Monday, April 17, 2017

Belated thoughts on Good Friday and Easter

It is now the Easter season, a glorious one, and in my part of the world the weather is cooperating for once. Astonishing to see new green leaves and blue skies in Michigan at Eastertide. Alleluia! He is risen!

Later, I hope to have some thoughts on ecumenism and Easter, but those are not coming together very well in writing, so for the moment I'll just go on trying to exemplify what I think is a fruitful form of ecumenism related to music. More on that in a moment.

Meanwhile, here is a rather solemn thought concerning Good Friday. As Jesus was dying, He must have known that there would be some for whom He died who would still reject Him, who would not accept His sacrifice on their behalf. What a painful thought! And yet, Scripture says, "Who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross...," and we know that Jesus is rejoicing with the Father now, despite the hard hearts of so many men towards Him. As the Easter hymn says, "All his woes are over now. And the passion that he bore, sin and pain can vex no more." We know, too, that our own joy in heaven will not be undermined by the knowledge that there are those who have rejected God's mercy.

Ultimately, the continued rejection of man cannot undermine Jesus' joy. Yet at the same time, as long as this world lasts, He stretches out His nail-pierced hands all day long, and by many for whom He died He is still scorned.

Truly it is all a great mystery beyond my comprehension. I'm just humbled beyond words that He died for me.

This year, I learned a new Passion hymn. It's astonishing that I've missed it all these years. It's truly lovely, but it seems to have fallen out of use even in the Anglican church. I never heard it in the high Anglican church I attended in Nashville nearly thirty years ago and have not heard of it at St. Patrick's here in the twenty-two years I've been here. I'll probably see if I can introduce it during Passiontide next year. I stumbled across it while singing hymns with my family on the evening of Good Friday. Here are the words.

His are the thousand sparkling rills 
That from a thousand fountains burst, 
And fill with music all the hills;
And yet he saith, "I thirst." 

All fiery pangs on battlefields, 
On fever beds where sick men toss, 
Are in that human cry he yields 
To anguish on the cross.

But more than pains that racked him then 
Was the deep longing thirst divine 
That thirsted for the souls of men; 
Dear Lord! and one was mine. 

O Love most patient, give me grace; 
Make all my soul athirst for thee; 
That parched dry lip, that fading face, 
That thirst, were all for me. 

This text is by Cecil Frances Alexander. She was a 19th-century poet and hymn-writer who wrote such famous hymn texts as "Once in Royal David's City" and "All Things Bright and Beautiful." The tune, Isleworth, was written by an organist and composer named Samuel Howard (1700s) about whom I can so far find out relatively little. The tune is beautiful and really "makes" the hymn. 



I'd first run into this sort of meditation on Jesus' thirst in a completely different musical context--Southern gospel music. The Cathedrals' song "I Thirst" says the very same thing: "He said, 'I thirst,' yet he made the rivers. He said, 'I thirst,' yet he made the sea. 'I thirst,' said the King of creation. In his great thirst, He brought water to me."



We are so blessed to have musical riches from so many different traditions.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Here, O my Lord, I see thee face to face;
here would I touch and handle things unseen;
here grasp with firmer hand eternal grace,
and all my weariness upon thee lean.
Here would I feed upon the Bread of God,
here drink with thee the royal Wine of heaven;
here would I lay aside each earthly load,
here taste afresh the calm of sin forgiven.
I have no help but thine; nor do I need
another arm save thine to lean upon;
it is enough, my Lord, enough indeed;
my strength is in thy might, thy might alone.
Mine is the sin, but thine the righteousness;
mine is the guilt, but thine the cleansing blood;
here is my robe, my refuge, and my peace;
thy Blood, thy righteousness, O Lord my God!

Here is an old post on the Real Presence, rather brief. A few repetitions from it:

As creatures of flesh and blood, we crave the ability to give and receive tangibly and physically. The Book of Common Prayer says of the Sacrament that Christ has "ordained holy mysteries as pledges of his love." A side note, or maybe not such a side note: Edmund Spenser, when he portrays the lady Charity as married and surrounded by her babies, calls them "pledges" of her husband's love.

Here is the prayer of thanksgiving after receiving the Sacrament. It was, to add to the head-shaking, convoluted uniqueness of Anglican history, apparently written (rather than translated) by Thomas Cranmer, who died because he was unwilling to return to Rome and accept the doctrine of transubstantiation.

Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost vouchsafe to feed us, who have duly received these holy mysteries, with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of thy Son our Savior Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favor and goodness towards us; and that we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, which is the blessed company of all faithful people; and are also heirs, through hope, of thy everlasting kingdom, by the merits of his most precious death and passion. And we humbly beseech thee, O heavenly Father, so to assist us with thy grace, that we may continue in that holy fellowship, and do all such good works as thou hast prepared for us to walk in; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom with thee and the Holy Ghost, be all honor and glory, world without end. Amen.
He "assures us thereby of his favor and goodness towards us." By giving us these gifts and coming to us in them, by deigning thus to condescend to us, He continually assures us, week by week, of His favor and goodness towards us.

And here is my apologia for the doctrine of the spiritual Real Presence.

Even though it is almost over, I wish a nearly-belated blessed and joyous Maundy Thursday to my readers.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

This is the true face of the Alt-Right II

My first post by this title is here. It was sparked, in part, by a vile article at Radix Journal deploring the pro-life movement for being "dysgenic." Just to show anyone who is listening that this is not a mere accidental aspect of the alt-right, the infamous Richard Spencer has recently come out with a similarly despicable rant of his own, apropos of Tomi Lahren's firing for being pro-abortion. Jonathan von Maren quotes his comments at length here. I'm having a bit of trouble finding a link to Spencer's own video from which von Maren is quoting, but I'm going to assume that the lengthy quotes are accurate. Here are some doozies:

And if you look at the writing of people like Ramesh Ponnuru (of National Review) it is directly associated with this…that every being that is human has a right to life and so on. Well that’s not how we think as identitarians, to be honest. You are part of a community, you’re part of a family, you’re part of a collective. You do not have some human right, some abstract thing give to you by God or by the world or something like that. You’re part of a community and that’s where you gain your meaning or your rights. The anti-abortion crusade is often associated with family, the traditional family, but to be honest it’s descended into not just a human rights dogma but a kind of dysgenic “we are the world” dogma.

So if your community is dysfunctional or thinks you should die, you're outta luck, buddy. It's the community that makes it wrong or right to kill you. I guess exposing infants on hillsides in the Roman empire was just fine as long as they were exposed according to the rules of their community.

The most popular propaganda line for the pro-life movement is about “black genocide,” how this is “destroying black communities” and indeed is a racist plot by Margaret Sanger and so on. This gets to something that I think is a bigger point, and that is that the alt-right or identitarians, we can’t think about these issues in this kind of good or evil binary. We actually have to think about an issue like abortion…in a complicated manner, something that that issue deserves. Lothrop Stoddard talked about contraception, not so much abortion but contraception, as a potentially world-changing—for the good—technology, or something that could change the world for the worse. In a way he was absolutely right and I think contraception has to a large degree changed the world for the worse. Intelligent people will engage in family planning because they naturally have long time horizons, they think ahead. They aren’t just going to go run and have sex with someone without a condom and get them pregnant and so on…In a way, contraception has been terribly dysgenic in the sense that it is only the smart people that really use it. Smart people are not using abortion as birth control. Smart people are using abortion when you have a situation like Down Syndrome or you have a situation where the health of the mother is at risk. I would say that it is the unintelligent and blacks and Hispanics who use abortion as birth control, as a kind of late-term birth control. [snip] What I’m saying basically is the abortion issue is just a much more complicated issue than this kind of “good or evil” binary that the pro-life movement and the Christian movement want to use. We need to be more adult than they are.

I don't actually think the "black genocide" claim is the most popular pro-life line, but whatever. Spencer's point about what makes this "complicated" is that if the right babies are getting killed in the womb, it's okay. That's the "adult" way to think, according to Spencer.

We should recognize that the pro-life movement—this is not the alt-right, this has nothing in common with identitarians, and I think we should be genuinely suspicious of people who think in terms of human rights and who are interested in adopting African children and bringing them to this country and who get caught up on this issue. We want to be a movement about families, about life in a deep sense, not just “rights” but truly great life, and greatness, and beautiful, flourishing, productive families. We want to be eugenic in the deepest sense of the word. Pro-lifers want to be radically dysgenic, egalitarian, multi-racial human rights thumpers—and they’re not us.

As von Maren says, this does a service to conservatives. Spencer is absolutely right that pro-lifers are not the alt-right, and if he wants nothing to do with pro-lifers, the feeling should be heartily mutual. Oh, by the way, in case you were wondering if a campaign official for the Trump campaign was dog-whistling the alt-right when she referred to Mitt Romney as pro-adoption, I'd say this last paragraph bears on that.

Beyond drawing attention to this new evidence of the despicable nature of the alt-right with regard to the abortion issue, what I want to do in this post is to take you all the way back to 2009 and show some eerie similarities between Richard Spencer's disgusting recent comments and a bizarre, not-wholly-coherent column by paleoconservative guru Thomas Fleming. The overlap, I emphasize at the outset, is not total. Fleming, as a Catholic, is clearly somewhat "conflicted" (to use a jargon term) about the abortion issue, whereas Spencer is a full-bore fascist eugenicist pro-abort as long as it's the right people being aborted. But the similarities are there and are instructive, especially if one wonders how various paleocons who should know better have gotten caught up in the alt-right. Also instructive for those who want to draw a sharp distinction between paleoconservatism and the alt-right. As I've already pointed out, historically such a sharp distinction is dubious, since Paul Gottfried did an explicit "handoff" of the paleoconservative movement to the "alternative right."

Here is Fleming's column. It got negative commentary at the time at W4 from one of my co-bloggers in a main post and even more in the comments to that post.

There are some interesting similarities between what Fleming says and what Spencer says. First, both of them use a kind of vague communitarianism and the dislike they feel (and their followers feel) for the language of individual rights as sticks with which to beat the pro-life goal of outlawing abortion. Spencer says outright that you get your rights only from the community. I kind of doubt that Spencer would want to take that to mean that he can be killed with impunity by a private entity, without having committed any crime worthy of death, if that's what "the community" decides, but he's very eager to apply this "nobody has an individual right to life" mantra to the unborn child as an argument that it's perfectly fine for unborn children to be killed at will by their parents. Especially if it's the "right" babies being aborted.

Fleming, similarly, seems quite opposed to the idea that abortion should be illegal and that it should be deemed a harm to the individual child.

But the fact remains that natural reason did not teach the Greeks and Romans that it is wrong to kill an unborn or newborn child, though some thought abortion shameful. There was no prohibition on abortion in Roman law, except where the father was not consulted. In that case, she was guilty of depriving him and his ancestors of an heir. This is, at least, a more wholesome approach than our current abortion law, though it rests not on reason but on family loyalty. [LM: How nice. What if the father is the one who wants the baby dead?]
[snip]
The most basic error is to cover Christian truth with the tinsel trappings of Enlightenment universalism that makes everyone owe everyone else the same duties. Thus, we hear sweeping claims, expressed in a Kantian idiom, that it is everyone’s duty to prevent a nonChristian female from killing her child, whether she lives in China or Peru.
[snip]
Mothers, in this tradition, do not have a universal obligation to prevent abortion but a specific obligation not just not to kill their children but to nurture and cherish them.

Fleming's sweeping talk about giving each mother an obligation to prevent other people's abortions is, of course, a strawman. I don't expect every individual pro-life mother to be out there marching for pro-life laws. She may be busy nursing her baby or doing any of a number of other good things! But Fleming's clear "down" on a duty to prevent non-Christians from committing abortion certainly looks like a "down" on pro-life laws.

The money quote is this:
The cumulative effect of much of the professional pro-life ideology is to distort and deflect the question, away from the really important thing, which is how to convert nonbelievers, who will then be far less likely to kill their babies, toward comparatively trivial legislative policies and judicial agendas.
One wonders if Thomas Fleming would regard it as similarly "trivial" to outlaw the private killing of himself. As opposed to "the really important thing"--converting people to Christianity so that they are much less likely to go out and murder Tom Fleming! Like Spencer's, Fleming's disdain for the outlawing of private murder and his disdain for the wrong of murder to the individual killed is highly selective. That is, it is most likely confined to those he doesn't think much of, though he doesn't show any good reason for thinking less of an unborn child than of an adult paleoconservative.

It is not necessary to talk, if one hates "rights talk," about a right to life in order to say that abortion is always wrong. And not just a wrong to the community, much less to the father (who may be as murderous as anyone else in a given situation), but wrong because it is murdering the baby--hence, a wrong done to the baby. So if you don't like "rights talk," don't use that as a stick to beat the pro-life movement any more than you would use it as an argument for removing laws against murdering you or your five-year-old. As usual, it all comes down to the status of the unborn child and to whether it is always wrong deliberately to take the life of the innocent. Smug "communitarian" talk and pushing people's buttons about "Enlightenment universalism" and what-not are no substitute for argument on this central point.

Second, Fleming's argument resembles Spencer's horrible rant in that Fleming clearly thinks that, if you're not a Christian, you don't have any really good reason to oppose abortion in all cases:

The argument, then, that all seriously moral people would oppose abortion cannot be true. It is a little like saying anyone remotely interested in science would agree with Newton or Einstein.
[snip]
Now, there is an element of truth in the argument, which is that just as we do not wish to be killed unjustly, we should not kill unjustly. But what if abortion is not unjust? What if we regard it as, in some cases, a necessity or at least a preferable option? After all, just because we do not wish to be executed does not mean that we necessarily oppose the death penalty. We might even say that were we to commit a cold-blooded murder, we should deserve killing. Thus, if we think life is not worth living without an IQ above 75 or without a reasonably healthy body or without loving parents, we might say that abortion in such cases is reasonable and just...

Wow, that's a toughie. I'm sure George Weigel, at whom Fleming is launching his ire in this piece, would find himself utterly at a loss for words in the face of such an argument.

Speaking for myself, I find Fleming's words here extremely creepy. He obviously has a lot of sympathy for this pro-abortion "argument." Throughout the piece he repeats statements to the effect that Christian women don't kill their unborn babies (that's nice), and he regards himself as a Christian. So presumably he thinks (to this extent unlike Spencer) that it's actually wrong to kill unborn children.

But he clearly regards the wrongness of abortion as really hard to see and as a distinctively religious proposition, which explains his disdain for the "trivial legislative policy" of outlawing abortion. One can gather, hopefully, that as a Catholic he would say that it's even wrong to commit abortion if the child would otherwise have to live with an IQ of 75 or below (!) or without loving parents, but Fleming takes little trouble to say so, and he certainly has no passion for saying so. Instead, all his passion is directed at spitting out the word "liar" at Weigel for arguing that abortion can be seen to be wrong by the natural light:

The real question is not whether abortion is consistent with reason but rather,whether it is right to lie in a good cause. That is, at best, what Weigel has done. Many pro-life arguments I have studied come down to well-intentioned lying, by which I understand not only a conscious and deliberate lie but the reckless disregard for truth engaged in by pseudo-intellectuals who pretend to learning and authority they do not possess.

What did George Weigel say to bring down the charge of "lying"? This:

[The Pope] told Pelosi, politely but unmistakably, that her relentlessly pro-abortion politics put her in serious difficulties as a Catholic, which was his obligation as a pastor. He also underscored — for Pelosi, Joe Biden, Ted Kennedy, John Kerry, Barbara Mikulski, Rose DeLauro, Kathleen Sebelius, and everyone else — that the Church’s opposition to the taking of innocent human life, at any stage of the human journey, is not some weird Catholic hocus-pocus; it’s a first principle of justice than can be known by reason. It is a “requirement of the natural moral law” — that is, the moral truths we can know by thinking about what is right and what is wrong — to defend the inviolability of innocent human life. You don’t have to believe in papal primacy to know that; you don’t have do believe in seven sacraments, or the episcopal structure of the Church, or the divinity of Christ, to know that. You don’t even have to believe in God to know that. You only have to be a morally serious human being, willing to work through a moral argument — which, of course, means being the kind of person who understands that moral truth cannot be reduced to questions of feminist political correctness or partisan political advantage.
And just reading that should make it evident that the charge of "lying" is the merest spittle-flecked silliness.

Also slightly creepy is Fleming's attempt to play gotcha with other arguments against abortion:
Among the worst are the utilitarian arguments that tell us we may be losing countless Beethovens and Shakespeares, to say nothing of millions of taxpayers who will pay my Social Security. But what if if turns out that in economic terms, abortion is a net gain, in preventing the birth of millions of welfare-dependent blacks and Mexicans? Would that make abortion a civic duty? Live by bad arguments, die by bad arguments.

I hold no brief for the "countless Beethovens" argument against abortion. But it's obvious from everything else in the article that Fleming would have no more sympathy for a pro-life argument that started with the premise that it is always wrong even to kill eugenically inferior unborn babies because all human beings are intrinsically valuable. That would be "Kantian idiom" and the "tinsel trappings of Enlightenment universalism." So the non-utilitarian pro-lifer can't win either with Fleming.

At a minimum, we can say that Spencer's position represents the non-Christian logical outcome of Fleming's position concerning non-Christians and abortion. Richard Spencer doesn't pretend to be a Christian, so he does believe that eugenic abortion is great, that killing millions of (otherwise) welfare-dependent blacks and Mexicans is good, and that it wouldn't be a bad idea to bump off children in the womb if they will (shudder) grow up with an IQ of 75 or below. And Fleming, by his own lights, has nothing to say to him. Unless Spencer converts, I guess it's impossible for him to see that his position is monstrously wicked.

Meanwhile, both of them play to their base's gut-level loathing for "those other guys"--the Satanic neo-cons, for Fleming and his paleos, and the c------s, for Spencer and his alt-rightists. Isn't it interesting that these are pro-lifers in both cases?

The morphing of paleoconservatism into the alt-right is not an accident. There are many morals of the story. Here's one: When your movement is defined entirely by what it hates rather than what it loves, to the point of despising those opposing heinous evils, don't be surprised when your movement turns into something purely dark and destructive.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

As for the Annunciation--The artificiality of "salvation history"

(This post should have gone up yesterday, but I thought of it only late last night.)

Imagine the Virgin Mary, sitting in her home in Nazareth, engaged in her work, or perhaps praying. It is an ordinary day. Nothing has warned her that this day is to be the day that lies at the center of all history.

Suddenly, an angel appears and salutes her and tells her that the Holy Ghost will come upon her and that she will give birth to the Messiah.

Mary realizes that it is an angel. The text leaves us with no doubts on that point. It is not as though she is confused into thinking that some merely natural being has visited her.

I often use the Annunciation as an example of the artificiality of the distinction between "ordinary history" and "salvation history" or "religious narrative." This pseudo-distinction will be used by those who want to confine miracles to only some places and times. It's especially popular among naturalists, semi-naturalists, and methodological naturalists who are opposed to a) the use of miracles as evidences for Christianity or theism and b) God's use of detectable miraculous means in the creation of the world or of species within the world. Die-hard theistic evolutionists are especially fond of it, because it allows them to appear to have some theologically principled reason for rejecting divine miraculous activity in biology. "Oh, that wouldn't have been salvation history, so God wouldn't have done that. We must hold out for some naturalistic explanation and accept one when it is offered." When one points out that, as Christians, we are bound to believe that God sometimes does perform miracles, that God does not leave the natural order completely undisturbed, they will piously intone, "Yes, but that's different. That's within salvation history, within a religious narrative, and can be interpreted within that context. Outside of that we should look for natural means." Here is an example thereof.

What this fails to recognize is that salvation history is seen as such only in retrospect. The people within the actual stories have to recognize the miracle as a miracle without some special "tag" that tells them, "Note: You are now in salvation history, so you're permitted to set aside methodological naturalism and interpret what is about to happen as a miracle."

To return to Mary: Many other virgins in Israel did not conceive and bear the Son of God. Many other days in the life of Mary herself, prior to this day, did not include angelic appearances. Mary had to be willing to recognize that an angel was standing there and giving her a message, and she had to believe that message, without thinking of herself as "living in a story." It is we, looking back on what happened, who place it within a "religious narrative" of "salvation history." To Mary, it was just the day on which Gabriel showed up and told her she was to conceive by the Holy Ghost. And she had to be willing to admit the possibility of a miracle in the midst of her own day-to-day life, or else she would never acknowledge a miracle in the first place.

In fact, any attempt to apply the "religious narrative" criterion consistently would result in a vicious regress, and no "religious narrative" would ever get off the ground. The witnesses of the miracle would have to know already that they were living through a moment of "salvation history." But how would they know that? Presumably only by receiving a message from God, attested in some way that they could recognize as supernatural. But they could not recognize that message as supernatural unless they already knew that they were living through a moment of salvation history, which would require a yet earlier message or sign...And so on. Meaning that there could be no "salvation history" or "religious narrative" that was recognized as such.

The same was true of Moses and the burning bush. No sign flashed across the sky before he saw the burning bush that said, "Now entering salvation history," just as an angel didn't precede Gabriel, marching across Mary's chamber with a banner that read, "You are now entering salvation history." Moses had to recognize that he was actually talking with God, that the bush was burning without being consumed, or else mankind could not have received God's message at all.

The angel's appearance to Mary and the Voice from the burning bush are the very constituents of God's dealings with mankind. They need no annunciation, for they are the Annunciation.

If this was true for the first witnesses of the miracles themselves, it is true for us as well. We should recognize these to be miracles because it appears that they really happened, that they were miraculous, and that God sent them to us for a reason, not because they occupy some above-the-skies Zone that we call "salvation history." For we could not know that they occupied any such Zone, or even that there were such a Zone, without knowing that they happened, and we could not know that they happened if those who witnessed them had insisted on methodological naturalism...unless pre-empted by the previous knowledge that one is living in the Special Zone where miracles are allowed to happen.

Oh, and one other thing: "Religious narratives" are confirmed by miracles. It gets the order precisely backward to say that miracles are verified by being embedded in "religious narratives." For why believe this religious narrative rather than that one? It is not philosophical reflection from your armchair that will tell you that Jesus was God the Son while Mohammad was a false prophet.

So I suggest that we give up on methodological naturalism altogether. Just drop it in the dustbin of history. No, that doesn't mean that God performs miracles randomly. It does, however, mean that Aslan is not a tame lion. He doesn't safely confine his miracles to those places that you think you can accept in a purely "philosophical" way, as part of a "religious narrative," without tarnishing your image as a Man of Science. There is certainly no reason to think that he keeps his hands out of biology. Indeed, Scripture suggests otherwise from the very beginning.

That people should be more open to miracles in the realm of biology, or in any other realm, and that we should be robust evidentialists, may seem like odd lessons to garner from the Feast of the Annunciation, but I give you the thought for the next time you hear someone say, "Oh, that's different. That's salvation history."

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Are we conservatives still opposed to homosexual practice?

In the aftermath of the M.Y. flap, to which I alluded in the last post, I am moved to ask a question:

Are conservatives still opposed to homosexual practice?

Here's another question:

Do conservatives realize that homosexual practice between vulnerable boys, age approximately 17, and older men, entered into by the boys partly because they are in need of an older male role model, is profoundly unhealthy, a horrible perversion of the mentoring relationship?

This leads to another question:

Why in the name of all that is holy, and of our opposition to all that is hellish, would conservatives laud and support a man who lauds and supports those kinds of relationships?

Or are we just so desperate and uninformed that, having been told (truly or falsely) that this man doesn't support those relationships with boys as young as thirteen years old, we promptly conclude that we can go right back to treating him as a legitimate conservative author, pundit, and speaker and yell in outrage about the "terrible smearing" against him?

I kid you not: When I pointed out on Facebook that M.Y. has doubled down, repeatedly, on the alleged wonderfulness of relationships between older men and 17-year-old boys, I was at first told that this was false. When I provided the evidence, did the person say, "Oh! I didn't know that. Wow, that's really creepy; I'm going to have to re-think my support for him"?

Not a chance.

Since when do conservatives make an icon out of a man who glorifies (pardon my wording) buggery between boys who are desperately in need of help and older men?

Yet this, this, is M.Y.'s self-defense against the charge that he glorified it between thirteen-year-old vulnerable boys and other men. No, no, he didn't. Why, not at all. He never meant thirteen-year-olds. He means 16-and-17-year-olds. And then it can be wonderful.

Didn't know that? Well, if you didn't, you're not alone. And I put it to you that too many in the conservative media didn't emphasize this and condemn it because they are too busy trying to "redeem" M.Y., both as an individual and as a pundit. They should stop. Now.

Oh, by the way, in case you want some documentation, here you go. From the very press conference in which he apologized for his "imprecise language."

I shouldn’t have used the word “boy” — which gay men often do to describe young men of consenting age — instead of “young man.” That was an error. I was talking about my own relationship when I was 17 with a man who was 29. The age of consent in the UK is 16.
I did say that there are relationships between younger men and older men that can help a young gay man escape from a lack of support or understanding at home. That’s perfectly true and every gay man knows it.
This is the same type of thing that he said from minute 5 onward in his "apology video," which has been for some reason removed from Youtube. There he said that he "stands by" the comments that he made in the leaked videos as he intended them, because he meant those comments to apply to such relationships with 17-year-olds, and specifically had in mind his own "first boyfriend," when he was 17 and the other man was much older. So let's go back to the original video and even interpret his remarks as applying to 17-year-olds (waiving the fact that they really do seem to be meant to apply to 13-year-olds in the original context). Watch the video here. Now, let's be ever-so-charitable and assume his later reinterpretation. On that reinterpretation, what is he saying about sexual relationships between 17-year-old boys, or even 16-year-olds, and older men?

You know, people are messy and complex. In the homosexual world particularly. Some of those relationships between younger boys and older men, the sort of coming of age relationships, the relationships in which those older men help those young boys to discover who they are, and give them security and safety and provide them with love and a reliable and sort of a rock where they can’t speak to their parents. Some of those relationships are the most -” [interrupted]
[snip]
I think in the gay world, some of the most important, enriching and incredibly life affirming, important shaping relationships very often between younger boys and older men, they can be hugely positive experiences for those young boys. They can even save those young boys, from desolation, from suicide [people talk over each other]… providing they’re consensual.”
So are conservatives okay with this now? Should we be hastening to put this guy back in the position of someone we go to listen to, someone whose book should be sold, someone who was (poor fellow) "smeared" because people thought he was talking about 13-year-olds (a highly defensible position, by the way)? Should we regard him as a conservative?

M.Y. is normalizing homosexuality in the conservative world. We aren't leftists, remember? Supposedly we realize that homosexual relationships are destructive and that very young men should not be mentored into the homosexual world. Supposedly we want men to find a healthy, normal sexuality. And if we're not idiots (never mind whether we're leftists or not), we realize that there is something wildly unhealthy about 17-year-olds who have a sexual relationship with a much older person because they "can't speak to their parents," because they are looking for a "rock" and "reliability," in short, as a substitute parent-child relationship. Hello? That would be creepy and unhealthy even if it were between a young woman and an older man and had those features. And let's admit, too, that there is no question of these being lifelong, committed relationships. Milo can blather all he wants about how "hugely positive" they are, but this isn't remotely like marriage.

I submit that the conservative fascination with this guy is a symptom of some sort of weird dysfunction in the conservative world that has come with the Trump phenomenon. It's a combination of several things,

1) Some conservatives just want an attack dog whom they can regard as being on "our side." It makes them feel good. They can let Milo be the jerk and sit around and snigger while he's nasty, without getting their hands dirty themselves, then talk about how he's "brave" and "bold" and "politically incorrect," while ignoring the true nastiness of, e.g., sending a pic of a black baby to Ben Shapiro when his baby is born.

2) Some conservatives, perhaps especially some who are conservative on the moral issue of homosexuality, have a kind of weird fascination with a homosexual like Milo because they feel sorry for him. They almost feel like they have a personal relationship with him, and they view regarding him as just a sick puppy whom we should have nothing to do with as "mean."

3) Relatedly, some conservatives want to fall all over themselves to be agreeable to any homosexual who doesn't fit the mold of leftist homosexuals in the U.S. If a homosexual is willing to admit that what he's doing is perverse (even if he keeps on gleefully doing it!), then they want to grasp at that as a sign that he's on the upward way, even though it probably isn't. This is also related to the "gay friendly" stuff we see in our churches.

4) Some conservatives (again, relatedly) have a "savior complex" towards certain individuals. They keep hoping they can "reach out to" these individuals and save them, even if that means giving them a public platform. The common sense position that it doesn't do a person with severe personal problems any good to be blowing kisses to his adoring fans doesn't resonate with these "conservatives." They hope to be enough a part of that adoring public to have the opportunity to save him as a brand from the burning.

5) Too many conservatives got attached to Milo through their attachment to Donald Trump, and now they feel like they have to stick to him because they have once chosen to identify him with "our side." This is precisely an example of the corruption of the right by Trump and those in his train (such as Milo) that we Never Trumpers predicted from the outset.

Part of what this corruption has done is to cause conservatives to ignore M.Y.'s passionate defense of man-boy relationships with troubled youths as long as the troubled youths are above the age of consent in a particular venue. This is sick stuff, yet nobody on the right seems to be talking about it. What's the matter? Are we conservatives still opposed to this kind of thing? Then let's stop making excuses. And let's get rid of this guy from our lecture circuit. We can pray for his immortal soul, but he isn't your long-lost brother or your child, and even if he were, he would be bad news. The best thing that could happen to him would be for him to have to get rid of his handsome young aides and get a different day job. Insurance sales. Or something. And be out of the limelight. Or better yet, go off to a desert island and pray and rethink his life. But if he isn't going to do that voluntarily, for goodness' sake, conservatives, stop giving him adulation and a platform. And stop it yesterday.

Update: Here's a working link to the "apology" video. Again, notice that right in the midst of his "apology," from minute 5 onward, he strongly stands by the idea that homosexual relationships between older teens and men older than themselves can be such a great thing. He's clearly describing something that any sane person will see is not healthy--a relationship in which the older man "takes care of them financially" and/or "emotionally," a relationship that is an "escape" from a situation where they are "having trouble with their mom and dad." The idea that this is a good thing is crazy, but he's promoting it as a good part of the gay scene.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Words are deeds

Now that the flap (you can probably guess what it was) that gave rise to this post is not the latest, hottest stuff in the news anymore, I feel at leisure to write a post about a point that came up in the course of Facebook discussions.

A certain public figure made recorded statements that seemed to endorse (some) instances of sexual intercourse between adult men and thirteen-year-old boys. He got in trouble in the court of public opinion for making these claims and then said (I leave it to others to guess whether I found the claims convincing or not) that he hadn't really intended in his (rather glowing) endorsements to refer to thirteen-year-old boys but rather to such encounters between men and boys over the age of legal consent in Britain--namely, at least 16. And that in particular he had in mind his own wonderful homosexual relationship with an older man when he was 17. Indeed, he's doubled down and has gone on at some length about the wonderfulness of homosexual relationships in which older teen boys are mentored by, given stability and a sense of identity by, older men who are having sex with them. Well, that's obviously much, much better./sarc

In the course of debating all of this and how bad, exactly, it was, I was much struck by the comment of a friend who made much of the supposed contrast between words and deeds. The "certain public figure" in the last paragraph has, one supposes, never actually had sexual relations with a thirteen-year-old boy. So even if he were endorsing some of those relationships, it was argued, this was much, much less bad than the actions of a left-wing figure (Lena Dunham) who by her own statement did actually sexually touch her little sister. Dunham engaged in acts, you see, while M.Y., even at the worst interpretation of what he was advocating, engaged only in words. See? See?

Well, no, I don't see. Similar statements came up during Trump's campaign. You've all heard the meme: "I'm more concerned about what Hillary has done than about what Trump has said."

That sort of thing makes a good soundbyte, but it's misleading. This needs to be understood: There is no general ethical principle that non-verbal deeds are worse than verbal deeds. I put it that way deliberately, because saying something is an action. It's not a non-act. It's not being passive. It's entirely plausible that a particular verbal action could be just as bad as, or even worse than, a given non-verbal action.

If Person A advocates sex with eight-year-olds and Person B actually engages in, let's say, adultery with an adult, is it obvious that the latter has done something worse than the former? Yet the adulterer is doing an "act," by the colloquial definition, while the talker is, supposedly, just "saying words."

But let's try to make the crimes involved more similar. Suppose that Person A advocates murdering white people because of the "legacy of slavery." He engages in repeated incitement to such murders. Person B is one of those influenced by him and he murders a single white person out of racial hatred. But as far as Person A knows, there could be many more murders as a result of his advocacy. Indeed, that's what he's attempting to bring about! Can we say with any confidence that the inciter has done something less bad than the murderer because he "just said words" while the murderer actually "carried out an act"? I would say that is not clear at all! Indeed, one could even argue in a given scenario that the inciter, an Iago of racial hatred, is the more guilty party.

It's not enough to respond to this argument by saying, "Of course I acknowledge that words mean things and that words are important." It's not enough, that is to say, if one continues thereafter using the cliche, "A said words. B did deeds. So why is everyone [or the left, etc.] more upset with A than with B?" It all depends on what the words were or what the deeds were. The use of such cliches may be a shorthand for, "I don't think that A's words were worse than B's deeds. In fact, I think just the opposite." But in that case one is going to have to gets one's hands dirty and talk about exactly what A did say and why it wasn't as bad as B's non-verbal act. One isn't going to be able to remain above the fray and decline to comment on the degree of alleged badness of A's words. And one isn't going to be able to get away with saying, "I'm not defending A at all." Because one is at least comparatively "defending A." One is saying that A's verbal acts weren't as bad as B's non-verbal acts. That is a contentful proposition that can't be settled merely by the acknowledged fact that A's acts were verbal while B's were non-verbal.

The cliche, "I'm more worried about what B has done than about what A has said" encourages laziness in thinking and debate. If it's a shorthand for a stronger claim, then it's a sloppy shorthand that attempts to get out of the harder relevant work of thinking, investigating the facts ("Okay, exactly what did A say, what effects is it going to have, what effects could he have foreseen, what did he mean?"), and arguing.

It may be true from a purely pragmatic, legal perspective that words should be less often criminalized than non-verbal acts. I'm all in favor of the First Amendment. But even in the legal realm, there is no absolute rule that words can never be justly or (in America) constitutionally subject to civil or criminal penalties. All the more so, in the moral realm we shouldn't be quick to assume that words aren't as bad as other deeds.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Greco-Roman bioi and traditional authorship of the Gospels

Yesterday at a lunch with a well-known apologist, the "bioi thesis" about the Gospels came up, as did the fact that the famously bull-dog-ish inerrantist Norm Geisler is opposed to the thesis. I don't follow Geisler and haven't read anything he's said about that specific topic, and I'm not an inerrantist in the usual sense of the word, but I launched into a little rant (so I'm told by on-lookers) about how it's actually understandable that someone would have problems with the thesis as it's currently being promoted. And especially that Geisler would.

One of the most difficult points here is that there are various things one could mean by saying that the gospels "are" something so specific as Greco-Roman bioi.

What people naturally think when they hear that scholarship is now showing this is that scholarship is giving us good reason to believe that the authors of the gospels were actually influenced by Greco-Roman literature and were consciously working in such a specific literary genre. Well, I've read Burridge's locus classicus on the subject, and I'm here to tell you that Burridge gives no strong defense of any such clear, causal thesis. He has only a few pages even touching on that specific question, and the arguments there are very weak. They are mostly arguments for the bare possibility of such influence, which in turn are sometimes based upon the assumption that the books were not written by the traditional authors (more about that in a moment). In addition he has a couple of very weak arguments such as, for example, the hypothesis that Matthew and Luke were deliberately including infancy narratives and genealogies for Jesus in order to bring their works more into line with the conventions of Greco-Roman bioi, in contrast to Mark, which still (Burridge thinks) "counts" as being in the genre by family resemblance but which has fewer of the characteristics. Now, this is a really poor argument. Jews were obsessed with genealogy. Of course Matthew would include one if he thought he had one! Moreover, all of this material is of intrinsic interest. If either Matthew or Luke believed he had information about Jesus' genealogy and infancy, it would be worth including for its own sake. No Greco-Roman influence is necessary.

For the most part, however, Burridge is more like a person sorting rocks by color. "Greco-Roman bioi" is like "the blue rock pile." He puts very little energy into arguing for a causal thesis, being more interested in what he himself calls "family resemblance." But rocks may end up in a blue pile because they were painted blue or because they have different kinds of minerals in them, and so forth. A generic family resemblance claim is just a thesis about the very general characteristics of the narratives, and those characteristics are so broad that they don't require any very specific causal history to explain them beyond the obvious intention to write a medium-length, generally historical work about the life of a particular individual. It's unfortunate, then, that such a specific term as "Greco-Roman bioi" has come to be used, because it sounds like something technical that really means that the best explanation is actual literary influence. Burridge even hypothesizes that one or more of the gospels may have fallen into the bioi genre by accident! But of course if that were the case, then the genre designation itself gives us no independent evidence, beyond what we could have gathered in much less specific terms, regarding the author's intentions. That is, we can't infer, "Because this author considered himself to be writing within the Greco-Roman bioi genre, he and his audience would have had such-and-such expectations about his relationship to truth."

Of course, simply by reading the gospels with common sense, one can see that they intend to be presenting memoirs of Jesus that are truthful. As C.S. Lewis once said, anybody who thinks the gospels are myths doesn't know anything about myths. But that sense of "genre" is not something we particularly need classical learning to gather, nor does it give us additional information.

Originally I believe that the bioi thesis was welcomed as a corrective to the ludicrous view that we have no idea whether or not the gospels are intended to be historical. In that sense, the bioi thesis was seen as giving us a "floor" to the amount of ahistoricity to attribute to the gospels: They wouldn't be less historical than this, because they are really intended to be biographies of Jesus.

But when scholars grabbed the thesis and ran with it, and especially when they considered that it could be taken as established that there was actual Greco-Roman influence on the intentions of the gospel authors, something rather different happened. Repeatedly, one apologist has argued that the gospel authors would have considered themselves "licensed" to change things in the gospels because they were writing in the bioi genre, and the bioi genre "allowed" for such license. But this is a confusion. Burridge never argues that anything that falls into his family resemblance pile would have been written by an author who considered himself licensed to change historical fact! Rather, the genre itself (the pile of "blue rocks") contains some documents that, scholars think, bear a somewhat looser connection to historical facts. So it is the genre as a whole that is "flexible," in the sense that it contains both less and more stringently historical works, not the individual authors that are "flexible," in the sense that they all consider themselves licensed in virtue of the genre to change historical facts.

When the "Greco-Roman bioi" thesis is used in this way to argue for a sense of license, it produces a ceiling to the reliability of the accounts. It implies that we shouldn't consider them to be more precise, more accurate, more reliable than such-and-such a level, because after all, they were writing "Greco-Roman bioi," so they would have thought of themselves as "licensed" to take some liberties with the facts. But that has never been established at all.

Moreover (and this is where I get to my title), if one really takes it that the authors of the gospels were educated in such a way as to be actually influenced by Greco-Roman literature, this is negatively relevant to the traditional ascriptions of authorship. It may not be strictly impossible, but it isn't very probable that John the son of Zebedee, Matthew the tax collector, and Peter the fisherman and apostle (to whom the content of Mark is attributed), or his young Jewish relative John Mark, would have been trained in Greco-Roman literature. Indeed, the higher probability is that they had little or no contact with it at all. Luke the physician might be different, given that he was probably a Gentile and writes a particularly high type of Greek.

As I mentioned above, Burridge, in arguing for the possibility of contact with Greco-Roman literature, assumes that the traditional ascriptions of authorship have no scholarly weight. This is understandable. He's a classicist and is just taking "mainstream New Testament scholarship" at face value. So, for example, he says that someone in the Johannine community, which wrote the gospel of John (!), might have been classically educated.

Nor am I bringing this up in a fundamentalist fashion: "Oh, noes! If I accept this thesis I may have to abandon traditional authorship. What shall I dooooo??"

The point, rather, is this: The traditional authorship of the gospels has extremely strong external evidence for it, evidence that would be accepted without question if these were any other ancient documents. The pull against traditional authorship has been entirely driven, originally, in the messed-up field of New Testament studies, by hyper-skeptical biases. Then even some conservative and evangelical scholars have gotten nervous and diffident, because they don't want to go up against the whole field, so they are unwilling to take their stand on the strong external (and internal) evidence. So they may believe in traditional authorship themselves but are unwilling to say that this is the only reasonable position, given all the evidence.

To the extent that we have strong evidence for the traditional authorship of, say, John (and we do) or of Matthew, we have reason to be skeptical about the thesis that the author of John was actually influenced by Greco-Roman bioi. And as for the claim that a young Matthew "would have been taught" some literary compositional devices of Greco-Roman writing as a boy in school, there is reason to be very skeptical indeed. That is going not only far beyond the evidence but, indeed, contrary to the evidence. (Moreover, the idea that these "compositional textbooks," which were giving writing exercises, were teaching kids that it's totally okay for serious history to fictionalize is dubious in itself.)

I've already said some of this in earlier posts (here, here, and here), but I think it needs to be repeated because, as I heard at lunch yesterday, "The bioi thesis is where scholarship is at right now." This appeal to "where the scholarship is at" just really doesn't impress me. There are much more robust and direct ways to argue that the gospel authors were writing true history than a round-the-barn, weakly supported thesis that they viewed themselves as writing within a Greco-Roman genre. And an approach that doesn't try to do it that way also doesn't saddle itself with a causal thesis that pulls against the strong evidence for traditional authorship. And no, it shouldn't matter if nobody outside of the evangelical world takes traditional authorship of, say, Matthew and John seriously. Who cares? Popularity is not a good test of truth or of evidential strength. Moreover, to the extent that "the bioi thesis" is now being used to undermine a strong concept of the reliability of the gospels, it's doing harm, so it isn't a bandwagon we should be eager to jump on. If that's what's bothering Geisler, then I must say that I can't view him as a witch-hunter or a scholarly knuckle-dragger on account of his opposition to the thesis. There are reasons to be concerned here and to call for a rethinking, and not only from an inerrantist perspective.

Monday, February 27, 2017

One catchy sentence on undesigned coincidences

For a long time I've wanted a catchy, one-sentence answer to, "What is an undesigned coincidence?" Necessarily, a one-sentence, catchy answer is going to give the other person only a vague notion of what a UC is. One is going to have to go on to say more, and probably give a short example. But if I'm being interviewed out loud (e.g., for radio), I want to have a sentence to *start* with in answer to this natural question. With the release date of my book this week and one radio interview already in the works (I will be interviewed by Frank Turek this week for CrossExamined and the interview aired later on), I want to have something ready on this front.
What do people think of this? 

An undesigned coincidence is an incidental connection between accounts that points to truth.

I'm repressing my grammar Nazi urge to say "between or among," because there might be more than two! "Incidental" is meant to do duty both for the fact that UCs usually concern ancillary details and the fact that they appear casual and unplanned. I could add "that doesn't seem to have been planned," but that makes the sentence less of a soundbite. Thoughts?

Thursday, February 02, 2017

A Pause for Poetry

I've recently been enjoying again the poems of Lizette Woodworth Reese. The poems below include some that I haven't shared in my earlier posts about her.

              The Plowman

The delicate gray trees stand up
    There by the old fenced ways;
One or two are crimson-tipped,
    And soon will start to blaze.

The plowman follows, as of yore,
   Along the furrows cold,
Homeric shape against the boughs;
   Sharp is the air with mold.

The sweating horses heave and strain;
   The crows with thick, high note
Break black across the windless land,
   Fade off and are remote.

Oh, new days, yet long known and old!
   Lo, as we look about,
This immemorial act of faith,
   That takes the heart from doubt!

Kingdoms decay and creeds are not,
   Yet still the plowman goes
Down the spring fields, so he may make
   Ready for him that sows.

               In Winter

I dig amongst the roots of life,
And hear the rushing of the sap
That soon in silken white will wrap
The sagged pear bough. I hear the strife

Of change with change: of riot that goes
Rebellious; last, of law and pain;
Each battling to restore the lane
Its lost, hereditary rose.

The dwindled hearth, and the spent mould
A double flowering will yield;--
New loveliness for house, for field,
And with it the ghost of the old. 

                          Reparation
                         (In Autumn)

So sharp a tooth has gnawed their gold,
Eaten it in holes from foot to crown,
The wayside bough hangs a dulled brown,
And the stooped garden's looks are cold.

Is the old robbery not done?
Must they who live by what is fair,
Go hungry for it, and go bare
Down a pale, disillusioned sun?

As in a glass, we see and learn
Darkly. No tooth, in bough and mould
Can gnaw their secret, other gold;
Something escapes, that will return.

For what is fair is permanent,
And nought can rob us of our right.
Shall we not watch the road blow white,
And the blue hyacinth choke in scent?

                   Immortality

Battles nor songs can from oblivion save,
   But Fame upon a white deed loves to build;
From out that cup of water Sidney gave,
   Not one drop has been spilled.


                  Heroism

Whether we climb, whether we plod,
   Space for one task the scant years lend--
To choose some path that leads to God,
   And keep it to the end.


            Growth

I climb that was a clod;
   I run whose steps were slow;
I reap the very wheat of God
   That once had none to sow.

Is Joy a lamp outblown?
   Truth out of grasping set?
But nay, for Laughter is mine own;
   I knock and answer get.

Nor is the last word said;
   Nor is the battle done;
Somewhat of glory and of dread
   Remains for set of sun.

For I have scattered seed
   Shall ripen at the end;
Old Age holds more than I shall need,
   Death more than I can spend.

Today, as it happens, is Candlemas. So I will post a poem I posted before by Reese for Candlemas.

     A Song for Candlemas

There’s never a rose upon the bush,
And never a bud on any tree;
In wood and field nor hint nor sign
Of one green thing for you or me.
Come in, come in, sweet love of mine,
And let the bitter weather be!

Coated with ice the garden wall;
The river reeds are stark and still;
The wind goes plunging to the sea,
And last week’s flakes the hollows fill.
Come in, come in, sweet love, to me,
And let the year blow as it will!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Losing even when we win

Now that Donald Trump is President, it's inevitable that we never-Trumpers (among which I am proud to identify myself) will be jeeringly asked by Trumpites to comment on every small thing Trump does that is right, or at least not wrong. The Mexico City policy, a pons asinorum of Republican Presidenthood for years, being just one.

That last sentence is all that you will see from me about that particular thing in this post, because my larger point concerns the fixation on "particular things" in policy without seeing the bigger picture.

I never opposed Trump for purely consequential reasons. I opposed him for reasons of principle. I won't endorse or vote for a man who is morally unfit for office, as he was and remains. If he now listens to some good advisers and does some things that support policy positions I also support, that doesn't change his moral unfitness. His fundamental character hasn't changed, as witness his childishly egocentric Twitter obsessions. This should go without saying. He's a disgrace and a loose cannon. As I have said to various friends, the Trump presidency is like having a nasty four-year-old as king. What you hope for, sadly, is that his regents and advisers will have enough control over him to a) prevent him from doing anything really disastrous, policy-wise and b) induce him to do some good things, policy-wise. Even if these hopes are realized, that doesn't change the fact that he's a nasty four-year-old. And absent a miracle of evident repentance and maturing, no, I won't be voting for him in four years. This is a matter of principle and the fitness of the individual for office.

Meanwhile, we are already seeing, again and again, the corruption of good people while attempting to defend his silliness, with Kellyanne Conway being a perfect case.

But here's another--a situation in which goodness loses no matter what happens. Trump went out and shot off his mouth to the effect that he (of course he said "we") has in hand a healthcare plan that will cover everybody and have lower deductibles. This is absolute baloney. There is no plan that will do that, and certainly the Republicans have no such plan.

Once he did that, he created a situation in which something will be lost no matter what happens. On the one hand, if he were to try to stick to what he said, he would refuse to sign Obamacare repeal if it didn't include a replacement that covers everybody and offers lower deductibles, and maybe free ponies too. That would obviously be pretty disastrous, at least if you think Obamacare should be repealed and that there are no free ponies. On the other hand, what looks like it's going to happen instead is that everybody is going to pretend that Trump never shot off his mouth and instead Trump is actually going to cooperate with Congress in repealing Obamacare, which will in fact not mean coverage for everybody or lower deductibles, much less free ponies. 

From a policy perspective, this is the outcome I favor (especially if they do enough deregulation at the same time so as not to collapse the insurance market by merely withdrawing the mandate on consumers while keeping mandates on the insurers), but what has been lost is truth. Representative Tom Price (proposed HHS secretary) and other Republicans are having to keep on talking about wide "access" to healthcare coverage rather than universal coverage. This was a possibility that anyone could have foreseen when Trump made his silly and ignorant remarks about "our plan"--namely, that he was just blathering as usual and that Republicans would then have to pretend that he was saying the same thing they are saying.

But shouldn't those of us who care about truth in discourse be sad about this? I certainly am. And there's something else I'm sad about: People who say that it doesn't matter that Trump said all that nonsense about how "we have a plan" to cover everybody when it was obvious that this was a falsehood. Well, yes, it matters. It matters for two reasons: First, it matters because it created embarrassment (at a minimum) for Congressmen who are trying to do something (from our perspective) good in policy--namely, repeal Obamacare. The President is supposed to work with his own party's Congressmen rather than creating uncertainty and chaos. But second, and perhaps more important, it matters because words have meaning and because Trump lied again, thereby making it difficult for good Congressmen to avoid lying themselves. After all, we don't expect them to tell the media, "Yeah, President Trump is an idiot. Of course we don't have a plan to cover everybody. Neither does he. But we think we have a good plan anyway, and we're virtually certain that he will sign it despite what he said. He's a pain, and of course he wasn't talking about what we're talking about, but we believe our plan will pass." Now, maybe they can get out of actually lying. I'm not saying that Rep. Price actually lied. He was asked about his goals and his policy proposals at the hearing and could answer truthfully about those. But the temptation is undeniably there--at least to make it sound like they and the President are on the same page, rather than his being a loose cannon whom they have to hope to control.

This kind of thing is going to go on for the next four years. It's inevitable with a President this ignorant, uncontrolled, inclined to over-promising, and loudmouthed. And what we who have and who value principle must not say is, "It doesn't matter."

But that's what I'm starting to hear, even from smart people: It's a moot point. It doesn't matter what he says; it only matters what he does.

Thus the concept of the importance of truth is further degraded, as is the dignity of the presidential office. The President becomes a policy puppet who lies over and over again and whose lies we brush off or laugh at as long as he doesn't actually prevent decent policy and/or even signs decent policy.

Yet it is in this context that we never-Trumpers are being jeeringly asked to admit that we were wrong.

No, we weren't wrong. We were right. Especially, we were right about the corruption of the right. We've seen it again and again in the campaign, most notably of course concerning Trump's wicked treatment of women and the excuses made and still being made. But we're still seeing it now. Every time he says some nonsense and a conservative says, "It doesn't really matter," that's another instance. 

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Come unto me, and I will give you rest

I've often thought that there is a bit of a puzzle in Jesus' promise of rest to those who come to him:

Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matt. 11:28-30

But in numerous other places Jesus tells his followers that they will have tribulations and troubles in this world, that they will suffer, that they will be persecuted. (John 16:33; John 16:2; Matt. 5:11-12) And a central Christian teaching is that if we suffer with Christ we shall reign with Christ. (2 Tim. 2:12)

We have all known people who never seem to get much rest, people who are grievously wearied by the chances and changes of this mortal life. Perhaps a mother has a child with an illness that requires constant monitoring. Perhaps a husband has a wife with dementia who needs constant care. Perhaps a person suffers from a painful illness and gets little sleep.

And we all have our own times in life when we don't feel at all rested, when we feel bone-tired and don't see the end of some tunnel or other. It might be a tunnel of overwork, of some grief that seems to have no end in sight, of an uncongenial work situation, of a physical ailment. Even if we tell ourselves that things could be a lot worse, we still may wonder where the rest is.

It's easy enough to say that Jesus was promising his followers spiritual rest, but what exactly does that mean? Is it, perhaps, a promise only for the afterlife, or does it have an application in this life?

Well, I'm sorry to disappoint, but I don't have answers to all of these questions. I do have, however, a thought that came to me today when part of the "come unto me" verse was read at the "comfortable words" in the liturgy: I often find that the thought of good people, specific good people, is a kind of mental resting place and refreshment. There are such people in the world. Think of someone you know who is a light for others--someone loving, honest, loyal, and just plain good.

As Christians we are committed to the view that all of that goodness comes from God. We give thanks to God for his great glory, but it's sometimes a little hard to grasp that glory, for the Father dwells in light unapproachable. Hence the Son came, incarnate, to reveal the Father. So to begin with, the very thought of Jesus is a rest for the soul, a rest for the mind. Here is a sinless One who will never fail us, never turn out to be wicked, who has shown his love for us in giving his life. Here at last is someone we can count on.

But even Our Lord is somewhat removed from our daily life, if only because we never knew him personally. And say what one will, a theanthropic, sinless person never seems quite as graspable as a sinful, but good, non-theanthropic person. I believe the current jargon term is "relatable." But here, too, God caters to our weakness, for He gives us the Communion of Saints, which takes us back to those people whom you know and justifiably trust. Those people are prisms reflecting the immortal light of God. Resting in the thought of a lovable man of good character or a crusty saint who has fought the good fight, you are in fact thanking God (indirectly) for His great glory.

So while I don't know all the things that Jesus had in mind when he said, "Come unto me, and I will give you rest," I do know that there is one thing that can give the Christian spiritual rest: Contemplating the goodness of God as reflected in the saints, and not only the officially canonized ones, either. If you are a Christian, you are part of their company, the "blessed company of all faithful people," and you can humbly enjoy the thought that there is goodness in this world, amidst all the sadness, pain, restlessness, fatigue, faithlessness, and evil. Remembering that gives one a small, temporary window into the God's-eye view. For God knows, and we can know, too, that the game is worth the candle, and that all the evil in the world will ultimately be entirely swamped by the goodness and joy of the redeemed.

Friday, January 13, 2017

A few random comments about vegetarianism

I actually don't think vegetarianism is important. In fact, I think so-called factory farming is more important for human well-being than vegetarianism is for human ethics. I realize that this may be a surprising position to some. Also, I can have respect for Christians who believe that animals are always or routinely, much less legally, treated unethically in so-called "factory farming" (though I'm pretty certain they are wrong about that given the heavy regulation of the food-farming industry) if those Christians place a much higher priority on the truly civilization-urgent issues of our time, such as abortion and the homosexual-transgender agenda. What I have really no patience for are "millennial ethics priorities" that leave the marriage and/or abortion issues largely untouched and un-thought-through while spending oodles of time agonizing over and evangelizing for vegetarianism. (In passing, I've been influenced quite a bit by the work of Wesley J. Smith on these issues, but his blog posts are now difficult to search, so I'll just link this book, which I don't happen to own, that has a chapter or two on the subject.)

A few other thoughts I've written to various people lately that I thought I might as well throw into a blog post, which will be rather disorganized. This next comment is addressed to what strikes me as the incredibly silly, shallow argument that likens animal-product consumption to eating the brains of puppies deliberately bred in a horribly painful way to make them tasty. (Yes, there really is such an "argument" out there.) Or, in general, the "argument" that implies that we eat meat and/or animal products only out of lazy hedonism.
I want also to say quite openly that I would actually oppose even the voluntary cessation of all that is called "factory farming," because I consider the efficient production of large quantities of meat, dairy, eggs, etc., to be quite important to human nutrition given the population of both the developed world and the world as a whole. Animal products are not a luxury eaten by hedonistic, morally oblivious gluttons. They are an important part of a natural, omnivorous human diet that efficiently delivers necessary nutrients in a form likely actually to be eaten by large numbers of human beings. It is therefore important for them to be produced in such a quantity that these products are readily available and affordable.
A few more words about that: The idea that there is something low and unworthy about eating food that tastes good has a certain almost unhealthy asceticism about it, as though morally perfect beings would get all their nutrition in some tasteless, unenjoyable fashion or would eat only out of duty. The good taste of animal products, and their high concentrations of important nutrients such as protein, iron, and the essential B12 (which, no, is not found in seaweed!) come together to make it relatively easy for an omnivore to eat a diet containing enough of these nutrients. That's actually important to human flourishing. If you have to get absolutely essential nutrients by taking supplements (and vegans, especially, do have to obtain supplements or specially fortified food for their B12), then your diet is insufficiently nutritious and varied. You can do that if you choose, but there is no moral requirement for people in general to do that, and indeed it is unlikely that mankind as a whole is going to get the diet it needs in that way.

Another point: It really is difficult to have passion for everything at once, and especially for issues at different ends of the political spectrum. I don't want to say it's impossible, and I know a few exceptions, but by and large, the "millennial ethics" I discussed above are a natural result of the deliberate intention to focus on some issues (poverty, vegetarianism) as some kind of "corrective" to the "religious right." There are only so many hours in a day, and you only have so much capital to spend trying to convince your friends of things and intensely discussing things. If you're spending that capital evangelizing for vegetarianism or writing about it, I'm just going to say that it's plausible that you are spending a lot less time doing other things in the broadly political realm. So to some extent, yes, there is a zero-sum game going on, and there's a reason why one too often finds that the most passionate vegetarian Christians are wishy-washy (at least) on, say, the wrongness of homosexuality and the evil of homosexual "marriage." There was a great blog post by someone-or-other several years ago about this kind of thing: The blogger was told that it's possible to be "pro-life and" and then decided that practically speaking on the progressive Christian side it wasn't working out that way. If I ever find the link again I'll post it.

There is something quasi-religious about vegetarianism and even more about veganism. The old monks would fast for a fast day and feast for a feast day. Human beings find it satisfying to order their lives in an intentional way that feels significant on the intimate level of eating, sleeping, etc. Christianity, however, does not give detailed rules for these things, so we tend to invent them for ourselves as a practical matter. There's nothing wrong with that, but in my opinion it would be a more healthy Christianity to refrain from eating meat on Fridays in honor of Christ's crucifixion or to fast and pray than to refrain from eating meat on all days in honor of animals. It would be better to satisfy one's desire for detailed, religious order by praying the canonical hours than to examine the food one eats at every meal to try to assure oneself that the animals that produced it had a happy life (by anthropomorphic standards of "happy") and died a peaceful death.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

I Can't Even Walk

I just learned of this gospel music standard. I love it. It's a new fave. So much so that I'm going to embed about four or five versions.

Never, ever, ever feel ashamed of telling God that you need him. Never feel that that is selfish, that seeking a relationship with God out of need for Him is insufficiently "pure" in motive. What do we have to give to God but our need of Him, our emptiness, our littleness?

Here is Gordon Mote with a version that has a lot of soul.



Here is a nice version (if you don't mind Jessy Dixon's riffs) in which he's joined by the incomparable Guy Penrod. And Bill Gaither gets everyone singing.



This is another Gaither group one (allegedly), that has no video, though it sounds live. Nice, soft sound. I love the soloist's southern accent (black southern?) you can cut with a knife, but I don't know who he is.

But I think my favorite I've found so far is this short cut with Gordon Mote, not quite so soulful as in the first link, joined by Alabama. Understated and lovely.