Thursday, September 03, 2015

Kim Davis

I'm going to venture a few more comments on this post by Arminian theologian Randal Rauser:

i) For starters, Rauser is using divorce as a wedge issue to make space for homosexuality in the church. Although he plays his cards close to his vest, if you've read his posts on this subject, it's clear where his sympathies lie.

ii) Another one of his intellectual confusions is that some people oppose the Supreme Court decision on jurisprudential grounds rather than moral grounds. Some people support homosexual marriage, but criticize the Supreme Court ruling because it has no basis in the text, logic, or history of the Constitution. As such, it represents a judicial usurpation of authority. 

By contrast, even if our divorce laws are too permissive, they were enacted by duly constituted authority. By elected representatives rather than appointed judges. 

iii) Another problem is his false analogy. Homosexual activity is intrinsically wrong; divorce is not. You don't have to question a homosexual "couple" to know that their request is immoral. 

By contrast, sometimes divorce is licit and sometimes not. Moreover, the permissibility of a given divorce can be complicated for an outsider to assess. It may depend on which spouse was the offended party and which was the offending party. Sometimes both were in the wrong. A clerk would have to take the word of the marriage applicant. But, of course, that could be unreliable. The clerk is only getting one side of the story.

The evaluation isn't straightforward, as in the case of homosexuality. 

iv) As I've remarked in the past, even if you think our divorce laws are hypocritical or too permissive, there are limits to what you can do in a democratic republic. If the majority demands something, that may be unstoppable. 

But that doesn't mean that out of consistency, you should not oppose wrongdoing when and where you can. It is fallacious to think that if you can't oppose immorality in every case, you should not oppose immorality in any case–just to be consistent. 

Rauser says:

Oh yeah, and as for that clerk Kim Davis, she’s been married four times. (To be fair, that’s three divorces before she says she became a Christian. But that doesn’t change Jesus’ above-mentioned indictment.)

He fails to explain the significance of that statement. Is he claiming that past misconduct automatically disqualifies a person from rendering a value judgment? But since all of us are guilty of misconduct, of one kind or another, that would be a recipe for moral relativism.

Or does he mean her current marriage is adulterous? Is he suggesting that if a marriage originated in adultery, it remains adulterous? Is he saying Davis should dissolve her current marriage?

He needs to explicate and defend his interpretation of Mt 19. 

He also says: 

This brings me to an issue I’ve raised at several points in the past. So long as Christians apply to others different standards from those which they apply to themselves and their immediate belief community, they will not have a credible moral voice in the public square.

i) That's hopelessly vague. How many contemporary Christians are responsible for our current divorce laws? 

ii) He operates with collective guilt, as if a Christian who was never divorced is somehow culpable for professing Christians who are divorced. 

iii) Many unbelievers take the position that, by definition, Christians have no credible moral voice. Their religion automatically disqualifies them from having a credible moral voice. So the real objection isn't about perceived hypocrisy. 

iv) Unbelievers need to be educated in what Christian standards are. Many ignorant unbelievers impute hypocrisy to Christians because they are biblically illiterate. Not surprisingly, many unbelievers have no knowledge of Christian ethics. 

Unfortunately, Rauser, rather than correcting their ignorance, reinforces their ignorance. 

Finally, I'm afraid Davis's resistance is futile. That's because the entire political establishment is arranged against her. So she's bound to lose.

Mind you, that circular. If she had more support, if she wasn't having to fight this single-handedly, it would not be a losing battle. 

Moral inconsistency is better than immoral consistency

I'm going to comment on a post by Arminian theologian Randal Rauser:

One of the things I appreciate about Rauser is that he's so reliable. You can always count on Rauser to offer a morally obtuse evaluation of a serious moral issue. You can set your clock to his predictably muddled moral understanding. In a world like ours, it's so refreshing to have someone that dependable.

The allegation is that Kim Davis is a hypocrite. Some people have defended her on the grounds that she's only been a Christian for four years. 

In addition, she's not a Bible scholar or theologian. In that respect, it's stilly to hold her to the same standard of theological sophistication as a professional Christian ethicist. 

But suppose, for the sake of argument, that she is a hypocrite. In my experience, one infallible test of people's moral discernment, or lack therefore, is how they frame issues of hypocrisy.

Let's take a comparison: suppose a DA vigorously prosecutes child pornography and child prostitution. Suppose it turns out that the DA is a consumer of child pornography. 

That undoubtedly makes him a hypocrite. But does that mean he shouldn't prosecute child pornography and child prostitution? 

Conversely, suppose you have a DA who is consistent. He doesn't consume child pornography, and he doesn't prosecute child pornography or child prostitution. There's no conflict between what he says and does in public and private. Is that an improvement? 

It is better for a hypocritical DA to do the right thing–because it is the right thing to do–than it is for a DA who is not a hypocrite to refrain from doing the right thing. Consistency can be more immoral than inconsistency. 

In addition, it is not hypocritical for me to support a hypocrite who happens to be doing the right thing. I'm not supporting his hypocrisy. Rather, I support the action. 

You can approve of somebody's action without approving of the agent. Even very bad people can sometimes do good things.

It's not a double standard for me to support the actions of someone who's guilty of double standards if they happen to be applying the right standard in that situation. Sometimes a hypocrite will inconsistently to the right thing. Should I oppose their action in that instance unless they do the right thing all the time? 

Suppose I'm in a country where gov't corruption is rife. Suppose I need to bribe an official to get an innocent relative out of jail. If I can get him to do the right thing, even though he did it for the wrong reason, that's preferable to his acting consistently, when that means consistent wrongdoing.

Now, we can debate the actions of Kim Davis on the merits. And that's a worthwhile debate. But that's obscured by the hypocrisy canard. 

As a rule, I have more control over my own conduct than I have over the conduct of others. I'm not responsible for the lifestyle choices of Kim Davis. That doesn't rub off on me. 

How to back out of a Faustian bargain


Jimmy Lee was a Taiwanese immigrant. As the story begins, Lee is a student at Lamar High in Houston. He got good scores in math and science. But he was too nerdy to be successful with the girls. He pined for the cheerleaders, but they didn't pine for him.

One time the head cheerleader invited him over to her house. Jimmy was ecstatic. He spent hours deciding what to wear. He was so nervous.

But, as it turned out, she just wanted him to troubleshoot her computer. He got a reputation for that. Other cheerleaders asked him to troubleshoot their computers. Not one ever took him out on a date. Some of them even had the bad taste to have their boyfriends over at the same time he was troubleshooting their computers.

He attempted to ingratiate himself with the cheerleaders by trying out for the football team. But in Texas, you have to be a member of the Nephilim to make the football team. 

Jimmy became so frustrated that he decided to make a pact with the devil. Next morning, after the blood was dry on the 30-year-contract, he jumped out of bed, expecting a sudden transformation. But when he saw himself in the bathroom mirror, it was the same scrawny kid staring back at him.  

He felt the devil double-crossed him. And if you can't trust the devil, who can you trust? 

But when he got to school, things were different. Although he looked the same and felt the same, although he was the same, when girls looked at him, they magically saw the boy of their dreams–whoever that might be. If it was the quarterback, that's what they saw; if it was the lead singer of a boyband, that's what they saw. 

And that's not all. When Jimmy went to the ATM to withdrawal $20, his account had the same amount of money after the withdrawal as it did before. So he began to test it. He withdrew $133, which is all he had in the bank. But it still showed $133 after he emptied his account. So he withdrew $500. The machine spat out 5 C-bills, and it showed $133 remaining in the account.

Three months later, Jimmy was a high-school dropout. By then the cheerleaders were low-hanging fruit. He was getting unsolicited invitations from supermodels. He drove a Lamborghini Egoista. Had a superyacht. Bought the Breakers for his summer home. Bought the Getty villa for his winter home. Bought Hearst Castle for his other winter home. 

And it's not every 16-year-old boy who can take a private jet to Monaco to play high-stakes poker. Not to mention that every hand he was dealt was a winning hand. Indeed, sometimes he had to fold to fake a losing hand–otherwise, casino security would become suspicious. 


The years flew by. Then, early one morning, Jimmy was suddenly transported to a firepit. Actually, after his eyes adjusted to the infernal lighting, it was a throne room encircle by flame. Mephistopheles was on the throne, with Wormwood at his right hand and Screwtape at his left hand.

"Why am I here?" Jimmy asked.

"Advance notice that your contract comes due today," said Mephistopheles. "At midnight tonight, I will dispatch the hellhounds to drag your soul to the everlasting bonfire."

"You've got the wrong man!" Jimmy protested.

"Mistaken identity? We hear that excuse all the time. But here's the contract. Here's your signature on the dotted line. My legal department has authenticated the signature," Mephistopheles replied. 

"I'm afraid you don't understand," Jimmy said. "I don't deny that that's my signature. Rather, I deny that that's my blood!"

Mephistopheles was momentarily speechless. "That's impossible! I sent Wormwood and Screwtape to witness the phlebotomist draw your blood, label the vial with your name, and store it. That's the vial you brought when you dipped the quill pen into the vial and signed the contract in your own blood."

Mephistopheles turned to Wormwood and Screwtape. "You better not tell me that you bungled the chain of custody!" he glared. "I needn't remind you what I did to the last demon who bungled a contract!"

They were terrified. "No, your Lowness, we did just as you said." 

"That's true enough so far as it goes," Jimmy interjected. "What they didn't know is that my mom was the phlebotomist. She switched samples. Relabeled the sample I brought." 

Once more, Mephistopheles was momentarily speechless. "Give me a moment to consult the legal department," he said–dialing his cellphone.

After a couple of minutes, he turned to Jimmy: "According to Clarence Darrow, what you did is technically legal. Shady, but legal. And around here, we like shady. The shadier the better. I even got second opinions from F. Lee Bailey and Melvin Belli," Mephistopheles explained.

"Ordinarily, I don't take kindly to humans who try to trick the devil," he continued. "But for you to sign a blood pact in someone else's blood is so fiendishly clever that it's worthy of yours truly–and that's not a compliment I pay often or lightly–let me assure you!"

Jimmy heaved a sigh of relief that his ruse worked. "Does that mean I'm free to go?" he asked.

"You yourself are off the hook," Mephistopheles answered. "Saved by a technicality. But there's a loose end to tie up. It's still a valid contract. According to legal precedent, it is ultimately the blood donor, and not the signatory, who is party to the bargain. So I still have a soul to claim. Before you are free to leave, you must give me the name of the donor. Whose blood does that signature belong to?"

"Jerry Walls," Jimmy answered. 

"Sounds vaguely familiar," Mephistopheles replied. He then leaned over as Wormwood whispered something in his ear."

"Ah, that Jerry Walls!" Mephistopheles exclaimed. "The quack philosopher who fancies himself an expert on heaven, hell, and purgatory. Admittedly, my recollection of heaven is a distant memory, but as the world authority on all things infernal, I can tell you in no uncertain terms that Walls doesn't know the first thing about hell. His books should be shelved in the fiction section. This, however, will be a splendid opportunity to set him straight!"

"Just out of curiosity, what about purgatory?" Jimmy asked. 

"No such thing!" Mephistopheles guffawed. "Just a fundraising stunt to pay for the pope's building projects."

"I appreciate the clarification," Jimmy said.

"In any event, there's a certain–how shall I say?–poetic justice that a hell dabbler like Walls bought out your contract. Serves him right! You might consider it penal substitution, in a twisted sort of way. And around here, we like twisted. The twistier the better!" Mephistopheles chortled. 


Late afternoon, as Jerry Walls was driving home from work, he noticed a Rottweiler with glowing eyes in the rearview mirror. He assumed it must be eyeshine as the dusky light impinged on the tapetum lucidum. Yet every time he looked in the rearview mirror, there was another Rottweiler tailing his car. By the time he got home, there was a pack of Rottweilers with glowing eyes tagging along.

And long after sunset, when he peered through the blinds, he could see multiple pairs of fiery eyes on his front yard. Like a row of little stoplights in the dark. It was a bit unnerving. 

And that's before they began to howl. Made sleep impossible. He glanced at his clock: 11:59 PM. A minute later he felt unaccountably hot. 

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

How prevalent were the charismata?

How widespread were the charismata in the NT church? Cessationists downplay Corinth as anomalous. Charismatics counter with Rom 12:6-8, Eph 4:11, 1 Thes 5:20, and various passages in Acts. 

But this seems to be a neglected passage: 1 Cor 11:16. I take it Paul is referring to the custom of head-coverings. He suggests that's universal in the NT churches. Even if his statement is hyperbolic, he must still mean it's the norm rather than the exception. 

However, Paul has indexed head-coverings to women who pray and prophesy in church. By parity of argument, the scope of the charismata must be commensurate with the scope of head-coverings. If the latter are universal or the norm, so must the charismata be. That implies the charismata were pervasive in the NT church(es). 

That, of course, doesn't settle the question of charismata in the post-apostolic era. 

A duo of dueling fatalisms

Universalist: Do you consider yourself an apologist for atheism?

Atheist: Yes.

Universalist: How do you go about that? 

Atheist: We have atheist philosophers. An atheist journal (Philo). An atheist publishing house (Prometheus Press). Atheist weblogs and websites (e.g. the Secular Web, the Secular Outpost).

There are lots of ways to get the message out.

Universalist: Why do you expend so much time and effort in proselytizing for atheism?

Atheist: Because it's important for people to believe what's right and live accordingly.

Universalist: What happened to Hitler when he died? 

Atheist: He passed into oblivion.

Universalist: What happened to Bonhoeffer when he died?

Atheist: He passed into oblivion.

Universalist: So according to atheism, what you think or do in this life makes absolutely no difference to your final destiny. 

Atheist: I suppose that's one way of putting it.

Universalist: In that event, why is it so important for people to believe what's right and live accordingly?

Atheist: I could ask you the same question.

Universalist: What do you mean?

Atheist: Do you consider yourself an apologist for universalism? 

Universalist: Yes. 

Atheism: How do you go about that?

Universalist: We have universalist philosophers and scholars. We have a website (Evangelical Universalist). We have a universalist (Robin Perry) who's editor of Christian publishing houses (Paternoster, Wipf & Stock). 

There are lots of ways to get the message out.

Atheist: Why do you expend so much time and effort proselytizing for universalism?

Universalist: Because it's important for people to believe what's right and live accordingly.

Atheist: What happened to Hitler when he died?

Universalist: He went to heaven.

Atheist: What happened to Bonhoeffer when he died?

Universalist: He went to heaven. 

Atheist: So according to universalism, what you think or do in this life makes absolutely no difference to your final destiny.

Universalist: I suppose that's one way of putting it.

Atheist: In that event, why is it so important for people to believe what's right and live according?

Universalist: I could ask you the same question.

Atheist: You already did.

Universalist: Since both our positions are fatalistic, perhaps we should save on overhead by merging our websites, publishing houses, &c. 

Atheist: That would be more efficient. I'll have my man talk to your man about a merger. 

Deism as atheism's poor cousin

As I recently noted, Deism is neglected in Christian apologetics. That's because most folks either convert from atheism to Christianity, or Christianity to atheism (or some other religious alternative, like Islam or Judaism). 

I'd like to briefly note a basic problem with that position: there's no specific evidence for Deism. 

On the one hand, evidence for the existence of a divine Creator, although consistent with Deism, is equally consistent with Christian theism.

On the other hand, the alleged lack of evidence for divine activity in natural history and human history, although consistent with Deism, is equally consistent with atheism. 

So there's no line of evidence that singles out Deism. It falls between the cracks. 

Conversely, there's an abundance of specific evidence for Christian theism. 

The Righteousness of God

Counseling apostates

Lydia McGrew left some useful comments at the blog of a recent apostate that are well-worth reading:

Lydia McGrew  says:
This sentence probably is a good place to zero in on where I think your reasoning has gone astray: ” And if there is to be absolutely no relational value in being a Christian then I seriously question the value of believing it.”
The value of believing Christianity is quite simply that it is true. If it is true, and if we have reason to believe it is true, then we should believe it even if it doesn’t have the kind of relational value we were hoping for from it. That’s true of anything. Why should I believe in the existence of ________ if it isn’t what I was hoping it would be like to interact with ___________? Well, presumably, I should believe in the existence of ________ if it’s true that ________ exists and if I have reason to believe that. The same for, e.g., the Trinity, Jesus as the atonement for sins, the deity of Christ, etc.
Moreover, if Christianity is true, then that means one has an opportunity to a) be forgiven of one’s sins (we all need that) and b) experience the beatific vision forever after death, in comparison to which (Christianity says) everything we’ve gone through on earth, however bad, including the pain of *not* having a “relational” feeling of God’s presence, will seem like nothing when we are there.
So believing Christianity is very valuable, *if* it is true.
Which means that discovering whether it’s true is very important, even if it turns out that “relational value” is not part of the package deal.
It seems to me (and I apologize if others in the thread have said this already, but I have not had time to read the thread) that you came to believe in a particular experiential interpretation of various verses in the New Testament (I would assume more than the old) and therefore considered Christianity falsified if the expectations raised by that interpretation were not met. But perhaps that interpretation of those verses was incorrect. And if, in addition, there is a wealth of other evidence that Christianity in its broad theological outlines is in fact true, then it would be a terrible mistake to abandon it on that basis.
Speaking for myself, I virtually _never_ have anything like an experience of the presence of God, and when I have an experience that might be such, I tend to be skeptical of it. I do not consider such experiences to have important evidential value. My evidence for Christianity is quite other, and *on the basis thereof*, I cultivate the personal side of what one might _call_ a “relationship with Christ” (petitionary prayer, meditation, receiving the Sacrament, mentally “placing myself before God,” and so forth), but which has a very different “feel” from what a “relationship with God” is supposed to be like in a more charismatic context where one is constantly expecting to receive “words” from God. I think the expectation of such constant “words” is harmful, and I think that your case is a good illustration of why. I discuss some of this not only in the main post but also in the comments thread, here, where I get some pushback from a reader:
By the way, prayer for you, specifically, has been a part of my relationship with God, because of this loss of faith and the cause of it. If you think it would be of any value to you, please feel free to e-mail me privately:

On losing a child

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Trump's Shallow, Anti-Conservative Support

Trump is getting some support from conservatives, but a big percentage of his support is shallow (e.g., based largely on name recognition) or anti-conservative. See, for example, here and here. Here's an excerpt from the second article:

"Among his supporters, a 47% plurality identifies him as 'conservative' but 30% call him 'moderate' and another 11% say he's 'liberal.' For many, it's his personality rather than his ideology that makes the difference. A 65% majority of Trump's supporters say they're willing to put their trust in his ability to figure out the issues on the fly and don't need him to be clear about specific policies he'd address if elected."

A Slate article from late July:

"But while Trump’s outsider appeal is undeniable, a closer look at the polls suggests it may also be overblown. In the last national survey conducted by Fox News, for instance, pollsters reassigned Trump supporters based on their declared second choice. The biggest winner? None other than establishment poster boy Jeb Bush, who saw his support climb by more than a third to 19 percent. (The bizarre Bush-Trump overlap can also be seen in reverse: With Jeb out, Trump’s support climbs by 3 points, the biggest jump of any member of the field.) It’s only one poll, of course, but we’ve seen similar trends in others."

Hair-raising theology

I'm going to revisit the issue of head coverings. I've discussed this before, so I won't repeat all that this time around:

In a strange way, this has become a very topical issue. That's because Paul stresses the importance of gender differentiation in 1 Cor 11. Very timely in light of the transgender debate that's going on in church circles. 

i) There are Christians of a certain type. They think true obedience to Scripture means just doing whatever it says. Let's keep things simple. This mindset is reinforced by the fact that you have professing Christians who are looking for excuses not to believe or obey Scripture, so it looks like the same tactic.  

Would that it really were that simple. But no Christian actually operates that way. For instance, Leviticus is full of commands that Christians no longer obey. The "God said it/I believe it/that settles it!" rule doesn't work in that case–or many others. 

They might say, "Well, that's because it's the old covenant and we're under the new covenant." Sure, but just how the OT is fulfilled in the NT is a matter of ongoing dispute among Christians. 

Likewise, some Christians think the Bible "obviously" teaches baptismal regeneration and the Real Presence. Others rightly disagree.

Fact is, interpreting and appropriating Scripture is often complicated. That's unavoidable. A simplistic rule-of-thumb won't do the job. 

ii) In addition, Jesus condemned the Pharisees because they practiced rote adherence to the letter of the law without due consideration the rationale for a given law. Christ regarded that as essentially disobedient, because it failed to respect the underlying principle. Consider the debates over Sabbath-keeping. 

Another example is how OT prophets censure nominal Jews who go through the motions of the sacrificial system, but lack genuine piety. For them, it was just a mechanical observance which they got out of the way, then went about their business. And that, too, crops in the debates over Sabbath-keeping. 

Therefore, it's not enough for us to quote Paul's injunction and leave it at that. We need to consider what principle his injunction exemplifies. 

There's the risk of tokenism. Token obedience to Scripture by reproducing symbolic gestures without regard to whether they carry the same significance everywhere, at every time–or acting as if that just doesn't matter. 

That, in turn, can foster a false sense of sanctity. That by performing certain externals, checking the right boxes, we've discharged our spiritual duties–when, in fact, this is quite perfunctory and misses the point of the injunction. 

iii) Apropos (ii), true obedience sometimes demands cross-cultural contextualization. Although the principle is transcultural, the way in which that principle is exemplified is sometimes variable in time and place. The challenge is to isolate the principle and identify analogous signs. Signs of the principle which have the same or similar signification in different cultures. 

iv) In my analysis, 1 Cor 11 enunciates two principles, along with a symbol to illustrate the principles. There's the principle of male headship and the principle of gender differentiation. Those, in turn, are illustrated by the symbolism of head covering. The headgear is a semiotic code. 

v) In 1 Cor 11, Paul appeals to both nature and culture. To what does that apply? The principle or the sign of the principle? 

For instance, nature might apply to male headship. That's the principle. Headgear might apply to culture. That's a sign of female submission. 

The sign might well be variable while the principle is invariant across different cultures. 

vi) We need to distinguish between transparent signs and opaque signs. By a transparent sign, I mean a sign where there's a natural, easily discernible link between the symbol and what it stands for. 

Take ritual ablutions, where physical uncleanliness is a metaphor for sin and guilt, while physical cleansing is a metaphor for forgiveness and sanctification. 

Likewise, the scapegoat–where a priest puts his hand on the head of the goat, confessing the sins of Israel–to symbolically transfer the sins of Israel to the animal, then sends it off into the wilderness, to symbolize remission of sin (Lev 16:21-22).

These are transparent signs which employ natural metaphors. You can discern the significance of these actions without any cultural background. 

Conversely, there are opaque signs in the sense that the symbolism or semiotic code is a social convention that's assigned to the emblematic action. Unless you have the requisite cultural background, you don't know what it means. The link between the principle and the sign is arbitrary. 

For instance, one way to symbolize rank is for a soldier to salute a superior officer. But that's an opaque sign. 

v) Different cultures have different ways of signaling rank. Bowing before a monarch is a common example. In traditional Japanese culture, the wife walks two or three steps behind the husband. 

However, that's culturebound. In chivalric culture, a gallant man will sometimes enter the house first to make sure it's safe for the women to come inside. 

In that case, going first represents a different principle. A sacrificial principle. The man is exposing himself to potential risk to spare the woman. That's very different from the Japanese custom–even if they are outwardly alike. 

vi) Hairstyles can send signals. Take the Mohawk. That was popularized by Hollywood movies depicting Indian braves. As a result, some young men sport a Mohawk as a symbol of masculinity. 

At the same time, that's an opaque sign. Unless you have the pop cultural background, you don't know what it signifies. 

vii) The use of symbolism automatically raises the question of who the symbol is for. Take headgear in 1 Cor 11. Who is the symbol signaling? Is it God? Is it the husband? The wife? The congregation? Visitors?  

viii) When Paul says long hair is a woman's glory, that seems to be an appeal to nature. To biological gender. But is he considering women in general? 

When some readers see that, it might conjure up images of women in Botticelli and Dante Rossetti. But what about Afros? Did Paul that in mind? Or is he implicitly referring to European women? Long flowing tresses? 

ix) An interesting question is why he doesn't talk about beards. Based on Lev 19:27, did Paul consider the beardless Greco-Roman style effeminate? 

But perhaps, because Roman soldiers were beardless, it wasn't considered culturally effeminate. After all, Rome was the reigning superpower. And it achieved that status through military might. Classic machismo. 

x) In what sense does Paul mean it's "natural" for a woman to have long hair (11:14) in contrast to a man? If a man doesn't cut his hair, it will naturally grow long. Surely Paul was aware of that. 

Presumably, then, he means "natural," not in the absolute sense of what's intrinsically natural, but in terms of what was customarily perceived to be natural or unnatural. In the Roman Empire, a long-haired man was generally a signal of effeminacy–although there were exceptions. 

xi) The contemporary headcovering debate is typically focused on how women should present themselves in church rather than how men should present themselves in church. The one-sidedness is striking.

Perhaps that's because the headcovering movement is only appealing to certain "fundamentalist" churches where the men automatically present themselves in conventionally conservative attire and haircuts. So emphasis shifts to restoring the status quo ante with respect to women, since that is what has changed in most churches.

xii) In modern American, I think there's still a default association between long-haired men and effeminacy or decadence. For instance, male rock stars usually have long hair, and they aren't generally paragons of virtue. 

There are, however, exceptions. Hollywood movies have popularized the image of long-haired Indian braves. Because they represent warrior cultures, it doesn't have effeminate connotations for that ethnicity. 

And that isn't just a Hollywood depiction. There are lots of historic photos of 19C American Indian men with long hair. 

Likewise, we customarily associate pigtails with girls. But in the case of the Manchu hairstyle, that doesn't connote efficacy, in part because it's clearly "foreign," so we don't judge it by "American" standards, and because Chinamen were not, in fact, effeminate. The men who helped build the transcontinental RR were hardly swishy or sissies. Likewise, pop culture associates Chinamen with kung fu. And American pop culture venerates martial arts as a stereotypically macho activity. 

xiii) A notable exception would be Islam and Middle-eastern churches influenced by Islamic social mores. However, Christians should vigorously resist assimilation to Muslim sensibilities. The Muslim practice of veiling women reflects the Muslim view of women, which is not something Christians ought to accommodate. 

xiv) From my reading, proponents of the headcovering movement doesn't care about whether head coverings convey the same message in our culture as they did in Paul's culture. They don't think that matters.

In one respect, I don't have much to say to people who suffer from that outlook. It artificially detaches a symbol from the function of a symbol, as if the function of a symbol is irrelevant to the importance of a symbol. 

But Paul clearly isn't advocating a symbol for the sake of symbolism, regardless of what that actually signifies to the parties concerned. To the contrary, he's concerned with sending the right message rather than the wrong message. The sign has no value independent of what it signifies. And what it signifies is not independent of cultural perceptions. In some cases (i.e. opaque signs), symbolism requires a shared domain of discourse. 

A symbol that's lost its significance ceases to be a symbol at all. It doesn't convey any message. Or it now conveys the wrong message, due to transvaluation. 

The point of a symbol is to signal a target audience. But if the symbol no longer sends that message, it is mindless traditionalism to retain the symbol. Indeed, that subverts the purpose of the symbol.  

xv) Let's revisit American Indians. This becomes an issue in missiology. Suppose your a church-planter on a reservation. Suppose most of the men have long hair. Should you tell them to get a haircut, based on 1 Cor 11? No, because that rips 1 Cor 11 out of context.  

xvi) A question which headcovering proponents ask is if you reject head coverings, what's your modern-day substitute? 

Well, there's no one answer because it depends on semiotic codes, which in cases like this are culturally variable. But nowadays, as society becomes increasingly and militantly secularized, just attending a Bible-believing church can a countercultural statement. A public statement of submission to divine authority. 

Wearing a cross can be a countercultural statement of submission to divine authority. Monogramous heterosexual marriage is becoming a countercultural statement. Motherhood is becoming a countercultural statement. Being a stay-at-home mom is a countercultural statement. 

Christian marriage defies feminist priorities. Defies antinatalism. Defies homosexuality and transgenderism. Defies polyamory. 

At present, Christian marriage is a far more potent and provocative restatement of traditional masculine and feminine roles than donning a head covering in church.

Is evolution merely unfalsified?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Soul-making theodicy

1. In the past I've defended a supralapsarian theodicy. I still adhere to that, but I'd like to supplement it by considering the soul-making theodicy.  

The basic idea of the supra theodicy is that it's better to be a fallen and redeemed creature than an unfallen creature. But that involves second-order goods, which are contingent on the existence of evil.

There's a difference between knowledge by description and knowledge by acquaintance. You can grasp propositions about sin and forgiveness. That, however, is very different from the experience of sin and forgiveness. Existential knowledge is richer than abstract knowledge. And that's germane to a soul-making theodicy.

A supra theodicy has a subjective dimension: the personal experience of divine forgiveness. However, it's more objective than a soul-making theodicy inasmuch as the frame of reference is divine forgiveness. God is the object of forgiveness, while a Christian is the subject of forgiveness. 

By contrast, a soul-making theodicy has a more subjective orientation, inasmuch as it's about the cultivation of certain virtues. Becoming a better person. A wiser person. 

2. The soul-making theodicy was popularized by John Hick. In Augustinian anthropology, Adam and Eve were finished products. They fell from a state of moral perfection. Hick contrasted that with his own position, according to which Adam and Eve were created with the potential for moral growth. They were still in the process of creation. They had the potential for moral maturation. (Mind you, Hick denied the historicity of Adam and Eve.)

There's some truth to this analysis, although it suffers from equivocation. To say unfallen Adam and Eve were morally "perfect" simply means they were sinless. It doesn't mean there was no room for moral improvement. 

Paradoxically, fallen humans can be both better and worse than unfallen humans. Inasmuch as they are sinners, they are worse. Yet Christians can have a moral grace that surpasses the mere sinlessness of Adam and Eve. Saints have virtues that angels lack. 

3. Let's take an example: Suppose you have a family of five. Both parents are social climbers and overachievers. The husband is consumed with career advancement. The wife is a tiger mom. She makes sure the kids are enrolled in all the right student clubs and extracurricular activities that will look good on a college application. The two teenage sons and a daughter are into the usual things kids in their age-bracket are into. At dinner, each member of the family is glued to the display on their smart phone. 

The members of the family aren't Christian. Aren't into meaning-of-life questions. They lead superficial lives. 

One son starts to forget routine things. At first this is amusing. They think he's absent-minded. Distracted by too much multitasking. But he begins to complain about headaches. 

His parents take him to the doctor, and he's diagnosed with brain cancer. Suddenly their priorities come to a screeching halt. 

They now have a sick family member who will just get sicker. Their social world contracts. Their center of gravity shifts. 

Instead of being frivolous and self-absorbed, they make the most of the remaining time with their dying family member. The wrenching experience changes them. Deepens them. Makes them better people. Develops their unrealized moral potential. 

Perhaps, in their distress and despair, they turn to God. They regret the missed opportunities. Regret taking life for granted. Regret taking one another for granted. Regret all the things they should have said and done differently, in retrospect.

That kind of regret can refine character. Moving forward, that prompts them to treat others with greater patience and understanding. 

This is hypothetical, but there are real life examples of Christians like Eric Liddell and Ernest Gordon who exhibit moral heroism in the face of extreme adversity.  

Let's consider some objections to this theodicy:

4. At best, this theodicy can only justify the existence of certain kinds of evil. 

i) However, even if that's the case, that's only a defect on the assumption that a successful theodicy must single-handedly justify the existence of every kind of evil. But what if different kinds of evils lend themselves to different theodicean principles? In that event, a soul-making theodicy can make a necessary contribution. It wasn't meant to cover more than one class of evils. 

ii) In the same vein, the ordeal may benefit the caregiver even if it doesn't benefit the patient. Or it may benefit each in different ways. Some short lives are far more meaningful than some long lives. 

2. Suffering makes some people worse instead of better. Rather than refining them, their character deteriorates under the strain. They become hardened and bitter. 

i) That's a problem for a soul-building theodicy which is predicated on God's omnibenevolence. But if, a la Calvinism, God never intended everyone to benefit from evil, that's not inconsistent with the theodicy.

ii) In addition, the fact that some people fail to take advantage of opportunities for moral improvement doesn't mean the theodicy was a failure. People often blow good opportunities. If there's something blameworthy in that situation, it's not the opportunity but the failure to seize it. 

3. Dire conditions aren't necessary for people to express these virtues.

i) That maybe true, but the question at issue is primarily the cultivation of such virtues, and secondarily the expression of such virtues. Does the ordeal foster such virtues in some people? Virtues they'd never develop in the first place absent the ordeal?  

The virtues were latent, not in the sense that the were there all along, waiting for an opportunity to express themselves, but because the potential was there all along, requiring a stimulus to develop. 

ii) Moreover, this is not about overcoming obstacles and testing yourself against challenges, to build generic traits like strength of character, but specific moral and theological virtues. 

4. Terrible evils aren't necessary to develop these virtues. 

That objection is circular. The philosophers who raise it have never been in a situation that requires moral heroism. Since they lack heroic virtue, they don't value heroic virtue. They have no firsthand standard of comparison. They haven't had that experience. So they lack the capacity to appreciate their moral deficiency in that respect. They don't know what they are missing. 

That's the point of the soul-building theodicy. It's not about abstract knowledge, but the kind of understanding that can only come from personal experience. Like tempered steel, you have to pass through fire to know what it's like and to experience the effect. 

They lack the necessary insight to appreciate the theodicy because they lack the necessary experience which confers that insight. The very type of experience which the theodicy concerns. 

And from I can tell, critics haven't read accounts of Christians like Eric Liddell and Ernest Gordon. For Liddell, it was a tremendous witness to his fellow captives. For Gordon, it was a transformative experience. Other examples include Christians who care for a disabled family member or family member who suffers from a degenerative illness. It taps into unsuspected reservoirs of forbearance and charity.  

5. The theodicy is circular. These virtues are only virtuous in a fallen world. They'd be unnecessary in an unfilled world. They aren't intrinsic virtues. Indeed, isn't the goal to eliminate evil?

i) Once the virtues are developed, it's no longer necessary to have the evils which foster those virtues. But that's like saying the goal of maturation is to outgrow childhood. In a sense, that's true, yet childhood is a necessary preliminary phase. 

ii) In one sense I can't prove to you that these are intrinsic virtues. Moral appeals depend on shared intuitions. That's a limitation of any moral argument.

iii) But consider an illustration. Take teen horror flicks about a group of high school students who are friends. You know, the kind in which everyone was perfect teeth. 

They go on a trip. But things go terribly awry. They find themselves in a situation where I have a better chance of survival if you don't survive. That suddenly becomes the acid test of friendship. Are they just fair-weather friends? Will they leave you behind? Or will they risk their skin to save a friend? 

A crisis brings out the best and the worst in people. To some extent it exposes what was there all along, just beneath the surface. And a prolonged crisis will make people better or worse. 

Suppose these "friends" turn on each other. Desert each other. Save themselves at the expense of one another.

Suppose, in an unfallen world, these people have the same character, only their fair-weather friendship will never be put to the test. But surely there's something defective about their character, even if those virtues are unnecessary in an unfallen world. Surely they'd be better persons for having those virtues, even if they never had the occasion to express them. 

If the absence of those virtues is morally defective in a fallen world, it's morally defective in an unfallen world. They're the same people (hypothetically speaking). How can they be admirable in an unfallen world if their conduct would be deplorable in a fallen world? 

To be good people, they should have it within themselves to rise to the challenge, had the occasion presented itself. If we knew how badly they'd perform in that situation, our opinion of them would plummet. We wouldn't look at them the same way. 

Although this is hypothetical, there are real-world analogues. In the past, and in some parts of the Third World today, it is dangerous to nurse the sick. Some diseases are both contagious and life-threatening. If you care for a sick family member, you run the risk of becoming infected and dying. But as a rule, it would be morally derelict to abandon the ailing family member.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Interventionist theism

Jeff D:

I have trouble seeing much of a difference between Calvinism and deism, functionally. The Calvinist God created the world he created. End of story. How can the Calvinist God be meaningfully described as an "interventionist."
It seems hard for God to intervene in a universe where God knows how the future will unfold is because he predetermined that is the way the future would unfold. What is [he] intervening with, himself?

To some extent I think this is a semantic quibble, although it goes to deep questions concerning the nature of God and causality. Let's begin with some exposition:

i) In mainstream Calvinism, God subsists outside of time and space. 

God has made a physical universe. The physical universe includes physical causes. Natural processes. 

The physical universe is like an automated machine. It does whatever it was programmed to do, no more and no less. The same kind of cause will produce the same kind of effect. 

That's, in part, what we mean by ordinary providence. 

However, the created order is not confined to the physical dimension. There's mental causation. The created order includes finite minds. Some finite minds are discarnate agents (angels) while other finite minds are embodied agents (humans). In addition, reality includes the divine mind, which exists outside the created order.

Unlike physical processes, which are thoughtless, intelligent agents can exercise rational discretion. Moreover, intelligent agents can manipulate a natural process to produce a desired effect that's different than what the natural process would produce absent the intervention of an intelligent agent. 

That can involve mundane things like technology, or supernatural events like miracles. There are basically two kinds of miracles:

a) Classic miracles which circumvent natural processes. In the case of a classic miracle, the effect is not the result of the antecedent state. Rather, it's discontinuous with prior conditions leading up to that event. It has a mental rather than physical cause. It's not the end-result of a preceding chain of events. 

b) Coincidence miracles which utilize natural processes. A coincidence miracle is the coordinated result of independent chains of events converging for the benefit of a particular individual or group. It reflects the discriminating intention of a powerful agent. 

ii) Deism asserts the uniformity of nature. The universe operates according to natural laws. Natural events are law-like in the sense of mechanical regularity. The same kinds of things always happen. A closed system. A seamless causal continuum. 

According to the classic metaphor, we inhabit a clockwork universe. God made the watch, wound it, and set it. Thereafter it runs of its own accord. It requires no maintenance.

Deism regards a miracle as analogous to a mechanic on the night watch who must superintend the machinery in case of malfunction. The mechanic must repair it in case it breaks down.  

Or to continue with the watchmaker metaphor, God must periodically rewind or reset the watch if it runs down, runs fast, or runs slow. But that makes God a poor designer. So goes the argument. 

Deism makes no allowance for supernatural mental causation as an integral element in natural history. 

iii) In theological discourse, "intervention" is a term of art. As I use the term, an interventionist God is a God who works miracles and answers prayer–to take two paradigm examples. A Deist God or noninterventionist deity is a God who does not work miracles or answer prayer. 

Put another way, divine "intervention" is synonymous with God's ongoing involvement in natural history and especially human history. By contrast, a Deist God is uninvolved in the subsequent course of world history. His participation begins and ends with the initial act of creation. (In some versions of Deism, God will judge the wicked when they die). 

There are critics of "interventionist" terminology. They think the terminology has misleading connotations. For instance:

Some biblical fundamentalists think of God as an engineer who designed and created species of animals and plants like a watchmaker designing a watch. Ironically, this God of the world machine has more to do with science than with the bible or traditional Christian doctrines. When the machine model of nature took hold in seventeenth-century science, a new image of God came into being as a supernatural engineer, a machine-maker separate from nature. 
You don’t believe in this kind of God, and neither do I. In traditional Christian theology, God is not a kind of craftsman, or demiurge, who makes the world in the first place and then retires, leaving it to work automatically, except for occasional interventions when he arbitrarily suspends the laws of nature. God is not a demiurge, and not a meddler with machinery. According to the traditional understanding in Christian and other theologies, God is the ground of all being, the reason why there is something rather than nothing. He sustains the world in its existence from moment to moment, and is doing so now.[1]

Problem: "miracle," as used in these controversies, is not a biblical category. The God of the Bible is not a normally absent God who sometimes "intervenes." This God is always present and active, often surprisingly so...The "closed continuum" of cause and effect is a modernist myth. The God who does not "intervene" from outside but is always present and active within the world, sometimes shockingly, may well have been thus active on this occasion.

In English theology, the easy-going pre-Enlightenment assumption that the world of creation gave reliably straightforward witness to a good creator (I cited Bishop Butler above; we might include writers like Joseph Addison, too) had been shaken to the core by the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, which as Susan Neiman has argued must be seen as one of the proximate causes at least of the Enlightenment revolution.[12] That revolution attempted to solve the problem, as well as several others, by cutting God loose from the world, drawing on the old upstairs/downstairs world of English deism. Religion became the thing that people did with their solitude, a private, inner activity, a secret way of gaining access to the divine rather than either an invocation of the God within nature or a celebration of the kingdom coming on earth as in heaven. God became an absentee landlord who allowed the tenants pretty much free rein to explore and run the house the way they wanted, provided they checked in with him from time to time to pay the rent (in much middle Anglican worship until the last generation, taking up the collection has been the most overtly sacramental act) and reinforce some basic ground rules (the Ten Commandments, prominently displayed on church walls, and the expectation that bishops and clergy will ‘give a moral lead’ to society). As we know, the absentee landlord quite quickly became an absentee, as in Feuerbach, whom Robinson quotes to this effect (p. 50) without any sense that Feuerbach himself has been subjected to damaging critique. 
My sympathy for his plight has grown over the years as I have lived within the continuing split-level world of much English piety. The word ‘miracle’ is a case in point. Most people, not least in the media, still think of it as meaning an action performed by a distant, remote deity reaching in to the world from outside—just as to many people, still, the word ‘God’ itself conjures up a basically deist image of that kind of a being. I know that in fact that word ‘supernatural’ has a longer history than this and that, for instance, mediaeval theologians were able to use it in such away that it did not carry the baggage of an implied deism or semi-deism [192] (by which I mean the view which, while sharing deism’s gap between God and the world, holds that from time to time this ‘God’ can and does ‘intervene’). But I continue to find that this model dominates UK theological discourse, particularly among those of, or near, Robinson’s generation. Thus, for instance, when I have written about Jesus’ mighty acts, or about the resurrection, I have often been heard to be affirming one kind of post-Enlightenment supernaturalism (with an ‘interventionist’ God) over against one kind of post-Enlightenment naturalism (with a ‘non-interventionist’ God), even though I have frequently and explicitly renounced precisely this distinction and the framework which facilitates it (to the consternation of my ‘supernaturalist’ friends).

iv) There's some truth to these criticisms, but they are confused. 

a) In classical theism, God is an "outside agent." God exists apart from the creation. God exits apart from the space-time continuum. 

b) There are different ways of making something. I can plant an orchard, then abandon the orchard. What the orchard will be like 50 years later has nothing to do with me, beyond my initial contribution. It will be very different than if I tended the orchard on a regular basis.

c) Compare that to a novelist. The novelist exists outside the story. Yet he's involved in every detail of the story. In one respect, he causes everything to happen, from start to finish. The novelist is responsible for everything that's said and done in the course of the story. 

But in another respect, characters drive the course of events. Conversely, characters react to events. Characters within the story drive the plot. They influence other characters. And they themselves are influenced by their circumstances.

You have both primary and secondary causation. 

d) Does the God of Calvinism "intervene"? Depends on what you mean. As I said at the outset, I define an interventionist God as a God who does things like working miracles and answering prayer. That's clearly consistent with Calvinism. 

I don't define an interventionist God as a God who alternates between participation and detachment.  Indeed, the usual rap against Calvinism is not that God is too remote, but that God is too involved. Critics of Calvinism think God ought to be more detached. 

Freewill theists limit divine intervention. Too much intrusion would either infringe on human freedom or trivialize the consequences of free choices. 

Clearly the Calvinist God doesn't intervene in the sense of acting at cross-purposes with his plan. But why should we define divine intervention in that way?

iv) There are, of course, freewill theists who think God intervenes in the sense that he has to jump in every so often to make midcourse corrections lest things get totally out of hand. But that's not how Calvinism uses the term. 

The part I don't really get is that Calvinists insist it is vitally important to point out that God knows all the possible games of chess the two players could have theoretically played. I guess I agree that that is knowledge that God has, but why is that relevant? God knows that it is theoretically possible two people could sit down for chess and just move their knights back and forth over the same spaces until they die of old age. So what? Why does that matter? Like I said, I think the important thing is that God knows ahead of time what game of chess the two players will actually play and the game of chess they would have played if he had not intervened on white's 10th move.

It's relevant for God to have counterfactual knowledge since God must be in a position to know what the possibilities are in order to instantiate a particular set of possibilities in space and time. God made the world by selecting and combining some possibilities to the exclusion of other possibilities. It doesn't a blind draw. 

It amounts to God predetermining every move and pretty much playing chess with himself. When he is intervening, he is intervening with himself because he created a person to act one way, but finds it necessary to nevertheless intervene in time to bring about his predetermined outcomes.

i) One limitation of the chess analogy is that ordinarily, chess pieces are unintelligent. If, however, the chess pieces were rational agents, then you'd have some pieces playing against other pieces. Indeed, the pieces on one side strategize with each other on how to defeat the other side, and vice versa. And as the game progresses, from their perspective (unlike God's), they adapt their strategy to the changing situation. 

ii) The other problem is that Jeff is hung-up on a particular connotation of "intervention."

iii) In addition, a lot depends on the metaphor we use to illustrate the point. If, instead of chess, we use a novel, you could say the novelist is telling himself a story. If, however, the characters were real people, like sentient virtual characters, then they experience the story. They are an audience for the story, like stage actors.