Saturday, June 08, 2019

Dead or dying

One of my first college teaching jobs was at a Catholic college where I met, for the first time, priests who seemed less Catholic than I was. Since I was not Catholic at all, this seemed odd to me, fascinating, if a bit sad...I am probably not a Catholic in part because these excellent teachers convinced me that the Church I might have loved was no more or dying. This was cheering to them, if depressing to me.

Hoping atheists don't kill us this time

Presidential church attendance

An exchange I had on Facebook (slightly edited). 

It would be very impractical for a president to attend church. He'd instantly become the center of attention, which subverts the focus of a worship service. The pres. has a huge obtrusive security entourage, motorcade, &c. It would be extremely distracting to worshipers.

Prescinding the predictable knee-jerk reactions, nothing in Scripture requires Christians to worship in a building constructed and designated for Christian worship. I have no problem with that convention, but it's just a tradition. A Christian president can fulfill his religious duties by worshiping in a more private setting. It doesn't have to be "a church". He could have service in the White House Chapel. A chaplain could officiate. And if the White House doesn't have a chapel, some room could be used for that purpose.The original places of worship or house-churches or out of doors. Architecture isn't what makes something a worship service. 

BTW, it's an interesting question whether a Christian president should patronize the National Cathedral. That's a church building affiliated with an apostate denomination.

The passage from Hebrew sis not a general command to all Christians, but a command to mid-1C messianic Jews, perhaps in Rome, who were disassociating themselves from the Christian faith for fear of persecution. There's certainly a general principle there to be had, but it's different from the facile appeal you're making.

Actually, there are two limitations to the injunction: 

i) It has reference to messianic Jews who are on the brink of apostasy. 

ii) It has reference to Christians who forego public worship for fear of persecution.

It doesn't address other reasons.

The only implicit qualification for elders in Hebrews is people who knew Jesus or knew people who knew Jesus. That's not transferable to the 21C.

"You’re confusing observations about the context of the epistle for limitations on its instructions to the believers or to its applicability today."

You suffer from a simplistic, robotic view of biblical paraenesis. On the one hand, some commands and prohibitions reflect moral absolutes. On the other hand, some commands and prohibitions address typical situations, but don't cover atypical situations. Take the sole caregiver of a senile, bedridden spouse or parent. Or a parent at the bedside of a dying child. Or the parent of an autistic child who's dangerous to himself if left unattended. Christians in situations like that don't have the same freedom of action. Moreover, there are circumstances where we have competing obligations. In case of conflict, a higher duty temporarily overrides a lower duty. If you don't wish to be a Pharisee who rigidly applies biblical injunctions without regard to necessary exceptions or priority structures.

Fear of persecution or martyrdom is not a justification to repudiate the Christian faith or disown fellow Christians to avoid risky association. There is, however, an elementary difference between acting out of cowardly self-interest and acting out of consideration for the sake of others. Motivations can be relevant to the licit or illicit character of an action. 

Another little immigration problem

I'm reading some Roman history these days:

The opening scenes of the 2000 blockbuster Gladiator are based on the victories of Marcus Aurelius over the Marcomanni, a Germanic tribe of south-central Europe, in the third quarter of the second century. Two hundred years later, the Romans were still at it. In 357, 12,000 of the emperor Julian’s Romans routed an army of 30,000 Alamanni at the battle of Strasbourg. But within a generation, the Roman order was shaken to its core and Roman armies, as one contemporary put it, ‘vanished like shadows’. In 376, a large band of Gothic refugees arrived at the Empire’s Danube frontier, asking for asylum. In a complete break with established Roman policy, they were allowed in, unsubdued. They revolted, and within two years had defeated and killed the emperor Valens – the one who had received them – along with two-thirds of his army, at the battle of Hadrianople.

Heather, Peter. The Fall of the Roman Empire (p. xi). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

The Qur’an’s Turn to Violence

Is Job fictional?

An argument against the historicity of Job is the poetic character of the book. Real people don't speak in long poetic speeches–unless they're Shakespearean actors. In addition, the book has some literary symmetries which are unrealistic. 

However, that objection posits a false dichotomy. You can write poetry about real events. For instance, the Psalter is studded with poetic commemorations of the Exodus. And the psalmists certainly thought the Exodus was a real event (or series of events). Another example is the Song of Moses (Exod 15). We have two accounts of the Red Sea crossing back-to-back, one prosaic and the other poetic.  

So the fact that Job is narrative poetry carries no presumption that it's fictional.  That does mean the literary record is a step removed from reality. In reading the book we must make allowance for poetic license. 

High-water mark

I'm no expert, but it seems to me that there's an objective, straightforward way to verify or falsify global warming. If true, global warming causes rising sea levels due to melting ice caps. Now there are countless structures in coastal towns and cities that have a high-water mark. The ocean at high tide stains the structure at that level. It's like a photograph of how high the the water rises at high tide. In addition, there are countless historical photos floating around which show the high-water mark in, say, the 19C. Presumably we only need a few clear-cut examples comparing the high-water mark in the 19C to the high-water mark in the 21C to establish if sea levels are, in fact, rising, or rising at an alarming rate. 

Friday, June 07, 2019

"I'm sorry"

Pregnancy and organ donation

So now we can evaluate how far the analogy of organ donation helps us think clearly about abortion. Something I see that complicates the analogy is that it’s hard to imagine a situation in which the potential donor put the recipient in the position of being dependent on someone else for his/her life. The parents of a pre-born human, by contrast (and usually both of them), took action that put the “recipient” in his/her vulnerable position. Does your obligation to a vulnerable person change when they are vulnerable because of your actions? I think we can assume it does.

What about when the consequences are unintended? Well, consider the liability of someone who has accidentally injured or killed someone while driving under the influence. The damage may not have been intentional, but the mishap is not a shock in light of the actions that were taken. Pregnancy after sex is similar: pregnancy may not have been intended, but no one should be terribly surprised when it has occurred. If sex puts someone (namely, the one who has been conceived) in a vulnerable position, those whose action led to the pregnancy simply can’t claim to be hapless bystanders.

Now, there are certainly situations in which the mother can’t be called responsible for the situation. Maybe there was rape, abuse, a serious imbalance of power, etc. So in this situation, is the analogy of an innocent “recipient” and an innocent Good Samaritan “donor” more successful?

I think there’s another important difference between pregnancy and organ donation: namely, whether there’s already a direct relationship of dependency in place. In the case of an organ donor, there is not. With pregnancy, there is. Maybe a more useful analogy to consider is that of conjoined twins, who began life connected. Neither party need be “at fault,” but when the relationship of dependency is in place by default, it does change the tenor of the conversation and the level of sacrifice/risk someone should be justly expected to undergo for another person.

Let’s pursue this point a bit further. Have you seen the movie Up? Remember how, through no fault of his own, an old guy ends up with a kid in his house (he had been trespassing) while the house is flying through the air. In circumstances in which the kid’s life was not in danger, it would be completely appropriate for the guy to kick the kid out of his house. But…if the kid is going to go hurtling to his death if he gets kicked out, the balance of responsibility changes. This is true even though the homeowner did nothing to bring about the situation. He might actually be obligated to put up with a considerable burden in order to protect the life of a vulnerable person who happens to depend on him for a time.

Forbidden desire

Christian preachers and moralists condemn lust, but often fail to define it, or define it with precision. To his credit, John Frame offers a definition: 

Lust is specifically the desire to engage in sexual acts that are contrary to God's law  J. Frame, The Doctrine of the Christian Life (P&R 2008), 767.

A friend of mine (Kevin Vasquez) asked me a question about that definition: Are Christians guilty of lust if they have the forbidden desire? What if Christians don't wish to break his commands and yet they have those desires.

That does expose an ambiguity to the definition. It pries apart two aspects of "lust" thus defined. The object of lust is a forbidden desire. Does this mean that by having the desire, you desire to do something forbidden? That's unclear. Does that mean you want to break God's law? It might seem logical to conclude that if you want something contrary to God's law, then indirectly, your desire includes a desire to break God's law in the process. But are these separable?

We might draw a distinction between the desire to have something and the desire to do what's necessary to get it. I might desire the end-result, but I don't wish to do what it takes to get that experience. 

Suppose I'm the son of a military dictator. I'd like to sleep with the girlfriend of my best friend, and there's nothing he could do to stop me, but I refrain out of a sense of honor, or because his friendship means more to me than having a fling with his girlfriend. 

So the agent is conflicted. He has contrary desires. He wants to have it, but he doesn't want to do wrong to have it (even though he could get away with it). Is he still guilty of lust? He exercises moral self-restraint. Doing the right thing overrides wanting the wrong thing. 

I have a forbidden desire, but I have no desire to act on my forbidden desire. Indeed, I have an opposing desire not to act on my forbidden desire. A countervailing desire to resist the forbidden desire. In practice, that neutralizes the forbidden desire. 

On Frame's definition, it's possible that he's still guilty of lust, but is lust still blameworthy in that situation? Does the desire not to act on the desire mitigate or exculpate the desire? 

Alike an unbeliever, a believer is conflicted. So there's a difference. Does the contrary desire not to break God's law morally cancel out the forbidden desire? 

Of course, something that's blameworthy might still be forgivable. On Frame's definition, the desire might still be culpable but forgivable.

Reading between the lines

1. In his ill-fated debate with Chris Date, which I reviewed here:

Dale Tuggy accused Trinitarians of "reading between the lines"–unlike unitarians, who read the lines. Supposedly, unitarians just go with what the text says whereas Trinitarians are forced to go behind the text. Ironically, Date cited numerous examples in the course of the debate where Tuggy was reading between the lines to salvage unitarianism whereas Date accepted the text as it stands.

2. But now I'd like to make a different point. In the past, I've documented how Tuggy has a very naive grasp of semantics, and this is another example–albeit of a different kind. Evidently, it never occurred to Tuggy how much communication relies on the ability to read between the lines. A technical term for this is implicature. At least, that's one dimension of the phenomenon. For instance:

Cases in which what a speaker means differs from what the sentence used by the speaker means. Consider the following dialogue.

Alan: Are you going to Paul's party? 
Barb: I have to work.

On the face of it, Barb's response doesn't answer the question. If you just go by the meaning of the statement, that's unresponsive to the question. That's because the answer is compressed. Alan is expected to be able to fill in what was intended, but not actually stated. She's not going because she will be at her job at the time of the party, and she can't get off work. Yet the speaker doesn't say all that. It's up to the reader to complete the train of thought. 

3. There are many examples in which speakers say less than they mean (mean more than they say). The onus is on the listener to read between the lines. That's similar to the distinction between high-context and low-context communication, where low-context communication relies on the explicit meaning of the statement whereas high-context communication relies on the implicit meaning. Low-context communication is more dependent on the speaker's contribution while high-context communication is more dependent on the listener's contribution. For instance, take cinematic genres like science fiction movies about time-travel or parallel worlds. Or horror films about vampires or werwolves. These take for granted stock conventions which the viewer is supposed to recognize without exposition or explanation. Consider how puzzling a vampire flick would be to a viewer with no background knowledge of the vampire mythos. 

4. I once read an article about how foreign tourists sometimes find it confusing to order at American fast-food joints because customers are expected to use idiomatic shorthand. To take an example from my own experience, when I used to eat lunch at Wendy's, years ago, I'd order "double cheese mayo only". But that's not self-explanatory. The first few times I went, I ordered off the menu. I said something like: "I want a cheeseburger with a double patty and mayonnaise only". However, I noticed that when the casher verbally relayed the order to the chef, she'd translate my statement into "double cheese mayo only". After that, I used the same telegraphic expression the cashiers did. 

5. Another example: one time a supermarket employee asked me if I was going to watch the football game that evening. I asked him which team he was rooting for. He said he was a Dolphins' fan. Consider how baffling that statement would be to someone without the requisite background knowledge. How can dolphins play football? Dolphins are marine mammals. They have no arms, legs, hands, or feet? To understand the statement, you need to know the convention of naming sports teams after animals. 

6. A final example is the use of hyperbole in the Sermon on the Mount. There's nothing in the meaning of the words that flags the language or imagery as hyperbolic. Rather, that relies on the ability of the listener to read between the lines.

7. And those are just samples. Interpreting the NT isn't merely a matter of construing what the text says. For the sense of the NT often carries an OT subtext. In addition, exegesis frequently benefits from having background knowledge which was common knowledge to the original audience, but is lost on a modern audience, absent historical supplementation. What the original audience knew through cultural osmosis a modern read must acquire through study of the ancient culture. 

"Reading between the lines" isn't some ad hoc expedient by Christians to read the Trinity or Incarnation into the text of Scripture. To the contrary, reading between the lines is a universal and necessary feature of communication. 

Of course, we must guard against eisegesis. Just because reading between the lines is an indispensable hermeneutical principle doesn't ipso facto warrant just any willy nilly reading between the lines. But for Tuggy to act like the principle is eisegesis per se reveals a woeful ignorance of how communication operates. 

Thursday, June 06, 2019

Praying for Trump–what's all the fuss about?

I've read several articles about the controversy surrounding Platt praying for Trump, but I'm still unclear on the specific objections. Platt provided a backgrounder: 

1. Do critics object that Platt prayed for Trump at all? Do they think he should have refused to pray for Trump?

2. Do critics object that he prayed for Trump in public? Do they think it's okay for him to pray with Trump offstage, but not onstage, in front of the congregation and cameras? If so, that raises several issues:

i) It was a snap decision. 

ii) This is in the middle of the service, so Platt had to return to the stage to resume his participation in the service. So the question is whether he should have left Trump backstage. 

In effect, that would be snubbing him. There are situations in which snubbing someone is justifiable. Is this one of those situations?

iii) I assume they initially met backstage because the Secret Service brought Trump into church through a rear entrance for security reasons (rather than the main entrance). So Platt had to decide, on the spur of the moment, where to take it from there.

iv) Is the concern that praying for Trump onstage constitutes an endorsement? But that turns far more on the content of the prayer (which was neutral) rather than the venue. This was at Trump's initiative, not Platt's. 

v) Since the initial meeting took place during the service, it would be natural for Platt to invite Trump into the sanctuary to join the service, if he so desired. Trump declined, but Platt didn't know in advance what Trump would do after the prayer. At that point it was a communion service. What if Trump wanted to take communion? So I think it's perfectly reasonable for Platt to bring Trump into the sanctuary. If anyone might be queasy about that move, it would be the Secret Service. 

vi) Do critics think it was okay for Platt to bring Trump onstage, but instead of offering a neutral prayer, he should have used the occasion to denounce the policies of the Trump administration? 

Of course, Platt may not share the views of SJWs regarding the Trump administration. But suppose he did. If he denounced Trump to his face, what would that accomplish?

It wouldn't cause Trump to change his mind. If anything, it would harden Trump against evangelical pastors.

Moreover, given Trump's penchant to fight back, that might provoke a heated exchange between Trump and Platt. That would completely derail the worship service.

3. It is important for churches to maintain a level of independence in relation to political figures. If (a future) Pres. Pete Buttboy showed up at Platt's church, perhaps that should be handled differently. 

4. I think it's obvious that the critics are ideologically opposed to Trump, they think Platt should share their ideological priorities and do what they'd do in that situation.. 

I expect critics of Platt get their information about the Trump administration from outlets like CNN, NPR, MSNBC, NYT. If that's your source of information, then that presents the Trump administration as an unmitigated evil.

If, by contrast, you get your information from Mark Levin, Dennis Prager, Ben Shapiro, Andrew McCarthy, Victor Davis Hanson et al., then that presents the Trump administration in generally postive terms. 

It's important for people to ask themselves if they are reacting to the actual Trump administration, or to an image of the Trump administration that's a construct and projection of their news outlets.  

Of course, if SJWs got their information from conservative outlets, they'd still despise the Trump administration because they despise conservative ideology, Christian theology, and any administration that's center-right. 

The Number Of Enfield Witnesses

I recently finished listening to Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's audio cassettes pertaining to the Enfield Poltergeist. Those tapes mention many witnesses who aren't discussed in Playfair's book on Enfield or in other material that's easily accessible to the public. So, it's useful to reassess the number of witnesses involved in the case.

In my experience, the number of Enfield witnesses is typically described as being thirty or more, such as the "at least thirty" reference in the preface to Playfair's book (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], ix). That's a highly conservative estimate, though. I would estimate that the number is a triple-digit one. A lot depends on factors like what qualifies as a paranormal event and whether you require testimony from each witness or only reports about witnesses. One difficulty is that the terminology involved is often ambiguous. A plural term will be used to refer to who was present when something happened, but the number of people involved isn't specified beyond the use of the plural. At this stage of my research into Enfield, I would say that the number of people who witnessed at least one paranormal event affiliated with the case is at least in the upper double digits and probably in the low triple digits.

And there's a lot of potential for the discovery of other witnesses in the future. Not all of Grosse's signed witness statements have been made public, for example. And paranormal events associated with the case were reported as recently as the mid 2000s. A man in his twenties who witnessed an event in the year the case started, 1977, might only be in his sixties today. So, even witnesses of the earliest events in the case could easily still be alive and continue to be alive for multiple decades to come. For a variety of reasons, people who witness something like a paranormal event sometimes don't tell anybody or many people about it initially, but tell more people later. We also need to keep the surroundings of the Hodgsons' house in mind. They lived on a highly-traveled road.

The significance of that fact was impressed upon me when I began listening through the Enfield tapes. I eventually went to tape 1 in Grosse's collection and worked my way through all of the tapes, but I had decided ahead of time that there was one tape I wanted to listen to before I began that process. It was tape 32B in Grosse's collection, the recording of Janet being dragged out of bed by the poltergeist a couple of times at around 1:30 in the morning on December 3, 1977. Something that struck me about that tape, which I wasn't expecting, was how often you could hear vehicles driving by even at that time of day. As I would eventually learn, that's a common feature of the tapes. It was a busy road, even late at night. Grosse was impressed by the heavy traffic, and you can hear him asking John Burcombe about it on one of the tapes (53B in Grosse's collection, 57:27). Burcombe seems to say something about how the street was commonly used as a shortcut to get somewhere else. Since the family wanted the lights kept on at night, the house would have stood out from the others around it, and people driving by would have been able to see inside to some extent. You wonder how many people saw objects levitating or other significant events while driving by, perhaps often without recognizing the significance of what they'd seen. But given how fast most of the vehicles drove by, I doubt that there was much that happened along those lines. Still, it's worth keeping in mind. And there were times when vehicles had to drive more slowly, or even stop, outside the Hodgsons' house. There was a school directly across the street. In fact, the crossing guard, Hazel Short, stored her stop/go sign in front of the Hodgsons' house. She witnessed a levitation of Janet on December 15, 1977 through the windows of the house while performing her crossing guard activities.

The presence of a school there is significant for other reasons as well. A lot of school staff and students would be there, many people would park nearby, etc. Last year, I asked David Robertson about the possibility that more people than the four who are usually discussed may have witnessed Janet's December 15 levitation, and he responded:

With the December 15, 1977 levitation of Janet, there were people outside on the other side of Green Street collecting their children [from the school that was there]. I suspect there were more than four, but some probably didn't want to be interviewed. Some were quite frightened. Maurice and Guy dealt with this as they had the audio recorders and collected statements. All I can say is that if you could identify the school and class, you might get others.

Grosse interviewed Robertson about the December 15 events on the morning of December 16. On that tape, Robertson comments on the teleportation of some objects through a bedroom window to the front of the Hodgsons' house. He mentions that "a lot of people in the school opposite were watching" (48A, 1:47).

Curtains would often obstruct a view of the inside of the house. However, in addition to occasions when the Hodgsons kept one or more of the curtains open, the poltergeist often moved the curtains, and even removed them entirely, as I discussed in another post. The December 15 witnesses were able to see inside the house because of a couple of factors like the ones I just mentioned. The poltergeist was blowing at least one of the curtains inward, and it had entirely removed the curtain from one of the windows.

If you want to get some idea of how well people could see the front of the house even from the other side of the road, where the school is, here's a video of the outside of the Hodgsons' house that was recently recorded. At one point in the video, you can even see a woman who now lives there (presumably) walking out of the front door.

Given these and other factors, I think it's highly likely that there were a lot more than the roughly thirty witnesses often referred to. The number on record seems likely to be in the low triple digits, and it could easily grow in the years to come. I have lists with names and documentation, but I'm still working on some of the details and looking into some other possibilities. It's useful at this stage, though, to provide an approximation of the number of people involved.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

Covering for your enemy

In this post I'd like to consider the ethics of lying from two different angles:

i) One objection to lying is pragmatic: If you know someone lied to you, how can you trust them? I've discussed that before in relation to friendship, where one friend covers for another if his friend got into trouble even though his friend did nothing wrong.

But let's consider the opposite case. Suppose you're a high school student. There's a classmate who hates your guts. And he makes his animus evident at every available opportunity. He's your enemy. Needless to say, you're not very fond of him either.  

One day he uses a "homophobic" or "transphobic" slur when talking to an LGBT student. He does it in your presence. The LGBT student reports this offense to the Vice Principal. It violate the student handbook. Students guilty of "homophobic/transphobic" slurs face suspension, "sensitivity training," or expulsion. 

Next day the three of you are called into the Vice Principal's office. The LGBT student accuses your enemy of using the slur. Your enemy denies it. The LGBT student calls you as a witness. Since you overheard what was said, you're the tiebreaker. 

Your enemy expects you to back up the allegation. Here's your chance to get even with him. But instead, you cover for him. You deny hearing him use the forbidden slur. Your enemy is surprised. Indeed, he's pleasantly shocked. Later, that gives you an opening to share the gospel with him. He respects you for standing up for him when you had every reason to be vindictive. 

ii) Now it might be objected that even if this had a good result in the case of your erstwhile enemy, it hardened the LGBT student against you. And that may be true. Sometimes we have to make choices. What benefits one person will offend another. 

iii) The illustration doesn't show that lying is sometimes justified. That wasn't the purpose of the illustration. It was simply countering a pragmatic objection with a pragmatic justification. Lying could still be (inherently) wrong for other reasons. 

iv) But here's another dimension to the hypothetical. In this case, it's not merely a question of whether or not to lie. Rather, it's a question of being pressed into the service of someone else's agenda. In this situation, if you rat out your classmate, you are allowing yourself to become a tool of the LGBT agenda. A weapon for an unjust cause.

So there's more than one moral issue in play. On the one hand there's the ethics of lying. Is it always wrong? If not, what are the exceptions? On the other hand, there's the duty not to let yourself be coerced or commandeered into facilitating an ungodly movement. 

None of this proves that lying is ever justified. But it introduces some moral complications that are often overlooked by the absolutists. 

The four horsemen of the Apocalypse

6 Now I watched when the Lamb opened one of the seven seals, and I heard one of the four living creatures say with a voice like thunder, “Come!” 2 And I looked, and behold, a white horse! And its rider had a bow, and a crown was given to him, and he came out conquering, and to conquer.

3 When he opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come!” 4 And out came another horse, bright red. Its rider was permitted to take peace from the earth, so that people should slay one another, and he was given a great sword.

5 When he opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come!” And I looked, and behold, a black horse! And its rider had a pair of scales in his hand. 6 And I heard what seemed to be a voice in the midst of the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius, and do not harm the oil and wine!”

7 When he opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8 And I looked, and behold, a pale horse! And its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed him. And they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by wild beasts of the earth (Rev 6:1-8).

For unbelievers, as well as many Bible scholars, Revelation is a period piece. Whatever its prophetic pretensions, the historical horizon is sealed in the 1C. But it's striking to consider how modern this vision is:

1. The white horse apparently represents aggressive warfare. As we know, 2000 years down the pike, warfare remains a perennial feature of life on earth. So there may seem to be nothing prescient about that vision. Yet you have utopians like Steven Pinker (The Better Angels of our Nature) who think secularization is making the world less violent. Likewise, secular humanists thought organizations like the United Nations would prevent war. If countries just have a forum in which to talk through their disagreements. 

2. The red horse apparently represents social unrest, the breakdown of civil authority. 

3. And that, in turn, may tie into the black horse, which seems to represent the consequences of economic manipulation.

i) In the 1C, the diversion of arable land to produce luxury items for the ruling class created food shortages in staple crops. For a modern-day parallel, consider the economic implosion of Venezuela. 

ii) Cities are especially vulnerable because they rely on having food, water and other necessities supplied from the outside. Cities lack the local resources to be sustainable on their own. Vast population centers become completely dependent on commerce which, if disrupted, precipitates urban catastrophe in a few days. The flourishing of urban populations is even more precarious in a hitech civilization than it was in the 1C. 

4. Among other things, the pale horse represents epidemics triggered by infectious disease. You might think this is one of the most dated aspects of the vision. Hasn't modern medicine done much to eradicate pandemics? True, but that could revert overnight:

i) Overprescription of antibiotics and antivirals has generated superbugs. 

ii) Progressive policies funnel immigrants into the country who haven't been screened for contagious disease. In addition, traditional Muslims have prescientific views of hygiene. 

iv) The general public is losing resistance to contagious disease, due both to the diluting effect of uncontrolled immigration–as well as progressive elites at the helm of the antivaxxer movement.  

iii) Likewise, welfare is a magnet for urban concentrations of homeless men and women. This leads to the breakdown of public sanitation. 

iv) In addition, green policies promote composting rather than standard food disposal. That attracts rats, which multiply exponentially. 

A side effect of affluence is to make many people indulge a false sense of security. Affluence creates a buffer. The affluent aren't used to living on the edge, where there's no margin for error. They lose their sense of danger. In addition, most folks are crisis-driven. Hazards are an abstraction. They are used to feeling safe, so they lower their guard. But the world is an unforgiving place. Just consider the following scenario:

The warning is focussed on LA, but all up and down the West coast, urban centers have become a haven for illegal immigrants and the homeless. While many infections diseases are curable, the system is easily overloaded. For instance, the black plague is curable, but because it's rare, hospitals lack the resources to contain a serious outbreak. 

So the vision in Rev 6:1-8, far from being obsolete, dovetails with contemporary conditions. 

Minimalist complementarians

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

Straight Pride month (every month)

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Tuggy v. Date: Jesus is not divine

1. Last night I watched the debate between Chris Date and Dale Tuggy about the deity of Christ:

In general, I thought Date won by a wide margin. I don't say that because we're friends–since we're not friends. We're not even on friendly terms with each other. Because I'm a long-standing critic of annihilationism, I'm highly unpopular with the Rethinking Hell coterie.

A unitarian might say my assessment of the debate is skewed by my Trinitarian bias. However, I'm quite capable of saying that somebody on my own side of an issue dropped the ball. 

In terms of style, Tuggy has a better speaking voice. Mellow and resonant. But he has a flat, droning delivery. Date has a thin speaking voice, but he's a livelier speaker. Dale read from a piece of paper while Date was freer and made better use of the technology.

I admit that after listening to a few minutes of Tuggy's opening speech, I skipped to Date's opening speech. That's because it sounded like Tuggy's usual stump speech. I'm quite familiar with that, whereas this is the first time I've heard Date on this issue, so I was more interested in what Date had to say as well as the rebuttals and cross-examinations. As such, it's possible that Tuggy said something new in his opening statement that I missed, but I doubt it. Throughout the debate he fell back on his well-worn tropes.

Monday, June 03, 2019

Hans Küng triumphant

Taylor Marshall's new book (Infiltration) is a flash in the pan. However, it highlights the fact that the ongoing debate between the RadTrads and mainstream Catholics is insoluble because both sides are right and both sides are wrong. Both sides appeal to the same flawed template. Within that template, there's no solution.

On the one hand, mainstream Catholics are right that Vatican II is here to stay. More broadly, since Pius XII, there have been irreversible changes in the direction of Catholic theology. Mainstream Catholics are on the winning side. RadTrads are fighting a futile, rearguard action. The vision of Catholicism they wish to revive is defunct. 

On the other hand, the RadTrads are right in pointing out that post-Vatican II Catholicism is, in key respects, a different religion from Tridentine Catholicism or anti-modernist Catholicism. In addition, having a clergy increasingly dominated by sodomites, including sodomites at the helm of policymaking positions, will inevitably change the direction of their denomination. As it stands, the Catholic church is undergoing inexorable theological drift. 

Both sides cherry-pick what Catholic sources they privilege as authoritative. They pluck their sources from different cherry trees in the Catholic orchard. 

You can see the divisions in the diverse reaction of Catholic apologists and academics:

1. Some Catholic apologists and academics openly and defiantly excoriate Pope Francis and his entourage. 

2. Some Catholic apologists privately feel the same way, but have retreated into silence, holding their breath that a heavenly Hail Mary pass will reverse the situation. 

3. Some Catholic apologists have become doglike defenders of the Francis pontificate. They understand that they will put themselves out of business if they simultaneously champion Catholicism in theory while they tear it down in practice. But behind the scenes, they must also realize that they are gambling on the Catholic church not becoming a clone of the ECUSA. What if they lose the bet? Do they have an escape route if the process of liberalization continues apace?

4. Some Catholic academics are delighted with the direction of the Francis pontificate. They are unabashed modernists. They want the Catholic church to become a clone of the ECUSA. 

What we're seeing under the Francis pontificate is the belated triumph of Hans Küng. At one time he was on the losing side of the battle. Banished to Siberia. Now, however, the balance of power has shifted. He's been rehabilitated. His vision has been reinstated. He's having the last laugh. Although it hasn't gone as far as he'd like, it's tilting in his direction. He lost the sprint but he's winning the marathon. 

Bell, Book, and Candle updated

Patrick Chan and I have updated the bibliography for this post:

In addition, he fixed the dead links on the old post.

Presuppositional v. "classic Reformed" apologetics

There's a new controversy brewing between Van Tilian apologetics and "classic Reformed" apologetics, prompted by Fesko's new book. This is a new permutation of an old ongoing debate:

The astroturf is greener on the other side

While Marshall does not deny the promise of Christ to be with the Church, the alleged success of the endless conspiracies and infiltrations he recounts are sufficient to undermine any reasonable confidence in these promises, or at least to confuse inessentials with the essentials which are guaranteed—which amounts to the same thing. To his credit, at the end of the book, the author considers the various responses we might make to his extravagant claims, and he rightly concludes that any proposed solution which suggests that the Church does not remain intact, or that we no longer have a true pope or true cardinals and bishops, must be rejected in favor of simple resistance to the evils that now appear to dominate the Church. But he is unwilling to allow even those modern popes who have already been canonized to instruct him or his readers on what the key evils are. Instead, he must cling to his private judgment, his conspiracies and his plots to prove that everything he personally dislikes has arisen through a devious orchestrated manipulation by particular evil groups.

That's an ironic and trenchant observation. But what Mirus fails to take into account is that this reflects the bitter disillusionment of a convert. For instance, it's surely not coincidental that Marshall used to be an Episcopal priest. Dismayed with his own denomination, he thought he was escaping that mess by switching sides. But he walks smack into the same mess ahead of him, in the road to Rome, that he thought he put behind him. During the puppy love stage of his conversion under Benedict XVI, he was blind to the same currents coursing through the church of Rome. But the Francis pontificate has exposed all that and accelerated the trends. Marshall meets it coming and going. An idealistic convert belatedly mugged by Catholic reality, once the puppy love stage wore off, and the sense of betrayal kicked in.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Salvaging Catholicism

1. Taylor Marshall's new book (Infiltration) shines a spotlight on the dilemma facing Catholic conservatives. Many Catholic conservatives view the moral and theological implosion of Catholicism under Pope Francis with alarm bordering on panic. But if you think the Catholic church is the indefectible Bride of Christ, then you can't say the source of the problem originates in Catholicism, since that would imply that Catholicism suffers from a design flaw. 

So one face-saving apologetic strategy is to say the source of the problem comes from outside forces, foreign to Catholicism. It's like the alien invasion trope in science fiction where extraterrestrials conquer the human race, not through a full-frontal assault, but by quietly replacing humans, especially in positions of leadership, with look-alike aliens. By the time humans catch on to the ruse, it's too late. The aliens outnumber them or control all the levers of power. 

However, the problem with that apologetic strategy is that if forces alien to Catholicism sneak into the organization and systematically supplant members of the hierarchy and priesthood, then Catholicism loses its original identity. It ceases to be the church founded by Jesus. This is especially destructive to an organization whose doctrinal vision is defined from the top down. 

2. Catholics like Taylor have a grand theory. I think many other Catholic conservatives are simply hoping against hope that the worst won't happen. Their response is to stay the course in the desperate conviction that God will divert the asteroid before a theological cataclysm. Or, to vary the metaphor, they won't push the button on the ejection seat until the last possible moment. If the Catholic church really is the undetectable Bride of Christ, then it's inconceivable that God will allow the asteroid to maintain a collision course right up to the point of impact.

However, a problems with that pragmatic policy is that it leaves them with no contingency plans if their faith in Catholicism is misplaced. If they preemptively discount the Protestant faith as a viable fallback option, what's left? Some will flee to Eastern orthodoxy, but that suffers from the grass is greener on the other side syndrome. Moreover, Catholic apologists present Catholicism in such totalistic terms that for some Catholicism, to falsify Catholicism falsifies Christianity. 

3. The crisis is generated by a changing church. When theology and Christian ethics undergo sea-change, that raises the question of what is true. If past teaching is false, why think new teaching is true? If past teaching is false, that means the source of teaching can't be trusted. Over the centuries, the Catholic church has been changed by the times and places in which it finds itself. 

The Protestant faith doesn't have the same problem. Unlike the Catholic church, the Bible doesn't change. What we've got is all we're gonna get. Protestants have their own intellectual challenges, although I don't think those are formidable, but Catholics face a different kind of challenge. They are using a mutable ruler. Yesterday's ruler is longer or shorter than tomorrow's ruler. The standards keep changing. So what's the standard to distinguish truth from falsehood? 

The immigrant predicament

In my observation, social climbers often experience a dilemma of their own making. Let's consider two variations;

i) Poor parents, through thrift and grinding work, scrape together enough to send their kids to college. They want the best for their kids. They want their kids go have a better life than the parents had. 

But to their consternation, their kids become snobs who look down on their lower class, uneducated parents. 

ii) Immigrant parents working entry level jobs or a mom-and-pop business, scrimp and save in order to send their kids to college. And not just any old college, but the cream of the cream. They relentless drive their kids to do whatever it takes to get into the most prestigious universities. But the end-result is kids who look down on their parents. The kids move in a different social circle, a higher echelon, where they'd be ashamed to have their parents show up.

In both cases, the parents feel hurt. Yet the parents, by making the elite the goal and the standard of comparison, simultaneously make themselves an embarrassment to their high-achieving progeny. They programmed their kids to be status-conscious snobs. To view their parents as their social and cultural inferiors. 

David Platt's prayer for Trump

O God, we praise you as the one universal king over all. You are our leader and our Lord and we worship you. There is one God and one Savior—and it’s you, and your name is Jesus. And we exalt you, Jesus. We know we need your mercy. We need your grace. We need your help. We need your wisdom in our country. And so we stand right now on behalf of our president, and we pray for your grace and your mercy and your wisdom upon him.
God, we pray that he would know how much you love him—so much that you sent Jesus to die for his sins, our sins—so we pray that he would look to you. That he would trust in you, that he would lean on you. That he would govern and make decisions in ways that are good for justice, and good for righteousness, and good for equity, every good path.
Lord we pray, we pray, that you would give him all the grace he needs to govern in ways that we just saw in 1 Timothy 2 that lead to peaceful and quiet lives, godly and dignified in every way. God we pray for your blessing in that way upon his family. We pray that you would give them strength. We pray that you would give them clarity. Wisdom, wisdom, the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Please, O God, give him wisdom and help him to lead our country alongside other leaders. We pray today for leaders in Congress. We pray for leaders in courts. We pray for leaders in national and state levels. Please, O God, help us to look to you, help us to trust in your Word, help us to seek your wisdom, and live in ways that reflect your love and your grace, your righteousness and your justice. We pray for your blessings on our president toward that end.
In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.


Taylor Marshall has a new book out. To say it's getting mixed reviews is an understatement. For instance:

Who is Taylor Marshall and why should anyone care? Well, among other things, he's a charter member of Called to Communion:

According to them, when evangelicals convert to Roman Catholicism, they entered into the "fullness of truth". But now I find myself in a terrible predicament. I'm hankering to rejoin Mother Church. Like a werewolf on a full moon, I have to be put in a steel cage to keep me from swimming the Tiber. I bought prayer beads and votive candles in preparation. But whose vision of Catholicism at Called to Communion represents the fullness of truth–Marshall Taylor or Bryan Cross? Does Bryan have half the fulness of truth while Marshall has the other half? Or does one have 75% of the fullness of truth while the other has 25% of the fullness of truth? And which one? 

Of course, Called to Communion always maintains a public facade of imperturbable solidarity. It could be the zombie apocalypse outside but Called to Communion would be playing The Sound of Music. 

Happy LGBT pride month!

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Sleeping with a python

1. A self-identified open theist calling himself Christopher Fischer responded to my post:

in a rambling two-part series:

It's unclear what his actually position is since he also says:

We only have one life to live. We have one life to make the best sense of the world and figure out what is real. 

That's more characteristic of atheism. Perhaps he started out more orthodox and has been drifting ever further until he's now on the brink of atheism.