Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Some Inaccurate Negative Stereotypes About Stereotypes

This is a repost of a post over at the Maverick Philosopher:

Some Inaccurate Negative Stereotypes About Stereotypes

• People ascribe a stereotype to everybody in the subject group. "All Germans are efficient." "All English people have bad teeth." In fact, these researchers were not able to locate anybody who believes that a stereotype is true of all members of the stereotyped group. Stereotypes are probabilistic tools, and even the most dull-witted human beings seem to know this. People who believe that Mexicans are lazy or that the French don't wash, understand perfectly well that there are lots of industrious Mexicans and fragrant Frenchmen.
• Stereotypes exaggerate group characteristics. No, they don't. Much more often, the opposite is true. For example, the racial stereotypes that white Americans hold of black Americans are generally accurate; and where they are inaccurate, they always under-estimate a negative characteristic. The percentage of black American families headed by a female, for example, was 21 at the time of one survey (1978): the whites whose stereotypes were being investigated offered estimates of from 8 to 12 per cent. It is not true that stereotypes generally exaggerate group differences. As in this example, they are much more likely to downplay them.
• Stereotypes blind us to individual characteristics. Nope. It is not the case that when we pass from a situation where we have nothing to go on but a stereotype (cab driver being hailed by young black male) to one where a person's individuality comes into play (interviewing a black job applicant), our stereotypes blind us to "individuating traits." On the contrary, researchers have found that the individuating traits are seized on for attention, and stereotypes discarded, with rather more enthusiasm than the accuracy of stereotypes would justify. Teachers' judgments about their students, for example, rest almost entirely on student differences in performance, hardly at all on race, class or gender stereotypes. This is as one would wish, but not as one would expect if the denigrators of stereotyping were to be believed.
• The real function of stereotypes is to bolster our own self-esteem. Wrong again. This is not a factor in most stereotyping. The scientific evidence is that the primary function of stereotypes is what researchers very prettily call "the reality function." That is, stereotypes are useful tools for dealing with the world. Confronted with a snake or a faun, our immediate behavior is determined by generalized beliefs — stereotypes — about snakes and fauns. Stereotypes are, in fact, merely one aspect of the mind's ability to make generalizations, without which science and mathematics, not to mention much of everyday life, would be impossible. Researcher Clark R. McCauley:
Standing next to the bus driver, we are more likely to ask about traffic patterns than about the latest foreign film. On the highway, we try to squeeze into the exit lane in front of the man driving a 10-year-old station wagon rather than trying to pull in on the man driving a new Corvette. Looking for the school janitor, we are more likely to approach a young man in overalls than a young woman in overalls. This kind of discrimination on the basis of group differences can go wrong, but most of us probably feel that we are doing ourselves and others a favor when we respond to whatever cues and regularities our social environment affords us.
Taken verbatim from John Derbyshire, Stereotypes Aren't So Bad

On the Racist Donald Sterling and the "Courage" of Adam Silver

Let's get this out of the way.  Donald Sterling is a racist.  Racism is morally bad.  I'll have more to say about Sterling's racism in a bit. Now on to what got this blog post started...

I was listening to NPR today and heard the following:
In the same breath, NBA commissioner Adam Silver was mentioned with JFK, and Silver's action of banning Don Sterling for life was compared favorably with the actions of LBJ.  Silver's courage is breathtaking. And so on.

Are we living on the same planet? JFK and LBJ comparisons?  Courageous?  Acting courageously is doing what you know is right or good in the face of great fear or peril.  Last I checked at ESPN, 80% of the voters said that they approved of the decision of Silver to ban Sterling for life.  EIGHTY PERCENT (the other 20% either thought it was too harsh or not harsh enough).  Last I checked, 95% of media pundits were calling for Sterling's head.  Call it what you want, but there is absolutely no evidence that Silver had to summon up an ounce of courage to ban Sterling for life.  We have little evidence that his action was anything more than a shrewd business decision, people.  He gave everybody what they wanted.  Not giving everyone what they want is more risky than facing a lawsuit from an old racist, pariah. But to compare Silver's action with some of the truly courageous actions of  the civil rights era is to make a mockery of courage as well as some of the courageous actions in the civil rights era.

I've also heard Don Sterling mentioned in the same breath with slave owners (and bizarrely on NPR with truck drivers (!?) until the person "of tolerance" realized she was stereotyping truck drivers and sports owners.  Ah, liberals and stereotyping, but I digress...).  There is some validity to the comparison with slave owners (which I'll get to in a moment), but let's catch our collective breaths for a second and think (THINK) about the extent to which the comparison holds.  Under what conditions are we imagining slaves in the U.S. to have suffered? If employing people to play a GAME voluntarily for millions of dollars is akin to being a slave owner, well then SIGN ME UP TO BE A SLAVE!!  

And am I the ONLY PERSON IN THE WORLD who finds this statement ironic (from ESPN):
Sterling's $2.5 million fine will be donated to organizations dedicated to anti-discrimination and tolerance efforts that will be jointly selected by the NBA and the players' association, Silver said.
So, ummm, banning someone FOR LIFE isn't, say, a bit intolerant?  Would a church that banned a sinner from coming to church FOR LIFE because of a sin be, say, a bit intolerant?  

Look, I have little sympathy for Don Sterling.  The only sympathy I have is because Sterling is a human being like Magic Johnson and the rest of us and needs redemption.  And I have no problem with the NBA taking whatever business actions it likes towards the guy and condemning racist remarks.  But please don't promote this vague "virtue" of tolerance while at the same time expressing intolerance.  Don't be a sanctimonious hypocrite!  Tolerance is NOT intrinsically good.  Some things shouldn't be tolerated.  Whether expressing racist beliefs in one's house should be tolerated and in what circumstances is an open question.  

Finally, let's get to the heart of the issue with Don Sterling.  I listened to the entire 9 minutes of audio tape that TMZ released as well as the additional 5 minutes or so from Deadspin, and Sterling is definitely not someone I would want for an uncle!  There are the offensive racist remarks which everyone has talked about. And let's not forget that he is dating someone about 1/3 his age and we all know why (of course nobody is talking about that.  Our society condemns racist remarks in the bedroom but you can have whatever sex you want as long as it's consensual).  But from what I've seen no one mentions what he says to his girlfriend here (after some racist remarks in reply to his girlfriend asking him to change): "I don't want to change.  If my girl can't do what I want, I don't want the girl.  I'll find a girl that will do what I want. Believe me."

This is a miserable man who is (a) not averse to USING people as mere means and (b) racist "in his heart" (as his girlfriend correctly says at one point).  That is how he is most like a slave owner. Apparently, if we can take the news stories as true that the NAACP was about to honor this man, then plenty of his overt actions have not been racist actions.  But his willingness to treat people as mere means combined with his deep dislike of associating with black people is evidence of a corrupt soul

(Note to people who love throwing around terms like "hatred" and "racist" at the drop of a hat without defining them even if such labels might destroy another's life:  Racism comes in degrees. How racist is Sterling?  Well, he's racist enough, but how racist?  He said in the tape to his girlfriend that he is not racist.  He says at one point that he doesn't hate minorities.  Apparently he  has hired plenty of black coaches and staff members in comparison with other owners.  He seems really worried about what racist friends/family will think of him.  He thinks black Jews are less valuable than white Jews.  His girlfriend didn't indicate that she thought he hated blacks or minorities.  At one point his girlfriend said that she wasn't saying he is racist.  At other points she indicates she does think he is racist or has a racist heart and that he comes from a racist background.  So it's hard to know the extent of his racism.  It's hard to know the extent to which his racist heart leads him to racist actions.  There's little to no evidence on the tapes that he hates blacks or wants them destroyed.  There is plenty of evidence that he doesn't like to be associated with blacks or other minorities and thinks of them as in some way inferior).

Whether (and the extent to which) we should be tolerant of or punish people for their morally corrupt beliefsdesires, willingnesses, and statements apart from their other actions is something worth thinking about.  My inclination is that we should be much less inclined to punish the former than the latter since the former are less under our voluntary control.  To misquote a saying or two, "Stupid does as stupid is, and it's hard to fix stupid."

Monday, April 28, 2014

Brian Leiter's Stupid Remarks on Nazis and the NRA

I really am not trying to turn this blog into a single issue site, but I just keep coming across idiotic statements which have to do with guns (and one of the tasks of philosophy is to point out such idiocy, so people won't embarrass themselves in the future).

This from Brian Leiter, who hosts the leading philosophy gossip website on the internet:

It's a good public relations gimmick, and hopefully effective, but the reality is that it is civilization vs. the NRA, adults vs. the NRA, everyone who isn't a Nazi or sociopath vs. the NRA, etc.  Readers outside the U.S., I know, find this all mystifying (how can a fringe group representing about 1.5% of the US population hold the rest of the country hostage to insanely irresponsible rules regulating guns?) and let me add it is mystifying to those of us in the United States.

Nazis or sociopaths?  Really?  My bet is that Leiter has lived in a liberal bubble for most of his life and has never had a conservative friend.  What better explanation is there for this lunatic remark?  Does he even know any conservatives in his ivory tower?  Man, this guy is thick! (How can someone who does expository history of philosophy so well be so out of touch with reality?)

Leiter asks, how can a "fringe group representing about 1.5% of the U.S. population hold the rest of the country hostage?"  Well, I shall explain:

 The NRA (that 1.5%) is made up of roughly 4 MILLION members.  1.5% of 319,000,000 = 4,785,000, so 4 MILLION is actually being conservatively low.   Of COURSE it has power, but that's because it's backed by 4 MILLLLLLLLION members.  1.5% looks like a small chunk, but what other organizations are THAT BIG??  That's at least as many members as the National [Left-Wing] Education Association!  And many NEA members are practically FORCED by the union into membership, whereas the NRA is strictly voluntary.

And that doesn't even include the 40-50% of American households THAT HAVE GUNS!  I'm not an NRA member.  I never have been.  (I do know plenty, and none, I promise, is a Nazi or sociopath).  But I darn sure support the NRA over the two biggest supporters of Democrats, trial lawyers and the NEA.  That "fringe group" made up of 4 million members represents a whole lot more people than 4 million.  Leiter would do himself well to take some time off from reading Nietzsche and do a bit of metaphysics and logic.  A group can represent more than its constituent members.

This is simple logic and simple math.  It shouldn't be that hard.  You can't "Big Tobacco-Big Corporate-Big Sugar-Big Fat-Big Soda" the NRA.  It's big all right--big with a small "b". But that's because of all the little members--little members who the communist Leiter would LOVE to render defenseless.  (If you don't know much about Leiter--like many liberal "elites"--he would take great joy in seeing the country that has afforded him his ridiculous salary in his ivory tower destroyed.)

Friday, April 25, 2014

"Assault Weapons" and New York's Idiotic SAFE Act

In keeping with this blog's recent unrepentant, "right-wing-crazy," defense of a right to reasonable self-defense, I point the gentle reader to this hilarious takedown of a letter to the editor in the NY Times written by Leah Gunn Barrett, Executive Director of New Yorkers Against Gun Violence.  Her letter is about the NY SAFE (sic) Act banning citizen defense weapons (which sometimes go by the made up liberal term, "Assault Weapons.")  The takedown is written by the pseudonymous "'Puter" who is presumably reluctant to make himself known to the Thought Police.

Anytime I hear a liberal start talking about guns I prepare myself for what is likely going to be a lecture from someone who doesn't know anything about guns, except that they are scary, and who thinks deep down (or, better, feels deep down) that they should only be in the possession of trained professionals (i.e., the government).  Ms. Gunn Barrett's letter is no exception to this expectation.

If you don't think this footnote is hilarious, or if it offends your delicate PC sensibilities, please DO NOT click on the link above:

  ** Or is it simply Ms. Barrett? Or Ms. Gunn? ‘Puter never knows with these hairy-legged, anti-choice, bigoted city dwellers. Take your husband’s name, keep your own name, ‘Puter doesn’t care. But in the name of sanity, pick one name. What’s going to happen when your only child Wilberforce Gunn Barrett marries Lesbiana Barrett Browning? Are the wedding announcements going to read “Join us in a zero carbon footprint, Gaia-centered joining ceremony for the future Barrett Browning Gunn Barrett ( or is it the Gunn Barrett Barrett Brownings)”? 

The Quest for Certainty

I've been reading Steven Nadler's book on Descartes, The Philosopher, the Priest, and the Painter, and came across this interesting anecdote (which Nadler couldn't confirm as entirely historical):

"When one of Descartes's friends noticed his reticence and asked him why he did not join the others in praising the lecturer, he replied that while he appreciated Chandoux's attack on Scholastic philosophy, he was not pleased by his willingness to settle for mere probability in the question for knowledge.  He added that when it was a matter of people easygoing enough to be satisfied with probabilities, as was the case with the illustrious company before which he had the honor to speak, it was not difficult to pass off the false for the true, and in turn to make the true pass for the false in favor of appearances.  To prove this on the spot, he asked for someone in the assembled group to take the trouble to propose whatever truth he wanted, one among those that appear to be the most incontestable.  Someone did so, and then, with a dozen arguments each more probable than the other, [Descartes] finally came to prove to the company that the proposition was false.  He then proposed a falsehood of the sort that is ordinarily taken to be most evidently false, and by means of another dozen probable arguments, he brought his hearers to the point of taking this falsehood for a plausible truth.  The assembly was surprised by the force and extent of the genius that M. Descartes exhibited in his reasoning, but was even more astonished to be so clearly convinced of how easily their minds could be duped by probability" (pp. 92-93).

This reminded me a of a recent post by the Maverick Philosopher:

A Meditation on Certainty on Husserl's Birthday
Edmund Husserl was born on this date in 1859.
In his magisterial Augustine of Hippo, Peter Brown writes of Augustine, "He wanted complete certainty on ultimate questions." (1st ed., p. 88) If you don't thrill to that line, you are no philosopher. Compare Edmund Husserl: "Ohne Gewissheit kann ich eben nicht leben." "I just can't live without certainty." Yet he managed to live for years after penning that line into his diary, and presumably without certainty.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Michigan Civil Rights Initiative and the Supreme Court

Which amendment would you prefer regarding institutions funded by tax dollars:

1. Any public college or university, community college, or school district SHALL NOT discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.
2. Any public college or university, community college, or school district CAN discriminate against, or grant preferential treatment to, any individual or group on the basis of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in the operation of public employment, public education, or public contracting.

Hopefully you chose the first, if so, then you chose the Michigan amendment that the Supreme Court just upheld in a 6-2 vote as not violating the Constitution.  Sotomayor and Ginsburg were the only two opposed to civil rights and apparently the only two who can't read the Constitution.  Justice Breyer, in a rare fit of common sense, was able to see the light of day.

Among other things, it's a victory for black self-esteem.  At least in Michigan, when blacks graduate from college they'll know that liberals won't be able to pat themselves on the back and take the credit for it.

Run, Rancher, Run, the Federals'll get you says that rancher Cliven Bundy has been stealing from taxpayers.  That is a liberal way to spin not paying the government grazing penalties (or taxes?  It's all so confusing...) on land that was once used for grazing but in 1989 was designated to be used exclusively by a desert tortoise.  Tortoises allowed now, not ranchers or cattle.

Bundy is in clear violation of a federal regulation.  That's indisputable.  What is disputable is on what authority the federal government can mandate that land once used by generations of family for grazing can no longer be used for grazing.  Also at issue are states' rights.  The Federal government certainly has the might, but does it have the right potestas?

Let's go ahead and concede for argument's sake that Bundy should have to pay certain fees for his cattle's past grazing and that the federal regulation was not unjust.  And let's admit that Bundy is no hero or saint behind which one should start a movement.  This is not a case that conservatives or libertarians should want to build an argument around.  Let's further remind ourselves (and the Courts!) that we're to have a government of laws and not of men.  Nonetheless, for conservatives and libertarians, the Cliven Bundy situation is a reminder of what taxes and government fees ultimately are equivalent to: FORCED labor.  You pay or you'll PAY.  For it is the government who holds the monopoly on military force.  You don't pay taxes, they take taxes--by gunpoint if "necessary."  That is why libertarians demand a strong justification for the purposes of taxation.

Well, the government almost has a monopoly on military force. The Bundy situation is also a reminder that an armed citizenry can make the government think twice about using its own superior military might to take what it wants when it wants.  Does anyone really think that if U.S. citizens were unarmed that the Fed wouldn't have had its way and taken all that it wanted?  If U.S. citizens were unarmed, would the U.S. government actually have to think seriously about whether to enforce its policies and at what cost?

 Besides the advantage of being armed, which the Americans possess over the people of almost every other nation, the existence of subordinate governments, to which the people are attached, and by which the militia officers are appointed, forms a barrier against the enterprises of ambition, more insurmountable than any which a simple government of any form can admit of. Notwithstanding the military establishments in the several kingdoms of Europe, which are carried as far as the public resources will bear, the governments are afraid to trust the people with arms. And it is not certain, that with this aid alone they would not be able to shake off their yokes.  -James Madison, The Federalist Papers #46. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Just War Theory in Sprinkle's Book "Fight"

This is the penultimate post in my series on Preston Sprinkle's book, Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence.  I plan to have one more post with links to all the previous ones.

Since I've already expressed my objections to what I take to be the core, Christian pacifist arguments of the book, much of what I've said before will apply to the appendix on Just War Theory--the theory which holds that some wars are just and traditionally lays out seven criteria, all of which should be upheld for a warring party to be on the whole just.  Theorists disagree about the precise criteria, but Sprinkle's list is a fair enough representation: (1) Just Cause, (2) Right Authority, (3) Right Intention, (4) Reasonable Chance of Success, (5) Last Resort, (6) Proportionate Means, and (7) Noncombatant Immunity.  Consistent with the rest of the book, Sprinkle thinks Christians should not fight in wars.  Since I don't think his case in previous chapters for total nonviolence for Christians is convincing, I remain resolved in my belief that there is merit in the traditional Just War Theory (which is really a family of theories). Nonetheless, I will take up a few passages from this section and reply to them for good measure:

On "Being True to Yourself"

Another sagacious strip:

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Christ's Horrific Death

Reposted from Steven Nemes' "the crucified God"

Christ's horrific death on Good Friday

J├╝rgen Moltmann's The Crucified God is one of the most personally influential books I have ever read. It helped me to appreciate and to understand the theological as well as socio-ethical importance of the utter godlessness of Christ's death on the cross. It inspired the title and tagline of this blog: a blog about the Son of God, abandoned by God.
Moltmann does a good job of noting the disturbing quality of Christ's death compared to the martyrs of history:

Socrates died as a wise man. Cheerfully and calmly he drank the cup of hemlock. This was a demonstration of magnanimity, and was also a testimony to the immortality of the soul, which Plato tells us he taught. For him, death was a breakthrough to a higher, purer life. Thus his farewell was not difficult. . . .

The Zealot martyrs who were crucified after the unsuccessful revolts against the Romans died conscious of their righteousness in the sight of God, and looked forward to their resurrection to eternal life just as they looked forward to the resurrection of their lawless enemies, and of the transgressors of the law who had betrayed them, to eternal shame. . . .

The wise men of the Stoics demonstrated to the tyrants in the arena, where they were torn to pieces by wild animals, their inner liberty and their superiority. 'Without fear and without hope,' as we are told, they endured in freedom and demonstrated to their fearful overlords and horrified crowds their complete lack of terror even at their own death.

The Christian martyrs too went calmly and in faith to their death. Conscious of being crucified with Christ and receiving the baptism of blood, and of thereby being united for ever with Christ, they went to their death in 'hope against hope.' . . . 

Jesus clearly died in a different way. His death was not a 'fine death'. The synoptic gospels agree that he was 'greatly distressed and troubled' (Mark 14.33 par.) and that his soul was sorrowful even to death. He died 'with loud cries and tears', according to the Epistle to the Hebrews (5.7). According to mark 15.37 he died with a loud, incoherent cry. . . . Jesus clearly died with every expression of the most profound horror (The Crucified God, pp. 145-6).
Jesus' death was horrific because there he experienced utter abandonment by God. This is a crucial element of Christ'sincarnation, because insofar as God becomes human he takes upon himself the accursed condition to which humanity had been condemned. But through his incarnation, through taking upon himself the burden of humanity's sin, through becoming sin himself (cf. Rom 8.3; 2 Cor 5.21), he offers himself to undergo that to which humanity had been condemned so that humanity might live instead. Through his incarnation, he confronts the curse of sin and death and utterly destroys it, even as he succumbs to it in death on Friday.

When God becomes man in Jesus of Nazareth, he not only enters into the finite of man, but in his death on the cross also enters into the situation of man's godforsakenness. In Jesus he does not die the natural death of a finite being, but the violent death of the criminal on the cross, the death of complete abandonment by God. The suffering in the passion of Jesus is abandonment, rejection by God, his Father. God does not become a religion, so that man participates in him by corresponding religious thoughts and feelings. God does not become a law, so that man participates in him through obedience to a law. God does not become an ideal, so that man achieves community with him through constant striving. He humbles himself and takes upon himself the eternal death of the godless and the godforsaken, so that all the godless and the godforsaken can experience communion with him (p. 276).

Christ's death is horrific because this is what being in the world apart from God amounts to. It is too easy to think of ourselves as "not that bad, really," as if human persons are fundamentally alright at the end of the day, because we don't regularly commit horrific acts of violence and terror. But the cross of Christ shows us that even those whom we would consider most godly -- the Pharisees and the temple authorities, in the case of 1C Palestine -- are capable of committing deicide if their toes are stepped on.

More than that, Christ's death shows us to what end humanity ought to be abandoned in light of its sin. Sin is a deeply rooted perverting force in human nature, and if we went on living forever as we are now, there is no telling what calamity might befall the creation. This is why sin must be destroyed: otherwise it will destroy everything else.

But God, the good creator of all there is, will not allow that his creation be destroyed along with the destruction of sin. As Athanasius says, it is beneath God's goodness that he allow the works of his hands to be undone, whether by its own fault or through the deceit of another. His way is one of repair and not just destruction. Therefore he incarnates, takes upon himself the curse and death and abandonment to which humanity had been condemned, and exhausts it and totally consumes it. But he also sanctifies human nature in his own person, he restores the imago dei which had been marred and lost by sin, and offers himself to all; through union with him, we too are transformed, the image restored, and we begin to exhibit and exemplify that life for which all humanity had been created -- a life in fellowship with the Holy Trinity.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Remembering Shelby Seabaugh

Yesterday I got to meet Shelby Seabaugh's daddy for the first time and talked with him briefly over lunch about the death (and life) of his daughter.  I had Shelby in several classes, and she was always, always a joy to be around.  It made me happier when she was in class. Even though she tended to be very quiet, I could see inquisitiveness, comprehension, understanding, and delight in her eyes (and I think--I hope--I saw even a touch of the agreeable sort of orneriness I see in my own kids).  I will remember Shelby primarily as one of the only students (if not the only student) who could miss a substantial number of classes, still get an A, and somehow write one of the best essays on a test.  I remember being astounded the first time I had her in class.  For whatever reason, she was absent for quite a long stretch during the semester (which is fine, since I don't force attendance; if you can do the work independently, good for you!)  I remember wondering if something had happened to her.  Was she still in school?  Was she still emphasizing in philosophy?  She turns in her final paper and aces it cold.  I don't recall seeing anything like it.  Among her many gifts was a talent for writing.  I looked forward to getting to know her more.  I look forward to seeing her again.  

After talking with Shelby's father, it brought to mind this passage from the book, Lament for a Son, by the philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff, where he reflects on the tragic death of his 25-year-old son, Eric:

It was late at night when I returned home, but I assembled the family.  I remember only what I said first and last.  "Our Eric is gone," I said.  And at the end, that we now must learn to live as faithfully and authentically with Eric gone as we had tried to do with Eric present.
How do we do that?  And what does it mean?  It will take a long time to learn.
It means not forgetting him.  It means speaking of him.  It means remembering him.  Remembering: one of the profoundest features of the Christian and Jewish way of being-in-the-world and being-in-history is remembering.  "Remember," "do not forget," "do this as a remembrance."  We are to hold the past in remembrance and not let it slide away.  For in history we find God.
If Eric's life was a gift, surely then we are to hold it in remembrance--to resist amnesia, to renounce oblivion.
All around us are his things: his clothes, his books, his camera, the things he made--pots, drawings, slides, photos, notes, papers.  They speak with forked tongue, words of joyful pride and words of sorrow.  Do we put them all behind doors to muffle the sorrow or leave them out to hear them tell of the hands that shaped them (p. 28)? 
We shall leave them out.  We will not store the pots, not turn the photos.  We will put them where they confront us.  This as a remembrance, as a memorial (p. 29). 

John MacArthur and Madison N. Pierce on John 3:13

Here's an addendum to the recent post on knowledge of heaven.  I just came across a former OBU student's own post about a recent article she coauthored on John 3:13 here.  I haven't read the article, but the claim is that John 3:13 shouldn't be read as indicating (the unorthodox proposition) that Jesus (bodily) ascended and descended before a second ascension.  Rather,
"We think that Jesus was making a more universal statement about who would have the same knowledge as he (no one)."

I wondered about that myself, since the parallel with Proverbs 30 is striking and that seems to be (roughly) its main point as well.  I haven't looked into this at all, but I wouldn't be surprised if Jesus were making an oblique reference to that chapter, and thereby making an allusion to his divinity and divine knowledge.

Surely I am more stupid than any man,
And I do not have the understanding of a man.
Neither have I learned wisdom,
Nor do I have the knowledge of the Holy One.
Who has ascended into heaven and descended?
Who has gathered the wind in His fists?
Who has wrapped the waters in [b]His garment?
Who has established all the ends of the earth?
What is His name or His son’s name?
Surely you know!

If these are rhetorical questions, the answer is obviously God.  But perhaps it's better to see the point as, even if we're morons like the author and don't know the answers, God surely KNOWS.  At any rate, it's a major interpretive stretch to take this passage as indicating that no one other than God has ascended in any way to heaven.  And if John 3:13 is also making a claim about Jesus's knowledge, we'd need some independent reason to think that he's also making a point about where people go or don't go after death until the general (bodily) resurrection of the dead.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

On Independent Thinking

Reposted from the Maverick Philosopher

Properly enacted, independent thinking is not in the service of self-will or subjective opining, but in the service of submission to a higher authority, truth itself.  We think for ourselves in order to find a truth that is not from ourselves, but from reality. The idea is to become dependent on reality, rather than on institutional and social distortions of reality. Independence subserves a higher dependence.
It is worth noting that thinking for oneself is no guarantee that one will arrive at truth. Far from it.  The maverick's trail may issue in a dead end.  Or it may not.  The world is littered with conflicting opinions generated from the febrile heads of people with too much trust in their own powers. But neither is submission to an institution's authority any assurance of safe passage to the harbor of truth. Both the one who questions authority and the one who submits to it can end up on a reef. 'Think for yourself' and 'Submit to authority' are both onesided pieces of advice.
And you thought things were easy?

David Platt and John MacArthur on Heaven and Near Death Experiences

A brief word about the arguments put forward here:
and here:

Platte and MacArthur (hereafter P&M) REALLY don't like all the books on near death experiences (NDE's) wherein people recount their alleged trips to heaven or hell.  I'm not a big fan either, but mostly for reasons other than theirs.  I'm skeptical primarily because some of the longer accounts I've encountered have internal inconsistencies (i.e., the story asserts one thing that is later implicitly or explicitly denied in the story) as well as external inconsistencies (e.g., with other NDE stories, with Christian doctrine, and so forth).   P&M, though, seem to think that there is something wrong (heretical?) in principle with claiming to know anything extra-Biblical about heaven (or hell).

For instance, M says this:
The New Testament adds much to our understanding of heaven (and hell), but we are still not permitted to add our own subjective ideas and experience-based conclusions to what God has specifically revealed through His inerrant Word. Indeed, we are forbidden in all spiritual matters to go beyond what is written (1 Corinthians 4:6).

What does it mean to "go beyond what is written"?  What does it mean to be "not permitted to add our own subjective ideas and experience-based conclusions to what God has specifically revealed?"  It's not perfectly clear what exactly M means by those words, but what is clear from the context is that M thinks there is something wrong with the NDE books in principle.  You just shouldn't claim to know extra-Biblical stuff like these people are claiming.

But what is wrong with the following:  I believe (and believe I have excellent reason to believe) that God has performed miracles in my life and others that I know.  But, let's be honest, I'm not exactly in the Bible!!  Nor is there anything in the Bible that guarantees that such and such miracle today was caused by God.  There is some scriptural evidence (e.g. there's reason to believe from Scripture that God is in the business of healing), but I can't simply look in the Bible to see if God healed this person I know.  Yet there's nothing wrong with believing that God did such a thing. So why think that if I wrote a book about my life and included miracles by God that I'm somehow violating a Scriptural mandate?  I see no good reason to think this way.  But then why think reporting something about heaven is off limits?  If God heals my son, then it's true that God in heaven healed my son.  If I know God healed my son, then I know something true about heaven, namely, that God in heaven healed my son.

Let us also note that none of these books are thought to BE SCRIPTURE (which would be heretical) or to contain propositions which the authors advocate should BECOME CHRISTIAN DOCTRINE.  There's no adding to doctrine or scripture being advocated in these books. The authors are reporting additional things they (purportedly) take to be true about heaven (which, nonetheless, we might have good reason to be skeptical about).  Perhaps some of these authors have illicit reasons for saying what they do (e.g., perhaps some are in it for the money), but perhaps some genuinely believe their experiences were veridical and think that these stories will help bolster the faith of others.  I get the impression that P&M think the only legitimate mode of theologizing is to open up a Bible (King James only?) and simply read it out loud.

Another reason P&M think there is something wrong with these books is because they think there's good evidence that no one has been to heaven except for Jesus.  For instance, M cites the following (P adds Proverbs 30:4 which is similar):
John 3:13 says, “No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.” And John 1:18 says, “No one has seen God at any time.

I don't know exactly what to make of John 3:13, but Jesus can't be saying that he's already ascended into heaven, which a straightforward reading of the verse suggests.  So our interpretation can't be that straightforward. Still, suppose this passage rules out all bodily ascensions (adding curiosity about where the bodies of Elijah and Enoch went).  That's still not inconsistent with someone's soul being in heaven until the resurrection of the body (e.g., the one thief on the cross).  So if ascension can mean bodily ascension, then John 3 and 1 aren't obviously inconsistent with some assertions in these popular books.  But even if the souls of people aren't in heaven, it's still an open question whether they had visions of being in heaven without being materially or immaterially present.  I don't know what would rule that out in principle.

Much more needs to be said, but the matter is complicated.  It's more complicated than P&M let on.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Scientology and Apologetics

I just finished Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief on the history of and controversies surrounding Scientology.  Not a single dull page in the entire book.  Before reading the book, I had heard very little about the "religion," other than that Tom Cruise, Kirstie Alley, and John Travolta were Scientologists.  The organization did send me a huge box full of L. Ron Hubbard's books a few years ago out of the blue, but I never read any of them.  Having finished this book I now kind of regret selling so many of them for a pittance on Amazon.  Knowing what I now know about Hubbard, the set would've at least made for a cool decoration in the office or conversation piece!
So what did I learn?  I used to think that Scientology was a silly, fake religion that was pretty harmless.  I now think that Scientology is a scary cult straight out of the pit of hell. L. Ron Hubbard is a complex and fascinating character, to say the least.  Intelligent?  My impression is that he was certainly imaginative and clever but neither a philosopher nor sage.  Deeply twisted and evil?  Yes!  (His connection to Aleister Crowley is hair-raising).  What a liar!  He seems, though, like he came to believe his own lies and fictions, which perhaps isn't surprising since he did start a new religion and was viewed as more than human.  (Whether it is a religion is controversial, but so is what counts as a religion).

Here is something else I found interesting, though, after listening to an interview of the successor to Hubbard, David Miscavige, in his only TV interview ever which he granted to Nightline's, Ted Koppel.  When both Miscavige and Hubbard are asked to "sell" Scientology--when they are asked to give their apologetic case for Scientology--they present it like many Christians present their case for Christianity:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Jesus's Example and The Attacker-at-the-Door in Sprinkle's Book "Fight"

This is the sixth post on Sprinkle's book Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence.  Since I've already dealt systematically with what I take to be the major issues of the book, I now begin to finish off this series by turning to a few miscellaneous passages that have been overlooked thus far.

#1: Violence and Jesus's Example

Luther Insult Generator

Say what you will about his theology, but Luther could assert aspersions with the best of them.  So if you're looking for a hearty insult to hurl at a heretic, henceforth look no further than here:

My favorites thus far (which probably should be committed to memory):

#3 I must stop: I can no longer rummage in your blasphemous, hellish devil's filth and stench.

#2 A seven-year-old child, indeed, a silly fool, can figure it out on his fingers - although you, stupid ass, cannot understand anything.

#1 If you are furious, you can do something in your pants and hang it around your necks - that would be a musk apple and pacem for such gentle saints.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Computer Generated Voicemail Saying #1

This is my first post on voicemail turned into text by a computer.  I have recently been struck by the enigmatic and--dare I say--prophetic qualities of the texts I receive from a computer translating the audible voice into the risible visible.  I'm not sure what to make of this, but it's at least as profound as it is disgusting (i.e., it's my kind of aphorism!)

 Everybody's got messes in-the-showcase because we're all human supper.
--- Brought to you by Vonage --- 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

The Oxford Comma

I'm for clarity, consistency, and the Oxford comma.

Commentary on Bart Ehrman's NPR Interview

Bart Ehrman was interviewed Monday (April 7th, 2014) by Terry Gross on National Public Radio's, "Fresh Air" (a more apt name for the show would be "Hot Air," since that's about the only kind of air that comes out of the mouth of Terry Gross and her typical guests.  Tax dollars hard at work.  But I digress...)  The interview was about his book "How Jesus Became God."  Since there's just way too much to respond to in that interview, I'm going to restrict myself to commenting on the following about historical scholarship, because I think this is a good illustration of Ehrman's own biases:

GROSS: When you're asking the question of did Jesus really rise from the dead, was there really an empty tomb, a tomb that he had been buried in, as a scholar of the historical Jesus, where do you go to try to answer those questions?

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Ecclesiastes 10:2

The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left.

Friday, April 4, 2014

My 8-Year-Old Daughter Swears

...that she will not eat the cookie dough.

James Borland

Or is it James Brown?  Clearly he has his father's moves.  "LOOK, MOM, MY LEGS ARE DANCING!!"

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Satanic Starbucks

I'll start by saying that I have no dog in this fight: if someone buys me something from Starbucks I'll happily drink it, but I will not pay 5 dollars for a glorified coffee OUT OF PRINCIPLE, nor will I buy WATER when I can get it FOR FREE....and neither should you!!  I'll tip a waitress, but you're not getting an extra dime for handing me something through a window.  Having gotten that out of the way, this is either disturbing or funny or both:

To me, what's just as disturbing as the "artwork" she received, is what Megan Pinion (the "victim", if we can call her that) says in response:

“I unfortunately can’t give the young man’s name who served [the Drinks Diaboli], because I was so appalled that I could not bring myself to look at him,” Pinion wrote in her post. “I am in no way judging his beliefs or dis-meriting his beautiful artwork, I am however judging his lack of professionalism and respect for others.”

So we've gotten to the point in America where we're more afraid of offending lefty, PC sensibilities than we are bold in judging Satanists!?!  If you can't judge the beliefs of Satanism, what can you judge?!?

"I don't mean to judge your, umm, WORSHIPING THE DEVIL, sir, or your artwork (lovely as it is--really nice job on the three sixes), but it's not very professional of you to draw on my food, you naughty, naughty boy."

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sprinkle's Book "Fight" and CHRISTIAN Pacifism

This is the fifth post on Sprinkle's book, Fight: A Christian Case for Nonviolence.

An alternative title which would have been just as fitting is Fight: A Case for Nonviolent Christians.  For Sprinkle's pacifism condemns violence for Christians, but he leaves open the possibility that certain acts of violence may be permissible for non-Christians.  Here are a few quotations to make good on that last claim:

"So far, I've argued that killing is wrong and therefore killing the attacker is wrong.  In other words, killing is a moral absolute: Christians should never do it" (p. 222).
"The big question, of course, is whether a Christian can use violence as a police officer.  No, I don't think he or she can" (p. 248).
 Now, some interpreters say that Jesus's Sermon doesn't apply to governments, only to individuals.  There is certainly some truth to this.  After all, Jesus doesn't preach His Sermon to the Roman Empire or the American government.  However, the Sermon does apply to all citizens of God's kingdom, and it should saturate all areas of life. It would make no sense to say that the Sermon on the Mount is fine for individual Christians--even better for the church--but that it doesn't apply to Christians in the government" (p. 140).
"Romans 13 does not speak of Rome's warfare policy against foreign nations, but of its police and judicial action toward its own citizens.  Paul's phrase "bear the sword" (v. 4) refers to police action within a government's jurisdiction, not warfare outside its territory (p. 167)...Paul says that God's wrath and vengeance are carried out through Rome, and he has just commanded the church not to carry out such wrath and vengeance.  Vengeance is God's business, not ours.  We don't need to avenge evil, because God will.  And one way that God will is through governing authorities" (p. 170).
"In Genesis 9:5, God seems to allow the death penalty for murder" (p. 42).
"While God allowed Israel to participate in some wars, He never allowed His people to revel in the carnage the way their neighbors did" (p. 68).

Now, I don't want to give the impression that Sprinkle has a settled view with respect to the morality of non-Christians killing (or committing acts of violence more generally).  He is pretty coy about this issue, and this is one of the places where I wish he would've been clearer and would've said whether he thinks some non-Christian violence is permissible, impermissible, or that he's agnostic about the matter.  At any rate, what is pretty clear is that he thinks that Christians are called to forego all violence even if, perhaps, non-Christians are not.

Why, though, should we think that such an important moral demand is not universal?  Child sacrifice, stealing what one doesn't need to survive, adultery, murder, and so forth are all universally impermissible--no one should commit such acts.  Why think that violence isn't permissible for Christians but might be permissible for non-Christians?