Monday, December 24, 2012

The birth of Jesus the Messiah

If you haven't read the book of Acts recently, it would be a great New Testament book to re-read. There are so many things to enjoy in it and to notice. Here's one of them: The Apostle Paul is a driven man. One might almost say obsessed. Part of what he is obsessed by is the fact that Jesus is the Christ. As I don't need to tell Extra Thoughts readers, "Christ" isn't Jesus' last name. Paul keeps talking and talking and talking to the Jews about the fact that Jesus is the Messiah. He keeps reasoning with them about it, arguing from "the Scriptures," meaning what we would call the Old Testament. Here's just one such passage.
And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ. (Acts 17:2-3)
Jesus said it Himself: "Search the Scriptures. For in them ye think ye have eternal life, and they are they which testify of me." (John 5:39)

Here is the Apostle Peter on the same topic:
Of which salvation the prophets have enquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come unto you. Searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into. (1 Peter 1:11-12)
Again, the epistle to the Hebrews says that the Old Testament saints, all those great-greats celebrated in the chapter of faith, Hebrews 11, were "made complete" by the believers who have been given the fuller knowledge of Jesus Christ:
And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise. God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect. (Hebrews 11:39-40)
There is no getting around the fact that when most of us read the Old Testament, we don't spontaneously "see Jesus on every page," and when some expository preachers try to do it, they sometimes sound a bit strained. But the apostles themselves were constantly talking about the fact that the Old Testament Scriptures spoke of Jesus, and Peter even says that the prophets themselves, at least some of them, realized that the Christ would come later and that they were ministering to a later generation who would actually know him.

Paul refers in Galatians to the idea that Jesus is the hinge of history and the fulfillment of all that had gone before:
But when the fullness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)
When Paul discusses the fact that the Old Testament Scriptures were written "for our admonition," he uses this striking phrase to describe the believers of his own generation: They, and by extension, we, are the ones "upon whom the ends of the ages have come." (I Cor. 10:11) It's the same idea as Galatians. Time and again Paul is saying, "To think that we are the generation to know the Christ, to know who he is! To think that the Christ has been born and lived and died in our time, and that we know the fulfillment of God's plan, which was known in times past only by prophecy!"

One can say that Paul was convinced that Jesus was the Christ because of his experience on the road to Damascus, and that is indeed true. But Paul also obviously believed that he could convince other Jews of the same conclusion even though they had not had his experience, and convince them not merely by reference to that experience but from their own Scriptures.

What all of this means is that the argument from prophecy was a big part of the apostolic and especially the Pauline apologetics. Yet it has gone very much out of fashion now, perhaps because we are seldom doing apologetics to an audience who already grants that there has been genuine prophecy in the past of a Messiah and that we should be attempting to find out who that Messiah might be. Or maybe, even more, the higher criticism and other -isms of the 19th century and early 20th century have made the argument go out of style without conspicuously good reason.

I have an article accepted for this special issue of Philosophia Christi on the argument from a small number of prophecies of the Messiah's death--specifically, Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53. The above references show the importance of Isaiah 53 in the apostles' thought, going back to Jesus' teaching on the road to Emmaus--that the Christ must suffer. (Luke 24:25-26)

But since it is now not Passiontide but Christmas time (even though I'm not going to wait to hit "publish" until after sundown), I will instead leave you with this: Professor Hugh Gauch, in a paper presented to the Evangelical Theological Society in 2010 (not available on-line) estimates the Bayes factor--that is, the evidential force--of the fact that Jesus, a first-century Jew, was born in Bethlehem for the conclusion that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah to be about 1/12,000. He bases this on estimates of the population of Jews around the time of Jesus and of the much smaller population of Jews in Bethlehem.

That's just one messianic prophecy. And it is a prophecy only mentioned in Matthew and not even stressed in the extant writings of the Apostle Paul. But I have little doubt he was aware of it and that it formed part of the cumulative case that he made to the Jews when he reasoned with them in the synagogues. Paul's message? This is indeed the Christ!

Alleluia! O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord!

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, December 23, 2012

"Jesus, Joy of the Highest Heaven"

I hope to have a more substantive Christmas post up here soon, but for now:

A very pretty original carol by Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Link roundup

I can't keep up with all the stuff I want to link lately. Been wrapping Christmas presents, y'know. And just occasionally I want to write some pure philosophy.

Since this is my "extra thoughts" blog, here I feel free to do a link roundup of extremely heterogenous elements. I hope to do a brief but in some sense more real or respectable post at W4 praising Robert Bork, who just passed away. RIP, Judge Bork. You have taught me so much.

The Canadian Supreme Court is apparently going to rule on whether Canadian docs have unilateral authority to withdraw wanted "life support" from patients, with a Muslim patient's life on the line. I thought they already had that authority, but maybe they just want multiple precedents or a clearer precedent to shut up the families. Make no mistake: Even though Hassan Rasouli is on a ventilator, if he should be able to breathe on his own after it's withdrawn, a ruling in favor of the docs in this case would give them the unilateral power to dehydrate him to death.

Belgium is about to start "allowing" minors and people with Alzheimer's disease to "commit suicide." Scare quotes intentional. Um, yeah, how do you say "informed, rational consent"? So much for choice.

And if  you always suspected that the theory of anthropogenic global warming was were right. More evidence to that effect.

Phew! Now I feel a little caught up, even though I didn't have time to say anything much about any of these. Maybe I'll have time to write about them a little bit more at W4 during Christmas break!

Speaking of which: If any friend wants to comment here or write me at my e-mail address with brilliant ideas about a Christmas post, feel free.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sleepers, Wake

Today was Bible Sunday in Advent, but I'm all skejipsed on my Advent schedule anyway, so I don't have a real Bible Sunday post. An older one was better than anything I could write now anyway, so if you're interested in Bible Sunday, read about it here. And by the way: I cannot understand why "O Word of God Incarnate" is not sung in more Baptist churches. It's their kind of hymn!

We sang Philip Nicolai's "Wake, Awake" or "Sleepers, Wake" this morning. I can't seem to find a good choral recording of it with the right words and all the usual verses, but there are many instrumental versions, especially organ. Here are the verses as found in the 1940 hymnal:

1. Wake, awake, for night is flying:
The watchmen on the heights are crying,
Awake, Jerusalem, arise!
Midnight's solemn hour is tolling,
His chariot wheels are nearer rolling,
He comes; prepare, ye virgins wise.
Rise up, with willing feet,
Go forth, the Bridegroom meet:
Bear through the night your well-trimmed light,
Speed forth to join the marriage rite.

2. Sion hears the watchman singing,
Her heart with deep delight is springing,
She wakes, she rises from her gloom:
Forth her Bridegroom comes, all glorious,
In grace arrayed, by truth victorious;
Her Star is risen, her Light is come!
All hail, Incarnate Lord,
Our crown, and our reward!
We haste along, in pomp of song,
And gladsome join the marriage throng.

3. Lamb of God, the heavens adore thee,
And men and angels sing before thee,
With harp and cymbal's clearest tone.
By the pearly gates in wonder
We stand, and swell the voice of thunder,
That echoes round thy dazzling throne.
No vision ever brought,
No ear hath ever caught,
Such rejoicing.
We raise the song, we swell the throng,
To praise thee ages all along.

By the way, these lyrics use the English epithalamion tradition, which was in turn based on the Latin epithalamion tradition. (I was sure I'd written about this before but can't now seem to find the post.) An epithalamion always began with the call for the bride to awake and arise, because the bridegroom was coming. The bride is supposed to waken from her gloom and dress herself beautifully, usually at dawn rather than at midnight. The combination of calling on the bride to awaken and the reference to midnight is just one oddity that results from melding the English epithalamion tradition with Jesus' parable of the wise and foolish virgins, which was of course based on Jewish marriage traditions. Notice, too, the emphasis on the glory of the groom and what the groom is wearing, which is more Jewish, rather than on the beauty of the bride or what she is wearing.

Friday, December 07, 2012

The gratitude of Gospel music

A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to watch this DVD. It's a huge, staged tribute to Gospel music arranger and producer Lari Goss by a whole slew of Gospel music artists. It was enormously fun with plenty of musical highlights, but what I chiefly want to mention here is what the existence of the project symbolizes about Gospel music--its unabashed, humble, personal thankfulness to the artists of earlier generations. This is by no means the only project that illustrates this. Ernie Haase and Signature Sound have a number of projects that show the same spirit, such as this one, in which the late, great George Younce's solo voice has been combined with backups made by Signature Sound.

The Lari Goss tribute album was the brainchild of Jim Brady of the Booth Brothers. (I'll just come out and say it: The Booth Brothers are my very favorite Gospel music group.) Jim also thought of and put together this project--a tribute to songwriter Squire Parsons. The Parsons album is composed mostly of re-releases of cuts that were already out there. The artists waived all rights to royalties so that the royalties can go to Squire, who has been battling leukemia.

Our country and our world are now increasingly in the grip of ingratitude and the hatred of the past. Everything has to be "progressive," and the universities see it as their job to teach the young to reject America's past and to join in bashing our supposed evil legacy of past -isms. The idea of receiving a torch and passing it on is oh-so-quaint. In commercial terms, of course, everything has to be new-new-new all the time. Change for its own sake.

Southern Gospel music has a different idea. It thinks of itself as constantly receiving and passing on--receiving from the artists of earlier generations and passing on to new generations. We need that idea in every area of life. We need it in literature, in theology, in art, and in cooking. We need mothers teaching daughters their favorite recipes and embroidery patterns. We need families passing on the great hymns of the faith. We need scholars who find themselves speechless with gratitude and joy as they receive the riches of scholarship of the past.

I am grateful myself for the gratitude of Gospel music. It is an encouragement to me to see the unforced and unfeigned love that Ernie has for Glen Payne and George Younce and that Gerald Wolfe (the MC in the Goss tribute), Jim Brady, and all the others have for Lari Goss.

So thanks, gentlemen. Your gratitude is itself something for which to be thankful.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

I Played in the Band

Here's a fun song called "I Played in the Band" by Bill Gaither from the Booth Brothers' recent album, "A Tribute to the Songs of Bill and Gloria Gaither." (So if the link disappears or something, and you liked the song, try to find a copy of the album.)

Bill likes to tell the story of the song's origin. Bill was talking to gospel music great Henry Slaughter and asked him what he would want people to say about him after he dies. Slaughter answered, "I played in the band, wrote a few songs, and sang in the choir." Bill, being a songwriter, instantly recognized that this was the tag line of a song and has carefully given Slaughter partial credit for the song that Gaither and Larry Gatlin subsequently wrote. What struck Bill, of course, was the humility of Slaughter's response.

Now I have a story to add to that one. We were recently privileged to have apologist Lee Strobel come to our town, and he and my husband got a chance to go out to lunch. Strobel tells this story: Some years ago Bill Gaither invited Strobel to speak at some event. (As I'm reporting this secondhand, I didn't get the exact details of the event.) Strobel, an adult convert with no previous connection to gospel music, had never heard of Bill Gaither before and had no idea of how famous he was. He was just happy for the opportunity to speak and thought of Gaither as the organizer. Over a meal, Strobel innocently turned to Gaither and said, "So what do you do? Do you sing?" Bill didn't miss a beat, didn't express surprise, annoyance, didn't become facetious. He just answered quietly, pleasantly, and self-deprecatingly, "Yeah, I sing." And that was all. Lee Strobel had no idea of his own faux pas until later.

The humility that Bill Gaither admired in Henry Slaughter is one of his own qualities. Which is a good thing to think of.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Count your Christmas music blessings

It's that time of year again. The time when the stores rev up the admittedly too-early and too-oft-repeated Christmas music. And the time of year when bloggers and Facebook status writers, eager to demonstrate their trad-ent or Catholic or Protestant-Scrooge creds, start complaining about Christmas music. This cartoon has been doing the rounds and allowing everyone to feel superior.

However, I was struck when going to the grocery store on the Friday after Thanksgiving by a strange feeling of relief as the strains of "White Christmas" wafted over the sound system. Why the relief? It took me a couple of moments to figure it out. Then I remembered the previous week when I stopped at the store of an evening and heard a song so graphic, so sexually explicit that I could not believe it, until one line had been repeated so many times that I couldn't deny what I was hearing. Admittedly, that was one of the worst to have been piped into my unwilling ears while I'm contemplating the cabbage, but for the most part, the music even on the "oldies" stations, even at our nice little local grocery store, is sufficiently junk-laden that I'm usually glad not to have children along on the trip and come home wishing there were such a thing as mouthwash for the brain. (The music makes a nice complement to the copies of Cosmo in the checkout lane.) Even when the lyrics aren't explicit, they include an almost never-ending stream of glorification of fornication, including such charming ditties as "Come On Over Tonight." (I can't help smiling wryly at the line in that one, "If it don't feel right, you can go." That's nice. "Look, Ma, no date rape!") In the evenings, whoever gets to choose the music often chooses hip-hop, so we get to listen to animalistic noises. During the day, a drawback of the so-called "oldies" station is that you can hear every word.

So, I have some questions for all the people who are posting or getting ready to post their yearly gripe about Christmas music in the stores: Why are you complaining about the one month out of the year when your local store plays "White Christmas" when you never uttered a peep about the eleven months out of the year when your local store was playing "Do That To Me One More Time" and "Undercover Angel"? Did all the real trash you've been hearing at other times go in one ear and out the other? Or do you actually prefer soft pornography to Christmas schmaltz?

Sure, there are suggestive Christmas songs as well, or so I'm told. (So far, I've been spared listening to them.) But let's face it: That isn't primarily what gets the complaints, and when it does, it's part of a larger diatribe about too much Christmas music, too contentless, too early, shouldn't be played during Advent, etc. For the most part, the "holiday season" is in musical terms quite an improvement both in the wholesomeness of the lyrics and, believe it or not, in the niceness of the music. I caught myself twice this morning thinking, as an intro. started up, "That's really pretty." The fact that it was an instrumental lead-in to a Christmas song that I'll have to hear five hundred times over the next month didn't change the fact that it was a big improvement over the second-rate rock I usually have to listen to. (No, I'm not an anti-rock hater. Remember me, the person who put up a positive post about "Jeremiah Was a Bullfrog"?)

Please take as read all the concessions about the fact that Christmas music is played for too long, that it is more repetitious than at other times of year, to the point that it must be something near torture for the employees before all is done, that some of the songs ("Here Comes Santa Claus," etc.) are utterly trivial and lacking in artistic merit. I acknowledge all of that freely. However: If the stores followed the same pattern in terms of genre and Wholesomeness Quotient for the rest of the year, we'd be listening to Cole Porter and the Andrews Sisters most of the time, with an occasional daring foray into the Temptations--perhaps "My Girl." And that would be, I submit, a change for the better.

So we should count our blessings. We get to listen to Christmas music until December 25th.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

A blessed Thanksgiving (hodge podge)

'Tis true that I've been neglecting this blog, but I just haven't been sufficiently inspired to do a lot of separate posts in two place. Still, courtesy of a friend who sent me a link to a set of Thanksgiving quotations, I was reminded of some passages in Gilead which made a Thanksgiving post at W4. (What? You haven't yet read Gilead? Go and do so. Use the Thanksgiving holiday weekend to get started. Get it from your local library; they will have it. Or buy it at Barnes & Noble. If you think a little prepping might inspire you first and don't mind a small amount of plot spoiling, read my review at The Christendom Review.) John Ames, Robinson's narrator in Gilead, has a marvelous faculty for gratitude and for seeing. Perhaps I should mine Gilead every year for Thanksgiving quotations. (And thanks go to my friend and W4 colleague Jeffrey S. for recommending the book to me in the first place!)

Here's another:
There's a shimmer on a child's hair, in the sunlight. There are rainbow colors in it, tiny, soft beams of just the same colors you can see in the dew sometimes. They're in the petals of flowers, and they're on a child's skin. Your hair is straight and dark, and your skin is very fair. I suppose you're not prettier than most children. You're just a nice-looking boy, a bit slight, well scrubbed and well mannered. All that is fine, but it's your existence I love you for, mainly. Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.
I found a very pretty picture for the post at W4, but what I first wanted to do was to put in a jpeg or gif of a print by painter Timothy Jones.  Perhaps this one, or this one. (Go, look.) No doubt for good and sufficient reason having to do with image copyright (my guess), it's not possible to download or embed images of Jones's lovely paintings. Their greatness lies in the way that they make you see.

Here is the Book of Common Prayer's collect for Thanksgiving Day.
O most merciful Father, who hast blessed the labours of the husbandman in the returns of the fruits of the earth; We give thee humble and hearty thanks for this thy bounty; beseeching thee to continue thy loving-kindness to us, that our land may still yield her increase, to thy glory and our comfort; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Here is the Book of Common Prayer's wonderful general thanksgiving.

Thanks to my readers who come and read here and comment. I am thankful for so many things, and the only reason that I don't say more is because of a reluctance (in the name of Internet privacy) to go into detailed discussion of my blessings, my beloved husband and family, etc. But beyond that, I am thankful for my Internet friends, and to those of you who read this, please know that I am thankful for you. The Internet can be a blessing or a curse, but one way in which it is a blessing is to bring us friends we would not otherwise have known.

And now, just because: I'm also thankful for this video. The Hammond organ at the beginning goes straight to the happy part of my brain, and the young Ernie makes me smile.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

To be stewards

Gandalf the Grey:
The rule of no realm is mine, neither of Gondor nor any other, great or small. But all worthy things that are in peril as the world now stands, those are my care. And for my part, I shall not wholly fail of my task, though Gondor should perish, if anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower again in days to come. For I also am a steward. Did you not know?
This, now, is our task. To guard the things that remain. To cherish the seeds, though Gondor should perish. If anything passes through this night that can still grow fair or bear fruit and flower in days to come, we shall not wholly have failed of our task.

We cannot do this if we become bitter and cynical. (I speak to myself there as well as to others.) We shall not be able to carry out our task if the only things we can find to say are despairing things and bitter things. We shall not be able to carry out our task if we tear one another to pieces. We shall not be able to carry out our task if the only thing that fills our mind is the evil of mankind (or, though I would under ordinary circumstances not add this, but have a special reason for doing so, of womankind).

There is evil among the people and there is evil in high places. Something great that we have loved is ending. Gondor will probably not survive this night. And, yes, there is a place for chronicling that, if only to make people aware of what they now have to face and of what props they no longer have. Mourning is not wrong. But something we can preserve, if we love it. Therefore, let us cherish all that we can of those worthy things that are in peril.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Fragments of encouragement

Things don't really look so good for the United States of America. Need I go into great detail about why? Well, I'm not going to. Too depressing. Nor are readers likely to be in any doubt as to why I happen to be feeling a bit gloomy about our nation just now.

Here are a couple of literary bits that I find encouraging myself and pass on for any encouragement they may provide to readers:

         [The Warden of Shrewsbury College] "I sometimes wonder whether we gain anything by gaining time."
         [Lord Peter Wimsey] "Well--if one leaves letters unanswered long enough, some of them answer themselves. Nobody can prevent the Fall of Troy, but a dull, careful person may manage to smuggle out the Lares and Penates--even at the risk of having the epithet pius tacked to his name."
         "The Universities are always being urged to march in the van of progress."
         "But epic actions are all fought by the rearguard--at Rancevaux and Thermopylae."
          "Very well," said the Warden, laughing, "let us die in our tracks, having accomplished nothing but an epic."
From Gaudy Night, by Dorothy Sayers.
Mind must be the firmer,  heart the more fierce,
Courage the greater, as our strength lessens.
From "The Battle of Maldon," Anglo-Saxon poem


Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, “How long?”
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!
’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest. 
From "The Church's One Foundation" by Samuel J. Stone

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A Blessed Feast of All Saints

A blessed Feast of All Saints to my readers. A friend told me in an e-mail today that he doesn't know the hymn "For All the Saints." That's tragic! It must be remedied immediately. One of the greatest hymns of them all, with its wonderful music by Ralph Vaughan Williams. Here is a choir, which the comments say is Welsh, singing it:

Two verses that both seem especially applicable in the darkness of this present time:

Thou wast their rock, their fortress and their might,
Thou, Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight,
Thou in the darkness drear their one true light.

O may thy soldiers, faithful, true, and bold,
Fight as the saints who nobly fought of old
And win with them the victor's crown of gold.

I've written several posts in the past on the Communion of Saints and on this hymn and don't think I could better them. 2009, 2008, 2007.

Cranmer's collect for the Feast of All Saints:

O Almighty God, who has knit together thine elect in one communion and fellowship, in the mystical body of thy Son Christ our Lord; Grant us grace so to follow thy blessed Saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those unspeakable joys which thou has prepared for those who unfeignedly love thee; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The rape exception continues to gain steam in the GOP

As I affirmed here, one take-home lesson of the Todd Akin affair was that, even though the official GOP platform does not endorse abortion in cases of rape, the truth on the ground is that Republican politicians who don't really support the rape exception are being increasingly marginalized in the GOP. They have come to be regarded as extremists and as a liability, and the party is, I believe, eventually going to abandon them. This is reflected in the current presidential candidate's urging Akin to drop out of the race even though the party had no viable plan B. (Aren't we supposed to be concerned about "viability" and "strategy"?) Paul Ryan is permitted to oppose a rape exception because he has proven himself willing to set aside that "personal opposition," turn over all policy decisions to a candidate who is strongly in favor of the rape exception, and become the #1 campaigner for that candidate. Ryan would find himself treated as less of an asset to his own party were he running for a Senate or House position rather than for the Vice Presidency, especially if the left got him to say anything about why he opposes a rape exception and then managed to spin his answer as wicked and heartless.

The new incident in this series is the leftist distortion of the comment by Senate candidate Richard Mourdock that a baby conceived as a result of rape is nonetheless intended by God and a gift from God. To be fair to the GOP, the response in this case has been more mixed than in the case of Akin. They haven't exactly thrown Mourdock under the bus. Romney has "distanced himself" from Mourdock's remarks by saying that he "disagrees with" them, but he hasn't removed his endorsement of Mourdock. And National Republican Senate Committee chairman John Cornyn has come out in Mourdock's support. Perhaps a grain of sense is starting to penetrate the national party's skulls, and they realize they can't afford to ditch every pro-life senate candidate who hasn't yet caught up with the times and endorsed the rape exception.

But what, precisely, does Romney disagree with in Mourdock's remarks? Does the conception of a child under such circumstances fall outside of God's providential design? Is the baby a punishment (to quote our Commander in Chief) in that case rather than a gift? Does the child not have an immortal soul, given by God? Is the child's existence itself not, in an important sense, a good thing? I doubt that we should expect candidate Romney to clarify exactly what it means for him to disagree with Mourdock. That isn't what the media will be pressing him on. Rather, they'll be asking why he hasn't treated Mourdock as he treated Akin and thrown him completely to the wolves.

My sad prediction is that if that doesn't happen to Mourdock this time around (as hopefully it will not), it won't be all that long before it happens to all GOP candidates who think as Mourdock does.

Monday, October 22, 2012

The best of Extra Thoughts: Seeing

If I've been quiet lately it's because I don't have a lot to say. For a lot of reasons, chief among them that I've been somewhat more busy with home schooling recently.

However, it is autumn, that most majestic season of the year here in the icy northerly Midwest, the season in which I feel sincerely sorry for all who do not have it, all who live with palm trees instead of maples, all who have no deciduous leaves to make the world look like it is shouting.

So I've decided to reprise a post about spring from two and a half years ago. It was brought to mind by walking the same route in the same neighborhood and turning east. I hope you will enjoy it.


My sense of sight is not the best. I wear glasses, but lately I have to take off the glasses for reading and computer work, which means that everything further away is a bit blurry. I tend to forget where I've left them, walk around without seeing clearly, then scurry to find them when I have to drive anywhere.

But when I go walking, I wear the glasses. Now it is spring in the Midwest, the kind of spring that man has been writing songs and poems about since forever, the kind of spring that might make even a hard-boiled atheist and naturalist wonder if just perhaps this world is more than bouncing atoms in a vacuum.

As it happens, my walks tend to be about an hour before sunset, and for a good deal of the time, I'm walking east. The sun catches the boles of the trees and the green of the young leaves. (Not so young anymore. Spreading a bit now. You can hear them say, like a seven-year-old, "Now I'm big!")

And I can see. No sun in the eyes. The sun shining on everything, and everything clear, standing out in sharp relief. It's an amazing thing, the way it strikes you. The sheer gift of clear physical sight. On those evening spring walks, away from the sun, all the etching of all the bark on all the tree trunks seems clearer than most things ever are, much clearer than the hand in front of my face right now. Everything is itself and seems to be trying to tell me what it is.

"Now we see through a glass, darkly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then shall I know even as also I am known."

The writers of holy writ and the theologians and poets from St. Thomas Aquinas to the blind Fanny Crosby were wise to tell us of heaven in terms of sight. How did Fanny know, though? Blinded at six weeks of age, she never walked east in the evening and watched the sun on the trees. But she knows now how right she was.

And I shall see him face to face
And tell the story, saved by grace.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

I Believe

Steve Green is a gospel musician whom I admired when I was in my twenties, when he was a "power singer" with a Greek god profile, and still admire today, despite and in some sense because of the aging of his voice and person. It has something to do with the grace with which he has passed through those years. Somehow I missed this song until very recently. It's a musical setting of the Creed. Here's Steve performing it just a couple of years ago. I especially appreciate the classy performance of the live orchestra and backup choir, which help to build the excitement of the song.

I blogged this one years ago, but here again is Steve singing "No Other Name But Jesus" at a Gaither Vocal Band reunion:

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Praying for the Messiah

I happened to notice this on Israel Matzav: A movement this past Sunday to get millions of Jews all over the world, from all countries, to pray for the coming of the Messiah.

Yep, I don't hesitate to say it: As a Christian, I find that intensely sad. St. Paul predicted in Romans 11 that all Israel shall be saved. I admit that I don't know what that will look like, but, as St. Paul knew well, it has to have something to do with accepting the true Messiah, our Lord Jesus Christ, who came two thousand years ago, died, and rose again. He is also coming again. We Christians, too, look for a blessed hope, for the coming of the Messiah, but it will be his second coming.

Let us pray, with the Apostle Paul, that there will be a great turning to God among our Lord's own people according to the flesh.

"God, who at sundry times and in divers manner spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets, hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds." (Hebrews 1:1-2)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

A little gospel music break

It's been what seems like a loong time since I posted any music. So here are just a couple of things. First, a new-to-me version of "Down to the River to Pray":

While watching it I couldn't help thinking of the fact that there have always been places where being baptized is a dangerous thing. Muslims understand what baptism is and are, to put it mildly, unhappy when a Muslim decisively converts to Christianity by being baptized. It brings home both the beauty and the importance of baptism to contemplate this fact: There are people who risk their lives to be baptized. There are such people right now. (And in the United Kingdom, social workers have taken the side of the Muslims over baptism, even baptism of a teenager who was removed from her family and put into foster care.)

Here and here are two other versions of "Down to the River to Pray."

On a lighter note, here are the Hoppers singing "Shoutin' Time." I think the surprising juxtaposition of the plaintive "I Will Arise" with a country gospel version of the angels' rejoicing works well once one gets used to it.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

George Neumeyer says it so I don't have to

I've had many, many thoughts about the Todd Akin situation and have thought about posting them here but have been a bit busy with normal life recently so haven't gotten around to it. The short version is that I'm on Todd Akin's side; I'm sorry he slipped up by saying something distracting and possibly false which has provoked a feminist feeding frenzy. I think the Republicans leaping forward to burn him at the stake are bad news and bode ill for the future of both the Republican party and our country. He sounds like a good candidate, the kind of principled pro-lifer we need more of, I applaud his intestinal fortitude in staying in the race, and I hope he wins. Bill Luse has a great post about what has come out of the Akin situation. I recommend it. It was from Bill's post that I learned about this great article by George Neumeyer. A few choice quotations:
We heard this week a lot about "insensitivity" to violence from establishment elites who blithely accept violence in the womb. We heard gasps about dangerously narrow definitions of "rape" from defenders of Bill Clinton (who surely appreciated Akin's "legitimate" distinction if no one else did) and from apologists for Roman Polanski, who, as Whoopi Goldberg once asserted, never engaged in "rape-rape."
In a culture that panders to pro-abortion feminists like Sandra Fluke, thought crimes always rank higher than real ones. Words, not deeds, drive pols from public life. So Akin has to go. He simply harbors the wrong thoughts and no apology will be sufficient from him until he changes his position on abortion. Beneath all the hysterical extrapolations from his remark, which grew wilder and wilder as the days passed, lay that essential demand: approve of killing unborn children conceived under circumstances of rape or be deemed "anti-woman." (emphasis added)
This culture of hectoring explains why Mitt Romney rushed to the cameras upon hearing Akin's remark to pronounce abortion in those cases "appropriate." In a rotten culture, proof of one's "civilized" bona fides comes from such shameless pandering. 
An authentically conservative party would find Romney's unprincipled position far more chilling than Akin's gaffe. If unborn children gain or lose their right to life depending upon the circumstances of their conception, then the party has already conceded that that right doesn't exist. Ronald Reagan understood the implications of that concession and never wavered in his defense of the right to life of all unborn children, not just some of them.Instead of rejecting this media-determined culture of empty and opportunistic outrage, which rests on nothing more than poisonous Planned Parenthood-style propaganda, panicky GOP officials reinforced it this week by treating Akin as a monstrous leper. His stupid remark was thereby turned into a supposedly wicked one and treated as a great crisis for the party.
Even from a narrowly strategic standpoint, the frothing made little sense. Without even bothering to consult grassroots Missouri conservatives who elected him or even find out if they had a viable plan B, RNC officials called for Akin to be obliterated and ruled out any future money to him. Didn't it occur to anybody that he might stay in the race, in which case these fulminations would simply serve to hand victory to the Dems before the race even began? For all the talk about "pragmatism" and "diplomacy" this week from country club Republicans, they didn't display any towards a candidate who won a primary fair and square.  
If social conservatives had any doubt as to their disposable status in the party -- which they shouldn't , since they have been treated like fodder for years -- they can add the hair-trigger purging of Akin to their list of complaints. 
Preach it, George. Somber thoughts, but thoughts that social conservatives need to be thinking. And I, for one, refuse to be fodder.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Why a Protestant believes in the Real Presence

A big topic, to which I doubt that I will do justice. If you faint by the wayside before reading the entire post, no one will blame you, I least of all.

Over at W4 the question has arisen as to whether there is good Scriptural reason to believe in something more than memorialism as a view of the Lord's Supper. In the context the specific alternative being considered is transubstantiation, but in general the question appears to be why memorialism is not a good interpretation of the verses usually used by sacramentalists concerning Holy Communion. In this post I already said that I believe in the Real Presence, but here I would like to go into a little more detail about what I believe and why. These thoughts are presented for those who might be interested and are not intended to be antagonizing to my fellow Protestant readers. Nor, for that matter, to my Catholic readers either, as the position I shall sketch is not exactly the Roman Catholic position. For the record, I'd been thinking of writing this post for some time, so the fact that the question came up at W4 was only a catalyst for doing it now rather than later.

The first question to be addressed here is this: What exactly is the view that I shall be attempting to defend from Scripture? What do I mean by "believing in the Real Presence"? The positions with which most people are most familiar are, on the one hand, memorialism and, on the other hand, transubstantiation. I hope that I shall do justice to both of these by a brief summary without ruffling any feathers, but here goes: Briefly, memorialism is the view that Communion is only a symbolic act which Christians are commanded by Jesus to undertake in memory of Jesus' death. The bread and wine do not change in any respect, nor do they become the objective vehicles of grace (more about which below). They stand as symbols for Jesus' body and blood. I have argued elsewhere that actually there are no mere symbols for important things, in the sense of symbols about which we can be flippant or unconcerned, so the memorialist himself has good reason to be respectful and serious about Communion. The memorialists I know are. But leaving that argument aside, the point is that on the memorialist view the bread and wine are only symbols, not anything with more objective importance. On the Roman Catholic view of transubstantiation, what is partaken of in Communion has what are called the "accidents," which include all of the qualities that could be examined by the senses or physically discovered, of bread or of wine. However, the essence or "substance" of bread or wine has been removed and replaced with the essence or substance of Jesus' physical body and blood. Using this set of metaphysical categories, the Roman Catholic view then is that Jesus' body and blood are literally present and partaken of in Communion but that this is not in any way empirically perceptible, because it is only the underlying essence of the elements that has changed.

I do not hold either of these views. In the case of transubstantiation, I simply do not hold a metaphysical view about such physical entities as bread, wine, and human flesh and blood according to which they have an entirely imperceptible essence which can literally be switched with the imperceptible essence of a different physical type of stuff while leaving all possibly perceptible physical properties the same. This doesn't mean that I'm a nominalist or that I deny that anything has an essence nor that I am unable to imagine situations in which something might appear to be other than what it is. I think that human beings have an essence, for example, and that no matter how disabled or even wicked and degraded a man is, as long as he lives he retains that essence of being truly human. But for bread, wine, and flesh and blood, no, I just really can't accept the view that that is what they are like, which would make transubstantiation possible.

Actually, the main burden of this post will be about why I don't accept memorialism, so more on that later.

What I do believe is that Jesus is specially, spiritually present in the elements of Communion in the sense that they are spiritual food. God has so ordained that those of us who, as the Prayer Book says, have "duly received" Communion are objectively spiritually nourished thereby. In this sense Jesus objectively comes down to us in the bread and wine and gives himself, his life and spiritual strength, aka grace, to us when we rightly receive. (And if we don't rightly receive, we could be in big trouble for profaning this Sacrament which has been rendered holy by God's intention that it should be a means of grace to us.) When the consecrated Host is reserved on the altar, because the Host is that divinely ordained physical meeting point between our Lord Jesus Christ and ourselves, the place where it is reserved becomes a literally holy space, a place where we come before Christ, who is present there in a special way in which he is not present everywhere else.

Now, since I of course believe in the omnipresence of God, and since all Christians believe in the omnipresence of God, and since the Bible expressly says that God dwells not in temples made with hands (Acts 7:48), it might be asked whether such a view is not either a) theological nonsense, meaningless,  b) biblically utterly unprecedented prior to the controverted passages about the Lord's Supper, or even c) positively anti-biblical.

But actually, I think there are foreshadowings and, to some extent, precedents in the Old Testament. For example, the Ark of the Covenant was definitely a place where God was present in a special way. That was why it had to be handled only by certain people and why even a well-intentioned handling by the wrong person could result in death (2 Samuel 6). That was why it was carried before the people when they marched (Joshua 3, Joshua 6). And that is why the Psalmist and other Scriptures repeatedly say that God "dwells between the cherubim" (I Chronicles 13:6, Psalm 80:1, Psalm 99:1, etc.). Hence, too, the Psalmist's repeated expressions of joy at the opportunity to go into "the house of the Lord" and be in God's presence (Psalm 27:4, Psalm 122). That, too, was why when the Ark was taken in battle a child born at that time was given a name that meant "the glory is departed from Israel" (I Samuel 4:22).

It was often a saying among the Baptists when I was a child: "The church is not the building; the church is the people." There was such a horror of idolatry that some even chided old-fashioned pastors who referred to the church building as "God's house." (God forgive me, I once baited a missionary on this very point.) Yet that very notion of a special place that was holy, that was God's house, where one would be in God's presence in a special way, is found repeatedly in the Psalms in clear reference to the Tabernacle where the people of Israel at that time went to offer sacrifices. So it cannot be entirely foreign to the way God works in the world.

Then, too, the Mercy Seat (between the cherubim) was a place where blood was spilled on the Day of Atonement, which somehow was especially able to bring forgiveness for the people's sins (Leviticus 16:14). So the Mercy Seat was, as I have said of the Sacrament, a place where God, by His own special choice and commandment, interacted in a special way with His people.

Another example would be the Shekinah, which was a pillar of fire by night and a pillar of cloud by day. God led His people in this way. It was evidently a physical entity in which God was in some special sense present so as to help His people. In one of the most harrowing passages of the Bible, Ezekiel actually sees a vision of the Shekinah glory departing gradually from the Temple, illustrating God's judgement on His people (Ezekiel 10:18-19).

These constitute Old Testament precedents for God's being willing in some sense to "dwell" in a particular location, in the sense of interacting with man specially in those places. This despite the fact that God is above and beyond all creation and is, in another sense, present everywhere.

This should establish that the very notion of the Real Presence in the Sacrament, and even of its reservation in a church building, is not intrinsically anti-biblical nor idolatrous.

However, it will be justly answered that that doesn't necessarily mean that the doctrine as I've sketched it is true. There is a burden of proof, and a Protestant will understandably seek evidence for such a doctrine (all the more so for such a vastly important doctrine) in Scripture.

The actual passages I am going to use to argue against memorialism (and hence to support something-more-than-memorialism, which I think can be satisfied by the Real Presence view) will come as no surprise to readers. One of the most important of these is Jesus' discourse in John 6, in which He says,
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. I am that bread of life. Your fathers did eat manna in the wilderness, and are dead. This is the bread which cometh down from heaven, that a man may eat thereof, and not die. I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world....Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you. Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day. For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him....This is that bread which came down from heaven: not as your fathers did eat manna, and are dead: he that eateth of this bread shall live for ever. (John 6:47ff)
I want to dispose at once of the argument that Jesus could not have been speaking here of Holy Communion on the grounds that he hadn't yet ordained it. In fact, to speak of something important ahead of time, sometimes cryptically, is exactly the sort of thing Jesus did not infrequently. To give just a few examples, he prophesied his own resurrection by saying, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:19), which the disciples understood only after the fact. He told Nicodemus (John 3) that he had to be "born of water and of the Spirit" and went on a bit about being "born of the Spirit," which wouldn't make a whole lot of sense until after the day of Pentecost. The parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15) looks an awful lot like a prophecy of  the inclusion of the Gentiles in the church and the negative reaction of the Jews, all of which occurred only after Peter received a special vision, which was itself after Jesus' Ascension. So for Jesus to deliver a disturbing discourse on the importance of eating his flesh and drinking his blood, which would be understood better only by those who stuck it out, though puzzled, and continued to follow him faithfully until the punchline was delivered "in the night in which he was betrayed," would be very much Jesus' modus operandi.

The similarity between what Jesus says in John 6 and the words of institution (quoted below) is far too striking for coincidence. I would go so far as to say that, with the words of institution in hand, we can see that Jesus must have been foretelling Holy Communion in John 6. The two fit together exactly as prophecy and fulfillment do. Jesus first tells them, bafflingly, that they must eat his flesh and drink his blood, and then later he hands them bread and wine and says, "This is my body; eat this" and "All of you drink this; this is my blood." What more do you want? The two things obviously refer to one another, which is to say that they refer to one and the same thing. It's just that, as with most prophecies, we only understand this fully after we see what the fulfillment looks like. Jesus must have known that his disciples would remember his earlier discourse when he spoke the words at the Last Supper. (Brief digression: John does not record the words of institution but does record the discourse on Jesus as the bread from heaven. The Synoptics record the words of institution but not the discourse. I believe that this is an instance of those undesigned coincidences that are the mark of eyewitness history, about which much has been said elsewhere. Were John writing an ahistorical literary work, he would very likely have included the words of institution.)

Once we realize that in John 6 Jesus is talking about Holy Communion, we are (it seems to me) forced to take quite seriously a non-memorialist view. That is, perhaps, precisely why as a Baptist in Bible college I was expressly taught that John 6 is not, not, not about Communion at all but rather is simply about believing in Jesus by faith.

We should take a non-memorialist view seriously based on John 6 because Jesus expressly says that this act of eating his flesh and drinking his blood is necessary for us to have life in us. He says that we obtain eternal life by doing it. It's that important. Words like "have life" come up over and over again in John. They refer to being saved. Being on one's way to heaven. Being made one with Jesus. All those extremely important things. Jesus goes on and on in this passage, hammering home: His flesh is meat indeed. If we eat of this bread, which he says is his flesh, we will never die. He will raise us up at the last day.

Let's admit it, telling us that we have to take Communion in order to have spiritual life in us just doesn't sit too well with the overall theology of memorialism. It seems at least somewhat implausible that Jesus would have spoken in this urgent, insistent, and rather mysterious, not to say shocking, manner about drinking a bit of wine and eating a bit of bread as a purely symbolic act. (As a matter of fact, that's one reason among many why most Baptists strongly object to sacramentalism: They consider that precisely this urgency about engaging in a physical act like taking the Sacrament is a form of "works salvationism.")

Let me address here the argument that when Jesus says, "I am that bread of life" this is just like other "I am" statements where Jesus compares himself to physical objects. These are obviously simple metaphors--for example, "I am the true vine" (John 15:1) and "I am the door" (John 10:9) The comparison is quite instructive, actually. Notice: In no other case where Jesus uses that sort of locution does he subsequently set up a rite that parallels the claim. There is no vine-engraftment ceremony nor any door-walking-through pantomime set up by Jesus and commanded to be continued in the church until he comes again. So actually, the comparison with other "I am" metaphorical statements shows this one to be, in the end, not quite like the others.

Which brings me more directly to the words of institution. Here they are as given in Luke 22:19-20:
And he took bread, and gave thanks, and brake it, and gave unto them, saying, This is my body which is given for you. This do in remembrance of me. Likewise also the cup after supper, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood which is shed for you.
And in Matthew 26:26-28:
And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it. For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 
Why do Jesus' words of institution provide evidence for the non-memorialist position? Why is it not plausible to take them, again, as a sheer metaphor, meaning merely "This bread is like my body" or "This bread symbolizes my body"? Well, if I was going to refer to the words of institution to explain John 6, I am also going to refer to John 6 to explain the words of institution! The two fit together like jigsaw puzzle pieces. The words of institution show us that John 6 wasn't just an isolated extended metaphor, somewhat over-literally expressed. Rather, they referred to an actual, physical, historical rite that Jesus was going to set up later on. In the other direction, the explanation in John 6 tells us (as just discussed) that this rite that Jesus is setting up and commanding has an immense spiritual weight to it. In fact, taken straightforwardly, John 6 teaches (at least) the Real Presence view I have laid out earlier: That the elements are objective means of grace, means of receiving spiritual life.

But there is more: The words of institution are not worded like other metaphors Jesus uses of himself. Jesus says, "I am the door of the sheepfold." But he never points to a door and says, "This door is I, myself." Jesus says, "I am the true vine" but never tells us, "This vine is my body." Here, again, we have the dual motion back and forth between the Last Supper and John 6. "I am the true bread" is worded like other metaphors but is the only one that has a later ceremony associated with it. "This is my body" and "This is my blood" are not worded like other metaphors, and that gives us reason to wonder whether they are intended to convey something more, something, in fact, sacramental.

One more point about the words of institution. When Jesus says that this is the new covenant (testament) in his blood, he is alluding to a crucial ceremony in Israel's history. Moses (Exodus 24:8) took the blood of oxen and sprinkled it over the people after they had agreed to do all the words that the Lord had commanded in the Law. Moses said while sprinkling the blood, "Behold the blood of the covenant, which the LORD hath made with you concerning all these words." In instituting the Lord's Supper, Jesus institutes a new covenant between God and his people, and as blood was used for sealing the Old Covenant, so here, Jesus says that the cup is his blood which seals the new covenant. That seems to me, again, very strong language, and a rather surprising historical connection, for a bare memorial or symbol.

Last but not least, we have Paul's teaching in I Corinthians. Paul says,
For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you. That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread. And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat, this is my body, which is broken for you. This do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood. This do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come. Wherefore whosoever shall eat this bread, and drink this cup of the Lord, unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord. But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup. For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord's body. For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world. (I Corinthians 11:23-32)
The first point in this passage that sits oddly with a memorialist position is the  command that one examine oneself before taking Communion. Christians, at least those who have been carefully instructed at all about Communion, are so used to this requirement that we may take it for granted and not recognize the argument it presents against memorialism. Prior to this Paul has been talking about what we might call liturgical abuses connected with the meal that was apparently eaten prior to the Communion rite itself. (He brings this up after the quoted passage as well.) It would be somewhat easy to take phrases like "eating and drinking unworthily" to mean simply "eating and drinking disrespectfully." But Paul is going farther than just telling people to knock it off with the gluttony and behave respectfully during Communion. He's telling the believers to engage in introspection and not to receive Holy Communion until they have examined themselves and, I think we can take it, confessed their sins to God and resolved not to do them again. Why, if Communion is only a memorial? Do we have to undertake a special self-examination before participating in a Holy Week play? Yet that, too, commemorates Jesus' death. We sing songs in which we proclaim, show forth, remember the cross and Jesus' death, yet we aren't expected to undertake searching self-examination before each of those. It would seem overblown in the highest to speak of doing these things "unworthily" because we had not undergone a special examination of conscience before them.

In fact, if the value to ourselves of Communion is primarily memorial, which is to say, the value of meditation, should we not invite as many Christians as possible to partake, just as we would to a revival meeting or to an inspirational concert? Might not the act of proclaiming Jesus' death and remembering the price he paid on the cross bring back the backslider, convict the erring, soften the heart of the prodigal, and reveal our sin to us? But Paul places the order the other way around. We are to get things right with God, to examine ourselves and confess our sins, before coming to take Communion, and it is a fearsome thing to do otherwise.

The injunction to self-examination before partaking make more sense on at least a Real Presence view than on a memorialist view. We can, again, think of an Old Testament parallel. The priests had to wash themselves ritually before doing their priestly duties (Exodus 30:18-21; Leviticus 16:4). Holy places were not to be approached unless you were clean.

Next, we have Paul's rather eyebrow-raising language regarding those who eat and drink unworthily. He might have said that those who eat and drink unworthily will have to face God's wrath for dishonoring God or for being disrespectful in worship. But he doesn't say that. He uses instead the far more charged language--they are "guilty of the body and blood of the Lord," they are "not discerning the Lord's body." I submit that these noticeably literal ways of describing the sin of approaching Holy Communion without due respect and proper self-examination are more to be expected on a sacramental view than on a memorialist view.

Moreover, we have the actual penalties Paul holds over the believers for eating and drinking unworthily. He specifically threatens damnation, bodily sickness, and physical death as possible consequences. If the injunction to examine oneself and repent before taking Communion is more likely on a Real Presence view than on a memorialist view, this is even more the case for the rather shocking penalties for not doing so. Why would God punish his followers in such ways for engaging in what is only a memorial, symbolic act without first cleansing themselves of sin? But if Jesus is truly present in the Sacrament, things are quite different. In fact, this is reminiscent of what happened in the Old Testament. If a priest offered wrongly before the Lord, or if he came disobediently at the wrong time, he might die in the Holy of Holies (Leviticus 10:1-4, Leviticus 16:2). If the wrong person touched the Ark, he could be struck dead instantly (2 Samuel 6). If there is a Real Presence in the Sacrament, then it stands to reason that approaching it in the wrong way or without first examining and cleansing oneself could have serious ramifications indeed. It would be an example of a spiritual law of cause and effect, to wit:

You do not mess with the Holy.

None of these arguments is absolutely conclusive by itself. Of them all, I believe that the connection between Jesus' teaching in John 6 and the institution of Communion is the strongest, for it is the most explicit teaching we have from Our Lord himself on the subject. But they all contribute to a cumulative case, and from them together, from a Scriptural argument, I conclude that memorialism cannot be maintained and that a sacramental view is the biblical view.

We receive spiritual food in the Holy Sacrament. We should approach it with awe. In it, Jesus comes to us and gives himself to us. It is the place where heaven meets earth, where God meets man and bestows grace through the medium of a physical entity. It is a great gift indeed, for which we should be endlessly, joyously grateful.

In the words of Cranmer, in the thanksgiving after receiving Communion,

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 Saviour Jesus Christ; and dost assure us thereby of thy favour 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 most 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 honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Human exceptionalism matters, even for the bad guys

I had hoped and planned to be blogging next here at Extra Thoughts about something much happier than what will be contained in this post. However, since a final and, I think, important comment of mine is not to be published (I am told) in another venue, I've decided to post about the matter here after all.

For the past several days I have been intensely involved in trying to convince Lawrence Auster that he should not be hosting a respectful conversation at his site, View from the Right, over whether some human beings are actually subhuman! To save time, I shall link all the threads in a row. They are here, here, here, and here. The consideration of this odious proposition began in explicitly racial territory, and though Auster said that he wasn't prepared to "stand by" the outrageous comment he made that kicked off the discussion, and although he decided to shift the discussion away from the racial angle lest it be "seen in racial terms," there was no explicit retraction. It seems only fair to add that some of his readers did not actually fully make the shift, though largely the conversation moved to a discussion of individuals rather than groups.

However, we should also not be respectfully considering the proposition that criminals, even truly horrible criminals, might be literally less than human.

In the course of the several threads, many incredibly odious comments were posted without any demurral from Mr. Auster. One reader, Ben M., even purported again and again to provide Biblical evidence for considering some people to lose the imago dei altogether and hence to be less than human. The threads make hair-raising reading. Commentator "Vintueil" in this thread, who chided me as allegedly not having the true philosophical spirit for not keeping all questions open (or something like that), literally raised as a merely interesting question whether there are subhuman beings (clearly, in the context, including biological humans) whom it might be more legitimate to torture than it is to torture full-fledged human beings.

Auster was utterly unwilling to accept the idea that this was not a conversation that should be going on. Once it had shifted largely to the question of criminals, he defended the conversation to the hilt. He was  greatly angered by my somewhat anguished attempt to appeal to him as a fellow Christian to stop this, so much angered as eventually to make me see that it would not actually make matters significantly worse for me to put up this additional explicit post about the controversy.

There were several excellent gems among the comments, including this eloquent one by Kristor. I don't have time to link to all of those who deserve praise for their attempts to stand in the gap, including commentator Matt.

One question that surfaced more than once from Auster, implicitly or explicitly, was this: If one accepts the death penalty, what difference should it make practically if wicked criminals are considered subhuman? They are simply going to be executed anyway, and that's it. He asks this explicitly here:
[S]ince we are talking about individuals, not classes, nothing worse would happen to murderers who are believed to have lost the image of God than already happens to murderers who are believed to have the image of God. So Matt’s passionate indignation is much ado about nothing.
By the end of the last thread, he and other commentators were still heaping a certain amount of scorn on those of us who were bringing up issues such as abortion and euthanasia (all of these being offshoots of the attempt to declare some people to be "subhuman"). After all, they reasoned, they were only talking about the bad guys. How could the story of Terri Schiavo possibly be relevant?

Now, I considered that this showed such a sweeping lack of imagination, information, and thoughtfulness as nearly to be beneath answering. But these kinds of things kept coming up, with even something of an air of arrogance about them, as if they were unanswerable, so I finally decided to address the issue of criminals directly. Let me say here, as anyone who reads the threads will see, that I am a strong defender of the death penalty. But the death penalty does not arise from a denial of humanity. Indeed, it arises from an assertion of humanity and hence human moral responsibility, such that the penalty is just because the criminal has committed acts that deserve it. This could not be the case if the criminal were subhuman, a point several commentators attempted to make to Auster, without noticeable effect. There are far, far worse things than the death penalty, and it is very important that even the bad guys not be dehumanized. The state may and in my opinion often should justly kill them, but we may not dehumanize them.

So I sent another comment to Auster explicitly addressing the question of what difference it would make to dehumanize criminals. However, he was evidently weary of the conversation and refused to publish it. He even alleged in a private e-mail that I had nothing new to say in it. This surprised me considering that he and his readers had repeatedly asked how any of this could be relevant to wicked criminals, how it could be a problem to consider that they might be subhuman, and this was the first time I was expressly addressing that issue.

It was because of his refusal to publish that I decided to put up this post. I do not have time to edit my comment to him to make it less targeted or less full of allusions to the dispute at VFR. I have many other, better, things that I would like to read and write about. But if anyone has been following that controversy and reads this, let it be known: Those of us who are opposed even to considering the dehumanization of any members of the human race, including criminals, are not lacking answers to the question: What difference could it possibly make?

I have removed View from the Right from my blogroll here at Extra Thoughts. Despite the fact that Larry Auster has frequently had some excellent insights on various political topics, several of which I have quoted and highlighted in different venues, it is important given the extremely odious nature of these ideas he has recently been flirting with that my blogging activity no longer be associated with the site View from the Right.

Here is the comment I sent to Auster that he decided not to publish:

I'm getting a tad weary of the constant, unimaginative challenges to explain how it could possibly matter to declare criminals to be subhuman. Does it never occur to either you or to your readers that considering some human being to be in some deeper sense less than human is a big deal morally and metaphysically, and that just because you can't right off the top of your head think of any practical consequences, it does not follow that it isn't a big deal? Maybe you just aren't thinking hard enough about what it means to consider someone to be subhuman! I'm afraid you all seem to me like a little child who says, "But they're bad guys!" as though that settled all questions and made it irrelevant what else we say or do about the individuals in question.

First of all, several of us have now pointed out that if you take away humanity, you take away personal responsibility, and therefore you can no longer say that individuals deserve their punishment. Does it not seem to you that this might make some difference to public policy? I assure that it already has! Indeed, long ago in the twentieth century the penal model of retribution became passe. The result has been lighter rather than heavier punishment, continual examinations by psychiatric boards to see if the criminal is "no longer a danger to society," at which point he is released, and the like. Because we no longer had a clear-cut notion of a concrete punishment which the criminal deserved but only of the criminal as an object for manipulation and (it was always hoped) rehabilitation, we actually did far less to protect society from criminals. That is one possible, and in fact actual, direction that policy can go when personal responsibility is denied.

But it could have of course gone in quite a different direction, and this was feared by various thinkers including C.S. Lewis. What could instead have happened was that criminals were not executed but instead were indefinitely incarcerated while they were subjected to experimentation which was allegedly supposed to alter them (again, as passive objects of the manipulation of others rather than responsible human beings in their own right) and make them good citizens. What Lewis (and Dorothy Sayers, as she shows in an exchange in one of her novels) realized was that in actuality such criminals would be being used as experimental subjects "for the good of society"--as, in fact, raw materials.

Which brings us to further possibilities if the imago dei is denied in criminals and they are considered to be subhuman. Executing people is by no means the worst thing we could do to them. Advocates of the death penalty like myself have an extremely clear idea that we execute a person not because it doesn't matter whether he is a man but because he definitely is a man and deserves to be executed. Suppose that we did not believe this. The short-sightedness of saying that such a radical change would make no difference, that the death penalty would still be all that we would or could be justified in carrying out, is simply astonishing! 

Human beings are extremely useful creatures. Their bodies, for example, are intricately designed and have limitless possibilities for being useful fodder for others if they are dehumanized. The history of the ideology surrounding comatose patients is useful here (though you, as usual, cannot see how having my fought that battle and being informed about it could possibly be useful once we are talking about "the bad guys"). Bioethicists are simply slavering over those in "persistent vegetative states," arguing that we should change the definition of death so that they can be declared dead so that their organs can be harvested. Why would the same not apply to criminals if they are not humans? Here are just a few things that would be prima facie justified if criminals are not truly human:

--They could be an excellent source for organs. A kidney might be harvested while they were still alive, thus guaranteeing freshness. Or they could be killed at just the right moment under ideal conditions for harvesting heart, kidneys, and other organs and tissues. (China's organ "donation" system has for decades depended so heavily on taking organs from executed prisoners that international observers doubt the practice will ever be ended.)

--Scientific and medical experimentation of all sorts and varieties could be carried out on them. The imagination positively boggles at the thought of all the possibilities there. Scientists are constantly looking for new sources for experimental subjects. And, yes, medical experimentation on our country's currently popular "subhumans"--persons in a "persistent vegetative state"--has already been suggested. So again, a little real-world information goes a long way. These criminals would be healthy subjects, and of course their consent would not be required once they were regarded as non-human. Some experiments might kill them, but who cares? They are "the bad guys" and were going to be executed anyway, so what difference does it make? (Only the difference between what is morally heinous and what is a just activity of human government, I point out.) As long as the experiments were carried out relatively humanely, with plenty of anesthesia where needed, we could even congratulate ourselves on being "kind to the beasts." We could even put them deliberately into a "persistent vegetative state" in order to experiment with ways of awakening people!

--They could be used for surgical practice by medical students. Currently students have to practice using either real patients, animals, or computer models. Using a convenient "subhuman" criminal with a fully human body but without the rights of a bona fide patient would have many advantages over any of these options.

--I'm told that members of the military sometimes have trouble getting over their inhibition to killing people and that this can affect their battle-readiness. "Subhuman" criminals could be executed in the context of using them for killing practice by soldiers.

All of these uses could be done fairly humanely, as we would wish animals to be treated humanely. Vinteuil raised in his list of "interesting" questions, which evidently allreal philosophers treat as open questions, whether it would be legitimate to torture "subhumans"! Had I brought that question up myself I would no doubt have been accused of hysteria, but here is your warm supporter congratulating you on your "courage" who has done it for me. You didn't even seem to notice. Argue with him if you don't think torturing "subhuman" prisoners could possibly be an issue that could arise. In any event, I have given you an entire list (and with imagination and a willingness to overcome the "ick" factor, more could be supplied) of things that do not have to involve torture, some of which might involve no extra pain at all, that could be quite morally licit once you dehumanize convicts. What these actions do all involve, the observant will notice, is treating these prisoners no longer as full humans but rather as a mere means to an end, as things for use by others. That is the real ideological result of dehumanization, and it is a morally odious one. If these people are really less than human, there is no principled reason why they should not simply be used in these ways.

Ideas have consequences. Please do not tell me that you aren't advocating any of these things or even that you aren't advocating any "system." It doesn't matter. You don't get to choose the consequences of your ideas. That is an objective matter. This is something that you are constantly pointing out about liberals. It is true here as well.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

A John C. Wright sampler--just because I'm lazy

Ladies and gentlemen, I've been trying to write philosophy lately. When I do this, my blogging usually suffers. Or maybe it would place the emphasis more correctly to say that blogging is bad for my philosophy writing. Whichever, I've been having some trouble thinking of what to blog about. So, in an idle moment (ah, idle hands are the Devil's workplace), I wandered over to John C. Wright's blog. I can't remember who first mentioned Wright to me, so I won't blame anyone else for it.

Wright is a science fiction writer, but I scarcely ever read science fiction and can't speak to the quality of his. I think of him as a unique Catholic blogger. Converted from atheism to Catholicism by a combination of mugged-by-reality moments and a series of highly dramatic events, Wright could now be called the king of highly educated and unabashedly Christian blogospheric vituperation against all the right people.

If you like your bloggers suave and gentlemanly, don't read John C. Wright. If you are deeply concerned about any rough treatment whatsoever of commentators, don't read John C. Wright. If you think that I am overly harsh in my blogging manner, either at What's Wrong With the World or here at Extra Thoughts, you definitely don't want to read Wright, because he makes me look like the sweetest little old lady ever to let a Boy Scout lead her across the street, thanking him demurely on the other side.

On the other hand, if you like the quotations below, you might want sometimes to go and read John C. Wright.

On the insane media speculation about the Tea Party after the Aurora massacre:

(As of the time of this writing, Mr Ross has not been fired, or even censured, for this slander presented as news to a trusting and nationwide audience. If he has issued an official apology, I am unaware of it.)
Of my other thoughts, I will be silent. But I will add my voice to the choir of condemnation against the mainstream media:
You are vermin.
I mean this in the literal sense: a vermin is an animal that destroys livestock and must be put down for human life to be successful.
You could have been newsmen and told the truth as you knew it.
You could have been gentlemen and told the truth without a sick and sadistic desire to fatten yourselves on the blood of the slain, and then spew out that blood, mixed with bile, into to faces of your political rivals in the game of power. You could have been polite, and civil, and honest, and sane.
You could have been human.
But no. The most vicious town gossip who seeks ever to destroy the reputation and blacken the character of an enemy never launched so quickly and so immediately a campaign to stir up slander, hate, and malice against an innocent foe. [snip]
Can you imagine if someone in your neighborhood did this? Suppose every crime committed in the neighborhood was blamed by your next door neighbor’s wife on you. Each time, there is no evidence. Nor has the young man ever done anything wrong. Each time the accusation is immediate, utterly baseless, and it does not matter what the crime is. Purse snatched? You get blamed. Power line down? You get blamed. Car stolen? You get blamed. How long would it take before you became convinced that your neighbor’s wife was a lunatic with no ability to control herself, no ability to tell the truth, a nutcase in a delirium? Five times? I have listed more than that right here. 
And what if your lunatic neighbor’s wife was getting paid for her ability to report the facts honestly and fairly. It is how she makes her money. What then? At what point would you become convinced she was your deadly enemy?
 On G.K. Chesterton:

He is a trenchant observer of the inevitable evil resulting from attempting to reorder human society by the arid theories of intellectuals, and a Jeremiah of the brutality and nastiness which results from a culture that allows for such monstrosities as eugenics produces; and I do not mean by breeding, I mean by the process that selects who shall organize the state, and have absolute power.
He is also an ignoramus of staggering proportion when it comes to basic matters concerning political economy. His criticism of the free market consists of a belief that the poor are wretchedly poor because the rich derive wealth from the poverty of the poor. Poverty exists because the rich, merely by wishing the poverty into existence, create it. Once the poor are wretchedly poor, only then will they be cowed enough to work in factories. Chesterton, with a straight face, announces that the poor who are moderately poor do not seek wages, and rich people do not seek to hire them.
He also thinks the rich could wish poverty out of being using the same magic power that they used to wish it into being, but that they selfishly refuse to use this power, because, if the poor were not wretched, the factories would find no employees, and the rich would be less rich. I am frankly baffled, in this analysis, what Chesterton thinks the factory owners do with manufactured goods once they are produced: if the rich had the power to wish wealth into being, would they not wish for wealthy customers to buy their goods? If no one buys the goods, what good are they?
Chesterton concludes his (ahem) ‘analysis’ by saying that the rich have unwisely ‘allowed’ the poor to multiply in great numbers, so that the overpopulation would increase the labor supply and drive down the height of wages: but they miscalculated in their villainy, and now they fear the numbers of the poor they way the Pharaoh feared the swelling ranks of the Hebrews. The Eugenics movement of the 1910′s was a plot by the wealthy to control the numbers of the poor, who, apparently, can magically raise population rates when it suits them, but not lower them again.
He also pauses to call the rich all the usual nasty names that writers blissfully ignorant of economics call them: parasites, robbers, flint-hearted sinners, etc. Apparently wealth merely exists as a given, appearing naturally for no cause and at no cost, like manna from heaven, but the rich (somehow) with their hoodoo magic have usurped all the wealth, so the manna meant for us falls only on them. This is the economic theory of a cargo-cultist.
Wright's dealings with some anti-capitalist commentators in the comments thread on the Chesterton post are also interesting, and, in a wicked hour, make for fun reading for a free marketer.

On some recent indications in neuroscience that some people allegedly in a "persistent vegetative state" may actually be conscious:
As a science fiction writer, the implications have been explored many times in fiction, because we are discussing a possible system of mechanical telepathy. [snip]
As a philosopher, I assume these are the researchers of the same caliber who earlier proved that men lack free will, because neurological studies show brain activity accompanies the reported awareness of a decision to move a finger.  The logical conclusion to draw is that ambiguous neuroscience makes for bad philosophy and worse theology.  My warning to experts is not to venture out of the field of your expertise without a warning to your audience, lest they give your words undue weight.
As a loyal son of the Catholic Church, my reaction to the article in general is less than moderate: In your face, culture of death! The science you worship instead of use now has some evidence that you are killing living souls in your grotesque love of euthanasia: and you call us backward and superstitious? We were here before you! You generation of vipers, you selfish bastards, how shall you escape the wrath to come?
When Terri Schiavo was killed in her bed by the state of Florida, and the press and the governor of the state stood by sitting on their hands, ignoring the weeping parents, and the culture of death celebrated in unseemly if not satanic glee, declaring that Schiavo had earned the privilege of starving to death, dying slowly by inches by dehydration.
The generation of vipers was too kind hearted to take a gun to her temple and shoot, as one would do to kill a mad dog or broken-legged horse, or kill her with lethal injection or electrocution as one would do with a condemned criminal, or slit her wrists. Instead, due to the legal nicety which somehow declared feeding and watering a sick person to be “extraordinary life support” we starved her to death.
Now comes this johnny-come-lately scientific evidence to support what the Church has always known: they you cannot write off a living human being “as good as dead” and play God, and grant death, without running an inhuman risk.
To the living patient unable to move or speak and convince her killers that she is still alive, this is a scene out of some Poe terror tale of premature burial. That the killers would decide to kill you slowly by inches, when you cannot even beg for death, merely adds horror to the terror, a grotesque irony, for which the perpetrators will have to pay and double again in purgatory or in hell, when the books of their deeds are opened and read aloud.
On basic economics and Obamacare (and Medicare, for that matter):
It is obvious that lowering the rate of reimbursement for medicaid means that more patients will see fewer doctors who therefore will see each patient for less time or not at all.
For a variety of reasons, the poor are on average sicker and sick longer than the rich. When the medical care is cut, it is not going to be “Robin Hood” style cut from the rich and given to the poor. It is going to be cut for everyone, because more demand is being put into the system, and less supply being supplied.
The number of doctors refusing to see medicare patients, on the ground that they government does not actually pay enough to pay for the service provided, surely must increase.
It is a rule of economics. You cannot keep your cake and eat it, too. There is no such thing as a free lunch. You cannot ration a good without producing a shortage of the good, because rationing forces the resources to seek a more economical use. Rationing produces waste, and waste creates an incentive for resources to move elsewhere, namely to a good or service or field where there is some return or reward for one’s efforts. 
There now. I don't have to blog this week. Wright did it for me. Heh. Thanks, Mr. Wright.