Saturday, February 16, 2019

The a priori argument against sola Scriptura

It is proved finally by reason. God was not ignorant of the fact that many difficulties would arise in the Church concerning the Faith. Therefore he had to provide a judge for the Church. But that judge cannot be Scripture…It is clear that Scripture is not the judge, because it is subject to various meanings, nor can it say which interpretation is true. Robert Bellarmine, Controversies of the Christian Faith (Keep the Faith 2016), 205.

In my experience, that's the most popular and influential objection to the Protestant faith. That objection is endlessly repeated and paraphrased by Catholic apologists. It's convincing to many cradle Catholics and evangelical converts to Rome. 

Notice the nature of the argument. It's an a priori argument. The argument is premised on what Christians should expect God to allow or prevent. God would not allow something like that to happen. God would have a mechanism in place to prevent that outcomes. It reasons back from unacceptable consequences to divine provision and prevention. 

As I say, many Catholics and prospective Catholics find that utterly persuasive. But is it in fact reasonable. Consider a few counterexamples that operate from the same principle:

It is proved finally by reason. God was not ignorant of the fact that many difficulties would arise in the Church concerning the Faith if Luther lived. Therefore God had to cause Luther to die in childhood.

It is proved finally by reason. God was not ignorant of the fact that billions of people would embrace a false religion if Muhammad lived. Therefore he had to cause Muhammad to die in childhood.

It is proved finally by reason. God was not ignorant of the fact that billions of people would embrace a false religion if Buddha lived. Therefore he had to cause Buddha to die in childhood. 

It is proved finally by reason. God was not ignorant of the fact that Bart Ehrman would be the most influential apostate of his generation. Therefore he had to prevent Ehrman from becoming Bruce Metzger's student. 

It is proved finally by reason. God was not ignorant of the fact that if Nabeel Qureshi died of cancer at 33, many Muslims would conclude that Allah punished him for apostasy. Therefore he had to heal Nabeel.

And so on and so forth. Point being, it's generally quite unreliable to predict what God would not permit. 

Problems with the real presence

Usually, arguments about whether Jn 6 and 1 Cor 11 teach the real presence revolve around exegetical considerations. However, that's not the only pertinent consideration:

i) Sometimes reality can serve a hermeneutical role. If the bread or wine just is Jesus, then why doesn't it look like Jesus? The total lack of correspondence between the interpretation and empirical reality is, in itself, a reason to question or reject the interpretation. If it is Jesus, shouldn't it bear a recognizable resemblance to Jesus? 

If I held up a banana and said "This is Marilyn Monroe," the fact that the claim defies manifest reality is good reason to dismiss the claim out of hand. 

ii) Sometimes reality is a check on our interpretations. Suppose a guy shows up on my doorstep tomorrow and announces that he's Jesus. He came back, just like he predicted.

Well, I need to compare that claim against reality. Does he do what Jesus can do. Does it match what Scripture says about eschatological signs when Jesus returns? Certain observable things are supposed to happen in the world that herald his return.

iii) Suppose someone objects that I'm overlooking the miraculous nature of the Eucharist. But one problem with that appeal is that even if we grant the Eucharistic interpretation of Jn 6, Jesus doesn't say it will be miraculous. There's nothing in the text of Jn 6 to indicate that the Eucharist is a miracle–even assuming the Eucharistic interpretation.

Indeed, none of the accounts of the Last Supper in the four Gospels and 1 Cor 11 say the Eucharist is a miracle. The miraculous nature of the Eucharist isn't required by the text, but by a particular interpretation of the text. Appealing to a miracle is an extraneous, stopgap explanation to save appearances for a particular interpretation. 

Two kinds of Christian apologists

At the risk of oversimplification, there are roughly two kinds of Christian apologists:

i) The first kind calibrates the evidence to the plausibility structure of the "sincere truth-seeker" (an ideal abstraction). He seeks common ground with the unbeliever. He leads with a weaker position than his actual position because it's easier to defend. That's the opening move in a multi-stage argument.

So there's a gap between the reasons he gives and the reasons he has. The reasons he gives are a subset of the reasons he has. As a matter of apologetic strategy, he keeps some reasons in reserve because he limits himself to what the unbeliever ought to find persuasive.

ii) The second kind gives his own reasons for why he's a Christian. He doesn't filter his reasons. When he makes a case for Christianity, he explains why he is a Christian. That's the evidence he finds persuasive. He's not adapting his position to what the unbeliever might find persuasive. 

So there's no gap between the reasons he has and the reasons he gives. That's because those are the only reasons he has. He's not holding back. It's not an apologetic strategy. Rather, he has no additional reasons. That's it. What you see is what you get. 

He's hopeful that an unbeliever will find his reasons convincing, but he can't anticipate or control what an unbeliever will find convincing. Unbelievers don't have a monolithic plausibility structure. What the apologist finds persuasive may intersect or coincide with what the unbeliever finds persuasive, or they may be ships passing in the night. 

At the moment I'm not offering a value judgment on which approach is better. Both are legitimate. Both are useful.

A little lost

1. I've seen Protestant apologists and theologians struggle with sola scriptura. Is that a damaging admission? No. For one thing, I see Catholic apologists and theologians struggle with their own position. Both sides have struggles.

2. Suppose someone raises an objection to your position, and you don't have a good answer. That could mean one of two things. 

i) Your position is wrong

ii) The question is wrong

There are no good answers to bad questions. Sometimes the question is the problem. Take loaded questions that have dubious assumptions.

3. It's quite possible not to have the right answer, but sense that someone else has the wrong answer. Many Protestants look at Roman Catholicism and think, "Whatever the answer is, that's not it!"

This parallels the history of science. There's a process of elimination. Take a brilliant young scientific maverick. He thinks the standard paradigm is wrong. He doesn't know what the right answer is–yet. But he can recognize a wrong answer even though he doesn't have the right answer. And he has to rule out bad explanations as a preliminary step to make progress in finding the right explanation. 

Likewise, even if a Protestant didn't have a good answer to objections, that doesn't mean he can't spot a wrong answer. 

4. The stock objection to sola scriptura is that it fails to settle theological controversies. Scripture isn't self-interpreting. Without a living interpreter, Christians disagree about what it means. Scripture alone fails to secure doctrinal consensus. 

However, we can flip that around. If Scripture alone fails to secure doctrinal consensus, then that's not the function of Scripture. That doesn't mean sola Scriptura is false. Rather, that means Catholics have misidentified the purpose of Scripture. 

5. Catholics approach the question from an a priori standpoint. They have an expectation about God's intentions for "the Church". God will intervene to protect "the Church" from error.

Ironically, this parallels the argument from evil, which has the same a priori structure. If there's an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God, he'd intervene to prevent evil, but since there's evil, God does not exist.

The argument operates from an expectation about what God would do or should do. Since that expectation is disappointed by experience, it follows that God doesn't exist.

But we can turn that around. If God doesn't intervene to prevent certain kinds of evil, then that doesn't falsify God's existence–rather, that falsifies an armchair expectation about what God would or should do. 

Suppose you use a spoon to cut a steak. You complain about how ill-designed the spoon is. Surely there's a more efficient way to cut a steak. No doubt. 

Does the spoon suffer from a design defect because it doesn't work as well as a steak knife? The spoon may be ideally designed to do what a spoon is supposed to do. The problem isn't with the tool, but misuse of the tool. 

6. Even if you consider the Catholic alternative, does it solve the problem it posed for itself? It's not like Catholicism actually secures consensus. Take "ecumenical" councils like Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II. The bishops don't think alike when they go into the council, and they don't think alike when they leave the council.

Competing factions are represented at "ecumenical" councils. As a result, compromise is sought to get enough votes for passage. When the vote is taken, there are winners and losers.

The losers aren't persuaded that they were wrong. In public they may submit to the results, but in private they remain unconvinced. In some cases, moreover, because the documents were deliberately ambiguous to forge a winning coalition, the losers can interpret the documents to agree with their own position. 

7. Suppose we infer the purpose of Scripture from how it actually functions in the life of Christians. It guides them through life. They locate themselves in Scripture. They find their own story in the story of Scripture. They join the ongoing pilgrimage.

8. But how can it be a guide if Christians disagree? How can it be a map if Christians get lost? 

Actually, I think every Christian is a little lost. Some Christians are more lost than others. But I don't mean "lost" in a damnatory sense. 

There are degrees of lostness. Suppose you grow up in a mid-sized city. It's small enough that you know parts of the city very well, but it's large enough that you may lose your bearings if you go into a strange part of town.

Here's the thing: you can get lost in your hometown, but you can't get totally lost. Because you have a good general knowledge of the layout, if you make a wrong turn, you can continue to driving in that direction, or experiment with different routes, until you find a landmark. Then you exclaim, "So that's where I am!"

Or suppose you're a tourist visiting an island like Port Townsend. You don't know your way around. You may lose track of where you are. 

But even if you're lost, you're still on the island. There are boundaries to how lost you can get. The island is surrounded by water. That's what makes it an island. The roads only go so far before they circle back or run out at the sea. 

Even though you may lose your way, you can only get a little lost. You may be temporarily lost, but you can't be hopelessly lost. For the island limits how lost you can get. The island imposes a physical barrier on your degree of lostness. You may be lost somewhere on the island, but your disorientation is within the confines of the island. You won't turn up as a missing person. The authorities won't discover your body a month later.

Or suppose your home sits on 5-10 acres of land with meadows and woods, hills and dales. A fenced-in property. You have a 4-year-old son. He wanders off to explore the property. He becomes hopelessly confused. Is he lost? He is lost and not lost. He's lost in the sense that he can't find his way out. But he's not lost in the sense that he can't be found. If he doesn't come back, a parent or older sibling walks around the property until they find him. There are only so many places to look. It was safe to let him out of their sight because he can only go so far. How lost can he get? He was never truly lost. 

To take a final illustration, suppose you get lost on a passenger ship. You make a wrong turn inside the ship. So many nooks and crannies and hallways leading to dead-ends.

But even if you couldn't find your way back, you are going wherever the ship is headed. The fact that you lost your way on  the passenger ship doesn't affect your destination. You are lost, but the ship is not. The ship will ferry you to your destination even though you are lost onboard. 

9. Sola scriptura doesn't mean we're saved by Scripture alone. In addition to Scripture, we're saved by God's grace and providence. 

And that may be why God doesn't intervene to prevent Christian disagreement. We're not saved by our own cleverness. We're not saved by having 20/20 theological insight. 

10. I'm not saying Bible readers can't be lost in a damnatory sense. But the good shepherd protects his sheep. To be lost in God's pasture, like the "lost" child in the fenced-in property of his parents, delimits how far you can stray. 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Dichotomized faith

Philosophers of science are well aware that a theory does not need to have answers to all anomalies in order to be well-supported and rationally accepted. We have ample, to my mind overwhelming, evidence, quite independent of our response to the question of the Canaanite slaughters, that God exists, that He is loving and all-good, that His goal is to redeem mankind, and that Jesus is God the Son who reveals the loving Father to us. That means that we can handle points where we do not know the answer while still retaining a robust confidence in the truth of Christianity. It is a brittle and irrational approach that says, "You must have an answer to everything or else your faith is vain and not founded on fact." Being an evidentialist, as I am, does not at all mean having to have all answers to all questions. On the contrary, it means viewing the totality of the evidence one has and trying, to the best of one's ability, to come to an intelligent and judicious conclusion. I believe that any fair-minded inquirer who investigates the evidence for Christianity will come to believe it to be true. This means believing that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the one true God and is a necessarily good and perfect God, worthy of all worship.

Communion and cannibalism

The charge of cannibalism does not hold water for at least three reasons. First, Catholics do not receive our Lord in a cannibalistic form. Catholics receive him in the form of bread and wine. The cannibal kills his victim; Jesus does not die when he is consumed in Communion. Indeed, he is not changed in the slightest; the communicant is the only person who is changed. The cannibal eats part of his victim, whereas in Communion the entire Christ is consumed—body, blood, soul, and divinity. The cannibal sheds the blood of his victim; in Communion our Lord gives himself to us in a non-bloody way. 

i) First of all, I always find ironic how proponents of the real presence stress the literal interpretation of Jn 6, but then when asked if that doesn't commit them to a cannibalistic view of the Eucharist, they back off. So do they take it literally or not? They take it literally until you press them on the implications, at which point they get defensive and distance themselves from a literal interpretation. 

ii) Suppose a psychopath kidnaps teenagers, chains them in his basement, then uses an I.V. tube as a straw to suck their blood. Isn't that cannibalistic? But it doesn't kill them unless the psycho exsanguinates them. He can keep them alive and sample their blood. 

iii) Suppose a human body is dehydrated, ground into powder, and made into pills. If you pop those pills, you're consuming a corpse in a different form, but it's still cannibalistic, is it not? It's not the form but composition that makes it cannibalistic. 

iv) What does it mean to eat a soul? What does it mean to eat divinity? Eating is a physical process. Is a soul physical? Is divinity physical? 

v) Even if you take Jn 6 literally, it says nothing about consuming the soul or deity of Christ. 

The Lord of logic

If, on the one hand you think that God is (necessarily?) logical, while, on the other hand, you think the source of logic is not God, but is independent of God, then that makes divine rationality contingent on something that's not God, that's independent of God, and more ultimate than God. If God isn't the source of things like logic, numbers, and possible worlds, then that's a smaller God, a less impressive God. Not the greatest conceivable being. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019


The journey within a journey

Life as a journey is a familiar and fundamental metaphor. And the Christian pilgrimage is a variation on that metaphor. But the familiarity of the metaphor may obscure the multiple dimensions of the metaphor. It operates on at least two levels. There's the individual level. Everyone is on a personal journey. Each life is a journey. It has a starting line, course, and finish line. 

But at another level, all of us are born into a journey. Born on the road. Like a caravan that left long before we were born. It will arrive at the final destination long after we die. We find ourselves born in the course an ongoing trek. We immediately take our place in the caravan. Many have gone before. Aging pilgrims tell us the old old story of the original embarkment. And they tell us where we're headed.

When we're born into the world, we have no idea what to expect. For all we know, the world might be unrecognizably different than it is. Think of science fiction and fantasy movies and novels about surreal worlds. Suppose you were parachuted into one of those mind-bending landscapes. That would be utterly disorienting. And even those are severely limited by the provincial, earthbound experience of the human authors. 

We must discover what reality is like. We don't know in advance. Try to remember what it's like to see the world through a baby's eyes. To be bathed in warm water by a loving mother. Or nursed. Or see a butterfly for the first time. 

After we get used to it, it's easier to take for granted, as if it had to be that way. But what if it hadn't been that way? What if we were born into a world far stranger or far worse? 

If we're lucky, we learn that reality had to have certain parameters. It couldn't be just any way. It had to have a God. 

However, we're confronted with competing narratives. The Biblical backstory and counter narratives–as well as rival narratives about the destination. Guides who misdirect us. 

In Hebrews 11 we see a journey within a journey. A procession of pilgrims on their way to the unseen country. Each has his own pilgrimage, from beginning to end. Then there's the overarching journey of the procession itself. That was written 2000 years ago. But the caravan continues, as we pick up where they left off. And we will hand it off to the next generation, when we reach the unseen country, one by one, while they retrace our steps. 

What did they know and when did they know it?

Regarding the SBC abuse scandal, I wonder about major players like Al Mohler. He rose through the ranks at rocket velocity. He's held top positions in the SBC for many years now. 

Did he have no inkling what was going on? Never heard rumors? Nothing through the grapevine? No victims or friends of victims ever confided in him?

When the Cardinal McCarrick scandal broke, people asked "What did they know and when did they know it?" How could some of his associates and superiors not know what he was up to? And it turns out that they did. The SBC needs to ask itself the same hard questions.

Perhaps some people did confide in Mohler, but no one who spoke to him was prepared to go on record.

Are You Allowing Your Child to Be Injected with Vaccines that Contain Chopped Up Aborted Baby Parts?

There is a lot of justified outrage out there of late about abortion among Christians. However, many Christian parents either do not want to know or are simply ignorant of the fact that major vaccines given to children contain aborted baby parts.

This is not a post about the question of the safety or effectiveness of vaccines. So please do not comment on that facet of the vaccine debate in the comments. It's about whether we are consistent in our ethics: Can you be a Christian and knowingly allow your child to be injected with aborted fetal tissue? 

How can you know what vaccines contain it? The following video discusses this issue.

How to be forgiving

i) How should we understanding passages like Mt 6:15 and Mt 18:21-35?

One problem is that it might suggest a cynical view of forgiveness. A quid pro quo. I don't forgive you for your sake but for my sake. I don't care about you. I don't forgive you because that's in your best interest, but because forgiving you is an act of enlighten self-interest. Unless I forgive you, I will be damned.

ii) Another difficulty is the specter of coercive forgiveness. "Forgive or else!"

But if I'm forgiving you at gunpoint, I'm I really forgiving you? Isn't coercive forgiveness grudging? Don't I still resent you? I resent having to forgive you. So isn't coercive forgiveness oxymoronic?

iii) Yet another difficulty is that we lack direct control over our feelings. We don't have total control over how we feel about other people. It's not a switch we can flip on and off. 

iv) One issue is whether the forgiveness in view is primarily psychological or performative. What does forgiveness mean? On a behavioral interpretation, I forgive in the sense of relinquishing vengeance. I refuse to get even. 

That parallels the nature of divine forgiveness. What's the opposite of divine forgiveness? Divine punishment.  For God to forgive means foregoing punitive actions. 

v) This is not to deny that forgiveness can have a psychological dimension. I'm just addressing an exegetical question. What does the command to be forgiving mean?

There are ways we can try to cultivate a forgiving attitude. Consider the opposite. Nursing a grudge. Brooding about the past. Keeping a mental list of slights. Reminding ourselves of what that person did to us, rather than letting the memory and intensity of the experience naturally fade with the passage of time.  

In addition, we need to learn not to take ourselves too seriously. Self-importance is a recipe for resentment. 

Hard cases

i) Not surprisingly, proponents of abortion and infanticide like Peter Singer lead with the hard cases because that's a wedge issue. Is it wrong to bring a child into the world at high risk of a short, painful life?

From a Christian standpoint, this life is not all there is, so the fact that you get off to a bad start in life doesn't mean it stays that way. There's the hope of heaven. But that wouldn't be available if you never existed in the first place. 

Antinatalists sometimes counter that the danger of hell offsets the hope of heaven. Not that antinatalists believe in heaven or  hell. They just raise that objection for the sake of argument. But there are problems with that objection:

ii) That applies to healthy happy kids as well as the case of kids at high risk of a short painful life. So unless you're an antinatalist, that argument proves too much or too little. That's not an argument for abortion or infanticide, but sterilization to forestall procreation. 

iii) In a cost/benefit analysis, it's not enough to single out one side of the equation, for the potential loss must be considered against the potential gain. The high risk of harm may be offset by the high risk of losing a compensatory good. 

iv) I'm not suggesting a cost/benefit analysis is an appropriate tool to evaluate abortion or infanticide. I think that can be a legitimate consideration regarding contraception, but once a child is conceived, it's too late for a cost/benefit analysis to pertain. Abortion and infanticide can't be justified by a cost/benefit analysis. However, it's useful to consider that perspective for discussion purposes, to rule it out even on its own grounds. 

v) Suppose I'd like to have four kids. Suppose I have counterfactual knowledge that the firstborn will have a short painful life. And it doesn't matter when my wife and I have our first child. I don't think it would be wrong to practice contraception in that event. In the age of contraception, Christian parents do make decisions about how many kids to have, and spacing them. Unless you oppose contraception in principle, it's not wrong to take into consideration whether the woman is at high risk of medical complications (e.g. miscarriage) or fetal abnormalities. 

vi) But even in that situation, you can go ahead and conceive the child for the child's sake. The gift of life carries with it the potential for eternal bliss. 

vii) However, my scenario introduces another consideration. I can't have later kids unless I have the first one. If I refuse to have the first child, then that denies the future kids an opportunity to share in the gift of life, because their existence is contingent on the existence of the firstborn. It's a nested relationship in which I can't have more than one child unless I have at least one child. Yet the lead child will suffer a short painful life. Therefore, even if we frame the issue in crass cost/benefit terms, there are tradeoffs. The justification for having the first child can't be isolated from the other children, in that internal relation. 

viii) A critic might object that this improperly uses the firstborn as a means to an end.

But to begin with, I'm not a Kantian deontologist. And even if I was, the principle is not using people as a means, but using them merely as a means. As I've already discussed, the existence of the firstborn isn't just for the benefit of his siblings–for he himself is as much a potential beneficiary (in the long run) as they are. And he will be loved during his short painful life.  

ix) A critic might object that I'm resorting to a consequentialist justification. But even if I was, that doesn't commit me to consequentialism. I'm simply responding to the antinatalist, abortionist, or infanticidalist on his own grounds, for argument's sake.

On consequentialism, aborting the first child would be the logical alternative. A special needs child will be demanding on the parents. And aborting the first child will clear the way for his siblings. But I already ruled that out. Eugenic abortion is evil. 

x) Finally, a critic might object to my counterfactual calculation on the grounds that hypothetical humans who never exist have nothing to lose or gain. 

That's the Epicurean argument. One issue is whether that commits the critic to the symmetry argument, where prenatal and postmortem nonexistence are equivalent. I've argued elsewhere that to be denied the opportunity to exist is the greatest deprivation of all. 

This doesn't mean there's a duty to have as many kids as possible. And this doesn't mean we're wronging nonexistent persons by not conceiving them.

But there is a sense in which potential persons have a stake in the lottery of life. They have a personal interest in sharing the same goods as those who exist. 

Suppose I have a teenage brother I dislike. Suppose I could step into a time machine, change a variable in the past. I exist in the new timeline, but my brother does not. He never existed in the new timeline. If my brother found out about my plans, would he have reason to feel threatened? Would he have reason to thwart my plans?  

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

What is worship?

A striking feature of public corporate worship is the performative emphasis. In a traditional worship service (e.g. Anglican), worship is predominantly something you do. Acts of worship, viz., reciting scripture, confession, profession (reciting a creed), praise (singing), prayer, preaching, thanksgiving, baptism, communion. Some of this is corporate, where the congregation acts in unison (singing, reading aloud).

A danger of the performative emphasis is that it can lead to mechanical piety, where the outward expression isn't mirrored by the mind and heart. Where what is said and done lacks a matching attitude of faith and reverence. Where the inner and outer sides don't correspond. 

However, the performative emphasis often has a conditioning effect so the performative and doxastic dimensions are interrelated. And that can go either way. On the one hand, acts of worship may express faith, while on the other hand, acts of worship may foster faith. So they cross-pollinate. 


The disconnect problem

There is a certain well-known problem facing libertarians–the so-called "luck problem." If an event is undetermined, then it is random, and random events are not within anyone's control. A tad more carefully, if an event is undetermined then it is not determined by the agent's reasons, and this disconnection has the consequence that it is just luck when an undetermined event appropriately corresponds to the agent's reasons. That, in turn, seems to have the consequence that the undetermined event is not something that the agent controls or for which the agent is responsible. There is a standard response to this problem–an agent can control her actions by virtue of her reasons "influencing without determining" her decisions. I will propose that if some influencing is good, then a little more influencing is always better. I will further propose that that leaves the libertarian with no explanation for why influencing is good but determining is bad. 

The disconnect problem can be stated thus: if an event E is undetermined, then it is not sufficiently connected to A's reasons to qualify as being within her control, up to her, or something she has a choice about. 

Her resulting behavior would look just like what she should have done on her own, but it would not be in her control because it was coming from "without". It is this externality to the self that is carried over through Case 7. If the start of a chain leading to a volition is disconnected from Agent A's character, then moving that start inside the head will not stop it from being disconnected. 

We need to distinguish different ways in which one might lack free will–different ways in which it might not be possible for one to perform an act. The difference I have in mind has to do with the counterfactual effectiveness of my deliberation…If I were to believe that I lacked free will with respect to which door to exit through on the grounds that I believe that one of the doors is locked, then I would not and should not deliberate about which door to exit through. The deliberation would be pointless. Regardless of the outcome of the deliberation, my exit would be through the unlocked door.

…The determinist chain that produces that action produces it by way of the deliberation. Determinism is not fatalism. If I were to deliberate to a different outcome or fail to deliberate at all, my action would be different. As long as deliberation makes a difference it is not pointless. Mark Heller, "The Disconnect Problem and the Influence Strategy," John. Keller, ed. Being, Freedom, and Method: Themes from the Philosophy of Peter Van Inwagen (Oxford 2017), chap. 5. 

Disposing of the dead

How a culture disposes of the dead is a cultural interpretation of what human lives mean. It's said that contemporary American culture is post-Christian, but that's simplistic. There's a vibrant, influential Christian presence. But America is highly polarized on the religious question. Many Americans are misotheists. 

That's an opportunity to examine what had been unquestioned Christian customs. For the average atheist, a corpse is just a dead body. Even when alive, humans were nothing more than their bodies. Why not treat a corpse as fertilizer? But even from a Christian standpoint, are traditional ways we treat a corpse rationally unwarranted sentimentalism? 

Let's take a comparison. Many people take pictures of friends and relatives. They have family pictures at work, on the deck in their office (or cubicle). Or at home on the nightstand or the fireplace mantle. They used to carry family pictures in their wallet. Nowadays, they have family pictures on their smartphone. 

Would they stomp on a picture of their mother? No. Although a picture of their mother is not their mother, it represents their mother. In one respect it's just a piece of paper. But it's more than that. If the object represents something, then the action of stomping on the picture represents something as well. For instance, vandalizing the picture of a hated dictator is a symbolic gesture. 

So we need to strike a balance. Symbolism isn't everything, but symbolism isn't nothing. 

The corpse of your mother (or father or grandmother or wife or brother) isn't your mother, but it still represents your mother. So it's proper to treat it differently than a dead rat. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Mutiny in Rome

I've watched some YouTube clips of The Young Pope, a fictional drama about a youthful pope who's a throwback to antimodernist popes (e.g. Pius IX; Leo XIII) or even medieval popes (e.g. Innocent III; Boniface VIII). He's the dream pope of RadTrad Catholics 

It seems likely that the successor to Pope Francis will be another modernist who will continue in the same direction. For one thing, Francis keeps stacking the College of Cardinals with his theological soulmates.

But suppose, just suppose, they elect a Pius XIII type. How much could he roll back the inroads of modernism? On paper, the pope is virtually an absolute monarch. (Technically, he can't change dogma, but he can just claim a theological innovation or reversal is really a development of dogma.) 

But here's the catch: his effective authority depends on having subordinates willing to carry out his orders. If, however, the Catholic bureaucracy or deep state is dominated by mutinous subordinates, then he's pretty powerless to impose his will. A pope can give orders but he can't make subordinates follow orders unless enough subordinates cooperate. 

At present, the Catholic hierarchy and priesthood have so many sodomites and modernists that it's hard to see how, even if the College of Cardinals elected an aggressive reactionary conservative, he'd be able to implement his policies. There's a tipping-point beyond which you lose control. Mutineers can overpower their titular superiors through force of numbers. 

Trinity of the gaps?

Recently I listened to the tail-end of a podcast by apostate Dale Tuggy critiquing Fred Sanders for allegedly concealing a trade secret from lay Christians that he concedes when writing to fellow scholars. Tuggy casts the issue as if the Trinity is like the God-of-the-gaps. Due to the steady march of exegetical theology, the biblical foundations of the Trinity are now in "crisis" because, one after another, traditional prooftexts for the Trinity have been invalidated by "textual scholars". A few brief observations:

1. Tuggy's characterization is deceptive, combining a half truth with a falsehood. To begin with, when it suits his agenda, Tuggy is quick to say there is no one model of the Trinity. Sanders is operating with a Nicene paradigm. And it's true that elements of that paradigm (e.g. eternal generation of the Son, eternal procession of the Spirit) have been threatened by modern exegesis. 

However, that isn't new. As Tuggy knows, Moses Stuart's Letters on the Eternal Generation of the Son of God, challenging that paradigm, were published almost 200 years ago (1822). And Stuart was writing in defense of the Trinity, in response to New England unitarians. 

2. Moreover, there are models of the Trinity that don't operate with the Nicene paradigm (i.e. monarchy of the Father, eternal generation/procession). And these aren't new. Take 17C Dutch-Reformed theologian Herman Alexander Röell. In response to the Remonstrants and Socinians, he defended a consistently autothean model of the Trinity ("in each of the persons the whole idea of deity is involved") by appealing to Cartesian natural theology and perfect being theology. Cf. Brannon Ellis, Calvin, Classical Trinitarianism, and the Aseity of the Son (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 127-36. That's invulnerable to exegetical attacks on eternal generation/procession inasmuch as it eschewed those elements of the Nicene paradigm, preferring an egalitarian model of the Trinity. 

3. Furthermore, while some traditional Trinitarian prooftexts have been retired, newer prooftexts (e.g. Jn 1:18) have been advanced, as well as neglected hermeneutical perspectives. For instance, the work of Alan Segal and Michael Heiser on the second Yahweh tradition in Second Temple theology, the work of Andrew Malone and Rod Elledge on illeism in Scripture, as well as probing studies of Synoptic high Christology, viz. Simon Gathercole, The Preexistent Son: Recovering the Christologies of Matthew, Mark, and Luke (Eerdmans 2006), Joshua E. Leim, Matthew's Theological Grammar: The Father and the Son, WUNT 2/402 (Mohr Siebeck 2015). In addition, there's the groundbreaking studies of Richard Bauckham all across NT Christology. So even though some traditional prooftexts have been withdrawn from consideration, that's more than offset by newer lines of evidence.

Does the Magisterium actually solve the problem it poses for itself?

RR: You say that the attempt to relativize a subset of doctrinal disagreements has a fatal flaw as regards the challenge of identifying which doctrines can be properly relativized. You then suggest that the way to neutralize that flaw is by appealing to an authoritative magisterium which can guide us in discerning which doctrines are proper candidates of relativization.
But here’s the problem: prior to appealing to Catholic magisterial authority, you offered preliminary reasoned arguments as to which doctrines can be properly relativized. For example, you argued that one cannot relativize the means of salvation or the nature of posthumous punishment: “hell either is eternal, conscious suffering or it isn’t.” Notably, none of those arguments appeals to the Magisterium of the church. On the contrary, they stand independent of it and thus can be evaluated on their own merits whether or not one accepts the Catholic Magisterium.
So it seems to me that your own analysis actually undermines your claim that the challenge of discernment constitutes a fatal flaw which requires appeal to a magisterial authority.
TH: I agree that we can know from reason alone that certain doctrines refer to objective statements that are either true or false for all people (like statements about the existence of God or divinity of Christ). Indeed, we can know from reason that any statement about reality is either true or false and any Christian practice is either permissible, forbidden, or obligatory. The problem still arises, however, as to knowing which doctrines and practices are binding only upon a certain community, only upon believers, or are binding upon all people.
You could say in response, “Well, let each person examine the sources for belief and come to his own conclusion on those questions” and in one sense, everyone has to do that. For example, I don’t believe in the authority of the Church’s magisterium solely because it is useful in settling these disputes or because it says it is required in doing so (the former being crude pragmatism and the latter being invalid circular reasoning).

The One True Queer Church

Questions in search of answers

Despite the dismal state of our culture, or perhaps because of its dismal state, there are people with serious questions seeking serious answers. That's why, more than ever, Christian apologetics is so important. If they can't get good answers from Christians, they'll get bad answers from the world:

Disgruntled VIP customers

I see lots of stuff by disgruntled Catholic apologists. I can't say I'm sympathetic. It's the schizophrenic spectacle of fiercely, slavishly loyal disgruntled customers. 

Seems contradictory, don't cha think? Like customers who patronize the same supermarket. Every time they go there, they find something to complain about. The cashiers are rude. The cashiers overcharge. The sale items are always out of stock. The fruit is overripe, the milk is sour, the eggs are rotten, the bread is moldy, the cookies have rat hairs, the cereal has rat droppings, the meat has maggots. The background odor of urine. 

Yet every week they go back, then complain, then go back, then complain. Disgruntled customers who remain doggedly loyal customers. Even though there are other supermarkets without all the same problems, they wouldn't consider switching supermarkets. They constantly gripe about the establishment they keep in business. Cheat me again! And again! And again! 

A codependent relationship between cynical clerics and starry-eyed laymen. No matter how often the faithful feel betrayed, they come back for more. A perfect racket between chumps and conmen. 

How often do you have to be suckered before you learn from sorry experience? The real source of the problem isn't with the corrupt hierarchy but laymen who play willing dupes. 

The duty of readers

Finally, if you just read this book because you're looking for an argument, and you only want to assess the argument, then you have missed the point and you are the main person who needs to read the book.  The point is that this isn't just some argument.  There are real people in this debate with hopes, desires, loves, and fears.  If you don't care about all that, that's the problem.

That's rather patronizing and ill-conceived. On the one hand, a classic mistake reviewers make is to fault a book as a failure because it didn't address a question important to the reader. But of course, authors write about what's important to the author. So I understand why authors find reviews like that aggravating.

On the other hand, a reader has a perfect right to read a book with an eye to what's important or interesting to the reader. He shouldn't blame the author if the book doesn't share his priorities, but by the same token, the reader isn't obliged to share the author's priorities. 

For instance, I read lots of stuff by atheists and Roman Catholics. Their intention is to persuade the reader to be an atheist or Roman Catholic. I, by contrast, read their stuff to spot flaws in arguments for atheism and Roman Catholicism. My motivation for reading their stuff is diametrically opposed to their intentions, but it's perfectly legitimate for a reader to have a different agenda than the author. 

Misplaced zeal

It's revealing to see atheists passionately defend atheism, as if that's a wonderful cause. Even if they think we live in a godless universe, why act like that's something to celebrate rather than lament? 

Many people need a cause to live for, and that can be a good thing. But lots people settle for the wrong cause. They back the wrong horse. But because that's their only cause in life, they defend it to the death as if their life depended on it, as if it was a worthy cause. Having made a bad pick, they devote the rest of their time defending their bad pick. Since that's all they live for, even though it's stupid, they cling to it for dear life. 

Jerry Coyne on infanticide

Jerry Coyne is a leading atheist popularizer. Without religious restraint, there are no moral boundaries. It comes down to who has more power. This reveals the dark side of atheism, when you strip away the hortatory rhetoric about emancipation: 

After all, newborn babies aren’t aware of death, aren’t nearly as sentient as an older child or adult, and have no rational faculties to make judgments (and if there’s severe mental disability, would never develop such faculties).

Our pain at making such a decision is lessened knowing that dogs and cats, like newborns, don’t know about death and thus don’t fear it.) The reason we don’t allow euthanasia of newborns is because humans are seen as special, and I think this comes from religion—in particular, the view that humans, unlike animals, are endowed with a soul. It’s the same mindset that, in many places, won’t allow abortion of fetuses that have severe deformities. When religion vanishes, as it will, so will much of the opposition to both adult and newborn euthanasia.

Infanticide and bodily autonomy

The most popular argument for abortion is bodily autonomy. Perhaps because you can fit "hands off my body" on a placard. But now that the Democrat party is rapidly moving towards infanticide, where does that leave the bodily autonomy argument? A newborn is no longer in the mother's body. This exposes the fact that the bodily autonomy argument was always disingenuous. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

They don't care

I took an abortionist out to lunch once, prepared to give him ten reasons why the unborn are human beings. He stopped me, and said, “I know that. We are killing children.” I was stunned. He said, “It’s simply a matter of justice for women. It would be a greater evil to deny women the equal right of reproductive freedom.”

The SBC scandal

Conservative Catholic pundit Matt Walsh made a poorly worded comparison:

A new report finds that over 300 Southern Baptist church leaders have been accused of sexual misconduct since 1998. To put that in perspective, the Catholic sex scandal in Pennsylvania implicated 300 Catholic clergy -- over a period of 70 years.

I'll revisit that momentarily. He made a number of follow-up comments;

Sex abuse is not a problem unique to Catholic churches. Other churches need to look at themselves. I tried to make this point months ago and a lot of people got mad at me. Well, here you go.

This is nonsense. Stop making excuses. You don't end up with 700+ victims if the situation is being handled well. And how could you possibly know that the "vast majority of offenders are caught"? That again is nonsense. By definition you cannot know the number who aren't caught

When you have efforts to silence victims -- which is the case here, and is always the case with these things -- you can be sure that "700 victims" is easily twice that number or more. Only the ones who weren't successfully silenced are counted.

When you read the report on the sex abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist Church, remember that this is the tip of the iceberg. It only counts the victims who spoke up. There are always more.

Catholics were the same way for a long time. It is sad to see other Christians making the same mistake.

I think some people are absolutely in denial about the sex abuse problems in their churches and denominations.

Not a competition. There are clear parallels between the SBC situation and PA (hundreds of abusers, cover ups, victims silenced, etc). Everyone was rightly outraged about PA. We should be outraged about this. The problem is bigger than one church. That's the perspective.

I tried to make a point about the severity of the sex abuse crisis in the Southern Baptist church today. A lot of people have reacted with outrage (against me, not the abuse), apparently unwilling to face it. Please don't make the same exact mistake that Catholics made.

For a long time, a lot of good Catholics were resistant to the idea that there was a real crisis in the church. They thought the media was fabricating or exaggerating. They were more loyal to the institution than the truth. I see some SBC Christians making the same mistake today.

i. I think his explanatory comments are reasonable or indisputable. In addition, he's a harsh critic of his own denomination on sex abuse, so I don't think he's trying to divert attention away from his own denomination. 

ii) Naturally Catholics are going to comment on the SBC scandal. That's only fair. I don't take umbrage at that.

iii) But let's go back to the initial comparison. A comparison needn't be exact to be relevant. That said:

iv) From what I've read, there are some direct parallels. 

v) The basic issue is whether there's a pattern, and the source of the problem. From what I've read, the scandal in the SBC is not a case of isolated incidents, but more systemic. 

vi) The point critics like me have made is that in the case of the Roman Church, the specific problem is homosexuality. That includes the homosexual abuse of minors as well as homosexual activity between consenting adults (priests, bishops). And that's endemic in the contemporary Catholic church. We've also argued that there's a plausible link between mandatory priestly celibacy and a homosexual culture in the Catholic priesthood and hierarchy. 

To point to heterosexual misconduct in the SBC is a bait-n-switch. That's not a straightforward comparison. That's a different kind of misconduct, although it may involve similar mechanisms, viz. witness intimidation, hush money, confidentiality/nondisclosure agreements, coverups, reassigning abusive clergy. 

That isn't to minimize the gravity of heterosexual clerical misconduct, but it's equivocal and evasive to say evangelical denominations have the same problem. No, they have a different problem. 

It would be interesting to know if there's an underreported problem of homosexuality in the SBC. 

vii) If evangelical denominations have a ban on homosexual clergy, then (assuming the ban is enforced) that minimizes clerical misconduct of a homosexual nature. And from a biblical standpoint, homosexual conduct is misconduct. So that largely eliminates one type of sexual misconduct. 

Suppose you had a denomination that, as a matter of policy, ordains homosexuals and heterosexuals alike. Then you're going to have both kinds of sexual misconduct. If you can minimize one line of sexual misconduct through a screening process, that's better than having a pattern of homosexual and heterosexual clerical misconduct alike. 

And in fact many Catholic conservative pundits take the same position. They agree that the central problem in the Catholic situation is rampant homosexuality in the priesthood and hierarchy. There's disagreement on whether that's linked to mandatory priestly celibacy. 

viii) As I've mentioned before, we also need to distinguish between a necessary risk and a gratuitous risk. A policy of ordaining homosexuals is a gratuitous risk. There's no justification for having homosexual clergy in the first place.  

Having straight clergy carries the risk of heterosexual misconduct, but that's unavoidable. You can't eliminate straight clergy. Clergy are supposed to be straight. So that's a necessary risk. 

ix) I'm not sure if there's a policy solution. The problem with policy solutions is that policies must be enforced by the people in charge. If, however, the people in charge are the abusers, then the policy will be flouted. 

At a policy level, the best you can probably do is to have lay oversight. And that includes women. But lay oversight is not a failsafe, since that's susceptible to cronyism. 

x) Predictably, progressives imagine the solution is to ordain women. But women are just as willing and able to abuse their authority as men. 

xi) Evangelicals don't make the same lofty claims for our denominations that Catholics make for theirs. It's quite possible for a denomination to become terminally corrupt. Indeed, that happens with some frequency. Sometimes you have to abandon the burning hulk and start over again. 

The dark island

In Voyage of the Dawn Treader, the narrator describes the dark island. Although it wasn't Lewis's intention, I think this is a good model of hell. What makes it hellish is the lurid imagination of the stranded inhabitants. The dark island is a projection of their minds. Their imagination is the source of the unending nightmare. They don't suffer as a result of something superimposed from the outside. Rather, their dark imagination creates the dark island. Their nemesis is their own imagination. That's poetic justice.

Suddenly, from somewhere—no one's sense of direction was very clear by now—there came a cry, either of some inhuman voice or else a voice of one in such extremity of terror that he had almost lost his humanity.
Caspian was still trying to speak—his mouth was too dry—when the shrill voice of Reepicheep, which sounded louder than usual in that silence, was heard.
“Who calls?” it piped. “If you are a foe we do not fear you, and if you are a friend your enemies shall be taught the fear of us.”
“Mercy!” cried the voice. “Mercy! Even if you are only one more dream, have merry. Take me on board. Take me, even if you strike me dead. But in the name of all mercies do not fade away and leave me in this horrible land.”
“Where are you?” shouted Caspian. “Come aboard and welcome.”
There came another cry, whether of joy or terror, and then they knew that someone was swimming towards them.
“Stand by to heave him up, men,” said Caspian.
“Aye, aye, your Majesty,” said the sailors. Several crowded to the port bulwark with ropes and one, leaning far out over the side, held the torch. A wild, white face appeared in the blackness of the water, and then, after some scrambling and pulling, a dozen friendly hands had heaved the stranger on board.
Edmund thought he had never seen a wilder-looking man. Though he did not otherwise look very old, his hair was an untidy mop of white, his face was thin and drawn, and, for clothing, only a few wet rags hung about him. But what one mainly noticed were his eyes, which were so widely opened that he seemed to have no eyelids at all, and stared as if in an agony of pure fear. The moment his feet reached the deck he said:
“Fly! Fly! About with your ship and fly! Row, row, row for your lives away from this accursed shore.”
“Compose yourself,” said Reepicheep, “and tell us what the danger is. We are not used to flying.”
The stranger started horribly at the voice of the Mouse, which he had not noticed before.
“Nevertheless you will fly from here,” he gasped. “This is the Island where Dreams come true.”
“That's the island I've been looking for this long time,” said one of the sailors. “I reckoned I'd find I was married to Nancy if we landed here.”
“And I'd find Tom alive again,” said another.
“Fools!” said the man, stamping his foot with rage. “That is the sort of talk that brought me here, and I'd better have been drowned or never born. Do you hear what I say? This is where dreams—dreams, do you understand, come to life, come real. Not daydreams: dreams.”
There was about half a minute's silence and then, with a great clatter of armour, the whole crew were tumbling down the main hatch as quick as they could and flinging themselves on the oars to row as they had never rowed before; and Drinian was swinging round the tiller, and the boatswain was giving out the quickest stroke that had ever been heard at sea. For it had taken everyone just that halfminute to remember certain dreams they had had—dreams that make you afraid of going to sleep again—and to realize what it would mean to land on a country where dreams come true.