Thursday, August 17, 2017

Effacing the past

Predictably, SJWs lobby to tear down offensive monuments. A few observations:

I'm not an absolutist about this. I don't think it's intrinsically wrong to tear down some monuments. But in general I'm opposed to it:

i) If and when we're going to tear down monuments, that should enjoy broad-based public support. That shouldn't be decided by an unrepresentative faction of malcontents.

ii) As a rule, we shouldn't efface history. Rather, we should learn from history. 

I oppose the erection of Confederate monuments. But once it's there, has been there for decades, that becomes integrated into the history of a place, and it's a good thing to see visible layers of the past.

iii) SJWs are insatiable. They don't stop when you capitulate to their incessant demands. To the contrary, that emboldens them to demand more. 

Where does it end? If some people find churches and synagogues offensive, should they be torn down? If a private homeowner has a crèche on his front yard during the Christmas season, should that be removed because some atheists are offended? Should yarmulkas be banned if Muslims are offended? Should bikinis be outlawed if Muslims are offended? 

iv) It reflects the obsession with empty symbolism. Tearing down Confederate monuments doesn't do anything to improve the lives of Black Americans. That's a cheap substitute and decoy that deflects attention away from real problems and real solutions.

v) So often it's whites who presume to speak on behalf of minorities. That's very paternalistic. 

Kinists and libertarians

There's an intriguing relationship between libertarianism and white racism, viz. Kinists, neo-Confederates. By that I mean, these groups overlap. So what's the nature of the relationship?

The relationship is asymmetrical. Libertarianism doesn't logically entail white racism (or racism generally). And it's not a domino effect, where one thing automatically leads to another.

But while you can be a libertarian but not be a white racist (indeed, many or most are not), at least in my anecdotal experience, Kinists and neo-Confederates are typically libertarians. So what's the connection? The very fact that there's some correlation despite the lack of logical continuity invites a special explanation to account for the overlap.

What's the entry point? Do they start with libertarianism, then migrate to Kinism/Southern nationalism? Do they start with Kinism/Southern nationalism and migrate to libertarianism? Do they start with theonomy and migrate to Kinism/Southern nationalism? Do they start with Kinism/Southern nationalism and migrate to theonomy? Is there a one-stop shopping site where they get the whole package?

We might begin by distinguishing between reasonable libertarians and the lunatic fringe. I asked a couple of libertarian (or libertarian-leaning) friends about who they thought were the best representatives of libertarian ideology. The combined list was Bastiat, David Boaz, Isaiah Berlin, Friedman, Haywek, Nozick, Rothbard, and von Mises–along with thinkers whose work underpins libertarianism, viz., Locke, Mill, Paine.  

Let's cite those as a benchmark for reasonable libertarians. Presumably, there's no logical trajectory from their socioeconomic and political views to white racism. BTW, although I'm not a libertarian, I'm sympathetic to some libertarian principles. 

On the other hand, there's what I'll dub the wing of the libertarian movement. Other examples include Michael Butler and Timothy Harris. 

A malarial swamp of conspiracy theories. 9/11 Truthers. JKF conspiracy buffs. The usual suspects, viz. Trilateral Commission, Skull & Bones. A whole alternate narrative about American foreign policy. 

There've been many debacles in American foreign policy. But the pundits I've referencing invariably impute the most underhanded motives to American foreign policymakers. Fiascos can't be explained by anything as mundane as human folly and foibles. No, the motives must be more nefarious–like the invisible omnipresent Jewish lobby. This fosters a mindset which makes Kinism and Southern nationalism more plausible by placing that within an overarching historical narrative. 

Another potential entry point is the intersection between Calvinism and Southern Presbyterianism, a la Thornwell, Dabney. That's an adventitious association or historical accident. A temporary confluence and a particular place and time. A counterpart would be Francis Nigel Lee. I dissected that a few years ago:

I think the upshot is that libertarianism and white racism sometimes overlap, not because those ideas logically group together, but because people group certain ideas, and when certain people form groups, especially like-minded people, there's a synergistic effect. 

Don't like Confederate statues? Don't make one

Remember the "Don't like abortion, don't have one" line? Why do SJWs apply the same logic to Confederate statues? Or statues of Washington, Jefferson et al. Don't like it? Don't make it! Don't look at it!

Tearing down statues

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


From a blue-ribbon liberal:

Is corporate confession vicarious repentance?

We've seen a recent fad in which evangelical "leaders" think white Christians have a duty to exercise vicarious repentance for the sins of their racist forebears. This is defended on the grounds that Scripture contains corporate confessions (e.g. Dan 9, Ezra 9, Neh 9; 2 Chron 34). Is that analogous?

i) Let's begins with a comparison. Suppose you attend a church in which the pastor, elder, or lector recites a corporate confession. Is that vicarious repentance? No.

It uses the third-person plural, not because one person is confessing on behalf of and in place of another person, but because it's about more than one person. It's about each and everybody in attendance. When the speaker recites the corporate confession, he mentally includes himself. The confession is distributively collective. 

The corporate confession is about the living, not the dead. As the congregation listens, individuals are supposed to apply that to themselves. Agree in prayer with the words of the confession. Mentally assent to the words.

Although the pastor (elder, lector) is speaking on their behalf and in their stead, he's not repenting on their behalf and in their stead. It's no different in principle that a confession which the congregation recites in unison. It's just a different mode. Instead of everyone confessing the same prayer out loud, there's one speaker while everyone else listens along, in a contrite spirit, and silently assents to the confession.  

The corporate confessions in Scripture are like that.

ii) Apropos (i), it's meaningless to repent on behalf of and in place of, say, James Thornwell, Robert Lewis Dabney, Stonewall Jackson, Jefferson Davis et al. because they never shared the penitent attitude of the living supplicant. They didn't think they had anything to repent of in that regard. They thought their attitudes, and actions were justified. So vicarious repentance, in this context, involves the counterintuitive notion of repenting for another despite their impenitent attitude. That's diametrically opposed to my first example, where the principle of corporate confession is predicated on shared contrition. 

iii) When you read corporate confessions in Scripture, the reason they bring up the sins of their forbears is not to repent for what former generations did, but to acknowledge a chain of events leading up to the current situation. The living find themselves in this situation, not only for their own sins, but because the iniquity of former generations brought down divine judgment in the form of the Assyrian deportation, Babylonian Exile, and the like. It's not the living confessing for the dead, but the living remembering how God warned Israel that he would punish covenant-breakers. 

iv) Finally, it's about the horrified realization that some of the living are now repeating the sins of their wayward ancestors. They have yet to learn the lesson.  

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

When exorcists need help, they call him

Does the Quran promote peace?


Debate: Does the Quran Promote Peace?

 · Hosted by Imam Mahdi Center - IMC

Even atheists are more likely to distrust fellow atheists (takes one to know one)

False apology syndrome–I'm sorry for your sins

The Alt-Reich

I don't know if this is even worth remarking on, but I'll comment on a few statements by two alt-right spokesmen, just to sample alt-right ideology:

We don't hate conservative Christians, we simply reject them as potential allies because they are useless failures inclined to do more harm than good to the nations. Their Christianity is cucked, and therefore dying; it won't be long before they embrace female pastors and honoring loving relationships between consenting adults of any of the 57 genders.

I wonder if Theodore Beale really believes that, or if this is just hyperbolic polemical rhetoric. 

i) To begin with, there's nothing necessarily liberal about the ordination of women. That's practiced by the Assemblies of God, not because it's a liberal denomination, but due to its charismatic theology. You also had restorationist denominations in the 19C, coming out of the holiness movement, that ordained women. Once again, that wasn't due to liberal theology. 

To be sure, in the 20C, the ordination of women is typically associated with mainline denominations that are in a secularizing death spiral. 

ii) More to the point, the ordination of women is usually a litmus test differentiating conservative denominations from liberal or liberalizing denominations. Does Beale have any hard evidence that conservative denominations are trending towards the ordination of women?

iii) The efforts of the power elite to strong-arm acceptance of homosexuality and transgenderism has stiffened resistance on the part of conservative evangelicals. It's has a winnowing effect, by splitting nominal evangelicals from Bible-believing Christians. 

iv) In the case of the Catholic church, there has been a nearly wholesale embrace of the "social justice" agenda. And that's been accelerated by the pontificate of Francis. So Beale's strictures are applicable to the Catholic church.

v) In addition, there are evangelical "leaders" and spokesmen who are panting to catch up with the parade when it comes to vicarious repentance for the sins of our ancestors, profuse apologies for the alleged mistreatment of homosexuals by the church, opposition to efforts to rein in Muslim immigration and illegal immigration. Critical race theory making inroads into the SBC. Opposition to reparative therapy.

To that extent, some evangelical "leaders" are guilty as charged. However, that exposes a rift between evangelical elites and the rank-and-file. I daresay most evangelical laymen won't follow suit.

vi) However, it's my impression that alt-right opposition to Christianity runs deeper. It seems to mirror the Nietzschean contempt for Christianity as a "slave religion". And, in a sense, Nietzsche was right. Christianity has a nonnegotiable commitment to protecting the innocent; protecting the most vulnerable members of society. Extending mercy to those who are needy through no fault of their own. Defending victims of injustice. Insofar as the alt-right is Nietzschean, the alt-right is inimical to fundamental Christian values. 

First, God Himself divided humanity at the Tower of Babel and pushed humans into different nationalities, so there is nothing “ungodly” about doing so...Third, the alt-right does not have an idol of ‘whiteness’; rather, it recognizes the simple fact that whites, or whites of different ethnicities, have the right to exist in their own nation-states unmolested by other groups—which is precisely the same right that other groups currently enjoy around the world.

i) Damien disregards the fact that God confused their language as punishment for their hubris. That action inhibited them from colluding in evil. But that's hardly a human ideal.

ii) There's a basic difference between forced integration and freedom of association. The alt-right makes an idol of whiteness by acting as if racial purity is intrinsically superior to interracial associations. In addition, there is no pure Aryan culture, and even if there were, that's not superior to combining the best that every culture has to offer. 

"Blood and soil"

I'll make a few more comments on the rally in Charlottesville:

i) The "news" media has a habit of arbitrarily singling out particular incidents as if they have special significance. This feeds on itself, because other people treat the incident as significant because the media did. So there's a boot-strapping process in which an incident which had no intrinsic significance acquires ascribed significance because many people begin to confer artificial significance on that otherwise insignificant incident. 

ii) I'd like to say something about terminology. Labels like "white nationalists" and "white supremacists" are common designations. I think "white segregationist" is more accurate than "white nationalist". 

I've read some alt-right folks deny that they are white supremacists. However, there doesn't seem to be much point in promoting segregation unless you think your race or culture is superior. Are they going to say, "whites are inferior, white culture is inferior, that's why we need to preserve it!"?

iii) SJWs think we have a duty to monitor and denounce every real or perceived manifestation of white racism. Now, there are situations where we should comment on bona fide racism. However, I'm not going to come running every time you yank my chain. That gives you control over the agenda. But I have my own priorities. You don't get to dictate the agenda to me.

iv) There's the question of what's accomplished by the obligatory denunciations. The alt-right thrives on denunciations. It reinforces their self-image as the persecuted righteous remnant. 

If you're going to respond at all, sometimes the best response is ridicule. Take Springtime for Hitler: A Gay Romp With Eva and Adolf at Berchtesgaden. To the extent that anything is effective with these groups, mockery is more effective than taking them seriously. 

v) To freak out over every manifestation of real or perceived white racism takes them more seriously than they deserve. Should we reward publicity hounds with the publicity they crave? There's an fundamental difference between Nazism in the sense of an ideology enabled by the Wehrmacht, and Nazism in the sense of ragtag bands of teen and twenty-something losers dolling up in costumes, shouting slogans, and making ineffectual hand gestures.

This has been around for a long time. Back in 1998 you had American History X

In the 70s, Richard G. Butler garnered disproportionate attention from his compound in Idaho. Something to pad out the paper on a slow news day. Likewise, you had the widely publicized march in Skokie back in 1978.

Generally, white supremacists are a fringe group with no influence. That's why it usually makes sense to ignore them.

Take the notion of a white homeland. Within the foreseeable future, there's no realistic possibility that white segregationists will be able to secede from the union and withdraw into caucasian enclaves. So why even bother to critique a position that's futile? It's a purely academic debate. That prospect is simply not in the cards.  

vi) I'd add that denunciations of white racism tend to have a self-congratulatory vibe. But it doesn't take any courage to denounce an obvious, but politically impotent evil. Unlike members of the French and Italian resistance, you're not putting your life on the line. Isn't there something terribly banal about reviling an evil that every reasonable person already agrees is evil? So the shrill moral preening and back-patting is misplaced. 

I'm struck by the alacrity with which "evangelical leaders" rushed in to disassociate themselves from the white supremacist rally. But no rational person would associate them with that event in the first place. And for SJWs who are quick to tar evangelicalism with sexism, racism, "homophobia," "transphobia" and the like, no disclaimers, however emphatic, will remove the indelible stain imputed to them.  

vii) Why do SJWs have this obsessive need to play the thought police? Ironically, that's symptomatic of their moral insecurity. Because secular progressives have no basis for objective moral norms, they suffer from the compulsive need to remind elite opinion-makers of their unconditional loyalty to the liberal orthodoxy du jour. Secular morality can and does change overnight. It's easy to fall out of favor with the king. When that happens, off with your head! So there's this compulsive, frenzied need to constantly demonstrate their undying allegiance to the party line as a condition of social acceptance within their subculture.  

viii) In fairness, it might be said that a significant percentage of Trump voters are alt-right. That raises the question of whether this is a social movement which the election of Trump empowers. And that's a legitimate concern. 

But thus far I don't see much evidence that the Trump presidency has empowered the alt-right. It looks like he pandered to that demographic for cynical reasons. Having gotten elected, he no longer needs their votes. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Institutional racism is alive and well–on the Left

Tit for tat identity politics

Parsing Ezekiel's temple

Readers will find themselves embarrassed by these chapters [i.e. Ezk 40-48]. To some extent at least they were presumably presented as normative for the future. Yet the postexilic community, even when adoption of their rulings was within its power, found other models of worship, while the different orientation of the Christian faith has left these chapters outdated. Must one relegate them to a drawer of lost hopes and disappointed dreams, like faded photographs? To resort to dispensationalism and postpone them to a literal fulfillment in a yet future time strikes the author as a desperate expedient  that sincerely attempts to preserve belief in an inerrantist prophecy. The canon of scriptures, Jewish and Christian, took unfulfillment in stride, ever commending the reading of them as the very word of God to each believing generation. L. Allen, Ezekiel 20-48 (Word, 1990), 214-15.

i) This raises a serious issue. Millennial movements and millennial cults routinely make false predictions. What distinguishes a millennial cult from a millennial movement is if the leader and members double down after their predictions fail. To outsiders, Christians who defend the inerrancy of Bible prophecy seem to be guilty of the same special pleading. So we do need to be able to address the challenge.

ii) Allen's final sentence is misleading. The canon doesn't take unfulfillment in stride from the canonical standpoint. To the contrary, the distinction between true and false prophets is fundamental to biblical theology. 

iii) Suppose, for argument's sake, that Ezk 40-48 is a program to replace Solomon's temple. Did exilic Jews really expect that to happen after their repatriation? Solomon's temple, which was far less ambitious, was built by human means. The postexilic community didn't have anything approaching the resources necessary to build the temple complex envisioned by Ezekiel. How could they realistically expect that to happen after returning to Palestine? Wouldn't thoughtful members of Ezekiel's audience find his vision puzzling or idealistic? So that's one of several dubious assumptions underlying Allen's interpretation and assessment. 

Barring supernatural intervention, it would require modern construction equipment to build the temple complex envisioned by Ezekiel. 

iv) Let's consider some other dubious assumptions he makes. A vision of a temple has no date. A vision of a temple doesn't place that structure in the past, near future, or far future. A vision of a temple is neutral on the timeframe. 

As a practical matter, Ezekiel's audience could rule out a past realization. But respecting the future, there's nothing in the vision itself that selects for the near-term or long-term. It's just a verbal description of a mental image of a temple complex. 

v) By the same token, a vision of a temple is not, in itself, a promise, prediction, or building program. Compare it to dreams. Some dreams are ordinary while other dreams are revelatory. But you don't know ahead of time which is which. At best, you only know after the fact if the dream was ordinary or revelatory. If it comes true, then it was prophetic. But that's not something you can discern in advance. 

Moreover, the benefit of hindsight works better in the short-term than the long-term. In the case of any true prophecy, there's an interval between the time of the prophecy and the time of fulfillment. Before then, the prophecy was apparently false. Nothing happened…until it happened! 

vi) Suppose, for argument's sake, that Ezekiel's vision is not a promise, prediction, or building program. Would that still be edifying?

Solomon's temple was destroyed. Ezekiel has a vision of a new temple that, in a sense, will replace it. Even if that's not literal, it could still be meaningful. Not a vision of the future, but a picturesque metaphor or analogy for the future. A way of saying the exilic community has a future. God will restore the Jews to their homeland. The Mosaic cultus will resume. God hasn't given up on Israel. 

Does Genesis Teach that the Earth is Young? A Conversation with Dr. C. John Collins

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Neo-nazis to my right, Antifa to my left

Some comments I made on social media regarding the Charlottesville spectacle: 

It was a staged event with predicable consequences. Too many people are easily manipulated by conditioned responses. That's true on both sides. Wave a red flag and watch the bull come charging.

Sure, we should condemn neo-Nazis, but that's the cheapest, easiest form of virtue-signaling imaginable. What's impressive were, say, Christians who risked their lives to oppose the Third Reich.

Yes, white supremacy is wrong. But how we oppose it depends on the form.

In the days of Jim Crow, white supremacists had real power. Institutional power in the three branches of gov't. Likewise, the KKK was, back then, a major domestic terrorist organization.

That requires an aggressive strategy to dismantle the power structures. 

Nowadays, however, white supremacy lacks that kind of institutional clout. Ironically, the primary manifestations of institutional racism hail from the left, and are directed at another minority groups, viz. colleges that discriminate against Asian applicants. College admissions is a bastion of institutional racism. 

If we're referring to white supremacist demonstrators, that calls for a different strategy. We need to avoid playing into their hands by letting them push our buttons. If you allow a provocateur to provoke you, you give him power over you. He's succeeded in getting a rise out of you. He's gotten attention.

There's a danger of enabling otherwise powerless white supremacists, of making them more important than they really are, by acting as if their antics are consequential. That gives them a foothold. There's something to be said for ignoring them, which exposes their political impotence.

Paul and James on justification

Substantively, I don't have anything revolutionary to say about the relationship of James and Paul on justification. I subscribe to the traditional Reformed position on sola fide. However, as I read NT scholars on the subject, even when they are right on the substance, I think there's a lack of clarity in how they expound and defend the traditional position.

1. Before getting to the exegetical questions, a few preliminary points. To judge by their writings, Paul is more intellectually gifted than James. As a result, his discussion of justification is more complex. 

That doesn't mean one is right and the other is wrong. According to the organic theory of inspiration, God creates people with particular aptitudes, and providentially gives them a particular background that conditions their interests. Inspiration doesn't submerge their personalities. Their natural aptitude selects for different aspects of the truth. Under inspiration, Paul and James both articulate the truth, but Paul is more sophisticated, so he goes deeper into the issues than James.

2. There's a debate about how James and Paul are interrelated. Options include: (i) They wrote independently of each other. One is not opposing the other; (ii) Paul is opposing James; (iii) James is opposing Paul.

If you subscribe to inerrancy, then that rules out (ii-iii) as live options. In addition, you can deny inerrancy but still opt for (i). For a defense of (i), cf. R. Bauckham, James (Routledge 1999), 1.2-1.3; L. T. Johnson, The Letter of James (Doubleday 1995), I.4.d.

3. Linguistically, the key verb in 2:19 can mean "to justify" can mean "to acquit, vindicate". It can also mean to "demonstrate" that someone is righteousness. 

However, even if, for argument's sake, we think James uses the verb in the sense of "shown to be righteous," that only pushes the question back a step, because there's the question of what James means by "righteous". 

Rahab is one of James's paradigm-examples, yet she's hardly a paragon of virtue. Indeed, she's a counterintuitive example to a righteous individual. 

James views righteousness as living by faith in revealed truth. And that's the acid test of faith. You really believe in something to the degree that you are prepared to act on it, especially if that entails sacrifice. Abraham left everything behind to follow God. God later rewarded him materially, but that's not how it got started. Rahab took a huge risk in collaborating with the spies. For James, true faith is obedient faith.

4. It's necessary to distinguish between the meaning of words and the meaning of concepts. Suppose I ask you what "cancer" means? That's ambiguous. Is that asking what does the word "cancer" mean? If so, you can look it up in a dictionary.

However, knowing what the word means doesn't tell you what cancer is. It doesn't explicate the nature of the disease. Indeed, a variety of a cancers with different prognoses and treatment options. 

By the same token, Paul and James operate with different concepts of justification and righteousness. They use the same words to denote different categories.

As a result, faith has a different function in relation to justification in the respective theologies of Paul and James. For James, faith and works are complementary, due to how he views righteousness (see above). For Paul, these are antithetical (see below). 

5. If I understand what he's up to, Paul's doctrine of justification by faith is teasing out the implications of vicarious atonement and penal substitution. 

i) In vicarious atonement, the Redeemer atones for sin on behalf of and in place of the redeemed. That's the general principle. In penal substitution, the Redeemer is punished on behalf of and in place of the redeemed. That's a special case of vicarious atonement.

ii) That's why, for Paul, works cannot contribute to justification. Due to the vicarious dimension of justification, justification is grounded, not in something you did, but something done for you. 

iii) And that's why faith has a different function in relation to justification for Paul than it has for James. James doesn't frame a righteous standing in terms of vicarious atonement and penal substitution. This doesn't mean he'd deny that. But his position is categorically different.

For Paul, faith is in part a negation of works. A way of saying justification is not by works. In addition, justifying faith is an acknowledgement of vicarious atonement and penal substitution. Trusting in Christ alone to act on your behalf and in your stead; to do for you what you can't do for yourself. 

6. For Paul, to be justified is to enjoy an ascribed status rather than an achieved status, precisely because it's grounded in vicarious atonement and penal substitution. In a sense, Paul believes in justification by works, but the justifying work is the redemptive death of Christ. 

To illustrate: take a father, a son, and the son's best friend. Ordinarily, a father will do things for a son that he won't do for a stranger. 

Suppose the son's best friend needs a big favor that only the father is in a position to grant. Suppose he asks the father directly, but is turned down. The father would do that favor for his son, but not for a stranger. 

Suppose, though, his son asks his father do help out his best friend. The father may accede to his son's request. 

In a sense he's doing that for his son's best friend. The best friend is the recipient and beneficiary of the favor.

In another sense, he's going that for his son, in deference to his son, because of what his son means to him.

The upshot, though, is that he's treating his son's best friend as if he's his own son. 

To take another example, suppose a king adopts a peasant. The peasant instantly acquires the social status of a royal prince. An ascribed status, by virtue of adoption. 

To take a further example, suppose a conqueror establishes a kingdom. That's an achieve status. 

Suppose his son inherits the kingdom. That's an ascribed status. 

This is more then hypothetical. Take the real-life case of Moses. He was born a slave. On the lowest rung of the social ladder. Even worse, he was born under sentence of death.

When, however, he was adopted by Pharaoh's daughter, that was an instant and enormous social promotion. An unearned advantage.

For Paul, to be justified is an ascribed status rather than an achieved status. You might say it's achieved by Christ, but not by the beneficiaries. For them rather than by them.

That's also why, for Paul, justification is a once-for-all-time event rather than an ongoing process. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Doing well and doing good

Peter Abelard draws some distinctions that are germane to theodicy in general and Calvinism in particular:

When the Father handed over the Son and the Son handed himself over, as the Apostle mentions, and Judas handed over his master, certainly the handing over of the Son was done by God the Father; it was also done by the Son, and it was done by the traitor. Therefore, the traitor did what God did too. But did he do well to do it? For even if it was good, it was not at any rate done well, for something that ought to have been beneficial to him. For God doesn't think about the things that are done but rather in what mind they are done. The merit or praiseworthiness of the doer doesn't consist in the deed but in the intention. 

Often in fact the same thing is done by different people, through the justice of one and the viciousness of the other. For example, if two people hang a criminal, one out of a zeal for justice and the other out of hatred springing from an old feud, then although the hanging is the same action, and although they certainly do what is good to be done and what justice demands, nevertheless through the difference in their intention the same thing is done by different people, one badly and the other well. Peter Abelard, Ethical Writings (Hackett 1995), 12-13.

Indeed it often happens that the same thing is done by different people in such a way that the one does it well and the other evilly, according to their intention. For instance, if two people hang some criminal, the one solely because he hates him but the other because he has to carry out this justice, this hanging is accordingly done justly by the latter, because it was done with the right intention, but unjustly by the former, because it was done not out of love of justice but out of fervor for hatred or wrath.

Sometimes too, evil men, or even the Devil himself, are said to work together with God in doing the same deed, in such a way that the same thing is asserted to be done both by God and by them. For look, we see the things Job possessed taken away from him by Satan, and nevertheless Job himself professes they are taken away from  him by God. He says "The Lord has given, the Lord has taken away".

The Lord Jesus Christ's being handed over into the Jews' hands is mentioned as being done by Jesus himself, by God the Father, and by the traitor Judas…Yet although in such doings either the Devil or Judas did the very same thing God did, nevertheless they shouldn't be said to have done well, even if perhaps they seem to have done something good. Even if they did or wanted to be done what God wants to be done, or have the same will as God has in doing something, should they for that reason be said to do well because they do what God wants to be done? Or do they have a good will because they want what God wants? Of course not! For even if they do or want to be done what God wants to be done, nevertheless they don't do or want to do it because they believe God wants it to be done. Their intention isn't the same as God's in the same deed. And although they want what God wants, and God's will and theirs can be called the same because they want the same thing, nevertheless their will is evil and God's is good since they want it to be done for different causes. So too, although different people's action may be the same because they do the same thing, nevertheless according to the difference in intention this one's action is good and that one's evil. For although they accomplish the same result, nevertheless this one does the selfsame thing well, and that one evilly. Ibid. 143-44.

Kafkaesque feminism

According to Princeton philosophy prof. Elizabeth Harman:

But, what I think is actually among early fetuses there are two very different kinds of beings. So, James, when you were an early fetus, and Eliot, when you were an early fetus, all of us I think we already did have moral status then. But we had moral status in virtue of our futures. And future of fact that we were beginnings stages of persons. But some early fetuses will die in early pregnancy due to abortion or miscarriage. And in my view that is a very different kind of entity. That's something that doesn't have a future as a person and it doesn't have moral status.

There's nothing about its current state that would make it a member of the moral community. It's derivative of its future that it gets to have moral status. So it's really the future and endows moral status on it and if we allow it to have this future and then we're allowing it to be the kind of thing that now would have moral status so in aborting it I don't think you're depriving it of something that it independently has.

This is getting some buzz because a movie star was part of the video. Before commenting, a definition is in order:

"Moral community": Those within the scope of moral consideration. In traditional ethics, only human beings were held to have membership of the moral community. They are the only objects of moral concern because only human beings have reason and hence know what they are doing. Furthermore, only human beings can be in reciprocal relationships involving the recognition of oneself and others as being in a moral relationship. This implies that the moral community consists exclusively of moral agents. The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy.

I think normal folks say one thing that makes murder wrong is that it robs the victim of their future. By the same token, people usually regard dying young as tragic because the decedent had their whole life ahead of them. They had so much to live for, but their death was cut short. As a result, they miss out on all those opportunities. Lost opportunities they can never make up for. That's the presupposition which underlies phrases like "untimely death" and "premature death". From that perspective, Harman has it backwards.

Given her Kafkaesque logic, how does killing ever constitute murder? According to her circular reasoning, you can't wrong an individual by depriving them of their future, because their moral status or membership in the moral community is contingent on their having a future in the first place. So how does she distinguish murder from killing in general?

Friday, August 11, 2017

Easter Enigma

Sonny Corleone

Recently, Timothy McGrew produced a recommended reading list on Christian apologetics:

Atheist Jeff Lowder objected: 

I want to make a distinction between genuine inquiry, on the one hand, and partisan advocacy, on the other. Consider a central (but far from the only) topic in the philosophy of religion: the existence or nonexistence of God. Consider, for a moment, what it would mean to engage in genuine inquiry regarding God’s existence. If the word “inquiry” means anything at all, surely it means more than “read stuff which confirms the point of view you already hold.” It should include, at a minimum, reading opposing viewpoints, not with the goal of preparing pithy one-liners for debates, but with the goal of actually trying to learn something or consider new ways of looking at old topics. For professional philosophers, I would imagine that inquiry would also include trying to “steel man” your opposition, i.e., trying to strengthen the arguments for your opponent’s position. It might even include publishing arguments for a position you do not hold and even reject.

In contrast, partisan advocacy is, well, exactly what it sounds like it is. Much like an attorney hired to vigorously defend her client in court, a partisan advocate isn’t interested in genuine inquiry. To the extent a partisan advocate reads the “other side” at all, she does so in the same way presidential candidates try to find out the “truth” about their opponent under the guise of “opposition research.” So, for example, if a partisan advocate were to create a reading list about God’s existence, they would compile a list of recommended resources which either exclusively or overwhelmingly promoted a certain point of view and without even a hint that a balanced inquiry should be taken.

As suggested by the subtitle of this post, if we apply the genuine inquiry vs. partisan advocacy distinction to religion, I think we get the distinction between (an ideal) philosophy of religion vs. apologetics.

Several issues:

i) Jeff seems to think any such list ought to give both sides of the argument. Certainly there are situations in which that's advisable. No doubt if Dr. McGrew were teaching a college course on philosophy of religion, he'd give both sides of the argument. Have required reading from both sides. 

However, it's unreasonable to think that's a general epistemic obligation. The point of reading both sides of an argument is to take sides. To render an informed judgment. Having arrived at a particular conclusion, it's perfectly appropriate to take your conclusion for granted when making recommendations. Indeed, the point of asking someone like Dr. McGrew for advice is that he can be trusted to do the initial sifting and sorting. 

ii) McGrew's list is obviously for popular consumption. The books are pitched at the level of the layman rather than the professional philosopher. Yes, it's ideal to read the best proponents and opponents of a given position, but you need to take the aptitude of the target audience into account. 

iii) Good books on Christian apologetics do give both sides of the argument. They present the opposing position in order to critique it. It's not as if the treatment is one-sided.

Perhaps Jeff would object that the treatment is biased. It's true that it's often preferable to learn the opposing position direct from the source, rather than filtered through a hostile source. But my immediate point is that it's someone misleading for Jeff to insinuate that if you only read Christian apologetics, you're only exposed to arguments for Christianity and arguments against atheism. A good book on Christian apologetics will also interact with arguments for atheism and arguments against Christianity. 

iv) There is, though, a deeper issue. In terms of inquiry, given limited resources and time-management constraints, where should we invest our time? How do we prioritize? How do we narrow the search parameters? 

One approach is risk assessment and cost/benefit analysis. Take vaccination. That's a precautionary measure. Should I be vaccinated just in case there's an epidemic? The answer depends on counterbalancing the potential harm, benefit, severity, and probability. How dangerous is the pathogen? How likely is an outbreak? Am I in the high risk group for anaphylaxis? Sometimes we do something hazardous because the alternative is even more hazardous. Sometimes what is reckless in one situation is prudent in another. 

Now, the crucial point is that we engage in this deliberation when we don't know the specifics. I don't know if there will be an outbreak. I don't know if I'm in the high risk group for anaphylaxis. But if I wait to find out, it may be too late. I can't afford to learn the hard way. There's too much to lose. If, on the other hand, I have a genetic marker that puts me in the high-risk group for anaphylaxis, then it's more prudent to take my chances with an epidemic.

At this stage of the inquiry, I do the risk assessment and cost/benefit analysis to preemptively eliminate certain options. I don't give those options any further consideration. I don't suspend judgment until I get to the bottom of things, because the whole point is to take precautionary measures in the event of a worse-case scenario. 

v) Apply that to atheism. It isn't necessary for the inquiry to determine whether atheism is true or false. Rather, inquiry would rationally terminate at a preliminary stage. Suppose, if atheism is true, you have everything to lose and nothing to gain. Conversely, if Christianity is true, you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. The purpose of the inquiry is to determine if that's the case. At this stage of the inquiry, the objective is not to determine which position is true or false, but to access the respective consequences of their hypothetical truth or falsity. Moral and existential consequences. Depending on the results, there may be no obligation to pursue our inquiry any further. We stop at the preliminary stage because we ruled out that hypothetical option for reasons that don't even impinge on the truth or falsity of the alternatives. And that can be justifiable. It isn't always essential or obligatory to take intellectual inquiry beyond that preliminary elimination stage. 

vi) Take Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism. That's controversial. The purpose of the inquiry is to determine whether his argument is a success or failure. If his argue fails, then we expand the inquiry to investigate other arguments for or against naturalism. But if his argument succeeds, then that's a logical place to end the inquiry. If naturalism subverts the reliability of reason, isn't that a sufficient defeater? There are many different ways to kill somebody, but once he's dead, it's redundant to employ additional methods. That's literally overkill. How much lead do you need to pump into Sonny Corleone to get the job done? 

Thursday, August 10, 2017

He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel

Many Christians interpret Gen 3 as follows:

They think the Tempter was originally a bipedal reptile which underwent metamorphosis when God cursed it. They attribute the snake's intelligence, malevolence, and speaking ability to Satanic possession. 

In addition, they think Gen 3:15 is the first messianic prophecy. 

And I will put enmity
Between you and the woman,
And between your seed and her seed;
He shall bruise your head,
And you shall bruise his heel.

There is, however, a problem with combining all these identifications. In the narrative, they think the Tempter is a literal snake or physical reptile. But in the prophecy, they think the adversary is not a literal snake; rather, the adversary is the devil–nothing more and nothing less. 

In other words, they don't think a snake bit Jesus. They don't think Jesus crushed the head of a snake by stomping on it.

So there's a lack of consistency in how they identify the referents. 

A solution is to drop the literal reptilian or serpentine identification and consistently interpret the Tempter in angelic/diabolical terms. On that view, both the narrative and the oracle use serpentine imagery and symbolism. 

Although I often disagree with him, I think Walton is on the right track in this regard:

Serpents are often the object of curses in the ancient world, and the curse in v14 follows somewhat predictable patterns. The Egyptian Pyramid texts (2nd half of the 3rd millennium BC) contain a number of spells against serpents, but they also include spells against other creatures considered dangerous or pests. The serpent enjoys some prominence, however, since it is represented on the crown of the pharaoh. Some spells enjoin the serpent to crawl on  its belly (keep its face on the path). This is in contrast to raising its head up to strike. The serpent on its belly is nonthreatening while the one reared up is protecting or attacking. Treading on a serpent is used in these texts as a means of overcoming or defeating it. This suggests we should not think of the serpent as having previously walked on legs. Instead, the curse combats its aggressive nature.

Likewise, we should not think of the curse of eating dust as a description of the diet of snakes. The depiction of dust or dirt for food is typical of descriptions of the netherworld in ancient literature...These are most likely considered characteristics of the netherworld because they describe the grave. Dust fills the mouth of the corpse...Given this background information, the curse on the serpent can be understood as wishing upon it a status associated with docility (crawling on belly) and death (eating dust). John Walton, Genesis (Zondervan, 2001), 224-25.

This could be deployed to defend a symbolic interpretation, just as the uraeus represented the corbra god of Egypt. 

Put out the light

I'd like to briefly discuss a potential confusion in debates over the real presence. Opponents of the real presence sometimes say that "This [bread] is my body" means "This [bread] represents my body". 

In a sense I think that's an unobjectionable interpretation. However, it can be misunderstood. The argument is not that "This is my body" is symbolic because the copulative verb means "represent" in that statement. At least, that's not what the argument ought to be. Rather, to interpret "This is my body" to mean "this represents my body" is simply a way of characterizing the entire statement as figurative. It's not the meaning of the verb that makes the statement figurative. We're not translating "is" into "represents". Instead, that's just a way of saying the statement as a whole is metaphorical.

A metaphor is an implied comparison, where one thing stands for another. Take this statement from Othello's soliloquy:

Put out the light, and then put out the light.
If I quench thee, thou flaming minister,
I can again thy former light restore
Should I repent me. But once put out thy light,
Thou cunning’st pattern of excelling nature,
I know not where is that Promethean heat
That can thy light relume.

"Put out the light" occurs twice in first sentence. The same phrase is repeated, but it doesn't have the same sense. In the first occurrence, it denotes literal candlelight, but in the second sentence, candlelight is an emblem of human life. 

The same verb ("put out") is used in each occurrence. What makes the statement figurative in the second occurrence is not that the verb has a different meaning, but the sentence has a different referent. In the second occurrence, the sentence refers to Desdemona. But she's not a literal candle. She's not composed of beeswax. She doesn't have a burning wick. Yet the candle represents Desdemona. 

The audience is expected to discern an analogy between Desdemona and a burning candle. In fact, in everyday speech, "extinguish" or "snuff out" are synonyms for killing. Dead metaphors. 

The prayer of faith will save the sick

6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; 8 he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways (Jas 1:6-8).

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed fervently that it might not rain, and for three years and six months it did not rain on the earth. 18 Then he prayed again, and heaven gave rain, and the earth bore its fruit (Jas 5:13-18).

1. These two passages are similar. The difference is that Jas 1:6-8 enunciates a general principle, whereas Jas 5:13-18 represents a special application of that principle. There is, though, a prima facie problem inasmuch as both passages seem to promise too much and deliver too little. 

2. One commentator offers this explanation:

This could be understood to mean that it is up to believers to convince themselves that God will give them what they ask for and somehow to expunge all traces of uncertainty from their minds. But this kind of self-hypnosis is not what James is getting at here. The "faith" required for asking is trust in the character and promises of God" D. McCartney, James (Baker 2009), 90.

Perhaps James has in mind something like the Exodus-generation, which witnessed many unmistakable signs, but was chronically skeptical about God's provision for the future despite overwhelming divine precedent. 

That, however, doesn't entirely relieve the tension, for 1:6-7 takes the form of a divine promise. That's what believers are supposed to put their faith in. Yet the language is unqualified. And 5:15 presents a more specific case of the same tension. 

3. James appears to be the kind of writer who doesn't say everything at once. (I say "appears" to be because we only have one writing by him, so it's hard to generalize.) Instead, his letter contains other statements, separated from these two promises, which contain provisos that implicitly moderate them. For instance: 

You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions (Jas 4:2-3).

Here he says one impediment to answered prayer is ill-motivated prayer. In that case, lack of faith is not the only reason for unanswered prayer. 

4. Here's another example:

13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that” (Jas 4:13-15).

i) "If the Lord wills" is called the Jacobean condition. The thrust of this passage is that it's impious to be presumptuous about the future, because we don't know or control the future. Our plans may conflict with God's plan, and when that happens, God's plan prevails. 

But that has implications for what James says about faith and prayer. Presumably, James doesn't think faith and prayer function like a blank check, since that's inconsistent with his admonition in 4:13-15. 

ii) Most commentators think the Jacobean condition denotes God's decretive or providential will. An exception is McCartney, who thinks it denotes God's preceptive will. He gives two or three reasons:

Rarely, however, does James show any interest in God's decretive will, his primary interest is on obedience to God's revealed ethical will (e.g. 1:25; 2:8). D. McCartney, ibid., 227. 

I think that's a very weak argument. We have a single, brief, occasional writing from James. That's a completely inadequate sample to generalize about the writer's theological interests.

And if James were advocating nothing more than a passive acceptance of whatever God sends, it would be out of character with the rest of the letter (227).

That's an odd objection coming from a commentator who's presumably a Calvinist. He makes it sound as if belief in predestination fosters fatalistic resignation. 

Belief in predestination is not a logical disincentive to plan ahead. For one thing, we don't know ahead of time what God has foreordained. That's something we discover through experience, as the future eventuates. In addition, our activities, including our plans, contribute to the future, as predestined causes. Even plans that fall through contribute to the future. It's a false dichotomy to oppose human agency to divine agency. Strictly speaking, God's plan doesn't override human plans. Rather, our plans, including our failed plans, are predestined means by which God providentially realizes his own plan. 

This reading fits much better with the summary apophthegm in 4:17 ("Therefore, if someone knows a good thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin"), to which otherwise it is hard to see the connection (228).

That's McCartney's strongest argument, based on what follows v15. However, we also need to consider what precedes v15. James derives that conclusion from vv13-14, where he's describing the contrast between false expectations and how things actually turn out. The context unavoidable implies a reference to God's decretive will. 

Moreover, ethical deliberations are still a necessary part of responsible decision-making and planning for the future. So, pace McCartney, I agree with most commentators (e.g. Allison, Blomberg, Davids, Johnson, Moo) that James is referring to God's decretive or providential will. And that, in turn, qualifies the force of 1:6 and 5:15. 

5. One possible interpretation of 1:6 and 5:15 is that James is using hyperbolic language. Scripture often speaks in generalities. But that's understood to allow for exceptions. The bold invitation is an encouragement to take advantage of the opportunity. You have nothing to lose and something to gain.

6. But another possibility is that James isn't referring to garden-variety faith. Rather, there may be occasions when God gives a Christian a sense of certitude regarding his will in that particular situation. I think of that when I read this account:

7. Another interpretation is that James includes spiritual healing, so even if the rite has no curative effect, it is still efficacious. However, that's a face-saving interpretation. The text is about physical illness. And even though the text refers to confession, forgiveness is categorically distinct from physical healing. One is not a substitute for the other. 

7. In 5:14, what does James mean by "elders of the church"? Does "elder" denote church office, or an honorific title for seasoned, saintly believers? Hard to say. Certainly the letter doesn't furnish enough information to tell us anything about his ecclesiology. If, however, the author was the leader of the church in Jerusalem, then Acts gives us some general background. Even so, we don't know if the 1C church of Jerusalem had a developed polity, or whether James even cared about those distinctions. 

Moreover, this may be irrelevant inasmuch as vv14-15 transition to corporate intercessory prayer in v16. At that level, the entire congregation is involved. Can't say for sure how James envisions the interrelationship, but perhaps while only elders performed the rite, the congregation was aware of ailing members, and prayer requests were general.

8. He cites the example of Elijah to illustrate the principle. According to James, what made the prayer of Elijah efficacious wasn't his official capacity, but his "righteous" character. The implication is that God is more likely to heed the prayers of a devout supplicant. 

9. In terms of historical theology, Jas 5:14-16 was a flashpoint of controversy. Trent made this a prooftext for extreme unction. But there are many problems with that interpretation:

i) The rationale for extreme unction is the need for Christians to die in a state of grace. If they die in mortal sin, they are doomed. On their deathbed they need to receive absolution. 

Of course, the timing is tricky. If you wait too long, you may die before receiving last rites, in which case it's too late for you to benefit from that sacrament.

In any event, that interpretation involves many theological assumptions that can't be derived from the text. An extraneous theological framework which imposes that meaning on the text. 

ii) Another problem is how the Catholic interpretation makes absolution primary, and healing secondary–but subordinating the healing dimension runs counter to the text. 

iii) Furthermore, there's nothing about "holy oil". No indication that the oil is consecrated. 

The Protestant Reformers were right to reject the Catholic interpretation and application of that text.

10. Due, however, to their cessationist outlook, Jas 5:14-16 fell into disuse. If God no longer performs healing miracles through human instrumentality, then this text is defunct. And this was exacerbated by the fact that Catholic misuse made the text radioactive. Cf. D. Allision, James (Bloomsbury 2013), 741-45.

It's interesting that James doesn't discuss the evidential value of miraculous healing. He doesn't make that the reason for the rite.