Sunday, March 07, 2021

The disjunctions of risk in an old-fashioned world

 In a recent Facebook post set to public, Bret Laird, a pastor here in the Kalamazoo area, makes an excellent point: All the talk about the alleged Christian duty to curtail our meetings due to Covid ignores the very nature of risk in the world in which Christianity was born and spread--the whole world, in fact, up to the early 1900s at least. Pastor Laird uses the discovery of penicillin and antibiotics early in the 20th century as a starting point for his discussion.

I would like to jump off from Pastor Laird's comments and make similar comments of my own, without using his specific numbers. Just to be "generous", let's take this piece's estimate from September of about 1% infection fatality rate for Covid, noting that this is in an article that is trying to debunk an overly rosy view of the virus's harmfulness. As the piece notes, some estimates of IFR have been lower, but let's take the higher one. Of course, that rate varies greatly from one group to another. Well and good. The case fatality ratio (which involves only detected cases and hence will be higher, since it involves more symptomatic people) has been wildly differently estimated from one country to another. The WHO more or less throws up its hands and suggests trying to avoid one's biases, noting that estimates of this ratio have ranged from .1 to 25%!

Now, let's consider a world with no antibiotics and no vaccines. The world, in fact, in which Christianity came into existence. The world in which the Jewish people came into existence. The world in which God commanded multiple feasts per year (in the Old Testament) and many sacrifices, which had to be carried out in Jerusalem once Solomon built the Temple. The world in which Christians were commanded not to forsake the assembling of themselves together. The world in which 3,000 people were baptized into the new Christian faith on the day of Pentecost. The world of pilgrimages, evangelistic meetings, huge numbers receiving Communion together, the world of "greet one another with a holy kiss."

And let's think about disjunctions. When you have no antibiotics, pneumonia (an infectious disease) is a real scourge. One estimate of its case fatality pre-antibiotics is a whopping 30%. That's case fatality rather than infection fatality, because it's very difficult to know who is technically infected with the pneumococcus, if they present no symptoms. But there's also smallpox, which was a separate real scourge, also with an estimate CFR (in an older world) around 30%.

You begin to get the picture. I'm not going to go look all of these up to get estimates of the probability of your dying of them, back when there was not very good medical care, no antibiotics (where relevant), and no vaccines to prevent them or make you have much milder symptoms. But let's just list a few more infectious diseases to keep the interest going--tuberculosis, typhoid fever, German measles (not very deadly in itself to the one showing symptoms but quite dangerous to the unborn child of a pregnant woman), etc. Oh, did you say something about long-term effects? Well, there was the scarring from smallpox, even if you recovered. There's the possibility of permanent sterility from mumps. Even seasonal influenza was deadlier in 1900 than it is in 2020, probably deadlier still in AD 100, and there were no flu shots to prevent it.

Now, consider: For any given church meeting, Israelite feast, or other religious gathering throughout the history of the people of God prior to the wonders of modern medicine, it is absolutely obvious that the probability that someone or other, as a result of that gathering, would catch one or the other of these infectious diseases and either die or have permanent, serious health consequences was far higher than the probability, in 2020, that that will happen from Covid as a result of a meeting of comparable size.

But (you might say), "they" didn't know that "back then." Well, actually, there have been plenty of centuries when people were able by sheer observation to get the idea that you could catch a disease by gathering together, even prior to knowing about germs. But waive that. God knew. God commanded that His people gather together, even en masse (pun intended), despite knowing, beyond all shadow of a doubt, with perfect foreknowledge, that people would die physically of infectious diseases as an indirect result of obeying those commands. Evidently God had other priorities. Whaddaya know?

If the church had ceased to gather or even had significantly curtailed gathering as a result of a danger of a death from infectious disease as a result of gathering, equal to that risk from Covid, now, then the church would scarcely have gathered throughout all those earlier centuries, and Christianity as we know it, and Judaism as it was before the Fall of Jerusalem, would never have existed. And, if you care about that kind of thing, a lot fewer people would ever have heard of the true God or known him, been discipled into his Church, and gone out to reach others. And also, while I'm at it, if everybody had tried to cover half of their faces in all of these gatherings for all that time, a lot of other good things would have been lost as well. But I'll leave that part as an "exercise for the reader" rather than saying more about it here.

This consideration about the multiplicity of infectious diseases that used to be stalking around this world should strike down at a single blow the idea that "this time it's different," that we are in some unprecedented and "temporary" situation (where the word "temporary," at a year and counting, with no clear end in sight, has become a kind of sickening joke) in which we should just submit "for now" to significant curtailment of normal life and religious practice, because we are "in a pandemic" and all the usual notions of normal life simply don't apply. And it should reveal for the utter falsehood that it is the claim that the Judeo-Christian God is pleased with us if we cease to meet in person, to evangelize, to gather, and disapproves of us if we, like Pastor Coates in Canada, carry on with such nefarious religious activities. Indeed, the more one thinks about it the more such a claim comes to seem like something nigh to blasphemy. Perhaps a well-intentioned blasphemy, but then, the Bible knows about well-intentioned blasphemy. Just ask Uzzah. I'd say that those fellow believers who are out there lecturing Pastor Coates and those who agree with GraceLife Church about their (alleged) duty to obey God by cutting way back on the services of Christ should think again.

For when one thinks of God's beloved servants, whose beautiful feet upon the mountains have for thousands of years brought glad tidings of peace, one should start suspecting that that is what God wants. Maybe we should be worried about displeasing him quite seriously by bringing all of that to a crashing stop. Maybe God has priorities other than avoiding a virus or an infectious bacterium. Any one of them, or all of them put together.

Friday, March 05, 2021

Updates on Lisa Miller and Philip Zodhiates

Philip Zodhiates' release date is supposed to be March 26, 2021. It looks like the civil suit against him and all the others will get going full-bore in June. I wonder whether Lisa Miller's criminal case will delay this at all.

I get updates on some of these things because I get e-mails from the 419 Fund. I'm not exactly sure how one gets on their e-mail list, though I'm happy that I got on it somehow, but here is their contact form. Otherwise it can be hard to learn much. Sometimes additional entries that (I think) should be posted on Philip's prison blog are posted to the 419 Fund blog. This happened recently. Check out the February 12 entry, here. (There doesn't seem to be a way to link individual entries.)

On Lisa Miller, besides on the 419 Fund, one can find updates on this blog that I found called Ain't Complicated, here. After voluntarily turning herself in, she has been arraigned on charges of conspiracy and international parental kidnapping. She is currently in Buffalo, New York.

Her daughter, Isabella (now going on 19 years old), apparently remains in Nicaragua and has emphatically stated that she has no intention of testifying against Lisa or any of those who helped them. As an adult Isabella is hopefully safe from being forcibly (at least legally forcibly) brought to the United States. She has apparently successfully petitioned to have her name removed from the lawsuit against her mother by stating emphatically that anyone purporting to represent her in that suit is acting against her wishes.

Meanwhile, Janet Jenkins has issued the following utterly creepy and ridiculous statement via her lawyer:

The Jenkins family wants Isabella to know that they have always kept prayer lists going for her, and she has never been out of their thoughts. The family longs for Isabella’s safe return and want her to know that they still celebrate her birthday and that her childhood bedroom is ready and waiting for her.

What? I mean, come on! The couple separated when Isabella was eighteen months old. She was only back there to visit Jenkins for occasional times thereafter until she was about seven years old and has lived in Nicaragua ever since. She is now eighteen years old. Why in the world would anyone mention her "childhood bedroom" in such a message? Even if one believes that Jenkins is in the right in this whole vendetta, you'd have to know that Isabella has not the remotest interest in her "childhood bedroom" back in Vermont. Such a sympathizer (with Jenkins) would doubtless say that Isabella has been brainwashed. But even on that premise, there can be no possible point to sending her a message that her childhood bedroom is waiting for her! That is bound to disgust her and make her feel stalked. What is wrong with you people? Obviously this statement was issued for the sympathizers who are so blindly partisan that they will think it is touching. Good grief.

But Lisa, sustained by God, appears to be keeping up her spirits. It's really quite incredible, and I myself have been encouraged in the Lord by seeing her courage and that of Philip and of Ken Miller (no relation) when in prison. Here are some excerpts from the most recent letter that I received via the 419 Fund e-mail list. The letter was written on February 16 while she was still in Miami.

Greetings from the Florida Detention Center in Miami in the name of our Savior WHO is able to do above and beyond all that we can even imagine! Thank you for all the letters, which I have received while in quarantine and thank you for your prayers. It is such a blessing to read your encouragements while in a place such as this. Thank you! As I’m writing this update, I am sitting on the top bunk amidst a stack of books (classics, biographies and “Christian” prison stories) and gifts from some of the inmates. I was released from quarantine with cheering from the ladies of the SHU (solitary), their smiling faces pressed against the small narrow windows of their locked doors. As soon as I arrived on the floor, I was snatched up as a roommate (later she told me that I looked “calm.” I felt that it was “the peace that passeth all understanding” – thanks be to God). Once I made my bed (w/two flat sheets 😊) my cell neighbor greeted me with a cup of hot coffee in a large clear plastic mug, which was her gift to me (we must buy our own eating and drinking implements as well as soap, shampoo and other daily hygiene items). Next a gaggle of women, masked and w/bright sparkling eyes, showed up at my door with not one, but three bags of supplies and goodies – from a pair of sweatpants (there are no dresses in here) to mac-n-cheese. Then they announced that there would be a Bible study starting on Tuesdays and Thursdays. I think I’ll check it out. It’s TRUE – “My God shall supply my every need.” As I am writing this, more ladies keep popping in to give me needed items, a brush, a toothbrush (I never thought I’d be excited to get a gift of a full-size toothbrush, but I am!) and other such items. One woman even gave me her in progress word search and a full-size pencil with eraser (goodbye 2” putt putt gold pencil and plastic shower “eraser” – try it, it really works). God’s provisions keep coming! I have a new appreciation for the little items in life – such as a hairbrush (it’s been 21 days since I either combed or brushed my hair)


I’ll close with the words written on the two yellow stickies that were attached with the gifts received from those bright-eyed fellow inmates:

(Sticky 1): “God loves you SO MUCH. James 5:16: ‘The prayers of a righteous person has great power as it is working.’ Deuteronomy 30:29 [29:29]: ‘The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever that he may follow all the words of this law.’”

(Sticky 2): “Psalm 23, 91, 103, 110”

Please pray that I will be a worth servant of the Lord as “I travel through this Pilgrim land.”

Serving Him,
Lisa Miller

Next time I feel like complaining I think I'd better remember Lisa Miller, who is thankful for getting a way to comb her hair and has to buy her own soap and personal care items while in a U.S. federal prison.

By the way, it never ceases to amaze me how these harmless Christians who are unjustly imprisoned manage to find favor with the criminals with whom they are imprisoned. Of course, they wouldn't necessarily share it, but as far as I know neither Philip Zodhiates nor Kenneth Miller was subjected to violence from fellow prisoners during their imprisonments, and Philip's is nearly over. "He shall give his angels charge over thee" indeed. And now Lisa seems to be being treated well by the other prisoners also, some of whom at least must be imprisoned for actual crimes, some serious. It's quite astonishing, and I'm grateful to the Lord for His protection over them.

Lisa, we hear, appreciates and is encouraged by her mail, so even we respectable citizens might consider writing to her, even if that means our names are read by Those In Charge.

If this whole blog post seems to you mysterious, see my earlier-but-still-relatively-recent recall of the case here.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

The Eye of the Beholder: Available now!

I've been working like a beaver recently on the release of The Eye of the Beholder: The Gospel of John as Historical Reportage. That is to say, I've been doing interviews and posting about it, checking to see if it's available in Australia and the UK (it wasn't for a couple of days when I expected it to be), sharing content about it to social media, making videos, and so forth, while keeping life going otherwise.

I owe a lot to What's Wrong With the World for the space to publish a lot of related material in an earlier form over the past few years. Here is the Gospel of John tag there, if you want to read some of this for free in its beta version, as it were. I believe that all of that material up through May of 2020 or so has also been copied over to this blog (Extra Thoughts), as part of the archiving project last year, but it hasn't always been tagged. At least it is archived here, though.

The Eye of the Beholder was released on March 1, 2021, just this past Monday. For those of you who get info. about this from one of my blogs and/or aren't on Facebook, here are some relevant links, with apologies for making this post mostly a link dump. But believe me: There's tons of content at the links. First, how can you get the book itself? Here's the link at Amazon and here it is at Barnes & Noble. It makes no difference to my royalties or to my publisher's profits which site you buy it from. If you are in the UK, you can search Amazon, UK, for it, and the same (now) in both Australia and Canada. This is fitting, since I have endorsements from prominent scholars in all of those countries!

Of course, high-profile endorsers don't have to mean that I'm right, but at least they should mean that the book is worth a place at the table. I'm really humbly grateful to the Lord, and the endorsers, and my publisher, Nathan Ward, for the star-studded roster we got this time, including Stanley Porter, Thomas Schreiner, philosopher Bob Larmer, Paul N. Anderson, Alan Thompson, and more. Here are the endorsements in PDF. This should lay to rest various claims to the effect that my work is unworthy of attention due to my lack of such-and-such specific credentials. Nathan went out and asked for endorsements from Johannine and New Testament scholars whom I did not think of, or whom I would have expected to ignore the request due to their eminence or busyness, and he got them. (I'm reminded of a collect about "those things which for our unworthiness we dare not and for our blindness we cannot ask.") Some scholars also contacted me spontaneously after the publication of The Mirror or the Mask expressing interest in supporting my work. And in a couple of cases scholars' names were suggested to me by their former students: "You should contact professor so-and-so. I think he might be interested in your work."

One thing that we can't seem to get to work for love or money at Amazon is the "see inside" function. (At least not until it comes out in Kindle, perhaps in a year, at which point you will be able to see inside the Kindle version.) Perhaps one has to have a rich uncle who is good friends with Bezos to get See Inside The Book to work, but that's okay, because I anticipated that, and I have free samples, with publisher permission, available elsewhere. Here is Chapter I. Here is the Conclusion. Here is the Table of contents.

If you want to get a sense of the book in just three minutes, here is a trailer, for which I thank my eldest daughter, Bethel McGrew. Feel free to tweet or share that trailer everywhere, as it's the sort of thing that is intended for precisely that context.

If you want a meatier discussion of the contents of the book, here is a content tour of about twenty-five minutes.

And if you are really into long-form discussion, here is a two-hour interview I recorded with Thaddeus of the Youtube channel Reasoned Answers just a couple of days ago. This is the first long interview I have done on this book since its release, so thanks to Thaddeus for that opportunity.

I now have a separate author page on Facebook if you are on there and want to follow me that way. (And hey, if you're annoyed by my Covid posts and just want to see stuff about the New Testament and my books, this is a great way to separate those!) Note that Facebook is a little odd: Just clicking "like" or even "follow" on my Lydia McGrew, Author, page won't automatically make my new posts from that page pop up in your newsfeed unless you interact quite a bit. So if you really want to be sure to see everything, be sure to toggle your "follow" options to "subscribe" to get notifications when I post something new.

The Eye of the Beholder has something for everyone--pastor, layman, and scholar. So if you're interested in the question of the historicity of John, be sure to get a copy. I should also mention that my publisher is offering desk copies at a reduced rate (for physical, within the continental US) and free for e-copies (not to be promiscuously shared) to professors at Bible colleges and seminaries who teach relevant courses and are considering the book for a course. E-mail if you fall into that category.

In the words of the late Leon Morris, God has chosen to reveal himself in history, and it is there that we must find him. And that, I would add, is why these books needed to be written, and why St. John the evangelist wrote his book, too.