Saturday, January 16, 2016

Calvinism, voluntarism, and the same God debate

On Lydia McGrew's "same God" post for TGC, I notice at least a couple of commenters asserting that "a substantial school of Calvinist thought employs moral voluntarism"–or words to that effect. Now, it's common for opponents of Calvinism to make that charge, but how do these commenters define voluntarism? What makes them think Calvinism is voluntaristic? Calvin himself was a critic of voluntarism. For instance:

The Republicans' Self-Inflicted Wounds

Steve has linked some of Mark Levin's comments on the New York values controversy. I agree with the general thrust of Levin's comments, and I think they were worth linking. I want to add the following, though.

New York State of Mind

Friday, January 15, 2016

13 Hours

God and Time

Diagnosing medieval miracles

The Vicomte of Bragelonne

The "same God" controversy is still going full steam. I'd like to discuss a popular illustration. According to this illustration, Clark Kent is to Allah aa Superman is to Yahweh/the Trinity. Just as Clark Kent and Superman are coreferential, Allah and Yahweh (or the Trinity) are coreferential. The same individual under different descriptions. 

However, the illustration is impotent to prove the point of contention. Let's begin by asking what makes it the case that Clark Kent and Superman are the same individual:

i) At one level, that's simply the case because the narrator says so. Fiction involves truth by stipulation rather than truth by correspondence. Clark Kent and Superman have no real-world counterparts. Reality is not the frame of reference. Fictional characters are whatever the narrator makes them to be. There is no objective basis of comparison, above and beyond the world of the story. In religious matters, by contrast, whether or not religious claims match up with reality is all-important. 

ii) In addition, Superman illustrates the principle of dramatic irony. The viewpoint of the audience stands in contrast to the viewpoint of the characters. Within the story, most characters have compartmentalized knowledge of the protagonist. They either know him as Superman or Clark Kent, but not as both. They only see one side of his double life. Part of the humor and dramatic suspense lies in socially awkward scenes in which the protagonist labors to conceal his true identity. How he tries to keep his double life separate. 

By contrast, the narrator clues the audience into the fact that Superman and Clark Kent are one and the same person. And this is often less a question of telling than showing the audience his true identity. A movie or TV series shows the audience scenes of the character's double life. Viewers can see for themselves that Clark Kent is Superman and vice versa. 

iii) Finally, the Superman mythos is such a fixture of American pop culture convention that most viewers already know his true identity. The director can take that for granted. Every time he does a new episode, he needn't present the backstory of Superman. Rather, that's a given. That's a convention of the genre. 

iv) What makes that work is what makes the analogy fail, for the analogy assumes the very point in contention. The analogy can't be use to prove that Muslims and Christians worship (refer to, or believe in) the same God. For the analogy to work, you must first prove their identity independent of the analogy. The comparison can only be brought in after the fact to illustrate their identity. Unless you establish their identity in the first place, the analogy begs the question. 

What is crucially missing from the comparison is the required backstory. For instance, when Bram Stocker wrote Dracula, he had to explain the nature of vampires to his readers. That was a novel character. But once the genre becomes established, directors can skip the exposition. The viewer should be able to supply the missing information on his own. 

v) In one respect, the analogy can be made to work, but even that has a catch. A religious pluralist could say that just as the same narrator created Clark Kent and Superman, just as the same narrator made both to be the same individual under different guises, the same God inspires different religions, the same God inspires divergent representations of himself. 

vi) Of course, there are fundamental problems with that interpretation. To begin with, it relativizes the unique truth claims of Christianity. On this interpretation, the Christian God isn't God in himself, isn't what God is really like. Indeed, there is no frame of reference to say how similar or dissimilar that persona is to God's true identity. Given religious pluralism, God might be a malicious deity who takes fiendish delight in fooling everyone. 

vii) But religious pluralism suffers from a catch on its own grounds. The understanding of the pluralist ought to be analogous, not to the transcendent perspective of the audience, but the immanent perspective of characters in the story. A pluralist acts as if he alone enjoys a God's-eye perspective on reality. But the dilemma for religious pluralism is that if it were true, it could never be known to be true. His position is premised on a standpoint which his conclusion denies. For the pluralist is inside the story, not outside the story. At best, religious pluralism can only be an unprovable postulate. 

viii) Finally, there's a reverse comparison. Consider stories about identical twins who can pass for each other. Take Alexandre Dumas's The Vicomte of Bragelonne. Rather than having one character under two dissimilar descriptions, you have two characters under almost indistinguishable descriptions.

If two descriptions can be so alike as to be nearly indiscernible, even though they pick out two different individuals, then surely there's no presumption that divergent descriptions pick out the same individual. 

Secondhand info

i) "Secondhand information" often has a pejorative connotation, by way of invidious contrast to firsthand information. It can be a synonym for rumor, scuttlebutt, or unconfirmed reportage. Something heard through the grapevine. "Hearsay" has the same pejorative connotations.

This is relevant to debates about the historical Jesus. For instance, since Luke's Gospel is secondhand information, does that make it inferior? 

ii) To begin with, we need to distinguish between oral tradition and oral history. Oral tradition connotes a saying or story that was passed down by word of mouth from person to person until it was finally committed to writing. There are many links in the chain of transmission, with many opportunities for the original saying or story to be modified in the process of tradition. 

By contrast, oral history has one source. Straight from the mouth of the eyewitness. 

iii) Literally, secondhand information means information at one remove from the original source, but in popular usage it allows for however many intervening steps. Suppose, though, we use the word in the literal sense. Let's consider the potential reach of literal secondhand information. Consider the potential reach of living memory. 

Many people have firsthand information about their grandparents. They personally know one or more of their four grandparents. By the same token, many of their grandparents had firsthand information about their own grandparents. Your grandparents can share what they directly knew about their grandparents with you. That means you can have secondhand knowledge of your great-great grandparents. There's just one link between you and your great-great grandparents. Even though that's five generations deep, that's still just secondhand knowledge. It's not fourthhand or fifthhand knowledge . You can have direct knowledge of your grandparents. Skipping a generation (your parents) doesn't make that secondhand information. You don't have to get your information about your grandparents from your parents, if you personally know your grandparents. Even though we're adding generations, we're not adding intervening links between you and the original source. Although we've now gone back five generations (child>parent>grandparent>great-grandparent>great-great-grandparent), it isn't four or five steps removed from the original. It's still only one step removed from the original source of information. 

In addition, many people personally know their great-grandparents. And some great-grandparents knew their own great-grandparents. That goes back seven generations. We've added your firsthand knowledge of your great-grandparents and their firsthand-knowledge of their great-grandparents. That means some people can have secondhand information about their great-great-great-great grandparents. But it's not sixthhand or seventhhand information. It's still just secondhand information. If you have direct knowledge of your great-grandparents, and they have direct knowledge of their great-grandparents, then your source of information about your great-great-great grandparent  remains just one step removed from the original source. They know what their great-grandparents said and did direct from their own mouth, and you know what your great-grandparents said and did direct from their own mouth. They can share their firsthand knowledge of their great-grandparents with you, while you have can have firsthand knowledge of your own great-grandparents. You have firsthand knowledge four generations deep (about yourself, your parents, your grandparents, and your great-grandparents), and your grandparents have firsthand knowledge four generations deep. 

Indeed, some people even know their great-great grandparents, and some of them knew their great-great grandparents. Yet that's still just secondhand knowledge, in the literal sense that there's only one link between your living memory and their living memory. 

Although that's statically rare, given billions of people, there's still a large number of people for whom that's true. 

iv) Now let's switch to another aspect of secondhand information. Here I'm using the term in a looser sense, but not a pejorative sense. 

It's quite possible for secondhand information to be more reliable than firsthand information. Compare a biography to an autobiography. Oftentimes, one function (sometimes the primary purpose!) of autobiographies is to define their reputation for posterity. It's not just a record of what they remember, but how they wish to be remembered. The result may be misleading to one degree or another depending on how many liberties they take with the truth. 

Firsthand accounts can be very partisan. Consider political memoirs. 

By contrast, a biography may be more candid because it isn't the biographer's reputation that's on the line. So he doesn't have the same personal agenda. Same thing with a historian. 

v) Likewise, some people have biased memories. Even though these are firsthand recollections, what they recollect may be less accurate than a secondhand source. 

vi) On a related note, as a kid I saw lots of films and TV shows back in the 60s. I have partial memories of what I saw. Sometimes, out of curiosity, I will Google them to fill in the gaps in my memory. My firsthand knowledge is sufficiently accurate to pick the right search terms. But when I pull up secondhand information, it freshens my recollection of forgotten or occasionally misremembered details. In that respect, the secondhand information can be more accurate than my firsthand knowledge of movies or episodes I saw just once decades ago. 

vii) In addition, an autobiography narrates events from one source and one perspective: only what the autobiographer saw, heard, and did. By contrast, a biographer or historian may have multiple sources of information. So his treatment may be more complete or evenhanded. 

viii) Finally, an autobiographer will be emotionally invested in his own life-experience. By contrast, a biography or historian can bring more critical detachment to bear precisely because it didn't happen to him. He doesn't have those emotionally charged memories. He doesn't personally identify with events in the same way a participant does. So he can sift the evidence more dispassionately. 

I'm not saying historians and biographers can't be biased. And I'm not saying autobiographers can't be self-critical. I'm just examining knee-jerk assumptions. 

Suppose we bracket inspiration for the sake of argument. And suppose we grant the traditional authorship of Luke's Gospel and John's Gospel. In principle, Luke's "secondhand" Gospel could be more reliable than John's "firsthand" Gospel. 

Now, I don't think that's actually the case. But even when we factor in verbal, plenary, organic inspiration, a firsthand account and a secondhand account can still complement each other.

The same God debate

Thursday, January 14, 2016

The man who got a ticket

The Book of Job illustrates dramatic irony. Alfred Hitchcock once illustrated dramatic irony by using the example of some folks sitting around a table making idle conversation. Beneath the table is a briefcase with a ticking time bomb that will go off in five minutes. The element of suspense derives from the fact that the audience knows something the characters don't. The characters are oblivious to their imminent peril. 

By the same token, the reader knows something Job doesn't. The prologue makes the reader a fly on the wall. He's allowed to eavesdrop on the conversation between God and Satan. By contrast, Job has no idea why the bottom just fell out of his life. It's as if the universe suddenly developed a personal vendetta against him, and he doesn't know why. Moreover, there's no appellate process. His experience is Kafkaesque. 

A secular analogue to Job would be a totalitarian state that decides to pick on a private citizen. Hound him to death. Years ago I saw George C. Scott in "The Man Who Got a Ticket" (NBC, Bell System Family Theatre, 1972).

He played a nameless driver who got a penny-ante traffic ticket. He went to the police station to pay it. Put it behind him. 

He didn't think it was a bid deal. He'd be in and out in a few minutes. Yet the police began to question him. He got in deeper and deeper. It dawned on him that he walked into a trap. It was a mistake to admit to anything

That's how many Americans are beginning to feel about the government. Both the Federal government and sometimes state and local government. Increasingly, the government treats ordinary citizens as the enemy. The government is an occupation force. Consider how Obama weaponized the Federal bureaucracy to use against political opponents. Or consider the tactics of local police. For instance:

In many instances, people have been unaware that the police around them are sweeping up information, and that has spawned controversy...For years, dozens of departments used devices that can hoover up all cellphone data in an area without search warrants.

It's a terrifying thing when the full resources of government are turned on ordinary citizens. When the government is after you, what can you do? You are alone, isolated, and defenseless against a malevolent, impenetrable, unaccountable bureaucracy. Your friends may abandon you for fear they will be targeted by association. 

That was Job's nightmarish experience. He knew that God was ultimately behind his ordeal, but if God is the enemy, then your situation is truly hopeless. Job felt like a hunted man. As if the Furies were tailing him, only Job had done nothing in particular to merit his ordeal. 

It's good for Bible readers to project themselves into the situation of the characters. Imagine what it would be like to be that character, be in their situation.

One entry point for the Book of Job is to consider political analogies. Kafkaesque dilemmas.

Reprobation, damnation, and anarchy

A number of Arminians object to reprobation on the grounds that if the atonement of Christ satisfied God's justice, then there's no need for God to manifest retributive justice by consigning anyone to eternal punishment. However, that argument has far-reaching implications for Arminianism:

i) The same logic would eliminate the justification for hell. Even if an Arminian switches to annihilationism, that's still punitive. 

ii) The same logic would lead to pacifism/anarchy. Punishing criminals would be inconsistent with the atonement of Christ. 

iii) An Arminian might try to extricate himself from these implications by denying penal substitution. In that event, he'd be critiquing Calvinism on its own terms.

However, an Arminian pays a price for that move. It will alienate other Arminians who are committed to penal substitution. In modern times, I think most evangelical Arminians subscribe to penal substitution because they are Baptists/fundamentalists for whom that's an article of faith.

There are modern-day Arminians like Joel Green and Randal Rauser who deny penal substitution. That, however, would ignite a civil war among Arminians. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Scoring the Moore/McGrew debate on miracles


With permission, I'm posting Dr. Timothy McGrew's response to my evaluation:

Yes, I meant the "net" evidence -- allowing that there may be some evidence against a proposition P, but if there is a greater weight of evidence in favor of it, then that positive evidence overbalances the negative. 
I would count moral experience as very strong, possibly decisive, evidence against atheistic naturalism. The only reservation I would have about your stronger statement is that it is not completely clear to me that atheistic moral Platonism could be ruled out. But again, as J. L. Mackie observes, moral facts in a godless universe would be very queer facts indeed. 
Regarding 3, I took that stance since (a) a large proportion of the people present would not have claimed to experience a miracle and (b) I never have (to my knowledge).  
I think your criticism 4 shows a misunderstanding of how I'm using the filter. It doesn't "preemptively exclude" things that don't pass through it, that don't, as I elsewhere phrased it, "make the first cut." Rather, it suggests that those are not promising places to make a first inquiry. Later, they may come back into focus because of their connection with other kinds of evidence, probably because they are connected to the resurrection. I did make that point in passing later in the discussion. 
On 5, there are religious environments where the religion is not established but rather newly fledged. Christianity and Mormonism are the only two examples I am aware of (with the latter clearly derivative) of large world religions founded on miracle claims from the outset. 
On point 6, without denying that such things might happen simply to meet an individual need, I'm very cautious, partly because I believe (rightly or wrongly) that I've seen some people fool themselves about private miracles, partly because I am mindful of Luke 4:25-26.

Timothy McGrew and Zachary Moore recently debated the question: "Could it ever be rational to believe in miracles?":

In this post I'm going to summarize and score their performance. As a rule I don't watch philosophical/theological debates. It's an inefficient way to present and process information on complex issues. And it's more cumbersome when I have to take notes.

I've seen the one debate once through, and I've repeatedly listened to particular statements. It's possible that I missed a key point. 

This was a three hour debate with opening statements, rebuttals, cross-examinations, Q&A (from the audience), and closing statements. There are two ways I could summarize the debate. I could offer a running summary of what was said in sequential order. That, however, would result in a very disjointed summary. In the course of the debate, Moore and McGrew stated their positions, revisited the same issues, introducing explanations, clarifications, and qualifications to their initial statements. 

It would be very choppy and repetitious to offer a chronological summary. The order would be disordered.

In the interests of coherence, I will reorganize the material to group together statements of the same kind. My summary will combine different statements on the same subject to give a compact, qualified statement of their respective positions. I will sometimes paraphrase what they said, but I will frequently use their own words. Anyone can watch the original debate to compare my summary with the verbatim proceedings.

The formal question to be debated determines the burden of proof. Winning or losing depends on how well the respective debaters discharge their burden of proof in reference to the question under review. There may be many interesting or important ancillary questions to be pursued, but a responsible debate performance will stick to the precise question at issue and resist the temptation to stray from that path. 

Religion of peace

"Nothing To Do With Islam? 450 Of 452 Suicide Attacks In 2015 Were Conducted By Muslim Terrorists"

Man vs. wild

"The Revenant and The Martian" by rockingwithhawking.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Rom 13 and pacifism

I'll comment on a few statements by pacifist Preston Sprinkle's post:

Adolf Hitler, Idi Amin, and other “Christian” dictators have celebrated the passage as their divine ticket to execute justice on whomever they deemed enemies of the state. 

i) What does Sprinkle mean when he uses the adjective "Christian" to modify Hitler and Idi Amin? Is he saying they viewed themselves as Christian? Is he saying Germans and Ugandans viewed them as Christian? Whose perspective does that adjective reflect? 

Idi Amin persecuted Christians. Martyred Christians.

As for Hitler, certainly the signatories to the Barmen Declaration didn't view Nazism as Christian. Neither did Adolf Schlatter. 

If Sprinkle doesn't think they were Christian, then what is the force of the adjective? How does that contribute to his argument? What is the function of the adjective in case they were not Christian? Does he mean they were misusing the passage in the name of Christianity? Yet his language indicates that their appropriation was sincere ("celebrated the passage as their divine ticket...").

ii) What evidence does he have that Hitler and Idi Amin thought Rom 13 justified their policies? Can he quote them on that? Where's the documentation?

Suppose Rom 13 didn't exist. In the absence of Rom 13, would Hitler and Idi Amin refrain from "executing justice" on whoever they deemed to be enemies of the state? 

So, third, Paul says that God executes vengeance through Rome after he prohibits Christians from doing so.

Paul prohibits Christian private citizens from so doing. Of course, at the time of writing, few if any Christians held high office.

Romans 13 is all about vengeance. And vengeance is God’s business, not ours. We don’t need to avenge evil, because God will. And one way that God will is through governing authorities.

That's contradictory. On the one hand he says: "Romans 13 is all about vengeance. And vengeance is God’s business, not ours. We don’t need to avenge evil, because God will. "

On the other hand, he says, immediately thereafter, "one way that God will is through governing authorities."

But in that event, it's a false dichotomy to say "Rom 13 is all about vengeance, and that's God's business, not ours–we don't need to avenge evil, because God will." For he admits that in some measure, God delegates that task to humans. Is Sprinkle so carried away by the momentum of his pacifistic rhetoric that he doesn't bother to be logical or factual? 

A pacifist response to the "Syrian refugee" crisis

There are several basic problems with his pacifist response to the "Syrian refugee" crisis:

i) "Refugee" is often a euphemism. We need to distinguish genuine refugees from looters or terrorists. 

ii) Charity depends on private property rights. If you refuse to protect property, then you have nothing to share with refugees. The thugs will hoard it all for themselves.

iii) Likewise, you can't very well give asylum to refugees if you refuse to protect people from rape, robbery, slavery, murder, &c. 

iv) It's not just a question of terrorism, but sharia. Look at what is unfolding before our very eyes in Europe.

v) You don't value life if you refuse to protect innocent lives. Sprinkle pens this bleeding-heart piece about "refugees," but in pacifism, life is cheap. The lives of "refugees" are forfeit, because pacifism refuses to protect innocent lives.

vi) He quotes Mt 25 out of context. In context, the "stranger" refers to persecuted Christians. 

vii) His appeal to OT charity blurs distinct categories:

viii) His appeal to OT law is highly selective. A pacifist appealing to OT law is quite ironic. OT law is hardly nonviolent. It contains laws of warfare, as well as not a few capital offenses. It includes a provision to kill a house burglar (Exod 22:2). 

Sprinkle needs to explain what principle or criterion he uses to differentiate the culturebound provisions of the OT law code from the transcultural provisions. 

ix) Apropos (viii), the Mosaic penal code is often incompatible with the varieties of sharia. In consistency, Sprinkle must say Muslims "refugees" can only be covered by Mosaic provisions regarding the treatment of "strangers" on condition that they renounce sharia and submit to the Mosaic penal code. If OT law mandates how they should be treated in one respect (charity), then it mandates how they should be treated in other respects (e.g. death penalty for rape).

What if Christians refused to fight Hitler?

Inevitably, someone raises the question about World War II: What if Christians had refused to fight against Hitler? My answer is a counter-question: What if the Christians in Germany had emphatically refused to fight for Hitler, refused to carry out the murders in concentration camps? The long history of Christian “just wars” has wrought suffering past all telling, and there is no end in sight.
i) Although his counter-question raises a legitimate issue that's worth addressing in its own right, a counter-question is not an answer to the question. Rather, it's an attempt to deflect the question, evade the question. 
Sure, Travis is entitled to counter our question with a question of his own. That's fair game. But you can't just shift the onus onto nonpacifists, as though your own position has no moral or intellectual burden to discharge. 
ii) What does he mean by saying German Christians carried out the murders in the concentrate camps? Is he suggesting that all or most prison guards were devout Christians? 
Keep in mind that Christian prison guards would sometimes be in a position to mitigate evil. Be merciful to the inmates. 
iii) There are degrees of complicity. For instance, if drafted, a German Christian might belong to the Wehrmacht, yet he might do the very least that's required of him. He can shoot, but intentionally miss. Indeed, that's parallel to pacifism, which says, "I didn't shoot him–you did!"
It's my impression that many if not most soldiers aren't fighting for the glory of the cause. Rather, they do what's necessary to stay alive. 
In fact, towards the end, Hitler's own generals turned against him. It finally dawned on them that Hitler was prepared to destroy Germany to destroy the Jews. That was his priority, but it wasn't theirs. Of course, by then it was too little too late. 
Likewise, where does a pacifist draw the line? Will you make bombs, but refuse to drop bombs? Will you make bombers, but refuse to fly bombers? Will you refuse to make spare parts for tanks? Will you refuse to be a mechanic? Will you refuse to work at a gas station or power plant that indirectly supplies the Wehrmacht? Will you refuse to work on a farm that provides food for German citizens–including soldiers and Nazi officials? Pacifism has its own ineluctable compromises. By your own actions, you still decide who will live and who will die. 
How does a pacifist consistently say we can't simultaneously love our enemies and kill them, yet we can simultaneously love our neighbors but let them be killed (by someone else)?  
iv) Travis erects a false dichotomy. What if, instead of not "fighting for Hitler," German Christians fought against Hitler? The war would have ended much sooner. Indeed, that might have checked his rise to power before the war got underway. Or consider the scenario of German Christians fighting against Hitler allied with non-Germans fighting against Hitler. The moral and logical alternative to fighting for Hitler isn't refusing to fight, but to fight against Hitler. 

McCall on theological determinism, part 2b

Pacifism and the early church

Here's an appeal I've run across from more than one pacifist author:
That claim suffers from multiple problems:
i) Unless you regard the church fathers are authority figures, that's an illicit argument from authority. And it's selective even on its own grounds: on the one hand, Origen and Tertullian aren't technically church fathers. On the other hand, it only selects for early (pre-Constantinian) church fathers.
ii) It also suffers from sample selection bias. It isn't polling early Christian opinion in general, but only Christian writers. There is, however, evidence, that early Christians did serve in the Roman army. For instance, Despina Iosif, in her monograph on Early Christian Attitudes to War, Violence, and Military Service (Gorgias Press 2013), cites epitaphs on the tombstones of Christian soldiers to show that military service was considered honorable among (at least some) early Christians. 
So the appeal to early Christian writers preemptively discounts the views of Christians who were not writers, Christians who did, in fact, serve in the Roman army. But what makes the opinion of early Christian writers, rather than early Christians generally, the only evidence worthy of consideration?
Indeed, appeal to early Christian writers is self-defeating, for the reason they wrote about the subject in the first place was to discourage Christians from joining the Roman army. If, however, there was Christian consensus on the immorality of military service, their philippics would be superfluous. 
iii) In addition, pacifists admit that early Christians might refuse military service, not because they thought killing was intrinsically wrong, but because military service was complicit with pagan rituals (e.g. the imperial cult). So that's another case of sample selection bias. You have to separate out those who oppose military service for pacifistic reasons from those who oppose it for other reasons. A person might support a defensive war, but not a war of conquest. 
iv) Furthermore, it's fallacious to infer that refusal to volunteer for military service is equivalent to pacifism. Indeed, that's a category mistake.
a) That fails to distinguish between national defense and self-defense, or defensive wars and offensive wars.
When you join the military, you assume a risk. To some degree, you are putting yourself at greater risk than if you avoid military service.
It hardly follows that if someone puts you at risk (e.g. a mugger), you won't fight back. Indeed, the same reason some people avoid military service is why they will defend themselves if threatened: self-preservation. Just as they view a mugger as a threat to life and limb, they view military service as a threat to life and limb.
b) To approach this from another angle, in wartime, the state must often resort to military conscription. There aren't enough volunteers. And even then you have deserters and draft dodgers.
Again, though, that doesn't mean these people are pacifists. For instance, during the Civil War you had a significant percentage of Confederate deserters. But that's not because they were pacifists. If you invaded their farm, they'd shoot you dead. If you tried to harm their kin, they'd kill you. It's a question of where people draw the line. 
c) During the Vietnam War, you had draftees who vowed never to kill anyone. It wasn't their cause. The containment policy was an abstraction. But when they got into theater, they did shoot the Viet Cong.
As long as they were at a safe distance, on American soil, the Viet Cong were not their enemies. The Viet Cong did not pose a direct mortal threat to their individual survival.
But when they were thrust into the field of battle, then the Viet Cong became their enemies. Suddenly, they had a personal stake in the outcome. If it's kill-or-be-killed, they will shoot you.

Islam gets a free pass

Papias And The Gospels

On some recent webcasts, James White responded to a video produced by a couple of Muslim apologists, Adnan Rashid and Hamza Tzortzis. The video is largely about the historical reliability of the gospels, and much of their discussion of the subject focuses on Papias. Similar arguments about Papias are commonly used by atheists and other critics of Christianity, not just Muslims. I've written a response on Facebook.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Safety and Security Guidelines for Lone Wolf Mujahideen

"No doubt that today, at the era of the lone wolves, brothers in the West need to know some important things about safety in order to ensure success in their operations," it reads.

Among the booklet's advice was to stay clean-shaven and not carry Islamic religious items on them.

"If you can avoid having a beard, wearing qamis (long tunic), using miswak (a teeth-cleaning twig recommended by Prophet Muhammad) and having a booklet of dhikr (short devotional phrases and prayers) with you, it’s better."

The booklet then advised its followers to wear necklaces with a cross - but only those without Arabic names on their passports because "it may look strange."

"As you know, Christians - or even atheist Westerners with Christian background - wear crosses on their necklaces."

The terror handbook also gave permission for jihadis to wear perfumes and colognes containing alcohol, something usually avoided since Islam prohibits the use and consumption of alcohol.

"Don’t use the oily, non-alcoholic perfume that Muslims use, instead use generic alcoholic perfume as everyone does, and if you are a man, use perfume for men."


Worshiping Tash

On the one hand:

This is the line of thinking that also appears in the famous scene near the end of C. S. Lewis’s book The Last Battle, where Emeth, the worshiper of Tash, is accepted by Aslan.  Unknowingly he was actually serving Aslan because his worship was motivated by a love for truth and righteousness.  The point is that Christ died for all persons, whether they know it or not, and the Holy Spirit is working to draw them to Christ, whether they know it or not, and they may be responding truly to the “light” they have and consequently be on the way to final salvation.
On the other hand:
Third, and following on from these two points, some understandings of the Supreme Being are so wrong, so wicked, that they simply direct worship wildly off target. Such clearly would be the case of the worship of the Canaanite god Moloch, or any other wicked, bloodthirsty deity elsewhere in the world. Such an abominable view of God cannot possibly accommodate, let alone facilitate, worship of the One True God. In sum, if you like that kind of deity, you’re not going to like the One True God. 
Sidenote for those who get their theology of such matters from The Chronicles of Narnia: This is why I think C. S. Lewis gets it wrong in The Last Battle. (I say this with trepidation as a great admirer of CSL.) The god Tash is so clearly devilish that it seems incongruous to me that the estimable Emeth could worship this version of God and then, as it were, rather effortlessly transfer his allegiance to Tash’s adversary, Aslan (the Christ figure). I think Lewis overreaches here. 
There has to be some identity between the two understandings of God such that the former is a cloudy and partial and adulterated but genuine understanding of God that the gospel at once extends, fulfills, and corrects. If instead the gospel simply has to supplant the former understanding, as in the case of horrible views of the divine, I find it impossible to conceive of worshipers of that horrible god connecting in any important way with the One True God. Instead, people raised in such religious traditions would have to develop deep misgivings about that god such that they do not worship it and instead long for the Great Alternative, however vague their notion of That might be. And that longing is the prevenient grace of the Holy Spirit drawing people away from error and toward The Truth.

McCall on theological determinism, part deux

Punitive "torture"

I've going to briefly discuss two related issues. One objection to coercive interrogation is that "torture" not only dehumanizes the informant, but dehumanizes the interrogator. "Torture" is morally corrupting. It makes the interrogator callous.

Likewise, some calumniators say eternal punishment makes God a cosmic torturer. That comparison is used by atheists, annihilationists, and universalists alike. For instance, Clark Pinnock says:

God is not a cruel and sadistic torturer as the traditional view of hell would suggest…It pictures God acting like a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for his enemies whom he does not even allow to die. Four Views of Hell, W. Crockett, ed. (Zondervan 1997), 149.

i) For starters, "torture" ranges along a wide physical and psychological continuum. The term is frequently misused and trivialized. 

ii) As I've often explained, I don't think hell is a torture chamber. I doubt that hell is a one-size-fits-all experience. I expect eschatological punishment is customized.

There are certainly people who richly deserved to be tortured. To be on the receiving end of what they inflicted on others. That's poetic justice.

iii) In Dante's Inferno (Cantos 21-23), the damned are tormented by demons (the Malebranche) with pitchforks. The scene is redolent with black comedy. 

Of course, that's fictional. But in principle, that isn't corrupting or dehumanizing to the demonic tormenters, since they aren't human to begin with. Moreover, they are already thoroughly evil. 

iv) It's true that as a rule, we should avoid activities that make us morally or emotionally jaded. However, there are exceptions. Agents sometimes have a duty to do things that may be psychologically harmful to the agent. Soldiers may be obliged to do things, to protect the innocent, that are psychologically damaging to the soldiers. Likewise, field medics may become fairly hardened to scenes of agony. Ironically, compassionate action requires them to become more emotionally detached. 

To be the caregiver for a family member who is senile, has a degenerative condition, is dying of cancer, &c., is emotionally wrenching. The survivor is wounded by that searing experience. Yet it's morally incumbent to face that situation.

v) Lack of human empathy is a moral defect in psychopath or sociopath because humans are supposed to exemplify human social virtues. But an inhuman attitude is not necessarily a moral defect if the agent isn't human to begin with. 

The acid-drooling extraterrestrials in the Alien franchise may seem malevolent from the standpoint of their human victims, but from their own standpoint, their actions have no more malice than a parasitoid wasp implanting a caterpillar. They don't relate to humans on a human level. They aren't the same species. There's no natural rapport. 

vi) If an angel "tortured" Hitler in hell, would that be morally corrupting? To begin with, this is punitive "torture," not sadistic "torture". 

In addition, since an angel isn't human, it may have no more natural sympathy for a human being than a lion has for a gazelle. Angels are so different from humans that they may have precious little frame of reference. 

Not to mention that the damned aren't innocent victims. 

vii) God isn't human. God is like us in some ways, but unlike us in other ways. In some respects, God is the template for humanity, but in other respects, God is a radically different kind of being. 

Christian gunslingers

As I searched and searched, I couldn’t find any credible, non-pacifist Bible scholar who argued that Luke 22 is talking about self-defense. (I’ve since found that Wayne Grudem also assumes the self-defense view, but again, with little to no biblical argument and he doesn’t wrestle with the other contextual features that go against this view.)

I'm struck by Sprinkle's deceptive statement. Most Christian laymen don't have direct access to a raft of major commentaries on the Bible. If they rely on him for their information, they will be misled. He's not a trustworthy informant. 

Consider the statements by three credible, nonpacifist Bible scholars:

[Lk 22:36] sword: although the term is usually regarded as a metaphor, the context indicates a literal meaning. Cf. 6:29; see on 9:3; 12:51; 22:49.  
[Lk 22:49] sword: according to Cullmann (State, 31-34), Jesus approved of defensive sword-bearing but, unlike the Zealots, reject such means to establish the kingdom of God. E. E. Ellis, The Gospel of Luke (Eerdmans 1996), 256, 258. 
The sword is thought of as part of the equipment required for the self-sufficiency of any traveller in the Roman world. Nothing more than protection of one's person is in view. J. Nolland, Luke (Word 1993), 3:1076.
As Minear observes, the other prophecies in this discourse, those of betrayal, and denial, are of what is due for immediate fulfillment, and this could apply to "a sword," which makes an actual, and not symbolic, appearance in the narrative of the arrest…The "sword" here would not be symbolic of conflict, any more than the "purse" or "bag" are symbolic… 
The reply of Jesus is equally terse - hikanon esti. Two renderings have been proposed for this. (i) "It is enough" in the sense of "enough of that", breaking off the conversation. No parallel can be produced for this, and it is unlikely that Luke would have brought the passage, and the whole discourse, to an end so inconclusively. (ii) "It is enough" in the sense that two words will be sufficient for the purpose at hand. This would correspond with the predominant use of hikanos in Luke-Acts (where it occurs twice as often as in the rest of the NT to denote sufficiency of numbers, and is the more likely meaning. C. F. Evans, St. Luke (Pillar 1990), 806, 807.

I'm not quoting these scholars to endorse the details of their overall interpretation (which I may or may not agree with), but to document Sprinkle's suppression of evidence that runs counter to his position. Did he just stop looking after he found what he wanted? 

Live by the sword, die by the sword

51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Mt 26:51-54).

That's a stock pacifist prooftext. But is that what it means?

i) For staters, there's an insurmountable obstacle to the pacifist interpretation. If Jesus disapproved of his disciples bearing arms, then why did he permit them to bear arms? After all, for the course of three years, they'd been on the road together for weeks or months at a time. They did everything together. 

Was Jesus so unobservant that he never noticed that some of his disciples had swords? Indeed, the very passage in question presumes that one or more of his disciples were in possession of a sword. And that wouldn't be unusual. Due to bandits, travelers were often armed. 

If Jesus didn't approve, would we not expect him to forbid his disciples to bear arms? Why did he not command them to disarm? 

Moreover, even assuming he was too inattentive to notice that some of his disciples were armed, on the night of his arrest, he knew that his disciples had swords. Why did he not order them to discard their swords? 

The pacifist interpretation makes Jesus look like a bumbler or terribly ineffectual. 

ii) V52 has a proverbial ring. Like proverbs generally, it isn't meant to be universally true. Not everyone who resorts to violence dies a violent death. In fact, that may not even be true in the majority of cases. 

It is true that people who live by violence are at greater risk of suffering violence in return. However, that's not necessarily what the aphorism is meant to convey.

iii) Pacifists say this reflects the radical teaching of Jesus. However, the statement itself isn't especially novel. You have variations on that statement in prior Jewish literature. For instance, Jer 15:2 says "those who are for the sword, to the sword" (cf. 43:11). Likewise, a Targum of Is 50:11 says those grasp the sword will fall on the sword. And the OT uses different metaphors to make the same point:

He makes a pit, digging it out,
and falls into the hole that he has made.
(Ps 7:15)

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it,
and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.
(Prov 26:27; cf. Eccl 10:8).

iv) However, the ultimate derivation of Jesus's aphorism may be Gen 9:6. His statement seems to be a paraphrase of that seminal verse:

For all who take the sword 
will perish by the sword.

Whoever sheds the blood of man,
by man shall his blood be shed.

Notice the formal and conceptual similarities: the balanced, contrasting parallelism; the theme of poetic justice. 

Although Genesis uses the same "bloodshed" language in both clauses, these are not morally equivalent actions. In the first clause, bloodshed refers to forbidden killing (murder). In the second clause, bloodshed refers to obligatory killing (judicial execution). 

It's quite possible Mt 26:52 has the same connotation. Peter's intervention to defend Christ is wrongful violence. 

Parable of the Bad Samaritan

Once upon a time, a member of the NRA asked a pacifist, "Who is my neighbor?" And wishing to justify himself, the pacifist said: An unarmed traveler was walking from Jerusalem to Jericho when bandits ambushed him, mugged him, and robbed him. 
Now by chance an unarmed Samaritan was going down that road, and when he saw the victim he went over to check on him, at which point the bandits jumped him, mugged him, and robbed him. 
So likewise another unarmed Samaritan, when he came to the crossroad and saw them, went over to check on the victims, at which point the bandits jumped him, mugged him, and robbed him. 
But a Christian gunslinger, as he journeyed, came to crossroad. When the bandits tried to mug him, he kneecapped the bandits. He then put the victims in the back of his wagon and brought them to the Hotel Jericho, where he paid the hotelier to nurse them back to health. Which of these men proved to be a good neighbor? 
"The Christian gunslinger," said the member of the NRA.