Thursday, April 30, 2015

(Friendly to Religion) Atheist KBJ on Denying Dignity in Denying Same-Sex Marriage

Keith Burgess-Jackson:

From Today's New York Times

To the Editor:
In June 2013, a reporter from The New York Times interviewed my partner and me. He asked me how I felt after both the United States v. Windsor decision, invalidating the Defense of Marriage Act, and the overturning of Proposition 8. I responded, “Today is the first day I feel like a real citizen in my country.” The Times made it the Quotation of the Day and included a photo of both my partner, who is now my wife, and me in an article about West Coast same-sex couples.
After hearing the arguments before the Supreme Court, I would like to rescind that quote. Several justices reinforced the notion that I am not a full citizen. Of course, they have all the power. I just have my life, which I try to live with dignity, love and understanding.
Los Angeles
Note from KBJ: It's sad that this woman's feeling of dignity depends on approval, by the state, of her relationship. What low self-esteem she has! Also, it's absurd to think that, unless she is allowed to marry someone of the same sex, she is being denied the status of "full citizen." Is a pedophile not a full citizen because he or she can't marry a child? Are polygamists not full citizens because they are not allowed to marry one another? I have yet to see, after all this time, a convincing argument (or even a plausible argument) in favor of homosexual "marriage." What I see are tendentious claims, question-begging arguments, abusive epithets ("homophobe"! "bigot"!) and uses of manipulative rhetoric (such as the term "marriage equality"). Everybody has the same legal right: to marry someone of the opposite sex. Nobody has a right, legally or morally, to participate in an institution that was not designed for him or her.

TB: I would add that in the Supreme Courts' oral arguments, the argument was raised about dignity by those arguing in favor of a Constitutional right to same-sex "marriage."

Perhaps I'll have more to say about this article tomorrow if I get the chance.

Highlights From the Oral Arguments Over Same-Sex "Marriage"

Ryan T. Anderson:

Tuesday’s oral arguments at the Supreme Court were excellent. There were so many good points made about what marriage is and why redefining marriage would cause harms.
This serious consideration of the harms of marriage redefinition stands in stark contrast to outrageous lower court rulings that had declared no rational basis to state marriage laws defining marriage as it always had been in America: a union of husband and wife.
Most importantly, it was clear that the nine Supreme Court justices do not have any greater insight on ideal marriage policy than do ordinary American citizens. The Constitution itself is silent about it. So the justices should uphold the authority of citizens and their elected representatives to make marriage policy in the states.
Here are some of the best portions of Tuesday's arguments.
What Is Marriage?

What I REALLY Believe About Marriage

"I believe that marriage is not just a bond but a sacred bond between a man and a woman. I have had occasion in my life to defend marriage, to stand up for marriage, to believe in the hard work and challenge of marriage. So I take umbrage at anyone who might suggest that those of us who worry about amending the Constitution are less committed to the sanctity of marriage, or to the fundamental bedrock principle that exists between a man and a woman, going back into the mists of history as one of the founding, foundational institutions of history and humanity and civilization, and that its primary, principal role during those millennia has been the raising and socializing of children for the society into which they are to become adults."  -Hillary Clinton

Well said.

Hillary, though, no longer agrees with her former self (you can catch that from the tail end of the video below.)  So there appear to be five plausible options for why this might be (I can think of a few others but this will do for now):

1. Hillary previously, secretly believed in gay-marriage but lied about it for political advantage.
2. Hillary has not changed her mind on gay marriage but is currently lying about it for political advantage.
3. Hillary once held that marriage should be between a man and a woman without good reason, and she came to be persuaded by good arguments that same-sex marriage is morally permissible (not to mention naturally possible), moreover, that a right to it is enshrined in the Constitution.
4. Hillary once held that marriage should be between a man and a woman, but she was swept away by the Feelings of the Age and came to believe that same-sex marriage is morally permissible, moreover, that there must be a right to it enshrined in the Constitution.
5. Hillary once held that marriage should be between a man and a woman, but she was swept way by the Feelings of the Age and came to believe that same-sex marriage is morally permissible but she doesn't think there really has been a right to it enshrined in the Constitution for all these years.

If I had to bet I'd opt for 1, 4, or 5.  At any rate, the probability that one of either 1, 4, or 5 are true seems to me far greater than 3.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

What is Marriage?

From yesterday's oral arguments before the Supreme Court...

Solicitor General, Donald Verrilli, as amicus curiae, arguing that there is a Constitutional right to same-sex marriage in the 14th Amendment on behalf of the Obama administration:

JUSTICE ALITO:  What do you think ­­­­ are the essential elements of marriage as it exists today?   
GENERAL VERRILLI:  Well, I think the essential elements of marriage are the ones that are ­­that­­ the, the obligations of mutual support and responsibility and the benefits surrounding marriage that State law provides to ensure that there is an enduring bond, that enduring bond that continues over time and lasts, hopefully, till death do us part, through the end of life.  And that,­­ and with and­,­ and, certainly, childrearing is bound up in that.
It is really difficult to make sense of this definition among all the stuttering (and coughing which didn't make the transcript), but here is a go at it:

Marriage is an enduring bond that continues over time and lasts, hopefully, till death.  And childrearing is (somehow) bound up in that.

So on that definition, if my wife and my brothers' wives were (God-forbid) to die, and we brothers were to choose to rear our children together, and we do so until we die, we would be married.  After all, we have an enduring bond that lasts until death and child-rearing is certainly bound up in that.  Bonus: I don't even have to make a till-death-do-us-part promise of fidelity; but it would be nice (maybe) if the bond continued until death (or maybe not.)

Notice that there is no mention that the bond be between two people.  That's not odd, for why should marriage be between two people rather than three or four (especially if they are sterile and have no children)?  Why hate on polyandrous marriages?  But a little later he summarizes his view of marriage with the following, again in response to Justice Alito:
JUSTICE ALITO:  As far as the, ­ the benefits that Federal law confers on married people, such as in Windsor, the effect on estate taxes, what would be the reason for treating [unmarried siblings who have lived together for 25 years and a same-sex couple who has lived together for 25 years and then gets married due to a change in law] differently?
 GENERAL VERRILLI: Well, ­ I, ­­ I'm not  entirely sure there would be, but, of course, marriage  is something more fundamental than that.  It is an enduring bond between two people.
Ah.  So marriage is an enduring bond between two people.  That is why the unmarried siblings should be treated differently.  [?]
And so I couldn't be married to both of my brothers.  But why couldn't I be married to one of them?  In fact, if I do have an enduring bond then I am married to one of them, it would seem according to this definition--that is, according to Verrilli, the definition of marriage which the Constitution has always recognized implicitly entails that. (Which brother I wonder?) Don't you tell me, hater, that we don't have an enduring bond!

Cue Justice Kennedy's infamously enigmatic statement in Casey v. Planned Parenthood:
At the heart of liberty is to define one's own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.
There's a Constitutional right to everything imaginable if you just look hard enough.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Initial Thoughts on the Supreme Court's Oral Arguments Today

Today I listened to the oral arguments over whether there is a Constitutional right to gay marriage which has gone undiscovered until this year.  I know that it is difficult to predict the way justices will vote, but simply on the basis of the questions the justices were asking and the softballs they were throwing, it would seem that the vote will come down to Kennedy and my hunch is that he will "discover" a right to gay-marriage in the 14th Amendment.  Of course, anyone who is even a mild originalist would laugh out of the building the claim that there is a right to gay-marriage in the Constitution.  Perhaps Kennedy will come to his senses, but from other decisions, he seems to be a populist with a love of the limelight who wants to be on the "right side of history" with the cool kids.

I plan to say more about the oral argument in the next couple days if I can get around to it. 

Same-Sex Marriage Erodes Fundamental Rights

From Dawn Stefanowicz


I am one of six adult children of gay parents who recently filed amicus briefs with the US Supreme Court, asking the Court to respect the authority of citizens to keep the original definition of marriage: a union between one man and one woman to the exclusion of all others, so that children may know and may be raised by their biological parents. I also live in Canada, where same-sex marriage was federally mandated in 2005.
I am the daughter of a gay father who died of AIDS. I described my experiences in my book: Out From Under: The Impact of Homosexual Parenting. Over fifty adult children who were raised by LGBT parents have communicated with me and share my concerns about same-sex marriage and parenting. Many of us struggle with our own sexuality and sense of gender because of the influences in our household environments growing up.
We have great compassion for people who struggle with their sexuality and gender identity—not animosity. And we love our parents. Yet, when we go public with our stories, we often face ostracism, silencing, and threats.

I want to warn America to expect severe erosion of First Amendment freedoms if the US Supreme Court mandates same-sex marriage. The consequences have played out in Canada for ten years now, and they are truly Orwellian in nature and scope.

Canada’s Lessons

Monday, April 27, 2015

Illegal to Work On Your Own Car?

Apparently, Government Motors and other car companies think so.  File this in the truth is stranger than fiction category (while I file it under the "private property" category.)

Jack White: Entitlement

Perhaps Mr. White will write a follow-up song called "Privilege."

[Note: On my interpretation, what follows the "I guess" is plainly ironic; the false reluctance sounded by those words must have been lost on this reviewer.  Once again Socratic irony seems to have done its job.]

Every time I'm doing what I want to
Somebody comes and tells me it's wrong
Whenever I'm doing just as I please
Somebody cuts me down to my knees
Yeah, somebody cuts me down to my knees

In a time when everybody feels entitled
Why can't I feel entitled too?
Somebody took away my god given right
I guess God must have gave it to you
Yeah, I guess God must have slipped it to you

Stop what you're doing and get back in line
I hear this from people all the time
If we can't be happy then you can't be too
I'm tired of being told what to do
Yeah, I'm sick of being told what to do

There are children today who were lied to
Told the world is rightfully theirs
They can have what they want, whenever they want
They take like Caesar and nobody cares
Live like Caesar and nobody cares

I can't bring myself to take without penance
Or atonements or sweat from my brow
Though the world may be spoiled and getting worse every day
Don't they feel like they're cheated somehow
I feel like I've been cheated somehow

Stop what you're doing and get back in line
I hear this from people all the time
If we can't be happy then you can't be too
I'm tired of being told what to do
Yeah, I'm sick of being told what to do

I guess nobody on earth is entitled
Not mothers, not children, not kings
Not a one single person on God's golden shore
Is entitled to one single thing
We don't deserve a single damn thing

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Krauthammer Interview

Here is a very interesting interview of Democrat-turned-Republican, Charles Krauthammer; if only there were more journalists like Krauthammer.  If only.  He has lived an interesting life.  One of the reasons I respect his opinions is because he has studied political philosophy and economics (in the interview we learn that he was very much influenced by John Stuart Mill), and though confined to a wheelchair for much of his life, he has risen to prominence in journalism--this after being a psychiatrist for numerous years discovering a variant of manic depressive disorder.

Minimum Wage To Kill Theater Jobs

By a 2-1 margin, union members vote against the minimum wage.  Why?  Because they would rather act (many doing so as a hobby on the side) than not.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Jonathan Wolff on Radical Reaction to Nozick's Arguments

Keith Burgess-Jackson:

Jonathan Wolff on Radical Reaction to Nozick's Arguments

Jonathan WolffThe reactions of radicals to Nozick's criticisms will be mixed. Few, probably, will give up all their objections in the face of Nozick's replies. Many will simply refuse to listen. But those who have been prepared to do so have had to think very hard to find replies. One virtue of Nozick's work is that a great deal of honing and sharpening has had to be done to improve the rigour of radical objections to capitalism, once Nozick's defences are taken into account. It is no longer acceptable to criticize capitalism by platitude.
(Jonathan WolffRobert Nozick: Property, Justice and the Minimal State, Key Contemporary Thinkers [Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1991], 133)
Note from KBJ: This is an interesting (and revealing) paragraph. Progressives are so convinced of their own rectitude, not to mention the correctness of their factual and conceptual claims, that they refuse to engage those who disagree with them. They create echo chambers for themselves in which all they hear are the echoes of their own voices. Academia, of all places, has become a progressive echo chamber. This is scandalous, for academia should be the one place where argumentation and criticism flourish, where every belief, hypothesis, theory, or point of view is both expressible and, just as importantly, criticizable. I suspect that many progressives would have been happier if Robert Nozick's book Anarchy, State, and Utopia (1974) had not been published. I've heard progressives say as much. They think the book will give libertarianism (a theory they despise) credibility it does not deserve (by their lights). (God forbid anyone should be persuaded by the book!) This is, of course, shocking. If your views and values are correct, then they will withstand criticism; so subject them to criticism! In the process of defending them, your argumentative and critical skills will be sharpened. I hope one day progressives realize that by being progressives first and intellectuals second, they do long-term damage to their ability to argue, criticize, analyze, and synthesize.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Who Made Up the Numbers?

A conversation in a van:

Sam (6-yr-old): What's 30 + 30?

Me: 60.

Sam: No!  I was asking Johno (4-yr-old)!

Me: Oh, I thought you wanted to know.

Johno: Daddy, what is the highest number?

Me: There isn't a highest number.

Sam: (To Johno) I told you!

Me: For any number one more can be added.

Sam: Dad, why did they make so many numbers?

Me: Who is "they"?

Sam: Whoever made up the numbers.

Me: Why do you think some people made up the numbers?

Sam: Because you need them for birthdays.

Me: But why do you think someone had to make the numbers?

Sam: Because somebody had to make the numbers.

Me: What if God made the numbers?

Sam: Did he?

Me: Maybe he did.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Cake and Cosmology: Why Orthodox Christians Take the Stand They Do on Sex

Rod Dreher:  (if you want a deeper argument, read this)

My friend Chris Roberts, a Catholic theologian in Philadelphia, and someone who
is fairly liberal in his politics  describes himself in an e-mail to me thus: “I wouldn’t call myself a conservative, but neither would I own to liberal. I’ll take just plain old “Catholic,” thanks” – writes with the following thought experiment:
Imagine a gay male couple who have been together for 20 years. They live nearby. You know them well, having a friendly non-political neighborly relationship. You borrow the odd egg, watch each other’s pets when somebody is on vacation, maybe chat at the annual 4th of July party. You are an orthodox Christian who runs a bakery business. Now apply the following scenarios:
A) One of the gay guys has a birthday. His partner asks you to bake the cake. Would you?
B) One of the gay guys dies. His partner asks you to bake the cake for the reception after the funeral. Would you?
C) Marriage is suddenly legalized in your state. They marry and ask you to bake the cake. Would you?
Seems to me that if the answer is no, no, and no, then you ought to examine yourself for homophobia.
But if the answer is yes, yes and no – that’s my answer – then you are arguably simply being principled. I can say “yes” to A and B because I can honor their friendship and loyalty to each other, their faithful service to each other over years. However, I say “no” to C because marriage is not an institution that can be defined entirely in terms of affection, loyalty and service. Or even eros or heartfelt private romantic feelings. Marriage includes all those things, but it exists as a social institution because the fertility of male and female potentially creates uniquely public consequences (children).
The left disputes my premise for saying no to C. Fine, let’s have that debate. People of goodwill can disagree.
But we are not even allowed to have that debate. My side’s case is dismissed by the liberal elite because they think people like me are haters.
Given that I want to say yes to situations A and B, I think it’s demonstrable that I’m not a hater or homophobe. I am not frightened of gay people and I do not hate them. I just do not think that what they are doing is marriage, and I think calling what they’re doing “marriage” will obscure what marriage is. If we say that marriage exists to give public blessing to the romantic feelings of consenting adults, then, over the long term, I and my Church believe that there will be more divorce (feelings are fickle) and children will be harmed (as their primary role in marriage is pushed aside). My Church and I may be mistaken about that, but, given the damage heterosexuals have already caused marriage through our divorce rate and ubiquitous contraception, I think we are at least within the realm of the arguable and plausible.
But today’s mob will not listen to my argument, will not listen to my attempt to make my case plausible, because they are convinced I’m a homophobe. My openness to situations A and B are not allowed to count. That is part of the problem with all the hate directed towards Indiana this last week. The inability to see the “yes” to A and B does not necessarily entail “yes” to C. The inability to imagine that my “yes” to A and B is real and heartfelt, but my “no” to C is principled and not prejudice.
I appreciate Chris’s e-mail. His “yes-yes-no” describes my position too. Ross Douthat, in his Sunday column, also discusses nuances in this debate. The format he chooses is a self-interview. Excerpt:

Sunday, April 19, 2015

On Jeff Cook's Latest Post on Same-Sex Sex

I have numerous thoughts on the Biblical claims made by Cook but I assume Preston will address all of that in short order.  Here are thoughts on some of the other things he says in the latest post:
Theoretically, however, deontology and virtue ethics are mutually exclusive. Deontology judges the morality of an action based on the action’s adherence to a set of rules; virtue ethics judges whether one is acting from and seeking to exhibit certain character traits. One theory for gauging “what is good” aims at rule following, the other aims at becoming a certain kind of person.

Physicist Freeman Dyson on Global Warming Hysteria


"You ought to enjoy being in the minority."
I like this guy.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Access to Omniscience & A Brotherly Dispute

Sam (6-yr-old): James (2-yr-old) is in your room!

Johno (4-yr-old): No he's not!

Sam: Yes he is!

Johno: No he's not!

Sam: Yes he is!

Johno: You don't know everything!

Sam: Yes I do!

Johno: No you don't!  [pause]
Only Jesus knows everything!! And he told me James is not in my room!!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The New Testament and Gay Sex: Response #3

This is the final post on Jeff Cook's opening statement on Preston Sprinkle's blog.  The last post ended with wondering about what his core argument is (or arguments are) for the conclusion that homosexual sex is not impermissible and not the target of the New Testament prohibitions concerning sexual relations.  To those arguments I now turn.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The New Testament and Gay Sex: Response #2

This is my second response to Jeff Cook's post.  This started to get a bit lengthy so there will be one more.

In the last two posts, I turn to the heart of his opening statement.  I'll first look at a passage where I agree with him, with one added qualification, and then I will move on to what I take to be some of the more salient, problematic passages.
The virtues picture what it looks like for a human being to reflect God. The virtues describe our proper function and are the attributes we exhibit when we are fully sanctified.
This is for the most part accurate.  The sanctified, holy person of the Bible is the wise person who is maximally inclined towards justice and love, who has hope and faith, and so on.  Of course, there is a bit more to the story than that.  There is justification for one.  Standing in a certain relation to God via Christ's atoning sacrifice is also necessary for sanctification--how the details are spelled out will depend on whether one takes a more Catholic or Reformed line or something in between--though all agree that grace is necessary.  But I doubt Cook disagrees about this.
Conversely, Paul said actions that are wondrous yet not inspired by virtue—are “clanging cymbals”, and the person who commits them “gains nothing” and “is nothing” (1 Cor 13:1-3). Apparently our actions do not matter if they do not emerge from virtue. 
Many actions might not matter if they do not emerge from virtue, but at least one important action does, namely accepting (or refraining from refusing) God's grace.  That is, there is at least one action pre-virtue that matters.  Now, if one takes a certain Reformed line, this might be the only action that matters ("matters" here is vague but I'll run with it) which does not emerge from virtue.  But then on some Reformed views, it's the only action that matters and virtue does not really matter.  Yes, virtue will follow from any genuine one-time acceptance of grace through faith, but virtue adds neither moral worth to one's actions nor any additional merit; virtue is a necessary condition that, so to speak, comes along for the irresistible ride.  On different theological views, though, other actions will matter which do not emerge completely from virtue, at least if we think of virtues as coming in degrees, sanctification as a synergistic process, and free will as operative in accepting additional grace, responding to grace such that one does not lose the faith one has, increasing towards perfection in love, and so forth.
 In short, the New Testament writers, unpacking and recording the ethic of the Lord Jesus, reject the moral foundation of the deontologists. True moral goodness and the life that is pleasing to God are a matter of virtue, and virtue alone.
It has not been shown that the New Testament writers reject the moral foundation of the deontologist as I described deontology in the previous post.  It has not been shown that the New Testament writers did not think that some actions are intrinsically wrong and are inconsistent with what a virtuous person would do.  What has been shown is that the New Testament picture of the sanctified Christian is such that she is one who maintains and cultivates virtue; but that is consistent with a non-consequentialist ethic which holds that there are some actions which one should not do in spite of whatever good consequences it produces.
[A] Nothing about monogamous same-sex relationships by necessity contradicts a life of virtue. [B] Physical relationships between same sex individuals may be enjoyed by faithful, courageous, wise, hopeful, loving, grace-filled, self-controlled people. 
[Ad B] There is no doubt that physical relationships between same sex individuals can be meaningful and have good elements; the same, though, can be true of polygamous relationships, non-monogamous relationships more generally, and the like.  The question, though, is whether any of these sexual relationships are per se good or bad, right or wrong or whether they violate God's will.  If homosex is instrinsically wrong, it would contradict a life of virtue in spite of whatever meaningful and good elements are a part of the relationships (e.g. friendship, having someone who fulfills certain desires, being in a relationship with someone who cares for you, etc.)

[Ad A] Nothing about monogamous same-sex relationships by necessity contradicts a life of virtue only if same-sex sexual relationships are not morally impermissible.  Does Cook provide an argument that same-sex sexual relations are permissible?  It's hard to see that he does.  But I shall consider the most pronounced arguments in the final installment.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Sexism in Academics

Study: University faculty members prefer hiring women over men 2:1 in STEM.  I think it's a safe bet we can generalize to non-STEM fields as well.  (How many faculty members do you know that do not want to hire women?)

The study.

Discussion at Inside Higher Ed.

Here is the discussion at the philosophy website Daily Nous (where the question is raised whether sexism is a myth...because only sexism against women can possibly be sexism; it's hilarious that in none of the linked to items above does the author raise the question about whether the study indicates that there is sexism against men, only whether there is not sexism against women.  If the study would have been 2-1 in reverse, we'd be hearing about it endlessly.  What we'll hear instead is how it was flawed or how it's not good evidence that the results apply to real world situations.  Because we all know sexism against women is rampant.)


"The underrepresentation of women in academic science is typically attributed, both in scientific literature and in the media, to sexist hiring. Here we report five hiring experiments in which faculty evaluated hypothetical female and male applicants, using systematically varied profiles disguising identical scholarship, for assistant professorships in biology, engineering, economics, and psychology. Contrary to prevailing assumptions, men and women faculty members from all four fields preferred female applicants 2:1 over identically qualified males with matching lifestyles (single, married, divorced), with the exception of male economists, who showed no gender preference. Comparing different lifestyles revealed that women preferred divorced mothers to married fathers and that men preferred mothers who took parental leaves to mothers who did not. Our findings, supported by real-world academic hiring data, suggest advantages for women launching academic science careers."
"National randomized experiments and validation studies… conducted on 873 tenure-track faculty (439 male, 434 female) from biology, engineering, economics, and psychology at 371 universities/colleges from 50 US states and the District of Columbia. In the main experiment, 363 faculty members evaluated narrative summaries describing hypothetical female and male applicants for tenure-track assistant professorships who shared the same lifestyle (e.g., single without children, married with children). Applicants’ profiles were systematically varied to disguise identically rated scholarship; profiles were counterbalanced by gender across faculty to enable between-faculty comparisons of hiring preferences for identically qualified women versus men." 

The New Testament and Gay Sex: Response #1

This is a critique of philosopher Jeff Cook's opening statement  over at Preston Sprinkle's blog wherein he argues that Christian belief is compatible with the belief that gay sex is not morally wrong.  I have decided to break this down into at least two posts.  This first post will focus on the more philosophical parts of Cook's opening statement.

I will start by looking at some of his remarks which set up the basic framework for his assessment.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Why Does John the Baptist Eat Locusts and Honey?


I want to float an idea but don’t have time to develop it into a full-fledged argument. Still I want to propose a reading for an unusual text we find in the Synoptic Gospels. Since Mark is likely the first Gospel written, I’ll work from there recognizing that what is true for Mark is also true for Matthew and Luke.

For years I’ve puzzled over the description of the John the baptizer as eating locust and honey (Mark 1:6).   Translations differ. Some seem to underscore that John’s diet consisted of locust and honey as if that was all he could get in the wilderness (NLT, The Voice). Other versions don’t interpret it at all.   Many commentaries notice the statement but have little to say about it. I’ve wondered why we are given this bit of information in a hard-hitting, fast-moving Gospel like Mark’s. After all we’re not told Jesus’ diet, and he’s the main character in the story. Is the statement about John eating (present participle; Mark 1:6) designed to present him as a desert-dwelling ascetic with odd habits? If so, that seems to fail since locusts are kosher and though most westerners cringe at the thought of biting into one, it would not strike a person of John’s day as strange. Then there is honey, a desirable natural sweetener on everybody’s wish-list.

So what is the point? Well let me suggest a reason. The description of John and his activities (living in the wilderness, preaching, baptizing, and his manner of dress) are part of John’s prophetic message. Where he was, what he was doing and how he did it were key aspects of his person and mission.

[More below the fold.]

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Jesus: If Someone Asks You to Bake One Cake, Bake for Them Two?

Jessica Kantrowitz answers the question in the affirmative:

“If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.” ~Matthew 5:41

If you believe gay marriage is immoral (I don’t, myself) and a gay couple comes into your shop and asks you to bake a cake for their wedding, what should you do? If God causes the sun to rise and the rain to fall on the wedding days of straight and gay couples, then what is our responsibility? If it is against the law to discriminate against people based on their sexual orientation, but you believe strongly that their lifestyle is immoral, what should you do?
Christians, our Jesus said, “Go with them two.”
If someone forces you to bake a cake for a gay wedding, bake for them two.

The author is confused on more than one count.  Exegetically, we should start with the fact that Jesus says that he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it.  Whatever Jesus says, it is in accordance with the Old Testament law ("anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do likewise will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.")  Marcion was a heretic.  Second, Jesus ups the ante on sexual morality including divorce.  His sexual ethics are stricter than anything on offer; it is less permissive not more. For example, one can commit adultery in one's heart even before committing the external act. Third, on the traditional, orthodox view in Christianity, adultery, incest, homosex (yes, it's a word), bestiality, etc. are intrinsically wrong.  This entails that there are no circumstances in which they are morally permissible.  Some think that participating in a gay wedding is participating in something that condones homosex which is intrinsically wrong.  Whereas, it is not intrinsically wrong to slap someone, to give one your cloak, to go an extra mile when forced to go one, or to give to someone who asks.  Finally, her view seems to entail the following absurdities when her argument is taken to its logical conclusion: If someone asks for aid in having an affair with one person, you should aid and abet in two affairs; if someone asks you to bake a cake for a Westboro Baptist demonstration, you should bake two.

Her argument is supposedly based on a Christian ethic of love; but love takes on many forms and some ways of loving are appropriate and others inappropriate.
If we “snatch one person from the fire” by refusing to condone behavior we believe is immoral, but send hundreds and thousands of others fleeing churches and Christianity entirely, what have we really accomplished? Someone else will make that cake and fewer and fewer people will look to Christianity for love and hope. We will have won a battle that we were never called to fight in the first place, but lost the war.
The tacit empirical claim here, that by not participating in some actions which appear to condone certain sexual practices many will flee Christianity, is dubious.  Christianity flourished from the very beginning in a culture and against a background that was sexually promiscuous and in many ways like our own.  In fact, one of the things that stood out about Christians was their strict, sexual ethics (such that the slur against Christianity was that it was "a religion for women.")


I liked it--quite a lot actually.  I have seen some people criticize the film for the bad science with respect to "wormholes/black holes," but that didn't detract from the film for me.  I thought the way it used the so-called "Grandfather paradox" (which is not really a paradox) made up for other defects.  A few more thoughts and spoilers below.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

On Mandatory Government Vaccinations

The government has an interest in vaccinating its population.  Do citizens have a right against their being vaccinated?  Citizens have a right against the government not to be made to do what violates their conscience.  But, of course, this has limits, for one's conscience is fallible and given to error.  If the population of citizens who, out of a (false) religious belief do not believe they should have vaccinations, is small enough so as not to jeopardize the "herd immunity," the government should not force these citizens to be immunized.

Still, one's moral rights do not entitle one to put others in an unnecessarily high risk of harm.  This is why the blind do not have a right to drive on public roads. The more serious the disease is, the more the government should play a role in mandating vaccinations which are known to be effective and are known to have a small risk of negative side-effects.  This is for the common good.  The less serious the disease is, the less the government should play a role in mandating vaccinations (though the government still might have an interest in providing evidence for the cost/benefits of these vaccinations).

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

A Book I Just Read

Very entertaining and well written.  Josh recounts his year preparing for the U.S. memory competition, his interviews with competitors and scientists having to do with memory, and gives the reader a brief history of memorization in education.  If you want to learn how to profoundly increase your memory, this is a good book with which to start.  It should be required reading for people in the profession of educating children, even better, the classics he mentions which lay out the fascinating memory techniques almost all of us have forgotten.

When My Father Told Me He Wanted to Be a Woman

Denise Shick:

What was your biggest concern when you were nine years old? Was it trying to memorize your multiplication tables? Was it that the school cafeteria might serve your least favorite vegetable at lunch? Perhaps it was something more serious; perhaps your parents were talking of getting divorced. My biggest concern at age nine was how to keep my daddy’s secret, the one he revealed to me as we sat alone on a hill near our home. In a sense, I lost my dad that day, when he told me he wanted to become a woman.

As I tried to process that revelation, he blindsided me with another. He told me he never wanted to have children. To him, my siblings and I were mistakes, because we did not align with his desires.
His confessions left me confused and hurt. After all, I just wanted a dad who would love and cherish me, who would make me feel special as a daughter. I felt rejected and abandoned by my own father.
By the time I was eleven, my dad had begun to abuse me emotionally and sexually. Even so, I continued to keep my dad’s secret locked away, deep down in my heart.

My dad created a home environment that made me feel as if I was walking on pins and needles. His resentment over my possession of what he so deeply desired for himself—a woman’s body—turned into anger and abuse. As his desires intensified, he began to borrow my clothing. Many times I discovered my underclothes and tops under bathroom towels, or in the attic—often in places I had not been. I learned to organize my clothes just so, in order to know if he had been in my dresser drawers. When I confirmed that he’d worn an article of my clothing, I simply could not bring myself to ever wear that item again.

As an adolescent, I had to be careful about how I dressed. I always had to ask myself how he would react to my outfit. Would it make him so envious that he’d “borrow” it (without my consent, of course)? I began to hate my body. It was a constant reminder of what my father wanted to become. When I began to wear makeup, I had to block out the images I had of him applying makeup or eye shadow or lipstick. He was destroying my desire to become a woman.

Here is the rest.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Presidential Pitches


Hopefully you don't need me to mansplain to you why this is funny; but if so (as a friend 'splained), I shall try to do so in an exceptionally clear and accurate manner.

Liturgy and Interchangeable Sexes

Peter Leithart:

First Timothy 2:12–14 is one of the texts most commonly cited in debates over women’s ordination: “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet. For it was Adam who was first created, then Eve. And not Adam was deceived, but the woman being deceived fell into transgression.”
Some inside and outside the Church regard this text as prime evidence that Christianity is inherently misogynistic. Even for Christians who take the text at face value, it seems a thin reed. What hath Adam to do with the pastoral ministry?

Meet the Women Apologists

Andrea Palpant Dilley:

Holly Ordway began her conversion to faith in a casino in Reno, Nevada, surrounded by slot machines. She had just competed in a North American Cup fencing tournament and was having dinner with her coach and his wife. “One of the Narnia films had just come out,” Ordway told me. “Our discussion of the film led to the question, Does God exist?
As they talked late into the night, she traveled through a Lewisian wardrobe that landed her in a mysterious new country. “I discovered it was possible to think rationally about the faith,” says Ordway. “There were arguments that at least stood up to preliminary testing. That was a fundamental aha moment, when my intellect was able to wake up and say, Okay, this is interesting. It was frightening and exciting.”
At the time, Ordway was in her early 30s and teaching literature and composition at a public college in Southern California. Since graduate school, she had thought of Christians as superstitious, Christianity as a “blemish on modern civilization,” and the Bible as a collection of fairy tales. “I was radicalized as an atheist and hostile toward Christians in general,” says Ordway.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

"Two Faces of Tolerance"

Ed Feser:

What is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.
Herbert Marcuse
Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.
H. L. Mencken

Given current events in Indiana, I suppose it is time once again to recall a post first run on the old Right Reason blog in March of 2007, and reprinted on this blog in December of 2009.  Here are the relevant passages, followed by some commentary:

To the charge that liberals are (or, given their principles, should be) in favor of X [where X = legalizing abortion, liberalizing obscenity laws, banning smoking on private property, legalizing “same-sex marriage,” outlawing the public advocacy of traditional sexual morality, etc. etc.], the standard liberal response goes through about five stages (with, it seems, roughly 5-10 years passing between each stage, though sometimes the transition is much quicker than that).  Here they are:

Stage 1: “Oh please. Only a far-right-wing nutjob would make such a paranoid and ridiculous accusation - I suppose next you’ll accuse us of wanting to poison your precious bodily fluids!”

Stage 2: “Well, I wouldn’t go as far as X. All the same, it’s good to be open-minded about these things. I mean, people used to think ending slavery was a crazy idea too…”

Stage 3: “Hey, the Europeans have had X for years and the sky hasn’t fallen. But no, I admit that this backward country probably isn’t ready for X yet.”

Stage 4: “Of course I’m in favor of X - it’s in the Constitution! Only a far-right-wing nutjob could possibly oppose it.”

Stage 5: “You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law…”

Fortunately, though, we can rely on conservatives to hold the line, and indeed to turn back liberal advances. Right?

Well, no, of course not. (You can stop rolling your eyes, I was being facetious.) For conservatives - or maybe I should say “conservatives” (since there’s very little that they ever actually manage to conserve, unless money is somehow involved) - seem to go through five stages of their own. Here they are:

Stage 1: “Mark my words: if the extreme left had its way, they’d foist X upon us! These nutjobs must be opposed at all costs.”

Stage 2: “Omigosh, now even thoughtful, mainstream liberals favor X! Fortunately, it’s political suicide.”

Stage 3: “X now exists in 45 out of 50 states. Fellow conservatives, we need to learn how to adjust to this grim new reality.”

Stage 4: “X isn’t so bad, really, when you think about it. And you know, sometimes change is good. Consider slavery…”

Stage 5: “Hey, I was always in favor of X! You must have me confused with a [paleocon, theocon, Bible thumper, etc.]. But everyone knows that mainstream conservatism has nothing to do with those nutjobs…”

End quote.  Now, where X = curtailing the free exercise of religion, at the time I first wrote those words I estimated that liberals were at about stage 2.  At this point it seems that many of them are at about stage 4, and a disturbing number of hotheads among them seem willing to push for stage 5 vigilantism.  Conservatives, meanwhile, seem mostly to be at about stage 3 of their own progression, and I suspect that not a few are at least flirting with Stage 4.

And so here is where we find ourselves in the land of the free and the home of the brave in April of 2015:

Prominent conservative politicians and churchmen have all essentially caved in on the substance of the dispute over “same-sex marriage.”  None of them will publicly express the slightest moral disapproval of homosexual behavior, and few even bother anymore with social scientific arguments supporting the benefits of children being raised by both a mother and a father.  Indeed, all of them are eager to express their deep respect for their fellow citizens who happen to be homosexual, vigorously to condemn “homophobia” and discrimination, etc.  Some of them are even happy to affirm “same-sex marriage.”  All they ask is that religious believers who on moral grounds disapprove of “same-sex marriage” not be forced to cooperate formally or materially with it.  The circumstances where this might occur are, of course, very rare.  No one is proposing that business owners might refuse to serve a customer simply because he or she happens to be homosexual.  What is in view are merely cases where a business owner who objects to “same-sex marriage” would be forced to participate in it, say by providing a wedding cake or wedding invitations.  Nor would his refusal to participate inconvenience anyone, since there are plenty of business owners who have no qualms about “same-sex marriage.”

In short, what conservatives are proposing is not only extremely modest, but is being defended in the name of their opponents’ own principles, the most liberal of principles, viz. the Jeffersonian principle that it is tyrannical to force someone to act against his conscience, and the Rawlsian principle that a pluralistic society should strive as far as possible to respect and keep a just peace between citizens committed to radically different moral, philosophical and religious views. 

And for taking this paradigmatically liberal position, they are widely and shrilly denounced by liberals as… “bigots,” “haters,” “intolerant,” comparable to the Ku Klux Klan and the upholders of Jim Crow.

Meanwhile, some liberal business owners fire employees who take this conservative position, while others refuse to do business in a state that adopts it.  Other liberals routinely refuse even to discuss the merits of the conservative position but merely hurl insults and try to shout down and intimidate anyone who dares to disagree with them.  And when a particular business owner affirms that customers who happen to be homosexual are welcome in her restaurant, but also says that she would not agree to cater a hypothetical “same-sex wedding,” she finds herself suddenly subjected to a nationwide Two Minutes Hate, with an online mob actively seeking to destroy her livelihood and reputation -- some of them even proposing to burn down the restaurant or kill its owners.  Even some mainstream liberals, while not condoning such violence, suggest that the restaurant owner had invited this abuse.

And liberals have winked at or even embraced the ethos and tactics of the lynch mob in the name of… tolerance, freedom, and pluralism, of love and compassion and opposition to bigotry.

How have we descended into such Orwellian insanity? 

It’s all about sexual equality

Read the rest.

The Wrongly Named "Human Rights Campaign" in Arkansas

Here is a link to the website of the so-called "Human Rights Campaign" which has been waging a war against the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Arkansas.

What are the human rights that the HRCampaign is hell-bent to protect (or enforce)?  Exactly what they are is not at all clear from their website.  For sure, one of the human rights is not a right against the government such that the government cannot "substantially burden" a person's religious beliefs unless the government is pursuing a "compelling government interest" and does so in a way that is "narrowly tailored," or pursues the "least restrictive means" to accomplish the task of fulfilling the government interest.  Nor is it the right to private property.

A human right is a species of a moral right.  A human right is not a legal right.  One might have a human right to life even if there are no laws in one's sorry government  on the books for a time protecting such a right (a government, say, run by certain utilitarians. Perhaps it protects such right de facto but not de jure).  Or if that example does not suit you, substitute another human right that the government fails to legally afford one by governmental means.

A human right is a right that all humans have.  A right to receive a social security check might be a legal right.  It might also be a moral right (say, if the government promises to give you one by an act of legislation), but it is not a right that all humans have.  It is not even a right that all U.S. citizens have.  It is only a right for those sixty-five and older.

One of the alleged rights that the HRCampaign appears to be trying to uphold is a right to be made a cake for a gay-wedding.  But this certainly is not a human right, since, for one, not all humans are gay.  Is the relevant right a right to have a baker bake you a cake?  That cannot be a human right either, for some small societies have no bakers.  First note, that an alleged right to have a baker bake you a cake is a positive claim right, not a negative right.  A negative claim right is  a right against your doing something to me.  (Most moral rights are negative rights).  A positive claim right is a right to your doing something for me.  But in the absence of bakers there is no positive right to the baker's services because there are no bakers.

Is the human right a right to having-a-cake-baked-for-you-by-a-baker-if-there-were-bakers?  If that is the case, then it would seem that all moral rights are human rights, since similar conditional clause could be added to almost any right.

I suggest that human rights are basic rights which are not expressible in the gerrymandered way above which I have placed in bold.  If that is correct, then what is or are the relevant human rights which the HRCampaign is promoting?

Is it a human right to respect?  In the baker-type court cases there is no evidence that any of the gay couples were not afforded the basic respect that comes from being a human.  None were treated as if they were not human beings.

What then?

A right to have a business treat one like everyone else?  But businesses do not treat everyone the same.  Businesses justly discriminate against thieves who want to steal their goods, liquor stores discriminate against people who look young and do not have proper identification, and so on and so forth.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Now Playing

From "The Dude"

Or Joe Cocker:


Or Elvis Costello and Co.:

Or from The Man: