Saturday, November 15, 2014

How the Media Misconstrue Jihad and the Crusades

Beating a dead hobbyhorse


I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one (1 Cor 5:9-11). 
14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry...21 You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons.
25 Eat whatever is sold in the meat market without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 26 For “the earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof.” 27 If one of the unbelievers invites you to dinner and you are disposed to go, eat whatever is set before you without raising any question on the ground of conscience. 28 But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience (1 Cor 10:14,21, 25-28).
14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God (2 Cor 6:14-16).

One of the issues in the prolife movement is cobelligerence. Should evangelical prolifers combine forces with Catholic prolifers?
Abolish Human Abortion takes the position that cobelligerence is wrong because Catholics are idolaters. What about that?
i) I agree with AHA that Catholics are idolaters. I won't bother to defend that claim in this post, since that's not the point of my post.
ii) In addition, two parties can be mutual allies in one respect,  but mutual critics in another respect. Cobelligerence on abortion does not and should not preclude evangelicals from critiquing Catholicism. And it's not as if Catholics refrain from critiquing evangelicalism. 
iii) Mind you, there are better and worse ways of doing that. It needs to be an intelligent critique that's able to field stock Catholic replies to the contrary. 
In addition, it shouldn't be motivated merely by a desire to distance abolitionism from the prolife movement. Scripture condemns displays of spiritual ostentation which are designed to impress other people. 
iv) Ironically, AHA has it backwards. Paul doesn't forbid Christian association with idolaters. Indeed, Paul considers that unavoidable (1 Cor 5:9-10). Christian association with idolaters is permitted rather than prohibited.
v) Paul discusses degrees of licit or illicit association. 
a) Paul permits private meals between pagans and Christians (1 Cor 10:25-27), with a caveat (v28). 
b) Paul forbids Christian participation in pagan cultic ceremonies (1 Cor 10:14-22; 2 Cor 6:14-16). 
c) Paul forbids Christian cultic meals (the eucharist, agape feast) between believers and impenitent professing Christians (1 Cor 5:11). That calls for excommunication. 
vi) 2 Cor refers back to this discussion. It's referring to fellowship in the technical sense of the congregational life of the church, in contrast to pagan ceremonies. 
If we map this onto cobelligerance, Pauline strictures permit evangelicals to work with Catholics in opposing abortion, but forbid evangelical participation in the Mass (to take one example).  

Friday, November 14, 2014

Taking the road not taken

Paul Manata has commented on a post of mine:

Before addressing the specifics, I'd like to make some general observations:

i) When I say that on the face of it, this position dissolves the dilemma between freedom and determinism, I'm not suggesting that it splits the difference between Calvinism and freewill theism. It's not like Molinism in that regard. It's not a via media which gives both sides some or most of what they want. 

For the view I'm discussing is thoroughly predestinarian. It doesn't concede anything to freewill theism. The human agent doesn't access alternate possibilities–like ordering items from a catalogue. He never acts independently of God. Each alternate course of action is predestined (absolute, universal predestination). Rather, he finds himself in different scenarios. 

ii) I'm not saying there is a multiverse (in this sense–or any sense). I'm discussing how, as a matter of principle, this dissolves the dilemma. 

iii) One problem with Manata's analysis is that it depends on his notion of "identity." But that's ambiguous. That goes to ancient and perennial debates over personal identity. Of course, there's nothing wrong with raising the issue. 

Is there such a thing as personal identity? The problem is generated by the fact of change. If I undergo change, then I am the same individual? If I undergo change, then I'm not the same in every respect. In that event, identity is qualified. "Identity" which allows for difference. Mind you, there are austere philosophical traditions which deny that change is compatible with strict identity.

iv) This becomes a question of philosophical method. It depends on your starting-point. To borrow a distinction from Chisholm:

We can formulate some of the philosophical issues that are involved here by distinguishing two pairs of questions. These are:
A) “What do we know? What is the extent of our knowledge?”
B) “How are we to decide whether we know? What are the criteria of
There are people—philosophers—who think that they do have an answer to B and that, given their answer to B, they can then figure out their answer to A. And there are other people—other philosophers—who have it the other way around: they think that they have an answer to A and that, given their answer to A, they can then figure out the answer to B. 
I suggest, for the moment, we use the expressions “methodists” and “particularists.” By “methodists,” I mean...those who think they have an answer to B, and who then, in terms of it, work out their answer to A. By “particularists” I mean those who have it the other way around.

Seems to me that Manata oscillates between methodism and particularism. On the one hand, he accepts the commonsense view that personal identity is real–despite the philosophical conundra. In that respect he's a particularist.

Yet in critiquing my post, he operates like a methodist, by demanding a rigorous notion of personal identity. Which should we begin with? Should we begin with the fact of personal identity, including diachronic identity and counterfactual identity? Should we take that as a given? Or must we begin by establishing the necessary and sufficient conditions of personal identity before we are justified in granting that status to specific candidates? 

iv) Not only must personal identity be tweaked to allow for diachronic identity, but counterfactual identity as well. That demands a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic properties. It's inadequate to frame the discussion in terms of x = y or x ≠ y. 

When we grant diachronic identity or counterfactual identity, it seems to me that we are forced to say, not simply that x is the same as y, but that x is the same as y with respect to z. Both x and y are identical in that respect, which–however–makes room for differences between x and y. They are the same by virtue of something "essential" they share in common. Yet we couldn't differentiate them at all if they were identical without remainder. 

As I recall, Hector-Neri Castañeda defined identity both in terms of individuation and differentiation. Personal identity is whatever makes you a unique individual and distinguishes you from other unique individuals. And that's God's complete concept. 

v) Criteria for personal identity also depend on how rich or impoverished your ontology is. If you're a physicalist, then you must try to ground personal identity in something concrete. 

Let's take a comparison. Suppose you ask, why does Reims cathedral have flying buttresses? There are different ways of answering the question, all of which are correct–but some go deeper than others. 

a) It has flying buttresses because it's a Gothic cathedral. By definition, Gothic cathedrals have flying buttresses. 

b) It has flying buttresses to offset the lateral pressure exerted by the Gothic arch. A Gothic arch transfers weight outward as well as downward. Absent that external counterforce, the lateral pressure would cause the walls to buckle. That's a functional answer. An engineering explanation.

c) It has flying buttresses because it was built according to a blueprint, and the blueprint had flying buttresses. In a sense, they were caused by the blueprint. If they hadn't been in the blueprint, they wouldn't be built. 

d) It has flying buttresses because the architect chose to design a Gothic cathedral rather than a Romanesque cathedral or Byzantine basilica. It began in the mind of the architect. That's the ultimate cause or explanation.   

Now for Manata:

Steve says, this “position dissolves the perennial dilemma between determinism and freedom of choice” because…
That's an overstatement. The quote starts too far into the statement, which began with a caveat: What I said was:
On the face of it, his position dissolves the perennial dilemma between determinism and freedom of choice.
I didn't state for a fact that this resolves the dilemma. Rather, I cast that in prima facie terms. And I expressed reservations about Page's particular model. 
The first problem is that, as Steve puts things, it places too much weight on alternative possibilities (APs) as securing freedom. A whole lot more will need to be said to secure free will (or free choice). For starters, there’s sourcehood questions. There’s epistemic and control questions.
Is Manata discussing freedom, per se, or moral responsibility? 
The point is ambiguous. Is it that determinism could be true at two worlds, W1 and W2, and I do otherwise in W1 than I do in W2? Or is it that determinism is true at W1 and W2, and W1 and W2 share the same determining conditions, and I do otherwise in W1 than I do in W2?
God determines one course of action in W1 and an alternate course of action in W2. 
It's not that I'm free to do otherwise in a given world, but that I do otherwise by the existence of parallel worlds which exemplify alternate courses of action. It's not that the future is open in a given world. Rather, different parallel worlds exemplify the roads not taken (in this world,  using this world as a relative frame of reference). 
Suppose for the moment that our set of reasons at a given time determines our actions.
I think that's plausible so far as it goes. But what lies in back of that is the set of reasons God scripted for our actions. God determines the reasons, which–in turn–determine our actions. make recourse to the ontologically costly many-worlds hypothesis.
i) "Ontologically costly" for whom? It doesn't cost anything extra for an omnipotent God. 
ii) On the face of it, there are many worthwhile scenarios which can't be exemplified in the same timeline. That would be incoherent. A single (actual) world cannot capture all possible goods, for not all possibilities are compossible at the same time and place. Hence, there would be value in having a multiverse in which more than one worthwhile scenario actually plays out. 
So if this is what Steve means, I agree that there’s no problem with doing otherwise in worlds where determinism is true of both.
Since there are many ways to determine something (see James Anderson here, for example), let me just use C for whatever set of “prior” (logical, temporal, timeless decrees of God, doesn’t matter for now) conditions are the determining conditions. Now, to see if we can do otherwise in W1 and W2, we hold C fixed for each of W1 and W2. Perhaps C should be understood according to the thesis of causal determinism. By definition, then, given the laws L and a proposition p specifying the way things are at time t, where t is a time in the “remote past,” all future events e (such that e > t) are entailed by L & p. On this view, if W and W1 share the same laws and proposition about the remote past, they share all events. So how do I do otherwise on this view?
i) I take Manata to mean that if causal, nomological, and/or physical determinism is true, then the past determines the future. Hence, I can't do otherwise given the same antecedent conditions. Conversely, if I can to otherwise, that's because the past is relevantly different. I'm not doing otherwise in the same situation, but otherwise in a different situation. 
ii) I think that's probably true if concrete existence is all there is. If, however, there's an abstract/concrete relation, then that's not necessarily the case–although that depends on how we define "abstract" and relate it to concrete agents and events. 
Suppose the Creator is like a novelist or screenwriter. The real world exemplifies the plot. Characters do whatever the plot has them do. The screenwriter makes a character do something different, not necessarily by making a plot change in events leading up to a different course of action, but by simply determining how the character will react to prior events. 
When the screenplay is instantiated in time and space, there will be intramundane causes and effects, but in a more ultimate sense, that, itself, is an effect of the abstract plot. A way to implement the plot.  
Or, perhaps one might think that theological determinism is true. How might we understand that notion? Again, we might cite James Anderson. Theological determinism = for every event E, God determines that E will take place and the decree of God is the ultimate sufficient cause of E. So, God’s decree will equal C here. To do otherwise in the (iib) sense, Steve would need to say that W1 and W1 [W2?] both share C. That is, both W1 and W2 have the same decree. I cannot understand how any thoroughgoing theological determinist (which Steve is!) could say that I could do otherwise given the same decree (and I don’t think that Steve thinks this either). But then, these different worlds would need to have different decrees for each. But then, there’s no problem with doing otherwise that arises such that we need many-worlds to account for it.
It depends on what Manata means by needing a multiverse to account for doing otherwise. A multiverse is unnecessary to account for God's ability to decree that I do otherwise. 
i) The point of a predestinarian multiverse is that if a freewill theist says divine determinism is incompatible with doing otherwise, one can counter that not only is it not incompatible with doing otherwise, but for all we know, we are doing otherwise. Not just the freedom to do otherwise, not just the unrealized potential, but the actuality. You get to do otherwise! 
And even if God hasn't created a multiverse, so long as he can, that cuts the ground out from the libertarian objection. 
ii) That's if the freewill theist defines libertarian freedom in terms of the ability to do otherwise. Choosing alternate courses of action.  
I could continue to run iterations of Cs, but I think the point has been made. If you maintain that W1 and W2 can, say, share all the same causally relevant facts (up to the moment of choice), yet I do otherwise in W1 than I do in W2, you just don’t have determinism
In principle, it could be an Alice in Wonderland world in which the past doesn't determine the future. What determines the future is whatever Lewis Carroll thought about making the characters do. What happens in Alice in Wonderland isn't based on natural laws or physical determinism. Yet the action is strictly determined. Determined by the author. Admittedly, that's a limiting case.
It seems obvious that I am identical to myself. That is, I am one and the same thing as me. Who else could I be? So, there exists an x such that x = me. Now, let y = my counterpart, the one who does other than I do in the actual world, @. (Here I use ‘counterpart’ neutrally, as Steve wants to. It’s more like a name for the “me” who does otherwise than me. I leave it open right now whether I am numerically identical to my counterpart.) Here’s what we want to know, does y = x? 
This isn’t the ultimate question since God has a concept of me. Thus, I am not the concept. That is, if c = God’s concept of me, c ≠ x. The question is, does x = y.
i) At the level of a mere possible person, I am God's concept of me. It's a constitutive idea–the way a fictional character just is whatever the novelist conceived him to be. 
ii) If, moreover, God intends to create that person, then God's complete concept will include the idea of making him a real person, in time and space. His actual existence will correspond to his abstract existence. 
Steve says, “I’d say those are two different instances of one and the same exemplary idea. The exemplar is God’s idea of an individual.” As far as I can understand this, God has an exemplary idea of me. Me, the x sitting here on my couch typing this, is “an instantiation” of this exemplary idea. The very thing sitting here on the couch typing this = our x. That is, the very thing sitting on the couch typing this is the very same thing as the thing sitting here on the couch typing this, obviously. Now, Steve says when “I” do otherwise in some other world, w, such that w ≠ @, the “I” there, my counterpart, is another instantiation of God’s exemplary idea of me. Is it? That is, since this counterpart is y, then our question is, does y = x? This is legitimate since both me and the counterpart exist, then I can, by existential generalization, conclude that an x and a y exist. Does x = y? In other words, does the x sitting here on the couch typing this in @ = the y that does otherwise in w? 
If x = y, then x does otherwise. If x ≠ y, then x doesn’t do otherwise (in virtue of y’s doing otherwise). If this can’t be answered, then I can’t understand how Steve makes good on the quote I opened with, viz., that it is I who does otherwise, i.e., the x that = me is the x that does otherwise than I do in @. To say that x and y are instantiations of the same exemplary idea doesn’t seem to answer the question. Is God’s exemplary idea of just one x or several ‘counterparts,’ y1…yn, such that y1…yn are grouped together by some suitable similarity criteria, but none of ys are identical to any other y other than the y who bears its same subscript?
God's exemplary idea of an individual is akin to a novelist's idea of a character. He can conceive of his character either boating down the Amazon river or going on an African safari. It's the same character, with different plotlines. 
So when Steve says that “an exact duplicate of me, sitting next to me, is me?,” is to be cashed out as “two different instances of one and the same exemplary idea,” he hasn’t, to my mind, answered the more ultimate question. Are instantiations of the same exemplary idea identical or not?
Identical in reference to what? Two different instances are not directly identical to each other. Rather, they are the same with respect to God's exemplary idea of the same individual–taking alternate courses of action. 
My final worry is this. Either we hold everything fixed (sans soft facts, say) up to the moment of choice or we don’t. If we don’t, we don’t need many-worlds to show we can do otherwise given the truth of determinism. If so, then there’s a huge luck objection lurking For in the world where I do otherwise than sitting here on the couch typing this, my upbringing should be the same, my psychology the same, my reasons for sitting here the same, my environment the same, the same economy, all the nature and nurture facts that have helped shape who I am need to be present. But, for all that, I do otherwise in w. Aren’t I irrational in w? If so, how am I free in w? Steve will need to make some relevant changes prior to my choosing to sit here and type this. 
I don't think the past determines the future. I think predestination determines the future (as well as the past). History is the exemplification of God's plot. God can hold everything fixed up to the moment of choice, but that, of itself, won't determine what comes next. For the plot is ultimately based on dramatic logic. What makes narrative sense. What's in character or out of character. What makes a good story, without plot holes. God doesn't have to change the past to change the future, anymore than a novelist has to rewrite earlier chapters to make a character do something different. God doesn't have to change the past to make the character eat Rice Crispies rather than Corn Flakes. 
But this raises other problems. As Steve argued in God and Corn Flakes, small, almost meaningless changes can (and probably do) result in very different worlds. 
Resulting in a different future, after the moment of choice.

Getting the Starting Points Right

For the last six months or so, I’ve been working through Richard Muller’s “Post Reformation Reformed Dogmatics series. Here at Triablogue, I’ve been posting selections from his Volume 2: Doctrine of Scripture. In the coming months and years, I hope to continue to do that. And at Reformation500, I’ve been posting mostly from his Volume 1: Prolegomena.

I’ve entered a new section over there, Getting the Starting Points Right, which looks at the historical development of theological prolegomena. Now, I know, to modern ears, that kind of study sounds about as fun as having a root canal done. But in reality, if it can be said that “the rise of the European universities” was probably the most significant event of the previous 1000 years (yes, greater than the Reformation – I’ve heard it said), then this next section is essentially “the story of how they did it”.

Of course, it’s a long story, with lots of granular detail.

But you hear it all the time: “We all bring our presuppositions” to this study or that study. The real question is, “what constitutes good presuppositions to have?” Where did these come from? How did we get them? And where did “bad presuppositions” come from?

After all, if we presuppose that “God exists and that he rewards those who seek him”, we must also “always [be] being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you”.

If we want to approach “the world” today with “a Christian worldview”, then it behooves us not only to do so “with gentleness and respect”, but also (if we are going to speak to the “thought leaders” of the world today, among whom we might classify academia, politics, and the media), to do it with a level of historical awareness and philosophical rigor. To be able to compare worldviews.

In this respect, Roman Catholicism is a bankrupt system, doctrinally and philosophically. I’ve commented in the past, in response to the question, “why are there so many ‘intellectual’ converts to Roman Catholicism?” – the answer to this question lies in the fact that there are still Roman Catholic universities such as Notre Dame that still retain the veneer of philosophical sophistication, and there are individuals such as Edward Feser who are supporting Roman Catholic viewpoints by trotting out the 13th century philosophy of Thomas Aquinas, as if it were somehow a great panacea to all that ails the world today.

There is no doubt, Aquinas was “state-of-the-art” for his era, but his blend of neo-Platonism and Aristotelianism does not and cannot adequately describe our world today.

Trying to present “philosophical sophistication” using the Roman Catholic Church today is going to force upon us its justifications for syncretism, and “and-and” theology, and “development”, and “ex opera operato” sacraments, and justifications for the medieval Roman hierarchy (which remains in place today) in spite of the pure evil that that hierarchy has been responsible for in the world [much of it in the name of justifying its own authority]. It’s going to end up giving us someone like “Pope Francis”, for whom a tremendous degree of justification is going to be needed.

Martin Luther rejected a lot of Aquinas as nonsense, [and rightly so, as should we], without having given too much of a reason why. But in our day, we need to be able to say why.

I think Muller is a great place to start.

A Philosophical Walking Tour with C.S. Lewis: Why it Did Not Include Rome

Thursday, November 13, 2014

“We are less vindictive and less short-sighted than our pope!”

So, “Pope Francis” is both vindictive and short-sighted. That’s the verdict of at least one US-based priest, (who’s garnered a large audience of “conservative Catholics” in National Review), writing on the topic of “the demotion of Cardinal Burke”.

But this priest suggests he’s not alone: “the priests and bishops ordained since Saint John Paul II and Pope Benedict have nothing in common with the bell-bottomed theology that, at least for a season, has been revived in Rome.”

The problem is, these are the kinds of folks who elected “Pope Francis” in the first place. There are more “bell-bottoms” under those bishops’ robes than he thinks.

Working the system

What are some ways in which Christians can influence the democratic process in the culture wars? What about Christian law clerks, Christian Congressional aides, and Christian speechwriters for presidents, lawmakers, and governors? In those positions, some Christians will be in a position to shape the argument. Offer reasons. Offer strategies. Offer illustrations. 

It's not just a matter of voting. There are lots of things that can be done behind-the-scenes to advance the agenda, depending on your aptitude. 

Prolife strategies

The prolife status quo

i) Some Christians are rightly and understandably frustrated by the fact that the prolife movement hasn't made more progress. It may seem to be stalled. It suffers periodic setbacks. That's disheartening. It may seem futile. 

Keep in mind that that's not a failure of the prolife movement, per se. We shouldn't blame prolifers. We should blame the enemies of the unborn. Blame corrupt presidents, lawmakers, judges, and voters. 

ii) As a result, some Christians are impatient with the prolife movement. That can be good or bad depending on the kind of impatience we're talking about:

a) There's the kind of impatience that's a form of constructive self-criticism: "Should we try something new?" That's the right kind of impatience. 

b) There's a kind of impatience that's defeatist: "We haven't achieved our goals. Indeed, it looks unattainable. So let's give up." That's the wrong kind of impatience. 

iii) Progress is better than the status quo. We need to keep pushing. Not be complacent. 

iv) However, the status quo is better than regression. By that I mean, if we've made some gains up to a certain point, but we've hit a wall, then maintaining the status quo is better than losing ground. Just because the status quo falls short of what we want doesn't mean the status quo should be despised. If the status quo is better than the alternative, then it's worthwhile to defend of the status quo. Even if we're not making steady progress, maintaining the status quo is better than regression. We're still saving babies who'd die absent the status quo, however inadequate the status quo. 

v) Again, that doesn't mean we should content ourselves with the status quo. There may only be so much we can do at a given time or place. But that doesn't mean further progress is impossible. It may simply mean we have to stay faithful and keep up the pressure until we have a new opening. So it's a two-pronged strategy: (a) hang on to what you already achieved; (b) press for more. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pope Francis and the future of Catholicism

I'm not a prophet, so I have no predictions for Catholicism under Pope Francis. However, I'll venture to discuss what may play out.
He's already pushing 78, so he could die tomorrow–or he could still be in charge 10 years from now. It's also possible that he won't press ahead with the policy changes adumbrated at this year's synod, although he seems to be a very determined man, so I doubt that. This is not a caretaker pope. He means business. 
A problem with one-man rule is that a pope can single-handedly derail a billion-member sect by unilateral fiat. That's always been in the cards, but faithful Catholics don't believe that's a live possibility because God will allegedly protect the One True Church® from a rogue pope. Francis may put that to the test.
To judge by the synod, his plan is to make the church more inclusive, more open and affirming with respect to homosexuals and divorced and/or remarried Catholics. If that happens, it's a policy change that will simultaneously please the least committed Catholics while alienating the most committed Catholics. On the one hand, he runs the risk of losing core Catholics. The true believers.
On the other hand, he really gains nothing. He's not winning new converts to his position. He's not changing minds. Rather, he's capitulating. He isn't bringing them over to his side. Instead, he's going over to their side. They don't have to change what they think or do. All the change is coming from his end. 
It's hard to think of a more disastrous policy. Burn your base while getting nothing in return. Yet that seems to be the course he's bent on. We'll see. 
Keep in mind that this is a sect which hasn't recovered from Vatican II. That already did a lot of damage to faith of faithful Catholics. 
The contemplated policy change has the potential to precipitate a schism in the church of Rome. That doesn't mean the church of Rome is going away anytime soon. It has too much sociological inertia to fade away overnight. However, the continued existence of Rome as a major denomination is not a given. Consider how much ground it's lost in Europe in a century. Consider how much ground it's lost in Quebec in a generation. 
In fact, the papacy has been quietly moving left for some time. This didn't begin with Vatican II or John XXIII. That didn't happen out of the blue. It's funny that sedevacantists regard Pius XII was the last true pope, because, to my knowledge, it was encyclicals like Humani generis and Divino Afflante Spiritu that took a left turn in traditional Catholic dogma. 
If the contemplated policy change goes through, that will pose a real dilemma for faithful Catholics. Compare Catholicism to a Protestant theological tradition like Calvinism. Calvinism can live off the land. It's a belief system grounded in Scripture. Very portable. Calvinism can survive and flourish as a theological movement. It doesn't begin with institutions. It begins with theology. It forms institutions to service the theology. 
By contrast, Catholicism is not a lay movement. It can't survive indefinitely, disconnected from the Magisterium. Its theology is wedded to a particular polity. The institution dictates the theology. 
If the Magisterium goes liberal, there's nowhere for the laity to go. They have no church apart from the Magisterium. Catholic theology is not a free-floating belief system that can be sustained or practiced in isolation from the authority of popes and bishops, or the sacramental actions of a priest. If Catholics have nowhere to go to Mass, no priests to confess to, no apostolic succession, no valid sacraments, they have nothing. 
There is no "true Catholicism" which a faithful Catholic remnant can preserve, observe, and pass on, if the Magisterium goes belly up, for there is no true Catholicism apart from the pope, episcopate, and priesthood. 
Faithful Catholics can weather persecution. You can have an underground Catholic movement in the wake of external persecution. What it can't survive is a decapitation strike. A headless body will die. 
By contrast, Protestantism is essentially decentralized. Our rule of faith is a book, not a man. The head of our church rules in heaven. Catholic apologists think that's our fatal weakness, but it's actually our hidden strength. 

"Desperate times call for desperate measures"

The schism between prolifers and abolitionists is a microcosm of a larger debate among American Christians regarding the best way to fight the culture wars. It's part of debates over the respective merits of cobelligerence, libertarianism, 2-K (e.g. Kline, VanDrunen), Kuyperian "transformationism," &c. In that respect it has a significance that's larger than the specific prolife/abolitionist division. 
I. Immediatism
Abolitionism has historically been wed to the doctrine of immediatism.  The history of the pro-life movement has been one of gradualistic means and measures, incremental legislation, ameliorative programs, and the inclusion of exceptions to abortion along the way to its eventual total abolition. 
We demand the immediate and total abolition of abortion. We believe that allowing abortion in some cases along the way to its abolition in all cases is neither strategically sound nor consistently Christian. You cannot abolish any evil by allowing it to continue or justify it in some cases.  Any strategy for ending abortion in this country which allows for the continued occurrence of some abortions for the sake of outlawing the rest, though seemingly pragmatic and deceptively promising to be effectual, is just that: compromise. We reject incremental abolition, the gradual regulation of evil, and “pragmatic” strategies.
1. Does AHA have a deadline for the abolition of abortion? Does AHA even have a target date for the abolition of abortion? How much time does AHA allow itself before concluding that its tactics are ineffective?
If you demand the immediate and total abolition of abortion, in contrast to gradualism and incrementalism, then, presumably, this can't be an abstract goal, set in the indefinite future. AHA positions itself in contrast to what it deems to be unacceptably slow pace or lack of progress of the prolife movement. In that context, what metric is AHA using to assess its own progress? What if abortion hasn't been abolished 10 years after AHA was started? Or 15 years? Or 20 years? 
Perhaps AHA says they will keep at it for as long as it takes. Indeed, one of their slogans is that "we will not rest until we have effected abolition." 
If so, how does that open-ended timeframe differ from the prolife commitment? Prolife leaders and prolife organizations are in it for the duration as well. 
Remember that, from the AHA standpoint, merely reducing abortion is no evidence that the goal of abolition is getting any nearer. So when can we say that AHA has turned the corner on abortion? What's the tipping-point?  
2. We need to distinguish between growth and progress. Let's begin with a truism: every movement grows until it stops growing. Why do movements stop growing? We can start by asking why they grow in the first place. They catch on because they tap into a neglected market niche. And they may grow at a rapid or explosive pace in the early stages of the movement. The potential for rapid growth is accelerated by social networking. Due to instant communication, social movements can burgeon faster than in the past. 
But the same thing which causes them to grow causes them to peak. They saturate that market niche. They reach everyone who takes an interest in their cause. 
At that point the movement levels off. And if it's not expanding, it's contracting. For several reasons:
i) For some members, it was just a fad. The cause du jour. They get bored. Drop out.
ii) Social movements draw on singles who have leisure time to devote to the movement. But when people get married, have kids, they no longer have the same amount of free time to devote to the movement. It is squeezed out of their schedule.
iii) Some members become disaffected when they notice that nothing is really happening. There's lots of activity. Lots of busywork. Lots of motion. But the motion is circular. All the agitating does nothing to move the needle in the desired direction. They're just moving in circles. Lots of noise, but nothing much to show for it. 
iv) That's the difference between growth and progress. There's a difference between a growing movement and a successful movement. Presumably, the movement is not an end in itself, but a means to an end. Success is defined, not by the size of the movement, but by achieving the goal. Progress is defined, not by the movement, but by the goal. Having lots of members isn't progress. It just means you're popular with a certain segment of society.  
v) AHA has another twist. It pickets churches as well as abortion clinics. Not only does it alienate people on the left, but it alienates people on the right. 
Now, I'm not saying that's good or bad. But ordinarily, social movements succeed by attracting people to the cause, not by driving them away. So the question is whether AHA's methods are consistent with its goal. 
Again, I'm not saying it's ipso facto wrong to alienate potential constituents. The question, rather, is how you intend to achieve your goal. Does that advance your objective, or does that work at cross-purposes with your objective?  
II. Nonviolence
1. According to their website, AHA eschews violence:
They also appeal to inspirational historical precedent:
EVEN MORE BOLDLY than their British Counterparts, the American Abolitionists denounced Southern slavery, and the North’s complicity in it, as “the epitome of SIN!” They condemned the act of “turning a man into a chattel” as entirely contradictory to the Old Testament’s prescriptions regarding human servitude, and to the New Testament’s spiritual instruction to both masters and slaves. They declared every slave holder to be a “man-stealer” and argued that every man-stealer was guilty of a “capital crime” according to the Law of God (Ex 21:16). They charged every church that did not discipline slave holders in their congregations to be “recreant to their posts,” and warned the nation that the preservation of human slavery would lead the nation into Civil War. 
We believe, along with another of our heroes Dietrich Bonhoeffer, that, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
However, that's in tension with their commitment to nonviolence. Bonhoeffer was complicit in the plot to assassinate the head-of-state. Some abolitionists like John Brown resorted to violence. 
AHA prides itself on being "uncompromising" in relation to the prolife movement. Well, couldn't Brown and Bonhoeffer say they were uncompromising in relation to AHA? How does the "no compromise" slogan select for the nonviolent tactics of AHA rather than the violent tactics of Brown and Bonhoeffer–especially when AHA casts itself as heirs to the mantle of Bonhoeffer and the American abolitionists? 
2. This goes to another issue. I recently faulted AHA for not having a screening process to filter out convicted terrorists. Two prominent AHA member responded by defending their practice of letting convicted terrorists join AHA. 
Now, this is on condition that convicted terrorists foreswear violence. But think about that. 
i) Why do terrorists resort to violence in the first place? Short answer: impatience. They resort to violence because they want to see results. The democratic process takes too long. Moreover, because the democratic process requires consensus, it shuns radical goals as well as radical means. 
ii) Let's say a convicted terrorist sincerely foreswears violence when he joins AHA. Still, if after agitating for however long, it dawns on him that AHA is spinning its wheels, then why would he not revert to violence? 
After all, AHA is, itself, based on impatience–impatience with the prolife movement. If impatience with slow or negligible progress was what attracted him to terrorism in the first place, and he begins to see that AHA is no more effective, what prevents him from falling back on violence?
BTW, I'm not talking about just one person. Since AHA has an open-door policy on admitting convicted terrorists into their ranks, if they foreswear violence, then this question will repeat itself for every convicted terrorist who's drawn to AHA. 
Suppose you're a former terrorist. You renounce violence when you join AHA. Every morning you get up and decide where to go today. Will you picket an abortion clinic? A high school? A church? A college campus? You might even have a rotating schedule, where you do each one a different day of the week.
Every day you agitate. You go to the same places. The next day you start all over again. You do this dutifully, day after day, week after week, month after month.
Suppose you wake up five years later, and as you're gathering your tracts and placards, you're overcome with a sense of deja vu. You and your AHA brothers keep doing the same thing, but nothing happens. The nation is no closer to abolishing abortion than it was five years ago. Not only has abortion not been abolished, but there's no appreciable progress in that direction. You demonstrate. You make "demands." But your efforts are just as ineffectual as the prolife movement you were taught to disdain. 
Why would you not conclude that just as the prolife movement is a failure, AHA is a failure, and it's time for drastic action? "Desperate times call for desperate measures." 
III. Movements and organizations
The AHA Facebook says AHA it's not an organization. It only looks like one because it's...organized. I'm afraid that distinction is less than self-explanatory. 
Another prominent member says AHA is a movement, but state chapters of AHA are organizations. Whatever. 
Let's discuss a difference between a movement and an organization. An organization can impose a degree of ideological conformity which a movement cannot. An organization can impose party disciple based on membership requirements. Likewise, it has official spokesmen. If you veer too far from the party line, you're kicked out.
Movements are less stable. They retain ideological coherence to the degree that they are centered on a charismatic leader–like Gandhi or Martin Luther King. Their unity derives from having one acknowledge leader. 
As a result, founders of a movement can lose control of the movement they founded. As it grows, it gets away from them. Rival leaders pop up. That's exacerbated by autonomous chapters. Who speaks for the movement? The leader of one state chapter or the leader of another state chapter? 
A movement can become radicalized, especially by opening its ranks to radicals. Extremists who naturally gravitate to fringe groups. People who find the Manichean rhetoric appealing. 
Consider secular parallels. There are radical environmentalists who consider Green Peace to be too compromising. So they join ALF or ELF. That's where the action is. That gets results. Dramatic results. Instant results. Likewise, you had the debate between King's nonviolent philosophy and Malcolm X and the Black Panthers. 
Maybe AHA will get lucky. Maybe it will avoid that fate. One can only hope.

Augustine's Rebuke Of Fideism

"Faustus has an evasive objection, which he no doubt thinks a most ingenious way of eluding the force of the clearest evidence of prophecy, but of which one is unwilling to take any notice, because answering it may give it an appearance of importance which it does not really possess. What could be more irrational than to say that it is weak faith which will not believe in Christ without evidence? Do our adversaries, then, believe in testimony about Christ? Faustus wishes us to believe the voice from heaven [in Matthew 3:17] as distinguished from human testimony. But did they hear this voice? Has not the knowledge of it come to us through human testimony? The apostle describes the transmission of this knowledge, when he says: 'How shall they call on Him on whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe on Him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? and how shall they preach except they be sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of them who publish peace, who bring good tidings!'' Clearly, in the preaching of the apostles there was a reference to prophetic testimony. The apostles quoted the predictions of the prophets, to prove the truth and importance of their doctrines. For although their preaching was accompanied with the power of working miracles, the miracles would have been ascribed to magic, as some even now venture to insinuate, unless the apostles had shown that the authority of the prophets was in their favor." (Reply To Faustus The Manichaean,12:45)

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

For many will come in my name

For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray (Mt 24:5).
i) Commentators debate what this refers to. That depends in part on whether the commentator is a preterist, futurist, or idealist. 
ii) Traditionally, Protestants identified the pope (or papacy) as the Antichrist. This was prooftexted from 2 Thes 2 and Rev 13. 
I don't think those texts single out the papacy by any means. But in a more generic sense, the pope usurps the role of Christ. He presumes to be the "Vicar of Christ" and Alter Christus
iii) However, I'd like to consider a neglected angle. Let's begin by distinguishing between a personal Antichrist and a literary Antichrist. Every since the Enlightenment, there have been reconstructions of the "real Jesus." Reimarus, Strauss, and Renan are three earlier examples. 
Ever since, there's been a stream of reconstructed Christs, viz. E. P. Sanders, John Dominic Crossan, Dan Brown, Bart Ehrman, Reza Aslan, and–most recently–Simcha Jacobovici and Barrie Wilson. 
These are literary Christs. But to be more accurate, these are literary Antichrists. They attempt to replace the historical Christ, the Biblical Christ, with a substitute Jesus. Swap out the real Jesus and swap in an impostor. A fictional Jesus, whether by "scholars" or tabloid writers. 
iv) Moreover, this doesn't require rewriting the Gospels. It can just as well involve reinterpreting the Gospels. Take David Gushee's open and affirming Jesus. That's an Antichrist.
Without denying a personal Antichrist, we should be alert to the fact that people can be led astray by a literary Antichrist. They follow a Jesus of their own imagination. 

Here we go again

Ave Maria

In my observation, Catholic apologists deploy two basic arguments to justify prayers to Mary. Each argument can be assessed on its own terms, or in relation to one another. Let's begin with the latter analysis:

i) Asking Mary to intercede for us isn't essentially different from asking a Christian friend to intercede for us.

ii) We should pray to Mary because Mary is special. She's in a unique position to intercede on our behalf.

Now, whatever the individual merits of these two arguments, when taken in combination they invalidate each other. Hence, it is not even possible for a Protestant to agree with both arguments. So a Catholic apologist needs to decide which one we should believe, since we can't very well believe both. 

iii) The first argument is a common ground argument. It isn't overtly based on Catholic distinctives. It attempts to build a bridge by appealing to something a Protestant already concedes–or does. 

By contrast, the second argument is just the opposite. It appeals to Marian dogmas. We should pray to Mary because she's the Queen Mother. We should pray to her due to her unrivaled holiness–given the Immaculate Conception. 

Again, though, whatever else we might say about that claim, it's the polar opposite of a common ground argument. And it stands in point blank contradiction to the rationale of the first argument. The first argument contends that we ought to pray to Mary because that's not essentially different from asking fellow Christians to pray for us. By contrast, the second argument contends that we ought to pray to Mary because she's in a fundamentally different, and superior position, to ordinary Christians. We should pray to her because she is decidedly not like ordinary Christians. She's in a class apart. 

Once again, my point at this stage of the argument isn't to assess the merits of that claim, but to note that if the first argument is true, it invalidates the second argument–and if the second argument is true, it invalidates the first argument. If a Catholic apologist insists on both, then they cancel each other out, without remainder. These are two diametrically opposing arguments. 

iv) Now let's briefly consider each argument on its own terms. One essential difference between asking Mary to intercede for us and asking a Christian friend to intercede for us is the difference between asking for prayer and praying to someone. If I ask a friend to pray for me, I'm not praying to my friend. 

But in the case of Marian devotions, the very act of asking Mary to pray for us is, in itself, a prayer to Mary. You can't ask Mary to pray for you unless you pray to Mary. You're not just soliciting prayer. You're praying for prayer. You're praying to Mary to pray for you. Praying to someone, and asking someone to pray for you, are not the same thing. So that's just one point at which the argument from analogy breaks down. 

v) Is Mary holier than other Christians? I'll grant you that Mary in heaven is holier than Christians on earth. But that doesn't make Mary in heaven holier than other Christians in heaven. Mary is sinless in heaven. But so are other Christians in heaven.

Conversely, there's no Biblical reason to think that before she died and went to heaven, Mary was holier than every other Christian or Jew on earth. No reason to think she was holier than Anna or Elizabeth (Lk 2).

Of course, at this point a Catholic apologist will counter that she was holier by virtue of the Immaculate Conception. She was sinless all her life. And, in fact, she never died. She went straight to heaven. 

But, of course, that invokes presuppositions which a Protestant doesn't grant. That's an appeal to evolving traditions. Traditions which become more theologically embellished as they become more distant in time and space from historical events and historical sources. 

There is much more one could say in objection to Marian prayer. For now I'm just clearing some of the underbrush that obscures the real issues.

On Marxism: “The American solution was simple: to wait…”

What the Fall of the Berlin Wall did not Change:

Twenty-five years ago, a crowd filled with an uneasy mixture of joy and rage tore down the Berlin Wall. There was joy for the end of Germany's partition and the end of tyranny. There was rage against generations of fear. One fear was of communist oppression. The other fear was of the threat of a war, which had loomed over Europe and Germany since 1945. One fear was moral and ideological, while the other was prudential and geopolitical. As in all defining political moments, fear and rage, ideology and geopolitics, blended together in an intoxicating mix. …

It is difficult for us to remember how seductive Marxism was, and how frightening Soviet power was.

Update: New York doctor cleared of Ebola; no known cases in the US

He had visited a popular restaurant and coffee shop, rode multiple subway lines and went to a bowling alley and bar in Brooklyn:

The doctor who contracted Ebola in West Africa before returning to New York City has been declared free of the virus, hospital officials announced Monday. This news means that 41 days after the first Ebola diagnosis in the United States, there are no known cases of the virus in the country.

Craig Spencer, 33, who had been treating Ebola patients in Guinea, was diagnosed with Ebola on Oct. 23. Bellevue Hospital Center in New York City, where Spencer was being treated, confirmed in a statement Monday that he “has been declared free of the virus.” Spencer will be discharged on Tuesday, according to the hospital….

More than 350 people were being actively monitored by the New York City health department for Ebola as of last week, the department said in a statement. Most of these people had traveled to New York City from Liberia, Guinea or the Sierra Leone, but that number also included Bellevue staff members treating Spencer and lab workers who took his blood.

Here’s the latest from the CDC update site. As of November 7, there have been 13,241 total cases and 4,950 deaths.

On November 5, WHO released a situation report that included a decrease in the number of total cases since the report released on October 31, 2014. WHO reports that the decrease in total cases results from a change in data sources.

On November 5, WHO reported that all 83 contacts of the health worker infected in Madrid, Spain have completed the 21-day follow-up period.

WHO officially declared Senegal and Nigeria free of Ebola virus transmission on October 17 and 20, respectively.

The number of new cases in Liberia recently declined sharply.

The contagion has to be tracked to the last patient and obliterated lest it flare anew.

When veneration of the saints mutates

Monday, November 10, 2014

9/11 jumpers

I'll comment on this post: 
The post is a pretext to bash conservative Christians, by an ex-fudie. 
Until Brittany I was absolutely, positively against the idea that physician assisted suicide should be legal. 

I'm unimpressed by the moral seriousness of people whose ethical views change based on the last news story they saw. 

However, the real shift in my thinking came from sitting in my rocking chair next to my wood stove late in the evening, watching a program about iconic photography from the terrorist attacks of 9-11…On one hand, one could say these people took their own lives– that they committed suicide– but that wouldn’t really be fair, would it?The Falling Man, and others like him, didn’t have a real choice to live or die– they only had a choice in which way they died: smoke and fire, or by falling. For their children to have to walk through life saying, “my dad committed suicide” is less than fair and completely untrue– they didn’t choose to die (the very definition of suicide), they just chose how they died. This is precisely why I’m losing my patience with my fellow Christians who are condemning Brittany Maynard for her decision to take the pills her doctor prescribed her.

Problem is, Corey is conflicted. On the one hand he's defending their choice, but on the other hand he doesn't want to call it "suicide." Yet if what they did wasn't wrong, what's wrong with calling it suicide? It would only be wrong if suicide is always wrong, but that's the very question at issue. He resorts to euphemisms because he apparently feels that "suicide" carries a stigma. Invidious connotations. But since he doesn't think it's always wrong to end your own life, why run away from the word "suicide"? 

If he were logical, what he'd say is that, yes, they committed suicide, but in some cases suicide is morally permissible. Instead, he's hung-up on the word, but that reflects an unease that's in tension with his argument. 

Like the 9-11 jumpers, Brittany didn’t have a choice in dying, she only had a choice in how she died. You see, there are people like Brittany– terminally ill with imminent death looming– who are essentially trapped in a burning building from which there is no way of escaping with their lives. For some of these people, the idea of being burned alive or having to inhale smoke until death overcomes them becomes less appealing than stepping up to the ledge and accepting a quicker, less painful fate.

i) That's a careless comparison. The 9/11 jumpers were facing imminent death in a way that Brittany was not. Terminal illness doesn't mean death is imminent. 

ii) Moreover, his argument proves too much. Death is inevitable for each and every one of us. We have no choice about whether to die. At most, we have a choice about how and when two die. Sooner or later. 

In all the years since 9-11, I’ve never once heard a Christian speak up in judgement and condemnation over the 9-11 jumpers. I’ve never heard someone say they sinned because they “hastened death instead of accepting God’s timing.” I’ve never heard anyone say that failing to condemn their choice is a “slippery slope that could send the message that suicide is okay.”

There are several problems with that objection:

i) It's only applicable to Christians who take an absolutist position on suicide and euthanasia. If you think that's intrinsically wrong, then it would be inconsistent to make an exception for the 9/11 jumpers. 

ii) His objection lacks traction for Christians who think suicide and euthanasia are normally impermissible, but permissible under special circumstances. 

BTW, that isn't relativistic. If you think suicide or euthanasia is always impermissible in one type of situation, and always permissible in a different type of situation, then that's not relativistic–because it's always licit or illicit given the same type of situation. What changes is the situation, not the licit or illicit  character of the action in that situation. 

iii) Obviously, the choice of 9/11 jumpers isn't a slippery slope, because their plight was so exceptional to begin with. How often do people find themselves in that situation? It's pretty rare dilemma. 

iv) Apropos (ii), he ducks the question of whether death by brain cancer is analogous to death by incineration. How much pain do brain cancer patients experience, under sedation, or when they become comatose? Is that comparable to burning alive?

v) Keep in mind, too, that the 9/11 jumpers were separated from their families. By contrast, terminal cancer patients are often surrounded by one or more loved ones at the end. So there's the question of what duty you have to your loved ones, and their duty is to you. Caring for a person the harder it gets is an acid test of true caring. To support a person at their worst. That's a "soul-making" virtue.  We short-circuit our moral and spiritual development when we give up on people before the end. 

vi) He hasn't shown that the same sample of Christians who condemn Brittany's suicide don't condemn the 9/11 jumpers. 

vii) Moreover, many Christians lack the time and aptitude to have considered positions on every social issue. It isn't easy to be intellectually consistent. Even professional Christian ethicists struggle with formulating consistent positions. Many Christians have an intuitive sense of right and wrong. That's very rough-hewn. It can be unreliable. But a lack of intellectual consistency isn't necessarily hypocritical. 

If you're going to attack Christians who condemn her suicide, don't pick on Christians at random. That's too cheap and easy. Test yourself against those who specialize in bioethics. 

Enns's inner adolescent

It was a lie all along


Taking Wood to the woodshed

David Wood recently posted a clip of W. L. Craig answering a Muslim questioner. That precipitated a dust-up in the combox:
I'll begin by commenting on Craig, then commenting on Wood:
i) I appreciate the fact that Craig challenges Islam.
ii) Every Christian apologist will take his own theological viewpoint as the standard of comparison. As a freewill theist, Craig naturally frames the debate from his own theological perspective. So I'm not offended.
iii) Craig is an outspoken critic of Calvinism. So the fact that some Reformed commenters took issue with how he framed the alternatives doesn't come out of the blue. He regards Islam and Calvinism as significantly parallel. 
iv) In fairness to Craig, this was a brief, off-the-cuff reply to a question from the audience. Had it been a lengthy, prepared answer, it might have been more logical. 
That said:
i) The way he frames the issue is a false dichotomy: either God loves every sinner or God hates every sinner. Either God loves every unbeliever or God hates every unbeliever. Clearly, though, that doesn't exhaust the logical or theological alternatives. What about a God who loves some, but not all, sinners (or unbelievers)? Craig's forced option is a false antithesis. 
ii) Moreover, Craig says a perfect God is an all-loving God, which he sets in contrast to conditional love. But it's highly ironic for a freewill theist to cast the issue in that way. For in freewill theism, including Craig's Molinism, salvation or damnation is contingent on human response. Salvation is conditional. God accepts you provided that you become a Christian. And that depends on your independent choice.   
By contrast, Calvinism espouses unconditional election. That draws attention to another false dichotomy in Craig's representation. It's not as though God's love is either universal and unconditional on the one hand, or selective and conditional on the other hand. What if God's love is selective, but unconditional? 
In Calvinism, God doesn't favor some people because they are pious. Rather, they are pious because God favors them. 
iii) Now, there's a sense in which salvation in Calvinism has conditions. There are certain general requirements, like faith, repentance, and sanctification. However, what God demands, he gives. He ensures compliance in the lives of the elect. So it's not conditional in the libertarian sense (pace Craig). Rather, it's a sure thing. 
iv) Moreover, does Craig's God really love everyone? The devil is in the details:
Now I think that it is obvious that, all things being equal, an omnibenevolent God prefers a world in which all persons are saved to a world containing those same persons some of whom are lost. But (4) is stronger than this. It claims that God prefers any world in which all persons are saved to any world in which some persons are damned. But again, this is far from obvious. Suppose that the only worlds feasible for God in which all persons receive Christ and are saved are worlds containing only a handful of persons. Is it not at least possible that such a world is less preferable to God than a world in which great multitudes come to experience His salvation and a few are damned because they freely reject Christ? Not only does this seem to me possibly true, but I think that it probably is true. 
Now we have seen that it is possible that God wants to maximize the number of the saved: He wants heaven to be as full as possible. Moreover, as a loving God, He wants to minimize the number of the lost: He wants hell to be as empty as possible. His goal, then, is to achieve an optimal balance between these, to create no more lost than is necessary to achieve a certain number of the saved. 
But it is possible that the balance between saved and lost in the actual world is such an optimal balance. It is possible that in order to create the actual number of persons who will be saved, God had to create the actual number of persons who will be lost. It is possible that the terrible price of filling heavenis also filling hell and that in any other possible world which was feasible for God the balance between saved and lost was worse. It is possible that had God actualized a world in which there are less persons in hell, there would also have been less persons in heaven. It is possible that in order to achieve this much blessedness, God was forced to accept this much loss. Even if we grant that God could have achieved a better ratio between saved and lost, it is possible that in order to achieve such a ratio God would have had to so drastically reduce the number of the saved as to leave heaven deficient in population (say, by creating a world of only four people, three of whom go to heaven and one to hell). It is possible that in order to achieve a multitude of saints, God had to accept an even greater multitude of sinners.
So, according to Craig, although there are feasible worlds in which everyone is saved, without violating their freewill, God opts for a feasible world in which some people are damned. The heavenbound are saved on the backs of the damned. They pay the price for God to save more people overall. 
Now, whatever else you said about that scenario, how does God love everyone if some people are saved at the expense of the damned? How is sacrificing some humans to save other humans loving towards those who lose out? 

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Lydia McGrew wallops Dave Armstrong

Lydia McGrew said...
Thanks, Dave, for your response.

Part of the difficulty here, which is almost certainly going to preclude agreement, is the very fact that I am not definitely saying that prayers to the dead saints are idolatrous. This may seem ironic, but my point is it that it is the very "fuzziness" and hence relative mildness of my critique that makes it both difficult for you to refute it decisively and also difficult for me to convince you of its justice. If I were saying that speaking to dead saints is intrinsically, by its very nature, idolatrous, then I could be refuted, and we'd be done. I could write that refutation myself, in fact. It is because I am using terms like "uncomfortably" or "too much like" and so forth that it is difficult to find common ground for disagreement–because there is an ineliminable element of subjectivism in these evaluations. When is a practice, for us human beings as we really are, dangerously psychologically too much like praying to God to be theologically wise? When does that practice, for us human beings as we really are, create the wrong kind of "space" between ourselves and God himself, replacing the closeness to and confident and frequent intercourse we should have with God with greater closeness to other Invisible Personages treated as intermediaries? When does this practice encourage too much of a psychological sense that we are not important enough to God?

I could talk about the very analogies used. Look at your own analogy of levels of bosses and asking an intermediate-level boss to get a raise for us. Is that how we should think of God and our relationship to him? In all honesty, I'm a little shocked by that analogy. Jesus definitely told the disciples, in the very context of prayer, that "the Father himself loveth you" (John 16:27). And the author of Hebrews (Hebrews 4:16) tells us to come boldly to the throne of grace and emphasizes throughout the book that, the old covenant being at an end, we need no human intermediary other than the Lord Jesus himself. These verses and others (the Lord's prayer itself, for example) encourage believers to strive for a directness and intimacy in their relationship with God that is, to my mind, miles away from the analogy of asking one boss to get a raise for you from a higher-up boss or asking a guy's mother (who has Influence with him) to make your request for you.

When I say "intimacy" I do not mean at all to preclude awe or to encourage casualness and flippancy in our relationship with God. But I do mean intimacy, as a loving son has with his father with whom he has a respectful but close relationship. I think that the father would be rightly hurt if a son said that he asked his brother to make a request on his behalf because he thought the brother a favorite and wanted the brother to help him by "getting it for him."

But again, you are likely simply to say that you do not agree that the analogies used or the practice as you engage in it or as your friends engage in it encourages a wrong kind of distance from God or a replacement of intimacy and closeness with God with intimacy with the saints who seem nearer to ourselves. And that statement is hard to refute from my side. Indeed, at that point it would not be clear whether we disagree about what degree of intimacy one _should_ have with God or whether we disagree instead about whether prayers to the saints endanger that degree of intimacy!

So in some ways you are likely to feel that you are responding to a frustratingly subjective target, and that is just in the nature of the case, given the type of criticism I am making.

I can say this much, because this lies within my own personal experience: During the times when I have been most sympathetic to prayers to the saints, I have found that sympathy and inclination *actually to be* a distraction from what I now regard as my proper personal relationship with God.

More later.
Lydia McGrew said...
Perhaps it will be helpful for me to add: If I asked a dear, godly friend here on earth to pray for me about something, first, I would _always_ also pray for it myself. That isn't the case in the analogy of the boss or of asking the guy's mother to act as a go-between. The whole point of the request to the intermediary in those analogies is that that person is asking _for_ you, _instead_ of your asking yourself. That, to my mind, is part of the danger of the analogies. Second, if I asked a dear, godly, living friend to pray,and what I asked for came to pass, I would _never_ say to that person, "Hey, you prayed for x for me, and you got it for me." I would regard that as theologically very misguided and indeed verging on superstition. I would, hopefully, remember to _thank_ the person for praying (if I knew he had prayed) and give him an update on what happened, but it would seem to me disrespectful to everyone involved--both to the friend and to God--to high-five the friend and say, "Hey, you got it for me!" The whole attitude one would have to the intermediate-level boss after getting the raise would be inappropriate to have toward a friend who prayed for you--as though one could "wangle" God into doing something by sending him the right person to ask!

Interestingly, I doubt that most Catholics would talk that way to or about an earthly friend, either, even one they respected greatly and asked to pray for them. But after a person dies and is declared a saint, suddenly these analogies of intermediate bosses and the like and "helping you by getting it for you" seem appropriate in a way that they didn't for even extremely godly living people.

Of course, I could be wrong about that last paragraph. Maybe some Catholics _do_ talk that way about living people they regard as saintly. But I think they shouldn't.

Lydia McGrew said...
Here is another example of one of those problems of subjectivism that will bedevil this discussion: You insist that every reference in standard Catholic prayers to the saints to their helping us and our flying to them for refuge or going to them for help (and these do not only occur in prayers to Mary, by the way) must be interpreted as merely a request for their prayers. But, to my mind, it gives _far_ too demigod-like a status to any human beings to speak of them as supernaturally helping us in the terms that are used for the saints, and it *simply does not at all sound like* asking for their prayers alone. Not even remotely. You dismiss this by saying that it is merely "not pausing every two seconds" to state that one is asking for help by way of prayer. Rhetorically speaking, I think this is _far_ too dismissive. It isn't *at all* like asking for prayer. It's like asking for supernatural, individual, personal help.

Look: If a human being literally pulls you out of a burning car, there is a sense in which he is helping you within the order of grace, doing so by the power God has given by creating his arms and so forth. There is a sense in which nothing is done strictly _apart from_ God. But we also quite naturally say that he helped you. To my ear, the vast majority of the language used in prayers to the saints sounds much more like asking someone to pull you out of a burning car than like asking him to pray for you. And I think it is theologically inappropriate to speak of someone's _prayers_ with this kind of language, whether the person happens to be living or dead.

Let me explain a little more what I mean by "quasi-omniscience." Perhaps a numerical analogy will help: Consider saying, "Infinitely great" and saying, "Indefinitely great." These two are not the same, it is true. However, *in practice*, if any number one can choose is contained in the latter set, then saying that the latter set is not infinitely large may make very little difference to practical applications.

So, here. One can say that the saints are not considered omniscient in Catholic theology. I accept that. However, for any particular problem I might have, if I'm Catholic or very high Anglican, I'm supposed to consider that I can talk to a saint about it, and he'll know the situation. For any words I might speak in my head, intended as reaching out to a saint and asking for his "help" (which you gloss as merely asking him to pray for me), he will know that I am saying them–he will hear me. For any problem of world politics, or whatever it might be, I'm supposed to be able to take it as a given that the saints know about it, know that I'm calling out to them about it (even silently), and can pray intelligently to God about it.

That is what I mean by quasi-omniscience. Within human life, we have an idea of the _limits_ of the knowledge of other people. We have some idea of whether our friend Jeff knows or doesn't know about some problem or issue. And we _certainly_ don't expect to be able to communicate with him whenever we feel like it by thinking in his direction! _Those_ powers–of knowing all about anything we might need or want to ask for help for from God and hearing our thoughts or our words spoken in private–are otherwise ascribed only to God. Yet in the normal practice of prayers to the saints, we are supposed to ascribe them to the saints as well. That is what I am calling "quasi-omniscience." It is knowledge of at least human affairs, problems, thoughts, and words without functional upper bound.

It is, of course, quite plausible that you will say, "So what?" and that again we will be up against the ineliminable element of what is theologically "too much" like God to be theologically appropriate to assume without _very_ strong evidence. But that is at least a further explanation of what I have in mind.

Lydia McGrew said...
My previous explanation of what I meant by "quasi-omniscience" will also help to explain why I don't consider the biblical support that you bring to be at all sufficient. The position in question concerning the saints' knowledge is an _extremely_ strong one. If it were not that strong, anyone asking for the saints' help/prayers would have to wonder every time, "Hmm, I wonder if St. Joseph can hear me this time" or "I wonder if St. Agnes has clue #1 what I'm even talking about. Do I need to give her way more backstory?"

Considering the strongness of the degree of knowledge being attributed to the saints, I think that the scriptural supports you allege are far too weak to uphold it. Believe me, for many years, perhaps a decade or more, I used the verse in Hebrews about the great cloud of witnesses in exactly that way. I think it's the best biblical argument. But can so brief and inexplicit a reference, partly to witnesses to the existence of God (as you note) and possibly also to spectators at a sporting event, support _that_ level of ascription of knowledge, including knowledge of our private prayers? I have come to conclude that that evidence is far too weak for that strong of a conclusion. Even if I were convinced beyond all shadow of a doubt that the author of Hebrews meant the analogy to spectators at a sporting event, I would not consider that verse sufficient to support that strong of a conclusion and a practice that I consider theologically dangerous for a variety of reasons.

To the other verses: The argument that if we shall judge angels, we should take it that those in the afterlife probably have knowledge akin to that of the angels seems to me rather weak. At what point they or we will judge angels, which angels will be judged, what knowledge will be given us or them for that purpose, we are nowhere told. I simply consider it a non sequitur that right now, the blessed dead probably have the knowledge that the blessed angels have because at some point they will judge (at least some) angels. The "rejoicing in heaven" verse may apply to angels alone or it may mean that God informs the blessed dead when a sinner repents for a special "shoutin' time" (to name a wonderful gospel song based on that verse). To use it to support a _general_ knowledge by the blessed dead of the events on earth, our struggles, and our attempted prayers to them, seems to me, again, simply to stretch the verse much farther than it will go.

I agree with you that Rev. 6:9ff is an imprecatory prayer. Yet in your later argument you say that it portrays the martyrs "praying for us in heaven." Well, no, it just doesn't. Rev. 6:9ff portrays them as praying against the wicked, for God's judgement to fall on them, to avenge the blood of those very saints who are praying! No doubt, if God slays the wicked, that may or will help many good people on earth. (Of course, if God wipes out a city or something, that might slay a lot of good people at the same time, so the inference is only approximate!) But this verse does not picture anything *even remotely* like praying for us and our problems, much less hearing us and praying because we asked them to. If one insists on taking this verse with strict literalness, it sounds like almost a rather "selfish" prayer–it portrays these particular martyrs as knowing that their deaths have not yet been avenged on the ungodly that dwell on the earth and asking God to get on with it! The most that one can say is that this shows them as having *some* (negative) knowledge of events on the earth, but that's the most it shows.

Lydia McGrew said...
You mention two verses in Revelation that mention the prayers of the saints as being contained in something (vials of odours, Rev. 5:8) or rising as incense out of an angel's hands (Rev. 8:4). I am puzzled as to exactly what the argument is supposed to be that this supports prayers to the saints of the high Anglican or Catholic kind. The word for saints is "hagion" in both of these places and means "holy ones." There are holy ones both on earth and in heaven. There is no reason whatsoever to think of "the prayers of the saints" in these verses to have any _special_ reference to the holy ones in heaven. To think so would be to commit a specifically Catholic or Anglo-Catholic type of anachronism–hearing the phrase "the saints" in the specialized sense it has taken on. If one gets rid of that specialized sense, then these are "the prayers of the holy ones." Some holy ones. Perhaps _all_ of the holy ones, both on earth and in heaven. Well and good. But why think that the prayers of the holy ones in heaven concern specific and on-going knowledge of our current affairs, requested by us on an on-going basis? These verses tell us only that holy ones *do pray*, which we never doubted, and that God values their prayers. It may well include the holy ones in heaven as well as on earth. I am not trying to exclude them from the set of "holy ones" referred to. But these verses simply don't support the idea that the saints know of and pray for our on-going struggles.

As you know from my post, I consider it possible and even plausible that those who have actually known us and loved us (who will usually be humble dead people who were never canonized) may indeed pray for us after death! I find that a wonderful and good thought. But that is, I'm afraid, quite different from our being able to talk to them and their being able to watch a kind of heavenly livestream and pray to God at our request for what is happening to us right now.

I used to spend quite a bit of time searching for biblical evidence for the regular practice of prayers to the saints. You have brought up some verses that I had not previously heard used to support that practice, but I simply don't think that the argument succeeds, largely because the claim to be supported is so strong.
Sun Nov 09, 10:32:00 PM EST

Lydia McGrew said...
One point that occurs to me is that if idolatry creeps into a Christian group or into the life of a Christian (or Jew, for that matter), it will do so in some way that _can_ be explained away. In fact, in the very nature of the case, idolatry is the kind of thing that comes in degrees. We do admire people, so it's a question of when admiration "turns into" idolatry, and this will have fuzzy lines.

Also, if one is theologically clever, one can explain away almost anything. If I knelt down in front of a picture of Ronald Reagan every day and called him "Lord," or even used the word "God" in addressing him, I could construct an explanation that I am praying to "God as manifested in his servant" or something like that.

And I certainly could pray, "Oh, holy Ronald, help us and protect us in all our dangers. We are yours. Lead us and guide us," and be doing nothing more than what can be found in Catholic prayers to and references to the saints.

So when is a line crossed?

I think it is theologically healthy to recognize a category of "closeness" to idolatry rather than simply exercising ingenuity to justify a practice by explaining away the various appearances that seem problematic.
Mon Nov 10, 09:44:00 AM EST

Lydia McGrew said...
Hmmm, I'm surprised that you think you have documented your position "massively" in Scripture. Isn't that a rather strong statement, considering the strength of the position? Massively?

For example, consider the verses in James. I'm rather intrigued by the fact that you seem to think that those verses do teach that we should go to those intermediaries (e.g., the elders of the church) *rather than* praying on our own behalf. I would call this a type of biting the bullet.

Biting the bullet is always interesting. I would say that this demonstrates that our disagreement comes at the level of what degree of intimacy *should* obtain between Christians and God. (You'll recall that I speculated above that it might be hard to tell if we disagree there or elsewhere.) Now, I would instead say that the verses in James of course mean something, and that they do mean that we should ask other people to pray for us, and that they do attribute some degree of special effectiveness to the prayer of a righteous man, but that they *absolutely do not mean* that we should ask the righteous man to pray for us *instead of* praying for ourselves. In fact, when James says that "the prayer of faith will heal the sick," it is very natural to read that to mean, inter alia, the sick man's own prayer. Not _only_ the prayer of the elders who come.

Or consider your additional verses. Why in the world would anyone take the knowledge in those verses to mean or even to include knowledge of events going on on earth, knowledge of people's trying to talk to you by ESP, and so forth? I cannot imagine. The verses are quite explicitly and clearly talking about *theological* knowledge--knowledge of the character of God, the love of God, etc. It's almost downgrading the almost mystical and high-level theological knowledge in question there by turning it into a knowledge about events concerning people alive on earth.

Consider: In the verses from Ephesians, Paul *clearly* isn't talking about his or the Ephesians' knowledge of mundane events. He is clearly not saying that Christians here on earth obtain ESP about events hundreds of miles away and/or the ability to communicate with each other by long-distance mind-meld. So why think, using those verses, that that is what it amounts to when someone dies? Or that that is even part of what a person obtains when he dies?

I mean, that's just not anything like massive biblical support. Massive biblical support is like what we have for the deity of Jesus Christ or the wrongness of homosexuality. This isn't even close.

Lydia McGrew said...
For the record, I do _comprehend_ what you are saying about its all being "one big thing" and there being "no dichotomy" between seeking the intercession of the saints and praying to God directly. I just flatly disagree that there is no distinction. And yes, it makes a big difference as to whether we are talking about our communication with God or God's communication with us, so I think your attempt to reverse the process and say that prophetic utterances don't really count as "the word of the Lord" is a poor one. We are not God. It makes a big difference *to us* whether we are talking directly to God or not, or what kind or how many intermediaries we have. That is precisely why the author of Hebrews makes such a big deal about Jesus as the only intermediary. (Paul in I Timothy as well.) And that is why Jesus encourages the disciples to pray to the Father directly because "the Father himself loves you." God knows how our human psyche works, and he knows how it changes things for us to be talking to him directly vs. sending a message through someone else. I watch Catholics, educated Catholics, brilliant Catholics, well-catechized Catholics. I have among my Internet friends probably some of the most knowledgeable Catholics around. And, I'm sorry to have to come out and say this, but in my opinion the piety connected with the saints and the attempt to say that it's "all just one big thing" to talk to the saints as opposed to talking directly to God has a bad effect upon the concept of the relationship with God even of the best-educated Catholic.

I think this is illustrated in your own case in your actually biting the bullet and suggesting that we are _gaining_ something spiritually if we sometimes or often _refrain_ from talking to God directly and "talk to God" only through an intermediary instead. You will say as a throwaway line, "Of course you can go to God any time you want to directly," but several of your more recent comments actually clearly encourage not doing so. You even bit the bullet on my father-son analogy, suggesting that there would be nothing problematic in the less-favorite son asking the more-favorite son to go to the father in his stead.

Wow. I mean, to my mind that's really mistaken theology. No Christian should be thinking that another Christian is a favorite with God and for that reason _refraining_ from praying to God directly himself, asking the favorite to go instead. It's massively unconvincing to argue for that practice and then to say, "Hey, this is really all the same. It's all one big thing. It's really the same as talking to God directly."

Well, no, it isn't. There are clearly different propositional beliefs involved--such as, for example, that it's in some cases actually *better* to go to God through the intermediary saint than to go oneself.

Lydia McGrew said...
"Your most recent comment is based on the premise that merit and differential holiness and grace either don't exist or are insignificant factors."

No, I just don't think that they have _this_ significance--namely, that it is ever "better" (in your words, which I will quote at more length below) to go to someone more holy and ask him to act as intermediary for me than to pray directly to God.

Nor do I think that differences in holiness have generally the significance that dead people should be presumed to be able to hear our requests, know our state, and pray for us on that basis. Why think a thing like that? A person can be far, far more holy than I am and be enjoying the beatific vision, there can be differences in blessedness in the ultimate state in heaven, all kinds of implications of differences among Christians, without that implying anything about the prayers of the saints. Differences in holiness and grace probably should influence my seeking out living companions and advisers here on earth. There are lots of implications, but prayers to the saints just aren't automatically included.

Now, you seem to be saying that I misunderstood you concerning praying to the saints in some cases instead of praying oneself. I'm sorry if I misunderstood you, but I took it from this. First, I gave the father/son analogy. Here's me:

"I think that the father would be rightly hurt if a son said that he asked his brother to make a request on his behalf because he thought the brother a favorite and wanted the brother to help him by 'getting it for him.'"

That was a follow-up to your boss-higher boss analogy. You responded:

"Then you have not understood differential grace and merit in Scripture and tradition. This is not surprising, since most Protestants are taught to deny both (quite biblical) things. You also have to deny the bald fact of passages such as the one I already gave you:

James 5:14 Is any 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;

So now God would be offended because He spoke an inspired word in His revelation through James, that it is better to ask a Church elder to pray for a sickness than to go "direct to Him"?"

You see how that lends itself to that interpretation? You appear to be saying that God is telling us, and that you believe, that it is at least sometimes _better_ to go to an intermediary than to go directly to God.

Lydia McGrew said...
Similarly, here. I pointed out that, when we ask someone else to intercede for us, we usually do this _instead_ of making the request directly, not in addition to it. You seemed to concede that point:

"In one sense he is, in another (I say, the more essential aspect) he isn't. If I ask something of someone through an intermediary, it doesn't cease to be (ultimately or essentially a request from me. It's still my request and only secondarily the intermediary's request, as a go-between, or messenger between myself and the ultimate goal (in the analogy, God)."

So rather than saying, "Oh, no, no, I think you should _also_ pray yourself and just ask the saints to supplement your prayers by their intercession," you said, consistent with your take on the James passage, that yes indeed, you might very well _just_ ask the saints to intercede _instead_ of praying directly, but that this is no problem whatsoever because it's all one big thing, so the distinction really doesn't matter. In fact, your comment on the James passage implied that doing it in this indirect way might be better! And indeed the analogy on which you bit the bullet--the son asking the more favored son to go to the father--would seem to support this as your approach.

Now, I'm sorry if I've misunderstood you, but to me what you said earlier is indeed an illustration of that wrongful distance that I believe prayers for the saints can set up between the individual believer and God: "So-and-so is more holy than I am, so I'll send so-and-so to pray for me about this instead of praying about it directly myself." I really stand on what I said about the father and the son. There are other Scripture verses that do address this--for example, Paul's statement that we do not have the spirit of fear but of adoption and that we cry out "Abba, Father" to God (an Aramaic term like "Daddy.") (Romans 8:15) Nothing could be farther from asking your brother to go talk to your father instead of talking to him yourself. You might ask your brother to talk to your father in addition to doing it yourself, but that concept of sonship definitely means that you should go yourself. It's clear that Jesus taught this as well, both in the verse I already cited ("The father himself loveth you") and even in the Lord's prayer.

Lydia McGrew said...
"Prayers for the saints" in the immediately previous comment was a typo for "prayers to the saints." I believe I've done that a couple of times--apologies.
Mon Nov 10, 04:10:00 PM EST

Lydia McGrew said...
I was reflecting on these comments of yours: "Precisely! This is what I am saying. Because (in your theological premises before you even get to the practice) you create a false dichotomy between the saints and God, as if two different things are involved instead of one, you felt like that. But the Catholic who regards all of it as one thing: approaches to God: directly or indirectly: all glory to Him; all things in His providence, we feel no such "competition" between a saint and God. We think in "both/and" terms, and all always goes back to God."

I wonder if you realize that such comments do nothing to allay Protestant concerns about blurring the distinction between the creature and the creator. In fact, they really exacerbate them. All the more so coming from someone obviously well-catechized, well-informed, and highly motivated to instruct.

What you are saying here is that the Protestant is theologically *wrong* to make a distinction (you call it a dichotomy) between the act of asking another human being to pray for him and praying to God directly himself! You are saying that we should deliberately collapse that distinction and regard trying to send a message to God through a purely and solely human intermediary (not God the Son, Jesus Christ, but some other human being) as being "one thing" with praying to God ourselves directly.

Surely you can see that that involves a substantive theological position on whether these two things can be regarded as one and the same or not. And surely you can see that someone might strongly disagree with that substantive theological decision. And I would _think_ that you could see that the disagreement could reasonably take the form of considering that substantive disagreement to verge on, if not actually cross the line of, failing to distinguish the creature from the creator properly, by failing to distinguish our relationship with the creature properly from our relationship with the creator.

Lydia McGrew said...
And it is interesting, too, that in human relationships we would never say that sending a message through an intermediary is the same thing as talking directly. For one thing, the messenger might decide not to take the message! When I ask a friend to pray for me here on earth, he might silently think my request misguided or foolish and not pray for it. If he does pray, he may have his own comments or requests to add to God, related to it, which I would not add. Moreover, I word my conversation with him differently from the way I would word my conversation with God. I just *am not* talking to God when I am talking to him.

If it's "all one thing," indeed, one wonders why it is even all that important for Christians to talk to God directly at all! It should be evident why a substitution could happen here. After all, it's just a Protestant error to think that there is even any relevant distinction between the two activities!

Lydia McGrew said...
Well, no, to be honest, I thought initially that your approach to these problems was more like mine. For ex., you were doing an interesting thing of trying to, as it were, beat the Protestants at their own game by bringing in Scriptures to support your position. That's good, and I addressed that on its own terms, discussing whether I think the Scriptures you adduced support the conclusion in question. My understanding initially was that it was not supposed to be necessary to bring in, e.g., the magisterium, but that you were saying that those Scriptures really do uphold the practice in question. In fact, though I don't resent it in the slightest (it's my own style as well), you hammered rather hard on the James verses, saying, "That must mean something! What can it mean in your theology?" (words to that effect). I consider this a legitimate approach and tried to answer that challenge on its own terms.

So I'm actually a little surprised at your more recent comments concerning faith and philosophy, because they are, in a sense, backing off and saying that I just don't grok all of this because I'm too analytical.

That's of course entirely your prerogative if that is what you think and wish to say, but it is a different tack from your initial approach, which was more one of truly allaying and answering Protestant concerns in a way that would be accessible to them and that would "speak their language," as it were. In that context, I think an analytical approach makes a good deal of sense.
Tue Nov 11, 12:42:00 PM EST

Lydia McGrew said...
Tony, I find an interesting *rhetorical* tension (though probably not a logical tension) between your analogy of various levels of bosses, on the one hand, and your later statements that going to intermediaries is a sop to our human weakness, on the other.

My problem is that I think all of those analogies to intermediate bosses are rather seriously misleading theologically. It seems to me that they teach people that God really does have favorites in an all-too-human sense and that he can be "wangled," as it were, into doing things if you just "know the right people" and have them ask him instead of asking him yourself. Now that idea, taken literally, is _badly_ wrong theologically. Jesus says to his disciples, "The Father himself loveth you" and urges them repeatedly to pray to the father themselves. The author of Hebrews urges us to come boldly to the throne of grace. St. Paul says we have not received the spirit of fear but rather the spirit of adoption whereby we cry, "Abba, Father." So this whole idea that we really do *need* to approach God only through "higher-up bosses" who "have his ear" is rather seriously unbiblical.

Hence, any practice which _fosters_ that idea rather than countering it is, to my mind, theologically wrong-headed. We should be telling people, "No way! It's entirely disrespectful both to God and to the saints to think of them as being like courtly insiders whose ear you have to get in order to wangle your requests from the Big Guy, rather than approaching him yourself. Your relationship with God isn't like that at all!"

I'm not counseling being flippant with God. But I am saying that we are supposed to have with God the rightful kind of respectful intimacy that a beloved son has with his father. Such a father would, I believe, be rightly hurt if one son said that he sent another son with his request instead of coming himself because he thought that gave him a better chance of getting what he was asking for, or because he was reluctant to come himself.

So the saints cannot _really_ be like that, and God cannot _really_ be like that. Hence, I don't think we should make a sop to those particular ways of thinking but rather should counter them in our teaching.