Saturday, June 13, 2015

Christopher Lee

Christopher Lee died recently. I think I first saw him in back 1967, in The Avengers ("Never, Never Say Die"), where he played an android. 

His breakout role was, of course, the Hammer horror flick Dracula (1958). In my misspent youth, I think I saw all his Dracula flicks.

Other notable roles I saw him in were the Wicker Man and LOTR.  

He was more of a presence than an actor. A towering, glowering presence. 6' 5," with a sepulchral bass voice and a saturnine appearance.

That worked well for certain parts, like Saruman. He was uneven as Dracula. 

He was an interesting man. A linguist who knew Greek, Latin, French, Italian, Russian, German, Spanish, and Danish. During WWII, he was a spy.

I think that interesting people tend to be inferior actors, while less interesting people tend to be superior actors. People with strong, interesting personalities find it harder to submerge their own personality in a role. By contrast, people without much personality are like an Etch A Sketch. A blank slate on which to write the character. And they can erase that from one role to next. 

For instance, Orson Welles was a sometime actor as well as director. He can be fun to watch in certain roles (The Third Man, Touch of Evil, Chimes at Midnight). But his own personality is so dominant that he can't disappear into a role. Rather, the role disappears into him. 

In addition, the English acting tradition takes the theater as the standard of comparison. Especially in the past, many English actors who starred movies were originally stage actors. I think that makes their acting less naturalistic. Enjoyable, but not as convincing. 

For instance, I thought Olivier's performance of King Lear was predictably impressive, but I can't forget that he's acting. I can see the gears moving. From a technical standpoint, his acting in Othello is one of the all-time-great performances. Fascinating to watch. But you're watching what Olivier can do with a role. It's the actor, rather than the character, who commands attention. Laurence Fishburne is more believable. And not just because he's really black. Rather, he doesn't seem to be acting. 

On the other hand, I thought Olivier was more convincing in Marathon Man. Perhaps that's because, for many of us, the villain isn't far below the surface. It's easy to tap into our inner villain. That comes naturally. 

Likewise, I found him quite credible in The Entertainer. That's because the character is more like Olivier in real life–as he himself admitted. 

When he was younger, I found Gielgud unlistenable. His delivery was quivering with strained sentiment. Terribly self-conscious. Later in life he loosened up. He gave a strong performance as Cassius in Julius Caesar. And he was very entertaining in Brideshead Revisited

I enjoyed Ralph Richardson in Dragonslayer. Otherwise, I found his performances flat.

Michael Redgrave was great in The Browning Version and the Dead of Night. Otheriwse, I didn't care for him.

My favorite English actor was Alec Guinness. 

I think another reason English actors used to be more stagey is because many of them adopted an Oxbridge accent. In fact, even for English aristocrats to the manor born, the persona is intentionally artificial. 

That changed with the younger generation of actors. I think Michael Caine was a working-class actor from the start. Always used his native Cockney accent. He broke the mold. 

James Mason was an English actor of the older generation who was more naturalistic. That's because he wasn't really a stage actor. He was just one of those people who's good in front of a camera. Compelling to watch. 

I once saw an interview with an English actress who talked about the impact that Marlon Brando had on the younger generation of actors. Historically, English acting was very word-centered. The tradition of Shakespeare and Congreve. 

By contrast, Brando's acting was more about body language. Projecting emotion. Nonverbal communication. According to her, that had a revolutionary effect on younger English actors. As a result, contemporary English actors are more naturalistic.

Most American film actors were never in the theatrical tradition–although a few had a vaudeville background. They were often bland. 

An exception was Robert Mitchum. A naturalistic actor who was great in films like Farewell, My Lovely and The Friends of Eddie Coyle

American actors who came of age in the 50s and 60s were more naturalistic. That was partly due to method actor–although that could be very studied–as well as how the counterculture loosened things up in the Sixties and beyond.

Circling back to Lee, I think there are several reasons he was good as Saruman. Because LOTR is fantasy rather than verismo, with archaic dialogue and archetypal, histrionic characters, it's more suited to his operatic delivery. Also, by then he had so much life experience under his belt that I think that made him a better actor. Mellowed him. Made him more expressive. 

Good Jesus meets bad atheist

I recently did a little post responding to some infidels who commented on a post by James Anderson:

An unbeliever (Neil Godfrey) attempted to critique my post:

He's an ex-cult member (Armstrongism) who was raised Methodist. He's so blinded by his reflexive animosity towards Scripture that he sees things that aren't there. In my experience, unbelievers who used to be cult-members are especially hard to reach. The cult is their standard of comparison. They judge Christianity by their former cult. That's the filter. They just can't get that out of their system. They associate Christianity in general with their cult. Their experience as former cult-members nearly sears them for life–although there are a few salutary exceptions. 

Yes, slavery is not wrong at all if the system is run by “good people”, no doubt the Christians. 

1. In my post I didn't say or imply that slavery is not wrong at all if the system is run by "good people." Godfrey pulled that out of thin air. 

One problem is that you can't generalize about the morality of "slavery" inasmuch as there are different kinds of "slavery"–a point I made in my original post. In the OT, there are roughly three kinds of slavery, or ways to become a slave:

i) If you fall into debt, and you can't repay your debts, you can temporarily become an indentured servant. You owe money. You have an obligation to repay it. I don't think that's even prima facie wrong. 

ii) If you (a soldier) attack another country, and you lose, you may be enslaved by the winner. That's a calculated risk when you fight another country. If you lose, you have a lot to lose. If a country attacks Israel, and the aggressor loses, there are three logical alternatives:

a) The winner may summarily excute the losers. Put all the enemy combatants to the sword. Is that preferable to enslavement? Would the enemy combatant rather be executed?

I don't think critics of OT ethics regard that as a morally preferable alternative. 

b) The losers could be repatriated. Let the enemy combatants go home. 

The obvious problem with that alternative is that it gives them a chance to regroup and fight you another day. Some of your own soldiers were already killed when you had to repel the attack. Are you going to let the enemy have a second chance at defeating you? Every time they attack you, some of your soldiers die defending the homeland. Every subsequent attack weakens your defenses.  

It's easy for infidels behind the safety of their keyboard to feign disapproval, but as a practical matter, that's not a viable option.

c) By process of elimination, that leaves enslavement. In addition, that's a deterrent to aggressors. They know that if they lose, they will be enslaved. So that's a disincentive to their attacking you in the first place. 

As with (i), I don't think that's even prima facie wrong. 

iii) Then there's human trafficking. Unlike (i-ii), that's evil. However, Israel didn't create that situation, and Israel was in no position to abolish human trafficking outside its borders. It couldn't very well pass a law banning other countries from human trafficking. How would that be enforced? The offending countries would ignore the law.

So the question at issue is how to react given the status quo. You need to distinguish between an evil situation, and how to act in an evil situation.

Suppose you're in a Nazi concentration camp. That's an evil situation. But you didn't create that situation. You didn't choose to be there.

The challenge is how to act ethically in an unethical situation. You still have moral obligations, even though the framework is immoral. How should prisoners treat other prisoners?

Or say you're a prison guard at a Nazi concentration camp. You didn't volunteer for that role. You were assigned to the job by your military superiors. If you refuse, you will be shot.

What do you do in that situation? Even if you can't avoid being a prison guard, there's a moral continuum. A range of ethical options. You can be sadistic. Abuse your position. Brutalize the inmates. 

Or you can try to be fair. Be compassionate. Do the best you can in that situation. 

The ANE slave trade existed outside Israel. There's nothing Israel could do to prevent it. But if an Israelite purchased a foreign slave, the slave would be better off with a Jewish master than a pagan master. It's not a good situation. Rather, it's a choice between bad and worse. 

iv) Moreover, I wasn't discussing a system run by Christians. The context was the ANE. Does Godfrey think there were Christians in the 2nd millennium BC? The frame of reference was ancient Israel. The Mosaic law. Godfrey's inference about a system run by Christians is blatantly fallacious.  

Indeed, the implication is that slavery is a good way to treat people who have been guilty of “misconduct”.

i) Notice Godfrey doesn't attempt to demonstrate that that's the implication of what I said. 

I didn't suggest that's a "good way" to treat people. The question is whether it's morally permissible. Shooting a mugger who pulls a knife on you isn't a good way to treat the mugger. But it's morally permissible. 

ii) And, yes, if another country attacks ancient Israel, the aggressor is guilty of misconduct. As such, the losing side forfeits the right to freedom. By waging unjust war against Israel, you may lose your freedom. 

The Bible’s laws on slavery were designed to “mitigate evil”.

Another example of Godfrey jumping to conclusions. I didn't say that Biblical laws on slavery were designed to mitigate evil. Rather, I said "Some laws simply seek to mitigate evil." That's not a statement about Biblical laws on slavery in general. I don't think indentured service is evil to begin with. Likewise, I don't think enslaving enemy combatants (who wage a war of unjust aggression) is evil to begin with. 

By contrast, the purchase of foreign slaves does mitigate (rather than eliminate) evil. It's not an ideal solution. But there was no ideal solution at that time and place. Israel couldn't dictate to other countries that they must emancipate their slaves. 

Godfrey is one of those simple-minded critics who doesn't stop to consider the moral complexities of a situation. Doesn't pause to consider the viable alternatives in that situation. He just takes potshots. 

Of course. No-one was allowed to beat a slave so severely that he actually died within a day or two of the flogging (Exodus 21:21).

Unfortunately for Godfrey, I anticipated that objection:

Here are some other posts on OT slavery:

The downside of slavery is that “in a fallen world” there is a certain “imprudence” to give non-Christians such powers over another. 

Yet another example of Godfrey seeing things that aren't there. Did I say or suggest that it was imprudent to give "non-Christians" such powers over another? No. What I actually said was: "in a fallen world it's generally imprudent to give one person that much power over another."

He's so blinded by his unreasoning animus that he projects things onto the text that were never said or implied. 

My statement didn't restrict the principle to non-Christians. It was entirely general. 

The worst that can happen, it seems, is that such masters might stop the slave worshiping God.

Once again, he simply imputes that to the text. One the problems with bondage is that a slave must do whatever the master tells him to do rather than what God tells him to do. It's not about worship in particular. Rather, it's about our duty to obey God in all things. 

And what sort of god does the Triablogue author lament the slaves are unable to worship?
God is allowed to commit barbaric and genocidal acts because he is God. Only God can kill a baby to punish a parent or snuff out whole populations. Only God can do such things and still be Good and worthy of our worship so that we all willingly submit ourselves to him as his slaves.

Of course, that's a stock objection I've fielded on many occasions. 

Friday, June 12, 2015

Good Grief ...

I've had some very bad moments these last few days, but as I've been going through Beth's things, I've been finding some real treasures. She was a treasure, but with some flaws. As are we all. But there were ways in which she was unique, and she touched a wide range of people very deeply. Especially me.

This may sound a bit crazy, but because of what I went through when she left for Iraq, and then when she went through leukemia, I feel as if I may have been inoculated against the very hard moments of grief that I might have otherwise suffered. I have had some hard moments, and maybe I am speaking too soon here. Also, I certainly miss her, and one of the things I miss the most is sharing things with her the things that she would have enjoyed hearing.

For example, the kids and I are at the wave pool today. She loved days like this. And she's not here to share it with. I have asked the Lord to convey to her the peace and happiness that the kids and I are feeling. It may not last. But I'm sure he's got this all worked out. The resurrection to come will fix a lot of things.

Is AHA an organization?

A prominent abolitionist emailed me to complain about my terminology. I will reproduce my side of the correspondence. This is edited to eliminate personal references. His statements are indented:


You don't even attempt to offer a substantive rebuttal. You don't try to show how my interpretation of the AHA post I quoted is fallacious. It's just your knee-jerk defense of whatever anyone at AHA says or does. 

The AHA post uses a straightforward argument. Resort to violence is logically entailed by the argument it gave. 

Also "at AHA" is a meaningless statement, which I've corrected you on before and on which is based many of your misrepresentations. Yet you forge ahead without taking into account the correctives I offer. THAT is knee-jerk.

You mean, because I don't accept AHA's hairsplitting, nonsensical distinctions about how it's not an "organization" or even a "group"? 

It's AHA that's redefining words. You say it's not a "group," but you say it's a "movement." Well, a movement is a group of people. You say people can't "join" or "belong to" or be a "member" of AHA, but, needless to say, people can belong to a movement.

Likewise, AHA has "societies." Well, what are societies if not "groups." 

In fact, you try to have it both ways:

First, “Abolish Human Abortion” is not a group. 
"Abolitionists are a group of people..."

I don't accept the propagandistic redefinition of words.

I notice that you haven't even attempted to offer a plausible alternative interpretation of the statement I posted. 

Movements aren't groups, or organisations. They're movements. Because words mean things, Steve.
It's not fair to say we're REdefining words. We're defining WHO WE ARE. Just like it would be wrong to say that Calvinists are fatalists. You're not being fair, and that's not loving of you.

Consult a few dictionaries. Movements are organized groups of people, with a common ideology, working together to advance a common cause. 

Yes, you're defining who you twisting language.  

AHA is a social movement. It deploys group action to further its agenda.

Stop saying "AHA says" and "AHA is a group" and stuff like that, because it's false, and you know it's false. The question is: Do you care?

You're being preposterous. Take this:

Or this:

Or this:

You're going to tell me that's not what AHA says? If that doesn't represent AHA, who or what does it represent? Disneyland? 

An, an "ideology" can't speak for itself. An ideology is an abstraction for what the ideologues say it is. People define an ideology. It's a set of ideas by a person or persons. 

A group can have subsets. Groups within groups. Collectives. 

Your effort to drive a wedge between the singular and the plural is arbitrary.

Abolitionists define AHA as both an ideology and a group. Groups can say things. A member of a social movement can speak for the movement.  

It's bizarre that abolitionists are so hung up on these artificial, semantic quibbles. 

You're being simplistic. To state "AHA says" is shorthand for "representatives of AHA say."

To state "CBS said" is shorthand for "a CBS reporter said."

Do you really need to have anything that elementary explained to you? 

It's true that at one time AHA was spoken of as a group, but for a long time now we have been trying to reform our language and be careful to speak of it as what it actually is - an ideology. Sometimes even the most experienced of us slip up. You ought to be engaging what our position actually is, though, not slip-ups.

You can't obligate me to use your irrational descriptors, any more than I'm obliged to call Bruce Jenner a woman or Caitlyn. 

Like it or not, AHA is an organization. It has spokesmen. They post on the AHA blog and Facebook wall. 

AHA isn't just an ideology. Rather, it's a social movement, an organized group of people united by a common ideology and a shared purpose.  

It's a waste of time…

You emailed me, not the other way around. You're wasting my time. 

You don't get to define who we are or what we have set up, especially not in the face of our protestations to the contrary. You're the Arminian insisting that Calvinism is fatalism despite many reasons to the contrary. You're that guy. Stop being that guy. 

As a matter of fact, I do have the right to define things in the face of protestations to the contrary. I have a right to define homosexuality and transgenderism in the face of protestations to the contrary. I have the right to define atheism in the face of protestations to the contrary. 

A social movement or ideology is not entitled to dictate how other people must view it simply because it wants to be viewed a certain way. It only gets to define itself if in fact its definitions are reasonable–which is not the case with AHA's fabricated, illogical dichotomies and disjunctions. That's not something you get to impose on other people just because you say it or just because it serves your purpose.  

When open theists redefine omniscience, then say they affirm omniscience, I reserve the right to say they deny omniscience. 

Intellectual honesty would demand you deal with who we really are, not who you want us to be. 

Well, John Reasnor is an XRecon theonomist, and he used that to define AHA in your sponsored debate with Wilcox. Is that what AHA really is? 

Intellectual honesty demands that I distinguish between who you really are and who you imagine you are. 

Part of your mistake is thinking of AHA as a top-down group. We are neither top-down nor a group. It may be difficult for you to imagine that, as I get the feeling you're in the rut of thinking everything has to be some sort of institution. 

I notice you don't quote anything I've said to that effect. That's just your idiosyncratic definition of an organization, as if, by definition, an organization must be a top-down group.

I notice you've reciprocated nothing about love in your emails. 

I'm amused by your hypocritical refrain about love, when AHA routinely slanders prolifers.

Debugging atheism

I'll respond to some comments left by infidels in response to James Anderson's post on "Bugs, Features, and Atheism."

As a Bible believing Trinity worshipper, on what basis would you condemn something like slavery? On what basis would you condemn someone who poisoned and killed a child because of something that child's father did (2 Sam 12:14-18 and no I'm not "taking it out of context" no matter how desperately you insist I am.)? On what basis would you condemn global genocide (including infanticide)?

Short answer:

i) First of all, it's nice to see XTheist tacitly concede that atheism has no objective basis for right and wrong. Since he can't rebut Dr. Anderson's argument on that score, the best he can do is try argue for parity with respect to moral relativism.  

ii) Whether slavery is morally condemnable depends on what kind of slavery you're talking about, how someone becomes enslaved, and the viable alternatives.

All things being equal, a Christian could condemn slavery on the grounds that in a fallen world it's generally imprudent to give one person that much power over another. Likewise, it denies the slave the freedom to exercise his duties to God. Moreover, unless the slave had done something to forfeit his freedom, liberty should be the default condition.

There are, however, situations in which a person can, through misconduct, forfeit his freedom.

Likewise, there are situations where the lesser evil principle the best available option. 

iii) The other two examples fail to distinguish between what's permissible for God and what's permissible for man. 

On the one hand:

Christianity: Not evidence-based. In fact, directly contradicts the evidence. Has justified slavery, racism, sexism, and homophobia; and continues to justify the murder of children by "faith healings". Harms people immensely.

On the other hand:

You make quite a show of pretending to have "objective" morals, but at the end of the day, your morality is societally based, just like everyone else's. The only difference is that atheists have the strength of character to admit it.

Second objection negates first objection. If everybody's morality is societally-based, then how can one societally-based morality condemn another societally-based morality? If sexism is a societally-based morality, then what's the problem?

Where do you get your idea that slavery is bad? So long as the Israelites are not the slave, the Bible is expressly in favor of it.

Lawmakers aren't necessarily in favor of what they regulate. Some laws simply seek to mitigate evil. 

The Mosaic law could not abolish human trafficking in countries outside the holy land. And foreign slaves purchased by Israelites enjoyed certain protections not afforded them elsewhere. 

Where do you get the idea that rape is bad? So long as the woman is not engaged/married, the Bible never has an ill word to say of rape, and often encourages it.

Demonstrably false.

What can you say against racism, sexism, human sacrifice, and the murder of children, when you deity has encouraged them all?

The OT forbids human sacrifice. The Bible does not encourage "racism." 

The role of ridicule

i) The spectacle of Bruce Jenner posing as a pin-up girl on the cover of Vanity Fair raises the question of ridicule in Christian discourse. Is that ever appropriate? 

There are Christians who think that violates Christian etiquette. We should never indulge in ridicule or sarcasm. 

ii) Some Christians are hypersensitive to ridicule because atheists like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and their many imitators, deploy ridicule as a weapon against Christians.

The problem, however, is not the general propriety of ridicule, but the specific context:

a) Ridicule should not be a substitute for argument. That begs the question. If it's been established by reason and argument that the object of ridicule is indeed ridiculous, or if the object of ridicule is manifestly ridiculous, then ridicule is appropriate. 

But all too often, atheists cut straight to ridicule before doing the intellectual spadework. They resort to ridicule as a substitute for reasoned discourse. 

b) Apropos (a), the object of ridicule should deserve to be ridiculed. It's inappropriate to ridicule an undeserving object. 

iii) Apropos (a-b), the forces of political correctness attempt to shame people into submission. They use intimidation rather than persuasion. That betrays the fact that their positions are irrational. 

iv) I'm not suggesting that everyone who engages in ridicule must begin by making a case for their position. Different people are good at different things. A comedian is not a philosopher, or vice versa. 

v) In addition, some beliefs and behavior are prima facie ridiculous. It doesn't require an elaborate justification to mock it. There's a common grace intuition that comes into play. 

vi) There's a balance to be struck between stigma and cruelty. As a rule, I think we should avoid humiliating people. For instance, teenagers sometimes do embarrassing things which would be hard to live down if that became widely known. I don't think they should be ruined on that account. We should avoid exposing them. I don't mean covering for their actions, but not publicizing their actions. Not doing them harm. Protecting the weak is virtuous. 

vii) But that can be counterbalanced by another consideration. Up to a point, stigmatizing certain behavior is a salutary disincentive to destructive behavior. There are men who underwent sex-change operations after that became socially acceptable. That's an irreversible procedure. It didn't solve their psychological problems. In fact, it aggravated their inner turmoil. As a result, many commit suicide.

Had sex-change operations been stigmatized, that would deter them from having the operation, thus sparing them the deleterious consequences. 

viii) Moreover, there are some people who ought to be publicly humiliated. For instance, some ambitious, fanatical politicians are dangerous to the common good. They will use their power to promote evil. Take Anthony Weiner, who at one time was a leading candidate to be mayor of NYC. Or take Eliot Spitzer, attorney general and later governor of NY, who persecuted crisis pregnancy centers. Their ascent to power was jackknifed, at least temporarily, by scandal. They deserve to be ridiculed. Men like that ought to be driven from the public square. They are a menace to society. A threat to all that's good and decent. 

ix) Furthermore, there's a difference between people who struggle with "inner demons," and people who make a public spectacle of themselves. For instance, Bruce Jenner has chosen to live in a fishbowl. 

What is more, he's a willing pawn on chessboard of social engineers. He is being used to further a destructive agenda. Destroying the Bill of Rights. Persecuting the church. The war on boys. The war on babies. Euthanizing the elderly and developmentally disabled. They use him as cover.  

His antics invite mockery. His brazen repudiation of God's design for manhood and womanhood richly deserves to be lampooned. His buffoonery is an apt target for satire. Indeed, it's almost beyond parody. 

And, more importantly, the larger cause he represents should be greeted with derision.

x) The Bible is no stranger to satire. Isaiah lampoons idolaters. Jonah is the butt of the joke. Jesus ridicules the religious leaders (Mt 23). 

But as I say, we need to choose our targets with care. 


Threshing the wheat

Christian Americans live in a threshing time. The Obama regime has created a legal and social climate in which nominal Christians feel it's safe to express their true views. The current state of the culture wars is having a sorting action on the evangelical church (as well as the church of Rome). 

i) On the one hand, you have "progressive Christians" like David Gushee and Tony Campolo who feel right at home in the new climate. 

ii) On the other hand, you have professing Christians like Michael Bird, Andy Stanley, and Adrian Warnock who are morally and theologically confused. 

Take Warnock. He seems to be a nice, sincere Christian. But he's playing checkers in the Hunger Games. He has no inking of how campaigns against "homophobia" and "transphobia" are just a cover for a secular pogrom. "Gay wedding cakes" &c. are the iron fist in the velvet glove. Start out with some seemingly innocuous demand. But that's not what it's really about. It's a prelude to repression. 

That's a different sorting effect than (i). Warnock is well-meaning, but he can't rise to the challenge.

There are people who can function well within a moral structure which is imposed by a tradition that's wiser than themselves. When, however, that structure is removed, and they must define the moral boundaries on their own, they are at a loss. 

iii) Then you have many Americans of various ideological stripes who disagree with political correctness, but keep their mouths shut for fear of reprisal if they buck the system. Although that's a win for the fascists, it's like the waning days of communism, where very few people believed in the "revolution." That accounted for the precipitous collapse of communism. There were so few true believers left, since it was based on intimidation rather than persuasion.  

Political correctness has to be coercive because it's so unnatural. So counterintuitive. Without coercion, the pendulum automatically swings back to its natural center of gravity. It takes constant vigilance, constant coercion, to enforce political correctness. For that's not how even most unbelievers normal think and behave. 

In that respect, political correctness is always at a disadvantage. Beleaguered Christians who feel that we are losing the culture wars need to keep that in mind. 

The Fascist Left and Same-Sex Marriage

Are we really 99% chimp?

I don't agree with the evolutionary premises (e.g. universal common descent), but it's interesting to see someone who subscribes to neo-Darwinism criticize the idea that we're "99% chimp" (which others like the ID theorists have criticized for years):

Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Self-Defeating Logic of Transgenderism

Gagnon on Christianity Today

Christianity Today published on June 8 a somewhat disturbing article by Mark Yarhouse (professor of psychology at Regent University in Virginia) on "gender dysphoria." Gender dysphoria is the APA's current description of the condition whereby someone perceives one's "gender" to be other than one's birth or biological sex. The previous designation in the APA's diagnostic manual (and in my view still preferable) is "gender identity disorder" (GID).
Mark contends:
1. Church members should address a man who thinks he is a woman by her chosen female name and use feminine pronouns, and a woman who thinks she is a man by her chosen male name and use masculine pronouns. He appears unconcerned that this approach compels churchgoers to participate in gender delusion.
2. The church should not "treat as synonymous management of gender dysphoria and faithfulness" to Christ. The church should allow those with transgender desires "to identify with aspects of the opposite sex, as a way to manage extreme discomfort," including cross-dressing, as though such actions can be divorced from faithful discipleship.
3. For the most part the church should give up on the "culture war" battle on this and other issues. “The church is called to rise above [culture] wars and present a witness to redemption. Mark apparently believes that the church's focus on redemption precludes such things as: (a) trying to keep society from becoming increasingly confused and immoral in sexual ethics; (b) combatting society's efforts to persuade children in the public schools that one's perceived "gender" need not correlate with one's biological sex; and (c) working to prevent the state from punishing believers who can't support a transsexual agenda (for example, requiring schools and businesses to allow males who think they are females use female restrooms).
Mark cites me as an example of what he calls an "Integrity" position (he quotes me several times but strangely doesn't cite or link to the online article from which he quotes, which is here:…/TranssexualityOrdination.pdf). Mark does not put himself in this camp (though he believes Christians should let it "inform our pastoral care"). Rather he subscribes to a "Disability" position. Mark cites as a distinguishing feature of this position that it "rejects the teaching that gender identity conflicts are the result of willful disobedience or sinful choice." Gender dysphoria is not "a result of moral choice."
This way of delineating matters distorts my view because I do not view the mere experience of gender dysphoria as necessarily resulting from active efforts to rebel against God. My approach is not far from Mark’s on this score: “A person may have choices to make in response to the condition, and those choices have moral and ethical dimensions. But the person is not culpable for having the condition as such." However, even this view is a bit simplistic: There is often a dialectical relationship between involuntary desires and the strengthening and reinforcing of desires through behavior and active thought life (a nurture-becomes-nature component).
Another problem with his "Disability" view is that for the most part people don't associate a disability with sinful conduct. When people think of disabilities they typically think of such things as physical impairments of mobility, hearing, or sight; mental retardation or other learning impairments; or health impairments like asthma, epilepsy, or attention deficit disorder. Such non-moral disabilities can be accommodated in all sorts of ways without violating any moral standards of God.
Even depression and anxiety (cited as parallels to gender dysphoria by Mark) are not as directly or severely related to the desire to sin as a desire to pursue a gender identity at odds with one's biological sex (and in what sense do we accommodate to depression and anxiety?). This confusion on Mark's part causes him to want to accommodate to the sexual delusion of gender identity disorder in ways that I believe compromise core scriptural standards of sexual ethics.
Mark further argues that "it is an act of respect, even if we disagree, to let the person determine what they want to be called." I disagree. It is a mark of dishonor to contribute to the self-dishonoring misperceptions and false steps of someone who seeks to mar the stamp of gender stamped on one's body by the Creator (compare Paul’s language of dishonor in discussing homosexual practice in Rom 1:24-27). If someone believes that he is Adolf Hitler redivivus and wishes to be addressed as "Herr Hitler" or "Mein Fuhrer" it is not appropriate to advise Jews or anyone else to comply with his request.
Mark claims that "redemption is not found by measuring how well a person’s gender identity aligns with their biological sex, but by drawing them to the person and work of Jesus Christ, and to the power of the Holy Spirit to transform us into his image." This statement is contradictory insofar as acting on desires to become the opposite sex can impact one's redemption negatively. In Paul's day such behavior would have incurred a warning about not inheriting the kingdom of God precisely because such conduct manifests an untransformed life marked by serious unbelief. Compare Paul's inclusion of "soft men" (malakoi) in the offender list in 1 Cor 6:9-10, which in context designates men who attempt to become women (through dress, mannerisms, makeup, and sometimes castration), often to attract male sex partners.
Mark appears to give little thought for the impact that accommodating a cross-dressing "transgender" would have on a church's standards for sexual purity and healthy sexual differentiation. Whereas Paul recommends remedial disfellowship for grievous sexual offenders in 1 Corinthians 5, because "a little leaven (of sin/corruption) leavens the whole lump," Mark encourages the church to complicity with sexual delusion. If a man wants to be called "Sara," to be treated as a woman (including use of female restrooms in church?), and to come to church in a woman's dress and sporting a female hair style, high-heel shoes, panty hose, and lipstick, according to Mark church members should accommodate. Although Mark refers obliquely to wise counsel from church leaders, he allows the offender to call the shots.
Mark would certainly prefer that persons with gender dysphoria make peace with their biological sex. He thinks counseling should be directed to "how best to manage gender dysphoria in light of the integrity lens" and advising persons with GID to explore their other-sex desires "in the least invasive way possible." However, his willingness to see the church accommodate to the charade of transgenderism rather than risk alienating a male "Sara" is at odds with the gospel.
I have no doubt that his desire is to be loving to persons experiencing this distress. Yet it is possible to be sensitive, gentle, and loving without forcing the church to act as if the lie is the truth.

Parsons on presuppositionalism

Over at the Secular Outpost, Keith Parsons has some observations about transcendental theism:

Keith Parsons It seems to me that the CP project is like Descartes's in Meditations on First Philosophy. You raise the specter of total skepticism and seek a secure foundation for knowledge. By the end of Meditation II, Descartes only knows three things for sure--that he exist, that he is a thinking thing, and that whatever he perceives "clearly and distinctly" must be so. To safeguard knowledge from the Evil Demon, Descartes must prove that a good God exists, and this he sets out (fallaciously) to do in Meditation III.
The difference between the CPer and Descartes is that the latter seeks to prove God's existence, while the former presupposes it. However, some knowledge is required even to coherently presuppose. The Christian God must be assumed to be the sort of being that values truth and rationality. CPers therefore have to trust that their assumptions about the putative nature of the Christian God are (a) intelligible, and (b) true. Any attempt to demonstrate the intelligibility or truth of their assumption could not rest on that assumption, upon pain of circularity. Hence, any non-circular attempted demonstration of the intelligibility or truth of the assumption would violate the assumption itself by appealing to standards not validated by the Christian God.
The upshot is that we have no choice. If we want to know anything at all, at some point we have to accept the deliverances of our own reason.

The comparison with Descartes is interesting, but misses the point:

i) Descartes is questioning what we take for granted. If we systematically scrutinize what we take for granted, how much of that is indubitable? 

ii) Transcendental theism is similar, but different. The question at issue is how we can ground what we take for granted. Indeed, what we must take for granted. If we deny the existence of God, then do many of the fundamental beliefs we take for granted become groundless? Once you deny God's existence, that commits you do denying all the implicated beliefs. It's not a question of indubitable belief, but the metaphysical basis, if any, for the fundamental beliefs we take for granted. 

iii) Parsons is blending transcendental theism with a strategy to deflect the Cartesian demon. But a God who values truth and rationality is not, in the instance, the distinctive contention of transcendental theism. Rather, it's about the possibility of knowledge. What metaphysical machinery is required for truth and rationality to even exist. 

iv) You can indirectly demonstrate the necessity of the claim. You explicate the claim to demonstrate that there's no rational alternative. 

v) To counter that believers and unbelievers alike have no alternative to reliance on reason misses the point: transcendental theism doesn't deny that. The question at issue is what, if anything, undergirds that dependence. Conversely, does atheism subvert the reliability of reason? Examples include the argument from reason (C. S. Lewis, Victor Reppert) and Plantinga's evolutionary argument against naturalism. 

Sure, there's a sense in which reason is the inescapable starting-point. But an acidhead who's tripping out on LSD must still rely reason, even though his faculties are woefully impaired.  

What makes Modus Ponens valid? That is, how can we be sure that given p -> q and p, q must be true? Put more precisely, how do we know that p -> q and p jointly entail q? This is the same as asking how we know that {[(p -> q) & p] & ~q} is a contradiction. Well, we could write out a truth table showing that for every possible assignment of truth values to p and q, this expression comes out false. That is, {[(p -> q) & p] & ~q} is false on every interpretation, and this is what we mean by a contradiction. But what we get from our proof table is determined by what we put into it. We decide that every proposition has one and only one truth value, T or F, and we define the logical connectives "&" and "->" and "~" in certain rigorous ways. In other words WE make the rules that make arguments valid. There is nothing mysterious, transcendent, or supernatural about it. Achieving valid inference in logic is like achieving checkmate in chess. It often takes some cleverness to get there, but each proof, and each checkmate, is achieved in a rigorously rule-bound way.

Once again, that misses the point:

i) The question at issue isn't what makes modus ponens valid, but the ontology of logic. What are logical truths? Is modus ponens something we invent, or something we discover? Are logical truths necessary and universal? If so, what metaphysical machinery must be in place to make it so?

ii) Do we mere stipulate validity and invalidity, or must our rules correspond to modal intuitions? And must our modal intuitions correspond an ultimate and underlying reality that's independent of human cognition? 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Transgenderism: A Pathogenic Meme

The Iraq question

A few weeks ago, GOP presidential hopefuls were asked: "if you knew then what you know what, would you invade Iraq?"

In principle, there are roughly four different answers you can give:

i) A libertarian like Rand Paul would reformulate the question: "Given what I knew then, I opposed the war!"

That would invite a follow-up question: "So why did you think it was wrong at the time?"

ii) The respondent could challenge the question: presidents don't have the benefit of hindsight. They must make important decisions based on the information they have at the time. 

iii) A respondent could say "no." 

That would invite a follow-up question: "So what do we know now which leads you to believe the invasion was a mistake?" 

iv) A respondent could say "Yes, but…"

In other words, he could say it was still the right thing to do, but we should learn from our mistakes. If we had it to do over again, we should change the strategic objective and/or the tactics.

That would invite a follow-up question regarding the alternative strategy and tactics.

Carrier on Cartesian demons

An atheist attempts to debunk Cartesian demons:
Cartesian demons are necessarily vastly more complex than explanations lacking them…
Seems to me the Cartesian demon is parsimonious. In principle, a single agent can account for every perception of every human being. Surely that's simpler than Carrier's alternative–where you need a separate stimulus (and attendant machinery) for each perception. 
Here's a better response: If the Cartesian demon exists, I might as well act as if it doesn't exist, for however I act, there's nothing I can do about it. And if the Cartesian demon does not exist, there's nothing that I need to do about it.
At a practical level, it makes no difference one way or the other. If it's true, I have nothing to lose by acting as if it's false–and if it's false, I have nothing to lose by acting as if it's false. 
Likewise, if it's true, I have nothing to gain by acting as if it's true–for nothing I think or do has any effect on the illusion. There's no advantage in taking it seriously. And there's no disadvantage in discounting it. 

Armed revenue collectors

One basic problem with current policing is that police have become armed revenue collectors. That often seems to be their primary job. Indeed, their job depends on it. 

It's become a circular, incestuous dynamic: police exist to collect revenue, and revue exists to hire more police. 

When the city coffers are plush, more police are hired. When the city suffers a budget shortfall, police are laid off. You need more revenue to hire more police, and you need more police to collect more revenue. 

The police don't exist to protect the public, but to keep revenue flowing into the city coffers by ticketing as many citizens for as many infractions as possible. 

I see many more police on the road than I did back in the 60s and 70s. Admittedly, that's my anecdotal observation. 

But there seems to be an internal logic to it: to fund ever larger municipal gov't, you need an ever larger police force to collect supplemental revenue. Indeed, I think there's an informal ticket quota, although the police are loath to admit it.

This inevitably raises the number of unpleasant encounters and altercations between police and citizens. And this is often not about public safety, but fining people for purely technical infractions that exist, not to protect the public, but to generate municipal revenue. 

And by raising the odds of gratuitous altercations, you raise the odds of situations that end badly. It's a vicious cycle with predictable consequences. 

I'm not saying the police never save lives. But much of what they do is not about that. We've developed a hovering, predatory police presence. Police on the prowl for opportunities to rake in revenue. Casing the neighborhood to pounce on somebody for some technical violation that carries a fine. 

Instead of going after threatening people, all too often the police are threatening people who engage in perfectly innocuous behavior. The danger isn't coming from the general public but the squad car. On the lookout to make a buck for city hall. 

Bugs, features, and atheism

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

A waspish worldview

I live on the other side of Copernicus and Galileo; I can no longer conceive of God as sort of above the sky, looking down and keeping record books. I live on the other side of Isaac Newton; I can no longer conceive of things that I do not understand as simply being supernatural invasions of the theistic God to do a miracle. I live on the other side of Charles Darwin and I can no longer see human light as having been created perfect and falling into sin, I see us rather emerging into higher and higher levels of consciousness and higher and higher levels of complication. I live on the other side of Sigmund Freud, and I can no longer use the kind of parent language of the past without being self-conscious about the passive dependency that that encourages. And I live on the other side of Albert Einstein, and I know what relativity means in all of life, and so I can no longer claim that I possess objective and revealed truth and it's infallible, or it's inherent, those become claims out of the past that are no longer relevant for 21st century people.

Spong is a pseudo-sophisticate who clearly doesn't know what he's talking about. But his position isn't that different from John Walton or Peter Enns regarding the obsolescent science of Scripture.

Now there are doubtless things we understand about the natural world that ancient people did not and could not. Mind you, what traditional Christian theologian ever thought that Gen 1-3 was based on what people back then could know apart from revelation?

There is, however, another aspect to this question. Scientific progress often proceeds by flights of the imagination. Take Maxwell's Demon. The technology is not available at the time to perform these experiments. It's often scientific imagination that's driving technological advances, rather than vice versa. 

Recently I was sitting at a park bench. I noticed a hornet about a yard in front of me climbing up, down, and around a concrete block. Finally, it made the mistake of walking towards me. A fatal miscalculation. As I was watching the wasp, it also reminded me of times I've seen spiders and houseflies climb a wall, then walk across the ceiling.

It made me think about the degree to which our human sense of up and down is conditioned by our sense of gravity. Because insects are virtually weightless, an insect an walk vertically as easily as horizontally. Can walk upside down as easily as right-side up. It takes no more effort for an insect to walk up and down a tree trunk or under a branch than walking on the ground. The pull of gravity is negligible. 

In that respect, an insect has a cubical perception of the world. Every surface is equivalent to ground level. A four-dimensional experience, where up, down, upside-down and right-side up range along a common continuum. 

Yet the world doesn't look the same from each orientation. In each case the view will be different.

Of course, insects lack the intelligence to appreciate difference. They don't have a viewpoint. 

But suppose an insect had human intelligence, or suppose a human had insect mobility. It would resemble that scene from Inception where the cityscape curls around like a cylinder. 

What would be "up"? What would be "down"? What would be the frame of reference?

Notice, though, that my little thought-experiment doesn't depend on modern astronomy or modern technology. It begins with me observing an insect. Mentally detaching myself from my natural viewpoint and projecting myself into the situation of an insect.

I'm certainly not the smartest man who ever lived. Surely there have been men centuries before me, millennia before me, who could practice the same detachment, assume a different viewpoint. Turn things around in their mind. 

That's an engine of science. It doesn't require modern physics or modern technology. Rather, it's those leaps of the imagination which give rise to modern physics and modern science in the first place. 

Shredding the Fourth Amendment

I Sexually Identify As An A-10 Thunderbolt

Moral mayhem

Here's a prominent homosexual activitist on amputee identity disorder. He's taking homosexuality and transgenderism to their logical extreme. 
Other people's bodies—and other people's body parts—are theirs, not yours. And if someone needs to change or even remove some part(s) of their body to be who they are and to be happy and to be healthy, they should have that right…All you gotta do is strike the right balance between minding your own business and embracing/celebrating the infinite diversity of the human experience.

God wrote a book

A wall or a window?


Incitement to violence

In the past, AHA has said it eschews violence. But it recently posted this:

"What Christ says is to love my neighbor as I love myself. If someone were coming to kill you, you would do more than stand up and shout, 'Help!'. If someone were trying to kill you, you would oppose them with everything you have, because you love yourself. I ask that you think in those terms when you consider the pre-born child who is slated to die."

What is this if not an open incitement to violence? It's an argument from analogy. It considers verbal dissuasion inadequate. Rather, you'd oppose the assailant with whatever you've got. 

It presumes the right of self-defense, then extends that principle to protection of the unborn. According to the right of self-defense, you're entitled to use violent means, up to and including lethal force, if necessary, to protect yourself from being killed or maimed by wrongful aggression. 

By parity of argument, that's permissible and, indeed, obligatory, in defense of your neighbor (i.e. unborn babies). 

Moreover, protecting the unborn by the same means you'd use to defend yourself can't be qualified without destroying the analogy, which is the basis of the argument.