Saturday, August 03, 2019

Sink your feet in concrete

Around the 4-6 min. mark: 

Reformed convert to Eastern Orthodoxy Josiah Trenham gives this reason (one of two) for switching to Eastern Orthodoxy:

A deep sense that my tradition in which I had been raised was unstable, that the winds of the secular culture were blowing very hard and the church was not standing firm…That sense–that the Protestant Reformed movement and even evangelicalism in general did not have a stake, an immovable stake for the faith that was competent to resist the blowing of the winds of unbelief in our own culture deeply–affected me, and I was very impressed by holy orthodoxy that has a 2000-year track record of resisting the opposition of the world…I remember telling my wife…I can't imagine investing my life in a church and raising my children in that church, knowing that my children will not have that church when they become adults. And in fact all of this investment will be for naught.  

1. Before getting to the main issue, is it true that EO has a track record of resisting the opposition of the world?

i) What about the alliance between the Russian Orthodox church and Tsarism? What about the alliance between the Russian Orthodox church and Vladimir Putin?

ii) What about socially liberal politicians like Michael Dukakis, John Podesta, and Paul Tslongas, or anchorman George Stephanopoulos? Have they been excommunicated by the Greek Orthodox church? 

iii) What about prayers to the dead? Isn't that baptized polytheism? Replacing patron gods with patron saints, who are functionally equivalent? 

iv) Historically, issues like the LGBT agenda weren't on the radar. It remains to be seen if the Orthodox church will hold out. And from what I've read, St. Vladimir's Seminary has already capitulated on theistic evolution and the historical-critical method.

2. Regarding the main issue, his objection reflects divergent theological paradigms:

i) He fails to distinguish between denominations and faith-traditions. Protestant faith-traditions (e.g. Calvinism, Arminianism, Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, Anglicanism, Baptists, &c.) are quite stable. Denominations exemplify faith-traditions. Denominations are temporary vehicles, but the faith-traditions they embody endure from one generation to the next. Protestant faith-traditions are self-renewing in that respect. 

ii) It's fine for an individual to put down stakes in a denomination if that's a solid denomination. But he should also be prepared to pull up stakes and move on if the denomination loses fidelity to biblical revelation. Christians are pilgrims. We should keep our bags packed and travel light. Like Abraham, we live in tents. 

iii) It's bad parenting for a Christian parent to cultivate loyalty to the denomination he belongs to. Christian children should be taught that what was a good denomination for their parents may become a bad denomination for the next generation. Many professing believers are too attached to a particular denomination, and hang on when they ought to let go. The torch Christian parents are supposed to hand off to their kids is not a denomination but the Christian faith. 

iv) This involves a different ecclesiology than Eastern Orthodoxy. Like Roman Catholics, Trenham views the church as a single, historically continuous denomination (of course, he doesn't call his own sect a denomination). For him, there's a one-to-one relation between Christianity and "the church". Trenham ecclesiology is like sinking your feet in concrete until it dries. 

This stands in contrast to an evangelical model, where there's a one-to-many relation between Christianity and "the church". The church is multiply-exemplified in time and space, in a variety of different denominations. Christian denominations and independent churches are samples of the one church. The Spirit is present in different denominations and independent churches because the Spirit is present in Christians. The Spirit is present wherever Christians are present.

To take a comparison, there's a one-to-many relation between the color red and red objects. Two different roses may both be red. Or they made be different shades of red, where one is redder than the other, although both roses recognizably belong to the reddish band of the spectrum. 

There are, of course, heretical or apostate denominations and independent churches. The Spirit may be present in a denomination at one time, but like the glory departing the temple (Ezk 10), be absent at a later date. Without the Shekinah, the inner sanctum was a hollow shell. 

To take another comparison from Scripture, the spiritual menorah may be present in a church at one time and place, but be removed at a later date (Rev 1-2). The Spirit isn't chained to any particular denomination or local church. 

Inside China's thought transformation camps

Starting at approximately 8 minutes, the logic is basically the same as the pre-crime division in the film Minority Report. If someone shows signs they're capable of committing crime (as judged by the Chinese Communist Party), then they should be prevented from committing crime by being interred in a "re-education" or "thought transformation" camp before they commit crime. That's supposed to be for their own good too. In short, thought-crimes are punishable, though "punishment" in communist China is described as rehabilitation. Basically it's George Orwell's 1984 come to life.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Genesis as CGI

On Facebook I got into a debate with Michael Jones (Inspiring Philosophy). The experience left me less than inspired about his competence. 

Why did Jonathan pick a YouTube starlet to address the historicity of Gen 1-11 rather than a scholar with real expertise on the topic like John Currid, Richard Hess, or Andrew Steinmann? What makes Michael Jones any different than Alex O'Connor (the "Cosmic Skeptic")?

"See how condescending this guy is. I think I’ll just block him so I don’t have to see he comments anymore. Not worth my time. One of the most judgmental and condescending people I talked to, judges based on titles not arguments."

Like whether a cancer patient should prefer an oncologist with bona fide medical degrees rather than a Chinese herbalist? 

A lifetime at the movies

1. A Christian cliché is that we should interpret every notable experience through the lens of Christianity. What's the significance of that experience from a Christian perspective? Sometimes this can lead to overinterpreting experience, by trying to find something Christian in something that's not. But as a rule, it's a cliché we should live by. 

Movies (inclusive of TV dramas) are good candidates. Movies are the major art form of our time. In terms of mass appeal they displaced the novel. And not just for the hoi polloi. Movies are often a serious art form for talented directors, cameramen, screenwriters, and actors. Just imagine what a genius like Dante or da Vinci could do with the film medium?

I don't mean that movies ought to replace paintings or novels. But in our own day and age, movies are the dominate artistic frame of reference. 

2. Reading Pauline Kael reviews, I'm struck by her all-consuming passion for film, and how personally she takes movies. For her, it's not simply a case or watching or reviewing a movie, but a tense, suspenseful confrontation. 

I suspect that's in large part because, as a secular Jew, she was wholly invested in this world. This is the only life we get. So movies were her religion. That's what she lived for. 

That presents a paradoxical contrast to a Christian perspective. I think movies are both more important and less important than an atheist. On the one hand, it's just a movie. Usually fiction–although some movies have their basis in a "true story" (as the saying goes). So it's not all-important the way it was to Kael.

On the other hand, everything is equally and ultimately worthless in a godless universe. By contrast, everything has a purpose in a Christian universe. Good or great movies have a larger, more enduring significance than the (usually secular) director intended. I view movies with more detachment than Kael, but at the same time, good things in this life have a value that carries over into eternity.  

3. As I reflect on all the movies and TV dramas I've seen over the course of a lifetime (those I consciously recall), I'm struck by how few movies had an indelible impact on me. I can only think of two: The Last Picture Show and The Garden of the Finzi-Continis–both of which I saw when I was coming of age. I think that's in part because that's a more impressionable time of life, and there comes a point in life where it's harder for any experience to make an indelible impression. 

During our formative years, certain experiences become a reference point for the rest of our lives. That can be good or bad. Take apostates who use the folk theology of their Sunday school pedagogy as the standard of comparison for Christianity. 

On the one hand there are movies and TV dramas we outgrow. At least, we ought to outgrow some of that fare. On the other hand, there are movies and TV dramas we grow into. We weren't ready for it when we were younger. It went over our heads. Or we didn't have the personal, corresponding experience to make it resonate at the time.

This goes to a dynamic, dialectical relationship between the movie and the movie viewer. What we bring to the movie.

I first saw Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy with my late parents in my childhood home. At the time, they weren't my late parents. Watching it now has an added layer of poignancy. A split-personalty experience where I watch it again from my current situation, but remembering and comparing that with the viewing experience of my younger self. 

4. This also goes to the complicated question of what makes a movie a favorite. I might admire a movie. I might regard it as a great movie–without liking it. I think The Last Picture Show is a great movie of its kind, and it has some scenes I like, but it's not a film I'd recommend, exactly–and it has other scenes I dislike. 

Here's one way I might gauge a favorite movie. In the Star Trek episode "All Our Yesterdays," the planetary inhabitants are threatened with extinction when their sun goes supernova. But they have time-travel technology, so they survive by escaping into the past.

In terms of what makes a movie a favorite, one question I ask myself is if I'd to step into the world of the film. Would I like to live at that time and place? Would the characters (played by the same actors) be enjoyable friends and neighbors to be around?

To take a comparison, I think what makes Perelandra or The Adventures of Tom Sawyer so appealing is that the reader wishes he could be there. It would be fun to visit or even live there. If you're a boy reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, it would be fun to hang out with Sam Clemens and his playmates on his uncle's farm, the mighty Mississippi (before locks and dams domesticated the wild river), and the caves around Hannibal. 

Likewise, how many readers wish they could step into the exotic world of Perelandra and experience the floating islands? Or the Silver Sea in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader? 

By the same token, there are films we admire at a distance, and then there are films that evoke a yearning to go there. Certain films and novels tap into that. You may call it escapist fantasy, but many people long to escape this life and take refuge a better world. A fallen world is unsatisfying. 

5. Some movies have an intriguing dramatic premise, but lack the imagination or worldview to give a satisfying answer to the question it raises. Take Tuck Everlasting (2002). It raises good questions about mortality and immortality, using the fountain of youth as a plot device. From a secular standpoint, mortality and immortality are both unsatisfying. And that's why the ending of the movie is a cheat. By refusing to consider the Christian alternative, the message of the film ("Don't fear death but the life unloved") isn't up to the challenge. That's trite and superficial. 

6. It's puzzling why some movies are popular while similar movies, as good or better, are less popular. Why is The Butterfly Effect so much better-known than Mr. Nobody? 

Some films bomb because they sail over the heads of the average viewer. Take the remake (or reboot) of The Prisoner (2009). The original has a cult following. One problem is if we assess the remake by comparing it to the original, rather than judging it on its own terms, as an independent reinterpretation of the same dramatic premise.

Although the reboot lacks the verve and clarity of the original, the studied ambiguity makes it more profound. Like a mystery novel, the viewer slowly discovers the truth behind the illusion. But it overtaxes the attention span of impatient viewers. It's too subtle, too cerebral, for the average viewer.   

Tristan & Isolde (2006) is another example of a film that's too good for its audience. Too classy and highbrow. No competition for a schlock-fest like Twilight franchise or The Hunger Games franchise. In This House of Brede is even more of a connoisseur film. There are lots of moviegoers who have no taste for truly grown-up fare. 

7. Some films are perfect from start to Finish. Take House of Flying Daggers

But others are memorable for particular scenes, or the physical setting. Take the starkly isolated house in Giant (1956), exposed and vulnerable on the windswept plain, with the mountain range on the horizon. 

There's also a nice scene between Dean and Taylor in his house. In general, his performance is mannered. And Taylor had some bad luck with costars. In one film, her costar (Newman) is a straight actor who plays a closeted queer character while in two other films her were costarts are queer actors (Hudson, Clift) who play straight characters. By contrast, there's natural sexual magnetism between Dean and Taylor. 

Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven has some arresting scenes, but I dislike the propagandistic quality of the film. The opening scene in Mulholland Drive, with its tragic fateful ambience, is the highpoint of the movie. The coda to Tinker, Tailer, Soldier, Spy–a melancholic setting of the Nunc Dimittis, with the innocent timbre of the tremble soloist–lingers in the mind.

Into the Wild has some memorable scenes: Christopher paddling down the Colorado River. A deceptively optimistic scene with Eddie Vedder's "No Ceiling" playing in the background. A desperate telephone call in which an old man is trying to talk his way back into the graces of his estranged wife. He's burned through too many lost opportunities. He can never come home.  

8. If you think about it, there's a foreboding sensation when you watch an older movie in which all the actors are now deceased. From a secular standpoint, all that's left of the once living, feeling, passionate, embodied agents is a digital simulacrum, two steps removed from the real person. A celluloid record or analogy recording, remastered. 

Hell: against universalism

An excerpt from Hell: against universalism by Ioanna-Maria Patsalidou.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Modern Catholicism on hell

Here's a good example of how post-Vatican II theology struggles to make the transition from traditional Catholic exclusivism to modern Catholic inclusivism. How to straddle two diametrically opposed positions. This is euphemistically dubbed the development of doctrine. 

Old age app

Progressive demagogues

I'm going to comment on a post by progressive/Arminian theologian Randal Rauser:

In passing, compare his response to my original post:

Notice how little of my argument he attempts to engage. And not simply the OP, but the more detailed explanations I provide in the combox in response to a commenter.

I am not surprised that Hays posted a comment like that, but wow is it revealing of his utter inability to understand the Gospel. Hays presumably thinks it is good news that Christ’s atoning work extends to him and his crowd, but he is deeply offended at the notion that it should extend to these other sinners as well, presumably the really bad ones.

So apparently, it isn’t offensive that God should mercifully save medium-sinful Steve Hays but it is beyond the pale that he should save a really bad sinner like Mao, Stalin, or an ISIS soldier.

i) To begin with, notice the psychological imputation. Does Rauser sincerely believe that you must be "deeply offended" by a notion to disagree with it? Is every philosopher who disagrees with a notion motivated by finding the notion deeply offensive? Rauser can't honestly believe that. That's just a polemical ploy that demagogues resort to. 

ii) In addition, he recast what I said. He swaps out what I actually said, swaps in something quite different, pretends that his substitution represents what I said, then revels in moral backpatting. That, too, is the standard tactic of demagogues. If you can't refute the actual argument, replace it with something easier to attack.  

That's actually the most charitable interpretation of his behavior. A less charitable interpretation is that Rauser is so consumed by his animosity towards Christian conservatives that he's incapable of hearing what they actually say. He automatically assumes the worst about them, and caricatures what they say because his antipathy blocks his ability to distinguish their real position from his imputations of malevolence. 

iii) If you compare my original post with his response, there's a complete mismatch. Nowhere do I use myself as the yardstick. I didn't contrast "midlevel" sinners" with "mega" sinners. Rather, I used the victims of horrendous evil as the yardstick. From their perspective, is it the "best possible news" that their assailants will evade divine retribution for their crimes? 

Consider Jewish Nazi hunters and survivors of the Shoah who hounded Nazi fugitives who escaped to Latin America. Does Rauser have the same contemptuous attitude for them? 

Then we're treated to a fallacious argument from authority:

Steve Hays could learn something from J.I. Packer. Though Packer is a Calvinist who believes that those who die outside Christ suffer eternal conscious torment, he also wrote this:

“No evangelical, I think, need hesitate to admit that in his heart of hearts he would like universalism to be true. Who can take pleasure in the thought of people being eternally lost? If you want to see folk damned, there is something wrong with you!”

i) How does Packer's opinion prove anything? Is it supposed to be true simply because Packer said it? 

ii) In addition, there's the false dichotomy. It isn't necessary to take "pleasure" in retributive justice to think that's a good thing. 

iii) Finally, it's incoherent to wish that universalism is true if you think it's false. If, in the wisdom, justice, and goodness of God, he doesn't save everyone, then it's best that everyone not be saved. 

Assessing Eastern Orthodoxy

1. It's been a long time since I've discussed Eastern Orthodoxy. I used to debate Eastern Orthodox proponents, but that got to be repetitious. Recently, though, I was asked about Eastern Orthodoxy, so I'd like to take a different approach this time around. Eastern Orthodoxy is defined by what it affirms as well as what it denies. Eastern Orthodoxy is a package deal. Each and every Orthodox essential must be true. Likewise, Eastern Orthodoxy must be correct in what it denies. In what differentiates itself from the competition. Let's provide examples to illustrate both. The list isn't meant to be exhaustive:


• Apostolic succession

• Nicene Triadology 

• The infallibility of the first 7 ecumenical councils

• The real presence

• Auricular confession

• Chrismation

• Unction

• Iconography

• Prayer to Mary

• Perpetual virginity of Mary

• Veneration of relics

• Monasticism

• Triple immersion

• Sign of the cross

• The essence/energy distinction


• Sola scriptura 

• Sola fide

• Five-points of Calvinism

2. This means that if Eastern Orthodoxy is wrong on a single thing it affirms, that falsifies the Orthodox paradigm, because Eastern Orthodoxy is a package deal. 

Likewise, If Eastern Orthodoxy is wrong on a single thing it denies, that falsifies the Orthodox paradigm. 

3. However, it isn't even necessary to conclude that Eastern Orthodoxy is mistaken in one or more particulars. If you simply think there's insufficient evidence for one or more Orthodox essentials, then you can't be an Orthodox believer. You can't assent to something if you remain unpersuaded. 

4. Critics routinely point to Protestant diversity as a weakness or discrediting feature of the Protestant faith. But ironically, the flexibility of the Protestant faith makes it far harder to disprove than a theological paradigm like Eastern Orthodoxy that has no give. 

If paedobaptism is false, that falsifies the Presbyterian paradigm, but not the Baptist paradigm. If the real presence is false, that falsifies the Lutheran paradigm, but not the Baptist paradigm. 

5. It isn't necessary to disprove Eastern Orthodoxy point-by-point. If it's mistaken on a single affirmation or denial, you don't have to go any further. That's enough to sink it. Or if you're simply unconvinced by one of its essential claims, then you can't be an Orthodox believer. 

6. Now an Orthodox apologist might object that disproving Eastern Orthodoxy begs the question, because we don't have the authority to evaluate Eastern Orthodoxy without recourse to Tradition or the Eastern Orthodox church. However, that means no one would ever be justified in assessing Eastern Orthodoxy with a view to conversion. If he can only assess it from the inside, never the outside, he can never make the transition from an outsider to an insider. 

Do the Gospels borrow from pagan myths?

"Do the Gospels Borrow from Pagan Myths?" by Timothy Paul Jones.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Criteria for miracles

There's an important distinction that's often lost sight of in the debate over miracles:

i) If the question at issue is whether miracles happen at all, then it makes sense for a Christian philosopher/apologist to use very strict criteria for a miracle. He only cites examples that meet the strictest criteria. Where the evidence is so strong that no reasonable person would deny a miracle. 

ii) However, having established that miracles do occur, it is artificial to apply such restrictive criteria to every candidate. It's not as if God only performs miracles in situations that meet stringent conditions for verification. In many cases, God will perform a miracle because there's a need, and not to prove anything, although that's a fringe benefit. It's not as if God is going to withhold a miracle unless it checks all the boxes on our philosophical criteria. So many reported miracles may be credible even though the evidence falls short of the screening process we use to determine whether that happens at all. 

"The second worst objection to universalism"

Either Rauser is a sophist or a shallow thinker (admittedly, that might be a both/and proposition). 

i) Universalism is the best possible news for whom? It may be the best possible news for Mao, Stalin, and ISIS (to name a few), but how is it the best possible news for victims of horrific evil that their perps won't suffer retributive judgment for their vicious heinous crimes? 

ii) Perhaps Rauser would say it's the best possible news for victims because it means all victims of horrific evil will be saved. But that's not an argument for universalism. At best, that's an argument for the salvation of all victims, not all perps. 

iii) What did God tell us? God told us to tell everyone that everyone is heavenbound? Actually, God told us to tell sinners that you are eternally lost unless you put your faith in Jesus. 

The command doesn't exist in a vacuum. God didn't tell us to do that on condition that everyone is ultimately saved. The Gospel has a rationale. Universalism removes the rationale for evangelism. 

iv) Should we care about truth for truth's sake? If universalism is true, what if that's a truth which devalues other truths? Universalism amounts to moral relativism. The wicked never suffer retributive punishment for their atrocities. At most, they experience remedial therapy to awaken their conscience and make them contrite. There's no reason to think they even experience temporary suffering, if universalism is true, since remedial correction doesn't entail suffering–unlike retribution. 

v) If universalism is true, why is it important and worthwhile to know that? It doesn't change the outcome. If anything, it would embolden the wicked. They have nothing to lose. They can do whatever they want with impunity. They may have to undergo temporary remedial therapy after they die, but that's hardly a deterrent.  

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The development of ecclesiastical doctrine

The Development of Ecclesiastical Doctrine
Anthony Kenny

The development of doctrine is not itself a doctrine of the Catholic Church. From the beginning, the Church has taught, not that its dogmas develop, but that its faith is immutable. St Paul told the Galatians: 'Even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preach to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed' (Galatians, 1, 8). Quoting those words 400 years later, Pope Simplicius wrote 'One and the same norm of apostolic doctrine continues in the apostles' successors'. The Council of Trent, in its preamble, asserted that the Gospel truth is to be found in the written books, and unwritten traditions, which were received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ, or dictated to them by the Holy Spirit; which have been handed down to us and preserved by continuous succession in the Catholic Church. Pius IX, writing against Günther in 1857, spoke of the 'perennial immutability of the faith' which he contrasted with 'philosophy and human sciences which are neither self-consistent nor free from errors of many kinds'. The Syllabus of 1864 condemned the view that divine revelation was imperfect and might progress in step with the progress of human reason. The Vatican Council repeated this. 'The doctrine of faith which God has revealed is not, like a philosophical theory, something for human ingenuity to perfect; but rather divine deposit from Christ to his bride, to be faithfully preserved and infallibly explained.' The immutability of dogma is not a matter of words only but of meaning also: 'That sense is always to be given to sacred dogmas which holy mother Church has once explained; it is never to be given up under the pretext of a more profound understanding.'1

Robert Larmer on Lourdes

Christian philosopher Robert Larmer, who specializes in miracles, was kind enough to provide feedback on my Lourdes draft, which I'm posting with permission. 

The question is whether in any sample group of 200 million people who pray for miraculous healing, there's a comparable percentage of unexplained cures. 

I have no basis upon which to answer that question. I do have a few comments.

1. "Spontaneous remission" is not an explanation of why someone gets better. It is the admission that no explanation is known. It is probable that some events labelled as 'spontaneous remission' are answers to prayer, but that the attending doctors will not countenance a supernatural explanation. I am not claiming there are no spontaneous remissions that have a natural cause.

2.  I agree that some events cannot be plausibly thought to be explicable in terms of natural causes.

3.  The criteria for an event being called a miracle at Lourdes are extremely strict. Stanley Jaki in his "Miracles and Physics" references a case where a compound fracture, i.e. bones sticking through the skin, was instantaneously healed, but it did not meet Lourdes' criteria for calling something a miracle because a medical doctor was not in attendance. Jaki quotes a commentator to the effect that one does not need to be a tailor to tell if a coat is full of holes.

4. I do not think that healing miracles have to happen at certain special sites, but it does not bother me if God's providence includes people coming to certain locations to experience healing. If I need to be healed then God may require me to exhibit enough faith to go to a healing meeting being held in a certain location. 

5.  I think God may well perform miracles at Lourdes. That does not to my mind provide strong evidence for Marian doctrine, given that He also performs miracles for people who do not accept Marian doctrine. Both George Whitefield's and John Wesley's ministries were distinguished by events I view as miraculous, but Whitefield was Calvinist and Wesley was Arminian. Miracles are evidence of God's mercy and power, but in His mercy God does not require that we get all our doctrines totally right before He grants a miracle. When Jesus fed the five thousand he did not first ask who accepted him as the Messiah and who did not.

Most Divorces are Initiated by...Women

In a previous post on Harris's apostasy, I made a comment that it was too presumptuous for us to assume that Harris wanted to replace his wife and that's what led to the divorce and his fundamental apostasy from the faith. I cautioned that we don't know the details of what went on, and speaking for myself I haven't even wanted to find them out. There could be more things out there that either Harris or his ex may have said elsewhere so others might have more information than I do. If so, feel free to keep it to yourself because I don't care.

Despite commonly held beliefs that men are quick to abandon the marriage, I pointed out that statistically in America the wife is two times more likely to file for divorce than the husband is (roughly 67% of divorces are initiated by women). And that is exactly what happened to me. I'm not going to go into too much on that either, since my ex is not a public figure and this post isn't about her, so I will only say that she divorced me due to two reasons: 1) I'm a Calvinist and, she said, "Calvinists are going to hell." And 2) "God told me to divorce you." Consequently, two different churches (the church I am a member of, and the one she was a member of) have both told me they consider it an unbiblical divorce that I am not responsible for and thus am free to remarry should I ever go insane and think it's a good idea. (I may have added that bit about insanity...)

Anyway, given those numbers, I can easily imagine a scenario where Harris's wife left him for unjust reasons, and as a result of that Harris turned his back on God, just as I can imagine that he destroyed his marriage himself before turning his back on God. I know from personal experience how hard it is not to rage at God when an evil you don't ask to endure and which goes against every fiber in your being is perpetuated against you anyway. In my case, by the grace of God I cannot even conceive of the possibility of a universe without a deity holding the main attributes of classical theism, and my studies have shown me that Christianity is so far beyond all other religions that it is the only religion that could possibly be correct. So, I could not reject God without rejecting reason.

And in the midst of pain it becomes quite easy to want to jettison reason. Sin isn't reasonable, after all.

With that serving as background for this post, of the statistic I mentioned (2/3 of divorces being initiated by women), AMC asked:
What do you think accounts for these statistics? Would your speculation be that it is grounded in some typically feminine quality? Maybe that men are typically 'less fussy' than women? Or that women typically take a broader approach to communication and, because of that, assume that men (who tend to focus on what is communicated in words) ought to be mind readers (in other words should be able to pick up on broader forms of communication) and it is a problem when they fail at that?
So let me answer this here. To be clear, I'm speaking generally so don't take any of the following as indicative of my own situation. Some of it applies; some of it doesn't. And I'm not going to tell you which applies to me and which I've seen applying to others either.

To begin, I wouldn't say that this is something that is grounded in a "typically feminine quality" although there could be aspects of it that are. Rather, there seems to be quite a cultural shift going on. Now, it's possible the culture shifted because we're moving toward some underlying aspect of femininity that was hidden by cultural norms before, so I wouldn't rule it out completely. However, I actually think it's a fundamental human problem that currently disproportionally affects females.

Divorce became easy when "no fault" divorces became the standard. There was no longer any need to justify the destruction of a marriage covenant; you could do it whenever you felt like it. Additionally, our legal system is designed to benefit women in divorce proceedings and judgments. Women nearly always get custody of children, for example. Men nearly always have to pay. The inequality in divorce outcome is so extreme that comedian Bill Burr's comments are true: "You marry a girl, you fall in love, you buy her a house. You go to work every day, paying off the house. You come home one day, she’s [with] the next-door neighbor, hands you divorce papers. You gotta move out, sleep on a futon, and still pay for that house that she’s gonna stay in."

Society as a whole treats women as Disney princesses and men as Harvey Weinstein.  When divorces happen, people tend to see women as victims of it and men as the cause. And this extends even through the church when it comes to the level of services provided. Virtually every church I've attended has a ministry to divorced moms so they have support with kids and such. I've never seen a ministry to divorced men who no longer get to see their kids except a handful of days per year (partly, I'm sure, because it's harder for men to ask for such support and churches have limited resources, so they're going to go where they're requested first).

All of these factors combine to make divorce a lot easier for women than for men. Men almost universally get financially ruined by divorce. Many women end up leaving the marriage making more money from their ex than they made before they got married--often marrying right after college (which requires their husband to pay off their school loans through his income) and never having worked a day in their life. What this means is that there is a huge disincentive for men to divorce and an even larger incentive for women to divorce the instant they decide they no longer want to take the effort to be with their man.  Add in the fact that other women all around will encourage them to dump their guy and go after someone who will appreciate them like they deserve.  This all adds up to women becoming twice as likely to trigger divorce than men are. (This is also why I say it’s not due to something inherent in feminine nature, since if men had that overwhelming advantage they would divorce at the higher rate too.)

If you really want to see just how bad things have gotten in relationships just find someone and ask: what do men provide women in a relationship? The answers you'll get are typically going to be along the lines of finances, shelter, security, safety. Then ask: what do women provide men in a relationship? Listen to the crickets. Or, if you're talking to a liberal, the screeches of how sexist you are for even asking the question and daring to presume women should provide anything to men in a relationship.

What this is also doing is creating the MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) movement, in that more and more men are realizing that it is simply not worth getting married in the first place. When you know that a woman can take 50% of your income, the house, car, kids, and all that solely because you committed the grievous sin of believing her when she swore before God, "Until death do we part", then who would rationally agree to this arrangement?

Put it another way. Being alone is less ideal than being with a loving spouse--there is no question about it. But being divorced is far, far worse than being alone. For myself, I think I’m about 90% ideal when I’m alone, and the divorce crashed me down to below 50%--probably around 40%, I'd say, and it's taken years for me to get back up to where I now feel around 90% again.  I don’t think the numbers I assign are abnormal either. If being alone keeps you at about 90% of "ideal", and being divorced crashes you to about 40%, is it worth risking a 50 point drop for the best case scenario of gaining a measly 10%? And again, that’s the best case scenario! Days when she’s cranky and upset at you, you might even be below the 90% you’d have alone.

As a result of all of this, what we are seeing is that women are far more likely to pull the trigger on divorce, and men are for more likely to never marry in the first place. Neither bode well for the continuation of the family structure. Which is probably Satan's plan all along.

Even with that said, I have to  admit that yes, I am basically MGTOW myself, in that I cannot recommend any man get married in today's culture. I'm all for a Biblical marriage, but an American one?  No.  Save yourself from that travesty.

Kenny on transubstantiation

Steve sent this essay on transubstantiation by Anthony Kenny. The source is the first chapter of Reason and Religion: Essays in Philosophical Theology.

Assessing Lourdes

This is a post on Lourdes. Lydia McGrew kindly provided feedback on a draft version, so I'm including our exchange (with permission) at the end. 

1. It seems to me that there are two different ways we might classify the cures at Lourdes as coincidental. One way, championed by atheists, is to say that in any sufficiently large sample group, it's statistically inevitable that some medical conditions will natural resolve themselves. This will happen anyway, regardless of prayer. The cliché example is spontaneous remission from cancer. 

2. However, atheists don't think just any cure is susceptible to that explanation. Take the cliché example of amputees. They don't think the spontaneous regeneration of organs or body parts is something that naturally happens in a sufficiently large sample group. They concede that if that occurred, it would be naturally impossible. That would be a bona fide miracle.

3. But there's another sense in which the cures might be coincidental. And that's whether it's coincidental in place. According to the official site, only 70 cases have been formally confirmed as miraculous healings by the Catholic church:

In addition, I've read from 3 different sources that the total number of pilgrims is over 200 million:

Assuming that estimate is approximately accurate, the question it raises is whether, in any sample group of 200 million people who pray for miraculous healing, there will be a comparable percentage of naturally impossible cures. If so, the geographical association with Lourdes is random. That concedes a genuine miracle, but the location is an adventitious variable. Miraculous healings happen at the same rate in answer to prayer regardless of locality. 

4. Mind you, that may oversimplify things. Perhaps this happens more often in a Christian context, and not, say, when Muslims, Hindus, or Buddhist pray for miraculous healing. That's another variable. 

5. In fairness, the comparison (3) may be misleading in another respect. The same official site lists 7000 unexplained cures:

And unpacks that category is a bit more detail:

The members of the International Medical Committee of Lourdes have the task of assessing and, as may be the case, “certifying” that the course of the cure, which has been declared “unexplained” by the Bureau des Constatations Médicales of Lourdes, is indeed “unexplained” on the basis of current medical knowledge” (4).

So that changes the percentages by changing the standard. Put more precisely, that raises the percentages by lowering the standard. The question is whether in any sample group of 200 million people who pray for miraculous healing, there's a comparable percentage of unexplained cures. That's a less stringent standard. And it may be impossible to draw a comparison if we lack a relevant survey of the respective sample groups.

Since "7000" is obviously a round number, I wonder where that number comes from. Where's the source? 

Monday, July 29, 2019

Providence and Pointillism

One of the challenges in theodicy is the seemingly arbitrary nature of providence. Why the apparently random distribution of blessing and bane? Why is one prayer answered while another prayer goes unanswered? While is one person healed while another person is not?

However, the appearance of randomness can be illusory. To take a comparison, consider Seurat's La Grande Jatte. Seen up close, it appears to be utterly haphazard. There's no discernible image. But seen from a certain distance, the hidden pattern emerges. Indeed, Seurat was obsessed with composition. An architectural harmony. Far from being random, he made many preliminary sketches and drawings. The painting is the end-result of painstaking forethought. Paradoxically, what seems to be haphazard can be the end-product of minute design. If anything, the painting suffers from static precision. A lack of spontaneity. 

Yet there is a sense in which, below a certain threshold, it really is random. That's because the individual constituents weren't meant to be meaningful in isolation. They only become meaningful in their overall relationships, which can only be perceived at a higher scale of organization. The pattern lies in the ensemble. By the same token, the impression that divine providence is arbitrary is in fact consistent with meticulous planning and execution. 

From the Mary of history to the Mary of faith

The anatomy of unbelief

An excerpt from Fool's Talk by Os Guinness.

Do we truly seek to conform our thinking to reality, or do we also seek to conform reality to our thinking? Is this clash between truth seekers and truth twisters merely a problem for intellectuals and those who enjoy the life of the mind? Or are all humans double-faced, "dissonance in human form," as Nietzsche expressed it? What does Kant's view of the "crooked timber" of our humanity mean for our thinking and understanding? And what is it that W. H. Auden glimpses when he writes that "the desires of the heart are as crooked as corkscrews"? Is this merely a colorful metaphor, or is there more there that we should take seriously?

Three responses to evil

Three existential responses to evil, according to Os Guinness:

Keller and Ferguson at WTS

Nothing novel or groundbreaking, but I enjoyed this discussion between Tim Keller and Sinclair Ferguson at WTS (with Peter Lillback moderating). Sometimes it's nice simply to listen to a pleasant conversation.

Not to suggest I necessarily agree with everything said. For example, I think some of the comments on women and race are a bit imbalanced and could've been better measured. In fairness, the answers seemed to have been off the cuff.

A window to heaven

Thomas G. Long writes the following in his book What Shall We Say?: Evil, Suffering, and the Crisis of Faith. The quotations from Diane Komp are taken from her own book A Window to Heaven: When Children See Life in Death.

When Diane Komp, a pediatric cancer specialist now retired from Yale Medical School, was a young physician, she considered herself to be a "post-Christian doctor," a scientist who "vacillated between being an agnostic and an atheist" and who cared little about where she fell on that scale at any given moment. Her medical specialty called for her to care for children with cancer, some of them terminal. The first time she faced such a case, a child who was dying, she asked her clinical mentor how she, as a young doctor, should handle the emotional stress of encountering innocent suffering. The response was that she should forget her feelings and concentrate on her work. "Hard work;" her mentor said, "is a good tonic for untamed and uneasy feelings."

Komp quickly discovered the impossibility of this counsel. To treat her children patients effectively, she had to listen attentively to them, and to their parents, and to do that meant, over time, that she came to love them and to receive love from them. It also meant realizing that these children and their parents were struggling with far more than a biological disease. They were wrestling with questions about the meaning of suffering, life, and death. So Komp was caught in the same dilemma facing many pastors: she could not maintain an emotional detachment because she loved her patients and their families, but she had little to offer them in response to their non-medical questions of meaning. So, she decided to assume with her patients something akin to what clergy would call "a ministry of presence":

[I] did not pretend to have any handy theological solutions to people's existential dilemmas, but I could be a friend on the way. Many times I listened politely to parents who groped for God in their most painful hour. I respected them all for their journeys, but I heard no convincing evidence in their revelations to challenge my way of thinking. If I were to believe, I always assumed, it would require the testimony of reliable witnesses.

But then Komp found herself at the bedside of Anna. Anna became sick with leukemia when she was two. In the next few years, she received constant therapy, and there were times when she was disease-free. But at age seven, the leukemia had returned with an unforgiving vengeance, and this time Anna was facing the end. Komp gathered with Annas distraught parents and a hospital chaplain to comfort Anna in her last few minutes of life. She describes what happened:

Before she died, [Anna] mustered the final energy to sit up in her hospital bed and say, "The angels - they're so beautiful. Do you hear their singing? I've never heard such beautiful singing!" Then she laid back on her pillow and died.

Her parents reacted as if they had been given the most precious gift in the world. The hospital chaplain in attendance was more comfortable with the psychological than with the spiritual, and he beat a hasty retreat to leave the existentialist doctor alone with the grieving family. Together we contemplated a spiritual mystery that transcended our understanding and experience. For weeks to follow, the thought that stuck in my head was: Have I found a reliable witness?

Rome and broken homes

Broken homes are one of the most destructive features of the American social landscape. So many fatherless boys and girls. 

Consider how Catholic annulment has torn apart countless families. Annulments routinely granted on the flimsiest grounds. Consider the extent to which the Catholic church has actively facilitated the breakdown of the American family, with the all the catastrophic consequences. Unlike divorce, which is a civil proceeding, annulment must be granted by the Vatican. 

And it's the same story in other traditionally Catholic countries. The Catholic church is an enemy of the family. One of the most powerful agents in the destruction of the family. 


Critical care physician Dr. Laurin Bellg writes in her book Near Death in the ICU: Stories from Patients Near Death and Why We Should Listen to Them:

I had my own strange experience of observing what seemed to be a bedside visitation when my grandmother was dying. She’d had a gradual descent into vascular dementia over the years leading up to her passing, and was nearly totally withdrawn toward the end. She wouldn’t interact, she wouldn’t eat, and with her increasing failure to thrive, she was clearly dying.

A few weeks before my grandmother’s death at age ninety-one, hospice became involved and spent a great deal of time in her home, both caring for her and comforting my grandfather. When her decline accelerated, I flew in from my home in the upper Midwest to spend whatever time I could with her. I remember my grandfather, knowing I was a physician, sitting at her bedside when I arrived at the house, looking at me helplessly and saying through thick tears, “Is there anything you can do to save her?”

Evangelicals in Russia

"What the Soviets Intended for Siberia, God Intended for Good" by Sarah Eekhoff Zylstra.

Last call

Last Call
By Os Guinness

The name Moltke had resounded proudly through two centuries of Prussian and German history. Count Helmuth Carl Bernhard von Moltke had been Chancellor Bismarck's field marshal and the terrible, swift sword wielded in his crushing German victories over the Danes, the Austrians, and the French. The field marshal's greatest est triumph, the destruction of the French Imperial Army at Sedan in 1871, had led to the capture of Paris and the creation of the German Empire.

You Ought To Believe In A Real Absence

Roman Catholics (and others) often criticize those who don't believe in a physical presence of Christ in the eucharist by referring to that view as "the real absence", in contrast to the real presence. They often act as though the phrase "real absence" does so much heavy lifting that they don't need to do much beyond applying that label to their opponents' view. But there's nothing wrong with absence in this context, and it actually makes a lot more sense than the alternative.

For one thing, the original backdrop to the eucharist involved the absence of a physical presence in the Passover elements:

"That the bread 'is' his body means that it 'represents' it; we should interpret his words here no more literally than the disciples would have taken the normal words of the Passover liturgy, related to Deuteronomy 16:3 (cf. Stauffer 1960:117): 'This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate when they came from the land of Egypt.' (By no stretch of the imagination did anyone suppose that they were re-eating the very bread the Israelites had eaten in the wilderness.) Those who ate of this bread participated by commemoration in Jesus' affliction in the same manner that those who ate the Passover commemorated in the deliverance of their ancestors....M. Pesah. 10:6 uses the Passover wine as a metaphor for the blood of the covenant in Ex. 24:8" (Craig Keener, A Commentary On The Gospel Of Matthew [Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 1999], 631, n. 27 on 631)

Secondly, Biblical precedent gives us reason to conclude that no physical transformation has occurred if there's an absence of physical evidence of such a transformation. For example, in John 2, Jesus didn't change the water into wine under the appearance of remaining water. He didn't heal lepers and blind men under the appearance of their remaining leprous and blind. Physical miracles produced the sort of corresponding physical evidence you'd expect. The absence of such evidence in the context of the eucharist is most reasonably taken as implying the absence of such a physical transformation.

Lastly, scripture teaches us that Jesus is to be absent for a while (Matthew 24:23-27, Mark 14:7, John 14:2-3, 14:28, Acts 1:11, 3:21). He's still spiritually present, and you have to allow for exceptions to the generalities in the passages I just cited (e.g., Jesus' appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus, which seems to have been a physical appearance, like the other resurrection appearances). But a belief in Jesus' physical presence in the eucharist would have him physically present frequently, if not all of the time or the large majority of the time.

When discussing the eucharist, Paul refers to how it proclaims Jesus' death until he comes (1 Corinthians 11:26). That sort of language makes more sense if Jesus is physically absent, but will return physically in the future. It makes less sense if he's continually physically present, but will also come physically in some other sense in the future. Much the same can be said about Paul's comments on being "absent from the Lord" in 2 Corinthians 5:6 (see, also, Philippians 1:23, 1 Thessalonians 4:17).

An especially significant passage in this context is Mark 14:7. The surrounding context involves the Passover and the Last Supper. Jesus is anointed by a woman and makes the comment in verse 7 about how they won't always have him around to do good to him as that woman did, whereas they'll always have the poor around to do good to them. The passage refers to how the woman has anointed his body, and he refers to how she's prepared him for burial. The focus is on the physical, especially Jesus' body. What comes between Mark 14:7 and the burial? The events commemorated in communion. So, those events are included in how the woman has done good to Jesus. In fact, as I've documented elsewhere, Jesus' burial was a prominent theme in early Christianity, often referred to in gospel summaries, baptism, etc. The implication of Jesus' comment in Mark 14:7 is that doing good to him bodily in that context isn't something they'll always be able to do. Yet, that's what Catholics claim to do frequently in communion. They honor Jesus' body in communion in various ways, with altars, monstrances, church services, etc., worship him in that context, and so on.

If the physical presence of Christ in the eucharist is as significant as Catholics make it out to be, and they experience it as often as they claim to, then it's harder to make sense of these New Testament references to the absence of Jesus. And keep in mind that the issue isn't whether it's possible to reconcile these passages with the Catholic view. Rather, the issue is which view makes the most sense of the evidence.

There's no shame in believing in a real absence. In fact, that view is more consistent with the original context of the eucharist, the physical evidence we have pertaining to the eucharist and how that evidence relates to the history of Biblical miracles, and the Biblical affirmation of the absence of Jesus.