Saturday, May 07, 2016

The enemy within

Now that Trump is the presumptive nominee, it's no longer a choice between Trump and his primary opponents, but Hillary and Trump. 

(I mean "choice" in terms of which one will be elected. Obviously, there are other folks you can vote for, or not vote at all.)

There are voters who hate Trump, but will vote for him because they think Hillary is worse. That's not my own position, but I don't blame them. The Trumpkins have destroyed all the good options.

But I'd like to briefly discuss the consequences of a Trump presidency, were he elected. I'm probing the way in which the choice is framed. Is Trump better than Hillary?

We have two major parties in this country. By that I mean, only two parties are large enough to be competitive at a state and national level. There are other parties, but they are rarely completive, even at the state and local level. I'm not saying that's good or bad. That's just the way it is.

The Democrat party is the liberal party, and it keeps moving to the left. The GOP is the opposition party. 

A basic problem with a Trump presidency is that he'd co-opt the GOP. He'd have the potential to transform the party–for the worse. In that event, you'd no longer have an opposition party to resist the liberal establishment. You'd wind up with two liberal national parties. Yes, there'd be conservative splinter groups, but these would be ineffectual. 

There's a particular kind of damage that someone inside an organization can do that outsiders can't. A classic example is Kim Philby, head of counterespionage operations for MI-6. As a double agent (a KJB recruit), he was in a position to do far more harm to British intelligence than an outsider could. 

Indeed, some critics have suggested that Trump is a Democrat plant. But even if that's not the case, he's the functional equivalent of a double agent. He's a lifelong Democrat with Manhattan values.  

If we turn over the house keys to Trump, will we have a house to come back to four years later, or will we be locked out? Evicted?  

Olympic Flip-Flopper

Nobody's better at flip-flopping than I am. I have the best flips. The best flops. The best. Believe me. I promise. It's going to be terrific.

American Satyricon

New York Times
March 17, 2017

Just two months after he was sworn in, Pres. Trump married his fourth trophy wife, Caitlyn Jenner-Trump. The ceremony was held at First Baptist Dallas. Pastor Jeffress made the sanctuary available for this august occasion. Rev. Mike Huckabee officiated the wedding. Sean Hannity was Trump's Best man. Strippers from the Trump Taj Mahal supplied the bridesmaids. Gov. Christie stood behind the First Ladyish to carry his/her bridal train. 

Prior to the event, Jerry Falwell hosted a Bacchanalian stag party at Liberty U, where he and Trump shared a hot tub filled with Château Lafite. 

According to TMZ, which acquired a leaked copy of their prenup, ex-wife Melania Trump received an exorbitant severance package in exchange for keeping mum about the Donald's small hands and other appendages. 

The Supremes

I've seen some critics of the GOP say the party in power makes no difference to Supreme Court rulings. But that's a gross oversimplification. 

For instance, they point out that Justice Kennedy was nominated by a Republican president. But that overlooks two salient facts:

i) Reagan originally nominated Bork. That was his first pick.

ii) At the time, Democrats controlled the Senate. 

If Democrats control the Senate, then a Republican president, no matter how conservative, can't push through a nominee that Democrats oppose. 

There's also the mathematical fallacy–as if it came down to one vote: Kennedy's. But the four justices who opposed homosexual marriage were Republican nominees, while four of the five justices who supported homosexual marriage were Democrat nominees. It took five votes, four of which were supplied by Democrat nominees. 

Therefore, it's counterproductive to use that as an example of how the party in power makes no difference to how cases are decided. The reality is precisely the opposite.  

The four Democrat nominees were nominated by Bill Clinton and Obama respectively. If their Republican rivals had won instead, that would be four additional Republican nominees. Even if two of them turned out to be closet liberals, you'd still have a working conservative majority. 

Likewise, I've seen some critics single out Chief Justice Roberts, who was nominated by a Republican, because he voted for Obamacare. Yes, Roberts disgraced himself on that issue. But what makes that the litmus test? Roberts voted against homosexual marriage. Why not make that the litmus test? Imagine how much worse the court would have been had Kerry or Gore been president. 

Also, what about good nominees like Rehnquist, Thomas, Scalia, et.? Why don't Republican presidents get credit for them? And it's not as if presidents have a crystal ball. 

Democrats, Republicans, and conservatives

Has the GOP strayed from its conservative roots? Certainly the Trump candidacy represents an abandonment of conservative principles. But even before then you've had critics who felt the party had lost its way.

A lot depends on your frame of reference. For instance, when I was born, Ike was president. Here's some of what the GOP platform said when he ran for reelection:

We are proud of and shall continue our far-reaching and sound advances in matters of basic human needs—expansion of social security—broadened coverage in unemployment insurance —improved housing—and better health protection for all our people. We are determined that our government remain warmly responsive to the urgent social and economic problems of our people. 
We support this and his [Eisenhower's] further offer of United States participation in an international fund for economic development financed from the savings brought by true disarmament. 
Government must have a heart as well as a head. 
The record of performance of the Republican Administration on behalf of our working men and women goes still further. The Federal minimum wage has been raised for more than 2 million workers. 
Social Security has been extended to an additional 10 million workers and the benefits raised for 6 1/2 million. The protection of unemployment insurance has been brought to 4 million additional workers. There have been increased workmen's compensation benefits for longshoremen and harbor workers, increased retirement benefits for railroad employees, and wage increases and improved welfare and pension plans for federal employees. 
Extend the protection of the Federal minimum wage laws to as many more workers as is possible and practicable. 
Republican action created the Department of Health, Education and Welfare as the first new Federal department in 40 years. 
We initiated the first flood insurance program in history under Government sponsorship in cooperation with private enterprise.

Does that sound stereotypically conservative to you? Isn't that something you'd expect to find in a Democrat party platform?  

In fairness, the platform also contains more conservative initiatives. And while we're on the subject, here's what it says about civil rights:

The Republican Party points to an impressive record of accomplishment in the field of civil rights and commits itself anew to advancing the rights of all our people regardless of race, creed, color or national origin. 
The many Negroes who have been appointed to high public positions have played a significant part in the progress of this Administration. 
Segregation has been ended in the District of Columbia Government and in the District public facilities including public schools, restaurants, theaters and playgrounds. The Eisenhower Administration has eliminated discrimination in all federal employment. 
Great progress has been made in eliminating employment discrimination on the part of those who do business with the Federal Government and secure Federal contracts. This Administration has impartially enforced Federal civil rights statutes, and we pledge that we will continue to do so. We support the enactment of the civil rights program already presented by the President to the Second Session of the 84th Congress. 
The regulatory agencies under this Administration have moved vigorously to end discrimination in interstate commerce. Segregation in the active Armed Forces of the United States has been ended. For the first time in our history there is no segregation in veterans' hospitals and among civilians on naval bases.

That was act a time when Southern Democrats were staunch segregationists. 

When I was a kid, bigwig Republicans included Earl Warren, Barry Goldwater, Nelson Rockefeller. These were social liberals. Likewise, Nixon was a proponent of mandatory employer-based health insurance. 

The GOP became more conservative over time. Why? At least two reasons:

i) The GOP moved into the Bible belt. It supplanted the Democrat party in the South.

ii) As the Democrat party embraced abortion, feminism, gay rights, &c., the GOP became the haven of social conservatives. 

Republicans like Arlen Specter were throwbacks to a more socially liberal party. 

That's the past. What about recent history? Bush 43 opposed gays in the military. Obama, with Democrat supermajorities in Congress, swept it aside. 

Obamacare passed on a party line vote, with Democrats supporting it and Republicans opposing it. 

What about the present situation? In North Carolina, a Republican governor spearheaded a law to ban unisex bathrooms. It passed by a party line vote in the NC senate. The Obama administration is now threatening NC. Conversely, Democrat NYC mayor Blasio signed a bill mandating unisex bathroom and locker room access. 

Likewise, in Mississippi, a Republican governor just signed into law a religious liberty bill. This passed by a party line vote.

The Democrat and Republican parties are not interchangeable. For another comparison and contrast: 

Friday, May 06, 2016

God Has Spoken in His Son

Peter T. O'Brien has published God Has Spoken in His Son: a biblical theology of Hebrews. This is a complement to his splendid commentary on Hebrews. 

Trump pundits

In a painful irony, Trump's enablers included a gallery of erstwhile rightwing pundits–who portray themselves as the standard bearers of conservative ideological purity, viz. Bill Bennett, Pat Buchanan, Keith Burgess-Jackson, Ann Coulter, Monica Crowley, Jerry Fallwell, Jr., Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Mike Huckabee, Laura Ingraham, Robert Jeffress, Mark Levin, Rush Limbaugh, Peggy Noonan, Sarah Palin, Ben Shapiro. They were men and women of stalwart principle–unlike those soulless RINOs in the Republican establishment. 

Some of them continue to support him. Others panicked and began to attack him, but by then it was too little too late. It's very revealing to see the amount of dry rot in conservative punditry which Trump unwittingly exposed. Most of them proved to be just as compromising as rudderless Republicans in the GOP "establishment". The Trump phenomenon has been a clarifying moment for the conservative commentariat. Let's run through a few of these:

i) Bennett is one of the more literate conservatives. He's a moralist. Writes lots of hortatory books. Yet he lacks the moral discernment to see Trump for what he is.

ii) I have to assume Gingrich is backing Trump because Gingrich wants to be back in the loop. A presidential advisor. A powerbroker. 

iii) I suspect pundits like Hannity and Limbaugh were corrupted by their own success. They now move in the same socially elite circles that Trump was born into.

iv) Coulter has made a career of moral posturing. The question was how much was moral and how much was posturing. Well, we now see it was posturing all the way through. A social butterfly in a socially conservative cocoon. 

v) Ingraham has a homosexual brother. That probably dilutes her commitment to social conservatism. 

vi) We see a number of erstwhile conservative women supporting Trump. It's no secret that there's a type of woman who's drawn to men who project wealthy, status, and power. Both Coulter and Ingraham have really bad taste in boyfriends–so it's not surprising that they fell for Trump. 

vii) With Huckabee, there's always been a tug of war between Huckabee the social conservative and Huckabee the social climber. He used to be an eloquent spokesman for social conservativism, but that had to compete with his worldly ambitions. Like a man with multiple-personality disorder, the two Huckabees would surface at different times. It wasn't clear which one was dominant, but the social climber finally strangled the social conservative. 

viii) With Ben Shapiro, I think he prides himself as the disinterested referee who calls 'em  as he sees 'em. He won't allow pragmatic considerations to blur his ideological acuity.

But that was in tension with the fact that Shapiro has a profound personal investment in who wins the culture wars. Who wins the nomination. Who wins in November. Who sits on the high court. Those two sides of Shapiro weren't properly integrated, which accounts for his shortsightedness. 

In addition, both he and Levin like Trump's pugnaciousness. But that betrayed them into giving him the soft-glove treatment early on. 

ix) Pat Buchanan went off the deep end years ago. Indeed, he was always unstable. 

Where do we go from here?

Now that Trump is the presumptive conservative nominee, what should conservatives do? In the short term, this story doesn't have a happy ending. We're out of good options for the time being. 

1. I'm no expert on the nuts and bolts of the convention. Technically, it may be necessary for Trump to have more than 1237 delegates to win on the first ballot. That's because, as I understand, not all the delegates are bound delegates. In theory, some could bolt. So he might need some extra delegates as a margin for error. 

That said, it seems like Trump's nomination is a foregone conclusion. Theoretically, the RNC could change the rules to deny him the nomination, but surely that's not going to happen, even if it should.

2. Assuming he's the nominee, what's the next step for conservatives? Some conservatives believe that given a choice, we should support Trump over Hillary. I disagree, but there are reasonable arguments for that position. We're in a very tough situation.

3. Others don't think Trump is better than Hillary. Or they don't think the reasons for supporting Trump withstand scrutiny. Take three examples:

4. That brings us to the NeverTrump position. But that, by itself, is not a plan of action. Some conservatives think we should actively oppose Trump in the general election. Run a third-party candidate. 

Here we need to distinguish between not supporting Trump in the general election, and opposing Trump in the general election. I think it's a mistake to actively oppose him in the general election. 

It's one thing not to help Trump win. It's quite another to positively help Hillary win by siphoning votes away from Trump. I don't think conservatives should help either one. 

At one level, I think conservatives should get out of the way and let Trump and Hillary duke it out. That way, if Trump loses, the Trumpkins can't blame it on conservatives who sabotaged their candidate. At this point, we need to let it play out so that Trumpkins will find out the hard way how wrong they were. Don't interfere with the downfall of their candidate. Let them see for themselves the dire predictions come true. They need to learn a hard lesson. They need their own idol to disillusion them. Watch him underperform. 

That wasn't the case in the primaries, but we've passed the final exit on the freeway. 

5. That doesn't mean there's nothing left for conservatives to do:

i) We should educate the American public on conservative ideology. Explain what it is. Explain why it matters.

ii) We should explain what's wrong with Hillary's positions. We should call attention to her scandals. 

iii) To the extent that Trump has any stable, detailed policies, we should explain what's wrong with those.

And not just during the campaign, but after the election–whoever wins. 

6. Liberal ideology contains the seeds of its own destruction. For instance, if gov't officials aggressively promote transgender policies regarding restrooms, locker rooms, intramural sports, and professional sports, that has the potential to antagonize and mobilize tens of millions of voters, many of whom reflexively vote Democrat. 

David French has additional suggestions:

7. The Trump nomination doesn't represent the repudiation of conservative principles. It's not as they were tried and failed. No, they were never put to the test. 

Bart's groupies

(Posted on behalf of Steve.)

After I reviewed the debate between Bart Ehrman and Tim McGrew on YouTube, I took a look at some of the comments. Village atheists swarmed the comment thread, so I interacted with some of them [here and here]. Their lack of rudimentary reasoning skills is something to behold. Here are some of my comments:

Thursday, May 05, 2016

New: a “correct interpretation” of the papal “interpretation” of the synod, “Amoris Lætitia”

Roman apologists used to boast to us that a papal interpretation was necessary to provide “a principled means of distinguishing ‘the deposit of faith’ from that which is ‘mere human opinion’”.

Now, thanks to “Pope Francis”, that hermeneutic has been turned on its head, as Roman Catholics at all levels need an “interpretation” of the papal “interpretation”.

Instructions For Not Losing the Way in the Labyrinth of “Amoris Lætitia”:

“One month after the publication of the post-synodal exhortation “Amoris Lætitia” it is ever more evident that in interpreting and applying it there is growing “uncertainty and confusion, from the bishops' conferences to the small parishes in the middle of nowhere,” in the forceful criticism of the eminent German philosopher Robert Spaemann, a peer and longstanding friend of Joseph Ratzinger.”

Trump's constituency

We can thank Roman Catholics and white supremacists for Trump's ascendency:

Donald Trump swept the Republican primaries in the Northeast Corridor in large part due to the turnout of angry blue-collar Catholics. He may do the same in Indiana today. 
Trump’s biggest victory was in New York – which is 44 percent blue-collar – where he racked up an astonishing 61 percent of votes cast and carried all sixty-two counties. On Long Island where a large majority of GOP voters are Catholic, Trump received an astonishing 70 percent…In record-breaking numbers, they have come out to support the person who appeals to their gut, not to their mind – Donald Trump.

Diluting liberalism

Conservatives are understandably frustrated by how Republican moderates in the GOP, as well as Democrats in government, dilute the conservative agenda. There is, though, another way of looking at the same issue. We can flip it around. The presence of conservatives in the GOP, as well as conservatives in government, dilutes the liberal agenda. Although I much prefer a 100° proof conservative agenda, we shouldn't underestimate the value of watering down the liberal agenda. 

Wednesday, May 04, 2016

Why I'm not Voting for Either Hillary This Election

Note: One of the things I like about Triablogue is that we have a pretty diverse view on many topics. While there is general agreement on many things, this is one where there is quite a bit of variance even amongst us. I only speak for myself in this post.

So this election has boiled down to a choice between the male version of Hillary Clinton and the female version of Hillary Clinton. As a Conservative, I am now doing my part to try to convince as many people as possible to vote for neither of them.

It’s been somewhat heartening seeing how many of my Facebook friends have already said they won’t vote for Trump. But unfortunately, there have still been dozens of posts I’ve seen from people saying, “Whelp, now that it’s down to Trump verse Clinton, I gotta hold my nose and vote for Trump.”

Let me try to persuade you that this is the absolute worst decision you can make as a Conservative.

Right now, the Republican Party consists of a coalition between various factions. Without giving any percentages (because I don’t know them), the party has social conservatives, social moderates, and even a few social liberals. I used to think that conservatives were a large proportion, even the majority, of Republicans, but I no longer think that is the case. Instead, we currently are just a fairly large minority.

Now, Republicans do not have enough moderates to win on their own in a general election. They need to establish coalitions to get enough votes. The problem is, for decades now—at least since I’ve been conscious of politics, and probably well before that—Conservatives have voted for Republicans no matter what. Republicans know they have the Conservative vote locked up.

So think of this logically, from the point of view of someone like, say, Karl Rove where your only desire is for Republicans to win, not for any particular policy. If you know that Conservatives will vote with the moderates no matter what, because they cannot abide the Democrat winning, then will you spend resources or political capital on Conservative issues? No. What need do you have to do that? You’ve already got them voting for you. Instead, what will you do? You’ll give favors and spend resources and use your political capital to try to convince the liberals to join the moderates too. And that means that you move the party leftward to make it more palatable for the liberals. Conservatives won’t like it, but they will vote Republican anyway. You lose nothing by moving left, but you gain liberal votes.

So how does this cash out? It means that as long as the Republicans know they can take the Conservative vote for granted, they will continue to give us candidates like Bob Dole, John McCain, Mitt Romney…and yes, even Donald Trump (who is the embodiment of the establishment regardless of what anyone claims).

Conservatives, if you vote for Donald Trump in this election then the Republican Party knows it can run the most liberal candidates and you will vote for them anyway. You will never again see a Conservative candidate in the Republican Party. The party will continue its leftward race.

Conservatives need to realize there are two things that must remain true in order for them to get their agenda into the public sphere. If either of these goes, Conservatism no longer has a voice.

1) Republicans must need Conservatives to vote with them to win elections. So far, this is true. If Conservatives do not vote with the Republican moderates, there are not enough Republican liberals and Democrat poached voters to make up the difference. But more importantly:

2) Conservatives need to show they will not vote for Republicans if Republicans ignore the Conservative agenda. And at this point, Conservatives fail. Conservatives are needed, but Republicans do not need to cater to Conservatives because Conservatives are obedient even when they are being abused.

Here’s the bottom line. If you want Conservativism to remain viable, then this election is the time to not vote for either Hillary. If you vote for Trump, then the party moves further to the left and at some point the party will gain enough members from the liberal side to counter-balance any support they would have gotten from Conservatives, and at that moment even the number (1) point that I mentioned above no longer applies for Conservatives.

But don’t just take my word for it. Consider the words of Ace of Spades, a social moderate/liberal who has until now been supporting social conservativism because he believed it was necessary to win elections. He’s been one of my favorite political commentators, despite being an atheist. Well, here’s what he’s seen:
…I don't think I'm going to be adapting my views to the socially-conservative mainstream any longer, because I'm not sure these views are actually the Republican mainstream any longer. I knew social conservatism wasn't quite as believed as was claimed; I knew many politicians claimed to be pro-life who were in fact pro-choice, and I knew many of the Beltway class of advisers, think-tank workers, etc. were pro-choice, or more pro-choice than the GOP was as a formal matter. They were certainly more pro-gay (if not always actually pro-gay-marriage).

But the fact that a clear social liberal, who practically no one believes is "pro-life" or even pro-gun, is the runaway favorite for the GOP nomination is a fact with major implications for the party going forward. If Trump's liberalism can be accepted, why can't the liberalism of Giuliani (or a Giuliani type to be named later) be accepted?

I had thought a whole bunch of things were non-negotiable demand points from an important part of the coalition.

Now it seems they either are plenty negotiable, or that part of the coalition isn't as important as I thought.
And again:
Pro-life Trump supporters are making several points in the comments. Let me respond to them, or my paraphrase of them.

"There are more important things to worry about at the moment, like protecting the integrity of the nation," is the general claim.

Understood -- and I agree. Pro-lifers are being, they say, tactical here, and reasonable about what can and cannot be done.

Here's the problem with that: If you want to maximize your leverage in political negotiations, you really have to establish you're unreasonable on the issue, and will not compromise -- if your demands are not met, you'll walk.

So yes, it's great to see pro-lifers are willing to compromise on this. Sure, it demonstrates they are flexible, adaptable, and willing to make tactical compromises for the greater good.

But now we know that going forward -- and you don't just get to say "Our flexible position only applies in 2016, and only to Trump." No, it applies going forward, generally.

We now know that this is not the deal-breaker some of us thought it was. (All emphasis original.)
Social Conservatives need to be unreasonable, we need to be uncompromising, we need to be unbending. We need to be willing to let Republicans lose elections when they don’t do what we want them to do.

It is myopic to focus on Hillary Clinton and say, “We cannot let her win” when the alternative is to destroy any chance the Conservative movement has to pass any policy. A Hillary win won’t destroy Conservativism, but Conservatives voting en mass for Trump most assuredly will.

Trump vs. Hillary

Islam today

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Between the Devil and the deep blue sea

As I said to a friend late March, after the Rubio campaign cratered, it was hard for me to maintain interest in the race. At that point it would probably come down to choosing the best way to lose. Like being offered a choice of how to be executed: would you prefer death by hanging or firing squad? 

Well, here we are! 

The best argument for supporting Trump is the devil you know v. the devil you don't. Hillary is the devil you know. Trump might be as bad. Hard to see how he could be worse. He might be better.

However, one problem with that argument is that it's too atomized. Even if Trump considered in isolation is better than Hillary (debatable in itself), a President is the titular head of the party, and face of the party. If that's Trump, it will drag down the whole GOP. Discredit the Republican brand.

Mind you, there are people who support Trump precisely because they wish to destroy the GOP. However, Trump may damage the GOP either way. If he loses to Hillary, which is likely, his loss may well have a chain reaction on downticket races. That means, not only will Hillary be elected, but the opposition party will be swept out of power. There will be nothing left to block the liberal agenda. 

Speaking for myself, I've already indicated that I find voting for Trump too self-degrading. I will let the chips fall where they may. 

Jesus before the Gospels

Fire extinguishers

Cessationist critics of the charismatic movement draw attention to the heresy, chicanery, and gullibility that's rife in that movement. And there needs to be more scrutiny in that regard. 

Cessationists don't view these as isolated abuses and excesses that are incidental to charismatic theology, but the inevitable outcome of a flawed theological paradigm. And I think there's an element of truth to that. From my reading, charismatic theology fosters unrealistic expectations regarding the frequency with which God will perform miracles or guide individuals. 

That said, does cessationism suffer from a parallel problem? Are cessationists oblivious to what their own theology may cultivate? Consider mainline denominations like the American Baptist–USA, CRC, ECUSA, ELCA, PC-USA, RCA, UMC, UCC.

Historically, I believe these are either officially cessationists or overwhelmingly cessationist in practice. Although "charismatic renewal" has happened in the ECUSA, that occurred late in the history of the denomination. 

Now, these mainline denominations are hotbeds of heterodoxy and heteropraxy. They're the cessationist counterpart to comparable phenomena in the charismatic movement. Why not link that to cessationism? 

Charismatic theology and cessationist theology are liable to opposing errors.  Charismatic theology is inclines to superstition while cessationist theology inclines to secularization. 

Of course, cessationists will object to my comparison with mainline denominations. They will say that's unfair. At best, there's an incidental overlap between cessationism and liberal mainline denominations. But charismatics would say cessationists are guilty of the same thing when they attack the charismatic movement en masse. 

Moreover, I don't think these are isolated cases, incidental to the cessationist paradigm. In my view, a common flaw of charismatic theology and cessationist theology alike is to assume that God is too predicable. The difference is they assume God is predictable in opposite ways. Predictably interventionist or predictably noninterventionist. 

Cessationism operates with a pretty noninterventionist view of God during the course of church history, and their low expectations can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. A noninterventionist God becomes difficult to distinguish from a nonexistent God–except, perhaps, as the "ground of being".
If the charismatic tradition produces arsonists, the cessationist tradition produces fire extinguishers. We need to be equally attentive to the consequences of both traditions. 

My own position is that God is fairly unpredictable–at least from a human perspective. When, where, and how God intercedes in history is generally surprising or perplexing. We pray and wait for whatever will happen-or not.  

Pray in the Spirit

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. 27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God (Rom 8:26-27). 
15 What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also (1 Cor 14:15). 
18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints (Eph 6:18). 
19 It is these who cause divisions, worldly people, devoid of the Spirit. 20 But you, beloved, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit (Jude 19-20).

One way that cessationists insulate their position from evidential falsification is to partition prayer from the spiritual gifts. They make allowance for miraculous answers to prayer, but drive a wedge between answered prayer and the spiritual gifts. 

But a basic problem with that disjunction is that Paul (as well as Jude) regards Christian prayer as prayer that's informed or empowered by the Spirit. When Christians prayer, the Spirit is at work in our minds and hearts. So it's a false dichotomy to compartmentalized prayer in isolation to the charismata. In the pneumatology of Paul and Jude, the ability to offer genuine Christian prayer is as much a spiritual gift as the other charismata. The agency of the Spirit is necessary in each instance. 

Monday, May 02, 2016

Altruistic lies

As long as I'm on the topic, let's discuss some complications about truth and falsehood. Biblical prohibitions usually deal with typical or commonplace situations. Some Biblical prohibitions involve moral absolutes, but others concern what's generally wrong. They don't attempt to address exceptional situations. Let's take two cases:

i) It's conventional to distinguish between intentional and unintentional falsehoods. But we can flip that around by distinguishing between intentional and unintentional truths. It's possible to unintentionally make a true statement that you intend to be a false statement. For instance:

In Jean-Paul Sartre’s short-story, The Wall, set during the Spanish Civil War, Pablo Ibbieta, a prisoner sentenced to be executed by the Fascists, is interrogated by his guards as to the whereabouts of his comrade Ramon Gris. Mistakenly believing Gris to be hiding with his cousins, he makes the untruthful statement to them that “Gris is hiding in the cemetery” (with the intention that they believe this statement to be true). As it happens, Gris is hiding in the cemetery, and the statement is true. Gris is arrested at the cemetery, and Ibbieta is released (Sartre 1937; cf. Siegler 1966: 130).

What's the moral status of that statement? Do we evaluate the morality of the statement by its veracity or the intention of the speaker? 

ii) Suppose I go hiking with some classmates. One of my classmates harbors an irrational paranoia about me. He thinks I'm untrustworthy. And he thinks I'm out to get him.

Suppose I detect a rattlesnake camouflaged in the grassy trail just ahead of my suspicious classmate. I want to warn him to detour around the snake. He's oblivious to his mortal peril. If he keeps walking in that direction, he will be bitten.

But if I tell him the truth, he won't believe me. Therefore, I use reverse psychology. I lie to him about the actual location of the snake. I anticipate that if I tell him to go left, he will go right. My lie saves his life.

In this situation, he will mistake my falsehood for a truth, or mistake my truth for a falsehood. A true statement would be deceptive to him

iii) I could resolve the moral dilemma (if that's what it is) by simply withholding the lifesaving information at my disposal. I say nothing and let him step on the snake–with predictable consequences. But is that where my duty lies? 

Although this example is fanciful, there are real-life counterparts when dealing with someone senile, mentally ill, high on drugs, or developmentally disabled, where it may be necessary to trick them for their own good. 

The father of lies

In objection to a post of mine, a commenter said:

"According to Scripture, liars–among others–are cast into hell. And Satan is portrayed as the arch-deceiver, and the father of lies."

Let's examine that. Let's run through some examples:

8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death (Rev 21:8). 
44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father's desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies (Jn 8:44). 
10 If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 Jn 1:10). 
4 Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1 Jn 2:4). 
22 Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son (1 Jn 2:22). 
20 If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar (1 Jn 4:20). 
Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son (1 Jn 5:10).

1. The Bible doesn't formally define what constitutes a lie. Therefore, readers typically plug into these statements their own rule of thumb definition. The traditional definition of lying has at least two conditions:

i) The statement is false

ii) The communicator makes a false statement with the intention that others mistakenly believe the falsehood is true.

The purpose of (ii) is to distinguish unintentional falsehoods from intentional falsehoods. 

My immediate objection is not to assess the merits of that definition. But in my experience, that's the operative definition Christians use who think lying is always wrong. 

2. Lying is a recurrent motif in the Johannine writings. In Rev 21:8, does John mean that Rahab and the Hebrew midwives will burn in hell? I seriously doubt that. 

Counterfeit religion is a major theme in Revelation. In the context of the narrative, "liars" are pagans or apostates who practice or promote idolatry. Indeed, there can be a twofold deception. Take the False prophet who uses deceit to facilitate false worship. The methods are deceptive and the object is spurious. 

To construe Rev 21:8 as a statement about "liars" in general rips the statement out of the specific setting in which John frames that conduct. 

3. Why does Jesus call the devil a liar? I assume he's alluding to Gen 3, where the Tempter brazenly said God's prohibition was an idle threat. 

4. That dovetails with what John says in his first epistle. When the apostle talks about "liars" or making God out to be a liar in 1 John, he isn't using the traditional definition of a lie. He doesn't operate with the twofold condition. For John, a "lie" is a statement or action at variance with God's testimony. It isn't confined to false propositions. It can include behavior that's inconsistent with divine testimony. 

Moreover, John doesn't make the intention to deceive a necessary condition of lying. Rather, it's sufficient that the liar, in word or deed, contradicts God's testimony. 

Presumably, John's heretical opponents don't intend to call God a liar. They don't consciously deny the truth, as they understand it. 

But John doesn't distinguish between intent and implication. For him, it's s enough that their teaching or conduct is objectively at odds with God's testimony. There is, of course, an element of willfulness here. 

That's because, for John, the deceivers are self-deceived. False teachers may be sincere, but self-deluded. A Satanic self-deception. Their minds are enslaved by sin. 

5. The upshot is that John isn't referring to "liars" in general. He doesn't have in mind cases like Christians who lie to Nazis to shield Jews. He is using a "lie" or "liar" in a narrow theological context, in reference to those who blindly and willfully deny God's self-witness, or the Father's witness to the Son, or the Spirit's witness to the Son. 

6. To generalize from John's usage would be counterproductive for those who think lying is intrinsically wrong, because John doesn't distinguish between intentional and unintentional falsehood. That would make any false statement, or any action that's inconsistent with the facts, to be a lie. But surely that's too strong. If someone unwittingly makes a statement that deviates from the truth, we don't automatically brand them a liar. If someone acts under the misimpression of what is true, we don't automatically brand them a liar. It's slipshod reasoning to ignore or overlook the framework in which John uses this terminology. 

Nathan's parable

12 And the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.” Then David's anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity” (2 Sam 12:1-6).

i) There are some very intelligent Christians, as well as some very devout Christians (and these are not mutually exclusive categories) who think lying is always wrong. I discuss this every so often.

ii) The walk of faith would be simpler if fidelity to God meant you always do what God commands, and never do what God forbids. I'd add that that's a good rule of thumb.

However, God hasn't made it that easy for us. For instance, there are times when Jesus condemns religious leaders because they didn't break God's law. Situations in which they had a duty to disobey God's law. Situations where they should teach others to disobey God's law. Seems counterintuitive, but Jesus does that on several occasions. 

As Jesus explains, it's not enough just to thoughtlessly obey God's commands. You need to ask yourself the purpose of God's command. If you take a command out of context, then there are circumstances in which obedience to the command is inappropriate. Indeed, where obedience is subversive to what the command intended. 

Therefore, Christians do have to take that into account. To be faithful to God, we must take into consideration the rationale for a particular command or prohibition. We must pay attention to the context so that we don't overgeneralize the force of the command. We deceive ourselves if we think rote obedience is equivalent to fidelity. Jesus didn't give us that option. We don't have that luxury. 

iii) Consider Nathan's disguised parable. The prophet Nathan resorted to subterfuge. First, he conveys to David the false impression that this is a true story. Moreover, he misleads David into thinking this story is about someone else.

The reason for Nathan's deception is twofold: David is dangerous. By broaching the issue in this roundtable way, Nathan catches David off-guard. 

In addition, the parable is an analogy. Once David agrees with the parable, David is trapped by the implications of the parable. Because the comparison is really about his own behavior. 

iv) The question, then, is whether lying is impermissible, but verbal deception is sometimes  permissible. On the face of it, that's an ad hoc dichotomy. I think examples like this illustrate the fact that lying is not intrinsically wrong, even though it's generally wrong. I'd say lying is prima facie wrong, but there are special situations in which what's ordinarily wrong ceases to be wrong. 

Sunday, May 01, 2016

Validating Genesis

Biblical superheroes

5 Then Samson went down with his father and mother to Timnah, and they came to the vineyards of Timnah. And behold, a young lion came toward him roaring. 6 Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and although he had nothing in his hand, he tore the lion in pieces as one tears a young goat. But he did not tell his father or his mother what he had done (Judges 14:5-6). 
4 So Samson went and caught 300 foxes and took torches. And he turned them tail to tail and put a torch between each pair of tails. 5 And when he had set fire to the torches, he let the foxes go into the standing grain of the Philistines and set fire to the stacked grain and the standing grain, as well as the olive orchards (15:4-5). 
14 When he came to Lehi, the Philistines came shouting to meet him. Then the Spirit of the Lord rushed upon him, and the ropes that were on his arms became as flax that has caught fire, and his bonds melted off his hands. 15 And he found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, and put out his hand and took it, and with it he struck 1,000 men (15:14-15). 
18 And he was very thirsty, and he called upon the Lord and said, “You have granted this great salvation by the hand of your servant, and shall I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?” 19 And God split open the hollow place that is at Lehi, and water came out from it. And when he drank, his spirit returned, and he revived. Therefore the name of it was called En-hakkore; it is at Lehi to this day (15:18-19). 
3 But Samson lay till midnight, and at midnight he arose and took hold of the doors of the gate of the city and the two posts, and pulled them up, bar and all, and put them on his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that is in front of Hebron (16:3). 
17 And he told her all his heart, and said to her, “A razor has never come upon my head, for I have been a Nazirite to God from my mother's womb. If my head is shaved, then my strength will leave me, and I shall become weak and be like any other man.”
20 …But he did not know that the Lord had left him. 21 And the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes and brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze shackles. And he ground at the mill in the prison. 22 But the hair of his head began to grow again after it had been shaved (16:17,20-22).

i) I'm going to comment on the credibility of Samson's exploits. There must be people, including Christians, who read the accounts of Samson and can't help thinking that they move in the same mythological world as Gilgamesh, Hercules, Perseus, Theseus, Homeric heroes (Iliad), Jason & the Argonauts (Argonautica)–or Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox. Likewise, we have lots of comic book superheroes. Some of these make their way into blockbuster films. So is that a legitimate comparison? Is Samson a legendary superhero, on a par with these other figures? 

ii) As a basis of comparison, let's begin by raising some naturalistic objections to his exploits:

a) Even if a man had the physical strength to tear a lion apart with his bare hands, how would he be able to get past the teeth and claws in order to get a good grip on the lion? Couldn't a lion disembowel him with its claws? 

b) Wouldn't catching 300 foxes (or jackals) be extremely time-consuming? 

c) You can only strike your foes down one at a time. If you're surrounded by hundreds of soldiers, they can attack you from all sides. And they don't have to get within striking distance. They can spear you with a javelin.

d) Isn't water from the rock a rather frivolous miracle in this situation? For that matter, why does God protect Samson when he indulges in so much sinful, egotistical behavior?

e) The human body can't be muscular beyond an upper limit. There must be a balance between muscle mass and bone density, as well as the bond between bones, ligaments, and tendons.  

iii) Having set the stage, let's respond. Paul Bunyan and his blue ox are consciously fictional. 

iv) Demigods have innately superhuman abilities, because they are, indeed, superhuman. A hybrid. But Samson is merely human. His superhuman exploits aren't an innate ability. Rather, this represents divine empowerment or enablement. His hair is just a token of divine enablement. 

It might be objected that in the Iliad, the gods sometimes come to the aid of combatants. But the combatants aren't doing anything humanly impossible. Rather, this is a case of the gods taking sides, tipping the scales. 

v) Samson isn't just a muscleman like Hercules. Samson is very clever. Take his riddles. Or the way he sets fire to the grain fields. 

vi) There's an intentionally comical element to some of Samson's exploits. The reader is meant to find some of this humorous. It's a mistake to read the accounts too straight. God is using Samson to mock the Philistines. 

vii) Although Samson is very cocky, he pays dearly for his impiety and impudence. 

viii) The problem with naturalistic objections is the assumption that all the natural objects retain their natural properties. That all the interactions between natural objects operate according to normal physics. That all the standard dynamics were kept in place. 

But there's no reason to impose that rigid framework on the accounts. God needn't empower Samson directly. God can locally suspend certain physical constants to bring about these feats. It doesn't even require direct contact. For instance:

a) The weight of the city gates depends on the gravity. What if God levitates the gates? Reduces their weight by reducing the gravitational force at that particular point? Like an astronaut in space.

Or what if God grants Samson temporary psychokinetic abilities? The narratives don't attribute his phenomenal feats to phenomenal musculature. That interpretation is based on supplementing the accounts with a mental picture of Steve Reeves in Hercules, or beefcake actor Victor Mature. 

But the narratives say nothing about his physique. He could be the proverbial 90-pound weakling. 

Rather, it comes and goes, based on the Spirit "coming upon him" or "leaving" him. Not a permanent endowment, but temporary enduements to do what's required at the time. 

b) Did God strengthen Samson or weaken the lion?

c) God can prompt the foxes (or jackals) to congregate, making them easier to catch.

d) There's the thorny issue of how to construe large numbers in the OT. 

e) How Samson struck down so many soldiers depends in part on how we visualize the scene. Suppose he leads them or lures them into a narrow passageway (e.g. crevice) where they must approach him single file. This isn't groundless speculation. The account mentions a rocky location in reference to the miraculous spring. 

It forces them to form a line. Those behind can't spear him with a javelin because it's blocked by a soldier ahead of them. They must climb over a mounting heap of bodies to get to him, which makes them even more exposed. Fighting at close quarters in a bottleneck, they can never put sufficient distance between Samson and themselves to take advantage of their superior numbers. 

Or God may disorient them. The OT gives examples. 

When we read a passage like this, we tend to fill in the details by forming our own mental picture. Nothing necessary wrong with that. But there are many different ways it could happen. Our imagination has to supply what's missing, which may be wide of the mark. 

Did Josephus exist?

A stock objection to the historical Jesus is the dearth of references to Jesus outside the NT by his contemporaries. Christian apologists usually respond by mentioning references to Jesus in Tacitus and Josephus. 

I'd just like to turn this around. How many references are there to Tacitus and Josephus by their contemporaries? Other than their own writings, what literary references do we have regarding 1C figures like Tacitus and Josephus from their own period? 

Offhand, I don't recall "skeptics" who doubt the historicity of Tacitus and Josephus despite the lack of independent attestation by their contemporaries. 

Liars and deceivers

There are individual Christians as well as theological traditions that consider lying to be intrinsically wrong. For instance, the church of Rome considers lying to be intrinsically wrong:

Mind you, Rome has fudge factors. You also have some Calvinists like John Murray, Vern Poythress, and Wayne Grudem who think lying is intrinsically wrong. 

However, even Christians who think lying is always illicit may think deception is sometimes licit. If, though, you think lying is inherently wrong, then it's arguable that you should think deception is even worse than lying. 

On the one hand, it's possible for a true statement to be deceptive. This is sometimes called a half truth, contextual lie, or lie by omission. What you say is true, but misleading, because you leave out crucial information, causing the listener to draw a false inference. Their interpretation of your statement depends as much on what you don't say as what you do say. So you can manipulate their interpretation by controlling the flow of information. By omitting a key piece of information. This goes to the question of whether lies and deceitful statements are interchangeable, which depends on how you define a lie. 

On the other hand, some lies are not deceptive insofar as some lies lack credibility. For instance, when I'm waiting in line at the checkout stand, I see the screaming headlines of the National Enquirer. These usually involve sensational claims about celebrities. 

Now, I know that many of these headlines are lies. The sensational headlines are bait. A come-on to lure buyers. The headlines are transparently hyperbolic. 

But in that respect, the lies aren't deceptive because the lies aren't plausible. To be deceptive, the headlines would have to be believable. 

In that regard, it isn't even clear if the lying headlines carry the intention to deceive, or if they are merely designed to pique the curiosity of shoppers who take an interest in tabloid fare. Presumably, regular readers (yes, apparently they exist) of the National Enquirer know by experience that the main story will be a letdown compared to the catchy headlines. But they still have an appetite for gossip about the trashy lives of the rich and infamous. 

Or take a reflexive liar like Hillary Clinton. In a sense, her lies are not deceptive because you never expect her to tell the truth. Same thing with the White House Press secretary–of either party. His job is to defend administration policy, no matter how stupid. Stick up for whatever the President said, no matter how stupid. Reporters don't expect him to give straight answers. 

Or public health officials. They think the real danger is mass panic or public hysteria. So they typically downplay a hazard. 

The list goes on. People who lie for a living. What they say isn't persuasive, because you know in advance that they don't mean it. 

Credibility (or the lack thereof) has both objective and subjective features. Some claims are patently absurd. Their falsity should be obvious. But what is obvious to reasonable people may not be obvious to gullible people. Some credulous people find some incredible statements credible–or even compelling. So it's person-variable. 

Likewise, a deception needn't be an outright falsehood. In addition, the meaning of deception is ambiguous: It can either denote the attempt to deceive someone, or the successful result. Compare two statements:

i) I was lied to

ii) I was deceived

In that regard, if you think lying is always wrong, then it's even worse to be a deceiver than a liar. A liar is merely someone who pedals lies whereas a deceiver is someone whose deceptions are convincing. He intends to deceive, and he succeeds. 

So people who think lying is always wrong while deception is sometimes permissible have it backwards. Given their view of lying, they ought to view deception as even worse.