What’s Wrong with the World

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June 2019 Archives

June 4, 2019

Philip Zodhiates update

I have ended up (through an indirect process that I can't now reconstruct) signed up for e-mail updates on the status of Philip Zodhiates in prison. Zodhiates is one of our U.S. true prisoners of conscience, as was Kenneth Miller. These men, and Timothy Miller (not related to Kenneth) have all spent time in federal prison for the "crime" of helping Lisa Miller (also not related) to escape with her daughter Isabella from having to turn Isabella over to Lisa's former lesbian lover, Janet Jenkins. I have written extensively about the case over the years. See the tag here. Not all posts have been tagged, but the earlier posts link to yet earlier posts. Lisa and Isabella remain "at large" in Nicaragua. I believe Isabella is now almost sixteen years old. Some conjecture that Lisa may come back and serve prison time when Isabella is eighteen and can no longer be forced to live with Jenkins. I hope that Lisa does not do that, but the idea is that she will do so because she would not want the men who helped her to "do time" while she goes free.

Zodhiates sends updates on how he and his wife are doing to be sent out via e-mail list, but my understanding is that there is no objection to the posting of these updates more widely. The most recent one is particularly informative, in the form of a Q & A, so I thought I would post it here. (Since I'm blogging less these days, I try to post things that readers are unlikely to see elsewhere.)

If you want to sign up for e-mail updates on this case, e-mail info@419fund.com and ask to be added to the e-mail list on Philip Zodhiates.

Philip also posts Scriptural and other musings from prison at a blog here.

The crowdfunding site for the case is here.

Note the mention of the civil case. I don't know why it has been at a standstill for so long, but Philip believes that that aspect of the persecution will start back up again in December.

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June 13, 2019

Missionary syndrome

One hears occasionally about closed-minded people who say that one should never interact with seriously incorrect ideas lest one come to hold those ideas oneself. These warnings sound, on the face of it, hysterical and wrong-headed. How can we possibly counteract bad ideas if we don't understand them and present rational arguments against them?

And of course there is important truth in that reaction to obscurantism. As a philosopher I'm not going to downplay the importance of answering bad ideas. But in reflecting lately I've come to understand better why someone might be concerned about potential ill effects of trying to "go out to" those who hold bad ideas and "reach them."

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June 18, 2019

What if Jesus wants you to die?

On my drives to and fro around town I listen to a fundamentalist Christian radio station broadcast from Pensacola, FL. Long-time readers know that I love Southern Gospel music and hymns. The news at the heads of the hours is pretty objective and, at most, tends to report more on religious liberty trends worldwide. And the extremely conservative talk show I occasionally run into is actually rather interesting, if occasionally weird. (Like there was the time when they spent an entire show explaining that the earth is not flat. Good to know, but...) It certainly doesn't fit the stereotype of conservative talk radio as crude and abusive.

The dramatizations vary. I confess to a liking for Adventures in Odyssey, made by Focus on the Family. Some of the other children's drama shows are more than a bit cloying and mostly serve as a source of (unintentional) entertainment. My imitation of faithful Frisky's water lapping noises when he recovered after nearly dying for the children had my entire family in stitches.

I was listening to one of these latter in the car yesterday. We had gotten to the point where an escaped convict was said (by an announcer on one boy's transistor radio) to be in the vicinity of the boys' campground, the sort of thing that seems to happen all the time in these shows. The protagonist, a boy named Alfie, had recently become a committed Christian. When the others asked him if he was afraid of the possibility that the convict would show up at their camp, he said, "A little." Asked why only a little, he took the opportunity to tell them about his recent decision to ask Jesus into his heart. (I really have no problem with this language of asking Jesus into your heart. I gather some theological sticklers of a Reformed persuasion deplore it because it isn't found in the Bible. But we'd never get anywhere in theology without metaphors and analogies, and we'd get nowhere even faster in describing the phenomenology of religious experience and conscious religious commitment without inexact metaphors, and this particular one has been serviceable to generations of truly good and pious evangelicals whose shoes the young sticklers are probably not worthy to unlatch. So I'm inclined not to knock it. End of digression.)

I was more or less in agreement with Alfie's theology concerning forgiveness of sins and accepting Jesus, but here's the odd part: It had very little to do with the question at issue, which was, "Why are you only a little bit afraid of the escaped convict?"

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June 25, 2019

Choice (almost) devours itself--UK version

If you are on social media and pro-life, you have probably by now heard of the case in the UK in which an 11th-hour appeal has (for now) prevented a forced abortion. The pregnant mother is a mentally disabled African woman of the Nigerian Igbo tribe. Some news reports say that she has the mental capacity of a 6-9-year-old. Her mother cares for her and strenuously opposed the abortion, stating that she (the grandmother of the unborn child) is willing to care for the baby.

Apparently some "do-gooders" from the NHS, upon discovering the pregnancy, went to court for permission to carry out an abortion. Their rationale was that the pregnant woman's mother has her hands full caring for the woman herself and that it was plausible that the baby might be "taken into care" after birth--forcibly removed from the home to be placed into the foster system. The idea was that this would be more psychologically traumatic for the mentally disabled woman than having an abortion now. (She is 22 weeks along.) Hence, they alleged, an abortion was needed for her "psychological health."

Judge Nathalie Lieven agreed, ordering an abortion as in the mother's "best interests." The grandmother of the unborn baby immediately appealed, and a three-judge appeals panel has reversed the decision. Since abortion is legally harder to obtain in the UK after 24 weeks, it seems plausible that the baby's life has been saved.

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June 29, 2019

The Lydia McGrew scale of Not-So-Niceness

We're bedeviled in every area of life by ambiguity. It seems as though everybody from the scholar to the pundit to the guy at the corner deli is unable or unwilling to make distinctions. One area out of innumerable areas where such ambiguity reigns is that of niceness. What does it mean to say that civility is optional, that someone is too nice, or that someone is not nice enough? You'd think that context would make it clear, but sometimes that's just what context doesn't do. When I hear someone saying chest-thumping things like, "We've been civil long enough. Civility is optional. So-and-so [some general] was not a nice guy! We need to stop being nice, because the other side is not nice," I can't help wondering if he means to endorse the vile things that are being done by those who self-identify with his political side and who use the very same rhetoric. Or does he really mean to say that moral failings in a leader such as cruelty, sexual promiscuity, or lack of conscience provide an inherent advantage in effective leadership? Sneering, "Nice guys finish last" is not very informative, and it does not inspire confidence in the good judgement of the speaker.

But on the other hand, when someone accuses (say) me of being mean in scholarly dispute and of personally attacking those I disagree with, I know that this isn't true. Sometimes the person making that complaint is using some conveniently hyper-sensitive definition of meanness and personal attack, engaging in grievance-mongering, and distracting attention from my scholarly arguments. Others have "caught" an unfortunate difficulty in handling straightforward language in analytical debate, so that they think that even saying, "This argument is completely wrong" is in and of itself unkind.

So I propose that we develop a scale of "not-so-niceness" and rank either our advocacy or accusations of not-niceness accordingly so that people know what we are talking about. Some of these categories shade into each other, and my examples are made up more or less off the top of my head, but some (particularly the two ends of the scale) are quite clearly distinct from each other.

Although I present this scale light-heartedly, I do seriously suggest that we shouldn't just go around either recommending or condemning vague categories like not-niceness but should use more specific terms and examples to be clearer.

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