Saturday, May 04, 2019

Moral narcissism

A by now cliche objection to evangelical Trump voters is that it discredits their evangelical witness. A few quick observations:

i) Some Trump supporters make the mistake of defending his character. But we should be able to separate the man from the policy. Something I've been saying for a long time. 

ii) Consider just a little of what's at stake if secular progressives prevail:

• Legalize killing newborn babies. No opt-out clauses for medical professionals

• Terminate custody of parents who refuse to mutilate their children

• Do irreparable damage to maturation by proscribing puberty blockers and sex-change operations for minors

• Wage psychological warfare on normal boys

• Use public education to brainwash the young in nihilism

• Euthanize the developmentally disabled 

And the list goes on and on.

iii) Apropos (ii), why should we put our image ahead of protecting the innocent? When does so-called "evangelical witness" become a euphemism for moral vanity? 

iv) Apropos (iii), why should our Christian image be hostage to those who hate Christianity? Why should they dictate what constitutes an evangelical witness? That's just narcissistic pandering for approval from enemies of the faith. 

Lesser evil redux

I've discussed the lesser-evil principle on several occasions. As I recall, that was in relation to the 2016 presidential election. As we gear up for the 2020 presidential election, I'd like to revisit that issue:

1. It wouldn't surprise me if this time around Trump has more enthusiastic support from many evangelicals. Those who agonized about voting for him last time won't agonize this time. For them he's no longer the lesser evil; rather, his administration has generally been quite good in its own right, and not simply better than whatever the Democrats offer up.

2. That said, the way the issue is cast is misleading. In my experience, NeverTrumpers think the lesser-evil principle is one-sided. They think the other side (Trump voters) practices the lesser-evil principle while their own side (NeverTrumper) refuses to sink to that level. But that's an illusion. Both sides operate with the lesser-evil principle. 

In 2016, Trump voters thought not voting for Trump was worse than voting for Trump. Conversely, NeverTrumpers thought voting for Trump was worse than not voting for Trump. Notice that both sides use the same principle. The difference is not that NeverTrumpers sidestep the principle; rather, they relocate it. They thought voting for Trump was a greater evil than not voting for Trump, while supporters thought not voting for Trump is a greater evil than voting for Trump. Or, to put it in reverse, NeverTrumpers thought not voting for Trump was a lesser evil than voting for him while supporters thought voting for him was a lesser evil than not voting for him.

Both sides are making comparative assessments based on whether a certain action is better than another action; whether taking a particular action is worse than inaction. So the lesser-evil principle is unavoidable in situations like that. If NeverTrumpers think they can opt out of the the lesser-evil principle, thereby avoiding complicity in that principle, they are deceiving themselves.  

Death comes to great and small

Someone died today. I won't say who. Their death is getting some buzz.

Perhaps more so in the age of the Internet, there are social commentators who seem to think they have to say something, anything, about the death of somebody who's well-known. At least well-known within their social circles. So what about that?

About 250,000 people die everyday. People die at every age, under every conceivable circumstance, although, in the age of medical science, death tends to cluster around certain causes and demographic groups.

There are thousands of politicians who were famous in their day. Movers and shakers in their day. Their policies were often malign. For the most part, no one thinks about them after the die.

There were news anchors who were household names, like Peter Jennings, John Chancellor, and Frank Reynolds whom no one thinks about.

There are singers, painters, composers, musicians, novelists, poets, playwrights, philosophers, actors, and movie directors who will always be remembered because they left behind a body of work that people continue to enjoy.

There are religious figures like Jesus, Buddha, Muhammad, Joseph Smith, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, Aquinas, &c. who have an enduring or even massive following. 

There are soldiers and statesmen whom historians continue to write about. 

There are countless Christian men and women who were godly or even saintly mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, friends and mentors. Most live and die in utter obscurity. Their lives are worth eulogizing if we knew who they were. 

There are countless men and women who did nothing admirable over the course of a lifetime. They did nothing of consequence. Nothing of value. But by the same token, there's generally no point saying bad anything about them after they die since no one will think about them after they're gone. They may have said and done bad things, but they have no significant, lasting impact. Their life was a pebble in a pond. A waning ripple.  

When Bart Ehrman dies, it's worth remarking on his baleful legacy. His life and work merit a judgmental obituary. Indeed, that's true while he yet lives. But for every Ehrman there are fly-by-night celebutants whom no one thinks about once they pass from the scene. The world moves on as if they never existed. Read this a year from now and see if you still recall whose death might have occasioned the post. 

NeverTrump 2020

In my view, the NeverTrump movement made sense during the primaries, but outlived its rationale after the nomination. However, I recently ran across an argument for a renewed NeverTrump movement that goes like this:

In 2019, evangelicals don't face the same dilemma they did in the 2016 general election. You can't justify a choice between the lesser of two evils if you did nothing to preempt the situation before it got to that point. 

There's still time to replace Trump with Pence by calling on Trump to withdraw or–failing that–to support impeachment for obstruction of justice. We impeached Clinton for lesser crimes. If evangelicals refuse to make the effort now, don’t be surprised when people accuse you of putting political expediency ahead of Christian ethics.

That's an interesting argument. By way of response:

i) What if we call on Trump to withdraw and he refuses? What's fallback position in that eventuality? Sit out the election and let the Democrat nominee win (e.g. Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, Warren)? 

ii) Trump won because he was able to appeal to voting blocks conventional Republicans can't reach. I have no reason to think Pence could duplicate Trump's success in that regard.

iii) Pence chickened out the transgender issue as governor, so I'm not especially confident in Pence's culture warrior fortitude.

iv) I don't think Trump has done anything impeachable. Obstruction of justice is an indictment in search of a crime. As for Clinton, I always thought that was like getting Capone on tax evasion. "Tailgate" wasn't the worst thing Clinton did. It was just the one thing opponents might be able to nail him on. Keep in mind that the effort failed. 

v) The base would punish Republican senators/Congressmen at the polls who cooperated with Democrats on impeachment. 

vi) Politically, Trump cuts both ways. He's one of those figures whose strengths is his weakness. On the one hand he's a lightning rod in a way that Pence or Rubio wouldn't be. Moreover, Trump's instability is concerning. He's like a live grenade. 

On the other hand, given the state of the culture wars, any GOP candidate who supports socially conservative policies will be controversial. Because Trump is a maverick, he's  done a number of politically fearless things that more conventional social conservatives like Pence or Rubio probably lack the gumption to do. So in some ways I prefer Trump to Pence or Rubio, even though Trump is immature, because he's bolder than they are. 

vii) As for the threat that evangelicals will be accused of putting political expediency ahead of Christian ethics, critics never listen to the argument. And we can't allow ourselves to be manipulated by disapproval. That's no way to make serious decisions. We shouldn't be so vain that we put our image ahead of protecting the innocent from the secular progressive jihad. 

Mary Magdalene

Wesley Huff
In a recent interview for Newsweek (…) actor Joaquin Phoenix, regarding his portrayal of Jesus in the 2018 film "Mary Magdalene," stated that the "Gospel of Mary" was left out of the Bible due to "sexism." Umm, no.
The Gospel of Mary is part of the Akhmim Codex, a Coptic vellum codex which was written in the 4th century - a good 300 years after Mary Magdalene had been dead. It incorporates Gnostic teachings that can categorically be pin-pointed to hundreds of years after Mary, Peter, Thomas, or any other immediate follower of Jesus lived. It is part of a collection that includes other spurious writings such as the Apocryphon of John, The Sophia of Jesus Christ, and an epitome of the Act of Peter. All of these documents were penned centuries after the pseudo-names attached to them and teach things no first century Jew would have even entertained.
These apocryphal texts were not suppressed nor where they excluded. No one "made a decision" to leave these books out of the Bible due to "blatant sexism" anymore than James G. Randall decided to exclude the 2012 film "Abe Lincoln Vampire Hunter," from his 1926 work on Lincoln due to an irrational fear of the undead.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Unrequited longing

A sequel to my earlier post:

In this post I comment on some other statements by Thaddeus Metz, God, Soul and the Meaning of Life (Cambridge 2019):

The stronger version of the argument is not that God and a soul are unintelligible, but that they must be insofar as they are deemed to be necessary for life’s meaning (Metz 2013b). The claim is that the logic of supernaturalism as a theory of meaning requires spiritual conditions to be quite different from what exists in the physical world and hence to be beyond what we can conceive. On the one hand, in order for God (or a soul) to be the sole source of meaning, God must be utterly unlike us. The more God were like us, the more reason there would be to think we could obtain meaning from ourselves, absent God. On the other hand, the more God were utterly unlike us and radically other, perhaps for being atemporal or absolutely simple, the less clear it would be whether we could truly understand His nature or how we could obtain meaning by relating to Him.

i) That's not self-explanatory. Why must God be utterly unlike us to be the sole source of meaning? That's hardly self-evident. Where's the argument? 

ii) Conversely, how does it follow that "the more God is like us, the more reason there'd be to think we could obtain meaning from ourselves, absent God"? What if God is like us in some respects but unlike us in other respects? 

iii) The idea of timeliness isn't beyond what we can conceive.  

It's difficult to evaluate this objection because it needs to be unpacked in much greater detail even to know what the claim amounts to . 

The last salient argument against extreme supernaturalism has been the most common one for naturalists to make, and it is less complicated than the other two. It is the contention that meaning, at least in life, intuitively seems possible despite atheism, even when such meaning is construed objectively and not merely subjectively. If we think of the stereotypical lives of Mother Teresa, Albert Einstein and Pablo Picasso, they seem meaningful merely in virtue of the activities they performed, even if we suppose there is no all-good, all-knowing and all-powerful spiritual person who is the ground of the universe and who will grant eternal bliss to our spiritual selves upon the deaths of our bodies (Trisel 2004: 384–5; Wielenberg 2005: 31–7, 49–50, 2016: 31, 33–4; Norman 2006). Supposing for the sake of argument we are currently living in an atheist world, we remain inclined to differentiate between lives devoted to long-distance spitting, creating a big ball of string or living in an experience machine, on the one hand, and those exemplifying morality, enquiry or creativity, on the other. Meaning is absent in the former cases and present in the latter ones, which can constitute ends higher than pleasure that merit pride or admiration upon their realization.

The argument is powerful, having convinced even many religiously inclined theorists of meaning. For example, one has said that it is ‘beyond reasonable doubt’ that some meaning would be possible even if there were no God and a soul (Quinn 2000: 58), while another remarks that it would be ‘incredible’ (Audi 2005: 334) to think that no meaning would accrue from beneficent relationships in themselves. A recurrent example is rescuing a young girl from severe injury; surely, that would be a meaningful deed to perform, even if a perfect being does not exist and we will die along with the inevitable demise of our bodies, so the argument goes (Trisel 2004: 384–5; Audi 2005: 341–2).

It's counterintuitive considered in isolation, but in combination with naturalism, his paradigm examples cease to be meaningful. In a godless universe, how you choose to live your life is arbitrary. 

This is analogous to eliminative materialism. The position is absurd to the point of self-refutation, but it's driven by a larger commitment to physicalism. The way to dissolve the counterintuitive impression is not to say some ways of living are meaningful even in a godless universe, but to say that since some ways of living are meaningful, we don't live in a godless universe. 

‘Only a religion with a creator God offers the possibility of compensation for the badness of my wasting my life’

That raises an interesting issue. There are men and women who convert late in life. It's too late for them to make up for the lost years in this life. 

A different sort of argument for moderate supernaturalism appeals to a ranking of what human beings characteristically want. By this argument, the moderate supernaturalist will grant that a naturalist sort of meaning could satisfy some of our ‘surface desires’ (Seachris 2013: 20, n. 47), or at best our mid-level needs, longings and wishes. However, he will maintain that only a supernatural meaning could satisfy ‘profound desires anchored in the core of our being’ (Seachris 2013: 20, n. 47), ‘fundamental human aspirations’ (Cottingham 2016b: 136) or ‘the voracious human hunger for meaning’ (Haught 2013: 176; see also Seachris 2011: 154, 2013: 14; Goetz 2012: 44, 47; Cottingham 2016b: 127).

The problem with this reasoning is that it just does not seem true to say that human beings qua human beings desire a world with a purposive God or a blissful soul. In particular, many in the South and East Asian traditions simply do not hanker for the existence of God or a soul as construed in this Element. Literally billions of adherents to Hinduism and Confucianism, for example, have desires radically different from believers in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. If so, then a spiritual realm is not necessary for them to have a greater sort of meaning, by the logic of the present argument. Indeed, if there is in fact no spiritual dimension, and if our desires are malleable, then one would be best off letting go of desires for perfection that cannot be fulfilled (on which see Trisel 2002).

That's very superficial:

i) To begin with, most adherents are folk Hindus and folk Buddhists. They don't adhere to the austere outlook of Indian philosophy. 

ii) There's a distinction between natural yearnings and a cultural overlay. Sometimes a cultural overlay will choke natural yearnings. But the overlay doesn't reflect their natural yearings, if left to their own devices.

iii) If you think reality is indifferent or hostile to your yearnings, then you give up hope and settle for something less. You make due. But that doesn't mean you don't long for something better. 

Synagogue shooter

The religious background of the terrorist who shot up the synagogue has received scrutiny. For instance: 

A few brief observations:

1. We should have a consistent standard regarding Christianity and Islam. If we attribute atrocities to Islam, should we attribute atrocities to Christianity? There's nothing wrong with raising the question. There's nothing wrong with asking if they are comparable. We shouldn't be offended by hostile scrutiny. And we should welcome the opportunity to defend our faith. However, we need to ask the right questions: 

i) Is there a statistically significant pattern?

There's an overwhelming number of atrocities committed by Muslims. There's nothing remotely similar in contemporary evangelicalism or Calvinism. 

ii) Are followers of said religion commanded to do that? Is that action a logical implication of their authoritative religious sources?

It's documentable that atrocities committed by Muslims are warranted by their authoritative religious sources. That's authentic Islam. That's original to Islam. And it's enshrined in centuries of authoritative tradition. 

2. There's nothing remotely analogous in the NT. There is, however, inescapable tension between NT theology and Rabbinic Judaism. They can't both be right. 

3. The Catholic persecution of "heretics" and "schismatics" does reflect traditional Catholic theology. 

4. Finally, there's the danger of compartmentalized preaching that expounds the Gospel, Bible history, and systematic theology, but shies away from publicly commenting on pressing social issues in reference to Christian social ethics. Some pastors are cowards in that regard. They play it safe. In fairness, pastors have a duty to preach on that while parishioners have a duty to support such preaching. It's a two-way street. 

Thursday, May 02, 2019

The Damascus Road experience

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. 3 Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from the sky shone around him. 4 And falling to the ground, he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 6 But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” 7 The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. 9 And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:1-9).

5 as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.

6 “As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from the sky suddenly shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’ 8 And I answered, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And he said to me, ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.’ 9 Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me. 10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.’ 11 And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus (Acts 22:5-11).

12 “In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13 At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from the sky, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ 19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, (Acts 26:12-19).

1. How should we interpret the Christophany that triggered Paul's conversion? Was it a subjective vision? Or did Jesus appear to Paul physically? If you were a movie director, how would you visualize the scene? What would you show the audience? 

2. A critic might say the question is pointless since Acts is pious fiction. I'm not going to take the time to defend the historicity of Acts. There's the classic monograph by Colin Hemer, the multi-volume work edited by Bruce Winter, and Craig Keener's encyclopedic commentary. In addition, there are commentaries in the pipeline by Richard Bauckham, Stanley Porter, and Loveday Alexander which will presumably include erudite defenses of its historicity.

Approaching this from another angle, if Luke is writing fiction, why does he create an apparent discrepancy between 9:7 and 22:9? Likewise, why does he make Paul's traveling companions have a somewhat different experience of the Christophany than Paul? Why not fabricate multiple independent witnesses who share the same sensory impressions? 

3. Suppose, for argument's sake, that Jesus didn't physically appear to Paul. Suppose this is an apparition of the dead. Although in that case it can't be used as a prooftext for the Resurrection, it would still mean that Jesus survived death. Not only is he still alive, but he appears to Paul in the trappings of a theophany. Moreover, an apparition would still be consistent with the Resurrection. So even on that interpretation, the Christophany is incompatible with naturalism or mythicism. 

4. Is the Christophany inconsistent with Jesus physically appearing to Paul? According to the three accounts, Paul and his traveling companions individually sensed something with their eyes and ears. They all saw something and heard something. That suggests a public, objective event. A mind-independent phenomenon, caused by an external stimulus. Something you could record on camera if you were there. 

5. Does the luminosity imply a psychological vision rather than a physical manifestation? No. The Christophany is reminiscent of the Transfiguration, where a physical Jesus becomes incandescent. 

6. Did Paul just see light, or did he see the figure of Jesus? The statement in 9:7 suggests a point of contrast between what Paul saw and what his traveling companions saw. He saw something they didn't. He saw more than they did. 

7. Regarding the apparent discrepancy, the intended distinction seems to be that they heard sound or heard a voice, but couldn't make out what was said. Does that imply a subjective vision? 

i) It was an overwhelming experience. What if they were too stunned to listen? Consider people who say that when their doctor told them they had cancer, they stopped listening after the word "cancer"? Another possibility is that God controlled what they perceived. 

ii) But here's another consideration: Paul is going to Damascus to take into custody Syrian Jews who converted to Christianity. He can handle the Greek or Aramaic side of the conversation, but what if he picked traveling companions whose first language is Syriac to interrogate Syriac speaking converts? When Jesus speaks to Paul in Aramaic, they might not understand what was said. On a related note:
"Arabs" traditionally lived outside Damascus, especially in the mountainous regions; the "Arabian mountains" stood above Damascus. Paul's forays into "Arabia" could have gone much further than this. Some ancient writers included in "Arabia" (a term often used broadly) not only traditional Nabatea but also all the cities of the Decapolis…Language might also pose a potential barrier, though Paul could have found people who understood him. Although most Nabatean inscriptions are in a Nabatean form of Aramaic, Nabateans seem to have traditionally spoken an ancient dialect of Arabic, attested in their names… C. Keener, Galatians (Baker 2019), 93-94,96. 
8. Why was Paul blinded but they were not? Why did they only see light? Since we weren't there, we can't say for sure. But here's one way to reconstruct the scene: as they are walking, Paul momentarily turns around (due to subliminal divine prompting) and bam: the Christophany explodes into view. He is facing the Christophany while his traveling companions have their back to it. They don't turn around because it's painfully bright. 

Paul sees Jesus, in a glaring nimbic aura, before it blinds him. Just like staring directly at the sun doesn't instantly blind the viewer, but if you look at it for too long, you will go blind. 

9. The time of day means they were wide awake when it happened. It wasn't a trance or revelatory dream. 

10. Because the KJV uses the word "heaven", modern versions tend to copy that since Bible translations are commercially conservative; they avoid changes that would upset customers used to a traditional, venerable version. But "heaven" is ambiguous and prejudicial. It can mean several different things:

i) The abode of God/saints/angels

ii) An event that originates in heaven

iii) The sky

iv) A pious circumlocution for God

The Greek word doesn't imply that Paul saw Jesus in heaven (i). The description of the event, judging by its impact on Paul and his traveling companions, suggests light from the sky. That's reminiscent of the Ascension, where Jesus is suspended in midair, until the Shekinah envelops him. 

God, soul, and the meaning of life

Recently I was reading Thaddeus Metz, God, Soul and the Meaning of Life (Cambridge 2019). I'll comment on some statements in the book:

this Section articulates the view widely accepted by those party to debates about the role spiritual considerations play in life’s meaning, viz., that meaning is not reducible to any other single final value. For most these days, talk of ‘life’s meaning’ (and of synonyms such as ‘significant existence’ or ‘important way of being’) signifies a cluster of conditions that are good for their own sake and that can come in degrees. In particular life is usually taken to be meaningful by definition to the extent that it makes sense, forms a narrative, merits ‘fitting’ reactions such as esteem or admiration, manifests value higher than animal pleasures, realizes a purpose or contributes positively to something beyond itself. Few believe that any single one of these properties exhausts the concept of meaningfulness, although some do (e.g. Nozick 1981: 574–612; Martela 2017). Instead, for most in the field, when we think or speak about life’s meaning, we have in mind at least one of these features and quite often more than one as an amalgam.

That's a useful distinction. Something maybe a necessary condition for life to be meaningful without being a sufficient condition. 

When it is claimed that God, for instance, is ‘necessary’ for life’s meaning, this is shorthand for ‘identical to’ it (in part). The claim is not merely that there would be no meaning without God, but rather that there would be no meaning without God because meaningfulness essentially consists of human life relating to God in a certain way. Hence, it will not support extreme supernaturalism to argue that because the universe would not exist without God having created it, there would be no human life at all and hence also no meaning either in or of human life. At best this reasoning would show that God is instrumentally necessary for life’s meaning, i.e., that God is merely a means to the production of meaning, but this is not the relevant claim, which is instead that God must constitute life’s meaning as an end.

That's another useful distinction. In my experience, that's a limitation with Jewish ethicists/culture warriors (e.g. Dennis Prager, Michael Medved, Mark Levin, Ben Shapiro).  

Doubt and the skeptic

Wednesday, May 01, 2019

The Gospels Corroborated In The Letters Of Peter

Skeptics sometimes tell us that Paul is the only New Testament author who claims to have seen Jesus after he rose from the dead. But the fourth gospel also claims to have been written by a resurrection witness. See here, for example. And a document doesn't have to claim to be written by a resurrection witness in the main body of its text in order to justify the conclusion that the author is giving us his eyewitness testimony about seeing the risen Christ and other matters pertaining to the resurrection. If the traditional authorship attribution of the gospel of Matthew is correct, for example, then that document provides us with the testimony of an eyewitness of the risen Christ. If the evidence suggests that a particular individual was identified as a document's author by means of an oral report, a document title, a tag attached to a document, writing on the front or side of a codex, or some other means, we don't dismiss that author identification just because it doesn't appear in the main body of the document's text. For more about the evidence that the gospel of Matthew was originally attributed to that apostle and did come from him, see here.

Skeptics also sometimes claim that there isn't much corroboration of the gospels elsewhere in the New Testament. Supposedly, a lack of reference to gospel material in the letters of the New Testament, for example, casts a lot of doubt on the historicity of the gospels.

What I want to focus on in this post is what information we can gather from the letters of Peter regarding the subjects discussed in the two paragraphs above. The Petrine letters tend to be neglected in discussions of these issues.

I think both letters were written by the apostle Peter. But skeptics often reject Petrine authorship of one or both of the letters, and both documents would still be significant as early Christian sources if Peter didn't write them, so I won't refer to the author as Peter in what follows.

Both letters identify their author as an apostle named Peter (1 Peter 1:1, 2 Peter 1:1), which agrees with the testimony of all four gospels that Jesus had a prominent disciple named Peter. Since an individual had to at least be a witness of the risen Christ to be an apostle (Acts 1:21-22, 1 Corinthians 9:1), the implication is that the author of the Petrine letters is claiming to be such a witness.

And there's a reference to being an eyewitness in the context of the Mount of Transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-18).

Jesus' crucifixion is mentioned as well (1 Peter 2:24).

The resurrection is mentioned prominently in 1 Peter (1:3, 1:21, 3:21). The phrase "from the dead" is used as a qualifier in 1:3 and 1:21. That qualifier makes the most sense as a means of emphasizing that what's in view is a return to life of the body that died. The resurrection the author has in mind isn't something like a non-physical resurrection or a resurrection involving a second body that replaces the one that died.

Both letters emphasize a high, traditional view of Old Testament prophecy and Jesus' fulfillment of it (1 Peter 1:10-12, 2 Peter 1:19-21). 1 Peter 2:21-25 is focused on Isaiah's Suffering Servant prophecy. That passage in Isaiah refers to a lot of details that are reported about Jesus in the gospels. Isaiah 53:9, which is quoted in 1 Peter 2:22, refers to the Servant's tomb and his being associated with a rich man in his death, and verse 10 of Isaiah 53 implies a physical resurrection. Notice that 1 Peter 2:21 introduces the references to Isaiah 53 by saying that Jesus set an example for us to follow. The implication is that the references to Isaiah 53 that come after that are about historical events in Jesus' life.

But what if 1 Peter 2 is only citing portions of the Suffering Servant prophecy without intending to apply all of it to Jesus? Maybe the author of 1 Peter thought Jesus only fulfilled part of the passage and did so in a secondary, typological way.

A few points should be made. First, even if 1 Peter 2 is only appealing to portions of the Isaiah passage without thinking that all of it applies to Jesus, we'd still have partial corroboration of what the gospels say about how Jesus' life aligned with what's in Isaiah. Secondly, the most likely meaning of the Suffering Servant passage in its original context is that it's about a future messianic, eschatological individual. See my post here about the first three Servant Songs and the other posts linked within that one. It's unlikely that an early Christian source who held such a high, Messianic view of Jesus, such as the author of 1 Peter, would have thought that only part of the Suffering Servant passage is applicable to Jesus. Third, the number and diversity of references to Isaiah 53 in 1 Peter 2 make more sense if the author of 1 Peter thought the entire passage applies to Jesus. It's less likely that the author would see so much of the passage as applicable to Jesus, yet reject the applicability of the rest of it. Fourth, other early Christian sources, sometimes individually and especially collectively, apply an even larger percentage of the Isaiah passage to Jesus (e.g., Acts 8:30-35). So, the point I just made about 1 Peter is even more relevant to early Christianity in general. And since 1 Peter was written in that early Christian context, that early Christian view of the Suffering Servant passage makes it more likely that the author of 1 Peter saw the passage that way as well. It seems likely, then, that the author applied all of Isaiah's passage to Jesus. And that involves a large amount of agreement between 1 Peter and the gospels.

Similar observations can be made about other Old Testament prophecies. Given the high view of Jesus' fulfillment of prophecy in the Petrine letters and given the high view of his fulfillment of Isaiah 52-53 in particular, what are the implications for his fulfillment of other prophecies, like the ones in Isaiah that are connected to the Suffering Servant passage (e.g., in chapters 9, 11, 42, and 49-50)?

2 Peter 3:15-16 refers to Paul's letters as scripture. Let's think about the implications related to one of Paul's letters, 1 Corinthians, as an example. There's widespread agreement that 1 Corinthians was written relatively early, sometime in the 50s, and we have evidence that it was broadly circulated and often discussed early on (e.g., ancient letter writing conventions; references in the Pauline letters to how those letters should be circulated; references to 1 Corinthians in First Clement, Ignatius, and other early patristic sources). So, it seems likely that 1 Corinthians was one of the documents the author of 2 Peter had in mind when he referred to Paul's letters. If 2 Peter 3 implies that 1 Corinthians is scripture, then it follows that what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 about resurrection appearances to Peter is being affirmed by the author of 2 Peter. Similarly, there's an implication that 2 Peter 3 is affirming what Paul said about the physical nature of Jesus' resurrection, the empty tomb, the resurrection appearances to other witnesses, the crucifixion, Jewish involvement in Jesus' execution (1 Thessalonians 2:14-15), the Last Supper (1 Corinthians 11:23-25), that Jesus had brothers (1 Corinthians 9:5), his Davidic ancestry (Romans 1:3), etc.

Notice the implications of giving a late date to 2 Peter. The later the letter is dated, the harder it becomes to exempt one or more of the canonical letters attributed to Paul from the implications of 2 Peter 3 discussed above.

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Francis is an anti-pope!

If Pope Francis is a heretic, that means the "throne of Peter" is vacant. The One True Church® is rudderless. Adrift. The skipper is an anti-pope who's taken the barque of St. Peter off-course.

Now we just need to turn this into a movie about superheroes who parachute in to rescue the One True Church® before she heads over the waterfall. Nail-biting suspense.

Split-personality Catholicism

Perhaps this isn't worth commenting on, but it's such a popular Catholic trope that I'll bite:

The heresy of Protestantism

Protestantism has no history here…because it has no legitimacy. 

It wasn't Protestant blood spilled here during the Crusades fighting back the evil of Muslims attacking Christian sites a thousand years ago.

It wasn't Protestantism that was driven out of Jerusalem by fanatical rabbis in the 1C of the church. 

It wasn't Protestants who stood and fought the heresies attacking the divinity of Christ

It wasn't Protestants who were commissioned by Christ to go and make disciples of all nations. 

And it wasn't Protestant who built all the churches and shrines over every single holy spot in this land. Every one of those acts was done by Catholics. 

We ran into a small tour group of Protestants from the Foursquare church in Alabama. I politely said to one of the ladies it must be strange for you all to be here since you have no history here. 

A lot to sort through:

1. He's a RadTrad Catholic. His network runs exposés on the chicanery of the Catholic hierarchy. So Voris has a split personality. There's Michael the-sky-is-falling Voris. Run for your life to escape the blast zone. Then there's his alter ego, who beckons evangelicals unite with the One True Church®. You never know which personality will surface. If they ever came into contact, it would be like matter meeting anti-matter. Instant mutual annihilation. The two Michaels can only coexist in airtight compartments.

2. He operates with an identity politics paradigm, transposed to an ecclesiastical key. For instance, it's true that Protestants didn't fight in the Crusades. Guess what–Voris didn't fight in the Crusades. No 21C Catholics fought in the Crusades. Or 20C Catholics. Or 19C Catholics. Or 18C Catholics. Or… 

Voris identifies with the deeds of past Catholics as if he vicariously lived through that period, but the sense of solidarity is purely psychological and imaginary. Like celebrity stalkers who think they have a personal connection with the star. 

3. Although I think the First Crusade was warranted, the Crusades quickly went off the rails. They were conducted from mixed motives, with a healthy dose of false theology, and the tactics routinely violated just-war criteria. Voris does his cause no favors by wrapping himself in the mantle of the Crusades generally. 

4. Post-Vatican II theology doesn't classify Protestants as heretics. Like RadTrads generally, Voris is a lay magisterium, out of step with his religious superiors.

5. There's nothing holy about physical sites in Palestine. Holy space is an artifact of the defunct Mosaic covenant. 

6. In addition, these churches are located at sites traditionally associated with the life of Christ, but that can't be verified. 

7. Getting to the nub of the issue, if we're going to cast the issue in anachronistic Catholic/Protestant terminology, the first Christians were Protestants, not Catholics. The apostles and NT authors taught sola gratia, which Catholicism rejects. Paul taught sola fide, which Catholicism rejects. Catholicism teaches seven sacraments, Purgatory, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption of Mary, the veneration and intercession of the saints, Transubstantiation, relics, indulgences, papal infallibility, adoration of the Host, the Rosary, monastic orders, &c. The apostles and NT authors taught none of that. Protestant theology is the original theology of the NT church. We were first. The Protestant Reformation is a restoration movement, returning the church to the status quo ante. Catholics are squatters and usurpers. 

Two guys and a girl

Buck and Brett were best friends. Jasmine was Buck's girlfriend, although he sometimes took other girls out on dates. There was always the unspoken assumption that Buck would marry Jasmine. 

When Buck was drafted, he knew that would be a dilemma for Buck. Both guys were in love with Jasmine. Brett loved her for all the same reasons Buck did. Although Brett would never intentionally betray his best friend by dating her behind his back while Buck was off on the war front, there'd be a powerful, even overpowering temptation. This was his one shot at Jasmine. A once in a lifetime opportunity to win her heart. 

As a matter of fact, that's exactly what Brett was thinking. He was torn between love for Jasmine and loyalty to Buck. He'd feel horribly guilty if he double-crossed his best friend. He'd be afraid to tell him for fear of ruining their friendship. Yet not confessing would be a cloud over the friendship. 

A week before he deployed, Buck had a talk with Brett. He gave Brett permission to date Jasmine if he wanted to. It's not that he liked the idea of Brett dating her, but he didn't want her to feel that she was stuck with him when she'd rather be with Brett. And even though he had a soft spot for Jasmine, all the girls he knew were kind of interchangeable. He could always find another girl, but his best friend was irreplaceable. Some things were unrepeatable. And he didn't want Brett to resent him for refusing him the chance. 

Brett was stunned. When Buck shipped out, Brett took advantage of the offer. He dated Jasmine all summer long. They had lots of fun. But in the end she didn't marry either one. She ran off to college and married another boy.

They were both disappointed. But Brett was grateful that he gave it a shot. At least he didn't have any nagging regrets about what might have been. And the friendship endured. 

Monday, April 29, 2019

Prayer in the multiverse

The problem of unanswered prayer is an issue in pastoral theology as well as theodicy and apologetics. By "unanswered prayer" I simply mean you didn't get what you ask for. 

On the face of it, it's often the case that God doesn't grant the prayers of Christians (or OT Jews). However, when we talk about unanswered prayer, that's shorthand for prayers that go unanswered in this world

Suppose you have a suicidal son or brother. You pray for mental healing but he ends up taking his own life despite your heartfelt prayers on his behalf. 

Did God decline to answer your prayer? Perhaps. In a sense.

But there's a hidden assumption to the problem of unanswered prayer. Suppose God created a multiverse. If that's the case, then prayers that go unanswered in our world are answered in a parallel universe or alternate timeline. 

There's a parallel universe in which my counterpart prays for his suicidal brother, and God grants the prayer request. The brother doesn't commit suicide. If that's true, then God answers nearly every prayer. On this view, prayers that go unanswered in one timeline are answered in another timeline. On this view, the unqualified prayer promises in Scripture might be absolutely true. 

Of course, that's a bit philosophical. However, every human being of average intelligence takes hypothetical and counterfactual scenarios in stride. That's part of human deliberation and decision-making. We contemplate different courses of action. We think of ourselves as the same agent in different hypothetical scenarios. 

The main question is whether those remain unexemplified possibilities, or whether they actually happen. Obviously, forking paths don't happen in the same timeline. But if God made a multiverse, then they actually play out. 

Even in a multiverse, wicked or foolish prayers will still go unanswered. There is that exception.

I'm not saying for a fact that God created a multiverse. I'm in no position to verify or falsify that conjecture, although I think it's theologically reasonable and even likely, for reasons I've given before. 

But my argument in this post doesn't require anything that ambitious. The point is that for all we know, the problem of unanswered prayer is a misnomer if, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, God did, in fact, answer our prayers. But because our only fame of reference is the timeline in which we find ourselves, we can't tell. Even if we're multiply instantiated in alternate timelines, we're not conscious of every timeline.

It's analogous to my future counterpart. My present self isn't conscious of what my future self is aware of, or vice versa. Like a moving spotlight. 

We often seem to pray in vain. We prayed our heart out for something that never transpires. Or maybe it does. Just not in this particular timeline. 

If so, why would God set things up that way? Because every plot its share of unique goods. So there's value in having alternate world histories. 

Running on religion

At least since Jimmy Carter, there's been a tradition of presidential candidates who make a religious testimony part of their campaign. Ironically, sodomite Pete Buttigieg is doing the same thing. 

The danger of a candidate making a religious testimony part of his campaign is a cynical manipulation of religion to help get elected. Religious posturing and pandering. 

Part of the problem is the tradition of asking people to talk about their religious experience rather than asking them to explain how their religious views impact their positions and policies. Instead of having the candidate talk about himself and what religion (allegedly) means to him, it would be much better for candidates explain how their religion informs their positions on social ethics, law, and policy. As a fringe benefit, that's a better test of how deeply they think actually about religion. 

Abortion regrets

Capt. Marvel and gender equality

The argument from beauty

1. The argument from beauty is a neglected theistic proof. There are several reasons. There's a bias towards more "rigorouss" arguments based on historical or scientific evidence as well as philosophical, a priori arguments. "Beauty" is thought to be too subjective. 

There's the methodological question. Where do you begin? Must you begin with an abstract, philosophical definition of beauty? Or is it okay to cite paradigm examples of beauty? That goes to the problem of the criterion.

It's hard to break into the argument from beauty because beauty is so varied. So many different kinds and candidates. 

2. Classical definitions of beauty center on symmetry. And there's a class of beautiful things that exemplify that principle. But a limitation with that criterion is ugly symmetrical objects (e.g. skyscrapers) as well as asymmetrical natural beauty (e.g. scenic landscapes).

Because the human body has bilateral symmetry, that draws attention to irregularities. But beauty isn't reducible to symmetry.  

3. There are different categories of beauty:

i) Natural beauty

E.g. Mountain ranges. Dawn and dusk. 

ii) Artistic beauty

E.g. Gothic cathedrals. 

iii) Abstract beauty

E.g. Mathematics

iv) Moral beauty

E.g. Heroism

v) Visual beauty

E.g. The play of sunlight or moonlight on waves. The Northern lights. 

vi) Auditory beauty

E.g. Music, songbids

vii) Kinetic beauty

Figure skating. Formation flying (birds). How some animals run. Trees flickering in sunlight. 

4. Moral beauty is interesting because it may coexist with physical ugliness. In addition, moral ugliness may often be a presupposition for moral beauty. 

5. Beauty can be related in subtle ways to things that aren't directly beautiful. It's natural to think of visual beauty but not to think of tactile beauty. Yet consider the male impulse to run one's hands over the sensuous curves of a woman's body. Or stoking long luxuriant hair. There the visual element is inseparable from a tactile element.  

6. One argument for the subjectivity of beauty is variation in musical taste. And in some respects, beauty is person-variable. There is, though, a difference between liking something and finding it beautiful. Many people like music that reminds them of childhood or coming-of-age. That's not about beauty but nostalgia. If they were born a generation sooner or later, they'd like different period music. But it's not primarily an aesthetic judgment. 

7. There's a distinction between beauty and greatness. Bach's B Minor Mass is greater than any hymn, but we might prefer hymns on a daily basis. His composition is so long and overwhelming. So much of a muchness. Oftentimes we prefer something simpler. More manageable. 

8. Another issue is the burden of proof. Must the argument from beauty show that beauty directly entails God's existence? Will a process of elimination argument suffice? If there's no naturalistic explanation, then theism wins by default. 

9. Apropos (8), a naturalistic objection to the argument from beauty is that our instinctive sense of beauty is an evolutionary adaptation to promote mate selection. 

i) And there's a grain of truth to that. A half truth. Mammary endowment and "childbearing hips" confer a survival advantage. They are, in addition, visible signs of sexual maturity. It's argued that men are programmed by evolution to find that appealing. 

ii) Mind you, even that is not an essentially evolutionary argument. Natural theology can make the same basic argument. That's consistent with creationism. 

However, most of what we consider beautiful doesn't tie into sex appeal. Sex appeal can't explain the appeal of seascapes, mountainscapes, sunsets, starry skies, music, &c. 

A tiger is a beautiful animal. What's the evolutionary explanation? Why are guys drawn to sports cars? What's the evolutionary explanation? 

iii) And even at the level of sex appeal, the argument is limited. It's not as if men only find certain female body parts attractive. Although breasts and buns have more sex appeal than ears (earrings notwithstanding), the appeal of the female nude in Western art (to take one example) isn't simply because it exposes bare breasts and buns, but because a male viewer can take in the entire sweep of the female figure from head to toe. While breasts and buns are appealing in their own right, they are even more appealing when integrated into the entire figure. Compare that to Michaelangelo's female nudes, which are beefcake men with grafted female breasts. That's repellent rather than attractive. 

iv) In addition, while evolutionary psychology might explain the sex appeal of Marilyn Monroe or Brigitte Bardot, male appreciation for female form isn't confined to pinup girl looks. Men like women with shapely legs, a swan neck, beautiful hair, beautify eyes, and high cheekbones. It would be circular to say men find those features alluring because it promotes mate selection, for that fails to explain why men find those features alluring. Unlike "childbearing hips" and mammary endowment, those features have no practical value. 

v) To consider this from a female perspective, it's my impression that Brad Pitt, back in his prime, was a sex symbol to women. But from an evolutionary standpoint, wouldn't a guy built like Brock Lesnar or Shaquille O'Neal be a better protector and provider? 

vi) Although evolution might explain the appeal of flowers to pollinating birds and bees, it doesn't explain the appeal to flowers to human observers. Although evolution might explain the value of camouflage, it doesn't explain why humans find some snake skin patterns beautiful. Although evolution might explain the appeal of songbirds to birds, it doesn't explain the appeal of songbirds to humans. Yet all of that is explicable in terms of natural theology and creationism. 

10. Is the argument from beauty a direct argument for God's existence? Or is it evidence for divine benevolence, which is, in turn, evidence for God's existence?