Saturday, January 11, 2020

Ethics for atheists

Is a Bird in the Chan worth two in the bush?

Michael F. Bird
Okay, those bagging Francis Chan for having a high view of the Lord supper, mostly nondenominational and low church Evangelicals, regard catholicity as a swearword and have a view of the sacraments that is mere memorialism heading into christological docetism.

i) Have you ever noticed the alleged parallel between having a high view of the Eucharist and having a high view of Mary? That's compared to having a "low" view. Of course, the adjective "low" generally has pejorative connotations. So the debate is rhetorically front-loaded. 

But it's all a question of context. For instance, is it better to have a high view or low view of Muhammad, Joseph Smith, and Benny Hinn? 

ii) How does having a "mere memorialist" view of a Christian rite head into christological doceism? Is the Son reincarnated in every consecrated wafer? Is every consecrated wafer a separate incarnation of God? 

How is it docetic to differentiate a ceremony from what is symbolizes? Is it docetic to differentiate a Christian cross from the event of Christ's crucifixion? Is it docetic to differentiate a Christmas service from the actual Incarnation? Is it docetic to differentiate an Easter service from what happened 2000 years ago? 

Does Michael Bird think the communion wine is in fact the hemoglobin of Jesus? If not, then he's playing a bait-n-switch. 

iii) BTW, even on the reflexively reviled Zwinglian view, the communion elements aren't mere bread and wine. In terms of their composition, they're just bread and wine. But when used in a communion service, they're not mere bread and wine because in that context they've been assigned a particular religious function. They acquire a significance in that setting which they don't have on the dinner table. The significance of an action is often context-dependent. The same action may have a variable-significance according to the setting. Take the difference between an erotic kiss and a platonic kiss. 

Paul declares that the Lord's supper is a "participation" (κοινωνία) in Jesus' body and blood. You cannot participate in what is not real or not present. See 1 Cor 10:15-16!

The worshipers participate in something real by participating in the rite. It's a real rite. The ceremony is present. 

And the ceremony commemorates their actual participation in the sacrifice of Christ because they have a share in the redemptive death of Christ by virtue of vicarious atonement. He redeemed them by his blood. 

Some evangelicals believe in the doctrine of the real absence of Jesus, wherever Jesus is, he's nowhere near the bread and the wine, better to leave Jesus' presence outside the celebration, or else we might turn Catholic.

Cute but willfully equivocal. Ordinarily, Jesus isn't physically present in a worship service. It is, of course, possible for Jesus to appear to people in dreams and visions. And it's possible for Jesus to appear to be physically present with them. To occupy their time and space. The paradigm-cases are the post-Resurrection appearances in the NT, but Jesus can do that in the course of church history he and when he wants to. 

But by virtue of the Ascension, Jesus is normally absent on earth. Worshipers aren't excluding Jesus from the celebration. He hasn't been banished or evicted. Rather, he physically absents himself. We can't summon him against his will. We live between the Ascension and the Parousia. Most of the time, Jesus isn't here, although we can make allowance for occasional Christophanies in church history. But that's unpredictable and unexpected. 

Why do people believe in hell?

I'm going to comment on an article by David Bentley Hart:

He's an essayist and Eastern Orthodox theologian. One of those chic fashionable theologians like Miroslav Volf or Eugene Peterson with a following among those who view themselves as progressive Christian cognoscenti. This is their idea of intellectually respectable Christianity. The Protestant counterpart to Catholic Thomists. 

It raises a troubling question of social psychology. It's comforting to imagine that Christians generally accept the notion of a hell of eternal misery not because they're emotionally attached to it but because they see it as a small, inevitable zone of darkness peripheral to the larger spiritual landscape that–viewed in its totality–they find ravishingly lovely. And this is true of many. 

i) I don't have a precise idea regarding the scale of damnation, but I hardly think it's small. 

ii) And I regard eternal retributive justice as a necessary background for a moral universe. That's not peripheral. 

But not of all. For a good number of Christians, hell isn't just a tragic shadow cast across one of an otherwise ravishing vista's remoter corners; rather, it's one of the the landscape's most conspicuous and delectable details. 


After all, the idea comes to us in such a ghastly gallery of images: late Augustinianism's unbaptized babes descending in their thrashing billions to perpetual and condign combustion; Dante's exquisitely psychotic dream of twisted, mutilated, broiling souls. St. Francis Xavier morosely informing his weeping Japanese converts that their deceased parents must suffer an eternity of agony.

Hart's tactic is to discredit hell by amalgamating an image of hell based on disparate literary and ecclesiastical traditions. But that's an exercise in misdirection. We can strip away the traditional accretions. The core doctrine goes back to the witness of Scripture. 

Surely it would be welcome news if it turned out that, on the matter of hell, something got garbled in transmission. And there really is room for doubt.

Welcome for whom? Welcome for the wicked? No doubt it would be welcome to the wicked to elude justice in the afterlife as well as this life. 

No truly accomplished NT scholar, for instance, believes that later Christianity's opulent mythology of God's eternal torture chamber is clearly present in the scriptural texts. 

The principle of hell isn't "torture" but retributive justice. In some cases that may involve torture. It would be poetic justice for someone who tortured (or ordered the torture of) the innocent in this life to be on the receiving end of the process. But that's not the essence of eschatological punishment. 

It's entirely absent from St. Paul's writings. The only eschatological fire he ever mentions brings salvation to those whom it tries (1 Cor 3:15). 

How did Hart miss this passage?

4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. 5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed (2 Thes 1:5-10).

He goes on to say:

There are a few terrible, surreal, allegorical images of judgment in the Book of Revelation, but nothing that, properly read, yields a clear doctrine of eternal torment. 

So he asserts. But that brushes aside exegetical arguments to the contrary 

Even the frightening language used by Jesus in the Gospels, when read in the original Greek, fails to deliver the infernal dogmas we casually assume to be there. 

He acts like he's the only person who can read the Gospels in the original Greek. 

On the other hand, many NT passages seem–and not metaphorically–to promise the eventual salvation of everyone.  

i) Arminians and universalists help themselves to the same prooftexts. As a Calvinist, the universalist prooftexts present no new or special challenge for me because I interpret them the same way I interpret Arminian prooftexts. I don't have to make any adjustments. I already have a counter-interpretation.

ii) But over above that, there's also the problem of arranging passages into a particular chronological sequence. Consider two eschatological sequences:

a) The dead pass into the intermediate state. On the day of judgment there's the general resurrection. They saints experience everlasting bliss while the wicked experience everlasting misery. 

b) Some of the dead experience postmortem remedial punishment, after which they go to heaven. They pass through a purgatorial hell on the way to heaven.

Biblical eschatology as a consistent (a) sequence. But the universalist sequence is nowhere found in Scripture. Indeed, it requires splicing and rearranging the standard sequence. 

Still, none of that accounts for the deep emotional need many modern Christians seem to have for an eternal hell. And I don't mean those who ruefully accept the idea out of religious allegiance, or whose sense of justice demands that Hitler and Pol Pot get their proper comeuppance, or who think they need the prospect of hell to keep themselves on the straight and narrow. Those aren't the ones who scream and foam in rage at the thought that hell might be only a stage along the way to a final universal reconciliation. 

i) Being the demagogue that he is, Hart has engineered a rhetorical dilemma. He imputes an untoward motive to many Christians who uphold hell. In one sense it's hard to defend yourself against the charge. If you really do harbor untoward motives, you'd deny it. So it's a maliciously circular allegation. 

ii) Then there's the false dichotomy of insinuating that if you believe something because you're supposed to believe it, you can only do so ruefully or grudgingly. If, however, something is true, it may also be morally, emotionally, and/or intellectually satisfying. We can believe something out of duty but also believe it to be good or admirable. In that event we don't even have to reach for duty. 

iii) I suspect that like many Christians, I have mixed feelings about hell. On the one hand I hope all my loved ones are saved. And natural human compassion extends that impulse to many (but not all) strangers.

On the other hand, injustice is galling. A world without ultimate justice mocks the good. Erases the difference between virtue and vice, good and evil. Ironically, universalism is casting the same shadow as atheism in that regard. Nothing you do ultimately makes any difference. Universalism has a nihilistic underbelly in that respect. Like Hinduism and Buddhism, where enlightened reality is beyond good and evil. Nihilism and fatalism go together. 

iv) While universalism has an undoubted element of appeal, there's a coercive quality to the universalist bargain. The offer is that God will save your murdered daughter for a price: only if God also saves the man who murdered her. Save both or damn both. Sophie's Choice transposed to the key of universalism. 

v) Compassion is the ability to care about the plight of those whose misfortunate you haven't personally experienced. Despite that, you imaginatively project yourself into their situation. What if that was me? Paradoxically, while it may be wrong to harbor vengeful feelings toward your personal enemies, if you have any, it can be commendable to wish the worst for someone else's enemies. That's a disinterested kind of vengeance. A longing that justice be done on behalf of others. 

Theological history can boast few ideas more chilling than the claim (of, among others, Thomas Aquinas) that the beatitude of the saved in heaven will be increased by their direct vision of the torments of the damned.

That's another trope that opponents of hell constantly trot out. Again, it's just an ecclesiastical tradition. 

But as long as he brings it up: while it would be wrong for the saints to derive glee from watching the damned suffer forever, there's nothing intrinsically wrong–indeed, there's something intrinsically right–about victims seeing assailants punished. That's not the same thing as hell mounted with cameras so that saints can voyeuristically tune into the miseries of the damned. But when victims see their assailants punished, that's a way to put the ordeal behind them and move on to better things.  

But as awful as that sounds, it may be more honest in its sheer cold impersonality than is the secret pleasure that many of us, at one time or another, hope to derive not from seeing but from being seen by those we leave behind. 

Well that depends. Suppose a Muslim woman converts to Christianity. As punishment she is gang-raped and beheaded. On the day of judgment, is there something wrong with her waving goodbye to her assailants? They watch her turn around and enter the everlasting light of paradise while they are left behind. It sinks in that they were blindly following a false prophet. They never once paused to ask whether there was any decent evidence for Muhammad's prophet pretensions? They used Islam as a pretext for sadism. They were the winners in this life but the losers in the next life. Their victim was the loser in this life but the winner in the next life.

How can we be winners, after all, if there are no losers? Where's the joy in getting into the gated community and the private academy if it turns out the gates are merely decorative and the academic has an inexhaustible scholarship program for the underprivileged? What success can there be that isn't validated by another's failure? What heaven can there be for us without an eternity in which to relish the impotent envy of those outside its walls. 

i) To begin with, the Bible does have a doctrine regarding the reversal of fortunes. 

ii) That said, Hart's imputed motive is twisted. Christian missionaries are like escapees who got out of the war zone but keep going back to rescue others. They don't say, "I made it! To hell with the rest of you!" No, having found the way out, they go back into the hellhole to lead as many of the lost as they can into the light. 

iii) Speaking for myself, when I look forward to the afterlife, it has nothing to do with keeping a tally of the losers. It has nothing to do with thinking about the damned at all. 

Friday, January 10, 2020

Parsing the Incarnation

A comment left on my EO post:

I think you need to strengthen your notion of hypostatic union.

I wasn't offering a detailed view of my position. I've explicated my position in other posts. 

1. The humanity that the Logos took from Mary is a real and perfect humanity.

i) Humanity includes both body and soul. He did receive his soul from Mary?

ii) No doubt his humanity is real. I'm not sure what is meant by "perfect". Does that mean morally perfect? If so, yes. 

Does that mean Jesus had to have 20/20 vision? No. His humanity could be "imperfect" in the sense of, say, having a congenital heart defect, or allergies. He didn't need to be a specimen of physical perfection. 

2. The whole point of the incarnation is HE who is God has truly become Immanuel- God with us as man.

Is that the whole point? That's not even the primary point. The Incarnation was a necessary condition for him to make penal substitution for the elect. A means to an end. 

3. For HE to be truly man, he must truly make his own that humanity that is common to the elect.

i) True, but it may be worth expatiating on that point. A standard way of putting it is that human beings share a common nature. Every human being is a property instance or exemplification of human nature.

ii) Another way of putting it is that God has a constitutive idea of what makes humans human, as well as a constitutive idea for unique individual. God creates individual human beings according to his complete idea for each, with its distinctiveness as well as commonality. 

iii) When, however, the Son assumes or unites himself to a concrete human nature, that doesn't have a domino effect on other human beings. It's a self-contained instance, separate from other human beings. The Incarnation doesn't transmit something to human beings in general. He is related to other human beings at a natural level, but he assumes a particularized nature. The action doesn't change other human beings, as if the Incarnation is a circuit which relays a current to human beings generally. 

4. Therefore, the Logos neither displaces the human mind of Christ (Apollinarianism) nor is he separated from the mind of Christ (Nestorianism). Rather- The Logos, the second person of the trinity, has taken and made, as HIS OWN a full and complete humanity. So the flesh of Christ is the flesh of the Logos. The soul of Christ is the soul of the Logos. The mind of Christ is the mind of the Logos- not in a fusion of mixing, but in a unity of person. “The Logos became flesh.” 

i) As a matter of terminology, I prefer in this context to say the "Son" rather than the "Logos"–inasmuch as the Logos is an economic term for the Son in his contingent role as the Creator of the world, whereas the Son is a divine title, connoting his eternal, ontological identity.

Since, moreover, I don't think the Son and Spirit derive their existence from the Father, I avoid the "first/second/third person(s)" of the Trinity rubric. I side with the Trinitarian paradigm of theologians like Warfield, Frame, and Helm. 

ii) If the word "flesh" comes from Jn 1:14, then we need to define it in Johannine terms. 

iii) "Person" or hypostasis is a term of art in Cyrillian Christology. 

iv) I don't know what is intended by statements like "the mind of Christ is the mind of the Logos". Is that an allusion to the an/enhypostatic union? But that raises familar questions about whether such a nature is a defective, incomplete human nature. To be truly human, Jesus must have a rational human soul. 

5. Therefore, the human mind of Christ always had the infused vision of his divinity- the divinity proper to the Logos.

It's not a two-way conduit. The human mind doesn't have access to the divine mind unless the divine mind shares something with the human mind. 

Of course, from the time his human mind was old enough to understand, Jesus knew he was God Incarnate. There's a dual-consciousness, and the individual was aware of his complex identity, even in his human consciousness. 

6. If the Logos can hold two natures in connection, but not union- then the he who died on the cross cannot save us- for he dies solely as man, not God-made-man, and he rises solely as God, nor God-made-man.

I never said it was a connection rather than a union. Mind you, "union" is a just a generic, neutral verbal placeholder. It doesn't do much theological work. That depends, not on a particular word, but a philosophical model. 

7. Therefore, for the sake of the elect, it is necessary to proclaim that Immanuel is truly God, having made his OWN that humanity conceived in the womb of the Virgin Mary from the first instant of its conception.

"His own" in the sense of a unique property instance of human nature uniquely and permanently coupled with the divine Son. 

You’re perilously close to Paul of Samosata and Nestorius. Tread carefully. 

There's nothing adoptionist about my position. The human nature of Christ only exists in virtue of the Incarnation. As for modalism, unitarian philosopher Dale Tuggy accuses me of Tritheism (on his tendentious characterization). "Nestorian" is a term of abuse rarely defined with precision, and routinely used as a lazy intellectual shortcut. In other posts I've provided models to illustrate the asymmetrical relation between the divine and human natures. 

My primary frame of reference is NT Christology. Beyond that we're left with philosophical theology. I'm not obliged to confine myself to the conceptual resources of Cyril of Alexandria. The ongoing history of ideas has provided us with additional analogies we can use to refine Christology. It's necessary to do full justice to what the NT says about the person of Christ. If that generates some tensions with Cyrillian Christology, so be it. 

Fisking Fesko (Transcendental Arguments)

The rose in the death camp

For believers–as well as unbelievers–our attitude towards life and adversity has a lot to do with what we think is normal, expected, and exceptional. For instance, we may expect a park to be scenic. Pretty trees. Flowers in springtime. Nicely landscaped. Maybe a river, pond, or lake. 

In that setting, an eyesore sticks out. It's incongruous and disrupts the pleasant effect. We notice the eyesore more than anything else. If only we could get rid of the eyesore. If the general background is scenic, then ugliness draws undue attention to itself. 

But take a concentration camp, POW camp, or reeducation camp where ugliness is pervasive. Concrete buildings. Mud. Filth. Stench. Rusty barbed wire fences. Lack of foliage. Lack of color. Harsh or dismal light. Not to mention the physical and psychological suffering and cruelty. 

Suppose a wild rose bush blossoms in the camp. That stands out as something unexpectedly good. A boon or windfall. Not to be taken for granted but cherished. Just as a scenic background highlights an eyesore, an ugly background highlights a glimpse or glimmer of something better. A relief or refuge from the norm. A token of hope.

So it all depends on the point of contrast. And that can be psychological as well as physical. Mentally speaking, what do we put in the background? 

A less dramatic example is an ugly city with a cathedral. Once you leave the street and enter the cathedral, you put the raucous noise and urban blight behind you. Like a portal into a different world. 

Do we view a fallen world a blighted heaven or hell with pockets of heaven? Is it the vestibule to heaven or the vestibule to hell? 

What we mentally put into the background, what we regard as expected or exceptional, can affect whether, as Christians, our experience is characterized by pleasant surprise and thanksgiving or bitter resentment, betrayal, and disillusionment. Do we count our blessings or count our curses? Do we count on blessings, or regard them as a boon. 

It's important for our own peace of mind, as well as those we relate to, adjust to a realistic outlook and cultivate an attitude that isn't too optimistic or pessimistic, pollyannaish or cynical.  

Thursday, January 09, 2020

A sufferer-centered theodicy

In his chapter, Erik Wielenberg argues that life in a Christian universe is absurd, in that it would be impossible for most humans to be happy if they understood and accepted its entailments. He thinks Christianity makes life absurd because it entails what I elsewhere (2017) called a “strong sufferer-centered requirement on theodicy,” i.e., it entails that God would not allow an undeserved, involuntarily undergone evil to befall someone unless it ultimately benefited them. Since any (undeserved, etc.) evil will benefit its sufferer, this gives us a reason to inflict suffering on others, which Wielenberg expects to have devastating psychological consequences. As he formalizes the argument:

1. Necessarily, if God exists, then whenever a person P experiences undeserved
involuntary suffering, P is better off overall than P would have
been without the suffering.
2. So: Necessarily, if God exists, then whenever a person A causes another
person B to experience undeserved involuntary suffering, B is better off
overall than B would have been without the suffering (from 1).
3. God’s existence makes it true (or would make it true) that each of us is
morally obligated to pursue the good of others.
4. Necessarily, if (i) A is morally obligated to pursue B’s good and (ii) A’s
performing act X would make B better off overall, then (iii) A has a fact relative
reason to perform X.
5. So, God’s existence makes it true (or would make it true) that C: each of
us has a fact-relative reason to cause others to experience undeserved
involuntary suffering (from 2, 3 and 4)
6. Most human beings are such that if they were to accept (C), they would
experience negative psychological consequences that would make it difficult
or impossible for them to be happy (without also failing to accept
at least one entailment of (C)).
7. Therefore, the claim that God exists makes life absurd (from 5 and 6).

Wielenberg is a leading atheist philosopher. So what are we to make of the argument?

1. There's some moral ambiguity in referring to undeserved suffering. Suppose a drug lord hires a hit man. The hit man has a fling with the drug lord's daughter, but the affair sours and she falsely accuses him of rape. The drug lord tortures the hit man to death. In a sense, that's undeserved suffering inasmuch as the hit man is innocent of the allegation. But it hardly follows that divine justice requires that to accrue to the ultimate benefit of the "wronged" hit man. Of course, that's not the kind of example Wielenberg has in mind, but it shows that as a matter of principle, his assumption fails since he overgeneralized.

2. There's a difference between claiming the innocent suffer should ultimately benefit from what he endured and claiming he should be compensated for what he endured. Suppose someone innocently suffers for the benefit of another, but is compensated for his suffering. He may not be better off for what he suffered. Indeed, he may be worse off for what he suffered. The individual on whose behalf he suffered is better off. And the innocent sufferer is compensated. But that doesn't mean it was for his benefit or that he's better off overall than before. 

3. Finally, there's nothing good about suffering for the sake of suffering. Redemptive suffering is not interchangeable with gratuitous suffering. The experience of unjust suffering is not, in itself, beneficial to anyone. That's only the case if evil operates within a teleological framework. At best, Wielenberg's argument only goes through in a world where God allows gratuitous evil, which he must then redirect for the ultimate or overall benefit of the innocent sufferers. 

Is prayer ethical?

This is another post on the perennial "problem of unanswered prayer". The point of the question is not whether it's unethical to pray. The question, rather, is whether it's unethical for God to make the satisfaction of certain needs conditional on prayer. 

Before proceeding, let's narrow the terms. There are different kinds of prayer: prayers of praise, confession, and thanksgiving. The focus of my little post is on petitionary prayer, and intercessory prayer, which is a subset of petitionary prayer. 

We pray for different reasons. In some cases we pray for reasons of piety rather than necessity. Suppose I get a job offer for a better job in a better town. I pray about it. My acceptance of the offer isn't contingent on my receiving a discernible answer to prayer. If I don't hear back from God (so to speak), I'll take the job. Put another way, I'll take the job unless something comes up. By praying to God, I'm asking God to make the offer fall through if it's a bad idea. 

Likewise, we pray when a loved one undergoes surgery. The prayer may be unnecessary. The surgery might be successful with or without prayer. But maybe prayer makes the difference. It would be presumptuous not to pray just because it might work out anyway. 

Then there are desperate prayers. We pray because we really really need something that only God can provide, for us or for a loved one. The outcome is beyond our human control. 

Why doesn't God just meet the need without making it contingent on prayer? The conventionally pious explanation is that the habit of prayer cultivates an awareness of our utter dependence on God. If our needs were provided for automatically, we'd take it for granted. We'd become presumptuous. But because prayer is a conscious act, it forces us to be conscious of our neediness and vulnerability and reliance on God. 

And answered prayer is a great encouragement. We desperately needed something only God could supply, and God supplied our need! 

That explanation is fine as far as it goes, but does it run aground in the case of unanswered prayer? What happens when God makes the satisfaction of a desperate need conditional on prayer, but then refuses the request? Does the logic still work? 

In a paradoxical way, unanswered prayer makes us at least as acutely aware of our need for divine provision as answered prayer. If anything, it rubs it in. If we don't get what we ask for, the need goes unmet. We really needed something only God could provide, but he declined. So the need remains outstanding. And that's a painful way to experience our hopeless dependence on God. It was something only God could do, he refused, so we're at a loss. It hurts. The inconsolable disappointment. 

Rebuffed. No remedy. Nowhere else to go. No one else to turn to. No other resources to fall back on. That was our only chance.

So we're bereft. But to be bereft reminds us of what it's like to try to make it on our own without God. It's God or nothing. And sometimes we face divine abandonment. We feel deserted at the very time we most needed a sign or answer from God. Yet that's an excruciating reminder of how alone we are in the world, if we were truly in a godless universe. The effect can be spiritually alienating, but it is a way, albeit brutal, to drive the message home. If you don't have God you don't have anything. Because sometimes that's our experience, even as Christians. You wait for something that never happens. The window of opportunity closes. 

There's a certain tension in being a Christian apologist. A Christian apologist may find himself in the position of defending a God who's wounded him or wounded his loved ones. A Christian apologist is not shielded from adversity.

Sometimes life in a fallen world is like a concentration camp. Sometimes the camp is liberated. But sometimes death is the only escape. A shallow, unmarked grave facing this side of the world–with heaven on the other side. 

Faith and fathers

“The demographic characteristics of the linguistic and religious groups in Switzerland” by Werner Haug and Phillipe Warner of the Federal Statistical Office, Neuchatel. It appears in Volume 2 of Population Studies No. 31, a book titled The Demographic Characteristics of National Minorities in Certain European States, edited by Werner Haug and others, published by the Council of Europe Directorate General III, Social Cohesion, Strasbourg, January 2000.

All this information is readily obtainable because Switzerland always asks a person’s religion, language, and nationality on its decennial census. Now for the really interesting bit.

In 1994 the Swiss carried out an extra survey that the researchers for our masters in Europe (I write from England) were happy to record. The question was asked to determine whether a person’s religion carried through to the next generation, and if so, why, or if not, why not. The result is dynamite. There is one critical factor. It is overwhelming, and it is this: It is the religious practice of the father of the family that, above all, determines the future attendance at or absence from church of the children.

If both father and mother attend regularly, 33 percent of their children will end up as regular churchgoers, and 41 percent will end up attending irregularly. Only a quarter of their children will end up not practicing at all. If the father is irregular and mother regular, only 3 percent of the children will subsequently become regulars themselves, while a further 59 percent will become irregulars. Thirty-eight percent will be lost.

If the father is non-practicing and mother regular, only 2 percent of children will become regular worshippers, and 37 percent will attend irregularly. Over 60 percent of their children will be lost completely to the church.

Let us look at the figures the other way round. What happens if the father is regular but the mother irregular or non-practicing? Extraordinarily, the percentage of children becoming regular goes up from 33 percent to 38 percent with the irregular mother and to 44 percent with the non-practicing, as if loyalty to father’s commitment grows in proportion to mother’s laxity, indifference, or hostility.

Before mothers despair, there is some consolation for faithful moms. Where the mother is less regular than the father but attends occasionally, her presence ensures that only a quarter of her children will never attend at all.

Even when the father is an irregular attender there are some extraordinary effects. An irregular father and a non-practicing mother will yield 25 percent of their children as regular attenders in their future life and a further 23 percent as irregulars. This is twelve times the yield where the roles are reversed.

Where neither parent practices, to nobody’s very great surprise, only 4 percent of children will become regular attenders and 15 percent irregulars. Eighty percent will be lost to the faith.

While mother’s regularity, on its own, has scarcely any long-term effect on children’s regularity (except the marginally negative one it has in some circumstances), it does help prevent children from drifting away entirely. Faithful mothers produce irregular attenders. Non-practicing mothers change the irregulars into non-attenders. But mothers have even their beneficial influence only in complementarity with the practice of the father.

In short, if a father does not go to church, no matter how faithful his wife’s devotions, only one child in 50 will become a regular worshipper. If a father does go regularly, regardless of the practice of the mother, between two-thirds and three-quarters of their children will become churchgoers (regular and irregular). If a father goes but irregularly to church, regardless of his wife’s devotion, between a half and two-thirds of their offspring will find themselves coming to church regularly or occasionally.

A non-practicing mother with a regular father will see a minimum of two-thirds of her children ending up at church. In contrast, a non-practicing father with a regular mother will see two-thirds of his children never darken the church door. If his wife is similarly negligent that figure rises to 80 percent!

Mothers’ choices have dramatically less effect upon children than their fathers’, and without him she has little effect on the primary lifestyle choices her offspring make in their religious observances.

Her major influence is not on regular attendance at all but on keeping her irregular children from lapsing altogether. This is, needless to say, a vital work, but even then, without the input of the father (regular or irregular), the proportion of regulars to lapsed goes from 60/40 to 40/60.

The Writings Of The Enfield Poltergeist

The poltergeist's communication through knocking and its voice get a lot of attention. Much less is said about the occasions when it communicated through writing.

I'll be citing Maurice Grosse and Guy Playfair's Enfield tapes. I'll use "MG" to designate Grosse's tapes and "GP" to designate Playfair's. MG18A refers to Grosse's tape 18A, GP82A refers to Playfair's tape 82A, and so on.

I don't think any other type of phenomena started as inauspiciously as the writing. Playfair expresses some doubts about the events in his book (This House Is Haunted [United States: White Crow Books, 2011], 77), and he mentions on the tapes that both he and Grosse were hesitant about some of what occurred (GP11B, 1:32, 5:37). There's good evidence for much of it, though, and writing is an important form of communication that can provide a lot of information, so we should work through the difficulties.

There's a discussion of the earliest incidents at 7:51 on tape MG14A. Margaret and Peggy came across writing on a couple of occasions and threw it away, because they initially thought somebody had been joking around. It wasn't until later that they gave more consideration to the possibility that the poltergeist was doing the writing. There was some ongoing skepticism, though, since some of the writing resembled Janet's, and her paper was sometimes used. However, a variety of writing styles were utilized, and it's unlikely that Janet would have ever used writing resembling her normal writing if she was capable of writing in a significantly different manner. Given the mischievous nature of this poltergeist (and many others), which I've discussed elsewhere, as well as some of its other characteristics, there is a reasonable chance that it would imitate Janet to some degree. In the previous post just linked, I discuss the example of the Hodgson children's hostility to the Burcombes, which the poltergeist imitated and took much further than any of the children did. The writing incidents also exhibit that hostility. On another tape I'll discuss below (MG19A, 17:38), Grosse comments that he thinks the poltergeist is involved in "a deliberate attempt to cause dissension between the two families [the Hodgsons and the Burcombes]…a very calculated move on the part of the entity to cause dissension". He compares the situation and their interactions with the poltergeist in general to a game of chess, in which the poltergeist makes a move and they make a countermove. Janet denied faking any of the events in question, and I'm not aware of her ever getting caught faking any of the writing phenomena. But Margaret, especially, was angry with her and suspicious of some of the writing incidents. (The suspicions, anger, and accusations from Margaret and Peggy don't sit well with skeptical claims about how one or both of them supposedly were working with Janet to fake the entire case.) Given the factors just mentioned, Janet's personality, and the fact that she did sometimes fake incidents and joke around about matters related to the poltergeist, I think there has to be more skepticism than usual about some of the writing phenomena. There's sufficient evidence for the paranormality of some of the events, however, as I'll discuss below.

Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Dating Daniel

Miraculous healing and faith-healers

This is useful up to a point. Mind you, his experience was limited to an 18-month period. And the sample of faith-healers was very small. Not to mention that the psychic healers are prima facie charlatans from the get-go.

He didn't debunk miraculous healing. He only debunked some faith-healers.

This raises the question of whether there are healers in the sense of gifted individuals with the supernatural ability to heal the sick on a regular basis. That doesn't mean God can't heal through individuals, but it may be on rare occasion. Peter Bide comes to mind.

Revelation: the movie

The Apocalypse is the most cinematic book of the Bible. Thanks to advances in CGI, it's now possible to film Revelation. Do a cinematic adaptation. 

It's useful to play director. A useful mental exercise because a director must visualize what he's going to film. He has to make many interpretive judgment calls. So a director is like a commentator, only in the case of book like Revelation, the material lends itself to the cinematic imagination. So even though the average reader isn't going to turn Revelation into a feature-length film, it's a good interpretive exercise. 

1. Plot

Premils typically think Revelation has a linear plot, at least from 4-22. Modern-day amils typically think Revelation has a largely recursive plot, although it straightens out towards the end for the definitive, end-of-the-world events. 

So should a director film the plot in the original sequence, or rearrange things according to what he thinks is the intended structure? 

I think it best to film the plot as is. Even if it's implicitly recursive to some degree, that's best brought out by a linear storyline. The very linearity provides a point of contrast for when events fold back on themselves. There are stock cinematic conventions for showing flashbacks. 

Also, it's important for the director to avoid taking unnecessary liberties with the sacred text. 

2. Setting

There are several different options. 

i) 1C Roman Empire

If you're a preterist, you think the 1C time and place go together. When it happens and where it happens are synchronized. 

In traditional (Roman) preterism, the 1C Roman Empire is the terminus ad quo while the fall of the Roman Empire (however that's dated) is the terminus ad quem.  

ii) 1C Roman Empire placeholder 

If you're an amil, you might give it a 1C setting but with the proviso that the 1C setting is a stand-in for events throughout church history.  So even though it has a 1C setting, that may refer to later events.

From the standpoint of a movie-viewer, (ii) will be neutral with respect to preterism, amillennialism, or even premillennialism. It would be open to a futuristic perspective, but all the audience would see is the 1C setting. 

iii) Futuristic setting

If you're premil, you might give it a futuristic setting. It would be future in relation to whenever the movie is made. The director will project it further into the future.

The dilemma of a futuristic setting is that futuristic scenarios often become very dated because that's not how the future turns out. 

A futuristic setting requires the director to take greater liberties by devising futuristic counterparts to the stuff in Revelation.

What did John see? We don't know for sure what John saw. On an amil or premil interpretation, did he see future events set in 1C terms, or did he see future events as they actually appear in the future, but narrated them in stock imagery and 1C terms because he lacked the vocabulary or common frame of reference to describe them on their own terms?

The reader doesn't have direct access to John's imagination, so we can't be sure what he saw. But it's best to be conservative. 

3. Genre

i) Literal

i) Allegorical

ii) Historical fiction

iii) Science fiction

iv) Fantasy

By fantasy and science fiction, I don't mean that's the actual genre of the Apocalypse. Rather, I mean that if a director was adapting Revelation to the film medium, would it be appropriate to use the conventions and furniture of science fiction or fantasy to depict the action? Science fiction would provide futuristic analogies for the 1C imagery. 

That raises some interesting theological issues. The danger of a science fiction adaptation is to secularize the material. Especially in "hard science fiction," advanced technology replaces "magic".

However, that can be a false dichotomy. The Christian worldview alternates between miracle and ordinary providence. Science coexists with miracle, answered prayer, and special providence. So these aren't mutually exclusive paradigms.

That said, a fantasy genre might be more suited to Revelation. Again, I don't mean "fantasy" in the sense of fictional. Rather, I mean fantasy is more suited to supernaturalism. 

In addition, the Apocalypse is visionary revelation with a surreal quality, so a fantasy adaptation might be more fitting to the nature of the material. It's not realistic in terms of physics. Rather, the power comes from agents with psychokinetic abilities. Mind over matter. 

I'd add that a director doesn't necessarily have to make exclusive editorial choices. He could shoot some of the same scenes from alternate genres and let the audience decide which is more authentic. 

4. Characters

i) How should a director depict angels? In Scripture, angels have three forms. Sometimes they look indistinguishable from normal human males. At least what you can see of them. Sometimes they're humanoid but luminous. Then you have tetramorphs (cherubim, seraphim). 

And still leaves a lot to be penciled in. Angels simulate human form, but in how much anatomical detail? They don't have the hormones to produce the facial and body hair of adult males, so are they beardless? Presumably they have an ageless appearance. Do they all look like twin brothers? 

What's the ethnicity of angels? I presume they blend to match the people-group they appear to. 

On film, should they appear corporeal, or more like translucent energy fields, viz. a holographic image of a human being? That would emphasize their numinous nature. 

ii) What about Satan? Although Revelation calls him a snake and a dragon, he's not literally reptilian. Perhaps he could have a humanoid appearance with ophidian eyes 

5. Application

We might now consider some specific scenes in Revelation:

Chap. 1 The opening scene is prosaic. A penal colony on Patmos.

i) But it quickly shifts to the overwhelming Christophany, with stars, menorah, and angels. What should Jesus look like? An enhanced image of the Shroud of Turin is one possibility. I'm not vouching for its authenticity, but it's recognizable and looks Jewish. However, this is an incadescent Christophany. So Jesus would have to have a nimbic aura. 

ii) The identity of the angels is a crux. One attractive possibility is to depict them as warrior angels (cherubs) who protect the churches. That would fit the admonitory function of angels on tombstones in ancient Anatolia, which is the setting for the seven churches of Asia Minor:

It's as good a guess as any, and has dramatic appeal. 

Chaps 2-4 Letters to churches 

Rather than have a narrator read the letters aloud, the director should have cameo scenes of what the letters describe. 

Chap 5 Throne room

i) This is a challenge for a director. There's the danger that any cinematic depiction will be a letdown. It can't rise to the necessary expectations. Likewise, there's the danger that depicting the figure on the throne will be irreverent and anticlimactic. 

ii) However, lightning is the primary illumination in the throne room. Lightning both reveals and conceals. You only see glimpses through flashes of lightning. So that simplifies the challenge. In addition, the rainbow is like a screen obscuring the figure on the throne, preserving God's unapproachability. 

iii) Not coincidentally, the gemstones, rainbow, and sea of glass are light-reflective materials. So it's like a kaleidoscopic mirror. 

iv) The sea of glass may be the benign, celestial counterpart to the malign, infernal lake of fire. 

In Revelation there's a certain symmetry between heaven and hell in the use of firelight. But their respective significance is arrestingly divergent. 

v) The lightning from the throne seems to be the primary form of interior illumination for the sky city. 

Chap 6,8 Astronomical and ecological cataclysms 

i) This is what CGI was made for.

ii) Heaven is a sky city or temple containing an inner sanctum. 

Chap 7 Angels restraining four winds

An interesting technical question is how to show angels restraining wind, since wind is ordinarily invisible. A director might show the effect of wind on one side of the angel. The angel extends his hand, like a wall blocking the wind. On one side are bent trees, roiling seas, lowering clouds, and dark turbulent air like a sand storm. On the other side the air is clear, the sea is calm, the grass is still. 

Chap 9 Fiery netherworld hybrid monsters 

Caves and caverns, illuminated by licking, flickering flames, would be a natural setting. 

Chap. 12 Portents and prodigies

In principle, it could show ancient constellations like Virgo, Draco, Serpens, or Hydra. Certainly the imagery trades on that. 

It would, however, make more sense to have a dragon composed of red starlight. He rain down on earth like a meteor shower, then reassemble. Likewise, the woman could originally appear to be a starry mosaic. 

Chap 13 The Beast 

i) The challenge isn't depicting a hybrid sea monster but how to depict it communicating. 

ii) The imagery of the second beast rising from the earth might suggest a ghost rising from the grave (tomb, sepulcher). So the false prophet could be a wraith. Perhaps the damned soul of a sorcerer conjured from the dead. 

Chap 14 The Lamb

i) Should Jesus be shown as a lamb, or as the Redeemer in a garment stained with his paschal blood? 

ii) The winepress is a graphic symbol of salvation and judgment. Should a director depict the symbol or what it symbolizes? Unless the audience is familiar with its significance, the symbol is opaque. 

Chap 16 Sky city (cf. chaps. 6,8)

Chap 17 Whore of Babylon

Since the whore bestride the beast is a symbolic synecdoche of the wicked city and godless world order, should the director show a whore bestride a beast, or something like the red light district of a metropolis with alternating scenes of lavish wealth, poverty, cruel, obscenity, blasphemy, and decadence? 

chap. 19 Rider on white horse 

This resumes the Christophany in Rev 1. Jesus is no longer on Patmos but acting as a warrior king to reclaim the world from the diabolical usurper. 

Chap. 20 Lake of fire

i) The lake of fire might suggest a sea of molten lava. For the original audience it might evoke the nightmarish fate that overtook the ungodly cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum. Or it might hearken back to the iconic destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. The body of water is superheated by meteor showers or a submarine volcano. Consider the volcanic eruption spilling into the sea in Rev 8:8-9. 

ii) The image of the sea giving up its dead might suggest skeletons miraculously surfacing and regenerating (Ezk  37) to face the final judgment, for better or worse. 

Chap 21-22 the ski city lands

i) The new Jerusalem is a symmetrical city, fortified on the outside but with a parklike interior (a stream lined with trees of life). 

ii) In the absents of sunlight, the city is not illuminated from the outside or overhead. Rather, it's illuminated by the Shekinah ("glory of God"). But where's the locus of the Shekinah? Is the city illuminated from the inside rather than the outside?

The throne room is illuminated by lightning. Is that equivalent to the Shekinah? Suppose the throne room is at the city center. Suppose it has twelve windows or open doors. Shafts of light beam out of the throne room into courtyards and even through the city gates to the surrounding countryside. 

Or maybe the Shekinah suffuses the city, the way it suffused the tabernacle and temple during their dedication. Unlike lightning, the Shekinah a emits a steadier light. 

In any case, light seems to emanate from the city rather than from exterior light sources (sunlight, moonlight). This might suggest the surrounding countryside, beyond the city gates, is bathed in a well of light. But it may also imply a borderland between light and shade, a perpetual twilight zone, where the radiance of the city doesn't reach. Where the pool of light is swallowed by shadowy valleys or obstructed by mountain ranges facing away from the city. 

Of course, that may go beyond what John saw in his vision. It's just something for a director to think about to fill in the picture.