Saturday, August 10, 2019

Second chances

The problem of evil is the cliche objection to Christianity. However, life in a fallen world has silver linings. Take mortality. Due to the brevity of life, we are forced to try and make some things work out. Sometimes we fail, but sometimes, by sticking to it and working through it, it gets better on the other side. 

Take difficult relationships with family members. Or take the seasons of friendship. Consider young men who are close friends or best friends, but they have a falling out. That may last for years, but then they renew the friendship in middle age or old age. What's usually driving that is the looming, inexorable specter of mortality. Old friends are irreplaceable. You can't recapture your youth. 

Due to the brevity of life, there are many situations where there's not enough time to start over again. Where it's too late to start from scratch. So that forces you to invest in certain individuals, even if that's risky. Life's a gamble. Sometimes you lose the bet. But sometimes endurance is rewarded. 

Imagine if we lived as long as Methuselah. We'd have so many second chances. So many opportunities to make a fresh start. In one sense that would make life a lot easier. But it would also meaning give up whenever the going gets tough. Giving up too soon. Sometimes it's best to walk away from a situation. But sometimes it's important to persevere–if not for your own good, then for the good of others who need you. Stay behind to pull them through. 

During the intermediate state, there will be many opportunities to make new friends. In the world to come, there will be endless opportunities to make a fresh start. 

But even then, most of us don't wish to make a clean break between this life and the world to come. Rather, we hope some attachments will carry over into the next world. We will build on that. 

Christianity isn't Buddhism. Some things are worth holding onto. Even Buddhism might concede that in principle. It's just that in Buddhism, nothing is for keeps, so you might as well cultivate the habit of saying good-bye. Let go before it's taken away. Don't wait until you lose it. Don't wait until it's torn from your arms. There's a certain logic to that, given a tragic worldview. But Christianity is founded on hope rather than despair.  

A philosophical autobiography

A Philosophical Autobiography
By Peter Geach

In this account of my life I leave much unsaid; I am concerned with those facts and events that I see as having had a manifest influence on my career as a philosopher and with the way I came to know, in person or in their works, those philosophers who have most guided my thought.

I was born in Lower Chelsea, London, on March 29, 1916. My father, George Hender Geach, was at that time working in the Indian Educational Service; he became Professor of Philosophy at Lahore, and afterwards Principal of a training college for teachers at Peshawar. On furlough he had met and fallen in love with my mother, Eleonora Frederyka Adolfina Sgonina, the daughter of Polish emigrants: her father, a civil engineer, had rightly judged that he would prosper in England better than in his own country under the Prussian heel. My mother came back to England for my birth after a short time in India; the marriage had not been happy, and·. she never returned to my father. My earliest years were spent in Cardiff in my Polish grandparents' house; the novelist Doreen Wallace, an old friend of my mother's, told me that my grandmother never learned English well, so I must often have heard Polish spoken, though I lost all memory of the language. When I was four years old my father secured a court order, making me the ward of a Miss Tarr during his absence in India, and for me all contact with my mother and her parents ceased; Miss Tarr, a rather formidable elderly lady, had been my paternal grandfather's betrothed and the guardian of his children after his death. I remained in Miss Tarr's care until my father was once again in England, invalided out of the I.E.S.

Born again

"What Does ‘Born of Water and the Spirit’ Mean in John 3:5?" by Don Carson.

Feser on simplicity

Ed Feser has responded to a critique of divine simplicity. It's useful to see how a Thomist  of his caliber fields objections:

Take the latter point first. Though its critics often treat the notion of divine simplicity as an unimportant curiosity, there are good reasons why the Church Fathers, the medieval Doctors, and two ecclesiastical councils regarded it as essential to orthodoxy. For one thing, it is a consequence of God’s ultimacy. For anything composed of parts is ontologically posterior to those parts, and can exist only if something causes the parts to be combined. Hence if God were composed of parts, there would have to be something ontologically prior to him and something which combines those parts, thereby causing him to exist. But there is nothing ontologically prior to or more ultimate than God, and nothing that causes him. To be the uncaused cause of everything other than himself is just part of what it is to be God. Hence God cannot be composed of parts but must be absolutely simple.[1]

Life in the casino

I know next to nothing about Jeffrey Epstein. He's one of many celebrities I make a point of knowing as little as possible. They don't interest me. But like it or not, some figures are thrust into our awareness. And this is an occasion to make a few existential observations:

Many men have sordid fantasies, but due to his wealth and connections, he was able to act on his fantasies. And that was his undoing. Despite his relentless and spectacularly successful efforts to worm his way into the ranks for the glitterati, he wasn't quite high enough on the pecking order to be untouchable. 

Life is unpredictable. If, as a rakish and ruthlessly ambitious twenty-something, he foresaw that he'd die in a prison cell in his mid-sixties, would he make the same choices?

Perhaps he'd just take greater precautions to cover his tracks. Or maybe not. That's one of the dilemmas of atheist. If this life is all you've got, should you play it safe or maximize intensity?

Be that as it may, many people would make different choices along the way if they foresaw where their choices were leading them. As I've remarked before, that's a problem for freewill theism. We're often in a situation where we have to make choices with irreversible consequences without knowing the consequences in advance. And once we find out, the hard way, it may be too late to back out. We were in no position to give informed consent. 

And not just for degenerates like Epstein, who's hardly a sympathetic figure. Many good, conscientious people find themselves in the same predicament. In a fallen world, we're forced to gamble on the future without knowing how the deck was shuffled. Without seeing the other player's hand. So we often lose the bet. 

The leadership of the Catholic church

The big squeeze

The Founders trailer has generated a lot of fallout, including:

To an outside observer, it looks like the squeeze was put on board members by power brokers in the SBC. If so, that ironically demonstrates the need for the very documentary at issue. 

I'm also puzzled by James White throwing Ascol and his colleagues over the back of the sled (on the DL). 

Mass shootings prevented by civilians carrying weapons

Following the recent shootings, a number of solutions have been proposed, but time and again, the one solution that really, really, really prevents, or limits the scope of “mass shootings”. is the one where another armed citizens literally come to the rescue and either shoot or otherwise restrain a potential “mass shooter”.

While it is hard to say “a mass shooting definitely was prevented here” (because it hasn’t yet occurred), the following compilation is a very fine summary of some of the more prominent instances:

Pre-crime gun division

1. What red flag laws remind me of:

2. On the one hand, progressives wish to disarm law-abiding American citizens, but apparently are fine with armed law enforcement. Of course, law enforcement agencies are often an extension of the state.

On the other hand, progressives disparage the police. They often tell us things like "the police are racist"!

I guess progressives don't see the irony in their position.

3. Gotta love Texas' response:

"After El Paso Walmart shooting, Texas to welcome guns in mosques, churches, and school grounds"

TL;DR. Bad people gonna be bad. Hence let's loosen gun restrictions so everyone else can be armed.

Welp! Might be high time to mosey on down to Texas for a spell. :)

Friday, August 09, 2019

Good night

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come” (Mk 4:26-29).

One of the interesting things about this little parable is how it reverses the symbolism of darkness. In Scripture, darkness typically carries a sinister connotation. At a literal level, fear of the dark was natural because it was dangerous to be outside at night. And even today, despite electrical lighting, crime is higher after dark. At a metaphorical level, darkness becomes a symbol of evil. The figurative connotations trade on the natural connotations.

But in this parable, God's kingdom grows by night as well as day. The kingdom enlists the darkness to grow and spread unperceived by hostile eyes. They wake up to find it far advanced. In this situation, darkness becomes the ally of the good. In a paradoxical sense, the kingdom of darkness becomes the kingdom of God. God commandeers the darkness to further his kingdom.      

Holy hexing

We ordinarily associate hexing people with witchcraft. Ezk 13:17-23 is a classic example. However, here's a Christian example:

6 They traveled through the whole island until they came to Paphos. There they met a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus, 7 who was an attendant of the proconsul, Sergius Paulus. The proconsul, an intelligent man, sent for Barnabas and Saul because he wanted to hear the word of God. 8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for that is what his name means) opposed them and tried to turn the proconsul from the faith. 9 Then Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked straight at Elymas and said, 10 “You are a child of the devil and an enemy of everything that is right! You are full of all kinds of deceit and trickery. Will you never stop perverting the right ways of the Lord? 11 Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind for a time, not even able to see the light of the sun.”

Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand (Acts 13:6-11).

i) Paul curses Elymas with blindness. There may be some caustic irony in that. Since Elymas is a sorcerer, Paul repays him in kind by hexing the hexer! Like Balaam, Elymas may have made his living in part by cursing people his clients paid him neutralize. But now he finds himself on the receiving end of poetic justice.  

ii) It's hard to find a direct parallel to this elsewhere in Scripture. Elijah summoning lightning to incinerate the soldiers (2 Kgs 1:10-12) is somewhat analogous. A closer parallel is the angels blinding the Sodomites (Gen 19:11). 

iii) This raises the question of whether God endowed Paul with the direct power to hex someone. Or is it a case where Paul expects God to back up the pronouncement of judgment? Is this a question of ability or authority? 

iv) This also raises the question of how Paul's action jives with the "love your enemy" ethic. Perhaps, though, that'a a question of whose enemy? Elymas wasn't Paul's enemy in the sense that he was in no position to harm Paul. Rather, by opposing Paul, he was an enemy of the lost. He hindered the Proconsul and his retinue from hearing the Gospel. By hexing Elymas, Paul created an opening for the Gospel.

This incident may also shed light on the interpretation of the judgment miracle that befell Ananaias and Sapphira:

5 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.

3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”

5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”

“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband (Acts 5:1-10).

i) Did Peter, like Paul, hex them? That's less clear. There's nothing in the scene with Ananias to indicate that. But the scene with Sapphira has a twist. Why did Peter predict that she'd suffer the same fate as her husband? Was he naturally assuming that since she was guilty of the same offense, God would strike her dead as well? Or did he have a revelation of God's punitive intentions? Or did Peter cause they to drop dead? 

ii) Suppose, for argument's sake, that a Christian has the ability to hex someone. Are there any circumstances in which he should exercise that ability? If it's wrong to do so, would God override the curse? Put another way, if it succeeds, does that imply divine endorsement–like Elijah and St. Paul? 

iii) Assuming that's ever justifiable, I think it ought to be reserved for cases of extreme provocation–like officious employees at the DMV!

As the world slept

26 He also said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. 27 Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. 28 All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. 29 As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come” (Mk 4:26-29).

Before its reputation became so tarnished by the clerical abuse scandal, the Catholic church bestrode the world stage. It used to be a major player in geopolitics. Therein lay much of its appeal for many. If Jesus founded a universal church, surely that's what it will look like. Big, conspicuous, spread out. Compared to that, Protestant denominations seem so provincial and piecemeal. 

This dovetails with the claim of Catholic apologists that Jesus founded a visible church (i.e. unified hierarchical organization). It has a visible head (the pope). 

But compare that to Christ's kingdom parable about the seed growing at night. In that respect, God's kingdom is invisible. It grows at night while the farmer sleeps. It grows at night while the world sleeps. In the Synoptics, the church and the kingdom of God are closely related categories. 

In that respect, the church represents a silent revolution. It grows and spreads under cover of darkness. The world is caught off-guard. The church escapes the notice of the world until it suddenly becomes unmistakable. The church takes root and spreads where the world least suspects it. Consider the underground church in China. Consider Christian revival in the heart of the Muslim world, due to dreams and visions of Jesus. Consider how the Pentecostal movement swept over Latin America. 

In that respect, the world visibility of the Catholic church is antithetical to the kingdom of God. The progress of the kingdom is unexpected and unpredictable. It happens where you're not looking. The universality of the church isn't to be found in the neon signage of Roman Catholicism, but in surprising places. In corners and backwaters which the world overlooks until it's too late to ignore.     

Living like an atheist

Life in a fallen world is full of paradox. Here's another: on the one hand, many atheists live as though the world was designed by God. Many embrace the effects of a world made by God while denying the divine cause. Many believe in right and wrong. Many think human reason is trustworthy. Many think human life is valuable.

On the other hand, God makes some Christians live as if there is no God. God makes it seem as though they're living in a godless universe. God is silent. They pray in vain–or so it seems. They are forced to live like an atheist in the sense that the outward circumstances of their lives seem bereft of God's felt presence or benevolence. No sign of his intercession. They must live as Christians, must live by faith, despite the dark night of the soul. A night without a dawn. They wait for first light as they stagger in the dark. 

Has Sean Carroll refuted the fine-tuning argument?

The first of five in an interview series between Luke Barnes and Allen Hainline responding to atheist and physicist Sean Carroll (Ph.D., Harvard):

By the way, Luke Barnes is great. His book A Fortunate Universe, co-authored with his colleague Geraint Lewis, is likewise great. Robin Collins (Ph.D., University of Notre Dame), one of the world's foremost experts on the fine-tuning argument, has said about the book:

Lewis and Barnes' book is the most up-to-date, accurate, and comprehensive explication of the evidence that the universe is fine-tuned for life. It is also among the two most philosophically sophisticated treatments, all the while being accessible to a non-academic audience. I strongly recommend this book.

I follow Barnes' weblog Letters to Nature as well as his YouTube channel Alas, Lewis & Barnes. Barnes has done a number of interviews including with Robert Lawrence Kuhn at Closer to Truth.

If I recall, Lewis is an atheist or agnostic, while Barnes is an evangelical Anglican. Both are physicists (cosmologists) with doctorates from the University of Cambridge, U.K., and both are professors in Sydney, Australia.

Barnes and Lewis have a forthcoming book with Cambridge University Press: The Cosmic Revolutionary’s Handbook (Or: How to Beat the Big Bang).

Edit. Part 2 is available below.

Interpretive maximalism

A sequel to this post:

1. It turns out that there are some influences feeding into the interpretation. One source is Mary Coloe's analysis of temple imagery in John's Gospel. Certainly the Fourth Gospel is interpretive history. And the new temple motif is significant. 

However, when she talks about the "artistry" of the narrator and "theology presented in narrative form", that's a very literary analysis of the text, where it shades into pious fiction. Where it owes as much to the creative imagination of the narrator as it does to a historical core. 

History no longer controls the development. As a consequence, it undergoes legendary embellishment. Like the Dracula mythos, which has a kernel of fact, but is far removed from the historical Dracula.

2. Another source is James Jordan's "interpretive maximalism". I remember it from Chilton's fanciful commentary on Revelation. I'm afraid it also reminds me of Harold Camping's ill-fated concordance-style hermeneutics.

I'd mention in passing that Jordan has had a major impact on Peter Leithart and Alastair Roberts–although not, perhaps, in quite the same ways. The hermeneutic is magnetic to high-churchy liturgical types.    

Is every deal in Scripture important? Sure. But that doesn't mean every detail has symbolic import? 

Ironically, that demeans the value of the ordinary, the mundane. But natural goods are genuine goods. They don't require a higher justification. 

Take wine. In some contexts, wine is a theological metaphor. But in general, wine was a staple in the Middle East due to the scarcity of safe clean drinking water. We devalue the good of creation when we insistent that ordinary things aren't good enough in their own right. That they must be signs, that they must point to something better than themselves to warrant their existence. That shows a certain disrespect for God's handiwork. But it's just wine–what a comedown!

Every lamb isn't the pascal lamb. Every cloud isn't the pillar of cloud. 

Even though the world is a "sacramental universe," many things, like the growth of plants, organic functions, human gestation, &c., are good in their own right, are what they are, and in most instances, have no referential dimension. They can be turned into metaphors–that's the stuff of poetry–but butterflies aren't flying poems.

The bottom of the slippery slope

From the 24 min mark to the 38 min mark, it's striking to see Buckley express the same concerns about the state of the Catholic church almost 50 years ago that are raised today by conservative Catholic laymen:

This was on the heels of Vatican II and the pontificate of Paul VI. Sheen's answers are clever and cagey. He's a team-player. The loyal spokesman for official policy. 

The main difference between now and then is that Catholicism was higher up the slippery slope at the time of the interview while it's nearing the bottom of the slope today. 

In addition, due to the enveloping clerical abuse scandal, there's been a total collapse in the moral authority of the Catholic church in public perception, even among many Catholics. 

Men of our times

Some loosely (and I mean loosely) connected musings, somewhat sporadic, and likely poorly formulated, nothing more:

It's interesting how much "men of their times" some or many atheists and secularists are. They act like they're the first ones to have ever thought of an objection to Christianity. As if no one has ever responded to their objections. Such as that the Bible is corrupt. That Jesus is myth or legend. That Paul is the real founder of Christianity. That miracles don't happen. That religion is superstition. That science has banished religion. And so on and so forth.

Of course, we're all "men of our times" to some degree. But not all remain "men of our times". Many realize how limited knowledge in our day and age can be. Many realize how wise our forbearers were. We mine their wisdom and insight in light of ours.

Perhaps we might seek wisdom from our heirs as well. However (short of time travel or the verboten) we can't, of our own volition, speak with them. Perhaps that's one reason why God has given us prophecies. At least we know God triumphs in the end. God is victorious along with all that is good, true, wise, beautiful.

That may likewise be a difference between conservatives and progressives. Conservatives seek to conserve and preserve what's most valuable from the past while forging ahead into the future. Progressives solely seek the advance, for the sake of advance, not merely neglecting their supply lines, but actively destroying them. Like Kylo Ren: "Let the past die! Kill it, if you have to."

Many atheists and secularists act like what's most important is what's in their lifetimes. That's very narrow-minded. After all, if we only value knowledge and experience from a 50 year window, give or take, then we're ignoring thousands of years of human history. It's existentially constricting to abide only and ever in the present. However, progressives are iconoclasts, and as such can't seek solace in the past, so perhaps that's why they break out into the future. It's their last hope and refuge. Utopia by any means necessary. At least their idea of utopia, which may be dystopia.

Indeed, it looks like a recipe for despair. A do-or-die mentality. Like Hernán Cortés burning his ships on his march toward Tenochtitlán. If progressives don't succeed, then there's nothing to go back to. Hence they simply must win at any and all costs. There's no strategic retreat to live to fight another day. If they lose, they have no home to return to. No golden shores to sail back to.

Of course, we are all "men of our times". Some of us stay that way, while others seek to know their times, but not be shackled to their times: "Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do..." (1 Chron 12:32).

Good guy with gun

We should ban all guns because all guns are dangerous! Oh, wait...

Thursday, August 08, 2019

Catholic apologetics is self-destructive

There's a significant difference between Catholic and Protestant apologetics. Catholic apologetics suffers from an inner tension lacking in Protestant apologetics. That's because the Catholic faith is far more reliant on the argument from authority than the Protestant faith. Notice how often a Catholic apologist reframes an issue in terms of authority: "What's your authority for that interpretation!" "That's just your private opinion!" Human reason is so untrustworthy that we need the pope to play referee. 

That worked better in the past, when there was a dichotomy between educated clergymen and uneducated laymen. But when, in principle, laymen can study whatever clergy study, then "Trust me–take my word for it" breaks down. That's because the clergy don't know anything a layman can't know. 

Apologetics defends a faith-tradition by giving evidence for its claims or providing explanations for why the claims are logical and true. But once you do that, it shifts the question from an argument from authority to an argument from reason. Giving evidence or giving an explanation is an appeal to reason, not authority. So it then depends on how persuasive the reader finds the explanation or the purported evidence. 

Take biblical prooftexts for Catholicism. That puts the judgment in the hands of the reader. Does he find the Catholic interpretation convincing? 

Or take transubstantiation. Aquinas wasn't content to say the real presence is church dogma. That may be because the real presence is so counterintuitive. If the bread and wine become Jesus, why don't they appear to be Jesus?

So he proposed a theory to reconcile the hiatus between appearance and reality. But once he provides an explanation, his explanation invites rational scrutiny. 

A classic case is the ban an artificial contraception. From what I've read, that's supposed to be based on natural law. Yet natural law is an argument from reason rather than authority. And therein lies the rub, because many Catholics don't find the natural law arguments cogent–or even plausible. 

The dilemma for Catholic apologetics is that it tries to mount arguments from reason to defend ecclesiastical authority, yet the argument from reason cuts the ground out from under the argument from authority. The competence of reason sabotages the appeal to the pope to play tiebreaker. It is hazardous to spell out the rationale if it turns out that the rationale is weak. Apologetics may unwittingly expose the weakness of a position. It's like an antidote to doubt that may kill the patient if there's a slight overdose. 

Of course, authority has a necessary role in religion. It's just a question of where to locate it. 

Who missed the memo?

I'll comment on some statements today by revert to Catholicism Luis Dizon:

However, I read enough of the Reformers' writings to know that Protestantism was birthed in polemics and acerbic reactions against Rome. To the extent that you emphasize your confessional standards, you partake of those polemics (including the whole Pope-as-Antichrist bit). . .

I know you're embarrassed when the more populist members of your own tradition make absurd claims about Church History, and condemning all of Christendom pre-Reformation. However, as a former Reformed apologist who argued against Catholics, I understand why they do it. . . .

Basically, as a Protestant, you have to justify the existence of your confessions. You have to justify your founders' anti-Catholic polemics. Most of all, you have to justify why you're not part of the Catholic Church. These populists are attempting that justification . . .

In other words, you have to claim that the Church as a whole apostatized to justify your very existence. You have to claim a hermeneutic of discontinuity, rupture and reconstruction in your reading of church history. The alternative is to admit that the Reformation was a mistake.

Ultimately, Protestantism exists because of "reconstructionism" (the idea that the Church was ruined and needed to be rebuilt).

And yet somehow everyone from Iberia to Mesopotamia missed the memo for 1500 years. Imagine being Copt and keeping the faith for thousands of years in the face of Muslim oppression, only for some new sect tell you you're not Xian bc of some new idea you never heard of before.

1. Why should modern-day Protestants be embarrassed to own up to the fact that "Protestantism was birthed in polemics and acerbic reactions against Rome"? Given the state of Catholicism at the time, that was justified.

2. If you're a strict subscriptionist, then you must profess every jot and tittle of your confessional standards, including the pope as the Antichrist. However, it's not an all-or-nothing proposition. For instance, a Protestant can take the position that as Rome has mutated, the objections to Rome change. Many of the original objections may remain intact. But Catholicism is a moving target. Indeed, that's one of the problems with Catholicism. It's quite possible, even necessary, for modern-day Protestants to have some objections to modern-day Catholicism that our 16-17C forebears didn't have, because Catholicism is so fluid and unstable. It's not a case of just refighting all the same old battles, although some of those continue up to our own time.

3. Yes, Protestants have a burden of proof. We must justify our confessions, we must justify not belonging to the Roman Catholic sect. But we don't shoulder a unilateral burden of proof. Both sides have a burden of proof to justify their respective positions. The onus lies on Luis just as much as us. 

4. Actually, we don't have to have a theory about church history. We can just compare biblical teaching to Roman Catholicism, to see how little they have in common, and conclude that something went terribly wrong with Roman Catholicism. That doesn't require us to postulate that "the whole church apostatized". For one thing, we don't think the church apostatized. Roman Catholicism never was "the Church". From our standpoint, "the church" never apostatized.

5. In addition, it isn't necessary to have an alternative interpretation of church history to know that something went wrong. For instance, Newtonian physics was consistent with all the observational data at the time it was formulated. But as instrumentation improved, discrepancies emerged between Newtonian predictions and the observational data. At that juncture it become evident that something was off with Newtonian physics. You could know that just by comparing the theory to the observational data. You didn't have to have the theory of Relativity to explain why it went awry to know it needed to be replaced. 

Likewise, it's not incumbent on Protestants to explain how the discrepancy between biblical revelation and Roman Catholicism came about to recognize irreconcilable discrepancies. It's not incumbent on us to propose a reading of church history to account for that development. The historical explanation is separate from what it's designed to explain. 

6. Furthermore, there have always been divisions. Which side was right in the dispute between Cyprian and the pope? Who missed the memo? Which side was right in the dispute between Novatian, Donatus, and Rome? Who missed the memo? What about Tertullian? Did he miss the memo, too? Or consider the traditional post-schism view of Eastern Orthodoxy by Catholic representatives:

Including the axiom that submission to the pope is necessary for salvation. Hence, the Eastern Orthodox are damned. I guess they missed the memo:

If Luis is going to cast the issue in terms of apostasy, then there have been many "apostasies" in the course of church history, starting with the ancient church. Pick a side. Which side was apostate? Luis operates with a traditional Catholic hermeneutic of discontinuity. He has his own list of "apostate" movements. A hermeneutic of discontinuity runs through the length and breadth of Catholic history. There was no 1500 year-old memo. That's a historical fantasy. 

7. His appeal to the Copts is counterproductive to his aims. According to traditional Catholicism, the Copts are heretics. 

8. The ironic thing about his Catholicism is how conflicted it is. On the one hand, he's very hardline. It's very retrograde. Like he's trapped in the wrong century. A throwback to Counter-Reformation apologists. On the other hand, he's cool with Pope Francis. He's a team-player. He's not a RadTrad. So he suffers from split-personalty Catholicism. 

Were OT Jews indwelt by the Spirit?

This is a hard question to answer. Different theological traditions give different answers. It raises trickily questions of theological method. Why is it hard to answer? 

1. There's the issue of how the jargon of systematic theology maps back onto biblical usage. In systematic theology, the designations are technical terms with a uniform meaning whereas biblical usage isn't standardized.

2. Scripture often uses metaphors to depict the work of the Spirit, viz. filling, indwelling, falling upon, new birth, new creation. In order to know what that means, we must be able to translate the metaphor into a literal concept. 

3. There's also the question of whether the Bible sometimes uses different picturesque metaphors to describe the same experience. 

4. Regeneration is an essentially Johannine category. 1 Pet 1:23 and James 1:18 are apparently exceptions, but not really. In those passages, the word of God is instrumental to rebirth whereas in Johannine usage, the Spirit is instrumental in rebirth. Likewise, in Titus 3:5, rebirth is connected with the metaphor of water. 

John speaks of "purification" (1:9; cf. 3:3), but in context, that seems to be about the remission of sin rather than spiritual renewal. 

5. Conversely, sanctification is more of a Pauline category (in NT theology). In addition, Paul uses related metaphors (new creation, new man/Adam) for spiritual renewal (2 Cor 5:17; Eph 2:5,10; 4:24; Col 2:13).

Although John uses "sanctification" terminology (Jn 17:17, 19), in context it denotes something like consecration rather than sanctification in the sense of spiritual renewal. 

So this raises the question of how to collate Johannine regeneration with Pauline sanctification.  If they were both Johannine categories or Pauline categories, they might represent distinct stages, so that we could arrange them sequentially, where regeneration precedes sanctification, but since regeneration is John's preferred category for spiritual renewal while sanctification is Paul's preferred category, they may be overlapping categories. Two different metaphors that coincide or cover much of the same ground. 

6. In OT usage, "sanctity" typically denotes cultic holiness or ritual purity rather than spiritual renewal. And that carries over into the usage of Hebrews. 

7. However, the OT also refers to circumcision of the heart (Deut 30:6; Jer 6:10), which seems to be a metaphor for spiritual renewal, equivalent to Johannine regeneration and Pauline sanctification. 

8. We need to distinguish between OT Jews generally and the remnant in particular.

9. In the OT, the action of the Spirit in relation to human agents usually concerns supernatural enablement. Conferring supernatural foresight, insight, skill, or even physical strength–rather than spiritual rebirth. 

And that's paralleled in Acts, where the agency of the Spirit has reference to the charismata (e.g. revelatory dreams and visions, xenoglossy, exorcism, miraculous healing or hexing) rather than spiritual rebirth. The main difference between that kind of empowerment and OT counterparts is that it's more widely experienced among Christians than OT Jews. 

10 Finally, there's the argument from analogy. If, in the NT, certain virtues are the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22-23), and OT saints exhibit the same virtues, then by parity of argument, the same effect implies the same cause. The Spirit is the source or agent of both. That seems to be equivalent to "circumcision of the heart". 

La Virgen Morena

1. As many know, the Lady of Guadalupe is a vision of a woman that an Aztec peasant named Cuauhtlatoatzin (Christianized name: Juan Diego) claimed appeared to him on four separate occassions. All the visions occurred in the month of December 1531. All the visions appeared to him near or on the hill of Tepeyac. This hill was outside Mexico City back then, but today it's within Mexico City.

There's a fifth vision, but Juan Diego didn't see it. Rather it was Juan Diego's uncle Juan Bernardino who claimed to have seen the Lady of Guadalupe at his bedside.

2. Triabloggers have discussed the Lady of Guadalupe:

3. Who or what could the Lady of Guadalupe be? Some possibilities:

Wednesday, August 07, 2019


House of mirrors

Recently I was asked to comment on a Facebook post by a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy. The dilemma is that his post is not for public consumption. At the time I didn't know that. I read it and had some preliminary thoughts.

I'm a little too far along in the thought process to just drop it. In addition, I generally like to post my answers to theological questions. That's a better stewardship of my time. 

So I'll try to make my analysis as anonymous as possible, summarizing the argument. The original post attempts to link Mariology to the Eucharist (and the Trinity) in John's Gospel. 

1. The Beloved Disciple represents all Christians. All Christians are commanded to take Mary home. Mary is the mother of all Christians. 

2. The Gospel has a "dwelling" motif. The mutual indwelling of the Trinitarian persons. God dwelling in Christians. Dwellings in the Father's house for the saints. The Beloved Disciple taking Mary home.

3. In the marriage at Cana, Mary is the new Eve. The new "woman". The new bride. 

The wedding symbolizes Christ as the bridegroom. Likewise, the wine symbolizes the eucharist. Indeed, the transformation of water into wine symbolizes the real presence. 

4. The sour wine offered to Jesus on the cross is a eucharistic symbol. The hyssop is a eucharistic symbol. The Bread of Life discourse has a Passover setting, making it eucharistic.

5. The blood and water from the crucified Christ is a eucharistic symbol. It links to John 7, which is eucharistic. The river/water of life represents Christ's blood. Piercing Christ in the "side" evokes the creation of Eve from Adam. 

6. The True Vine parable is eucharistic. 

"'Cause in a sky full of stars, I think I saw you"

Bishop Robert Barron writes in his book Catholicism: A Journey to the Heart of the Faith, pp 108-111:

On December 9, 1531, just about ten years after the Spaniards had first brought the faith to Mexico, an Indian man named Juan Diego, a recent convert to Christianity, was making his way along the hill of Tepeyac, just outside the city of Tenochtitlan, which would later evolve into Mexico City. He was heading to morning Mass. He heard a burst of birdsong and turned to see where it was coming from. What he saw took his breath away, for standing before him was a woman clothed in celestial light. The Lady announced herself as the “Mother of the Most High God,” and she had a request for Juan Diego: “Would you ask the bishop to construct a temple here in my honor?” Being a simple man, Juan Diego obeyed. He was ushered into the presence of Bishop Juan Zumárraga, a Franciscan friar and a good man, the builder of the first hospital and university in the Americas, and a protector of the native population. Bishop Zumárraga listened patiently to Juan Diego’s story, but, understandably enough, he asked Juan Diego for a confirming sign from the heavenly Lady. On December 12, Juan Diego went once again to Tepeyac and found the Virgin there. She invited him to remove his tilma, the simple, coarse poncho-like garment he was wearing, and then, with her help, he gathered up a bunch of roses that were, despite the lateness of the year, in bloom. This, she said, would be a sign for the bishop. Juan Diego hurried with his bundle to the bishop’s office, but he was made to wait. It is said that officious aides of Zumárraga’s tried, without success, to find out what the Indian was carrying in his tilma. Finally Juan Diego was brought into the bishop’s presence. He opened his cloak and the roses spilled out, but then, to Juan Diego’s amazement, the bishop and his assistants were kneeling, for on the inside of the tilma was something extraordinary: an image of the woman clothed in light. On the spot, Zumárraga vowed to build the temple the Lady had asked for, and it still stands near the hill of Tepeyac.

Red flag laws

A wakeup call for Catholics

1. In this video, Bishop Barron, who's far and away the most popular Catholic apologist of his generation, is tearing his hair out over the fact that 75% of American Catholics don't believe in transubstantiation:

In addition, the figure rises to 80% for the younger generation–and that's the future of his sect. 

2. He quotes Flannery O'Connor's exclamation that if the eucharist is only a symbol, then "I say: to hell with it"–adding (in his own words), "why bother?".

That's a revealing reaction. Imagine an OT Jew exclaiming, "If Passover is just a symbol, then I say: to hell with it! Why bother?"

3. It's especially ironic because a large part of his apologetic for Catholicism trades heavily on aesthetic symbolism. Catholic art and architecture. The rose windows of Notre-Dame de Paris are a favorite theme of his. Why doesn't he exclaim: "If the rose windows are only symbolic, to hell with them!"

4. He goes on to say the eucharist is "tied to divinity of Jesus, the Incarnation, the sacraments, the church, and everything else". 

i) In part, that's an allusion to his view that the real presence is a prolongation of the Incarnation.

ii) In addition, the real presence is a presupposition of the priesthood. It takes a priest to change the communion elements into the "true body and blood of Christ". If you deny the real presence, that eliminates a key rationale for the priesthood. 

To be sure, priests have other sacramental functions like the rite of penance. Yet a major reason for penance is to prepare communicants to receive the eucharist. 

If you deny the real presence, it tugs a thread that unravels the entire tapestry of Catholic theology. That's because Catholic theology is a package deal. Not only are some dogmas logically and internally linked to other dogmas, but all the dogmas rely on the authority of the Magisterium. 

5. The Catholic church is in a state of crisis, on multiple fronts, in multiple countries. And we should be thankful for that.

The problem with his wakeup call is that many Catholic priests, bishops, and cardinals have a highly secularized outlook. They no longer believe in Catholic dogmas. They no longer believe in Catholic supernaturalism. So they don't share his sense of alarm. 

Mind you, evangelicalism has its own challenges. Its own attrition rate. Nominal piety. 

Apocalyptic Guadalupe

Here's a sequel to my recent post on Guadalupe:

According to the story, Mary commanded the local bishop, via Juan Diego, to build a shrine in her honor. Now the location of the shrine is striking. The shrine is situated in what became Greater Mexico City–one of the largest metropolitan population centers in the world.

Why do I say that's striking? Because the Valley of Mexico is a naturally hazardous location for a major population center. Mexico City lies on an ancient lake bed, which makes it unstable. The region is prone to devastating earthquakes. And it sits in the shadow of an active volcano (Popocatépetl).

If the apparition is authentic, and Mary has the preternatural knowledge that Catholic Mariology ascribes to her, why did she command the bishop to build a Marian shrine in a deathtrap? Why not warn the inhabitants to evacuate the area and relocate to a safer region? Why not point them to a safer region?

Back in 1531, people didn't have the knowledge of geology, seismology, or vulcanology to appreciate what a reckless location that would be for a massive urban center. If Mary warned the inhabitants of the danger zone and redirected them to safer location, the prescient wisdom of the admonition would provide corroborative evidence for the apparition. That's something we could recognize in retrospect, with our scientific knowledge. That would be harder to explain naturalistically, for people who didn't have our scientific awareness. 

Rebutting Objections to the Pro-Life Position

God, guns, and tipping-points

1. Every time there's a mass shooting in the USA, the anti-gun lobby tries to make political capital out of that tragedy. In my experience, those opposing private ownership of guns suffer from self-reinforcing ignorance. They have no idea what the gun-right arguments are because they don't study the other side of the argument. Indeed, they think it's inconceivable that there ever could be good arguments for private ownership of guns. So their incredulity is circular. 

Someone might object that I'm burning a straw man. They don't oppose private ownership of guns. Rather, they advocate "sensible gun control". But that's just a euphemism. A ruse for an incremental strategy that terminates in a total gun ban and mandatory confiscation of guns in the possession of private citizens. They think that ultimately the only people who should have guns are agents of the gov't. 

2. When anti-gun opponents make political capital out of the latest mass shooting, the assumption is that this issue ought to have a tipping-point. How many mass shootings does it take before gun-right advocates change their minds? 

Keep in mind that any figure for what constitutes a mass shooting is arbitrary. That will be a stipulative definition.

I think for many gun-right supporters, the answer is: there is no tipping-point. That's why each new "mass shooting" doesn't move the needle. Each new shooting doesn't change their minds because their support for private gun ownership was never a quantitative calculation. 

Of course, it's easy to posit extreme hypotheticals that put a strain on that position, but hypotheticals cut both ways. It's just as easy to posit hypotheticals that put a strain on the anti-gun position. So that philosophical strategy is self-canceling. 

4. I'll comment on the gun-right position directly in a moment, but first I'd like to draw a comparison. Every time there's a natural disaster that kills lots of people, atheists try to capitalize on that tragedy by asking, "What's the tipping-point?" How many more natural disasters does it take before you change your mind about God? And the answer for sophisticated Christians is: there is no tipping-point. 

Whether it's one more natural disaster or one less natural disaster makes no difference, since the position wasn't quantitative to begin with. Rather, it's a matter of principle. If we have adequate theodicies to cover one natural disaster, then the same theodices are adequate to cover more than one. There's no logical cutoff. 

It's really not about the number of examples, but the kind of examples. One more example or one less example doesn't affect the kind of example. If God's existence and benevolence are compatible with certain kinds of evil, then it's not a question of percentages. 

The only tipping-point would be a hypothetical world containing sheer evil with no redeeming values. But that's irrelevant to the actual situation.

Moreover, the objection cuts both ways. If it's a question of how much evil is permissible, then by the same token it's a question of how little evil is permissible. You can go from the horrific end of the continuum to the slight end of the continuum.  

5. To take another illustration, I think there's a tipping-point when it comes to "torturing" terrorists. Take the ticking timebomb scenario. I think it's possible for some people to forfeit their prima facie immunity not to be harmed. The rights of a terrorist don't supersede the rights of innocent victims.

However, some critics of the ticking timebomb scenario take it to the next step: if the terrorist doesn't break under torture, is it permissible to torture his 5-year-old son, in case he will break when he sees his son subjected to torture? In contrast to the first situation, my response in that situation is: there is no tipping-point. 

And the logic is the same. Protecting the innocent from harm was never a sufficient condition to torture someone for information. The individual had to do something to forfeit his prima facie immunity. And, of course, the 5-year-old hasn't done that. It would be morally contradictory to torture the innocent to spare the innocent. It was never a merely quantitative calculation. 

We could also use the thought-experiment from consequentialism: is it justifiable to harvest the organs of one healthy person to save five deathly ill patient? Most people balk. 

Sometimes there's a tipping-point and sometimes not. Adding more examples doesn't automatically shift the moral considerations.  

6. One reason cumulative mass shootings don't make a dent in the gun-right position is because the position is a matter of principle. A moral obligation. It's not primarily about gun rights but the right of self-defense. Guns are just a concrete means to enable that right. And I'm using "self-defense" in a broad sense: not just protecting yourself from harm but protecting others from harm. Protecting the innocent. That's a standing duty.

In addition, social obligations are concentric. I have a greater duty to protect my mother than your mother. 

Mass shootings can never abrogate the right of self-defense. They can't override the right of a woman to have a gun or carry a gun to protect herself from muggers, or rapists, or a homicidal ex-boyfriend. The common good doesn't obviate individual rights. While there may be a balance between the good of the one and the good of the many, individuals have certain inalienable rights.

Indeed, since the common good is just a collective, the common good presupposes a minimal threshold of individual rights. The common good is just a collection of individuals. You can't logically say individuals have no rights, while only collectives have rights. Group rights make no sense if no one in the group has rights. 

7. In addition to the argument from principle there's a pragmatic argument. Just as there's a pragmatic argument for banning and confiscating civilian guns, there's a pragmatic argument against it. 

i) To begin with, there's the deterrent value of private gun ownership. Although guns are used to commit crime, guns are used to deter crime.

ii) Furthermore, when it comes to curtailing or eliminating social evils, there are tradeoffs. Suppose, for argument's sake, that a blanket gun ban and mandatory confiscation drastically reduces the number of mass shootings. While that would eliminate one evil, the cost of eliminating some evils is to replace them with different or even worse evils. Gun opponents myopically focus on mass shootings, but giving gov't a monopoly on gun ownership creates an opening for a much more oppressive and pervasive evil than mass shootings, which–however horrifying–are statistically negligible. It creates a police state, a totalitarian regime that poses a far greater danger than mass shootings. It empowers the few, who use their unchecked power to engage in systematic abuse of authority. And this isn't hypothetical. There are many examples. That includes Communist regimes.

But to take a less overt example, consider modern-day England. It's a surveillance state with ubiquitous security cameras. Yet disarming the public hasn't made the public safer. The police don't protect the public. Crime spirals out of control while the police monitor and prosecute political dissent. 

It's very shortsighted to fixate on one social evil in particular without regard to how the means necessary to eradicate or curtail that evil is offset by evils on a far larger scale. You create a monster that can't be contained.