What’s Wrong with the World

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The men signed of the cross of Christ go gaily in the dark.

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What’s Wrong with the World is dedicated to the defense of what remains of Christendom, the civilization made by the men of the Cross of Christ. Athwart two hostile Powers we stand: the Jihad and Liberalism...read more

January 21, 2021

An irony of minimalism in defending the resurrection

For some time I've been writing and speaking about the problems with a certain minimalistic approach to arguing for Christianity that has become popular in evangelical circles in the last several decades. (See, e.g., here, here, and here.) Sometimes it goes by the name of the "minimal facts" approach. But not always. The apologetics giant William Lane Craig refers to the facts in question as "core facts" rather than "minimal facts" and includes the empty tomb among them, whereas the father of the minimal facts approach, Gary Habermas, does not include the empty tomb among his set of minimal facts. But as I have pointed out, the difference there is far more terminological than substantive, since in both cases the core fact or minimal fact that the disciples had appearance experiences is kept vague in order to be able to rope in a lot of scholars and say that they accept it. This causes a lot of epistemic trouble when one tries to argue for the physical resurrection of Jesus, since it's precisely the physical details that give us reason to think that Jesus was physically raised. It shouldn't need saying, but the reason Christians think he was physically raised is because we think he appeared physically to his disciples. (Obviously.) The mainstream scholar Wolfhart Pannenberg, who thought the resurrection accounts in the Gospels were heavily embellished, apparently thought that Jesus' body really disappeared and that in that sense he was "physically raised," but that he went immediately to heaven and that the appearances to the disciples were visions sent by God to the disciples and bore little resemblance to the appearances recounted in the Gospels. I'd say that at that point the meaning of "physically raised" has been changed almost beyond recognition and also that the epistemic support for believing in anything objective at all is gravely undermined.

This point was brought home to me recently by watching a series of video discussions between Michael Licona and Dale Allison. (Videos here, here, here, and here.) Allison is a little hard to characterize. He speaks of himself as a Christian (PCUSA), and Licona calls him a "fellow believer." He talks in the interviews about his prayer practices, which involve a yoga mat and icons. He's obviously a theist of some sort. That much I think can be said definitely. But Allison is and always has been profoundly ambivalent about the physical resurrection of Jesus and treats it very much as up in the air, and he obviously thinks it quite plausible that the resurrection narratives in the Gospels are highly embellished and that the details of those narratives, such as Jesus' eating with his disciples, were added for apologetic purposes. Licona is a strong advocate of the minimal approach and tries to do everything "through Paul," and in the interaction with Allison, it cuts no ice. Mind you, Allison is a naturally somewhat skeptical fellow. As he rather charmingly explains, there are four of him inwardly. They all get along with one another, though they disagree. What is interesting to notice is that none of these four "Dale Allisons" believes that robust, orthodox Christianity, including fully physical appearances, is historically justified by the objective evidence. So it is entirely plausible as a sociological and psychological matter that a discussion with someone who takes a more maximal approach to the resurrection would also cut no ice with Allison. But I consider Licona's attempts to counter him, most of them going "through Paul" (e.g., trying to treat Paul as our main or or even only eyewitness of the resurrection whose account has come down to us) to be objectively far weaker than the available arguments really are and hence consider it somewhat understandable that Allison bats them aside.

In reflecting on their interaction, I thought of an irony concerning the minimalist approach and the way that it bills itself, and I posted this on Facebook.

Continue reading "An irony of minimalism in defending the resurrection" »

January 7, 2021

Pain is the price of patriotism

The events of the last few days here in the U.S. could almost have been calculated to break the heart of anyone who loves this country. First I'm referring to the loss of the Senate to the Democrats. And here I solidly blame none other than our feckless man-child of a President, Donald Trump. In a distant alternative possible universe, had Trump been less narcissistic, had he thought that something mattered besides himself, he would have taken the spotlight off the presidential election shortly after November 3 (whatever he thought about the fairness of the results) and focused solidly on using his considerable influence with his base to rally the voters for the Georgia runoffs. Well, we all know how that went, including Lin Wood's insane recommendation to Republican voters to stay home. The elections were close. Had Trump barnstormed Georgia on behalf of those candidates, the Democrats might not have won the Senate. I don't usually indulge in such what-ifs, and there are plenty of places where I think Trump gets blamed that are far more complicated than they are made to appear in Punditland, but this one is just too darned obvious.

And then, of course, the Capitol-storming yesterday, deadly for at least four people, deadly for any remaining shred of American dignity. (The news media seem to be notably coy about three of these--who they were and what exactly happened--but about Ashli Babbitt, the woman whom the police shot, there seems to be little doubt about what happened.) This ridiculous attempt at insurrection (seriously?) will be treated as iconic of conservatism for decades to come (at least) and used as a stick with which to beat everyone who supports conservative ideals and ideas. Don't like gay "marriage"? Well, you're just like those terrifying insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol building. Maybe you're planning terrorism, even. Don't think a man can turn into a woman? The same. Support the lives of the unborn--man, you're a scary person. And on, ad infinitum.

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January 5, 2021

COVID Vaccines and Moral Evaluation

Now that there are COVID vaccines being rolled out by pharmaceutical companies, a moral question has arisen because some (or all) of them have utilized cell lines that originally came from aborted babies in their development or testing. Can we use such vaccines, or does doing so constitute immoral cooperation with the evil of abortion?

Two Catholic sources have concluded that the answer is: yes, we can use them, with caveats. Both the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), and the US bishops’ conference, have stated that using vaccines from such cell lines is morally permissible in certain circumstances, if those are the only vaccines available. They obviously base their conclusion on the fact that there is medically serious reason to use the vaccine given the public health situation, so it is not automatically the case that they would have come to the same conclusion about just any illness vaccine. It is clear that they are using the doctrine of “cooperation with evil” (CwE) which sets out criteria for where it is morally acceptable to do something that is in some way connected to an immoral act, and distinguishes those from cases where it is not morally permissible.

Unfortunately, there are other Catholic sources that are rejecting that conclusion. Bishops Athanasius Schneider and Strickland have issued public comments saying that using the vaccines is wrong. In both cases they accept CwE as a moral principle, but find that it does not permit using the vaccines. Bp. Schneider said:

In the case of vaccines made from the cell lines of aborted human fetuses, we see a clear contradiction between the Catholic doctrine to categorically, and beyond the shadow of any doubt, reject abortion in all cases as a grave moral evil that cries out to heaven for vengeance (see Catechism of the Catholic Church n. 2268, n. 2270), and the practice of regarding vaccines derived from aborted fetal cell lines as morally acceptable in exceptional cases of “urgent need” — on the grounds of remote, passive, material cooperation. To argue that such vaccines can be morally licit if there is no alternative is in itself contradictory and cannot be acceptable for Catholics….

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December 29, 2020

Opposite indignations

I just posted this set public on Facebook:

A big part of the reason why we are so divided over Covid is that different groups have widely different opinions about what sufferings connected (directly or indirectly) with this virus are properly blamed on someone. One group treats catching the virus itself as presumptively blameworthy. Someone, somewhere must have been careless, must have not worn a mask, must have been disregarding what the speaker regards as mere reasonable caution. Perhaps the sick person himself. Perhaps someone he came into contact with. In contrast, this group tends to regard tragedies that result from virus restrictions (suicides, loss of business, lack of social contact) as either the inevitable results of the virus (hence not blameable or a proper cause for indignation) or as *also* blameable on people who don't follow other restrictions: "If we'd all just worn masks or if we all would just wear masks, be reasonably cautious, etc., this would all be over." The other group (in which I openly include myself) thinks this is about as opposite and incorrect as it gets. Catching the virus itself is *normally* not anyone's moral *fault*. The proposed cautions and rules are *far* beyond mere "minor caution" (partly because we disagree with the first group about what counts as mere "minor caution"), and there is no reason at all to think that some particular person's death was the result of someone's failing to abide by some kind of obvious prudence. And the restrictions, especially *but not solely* those imposed by fiat/law (some are imposed by officials of particular organizations, some imposed by relatives and parents, some imposed by insurance companies, etc.) are rightly to be blamed for the harms they cause because they are unnecessary, are caused by human choice, and ought to be able to be *seen* to be doing more harm than good. Therefore they are a rightful target of righteous indignation, and people's getting sick with a highly contagious virus is not.

Once we recognize the vast differences between these perspectives and realize that people like me think that people like someone else have literally *reversed* "what/who should be blamed" with "what/who should not be blamed," we can recognize that it's futile and will probably do more harm than good to tone-police each other, to ask each other merely to feel sorry for people, to tell each other not to "politicize" the matter, etc. However these differences of belief arose in the first place (and I, for one, hope that I would have held the beliefs here that I do even if that had meant aligning myself with "the left"), they are a combination of deep differences both about the empirical realities of the situation and about who is to blame and what is important. Unless you can change those, we're going to be indignant with each other.

Continue reading "Opposite indignations" »

December 23, 2020

The weary world rejoices

IMG_1470.JPG I don't need to tell you that the world is weary. And anybody who has been reading my posts here and on Facebook can figure out some of the reasons why I think the world is weary. There are, of course, plenty more. I don't need to start listing all the evils of the world, some of which you can agree with me about even if we disagree about others.

Those of us who are Christians and also "literary types" know of a certain kind of literature in which the characters have big epiphanies about the eternal import of their smallest actions. You might call this the Charles Williams trope. Williams has a scene where a woman is being annoying and a guard announcing the trains at a train station is entirely polite to her. Williams goes into rather purple rhapsodies about the eternal value of his two words, "Yes, lady." Similarly, in C.S. Lewis's That Hideous Strength, Mark Studdock is ordered to desecrate a crucifix. He's an agnostic, so the symbol means nothing to him, and he can't figure out why he's being told to do it. His wicked employer Frost tells him that they have found this to be necessary to the training of people in their organization. Studdock finally says, "It's all nonsense, and I'm damned if I'll do any such thing." Lewis, of course, means the reader to realize that Studdock's words have far more literal meaning than he intends. Like Caiaphas, we all sometimes speak prophecy without knowing it, and everything means more than we can possibly realize.

But this creates a bit of a problem in its own right for imaginative types.

Continue reading "The weary world rejoices" »

December 5, 2020

Youtube series on the Virgin Birth

In case it seems that I'm not being Christmasy enough, in actual fact I've gotten pulled into quite a bit of conversation about the Virgin Birth. I've just started a Youtube series about the Virgin Birth, and the first video of that is out, here. Please consider subscribing to my Youtube channel and hitting the bell so that you get notifications.

Recording on it may be somewhat slow, though, because I've agreed to a debate on the Virgin Birth and infancy narratives (I usually refuse debates), which will be recorded on December 11. Plus I'm indexing The Eye of the Beholder--a huge and rather boring task. I did an interview yesterday about some objections to the birth narratives. That link is here.

Triablogue has a roundup of some great resources on the veracity of the infancy accounts and the Virgin Birth. See that link roundup here. Jason Engwer has done some stalwart work there. Theological blogger Steve Hays of Triablogue passed away from cancer during 2020. He was a great soldier for the faith.

So a blessed Advent to everyone, and if you don't hear from me again for a while, a Merry Christmas.

By the way, I heard a new Gospel Christmas song on the radio yesterday that Mr. Google does not seem to know about. It was mostly about the lost sheep. Here, from memory, are a few fragments of the words:

"Mary gave birth to light." "...the darkness we mistook for the light."

Chorus

O what love the Good Shepherd has shown
To leave the ninety and nine
To go back for that one sheep, lost and alone.
I'm the one he came back to find.

November 26, 2020

A blessed Thanksgiving

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With very little eloquence, here is a Rockwell painting whose title mentions "freedom" and that shows family members gathering to celebrate a holiday--neither of these a thing that one would have thought either political or controversial exactly one year ago.

Blessings for Thanksgiving to anyone who reads this, especially faithful readers. May God grant us all strength today and in the coming months and years, both to do His will and to remain thankful for what we have.

Here's one small piece of "worldly" good news today.

November 21, 2020

Wackadoodle theories, the election, and the death of the republic

Herewith more scarcely-edited musings:

It should go without saying that election fraud is a bad thing and should be prosecuted, even if it doesn't change the result of the election. Suppose (which doesn't seem unreasonable) that the election fraud that has occurred this time around hasn't changed the outcome. Nonetheless, if it goes unprosecuted it may change the result in another year with a closer contest. Emboldened, bad actors will do even more.

The enablement by the media has been absolutely appalling and blatantly partisan. Bullying whistleblowers (such as the postal worker) and demonizing everyone who takes allegations seriously, together with an unspoken but all-too-real political double standard, sends a message.

Continue reading "Wackadoodle theories, the election, and the death of the republic" »

November 6, 2020

Witness and the crisis of the American Republic

Here (verbatim) is what I just posted on Facebook:

It is a surreal experience re-reading Whittaker Chambers's book Witness in 2020 while watching, by sign after sign, the loss of our free republic. Chambers, after his break with Communism, was a true and intense American patriot. Though a painfully shy and intensely private man, Chambers believed that it was God's purpose that he subject himself to ridicule, calumny, and hatred, not to mention the public exposure of his own sins, both personal and national, in an attempt to waken the nation from its complacent slumber and save the republic for future generations. Witness testifies to the overwhelming pain that his testimony in late 1948 and early 1949 cost him. When one knows more of the story, not mentioned in the book, one sees this even more clearly--namely, that Chambers had to confess in his testimony to having been bisexual during his time as a Communist spy and to having had homosexual trysts, which (he said) he completely turned away from after his religious conversion and break with Communism. This moral admission was ruthlessly used against him as part of a campaign to portray him as mentally unstable in order to discredit his testimony to the Communist conspiracy of which he had been a part.

All of this he endured, to the breaking point of pressure (he attempted suicide once during the case) and beyond, because of his love for our country and his desire that it should continue to exist in peace and freedom.

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October 27, 2020

Defending Pope Francis from “Civil Unions”

In an odd way, it would be delightful and refreshing if, at this juncture, it had become necessary to unqualifiedly defend Pope Francis from some unqualifiedly unwarranted attack by liberals / leftists / revolutionaries / heretics. Delightful because it would imply that the pope had said something that unqualifiedly upset them. What actually happened, though, requires a great deal of qualification.

Apparently a documentary is being released in which the pope gave the following comments:

“Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family. They’re children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it,” Pope Francis said in the film, of his approach to pastoral care. After those remarks, and in comments likely to spark controversy among Catholics, Pope Francis weighed in directly on the issue of civil unions for same-sex couples. “What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered,” the pope said. “I stood up for that.”

Before we get too immersed in making waves about these sentiments, we need to introduce a whole cargo ship of distinctions, clarifications, and interjectory notes.

(1) First, although this is in a documentary about the pope, it is not a straight up interview OF the pope. Not everything in the documentary is simply Pope Francis speaking before the camera for this documentary. They pulled from other, pre-existing material. And although the pope did give them footage specifically for this documentary, not everything they put in is from that footage – in particular, these comments at issue.

This is significant, because it appears that they did some careful editing / carving to generate the 18 seconds in which those comments are made. According to long-time Catholic apologist Dave Armstrong the phrases we have are taken out of context, something not at all uncommon from the media dealing with this pope (and prior popes).

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October 22, 2020

Temple cleansing, new FB post, etc.

I apologize for the unorganized nature of these posts, but it's the best way to get myself to do anything right now!

I've made a series of videos on the Temple cleansing in John and the Synoptic Gospels. This incident makes a good departure point for 1) understanding different ideas about reporting time, 2) understanding what these fact-changing "compositional devices" involve, 3) seeing how bad reasoning works in New Testament scholarship. I myself prefer to get my information from reading, but it seems like a lot of people like to get their info. from viewing. So here is a playlist for these videos. They begin with an introductory discussion of ways of reporting time and continue to a six-part discussion of evidence that Jesus cleansed the Temple twice.

Last evening I had a great, two-hour discussion with Youtube apologist Pastor Mike Winger. Pastor Winger has a large Youtube following, and I was really pleased to get to discuss The Mirror or the Mask in front of such a large audience. Winger "gets it." He understands the nature of the issues involved and sees through the equivocation that goes on.

And finally, on another topic...

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September 29, 2020

It should hurt sometimes

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Found dead of a suspected drug overdose on August 20th, the Nashville singer/song-writer Justin Townes Earle will be greatly missed, not least by me.

On stage he possessed a strange magnetism: striking in appearance but not really attractive, intense in manner but still shy, smoothly awkward might be the best (if slightly oxymoronic) rendering of how he performed.

In early life he had a rough go of it -- broken family, descent into hard drugs, trauma and pain. But by his late twenties he seemed to have at least partially surmounted those handicaps; and from there began recording a string of fantastic country-blues albums.

His was a unique Nashville sound. He didn’t get a lot of pop-country radio play, for reasons difficult to discern; but his talent was as evident as his musical heart was full. Check out this tune, with its upright bass and 1930s New Orleans swing feel: “What’s Goin’ Wrong.” The slow build to bring in the keyboard and sax just gets me. It includes this great line: “If there’s one thing you should never do, it’s put it past a man to be a fool.”

Conjecture on my part, but one wonders if JTE’s death counts as one of those euphemistically referred to as of “external cause.” Not CV-19, not heart attack, not diabetes: suicide and overdose. External.

What saved him from addiction and depression was the simple joy of playing good music for audiences. Most of us, I wager, can relate to the deep human warmth that flows from lively performances. That has been taken away from us, by a combination of biological pathogen and government tyranny.

When JTE played a show at Atlantic Station in ATL right after the Bulldogs lost to Alabama in the 2012 SEC Championship, there were plenty of folks with aching hearts. He warmed them.

And now we’re bereft. I’ll cling to his mournful lyrics from his 2009 song “Mama’s Eyes”:

Sure it hurts but it should hurt sometimes

__________
Photo credit: Jim Beckmann/KEXP

September 22, 2020

What Evidentialism is not, redux

Here's a shortish but somewhat meaty Facebook post, referring to an old post of mine, on what evidentialism in apologetics is not and on how not to fall into the fallacy of objections. I'm testing this thing where people without FB accounts just click on the link. Here's the link.

September 17, 2020

Some posts from this summer, mostly on New Testament

Here are a few more posts (with links) that originally went up on Facebook. Most recent of these are on top. I'm putting the content in here, but sometimes there are comments, and I think those are visible if you click on the link, even if you don't have a FB account.

September 10

C. S. Lewis's Liar, Lunatic, or Lord trilemma argument is relevant to the prior probability of the resurrection. This is pretty cool, because it means that it is an independent reason to expect Jesus to rise from the dead. It depends upon an evaluation of Jesus' character as shown in the Gospels, not upon an evaluation of the specific claims by alleged witnesses that he rose from the dead. Of course, like the specific evidence for the resurrection, making the trilemma argument depends upon being willing to argue for the strong reliability of the Gospels. But that's something we can and should be doing.

Continue reading "Some posts from this summer, mostly on New Testament" »

September 15, 2020

It's been a long year already: My blogging update

Well, it's been a long nine-month year so far.

An e-mail I received yesterday tipped me off to the fact that (newflash) not everybody in the world uses Facebook, and for that reason alone it is possible that there are those who have been readers of W4 in the past who don't know where I've gone and who might be concerned. While W4 is a group blog, and while the last several posts here were actually not written by me, the fact is that I have written a lot of the content in the past. I therefore apologize for having waited so long to say anything here about why the long silence and also apologize in advance for what might seem like the rank egoism of this post on a group blog. (I did check the idea of such a post in general terms with the editor.) It's intended for those readers who might be interested in such an update.

So an update: I'm fine and healthy and among the lucky ones. I have much to give thanks for. The last six months have been psychologically difficult, though I have far less reason to be saying that than so many, many others.

It may well be that Western civilization is finally on its last legs. In fact, I fear that it is. Talk about what's wrong with the world! Here is one of the only recent posts I have written as a blog post (as opposed to posting on Facebook). In it I discuss my position on the Covid lockdowns. I also mention the horribly tragic death of pro-life warrior Mike Adams, which was a great shock and grief, though I had never been privileged to meet him, and I hint at fears that the world is more or less coming to an end.

The events of this year have to some extent had a paralyzing effect on me. I've been especially shocked and shaken by the divisions among conservatives and Christians in light of the pandemic and responses to it, just when we need to be most united. It seems imperative to me for those who serve Goodness, Truth, and Beauty, especially in their incarnate Christian form, to see the need to preserve what is good and beautiful and the extreme danger of destruction and irrecoverable harm (to individuals and groups) caused by shutting down normal life and giving up our freedoms.

I've been truly shocked by the unchecked rioting in our cities, by the wickedly supine and even pro-riot response of too many local and/or state governments, and perhaps most of all by Christians who have made excuses for the evil destruction. I knew the world was bad, but this bad? There was a feeling of impossibility about saying much of anything, especially in such a divided world, and especially on a blog called "What's Wrong With the World."

Yet if things are getting much, much darker in this world, that means it is all the more important, as the title of that post says, to "live right on." (A phrase borrowed from a novel by Wendell Berry.) It's good to be coming out of that feeling of paralysis and sensing that some good things are being accomplished. All the good will not be lost, and nothing that we do for the greatest Good, which is God, can ever finally be lost.

In the words of Our Lord: "Work, for the night cometh, when no man can work." And, "Be of good cheer, for I have overcome the world."

Despite everything, these months have been surprisingly productive for me in terms of writing and other work accomplished. The short version as to why you haven't seen me here more is that I've been working hard on various projects (such as a summer video series and my latest book manuscript) and that the majority of my posting is now being done either in the more ephemeral realm of Facebook (my profile is here) or on my erstwhile personal blog, Extra Thoughts, which has now become a repository for any "traditional" blogging that I do and also for an archive of a lot of past posts.

Continue reading "It's been a long year already: My blogging update" »

May 24, 2020

91-Divoc

April 12, 2020

Behold!

April 10, 2020

RIP John Prine

March 29, 2020

Money in the Garden of Eden?

March 8, 2020

The Roots of Our Partisan Divide