Saturday, February 23, 2019

Wolves in chamois vestments

What's wrong with some "evangelical" churches–from a Facebook comment thread: 

Rivers O Feden 
Jonathan, I agree. I go to an Evangelical church and the pastor is hardly able to answer theological questions intelligently (or interact with different viewpoints). Nowadays, it seems that they are more about running the business of "church."

I thought you went to a unitarian church?

Rivers O Feden
No, I've been attending and serving (worship leader) at a large Evangelical mega-church for almost 20 years. I also graduated from a fairly well-known Evangelical seminary. :)

Rivers O Feden, classic wolf in sheep's clothing.

Rivers O Feden 
The "wolf in sheep's clothing" in scripture referred to someone who didn't believe that Jesus Christ was the son of God. It had nothing to do with the Trinity doctrine that you espouse. It's not the case with me either.

The Evangelical church that I attend is backed by a large denomination that recognizes that genuine Christians throughout the centuries have always had differences of opinion about theological issues and matters of interpretation.

Thus, they do not enforce the doctrinal statement as long as there is no controversy that seeks to burden the leadership of the church or lead people away from Christianity. :)

Wolf in sheep's clothing worship leader at lupine church in sheep's clothing. Wolves of a blether pack together.

Rivers O Feden 
To be honest, you're the type of judgmental fanatic that would be unwelcome at a Evangelical church like mine. I attend a vibrant Christian church and not an intolerant cult group.

Do you even go to church?

I'd be honored to be unwelcome in a church whose worship leader is a unitarian. Sign me up!

Rivers O Feden
Your vindictive attitude is one of the reasons biblical unitarians don't find your input helpful. We'd rather not have someone like you on our side anyway. ;)

Rivers O Feden, have you informed your church that you deny a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, namely the deity and eternal existence of Christ?

Rivers O Feden  
I went to seminary with half of the pastors at the church (so there is mutual respect). Not all of them are comfortable with it, but the denomination allows for differences of opinion as long as it doesn't cause problems.

I don't serve as a teacher in the church so there isn't any issues with that. The church is also very large (thousands) and financially stable and thus I'm no threat to the business either. They appreciate what I do for the worship ministry and that is all that matters to me. :)

I also understand that most Christians aren't learning theology at church these days (and don't seem to care). To be honest, our church has incredible music and that is probably the main reason people prefer it over other churches in the area where they can get the same message.

I know it would be a waste of time for me to try to convert people at my church so I don't bother. Out of a few thousand people, I wouldn't expect many (if any) to change their minds.

I only know of a handful of other non-Trinitarians in the church (as well as a few Agnostics and Atheists who attend with their spouses). I'd rather spend time on social media where there are people who are actually making an effort to investigate biblical truth and are willing to consider different options. :)

When I occasionally have lunch with the pastors who are friends of mine (and were at the seminary with me) we get into controversial discussions about various theological issues but they've lost a lot of their knowledge of scripture over the years because they really don't use it much in the pastoral roles.

Rivers O Feden It sounds to me like you shouldn't be on the worship team if you are denying core Christian doctrines like that.

Rivers O Feden 
Fortunately, you aren't a pastor or board member at my church. :)

"Christianity" without the deity and eternal existence of Christ is not Christianity.

Van Til and Vallicella

The proof presupposes the Law of Non-Contradiction (LNC), and I am willing to grant that LNC and the other laws of logic can be argued to presuppose in their turn the existence of an omniscient necessary being. One argument to this conclusion is the Anderson-Welty argument which I critically examine here. I conclude that, while the argument is not rationally compelling, it does contribute to the rationality of belief in God.  In other words, the Anderson-Welty argument is a good reason to believe in the existence of God. It does not, however, establish the existence of God in a definitive manner. It does not show that the existence of God is absolutely certain.

At the very most, then, one can plausibly argue to, but not prove, the existence of an omniscient necessary being whose existence is a presupposition of our rational operations in accordance with the laws of logic.  But this is a far cry from what Van Til asserts above, namely, that the truth of Christianity with all its very specific claims is a condition of the possibility of proving anything. Trinity and Incarnation are among these specific claims. How are these doctrines supposed to bear upon the laws of logic? [emphasis mine]

i) Is a philosophical argument a failure unless it can establish a claim with absolute certainty? Isn't that a retrograde definition of a successful philosophical argument? Aren't nearly all philosophical arguments failures by that austere standard? Is that a deficiency of the argument, or an artificial standard of success? 

ii) What if your aim was never to prove the truth of Christianity by one particular argument? Is your argument a failure if it misses a target it was never aiming for?

What if your particular argument is part of a cumulative case strategy? No one argument gets you to the finish line, but each argument combines with other arguments towards that objective? 

Down Syndrome

Divine Simplicity And The Metaphysics Of God's Absoluteness

The seal of confession

That raises a nest issues:

i) It diverts attention away from the source of the problem. It's not Catholic laymen who are the molesters but (many) Catholic priests (and bishops). That's primarily a homosexual crime, and I doubt Catholic laymen are homosexual at higher rates than men generally. So this law has it backwards. The problem isn't laymen confessing child abuse to priests, but abusive priests.  

ii) The law is too sweeping since this is primarily a Catholic problem. I don't mean sexual abuse is primarily a Catholic problem, but homosexual abuse of minors. 

iii) It would essentially make Catholicism illegal. While I'm opposed to Catholicism, I don't think it should be against the law to be Catholic. 

Admittedly, I'm not a religious freedom absolutist. I'm much less tolerant of Islam. But Islam is dangerous in a way that Catholicism is not.

iv) If you accept the principle of the mandated reporter law, why draw the line with suspected child abuse/neglect? Why not require clergy to refer any crime to the authorities which is confided to them? 

v) In general, I'm opposed to turning private citizens into domestic spies. It's one thing for a private citizen to voluntarily report a crime, quite another to make private citizens agents of the state who have an obligation, under penalty of law, to be snitches for the government. That's a classic police state mentality which existed in the Soviet Union.

vi) Although this can protect kids in some situations, it can easily be abused. "Suspected" cases reported to authorities. CPS swoops in, removes the kids from their home, then innocent parents have to fight an expensive uphill legal battle to get them back. So it cuts both ways. Consider how this can be weaponized against Jewish or Christian parents by progressive public school employees who disapprove of how parents are raising their kids. Think how it could be extended to the LGBT agenda. 

vii) And this invites overreporting to shift the blame. The mandated reporter avoids legal liability for failing to report suspected cases by automatically referring a case to the authorities on the filmiest grounds.  

viii) Mind you, I think the seal of confession is fanatical. There are extreme situations in which, even if something is shared in confidence, we have a moral duty to report that to the authorities. But that's an extreme situation, and a moral duty is different from a legal duty. And even in that case, there's such a thing as anonymous tips. 

Laws like this can be indexed to anyone who's licensed by the state, which ties into the problem of overregulation. A runaway proliferation of occupations that require licensing. 

ix) How can this even enforceable? If a crime is confided in private, there's no record of who said what to whom unless that's written down. The mandated reporter can simply deny that the perp confided in him. Where's the evidence to the contrary?  

x) BTW, are lawmakers exempt from mandatory reporter laws? 

Friday, February 22, 2019

Looking for love in all the wrong places

Burglars for Gun Control

Godless Normative Realism in review


Why doesn't God stop evil more often? Why doesn't God answer prayer more often? There's a principle common to the problem of evil and the problem of unanswered prayer. 

When I'm driving in town, it would sure be convenient for me if all the traffic lights were green in my direction. That would expedite my trip. But what's convenient for me would be inconvenient for all the drivers waiting at red lights so that I have unimpeded egress. 

It would be convenient for me if, instead of waiting for a bus, the bus waited for me. Suppose I could leave the house at any time, and a bus just happened to be at the bus stop. But while that would be convenient for me, that would inconvenience all the other bus riders. It would make the bus schedule totally unpredictable. What's best for me may not be best for somebody else. What's good for me may be bad for somebody else. 

Here's the principle: the more agents there are, the more complicated it is to coordinate everybody's interests. Adding agents reduces the number of consistent outcomes. What every agent does must be consistent with every other agent's actions. Only so many outcomes can be crammed into one time and place.

We can see this in the difference between the past, present, and future. 19C New York City can't coexist with 21C New York City. WWI can't coexist with the Napoleonic wars. There's only so much room for different simultaneous events. Everyday may use up all the space for what can happen that day. Agents form a network of interactions. Adding or subtracting agents triggers a chain-reaction. 

One reason God doesn't answer more prayers is because all answers to prayer must be compossible. There's potential conflict between acting in the interest of one agent and acting in the interest of another agent, because each agent's life has a longitudinal impact that may counteract what's best for another agent. 

That seems to limit what even an omnipotent God can do. Even in the case of Calvinism, where God isn't hindered by the independent freedom of human agents, the feasible options are not unlimited because it's a question of what's mathematically possible in terms of spatiotemporal coherence. Some chains of events are incompatible with other chains of events. 


We do, here and now, separate him from the precious body and blood of Christ, and from the society of all Christians. We exclude him from our Holy Mother Church and all her sacraments, in heaven, or on earth. We declare him excommunicate and anathema. We cast him into the outer darkness. We judge him damned with the devil and his fallen angels and all the reprobate, to eternal fire and everlasting pain! Beckett (1964)

This simultaneously illustrates the power and the weakness of Roman Catholicism:

Historically, the clout of the Roman Catholic church was grounded in psychological coercion. A credible threat of damnation. It lost its clout when it lost its psychological leverage. To be effective, the threat must meet two conditions:

i) Eternal damnation is real

That requires faith, because, as a rule, we have no direct experience of the afterlife in this life. Hellish near-death experiences might be an exception. So it requires you to believe something you can't directly verify. As such, threats of damnation have no traction for skeptics and infidels.

Even if there's a public excommunication, that has no visible effects. The ground doesn't open up and swallow the excommunicant alive. A lightning bolt doesn't strike him dead. 

Increasingly, moreover, priests, bishops, cardinals, and popes no longer believe in damnation. They think hell is empty or mostly empty. 

ii) The Roman church holds the keys to heaven and hell

Even if you believe in everlasting punishment, you must also believe that God entrusted the keys of heaven and hell to the Catholic church. That's why the threat has no traction for orthodox Protestants. We don't think the papacy is the keeper of the keys. 

The church of Rome relied on bluffing people into submission. But if you suspect that behind the stern poker face it holds a losing hand, that's a risk-free proposition. 

Intrusive thoughts

I was asked about Christians who suffer from intrusive blasphemous thoughts. There are different possible explanations:

i) A naturalistic possibility is that that their brain is doing funny things, and they need psychotropic medication to stabilize it. That's not a cure, but it can sometimes provide necessary relief. 

I have a relative whose parents thought it was a swell idea to send her to a missionary training school in Canada when she was an adolescent girl. She developed mental illness as a result of the isolation, and remains on medications to this day. 

I have another friend who suffered from night terrors and old-hag syndrome until he was diagnosed with sleep apnea, and underwent some sort of treatment, which greatly diminished the symptoms (as I recall).

ii) There's also the question of whether the individual is under too much stress at work, home, or school. 

iii) As to where such thoughts come from, most American men have consumed lots of unsavory stuff (myself included). Although we may keep that quarantined in the subconscious, it's still there. 

Martyn Lloyd-Jones talks about an elderly man who was very devout, but after he developed dementia, a different side surfaced–the side he self-censured when he was in his right mind.

iv) As for supernatural explanations, if evil spirits have access to human minds, then they might be able to plant blasphemous thoughts in human minds. Demoniacs could discern the true identity of Jesus, which suggests telepathy. Here's another example suggesting that demons can read minds:

v) As our country becomes more anti-Christian, there's probably a resurgence of paganism, so that may be in the air (so to speak). The experience might be like missionaries who go to countries steeped in witchcraft, and find themselves under psychological attack from unseen forces.

vi) Another possibility is that someone hexed the Christian who now suffers from intrusive blasphemous thoughts. 

vii) Just in general, I think human psychology is different at night, in the dark. We're more vulnerable to fear and doubt. That can have a naturalistic explanation, but it can also be opening for malign supernatural agents.

viii) I wouldn't worry about the unforgivable sin. Intrusive thoughts are involuntary. That's hardly comparable to the Gospel accounts.  

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Gay piety

There are some intriguing facets to Marian piety. Take the specter of sexless priests venerating the sexless Madonna. In traditional Marian iconography, Mary is frequently or usually depicted as a beautiful woman. That's not surprising. Most Catholic artists are straight males. There may be the notion that physical perfection symbolizes spiritual perfection. There may be the notion that Mary represents idealized womanhood, and idealized feminine beauty is emblematic of her exalted status. 

Be that as it may, it gives the artist an excuse to paint or sculpt a gorgeous woman under pretext of religious art. Male artists like to paint or sculpt beautiful women. Who can blame them? And these are typically drawn from life, using live models. 

It's pretty arbitrary what figure she represents. She could represent a Greek goddess or the Madonna. Botticelli is an example of a painter who used the same woman in Classical and Catholic art. In so much Marian iconography, she could just as well be a love goddess. Only the setting and attire (or lack thereof) makes the difference.

That raises some interesting questions about the psychology of Marian devotion, especially at a concrete level when visual representations function as an aid to veneration. When a normal man views a beautiful woman, there's bound to be a sexual undercurrent. So there's something artificial about Marian piety in that regard. 

So what lies behind the higher flights of Marian adoration? On the one hand, conventual inspiration is probably a factor. The piety of nuns. Normally, there's no sexual undercurrent when another woman views a beautiful woman. Mind you, there's the issue of what percentage of nuns are lesbian. But bracketing that question, conventual piety would be free of any sensual tension or dynamism. 

In addition, Marian piety is a safe outlet for homosexual monks and priests. That's "chaste" because they lack normal feelings for beautiful women. Adoration for eunuchs. 

So the upper altitudes of Marian devotion are likely the product of nuns and homosexual monks. Vestal piety or gay piety. But when that's grafted onto normal male piety, there's a clash between charged hormones and chaste sentiment. 

Compartmentalized theology

Before I do another post critical of Roman Catholicism, it's important to note that we can't use what's wrong as a basis of comparison. There's a danger in taking satisfaction from the fact that I'm not like that! But I could still be bad in a different way. 

i) One way Catholics rationalize remaining in such a corrupt denomination is to compartmentalize morality and theology. They put the morality of Catholic clergy in one container, and Catholic theology in a separate container. But one problem with that strategy is that in Catholicism, the true faith is inseparable from its institutional expression. In Catholicism, you can't detach true religion from institutional religion. There's a one-to-one correspondence. They can't be pried apart. The faith is mediated by the guys in funny hats. They embody the faith. They are the official spokesmen. 

ii) But here's another issue: the Protestant faith has a static rule of faith–the Bible. The Bible isn't going to change. It's frozen in place. There may be some tweaking if we discover new ancient MSS, but what we have is pretty much all we're going to have. So in that respect, clerical misconduct has absolutely no impact on Bible-based theology. 

By contrast, Catholicism has a fluid rule of faith. Living tradition. The development of doctrine. The pope as the voice of God. A living oracle. 

This means the personal mores of Vatican and diocesan policymakers may rewrite theology, where the sexual morality of popes, cardinals, and bishops is the locomotive pulling the theological caboose. In the past, homosexual clerical hypocrisy was necessary because sodomy was stigmatized, but nowadays, not only is sodomy fashionable in the general culture, many lay Catholics are social liberals. Given such a welcoming climate, what's to prevent Vatican and diocesan policymakers from changing traditional theology to sanctify their homosexual lifestyle? What's to hinder them from following the same well-worn path as mainline Protestant denominations? Indeed, that's well underway. 

Fake news

I didn't follow the Jussie Smollett story closely. My awareness of the story was confined to evolving headlines and Twitter. 

Why does the "news" media keep falling for stories like this?

i) The liberal media are bigots, and bigotry is self-reinforcing. They associate with like-minded people. They stereotype Christians, conservatives, and Trump supporters. Men.  White men. Straight men. They think they already know everything they need to know about us. We're the enemy. So they instantly believe the worst. 

Conversely, they are  predisposed to throw their support behind the social mascots du jour. He's black and gay. 

ii) They don't learn from their mistakes in part because this was never about reporting what actually happened. That's boring. Instead, liberal journalists wish to be agents of change. They don't care about the facts if the facts get in the way. Their cause is so just that it warrants winning by whatever means necessary. The noble lie. "News" and "fact-checkers" are camouflage for crafting narratives that further their social agenda. 

iii) And they don't learn from their mistakes in part because it's a tactic or strategem. Throw everything you've got to up the odds that something will stick. They're prepared to miss 9 times out of 10 so long as they get the occasional hit. They hope it has a cumulative effect. People are more likely to remember the first report than subsequent retractions. That's what sticks in their mind. 

Their mistakes would only be mistakes if they were aiming for the truth. But that was never the target. They don't learn from their mistakes because these aren't mistakes. Rather, it's a reflection of their political strategy and tactics. So they will keep on doing it.

Mind you, this does erode what little credibility they have. But that's a risk they're prepared to take because they think short-term rather than long-term. Success builds on success. Winning in the short term empowers the winners, upping the odds of a winning streak. 

Catholic rentboy

From what I can tell, Brandon seems to be a genuinely likable guy, which I wouldn't say about some other Catholic apologists. Mind you, it's easier to dupe nice guys with an idealistic sales pitch. Natural SOBs like me aren't so easily conned. 

One reason he doesn't mention is that Brandon is a Catholic employee. He works for a bishop. He's a "best-selling" Catholic author. He appears on EWTN. 

It would be a financial hardship for him to leave Catholicism when his career is so invested Catholicism. How would he support is family? Where is the next paycheck coming from? That might put a real strain on the marriage. 

I don't say that to be judgmental. That can be a real dilemma. Lots of breadwinners are understandably reluctant to quit their job when they have no  fallback. That's surely something he has in the back of his mind. Financial coercion is powerful. 

And that has caused many Catholics to understandably wonder why they should remain Catholic. How can I remain associated with such a corrupt institution? How can I keep my children in Catholic parishes and schools if the Church seems incapable of protecting them from sexual abuse? These are questions I’ve asked myself.

At the same time, people outside the Church who are considering becoming Catholic must wonder, Why should I become Catholic in light of all this sickening news? Wouldn’t life be easier in some other church or religion? Those are good questions, too.

So, in a book titled Why I Am Catholic, I can’t avoid the elephant in the room, the most obvious reason not to be Catholic: the sexual abuse crisis. In response, I’ve written this preface to answer why I, a Millennial Catholic, young husband and father, remain Catholic despite these horrific cases of abuse and cover-up.

The main answer is that I’m Catholic because of Jesus, not because of the leaders of the Church. As you’ll see in this book, the principal reason to become Catholic is because you’re convinced Catholicism is true and you believe what the Church teaches about faith, morals, and its own identity. I’m convinced Catholicism is true because of Jesus. I believe the Church wasn’t just started by a group of bumbling bureaucrats but by Jesus himself, God in the flesh.

It’s Jesus I’m drawn to, Jesus I’m committed to, and Jesus I trust. It’s true that Catholics are often drawn to the faith by charismatic leaders, warm parish communities, or impressive schools. There’s nothing wrong with those entry points, as long as we remember that our faith is not ultimately rooted in those things and isn’t compromised when they fail.

As a Catholic, my faith is in Jesus Christ, not his followers. When sin and evil swirl through the Church, I keep my eyes fixed on that reliable center, that untainted source of the Church’s authority and attraction: Jesus.

So he can't come to Jesus outside the Roman Catholic church? Jesus requires Brandon to go through the Roman Catholic church to come to him? 

Although that's traditional Catholic theology, it's not post-Vatican II theology. In fact, Brandon's boss, Bishop Barron, is a hopeful universalist. You don't have to be Catholic to be saved. You don't have to be Christian to be saved. So even on Catholic grounds, Brandon can find Jesus in a Lutheran, Baptist, Anglican, or Baptist church (among others). 

My second answer is that I know that the sexual abuse crisis is not indicative of the entire Church. The percentage of priests and bishops complicit in these crimes is relatively low (smaller, in fact, than in many other religions). The vast majority of priests and bishops are good, holy men who are just as disgusted as the laity about this abuse. Some of my closest friends are priests and they’re among the most selfless, virtuous people I know.

Even if that were true, the problem is much larger than sexual abuse of minors. There's a gay subculture in Catholicism that goes right up to the top. Indeed, according to a new, heavily documented book (Frédéric Martel, In the Closet of the Vatican), the Catholic church gets gayer the higher you go. 

My third and final answer is that I remain Catholic because I want to be part of the solution. The Church is not just an institution but also a family, and when your family faces a crisis, you don’t flee—you stay and help. When we experience evil or terror, our natural reaction is to run. That’s understandable; we’re scared and scandalized.

But for Catholics, the Church is our family and home; and when evil threatens your family or home, you don’t give up and run away. You batten down the hatches. You plant your feet. You resolve, “This is my home, and I will not let evil destroy it.”

Or, to switch metaphors, when a family member has cancer, you don’t just give up on them and leave. You move closer to them. You resolve to stay by their side and help battle the cancer. You give all you can offer.

That’s what the Catholic Church needs now. In times of crisis—and there have been many such crises throughout the Church’s history (and indeed there will be more)—the Church summons new heroes who are committed to holiness and driven to uproot whatever sin and evil have infected the spiritual family.

So, scandals don’t push me away from the Church, just as a relative’s cancer diagnosis doesn’t push me away from her. In both cases, the evil demands a heroic resolve to stay and fight, to be part of the solution, especially on behalf of the victims.

i) First of all, Brandon is not a policymaker, so he's not part of the solution. Rather, he's one of many loyal enablers. 

ii) There are situations when it's proper to stay and fight, but that assumes there's no alternative. 

I want to be very clear: these sexual abuse cases are horrific. There’s no downplaying them or justifying them or explaining them away. They’re egregious and scandalizing. But Catholicism doesn’t fall when its members fail. 

But that's just a throwaway disclaimer if there's absolutely nothing that would cause you to walk away. If you continue to support that institution no matter what. 

I’m Catholic not because Church leaders are perfect, but because the Church channels to me the love and forgiveness of Jesus in unparalleled ways: his body and blood in the Eucharist, his forgiveness in Confession. Life may seem easier outside the Church. But these divine treasures are only found within, and they carry Catholics through even the darkest of times.

That's the bait and hook. That enables cynical prelates to make patsies out of sweet gullible guys like Brandon. They're blinded by the idea of Catholicism. Like a love-struck teenager, they can't perceive the reality behind the projection.  

Why be good?

1 In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
    “Flee like a bird to your mountain,
2 for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
    they have fitted their arrow to the string
    to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
3 if the foundations are destroyed,
    what can the righteous do?”
4 The Lord is in his holy temple;
    the Lord's throne is in heaven;
    his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.
5 The Lord tests the righteous,
    but his soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence.
6 Let him rain coals on the wicked;
    fire and sulfur and a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.
7 For the Lord is righteous;
he loves righteous deeds;
    the upright shall behold his face.
(Psalm 11)

To be a Christian can be dispiriting and aggravating. It so often seems like we're fighting harder for what's right than God is. He isn't giving our side much help. Feels like Napoleon leading his troops into battle, then leaving them behind to die in the snow. So why be good? If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. 

But ironically, that constantly reminds me of how I sure dislike what the other side represents. If that's the winning side (for now), I sure don't care to be on their side, because they're so despicable. If that's what it takes to be on the winning side, I want no part of it. I'll stand with the losers. 

I look at Democrats, atheists, secular progressives, "progressive Christians," and they're such morally repellent individuals. Even if I had no other reasons to be a Christian, I'd still rather be on our side by default because the alternative is so repulsive. 

Look at what they do to other people. Killing newborn babies. 

Destroying the Boy Scouts.

Reviling guys for "manspreading". Fining guys for "manspreading". 

Mothers who kill their own babies. Fathers who have no say even if they wish to keep the child. It's his child, too! 

Women generally initiate divorce, women generally get customary, and the ex pays child support for a child he rarely gets to see.

Brainwashing normal healthy innocent kids with transgender propaganda, pumping them full of puberty blockers–which permanently damages their physical maturation, since adolescence is unrepeatable and irreversible–then butchering their sexual anatomy. 

Terminating custody for parents who refuse to destroy their kids physically and psychologically to appease the transgender monsters.

Fetishizing drag queens. Handing innocent young kids over to drag queens to be indoctrinated. 

Fining, expelling, or imprisoning students, employers, or employees who refuse to use transgender pronouns or make products that valorize sodomy.  

Euthanizing the elderly and developmentally disabled. 

I'd rather be on the losing team than be on that team! 

This is a test of faith. It's easy to be a Christian when it's cost-free. Costly discipleship is the acid test and refining fire. 

In times like this Christians must cling to the eschatological promise that the first shall be last and the last first. The miscarriages of justice in this life will be reversed in the afterlife. But boy does it burn in this life. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Lost & Found

The son of middle-class parents, Ralph became a business magnate through a wining combination of mendacious charm and ruthless cunning. His first wife divorced him because of his philandering, but he paid her off to have custody of their son Justin. Outwardly, Justin had everything, yet there was something missing in his life until he discovered the Bible. Or did the Bible discover him?

Ralph was diagnosed with cancer when Justin was 15. Ralph had the best treatment that money could buy, but unlike most things in Ralph's world, cancer couldn't be bought off. It just wasn't impressed by his portfolio. 

Before he died, Ralph bribed a judge–an old acquaintance–to make Justin an emancipated minor, so that his ex-wife wouldn't claim the estate. Ralph was always good at buying people. Only the cancer rebuffed his financial solicitations. 

At 16, Justin became the sole heir when his father succumbed. Rummaging through his late father's private and legal correspondence, Justin discovered that he had a younger half-brother named Jason, age 14. Turns out his father had a mistresses. When she became pregnant, he tried to coerce her into having an abortion, but she refused. She was holding out for a settlement. The child was a bargaining chip. She understood the value of leverage as well as Ralph. So he bought her silence with a princely onetime lump sum payment. That's what he did best. Buying and selling people in his life. 

Justin was eager to track down his long-lost brother. Partly out of duty. It wasn't fair that his brother was banished. But also out of genuine curiosity to meet the brother he never knew he had. 

Yet Ralph was good at covering his tracks. So Justin had to hire a private eye to locate Jason. Turns out Jason was living in the slums. His mother had a very comfortable existence at first. The hush money was considerable. But she had poor judgment in boyfriends, squandering the settlement. Then she died of cervical cancer when Jason was 11. In and out of foster care, he wound up in a halfway house due to minor juvenile delinquency. School was hell. He was beaten up everyday.

Just to confirm his identity, Justin arranged for Jason to take a DNA test. Jason was also shown pictures of Ralph and his mistress, as well as handwritten correspondence, to see if he recognized the handwriting and the woman in the pictures. He never knew his father. But the rest was familiar. 

Jason was naturally curious about what was all about. The physician whom Justin retained to collect the sample didn't wish to get his hopes up in case the results came back negative, but he had to provide some explanation. 

Jason was astonished to find out that he might have real family. The existence of a brother he never suspected. A brother who was looking for him!

The suspense was all-consuming. Two sleepless nights. In the daytime, he wandered around in a daze. Oscillating between elation if true and desolation if not. It seemed too good to be true. 

Finally the physician who collected the sample phoned him to confirm that the results were positive. An hour later, Justin phoned him to see if Jason wanted to meet him. Jason could hardly wait.

Justin flew over by private jet. They arranged a rendezvous at a park a few blocks from the halfway house. Jason got there early, looking intently at anyone and everyone who might possibly be his brother. Asking them, "Are you my brother?" They flipped him off. 

Finally he sat down, discouraged, staring at the pavement. Then someone quietly came up to him, casting a shadow. Jason looked up. "Hi Jason, I'm your brother Justin!" 

Jason jumped up. Justin, who was taller, and athletic, gave him a big hug, lifting him right off the ground. Although it was the first time they saw each other face-to-face, there was a built-in bond. 

After a few minutes, they took a limo to a private airport and flew home. He had a real home! It only took him 14 years to get there. Like he was left behind..abandoned…until his brother came back for him. 

Because Jason was technically a runaway, he had to maintain a low profile until he turned 18. Justin arranged for fake ID. Ironically, the fake ID was his true identity, using his father's surname. Justin also arranged for false records to be input in official databases, to maintain his brother's cover–until he reached majority age. A flawless fictional backstory. From Ralph, Justin had mastered the art of paying people off to get what he wanted, but unlike his father, Justin did it for a good cause. 

Over the following months and years they had to make up for lost time. Perhaps, had they grown up together, they'd take each other for granted–but because of the separation, they made the most of their newfound opportunity, due to the lost years. It didn't take long to learn out how much they had in common. The bond of blood transcended time and space. 

An elite disconnect

There's a disconnect between Catholic ecclesiastical policymakers and lay Catholic conservatives on the issue of homosexuality among the clergy. The policymakers don't think homosexuality is a problem, but for a different reason than outsiders might suppose. For instance, you might suppose they don't think it's a problem because they don't think the percentages are high enough to be statistically significant. But that's not the reason they don't think it's a problem. There seem to be two factions on this:

1. Policymakers who don't think there's anything inherently wrong with homosexuals in the priesthood (or episcopate) so long as they remain abstinent. 

2. Policymakers who distinguish pederasty from homosexual activity between consenting adults. They don't think it's a problem if Catholic priests and bishops engage in homosexual activity so long as that's between consenting adults. It's only a problem if that's between adults and minors.

In addition, many lay Catholics are socially liberal, so that's a position that may gain traction and prevail over the next few years. A coalition between progressive lay Catholics and progressive Catholic clergymen. 

3. At the same time, I doubt the sincerity of that distinction. For two reasons I think it's unstable:

i) Many homosexual men seem to prefer teenage boys because they find them more physically appealing. The aging process hasn't kicked in. Pristine youth. Youthful adulthood or near adulthood. 

ii) Many adolescent boys are easier to dominate and manipulate by adult men because, at that age, they are less sure of themselves. They are just entering into their manhood. That's a new experience for them. They're attempting to get their bearings. What does it mean to be a man? And they look up to older men as mentors and role models. That makes them easier to take advantage of. 

Naturalized miracles

I was asked me how to respond to the counter that purported events like the Resurrection might happen, yet not be miraculous, but be due to some as of yet undiscovered natural cause or process.

One problem with that explanation is that there are so many different kinds of well-documented miracles. So an atheist must postulate so many undiscovered natural causes. 

In addition, I ran the question by three philosophers who specialize in the philosophy of miracles. They indicated that it's okay to share their responses:

Naturalism of the gaps. That's not applying all evidence and inferring the best explanation. Actually, the more science progresses, the lower the probability of such a thing becomes. We now know *why* the dead do not spontaneously rise by natural causes, in ever-greater detail. Cellular death, denaturing of proteins, bacterial activity, etc. 

If we discovered robots on another planet, we could hold out indefinitely for "some natural cause," but that wouldn't be rational. People are always able to be irrational (and often are irrational). That doesn't make it epistemically legitimate.

– Lydia McGrew

In our Blackwell paper, Lydia and I consider a number of such attempts to give a non-miraculous account of the evidence. The short answer is that they do not account for that evidence nearly as well as the resurrection itself does. 

A slightly longer answer is that there is no better way to evaluate such hypotheses than to look at the evidence in detail and consider the hypotheses on a case-by-case basis. For some miracle claims -- the Hindu milk miracle comes to mind -- there is a superior naturalistic explanation. (Lydia recreated the Hindu milk miracle in our kitchen with a spoonful of water and a piece of unglazed tile. No statue of Ganesh was required.) For others, this option turns out not to be true.

As far as an undiscovered natural cause, anybody can postulate that possibility for anything whatsoever. Perhaps there's an undiscovered natural cause that makes it look like the Earth orbits the sun even though in fact Ptolemaic astronomy is true. Perhaps there's an undiscovered natural cause that makes it look like the Earth isn't flat even though -- surprise! -- it is. Perhaps there's an undiscovered natural cause that generates all of the evidence we have that the universe is billions of years old even though it isn't. Perhaps there's an undiscovered natural cause that makes it look like Jesus miraculously rose from the dead even though his coming back to life was just a very, very rare natural event, and it was just lucky that this purely natural event happened to look like the culmination of many centuries of increasingly specific prophecy. 

– Timothy McGrew

I think you will find that in chapter four of The Legitimacy of Miracle I discuss that suggestion at length. The basic point is that the progress of science has made such a suggestion less convincing rather than more. The more we know about human physiology the harder it becomes to suggest such a counter. Similarly with other miracles. We know, for example, a lot more about the chemistry of wine than we did two thousand years ago but that makes it harder, rather than easier to give a natural explanation of how water could turn into wine at the spoken word of Jesus. If one is positing some natural process for such an event or the resurrection then one needs to explain why that process only worked in that unique instance. Note also that positing such a process is simply a promissory note. Presumably, the only reason to trust such a promissory note is the inductive argument that science has been successful in the past. This fails, however, in that it makes no distinction between nomological and historical science. The fact that pigeons are easy to catch does not provide a good inductive argument that foxes are easy to catch. Analogously, the fact that regular law-like events are susceptible of natural explanations provides no reason to think that events such as the resurrection, Jesus walking on water, the virgin birth, or the origin of life are susceptible of natural explanations. So the progress of science argument really cuts the other way. Everything we know makes natural explanations of such events less plausible than more.

The alternative for the naturalist is to suggest not that there is some repeatable identifiable natural process that will explain why dead people generally stay dead, but Jesus did not, but rather to claim Jesus's return to life was a chance event. Given the reluctance of scientifically literate naturalists to accept the chance origin of life - because the probabilities are so minuscule they are desperately attempting to find some natural process that will not have to invoke chance - such an alternative smacks of hopelessness.

– Robert Larmer

Rules of the closet

Rules of the Closet
  • For a long time the priesthood was the ideal escape-route for young homosexuals. Homosexuality is one of the keys to their vocation. (8)
  • Homosexuality spreads the closer one gets to the holy of holies; there are more and more homosexuals as one rises through the Catholic hierarchy. In the College of Cardinals and at the Vatican, the preferential selection process is said to be perfected; homosexuality becomes the rule, heterosexuality the exception. (10)
  • Rumors, gossip, settling of scores, revenge and sexual harassment are rife in the holy see. The gay question is one of the mainsprings of these plots. (60)
  • Behind the majority of cases of sexual abuse there are priests and bishops who have protected the aggressors because of their own homosexuality and out of fear that it might be revealed in the event of a scandal. The culture of secrecy that was needed to maintain silence about the high prevalence of homosexuality in the Church has allowed sexual abuse to be hidden and predators to act. (92)
  • In prostitution in Rome between priests and Arab escorts, two sexual poverties come together: the profound sexual frustration of Catholic priests is echoed in the constraints of Islam, which make heterosexual acts outside of marriage difficult for a young Muslim. (129)
  • The homophiles of the Vatican generally move from chastity towards homosexuality; homosexuals never go into reverse gear and become homophilic. (169)
  • Most nuncios are homosexual, but their diplomacy is essentially homophobic. They are denouncing what they are themselves. As for cardinals, bishops and priests, the more they travel, the more suspect they are! (311)
  • Rumors peddled about the homosexuality of a cardinal or a prelate are often leaked by homosexuals, themselves closeted, attacking their liberal opponents. They are essential weapons used in the Vatican against gays by gays. (388)
  • Do not ask who the companions of cardinals and bishops are; ask their secretaries, their assistants or their protégés, and you will be able to tell the truth by their reaction. (537)
From Frédéric Martel’s, In the Closet of the Vatican.

Hijacking reality

Dialogue with a Buddhist philosopher

How should a Christian apologist argue with a Buddhist philosopher? Folk Buddhists retain many common sense beliefs, so they are easier to witness to, but Buddhist epistemology and metaphysics are quite radical, presenting less traction. 

In some cases, an individual can put themselves out of reach of evidence by retreating so far into the maze that they are hopelessly lost (barring divine intervention). So there may not be enough common ground for a Christian apologist to have a constructive dialogue with a Buddhist philosopher. 

One issue is how seriously a Buddhist philosopher or Buddhist monk actually takes Buddhist skepticism. In general, their Buddhism is the result of social conditioning. They wouldn't normally adopt such a counterintuitive philosophy. To what extent are they saying this to keep up appearances? Deep down, how many are truly committed to it? Especially if presented with an alternative?

Buddhism is a tragic worldview that reflects radical alienation from the world into which they are thrust. It's an elaborate coping mechanism. It cultivates an attitude of fatalistic resignation to an uncaring reality. And that attitude makes sense given the pre-Christian background.  

There are, of course, a variety of Buddhist schools of philosophy. It's not monolithic, although they share a family resemblance. 

Buddhism is pre-Christian. Although classical Buddhism is atheistic, the foil is Hindu polytheism and pantheism. It didn't develop in opposition to Christianity. And while Buddhist philosophers can try to retool traditional arguments to deflect Christianity, that's rather ad hoc. If they were starting from scratch, with Christianity on the table, would Buddhism even have a foothold?  

One of the ironies of Buddhist atheism is the mythological deification of Buddha: 

The most articulate recent spokesman for this position has been Paul J. Griffiths, e.g., in his On Being Buddha: The Classical Doctrine of Buddhahood (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1994). There, and in his seminal article, "Buddha and God: A Contrastive Study in Ideas about Maximal Greatness" (Journal of Religion, vol. 69, 1989, pp. 502-529), Griffiths seems to argue not only that Buddhists did adopt an increasingly God-like conception of Buddha, but that they had to, since religious theorizing about the ultimate is driven by the need to maximize that which is regarded as highest, truest, or most real. Without going into the strengths and weaknesses of this provocative idea, I would note that it is eerily reminiscent of the ontological argument for God's existence, but applied to the realm of intellectual history. Jackson, Roger (1999) "A Theology And Buddhalogy In Dharmakirtis Pramanavarttika," Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers: Vol. 16 : Iss. 4 , Article 2, p499n7. 

Here atheism comes full circle to reunite with robust theism. Perhaps the most consistent–albeit extreme–version of Buddhism is Buddhist idealism:

However, even a radically antirealist position like Buddhist idealism offers a number of openings for Christian apologetics in terms of certain a priori and/or transcendental arguments, viz. 

• Argument from logic
• Argument from design
• Argument from reason
• Argument from numbers
• Argument from simplicity
• Argument from contingency
• Argument from counterfactuals

There's still the challenge of how to bring that down to earth in terms of Christianity's claims about historical redemption, but establishing the necessity of God is a preliminary step. 

There's also the question of whether philosophical Buddhism is skeptical to the point of self-refutation, viz. :

If so, then it can't provide a standard of comparison to judge Christian theism. 

On the one hand, Buddhist philosophy appeals to intellectual pride and autonomy. On the other hand, it represents a despairing and desiccated worldview. Christian apologetics can exploit the emotional fault-lines.