Thursday, August 21, 2014

Love your neighbor

Denny Burk transcribed some statements by Albert Mohler:

We do know this much. It is an unmitigated tragedy. It’s a tragedy that an 18-year old young man is dead. 

That's one of those typical statements which people often make in situations like this. It seems like the right thing to say. But is it?

Frankly, whether or not his death was an "unmitigated tragedy" depends on what he would have done with his life. Isn't there footage of him roughing up a convenience store clerk? For all we know, his death may have saved innocent lives down the line. If, say, he was going to murder someone two years later, it would be tragic if he didn't die before he had the chance to commit murder. In that case, it would be tragic for the murder victim. 

I'm not saying that's a reason to shoot him. It isn't. Whether or not the shooting was justified depends on whether or not the officer had good reason to fear for his own safety. Lethal force is warranted in self-defense. Whether or not it was justified depends on the present (i.e. the circumstances at the time of the shooting), not a hypothetical future.

But when we attempt to evaluate someone's death, especially someone who died young, that's speculative. That makes assumptions about the future. We don't know what they would have done with the rest of their life if they had a normal lifespan. And speculation is a two-way street.

To take a dramatic example, when the explosive belt of a suicide bomber accidentally and prematurely denotes, just killing him rather than the intended victims, his death is not an unmitigated tragedy. And, of course, it's easier to say in that case because we can foresee where his course of action was headed. 

In the case of Michael Brown, we can't say one way or the other. It's best to resist the pious platitudes and withhold judgment either way. We are short-sighted. 

And after all, Eric Holder is the first African American attorney general of the United States and one who has spent his life as an activist and advocate in the civil rights movement. In this case, he is uniquely equipped and qualified to deal directly with the questions on the ground in Ferguson, Missouri. The rest of us need to hold back and allow the justice system to do its work.

What a preposterous statement. Holder's a radical, like Julian Bond. He views these issues through his jaundiced prism. 

But there is another dimension to this… “Americans need to lead with empathy.” That too is something important to the Christian worldview. We need to lead with empathy understanding that the ability to empathize is an ability to understand every single human being around us as our neighbor. Love of neighbor—one of the most important commands of Christ—…should lead us to lead with empathy… And in this case, that means we empathize with those in the African American community who are outraged at what they see as racial injustice. It means we empathize with those who look at the situation and see it as part of a larger pattern of inequity and injustice against young African American males…

No, we shouldn't pander to groundless outrage. The question is whether they are entitled to see a racial injustice. Does that have a basis in fact? Are they seeing an actual injustice, or are they projecting a racial injustice onto something that isn't? They are only entitled to see it that way if they see it as it is. 

Is there a larger pattern of inequity and injustice against young black males? To take a dramatic comparison, consider how Hamas or ISIS perceives the world. Is perception a substitute for reality? 

Mohler means well, but it's tiresome to read these morally and intellectual soft-bellied statements. Especially on issues like this, we need clearly thinking. 

"Feeling the pain despite the facts"

Over the years I’ve been challenged by my white brothers and sisters to just get over this. Their refusal to attempt to see things from my ethnically different perspective is a subtle, stinging form of racism.

Actually, the truly subtle form of racism is the writer's suggestion that white evangelicals mustn't treat blacks a rational adults. We should feel their pain in spite of the facts. We should suspend logic when dealing with their sense of outrage, regardless of whether their outrage has any basis in the reality of the situation at hand.  

The security theater

Thabiti Anyabwile continues posting on the Michael Brown shooting. I have a few brief observations:

i) I'm struck by the studied absence of rational persuasion. He doesn't reason with his readers. He doesn't present evidence in support of his operating assumptions. Instead, he resorts to emotional manipulation to shame white evangelicals into submission. 

ii) I'm struck by the retrograde nature of his complaint. It's like he's trapped in a Jim Crow timewarp. 

His complaint is retrograde in another respect. There are black social commentators who are far more candid about some destructive aspects of contemporary black culture. Stanley Crouch and John McWhorter have criticized the influence of Gangsta rap on the social malformation young black men. Thomas Sowell as written extensively about the deleterious effect of the welfare state on the black community. Likewise, compare Thabati's reaction to the Michael Brown shooting with Shelby Steele's analysis of the Trayvon Martin shooting.  

The sad thing is that Thabati is short-changing the black community. His anachronistic blame-shifting does nothing to resolve social problems in the black community or advance their economic situation. Unfortunately, reactionaries like Thabati are enablers who empower the liberal establishment to use blacks a pawns. The liberal establishment doesn't care about black voters–it only cares about black votes. 

iii) One point I briefly made in my previous post is the impact of black juvenile delinquency on the black business community. This ranges along a continuum. Shop-lifting. Armed robbery. The fact that many consumers won't venture into high-crime areas. Not to mention the economic impact of looting and rioting.

I imagine this is economically devastating to black small businessmen. If Thabiti really cared about the black community, he'd be more concerned about juvenile delinquency and its causes, viz. single motherhood, high school drop-outs. 

iv) One of my concerns is the toxic mix of political correctness with the militarization of the police and the evolving police state. We end up with police protecting criminals from citizens rather than vice versa. For instance, why do officers on the scene (Ferguson) allow the looters to act with virtual impunity? I think the obvious reason is that they are afraid of the political repercussions if they crack down on black looters.
White police officers have a built-in incentive not to shoot black criminals. And the Ferguson fiasco is a classic illustration. 

The police are already intimidated by routine charges of "racial profiling" and "disparate impact." If certain protected classes are practically off-limits to law enforcement (e.g. Muslims, illegal immigrants, black juvenile delinquents), then who's left to pick on? The police will increasingly turn their attention to innocuous white and Asian citizens. The police have so much to lose by cracking down on minority perps, with their special interest groups spoiling for a media circus, that it's politically safer for them to harass law-abiding citizens.

This can begin with petty technical infractions like speed traps or expired license tabs. But it quickly escalates to more drastic infringements on our civil liberties, like domestic drones, random checkpoints, sneak-and-peek searches, stop-and-frisk policies, as well as domestic espionage:

In the security theater, everyone is secure, but no one is safe. 

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

David and Goliath

I'm going to comment on some related statements by Arminian theologian Randal Rauser:

First, every person is informed in their reading of the Bible by moral (and rational) intuitions. Tolstoy believed that witnessing the act of killing another person punitively allowed him to see it was wrong. I agree with him on that. I suspect we would also agree that this moral perception is a God-given truth-producing faculty. You might consider it one of the deliverances of what is classically called "general revelation".
i) There's an elementary difference between claiming that your moral intuitions transcribe general revelation, and proving it. All we're getting from Rauser is his tendentious assertion. It's very convenient to baptize his radical chic social conditioning as "general revelation."
ii) Clearly, Bible writers and their target audience didn't share Rauser's sensibilities. The same holds true for ancient and medieval people generally, as well broad swaths of the modern world. If Rauser's "moral intuitions" map onto general revelation, why aren't his views more widespread in human history? If anything, his perspective represents a tiny, modern, ethnocentric viewpoint. Something you find among certain Western elites. 
Second, as long time readers of my blog would know, I take a Christocentric approach to reading the Bible. I believe that Jesus unveils the illegitimacy of redemptive violence. And that becomes a key principle to read the rest of the Bible.
What about NT depictions of Jesus as a divine warrior (e.g. 2 Thes 1:6-9; Rev 19:11-21)? 
Finally, we need to deal with the facile assumption that the Bible is a revelation something like the Qur'an. It isn't. While I do believe that every word of the Bible is minimally human words that were divinely appropriated, that doesn't mean that the human voice is equivalent to the divine voice.

I agree with him that the Koran isn't revelatory in the same sense as the Bible. That's because Muhammad was a false prophet. The Koran isn't divine revelation at all. 

The Bible typically identifies prophetic words with God's words. That's what distinguishes a true prophet from a false prophet. A true prophet transmits God's message. 

Last week the world gaped in horror at a photo posted to Instagram by Jihadist Khaled Sharrouf. The photo depicts Sharrouf’s seven year old son proudly holding up the decapitated head of a Syrian soldier. The moral judgment was unequivocal. “Appalling!” “Disgusting!” “Evil!”
i) Problem with Rauser's attempted moral equivalence is that he has the hero and the villain backwards. The proper analogy would make Goliath parallel Sharrouf, whereas Rauser implicitly makes David parallel Sarrouf, or his son. 
ii) On a related note, killing, per se, isn't wrong. A particular method of killing, per se, isn't wrong. Who is killing whom for what reason is morally relevant. 
This moral revulsion provides an opportune time to turn to one of the most familiar stories in the Bible, one that has provided fodder for countless Sunday school lessons. As you might have guessed, I speak of David’s defeat of Goliath in 1 Samuel 17.
i) Rauser's always on the look-out for a wedge issue to undermine Christian faith in Biblical revelation. Problem is, Rauser's position isn't consistently Christian or consistently secular. Attacking the Bible would make more sense if he were an atheist (although atheism is morally self-refuting). It makes no sense for Rauser to put Christians on the defensive for believing the Bible. Christianity is a revealed religion. Logically, Rauser's view of Scripture should lead him, not to liberalize his theology, but to drop all pretense of Christianity. 
ii) Let's assume for the sake of argument that David's action was morally wrong. So what? In narrative theology, the reader can't infer that the narrator approves of whatever he narrates. Even if David's action was morally wrong, that doesn't mean 1 Sam 17 is morally defective. The Bible records many events it doesn't condone. Historians do that. Historians report events without endorsing the events they report. 
While we don’t know David’s age, he is described as a “youth” (KJV) or “little more than a boy” (NIV) (v. 42). Both of these are translations of the Hebrew “na`ar” . (Cf. “na’ar,” Expository Dictionary of Bible Words, ed. Stephen Renn (Hendrickson, 2005), p. 176.)
According to the narrative, David already had a track record of killing bears and lions (vv34-37). He had to be strong enough to use primitive weapons to kill major predators. Minimally, that suggests a young adult (at least in his upper teens). 
And this refers to past events. He'd been guarding his father's sheep for several years prior to the encounter with Goliath. 
One can surmise that he was not a diminutive child given that Saul, an individual of formidable size, attempts to dress David in his own tunic (v. 38), not to mention David’s impressive claim to have defeated both lion and bear (v. 36). Regardless, even if David was a formidable young man, he was still likely in his pre-teen or early teen years.
"Regardless"? How is it "still likely" that he was in his pre-teen or early teen years if he could kill lions and bears at close quarters? And he was tall enough that wearing Saul's armor (Saul being the tallest Israelite around) wasn't patently ridiculous. 
So how old was David, exactly? We don’t know, but we can make a ballpark guess. David was the youngest of eight sons, the eldest three of whom had followed their father into battle (vv. 12-14), a fact that suggests the youngest five were not yet of battle age.
i) Why would Jesse risk sending all his adult sons into battle? Isn't three more than enough? What would Jesse have to fall back on if all his sons were killed in battle? 
ii) Presumably, Jesse needs some of his sons around to help run the family business. Keep in mind explicit military exemptions (Deut 20:5-8). There's a distinction between compulsory military service and the minimum age of eligibility.  
iii) V12 says Jesse was an old man. So old that he delegated the responsibilities of pater familias to his eldest son. Cf. D. Tsumura, The First Book of Samuel (Eerdmans 2007), 447. Since ancient Jews usually married young, Jesse probably began fathering kids when he was in his mid-teens. If he was an old man by the time of the account, all his sons could well be grown men. 
So it is likely that David was about 5-6 years older than the son of Khaled Sharrouf. With this in mind, let’s revisit the horror of witnessing Sharrouf’s son carrying the Syrian soldier’s head. Would our moral assessment have changed if the boy had been 12 or 13? Or would we still consider that an act of indefensible barbarism?
Yes, it does make a difference whether a father is exploiting his prepubescent boy, instead of a young adult acting on his own volition. 
And the issue is not merely about the involvement of children.
David wasn't a "child."
In our day and age we generally consider the desecration of corpses (whether of civilians or soldiers) to be morally indefensible. 
In context, I disagree. Rauser is confusing ethics with etiquette. In context, Goliath was shaming the Israelite army. He challenged the enemy to single combat. Champion warfare. 
This is about winning through dishonoring your adversary, as the representative of his armed forces. Dispatching and dishonoring Goliath spares a lot of lives on both sides. Desecrating his body (assuming that was the motive) is a small price to pay to avoid massive bloodshed on both sides. Rauser's moral intuitions are seriously skewed.
And that includes the beheading of corpses whilst treating the head as a trophy.
That assumes Goliath was already dead when David beheaded him. But the Hebrew is ambiguous. It may just as well be the case that Goliath was stunned, and decapitation was the quickest, simplest way of killing him. With an opponent like Goliath, you wouldn't expect David to take any chances. And this was, after all, a fight to the death. 
Moreover, Goliath was heavily armored, whereas his throat was exposed, in his prostrate position. Beheading him may have been the easiest way to finish him off, rather than trying to impale a vital organ. 
This leaves us with some important questions. Does this divergence between our sensibilities and those of the ancient Israelites reflect merely culturally relative differences? If so, then it follows that we might be mistaken to extend a moral censure to the practice in contemporary Syria. But if we insist that the desecration of corpses in this manner is objectively morally wrong how should we think of the practice in ancient Israel?
If we were living in the ANE, we'd have to adapt to ANE warfare. That doesn't mean we'd do whatever heathen warriors were prepared to do. But shaming the Philistine army into retreat is preferable to sacrificing your own troops in an unnecessary battle. It says something about Rauser's "moral intuitions" that he thinks decorum is more important than avoiding gratuitous bloodshed.  

Atheist Absurdities

Models of visionary revelation

1. Some books of the Bible draw heavily on visionary revelation (e.g. Isaiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, Revelation). It's striking to me that scholars who write commentaries on these books rarely spend much time on the psychology of visionary revelation. They discuss genre, symbolism, schools of interpretation, rules of interpretation, yet they rarely explore the experience of visionary revelation, and how that might impact interpretation. 
2. In theory, visionary revelation could employ two different modes of image-processing:
i) Movietheater model
Visionary revelation might be analogous to watching a movie. The viewer is stationary, while the scenery is in motion (or the illusion of motion). Like a movie theater, where you sit still, in front of a screen, watching a series of rapid fire images. One scene after another.
ii) VR model
Visionary revelation might be analogous to a VR program. Unlike watching a movie, this would be an immersive, interactive experience. The scenery is stationary while the observer is in motion (or the illusion of motion). 
This is also analogous to those time-travel dramas where you can dial up a particular date in the past or future, maybe see a preview, step through a portal, and there you are–right in the thick of things.
The moviegoer model is an extension of looking at a still picture. The observer remains outside the picture.
The VR mode is like stepping right into the picture. The observer finds himself inside the picture. 
3. Does Scripture give any indication which of these models is closer to the truth? It's possible that God uses both modalities at different times. 
Visionary revelation includes revelatory dreams. Dreams are immersive, interactive. That would fit with the VR model. Likewise, in Ezk 40-48, the prophet is given a guided tour of the temple complex. He seems to be moving through the temple complex. That, too, would fit the VR model. 
This may be dream-like, where certain details are fuzzy. Perhaps he doesn't describe the temple ceiling, if there is a ceiling, because he does't look up. 
4. In Rev 19-20 we have a battle, followed by the "Millennium," (and the binding of Satan) followed by another battle. Premils regard this as a continuous action.
Some amils, based on recapitulatory parallelism, regard 20 as a new cycle. I agree with amils that Revelation contains recapitulatory parallelism, but I'm not convinced that there's a hard break between 19 and 20. So it's possible that 20 is a continuation of 19.
Amils also draw attention to the parallels between the battle scenes in 19 and 20. Both are literarily indebted to Ezk 38-39. 
Consider a thought-experiment. Suppose we view the battles scenes in 19:11-21 and 20:7-10 as two sides of the same panel, while 20:1-6 is the hinge. If you swing the panel to the right, that displays 19:11-21. If you swing the panel to the left, that displays 20:7-10. 
Which is the front and which is the back? That depends on the direction in which you approach the panel. If you approach the panel from one side, that's the side you're facing. If you approach the panel from the other side, that's the side you're facing. 
In that respect, which battle is before or after the other depends on where you are standing in relation to the panel. The Apocalypse is written in a particular sequence, in part because writing is inherently linear. 
But John's visionary experience may have been more spatial. Simulated locomotion. He moves from scene to scene. The battle scenes in 19:11-21 and 20:7-10 may have similar features because these are two sides of the same panel. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Millard reviews Currid

Spiting themselves

Cases of xenoglossy

Keener gives some ostensible examples of modern xenoglossy:
This sort of supernatural knowledge also appears in an extensive survey of possession reports in traditional China, offered mostly from rural areas over a century ago when these experiences were far more common than they are in urban areas of China today. Informants claimed that some spirits spoke with unusual voices or poetic abilities and noted “northerners speaking the languages of the South, which they did not know.”61 Although most of the study’s informants naturally understood and presumably shaped their reports through the assumptions of their own Christian world view, a range of scholars have continued to find their information useful.62  
61. Voices and poetic abilities: John L. Nevius, Demon Possession and Allied Themes (Old Tappan: Revell, 1894), 46–47, 58 (hereafter, Demon Possession). Nevius (pp. 140–43) defends the reliability of his Chinese informants, interestingly noting on p. 143 that their reports are consistent with those from other cultures and eras. As William M. Ramsay also noted (The Teaching of St. Paul in Terms of the Present Day [2nd ed.; London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1913], 105–6), it was only Nevius’s field experience that convinced him that spirit possession was genuine (Nevius, Possession, ix, 9–13; “informants” quotation from ibid.). The use of allegedly alien dialects also appears in some other reports (Horton, “Types,” 29; Shorter, Witchdoctor, 183). 
62. Cf. the use of various missionary reports in Oesterreich, Possession, 143–46, 213–15, 219–23, 229, 362–64.

This is germane to the cessationist/continuationist debate.  Cessationists typically contend that glossolalia is xenoglossy. But even if that identification is correct (which is disputable), if there are well-attested examples of xenoglossy in post-apostolic times, then that disproves cessationism on its own terms. 
Mind you, I've read cessationists who attempt to evade this by claiming that even if there were instances of modern xenoglossy, that wouldn't be a "gift," but a one-off event. Of course, that tactic renders cessationism empirically unfalsifiable. 
One problem with Keener's documentation in this case is that he summarizes the material rather than giving specific examples. That makes it harder to evaluate the evidence. One would need to look up the references. Since I'm not charismatic, it's not incumbent on me to hunt it down. I'm not investing in proving it. But for Christians who wish to defend modern xenoglossy, it might be a worthwhile exercise. 

The angels of the churches

12 Then I turned to see the voice that was speaking to me, and on turning I saw seven golden lampstands, 13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest…20 As for the mystery of the seven stars that you saw in my right hand, and the seven golden lampstands, the seven stars are the angels of the seven churches, and the seven lampstands are the seven churches.“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: ‘The words of him who holds the seven stars in his right hand, who walks among the seven golden lampstands (Rev 1:12-13,20; 2:1).
These verses raise several related issues: what do the lampstands represent? What do the stars represent? What do the "angels" represent? 
i) What's the basis for the imagery of the "golden lampstands"? And why are there seven of them?
At one level, seven doesn't require any special explanation, since that's a stock feature of John's numerology. It's a generic figure he uses throughout Revelation. 
In another respect that only pushes the question back a step. Why does he use septunarian numerology in the first place? Because it's something he derives from the OT. 
ii) The golden lampstand has its background in the menorah, which occupied the sanctuary of the tabernacle. It was made of pure gold. It was a seven-branched candelabra. 
At the very least, there's an opportune coincidence between septunarian configuration of the menorah and John's numerology in 1:12. It's very convenient for John that this was available to him. 
But it's a bit more than that. For OT "sevens" like this are what inspired his septunarian numerology in general. His use of sevens throughout Revelation is an extension of the OT exemplars. 
iii) Seeing Jesus amidst the menorah suggests that John saw Jesus in heaven. In the vision, Jesus occupies a heavenly tabernacle. The model of the earthly replica. That would be consistent with the tabernacle in Exodus, which was inspired by the vision of a heavenly archetype. 
iv) What about the stars? Both stars and the menorah are luminaries. 
Moreover, the menorah was likely designed to evoke the stellar luminaries in Gen 1:14-18. The menorah was to the tabernacle what the sun, moon, and stars are to the cosmos. "Interior lighting" to illuminate the tabernacle, which is a microcosm of the world at large. 
v) What about the "angels"? On one interpretation, this refers to actual angels. And that would be consistent with John's general usage. That's what "angels" typically are in Revelation.
There is, however, a prima facie problem with that identification. In what sense is Christ dictating letters to angels? How does that convey his message to the churches? Doesn't seem very practical. Suppose an angel writes what he says. Then what? How does that get in the hands of the churches? Does the angel appear to Christians in church and recite the contents of the letter?
On the face of it, this interpretation makes little sense. Often, commentators don't feel the need to offer workable interpretations. But if we take the Bible seriously, it ought to make sense.
Commentators float the notion of patron angels or guardian angels in charge of churches. But what does that mean? How do angels interact with churches under their charge? How's the message which Jesus dictates to angels transmitted to churches? Why is Jesus addressing his message to angels when Christians in the seven churches are the target audience? Moreover, it is clearly John, not angels, who is writing this down. 
I'll revisit the angelic interpretation momentarily.  
vi) Another interpretation is that this refers to a delegation from the seven churches. They visit John on Patmos. 
That's more practical. They could function as scribes or letter couriers. Take the message back to their respective churches. 
Yet there are problems with that identification. For one thing, the text doesn't actually say that or imply that. It's a more specific interpretation than the text enunciates. At best, that's consistent with the text. But it's underdetermined by the text.  
There's another problem: assuming that John was a political prisoner, why would his Roman captors give him that kind of access to his followers? Why would they allow him to direct operations from Patmos? Wouldn't that defeat the purpose of his banishment? If they thought he was a politically subversive figure, why would they permit him to communicate with his followers? If he was up to no good (in their view), that would enable him to coordinate seditious activities.
vii) Let's reconsider the angelic interpretation. One problem with the usual angelic identification is the failure of commentators to distinguish between what happens inside the vision and what happens outside the vision. If the "angels" in Rev 1-3 refer to external agents, to angels in the real world, then it's harder to see why Christ would dictate his letters to them. Harder to see how they'd interact with the churches of Asia Minor. 
If, however, the "angels" in Rev 1-3 are already characters within the visionary narrative, then it needn't be realistic. Their function, as messengers of Christ, would be analogous to the angelic herald in 14:6. We need to distinguish between the real world and the imaginative world of the story. Dictating letters to angels is a literary device. In reality, John is the scribe. 
viii) I suppose the reason commentators overlook this explanation is because they view the seven churches as real 1C churches, whereas the narrative proper only takes off at chap 4. On this view, chaps 1-3 are historical whereas chaps 4-22 are fictional. 
Yet it's arguable that the vision begins at 1:9, and continues thereafter. 2-3 don't interrupt the vision. Rather, they, too, are part of the vision. 
It is, of course, true that the seven churches refer to actual churches. However, the visions in Revelation generally have real-world analogues. They may not be a specific as 2-3, but they represent the kinds of things that happen in real life. 
Conversely, although the churches in 2-3 occupy a particular geography and timeframe, they also serve an exemplary or emblematic function. For better or worse, local churches throughout history exemplify some of these characteristics. When a modern Christian reads 2-3, he should compare and contrast the state of the church in his own time and place with these ancient churches. 

Monday, August 18, 2014


I'm going to venture a few comments on the Ferguson debacle. It's now become a three-ring circus with the ambulance chasers (Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson) exploiting the situation.
i) I haven't followed the coverage that closely. There are thousands of homicides in the US every year. There's no reason I should be transfixed by this particular homicide. 
ii) In general, I have a negative view of our current law enforcement culture. I'll say more about that under #7.
iii) In my observation, black Americans are the only ethnic group that routinely riots in situations like this. Whites, Latinos, and Asian Americans don't normally riot in situations like this. 
iv) If protesters were really that concerned about dead black teenagers, why aren't they protesting the homicide rate in Chicago? 
v) Apropos (iv), most big cities have been run by Democrats for decades. Why do most blacks keep voting for Democrats if they distrust the law enforcement culture in their city? 
vi) I wonder how many black businessmen there are in Ferguson. How is the black business community impacted by crime? 
vii) Traditionally, conservatives are law-and-order types who support the police, although libertarians and Tea Partiers are changing that. A common criticism of the Ferguson police dept. response is that this epitomizes the "militarization" of the police. Now, I've read some defenses of the police. Here are some related defenses:
The Ferguson police dept. didn't switch to SWAT team tactics until the riots began. Donning riot gear is a natural response to rioting. 
When the criminal element upgrades its firepower, police must upgrade their firepower, lest they be outgunned.
SWAT team tactics seem inappropriate in low crimes areas. But in high crime areas, we'd be upset if the police weren't more aggressive about cracking down on crime and protecting ordinary citizens.
I think these defenses are valid in theory. But in practice, that's not how it works out. For instance, from what I've read, Ferguson police basically let looters ransack local businesses with impunity. Ferguson police use their SWAT team resources, not to restrain the criminal element, but to restraint protestors, ordinary citizens, and businessmen attempting to protect their establishments.
And that's not an isolated incident. Take cities with gun bans and a slow response time from the police. If a homeowner shoots an intruder, it's the homeowner who's at risk of being arrested on a weapons charge. 
What happens is that police end up protecting criminals from law-abiding citizens rather than protecting law-abiding citizens from criminals. That's because the police have more to fear from the criminal element, or special interest groups, than they have from ordinary citizens. So it's a lot easier for the police to harass ordinary citizens who pose no threat to them. Not only can you not count on the police to defend you, your home, or your business, you are likely to get into trouble if you defend yourself, your home, or your business. 
Now I'm going to comment on some statements by Thabiti Anyabwile: 
So I’m watching Ferguson and I’m thinking about Titus. And I’m thinking about the long list of African-American men shot to death for no good reason. And I’m mad as hell.
That epitomizes the problem. Thabiti is locating this event within a preexisting narrative. Instead of judging the event on its own terms, he prejudges the event. It assumes it must part of a pattern. He superimposes that preexisting narrative on the event. 
What I care about is the dignity and life-destroying devaluing of his life because in this country he is “black.” And the absurdity of it all is that he’s not “black” in every country. Only his own. In Cayman, he was Titus. In Cayman, he was free to be Titus. In the States, he’s “a little black boy” long before he’s “Titus.” And that calculation, the “racial” attribution that happens at the speed of sight, is deadly. It’s deadly.
What's ironic about this complaint is that Thabiti clearly singling out the race of Michael Brown. He seems to assume the shooting was racially motivated. He accuses other people of (allegedly) seeing the issue through a racial prism, yet he's oblivious to the fact that this is apparently the first thing and the most important thing he thinks of in cases like this: the dead teenager was black. 
Deadlier still are the many persons who seem not to recognize it. Who carry on without pause, who empathize with the shooter rather than the shot, who express concern for the family of the living but little to no regard for the family of the deceased, who talk of obeying lawful authority while witnessing the unlawful use of authority, who keep resetting the conversation to call into question the teenage victim while granting the benefit of the doubt to the grown up perpetrator.
Speaking for myself, I'm not giving the policeman the benefit of the doubt or Michael Brown the benefit of the doubt. I don't know the relevant facts. I don't know if the relevant facts will ever come to light. 

The menorah

3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day. 
14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night. And let them be for signs and for seasons, and for days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light upon the earth.” And it was so. 16 And God made the two great lights—the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars. 17 And God set them in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth, 18 to rule over the day and over the night, and to separate the light from the darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day. 
31 “You shall make a lampstand of pure gold. The lampstand shall be made of hammered work: its base, its stem, its cups, its calyxes, and its flowers shall be of one piece with it. 32 And there shall be six branches going out of its sides, three branches of the lampstand out of one side of it and three branches of the lampstand out of the other side of it; 33 three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on one branch, and three cups made like almond blossoms, each with calyx and flower, on the other branch—so for the six branches going out of the lampstand. 34 And on the lampstand itself there shall be four cups made like almond blossoms, with their calyxes and flowers, 35 and a calyx of one piece with it under each pair of the six branches going out from the lampstand. 36 Their calyxes and their branches shall be of one piece with it, the whole of it a single piece of hammered work of pure gold. 37 You shall make seven lamps for it. And the lamps shall be set up so as to give light on the space in front of it (Exod 25:31-37). 
20 “You shall command the people of Israel that they bring to you pure beaten olive oil for the light, that a lamp may regularly be set up to burn. 21 In the tent of meeting, outside the veil that is before the testimony, Aaron and his sons shall tend it from evening to morning before the Lord. It shall be a statute forever to be observed throughout their generations by the people of Israel (Exod 27:20-21).

i) I suspect the first thing most modern readers think about when they read Gen 1 is how it comports with science. That's unfortunate. When reading an ancient text, we should try, as best we can, to clear our minds of modern preconceptions and consider what it would have meant to the original audience. What's significant to a modern reader may often be insignificant to the original audience, or vice versa. 
I'm not saying we should ignore the relevance of Gen 1 to scientific debates. Just that that should not be driving our interpretation. 
ii) One leading motif in Gen 1 is the recurrent emphasis on light, as well as the alternation between daylight and darkness. God's first creative command results in light. 
It's easy for modern readers to lose sight of the significance of light and dark, day and night, in Gen 1. The advent of electrical lighting has radically changed our dependence on natural light sources. 
At the same time, it isn't that hard to turn back the clock. If you go camping in the desert or the woods, you rise at sunrise. At night you only have a campfire for light. 
iii) Unlike ordinary firelight, sunlight is unusual for its constancy. It doesn't flicker. Doesn't very in its intensity. Doesn't require constant refueling. 
Apart from sunlight and occasional moonlight (on a full moon), ancient Israelites were dependent on firelight for illumination. Fire serves other functions as well. For cooking. For keeping predators at bay. 
iv) The Solomonic temple was more magnificent than the tabernacle. Yet in one respect, the tabernacle was more impressive. For the tabernacle was translucent. The tabernacle was essentially a series of curtains, enclosing and screening the sacred furniture. 
The Pentateuch was originally written for the Exodus generation. As one commentator (Stuart) notes, the menorah made the tabernacle the brightest object at night in the Hebrew encampment. It as like a symbolic solar system. The illuminated tabernacle, like the sun, surrounded by the tents of the Israelites. 
v) In what passes for modern scholarship, it's a cliche to think Bible writers viewed the divisions of space in vertical terms. The three-story universe. 
Yet the emphasis in the OT is not on vertical space, but horizontal space. Concentrical spacial divisions representing degrees of holiness. Eretz-Israel was holy in relation to the world outside Eretz-Israel. The tabernacle was holy in relation to the encampment. The sanctuary was holy in relation to the outer courtyard. The inner sanctum was holy in relation to the sanctuary. Likewise, separation is a recurring theme in Gen 1. 
vi) The menorah had a practical function. It illuminated the work space within the tabernacle. But over and above its utilitarian function was the symbolism. 
The flame was supplied by olive oil. That's the highest grade of oil, because it burns brightest with the least smoke. The menorah was kept alight from dusk to dawn.
It symbolized the presence of God. The menorah was an artificial Shekinah. If the Shekinah was a preternatural emblem of God's presence (a phosphorescent theophany), the menorah was a natural emblem of God's presence. The Shekinah filled the tabernacle to dedicate the tabernacle (Exod 40;34-38). But most of the time the Shekinah was presumably absent. The light from the menorah was reminiscent of the Shekinah. 
There's a sense in which the Shekinah (in Exodus) is to sunlight (in Gen 1) as the menorah is to sunlight. A twofold parallel. 
vii) It's probably not coincidental that the menorah was a seven-branched candelabra. The seven lights of the menorah correspond to the seven days (i.e. daylights) of Gen 1. In Gen 1, days are measured by daylight and darkness. 
Likewise, the tabernacle was assembled on Rosh Hashanah (Exod 40:1,17). The timing harkens back to Gen 1. A new beginning: the creation of the world and the Jewish New Year.   

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The costly cult of Richard Dawkins

Paul Helm on theistic evolution

Going native

There's a tension in traditional anthropology, especially concerning the study of religion. Western anthropologists are secular. So they remain detached observers rather than participants. Diffident or disapproving outsiders. Yet this judgmental attitude is at odds with their cultural relativism.

Edith Turner is a noted anthropologist. Unlike the typical anthropologist, she crossed over. Frankly, it's terrifying to see a woman give herself over to the dark side, by embracing witchcraft. At the same time, this does afford an independent witness to the reality of occult forces.

One thing that's unclear to me when she refers to supernatural experiences among the Eskimo is whether she's describing Christian Eskimos, folk medicine, or a syncretistic amalgam of Christian theology and indigenous paganism. Modern Eskimos aren't like Eskimos from 500 years ago. Missionaries brought the Gospel to Alaska. There are churches in Alaska. You can watch televangelists. So it would be useful to see a more discriminating analysis.

In the past in anthropology, if a researcher "went native," it doomed him academically. My husband, Victor Turner, and I had this dictum at the back of our minds when we spent two and a half years among the Ndembu of Zambia in the fifties.

All right, "our" people believed in spirits, but that was a matter of their different world, not ours. Their ideas were strange and a little disturbing. Yet somehow we were on the safe side of the White divide and were free merely to study the beliefs. This is how we thought. Little knowing it, we denied the people's equality with ours, their "coevalness," their common humanity as that humanity extended itself into the spirit world.

Try out that spirit world ourselves? No way!

But at intervals, that world insisted it was really there. For instance, in the Chihamba ritual at the end of a period of ordeal, a strong wave of curative energy hit us. We had been participating as fully as we knew how, thus opening ourselves to whatever entities that were about. In another ritual, for fertility, the delight of dancing in the moonlight hit me vividly, and I began to learn something about the hypnotic effect of singing and hearing the drums.

Much later, Vic and I witnessed a curious event in New York City in 1980, while running a workshop at the New York University Department of Performance Studies, which was attended by performance and anthropology students. With the help of the participants, we were trying out rituals as actual performances with the intention of creating a new educational technique.

We enacted the Umbanda trance session, which we had observed and studied in one of the slums of Rio de Janeiro. The students duly followed our directions and also accompanied the rites with bongo drumming and songs addressed to the Yoruba gods. During the ritual, a female student actually went into a trance, right there in New York University. We brought her 'round with our African rattle, rather impressed with the way this ritual worked even out of context. The next day, the student told us that she had gone home that night and correctly predicted the score of a crucial football game, impressing us even further.

Since then, I have taken note of the effects of trance and discovered for myself the three now obvious regularities: frequent, nonempirical cures; clairvoyance, which includes finding lost people or objects, divination, prediction, or forms of wisdom speaking; and satisfaction or joy—these three effects repeating, almost like a covenant.

What spirit events took place in my own experience?

One of them happened like this. In 1985, I was due for a visit to Zambia. Before going, I decided to come closer than on previous occasions to the Africans' own experience, whatever that was—I did not know what they experienced. So it eventuated, I did come closer.

My research was developing into the study of a twice-repeated healing ritual. To my surprise, the healing of the second patient culminated in my sighting a spirit form. In a book entitled Experiencing Ritual1, I describe exactly how this curative ritual reached its climax, including how I myself was involved in it; how the traditional doctor bent down amid the singing and drumming to extract the harmful spirit; and how I saw with my own eyes a large, gray blob of something like plasma emerge from the sick woman's back.

Then I knew the Africans were right. There is spirit stuff. There is spirit affliction; it is not a matter of metaphor and symbol, or even psychology. And I began to see how anthropologists have perpetuated an endless series of put-downs about the many spirit events in which they participated - "participated" in a kindly pretense. They might have obtained valuable material, but they have been operating with the wrong paradigm, that of the positivists' denial.


Later, in 1987, when I went to northern Alaska to conduct research on the healing methods of Inupiat Eskimos, I similarly found myself swamped with stories of strange events, miracles, rescues, healings by telephone hundreds of miles away, visions of God, and many other manifestations. It was by these things that the people lived. Their ears were pricked up for them, as it were. I spent a year in the village acting as a kind of pseudo auntie, listening to, and believing, the stories. And naturally, those things happened to me about as frequently as they did to them.


Ernie often accused me of not believing in these manifestations, but I protested that I did. How could I help it? Ernie usually had a bad time from Whites, who labeled his experiences "magical beliefs." But by then, I myself was within the circle of regular Eskimo society and experienced such events from time to time. I am now learning that studying such a mentality from inside is a legitimate and valuable kind of anthropology that is accessible if the anthropologist takes that "fatal" step toward "going native."


But we eventually have to face the issue head on and ask, "What are spirits?" And I continue with the thorny question, "What of the great diversity of ideas about them throughout the world? How is a student of the anthropology of consciousness, who participates during fieldwork, expected to regard all the conflicting spirit systems in different cultures? Is there not a fatal lack of logic inherent in this diversity?"

The reply: "Is this kind of subject matter logical anyway?" We also need to ask, "Have we the right to force it into logical frameworks?"

Moreover, there is disagreement about terms. "Spirits" are recognized in most cultures. Native Americans refer to something in addition called "power." "Energy," Ki or C'hi, is known in Japan and China, and has been adopted by Western healers.

"Energy" was not the right word for the blob that I saw coming out the back of a Ndembu woman; it was a miserable object, purely bad, without any energy at all, and much more akin to a restless ghost. One thinks of energy as formless, but when I "saw" in the shamanic mode those internal organs, the organs were not "energy." They had form and definition. When I saw the face of my Eskimo friend Tigluk on a mask, as I saw it in a waking dream, and then saw Tigluk himself by luck a few minutes afterward, the mask face was not "energy," laughing there. It was not in the least abstract.

The old-fashioned term, "spirit manifestation," is much closer. These manifestations are the deliberate visitations of discernable forms that have the conscious intent to communicate, to claim importance in our lives. As for "energy" itself, I have indeed sensed something very much like electrical energy when submitting to the healing passes of women adepts in a mass meeting of Spiritists in Brazil.


Please help Christians help Christians in northern Iraq

Please consider making a donation to this organization. This web page is operated by my pastor’s brother-in-law. Here’s a little bit about what they are doing, and how they are using the funding to help displaced Christians in Northern Iraq:

Update, Friday Aug 15

“We are mostly working with refugee families staying in homes, schools, churches and parks, - while the UN and local government are helping those in the camps. Today our team visited a school housing 530 people. We handed out 80 kilos of baby milk formula, diapers and clothes for ladies and kids.”

“Our Lord is great. His merciful hand heals sorrow and pain. We thank you for your prayers, generosity and passion.”

August 8, 2014

“Churches in Erbil are working very hard to stand with and support thousands of displaced Christians…” They need our help. We have ways that you can join with them and us in this effort.

Last night the US airstrikes helped, but it remains uncertain if that will be enough to keep ISIS from invading Erbil or other Kurdish cities. All of the main cities are beginning to fill up with refugees: Christian, Yezidi, and Muslim.

Our local partners are working to provide food, water, bedding, shelter, medical care, and kindness. Camps are under construction to provide shelter to families who have been living in the streets, sleeping wherever there is grass or shade.

This morning, one of our local partners reports: “Church buildings (all denominations) and other facilities that have been used as shelters are overcrowded with families. You cannot imagine these families’ poor conditions, food, water, and other basic supplies like mattresses and clothes are desperately needed despite all the efforts from different Governmental and Nongovernmental aid. “We think there will be a food crisis very soon. Please, if there is any possibility of getting any donation to support them with food and water, now is the time for it.”

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