Saturday, October 12, 2019

The spirit realm

I have a few quibbles with some of what Jon Topping says, but this is a generally helpful presentation:

Beyond Submission and Authority

"I married my best friend"

I cringe whenever I hear well-meaning Christians say something like that.

Facial recognition systems

Public service announcement:

Facial recognition systems, combined with omnipresent security cameras, are a tool of the surveillance state. The solution is to become a vampire, since vampires don't cast reflections.   

The ethics of spanking

This is the final installment. The first two were:

I'm going to quote and comment on some representative arguments against spanking in this article: A Grogan-Kaylor, J Ma, & SA Graham-Bermann, "The Case Against Physical Punishment," Current Opinion in Psychology 19 (2018).

In general, it suffers from the same methodological flaws and oversights I noted in another study (second link). Moving along:

Attachment theory highlights the beneficial role of a secure attachment in the parent-child relationship [12]. A plethora of research has found that parental empathy and sensitivity towards children’s needs foster trust, safety, and emotional security in children [13]. However, when parents respond to their child’s need for attention, comfort, and care with physical punishment, the child easily feels rejected and degraded and the much-needed secure attachment in the parent-child relationship is likely to be eroded [14]. Thus, children who were physically punished are at risk of developing a sense of unworthiness and maladaptive developmental pathways such as anxiety and depression.

i) Parents have more than one role to play in child-rearing. It's true that there's an element of emotional/psychological tension between their role as disciplinarians and other roles. Spanking provokes temporary alienation. But a child's mood can change within a few minutes. 

ii) Children need boundaries. That's essential to their sense of security. They need to know there are consequences for crossing boundaries. It's because the prospect of spanking is unpleasant that it has deterrent value. The parent/child bond is part of what makes that effective. 

Social learning theory underlines observation and reinforcement as mechanisms through which physical punishment affects externalizing problems such as aggression [16]. When parents physically punish their children for unacceptable behaviors, children observe their parents endorsing the use of violence, and unintentionally, are modeled and taught the legitimacy of violent behaviors to correct the misconduct of others. In addition, by observing that parental physical punishment resulted in successfully stopping their own misbehaviors in the short term, children are reinforced in the idea of the effectiveness of violence in controlling and resolving social and interpersonal conflicts.

That's not a scientific claim. It reflects the utopian outlook of the writers. They act like any kind of "violence" is intrinsically wrong. Do they think a propensity for violence or aggression is conditioned rather than hardwired? 

But there are situations where violence is required to combat violence. It takes a gun to stop a sniper or house-burglar. Violence has a legitimate and indispensable role in social dynamics. That's a necessity evil in a fallen world. 

A recent longitudinal study examined the relationships of parental spanking of 1-year-old children, and subsequent involvement of that family with Child Protective Services between child’s age 1 and age 5 [37]. This study found that reports of spanking of a child when child was one year old were associated with a 33% increase in the chances that a family would become involved with Child Protective Services.

i) That's just circular. If you outlaw spanking, that puts neighbors in a position to rat out parents who spank their misbehaving kids. But that's hardly a justification for outlawing the practice. You can't appeal to a law to justify the law. 

ii) Because the writers oppose spanking in principle, they don't bother to explore the appropriate age-range for spanking. How old should the child be before spanking is constructive? What's the cutoff when the child is too old for that to be constructive? 

Through two doors at once

Life is a series of invisible doors. Sets of two doors. Most folks go through one door at a time, whether the right-hand door or the left-hand door. But for some unexplained reason, Jasper went through both doors at once. He came out the other side as two copies of Jasper. But for some unexplained reason, he kept returning to the same spot. Each time, passing through both doors at once, his life split into forking paths. 

He went thorough the door where his parents divorced, and the other door where they stayed together. He went through another set of doors where his mother had custody and his father has custody. He turned out fairly well living with his dad. He turned out better living with both parents. He became a delinquent living with his mother. 

There was the door where his brother committed suicide and the door where his brother didn't commit suicide. Going through the door where his brother committed suicide, Jasper's life went into a tailspin. He became junkie. He eventually killed himself because he was unable to cope with the inconsolable loss. Grief enveloped him in a dark cloud from which he never emerged.  

There was the door where he where he accidentally ran over a cyclist at night and the door where he avoided the cyclist. After accidentally killing the cyclist, he was afraid to turn himself into the police. The fatality remained an unsolved crime, but he haunted by guilt for the rest of his life. 

There was the door where he was blinded in a baseball accident. Knocked unconscious when a teammate accidentally hit him in the head with a baseball bat. When he woke up in a hospital bed, he was blind. That one blow to the head not only shattered his skull, but shattered his plans. At first he was despondent and bitter. After months of brooding, he began to rebuild his life, step-by-step. Not the life he asked for. Not the life he hoped for. But after that he no longer took life for granted. The ambit of his life got smaller but deeper. And he hoped to see again in the world to come. 

There was the door where he won a football scholarship and the door where he was edged out. Losing the scholarship scuttled his dreams. All his hopes were pinned on getting the scholarship. After that he had to dream new dreams.  

There was the door where a rival married his high school crush. So h married another girl. He secretly felt she was second-best. But his rival told him that his crush was a nagging wife. So he no longer regretted losing her to another man. He warmed to his wife and had a happy marriage. His bad luck was good luck in retrospect. 

The was the door where he was drafted and the door where he was not. Before he was drafted, evil was an abstraction for him. Watching his comrades maimed or blown up right before his eyes gave him nightmares. But it also made him hope for a better world to come. 

Finally, there was the door where he became an atheist and the door where he became a Christian. For some unexplained reason, after he went through one door and came out the other side a Christian, that broke the cycle. Never again did he go through two doors at once. He just continued along that branch until he died and went to heaven.  

Incorrupt saints

This is a traditional point of evidence for Roman Catholicism, but it doesn't bear up very well under scrutiny: 

Friday, October 11, 2019

"Scientific studies" on spanking

I'm going to quote some representative excerpts of "scientific study" on spanking and corporal punishment:

However, this perspective began to change as studies found links between “normative” physical punishment and child aggression, delinquency and spousal assault in later life...Physical punishment is associated with a range of mental health problems in children, youth and adults, including depression, unhappiness, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, use of drugs and alcohol, and general psychological maladjustment.26–29 These relationships may be mediated by disruptions in parent–child attachment resulting from pain inflicted by a caregiver...

75% of substantiated physical abuse of children occurred during episodes of physical punishment. This finding was replicated in the second cycle of the study (CIS 2003).40 Another large Canadian study41 found that children who were spanked by their parents were seven times more likely to be severely assaulted by their parents (e.g., punched or kicked) than children who were not spanked. In an American study,42 infants in their first year of life who had been spanked by their parents in the previous month were 2.3 times more likely to suffer an injury requiring medical attention than infants who had not been spanked. 

1. There's been a highly successful movement by secular progressives (cheered on by "progressive Christians") to use the totalitarian power of the state to deny parental authority and Christian ethics, even in the private sphere of the family.  

2. I don't concede the premise that you need a scientific study to be justified in many of your common sense beliefs. 

3. I'm of two minds about scientific studies. On the one hand, there's a need for scientific studies on many topics. On the other hand, many scientific studies are unreliable. Many influential studies, which became the received wisdom in academia and certain professions, studies which became the basis for law or public policy, have been debunked over the years. Consider the replication crisis in the social and life sciences. So just quoting a study or studies has no particular cachet with me. It's an unfortunate dilemma. We need studies, but which studies can be trusted, given their checkered track-record? It's not possible to endorse scientific studies in general. 

4. In addition, some studies are like the professional expert witness hired by defense attorneys. You can hire someone with impressive credentials to defend both sides of any position. 

5. A basic flaw in the study is the equivocal use of "physical punishment". Needless to say, that ranges along a very wide continuum. You can't lump all forms of physical punishment, then tar a light spanking with the same consequences. There are degrees of physical punishment, from slight to severe. It's willfully methodologically irresponsible not to draw necessary distinctions. 

Take the difference between swatting a child on the backside with your hand 1-3 times and whipping him on the backside with a belt or ruler. Those just aren't comparable. 

6. Likewise, I doubt pain is the primary factor in the efficacy of spanking. Breaking your arm when you fall from a tree or scraping your knees when you fall off your bike is far more painful then getting swatted on the backside by hand. Do scientific studies which hype the psychological harm of spanking say the same thing about painful childhood accidents? 

I suspect the impact of spanking is primarily psychological rather than physical. Because young children are so emotionally dependent on their parents, to be physically rebuffed by a parent is (temporarily) traumatic. It's easy to reduce a child to tears. 

7. Apropos (6), in biblical anthropology, mothers and fathers play different roles. They have overlapping roles, but there are differences as well as commonalities. In a qualified sense, it's not bad for kids to be afraid of their fathers. I don't mean they should live in a state of fear. But it's good for them to fear the paternal reaction if they cross certain lines. To take a comparison, although a lion protects his cubs, cubs must be more respectful to the lion than the lioness. You don't mess with the lion! 

8. The studies need to be far more selective. For instance, what's the long-term impact of spanking an extroverted, strong-willed boy? Children vary in temperament. Likewise, there are stereotypical psychological differences between boys and girls. What's effective discipline for one child may be ineffective for another.   

9. Do the studies screen out other variables for delinquency, depression, self-harm, domestic abuse, substance abuse, incarceration, and suicide? What about kids from high-crime areas? Kids from broken homes? Fatherless boys (due to divorce and maternal custody)? Kids with stepdads? Kids where mom has a live-in boyfriend, or string of boyfriends? 

10. How do rates of delinquency, depression, self-harm, domestic abuse, substance abuse, incarceration, and suicide for kids who experience moderate spanking compare with their counterparts in secularized nations where spanking is illegal? What's the comparative data? 

11. Do psychologists and sociologists who deplore spanking think a propensity for violence is innate–or the result of social conditioning? Do they think a violence-free society is possible with different socialization?

12. What's their model of a socially well-adjusted or maladjusted male? Consider the faddish misdiagnosis/overmedication for attention deficit syndrome for rambunctious boys. Do they think an aggressive streak is "toxic masculinity"? 

Suppose an aggressive streak or potential for violence is a necessary trait in males who take the initiative. What if the nature of boys to be adventurous, inventive, competitive, and take a risk is inseparable from an aggressive streak or potential for violence?  

13. Is there any correlation between declining crime rates and declining levels of testosterone? Is there any correlation between declining crime rates and a graying population? During the baby boom, young males were a larger percentage of the population. 

Child discipline

1. I agree with Hsiao that spanking is morally justifiable, and I salute his courage in defending an unfashionable but biblical practice. 

2. I'm not a child psychologist, but I doubt that the effectiveness of spanking is primarily due to physical pain. Indeed, that view can lead to excessive punishment. In my observation, the impact is more psychological than physical. 

3. I agree with him that punishment should be defined in terms of wrongdoing, guilt, retribution, and just desert. To classify deterrent, corrective, or remedial action as punitive sows confusion by using the same label for different kinds of actions that may operate from opposing assumptions. It's best to reserve the term "punishment" from retributive justice. 

4. One problem with the classification is that it begs the question of whether spanking is fundamentally punitive. If you define punishment in retributive terms, and you classify spanking as corporal punishment, then by definition, the nature, aim, and justification of spanking lies within that moral framework.

This is not to deny that spanking is sometimes punitive. But it prejudges the nature, aim, and justification of spanking to classify it as corporal punishment. I think we should drop that classification as the umbrella under which we analyze spanking since wrongdoing and culpability are not always the salient consideration. Rather, we should classify spanking under the broader, generic rubric of corporal discipline. This isn't a euphemism, but allows us to avoid a reductionistic understanding of its nature, aim, and justification. 

5. We might differentiate between two objectives for child discipline:

i) Moral conditioning

ii) Deterrence conditioning

Everything is not about morality; some things are about prudence. Teaching kids to be prudent. To avoid hazardous activities when they're too young to appreciate the danger. Where children are concerned, retributive punishment isn't the only justification. When you swat a little child who plays around the stove, that's not about just desert or exacting retribution but deterrence, and that's due to the cognitive immaturity of the child. Due to his condition of diminished responsibility, his hazardous action in that situation can't be blameworthy. It doesn't merit blame. He doesn't deserve punishment. 

Don't automatically shoehorn the warrant for spanking into a retributive paradigm. The warrant for the corporal discipline of children does not require guilt or wrongdoing on their part as a necessary precondition. Although children can do willfully malicious things, that's not the only motivation for their misconduct, and so it's an overgeneralization to assume the only defense of spanking is just desert for wrongdoing. In some cases, spanking conditions a child to avoid risky behavior when he's too young to appreciate the danger. It teaches him to associate the behavior with unpleasant, memorable consequences–spanking! Although he's too young to perceive and fear the danger of the action, he's not to young to fear discipline. That provides a disincentive until he's mature enough to appreciate the risk. He's too young to directly gauge the danger, but he's not too young to indirectly associate the forbidden action with discipline. 

Room with a view

Dexter Horton IV was a self-made man, and he never let you forget it. The sun at the center of his solar system, around whom the satellites revolved. Starting a business from the bottom up, five wives and two estranged sons later, he was the CEO of Fortune 500 company. While many CEOs had limousines, Dexter drove to work in his Bugatti Veyron. Truth be told, there never was a Dexter Horton I, II, or III. He tacked IV onto the end of his name because it sounded more impressive.

Dexter demanded perfection from his underlings. The turnover rate was high. The one person he was close to was Eileen, his secretary of 27 years. She was his first employee. 

At least, everyone, included herself, always thought she was the one person he cared about. That's before she was injured in a traffic accident. He never visited her in the convalescent home. After rehab, she showed up for work, only to find out that he replaced her without notification. 

He bought his two sons, by different wives, into Harvard Business School. He didn't consult them. They balked. They had no interest in following in his footsteps. He cut them out of the will and broke off further communication. For them it hardly made any appreciable difference in their lives, since he was more like a sperm donor than a father. 

Dexter was riding high until one day, at a board meeting, he suffered a stroke. It wasn't a massive stroke, but he was hospitalized, and underwent physical therapy. At first he had to use a walker around the convalescent home. 

He ran the company from his hospital bed. Summoned his entourage, holding court in the convalescent center, barking orders, berating subordinates. He was in his element. 

But one day the retinue never appeared. The king was vexed. Turns out the board quietly relieved him of the chairmanship and pensioned him off, citing a termination clause for incapacity. Dexter was in high dudgeon and threatened a lawsuit, but it was all perfectly legal. 

With the courtiers gone, Dexter was alone all day, every day. He phoned his wives and sons, not having spoken to them for years. One son paid a visit. This was the last chance to be reconciled. For the first few minutes they had a formally pleasant exchange, but Dexter began to complain about how negligent his son was. Never sent him a birthday card or Christmas card. As the conversation degenerated, Dexter called his son a "loser" for refusing to go to Harvard Business School. After the chewing out, his son never came back. That was the first time and last time a family member went to see him. Now Dexter was more alone than ever. For the first time, after his son stormed out of the room, Dexter cried. 

When a chaplain tried to talk to him, Dexter cursed him out. Organized religion was a crutch for the weak. He didn't need God. He didn't need anyone! He was a self-made man! 

Dexter had a roommate whose bed was by the window. Dexter seethed about the fact that his roommate had a view while Dexter was one bed over, away from the view. He hoped his roommate would die soon. The sooner the better. That was the one thing he was tempted to pray about. Had he been a praying man, that's what he'd prayer for–his roommate's swift demise, so that Dexter could have the bed by the window. 

One night his roommate began groaning in pain. Dexter struggled to get out of bed on his own, staggered over to his roommate's bed, and yanked the remote out of reach so that his roommate couldn't use the panic button. 

But he stumbled and fell as he pivoted to go back to his own bed. Due to the injury, Dexter was confined to a wheelchair. 

Next morning, after his dead roommate was taken away, they moved Dexter to the bed by the window. But when he finally had a chance to look out the window, it was facing a concrete wall. That was the view. 

He tried to order the nurses around, making lewd comments about their appearance and groping them when they came within reach. As a result, they stopped responding when he needed someone to walk him to the bathroom. He wet himself and soiled himself while they ignored him. He felt like a missing person. After a while, people stop looking for you. They adjust to the absence. You're gone, but life goes on. 

One night he was seized by wracking chest pain. He pumped the panic button, but no one came. He died clutching the panic button. When they discovered him in the morning, it was curled in the grip of his rigid fist. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

The goal of Bible translation

There's a lot of unnecessary controversy, confusion, and complication about Bible translation philosophy. So let's clear that up once and for all: the goal of faithful Bible translation is to translate the Greek and Hebrew text back into the original King James Version! 

Atheists behaving badly

Enfield Events With None Of The Children Around

Richard Wiseman commented in 1999 that most criticism of the Enfield case amounts to accusing the Hodgson girls of faking it. (To hear Wiseman's comments, go to 11:26 in the audio here.) And Enfield skepticism hasn't changed much since then. Some critics would accuse the Hodgson children in general, not just the girls, of faking the case. So, events that occurred when none of the children were nearby are especially significant. Even if one or more of the children were in a room when something happened there, it could be unlikely that the incident was faked for whatever reasons. But it's helpful to focus on events that occurred when none of the children were around in order to simplify the issue.

Some events of that nature have been discussed publicly, such as in Guy Playfair's book (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 121, 237, 246). To listen to John Burcombe describe some paranormal experiences he had in the Hodgsons' house while he was there alone, go here. I've given other examples in previous posts. And none of the Hodgson children were around when the next family that moved in reported paranormal experiences.

What I want to do in the remainder of this post is provide more examples from Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's tapes. My citations of the tapes will refer to Grosse's with "MG" and Playfair's with "GP". So, MG91B is tape 91B in Grosse's collection, and GP53A is tape 53A in Playfair's.

When an Argument from Silence Becomes Utterly Meaningless

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Multiple fulfillments

Some Christians, myself included, appeal to multiple fulfillments to explain certain prophecies. To outside observers, this probably smacks of special pleading. 

And there is the danger of fooling ourselves by becoming too creative in how we defend a belief-system in the teeth of prima facie evidence to the contrary. Cult members fall into that trap. Of course, it also depends on how much positive evidence you have for your belief-system. The Christian faith is up to its neck in evidence. We have to stand tiptoe to keep from drowning in the evidence. 

However, the question I'd like to briefly explore is whether there's something intrinsically ad hoc about the multiple fulfillment principle. To take a comparison, the Bible contains Gospel promises. If you repent of your sins, trust in Jesus for salvation, commit your life to Christ, you will be saved. But that's certainly consistent with multiple fulfillments. 

Likewise, the Bible contains prayer promises. If you pray for something, God may grant your request. Once again, that's certainly consistent with multiple fulfillments.

Not only do multiple fulfillments not falsify Gospel promises and prayer promises, but if the promises were not fulfilled on multiple occasions, then that would falsify the promises. Suppose, in the course of church history, only one prayer by one Christian was answered. That singular fulfillment would disprove the prayer promises. In order for them to be true, they require multiple fulfillments. These are general promises. So there's nothing ad hoc in principle about something having more than one fulfillment. 

Promises often involve a type/token relation, viz. one promise, but many instances of answered prayer. A one-to-many relation between the promise and the outcome. 

And when you think about it, prophecies are like promises (or threats) about the future. And just as promises can be conditional or unconditional, prophecies can be conditional or unconditional. Just as promises can have a one-to-one fulfillment as well as a one-to-many fulfillment, so can prophecies. 

It might be objected that if a prophecy has so many candidates vying for fulfillment, that makes the prophecy vacuous. But that's not true as a matter of principle–any more than multiple candidates for answered prayer makes prayer promises vacuous.

I'm not suggesting that every prophecy is open to multiple fulfillments. I'm just examining whether, as a matter of principle, it's special pleading to consider that explanation. 

From temple and Transfiguration to Pentecost

A. For secular readers, Ezk 40-48 is a classic example of a failed hope. This was Ezekiel's utopian ancipation for what awaited the post-exilic community. But it never happened. Before getting more specific, I have a few preliminary observations:

B. Strictly speaking, it's not a prophecy. It is descriptive rather than predictive. A verbalized record of what Ezekiel saw in a vision. It has no calendar for when that will happen. It doesn't locate the outcome in the post-exilic restoration. That said, it certainly fosters an expectation regarding the future. 

C. Revelatory dreams and visions may either be literal or allegorical. For instance, the dreams in the Joseph Cycle (Gen 37-50) are allegorical. Likewise, the visions of Zechariah are often allegorical. So even if the outcome doesn't literally correspond to the description, that doesn't falsify it. The comparison may operate at an analogical level–like the revelatory dreams in the Joseph Cycle. A critic might object that this is special pleading, but analogical fulfillment can be clearly recognizable. 

Yes, Virginia, there is a real devil

Here's a personal anecdote (which I post with permission) by a long-time Tblog reader who was into the occult prior to his Christian conversion: 

Just before being saved, I was attending prayer meetings with this group of charismatic roman catholics (this isn't the weird part, believe it or not). One night one of the priests was speaking and his voice kind of faded out as this very oppressive, palpable darkness filled the room. It wasn't so much a lack of light as it was an unbearable sense of evil. After a while, I could clearly make out the sound of cloven hooves stalking around nearby. When I was saved that night, I had a vision of sorts - one in which I saw two paths, at one end was Satan and at the other was the Lord. I went towards Christ and I was immediately filled with the realization that everything in Scripture was true. All the stories about David, everything about the Apostles, I knew that the whole thing was true from the first page to the last. 

With regard to the sound of hooves, I know that this is a popular cliche and that if Satan has any physical form at all then maybe he doesn't actually have goat horns and hooves etc. But who knows, he might be willing to use that form in order to fulfill expectations. As for the vision, I sometimes wonder if that was really the result of my imagination or not. Jesus looked kind of the same way that you see him in paintings. Satan looked like a being cloaked in smoky, shadowy darkness. Perhaps if it was a real vision, I would be more sure of it.

It's that time of year again

Every time Halloween season rolls around, there's a perennial Christian debate about letting your kids celebrate Halloween. 

i) The history of a custom has no particular bearing on its contemporary significance. The past significance of a custom doesn't determine its contemporary significance. 

ii) A boy could wear could wear the costume of an exorcist. That way he's symbolically combatting the dark side.

iii) Wise parents pick their fights. This is not a hill to die on. Parents should avoid making their kids unnecessarily resentful. Save that for real moral issues. A classic mistake many well-meaning, but over-scrupulous Christian parents make is to alienate their kids from the faith by drawing the line over penny-ante issues. There will be real issues like Smartphone usage, social media usage, &c. Drawn the battle lines on serious issues like that.

The ethics of bribery

This is a follow-up to this post:

1. Bribery is morally complex. One complicating factor is that bribery involves two potential parties: the briber and the bribee. And what may be unethical for the bribee may not be unethical for the briber. 

Regarding the bribee, I think demanding, soliciting, or accepting a bribe is probably always wrong. I say "probably" because ethicists can be quite ingenious about concocting esoteric hypothetical exceptions. But offhand I can't think of any realistic exceptions. But may be there are counterexamples I'm overlooking.

2. Regarding the briber, I think offering or giving a bribe is prima facie wrong, but there are situations where that's overridden. There are corrupt societies in which bribery is the only way to obtain essential goods and services. Innocent people, through no fault of their own, find themselves at the mercy of an unjust system. And this is very common throughout human history. 

3. Here's another complicating factor: we usually think of bribery in terms of unfair favors or preferential treatment. Take the recent scandal involving college applicants who feign a disability. That cheats applicants with genuine disabilities. 

But in a deranged society, offering a bribe might be necessary to obtain something to which one is normally entitled. That's something which ought to be available without a bribe. People are shirking their duties when the refuse to provide necessary goods and services unless they receive a bribe. 

Take the hypothetical of the death camp where you offer the commandant a bribe to spare your innocent son from execution. Normally, not murdering innocent people isn't a request for preferential treatment or special favors. It's only in a morally twisted situation that preventing murder is a request for preferential treatment. 

All about the Biden/Trump Ukranian Scandals

This is “impeachment made simple”. Really. Share this with everyone, everywhere. All your friends, all your social media. Even, especially your friends and relatives outside of the country. Blanket the world with this. The subject matter is a bit complex, but this will clarify everything, really.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

Life for life

One of the most moving stories in Rosenbaum’s deeply moving Holocaust and the Halakhah tells of how one can be a great moral hero even when acting out of mistaken conscience. A man in a concentration camp comes to his rabbi with a problem. His son has been scheduled to be executed. But it is possible to bribe the kapo to get him off the death list. However, the kapo have a quota to fill, and if they let off his son, they will kill another child. Is it permissible to bribe the kapo knowing that this will result in the death of another child? The rabbi answers that, of course, it is permissible. The man goes away, but he is not convinced. He does not bribe the kapo. Instead, he concludes that God has called him to the great sacrifice of not shifting his son’s death onto another. The father finds a joy in the sacrifice amidst his mourning.

The rabbi was certainly right. The father’s conscience presumably was mistaken (unless God specifically spoke to him and required the sacrifice). Yet the father is a moral hero in acting from this mistaken conscience.

i) I disagree with Pruss. All things being equal, it's certainly permissible or even obligatory for the father to bribe the kapo to save the life of his innocent young son. And that principle could be extended to protecting innocent lives generally. 

ii) If there are two drowning children, one of whom is yours, it's permissible or even obligatory to save your own. You have a greater duty to your own dependents, despite the tragedy to the other child.

But this hypothetical has greater moral complexity. It isn't just a question of whether the prima facie vice of bribery can be overridden. That's a separate issue. Considered in isolation, sometimes that's justifiable or incumbent. Bribery is not intrinsically wrong. 

But by bribing the kapo, the father would knowingly facilitate child murder. He is collaborating with the child-killers. He becomes a part of that moral and causal nexus. 

So the rabbi was most certainly wrong while the father was most certainly right. Although it would be psychologically understandable if the father did that, and there are mitigating factors, the deed remains objectively heinous. 

iii) Mind you, this assumes we inhabit a moral universe where there's at least one right course of action open to us. That requires a strong doctrine of providence. If, on the other hand, reality confronts us with genuine moral dilemmas, then we're on our own. 

Beale on a Point Against Preterism

"Some preterists believe that the great tribulation was to take place before and during the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. But they do not adequately explain how the churches of Asia Minor would be affected by a future tribulation limited to Jerusalem or even to Palestine." (Beale, Revelation, 435)

From Last Supper to Lord's Supper

1. From what I've read, the fundamental objection to female priests is that a priest assumes the role of alter Christus at Mass. When celebrating the eucharist, the priest is a stand-in for Jesus. Therefore, a priest must be male.

Since I repudiate the whole sacerdotal paradigm, I reject female priests for the same reason I reject male priests. My objection lies further upstream. I reject a key presupposition that underlies that understanding of communion. 

I'm not fighting over a word. If Anglicans wish to call their clergymen priests, I don't care. 

2. However, the issue doesn't stop there. With the possible exception of the Plymouth Brethren, in nearly all Protestant denominations of my acquaintance, elders officiate at communion. From what I can tell, that's a relic of the Catholic paradigm. 

So this is a Christian custom rather than a divine mandate. I don't object to Christian customs, per se. I've always attended churches where the clergy officiate at communion. I do think that's a somewhat pernicious tradition because it fosters bad subliminal theological conditioning. However, I never felt called to start a whole new denomination over this one issue. 

It's one of those things where I sometimes have private mental reservations when I attend a church service. My own theology is so developed that I don't expect any denomination to be the mirror-image of my theology. 

3. This does raise a live issue in theological method. How does the Lord's Supper correspond to the Last Supper? Is the Lord's Supper a theatrical historical reenactment of the Last Supper, where participants resume the same roles as the Last Supper? A sacred play in which the original parts are represented? Or does the Last Supper provide general guidelines for how the Lord's Supper should be celebrated?

4. There's no presumption that the way in which a practice is inaugurated furnishes the template for how it's subsequently observed. For instance, festivals like Yom Kippur, Tabernacles, Firstfruits, and the Feast of Weeks were inaugurated by a thunderstorm theophany and angelophany at Mt. Sinai, but that doesn't mean the initial conditions are repeated every time the festivals were celebrated. Indeed, the initial conditions were unrepeatable.

Likewise, the new covenant community was inaugurated at Pentecost with a fire theophany and xenoglossy, but that doesn't' mean every time the lost are evangelized or a new church is planted, the initial conditions are repeated. Indeed, the fire theophany is unrepeatable while xenoglossy is rare. 

5. For instance, the Last Supper was a Passover Seder meal. As such, roast lamb was on the menu. But when we celebrate communion we don't repeat that detail as a historical reenactment of the Last Supper. 

Needless to say, few denominations practice foot-washing whenever communion is celebrated. Jesus led the disciples in singing a Hallel Psalm at the Last Supper (Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26). But that's not a fixture of most communion liturgies I'm aware of. 

6. The fact that we follow the instructions in the institution of the Lord's Supper doesn't entail we reprise the role of Jesus. That's a non sequitur. We repeat the instructions, not the instructor. If a physician prescribes a medication, that doesn't mean someone must reprise the physician's role every time the patient takes the medication. 

The fact that Jesus presided at the Last Supper doesn't carry over to the Lord's Supper because the Last Supper is a one-time event with some unique circumstances–the foremost being Jesus himself. The instructions for the Lord's Supper don't include instructions for somebody to take his place when we celebrate communion. That confuses the descriptive level of the narrative with the prescriptive level. 

Hart failure

I don't think he does himself any favors with this riposte:

A classic disconnect between the self-image someone is attempting to project and what he actually reveals about himself.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Angel choir

1. In folk theology, heaven has an angel choir. When you die and go to heaven, you hear the angels sing. You might even join the angel choir. Heaven has a mixed choir consisting of saints and angels. There's a vacant seat with your name on it, awaiting your arrival. 

I don't know the history of this belief. Perhaps it was popularized by Handel's Messiah, which turns Lk 2:13-14 into choral music. But to my knowledge there's no clear passage of Scripture which says angels sing. Lk 2:13-14 doesn't say they sang, although praise is consistent with song. So that's evolved into a bit of Christmas folklore, embellished by seasonal anthems, carols, and hymnody. 

There's the passage in Job 38:7, but that's poetic and metaphorical. The Book of Revelation has scenes of heavenly singing, but the choristers seem to be saints rather than angels. 

2. It's often said that choirboys have angelic voices. What's meant by that, I think, is that choirboys have "sexless" voices, in the sense that their voices lack the virile or sensual timbre of opera singers. Even so, choirboys don't have genderless voices: their voices are recognizably male. But they do have an ethereal quality to them. 

3. Assuming for argument's sake that angels sing, how could they sing? 

i) It might be telepathic singing. That still doesn't indicate what it sounds like, but it's a mode of vocalism consistent with discarnate spirits.

ii) They might have human or humanoid voices if they assume corporeal form. Whether that would be a male or female timbre, adult or prepubescent, would depend on the anatomy. 

Still, there's no clear biblical evidence that angels sing. In principle, if you heard or saw angels sing in a near-death experience, that would be prima facie evidence, but that also depends on how near-death experiences map onto reality. 

4. Another question is whether Christians actually sing in heaven. How literally should we take the depictions in Revelation? 

That may be more than a purely hermeneutical question. If Christians sing on earth, it would be natural for them to sing in heaven. They will carry their memories of Christian music with them into the afterlife. 

Admittedly, they can't physically vocalize in heaven. However, I sometimes dream that I'm singing in church, so the saints might sing in that simulated sense. Indeed, heaven is so inspiring that it's hard to see how the saints could resist breaking in song. 

5. This also raises the question of what the saints will sing. Presumably, sainted composers will continue to write music in heaven. Music even better than what they composed on earth.

There are also composers who wrote some great Christian music even though they weren't Christian (e.g. Brahms, Fauré, Ralph Vaughan Williams). Will their particular talent be lost, or will that be transferred to some of the saints? 

In a multiverse scenario, Brahms or Fauré might be Christian in a parallel universe, yet all Christians wind to the same heaven–regardless of where they originate. 

6. Does heaven have its own history of music, that parallels OT history and church history? Does music in heaven mirror the chronological development of music?

For instance, we don't know how the Psalter was sung. We don't know what kind of music it was originally set to. Maybe it was chanted, or maybe it was set to folk tunes. 

When OT saints passed on, was the music they heard and sang in heaven the same kind of music they heard and sang on earth? When medieval Christians died, was the music they heard and sang in heaven the same kind of music they heard and sang on earth? Likewise, Renaissance church music, Baroque church music, Black Gospel, and so on and so forth? 

7. Since God knows the future, it's possible that heavenly music retroactively represents later periods of music. OT saints and medieval saints get to hear Bach, Handel, Vivaldi, Mendelssohn, Fauré , Black Gospel, &c. centuries or millennia ahead of time! 

I haven't said anything about rock music because that's what's played in hell, on jukeboxes. I have that on good authority, from an anonymous source–a high-placed informant in the heavenly hierarchy who shared it with me on condition of confidentiality. 

Admittedly, this post is an exercise in theological speculation. Up to a point, I think that's a way to cultivate heavenly-mindedness. 

Pizza Hut for monasteries

Does the pizza delivery boy get a tip?

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Moreland–is there life after death?

In this post I'll use "dualism" as shorthand for substance dualism. I subscribe to Cartesian interactionist dualism. I don't subscribe to Thomistic dualism (hylomorphism). 

A. This is a fairly useful exchange as far as it goes:

But it tries to cover far too much ground in far too little time. Also, Moreland and the interviewer are talking at cross-purposes for a while, which squanders precious time. 

B. Moreland probably has far more to say about religious pluralism, but due to time constraints, deflected that issue.

C. Up to a point, dualism and physicalism are empirically equivalent explanations. Both are consistent with the data that the interviewer cited, viz. memory loss, inability to form new memories, and loss of cognitive function.

According to dualism, the brain is an interface between the mind and the physical world. It mediates action or information in both directions. If damaged, the brain blocks input or output at both ends. 

If the brain is damaged, that may block new sensory input. That prevents the mind from receiving new information from and about the sensible world.

If, conversely, the brain is damaged, that may block the ability of the mind to communicate with the outside world. Memories are stored in the mind, not the brain. If the brain is damaged, that impedes retrieval. The memories can't get through a washed out bridge. So long as the mind is embodied, that imposes limits on mental activity. 

All things being equal, the scales tip slightly in favor of physicalism as the simpler explanation. All things considered, additional evidence weighs heavily on the dualist side of the scales. 

D. Moreland greatly understates the evidence for the afterlife. I'll begin by proposing a more complex taxonomy:

1. Indirect philosophical evidence for the afterlife

2. Indirect empirical evidence for the afterlife

3. Direct theological evidence for the afterlife

4. Direct empirical evidence for the afterlife

Let's run back through these:

(1)-(2) constitute evidence for dualism. If there's evidence that the mind is ontologically independent of the brain, then that's indirect evidence for the afterlife. That's what makes disembodied consciousness possible. 

1.  Indirect philosophical evidence for the afterlife

i) The hard problem of consciousness. 

Philosophical arguments that the characteristics of consciousness are categorically different from physical structures and events. 

ii) Roderick Chisholm's argument:

2. Indirect empirical evidence for the afterlife

i) Veridical near-death experiences and veridical out-of-body experiences.  

ii) ESP, psychokinesis. If all mental activity takes place inside the brain, then the mind can't know about the physical world or act on the physical world apart from sensory input or the body interacting with its environment. If, conversely, there's empirical evidence that mental activity is not confined to the brain, then that's evidence for the metaphysical possibility of disembodied postmortem survival. 

3. Direct theological evidence for the afterlife

i) The biblical witness to the intermediate state. If there's good evidence that the Bible is a trustworthy source of information, then that's indirect evidence for whatever it teaches. 

ii) The resurrection of Christ

That's evidence, not for the immortality of the soul, but a reembodied state. 

That's what "Christian physicalists" pin their hopes on. However, the immortality of the soul is a bridge to the resurrection of the body. A philosophical objection to "Christian physicalism" is that if consciousness ceases at death, then what God resurrects isn't the same person who died but a copy of the person who died. And that raises questions of personal identity. If your existence is discontinuous, if there's a break or gap in your existence, then what does God restore? Is a copy of you you

4. Direct empirical evidence for the afterlife 

i) A subset of near-death experiences report meeting a decedent who wasn't known to be dead at the time. In a variation, the decedent imparts information that could not naturally be known. If the report is true, that's direct empirical evidence for postmortem survival. 

ii) Veridical postmortem apparitions, viz. poltergeists, grief apparitions, crisis apparitions, Christophanies.