Saturday, March 09, 2019

Archer City

In this post I'll briefly revisit an issue I've discussed before, using a different illustration this time around. I'm going to deploy an a fortiori argument (from the lesser to the greater). Unbelievers contend that the Gospels aren't reliable history. Suppose, for argument's sake, that we classify the Gospels as fiction. However, that doesn't say a whole lot because fiction ranges along a continuum. For instance, some fiction writers mine their childhood for plots, setting, and characters. Although technically these belong to the genre of fiction rather than autobiography, they are often very close to life. Historical fiction that's one step removed from autobiography. 

Take Larry McMurtry, who wrote a trilogy situated in his hometown of Archer City, Texas. These memorialize his boyhood in a postwar oil town in North Texas. A small town where everyone knows everyone else. Everyone knows who is sleeping with whom. Who has a drinking problem. Who has a gambling problem. 

Suppose, after reading the trilogy, you step into the time machine and go back to Archer City, circa 1950. There's a lot you'd recognize. The diner, pool hall, movie theater. And you'd meet the people on whom his characters were based. It would have a very familiar feel to it. Even though the novels are technically fictional, the realty frequently surfaces. Even if you couldn't tell exactly which boy in Archer inspired Sonny or Duane, there'd be boys like Sonny and Duane in Archer City. Not to mention McMurtry himself. In fact, by observing who teenage McMurtry hung out with, you could match up the characters with their real life counterparts. 

In wouldn't surprise me if some locals were offended by the unflattering novels and cinematic adaptations. And that would be dramatic irony in reverse. Dramatic irony is when the audience knows something a character doesn't–but in this case the locals know something the audience doesn't. The locals can see themselves mirrored in the characters. They can spot which character stands for an actual resident. 

So even though the novels are filed under "fiction", they provide a window into what it was like to live at that time and place. People, buildings, landscape. Both ethos and individuals. Representative events.  

Internal testimony of the Holy Spirit

Friday, March 08, 2019

Mentoring young men

This illustrates the need young men have for good male mentors and role models:

The world of the soul

The relationship between body and soul is of great personal and practical importance in Christian theology. I've discussed this before, but now I'd like to approach it from a different angle. 

In part, that's related to the perennial nature/nurture debate. Humans have some hardwired psychological traits. Likewise, there are hardwired masculine and feminine traits. Finally, even as young children, individual humans have distinctive character traits. That' the nature side.

On the nurture side, social conditioning has great impact on our psychological formation. And while that's acquired, it becomes deeply engrained. Second nature. As embodied agents, our physical experience creates formative memories that we retain after we leave the body behind. 

There is, though, something about the relationship between psychology and physical experience that doesn't seem to be reducible to a physical explanation. Take the effect of a beautiful woman on a male viewer. Or consider the mood-altering power of music.

If you think about it, that's rather mysterious, because it's so indirect. It's not like drinking alcohol or popping psychedelic drugs, where you infuse your brain with foreign chemicals which alter brain chemistry. So how does merely hearing or seeing something have a similar effect? 

When a boy hits adolescence, he views women differently–especially pretty girls. Is that just due to hormones? Perhaps. When I die and leave my body behind, will images of women lose their appeal for me? 

What about music? As a young boy I enjoyed boy choirs. When I hit adolescence, I discovered a newfound appreciation for opera divas. Although androgens had a role, does this mean that when I die, I will cease to find the voice of opera divas like Caballé, Sutherland, Crespin, Milanov, Ponselle, Verrett, and Leontyne Price alluring?  Even if that has a physical point of origin, does the experience change the soul? 

But suppose this is backwards. Are hormones and brain chemistry productive or receptive? Is it like opening a window?

To take a comparison, different species have different sensory aptitudes. Some species can sense things other species can't detect. Yet their senses don't create the stimuli. 

Does the maturing brain generate these feelings? Or does it, like sensory enhancement, create new openings that enable the soul to become self-aware of mental states native to the soul, but impeded by physical barriers?

The Sovietization of the American Political-Media Establishment

A bit dated, but more germane than ever, and broadly applicable to the current behavior of the liberal establishment:

Why Did Obama Import a Somali Muslim Congressional District for Ilhan Omar to Represent?

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Battle for the future

There's currently a debate going on inside and outside evangelicalism. One group includes SJWs like Thabiti, Kyle Howard, Anthony Bradley, and Jemar Tisby.

On the opposing side, there's a group consisting of church leaders like John MacArthur, Phil Johnson, James White, and Tom Ascol. 

Straddling these two groups are some major players in the SBC and PCA, viz. Russell Moore, Albert Mohler, Ligon Duncan, Daniel Akin, JD Greear, David Platt, Matt Chandler, Wade Burleson. Darrell Bock is another fence-straddler. 

That's complemented by some figures in TGC, viz.

However, that's offset by culture warriors Joe Carter as well. 

There are folks like Beth Moore who have their own coterie. And there's some overlap among the fence-straddlers. 

On the outside, there are ordinary Americans who generally support the Trump administration as a bulwark against the secular progressives.   

There are pundits at NRO. 

There are Jewish culture warriors like Michael Brown, Ben Shapiro, Ben Stein, Jay Sekulow, John Feinberg, Mark Levin, Michael Medved, Dennis Prager, David Horowitz, and even Alan Dershowitz on a good day.  

There are freelance culture warriors like Robert Gagnon. 

Somewhere in the motley crew is Jordan Peterson and Steven Crowder, not to mention the old-guard (Rush Limbaugh). 

There's a Catholic contingent, viz. Robert George, Ryan Anderson, and Ross Douthat on a good day. 

It even includes homosexuals like Dave Rubin and Milo Yiannopoulos.

There are public intellectuals like Roger Scruton and Thomas Sowell. 

Less well-known are rising stars like Neil Shenvi, Tim Dukeman, Berny Belvedere, and Tim Hsiao.

These diverse groups form rotating coalitions. I should hasten to add that some of these I watch or read, but others I've read about. I know some of them by reputation, so I don't claim that my classifications are equally well-informed in every instance. 

The concern of many laymen is the spectacle of conservative denominations becoming infiltrated by the progressive body-snatchers. For instance, Russell Moore is an excellent candidate for a pod person. Would a genetic test turn up alien DNA? 

There are unbridgeable chasms between some of these groups. There is, however, a potential albeit partial alliance between two disparate groups. One the one hand, many blacks are deeply suspicious of the law enforcement culture. On the other hand, it's my impression that many young white guys share that suspicion. Now, there are different grounds for that suspicion. In the case of some blacks, it's based on a Black Lives Matter narrative. In the case of some whites, it's based on libertarian ideology. Both groups feel the system is against them. And this includes Tech giants a well as government.

In addition, the emerging scandal of Ivy League colleges that systematically discriminate against Asian applicants may galvanize some politically apathetic Asian-Americans or turn them against the liberal establishment. 

Is the status quo frozen in place?

There are some really good arguments against intersectionality. This isn't one of them. As stated, that's classic que sera sera fatalism. Don't try to change anything because everything is foreordained. Attempting to change the status quo is spiritually mutinous. 

Yes, God makes men to differ. God determines who will be blind and lame, rich and poor. But God predestines changes to the status quo. Presently, Roe v. Wade is the status quo. That doesn't mean the prolife movement is utterly incompatible with a belief in the sovereign kingship of God and His divine decree. Predestination doesn't mean the status quo is frozen in place. God predestines change. In some cases, God predestines social reform. Calvinism isn't Hinduism, with an ironclad caste-system. 

We just do what we can, and what we can do mirrors predestination. If we succeed, that was predestined, and if we fail, that was predestined. We don't know in advance what was predestined. We just go about doing whatever we were going to do. Although predestination is prospective, we discover what was predestined in retrospect.

It's very strange to see White peddle a harmful caricature of Calvinism. Surely he knows better. He should simply critique intersectionality on the merits rather than resorting to defective theological formulations. This illustrates the danger of using Twitter to debate complex issues, which encourages intellectual shortcuts. Here's a good example of a superior lineup:

Thursday, March 07, 2019

Nothing to live for

Apostates routintely glamorize atheism as liberating. That's a transparent way to rationalize apostasy.

On rare occasion, that's a half truth. Some apostates had a rotten religious background, so there's a sense in which apostasy was liberating in relation to the bad religion they put behind them. But while atheism is sometimes liberating for what it's from, it's never liberating for what it's for. 

Of course, many apostates and atheists will dismiss that assessment as Christian propaganda. Which brings me to my next point. Recently, as I was skimming Ross Douthat on Twitter, he drew my attention to an interview with Peter Bogdanovich:

I was mildly curious because he directed The Last Picture Show–which I saw when I was about 12. That's too young to get the point of the film. I watched it again later in life. 

Now, I'm not recommending that you read the interview. Once I got into it I had to decide if I wanted to keep reading it. I had to force myself to finish it.

Aside from the fact that it's saturated with profanity, he led such a tawdry life. And not only him, but the whole social circle he moves in. His life is a great demonstration of a life "emancipated" from any Christian direction or restraint. The same holds true for his social circle. And in that respect it punctures the mystique of a godless life. Theirs is a world in which everyone is faithless in friendship and romance. A social world of unrelieved moral ugliness. A backbiting world without fidelity or forgiveness. No one reading the interview can suppose that he had a happy, satisfying life. 

And that's why The Last Picture Show was such a great movie of its kind. Its rootless, aimless, joyless characters mirror the real world of Bogdanovich and the actors. A trail of broken lives. The Hollywood subculture.

The characters long for something better, but they have no concept of what better would be. They have no perspective beyond this world. They have no ideal of goodness. Nothing to aspire to. Just their insular secular vacuity. 

The movie is successful at that level because it's a projection of the director's worldview. Art is allegorical because art is autobiographical. The insufferable, inescapable claustrophobia of the movie allegorizes the life and soul of the director. 

That's also why, despite his great talent and promise, he made so few outstanding films. You quickly run out of good material when you have such a rancid outlook on life. Trapped in a nautilus shell. Instead of backing out into the fresh air and sunshine, they keep inching inward into an ever more constricted and stifling existence. 

That's why many Romans were attracted to Judaism and later to Christianity. Pagan morality wasn't liberating, but poisonous to the soul. 

Wise men from the East

SaelmaWhile leading a Bible study with a group of young adult Hmong Christians, active members of an LCMS congregation with a Hmong ministry, the topic of demons came up. Usually I deal with this topic and the occasional morbid interest very simply by saying: 1) Demons are real, and 2) Don't play with fire. 
To my astonishment, members of the study group began to share experiences of personal encounter with what could only be considered demonic entities. These included audible, visual, and even physical manifestations. Every single person there was well aware of such incidents with close friends or family members, and in many cases the events were witnessed by or happened to the people there present. (One of them was currently serving as a congregational elder!) This went on for some time and I kept, for the most part, a shocked silence.
It must be very strange for non-Christians from the Third World who believe in the supernatural from personal experience to come to the West and encounter mainline denominations and progressive Christians who deny the supernatural! Likewise, it must be amusing for Third-World Christians to encounter the same disconnect!

Apophatic sacramentalism

One reason I don't believe in the real presence is because I couldn't believe it even if I wanted to. And that's because I don't know what it means. And I'm not alone in that. No one knows what it means. 

I know what a human body is. I know what a male human body is. What does it mean to say a wafer or liquid (communion wine) is a human body? 

I know what it would mean to consume human flesh. I know what cannibalism means. But proponents assure us that consuming the communion elements isn't cannibalism. 

Okay, that tells me what it's not. But that doesn't tell me what it is?

Is the body of Jesus miniaturized, so that you eat duplicate microscopic bodies of Jesus when you take communion? I have some idea of what that means. But proponents assure me that that's not what the real presence means. 

So the dogma of the real presence is a piece of apophatic theology. We're supposed to believe it, but there's no intelligible idea corresponding to the words. It's just a conceptual blank. It isn't possible to believe something if you can't form an idea of what that something is. 

Christian theology allows for mystery, but it can't be mystery through-and-through. To believe what the real presence is not doesn't tell you what it is. When you peel back the label, there's nothing underneath. At best, it's labels all the way down. Proponents use word like true body and true blood, but to avert the specter of cannibalism, they strip away what makes blood bloody or bodies bodily. You chase an ever-receding will-o'-wisp.

This has nothing to do with skepticism or lack of faith. Rather, there's nothing to believe. The claim has no positive content, once we start asking what the words stand for. To avert the specter of cannibalism, proponents must abstract away anything recognizably physical.  

That's different from, say, the Incarnation or Trinity, where we can specify the elements of the composite concept, even if the nature of the relation is mysterious. The dogma of the real presence isn't even a paradox. 

Hoping for Spring

Is there a correlation between sodomy and clerical abuse?

Concierge physician for the Khmer Rouge

I did a post responding to a comment by progressive theologian Randal Rauser:

Here's his attempted rebuttal:

The first problem with Hays’ “rebuttal” is that the doctor’s behavior would constitute a gross breach of the Hippocratic Oath. Sadly, Hays doesn’t seem too worried about that! (Perhaps he should consider taking a class in bioethics before invoking more doctor analogies?)

i) I reject Rauser's illicit argument from authority. Unlike him, I don't regard what is taught in modern medical ethics as the touchstone of morality. Nowadays, the bioethics community in medicine promotes eugenic abortion, puberty blockers and sex-change operations for gender dysphoric minors, the voluntary and/or involuntary euthanization of the senile, comatose, developmentally disabled, organ-harvesting "vegetative" patients, &c. That's documented by Wesley J. Smith, among others. For instance:

Unlike Rauser, I don't issue a blank check to whatever med students are taught in their bioethics class. But that's just me.  

ii) For those of us who don't suffer from Rauser's moral superficiality and giddy capitulation to the Zeitgeist, there's the question of whether professional ethics obviates our general social duties. Is a doctor a doctor first, or is he a moral agent first and foremost, with preexisting duties that transcend professional ethics? 

Take a doctor or prospective doctor who's a husband, father, brother, son, and friend. When he becomes a doctor, does his medical code of conduct supersede his prior social obligations, or do those remain in force? In case of conflict, do general social obligations continue to take precedence over professional ethics? 

In my counterexample, if the physician administers the antidote to the Khmer Rouge as well as other Cambodians, the Khmer Rouge will go right back to killing Cambodian citizens. 

Suppose I'm not a doctor. Suppose I run across a wounded Khmer Rouge soldier who will die of his injuries without medical intervention. I know that if I seek treatment for him, he will resume murdering families. Murdering women, children, grandparents, &c. If, as a private citizen, it would be wrong for me to be an enabler of the Khmer Rouge, when I'm in a position to avoid that, does my becoming a doctor automatically nullify my prior social obligations? Does donning a stethoscope and white jacket suddenly make morally obligatory what had been morally prohibitory? That's the kind of question that morally serious thinkers ask–in contrast to progressive theologians who substitute moral preening for right and wrong. 

You can argue that physicians have a prima facie duty to treat all patients alike. However, like so many rules, it's becomes amoral when we robotically obey our man-made rules, when we imagine that mechanically following man-made rules absolves us of the duty to take salient differences into consideration. There's nothing moral about a morally indiscriminate policy. We should treat people equally, all other things being equal. But moral agents can do things that forfeit their prima facie rights and immunities. Mass murderers aren't entitled to the same treatment as innocent victims. If Rauser lacks the conceptual space for that elementary distinction, then so much the worse for his progressive theology. The moral imperative isn't a simplistic policy to treat everyone alike, regardless–but to treat like things alike and unlike things unalike. Is the Khmer Rouge solider who puts a bullet in the back of a child's head entitled to the same deference and consideration as a child? I'm happy to compare my answer to Rauser's. 

Setting aside the egregious ethical nature of the doctor’s conduct, the biggest problem with Hays’ response is that the doctor (who obviously parallels God) distinguishes between two groups: the innocent Cambodians who are worthy of being saved (i.e. the “elect”) and the wicked Khmer Rouge who deserve to die (i.e. the “reprobate”). However, if the analogy is to be relevant then it follows that God distinguishes between the elect and reprobate based on the worthiness of the elect (relatively innocent citizens) and the unworthiness of the reprobate (genocidaires!).

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what Pelagian Calvinism looks like.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is what a progressive demagogue looks like. Here is Rauser's original example:

Imagine a doctor who has enough antidote for an entire population inflicted with a fatal disease. The doctor's choice to provide the antidote only to a subset of those inflicted would invite the reasonable question: why only some? Why not all?

And replying "He didn't need to save anyone" is not a response to the question "Why didn't he save everyone?"

i) Like so many freewill theists, Rauser uses an example which depicts the condition of the lost as a case of misfortune rather than just desert. But that's a loaded question. 

ii) I'm simply responding to Rauser on his own terms. I gave a counterexample in which it wouldn't be arbitrary for the physician to treat a subset of the sick. It's not like flipping a coin.  

iii) Rauser then commits a level-confusion. My response operates within the framework of his illustration. Even if my response is an inexact match for election and reprobation, that's because Rauser used a poor analogy, and my counterexample is pegged to the nature of his faulty illustration. The defect lies not in my counterexample, but in his example–which my counterexample parallels. 

iv) There is, however, an asymmetry between election and reprobation. Unlike election, which is unconditional, demerit is a necessary, albeit insufficient condition in reprobation. God doesn't damn the innocent. So Rauser's Pelagian accusation is theologically maladroit. 

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Broken Pieces and the God Who Mends Them: Schizophrenia Through a Mother's Eyes

Simonetta Carr is a mother and homeschool educator. She has worked as a freelance journalist and as a translator, and is the author of the Christian Biographies for Young Readers series. She was kind enough to answer a few of our questions about her newest book.

Q. Most of your books are about notable Christians and written for children, or for families to read together. In what ways did the process of writing a deeply personal book like Broken Pieces differ from those books?

A. There is no comparison. For the other books, I do a lot of research and then process the information, choosing the main points to share with young readers and finding the best way to communicate them. It's pretty straightforward.

Broken Pieces is completely different. As you said, it's a deeply personal book. I wrote the first part (memoir) fairly quickly, soon after my son's death, perusing all the diaries and emails I could find. It was OK to do it then. I don't think I could do it now.

The second part of the book (thoughts and advice) is an attempt to offer my feeble recommendations to readers who might find themselves in a similar or somehow related situation. This is the product of much research, through books and articles as well as interviews to psychiatrists, psychologists, pastors, mothers, and people who live with schizophrenia. I collected many answers and some new questions. This part was equally personal, not only because I compared this research with my experience, but because I found myself in a situation where I had to test my findings in a practical way.

Q. Is the church body (church members) doing a good job of ministering to those with mental illness and their families? How can we improve?

A. Sadly, it seems that we still have a long way to go in this respect. I would say society in general has a long way to go, and the church is no exception. The best way to improve is through education. We are all busy, so naturally we tend to read only subjects that touch us personally, but mental illness is more common than most people realize and could be as close as the person sitting next to us in the pew. Or even closer. Schizophrenia, for example, tends to appear suddenly where we least expect it. The common saying, "If you don't catechize your children, the world will" may be applied in this case too. If we don't educate ourselves and our children to understand mental illness and a proper Christian response to it, we will simply follow the shallow (and often damaging) comments we read in the news every time a crime is linked to mental illness.

Besides education, or while we are getting it, let's just look at our brothers and sisters as people bearing the image of God and offer our genuine friendship, fighting any feeling that makes us uncomfortable with something we don't fully understand. In my book, I make frequent mentions of John Newton's empathy, respect, and care towards his friend William Cowper. I also include a chapter on advocacy, which includes creating a loving and safe environment within the church.

Q. What are some tangible ways pastors and church leaders specifically can help families in their church who are affected by schizophrenia and mental illness?

A. I am not in the position of advising pastors. I would just repeat what I said about church members in general. Education is especially important, because people respect their pastor's opinions. Sadly, there are still pastors who discourage people from taking needed medications and blame all mental illness on a person's spiritual condition. I can't speak for other types of illness, but I know that schizophrenia can rarely be managed without medications. I have seen my son - an exceptionally intelligent young man - struggling to discern reality within a vortex of voices and perceptions. Nothing helped, until the medications decreased the voices to a level where they could be recognized and managed.

Education is also important in knowing how to avoid words that may generate stigma or trigger paranoid feelings. It's true that in some cases our society is becoming overly sensitive, but this is an area where caution is necessary.

My book include suggestions from pastors who had experience in this field.

Q. Are there three or four other resources on schizophrenia and/or mental illness that you recommend for readers who are eager to learn more.

A. I have a section at the end of my book with a variety of recommended resources. If you want to understand schizophrenia in general, the best book in my opinion is The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey through Madness, by Elyn R. Saks. Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church's Mission by Amy Simpson is more exhaustive than mine on the church's response to mental illness. There is also a fairly new book by Michael R., Emlet, Descriptions and Prescriptions: A Biblical Perspective on Psychiatric Diagnoses and Medications, that can be of great help to pastors.

As for websites, the go-to place is usually the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). They have a lot of information. On the Christian front, CRCNA's Disability Concerns provides many good resources.

Q. Last question: what are the books that have shaped you the most in your walk with Christ, and why?

A. Definitely a tough question. I read a lot and there are many books that have shaped my Christian life. Outside of the Bible, if you are looking for a monumental impact, I would say John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. When I first read it, I was a typical pragmatic Christian, the type that says, "Now that I know I am saved, just tell me what to do about my kids, my marriage, my devotions, etc." I read the Institutes out of curiosity and it jolted me into a completely different mindset, getting my eyes off my navel and onto the glory, majesty, and love of our Triune God.

Many books have shaped my life in a less drastic, but equally profound way. Right now I am slow-reading Ralph Erskine's Gospel Sonnets or Spiritual Songs, and it's a feast for my heart, pointing me to the love of Christ in ways that few authors can do. And that's really the only way to go through this pilgrim life with its obstacles, uncertainties, and sorrows, by "looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith," (Heb 12:1) or, to use Erskine's words, by making the object of our "chase the God of glory in the field of grace."

Lutheran exorcism

Selective treatment

Randal Rauser 
Imagine a doctor who has enough antidote for an entire population inflicted with a fatal disease. The doctor's choice to provide the antidote only to a subset of those inflicted would invite the reasonable question: why only some? Why not all?

And replying "He didn't need to save anyone" is not a response to the question "Why didn't he save everyone?"

Imagine the entire population of Cambodia has a fatal disease. A doctor has enough antidote to cure everyone, but he refuses to treat the Khmer Rouge. He only treats Cambodians who aren't members of the Khmer Rouge. 

Meet Born-Alive Abortion Survivors

Blue-eyed Jesus

I was asked to respond to a Black Israelite/Hebrew roots website about the ethnicity/appearance of Jesus. 

i) Rev 1:14 says his hair was white like wool. It refers to the color, not texture. It doesn't say he had nappy hair.

And it's a vision with symbolic elements, viz. a tongue like a sword. 

ii) Jesus isn't a black African. Edwin Yamauchi wrote a book debunking that kind of historical revisionism: African and the Bible (Baker 2004):

iii) In modern movies, we expect realism about the past. We expect a movie about ancient Rome, the Old West, Medieval Europe, Tudor England or Victorian England, &c., to look historically authentic. But many European artists didn't know enough the past to make historically accurate depictions of the past. Spanish painters use Spanish models, Italian painters use Italian models. It's not a conscious effort to reimage Jesus and other biblical figures as Spaniards and Italians. They do the same thing when depicting subjects from Greek mythology. 

Likewise, if a Renaissance painter paints biblical events, he uses European architecture, period attire, and local landscape as the backdrop. He uses what's familiar. The scene is depicted according to his own time and place. That's anachronistic, but it's not a conspiracy to foster the impression that Bible history took place during the Italian Renaissance. 

iv) Spanish and Italian painters don't normally depict Jesus as a blue-eyed, blond-haired Aryan. Rather, they depict him with Mediterranean pigmentation, as a stereotypical Southern European. Dark hair, dark eyes, tan complexion. In addition, it's not as if Jesus looks Swedish in Byzantine iconography. 

Many critics don't seem to know anything about European art. The only thing they seem to be aware of is the Sallman Head or Jeffrey Hunter in The King of Kings

v) That said, it is possible for artistic depictions of an Aryan Jesus to foster white racism. Mind you, Black Hebrew Israelites do the same thing in reverse. 

vi) If Jesus appears to individuals in the course of church history, he might vary his appearance. If he appeared to someone in medieval China, he might appear Chinese. If he appeared to a pre-Columbian Mayan, he might appear Mayan. If he appeared to a Samoan child, he might appear Samoan. Jesus has the supernatural ability to alter his physical appearance if he wants to. But that's not how he looked during his ministry on earth. That's not his natural condition. 

vii) If the Shroud of Turin is authentic, then we have, in effect, a photograph of Jesus. I'm a bit skeptical about that myself, because the fabric seems to be very well preserved for fabric that age, exposed to the elements, folded and refolded over the centuries, and singed by fire. But I have kept up on the state of Shroud research. 

God in the gulag

The Incarnation is one of the most appealing features of Christianity. The principle that God comes down to our level. That's something woefully lacking in unitarian traditions (e.g. Islam, Rabbinic Judaism, Socinianism, Arianism, Gnosticism). 

The notion of the Incarnation is often expressed in terms of God entering the world or God entering space and time. Metaphysically, I don't think that's quite accurate. The relation is more indirect. But it's okay for popular usage.

There is, though, another weakness to that depiction: it's too generic. It's not just about God coming into our world, but coming into what is, in effect, a gulag or concentration camp. We inhabit a fallen world. A world darkened by pain and suffering. 

Suppose my best friend is a political prisoner. He can't come to me, but I can go to him. Suppose the gulag has a sally port or airlock entry. I'm free to go inside, but if I do so, the exterior door locks behind me. Once I enter, I can't leave. The only way to visit him is to relinquish my liberty. It would be an incredible act of sacrificial friendship for me to surrender my own freedom so that my best friend can share my companionship during his ordeal. The Incarnation is rather like God entering the penal colony or concentration camp to be with us. 

The Gospel According to Yoda

Orthodox Lutheran
Maybe the real unelect were the reason-worshipping Calvinists we met along the way. 

To my knowledge, classical Lutheranism affirms unconditional election. That entails reprobation. Lutherans arbitrarily reject the logical of their own commitments.

Lutheran Memes 
Calvinists love to cry "strawman" then turn around and do the same thing. We have never and will never confess the deplorable, unbiblical, and utterly unchristian doctrine of election unto damnation.

I didn't cry strawman and you didn't refute the implication.

Lutheran Memes 
We don't "reject the logic of our own commitments" we actually openly and publicly confess the paradox. Unlike those who try to compress God into a finite box they can comprehend, thereby requiring them to twist and distort Scripture so that its mysteries make sense to their puny human minds, we actually admit the God is a being beyond human comprehension and is allowed to work beyond the limits of our reason.

Scripture says that salvation is by unconditional election. We affirm that.

Scripture says that damnation is the result of our own sin, and God does not desire the death of the wicked but desires that all be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth.

How can both of these things be true? We have no idea. But we believe they are both true because God said so, and who are we to imagine we know better than God?

In which case you forfeit the ability to argue for Lutheranism or argue against Calvinism.

Lutheran Memes 
Ah, yes. So, because we believe what the Bible teaches, we forfeit the ability to argue for sound doctrine or against heresy?

If you ditch logic, then the Bible is consistent with anything.

Lutheran Memes 
The Bible is consistent with itself. Remember the warning of Chrysostom, a comprehended god is no god. Let God be true and every man a liar. So what if your pathetic human brain can't fathom the paradoxes of Scripture. Scripture is true whether or not we can understand how. Stop pitting Scripture against Scripture and believe all of it. Stop shoe-horning your man-made doctrines onto God's Word.

By rejecting logic, you can't distinguish heresy from paradox.

Lutheran Memes 
Nobody is rejecting logic. We're refusing to subject Scripture (written by eastern minds) to modern western thought processes. Letting Scripture interpret Scripture is exactly how we distinguish heresy from orthodoxy. Shoe-horning Aristotelianism onto an eastern text is the surest way to screw it up.

So Aristotelian logic is modern (2500 years old) while the letters of Paul, written in Greek to Greek churches, are eastern.

Are law and Gospel the same or different? Why not both/and? It's paradoxical, you know. Don't let that newfangled Aristotelian logic turn law and Gospel into opposites. That's binary modern western thinking. Away with the law/Gospel dichotomy. Embrace Buddhist both/and.

Lutheran Memes 
Yes, your modern application of Aristotelianism is modern. And yes, Paul's letters are eastern. He was a Hebrew. His epistles are littered with eastern style. Neither the Old nor New Testaments are works of western thought or literature.

As for your second comment, I don't even know where you're trying to go now. You're so wrapped up in your attempt to shoe-horn God into an Aristotelian box that you've stopped making sense.

Aristotle antedates Paul by about 500 years. In addition, you're completely overlooking Hellenistic Judaism.

The Eucharist is both the True Body and Blood of Christ and not the True Body and Blood of Christ. It's a paradox. Don't try to shoehorn the antinomy into your finite puny-brained logic box.

The Pell case

Does Calvinism entail that the mother of a serial killer might love her child more than God does?

(1) If I desire that my child achieve shalom and God does not desire that my child achieve shalom, then God loves my child less than I do.

(2) I desire that my child achieve shalom.

(3) If Calvinism is true then possibly God does not desire that my child is elect.

(4) If God does not desire that my child is elect then God does not desire that my child achieve shalom.

(5) Therefore, if Calvinism is true then possibly God does not desire that my child achieve shalom.

(6) Therefore, if Calvinism is true then possibly God loves my child less than I do.

(7) It is not possible that God loves my child less than I do.

(8) Therefore, Calvinism is false.

(1) If Ted Bundy's mom wants her son to go to heaven and God wants her son to go to hell, then God loves her son less than she does.

(2) Bundy's mom wants her son to go to heaven.

(3) If Calvinism is true then possibly God does not desire that her son is elect.

(4) If God does not desire that her son is elect then God does not desire that her son go to heaven.

(5) Therefore, if Calvinism is true then possibly God does not desire that her son go to heaven.

(6) Therefore, if Calvinism is true then possibly God loves her son less than I do.

(7) It is not possible that God loves a serial killer less than Mom does.

(8) Therefore, Calvinism is false.

Yeah, that's a real dilemma for Calvinism! 

Mothers and guns

False dichotomy, as if firearms can't be used to protect pregnant women. Beware of trick questions.

Why the obsession with civilian access to firearms? Does Rauser think private citizens can't be trusted with guns but gov't agents can be trusted with guns?

The Night Hag

Concerns regarding sleep disorders in Hmong immigrants in the US emerged when an astonishingly high mortality rate of Sudden Unexplained Nocturnal Death Syndrome (SUNDS) was documented in Hmong men.

In 1981, an unusual new condition came to the attention of the medical community: based on mortality reports first appearing in 1977, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) issued an international note that Southeast Asian refugees, primarily Hmong, to the US were dying in their sleep (Centers for Disease Control, 1981). What made this occurrence unusual was, not only the circumstances of the nocturnal deaths, but the fact that the victims were young men, previously in good health. Reports of these cases increased over the following six years; a mortality rate of 92/100,000 showed these Hmong men were dying at a rate equivalent to the leading five causes of death for American-born men of the same age range.

In contrast to the novelty of SUNDS to Western science in 1981, Hmong and other South–East Asian populations have long feared the personal experience epitomized by SUNDS. Culture-specific names have been given to this experience; Hmong refer to the terrifying nighttime occurrence of the crushing spirit on their chest as dab tsog (Adler, 1995; Bliatout, 1982; Fukuda, Miyasity, Inugami, & Ishihara, 1987; Holtan et al., 1984). Victims of visits from this spirit report that dab tsog sat on their chest with crushing force, making it impossible to move and “took their breath”. Although parallels are drawn between SUNDS and the dab tsog experience, the high fatality of the medical syndrome of SUNDS differs from that of dab tsog: historical and ethnographic reports indicate that the experience of dab tsog is not rare or fatal, and is often experienced repeatedly by the victims (Adler, 1995, 2011). Thus, the cultural pattern, collective knowledge and universal description of dab tsog suggest a prevalent bio-psychosocial condition of which only a limited number of cases results in a SUNDS fatality. In a study of 118 Hmong in California, 58% reported at least one experience of the dab tsog visit; in-depth interviews clearly indicated widespread fear, stress, and dread of sleep abnormalities in the Hmong population (Adler, 1994).

Victims discovered in the night terrors are unarousable, and in the few successfully aroused patients, terrifying dreams were often experienced.40 In addition, frequent experiences of “dab tsog (frightening night spirit pressing on chest),” nightmares, sleep paralysis, and hypnogogic hallucinations still exist in Hmong after immigrating to the United States for decades, probably putting Hmong at high risk for SUNDS.41 

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Second Sight in the Hebrides

We should have had little claim to the praise of curiosity, if we had not endeavoured with particular attention to examine the question of the Second Sight. Of an opinion received for centuries by a whole nation, and supposed to be confirmed through its whole descent, by a series of successive facts, it is desirable that the truth should be established, or the fallacy detected.

The Second Sight is an impression made either by the mind upon the eye, or by the eye upon the mind, by which things distant or future are perceived, and seen as if they were present. A man on a journey far from home falls from his horse, another, who is perhaps at work about the house, sees him bleeding on the ground, commonly with a landscape of the place where the accident befalls him. Another seer, driving home his cattle, or wandering in idleness, or musing in the sunshine, is suddenly surprised by the appearance of a bridal ceremony, or funeral procession, and counts the mourners or attendants, of whom, if he knows them, he relates the names, if he knows them not, he can describe the dresses. Things distant are seen at the instant when they happen. Of things future I know not that there is any rule for determining the time between the Sight and the event.

This receptive faculty, for power it cannot be called, is neither voluntary nor constant. The appearances have no dependence upon choice: they cannot be summoned, detained, or recalled. The impression is sudden, and the effect often painful.

By the term Second Sight, seems to be meant a mode of seeing, superadded to that which Nature generally bestows. In the Earse it is called Taisch; which signifies likewise a spectre, or a vision. I know not, nor is it likely that the Highlanders ever examined, whether by Taisch, used for Second Sight, they mean the power of seeing, or the thing seen.

I do not find it to be true, as it is reported, that to the Second Sight nothing is presented but phantoms of evil. Good seems to have the same proportions in those visionary scenes, as it obtains in real life: almost all remarkable events have evil for their basis; and are either miseries incurred, or miseries escaped. Our sense is so much stronger of what we suffer, than of what we enjoy, that the ideas of pain predominate in almost every mind. What is recollection but a revival of vexations, or history but a record of wars, treasons, and calamities? Death, which is considered as the greatest evil, happens to all. The greatest good, be it what it will, is the lot but of a part.

That they should often see death is to be expected; because death is an event frequent and important. But they see likewise more pleasing incidents. A gentleman told me, that when he had once gone far from his own Island, one of his labouring servants predicted his return, and described the livery of his attendant, which he had never worn at home; and which had been, without any previous design, occasionally given him.

Our desire of information was keen, and our inquiry frequent. Mr. Boswell's frankness and gaiety made every body communicative; and we heard many tales of these airy shows, with more or less evidence and distinctness.

It is the common talk of the Lowland Scots, that the notion of the Second Sight is wearing away with other superstitions; and that its reality is no longer supposed, but by the grossest people. How far its prevalence ever extended, or what ground it has lost, I know not. The Islanders of all degrees, whether of rank or understanding, universally admit it, except the Ministers, who universally deny it, and are suspected to deny it, in consequence of a system, against conviction. One of them honestly told me, that he came to Sky with a resolution not to believe it.

Strong reasons for incredulity will readily occur. This faculty of seeing things out of sight is local, and commonly useless. It is a breach of the common order of things, without any visible reason or perceptible benefit. It is ascribed only to a people very little enlightened; and among them, for the most part, to the mean and the ignorant.

To the confidence of these objections it may be replied, that by presuming to determine what is fit, and what is beneficial, they presuppose more knowledge of the universal system than man has attained; and therefore depend upon principles too complicated and extensive for our comprehension; and that there can be no security in the consequence, when the premises are not understood; that the Second Sight is only wonderful because it is rare, for, considered in itself, it involves no more difficulty than dreams, or perhaps than the regular exercise of the cogitative faculty; that a general opinion of communicative impulses, or visionary representations, has prevailed in all ages and all nations; that particular instances have been given, with such evidence, as neither Bacon nor Bayle has been able to resist; that sudden impressions, which the event has verified, have been felt by more than own or publish them; that the Second Sight of the Hebrides implies only the local frequency of a power, which is nowhere totally unknown; and that where we are unable to decide by antecedent reason, we must be content to yield to the force of testimony.

By pretension to Second Sight, no profit was ever sought or gained. It is an involuntary affection, in which neither hope nor fear are known to have any part. Those who profess to feel it, do not boast of it as a privilege, nor are considered by others as advantageously distinguished. They have no temptation to feign; and their hearers have no motive to encourage the imposture.

To talk with any of these seers is not easy. There is one living in Sky, with whom we would have gladly conversed; but he was very gross and ignorant, and knew no English. The proportion in these countries of the poor to the rich is such, that if we suppose the quality to be accidental, it can very rarely happen to a man of education; and yet on such men it has sometimes fallen. There is now a Second Sighted gentleman in the Highlands, who complains of the terrors to which he is exposed.

The foresight of the Seers is not always prescience; they are impressed with images, of which the event only shews them the meaning. They tell what they have seen to others, who are at that time not more knowing than themselves, but may become at last very adequate witnesses, by comparing the narrative with its verification.

To collect sufficient testimonies for the satisfaction of the publick, or of ourselves, would have required more time than we could bestow. There is, against it, the seeming analogy of things confusedly seen, and little understood, and for it, the indistinct cry of national persuasion, which may be perhaps resolved at last into prejudice and tradition. I never could advance my curiosity to conviction; but came away at last only willing to believe. A Journey to the Western Isles of Scotland by Samuel Johnson.

Trans privilege

The origin of Occam's razor

Switched at birth

Suppose I have a 14-year-old son named Jeremy. And he's a really great kid. Then, one fine day, another 14-year-old boy by the name of Josh turns up at my doorstep, claiming to be my real son. He says he and Jeremy were switched at birth. Jeremy's mother found out that her baby had a genetic defect, but it was too late for an abortion. His mother was a nurse, so she and her husband conspired to swap Jeremy for a heathy kid in the same maternity ward. They didn't want to raise a special-needs child. 

I have to admit that Josh bears an undeniable family resemblance, whereas Jeremy never did look much like my wife or me. We do a DNA test and confirm that Josh is my long-lost biological son. As it turned out, Jeremy never had a genetic defect. The test gave a false positive. 

If I could step into the time machine, would I trade Jeremy for Josh? I'm too conflicted to answer that question. On the one hand I bitterly regret the lost years with Josh. In effect, having my son kidnaped at birth. I yearn for the years we lost. All things being equal, I wish that could be undone.

But it's not that simple. I raised Jeremy for the first 14 years of his life. The belated discovery that he's not my biological son doesn't change my feelings about him. The paternal instinct is broader than biological offspring. That's why many men volunteer to coach junior high and high school sports. They like to mentor young guys. It's a natural extension of the paternal instinct.

I can't stamp "return to sender" on Jeremy's forehead. Although it's not metaphysically too late to turn back the clock, thanks to the time-machine, it's psychologically too late. And since his biological parents didn't want him, what kind of parents would they be to him? I can't do that to him. In all likelihood, he was better off with me. And I can't just tear him out of my heart. 

Conversely, maybe Josh would be a worse son than Jeremy. Kids can be a great disappointment. Sometimes they don't turn out the way you hope. Then again, for all I know, maybe the alternate timeline would be just as good. 

The point of this thought-experiment is that I don't think there's one best possible world. Indeed, I don't think there's one best possible life. 

Moreover, short-term evils can be a source of long-term goods. Goods that never happen in a perfect world.  

Coed wrestling

A few brief observations:

i) I'm no expert on intramural wrestling, but I imagine it would be very easy for a boy to seriously injure a girl. I'm not talking about a boy deliberately hurting a girl, but simply using the same techniques and making the same moves he'd use when wrestling a male opponent. Not only are boys naturally stronger, but boys who wrestle competitively are weightlifters to enhance their musculature. Although female wrestlers may lift weights as well, they can't add as much muscle mass or bone density as boys. 

ii) While I admire boys who forfeit games because they think it's dishonorable to wrestle girls, I think that's a mistake. If girls (and women) enter male space and compete with guys on their own terms, guys shouldn't abandon the field out of misplaced chivalry. Men have to be men. We cannot surrender to a feminist, misandrist ethos in which guys aren't allowed express their natural masculinity. 

Unfortunately, girls, as well as their willfully stupid parents, need to learn the hard way that there are intractable differences between men and women. We can't allow the destructive illusions of feminism to go unchallenged. Some girls will get hurt in the process, but they volunteered. If feminism prevails, that hurts everyone.

I do grant Olson's point that a boy might forfeit the match if he worries that full-body contact with a girl will trigger a very public, spontaneous erection. Perhaps cup protection gear would disguise it, although that might create a different problem if there's no place for that expansive pressure to go.  

iii) Ironically, the transgender thugs are illustrating the athletic superiority of men. 

Jurassic Park Catholicism

I haven't seen the whole thing, but in about the last 12 minutes of this podcast, 

Taylor and his sidekick kid around about their dream pope–a Pius XIII pope (a la The Young Pope). They wax nostalgic for the Latin Mass, antimodernist popes, and the Roman Catechism (Catechism of the Council of Trent). 

What did Taylor imagine he was converting to? He swam the Tiber under Benedict XVI. But the theological paradigm Taylor pines for was already long gone by the time of Benedict XVI. It was long gone under John-Paul II. It was long gone under Paul VI. Heck, it was on the way out under Pius XII. This plays right into the stereotype of Catholics who convert to a fictional Brideshead Revisited Catholicism. The Catholicism they pine for is extinct. BTW, Taylor is a prominent member of the Called to Communion gang.