Saturday, April 11, 2020

Handel Messiah

I think this is the best all-around recording, although there are other recordings with stronger soloists:

Bach Easter Oratorio

Locked on the inside

1. In this video:

apostate Randal Rauser takes issue with the view popularized by C. S. Lewis that the doors of hell are locked on the inside. Keep in mind that Rauser is an annihilationist with a soft spot for universalism, so he's attacking Lewis's position to attack everlasting punishment. 

2. Lewis's idea is that hell is justifiable because it's self-imposed exile. Self-inflicted suffering/misery. The damned choose hell. 

Rauser objects in part on exegetical grounds. Although there's an element of truth to the fact that God turns some sinners over to self-destructive behavior (Rom 1), the Bible also depicts God as the agent of judgment. 

3. Rauser then objects to the justification of hell based on the notion that it's self-inflicted, by using two examples: solitary confinement and people who practice self-harm.

4. There are some problems with his comparison vis-a-vis solitary confinement:

i) Inmates in solitary confinement don't choose to be in solitary confinement. Indeed, they hate it.

ii) To my knowledge,  the purpose of solitary confinement isn't typically punitive but to control inmates who don't play by the rules. Inmates who attack prison guards or attack other inmates. They are separated from the general population because they don't get along with anyone else. They are too disruptive to fit into the prison regime.

In addition, some high-value witnesses are put in solitary confinement for their own protection as they wait to testify at trial. So his parallel breaks down at several points. 

iii) Rauser's second example concerns individuals who suffer from pathological self-loathing. They resort to self-harm to temporarily release emotional and psychological stressors.

He cites a personal anecdote about a high school girl cutting herself in the kitchen. He and others took the knife away. It would be wrong to stand by and do nothing just because it was self-inflicted harm.

Of course that's true but Rauser typically omits a key consideration. Intervention is morally mandated in the case of "cutters" because they are mentally ill. It's for their own protection. 

But the comparison falls apart in the case of the damned because they aren't suffering through no fault of their own. Damnation isn't a misfortune. That's quite different from someone whose actions are self-destructive but blameless due to exculpatory or extenuating circumstances like mental illness. There are no mitigating factors in the case of the damned. 

5. In addition, Rauser blurs the distinction between self-inflicted suffering or misery from self-inflicted punishment. But while suffering or misery can be punitive, suffering or misery can also be innocent or unjust. So these are not equivalent categories. Just desert is not a necessary condition of suffering or misery.

6. It's revealing how Rauser oscillates between moralism and amorality. Rauser is very moralistic and judgmental when it comes to things he disapproves of, like OT ethics, but when he attacks everlasting punishment, he switches to amoral illustrations which leave guilt and retributive justice out of consideration. 

History, sola scriptura, and the real presence

From a Facebook conversation

If Newman could have found what he was looking for from the beginning, his theory of development would be superfluous at best and counterproductive at worst.

There is no such thing as the doctrine of development... might be worth to go back and have a second look. 

“The tradition which comes from the apostles develops in the Church with the help of the Holy Spirit. For there is a growth in the understanding of the realities and the words which have been handed down. This happens through the contemplation and study made by believers, who treasure these things in their hearts, through a penetrating understanding of the spiritual realities which they experience, and through the preaching of those who have received through episcopal succession the sure gift of truth. For, as the centuries succeed one another, the Church constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in her” (Vatican II, Dei Verbum 8).

Federal court strikes down anti-church policy

HT: Robert Gagnon

1. "On Holy Thursday, an American mayor criminalized the communal celebration of Easter. That sentence is one that this Court never expected to see outside the pages of a dystopian novel, or perhaps the pages of The Onion. But two days ago, citing the need for social distancing during the current pandemic, Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fischer ordered Christians not to attend Sunday services, even if they remained in their cars to worship – and even though it’s Easter. The Mayor’s decision is stunning. And it is, 'beyond all reason,' unconstitutional."
2. "The Pilgrims were heirs to a long line of persecuted Christians, including some punished with prison or worse for the crime of celebrating Easter– and an even longer line of persecuted peoples of more ancient faiths.And although their notions of tolerance left more than a little to be desired, the Pilgrims understood at least this much: No place, not even the unknown, is worse than any place whose state forbids the exercise of your sincerely held religious beliefs."
3. "The Pilgrims’ history of fleeing religious persecution was just one of the many “historical instances of religious persecution and intolerance that gave concern to those who drafted the Free Exercise Clause” of our Constitution’s First Amendment.”
It provides, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . . .”
4. "On Sunday, tomorrow, Plaintiff On Fire Christian Center wishes to hold an Easter service, as Christians have done for two thousand years. On Fire has planned a drive-in church service in accordance with the Center for Disease Control’s social distancing guidelines."
5. "Louisville is substantially burdening On Fire’s sincerely held religious beliefs in a manner that is not “neutral” between religious and non-religious conduct, with orders and threats that are not “generally applicable” to both religious and non-religious conduct. The principle that government, in pursuit of legitimate interests, cannot in a selective manner impose burdens only on conduct motivated by religious belief is essential to the protection of the rights guaranteed by the Free Exercise Clause.”
6. "Here, Louisville has targeted religious worship by prohibiting drive-in church services, while not prohibiting a multitude of other non-religious drive-ins and drive-throughs – including, for example, drive-through liquor stores. Moreover, Louisville has not prohibited parking in parking lots more broadly – including, again, the parking lots of liquor stores. When Louisville prohibits religious activity while permitting non-religious activities, its choice “must undergo the most rigorous of scrutiny.” That scrutiny requires Louisville to prove its interest is “compelling” and its regulation is “narrowly tailored to advance that interest.”
7. "Louisville will be (highly) unlikely to make the second of those two showings. To be sure, Louisville is pursuing a compelling interest of the highest order through its efforts to contain the current pandemic. But its actions violate the Free Exercise Clause “beyond all question” because they are not even close to being “narrowly tailored to advance that interest.”
8. "The Court does not mean to impugn the perfectly legal business of selling alcohol, nor the legal and widely enjoyed activity of drinking it. But if beer is 'essential,' so is Easter."
9. "The Free Exercise Clause protects their right to worship as their conscience commands them. It is not the role of a court to tell religious believers what is and isn’t important to their religion, so long as their belief in the religious importance is sincere. The Free Exercise clause protects sincerely held religious beliefs that are at times not “acceptable, logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others.”
10. "It is true that On Fire’s church members could believe in everything Easter teaches them from their homes on Sunday. Soo too could the Pilgrims before they left Europe. But the Pilgrims demanded more than that. And so too does the Free Exercise Clause. It “guarantees the free exercise of religion, not just the right to inward belief.”
11. "That promise is as important for the minister as for those ministered to, as vital to the shepherd as to the sheep. And it is as necessary now as when the Mayflower met Plymouth Rock."
12. "the Court believes there is a strong likelihood On Fire will prevail on the merits of its claim that Louisville may not ban its citizens from worshiping – or, in the relative safety of their cars, from worshiping together."

Friday, April 10, 2020

What good is a virus?

Surely, He hath borne our Griefs

When I survey the Wonderous Cross

O Sacred head Sore Wounded

Cops bust Christian service, criminally charge pastor for having 16 people in 293-seat building

Christ the plague-bearer

I'd like to expand on the plague metaphor in Isa 53, which this post accentuates:

Metaphors, including theological metaphors, are so familiar that they often bounce right off of us. We don't take the time to visualize the metaphor. Yet metaphors can function as compact picturesque stories, and with regard to theological metaphors it is useful to step into the world of the metaphor and look around. Appreciate the surroundings. That's a way to deepen our appreciation of the metaphor and what it represents. 

Plague and pestilence were real horrors in the ancient world. That's what lends potency and sting to Isaiah's use of the image. He depicts Messiah as the vicarious plague-bearer. 

There are different ways we can imaginatively develop this metaphor. For instance, you might imagine a healer who can touch a plague victim and transfer the pathogen from the victim to himself. Once inside himself, the pathogen is destroyed by the healer's supernatural immune system.

Or you might imagine a virulent, highly contagious plague for which there's no natural resistance, much less immunity. It threatenes to wipe out the entire human race.

But there's one human being with a beneficial genetic mutation. If infected, it triggers his immune system. He develops antibodies that destroy the pathogen. And transfusions of his blood heal the sick and dying. 

Infection makes him sick. He suffers from the same painful debilitating symptoms. But his body is able to counterattack and create an antidote.

One way of telling the story is that his antibodies can be replicated and multiplied. Another way of telling the story is that after his blood cures a patient, transfusions of their blood cure patients. 

Although this is figurative, I once read about an Eskimo woman who was a healer. Not a witchdoctor. She was Christian. It's possible that her healing ability derived from pagan ancestors, but if so, it was co-oped and sanctified in her use. 

She could't raise the dead, restore the blind, or instantly heal broken bodies. But she could absorb pain. She should extract pain and take it into herself, where it would dissipate. 

Although I wouldn't swear by it, this was reported by an anthropologist who lived with villagers for a year. Based on firsthand observation. Turner, Edith. The Hands Feel It (Northern Illinois U. Press 1996).

The point is that when we think about vicarious atonement and penal substitution, one illustration is a plague-bearer. Jesus transfers the plague to himself. He extracts the plague, absorbs the plague, and destroys the plague in himself. 

A related illustration: we are cleansed by his blood transfusion. He transfers to us his antibodies.

It's important not to press the metaphor and confuse the metaphor with the reality which it was meant to illustrate. But abstractions have limitations, too. Scripture often uses disease figuratively. So it's instructive to mentally explore that.  

Crooked spirits

Steve recently posted an article from Craig Keener. The entire article deserves to be read, but I thought the following sections might be worth highlighting:

Ancient Christians accepted the reality of spirits besides God but believed that, in any confrontation, their God would readily overcome all other spirits not submitted to him. In the second century, the Christian movement often spread through exorcisms; it was considered common knowledge that Christians could cast out demons (Barrett–Lennard, 1994, pp. 228–229; Lampe, 1965, pp. 215–217; MacMullen, 1984, pp. 27–28, 40–41, 60–61; Martin, 1988, pp. 49–50, 58–59; Sears, 1988, pp. 103–104; Young, 1988, pp. 107–108).

Tertullian (c. 155–c. 225) even challenged the church’s persecutors to bring demonized people to Christian court hearings; the demon will always submit, he insisted, or if not, the court should feel free to execute the Christian as a fake (Apology 23.4–6)! Tertullian lists prominent pagans whom Christians had cured from evil spirits (Tertullian Ad Scapulam 4, in Kelsey, 1973, pp. 136–137). In the fourth century, exorcisms and miracles are the most frequently listed reason for conversion to Christianity (MacMullen, 1984, pp. 61–62). Augustine reports affidavits attesting effective exorcisms (City of God 22.8; Confessions 9.7.16; Herum, 2009, pp. 63–65).

Still, a divide in cultural assumptions remains (see Acolatse, 2018; Mchami, 2001, p. 17). For example, residents of the Peruvian jungle, exposed for the first time to the Gospel of Mark, dismissed their Western translator’s rejection of real demons, noting that it comported with their local reality (Escobar, 2002, p. 86).


Many early Presbyterian missionaries to Korea had learned in seminary that spirits were not real, but most came to believe otherwise in the context of ministry alongside indigenous believers (Kim, 2011, pp. 270–273). My own experiences in Africa and those of my family (my wife is Congolese) have forced me to grapple with some hostile spiritual realities to which I would rather not have been exposed (Keener, 2011, pp. 852–856).


David Van Gelder, then a professor of pastoral counseling at Erskine Theological Seminary, rejects most claims of possession (1987, p. 160), but encountered a case that he could explain no other way. When a young man involved with the occult began “snarling like an animal,” nails attaching a crucifix to the wall melted, dropping the hot crucifix to the floor. A minister invited the young man to declare, “Jesus Christ, son of God,” but when he began to repeat this, the young man’s voice and facial expressions suddenly changed. “You fools,” he retorted, “he can’t say that.” Finally the group decided that he required exorcism, and calling on Jesus, managed to cast the spirit out (Van Gelder, 1987, pp. 151–154). Van Gelder observes that all the mental health professionals present agreed that the youth was not suffering from psychosis or other normal diagnoses (p. 158).


Another psychiatrist, R. Kenneth McAll, offers many examples. He observes that only 4 percent of the cases he has treated have required exorcism, but mentions that about 280 of his cases did require exorcism. Consistent with Crooks’ expectations, most of these involved the patients' or their familys' occult practices, such as ouija boards, witchcraft, horoscopes, etc. (1975, p. 296) He notes one case where a mother’s successful deliverance from spirits proved simultaneous, unknown to them, of her son’s instant healing from schizophrenia in a hospital 400 miles away, and the healing from tuberculosis of that son’s wife (1975, pp. 296–297). Other cases include:

1. A patient instantly freed from schizophrenia through an exorcism that removed an occult group’s curse.

2. The complete healing through an exorcism of a violent person in a padded cell who had previously not spoken for two years.

3. The instant healing of another person in a padded cell, when others far away and without her knowledge prayed for her; her aunt, a mental patient in another country, was cured simultaneously.

4. A six-year-old needed three adults to restrain him, but he was healed when his father repudiated Spiritualism.


Power encounters appear in early twentieth-century indigenous African Christian prophetic movements (Hanciles, 2004, p. 170; Koschorke, Ludwig, and Delgado, 2007, pp. 223–224). They continue today where indigenous Christian preachers confront traditional religions (Itioka, 2002; Khai, 2003, pp. 143–144; Lees and Fiddes, 1997, p. 25; Yung, 2002). Many converts from traditional African religions have burned fetishes and abandoned witchcraft practices due to power encounters (Burgess, 2008, p. 151; Mayrargue, 2001, p. 286; Merz, 2008, p. 203). By addressing pereived local needs, power encounters have expanded Christian movements in, e.g., Haiti (Johnson, 1970, pp. 54–58), Nigeria (Burgess, 2008, p. 153, before subsequent abuses in exorcism ministries), South Asia (Daniel, 1978, pp. 158–159; Pothen, 1990, pp. 305–308), the Philippines (Cole, 2003, p. 264; Ma, 2000), and Indonesia (Wiyono, 2001, pp. 278–279, 282; York, 2003, pp. 250–251).

Such displays of spiritual power have proved sufficiently compelling that even a number of shamans who previously claimed contact with spirits have switched allegiances to follow Christ, whom they decide is more powerful (Alexander, 2009, pp. 89, 110; De Wet, 1981, pp. 84–85, 91n2; Green, 2001, p. 108; Khai, 2005, p. 269; Pothen, 1990, p. 189). Thus, for example, a prominent Indonesian shaman had allegedly murdered a thousand people through curses (others also attesting her success); but she claims that she abandoned witchcraft to follow Jesus after experiencing a vision of him (Knapstad, 2005, pp. 83–85; cf. p. 89).

Thursday, April 09, 2020

Nonlinear memory

A prima facie problem with the Olivet Discourse is that Jesus appears to make the fall of Jerusalem, the Parousia, and the end of the world roughly simultaneous. One explanation is that this is composite discourse, so it reflects an editorial, thematic sequence rather than the original sequence. The Olivet Discourse may be a composite discourse, parts of which were delivered at different times, then spliced together. 

Nowadays, many commentators regard the Gospels as very artfully crafted works with a narrative theological strategy. But as Lydia McGrew and I have discussed, it's preferable to view them as oral histories.

Between about the 1:21-25 min mark of this panel discussion:

Lydia has a different explanation for the Olivet Discourse. Before commenting on that I'd like to take a step back to draw a distinction between misremembering and not remembering. I'm sure we've all had long conversations which we then recount to a friend. We don't remember the exact flow of the conversation. We don't remember the sequence in which things were said. Certain things stick out in our minds, and that's what we recount.

That's different from misremembering. In misremembering, we mistakenly think we're reproducing the original sequence. 

Now Lydia's point is that the disciples may not recall the original sequence of what Jesus said. So when the discourse is retold by the Synoptics, there may be an unconscious rearrangement of the order in which things were said. As a result, some things are put together as if they go together, in a way that doesn't match the flow of what Jesus said. 

That can foster the misimpression that Jesus synchronized certain events when in fact these are different, chronologically separate, spaced out events. The discourse doesn't reflect historical continuity, but memorable highlights. In recounting them they appear to be concurrent or overlapping events, when in fact that's selective, nonlinear recall.  

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Q&A Panel

Christ became infected to cure us

Criminalizing drive-in worship services

It's challenging to compare nations over coronavirus response

I think many people simply assume it's a fairly straightforward comparison to compare how the US is doing vs. how other nations are doing in terms of responses to the coronavirus or COVID-19. Many people simply look at the total case numbers and the total deaths between nations without considering other factors involved. However, consider the following variables:

  1. Population density

    Nations could have significantly different population densities. Indeed, cities within nations could have significantly different population densities. All things equal, the more dense a population is, the more challenging it is to maintain a certain distance from one another. Not to mention population density may impact a city or nation's access to its health care system as well as delivery of health care to the general population.

  2. Health demographics

    Nations could have significantly different population demographics which impact their health. Some nations may have a higher median age than other nations (e.g. China is 37.4, Italy is 45.5, USA is 38.1). Some nations may have "sicker" people at baseline than other nations (e.g. higher rates of obesity, higher rates of hypertension, higher rates of diabetes).

  3. Health care systems

    Nations could have significantly different health care systems. Take the quantity and quality of its health care providers and workers (e.g. some nations have more physicians per capita than other nations, some nations have better medical education and training than other nations). Take people's access to health care and a nation's delivery of health care to people. Some nations don't have a primary care system that stands in-between the general population and hospital systems like the US does, but instead the general population goes directly to the hospital, which could more easily overwhelm hospital systems. Some nations have socialized medicine which comes with its own complex sets of challenges.

  4. Private enterprise

    Some nations' health care systems allow for better cooperation with private enterprise than other nations. Some nations can better mobilize private industry to help. Some nations are more advanced in prior research and development of medical technologies (e.g. pharmaceutical therapies), though to be fair R&D isn't necessarily primarily a private enterprise. However, at the very least, R&D is often closely tied to private industry in Western-style democratic nations.

  5. Testing

    Some nations have done more and/or better testing of their populations than other nations. As Samuel Shem (pseudonym) points out in his satirical novel The House of God: if you don't take a temperature, you can't find a fever!

Of course, this isn't to suggest we can never reliably compare nations. This isn't to suggest we can't learn from other nations when they have failed. This isn't to suggest we can't adopt strategies from other nations when they have succeeded. Rather I'm simply pointing out that comparisons between nations can be more complicated and challenging than at first glance.

Wednesday, April 08, 2020

Crooked Spirits and Spiritual Identity Theft

Medical dystopia

Economic downturns always lead to increased poverty, and increased poverty necessarily results in more deaths. By "flattening the curve" via turning off the economy, we've now made it where not only do you have to avoid COVID-19 during your quarantine, but you need to avoid that heart attack, accidental fall in the shower, burning yourself at the stove, not tripping over your cat, etc. etc. etc. Because hospitals can't afford to pay doctor's and nurses given the ban on so-called "elective" procedures and the fact that most people who need any medical care are probably furloughed too so they can't pay anyway, they have to cut hours and pay, meaning there's fewer people to see you during your emergency. When you enact the economics of a socialist utopia, you get the standard of living of a socialist utopia. Only now there's no America to flee to.

Destroy the healthcare system to save the healthcare system

Remember when a major rationale for lockdowns and curfews was to "flatten the exponential growth curve" so that the healthcare system wouldn't be overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients? Only here's the side-effect on the healthcare system:

The paradox of Mormonism

The paradox of Mormonism is not that it's hard to disprove but that it's too easy to disprove. Joseph Smith is such a typecast conman that if some folks are still prepared to believe he's a true prophet despite his manifest chicanery, what is there left to say? It's like charlatan faith-healers who've been exposed, yet folks continue to send them money. These are the willingly deceived. 

So the most effective strategy for converting Mormons may simply be to befriend them and pray for them, waiting for an opportunity to present the Gospel, rather than apologetics in the usual sense. That said, there's the danger of overestimating how much the average Mormon knows about the history of their own faith. 

Three questions

From Facebook,  by Chicago attorney Joseph Morris:

"(1) Have we been too accepting of arguments that liberties must be suppressed to protect us from common dangers? Surely our ancestors faced earlier pandemics and worse problems, including wars, civil wars, and all the perils of the frontier. Yet they seem to have constructed a constitutional order and a legal system that did not require an indefinite global shutdown of so much ordinarily lawful and wholesome public activity.
"(2) Have we guided our actions too much by computer models and worst-case guesses by putative experts rather than by actual data and science? Have we responded more to panic than to reason, in a global stampede generated by irresponsible actors (certainly the Government of Communist China and the World Health Organization have behaved outrageously throughout these events) and by ever-sensationalist media?
"(3) While governments at all levels -- with the usual exceptions of local first-responders who, as ever, have been heroic -- have been displaying confusion, ineptitude, arrogance, and endless blame-shifting and fingerpointing, shouldn't we notice that the private sector and private markets have performed brilliantly? Despite strangleholds that governments have imposed on travel and commerce generally, and the massive uncertainties that governments have created, utilities continue to supply light and heat to our homes; we all have internet connectivity and access to television and radio; farmers and complex supply chains are getting plenty of food via countless well-stocked local groceries, large and small, to our tables; and brick-and-mortar stores and on-line shopping outlets, with their falling distribution networks, are bringing all the goods we want right to our doors. These examples only begin to illustrate the point. We are witnessing government failures on massive scales around the world and in our own nation, state, and city. Meanwhile, the rock-solid foundation of the free enterprise system, so taken for granted and so abused by politicians and the commentariat, is literally keeping us alive."

Is social distancing the only option?

I've been highly critical of the social distancing strategy, which leads to lockdowns, mass house arrest, and suspending of public worship. I've criticized that on economic, theological, and Constitutional grounds. The obsessive, myopic focus of so many public officials in pursuing a containment strategy has led to the neglect of other options. So what's my alternative? 

Of course, I'm no expert, but for what it's worth:

1. Until a vaccine is developed, the best policy is a combination of:

2. Mass testing. Those who test positive are treated if they require treatment and quarantined. But most who are infected will have mild symptoms, don't require treatment, and don't need to be quarantined. They can work and keep the economy afloat. Not to mention those who aren't infected. 

3. Qualified herd immunity. This would be for those who are not at high risk, or have mild symptoms. The high-risk groups would be quarantined for their own protection. 

However, it's probably too late to implement this policy during the current cycle. We don't have the resources for mass testing a population the size of the USA. Not to mention that testing might need to be repeated since you could be uninfected one week but infected the next week. And, of course, the best available treatment options are debatable. 

That said, we begin reallocating more resources to these alternatives. And since this is not the last pandemic we're going to see, we'd be in place to implement an alternative strategy to cope with the next pandemic. 

One-sided doubt

Christians need to understand that the willingness to question and doubt is a sign of piety and intimacy, not the opposite.

But for apostate Randal Rauser, doubt is only a sign of piety when questioning (indeed, denying) the Bible and traditional evangelical theology. He exhibits no doubts about his own moral intuitions. When he extols the value of doubt, it's entirely one-sided on his part. 

There is also a basic difference between a Christian who finds himself doubting the faith or certain tenets thereof and actively, aggressively cultivating doubt, as if doubting for the sake of doubt is a spiritual and intellectual virtue. 

Not a statistic to me

A qualified herd immunity strategy

As an alternative to lockdowns and mass house arrest:


Significant if accurate, as an alternative to lockdowns and mass house arrest:

Newman never converted to Catholicism

Newman went deep into church history and discovered that he couldn't find Roman Catholicism in the first few centuries of the church, so he redefined Catholicism by inventing the theory of development. He didn't convert to Catholicism; rather, he converted Catholicism to himself.

Leviticus, Leprosy, and Lent—in the Light of the Coronavirus Crisis

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Is the desire to sin sinful?

This raises some interesting issues:

1. One issue was whether Jesus was impeccable or merely sinless. My own position is that by virtue of the hypostatic union, he was impeccable because the divine nature exerts control over the human nature. In that respect, it isn't possible for Jesus to succumb to sinful temptation.

2. However, the post is raising a different, albeit related issue. Not whether it was possible for Jesus to give into sinful temptation, but to feel sinful temptation. 

3. I'd add that we don't have to answer the question directly. We can address the question at a more generic level. As a general or universal principle, is it necessarily sinful to desire sin? The question in reference to Jesus will answer itself depending on the general principle. So we can bypass the specific application to Jesus and focus on the question of whether, in principle, it's intrinsically sinful to desire sin?

4. I'll explore that momentarily, but before doing so draw two distinctions unique to Jesus:

Whether or not it's always sinful to desire sin, certain desires are intrinsically sinful. For instance, sexual desire for prepubescent children is intrinsically sinful. You must already be morally twisted to have that kind of desire.  There has to be a prior moral derangement for some things to be desirable. So I'd say Jesus can't desire intrinsically sinful things. That doesn't follow from the stronger principle of impeccability but the weaker principle of sinlessness.

5. In addition, there are second-order desires where committing sin engenders a desire to sin that contingent on committing sin. For instance, there's a subculture of faux vampirism where people drink each other's blood. To my knowledge, humans have no natural appetite for human blood. But if you experiment, I suppose that could become an acquired taste. I don't know that for a fact. I haven't studied the issue. But it will suffice as a hypothetical illustration. 

For the same reason as (4), Jesus can't have a second-order desire to sin. That doesn't follow from the stronger principle of impeccability but the weaker principle of sinlessness.

6. Back to the main issue. It may seem like a tautology or truism or self-evident that it's necessarily sinful to desire sin. Perhaps. But I think the plausibility of that intuition relies on keeping it on an abstract plane. When, however, we consider concrete examples, it may lose plausibility. What we find intuitively compelling or plausible is often dependent on paradigm-examples; it may break down in the face of counterexamples. It's not that the examples are necessarily wrong. The fallacy is overgeneralizing from certain kinds of examples. 

7. Let's begin with a cliche example. A normal man sees a beautiful woman. That automatically triggers sexual desire. Indeed, it may trigger sexual arousal.

Since premarital and extramarital sex are sinful, it might seem self-evident that his desire is sinful. Sexual desire is shorthand for desiring to have sexual relations. 

Yet it's hard to see how that can be true. If straight men didn't have a sexual desire for women, they'd lack a sufficient motivation to get married. So you might say the illicit desire is a necessary condition to incentivize the licit outlet of marriage. You must have sexual desire when you're still single to want marriage.

It also seems implausible to think that kind of sexual desire is a result of the Fall. But I won't argue the point. 

BTW, I'm not suggesting sex is the only motivation for marriage. But realistically, and in most cases, it's a sine qua non. 

8. Let's consider cases where there's a psychological conflict between altruistic duty and self-preservation. Take a situation where your odds of survival are enhanced if you leave an ailing friend behind but diminished if you stay behind to care for him. Suppose on a camping trip he comes down with a contagious, life-threatening illness. He might die, and even if he survives, he will become incapacitated during the cycle of the disease. And he will certainly not survive if you abandon him when he's incapacitated. His only shot at survival is if you provide for his needs while he's unable to provide for himself.

But the more direct contact and prolonged contact you have with him, the greater the odds that he will infect you, so that you may die in the process. Hence, your altruistic duty is in tension with your instinctive fear of death. A part of you has a hardwired aversion to risking your own life to save his. You have an inclination to desert him. If it's sinful to desert him, is it sinful to desire to do so? 

Yet we could turn around. The fact that moral heroism may conflict with natural desire affords an opportunity or test to do the right thing when it's costly. If the sacrifice didn't cut against the grain, it would be morally cheap. So in situations like that, having a desire to sin seems to be an instrumental good. It draws forth a second-order virtue. 

So my provisional conclusion is that it's not inherently sinful to desire sin. Rather, that's context-dependent. And that in turn answers the question about Jesus. 

Ten Ways COVID-19 Can Work for Our Good

Why Can’t I Stop Worrying?

Coronavirus and the Church: Compliant, or Uncreative?

Resurrection conspiracy theory

Sifting non-Christian miracle claims

In this post:

apostate Randal Rauser makes some good general points. However, I disagree with him on one or two issues:

i) I think the reported miracles of Sathya Sai Baba lack credibility, not because those claims are inconsistent with other things I believe about the world, but for the specific reason that there's evidence that he was a fraud:

ii) I don't think non-Christian miracles are inconsistent with the nature of reality. Indeed, Scripture acknowledges the power of witchcraft (e. g. Deut 13:1-5; Mt 24:24; Acts 16;16-18; 2 Thes 2:9; Rev 13:13-15).

What's the harm?

What's the harm with trying a drug like hydroxychloroquine? For example:

Monday, April 06, 2020

Cardinal Pell freed

Principled opposition to Roman Catholicism shouldn't blind us to injustice. Seems like a fair, and overdue, outcome to me.

Is the God of open theism trustworthy?

We're all mind-numbingly familiar with objections to Calvinism, but the flip side is whether the God of open theism is a God who can be taken seriously. Say what you will about Calvinism, but that's a God to be taken seriously (if Calvinism is true). But the God of open theism is more like a comic book superhero. 

This also goes to the question of what makes God worshipful. Opponents of Reformed theism say the God of Calvinism isn't worthy of worship.

But how worshipful is the God of open theism? Is he a God you can trust? 

Christians and their loved ones can suffer terrible things in this life. In Calvinism, God is able but sometimes unwilling to protect Christians from horrible things. At we at least believe that God has a good reason for not protecting us in those situations. So he's still trustworthy.

But in open theism you're exposed to terrible harm because the God of open theism is unable to protect you. Indeed, the God of open theism doesn't know the right thing to do because he doesn't know the future, so he doesn't know the long-term consequences of divine intervention. 

It's hard to see how you can have faith in a God like that. He's not in a position to look out for your best interests even if he wanted to. So he can't be an object of unconditional trust. 

Indeed, not knowing the future means he will be mistaken in many cases. He will entertain false expectations. Indeed, some open theist prooftexts say that. 

So following the open theist God can be unintentionally harmful, since he's making stuff up as he goes along. You can be hurt, but he can't (except emotionally). 

In open theism we are in a very real sense, on our own. That has ethical as well as religious ramifications. While that may sound liberating to the shallow-minded, it's terrifying when you consider how vulnerable human beings are. It's a recipe for ruthless self-interest, because it makes life so insecure. In open theism we're living in a minefield. 

Did God change at the incarnation?

"You Asked: Did God Change at the Incarnation?" (James Anderson)

The pornographic church

1. In my observation, evangelical leaders who support the suspension of public worship during the pandemic use three arguments.

i) All things being equal, Christians have a duty to obey civil authorities. This prima facie civic duty can be overridden, but the pandemic is not one of the exceptions to the norm.

ii) It's permissible to temporarily suspend public worship to avoid gratuitous risk of infecting others with a life-threatening pathogen. 

iii) We're under obligation not to expose others to a life-threatening pathogen.

(ii)-(iii) are independent of (i). Some churches suspended public worship voluntarily.

2. One problem is that (ii) and (iii) are contradictory. (iii) is an argument from principle. It's intrinsically wrong to put others at gratuitous risk of contracting a potentially life-threatening pathogen. In this case, social events of a particular size. 

But if that's the argument, then the logic of the principle is open-ended. That demands an indefinite suspension of public worship. Christians are obligated to forgo church for the duration of the pandemic. The obligation is not that it's permissible to expose the public to the pathogen so long as you temporarily practice social distancing, then discontinue social distancing after a specified time regardless of whether the pandemic has subsided. 

So (iii) is an open-ended commitment that obviates (ii). The suspension of public worship will only be as temporary as the pandemic. 

3. Another complication is that if you subscribe to (i), then you ceded to civil authorities the determination of when it's safe to return to church. Civil authorities determine when it's no longer too risky.

4. A further complication is that if public worship remains in abeyance beyond a certain duration, churches will be permanently closed because they weren't taking in enough revenue to pay the overhead. 

5. So (ii) is based on luck. Maybe we'll get lucky and the pandemic will shortly subside. 

6. An additional problem is the precedent which (i) & (iii) establish. I'm no expert, but from what I've read, medical authorities have been warning for years that we may be on the bring of reentering the age of pandemics due to the increasing emergence of superbugs. Even if we develop a vaccine for COVID-19, it may evolve a resistant strain that outsmarts the vaccine. And there are other pathogens hovering in the wings. Other superbugs which may spawn pandemics.  

If pandemics become intermittent, have evangelical denominations acquiesced to a policy of the chronic, indefinite suspension of public worship for the duration of the pandemic du jour? To be determined by civil authorities? Maybe we'll get lucky. If not, what kind of paint thinner will they use to extricate themselves from the corner they painted themselves into?

7. On a related note, there's a striking parallel between virtual worship and virtual sex. Evangelicals condemn pornography and sexbots as an unacceptable substitute for real sex. Sex is supposed to be an essentially social dynamic between real people, face-to-face. A personal encounter. But that's what's missing in virtual worship, too.

Yet during the pandemic, evangelical critics of pornography and sexbots are using the electronic church as a substitute for public worship. This is justified on the grounds of minimizing the risk of disease transmission.

But why is risk-free worship obligatory while risk-free sex is prohibitory? Pornography and sexbots eliminate the risk of transmitting STDs, unplanned pregnancies, unwanted pregnancies, miscarriages, and the treacherous emotional entanglements of intimacy between real men and women. 

BTW, although I'm no expert, I don't think Christian marriage precludes the possibility of STDs. That's because many Christians are converts who had a sexual history before their conversion. So they can bring STDs into a marriage from a priori history of premarital sex and promiscuity. 

If the argument is that we have a duty not to risk infecting other people, why is virtual sex impermissible while virtual worship is permissible? Isn't a steady diet of electronic worship ecclesiastical pornography? There are exceptions, like the situation of shut-ins, but I'm not referring to special cases. 

7. Evangelicals need to develop a theology of risk. Humans constantly make risk-benefit assessments. As I recently noted:

i) Due to human mortality, men and women routinely assume calculated gratuitous risks. Playing many sports carries the risk of permanent injury, sometimes physical or mental incapacitation, or even death. Because they know that death is inevitable, they gamble the future on the present. 

ii) Having kids is risky. Your kid might die of cancer. Or your teenager might become a hopeless drug addict, die from an overdose or commit suicide? Or your child might be damned. Or your wife might have a miscarriage. Why take that risk if you don't have to?

iii) Childbearing used to be very hazardous for mothers. Many died in childbirth. Should wives before the advent of modern medical science refuse sex with their husband after child #3? 

iv) As I explained in my post on Jas 5:14-15, it was hazardous to elders to anoint the sick. Are the elders in Jas 5:14-15 foolish because they didn't practice social distancing? They exposed themselves to the sick through direct physical contact. They could infect the sick (in their already weakened condition) with their own diseases. And they could infect their families when they went back home after doing visitation ministry with the sick. 

iv) This is in part about freedom. Freedom to attend church or freedom to boycott church. The problem is when we create a society that revolves around hypochondriacs. 

1 Corinthians 15:3-8

Bad audio. Subtitles help.


Christian theologians talk a lot about God's "presence". Our hymns talk a lot about God's "presence". But what does that mean?

Since God is not a physical being, he can't be physically present. There are ways he can symbolically manifest himself. And in the Incarnation, there's a sense in which God is indirectly present–via the union of the Son with a body (and soul). 

God can by psychologically present in human minds. Revelatory dreams are a stock example. 

But let's explore the concept of compresence from a different angle. When I was a young boy my parents had a Christmas Eve tradition. Before we headed off to the midnight candlelight service, they'd play an old LP of lessons and carols by King's College Chapel. 

So there's a sense in which the Anglican Christmas service entered my space. The service was compresent with my location. 

The chapel wasn't physically present in my living room. The choristers weren't physically present in my living room. Their presence was invisible and intangible. 

But it was a performance from another time and place, entering my time and place. A unique, unrepeatable live performance, on a particular day and hour which, because it was recorded, could be repeated at a different time and place, like two parallel, converging timelines. Voices from the past, speaking in the present. Voices from one location, heard at another location. A kind of bilocation, thanks to technology. As if it was piped in from another world. 

Was God Incarnate tempted?

A part of me wonders why unitarians churn out painfully incompetent videos like this:

1. A problem many atheists have when attacking Christianity is that because they hold it in such intellectual contempt, they are unable to take it seriously even for the sake of argument. But this means their attacks on Christianity are sophomoric. By the same token, the unitarians who made this video lack the intellectual patience to acknowledge and engage Christian responses to their half-baked critique. They can't be bothered to consider the implications of the two-natures of Christ. That's because they don't believe in the two-natures of Christ. But if they're going to say the Incarnation is contradictory, they have to show it's contradictory on the model they reject. If, say, a Christian theologian operates with a two-minds Christology, then it's not contradictory for Jesus to be tempted in reference to his human mind but not his divine mind. The unitarians who produced this video are too jejune to distinguish between what they think is factually true and what they think is logically consistent. 

2. I'd add that quoting passages which say Jesus was "tempted" is not very informative inasmuch as temptation can mean more than one thing. On the one hand, it can mean exposure to an external inducement. On the other hand, it can mean to feel the appeal of something. The second kind of temptation is psychological. But it's possible to be exposed to something intended to be tempting, which some people find tempting, which others may not find attractive, or may even find repellant. 

I once read about a failed attempt by Ava Gardner to seduce Anthony Perkins. Gardner was one of the all-time great Hollywood beauties, but as she quickly discovered, Perkins wasn't wired like a normal man, so he didn't find her overtures tempting. Her effort was future from the start. 

My immediate point is not to determine in which sense Jesus could be tempted, but to point out that just seizing on the word "tempted" doesn't settle the issue because the concept is ambiguous. We're apt to read into it more than the word itself implies. 

Modern Evidence For Christianity

When people use traditional arguments for Jesus' resurrection at Eastertime or use such arguments on other occasions, an objection will sometimes be raised about the nature of the evidence. Supposedly, we have too little evidence for events from antiquity, God ought to be providing more evidence, he should be more active in the world today if he was so active in the past, etc.

People often underestimate the traditional arguments for Christianity. We should continue using those arguments and should explain to people why and how they're underestimating the arguments in question. But we should supplement the more traditional arguments with newer ones, including ones focused on evidence from the modern world. I want to provide some examples, then comment on some related issues.

Go here for a series I wrote several years ago about miracles in the modern world, based on Craig Keener's two-volume work on miracles. Steve Hays has discussed modern apparitions of Jesus. We've sometimes written about God's unusual providence in the lives of modern Christians, such as answers to prayer in the life of George Muller. See here, for example. And here's something I wrote about video evidence for miracles. In another post, I wrote about modern evidence for the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. Earlier in this post, I mentioned arguments that come up in the context of Easter. People typically think of arguments for Jesus' resurrection that are appeals to evidence from antiquity. But see here for a collection of posts we've written over the years on the Shroud of Turin, which involves a lot of evidence of a more modern nature.

Something we need to keep in mind, though, is that every generation can claim that it's the generation in which human knowledge has advanced more than ever before and that it has the latest technology. Just as we have more knowledge and technology than previous generations, the same will be true of the generation after ours. And the next one. And the next one. Why think God should have parted the Red Sea or raised Jesus from the dead in our day? What if people a few generations from now think of our generation as too ignorant, not advanced enough, etc. to be at the center of God's attention? It's likely that we will be viewed that way, if human history continues on its normal course long enough. Why think our generation's knowledge and technology represent the pinnacle? While people today speak so highly of video evidence, for example, how unadvanced will our video technology seem to people living a hundred or a thousand years from now? How much can you anticipate future technological developments? How many people a hundred years ago were expecting what we have today?

We should supplement traditional arguments for Christianity with more modern arguments. But we should keep in mind that the more modern arguments aren't necessary and are often overestimated.

Sunday, April 05, 2020

When we reemerge, weeks after quarantine

The "religious exemption"

Atheists like Jeff Lowder and Richard Dawkins, as well as apostate Randal Rauser have been expressing outrage at a CNN report about "at least 14 states exempting religious gatherings from stay at home orders."

(Strictly speaking, Lowder simply retweeted someone else, but it's safe to say this reflects his own consternation.)

Dawkins said:

A church is an enclosed space where people right next to each other sing their lungs out into the air. A church is virus heaven: a focal point where people get infected, then go out & infect others

There are several issues that need to be sorted out:

1. There's a distinctively American issue. The "religious exemption" is a Constitutional exemption: the free exercise clause in the first amendment. This isn't an exception that some mayors and governors are inventing for churches and synagogues. Rather, this is a case of mayors and governors defending a Constitutional right. The Bill of Rights contains a number of exemptions from the heavy-hand of gov't. It's no different than freedom of speech, assembly, the press, the right to bear arms, 4th and 5th amendment protections and civil liberties. 

2. Then there's the ethical issue. Dawkins' point seems to be that we have no right to endanger others. If that's his point, it's simplistic and needs to be qualified:

i) Church attendance is voluntary. It's not like parishioners attend at gunpoint. Insofar as attending church carries the risk of infection, parishioners mutually consent to the risk. And that's hardly unique to church.

Shopping at Lowe's, Home Depot, Target, Walmart, Fred Meyers, &c. carries the risk of contracting the virus, then spreading it to others. Yet shoppers assume that risk by mutual consent. 

ii) At the same time, they are putting others in the community at risk who did not consent to becoming infected by the shoppers because some of them didn't shop at Lowe's or Home Depot, &c. 

Yet critics of churchgoers presumably don't think it's wrong to expose others to potential infection because you went shopping at Home Depot but they didn't. Presumably, critics of the churchgoers accept a generalized risk where a shopper at Home Depot might infect a shopper at Target.

iii) Presumably, critics of churchgoers draw the line because they think drugstores, bulk stories, supermarkets, &c. provide "essential goods and services"–whereas public worship doesn't provide an essential good or service. So the risk is warranted or unwarranted depending on whether you classify the transaction as an essential good or service. 

Of course, that just means many critics have a secular view of Christianity. But that begs the question. Christians are hardly obligated to share the same view of Christianity as atheists. 

iv) Jeff Lowder lives in a state that legalized pot. As a rule, decriminalizing a product or behavior makes the usage or behavior more prevalent. Driving under the influence endangers the life and health of the other drivers, bikers, cyclists, and pedestrians. But how many critics of churchgoers are equally critical of legalizing pot? If the objection is that it's wrong to put others at risk, and if they were morally consistent, then they'd be opposed to legalizing weed. 

v) In addition, I've read that many pot shops have been exempted from lockdowns. Pot shops are treated as if they provide an essential good or service–unlike churches. Do critics of churchgoers regard pot shops as essential businesses? There's a lack of moral seriousness in the criticisms and comparisons. Lots of irrational, contradictory indignation. 

The Chosen

I haven't seen this series The Chosen so I can't vouch for it. It's supposed to be about Jesus' life "through the eyes of those who met him". The first episode (eight total) is available for free via the film's YouTube channel (below). I just thought I'd mention it in case anyone is interested. If anyone has watched it, please feel free to leave your thoughts.

Palm Sunday

A series on the last week of Jesus' earthly life. Based on the book The Final Days of Jesus by Andreas Köstenberger and Justin Taylor. Dates are based on the book too. By the way, the book is currently available for free here.

The healing of memories

"What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived"–the things God has prepared for those who love him (1 Cor 2:9).

Many human beings, including many Christians, suffer great emotional damage in this life. Emotional damage that's irreparable in this life. 

There are "ministries" that specialize in the "healing of memories," but what humans can do for each other in this regard is quite limited. We can't make someone forget horrific memories. 

Examples are endless, but to pick one at random, suppose an 8-year-old boy watches soldiers shoot his parents to death right before his eye. They do it deliberately to be cruel, and they keep him alive so that he will suffer from that horrific, unforgettable memory. 

For Christians, how can God repair the psychological damage in the world to come? Any proposal will be speculative, so we shouldn't be dogmatic. On the other hand, many things are possible in a Christian worldview which are impossible for atheism. 

1. Craig has proposed a divine memory-wipe solution:

The saints will simply forget about their lost loved ones. But I have two problems with that proposal:

i) I don't object in principle to the idea that God might cause us to forget certain painful memories. But to forget the existence of your mother or father or brother or sister is too disruptive to memory in general. Memories of individuals who've figured so centrally in our lives can't be erased without erasing our personal identity, by leaving huge gaps in memory, like lost amnesiacs in movies. 

ii) It also seems unethical to forget about your parents or siblings. Unless we had hellish parents or siblings, it's thankless to forget they were ever a part of our lives.

2. Another possibility is the implantation of false memories. Dark City is a science fiction example. That, however, puts eternal bliss on a foundation of illusion. 

3. A third option might be a do-over day. How many times have people exclaimed, "What I'd give to do go back to that day and do what I failed to do or take back I said or did!"

Suppose, in the intermediate state, the saints have do-over days. They wake up on a particular day in the past, which has always haunted them. But this time things go differently. They take a different fork in the road. 

And that new memory replaces the old memory. It's not a false, implanted memory. It's a genuine experience of a day in the intermediate state. It really happened to them. Taking the road not taken, the second time around. A second chance to seize a lost opportunity. 

It's not that they literally wake up in the past. Rather, it's about their remembered past. An opportunity to change the remembered past by having a better experience that takes the place of the traumatic memory.