Thursday, July 31, 2008

The resurrection and self-commitment

There are probably very few readers who read this personal blog but not What's Wrong with the World, the group blog to which I contribute. But it just so happens that a couple of the possibilities I can think of are among those most likely to be interested in this post that I've just put up at What's Wrong With the World.

I was motivated to post it because of a couple of things. For one thing, I've heard for many years--since back when I was a teenage presuppositionalist myself--the phrase, "You can't argue people into the kingdom of God." This was always said with great solemnity in the context of the debate (with which some of you may be familiar) between evidentialists and presuppositionalists in apologetics. It was taken to be a knock-down argument. And even when I became an evidentialist, I would still say it, because it was the kind of thing that seemed common-sensical and true, yet I couldn't see anymore why it was supposed to be an argument against evidentialism. Over the twenty-plus years since then, I've verrry slowwwly figured out, I think, why it was supposed to be an argument and what, precisely, is wrong with it.

And then I was reading N.T. Wright's book--which is very good in many sections, by the way--and came across this unfortunate and somewhat confused passage about how the proposition that Jesus rose from the dead is a "self-committing" proposition and how, therefore, there is no epistemological neutral ground in discussing it (huh?), and that provided a good opportunity to discuss the whole thing.

I'll let you read the other post to get the full scoop. But the core idea of my post is just simply that believing in God isn't the same thing as being a committed Christian. You could conclude that God exists and decide to be several other things instead--e.g., a rebel against God, a completely nominal believer whose faith makes no difference to his life, and so forth.

Something I didn't say in the other post is this: I think that one reason we don't see this nowadays is that we apologists are so seldom arguing with a Jewish audience. The first Christians weren't trying to "get people to believe in God." They were Jews, and their original audience was composed of Jews. They all believed in God.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Collect of the Week--Trinity X

I apologize for being so silent lately, as well as for the fact that there has been no collect or hymn featured for quite some time.

Today really is Trinity X. I always feel a bit sorry for Catholics because they no longer have a Trinity season. I think they used to but could be mistaken here. Perhaps this has always just been called "ordinary time." Here is the collect for Trinity X:

Let thy merciful ears, O Lord, be open to the prayers of thy humble servants; and, that they may obtain their petitions, make them to ask such things as shall please thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

When I was a child, I used to ask my parents why we always ended our prayers with, "In Jesus' name." I was given to understand that we should always be praying according to the will of God, praying things that we could ask in the name of Jesus, requests that would be honoring to him. This makes a lot of sense. You can hardly say, "Dear Father, please make that jerk who nearly hit me at that intersection have an accident and learn his lesson. In Jesus' name, Amen." Doesn't work.

This collect emphasizes the same point. If we want our prayers answered in the affirmative, it's a necessary, though not a sufficient, condition that they be prayers for the right kinds of things. God might still say "no" in some given circumstance, for reasons he knows, but that principle of asking for things that will please God should make us alert when we pray. I do not believe that it is wrong to pray about small things. It's much better to pray about small things--especially for those of us to whom nothing monumental ever happens--than not to pray. But to distinguish the small from the trivial and purely selfish, it doesn't hurt to ask oneself, "Is this request for the kind of thing that is likely to please God?"

Here's another collect, on which I don't think I shall have any comments. But it deserves to be better known. It's from the back of the American 1928 Prayer Book, from the Family Prayer section. I have heard speculation that these prayers were written by, or modified from some written by, the late 17th century divine Tillotson, but I do not know what the evidence is for that hypothesis. The style is notably different from Cranmer's, but the writer of these collects has, like Cranmer, the genius to interweave phrases from Scripture in his prayers. I wish some of the prayers from the Family Prayer section were used in the liturgy, and I do try to use some of them at home with my family. This one is labeled "In the morning," but I find it makes a lot of sense to pray it at night, too:

Almighty God, who alone gavest us the breath of life, and alone canst keep alive in us the holy desires thou dost impart; We beseech thee, for thy compassion's sake, to sanctify all our thoughts and endeavours; that we may neither begin an action without a pure intention nor continue it without thy blessing. And grant that, having the eyes of the mind opened to behold things invisible and unseen, we may in heart be inspired by thy wisdom, and in work be upheld by thy strength, and in the end be accepted of thee as thy faithful servants; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

What is the essence of a pillow?

Okay, enough serious stuff. True story:

We took two pillows to the cleaners to be cleaned, because if you try to wash pillows and dry them in your home dryer, they end up all clumpy, plus you nearly start a fire in the dryer. I've tried this and swore never to try it again. The cleaners told us that it would take about a month. So we waited patiently for a month and finally got the long-expected call: "Your pillows are ready to be picked up."

My husband picks up the pillows and is slightly weirded out by the fact that they sure look an awful lot different from the way that he remembers them. He remarks on this to the girl, who checks the name and assures him that they are, indeed, his pillows. He brings them home and asks me what I think. I concur: They aren't our pillows. The cloth is totally different. It's not soft. It's sort of crinkly feeling and not nearly as nice; there is stitching I don't remember along the edge. They're definitely not the same pillows.

So I call up the cleaners this morning and also, after getting the number, the leather company to which the cleaners sent the pillows to be cleaned. (I guess that's why it took a month.) They both explain patiently to me what this is all about. See, cleaning your pillows doesn't mean cleaning your pillows. It means that they literally take the pillow completely apart, take out the stuffing, put the stuffing through an (unnamed) "process," then put that stuffing in totally different cloth, throw the cloth part of your pillow away, and send the result back as "your pillow," cleaned.

What I want to know is this: How do they decide that the stuffing is the essence of the pillow? What makes them conclude that, in order for them to be carrying out the cleaning of "your pillow" that you requested, the stuffing must be processed and sent back to you, but the cloth--which is, after all, what you encounter more directly on a daily basis--is disposable, so that it's the same pillow if it has the same stuffing but has totally and recognizably different cloth? I mean, this is a sort of deep philosophical question. And why should they assume that I will agree with them that the stuffing, stuffed into totally different cloth, is in essence the same pillow?

There's a practical question, too. I would have thought that the cloth, being the kind of thing that normally can be dry cleaned anyway (right? you send clothes made out of cloth to be dry-cleaned?) would actually be easier for them to process than the stuffing. If they have a fancy way of processing the stuffing, which ought to be the hard part, why don't they just dry-clean the cloth in the ordinary way and put the two back together?

It's all beyond me. But I don't think I'll be sending any other pillows to the cleaners. They never come back again. Just these strangers.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Laws against abortion with exceptions--an analogy

Caveat: What follows is not intended to mean that I endorse a democratic ideal of the family nor that I think that husbands have to defer to wives when it comes to forbidding their children to do things. It is meant for illustrative purposes only.

Suppose that you and your wife become alarmed by the fact that Junior is starting to do some bad things that you never had to have explicit rules about before. In particular, he's doing X and Y, which you quite reasonably regard as species of the same wrong act. In fact, if you prohibited someone from doing X, he'd probably assume he was also prohibited from doing Y unless you expressly stated otherwise. Your wife thinks that Junior should be stopped from doing X but should be allowed to do Y. You and she go back and forth for a while and can't come to any nearer agreement. Meanwhile, Junior is merrily going on doing both X and Y without the slightest fear of reprisal, fear of God not being Junior's strong suit, and fear of man (namely, his parents) not having been brought to bear on the situation. It seems to you rather important that he should be stopped, right away, from doing as much of this stuff as possible. So after one more conversation with your wife, you go to Junior and give him the following speech:

Son, we've not been stopping you from doing X and Y, but that situation is about to change. From now on, if you do X, you will receive such-and-such a punishment. You are hereby forbidden to do X. Unfortunately, your mother and I cannot agree about Y, so for the time being you are not threatened with any punishment from us for doing Y. This doesn't mean that Y is not wrong or that you shouldn't be punished for doing Y just as much as for doing X, and the situation with regard to Y may well change later on. Meanwhile, we're going to make good and sure you get in big trouble if you do X. Got that?

Now, I don't think anyone could say that you were authorizing or endorsing your son's doing Y. Nor does there seem to be any important distinction here to be made between the "author" of the prohibition thus stated and its other supporters. In this case, even though you are the one who wants to prohibit both acts, you are the "author" of the speech to Junior, and your wife is its supporter, rather than vice versa, but it seems to me obvious that that fact does not put you in the wrong. That is to say, you would not be in any morally better situation if your wife made a parallel speech to Junior and you "voted" for it or endorsed it in some other way. In fact, by putting yourself forward as the "author"--the one actually to speak to Junior--you can be especially careful that nothing that even looks like an endorsement of the moral licitness of Y gets into the speech, and you can warn Junior that his days of freedom to do Y may be numbered.

I think this is actually quite a good analogy for the situation of a pro-life legislator who gets an opportunity to write and propose a law outlawing abortion in some cases but allowing exceptions in others, where such a law will vastly improve the legal protection for the unborn in his jurisdiction, and who does so.

It might also be worth pointing out that the heinous and iniquitous court decision Roe v. Wade is not analogous to either of these things--to the pro-life legislator writing a law with exceptions or to the parent speaking to his child. For Roe really did attempt to lock the states into a situation where they could not protect unborn children, and it did so by saying (which was patently false) that abortion is a constitutional right. In so doing Roe's intention and effect was to strike down state laws that protected the unborn. Roe in that sense really did "authorize" abortion in a very specific way, and it is to Roe most of all that we should apply statements about the evil of "laws" (or in this case, the quasi-laws that are court precedents) that authorize abortion.

See here and here for the background to this post.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Q: What kind of celestial body... niggardly with light?

A: A black hole.

Kudos to Lawrence Auster for a great new joke. (I find it very hard to invent jokes, myself.)

His was prompted by what he calls the latest "niggardly" incident in which a county commissioner for Dallas County (one John Wiley Price) interrupted and tried to correct a fellow commissioner (one Kenneth Mayfield) who likened a collections office in the county to a "black hole." To make matters worse, a judge who was present at the meeting (one Thomas Jones) chimed in and tried to make Mayfield apologize for his "racially insensitive analogy." Good for Mayfield, who refused and even attempted to, er, enlighten them on the meaning of the phrase. But apparently the light he was shedding was never reflected back. It just got the black hole of their ignorance. The report says that the other commissioners hurriedly got the meeting back on track. I suppose we should hope that we hear no more of it, because if we did, it would probably be the mayor offering to fire Mayfield and demanding an apology from him. Or perhaps race riots.

A judge. Can you imagine trying a case before someone that totally ignorant and with that kind of agenda and love of power?

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Phonics material now available in PDF

I have now turned about two hundred and fifty pages worth of phonics material that I have written for teaching young children to read into a single PDF document. (I also have it on my own computer as a single Word Perfect document.) The single PDF is available here.

This material previously existed only in the form of over sixty separate Word Perfect files, because I have a separate file for each list or set of lists on a separate phonics concept, as well as separate files for the four short chapters of a book I had begun writing on how to teach your young child to read by phonics.

As I say repeatedly in the material itself, these lessons are for parents who want to teach their own children to read. If somebody takes them and republishes them under his own name, obviously, he's a louse. That's why I put the "copyright" symbol on the title page. (I've called the document, fairly unoriginally, A First Phonics Course for Young Children. Titles were never my strong point, as the name of this blog shows.) But I'm not out to make money on it, and I don't anticipate ever trying. For one thing, it has a very unfinished look about it. I broke off abruptly in Chapter 4 while describing how to teach your child to read blends, because at that point I got too involved in actually teaching my child to read blends. I try to make up for this sudden halt by including, as a separate item, several pages of notes on what it was like to teach Youngest Daughter to read the various phonics lists. These notes contain the same sorts of tips I was writing out at more length in the chapters before I stopped, and they also describe how my lessons are connected with the lists in the back of Rudolf Flesch's invaluable book Why Johnny Can't Read, and What You Can Do About It. But still, what I have written is more a bunch of materials than a book.

If you want to get the file as a zip file in Word Perfect for use with your children, you can e-mail me for it, and we should be able to do that. I have now successfully used the zip function at least once for sending a folder of these things when they were all in separate files. Perhaps this means I've joined the 21st century! The point of having a Word Perfect version is that you can make changes to it for use with your child. These might involve just adding more words at some point, but they also might involve changing the font size if it's too big or too small for your child, or putting the list into a different color.

One of the best things about having the materials in a single file is that I've included a Table of Contents. This allows you to see more or less at a glance what is there. I've also discussed what is there at greater length in a little introductory note at the very beginning. Some parents may want to pick and choose lists for types of words their children are having special trouble on, though the course is cumulative, so if your child hasn't had some of the earlier concepts, he may not be able to read the later lists if you simply jump forward. Still, feel free to browse and use what you find useful.

I would say that the course has a little bit of a "Christian" feel to it, but not strongly so. The words 'God', 'sin', and 'church' are all used, and several of the illustrative sentences when the student is learning the "ch" blend refer to going to church. All of these words are regular and phonetic, so they make excellent illustrations for phonics reading. But the majority of the materials have no special ideological "flavor" at all, that I can see, unless (in the later lessons) you consider "somewhat hard" to be an ideological flavor. :-)

I trust it will be of some value to parents.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Prayer to Allah comes to UK public schools

As you've probably seen elsewhere on the blogosphere, two boys in a public school in the UK were punished with detention for refusing to kneel down on prayer mats and pray to Allah as part of a "religious education" lesson.

But although you've no doubt seen it elsewhere, you haven't heard my two cents, so I might as well give you those two pennies, unasked, just because you were kind enough to drop by.

I think it's a big deal. And I don't think the teacher is going to get in trouble. I think the school officials are going to do precisely nothing to reprimand the teacher but are merely going to tell her that she has to make it clear to her students that this is "role-playing" and that therefore they are, you know, pretending when they kneel down on the prayer mats and pray to Allah. And that will make it all okay.

As you also probably know, there is already a similar curriculum in place in California, which our courts, always so very solicitous to avoid any appearance of an establishment of religion, have declared constitutional on the grounds of role-playing, a ludicrous defense that would never pass the laugh test were the religion in question Christianity. About the only thing that I can see that is missing in the California curriculum is the prayer mats, but I understand that the teachers have some leeway in how they teach it, so I'm sure some enterprising and creative teacher somewhere in the U.S. will stash some prayer mats in her cupboard and whip them out at the right moment to make the "role-playing" that much more real, just like the teacher in the UK. And woe betide the young Christian who refuses.

If you are a Christian parent, is this the sort of role-playing you would want your child to be doing?

Yet another reason to home school.

(Crossposted to What's Wrong with the World)

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Moshe Plesser and the Jerusalem terror attack--Updated

In the recent terror attack with a front-loader in Israel, a young off-duty IDF soldier named Moshe Plesser shot the terrorist three times in the head, putting an end to his rampage. It appears that the terrorist may have previously been wounded by a police shot from the ground. Plesser says himself in the interview that at first, when he got onto the cab of the front loader, the terrorist appeared to have "fainted." But then he revived, shouting, "Allahu Akbar," and began driving forward again. At that point Moshe got a gun from another bystander, local security guard Oron Ben-Shimon, and managed to shoot the murderer repeatedly without harming the policeman who was also in the cab. Moshe gave a statement to the media of the "just doing my job" variety, and Ben-Shimon confirms his story here. Moshe thanks God ("G-d") for helping him. Coincidentally, Moshe is the brother-in-law of David Shapira, also in the IDF, who ran into a yeshiva earlier this year and killed a terrorist there, stopping his murderous rampage.

If you go to the very bottom of the entry here, you will find the LiveLeak video of the incident, which is the best one I've seen and gives a clear picture of Moshe shooting the terrorist in the cab. It is after Moshe shoots him several times that a SWAT officer comes up behind him. Reports indicate that the SWAT officer also shot him after Moshe did, but there is no particular reason to think that he was still alive by that time.

This information is all over the Internet, but one reason I am posting it here is because there has been a bizarre Israeli court gag-order banning the publication of Moshe's name. (The Israeli court appears never to have heard of the Internet!) His face has now been blurred out in various pictures of him from the videos (but is clear in the LiveLeak video). And a Jerusalem Post article that previously named him and published part of his statement has now had to redact its article to remove his name. See a quote from the unredacted JPost story here, along with a good still shot from the video. The redacted story is here.

Some have speculated that the ban on Plesser's name and picture may be a result of security concerns, since Plesser is in an elite IDF unit. But my own take is that a real security person would realize the pointlessness of such a ban from a security perspective, given the wide availability of the information and of Plesser's picture. A petty bureaucrat who begrudges the man credit in his own country, however, might have a slightly different perspective. This impression is borne out by the publication of an Orwellian foreign ministry article on the subject that leaves out any mention of Plesser at all, even under an initial, and states that "police shot and killed" the terrorist.

An irony in all of this is that Plesser was beaten senseless by Israeli police when he was photographing protests against the expulsion of Jews from their Gaza homes in '05. So far from holding a grudge against his country for this police brutality, he argued the IDF into letting him in and, yesterday, saved more of his countrymen from an Arab murderer. The Arab murderer, on the other hand, has apparently never been beaten senseless by Israeli police, but international media are falling over themselves, disgustingly, making excuses for him.

Finally, I wish to note that the point I made in this comment, and in the surrounding thread generally, about how it is healthy to have heroes who defend the innocent by fighting, applies in spades to Moshe Plesser, whom I mention in the comment.

Update: Haaretz reports that it was Plesser himself who put the request in for a gag order. His brother-in-law, David Shapira, had advised him to stay away from reporters, and apparently this was one part of his attempt to stay out of the limelight. Assuming this report is true, it still seems rather pointless, given the fact that his name was already widely known. Information can't be constrained in that way in the information age, especially given the heroic nature of the act.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Be a Vegan, Kill Bambi!

From Wesley J. Smith, Here's a perspective on veganism that had never occurred to me before, I being a city slicker and knowing next to nothing about farming. I think Foxfier's vivid account in the first comment of trying to chase fawns out of the field before the harvesting machine gets them--an effort that is sometimes sadly not successful--brings the point home very well.