Saturday, June 22, 2019

Black abortion

I was asked to comment on this. I'm not a statistician or sociologist (neither is James White). So these are considerations I have, as a nonspecialist:

1. Seems to me there are different ways of drawing the comparison. For instance, instead of comparing black mothers to white mothers, we might ask if unwed mothers abort their babies at higher rates than married mothers. If that's the case, then the "cause" might be that black mothers abort their babies at higher rates because more black mothers are pregnant out-of-wedlock than white mothers (although I believe the rate of out-of-wedlock pregnancies for white mothers is on the uptick). If so, the direct comparison wouldn't be between black mothers and white mothers, but between unwed mothers and wives, while the racial variable would be indirectly related.

2. Perhaps James would respond that this simply puts the "central cause" back a step because out-of-wedlock pregnancy is caused by "fundamentally rebellious sexual ethics". 

i) Strictly speaking, most folks who indulge in premarital sex aren't consciously rebelling against biblical sexual ethics because they are too theologically illiterate to have any idea what biblical sexual ethics represent. 

ii) Perhaps, though, it may be said that that's a side-effect of a general rebellion against natural revelation (Rom 1) rather than biblical sexual norms in particular. 

iii) Conversely, not all or most whites who conceive children within marriage are doing so in conscious obedience to biblical sexual ethics. Many people get married for romantic, economic, or customary reasons. In addition, some couples who conceive children within marriage aborted children conceived through premarital sex. So I'm not at all sure we can say the motivation is rebellious black mothers in contrast to white mothers. 

3. Furthermore, many conservative analysts attribute high rates of black single motherhood to Democrat social policies, viz. dysfunctional schools with high dropout rates; welfare–which eliminates the need for a male breadwinner. Democrats deliberately create a culture of dependence on gov't handouts to keep Democrats in power. Isn't that a factor? 

4. Finally, I believe it's a well-established fact that white eugenicists like Margaret Sanger targeted the black community for genocide. That raises the question of whether organizations like Planned Parenthood made "abortion services" more widely available in the black community than the white community. That would certainly be consistent with the white eugenicist program. If that were the case, it might be another factor in higher abortion rates among black mothers. 

P.S. Although he didn't explicitly compare black mothers to white mothers in the original tweet, in a subsequent tweet, he said "Black women average 3.5x the number of abortions compared to white women in the US." 

Quest for manhood

I'm going to comment on a statement by AD Robles.  

He did a follow-up to elaborate on his position: 

1. The aim of my post is not to dissect his tweet but to use it as a launchpad to briefly review masculine ideals. That's an urgent issue. Many men lack a clear masculine ideal. That's in part because many men come from broken homes. They were raised by single moms. They don't have brothers. So they lack natural role models of masculinity. 

In addition, secular progressives are making every effort to destroy normative masculinity. And that leads to further confusion.

2. Robles says "effeminate" men should be church disciplined. He quoted 1 Cor 6:9 to prooftext his claim. Unfortunately, his appeal is fallacious. "Effeminate" isn't the most accurate translation of malakoi, although it may have been more accurate in 1611. At the most general level, malakoi denotes homosexuals. And it specifically denotes the anal-receptive partner in the transaction. A catamite or butt-boy. 

That's hardly synonymous with "effeminate". While there's overlap between queer men and effeminate men, some queer men aren't effeminate (in the sense of swishy) while some effeminate men aren't queer. 

Perhaps Robles is using "effeminate" in a broader sense than swishy. Maybe he means guys who fail to embody masculine virtues. 

3. We need to distinguish between manliness and projecting a macho image. There are guys who have the image down pat (beer, beard, tattoos, pickup truck, gym rat, colorful language), but they are totally dependent on modern technology. Some have none of the survival skills or problem-solving skills which men were expected to have into the early 20C. Machismo is playacting. Don't confuse masculinity with masculine affectations. 

4. I agree with Robles that church is a place where guys should be taught Christian masculinity. But what's the standard of comparison? Who's manlier–hipster Jeff Durbin or dapper James Kennedy? There are many visions of manliness. Consider some examples:

ii) The medieval chivalric code

iii) The Epic of Gilgamesh, Ramayana, Mahābhārata, Iliad, Beowulf, Song of Roland, Tom Brown's School Days, Last of the Mohicans, Red Badge of Courage.

iv) The Dangerous Book for Boys (Conn and Hal Iggulden); Future Men: Raising Boys to Fight Giants (Doug Wilson); Defending Boyhood: How Building Forts, Reading Stories, Playing Ball, and Praying to God Can Change the World (Anthony Esolen)

v) Tough-guy actors, viz. Kirk Douglas, Clint Eastwood, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, Charlton Heston, Hugh Jackman, Burt Lancaster, Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen, Robert Mitchum, Al Pacino, Burt Reynolds, Edward G. Robinson, Richard Roundtree, Kurt Russell, Tom Selleck, Frank Sinatra, Christopher Walken, John Wayne, Bruce Willis.

vi) Actors who alternate between tough guy and debonair ladykiller, viz. Humphrey Bogart, George Clooney, Sean Connery, Errol Flynn, Clark Gable, Cary Grant, James Mason, Gregory Peck, Vyacheslav Tikhonov.

vii) Soldiers, jocks, cowboys, hunters, explorers.

5. Which of these represent good role models of manliness?  

i) Masculine criteria:

• The Book of Proverbs

• Qualifications for elders and deacons (1 Tim 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9).

• Christian duties and virtues (e.g. Eph 5:25-31; Gal 5:19-23).

ii) Masculine role-models:

• Biblical heroes of faith, viz, Heb 11, David, Daniel, Joseph, Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, St. Paul.

• Christian missionaries

7. Final note: real men don't watch Disney Princess movies. Manly dads don't let their sons watch Mr. Rogers or Sesame Street. Don't raise your son to be a nancy boy!

The new normal

Here's my reply to a homosexual man on Facebook:

There is enough evidence that shows it’s epigenetic.

1. There's also enough evidence that shows it's not epigenetic. The truth is the epigenetic basis for homosexual orientation is very hotly contested in the medical and scientific literature. Scientists and physicians go back and forth on it. What's more, there are pro-homosexual researchers who are skeptical about the epigenetic basis for homosexual orientation. Anyway, point being, it's far from conclusive or definitive.

2. However, suppose for the sake of argument the evidence shows there is an epigenetic basis for homosexual orientation. Nevertheless, many if not most researchers still argue epigenetics is not necessarily the fundamental let alone sole basis for homosexual orientation.

it’s basically like asking someone to give up on sex

Friday, June 21, 2019

Primeval ice

1 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. (Gen 1:1-5).

Progressive/secular Bible scholars think v2 alludes to a preexistent primordial ocean. But is that consistent with what ancient people were in a position to know? What state does water take in the absent of sunlight? Ice. Denizens in the Middle East knew from personal experience that desert temperatures plummet after dark. They were acquainted with hail and snow. They knew about icy mountains. 

Ice wasn't a foreign substance to them. And the relationship between sunlight and heat wasn't a foreign concept to them.

So, from a natural standpoint, if water preexisted sunlight, that wouldn't be a primeval ocean. That wouldn't be liquid, but solid. 

Of course, from a supernatural standpoint, God doesn't need sunlight to have liquified H2O. And even humans can melt ice with fire. But my immediate point is that the mythological conception which some Bible scholars impute to ancient Near Eastern writers doesn't mesh with what they knew about the world, if they gave it much thought. 

To be sure, many people are thoughtless. However, there are always some observant, reflective people who do think things through. So this is another example where desk-bound Bible scholar makes questionable assumptions about the ancient mindset. Modern scholars don't think about these things because they don't live off the land. They don't have to be keen observers of nature to survive. They are cocooned from the harsh elements by modern technology. But ancient people had to be highly attentive to the workings of nature to survive. 

Creation reversed

Narratives like Gen 1 or Gen 2-3 are brief and sketchy, yet inexhaustible. There's always something new you didn't notice before. 

I'm going to revisit my abiding interest in the biblical symbolism of light. On the one hand, each day in the Gen 1 creation account has something distinctive. Day 1 represents the creation of light. Light is God's first creation. And the creation of daylight entails night, as a necessary point of contrast. 

Day 2 represents the creation of the atmosphere, rainclouds, and the sea. Day 3 represents the creation of dry land and flora. I assume Gen 1 doesn't differentiate the creation of freshwater from saltwater because bodies of freshwater (lakes, rivers, ponds) are features of the land, in contrast to the sea. 

Day 4 represents the creation of celestial luminaries (sun, moon, stars). That raises questions about the causal and chronological relationship between Day 1 and Day 4, inasmuch as the diurnal cycle is already in place on day 1, which implies the existence of sunlight and solar days.

Day 5 represents the creation of volant animals and aquatic animals, while day 6 represents the creation of land animals and mankind. And Day 7 is striking for what doesn't happen. After six days of creative activity, the reader is primed for something to happen on day 7. But day 7 is a coda to creation.

On the other hand, there's a constant running through all 7 days, and that's the overarching motif of dawn and dusk, daylight and night. One thing that's prescient about the light motif is how that supplies the backdrop for eschatological judgment. One of the signs of final judgment is a solar eclipse, lunar eclipse, and shooting stars. And that represents a reversal of day 4 in particular, as well as the persistent role of light in the creation account generally. On the one hand, a dominant theme of creation is celestial illumination. On the other hand, a dominant theme of eschatological judgment is the darkening sky. A return to darkness as sun and moon are occluded, while the sky is emptied of stars as they fall to the earth. So eschatological judgment represents a reversion to primordial darkness, before the creation of daylight, sunlight, moonlight, or starlight. In addition, the crucifixion darkness prefigures the final judgment. 

What if Jesus wants you to die?

The Catholic lectionary

To my knowledge, the contemporary Catholic lectionary is highly selective, excerpting the inspirational passages of Scripture while censuring offensive or disturbing passages. For instance:

So Catholics at Mass are getting a bowdlerized, sanitized, Hallmark card edition of the Bible. 

Going to church

I started attending church around the age of 5. In the past 55 years I've attended a wide variety of churches. I'll just comment on the most significant or interesting examples. 

I've done hundreds of posts critiquing Roman Catholicism. However, I don't critique Catholicism entirely as an outsider observer. Although I'm not a cradle Catholic, after my evangelical conversion as a teenager I did look into Roman Catholicism. Initially, I attended Mass at Saint John Vianney, up the hill from where I lived. At the time, it rented the chapel of the defunct St. Thomas Seminary, adjacent to the defunct St. Edward Seminary. Both closed after the priesthood shortage in the 60s. It was located on a sprawling, scenic, parklike setting, with wooded trails leading down to the shores of Lake Washington. The chapel itself was elegant. However, the celebrant was a guitar-strumming hippie priest. 

I found the folk Mass so off-putting that after a few visits there I took the bus into Seattle and attended Mass at Blessed Sacrament, on the outskirts of the U. District. It had a tasteful, capacious sanctuary and decent music. In addition, the church was staffed by Dominicans, so the homilies were more intelligent. Mind you, that doesn't mean they were exegetically accurate. On one occasion the homilist talked about how wine is a living substance, and drew theological parallels. But that's completely off-base. In Scripture, sacrificial blood doesn't represent life but violent death. Shed blood.

I sometimes attended Mass downtown at St. James Cathedral. It had a large handsome sanctuary, although it was no match for European cathedrals. Music was fairly good. Sometimes had a dulcet cantor to lead the congregation in song. The homilist was Fr. Gallagher. He had a charming, avuncular demeanor. 

This was during the stormy tenure of Archbishop Hunthausen. Ironically, Donald Wuerl, who later rose through the ranks to become the disgraced Cardinal Archbishop of DC, was tasked by the Vatican to curb Hunthausen's progressive agenda. 

Of course, attending Mass isn't the only way to evaluate Catholicism. You need to study the theology and assess the arguments. At a later date I used to do research at the Seattle U. library up the hill, where, among other things, I read many volumes of Rahner's Theological Investigations. Rahner had an interesting technique of replacing traditional, but obsolete Catholic dogmas with modern substitutes. It was revealing to see Catholicism defended by throwing away the offending parts and reconstructing the remainder with newfangled parts. A backdoor admission that traditional Catholicism was indefensible.  

However, there are Catholic apologists who think you can't properly evaluate Catholicism as a detached observer. It's something you must experience, in community. Having sampled Catholicism, I was ultimately unpersuaded. For one thing, I was too Bible-centered to warm to it. 

In addition, I think Catholic piety, even among the faithful, is about professing or affirming Catholic doctrine, not from any sense of direct conviction, but from the sense that as a good Catholic, it's your duty to affirm these things. So there's that underlying disconnect. 

For several years I attended a black church down in the hood. The pastor was an extemporaneous preacher. In addition to that church, I befriended some black guys at a church up the street. We were about the same age.

It was an instructive experience, musically and socially. That's when I cultivated an interest in black Gospel music, which I still listen to, on occasion. 

I saw a lot of talent that wasn't properly fostered and focussed. I saw young kids in church who were on the way to becoming juvenile delinquents, because the adults were preoccupied with having an ecstatic worship experience. I saw one guy I got close to revert to drug addiction. 

The church I attended had a Filipino guy who became a policeman. Some of his friends disowned him because he crossed over to the enemy side!   

The same church had two sister who belonged to the Lummi tribe. Both of them natural vocalists. One of them told me a story about how a relative had been hexed. The indigenous witchcraft was still a force to be reckoned with. 

After that I attended a messianic congregation: Beth David. Saul Wallach was the pastor. As I recall, he was originally groomed for the Rabbinate before he converted to Christianity. Despite many years of Hebrew instruction, when he first went to Israel and ordered something in Hebrew, the cashier responded to him in English!

The worship service had sacred dance, to Eastern European melodies. Tasteful. Not something you see in the average Presbyterian church. 

However, the preaching had an emphasis on the modern state of Israel. The restoration of Israel. The ingathering and all that.  While that's natural for a messianic Jew, it's not something I can relate to personally. I support the state of Israel, but that's hardly central to my theological outlook. And I have no emotional attachment to the land. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Mercy-killing and wedge issues

Let's begin with two examples, one fictional and the other real:

A. At a mine cave-in, Joe's friend Seth Pruitt stands over the body of a man he admits to having euthanized. The man was mortally injured, in agony, and begging to be put out of his misery. Seth swears Joe to secrecy, leaving Joe to struggle with his conscience, and decide if it's right to keep the secret. "The Quality of Mercy," Bonanza (Season 5 Episode 9).

B. Years ago I read about a father and sons who were horribly burned when the garage that were working in exploded. They weren't killed instantly. They were mortally burned and die hours later at the hospital. That's not a case of euthanasia, but for those who support euthanasia, it's a good candidate to illustrate the issues.

1. On the one hand there are ethicists, generally Christian, who think euthanasia is intrinsically wrong. For convenience, let's call it the deontologist position. 

One apparent advantage of the deontologist position is that it seems to be simpler to apply. It forbids mercy killing under any circumstances. I'll revisit the question of whether it avoids the complications and imponderables of the alternative position momentarily. 

2. In addition to the argument from principle, the deontologist is concerned that once you open the door a crack for mercy killing under any circumstances, that becomes a wedge issue or wedge tactic which will be exploited. And, indeed, that's a legitimate and very realistic concern. Once euthanasia is permitted, there are those who continually extent and expand the scope of candidates for euthanasia. A mania for killing ensues. This has been documented by Wesley J. Smith:

3. On the other hand are ethicists who think euthanasia is permissible in certain situations. Some ethicists are very conservative about the permissibility of euthanasia, limiting it to "extreme" cases. Others are far more lenient. For convenience, let's call it the euthanasist position.  

These labels are simplistic. On the one hand it's possible for a deontologist to consider mercy killing justifiable under very exceptional circumstances. On the other hand, euthanasist is an indiscriminate term. Proponents of euthanasia can range along a continuum from highly restrictive to open-ended. But labels are necessary to identify and distinguish the respective positions, so with those caveats in place, they will suffice for discussion purposes. 

4. A challenge for the euthansist position is where to draw the line. 

i) That raises the thorny old issue of the sorites paradox. However, the sorites paradox doesn't necessarily disqualify the euthanasist position. The sorites paradox isn't confined to ethics. There are many situations in human experience susceptible to soritical paradox, yet we disregard it and go right on drawing moral or practical distinctions, even if we can't solve the paradox. 

ii) In addition, we're often confronted with forced options where we have no choice but to draw a line, even if the cutoff is arbitrary. If, moreover, you can't avoid stipulating an arbitrary threshold, then a degree of arbitrariness is blameless. 

iii) That's said, some arbitrary distinctions are more reasonable than others. While there are borderline cases, some distinctions approximate clear boundary conditions.

5. For its own part, the deontologist position doesn't escape the sorites paradox. Even hardline opponents of euthanasia typically concede that there are moral limits on our duty to keep people alive. Take a terminal cancer patient with stage 4  cancer. Desperate medical intervention may prolong the patient's life, but the treatment itself is increasingly destructive to the patient, with ever diminishing returns. 

If, however, the obligation to keep people alive is less than absolute, then that concession creates gray areas. In a sense, then, both the deontologist and euthanasist are in the same boat, although one may occupy the stem while the other occupies the stern. 

6. Regarding the Bonanza dilemma, there are two additional issues:

i) On the one hand, Seth has no right to obligate Joe to keep Seth's action a secret. He lacks the moral authority to unilaterally make that decision for Joe. At best, Joe must enter into that voluntarily.

ii) On the other hand, even if we conclude that Seth's action was morally unjustified, that doesn't automatically mean Joe has a duty to report him to the authorities. This is the flip side of (i). Just as Seth can't make Joe share responsibility in the deed, since it's Seth's deed, not Joe's, Joe is not responsible for what Seth did.

To put it another way, even if Seth had a duty to turn himself in to the authorities, it doesn't follow that a second party has a duty to turn Seth in to the authorities. A second party isn't directly responsible for Seth's actions.

iii) Of course, that doesn't mean there's never an obligation to report a wrongdoing to the authorities. But that's not a universal duty. It depends on the nature of the wrongdoing.

iv) Moreover, even if we conclude that Seth's action is morally unjustifiable, there are extenuating circumstances that mitigate the guilt and distinguish it from murder. The intent is different. 

v) Likewise, we should often judge people more leniently who had to make a snap decision under duress compared to a premeditated action. 

7. There is, however, a difference between the actions of random individuals and a social policy. For instance, if my younger teenage brother loses his temper and smacks me in the face, I'm not going to call the cops, have him arrested and charged with assault. But making personal exceptions for close relatives doesn't mean we should decriminalize assault and battery. 

8. Finally, I doubt that all moral dilemmas are soluble in principle. It's easy to dream of hypothetical predicaments with no licit options. There won't always be a handy formula. I think we ultimately depend, not on having the right answers for every conceivable situation, but on divine providence not to put us in morally compromising situations. 

The Revelation maze

To my knowledge, premils think Revelation has a linear plot while many modern-day amils think Revelation has a cyclical plot, although 19-22 break the cycle with a definitive denouement. 

Linear and cyclical are both spatial metaphors. Ways to structure time figuratively. 

Here's an alternative to a linear or cyclical plot alike: suppose Revelation is like a maze. In terms of John's experience, it's like an extended dream in which the scenes keep shifting. An immersive experience in which he's an observer in the visionary world. Dreams can be like a maze, where the dreamer is seeking a destination or looking for a way out. A maze has an entrance and an exit. And it's possible to make progress from one end to the other. But there's a certain amount of backtracking. Entry points with no outlet. 

Real life has blind alleys, wrong turns, and dead-ends. You see the same thing coming and going. Backing out. Turning around. 

Suppose John's experience is like working his way through a maze. Take the binding of Satan. He's unbound, then he's bound, then he's unbound. In the vision, John is traveling in one direction. He sees Satan bound and unbound because John is moving forwards and backwards. The vision hits a wall, and he has to turn around and look for another way out. That leads to repeated sightings. In a maze, Satan may be both bound and unbound. It's not a matter of when but where. In a maze, retracing your steps or walking in circles is analogous to moving backward in time or temporal loops. 

The mark of the Beast!

The mark of the Beast has been scientifically diagnosed:

Cellphone addiction is literally devilish!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

2019 Southern Baptist Convention on Critical Race Theory and intersectionality

Seminary foibles


I'm not an art historian, so it's possible that some of the my generalizations in this post are overgeneralizations. 

1. Standards of modesty are culturally relative. At one extreme are Muslims. To my knowledge, Islam even has nudity taboos about members of the same sex. They also have hangups about showing skin in general. At the opposite extreme is Classical Greek and Indian art. Some Indian statues are overtly erotic. There's also the phallic symbol (lingam). Greek art is characterized by both male and female nudity. Some Greek art is explicitly pornographic. The Greek cult of homosexuality presumably contributes to the prominence of the male nude in Greek art. 

2. Christians agree that modesty is a virtue, but disagree on what constitutes modesty. It's ironic that Catholic theology makes a big deal about concupiscence, yet nudity is a prominent theme among Catholic sculptors and painters. In addition, Marian iconography gave Catholic artists a pretext to paint gorgeous women. Likewise, artistic depictions of martyrdom are sometimes an excuse for sadistic eroticism. Since, moreover, a lot of Catholic art was sponsored by popes and prelates, it can't all be chalked up to randy laymen. 

3. Botticelli, Bernini, Raphael, Ingres, Renoir, and Dante Rossetti are artists paradigmatic for celebrating the female form. It's my impression that generally speaking, French and Italian artists celebrate physical perfection (especially female) in a way that many Northern European artists do not. English artists split the difference. 

One reason may simply be that warm sunny climates are less inhibited about exposing skin than chilly climates. That may be a partial explanation for the exuberant nudity in Greek, Roman, Italian, and Indian art. 

It's amusing that after his "conversion," Botticelli switched from Classical to Christian themes, yet his Madonnas look just like the women who populate his Classical paintings. The setting and outfit has changed, but the women remain the same! Nothing wrong with that. Beauty is universal. 

Although Rembrandt paints nudes, they're not beautiful women. Rather, they're the women he loved. 

4. In Christian art, male nudity seems to be more confined to depictions of Adam and the Day of Judgment. You also have artists like Michaelangelo and Eakins. That raises questions about their "sexual orientation"–although Eakins also did female nudes. 

5. To my limited knowledge, skinny-dipping was the norm until the Victorian invention of swimwear, although I assume it was usually sexually segregated. The public Roman baths were unisex, but that reflected pagan mores. 

6. In traditional Western art, there seems to be a tacit code about pubic hair. Artistic nudity is permissible so long as pubic hair is brushed out. I don't know the rationale for that convention. Was it an arbitrary custom in which pubic hair was deemed to be too realistic and therefore obscene, whereas full-frontal nudity was permissible so long as the artist omitted that detail? Or did it trade on the "innocence" of prepubescent nudity? Of course, if the nude model is evidently sexually mature, then that's a ruse. 

One exception to this unspoken rule is a 5C Byzantine ivory diptych of Adam in paradise (in the Museo nazionale del Bargello in Florence). Perhaps that dates back to a time before the later tradition became entrenched.  

7. In Christian ethics, the notion of modesty revolves around the concept of lust. Standard prooftexts include Prov 6:25, Mt 5:28, Rom 1:24,27, and 2 Tim 2:22.

i) In context, Prov 6:25 refers to prostitution

ii) In context, Rom 1:24,27 has reference to homosexual attraction (and behavior).

iii) In 2 Tim 2:22, does "lust" refer to something in the mind (attraction, imagination) or behavior? In the 1C Roman empire, sexual immorality covers premarital sex, extramarital sex, promiscuity, prostitution, rape, incest, sodomy, lesbianism, pederasty, and abortion. Christians were obligated to foreswear that behavior. 

iv) Mt 5:28. This is the locus classicus:

a) A problem with the traditional interpretation is that lust comes in degrees, so on that interpretation, the text offers no concrete guidance on where you cross the line. 

b) In addition, the traditional interpretation has been challenged: 

8. Of course, lust can't be entirely detached from sexual misconduct since that's the motivation. They are asymmetrically related. It's possible to lust without acting on your impulses, but lust provides the incentive for the corresponding behavior. 

9. Then there's the question of how to define lust. Consulting a Greek or Hebrew lexicon isn't the answer, since that will simply give you an English synonym. One issue is whether the concept of lust can be determined by Scripture, or whether Bible writers expect the reader to have a cultural preunderstanding of lust based on human experience, especially against the pervasive backdrop of heathen sexual mores. 

10. There's the additional question of whether there's a more restrictive (indeed, exclusive) standard for married couples than for singles, especially in the realm of the imagination. Sex outside of marriage is forbidden for both groups, but what about art or fantasies? The alienation of affections is a danger in marriage. 

11. Modesty is a broader category. Take Christ in the House of His Parents, by Millais. That was quite controversial in its time. It offended conventional Victorian piety. Not because there was anything slightly erotic about it, but critics considered it an indecorous way to represent the Holy Family. Too down-to-earth. The hostile reaction reflect the artificiality of some religious sensibilities. 

12. In Christian theology, the human body is both a divine gift as well as God's handiwork. A marvel of engineering. Man is the apex of creation in our solar system. Perhaps in the entire universe. If it's permissible to make artistic depictions of lesser things in nature, why not the greater? Take athleticism. When I watch joggers, some men and women are natural runners while others are manifestly not. They have no idea how to hold their arms or coordinate their arms and legs. By contrast, young runners with innate coordination have an elegant gait. It's enjoyable to watch the natural grace of a good runner. Beauty can be simple. Wildlife photographers take pictures of cheetahs chasing down antelope. It's exhilarating to watch. Art it motion. And of course, we have a special affinity for the human body.  

13. Even if we consider artistic nudity to be permissible, there are ancillary issues. Take Renoir's Les Grandes Baigneuses. Consider the girl in the water, painted from behind, who's splashing the women on the riverbank. She appears to be in her mid-teens. Fresh ingenue beauty, projecting playful, unaffected innocence. But I assume she was a real person, like the other two women. What's the fate of models when their springtime bloom wears off? What happened to that girl? Did she die of old age? Did she die young, from TB or influenza? Did she die in poverty? Did she contract venereal disease and die on the streets? In the painting, she's frozen in time, in the flower of youth, but she lived and died. Do viewers every wonder what became of them? I'm reminded of Anton Chekhov's short story about the model exploited by art students and medical students ("Anyuta"). Used, passed around, then discarded. That's fictional, but based on real-life examples.

What Christians should know about vaccines

Joe Carter wrote an article on TGC that garnered a plethora of comments and considerable debate on Facebook:

"What Christians should know about vaccines"

Just a few comments in passing:

Hiding in the bushes

8 And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the Lord God called to the man and said to him, “Where are you?”10 And he said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself.” 11 He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten of the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” (Gen 3:8-11).

This has always been a puzzling passage. It's understandable why they tried to hide from God. Although that's comical, they knew less about God than we do. So they might believe they could successfully elude divine detection. 

Even so, why did they hide because they were naked? What does nudity have to do with it?

Is it because they were embarrassed to be seen in the buff by God after they ate the forbidden fruit? But once again, what's the logical connection? Perhaps their reaction is inexplicable. When caught redhanded, wrongdoers may react in irrational ways. 

It won't do to say the account is fictional, for even fictional stories are supposed to make sense on their own terms. It had to be meaningful to the narrator. Indeed, good fiction has to be more logical than real life because it lacks factuality to lend it plausibility. 

God's question implies that Adam wasn't conscious or self-conscious of his nudity until he ate the forbidden fruit. At one level, that's reasonable. Having been made that way, Adam had no point of contrast. No occasion to give his nudity a second thought. That was his exclusive experience. 

Perhaps they took shelter in the bushes to provide a barrier against physical harm. Nudity is a vulnerable state which leaves one more exposed to physical harm. There's nothing between you and the elements–or weapons. They were unarmored and unarmed. 

If, as Jeffrey Niehaus has argued, the divine visitation is a storm theophany, perhaps they took refuge in the bushes to provide a measure of protection against the approaching storm.  Assuming it was a storm theophany, we don't know what form it took. A thunderstorm? A whirlwind? 

Perhaps a fire theophany? The Angel of the Lord may assume a luminous appearance or even, according to Exodus, the appearance of a fire whirl. If they saw something like that touch down and head in their direction, it's not surprising that they ran for cover.                            

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Winning yesterday, losing tomorrow

There's some concern that the SBC and PCA are drifting to the left. A quick observation: there's a sense in which there are no closed questions in theology. Nothing is ever settled for all time. That's because the younger generation is a blank slate. It wasn't born knowing the answers and the supporting arguments. It didn't live through theological controversies. So you can never take the younger generation for granted. You can never coast on past victories. 

The younger generation must be shown the "received answers," and moreover, we must provide the younger generation with the reasons to back up the received answers. Otherwise, many members of the younger generation will be swept along with the current of the Zeitgeist. 

Some Catholic apologists will exclaim: "Ah ha! That just goes to show the necessity of a Magisterium!"

But that's no alternative:

i) The Catholic church is hemorrhaging young cradle Catholics. 

ii)  In many respects, the Magisterium is leading the charge to the left.

iii) I didn't say there are no good answers. We don't have to start from scratch every generation. If there are solid stock answers and supporting arguments, we can rehearse that material. 

We must also be adaptable to new challenges. Take transgenderism. Because that's a recent fad, there aren't standard answers and arguments, so we have to think on our feet. 

Why philosophy ruins everything!

A recipe for perpetual misery: become a philosopher!

Cambridge Companion to Reformed Theology

The reviewer has more of a "Confessional Calvinist" mindset than I do. However, the reviewer makes some useful points:

"This is not a difficult concept"

This seems to be a popular meme. A few basic issues:

i) If you remove the yoke and white from the shell, you interrupt the process of gestation. 

ii) Turning silk into a dress is not a natural process or natural continuum. 

iii) Why is an acorn not a tree? Is the difference that some acorns never germinate?

iv) From a secular standpoint, what makes a human a person? There are physicalists (eliminative materialists) who regard consciousness as an illusion.

v) Is a comatose patient a person? Suppose the patient will emerge from their coma in two weeks, with their personality intact. Would it be murder to kill them while they are still comatose?

vi) What about lowering a patient's body temperature to the point where they have no vital signs or EEG reading? That's a surgical procedure to prevent blood loss. Is the patient still a person? 

vii) Does personhood depend on brain development? What about the hard problem of consciousness? 

Show me a miracle!

A popular atheist trope is that if God performed a custom-made miracle for the atheist, he'd believe in God. To put this in reverse, they feel justified in not believing in God unless they see a miracle. There are a couple of problems with this trope:

i) It doesn't occur to them that it might not be important to God whether everyone believes in him. Rather, it's important to you whether you believe in God. An atheist is like a patient with a life-threatening condition who tells the doctor, "I don't trust you. You must prove yourself to be me before I let you save my life".

But that has things backwards. The patient's life can't mean more to the doctor than the patient. The doctor doesn't have a personal stake in the patient's survival. The doctor has nothing to lose if the patient refuses treatment. The patient isn't doing the doctor a favor by letting the doctor save his life; rather, the doctor is doing the patient a favor by saving his life.

ii) What's the next step? What would the atheist do if he witnessed a miracle? How, if at all, would that change his life? There are duties that come with believing in God. (For that matter, an atheist has the same duties–he simply fails to recognize his duties.)

Sing hallelujah to the Lord

More information here: "How a worship song is fueling pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong".

Some stray thoughts:

Monday, June 17, 2019

Reading as seeing

Here's a quick follow-up to my post on eloquence:

Here's a concrete example of what I mean. This is from Mark Twain's autobiography, reminiscing about his old stomping grounds. An example of artlessly expressive, evocative prose. 

Imagine of pastors with the literary knack were to use that ability to describe scenes in the Bible the way Twain recalls his old stomping ground. The ability to take a biblical narrative and bring it before the eyes of the congregation. In the age of biblical archaeology, Bible atlases, and trips to the Middle East, it's possible to supplement the bare text of scripture with atmospheric background information, as if you were there. 

The farmhouse stood in the middle of a very large yard, and the yard was fenced on three sides with rails and on the rear side with high palings; against these stood the smokehouse; beyond the palings was the orchard; beyond the orchard were the negro quarter and the tobacco-fields. The front yard was entered over a stile, made of sawed-off logs of graduated heights; I do not remember any gate. In a corner of the front yard were a dozen lofty hickory-trees and a dozen black-walnuts, and in the nutting season riches were to be gathered there.

Down a piece, abreast the house, stood a little log cabin against the rail fence; and there the woody hill fell sharply away, past the barns, the corn-crib, the stables and the tobacco-curing house, to a limpid brook which sang along over its gravelly bed and curved and frisked in and out and here and there and yonder in the deep shade of overhanging foliage and vines–a divine place for wading, and it had swimming-pools, too, which were forbidden to us and therefore much frequented by us. For we were little Christian children, and had early been taught the value of forbidden fruit.

I can see the farm yet, with perfect clearness. I can see all its belongings, all its details; the family room of the house, with a "trundle" bed in one corner and a spinning-wheel in another–a wheel whose rising and falling wail, heard from a distance, was the mournfulest of all sounds to me, and made me homesick and low-spirited, and filled my atmosphere with the wandering spirits of the dead: the vast fireplace, piled high, on winter nights, with flaming hickory logs from whose ends a sugary sap bubbled out but did not go to waste, for we scraped it off and ate it; the lazy cat spread out on the rough hearthstones, the drowsy dogs braced against the jambs and blinking; my aunt in one chimney-corner knitting, my uncle in the other smoking his corn-cob pipe; the slick and carpetless oak floor faintly mirroring the dancing flame-tongues and freckled with black indentations where fire-coals had popped out and died a leisurely death; half a dozen children romping in the background twilight; "split"-bottomed chairs here and there, some with rockers; a cradle–out of service, but waiting, with confidence; in the early cold mornings a snuggle of children, in shirts and chemises, occupying the hearthstone and procrastinating–they could not bear to leave that comfortable place and go out on the wind-swept floor-space between the house and kitchen where the general tin basin stood, and wash.

Along outside of the front fence ran the country road; dusty in the summer-time, and a good place for snakes–they liked to lie in it and sun themselves; when they were rattlesnakes or puff adders, we killed them: when they were black snakes, or racers, or belonged to the fabled "hoop" breed, we fled, without shame; when they were "house snakes" or "garters" we carried them home and put them in Aunt Patsy's work-basket for a surprise; for she was prejudiced against snakes, and always when she took the basket in her lap and they began to climb out of it it disordered her mind. She never could seem to get used to them; her opportunities went for nothing. And she was always cold toward bats, too, and could not bear them; and yet I think a bat is as friendly a bird as there is. My mother was Aunt Patsy's sister, and had the same wild superstitions. A bat is beautifully soft and silky: I do not know any creature that is pleasanter to the touch, or is more grateful for caressings, if offered in the right spirit. I know all about these coleoptera, because our great cave, three miles below Hannibal, was multitudinously stocked with them...Many excursion parties came from considerable distances up and down the river to visit the cave. It was miles in extent, and was a tangled wilderness of narrow and lofty clefts and passages. It was an easy place to get lost in; anybody could do it–including the bats. I got lost in it myself, along with a lady, and our last candle burned down to almost nothing before we glimpsed the search-party's lights winding about in the distance.

Beyond the road where the snakes sunned themselves was a dense young thicket, and through it a dim-lighted path led a quarter of a mile; then out of the dimness one emerged abruptly upon a level great prairie which was covered with wild strawberry-plants, vividly starred with prairie pinks, and walled in on all sides by forests. The strawberries were fragrant and fine, and in the season we were generally there in the crisp freshness of the early morning, while the dew-beads still sparkled upon the grass and the woods were ringing with the first songs of the birds. Down the forest slopes to the left were the swings. They were made of bark stripped from hickory saplings. When they became dry they were dangerous.

As I have said, I spent some part of every year at the farm until I was twelve or thirteen years old. The life which I led there with my cousins was full of charm, and so is the memory of it yet. I can call back the solemn twilight and mystery of the deep woods, the earthy smells, the faint odors of the wild flowers, the sheen of rain-washed foliage, the rattling clatter of drops when the wind shook the trees, the far-off hammering of woodpeckers and the muffled drumming of wood-pheasants in the remoteness of the forest, the snapshot glimpses of disturbed wild creatures skurrying through the grass,–I can call it all back and make it as real as it ever was, and as blessed. I can call back the prairie, and its loneliness and peace, and a vast hawk hanging motionless in the sky, with his wings spread wide and the blue of the vault showing through the fringe of their end-feathers. I can see the woods in their autumn dress, the oaks purple, the hickories washed with gold, the maples and the sumacs luminous with crimson fires, and I can hear the rustle made by the fallen leaves as we ploughed through them. I can see the blue clusters of wild grapes hanging amongst the foliage of the saplings, and I remember the taste of them and the smell. I know how the wild blackberries looked, and how they tasted; and the same with the pawpaws, the hazelnuts and the persimmons; and I can feel the thumping rain, upon my head, of hickory-nuts and walnuts when we were out in the frosty dawn to scramble for them with the pigs, and the gusts of wind loosed them and sent them down. I know the stain of blackberries, and how pretty it is; and I know the stain of walnut hulls, and how little it minds soap and water; also what grudged experience it had of either of them. I know the taste of maple sap, and when to gather it, and how to arrange the troughs and the delivery tubes, and how to boil down the juice, and how to hook the sugar after it is made; also how much better hooked sugar tastes than any that is honestly come by, let bigots say what they will. I know how a prize watermelon looks when it is sunning its fat rotundity among pumpkin-vines and "simblins"; I know how to tell when it is ripe without "plugging" it; I know how inviting it looks when it is cooling itself in a tub of water under the bed, waiting; I know how it looks when it lies on the table in the sheltered great floor-space between house and kitchen, and the children gathered for the sacrifice and their mouths watering; I know the crackling sound it makes when the carving-knife enters its end, and I can see the split fly along in front of the blade as the knife cleaves its way to the other end; I can see its halves fall apart and display the rich red meat and the black seeds, and the heart standing up, a luxury fit for the elect; I know how a boy looks, behind a yard-long slice of that melon, and I know how he feels; for I have been there. I know the taste of the watermelon which has been honestly come by, and I know the taste of the watermelon which has been acquired by art. Both taste good, but the experienced know which tastes best. I know the look of green apples and peaches and pears on the trees, and I know how entertaining they are when they are inside of a person. I know how ripe ones look when they are piled in pyramids under the trees, and how pretty they are and how vivid their colors. I know how a frozen apple looks, in a barrel down cellar in the winter-time, and how hard it is to bite, and how the frost makes the teeth ache, and yet how good it is, notwithstanding. I know the disposition of elderly people to select the specked apples for the children, and I once knew ways to beat the game. I know the look of an apple that is roasting and sizzling on a hearth on a winter's evening, and I know the comfort that comes of eating it hot, along with some sugar and a drench of cream. I know the delicate art and mystery of so cracking hickory-nuts and walnuts on a flatiron with a hammer that the kernels will be delivered whole, and I know how the nuts, taken in conjunction with winter apples, cider and doughnuts, make old people's tales and old jokes sound fresh and crisp and enchanting, and juggle an evening away before you know what went with the time. I know the look of Uncle Dan'l's kitchen as it was on privileged nights when I was a child, and I can see the white and black children grouped on the hearth, with the firelight playing on their faces and the shadows flickering upon the walls, clear back toward the cavernous gloom of the rear, and I can hear Uncle Dan'l telling the immortal tales which Uncle Remus Harris was to gather into his books and charm the world with, by and by; and I can feel again the creepy joy which quivered through me when the time for the ghost-story of the "Golden Arm" was reached–and the sense of regret, too, which came over me, for it was always the last story of the evening, and there was nothing between it and the unwelcome bed. 

I can remember the bare wooden stairway in my uncle's house, and the turn to the left above the landing, and the rafters and the slanting roof over my bed, and the squares of moonlight on the floor, and the white cold world of snow outside, seen through the curtainless window. I can remember the howling of the wind and the quaking of the house on stormy nights, and how snug and cozy one felt, under the blankets, listening, and how the powdery snow used to sift in, around the sashes, and lie in little ridges on the floor, and make the place look chilly in the morning, and curb the wild desire to get up–in case there was any. I can remember how very dark that room was, in the dark of the moon, and how packed it was with ghostly stillness when one woke up by accident away in the night, and forgotten sins came flocking out of the secret chambers of the memory and wanted a hearing; and how ill chosen the time seemed for this kind of business; and how dismal was the hoo-hooing of the owl and the wailing of the wolf, sent mourning by on the night wind.

I remember the raging of the rain on that roof, summer nights, and how pleasant it was to lie and listen to it, and enjoy the white splendor of the lightning and the majestic booming and crashing of the thunder. It was a very satisfactory room; and there was a lightning-rod which was reachable from the window, an adorable and skittish thing to climb up and down, summer nights, when there were duties on hand of a sort to make privacy desirable.

I remember the 'coon and 'possum hunts, nights, with the negroes, and the long marches through the black gloom of the woods, and the excitement which fired everybody when the distant bay of an experienced dog announced that the game was treed; then the wild scramblings and stumblings through briars and bushes and over roots to get to the spot; then the lighting of a fire and the felling of the tree, the joyful frenzy of the dogs and the negroes, and the weird picture it all made in the red glare–I remember it all well, and the delight that every one got out of it, except the 'coon.

I remember the pigeon seasons, when the birds would come in millions, and cover the trees, and by their weight break down the branches. They were clubbed to death with sticks; guns were not necessary, and were not used. I remember the squirrel hunts, and the prairie-chicken hunts, and the wild-turkey hunts, and all that; and how we turned out, mornings, while it was still dark, to go on these expeditions, and how chilly and dismal it was, and how often I regretted that I was well enough to go. A toot on a tin horn brought twice as many dogs as were needed, and in their happiness they raced and scampered about, and knocked small people down, and made no end of unnecessary noise. At the word, they vanished away toward the woods, and we drifted silently after them in the melancholy gloom. But presently the gray dawn stole over the world, the birds piped up, then the sun rose and poured light and comfort all around, everything was fresh and dewy and fragrant, and life was a boon again. After three hours of tramping we arrived back wholesomely tired, overladen with game, very hungry, and just in time for breakfast.