Thursday, August 10, 2017

John Wenham's Easter Enigma

At W4 I review John Wenham's Easter Enigma.

I have enjoyed Wenham so much recently in part because I have been reading Licona's Why Are There Differences in the Gospels, which has a very different approach. Wenham is refreshing in contrast and much, much better.

Friday, July 21, 2017

New OT Undesigned Coincidence

See a post on a new OT undesigned coincidence related to I Kings and the city of Gibbethon, here.

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Fretting is my spiritual gift

Those of you who read this who are naturally Nervous Nellies will sympathize with the dilemma I face daily:

On the one hand, the Bible clearly tells us to be anxious for nothing, to cast all our cares upon the One who cares for us. We also are not supposed to fret ourselves because of evildoers. We're also (general Biblical principles) not supposed to obsess, or rant, or wallow in anger. (The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.)

On the other hand, we are supposed to be prudent, responsible, canny, and not fools. (See Proverbs, passim.) We're supposed to be good stewards of our time, talents, and treasure. (See the Parable of the Talents.) We're supposed to try to give good advice to those for whom we are responsible. We're supposed to be hard-working rather than lazy. Sloth is one of the seven deadlies. (See the life and teachings of the Apostle Paul.) We're supposed to remember all the gazillion details that are our responsibility to remember. (Tautology.) We're also supposed to work hard at praying for our needs and the needs of others. Men ought always to pray and not to faint.

To a naturally worrying person, these two sets of injunctions are almost psychologically impossible to satisfy simultaneously. It is simply true that some of my best ideas have come during fretting sessions. "What can I do about problem x? Surely there must be something that one can try!" And lo, a constructive idea appears after some period of otherwise fruitless head-beating. Focused prayer sometimes becomes nearly indistinguishable from painful worrying. "Dear Lord, please, please deal with issue x. Please show me what to do about x. Please show me what to advise so-and-so to do about x. Please show so-and-so what to do about x." And so forth. As for "being prudent and responsible," well...If you're a hyper-responsible person, you know what that means. "Okay, what's the next thing I need to Google in order to deal with the next of five million things about which I have to be full of up-to-date, perfectly accurate information, both for myself and for every member of my family, from here to the end of time?"

Not doing any of these things, or, God forbid, forgetting something or making a mistake that harms someone else, brings a crushing feeling of guilt. Yet at the same time, one feels guilty for getting all wound up and not "resting in Christ." Then one has to add to one's list of things to do sitting down and figuring out what is false guilt and what is accurate. Because remember: Thinking aright about all of one's deeds and thoughts, in order to confess sins and make changes where necessary, is also a duty--the examination of conscience.

If you are reading this blog post and are waiting for the Big Reveal that will tell you how to wend your way through this dilemma, you can stop reading now. There isn't going to be a Big Reveal, because I don't have any brilliant answers. In fact, the idea that there is an Answer with a capital A out there for every problem is one will-o'-the-wisp that I've finally learned not to keep chasing. At least I try to remember it. That, at least, can prevent some late nights--the realization that, in the inspired words of economist Thomas Sowell, there are no solutions, only tradeoffs and compromises. It's simply not true, a lie of the Enemy, that if you stay up late enough you will think of the solution to some problem or other. Not even the problem of not worrying or how to worry more constructively.

So all I have are a few tips that may help someone else. By the way, I'm not including "learn to say no" in this list of tips, though many over-conscientious people do need that advice, because I'm actually pretty good at saying "no" to other people's demands. So if you're looking for advice on how to do that, I'm probably not the best person to ask. That isn't where my overactive conscience happens to operate. (Maybe it should. Am I a selfish jerk who says "no" too often?? Huh. Better think about that some more...)

1) Take fun breaks from whatever you are laboring on or worrying about. This side of Glory, we anxious pilgrims are unlikely to achieve a saintly calm at all times. Our lives are probably going to alternate between fretfulness and rest. But make sure at least that you do alternate. When it's nothing but tension and fret all the time, you're headed for disaster. Take a walk, during which you think about something enjoyable, not (not) the latest Thing. Sit on the porch. Watch a sunset. Listen to good music. Do something you actually feel like doing. It's not a sin. It's important. If necessary, tell yourself that you have a duty to take breaks. That'll do it. You know it will.

2) Learn to recognize when you are really just spinning your wheels and burning up your motor, and learn to stop yourself. Yes, it's true: It's logically possible that if you continue to stay awake thinking about the Thing, you will come up with some smart idea about the Thing that will actually help. But that's not the way to bet. And probability is indeed the very guide of life. Stop and go to bed. Break off. Do something else. If it isn't bed time, then right now do something different, profitable, and attention-requiring. Bonus hint: If you're married, your spouse can help you identify these times. If you're engaged or dating, that person should be able to help you. Otherwise, see if you can get a friend to help you with it.

3) Offer it up. I'm not going to write a whole blog post here and now about the psychology, theology, and metaphysics of offering it up, but I think it's okay with God, and I think it's a spiritual exercise worth engaging in. Recognize that your sense of psychological burden over the current Thing is a kind of suffering. (No, that's not too melodramatic. It's okay. And it's true, isn't it?) Once you recognize it as a kind of suffering, then you can recognize that God can use that suffering, maybe even in wholly mysterious ways, for His glory. Get rid of resentment (that's the hard part), and tell God that you offer up your psychological pain over X, to Him, for the furtherance of his kingdom. If you really want to be somewhat Catholic or High Church about it, you can get really daring and tell God that, if it's His will, you want to offer up your suffering with this worry for so-and-so--someone whom you want to help or bless. It doesn't even have to be someone connected with the worry in any way, though it might be. Does it "work"? Does it have metaphysical meaning? I'm not, honestly, certain, and I'm too much of an analytic philosopher to pretend certainty where I don't have it. But I think it might, and I don't think it's wrong. What I do know, as a psychological matter, is that offering up one's feelings of anxiety to Our Lord for someone else is quite helpful mentally. Nor does it seem to have the effect of making one try to generate more unpleasant feelings in order to have more to offer up. It's not like that at all. It is, rather, a calming thing, leading one to a sense of acceptance of one's teeny little cross and to a feeling that things aren't just pointless. Then you can stop fretting and turn to something more profitable--sleep, for example.

4) Take spiritual breaks. It's fine, even important, to pray for a list of needs. The Bible tells us to. But that shouldn't be all of your prayer life. Not even pleading with God, wrestling with God, for some serious and urgent matter should be all of the Christian's prayer life. No doubt Martha felt like giving a smart answer to Jesus. I've often written her answer for her in my own mind: "Hey, Lord, if everyone were like Mary, how would your supper get cooked?" But the fact remains that Martha does need to play Mary's role sometimes. Regularly.

When you pray, leave time for thanksgiving, for remembering His mercies with joy, for meditation, and for interior silence in the presence of God--coram Deo. Do this intentionally. We worriers have to come to the Lord with our frets and follies, our contradictory demands of conscience, our emotional incoherence, and present ourselves to Him. It's a thing in itself. It isn't just praying in a generic sense. It's telling the Lord, "Here I am. Show me yourself. Use me as you see fit. Make me in your image. I shall be satisfied when I awake with your likeness." And then being quiet for a while.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Hidden in Plain View available in Kindle--great sale

A Kindle edition of Hidden in Plain View: Undesigned Coincidences in the Gospels and Acts is available for pre-order from Amazon today for only $4.99. This special price will continue until July 10, when the Kindle edition will go to $9.99. This is especially good for those who are in remote locations or prefer not to pay shipping, or just for people who like a Kindle edition. Spread the word. The book continues of course to be available in paperback.

Monday, June 26, 2017

New UC confirms Pauline authorship of 2 Timothy

This time I put the whole entry at What's Wrong With the World. You can read it here.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Placement, order, and dating of Pauline epistles

I recently wrote up my own opinions (though not uninformed opinions) on the placement of Paul's epistles within Acts and on their approximate calendar dates. I wrote it up for someone whom I am meeting to discuss the topic, but after doing all that work, I figured it would make a good blog post. I ask readers to excuse the varying amounts of argument represented here and the terse style. "Hemer" of course is Colin Hemer in Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, discussed in the previous post. "HIPV" is my own book, Hidden in Plain View. Each entry begins by placing the book in relation to Acts, which is usually much easier to do than placing it in relation to the calendar. Next I make educated guesses about calendar dating. The order is chronological, according to my own present views. Readers who are into New Testament issues will notice that I don't try to write treatises on the much-discussed issues of the destination and placement of Galatians and the authorship of Hebrews, but I do give my own present opinions. Until I went back to Hemer this last time, I had forgotten about the earthquake in the Lycus Valley and its possible impact upon the dating of Colossians, Ephesians, and Philemon. Enjoy!


--I Thessalonians, just after Acts 18:5, compare I Thess 3:6.

Approximate calendar date, some time around 50-51. Gallio’s proconsulship can be pretty precisely dated to 51-52, approximately 18 months, by external evidence. (See Acts 18:12-17 and Hemer on Gallio.)

--II Thessalonians, some time during stay in Corinth in Acts 18. Notice that he is still with Timothy and Silvanus, just as in the salutation to I Thess. Silvanus may be Silas.

Approx. calendar date 51-52, via Gallio connection and probable writing during this stay in Corinth. However, could be as late as 53, since we don’t know exactly when Paul left Corinth, and Acts 18:18 says Paul remained “many days longer,” a vague note of time.

--I Corinthians, during Paul’s time remaining in Ephesus, Acts 19:22. This would have been toward the end of his time in Ephesus. Numerous arguments. See HIPV. This is very firmly fixed to Acts 19:22. Probably in the spring between Passover and Pentecost (I Cor. 16:8). He expressed an intention to spend the winter in Corinth (I Cor. 16:1-8); compare the “three months” in Greece in Acts 20:3. Hence I Corinthians was written less than a year before Acts 20:3.

Calendar date somewhat less firm, depending on vague notes of time in Acts 18:18 and a journey of unspecified length in Acts 18:23. He spent 2-3 years in Ephesus (Acts 19:8-9). Hemer also places I Corinthians in Ephesus somewhere in Acts 19 (though not quite as precisely as I do). He dates I Corinthians around 55 A.D. and lengthens Paul’s journey through the Macedonian regions in Acts 20:2 so that it includes over a year, but this loses the coincidence with the three months in Acts 20:3. I would be inclined to make that journey through Macedonia much shorter so that the 3 months in Acts 20:3 does correspond to the next winter mentioned in I Corinthians 16. If Hemer is also right to date the arrest in Jerusalem in Acts 21 to 57, which is somewhat conjectural, then I would be placing I Corinthians in the spring of 56.

--II Corinthians was written from Macedonia during the collection journey. The collection is explained in the epistles. The collection journey was through Macedonia and into Achaia at the beginning of Acts 20. See II Cor. 8:1, 9:2-4. Very firmly fixed in relation to Acts and the collection (though the collection is never mentioned in Acts). See HIPV.

Calendar date, again depends on how long you make the Macedonian journey and whether one is trying to fix Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem in Acts 21 in 57. I would put II Corinthians around late fall of 56.


--Romans, clearly completed around Acts 20:3, just before he is about to set off for Jerusalem with the collection. See Romans 15:25-27. Compare also the lists of his companions in Acts 20:4 and Romans 16:21-23.

Calendar date, if Hemer is right that the arrival in Jerusalem was 57, would be late winter or very early spring of 57. Some commentators have put the arrival/arrest in Jerusalem in 58, which would shift all of this to a year later. Hemer’s arguments concern the notes of time in Acts 20:5-6 and the beginning of Passover in the year 57. I think this is not extremely strong, because (among other things) Acts merely says (Acts 20:6) that they sailed away from Philippi “after” the days of Unleavened Bread with no statement of how long after. If it were even a few days, it would throw off the calculation Hemer is making.

--Galatians, extremely controversial. I have my own opinions but will not attempt to summarize all the arguments. Contrary to most conservative commentators now, I would place Galatians during the winter of Acts 20:2, right around the same time as Romans. I am inclined to think that the journey to Jerusalem in Galatians 2 is indeed the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15, despite the well-known difficulties of this view. In that case, Paul simply doesn’t mention the Acts 11 journey in Galatians, which may be because it was merely for purposes of carrying money or may even mean that he did not see the apostles on that journey. Again this is all highly controversial. I am ambivalent on the North-South Galatian destination, but placing the epistle in Acts 20 does not require one to take the North Galatian view, though it has been associated with it historically. Hemer, in contrast, places Galatians very early as the earliest epistle, back in Acts 14 or, at latest, Acts 15:1, just before the Jerusalem council.


Hemer’s argument would make the calendar date around 49. Mine would make it some time around the winter of 56-57.

--Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon were all written around the same time and despatched by the same messenger(s)—Tychicus and Onesimus. Col. 4:7-9, Eph. 6:21-22. Col. 4:9 shows that Onesimus and Tychicus traveled together. Many links between the persons mentioned in Colossians and Philemon—Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, for example. And Archippus is greeted in both. “Ephesians” appears to be the “lost” letter to the Laodiceans mentioned in Col. 4:16. (See argument in HIPV, taken from Paley.) These three are all prison epistles, see references to Paul’s imprisonment throughout them and the argument in HIPV concerning the “chain” in Ephesians 6:20. They fit extremely well in the two-year Roman imprisonment in Acts 28:30, but there are few indications as to whether they are early or late in that imprisonment.

Hemer argues that they were early because of a mention in Tacitus of an earthquake in AD 60-61 that completely destroyed Laodicea. Eusebius says that an earthquake destroyed both Laodicea and Colosse, though Eusebius dates the earthquake to 64. One assumes that these allude to the same earthquake but place it in different years, since that is more economical than assuming that Laodicea was destroyed by an earthquake twice within four years. Obviously, Paul wouldn’t have written telling Philemon (as he does) to prepare a guest chamber for him in a house that Paul knew had just been destroyed by an earthquake. So either the earthquake hadn’t happened yet or Paul hadn’t heard about it yet when he sent these three letters. This places pressure to put the letters fairly early in the 2-year Roman imprisonment, though if we accept Eusebius’s date there is no such issue. Tacitus was writing closer to the time, but Eusebius might have had access to other sources.

--Philippians, again, is a prison epistle and fits well during the 2-year Roman imprisonment in Acts 28. Hemer rightly points out that there apparently had been time for various journeys back and forth. Epaphroditus had known where to find Paul and had brought him money from Philippi. Word had gotten back to the Philippians that Epaphroditus was sick. So this is some argument that it was somewhat later in the imprisonment. (Phil 2:25-27) Also, Phil. 1:12-17 shows that Paul’s imprisonment has had various effects on the preaching of the gospel, Paul has had word of these effects and is making an assessment of them. Again, this argues for a somewhat later date in the imprisonment. Compare also Phil. 2:23-24 and Philemon 22. Both indicate hope of release. Hemer sees somewhat more anxiety in Philippians 1:23-24 where Paul is trying to guess whether he will live or die, but this is conjectural.

Suffice it to say that there is some evidence pushing Philippians to around 62, later in the Roman imprisonment, and some evidence pushing the three other prison epistles of Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians to 60 or early 61, but it is impossible to be dogmatic.

The calendar dating of the imprisonment to approximately 60-62 comes from the notes of time of two years’ imprisonment in Caesarea (Acts 25:26-27) and the length of the voyage to Rome, including shipwreck, winter, change of ships, etc., from Acts 27-28. If one scoots everything down a year, the imprisonment would be 61-63, but that really would probably require taking Eusebius’s date for the Colossian earthquake, since Paul would likely not have written those three letters in that way to the Laodicea/Colosse region after he knew about the earthquake.

--Hebrews: Obviously, whether or not Hebrews is in any sense an epistle by the Apostle Paul is hugly controversial, and I’m not intending to give all the arguments on various sides. My own present working theory is that it was co-written by Paul and Luke and that the last verses of the last chapter (perhaps from verse 16 or 17 on) were an entirely Pauline “cover note,” written to its initial recipients (wherever they were) and known to be by Paul, with the intention that they would circulate just the treatise itself to a wider Jewish-Christian audience. This is obviously speculative. If Hebrews is Pauline, where does it fit? Here I see a plausible connection with Philippians. In Philippians 2:19-24 Paul says that he hopes to send Timothy to them as soon as he sees how it will go with him, presumably at some sort of hearing or in some other legal sense. In Hebrews 13:23 the author says that Timothy has been “released” and that he hopes to see them along with Timothy soon. This need not mean that Timothy has been actually in prison but could just mean that Timothy has been released from some other duty. One possible picture, then, is that there was enough good news (legally) that Paul sent Timothy to the Philippians but that there were still legal loose ends to be tied up in Rome before he himself was released. Hebrews, then, could be placed at the very tail end of the Roman imprisonment mentioned in Acts, after the other prison epistles and shortly before Paul’s release, either due to the default of his accusers or to a favorable hearing.

In both Philemon v. 22 and Hebrews 13:18-19 the author says that he hopes to be released from imprisonment soon by means of the prayers of the recipients. If Hebrews is Pauline, this might place it at approximately the same time in the two-year Roman imprisonment as Philemon. However, that would place Philemon, Colossians, and Ephesians much later in the Roman imprisonment and would require that the Lycus River valley earthquake took place according to Eusebius’s date, not Tacitus’s.


--I Timothy and Titus should not be dated within Acts, as the Pauline travel they allude to clearly occurred outside of the events in Acts. There are numerous arguments for this; just to begin with, there is no way to fit Paul’s leaving Timothy in Ephesus and going on to Macedonia (I Tim. 1:3) with any of the trips recorded in Acts.

If anything, the geographical notes in Titus are even more clearly about some later journey of Paul. In Titus Paul has been in Crete and has left Titus there (Titus 1:5), while at no time in Acts is there a good place for Paul to visit Crete. Paul is at liberty when he writes Titus and intends to spend the winter in Nicopolos (Titus 3:12), which is in the north of Greece. Paul doesn’t appear to have wintered there at any time in Acts except possibly during the very early years in Acts after his conversion that are covered more sketchily. Yet I and II Timothy and Titus all appear to be much later in Paul’s life.

Given all of this and more related to 2 Timothy, the best conclusion seems to be that Paul was released at the end of the imprisonment in Acts, as his notes in Philippians and Philemon indicate that he hoped for, and had an unspecified time of ministry after that before he was again imprisoned, with the second imprisonment represented by 2 Timothy.

This would put the dating of I Timothy and Titus somewhere between 62 and 64.

--2 Timothy definitely refers to a second imprisonment, not to the imprisonment described in Acts or referred to in the other prison epistles. Again, there are numerous arguments for this, not all of which I will try to list. Among them, perhaps the most knock-down of all: 2 Timothy 4:20 says that Trophimus was left sick at Miletus in the time shortly before this imprisonment, but in Acts Trophimus was not left behind but traveled all the way to Jerusalem with Paul and is conjectured by Luke to have been the cause of the riot in Jerusalem (Acts 21:29). Also, again, in Acts Paul’s last visit to Miletus was years before he was in Rome, given the Caesarean imprisonment. He would never have referred in this way to having left Trophimus at Miletus sick, with no indication of the outcome, if it had happened several years before. Numerous indications show that this imprisonment was much shorter than the imprisonment referred to in Philippians. (By the way, an argument for the authenticity of the pastoral epistles can be made from the very fact of their being so independent of Acts and implying a later and separate ministry. Perhaps I will spell this out more in a later post.)

This epistle can’t be dated with certainty but was very likely written in a relatively short second imprisonment, ending in Paul's death, during the Neronian persecution, 64-68.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Colin Hemer on the genre of Luke's writings

I have recently been reading and reveling in portions of Colin Hemer's magisterial The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History. If you can at all get hold of a copy, consider doing so. The American publisher, Eisenbrauns, advertises it in paperback for $49.50, which I know is pricey but better than it appears to be if you check Amazon. Unfortunately, Eisenbrauns is saying it is "out of stock" on their site. I hope that is just temporary. Maybe they have gone to a print-on-demand model for the book. Oddly, Eisenbrauns is selling it as a merchant on Amazon for $55, so this is a bit mysterious. The book is so worth having.

I read and used several sections of the book in detail when preparing Hidden in Plain View, and I referred several times to Hemer's amazing lists of external confirmations of Acts, some of them discussed by Esteemed Husband here. Hidden in Plain View is dedicated to three people--William Paley, the late Colin Hemer, and Timothy McGrew.

Now I'm reading even more of the book and finding even more amazing stuff in it. Hemer is simultaneously so judicious and so brilliant that it is impossible not to respect him immensely. He's not at all afraid of scholarly fashion (though he's more polite about dissenting from fashion than I am), he cares only for where the evidence leads in his own scholarly conjectures and conclusions, and he is so careful, that it is a joy to read him and immensely profitable, even if one doesn't agree with him at every point. Hemer is pretty firmly on the side of a south Galatian destination for the book of Galatians and even more firmly on the side of a very early date, making Galatians the first of the Pauline epistles we possess. I disagree with him on the latter point and lean away from his position on the former, but just reading his discussions is clarifying and has allowed me to consider the issue in all of its ramifications.

The astounding thing about Hemer is his consistent soundness. Nowhere yet in the book have I encountered the sudden flight into dubious fantasy nor the sudden, sickening plunge into dreadfully bad argument that plagues so many even of the best scholars of the New Testament. (E.g. See here for a summary of historian Richard Bauckham's weak argument against Matthew authorship.) Never does Hemer make a weak conjecture, then abruptly treat it as an established fact, then proceed to string together several such conjectures, then act as if he has established the conclusion on firm ground. He is, par excellence, the scholar of the cumulative case and is always aware of the fact that he is incorporating uncertain or speculative premises as part of his case. Hemer also recognizes again and again that evidence can go in more than one direction. He will refer to some scholar who, say, treats a particular year of the crucifixion as set in stone and then subordinates all other evidence to it and will point out that, if there is evidence that seems to tell in another direction "downstream," we should be willing to reconsider the earlier premise (e.g., the year of the crucifixion).

So after devouring his discussion of the end of Acts and his section on the context of the composition of Acts, et. al., I finally decided to read portions of the section on the placement of Luke and Acts in ancient historiography--in other words, genre, a topic I generally find boring almost to the point of madness. But in it, I found this absolute gem of a passage, in which Hemer anticipates current trends to classify Luke as a "Greco-Roman bios" and to downplay its normal, ordinary accuracy on that basis, a problem I discuss here, here, and here. Hemer's comments, I believe, apply with (at least) equal force to the other gospels.

The Gospel at least is, on the face of it, a [bios]. But from the perspective of our theme we need to measure Luke-Acts by a more exacting historical standard than that of Plutarch. The relevance of biography to this question is largely negative. It is another kindred strand in the ancient cultural complex. It testifies to the existence of an anecdotal or encomiastic tradition of the interest in personality....There are certainly parallels between Luke-Acts and features of history, biography and technical literature. But those parallels are neither exclusive nor subject to control. They are fluid, relevant to the general milieu, if perhaps partly in reaction against it and hard to place accurately within it. Most of the New Testament is perhaps best seen as a popular literature, imperfectly representative of any defined literary type, and motivated by a dominant theological purpose scarcely paralleled in pagan writing. If Luke is a partial exception, aspiring to a more formal style in addressing a man presumably of some literary education, his type is still somewhat free and mixed, a concisely effective vehicle for what he had to say, drawing on a flexible use of the style most natural to him. The uninitiated reader might have taken the Gospel at first sight for a biography, but soon have found it an unusual one, and then have been moved by the impact of the double work in directions other than the normal reactions to biography or history. It is my contention that one of the inevitable questions posed as a result of the document was whether it really happened. Ancient biography, no less than ancient historiography, may need to serve as a historical source. The question here is whether the work is a good source. And it needs to be measured by the stricter rather than the laxer measure. Rigorous concepts of history existed in Luke's world: Luke must be judged by his performance rather than on the slippery ground of parallels. (Hemer, pp. 93-94, hardcover edition published by J.C.B. Mohr, emphasis added)
This is extremely perspicacious. I have to draw attention to several of the virtues of what Hemer says, in contrast with current fads. My emphases in the above quotation already draw attention to some of them.

Above all, Hemer avoids the simplistic use of genre identification that is suddenly dogging evangelical New Testament scholarship in 2017. That simplistic use goes something like this: "The gospels are bioi. The authors of bioi all thought they were justified in making up speeches, changing events to different days, and in various other ways doing things that we would generally consider contrary to real historical reliability. Therefore, we need to revise our standards of reliability, because the original readers would have recognized the gospels as bioi and wouldn't have expected them to be accurate in those senses." On this approach, we take the identification of something as "bios" to create a kind of probability distribution of accuracy according to which a bios is generally no less accurate than x but no more accurate than y.

Some evangelicals welcome the identification of bios in contrast to, say, legend because this imagined probability distribution at least sets some very broad limit to how creative the author is likely to get with the facts. Phew! At least we can get some historical knowledge from the gospels. What a relief! But on the other hand, this approach is also being taken to set an upper limit on how conscientious the author is going to be concerning the facts. Hemer blows all of this out of the water, because he simply rejects the silliness of the false dichotomy: Either the gospels are bioi in some highly explicit sense or else we have no idea how legendary or inaccurate they must be, because if we reject bioi we don't have a sharp genre designation for them.

Hemer realizes that something can have various features of a genre without our being able thereby to draw firm conclusions about whether the author was trying to be historically accurate on such issues as dates, what was actually said, etc. Hemer also recognizes that identifying a precise literary genre for the gospels, as opposed to a general sense of what they are attempting to do, isn't really terribly important. (Shocking as that may sound.) The more important point is that Luke had something important to say, not that he adopted a genre in a self-conscious sense and then considered that it freed him from a need to be accurate in the story he wanted to tell. Indeed, the importance of the story to Luke and to his audience made it important to get things right. Hemer's nuanced, scholarly mind allows him to think of ancient biography as part of Luke's general milieu (in the case of Luke more so than the other authors if he was a well-educated Gentile) rather than as some kind of esoteric pass-key to the gospels that allows us to draw deductive conclusions.

Moreover, as Hemer points out, it is completely false that back in those days nobody expected a source to be rigorous in its approach to truth and falsehood. Nor can slapping a genre label of "bios" on a book magically erase any relevance of high standards of historical accuracy in the ordinary sense. Hemer is openly declaring that we are right to wonder whether Luke and Acts (and I would say, Matthew, Mark, and John as well) are telling the truth about what happened, not in some dodgy sense of "telling the truth," but in a straightforward sense. That is not being anachronistic or unsophisticated at all. On the contrary, the evidence of the books themselves is that Luke was trying to get it right, in an uncomplicated sense of "right." While it may sound sophisticated, it is actually patronizing Luke and the other gospel writers to imply that they, writing in an ancient genre, didn't have our modern standards of accuracy or wouldn't have thought that (for example) they were misleading their readers if they stated explicitly that a certain event happened on a Saturday when they knew full-well that it really happened on the following Wednesday.

Hemer's relegation of Greco-Roman bioi to, at most, the general milieu of the gospel writers is even more important when we consider the Jewish authorship of the other gospels--Matthew, Mark, and John. Insofar as we have evidence for the traditional ascriptions of authorship of those gospels (and bearing in mind the lesson that evidential relevance goes both ways), that evidence tends to count against the thesis of any self-conscious or explicitly trained influence by or adoption of such a Greco-Roman genre. The picture of the young Matthew literally sitting in school and being taught Greco-Roman literary "compositional devices" is farfetched, to put it mildly. It would take a good deal of strong evidence to lead a careful historian to think that any such thing ever happened, and such strong evidence has not been forthcoming.

Now more than ever we need Hemer's care and his ability to keep all the threads of an argument in his hands at any given time, not putting too much weight on just one thread nor "running with" a theory. And then, too, there is the Preface to the book by the editor, Conrad H. Gempf. Gempf got the work ready for publication after Hemer's rather sudden death of an illness in 1987. At his death, the manuscript was found handwritten on nearly 400 narrow-ruled sheets of notebook paper, each containing nearly twice as much material as a single-spaced typed page. Gempf describes the pages as "meticulously clear."

As the Facebook meme might say,

This is Colin.
Colin was a bad-ass scholar.
Be like Colin.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Giving the devil his due

Update here on the HHS's decision to move against the Obama-era contraception mandate. This is a follow-up to this post.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The corruption of the right

Did Never Trumpers say something about the corruption of conservatism? Why yes, yes we did.

Notice the pattern--the ugly, bullying attitude, the gloating, the excuse-making for beating people up. Because, y'know, punching "SJW" reporters in the face is what we really wanted to do all along, and it feels so good for somebody to do it. Sound familiar? This is the spirit of the alt-right making its way into mainstream conservatism.

But the age of Trump has corrupted a great many people and shattered norms. Those whose moral compass has long since been stashed in the bottom drawer defending the indefensible piled on to applaud Gianforte’s thuggishness. The Media Research Center’s Brent Bozell tweeted, “Jacobs is an obnoxious, dishonest first class jerk. I’m not surprised he got smacked.” (For the record, I’ve known Bozell for decades and hope this was a momentary lapse of judgment. We’ve all experienced the itchy Twitter finger.) [If it was a "momentary lapse of judgement, don't expect Bozell to apologize any time soon. LM] 
Laura Ingraham chose to impugn Jacobs’s manhood: “Politicians always need to keep their cool. But what would most Montana men do if ‘body slammed’ for no reason by another man?” She followed up with “Did anyone get his lunch money stolen today and then run to tell the recess monitor?” 

Dinesh D’Souza struck the same tone, calling Jacobs a “crybaby,” and also implying that the story was a “scam” perpetrated by Jacobs to swing the election to the Democrat.
Continues Charen:

None of this is a gray area. You either uphold certain basic standards of decency or you don’t. Some who call themselves conservatives have shown that they are nothing of the kind. To be conservative is to be honorable. These are contemptible, partisan hacks. 
I'm afraid we will have to expect to see more and more contemptible, partisan hacks emerging as these years go on.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

All men suffer

He had never thought of the Olympian figures of the Close as in need of compassion;...All of them, and especially the...Dean, had seemed to live in a world where compassion was not necessary. He saw now that it was the very first necessity, always and everywhere, and should flow between all men. Men lived with their nearest and dearest and knew little of them, and strangers passing by in the street were as impersonal as trees walking, and all the while there was this deep affinity, for all men suffered.
Elizabeth Goudge, The Dean's Watch

Monday, May 08, 2017

St. Thomas Aquinas on the creation of man's body

I spent a probably inordinate amount of time some years ago arguing over whether, somehow, intelligent design theory is incompatible with Thomism. Others have done a more thorough job on that subject even than I have. (Jay Richards devotes several chapters to the subject in this book.)

Just every once in a while, though, I find myself frustrated anew at some new person who has been given the bizarre impression that neo-Darwinism is somehow "more compatible with Thomism" than intelligent design or special creation. This is, in my view, quite crazy, since St. Thomas himself was undoubtedly a creationist in what would nowadays be considered a crude, interventionist sense.

Time after time people will make statements about how Thomas was open to abiogenesis (not mentioning that this wasn't for some heavy metaphysical reason but because people erroneously believed they had observed it at the time), or talk knowingly about St. Augustine and the rationes seminales. And then will come more talk about secondary causes (yes, we know about secondary causes), until one almost starts to wonder why we needed Darwin at all. It begins to sound like maybe St. Thomas invented Darwinism before Darwin.

At those moments, I always point out that St. Thomas Aquinas was absolutely emphatic that God directly created the body of the first man from the slime of the earth. This often comes as news to the one considering or promoting some form of allegedly Thomistic theistic evolution. And then I have to go look it up again. So I got tired of looking it up this time and put the quotations on my hard drive, and I'm going to post them here, too. Notice that Aquinas explicitly rejects the notion that man developed from "seeds" in nature, a la Augustine.

So here is the reference:

Summa Theologiae, question 91: The Production of the First Man's Body.

Article 1 is "Whether the first man's body was made of the slime of the earth." I'll let you read it yourself. Hint: The answer, according to St. Thomas, is yes.

And in case you were wondering if he means this in some fancy, metaphoric sense compatible with a neo-Darwinian origin of man's body, the answer is no, he doesn't. How do we know? From Article 2, "Whether the human body was immediately produced by God."

Here's a really juicy quote, just before St. Thomas starts replying to objections:

The first formation of the human body could not be by the instrumentality of any created power, but was immediately from God. Some, indeed, supposed that the forms which are in corporeal matter are derived from some immaterial forms; but the Philosopher refutes this opinion (Metaph. vii), for the reason that forms cannot be made in themselves, but only in the composite, as we have explained (I:65:4; and because the agent must be like its effect, it is not fitting that a pure form, not existing in matter, should produce a form which is in matter, and which form is only made by the fact that the composite is made. So a form which is in matter can only be the cause of another form that is in matter, according as composite is made by composite. Now God, though He is absolutely immaterial, can alone by His own power produce matter by creation: wherefore He alone can produce a form in matter, without the aid of any preceding material form. For this reason the angels cannot transform a body except by making use of something in the nature of a seed, as Augustine says (De Trin. iii, 19). Therefore as no pre-existing body has been formed whereby another body of the same species could be generated, the first human body was of necessity made immediately by God.

Unequivocal enough?

But there's more. Aquinas explicitly rejects the view that the body of man was formed first and then ensouled.

Some have thought that man's body was formed first in priority of time, and that afterwards the soul was infused into the formed body. But it is inconsistent with the perfection of the production of things, that God should have made either the body without the soul, or the soul without the body, since each is a part of human nature. This is especially unfitting as regards the body, for the body depends on the soul, and not the soul on the body. Question 91, Article 4, reply to objection 4.

Timely, isn't it? Especially since intellectual Catholics have apparently en masse embraced an "ensoulment" view of the origin of man in an attempt to make their theology compatible with neo-Darwinism. (See my discussions of "ensoulment" here and here.)

What Aquinas says here is quite accurate from the viewpoint of hylemorphism. The ensoulment view, which makes the body of the first man (or men) indistinguishable from animal ancestors and even envisages the possibility of hominid zombies living in the same vicinity with newly-ensouled, biologically identical "real humans," is more like a bad caricature of Cartesian dualism than like anything remotely hylemorphic. (Nor even a sane, interactive Cartesianism.) As Aquinas says, in his philosophy "the body depends on the soul, and not the soul on the body." If you dislike "angelism" philosophically (and what good Thomist doesn't dislike angelism?), you should be completely closed to the ensoulment view of human origins.

Hopefully putting these passages here will make them easier to find next time this question comes up.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Trumpites and others should hold some feet to the fire

Well, well. What are the odds that those praising everything Trump does that could be remotely regarded as conservative will even mention this? It appears that the new DOJ is continuing to defend the suit against religious organizations that object to the Obama-era HHS contraception mandate for employers.

Prima facie, this is another broken campaign promise, and a particularly weird one. Nobody who was remotely conservative, or Republican, nor the vast majority of the American public, wanted these lawsuits in the first place. Only wild-eyed ideologues insisted on the contraceptive mandate, and Congress never passed it. It was made up out of whole cloth by Kathleen Sebelius in the Obama HHS and imposed as a pure diktat upon objecting organizations. The Obama administration spent large amounts of unnecessary money defending it, over remands, etc.. Dropping it now lies entirely within the power of the executive branch of government and is precisely the kind of no-brainer move that one might have expected even from lazy, unprincipled Donald Trump. No congressional action (such as repealing Obamacare) is necessary. Nobody wants this lawsuit, and it's wasting the taxpayers' money. And it looks bad. Who wants to be persecuting the Little Sisters of the Poor? Trump campaigned explicitly on a promise of stopping this nonsense. Jeff Sessions is now in charge at DOJ, and Tom Price at HHS. What are we waiting for?

It may just be some purely temporary delay. Perhaps this recent filing in the case will be followed very shortly by the administration's dropping the defense of the suit. Perhaps this is mere incompetence on the part of the Trump administration rather than actual promise-breaking.

But I'm going to go out on a limb and make a prediction: If Trump's feet are not held to the fire, the Little Sisters, East Texas Baptist, and other organizations will continue to be pressed to comply with an HHS contraceptive mandate. Trump's heart was never in this particular promise. He is lacking (as we Never Trumpers have always said) any sense of moral obligation to keep his promises. His daughter is very socially liberal and is one of his most important advisers. What he does in governance is spasmodic and to a terrifying extent random. He'll make a gesture that conservatives love one day and a gesture in the other direction on another day. One day he'll repeal the Obama letter concerning the interpretation of Title IX to include transgenderism. The next day he'll drop the attempt to repeal an Obama Executive Order requiring federal contractors not to discriminate on the basis of transgenderism, and say he's proud to be the first Republican President to support "LGBT" rights. Yes, he rescinded onerous reporting and proving requirements for federal contractors, but he left the non-discrimination order in place, so any true claim of discrimination on the basis of John's trying to turn himself into Jill will still scotch a federal contract. Despite homosexualist squawking, Trump came out on their side on this, but we scarcely heard a peep about it from Trumpites and their fellow travelers. Once when I brought it up on Facebook I realized that the person to whom I'd brought it up had no idea what I was talking about and thought I was confused about the Title IX issue instead.

Fortunately The Stream (which has published way too many pro-Trump articles, in my opinion) is asking the obvious question: Why is the Trump Administration Continuing the Fight Against Nuns and Baptists?

Why, indeed.

We need more outlets and op-eds asking the same.

One lawyer on Facebook tried to tell me that the DOJ has no choice if the regulations from HHS aren't changed because they have an ethical duty of "zealous advocacy." Puh-lease. Jeff Sessions has already dropped a lawsuit against Texas's voter ID laws. The DOJ drops suits all the time, when it is on either side, if it doesn't consider the public interest well-served by continuing a suit--which is obviously the case here. Here and here are more examples. I note that in the second of those two the Obama DOJ refused to defend DOMA because they decided on their own that it was unconstitutional! Sessions could simply look at the arguments and decide that the HHS regs. violate either the Constitution or the RFRA (a good case can be made for either), and any "ethical duty of zealous advocacy" disappears in a puff.

But in any event, this just backs the question up as to why Tom Price doesn't rescind the Obama-era diktat, promulgated by the department of which he is now the head. Or why he doesn't make a single move to do so. Another claim I've heard is that anything Price would do would require an onerous, painful process of "notice and comment" in order to repeal Sebelius's diktat, which (supposedly) she had to follow to pass it.

Yes, we all remember how incredibly painful and difficult it was for Sebelius back on August 1, 2011, when she handed down the contraceptive mandate from On High. Yes, yes, it was an "interim rule" (according to La Wik) which only became final on January 20 of 2012, so presumably the intervening 4 1/2 months contained that allegedly painful process for the HHS. But somehow that didn't stop her, did it? And organizations like the Little Sisters were on notice in the 4 1/2 months that this was going down.

And, I note, Tom Price hasn't made a single legal move (I will accept correction if someone gives it to me, with documentation) that resembles Sebelius's declaration even of an interim rule that reverses the Obama-era rule. If he did, that would give the DOJ the most obvious of reasons for dropping defense of the suit. This is accepting for the sake of argument that Price would have to go through a several-month (at least) "notice and comment" process to reverse a burdensome rule that is exactly similar to a process required to promulgate a new rule. I don't actually know that of my own knowledge. But if he does, he should get it started right now and set the DOJ's tender legal consciences to rest so the poor chaps don't feel driven to continue defending the suit.

I don't know what Price is thinking, because he explicitly opposed the mandate as a member of Congress. Perhaps Trump could give him a nudge? Odds are, though, Price cares more about this (in the right sense of "cares") than Trump does.

This is the kind of thing that the administration should be held accountable for. We all know that, if Obama were still President, the conservative headlines would be about what the "Obama administration" is doing in continuing the fight against the Little Sisters and other organizations. No one on the right would sit around twiddling their thumbs and telling us, now, now, don't blame Obama, the DOJ has a duty of zealous advocacy, and the HHS would find it so difficult to change the regs. back again. No: This would be laid squarely at Obama's door, as continued persecution coming from the executive branch. Let's apply the same standard to Trump. If he has good will in this matter he needs to speak up, and the same for relevant officials such as Tom Price.

Actions speak louder than words, and so does conspicuous inaction.

If pro-Trump conservatives want to argue that they weren't played for suckers, they need to stop cherry-picking Trump's behavior in office. Let's start with the HHS mandate. It's an easy case.

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.