Sunday, August 20, 2017

Sky High reunion

Christians often attend a variety of churches over the course of a lifetime. One reason is our mobile society. If they move out of town or out of state, they find a new church.

I've attended a number of different denominations over the years. Partly this is due to curiosity, in terms of exploring different worship styles. Although I'm a stickler for theology, I'm quite flexible about church attendance, within basic boundaries of orthodoxy. 

For a time I attended in Anglican church. One time I was sitting in church, watching the priests, altar boys, and acolytes prepare for communion. The altar boys were cute elementary school age kids. The acolyte was an older teenager. Made me reflect on me when I was his age, some 40 years ago. I will predecease the acolyte and altar boys by decades. 

It also made me think of all the Christians we encounter, inside and outside of church, in the course of a lifetime. Some of them we may briefly meet, while others we come to know for months or years. But as we move around and they move around, they pass out of our lives. And in some cases they die, which is why we don't see them anymore. And we don't normally think about them.

Occasionally and unexpectedly we bump into people we knew years ago. Suddenly, from out of the past, our paths cross once again. All the dormant memories awaken. 

All of this prompted me to think of what it will be like, after we die, to see all these people again. Christians we met in this world, at one time or another, whom we will see again in the world to come (or intermediate state). Many of whom we lost track of.

Some of them will be waiting for us when we die, while we'll be waiting for some of them when they die–which ever comes first. Like an everlasting high school reunion for Christians!   

"Why call me good"?

And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone (Mk 10:18; par. Mt 19:17; Lk 18:19). 

That's a unitarian prooftext. The typical evangelical explanation is that Christ's response is ad hominem. The young man suffers from an exaggerated opinion of his virtue, so Christ is redirecting his attention to the absolute standard of comparison.

I think that's correct, but I'd like to make another point. This text poses a dilemma for unitarians, for Jesus links God and good. If the statement denies that Jesus is God, then by parity of reasoning, the statement denies that Jesus is good. Jesus makes these parallel claims. You can't affirm one and deny the other; either affirm both or deny both.

Faith journeys

Here's the testimony of a Christian med student:

Around the 6 min. mark he recounts a miracle. He says he overheard a phone conversation that was too far away to naturally hear, not to mention all the noise from passengers mulling around. In addition to hearing God's voice. If it happened, it must be telepathic. 

This is veridical in the sense that his impression was corroborated, both by what happened when he spoke to the man and the message on the video, by the guy recounting his side of the exchange. 

There are only four logical explanations:

i) He's mistaken

How could he misperceive what he thought he heard? How could that accidentally correspond to what was actually said? 

ii) It's a coincidence

What are the odds?

At this point an atheist might say, sure (i-ii) are astronomically improbable, but they're more probable than the alternative of something that crazy actually happening. 

Yes and no. (i-ii), however wildly improbable, might still be more plausible than the alternative naturally happening. But that's not the comparison. The comparison is whether God made it happen.

iii) He's lying

That's something we should make allowance for. If, however, there are many stories like this from prima facie credible witnesses, then what's the tipping point to overturn naturalism (i.e. physicalism, causal closure)? It's circular for an atheist to discount all these reports as unbelievable because we don't live in a world where things like that happen. But how do we know what kind of world we live it? What's the benchmark? If enough witnesses report incidents like that, then we do live in that kind of world!

The atheist is appealing to experience, yet he's using one set of reported experiences as the benchmark to evaluate other reported experiences. But what's his justification of appealing to naturalistic experiences to set the standard of comparison? Why not the other way around?

Moreover, there's not even a prima facie conflict. Not experiencing the supernatural isn't positive evidence to the contrary, that counters evidence for the supernatural. If I've never seen something, that doesn't count as evidence against your reported sighting. 

iv) He's telling the truth

Permission to die

Sometimes we need to give people permission to die. They don't have a duty to fight death right up to the last minute. They don't have a duty to soldier on. 

It's a balancing act. On the one hand it seems right to hope for the best, pray for the best, hope for a miracle.

On the other hand, that drumbeat makes it hard for someone to be a peace with the prospect of dying.  To prepare themselves for death, which denies them a peaceful death, because they feel they have an obligation to resist death. And that can be cruel. Sometimes it's okay to let go–especially as a Christian. 

From a Christian standpoint, it's okay to say good-bye to this life and leave this world behind. In our efforts to "encourage" the terminally ill, I think some well-meaning believers have contributed to their ordeal and mounting sense of panic because they think we have a duty to always say something "hopeful" in the sense of waiting for a last-minute miracle. The terminally ill are never allowed to resign themselves to the probability of death and make the emotional and psychological adjustment. It's always, hang on to the last dying breath–just in case.

Death is easy for some Christians and hard for others. The danger is to make dying harder than it needs to be. If the terminally ill are made to feel that they are letting down the cause by "giving up", that makes dying harder. They aren't allowed to mentally prepare themselves for death. For release from this life. Release from pain. Release from unnecessary anxieties. 

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Pornographic imagination

Many evangelical pastors and parachurch organizations refer to the perils of porn addiction. The unexamined assumption is that porn is primarily a masculine vice. However, Jordan Peterson has discussed the neglected fact that many women are avid consumers of pornography. Peterson differentiates between visual pornography, which appeals to men, and literary pornography, which appeals to women. Men are attracted to direct imagery whereas women are attracted to graphic verbal descriptions or tales of seduction. For instance:

A pornographic imagination isn't distinctive to men. Both men and women are susceptible. The difference is the medium. 

Profiles in courage

A radical on radicals

Roman Catholicism needs a procedure for a pope who “teaches error”

Fr Aidan Nichols wants a procedure to discipline a pope who “teaches error”
Fr Aidan Nichols wants a procedure to discipline a pope who “teaches error”
Many Roman Catholics are willing to whisk away the current teaching of "Pope Francis" as if it were a continuation or a "development". But here is one leading Roman Catholic priest, intellectual, and theologian, who thinks that's not the case.

Link: Fr Aidan Nichols said that Pope Francis's teaching had led to an 'extremely grave' situation

Fr Aidan Nichols, a prolific author who has lectured at Oxford and Cambridge as well as the Angelicum in Rome, said that Pope Francis’s exhortation Amoris Laetitia had led to an “extremely grave” situation.

Fr Nichols proposed that, given the Pope’s statements on issues including marriage and the moral law, the Church may need “a procedure for calling to order a pope who teaches error”....

Solution Sunday

Friday, August 18, 2017

Just one god separating atheism from Hinduism

Here's an oft-quoted definition of atheism:

I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

I wonder how that would work in dialogue with a Hindu:

Atheist: I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do.

Hindu: I believe in 333 million gods. When you understand why I believe in all 329,999,999 of your gods, you will understand why I add one more.

Saturday debate on Islam

Why Evangelicals are Drawn to the Alt-Right

Aids to prayer

A friend recently asked, "What ideas or practices have helped you grow in prayer?"

i) I think it varies depending on what you're going through at any particular point in life. What may be helpful when life is going well may be inadequate during a crisis or dry spells.

ii) Some Christians find it useful to keep a prayer journal. That way they have a record of answered prayer. More generally, it's easy to forget all the things we've been through once they're past. But reviewing that periodically can provide a sense of providential care. 

iii) Another thing: it's good to alternate between praying for our own needs and praying for others. Intercessory prayer keeps us from becoming too depressingly focussed our own problems. And taking a break by praying for others enables us to come back to our own problems somewhat refreshed.

iv) Can be good to read/watch (credible) testimonies of answered prayer. Even if your own prayer life seems to be spinning its wheels, evidence of God at work in the lives of others can be inspirational. Reminds one of God's reality, even if he doesn't seem to be palpable in your own life at the time. Two examples:

v) In my experience, there's value to looking back on evil. Looking back on a particular ordeal in one's life and say to yourself, "Well, at least I've put that much behind me! At least I'll never have to go through that again! Maybe the worst is behind me." 

I realize it's too soon for Christians undergoing a crisis to be able to have that detached perspective. But if you get beyond point, it will be a relief to consign that to the past. And even if you're not at that point as of yet, and it's nowhere in sight, even so, it is good to anticipate a time of life when you can view your current ordeal in retrospect. It's an outlook I've been cultivating lately. Remembering events I'm happy now lie in the past.

Death and flooding

I suspect that when many people read about Noah's flood, they assume the victims died by drowning. And that has some implications of the depth of the flood, since you can only drown in water that's over your head (or above your neck).

Now, I'm no expert, but it seems obvious to me that there are various ways to die in a flood short of drowning. Suppose there's standing water at waist-level or chest-level for just a month. You can still breathe. You won't die by suffocation. However:

i) You can't sleep because you can't lie down. But there comes a point when the urge to sleep is irrepressible. So you can only keep your head above water for so long.

ii) Other than fruit trees (which are seasonal), you have nothing to eat. You can't even see where food is, because it's submerged. 

Stored dry foods will be spoiled by the flood waters. Wineskins suffer the same fate. No waterproof containers. No tupperware in the ancient world. 

You can't hunt game. Standing water impedes mobility. Even if you could catch game or livestock, you can't cook it. And the flood will drown the low-slung livestock.

iii) You don't have drinking water. The flood waters are polluted. So you either drink contaminated water or die of thirst.

iv) Depending on the temperature, you can die of hypothermia. 

v) Depending on the rapidity of the deluge, Noah's neighbors might not have time to evacuate to high ground, assuming they lived in the vicinity of high ground. 

It also depends on the direction of the floodwaters. If torrential floodwaters are rushing downstream, that will impede ability to reach high ground. You'd either be heading into the floodwaters or be overtaken by the floodwaters.

And even if coastal flooding was the primary source, causing rivers to back up, you could still be overtaken by the deluge, and swept away by strong currents. 

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.