Archive for the ‘religion’ Category

Tim Keller’s Dec. 19 New Yorker Article: Snobbery and Cowardice

January 4th, 2018 No comments

I wrote this for Warhorn media yesterday. I think even someone who’s never heard of Tim Keller and has no interest in religious disputes would find it informative and entertaining. I am very hard on Pastor Keller, because I think he needs the pressure to do what he knows is right, and polemic is the right vehicle for that. Comments welcomed. Warhorn doesn’t do comments, so you’ll have to come back here.


What makes Tim Keller uncomfortable…


An Agapao Concordance (Love, Esteem)

September 15th, 2013 No comments

I am at work for a paper to present at the February 2014 Agape and Law conference at Pepperdine. A first step is that I’ve put together an Agape concordance for the New Testament—a list of all the verses that contain some form of “agapao”.
The file is at: agape-concordance.original

Categories: a.research, Bible Tags:

How Denominations See Each Other

September 2nd, 2013 No comments

I forget where I found this, but it’s pretty accurate.

How denominations see each other

Categories: humor, religion Tags:

Homeschooling Lessons and “Does God Use Sound When He Speaks to Prophets?”

August 13th, 2013 1 comment

Homeschooling children sure does educate the teacher. Already I’ve learned:
1. How to define “median” accurately.
2. What “firmament” means. Read more…

Categories: Bible, theology Tags:

Translating Matthew 11: Violence and the Windshaken Reed

August 12th, 2013 No comments

Pastor Bayly gave a good sermon yesterday. He showed how Matthew 11 is a unified argument, its points linked. One thing he did was to note that Matthew 11 says that John the Baptist and others like him seize the kingdom of God violently (though not with physical violence, as many Jews expected). In the King James Version, Matthew 11:12 says:

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”

Read more…

Categories: Bible, translation Tags:

Why Are the Books of the Bible Written So As To Conceal their Writers’ Identities?

July 28th, 2013 No comments

I’ve started reading Meir Sternberg’s The Poetics of Biblical Narrative after hearing about it from Professor Atwood shortly before he left for Mongolia. It’s good. In chapter 2, he shows how similarly an ancient Rabbi and a modern Bible scholar reason in trying to establish authorship. Who wrote II Samuel? Read more…

Corporations and Religious Freedom

July 27th, 2013 No comments

Re: “Skepticism About the Third Circuit’s Rejection of Organizational Free Exercise Claims,” Will Baude, Volokh Conspiracy.

Am I correct in thinking that a for-profit sole proprietorship has religious freedom? In that case, surely a partnership does. And why not a corporation, particularly if it is 100% owned by one individual? Or is it that in each case, it is the individual as owner who must assert his rights?

The real question seems to me to be the fact question of whether the religious practice is in the interest of the stockholders. This means whether they would support it if they could, or whether it is an unjustified perk of the Board or executives. That is the same hard question that comes up with whether a corporation’s charitable donations or homosexuality policies are OK. Thus, the corporation should be allowed to have a religious practices policy, protected by the usual religious freedom rights, but subject to derivative suits by shareholders in the usual way (which means most suits lose).

“A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ” = “Another Chance to Condemn Conservatives as Secret Child Molesters”

July 24th, 2013 7 comments

What an evil document is “A Public Statement Concerning Sexual Abuse in the Church of Jesus Christ”! It pretends to be a confession, but it actually is a condemnation of other people. But then the signers don’t dare make any specific accusations. They make general accusations that are slanderous, while helping to protect sin by careful lack of specifics. The Baylyblog does a good job of discussing the Statement and talking about what churches really ought to be doing about sexual abuse, but there’s more to be said. Here are a couple of notable sentences from the Statement:

“Recent allegations of sexual abuse and cover-up within a well known international ministry and subsequent public statements by several evangelical leaders have angered and distressed many, both inside and outside of the Church. These events expose the troubling reality that, far too often, the Church’s instincts are no different than from those of many other institutions, responding to such allegations by moving to protect her structures rather than her children….Institutions ranging from the Catholic Church, various Protestant churches and missionary organizations, Penn State, Yeshiva University High School, the Boy Scouts, and all branches of our military have been rocked by allegations of abuse and of complicity in silencing the victims.”

Read more…

Categories: Ecclesiology, liberals, religion, writing Tags:

Idol Worship in Modern America

July 19th, 2013 No comments


It would be OK, perhaps, if we sang the last verse:

O, thus be it ever when freemen shall stand,
Between their lov’d homes and the war’s desolation;
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the heav’n-rescued land
Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserv’d us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

I wrote an essay on this, “Should everyone put their hand on their chest, stand, and sing the national anthem while facing the flag at the sporting events of Christian schools?” An excerpt:

We Protestants feel very self-satisfied about images. Foolish Roman Catholics fall into idolatry, and the Jews were so foolish that the Bible had to give more attention to idolatry than to any other sin, but we are too modern for that to be a danger. Read more…

Categories: religion, Roman Catholicism Tags:

God before Country: Placement of the “Christian Flag”

July 19th, 2013 No comments



“We are used to putting government above God. We are so used to it that we don’t even realize it. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9), and “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes: but the LORD pondereth the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2). We are careful about obeying the government. We are worse at obeying God.”

That’s an excerpt from an essay I wrote, “Should the “Christian flag” be flown below the U.S. flag on the pole in front of a Christian school?” The images are from here and here.

Categories: authority, flag burning, religion Tags:

Should Jehovah’s Witness parents have the right to refuse a blood transfusion for their daughter even though the daughter will die as a result?

July 11th, 2013 No comments

An interesting question inspired by a post at Volokh Conspiracy: “Should Jehovah’s Witness parents have the right to refuse a blood transfusion for their daughter even though the daughter will die as a result?” Let us suppose that the child is 5 years old and agrees with her parent (a child who disagrees is a separate case). Let us also suppose that we believe the parents would themselves be willing to die in place of refusing a blood transfusion.

It seems the answer in most or all states is No.

Categories: authority, children, civil rights, religion, sin Tags:

The Christian View of the Income Tax: Theonomist vs. Liberal

June 19th, 2013 2 comments

Gary North, noted “Christian Reconstructionist” has just published a scholarly rebuttal to a tax article by liberal Christian Susan Hamill (see here from Taxprof). This is cute, and I am glad it got published. It’s an example of how policy scholarship does have to depend on underlying ethical principles, and religious ones are just as much in need of good scholarship as atheistic ones. Read more…

Categories: law, religion, taxes Tags:

The Just Price

December 19th, 2009 No comments

Suppose I am the only person who can sell a widget to John Doe. It costs me $10 to sell it to him, including the cost of my time and a standard profit rate. He would pay up to $30 for it, if he had to. What price am I justified in charging, if I can make a take-it-or-leave-it offer?

Note that I am leaving John Doe better off than if he never met me even if I charge him $29.

Categories: ethics, price theory, religion Tags:

Christmas, Saturnalia, and Sol Invictus

December 11th, 2009 No comments

I’ve found another instance where consensus scholarship is heavily flawed. I’d always heard that Christmas Day was on December 25 because nobody knows exactly when Jesus was born and that is the date of pagan Roman festival that Christians wanted to supplant. Nope.

The big problem is that Saturnalia was December 17-23, the winter solstice is December 21, there was no traditional Roman holiday on December 25, and the evidence that Emperor Aurelian’s new quadrennial festival of Sol Invictus, first celebrated in 274, was on December 25 is weak, dating from 80 years later. From Wikipedia:

There is no record of celebrating Sol on December 25th prior to CE 354/362. Hijmans lists the known festivals of Sol as August 8 and/or 9, August 28, and December 11. There are no sources that indicate on which day Aurelian inaugurated his temple and held the first games for Sol, but we do know that these games were held every four years from CE 274 onwards. This means that they were presumably held in CE 354, a year for which perchance a Roman calendar, the Chronography of 354 (or calendar of Filocalus), has survived. This calendar lists a festival for Sol and Luna on August 28th, Ludi Solis (games for Sol) for October 19th-22nd, and a Natalis Invicti (birthday of the invincible one) on December 25th.

Thus, Christmas is not like Reformation Day, an October 31 celebration chosen to substitute for Halloween, or like Hannukah. If it were, it would have been chosen to be December 17 or December 21. I have often read that December 25 was chosen because it is clear by then that days are getting longer, after the shortest day on December 21. How idiotic. That argument could be used for any day between December 22 and June 21. It certainly is not the case that the ancients didn’t know that December 21 was the shortest day and had to wait a few days to make sure. Even the people at Stonehenge knew about the winter solstice. I suppose Aurelian chose December 25, if he did choose that date, so as to avoid conflicting with Saturnalia. It’s also possible he did choose December 25, and picked it *because it was a Christian holiday*. He was no friend of Christians, and heavily promoted sun worship. See this:

A. Mellinus writes, “Aurelian was a stern, cruel, and bloodthirsty Emperor by nature, and although at first he had a good opinion of the Christians, he nevertheless afterwards became averse to, and estranged from them: and having, undoubtedly, by some talebearers, been instigated against the Christians, he allowed himself to be seduced so far, as to raise the ninth general persecution of the Roman monarchy against them, which persecution .he, however, did not carry out. For at the very moment in which the decrees written against the Christians, were laid before him by his secretary, that he might sign them, and when he was about to take the pen in hand, the hand of God suddenly touched him, smiting his hand with lameness, and thus preventing him in his purpose, so that he could not sign them.” First book, fol. 87, col. 3; from hopisc. Victor. Eus., lib. 7. Post. Literal, Aug. de Civit. Dei., lib. 18, cap. 52. Oral.. lib. 7, cap. 16. Theodoret. Hilt., lib. 4, cap. 17.

To be sure, as is well described in “How December 25 Became Christmas”
by Andrew McGowan we have no good evidence on how December 25 was established as Christmas Day (or January 6 for the Greeks). He shows that it is much more plausible that December 25 and January 6 were chosen because they are 9 months after March 25 or April 6, the dates (for the two groups) of the Crucifixion. How people came to think that Jesus had to be conceived on the day he died remains unclear. But this seems to be what happened.

Categories: christmas, consensus, history, religion Tags:

The Huckabee Pardons and Methodism

December 2nd, 2009 No comments

Joe Carter has an excellent article on the Huckabee pardons at First Things. He reviewed them as a researcher for the Huckabee campaign. His article is sympathetic, but it casts serious doubt on Huckabee’s judgement.

After reviewing hundreds of cases and interviewing numerous people involved in the process, I concluded to my own satisfaction that the governor’s actions and judgment were generally defensible. Yet there remained about a half-dozen situations in which even after reviewing all of the information I was unpersuaded that justice had been served. Although I was sympathetic with some of the justifications offered for making the decisions, I found them inadequate for a number of reasons….

For instance, the politically prudent tactic would have been to simply refuse to grant any leniency—ever. Other governors with their sights set on higher offices had learned that doing nothing—even to correct obvious instances of injustice—was unlikely to cause any long-term political damage. Keeping an innocent man in prison is less harmful to an ambitious politician than freeing someone who may commit other crimes.

Huckabee would certainly discover this political reality the hard way. Initially, I chalked it up solely to extraordinary political courage. Later, I tempered this view when I realized that this courage was mixed with a large dose of cluelessness. The governor seemed genuinely surprised that he was held responsible for the criminal acts committed by those whose sentences he had commuted as governor. It was as if he believed that simply having noble intentions and a willingness to make tough decisions would provide political cover. The notion that he should be accountable for future crimes committed by these men seemed as foreign to him as the idea that he should refuse all leniency. …

Judging from the records, the governor also seemed to put a lot of weight on conversion stories—a common trait among evangelicals, who believe the gospel is sufficient for restoration and redemption of character.

Carter quotes someone else as saying

What Huckabee misjudged is his ability to judge the character of a convicted murderer and rapists, a lapse out of a character for a pastor who believes in the sinful nature of an — or a lapse in character for a pastor who believes in redemption.

Here’s my comment

Very astute. We evangelicals are suckers for redemption stories. It is good that we believe in miracles. The problem is that the dominant belief in America is no longer the Puritan Total Depravity but the Methodist Moral Perfectibility, even though (or perhaps *because*) the pastors don’t teach theology to their flocks. Thus, we have the idea that church people don’t sin— at least not most church people— reinforced by nobody wanting to admit that they sin. Just one step further, and we have the idea that somebody who has converted will stop sinning.

And of course we’re rather gullible too, easily satisfied with words. We trust someone who says he’s changed and become a slave of Jesus even if he’s living with his girlfriend, shirking on child-support payments to his ex-wife, and selling pornography at the gas station where he works. It isn’t considered polite to question whether someone else’s faith is true.

Categories: Huckabee, law, pardons, religion, thinking Tags:

Godless Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations

November 28th, 2009 No comments

Here’s a comment I posted at the Baylyblog, on the subject of Obama’s godless Thanksgiving Proclamation:

I’m glad Threegirldad checked previous proclamations. He’s right that Ford 1975 and Carter 1978 omit God.

Carter 1977 and 1979 carefully talk about other people giving thanks to God without doing so directly in the Proclamation (like Obama 2009, which does quote George Washington thanking God). Carter 1980 does thank God (“As we pause on Thanksgiving to offer thanks to God…”) Maybe losing the election earlier that month chastened our born-again President.

He’s wrong on Nixon 1969, though:
“Yet Lincoln knew that the act of thanksgiving should not be limited to time of peace and serenity. He knew that it is precisely at those times of hardship when men most need to recognize that the Source of all good constantly bestows His blessings on mankind.”

Ford 1975 has quite a modern ring:
“On the eve of our 200th year, Thanksgiving Day should be a day of special reflection upon the qualities of heart, mind and character of the men and women who founded and built our great Nation. Let us join in giving thanks for our cultural pluralism. Let us celebrate our diversity and the great strengths that have come from sharing our traditions, our ideas, our resources, our hopes and our dreams.”

Ford 1974 is more traditional:
“It is a time when the differences of a diverse people are forgotten and all Americans join in giving thanks to God for the blessings we share – the blessings of freedom, opportunity and abundance that make America so unique.”

Ford 1976 is actually the most God-laden Proclamation I’ve seen. Maybe almost losing the primaries to Reagan and then losing the election to Carter improved his focus (and got him to fire some liberal speechwriters):

“Traditionally, Americans have set aside a special day to express their gratitude to the Almighty for the blessings of liberty, peace and plenty that have been bestowed upon a grateful Nation.
The early settlers of this land possessed an unconquerable spirit and a reliance on Divine Providence that remains a part of the American character. That reliance, coupled with a belief in ourselves and a love of individual freedom, has brought this nation through two centuries of progress and kept us strong.
As we cross the threshold into our third century as a sovereign and independent Nation, it is especially appropriate that we reaffirm our trust in Him and express our gratitude for the unity, freedom and renewed sense of national pride we enjoy today.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, GERALD R. FORD, President of the United States of America, in accord with Section 6103 of Title 5 of the United States Code, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 25, 1976, as a day of national thanksgiving. I call upon all Americans to join on that day with their friends and families in homes and places of worship throughout the land to offer thanks for the blessings we enjoy.

Let each of us resolve this Thanksgiving Day to make the coming year one in which our every deed will reflect our constant gratitude to God. Let us set a standard of honor, justice, and charity against which all the years of our third century may be measured.

Let us make this Thanksgiving a truly special one.

Categories: religion, Thanskgiving, writing Tags:

Teaching Sheriffs the Bible

November 21st, 2009 No comments

From the Baylyblog comes a story about demonstrators at the Planned Parenthood abortion clinic in Bloomington:

For the past year or so Ginger and I have been reading Scripture in an orderly fashion down at Planned Parenthood. Due to various constraints we end up reading Scripture mostly to the escorts and the pro-abortion sheriff who are there every week.

We always read Romans 1 & John 3, alternately. In addition, Ginger had the idea to start reading a different chapter each week so as to finish whole books. Our goal, of course, is to ensure that these people hear God’s Special Revelation each week but we hardly dared hope that our goal of forcing them to know Scripture would really work.

I wasn’t there today but as Ginger was reading Romans 1, she had to cough and during her pause the sheriff, Todd, finished her sentence with mockery, “and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error.” Then he realized what he did and looked annoyed with himself. Ginger smiled and thanked him for “hiding Scripture in his heart.”

Here’s Romans 1:

1 Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated unto the gospel of God, 2 (Which he had promised afore by his prophets in the holy scriptures,) 3 Concerning his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, which was made of the seed of David according to the flesh; 4 And declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead: 5 By whom we have received grace and apostleship, for obedience to the faith among all nations, for his name: 6 Among whom are ye also the called of Jesus Christ: 7 To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world. 9 For God is my witness, whom I serve with F3 my spirit in the gospel of his Son, that without ceasing I make mention of you always in my prayers; 10 Making request, if by any means now at length I might have a prosperous journey by the will of God to come unto you. 11 For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end ye may be established; 12 That is, that I may be comforted together with you by the mutual faith both of you and me. 13 Now I would not have you ignorant, brethren, that oftentimes I purposed to come unto you, (but was let hitherto,) that I might have some fruit among you also, even as among other Gentiles. 14 I am debtor both to the Greeks, and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise. 15 So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel to you that are at Rome also.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. 17 For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith. 18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness;

19 Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. 20 For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: 21 Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. 22 Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, 23 And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. 24 Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: 25 Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. 26 For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: 27 And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. 28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; 29 Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, 30 Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, 31 Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: 32 Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them.

Categories: abortion, Bible, religion Tags:

Major Hasan’s Treasonous Powerpoints

November 18th, 2009 No comments

The Washington Post has posted Major Hasan’s powerpoint presentation on why Moslems should not fight Moslems, why the US army cannot reasonably expect loyalty from Moslem soldiers and so should let them resign, and how Islam requres Moslem states with non-Moslems as second-class citizens. It’s amazing.

Categories: army, Islam, liberals, Major Hasan Tags:

Leibniz versus Newton on God’s Intervention in Nature (and Leibniz on Locke too)

November 17th, 2009 No comments

Professor O’Connor pointed me to two interesting passages from the famous correspondence of Leibniz with Samuel Clarke, a philosopher and follower of Newton. See,
number 192-193.

IT appears that even natural religion is growing very much
weaker. Many hold that souls are corporeal ; others hold that
God Himself is corporeal. Mr. Locke and his followers are
at any rate doubtful whether souls are not material and
naturally perishable….

Mr. Newton and his followers have also
an extremely odd opinion of the work of God. According
to them God has to wind up His watch from time to time.
Otherwise it would cease to go. He lacked sufficient fore-
sight to make it a perpetual motion. This machine of God’s
is even, on their view, so imperfect that He is obliged from
time to time to come to its assistance especially out of the ordinary course, and clean it, and even to mend it, as a clock-
maker might his handiwork; and the less skilful the workman
is, the more often is he obliged to rehandle and correct his
work. According to my view, the same force and vigour
goes on existing in the world always, and simply passes from
one matter to another, according to the laws of nature and to
the beautiful pre-established order. And I hold that, when
God performs miracles, it is not to uphold the needs of nature,
but for those of grace. To think otherwise would be to
have a very low opinion of the wisdom and power of God.

The web source says:

Clarke thinks that the passage to which Leibniz is referring
is the following, from Newton’s Optics: ‘ Whilst the comets move
in orbs very eccentrical, with all variety of directions towards
every part of the heavens; ’tis not possible it should have been
caused by blind fate, that the planets all move with one similar
direction in concentrick orbs; excepting only some very small
irregularities, which may have arisen from the mutual actions of
the planets and comets upon one another; and which ’tis
probably will in length of time increase more and more, till the
present system of nature shall want to be anew put in order by
its Author.’ (The translation from Newton’s Latin is Clarke’s.)

Categories: intelligent design, religion, science Tags:

Most-Used Bible Verses

September 27th, 2009 No comments has a list of Bible verses that they somehow calculate are most-used. It’s interesting to see what’s on it, and a good list of important verses. They don’t give actual counts, though, so it’s just ordinal.

Categories: religion Tags:

Sharing the Gospel

August 21st, 2009 1 comment

My wife made a good point to me tonight. Some people think that the way to show people that Christianity is good is to behave well, so they are impressed with Christians. There is something to that, but it goes off on a tangent. Christianity is good because it is true. Even as something we wish to be true, it is not so much that it will make me a better person as that it gives me hope even though I remain a bad person. Even if I don’t succeed in becoming pure— and nobody does, really— God forgives me, as a father forgives a naughty child.

One reason this is important is that Christians really cannot succeed in preaching the Gospel by showing off what good people they are. The World is not impressed by Christian virtue; only by worldly virtue. Often those things coincide— bravery is both a pagan and a Christian virtue— but not always. In fact, the World usually thinks that the more Christian you are, the more you are a duped fanatic. Just think of the extreme Moslems— we are not so much impressed by their bravery as appalled by their willingness to kill people. They do not convert by their example. At best, they make people take a look to see what makes them so brave.

Moreover, thinking that to convert people to Christianity means you must be exemplary in all ways makes us ashamed to admit our Christianity. I do not want people to see how deficient I am and decide that Christians are weak and thoughtless people. It is better if I forget about impressing them with my strength, and concentrate on letting God use me as he wills to convey information or whatever else I may do for Him.

Categories: religion, thinking Tags:

Proof from Intuition and Failed Attempts to Prove Formally

August 17th, 2009 1 comment

An insight from Prosblogion:

In fact, I think that sometimes repeated failure is evidence for the insight when it is repeated failure by multiple people. Think of the history of failure to prove Fermat’s last theorem. Personally, I never doubted the theorem for a second and I doubt I am alone in believing that the repeated failure to provide a proof did not provide much if any evidence that it was false. Or consider what a history to prove Goldbach’s conjecture would look like (I haven’t looked to see if there is an actual history of attempts to do so). The very fact that so many people have the insight that it is true is what is guiding all these (sadly failed) attempts, and the (partial) independence of the testimony can be surprisingly strong evidence when modeled probabilistically. And it helps when there is considerable conceptual similarity among the attempts, for the insights are often of the form “considerations pertaining to X support Y” (and we just can’t get the bridge in formal logic yet).

Categories: philosophy, religion, thinking Tags:

Cowardice at Yale University Press

August 14th, 2009 No comments

From VC:

Yale University Press has decided not to include controversial Danish cartoons depicting Muhammad in a book about the cartoons and the resulting controversy. Other depictions of Muhammad slated for inclusion in the book, The Cartoons that Shook the World, have also been pulled. The NYT reports:

The book’s author, Jytte Klausen, a Danish-born professor of politics at Brandeis University, in Waltham, Mass., reluctantly accepted Yale University Press’s decision not to publish the cartoons.

John Donatich, the director of Yale University Press, said by telephone that the decision was difficult, but the recommendation to withdraw the images, including the historical ones of Muhammad, was “overwhelming and unanimous.” The cartoons are freely available on the Internet and can be accurately described in words, Mr. Donatich said, so reprinting them could be interpreted easily as gratuitous.

He noted that he had been involved in publishing other controversial books . . . and “I’ve never blinked.” But, he said, “when it came between that and blood on my hands, there was no question.”

Categories: free speech, homosexuality, Islam, religion Tags:


August 2nd, 2009 No comments

Some Christians think that Halloween and the Harry Potter
books are bad, as encouraging witchcraft. I will not talk about
Halloween here, but I will talk about the Harry Potter books. I’ve
had occasion to praise them recently, because while my son and
daughter were in the hospital we read one of them out loud, and
it was useful for them and for me. It distracted from their
physical pain and from all of our pain from recent loss of loved
ones, allowing switches back and forth from mourning to
imagination. Harry Potter’s world worked this magic because it is
a mixture of the mundane and the wondrous, because it has
many novel contrivances, and because it is full of suspense. A
few other books can do this too— the Oz series, for example, or
Tolkien, or Narnia— but the hospital happened to have Harry
Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone at hand.

On the other hand, what of this passage from Deuteronomy 18?

Deuteronomy. 18:10-12. There shall not be found among you
any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the
fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an
enchanter, or a witch. Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar
spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all that do these things
are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these
abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from
before thee.

At first sight, this passage seems to condemn not just Harry
Potter, but Tolkien and Oz. (Narnia is exempt, I think– I don’t
recall good magic in it.)

But wait. We must ask what the words in Deuteronomy mean.
Some Christians use the Ten Commandments to condemn not
just murder but the death penalty, war, and resistance to crime.
Indeed, one could use it to advocate vegetarianism— does
“Thou shalt not kill” have an exemption for animals? Actually,
what about killing plants? So we must pay attention to
translation and meaning.

In the case of Deuteronomy, what do
enchanter, witch, charmer, wizard, and necromancer mean? I
don’t have time now to go to the Hebrew, though that is clearly
relevant. Note first, though, that here we seem to have five
distinct kinds of magic, besides the other kinds in the passage
which don’t apply to Harry Potter’s kind of magic at all.
(I know there’s divination in the novels, but it’s peripheral and
Harry and his friends don’t do real divination and consider the
subject “pseudo-magic”.)

Whatever they mean, I don’t think it can apply to what Harry
Potter and friends are doing. What they are doing is not really
magic, but science. Harry, Ron, and Hermione do not reach into
a supernatural world to engage the power of spirits. There are a
few ghosts in the book, but notice how no spells make use of
them, and how little different the ghosts are from people except
in their immortality and nonphysicality. Rather, what the
Hogwarts kids do is learn how to use wands to manipulate
things, and what kind of magical creatures and plants lurk in the
world unobserved by ordinary people. Most people– Muggles–
can’t use wands, just as most people can’t do calculus (and never
could, because they’re not smart enough). Those who can have
to go to school and learn it just like biology or trombone. It’s
called “magic”, but how is it different from “chemistry”?

I’ll have to continue later. But I’ll make a second point here. Look
at the context of Deuteronomy 18:10-12. What’s in front and
behind it?

18:9 When thou art come into the land which the LORD thy
God giveth thee, thou shalt not learn to do after the
abominations of those nations….

18:13 Thou shalt be perfect with the LORD thy God.

18:14 For these nations, which thou shalt possess, hearkened
unto observers of times, and unto diviners: but as for thee, the
LORD thy God hath not suffered thee so to do.

It’s “the abominations of those nations” that is condemned.
The Canaanites are condemned in the Bible to a degree beyond
any other people. Thus, it may be just their forms of magic that
are being condemned here. Or, it may just be their evil use of it.

A couple of references (which do not make the points I make
above, I think):

“Are all witches equal?
Six types of Witchcraft”
(note: I suspect this site is not to
be trusted farther than you can test their arguments yourself–but
that is usefully far).

“Religious debates over the Harry
Potter series,”
not to be considered as unbiased as most
Wikipedia articles, but moderate in tone, fair, and with lots of
so you can check up on it.

Categories: art, magic, religion Tags:

The Theology of Prayer

July 28th, 2009 No comments

A couple of relevant theological questions:

1. Is it okay to pray for the souls of the dead, e.g. my father?

Answer: Yes. We can certainly pray for the souls of the living. That is, we can pray that it is God’s will that He has chosen them for heaven. We can pray for them no matter how wicked they are or how imperfect their faith in God. We can pray not only that they change their behavior or belief, but that God will have mercy on them despite their sins. Indeed, we all need that mercy and should pray for it for ourselves; we all sin, and it is just a matter of degree.

God is not stuck in time as we are. He has a plan, and we pray even though He has that plan and knows what will happen anyway. Thus, it is fine to pray even if something has already happened. If we hear of a plane accident, we can pray that our friend on the plane has survived, even though at the time of our prayer he is already either killed or not.

Thus, we can also pray for the soul of someone who has already died. We can pray either that he had a deathbed conversion or that even if he didn’t, God will be (was? is?) merciful.

2. Is it okay to ask a dead person, e.g., my daughter Elizabeth, to pray for me?

Answer: I don’t know. This came up because a lady asked me if she could pray to Elizabeth to pray for her. This is what Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic people are supposed to do when they pray to saints. (What commonly happens is that they pray to the saint directly— “Please cure my cancer” as opposed to “Please pray to God to cure my cancer”— but it is properly considered idolatry to make direct requests, I think.)

It is wrong to ask someone to pray for me on the grounds that they have special clout with God because they are especially holy. The Roman Catholic doctrine that saints have superogatory merit that they can give away to the rest of us as a sort of spiritual cash is an evil doctrine. Saints are, we may hope, members of God’s elect, but not on account of their special virtue, nor do they have special power with Him. My Lizzie was especially spiritual, and gave more evidence than the vast majority of us of being one of God’s children, but she was a sinner too, and showed it in daily life.

Nonetheless, it is good to ask fellow Christians to pray for us, and Lizzie is a fellow Christian, even though she is dead. So, is it proper to ask her to pray for us now, not as a special saint, but as a saint such as we hope we are ourselves? I don’t know.

Categories: prayer, religion, theology Tags:

Authority in American Culture

May 25th, 2009 No comments

Pastor Bayly’s sermon yesterday on authority in America, “In Heaven and on Earth” (MP3 available), was very good. What is below was inspired by it, taking some of the themes and examples and expanding on them. They are notes, with little effort to put things in sequence, to introduce, or to conclude.

A good doctor knows which of his patients are in danger of
heart attacks. When he first meets us for a check-up, he says,
“Strip” and asks us lots of personal questions. We’ll do anything
to try to live a little longer. Or, more accurately, we will at least
listen quietly as he tells us how to behave and say to ourselves,
“It’s his job to tell me all that. He has authority to say it, even if I
don’t intend to listen to his advice. After all, he cares about my
health, even if I care more about other things like eating all the
ice cream I want. I know he’s right, and I knew it before I came
in, but, after all, he wouldn’t be a good doctor if he didn’t bug me
about it. “

A good pastor knows which of his people are in danger of
adultery. But what happens if he tries to care for someone’s soul
as carefully as a doctor cares for the person’s body? Nobody
would ever think of going in to his pastor for a check-up. If he
did, he would be offended if the pastor asked personal questions.
And if the pastor tells him what to do, or warned him of future
dangers, he would say to himself, “That’s none of a pastor’s
business. I haven’t done anything wrong, and I won’t, and he’s
just meddling because he’s a busybody; he must like bossing
people around.” Or, he might add, “Yes, I know I’m skirting on
the edge of temptation, but since that’s obvious, the pastor
doesn’t have to rub it in, and I know how to stay out of real

In our culture we give our doctors lots of authority, but not our
pastors. In fact, pastors are a lot lower on the hierarchy of
authority than dental technicians.

Our culture is similarly deferential to government. Americans
may be a little less deferential than Europeans, but not much less.
If the government says, “Take off your shoes” at the airport, we
do it, and we are happy to be degraded that way, because it
shows the government cares about our safety, even though we
know–or anyone would know if they gave it a moment’s
thought— that taking off shoes doesn’t really help safety at all. I
say this because our government is truly elected, and the foot-
stripping policy is obvious and simple enough that it wouldn’t last
if most people didn’t like it.

Let’s think about a couple of other examples. Suppose the
church elders met 30 years ago and decided to tell the
congregation, “You must all buy child seats for your cars and tie
your children up in them.” We would be outraged. In fact,
suppose a father had told his wife, “We need to take the money
we were going to spend going out on our next two date nights
and buy a car seat, and you must always strap Joey into it, no
matter how late you are or how much he cries.” The wife would
be outraged, and either fight or mutter to herself, “I at least
deserve to be consulted. He doesn’t know how much our date
nights mean to me. And he’s not the one who has to deal with
getting Joey into the car seat just to travel half a mile to the
grocery store.”

But what in fact happened was that the government issued the
command, with absolutely no consideration of our particular
family budget or needs, and no ability to ask about exceptions for
special circumstances, because the government is so distant from
us that there’s nobody to ask about them. And we loved it. Most
of us thanked the elected officials for thus compelling us, by re-
electing them. Others of us didn’t love it. We muttered to
ourselves about how stupid the regulation was in our particular
cases. But few of us objected in principle to the idea that the
government could tell us how to raise our children. We think the
government does have that authority. And we truly think it is
authority. The government does use violence to enforce its will–
in the sense that if you try to thwart it, the government will send
men with guns to put you in jail, and to kill you if you fight them.
But that is not the main reason we obey. Even if there are no
police around, we obey, because we know it is the law, an
authority, and we obey authority even if it is unjust and mistaken.
Or, if we disobey, we do it guiltily, feeling in our hearts that we are
doing something wrong.

A board of elders wouldn’t issue an edict about child seats. But
let’s think about a couple of other examples. What about
smoking? Suppose the elders said that smoking was a vice and
nobody could remain a member in good standing if he smoked
in public. What a legalistic, fundamentalist, church that would be!
Or what if a man told his wife not to smoke when she’s out
shopping. What a tyrant! After all, he’s not even there to be
bothered by the smell of the smoke, so what business is it of his?
But when the city council tells us not to smoke in public, we
meekly obey, even if we grumble. It has authority; the church
and the family do not.

I’ve been driving in the point, but let’s think about one more
example, the one Pastor Bayly used in his sermon. What if a teen-
age girl wears short skirts in church, sitting up front and
displaying plenty of leg so she can enjoy being noticed by men.
The pastor tells the father, “Your daughter is dressing
immodestly. Tell her to cover herself up more.” What will the
father’s response be? He will be ashamed, for sure. In many
many cases he will also be outraged by the pastor’s interference.
After all, his daughter is just wearing the kind of clothes lots of
people wear every day. If the church is one where people dress
up a little for worship, he’d accept the point— for Sunday, at
least. But if it is the typical American church where jeans and
tennis shoes are perfectly acceptable, he’d feel singled out.

Consider the same admonition coming from a real authority:
the government. If the girl’s school sends a note home– a cold,
impersonal note– saying that her skirt must reach down to at
least within 1.5 inches o her knee, the parents will pass along the
note to the girl and tell her to obey. The school secretary, after
all, has authority.

That’s just at school, of course. What if the government issued a
skirt rule for all public places? We don’t know the answer to that.
But I would place my money on public acceptance of the new
rule. A few radicals would object, protest, and be arrested. But
most of us would accept it, especially if the newspapers added
their support to the government.

Let’s go back to the pastor telling the father about his daughter,
though. The pastor’s not the only weak figure in America.
There’s another reason the father would feel ashamed and
outraged, a more subtle one. It’s that he would feel he, too, lacks
authority. He might like to tell his daughter to dress modestly,
but he doesn’t dare. His wife would object. She would say things
like, “You’re so legalistic. You don’t really care. You object to her
short skirt, but you don’t even go to see her play volleyball at her
school. If you really cared, you’d start spending more time with
her. So don’t talk about clothes. You don’t know anything about
how girls dress, anyway.”

His daughter would certainly object. She’s too old to spank, and
she’s buying the clothes herself. All her friends would think her
father was totally unreasonable, or at least would tell her that
when she complained.

The father would rather not tell his daughter to do things. So he
gets angry at the pastor. He is all the more angry because he
agrees with the pastor. He knows what the young men are
imagining doing with his daughter– and the old men, too. He
knows she is enjoying knowing that the boys are thinking those
thoughts. He knows he should be talking to her about it, but he
doesn’t have the guts. And he has the depressing feeling that
even if he did go through that painful process, it wouldn’t work.
He’d end up getting his wife and daughter angry at him, with no
real result. Maybe he’d win on that particular issue– if he fought
hard. But they’d pay him back double on every other issue. So he
feels beaten in advance. Why does the pastor have to rub in his
humiliation? If he, the father, has no authority, how can the
pastor have it?

All these kind of thoughts are going through the mind of the
pastor, too. He’s in an even weaker position, since the angry
church member can leave or can try to get him fired. That’s why
pastors ordinarily give up on specific admonishment. Maybe
they’re even right to do so, at least if they continue with general
admonishment and with discipline for more serious sins. If so,
the problem is even bigger– it’s so big that we have to give up
the most effective form of church discipline entirely, saving up
what little authority the church has for less costly expenditures of
it or for only the most church-destroying sins.

Categories: authority, religion, social regulation Tags:

The Environmentalist Religion

May 21st, 2009 No comments

Tom Smith:

One thing I don’t like about cap and trade is that I can no longer say,for example, how could the Aztecs devote their entire cultural-political system to something as irrational as sacrificing humans to the sun? Here we are engaged in something only somewhat more rational.

Categories: environmentalism, religion Tags:

Joy and Song and John Ford

April 12th, 2009 1 comment

From a very very good essay on John Ford movies:

For an atheist, even those functional atheists who make a hobby out of churchgoing but who do not actually believe that any of the Creed is true, cannot sing, not in Ford’s sense. People may sing for diversion, or may listen to singing for entertainment, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But if you have no sense for the mysterious and transcendent — if you do not bow in humility before the mysteries of Man and Woman and Child, let alone God — then you have nothing that will unite you and your fellows in gratitude to sing about, and certainly no one beyond yourselves to sing to. The clodhopping farmers of Drums Along the Mohawk are happy to be together at the barn dance to celebrate a wedding, not just because a wedding is an excuse for drinking, but because any wedding is to them like a moment’s reentry into Eden, or a moment’s foreshadowing of heaven. The secular world is optimistic, sure, and can provide a lot of fun, sometimes of the harmless kind. But it knows neither hope nor joy.

This has some important relation to the 2007 Korean movie Le Grand Chef which we saw last night with the Wildenbeests, Buddhist/traditionalist though that movie is. Come to think of it, the protagonist of that movie may have to be Buddhist because it is about tradition and loyalty, but his attitude is highly Christian– that simple work is ennobling, that bodily pleasures and existence in this world are good, and that what is gained by sin is not worth having.

Categories: art, movies, religion, thinking Tags:

Church Music

April 6th, 2009 No comments

This is a long-term post that will collect my ideas on church music. I will start it small, just to get it going.

1. Keep in mind that church music is not a performance for an audience, even an audience of God. The congregation is there too, and they’re supposed to be worshipping. If you want a concert for God, do it with no congregation present.

This idea has lots of implications. One is that there should not be instrumental interludes, preludes, or postludes, during which the congregation waits nervously. Another is that beauty is not the main goal (if it were, you’d expel the congregation, because they cough, sing badly, etc.)

2. If there is a solo, let the congregation chip in at the last verse.

3. Don’t have undignified children songs with gestures, etc., except for children. It is degrading for adults, insulting the Dignity of Man.

4. Overheads slide person is most important person.

5. People should be able to hear each other singing.

6. Don’t jazz up arrangements just for the sake of putting personal
imprint on it. Old arrangements are old for a reason– they’re good.

7. Clapping is good for kids and illiterates. Make sure they can participate somehow.

8. Have strong male voices leading.

9. Not too many verses of any one hymn.

10. Explain hymns in advance.

Categories: beauty, music, religion Tags:

Ethics vs. Religion in Government

March 27th, 2009 No comments

Richard Painter at VC:

I do not address this as a matter of constitutional law, or theology, which I leave to others. I am saying that government entanglement with religion is difficult from a government ethics lawyer’s perspective. The more entanglement there is, the more difficulty there is. Combine religion with partisan political activity, as many government officials now do, and the ethics lawyer confronts a three way mix of Hatch Act regulations, the Establishment Clause and government ethics regulations. I pointed out in an earlier post that ethics problems often begin when someone thinks he or she can wear two hats instead of one. Try three.

My comment, after a number of others noting that religion in government is more persecuted than persecuting:

I, too, see some lawyerly blindness here. Most of us get a lot more nervous about lawyers hanging around the White House than clergymen. A clergyman might pray that I be damned (though I can’t think of any real ones that would actually), but an ethics lawyer might take away my money, my job, or my liberty, using the power of the state.

Similarly, it’s a lot more threatening when someone says, “We all believe in affirmative action, don’t we— since it’s it’s racist not to and you’re all forbidden by law to discriminate” than when someone says, “We all believe in the supremacy of the Pope, don’t we– since if you don’t, you’re not a Roman Catholic.” When people call their faith-held belief “ethics” they’re a lot more dangerous than when they call them “religion”.

Categories: ethics, government, lawyers, religion Tags:

What to Do About Abortion

March 27th, 2009 No comments

Suppose you think abortion is wrong. Suppose, further, you think it is evil. What should you do?

Clearly, you should speak out against it, and act to stop it. If you think an abortion is as bad as killing adults, it is not unreasonable to expect you to blow up abortion clinics. After all, if abortion clinics were gas chambers for Jews, that would be your moral duty.

Most people actually wouldn’t have the guts or be willing to take the trouble to blow up gas chamber clinics, I think. But also I think most people, even those strongly against abortion, don’t think it is as bad as killing adults, whatever they may say. So let’s suppose you just think abortion is evil.

If you think abortion is evil, you shouldn’t keep quiet about it. You should want your church and your political organizations to say it is evil, and to condemn people who do it– the mothers and the clinics both. Abortion is very common, so we can’t say it is a minor evil, either. So it is just cowardly for a church to say it won’t take a public position because that would offend people and keep them from coming to church.

Categories: abortion, churches, sin Tags:

Standing in the Gap

March 14th, 2009 No comments

Here’s a mixture of what I was taught in Sunday School last week and what I thought of myself.

Ezekiel 22: 23-31 is the key.I use the English Standard

23 And the word of the Lord came to me: 24 “Son of man, say to her,
You are a land that is not cleansed or rained upon in the day of
indignation. 25 The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is
like a
roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they
have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in
her midst. 26 Her priests have done violence to my law and have
profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the
holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between
the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so
that I am profaned among them.
27 Her princes in her midst are
wolves tearing the prey, shedding blood, destroying lives to get
dishonest gain. 28 And her prophets have smeared whitewash for
seeing false visions and divining lies for them, saying, ‘Thus says
the Lord God,’ when the Lord has not spoken.
29 The people of the
have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have oppressed
the poor and needy, and have extorted from the sojourner without

These prophets include most Christian pastors in America and Europe
today. They profane the holy and care about Man, not God. They blur
the difference between Christian and non-Christian, between God and
Man, between truth and falsehood, and between right and wrong. They
flatter the leading citizens in their congregation and excuse their
misdeeds. They criticize, if anyone, only people outside their

This is obviously true of liberal Christians, but is equally true of
evangelicals. The evangelical pastor whose concern is simply to get
people to go to church– or even to “save souls”— is blurring
distinctions to do so, and flattering his congregation.

30 And I sought for a man among them who should build up
wall and stand in the breach before me for the land, that I should not
destroy it, but I found none. 31 Therefore I have poured out my
indignation upon them.
I have consumed them with the fire of my
I have returned their way upon their heads, declares the Lord God.”

The “man in the breach” or “man in the gap” is what we should each
strive to be. Without him, the land is destroyed. Sodom did not have
twenty (was it?) righteous men, and so perished.

Ezekiel 13, entire chapter:

1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the
prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy
from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!’ 3 Thus says the
Lord God, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and
have seen nothing!
4 Your prophets have been like jackals among
ruins, O Israel. 5 You have not gone up into the breaches, or built up
a wall for the house of Israel, that it might stand in battle in the
day of the Lord.
6 They have seen false visions and lying
divinations. They say, ‘Declares the Lord,’ when the Lord has not
sent them, and yet they expect him to fulfill their word.
7 Have
you not seen a false vision and uttered a lying divination, whenever
you have said, ‘Declares the Lord,’ although I have not spoken?”

Again, the prophets are pastors (and members) who go to their own
hearts (which usually means their self-interest and their cultural
biases) rather than the Bible or natural law for truth. They say that
what God wants is what they want. This is blasphemy as well as bias.
It is, of course foolish. Much better would it be if they took
Nietzsche’s course and admitted outright that they were beyond good
and evil and wanted to create their own values. At least they would
not be blasphemously ascribing their desires to God.

8 Therefore thus says the Lord God: “Because you have uttered
falsehood and seen lying visions, therefore behold, I am against you,
declares the Lord God. 9 My hand will be against the prophets who see
false visions and who give lying divinations. They shall not be in the
council of my people, nor be enrolled in the register of the house of
Israel, nor shall they enter the land of Israel. And you shall know
that I am the Lord God. 10 Precisely because they have misled my
people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace, and because, when the
people build a wall, these prophets smear it with whitewash,
11 say to those who smear it with whitewash that it shall fall! There
will be a deluge of rain, and you, O great hailstones, will fall, and
a stormy wind break out. 12 And when the wall falls, will it not be
said to you, ‘Where is the coating with which you smeared it?’
Therefore thus says the Lord God: I will make a stormy wind break out
in my wrath, and there shall be a deluge of rain in my anger, and
great hailstones in wrath to make a full end. 14 And I will break down
the wall that you have smeared with whitewash, and bring it down to
the ground, so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls,
you shall perish in the midst of it, and you shall know that I am the
Lord. 15 Thus will I spend my wrath upon the wall and upon those who
have smeared it with whitewash, and I will say to you, The wall is
no more, nor those who smeared it, 16 the prophets of Israel who
prophesied concerning Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her, when
there was no peace, declares the Lord God.

The culture builds a wall of prejudices to protect its self-
interest. The prophets put on the final touches, the paint. The paint
is a trivial part of the wall, really, and adds no strength, but it
makes it look nice.

The prophets also twist words. Confucius made a big deal of
“the rectification of names”, and he was right. The pastors and
other proclaimers of truth say that a situation is good when it is
not. Calling a war peaceful, a society virtuous, or a people happy
will not create peace, virtue, or happiness.

17 “And you, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your
people, who prophesy out of their own minds. Prophesy against them 18
and say, Thus says the Lord God: Woe to the women who sew magic
bands upon all wrists, and make veils for the heads of persons of
every stature, in the hunt for souls! Will you hunt down souls
belonging to my people and keep your own souls alive? 19 You have
profaned me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of
bread, putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive
souls who should not live, by your lying to my people, who listen to

20 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Behold, I am against your
magic bands with which you hunt the souls like birds, and I will tear
them from your arms, and I will let the souls whom you hunt go free,
the souls like birds. 21 Your veils also I will tear off and deliver
my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand as
and you shall know that I am the Lord. 22 Because you
have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved
him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from
his evil way to save his life,
23 therefore you shall no more see
false visions nor practice divination. I will deliver my people out of
your hand. And you shall know that I am the Lord.”

There are people, including even women, who are out to destroy
your soul. They want to consume your soul to magnify their own, in
the same manner as the devils in C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape
, or Mephistopheles in Faust, or, I think, as Neitzsche’s
liberated man with his Will to Power.

“Soul” here is from a Hebrew word that I think (I could be wrong)
means “life” as well as “soul”. Some souls *should* be killed. The
false prophets keep some souls alive that they should kill, as well as
killing souls they should keep alive. Note that this passage makes it
clear that some people’s souls are detestable. Not everybody should be
encouraged. The evil should be disheartened by the prophets.

Keep in mind that “Baal” is the Canaanite word for “Lord”. When false
prophets were calling on “Baal”, they were calling on “the Lord”. It
was just the wrong Lord.

People use God as a way to solve problems. This is like magic– which
is why magic is so criticized in the Bible. It is treating God as a
Means, not an End.

Pagan gods are treated this way routinely. Nobody thinks of loving
Zeus or the ancestor spirit as anything but weird. Rather, those gods
are powerful spirits not all that different from humans or from
gravity who must be treated carefully in order to manipulate their

Roman Catholic saints are the same kind of petty god. You pray to St.
Mary, and she cures your flu. Many people wouldn’t dare use the
Almighty God for such a trivial purpose, so they pray to St. Mary

Works Religion is the same way. Fast, and God will do things for
you. Abstain from wine, and God must keep his end of the deal by
making you rich.

Isaiah 58:

1 “Cry aloud; do not hold back;
lift up your voice like a trumpet;
declare to my people their transgression,
to the house of Jacob their sins.

We should condemn sins.

2 Yet they seek me daily
and delight to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that did righteousness
and did not forsake the judgment of their God;
they ask of me righteous judgments;
they delight to draw near to God.
3 ‘Why have we fasted, and you see it not?
Why have we humbled ourselves, and you take no knowledge of it?’
Behold, in the day of your fast you seek your own pleasure,
and oppress all your workers.

Sinful people often are religious, and act as if they are righteous.
This is works-religion. Christians live a righteous life, and expect
God to pay them for it. But their aim is to satisfy their earthly
desires, and while they may go to church weekly, tithe, and not swear,
they still take advantage of their employees.

4 Behold, you fast only to quarrel and to fight
and to hit with a wicked fist.
Fasting like yours this day
will not make your voice to be heard on high.
5 Is such the fast that I choose,
a day for a person to humble himself?
Is it to bow down his head like a reed,
and to spread sackcloth and ashes under him?
Will you call this a fast,
and a day acceptable to the Lord?

6 “Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?

Lots of people do good deeds so they can get away with doing more bad
deeds too.

7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?

We ought to look out for those in need. I don’t do that enough.

8 Then shall your light break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up speedily;
your righteousness shall go before you;
the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
9 Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry, and he will say, ‘Here I am.’
If you take away the yoke from your midst,
the pointing of the finger, and speaking wickedness,
10 if you pour yourself out for the hungry
and satisfy the desire of the afflicted,
then shall your light rise in the darkness
and your gloom be as the noonday.
11 And the Lord will guide you continually
and satisfy your desire in scorched places
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters do not fail.
12 And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.
13 “If you turn back your foot from the Sabbath,
from doing your pleasure on my holy day,
and call the Sabbath a delight
and the holy day of the Lord honorable;
if you honor it, not going your own ways,
or seeking your own pleasure, or talking idly;
14 then you shall take delight in the Lord,
and I will make you ride on the heights of the earth;
I will feed you with the heritage of Jacob your father,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A good approach to reading the Bible: Ask of every passage: How would
I interpret this if my goal was to undermine it and defeat it and
reduce it to a “tame” meaning of complete blandness or something that
agrees with what I want to think anyway? Also ask how someone who
wanted to defend your culture would interpret it so as to defeat it.

The Christian life is a battle. Battles have real weapons and
casualties. The warrior hurts other people, and kills them. THey
wound him, and maybe even kill him, and kill his friends. Some people
are wounded and need medics. Some people are traitors. Ruses are used,
and ambushes, and cutting off of supplies.

I hear that boxers tend to think, unconsciously, “If I don’t hit the
other guy hard, he won’t hit me hard either”. Coaches know this, and
train it out of their boxers. Don’t think that if you hit a trained
enemy softly, he will hit you back softly. He won’t.

Categories: religion, thinking Tags:

Homosexual Orientation versus Homosexual Behavior

March 2nd, 2009 No comments

Here’s a comment I posted at Prosblogion:

The distinction between “sexual orientation” and “sexual behavior” is
absolutely crucial, and I was thinking on blogging on this myself, so
I read this with interest. I see that the lawyer quoted above didn’t
understand the distinction. I too would like to know if city
regulations do.

Someone commented:

“If I owned a business, I’d discriminate in my hiring practices, quite
reasonably I think, against non-sober alcoholics. The view of those
who are supporting the original petition appears to be (and someone
please correct me if I’m wrong about this) that I would thereby
discriminate against an alcoholic who has been sober for ten years.
Isn’t this just absurd?”

That’s right. I’m sure Christian colleges are happy to hire people
with homosexual orientation who are strongly opposed to homosexual
behavior. The former alcoholic is the best crusader against drink, and
it is common to encounter reformed homosexual pastors who specialize
in work with homosexuals. If anybody finds a case where a strong
advocate of anti-sodomy laws is denied a job because he used to
practice sodomy, please let us know.

In fact, orthodox Christian belief is that everyone has a “sin
orientation”; it is just that some of us control our outward behavior
better than others do. This is really the same as the idea that we
are all potential criminals— murderers and thieves, for example—
but some of us, including most people with college degrees, are
better at restraining themselves in light of their material incentives
and the chance of getting caught.

There is something I don’t think any other commentor has mentioned:
the “legislative history” of anti-discrimination rules. If a judge
were to rule on whether the rule were literally against homosexual
orientation or were against orientation and behavior, he would first
look at the text. The text is clear— it’s just orientation— but
commonly even a fair-minded judge wouldn’t stop there. He would go
on to look at intent and at whether the words had a broader meaning
in the particular context. A big part of that is to look at
legislative history. If *everyone* in the debate over enactment– both
proponents and opponents— talked as if the words included behavior,
then it would be reasonable to read the words that way. If everyone
just talked about orientation, or, even better, proponents explicitly
said that the rule was written purposely to allow discrimination
based on sexual behavior, then the words ought to be read literally.
(If the legislative history is mixed, then it isn’t much use.)

I could be wrong, but I bet most anti-discrimination rules were
enacted by means of arguments based on orientation, not behavior. If
so, it’s not fair to switch the meaning afterwards to include
behavior. An argument such as “we shouldn’t allow discrimination on
the grounds of characteristics a person can’t alter” argues for a
rule against orientation, but implicitly concedes that discrimination
on behavior is okay.

To be sure, forbidding sodomy hurts people who are tempted by sodomy
more than those who are not, and in that sense discriminates on the
basis of orientation. But that is a false sense. It is equivalent to
saying that forbidding sexual harassment, or even rape, discriminates
against men, and so a university should not punish it if they have a
policy against sex discrimination.

In the courts, the “disparate impact” argument is treated in
complicated ways, and in ways that are different depending on the type
of discrimination. Race effects are scrutinized much more closely than
gender effects, for example.

I’ll repeat what earlier comments said: If anyone knows what courts
have said on whether the term “sexual orientation” includes “sexual
behavior” please let us know.

Categories: homosexuality, law, religion, universities Tags:

Scientists and Philosophy of Religion

March 2nd, 2009 1 comment

Professor Smith’s God and Darwin at The Right Coast, is good, tho not entirely right. I’m just working on a paper I’ll send him:

“The Concealment Argument: Why Christians Should Be Agnostics.” Logic and Biblical evidence suggest that God wishes that some but not all humans become convinced of His existence and desires. If so, this suggests that attempts to either prove or disprove such things as God’s existence, past miracles, or present supernatural intervention are doomed to failure, because God could and would take care to evade any such efforts.

Liberals at a Conservative College

February 28th, 2009 No comments

Baylyblog found out that even a very conservative Presbyterian denomination’s college has many liberal faculty. (For those of you who say, “So what?”, keep in mind that there are far more Democrats at this college, which explicitly has a religion requirement for faculty, than there are Republicans at any Big Ten university.)

… thirty-five percent of Covenant’s faculty members say they’re
likely to vote for Senator Obama. That’s one third of the faculty
supporting the presidential candidacy of the most radically pro-baby
slaughter politician in Washington D.C.

… Covenant’s faculty was asked to rate “issues for their importance
in selecting a (presidential) candidate,” and among those listed were
“campaign finance reform,” “education,” “global warming,” “health
care,” and “social justice.” And yes, “abortion” was there, but no
mention of sodomy or sodomite marriage.

Interestingly, only half the faculty members considered “abortion” to
be “Very important” in their selection in their anticipated vote for a
presidential candidate. This means half of the faculty members made a
conscious decision to respond that abortion was not “Very important.”
What got a higher rating than abortion?

“Social justice.” Abortion had a rating average of 3.23 whereas
“Social justice” won with 3.40. (Ten faculty members responded that
abortion was either “Not important” (2) or only “Somewhat important”
(8), but only one faculty member responded that social justice was
“Not important” and just two that it was only “Somewhat important.”

For the top rating, “Very important,” three issues tied in the
faculty’s vote: “Abortion,” “Health care,” and “Social justice,” with
“Social justice” taking the honors.

Categories: abortion, obama, religion, universities Tags:


February 22nd, 2009 2 comments

I put together a list of churches useful for scholars travelling around to conferences or on sabbatical. Those with stars (*) I’ve been to and liked. I’ve heard good things about the others. Those with pound signs (#) are the kind of churches that have special appeal to people with PhDs– that is, they are “head oriented” with high-IQ staff who are used to dealing with educated urbanite unbelievers. All these churches have traditional Christian beliefs. They differ in worship style (drums or not, praise songs or old hymns, etc.) except for all being sermon-and-song centered.

#*CAMBRIDGE, MASS: Christ the King Presbyterian Church, Half Portugese.

*CHICAGO: The Moody Church near Lincoln Park,

#*NEW HAVEN: Trinity Baptist, Pastored till 2008 or so by Josh Moody, expert on Jonathan Edwards, now at Wheaton.

#*NEW YORK: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan. Pastored by Timothy Keller.

#*OXFORD: St. Ebbe’s Church of England

#*WASHINGTON: Grace Presbyterian (Glenn Hoburg) D.C.

##LONDON: Holy Trinity Brompton, (South Kensington). Origin of the “Alpha Course”. All Souls, Oxford Circus/Regents Park. John Stott used to be its pastor.

#CAMBRIDGE, ENGLAND: St. Andrew the Great,

PHILADELPHIA: Tenth Presbyterian, James Boice used to be its pastor. Might be in decline.

Categories: churches, religions, travel Tags:

Divorce Here and There

February 19th, 2009 No comments

JOnah Goldberg on a MEMRI report:

I’ll relate something interesting from the Middle East Media Research Institute (and for the report I’m talking about, go here). An Egyptian cleric is on television. And he is pronouncing on divorce. I cherish the last line in particular. But you’ll want to read the entire chunk:

What’s the point of having an animal you can ride, if it drives you nuts? The distance it takes you you could cover in a bus for a quarter of an Egyptian pound, but you have to spend 100 pounds on this animal. Sell it, and get rid of it. Would anyone blame you for selling it? Would anyone say: “Shame on him for selling it”? It’s only an animal.

If a man is completely fed up with his apartment, because he has bad neighbors, and the apartment is falling apart, would anyone blame him for selling it and say: “Shame on you, how can you sell it? This is where you were born and raised.” This apartment does not suit him anymore. I have bad neighbors, and I don’t feel good in it.

The same goes for the woman. If a woman has such bad character that her husband does not feel comfortable with her, there is nothing to prevent him from divorcing her. What are we, Christians?!

What are we, Christians?! There are about a hundred things to say about this. I will confine myself to: I don’t think the good imam has checked in on Christianity—by which I mean, Christian-dominated societies—lately.

Categories: divorce, Islam, religion, social regulation Tags:

Neuhaus on Problems of the Roman Church

February 10th, 2009 1 comment

in First Things:

Beginning in the 1780s and up through the nineteenth century, some
Catholic laity were attracted to the voluntaristic idea of church
membership and church government that they saw in the Protestant
denominations around them. Parishes elected lay “trustees” who took
charge of the temporal affairs of the churches, including the salaries
and, in some cases, the appointment of clergy. This American model, as
it was called, was encouraged by a few bishops such as John England of
Charleston, South Carolina, but Rome and the great majority of bishops
viewed it, correctly, as a form of “congregationalism” incompatible
with the Catholic understanding of the divine constitution of the
Church. Trusteeism was effectively suppressed by the end of the
nineteenth century, being replaced by patterns of what the NRB rightly
calls the “clericalism” that has much to do with the “Crisis in the
Catholic Church in the United States.” Still today, priests, and
priests who become bishops, are trained to take alarm at the slightest
hint of “trusteeism.” That is why, among other things, parish pastors
expend inordinate time and energy on the minutiae of administration
that could be better handled by laypeople. That is why bishops engaged
in the practices of autocracy, secrecy, and cover-up that contributed
so powerfully to the current crisis.


The incidence of reported abuse increased significantly in the 1960s,
peaked in the ’70s, and then decreased in the ’80s and ’90s even more
dramatically than it had increased during the prior two decades.
During the entire period studied, 4.3 percent of diocesan priests were
accused but only 2.7 percent of priests in religious orders.


Of the more than four thousand priests accused of abusing minors, more
than half (56 percent) had only one allegation against them. Three
percent had ten or more allegations. These 149 priests accounted for
almost three thousand (27 percent) of the allegations. Of the 109,694
priests in active ministry during these 52 years,…

Neuhaus in
a different article says

It would appear that there are many more incidents of priests having a
sexual relationship with an adult woman or man than with minors. Such
relationships are, in many cases, not viewed as a major problem
because they usually do not have legal, financial, or public relations
consequences for the Church, and are therefore deemed to be “nobody’s

Plantinga on the 1994 State of Christian Philosophy

February 9th, 2009 No comments

Alvin Plantinga’s 1994 essay, “Christian Philosophy At The End Of The 20th Century,” is very good, despite the gender neutering within it. Some excerpts:

Classical foundationalism has enjoyed a hegemony, a near consensus in the West from the Enlightenment to the very recent past. And according to the classical foundationalist, our beliefs, at least when properly founded, are objective in a double sense. The first sense is a Kantian sense: what is objective in this sense is what is not merely subjective, and what is subjective is what is private or peculiar to just some persons. According to classical foundationalism, well-founded belief is obje ctive in this sense; at least in principle, any properly functioning human beings who think together about a disputed question with care and good will, can be expected to come to agreement….


Classical foundationalism, so the argument runs, has failed: we now see that there is no rational procedure guaranteed to settle all disputes among people of good will; we do not necessarily share starting points for thought, together with forms of argument that are sufficient to settle all differences of opinion.
That’s the premise. The conclusion is that therefore we can’t really think about objects independent of us, but only about something else, perhaps constructs we ourselves have brought into being. Put thus baldly, the argument does not inspire confidence


Richard Rorty… is said to think of truth as what our peers will let us get away with saying. I say this thought is associated with Richard Rorty: people say he says this, but I haven’t read precisely this in his work. Never mind; even if he doesn’t say precisely this, some of his followers do. And of course it exemplifies the sort of relativism I’m speaking of. My peers might not let me get away with saying what your peers let you get away with.


I should like now to turn more directly to my assignment, which was to say something about how I see the accomplishments and tasks of Christian philosophy at this point in our history; this will be connected with the above exhortation. The first thing to note, of course, is that there are several different parts, several different divisions to Christian philosophy. As I see it, there are essentially 4 different divisions: apologetics, both negative and positive, philosophical theology, Christian philosophical criticism, and constructive Christian philosophy.


It is the part of Calvinism to hold that Christians are not complete; they are in process. John Calvin, himself no mean Calvinist, points out that believers are constantly beset by doubts, disquietude, spiritual difficulty and turmoil; “it never goes so well with us,” he says, “that we are wholly cured of the disease of unbelief and entirely filled and possessed by faith” (Institutes III, ii, 18, p.564 ) . It never goes that well with us, and it often goes a good deal worse. There is an unbeliever within the breast of every Christian; in the believing mind, says Calvin, “certainty is mixed with doubt”.


What sorts of considerations and objections really do trouble thoughtful Christians, students and others? … (1) the positivistic claim that Christianity really makes no sense, (2) the argument from evil, which is a sort of perennial concern of Christian apologetes, (3) the heady brew served up by F reud, Marx, Nietzsche and other masters of suspicion, and (4) pluralistic considerations: given that there are all these different religions in the world, isn’t there something at least naive and probably worse, in doggedly sticking with Christianity?


Positivism, the first of these four, has by now crawled back into the woodwork; but I am sorry to say Christian apologetes cannot claim much of the credit. Far too many Christian philosophers were thoroughly intimidated by the positivistic onslaught, suspecting that there must be much truth to it, and suggesting various unlikely courses of action. Some thought we should just give up; others said, for example, that we should concede that Christianity is in fact nonsense, but insist that it is important no sense; still others proposed that we continue to make characteristically Christian utterances, but mean something wholly different by them, something that would not attract the wrath of the positivists. This was not a proud chapter in our history, but since positivism is no longer with us, we shall avert our eyes from the unhappy spectacle and move on.


…Freud, with his claim that religious belief stems from a cognitive process aimed at psychological comfort rather than the tru th, Marx and his claim that religious belief really results from cognitive malfunction consequent upon social malfunction, and Nietzsche with his shrilly strident claims to the effect that Christianity arises from and results in a sort of weak, sniveling, envious and thoroughly disgusting sort of character. There are many who do not accept the details of what any of these three say, but nonetheless entertain the sneaking suspicion that there is something to these charges and something like them might be true. Christian apologists must forthrightly and honestly address these doubts and these arguments, although in fact argument is hard to find in these thinkers.


One may offer theistic arguments because you think that without them belief in God would be unjustified or unwarranted; this is what Reformed thought has always adamantly opposed.


Only God bestows saving faith, of course, but his way of doing so can certainly involve cooperation with his children, as in preaching and even argumentation. But second, theisti c arguments can also be useful for believers. Calvin notes that believers struggle constantly with doubts; in this life, he says (as we saw above), “faith is always mixed with unbelief” and “. . . in the believing mind certainty is mixed with doubt. . . ” (Institutes III, ii, 18, p. 564). At times the truth of the main lines of the Gospel seems as certain and sure as that there is such a country as the Netherlands; at other times you wake up in the middle of the night and find yourself wondering whether this whole wonderful Christian story is really anything more than just that: a wonderful story. Theistic arguments can be helpful here. Perhaps you accept (as I do) an argument to the effect that there could be no such thing as genuine moral obligation if naturalism were true and there were no such person as God; but perhaps it is also obvious to you that moral obligation is real and important; these thoughts can help dispel the doubt. Perhaps you think, as I do, that there could be no such thing as genuinely horrifying evil if there were no God; but you are also convinced that the world is full of horrifying evil; again, these thoughts can dispel the doubt.


There are really a whole host of good theistic arguments, all patiently waiting to be developed in penetrating and profound detail. This is one area where contemporary Christian philosophers have a great deal of work to do. There are arguments from the existence of good and evil, right and wrong, moral obligation; there is an argument from the existence of horrifying evil, from intentionality and the nature of propositions and properties, from the nature of sets, properties and numbers, from counterfactuals, and from the apparent fine tuning of the universe. There is the ontological argument, but also the more convincing teleological argument, which can be developed in many ways. There is an argument from the existence of contingent beings, and even an argument from colors and flavors. There are arguments from simplicity, from induction, and from the falsehood of general skepticism. There is a general argument from the reliability of intuition, and also one from Kripke’s Wittgenstein. There is an argument from the existence of a priori knowledge, and one from the causal requirement in knowledge. There are arguments from love, beauty, and play and enjoyment, and from the perceived meaning of life. There are arguments from the confluence of justification and warrant, from the confluence of proper function and reliability, and from the existence, in nature, of organs and systems that function properly. (So far as I can see, there is no naturalistic account or analysis of proper function). These arguments are not apodictic or certain; nevertheless they all deserve to be developed in loving detail…


A second element of Christian philosophy: philosophical theology. This is a matter of thinking about the central doctrines of the Christian faith from a philosophical perspective; it is a matter of employing the resources of philosophy to deepen our grasp and understanding of them.


As Calvin says, there is unbelief within the breast of every Christian; but isn’t there also belief within the breast of every non-Christian? … those in the City of the World are subject to the promptings and blandishments of our God-given natures, of the Sensus Divinitatis, and of the Holy Spirit.


… current forms of anti-theism have no place for the notion of truth. Naturalism does not, because naturalism has no room for the sorts of things that fundamentally are true: propositions and thoughts. And creative anti-realism doesn’t either, since it has no room for the notion of a way things are independent of our cognitive and linguistic activities. Still, there is such a thing as truth, and it is intimately connected with God. There is such a thing as the way the world is; there are such things as thoughts and propositions, and these things are true or false. Furthermore, we are all, believer and unbeliever alike, created by the Lord. Despite the ravages of sin, we are all still in epistemic touch with the world for which he created us, still oriented towards the reality he has designed us for. It is therefore extremely difficult for any human being to give up such notions as truth and knowledge; it takes great energy and determination. Consequently there is a constant internal tension in unbelieving thought. It is at this very point that our contributions to the philosophical conversation can be attractive and useful to those who don’t share our commitments: attractive, because of these fundamental human inclinations towards the notions of truth (and knowledge, and a host of other notions), and useful, because such an account, insofar as it really does depend upon notions not available to the naturalist, can serve as a sort of implicit theistic argument, perhaps creating the very sort of confusion and turmoil in which the Holy Spirit works.

Categories: philosophy, religion Tags: