What’s Wrong with the World

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


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

November 17, 2017

Licona gospel examples IV: More over-reading

In this post I'll discuss more examples from Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? in which Licona's approach creates unnecessary tensions between the gospel accounts by over-reading. Here, as elsewhere, Licona opts for the interpretation of the text that creates an alleged contradiction and then (in all cases but one) "explains" it by fictionalization on the part of one or the other author. In the remaining case I will discuss, Licona explains the discrepancy created by over-reading by an interesting reference to use of contradictory sources which, in turn, is tacitly at odds with the traditional authorship of two of the gospels in question. Moreover, he adds fictionalization theories on top of the contradictory source theories.

Continue reading "Licona gospel examples IV: More over-reading" »

November 15, 2017

Death for the New Natural Lawyers

Our friend and erstwhile contributor, Professor Edward Feser, has with a colleague Joe Bessette written a most important book about the death penalty and about Catholic doctrine, By Man Shall His Blood Be Shed: A Catholic Defense of Capital Punishment. The most important feature (from my point of view) is the extremely strong argument that the moral licitness of capital punishment enjoys the immemorial, perennial magisterial support of the Church, from the Apostles to Benedict, as well as explicit endorsement in the Bible.

As frequent readers here would expect, I have defended their theses with my own arguments in numerous online places, including in about 5 different posts in Ed’s blog. I won’t give a repeat of that support, you can look them up just fine.

Chris Tollefsen, a proponent of the New Natural Law (NNL), has often disagreed with Ed’s support of the moral licitness of DP. He did so again yesterday, at Public Discourse, which I aim to address here.

Tollefsen's thesis rests on this theoretical claim from the New Natural Law:

Here is the basic argument: (A) human life is a basic, and not merely an instrumental, good for human persons; (B) no instance of a basic good should ever be destroyed as an end or a means;

Tollefsen, and NNL generally, are wrong here. They are wrong in a very fundamental sense.

Human life is not “a basic good,” not in the sense that it is always wrong to destroy it.

Continue reading "Death for the New Natural Lawyers" »

November 12, 2017

American Affairs

A new quarterly called American Affairs earned some surprisingly good press when it first appeared. I would not have expected a magazine of scholarly Trumpism, unveiled a month after his nomination, to walk away with warm and whimsical write-ups in the The New York Times and the New Yorker; but then again a lot of things happen that I don’t expect.

The bad press came a bit later, when, driven by an entirely foreseeable trajectory of events, the journal’s Editor publicly repudiated his vote of a year ago for the aforementioned Trump. (But even then, the Times gave him prominent space for the mea culpa.)

However they voted, I’ll grant that the editors and writers of American Affairs have indeed produced some interesting and provocative copy.

[edited for some embarrassing typos]

Continue reading "American Affairs" »

November 8, 2017

Fake points don't make points

We pause in our series of detailed discussions of Dr. Licona's examples for a broader theological reflection.

It is all-too-common in New Testament circles, and certainly not unique to Dr. Licona's work, to hold that a Gospel author changed some historical fact in order to make a theological point. If anything, Licona concentrates on literary motivations (such as making a story run smoothly, telling a story more briefly, and the like) more often than on theological motivations. But he does at times accept or hypothesize a theological motivation for an alleged change. Sometimes Licona borrows these theological hypotheses from other scholars.

Continue reading "Fake points don't make points" »

November 6, 2017

Licona gospel examples III: Over-reading

In this entry and one other (with a short theological digression post in between) I plan to discuss passages in which Licona engages in over-reading in Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? Here I will focus on over-readings connected with chronology.

A note on chronology

One of the oddest aspects of Licona's book is his repeated insistence or strong implication that the Gospel authors are creating a chronological order when they do not have to be taken as doing so. He needs to do this in order to attribute "displacement" to the authors as a compositional device, because he defines "displacement" thus:

Continue reading "Licona gospel examples III: Over-reading" »

November 3, 2017

Licona gospel examples, Part II: Fictions Only Need Apply

In this post I'm going to continue discussing specific examples from Michael Licona's book Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? My goal is to continue showing that Licona fails to provide examples from the gospels where the best explanation is a fictionalizing literary device. Another goal is to show how Licona's method unnecessarily (and, in the aggregate, quite seriously) undermines confidence in the reliability of the documents and makes it extremely difficult to know what actually happened. See here for other posts at this site on Licona's work and here for posts at my personal blog.

In the previous post I discussed places where there is not even an apparent discrepancy between accounts but where Licona gratuitously suggests either a conflict between accounts or fictionalization on the part of the author. I called these utterly unforced errors.

In this post I will be focusing on examples where there are at least supposed discrepancies but where Licona's bias towards fictional explanations causes him either to overlook entirely or to underestimate the worth of simpler, non-fictionalizing explanations. Licona's moves in these cases are errors of explanatory and logical judgement, sometimes taking the form of literally not even considering simpler explanations than the ones he presents us with. There is nothing about his method that flows from special expertise on his part or highly specialized knowledge. He is just engaging in poor literary redactive criticism, applied to the Gospels. Meet the new higher criticism, same as the old higher criticism.

Continue reading "Licona gospel examples, Part II: Fictions Only Need Apply" »

October 31, 2017

Licona gospel examples, Part I: Utterly Unforced Errors

Having discussed and answered Licona's claim in Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? to have found ample evidence of the use of fictionalizing literary devices in Plutarch, I'm starting on a series of posts analyzing a sample of his claims concerning the gospels. This is, of course, only going to be a sample, but it's going to be quite a large sample by the time I'm finished with the series. Some examples may come up more than once, as they illustrate more than one problem.

Page numbers are taken from the Kindle version of the book. I've done a spot-check in multiple places, and the page numbers I'm using appear to be very similar to those in the paper version. My pagination references should enable the interested reader to find the relevant parts of Licona's book.

The short version of what this whole series will inductively illustrate is this: There is not a single Gospel example in Licona's book that is best explained by the use of a fictionalizing literary device. Moreover, Licona's entire approach, which is in essence just old-fashioned destructive higher criticism, sometimes glossed using Licona's categories of fictionalizing devices supposedly drawn from Roman history, casts entirely unnecessary doubt upon what actually happened in Jesus' life and upon the accuracy (in the literal sense) of what the gospels report. The undermining of the gospels' literal reliability and the gospel authors' intention of literal truthfulness is real and cannot be brushed away by re-labeling. It is unnecessary because none of the examples require the redactive or other fictionalizing explanations Licona suggests. One of the most striking features of Licona's work is his monotonously repeated mistake in not considering all available hypotheses, making unforced errors, or dismissing perfectly good and simple hypotheses in favor of more complex ones. These are historical and epistemic errors which have serious results in biblical studies. That they are all-too-typical of biblical scholarship (as I'm sure Licona would be the first to remind us) does not make them logically justified.

Continue reading "Licona gospel examples, Part I: Utterly Unforced Errors" »

October 29, 2017

Did the Founders Build Better or Worse Than They Knew?

An interesting little debate has flared up in the Claremont Review of Books and continued online between a group of academics who make the case that the Founding laid the seeds of liberal disorder and what might be considered America’s turn to libertinism (think the sexual revolution, abortion on demand, gay “rights” and so-called gay “marriage”, the push for transgender “rights”, etc.) The other group of academics, led by Robert Reilly, argue that the Founders built better than they knew and that the Constitution draws on natural law ideas perfectly compatible with traditional and conservative policies – the question for America was whether its leaders and citizens would be wise enough to implement such ideas. This blog post explores this debate.

Continue reading "Did the Founders Build Better or Worse Than They Knew?" »

October 27, 2017

On Giving to God What is God’s

Or: being stamped with an Image.

Every now and then you come across someone whose clarity of insight and presentation is truly outstanding, positively gifted. Fr. Lankeit, on “gay marriage,’ is just that sort. You really need to see and hear it.

If you have ever struggled in discussing “gay marriage” with others, this 16 minute analysis will help you. If you have sometimes stumbled in saying what you meant, so that you made something confused that isn’t really confused, or opened yourself for attacks that you didn’t need to do, Fr. Lankeit’s presentation might help avoid that. He is crystal clear, in a simple and easy to follow analysis, which is also well formed and stated in terms of not saying more than what is necessary.

Continue reading "On Giving to God What is God’s" »

October 25, 2017

Josh Ritter at Variety PLayhouse


Last night Josh Ritter and his excellent band came out at Variety Playhouse in east Atlanta and played a hell of a show. My brother and I had a great time.

As a performer, Ritter possesses contagious warmth; from the moment he brought his beaming smile on stage and gave us a few chords, he had us. Stand-up bass and slide guitar, somebody’s kids off stage, plus several songs in barbershop quartet style — one mic and everyone surrounding — overall the concert surpassed in quality and variety. Very well done, Josh.

(All I missed was “Monster Ballads.” But in the end you can’t have everything)

Lyrically, Ritter is about as good as anyone not named Dylan or Cohen or Cash. His latest album, Gathering, with its fine Southern feel, includes a classic in the GFY tradition: “Cry Softly,” a rockabilly number “Oh Lord, Pt. 3” and the magnificent braggadocio tune “Showboat.” He played all three in Atlanta, to vigorous effect.

Highlighting the show, “Homecoming” and “Getting Ready to Get Down,” rocked the place. The latter song features a charming blend of infidelity and joy: seems like what we might call a brilliant PG-13 tune.

Showing proper disdain for the character of our national politics, Ritter declined to make any statement along those lines, though he introduced one song this way, “This is a song about a — [long pause] This is a song.” Hearty laughter. But what suffuses Ritter’s great musical art is a great love of our great country, despite her greatly embarrassing aspects.

It’s become hard to really make money from quality of recorded musical arrangement. Digital businesses have destroyed the ability to ask a small fee on every song purchased and listened to. Creative destruction, I guess. But I’d say it’s worth buying a ticket and seeing your favorite bands live, since it’s from that purchase whence their income arises.

Josh Ritter is one of my favs. The dude puts on a show. My 40 bucks were more than well spent. If he’s coming to your town, I can pretty well guarantee that he and his band will play you a memorable concert. Your money will be well spent.

October 17, 2017

He who pays the piper, next chapter

Back in 2013 I wrote a post called "He Who Pays the Piper," about the dangers of accepting public money in Christian schools and "virtual charter" home schooling.

It might have been around that time (my timeline here is fuzzy) that something new came to my local area: The homeschool/public school partnerships.

First I'll tell you what I thought these were. Then I'll tell you what they really were. I thought that these partnership classes were avowedly, openly public school classes, mostly (at least) taught on public school property, but simply taught at unusual times and "geared" toward home schoolers. I thought that perhaps they removed content that home schoolers would find objectionable and/or chose teachers who were sympathetic to home schooling. But it never occurred to me that they were anything other than openly secular, public school classes.

The coming of "the partnership" to my local area was viewed with suspicion and alarm by many of my home schooling friends. They viewed it as the camel's nose in the tent to get home schoolers to secularize their programs and give up control of their own children's education.

I thought of myself as the voice of moderation, despite my usual rampaging conservatism. Asked, "What do you think of the Partnership?" I would usually say this: "Well, they're public school classes, and the most important thing is that the parents make sure that they are still legally considered to be home schooling their children. This means that they need to be sure that these are enrichment courses rather than core classes. The kids need to be getting more than half of their core education work from their parents. Other than that, parents should just monitor the classes each year to make sure they consider them worthwhile, that the content is appropriate, and that the kids aren't making friends they have a problem with or being influenced by values they disapprove of. If they want to send their kids to take an art class or something at a public school part time, it's their business, but they should keep an eye on it."

Sounds reasonable, right?

Well, I was wrong.

Continue reading "He who pays the piper, next chapter" »

October 15, 2017

Correctio Ad Infinitum

A few weeks ago, 62 scholars released a letter titled “Correctio Filialis”, a filial correction of errors relating to Pope Francis’s Amoris Laetitia (AL). (The initial signatories were 62, it is now over 200). It was a bit of a bombshell in Catholic circles.

Let’s do a quick run-down that led to this:

IN 2014 and 2015, Pope Francis held the Synod on the Family, in 2 parts. He didn’t like the way the first half went, so he revised the approach for the second half a little. He was not satisfied with the approved text statements for Part 2, so he changed the rules on the texts that get published – he included the ones that did not get the required 2/3 vote, but did get a majority. I predicted that any document issued to cap the Synod would be filled with ambiguity. I was right:

In March 2016 Francis published the apostolic exhortation Amoris Laetitia, with its controversial Chapter 8. Much of its controversy has to do with its ambiguity. Although the Pope characterized the point of it as “not changing the rules” on receiving communion, he has approved of follow-up implementations that do, in fact, change the practice of priests and dioceses on how / whether those who are not married with the Church’s blessing (but living like they are married) can receive communion.

In April 2016, Bishop Athanasius Schneider commented on how its ambiguities were already sowing disunity, with some clerics saying that it “opened the doors” to divorced and “remarried” Catholics receiving communion, others denying it.

Continue reading "Correctio Ad Infinitum" »

October 6, 2017

On some examples in Plutarch


In this post I'd like to discuss some examples from Michael Licona's book Why Are There Differences in the Gospels? concerning Plutarch. These examples are supposed to be part of a cumulative case for the widespread existence in ancient putatively historical literature of "compositional devices" that permitted the author invisibly to change various factual matters for literary reasons such as to increase smoothness of presentation or to make a point of some kind. Licona begins with Plutarch and then repeatedly argues that these devices were accepted in the culture of the day and that the identification of the gospels as in a meaningful sense the same genre as Plutarch's Lives permits us to infer that the gospel authors are using these same devices when there are differences among gospel accounts. This argument has many different levels to it, including the inference that the gospel authors would have been as inclined as Plutarch might have been to alter the truth, which is questionable in itself. But I question the inference at every point, and in this post I want to show how dubious the complex hypothesis about socially accepted fictionalizing literary devices is even in Plutarch. Other possibilities are repeatedly being left out, and wooden reading is far too common. I have included one example from Tacitus as well.

Continue reading "On some examples in Plutarch" »

October 3, 2017

Response to Dr. Licona

Readers who follow my personal blog will have learned that there has been quite a back-and-forth between me and Dr. Michael Licona after I reported that Dr. Licona appeared to be speaking up in defense of Dr. Craig A. Evans's comments. Evans agreed with notorious skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman that Jesus never uttered the statements given in John in which Jesus clearly claims to be God. Evans's further idea is that these incidents are "'he is' confessions of the Johannine community" expounding and elaborating on some other teaching by Jesus of the doctrine. Evans also agreed with Ehrman that the historical facts in the gospel of John are "just nuggets," a status Evans contrasted with his own view of the (presumably more historical) synoptics. Dr. Licona has since distanced himself somewhat from Evans's position, while continuing to boost and even expand upon arguments for it and while insisting quite emphatically that "by no means" would it mean that John is historically unreliable even if it were true.

I decided to go ahead and put a lot of material into my most recent response to Licona, now up here, including some specific responses to Licona's theories about specific passages in the New Testament. At first I was going to keep my reply as short as possible, but I gradually changed my mind as I realized that more people may read this reply than other posts I have written on the subject. I plan tonight, if possible, to go ahead and create a "Licona" tag both here at W4 and at Extra Thoughts, and that will make my posts on this debate easier to find. Meanwhile, if interested, settle in and enjoy the current post.

September 25, 2017

Standing at attention for the National Anthem

One reason I stand for the National Anthem consists in this: that in our country, peaceful protest against and symbolic defiance of the Executive is not punishable at law.

The Chief Executive may make an ass of himself, unburdening on us all his idiot musings on patriotism, the flag, and the honor due to the nation; he may even recommend vulgarly that such defiance be treated punitively by those private employers paying these defiers: and yet his views, substantively, mean little. The Chief Executive’s views cannot even effect a private penalty for defiance.

Over the course of most of human history, even symbolic defiance of the authorities, and a fortiori the Chief Executive’s authority, would have been met with 2am arrest and confinement without trial to a rotten dungeon. Or, if you were a great noble, knight, seignior, or grandee, it would have been met with war.

So a reason I stand at attention for our National Anthem, is that Our Lord has blessed me, and so shown kindness to his wayward son, as to permit me to live in such a country. That liberty was not won easily, nor is it preserved easily. President Washington spoke in his Thanksgiving Proclamation of the “signal favors of Almighty God” to America; and among them is the liberty of protest peaceful.

For there is much, all too much, deserving of strenuous protest in our land.

Whether ostentatiously declining to stand at attention for the National Anthem at a football game, amounts to a wise use of that liberty, or a fitting response to that signal favor, is a question I leave aside for the moment.

What I do not leave aside is what I feel is my duty to emphasize as a profound fact, for which most of us, when we think hard on it, have gratitude:

In our country the ill-mannered bluster of the Chief Executive has no real force. The President stated that peaceful protestors during the National Anthem should be fired: and almost no one for even a moment imagined that it would be so. The Rooney family is going to fire Mike Tomlin and Antonio Brown? Arthur Blank is going to fire Julio Jones? Laughable.

[Cleaned up for typos]

September 21, 2017

Flowchart: On alleged literary devices

September 19, 2017

A Couple of Culture War Notes

September 16, 2017

Nabeel Qureshi 1983-2017

September 11, 2017

Hoaxer or historical witness: The Johannine Dilemma

September 6, 2017

New Testament interpretation in the real world

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