use, depending on when a day begins and ends, a day under one system won't coincide with a day under the other system.

iii) Another complication is time zones. Even if we agree on what demarcates a day, sunup and sundown don't occur at the same time all around the globe. Because the earth is a large globe spinning on its axis, my today may be your tomorrow, so it isn't physically possible for all Christians to worship on the same day, since the day is constantly shifting. That wasn't an issue for ancient Jews clustered in Eretz Israel, but for a global faith it makes a difference.  

iv) Not only is there a longitudinal distinction, but a latitudinal distinction, regarding solar days and solar nights. So there is no fixed reference point. It's a fairly (but not entirely) arbitrary calendrical convention. It has some basis in nature, but even from a natural standpoint there are different natural choices regarding the starting-point and end-point. 

I find it amusing that some Protestants who swear by sola scriptura can't bring themselves to see or admit that this is an ecclesiastical tradition rather than a divine mandate. There's nothing necessarily wrong with that so long as you don't confuse the two and assign divine obligation to a human custom. 

Apollo 11 mission patch

Neil deGrasse Tyson thinking he's dropping more wisdom than Solomon:

1. Sure, except for the blindingly obvious bald eagle which almost everyone knows is America's national symbol.

2. If NdGT wanted to convey the idea that Apollo 11 was "an achievement of the human species, to be shared by all", he could simply have quoted what Neil Armstrong said. You know, the whole "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" thing?

Or the Apollo 11 lunar plaque that was left on the surface of the moon:

3. On the one hand, the fact that it was the U.S. that was able to put a man on the moon and come back home safely is primarily a testament to the U.S. and the U.S. space program (NASA). After all, American leaders promoted the space program. American voters supported the space program. American taxpayers paid for the space program. American scientists and engineers drove the space program. American astronauts manned the missions. And so on.

On the other hand, just because the U.S. shouldered the weight and achieved what it achieved doesn't necessarily imply others made zero contributions. Nor does it imply that Americans didn't do it on behalf of "mankind".

NdGT could have pointed out the U.S. space program had help from other scientists around the world (e.g. The Dish, Canada's contributions). He could have likewise pointed out that NASA had European scientists and engineers (among others) who fled wartorn Europe and/or Soviet communism come and work on Apollo 11.

4. There's something to be said for a nation that is able to attract the brainpower, cultivate the native talent, foster the industriousness, etc. to send a man to the moon and back. In this respect, the United States in the 1960s was like fertile soil that allowed an amazing plant (Apollo 11) to grow and thrive. The question is what made the U.S. such fertile soil?

At the same time, there's a reason the Soviets didn't send a man to the moon and back despite some other impressive achievements.

The space race for equality

Thanks to Steve for pointing out this NYT article to me. My thoughts:

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Puberty blockers

Thanks to Steve for sending this my way.

The study mentioned in the tweet is sad, but useful:

  1. The so-called "puberty blocker" is Lupron. That's an off-label drug. It's normally used in chemotherapies against prostate cancer in men and breast and ovarian cancers in women. It can cause significant side effects even in adults. Granted, most drugs aren't safe in large enough doses, or in certain populations, but giving Lupron to a little boy seems to be asking for trouble.
  2. Of course, the critic might reply "n=1", i.e., you can't generalize from one case to the rest of the population. However, this isn't the only study where PBs have been shown to harm a child's (still developing) brain/IQ. For example, see here, here, here, and here.
  3. Likewise, good overviews on puberty blockers in treating gender dysphoria here (Ryan T. Anderson) and here (Paul Hruz, Lawrence Mayer, Paul McHugh).
  4. It really should be common sense not to give these kinds of drugs to little kids. A 10 year old boy at the time. Especially to a little kid with an already low IQ. A low IQ of 80 which dropped even further to 71. 80 is classified as "low average" in terms of IQ. 71 is classified as "borderline mental disability". 69 is where the mental disability classification begins. If a mentally deficient little boy thinks he might be a girl, then that might well be explained by the fact that he's a mentally deficient little boy rather than because he has "gender dysphoria". Isn't that common sense? You don't need a medical degree to know that.
  5. Sure, this boy gave "consent", but he could easily have been persuaded by an adult to give consent. It's just taking advantage of a mentally deficient little kid. He's a guinea pig for experimental medicine based on a trendy social theory du jour.

    To be frank, it seems almost like a Nazi medical experiment where mentally deficient little kids are tricked into taking this or that drug to see what happens. I suppose a key distinction is the Nazi doesn't care about the kid, but the parents and doctors who advocate for puberty blockers believe it's in the kid's best interest (though there are some shady doctors out there). At best, that might make the latter less culpable if they're ignorant (particularly the parent, but one could argue physicians should know better), but I would think they're still complicit to some degree. Perhaps negligence?

  6. This might have already done irreparable damage to the boy's cognitive development. Of course, progressives don't really care for kids with low IQs anyway. That's in evidence by the fact that the majority of abortions are performed on babies who have Down syndrome.

The Hunger Games: Wet Tinder

So I'm sitting in a pizzeria, staring at a flatscreen TV as I wait for my order. Turns out I'm watching part of The Hunger Games: Catching Fire. (I Googled it after returning home.) The Hunger Games is one of those movies you hear about even if you never saw it. I read some reviews. And from what I witnessed, I wasn't missing out. 

It's undiluted chick flick fare. There's Katniss with second fiddle, boy-toy actors who play her love interests. Apparently, fans, as well as some critics, think Jennifer Lawrence is a fine actress. Really? I mean, she can emote. And there's only so much you can do with the role, considering how it was written. I guess she's just pretty enough without being unattainably gorgeous that teeny bopper fans can vicariously identify with the character. 

The basic idea of the story has some dramatic potential. A decadent totalitarian ruling class centered in the capital city. Reminiscent of imperial Rome. Versailles. Czarist Russia. The Forbidden City. And it's easy to see contemporary parallels. Big Tech. Silicon Valley. Blue cities. Blue states. 

But the execution is so cartoonishly broad and heavy-handed that it's hard to take seriously–unless you're a teenybopper, which is, of course, the target nitch, and widely successful in that regard. Like the Twilight franchise, the appeal is largely impenetrable to the male half of the population. At least normal guys. The kind of movie girls drag their boyfriends to. So long as the boyfriend has earbuds and a hidden phone to tune out the kitsch. 

Suicide by time-travel

i) Proabortionists often trot out situations where raising the child is a hardship on the mother. And there are undoubtedly situations where that's the case. 

Consider cases where raising the proabortionist was a hardship on the mother. Suppose the proabortionist could step into a time-machine, travel back into the past, and preempt his/her own conception, thereby sparing his/her mother the ordeal of having to raise the proabortionist. 

That would be both contraception by time-travel as well as suicide by time-travel. Or suicidal contraception by time-travel.  How many proabortionists would step into the time-machine to preempt their conception, so as to spare their mother the onerous experience of having to raise them? How many proabortionists would commit suicidal contraception if they had that opportunity? I daresay not a single one would care enough about the hardship their existence imposed on their mother to prevent their existence from ever happening. Proabortionists are far too selfish to be suicidally altruistic. 

ii) Now, I don't expect proabortionist to admit that. Since it's just hypothetical, it wouldn't cost them anything to lie about it. But it's a way of exposing their hypocrisy.

iii) In addition, sometimes you can plant an idea which will eventually cause a person to change their mind. They may not admit it to you at the time, yet it's something that never occurred to them, but once the idea is planted in their mind, it works its way through to the conclusion.

iv) A critic might object that my thought-experiment is unrealistic. It generates a classic time-travel antinomy, like the grandfather paradox. But that's irrelevant. The point of time-travel scenarios is to illustrate a principle in a picturesque way which makes it easier to grasp and appreciate. They can visualize the principle. It gives the principle a concrete setting. But the principle doesn't depend on the coherence of the illustration. It's just a fictional story. 

Do prolifers oppress women?

I don't normally plug Catholic apologists, but here's a study in how to engage a proponent of abortion:

https://soundcloud.com/trenthornpodcast/181-dialogue-do-pro-lifers-oppress-women

Puppy love

Freewill theists typically say that true love must be "freely" given and "freely" received, meaning lover and beloved must both be able to withhold love. With that in mind, how many freewill theists are dog owners? Do they think their pet dogs express true love for their human family? Dogs descend from social animals (wolves). On top of that, dogs are bred to be even more beholden to humans. So both by nature and selective breeding, dogs have been programmed to bond with their human family. According to freewill theism, their psychological conditioning makes them furry robots or hairy puppets. 

Village atheist of the month award

The only reason I'm commenting on something this dumb is because Jeff Lowder thought it was worth retweeting. Now Lowder is actually one of the more intellectual atheists, so that shows you how low the bar is.

i) To begin with, this is at best a difference between history & science, not religion & science. So is the invidious comparison a knock against historical knowledge?

ii) Scientists do use historical notices about past sightings of comets, conjunctions, meteors, extinct animals, natural disasters, supernovae, &c. It's a false dichotomy to pit historical knowledge against science. By the same token, it's a false dichotomy to pit religion against science in that regard.

iii) Christianity isn't just based on ancient documents. Throughout church history, Christians claim to experience miracles, angelic apparitions, special providences, answered prayer, &c. Although not every report is credible, the evidence can't be discounted in advance.

iv) If, hypothetically, every Bible was destroyed, then hypothetically, God could miraculously recreate the Bible. So at best, the tweet only works on the assumption that Christianity is false. It creates no presumption that Christianity is false. Unless you already know Christianity is false, the tweet is fallacious, and if you already know Christianity is false, the tweet is superfluous.

Apollo 11

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the moon. Buzz Aldrin followed immediately behind him. Michael Collins was in orbit around the moon in the command module.

The imagery of Revelation

The following is an excerpt from Richard Bauckham's The Theology of the Book of Revelation (pp 17-22). I don't necessarily agree with everything.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Revelation: Is the end near?

Can God break his promises?

It's commonly argued that if God knows the future, then the future is fixed. If God knows that I will buy a classic Mustang on July 20, 2019, then I cannot fail to buy a classic Mustang on that date. 

In my experience, some Arminians respond by saying that our future choices/actions are the source of God's foreknowledge. If I didn't buy a Mustang on that date, then I cause God to have a different belief about the future.

With that in mind, let's take a comparison: can God break his promises? Suppose Charles Wesley complies with the term of John 3:16, but the moment after death he finds himself in hell. He complains to God that God broke his promise. God responds by saying that if Charles Wesley finds himself in hell, that retroactively makes it the case that God never made the promise in John 3:16 in the first place–in which case God didn't break his promise! Has something gone awry in the reasoning? 

Unitarian prooftexts

I've often commented on unitarian prooftexts, so some of this will reiterate my stated interpretations. However, I'll add a few new things. Finally, there's value in pulling that together in a single post. So in this post I'll evaluate what I take to be the major unitarian prooftexts (such as they are). The most popular, most quoted unitarian prootexts. A few general observations before I comment on specific passages:

i) If we didn't have any prooftexts for the Trinity or deity of Christ, then some of the unitarian prooftexts would be more persuasive. But Trinitarians aren't reading these passages in a vacuum. Since Trinitarians rightly think the deity of Christ is multiply-attested in the NT, it becomes a harmonistic issue. 

ii) In my experience, most unitarians are so lacking in critical detachment that they don't know what it means for a Bible verse contradict Trinitarian theology. They fail to appreciate that when you contend that a Bible verse is inconsistent with Trinitarian theology, you have to argue that point on Trinitarian grounds. You have to take the Trinitarian paradigm into consideration, you have to adopt that viewpoint for the sake of argument, then show how the verse is incompatible with Trinitarian theology given Trinitarian assumptions. 

Instead, they quote prooftexts that are inconsistent with Trinitarian theology from a unitarian viewpoint. They don't bother to ask themselves how a sophisticated Trinitarian would respond. They don't play devil's advocate with their own position, to anticipate the counterarguments. This is true even for someone who ought to know better, like Dale Tuggy. 

iii) In addition, some unitarians are so uninformed or uncomprehending that they don't even know what the opposing position represents. They haven't stopped to consider the implications of the opposing position. They never studied the other side of the argument. 

The Doctrine of Divine Simplicity

https://theopolisinstitute.com/conversations/the-doctrine-of-divine-simplicity/

Californabortion

Omar - illegal immigrant?

Gender dissenter

https://www.nationalreview.com/2019/07/allen-josephson-gender-dissenter-gets-fired/

Fisking Fesko redux

https://www.proginosko.com/2019/07/reforming-apologetics-calvin/

Altruistic suffering

1. As I've said before, I think the problem of evil is miscast. The real problem of evil isn't human suffering in general but the suffering of God's people. That raises questions about divine benevolence because God makes promises to his people (Christians, OT Jews) that he doesn't make to humanity in general. Yet God often fails to protect his people from harm, which calls into question his benevolence towards his people, given some of his promises. 

2. Christianity has a fairly unique principle: altruistic suffering. To see how unique that is, just consider how shamelessly selfish many secular progressives are. For instance, one reason to have children is to share the gift of live with others. But many fertile couples refuse to have kids because kids are too much of a bother. Likewise, the resort to abortion or infanticide if pregnancy occurs. At the other end, involuntary euthanasia and involuntary organ harvesting. These aren't people you'd want to have as passengers on the proverbial lifeboat, with rations and drinking water in short supply.

3. The only thing remotely similar is is Mahayana charity. As I understand it, because Buddhism fosters emotional detachment to avoid personal suffering, that frees the Buddhist to be charitable without partiality. It's not that a Buddhist loves everyone. He can't love anyone, since he must practice emotional detachment. Yet he can treat everyone impartially because he has suppressed the normal bonds of affection. But of course, that's radically different from Christianity.

4. One way to frame the issue is whether God can fail to be benevolent to one Christian (at least in the short-term) for the sake of another Christian. Can he neglect some Christians for the sake of other Christians. And can he be neglectful without malice toward the Christians he neglects? 

5. Let's begin with a comparison. Suppose a widower has two sons–three and five years of age–as well as a bedridden father. Their country is overtaken by war. He makes arrangements to smuggle his two sons out of the country for their own protection. The grandfather is too enfeebled to make the journey, and the widower must stay behind to care for the bedridden father. So the two sons will be separated from their father–their only parent. That will be a great hardship, but at least they will have each other for companionship. 

When, however, the widower gets his sons to the rendezvous point, the smugger only has room to take one more passenger. So the father must choose between the them. Even though they are young, the older brother is noticeably tougher than the younger brother. The older brother can survive the separation, but he will be emotionally damaged by the separation. However, it would destroy the younger brother. He lacks the fortitude. 

The war rages on. Both brothers grow into teenagers. The father is killed in the war.

Although the older boy survives, the prolonged separation during his formative years leaves him profoundly alienated. Not just the separation but the sting of betrayal. He hates his father. He can't comprehend why his father chose the younger brother over him. He is consumed by bitterness.

Years later the brothers are reunited. The older brother can see for himself that the younger brother is psychologically fragile. In addition, their late father told the younger brother why he did it. The younger brother explains to his brother why their father did it.

Initially, the older brother is still resentful, both towards his kid brother and their late father. However, he comes to appreciate their father's dilemma. He comes to appreciate that if one of them had to suffer, it was better for the older brother, who's tougher, to suffer sacrificially for the sake of his kid brother. He can see that his kid brother would be unable to survive the hellish ordeal the older brother went through. 

He finally forgives his late father. And the two brothers, long separated, form a strong emotional bond. Nevertheless, the older brother has lingering trauma from the years of loneliness and sense of rejection. He suffers from depression. 

6. I use this to illustrate how, as a matter of principle, neglect is consistent with benevolence. Moreover, this isn't just a case of an agent letting it happen. Rather, the agent is deliberately neglectful. He acts in ways that are positively harmful. Yet there's an exculpatory reason for his neglectful behavior. 

7. Now let's consider two objections to my comparison:

Objection #1: You can make just about any position consistent by resort to ingenious, ad hoc, face-saving hypotheticals, but that's special pleading.

Response: I agree that if there was no evidence at all for God's benevolence toward his people, then the example would be special pleading. However, there's lots of evidence for God acting benevolently towards his people. Some Christians experience answered prayer, miracles, special guidance, special providences. 

The problem is the disparity of treatment. Why does God protect some Christians rather than others? Why does he fail to act in the best interests of every believer? 

Objection #2: The comparison is disanalogous. God isn't subject to the same dilemmas and limitations as humans. 

Response: It's true that in some respects, God has far greater freedom of action than we do. God has resources we can only dream of.

However, even an omnipotent, omniscient God–indeed, even a Calvinistic God–is subject to certain build-in limitations regarding his freedom of action. A particular timeline only allows for certain possibilities to be realized. God is juggling lots of balls. God must keep many balls in the air all at once. So it might not be feasible for God to be equally or consistently benevolent towards all his people. Some believers may have to suffer on behalf of other believers. The good of some believers necessarily comes at the expense of other believers. 

At the same time, eternity provides ample opportunities for emotional healing. Even if God didn't promote their well-being in this life, that's not the end of the story. That's not a complete frame of reference.  

Thursday, July 18, 2019

What the New Testament Teaches about Divorce and Remarriage

http://andynaselli.com/what-the-new-testament-teaches-about-divorce-and-remarriage#more-22637

http://andynaselli.com/wp-content/uploads/2019_Divorce_and_Remarriage.pdf

Wokesperson

https://www.proginosko.com/2019/07/wen-ya-gotta-go-ya-gotta-go/

Turning to Catholicism–1

I plan to do a running commentary on Faith and Reason: Philosophers Explain Their Turn to Catholicism (Ignatius Press 2019), Brian Besong, ed. I'll begin with Bryan Cross's chapter. This will be a lengthy post in part because I'm quoting Bryan, then responding to him. The actual analysis is much shorter than the post overall. A few general observations before I engage the text directly:

i) One way to interpret Bryan's strategy is that he's using a process of elimination argument, where each phase in his theological evolution falsifies the prior stage. The Reformed paradigm falsified the Pentecostal paradigm, the Anglican paradigm falsified the Reformed paradigm, while the Catholic paradigm falsified Anglican theology. Put another way, he using each phase as the standard of comparison to assess the deficiencies of the prior phase. 

A problem with that strategy, if that's his argument, is lack of continuity. He can't use the Anglican paradigm to measure the Reformed paradigm if he regards the Anglican paradigm as the wrong yardstick, and he can't use the Reformed paradigm to measure the Pentecostal paradigm if he regards the Reformed paradigm as the wrong yardstick. Ultimately he regards the Catholic paradigm as the right yardstick. Protestant alternatives fail to measure up by that yardstick, and not because they fail to measure up to different Protestant yardsticks. So the process of elimination argument fails unless there's some element of truth that carries through the Reformed and Anglican stages. 

The process doesn't lead up to and culminate in Catholicism if each Protestant alternative is a blind alley. At best, he's eliminating the Protestant competition separately, on a case-by-case basis. Yet the way he structures the presentation makes it seem like a cumulative case where these are logically interconnected stages. Where each stage builds on the previous stage. Although he denies that you can use one paradigm as the benchmark to assess another paradigm, that's precisely how he structures his presentation. 

ii) Suppose I agree with him that the traditional Protestant formulation regarding the sufficiency of Scripture is deficient. Suppose I agree with him that he raises objections which demonstrate how the sufficiency of Scripture, traditionally formulated, can't be held to consistently. Assuming that's the case, is that a reason to abandon the Protestant paradigm for the Catholic paradigm–or is that a reason to modify the Protestant paradigm? 

Suppose there are multiple reasons for me to think the Catholic paradigm is fatally flawed. Then that's not a viable fallback option. So the alternative is not the Catholic paradigm, but modifying the Protestant paradigm. There's a sense in which the Protestant paradigm can be modified in a way that the Catholic paradigm cannot. Although Catholicism can and does change, that has to receive official approval by the magisterium. By contrast, an individual Protestant is at liberty to propose a modification to the traditional Protestant paradigm. That may or may not win wider approval by fellow Protestants, but it's consistent with the individual Protestant's understanding of sufficiency. 

iii) Of course, it shouldn't be an ad hoc modification. And it can't be such a radical modification that it ceases to be recognizably faithful to Protestant essentials. 

But to take a comparison, in the history of philosophy, various positions undergo refinement in light of criticism. It's not necessarily ad hoc for philosophical positions to become increasingly sophisticated as they adapt to objections. 

Contagion invasion

Contagion invasion (part 1)

Contagion invasion (part 2)

Googleopoly

I've heard the argument made that free market forces, tech startups, and/or the open source movement will whittle away and eventually significantly curtail tech giants like Google, YouTube, Facebook, Amazon, Twitter, Apple, and others without the need for the federal government to intervene.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Lament as Christian apologetic

Doug Groothuis:

Happy Hanukkah

I doubt it's coincidental that when Jesus calls himself the light of the world (Jn 8:12; 9:5), that's a lead-in to the account of Jesus at the temple during Hanukkah (Jn 10:22). And on the other side of the festival is the fate of those bereft of light, to be overtaken by darkness (Jn 11:9). The statements bookend Hanukkah.  

Unlike the Mosaic festivals, this was a customary festival, commemorating the Maccabean revolt. With intentional irony, Jesus appropriates the Festival of Lights to make it witness himself. This all hearkens by to the divine identity of Jesus in the Prologue as the Creator of sunlight, moonlight, and starlight. And it may not be coincidental that the Menorah symbolism in Revelation (e.g. Rev 1:12ff.) recalls Hannukkah as well as the tabernacle. Even Jews who reject the messianship of Jesus unwittingly celebrate Jesus whenever they celebrate Hanukkah.

Suicide bombers in the Bible?

At a generic level there's some analogy between Samson and suicide bombers. That, however, is a deceptive comparison. "Suicide bomber" has very specific connotations in modern usage. The stereotypical suicide bomber is:

  • A Muslim jihadist
  • Casts himself in the role of a martyr
  • Expects his death will seal his entrance into Paradise, with a harem of nubile virgins eagerly awaiting his arrival
  • Is protesting Israel's "occupation" of "Palestinian" land.
  • Is killing Jewish civilians indiscriminately

By contrast, Samson is targeting the Philistine ruling class, thereby decimating their ability to threaten Israel. While he may be motivated by personal revenge, he's playing his divinely-appointed role as a guardian of Israel.

A more accurate analogy would be the plot to assassinate Hitler, which targeted the Führer and his war cabinet.

Life goes on

Back when I was around 35, we moved into the neighborhood where I now live. It was a fairly large old wood-frame house, built in the 1880s, near a creek, but far enough back from the creek that we wouldn’t be bothered by flooding. It was on a street that had just recently been an old dirt road; it was paved, I think, because over time, it ended up becoming a kind of shortcut between one place and another.

Our house was one of several old family homes that had been built when the area was a coal mining area (the mines are long closed off), and the families had owned the homes for at least a couple of generations, if not more.

Not our immediate neighbors, but in the second house down from us was one of those families that had owned not only a house (vintage 1880) but a very large piece of property that they had put to very good use. Probably an acre or two (along this creek), it was relatively level, and they had grown huge gardens (as I understand it) in the past, but in more recent years, they had just let it be “the field”. It was a nice grassy level area where the kids could and did play football and softball and a lot of other things that kids do.

The family was Italian. The father, who may have been a low-level criminal and owner of the property, had died some time before we moved in. The mother, Mary, was getting on in years, and so she sold the house to her daughter Susie and son-in-law Danny, with the understanding that she would always have a place to live.

Even though theirs was an old house, it was well-cared for. Susie’s older sister, Kathy, recently divorced at the time, had two young children. She spent most of her time at this house. She was probably the primary care giver for the mother, Mary.

Danny and Susie had two young sons of their own, probably around the same ages as my two older boys (my oldest son was aged seven, and in the middle of those two). I had three kids when we moved into the neighborhood. It was the first house we lived in.

There was a long driveway along the upstream the side of the house (the field was downstream). From where we lived, we could easily see a covered pavilion at the end of this driveway, and next to it, immediately behind the house, was a beautiful in-ground pool.

My wife, Beth, being the woman with the anger problem that she was, got into a tussle with Kathy about the kids soon after we moved in. But not long after that, she noticed the pavilion, and the nice homey set-up with the tables and chairs under it, and the fire pit nearby, and of course the opportunities for swimming during the days, and the socializing in the evenings, and they quickly became best friends.

Kathy and Susie had a couple of other sisters, including Donna, who turned out to be the oldest, and Bev, who lived in a small brick house just up the hill behind the pool. They had a brother, Dickie, too, who had long had kidney problems (from an abusive situation from the father). He had had a kidney transplant at one point. And my wife, in fact, was soon adopted as one of the sisters.

The pavilion and the pool were a way of life. There was always good food, and lots of beer. Kathy took care of Mary. Susie and Donna worked just up the hill at the Bettis plant (in low-level administrative positions); Danny and Dickie worked construction job for the same company, and we all got together frequently in the evenings.

In 1995, Beth and Bev were both pregnant … Beth with our 4th son, John, and Bev with her first son, Joe. In fact, Beth was pregnant when we moved there. These were the best years of Beth’s life. Our kids were small, they played nicely together, and I worked at home and made a good income. When we first moved there, I had a pretty good job as an advertising manager for a fairly large national company; later I quit that job and started a small business as sort of a one-man ad agency.

We all had big yards where the kids could run and play and go swimming during the summer vacations. I owned a Mac computer, and video games were just then starting to come to personal computers. (I played a little “indy” game called Escape Velocity; later I played Dust and Titanic, for hours on end).

Things have moved on a bit. We had to move out of the upstream house in 1997, but we were able to move into a small brick house, downstream (where I still live. We’ve had three floods here over the years). But things never were the same as they were from that 1995-1997 period.

There was 9/11/2001, which “changed everything”. Mary died in 2003, when my wife was in the Army in Iraq. Danny had a drinking problem, not really evident during our socializing years, but over time it came to the surface. He and Susie had some financial troubles as a result, and they divorced. Susie declared bankruptcy and moved out. Danny never was able to recover from his drinking problem, and the related ills it caused in his life, and he shot himself in the heart about a year ago, maybe two. Dickie and his wife have both passed away in the meantime.

Last night, I was at a funeral home, and I saw all the girls for the first time in a while. Donna had passed away, having fallen and broken her femur a year earlier. She was 66. Her husband Tom has been suffering for years from a serious dementia. Recently, he didn’t even know who Donna was. (He is having some good care). Donna was stubborn, they say. She “just gave up”; she never walked after breaking her leg, and she passed away quietly at the hospital, after having some seizures.

My wife, as many may know, suffered leukemia in 2011; she had a bone marrow transplant in December of that year, which healed her from the leukemia, but she died in 2015. All the kids are grown and, except for my youngest, who is 14 (and named after Danny – we call her Dani), are in their 20s. Some married, some didn’t.

Back in the day, Donna had been the wealthy sister – she had no kids, and she and her husband Tom both worked. Kathy, the divorcee, was destitute. Last night, it was evident that Donna’s life was the tragic one. Kathy met a guy, Bill, and the two of them have been traveling and on cruises in recent years.

Interestingly, Hawk just posted a piece on Schreiner’s take on Ecclesiastes.

The Preacher advises, "There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?" (2:24–25). The Preacher is not counseling readers here to live an unrestrained, hedonistic life; rather, he is saying that human beings must live one day at a time and enjoy each day for the pleasures it brings. This is not an isolated theme, for the Preacher revisits it in 3:11–13 "He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man's heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God's gift to man."

God has so designed life that human beings see the glory and beauty of God in the world he created. But life in the world also eludes human comprehension, such that there is no evident pattern or plan in history. Vanity and futility and absurdity characterize human life. Instead of trying to figure out how everything fits together, human beings should take pleasure in God's gifts. There is a humility in accepting each day from God's hand and thanking him for the joys that he grants.

Life goes on. It surely does.

Planned Parenthood fires Wen

Planned Parenthood (PP) recently fired its president, Dr. Leana Wen, who is an emergency physician. My thoughts:

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Mean Girls

I did a satire on reaction to Trump's "Go back where you came from" tweets, but now for some serious observations:

i) I'm struck by how the "news" media and the political establishment constantly play into Trump's hands. He's a provocateur and they always take the bait. That empowers him. That enables him to control the news cycle and frame the issues. His enemies are totally reactionary. They freak out over his sometimes outrageous tweets, which is just what he wants. That allows him to change the story line and manipulate his opponents. 

ii) I'm struck by how they suffer from a moth-like attraction to the bright lights of political theater, to Trump's tweets and optics (e.g. tanks in DC for Independence Day) rather than his policies. The constant freakout over what he says rather than what he does (at a substantive level).

iii) He seems to have good political instincts. What Peter Hitchens called "low animal cunning". He picks a fight with widely unpopular Democrats in the "AOC squad" (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib). They're only popular among elite white Twitter Democrats. That's a win for him. 

iv) I think it's probably a mistake to parse Trump's words. I don't mean this particular tweet but in general. As one pundit famously said, "Take Trump seriously, not literally."

It's my impression that Trump doesn't use language to convey information but for leverage. To incite a reaction, then use that for competitive advantage. To put it technically, Trump cares more about the performative function of language than the propositional function of language.

v) Trump has a habit of saying what a lot of people privately think but are afraid to say in public. That's a large part of his success with his constituency. 

vi) At the risk of oversimplification, there are immigrants who come to America because they like what America stands for as well as what it has to offer. There are things about American culture they admire, in contrast to what they left behind. They come here with the intention of becoming integrated into American culture and society.

However, you also have immigrants (as well as native-born Americans) who despise American values and wish to make it more like the countries they left behind. There's such a thing as a self-hating American.

To take a comparison, there are Muslims born in the UK who radicalize. They are profoundly alienated from the country they were born into. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib are good examples. Consider some of the stories about them at Michael Spencer's Jihad Watch. 

To take another comparison, consider Democrats who move from blue states to red states to escape the high taxation and overregulation, but continue to vote for Democrats. They turn the red state into a purple state or red state with blue cities. They reproduce the problems they were fleeing from.

Go back where you came from!

Jonathan Merritt
Religious News Service

Donald Trump's incendiary tweets have ignited a religious firestorm. On Twitter he told the Prince of Darkness to "Go back where you came from!" In a follow-up tweet, he added insult to injury by saying, "Go to hell!"

Pushback was fast and furious. In protest, Washington National Cathedral flew in Mick Jagger to perform  "Sympathy For The Devil" at Evensong. Pope Francis ordered a black Mass at St. Peter's basilica. 

Michael Bird denounced the tweets as "racist!" Russell Moore said "This proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that Pres. Trump is a xenophobe!"

N. T. Wright, in a learned open letter, corrected Trump's faulty demonology. "Anyone conversant with Second Temple literature can tell you that hell is not where Satan came from. Heaven is his place of orgin."

In a joint statement, Jemar Tisby and Thabiti Anyabwile said Trump's latest remarks underscore the pressing need of white evangelicals to have a conversation about reparations for the dark side, which lost their homeland after they were kicked out of heaven. No wonder they go around possessing people! 

In a rare dissent, Mark Levin expressed concern that Trump's critics were taking the devil's advocate routine a little too seriously. 

Echos of Eden

There are many things in art and nature that evoke a lost and longed for golden age. 

I. Historic Eden

Gen 2 is the locus classicus. Elements include:

• An orchard with fruit trees, watered by a river

• A fertile couple

• Nudity (perhaps related to the climate)

• Tame animals

• The tree of knowledge

• The tree of life

• Some sort of barrier with an entrance (Gen 3:24)

• Located in upper or lower Mesopotamia

In popular imagination, Eden was an idyllic tropical paradise, but in reality it may have been a hot, rugged place in general, like an oasis with shade trees hugging the river banks. It would be up to Adam, Eve, and their posterity to use the river to irrigate Eden beyond a natural green strip along the river banks.  

Where is Jesus coming?

This post piggybacks on my prior post:


i) Amils, premils, and classic postmils believe the return of Christ is future. Indeed, the future Parousia is a benchmark of orthodoxy. However, certain well-known passages in the Gospels and Revelation are preterist prooftexts. Not only does Revelation refer to Jesus coming but to his coming "soon" (Rev 1:1; 2:16; 3:11; 22:6-7,12,20; cf. 1:3). On one reading, that would suggest that Jesus was expected to return in the lifetime of the 1C readers. But since that seems to be manifestly false, either the predictions are mistaken or else our interpretation is mistaken. If the predictions are mistaken, this wouldn't be some marginal error. We're waiting for something that will never happen, and that raises questions about the promises of Scripture generally regarding the world to come and our participation in the world to come. 

ii) One face-saving explanation is that Jesus came symbolically in God's judgment on Jerusalem in 70 AD. But that raises the question of whether promises about the world to come in general should be given the same treatment. If they can be symbolically construed to stand for earthly events, then is there an intermediate state? Is there a future resurrection of the just? Do we go to heaven (or hell) when we die? Or is that a symbolic depiction of this life, this world? Is that in the past or present–with no future hope that things will ever get better? 

iii) Another problem is that whatever the merits of that interpretation in reference to the Olivet Discourse, there are no clues to indicate that Revelation is alluding to the fall of Jerusalem. 

iv) Suppose we take a different approach. Revelation consists of an introduction (1:1-8), followed by a continuous series of visions. Almost all the action takes place in John's vision, from 1:9-22:21. So that raises a logical question: when Revelation says Jesus is coming soon, is he coming soon inside or outside the visionary world? Within the world of John's vision, Jesus may be coming soon. It's like John is watching a movie in his head. He sees the plot unfold. 

At one level, John sees this happen in the vision. At another level, John sees this happen on Patmos. Where does it happen? Depends. There's the real world. The penal colony on Patmos, surrounded by the Aegean sea. That's outside the vision. Then there's "where" he is within the vision, as an immersive observer. There are places outside the vision, in the 1C Roman empire, as well as places inside the vision. In a sense, that shifts the question from when Jesus is coming to where Jesus is coming. 

v) A possible objection to this interpretation is Rev 1:1,3. That's from an introductory section before we get into the vision. However, that's a summary or lead-in to what the reader is about to witness in John's extended vision. 

In what respect did Jesus "show" or "reveal" to John "what must take place soon"? That must have reference to what follows in the visionary narrative. It's not something Jesus told John directly, apart from the vision, but is mediated through the vision. John, and various characters within the vision, experience the impending return of Christ in that surreal history as it unfolds right before his eyes. 

Once the reader is transported into the vision, he never leaves. It has an entry point but no exit. Like parachuting out of a plane onto an island. After that, everything happens on the island. 

vi) Another objection to this interpretation might be, if Jesus was only coming soon in vision but not in reality, how does that give beleagured 1C Christians any hope of deliverance? One answer is the fate of martyrs (Rev 6:9-11; 20:4). Jesus comes to them by bringing them to himself. At the moment of death they are inducted into God's presence. And that has the advantage of making that hope available to every Christian generation. A very tangible hope, and not some far-off hope that only one generation at the Parousia will enjoy. 

vii) There will, of course, be a Second Coming in the real world, but we can't use Revelation to fix the timing. Events in Revelation are meant to have some counterparts outside the vision, but how they correspond is often intentionally open-textured, to leave room for multiple applications. 

"IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE!"

In light of Pres. Trump's recent remarks directed at Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib:

10 questions for pro-choice people

"Ten questions for pro-choice people" (Andrew Haslam).

Monday, July 15, 2019

Poythress on Revelation

I'm sure many readers are already aware Vern Poythress has two introductory books on Revelation, both of which Poythress offers for free to read online or download as a pdf:

At the same time, Poythress offers his course materials on Revelation for free (WTS NT311):

General

Visual Presentations

Text Files

By the way, Poythress offers his other WTS course materials for free too.

Praying to Mary

A popular justification for praying to Mary is that it's no different than soliciting prayer from living Christians. However, that justification backfires. If it's no different, then what's so special about praying to Mary? What's the advantage of praying to Mary rather than your saintly deceased grandmother? Indeed, it would make more sense to pray to your grandmother since she knows who you are, whereas there's no reason to think Mary is in any position to know you from Adam's off-ox.

Of course, at that point the Catholic will pivot and stress what makes prayer to Mary so different and so much better. She's the Mother of God, Mother of the Church, Queen of Heaven, Redemptrix and Co-Mediatrix. So it turns out that prayer to Mary is nothing like asking a garden-variety Christian friend to pray for you. And the difference is predicated on Marian dogmas. But in that event the original comparison becomes unrecognizable after all the necessary qualifications are added. 

Dreams And Trances At Enfield

The hardest Enfield tapes to listen to are the ones that feature the Hodgson children in altered states of consciousness, primarily in November of 1977. The states are often referred to as dreams and trances, so I've titled my post according to that convention, but we can't say much beyond the fact that some altered state of consciousness was involved. In a discussion with Hans Bender, Guy Playfair commented on Janet Hodgson's condition in the closing days of November:

We found the girl screaming, yelling, lying on the floor. She was underneath the table, trying to kick it over…The mother was absolutely desperate, you know. She didn't know what to do. And Luiz [Gasparetto, a Brazilian medium] spent about half an hour with her [Janet], and she immediately became quiet. I have all this on the tape. He talked to her very quietly in Portuguese, and she went to sleep. She went to sleep at 7 o'clock in the evening and she woke up the next morning only at 9 o'clock. That's fourteen hours of sleep. And she never had another hysterical fit. She just had one bad dream, and, after that, there was no more….The mother told me that she doesn't mind the tables falling over, but these hysterical attacks were absolutely too much, you know. She was really very, very distressed. And, I must say, that I was, too. It's one of the most horrible things I've ever seen, because they would go on for three, four hours. They would go on until 3 o'clock in the morning. And she would even wake up in a conversion. She was completely out for four days…Twice we called a doctor, emergency doctor, who gave her an injection of Valium…An interesting detail was that half an hour after she was given an injection of Valium, she was thrown out of bed, right across the room….the two girls would dream together….And we would open their eyes, and we would shine the torches [flashlights], and the pupil [wouldn't] contract. And we would also tickle under the arms, and they were completely asleep. And they would talk to each other….Again, we have it on tape. (tape 39B in Playfair's collection, 0:41)

Schreiner on Ecclesiastes

The following is from Tom Schreiner's The King in His Beauty: A Biblical Theology of the Old and New Testaments, pp 300-312.


Introduction

Waltke says, "The book of Ecclesiastes is the black sheep of the canon of biblical books. It is the delight of skeptics and the despair of saints."1 It is typical for scholars to read the message of the book in bleak terms, but Waltke rightly says that "the view that Qoheleth lost faith in God's justice and goodness depends on proof texting and not on interpreting the book holistically."2 If Proverbs focuses on the regularities of life, Ecclesiastes concentrates on the anomalies. I should add immediately that such a dichotomy between Proverbs and Ecclesiastes is too rigid, for Proverbs, as noted above, has often been interpreted simplistically. A careful reading of Proverbs demonstrates that Solomon and the other proverb writers were well aware that those who worked hard did not always get rich, that the poor were often victims of injustice, and that tragedies struck the righteous and not just the wicked. Nevertheless, the popular perception of Proverbs exists for a reason, for the book often emphasizes that good comes to those who do good. Ecclesiastes gazes at another dimension of reality and reflects on the irrationality and perverseness of life under the sun. Both Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are part of what is called Wisdom literature, but their profoundly different emphases demonstrate that wisdom cannot be captured by a simple formula. Wisdom perceives what ordinarily happens in life, and it attempts to discern and understand the mysteries and injustices of human existence. Ecclesiastes probes the latter. House rightly emphasizes that Ecclesiastes must be read as part of the canon, noting that apart from the canon a multiplicity of interpretations can be defended, from existentialism to pessimism.3

Modern Joseph and Mary

I've seen some Christians calling the above modern-day Joseph and Mary artwork "blasphemous". They argue it's "blasphemous" due to "political expediency" and because it's "disgusting" to depict the holy family in a plain manner.

  1. Political expediency.

    a. I don't know that the artist's intention is about politics at all. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't. However, I wouldn't be able to tell based on the art alone. At most, I could see some hints, but it's not entirely clear to me.

    b. If the artwork is about politics, then presumably it's in light of illegal immigration and/or refugees. If so, then I'd disagree that illegal immigrants and refugees across the border are in the same situation as Joseph and Mary. At the very least, the artist arguing for a parallel between the two would need to present an argument, but I don't see any argument presented.

    c. However, even if the artist's intention is to parallel Joseph and Mary with illegal immigration, it's possible to divorce the image from its political connotations. At least it's possible to have the same kind of image which is apolitical.

    d. And even if it's somehow immoral to parallel Joseph and Mary with illegal immigrants or political refugees seeking asylum in the United States, how is that necessarily blasphemous too? It's unethical for me to steal, but theft isn't blasphemous, per se.

  2. It's "disgusting" to depict Mary and Joseph as plain.

    a. There's a visceral reaction in the use of the word "disgusting". What's that based on? Besides, something can be disgusting, but not blasphemous.

    b. I don't see what's necessarily wrong with depicting "the holy family" as more homely than we might imagine. Aren't most people average-looking? Nothing wrong with that.

    I take it most Christians believe Isaiah 53 is messianic prophecy. Isa 53:2b describes the Messiah as one who "had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him". As such, it seems Jesus had at best average looks. Typically children tend to look like their parents. If a child has average looks, then it's likely their parents have average looks too. I'm speaking a general rule, but of course there may be exceptions.

    Should we expect Joseph to look as handsome as Leonardo DiCaprio, Matt Damon, Chris Hemsworth, or Jaime Dornan? Should we expect Mary to look as beautiful as Margot Robbie, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lawrence, or Alison Brie?

    c. Suppose it's somehow immoral to depict Mary and Joseph as plain. Even so, not all things that are unethical are necessarily blasphemous too.

    Let's take me as an example. I don't want to brag, but objectively speaking I'm so devastatingly handsome, tall, and well-built that beautiful women swoon at the sight of me irl. I know, I know, it's a curse. At any rate, it would be inaccurate to have an uglier actor like Henry Cavill play my part. What's more, perhaps it might even be unethical (arguendo) to inaccurately depict me as uglier than I am. Nevertheless, I don't see how it's likewise necessarily blasphemous. For one thing, I'm just a human being.

    Wouldn't that be the case for Joseph and Mary too? Can one commit blasphemy against other humans?

    Does having Jesus as their child somehow change what it means to blaspheme?

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Revelation: inside and out

Revelation is one of those books of the Bible that many Christian readers keep coming back to. Unlike, say, 1-2 Kings, which has a straightforward plot and little subtext, Revelation is hard to reduce to a single perspective. From modern readers, the added appeal of Revelation is that it's the most cinematic book of the Bible. 

To my knowledge, premils typically think Revelation has a linear plot (at least Rev 5-22) whereas modern-day amils typically think it has a cyclical plot, although the return of Christ breaks the cycle. But perhaps that's a false dichotomy. 

Consider a comparison. A plot device in science fiction is the temporal loop. Here's an illustration of what I mean: a character wakes up in a bedroom. He glances at the clock. It shows the time and date. He gets dressed and goes outside. Nothing feels unusual. During the course of the day he witnesses a cycling accident, notices a pretty jogger, and sees a customer spill coffee at the cafe. He goes to bed, wakes up in the same bedroom, glances at the clock. Everything repeats. Between the character falling asleep or waking up, the cycle resets. 

This happens several times without variation until he has an unshakable sense of déjà vu. Hasn't he seen all this before? Hasn't he done all this before? How long has this been happening? It can't be real. He must be stuck on some sort of illusion. 

This time, when he wakes up, he tries to change a variable, hoping that will break the cycle. He intervenes to prevent the cycling accident. When he wakes up, it's the same date. So he changes a different variable. He intervenes to prevent the coffee from spilling. He takes sleeping pills to oversleep or sets the alarm clock to wake up in the middle of the night. 

He hopes, through dumb luck, to change the key variable, like flipping a switch. Finally he wakes up, glances at the clock, and it's a day later. Or he wakes up in different bedroom. He made his escape. He's back to reality. 

Is the plot linear or cyclical? Depends on the standpoint of the observer. From the viewpoint of the character, inside the temporal loop, the experience is cyclical. The action keeps returning to where it began. In a sense, it has no beginning or ending, like a Möbius strip–constantly folding back on itself. 

But suppose this is a movie. From the standpoint of the movie viewer, outside the temporal loop, the experience is linear. The movie viewer doesn't experience a day repeating itself. Rather, he watches a character experience a day repeating itself. 

In that respect, Revelation operates at two different levels. There's the internal standpoint of John. His experience is immersive. He is drawn into the world of the vision, as if he's there. 

By contrast, there's the external standpoint of the reader. He is reading the description of John's experience from outside the world of the vision, as an outside observer. His experience is characterized by linearity, as he reads one scene after another in literary succession. The reader isn't like a character who wakes up on the same day, over and over again. Rather, it's like watching a character wake up on the same day, over and over again. 

However, it would be possible for a reader, using his own imagination in addition to John's imagination, to see the action through the eyes of the narrator. Projecting himself into the world of the vision, using John's description as a conduit. Making an effort to visualize the picturesque descriptions as if the reader was standing there, seeing it for himself. That takes more effort, but it's a rewarding exercise. 

So Revelation may exhibit linearity and periodicity alike, depending on whether we adopt a standpoint inside the visionary world or outside the visionary world. These are two different reading strategies. 

Likewise, if you were a moviemaker, filming Revelation, you'd have to choose which standpoint to display. Cinematically, I'd opt for the immersive standpoint. 

And, to complete the parallel, there's a sense in which John exits the loop when Jesus returns–in the vision. The return of Christ breaks the cycle. 

In addition, there's a certain parallel with the Fourth Gospel, anchored in the dual consciousness of Christ. At a human level, Jesus experiences time from within the standpoint of 1C earthbound observer. He processes time as present, moment by moment.

Yet he also says things to indicate that he's conscious of the past, of OT history. Not remembering, as if he was there–although that would be impressive enough. But as if he is there (at least at the level of consciousness). Equally conscious of all times. In addition, he says things things to indicate that he's ever-conscious of his eternal state. From that standpoint, he's outside any particular time or place, and ultimately beyond time and space entirely. 

Moreover, the narrator says things about Jesus that reinforce the same shifting perspectives. A timebound consciousness side-by-side a consciousness that transcends time. An awareness that's simultaneous with all times and ultimately outside of time.    

Justin & Rachel

Francis Chan shares an answered prayer:

Several other answered prayers: