Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Identification of the Beast as the Roman 10th Legion and Titus: An Example of Context Replacement

Islam Is Right about Women

Led by the nose

There is a widely believed myth that young people, especially college students, are "natural rebels" and "non-conformists." Nothing--absolutely nothing--could be further from the truth. I have taught thousands upon thousands of college students in my thirty-four years as a professor. The vast majority (though, of course, there are exceptions) are the opposite of rebels and non-conformists. They believe what they think they are supposed to believe, and they do what they think they are supposed to do.
Genuine independence of mind is not unheard of among the young, but it is the exception rather than the rule. It can (and should!) be provoked, but it takes effort on the part of a teacher or other person to provoke it. Most kids more or less uncritically--indeed unthinkingly--go along with what they hear, or think they are hearing, from opinion-shaping elites (whether it concerns pronouns, climate change, Halloween costumes, or whatever). Their greatest fear is to be "out of step" with the latest thinking or fashionable attitudes and beliefs. They sometimes censor themselves for fear of accidentally committing thought or speech crimes.
The Woke, and especially those in the vanguard of Wokeness, understand this and take full advantage of it. Of course, they don't acknowledge it, for the simple reason that they massively benefit from it politically. It underwrites "cancel culture" which has become a powerful weapon in the arsenal of Wokeness. And it explains the whole campaign to discredit the concept of freedom of speech (as a "right-wing trope") and to establish a climate on campus and more broadly that discourages (to put it mildly) expressions of dissent from prevailing progressive dogmas. It also explains the indoctrination programs that have become part of Freshman (oops! "First-Year") Orientation at most colleges and universities and continue in various forms through a student's four years. Those in the Woke vanguard know these programs work. Many young people are easily indoctrinated--they think what they're told to think. So everything depends on *what* they are told to think and *who* tells them to think it.
If you suppose that young people are "rebels" and "non-conformists," please just pause for a second to consider the sense of embarrassment and even dread fear a typical teenager experiences when he realizes that the sneakers he's wearing are not the ones all his friends are wearing. Horrors!
The problem with so many of our young people today is not that they are rebellious; it's that they aren't--and lack the courage to be.

Fatalism, paganism, and predestination

Many people have an instinctive aversion to the idea of predestination. But one of the interesting things about predestination is the way it requires a Christian worldview to underwrite it. In paganism, predestination is impossible. There's no absolute Creator God. The gods are themselves the product of the ongoing world process. The gods are not omniscient. No one god controls everything. They have territorial jurisdictions. 

So it's not possible in paganism for the world to unfold according to a master plan. Many events happen for no reason. Sheer contingency plays a huge role in history. If you reset history at an earlier date, it will never repeat. 

Greek mythology has a murky doctrine of the Fates. They predetermine the human lifespan. 

Classical fatalism is different from predestination because the outcome is inevitable regardless of what else happens. There is no one chain of events leading to a particular outcome, but multiple paths all converge on the same outcome. Changing the initial conditions doesn't change the outcome. It's not clear that fatalism is even coherent in a pagan worldview, except in the deus ex machina sense.  

The Storm on the Sea of Galilee

On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, "Let us go across to the other side." And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?" And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, "Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?" And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (Mk 4:35-41)

Two views of suffering

Doug Groothuis: "Two Views of Suffering: Atheist Existentialism and Christianity".

By the way, Groothuis recently wrote "Loving God and Others in the Midst of Suffering", but it doesn't seem accessible to non-subscribers of the Christian Research Journal.

30 books everyone should read

A friend, Ken Samples (whose weblog and books I'd recommend), posted this on Facebook: "30 Books Everyone Should Read At Least Once In Their Lives".

For what it's worth, if anything, here are my comments:

I think I've read the majority of these, but I don't think they're all worth reading. For example, I admire Orwell, but I'd agree with C.S. Lewis' assessment of 1984 and Animal Farm: 1984 is much weaker than Animal Farm. Animal Farm is the far better book. Animal Farm says more with less. The exception is the "The Principles of Newspeak" appendix in 1984 which is, indeed, brilliant.

Another example is Fahrenheit 451. I think Fahrenheit 451 is one of Bradbury's weaker works, though I've read a lot of Bradbury and generally have enjoyed him for what he is. He writes beautifully. I think Bradbury's best works are his short stories, but for novels I'm somewhat surprised The Martian Chronicles didn't make the cut. Of course, The Martian Chronicles is essentially a collection of short stories.

Likewise, this may be considered sacrilege by some, but I wouldn't rank Tolkien's The Hobbit and LotR as highly as most Christians or people in general do. I think they're good stories, but not great stories that "everyone should read". I find Tolkien often laborious to read. He was a philologist by training. I'd say this is reflects both the strengths and weaknesses of The Hobbit and the LotR. I've also read The Silmarillion which I likewise enjoyed to a degree but wouldn't rate highly. Much of The Silmarillion is Tolkien's reworking of various mythologies (e.g. the fall of Gondolin paralleling the fall of Troy in Homer and Virgil). Not original fare, but it's interesting if you want to hear Tolkien's take on classic myths.

I appreciate Dickens, and I love his wordsmithery, but I think A Tale of Two Cities is like an inferior Victor Hugo. (And I don't even think that highly of Hugo. Among other issues, I think Hugo's Les Misérables is emotionally overwrought. I believe G.K. Chesterton once compared Hugo with Dickens; I'd agree with Chesterton's assessment of the two.) At the very least I think Dickens had far better novels that could have arguably made the list over Two Cities (e.g. Pickwick, Great Expectations, maybe David Copperfield).

Same with Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Sure, I enjoyed the tale of "star-crossed lovers" in "fair Verona", but Shakespeare had superior plays, whether tragedies (e.g. Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, King Lear) or comedies (e.g. A Midsummer Night's Dream, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest). Or others (e.g. histories like Henry V).

Likewise the first Harry Potter book shouldn't have made the list, I don't think. I think the best is the third one, The Prisoner of Azkaban. The first two books are still very much light-hearted romps in my view, while the deeper thematic and tonal shift that Harry Potter is best known for are well-introduced in Azkaban. Rowling's later Harry Potter books suffer from bloat. But Rowling has an inventive ear for words. Not unlike Dickens before her.

These books are generally fiction, but there's some non-fiction as well. I think it'd be better to draw separate lists for fictional and non-fictional works. For instance, The Diary of Anne Frank is valuable and worth reading, but I'd say it should be compared alongside other firsthand accounts of the Holocaust rather than compared alongside the likes of Bradbury, Orwell, Dickens, and Shakespeare (e.g. Elie Wiesel's Night, Corrie ten Boom's The Hiding Place). Or at least compared alongside other works of suffering imprisonment and death in totalitarian regimes (e.g. Solzhenitsyn).

There are a few books I've never been interested in reading. Probably because I'm a guy rather than a girl. I'm referring to books like Little Women and Gone with the Wind. Maybe that's my loss.

Just to show I'm not so calloused, I do agree with a lot of the books on the list, viz. Huckleberry Finn, Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Charlotte's Web, Frankenstein, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and maybe Alice in Wonderland.

I'd note Frankenstein and H2G2 are militantly atheist books. Frankenstein is subtitled The Modern Prometheus which the Romantics saw as a defiant figure against the gods. It was also written by a young Mary Shelley who ran in the same literary circles as her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and Lord Byron among other atheists du jour. Both her husband and Lord Byron lived somewhat ignominiously as rebels against authorities and had tragic ends to their short lives. H2G2 is a hilarious send-up of the absurdities of life from an atheistic perspective. I regard it as something of a modern Candide (Voltaire). Still I see value in reading these two atheistic works to see what the best atheist literature has to offer in terms of tragedy and comedy, respectively.

And I'd say books worth reading are worth re-reading. Not just once, but many times in one's life.

Anyway I've gone on for long enough. I'd better stop here.

Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners

I. I'm going to make a few observations about John Bunyan's Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners. It reflects a classic contrast between Puritanism and Anglicanism. Both Puritanism and Anglicanism have virtues and vices. On the one hand, I think Bunyan's autobiography is somewhat overwrought. Moreover, he makes salvation seem like a trial by ordeal–where the goal is constantly threatened. That makes for gripping drama when he allegorized his autobiography (The Pilgrim's Progress), but it stands in tension with sola gratia. If salvation is truly by grace alone, then the outcome shouldn't be constantly in suspense, where you dare not relax. 

On the other hand, there's an urgency to his outlook that's unthinkable in Anglicanism. It's inconceivable that an Anglican could write The Pilgrim's Progress. That's because Anglicanism, with its pacific ritualism, is prone to index salvation to baptism, the eucharist, liturgical prayer, and public acts of worship. So long as you use the right mechanism, you're probably safe. Salvation by ritual.  

II. Critics sometimes note the contrast between Bunyan's trifling vices and his terrified guilt. It seems disproportionate. In the same vein, I'm reminded of Ruskin's statement (in Praeterita) that:

Though I felt myself somehow called to imitate Christian in the Pilgrim's Progress, I couldn't see that either Billiter Street and the Tower Wharf, where my father had his cellars, or the cherry-blossomed garden at Herne Hill [his boyhood home] where my mother potted her flowers, could be places I was bound to fly from as in the City of Destruction. Without much reasoning on the matter, I had virtually concluded from my general Bible reading that, never having meant or done any harm that I knew of, I could not be in danger of hell: while I saw also that even the crème de la crème of religious people seemed to be in no hurry to go to heaven. On the whole, it seemed to me, all that was required of me was to say my prayers, go to church, learn my lessons, obey my parents, and enjoy my dinner. 

That's an obstacle to evangelizing adults as well. While the sentiment is understandable and even acceptable in a child, what it fails to grasp or appreciate is that in Christian theology, we are born lost, absent divine intervention. It's not as if the default condition is that we're moving in a heavenward direction, and must commit some heinous sin to lose our way. Rather, we are lost at the outset, and must find our way out of the forest before we're overtaken by the snowy night. Bunyan was fundamentally right about that. 

Creation, evolution, and male nipples

I've discussed this before:

but I'd like to make an additional observation. Take a comparison: camouflage in general is functional. It conceals prey from predators. Conversely, it conceals ambush predators or predatory stalkers from prey.

However, many animals don't simply have camouflage, but symmetrical camouflage. That, however, isn't functional. Indeed, it's somewhat counterproductive because it makes the animal easier to detect. The symmetry doesn't blend into the background. That's why military fatigues use disruptive coloration to break up the outlines of a soldier. 

A Darwinist may say camouflage mirrors bilateral symmetry. But while that may be true, it doesn't confer a survival advantage. It has no evolutionary utility. 

Moreover, many animals have disruptive coloration or countershading, so the evolutionary explanation isn't consistent. 

BTW, this is a problem with evolutionary explanations: if a feature is functional, the Darwinist says that's adaptive, but if the feature is useless or counterproductive, they say that because evolution is blind. So the theory is too flexible. Something and its contrary are both evidence for evolution! 

From a creationist standpoint, male nipples may have the same explanation as symmetrical camouflage: it's decorative. In creationism, not everything has to be functional. Some things may be aesthetic. 

Friday, September 20, 2019

Greco-patristic exegesis

I've discussed this before:

but I'd like to make some additional observations:

i) It's not like reading the Greek Fathers is a shortcut to NT exegesis. After all, you have to know Greek to read the Greek Fathers in the original no less than the NT. Indeed, some of the Greek Fathers write in more advanced Greek than the NT. 

ii) In addition, the NT contains a number of Greek words with Hebrew meanings. Greek words used as synonyms for OT theological jargon. In that situation, the words are Greek, but they have connotations that carry over from Hebrew usage. 

Not only is a native command of Greek not advantageous in that situation, but it's downright disadvantageous. It can blind church fathers to what the words mean because they're using the wrong conceptual and linguistic frame of reference. Using their knowledge of extrabiblical Greek. By contrast, even if Greek is a second language for a NT scholar, he may be more sensitive to the fact that the word is a translation of a technical term in the Hebrew OT, and retains the sense of the original Hebrew. 

Worthy is the Lamb

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Gathering the children of Jerusalem

Mt 23:37 is one of the most popular Arminian prooftexts. I've discussed in in some detail a few years ago:

i) But I'd like to revisit the issue. One complication is how to translate the passage. In order to render the statement in idiomatic English, translations obscure the fact that the same verb (thelo) is used both in reference to Jesus and Jerusalem:

Jerusalem, O Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often have I wanted (ēthelēsa | θέλησα) to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! (ēthelēsate | θελήσατε). 

It's difficult to capture the contrast in smooth English, using the same synonym. Thelo can mean to wish/will/want/intend/decide/desire, &c. So in that respect, the point of contrast lies between something Jesus wanted to happen and something Jerusalem didn't want to happen. For now I'll stick with the word "want," but revisit that (see below). 

ii) Apropos (i), Arminians typically ove look the fact that the passage has three subjects rather than two subjects. It doesn't say:

I wanted to gather Jerusalem but Jerusalem didn't want to be gathered

I wanted to gather the children of Jerusalem but they didn't want to be gathered

Rather, it says:

I wanted to gather the children of Jerusalem but Jerusalem didn't want me to gather her children

So in that respect the point of contrast doesn't lie between those Jesus wants to gather and their disinclination to be gathered, but between those Jesus wants to gather, and the disinclination of a third party (Jerusalem) to let Jesus gather the second party (the children of Jerusalem). The object of Christ's desire isn't Jerusalem but the children of Jerusalem. It doesn't say the object of his desire rebuffed his desire. It doesn't say he reached out to the children of Jerusalem but they spurned his overtures. 

iii) Another question is the nuance of the verb, and whether it has the same nuance in each occurrence. In English, "wish" has a weaker connotation than "will". If Jesus meant that it was his wish to gather the children of Jerusalem, but Jerusalem was resistant, that raises the question of whether he got his wish. 

If, however, it means he willed to gather the children of Jerusalem, but Jerusalem was unwilling, it's harder to see how he could fail to accomplish what he willed to accomplish. "Willing" something to be the case is stronger than merely wishing something to be the case. 

Likewise, if he "intended" (or "decided") to gather the children of Jerusalem, but he was thwarted, then that means Jesus was mistaken. Intention carries the expectation of success. You intend (or decide) to do something if you think it lies within your power to do it. If you don't think you have the ability to pull it off, then that's something you hope for, not something you're in a position to decide the outcome on. 

iv) It would be consistent with open theism for the Son of God to intend or decide something but belatedly discover that he didn't have the foresight or mojo to carry out his intentions. So this would make it a better prooftext for open theism than classical Arminianism. So if the verb has the stronger nuance, that's a problem for classical Arminianism. 

v) Returning to (ii), if Jesus wills to gather the children of Jerusalem, but the Jerusalem is unwilling, it doesn't mean his design was overruled unless gathering the children of Jerusalem somehow depends on the cooperation of Jerusalem. Remember, there are three subjects in play. Rather, Jesus and Jerusalem both have designs on the children of Jerusalem–contrary intentions. 

What if the thrust of the statement is just the antithesis of the Arminian interpretation. Jesus gathers her children despite the opposition of Jerusalem. His success does not depend on whether Jerusalem complies. After all, he's not even attempting to gather Jerusalem. Rather, the children of Jerusalem are distinct from Jerusalem.

vi) What does Jerusalem–in contrast to her children–represent? Presumably, the religious establishment. Most of the religious leaders were hostile to his ministry. But that doesn't mean they have the power to veto his outreach to the children of Jerusalem. He doesn't need their permission to gather Jews to himself. Indeed, throughout the Gospels, he draws followers despite the vehement opposition of the religious authorities. They can't compete. They are impotent to stop him. So what if the thrust of the statement is actually that Jesus will gather the children of Jerusalem in spite of everything the religious establishment does to obstruct his ministry? Throughout the Gospels, Jesus bypasses the religious authorities. They can't stand in his way. He doesn't require their consent to save Jews in their midst. He prevails while his adversaries will be left out in the cold.  

Fisking Fesko (worldview)

More Musing on the Beast

Previously, I have presented some evidence for why I think the beast in Revelation 13 could have referred to the Roman X Legion Fretensis.  To give a brief overview of some of the evidence for context in this post: it was the X Legion and the beast in Revelation was said to have "ten horns and seven heads, with ten diadems on its horns"; "Fretensis" means "of the sea strait" and the beast was said to have come "out of the sea"; the X Fretensis had auxillaries from seven different legions assigned to it (seven heads)--one of which, the XII Fulminata, had been ambushed and routed to the point of losing it's aquila and one of the heads of the beast was said "to have a mortal wound, but its mortal wound was healed"; despite losing the aquila (which normally resulted in a legion being disbanded), the XII Fulminata was not disbanded and in fact was used as the primary force in the siege of Jerusalem; the X Fretensis was headed by General Titus and, according to Irenaeus, the Aramaic form of "Titus" numerologically added up to six hundred sixty-six; Roman legions carried images (literally: imago) of either the current emperor or the emperor who founded the legion, and the beast in Revelation was said to set up an image that it forced people to worship--something that Titus did when he destroyed the temple in 70 AD and set up the legion's image there; if that image was of the current emperor it would have been Vespasian, the father of General Titus and who's real name was also Titus and thus would have also added up to six hundred sixty-six; the beast was "allowed to make war on the saints and conquer them" which the X Fretensis literally did; and finally, it was "allowed to exercise authority for forty-two months" which is how long it took the X Frentensis from the time it landed in Judea until the fall of the Temple.

In response, a couple of people pointed out that of the beast in Revelation 17 it is said: "the seven heads are seven mountains on which the woman is seated; they are also seven kings, five of whom have fallen, one is, the other has not yet come, and when he does come he must remain only a little while. As for the beast that was and is not, it is an eighth but it belongs to the seven, and it goes to destruction. And the ten horns that you saw are ten kings who have not yet received royal power, but they are to receive authority as kings for one hour, together with the beast."

Now the first question that could be asked here is whether or not this is even the same beast as in Revelation 13.  And that brings up more discussion.  After all, in Revelation 13 there are actually two beasts mentioned: "I saw a beast rising out of the sea" (verse 1); "Then I saw another beast rising out of the earth" (verse 11).  Finally, Revelation 17 describes the beast in that chapter as: "I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast" (verse 3).  Many have concluded the scarlet beast is the same as the beast from the sea because both are said to have "seven heads and ten horns" but this is not a necessary conclusion.  However, even granting they are the same beast (as I do lean toward), it is clear that the horns on the scarlet beast have multiple meanings, standing both for seven mountains and for seven kings even within chapter 17.  Furthermore, in chapter 17, the horns, heads, and beast itself all stand for kings at various times.

But beyond even that, I would maintain that all three of the beasts (if they are three distinct entities, or both of them if there's just two) are actually referencing different aspects of the same structure.  After all, in historical times, kings and kingdoms were synonymous, as were generals and their armies.  In the case of the X Fretensis, since General Titus moved on to become emperor after the death of his father, you could have army, general, king, and kingdom all wrapped up in the same entity.

To give some more credence to this view we can look at Daniel.  In Daniel 7, the prophet also had a vision of four beasts.  The last beast "had great iron teeth" and "was different from all the beasts that were before it, and it had ten horns" (Daniel 7:7).  The fact that this beast had ten horns, like the beasts mentioned in Revelation, is an indication that it might be referring to the same beast as in Revelation 13 and/or 17.  Additionally, the "great iron teeth" gives a callback to Daniel 2, where Nebuchadnezzar had the dream of the statue with iron legs and feet made of iron mixed with clay--a reference to the Roman Empire, which would be "a divided kingdom" (Daniel 2:41, Rome being divided between the East and West) destroyed by a rock "cut out by no human hand" which destroyed all empires forever.  And indeed, after the Roman Empire collapsed, there has been no empire since.  Even those that wished to be empires (e.g., the Holy Roman Empire, Ottoman Empire, etc.) were hardly like the previous empires that have been destroyed by the rock, which is Christianity.

Returning to the beast in Daniel 7, the dream was interpreted there: "These four great beasts are four kings who shall rise out of the earth" (verse 17).  But in verse 23, we read: "As for the fourth beast, there shall be a fourth kingdom on earth, which shall be different from all the kingdoms."  Important for the point I'm seeking to establish, the beasts are described both as kings and as kingdoms in the same chapter and, indeed, the exact same context.  So I think it's clear that the ancients did not differentiate between kings and their kingdoms, generals and their armies.  Indeed, this is the natural outworking of societies built on federal headship, where the federal head stands in place of everything that head oversees.  From the Garden of Eden, when Adam was the federal head for all mankind, to Father Abraham being the federal head for all Jews, even up to Christ being the federal head of all who believe in Him, the concept is through all of Scripture.

But there's something else in Daniel too which bears more directly on the identity of the beast.  The ten horns are also defined: "As for the ten horns, out of this kingdom ten kings shall arise, and another shall arise after them; he shall be different from the former ones, and shall put down three kings" (verse 24).  Additionally, we are told: "But the court shall sit in judgment, and his dominion shall be taken away, to be consumed and destroyed to the end" (verse 26).

What makes this interesting is that the 10th emperor of Rome was Titus.  After those ten, "another shall arise after them".  The 11th emperor was Domitian.  Domitian was also the third emperor of his family (the Flavian family), and after he was assassinated the Roman senate enacted "damnatio memoriae" on him--literally damning his memory as a form of dishonor.  Thus, one could say he brought down his family (three kings) and his dominion was taken away, consumed, and destroyed--literally.  And again, remember that each ruling member of the Flavian family was named "Titus" so each of them would have added up to six hundred sixty-six in numerology, to link it back to Revelation too.

Not only that, but remember that Daniel was speaking to the king of Babylon of the statue and said that when the rock crashed into the feet of the statue: "it broke in pieces the iron, the bronze, the clay, the silver, and the gold" (Daniel 2:45).  The gold head was Babylon itself. And what happens when the beast falls in Revelation?  "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!" (Revelation 14:8 and 18:2).

So what to make of all this?  The beast motif used in Daniel is echoed in Revelation, so in both places probably refers to the same thing.  There are very clear signs in both Daniel and Revelation that link the beast to Roman history, from the "seven mountains" being the seven hills of Rome, to Rome being the final empire, to the oddities of the X Legion, to the result of Domitian's end.  The beast stands in for the entire system of Rome, from its armies to its leaders.  There are certainly a lot of coincidences, far more than would happen by chance, in two different books of the Bible written six or seven hundred years apart not to treat Rome as the intended referent. 

Ultimately this means that we can broadly conclude that since Daniel and Revelation both reference the Roman Empire, the events that feature the beasts have a historical fulfillment already.  Of course many who agree that these are referring to Rome also claim that there will be a dual fulfillment in the future.  Is it possible for a future fulfillment?  Well, I suppose anything is possible.  But what reason do we have to suspect that these events will happen again?  So far, we have a prediction that we have quite a bit of evidence to show was fulfilled in the first century, and there is lots of language that infers this is permanent (e.g., "It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever" -- Daniel 2:44).  Why, then, should we expect a future fulfillment too? 

What will it affect for you, theologically, if it turns out that the preterist view is correct and only the final judgment depicted in Revelation 20 remains to be completed?  What if, instead of a pessimistic view, we held to the promise that the stone cut not by human hands is a mountain that never passes away?  Would it affect how you evangelize to others not to live in fear that the beast might be seeking to brand your forehead right now?

I think it would.  I think it changes how we approach world events and other people--and not in a positive manner--to treat this as a future fulfillment.  Not only that, by treating it as a future fulfillment we ignore the past fulfillment.  And we have to, because once we acknowledge it happened in the past we need to come up with a reason to believe it will happen again, and the text just doesn't provide us those reasons.  Thus, we cut ourselves off from a line of evidence that gives more credence to the faith of Christianity.  Atheists have no way of explaining how Daniel could possibly have known about the Roman Empire being the last empire similar in any shape to that of Babylon.  And yet we don't use that evidence.  We can't use that evidence, because to use it means we can't insist on future despair.  We inadvertently falsify a chunk of the Scripture...and what do we gain?  A sense of impending doom? 

Why not victory in Christ instead?

Jerry Falwell, Jr.

i) False dichotomy: while internal corruption is often more damaging to the church than outsiders, that doesn't mean the conduct of unbelievers can't be equally damaging to people outside the church. No, Jerry Falwell, Jr. isn't a bigger problem than drag queen story hour. Nice diversionary tactic to deflect attention away from the fact that the war on normal boys and girls is enormously destructive to the physical and psychological wellbeing of boys and girls. 

ii) Moreover, we live in the world, not in the church. What happens inside the church isn't hermeneutically sealed off from what happens to Christians, as well as innocent children, in the world. 

iii) Furthermore, regimes hostile to Christianity have decimated the church in many parts of the world. 

iv) Finally Falwell isn't the church. Not remotely. He's just one guy. A creep who inherited a Christian college from his dad. Most Christians have zero leverage where he's concerned. That's up to the board of directors, the donor base, and prospective students. 

He's not the voice of evangelicalism. The evangelical movement has thousands of spokesmen across the globe. It's good to condemn him, but that's all most of us can do. 

Music, dreams, and architecture

There's an interesting contrast between music and architecture, specially in the modern era. If you want to experience a Gothic cathedral, you have to go there because it won't come to you. 

But in the age of recorded music, music comes to you. You can listen to it whenever and wherever you like. When your walking or driving. 

There are some disadvantages to recorded music. There are some voices that you need to hear live in the spacious acoustic of an opera house to fully appreciate. The microphone doesn't do them justice. Studio recordings don't do them justice. Likewise, watching a performance of King's College Chapel Choir is not as enthralling as attending the service.  

But there are tradeoffs. Recorded music provides higher-quality performances than you can ever expect to hear live in most localities. Moreover, you can repeat the experience–unlike a live performance. 

Another example is dreams. In the real world or waking world, we must go places to see things, but when we sleep, the dreamscape comes to us. That can be good or bad depending on the dream, but it's the closest thing to magic most folks encounter in this life: like snapping your fingers to make something appear out of thin air. 

For the saints, the world to come will combine the best of both worlds. Access to the best of everything at your fingertips. 

Defending error

A mark of a false belief system or false scientific theory is that it becomes increasingly complicated to defend. When originally proposed, the problems may have been concealed. But over time, as the logical implications play out, or failure to anticipate various contingencies and eventualities, the flaws of the original paradigm are exposed. It takes ever greater ingenuity to defend it. Ever more elaborate explanations and ad hoc qualifications to restore internal consistency or factual consistency. The theory of evolution is a scientific example while Roman Catholicism is a theological example. 

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Botanical auricular confession

I'm waiting for Pope Francis to write this into the catechism:

Qui canit bis orat

I'm not a musicologist. While I know a fair amount about music in some respects, the musical tradition is vast, so this post may reflect gaps in my knowledge. 

1. A striking feature of the Christian faith is the centrality of music in worship, as well as the variety of musical styles and performance styles. Christianity is a religion set to song. This has its roots in the Psalter. 

Qui canit bis orat ("he who sings prays twice") is a saying attributed to Augustine. There's a variation: qui bene cantat bis orat ("he who sings well prays twice"). 

Apparently, Augustine never said that, but it seems to be a summary of something he did say. According to the saying, when you sing a sacred text rather than speaking a sacred text, that's like praying twice. You sing once but pray twice, because it's like a prayer set to music. 

And it's true that setting a sacred text to music can deepen it in the experience of the singer. That makes it more memorable, and adds an emotional dimension, because music reflects or evokes a mood in the mind and heart of the listener. 

There are, of course, churchgoers who sing mechanically with no faith. So there's a difference between mere singing and singing well. Not well in the sense of execution but attitude. 

2. Different traditions within Christendom, or at different periods, have different musical ideals. In traditional Catholicism, there's the ideal of male choirs singing a cappella music, viz. Gregorian chant, Palestrina. "Sexless" music that approximates an angelic ideal. Mixed choirs were forbidden. For a long time the Sistine chapel used castrati. 

Nuns could sing in convents. Vivaldi composed music for a girl choir, but not for performance in church. 

In the Anglican tradition you have male choirs consisting of basses, tenors, countertenors, and trebles. German choirs used boy sopranos and boy altos. I don't know the details of the French tradition.

However, there may be a historic distinction between the composition of a parish choir and a cathedral choir. In addition, there's Russian Orthodox choir music. 

3. A problem with the sexless ideal is that humans aren't angels. We're earthy, embodied, gendered beings. It's natural for vocally well-endowed men to have virile voices and vocally well-endowed women to have sensual voices. That's not a matter of flaunting one's sexuality. But it's nothing to suppress or be ashamed of. 

The voices of boys and girls have different timbres. As such, it's a bad idea of have mixed choirs of boys and girls. Blending the timbres obliterates the distinctive beauty of each. Rather, there should be boy choirs and girl choirs. I'm referring to classical vocalism, where boys and girls use the head register. 

Although I prefer the timbre of English boy choirs to German boy choirs, I prefer the German tradition of using boy altos rather than countertenors. The countertenor is an artificial voice that lacks the natural appeal of a boy alto or the natural of female alto. In addition, it's a magnet for sodomites, which puts choirboys at risk. 

It's good that we now have mixed choirs of adult men and women. When women carry the soprano line in choral music, they have warmer, fuller voices than boys. Greater tonal and emotional weight. That's a particular virtue in music on a larger scale. 

Likewise, women are often superior as soloists. There are concert sopranos like Emma Kirkby who cultivate a straight, boyish tone, but that's not what I'm looking for in a female voice. I listen to a woman for a voice with feminine allure. 

Boy's voices used to break at a later age. For instance, Ernest Lough's voice didn't break until he was 17! That may account for his fuller tone and vibrato. He had a mixed voice: not a pure bell-like head register, but a mix of head and chest registers. 

Church music should exploit the natural goods of different kinds of voices, by sex and age: men, women, boys, and girls. 

4. To my knowledge, there are about three factors that contributed to mixed choirs and female soloists:

i) Part singing

Unison singing lacks the same range as part singing. As music became more complex, making greater demands on vocal range, that created a niche for female sopranos, although trembles could occupy the same niche.

ii) Congregational singing

Protestants stressed the value of congregational singing, which broke down gender barriers in worship with regard to singing. 

iii) Opera

Opera fostered many roles for women. Although some roles were taken by castrati, there were early divas like Elizabeth Billington, Lucrezia Aguiari, and Angelica Catalani who were very popular. The opera stage didn't have the same restrictions on female participation as the church. But that, in turn, began to break down barriers. 

Handel used women from his operas to sing in his oratorios. Although that was initially performed outside the walls of the church, it was a difficult dichotomy to maintain. 

5. Thus far I've focussed on the classical musical tradition, but church music has expanded far beyond that. There's Southern folk hymnody, Latino church music, and the black musical tradition, beginning with "Negro" spirituals, followed by traditional Black Gospel music, with its own divas (e.g. Bessie Griffin, Mahalia Jackson, Inez Andrews, Marion Williams). Not to mention the country-western tradition–along with crossover artists (e.g. Johnny Cash). 

Arguing For Prophecy Fulfillment From Common Ground With Skeptics

Christians often argue for Biblical prophecy fulfillment by using prophecies that are highly controversial, both in terms of the meaning of the passages and their alleged fulfillment. Critics often object to supposed fulfillments in the ancient world on the basis that we know too little about ancient history in general or the portion of ancient history that's most relevant to the fulfillment of prophecy. Or they'll argue that what we know is inconsistent with the claim of prophecy fulfillment.

One way to meet those objections is to argue that although the fulfillments occurred in the ancient world and are highly controversial, the evidence we have for them is sufficient. But another approach worth taking is to focus on the fulfillments that are acknowledged by critics, especially ones for which we have a lot of evidence in the modern world.

In the past, I've often cited the example of what the Old Testament predicts about Israel and the Messiah's influence on Gentiles. See this post on Jesus' fulfillment of Isaiah's Servant Songs, for instance. What I want to do in this post is supplement what I've argued elsewhere, such as in the article just linked.

Severe depression

As many have already heard, Jarrid Wilson committed suicide. Wilson was a 30 year old pastor in California who apparently had a lifelong struggle with depression.

In the relatively recent past, there have been other young evangelical Christians who have committed suicide as well. For example, Rick Warren's son Matthew shot and killed himself at age 27 in 2013. Also another pastor in California named Andrew Stoecklein took his own life at age 30.

I don't wish to comment on the ethics of suicide at this moment. Besides, other Christians like Steve have commented on suicide in the past and said far more intelligent and helpful things than I ever could.

Rather I'll just offer a useful screening tool for people who suspect they might be depressed or know those whom they suspect might be depressed. Not that all suicide attempts and suicides are necessarily related to depression but the majority are related to severe depression.

In any case, the "tool" is simply a series of questions that physicians (such as psychiatrists) will ask a person whom they suspect might be depressed to help determine if they are depressed and, if so, the severity of their depression. If they are severely depressed, as opposed to mild or moderate depression, it could mean they're at risk of suicide.

It's taken from a British book called the Oxford Handbook of Clinical Specialties (10th ed.), p 345:

We use a similar but not as memorable mnemonic in the US. They're different mnemonics but the same ideas or concepts underlie both.

You can click on both images to enlarge if need be.

For example, a physician will ask a person how many hours they're sleeping each night, how often, if they're tossing and turning or able to sleep right away. What they find enjoyable (e.g. reading books, watching movies, listening to music, taking walks on the beach) and how frequently they do these things. If they feel embarrassed or guilty of anything. How they feel when they're awake. If they're chronically tired. How well they can concentrate on small, medium, and big tasks. If they're under or over eating. How they're functioning at work and play. If they have made any well formulated plans to commit suicide.

"Jew chink"

Apparently there's a brouhaha over Saturday Night Live (SNL) firing a comedian they just hired. Someone named Shane Gillis. The reason is because Gillis made jokes against Asians and Jews. Like calling the Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang a "Jew chink".

  1. I don't care which comedians SNL hires and fires. That's their business.
  2. I wouldn't vote for Andrew Yang. I like him better than most the other Democratic presidential candidates, but he's still a Democrat at heart. He's still liberal. And I think liberal and progressive politics are destructive to our nation, even from a secular perspective.
  3. Just because Gillis made racist and anti-Semitic jokes doesn't necessarily imply he's racist against Asians or that he's anti-Semitic. Maybe he is, maybe he isn't. I don't know Gillis well enough to say.
  4. To put it another way, do Gillis' jokes reflect his personal animus and racism against Asians? Do his jokes reflect an anti-China stance? Both? Neither? Of course I think racism is wrong, but I don't have a problem with being anti-China. In fact, I'm anti-China. The Chinese communist party is evil. What they're doing all around the world is evil. People are right to oppose China. That includes other Chinese who are opposed to China such as democratic Chinese in Hong Kong and Taiwan.
  5. For his part, Gillis replied to his firing: "I'm a comedian who pushes boundaries...My intention is never to hurt anyone but I am trying to be the best comedian I can be and sometimes that requires risks." As far as his comedy goes, Gillis' jokes about Asians and Jews simply weren't funny. However, from the standpoint of comedy, if a comedian is going to make jokes about race or even racist jokes, then at least the jokes ought to be funny. I think it was Jerry Seinfeld who said the following (paraphrased) in response to an anti-Semitic joke: I'm not offended as a Jew, I'm offended as a comedian!
  6. Gillis suggests these were old jokes from "10 years ago". Generally speaking, I'd agree we shouldn't hold people accountable for immature things they said in the past, though of course it depends on the specific statement at hand. It's possible for some statements to always remain wrong. However, a problem with Gillis' suggestion is he made recent jokes against Asians only a few months ago. And Prov 26:19 comes to mind.
  7. I'm of the opinion that in general comedians should be able to joke about controversial and sensitive issues including jokes about and even against various races and cultures. Russell Peters is a good example. Today there's too much quashing of anything that seems remotely inappropriate, and what's deemed inappropriate is often decided by liberal elites. Like SNL. The cancel culture.
  8. There's often a double standard when jokes against women, minorities, and/or Muslims are considered wrong, but it's acceptable to make jokes against men, whites, and/or Christians.

"Two Reformed philosophy geeks"

James Anderson and Christopher Watkin discuss Derrida, Foucault, and Hume. More information here.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Contradictory names

1. A stock objection to biblical inerrancy is really or apparently contradictory names in the extant text of Scripture. Examples include 2 Sam 21:19, Mat 1:7-8,10, and Mk 2:25-26. Bart Ehrman says the case of Mk 2:25-26 was the first domino in his apostasy. 

2. I'll make some preliminary points before getting to the main points. To an outsider, this may look like Christians clinging desperately to the inerrancy of Scripture, which betrays them into special pleading. Let's take 2 Sam 21:19: who killed Goliath–David or Elhanan? 

Even if you don't come to the text with a prior commitment to inerrancy, it's puzzling. After all, David is among the most celebrated figures in Jewish history, and the confrontation with Goliath is unforgettable. So how could a case of mistaken identity ever arise? 

Likewise, if the error originates with the narrator, we'd expect scribes to correct it. Or if a scribe introduced an error into his copy, that wouldn't automatically spread to copies independent of his copy. It's hard to see how the narrator or scribes could be confused about something like that. 

That said, one commentator regards the MT reading as a scribal emendation. Cf. A. Steinmann, 2 Samuel (Concordia 2017), 406-407. Another commentator, after summarizing other options, proposes that this might be a variant name, based on comparative linguistics. Cf. D. Tsumura, The Second Book of Samuel (Eerdmans 2019), 299. 

3. Apropos (2), let's take a comparison: John Ruskin was named after his father–John James Ruskin. And even as an adult he continued to live with his parents when he wasn't traveling. In addition, his father hired a man-servant for his son named John Hobbs. But because it was impractical to have three guys living under the same roof, answering to the same first name, they decided to call the man-servant George. 

Now we know this because Ruskin explains it in his autobiography. And it's a very logical explanation. But if we didn't have his explanation, there'd seem to be a contradiction. It looks like John Hobbs was confused with somebody named George–when, in fact, the original reason was to forestall confusion!

4. In the case of Mt 1:7-8,10 (Asa/Asaph, Amon/Amos), one possible explanation is scribal error/scribal confusion. 

5. Moving onto the main points, these "contradictions" are, of course, discussed in conservative commentaries and monographs defending inerrancy. But in my experience, the debate on both sides suffers from unexamined assumptions. If you say the Bible uses the wrong name for someone, what makes a particular name the right name for someone? I haven't seen that discussed. 

In practice, a proper name is a tag we give a person so that we can refer to them. Names are ways to identify people and differentiate them from other people. A name picks them out. 

One candidate might be the original name. The person's birth name or baptismal name. The name their parents gave them.   

But that's clearly too restrictive. Take nicknames. Those aren't birth names, but that doesn't mean a nickname is the wrong designation to use for someone. Some nicknames stick. Indeed, many people use the nicknames other people gave them–if they like the nickname. 

Consider a different example, as a boy, C. S. Lewis decided to call himself Jack. And he continued to call himself Jack for the rest of his life. That wasn't his birth name, but it became as much or more his real name than his legal name. 

6. To take another example, consider names like Charlemagne, Charles the Bald, and Richard the Lionheart. These certainly weren't their original names. Their parents didn't look down on their baby boy and say, "Let's call him Richard the Lionheart". Minimally, these are names they acquired later in life, as adults. 

It's also possible that these are posthumous designations. Names conferred on them by posterity.

So some names may be retroactive names. They aren't the original name. Rather, it's what they were known by later on. During their lifetime or after they died. 

7. I'd add in passing that a name in one language may be translated into its counterpart in another language. A French name may be Anglicized, and so on. 

8. Apropos (6), some names may be folkloric names. This is how the individual was remembered by posterity. 

Suppose, in popular memory, an individual with one name is confused with another individual by another name. In folklore, he's now referred to by a different name. And originally that may be a mistake. But if it catches on, then that's how he's referred to. 

Suppose an individual is confused with a better-known member of his family. That becomes fixed in popular usage. That's his folkloric name. And that happens prior to when a biblical account is written.

At the time of writing, should a Bible writer correct folklore and revert to the "correct" name? Or should the Bible writer use the folkloric name because that's what readers recognize? 

The confusion didn't originate with the Bible writer. Moreover, the issue for inerrancy isn't whether the correct name is used but whether the correct individual is referred to. Names aren't true or false. They're just designators. What's true or false is the referent. Even the "wrong" name may have the right referent if that's how it's come to be understood. Perhaps that's what lies behind the apparent confusion in Mk 2:25-26. 

By the time the Biblical account is written, folkloric usage overrides original usage. The Bible writer is not in error if he copies folkloric usage so long as he's talking about the right person, regardless of the current designation. 

Monday, September 16, 2019

Deconversion narrative

There's a stereotypical deconversion narrative, endlessly repeated with minor plot variations:

1. Boy grows up in "fundamentalist" church.

2. Boy loses his "fundamentalist" faith when he goes to college or reads a book by the pop atheist du jour (e.g. Dawkins, Hitchens, Ehrman), or discovers atheist websites.

3. Boy regards his deconversion as an "escape from fundamentalism". 

4. Deconvert goes on a crusade to share his newfound enlightenment. Spoiling to get into fights with "fundamentalists". 

5. Deconvert has a checklist of cliche-ridden objections to "fundamentalism". Every deconvert has the same checklist. Each deconvert expects every Christian he meets to start all over again by going through the same checklist of cliche-ridden objections to "fundamentalism". 

These are hallmarks of social and emotional immaturity. In some cases, a phase the deconvert will outgrow. 

6. Plot variations:

i) Deconvert from "fundamentalism" to atheism

ii) Decovert from young-earth creationism to old-earth creationism to theistic evolution to naturalistic evolution

iii) Deconvert from "fundamentalism" to Catholicism. That was more popular before the Francis pontificate.

iv) Deconvert from "fundamentalism" to "progressive Christianity". 

Because "progressive Christianity" is an unstable compromise, it may be a temporary halfway house. After a while, deconvert realizes that "progressive Christianity" is too thin to have the advantages of "fundamentalism" so he completes the cycle by becoming an atheist. However, some deconverts remain in progressive Christianity for sentimental or idealistic reasons, to "rescue" Christianity from the "fundamentalists".

What really motivates most conversions to Rome?

Published Catholic conversion testimonies have a lopsided emphasis on conversion for intellectual motives, but how representative is that? 

I am always interested in anything you bring up around Catholic conversion, because I explored the topic from an educational angle in my master’s thesis, which I am currently trying to publish. And I am currently working on a Ph.D, planning to continue some of that research at a deeper level. Needless, to say I have spent a lot of time studying this topic from an academic perspective.

It is interesting that Vasquez states that most conversions he has encountered “are very cerebral or zealously aesthetic”, your apparent agreement with that assessment.

It seems that way, because of their out-sized voice, but it is in fact very wrong. The USCCB did some research some years back on the topic, and based on their study (which is by a long shot the best data available), the overwhelming majority of converts do so because they are married or engaged to a Catholic and most of them primarily come at it for mostly marital harmony reasons.

This ‘banality’ has actually an upside and a downside which I will get to. But the most important point I want to get at is that, understanding this context paints a very different picture from contrasting the two ends of the spectrum, which Vasquez does:intellectuals vs the ‘turn my life around’ crowd. Both sides of that extreme constitute a small, but very vocal type of conversion. 

The fact is most people who convert are mostly catalyzed by their spousal relationship. They enter the church without particularly grandiose expectations or opinions, and for the most part don’t talk much about their conversion. I have met quite a few devout Catholic converts, who I otherwise never would have known it without prodding (including my own wife). These people internalized it, and moved forward with varying degrees of gusto.

Most of those people who convert, (again, via the USCCB study IIRC), don’t really ever darken the door of a Catholic Church again after a few weeks. The ordinary circumstance of their conversion, leads not to a quiet, ordinary life of faith, but a checkbox to be moved on from. And why? Maybe they never cared, sure. 

Science and possible worlds

At least since the 19C, if not earlier (16-17C), there's been an ongoing debate about whether Christianity and science stand in conflict. On the one hand, critics say science has falsified the creation account and the flood account while neuroscience has falsified the immortal soul. I've discussed those allegations on multiple occasions and have nothing new to say at the moment. 

But at a presuppositional level, some apologists argue that the Christian worldview is necessary to justify the scientific interpretation. Elements of this argument include the claim that the rationality of the universe implies a mind behind the universe–while the reliability of human reason needs divine grounding. Likewise, it only works if God created man and the universe in a state of mutual preadaptation, so that the rationality of the universe is at least translucent to human reason, if not altogether transparent. 

I think those are legitimate lines of argument, but rather than flesh them out, I'd like to turn to a different line of argument: 

Stephen Jay Gould (1989) famously argued that evolutionary history is contingent...Gould claimed that if we could rewind the tape of history to some point in the deep past and play it back again, the outcome would probably be different.

Beatty (2006), however, has shown that there are two different senses of ‘contingency’ in play in Gould’s work. In addition to what Beatty calls contingency as causal dependence—basically, sensitivity to initial conditions—there is a second form of contingency that Beatty initially called contingency as unpredictability, but now calls contingency per se (Beatty 2016). These two senses of contingency correspond with two versions of the famous thought experiment that Gould (1989) deployed. Sometimes, Gould imagines rewinding the tape of history, tweaking an upstream variable, and then playing the tape back. On other occasions, he talks about playing the tape back from the same initial conditions. Beatty (2016) thinks that both senses of ‘contingency’ are important, and he takes it that the second sense—contingency per se—must commit us to some sort of causal indeterminism. On the other hand, Turner (2011a) has tried to give an account of this second sense of contingency that is neutral with respect to determinism. His suggestion is that what Gould really cared about was random or unbiased macroevolutionary sorting. Processes such as coin tosses, or random genetic drift, can be random or unbiased (in a sense) without violating causal determinism. One way to think about this is by adopting a frequentist conception of probability: the outcome of a coin toss could be causally determined by small-scale physical influences, but the outcome is still random or unbiased in the sense that over a long series of trials, the ratio of heads to tails will approximate 50:50. 

Finally, historical contingency is a counterfactual notion, and although this issue has not gotten as much attention as it deserves, there is a nascent philosophical literature on historical counterfactuals (Tucker 2004: 227ff; Nolan 2013; Radick 2016; Zhao 2017 in Other Internet Resources). The debate about historical contingency can be construed as a disagreement about the truth of various historical counterfactuals. Gould claimed that if things in the Cambrian had been slightly different, there would be no vertebrates today, let alone humans, while other convergentists claim that humanlike cognitive abilities, language, tool use, and sociality would have evolved even if other things had been different in the past—for example, if the non-avian dinosaurs had not gone extinct.

That's also presuppositional. Is natural history contingent? If so, can we make truth-valued counterfactual statements about natural history (or the future, or that matter)? If that's the case, then what grounds the truth of counterfactual scenarios? According to the correspondence theory of truth, a statement about the past is true if it matches something that happened in the past. But in the nature of the case, counterfactual scenarios never happened in the actual timeline, so what makes them true?

The common explanation is resort to modal metaphysics (i.e. possible worlds). Unexemplified timelines. But that pushes the question back a step. What's the metaphysical basis for possible worlds?

A Christian, or a Calvinist in particular, can say unexemplified timelines inhere in God's imagination and omnipotence. What might have been had God willed an alternative scenario to play out. It may even be the case that these are exemplified rather than unexemplified timelines if God created a multiverse. Unexemplified in our universe, but exemplified in a parallel universe. 

So that's another line of argument for the necessity of the Christian worldview to underwrite the scientific enterprise. Of course, that also needs to be fleshed out. But it's another promising strategy.