Thursday, October 22, 2009

Ted Apple is Down for Now

I need to do more revision. And finish the thing.

I'm going to put it all up at once, as PDF and as two or three monster posts, once it's done.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Discuss, #2: Molinism!

Today marks the introduction of the "I must shame Austin Scott into posting" label. Each post in this wonderful series will be something vaguely pro-Arminian, pro-Catholic or jocularly anti-Calvinist, until I can shame Austin into a full and complete post of his own. Whether it will be of his own free will, especially given my uncharitable and coercive choice of tactic, is a question I will leave it to him to answer. If discussion actually happens on this article, I'll join in, of course.

Aside from that: I'm going to just link to the article on Molinism, and say...


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Difficulties on the Matter of Gay Marriage

It's a very difficult issue to decide upon. But ultimately what I had to do was go in and paint Christianity with the most Biblically liberalizing brush that I possibly could muster. And I really did. And I came up with two conclusions. One delighted me, insofar as it spoke to my sensibilities. The other was about as I expected, and unfortunately is unlikely to satisfy anyone on the other side of the fence from me.

There may be room, in a limited and highly chaste fashion, for gay/lesbian relationships. Certainly we cannot say that gays/lesbians should not befriend other gays and lesbians; this would be unreasonable. And I think even a friendship which carried some element of romance might be acceptable. It is to say the least not expressly forbidden in the Scriptures. But it would have to be highly chaste and without the near occasion to sin, because, well...Again, if we really want to be Biblically Christian, and we really want to give due credence to Tradition even in the historical sense...There is not room for homosexual sexual activity in the Christian Tradition. It is not there, and it is not there in a way which is mandated, and patently non-negotiable.

Does this sadden me? Yes. It does! It feels like homosexual relationships could very easily match every other part of even the most conservative Christian definitions of what love is, except that they be homosexual. Why then should consummation of these relationships be denied to them? Why should these people be deprived of being able to truly give themselves, mind, body, soul and spirit, to each other? The simplest, and hardest, and truest answer is that we honestly do not have a full answer. We submit because of God's truth as revealed in the Scriptures, in Tradition, in natural law. We don't necessarily submit because we like it.

Now of course it does comfort me—and it does comfort me—to know that if we take these things consistently, it's not as if the bedroom is suddenly a playground just for couples who are married and straight, but forbidden to couples who don't meet these qualifications. Indeed, nothing could be further from the truth. In the most consistent Christian traditions there are restrictions on everyone—it seems quite obvious to these traditions that when St. Paul said “everything is permissible,” he didn't mean it for the marriage bed. I suspect that when Christianity falls away from this sterner reasoning—which puts restrictions on us straight people, too—when we fall away from this sterner and more consistent reasoning, we fall away not only into a greater permissiveness, but also onto a shakier foundation for what we say on sexuality. It is possible that the greater the dichotomy becomes between what we permit for married couples and what we deny to unmarried couples, the less our basis lies in Scripture and Tradition (take this to be Catholic, or simply the history of Christianity), and the more we begin to seek shakier and shakier motivations for what we are saying. It may be that conservative, sola-Scriptura Protestantism, if it gets too far from the natural law tradition on human sexuality, runs the risk of becoming truly bigoted against homosexuals rather than morally opposed to homosexuality itself. So maybe this is some of what we sense, when we protest—“but if two people love each other...?”

But ultimately that is not the point. That is not the logic being put forth, really, by the tradition. Ultimately we are asking the question of what the way is that things were meant to be in terms of sexuality. This is a question that has profound significance for all persons—celibate, married, gay, straight, male, female, etc. Scripture and Tradition do seem to hold the answer for those of us who call ourselves Christians. I'm not claiming we have to like it. I am claiming that if we claim Christianity, it is a part of what we are choosing to believe. We do not have to understand it. We do not have to like it. But our sexual ethic is a part of our Tradition, and we are not free to excise it any more than a human body is free to bite off its own right arm, one painful piece at a time.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Zombie Jesus?

"And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid." (Mark 16:8, KJV)

"The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age." - H.P. Lovecraft (source: wikipedia article)

A friend of mine once described her major obstacle in wanting to be Catholic as "zombie Jesus."

This was not accurate, at least not strictly. The Resurrection is much more terrifying than any zombie ever ought to be. I think part of what makes it so unbelievable is that the very notion of the thing is nearly incomprehensible. Not like we can't comprehend someone raising themselves from the dead; not like we can't comprehend whatever pomp and circumstance may have accompanied the event. But centuries away from it, I don't know if we can quite get our heads around this:

Some guy who came practically out of nowhere and became known as a teacher and healer in your region of the Middle East, that you've been following for three-odd years, gets crucified near Jerusalem. Now you've been expecting this guy to be the Messiah, or at least something like it. He's been ruthlessly demanding that people drop everything, including their funerals and homes, and follow him. He's been demanding this total commitment that normal teachers don't seem to want, even normal military leaders don't seem to want. And he might have just implied he was on a direct mission from God. He's been saying all this stuff about having to die, which even the best of you don't believe. Then he dies.

One day passes. Everyone's afraid, because the loss of the leader seems to mean the death of the movement.

One more day passes. Everybody's still afraid.

One more day. The tomb is found, and it's found, empty, and two weird guys inside of it are telling you he's risen, and you need to go tell persons x, y and z about it. Now everybody's terrified, so much in fact that they apparently, at least for a time, ignore the mandate of these two guys entirely.

Then people start seeing old Jesus of Nazareth walking around. His body's different, but it's similar. The man who walked about and made all these unreasonable demands and said, "Take up your cross and follow me," and then took up his cross and went to his death, is now alive again, seemingly by no power other than his own. Zombie Jesus?

Heck no. You can shoot a zombie. You can kick a zombie to death. You can't kill the Resurrected Christ; that already makes him scarier.

But why should he be scarier? After all, zombies want to hurt you, bite you, make you one of them...

Well, that last part's true with Jesus. He does seem to want us to be like him, and eventually to be resurrected like him. And it's true that he doesn't come to hurt us. But it's way scarier to be confronted with a Resurrected Jesus you can't kill than with an undead zombie that you can. Because Jesus demands not your flesh, your brain, your blood or anything you could just tear out of your body and appease him with for a time: Jesus demands your life. Your physical life, mental life, your will, your action, your possessions, your relationships, everything. Jesus eventually wants you to come to the same state as him, kind of like a zombie, except here you're going to be put up a notch, not bitten down a notch. For all of us, though, that is going to hurt. Perhaps even more than zombification.

It's hard to get one's head around the belief of someone actually having risen from the dead 2000 years ago, period, so that we can barely even begin to believe it. It might even be said that as people who are so far removed all we can really do is accept it, and accept that it happened, and that we believe in a God who does the unbelievable. We can apprehend it, but not comprehend it. And if we think about how terrifying it is to us, even though we weren't there: Imagine how terrible it would be for the disciples, who were there!

Lovecraft was, in a sense, right, though I think he was wrong about the end-effect. Of course we'll go crazy if we try and understand utltimate reality. But we need not seek a complete understanding. Lovecraft was right to fear ultimate reality, but wrong, in my book, to assume it would result in madness. It would result in true enlightenment!

I do not say, then, that it would not be joyful, or happy, to see the Risen Lord. Many times in my life I have wished for such tangible evidence as being able to put my hands where the nails were myself. But when I really think about it I conclude that such evidence would terrify me; belief would be much easier, but conversion would be inevitable. I am not calling into question the motives of my friend who has trouble believing in "zombie Jesus," so much as I am pointing out it is not merely the Resurrection that scares us about him. It is the life, death and resurrection together that ought to have us, every day, working out our salvation in joyful fear and trembling.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Party at the Tower of London

"Philosophy has decided it is no longer the handmaiden of theology. Theology, likewise, seems to have rejected philosophy (at least in its worst moments.*) Thus we are left with the somewhat awkward situation of the two disciplines behaving somewhat like bickering lovers who cannot stop sleeping together, until the day comes that they might be reunited fully."

So I sent this via Facebook message to Kevin Johnston, and got this back:

"haha. Catholicism included?"

To which I responded:


In fact, I'm going to make a list of which philosophies all the different camps in theology seem to be sleeping with (or would be sleeping with if they were married to them), and seem to be at least flirting with.

WARNING: This is a somewhat innuendo-laden entry, though nothing said here is totally inappropriate even in the context of doing theology. To set the stage, imagine that all these philosophies and theologies are attending a party together with music, dancing and drinks (which reformed theology probably isn't partaking of), probably one being hosted by Socrates, Jesus and Richard Dawkins, at the Tower of London. Disco music is playing. Why disco? It must be disco! But disco interspersed with movements from classical works.

It seems that biblical literalism is living in sin with Fideism.

It seems that reformed theology is always flirting, in a mostly innocent fashion, with determinism, but if she's not careful he's going to try and catch her in a moment of weakness.

It seems that conservative Roman Catholicism occasionally extends a sisterly kiss to existentialism or modernism, or Kantian ethics, but has mostly decided that it's in a sort of tense polygamous marriage with Platonism and Aristotelianism**.

It seems that the emergent church really wants to get with postmodernism, and in fact the two have been caught in the bushes outside together on numerous occasions, but never caught going past second base.

Those new theologians seem to be the live-in lovers of modernism and secular humanism.

The de-mythologizers (Bultmann, et. al) have basically decided to run off with existentialism in no observable direction. If there were an observable direction, we might be forced to conclude they hadn't really run off with existentialism...It sort of depends on what meaning we give their direction.

It appears that liberal Roman Catholicism has decided to divorce Plato and Aristotle and marry modernism, provided that it can occasionally ignore what modernism is saying entirely. The two can be seen, when they're not cuddling in the corner, arguing gently about whether modernism has any reason to be jealous of secular humanism.


If anyone's got any ideas for theologies I've left out (I definitely don't have one for Wesleyan/Holiness theology, which I think might be due to that being my tradition of origin in part), please let me know; if I put it in the list you will be credited.

* By this I meant Theology's worst moments, e.g. the advent of utter Biblical literalism and "plain readings" to a point beyond what seems merited, though the rejection also takes the part of philosophy's worst moments, e.g. logical postivism or metaphysical naturalism coupled with extremely reductionist tendencies of more modern scientism.

** Dude, I spelled this word right ON THE FIRST TIME.

"Quakerism has been seen sometimes chatting up Buddhism and Hinduism in a fashion indicating a more-than-friendly interest." Removed for dubious connection made from Quakerism to the other two, plus the fact that one is in fact outright theological and the other is theism-neutral, and not really presentable merely as a philosophy for the purposes of the context of this piece. Thanks to the friend who corrected me on this point.]]

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

[tape unintelligible]


William Lane Craig is pretty much awesome. However, this is from a transcript of a debate he had about whether or not the basis of morality is natural or supernatural. It is not him; it is Richard Taylor, and he seems articulate, though thus far in my reading he is not actually showing what the basis of morality could be apart from God. Despite the serious matters being discussed, the places where the tape becomes unintelligible are really hilarious. [EDIT: Taylor's not an atheist, but he's arguing that morality need not be supernatural. I get the feeling in this (and I got the feeling reading another debate of Craig's, with Quentin Smith) that they talk past each other a little bit with regards to what the "need" means when they ask, for all intents and purposes, "does morality need God"? We can couch it in naturalistic/superanturalistic language for all we like, but that's basically what they're debating in my mind.]

"Now I noted that somehow people managed to be decent without this theological underpinning of their decency. Now let’s look at the other side. I cannot but be impressed that those who resort constantly to the theological basis for ethics have not [tape unintelligible] themselves. Recently we have [tape unintelligible] guilty of abusing children. It has become a scandal in the church. It is a priesthood, which bases its morality ostensibly on God. What could [tape unintelligible]. We have a Pope, John Paul, who, with no experience whatever of marriage, of human sexuality, certainly not of female sexuality, presumes to write encyclicals in which he [tape unintelligible] upon all these matters with no knowledge whatsoever about them, no arguments. He simply says, "This is the law." Where did it come from? He says, "From God." You don’t believe that, I don’t believe that. It came from the Church. When it is pointed out that his own priesthood is engaged in scandal, that the law requires that the abuse of any minor be reported, the law requires that any suspicion of child sexual abuse be reported, the priesthood has not done it. Instead, the bishop approaches the parents of these children and pays them to be silent, to disobey the law, to cover it up. And the Pope himself, instead of defrocking these priests, appoints a commission, and then, on his latest visit to this country, blames, not the priesthood, but the American culture. There is far less wrong with the American culture and with American cultural values than there is with the values expressed in that attitude."

All that said, there's some definite pastoral issue with the way that the Papacy and the church itself conducted itself in the wake of those scandals. In fact, had conduct been better, there might not have had to be a scandal on such a scale. But let's be honest on two points here, only one of which has to do with the scandal.

1. "John Paul, who, with no experience [...] [tape unintelligible] upon all these matters with no knowledge whatsoever about them, no arguments."

No arguments? Maybe you meant to say no presuppositions? But no arguments simply does not fly with me. Go read Love and Responsibility. That is not a piece of work with no arguments in it. There are plenty of arguments; they're not all airtight, but they do exist. Try and get yourself some better basis for your knowledge of how much argumentation JP II actually offers on those matters, or some intellectual honesty, whichever one you need, because it seems obvious to persons who actually read his philosophical work that he very much presents arguments, which is the negation of presenting no arguments = not presenting any arguments. You are wrong on this point, sir, by ignorance, I hope, though if that be the case you are the worse for your pontificating on the act of pontificating.

2. "the Pope [..] then, on his latest visit to this country, blames, not the priesthood, but the American culture."

This might be a legitimate complaint against the false dilemma presented, and thus against JP II, if it be the case that he holds the false dilemma. But so far, Taylor seems the only person who actually holds it true, if either of them do, and I also highly doubt that JP II, even if given his Catholicism, truly places the blame squarely on the shoulders of American culture while assigning absolutely no blame to the priesthood. (As for the notion that Taylor might mean the concept of priesthood itself in Catholicism is the problem here...should I even waste my time? There have been two occasions in the last two months or so for Catholic bloggers to remark, perhaps insensitively but truthfully, upon seeing a that a group of "X"'s, where "X" is not at all equivalent to "vowed celibate priest", have turned little ones or church ladies astray, "If only X's could marry this would never happen."

Maybe there's some other tack Taylor was taking besides one of those two. He probably won't have any real way of defending himself to me, because he'll likely never know of this blog's existence, but, well, if anyone wants to offer defense of what he's saying they can feel free to do so.

Relevant link is here.

[EDIT: While I'm adding the "dangit antisupernaturalism" label to this post, it's about time I should acknowledge my debt to Wildweasel's Blaugh with its labels "phoenix wright dammit" and "toribash dammit." I should also acknowledge in the interest of fair play that, again, Taylor is not an atheist, or at the least not a strong atheist. But he does advocate--and this is a position that I severely disavow--that morality does not require the supernatural.]