Saturday, February 02, 2019

Detoxing "toxic masculinity"

With all the talk of toxic masculinity, I have a few anecdotal sociological observations. It's often said that men are naturally competitive, while women are generally less so. But there's a twist. Take fiercely competitive fields like the pro sports and the entertainment industry. In my random observation over the years, despite the fact that some men are in direct competition with each other, male rivals can be friends. They form and maintain lifelong friendships despite the rivalry. By contrast, female rivals are more likely to hate each other. There are exceptions, but ambitious women seem to be more territorial than men in that regard. 

I've also noticed that women can be more fault-finding of other women than men are. For instance, I've read comments on an aging opera diva in which the women were more critical than the men. Again, I don't know how representative that is. I haven't conducted a systematic survey. But I seem to see a pattern. A gender disparity. 

If true, that's logical in the sense that it's natural for women to measure themselves by other women. So they have an eye for things that men don't notice or care about. I'm reminded of Pauline Kael's reviews of Mommie Dearest and Autumn Sonata

Antisocial atheism

Increasingly and predictably, secular progressives champion abortion, infanticide, eugenics, and euthanasia. One problem (among many) with this trajectory is that it's antisocial. Human existence requires a viable social life because we are social creatures dependent on other humans to survive and thrive at every stage of life. A social philosophy in which no one should ever have to help anyone else, no one should be inconvenienced by anyone else, becomes unlivable for everyone. Social life requires an element of self-sacrifice. 

There's a certain logic to the antisocial outlook of secular progressivism: if this life is all there is, then there are no ultimate compensations for self-denial. It's now or never. That, however, demonstrates how unlivable atheism is, if you try to be a consistent atheist. 

Infidels sometimes say things they don't really believe. They say it because they think they can get away with it. But if their brazen statements were put to the test, they might back down.

One of the challenges of discussing social ethics at this stage of the culture wars is lack of common ground. There's almost nothing too horrific that secular progressives won't celebrate. But even in that regard it can be useful to illustrate how far they are prepared to go. 

Let's some hypothetical examples of involuntary duties.  That's a limiting case of social ethics. For many secular progressives, the idea of involuntary duties is oxymoronic. To be obligatory, you must consent. Although my examples are hypothetical, they are realistic, too. Situations like that happen with some frequency. In addition, there are movies on themes like this, viz. Dominick and Eugene, The Last Picture Show.

Suppose my brother is autistic. He's intelligent in surprising ways, but he'll never be able to live on his own. Should he live with me? He can continue to live with our parents, but the day will come when they are too elderly to look out for him. So I'm the fallback. 

Wouldn't even have to be my brother. Suppose he's a neighborhood boy. We're about the same age. Grew up together. Other kids pick on him. Play cruel tricks. His parents are embarrassed by him. I'm his only friend. 

To vary the example, suppose my brother and I are in our upper teens. We both have plans for the future. Nothing special. Get married. Have kids.

Then my brother has a sporting accident that leaves him in a wheelchair. Due to technology, he could live on his own. Be independent. 

However, mundane tasks that used to be simple and effortless are now a time-consuming chore. And everything is like that. It's so much easier if he has me to help him out. Easier for him–not for me.

Due to the accident, his friends drifted away because he slows them down. That makes him socially isolated. If he lives with me, he has companionship as well as assistance. 

But if he lives with me, that may curtail my marital opportunities. How many women want a live-in autistic or quadriplegic brother-in-law, even if for altruistic reasons? If I put his interests ahead of my own, I may be a childless bachelor all my life. In secular ethics there's an insoluble tension between altruism and self-interest when these conflict–which inevitably happens.


Can Gov. Cuomo be excommunicated due to his abortion advocacy? I've read it said that his actions are not excommunicable under canon law. Let's grant that for the sake of argument. However, I've also read that popes can and do rewrite canon law:

Therefore, assuming that his actions are not excommunicable under current canon law, the pope can remove that impediment by revising canon law to make such actions excommunicable. Therefore, it's a lame excuse to hide behind canon law. 

Even if the idea of retroactive punishment is objectionable, officeholder like Cuomo could be given a chance to recant their prior actions. If they refuse, then they'd be excommunicated for their present violation of canon law. 

Assuming, however, that actions like his can't be grounds for excommunication, then that's just one more reason not to be Catholic. What's the moral advantage of Roman Catholicism if its hands are tied so that it can't exercise church discipline when necessary? 

Hands off my body!

One of the most popular proabort slogans centers on bodily autonomy. Here's one way of putting it:

Abortion as a right having to do with ownership and control of one's body...If women have rights over their own bodies, then they have rights not to have their bodies used by others against their will. The state has no right to force someone to donate use of her body to another person, even if that person is in extreme need.

1. In its bumper sticker version, the slogan is mindless. Last time I checked, pregnancy naturally requires physical contact between a man and a woman. So how did she become pregnant in the first place if she was operating with a hands-off-my-body policy? Indeed, there's more to procreation than the use of hands. 

2. I'd add that when men are drafted to fight wars, conscription forces them to donate the use of their bodies against their will. So the offending experience is hardly unique to women. 

3. What's the general, underlying principle? Suppose we compare it to private property rights. Let's say no one has a right to come onto my property or enter my house without my permission. That's criminal trespassing. Suppose I come home and find a burglar in my house. I have a right to shoot him because he's a life-threatening trespasser 

4. Now let's modify the example. Suppose I invite someone over. They are now in my space. Once they cross the threshold, do I have a right to kill them because they happen to be in my house? Yet if they are there at my invitation, then surely I don't have a right to kill them, if though they are on my property. 

By the same token, pregnancy (except in case of rape) is the predictable consequence of sexual intercourse. So sexual intercourse carries with it an implicit invitation to become pregnant. Even if you use contraceptives, there's still the "risk" of pregnancy. 

So killing a baby in the womb is like killing a house guest rather than a house burglar. The guest is there by invitation of the homeowner.

Moreover, the general duration of the visit is known in advance. About 9 months gestation. So it's not like the guess overstayed their welcome. 

5. But what about someone who wasn't invited. Not everyone falls into the category of a house burglar. Suppose I have a fence or wall around my property with a no trespassing sign. Suppose, overcome by innocent curiosity, a grade-school age boy climbs over the fence. Technically, he's a trespasser. I didn't give him permission to come on my property. Does that give my the right to shoot him?

6. Likewise, suppose my brother and I don't get along. We're both in our twenties or thirties. We lead separate lives. We rarely speak to each other. 

One day I come home and find my estranged brother in my living room. I didn't invite him. I don't want to see him. Does that give me a right to shoot him on the spot?

Even if he's technically trespassing, a brother isn't equivalent to a house burglar. The nature of the relationship makes a difference in terms of what's morally licit or illicit in that situation. Ownership by itself is not sufficient warrant. 

I don't know why he's there. Maybe he needs me to do him a favor. Or maybe he wants to patch things up between us. Make a fresh start. 

Even if he's a junkie who's there to steal my stuff and pawn it to support his drug habit, while that gives me the right to evict him, does that give me the right to kill him?

If he attacks my wife or kids, that gives me a right to kill him (if necessary), but that's how extreme the provocation would have to be. 

7. Proaborts use distancing language like "the woman" rather than "the mother". By the same token, the house-burglar, the brother, and the grade-school age boy are all males, but there are morally relevant differences which a generic category fails to capture and distinguish. 

Disillusioned atheism

Friday, February 01, 2019

Controlling women's bodies

A popular pro-abort trope is that men who oppose abortion want to control women's bodies. That's a truly mindless trope (which can be said for pro-abort tropes generally). 

Promiscuous men are primary beneficiaries of abortion. Many men prefer to have sex with no strings attached. They don't want to get stuck with a kid to raise or child support payments. 

In that respect, men who oppose abortion are acting against their self-interest. So men who oppose abortion ought to be commended for acting responsibly, at the expense of their self-interest. It's praiseworthy to support a policy because it's the right thing to do despite the fact that the policy cuts against the grain of your personal preference and freedom from accountability. 

Can a Christian lose salvation?

I was watching a debate between Catholic apologist Trent Horn and Reformed Baptist apologist James White on whether a Christian can lose salvation:

It was a pretty high level debate by two smart, well-prepared opponents. Horn has a chapter the same issue in his The Case for Catholicism (Ignatius 2017), chap 12. Although I wrote a partial review of his book, I ignored the chapter on eternal security because it's such well-trodden ground. However, after watching the debate, I've decided to comment on his case. My remarks will be based on his book, supplemented by the debate. 

I don't know why Trent singles out one of the "five points of Calvinism" to critique? Why not all? If not all, why just one? But perhaps this is a special interest of his. 

Before discussing some specific prooftexts, I'll comment on some general methodological problems with Horn's presentation:

Thursday, January 31, 2019

L'état, c'est moi

One function of good laws is to restrain the powerful. Left to their own devices, many powerful men and women abuse their power. Take advantage of their superior clout to exploit and oppress weaker people. 

In a lawless society, the most ruthless and powerful prevail. If I want your car, your house, your woman, I take what I want if I have the wherewithal. If you get in my way, I'll kill you. Indeed, I might kill you on a whim, just to show everyone who's boss.

That's the unbridled power politics we see in the abortion lobby. Kill the most defenseless members of society…because they're defenseless. It used to be murdering unarmed blacks or unarmed Jews. To be weak and defenseless makes you a target. 

Christian ethics curbs the will to power. It promotes care for the vulnerable. That's why Nietzsche despised it. Ironically, he himself became helpless. 

Going to pot

The law of the jungle

There's a certain logic to the position of Peter Singer and Democrats who are moving towards his position. If you make the right to life contingent on physical or cognitive development, then that's always a matter of degree rather than kind, so where the line is drawn is arbitrary. It could be drawn sooner or later, higher or lower. 

The trimester distinction in the abortion debate was always arbitrary. Likewise, viability was arbitrary in part because that's variable, depending on the state of medical technology to sustain a premie outside the womb. The threshold changes. In addition, it's an arbitrary to make viability the criterion because many adults require something artificial to sustain life. Medications. Surgical implants. 

A basic problem with a Singer-style argument is that it either proves too little or too much. Since human life and the lifecycle range along a continuum of physical and psychological development, IQ, and health, it becomes a question of who makes the cut. If it's a choice between treating someone with an IQ of 100 and someone with an IQ of 140, do we save the patient with the 140 IQ and euthanize or neglect the patient with the IQ of 100?

What about the disabled? They may be psychologically normal or even be a genius. Do they make the cut?

Peter Singer is now 72. Why should scarce medical resources be squandered on him rather than someone younger? 

It degenerates into the law of the jungle where power is the decisive factor. Those with more power crush those with less. 

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Abortion, nihilism, and the limits of moral persuasion

There's a sense in which prolife arguments are too idealistic. We try to prove that the baby is human. The baby is a person. Abortion is is wrong. Abortion is murder.

The problem is not with the argument but the audience. Moral arguments suffer from a build-in limitation because they only work for people who are prepared to do the right thing. Moral arguments appeal to duty, conscience, and empathy. But what if someone just doesn't care? 

It's like attempting to reason with a sociopath. There's no foothold. The argument has no leverage with someone who acts from ruthless self-interest. 

Many men and women are quite prepared to commit murder if they can get away with it. Human history is a history of murder. Murder on a vast scale. Many people will commit murder no compunction.

The reason we have laws in the first place is that you can't rely on human goodness. So it's necessary to create a disincentive.

As I often explain and document, consistent atheism is nihilistic. And abortion is a case in point.

Take the claim that the baby is just a clump of cells. Most atheists are physicalists. They think adult human beings are just a clump of cells. And they think this life is all there is. 

Given that outlook, if you get in my way, and I can murder you with impunity, that's exactly what I will do to you. There's no doubt in my mind that you're fully human. I couldn't care less.

This doesn't mean we shouldn't argue against abortion. But we need to appreciate that there are limits to the effectiveness of moral and rational persuasion. Many people are morally hardened. 

That's also why we need to go beyond prolife arguments to argue for Christianity. Without a larger framework regarding human significance and responsibility, prolife arguments don't make sense in isolation. In a godless universe, life is worthless. 

One of the ironies of abortion is that in many cases, if they went ahead and had the child, natural parental bonding would kick in. But they don't let that happen. 

No Child Left Alive


Where was your church before the Reformation?

One question Catholic apologists like to ask evangelicals is "Where was your church before the Reformation?"

i) Now that's a loaded question because Catholics operate with a different paradigm of the church than evangelicals. As I've remarked several occasions, Catholics operate with a priest-sacrament paradigm that requires historical continuity (i.e. apostolic succession) whereas evangelicals (or low-church Protestants) operate with a Word-Spirit paradigm that doesn't require historical continuity. 

ii) In addition, there are various ways we can turn the question around. "Where's the Roman Catholic church"? 

Problem is, there are multiple candidates for the Roman Catholic church. For instance, is the church of St. Augustine the same church as the church that excommunicated the Jansenists? Jansenism was a Catholic post-Reformation revival of Augustinian theology. 

Is the Tridentine church the same church as the post-Vatican II church? Is the church of anti-modernist popes like Pius IX and Leo the XIII the same church as the church of Pope Francis? For that matter, is the church of Pope John-Paul II the same church as the church of Pope Francis?

iii) Where is the NT church before the Reformation? Where do we find the NT church in the medieval Latin church? 

iv) Where do we find the Roman Catholic church in the Gospels? Where do we find "the church" in the Gospel of Mark? Mark's Gospel never mentions "the church". Where do we find "the church" in the Gospel of Luke? Luke's Gospel never mentions "the church". Where do we find "the church" in the Gospel of John? John's Gospel never mentions "the church". The only Gospel that even mentions "the church" is Matthew's Gospel. And it mentions "the church" just two times. That's it!

In fairness, a concept can be present where the word is absent. In the Gospels there's a notion of Christian community. But you can't find the Roman Catholic church anywhere in the Gospels.

All four Gospels have accounts of the Last Supper, but there's nothing about a priest officiating at the Eucharist. And only one Gospel has a clear reference to Christian baptism. 

Where are the seven sacraments in the Gospels? Nowhere. 

Where's the cult of the saints in the Gospels? Nowhere.

Where's the Roman Catholic priesthood in the Gospels? Nowhere.

Where's the papacy in the Gospels? Nowhere.

Where's the Immaculate Conception in the Gospels (or anywhere in the NT)? Nowhere.

Where's the Assumption of Mary in the NT? Nowhere.

Now, a Catholic apologist might object that it's anachronistic to expect a blueprint of the church in the Gospels. But is that an unreasonable expectation? Catholic apologists tell us that the Roman Catholic church was directly founded by Jesus Christ. Catholic apologists tell us that Jesus instituted the seven sacraments. So it's a reasonable expectation that when we compare the Roman Catholic church to the Gospels, we find something in the Gospels recognizably corresponding to the Roman Catholic church. 

A Catholic apologist might counter that Jesus indirectly founded the Roman Catholic church by establishing the initial conditions, then leaving the rest to theological development. Suppose we grant that for the sake of argument. If so, why can't we claim the Protestant Reformation as an intended theological development? 

The puppet church

Evangelical convert to Catholicism Bryan Cross harps on how Jesus founded a "visible" church. He complains that Protestants allegedly lack a visible church. Of course, he defines visibility in Roman Catholic terms, so his objection amounts to the circular argument that Protestant churches aren't Roman Catholic! Granted

But let's take a concrete test-case. If Bryan was a Chinese Catholic, what church would he attend? Until recently, there were two candidates for the Catholic church in Red China. There was the underground Catholic church. And then there was the puppet church. 

Recently, Pope Francis signed a concordant with the communist gov't to certify the puppet church and decertify the underground church. 

So in China, under the current pope, the Catholic church that enjoys official sanction from the Vatican is the puppet church, whose bishops are appointees of the Communist gov't. 

According to Bryan's ecclesiology, that's the visible church in China. The church with puppet prelates and puppet priests. A mouthpiece of the atheist state. 

So Bryan would boycott the underground Catholic church, shun the suffering church, turn his back on the persecuted church, and attend the puppet church, staffed by Communist apparatchiks–because that's the visible church founded by Jesus. 

Did God Zap Ananias and Sapphira?

This is one of the stranger interpretations I've run across:

According to BW3, It doesn't involve God at all. God is not an actor in this story. 

To begin with, how was Peter privy to their deception? Isn't there the unstated implication that he has supernatural knowledge of their deception? Doesn't the fact that Peter knew this was coming imply supernatural prescience? 

Statistically speaking, how many people in honor/shame cultures drop dead when they are shamed? 

And what a coincidence that both the husband and wife drop dead of a heart attack when they were exposed. A synchronized heart attack!

BW3 would make an interesting homicide detective. 

Welcome to the One True Church®

From a Catholic news outlet:

If this is what the One True Church® looks like, what does a false church look like? How could you tell the difference?

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

The Best Arguments for and against the Gospels

Has complete transcript.

Former abortion nurse

The Testimonium Flavianum

The Testimonium Flavianum is stock item in Christian apologetics. To my knowledge, the general view of scholars is that it's contains some Christian scribal interpolations, but it has an authentic core. The interpolations are distinguishable from the authentic core. As such, this is hostile testimony. A 1C witness to the existence of Jesus by the Jewish historian Josephus. 

If we reconstruct the original, what does it say? Here is John Meier's translation, with a line through the interpolated phrases:

About this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the Messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.

Richard Carrier has attempted to discredit the Testimonium Flavianum as entirely spurious. Here's one assessment:

Political mass suicide

It's quite something to witness the current state of the culture wars. I believe it was Pat Buchanan, back in 1992, who popularized the term "culture wars"–as well as helping to frame the issue. His speech was derided at the time, by proved to be sadly prescient. 

There's a sizable voting block that thinks Christianity is evil. They think Christianity must be suppressed. 

A sizable voting block has embraced a secular totalitarian ideology. They fervently believe that everyone should be made to think and act alike. And it requires the bulldozer of a totalitarian state to steamroll dissenters and level things out. 

It's striking how impressionable and easily manipulated this voting block is. How they surrender themselves to be brainwashed by one-sided rhetoric.

And it's striking to witness their indubitable judgmentalism. If we live in a godless universe, then human existence is like a stream of taillights headed into oblivion. One after another, each driver passes into the darkness of absolute oblivion. When you were born, some cars were ahead of you and others behind you. You can see a stream of taillights ahead of you. And, in the distance, you can see taillights extinguished as the lead car disappears into oblivion, followed inexorably by the next car and the next. As you go through the lifecycle, you edge ever closer to the devouring shadow of nonexistence. You see the taillights ahead of you vanish. There's nothing on the other side. No road on the other side. No cars steaming away. 

You are trapped in your car, in the chain of cars, as it moves relentlessly forward, at the same mechanical pace, in the same fatal direction. A journey into nothing. That's all there is to human existence. All there is to each individual life. The fateful procession from nothing to nothing. The only thing in-between is the cortege. And yet the secular progressives are hellbent on a ruthless utopian crusade–as if anything matters. 

They stoke the politics of hate and self-hate. They hate Christians. They hate Orthodox Jews. They hate whites. They hate men. They hate boys. They hate masculinity. They hate straight men. They hate straight women. They hate the elderly. They hate the disabled. They hate kids. 

They hate themselves. Self-hating women (feminists). Self-hating men (transgender women). Self-hating whites (guilt-ridden caucasians), self-hating Jews, self-hating Asian-Americans, &c. 

Much of this is based on woeful and willful ignorance. Self-reinforcing prejudice. They only listen to one side of the argument. 

Increasingly, you have men, women, and couples who hate kids. They have dogs rather than kids. If they had kids, that would generally create a bonding effect, but they don't. 

We now have a concerned campaign to butcher the bodies of children through puberty blockers and sex-change operations. Public school exists to indoctrinate the next generation to become robotic drones of the totalitarian state. 

They labor under the illusion that they will benefit from the revolution. But nearly all secular totalitarians will suffer the same fate as Christians. The only people who benefit from a totalitarian state are members of the paper thin ruling class. All the goodies are diverted to the ruling class. The loyal progressive voters are just a temporary, expendable tool. Once the totalitarian state is in place, the loyal little foot-soldiers who made it happen will join the wretched ranks of the massive underclass. Look at China under Mao. Look at the Soviet bloc under Lenin, Stalin, and Brezhnev. Look at Cuba and North Korea. 

Moral schizophrenia

In fact, most of this abuse involves homosexual assaults on pubescent boys, of the kind (not remotely connected with religion) that occurred at my private school. This fact is neglected at least partly because it is no longer respectable to disapprove of homosexuality as such, and many homosexual liberationists campaign for ever-lower ages of consent–which wold bring such offenses perilously close to being legal, especially given the feebleness with which the current age of consent is policed. Yet the [Roman Catholic] church is simultaneously criticized by  its foes for being against homosexual acts and for failing to act strongly enough against such acts… Peter Hitchens, The Rage Against God (Zondervan 2010), 204.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Works of the law

In 3:28, Paul reiterates his thesis that "a man is justified by faith apart from works of Torah." To support this, he asks rhetorically, "Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also" (3:29). "Works of Torah" must therefore be something that are characteristic of Jews rather than Gentiles. If Paul has in mind anything particular here, it would presumably be the ceremonial components of Torah (circumcision, food laws, festival laws), which are distinctively characteristic of Jews. It would not be the moral components of Torah, since even Gentiles have these written on their hearts (2:15) and they consequently do them "by nature" (2:14).1

It is in chapter 4 that we have the first concrete example of what Paul means by "works of Torah," and the example confirms the thesis just advanced (that if Paul has anything in mind it is the ceremonial rather than the moral components of Torah). The example is circumcision (4:9-12). Paul emphasizes with great force the non-necessity of circumcision for justification. In fact, the whole purpose of his discussion of Abraham as the father of the faithful (chapter 4) is to show the non-necessity of circumcision.

This indicates that circumcision is the work of Torah par excellence which Paul has in mind—something confirmed by the fact that Paul had earlier conducted an extended discussion of the irrelevance of circumcision to salvation (2:25-3:1) and by the fact that right after his affirmation in 3:27 that works of Torah are not necessary he drew the implication that God "will justify the circumcised on the ground of their faith and the uncircumcised through their faith" (3:30).

Our hypothesis that Paul has in mind primarily the ceremonial elements of Torah by "works of Torah" is thus confirmed by the discussion of circumcision in Romans. It is further confirmed by the discussion of circumcision in Galatians.

But while circumcision is the work of Torah par excellence which Paul has in mind, there are other works, as indicated by the text of Galatians. When Paul reminds Peter in Galatians 2:16 that they both "know that a man is not justified by works of Torah," it is in a context where Peter and the other Jews had separated themselves from eating with the Gentiles of Antioch (Gal. 2:12-13). This was because Gentiles were unclean and because they ate unclean food (Acts 10:9-16 with 11:3-12). Eating with Gentiles thus indicated a breach of the separation between clean and unclean people (clearly stressed in the Torah) and a partaking of unclean food (also stressed in the Torah). Thus the laws of separation between clean and unclean are also in view when Paul discusses "works of Torah."

Paul also laments that the Galatians "observe [Jewish] days, and months, and seasons, and years!" (Gal 4:10). This indicates that in addition to circumcision, separation laws, and food laws, Jewish festival laws are also subsumed under what Paul has in mind when he speaks of "works of Torah." In short, Paul has principally in mind the ceremonial works of Torah when he speaks of "works of Torah."2

But a question arises concerning whether Paul has in mind only the ceremonial works of Torah when he uses the phrase. Does he also have in mind the moral work of Torah? Many contemporary Protestant preachers assume that he does, but this is a judgement that must be established by exegesis and evidence rather than by a simple assertion that it is so.

3. Furthermore, Paul not only does not stress the non-necessity of love but that he lays a great deal of stress on the importance of love and obedience. For example, when Paul states that "we wait for the hope of [justification]" (Gal 5:5) he says that "neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail [toward that hope], but faith working through love" (or "faith made effective through love," RSV margin; Gal 5:6).

4. Also, Paul indicates that eternal life is a reward for "perseverance in good work" (Rom 2:7) and that we "seek . . . immortality by perseverance in good work" (ibid.). He also states that "he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life" (Gal 6:8) and sowing to the Spirit is defined in context as "sharing all good things with him who teaches" (Gal 6:6, see also 2 Cor 9:1-6), "doing the good" (Gal 6:9), and "doing good to all men" (Gal 6:10). These clearly indicate the necessity of doing good in order to receive the gift of eternal life on the last day. is not necessary for initial justification, leaving intact the fact that they are necessary for the reward of eternal life on the last day (Rom 2:7, Gal 6:6-10) and final, eschatological justification (Gal 5:5-6).

The thesis that love is not necessary for initial justification is something to which everyone in Christendom is agreed. The fact Protestants agree to it is so well-known it does not need documentation. But the agreement of Catholics to this thesis is so commonly denied (in Protestant preaching) that it does need documentation.

A Catholic can be perfectly happy saying that "works of Torah" (including works of love) are not necessary to become justified because the Council of Trent, the official Catholic response to the Protestant Reformers, states, "[N]othing that precedes justification, whether faith or works, merits the grace of justification. For if it is by grace, it is no more by works. Otherwise, as the apostle says, grace is no more grace."6 Trent thus teaches that nothing prior to justification, including works (of whatever kind) merits justification.

The analysis is flawed on several grounds:

i) The reason Paul stresses the "ceremonial Torah" is due to the nature of the opponent. The Judaizers regarded observance of the "ceremonial Torah" as necessary for salvation. Not just for Jews or Messianic Jews but Gentile Christians. To be a convert to Christianity, you had to be a convert to Judaism. 

ii) Trent invents a dichotomy between initial justification, which isn't meritorious, and final justification, which is. 

iii) Citing passages about the necessity of sanctification for salvation doesn't conflict with the opposing position since classic evangelical theology grants the necessity of sanctification for salvation. So that's not inconsistent with the opposing position. Moreover, it commits a category mistake by conflating justification with sanctification. 

iv) We can grant the Catholic distinction for argument's sake. It backfires. They wish to restrict what Paul says to the "ceremonial Torah". But that's the part that Jews were able to keep. Although ritual purity was a cumbersome chore, that part of the law could be executed to perfection. It was quite possible to obey the ceremonial law. Inability to perform the ceremonial law wasn't the source of the problem. It was possible to fully comply with the purity codes and offerings. It's the moral rather than ritual demands that defeated Jews, however devout.

v) Finally, as one commentator notes:

"Works of the law" most naturally means deeds or actions which the law requires (Exod 18:20)…Paul uses "law" and "works of the law" synonymous (e.g. Gal 2:16; 3:10-11). Andrew Das, Galatians (Concordia 2014), 249.

The body we were born with

Let's suppose we were talking…about children's…bodies…And the issue is…whether anyone should be permitted to deny her the uses of a clitoris. And now here I am suggesting that it is a girl's right to be left intact, that parents have no right to mutilate their daughters to suit their own socio-sexual agenda, and that we as a society ought to prevent it. What's more, to make the positive case as well, that every girl should actually be encouraged to find out how best to use to her own advantage the intact body she was born with…For one thing, the effects of circumcision are final and irreversible…For another, circumcision involves the removal of something that is already part of the body and will naturally be missed…To be deprived of the pleasures of bodily sensation is an insult on the most personal of levels…

This was obviously written by a transphobic fundamentalist culture warrior, right? This is the kind of religious bigotry that fuels teen suicide, when transgender minors are denied the right to transition. Denied the right to undergo puberty blockers and sex-reassignment surgery to resolve their gender dysphoria. The kind of child abuse practiced by Christian fundamentalist parents.

Well, actually not. This is by a secular psych prof. in a lecture oft-quoted and oft-cited by secular progressives. Cf. Nicholas Humphrey, "What Shall We Tell the Children?" Amnesty Lecture, Oxford, 21st February 1997. 

His target was the Muslim practice of female genital mutilation. Notice, though, how his arguments parallel arguments against "gender confirmation" surgery for minors. So how could he get away with such a politically incorrect position? Why isn't this hate speech? Why is (was?) his lecture so popular among secular progressives?

Because he gave this lecture back in 1997, before transgenderism became a fad, the new social mascot, the latest human right. He wouldn't dare use this illustration now. 

That demonstrates how arbitrary secular ethics is. How dangerous secular ethics is. What was taken by the liberal establishment as unquestionably wrong a few years ago becomes unquestionably right a few years later, and vice versa. It's not grounded in science, human nature, or objective moral norms, but raw political power. Which radical faction has the most power at any given time.

Reasons of the heart

It's necessary that the Christian faith have a rational foundation. Necessary that there's available evidence to point to. 

That's different from saying it's necessary that every Christian's faith have a rational basis. God can bring people to the faith, or bring them back to the faith, through avenues that are personally meaningful rather than probative. Not everyone operates at a cerebral level. While it's important to have that as backup, it's not the only way, or even the usual way, that God reaches people. God can and does use a variety of human experiences that speak to the heart rather than the head. Christianity is not an elitist faith. It's not just for philosophers and intellectuals. 

And even Christian philosophers and intellectuals have an emotional side that has to be fed. They aren't angelic, disembodied minds. They have the same emotional makeup with the same emotional needs that everyone else has. This is illustrated in The Rage Against God, by Peter Hitchens:

It is my belief that passions as strong as his are more likely to be countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time (12).

During a short spell at a cathedral choir school (not as a choirboy since I sing like a donkey) I had experienced the intense beauty of the ancient Anglican chants, spiraling up into chilly stone vaults at Evensong. This sunset ceremony is the very heart of English Christianity. The prehistoric, mysterious poetry of the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimitts, perhaps a melancholy evening hymn, and the cold, ancient laments and curses of the Psalms, as the unique slow dusk of England gathers outside and inside the echoing, haunted, impossibly old building are extraordinarily potent. If you are welcome them, they have an astonishing power to reassure and comfort (26).

I briskly informed my preparatory school headmaster I was an unbeliever when I was about twelve…He asked the question expecting the answer he would get…He avoided argument and made a mild riposte about how the deaths of those I loved might later alter my view, which I scorned at the time but which I never forgot and later found to be accurate (41-42).

As a small child I had been rather interested in death, in graveyards and tombstones. They were not concealed from me as they would be now. The English parish churches of those days had generally not cleared away their graves, altar tombs, and gravestones and turned their churchyards into tactful gardens. (49). 

I can easily slip into the self-indulgent luxury of living in the past. I know it is purposeless, wrong, and self-deceiving, since the past is irrecoverably gone. I suspect that I do it now, as many others whose parents have died before they were old do, in the hope of finding a door into a world where my mother and father are restored to life and youth, and I can explain to them how I have at last grown up, and I can introduce their grandchildren to them. But no such door exists… (53).

At this point in my life I had already returned to Christianity, rather diffidently, having been confirmed into the Church of England about seven years before. My reasons had been profoundly personal, to do with marriage and fatherhood–a cliché of rediscovery that is too obvious and universal, and also too profound, private, and unique to discuss with strangers (92). 

I was shocked and (like Virginia Woolf) almost physically disgusted if any acquaintance turned out to believe in God. Now I was discovering that the secular faiths I held were false. I knew, rather too well, that what one believes–and does not believe–is important. I cannot imagine living without any belief of any kind. I was not capable of existing without a coherent view of the universe. But I was suppressing my loss of faith in a Godless universe, and my loss of faith in humanity's ability to achieve justice. My life was devoted largely to pleasure and ambition. 

But what were those pleasures? Two of the arts–architecture and music–move me more than any others, not because I know a great deal about them, but because I can feel their influence upon me, almost as if they were speaking to me…I recognized in the great English cathedrals and in many small perish churches the old unsettling messages. One was the inevitability and certainty of my own death… (100-1).

The most important time was when I stood in front of Rogier van der Weyden's great altarpiece [The Last Judgment] and trembled for the things of which my conscience was afraid (and is afraid)…I went away chastened, and the effect has not worn off in nearly three decades. I have been back to look at the painting since then, and it remains a great and powerful work. But it cannot do the same thing to me twice. I am no longer shocked by the realization that I may be judged, because it has ever after been obvious to me (104).
At about the same time, I rediscovered Christmas, which I had pretended to dislike for many years. I slipped into a carol service on a winter evening, diffident and anxious not to be seen. I knew perfectly well that I was enjoying it, though I was unwilling to admit it. A few days later, I went to another service, this time with more confidence, and actually sang(105). 
The service of Holy Communion is a perpetual reenactment of the night of the Last Supper…it chills the church building with fear and trembling and, in parts, seems to be written in letters of fire. Outside, not far away, are the Garden of Gethsemane, the chilly night of loss and betrayal, the rooster preparing to crow three times and the mob already stirring in its sleep for the show trial, the grotesque procession to the gibbet, and the judicial murder…Evensong in particular has a dreamlike quality, at the edge of both sleep and death. As soon as the opening words are spoken, the mind is drawn away from the daily and the ordinary and toward the eternal (107-8).

Sunday, January 27, 2019

And the darkness overcame it not

Recently I was watching a performance of "Surely, he hath borne our griefs" (Isa 53) from Handel's Messiah, performed by King's College Chapel:

Everything about it was ideal: the setting, the message, the music, the performance.

A pocket of light in a world of darkness. If we resided in a world without darkness, there'd be no occasion to question God's existence or benevolence. If we resided in a world without light, there'd be no reason to believe in God's benevolence–although some transcendent being would still be necessary to account for many things.

But what about a world that alternates between light and darkness, in time and place? If light is the ultimate reality, we can explain the existence of moral darkness, but if darkness is the ultimate reality, how can we explain the existence of light? Shadow requires light. Light is not the absence of darkness. Rather, darkness is the absence of light. Light is primary while darkness is the side-effect of light's absence or occlusion.

Dropping the metaphor, moral evil presumes that something went wrong. Things ought to be better.

Christianity is threatened in England–by secular totalitarians in league with Muslim totalitarians. Threatened to be enveloped by darkness

But Christianity has always been threatened–both inside and outside the church. From within, by heresy, dead formalism, and moral corruption. From without by Islam, secularism, paganism, &c.

Yet within a dark world, stubborn pockets of unquenchable light remain. Pockets of light behind enemy lines. Despite ruthless, fanatical efforts to extinguish the light, it continues to reignite. It rekindles in the most unlikely places. And the surrounding darkness makes pockets of light stand out all the more. The persistence of light in a darkened world gives us reason to hope for the best.

Back to paganism


I don't care for MAGA caps, but at this point they serve the same function as cartoons about Muhammad. Sometimes it's necessary to do something provocative just to prove that you still have the right to do it. If you're too intimidated to exercise your rights, you soon enough will have no rights to exercise.

The root of Calvinism

Calvinism is often defended or derided. For freewill theists, Calvinism is the standard foil. But usually there's not much by way of definition beyond TULIP. Here's a definition by a great Reformed theologian. It's a useful point of reference whether or not we completely agree with his interpretation. 

It begins, it centers, it ends with the vision of God in His glory…

Whoever believes in God; whoever recognizes in the recesses of his soul his utter dependence on God...

Perhaps the simplest statement of it is the best: that it lies in a profound apprehension of God in His majesty, with the inevitably accompanying poignant realization of the exact nature of the relation sustained to Him by the creature as such, and particularly by the sinful creature...Theism comes to its rights only in a teleological conception of the universe, which perceives in the entire course of events the orderly outworking of the plan of God, who is the author, preserver, and governor of all things, whose will is consequently the ultimate cause of all. The religious relation attains its purity only when an attitude of absolute dependence on God is not merely temporarily assumed in the act, say, of prayer, but is sustained through all the activities of life...

The doctrine of predestination is not the formative principle of Calvinism, the root from which it springs. It is one of its logical consequences, one of the branches which it has inevitably thrown out. It has been firmly embraced and consistently proclaimed by Calvinists because it is an implicate of theism, is directly given in the religious consciousness, and is an absolutely essential element in evangelical religion, without which its central truth of complete dependence upon the free mercy of a saving God can not be maintained.

This is the root of Calvinistic soteriology; and it is because this deep sense of human helplessness and this profound consciousness of indebtedness for all that enters into salvation to the free grace of God is the root of its soteriology that to it the doctrine of election becomes the cor cordis of the Gospel. He who knows that it is God who has chosen him and not he who has chosen God, and that he owes his entire salvation in all its processes and in every one of its stages to this choice of God, would be an ingrate indeed if he gave not the glory of his salvation solely to the inexplicable elective love of God. B. B. Warfield, "Calvinism," The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge.