Sunday, August 28, 2016

This is the true face of the alt-right

I enjoy having full comments moderation turned on here at Extra Thoughts. It allows me to filter the nastiness I get in response to posts like this one. I've also decided to start posting more, and shorter, posts here, more like Facebook updates.

I just learned of this bit of despicable trash today. As one Facebook wag put it, I wonder how it reads in the original German.

This is the face of the alt-right. If you are a conservative with any conscience left, have nothing to do with it, period. And, yeah, I really couldn't care less how upset you are with the betrayals of establishment Republicans. You must be really messed up if you think for a moment that "being frustrated with the betrayal of conservatism by establishment Republicans" can somehow be expressed by joining an utterly destructive movement that stands for none of what conservatives have stood for, run by foul-mouthed little boys pretending to be he-men, who think that they can carry out big Accomplishments for The Right Side by being, and encouraging, bullying jerks on Twitter and by attacking Ted Cruz, one of the most intelligent, principled, hard-working conservatives to come along in a long time. So don't be fooled like that.

Oh, and while we're at it, you know that word that starts with a c and ends with "servative" that I keep telling people at What's Wrong With the World is despicable and won't be tolerated? If you think it is a mere synonym for the older English word "cuckold," use Google and get a little more information, huh? Because it isn't just a synonym for that word. And it should have clued you off in the first place that it's a little bizarre and twisted to criticize someone for spinelessness or lack of principle or whatever you thought you meant by the word (the alt-right, of course, means "any conservative we hate") by referring to him merely as a man whose wife has been unfaithful, since that doesn't in itself necessarily mean anything bad about the character of the man.

Yes, I'm being blunt, here. So maybe I will merely a) preach to the choir and b) tick off the alt-righters and their fellow travelers.

But if you are a fellow traveler who can still be reached, read the above-linked article, back off from the alt-right sites you read, and ask yourself, "What am I becoming by making excuses for these people? And what of any enduring value am I gaining by associating with them?"

It's never too late to reject evil. It's never too late to turn back.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

A profound comment

This post isn't going to rise to my usual level of deep commentary. But I can't resist.

I have just one deep comment on the last few days for all the Trumpers who ranted (and ranted and ranted) in combox after combox about how we have to vote for Trump because immigration is The One, The Only, The Most Important Issue Ever in the Entire History of the USA:


Monday, August 22, 2016

"And Now the Wants Are Told"

Here is a good hymn text sorely in need of a new tune.

And now the wants are told, that brought
thy children to thy knee;
here lingering still, we ask for nought,
but simply worship thee.

The hope of heaven's eternal days
absorbs not all the heart
that gives thee glory, love, and praise,
for being what thou art.

For thou art God, the One, the Same,
o'er all things high and bright;
and round us, when we speak thy name,
there spreads a heaven of light.

O wondrous peace, in thought to dwell
on excellence divine;
to know that nought in man can tell
how fair thy beauties shine!

O thou, above all blessing blest,
o'er thanks exalted far,
thy very greatness is a rest
to weaklings as we are;

for when we feel the praise of thee
a task beyond our powers,
we say, "A perfect God is he,
and he is fully ours."

Original author William Bright, 1865. Published in 1895 under the authority of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.

This seems meant for a meditation at the end of a church service or prayer service. It draws the mind from our earthly needs to God's eternal glory.

My only quibble is that "heaven's eternal days" include the beatific vision and hence will involve the perfection of the worship that the song is all about. But that really is a quibble. It is a long tradition to contrast any desire for the concrete things we might hope for in heaven with pure worship.  "Look for Me At Jesus' Feet" and "I Want to See Jesus" are examples in Southern gospel music.

The poem captures well the mind's repose in the greatness of God. We don't have to do something about it. We can appreciate it and rest our minds on the contemplation of it. "Thy very greatness is a rest to weaklings as we are."

The tune to which it is set in the 1940 hymnal is "Stracathro," found here. It is less than exciting as a tune, in my opinion. Ideally we would find a tune that would have more intrinsic interest while being singable and fitting with the words. It could be introduced to modern churches as a worship song.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

But wait! There's more! Refuting a claim of discrepancy in the gospels

My apologies to my readers for being away from this blog for so long. Here's a meaty apologetics/New Testament post to make up for the hiatus.

A friend asked me the other day to repeat my opinion, which he'd heard me give at one time, about an alleged discrepancy between Mark's and Luke's location of the feeding of the five thousand.

Here's how that concern about a discrepancy arises. Luke 9:10-12 says that the feeding of the five thousand took place near the town of Bethsaida. (It didn't take place in Bethsaida, because it was a deserted place, as verse 12 says. Some text families explicitly say in verse 10 that they went to a deserted area associated with the town of Bethsaida.)  Here's a map of the region around the Sea of Galilee in the time of Christ. As you can see, Bethsaida is roughly on the northeast of the Sea of Galilee. (Yes, I'm aware that there is an archeological controversy about precisely which tell represents the location of Biblical Bethsaida. No, that doesn't affect the present discussion, because the archeological candidates are all pretty darned close together, and none of them is on the west side of the Sea of Galilee.)

Mark 6:45 says that after the feeding of the five thousand Jesus told his disciples to get into a boat and go ahead of him to the other side "to Bethsaida" (as it is usually translated).

From Mark 6:45 taken in isolation, one would naturally conclude that the feeding of the five thousand took place on, in some sense, the opposite side of the Sea of Galilee from Bethsaida--hence, on the west or northwest side. After all, Jesus is telling them to go away from the location of the feeding to the other side, and the narrator is calling this direction away from the feeding "to Bethsaida." Right?

It is from this phrase "to Bethsaida," using the Greek preposition "pros," that the entire idea of a discrepancy between Mark and Luke arises.

So as not to keep the reader in suspense, I will now float two relatively simple possible harmonizations concerning the phrase "pros Bethsaidan." First possibility: "Pros" should be translated here as "over against" rather than "to." This is a possible translation of the preposition. In this case, the narrator in Mark is saying that they were going to the other side which was "over against" (i.e. opposite) Bethsaida--exactly consonant with Luke's statement about the location of the feeding near Bethsaida. Second possibility: "Pros" should be translated with a more common meaning of "toward," but the feeding took place in a deserted area somewhat to the east of Bethsaida itself, so that they would pass Bethsaida as they crossed back over to the other side, going west. Hence, they might have been sent back to the other side (that is, to the region of Capernaum) and in the process traveled "toward Bethsaida."

But wait, there's more!

Much more. The reader, especially a reader impatient with harmonization in the gospels, might well sigh and say that one would consider those readings of "pros Bethsaidan" only if one were committed a priori to inerrancy, or only if one were deeply uncomfortable with contradictions in the gospels, or something to that effect. Why not just say that either Mark or Luke made a mistake?

At this point I want to emphasize the importance of considering the positive case for the reliability of the gospels and placing alleged contradictions against that backdrop. Too much focus on alleged contradictions and on possible resolutions, or even on despair of resolutions, can create a major "can't see the forest for the trees" problem. As it turns out, the location of the feeding of the five thousand, so far from being an embarrassment to the advocate of the reliability of the gospels, is a point that confirms the reliability of the gospels.

There are two undesigned coincidences related to the location of the feeding that confirm Luke's statement that it occurred near Bethsaida. I'll give them briefly, because I have more to say beyond this, but briefly, here they are:

Both Matthew (11:20ff) and Luke (10:13ff) record Jesus, in a completely different passage, calling down woe upon Bethsaida, saying that its inhabitants ignored "mighty works" done there and did not repent. But none of the gospels records anything else, other than the feeding of the five thousand, that could plausibly be regarded as a "mighty work" that the inhabitants of Bethsaida should have known about. Interestingly, the gospels record not only the feeding of the five thousand on that day but also healings among the crowd (see Luke 9:11). Hence, the feeding of the five thousand and the healings connected with it explain the "woes" against Bethsaida. (I note in passing that it is implausible that Luke engineered this deliberately within his own gospel, for the "woe" passage also mentions mighty works done in Chorazin, but Luke records no mighty work done in Chorazin at all.)

The other undesigned coincidence connected with the location of the feeding is the "Why ask Philip?" coincidence that some of my readers may have heard in talks given by my husband or others who present the argument from undesigned coincidences. John 6:5 states that Jesus asked Philip, specifically, where they can buy bread for the crowd. John never says that the feeding took place near Bethsaida. That statement is found only in Luke. But John does say elsewhere (1:44, 12:21) that Philip was from Bethsaida. This rather neatly explains Jesus' question specifically to Philip as to where bread could be purchased for the crowd.

So Luke's location of the feeding near Bethsaida, rather than on the other side of the Sea of Galilee away from Bethsaida, is independently confirmed, as well as the other details connected with those undesigned coincidences (Jesus' calling down woe on Bethsaida, Philip's home town, the fact that Jesus asked Philip where they could buy bread), and the location of the feeding thus supports the reliability of the gospels rather than undermining it.

But wait, there's more!

John's gospel also supports the conclusion that the location of the feeding was somewhere on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. John 6:16-17 says that, after the feeding of the five thousand, the disciples got into a boat and "started across the sea to Capernaum." The word translated "to" there is "eis" which can be translated in a variety of ways, including "toward." Capernaum is on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee, so if they were going from east to west, away from the vicinity of Bethsaida on the northeast, they would indeed be going toward Capernaum.

But wait, there's more!

The very idea that Mark places the feeding of the five thousand in a different location from Luke is, as I mentioned above, based solely on the phrase "pros Bethsaidan," used for the direction the disciples were sent by boat after the feeding. If one gets a larger picture within Mark, one actually finds evidence that fits with the placement of the feeding on the northeast side of the Sea of Galilee rather than on the northwest side. This evidence confirms Luke's location of the feeding and would create a problem within Mark itself if we insisted on interpreting "pros Bethsaidan" to mean that the feeding took place on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee. Hence it is misguided to say that Mark places the feeding in a location different from Luke's.

The first bit of evidence to this effect, not very strong in itself but suggestive, arises in another undesigned coincidence. Mark 6:31 says that Jesus and his disciples were bothered by crowds "coming and going" prior to the feeding of the five thousand and that Jesus suggested that they go away somewhere. The phrase "coming and going" suggests that these were not merely crowds following Jesus, specifically, but that there was some kind of bustle where they were. This fits with the statement in John 6:4 that the Feast of Passover was near at hand, especially if Jesus and the disciples were in or near Capernaum, a major hub. If they left Capernaum in a boat and went away, then they might well have gone along the top of the Sea of Galilee and landed somewhere in the vicinity of Bethsaida, just as Luke says.

But wait, there's more! (I've saved the best for last.)

Mark itself tells us where the disciples ended up when they landed on the other side--that is, the "other side" from where the feeding of the five thousand took place, the "other side" to which Jesus sent them after the feeding of the five thousand (Mark 6:45), the "other side" about which there was supposedly a discrepancy between Mark and Luke.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored to the shore. (Mark 6:53)
So when they had crossed over to the other side, they landed at Gennesaret. Look at the map. Where is Gennesaret? (And by the way, the location of Gennesaret is independently known. It doesn't depend on some specific interpretation of this passage.) It's on the northwest side of the Sea of Galilee! It's also within a stone's throw of Capernaum. In other words, it's not on the same side as Bethsaida. It's approximately where we would expect the disciples to end up if they went away in the boat from the vicinity of Bethsaida, where Luke says the feeding took place, going (in general terms) toward Capernaum, as John says, across the top of the Sea of Galilee, and landed on the other side--going from the northeast to the northwest shore.

If we were to interpret "pros Bethsaidan" in Mark 6:45 to mean that the feeding took place on the same side of the Sea of Galilee as Capernaum and Genessaret and that they crossed over afterwards in a boat to Bethsaida, we would have an apparent conflict within Mark with verse 6:53, which says that when they crossed over they landed at Gennesaret.

So Mark doesn't "place" the feeding of the five thousand on the west side of the Sea of Galilee after all.

This means that we have reason within Mark itself for reading "pros Bethsaidan" in one of the ways suggested above. This does not solely arise from a desire to harmonize Mark and Luke or Mark and John. Independent evidence from multiple gospels, including Mark, consistently points to approximately the same location for the feeding of the five thousand, with the single phrase "pros Bethsaidan" in Mark being the only outlier. Hence, it is entirely rational to translate or interpret that one phrase in a way that is consistent with multiple, independent lines of other evidence. By doing so, we get a unified picture that makes sense of all of the evidence.

So far from being strained, this procedure is a careful, tough-minded way of making use of evidence and seeing if there is a reasonable picture that can explain all of it. This doesn't always work. Sometimes there may be an intransigent bit of evidence that just doesn't fit in with the rest, and there's nothing wrong with admitting as much when it happens.

But it's unfortunate that sometimes we get a picture of apparent biblical discrepancies that leaves out some evidence and hence that gives a skewed view. Even relatively conservative interpreters may sometimes feel mired in a slough of despond, slogging through discrepancies and trying to pull themselves out. Or, to change the metaphor, may feel bothered to death by claimed discrepancies like an attacking cloud of midges. It could be tempting to think that one is breaking free of that feeling by not attempting harmonization at all, by coming to disdain it. But that is not a correct evidential approach, even when we simply think of the gospels as historical documents. It is entirely common for different witness testimonies to have apparent discrepancies. Sometimes these are real, but surprisingly often they are merely apparent, and the real picture of what occurred fits both accounts when more is known.

In the present case, any casting of the issue as, "There seem to be a lot of discrepancies surrounding the geography of the feeding of the five thousand" or "Mark appears to place the feeding of the five thousand in a different location from Luke" is, frankly, incorrect. Hence it contributes unnecessarily to that feeling of being mired in or pestered by nuisance discrepancies. But in fact, there aren't a lot of apparent discrepancies surrounding the geography of the feeding of the five thousand. There is a unified picture of it as occurring on the northeast of the Sea of Galilee with one outlying phrase in one gospel. Mark and Luke do not appear to place the event in two different locations. Nor do Mark and John. Rather, Mark itself has a geographical indicator that places the feeding on the east side (namely, that afterwards they went over to the other side and landed at Genessaret) and another geographical indicator (the outlying phrase "pros Bethsaidan") that could be interpreted to place it on the west side. So Mark's own gospel contains evidence that is consonant with the united evidence of Luke, John, and with undesigned coincidences between and among them (one involving Matthew as well), placing the feeding on the northeast side.

It is a little ironic that I am saying all of this, since I am open in principle to saying that there may in fact be places where a gospel author got some minor detail wrong. I even have candidates for such places in my own mind. In no way does my livelihood depend upon signing a statement subscribing to inerrancy. But I also think that the gospels are very, very reliable, that real witness testimony turns out to be reconcilable often when at first it appears to be irreconcilable, and that harmonization should be given a good shot before one concludes that there is an actual error. That, I believe, is not piety but merely responsible scholarship. The exciting thing is how often, when one gets a bigger picture, one finds oneself freed from that heavy sense of "so many problems," because one sees alleged discrepancies against a wider background of evidence for reliability. Sometimes, as in the present case, that wider background even helps to explain some particular alleged discrepancy. This is, to my mind, a much healthier approach than either a) becoming highly cavalier about saying that some gospel author was wrong or confused, b) becoming highly negative about harmonization, and/or c) turning to highly dubious claims of "literary device" according to which gospel authors deliberately changed details for the sake of some literary or theological effect.

None of that does justice to the real-life texture of the texts as historical memoirs.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Seriously? A vote has no expressive content?

As the bullying gears up all over the country to whip people in line to vote for D.T., I am struck yet again by something that strikes me every four years: There are people out there who will (metaphorically speaking) look you in the eye and tell you that a vote is a purely pragmatic move and has zero semantic content.

I find it difficult to believe that, but I'm forced to believe it every four years, because I'm confronted by such people. Surely it should be obvious by the sheer meaning of the phrase "to vote for _____ for ____" that doing so is, at least among other things, a semantic act that carries the meaning, "I desire so-and-so to have the position of _____" and "So-and-so is at least minimally qualified for the position of ______." It needn't mean that you can't think of anybody better for that position. It needn't mean that you agree with so-and-so on everything. It needn't mean that he's perfect. But it should not even require discussion to say that at a minimum your vote says that you want him to have that position and that you think he's minimally qualified for it.

People apparently want to deny this self-evident truth because they want to justify voting for someone that they realize they couldn't justify voting for if they admitted it. They want to be able to say that some candidate really is completely dreadful and awful but that we should vote for him anyway for some consequential reason. Now, I'm not saying that consequences have no place in voting. They could lead you, for example, to vote for a candidate whom you weren't exactly thrilled with because you believed that he would do more good than harm in the position. But at the end of the day, if you literally think that someone would be a disgrace to that political office, that he is unqualified for it, and that he is a wicked person, you shouldn't vote for him for that position.

When we pretend (and it really is a pretense) that a vote has no semantic content whatsoever, that it is simply playing a move in a consequential game, we harden our hearts to endorse evil people. We do it by lying to ourselves that a vote is in no sense, however minimal, an endorsement.

Quite frankly, I believe that people psych themselves into this because they work themselves up to believe that the United States Presidency is so important that you are morally obligated always to vote for one of the two "viable" candidates for the office. Hence they are faced with what feels like a moral dilemma: They feel that they're morally obligated to vote for A or B, yet they know that both A and B are unqualified for the job and are wicked. So they convince themselves that there must be a "lesser evil" between A and B (why think that?) that we can tell which is the lesser evil (why think that?) and that one is obligated to vote for that lesser evil as a sheer game-theoretic move without semantic content. In this way they resolve that feeling of a moral dilemma.

But conscience will have her revenge. This is why so often those who do this are so angry, bitter, and bullying toward anyone who doesn't do as they do. J. Budziszewski wrote about this in The Revenge of Conscience. When you do something that you feel morally uncomfortable about, you end up trying to get other people to join you in doing it so you will feel less uncomfortable about it. You get defensive and angry. The conscience doesn't just lie down like a lamb when you suppress it. It rouses up and becomes a kind of raging false conscience, driving you to drive others into a frenzy of support for what you have done. We see this in women who have had abortions and who then write bragging pieces about them or who join pro-abortion organizations to make abortion more widely available. And we see it here. The proposition that a vote has literally zero semantic content endorsing the candidate is so manifestly false that it is a constant irritant to the person who has relied on it as a premise to get himself out of what felt like a moral dilemma. For many, this results in striking out at others who have come to a different decision and who aren't doing what he is doing.

I submit that this is a reductio of the proposition that you are always morally obligated to vote for one of the two viable candidates for the Presidency. Or always obligated to vote at all, if it comes to that. Since there is, obviously, at least minimal semantic content to a vote, a situation could arise in which you would be doing wrong to express that content concerning any candidate, and then you shouldn't vote. It's really just that simple. Don't turn your mind into a pretzel forcing yourself to think otherwise.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Reticence of the Evangelists at W4

I have a new post up at What's Wrong With the World on an argument for the veracity of the gospels from the reticence of the evangelists. Feel free to comment in either place.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

One more bit of incoherence in the "trans" agenda

The claims by "trans" activists are so blatantly postmodern, so riddled with incoherence, that most of the time I don't bother even to try to point out the incoherences. There was a good article in, I believe, National Review that did so a couple of months ago, but unfortunately I didn't save the link. If one of my readers happens to find it, let me know. I think it may have been by Maggie Gallagher.

Here's one bit of the incoherence that came up in a thread at W4 where a commentator was asking about the best arguments (??) of the trans activists. Short version: There aren't any. Anyway, this commentator suggested that, while it seems far-fetched to say that gender identity can be constructed based solely on a person's subjective feelings, maybe it isn't so far-fetched to say that someone "is" a particular "gender" based on "social role," which might differ from biology. At least, so I understood him to suggest as one of the "best" representations of the trans position.

But as I point out in the comment here, that does not make any sense, because society never spontaneously assigns a person a "social role" that is utterly in conflict with his unambiguous biological sex. Setting aside extremely rare cases of true biological disorders in which a mistake is made at birth because the child biologically (externally) appears to be the opposite biological sex from his genetic sex, no one just "gets" a "social role" of being a man when he is biologically a woman. No biological woman just "gets" a "social role" of being a man. It doesn't happen. Something has to kick off the process in society. The person has to complain of "gender dysphoria," and get "treatment" that includes making other people use new pronouns, or parents or psychologists have to get signals that they take to mean that, in the mysterious trans meaning, the person "really is" the opposite gender from his biological sex, and then that small coterie of people starts trying to impose this new understanding on everybody else. But they aren't society. Prior to being told that Bobby is now a girl, society was just going on its merry way treating Bobby as a boy. Bobby doesn't have a "social role" of being a girl until society is forced to start calling him "she" under threat of punishment and so forth or until society is fooled by extreme (and immoral) medical procedures and drugs foisted upon Bobby so that society (or those members of it who didn't know Bobby before) falsely believe that Bobby (who now goes by "Sarah") is biologically female. If Bobby/Sarah succeeds in passing himself off as a woman, at that point "society" may assign him a female role, but that's only because of a successful deception concerning biology, not because he originally "was" a woman in the sense of having "woman" as a societal role. He didn't. That's why he had to "transition."

So there is no hope for the trans agenda in logic from a mantra like, "Gender identity is socially constructed," because that provides no rationale for society's giving a person a social role that he didn't originally have in the first place and because society, left to itself, will spontaneously assign a biologically unambiguous person a social role (whatever it may be in that society) that agrees with his biology to begin with. One could just as well tell the trans activist who mouths this "argument," "Fine, then, I guess Bobby isn't really a girl, because look at all the people who have been calling him 'he' all this time. He has the socially constructed role of a boy, so that means he's a boy. Case closed."

The trans activist has to insist upon a process of redefining a person as "really" being something other than what he biologically is without the support, initially, of either biology or social role.

None of this, of course, will stop activists (and their dupes) from talking sagely as if a phrase like, "Gender identity is socially constructed" supports their agenda. But logically, it doesn't.

Tony, my blog colleague at W4, comments here pointing some of this out as well.